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UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Last fall was an amazing ride–traveling the country from New York to Austin to Minneapolis to Portland, and reconnecting with a lot of important people from different phases of my life. I continue to be moved by the number of people who have gotten in touch about the book, either online or in person (a few even seeking me out at the library). It’s a very lucky thing to see your work finding its way into other people’s lives and minds. Being part of that miraculous transaction we call literature.

While the novel is now “launched” as they say (I like the nautical metaphor and the vast watery uncertainty it implies), the wake ripples forward. I’ve updated the events page with some upcoming gigs for spring 2013, and in late May, Overlook will release a cool-looking paperback edition (it’s not final but I’m digging the magenta). Hopefully I’ll be back soon with news about the Spanish translation; there’s also an Italian translation of the short story “The Last Preface” in the works.

Meanwhile as my own thoughts tend toward new projects, imaginary cities and buildings, I hope 2014 is proving to be a creative and rewarding year for readers of The Facades. It has been a deep pleasure to hear from you and talk to you about the novel.

 

 

 

BUZZY WEEK

Though sleep-deprived and too wired to think properly — the week my first novel came out was also the week of an ice-cream party at the library, and I’ve taken to mixing leftover Hershey’s syrup with coffee, with uncertain results — it seemed worthwhile to collect all the links that started me freaking out in the first place. Not my usual week, exactly. Without further ado, here they are:

“Hardboiled Existentialism” (Jon Michaud, New Yorker Page-Turner blog)

“The St. Louis Invasion: Franzen’s The Twenty-Seventh City at Twenty-Five” (The Millions)

“You’re a Very Nosy Fellow, Kitty Cat” (Woody Brown, ArtVoice)

“The Last Preface” (Tin House)

“Weird, Surreal Tale of Midwestern City” (Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“Review: The Facades by Eric Lundgren” (Tobias Carroll, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

“The Opera Singer Vanishes” (Laura Miller, Salon)

I am going to lay off the Hershey’s and coffee, soon.

 

ON PUBLICATION EVE

So, my book is coming out this week. I’ve got about ten things to do right now. Interview questions and final revisions on an essay that has completely kicked my ass, research and writing of two more essays due in the coming weeks, plus I need to get mentally prepared for the reading I’m giving at the book launch in St. Louis tonight. I’m behind, and it’s only going to get worse in the next few hours when my publicist and agent (love you guys!) start e-mailing me again with new assignments, all of which I’m probably going to say yes to, because I believe in the book and want to do right by the publisher who was brave and/or crazy enough to take it on in the first place. Still, despite the backlog, it seems worthwhile to step back a second, take a breath, and say to myself: “You did it, man. After all these years, this is actually happening.”

The book comes out Thursday, which is kind of unusual. New releases usually drop on Tuesday, and I’ve never gotten around to asking Overlook Press why they release their books on Thursday, although I’m okay not directly competing with the likes of Jonathan Lethem and Paul Harding, who both have new novels coming out tomorrow. Overlook tends to do things their own way, which is one of the things I love about them and why I feel so at home there. I’m sure they have their reasons. And to be honest, given the journey the novel has taken to get to this point, it would be weird for it to be released on a usual Tuesday.

Without getting into the gory details of it all, the publication process started in 2009, involved near-misses with two major presses, countless e-mails expressing various levels of regret, a gut rehab of the manuscript, the retirement of my former agent, and a period of almost two years when I tried to give up, to leave this novel behind and get started on writing something else, with only partial success. It got to the point where I dreaded people asking me about the book I was writing. I had a standard answer, and a practiced tone of nonchalance, though I could never quite pull it off, and I’m sure it made for some awkward encounters with folks who were just trying to be decent and figure out what I’d been up to. When they mostly stopped asking, I was glad.

