The Ha-Ha Little, Brown (Jan.)
To those who've read the book, it's obvious why publishers competed for Dave King's debut novel, The Ha-Ha. "It's that narrative voice," says Michael Mezzo, King's editor at Little, Brown. "From the very first pages, Howard is the kind of narrator that you want to stick with, see where he's going and what happens to him."
Howard is a wounded Vietnam veteran who, 30 years after the war, lives an isolated life, having lost his ability to speak, read or write. The Ha-Ha is the story of what happens when he finds himself caring for his high school girlfriend's nine-year-old son. King tells the story in first person, and Howard eloquently communicates with the reader even as he struggles to make the most elementary connection with the outside world.
Getting Howard's voice right, says King, was the hardest part of writing the novel. He played with a couple of different styles—including one that would likely have limited the book's commercial potential. "At one point, I wrote a section in verse. Iambic pentameter. It was really awful," he says. In the end, fortunately, he settled on prose, giving Howard a voice that's plainspoken, yet intelligent and compassionate. The editors at Little, Brown loved the book so much they signed the author to a two-book deal. (King is already working on the second novel, for which no publication date has been set.)
King, 48, took five years to write The Ha-Ha (the title refers to a boundary wall concealed in a ditch), crafting the first draft as his thesis for Columbia University's MFA writing program. But don't mistake him for one of those workshop wunderkinds who get book deals before they're old enough to rent a car. King journeyed to the writing life on a winding road that—at least in the very early stages— did not include much commitment to formal education.
Born and raised in northern Ohio, he went from high school to Beloit College in Wisconsin, but dropped out during freshman year and headed to Alaska to work in the fishing industry. Shortly after that, he got accepted to New York University. He lasted only 10 days there. "It was really about wanting to go to New York, and I couldn't figure out how to do it other than going to school."
King was too intoxicated by the city itself to spend time cooped up in a classroom. In 1976, he did return to school, graduating four years later with a BFA in painting and film from Cooper Union. He spent 10 years as a painter in the East Village, eventually turning his attention to decorative painting. But he found that after painting murals of cute animals in a kid's bedroom all day, it was tough to come home and create art on a canvas.
"That was when I really began writing," he says. "I needed to channel my energies, so I thought I'd write a memoir." He eventually scrapped that idea in favor of a more comfortable format: luckily for readers, King seems to have found his true voice in fiction. —Karen Holt
Sales Tips:Mezzo describes The Ha-Ha as both literary and accessible. "It will appeal to an incredibly wide readership," he says. "I think its audience is readers who love a good narrator, readers who love stories about the Vietnam generation and nontraditional families."
The Memory of Running Viking (Jan.)
Many aspiring writers of fiction have day jobs, but few manage, as Ron McLarty, author of The Memory of Running, did, to support themselves through acting while honing their craft. "I came to New York City to be a writer, but I had more luck with acting," he says.
Indeed, McLarty's name may not be familiar yet, but his face and voice are, thanks to parts on TV shows such as Law and Order and Sex and the City, and a successful career recording audiobooks, including Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and Richard Russo's Empire Falls.
And while he was building that career, McLarty was writing novels. "The Memory of Running is the third novel of nine. Well, actually, I just finished the 10th," he says. "I got up early in the morning and wrote in the basement, and I wrote in libraries during my calls in New York."
Despite being quite prolific, McLarty had no luck in finding a traditional publisher. Eventually, however, Claudia Howard, executive producer at Recorded Books (and McLarty's frequent employer), asked to read his work. She loved The Memory of Running—about an out-of-shape supervisor at a GI Joe factory who embarks on a cross-country bicycle ride to retrieve his dead sister's remains—and decided to make it an audiobook original.
Then McLarty the actor got McLarty the writer his big break. In 2003, he auditioned for the ABC miniseries The Hospital, written by Stephen King. He met King briefly and followed up by sending the author his audiobook. In September 2003, King dedicated one of his Entertainment Weekly columns to The Memory of Running. The column was titled "The Best Book You Can't Read," and in it King lamented the lack of a space in publishing for work such as McLarty's—good, solid stories that fall neither into a specific genre, nor into the "literary" category.
