Nom de Plume
by Tony Noland
Mr. William J. Smith
2280 W. Pine St.
Okemos, MI 48822
Mr. Charles Demereste
Demereste & Associates Literary Representation
76 W. 54th St., Suite 600
New York, NY 10027
September 18, 1975
I got your letter of August 29; I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond. It's just that your discussion of a book tour to go with the release of "Blood Picnic" came as a surprise to me, especially after I thought I'd made myself plain. I had to give my response a lot of thought, since I'll admit, I was a little dismayed to hear that you'd already started making the bookings. I know that my position must sound a little crazy to you. I never expected Scribner's Sons to pick the book up and push it, certainly never expected them to make my appearing in public a non-negotiable.
It's not that I'm ungrateful or that I have anything other than the utmost confidence in you to make B.P. a rousing success. After all, you've been my agent for twenty six years. If I can't rely on you by now, we're both in trouble!
The fact is, Charlie, I need you to go back to Mr. Wilkins at Scribner and try one more time to get him to lighten up. Did you tell him that my face was burned when I was in fighting the Japs in '44? I never go out in public if I can help it. Kids laugh behind my back when I go to the grocery store; can you imagine me on a book tour? Hell, that's why I've never come to New York to meet with you. I simply cannot appear in public as Billy Divine. I hate to be a pill about this, but if he can make a non-negotiable, so can I. Don't think I won't walk away from this deal if appearing in public is a sine qua non. I'd hate to see the deal fall through and see you lose the commission, but there it is.
Even without a tour, B.P. will sell well enough to make them some money, you know that. All of his talk about it being a new age of acceptance of disability is BS. His line about authors needing to be in charge of their own publicity is BS, too. People want to meet Billy Divine, the author of the great thriller? Tell 'em tough rocks and be done with it. If Salinger can hole up someplace, why can't I? Yeah, yeah, I'm no Salinger, but Charlie, you have to work with me here.
I know this is the big break for both of us, but to be honest, Charlie, I'm not sure I want a big break at my age. Handle the details with Scribner as you see fit, but two things I won't budge on: no book tour and nobody - I mean NOBODY - finds out who Billy Divine is a pen name for. (It's a stupid name and I should have chosen something that didn't sound so obviously nom de plume-ish in the first place, but that's water over the dam.)
Charlie, that brings me to the main reason it took me so long to respond. I've decided to hang up my Underwood. I'll send off the final draft of "The Howell Beach Horror" by parcel post when I mail this letter. That will be my last book. We've always worked well together, Charlie, and you know how stubborn I can be. Don't try to talk me out of it. If B.P. does well, then H.B.H. will too, as will the whole backlist, the ones that are still in print, anyway.
In recognition of all of our years together, Charlie, I want you to up your commission from 15% to 25% for H.B.H and the future sale of anything on the backlist, including any future printings of B.P. Don't try to argue with me on that, either. You're a good man and you deserve it.
I'm not going to get all sloppy in this letter and tell you how much I appreciate everything you've done for me, or to thank you for taking a chance on an unknown rookie writer all those years ago. I'll save all that for later, after we sell H.B.H.
P.S. I'm serious, Charlie - no book tour, and NOBODY learns who I am! - Bill
In a small house in Okemos, Michigan, a man pulls a letter from his typewriter, stands and stretches. At the window, he watches the sun rise through a line of clouds, low on the horizon. As dawn slowly pinks the sky, he sighs.
Time to change agents again. He chides himself for being foolish with "Blood Picnic". Too good, damn it. If he'd skipped all the moral ambiguity and cut that final tearjerker scene with the stepdaughter, he could have avoided the literary overtones.
The key to staying safely in the obscurity of the mid-list is to keep the blood flowing and the tits showing, and leave it at that. From age to age, that's the kind of thing that gives a steady income without the risk of a best seller. After four hundred years of turning out penny dreadfuls, he should know that.
With the sun up and shining, he returns to the typewriter and feeds in a clean sheet of paper onto the platen. He consults a pad with some handwritten notes and begins to type.
Mr. W. James Smith
2280 W. Pine St.
Okemos, MI 48822
Mr. Andrew Horowitz
Horowitz, Klein and Goldstein
141 Arch St., Suite 232
Philadelphia, PA 19021
September 19, 1975
Dear Mr. Horowitz,
A beautiful young bride is possessed by the ghost of a woman long dead, a woman whose animal passions killed her. Now, once again in a fresh young body, she is free to indulge her desires, no matter how depraved. The bewildered husband of the innocent victim, unable to satisfy the passions of his demon-possessed lover, is shocked to be faced with the most awful of choices: share his demon bride with other men or see her destroyed. Can he find a way to free his love from the clutches of this horror of horrors?
This is the premise of "The Taking of Mrs. Jones", a supernatural thriller novel of approximately 80,000 words. The novel draws on my recent experiences in the more sordid parts of Vietnam, where I was injured in the service of my country. I believe the novel would appeal to young men of my own age.
I have taken the liberty of including the first five pages of the manuscript. May I ask your opinion of it? I am seeking representation for "The Taking of Mrs. Jones." It is my first novel, and I would value your opinion of its merits and commercial potential.
Please note that for the purposes of this novel, I am writing using the pen name "Daniel Cutlass". I have one additional supernatural thriller novel, nearly complete, written under the same name.
I look forward to hearing from you.
W. James Smith
The sequel to this story is "Truth Lies Beneath".
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.