Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bóg dał, Bóg wziął

Bóg dał, Bóg wziął. That’s a Polish proverb, included on the dedication page for House of Good Hope, just beneath my grandparents’ names. It means “God gives, God takes.” Walt and Helen Petry both were dead by the time the book was published in 2007. Thus.

The phrase came to mind the day before Christmas when House of Good Hope’s publisher returned publication rights to me. This means the book is out of print and the publisher will make it no more. Theirs was a business decision I understood. It took four years to sell the first print run–a slow unraveling. The press offered to keep the book available in a single e-edition (via Barnes and Noble). I asked them to commit to full publication or give me back the rights, per our contract. The publisher’s terse reply arrived amidst a few holiday cards. “This letter will serve as official notice...” etc. I was disappointed that it had not begun, “Dear Michael.”

So now, HOGH has gone out of print just as The Greatest Show is poised to come into the world. Sad irony, that.

After I read the letter, I poured a nip of Scotch and toasted the book. Then I wandered room to room, as if the mail had brought news of the death of an old friend I once knew well but hadn’t talked with in a few years.

House of Good Hope was a necessary book for me to write. It wasn’t cut out to be a big seller, that I knew, but without it, I’d never have gotten my current job as a professor teaching creative writing. More importantly, I’d never have had friendships with the men who are the book’s primary characters. I made the book with the hope that it would honor the memory of my grandparents and give my family an historical record. Likewise, I wanted to create something Hiram, Eric, Derrick, Joshua, and Harvey could give their children to say, “This was your father once.” I wanted to write something that praised Hartford as a place worth our attention. I wanted to better understand why we leave places we love and what price is paid when we do.

All of that sounds like a eulogy, but it isn’t, because HOGH isn’t dead. The book has come home, its rights mine again to do with as I please. My literary agent encouraged this path. He mentioned the ease of creating a Kindle edition, how simple it is to create a print-on-demand copy. His agency could help. Why let the book languish?

So now, House of Good Hope is out of print and poised to return if I so choose. I can revise it if I want, or not, or update it, or not. Or maybe years from now another publisher will ask for it. Maybe it will just sit for a while, not languishing, but waiting, because how God gives and takes, and in what order, and how often, is always a mystery, and who knows what comes next?


JimJ said...

Michael, I understood your blog like few other people. Surprised Nebraska treated you that way. UC Press took my first book out of print and then posted it free on the Internet. Didn't even ask; I didn't even care. Nor have I made any money on any book. But it did get me promoted to full professor and put more money in my paycheck and retirement check. So keep at it.

Michael Downs said...

Thanks, Jim. UC Press posted your book free without telling you? Yikes!

Yes, I'm surprised, too, that Nebraska reacted as it did. It's a fine press in many ways, and I'm glad to see your DOUBLE NO-HIT in the spring catalogue.

And I'll take that advice and indeed keep going. Working on the third book even now.

P.S.: I admire a well-placed semicolon; yours qualifies.