The Book I Will Write by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. THE BOOK I WILL WRITE is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant at Knopf, Mary Ann Lankowski, and her boss, Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore. In this episode, Fleming receives a surprise email from an agent.
WHEN I SAY “WE” I’M REFERRING MAINLY TO MYSELF
Dear Mr. Fleming,
I’ve been given your name by someone in Ms. Hollymore’s office at Knopf. I understand that you’re working on a vegetarian alt-history thriller involving Michael Jackson and a secret society. The concept has caught my attention and won’t let me sleep. That hasn’t happened to me in years.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am the senior agent at The Shill House Agency, which I founded thirty-one years ago. Shill House is a boutique agency, meaning that we are small. For example, I’m not just the senior agent, I’m the only agent. I’m also the only employee, so when I say “we,” I’m referring mainly to myself. I’d like to think I’m also referring to the agency as a whole, but since I am the agency, you get the picture.
I should also tell you that Shill House has never been headquartered in a “house” as such. I once had an idea to put us in a brownstone in Manhattan, but that didn’t pan out. We’re currently in a rent-controlled apartment in the Bronx.
Nevertheless, I still put on an ironed blue Oxford and a colorful bow tie each morning because you’ve got to keep your chin up and you’ve got to have style!
I’m telling you this to give you a sense of the personal attention that we at Shill House can provide for the writers in our stable. Our client list includes, and is currently limited to, D. P. Reasons, author of more than 37 self-published books. Reasons has at last written what I consider the breakthrough novel of the decade, Death Does Double Duty, a crime novel to kill all crime novels.
Shill House has a long history with Knopf and Ms. Hollymore. I had the great honor of representing Reid Markham’s The Devil’s Good Graces—as well as the great tragedy of discovering Mr. Markham’s body at the train station in Pennsylvania when he famously took his Tolstoyan final journey. At that time, Mr. Markham was working on the manuscript that certainly would have made him a commercial and literary celebrity. No trace of the manuscript has been found. Instead of indulging in a lifetime of regret, I decided long ago to pay tribute to Reid Markham by endeavoring to discover the next Reid Markham, even if the next Reid Markham is a pale imitation of the original, which is inevitably the case.
With that said, I’m currently looking to expand my client list, and your name keeps popping into my head at odd times, like whenever I turn a doorknob, heat a sauce on the stove, or close my eyes and finger an old scrap of paper that I like to imagine is Reid Markham’s missing manuscript.
Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve made a sale. The business has changed so much! Now I fear that Roberta Hollymore and others, such as myself and my estranged wife, have begun to doubt my talents. Yet Roberta and I once had an intimate relationship pre-dating Reid Markham, and there comes a time in a person’s life when nostalgia outweighs good judgment.
With Roberta, I sense that time is fast approaching. When it comes, I have to be ready with a manuscript. Could it be yours?
I must say, I’m so very, very interested in your concept that if I hadn’t recently taken a sedative, my fingers would surely be trembling on the keyboard. Organic vegetables, charity work, celebrities, and secret societies are all big now, and I know of no other book proposal that combines all four elements as organically (forgive the pun) as yours does.
Anyway, would you please send me a few sample pages and an outline? I can get back to you quickly, as I have very little else on my plate at the moment. I’m sitting here in my rent-controlled apartment and there’s nothing on TV! Such is the glamor of a high-powered agent!
Solidly on Your Team,
The Shill House Agency