Today marks the official release of George McCormick’s Inland Empire. We extend our good wishes to George for the success of his novel—the first published by Queen’s Ferry Press. We hope readers will recognize in Inland Empire, and the novels that follow, the same commitment to substance and style as evidenced in our short story collections, and continue to support the writers crafting the transportive literary fiction we are still so proud to publish.
James Magruder recounts his roll call of personal debt, accumulated during the 19 years in the making of Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, to be published by Queen’s Ferry Press in June 2016.
In early November 1996, I was on a train from Baltimore, where I lived and worked, to New Haven, where I had spent most of the ‘80’s in graduate school, first in the Yale French department and then at the Yale School of Drama. I was making the trip because a musical for which I had written the book, Triumph of Love, was going up at the Yale Repertory Theater, with pre-Broadway hopes.
Avoiding my overdue rewrites for Triumph, I began a novel, one that would celebrate my crazy first year—1983-1984—in the French PhD program, when I lived in a graduate dorm called Helen Hadley Hall with a host of international eggheads, who were whip-smart about everything but the directions that their hearts and groins should follow. I wrote in longhand in a spiral notebook. Bill Clinton had just beat Bob Dole and won his second term in office. It was that long ago.
Broadway came and went the following year, but I kept on with my dorm of fools. I finished a first draft in May 2001. Then titled Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart (after a Florine Stettheimer painting), the manuscript was 145,000 words long. It had nineteen major characters. It was written mostly in dialogue. Imagine A Confederacy of Dunces (one of my favorite comic novels) without an Ignatius J. Reilly at its center. Imagine a sprawling, mid-career Robert Altman movie, not the glorious Nashville, but one of the lousy ones, like Health or Prêt-à-Porter.
That was my baby, and like Ignatius with his journal entries, I thought the work was “particularly fine.” Clearly, absolutely, indubitably, I didn’t know what I was doing.
That was nineteen years ago. When Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall is published next May by Queen’s Ferry Press, it will have been two decades in the making, nearly a third of my life. My baby girl has lost nearly 68,000 words and is now the age of a college junior. The academic year she recounts is prehistoric: pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-sushi, pre-cash machine (at least in Connecticut), pre-Fall of the Soviet Union. Madonna was a brand-new artist. The Apple Corporation released its first MacIntosh personal computer. President Ronald Reagan created a holiday in February for Martin Luther King, Jr. That “the gay cancer” was caused by the HIV virus had yet to be discovered.
But enough with the plot points. I was supposed to write about acknowledgments.
I have noticed that with each additional book a fiction writer publishes, his or her acknowledgments page gets shorter. Love Slaves is my third book, and I find that my roll call of personal debt grows longer every time. If I were to acknowledge all the creatures great and small that contributed to the gestation and publication of Love Slaves, it might read longer than Heart of Darkness or In Praise of Folly.
Given the pre-production schedule, I submitted my actual Acknowledgments Page to Queen’s Ferry Press back in April. I was overjoyed with the opportunity, but sad that not everyone could be included. Think of what follows then as the unabridged “Director’s Cut.”
Thanks to the Publications Intern at Center Stage, my former employer, who, in 2000, cheerfully converted my floppy discs (remember those?) from older Word Perfect files to other formats, leaving me to correct tens of thousands of diacritical marks (e.g., a “ in the first program changed to ^ in the second). Thanks to Center Stage for allowing me to abuse the copy and postage machines when every February I mailed a three-pound envelope with hopes of winning The Peter Taylor Prize. Thanks to Arlo Crawford, über-agent Bill Clegg’s assistant for his kind rejection in 2002 which he said Love Slaves was like “a younger, hipper Robertson Davies,” thereby giving me a handle with which to besiege other agents early in the present milennium. Thanks to the agent who personally called to tell me that a professional manuscript should be double-spaced. I had been using a 1½ space format. (Less paper, less postage, less expense.) Thanks to the Wheaton-Warrenville Wolverines, Class of 1978, whose last names I commandeered for my characters. Thanks to Poets & Writers magazine: every two months I could keep the dream alive via the contest listings in the back pages.
Several post-public reading comments from colonists at the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts came at just the right moment to be useful. Journalist Charles Graeber (The Good Nurse) said, “Get to the ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ Sing-Off as fast as you can.” Painter Katie Merz said, “This is an historical novel.” Poet Aaron Baker (Mission Work) wondered how I had spelled “cashz” (short for “casual”). A video artist whose name I’ve blocked said, “Wow. That’s like eating an entire turkey in one sitting.”
Finally, I find myself most especially grateful to IVAX Pharmaceuticals, over in Ireland. They sell a product called PROAIR-HPR (aka albuterol sulfate), an aerosol inhalant for people who have occasional breathing problems. Believe me, when I started Love Slaves in 1996, I didn’t have late-onset asthma, or a mortgage, or back hair, or a testy male bladder. Or, most important of all, the proper narrator for the novel.
In the wee morning hours of 11.11.11, I was having trouble sleeping in my bedchamber at the VCCA. I’d been there for nearly a week and felt that my rewrites, to be frank, sucked. I woke up wheezing and panicky and without talent. After a trip to the bathroom, I picked up my inhaler. Albuterol acts as a stimulant. One puff—I might be able to fall back to sleep. Two puffs—forget about it. Breathe or sleep?
