A Debut of Sorts

A few weeks ago I was in Greenville, SC where I collaborated with my friend Carrie Adams on the Be Local Everywhere project and Carrie’s Under the Bridge project. Later that night I made my stand up comedy debut. Here is a section of that.



I Saw You Were At Your Kid’s Soccer Game, But …

Those of you who have read at least one of my posts or suffer through the inanity that is my Twitter feed probably know that I’m not exactly a spokesperson for Big Publishing. I won’t attach any descriptors or judgment values to my approach to publishing except to say that it deviates slightly from the work of Maxwell Perkins.

In 2000ish, I started a publishing company from scratch with no idea of what I was doing, unless, of course, you count the loose understanding of what a “business” does and that this particular “business” was dependent on selling a product (books) to customers (readers).

Though not the fount of good advice it is today, the internet gave me enough information to put on a suit and tie, grab a briefcase, and declare myself a publisher. Drunk on the power of being my own Destiny Shaman, I oversaw the publication of a few books in those early years and then packed up the car with boxes of them to hang out at the Publishing Country Club (read: tradeshows) with the other publishers.

You know who was the absolute Belle of the Ball? Me. This guy, right here. Yup. Took my suit to the drycleaner and everything. Set up the sign I had made at Signs by Tomorrow, stacked the books in our booth, and waited for security to open the door to all of the people who would be coming in to see what was new in the publishing world (namely “me”).

Imagine my surprise when the doors were flung open and we were greeted with…well, I wouldn’t call it active derision, maybe something more like aggressive ambivalence. Yeah, it turns out, since nobody knew who we were, our display was not on par with Random House, and our books were kinda “meh” looking, no one really felt compelled to pay attention to us.

But! I insisted, if you’ll just read the book, you’ll see…

Alas, it was not to be. We got a little foot traffic. A few curious raised eyebrows. More than one, “Oh, that’s cute, they’re so young and they’re wearing suits.” But as far as starting down the path to a 401k—we were frozen in the starting blocks.

On that long drive home from Appleton, I might have cracked open one of the books we published, and, if I was totally honest with myself, I might have said something like, “Yeah, the author is cool, and most of my friends couldn’t do better, but this isn’t exactly it. It’s a solid first step, but we need to do a bit better on the editorial selection side.”

Nagging doubts are a bitch. But they’re grounded in real weeds.

Maybe, thought I, the problem is we went regional. The Wisconsin Librarian Association. The Upper Midwest Booksellers Association. Maybe we needed to go Broadway with this operation. So we did a few new titles and decided to hit Book Expo America.

Surely the problem was with our hickish, fly over country launch, what we needed was a bigger platform, a deeper pool, a diving board high enough to draw Spectacle level attention. New York City! The place never sleeps. All kinds of rags to riches stories to mine! It was time to make a name for ourselves and to sell a million books!

But, damn! Have you ever been to Book Expo America? It’s like everybody who has ever read a book ever is there and so is everybody who ever published a book. It’s a whole City of Literacy and maybe we were still some of the youngest people, or maybe we had a cooler punk edge, or maybe our new books were actually good enough to be on the shelf next to The Establishment, but there were also 100 other booths set up in the small press area. And they probably were all staffed by people who were thinking things like the things I was thinking.

They were also dressed up as gorillas. One dude was walking around with a toilet seat around his neck. Some folks leapt out of their booths with smiles that scared more than endearedwith promises of get rich quick schemes or “This is the one book you’ll need for the rest of your life!”

And I got dismayed.

It didn’t matter that my suit had gone back to the drycleaner. It didn’t matter that we’d gotten a nice review in Library Journal for one of our recent books. It didn’t matter that we were being earnest. For every patron—buyer, librarian, reviewer, reader—walking down that aisle, the reaction was almost universal.

Where am I? What in the hell is this? And how do I get out of here?”

And off they went to the comfort of a known quantity like the cheese and wine being served by Simon & Schuster, or to get a book signed by Julie Andrews, or whatever. Somewhere that wasn’t overwhelming. Somewhere that didn’t require a bullshit detector. Somewhere to catch a breath and not worry that a hyper aggressive dude dressed in a gorilla suit was going to do gorilla things.

