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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Darren Rome Leo nails a book contract for The Trees Beneath Us … Stark House Press enters the literary sweepstakes …

Amici:


From DRL's blog, Thought Vomit:

So, I’m waiting to hear from a publisher about my book. It went to the death panel, the last stop where one either gets a contract or not even a parting gift, last week. This isn’t youth soccer where everyone gets a trophy. You get published or you get not published…nothing.

Yes, everyone has interpretations and tastes and opinion. All those form a glorious spectrum about art. That spectrum cannot exist until the work is experienced. It can’t be experienced unless it is published, staged, displayed, produced, broadcast, etc. The arts are binary at their core. They are experienced, or they are not.

Think about the kid who was the second choice for the role of Harry Potter. Do you know who he is? I don’t. I doubt anyone except his family does. It might be a fun story at holidays, “Remember when Billy almost got the role of Harry Potter?” That’s it. That’s all they got. Daniel Radcliffe’s life was forever altered by a single binary decision.

The sports world recognizes near misses and good tries. They give silver and bronze medals. There’s a final four. Hell, there’s a sweet sixteen. Even the shittiest Olympian gets to walk in the opening ceremonies. There is JV and the minor leagues, and 2nd string. Ever hear someone celebrate a book that was almost published?

So, I wait on a binary decision. If it is yay, I’ll have a published book. If it is nay, I start back at square one. The next 3rd string left guard on a shitty football team who complains about pressure can blow me.

 
That was a week or so ago. Since then, Mr. Leo received an offer from yet another publisher (yes, two offers), so the Gold medals were flying, and today Mr. Leo is on the top of the podium. All of us who know him send our congratulations and very best wishes. My wife and I read his book a while back, and it is absolutely brilliant.

 

Back when I joined an MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University, I met a bunch of terrific people and writers. From staff to fellow students, (to the poor SOB’s serving out prison sentences working on Star Island), it was all a wonderful learning experience. One of the people I met through the program was an extra exceptional writer, Darren Rome Leo.

The publishing ocean is a tough one to navigate, especially these days. Aside from writing that has to be interesting enough to catch an agent/editor’s eye, and then good enough to sell, there are genres to consider, the objective tastes of acquisition editors, the all-important and obscure “market”, and then there are all the financial considerations individual publishers have to take into account when choosing a new author to debut … and should they bypass the financial obstacles, publishers sometimes have to decide whether or not to explore new territory.

And before it can get to a publisher, the author has to get it there with work, skill, more work, patience and perseverance. The road can be long and filled with more potholes (in the form of rejections) than the Belt Parkway (to date only the fucking moon has more potholes than the Belt Parkway). Ultimately, one has to believe in oneself and never quit. Too often writers jump the gun and publish their own works electronically. Ebooks can be tempting ways to get one’s work out there, but right or wrong, there’s no substitute for sticking out the vetting process of traditional publishing. Yes, there are ebook success stories (i.e., 50 shades of Fugazy), but most authors that have found solace and fazool$ in the ebook industry, have already been established in print. Their choice to go the ebook route probably has more to do with seeking a better return on their efforts and/or control over their product, but the likelihood of new authors reaching any level of financial gain from self-publishing isn’t very good at all.

It’s one thing to ask a friend to read a work in progress. It’s quite another to ask them to pay for the privilege.

So, what’s the point, Knucks? When’s the lecture end? What’s it all about? Come on already!

 
This week it’s all about Darren Rome Leo … DRL … honorary paisan, ball-breaker emeritus, and now an author with a book contract. Paraphrasing Mr. Leo’s response to my query about himself …

After a long career in the hotel business, Darren realized he hated it and that it was literally killing him (an attempted suicide). He decided to attend grad school with the plan of becoming a teacher and writer. He’s now conquered the latter.

