It's not unusual for literary novelists to complain about the treatment their books receive from New York trade houses, but novelist Alexander Theroux decided to do something about it. His next book, an imposing 824-page brick of a novel called Laura Warholic, or the Sexual Intellectual, will be published in Spring 2007 by Fantagraphics Books, a small Seattle indie comics publisher known for a list of unapologetically literary and experimentalist comics and graphic novels. Theroux, who was embroiled in a plagiarism suit 10 years ago (settled out of court), is fittingly unapologetic and experimentalist. Although he has published three critically praised novels with the likes of S&S and Doubleday, he says he's had it with publishers who want nothing to do with big cerebral books. "I've had New York publishers look at my books and ask, 'Can you cut 200 pages?' I ask them, 'Which 200?' I hate the business side of publishing."
While Fantagraphics offers the occasional nonfiction prose work, Theroux's new book is its first novel. Fantagraphics is also planning reprints of two long out-of-print prose novels by legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer as well as collections of his plays and screenplays.
Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth said getting a novelist of Theroux's stature is his dream come true. "Literary fiction inspired the kind of comics we publish here and I've wanted to publish literary fiction myself for the last 15 years or so. It's been a kind of quixotic goal to find the prose equivalent of our comics."
Laura Warholic recounts the accumulated cultural dissatisfactions of Eugene Eyestones, an eccentric sex columnist at a Boston cultural magazine. Theroux, native of Massachusetts and the older brother of writer Paul Theroux, said the book is a love story and a satire on American culture. But he also said it takes dead aim at Big New York Trade Publishing. "We live in an empty intellectual time," he said. He's even fed up with agents, so he negotiated the Fantagraphics contract himself.
Norton, Fantagraphics distributor since 2001, certainly knows how to sell literary works. John Dibello, who oversees Fantagraphics titles at Norton, said that the Norton reps were impressed at sales conference and like the satire on publishing. "It gives them something to talk about."
"If I have to go out and sell the book myself," says Theroux, "I don't care. [Big publishers] are all the same to me. I know Gary, and this will be a kind of innovation."