Though no need to settle for just our interview, yo, because there is much goodness to digest here. So much. So please do. It just might change your life. Excerpt? Cool.
Tell us how it all came about to begin with.
I’ll give you the abbreviated version. It’s a funny story. Joseph Peterson, who I already mentioned, at one point worked for the University of Chicago Press. He’s the numbers guy, when he’s not writing kick-ass novels. His colleague was leaving U of C Press to go to NIU Press and be the second in command. Part of his challenges was to take their fiction arm and make it cooler, hipper, whatever. So Joseph told this guy, “You should call Ben Tanzer; nobody knows this guy, but he’s maybe one of the people who could help you elevate your fiction program.” And this guy really called me. He was like, “I don’t know who you are...” [Laughter] Very politely. He said, “Send me your books, and maybe there’s something we can do together down the road.” But that road never seemed to materialize. So almost a year passed, and right before the 2012 AWP [Ed.: the second-largest literary convention in the United States, held that year in Chicago], this guy calls and says, “We should get a drink at AWP.” And I thought it was going to be very casual, and in fact I went somewhere else and drank first, which is also part of this story. [Laughter] And I show up, having drank for a long time, and there was the guy, and he was sitting with the head publisher. And I saw them sitting there and I thought, “Oh. Oh, this is not good.” [Laughter] It looked like a job interview. But when I sat down, they were soooo drunk, so the whole thing started becoming like this competition. They started interviewing me like I was going to go work there. And this went on for like an hour, and finally they said, “So what do you got for us?” And I had just finished Orphans and was talking to another publisher about it—and I want to thank that publisher for being so cool—but I thought, “If I leave this discussion, after verbally battling with these guys for an hour, without pitching something, I’m a fucking idiot.” So I explained Orphans to them, and this head guy, who could barely even stand up, says, “What would you think of your first novel with major national attention being a science-fiction novel?” And I said, “I’m sorry, I stopped listening after ‘national attention.’” [Laughter] And I got an email a day or two later, and he said, “Read the book already. This is a go.” And I had a contract on Monday. And then the guys left the company.