Friday, December 2, 2016

Unexpectedly Simon and Schustered

In the past few days my publisher, Tyrus Books, has been acquired by Simon and Schuster! 


A couple years ago, when Good For Nothing was initially offered in the North American market, a  particular editor from Simon and Schuster held on the manuscript, read it twice, wrote a few complimentary notes about the characters and language. I began to feel it was likely that GFN would be published by Simon and Schuster. And then, as things often do in the publishing process, there was a change of heart, things tipped the wrong direction, and the editor apologetically passed on the novel. I was mildly miserable. And now, in a strange twist, my first two novels will both be published under the Simon and Schuster umbrella. I'm unsure if this is cause for celebration. So rather than a big party I am drinking alone (again).


Here is a link to the PW article related to the acquisition if you'd care to see it:

As promised, here is a short story for your reading pleasure. It is a variation on the text for a visual book collaboration by the same name.



I could trace my childhood by brushing a finger over a map’s dry surface. Starting from a modest ranch, part of off-base housing near the Naval base, in Newport News, Virginia. Sliding my finger south I could pass it over six homes along the Atlantic coast in the Carolinas, Georgia and eventually end in a spot south of Miami where the land stops. My family settled there near some of my mom’s people.

My first lungful of air was filled with the scent of the sea. When just big enough to walk, I remember looking down at my cherubic toes in hot sand. Up en pointe I punched holes in the beach. Chubby feet balled to catch the grit and hold it, to grasp the new sensation and not let it loose. The wind blasted grains and mist against me. A wet line of foam surged toward me, sweeping sudden and cold over my feet. Later my cloth diaper, heavy with seawater, came loose, the weight bending the safety pins until they popped and gouged a red, angry line down my thigh. My parents and big sister laughed at my nudity and I was happy.  

After college, I rebounded like a kid’s cheap yo-yo, drawn one state at a time back along the coastline until I married and built an academic life outside our nation’s capital. My grandmother Daisy passed away last semester, and as the most responsible living relative, I’m flying down on my sabbatical to tie up a few loose ends, liquidate a few assets and pay some outstanding bills. Plus, my wife and I need the break.

I don’t keep a resume. Hell, now that I’m tenured I barely keep my CV up to date. But I know CV is short for Curriculum Vitae, which is Latin for course of life. And that’s what’s on my mind as I feel the jet engines slow, feel my stomach drop.  
Out the window, as we swing in a wide turn around Miami, I see Biscayne Bay. I was here in ’82 when Christo and Jeanne-Claude ringed the islands down there with Pepto-Bismol colored plastic sheeting, like some grotesque halo, or a misguided, gaudy Shinto celebration of nature. Supposedly it killed a lot of pelicans, the plastic. Those massive birds dove in whole flocks to catch fish in their bucket mouths and came up under the pink sheeting to suffocate, their corpses accidental and grisly additions to the exhibition. At least that’s what I heard back then.

My rental car takes me down roads whose names I should know, past sights that used to be commonplace. It’s funny how memory works. The shiny, happy, bright images of a ten-year-old are dulled with layers of failed responsibility and pessimistic attitudes about consumerism and tainted politics. The color leaches out of everything given enough time. Or maybe my eyes are just tired.

In Homestead, where I attended middle-school, I stop at a wide spot on the shoulder of the road to buy avocados, a mango and three oranges from a Cuban man with boxes of fruit lined-up on a card table. I sit on the hood of my car and pitch curls of orange peel into the tall grass. The sticky, sweet juices run into my whiskers while the sun bakes my forehead. Seagulls cry out overhead and catch the air in their wings as they glide into an adjacent parking lot. From above, the rising waves of heat from the flat surface must look like deep, dark water. I watch them squawk in protest, hop around and peck through the gravel for food. Soon they give up and get back to the sky. I take their lead and drive toward the fish camp.  

The strip of road that leads to Key Largo has beach on both sides. In the shallows to the right a flock of flamingos stand on one leg. I’ve been told flamingos have white feathers. Their usual pink coloring comes from the red algae in their diet. This flock bothers me. They are faded and pale. Not the flamboyant, vivid birds I remember.