Did my ability to have a conversation in my booth take a hit? Sure did. Was that the fault of the BEA attendees? Nope. How can I fault somebody who gets enough of a sample size to make an assessment and decides they don’t want to be around it anymore?

I can’t.

If you would have stopped those people and said, “Is this row indicative of all small presses?”

Even the moderately informed of them would have said no. They knew about the companies who had already proven themselves. They might have mentioned people like Soho Press or Akashic Books or Soft Skull who earned their respect by putting out quality books and working their way up the ladder of public awareness.

If you would have then asked them to go back into the unregulated aisle of Small Press Row and determine who  was a publisher worth paying attention to and who was just a guy standing on a milk crate in a homemade Batman suit with a shitty book, they would have been perfectly within their rights to decline your offer.

In any endeavor, you aren’t afforded respect simply because you want it. I can’t climb over the bleachers at Wrigley Field and say, “Well, I’m here to play shortstop. Let’s get this tryout underway!” and then pound my mitt a few times to show them I know what I’m doing and that I mean business. It doesn’t matter that I may very well be good enough to field groundballs and bat .220 in pinch hitting duties. Nobody owes me that tryout.

There are multiple ways to find success in industry. For the purpose of this post, I’ll be a little bit more laser focused.

You can publish with a big publishing house, you can publish with an indie publisher, you can self-publish by your lonesome. If you’ve got real innovation like my guy Raven Mack, you can carve haikus onto railroad spikes.

All of these are viable things. Choose your own adventure and alla that. If you write a great book, I’m proud of you and wish you well. I hope you sell a million copies.

But getting pissed off at the indifference of the audience or the skepticism of folks who have been burned in the past or who have seen the gorilla at BEA and don’t want to risk being attacked again, doesn’t serve you at all. Also, not for nothing, but you aren’t owed anything.

Is it possible to suffer because of the sins of others? It sure is. That’s a fact of life. Is it fair? Probably not, but it happens, every day, all day, to people all over the world. People only have so many hours in a day and can only take in so much information before making decisions about how to spend their time, money, and energy.

The things I publish today generally get good reviews in the trade publications and even sometimes in places like The New York Times. The books get stocked, in varying quantities, on the shelves of bookstores across the country. I’ve built up trust with those folks over a larger body of work. Sometimes I can’t convince a reviewer to review a book I really, really love. Sometimes I can’t convince a bookseller to stock more (sometimes any) copies.

It’s ten years later, more than a hundred novels published, and I still run into awkward moments when I introduce myself and somebody says, “Oh, I’ve never heard of you,” and then moves onto a more desireable party guest.

When faced with that disappointment (and it is a disappointment)I don’t generalize and say, “Oh, well they must hate all smaller publishers! I hope their empires crumble to the Earth!” I know better. One, I know it’s not true. Two, I know it doesn’t accomplish anything for me to stomp my foot. Three, I don’t know what their experience has been like with the last six publishers they’d never heard of who showed up on their doorstep with a request. Who am I to judge?

So what can I do?

Pick up my dry cleaning, read submissions, ask myself hard questions, and do my best to do better than the day before, no matter how good that was. I can keep it in perspective that I’m not owed anything, there aren’t reliable shortcuts to the 401k, and not everything I do is going to resonate with all parties equally.

Sometimes that’s hard to swallow. It is still the truth.

In part, the above discussion was spawned by the reaction to Chuck Wendig’s post here, both in the comments section and on social media.

Five Things to Remember

Hello everybody. I’m in that, Well, the holidays are over, but real work really doesn’t start until Monday phase, and I guess that’s got me a little introspective and chatty. Some of this has to do with publishing, other parts, not so much.

Happy 2014, here’s a list.


  • That book you’re writing? It has to be from the gut. Do not recycle plots from tv shows, movies, other books, etc. that you think other people will like. Write what matters to you and write it true to your vision. Chasing trends might work for somebody, but it fails for a bunch of other people. You’ve got a limited amount of years with your life, spend them doing things you won’t regret on your deathbed.


