Back in December 2011, I received an email from Larry Closs, a first time author, requesting a review for his upcoming release Beatitude. The well written, personalized pitch and the interesting premise of the book caught my attention. Having fallen in love with his writing and his characters, I offered to host a blog tour for Larry's book, fearful that his newness to the literary world and the smallness of his super-small press might cause it to go generally unnoticed.
To kick off the tour, I asked Larry to discuss what being an indie author meant to him. You can read his essay on the topic here. Today, a little over a year after the book's release, Larry is back on TNBBC with a guest post, sharing his thoughts and gratitude...
Gratitude for Beatitude
A first-time author’s first year
Stopping by New York’s landmark independent bookshop The Strand recently, I headed to a specific stretch of the store’s “18 miles of books”—a few inches on a shelf in the fiction section. As I made my way down a 15-foot canyon created by towering black shelves on either side, I scanned the last names of the authors on the spines of books I passed, advancing in reverse alphabetical order until I arrived at the letter C. Holding my breath for just a moment as I zeroed in, I happily exhaled when I saw not one but four copies of my debut novel, Beatitude.
And there you have it, one of the minor yet sublimely soul-satisfying moments in the life of a first-time author—seeing your book in a bookstore. It’s a moment that comes after a myriad others that punctuate the countdown to publication. You write a book. Intrigue an agent. Land a publisher. Negotiate a contract. Finesse the manuscript. Caress the galley. Bless the cover. Brace for the Big Day. And though you’ve daydreamed for a full year or longer about what happens next, how your life will be irrevocably altered when your words finally enter the world, you never could have predicted what actually happens, where your book will take you.
That’s what I found, anyway. Being an author has indeed altered my life irrevocably, not in the big ways I might have imagined, but in small ways that are no less significant. Beatitude has brought an ever-increasing collection of insights, encounters and connections accentuated by a series of firsts that continue to unfold. Here is what happened.
1. The first time I held Beatitude in my hands. It’s hard to believe, but supply-chain idiosyncrasies provided Amazon with copies of Beatitude a week before my publisher, Rebel Satori Press. Frustrated at seeing my book for sale online, and by the idea that warehouse workers could hold it but I couldn’t, I finally caved and ordered two copies, not only paying full price for the books but splurging on overnight shipping. I held the package for a minute before ripping it open, and I sat with the book in my lap for a lot longer, staring at the cover and reflecting on the long and winding road that had brought me to that moment. It’s often said that the journey is the destination, and Beatitude had taken me on quite a journey, but there’s a lot to be said for finally reaching the destination.
2. The first email from a reader. Shortly after Beatitude was published, I received an email from a reader, someone I didn’t know, who wrote to tell me how much he’d connected with the story of Harry and Jay, two young men who bond over their shared fascination with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation and struggle with the sometimes thin line between friendship and love. “The message Harry reiterated, that sometimes people are only capable of giving a certain amount of love and that doesn’t mean they love you any less than you love them, rang very true. A lot of the scenes I felt like I lived through but never could have put into such lucid words. Thanks for doing that.” No, Mark, thank you. Few words have ever meant more to me.
3. The first reading. In a coincidence I discovered at the last moment, the date I selected at random from a list of possibilities provided by Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager Lou Pizzitola was Jack Kerouac’s 90th birthday, March 12, 2012. For a reading from a novel inspired by the Beat Generation, I couldn’t have picked a more appropriate date if I’d tried—even more so, given that one of the themes Beatitude examines is whether there’s such a thing as coincidence. The best part of the reading, besides seeing a lot of friends in the crowd? Seeing a lot of strangers.
4. How much of the book is true? This is the most frequently asked question I get. Because Beatitude is a first novel and written in the first person, many assume that everything described in the book actually happened in real life. My answer? It’s all true. Including the talking cat.
