Now that Cormac McCarthy has been chosen by Oprah and sold many millions more copies than anything else he’s ever written (he’s practically a modern-day American literary canon unto himself), it’s a safe time to bitch about the close-mindedness that seems to pervade the publishing industry when it comes to novels that are deemed “plotless.”
Back in March I recommended McCarthy’s bleak, post-apocalyptic novel The Road, a good three weeks before Oprah had the gall to copy me and recommend it herself to her legions of fans. It wasn’t until last week, however, that I realized, upon reading (or rather listening to) a Slate.com discussion of the book, that the The Road resides outside the borders of the dictionary definition of plot. Or maybe just outside of what mainstream publishing considers plot.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not much into “mainstream” fiction. There’re very few books in the airport that I’d bother picking up. But sometimes a so-called “plotless” novel slips through, and we are all the richer for it. McCarthy’s novel never struck me as missing plot because it’s truly engaging writing and thoroughly mesmerizing and moving subject matter. Who needs neatly tied up loose ends and a point-A to point-B plotline when you have great character interaction? Of course, it helps when you’re already a lit legend to get anything you write sent to the bookstores with a rubber stamp from your publisher. Maybe it’s like that modern art you always see, you know the stuff I’m talking about, where it’s like a single red line or maybe some splotches slapped across an otherwise blank canvas–and you wonder to yourself how anything that easy to do could ever be considered “good” art. I mean, shit, I could do that.
Think that’s a Pollack, dontcha? Nope. It’s a Pollack reenactment from inkycircus.com. See? Anyone can do it! Anyway, point is, maybe you have to establish yourself as good at straight-ahead, color-in-the-lines stuff before you can venture out on your splotchy shit. Older Van Gogh stuff, for instance, looks far more realistic than the work he’s most famous for.
The Potato Eaters, circa 1885
Starry Night (duh), circa 1889
Yes, there’s only a four year period between those two pieces, but Van Gogh only lived to age 37, and he didn’t even pick up a paint brush until he was 27. Anyway, I’ve gotten way too far off track. Back to plot.
Plot, according to the agents I’ve come into contact with since trying to secure futureproof a book deal, is essential, evidently, to a book having worth. The #1 complaint I heard from these agents is that futureproof didn’t have enough of a plot. “Can you rewrite the book so that it’s main concern is between Luke and Andie, and give them a place to go sooner. Or maybe the whole book can take place in high school.” This kind of response never ceased to blow my mind before pissing me off a mere few hours later. Who the hell were they to tell an artist how to paint? They were the people that get the checks sent the artists’ way, that’s who. But the reason I was so bothered by this wall I kept slamming into is that many if not most of my favorite writing has always been afflicted with a certain “plotless”ness. What about Kerouac’s On The Road, where the whole book consists of two guys driving back and forth across America? Or Hubert Selby’s Last Exit To Brooklyn, which is more a compendium of three or four novellas than an actual plot-driven novel. Or what about my friend Brad Listi’s L.A. Times best-seller Attention. Deficit. Disorder.? His book is also a so-called “road novel”, held together only loosely by a girl’s suicide. Henry Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer? Hunter Thompson’s Fear And Loathing? Any novel William Burroughs ever wrote? The critically acclaimed Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (yes, this book is considered a collection of interlocking short stories, but since all of them are centered on the character Fuckhead, I still consider it a novel)?
I guess I had a revelation that slowly took form in my head over the last couple of weeks. One thing I have never (inconcievably) done is gone after getting futureproof published by an established, honest-to-god independent press. I’ve been approached by a few smaller presses, i.e. upstarts that really couldn’t do any better than I could self-publishing it, as far as getting it into actual brick-and-mortar bookstores (or are they made of cardboard now?). But there are independent publishers still out there who regularly have their titles placed in stores. Like Thunder’s Mouth Press. And Soft Skull. And the now immortal Grove Press. And Black Sparrow Press, which was founded exclusively to publish Bukowski’s work. I honestly can’t believe I’ve never taken the time to go to these people.
But now I am.
However, in order to do so, I have to discontinue the publication and distribution (mainly through Amazon and lulu) of futureproof as it exists now. Nobody wants to publish something that is already available, even if it is only on a very small scale. So here’s the deal: the worst time to try to secure an agent or publisher is during the summer months. Everybody’s vacationing and reading books on the beach. But then comes the fall (it’s cyclical), and that is the time when you hit ’em with everything you’ve got. Not to mince any words, then:
FUTUREPROOF OFFICIALLY GOES OUT OF PRINT IN ITS CURRENT INCARNATION ON AUGUST 31, 2007. I anticipate this period lasting at least six months. If I haven’t at the very least gotten a few nibbles from these independents by then, I will re-issue it on my own, complete with the changes I’ve implemented to the manuscript since originally publishing it in February of last year. But make no mistake, it’s about to be on. And soon. So get ’em while you can. I intend to make these original 1,500 black-cover copies worth a penny or two in the future. I’ll still sign ’em if you want, too. Drop me an email if you want my mailing address and we’ll work it out: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for all the patronage, guys. I couldn’t have come this far without you.