On June 28, David Lott released Back in Brookford: Stories through Nichols Street Press, his self-publishing imprint, with distribution through IngramSpark. Based on Lott’s Staunton, Va., upbringing, the stories use details common to late-20th-century life as anchors for eerie and unsettling events. “Clearly these stories came from having grown up in a place like Brookford,” said Robin Straus, Lott’s literary agent. “While the stories aren’t precisely interconnected, the ties between characters wind up giving a very well-rounded portrait of a place.”

Shortly after it was released, Lott received a bound copy of Back in Brookford, and a few days later, on July 10, he died from pancreatic cancer at age 59, leaving behind his wife, Jenny Gillis, and their children Eleanor Gillis Lott and James David Lott III. Back in Brookford is the culmination of a life spent writing and working in book publishing—Lott was a production editor for Hyperion and was most recently a senior managing editor at Macmillan.

To get his book published, Lott had to defy the odds of his cancer, surviving five years past his diagnosis and providing real hope to the medical staff at his hospital when he came in for checkups. When his cancer returned in spring 2021, Lott partook in an experimental drug trial at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and his tumor markers kept shrinking. He returned to work at Macmillan.

In late spring of this year, however, Lott learned his health had taken a turn for the worse. “He knew he was on borrowed time,” said Lott’s colleague Michelle McMillian, associate director of design at Macmillan. “Since his book hadn’t sold, he decided to self-publish. He wanted something in the world that was part of him. I decided to design the book to make sure he got to have something he’s been working toward for so long.”

Straus was disappointed she wasn’t able to find a publisher for Back in Brookford, but said that was “a reflection on the marketplace and not on the quality of the writing, which was superb.”

She wasn’t alone in that opinion; Lott had a longtime friend and champion in Will Schwalbe, who is currently an executive v-p at Macmillan. “Starting way back at Hyperion, it was always kind of a banner day when David would come in with some incredibly funny story,” said Schwalbe, who, in addition to his editorial work at Macmillan, is known for his own books, which include The End of Your Life Book Club, about his mother’s death from pancreatic cancer. “Whenever I saw him I would shout out ‘Lott!,’ which became kind of a joke.”

On July 17, Schwalbe wrote a long and heartfelt Facebook post about his friend that encouraged everyone he knew to consider buying a copy of Back in Brookford as a tribute—but also as a treat.

“By the time David showed me this collection of stories that he had worked on for years, I saw that not only was his prose dark, inventive, and funny but that the pieces spoke very deeply of a moment in American society,” Schwalbe said. “In many of these stories, there are no computers, no cell phones, no game stations—just kids wandering around the neighborhood and hanging out in each other’s houses. It’s dispatches from the end of the baby boom.”

Lott’s son agrees that his father’s stories have a distinct atmosphere. “My dad and I connected through books, especially Stephen King’s Stand By Me—books about people who surmount challenges to get to a better place. He also gave my sister and I exploratory childhoods, with long bike rides, time in the natural world and few devices. His book embodies the simultaneous insecurity and beauty in growing up.”

Tom Perrotta, who provided the book’s cover blurb, said that he was struck by “the tension between humor and nostalgia on one hand—always a part of American small-town fiction—and the sudden eruptions of darker material. A lot of what’s funny about life is interwoven with the depressing and disturbing stuff we have to deal with every day, and I think David captures that mixture really well in these stories.” On learning of Lott’s death, Perrotta said he was glad Lott was able to publish his book, adding, “I hope people will find their way to it.”

Schwalbe said Lott was “really beloved” at Macmillan. “It’s easy for people outside of publishing to forget the kind of contribution that a production or managing editor makes to a text, line by line and word by word. He loved the books he worked on and was so proud of them. He devoted his life and career to getting those words exactly the way everyone wanted them. When you read this book, you can tell this was a man who loved storytelling and literature.”