I’m going to go off course this week when it comes to all things We All Fall Down. Instead discussing the story’s background, I’m going with a “Behind the Music” kind of tale relating to the making of what is the most troubled book I ever wrote. Except, I’m not sure where to start. The beginning would be a good place, but this tale has so many beginnings and even more bad endings. I suppose the problem is that there are so many themes going on here—stick-with-it-ness, bad luck, determination, dealing with setbacks, and never accepting no as an answer just to name a few. I think there may even be an ancient code left behind by a renaissance painter, but I could be wrong. Anyhoo, there’s a lot going on here, so sit back and prepare to be dazzled.
I completed a book called We All Fall Down in early 2000. It was a suspense thriller based on a couple of news items that I smooshed them together. I didn’t have a track record at the time in publishing, so I went from agents and editors collecting rejection letters with some aplomb. Then I struck gold in October 2001 when a small press publisher picked up the book. Yahoo, I was going to get published. Small presses are delicate creatures and vulnerable. Things looked fine at the beginning, but I’d arrived to the party late. Cash flow was drying up. Delays ensued. The book slipped from a 2003 release date to 2004 and that wasn’t certain. The release was dependent on a number of factors outside of my control. I could feel my story going cold on the shelf. In late 2003, I made a decision that left me sick to my stomach. I asked to be released from my contract. The publisher hadn’t published a book in a year and mine was still pending. It was the right thing to do, but it felt like suicide. I had a book contract and I killed it. What an idiot!?!
The decision hurt and to be quite honest, it left me depressed. It was my fault. My mess. A waste of two years of my life and the book’s life. My funk was reinforced when I tried to resell the book. I came up against a wall. Suddenly, after 9/11, the book was in bad taste. I wrote how easy it would be to launch a major terrorist attack if someone had the audacity. Then one happened. It looked as if I was trying to follow a trend, instead of foreseeing one.
I don’t like the idea of practice books—manuscripts the writer has no intention of selling. Every book is a practice book. I learn from every word I write. But I was coming to the conclusion that We All Fall Down would become a practice book and I would have to consign it to trunk status. But then a miracle happened. I met another small press in the spring of 2003. I approached them on a whim at the beginning of 2004. They loved We All Fall Down and paid me an advance. Lots of good things were happening with them that gave me confidence that this was a winner. I felt like a winner. My confidence returned. My decision to walk away from my original publisher was validated.
Cover art was commissioned. Editing began. A schedule for release was outlined. Then progress slipped. The timeline took on a Daliesque quality. The May release became September, then ’05. All the signs were there that this publisher was going through a familiar crash and burn. It got to the stage where I had to ask point-blank, “is this book ever going to be published?” After some squirming I received an honest answer. No, the book wouldn’t be coming out.
I couldn’t believe it. It was now 2005 and the book was dead in the water again almost six years after I had begun the first draft. My familiar funk returned. I kept on writing other things, of course, but We All Fall Down kept dragging me down. It was a damn albatross driving me onto the rocks. I’d pretty much given up hope on the book, but things were changing. Luck was being kind to me. I’d sold Working Stiffs, so I dusted off We All Fall Down and sent it out to yet another small press publisher who’d expressed an interest in reading something. Around Christmas 2005, they asked to publish it. Finally, the book was going to be coming out, but before the contract could even be signed a scandal hit the publisher. Accusations flew around. The publisher’s rep was toast and the publisher’s elastic publishing schedule was going to stretch even more. The writing was on the wall yet again. The book was dead. Even if they published the book, it would be tarnished by their bad rep.
It’s easy to say, I was pissed off with the whole affair. It’s bloody hard to sell a book these days and to sell it three times and never have it see the light of day is cruel and unusual punishment of the most twisted kind. The publishing gods were just being mean at this point.
But I’ve been riding a wave of good fortune to make up for a number of disappointments over the last few years. Getting picked up by Dorchester has opened a number of doors for me. I feel some real traction at the moment. I’m moving forward towards my goals. If I’m moving forward why can’t We All Fall Down come with me? I dusted the manuscript off and looked at it. It’s now seven years old and it looks it. The prose was a little flaky at the corners. The plot was sun bleached. There’s something stuck to one of the characters and it had gone green. If I put it on the high seas, it’d sink. But underneath the dirt and grime, there’s a good story underneath. It was going to take a lot of work to get it looking new, fast and sleek, but it was doable. I rewrote the thing from top to bottom, ditched the 9/11 aspects of the story (because it seemed in bad taste). I talked to my then, Dorchester, about it and they said yes. We All Fall Down appeared in mass paperback in 2007. Sadly, Dorchester hit the financial skids a year ago and the book disappeared from bookshelves. A friend remarked that this book was my doomsday book because every publisher who has touched is no more. That’s phooey…I hope.
This story is a testament to many things—belief being the prime one. I never stopped believing in the story. I can be flippant, but my stories mean a lot to me. I had a man down and I wasn’t leaving my soldier behind. Also this story may be cursed to those who publish it, just not those who read it. Go on, read it, I promise nothing will happen to you.
Categories: book of the month