Welcome Again Unsolicited Manuscripts

With the success of three of our recent titles that came to us as unsolicited manuscripts, we have decided we had better open our doors again and encourage more.

In late April of 2013 Anne Holman of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake read Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road in what we call “pre-galley galley” form.  She liked it so much she and store owner Betsy Burton helped run it up the flag pole with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and get it on  the ABA’s “Indies Introduce” list. Later, after THP’s Kirsten Allen went to New York with Charlie for Book Expo America, the title was also added to the ABA’s prestigious “Indie Next” list. Monument Road came to us unsolicited and without an agent and is our best seller to date.

Almost 18 months ago, Scott Graham wrote us a textbook-classic cover letter for his submission of Canyon Sacrifice. I read his delightful manuscript but I wasn’t planning on Torrey House doing commercial fiction like Scott’s mystery.  Scott followed up with a phone call that he was coming to Salt Lake from Durango to ski along with Andrea Avantaggio from Maria’s Bookshop in Durango and did we want to sit down for a coffee. Later, while Andrea was snowed in at Winter Institute in Kansas City, she called me to say she loved the manuscript and could easily sell it. In May this year, Andrea held the launch of Canyon Sacrifice at Maria’s and thinks they may have sold more copies that lovely night (Kirsten and I attended) than they had for any other launch.  The title has already gone to a second printing and Kirsten and Scott are working on his next project, Mountain Rampage, due out in June 2015. Scott came to us unsolicited and without an agent.

A few months before we received Scott Graham’s submission we received a quiet, understated, but powerful cover letter and manuscript from Braden Hepner out of Rexburg, Idaho. I sat down with his novel and read it straight through. The writing moved me to the point I was bugged about it and I declined the submission. But the characters and scenery stayed with me and I had to go back and read the manuscript again. No wonder the words wouldn’t let me go. The manuscript was just flat good. We called Braden back and went up to Rexburg to see him and his family and sign him up. Later, with a lot of shoe leather on our publicist Anne Terashima’s and Kirsten’s part, cowboy boot leather in Kirsten’s case, working up and down the streets of New York and Chicago, we got the trade press to take a look. And they loved it. Two starred reviews are out for Pale Harvest, one from Publishers Weekly and one from Kirkus Reviews.  Braden is a find. He came to us unrepresented and unsolicited.

We have a philosophy of putting the wood behind the arrow where things are working. Charlie, Scott and Braden are delightful authors and their titles are assets to our growing list. If you think you have something as good as their work, send it on in.  -Mark Bailey

 

Posted in Anne, Independent Bookstores, Kirsten, Submissions, THP Blog | 2 Comments

Two Good Men

Abbott and Rushforth Read at The King's English

Abbott and Rushforth read at The King’s English

Two men stand silhouetted against an  sublime sunset, scholars perhaps, contemplating their place in the cosmos.  Such is the cover image,suggested by author Scott Abbott, by 19th -century German Romantic landscape painter, Caspar David Friedrich.  Friedrich’s paintings characteristically set a human presence in perspective in expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs “the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension.” A smart, appropriate and elegant cover for a smart and elegant book .  And then, of course, a mountain bike ran over it. (see it here)

The best thing about publishing has been the people we meet.  Scott Abbott and Sam Rushforth are smart, passionate, highly educated men.  Not to mention strong enough to conquer mountain bike trails that put younger men to shame.  Last night they opened Wild Rides and Wildflowers at the incomparable The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake to a standing room only crowd.  Before the reading we grabbed dinner next door to the store with Scott and Sam and the women they dedicated the book to, Lyn and Nancy.  Sam and Nancy have just retired from Utah Valley University while Scott and Lyn continue their stint there a while longer.  Dinner conversation ranged from publishing to how death and dying is taught and covered in the humanities.  You should have been there.

Next door, as Scott and Sam elegantly took us through the book, alternately making us laugh and cry, I was hit by one of those moments of clarity where I was glad to be a publisher and proud that we had a part in making this work see the light of day.  These men are full of heart and love.  The proof is in their lives.  No fewer than three of their sons came up to Kirsten afterwords thanking her for publishing their dad’s work.  I think she was feeling pretty happy too.

