Promised update concerning the Bookforum/New Museum event: fantastic slate, including the great Vivian Gornick. Note well the RSVP info.
The time is fast approaching, children, the time of folding chairs, jug wine, and uncomfortable silences. I will soon be gamely reading haphazardly chosen selections from The Fugitives. Of course I want to do this in front of the biggest crowds I can muster, so I'm announcing WEEK ONE READINGS.
Draw your rockers close to the cracker barrel, get out your shovels and charcoal, and prepare to write this down.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 7PM
163 COURT STREET, BROOKLYN
(F OR G TRAIN TO BERGEN STREET)
RSVP on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1670470806525320/
Free wine. Plenty of standing room, folks. Excellent bookstore. Free wine. This is the official book launch. Free wine available. I will be reading and taking questions. There's wine there. I'll be signing books, too. If you're a completist who's bringing that copy of The Spitting Image that I appeared in twenty years ago, I'll sign that too, but forgive me for grimacing, it's really just a harmless rictus. You have to be this tall and accompanied by parent or caregiver if you want me to sign a bound galley of any of my books, because I need to know that you have permission to take food from the mouths of my children. Also, there'll be wine.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 7PM
LILLIAN VERNON WRITERS HOUSE
58 WEST 10TH STREET, NEW YORK
(A, B, C, D, E, F etc. TO W.4TH STREET)
RSVP on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/929273067127683/
I'm reading here with Samantha Hunt, whose excellent Mr. Splitfoot was just published by HMH. This series is part of NYU's creative writing program, so we'll also be talking with Darin Strauss, an NYU faculty member and the author most recently of Half a Life. These are very nice, bright, articulate people, which should make up for having come to see me. Space is somewhat limited here, so wear your Doc Martens and be prepared to force your way in, Droog-style. Not many people know the secret value of unbridled aggression in obtaining and keeping a coveted seat at a poetry reading. I'm not certain about wine in this case, but I'm betting heavily on it. As Pliny the Elder said, where there are folding chairs, there's wine. Except at AA meetings, usually. Did I say poetry? It's not poetry.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, TIME TK
235 BOWERY, NEW YORK
(F TO 2ND AVE., 6 TO ASTOR PLACE)
Details on this are a little sketchy, but last year David Byrne was featured. This year, who knows? Kim Gordon? Cheetah Chrome? Von Lmo? The future is a constantly unspooling mystery. Wine situation also unknown, unfortunately. The theme is "Trial and Error," which nicely describes The Fugitives in nearly every respect, particularly as regards its composition. Stand by for further details.
As far as I know, each of these events is 100% FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. If they are not, I will help you complain to the manager.
An excerpt from The Fugitives is featured in the Winter 2015 issue of The Paris Review, out now.
Actually, excerpt is not quite the right term. TPR editor Lorin Stein (also the editor of Trance), who read The Fugitives in manuscript, was drawn to a scene in the book in which Kat Danhoff, one of the major characters, imagines a confrontation with the ex-husband she had abandoned several years earlier. Lorin's principal interest was in turning the excerpted material into a story, a goal that I found intriguing and also daunting. The first problem was: how to set up the encounter with sufficient context to make it comprehensible, but without opening the floodgates to allow unwanted parts of the novel to rush through? The second problem was: what story? The character of Kat is a complicated figure in the novel: a staff writer on a failing newspaper, a philandering wife to two successive husbands, and a person who has spent her adult life attempting to cover the traces of an upbringing and heritage that she considers to be liabilities. She also is defined for the reader, at least at first, by Alexander Mulligan, whose own self-serving narration dominates half the book and who presents her to us in a very romantic, and very distorting, light. Without the rest of the novel, was there a story?
Figuring out what the excerpt would need in order to provide the needed context was easy: information about the earlier marriage to Danhoff, and its end; information about the state of her current marriage, which has prompted her imagination to conjure up Danhoff from out of the past; information about her history of infidelity, to underscore the stuff about the state of her current marriage; and an instance of her acting impulsively on that philandering urge. The passages I needed were all there -- in distinct and separate locations in the novel.
Writers call this "fancy footwork." The opening scene of the excerpt, in which Kat makes plane reservations to travel to Michigan and packs her bags while Justin, her (current) husband, harangues her, takes place on pages 77-81 of the galleys. The next scene, consisting of the phantom encounter with Danhoff, takes place on pages 118-121. The next, immediately after Kat's arrival in Michigan, goes back to page 81 (when Kat receives text messages from a repentant Justin), and then back farther, to page 70, where Kat considers aspects of Justin's personality. The brief passage alluding to Kat's extramarital affairs is radically condensed from a litany of them that takes place on pages 201-204. The scene that suggests that during her first night in Michigan she is going to pick up a man at a bar is condensed from a scene related on pages 183-189.
