Volume 3, Issue 15: What Light

"If you feel like singing a song, and you want other people to sing along, then just sing what you feel. Don't let anyone say it's wrong."

The world continues to shift dramatically under our feet every minute, in ways that are disorienting and upsetting and also, potentially, pointing toward some sort of positive fundamental change in a way we have not seen before. I have done my best to tackle some of these changes in this newsletter over the last few weeks/months, and I will continue to do so, the best I can from what is also obviously a limited perspective. One of the reasons I started this newsletter in the first place was so that someday my kids could look back at it and see what Dad was thinking during some of the most tumultuous moments in American history … and we hadn’t even gotten to 2020 yet. I want to continue to try to meet this moment the best that I can.

However: It can take an emotional toll to tap every vein every Saturday morning, and I’m hoping, if it is OK with you, to take a bit of a break this week and talk about something more personal and more frivolous: Tuesday’s announcement of my big new book project. I know that this is far, far from the most important thing going on right now, and I understand that writing about something personal and professional at this moment can come across as indulgent and blinkered. (It might not just “come across” that way; it might actually be that way.) But then again: This is a newsletter thousands of people have signed up for in order to receive weekly updates, essays and the catalogued work of a professional writer, so perhaps it is not overly presumptuous to consider the possibility that dedicating an entire edition to an impending major published work by that writer would not be entirely unwelcome.

So we’re going to talk about the book this week. But first, a brief story.

My father and I had dinner this week. My mother is back in Illinois tending to some family business, so Dad’s by himself all week, and there is something about an empty house that is quieter during a pandemic than it is even usually is. So we were eating, and we were talking, and the topic of the protests came up. As any self-respecting Generation X/Yer can tell you, discussing Matters Of The Day with one’s boomer parents has become particularly perilous during this time. Whole families have been torn apart in the age of Trump. I’ve been fortunate to have parents who have been repulsed by Trump from the beginning, but, still, you never know: People get older, they get stuck in their ways, they get scared by dramatic social change. You never know what might pop up, is what I’m saying.

So anyway, Black Lives Matter came up, as it might, and Dad, mid-bite, put down his fork and shifted in his chair with a look of confusion and consternation. Uh-oh, I thought.

“So I have a question about those protestors downtown,” he said.

In downtown Athens, protestors have been gathering every day and night around the Athens Confederate Memorial, carrying signs and calling for the monument’s removal. (Mayor Girtz and city commissioners are actively working to have it pulled.) The monument is right in the middle of Broad Street, one of the busiest streets in town, and one that Dad regularly drives down to get from his house to ours. And I worried when Dad said this, because my father is a wonderful man but also my Dad is a 70-year-old veteran in a pickup truck who, from my experience, doesn’t always take well to people spending their days doing anything other than working for a living.

“Yes?” I said, starting to cringe a little.

He paused to finish chewing. “So, what am I supposed to do when I see them?” he said. “Do I roll down my window and give them a thumbs up? Should I yell ‘good job!’ at them? Or do they not want that? I don’t want to scare them. I bet some people are screaming terrible things at them all day. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything. I guess I could honk and give a thumbs up? That would be OK, wouldn’t it?” He looked genuinely concerned.

I smiled and told Dad that any measure of support he wanted to show would be just fine, and appreciated. He looked relieved. The world’s changing, people. It’s really something to see.

Longtime readers of this newsletter may hark back to March 2019. I wrote about a trip I’d taken to New York City that week, in which I, in a totally performative and unnecessary gesture partaken solely for my own self-aggrandizement, printed out a physical copy of a manuscript I’d written and dramatically handed it to my agent at dinner. He had no idea I’d even been working on a book—I hadn’t written one for him in nine years—and I had no grand plans for it; I just wanted him to get this little passion project, written in my spare time, published wherever he could get it published. As I wrote in that March 2019 newsletter:

I didn't pitch the idea to anyone, I didn't outline out the plot, I didn't run the story by anyone to see if it makes sense. I just sat down and wrote it. As of this moment, the only person who has read it is me, and I have zero idea if it's any good at all. I don't really care if it sells for a bunch of money, or a big company wants it or anything; I just want it published. If it turns out the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Press is the only place interested in binding and selling the darned thing, that's fine. Nobody writes books to get wealthy, or even to make minimum wage on the amount of time they spent working on it. I just needed to get the book out of my system.

