Before Sharona Muir’s debut novel, Invisible Beasts, was a book, it was a game. The game was played like this: Muir would invent an animal with characteristics based on current scientific research, then describe it to fellow biologists at Bowling Green State University, where she is a professor. Without fail, her friends would name a real animal that fit the profile, reminding Muir that “whatever human imagination could conceive, nature already had.”
And thus Sophie, an amateur naturalist with the rare ability to see invisible animals and the protagonist of Invisible Beasts, was born. The book dovetails nicely with Bellevue Literary Press’s mission to publish literary work at the intersection of the arts and sciences, a fact that did not escape associate editor Leslie Hodgkin’s attention when he received it on submission. “It blends elements of fiction and nonfiction—stories of imaginary animals that could plausibly exist according to the rules of evolutionary science,” Hodgkins says. “Sharona created a wonderful hybrid form between speculative science and literature. I was swept away.” Erika Goldman, publisher and editorial director of Bellevue Literary Press, was equally impressed, and they made an offer—their standard $1,000 advance, which allows the nonprofit to invest marketing, editorial, and publicity for every book on their list.
Like many authors who move from big houses to small, Muir, whose memoir, The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Father’s Lives, was published by Random House, has found her experience with Bellevue more satisfying than working with a for-profit publisher. “While Random House paid a lot more, my experience there was unfortunate,” she says, going on to describe a publicity snafu that would make most authors put their head in their hands. Muir and her agent, Valerie Borchardt, initially found Invisible Beasts hard to place. “A number of editors praised its originality but didn’t know what to do with it,” Muir says. Bellevue, where commercial concerns are secondary, turned out to be the perfect fit.
“We look for books that will stand the test of time as great literature,” Hodgkins says. “Invisible Beasts delivers a powerful message: the future of the human race is intimately tied to the future of our planet and those who share it with us.” No doubt Muir’s colleagues and the animals she invented would agree.