Darren’s works generally deal with issues like depression or suicide, or some of the shitty things that happen in life. It is not because he doesn’t enjoy happy stories. More to the point, he thinks there are plenty of happy stories to go around. Darren wants to tell the other stories that people, whether consciously or not, avoid thinking about. Darren claims his character flaw is to feel a compulsion to point out when the emperor is not wearing clothes. He thinks it conveys to his writing.

His book is tentatively titled “The Trees Beneath Us.” It is a work of fiction grounded in personal experience (his hiking, his disease, his depression, and the tragic death of a child). Darren reopened a vein and bled onto the page every day for two years. In the end, he produced a magnificent novel; one that will wrench emotion from each of its readers and leave them in awe of its brilliance.

Perhaps the most surprising thing he learned in graduate school, and subsequently writing his novel, is that while writing is solitary, ultimately it takes a village. He thanks all those faculty and fellow writers who contributed to his efforts and provided their support. He knows his work would not be as good today, or about to be published, without that support.

 
Here are some other thoughts about Darren, his novel, etc., from some of his peers and mentors from Southern New Hampshire’s MFA program.

David Rawding (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): Darren Rome Leo is a wild man. When I first met him at The SNHU MFA Residency I knew we had a problem. The biggest being that there was already a Darren (Cormier) in the SNHU MFA ranks. I sought to remedy this duplicate name issue, while in a room of smiling MFAers, by nicknaming Darren Cormier “Original Recipe” and Darren Rome Leo “Extra Crispy.” The names both stuck like chicken grease to a healthy artery wall. Darren “Extra Crispy” is like a cigar. He’s unfiltered and should be left in a humidified room or closet. All jokes aside, Darren speaks his mind in real life and on the page instead of flinging hyperbole. If you read his blog “Thoughtvomit” you will better understand this character we call “Extra Crispy.”

Craig Childs (author and one of Darren’s mentors in SNHU’s MFA program): When I watched Darren stand up to some angry shirtless dude at 2 in the morning, not only stand up to him but put him in his place and send him packing, I knew this writer wasn’t fucking around.

Merle Drown (author, editor, and another of Darren’s mentors in SNHU’s MFA program): Darren Leon can cut! His new book, The Trees Beneath Us, shows the hard work a writer must perform to polish his manuscript, cutting to the bone. It’s a tale full of experiential knowledge, the learning he gained by wrestling with reality, then wrestling with words. Darren cut the fat, cut discouragement, cut the crap. He persisted with his story of a man on a quest, on a trail, on the edge. He’ll make you laugh and ruffle your heart. Darren can also cut a rug, cut the mustard, make the cut. He’s a gem.

Jerri Hickox Clayton (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): DRL (a.k.a. Extra Crispy), Robert Saugus, and Nick Clayton. Now there’s three wise men. Or stooges. All of them good literary citizens and amazing writers, and the best of friends; all three were working towards publication of their first novels. Congrats to Darren, for being the first of the three amigos to reach this goal. I for one am not surprised. DRL’s a kick ass writer, a smart ass, and doesn’t give up. And he also can drink a shit load of Jello shots. Look out literary world, you’re about to be taken by storm.

Kelly Stone Gamble (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): The first time I read Darren’s manuscript, I knew it had a future. He has a story, and tells it beautifully, and I couldn’t imagine that he could possibly improve that original manuscript. When I read the final draft, I was in awe. I laughed, I cried, not only because the words were so perfectly written, but because I knew my friend would see success very soon. I couldn’t be prouder of him. Well deserved.

Andrea Spencer (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): “I think it says something when you can remember where you were when you read a book. When I first read Darren’s work, I was in online peer review for my MFA program prior to that winter’s residency. I was a third semester student; he was just starting in the program. I was immediately intrigued by Darren’s story. I can remember writing, ‘What can I say? I am a D.R. Leo fan!’ That was after reading ten pages. A few summers later, I read his finished manuscript in its entirety while I was on vacation in Damascus, VA. It did not escape me that the house I had rented was right on the Appalachian Trial, a place that I had always loved, but will never imagine in quite the same way again after reading The Trees Beneath Us. I am thrilled that so many other readers will soon be able to take in this heart wrenching tale laced with moments of amusement and tenderness and that Finn will linger in their hearts and minds, as he has mine.”

