Musings on books and the book business by an opinionated, somewhat cynical, yet optimistic bookseller.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
John Shors: A Gem of an Author
John Shors, the author of Beneath a Marble Sky, is hustling every day in an effort to break out his debut novel. He quit his day job in July and is now working full time to promote the paperback release of his tale about the building of the Taj Mahal. So far he has spoken to over 200 book clubs, and there is no end in sight. For most writers -- heck, for most marathoners -- this would be exhausting, but for Shors, who went through 56 drafts before pubishing his book, it appears to energize him.
At Tuesday night's Boulder Book Store discussion, he was eloquent, engaging and informative. He answered the questions with a freshness that belied how many times he has broached these subjects. Whether he was talking about his first-person narrative in the voice of a 17th-century Hindustan woman, the semi-precious stone work embedded in the seemingly white marble walls of the Taj Mahal, or his feelings about the cover art on his book, his comments were genuine and spontaneous.
It's a good thing that Shors has the energy and the skill to navigate through the messy world of readers. Beneath a Marble Sky, a Penguin paperback,is a fine novel with detailed historical scenes and a great love story. Shors brings us the sights, smells and sounds of an amazing time and place, and he also weaves together a powerful romance. It effortlessly melds into the true-to-life events that form his tension-filled plot. But all of that is not enough to sell the book.
There are a lot of interesting novels that fall by the wayside every year. Shors' work is one of hundreds of debut novels that made its appearance this summer. As a book buyer, it is bewildering to figure out which ones to buy for the store. I am constantly asking the sales reps, "What's going on with this book? Is there any special marketing?" All too often, the answer is either "not much" or "nothing." I'm looking for any publicity planned that might help the book in my market, or some advertising campaign by the publisher, or perhaps contacts the author has with a media outlet.
Often, if the author isn't going to make something happen, the book is going to die silently on the shelves of bookstores and in the warehouses of wholesalers. The publicity departments of major publishers seem to be under-staffed and completely overwhelmed as far as I can tell. They push the big titles and a handful of in-house favorites and hope that the rest will either get great reviews or spread by word of mouth. Reviews are tough to come by for Shors because the book was orignally published by a small house (McPherson Company) in hardback in 2004. Reviewers are notoriously reluctant to take on paperbacks. In order for Shors to get Penguin to rev up its marketing plans, he's got to get word-of-mouth interest going on this book.
Shors is the dream author for a publicity department. He is tireless, likable and willing to do whatever he needs to get some momentum going behind Beneath a Marble Sky. His efforts appear to be working. Sales are growing, and almost everyone left Tuesday night's book group determined to recommend his book to a friend or a husband. Here's hoping he sells enough to get on Penguin's radar. For now, he's just like one of the thousands of jewels embedded in the walls of his beloved Taj Mahal -- you have to get close enough to see his brilliance.
Top 10 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. 2000. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. 2000. Atonement by Ian McEwan. 2002. Any Human Heart by William Boyd. 2003. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. 2003. Snow by Orhan Pamuk. 2004. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. 2005. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. 2006. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. 2007. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. 2007.
Other Favorites The Inventory by Gila Lustiger. 2000. The Human Stain by Philip Roth. 2000. Erasure by Percival Everett. 2001. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. 2001. Spies by Michael Frayn. 2002. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. 2002. Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon. 2002. Roscoe by William Kennedy. 2002. American Woman by Susan Choi. 2003 The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. 2003. Sabbath Creek by Judson Mitcham. 2004. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. 2004. The In Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji. 2004. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. 2006. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. 2006. After This by Alice McDermott. 2006. Echo Maker by Richard Powers. 2006. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 2007. Peace by Richard Bausch. 2008. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. 2008. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. 2009. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. 2009. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. 2009. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. 2009. All Other Nights by Dara Horn. 2009.
My Favorite New Books
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. A girl and her father live off the land in Portland's Forest Park in this novel that is based on a true story. Told through the eyes of the young girl, it's a poetic work revealing our connection to the natural world. True Confections by Katharine Weber. Zip's Candy is the setting for this outstanding satire. Alice, who turns out to be an unreliable narrator, details the company's history and her own place in its scandalous past. New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro. The death of a boar, a pervert trying to perfect his craft, and the unearthing of the bones of a murder victim are just a few of the plot elements in this comic debut.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. Shortly after World War II, a young Irish girl is forced by her family to emigrate to Brooklyn. Cut off from all that she knows she finds love at Dodgers games and Coney Island in this subtle but suspenseful novel.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Phillippe Petit's remarkable 1974 tight-rope walk between the World Trade Center towers is the jumping off point (pun intended) of this novel of love, loss and beautiful convergences in a gritty New York City.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. Nothing is as it seems in this brilliant bizarre novel set in an almost recognizable New York City. The revelations at the end left me reeling although I knew that surprises were lurking. Another novel with shades of Saul Bellow. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. Hilarious novel about a strange border agent on the Canadian border. Lynch effortlessly tells the story from several points of view including the criminal, the cops and everyone in between.
The Signal by Ron Carlson. An adventure and a love story set in the pristine mountains of Wyoming. A sense of both hope and foreboding hangs over the sparse narrative.
Wanting by Richard Flanagan. This historical novel featuring both Charles Dickens and the explorer John Franklin is really a meditation on desire and what was thought to separate the civilized from the barbarians.
Woodsburner by John Pipkin. Henry David Thoreau burned down the Concord Woods before he wrote Walden. This novel explores that incident from several different perspectives, including a bookseller who is forced to sell porn to stay in business.
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. A British Bellow with a West Indian cricket fiend cast as a Chicago University Professor. Humboldt plays cricket. Chicagoby Alaa Al Aswany. Egyptian students and their professors try to navigate America in this magnificent novel set in the heart of contemporary Chicago.
Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont. A haunting novel about the seductive power of friendship.
Wifeshoppingby Steven Wingate. Thirteen great short stories of men sabotaging their relationships.