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Foul Matter


Paul Giverny aimed a paper airplane at the window of his small office ("off.bdrm 3" in the rental ad) and watched it nose-dive to the floor. The Givernys' apartment was in the East Village, not quite as trendy as the Village itself. The rent was unbelievable, the agent a scam artist, but they loved the apartment, especially (for him) the "off.bdrm 3," which was the perfect size for bookshelves, desk, and computer, a couple of chairs, and with a window that looked out on leafy branches. Hannah was seven and loved the park. Molly was thirty-six and loved the Dean & DeLuca on the other side of it. Paul loved the hungover, brassy scene of the East Village foot soldiers who always appeared to be walking off a morning after, bits of metallic conversations stabbing backward as they passed in the cold air. People couldn't understand it about the Givernys; they were extremely rich and yet chose to live in a rental in the East Village. Why didn't Central Park West beckon them? Why didn't they succumb to the siren song of Sutton Place or the Dakota? Why? Because they didn't. Paul gave a lot of his money to charity, a good third of it. Another third to Dean & DeLuca, but they still managed on the million or two left.

The paper airplane was one of his list of publishers, one he had stricken several names from. Publishers on the left side of the page, writers on the right side. The airplane he had fashioned was the long list. Now the lists before him were the short ones-five writers, four publishers. He struck one of the publishers off, two of the writers. Three publishers, three writers. What he was doing was matching them up.

"Are you still fooling with that list?" asked Molly, standing in the door and wearing an apron. She might be the only wife in Manhattan who wore aprons to cook. "Dinner's ready. Anyway, what's the problem? You know you don't like any of them, the publishers, except FSG, and you keep saying they wouldn't publish you. So you might as well keep on with your old one." She stood there with a wooden spoon in her hand, looking very much the cook. He always liked the props-and preps-aprons and spoon-when she was only microwaving Dean and DeLuca.

He said, "Process of elimination."

"Of what? I mean elimination down to what?"

Well, she didn't know what he was doing, did she? All Molly thought was that Paul was trying to decide on his next publisher. If Molly knew, she'd give him one of those and-I-knew-you looks. Paul shrugged, not knowing exactly how to answer.

She said, "You always say there's no difference, that there's not room enough to swing a cat in."

"Swing a cat in? I never used that metaphor. It doesn't even make sense, not in this instance. Maybe 'shake a stick at,' but not 'swing a cat in.' Surely."

"Just tack that list"-she pointed with the spoon-"up on the wall and throw darts. Come on. Hannah's famished."

Hannah was always 'famished.' It was her current favorite word.

"Just ten more minutes," he said.

"The food will be a ruin."

"Then I'll go to Dean and DeLuca and get us another ruin. Please."

"Okay. But I'll have to feed Hannah."

But Hannah was right behind her. Hannah said, "Just another minute, pul-eze" in such a copy of her father's tone, Paul wanted to laugh.

Molly sighed. "You, too?" She left.

Hannah produced another chapter of her book. She would ask him to read it before officially including it in the book. "Would you please read this?" she asked, solemnly. It was a grave request.

"Of course," said Paul, with a frown to match hers as he took the single page. This was chapter 99. Hannah had been writing this book for a year, ever since, at the age of six, she had gotten wind of her father's astonishing success. Now she was seven and even more determined to be nominated for an award. ("Either that National Book contest one or one of those others, I don't care which.")

Her Book was titled The Hunted Gardens. Originally, Paul thought it must have been the "haunted" gardens and Hannah had simply made a spelling error. But she did refer to the gardens as "hunted" and he didn't know what she meant. Also, he pointed out to her that the gardens were oddly bereft of flowers. Why were there no flowers? That had given her pause fo a moment. But only a moment. "It's winter," she'd smoothly said.

And there seemed to be a lot of dragons lately in this book, hunted by a curious person, the Dragonnier. (Perhaps the gardens were, then, really "hunted" rather than "haunted," but he still thought it was Hannah's error.) Now, all of this potential slaying was causing her anxiety. But more anxiety came from being afraid "somebody" might steal the idea. More than once she had probed her father about this, whether he ever thought of writing a book about dragons.

Solemnly, Hannah waited while Paul read the chapter. All the chapters were short. Even though it was chapter 99, the book itself was still only eighty-some pages long. Paul read that the Dragonnier "gave the dragon a good thrashing." Paul told her it was very good, but suggested that she supply a few more details about the "thrashing." You know, how the Dragonnier does it, for didn't she want her reader to actually see it in his mind?

