Well, it's been a somewhat rocky road, but OV Books is thrilled to announce that we've chosen our second book: a collection of linked stories, THE WRONG PLACE IN THE WORLD, by Corrina Wycoff. Wycoff is a Seattle-area writer who was published once in our magazine pages ("Rebecca") and actually entered the first OV Books short story collection contest in 2004. Her manuscript was so compelling that we sent her a letter with detailed comments, but we felt that the collection wasn't "ready" yet, so it did not make our list of 2004 finalists.
As some of you may recall, the 2004 contest yielded not only Goldberg, but finalists Kate Blackwell, Allison Amend and Melissa Fraterrigo. (Fraterrigo went on to win the Livingston Prize only a few months later, and her collection THE LONGEST PREGNANCY is now available.) We offered Kate Blackwell the second OV Books slot for her collection, and planned to come out with her book in Fall 2006. However, because we were still waiting on a contract from our distributor, University of Illinois Press, we hadn't yet given Blackwell a contract, and it turned out that she accepted an offer from another press in the eleventh hour, literally only a week before we got word from UIP that they had approved distribution on our next two titles. So there we were, suddenly with a distribution contract but no BOOK (the opposite of our situation for the previous year!) At the last minute we put out a call for submissions, and found ourselves reading book length manuscripts yet again, scrambling for a collection that would make us forget we'd lost Blackwell's. To be honest, we weren't sure we'd find one. After all, there are a hell of a lot of presses out there lately who have held contests and declined to actually select a winner, claiming they weren't sent anything "publishable." So this time, we didn't charge an entry fee, hire a judge or call it a contest. We just read, and hoped.
Once again, hope in our writers paid off. Manuscripts began pouring in, and it didn't take long to realize that MANY of them were publishable, and a few were downright breathtaking. We recognized Wycoff's manuscript right away from 2004--we had several "repeat" submissions--but what surprised us was how vividly we remembered her characters and story, right down to noticing everything that was "new and improved" in her revision. As much as we were starry-eyed over Wycoff's book from the first, the final decision was still a difficult one. Our 2006 finalists, Rob Roberge, Kate Miliken and Amy Stuber, were all outstanding in their own unique ways, and we wished, as we had in 2004, that our budget and time permitted publishing at least 3 books annually instead of only 1. I find myself more and more skeptical about those presses and organizations claiming they can't find a single good book to publish. All I can say is that if they're looking for some amazing talent, they're welcome to give Other Voices a call and we have a good dozen writers we can point them toward for starters. All I can say is that in order to FIND good books, one has to be willing to read whatever comes in; to take everything seriously; to approach each story with an open mind and excitement. I can guarantee there is more talent out there among those submitting to independent presses than the presses' budgets and schedules are able to bring to light--and I can guarantee that any indie press receives many manuscripts in any given contest that surpass most of those routinely cranked out by the corporates. But that is another, more cynical story . . .
In this, happier story, in the end, our hearts went with Wycoff's gritty, daring, brutal and redemptive tale of a young girl growing up with a sometimes-homeless, junkie mother. I like to think of Wycoff's book as the dark sister of the bestselling novel WHITE OLEANDER. While WHITE OLEANDER didn't suck (the movie version did), it was ultimately a novel seeped in a kind of fantasy Hollywood-esque glamour that white-washed the brutality and authenticity of the story of a girl whose monstrous mother nonetheless remains her emotional core. THE WRONG PLACE IN THE WORLD tells a similar psychological story, but with characters who are so real that they frustrate and madden us like our own most-dysfunctional relatives, or the ugliest stories on the evening news. They aren't hidden behind the gauze of poetry and Hollywood and beauty; they are real, alarming, damaged people, and as such, their victories and epiphanies are often shockingly small and incomplete, at the same time as being remarkable.
Not surprisingly, Wycoff had been trying to find an agent or publisher for her linked stories for some time, but had been told repeatedly that her work was too "dark" or "depressing" for the mainstream reader. I'm proud if frustrated to say that most books I've loved lately have been given a similar treatment by the corporate publishing houses--and also happy to say that most of those books have proven that the big publishers grossly underestimate the American reading public. One Chicago example is the novel AMERICAN SKIN by Don De Grazia, which was thrown out of New York publishing on its politically-incorrect, risk-taking ass for some three years straight before British house Jonathan Cape finally took a chance on it--only then did America bite, and the novel went on to become a bestseller when released here by Scribner (it's currently being adapted for film: the final stamp of U.S. societal approval.) So while Wycoff may have been worried about this response to her book by the corporates, OV Books is not. In fact, we find her stories compulsively readable. Like the best novels, we were compelled to keep turning the page to find out what happens to protagonist, Beth, in her struggle to both separate from her painful past and also to help her desperately damaged mother, who does not deserve her charity. We believe the story and the people at its center are not only valuable but, yes, marketable, and we look forward to proving this concretely when we release the book in early 2007.
So another chapter ends in the life of a small press (our "lost" book by Blackwell is forgotten, though we'll be happy to give it a glowing review in Other Voices' Bookshelf) and a new chapter begins (we now get to eat and breathe Wycoff for the next year!) While Blackwell's book was excellent, the fact is that Wycoff's book better represents the OV Books mission, which in part entails tackling and bringing to the world those works of challenging, provocative literature that the mainstream publishing establishment, with its concern for the bottom line of shareholders and the moral temperature of American politicians, shirks away from. We believe these are the voices that the serious American reading public is hungry for and craves, especially in these (lying) times.
We'd like to congratulate all the writers who submitted, and wish we had the time to thank each one individually for believing in our mission. And we hope you'll join us in congratulating Corrina Wycoff, and anticipating the arrival of her important story into the world.