Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Un-Think Tanks

One of your favorite tropes in any story is when the unthinkable comes to pass, where the event or attitude or behavior that seems so extreme as to be unlikely actually takes place.  The unthinkable comes to pass in reality as well, all too often.  In a positive sense, the years of work, research, and meticulous detail that produced a long epic from Monte Schulz came to pass in the most positive way.  What at one time seemed so daunting to literary agents and publishers as to make it unthinkable is now quite thinkable, having been taken on as a part of a four-book deal.  An inscribed copy of segment one, This Side of Jordan, sits on your table, looking with its elegant cover much like an old friend because of the number of episodes in it Monte read aloud over the years at the SB Writers' Conference. Fantagraphics Publishers will do three more and, adding to the unthinkable cachet, take on a nonfiction title Monte just happened to have available.


This Side of Jordan reminds you somewhat of Richard Powers' novel, Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance, its cover enhanced by the very photo that inspired Powers to write the novel.  This Side of Jordan begins in the Spring of 1929, when a nineteen-year old consumptive, Alvin Pendergast, attends a dance marathon, where he meets a slick con man and gangster, Chester Burke, his fate literally and figuratively.


Another aspect of the unthinkable come to pass is word you got this very day from John Shannon, author of the fine Palos Verdes Blue, a review copy of which reached you through mysterious sources you can no longer recall orchestrating.  You wrote an admiring review and in the process became buddies with Shannon.  You've already knocked back an earlier of his books, The Dark Streets and even now, bedside reading is his penultimate, The Devils of Bakersfield.  "I'm in a bit of a funk,"  Shannon writes, because the publisher, Pegasus dropped him. ' I have two more Liffey's [Jack Liffey, his investigator/protagonist] written. Looking for a new publisher but this will probably have to be a small publisher. Obviously there's something I do that the bulk of mystery readers don't fancy. For all the fine review, sales never took off. Of course, it didn't help not having paperbacks out in the stores. Who knows?"

It was in some measure Shannon's approach and his character that got you flying in the face of the Fates and of editorial clients, amping and revving you up to begin work on The Secrets of Casa Jocasa, a mystery set in an upmarket retirement complex located here in Santa Barbara.

On a recent trip through Santa Barbara, your old acting and teaching partner, Leonard Tourney, spoke of the miracle of any book being published.  Even with all the books being published and such options as self-publishing, co-op publishing, and digital arrangements, a published book of any sort is a miracle,  As unthinkable as it is to posit making a living from writing books, it is just as unthinkable to not write them anyway.

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