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Way Cool: Gerard Jones Finally Gets Published!
The long-suffering creator of the popular Everyone Who's Anyone In Publishing website gets his book published. So why is he still so cranky?
It was turned down by more agents and publishers than you could imagine, nearly everyone in the industry. From his rejections (and those for other manuscripts he was also pitching), the author created a website, Everyone Who’s Anyone In Adult Trade Publishing, which lists the email addresses of more than 2,000 agents and editors, plus hysterically obnoxious excerpts from their rejections and his responses.
All of those agents and editors were not amused, but he’s quite happy to have pissed off the entire industry because he figures they deserve it. He’d gotten so much attention for his website that he’d become probably the most famous unpublished author in recent memory. We even featured him in the sidebar to my column, Much Ado About Publishing, last September.
So, who and what am I gushing about? Ginny Good, Gerard Jones’s coming-of-age memoir set in the 1960s and ‘70s counterculture San Francisco, which has just been published by Monkfish, a new independent publishing house that had its launch last fall.
“Ginny Good is an incredibly compelling story,” says Monkfish publisher, Paul Cohen, a book industry veteran who spent many years in distribution before starting his own publishing house. “I fell in love with it. It made me feel good in a way that I didn’t understand at first. Later, I realized it was about realizing how important relationships are. And I’m in awe of the craftsmanship. Plus, publishing Gerard is so much fun.”
On paper, Cohen is just as upfront about his experience with Jones as he is in conversation. In a letter Cohen sent me along with a copy of Ginny Good and the press kit, Cohen wrote: “Mr. Jones is a publicist’s nightmare but what he says about the book is true. Ginny Good is a sublime work of modern literature that deals with universal and timeless truths – love, family, friendship, loss, human frailty, redemption – all the while providing a compelling and utterly fresh understanding of the influence the decades of the sixties and seventies had, and continue to have on American culture. Mr. Jones may be an irritant to some for having ‘pulled on the beards of the high and mighty’ but should we expect less from our artists? Mr. Jones will not be contained in any case; I know because I’ve tried.”
What Cohen was referring to when he wrote “but what he (Jones) says about the book is true,” is an open letter to a prominent book critic that Gerard Jones wrote and posted on his website because he’s been so frustrated by the lack of reviews for Ginny Good.
In the open letter, Jones vents: “I wrote a gorgeous, smart, funny, tragic, important, edifying, timeless, truthful, practically perfect book set primarily in San Francisco from 1960 through 1980. It’s not fluff. It’s substantial, mind-blowing stuff. The book takes a deep, serious, no holds barred, close-up look into the real lives of the four substantial main characters, and includes all sorts of pretty cool minor characters, too…and nobody’s gonna get to read it because nobody’s gonna review it because it’s not represented by a big literary agency or published by a big publishing house because I pissed off all the big literary agents and all the big publishing houses…”
The people who have read it, though, clearly love it.
In the Oregonian, Metro columnist Steve Duin wrote: “…Jones has proved that the best revenge against literary agents isn’t a Web site that reveals their addresses but a memoir that exposes their lack of imagination.” Duin extols Jones’s “memory and his voice.”
In the UK’s The Guardian, Nicholas Clee, editor of The Bookseller, wrote, “I have been reading a rather wonderful memoir...Yes, he is a gifted writer, but that is a hard quality to sell. There is also the matter of precedent. In the time I’ve been writing about the book trade, I’ve come across quite a few memoirists such as Jones, dismayed that publishers have failed to appreciate their work; none of them, before him, has had any talent. It’s difficult to prove yourself the exception.”
Amazon.com reviews and other rumblings in cyberspace are also exuberant.
And, in a most bizarre twist, a marketing person at a prominent New York publishing house heard about the book, read it, fell in love with it, and has been in touch with Gerard Jones. Said marketing person (we won’t name this fan, or the publishing house, because who knows what corporate retribution might befall this generous soul), in said marketing person’s own private free time, is “talking the book up to booksellers,” Jones says with an ironic laugh.
Gerard Jones is mischievous. He has an extremely low bullshit threshold when it comes to the publishing industry, and who can blame him? He’s an eccentric curmudgeon, make no mistake about it, but he also has a wicked sense of humor, an easy, infectious laugh, and the impish charm of an impatient leprechaun – only he’s taller.
My conversation with him for the narrative and Q&A portions of this article were a time warp. At 62, he still speaks the vernacular of his youth: when he likes something, it’s “way cool,” and females of all ages are still “chicks.” Somehow, coming out of Jones, on the phone or on the page, this does not sound ridiculous.