What was eliminated? Lots of details more resonant in the bigger framework of a novel. Any reference to the lead that has brought Kat the Journalist to Michigan -- in fact, any reference to her occupation. The long conversation Kat has with the man with whom she is flirting at the bar, which makes perfectly relevant sense in the book but is absurd in an excerpt. The oddball specifics, sexual and otherwise, of her individual affairs. There is no reference to Alexander Mulligan, the book's protagonist, or to John Salteau, the Native American storyteller whose secret draws Mulligan and Kat together. Nor is there any allusion to Kat's background, which in the book plays a defining role in the scene at the bar.
What was changed? I invented the locale of the airplane as the setting for the encounter with Danhoff. In the book it takes place in a motel room. I added the refrain of "the esteemed Dr. Fils," referring to the couples counselor Justin takes Kat to see, and amplified her role somewhat. I composed an entirely new scene depicting the endgame of Kat's marriage to Danhoff, which does not appear in the book.
Does it work? I think so -- in fact, I'm grateful to Lorin for insisting on the excision of so much of what, since it's essential to the book, I might have deemed essential to any excerpt. The writer's dirty secret is that there's a freedom to deletion -- with each cut, you eliminate the weight of each thing connected to what has been cut. For example, there's a torturous compositional path -- now long forgotten -- that led me to situate the confrontation with Danhoff in a motel room. But why not put it on an airplane? There's no reason to drag the motel room from the novel to the excerpt. Why not have some things take place earlier than they do in the book, or later? To have some things that are developed, even drawn out, in the novel cut to a brief reference? And, especially, why not see if Kat can stand alone, shorn of all the things connecting her to other characters and events in the book? Rather than five separate scenes tracking Kat's various movements throughout a 320-page novel, we have a brief, contiguous story about a woman heading, for the second time, to a marital crossroads. Which of course is a significant "fact" within the novel's reality as well, but one the reader apprehends only after traveling through various twists and turns, and only after seeing Kat cast, and seeing her cast herself, in a false light.
Bound galleys are being made, so that something very much like the book will soon be available in the form of what's referred to as an ARC, or advance reading copy. This gets sent to reviewers, journalists, potential blurbers, and others with varying degrees of interest or disinterest in the book. I thought it was time to put up the second of my two posts about Jennifer Heuer's dust jacket designs.
I thought that these two "Indian Blanket" variations were a little obscure, and, in the case of the one incorporating color, difficult to read. I did like the type treatment in the one on the left.
The typography pops up again in these two:
I was intrigued by the one on the left -- I think it's a great idea for the designer to set aside for another time. The grainy-Xerox-DIY-zine look has definite applications. A redesign of Please Kill Me, perhaps? Alas, "Fugitives" is hard to see, and I already have another junk mail coming to that strange unperson, "Christophe Sorrentino." And if you have an "ethnic" surname, you quickly learn that people find it difficult to spell or pronounce, and you go to great lengths to make it as legible as possible.
I was very infatuated with the one on the right. The blown-out look of the image, the boldness of the typography in this particular setting -- it conveys something of the book's own dubiety, and provides a sort of visual justification for the mixing of the two types that I think is lacking in their use on the other designs. I pushed for this one, but agent, editor, and publisher responded more immediately to the one finally chosen. As I said in my prior post, I warmed up to it fast.
Speaking of which: below is (apparently) the final version of the dust jacket. The color has been punched up, and jacket copy attesting to the quality of my fiction has been added:
Hard to resist the impulse to pick the thing up and flip through it, no?
As I should have mentioned in my last post, the final jacket and all other treatments were designed by Jennifer Heuer. She's done a lot of work, involving a pretty amazing range of styles and elements -- illustration, typography, hand-lettering, photography.
You can see this conceptual diversity at work in the other jackets she proposed. We'll look at some of them here.
I had a couple of problems with these two:
Both incorporate a giant snowstorm that takes place at an important moment in the book, but I didn't think that was what ought to be emphasized on the cover. I also thought that the street down which the lonely pedestrian is walking in the image at left looks a lot more urban than it does like a small town in upper Michigan, and that the image itself is a little too reminiscent of the one on the jacket for Motherless Brooklyn:
Finally, the typography unavoidably reminded me of this:
Back to the drawing board.
There were also these:
On the left, the type struck me as a little crowded. As for the one on the right, see above. In both, the illustration also struck me as kitschy in the wrong way, up there with tomahawks, totem poles, and wigwams.
The other jackets will follow in part 2.
The Fugitives is officially publishing on February 9, 2016 and can now be preordered on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and booksamillion.com. Or you can visit indiebound.org, where you can obtain a list of independent bookstores near you -- then you can ask them to stock The Fugitives and any other titles you'd like to buy close to home.
Here's the book description:
"The much-anticipated new novel by Christopher Sorrentino, acclaimed author of National Book Award finalist Trance—a bracing, kaleidoscopic look at truth and fiction, love and obsession, loyalty and betrayal, race and identity, chaos and free will.