5. Read me, maybe. People I never expected to read Beatitude did; people I felt sure would read it didn’t. What can you do? I’ve never asked anyone to read Beatitude. I figure if they want to, they will. And though I love hearing reactions to the book, I never ask anyone who has read it for their thoughts. Again, I figure if they want to share them, they will. On a related note, I discovered that anyone who knows me might not know what to say after they’ve read it, especially if they believe that every word is true (see No. 4).
6. Giving thanks. The last thing I wrote before Beatitude went to press was the Acknowledgements, and I was elated to finally, formally, thank everyone who had helped me along the way. Some were surprised to see themselves there, thanked for something they said or did—sometimes long forgotten—over the 10 years it took me to write the book. They never realized they had inspired me to keep going, keep believing, when it was hard to believe I would ever finish. I can never thank them enough.
7. Readers’ favorite lines and passages. I have my favorite lines and passages as, I imagine, every author does. Some were surprisingly effortless, but most were the result of many hours laboring to perfect the rhythm and cadence, sometimes for a single sentence. So it is fascinating to hear which lines resonated with others. From Jennifer: “It arrives when you least expect it, in ways you never imagine, from a place you never thought it could come, in a form you never thought it could take…” From Ben: “It was only a matter of time, I told myself, before everything fell into place. It was only a matter of time, however, before everything fell apart.” From Chris: “We’re sharing experiences right now. You only have to be in the moment to realize it.” From Patrick: “To be Beat was to be in love with life, to exist in a state of beatitude, to exist in a state of unconditional bliss.”
8. The first review. And every other review. There’s nothing more rewarding than an insightful book review that uncovers layers of meaning never consciously intended but, now that you mention it, there they are. I’m fortunate to have had many perceptive reviews of Beatitude in mainstream media, literary magazines, industry trades and book blogs, as well as equally discerning reviews on Goodreads.com, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ve read every one, never tire of them and try to personally thank everyone who took the time to read my words and offer their considered opinions. I love learning what my book is about.
9. Is Beatitude a gay novel—or not? This question came up almost immediately and took me by surprise. The backstory: Though my publisher, Rebel Satori Press, has an imprint for works of interest to the LGBT community, QueerMojo, founder Sven Davisson felt Beatitude belonged under the Rebel Satori imprint, which focuses on inspirational books exploring “revolutionary personal transformation.” One of the very first reviewers tagged Beatitude as “gay literature,” adding that the author would no doubt “cringe to have it described as such.” I did cringe, but only at the suggestion that I would, and only until the next reviewer, on an LGBT literary site, praised Beatitude but concluded that she “would probably not label this novel as ‘gay’ if asked.” So which is it? And does it matter? An interviewer asked me my thoughts. Here’s what I told her:
I didn’t set out to write a “gay novel.” I’m not even sure what makes a novel “gay.” A gay writer? A gay narrator? Two gay characters? Three gay characters? What’s the tipping point? How many gay characters does it take to screw in a…? Is a gay novel about an experience that only an LGBT person can have? Putting prejudice, bigotry and religious nonsense aside, what experience would that be? When Brokeback Mountain came out, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were constantly asked what it felt like to kiss another guy. Ledger was so exasperated by the question that he finally snapped: “It’s kissing a human being. So fucking what!” The point is: Remove gender, sexuality, race, class and nationality from the equation and human experience is universal. I read and relate to plenty of “straight” novels but I’ve never thought of them as such. No one does. They’re just novels.
Are novels gay by virtue of who writes them or who reads them? It’s like a Zen koan, a riddle. Two monks observe a flag flapping in the wind. “The flag is moving,” says one. “The wind is moving,” counters the other. Their master overhears them and says, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.” To me, Beatitude is a novel. Like it says right on the cover. But I know that readers will view it through their own preconceptions, which is entirely appropriate, because how preconceptions affect the ability to view things accurately is one of the themes Beatitude explores.