An auction ensued, with Viking signing McLarty for two books (the second is tentatively scheduled for spring 2006). McLarty has also written a screenplay based on The Memory of Runningand is working with Warner Brothers and director Alfonso Cuarón, who recently directed another successful book-based film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
These days, McLarty is writing full time, and he recognizes his situation for the luxury it is. Says McLarty, "I would have loved for this to happen when I was 37, but I'm glad it's happened to me at 57, because I can appreciate it." —Natalie Danford
Sales Tips:Viking president Clare Ferraro says, " The Memory of Running is for fans of coming-of-age novels such as The Catcher in the Rye. It's for fans of quest novels, like Forrest Gump. And most importantly, it's for an audience that will appreciate a fresh and funny new voice." A blurb from booster Stephen King, a marketing plan that includes a DVD to be sent to accounts, McLarty's appearances at PNBA and SEBA and a 15-city tour by an actor-cum-author whose background has trained him to be a charismatic reader should all draw attention.
Linda Bloodworth Thomason
Liberating Paris Morrow (Sept.)
What's it like to do something related to but not quite the same as what you've been a smash success at? Linda Bloodworth Thomason, creator and writer of the hit TV series Designing Women (1986—1993), among others, set out to discover the answer and came up with Liberating Paris, which Morrow will publish next month with great fanfare. The book tells the story of six friends in Paris, Ark., a small town that slips into near oblivion once Wal-Mart and shopping malls move in, and which the friends, in their different ways, set out to resurrect as they discover the small town in themselves that holds them together. The story takes place over the course of a year, during which each character turns 40.
"It wasn't so difficult to write," says Thomason, who is 50-something and lives in Los Angeles. "It was different. I had so much more freedom, in contrast to having to have a 50-page script done every Monday morning. CBS gave me a lot of leeway, but the half-hour format is very demanding." A novice to fiction writing, Thomason's goal was to create a handful of characters that don't conform to the Middle-American stereotypes held by people on the two coasts. "I wanted to show a different kind of person, a moral Christian in Arkansas who can attend a lesbian wedding," Thomason explains. "Christianity has been hijacked by the right wing of the conservative movement. The stereotypes are very damaging. Christianity is a code word for bigot in Hollywood."
A native of Missouri, Thomason attributes her interest in social justice to her grandfather, a lawyer and civil rights activist who defended blacks at a time when it was not an easy thing to do. "Social tolerance is the underlying theme of the book, as well as the driving force in my writing," she says. "I haven't seen a lot of that in the entertainment industry." The hardest part of writing the novel, she admits, was making herself get out of the way. "I saved some things for other books, but in this one there was the burden of getting everything in." The friendship among her characters is her favorite part. "These friends have made home wherever they are. I was so seduced and in love with them. When I was through, I just wanted to keep on knowing them. I hope others will feel the same way." —Suzanne Mantell
Sales Tips:Already booked on Today, Thomason will travel the country on a 10-city tour to talk about the book, her friendship with Bill Clinton and her Hollywood productions, including her forthcoming feature film directorial debut. Executive editor Claire Wachtel is extremely proud of the book: "I learned about the South from it. It's not a bubba version or a Southern belle version. These people aren't that. Linda has such empathy with her characters. They are compelling. The scene with Jeter, the quadriplegic friend, made me cry."
Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram St. Martin's (Oct.)
Australian writer Gregory David Roberts, 52, modeled his nearly 1,000-page novel Shantaram on his own colorful life, which has not lacked for drama. A former heroin addict who committed a series of "polite" robberies that earned him the nickname the Gentleman Bandit, Roberts became one of Australia's most wanted men. Captured in 1978, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. He had served two when he engineered a daring daylight escape and fled, circuitously, to India, eventually to Bombay, where most of Shantaram is set. In that island city, Roberts lived as a fugitive on and off for a decade before being captured and reincarcerated in Australia.
In the novel, a man named Lindsay escapes from prison and flees to Bombay, where he is guided through the city by a taxi driver named Prabaker, who introduces him to the highs and lows of Bombay life. At present a guest lecturer on creative writing in Melbourne, Roberts has three more novels on the drawing board, an eventual quartet, of which Shantaram is the second book. He explains: "Each book has a subtheme. It's the exile experience in Shantaram. The sequel, tentatively titled TheMountainShadow, will be about the search for meaning, purpose, love, attachment." The first book of the series will be published last, in order to protect the friends of his youth who went on to high-profile careers.