-Mark Bailey

Posted in Book Review, Environmental, topical nonfiction, Independent Bookstores, Literature and Philosophy, Literature and the Environment, Publishing, West, Western Lit | Leave a comment

Lessons of Another Season

Most of the work is done for our Fall/Winter 2013 book season.  We are just back from four trade shows.  Kirsten and I were hosted by our fabulous reps Howard Karel and Lise Solomon at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association show in South San Francisco, Anne by the gracious Bob Harrison at the Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Association show in Portland and all three of us by our fairy godmother, Dory Dutton, at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association show in Denver.  And author Charlie Quimby was hosted by John Mesjak at the Heartland Fall Forum in Chicago.  Thanks to all.

We enjoyed the energy, generosity and enthusiasm for books of all the terrific folks we meet in this biz.  And we learned a lot.  We learned, for instance, that the shows aren’t as much about selling books as they are about building relationships.  I admit, I was a bit naive about this fact.  Charlie’s title, Monument Road, is getting extra attention and will even be on the ABA’s IndieNext list in November after a starred review this month by Booklist.  All that is an accomplishment that Charlie and THP can be proud of.  But it isn’t moving the sales needle much.  We are still optimistic that this title will sell itself as it gets out there next month, but again, I’m surprised we weren’t able to create some orders now.

In order to do justice to great novels by new authors like Charlie, THP is going to have to build our brand a bit more.  It means we will have to be more selective for awhile about the track record of the authors we hire.  The trade respects, like nothing else, the author’s previous track record.  If there isn’t one, and it isn’t recent, the trade is dubious and reluctant.  I spent this morning on the dreary job of submission rejections.  There was some good stuff in there from lively, attractive authors, but we just don’t feel we could do the titles justice.  We are going to increase our focus on relationships with agents for the coming year and see where it leads.  Onward, at any rate.  -Mark Bailey

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Why Culture Matters

The day I realized I am a Westerner, I was in New York City. I was visiting family in my hometown and bent down to talk to my three-year-old in what felt like a miniature grocery store aisle. Crouching among tiny, packed shelves and tiny, packed shopping carts, I understood: I am at home in wide open space. I am a Westerner. In the midst of what is arguably the cultural capital of the country, I understood that my identification with the West is shaped not only by its landscapes, but by its culture. The stories of Stegner and Abbey, the art of Remington and Moran help explain me to myself. Of course, culture matters more than just as a reflection of identity.  It also conveys values, questions norms, and celebrates life.

Though the West is more urbanized than most of the country, with more of each states’ population living in cities than not, many of us in the West are here because of its big open skies, majestic mountains, cold running streams, sublime and spectacular deserts. From the words of Ivan Doig and Terry Tempest Williams to the transcendent light-play of Douglas Snow and Bonnie Posselli and the soaring dynamics of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir our literature, art, and music illustrate these landscape qualities and express their value. If you live in the West, chances are that you feel connected to the land in some way, that you identify with a relationship to it whether as a steward who tames it to use its raw materials, a steward who strives to conserve its most natural state, a recreation enthusiast reveling in wild places, a pilgrim seeking solace and spirit—or a combination of the above. The identity you take reflects how you value the landscape, and the stories you tell, read, and share about it convey the values you hold. Culture matters because it is the vehicle for sharing our values and shaping our identity.

In addition to conveying values, culture illustrates and even questions norms. As America’s nineteenth century cities grew more industrial, writers, artists, and musicians looked west for inspiration, and in the process changed American identity by incorporating the heroes and hardships of the American West. It was the last frontier, the last place settled by Europeans—and for good reason. With annual precipitation sometimes a quarter of that typically received east of the Mississippi River and strewn with unnavigable rivers and canyons, the West didn’t offer much promise of successful settlement. The literature shaped by the West shows an evolution of identity and values. Mark Twain explored the ruggedness of the Western landscape and the people who settled and developed it despite its crushing difficulties. John Muir suggested that the wild places being conquered held other benefits, some more spiritual than material. Edward Abbey went further, arguing not only that wild places are a spiritual resource but also that our land management practices are destroying them. Today, writers such as Timothy Egan and Erica Olsen contemplate both the desolation of destruction and the still point of hope that can lead us to new ways of living with the land.

