Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Goodbye Moment from Sherman Alexie--On an Author Leaving his Long-Time Publisher

Over the years at Book Expo, I've been to a lot of parties. Sometimes I get an invite and I feel I don't belong; it's a big publisher party and I recognize hardly anybody. The floor is filled with suits from media companies, foreign publishers, and lots of execs from corporate. I've got the ticket, but it still feels like I'm crashing. Nobody talks to me, except perhaps for the publicist who checks my name off. If I'm lucky, one of the folks from field sales (indie bookstores are the field, by the way) recognizes me and says hi...if they were allowed to go.

But Grove Atlantic is different. One of the larger independent publishing houses, Morgan Entrekin and Joan Bingham have dinners too, sometimes at restaurants, lately in someone's apartment. There are other folks there too, but boy are there a lot of indie booksellers. I'm not feeling lost, and I'm not feeling unwanted.

I'm sure that's why Sherman Alexie stayed there as long as he did. He's a star player, and capable of huge advances. He moved to Little, Brown/Hachette for his kids' book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and sales were phenomenal. They came calling for an adult contract and he moved.

But first, one last book for Grove, a new collection called War Dances. It's stories and poetry, which from some authors might be second string material, but not from Alexie...
“The Senator’s Son” is the story of a gay bashing in Capitol Hill, and the few twists that turn the story around. (I’m always ok with Alexie’s treatment of gay men; whatever his personal life, he “gets it.” “Breaking and Entering” is about a film editor who is caught up in some politics after he attacks an intruder. “The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless” follows a middle-aged lothario with an earnest streak who obsesses over a woman he runs into at the airport.” I'm sure there are flaws in the stories and "blah, blah, blah" but I never was less than entertained (and was often much more) while reading them.

And the poetry. I'm going to have to stop saying "I don't do poetry" since I seem to reading and listening to it more and more. Alexie’s verse is imbued with a sense of storytelling that makes it come alive for me. It doesn’t hurt that he wears his emotions on his sleeves, a mix of anger and humor and romance, particularly in “On Airplanes” and “Go Ghost Go.” Sometimes Alexie can let his sappy side overwhelm him, particularly when it comes to his kids. But hey, that’s programmed by genetics, right? Is he just a great parent, or a darn good writer who's convinced me those kids are very lucky.

Really, the whole tone of the collection is particularly sweet. And why not? This is the celebration of long relationship, leaving on (hopefully, mostly) good terms. It's a toast. And the dedication says it all: For Elisabeth (editor), Morgan (publisher), Eric (associate publisher), and Deb (a publicity director).

So thank you for letting us be involved with this tour; we hope to do a great job. And to you folks on the fence, it might be the last time you see Alexie in Milwaukee for a long time. He's appearing at Boswell Book Company on Wednesday, October 21st, at 7 PM. There are no tickets or requirements to hear him, except that you better come early. We will close the doors when we hit capacity, and knowing his fans, that could be as early as 6:30.

If you don't make it, come back at 8:15 or so and you'll be able to come in and get your books signed. We've got Alexie's backlist too, as well as his new poetry collection, Face, from Hanging Loose Press.

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