One of the great pleasures in publishing is discovering terrific writers. One of the frustrations is not being able to find an audience that would do justice to the novels they write. There is a system in publishing that mirrors what the Occupy Wall Street movement has focused on: Multinational Corporations RULE. Small independent presses are the 99%, and the 1% are the Big Six Multinationals—whose home offices are largely to be found in Germany (Hotzbrink owns Macmillan and Bertelsmann owns Random House), France (Hachette), and England (The Penguin Group)—with the last two majors being Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, incorporated in Australia until 2004, when they reincorporated in the USA, but with tentacles still stretching to Australia and England. The only remaining colossus clearly American owned is Simon and Schuster, owned by CBS. By virtue of the advertising budgets, radio and television stations, major magazine and newspaper ownership, book clubs, expense accounts, and other media outlets, their releases dominate the print reviews, interviews, articles and are able to create “stars.” I love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but has anyone ever seen them interview a guest whose book comes from a small independent press? The same applied to Oprah at her height. The Big Six, with over 100 imprints, manage to turn writers into celebrities.
I’ve reported how this system works in past blogs over the last couple of years, and have no need to flog a dead horse (or a living Tyrannosaurus Rex) again, but you can always read these past postings. Instead, I’m happy to report that, despite the odds, 2011 was a very satisfying year for us, with seven of our authors gaining artistic recognition.
Kermit Moyer’s The Chester Chronicles won the 2011 PEN/Winship Award for Fiction (the third time in the last seven years one of our novelists won this New England Prize—previous winners being Edward Delaney’s Warp & Weft, and K.C. Frederick’s Inland.
ForeWord Magazine included Charles Davis’ Standing at the Crossroads as one of their Top 10 Books for 2011. Only one other novel made that list.
Georgeann Packard’s Fall Asleep Forgetting was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards for both the Bisexual Fiction and Lesbian Debut Fiction Awards.
The New Mexico Book Award for First Fiction went to Liza Campbell for The Dissemblers.
Jenny Shank’s The Ringer was a finalist for both the Denver Book of the Year Award and the Independent Booksellers Reading the West Book Awards. It was also a Tattered Cover Summer Reading 2011 selection, and sat atop the Best-Seller lists in Denver and Boulder for several weeks.
Luxury Reading.com listed Louise Young’s Seducing the Spirits as one of their top 10 books for 2011.
Maud Adjarian, doing a round-up of memorable mysteries in Library Journal, listed Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos as one that “had all the elements of great crime fiction: unforgettable characters, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and page-turning plots.” And she backed it up with an interview with Len in the same article—the only writer interviewed. Now in its second printing, Chaos also had four foreign translations—with sales made in The Netherlands, Turkey, France, and Spain Additionally a film option was signed with Captivate Entertainment (whose principals produced the “Bourne” film series), and audiorights were sold to Blackstone Audiobooks.
On a strictly commercial level, four additional film options were renewed last year by our extraordinary film agent, Jeff Aghassi, who has represented us for over 15 years. (How extraordinary is he? Does anyone know a television and film agent who reads everything he pitches and who you can talk to the same day you call?): And here are the books in play: Rob Levandoski’s Serendipity Green by Right Angle Pictures: Harriet Chessman’s Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Upper Gate Entertainment; Paul McComas' Planet of the Dates by Eye in the Sky Entertainment; and William Browning Spencer's A Child's Christmas (one of the tales in his The Return of Count Electric & Other Stories) by Upstart Entertainment.
With 17 subrights sales overall in 2011, three standouts were the sale of Sherril Jaffe’s Expiration Date to Beijing Mediatime Books in China and Jaden Terrell’s two forthcoming “Jared McKean” mysteries, Racing the Devil and A Cup Full of Midnight to Rowohlt in Germany.
For those who prefer to listen to books rather than read them, we are blessed to have Haila Williams, Blackstone Audiobooks acquiring editor on the same page as us when it comes to appreciating quality fiction. In 2011 (in addition to All Cry Chaos) they also produced Chris Knopf’s Black Swan—his fifth Sam Acquillo mystery—and have proved to be great publishing partners (Chris unquestionably being one of America’s most masterful writers in this genre), and have already signed up his tenth thriller, Dead Anyway for 2012. Haila also signed up three 2012 mystery: the aforementioned “Jared McKean mysteries written by Jaden Terrell and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Freed’s Flat Spin.
The other great pleasures of 2012 were working with some truly fabulous, creative, intelligent and kind people—from the people who turn manuscripts into well-designed and beautiful books: our cover artist Lon Kirschner, our copyeditor Joslyn Pine, and Susan Ahlquist, our typesetter. To Felix Gonzalez, our always sunny guy in charge of shipping and receiving who works tirelessly in getting these books out. To Rania Haditirto, our former managing editor (who can still pitch in from home), who gave birth last fall to a beautiful baby boy and who chose and tutored her successor, Cathy Suter. Cathy has proved to be a gift from the Gods, with so many skills (an artist with a background in publishing, computer literate, and a joy to spend time with five days a week, and here for the long run (not likely to have a baby with four daughters, three of them in their 20’s and a just turned 13 years old). Jenny Hartig, ex-actress and current Bridgehampton librarian who sends out rejection letters once a week. Caleb Kercheval, our webmaster and designer. And I must include two wonderful interns: Sarah Flood and Christie Sheehan. Sarah will stay on as a salaried jack-of-all trades and Christie, who goes back to school, has done some excellent interviews.
I close out this blog with Christie’s interview with Michael Adelberg’s, whose widely praised A Thinking Man’s Bully was one of our last novels published in 2011 (In our interview on our January Newsletter on The Permanent Press website you can read her interview with Julie Mars, one of our first authors for 2012, whose novel Rust drew pre-publication raves).
Q: What made you decide to write about bullying from a parent’s perspective? Did you have a particular goal in mind in doing this?
A: I was inspired to write Bully after I had a conversation with the parent of a bully about his son’s conduct. The man said the right things, but I knew he wasn’t going to do a darn thing to curb his son. The father’s not really a bad guy, and he’s not all that different from me. He’s just stuck in the post-macho male conundrum: half-proud of his son’s badass streak and other Neanderthal behaviors, but he can’t admit to it. I always wanted to write a novel and thought ‘Oh gosh, no one talks about this.’ I wanted to talk about it.
Q: In the book, the main character has reservations about publishing his memoir, which discusses the death of his best friend. Did you face similar hesitations in having your own book published?
A: My novel is not autobiographical, but the book has many autobiographical elements in its setup and setting. After the drafting of the book was nearly complete, my nephew, a young man whose slacker wit infuses the teen characters in the book, took his life. It was so terrible on so many levels. It made finishing Bully very emotional and difficult. But it also gave me fresh insights into much of the book’s content. While I’d do anything to reverse the loss, the final version of Bully is better because it is informed by tragedy.
Q: In another interview, you said that bullying has always been a problem and is inherent in human nature. Why do you think it has recently received more attention?
A: Bullying has received increasing attention because we have, as a society, lessened our tolerance of it—just like child abuse or a variety of other social pathologies that used to be tolerated. Our tolerance is lower and our ability to detect it is better. Bullying doesn’t just get pushed under the rug or dismissed with “boys will be boys” bromides anymore.
Q: From your perspective, do you have any suggestions of ways for our society and schools in particular to address the bullying situations both in and outside of the classrooms?
A: That’s an excellent question, but probably one that should be addressed to someone who’s a real expert on the topic. While I’ve been both the hammer and the nail at different parts of my life, I don’t know if I’m the best person to answer this question. What I do think is that parents often pass bullying down to the next generation. It’s a learned behavior. Maybe we can take some solace in knowing that we choose the behaviors we model for our kids and perhaps can modify our behaviors. I’m pessimistic about the impact of simplistic slogan-driven campaigns. But just as we’ve made gradual progress as a society in so many ways, from lessening racism to wearing seatbelts, we can make gradual progress in fighting bullying. Gradual is the key word.
Q: Were there any real-life influences for the therapist, Lisa Moscovitz?
