What We Talk About When We Talk About Rejection, Part Two

"Steve," my sweet, big, "Steve," said evenly, "I don't know about John Grisham, or anything about the situation. But who Who can judge what will sell? Cretinous, I think literary fiction can sell."

I passed "Steve" the bourbon. He gave me a quick smile, then turned his gaze back to Cretinous. I picked up the bottle of bourbon. It The bottle was cool to the touch, smooth, the label crisp. I encircled the bottle with my fingers, like a bracelet, and I held it.

"When I was an editor I rejected James Patterson," "Steve" said. "I never lived it down. But it's not something I regret." He clasped his arms with his hands. He waited a minute, then let go of his arms and picked up his glass.

"I think that's very admirable!" Winston said.

"He's out of the action now," Cretinous said. "His career is dead."

"It gets worse," "Steve" said. "I rejected Danielle Steele, too."

"Poor 'Steve'," Winston said.

"Poor 'Steve' nothing," Cretinous said. "He was dangerous. A man like that shouldn't be editing books. He shot his own career. He bungled it." Cretinous was tall and old with a greasy combover dense grey hair and horn-rimmed glasses . His face and arms were brown from his weekends in the Hamptons. When he was sober all his gestures, all his movements, were aggressive. When he was drunk they were violent.

"What do you mean, he bungled it?" I said. "Steve" leaned forward with his glass. He put his elbows on the table and held his glass in both hands. He looked from me to Cretinous like a man watching the iceberg approach the deck of the Titanic. "How'd he bungle it by having good taste? I've never seen Michiko Kakutani give one of your clients a good review, you pompous fuck."

"I'll tell you what happened," Cretinous snarled. "I'll tell you what happened to publishing, you little pipsqueak. The market wised up. Nobody wants to read your effete commie crap about honest emotions and men who can't shoot things. They want serial killers! They want vampires! They want babes in tiny swimsuits! You're a bunch of fucking dinosaurs, you and your goddamn carping about 'language' and 'craft.' Craft never paid for a goddamn Jaguar."

"It sounds like a nightmare, your vision of publishing," "Steve" said. We'd met in a professional capacity, when I interviewed with him. Before we knew it, it was a friendship.

"I sure as hell wouldn't call that crap literature," Cretinous said. "I mean, no one knows what you're talking about. No one wants to read that shit. I've seen a lot of your kind of literature, and I couldn't say anyone ever knew what that garbage was about. And when people claim it's beautiful, well I don't know." Cretinous He put his hands behind his neck and tilted his chair back leaned on the back legs of his chair. "I'm not interested in that kind of literature," he said. "If that's literature, you can have it."

Winston poured the last of the bourbon into his glass and waggled wagged the bottle. "Steve" got up from the table and went to the snacks cubby. He took down another bottle of bourbon.

"Well, Rejectionist and I know what literature is reject that bullshit," "Steve" said. "For us, I mean. Don't we, Rejectionist?" "Steve" said. He patted my shoulder with his hand. "You can talk about that great novel you just pulled out of the slush," "Steve" he said, and turned his a large smile on me. "We get along really well, I think. We like reading things together, and neither of us has hated a manuscript the other loved yet, thank God. Knock on wood. I'd say we're pretty happy. I guess we should count our blessings."

For an answer, I took the bourbon and raised it to my lips with a flourish. I made a big production out of kissing the bourbon. Everyone was amused. "We're lucky," I said.

"You guys," Winston said. "Stop that now. You're making me jealous. 'Steve' treats you like a person, Rejectionist, that's why you can act like this. Just wait. How long have you been his assistant now? How long has it been? A year? Longer than a year."

"Going on two years," "Steve" said, tipsy and smiling.

"Oh now, Rejectionist still doesn't have health insurance," Winston said. "Wait a while." He held his drink and gazed at Cretinous. "I'm only kidding," Winston said.

"Winston, Jesus, you get any more out of line I'll fucking send you out the door and take your wallet on your way out. You think this job is hard? You'll be mopping bathrooms at the Penguin corporate office if you don't watch your mouth. Give me that goddamn bottle."

"To literature," "Steve" said drily, raising his glass.

"To literature," we said.