The last time I saw my grandmother alive was at my grandfather’s funeral, years ago. She’d gotten arthritis bad and her hands were like a knot of white root vegetables. She’d been forced to give up on planting the flowers she’d always loved and instead stuffed cheap plastic flamingos into each of the terra-cotta pots that lined her little porch. When she hugged me, she’d had strength left in her arms, nearly crushed me.

I’m mostly here to clean out an old storage unit where my grandparents kept some things after hurricane Andrew did its damage and the insurance company shafted them. Their house had stucco the color of guacamole and big white awnings that folded down like protective metal wings over the louvered windows in a hurricane. The awnings were no help when Andrew stripped half the roof off and filled the house with storm water and palm fronds. The gators ventured from their canals around the citrus groves and swam in the flooded streets. After things dried out my grandfather Jan found a big old granddaddy gator had made a nest between two mangled banana trees in the back corner of the yard. By that time it was clear they were abandoning the house, so he left the backdoor open in case the gator needed anything amid the moldy carpets and swollen floorboards.

The fish camp is at the far end of Key Largo and consists of a series of cinder block cabins facing the sea, a long pier to stand and fish from, a place where the charter boats come to pick up guests, and a narrow stretch of beach, baby dunes, and ragged sea grass. The exterior of the cabins are each a different color. The woman at the office hands me the key and tells me I’m staying in the Honeydew suite. After I unpack, I sit at a picnic table near an abandoned fire pit and eat slices of ripe mango in the dark as the wind comes off the water. I take out my cell phone to call my wife, the light is harsh in the night, and bugs immediately gather. I slip the phone back in my pocket. I know she doesn’t want to hear from me.

In his retirement my grandfather Jan had loved two things, and neither of them was his wife Daisy. The first was a sky blue T-bird convertible. He always claimed he couldn’t drive it in the spring because over-sized mosquitoes were drawn to its color and would cover it so thick it looked like its hood had been flocked black. But he couldn’t find the heart to sell it, even when his cataracts were too bad to drive. The other love of his life was his Slash2 BMW motorcycle.
The next day, after drinking black coffee on the pier as the sun comes up, I find both of his prized possessions in the storage unit off Truman Avenue near the tip of Key West. It only takes two days to sell the T-bird for more money than I expected. I use the cash to pay Daisy’s remaining bills and to have the BMW tuned-up, and purchase new tires, a new battery, and an extra set of fresh spark plugs.  

That takes a few days. During that time I visit the Hemingway Museum, eat fresh seafood and fresh fruit. I watch old couples dance like kids. I watch kids lay on the beach, not speaking, like old couples. I drink too many girly drinks with ridiculous umbrellas. I end up addle-brained and ashamed, thinking Papa Hemingway would never make me a tragic hero in his next book.

As the sun sets on my fourth night I walk along the beach and people watch. Little children play in the surf tossing a Frisbee into the ocean and watching it wash back in. An old Japanese couple walks together, shoulders touching and a metal detector skimming the sand in front of them. A shapely bald woman in a see-through dress carries a big bottle of Champagne in one hand and a glass that she keeps refilling in the other. She comes right toward me. As I watch without appearing to watch, she un-slings her oversized purse, and like a magic act, a white dog hops out. She leans over drunkenly to let the enchanted canine drink from her glass. She refills it again, holds it high in a toast to me, I smile and we part ways.  

That night I build a fire and sort through musty boxes of papers from the storage unit. Old family photos of people I don’t recognize. There are several black and white images of my grandparents as a young couple on a beach, her hair long and light from the sun. There is a snapshot of them rolling in the surf like a staged press photo to promote that Pearl Harbor movie, From Here to Eternity. They looked happy, giggling too much to give a serious kiss. I slowly burn everything except one stack of images, a few faded postcards like you'd find on a wire spin-rack, a leather motorcycle jacket in reasonable shape, and a decrepit helmet with goggles attached.  

A week after I landed I drive the rental car back to the lot where I got it. I hop a shuttle to the terminal and tell lies about a family emergency to three different people until I’m refunded the majority of my return ticket. I spend nearly a third of the refund on the cab back to the garage where the bike is waiting.

