A New Book
March 3rd, 2013
With this new book coming out in June, people have asked me whether it is a follow-up to Shimmer. It isn’t, and really couldn’t be, because I wrote most of it before I wrote Shimmer. This makes people’s heads quiver a bit, especially when I inevitably launch into what I hope is a quick description of the order in which these books were written. However, it never ends up being a particularly quick description. The short version is that Shimmer is the 4th manuscript I wrote, Something Pretty, Something Beautiful is the 5th, although even that is muddled by the fact that Something Pretty is largely based on the 1st manuscript I ever wrote. Here’s the long version: From roughly 1993 to 1995, I worked on a 900-page monstrosity of a novel called Circus Vargas that I managed to edit down to 300 pages before finally seeing it for what it was: crap. A pretentious, rambling attempt at a vaguely post-modern novel intertwining a road trip to New Orleans with flashbacks to the main character’s dark, often violent life as a kid in Tacoma. I spent 3 years on the book. But suddenly knew it was awful. I went on to write a novel called High of Sixty, Occasional Rain, about a bankrupt bill collector hiding out in Juneau, Alaska. It hasn’t been published, although stories pulled from it have been. I think some day it will be published. While High of Sixty was being shopped around, I wrote a novel called Powdered Milk, about a reporter covering a series of arsons in three very small, insular New England towns. It too hasn’t been published, and for reasons that involve the forced deportation of my former agent, has hardly been shopped to anyone. But it will be some day. And some stories that I pulled out of it have been published. Then I started work on Shimmer, finishing the first version of it in roughly 2002. While Shimmer was being shopped around (ultimately by two different agents), I was trying to figure out what to work on next. I kept coming back to the Tacoma sections of Circus Vargas. And sitting outside in a bar outside Salem, Mass having a drink with Elizabeth, I had an idea to take out the Tacoma sections and combine them with some short stories I’d written about Alaska and Tacoma. I pictured five points in time, five perspectives, and how the narrative would cycle through each of them, the story unfolding largely out of chronological order. It took a year to write. But it followed very closely the idea I sketched out sitting in that bar with Elizabeth. More on the writing of the book another time. The first of the Shimmer agents had abruptly dropped Shimmer (after admitting to me he’d sent it to 5 editors in two years, a moment of absolute horror for me). I started sending out the new Circus Vargas, which was ultimately picked up by agent Gary Heidt, who shopped it around for a year or more. But unlike every other agent I’d had (and I’d had 4 by then), when he couldn’t sell my book, Gary asked me for another. I sent him Shimmer and, in 2008, he sold it to Unbridled Books. After Shimmer, Gary and I had what I think is an amicable break up. I went on to write yet another new novel, Perfection, then to make an effort trying to find yet another agent. Last summer, I decided I couldn’t deal with the agent situation. It’s a terrible business, agenting. At the most basic level, the vast majority of writers make very little money from their books. Agents, in turn, make 15% of that very small amount. Not a great formula. And so in the summer and fall of 2012, I started sending all the unpublished manuscripts out to a variety of independent publishers. Something Pretty, Something Beautiful was picked up first, by Outpost19. You’d think there’d be more of a plan in all this. There was a plan, long ago, when I was writing the first books. But since then, I seem to be staggering, forward mostly, but bouncing along. In the right direction, though. Definitely in the right direction.