A prolific reader and an unashamed defender of the canon, Roberts used his time in prison to read Goethe, Flaubert, Stendhal, Faulkner, Melville, Thomas Mann. "And Shakespeare, of course." He also read nonfiction, from Einstein to Heisenberg and other big thinkers of the 20th century. "I am in interested in how the universe works and what our place in it is," he says. Does writing come easily to him? "Yes, in the sense that there's nothing I would rather do and nothing else I can do. I cannot not write for a week, and I have never done it. I'd be so frantic if I ever did. I don't get writers block at all. I look at a blank page and it's already filling up. The only thing I lack is time."
On the other hand, he adds, there's a kind of agony involved in novel writing. "When I write from intimate experience, I have to reanimate friends who are long dead. I have to reactivate the grieving process. I have to disinter them, like Dr. Frankenstein, and make them into living, loving characters and then let them die again. It's a wrenching experience." —Suzanne Mantell
Sales Tips:A bestseller in Australia, Shantaram will be promoted here with a big galley mailing, a NYTBR ad and a Read It First selection from St. Martin's, which will e-mail one chapter a day for five days to a subscription list of 10,000 readers. The novel is also an alternate selection of BOMC and QPB. "It is a literary novel of high ambition," says editor-in-chief George Witte. "It has a big, riveting, colorful plot. The writing brings Bombay to life in a way few books bring a world to life. It reminds you of why you read. The friendship between Lindsay and Prabaker, his Virgil, is one of the shiningpoints of the book. It's unforgettable."
The Family Tree Dutton (Jan.)
Nature or nurture—or "the banal cataloguing of brand names and petty-bourgeois self-referencing," as one character describes it—is at the heart of Carole Cadwalladr's offbeat first novel. She blends several generations of love stories with an examination of genetics, family and pop culture as she attempts to get at the heart of why we are the way we are. Cadwalladr, who honed her writing style on guidebooks to quirky tourist spots like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Lebanon, worked her way up to chief travel writer at London's Daily Telegraph before quitting to write this book.
"I had a little money," Cadwalladr tells PW by phone from the French Alps. "I always said I wanted to write a novel and I thought, well, this is my opportunity." She attributes the comic strain in the book to her years as a journalist. "That's one of the things I brought with me when I left," she says. Another is superstition, which is why she's in France. "When I started The Family Tree, " says Cadwalladr, "I found someone who needed a cat-sitter. He kindly let me use the place to start my new novel."
Following the dictum to write what you know, Cadwalladr set The Family Tree in suburbia in the 1970s. She herself grew up just outside Cardiff, Wales, although she deliberately chose not to give the country a name in the book. She also drew on her many years of dictionary reading for the definitions that open each chapter. Like the narrator, Rebecca Monroe, Cadwalladr remembers looking up the word "prostitute," and wondering, "If she's selling herself, what's she selling?"
The TV shows that Cadwalladr watched growing up are an integral part of the book. "I look back at my childhood and I don't just remember parties, I remember the big television events like 'Who Shot JR?' " says Cadwalladr, who regards television as part of our shared culture. But one thing she hadn't initially planned to include was the feminism, which crept into Rebecca Monroe's capsule descriptions of the shows for her thesis. "Basically, I am exactly the same age as the women's movement," says Cadwalladr, reciting the rallying cry of the time: "Biology is not destiny." Or is it?, we ask. "We all tell stories about ourselves," she answers. "What I decided is that there is no way of knowing whether it's the genes or the upbringing you had or the friends you had." —Judith Rosen
Sales Tips:Laurie Chittenden, senior editor at Dutton, discovered The Family Tree "the old-fashioned way," through an agent. But the book made such an impression on her that she read it overnight and offered Cadwalladr a two-book deal. "It was one of those reads that just takes your breath away. In house, everybody had a similar reaction, of just loving it. You can't forget it. You want to press it into the hands of other people." Dutton mailed out manuscripts to booksellers and printed more than 5,000 galleys. The Family Tree, reports Chittenden, will be the only novel the house gives away at the fall regional trade shows.
