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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

An Editor Darkly

"Who is Lucy Jackson?
"That's a question even her editor and publicist at St. Martin's are asking, as they prepare to publish her novel Posh in January.
"According to the St. Martin's catalogue—which lists Posh as one of its lead titles—Lucy Jackson is an alias for 'an acclaimed short story writer and novelist' whose 'last novel was a New York Times Notable Book' and whose 'fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, and many other magazines and anthologies.'
"Pseudonyms in fiction are nothing new, of course. But the secret isn't usually this closely held. 'I still don't know who it is,' said SMP executive editor Elizabeth Beier. She said she's met the author only once and didn't recognize her as anyone famous. Mostly, she and 'Jackson' communicate by phone and e-mail (the author has an e-mail account under the name of Lazy Hoffman, one of the characters in the book)."
—"Mysterious St. Martin's Author Remains Unknown—Even to Her Editor," Lynn Andriani, Publishers Weekly Daily, 11-6-06.
I WAS GOING out of my skull trying to decipher the true identity of "Lacey Johnson," one of my authors.

Johnson was about to make her debut from my employer, Cutcloak Books, under that pen name with her novel Tosh, a reggae-and-shopping novel about a beautiful young American heiress who falls in love with the famous Jamaican musician of that name at the height of his popularity, circa Legalize It in 1976. The book held incredible sales potential, and I was practically salivating at the notion of booking "Lacey Johnson" on innumerable talk shows.

But it simply couldn't be done.

Johnson insisted on total anonymity, even from me, her trusted editor, Beth Beyers. Well-mannered, businesslike but obstinate, she was intent, she claimed, on maintaining an impermeable barrier between this somewhat tawdry novel and her more respectable literary endeavors. We managed workmanlike but ultimately unsatisfying communications only through emails, not even by phone, and I had never come face-to-face with the writer.

I really needed the career boost that the total success of Johnson's book would entail. That's why I was getting a little frantic.

Truth be told, I had been partying a tad too heavily the past year, allowing the strains of working in the demanding field of modern publishing to overwhelm me and drive me to various forms of gratuitous relief. Drugging, drinking, bed-hopping—my nerves and confidence and professional acumen were frayed and near the breaking point. My work had suffered noticeably, and I had been called on the carpet more than once. Maybe if I could coast a while on the acclaim derived from shepherding Johnson's book to the bestseller lists, I could recoup my old verve and professional literary instincts.

Likewise, there was the whole J. T. LeRoy angle to worry about. Ever since that byline had exploded as a hoax, the industry had gotten more leery of sourceless authors, even of fiction, inflicting heavy consequences for fraud. I needed to cover my tail.

So for all these reasons—and also out of professional pride—I spontaneously embarked on a hunt for the real person behind the penname.

That very afternoon, right after the sales meeting concerning Clint Flicker's My Favorite Hidden Obscene Literary Allusions, I surfed straight to Gawker, GalleyCat, and other literary/celebrity blogs, searching for any possible clues to Lacey Johnson's real identity.

After an hour of tiresome digging—every book launch party looks identical from the outside, I realized—I had one!

A photo of the crowd at the party for Philip Roth's long-anticipated sequel to The Breast, Boob Job, held at Elaine's, featured a mystery woman whom the caption hailed as "the enigmatic author of an upcoming Cutcloak groove-restoring Caribbean romp."

I studied the fuzzy, faintly familiar image of the woman—trim, fashionably dressed, long dark hair, sunglasses—and felt certain that this had to be Lacey Johnson. And unless she had only been visiting the city—rather unlikely—she lived right here in New York.

I walked through the door of Elaine's fifteen minutes after leaving the office that night. I seldom came here anymore, and actively disliked the restaurant. The old dive wasn't the essential hot spot it had once been, but I could sense the literary ghosts in the fabric of the place, and I had a good feeling I was on the right trail.

I sat at the bar and chatted up one of the famously gruff bartenders. After a while, I discovered that he had served drinks during the Roth blowout and recalled the mystery woman, based on the hardcopy of the photo I showed him.

"Yeah, not the first time she's been here, but definitely the most obnoxious. She was really talking up her novel, Tush, or something like that. Claimed she had done a lot of reggae research at S.O.B.'s."

I knew the club, a world music venue down on Varick. Not my preferred style of music at all—I liked techno and dance stuff—but I knew I'd be paying them a visit tonight.

S.O.B.'s was showcasing a hip-hop artist named L'il Crankee, and I could barely hear myself think over the booming beats. But I found the manager and braced him for the dope on Lacey Johnson.

"We all knew her as LJ. She was a real stage-door janey whenever the reggae guys came through. The action in the dressing room got kind of heavy. Once I barged in by mistake—Well, I won't go into sordid details. But did you know LJ wore a wig? I saw her from the back without it. Wig looked to me like one of those custom jobs that a lot of the fashion models get from DOV Salon, over on 57th and Lex."

In the cab, I contemplated what I had learned about Lacey Johnson so far.

Something of a social climber and suck-up—it was obvious to me that she must have crashed the Roth affair—a braggart, promiscuous, expensively indulgent when it came to her looks—

I wasn't so sure any longer that I really cared to get to know this writer any better, and I was starting to regret that I had ever become connected with her novel, despite any benefits that connection would accrue to me. Sure, Lacey Johnson was a skillful enough writer, and easy to work with. But as a person? She just turned me off completely, and I hadn't even met her yet.

Why did all writers have to be such losers? Even my twenty years in the publishing business had failed to reveal the answer to that one.

It was eleven o'clock that night when I reached DOV Salon, and I hardly expected it to be open, but it was. Turned out that one of Dov's clients, Tyra Banks, needed some immediate emergency repair work on her extensions, after getting into a catfight with Arianna Huffington. Peering through the store window, I assumed the man working so intently on Tyra was Dov himself. An assistant buzzed me in with merely a curt nod as greeting, and I sat quietly, if somewhat impatiently, until the intricate reconstruction job was finished.

After air-kissing Tyra good-bye and washing his hands at the sink, the slender and trendily attired Dov turned to me, smiled, threw wide his arms and said, "Beth, darling, how have you been! I hope my masterpiece has changed your life!"

I awoke on the cold tile floor with Dov and his assistant spritzing my face with pump bottles of Perrier, then fanning it with heated towels. And I remembered everything.

Climbing clumsily to my feet, I said, "I—I have to go now.…"

"Au'voir, ma chère!"

Back in my apartment, I cracked open the secret panel at the back of my closet, and found all the accoutrements of Lacey Johnson's life: wig, dress, sunglasses, the works. A hidden folder on my computer held all the files for Tosh.

I cursed the months at the start of my career when I had edited Robert Bloch and his Psycho House. How many times I had watched the Hitchcock film in preparation…and now I was living it!

Collapsing in a chair, I fumbled on the adjacent table for a drink. Sipping it, I began to feel a little better.

Booking "Lacey Johnson" onto the talk-show circuit had suddenly got a lot easier.

So long as the host didn't ask her to bring out her editor for a chat.

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