I took two hits. I tossed and turned, waiting for my bronchial tubes to re-open while my mind roiled with authorial dissatisfactions. I was a third of the way through what I hoped was my final draft of Love Slaves, but the narrator—my fourth in a decade, mind you—was still giving me trouble. What if I left the VCCA early?—What if I applied to nursing school?—what if X were the narrator?
What if X were the narrator? X had been hiding in plain sight on the very first page of Love Slaves for fourteen years. (I won’t reveal the identity of X because I want you to read the book.)
Eureka! Hallelujah! Holy Christ, what took you so long? You never saw such a happy face at the VCCA breakfast bar. I raced to my studio and went back to page one. It would take me another two years to complete this final rewrite, in a gated marble prison of my own devising on Mutungo Hill in Kampala, Uganda, and then another year to find Erin McKnight at Queens’ Ferry—but those stories are for another day, perhaps.
In the meantime, then, a huge shout-out to IVAX Pharmeuticals, and personal thanks to the reader who can tell me the numerological significance of a triple eleven.
James Magruder is the author of two previous books of fiction, Sugarless and Let Me See It, and the book for the Broadway musical Triumph of Love.
You Can Walk Home to be published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2017
Plano, TX—May 12, 2015 Queen’s Ferry Press, an independent publisher providing a venue for fine literary fiction, announced it will publish Kathleen Hughes’ novel You Can Walk Home.
“I’m so pleased that my second novel, You Can Walk Home, will join the Queen’s Ferry list,” Hughes said. “Queen’s Ferry is a press of serious and imaginative writers with a commitment to honed, evocative, and purposeful language. I feel lucky now to join them.”
You Can Walk Home is the story of a family in a small coastal Rhode Island town. During a fight on a snowy drive home from school one evening, the mother orders her 16-year-old daughter out of the car to walk the last mile. This punishment does not produce the desired effect. Told from the perspective of the younger sister, who is in the car that night and is her sister’s confidante, and from the mother, You Can Walk Home is a story about girls and women, parents and children, faith, and how much we can and cannot hold on to the ones we love. You Can Walk Home will release in June, 2017.
About the Author:
Kathleen Hughes is the author of Dear Mrs. Lindbergh (WW Norton 2003). She has won awards from MTV, the New England and Rhode Island Press Associations, the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and the Vermont Studio Center. A graduate of Yale University, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the MGH Institute of Health Professions, Hughes is a pediatric nurse practitioner in Rhode Island, where she lives with her family.
Founded in 2011 as an independent publisher, Queen’s Ferry Press specializes in literary fiction. The press currently releases 6–12 titles a year, many from debut authors, and is the publisher of Shadows of Men, the 2013 recipient of the TIL Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction. For book updates please contact Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity of Queen’s Ferry Press, or visit www.queensferrypress.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity
In this edition of In Memoriam, forthcoming QFP author Sherrie Flick says goodbye to Sarah and Robert, her failed friends.
Early in my writing career I embraced flash fiction. By the time I was a senior in college, it was mine. I was in love. I had written longer stories, sure, but once I got inside sentences and rolled around in the compression involved with flash—I was trapped, happily trapped, in those tiny worlds.
Years passed, I wrote more very small stories. More and more and more. My professors in graduate school stepped forward every so often to ask one question: why don’t you try writing a novel? In retrospect, I understand why they asked me this question. Of course, I do. It’s a smart question, a move they thought would advance my career. But to me it sounded sacrosanct: flash was what I believed in. It was my hardcore crush and I was not going to cheat on it with something as long and amorphous as a novel.
Then one day a weird fuzzy feeling descended upon me. I was working on some writing and I felt … bored. Shocked, I kept right at it. But soon, I decided I really did need to break free from my own self-created flash rut. So, I embarked on a novel. I embarked on a novel like one would embark on a quick trip to the grocery store. Just jump in the car, drive to the store, and buy some food. But.
It just wasn’t that easy.
The “novel” I tried “writing” was about a couple of characters—Sarah and Robert. They’re newly married and embarking on complicated lives in a new city. For a time, Sarah and Robert showed up in everything I wrote—long or short. It was the Sarah and Robert show again and again. The “novel” unspooled ambiguously. It went and went. In fact, I still think about Sarah and Robert every so often like friends I’ve lost touch with who just refuse to join Facebook.
Versions of Sarah and Robert eventually ended up in my real novel, the one without quotation marks around it. The one I wrote deliberately and did get published, 12 years later (Reconsidering Happiness, 2009). But those pages and pages that I unrolled? Interestingly, they got cut up and refigured into many smaller stories. Pieces of flash, mid-length stories, long stories. Some of those stories show up in the book QFP will publish in 2016. In some, my characters’ names have changed, in others: there they are, my friends. My failed friends.
I mourn this novel that never was. I’m not sure why. I feel a longing when I think of it. The potential that it held. How naïve I was when I gave the form my first try. How much I had to learn before I could tell a big story, how much I had to learn before I could write a better piece a flash, something that pushed me way beyond the boredom I felt that one day at my writing desk.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness, a semi-finalist for the VCU First Novelist award, and the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting. Her flash fiction appears in many anthologies and journals, including Norton’s Flash Fiction Forwardand New Sudden Fiction, Ploughshares, Booth, Fiction Southeast, andSmokeLong. She has received fellowships from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Ucross Foundation, and Atlantic Center for the Arts. She lives in Pittsburgh where she works as a freelance food writer and teaches in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs. Her book of stories, Whiskey, Etc., will be published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2016.
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