Sample text for The man who loved women to death : a Stewart "Hoagy" Hoag mystery / David Handler.

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Counter Dear Hoagy,

You don't mind me being so familiar, do you?  I hope not.  I feel like I know you, having read and enjoyed your work so much.  And "Mr.  Hoag" just seems so stiff, somehow.

I'm enclosing the first chapter of what I'm hoping, with your generous assistance, to develop into a novel.  It's about a character who I believe has the potential to make as big a name for himself in modern American fiction as Holden Caulfield.  I've structured it in the form of letters to a friend, much like Ring Lardner did with the letters Jack Keefe wrote to Friend Al in "You Know Me Al," a work I freely admit has influenced me greatly.  Maybe even too much.  I don't know.  I'm not a professional writer.  At least not yet.

But I do feel this is a VERY commercial project.  I need advice and help.  I need a collaborator.  I need YOU.  Once we find a publisher I can promise you your usual fee and royalties, including a nominal share of the film rights.  This is a natural for a film, by the way.

I have gone ahead and written the first chapter on my own as a sample.  I am told I pretty much have to do this.  I hope you can spare the time to read it.  And can advise me what I should do next.  I really look forward to meeting you.  I'm a real fan.

Yours truly,
the answer man

I was at the counter of the Oyster Bar in Grand Central that day showing Tracy the proper way to eat a bluepoint.  I figured it was important that she learn about these things from me.  Who else was going to teach her?  Some pimply little weasel named Gunnar or Doogie?  What the hell would he know about raw oysters?  He'd probably tell her to order a dozen.  Wrong.  The correct number is nine.  He'd probably tell her to drown them all in lemon juice.  Wrong again.  You squirt each oyster individually, and only when you are just about to eat it.  Add a dash of Tabasco, then swallow whole.  That's how you eat an oyster.

Tony, who'd been there behind the raw bar since VJ Day, certainly concurred.  As for Lulu, my noted nose bowl champ, she merely grunted peevishly.  She'd been in a sour mood ever since her annual physical exam, when her doctor remarked that she was becoming a trifle, well, jowly.  It didn't matter that she was in tip-top health otherwise--sinuses clear as a bell, figure svelte, gums as gingivitis-free as those of a basset hound half her age.  Lulu was steamed--her looks mean a lot to her.  Plus Tony was taking his sweet time with her oyster pan roast, mostly because he kept stopping to make funny faces at Tracy, who kept responding with gales of laughter from her perch there next to me.  At eighteen months, Tracy remained a sunny, happy baby.  Clearly, the Hoagy genes hadn't kicked in yet.  They would.  I wasn't at all concerned.  Or at all looking forward to it.

Still, no complaints from this end.  It used to be that spending the better part of an afternoon on a stool in the belly of Grand Central terminal slurping up oysters was called loafing.  Now, thanks to Tracy and the sober responsibilities of fatherhood, it was called quality time.  Afterward, we meandered over to Fifth Avenue to take in the annual Christmas display in the windows of Lord and Taylor, Tracy swaddled in her periwinkle-blue snug suit and cashmere ducky blanket.  It was a bright, frosty early December day, the best kind of day in the best time of year in the best city on earth.  New York comes to life between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The air is as bracing as a sharp whiff of ammonia.  The chestnuts are roasting.  People have a bounce in their stride and an unfamiliar bit of color in their cheeks.  A few of them even smile.  At least they smiled at us as we walked along.  It was Tracy, chiefly.  Not that Lulu wasn't lookin' buff in her Fair Isle sweater vest, prancing along beside her baby sister's stroller.  Not that I was looking too terrible myself in my shearling greatcoat from Milan, which I wore over the barley-colored Donegal tweed suit from Strickland's, a cream and blue tattersall shirt of Italian wool and a knit tie of rose-colored silk.  No, it was Tracy.  Her emerald-green eyes, chiefly.  Merilee's eyes.  And those luxuriant blond tresses that spilled out from under the knitted cap that was perched on her somewhat largish head.  She was an uncommonly beautiful baby.  People always lit up when they saw her.  Especially when she was with Merilee.  The two of them made quite some pair.  In fact, I was becoming deathly afraid they'd soon be asked to appear in one of those vomitous celebrity mother-daughter fashion spreads in Vanity Fair.