The e-mail came out of the blue a little over a year ago. Without telling me, a writer friend of mine had showed it to an editor friend in New York, who as it happens had studied Calvino in college (the city in my novel is named after one of Calvino’s Invisible Cities). In the space of a few ecstatic hours, the dream came back to life. I’d like to say it’s all a tribute to my persistence and hard work, but it’s not, exactly. Sometimes it takes an improbable confluence of persistence, hard work, personal connections, and crazy luck to get these things done. Plus the efforts of a lot of brilliant people who take your side, for no more than a publishing salary and the glory of it all. You’re damn lucky if your book finds its way to these people. And I don’t forget for a moment how lucky I’ve been.

What would I be doing now if I had never gotten that e-mail? Pretty sure I would be in the middle of another project. Trying to figure out how another fictional world fit together. Getting the voice and the sentences right. Finding some way to restart it all, the query letters, the revision, the submission process, the whole agonizing wheel. I can’t help it: it’s in my nature, as the scorpion said. It’s basically the same thing I’ve been doing since my mom gave me The Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when I was fifteen. Too late to stop now.

The funny thing, all the times I pictured this moment over the years, was that I kind of imagined it happening in a void: almost an Immaculate Bookish Conception, untainted by any kind of real life going on around it. Somehow I didn’t picture the country debating whether or not to attack Syria. Didn’t think about what would be going on with my wife or my friends. Didn’t consider all the nuances this process would involve, how difficult and vexing it would sometimes be–putting something out there for people to read. I kind of pictured myself calmly observing the scene from an elevated vantage of Publication, not down on the ground, sweating from a late-summer heat wave and worrying if anyone was going to come to my reading. The dream becomes real with all the complexities that implies. All the new fears and anxieties that feel a lot like the old ones. And the same hope too: that the work you do is somehow worth it, that it will become meaningful to someone else through craft, patience, and lucky accident. Walking home the other day with the pukey orange stain of a spilled carrot smoothie on my shorts, I told myself:

Keep going. You’ll get there.

 

 

GETTING UP TO DATE

As The Facades nears its publication date, it seems like a good idea to guide potential readers to some other stuff by/about me on the Internet (some of it in the father reaches thereof). Here are some links to give you some idea where I’m coming from. Thanks for taking a look.

St. Louis Magazine profile Local poet and culture editor Stefene Russell wrote a brilliant piece about The Facades, tucked way in the back of what is one of the fattest single magazine issues I have ever seen. There’s a photo of me in the stacks at the library that I actually really like.

“Misplaced Person” (Writeliving Blog)Thoughts about living and writing in the Midwest, with a great intro by fellow STL writer David Schuman.

“Thirty-Two Short Paragraphs About Charles Newman” (Quarterly West)This was kind of a tough one. Remembrance of my former professor, his disorderly life, his kindness toward me, and reflections on his posthumous novel In Partial Disgrace.

Review: The No World Concerto by A.G. Porta (The Quarterly Conversation) Exploration of an ambitious novel by Joycean fanatic and Bolano collaborator A.G. Porta, his first novel to be translated into English, published by Dalkey Archive.

Review: Demolishing Nisard by Eric Chevillard (Three Percent) Another Dalkey title, this one a delightfully mischievous work about a forgotten literary critic.

Finally, I’ve also been maintaining Scribbler, the creative writing blog at the Central St. Louis Public Library. Here are a few of my favorite posts from that blog:

The Stages of the St Louis Book FairI’ve been attending this fair regularly for years, and realized this past year that it was finally time for a psychologically rigorous, definitive account. Includes tips on spotting William Gass and dealing with the infamous arch-villain known only as “Headphones Guy.” This one really was a lot of fun to write.

The Word from BEADispatch from the intermittently surreal world of the country’s largest book-industry event.

Free Agent: The Rosalie Siegel InterviewRosalie was my first friend in the business, a wonderful, kind person who has had an extraordinary career. I was very lucky to get to ask her a few questions about her literary life and post her answers at Scribbler.

And that, I think, gets us pretty much up to date …