PW: Red Dress Ink aims to publish "unique and irreverent stories that reflect the lifestyles of today's single women," but last year the house acquired a book called Girl Boy Etc., by Michael Weinreb, which you edited. He's not your typical RDI author, is he?
Not so much. Not only is Michael obviously a man, but his book is a collection of short stories—also a first for RDI. His stories do fulfill the "unique and irreverent" part of that statement though. He just happens to reflect the lifestyles of today's single men.
How do you think that compares to the lifestyles of single women, as represented in contemporary fiction?
There are certainly similarities—the confusion and doubt, the yearning, the angst, the pop culture references—but the difference is in the way the stories are told and how the characters come alive on the page. What I love about Michael's stories—and why I thought our readers would like them—is that he writes about all the things that make our more traditional books popular, but we get to see the guy's-eye view. Plus, he's really funny in subtle and smart ways, and humor is so much a part of contemporary fiction about young, single life.
Michael, what do you think? How do you see your book fitting into the rest of the Red Dress catalogue?
I think my book is something different—a little more raw, and maybe a little more sexed up (at least that's what my mother says). And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. This is an imprint that's up to publishing something like 36 books a year, and with all due respect, not all of those books can be centered around a girl and her Manolo Blahniks. That story has been done, and it has been (and will be) done about as well as it can be, I'm sure, but there's no reason why this imprint can't also appeal to a larger cross-section of readers, to people who might pick up books by, say, Steve Almond or Lorrie Moore or Dave Eggers.
So Farrin, how did you come across Michael's manuscript?
I'd been looking for a book by a guy and trying to get that word out, but nobody really thought to send male writers to us—why would they? When I got a copy of a newsletter that his agent, Jane Dystel, sends out, Girl Boy Etc. was the featured upcoming project, and I called Jane immediately. I think she was pretty surprised that someone from RDI was requesting this manuscript. And I know that Michael was surprised when we made an offer.
I was shocked. I heard "imprint of Harlequin,'' and the first thing I thought was that I'd have to publish under a pseudonym like Mary Jane Orchid or something. Here I had written a book that was so raw in its "maleness" that my main concern was turning off female readers, so this was about the last thing I expected. Then again, I was an unknown short-story writer trying to publish his first book, so I was doubly shocked that anybody wanted to publish me. Once I met Farrin, I realized part of her goal as an editor was to stretch the boundaries of the imprint, to publish good stuff, even "literary" stuff.
Did signing with RDI inspire you to read any books about young, single women?
After I sold the book, I went to London and my girlfriend coerced me into reading Bridget Jones's Diary, which was "v. entertaining," although I found myself instinctively hiding the cover between the pages of the latest Harper's.
Farrin, are you looking to publish more male authors?
We're certainly open to the possibility. But so far, Girl Boy Etc. has been the only book we felt was a good match for us. I've seen a number of manuscripts by men that read like a guy trying to emulate a so-called chick lit book, and in most cases that doesn't work. What's so great about Michael's stories is that they're all about emotion without being maudlin or melodramatic. It's heartbreak the straightforward way. Some of the characters are endearing, while others are an odd combination of contemptible and compelling.
That's often a winning mix, actually.
Yes, as long as we're not talking about my love life.