Volume 4, Issue 15: Rick Ankiel
"These sort of mid-career switches are nearly impossible to pull off."
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Before we start with the usual prattle this week, I did want to briefly mention the stunning leaked Supreme Court decision/deliberation/decision from Monday night that appears likely to overturn Roe v. Wade. Just about everyone I know has been walking around in a fog since the decision leaked, as the reality of just how much our country is about to change in the decision’s wake has sunk in. (This also says a bit about the people I surround myself with, I will grant.) I’m a middle aged straight white dad, and my voice should not be one of the louder ones in the room here, so I’ll be brief. The ramifications of Roe v. Wade being overturned—neverminding what other rights that the decision could lead to eventually being crawled backward—will alter everyone’s lives in ways that I suspect will surprise many with their scope. Women, obviously, but men, too. This Jill Filipovic thread was instructive, I thought:
There’s a terrific French film called Happening that was just released—we’re discussing it on the podcast this week—that’s an adaptation of an Annie Ernaux novel about a brilliant literature student in 1960s Paris who accidentally gets pregnant when abortion was still illegal in France. Fearing—correctly, the movie argues—that all of her dreams and potential will vanish if she has a baby she does not want and cannot care for, she spends much of the film in a race against the clock trying, and failing, to get an abortion. The movie occupies that eerie, harrowing space of being historical fiction that is also points to our own very-near future. As Ty Burr wrote this week, “I’m under no illusions that any judicial minds or votes would be changed by the movie, but least they’d be forced to confront the hellscape they want this country to return to and the potential suffering half the population stands to endure.” I’d argue it’s a lot more than half. The film could not possibly have been timed more poignantly. To quote Manohla Dargis in the Times: “When I first saw the movie, it felt like a warning shot from a still-distant land. Now it feels urgently of the moment.”
It is sometime difficult to remain optimistic, and to feel as if there is anything you can do. I find myself listening to voices wiser and more relevant than my own, doing my best to push for the right people to be in charge and trying to be useful in any way I can. I am sorry for all of us.
All righty. Back to the usual prattle.
This week, on Tuesday, the paperback version of my book How Lucky will be released. Paperback versions of books aren’t as big a deal as they used to be. When I wrote God Save the Fan back in 2008, the hardcover edition was almost considered to exist mostly as vanity for authors; the real money and sales came from paperbacks. That has changed, mostly because so many more people are reading e-books, whose purchases are generally considered as initial-sale, hardcover, numbers. Paperbacks are more for your more casual sales, your Targets, your Wal-Marts, so on. The understanding is that the people who really love books, the people who still buy them, will do so the first time around. Paperbacks aren’t even necessarily cheaper; you should buy from your local bookstore, but if you were to buy How Lucky from Amazon, the paperback is actually three bucks more expensive than the hardcover. If anything, the paperback is the vanity version now. Having a paperback version produced at all means you were fortunate enough to have sold enough of the hardcover that the publisher even deemed the book worthy enough of one.
I’ve learned all this in the last year—and I’m probably even getting some stuff wrong, I’m very new to this, because, on Wednesday, it will have been one year since How Lucky was released. If you were subscribing to this newsletter a year ago, you will remember the constant fretting and worry about the book, which I wrote as a labor of love right before the pandemic hit without any assurances that it would ever be published. Way back in March 2019, I wrote in this newsletter about printing the whole thing out at a UPS Store and, during a dinner in New York City, handing it to my agent, who didn’t even know I had been working on it. I told him I did not care what happened to it, or how many copies I sold; I just wanted it published, somewhere, by someone. It was a long process, with 29 different publishers turning it down, until it found the right home with Harper Books and my editor Noah Eaker. Harper and Noah understood the book, and believed it would find an audience—believed it, frankly, more than I did.
It turned out they were right. A year later, I’ve remain blown away by the reaction to How Lucky, from the positive reviews to the end-of-the-year lists to the Book of the Month Club selection to the Edgar and Alex Awards to, perhaps the honor I’m happiest about, the embrace of the book by the SMA community. This little book that I wrote in secret continues to connect with people in ways I never could have anticipated. It’s the sort of thing that will make you feel a little less alone in the world.
And it has changed me too. Having written a book that, while hardly reaching the levels of sales or literary success as the true geniuses of the field, has been widely embraced and has pointed my life and career in new, exciting directions. Shortly after How Lucky hit stores, I signed a deal with Harper to write two more novels, both of which will come out over the next two-to-three years. The first of those novels—a more expansive, more ambitious, probably too ambitious, book that’s currently about 40,000 words longer than How Lucky, one I started writing in August 2021 and is now almost done—is going to be filed to my editor as early as next week. We’ll see how that one sells, but no matter what, there’s at least one more coming after that one. (I’ve already cashed part of the advance, so I have no choice at this point.) Before How Lucky, I had never considered myself a novelist, or any sort of creative sort like that; I just like sitting down and writing a bunch of words, sending them out into the universe, and then sitting back down and writing a bunch more. That has always been enough.
