Staggerwing

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ll be publishing Alice Kaltman’s Staggerwing collection in October of 2016!

I’ve made a decent effort to meet the various Tortoise Books authors face-to-face; it does help, if you’re going into business with someone, to sit down and have a meal with them as well. But I try to get to know them on the page first, because that’s the only way most of our readers will ever meet them. And that’s how I first met Alice, with a wonderful story suite she submitted to our saudade anthology, which is still slowly plodding its way towards publication.

They say growth happens outside your comfort zone, and that seems to be the case here: Alice and I have spent a decent amount of time corresponding and interacting online, but that’s it—after the manuscript, it’s been a pleasant series of smiling avatars and excited emails and scanned contracts, a mutual cascade of Facebook likes and retweets. And whatever my preferences, it may well stay that way for the foreseeable future.

She’s also the first one who’s working with us via an agent. Given my own experiences trying to go the traditional publishing route with Resistance, I definitely had some reservations about that. (I had one agent tell me it was one of the best manuscripts she’d read; she had me do a round of revisions, and then stopped communicating with me for no apparent reason. Then I got in touch with another agent; she seemed interested and asked for the full manuscript, then went incommunicado.) But Alice’s agent has been tremendously helpful, working with us to get a good solid author agreement in place, and always returning emails promptly and professionally. Indeed, she seems to be everything an agent’s supposed to be: active and involved and committed to the author’s success. And that certainly trumps any anti-agent biases I may have had—it’s tough enough to sell books that I’m willing to take allies wherever I can find them. (Also, over the past four years, I’ve probably done everything that’s ever annoyed me about the traditional industry at least once.)

Writing and publishing seem to be in an exciting but scary state of flux nowadays; everyone can publish, and everyone’s a critic, and everyone can interact with almost anyone directly online. There are conferences and fairs and festivals and writing workshops; some advice-givers suggest that one should network and tweet and “build one’s tribe” ahead of actually, you know, putting fingers to keyboard and turning out something great. Strangely enough, the people peddling such advice seem to be making more money from speaker fees and advice-book sales than they do from actually telling memorable stories. Indeed, the cynic in me says the industry’s turning into a big Ponzi scheme, with many people only earning a living by pulling more people in after them. (There’s certainly an overemphasis on inauthentic online interactions, on doing everything as a means to some other end: getting Twitter followers to prove you have a following, getting great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to prove that your book’s worthwhile, reaching out to others just to secure publishing and representation. It’s all, to my mind, an attempt to substitute quantity for quality, as if a large enough followership and high enough average customer review can somehow take the risk out of publishing and guarantee that the best books will make money.)

Fortunately, there are still authors like Alice who seem to be writing for the sheer joy of telling stories that connect with people—authors who actually have something to say about the human condition, something that lingers after you turn the last page. Alice has a sharp eye and a soft heart, a talent for picking apart the foibles of post-Millenial America while still seeing the beautiful and vulnerable and timeless humanity that lies beneath. All our online interactions have been genuinely great, full of warmth and real feeling—like writing itself, the online world is but a tool for transmitting emotion, and like all tools, it can be put to whatever use the user sees fit. But even better than that, all of this is pointing us towards the launch of a really great collection of stories. For all the tweets and retweets, the momentary online buzz, the advice-listers and schemers will someday be a dim memory. And when that happens, only the writers will have left something behind.