Indeed, living with the land is the crux of our culture here in the West. And celebrating our place-based culture adds richness to our lives. Beginning September 28 and 29, the Utah Humanities Council brings the Utah Humanities Book Festival to the Salt Lake City Library and venues across the state throughout October, giving every Utahn the opportunity to participate in the creation of our culture.

-Kirsten Johanna Allen

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Let Them Paddle, by Alan S. Kesselheim – Review

Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the WaterLet Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water by Alan S. Kesselheim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In middle age the notion of doing what you love and then figuring out how to make a living at it gets ever more attractive. I cringe at the notion of my old business buddies calling and asking how my new publishing biz is going. They listen politely and if feeling dismissive say it sounds more like an expensive hobby and if expansive that it must be a labor of love. It is about the land for me, and I do love it. And I do intend to make it into a business.

Al Kesselheim is making a living as an avid outdoorsman, as in look it up in the dictionary and it says “see Kesselheim.” He met and fell in love with his wife in the backcountry of southern Utah. She may be even more intense about living in natural places than he is. They were into big expeditions, including two year long canoe trips in Canada. They bought a Pakboat canoe, folded it up, packed their gear, hired a float plane, and in they went. Along the way, after numerous heartbreaking failed pregnancies, all three of their children ended up on their first canoe trips, in the womb. His wife, Marypat Zitzer, knows that it is not good science to speculate, but the fact that she was out in her beloved wilds when she first was able to take a pregnancy to term she thought was not a coincidence.

As a writer, Kesselheim makes hay out of his experiences in this memoir. I hope he is still able to make a living this way. As a close observer, as good writers are, he more deeply enjoyed the growth of his kids than many of us might do. The backbone of the book is three river trips with his young adult kids on the rivers they first ran in Mom. The places and people are observed, the wildness indulged, and the kids grow up natural citizens of their environment. It was a chuckle how often the Kesselheims enjoyed being in outback nature au naturale.

Kesselheim is a naturalist who knows his flora and fauna. It is part of the pleasure of going along for the ride. As a guy who enjoys looking up at night, I do have to point out that a sliver of moon seen in the evening is setting, not rising, and that a bright star in the morning is Venus. There.

And nice paperback treatment by Fulcrum Publishing. I like the French fold cover leafs. Very classy. But enough with the deckle edges! -Mark Bailey

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Posted in Book Review, Environment, Suggested Reading, West, Western Lit | Leave a comment

Prisoner of Zion, by Scott Carrier – Review

Prisoner of Zion: Muslims, Mormons and Other MisadventuresPrisoner of Zion: Muslims, Mormons and Other Misadventures by Scott Carrier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As we hone our strategy and niche at Torrey House Press (THP), I am thinking a lot about the West, and the land, and what it means to live in such a beautiful, crazy place. Wallace Stegner spoke of the “geography of hope” and of a culture to match the scenery. Sometime I think, given the predominate culture in Utah, that THP should move to some place like Berkeley where there may be more than one progressive thinker to buy our books. Utah is amongst the reddest of states politically and as such anti-environmentalism is a required political plank for the rank and file here. My heck, as we say, we earmark $300,000 of taxpayer treasure to anti-wolf lobbyists every year even though there is not one known wolf in the entire state. What we really worry about, according to those lobbyists, is MEXICAN wolves. But we are dead last in the nation for per capita education funding. We are anti-immigration, anti-environment, anti-womens’ health, pro gun and pro war. The word Taliban often comes to mind.