I’m cautious for the first few miles, feeling out the brakes, the heavy boxer engine sticking out either side of the frame like nubby wings. It doesn’t take long before it feels like an old friend. I stop at a roadside stand that sells Cuban coffee and sandwiches. I knock back the coffee, put the sandwich in my saddlebag for later. I text my wife instead of calling her. I can’t imagine enough time has passed for her to want to speak to me, the pain of my hurtful confession still too sharp. But I want her to know I’m coming. I’m taking the long way up old coast roads. Taking my time, letting the wind ease the sharp edges and the sun beat on me until the garish colors bleach to white.  


Lastly, I've been told that a few of the hardbound first editions of both books have made it off the press and to someone in my publisher's hierarchy. That means, despite the official publication date of either Jan 18th (originally) or Jan 1st (more recently) that if you pre-order my books now, you may get them in time for Christmas. That is not a promise. https://www.amazon.com/Missing-People-Brandon-Graham/dp/1507200528



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Inaccurate fictionalized approximation of facts related to Tyrus Books


As previously promised - I will attempt to share the idea of facts (but not actual facts per say) that characterize fake history and current qualities of my North American publisher Tyrus Books as well as its place in a larger network of media activities.  


Once upon a time Ben LeRoy wanted to make good things. He founded Bleak House Books. Bleak House (for the geeks out there Bleak House is also the name of a Charles Dickens novel as well as the name Dickens' home in Broadstairs, Kent came to be known as) was recognized for publishing numerous acclaimed works of fiction. Time passed, publishers took notice and Bleak House Books was purchased and folded into a larger publishing house.

Once upon another time Ben LeRoy wanted to publish good books. With money from selling Bleak House, in the summer of 2009 they started Tyrus Books in Madison Wisconsin. Tyrus published titles that received critical acclaim and in 2011 F+W Media expressed an interest in acquiring Tyrus as an imprint for their growing book publishing division. F+W Media has been around for nearly a hundred years. For most of that time they published niche magazines about hobbies, art, crafts, writing, lifestyle etc…Examples: Writer's Digest; Knitscene; Southwest Art; and HOW. Sometime in the 1990’s they expanded to publishing books in the self-help and memoir space. Then in the early 2000s they began building the book publishing division by buying existing regional fiction publishers.Tyrus was meant to be their literary/crime imprint. Initially Ben LeRoy didn’t want to sell a second successful publishing house and he definitely didn’t want to move from Madison. Eventually he and F+W reached an agreement. Ben is publisher of Tyrus, Tyrus is an imprint of F+W media.

For me, this means I have the face-to-face experience of working with a hands-on boutique literary publisher but with the marketing muscle similar to a larger house. It is, in essence, the best of both worlds.

In related news
Here are the press sheets that were produced for the US release of Good For Nothing and Missing People. A press sheet is a one page snapshot of pertinent facts intended for book sellers and reviewers -  and usually accompanies the ARCs (advanced review copies).


F+W Media uses Ingram distribution services, one of the two big book distributors. Despite the publication date of January 18th marked on the press sheets, Ingram is now listing the pub date as Jan 1, 2017. In theory those people who choose to order in advance could conceivably have a fresh, hardcover edition in their paws by Christmas.

Next time, I think I’ll share a short story. 


Friday, October 14, 2016

Unpacking the Good For Nothing option (part 2)

Advanced Review Copies (ARCs)  from Tyrus


In Missing People I wrote:

He crosses the Chicago River, the bridge swaying and bucking like the deck of a ship as the car traffic and foot traffic beat out competing rhythms in opposite directions. He walks a zigzagging pattern along the sidewalks and across the streets, moving away from the heaviest commuter routes to less traveled areas. The sidewalks in the city’s center have been cleared of snow, but the piles along the curb make the way narrow.
     He passes beneath a block-long array of scaffolding built the previous summer to protect pedestrians from construction debris during the stone and glass building’s architectural face-lift. Summer storms and an early, unusually harsh winter curtailed their progress and interrupted their schedule. Now, Townes thinks, the scaffolding is a rusty metal promise, a physical reminder of the intention to complete the renovations.

