The Coat Basket (NaNoWriMo 2022 #2)

(Previously: The Dead Writer)

Seven hundred miles away, in an inexact north by northeast line that can be reached by jumbo jet in about one hour and forty-two minutes, there was a man who was decidedly more alive, far more important, more physically fit, much smarter, and somehow more anonymous in his business dealings than Paul Van Kleason.

His name was Bill Flogaast and he had far more power that any of the neighing infants who feigned “publishing insider” status could ever imagine.

In his thirty-four years in the biz, Flogaast was one of the last men still standing. He had survived numerous mergers and downsizing campaigns. He had inveigled tempestuous authors and bribed humorless book editors. He had methodically turned one book critic with a sizable Beanie Babies collection into his personal stenographer, persuading a bestselling horror writer to declare her his “friend” on pre-Elon Twitter, and this lonely and pathetic and heavily Botoxed woman had the sad naivete to believe that she still formed her own opinions about books. He had personally ensured that a Tory vulgarian who taught creative writing at Bath Spa University would never get his novels published in America. He sent fruit baskets and slipped Franklins to the right people. He silenced attention-seeking troublemakers by having his publicity army of ten send thick packages in the mail stuffed with galleys that were perfectly tailored to their sensibilities. Give these dumb and obnoxious kids all the books they could ever want and they would usually shut the fuck up. They would even photograph themselves on Instagram holding the galleys above their heads, as if these volumes were elephant skulls sawed off after a six month African safari. And it was he who had managed to persuade six media outlets to adopt a “No haters” policy for their review coverage, bringing an end to the literary takedowns that had caused several authors to sob for hours on the phone to him. It wasn’t that he was against tough criticism. He just wanted to spend more time in the Hamptons and this was strictly a time-saving measure.

He had covered up nine physical assaults, twenty-two incidents of sexual harassment, one fatal stabbing, and he had even managed to get some Nobel-obsessed jackanape who freelanced for The New Republic to spin an author’s ugly heroin overdose as a quiet death from natural causes. He kept an Excel spreadsheet tracking bad behavior from eighty-two authors (half of them had been on the Shitty Media Men list) who still had ongoing deals. Under Flogaast’s watch, their notorious deportment had never reached the newspapers. He had outsmarted the whisper network and orchestrated omertàs to ensure that any gadfly who could make a significant dent in sales with some lengthy online jeremiad would never be taken seriously. You could never get them on the work, but you could shred their character into confetti that was finer than anything you could ever buy at a party supplies store. Bill Flogaast knew that these gullible rubes were more interested in yukking it up about personality rather than discussing the merits of an award-winning backlist title. Before his career had been cruelly destroyed, Oscar Wilde had declared that great minds discuss ideas and small minds discuss people. And Bill Flogaast knew that the publishing world was no different from any other microcosm: a collection of small minds. Just look at the way these insects got stirred up on social media over a Slate hot take or the way they wasted time trying to dissect flash-in-the-pan “movements” such as Dimes Square. Sure, they held up Cormac McCarthy, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, and Thomas Pynchon as rightful geniuses, but these literary people clearly preferred to discuss who was fucking whom rather than what the S-Gerät symbolized in Gravity’s Rainbow.

And the best thing about all this was that he could persuade these media people that they were the ones who landed the stories. What they didn’t seem to understand, even when he provided flagrant clues, was that Flogaast had been pulling the strings all along.

Flogaast had stared down cutthroat German capitalists who were fully prepared to sodomize his livelihood for the greatest possible financial gain, winning them over with plentiful whiskey poured at predawn hours in East Village speakeasies. He spilled juicy dirt on famous writers as the Germans became increasingly inebriated while he nursed his drink, leaving a tiny tumbler half-full over the course of several hours. The Germans were too busy singing Marlene Dietrich songs at the most loutish and deafening levels to notice Flogaast’s modest alcohol intake.

Flogaast was the only man in publishing who remained on a first-name basis with the many Daves of the literary world. Every other publicist who had attempted the ambitious goal of Dave unification had either developed a $200/day coke habit or had gone nuts and checked into Bellevue. The literary Daves were truly that toxic, that insalubrious, that soul-destroying. One publicist had tried to warm up to the notoriously difficult David Rosemary Bier — author of a manifesto that made an undeniably hypnotic argument for eating red meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. This sad bastard, who had started off so optimistic, had leaped over the guardrails of a Midtown rooftop bar to his death shortly after Bier had vowed to “destroy” him with the help of his Hollywood friends.

