Wed 26 May 2010
Each year approximately 100,000 English-language novels are published. This Thursday, my first novel Siege will join their ranks, making its debut in the UK. It is a thrill to see my book in print… such a thrill, in fact, that I’m happy to sign any book that is sent my way—I’m currently working through a pretty tall stack—simply because it means I get to hold Siege in my hands. (Also, signed books can’t be returned to the publisher; so as my agent tells me, a signed book is a sold book.) I’m very proud of Siege. I can’t wait for people to read it.
And that’s just it: I want people to read it, lots of people. As I wrote last week, just holding the book in my hands is not enough anymore. If I want a career as a novelist, I have to sell. The numbers here can be discouraging. The average first novel sells around 400 copies in hardback. 5,000 copies is considered a modest success. By comparison, a book has to sell about 4,000 copies a week to make the bestseller list. So am I worried? At the risk of offending the gods through my hubris… nope. I think Siege has what it takes to sell: it’s a great story full of action, adventure, romance, and intrigue. And my underground marketing campaign seems to be paying off. (In stores now! SIEGE! The last thing he wanted was a reason to live… Get your copy today!) I made it up to number two on the most anticipated upcoming historical fiction list at amazon.co.uk. My friends in the UK tell me that their neighborhood bookstores are carrying lots of copies. I’m feeling optimistic, which leaves me time to ponder more important questions, such as: what will I do on Thursday to celebrate?
Such a momentous occasion seems to demand some sort of ritual to appease the literary gods, or at the very least to mark the official birth of Siege. My wife and I have already decided that every time I sell the foreign rights to one of my books, we will dine at a restaurant that serves the cuisine corresponding to the country of sale. So far we’ve been out to Italian, German, and Russian restaurants. Something similar seems appropriate for Thursday, so perhaps I should carry on the dinner tradition and prepare a meal from my book. Maybe a medieval Italian feast: a tartara of egg, cheese, and ground almonds, spiced with cinnamon and served with sweet white wine; fried sardines stuffed with marjoram, sage, rosemary, and saffron, accompanied with a sparkling Lambrusco; hare with a fennel and almond sauce and a full-bodied red from Montepulciano. Or I could be even more adventurous and make a tasty Turkish dish like nirbach, a rich stew of diced lamb and carrots flavored with coriander, ginger, cinnamon, and pomegranate syrup. Or perhaps I should really go all out and make one of the ridiculously complex dishes favored by the Ottoman court, like roasted duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with partridges stuffed with bulgar. Or maybe I should save myself all that trouble and do what Hemingway did: head to a bar and get roaring drunk.
On second thought, it’s probably bad form—not to mention bad luck—to borrow the celebratory rituals of someone who a) was one of the world’s great writers and b) committed suicide. However, even though I do love to cook, I’m not quite sure I’m up medieval cuisine. Stuffing sardines—or inter-stuffing ducks, chickens, and partridges—isn’t my idea of celebrating. Pardon the pun, but it sounds like a recipe for disaster. So perhaps I’ll celebrate by doing what I usually do on Thursdays: heading to the local coffee shop and writing. After all, what better way to appease the literary gods than by writing?
Nah, that’s too boring. I’m making the roasted duck-chicken-partridge. After all, you only live once. Hopefully I’ll still be alive after I eat it…
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With the publication of Siege, my Under Siege blog is going on hiatus. Instead, I’ll be bringing you more in depth information on Siege: travelogues for the locations in the novel; medieval recipes; more detailed background information on the janissaries; biographies of major characters like the sultan Mehmed, the emperor Constantine, and the hero of the book, Giovanni Giustiniani Longo; and history books to read for those who want to know more. Next week, I’ll be writing about Longo’s hometown, and one of my favorite cities: Genoa.