The Book I Will Write #62: The Contract and the Phlegm

flemingTHE 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 and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment and is living at the library. In this episode, he hears from agent Martin Shill.


Dear Mr. Fleming,

Hello again! It’s me, Martin Shill, your agent, if I can be so bold as to insist! I hope all is well wherever you may be. Here, I have nothing but good things to report:

  • First, I’ve been in touch with Roberta Hollymore’s replacement at Knopf, a former assistant named Annie, who’s very interested in your novel. Her position is interim at the moment. She claims that she has no decision-making authority and that her duties are largely ceremonial. She makes a ceremony, she says, of pouring her own tea and taking walks and long lunches and is considering filming a documentary of her paid wanderings in Central Park.

A tough cookie. But I’m nothing if not persistent. My approach is to wear people down. I call and call until my calls are so unwelcome that a person will say or do just about anything to get me to stop. Well, in this case, I got this so-called “interim editor” to promise she’ll “take a look at” your manuscript, which in my experience is one step closer to publication than simply “considering” your manuscript. A person can “consider” a manuscript without even looking at it, while “looking at” a manuscript most certainly involves “considering,” no?

“Houston, we have progress,” they might have said on Apollo XIII if things had gone well.

  • Second, Mrs. Jackson’s organic tomato cookbook is nearly complete! We now have almost 100 recipes, many of them from the mind of yours truly (with a little help from a certain someone–see below). Those recipes merely await the approval and editing of Michael Jackson’s mother, who I am confident will soon return my call. True story: last time I called, I got through to her agent’s voicemail. It turned out there was no limit on the message length, so I took the opportunity not only to re-pitch my proposal but to read aloud the entire contract. This, despite the fact that I had a bout of bronchitis and had to interrupt myself with coughing fits after each clause. Nevertheless! I got it all out—both the contract and the phlegm—and as of this writing I feel much better about both, thank you.


  • Third, I am back with my helpmeet, my ex (and soon to be ex-ex!), the one and only Mrs. Shill. Her contributions to the tomato book are too many to mention. Suffice to say we set up a test kitchen and cooked our hinies off. You’d have thought we’d slaughtered a hundred beasts a night in there, so red was our kitchen. And Mrs. Shill has camera skills, so she’s taking shots of our ready-to-serve results. We have, too, an idea to making a cooking video for internet publicity.

So: all is well, and I suspect that we may be done with this tie-in book before you even finish your novel!

I don’t want to rush you, though. Send me a chapter or a page, even, if you’d like another pair of eyes on it. Who knows, it may spark a new tomato recipe for Mrs. Shill and me.

Okay, time to get cooking—and not just in the kitchen!


Martin Shill
The Shill House Agency