It was standing room only at the 2015 Adult Editors’ Buzz Panel, held Wednesday at the Javits Center, where agents, publicists, and other members of the industry and media gathered to hear about six noteworthy, forthcoming books. This year, editors presented an even split of nonfiction and fiction titles, including three first novels.
Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire (Oct.) made headlines in 2013 when word broke that the 900-page debut novel had sold for nearly $2 million. During the panel, Knopf editor Diana Miller recalled the 10-bidder auction, and the moment when Knopf editor in chief Sonny Mehta announced to the staff that the imprint would be publishing the book. “Everyone erupted. Cheering, clapping, there were high fives,” recalled Miller (who then added that high fives are “very unusual” at Knopf). With a wide backdrop of 1970s New York City, the book, according to Miller, ultimately centers on a few relationships, and how they come to collide with one another. “It’s about the experience of being a human being," she said. "People trying to make connections with each other, or failing to make connections with each other." Speaking to its heft, Miller admitted that the book takes both time and energy to read. “But you get that all back,” she said, while describing the novel as "incredibly generous.” Producer Scott Rudin picked up film rights to the work before the publishing rights sold.
Penguin Press publisher Scott Moyers presented Eileen (Aug.), the first full-length novel from Ottessa Moshfegh, Plimpton Prize for fiction winner, and author of the novella McGlue (Fence Books, 2014). Moyers said he was so anxious to see what Moshfegh would do with a longer form that he hounded her agent, Bill Clegg, until the manuscript finally landed on his desk. Set in 1964, the book introduces readers to the titular character, who works at a juvenile detention outside of Boston, processing intakes, while living with an alcoholic and abusive father. Moyers said that with this narrator, readers are in the “hands and even the grips of a psyche that is wonderfully unsteady on its feet.” Eileen’s world is rocked with the arrival of a sophisticated new counselor at the prison, and, said Moyers, "[Moshfegh] manages to keep you guessing until the very end,' an end which, according to the editor, involves “one of the great twists.”
Executive editor Alison Callahan discussed Ruth Ware’s debut novel In a Dark Dark Wood (Aug.), the launch title for Scout Press, the new literary fiction imprint at Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books. (Previously, it was announced that Bill Clegg’s novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, would be the first title published by Scout; Clegg’s book will be released two weeks after Ware’s). Callahan positioned In a Dark Dark Wood, which is about a bachelorette party that goes “spectacularly off the rails,” for fans of Gone Girl, and more recently, The Girl on the Train. "It so perfectly fits in with all of the bestsellers that are sweeping across the country right now,” said Callahan, predicting the novel to be "the summer's hottest psychological thriller."
Turning to nonfiction, Picador senior editor Anna deVries championed Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy (Sept.). DeVries opened by saying that while we are “in the midst of a heated national conversation about racial inequality,” one important topic, the health of black Americans, has yet to be addressed in a real way. DeVries commented that while “statistics obscure the human lives they represent,” this book “gives the reader a close up look at what it's like to be one of these statistics" in "vivid and unforgettable prose.” In the book, Damon presents his own story, about attending Duke University medical school, as one of 12 black students in a class of 100, and the years he spent continually confronting race as a practicing physician. "The best memoirs pivot between the personal and the universal," said deVries. “For many readers Damon's story will be a window into a world they have never experienced,” and for others, she added, the racism he encounters and documents may be “all too familiar.”
In another buzzworthy memoir, Dan Marshall’s Home is Burning (Oct.), “tragedy and comedy are side-by-side,” according to Flatiron Books editorial director Colin Dickerman. Marshall recounts, in this debut, his experience moving home to Salt Lake City, along with his siblings, to care for both his cancer-stricken mother and his terminally ill father. Despite the bleak circumstances (which made crafting a pithy editorial pitch no easy task, recalled Dickerman), the book is “absolutely hilarious” with a “fantastic set of characters worthy of any Jonathan Franzen novel.” It’s a “big messy complicated family in the midst of a daunting health crisis, who love and annoy each other in equal measures.” Flatiron had just received word that a major film deal had been struck with New Line Cinema, with Miles Teller (fresh from his starring role in the critically acclaimed Whiplash), attached.
Grand Central Publishing editor in chief Deb Futter talked about a true, and never-told story in her presentation of The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (Oct.). Checkoway, who is also a documentary filmmaker, writes about a grammar school teacher in Hawaii who, in 1937, set out to teach a group of under-privileged children not only to swim, but to transform them into world-class swimmers. “The goal was the Olympics,” said Futter, which mimicked the “American dream scenario of becoming something of nothing.” Futter, who signed up the title three years ago in a preempt, said that the writing of the book has been "a long and emotional process," for both author and editor, but the end result is “stunning as well as inspiring.” Futter then added that, with her filmmaking chops, Checkoway “brings the story to life.”