A strange thing happens when you manage a site like Shotgun Honey where you become intimate with repeat offenders—authors who contribute frequently over the years. The fact that I can say years also gives me an inside look at the growth of many of those offenders. Authors like Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Matthew McBride, Matthew Funk, and so many, many talented folks. And when they sign that first contract I feel perhaps as jubilant at their success as they do. It may be misplaced, but I think of them as my friends. Reading their stories, I’ve already been in their heads.
Today Patricia Abbott and Rob Hart are releasing their debut novels with an amazing new publisher Polis Books, headed by author Jason Pinter (The Mark, The Hunter). Their novels Concrete Angel and New Yorked, respectively, share more than a casual relationship with Shotgun Honey, but a nearly devastating publishing history with the now defunct Exhibit A Press, sibling imprint to Angry Robot Books.
The day that it was announced that Exhibit A Press was folding and immediately ceasing publication my gut simultaneously twisted into knots and dropped. I couldn’t even imagine how it felt for the many writers who had signed with them only months before to have their contracts, theirs books ripped out from under them.
Patricia and Rob have taken time to talk about that news and how Concrete Angel and New Yorked found rebirth in the ashes.
Ron Earl Phillips
June 9, 2015
When you heard Bryon Quertermous’ voice on the phone, did you immediately sense it was bad news? I know I did–not just from his tone but from the fact that he had never communicated with me by phone before. And we are friends as well as editor/writer. I went to his wedding. So his voice on that phone sent chills down my spine. Forgive the cliché, but it was how it felt.I appreciate that he called though. That was the standup thing to do and he did it.
Also did you have some sense trouble was brewing before the call. I did here too because time was passing and I was getting no check and no communication. No response to an email or two I sent them.
It wasn’t his voice that did it. He sent me an e-mail, asking me if I was free for a phone call. And I have no idea why, it was a plain, straight-forward message—but it carried such a foreboding sense of dread that I knew something was very wrong.
And at that point, I was so frustrated with Exhibit A—to be six months out of publication with no advance check, no cover, no edits, nothing, clearly they didn’t have their shit together. Part of me was in denial. I thought there was still time to pull things out. But once I got that e-mail, it wasn’t hard to put together what happened.I felt terrible for Bryon, because I could hear how much it hurt him to make that call. I like to goof on him and pretend it was his fault, but the truth is, we all got jerked around and then very unceremoniously kicked to the curb.
How did you cope? I spent a lot of the following week playing video games and drinking whiskey, convinced my writing career was over.
I think our ages played a part in our response to this debacle. Part of me felt relief. I would not have to put myself out there. I would not have to consult Amazon numbers and wonder how to make a book sell. No self-promotion. Although another part of me felt extreme embarrassment. All the people I had told I was FINALLY going to have a book in print would have to learn I would not. After over one hundred shorts I was still novel-less. You cannot imagine how many people, over the last 20 years, have asked, “And when the novel?”
I remembered doing a piece for Spinetingler a few years back about why I didn’t have a novel. And why didn’t I? Was I that wedded to the short story form? Was I some sort of short story guru?
Because after a certain age, the ambition takes a nosedive. You begin to think, “So what?”
So when Bryon called, I was of two minds as I told him on the phone. Part of me was relieved. But part of me was enraged. How dare a publisher have so little sense of their economic situation that they made offers to writers. Does a contract mean nothing?
You had an agent. What did your agent have to say about this? I have no agent so I was on my own.
My agent was great. After the phone call with Bryon I went outside and sat on the sidewalk and called her, and she was just completely on point. I was a blubbering mess. She cut through the bullshit, told me it sucked, yes, but everything was going to be fine, she was going to get to work that very instant, we’d find a new home, and not to worry.Of course, I was so bereft I didn’t believe any of it. Which isn’t a knock against her. I know there’s a lot of suffering in the world and it’s just a book, but in terms of my publishing career, my hopes and dreams for the future, that was pretty much rock bottom. It’s tough to see the light when you’re sitting at rock bottom.
I know what you mean, though, about being embarrassed. Because I work in publishing, so there’s a certain understanding I go into this with–but to have to explain to my parents, and my in-laws, and my siblings, and my friends–it’s tough. You have to tell the same story over and over, which in a way, makes it worse. If you’re like me, who likes to take shit like that and bury it and pretend it didn’t happen.
How did you end up hooking up with Jason after things fell apart?