But I will confess: I have discovered that I truly, deeply enjoy writing longform fiction, helping create worlds and people that I find myself luxuriating in the presence of, and missing when I’m not around them. I think I might even not be that bad at it. I’m 46 years old, I’ve been writing essays and reported features about sports and movies and politics for 25 years now, and I will continue to. But having a mid-career turn like this has been undeniably exciting, and invigorating. It could all fall apart, and it could all fall apart quickly. It’s possible everyone will hate the new book, and the one after that one, and then we’re done, this is over, How Lucky was an odd little fluke, back to movie reviews and listing of MVP candidates for you. I hope that doesn’t happen—though for what it’s worth I also very much enjoy writing movie reviews and listing MVP candidates—but if it does, I’m all right with that too. Most people don’t get to add something new in their mid-40s. I’m grateful for all of it.
But the paperback release of How Lucky does feel like an end of a chapter. The next book takes place in Athens, and there are two minor characters in How Lucky who have larger roles in it, but that’s all for Daniel, Travis and Marjani. I do feel like their story has been told. I care very deeply for all three of them, and I do catch myself thinking about what they’re doing now. I owe them so much. There was a time that I would make fun of writers who said things like that. But I understand it now. I used to always say that my professional life—which, let’s face it, isn’t all that indistinguishable from my personal life—could be broken up into two eras: Before Deadspin, and after Deadspin. Now I think it might be three: Before Deadspin, After Deadspin and After How Lucky. I am fortunate to have been granted a second act.
And you know: I have you to thank too. This newsletter has always been the vital, primary outlet for me, a place to experiment, to get weird sometimes, to get a little bit too granular, to maybe say a little more than I probably should, to express myself in the exact way I want to without financial or traffic pressures (these things have to have the least SEO friendly headlines imaginable), to connect with tens of thousands of people I otherwise would never have the opportunity to meet. I would have never had the confidence to write How Lucky if it weren’t for this newsletter and your willingness to indulge me every week. So thank you. I mean it.
I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, for any of us. It’s possible no one buys another book; it’s possible we all live in Gilead in two years; it’s possible everything ends up bursting into flames. But, this week, as we metaphorically turn the page on How Lucky and move onto whatever comes next, I’m just grateful that I got to know Daniel and so many of you got to know him too. I may not make anything else worthwhile the rest of my life. But I’m glad I made How Lucky. I am going to celebrate that, one last time. And then it’s time for what’s next—whatever that may be.
For what it’s worth, if anyone is in the Athens area, we are having a paperback release event this Tuesday, May 10. It’s at the Athens-Clarke County Library, co-sponsored by the great Avid Bookshop, and then we’ll all go out drinking afterward. Look, there’s even a flyer:
And because we did this with the hardcover, and I have a whole bunch of bookplates left over, if you order a copy of the paperback version of How Lucky and send me a picture of yourself with it at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll send you a signed bookplate.
And then we’ll move on from How Lucky. Promise.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Baseball’s Unwritten Rules Are Unwritten Because They’re Actually Just Excuses to Get in Fights, New York. Been wanting to get this one off my chest for a while.
The Seven Current Most Fascinating Players in Baseball, MLB.com. This is a new feature I came up with that I think might be kind of fun.
The White House Correspondent’s Dinner Shows How You Handle Jokes, Medium. Being funny is, uh, good,
Nobody Cares Who Leaks Things, Medium. And they shouldn’t.
Five Fiesty (But Losing) Teams, MLB.com. I’ve done more praising of the Cubs early this season than I am necessarily comfortable with.
The Thirty: Every Team’s MVP So Far, MLB.com. How many different times can I type the words “Nolan Arenado” this week?
Your Friday Five, Medium. OK, smarty, go to a party.
The Long Game With LZ and Leitch, we discussed the NFL Draft, the NBA Playoffs and talked with Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty. Yes, that Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty.
Grierson & Leitch, one great movies this week, with “Vortex,” “Hatching” and “Irma Vep,” guess which one.
Seeing Red, Bernie and I try to figure out this offense.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Why It’s So Hard to Get Eight Hours of Sleep,” Elizabeth Preston, Knowable. As a notorious not-much-sleeper-and-still-just-finer, I appreciated the validation here.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Sad Professor,” R.E.M. As a longtime lover of Up—which turns 25 next year, holy crap—this is my favorite underappreciated R.E.M. song off their most underappreciated album. And it gets sadder as I get older, which, you know, thanks for that.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Have a great weekend, all. Don’t lose your shirt on the ponies.