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weekly humor and satire - g. xavier robillard
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Gaming the System

I have a confession. I have gamed the system. It has made me money, but bankrupted me artistically. I use software aids to get my short stories published.

I was not alone. I had a partner-in-crime, a programmer, whom I will call Atari. He recently passed away. The pair of us split the proceeds of my Faustian dealings. Now I am left in the lurch, for I am no Ada Byron, no Alan Turing. He massaged the data, plotted the regressions, wrote the software. I write this confession using my email program, for I have long ago lost track of my word processor.

It was a discovery I had come up with years ago, sitting on a pile of rejection letters. What if one could analyze ten years of short stories for plot, theme, voice, narrative, tense, setting, word count, word frequency? And what if you could write short stories to fit that curve, for each of the major literary magazines?

Atari went to work, and I moved from obscure, collegiate journals to the most hallowed literary halls in the nation. Instant acceptance, publication, awards, ducats. Rejection became a faint memory. With my software, it is easier than predicting the results of a Yankees/Mets game.

There is one particular New York-based magazine, to whom I have sold many stories, that awaits my latest. They have been my mainstay, my workhorse. Did you know that for this particular magazine, the word 'inchoate' is used in 95% of published stories? Not so for jejune.

But I am afraid I cannot deliver.

You must understand my dilemma. Editors change, albeit infrequently, and the newest editor of my favorite cash cow arrived just as Atari expired. New editor, new tastes, new data. Atari wrote no manual, and I cannot figure out how to work this infernal software. Its tangled Gordian knots include something called a mail merge.

What if I write a new piece and this young buck should reject me?

If successful publication is a high, then what is rejection? After an unmitigated string of successes, I'll tell you: it is a cancer, a scar upon my heart, another hole in the punchcard of ignominy.

It is not as if I can go out and find a new programmer. No one else can know about the scam I perpetrated with Atari. Were even a suspicion cast on my nefarious deeds, the literary community would be rocked, the very foundations of modern literature would crumble. Cliche would be revoked. But robbed of my software, if my stories were rejected, people would talk. Shareholder value would decline. Already I've had nothing but trouble from the DA's office after I ordered my driver to run over my publicist.

Pulitzer prizes, including some of my own, would be rent asunder. I might even lose my Tony award. At the very least, I would be driven from New York neither my penthouse on the Upper East Side nor my aviary in Tribeca could give me refuge. My personal assistant would likely commit hara-kiri, or worse, publish a memoir. Would they grant me asylum in Greenwich?

Could I, in good conscience, admit to my fraud, that I have turned a prominent literary magazine into a card-counting exercise? No. My responsibilities are too great. Not to mention my mortgage.

Most of all I would disappoint my fans, who are legion. They read my novels on the perceived strength of my short stories, and my memoirs win prizes and are sold to Hollywood to create Blockbusters because everyone knows, though few will have read them, that the stories are published in this one magazine.

I want the editor to like me. He's young, under fifty, and ambitious, his character unimpeachable. He may already suspect my game this might be the linchpin of the case that tears me down. It has crossed my mind to have him killed, but then they would replace him with someone else.

The important question remains, have I done something illegal? I would ask my lawyer, but he is too busy with the publicist case. But it's not as if this involved plagiarism any blatant theft on my part has been too skilfully buried, and its owners either long dead or too obscure to hire a decent attorney.

My plan: I will write what I know.


  Poor idea. There is one decent, honorable solution. I will outsource. I don't even know how to outsource, but from what I have heard, a well-read, English-speaking programmer in India is cheaper than a night in a Thai bordello.

This will be my mission. All other projects, all spheres in which I exert influence, will be stalled, even my lucrative side business on the Home Shopping Network. Until the mission succeeds I will cease work on my most recent roman clef about my experience in Wall Street, titled If I Were an Insider I'd Know Insider Trading Was Illegal.

This week, I travel to India. I will go to Bangalore myself, for I have run out of hashish. Accompanied only by my dearest, closest employees my bodyguard, interpreter, personal chef, and factotum I will find someone to replace Atari, whom I never should have introduced to those Burmese generals.

It's a Stygian burden with an uncertain outcome, but outsource I will, although I strongly contend that 'outsource' has no business a transitive verb.

My confession is complete. Now, save as draft, what is that keyboard shortcut? CTRL + S, no, not send, please, no! Oh hell

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