The April Editor's Pick Writer is Kristen Houghton
Please feel free to email Kristen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul, my partner in the Billings and Carlisle Publishing Agency we had started three years ago, is leaning against the open door to my office. “She’s on the phone again.”
His face is flushed and his shirt is stained with sweat. The air-conditioner is broken, so our office, located on the second floor of this ancient building, is a sweltering hot mess. And it’s only 10:00 am. Maybe it was time to move to a more upscale area.
Still, our agency was doing surprisingly well because we published high quality fiction, absolutely no autobiographies. Autobiographies are boring as hell. Crime and romance novels are our best sellers and soon we will be able to afford a move.
“Tell her I’ll call her back later,” I say, draining the rest of the can of iced-tea on my desk.
Paul wipes his face with some crumpled tissues. “I told her that twice already. Jesus, Christopher, just talk to her, okay? Tell her you’re late for a meeting or something…but please speak to Groovy Granny so she’ll stop calling here every hour on the hour!”
Groovy Granny. That’s the name Paul and I gave to Agatha Wiley, a little old lady who has to be in her late eighties. Five months ago, Groovy sent me a romance manuscript she had written along with her picture. The photo showed a grey-haired little old lady holding the bound typed pages of her manuscript, her old wrinkled eyes smiling into the camera. In a cover letter, Ms. Wiley assured me that her book-to-be is best-seller material. Sure it is.
I say it’s crap.
The gently-worded rejection letter I sent was taken as a request to edit her story and so she keeps sending me “newer and improved” versions of the original story. They’re all crap.
After the last not-so-gently worded rejection letter from me, she tried a new tactic: calling the office at least once a week to speak with, as she says, “My dear publisher Christopher Carlisle about the editing of my forthcoming book.”
I sigh and tell Paul to put her through to my phone.
“Yeah, good,” he says. “Oh, and after you’re done with Groovy, can you please put a call through to maintenance about the air-conditioning? It’s over 90 degrees in here! This is the second shirt I’ve gone through today and I am going home to shower and change before my 4:00 meeting with one of our real authors.”
He starts to leave, then turns back to me and says, “Good luck with Groovy Granny.”
I watch Paul leave, and a few seconds later see the blinking light on my phone that indicates a transferred call. Clearing my voice, I click the loudspeaker icon and hit the blinking button.
I hear a giggle and then a croaky voice. “Well, Christopher, you are a busy, busy man. Paul tells me you are in meetings every time I call. I hope one of the meetings is about my book launch.”
“Um, Agatha, the thing is that...”
“Oh, dear, am I rushing things, Christopher? I mean, I know that the book still has to go to print. Unless of course there’s still editing to be done. Are we still editing? I didn’t hear from you about my last edit. Is the one I sent the final version? Oh, my. There’s so much to do with having my book published, isn’t there?”
This is getting out of hand. I feel the sweat drip down my chin. God-damn it! I should be on the phone yelling at the maintenance crew to get someone up here to fix the air-conditioner instead of being on the phone with an old woman who doesn’t understand the word rejection.
I bite my lip and remind myself that this woman is more than likely my own grandmother’s age and I have to be nice. “Agatha, listen, honey. I have to tell you that I don’t think that we will be publishing your book. It isn’t...well, it isn’t something Paul and I feel will do well in sales.”
There’s a pause, then, “Is it the sex, Christopher? Was the scene between Mr. Darling and Arabella too vivid?”
Sex scene? There was a sex scene? I wrack my brain trying to remember. Oh my God, she must mean that pathetic encounter between her main characters! The scene where Groovy Granny had written the words: Mr. Darling approached the marriage bed and told a shy, swooning Arabella to lift her linen.
Oh yeah, right. That scene. God help me if she thinks that scene is too vivid.
“No, no, Agatha. It’s just that…readers just aren’t into the, um, classic-type of romance books anymore.” That’s a crock of bull right there. Romances always sell well. I fan myself with a paper file and contemplate how long I need to stay on the phone and what other bullshit I can tell Groovy Granny to get her to stop calling me.
There’s a long pause, then a sigh. “What type of book is a big seller these days, Christopher?”
“Oh, well, action, lots of action; spies, private investigators, crime.”
“I can’t write any of those, I’m afraid. Oh dear, I guess we’ll just have to work on the edits for the manuscript I already sent you.”
I have to stop this. I don’t have the time to deal with Groovy Granny. I have real clients with whom I want to spend my time. I say something outlandish just to get rid of her.
“No, I am not going to edit your existing manuscript,” I say. “Have you ever thought of writing something about vampires? Then you can sell your manuscript to, say, Tor.”
“Vampires? Oh my. Well I don’t think I can do that, Christopher. Vampires!”
My ears prick up as an idea takes shape. I have an out, I can sense it. “It doesn’t have to be vampires, Agatha. Anything about paranormal beings; you know like werewolves, shape-shifters, demons from a mythical world…how about a succubus?”
“According to legends, a succubus is a demon that takes the form of a woman in order to have intercourse with a human male. She lives by stealing men’s souls during sex then makes them fall into the Pit of Hell. Another plus is that the stolen souls make her young and beautiful.”
There’s a pause, then she says, “Do you think that type of story is it too risqué? There is the part about intercourse, after all.”
I know she doesn’t want to write about sex, so I encourage it “Write lots of sex; it would help it sell. Now, I have to go to a meeting. Talk to Tor when you’re done with your new book.”
“No,” she tells me, “I’d rather give you the opportunity to see my next best-seller first, Christopher, before any other publisher.”
“Whatever,” I say. “Now, I really have to hang up.”
