It was a dramatic two months here at EAP. The Consortium sales conference in May, where I presented EAP’s two books for October (Danbert Nobacon’s 3 DEAD PRINCES, with illustrations by EAP’s own Beloved Vegetarian Husband, Alex Cox), and E. E. King’s DIRK QUIGBY’S GUIDE TO THE AFTERLIFE. The sales reps had made the whole trip easy for me by having, through their efforts, made another Consortium book, TINKERS, a Pulitzer prize winner, which meant, happily, that the very pleasant Greg Cowles of the New York Times had a moment to spare to talk about EAP books…he doesn’t know it, but he’s in for being taken out for a glass of something soon, one of my favorite ways of attempting to influence the media. And I finally met Maggie Ruggiero, formerly of GOURMET magazine, who I contacted after noticing whenever I cut out a recipe of that mag, it was one of hers. I sent her JAM TODAY, and she emailed back, and now I am the proud owner of one of her handmade sex scandal tea towels (you can ask, but it’s hard to explain without illustrations), and the happy memory of sitting with her after dinner on the High Line watching the traffic go uptown.
And signing three contracts for three more books. Brian Griffith on Chinese goddesses, and Lorenzo O’Brien, that anarchic film producer, on BEING a film producer: “HARD TO KILL: My Life as an International Film Producer”…which HE wants to call “My Life Becoming a Human Cockroach,” which gives you a pretty clear idea of the content. That one started with his calling my own dear husband to share a day in his recent life, a day which included being fired twice by a coke addled boss, and then hired back when it was clear no one else had a clue about the admin on the film. And Lorenzo said, “How did I GET here?” And I said, “Well, there’s a book.” And he said, “I’ll write it! But most of the stuff in it will probably be libelous.” And I said, “We’ll worry about that later, then, shall we?”
He’s sent me the first two chapters, and they are, indeed, delightfully, hilariously libelous. So it’s a good thing EAP has a very nice publishing lawyer up there in Portland (hi, Amy! work coming your way soon!). As well as for the fact that we’re deep in talks to publish a little something about Walt Disney in 2013, which, unless things have changed radically in the world before then, should bring down on us the full weight of the Disney legal apparat. A sympathetic lawyer I’ve already consulted about THAT one says that legal scholars in the US think Disney is getting just too damn uppity and too damn bullying about its alleged rights, and so the time may be coming for a tiny David to at least tweak the toe of the Goliath. We’ll see.
But I think the most exciting EAP event was getting David Marin’s query and manuscript over the virtual transom last month. Queries we get tend to fall into one of two categories: books their authors are sending out to EVERYONE in the hope that someone bites, and books that are coming from the same values as EAP, but we don’t think, for whatever reason, we can publish. The first get a polite email suggesting another publisher, and the second get an invitation to fool around on the website and see what happens next. (DIRK QUIGBY was one of these latter, in fact.)
I don’t think it has happened before that I got a manuscript that was, out of the blue, so perfectly EAP and so just what I was looking for, that I rubbed m my eyes and wondered if it was a joke. Or an instance of severe self deception.
But so it was with David’s manuscript.
At first I groaned when I got the email. Subject heading: “Query: Multi cultural non fiction.” And the accompanying note: “In 2005 I became the only single Caucasian male in the United States to adopt three minority siblings – all abandoned by fieldworkers and felons in Santa Barbara County. Tempest-Tost To Me is our story. The title is from the Statue of Liberty inscription. Topics include illegal immigration, multi-racial adoption, and parenting. The manuscript has 75,000 words.” First of all, the politically correct nature of it all made me automatically suspicious. More PARADE magazine and looking to be on Oprah than EAP, I thought. I had an immediate vision of a saccharine line of self promotion, of children being trotted out like trick ponies to promote the author’s work under the name of do-gooding–a vision I can only greet with a profound shudder. In short, I thought this was one of those: just give a quick read to the prologue and first chapter, then a polite email back suggesting a bigger publisher.
Then I started reading. Then I was in tears by the second chapter. No, this was not what I had thought. This was the real, true thing: a writer who had an idea he passionately wanted to get across. And I very much doubted the guy who had written even what little I’d read so far was interested in exploiting his own children.
What came through most was the real, fierce feeling here. This single guy adopted three maltreated kids, and fell absolutely in love with them. You could tell he was in love with them in every line. Needless to say, since he WAS the only single Caucasian male etc. the road to adoption was not an easy one. And his outrage that these children were treated as anything but individual, important souls came through clearly to me, too.
So I emailed cautiously back. Are you sure you know who you’re sending this to? We’re a very small outfit, only in our second year…
Oh yes, he emailed back. I know who you are. I found you on the Consortium website.
Still cautious, but thawing fast, I emailed:
“David–Read the manuscript and thoroughly enjoyed it–especially the individual personalities of the three kids. Now the main question I’m going to ask you is: What is the most important thing to you about this manuscript? What do you think it’s really about, what idea were you most trying to get across?
Just to make sure that what interests me most harmonizes with what interests you. And what interests me (and makes it an EAP book) is that the entire story contradicts the dominant cultural story that only moms are nurturers, that dads somehow are emotionally less connected, less loving, less empathetic. I mean, unless they’re gay, so goes the dominant cultural story…and that just cuts half the population off from their ability to feel in the way that is most satisfying to a human being. What’s most important in your manuscript is Love, of course.
So that’s what interests me. All the editing I’d suggest (and do) would go to making that point clear…and to bringing out your own voice as clearly as possible…another EAP thing is that while all EAP books have to be literate, even literary, they need to be written in a clear, informal voice, like the reader is having a conversation with the writer.
This has just what I look for in a certain kind of book–the ability to appeal to a wider group of people and get ideas across to them that they probably wouldn’t accept in the abstract (for one thing, the irrationality of the xenophobia)…I have this belief that the American audience is irrational but warm hearted, and if you can touch their hearts, you can change their Fox News default settings.”
And David emailed back:
“Well, Tod, you wrote what I want the book to be about better than I could! I appreciate that.
Yes to parenting gender. It’s packed with issues. For one, if as many single men adopted (it’s 1% now) as single women (33%) foster homes would be nearly empty. Second, the whole lawsuit fiasco shows that it’s not just women who face discrimination in the work place.
And yes to Fox News. There are people out there right now advocating that children of “illegals” be stripped of their US citizenship. That would be my children.
A third part that’s important to me are the struggles people have with social services. The system is broken, and slower than flowing concrete when it’s working. I want social workers, and social work students, administrators, and educators to see another side.
Last, even though you’d like to feature more of my voice in the book (and I’m okay with that), the heroes are my children and their older sister. I’d like to bring that out even more if I can.”
Yes. So the contract went out, was discussed and signed, and I asked David to write a little bit more about why he decided to adopt even one child, let alone three. That piece is in this month’s issue of EAP. That, I thought, would be the start of a long, fruitful (we hope) back and forth before the manuscript is ready to be published. Some things will get developed more fully, some things will get thrown out. It’s always fun to see that process.
The first thing that went, of course, was the title “Tempest Tost.” Pretty title, but too much like a Robertson Davies novel, or a study on Shakespeare’s later plays. We’re looking for something simpler–in fact, David, in his piece this month, asks readers to make suggestions. In my own head, I call it what I called his piece: Why I Adopted Three Kids. But we’ll see where it ends up…
Stay tuned. I know I will.