The Fugue: Vision and Reality

Through a pleasant and unexpected turn of events, we’ve taken over publication duties for Gint Aras’ excellent The Fugue. Epic and yet right-sized, complicated but intensely readable, straightforward and yet emotionally impactful, this excellent novel fits in well with the body of work we’re proudly building at Tortoise Books.

Personally and professionally, this culminates a long strange trip of sorts; Gint and I have spent most of the past four years in one of those unreal 21st-century online-only friendships. When I was starting this imprint, a blogger friend (Shout out to Alicia Eler!) mentioned him; she’d heard about his novel Finding the Moon in Sugar and figured he might be worth contacting. I gave it a read and was pleasantly surprised; it featured a delightfully unique narrator, a small-time part-time student living at the edges of Chicago, and society. (“If you lost your beer gut,” he says early on, “probably someone in Berwyn picked it up and never even noticed.”) It takes a big-hearted and talented author to depict such a doofus of a character with both intelligence and humanity, in a way that you shake your head at his foibles while still falling in love a little.

Relatively soon, Gint and I were connected on Facebook and Twitter. He pitched me for a writing submission for The Good Men Project, and I wrote a piece about married life; we talked about meeting up to do a podcast, but somehow that never materialized. Soon we were moving in the same author circles, but somehow we still kept passing like the proverbial ships in the night; we’d each independently go to readings and book fairs and then realize after the fact, via social media, that we’d somehow been in the same room without meeting face-to-face. As with many of my long-term online-only friends (Shout out to Terra Dankowski!) I started to half-suspect that it was one of those matter-antimatter things that would somehow turn out very badly if we did come into contact.

Then in November, we did finally get a chance to talk, at Curbside Splendor’s Pop-Up Book Fair, where he was promoting a new novel. I made it a point to get to his book launch party at City Lit in December, a standing-room-only affair featuring that rarest of phenomena in indie publishing: random people outside the author’s immediate circle excitedly snapping up copies of a book, and even waiting in line to get their copies signed. In short order, I started seeing glowing critical notices about the book, and even seeing it pop up randomly on Reddit’s carousel o’ books, and I realized something was definitely happening. Authors and publishers have notoriously complicated feelings when other authors and publishers make sales and get noticed, and I will cop to a little jealousy in this timeframe. But dwarfing that (I hope) is my sense that something cool’s going on in Chicago, a lively indie scene that’s hopefully the literary equivalent of Seattle in, say, 1990, with loads of talented people on the brink of widespread recognition. And while I can’t be Eddie Vedder and don’t want to be Kurt Cobain, I’d definitely like to be somewhere in there—maybe Bruce Pavitt, or even Matt Cameron.

I will forgo all the gory details, but through an unfortunate chain of events (and no fault of his own), Gint and his previous publisher decided to part ways. He was eager to get back up and running with someone else, and while I tend to prefer tortoise-paced book launches (I’m a marathoner, not a sprinter), it’s good to cross-train once in a while. So after a frantic but thorough period of redesigning the book and the cover art (and a mere 20 days after he and his previous publisher parted ways), we got the second edition back up for sale.

(Incidentally, it turns out Gint and I have been crossing paths for far longer than either of us realized, for we were even in grad school in New York at the same time—both at Columbia University, him in the MFA program and me at the J-school, possibly walking past each other at Broadway and 116th, or bumping into one another on the Low Library steps, clueless to the fact that we’d be doing business 15 years later.)

In the big-picture sense, writing and publishing are about making imaginary things real: turning ethereal visions into printed words, and transforming those, in turn, into business relationships and physical products—and hopefully friendships as well. Gint has been working on this project since we were both blindly passing one another on the streets of New York; it’s been a joy turning our friendship from imaginary to real, and a true honor to help him keep his book that way as well.