American Purgatorio Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Jan.)
"I like to read essays where I can watch interesting thoughts unrolling on the page," says John Haskell, a man with interesting notions of his own.
When Farrar, Straus & Giroux published his debut short story collection last year, I Am Not Jackson Pollock was greeted with such adjectives as "audacious," "mesmerizing" and "stunningly sophisticated." With a novel now added to Haskell's oeuvre, FSG editor-in-chief John Glusman remarks with admiration, "John sees the world at a slightly different angle from the rest of us."
American Purgatorio begins: "I'm from Chicago originally. I went to New York, married a girl named Anne, and was in the middle of living happily ever after when something happened." The something that happened, it turns out, was that Anne disappeared.
"I like to think the book is funny," says Haskell, "but it also concerns itself with death, which is not funny. I think it's fast-paced, but it's intricate as well. It took some mental preparation in the beginning, and it was different from a short story because everything became a little fuller, a little deeper, a little rounder and thus longer. Other than that, the process of writing a novel or a short story is basically the same."
Haskell considers for a moment and adds, "It's not a page-turner like a mystery story or a spy novel, but it does have that element of emotional intensity."
Classical elements also bear an influence on American Purgatorio. First, the title is suggestive of Dante's Divine Comedy. Second, the protagonist drives from New York to California in search of his wife. "That's clearly a kind of odyssey," says Haskell. "The guy is a kind of pilgrim in a transitional stage. I also structured the book around the seven deadly sins, and it holds to that idea to some extent."
Asked what components are most important to the novel—language? character? plot?—Haskell says, "The correct answer is all three, but I might add: a touch of the philosophical. There's a little bit of an essayistic quality, but ideally it all fits together seamlessly."
His own experiences also colored the book. "There were probably personal things that fomented it," he says, "but I don't want to get into that. Also, I started in the late fall and winter of 2001, and the big historical event [September 11] must have had a part in there, too."
Born in Californiaand now living in Brooklyn, Haskell for a time ran a theater company in Chicago, which produced plays by Harold Pinter and David Mamet. "That kind of writing influenced my work quite a bit," he says. "The forward momentum of a play that keeps people in their seats." —Robert Dahlin
Sales Tips:"The book, which is firmly rooted in the road novel, shows how what happens can unhinge us," says Glusman. "I find shades of early Paul Auster in it, and even Errol Morris, whose film Thin Blue Line examines, reexamines and reexamines the same thing. It's an ingenious work with a dry wit and prose that's very lean."
Cheat and Charmer Random House (Sept.)
"The blacklist was at its height when I was very young," recalls Elizabeth Frank, who grew up in Hollywood as the daughter of one-half of the producing/writing/directing team of Norman Panama and Melvin Frank (Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House). "I knew nothing about it until I was a teenager and realized that some had refused to name names and others had cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee. The moral complexity of that world began to haunt me. I realized I couldn't not think about it, explore it, try to figure it out and, most importantly, try to imagine what it would have been like to find oneself trapped by it and forced to make decisions that would have lasting consequences. I began to feel that there was no way out except to tell a story about it, and by telling a story, I mean something very explicit: finding out what you don't know about what you think you do know."
In 1978, Frank was at work on Louise Bogan (Random House), the biography for which she won a 1986 Pulitzer Prize, when Bogan came to her in a dream. "I had lost a baseball in a patch of ground near the house where I'd grown up in L.A. Bogan, statuesque and magisterial, pointed downward and commanded, 'Look there!' " It was a "summons," says Frank, to write about those years.
As she finished the biography, Frank began drafting scenes for what would become Cheat and Charmer. "It's about two sisters, one in the movie industry, the other in the world of literary Americans in Paris, each married to a successful man, and each forced to make terrible choices when HUAC enters what up until now have been lives of relative safety and affluence."
Over the next 25 years, Frank, who has been on the literature faculty at Bard since 1982, found herself "fighting a guerrilla war with my life to gain a little bit of time to work on it. I made Saturday-night dates with my novel for years and years. And I longed for those Saturdays the way, when I was younger, I'd yearn for a date. This battle becomes your life and you keep going and you don't know why but you just do it."
