Recent Work By J.E. Fishman

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Amazon’s announcement that it has begun offering opportunities to riff off of the work of Kurt Vonnegut on its fan fiction licensing site, Kindle Worlds, has caused a stir. Rightly so. Amazon is The Man and Vonnegut tilted against The Man, as all great artists do.

For the launch of my third novel, I thought it would be fun to have the story editor, Patrick J. LoBrutto, ask some questions. He’s not only conversant with the novel; he made it better.

Pat, who worked in-house at Bantam and at half a dozen other major imprints, has edited more books than most people read in a lifetime. Over a career spanning three decades, he’s worked with Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Eric Van Lustbader, Walter Tevis, the Louis L’Amour Estate, Don Coldsmith, Jack Dann, F. Paul Wilson, Joe R. Lansdale, Brian Herbert, and hundreds of others.

Obviously, if any of my answers come across as incoherent, it’s all Pat’s fault.

Rather than just provide an excerpt of my newly released novel, I thought it would be fun to share some of my intentions by annotating the excerpt. You can read the opening words of the novel in the form of this brief prologue. Below that, the prologue is reproduced with some notations.

Prologue

imagesIn the town of Greenwich, Connecticut, office buildings rarely betray the power of the players inside. Consistent with that principle, a man who privately called himself The Mean had chosen to occupy the second floor of a modest four-story brick building within easy walking distance of both Putnam and Greenwich Avenues. The former was a major thoroughfare, two lanes in either direction. The latter, which locals simply called The Avenue, was a one-way street on a steep hill between Putnam and the railroad tracks. Lined with tony shops and expensive restaurants, it furnished a promenade for people who drove Maybachs and Ferraris, Bentleys and Land Rovers. At two key intersections, traffic cops policed both moving cars and pedestrians, who often received tickets for jaywalking.

I know it wasn’t easy being you. The endless search for food. The seeking for warmth and shelter. The foxes fixed on a quick meal. The hawks swooping from a great beyond so vast you probably wouldn’t have seen them until the shadow fell and you were seized screaming, picked apart on some remote tree limb, eaten alive.

That this did not become your fate must have been small solace. You knew the hawks were there, watching your every move, determined to reward the slightest lapse of your attention with certain death.

It was the very state of existence that caught up with you, the endless seeking and hiding.

unbearable

By J.E. Fishman

Poem

Oh, my America

what do you say to the little boy in kindergarten who lies bleeding on the classroom floor?

what do you tell the parent fallen to her knees in grief at the unspeakable loss?

what more do you ask them to bear so that your right to firearms may live unimpeded?

 

Leon G. Cooperman is a very fortunate man. The son of a plumber, he went on to run the asset management business of Goldman Sachs. Presumably, that made him quite rich (the math: Goldman partner = rich), but he didn’t stop there. He next founded his own hedge fund, which, according to Forbes, manages $6.1 billion. His net worth is said to be $2.2 billion, which puts him comfortably in the middle of that obnoxious record of acquisitiveness known as the Forbes 400.

I have Leon Cooperman on my mind because I recently read Chrystia Freeland’s New Yorker piece entitled “Super-Rich Irony: The billionaires battling Obama.”

I turned fifty years old this year. I was a little kid in the Sixties. A teen in the Seventies. I had my first jobs and graduated from college in the Eighties. I settled down and did my first entrepreneurial things in the Aughts.

When I was a kid, among the biggest insults you could sling at another boy was calling him “faggot,” “queer” or “fairy.” We accepted without any discussion that homosexuality was a trait devoutly not to be wished upon oneself.

My next novel, Proximity, has a high school football coach as its hero. As such, I find myself thinking lately about sports metaphors.

Thus I have this to share from great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

In the publication of Primacy, naturally, I’ve done some things right and also made some mistakes. It’s too early to tell definitively what the final outcome will be, but this is my last column on the subject. Thus, here is my moment for self-reflection.

In her introduction to Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints, Joan Acocella writes of the collection of her New Yorker pieces, published in the magazine over fifteen years: “As I was deciding what to include, I thought I was simply choosing the pieces that I liked best, and wanted to send out into the world again. But as I read through them, a single theme kept coming up: difficulty, hardship…”

Here’s my third and final check-in on the numbers behind the Primacy publishing project. They won’t be final, even on the hardcover, and they mercifully avoid returns season after the holidays (at which point this column will have ceased), which, believe me, won’t make things look any better.

When it was published in 1948, Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain became an immediate bestseller, despite the fact that the New York Times refused it a place on the bestseller list due to its religious subject matter. In my edition of the book, editor Robert Giroux wrote in the introduction:

Why did the success of the Mountain go so far beyond my expectations as an editor and a publisher? Why, despite being banned from the bestseller lists, did it sell so spectacularly? Publishers cannot create bestsellers, though few readers (and fewer authors) believe it. There is always an element of mystery when it happens why this book at this moment? I believe the most essential element is right timing, which usually cannot be foreseen. The Mountain appeared at a time of great disillusion: we had won World War II, but the Cold War had started and the public was depressed and disillusioned, looking for reassurance. Second, Merton’s story was unusual — a well-educated and articulate young man withdraws — why? — into a monastery. The tale was well told, with liveliness and eloquence. There were other reasons, no doubt, but for me this combination of the right subject at the right time presented in the right way accounts for the book’s initial success.

For most of the Nineties and Oughts I regularly visited a barber in the New York area, an old-timey guy who wore an unfussy comb-over and a zippered blue smock. Let’s call him Mario.

Mario, a man in his late fifties and early sixties when I knew him, kept a small shop with a striped barber’s pole attached to the facade and two cutting chairs inside that rested on warn-out linoleum tiles. By the entrance stood a three-foot tall glass-front cabinet, the top buried in papers and the inside cluttered with items that had witnessed men and boys climbing in and out of the nearest chair a thousand times while the decades cascaded by.

Late last month, in keeping with its pattern of showering attention on successful authors while ignoring those who could use a leg up, the New York Times published a Q&A with Paul Coelho, author of — well, you know. In case you hadn’t noticed, unsaid novel was a Times bestseller for four years and has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide.

Here’s a second check-in on the numbers behind the Primacy publishing project. You might look at it as a result of the sum of my efforts or as a meaningless pattern in the randomness. Most likely it’s some of both, if that’s possible.

One day last month I checked in with BookScan via my Author Central account on Amazon and discovered that a copy of Primacy had been sold in Colorado Springs.

When I was a literary agent I once chased an author in Colorado Springs, a fine writer who worked at the university there but never produced enough words to fill a whole book for me. Nice guy, too, but I doubt he was the buyer.