I'd be damned if any daughter of mine would be exploited that way.  Especially without me.

From Lord and Taylor's we strolled down to the Old Print Shop on Lex, me limping slightly.  The limp had nothing to do with age and everything to do with that damned play Merilee was rehearsing.  I picked out the frame for Merilee's Christmas present, an etching that Levon West did in the early thirties of a busy New York street on a rainy day.  Merilee had much admired it--looking at it, you can practically hear the car horns and the Gershwin in the background--but she was way too much of a frugal Yankee puritan to spring for it.  That made one of us.  For Tracy I had bought one good book.  I'd decided to buy her one good book every year for Christmas--each a signed first edition.  This particular Christmas, her second, she was getting The Sun Also Rises. From there we worked our way back up Madison to Worth & Worth, where I had my Statler reblocked while I studied how I looked in a homburg.  Distinguished, I decided.  I also decided I could wait another ten years to look distinguished.  Lulu's new district check wool cap had come in.  She tried it on in the three-way mirror, snuffling happily.  Shopping always cheers her up.  Something she got from me.  That and an aversion to any film starring Meg Ryan.  Afterward, we took in the tree at Rockefeller Center, a seventy-five-foot Norway spruce that had been donated by two nuns in Mendham, New Jersey.  We watched the ice skaters.  We stopped at the St. Regis, where Sal Fodera trimmed my hair.  It doesn't take him as long as it used to, but Sal is courtly enough never to point this out.  Mary at the front desk fussed like crazy over Tracy.  Lulu took a nap, which is one of the things she is best at.

Yes, we made a real father-daughter-basset hound day of it.  It was a happy day, a day I had earned.  After all, I had at long last finished Novel No. 3.  It's true, I'd done it.  Seventeen years after The New York Times Book Review had labeled me "the first major new literary voice of the 1980s," six years after they'd called my second novel "the most embarrassing act of public self-flagellation since Richard Nixon's Checkers speech," I'd finally done it.  Not that I had a publisher for it yet, mind you.  It was not exactly an easy sell, seeing as how it was a prime example of what's known in publishing as a male menopause novel, a category that made it only slightly less commercial than, say, My Life and High Times by Neon Leon Spinks.  Right now, it was making the rounds.  Which meant I was having lunches with a lot of editors.  Which is what they get paid to do and writers do not.  Mostly, I was sorry to discover, they wanted to talk to me about my other, decidedly less distinguished career--the Claude Rains thing.  When it comes to ghosting, I am The Man.  The best of what's around.  Five number-one bestselling memoirs and someone else's number-one bestselling novel to my noncredit.  So I heard all about the basketball star who had just flunked his third drug test and his fourth reading test.  The U.S. senator with presidential aspirations.  Or perspirations.  The actress who was finally ready to tell the world who she had and had not given the skin to--now that there was no one left alive in the world who cared.  I certainly didn't.  None of that celebrity rubbernecking crap for me.  No more.  I was Stewart Stafford Hoag, novelist.  I had slain my personal white whale.  Someone in power would agree with me any day now.  It would happen.  It would sell.  I knew it was good.  I was not going to worry.  I was going to enjoy the city, enjoy my daughter, enjoy my life.  Life was good.  Repeat after me: Life is good.

Then again, maybe Joseph Wood Krutch was right.  Maybe we moralists are never satisfied.  Pay no attention to me.  I'm just trying to give you an idea where my head was that day the first chapter came, okay?


From the Paperback edition.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Hoag, Stewart (Fictitious character) Fiction, Ghostwriters Fiction