For the purposes of this conversation it may help to know that Townes is our overly-cerebral protagonist and he is ending his commute into Chicago on foot. His observation fits here. Because a movie option is like that scaffolding, a rusty metal promise, a physical reminder of the intention to make Good For Nothing into a movie. 
     The option is a temporary placeholder so an interested party can pay a fee to have the right to put together a movie deal over a limited span of time. The contract itself is about sixteen pages in which great care is taken to specify what will theoretically happen [or what will eventually happen if one wants to be optimistic (and why the hell not be optimistic)] when Good For Nothing is made into a film. It sets a floor and a ceiling for compensation. On the first day of filming the Author (me) will be paid a minimum of X and no more than Y. The exact number is based on a percentage of the intended budget for the production. It also discusses every possible iteration of spin-off, sequel, rebroadcast, DVD, streaming, sale of foreign versions of the film, remakes etc...It's bewildering. But, the reason the option contract is long is so all parties know and agree upfront to the conditions of an eventual deal. 
     The initial term of this option is eighteen months with two paid extensions written into the contract. At this point Michael Walker is acting as screen writer only. He has completed a first draft of the screen play and is working toward finishing the second draft. Then he will begin the process of building interest with actors, producers, and directors until he has put together the right mix of people and the right amount of capital to begin making a movie. Or something like that. There are a lot of steps between now and an eventual production. That about sums it up. 

In other news, above you can see the ARCs that arrived. They are the initial copies that are shipped to reviewers and booksellers to begin to build interest in the lead-up to the January 18th publication date. As you can see they are paperback, though the finished books will initially be printed as a hardbound.
 Lookie here. Thirteen years ago I was teaching ceramics to college freshmen and made this little piece as a hand building demo. I bisque fired it and glazed it and took it my friend Marvin Crozier's studio so we could raku fire it. Then I moved. It sat for ages. On Oct 1, 2016 Marvin decided to fire it and shipped it to me. Marvin is a great potter and good man. If you are in the market for ceramics, check him out. 

Lastly, I was visiting artist at Columbia College's Center for Book and Paper Arts recently. I spoke to a class of graduate students about thinking from the field of artist's books that shaped my own work, how my work in ABs relates to my publishing efforts, and how narrative writing can be an important aspect of work in the field of ABs that is often not included as part of the pantheon of book arts. I should have taken a picture of the class, but I didn't. Trust me, it looks about how you'd expect. 

Next time: Tyrus. Oh - if you are interested in perhaps attending a reading or signing think about following this blog. I will be posting details as they are confirmed. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Unpacking the Good For Nothing option (part 1)



Proof of US cover 

As promised in my most recent post, I will try to tell you more about my US publisher and how Ben LeRoy came to acquire Good For Nothing and Missing People, as well as how GFN came to be optioned by screenwriter MICHAEL WALKER. But first, a brief general update.

Line edits for both GFN and MP are finished. The artwork for both books is nearly finalized. As you can see the US edition of GFN is very similar to the UK edition, which suits me fine as I love the Illustration by artist Joseph Lappie as well as the cover design by Jonathan Graham (no known relation). I am also writing irregularly on my new project, Half Dead. 

So exactly who is Michael Walker?

If you can glean something about who a person is from their life's work, perhaps this will allow a glimpse into the man who is turning my novel into a screenplay:

Before turning to writing full time, Michael was an actor for nearly 30 years. His theatre work includes Valentine in TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA and Claudius in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at The Young Vic; Rashid and Higgins in Terence Rattigan's ROSS at the Alexandria Theatre, Toronto and The Old Vic; Emerson in Sam Shepard's THE CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS at The Royal Court; The Estate Agent in SHERLOCK HOLMES for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and New York; The Arab Prince in CAUGHT IN THE ACT at The Garrick Theatre; The FoxHunter in REYNARD THE FOX (adapted from John Masefield's poem) at the Edinburgh Festival and Young Vic; and a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company in OTHELLO, MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL and ISLAND OF THE MIGHTY. 

