Many of us manage to avoid contemplating mortality till middle age, when friends and relatives start to check out with alarming regularity. Then we scramble to formulate a way to think about death that enlivens, or at least informs, our continued existence. Hence, MORTAL WEATHER. It's a novel of ideas with a dash of magical realism and a liberal helping of adventure-romance. The title comes from an epigraph, "Enough Sky:” (http://poetrysociety.org.uk/poems/enough-sky/).
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MORTAL WEATHER: Contemporary fiction. Upmarket literary w/ magical realism. 101,000 words.
Stanhope Ellis is a window washer who is not a voyeur, but a listener. Discreetly absorbing stories makes life bearable for Stan, till he discovers that new acquaintances are dying after talking to him. As he struggles with whether he's Mister Death or a cosmic witness, he meets a wise nurse, Gayathri Das, who feels compelled to help him navigate the emotional minefield. But will she die, like the others?
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MW is full of humor and romance and animals. Much of it has to do with the protagonists falling in love. It touches on spirituality, but is more comparable to Somerset Maugham’s earthy THE RAZOR’S EDGE than Paul Coelho’s nebulous THE ALCHEMIST. Hindu mythology is a touchstone. Spirituality in fiction gives many people pause -- including me. Yet, if the proper balance is struck, the potential audience is enormous. Both of the novels cited above sold — and continue to sell — extraordinarily well. At a writer’s conference, an insightful, bestselling author told me and others several times that MORTAL WEATHER could well "strike a nerve and make $25 million.” (A bit much, I know, but he was sincere and specific. He loved the novel.)
The literary writer must induce the reader to love the writing enough to push on to the payoff. The payoff is considerable in this plot-driven literary work. After much deliberation, I have come to think of it as expressive -- comparable to expressive visual art.
The POV shifts from Stanhope to Gayathri in Chapters 24 and 31. At first, I was tentative about her voice, but now believe those chapters are among the strongest in the book. The narrators alternate by chapter in the sequel, TANGERINE STARWARD. I considered the same strategy for MW, but the early plot is too tied to Stanhope to make that practical. Despite the mortality theme, I have avoided grafting Covid 19 scenes onto MW. I’m developing some for the sequel, however. You’re welcome to talk me into revising this strategy.
Though the tone is irreverent, MORTAL WEATHER falls distinctly on the YOU’VE GOT MAIL end of the YOU’VE GOT MAIL / SOMETHING ABOUT MARY cultural divide. I couldn’t watch the latter film and am probably incapable of writing something similar. MW is a first novel but I’ve written my million (plus!) words, as Asimov always advised. Most of them — comprising several screenplays and one other novel — will never see the light of day. I shouldn’t, therefore, require an inordinate amount of hand-holding.
My wife and I have been traveling since June, 2019, and all along the way — across Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand — I have not hesitated, when asked, to describe MORTAL WEATHER. Without exception, listeners respond with real excitement. The physiological response is apparent.
I've outlined four books that can be assembled from other published work: COURAGEOUS PULLS THROUGH AND OTHER STORIES (six humorous pieces); AS IF HOPE MATTERS AND OTHER ESSAYS (eleven literary essays); and LETTERS TO AMERICA (eight recent pieces on American politics and culture, including those posted on my site, Locuto.com). I will self-publish ENOUGH SKY -- POEMS FOR THE PACK, VOLUME 1 (100+ poems, a third of which have been published and/or recognized). If we develop a broad audience, these books might serve as stop-gaps while I complete additional novels.
Having produced a magazine, I'm keenly aware of the non-writing time involved in self-publishing. I am, therefore, laser-focused on traditional publishing. Considering the new stress agents face in an already demanding profession, I'm pleased to offer 20% - 25% - 25%. It's high time for a raise, in any case. My intent is not to undercut other writers or set a new precedent. I consider it a sort of nonconformity tax on the unique work I'm bound to produce, and feel certain it will pay dividends in the long run. Courage -- a primary ingredient of competence -- should always be rewarded.
Only five agents have requested the full manuscript. Nearly all the requests were made more than six months ago, when the drafts were still formative. Nevertheless, each rejection included many compliments. Perhaps you agree that original work requires a high degree of polish to bring everything into focus. It has taken more than a year to properly edit this unusual story.
One agent said the story is written with "real energy and imagination.” That’s all the encouragement I need.
Dangerous Protector: James Bond and other heroes have been described as dangerous protectors, but Stanhope Ellis may fit the description best. He tries hard to protect those he cares about but is uncertain whether his very presence is placing them in jeopardy.
Adventure Romance: The story is not long ago and far away, but its magical realism bends reality just enough to make the challenges similarly fantastic and character-defining. Stan’s falling in love raises the stakes and reveals a strong ally. The couple’s Odyssey becomes arguably more hers than his.
Stories Within Stories: The novel is studded with small stories. These reveal character but are also meant to be entertaining in and of themselves.
Zeitgeist: The story ranges across the US and at the end, the protagonists are poised to see other parts of the world. Our collective aspirations and fears, amplified by circumstance, organically inform each part of the whole.
First-Person Present-Tense: This approach confers a strong sense of immediacy and makes the most of Stanhope’s everyman voice.
Upmarket Fiction: Though literary, MORTAL WEATHER should appeal to a broad audience because of its humor, lunch-bucket characters, and universal theme.
Kevin Leverage: Many book browsers will have their interest piqued because I have the same name as a famous politician. Though it will be readily apparent that the politician did not write the novel — in fact, the Kevins are diametrically opposed — some of these browsers will buy the book anyway. In any case, they will probably remember the name.
Quartet: The novel can stand alone, but I envision a series in which the protagonists travel extensively: MW1: Cultivating the Verge; MW2: Tangerine Starward; MW3: The Cobalt Edge, and MW4: Deep Focus.
Thank you for listening.