By Roxy Sloane
Prerelease Sneek Peak
The manuscript was delivered to Denton Rifkin that morning by messenger. To the annoyance of my assistant Carolyn I’d been asked to sign for it personally, so I rode the gleaming steel and glass elevator down eleven floors to the lobby as the rain tapped against the glass, blurring my view of bustling New York City below. Immediately I opened the envelope, withdrew the manuscript, and read the title page: Untitled by Jackson Ford.
Yes, that Jackson Ford. Creator of “Garrett Addison,” arguably the best spy character since Jack Reacher, and author of my all-time favorite spy thriller, Lions and Lambs. The man behind a dozen novels, four movie adaptations, and a hundred “Page Six” listings. That Jackson Ford. My newest author.
Believe me, I was as shocked as anyone when Louise Hayden called me into her office to announce that Jackson’s former editor, Sol Braunstein, was retiring and I’d be editing Ford. This was either an opportunity to join the literary big leagues, or to fuck-up royally.
“Thank you, Louise,” I’d said when I regained the ability to speak. “But, why me? There’s six other editors who’ve been here longer, who are better suited –”
“Ellie,” she’d interrupted, “there’s no one better suited to Jackson Ford than you.”
Yet that morning, as I paged through the first three chapters of Ford’s latest, still-untitled work, I wasn’t so sure. It had none of the meaningful storylines, memorable action sequences and stunning dialogue that had launched Jackson Ford into the literary stratosphere a decade before. It was more of the same formulaic, overblown “super-villains and sex kittens” crap that Louise and Solly had allowed him to produce for the past few years.
“Oh God,” I sighed as Carolyn entered with my Earl Grey. “This is not even physically possible! At one point he has Addison jumping from a private jet onto a speeding train!”
“Does his shirt get ripped off?” Carolyn quipped.
“By an astrophysicist. With double D’s.”
“I’m sorry, Ellie,” she said when we stopped laughing. “Too bad you can’t do anything about it.”
For a moment we were silent, as the rain drummed gently on my office window.
“Why can’t I?” I challenged.
“Come on, El, get real. Ford is the cash cow. No one wants to mess with that.”
“But his numbers are declining,” I reminded her.
“Yeah, but even his declining numbers pay for half our staff.”
“I’m thinking just an email, to suss him out. This man is capable of brilliant work,” I said. “We can’t let him become a parody of himself. This is a chance to create something great.”
“Listen Ellie,” said Carolyn. “He was with Sol Braunstein for ten years. You’ve been his editor for, like, two minutes. You haven’t even had a proper sit-down. He’s probably pretty skittish. And need I remind you, there are plenty of other publishers who would love to have Jackson Ford on their list. I’m just saying, tread lightly.”
I value Carolyn’s advice. I do. So the day went by and I didn’t send the email. But that evening, once she had gone and the halls were quiet, I gave it a second thought. And I wrote him:
Evening Jackson. I’m so excited to be working with you. I had a chance to look at the first three chapters of your manuscript this morning. It’s a good beginning, though I think it could benefit from some of the nuance and depth of Lions and Lambs. So far, the action sequences strain believability. Also, the women are underdeveloped. This is most evident in the sexual encounters – they don’t reflect reality. In general, the balance between fantasy and reality needs a rethink. I look forward to working with you to reinvigorate the brand.
Warm regards, Ellie
And I hesitated. I understood Carolyn’s caution, but this was my first interaction with him about his work, and I wanted him to know I wasn’t going to settle. I wanted his best. It was a risk, but the editors with the enviable lists didn’t get there by playing it safe. I hit “send”.
A half-hour later, after skimming a pile of agent submissions and getting ready to leave, my computer pinged.
Congratulations Ellie! You work fast. You’ve been my editor for less than a month, and you’re already qualified to tell me how to write a novel. But what do I know? I’ve only sold 400 million books over the past ten years while you were learning how to operate the Nespresso machine. But I know I’m in good hands because now I have an editor who speaks for all women. What a bonus!
Maybe you don’t understand the women in my books because you’re nothing like them. The women I write about are willing to take risks to be with a man because they value physical pleasure. They know that a great fuck – sex that leaves you sweaty and panting – that kind of sex gives a woman power and energy. And peace. It’s what the human body is for.
But you don’t understand that, do you? You don’t understand how the full exploitation of the senses can affect your ability to enjoy life, to laugh, to connect. For you it’s all about the brain. You need to stop thinking and start feeling.
Do you even fantasize? You have to be able to imagine it to do it.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. What a dick.
I’m fantasizing about you right now. We’re alone in the elevator at DR. You’re wearing a skirt and blouse, no bra or panties. I know you did that for me. I press the “stop” button. Put my hands on your face and kiss your lovely lips, the hunger building. My tongue enters your mouth, and at first you hesitate, but then you let go and our tongues explore. Now I know you’re ready. I unbutton your blouse – fast – and I moan when I see your gorgeous tits. I need to taste your dark nipples; now I’m biting them, losing control. I turn you, a bit too rough, shoving you against the glass wall of the elevator. A shiver goes down your spine as your hot breasts press against the cold glass. Now you’re exposed for all New York to see, dirty girl. I press my incredible hard-on against your ass, grinding against you. Now I reach down, fumbling to free my cock, to yank up your skirt. I’m biting your neck as my fingers enter your wet pussy. I rub your juices over my cock, lubricating. I’m rock hard. Your pussy is aching for me but I know what I want. “I’m going to fuck your ass,” I say. Then I position my cock, and with a few desperate thrusts I enter your ass. It’s so tight. You cry out, over and over, as I fuck you. Your breath ragged. I reach down and my fingers gently vibrate your clit making you climax. And I fuck you and I fuck you till I can’t hold back, my cock pulsing inside your tight ass.
“What the fuck,” I whispered. What made him think he could talk to me like that?
Of course I’d seen Jackson Ford, at book launches and readings. With his physique and those blue eyes, it’s kind of impossible not to stare at the man. He looks like a taller, more rugged Ryan Gosling, with dirty blond hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He radiates intelligence. Jackson Ford is commanding, charismatic, and totally GQ, but still.
What was he thinking? Writing something so explicit to a colleague? Did he think himself untouchable? With his money and his influence, he was above us all? How could I work with this man?
Suddenly I began to panic. Was he firing me? I reread the email, assessing his tone for clues. He was arrogant. And inflamed. But also passionate. “I’m fantasizing about you right now.” That was surely a fabrication. A provocation.
“I’m your editor, not a fucking groupie,” I said aloud.
I hit “reply” and began to type.
Congratulations to you. There is more passion in the email you just sent than in your last three books. Perhaps the lack of emotion in your recent writing is the reason your female audience has declined 17% since 2013. But that’s just one woman’s theory.
I’m unafraid of you.
I want to make your work better than it has ever been.
If you want the same thing — and you feel you can work with me, let’s have a sit-down Monday at 8:00 a.m. Just tell me where.
All the best, Ellie
And I hit send.
Then I printed all three emails before deleting them from my hard drive. I packed up my things. On my way out, I stopped at the printer on Carolyn’s desk to retrieve the copies I’d made, noting the tremble of my hand as I slipped the pages into my bag.
End of Chapter 1