Charles Petzold

The Final Deadline

June 13, 2006
Roscoe, NY

Originally I was supposed to complete the manuscript of Applications = Code + Markup by May 5, but I had submitted many chapters early enough that I was allowed a few more weeks to complete the book. Such extensions can't go on indefinitely, and I've recently received word that the final chapters must be delivered by next Monday morning.

This is known as the "deadline," so called because in olden days, editors would actually have an author killed for failing to turn in a manuscript promptly.

Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) never believed they would kill someone so young, so talented, so dashing, but when he saw the man with the dagger enter his favorite tavern, he realized he should have spent the evening at home writing.

Voltaire (1694-1778) was well known for his skill in missing deadlines and surviving. He managed to elude his editors in exile in England, and only returned to France when the most vicous of them died in a mishap involving a puppy he was torturing. Voltaire's other editors were later executed during the French Revolution.

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) was not so lucky. His editor tracked him down to Baltimore and in an apparent gesture of reconciliation, offered to buy the author "a drink or two," knowing full well that Poe never stopped at two.

Over 100 years later, the same insidious technique was used with Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). A plaque at the Whitehorse Tavern in Greenwich Village marks the table where Thomas's editor asked him for the very last time when he was going to finish the damn poem before calling for "another round."

Fortunately, the practice of killing authors is discouraged these days, and editors are often satisfied with having the tardy author's legs broken with a lead pipe.