Thursday, November 10, 2016


Hi folks,

Just found out Endeavour Press (UK) and their literary imprint, Odyssey Press has released my first novel, THE DEATH OF TARPONS, for sale as an ebook. This is the first time it's been available as an ebook, previously available only as a hardcover edition.

It's priced very equitably at $3.99 in the U.S. and the equivalent in the UK. Not only am I stoked that it's now available as an ebook, but that it's one of the first to be published on Endeavour's new literary books imprint. As Endeavour is Europe's biggest publisher of ebook titles, I'm hoping it gains wide sales. If you purchase a copy, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads and other such venues.

I'm really proud of this book. It's largely autobiographical and was written before I ever took a writing class of any kind. It's my wife Mary's favorite book of those I've written. I have to thank my agent, Svetlana Pironko for selling the ebook version. She's also placed the paperback version with Betimes Books and that'll be forthcoming soon.

A bit of history--in the mid-nineties when I sent it out, it went through 86 rejections. This was in the days of snail mail when you had to not only pay postage to send it to publishers, you also had to pay for return postage in the event of rejection. That was a lot of money, especially for our family which was living day-to-day and sweating out rent. If it wasn't for the faith and support of my wife Mary, I wouldn't have been able to persevere in trying to get it published. Perhaps that's why she loves it so much--she knows the sacrifices we made to get it out there.

Actually, at about the 50th submission, I got a letter from a regional publisher who wanted it and offered a $10,000 advance for it. That was huge money for me at the time and sorely needed. However, I ended up turning it down. The reason? He asked me if it was autobiographical and I told him about 85% of it was but not all of it. He wanted to publish it as autobiography and in good conscience, I couldn't do it. The real clincher for not taking his offer though was that he wanted to cut several scenes, notably one in which the young protagonist's father beats him with a live king snake. This was in the days before even the term "political correctness" had been coined, so I'm proud to say I had good instincts about this odious concept, even then. He wanted to cut it because... ready?... it might offend the snake lovers... Which must be what? Five or six people? That kind of did it... (Very) reluctantly, I withdrew the book from him. Then, as now, money has never been my goal.

For a long while, it looked as if I'd made the dumbest mistake of my life. We went through dozens and dozens of other rejections after that. In fact, it was the  87th submission that finally got taken.

And, that was the result of two fortuitous events.

One: A couple of weeks before it got taken, I was privileged to have the mss of The Death of Tarpons accepted for a workshop in Indianapolis to be held by Mary Evans. Mary is an Indy native and was back home to give a talk and to conduct the workshop for five of us lucky writers.

During the workshop, Mary pulled me aside and told me it was a truly brilliant novel, but that she guessed I was having trouble selling it. Surprised at her insight, I told her it was and she explained why. She said her own client, Michael Chabron, had experienced the same thing she figured I was going through with his own first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburg. That publishers assumed it was a YA just because it had a teenaged protagonist. I was shocked. "But, Mary," I said. "I've never thought of it as a YA at all. Any more than I would call John Knowles' A Separate Peace a YA novel." She agreed, but then gave me a bit of priceless education about publishing. She told me that editors and publishers weren't always the smartest folks around. She said that as soon as they saw a teenaged protagonist, their limited imaginations just automatically put it into a category. And, not only were they seeing it was a YA, they were seeing it as a book aimed at the single worst category for readers--teenaged boys. It's the worst demographic in literature--or, at least it was then in pre-Harry Potter days--as teenaged boys didn't read. While they were the single biggest demographic for movies, they were the single worst for books.

She then gave me the biggest and most useful piece of practical advice I've ever been given in publishing. She advised me to do what she'd advised Michael Chabron to do in the face of similar pigeon-holing. "Just make it a frame book, and you'll get it published," she said. Being young and ignorant, I didn't have a clue what a frame book was so she had to explain it in baby language. I learned that all I needed to do was to add two chapters, a new Chapter 1 and a new ending chapter. In Chapter 1, I needed to begin it as an adult looking back on his life, and in the last chapter, simply bring the narrative back to his adulthood.

And, that's what I did. I created a new beginning, making Corey John  an adult, dying of cancer, revisiting his boyhood home of Freeport, Texas and reliving a particularly bad memory of one tumultuous summer. At the end, I brought him back to that place. In between these two editions, I just stuck the original novel. That was it. All of a sudden, I'd transformed a YA into an adult novel...

That was the first event.

The second was that I sent it to the University of North Texas Press. This will give you a clue as to how many places I'd sent it to, as I sent it out alphabetically to publishers. A press beginning with "U" is kind of near the end of that list... In fact, I'd already made up my mind to never send it out again once I hit 100 places. I'm not sure there were even 14 places left on my list...

What I wasn't aware of was that the University of North Texas Press had never before in their history published any fiction. It shouldn't have even been considered and under normal circumstances wouldn't have been. However, Providence was present that day. The publisher, Fran Vick, had come into her office to begin going through the mound of manuscripts on her desk. As it happened, mine happened to be on top, the first one. Coming through the door to bring her her morning coffee, her assistant tripped and spilled the cup. She apologized and went out to get her another cup.

During that two or three minutes, with nothing to do, Fran idly picked up my manuscript and began idly reading. Well, one of the first things she encountered on the page were the words "Freeport, Texas." This was in my new version with the new frame chapter. Seeing those two words gained her interest. That was simply because that's where Fran was from--where she'd grown up.

She told me all this later. She said she began reading the next page and then the next and before she knew it she was hooked and knew they had to publish it. She gave it to her editor, Charlotte Wright, who liked it as well as Fran did. And, they published and it went on to garner a Special Citation from the Violet Crown Book Awards, a big deal in Texas literary circles. And, nominateed for a hunch of other great awards. Got to attend the First Annual Texas Book Festival and sit with Laura Bush and a bunch of really cool Texas writers and dignitaries.

The point is, absent a chance meeting with probably the only literary agent who had had experience with my kind of book and the kind of problem it was facing, and without a clumsy secretary's spilling coffee (thank you!), and without a publisher being from my own home town and seeing that on the first page, this book would have died. You just never know what little twist of fate will occur that aids in your work being seen by the right person.

Anyway, this kind of the story of this novel and I hope you at least found it interesting if not informative.

Thanks for considering buying my book!

Blue skies,

P.S. One more anecdote... my original title was "Spatterdashers" and it killed me when UNT Press insisted on not using it. Particulary, since the term was the reason I'd even written the book! I'd come across the word in a Paris Review interview and loved it from the initial encounter. Literally, it denoted an item of clothing men used to wear; a legging that "prevented spatter from dashing their trousers." Over time, usage reduced the word to "spats." The reason Fran told me they wouldn't use it because people wouldn't know what it meant. Reluctantly, I bowed to her and she was gracious in letting me pick the alternative title, The Death of Tarpons.

A few months after it came out, Gore Vidal published a book titled, "Palimsest." "Hey!" I asked Fran. How about this? Vidal has a book out titled Palimsest. That's even more obscure than Spatterdashers." She looked at me cooly and said, "Well, he's Gore Vidal... and you're not."

She had a point...

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