As we get closer to the release of my latest novel (In Jerry’s Corner) from Stargazing Publishing, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of my previous novels. This is my second entry in the series, the first discussed A Jane Austen Daydream (you can read it here). This time I take on my most recent release- Permanent Spring Showers.
It is easy for writers to be dramatic. It’s in our blood. If you are a writer and not dramatic in how you interpret yourself and the world around you, chances are, you are probably doing something wrong and should consider different career options.
So when I look back at my life and each of my novels, I see stories; with beginnings (the initial ideas), first steps (the creation), struggles (getting them out to the world) and conclusions (reviews and what happens). Sometimes those are nice stories (A Jane Austen Daydream and The Dante Experience both jump quickly to mind), while others I would classify as tragedies.
Today I present my greatest tragedy.
So much possibility and all of my main characters are lying dead with nothing good coming out of the situation. I weep for them. They are buried now in unmarked paper graves and no one has any idea they were even alive.
See, Permanent Spring Showers is probably one of the best books I have ever written and it is out of print. It is a ghost in the literary world, without the strength of a Boo. It is a tragic death, that has happened too soon.
Listen everyone as I mourn the tragedy of a book lost to the masses! Welcome to my five-act literary tragedy, Permanent Spring Showers! (See what I mean about dramatic.)
Act One: There Was a Script…
While the death of Permanent Spring Showers was swift, ironically I had the longest literary life with that novel and its characters. It actually began when I was at grad school at Michigan State University back in the 90s. Then I dreamed of achieving a PhD in Literature. I would teach, be that smart professor that all of the young English majors look up to- imagine the English major version of Dr. Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. That was going to be me.
(Conclusion to that dream, I ended up running off to Los Angeles, and getting my Master’s in Writing instead from the University of Southern California.)
I was getting a little bored with reading other people’s classics and I was writing a lot in my little dorm apartment. I had this vision at the time of creating four screenplays, one for each season and each would encompass the mood and vibe of that season for me.
I actually did this in one year! I kid you not! The winter script is romantic, magical (like a light snowfall at dusk); the summer script was a madcap sexy comedy; the fall script was moody with a feeling of conclusions; but Spring… Well, my spring script was my first attempt at Permanent Spring Showers.
Even in script form it was epic, reaching over 160 pages in length (I would learn later that is a no-no in the screenplay world). It had monologues, poetry, and way too many main characters. At the time, I told people it was my Hannah and Her Sisters (the Woody Allen film from the early 80s about a family and each of the family members with their own stories), but my story was not rooted in reality per se.
Permanent Spring Showers is a story about the power of art and how it can shape relationships and reality itself. Do you see your life as a story? Are you the hero? What do you want people to see you as? Do you take a risk with your work? Your love life?
At the heart of the story were two characters (a young artist and an older professor) and it began with them having an affair. Some would say I was both of them, different aspects of my personality. Of course, that might be looking into it way too much.
When I moved to Los Angeles, this was the screenplay I would often show people first. I was proud of it and I had some nice reactions. I had one agent offer to represent it immediately upon first reading it, but things did not work out there.
Soon I had turned my art to novels. There is a liberty in being your own actors, director, producer, cinematographer, etc., and you get that as a novelist. So Permanent Spring Showers began to gather dust as I wrote book after book.
After the publication of A Jane Austen Daydream, I began to be known as the Austen guy. The dude who wrote a romantic novel in the voice of Jane Austen. Yeah, I did that, but I am also so much more as a writer and the idea of spending my life just doing more Daydream novels on repeat sounded very depressing and limiting. (How genre authors do it, I have no idea.)
I needed something to tell my readers I am more. Someone to pay attention to and someone that is always trying to test himself and his readers. My thoughts slowly began to circle around Permanent Spring Showers.
Act Two: I Had This Blog…
To introduce my readers to the idea of a different kind of book from me (and I was getting a lot of visitors thanks to A Jane Austen Daydream and my reviews on WKAR’s Current State), I decided to attempt to write a novel online, in real-time.
That novel was Permanent Spring Showers.
This reminded me alot of what Charles Dickens did with his books, but something very today. A chapter a week, watching a book organically grow. It was a challenge for me as a writer and I love a challenge. (I just hoped it wouldn’t be a challenge for my readers as well.)
I first broke my screenplay down into chapters, introduced my plan to my followers, wrote the first chapter and I was off. I would even give updates to the readers on the process and my personal experience doing it. Everyone was part of the creative process. It was like an author as a museum piece. See him write and read his writing at the same time!
It took me over five months. The movie script expanded and changed, characters got richer; it grew into something greater than I had originally envisioned and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This was my epic novel, my Middlemarch I had always dreamed of writing.
