Thursday, August 10, 2017

Doctor Oppenheim's Screenplay

During the 1990s, I was called to the Bel Air hotel to care for a screenwriter working for Francis Ford Coppola. Chatting before I left, I revealed that I was a full-time hotel doctor.

“I bet you have great stories,” he said.

“Well…. As a matter of fact…”

At his urging, I mailed him a screenplay.

Does this surprise you? I work in Los Angeles. Why shouldn’t I write screenplays? Everyone else does.

I was reminded of this incident because my mail recently included a short story I’d submitted to the New Yorker. Across the inevitable rejection slip was a handwritten scrawl “great read but not quite...” That produced a surge of pleasure, but there is less there than meets the eye. Although the preprinted rejection is signed “the editors,” no New Yorker editor reads stories as they pour in, thousands per month. All are screened by low paid young English majors, happy to be on the first rung of the journalism ladder. They pass a minuscule handful on to editors who choose one or two for each issue.

I’m proud to have caught the eye of an overworked reader at America’s premier market for short stories, but there is no telling who will read my next submission. Even if it were the same person, she would not remember me, having read hundreds in the interval. Nevertheless, that rejection marks the highlight of my literary career since 2010. The highlight that year was an actual publication, but it was in the Wisconsin Literary Review. You won’t find it on the newsstand.

Everyone who learns I’m a hotel doctor urges me to write my memoirs, so I wrote them. I wrote a novel about a hotel doctor. I even wrote a proposal for a TV pilot featuring a Los Angeles hotel doctor. All those are, as we say in the business, making the rounds. The TV hotel doctor is not entirely based on me because, among his amusing quirks, he cannot resist extolling his screenplays to sick celebrities. I never do that. The writer mentioned above took the lead.

You may be curious for the upshot. He never replied.  

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