Dear Mr. Don DeLillo
(Co-written with Scott Rothman. Originally appeared on Barnesandnoble.com, March 9, 2010)
Dear Mr. Don DeLillo:
Thank you for taking the time to open this envelope. As you are no doubt aware from having read my last three letters, time, the very whitest of white noises, is of the essence.
A quick reminder: I am a writer named Rhon Penny (silent h) and I am no longer married. I am writing to you today (again) with an exciting proposition that is going to be very difficult to decline. But first, a little background about this crazy “game” we call the “literary world”:
Have you heard of a writer named James Patterson? Of course you have. He’s only the biggest selling writer in the book business (nothing personal), churning out literally two or three best-sellers a year! So, you’re thinking, what’s his secret? Guess what? He uses writing partners. This is where I come into the picture.
Has it always been a dream of yours to have it both ways? To be able to enjoy the advantages of a wonderful social life wherein you can rewatch What Women Want for the hundreth time or hold an impromptu BBQ with casual acquaintances, while also earning the respect of your peers as a top-flight man of letters? This has always been a dream of mine. And it’s my thinking that if we join forces—preferably right now—we can make this happen for the both of us.
Being somewhat familiar with your oevre (I misspelled that on purpose as an “inside joke”), I realize that you might not be so quick when it comes to creating book ideas—but I’m incredibly fast. How fast? Since I started this letter, I have come up with four rock-solid concepts:
• A “what if” premise. What if the United States had somehow lost World War II and another country—perhaps Belgium—had somehow won? Would we all now have strange accents and eat more mussels?
• A more “high brow” literary idea: A man no longer loves a woman and vice-versa. I think a lot can be done with this.
• Something racial. A guy is bitten by a radioactive chameleon and wakes up to find he can change skin color depending on who’s standing next to him.
• If the website “Ask Jeeves” is to be believed, you once wrote a book about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. How about turning the tables and writing about a less violent, but no less interesting, major event? The Octomom story? It’s topical and interesting. Let’s use it.
Can we now talk author to author? Are you worried about how we’ll split the payment? Or whether your name will go first on the byline? Or who will take the “lead” on talk shows? Me on Oprah, you on The View? Let’s not jump the gun on all this, okay? Here’s a question for you, though: do you have any old ideas sitting around in your “trunk” that need freshening up? Most writers, as you no doubt are aware, are constantly working on a few things at once. This is what’s in my trunk:
• A young man discovers a portal into another world . . . the vampire world. But there’s a twist: they are all werewolves. (Manuscript ends at page 52.)
• An unauthorized biography of my mother. (She literally has no idea.)
• A book entitled Something Stinky, Something Fine. (So far, I just have the title, which was an in-joke that I once had with my former buddy, Teddy. Unfortunately, he just died. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I found a new collaborator.)
• A guy goes to modern-day Afghanistan for some reason and realizes he wants to leave because of all the current craziness. What does he need all of this madness for in his life?
For each of these manuscripts, I will give you what I have so far, along with a very detailed outline—I have plenty of time, as I’m still receiving workman’s comp for that spill I took in the Kinko’s. You will do the same for your half-baked ideas. I’m sorry to be so brusque with you, but if we are to become literary partners, it’s better that you know my shortcomings from the very start (for the record, I also become easily carsick).
For reasons I can’t get into, I must end this correspondence immediately. But I will not sign off without saying the following: Mr. DeLillo—Don . . . I am a very sick man. I happen to suffer from a little disease called optimism. Is it catching? I hope so.
Your future partner in the words,