Volume 3, Issue 59: Spiders (Kidsmoke)

"Spiders are filling out tax returns--spinning out webs of deductions and melodies, on a private beach in Michigan."

Pre-order How Lucky, my novel that comes out May 11. I’m about to try to persuade you why.

We are, as of Sunday, April 11, exactly one month away from the on-sale date for How Lucky, my first book in more than 10 years, my first novel in 16 years and certainly the biggest swing I have ever taken in this particular field. We’ve been tracking the novel’s progress, with occasional awkward starts and stops, in this newsletter for more than two years now. The first time I mentioned it here was with March 2019, when I documented printing out a Microsoft Word copy of it and physically handing it to my agent, like I lived in Wonder Boys or something, but the first-ever file, the initial inkling of the book, was created, according to a huge Dropbox folder called “WHAT LIGHT STUFF” (the original title of the book was What Light), on July 4, 2017. It is titled “JASON GARRIS CHARACTER SKETCH,” because that’s what the character’s name initially was. He eventually became Daniel. I cannot wait for you all to meet Daniel.

The first words of the file:

And here we are, almost four years later … and we are one month from publication. And this is where I need your help.

I know that this newsletter has had more self-promotion, particularly book promotion, than perhaps you had become accustomed to. I apologize for that. But this book is as close as I’ve gotten, at this point, to a purest expression of what I am trying to put out into the world. I’m the biggest skeptic of just about everything I write, but, after going through all these edits, and really bearing down and poking at the pressure points, I can say that it’s one of the few things I think I have actually gotten right. I think the book is good. I’m proud of it. And I want it to do well.

We have been incredibly fortunate so far. There were the positive notices from Stephen King and Richard Russo and Kevin Wilson and Chris Bohjalian, the sort of notices that make you feel like maybe you’re on the right track, the ones who help silence all those doubting voices in your head. The early reviews from the Goodreads folks, whom I’ve discovered are pretty tough critics, have been incredibly encouraging; most of them do seem to get it. There were many times, since I started this thing nearly four years ago, that I worried the book would be greeted with nothing but a collective shrug, yawn or even a sneer. But people who love books, who know them a lot better than I do, seem to love it. I’m grateful, and a bit floored. I think I might want to keep doing this. I think I might want to make more of these. I think I might be good at it.

This is where you come in. The most important aspect of a book’s launch, I’ve discovered during this process, is the number of pre-orders. Pre-ordering is so vital. It encourages bookstores to stock the book. It encourages Amazon to push it up in search. It encourages libraries to grab copies. It encourages the publicity staff to put more muscle behind a book. Pre-orders just get everybody excited, and locked into gear. They also all count toward the first week’s total when it comes to bestseller lists; every book ordered before publication gets rolled into that first week’s count, and trying to make those lists is of considerable importance. It’s particularly important for an author like me, who has a reputation in the world of sports, entertainment and journalism but not much of one in the world of fiction. (Particularly when that fiction has nothing to do with sports, entertainment or journalism.) You’ve got to get over that first hump, where you show that you can sell enough books that they’ll let you do another one. We have a substantial amount of momentum for the book, thanks to King and Russo and Wilson and the word-of-mouth among those who have read it. But we need one final push.

There are enough people who read this newsletter every week that if half of you pre-ordered the book, it would reach The New York Times bestseller list its very first listing. That would accurately be classified as “the hump.” That would legitimize everything we’re doing here, it would give the book a massive push and it would put me in a position where I’d get to write some more of these. It would also make it much less likely that I’d bug you about it with a post like this one. It doesn’t matter where you pre-order: If you want convenience and immediate tallying, you can use Amazon, but if you have problems with Amazon (and honestly, at this point, how could you not?), Bookshop is your best option, as is your own local indie bookstore, like the great Avid Bookshop here in Athens. All that matters is the pre-order.