  • Anybody that tells you books are simply “commodities” is full of shit. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but books are special. At least, greatbooks are. They’re transformative, they’re life altering, they’re perspective changing, and they give us a chance to  examine who we are and the world we live in. If you’re one of the people protesting with a, “but, but, they’re widgets, they’re interchangeable products to temporarily amuse/entertain the masses,” I’ve got a middle finger for you and your entertainment.


  • Nobody ever stayed famous for being an asshole on the internet. You wrote a book? Somebody didn’t like it? Throwing a public temper tantrum on Amazon or Goodreads because your snowflake wasn’t celebrated the way you want it to be? Poor form. You’re better than that. And if you’re not, then get the hell out of the way for the grownups.


  • I don’t like okra. I’ve had it fried. I’ve had it snuck into bigger dishes where, when I stumble upon it, it ruins the whole thing. What I’m telling you is that—okra isn’t for me. You could put together a coalition of one million people telling me how good okra is and that this particular okra is the best okra and it wouldn’t matter. It’s nothing personal against the preparer, I just don’t like okra. I respect that others will have a different opinion. And that brings me to this—The validation for your life is not in the power of gatekeepers in the publishing industry. If one hundred agents and publishers pass on your book, that doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure, it simply means your book, as written, is like okra to me. YOU ARE NOT THE OPINION OF OTHERS ABOUT YOUR BOOK. Eat that. Digest it.


  • A whole bunch of really crazy stuff, subject to coincidences, luck, chance, and impossible to calculate calculations happened to get you here, right now. Be mindful of that. Some mornings are harder to shake than others. Some nights close in faster than we’d like. There are speed bumps and distractions around every corner. But so are the Grand Canyon, stars, millions of miles of highway, seven billion people, and an infinite collection of forks in the road for you to choose. When one doesn’t work, go a different way. Throwing your hands in the air and believing you are stuck is the only thing that makes it true. But remember—you can always pick a different path, you can always back up or run over walls or, as our friend Nemo is told, just keep swimming. A new year is a great time to evaluate your life and make resolutions. But so is a new day. A new hour. Waiting for arbitrary rolling of the calendar is fun and clickbait for Yahoo, but it’s not a good excuse. If you see something is wrong, stop. If there’s something you want to explore, throw on your headlamp and go.

Resquiat in Peace, Juggernaut

I’ve been blessed in my life with a great family. A mother and father. Two brothers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a pair of nieces, and a pair of nephews.

I’ve been further blessed by a collection of such good friendships that I am an honorary member of <i>other</i> families. Some of these relationships date back more than thirty years (at the time of my writing this, I am thirty seven years old, so this is not an insignificant amount of time). Over time you adopt and are adopted by other sets of parents and siblings, that eventhough (yes, it <i>is </i>one word if you say so, Pete) the DNA would say elsewise, you are <i>family</i>.

One of those families—the Streichers—have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Principally, my introduction and connection with the family began with my friend Aaron. I have spent a lifetime interacting with his family—birthday parties, skateboarding, bands, video games, football games, family vacations, family dinners, and just hanging out. When I gave the best man speech at Aaron’s wedding, I recounted a story from Kindergarten when Aaron moved to our school from another school. As fate had it, our teacher, Mrs. Middleton, pulled me aside and said, “Aaron is new here. Can you please be nice to him and show him around?”

That’s how far this goes back.

This week, the Streicher family lost a member. A brother. A son. After a lifetime of trying to make it in the world, Peter Streicher, Aaron’s older brother, chose to leave us at age 44.

I am not mad at Peter and the choice he made.

I am thankful for all of the moments we shared. There are snapshots without context. His green Volvo. The day he showed up with a motorcycle. How he threw the football to Aaron and me in the backyard. A leather jacket with <i>Psychedelic Furs</i> on the back. A red Stratocaster. All of these things are old and gone and probably have been since the late 80s. Later in life, after taking a long road trip, he told me to get to Big Bend in Texas (I promised I would, and promise I still will). Most recently, I was glad when I saw his orange Honda in the driveway, because I knew it meant I was in for good conversation.