But Bill Flogaast was made of sterner stuff. David Fitzjoy, author of the bestselling novel The Rectifications, was widely known to be an insufferable pain in the ass. A chronic mansplainer who scoffed over having his large and vastly overrated novels edited and who wasn’t nearly as perspicacious as he thought he was and who didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut and who wrote a self-serving New Yorker profile about the late Jonathan Coaster Wells, the long-suffering, long-haired, beanie cap-wearing author who had frequently used water as a metaphor in his viral commencement speeches and who had deforested 70% of the world’s trees with his 2,400 page epic, Inexhaustible Laughs. But it had been Flogaast who had coached Fitzjoy over many months to be more palatable and who had secured the splashy Sunday profile in the New York Times that caused everyone to give Fitzroy another chance. Just as he had reinvented David Lithium as a neglected treasure who was far more than the forgotten MacArthur Fellowship-winning author of Fatherless Manhattan. Dozens of publicists has unsuccessfully tried to persuade Lithium to stop name searching himself on Twitter and sending deranged emails to total strangers who didn’t care for his books, but only Bill Flogaast had the finesse to convince this admittedly aggravating author to find the inner peace he needed.

This nimble éclat bought him additional years in the industry. Flogaast had perfected the art of sleeping no more than four hours every night and only sleeping with his wife. Unlike the vast majority of men in the publishing industry, Flogaast understood that dick discipline was a significant factor in securing your career longevity. He had seen so many promising talents self-destruct over the years because they didn’t have the control that he had. He had politely declined all scandalous rendezvouses and enticing afternoon delights. Let weaker men get their rocks off and pay the hard price of alimony for a reckless tryst.

Besides, he did love his wife. Well, mostly. It had been some years since he last felt the full frisson that had first drawn them together at a Newport News barbeque festival, although she would probably say the same thing if you could somehow persuade her to spill a small morsel about her life. And she never did. Only three people in the building knew her first name and the only thing that this dull trio had in common was that they were the ones the shareholders listened to during quarterly earnings calls.

He would tell any author going through a divorce that most marriages are little more than economic partnerships — good for reducing taxes, buying homes, keeping down costs, and having a dedicated plus one for social soirees to insulate yourself from relentless speculation over what kind of unbearable asshole you had to be to never find someone who could tolerate your close company longer than six months. The sooner you understood this, the more successful you would be in work and life. He hadn’t sold his soul exactly, although nobody at the publishing house really knew about his private life. And because Flogaast exercised such exquisite self-control while speaking his mind, several skeptics came to understand that he could be trusted, even though he revealed nothing about himself at all and sat back and smiled while others flapped their traps. It was difficult to know who Flogaast’s closest friends were. Because they never factored into his public image. Yes, he had confidantes. But he never advertised who they were. Bill Flogaast one of the rare people in the early 21st century who never posted daily pictures of his lunch on Instagram. If you asked all the tech companies to share their collected data and assemble a dossier on Bill Flogaast, they wouldn’t be able to tell you a goddamned thing.

And when he wasn’t doing all this, he was fond of pickling vegetables in the four homes he owned in various parts of the Northeast. A suitable metaphor for the PR racket. Take those slimy cucumbers and contain the problem before the motherfuckers on social media used a third-hand rumor to cancel some wildly intoxicated bestselling author who had merely made the mistake of believing he was still twenty-five, sliding his liverspotted hand onto the wrong ass.

In his early sixties, Flogaast had more energy than most of the unpaid interns and a formidable understanding of human psychology. He had learned early on that, if you knew where the bodies were buried, you would get very far and stay very high. (In Flogaast’s case, he was sitting twenty-three stories above the growing throngs of homeless people berating random strangers at subway stations, knowing that he had the capital and the privilege to never waltz with the Midtown minions, thus decreasing the likelihood of getting randomly stabbed by some unmedicated basket case that the disastrous mayoral administration of Eric Adams has never once considered helping.)

On Tuesday morning, Bill Flogaast sat in a Herman Miller chair listening to the soothing clacks of a Newton’s cradle perched on the rightward corner of his massive executive desk. The desk had once belonged to Ronny Monson and was gifted to Flogaast after this energetic executive editor had dropped dead of pneumonia at the age of seventy-six. He knew that Jimmy Compton, the mediocre soyboy from the California Central Valley who had replaced Monson, had it in for him. That hopeless fuck couldn’t write to save his life. He’d actually attended the same high school as that disgraced podcasting jackass in Brooklyn who had made a big stir in the literary world ten years before and who didn’t even have the guts to go through with his suicide attempt. Nobody paid attention to that loser anymore. And maybe that was Compton’s fate too — that is, if he didn’t fail upward. It was a small world. People were connected in ways they didn’t realize. And maybe this was what fueled all the Sun Tzu hijinks in publishing. But that’s the way it was in business. You had your time. Some Machiavellian careerist would eventually get you in the end. And he knew Jimmy Compton would strike. He just didn’t know when. Maybe Flogaast could branch out on his own and start an indie publicity firm. He had the contacts. He had the moves. He’d make more cash.

The phone rang.

“Bill,” said the quavering voice.


“I think we have a problem in Myrtle Beach.”

Flogaast smoothed the fine strands of his graying auburn Van Dyke and steepled his fingers.

“Tell me everything you know.”

Next: The Atlantis Hotel

(Word count: 4,451/50,000)

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