Abnormal Author seeks Abnormal Readers by Grant Jerkins

I’m pleased to welcome one of my all-time favorite authors, Grant Jerkins, back to the site, though I wish the circumstances were slightly different. There’s no question Grant is a phenomenally talented author—his first three novels were universally praised, each made my Year’s Best list the year it was released, and his debut novel, A Very Simple Crime, has been adapted for screen by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and O’Neill Fellowship playwright Terry Curtis Fox. But a funny thing happened on the way to the publication of his most recent book, Abnormal Man. He can tell the story far better than I ever could, so I’ll turn things over to Grant.

Abnormal Author seeks Abnormal Readers
All Serious Enquiries Considered
No Brain Too Damaged, No Heart Too Dark

I want to thank Elizabeth for having me on her site and giving me a voice. When I published my first novel in 2010, Elizabeth was quite kind and supportive and has been that way ever since. I think that’s true for a lot of writers.

Most likely, this is the only promotion I’ll be doing for Abnormal Man, my fifth novel. I won’t be going on a blog tour, or chatting on internet radio, or posting a starred Publishers Weekly review on my Facebook page. PW won’t be reviewing Abnormal Man. Neither will Booklist or Library Journal or The New York Times for that matter. Because Abnormal Man is self published. I won’t even be doing a signing at my local bookstore, because the owner has made it clear to me that she has no intention of stocking the book. Why? Because she doesn’t approve of the printer I’m using. They’re owned by Amazon. And she would rather turn her back on me than see Amazon make a nickel. (Let’s all take a moment to feel sad for independent bookstores and how hard they’ve got it.)

So, you might be wondering why I’ve chosen to self publish Abnormal Man. I have an answer for that, but it’s not a simple one. Let me bullet it for you:

• My sales suck. Really, I could end the list here. It’s the only thing that matters to publishers and those in the business of selling books. Thus spake Bookscan.

•Nobody wants the book. I can’t give it away (so I’m selling it to you, ha-ha). In the words of my editor at Penguin/Berkley, “The subject matter is pretty distasteful.” Too dark, no one to root for. You guys know the drill.

• I’ve tried for over three years to place the manuscript. I’m tired.

•I had a health scare recently. Damn near died. The experience left me a bit spooked. With an urge to wrap up unfinished business. Abnormal Man is unfinished business, and I don’t know if I have a decade to wait around for a publisher like I did with my first novel.

• There’s probably a decent chance I could have placed it with a smaller, independent, specialty press. But, again, I’m tired, I’m haunted, and my mind has moved past that. Daddy’s living in the now. Sick of working for the man every night and day.

• I wanted to try self publishing. Test the waters. I’ve discovered it’s a lot of work. And I don’t actually have the skill set to pull it off properly. But I’m glad I’ve done it.

You might be thinking, wow, Abnormal Man sounds like a real piece of crap. I’m sure some people will feel that way. But it’s not. It’s not even particularly graphic in its use of violence (well, maybe a little.) What I’m saying is that it’s far from the most bloody or violent or extreme novel most readers will have read. So, what’s the problem? That’s what I keep asking myself.

And the problem, I think, is that there are certain types of crime that disturb us to our very core. Crimes we unfortunately hear about most every day. And we either turn away from it, or we have a gut reaction that is essentially the same thing: Exterminate them. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. Castrate the motherfuckers. And maybe that’s the answer. I don’t know.

My buddy Bryce Thornton of the Hoover Public Library managed, I think, to nail what it is that’s objectionable about the book. Bryce said, “It builds empathy for the character that is troubling for the reader.”

Do we really want to identify with, or even understand, the most despicable of those among us? It’s something our society has struggled with for centuries. As Arthur MacDonald observed in 1893: “The study of the criminal can also be the study of a normal man; for most criminals are so by occasion or accident and differ in no essential respect from other men.”

Can that be true? God, I hope not.

But what if it is true? Because “we’re all the same” is fine and good when we’re talking about thievery, or even murder. After all, we’ve all felt the impulse to steal something and probably even had homicide in our dark little hearts a time or two. So we understand (not condone, but understand) how somebody could succumb to such an impulse. But when things get even more unsavory than that, we turn our backs and refuse to allow ourselves to understand.

Simply put, Abnormal Man seeks an understanding. And that’s . . . unsettling.


“Grant’s fans will never forgive him.” — Penguin Group, Senior Executive Editor

“I’m afraid that I really didn’t like it. While it is certainly well-written, as are all of Grant’s books, I found it to be too dark and off-putting. There really isn’t anyone to “root” for and the subject matter is pretty distasteful. That being said, I would hate to end our publishing relationship with Grant at this point. For me, personally, and as a company as well, we are really committed to building Grant’s career.” — Penguin/Berkley (prior to ending their publishing relationship with the author)

“There is some dark magic in this one. I mean, really dark. Like whittle-my-bones-to-a-bloody-point dark. Jerkins calmly, unflinchingly goes about his business of crafting some troubled yet sympathetic characters who are in dire straits. That he manages to make these characters sympathetic, their problems understandable, is impressive and prompts the reader to consider the justice in violence. But despite the skill of its execution … I must pass.” — HarperCollins, Acquisitions Editor

Grant Jerkins lives with his wife and son in the Atlanta area, where he has worked for ten years advocating for the rights of adults with developmental disabilities. A Very Simple Crime, his debut novel, has been adapted for the screen by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and O’Neill Fellowship playwright Terry Curtis Fox. Grant is also the author of At the End of the Road and The Ninth Step, and co-author of Done in One.

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