He was there when we were growing up. Old enough to be the cool kid, but not so old to be unrelatable. And I never felt like he saw me as a little kid or simply as “Aaron’s friend.” He treated me like family. And when it became clear as we both got older that we experienced some of the same existential pains, he would ask me how I was doing and wouldn’t tolerate a blow off answer like, “Oh, I’m doing fine.” And I, in turn, was the same way with him. As a result, we had some pretty heavy conversations over the years, and I made the assumption that it would always be that way until we were old men around a poker table.

You don’t always end up with what you think you’ll get.

This is one of those times.

On Thursday afternoon, Peter sent out an email with the subject line <i>Fond Farewell from Peter Streicher. </i>The email itself read, in part, “if everything went according to plan, I died by suicide in my home this afternoon.”

The rest of the email was, as you might expect, loving and sad, sometimes funny, reassuring where it could be. I reread it a few times, maybe still in shock, before feeling the urge to cry.

He also attached a 42 page letter to the email to give more insight into his thoughts. I couldn’t open it right away.

Pete and I talked a lot about music. We shared album recommendations every time we met for a card game or a birthday party or whatever else brought us together. I’m not sure why exactly, but once I had a chance to process Thursday’s email, my first impulse was to listen to one of those albums Pete recommended to me—Low’s <i><a title=”Low The Great Destroyer Walk Into the Sea” href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X2lSIPSthU” target=”_blank”>The Great Destroyer</a>. </i> I wanted to remember. What exactly, I don’t know.

I would later read the letter Pete left behind and see a line about The Great Destroyer, and I would know, in that way filled with certainty but no tangible way of proof, that the larger Universe was afoot. That there are levers and pulleys always in operation, and always undetectable.

This is a common thread through <i>all </i>of our lives.

I am sorry that the inexplicable intricacies of the hardwiring unique to each of us, was so profoundly wired the way it was in Pete. But, it was that way, and no amount of effort ever proved enough to untangle it. It was not for lack of trying. The search for the machinery can be consuming to the point of exhaustion. What are we to do with inquisitive minds when we can never know the how and why of our greater lives and the simple motion of gears is not enough?

I have tiptoed along The Void many times in life. Once, during a particularly bad episode with depression (and one that I haven’t widely talked about), I was walking from my house to my office when I realized I didn’t (a) know where I was, or (b) <i>who </i>I was. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense. I had somehow ended up, as best I can describe, as something of a temporary amnesiac. The whole episode lasted less than a minute.

When I came back to myself, the first person I called was Pete. We’d recently been talking about depression and the stranglehold it can take on what should be, by all accounts, a <i>wonderful </i>life. We’d talked about the peculiarities of environmental and emotional sensitivities, the way two people could go through similar experiences and end up in disparate places. We talked about the stigma attached. We talked about how some people weren’t ever going to understand it wasn’t a matter of “just being happy” as though there were some great switch we’d all been missing while pawing around in the dark.

Our conversations often intersected in a mix of cynicism and resigned humor. <i>Well, what are you going to do about it? </i>We shared a nod and a wink and a hug at the absurdity of it all. Even in the face of the internal struggle he waged, he was incredibly funny. I am thankful for his laugh and I will never not hear it when I think of him.

And I will think of him often, especially during the upcoming holiday season, the time of year I was most likely to see him. We will still gather as a family. We will recognize what is missing. We will recognize the treasure of what is left behind.

I love you, man. Be at peace.



A Timely Article from the Wall Street Journal

During last week’s discussion of violence in the media–why it’s there, how it effects both consciously and sub-consciously, if there’s another path–there was some insistence that man is simply hardwired to be selfish and violent. I argued against that.

So, too, does some science from this article in the Wall Street Journal -

From the article -

“The question of why any creatures are altruistic at all obsessed Charles Darwin from the time he devised his theory of evolution. Since then, two complex schools of scientific thought have emerged. One argues that altruism exists because it helps ensure the survival of close kin. Various researchers have also highlighted the merits of the view that helping may maximize the survival odds of each member of a society. That would mean that behaving less selfishly isn’t just a way of protecting close family members; it might also be a way for individuals to improve their own prospects by contributing to the well-being of a strong collective.”

Read the whole thing!

A Further Discussion on Expectations

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being interviewed by Claire Kirch, the Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly. What was supposed to be a fifteen minute conversation ended up stretching over an hour.