TV and FILM includes Dr Who, Henry V111, Space 1999, The Professionals, Romance, Coronation Street, Lillie and Captain Seth Burgess in The Onedin Line. His stage play, KILLING, was performed at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, directed by his wife, actress Genevieve Allenbury (Queen of Valencia in ABC'S GALAVANT). 

His first screenplay (with Paul Rattigan) of Noel Coward's RELATIVE VALUES was released as a feature film (associate produced by Michael and Paul) in 2000 by Momentum Pictures, starring Julie Andrews, Colin Firth, Stephen Fry, Jeanne Tripplehorn, William Baldwin and Sophie Thompson. His second screenplay (with Paul Rattigan) of THE RIVALS (based on the Restoration Comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan) is currently in development with producer Chris Koch, director Paul Murphy and actress Celia Imrie (to play Mrs Malaprop). His other screenplays include an adaption of THE GIRL AT THE LION D'OR from the novel by Sebastian Faulks and an adaptation (with Jay Benedict) of THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT from the omnibus series by Valentine Williams. 

Other writing includes poetry, the children's books WEE NESSIE, HENRY AND CECILIA and NATTY NORA AND SCRUFFY SAM, the short stories INNOCENCE, THE TRAIN JOURNEY and THE CYCLIST, the short films IT'S A DOG'S LIFE, FLOWERS, THE CYCLIST and (all with Paul Rattigan) the short film THE SCREENTEST, the TV Sitcom TWO MANY COOKS, the TV historical cookery programme FIT FOR A KING and the TV Quizzes SWIVEL and KIDS. For many years, he was also the main speechwriter for the Annual Women In Film TV and Film Awards. He lives in Chiswick, London with his wife Genevieve and their two Bengal cats, Wimbo Wa Dini (Swahili for 'praise') and Malaika ('angel').

Furthermore, if my endorsement is persuasive, I can say that my interactions with Michael have been more than pleasant. He is warm, kind, and generous. We have an easy rapport, our interests and biographies intersect in ways that make conversation natural and energizing. 

With Michael's permission, the story of finding GFN in his own words.

Now to how I came across GOOD FOR NOTHING. This last Christmas was the first in our 31 year relationship that Genevieve and I did not share Christmas. I'll explain. For the last 8 years I have been joining her in Houston and putting our two cats in a wonderful local cattery for the month or so I'm over there. Why Houston? A long story but basically - Genevieve started traditional British Pantomime there at Stages Theatre. It has become an enormous success and, for many locals, the one and only piece of theatre they see all year. Last Christmas, because we knew we were going to be in L.A. for the first 3 months of this year (primarily for Genevieve and Pilot Season post her stint as Queen of Valencia in ABC's GALAVANT), we decided it was fairer on the cats to only be in the cattery for the time we would be in LA and I would stay in London with them over Christmas while Genevieve performed SNOW QUEEN at Stages Theatre.

Our good friend Jane (Cussons) who I have known since we were at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1972, invited me to stay over the Christmas holidays. At lunch on Christmas Day she had invited Karl (Sabbagh) and his wife Sue. I had met them before - both at Bafta in London and at Jane's in Shipston-on-Stour (near Stratford-upon-Avon). I found (and find!) them a lovely and interesting couple. On the beautifully decorated table, on Jane's place mat and mine, was a 'gift' from Karl. It was GOOD FOR NOTHING. I started to read it that night. I could hardly put it down. I knew straightaway I wanted to adapt it into a screenplay but I thought it prudent to wait until I had read the whole book before saying anything to Karl. I finished the book - your book - the next day (Boxing Day). A few days later, back in London, I called Karl. I could hear him, at the other end of the telephone, jump for joy. "At last," he said, "someone else who shares my feeling that this would make a great screenplay!"

I took GOOD FOR NOTHING to LA. And I read it. And I read it. 7 or 8 times. Then I made notes. Then I did a synopsis. Then I did a treatment. Then I started to write the screenplay in earnest. And, since getting back to London and securing the option from you and Pontas, that's what I have been engaged with.

Well, there is a piece of it. Next installment will cover either my US publisher or a bit about the GFN option contract, or both. I'm winging it. 

Cheers




Saturday, July 30, 2016

Two books available in North America

A lot can happen in a short span of time. A month and a half ago I wrote Doldrums Redux, my first blog in over a year. I tried to explain the reasons for the hiatus. Among those reasons, I questioned how prudent my choice of literary agency has been, and admitted that I was considering a change. Two weeks after posting, this happened:


Brandon Graham’s ‘Good for Nothing’ optioned for film, and ‘Missing People’ acquired in the United States & Canada


Good For Nothing is Brandon Graham’s debut novel and was published in the UK & Ireland by Skyscraper in 2014. At the Pontas Agency we’re very happy to announce that this witty exploration of the “North American male” is now being developed to become a feature film, as it has been optioned by British producer Michael Walker at Hallelujah Productions (and who is also currently writing the screenplay adapting “this book which I am passionate about”, in his own words).
The story follows the episodic escapades of Flip Mellis, an unemployed, newly obese and suicidal family man, who is reaching the apex of a middle-age tantrum. Exacerbated by plentiful personal flaws, including a self-fulfilling fatalism, and coinciding with a national economic crisis, Flip’s good intentions are tainted by his poor life skills and questionable rationalizations.
We’re also delighted to announce that Brandon Graham’s second novel, Missing People, has been acquired in English for the United States and Canada by Benjamin LeRoy at Tyrus Books, to be published in 2017. All other rights are available.
Missing People is an intense domestic drama, filled with acutely observed, damaged characters, and is framed as a resonant thriller. It explores the contemporary American family. It is rich with insights into what makes men and women tick, issues of identity and memory, longing and loss, and the role of the individual as part of a family. It forces the reader to take a serious look at the stories we tell ourselves, and others, about who we are and what we need to be whole.
working cover image 
Brandon Graham has lived in eight states of the United States and four different countries, receiving three university degrees. He studied in Budapest (Hungary) and Dijon (France). He eventually settled near Chicago where he studied visual and written narrative at Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, graduating with his MFA in 2008.
For more information, contact Leticia Vila-Sanjuán.

But that's not all. Drum Roll Please. At long last, Good For Nothing has also been acquired for the United States and Canada by Benjamin LeRoy at Tyrus Books, to be published in 2017. 

SO . . . I apoligize to the whole team at Pontas for allowing doubt and frustration to creep in. They really came through for me, as they do for many writers from all around the globe. I'm lucky to be associated with them. Special thanks to Anna and Leticia. 

I will unpack more details about my Tyrus Books in my next post. The contract process for the option is long and may take a few more weeks before 100% of the details are squared away. At some future point I'll dig into the option as well. 

Lastly, I am still intermittantly active with artist's books. Most recently I contributed to the collaborative AB project B(l)eached.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Doldrums Redux


Redux:
adjective/ brought back —used postpositively


In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning "to lead back") can mean "brought back" or "bringing back." Redux belongs to a small class of English adjectives that are always used postpositively-that is, they always follow the words they modify. Redux has a history of showing up in titles of English works, such as John Dryden’s Astraea Redux (a poem "on the happy restoration and return of his sacred majesty, Charles the Second"), Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux, and John Updike’s Rabbit Redux.

So in a literary spirit of postpositivity I shall now bring back my FictionDoldrums blog. Why the absence, one may ask. It would be easy enough to read between the blogs (or at least glance back at the previous entry) and see that over a year ago I received a series of heartening/disheartening rejections. That might be reason enough. The complete rationale is more complex. These are the three main elements I will discuss in brief. 

1) The aformentioned rejections
In truth, rejections are not so hard to take. I have been making work of one type or another for all of my adult life. The process has generally followed a pattern of experimentation, refinement of technique, critique by other artists, further refinement, and exhibition to intended audience. Rejections are a part of the critique process. I am more alarmed by lack of feedback than by harsh feedback. With harsh feedback [or constructive feedback (or positive feedback)] I have a path forward. When I get no response from an audience, I am left to roll all the possible problems around in my mind. The imagined critique I form on my own is usually far less charitable than any I've received from a reader/viewer. Still, rejection is never fun. Acceptance is preferred.
(Pontas founder Anna Soler-Pont at the agency)

2) Weirdness with my agents
Pontas, international Literary and Film rights agency is located in Barcelona, Spain. To recap, I signed with Pontas several years ago at a time when they were making a concerted effort to prove their capacity to represent English language authors. Pontas has a mission that I feel proud of and list of diverse and accomplished authors that I'm pleased to be associated with. To sign with an agency located in Europe rather than New York was a risk. But Pontas appealed to an idealistic, romantic streak that I often keep hidden under a hard shell of mock grumpy pessimism and sarcasm. It also fed into my apparent need to do things my own subversive way rather than the easy way. 
     The weirdness stems largely from the fact I've felt shuffled around from agent to agent. First, Carina, who introduced me to that agency and sold the idea of taking a chance with Pontas. Then Patricia, who sold my book to a great little UK publisher (Skyscraper). For a time, Marina. Next Jessica, who worked closely with Marina and started out aggressively supportive of my second book Missing People but was quickly sidetracked by the demands of representing a Man Booker finalist, Chigozie Obioma. The year I've been away from the blog coincides with the year Jessica spent with her focus elsewhere. And now, I am in the hands of Leticia.
     A few months ago I was approached via LinkedIn by an English language novelist that was considering signing with Pontas. I wanted to give honest advice, and I struggled with it. Mostly, I've liked working with everyone at the agency. Each has had different strengths. My largest doubt is in relation to the capacity of the agency to make good deals with major US publishers. But ultimately I  recommended Pontas to her, with some caviots learned through personal experience. She sent me a note to let me know she joined the Pontas family. 

3) Teaching 

The skill of teaching has a limited shelf life and by last year I had reached the sell-by date; meaning that if I hoped to have the option to teach again, I had to get serious and step in front of a classroom or suffer total experience atrophy. In the past I have taught drawing, design, and ceramics courses. Because most of my work is currently written, I made the decision to seek opportunities in English departments. A good friend and artist Jean Bevier, currently the Museum Store Product Designer at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, suggested I look into teaching at Dominican University in River Forest. She had been there in the design department and had glowing things to say about the student body.  
     Last summer I met with three faculty members and achieved something remarkable: I convinced a group of literature professors that my interdisciplinary background, my publishing record, and my past teaching experience would make me an asset to their program. This is no small feat; because as much as liberal artists like to believe they are progressive and inclusive, the truth is that academic departments are territorial and tend to dislike change, move slowly, and hire people who have taken a well-trod academic path in order to reach their department. It is a measure of their openess and level of desperation that I was given a shot. I taught in the Fall, was observed and given an alarmingly good evaluation, taught in the Spring, and have been invited back in the coming Fall. 

In summary, mildly disheartening circumstances with my second book, complications with my agents, and the time and emotion suck of teaching a new class, in a new place, in a new department made it a challenge for me to find the time, energy, will, or the positive content necessary to blog over the past year. 

What's changed? Summer is here and that gives me both time and energy. And, on the cusp of officially leaving my agents, they were contacted by a British writer/director who asked to option my first novel for a screenplay. So, as I write this, that contract is being (painfully) slowly hammered out. 

Of course, other things happened in this past year. I wrote some. I was in a student film. I exhibited a bit. Some of my articles for JAB were honored in a fancy way that involved people in white shirts and black vests offering me free booze and baby-size snacks, all while glad-handing with muckety mucks. 

Until next time. 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Fistful of Rejections [and what they may mean (or why depressives should avoid this field)]


Kerslap!

Rejections are a part of the publishing process (for me at least). So here I offer a smattering of recent comments from editors. These are not run of the mill rejections. They are not form, summary rejections. These are rejections from well-placed editors at major publishers, some of them with their own imprints. They are often complimentary and sincere. I think they demonstrate a love and respect for narrative and those who devote themselves to writing. Take a look. At the end of the blog I’ll share my growing impressions, gleaned from painful experience.
Thank you for thinking of me with Brandon Graham’s work. Missing People is an impressive novel, and I admire Brandon’s talent for switching points of views throughout the manuscript. He captures Chicago, and movingly renders the effects Etta’s disappearance has on her parents. I was impressed by the emotional nuance.