So it is with a hoot of delight and recognition that I read Scott Carrier say, “It doesn’t bother me that Mormons believe God grew up as a human being on a planet circling a sun called Kolob. I’m not upset when they tell me He came to Earth in a physical body and had sex with the Virgin Mary. These beliefs, as Jefferson said, can neither pick my pocket nor break my bones.” Carrier says he does have a problem with one belief, ” . . . that Mormons are God’s chosen people and He gave this land to them. This is Zionism, and I’m against it, wherever it occurs, because it is nothing but a lie used to justify taking land and liberty from other people.” He adds that he respects the thinking of his liberal, open minded Mormon friends, as do I, and of which there are plenty, and that they are slow to judge others. Who is this guy? I’m only on page 8 and he’s got me.

Carrier goes on to examine why he loves living in Utah anyway. As do I. The next chapter starts with him examining the reason he wants to go to Afghanistan right after 9-11. “I don’t believe the news. The news is selling war and we’re buying it. We’re the richest nation on the planet and Afghanistan is the poorest nation on the planet. It’s not war, it’s a business, a trap, and we are walking right into it.” This guy is good, I think. He’s off to Afghanistan where he sees Taliban for himself. He ends up bringing a young man back as a student to Utah County. In the end, lives are changed. Mine was, just sitting in my armchair reading this book.  -Mark Bailey

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Four Girls, Two Canoes: A Trip Down Labyrinth Canyon

My experiences with water have not been unusual. I wash dishes. I water the tomato plants on my balcony, when I remember. I enjoy lounging by implausibly blue swimming pools while reading, slathered in SPF 50. Sometimes I even take baths. So when I found myself floating down the Green River in a yellow canoe, jumping out to swim, watching herons, silver fish, and a beaver, I was in over my head—in the best possible way.

 Three friends and I were three and a half days on the river, figuring out how to paddle (if a canoe paddle had settings, like a radio dial or a toaster, they would include: Meditative (Right, Left), Leisurely (Right, Left), Slight Corrective (Right, Left), and Pensive (Right, Left). For a while, ours were frequently Frantic, Over-the-Top, Frenzied, or Sporadic—eventually we learned to tune in correctly).

 Red cliffs, blue sky, white clouds; richer and more complex than the jumbo boxes of Crayolas I relished as a child. None of us brought cameras, but I recall moments as snapshots infused with warm breeze and cool currents, bird calls and moonlight, rivulets of sandy sweat, sharp stings of bug bites. The first night, we set up tents and collapsed inside, before dinner and bed. On our last night, we stretched out on a beach and looked at the stars. Dark shapes appeared around us on the mudpacked sand: frogs, illuminated by our headlamps, delicate-looking and spotted.

 That night, as we drifted off to sleep, Kira sat up suddenly in the tent pitched next to mine. “I forgot my keys in Anne’s car.” This announcement, met with stunned silence, meant that when we reached Mineral Bottom, her Jeep would be waiting for us—but we’d have no way to drive it back  to Green River State Park. What could we do but keep on paddling? Hope that someone would take mercy on us and give us a ride. Hope that someone would be there at all.

 In the morning, a half-delighted shriek: Lauren had found a frog in our cutlery.

 A half-hour after we arrived at the deserted Mineral Bottom, minutes after I’d waded back into the river figuring I might as well go for a dip—who knows how long we’d be waiting?—a rickety shuttle pulled up, depositing a bachelor party onto the shore. I’m sure we gave them a promising start to their pre-wedding venture: four girls in various states of undress and distress running toward them, visibly excited and relieved.

 We hitched a ride with the shuttle’s driver, Doug, a large, ruddy-skinned man who listens to Vivaldi every morning (“Gets my thoughts in line,”) and longs for the good ol’ days (“Used to be I wouldn’t hafta call the shuttle company and charge you—we could stop by Ray’s and shoot some pool and I’d buy you a beer. Now there’s all them regulations.”)

 Several hours later than planned, we were back in Salt Lake City—unscathed, except for slight sunburns. Hearing about our trip, you might call it a disaster; after all, we’d spent much more time and money than intended. But I’d rather turn my dial to Meditative and picture cliffs and sky.

—Anne

Posted in Anne, Environment, THP Blog, West | 3 Comments