Thursday, February 09, 2006

John Barlow: Intoxicated

Just as every day is someone's birthday, so, I suppose, every day is the day when someone's novel is published. Except, possibly, Sundays. And Christmas Day. Although Muslims probably publish their novels on Christmas Day, just for the hell of it. Anyway, you get the idea.

February 7 was publication day for John Barlow's novel Intoxicated. William Morrow/HarperCollins in the US, no less. Not one of your back-street POD jobs this. Intoxicated is described as A Novel of Money, Madness, and the Invention of the World's Favorite Soft Drink. And no, I don't think it's that ghastly brown, bubbly muck that you're thinking of. Though it's similar. The setting is Yorkshire, in the nineteenth century.

John Barlow has an interesting past for you to contemplate. John is one of those rare writers who emerge from the Paris Review. And in his case he went the traditional route -- over the transom and into the slushpile -- unagented, and unannounced by MFA tutors. On his blog he begins to wonder guiltily as to whether this was the result of undiluted talent, shining with a pure and brilliant light which led the slush-pile readers unfailingly to pick it out -- or whether, perhaps, sheer chance/luck/randomness had something to do with it

Ah, well, gee, shucks, since you ask John, and put a gun to my head so to speak, I have to admit that I think chance may have had something to do with it. But I have never, in all my born days, said that chance/luck/happenstance was enough on its own. You do need talent. I have merely pointed out, more than once, in times past, that talent alone does not suffice. Or, to put it another way, one of the many talents that you need to break into print is a talent for being in the right place at the right time with the right book. And so forth.

Intoxicated got a longish review in the Washington Post last Sunday. You have to register to read it in the WP, but you can find it on the entry. Minus the paragraphs.


Anonymous said...

The comment about being in the right time etc. sounds convincing, and on J Barlow's blog he does admit that a large slush pile is a lottery. But what's the use of being in the right place if you're no good? I have some experience of the very biggest publishers, and they don't use pot luck. It's a very difficult series of filters and judgements that gets your book published at a big house, a tough ride that BY AND LARGE good writers come through eventually, and BY AND LARGE less good ones generally don't.

Anonymous said...

I think there all sorts of angles to the issue of having good luck. You are lucky, for exanple, if you have a good editor. About 5 months ago, my editor insisted on a whole new print of galley proofs when I was unhappy with some of the paragrpah settings in my current book. I got a second edit on the galleys myself, as well, which is not normal (because it all costs money). So luck in the editor you have: definitely.

Anonymous said...

Reservations about registration? May I suggest prolific use of

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This is the strangest historical novel I have read. It's the story of how soda drinks were invented, set in rural victorian England (if you will...) and involving alcoholics, cocaine addiction and rhubarb (yes, you heard right). he's one of those writers who draw you in, very subtle and readable but so warm. I mean really warm. full of emotion so that you kind of gasp almost after some scenes. and he can do drama, and humor. it leaves you a bit drained of emotion. fantastic, wild writing.