Long Distance Murder

Joseph J Kozma

The year is 1966. It is early in the year perhaps around Easter time. Two kinds of winds chase each other; warm from the south, cold from the north, quite typical for Jacksonville. I am heading toward Howard Johnsons on West Morton to meet the CEO of the Olympic Publishing Company to discuss my forthcoming novel, “Long Distance Murder.” Unusual event? It certainly is. But, then, we had no computers, books on demand and other blessings and curses. There were no autocorrect applications, email to speed up communications; typesetting was a way of life for publishers. And the storage, the warehousing of published books … what if the books did not sell? They had to find a way to nonexistence. All that and more the publisher had to consider. The author frequently was contracted for editorial details and promotional aspects. Some of that friendly behavior can be still featured by the larger publishing companies.

Heading west on Morton I was quite proud and full of anticipation. My first novel to be published soon, meeting the publisher to boot. The facts were favorable and simple but the publisher’s motivation was a little more complicated. His business was located in Manhattan, 5th Avenue. His parents lived in Chicago. While he drove west to visit them, he decided to take a side trip to meet one of his authors.

The meeting was cordial, accomplished a great deal. I had some idea what the book would look like, how many would be printed, for how much it would sell, what the royalties would be and how soon would all that happen. Nothing in writing. All verbal, sealed by a handshake and that was that. Not quite so. When the book was published I was notified that things had changed and the book now would be published in a library edition, hard bound, embellished with gold on its spine etc. All that happened 50 years ago. Why, all of a sudden I remember these details. The book has been out of print for a while. I did not think about it for decades. Here is why now.

A few months ago I received a letter from Dr. Richard Katholi, my cardiologist, telling me that he had just read my murder mystery, “Long Distance Murder.” Just now? What longevity, I thought. Just like Star Trek or like Batman (TV), they started in 1966. After a little inquiry, Dr. Katholi told me that it was Mrs. Katholi who found the book in Prairie Archives in Springfield. Obviously there is a difference between longevity on the screen and in an antique bookstore. Now I appreciated the library edition which was designed for survival of the physical kind. A few days ago, as I moved my many boxes out of my office to my garage I found a few copies tucked away in a box, looking crisp as if just off the press. The pages are not faded and the gold letters are shining.

Now, as I am retired from medical practice, I can look back on things with critical eyes. Now I can see the huge difference between publishing before and after the electronic age. Who would have thought in 1966 that you could feed a manuscript into the first part of a production line and in a short time you could pick up a book printed and bound and be ready to be shipped to destinations essentially anywhere on the globe? In that regard automation is wonderful. Books are now easily accessible. We have come from handwritten copies of ancient scripts to books on demand. Through out the centuries and millennia we went through technical and intellectual changes that hardly can be appreciated without investment of time and certain emotional involvement. Unfortunately some of these changes are counterproductive. Book sales are low, bookshelves in homes are fewer and fewer, electronic reading devises are handy but they do not provide a feel of accomplishment that you have when you finish a book, place it on the shelf and know that you will consult it again. Books can give you stability. In these days it is a welcome element.

A few weeks ago, a middle-aged gentleman looked in my eyes and quite seriously asked me, “Why would anyone buy a book?” Frankly, I was surprised. “One can read for reading’s sake just like one can produce art for art’s sake,” I told him. Soon I realized that he was not a “bookworm.” We left it at that. He is just an example of the “diversity” we have.

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