I have alluded elsewhere on this blog to the fact that I did not use a pseudonym when I started out as a writer and that a change of name was forced upon me by time and circumstance when another writer of the same name achieved global success with his young adult novels, amazing YouTube channel, and ridiculous charm and good looks. However, it remains the case that once upon a time yours truly was the only John Green worthy of the name in publishing, thanks to my decade and a half in charge of one of the most reputable educational research guides in the world. That prestigious post is mentioned only in passing in my author profile, and most folk prefer to ask about my stint with the Chippendales or as a court coverer at Wimbledon, but while such jobs provided me with a plethora of anecdotes and ideas for my fiction, it was as the editor of Readers’ Guide Abstracts that I learned my craft as a writer and editor, a craft that I have continued to develop as a freelancer in the years since and which has helped me so much in my career as an indie author.
For 17 years, I was the editor of this renowned publication, a position that for the most part involved reading articles from hundreds of different magazines or journals and comparing their contents with the summaries written and edited by my expert professional staff. No finer way of passing one’s day and being paid for it could I conceive of at the time. You name it, we covered it: Model Railroader, Dance magazine, Business Week, Forbes, Tennis, The Nation, Good Housekeeping, Gourmet, Aviation Week and Space Technology, Field & Stream, Surfer, Antiques & Collecting, Arabian Horse, PC World, Conde Nast Traveler, American Health, Ebony, the lot. It was great craic altogether, sharing items of interest amongst ourselves at lunchbreaks, in the canteen, in the pub after work. And the final product, which was sent to high schools, colleges, and libraries around the world, was an invaluable source of trivia and arcane knowledge for students, researchers, novelists, or, indeed, intelligence gatherers of other intents. Needless to say, our department was invincible when it came to pub quizzes.
Now that’s what I call a book. Over 2,500 pages, and this is just the 6-month Select Edition!
Naturally, anyone who has read Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s will wonder at the plausibility of such a business venture being run as a front for the CIA, never mind the verisimilitude of events in the workplace described. Surely there couldn’t be anywhere in the real world like Whetstone Publishing? Do cubicle dwellers really replace the water in their vases with vodka? Do summarizers really spend their time smuggling acrostics into their abstracts that say “SMOKEDOPE”? Well, I really couldn’t say. But with regard to the idea of Whetstone as a CIA front, I recall an interview that journalist Muriel Gray conducted many years ago with Robin Ramsay of the wonderful Lobster magazine (I was a subscriber) in which he escorted her around the shelves of Hull University Library’s reference section, indicating various magazines of interest: “This is pretty much what intelligence agencies do,” he explained. “They read through all the newspapers and journals and speeches and gather all the information together” (I’m paraphrasing a little here). So what better way of killing two birds with one stone would there be for a cost-cutting intelligence service than to set up a front company that does precisely that?
The rest, I must protest, is artistic licence, down to the imagination of the author. I have only fond memories of my time running the Readers’ Guide department, and my hope is that my work colleagues felt – and feel – the same way. I even went so far as to try tracking down our collective work in the New York Public Library during one of my visits to the city. Sadly, I was told that the hard copy volumes were held in a satellite branch. It would have been a proud moment to locate our work on the shelves of that august institution, open up the volume, and see my name there, long before An Abundance of Katherines or The Fault in Our Stars ever saw the light of day, never mind a library shelf.
My wonderful team. Some of Irish publishing’s finest.