A year ago in March, Dave Eggers' upstart McSweeney's publishing empire threw a contest wherein it would publish the best book anyone could write about electrical engineering on boats. Cyberspace crackled with excitement, as every young writer dreamed of being tapped by the saucy McSweeney's crew, either for print or online literary journals or for the company's new arm that publishes such authors as Neal Pollack, Lawrence Krauser and Jonathan Lethem. But lippy content is not the only way the boys from McSweeney's are confounding the publishing industry. By keeping a low overhead, the company allows authors to net, per book, nearly three times what they would receive from a standard arrangement. McSweeney's also cuts the timeline down. Instead of publishing a book a year or more after it's finished, McSweeney's cranks it out in a matter of months...which brings us back to Amy Fusselman's book tour and revealing her book's ending.
Fusselman, a 35-year-old Manhattan freelance writer, entered an idea into the contest: She wanted to intersperse passages about her father's death with excerpts from his diary written in the Navy during World War II. "After I emailed the initial proposal in, I didn't hear for months," Fusselman told WW. "Suddenly, in August, there was this email from Eggers saying, 'Step right up and write that book,' which was terrifying and exciting simultaneously. I wrote it quickly, in three or four weeks. It was an incredible moment in my life."
The Pharmacist's Mate is Fusselman's very personal story of dealing with her father's death while grappling with her own infertility. "All my writing has been really personal," says Fusselman. "I went to school for poetry at Boston University, which is a hotbed--the Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton mecca. It's just what you do." Finally, a female has infiltrated the exclusive McSweeney's club for talented male writers; it is publishing a book that's rife with gynecological references. "It's electrical engineering in the stirrups," laughs Fusselman.
At the end of The Pharmacist's Mate, Fusselman becomes pregnant. Thanks to the magic of McSweeney's rapid turnaround time, she's still pregnant, which is why she's touring now, before her book and her baby officially come out this summer. The media-savvy McSweeney's moguls are taking full advantage by sponsoring Fusselman's "Delicate Condition" tour, touting the swollen woman like a corporate symbol--the Pillsbury Doughgirl or the Michelin Tire Lady. In true McSweeney's style, Fusselman's readings have become more performance art than boring book pushing. She's even posting a delightful book-tour diary on the company website.
Fusselman has turned out to be the perfect McSweeney's contest winner. Now she's cruising on her laurels and not looking too far into the future. "I would definitely like to write another book," she says. "I've a lot of interests, so I don't like to make plans. I'm going on this tour, and then I'm going to sit on the couch and eat popsicles until I go to the hospital."
Amy Fusselman will read from The Pharmacist's Mate at Powell's-Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. 7:30 pm Tuesday, May 22.
Read Amy Fusselman's book-tour diary on www.mcsweeneys.net.