Let’s call the first stage Offer It Up, and set its parameters this way: Everything has gone right. Cooperative author and enthusiastic publisher have communicated mutual and realistic goals. The publisher has bound handsome advance readers’ copies (ARCs) right on time and rushed them to reviewers and tastemakers. Books are beautifully printed, shipping through all distribution channels, poised on store shelves like speedboats sparkling in their slips. Then silence. Everything is in the hands of someone other than the author or publisher. Offer It Up, that awful hush in the two weeks before publication date in the catalog, grips the heart and mind.
Mark Harril Saunders, currently interim director at University of Virginia Press and the author of a much heralded 2012 spy novel Ministers of Fire (Swallow Press), described Offer It Up brilliantly. “It is as if I am in a foreign country, and I get the broken satellite phone call that tells me my wife has been rushed to the hospital back home and is going into labor. Everything I love most I am powerless to effect and aid.”
I have just passed through Offer It Up, but barely. And this shaky lack of faith–it’s my own fault. University of Massachusetts Press had masterfully found a way to get everything in place. In fact the whole success of the enterprise was building this baby up in my mind to really dangerous flights of grandiosity. Usually about all enterprises I am the pessimistic Ozarks fishermen: We will catch nothing and get wet and cold; that’s the forecast. But with Some Kinds of Love: Stories, I could not get that frame of mind.
Too much was going right to don my “Eeyore über Alles” baseball cap. The collection of twelve stories was the eighth Juniper Prize winner, chosen and blurbed by the brilliant writer Sabina Murray. All twelve stories in the book were published somewhere that mattered: TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Missouri Review, Western Humanities Review, and so on. Generous blurbs came in from Ben Fountain, Brad Watson, Steve Yarbrough, Tom Franklin, and Kim Harington granted me and Massachusetts permission to use something Donald Harington had written about my work as another blurb.
But in the hush of Offer It Up, so much agonizing doubt came in. I felt terrible for Massachusetts especially, in that even with the offset of contest entries paying for some of the print run, here these wonderful people at this outstanding fifty-year-old press had taken a risk on me, a big risk. And it appeared that no one in that all important, Imperial capitol of American literary taste-making, New York City, no one there would give a durn about this hick from the sticks, this oddball who has worked twenty years now in university press publishing and yet somehow writes (and dares to publish!) stories and novels. The audacity! An elf who wants to be a dentist!
Thanks to a quirk in my New York and New Jersey sales calls for University Press of Mississippi, I had a Sunday and Monday free to travel to Amherst, Massachusetts, and do something authors at small presses sometimes never can afford to do, meet the publishers face-to-face. What a blessing this brief trip was, but at the same time, it made me even more cognizant of the hush of Offer It Up, and how painful it was that so far no one in New York was taking notice.
Bruce Wilcox and I recorded this calm and sensible, even revealing vimeo, yet I was dying inside. I was so worried that his team and press had taken a big risk on me, and there would be no spark of recognition from anyone in New York.
And yet, O Me of Little Faith, the very morning we sat and recorded those 19 minutes, Publishers Weekly, that mighty purveyor of what matters in publishing, a magazine and now also an online powerhouse that for twenty years I had read, even visited in person, and strived mightily to get our UPM authors in, that purveyor ran this review of Some Kinds of Love: Stories:
“In this sturdy story collection, Yates (Morkan’s Quarry) parades a cast of characters who, as diverse as they appear on the surface, have in common an underlying ignorance and mistrust of others. This trait manifests in a larger theme of historical prejudice in the “American Empire”, the setting of these tales which range in time from 1833 to the present. The memorable ensemble includes an aging gay bachelor disturbed by a series of burglaries in his rapidly declining neighborhood; a vocationally and romantically unfulfilled highway inspector who has an affair with an uncouth contractor; an insect-collecting fat fetishist dealing with conflicting feelings toward the married object of his affection; a disaffected Pakistani would-be terrorist in post-9/11 Jackson, Mississippi; and a slow pitch softball player who happens to be able to see the future. Contrary to what the title suggests, the stories are more about what love is not: misdirected lust and other complex, confounding desires; but also personal and professional ennui and a sort of general angst. Instead of getting their comeuppance though, Yates’s clueless characters get laid, get back together, or get a new SUV, which somehow rings true: good things happen to bad people, or more accurately in these cases, things happen to people. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/06/2013″
It is, I told UPM’s director, Leila W. Salisbury, who proudly and gleefully pointed the review out to me on Thursday when I was back in my office, it is an “out-of-body experience” to read what someone you do not know thinks of what you have taken years to write. But oh, what relief I felt as well. Offer It Up was over. The second stage of a book’s inception, The Out-of-Body-Experience of reception had at last begun. Someone had noticed.
Even more striking, I awoke this morning to find a new friend on Facebook, someone from my own hometown of Springfield, quoted my detective, Joe Voss, from the story “Hunter, Seeker” and posted that on my Facebook page followed by her assessment: “Brilliant, Steve, brilliant.”
Offer It Up is over, the hush has lifted, the mother has emerged victorious from the faraway hospital, the baby gives a mighty squall! I am so glad and relieved to know the brilliant work of the good people at University of Massachusetts Press will get its recognition, recompense, and epiphany. I’m taking this baby home!