Well, here we are, 15 months and two big edits later, and it turns out: We sold the darned thing.

You cannot preorder it yet, but don’t you worry: As a subscriber to this newsletter, rest assured, you will be afforded many, many opportunities to do so over the next year-plus of your life. But because you might have questions, and because I’d like to talk about it some more, here’s a little FAQ about the book. I personally find it amusing to do a FAQ because there is, in fact, an actual FAQ inside the book. The snake is always eating its tail.

What’s the book called?

It’s called Lucky. We went through many, many titles, because I am terrible at titles. At various points, it was called:

  • Fly This Time

  • Let Us Enjoy This Fleeting Time Together

  • Tell Me You Are OK

  • We Are No Longer Alarmed

  • What Light

  • Your Next Breath

The two closest were “What Light” (which was the title on the manuscript I gave my agent when I handed it to him but which we bonked because it’s already the name of a Jay Asher book) and “Let Us Enjoy This Fleeting Time Together” (which I loved because it’s very Eggers-postmodern in that arch annoying way that only I like). But finally we just went with Lucky because it’s short and easy to remember. Always a good direction to steer toward.

What’s it about?

For a variety of reasons that will hopefully become more clear as we get closer to publication, I’m afraid I must stick with the official plot description here: “Lucky follows a young man suffering from an advanced disease who believes he has witnessed the kidnapping of a local college student in his southern town.”

It does take place here in Athens, though there are also many scenes set in Central Illinois.

When is it coming out?

It is tentatively scheduled for “Summer 2021.” That could change, of course, especially considering it is currently impossible to predict where this planet is going to be tomorrow, let alone Summer 2021. (I am personally crossing my fingers that the book will be published in what we still know as “the United States of America” in Summer 2021. Or that words themselves are still allowed.) The good news is, other than some minor-to-semi-minor editing, the book is essentially done; the publisher bought a whole book, not a theoretical concept with the promise of more pages to come. They purchased this thing whole, which is of course one of the reasons I wrote the book in its entirety before letting anybody know what I was up to in the first place. I was able to write it the way that I wanted to, rather than the way someone expected me to.

Who bought it?

The book will be pushed by Harper, the flagship imprint of HarperCollins. HarperCollins also published God Save the Fan, back in 2007, but my editor now is an otherwise smart man named Noah Eaker, rather than my old friend David Hirshey, who left the company years ago but still keeps writing about soccer.

What was the process of selling the book like?

I found the process difficult and lengthy, but I am not sure I am correct about that; I think I have just been raised on Internet time and thus have unrealistic ideas of how long it takes to sell, edit and publish a book. Still: I went through several rewrites with my (incredibly patient) agent David Gernert, rewrites that were painful but made the book immeasurably better. I was honored that anyone wanted the book at all, but to have it land with Noah, and Harper, feels like a blessing of immeasurable value. I really would have been perfectly fine with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Press. But this is better.

Why did it take you so long to write another book?

Well, in between the time that I wrote Are We Winning? and Lucky, I:

  • Got married.

  • Had a child.

  • Changed jobs.

  • Moved to Georgia.

  • Had another child.

  • Watch the world turn absolutely inside out in every possible way.

It turns out that all of those things take a lot out of you, and tend to bite into your “write a book” time. It also should be pointed out that Are We Winning? is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, but in the 13 months between the time we sold that book and we published that book, my editor left Hyperion (the publisher) and left it to a series of editors who did not care about it and therefore left it to wither and die on the vine. It happens in the industry sometimes, but nevertheless this was a major disappointment and discouraged me from writing books for about a decade. Back in the day, I imagined writing a book every couple of years or so, and my first four books were published on roughly that schedule: Life As A Loser (2003), Catch (2005), God Save the Fan (2007) and Are We Winning? (2010). But Are We Winning? was so discouraging, and family life so rewarding and also time-consuming, that I just put it aside for a while.

