Sunday, January 20, 2008

Writing for fun and for profit

Andrew is a guy I used to know fairly well. I would describe him as a creative kind of person and I'm really happy to see that he's getting his book published, along with a lot of attention.

From the Winnipeg Free Press.

Winnipeg's Andrew Davidson has hit the literary jackpot with his first novel's big payday

Sun Jan 20 2008

LAST May, New York culture mavens were buzzing with the news that a first-time novelist had landed a book deal with Doubleday worth a reported US$1.25 million.

That astounding figure is not unprecedented in the high-stakes world of American publishing. Nevertheless, it is the literary equivalent of winning the lottery.

The brief accounts of the deal in New York media contained little of substance. They simply said the author's name was Andrew Davidson, his novel, being released Aug. 5, is called The Gargoyle, and its story is said to echo bestsellers by everyone from Umberto Eco and Michael Ondaatje to John Fowles and Chuck Palahniuk.

Eight months later, we're happy to announce an additional detail.

Davidson is a Manitoban, born and raised in Pinawa.

He studied English at the University of Manitoba, spent 10 years in Vancouver (where he went to finish his English degree) and another five in Japan before moving back to Winnipeg in 2005.

And though he has been working quietly from his Crescentwood home, polishing the final edits on what Doubleday hopes will be a fall blockbuster, his cover is now blown.

"I've been intentionally trying to stay below the radar," Davidson, 38, said in a recent interview at Bar Italia on Corydon Avenue.

"It's daunting to realize my anonymity is about to end."

In Canadian publishing lore, there is only one recorded case of an unpublished novelist scoring a seven-figure advance for a single book.

This was in 1985. Ottawa's Anthony Hyde earned national headlines after he sold his debut effort, a thriller, The Red Fox, to Penguin U.S. for a reported $1 million.

Of course, a cool million in 1985 went further than $1.25 million today. But Davidson might still own bragging rights.

He has scored a separate advance from Random House Canada, which will release The Gargoyle here, also in August. He has a deal with Canongate Books in the U.K. and with its subsidiary for Australia. Foreign-language rights have already been sold in 18 jurisdictions.

Though Davidson isn't saying, his total advances so far (and these exclude potential film sales) probably exceed $2 million.

"I didn't do this for the money, because who could have guessed anything like this would happen?" he said. "I wrote the book because I had to write it."

Davidson is abiding by his publishers' wishes not to show anyone pages from The Gargoyle. But he did type this thumbnail for the Free Press:

"It is the story of a severe burn survivor who, while recovering, meets a schizophrenic woman who claims that they were lovers in 14th-century Germany, when she was a nun and he was a mercenary."

His Toronto publisher, Anne Collins of Random House, calls it a "book of incredible erudition subsumed by a love story that crosses centuries."

She acknowledges that Davidson is living every aspiring author's dream.

"But it doesn't come true for every author," she said, "because not every author writes like Andrew Davidson."

Tall, handsome and conservative in demeanor, he looks more like a dentist or an actuary than a writer possessed by a story he had to tell.

He started the novel in 2000, early in his stint teaching English in Japan. Since his teens, Davidson had always written for his own enjoyment -- poetry, plays, movie scripts, you name it.

This idea came to him in the form of an image: "A woman with wild hair standing in front of a church and spouting crazy things."

He spent five years producing a 200,000-word draft, finishing it back in Winnipeg. He knew the next step, finding an agent, would be a hard one.

He researched a list of the top New York reps, ones he felt would be interested in his type of book.

Among those he queried was Eric Simonoff, co-director of Janklow and Nesbit Associates.

Simonoff was intrigued by Davidson's cleverly ironic cover letter ("10 reasons why you should not represent my book"), so he started reading.

He told Davidson the story had promise but it needed a serious edit. Davidson spent much of 2006 researching and rewriting to Simonoff's specs.

Among those he contacted for help was Linda Dietrick, a professor in German studies at the University of Winnipeg.

"He needed help translating certain words," she says. "He was very meticulous. He gave me a draft to read, and it's a great story. I really respect the guy."

After finishing the rewrite, he paid US$25 for a single-bound copy from the online printing company, prettying it up with stock illustrations. He fired it back to Simonoff, who spent the next six months shopping it around.

Simonoff turned down a pre-emptive bid of $1 million from an undisclosed publisher, setting up a minor bidding war and finally selling the U.S. rights last May to bigshot Doubleday editor Gerald Howard.

The Canadian rights had actually been picked up the previous fall by Collins, who saw the manuscript when she was visiting Simonoff in New York. With typical Canadian discretion, Collins refuses to divulge how much she paid.

"It is certainly rare for any first novelists of any nationality to garner seven figures for their work," said Simonoff, whose clients include Vancouver star Douglas Coupland and U.S. Pulitzer Prize-winners Jumpha Lahiri and Edward P. Jones.

"It is a testament to the power of The Gargoyle and of Andrew's vision."

Davidson has a few more months to enjoy his old life, which he says has always been about "gathering experience, not material possessions."

He loves reading, writing, going to movies and playing old-timers hockey. He's in the research phase of his follow-up novel. He isn't married, though he does have a steady girlfriend.

In the summer he will make himself available to begin an international media blitz. His money, at least the first few transactions, may be in the bank, but The Gargoyle's fate is outside his hands.

"I'm very happy with the faith the publishing industry has shown in the novel," he said, "and I'm proud that I've worked on it as hard as I could. But ultimately, the final judgment on every book comes from its readers, and that's the way it should be."

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