The cadence of his speech and his natural knack for storytelling in conversation are identical to his narrative voice in Ginny Good. If you’ve ever read a memoir and wondered what the author was really like, you’ll have the rare experience of knowing what this author is really like when you read his book.
The Gerard Jones off the page is the same Gerard Jones on the page.
Gerard Jones was born in 1942, and grew up in Michigan in what can only be described –- you’ll pardon the cliché –- as an Ozzie & Harriet family. In the summer of 1960, just before Jones turned 18, the family moved to California, to the San Francisco area that would turn this innocent, romantic, idealistic boy’s life into a thrill ride. That fall, in a high school drama class, he met Elliot, the brilliant, eccentric pacifist who would later inexplicably volunteer for military service and go off to Vietnam. On New Year’s Eve 1962, before Elliot shipped out with some top secret intelligence unit, he and Gerard went to a concert where they both met and fell in love with Virginia Good. Ginny Good. Poet, dancer, actress, free spirit.
In the book, Jones describes her this way: “She would have been a god damn icon. She would have had followers, worshippers, acolytes, and an entourage. She would have given Zelda Fitzgerald and Anais Nin and Isadora Duncan and Josephine Baker a run for their money in the memorable chick department. She was the first hippie, for one thing…I have proof. Documentary evidence. You could look it up.”
Ginny Good was also crazy. Certifiable.
And she was an alcoholic.
And just to make things even more interesting, her younger sister, Sandra Good, would, years later, join the Manson Family. As in Charles Manson. But, that’s not something Ginny would’ve done. She wasn’t that kind of crazy.
Most importantly, Ginny Good was the great love of Gerard Jones’s life.
The strength of Jones’s memoir is in his natural gift for storytelling, his voice, the way he “tells it like it is,” as the old ‘60s saying goes. Even his mother, Laurie, now in her 80s, told me, “He has an innate honesty about him.”
Jones’s mom hasn’t read the whole book, though. Gerard won’t let her, and truth be told, she’s not eager to.
“She wouldn’t like some of the language,” he says. “Her friends have read it and have told her it’s good. She’s proud of me.”
Forget the salty language. Moms don’t really want to read about their son’s sexual escapades, even if they happened 40 years ago, or their acid trips, even if they’re written so inventively they don’t sound like anything else you’ve ever read about a hallucinatory experience.
The rest of the memoir isn’t like anything else you’ve ever read about the era, either. There’s no talk of any overarching “movement,” no protests, no politics, no cultural or social commentary. The story is told from the inside out, not the outside in. Gerard Jones simply tells the not-so-simple story of his life in the ‘60s and ‘70s with Ginny, Elliot, and Melanie (who joined them later) in various locales around San Francisco. It’s funny, it’s insightful, it’s heartbreaking.
Lots of famous people parade through the book, people Jones and his friends knew before they were famous, including Broadway musical theater star Donna McKechnie, whom Jones dated when they were teens in Michigan; famed Esquire fiction editor and Knopf book editor Gordon Lish, whose writing class Jones took at the College of San Mateo back in ’63 before Lish reached his literary heights; The Grateful Dead, whom Jones casually introduced to his mother at an airport, before the whole world started listening; and even Courtney Love, whose hippie dad dropped the two-year-old off one day so that Gerard Jones and Ginny Good could babysit for awhile.
As Mister Rogers would say, “These are some people in your neighborhood.”
While reading Ginny Good, I couldn’t help but see it as a movie. Jones, and many others, see it that way, too.
“Other people have suggested Kate Hudson to play Ginny,” says Jones. “And that Edward Norton should play me. John Cusak or Tobey Maguire should play Elliot.”
And, wouldn’t it be a kick if Courtney Love played Melanie?
Monkfish publisher Paul Cohen is now shopping the Ginny Good film rights around the film community amidst the buzz the book and Jones’s website have generated.
Since publishing Ginny Good, Cohen reports another result of the buzz.
“We’re getting a tidal wave of submissions,” he says, “because of Gerard’s book and website.”
Authors are no doubt thinking that this very smart man who had the vision to publish Gerard Jones’s book might also want to publish theirs.
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Nina L. Diamond chats with Gerard Jones:
When did you start writing your memoir, Ginny Good?