A: None of the characters in A Thinking Man’s Bully are based on a specific individual, but little pieces of real people are in these characters. With Lisa, I borrowed a college professor of mine. She was extremely subtle in guiding me when I made strong or ill-considered statements. Only after we’d finish our conversation would I realize that she had me in revisit a topic and speak more thoughtfully. She showed great restraint, which is a greatly undervalued virtue. In my book, Lisa was repeatedly tested by the narrator, Matt Duffy. He tried to irritate her, conceal difficult truths, and throw her off in numerous ways. But she stayed focused and patient, and let him learn at his own pace.
Q: Who are your literary influences? Any favorite authors?
A: I don’t really have favorite authors, but I do have favorite books—a lot of them. I can’t do justice to them all. Some favorites are Travesty by John Hawkes, Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee, The Inheritors by William Golding, and the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. Among newer books, I‘m a huge fan of Marc Schuster’s The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl (published by the Permanent Press), Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer, and Tristan Egolf’s Lord of the Barnyard. Egolf’s novel, like mine, deals with hardscrabble males rubbing up against societal rules they don’t fully understand. I was influenced by Thomas Rayfiel’s Time Among the Dead (also published by the Permanent Press) and Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelley Gang. These books showed me how much fun it is to deal with flawed narrators who carefully select which facts to offer the reader in the interest of trying to redeem themselves. I love the concept of selective, manipulated narration. This challenges the reader to infer what the narrator refuses to reveal. Another book that influenced me was I Am the Cheese, a very sophisticated young adult book by Robert Cormier that I read in 8th grade. I Am the Cheese is about a young man a on a trip to place that is unknown to him. Chapters are built around parts of his trip, and after each episode he discusses that part of his trip with an unnamed interviewer. You don’t find out until the end that the narrator is in a psychiatric hospital. The analysis from the interviews and the dual plots—one around the narrator’s trip, and one around the narrator’s attempt to understand where he is now—impressed me so much. I wanted to try something similar.
Q: Do you have any particular routine or schedule that you try to follow when writing?
A: I’m a lunatic and do not recommend my schedule to anyone. I’m a workaholic, and I cram in too many things. I work my real job as a health policy wonk in the day, try to be a good dad in the evening, and then perform research as a historian after the kid’s go to bed. After that, I write fiction. I write maybe twice a week; I’ll just wake up at two in the morning with an idea and then write until I go to work. I write in the middle of the night because that’s when I have time to do it—not because I think there is something serene or magical about those hours. I proofread my work on weekends, but I my serious drafting happens in the middle of the night.
Q: What advice would you give to budding authors?
A: The single thing you have to do is proofread again and again and again. Maybe there are a handful of truly brilliant writers who can get it right on the first draft. But I imagine that most budding authors are like me. We need a dozen drafts to truly do things justice. With Bully, I made major revisions and removed enormous pieces of text because they weren’t totally right. I am lucky that I’ve had great peer reviewers. I tend to do what they suggest in the belief that even if I don’t like the recommended change, they read my work with less bias than I can. Maybe I’ve been blessed in that I seem to be less emotionally attached to my writing than many authors. If someone tells me something stinks I take their word for it and try again. There are four chapters that aren’t in the final version because
Q: As a footnote, what gave you the idea to add footnotes to the book?
A: This is a delightful topic. When Bully was at its biggest, 270 pages long (now 190), it included 150 footnotes. Many were the type of notes that might be written for an academic journal. I just love the pomposity of the academic footnote and included long footnotes on the pop and high culture topics that fill my book, everything from Rock em’ Sock em’ Robots and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Matt Duffy, the fictional memoirist, wants people to know he’s smart, so his memoir would be inclined go overboard on tangential information. But the footnotes also had Matt’s mean sense of humor and reflected his need to make a point about everything. Peer reviewers split over the footnotes, but many worried that they were just too much of a distraction and too out-of-sync with fiction norms. On the final advice of Marty and Judy Shepard, who have been publishing wonderful fiction for a long time, most of the notes were shortened or removed entirely. What you see now in the footnotes is greatly scaled back. But I was still able to maintain a little of Matt’s attitude in the notes that remain, and people seem to like the notes in this abbreviated incarnation.
A always, I welcome your comments.