Eight months go by and bring wonderful changes to Billings and Carlisle Publishers. We are newly ensconced in a modern building in a high rent district, but that’s okay. We’ve got a great stable of popular authors and are raking in the bucks.
Our personal lives aren’t too shabby either. Paul and I have each partaken of one of the perks of highly successful men; entertaining very beautiful, sexy ladies-of-the-evening in our private offices. Life is sweet.
I haven’t heard anything from Agatha Wiley since my suggestion that she write a story about a succubus and Groovy Granny is pretty much becoming a distant memory for me. After we first moved here I did scan the obits for Agatha Wiley’s little hometown online from time to time checking to see if she had gone on to the heavenly writing desk in the sky but eventually I stopped looking.
The end of April has brought an unexpected heat wave and I smile remembering last September’s oven-blast and the broken air-conditioner. A glance at my Rolex tells me that it’s after eight and that I should get going to that book party launch for one of our best-selling authors at the Cipriani Hotel downtown.
Paul is texting me twice to get my ass down there. “Lots of very sexy ladies in four-inch heels and low-cut tops! All work and no play, man. Come on! Maybe I can send one of them to get you!” I laugh and get ready to leave.
The ding of the elevator tells me that someone has come up to our floor. The cleaning crew is early; they don’t usually come until after 1:00 am. I turn to my desk and quickly gather my things.
“Hello Christopher.” I turn to see an incredibly beautiful woman walking into my office; auburn-haired, tall, hot legs and all. She’s dressed in a designer dark blue pencil skirt and white silk blouse and her body oozes sexuality. Under her arm is a Louis Vuitton messenger bag.
Walking over to the leather couch, she sits down, tosses back her long hair, crosses those sexy legs and gives a throaty laugh. The Vuitton bag is laid carefully on a low table.
“I had to come and see you, Christopher.” Her voice is low and throaty.
Paul, you devil! And what great taste in women!
“That’s fine with me. Remind me to thank Paul, okay? He’s outdone himself tonight.” She smiles, leans back and unbuttons her blouse. I move closer taking off my jacket and loosening my tie.
“I have a present for you, Christopher.”
“I’ll bet that you do,” I say as she pulls me down on the couch.
I feel as if I’ve been drugged. Opening my eyes, I see the woman I had down on the couch a short while ago, standing over me in the dark. “Christopher, it’s time.”
She flicks on the light, and I can once again drink in her beauty. “What? Time for what?”
“I have your present right here.” She hands me the Vuitton bag. “Open it.”
I do as I’m told. Inside the bag are clipped pages of a novel. “What’s this?”
“It’s your future.”
I shake the grogginess from my brain. I feel angry. I have had all kinds of desperate authors attempt to get me to read their work. Here I thought I was having a good time with a high-end call girl, and she turns out to be just another desperate, amateur writer.
“How did you get in here? Who let you in?”
She ignores me. “Read the first chapter.”
“Not a chance. Get out of my office.”
“Wouldn’t you want to do it with me a second time? The payment is to read one chapter. No money.”
Ah, what the hell. I can read one chapter. I find myself surprised at how good the novel actually is, the first chapter, anyway. “This is pretty good,” I admit. “Who’s the author? You?”
“What!” I say, getting to my feet. “Are you related to Agatha?”
“Christopher, it’s me, dear. Agatha Wiley aka Groovy Granny. I guess you didn’t recognize me. That’s all right. I forgive you. But it is me, dear. Back to my old self.”
“I don’t understand. All the best plastic surgery in the world couldn’t change her into you. What kind of game is this?”
“Oh, it’s not a game, Christopher. It’s me, all right. I just didn’t want to go back to my old ways; I was such a bad girl back in the day. Oh dear, but you gave me no choice. You insisted that I write this story and I did.”
“I did what? What do you mean?”
She ignores that. “So, is the story too vivid? The sex part, I mean.”
“Start making sense,” I growled, “or I’ll kick you out of my office, no matter how good your novel is.”
She takes the papers from my hands and steps back, away from me. I see the floor between us is opening up.
A chasm is forming and I feel heat. I feel myself being pulled toward the widening hole. What the hell is this? A sinkhole in my office?
“No, you can’t kick me out, my dear,” she says. “I’m so glad you like my work. I’m texting Paul on your phone that he’s to publish the manuscript that I’m leaving on his desk. It’s a good demon story, isn’t it? Doesn’t it seem real?”
My arms flail as I am being pulled into the chasm. “Help me!”
She grabs my hands and pulls me close to her. The fear is making my heart beat so hard that I feel it thudding against my chest as though it is trying to break through my ribs.
“But you like the manuscript? Even though it’s not what you like to publish? Remember, you told me to take it to Tor.”
“Help me get out of here!” I cry, still struggling against the sinkhole, her hands my only lifeline.
She lets go of my hands and screams out, “It’s an autobiography, my autobiography! You told me to do it! But how did you know that I’m a succubus?”
Kristen Houghton is the author of For I Have Sinned and Grave Misgivings, the first two books in her best-selling new PI series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. The Huffington Post has called the series, “Page-turning, can’t put down mysteries with a sexy, savvy PI who is very good at what she does. Wonderful secondary characters and back-stories as well. Brava Kristen Houghton!”
In addition to the Cate Harlow series and other works, she has written two well-received horror novellas, Welcome to Hell, Teddy Jameson and The Anchoress: A Historical Horror Romance as well as the award-winning YA ghost story Remember, Hetty?
Kristen says, “I love writing stories that can scare the hell out of us; it’s cathartic and good scary fun for both readers and writers alike.”
Her portfolio includes writing for The Huffington Post, the San Francisco Examiner, and Women Magazine as well as celebrity interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN-The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel.
For more about Kristen, her books and short stories, please visit HERE