Friday, April 1, 2011

South Carolina Book Festival In a PLUNDERed World

It's a bit strange receiving an email more than a year after your first novel's been published, from the publishing house that granted you the Biggest Dream Of Your Life. The house has forwarded yet another email that's an invitation to the South Carolina Book Festival. I think I was supposed to have attended last year. But, well, oops. THE PLUNDER, my debut, was published on Inauguration Day, 2010. Inauguration Day was a Big News Day. The nation's First African-American President getting sworn in -- and getting more coverage than baseball's opening day -- likely explains why THE PLUNDER ROOM didn't lead the nightly news on the three major networks (and FOX). It's just something you deal with.

More than a year has passed, then, since The Miracle occurred. Yes, I had dreamed of getting published for about as long as Moses wandered around looking for a place to hunker down with his peeps. The incredible Ruth Cavin bought THE PLUNDER ROOM from me, without an agent. She was gracious, kind, generous and 90 years old at the time. We never met. I had gone to Manhattan to visit her several years ago. She called in sick that day. Hell, at 90, I would have called in debauched from a Caribbean island resort, indulging in everything you'd indulge in if the doctor told you you had only two more years to live. Ruth died in January 2011, two weeks shy of the year anniversary since she had gifted me with my lifelong dream and allowed me stop beating my long-since-bloodied head against the wall.

To her and everyone at the house, I am forever grateful.

So now two years go by, and I'm a bit perplexed. Here's why: I'm invited to the 2011 South Carolina Book Festival AND I can't read my royalty statements.

Royalty statements are about as simple to understand as Hadron Collider physics, which must be similar to post-tsunami spreadsheets prepared by Japanese-radiation experts, or as accessible and understandable as my wife's mind. The point here is that -- and permit me here please a loose translation of my most recent royalty statement -- I think I "earned out." Or probably came bloody damn close. That is, I think I got as close to selling the "break-even" number of 5,000 copies as I could get to, say, President Obama. (Which, incidentally, is where one copy happened to go; a friend at the White House gave him one of those 5,000.)

Folks who know such things say that 5,000 copies (give or take, say, 20) tell me that 5,000 is a respectable-enough number. A more respectable number would have been, let's say, 50,000 copies. But I dreamed for more than 20 years that I'd get a book published, too.

At any rate, the email from the publishing house that forwarded the invitation to appear at the South Carolina Book Festival this year -- that is, 2011 -- came as a surprise because I thought I had failed them. I thought I had eternally pissed them off for being unable to sell all 15,000 hardbacks that they'd printed. Despite every effort in the world -- and all of my advance money -- I still think selling 5,000 copies, as my friends in the know say, sounds pretty respectable-enough. As for the other 10,000, well, sadly, they were remaindered. That's industry jargon for what happens to your beloved book when it's no longer for sale anywhere, it's euthanized and buried in some mass pauper's grave with no ceremony or anything.

Okay then. I'm still grieving over the loss of our 17-year-old cat, too, but life must go on. After all, Dream One was fulfilled. I sold some books. The entire program turned out to be the Experience of a Lifetime. I am blessed. And still it's pretty cool that I'm invited to the South Carolina Book Festival, because more than 90 other authors (real ones, I can assure you) and 100 or so vendors (food?!) will be there, too. Sounds like a cluster to me. A cluster that says books aren't dying.

Not even for us straight, white, somewhat-middle-class American men. Oh, no. In fact, as tens of billions of books are tapped out on laptops, iPhones and even cellphones (the Japanese do that, seriously -- at least, before the earthquake/tsunami), manuscripts continue to find life in digital and other forms by the dozens of millions. And yet, I continue . . . writing. That pursuit seems about as Quixotic (which rhymes, incidentally, with idiotic) as sending your novel to the White House in hopes that maybe just Bo the Newfoundland Water Dog would read it. I mean, even Henry Miller called one of his books "a gob of spit in the face of God." (That possibly brings up more unfortunate and tasteless tsunami metaphors.)

Nevertheless, as they say in the trades, it's all good.

A friend and I just finished collaborating on an international political thriller. Because it was my idea, but he did most of the work, I can be, at this point, pretty objective about the completed project. It's so good it makes my palms sweat, makes me wet my pants, gets me more excited than splurging on an artery-banger from Wendy's. AND, I am working -- really hard, in fact -- on a book that's also, in my opinion, going to be pretty good, if only because it's taking so freaking long to write. This second book is about The Handlebar, the small concert venue that my wife and I opened in 1994 here in Greenville, SC. The tentative title is ROCKIN' A HARD PLACE, and it's due out in Spring 2012 on the mind-blowing Hub City Press.

Here's an interesting tidbit about those two latest books. Despite having been published, it's as hard, if not harder, find an agent as it is to find anyone who knows whether "grits" is plural or singular. As I said, I had sold my first novel to the dear, incredible Ruth Cavin without an agent, and didn't need an agent to sell the nonfiction project to Hub City Press. (Agents told me that my proposed book about the $3-billion-plus global music industry, as seen from one of the little Petri dishes that actually starts LIFE in the international music business, was "too regional.")

As for the thriller, we're looking at an agent now. We met a couple of years ago at what now counts among my top favorite bards in the world. I also happen think the world of this guy. Now, all's we have to do is polish the manuscript to such a fine and gorgeous sheen, it'll blind him.

So by May 13, a Friday (natch), when I am to spend a weekend with gaboozles of writers, vendors (food?!) and, one would hope, book-purchasing readers, I would love to be packed with breaking news: Yes! We got an agent for our thriller. Yes! I'm well on my way to doing a better-than-mediocre job on my book about the near-universal multi-zillion-dollar music biz. And maybe even! That the email that I orginally received inviting me to Columbia, SC, for the weekend means meant, perhaps, that the publishing house may not be all that pissed off at me after all.

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