Dispatches | July 12, 2005

Dear Mr. S. Hussein,

Re: Your Recent Submission

We here at the Missouri Review thank you for the submission of the excerpt from your forthcoming novel, Ekhroj minha ya mal’un (Get Out, Damned One), for consideration of publication. As I’m sure you know, the Missouri Review has always welcomed submissions from world leaders, and we’re glad to see that the tradition of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Vaclav Havel, and George W. Bush continues even today. Unfortunately, though the excerpt displays great ambition, a grand scale, a classic confrontation of pure good and pure evil, and an admirable, even Pynchonian, level of paranoia, your submission does not meet our current needs (nor, evidently, the nation of Jordan’s). Still, we are encouraged by your efforts. As we all know, it’s always a challenge to balance the demands of our vocations and our avocations, to find the time to write while engaged in tyranny, suppression of dissent, the killing of rival politicians, the gassing of the Kurds, the invasion of the Kuwaitis, the construction of lavish palaces, the skirting of United Nations embargos, and, of course, the raising of sons (that Uday must have been a handful!). The fact that you completed the novel on the very eve of the U.S. invasion speaks highly of your unwavering dedication to the literary arts. Oh, if only more writers could follow your example, how might the world be a better place?

In this context, I would like to offer, if I may, the following editorial suggestions:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read submissions in which a man plots to overthrow a town’s sheik but is defeated in his quest by the sheik’s daughter and an Arab warrior, the latter a thinly veiled fictional representation of the egomaniacal, narcissistic, genocidal, dictator-for-life author. Whoo-boy! If only I had a dime for every one of those! And that Zionist-Christian plot against Arabs and Muslims? It may seem fresh and original in your neck of the desert, but let me tell you, around here every writer who has ever been through a creative writing workshop has one of those in his or her bag!

Speaking of workshops, have you considered a low-residency MFA program? Or perhaps even an internship here at the Review? While we recognize that your current incarceration will prevent you from attending a year-round program like the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, there are many fine low-residency programs such as the ones at Warren Wilson and Bennington colleges, and perhaps, with good behavior, you might be able to arrange some sort of work-release program with your supervisors? And we here at the Review are always seeking motivated young people with a serious interest in pursuing careers in publishing and editing. Such opportunities would allow you to nurture your craft in a supportive and tolerant atmosphere, free of the worries of daily prison life (Say cheese!) and the demands of being a fallen dictator with all its attendant uncertainty concerning the future.

To return to the specifics of your submission, as for the setting, Baghdad may be the historical Babylon, but have you considered setting the story in, oh, say, Orange County, California? (Talk about Babylon!) And maybe instead of an Arab warrior, the hero could be an Arab surferboy? Or a nondemoninational surferboy who gave up the chance to be a dictator so that he might seek the perfect wave? A sort of Muhammad-Zen-Owen Wilson figure. I do like the sheik’s daughter as a character, but I’m thinking a little less Hillary Clinton, a little more Hilary Duff. I’m just trying to think outside the box here. (Or, one might say, outside the spider-hole! Sorry, it was just too easy!) As for those bodice-ripper scenes, all that silk and veil and smooth, creamy skin, what can I say, Saddam? You are the Man!

Now, I don’t want to sound so negative, wouldn’t want to invoke your wrath (ha-ha, we all know where that can lead!) so let me end with this final suggestion.

Two words: Left. Behind. If you will excuse the presumptuous nature of the following, but might I encourage you to consider partnering with Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins of the evangelical Christian Left Behind series (see the prison library) to write The Mother of All Apocalyptic Novels? Think about the possibilities! Dueling alternate chapters! Gog and Magog! Babylon (the USA) vs. Babylon (Baghdad)! Christians, Muslims, Jews, Jesus, Mohammad, Abraham, swords, horses, helicopter gunships, raptures, Armageddon, biological and chemical warfare, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, blood up to the bridles of the horses. Kirk Cameron. Mel Gibson. George Lucas! And the promotional tie-ins! Saddam bobbleheads! And you thought there was lots of money to be made in collecting fine art? Again, just a suggestion. We here at the Review respect the independent vision of the artist and would never wish to impose our own will upon the manuscript.

While we are aware that there have been accusations (see www.foetry.com) that you, in the past, have exerted undue personal and political influence over the publishing process to gain oneself an unfair advantage, including, but not limited to, bribes, graft from the UN’s oil-for-food program, threats of torture both physical and emotional, actual torture both physical and emotional, and general dangers to world security—not even to mention ghostwriters—we recognize that these are anonymous, unproven allegations and until concrete evidence is presented to the contrary, we will support your ongoing publication efforts.We believe the UN Inspections Team should be allowed to complete its report before irreversal action is taken.

As for the difficulties you encountered while trying to use our online submission process, unfortunately we do require a valid credit card.

Again, thanks for the opportunity to consider your submission. And don’t worry. I didn’t take the threats contained in your cover letter to cut off all my fingers and toes and to rip my heart from my chest with an iron claw personally. Believe me, you aren’t the first writer to display such overzealousness in your cover letter. I look forward to reading, as you fervently insisted, under threat of death, each of your previous novels—Zabibah and the King, The Fortified Citadel, and Men and a City. I’m always looking for suggested readings from friends.

We here at the Missouri Review hope your summer is going well and hope that you will continue to send us your finest writing for our consideration. We wish you the best in your forthcoming tribunal. May the authorities be as kind to you as you have been to your friends.

Scott Kaukonen
The Missouri Review