JE: For my buck, Unbridled Books has one of the best editorial voices of any shop in the business. We’ve talked about Emily St. John Mandel, Jacob Ritari, and a number of other Unbridled authors here on the blog in the last few years, and it’s a very strong bet that we’ll be talking about more in the near future–to wit, John Addiego, whose Tears of the Mountain launches this month (his last effort The Islands of Divine Music was most excellent). I have to say, in addition to admiring their editorial voice, I’m impressed by the muscle this little shop can put behind their titles. Unbridled can play with the big boys–in fact, the big boys could take a few notes. When the Three Guys decided to start a companion series to our When We Fell In Love series aimed at editors instead of writers, Fred Ramey at Unbridled was one of the first people that came to mind. Take it away, Fred.
There is much more to our publishing history that I’d like one day to tell, but because one circle that revealed itself in 1993 is moving into another rotation, it seems a good idea to make a record. Doing so just might shed light on what Greg Michalson and I—and our remarkable marketing and sales team—do at Unbridled Books. We’ve all been together for a long time.
In the early 1990s, I was publisher and Greg executive editor at MacMurray & Beck, an independent publisher of commercial fiction and memoir. Through a strange sequence of events in 1999, M&B’s backlist became the property of MacAdam/Cage, another independent publisher (more on that below). We later would be known for releasing some remarkable debut novels: Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, William Gay’s The Long Home, Patricia Henley’s Hummingbird House (which was a finalist for the National Book Award), Frederick Reuss’s Horace Afoot (a NYT Notable), Steve Yarbrough’s The Oxygen Man, many others. But the moment I’m talking about here was before those books arrived, right at the beginning of our efforts to publish the best fiction we can find.
In 1993, reading an issue of The Missouri Review—Greg was also editor of TMR in those days—I came upon an extraordinary autobiographical essay by a woman who called herself Candida Lawrence. The voice in the essay was as honest and unconventional—and modern—as any I have ever read. We got in touch with the author and discovered that the essay was part of a lengthy account of her pseudonymous life as a non-custodial parent who, thirty years earlier, had snatched her young children from their father. Soon, we published the first long segment of that manuscript—Reeling & Writhing, which describes Lawrence’s marriage and the tortuous custody battle. It ends with her taking the children, teaching them to answer to new names, and running with them across the country.
Anyway, when Greg and I began to search for fiction, we were contacted by a woman who had been a reader for Lawrence’s manuscript. That writer’s name was Cathryn Alpert, and her extraordinary novel bore the title, Rocket City. We published that riotous debut in 1995 as the third work of fiction on our list. By the time it had run its course, Rocket City had been lauded by James Crumley, Anne Lamott, Alison Baker, Stephen Dixon, and virtually every major review outlet in the country. I sold the paperback rights to Marty Asher at Vintage in our first major subrights deal. Rocket City was a B&N Discover pick and made The Feminist Bookstore News; even Entertainment Weekly highlighted the book—or, at least, its strange opening line: “Three melons and a dwarf sat in the front seat of Marilee’s ’72 Dodge, but the cop was not amused.”
From the start, Greg and I have had two goals in our publishing program—to find new voices, debut novelists, and to publish authors throughout their careers. A goodly number of the writers we first released at M&B—or at BlueHen/Putnam during our brief stay there—are with us now at Unbridled: Frederick Reuss, Rick Collignon, Timothy Schaffert, Susann Cokal, Masha Hamilton, Lise Haines, Marc Estrin. We’re proud that they’ve stayed with us. Who we publish has always mattered to us as much as how we publish them.
Here’s the circle: A few weeks ago, Candida called to tell me that Cathryn Alpert had suddenly, unexpectedly died. It took a while for me to catch my breath. Though I had not spoken to her in many years, I remembered Cathryn as vital and funny and strong—and extraordinarily tall. Rocket City made everyone laugh; 15 years on, I discovered it has 50 customer reviews at Amazon. Although there was never a second Alpert novel, Rocket City is one of the debuts we’re most proud to have published over all these years. But the Vintage paperback is out of print, and the book has been sitting quietly in the warehouse of MacAdam/Cage.
And so I called the folks at MacAdam/Cage and, after a few friendly exchanges, secured the paperback and digital rights to Rocket City. We will release an Unbridled trade paperback edition—and e-book—of Cathryn Alpert’s single, classically outrageous novel early in the fall of 2011. We’re doing this because our conviction doesn’t waver that the books we publish deserve to be read for a long time. We’re doing it for the same reason that we have re-released backlist novels by several of our authors (Elise Blackwell, Schaffert, Collignon, Estrin). We’re doing it from an old-fashioned belief in our authors’ careers and in the value of our colophon(s)—all of them, past and present.
This year Greg and I have published two novels by authors who were with us before we began Unbridled in 2004. In the spring we re-published Rick Collignon’s engaging masterwork, A Santo in the Image of Cristóbal García. And in September, we released Frederick Reuss’ latest, A Geography of Secrets, which Library Journal has called “masterly” and Booklist says is “deeply evocative…often beautiful.” Reuss and Collignon are both, quite simply, extraordinary writers.
Their being here with us at Unbridled Books—and our long-term relationships with so many such remarkable authors—means a great deal to us.
I have a foot-wide river stone in my garden that is carved with two words, two words and no punctuation: What Lasts . That’s the title of a chapter in the first novel Greg and I ever published, Laura Hendrie’s award-winning Stygo. I always thought it funny to have those words carved in stone, but I keep the river rock where I can see it every morning as a reminder that what lasts is what we want to do, what we’ve always done, what we continue doing.
— Fred Ramey