where the writers are

I have to preface this story about the awards I’ve just won. I once worked in the public affairs department of the California Institute of the Arts. It’d been a dream job. I was immersed in the arts and interviewed such fascinating people as directors Tim Burton and Werner Herzog, theatre impresario Peter Sellars, actor Don Cheadle, and hundreds of others in all the arts--visitors, alumni, and working faculty. They each had their own truths.

I became friends with such people as Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Mel Powell, animators Jules Engel and Maureen Selwood, and artist Jo Ann Callis, where I learned their deeper understandings over time. My world view was that artists examined life in fascinating ways, and I was in the heart of it.

From the faculty there, before I became one myself, I learned that to be an artist is to just keep focusing on your interests and maybe people will find your work. Few people in the arts become superstars, but that’s okay because your art will keep you floating.

Now that my short stories and novels have been winning awards, I find myself on the other side of the interview. I’m the one being asked questions and written about, which makes me pause and realize I’ve absorbed things over time and put much of it into my own art, writing.

Today I had to fire up my former talents for writing press releases, this time for myself. It occurred to me that three recent prizes I’ve won are much more than something for my mantel. There’s a story here of my drive to continue.

Before I worked at CalArts, I’d been the senior editor at a publishing company, Prelude Press, which was not a dream job. The pressures were enormous, and the man I worked for, Peter McWilliams, was similar to Steven Jobs--a genius who could be both charming and scream into your face, spittle flying.

I learned a lot about publishing, though, and I knew how to find an agent in New York. Jim McCarthy, at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, loved my second novel, Love At Absolute Zero, and stuck with it for more than two years, but he could not find a publisher willing to commit to it.

Three times McCarthy found enthusiastic editors--but the publishers’ marketing departments each basically said, “We don’t know how to market it. Pass.” Finally McCarthy suggested that maybe another agent would have other resources. McCarthy wanted to help and would call other agents for me.

After a few more agents were cordial but stumped, I stopped the cycle. I didn’t want to spend more years searching and waiting for the old system to work. I brought the novel out in September under my imprint, White Whisker Books. The love story has earned three awards, much critical praise, and is starting to sell.

Love At Absolute Zero is a comic novel, a romance, about a physicist who tries to apply the tools of science to finding a soul mate. Specifically, when Gunnar Gunderson, a 32-year-old physicist at the University of Wisconsin, can only think of finding a wife, his research falters. To meet his soul mate within three days--all the time he can carve out--he and his team use the scientific method to riotous results.

For awards, Love At Absolute Zero first claimed one of three Best Indie Romance Awards at Red Adept Reviews. Each reviewer at the site selected his or her favorite from among the many books reviewed during the year. Jim Chambers, who had reviewed the book at the site, wrote, “I was skeptical of the idea of incorporating a complex subject like quantum physics into a love story that would be both readable and enjoyable, but the author hit a home run. It’s a very good story, very well told.”

Second, Sam Sattler at the website Book Chase also placed Love At Absolute Zero in his list of Top Ten Best Fiction 2011, which also includes books by Philip Roth, Russell Banks, and Chad Harbach. Sattler says, “It is impossible not to like Gunnar Gunderson. As he progresses from one disaster or near miss to the next, one views him with a mixture of compassion and laughter. Love at Absolute Zero is likely to appeal to a variety of readers.”

Third, Love At Absolute Zero won a Noble (not Nobel) Award in MyShelf.com's ninth annual end-of-the-year awards, created by Carolyn Howard-Johnson in her “Back to Literature” column. In listing the award, Howard-Johnson says of protagonist Gunnar and his exploits, “The tension between science and emotion has never been more keenly felt.”

Over two dozen critics gave positive reviews for the novel in 2011. “A deeply resonant read that manages to be funny without sacrificing its gravity. Highly recommended!” says Heather Figearo of Raging Bibliomania.

“As engaging as it is amusing, Love at Absolute Zero is, ultimately, a heartfelt study of the tension between the head and heart, science and emotion, calculation and chance,” says Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews.

Top-Ten Amazon critic Grady Harp, who has reviewed all five of my books, writes, “It is a given, now, that Christopher Meeks is a master craftsman as a writer. What surprises us in this novel is just how much research he's done to get the scientific part of it right. Where does all of this passionate knowledge of physics lie, knowledge that allows him to write so comfortably, opening every chapter with a scientific quote, that we novices stay on board with him? It is a gift--and one of the many that continue to emerge from the pen and mind of so genuinely fine a writer.”

These days, a good novel doesn’t have to sit in a drawer. I hired a good editor, proofreaders, and designers, and published it through my small company White Whisker Books--named for my cat with one white whisker. Independent publishing takes a hell of a lot of energy, however. It’s energy I’d prefer to spend writing the next novel, but I had to help my own book.

I’m not angry at the industry. Heck, I’d still like to be in traditional publishing, but sometimes you just have to do things yourself.

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re: doing things ourselves

I am in agreement with the sentiment in the last paragraph. In fact I'll be posting something along that line soon on my own blog. I'm not harbouring any resentment and would still like to hold the hand of co-operation towards the old style of publishing but I won't be waiting for years on end to let it happen.  With technology at our fingertips these days, getting one's voice out these days is easier than it was even as recent as a few years back. 

I had the notion that writers could go independent and have work out on downloads even in the early days when Napster upended the music industry. Just wait till it happened to books. Look at the state of epublishing now. It's exciting. I'd still like a traditional agency and publisher but they'll have to accept me for what I am. 

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A good attitude

Thank you, Wong Li Ming. You had read the tea leaves well in terms of predicting where the industry would go. I agree--it's exciting in many ways. It's a lot of work, but as in anything that one makes well, it's satisfying.

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You gotta believe

Way to go, Christopher. I always tell, well, everybody that nobody will believe in your writing more than you do. And if you believe, go for it. I've been "traditionally published" and it can be exciting. But not terribly lucrative. I guess you're supposed to feel favored if they publish you, that's part of the payday. And I did. But we parted ways and I'm self-publishing too. I love it, even though I spend more time on it than I did before, when I was just writing the book and sending it off. It does appeal to the little control freak in all of us though. Best of luck with your books.

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I believe

Well, it's a few months later, and I just read your note, Lise. Thank you for it, and I hope your self-publishing is working. It's a hard road in many ways, but if you keep at it, sometimes the magic works.