Now that we’ve got a little proof-of-concept with this book’s sale, I might get back to that schedule again. Writing a book is exhausting and isolating, but I never found it miserable: I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it, actually. I already have an idea for the next one, though I might workshop the idea a little bit first this time. But yeah: I’d kind of missed it.

And this book has nothing to do with sports?

Yeah, it’s rather purposely off-brand. The book takes place in Athens, so college football Saturdays can’t help but be a part of the atmosphere, but it is otherwise not about sports in any way, shape or form. Sorry.

“Debut” novel? This is Catch erasure!

It’s true: This is in fact my second novel, not my “debut” novel. (It says “novel” right there on the cover.) But according to what I’ve been told, Catch is technically considered a “young adult book,” as opposed to the “adult” novel that Lucky is, thus allowing us to use the “debut” moniker for this. I do not understand publishing genre nomenclature.

There’s really an FAQ in the novel?

I really can’t shake that early-aughts Eggers stuff. Sorry.

That’s all the questions we have. So there’s probably no reason to bring up the book anymore in this newsletter, we are totally satisfied, please do not feel as if you need to constantly remind us of it, when it’s available to pre-order, how we can get an early copy, whether we should tell our friends to buy it, anything like that whatsoever.

I am certain this will be the last I’ll bring it up.

And seriously, thank you, all of you: Working on this newsletter might be the most satisfying writing I do, and there’s a direct line between this newsletter and what I’m trying to do with this book. So thank you for reading and caring about any of this at all. I now return you to your regularly scheduled global catastrophe.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. The NFL Isn’t Scared of Donald Trump Anymore. None of Should Be, New York. Very rarely do I get one exactly right. I got this one right.

  2. Spike Lee Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. We did the first version of this in 2012, and we’ve been updating it ever since. Here’s a throwback to the long conversation I had with Lee back then.

  3. Better Know a Player: Andres Galarraga, MLB.com. Big Cat!

  4. Baseball Year in Review: 1978, MLB.com. I was three when this year happened. I do not remember it.

  5. What to Watch Instead: Candyman, Vulture. Just a few more of these left.

  6. The Thirty: Best Individual Months, MLB.com. Just in case, you know, the season happens to be a little shorter this year.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, two new movies, Shirley and Tomasso. Also, Pan’s Labyrinth.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, three white dudes in their 40s having hard conversations on this one..

LAUGH THAT I NEEDED THIS WEEK

“What We Do in the Shadows” ended this week, and it has been my only consistent source of laughter during the pandemic. I someday aspire to be known as a Normal Human Bartender. (This is your reminder that Kayvan Novak, who plays Nandor the Merciless, is just as funny in Four Lions.)

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Why Minneapolis Was the Breaking Point,” The Atlantic. Wesley Lowery has had quite the week! This piece is yet another reminder of how much he’s the real deal.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Send 'em:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

I’ve extolled the virtues of Chuck Berry many, many times here, but I’d never seen this video of Berry playing at Blueberry Hill, his restaurant in St. Louis, from 2010. Berry played there once a month until late in his life, and I had the good fortune of seeing him several times when I lived there in 1998-99. In one of his recent books, Chuck Klosterman argued that the figure from rock history who will end up representing the genre in, say, 100 years, is most likely to be Chuck Berry. I would be OK with that.

Good stuff happening, people, I’m telling you. I know this is a scary time. There is much bad news left to come. The next few months are gonna be rough. But I don’t remember anything in my lifetime changing as fast as the last two weeks have changed things. And I think these are gonna stick. It’s gonna be hard, and it’s gonna be scary, but there is good on the other side of this. We just gotta hang on.

Be safe, everyone.

Best,
Will