The premise is so intriguing, and I love how Graham reflects on family, its dissonances, and its inextricable ruptures. I was immediately pulled in.

I have been going back and forth about this one because it’s really terrific; I love the different points of view, the diverging ways the family members deal with grief, and the prose itself is lovely.  

Etta's disappearance is so gripping and I admire the control the author has over his eccentric characters. I liked reading about Townes especially.

It's not a fast read - and I mean this as a compliment - the writing is too good to rush through.

It’s very accomplished and assured, and a powerful read. Thanks for giving me a chance to read such an impressive novel.

 Brandon Graham, who I can so clearly see is an amazing talent...

His writing stands out – and always leaves such a strong impression on me.

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to read Brandon Graham’s MISSING PEOPLE. There was a great deal I admired about this novel, Graham’s resonant prose not least among them. There is an uncommon richness to the way this novel develops, rare in a book with a thriller’s plot at its heart.  

The storytelling is brisk, clear, and compulsively readable throughout, and one is presented with a strong sense of place with the authors’ attention to Chicago. The development of the characters around Etta make her present in every scene. Newton struggles with her disappearance and adjusting to normal life after war. Meg and Charlie’s relationship falling apart, along with Townes’ guilt all made it feel like Etta was still present in the plot, six years after her disappearance

Brandon Graham portrays radically different responses to loss movingly, and he captures disparate corners of Chicago with a clear and observant eye.

He’s tremendously talented and I really enjoyed reading.

I enjoyed the structure and the writing. Townes’s section in particular held a unique appeal. There is great rationality and deliberateness in the characters’ actions and thinking. Though, of course, they are ensconced in a situation outside of their control. I shared the manuscript with a few others here to see what sort of consensus I might make… a general acknowledgments of this being an impressive debut.

Both of us admired the novel, which is very well written, but neither of us feels able to publish it in the right way.  It’s not quite a literary or reading group novel, and it’s not quite a crime novel, so falls between stools—which can be a fine place if a given book just isn’t categorizable, but depends therefore on an editor falling in love and making the book a special focus and a passion. 

I enjoyed the panoramic perspective this book takes in not only tracing the story of a missing person, but also honing in on the crushing negative space that’s left behind, reverberating through the hearts of multiple people.

Lessons Learned:

1) The publishing industry is full of professionals who are passionate about good work. But, the mark of success as a professional in the field is to publish not only good work, but also profitable work. The path to profitability is made easier with clearly defined marketing strategy. And so, like so many intersections of the arts and capitalism, the marketing machine does hold sway over the choices editors make. The systemic dynamics can take something kind of pure and taint it with a tad of hypocrisy.

2) Original, memorable narratives are good in that they distinguish themselves from the avalanche of manuscripts editors read constantly. Conversely, original narratives are problematic because they are not sure things, and are challenging to handle. They require extra work and may never pay off. This is a shitty situation.

3) Lastly, I know solutions that have served me well in the visual arts my not work in commercial publishing. Namely, playing around the edges of genre; or anticipating reader expectations and subverting those in order to make social commentary. 

To summarize: I wrote another quirky book that succeeds very well on its own terms, but that doesn’t mean it will find success in the marketplace. It's important though, to bare these lessons in mind as I move on to the next project. Books are long projects, and if I am going to make the time and energy commitment to dive in again, if I am willing to open myself up to more criticism, then I should at least wring what I can from this experience.

London Book Fair is ramping up, and I hope the right editor will believe in my work enough to put in the extra work to help it find the readers it needs.

On a slightly more upbeat note, Good For Nothing has done well with readers. Here is a new review I found on Amazon. 
 
Image by Jason E Hodges

Good For Nothing is an approachable story on the complexity

Good For Nothing is an approachable story on the complexity of seemingly mundane decision-making. Though I found parts of it humorous, I also found parts terribly sad. Graham does a great job of bringing the main character Flip to life - I often thought he could be someone I knew or even be myself at times. As a result, I was endlessly thinking about people around me, and how they got where they are in this world. The novel is one that catches your attention from the outset and makes you want to follow through to the finish.