Hannah lay her hand across her brow, thought for a moment, and said, "Okay, I've got it. He 'gave the dragon a good thrashing back and forth' "Pleased with this, she turned and left.

She vanished from the doorway. Oh, for fuck's sake, he told himself, not everything has to be a life-or-death matter. He sighed and with one finger coaxed a book forward. It was the new book, the one that, along with its cover blowup, crowded Barnes & Noble's window. Another best-seller, another two plus mil. Don't Go There, the book was called. Despite the fact that its protagonist was not the mild-mannered, brilliant detective Paul had used before, and despite there being no murder, no gunplay, the book would still be stashed with the mysteries or thrillers. He studied the jacket. It was the jacket he had insisted upon in spite of the art department's hemorraging all sorts of objections, the main one being that its moody jacket-shades of gray edging into black, one retreating gray figures couldn't be seen across a room. The chains didn't much like it, either. Barnes & Noble tried to shoot it down and would have done if his sales weren't stratospheric.

Paul's present and soon-to-be-past publisher, Queeg and Hyde, wasn't on the list because there were no writers there who would do in the situation Paul had dreamed up. He looked at the two lists on which he'd matched up four publishers with five writers. The publisher he really was dying to choose was Mackenzie-Haack because of its snob appeal (unwarranted) and its venal, underhanded president, Bobby Mackenzie. What Paul was looking for in a publisher was one who would stop at nothing and if there was anyone who'd do whatever it took to get whatever he wanted, it was Bobby Mackenzie.

Two of the writers on the shortlist were published by Mackenzie-Haack: Barbara Breedlove and Ned Isaly. He crossed out one of the listed writers-Saul Prouil, who was no longer under contract to Colan Meilly, so the plan wouldn't work. Also, Saul Prouil was rich; family money, certainly not from royalties. He was just a superb writer who'd won the National Book Award, the Pen/Faulkner, the Critics' Circle, and several smaller ones.

Back to his other two writers: Breedlove and Isaly. Paul had met both at a Mackenzie-Haack cocktail party to launch a first book-"debut novel" (a phrase that made Paul want to retch)-by a twenty-year-old writer named Mory or Murray-somebody. Paul did not go to publication parties, but he did to this one, following the inception of his little plan. Barbara Breedlove was a good writer, though not as good as she thought she was. She was also too full of herself, too much a networking writer, too much a summer conference person, turning up at Bread Loaf or one of the others, too much a scene player and much too much a snob about genre fiction. A conversation with her had been like sitting on the down side of a child's slide. She was the one up in the air.

He needed a writer of a certain kind, one who didn't really think about the arena of publishing. Not that this writer didn't want to be published, but he didn't think about it. Ned Isaly had been short-listed for the Pen/Faulkner for his last book and therefore had a certain amount of cachet. Power. But not nearly the power of Paul Giverny. Paul knew that Isaly was a much better writer than himself, but the quality of writing had little to do with the plan.

What Paul needed was hard to find: a pure writer.

"How long have you been with Mackenzie-Haack?"

This conversation had taken place at the Mackenzie-Haack cocktail party for Mory or Murray. Both he and Ned Isaly had stranded themselves like a couple of frogs on a lily pad (Ned's metaphor) while the social scene swam around them.

Ned frowned slightly at the question, as if he really had to dredge up the answer. "Two books ago, so I guess seven, eight years." He was carrying a brown leather case, which shifted from one arm to another as he looked for a place to put his empty glass.

"A book every three or four years?"

"That's about right. I'm pretty slow."

"Slow? Flaubert was slow-if that's even a meaningful word."

"By comparison-"

"You don't want to make that comparison," said Paul. Ned smiled. Paul went on: "So, what do you think of Mackenzie-Haack?"

"Oh. I guess they're all right."

Do you think they publish your books well?"

Ned frowned again, mining for answers. "To tell the truth, I don't pay much attention to that end of things."

"Your agent takes care of that?"

Ned shook his head. "I don't have one, actually. I don't much care for agents."

"I couldn't agree more. But you must have someone to intercede, somebody who yells when they want to print your book backward or make it a pop-up. things like that."

Excerpted from FOUL MATTER © Copyright 2004 by Martha Grimes. Reprinted with permission by New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.


Foul Matter
by by Martha Grimes

  • Genres: Fiction, Humor
  • paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade
  • ISBN-10: 0451212932
  • ISBN-13: 9780451212931