Q&A with Jim Gavin (Lodge 49/Tiger Van Books)
Exploring why someone takes TV money and goes into publishing.
This week’s column is about a guy named Jim Gavin who went from short story writer to TV show runner, and decided to use some of that television dough to publish books. I’d been a fan of both Gavin’s fiction and his TV show, Lodge 49 (now streaming on Hulu), so when I heard about his new publishing initiative, Tiger Van Books, and his first release, (Shaky Town by Lou Matthews) I decided to act like a real journalist and interview him for the column.
Since I only get 600 words in the paper, there was a lot of material left over. I figured, why not take advantage of being able to share the full Q&A here?
So that’s what I’ve done.
While I am tempted to leave Jim’s original profane vernacular in place, because the column appears in a paper where the full flower of such colorful language is not allowed, I’ve made some substitutions. Where you see brackets [word] that’s me.
The Biblioracle: How does a guy go from writing short stories to his own TV series on the same network as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead?
Jim Gavin: If I had thought this path was possible and made it my ambition, it never would've happened. Stumbling through is the only way. I was lucky to get a story collection published and I had hoped that would help get me a teaching job. But I was just another jerk with a book and a [crappy] CV, so that dream was dying fast. A book to film guy at UTA had actually read my book - it was shocking to learn how much actual reading is done by the Hollywood types we all love to [crap] on. Those [gentlemen] read EVERYTHING! He didn't think he could do anything with my stories, but encouraged me to try my hand at a pilot, in a voice similar to my book. It took a while and I did it. UTA liked it enough to look for producers who wanted to get attached and I had the extreme good fortune to get hooked up with Paul Giamatti and Dan Carey, who are lovely people and huge book geeks. So we "went out" with the script, everyone in town passed immediately, but Susie FItzgerald, our fairy godmother, bought it for AMC. The day they bought it I got a voicemail from my landlord saying my rent check had bounced. Things had gotten to that point. Then we threaded the needle through development and got Lodge 49 on the air.
TB: You achieved the dream for fiction writers, breaking into television! Now you're not only back in books, you're a publisher. Not a lot of writers will establish an entire publishing company in order to publish their old writing teacher. Why do it? Why not try to help Lou through people you know in established publishing?
JG: Selling my soul to Hollywood is the best thing I've ever done. I was able to save enough money to put a new stereo in my Saturn Ion, AND start an independent press that is poised to upend the publishing industry. All the pretty boys at Penguin Random House are [crapping] themselves. As for Lou Mathews, he's never had the kind of lucky break that so many of his students have. He's been close a million times, he's had agents and editors who've loved his stuff but couldn't sell his book up the chain. The Whimsical Horse[pocky] Written by People Who've Never Had a Real Job School of American Fiction still holds sway. Fair enough, but in my mind, he's the great undiscovered LA writer, a true OG, someone whose work is worthy to sit alongside American realists like Leonard Gardner and Lucia Berlin. So basically, I was determined to right this wrong.
TB: You're releasing Shaky Town in hardcover exclusively for the moment. This is the most expensive format and the most difficult to distribute. You're new to publishing. Are you sure you know what you're doing?
JG: I'm 100% confident that I have no idea what I'm doing. That's hardly a reason not to do something. Punk rock, man. My main goal was to make a beautiful book and I wanted to do it in hardcover because Lou deserves a hardcover. The great Steve "ESPO" Powers did our cover and it's just [goshdarn] so beautiful. Holding it in my hand makes me very happy. Everything else is gravy.
TB: What are your hopes for Shaky Town? How about Tiger Van books in general?
The goal is to do whatever we want and in the style we want it, until the money runs out and the repo man takes the Tiger Van. Hopefully, that means more literary knockouts like Shaky Town, or some absolutely goofball ephemera inspired by Lodge 49, the lowest rated show in the history of television. We're very comfortable with a small audience.
The New York Times is recommending eight books this week, including The State Must Provide: Why Colleges Have Always Been Unequal and How to Set Them Right by Adam Harris, which is also strongly Biblioracle recommended.
Do you want to own all of Colson Whitehead’s books and also a tote bag? Penguin Random House is having a sweepstakes.
Alicia Keys is turning her song, “Girl on Fire” into a book.
Chicago Review of Books has their must-read books of September, including Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner, formerly of the Chicago Tribune.
All links to books on these posts go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Bookshop.org. Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago. Bumped up to $143.55 this week.
If you’d like to see every book I’ve recommended in this space this year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the Bookshop.org bookshop.
As always, recommendations are open for business. Wait times are minimal.
1. River of Blood by Candice Miller
2. The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
3. Friends in High Places by Donna Leone
4. Recalled To Life by Reginald Hill
5. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
I’m just about done with book three in Mick Herron’s Slough House series which reminds me of how much fun they are as both comedy and mystery/suspense. The first book is Slow Horses.
Happy Labor Day!