Dear Chuck (if I may):
Have read your ms. — the one about the orphan boy who falls in with the ring of pickpockets? — and I see some real potential here. It needs work, though — in my perhaps not that humble opinion, given my history with Patterson, Rendell, etc. That character Nancy, for example. The bimbo? (I wish there were another way of putting it.) We need more specifics, I believe. You write that she wasn’t pretty exactly, but that she had good color in her face. Great, great! But, well, what about the rest of her — her “lineaments,” as you might say? Can you, er, fill them out a little more?
I was thinking, for example, that there could be a scene where she is partially, well, unclothed, shall we say, and the orphan boy is an unseen witness to this accidental display. He is overcome by the sight of her breasts, the blue veins pulsing underneath the lovely skin, and — sorry, sorry. It’s your book, of course, but maybe you see what I mean.
But that’s not the main problem. First things first. Do you know how long this opus is? You may be thinking of the bearable lightness of an e-book, my friend, but I want to sell some hardcovers that our customers don’t have to take out of Costco in a wheelbarrow. And I’d rather not run the risk, a la the scalding-hot-coffee case, of some litigious jerk’s saying he was reading in bed one night and the book crushed his ribs. So as your publisher, I won’t hear otherwise: we have to make Oliver even skinnier, trim a lot of the fat — so that the bones at least appear from time to time. All that stuff with Mr. Bumble. A clever name for him, all right, but who cares? Let’s get back to Nancy.
Speaking of lawsuits: the villain character, the head of the pickpockets, the one you keep calling “the Jew”? What the Dickens! You can’t be serious. Listen to me: he’s a non-denominational villain. Maybe a Unitarian, if you must.
Or, of course, we would probably all be better off, in terms of commerce, if he was a non-denominational alien or even just a supernatural type. Have you seen the kind of numbers the vampire books put up? The thing is, they have this very powerful sex drive, only they often have to have sex with minds, not bodies. It’s like putting your cellphone in the microwave. A lot of these characters have to be physically chaste, even though they’re throbbing with, you know, urges to mind-meld or whatever it is they do, and maybe that’s why your guy becomes a pickpocket in the first place. You can weave a fabric out of these two threads if anyone can. Oliver (could he maybe be named after the other one — Chad? Or maybe Ian?) could be seen as a sort of tragic character, really.
One more thing about Nancy. Do you think that one night, when the orphan kid is lonely and miserable, she should maybe take pity and comfort him a little? I’m not talking a whole initial scene, but, you know, she hugs him, and she gives him a little — well, rub. Just a suggestion. As I keep saying, I’m not the writer here. But it could be a sweet little moment, don’t you think?
That’s all for now, except that I love that pen name, Boz. Love it. But if you don’t mind, I’m just going to add an extra “z.” Bozz. A little gangsta, you know? Fits in with the pickpocket motif. Trust me on this one.
Charles McGrath, former Deputy Editor of The New Yorker and Editor of the New York Times Book Review, is Writer-at-Large for the Times.