Robert Greene (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): D.R. Leo is an abrasive curmudgeon with the heart and prose of an aching angel. He’s a pretty good dancer, too, and a better friend.

Darren Cormier (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): I would say Darren is one of the most fearless, brave, courageous, wild writers and people I know. But that’s both equating him with others and usibg the same word, all synonyms. There is no equal, there can be no usage of the same language, and no feeling sorry for yourself for knowing you won’t match the sympathy, empathy, and support he provides to all his friends. Even those which aren’t friends of his, he still champions their work and writing. I’m just very fortunate to consider myself among part of one of his inner circles. Or maybe I’m just partial because we share the same great name.

Wendie Leweck (fellow SNHU MFA graduate): Darren writes with an enviable rawness that both propels you and makes you catch your breath at the truth he gives his characters in their imperfections and passions.


 
Genre vs. Literary Fiction … some of us hate the distinction, and some insist there is one. Personally, I find the distinction silly, and I read far more of what is considered “literary” fiction than crime fiction these days … and that said, some of the crime fiction I read is far better than a lot of the literary fiction. Six of one, half a dozen of the other … so it goes.

 
The bottom line is that Stark House Press is reaching out to publish what some will consider/insist/whatever … is literary fiction. More important than any silly distinction, Stark House Press will be publishing a wonderful new novel by the man we’re celebrating today at the top of this post … Darren Rome Leo, a.k.a., DRL, Extra Crispy, Ballbreaker Emeritus … Stark House will be publishing a wonderful novel, something that exceeds in writing brilliance many of the novels I’ve read over the last several years. It is one of those that immediately humbles a writer like myself, for although I can spot the beauty alongside the pain, I can also realize in an instant that it is something special, something I could only wish I could write.

From the Associate Editor at Stark House Press, Rick Ollerman: Darren Leo has written an exquisite story of what it means for a man to be lost in his own life. When Finn suffers personal tragedy and serious health issues, when his orderly world dissolves around him, he searches for something beyond his reach. The love of his fiancé, and that of his children, can't seem to fill the void that has formed within him. He takes to the woods, mountains and streams that make up the 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail and loses himself in an entirely different way, meeting people along the trail, some of whom he helps, but many more who have ways of helping him. If he can only learn how to let them.

This is a moving, emotional story that connects to the uncertainties inside all of us, the self-doubts, that "is this all there is" feeling some of us get when we reach a certain age. The book will draw you in from the first pages and stay with you, and affect you, long after you finish reading it. It's the kind of book you buy first for yourself, than for your family, and then for your closest friends. This is a must-read book that you can't put down, which is okay because you won't want to.

From the publisher, Greg Shepard, (after I asked him to provide a few words):  I understand you’d like a few words from me about Darren R. Leo’s, The Trees Beneath Us. I think it’s brilliant. I love its escalating sense of dread as Finn crawls further and further into his own heart of darkness, even as he hikes further and further away from his past life and all those who care for him.

There is something of the noir anti-hero here, doomed to seek something he can’t find. In 50s novels, that something is usually money or sex. In Leo’s novel, it might simply be labeled “peace of mind.”

I don’t want to label The Trees Beneath Us in order to pigeonhole it, because I think that does a major injustice to Leo’s accomplishment here. But if I may be so bold to call it a work of eco-noir, I think that gives the reader a slight handle on it. Finn is on a mission which he himself chooses not to label. Sometimes it’s a battle. Sometimes there are moments of gentle purity. There is also a grim humor here. It took me on a trip I had never been on before.

—Greg Shepard, Publisher, Stark House Press


—Knucks

Celebrate!