One of my favorite reviews, by Tara Olmsted of BookSexy, sums it up best: “And that’s the heart of Beatitude: the reminder that love is love, regardless of whether it’s romantic or platonic. Larry Closs weaves together a beautiful and complicated narrative around this idea. He’s created a novel that shouldn’t be pigeonholed as any one thing: as a love story, LGBT lit, a memorial to the Beats, a book about NYC. Because it’s all those things and more. There are multiple layers to the story Closs has given us, and it’d be a mistake to allow ourselves to get caught up in just one.”
10. Best LGBT Fiction of 2012. Beatitude won a Gold IPPY in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Best LGBT Fiction of 2012. So, that settles No. 9, right? Not exactly. Seems the Best LGBT Novel of 2012 wasn’t even nominated for any awards sponsored by LGBT organizations, despite accolades from many LGBT magazines, literary publications and websites. Is Beatitude gay or not gay? Not gay enough, someone suggested. Whatever that means.
11. Starving, hysterical, naked. So what? While clearing the rights to several literary excerpts that appear in Beatitude, I discovered I had included two poems I’d heard Allen Ginsberg read—“Like Other Guys” and “Carl Solomon Dream”—that, surprisingly, had never been published. Even more surprisingly, Ginsberg’s literary agent granted permission to feature the poems in Beatitude, the first time they would be published anywhere. As a Beat aficionado, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Even better, two unpublished Allen Ginsberg poems were an unexpected and amazing promotional opportunity. Though I alerted every major poetry publication about the poems, and each asked for a copy of Beatitude, not one has ever mentioned either the poems or the book. I wasn’t expecting an article or a review, but I did think that the discovery of two previously unpublished poems by one the giants of modern poetry would merit a few sentences. Lesson learned: It’s extremely challenging for a first-time author published by an independent press to get attention. Allen Ginsberg also appears in the book trailer I produced for Beatitude. With Johnny Depp. No one cared about that, either.
12. The unseen scheme. It’s difficult to choose the single most significant aspect of being an author, but if pressed, I’d say it’s the connections that Beatitude has both forged and fortified. As Beatitude has made its way in the world, I’ve met fellow Beats, other authors, readers, reviewers, bloggers, booksellers and a multitude of assorted literary types. A few are famous—composer David Amram wrote a testimonial for the cover, City Lights Bookstore co-founder, publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti sent a postcard thanking me for the book I sent him—but most simply saw something of themselves in Harry and Jay, inspired, perhaps, by their loyalty and dedication to each other in the face of forces that might drive them apart. From that first unexpected email from a reader, Beatitude has turned strangers into friends, taken friendships to another level and brought my closest even closer. I couldn’t ask for more from 77,000 words wrapped in an illustration of a cat with a New York City subway token for an eye. I couldn’t ask for more, period.
13. Once an author, always an author. One of the best things about being an author? I’ll always be an author. Even if I never write another book. Staring at the four copies of Beatitude at The Strand, I noticed one had a sticker on the cover—“A Strand Signed Copy”—the final volume from a dozen I’d signed months earlier on a visit to the store with my best friend. He had urged me to offer to inscribe the books, which we found prominently displayed on the first floor Gift Ideas table, but I was self-consciously hesitant to follow his advice. When I finally did so, the manager couldn’t have been happier. I was glad to see three unsigned copies on the shelf, an indication that the original stack had sold out and the store had ordered more. And though my best friend wasn’t with me at that moment, his words were. I signed the books. The manager added stickers. And before I left, the books were back on the Gift Ideas table. Yep, I’m an author.
Larry Closs is author of the novel Beatitude, founder and editor of TrekWorld, an adventure travel magazine, and director of communications for Next Generation Nepal, a nonprofit that reconnects trafficked children with their families. He has been a writer, editor, photographer and videographer for News Corporation, Time Warner, Hearst and Viacom. He has produced digital shorts for the Travel Channel and his photographs and videos have been featured by CNN, The Huffington Post, USA Today, HarperCollins and The Nate Berkus Show. Follow him on his site, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.