Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Old review in a new bottle
Nothing cheers up an aging author like a sudden spotlight on one of his old, out-of-print, almost forgotten books.
Yesterday Eric Smith, a habitue of this blog and the director of the Ontonagon Township Library way up in Steve Martinez Country -- that's Upper Michigan to you outlanders -- picked up the March 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews. On its cover he spotted a lovely notice of my 1997 book Flight of the Gin Fizz, the story of my learning to fly and retracing the transcontinental route of a celebrated early birdman.
The critic Gregory McNamee seems to be writing a regular feature, "Lost in the Stacks," reviving old books he once reviewed and liked. Back in '97 he reviewed the book for Tucson Weekly, and he has dusted it off and updated it a bit for Kirkus.
Kirkus Reviews is not the kind of publication you find in supermarket magazine racks. It has a small circulation aimed at the general book trade -- librarians, publishers, literary and film agents, film and TV producers, booksellers and literary journalists like me. It publishes short reviews of new books two to three months in advance of their official appearances in the stores. Like its brethren, Publishers Weekly and Booklist, it's influential in the trade and often a good review suggests how a book will be received by the press and public.
Not in the case of Gin Fizz, however. That book was ill-starred. It had the bad luck to be published at HarperCollins just as Rupert Murdoch put at its head a bottom-line-oriented publisher who ordered scores of modest but significant book projects killed (mine was about to appear, hence was spared the ax) and the company's focus aimed at popular best sellers instead. Many editors left HarperCollins in protest, including mine -- a talented fellow who had shepherded my two previous books into print.
Gin Fizz was, in the term of the trade, orphaned. With the departure of my editor no one was left to champion it in sales meetings, to push for promotion and advertising dollars. HarperCollins just shoved the book out the door and forgot all about it.
Though Gin Fizz won a few reviews, most of them favorable, sales were dismal and the book was quickly remaindered and went out of print.
It happens to lots of authors. I just went on and became a mystery novelist.
But Gin Fizz is still the favorite of my nonfiction books. Researching it -- learning to fly and buying a little two-seater airplane and flying it from New York Harbor to California -- was a great hairy-chested adventure for a balding middle-aged writer. More than any other book I've done, it gave new dimension to my life.
I don't expect the latter-day Kirkus notice to stir much in the way of industry interest. The book already had its chance twelve years ago.
Still, it's nice to know Gin Fizz hasn't been completely forgotten.
Thanks, McNamee. Thanks, Eric.