Grantville, February 1634

Hazel Patton couldn't stand not knowing what the giggling was all about a moment longer. She poked her head around the corner to find three of her teacher trainees giggling over a book. Walking over to them she held out a hand for the book. Marcie Haggerty passed it over. Hazel sighed. It was by one of the worst of the up-time romantic novelists. Hazel absolutely refused to have her on the shelves of her personal collection. "Why are you wasting your time reading that rubbish?"

"I wasn't reading it, Mrs. Patton."

Hazel's raised her eyebrows.

"Honest, Mrs. Patton, Anna and Elisabeth were asking about some of the descriptions of up-time culture. They wanted to know if . . . "

Hazel held up her hands "I wouldn't trust anything that woman had to say about culture."

"Well, no, neither would I. But they sold, Mrs. Patton. That's what I was telling Anna and Elisabeth. Up-time they published hundreds of her books. I suggested they should look at Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer if they wanted examples of good romances."

Hazel looked at Anna and Elisabeth. "And why are you two so interested in good romances?"

Anna bit her lips and looked guiltily at Hazel. "My cousin works for a printer. He says the romantic novels sell well. We want to try and write one."

"You want to write a romantic novel?" Anna and Elisabeth nodded. Hazel checked Marcie. "And you? Are you trying to become the next best-selling author as well?"

Marcie grinned. "I'd like the money, but it's not easy."

Hazel settled her hands on her hips. "Of course it's not easy. They say write about what you know. What do you three know about romance?" Hazel stared at Marcie, daring her to claim she had experienced romance. Hazel knew all about young men, and romantic they weren't.

"Could you help?" Marcie asked.

Hazel froze. Then she smiled. Back up-time she'd often thought she could write a better story than some of books she received in those monthly bundles. "Yes, I very much think I can. Come round to my place after school and we'll start researching the good stories to see what makes them good."

The Schmucker and Schwentzel Print Shop, April 1634

Ursula Fröbel ran her red pencil through line after line of the reworked Abbreviated Manual of Statistical Principles. Pretty soon she had to stop to sharpen it again. Pen knife in hand she glared at the manuscript. Why can't the fool learn to listen to his editor?

Ursula looked at the eight hundred odd pages yet to be reviewed and sighed. Now would be a very good time to take a break from editing Norris Craft's manuscript. She put it back into its envelope and tossed it into the pending basket. The way she was feeling about Herr Craft right now, it could go into the recycling bin, and to hell with the advance he'd already been paid. To take her mind off the author from hell she turned to her in-basket. Maybe someone had come up with another good idea, like the Grantville Genealogy Club's suggestion that they write a Who's Who of up-timers who came through with the Ring of Fire.

She sighed in fond remembrance. That had proven to be a real gem. They had sold out of the first print run of a thousand copies within the first week, and had done three more print runs since then. And unlike Norris Craft, the genealogical club had been happy to follow their editor's suggestions. But no, only a few bills and queries about advances on royalties populated the basket. That left the "lucky dip" of the "unsols," the unsolicited manuscripts. Why anybody would waste time and energy to write a manuscript without having a contract Ursula didn't know, but plenty of people did. Too many.

The "unsols" were usually dross, with few of them able to hold Ursula's interest as far as the bottom of the first page. The rule was to try and read at least that far before making a decision. Anything that passed got seen by one of the readers, people who were happy to be paid to read through the unsols and give an opinion. If enough of the readers liked a manuscript, then Ursula would read it, but not until then.

Ursula took the first unsol from the top of the basket. She struggled through the introductory sentence, all seventy-five words of it. Ursula was ready to junk it there and then, but there was the rule. Always read the first page before making a decision to dump a manuscript, it might get better. It was hard going, but Ursula managed to get to the end of the first page. There was no stamped self-addressed envelope supplied, so it went straight into the recycle bin.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff