Ever waited in line at the grocery store and watched shoppers laugh at the tabloid headlines? Have you ever snickered to yourself as you watched the shopper in front of you buy a copy or two? I have — knowing that I dreamed up the wacky ideas myself. Did I tell? Never. Until now. Here are my collected tabloid stories.
It happened this way:
I’ve never been a tabloid reader. I was too embarrassed to let anyone see me buy a copy. But one night, in a convenience store, I flipped through an issue. My thinking was this: 1) I’m desperate for money, and 2) who writes this stuff?
Happily, I realized that it was, in large part, pure fiction.
Being the most rejected novelist in history, something clicked. What have editors and agents been telling me about my novels for years? “This is implausible,” they say.
And what thread ran through all of these tabloid pieces?
So I killed some time in the store, flipping through magazines, until I was the only one inside except for the clerk. I looked over my right shoulder, looked over my left, and when I was certain no one I knew was in the parking lot, I grabbed a copy of a tabloid, paid for it, and took off.
I made a beeline for my office and got a feel for the stuff. A couple of hours later I had conjured up a story about a woman who got angry with her husband and prepared for him a plate of his favorite food — spaghetti. The main ingredient in the dish was his favorite friend — his pet dog. Why? She was jealous. He paid more attention to the pooch than to her.
I’ve always had a knack for newspaper style. My mother is a feature writer — and in school, that was my interest. But now, I prefer fiction to fact.
I mailed the article to one of the tabloids, and few days later, an editor wrote me a letter and asked that I give him a ring.
Bingo! After years of rejection, I had found a niche.
I’m a teacher, so I called him from a pay phone on the eighth grade hall of a middle school.
“We wanted to inquire about your sources,” he said.
“Confidential,” I said.
“Just so we have an understanding,” he said, “that this person won’t have a problem with this article.”
“No problem there,” I said. “If you know what I mean.”
“Great. Then I’ll type it in the system. Send more.”
I quickly wrote “Bowling for Custody,” a story about two parents who let their love for bowling get out of hand. The big problem in the marriage was this: one parent had to stay at home with the child so the other could bowl. Eventually, during divorce proceedings, they saw the error of their ways and each parent wanted custody of the child. The judge ordered them to bowl a single, pressure packed game — winner take all — for custody.
Again, the tabloid bought, and I was on my way.
For the next two years, I tried my best to crack up the folks down at tabloid central.
“We work under the assumption,” one editorial assistant told me, “that Elvis is still alive.”
“No jokes about cigarettes,” I was told. “Many of our readers smoke, and the advertising….”
“Picture a little old grandmother type with no college. She’s your reader,” they said. “And please don’t set these stories in the West. Eastern Europe or the Far East is better.”
As for names and places, most of the time I just let my fingers fly around the keyboard until something looked almost, but not quite, pronounceable — and implausible. I didn’t want to get a real person’s name in there.
I never wrote about celebrities. But people, apparently, believed my creations were real.
I used a variety of pen names, mostly Ted Corners — but the editor usually slapped one of the publication’s standard bylines on the piece.
Once, a radio talk show host who is quite well known wanted to interview a couple of my creations — two beautiful blond hookers, twins. If he couldn’t do that, then he wanted to put me on the air to talk about them. My editor told me not to do it.
“He’s trying to trick you,” she said. “He’ll get you to flub up.”
I wrote and told him that these people were out of the country; I’d let him know when they returned.
My brother called me one night. Frantic, he said, “ESPN, quick!” During a televised bowling tournament, they did a special report on a couple from Finland who had been ordered by a judge to bowl for custody! The entire segment was based on my tabloid fiction.
I got ideas everywhere. I just looked around. Whatever happened in my life that day, I just twisted a bit and made into an article.
One idea, about a cat who dialed 911, was given to me by a friend, over a beer. He loved his cat, and he wanted to see his name in print.
I read an article that advised magazine writers to write about one of three things: sex, money, and food. I followed it often.
If my car broke down, I wrote about a car with human intelligence and shrewd motives. If I got miffed at somebody, I twisted the frustration a bit and worked it into an article for millions to see. A friend told me about her pocketbook getting lifted from her car while she carried groceries in her house; I wrote about a woman who sliced the fingers off a purse-snatcher.
I needed money, so I wrote too many. Most were rejected. “Women with bigger breasts have more sex, as do men with bigger chests,” never got published, although I did get a call from the editorial assistant (a woman). She said she was sorry, that they liked it lot. In fact, the text provoked the staff to engage in a stimulating ninety minute Socratic seminar on its validity.
A newspaper photo of a front yard full of wooden deer sculptures inspired “Strange cult of ex-hippies worships deer”. One typical morning I had trouble getting out of bed. I overslept and showed up late for work. That evening: “‘Digital Alarm Clock Tells Owner: ‘Sleep Forever'”.
The germ of just about every article came from something that happened in my life, and I’ll never admit what most of those inspiring events, or thoughts, really were.
Trying to expand my market, at one point, I got copies of some British tabloids and called an editor at the sleaziest one.
“I’ve got some articles,” I said.
“What have you got, mate?” he said.
“Oh, lots of things. Off the wall. Fabrications, you know?”
“Fabrications! This is a newspaper. You can stick your…”
My favorite was the one about the ultra conservative group who wanted to clothe Michelangelo’s statue of David. The tabloid actually printed a photo of the statue — with clothes!
Nothing but fun, for a couple of years. Then, the editors changed, the slant changed, and I got tired of it. I was ready to resume my career as the world’s most unpublished novelist. Now, I’m back to serious work and more rejections than you can possibly imagine.
But my friends kept asking what I had written lately for the tabloids. They asked if I planned to publish a collection. Well, here it is. I hope you enjoy it. My family and friends did — as did millions of tabloid readers.