After publishing more than a dozen books, including the popular “World Made by Hand” series and “The Geography of Nowhere,” James Howard Kunstler was dropped by his publisher, the Atlantic Monthly Press.
“Last December, I handed in a novel, ‘A Safe and Happy Place’, and they dumped me just in time for Christmas,” Kunstler wrote in a recent blog. Kunstler, a well-known author from the Capital Region, said his current agent didn’t try to sell it elsewhere, because he said it was off his brand and he claimed no other publisher would want it.
So Kunstler, whose books were previously presented by companies such as Simon & Schuster, decided to self-publish it on Amazon, the archenemy of mainstream publishers and booksellers.
“A Safe and Happy Place” is a story about a hippie commune in Vermont in the 1960s. The narrator is a young woman named Erica “Pooh” Bollinger, and Kunstler claims she lived in his head vividly from the first sentence of the book to its conclusion.
“My agent would like me to produce more of my brand of polemical nonfiction like ‘The Long Emergency,’ ” said Kunstler in an email interview. “I will have more to say along those lines in a year or so, as the economy of the U.S.A. whirls around the drain and people seek to understand how this happened. In the meantime, I wanted to write novels, works of fiction.”
If you go
James Howard Kunstler
When: Friday, June 23, 7 p.m.
What: Reading, discussion and book signing of “A Safe and Happy Place”
Where: Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Kunstler said his publisher objected to him writing novels, though they went along with it for the “World Made By Hand” series, possibly because they thought there might be some TV action on it. “I surmised that it would be a long, tedious ordeal to find another publisher, so I took a more expedient route to publication with Amazon. I want to get the book out there, partly because I believe the economy will go through some pretty severe contortions in the next two years, which will be hard on book sales.”
The more he wrote as Pooh Bollinger, the more he liked her. “I liked her pluck, her common sense, her humor, her skepticism and her moral compass.” Kunstler also enjoyed writing a coming-of-age story, which is a theme he finds himself returning to over and over in his fiction.
“It was delightful for me personally to escape back to a period of history, the late 1960s, that was a colorful moment in the American saga, and, of course, it is glorious to be young. It was also a wonderful relief and contrast from the youth of today, with all its vicious sanctimony and coercive conformity.”
Kunstler was in college through the heart of the hippie era. He saw a great deal of the action. He never lived in a commune, but he visited several of them and saw how they operated. He had a fortunate draft number and missed fighting in Vietnam. Like Pooh, he wasn’t on board with everything about hippie culture. He found some if it just plain creepy.
Kunstler’s experiment in self-publishing is inconclusive at this point. “I’m finding that book reviewers are practically nonexistent in America these days, as newspapers cut staff and magazines go out of business, and that used to be the main way to get the word out about something worth reading. I have to depend on the existing established reading audience who liked my previous books and follow my blog and podcast.”
He’s not too optimistic about the future of book publishing. “The book, as we’ve known it, is kind of an artifact of the techno-industrial age, which produced a middle class with the leisure to enjoy literature. In the 1500s, the stage play was the English-speaking world’s vehicle for literature. In the 1700s, it was mainly poetry. The novel comes along as a major popular art form in the 1800s.”
Kunstler believes people will always want to see, hear or read stories, but the form they are delivered in changes. “Book publishers these days are in a state of low-grade crisis from the disruptions of the internet. They’re mostly just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it will stick.”
Writing has never been an easy vocation. “I tell wannabes who contact me that perseverance counts more than talent. There are quite a few people who can write well out there, but not so many who can suck up the adversity that goes with trying to find an audience.”
Self-publishing “A Safe and Happy Place” on Amazon is Kunstler’s way to trying to persevere. “I believe readers will enjoy the journey,” he said, “and if you do happen to like it, write a review on Amazon. It actually helps.”