I know that pre-ordering something, in an instant-gratification world, is itself somewhat swimming upstream against consumer psychology. But we’re only a month away, and it will be here before I know it. Now is the time for that push. Now is the time for the most brazenly commercial, self-promotional newsletter I’ve ever written, perhaps the most I’m physically capable of producing.

This newsletter provides me routine, and comfort, and calm: I consider you, honestly, the ideal audience, a collection of perfect readers, the people I trust in an increasingly scattered and erratic world. I do not use it to sell things, or drive traffic, or to try to talk you into things. It is free of charge, and it will always be free of charge. I use it to have a space, at the end of the week, where I can try to make sense of this planet with kind, open-minded, good-hearted people. It has saved me—you have saved me—during many a moon. I’d have never had the confidence, or even the perspective, to write this book had it not been for this newsletter and all the people I’ve met and corresponded with because of it.

So I wanted, with one month before the launch of a book that I’m as proud of as anything I’ve ever worked on, a book I truly believe you will really like, to reach out and ask, this one time, if you’ll be a part of this with me. Pre-order the danged book, wherever you’d like to. If you send me your address, in fact, with proof of pre-order, I’ll send you a signed bookplate to put in the book when it arrives. (Just respond to this email, or email me at howluckythebook@gmail.com.) And March 2022, when the paperback is out, we’ll get to have a little tour, since we’ll be (hopefully?) in the post-Covid world by then, so we can all meet in person and shake hands and look each other in the eye and drink everything this world’s got to offer up in big huge gulps.

This is the big one, folks. Thank you for sticking with me this long. I’m excited to go on this journey with you. So, one last time: Pre-order the thing. Send me your address. Let’s get this party started.

And, to finish us off, a special treat. Check out this guy. His name is Graham Halstead.

I’ve written four books before How Lucky, but, because the last one was written 11 years ago (and didn’t sell well), I never had an audiobook version done of any of them. But I’ve always wanted one. My words are always going to sound better when someone talented at performance is saying them. It’s fascinating, too, to see how someone else interprets your work: They’re often more right than you are.

When the audiobook was first being put together, my editor gave me a list of four possible narrators. I listened to clips of all of them, and I instantly settled on Halstead, an actor and award-winning narrator. (Photo via Scott McCord Photography.) He had the right mix of earnestness and wry intelligence that conjured Daniel, that main character and first-person narrator of How Lucky; his voice sounded like Daniel’s to me. And that was important. I lived in Daniel’s voice while writing this thing for a long time. It was the one thing I had to get right.

I was fascinated to talk to the guy who, for listeners, would be inhabiting Daniel, and I was curious about what the life of an actor/narrator was like, particularly in a pandemic. So Graham was kind enough to let me ask him some questions, which he graciously answered from his home in Paris.

So I’ve never had an audio version of one of my books before. Is it weird to have an author reach out to you like this? I don’t know if this is intrusive or not.

Not at all weird! Some authors are more engaged with the audio process/me than others, but I am happy to be reached out to. Most often, my part finishes up and I don't get a chance to effuse to the author about how much I enjoyed their work. So lucky me!

How do you get started narrating audiobooks? What’s your process like? Do you read the book and make a ton of notes? Do you prefer first-person or third-person narratives?

I studied acting at NYU and after graduation, got into doing voice over for commercials for Subway and Airborne among others. After auditioning for the Library of Congress, I started narrating books for their program for the visually impaired and my career grew from there. 

My process isn't terribly complex! I first read the book from start to finish and make notes along the way if a character's voice quality is mentioned specifically or if they have a particular accent. I also note words and names whose pronunciation I am unfamiliar with and that either I or the production team will have to research later to make sure we get it right. 

I find first-person narratives more enjoyable as I am able to get up close and personal with a character. I think of those types of books as more of an extended monologue rather than a “story” I am telling. In a third-person narrative however, I feel like I get to know the author a little more, and the narrative voice is more my own presentation of the story or information, in the case of non-fiction.

Have you ever had to do it for a book you didn’t like?