Sandy Mulligan, a successful writer in the midst of a personal and creative crisis, retreats from Brooklyn to the quiet Michigan town where he hopes to finish a novel and to escape his turbulent private life and the scandal that’s maimed his public reputation. Once there, he becomes fascinated by John Salteau, a native Ojibway storyteller who regularly appears at the local library.
But Salteau is not what he appears to be—a fact suspected by Kat Danhoff, an ambitious Chicago reporter who arrives to investigate a theft from a local Indian-run casino. Salteau’s possible role in the crime could be the key to the biggest story of her stalled career.
Bored, emotionally careless, and sexually reckless, Kat immediately attracts a restive Sandy. In their growing involvement with one another, each becomes a pawn in the other’s game. As we weave among these characters, learning about their lives and motivations, and uncovering the conflicts and contradictions between their stories, we realize that the storyteller is not the only one with secrets to conceal; that all three are fugitives of one kind or another.
All the Sorrentino touches that have thrilled admirers are here: sparkling dialogue, satirical wit, attention to the details of everyday life, dizzyingly inventive prose—but it is the deeply imagined interior lives of its all-too-human main characters that set this novel apart. Moving, funny, tense, and mysterious, The Fugitives is a love story, a ghost story, and a crime thriller. The Fugitives also is a cautionary tale of twenty-first century American life—a meditation on the meaning of identity, on the role storytelling plays in our understanding of ourselves and each other, and on the difficulty of making genuine connections with others in a contemporary world that’s connected in almost every way. Darkly satirical, exuberantly enigmatic, and completely unforgettable, The Fugitives is an event that reaffirms Sorrentino’s position as an American writer of the first rank."
Once a publisher puts a novel into production, the process is pretty quick -- or maybe it just seems that way as soon as a novel starts looking more like an actual book and less like a manuscript. While The Fugitives still has to undergo really essential stuff like copyediting and proofreading and interior book design and the gathering of blurbs and so on, there have already been a bunch of cover treatments to look at, including this one, which I believe is pretty close to whatever will end up as the final design:
I'd asked if the designer would consider a typeface that reached back to the display types frequently used in dustjacket design of the thirties and forties, particularly ones that conveyed movement and momentum. This script (I'll put up a post identifying it when I find out more) does a nice job of translating my somewhat vague request while also seeing beyond the admittedly cliched examples of period typography I submitted to try to demonstrate my idea: another demonstration that graphic design is best left to graphic designers. The image -- taken from a vintage postcard -- has a nice retro feel; the casino iconography fits the book (see the description above) while avoiding the sort of tired imagery I was dreading. I confess that when I first saw the title and my name spread across the white space superimposed in the middle of the wheel of fortune, my first thought was "birthday cake." But I quickly warmed up to the design. I'll post some of the other treatments in another entry soon.
Beka Chace (http://www.rebeccachace.com/the-beka-blog/) asked me to participate in the "Writing Process Blog Tour" that is currently going around like a late spring flu.
What are you working on?
I don't know. Some stories. Trying to figure out which of the longer projects I'm considering I can actually imagine devoting the next few years to. Revising my book.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I don't know that it does. I'm less interested in doing things that no one else has done before than I am in doing things that I haven't done before.
Why do you write what you do?
I don't know. I write things that are interesting to me to write. There's no point in being bored. As for subject matter, I develop ideas that intrigue me right on the surface, without any consideration of deeper resonances. I'm always surprised by the way my own preoccupations manage to make themselves at home in my work.
How does your writing process work?
I don't know. Depends on what I'm writing. Each project seems to require its own specific approach, to become unexpectedly difficult at different stages. I also go through periods when it seems easy and natural to work on two or three different things at the same time, and other times when I can barely focus on one project. Mostly I find that habit is important. Staying close to the desk. If not actually working, then taking notes, rereading work in progress, writing letters -- anything but clicking on that link, watching that video, commenting on that Facebook post. Eventually you hit a groove. Or not.
I'm now supposed to nominate three others to continue the chain of Writing Process blog posts. I haven't actually gotten around to asking anyone yet, but I promise I will VERY SOON.
I'm happy to announce that my next novel, The Fugitives, will be published by Simon & Schuster. I'll post more information about the book and its publication over the coming months, but for now here's the release sent to the trades:
National Book Award shortlisted author of TRANCE, Christopher Sorrentino's novel The Fugitives, a bracing, kaleidoscopic look at truth and fiction, love and obsession, loyalty and betrayal, race and identity, chaos and free will, following the reclusive writer Sandy Mulligan's unexpected entanglement with an attractive journalist who intrudes upon his Northern Michigan exile to investigate a corrupt Indian-run casino, to Cary Goldstein at Simon & Schuster in an exclusive submission, by PJ Mark at Janklow & Nesbit (NA).