Frank's literary future is far from Hollywood. "My plans are to write some stories about Bulgaria, where I spend as much time as I can, with a person very dear to me, and to see if these can be shaped into a novel." —Lucinda Dyer
Sales Tips:"It's a novel you live inside of," says RH editor-in-chief Jonathan Karp. "I felt like I was reading a great 19th-century novel about 20th-century America." Karp sent early copies of the manuscript to John Guare, who compared the book to The Last Tycoon, and to James Atlas, who likened it to The Sun Also Rises. In Karp's words, "Any first novelist who's compared to Fitzgerald and Hemingway is off to an auspicious start. The praise and excitement have grown from there." The publisher hopes to capitalize on that excitement with a 50,000-copy first printing.
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
The Last Song of Dusk Arcade (Oct.)
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi doesn't want to discuss all the loot he has earned from his first novel. Set in India in the 1920s, what the author calls "a love story defined by love's absence" has already been sold in England, India (his native land), Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and the U.S. So is he suddenly independently wealthy? "Independent," Shanghvi quips, "but not wealthy." He adds, "My standards are very high." Wit and wordplay seem to come easily to this 26-year-old author, who divides his time among San Francisco, London and Bombay.
He explains, "For the longest time, I'd wanted to have a conversation about certain ideas on karma, on the sexual self, and how we cope with the loss of love." The story actually began with the spoken word. "When I was a 21-year-old student in London [at the University of Westminster, working on a masters degree in international journalism], my friends would buy me drinks in exchange for the stories I told them, glass after glass. When I returned to India, my British friends would say they missed my stories. Would I write them down and send them out? So I did. A few months later, a friend said she saw the bones of a novel there." Shanghvi finished his first draft at 22, "then I lived with it for another three years." Pursuing a second masters degree, in media theory, at San Jose State University in California, he polished the manuscript.
Cal Barksdale, Arcade's senior editor and general manager, picked up buzz about the work at Frankfurt last October, then acquired U.S. rights in an auction for a "substantial" amount in the "five figures." He notes that the book's "fairytale premise" grabbed his attention. "A woman is so beautiful that the peacocks line up to bid her farewell when she leaves home. She marries a doctor so handsome that women feign illness to see him." But tragedy quickly strikes when their firstborn dies. Says Barksdale, "Siddharth sets up this fairytale premise, then he immediately complicates it."
The novel's third central character is Nandini. Her creator describes her as "the devious, dazzling artist who takes on the art world of Bombay with the formidable talents of her paintbrush—and her crotch. She arrived on the page effortlessly, lusting for panthers, for fame, for her own cool kismet." Historical personages mix with fictional ones. When Nandini encounters Gandhi, she tells the ascetic that she finds his loincloth "unbelievably sexy." Nandini is less taken with Virginia Woolf, whom she advises: "Go jump in a river." —Charles Hix
Sales Tips:With a 25,000 first printing, Arcade intends to tour and promote Shanghvi heavily. Says Barksdale, "One tagline to handsell the book is: ' The God of Small Things via Bollywood.' Siddharth's writing has all the wild enthusiasm and bright color of Bollywood, plus the lush prose, the smell and feel of India found in Arundhati Roy. Siddharth is a completely original writer. He pushes words to do what they normally don't do."
Please Don't Come Back from the Moon Harcourt (Feb.)
Dean Bakopoulos has been in the bookselling business himself, putting in four and a half years as buyer for the recently closed Canterbury Bookstore in Madison, Wisc. These days, he's director of the Humanities Council of the University of Wisconsin, where he finished his MFA. His intriguingly titled first novel was submitted for his thesis there but, he says, "I never workshopped it. It changed so much as I went along that I didn't want to submit it to that." The novel's premise is laid out in its first line: "When I was sixteen, my father went to the moon." In other words, he disappeared, completely and for good, as did virtually every other dad in the Maple Rock neighborhood of Detroit, leaving behind grief-stricken and panicked wives and families. The story takes place over the next 14 years, as a boy becomes a man and begins to contemplate fatherhood himself. Says Bakopoulos, "I felt as though I aged along with the narrator, and as I did and he did, the themes of the book veered in different directions."
