Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nickolas Butler's "Shotgun Lovesongs" Rises from the Eau Claire Prairie to Tell a Great Story About Home and Friendship, Out This Week (and Event on March 11, 7 pm).

When I was reading my Lorrie Moore books, I remembered one of my beefs about setting for many literary novels. A book set in New York would be vivid and place-y, and one set somewhere else would be blurry. I think the mindset was that every reader wanted to read about New York, but reading about anywhere but a few key coastal cities would turn the reader off as too provincial.

Needless to say, think about where the editors and publishers were who were saying this. And for many years, that was also probably true about the concentration of writers. And while there are still more writers per capita in the New York area, a lot fewer of them live in the part of New York, Manhattan, that carries international appeal. Say what you want about Brooklyn, it's hip and it's cool for sure, but it's also quite provincial, without any of the distinctive landmarks (both architectural and otherwise, such as Broadway, Times Square, Wall Street) that make a New York novel a New York novel.

Heck, you could probably transpose the story and have it set in Los Feliz in Los Angeles, or Chicago's Wicker Park, or Seattle's Ballard or any number of places, and nobody would know the places. But that wouldn't work for most New York editors, who probably are less familiar with these well-known places than you'd think. Heck, I've had to have the "please don't fly an author from Milwaukee to Chicago" conversation twice in the last two weeks. So I don't expect to see a highly-promoted novel set in Milwaukee in the near future.

But small town, rural settings? For some reason, Wisconsin wins on this front. As one of 50 states that also has just under 2% of the national population, you might think publishers might want to shy away from a story that's Wisconsin-y, only publishers also like track records, and as track records go, Wisconsin is not bad. Since we've opened, there's been David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (well, it was during Boswell's time on Earth for the paperback) and Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. Going back further you've got Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World and Christina Schwarz's Drowining Ruth, among others.

That may be why the small-town Wisconsin setting did not intimidate St. Martin's Press when they signed up and started promoting Shotgun Lovesongs, the first novel that is getting a lot of buzz from Nickolas Butler. We started hearing about it early on from Anne, our rep who was looking for reads. Almost immediately we got one from Nick, our former bookseller who is now at Bridgetowne Framing Gallery in Wauwatosa, and I read it as well. 

Then parent company Macmillan organized pre-publication bookstore visits to stores in the Chicago area, and that included us. He got to meet a number of booksellers, and out of that, we got another read, from Conrad. The Indie Next numbers came out and Shotgun Lovesongs wound up getting enough recommendations to make it the #1 pick from independent booksellers for March. And we wound up getting more good reads, from Sharon and Jannis.

Here's Conrad's recommendation: "I plowed through this book in one day, and I'm not a fast reader. It's not that it's a short book, although at 320 pages, it isn't exactly a doorstop either. And it's not that I couldn't put it down, I didn't read it in one sitting, but I kept coming back to it. What it is: unsparing, no-nonsense prose, redolent of the voices of Wisconsin; a study of the vicissitudes of friendship and love, betrayal and redemption, and the magnetic draw of home; a paean to the lives of the common (and not so common) folk of our state."--Conrad Silverberg

And here's mine: "The push and pull of a small Midwestern town is the driving force of this wistful novel about four childhood friends who are bound together, despite their desire to strike out on their own. Kip has left to earn his fortune in Chicago, Ronny to be a rodeo cowboy in Wyoming, Beth to find herself in Minneapolis, and Lee to New York to become a successful folk rocker. Only Henry stays behind, taking over the family farm. But each character is called back to Little Wing, Wisconsin, some to confront destiny and others to tackle demons. There’s a love triangle at the center of the story for sure, but at its heart, Shotgun Lovesongs is a gentle but still barroom friendly classic buddy novel."--Daniel Goldin

As I was playing around a looking for a hook, I called it "Footloose" without the dancing, but you might also call it a variation on "The Big Chill", only without the suicide, and the soundtrack will probably be by Bon Iver, not assorted Motown artists.

So now Shotgun Lovesongs is out. Our event is next Tuesday, March 11, 7 pm, and we're not sure if there's any sort of friends/family component to the audience at all*. I'm thinking not. And up until now, you probably didn't know who Nickolas Butler was. We're hoping that you'll be curious anyway, to hear about the little Wisconsin novel that could.

Here's a piece about the novel being acquired by Fox Searchlight for film development.

Here's a profile of Butler in Publishers Weekly from Julie Buntin, about how the book was acquired by Kate Gilligan at Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's. There's a little piece where they talk about Butler's many jobs, including hot dog vendor and fast food maintenance man. Author bios with odd jobs seem to resonate with publishers; it means life experience. One odd job that Butler had didn't make the cut however For at least a couple of years, he did author escorting in the Madison area, picking up writers at the airport, bringing them to media interviews, and dropping them off at area bookstores and college events. 

And you can practice your German, reading about Shotgun Lovesongs here. I have included the UK and German covers. The German one is sort of confusing to me, as they kept the title in English. At one point, I that they had changed the American jacket and asked the publisher about this, not noticing the German logo on the book.

So last thing, and it brings us back to until-recently-Wisconsinite Lorrie Moore. I always mention upcoming events before our author introductions. At hers, I talked up Nickolas Butler's appearance, and Moore decided that this was a great title for a book. Instead of writing that book, however (titles cannot be copyrighted, which is why Len Vlahos' novel, The Scar Boys, has song titles for chapter headings instead of the original lyric snippets), she decided to just rename Bark when she signed my copy. And that answers that question of what my signed copy of Lorrie Moore would look like this time.

*Addendum. Due to an on-sale date change, our event is the official on-sale date for the book, March 11. 

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