It has happened on occasion! I am lucky enough to be in a place in my career where if I absolutely do not want to take a title (due to content, etc.), I feel like I can say no and I will still be able to work. But every once in a while there's a clunker, and the acting opportunity becomes figuring out a way to express the author's intent in a helpful way and putting my personal reactions in the back seat.

You live in Paris. What has Paris been like during the pandemic?

I moved to Paris with my husband (for his work) at the beginning of 2020, and it has been quite the year to pack everything up and resettle. We are both lucky to be able to continue working amidst the varying levels of lockdowns. While we could certainly have seen ourselves out enjoying France and Europe throughout the past year, I am happy to report the boulangeries have remained open and so the Number of Croissants-and-Baguettes-Eaten has met and surpassed expectations.

Is there anything we can promote for you to my newsletter readers? 

Other than my audiobook narrating, I've spent the past year sharing watercolor paintings of my time here in France through social media. For now, anyone looking for a glimpse of France through my eyes can follow me on Instagram @grahamhalstead, and in the near future my Etsy page will go live and I will have prints available for purchase.

So, did you like my book? If you didn’t, feel free to lie. Was there anything about this book that was particularly challenging or unusual?

I may be a trained actor, but there's no need to act like I liked HOW LUCKY. I adored it! The characters are rich with intelligence, humanity and humor, and that makes it an especially enjoyable experience as a narrator. I hope your readers and listeners fall in love with Daniel as much as I did. 

I found the climax of the book very emotional to narrate - read: crying in my dark recording booth while my cat wonders if I've finally cracked. I think it's a testimony to your skill as a writer and your own success in imbuing the character of Daniel with such a clear and specific voice. Bravo!

Check out Graham’s work at his Website. He’s the best. I cannot wait to listen to his version of How Lucky.

So: You can pre-order the book right now. If you don’t want to use Amazon, I recommend Bookshop. Or Avid, my local bookstore here in Athens. As I may have mentioned: pre-ordering is very helpful.

(OK, we’re done now. Thank you.)

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

  1. What’s Really Behind MLB Pulling Out of the All-Star Game? New York. This is my theory, anyway.

  2. The Thirty: First Impressions For Every Team on MLB Opening Weekend, MLB.com. I cannot overstate how good for the soul it is to have baseball back.

  3. The Most Amusing On-Pace-For Stats of the First Week of the MLB Season, MLB.com. An annual chestnut, one I very much love.

  4. The Georgia Voting Law Is Bad, Here’s Why, Medium. When someone tries to make the “the law’s no big deal” case, hopefully this will provide a helpful link to send them.

  5. Melissa McCarthy Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. With Thunder Force.

  6. Internet Nostalgia: Keyboard Cat, Medium. The last cat I truly loved.

  7. How Worried Should Each of These Contenders Be? MLB.com. The A’s, sure looks like, should be awfully worried.

  8. We Could Be Living in This Pandemic Purgatory for a While, Medium. It wouldn’t be all bad.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Nobody,” “Bad Trip” and “Synedoche, New York.”

Seeing Red, we looked back at that lousy first weekend series with the Reds. (Hopefully we’re gonna be on Apple Podcasts next week.)

People Still Read Books, no show this week.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week, taping next week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The Surge,” Jim Newell, Slate. I’ve slashed my political coverage significantly in the last couple months, mostly for my own mental health. (It also feels like, for the first time in five years, that the world won’t burn down if you take your eyes away from it for a couple of weeks.) Jim Newell’s fantastic, hilarious weekly newsletter The Surge make sure I don’t miss too much. This bit on Matt Gaetz kills me:

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Golf Competitions That I Personally Care About

  1. Holy Moley

  2. The Masters

  3. Yeah, that’s it, and I’m pushing it at 6, if I’m being honest.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“My My Metrocard,” Le Tigre. The Black Table had an official house mix that we’d take to every party from, like, 2002-05, and this was the first song on it. This is the most Black Table LES obnoxious stuff, but I do miss it.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

This was my Tuesday. God I missed it so.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will