I am a self-identified dirtball.
I am only three generations removed from the coal mines of southeastern Kansas. I went to a second rate university and took six years to graduate. On the days I wasn't in class, I was installing carpet or working in a warehouse, lots of the time with ex-cons and guys on work release. I'm much more inclined to go out and shoot guns in the swamps of North Florida than I am to check out the opera. I'm a bowler with a near 200 average who has read precisely one book of the 70 (hardcover and paperback, fiction) on this week's New York Times Bestseller list. And when my friends scattered to points elsewhere to go where the real money was, I decided that it'd be a good idea to start a publishing company (Bleak House Books).
By pretty much all standards, I was, and may continue to be, unqualified to run a publishing company (first Bleak House, now Tyrus Books). I have no business background, I never interned at a big publishing house or prestigious agency. Just about the only thing I had going for me was that I had always loved books and I am endlessly fascinated by people's stories. I believe that books, more than any other media, are the best vehicles for capturing and transferring the human condition--what it means to be alive in these times in this place. That's what I want to capture. And because it's what I've always known, I'm more inclined to record and publish the stories of the people around me, and the people way off the Interstate in obscure pockets of America.
To that end, I am not the least bit interested in the trendsetting nouveau rich or heavily armed black belt international bad asses who dole out clap along justice.
I think people read for one of two reasons-- first, to escape into fantastic worlds filled with action, and sex, and special effects that get our adrenaline going, and second, to feel less alone.
It's this business of feeling less alone that intrigues me. I want to know that other people living regular lives sometimes have bombs dropped on their world and that real survival can simply be a matter of getting out of bed and willing your way through the day without any special skillset or resources at your disposal. I want to know that other people in other places have come to learn the resiliency and beauty of the human spirit when it overcomes obstacles with no hope of a million dollar payout.
I sometimes worry that publishing leans too heavily on the escapism and that we run the danger of over-escaping, waiting for the literary IMAX to move things forward. All of that said, I understand that all of that escapism sells a lot of books that play a big part in propping up the whole of the industry. I'm not knocking it and I wouldn't even know where to begin in selecting those titles or the responsibilities and stresses that come with moving 20, 50, 100,000 units of written Hollywood. But I think it's important to fight for what makes the book special--the human connection.
I'm not advocating for some starry-eyed literary revolution. At the end of the day, I just want people to read, and as a small publisher who doesn't need to move 50,000 units to be successful with a title, I'm going to keep an eye open for books that appeal to 3,000 dirtballs like me. No glamour, but if I can find survival, and a good story of the human spirit, then all the better.
Follow Benjamin LeRoy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TyrusBooks