The article is in this week’s Publishers Weekly (July 21, 2013) and can be read here.

One of the things Claire and I discussed was the evolution of Tyrus Books’ publishing strategy, as it becomes less singularly focused on crime fiction. In some ways, that change has actually been around for a long time. Scott O’Connor’s award-winning novel, Untouchable (Tyrus, 2011), does not center around a murder. It was—and I am embarrassed on some level to admit this—late in the process with Untouchable when I realized it was not a crime novel. It was a heavy book that matched some of the noir sensibilities of our crime fiction offerings, but, ultimately, was without crime.

From the Publishers Weekly article—

“LeRoy said he decided to expand beyond crime fiction primarily because of the recent spate of shootings occurring inside schools and workplaces, from Newtown, Conn., to Minneapolis. “I look at what we’re doing, what we’re saying. What are we putting out there in the public consciousness?” he told PW during a telephone interview. “I’ve always been fascinated with how fiction is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s something I’ve wrestled with: if what we’re publishing, if what we’re putting out there, contributes to this gratuitous violence.” That conflict is also reflected in LeRoy’s personal life: he has begun giving books, art supplies, even a plane ticket, to people who respond to his Twitter and blog posts. LeRoy started the practice to be “a positive force in the world” and to provide a “counterbalance to all the darkness in the books I publish.”

I have always been obsessively fascinated by human nature. I have a desperate desire to understand why people do the things they do. How much of a role has the past had in shaping them? How do the unquantifiable brushes with pop culture and the 24 hour news cycle mold their views and expectations of the world we live in? For some people, it’s hard not to sit in front of all day news coverage and feel like the end is right around the next corner, the bottom of a glass, the backpack of a stranger.

But before the 24 hour news cycle, there were books.

Books have always been critical to my understanding of people. This goes back to reading the Hardy Boys novels on my father’s lap as a kid and has continued right through today in my capacity as the publisher of a small press. For me, books offer insight into the human condition and an opportunity to explore worlds outside of my own. They allow me to be everywhere, all at once.

For the past decade I have published crime fiction. If a book bears a Bleak House or a Tyrus logo, more than likely somebody on the page is going to be murdered at some point during the book and others are going to have to deal with it.

I don’t care about new CSI technology. I don’t have a thing for wise cracking cops. I don’t need the high stakes of international consequence to care. I’m not fascinated by literary violence no matter how ripped from the headlines it purports to be.

There is violence in the air. To be clear, there has always been violence in the air.

I worry.

Not in a pearl clutching, the Youth are terrible!, we’re all gonna die way. I worry that for no real good reason, we’ve allowed violence and the cynicism that follows to be the de facto expectation of contemporary life. We’ve come to expect that bad things to happen to innocent people because…well, just because.

And because of that, we expect a hook in every shiny thing. It’s hard to be optimistic or to appreciate the beauty in anything when we expect it to blow up in our faces.

I’ve spent ten years alternately embracing and feeling squeezed by my title as publisher of crime fiction. I’m proud of the literary legacy left behind—we’ve published many great books that have done what I’ve hoped they would, namely, explored the human condition. I don’t regret what’s been done, but I’d be a hypocrite and limited if I just kept doing it ad infinitum.

We must ask questions of ourselves. Always. And, when necessary, adjust our course.

Claire and I talked about that in the Publishers Weekly article. The scope of what Tyrus Books publishes might expand, but the heart will always be about capturing the honesty of the human experience. But I don’t want to be limited by expectations, especially the ones I may have put on myself ten years ago when I was trying to establish a presence.

There is a time for us to shed the cynicism of our youth, even in the face of so much constant ammunition. Now is that time, I guess, in daily steps, for me to keep the plot moving forward.

I give away books, music, art supplies, random things like airplane tickets, etc. on Twitter not because I am trying to buy redemption. I don’t believe you can offset your footprint that way.

I give away things because I want people to experience no-strings attached, too good to be true things that are true. I want the disenfranchised, the skeptics, the cynics who say, that could never happen to have to admit that happened. And I want it to be for something good, not a grim statistic like the number of bodies in a school shooting.