Obvious, perhaps, is the theme of absent fathers and abandoned sons, whether though physical disappearance or divorce. The title, taken from a Charles Mingus jazz recording, indicates a kind of defiance, and this, too, pervades the book, as both wives and children act out the roles of the missing men in bizarre, sometimes harrowing ways, and then as they slowly begin to sort things out on their own. The role of the women is an important one. In his reading, Bakopoulos favors "gritty, male American realists": Richard Ford, Jim Harrison, Richard Bausch and the like, but he found himself instead driven toward a kind of magical realism in this book, not only as the men vanish, but in other instances throughout, though his style remains firmly realistic. "I've never actually read a book that operates quite like the way this one turned out," says the author.
"Dean has tapped a deeply emotional vein on a subject that most male writers avoid, and his writing has an internal melody that never falters. The use of magical realism is honest, earned and it's inspired," says Becky Saletan, his editor at Harcourt. She brought the book with her from FSG, where she had been introduced to Bakopoulos's writing by sales rep Mark Gates. She stayed with it through five years of writing and rewriting (two short stories formed the germ of the idea for a novel). And it paid off. "I am incredibly moved by it," Saletan says. —Alice K. Turner
Sales Tips:The author's solid familiarity with the book business is a big plus. Harcourt took him to BEA this year, long in advance of publication, to make the rounds. A chapbook with the first chapter (which was also published in Zoetrope, to much interest from agents) has been distributed widely, and there are plans for a tour, certainly in the Midwest, but very possibly expanding. The advance was substantial (six figures) for a first novel, so expect the house to put considerable effort into promotion.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Bloomsbury (Sept.)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, already the recipient of several starred pre-pub reviews (Kirkus called it "one of the finest fantasies ever written"), is the saga of two rival magicians who save England from Napoleon. How did Susanna Clarke hit upon the idea of writing a Regency social comedy and infusing it with magic? "I'm not clever enough to write a graphic novel, which is my favorite kind of contemporary fiction, so next best was writing a 19th-century novel," says Clarke, explaining that since childhood, she had "always wanted to be Jane Austen." Later, when she read Charles Palliser's 1989 novel, The Quincunx, she found herself wishing she'd written that, too. Palliser's work proved pivotal: "It showed me it was possible to write a novel like one by Dickens or Wilkie Collins in the late 20th century."
For Clarke, placing her magicians amid Wellington's campaigns on the Peninsula and at Waterloo rather than in the misty Celtic or Anglo-Saxon past, helped her avoid the anxiety of laboring in the shadow of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series and Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy, while honoring their deep influence on her. When Clarke began writing in 1994, her story already "felt very epic," though she had little sense that many adults wanted to read about magic at the time, especially since J.K. Rowling's and Phillip Pullman's books hadn't yet been published. As those series caught on, Clarke's mother admonished her to finish her book before readers tired of magic. But Clarke didn't feel she'd succeeded in writing her tale on the scale she'd envisioned. "Five years in, I realized I'd have to start again," she admits. "Beginning again was quite painful. I had to trust the story to get me there, which it did."
In the end, it took Clarke a total of 10 years of writing in the early mornings and on weekends, while working as the managing editor at Simon & Schuster in Cambridge, England, publishing "cookery" books for supermarkets and organizations like Weight Watchers. When Bloomsbury bought the U.K. and U.S. publication rights, and 19 foreign houses snapped up the novel after it became the talk of the London Book Fair in 2003, Clarke was able to quit her job and become a full-time writer. —Charlotte Abbott
Sales Tips:"Every day there's more good news for this book," publicist Yelena Gitlin tells PW, including numerous scheduled print features that began with an August 1 New York Times magazine profile. Clarke will be touring, Gitlin adds, for the entire month of September. Since BEA, where the novel was featured on a massive banner and Clarke chatted up visitors to the Bloomsbury booth, word has spread among critics, while sales reps and agents with no connection to the 800-page book are buzzing that they can't put it down. "Orders keep increasing and everyone's supporting it. B&N, Borders/Walden, the indies and even Costco," says sales director Sabrina Farber, who adds that the novel has returned to press for a second printing before publication.