Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Dispatch from an Upstart

(The following was my introductory post during a guest-blogging stint at The Elegant Variation on 22 October, 2004. It’s reprised here because I like its candor, and hope that it might inspire some young, as-yet-unpublished writers out there.)

Here are some funny things about myself:

-I’m a twenty-six year old writer living in a suburban outpost of the San Francisco Bay Area
-I never finished college and never formally studied writing
-Though I’m still pretty young, I’ve been married for five years to a woman who amazes me daily by the depth of the love she inspires in me
-Beginning in March, 2000, I wrote a novel set in my own backyard in the 19th-century
-It’s now October, 2004 and the novel (The Green Age of Asher Witherow) has just been published nationally by a brand new house, Unbridled Books, whose editorial team has won praise from readers, critics, and booksellers for several years, since it’s this team that founded the legendary MacMurray & Beck (publisher of William Gay’s The Long Home, Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Steve Yarbrough’s The Oxygen Man) and, subsequently, started the maverick Putnam imprint BlueHen (publisher of Debra Magpie Earling’s PermaRed, Marc Estrin’s Insect Dreams, and Susann Cokal’s Mirabilis)
-This publisher just so happens to function upon a belief I myself have long held: “that the highest literary standards and a relatively broad readership are not mutually exclusive”
-I now find myself consumed in the fun and frenzy of the first-novel-promotion period, but for the bulk of the past four years my days have consisted of long, solitary hours at the desk
-Or reading in a chair in a room
-Or walking in these pastoral suburban hills that surround my apartment-home
-Or watching movies with my wife
-Or receiving anonymous rejection slips in response to my endless outflow of short fiction submissions
-Or dreamily forecasting the general future date when I’d have a full-length book published under my name
-This month, I traveled to Minneapolis, 2,000 miles from my home, to give my first public reading from the novel in question, and had the pleasure—the inexpressible pleasure—of meeting folks who had read and enjoyed my words (see my tour log, forthcoming soon!)
-My book’s pre-publication reviews, with one exception, have been entirely positive (I hoped . . . . but didn’t know what to expect) and the book was selected as the #1 Booksense Pick for October
-My agent is a wonderful person as well as a dynamic professional
-My novel has a cover I’m crazy over
-My editor has my tremendous respect
-My publicist moves mountains daily on behalf of my novel . . .

To put it directly: I am an upstart. I am distinguished by neither formal education, hard life experience, or former achievement. On the strength of certifications no stronger than a high school diploma, a number of hard-won literary magazine publications, and a manuscript that was successfully alluring to the proverbial gatekeepers of modern novel publishing, I find myself embarking upon an author’s life (by no means am I financially in the clear, but how many authors are?).

How can so much good stuff happen to one unassuming, albeit hardworking guy in this dusky American era of market-driven publishing, this bookselling culture beset with corporate gluttony?

Though it would be disingenuous to deny a certain startled pride, I don’t mean to be self-adulatory here. Instead, I mean this little intro to be an encouraging dispatch from the positive realm of my positive experience in the literary domain. Before last summer, when my agent said she wanted to represent me, I had exactly zero affiliations in the world of publishing, save a few blind and brief correspondences with lit mag editors. A charmed life? Maybe. But I think there’s more to it than that.

It would be inaccurate to say that the literary universe is a completely open one, but I am living evidence that doors have been known to swing despite lack of an MFA degree, lack of a roster of distinguished associations, or lack of a friend whose friend has a friend who works with Editor A at Random House. What’s more, I am a first-hand beneficiary of the wonders of small press publication: all its glorious civility and professionalism and integrity.

So. . . I offer the foregoing for whatever inspiration it’s worth, and as a candid greeting to readers and visitors. Thanks for stopping by my website. I hope the fact that you’ve dropped in means that you’ve enjoyed my fiction or are planning to give it a gander. If you’re a reader, please consider dropping me a line by clicking on the envelope icon on my website.

Happy reading/writing/e-meandering!