Early this morning I was told that the International Herald Tribune was reprinting the review Janet Maslin wrote of my book in the New York Times last Thursday, and also that the Times is reviewing it next Sunday in the Book Review and then USA Today is going to review it too, not to mention what has gone down already.
Itâ€™s true that seven or eight years ago telling me all this would happen would have been like telling me I would become a movie actor, but even thatâ€™s not as good... But then, slowly, one thing led to the next, like getting email and starting to type. Shit, my old art dealer Joe Helman would tell people I was preverbal.
Then I embarrassed myself one night by telling the same story to the same person so I began to write down all those stories I had told more than once in little notebooks so I didnâ€™t have to tell them again.
I had an endless standoff with my ex but I felt that my emails where getting through — only to find that she (who wanted to be a writer in the worse way) would print my mangled emails up and share them with her writing workshops for laughs when she said one day WE think you should try writing; these are pretty funny.
No one had showed me spell check.
And I really didnâ€™t read much except some poetry and pecking around a few books and the New York Times with my coffee every morning.
But back about the time I got married (1980) I was really infatuated with poetry and saw how it sometimes was even more direct than painting.
In some cases the pitch from a perfect effort to content quota would be something like zest from a squeezed lemon.
I did write a few poems over back then.
But I didn't even draw much, just painted.
So for the next 22 years I didn't write even a letter and you could count the books I finished on your hands and feet.
I knew people who wanted to be writers and it looked like murder.
They took classes or joined writing groups even went to camps and workshops and critiqued each other and it sounded from the outside like there was only one way to write.
And it was brutal.
No one ever came to my studio and said don't do it like that but from what I been told they did that in writing workshops.
And that was before they had to summit to these places who are swamped with manuscripts and who probably didn't want to like it anyway.
I knew someone 12 years ago who had a heroin habit and she read submissions for a prestigious literary journal and I felt soooooooo sorry for the poor bastard whose life was in her hands because I am sure she nodded through some hard fought passages only to miss the whole point.
I wanted no part of that world — I had my own problems.
I am a painter and the only thing that made that easier for me was that I was better at it than anything else I could do.
But I was having fun with my little project with a working title called Twice Told Stories... and then one day I was at Jimmy Gilroy's studio to see his new paintings and read him something I wrote on the way down and he got a kick out it and told me to get it typed and send it over to his pal Max Blagg who was starting a journal called Bald Ego and I did and Max called to say I was in the next one then I knew Betsy who founded Bomb and she published some and also was introduced to Open City by Ariel Levine and they printed four.
But when I played all those cards I was out.
That was it.
That's when I printed up some of the stories I had left over with some drawings into a comic book size thing and gave them out and sent them around like I would a catalog to a show.
Besides my friends liking them, that was all she wrote.
I had a box of them by the door and gave them out to whoever came around.
It was called Jubilee City.
Then I had this blind lunch date with this really attractive woman named Debbie Steir and after we ate she came over to see my paintings (good gig) and then I gave her one of the books to take with her.
She didn't tell me what she did, or if so it took a back seat to more basic things, but it turned out she worked at HarperCollins and the next day or so she showed it to her publisher Lisa Gallagher who asked Debbie to call me and ask if I would write a novel.
In the time it takes to draw a breath and exhale I tried to remember the last one I read but couldnâ€™t and then thought about all the millions of books out there and that made me think how hard could it be and besides if they like what I gave them already then that was the hard part and I could figure out the rest and then I said yes.
So I stacked what I had in chronological order and filled in the gaps, wrote 'the end' at the bottom, and handed it over.
No one told me that it usually takes longer.
They hooked me up with the senior editor Jenn Brehl who at our first meeting when I say "you know, I am for all intents and purposes, illiterate?" she said sweetly, "oh I know; but we love your voice."
And they would take my mangled scratches and made them look like Shakespeare.
So if my success is like getting hit bus, then Debbie Steir has the bus schedules, and it is her job is to know when they run, and then stand you on the curb, and push your ass out in front of as many as she can find until they keep swerving to miss or you become headlines:
LUCKY BASTARD GETS HIT BY BUS.
Books mentioned in this post
Joe Andoe is the author of Jubilee City: A Memoir at Full Speed