And there were readers following along! I was getting responses via twitter, comments, Facebook and even emails from readers. I would put up a chapter and sometimes I would have a response in a few minutes. It was such a high knowing that readers/followers were just waiting for the next chapter and diving in as soon as the alert hit their screen that it was posted.
I began to allow myself to hope. With A Jane Austen Daydream I had the first taste of what my writing career could grow into… Could this really be the next step that could move me into the big leagues?
Before I had finished the book online I began to write to agents. Sadly, it was no different than my previous attempts (do you love form letters?), however I was also getting something new. I was having agents asking why they would represent something I was giving away for free.
Free? I mean… I…
Act Three: The Book is Published…
A small indie publishing house stepped forward to publish the book. I was thrilled, and began working with the editor immediately, fine-tuning the book I had written on the fly (taking it off the website first, of course). They loved it and put a lot of energy into it initially.
Sadly, it became obvious that the publishing house, while loving the book, really were uncertain what to do with it. So much of publishing today is focused on genres. It is easy to sell a genre! You have a romance book, you reach out to romance readers and websites! You have a sci-fi, the audience is there too! Same for horror, fantasy, young adult, etc. But literary fiction?
How did literary fiction become the forgotten child of books? That is a tragedy in of itself for another day of mourning.
After finalizing a draft of the book, locking down a cover that perfectly captured the novel for me; it was sent out to smaller reviewers. Again, I allowed myself to hope and dream.
“Tour de force”
This was the original back cover to the book:
Professor Rebecca Stanley-Wilson is having a very bad season. Her husband has just admitted to having an affair. And it was with one of her students.
Blame it on a desire for revenge (or way too much alcohol), she then has had one of her own. Unfortunately for her, her affair was with one of the great upcoming painters of his generation. The ramifications of that one torrid evening will not only be felt across her life but over the entire art world.
Sexy, funny, and very surprising, Permanent Spring Showers is the tale of one very memorable springtime and how it impacts a group of unique artists and dreamers. From the writer who is creating a new literary movement (through outright manipulation) to the hopeful Olympian with the failing marriage to the romantic wondering what he did wrong to drive his love from him, each tale walks the line between reality and fantasy. And waiting at the end of the line is a very important painting… and possibly the revolver used in the Lincoln Assassination.
The best moment for me was going to my local bookstore and seeing it on the shelf. There it is, my novel, right with the best sellers. Read it! Now! Please…
Act Four: The Theater Is Empty…
The publisher did try, but their marketing model was based around genres, not something unique like this. There were a few giveaways and marketing pushes, but the sales were just not there.
I spoke a few times over email with the publisher and her teammates and we were all stumped by what was happening and what we could do. I dreamed that the book just needed some kind of a mega sponsor (a critic or a major author) to emerge and push it, but that was just not happening. So it was like we were putting on a great and original new play and no one showed up to watch the show.
I pushed it on the radio to my listeners, I entered it in literary competitions… You could hear the crickets all the way backstage.
Act Five: A Funeral…
It was a year after the publication that the inevitable email arrived from the publishing house. They were pulling the book from the shelves, as well as on ebook. I reached out to my original contact at the house and she was devastated as well.
I get it. They tried. It just didn’t work out.
They gave me the rights to the cover.
I thanked them and we went our separate ways.
Now I wasn’t going to self-publish it. Self-publishing would have just continued the trend of it being out there and no one reading it. That almost was more depressing than having it out of print.
I went to all of my local stores and grabbed any copies I could find. I have a box of them in my house, slowly gathering dust.
In many ways, Permanent Spring Showers and my experience with that novel mirrors what I feel about literature and the publishing world today. There are so many voices and yet, no one is really hearing each other. Genres overwhelm us so much that original ideas can slip away. We are all distracted by the shinning object, no one is noticing that there is more to art than that.
This was more than about my own experience! While reviewing books on Current State, I would see some great novels. I would push each of them as hard as I could, but they would die as well like Permanent Spring Showers. It was so unfair to watch. Many of those writers I now speak to on Twitter. Some kept their publishers, others lost them. Many of them, of course, got further along in their career than I did, but we all ended up in the same place.
Right now, as I consider the release of my latest novel In Jerry’s Corner, I’m allowing myself to dream again. But this time, I am also allowing myself to include Permanent Spring Showers in that dream. Could it return like Hamlet’s ghost? “Mark me!” Will it be a warning or a sign that it could return from the dead and impact the living?
I would love for it to be released again. Maybe it can find cult status or find something more this time?
Who knows? Maybe it will become a movie…
You can sometimes find remaining copies of Permanent Spring Showers on Amazon (books out of print can have crazy amounts on amazon; the trick is to write to the store selling the book directly. It is never that original crazy figure, that is just an Amazon price quirk.) I hope you will consider checking it out. To learn more about In Jerry’s Corner, please visit Stargazing Publishing.