Well, that was Bryon again. He emailed me, assured me my book was good, and suggested I try Polis Books where he had gone with Murder Boy. I really didn’t want to do it. I envisioned another round of disappointments. But in the end, I figured, what did I have to lose? I had not been diligent in finding an agent nor in finding a publisher. But finally I sent it out to Polis. And, at about that time, another publisher offered to read it too. So now two new people had some interest in it. But Jason was very quick and offered me a two book deal since I had another book ready to go.At every point along the way, I expected the same thing to happen. Polis was very new and had mostly published ebooks. But Jason Pinter seemed on the ball, doing everything in a timely manner. So I began to feel maybe this would work. And so far it has. I continue to be amazed at how professional Polis has been.
What has impressed you most about Polis, Rob?
“Professional” is the right word. Last night I was out at my local Barnes & Noble, talking to the events coordinator about my signing there. And she said something like ‘It’s so nice that you actually have a publicist.’ Which is funny, because Jason is my publicist. And editor, and marketing team, and sounding board, and advocate…The amount of ground that guy can cover blows me away. He doesn’t sleep. He can’t. I don’t even see how it’s possible.
The thing about Polis is that, since Jason came out of the Big Six NYC meat-grinder, he has to tools and experience of a major publisher, with the passion and can-do attitude of an indie. So it’s a great marriage. He’s open to thinking outside the box, and I don’t have to be afraid of going outside the box for fear of offending someone’s delicate sensibility about “the way things are done.”
I want to take a step back to something you said before–yes, you’re a very prolific short story writer. I knew your name and your work before we became imprint buddies. How does it feel, after so many stories, to be standing on the cusp of a novel?
And in my case, I think of him as my agent too! He’s the only one I go to about any issue. And I am stunned at how quickly he answers me. I have heard stories about writers waiting for weeks to get a response from their agent, never mind their editor or publisher. Transitioning from short stories to a novel feels scary most of the time. I never had expectations about people reading my stories. And I was sort of shocked when people had.
But for the first time, I could have more than three characters in the story. And it could take place over a longer period of time. If felt liberating but at the same time worrisome. Did I have enough to say? Was there enough plot/story to fill 300 pages?
In retrospect, I would not recommend writing short stories for very long before trying to write a novel–if that’s your goal. I think in my case that coming out of a writing program where we were encouraged to get our feet wet on short stories was a bad idea for me. My feet were the only thing wet for a very long time.
Did you have a sequel in mind from the beginning? Did you see your character(s) as needing more than one book to tell their story?
New Yorked was intended to be one-and-done. There were other stories I wanted to write, but I loved the voice of the narrator so much, I eventually came to the realization that I could just write those stories using the same character, and make the series about this kid finding his moral compass and growing into a man.And once that dawned on me, the whole series came together pretty quickly in my head. I’m setting the next few books in places I’ve visited that I really loved–Portland, a hippie commune in Georgia, Eastern Europe. With the fifth coming back home. That’s the plan for now, at least. It’s exciting.
The second, City of Rose, comes out next year from Polis–that was part of my deal. Right now I’m nailing down the third one. Noir at a hippie commune. I think it’s going to be fun.
Is Concrete Angel a stand-alone? If no, would you consider writing a series? And what’s next?
That’s interesting. I think you fell in love with your character. You didn’t want to say goodbye because you knew what he would do next. No, my book is definitely a standalone. I was happy to say goodbye to Eve Moran and allow Christine to go to college and raise her brother. Of course, she did show an aptitude for finding evidence in the end.
My next book is called Shot in Detroit. Parts of it have appeared in several publications (as was the case with this one). When both books were written and it didn’t look like they would see the light of day, I began taking chapters out and rewriting them as short stories. Since I came from that background it was pretty natural for me.
Shot in Detroit is about a struggling photographer in Detroit. She finds a way to elevate her craft and gets into a lot of trouble because of it. I hope to have captured the Detroit of about five years ago, before its recent resurgence.
Can’t wait to read New Yorked, Rob. Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. It’s been great fun. And thanks to Shotgun Honey’s Ron Earl Phillips for suggesting it.
Patricia Abbott is the author of Concrete Angel and forthcoming Shot in Detroit (Polis Books). More than 135 of her stories have appeared in print, many of them with Shotgun Honey. She also published two ebooks (MONKEY JUSTICE and HOME INVASION) through Snubnose Press. She lives in Detroit.
Rob Hart is the associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. His short stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Thuglit, Needle, Kwik Krimes, Joyland, and Helix Literary Magazine. His first novel, New Yorked, is available now. The sequel, City of Rose, will follow early next year.