If our overexposure to violence, both from an entertainment platform, but also in the very real manifestation of spree killings, government sanctioned actions, individual self-destructions, and everything else that takes up space in the newspapers and police blotters gives birth to a certain type of cynicism that convinces us we’re all doomed to our own tragedies, and it, therefore, becomes a self-actualizing prophecy, I think it’s important we throw a wrench in the machine.

Because our lives are many things, but they are not single road inevitabilities.

If we can go from a neutral position to a more cynical and hardened position because of the things we see around us (and I know this to be true from personal experience and the experiences of some around me), then it stands to reason we can push the needle in the other direction. And in this case, I believe, we should push the needle in the other direction.

The Goodness of Others

Well, it’s been a some kind of week.

There have been bombings, manhunts, earthquakes, legislative shenanigans, flooding, explosions, and even an unhinged Elvis impersonator sending poisonous letters to politicians. In addition to these macro events happening here and abroad, I know other people who are wrestling with personal tragedies far outside the range of television cameras.

I know it’s always easy to believe that the here and now are the most extreme of times, as we don’t always have the benefit of narrative distance, but from a pure headline standpoint, I’m hard pressed to remember any seven day period with so much tragedy spread out so randomly.

My thoughts are with everybody, everywhere tonight.

I spend a lot of time trying to make sense of the world. One of the reasons I travel so much is because I selfishly want the benefit of others’ experiences. I make sure to meet as many people as I can while I’m on the road. Big cities. Small towns. Folks all across the political, class, race, sexual, geographic spectrum. I’m proud to have friends living such beautiful and unique lives.

I often wish I could retire, buy a big RV, fill it with the people I know and just drive around the country introducing everybody to everybody else. Because the truth of my life is that even though I’ve met some jerks along the way, I am endlessly impressed by the decency of people everywhere. It could be that I’ve just been extremely lucky with the people I’ve met, but I’m near certain that for every awesome new friend I’ve made, there are hundreds behind doors I just haven’t opened.

And how awesome is that? How blessed am I to know that there is, for all practical purposes, an infinite supply of strangers waiting to be discovered? Whose experiences and insights I can learn from? Whose stories will make me laugh and understand the world in new and even deeper ways? It’s really awesome. And I take comfort in that knowledge during weeks like these.

I often find myself wishing I could do more to help others, but don’t always have an outlet. Sometimes I want to set up a 1-800 number to talk to anybody who needs to talk to somebody (because we all need to talk to somebody, sometime) or make a mortgage payment for somebody in danger of eviction or feed somebody who is battling hunger. But I cannot be everywhere all at once no matter how much I wish I could be.

Back to the amazing people in my life.

Though I sometimes complain that I am too dependent on the internet, especially social media, I also count myself fortunate to have friends on Twitter and Facebook who seem to share similar sensibilities, who want to help, who want to celebrate the wonderfulness that comes with being alive, here, now.  I am consistently amazed by these people and their desire to be a positive force in the world.

Here’s an example—

Earlier today a link showed up on my Twitter feed asking people to donate money to Jeff Bauman (http://www.gofundme.com/BucksforBauman), a gentleman who suffered traumatic leg injuries as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing. A photograph of Mr. Bauman and Carlos Arredondo, the man who came to his aid, has become one of the lasting images from the aftermath.

Reflexively, I offered to send free books to anybody who donated to the charity.

But then I remembered how many other people are suffering in the world, not just from the bombing, but what happened in West, Texas this week, earthquakes that killed people in Iran and China, along with the perpetual suffering of others torn apart by famine, war, poverty, and other misfortunes. I then changed my offer to—

Tyrus Books ‏@TyrusBooks12h

I’m going to expand my earlier offer- If you donate OR volunteer in your community in a meaningful way, I will send you free books. Do good.


Almost immediately I started getting offers from others that they wanted to contribute music, books, and services to the same cause. The generosity and sincerity of others is pretty mind-blowing. I’m currently putting together a list of what’s available, how to verify, and the proposed machinery for how to make it all work.

It’s late now and time for me to go to bed. If tonight is like every other night, I’ll be trying to make sense of the world in those quiet minutes between lights out and sleep. But I’ll also be thanking my lucky stars for having had the satisfaction of one more day around so many wonderful people.

That includes you.