To the average person, the term ‘slush pile’ brings to mind a mound of wet, mushy snow. Aspiring novelists know it as the place where unsolicited manuscripts are tossed to languish, until their pages yellow and turn brittle. There are, however, people in publishing, or so I’m told, who peruse the slush pile, driven by the desire to be there at the start of something wonderful.
I’ve never worked, in an editorial capacity, with a slush pile of manuscripts, but I have had to work through daunting piles of things at various times in my career. I’ve gone through hundreds of resumes to find candidates worthy of deeper scrutiny; I’ve listened to oodles of songs to divine the ones the public would embrace, to play on the radio; and I’ve sifted through piles of books, looking for the ones that interested me enough to invite the author to appear on my fledgling cable television show.
To prepare for that show, I would read the book and research the author. The more I knew going into the interview, the more fluid the conversation would be. I made up more questions than I could possibly hope to use in half an hour, even if every answer was mono-syllabic. In the end, if the author seemed to enjoy themselves, I considered the show a success.
The other day, I watched the movie, The Soloist. It’s about an LA Times columnist, Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.), and the homeless musician, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) that he befriends. I was moved by the movie and went on to watch the extras on the DVD. One of them was an interview with the real Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers. All of a sudden a light bulb went off, and I thought, “Steve Lopez? I know that name.” I rushed to my bookcase and there it was, Third and Indiana, by Steve Lopez. A quick check of the author’s bio confirmed that it was the same man, and the inscription on the title page indicated that he’d enjoyed the time he’d spent with me on my talk show.
Now, I am not claiming that that interview, aired on a local cable access channel many years ago, helped Steve Lopez sell any books. Nonetheless, in that moment, I felt inordinately proud of him. As if, by picking Third and Indiana out of my own ‘slush pile,’ I had discovered someone talented and destined for success.
For the sake of my own future success, I hope the desire for that feeling of pride will continue to compel even the most jaded editors to slog through their slush piles, and one day discover me.