My book was turned down by 27 big-city publishers, who felt it would not appeal to a wide range of people. If you, yourself, are a wide range of people, you might enjoy hearing about it. To begin, here’s my rejected book proposal from late 1993.
Bar Harbor Police Beat
A Non-Fiction Book by Richard Sassaman
“On the 3rd, a Mt. Desert woman reported to police that she had left her false teeth in a local bar, and that the owner refused to return them until the woman made good on a suspicious bank check she had cashed the night before.” (4-7-83)
Bar Harbor, Maine, is the most famous town in Vacationland. Every summer, five or six million people come up the scenic Down East coast to visit us on Mount Desert Island, stirring up a volatile melting pot that includes idiot tourists, rich summer people, poor locals, and normal, everyday folks like you and me.
Because of this mix, the four local police forces in the island towns of Bar Harbor, Mt. Desert, Southwest Harbor, and Tremont, as well as the rangers in nearby Acadia National Park, end up with many strange and wonderful problems, as well as unusual tasks to accomplish.
Each Thursday since 1979, the Bar Harbor Times has printed a column called Police Beat, which explains exactly what the police did, or were asked to do, the previous week on the island. It is by far the most popular section of the paper, and even legendary in certain circles.
“Kitten Survives Smelly Swim”
Police here are still looking for the owner of or a home for a one-year-old kitten that survived a fall into a large settling tank at the Ledgelawn Avenue sewage treatment plant last week. Sewer Department workers discovered the animal, which apparently fell into the tank, crawled out, and then became frozen to a metal catwalk on Friday morning.
By using a portable heater, the men were able to free the kitten and transport it to the Acadia Veterinary Hospital. According to a hospital spokeswoman, the short-haired, grey male tiger kitten is doing well. “The first thing we did was give it a bath and treat it for a frozen tail and legs. Because of freezing, the kitten’s tail had to be amputated,” she said. “He’s real frisky, not afraid of anything,” she added. (2-28-85)
Bar Harbor Police Beat is a collection of items from the first 10 years of this column, 1979 to 1988, arranged by me with additional commentary. (At the turn of the century, I plan a second collection, for the years 1989 through December 31, 1999.)
It consists of 30 chapters, averaging maybe five pages each, as described in the enclosed list of Chapter Subjects and Titles.
Why publish Bar Harbor Police Beat?
First, the book is unique, containing true stories a novelist or screenwriter would be hard pressed to invent.
Second, it is that rarest of beasts, truly funny original material (with no unpleasant aftertaste).
Third (as I know from personal polling techniques), it is material that has an immediate, wide appeal all across the U.S. People in small towns identify with the problems and hard times faced by Bar Harbor locals, while people in large cities look with nostalgia at a place where losing bees can be the major crime of the week.
A Herrick Road [woman] notified police that her bees were loose on Wednesday. She volunteered to go get them should anyone find them. (6-25-81)
Included in the Times’s subscription base of 9,000 are many people from around the country who long to keep in contact with Bar Harbor, which writer Jean Shepherd has called “America’s most perfect small town.” After letters to the editor appeared in 1983 from local people who complained that Police Beat was unfair, inflammatory, discriminatory, and the like, a woman from New York City wrote in to say,
“While I can certainly sympathize with the gentleman who recently wrote to request that you discontinue your Police Beat,. . . I sincerely hope you have no such intention. . . .
“I work in quite a nice neighborhood in Manhattan. Yet I can go out at lunchtime and find the police collecting the parts of a dismembered murder victim from a trash can on the next block, knowing there will be so much more horrendous and ‘significant’ crime that day the story will never be reported by the New York newspapers.
“How comforting it is to come home to a copy of the Times, with its reports of dogs menacing local citizens, stolen-but-recovered bicycles and ‘stolen’ coats that later prove to have been sent to the cleaners by the maid.
“Thank goodness for the amusing, endearing Police Beat. Keep up the good work. . . .” (2-10-83)
Also in Northeast Harbor, police took an unusual complaint from a homeowner that someone had stolen all of the leaves from her yard. According to police reports, an intensive investigation determined that the leaves blew into a neighboring yard. (10-18-84)
Bar Harbor Police Beat is an American original, and I know marketing departments prefer the tried and true. They don’t enjoy being out there like pioneers, getting shot at by the Indians.
However, the book would be easy to do publicity for: a few quick anecdotes on a five- to 30-minute radio or TV show segment, or excerpts in magazines or newspapers, settings that can be as wide-ranging as in the plays of Shakespeare, from low-humor for the folks in the cheap seats to more lofty discussions of morality, about the very modern topic of what people expect from their police forces, are we safe from our own police?, and how police training might or might not prepare officers for the actual emergencies they face every day.
Responding to a report of fighting at a Town Hill residence, the police chief was attacked repeatedly by a wild turkey. According to the chief, the bird made several charges, and pecked him on the foot and leg. The chief was able to ward off his attacker with a ‘swift kick.’ Neither the chief nor the bird sustained serious injury “The last time we went there,” said one officer, “they opened the front door and a goat came out after us.” (1-13-83)
The book’s predecessors might include Small Town News, on David Letterman’s late-night TV show, and the series of four Headlines books published by Warner Books since 1988, items clipped from newspapers and given punch lines by Tonight show host Jay Leno. (His Headlines III, from 1991, includes an item from the Bar Harbor Times Police Beat column.)
Another forerunner might be the three News of the Weird books collected by Chuck Shepherd, bizarre versions of true newspaper material like Leno would use. In fact, Shepherd’s latest book, America’s Least Competent Criminals (Harper Perennial, 1993) contains nothing but Police Beat-type anecdotes, since that is probably the most popular part of his syndicated column News of the Weird.
Bar Harbor Police Beat benefits, I believe, by being firmly based entirely in one geographical location, especially a place that is known around the world and visited by millions of people each year.
There is only one book currently available with the words Bar Harbor in the title, Lost Bar Harbor, a collection of historical photographs of now-extinct grand hotels and mansions. The manager of Mr. Paperback, the chain bookstore in Bar Harbor, told me that hundreds of people have bought one novel reprinted locally (from 1886), even though the book is deadly dull, merely because it’s titled A Romance of Mount Desert.
People on vacation constantly are looking for local books, she told me, summer reading about the area, and it is not available.
Instead, when they can’t find anything to read, tourists must go out walking.
“Tourist Finds Possible Human Appendage on Bar Island”
An object, which appeared to be a human tongue, was discovered by a visiting doctor from New Jersey while he was walking along the shores of an island off Bar Harbor on the 9th. The man contacted local authorities after finding the pulpy object in a mass of seaweed on the north shore of Bar Island.
According to police reports, the visiting physician told them the object ‘appeared to still have blood on it’ when he discovered it. Acadia National Park officials searched Bar Island for other signs of a body or possible foul play but turned up nothing. . . . Dr. so-and-so of the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta, where the object was sent for testing, told the Times Tuesday that there was still some doubt as to whether the object was a tongue, and if it was, whether it was human. “It’s not in good shape,” he said. “You can’t just look at it and tell what it is.” (7-15-82)