I started writing it in 1985. I wrote a small part of it and let it sit. Out of one tiny seed, the whole thing grew. I’d always planned to write about her. That’s the only reason she liked me. She would’ve liked to have been Zelda Fitzgerald. She deserved to be immortalized and she knew it.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I finished it in 1996, and was ready to show it to agents. I edited some more over the years. In 1998, I got a London agent who liked it, but wasn’t able to sell it. In 2002, I think, I got my agent here, Laura Strachan, after thousands of rejections from agents and editors. You name ‘em, they rejected it. I have other books that’ve been rejected, too. So, I’ve been rejected all-told about 15,000 times. That’s gotta be some kind of record. I must be the world’s most rejected author.
What kept you going?
My own self-confidence. Reading the stuff they don’t reject, and comparing it to my stuff. I began to see it was an honorable thing to be rejected. I took it as a compliment, and the more I was rejected the better I felt about my writing. They don’t want good books, they want books that will sell. They told me that.
After all this, how did you end up at Monkfish?
Paul Cohen, the Monkfish publisher, read about my website in the email newsletter of Publishers Weekly, and then he went to my website. He contacted me, and I sent him to my agent.
So, after all of this pitching, for years, and thousands of rejections, ironically, you sell Ginny Good not because your agent pitched it to Monkfish, but because its publisher read about your website.
Yeah, and I wasn’t even trying to sell Ginny Good anymore. I was trying to sell my novel at the time. Monkfish brought in David Sanford to edit Ginny Good. He had been Ken Kesey’s editor at Viking for the last ten years of Kesey’s life. David and I just cracked each other up on the phone during editing. He’s a good guy.
What’s happening with your novel now?
It’s called Astral Weekend. The title is inspired by the Van Morrison album, Astral Weeks. I’d like to sell it to a major publisher for a big advance! I also have Esmeralda, a collection of short stories, and a sequel to Ginny Good that’s called Kelly Christensen: An Introduction.
What did you think when Paul Cohen at Monkfish decided to publish Ginny Good?
I thought, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ I didn’t believe it until I had the actual published book in my hands. Then, I got excited. Then, I got really excited when I saw it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. I started grabbing people in the aisles and asking if they liked the cover, and if this looked like a book they’d buy, and if they wanted me to read it out loud to them.
What was Ginny like?
She was just delightful, she was funny, she made people laugh. She liked reading and reading out loud. She was a mentor and a muse at the same time. And I was perfect for her because I didn’t know anything, and I was inspired immediately! But she didn’t want to be in charge. She wanted you to be in charge, and she could teach you how to be in charge.
When did she first show signs that she was unstable?
When she was six. She put Drano in a bowl of tomato soup. She thought that would be a good way to off herself.
Right after her father left.
You write in the book that her family was quite well-to-do, and her father left two days before her fifth Christmas. She got the idea that if she stayed four years old, her father wouldn’t be gone. You then write: ‘Somewhere in her mind, Ginny Good stayed four years old for the rest of her life…’ Every Christmas, though, for the rest of her life, she went wacko, often for weeks or months. While at Sarah Lawrence College, she fell in love with a guy who dumped her after she went nuts one Christmas, and she was so heartbroken that she quit school, tried to kill herself again, this time by cutting her wrists, and then spent about a month in a private mental hospital. Not long after that, she moved San Francisco, enrolled at San Francisco State, and you met her on New Year’s Eve of 1962, when you were 20 and she was 21. On your first date after that, she told you she was an alcoholic. How could you handle her craziness when no one else could?
I could handle her because I was stable. Nobody else knew how to handle her, and I did, and I liked that about me. I was the best person for her. The longest any other guy lasted with her was about a year, on and off. I was with her for about five years. I had to protect her from herself. You had to be on your toes, you had to be a jack-of-all-trades to handle her. It was my education – multi-disciplinary studies. One of her favorite words was adventure. Even her crazy episodes were adventures. I’m not sure how crazy she was. I never did figure it out. She could manage herself quite well until she was drunk. Also, she was an old soul, and she knew it.
Do you see the book as a love story?
It’s a love story, but it’s also a story about attempting to build a family.
After you and Ginny broke up, she eventually got together with your best friend Elliot, and you were with a woman named Melanie. By this time, it was the early ‘70s, and you got the idea that the four of you should live together. Ginny was nuts under the best of conditions. And Elliot wasn’t too far behind. You were still in love with Ginny, and Melanie knew it. Why did you think you could all live together?
I wanted to do this because I’d had such a good family life growing up. In the 1960s and ‘70s, people tried to create families out of friends, but never successfully, because it was woefully stupid, and I knew that, but I thought, what the hell, let’s give it a shot. I guess the song High Hopes is the theme of my book.
In more ways than one…
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Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, and the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.
Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for its entire run in Miami and select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works frequently with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction.