Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Author I'd Walk the Flats For

An Author I'd Walk the Flats For

Discovering a great new author is a thing sublime; I distinctly recall being introduced to Patrick O'Brian--of the Aubrey and Maturin Napoleonic war novels--almost twenty years ago in a piece in The New York Times Book Review entitled "An Author I'd Walk the Plank For." I'd grown up on C.S. Forrester and Alexander Kent, so I thought to myself that even if it is a pale shade of a 19th century sea epic, it might still be worth reading. I was, of course, blown away by Master and Commander, and then discovered with great joy he had written a number of sequels to this crackling yarn. O'Brian was on the very cusp of true international fame at the time, which would lead him to write 21 books in the series until his untimely passing in 2000.

As a neophyte publisher I see a lot of manuscripts of varying degrees of literary quality. A year ago, however, I was introduced to a gentleman named Bill Lambot, who queried me about whether I would be interested in reading a submission. As I always do if a proposal fits the parameters of The Whitefish Press, I was happy to read the manuscript. I had only known Bill by name as he is a collector and historian of bamboo fly rods and posts occasionally on the Classic Fly Rod Forum. There was little to prepare me for what I read.

Because in the series of essays Bill submitted on a range of fly fishing topics, I knew from the beginning this was not an ordinary manuscript and Lambot was not an ordinary writer. I immediately googled the name to see what other books he had written, and came back blank. A phone call later I discovered that he had never published anything before, despite having written for decades.

I'm not sure I can express to you how genuinely rare this is in the publishing world. An experienced, mature writer who has never been in print? Of course, in our little world of fishing we always have the legendary story of Norman Maclean, author of the beloved A River Runs Through It, a first book which was published in 1976 when he was 74 years of age. But Dr. Maclean was no stranger in the literary world, having been a literature professor (with an endowed chair) at the University of Chicago until his retirement in 1973 and the author of some seminal academic papers.

As I sat and reread Bill's submissions--rough as they may have been in spots, befitting an author who had written voluminously without editorial feedback--I was more and more convinced this had the makings of something special. We tendered a contract, Lambot accepted, and we set about producing a book.

Where do you start when you have an author with a seemingly bottomless drawer of fly angling writings? This caused no small amount of debate, but we settled on collecting a series of essays on a subject matter that is both underappreciated and romantic in theme: saltwater fly fishing. We culled the list of stories from about 20 to an even dozen, and began the editing process.

What we arrived it is The Last Fifty Feet: Essays on Saltwater Fly Fishing, a book which just arrived from the bindery a couple of days ago and which, I think, will be a welcome addition to fly angling literature on the subject and inaugurate a long career for a very, very talented writer.

It's one thing to think to myself, "this is something special and unique," and it's another for others to think the same thing. Thus it was with some trepidation that advanced copies of the book were sent out to some truly luminary literary figures in the fly angling world. What if they didn't like the book? What if my instincts (and literary tastes) were badly off? What if I was wrong?

These are the things that plague my nights with any book. I would not publish a book that I don't believe in, but I had never published a book like this before and did not know what to expect. I still don't. However, I was more than gratified that people with opinions that are far more respected than my own had similarly great things to say about Bill Lambot.

For example, Nick Lyons, probably as legendary a fly angler as there is and no stranger to the publishing game, wrote of The Last Fifty Feet that it "is a perfectly delightful account, in clear, vivid prose...Amusing, unusual, and genuinely exciting...This is a genial memoir any fly fisher will enjoy." Fly rod legend Hoagy B. Carmichael wrote "One can feel the heat, smell the salt and join in the excitement of the take as Lambot's love of the chase washes over almost every page. A 'two fish' effort." But leave it to legendary saltwater angler and author Dick Brown to sum up the book better than I ever possibly could:

"For years I've read, and reread, the delicious angling stories of John Cole, Jeffrey Cardenas, Nick Lyons, and Bill Tapply, writers who not only spin terrific yarns but tell them with the authority and technical accuracy that resonates with even veteran fishermen. Authors of this stature accomplish in angling tales what Tom Clancy achieves in spy novels, they not only create intensity and get your heart thumping like a jackhammer, they make it so real you believe it's happening to you. After reading Bill Lambot's The Last Fifty Feet, it seems we have a new entry in this elite group of angling storytellers. Lambot is smitten by all my favorite fishes and especially my most favorite of all, the silver torpedo we call the bonefish."

Similar accounts came in from other luminary figures, but I think you get the point...

Holy. Cow. It is one thing to love a book and wonder if others see in it what you do, it is an entirely different thing for others to discover in it the same things you have. Especially when those eyes are far more experienced, and knowledgeable, than your own.

If an author is the parent of a book, then as a publisher I suppose that makes me a grandfather. I guess that's the point of this little epistle. Like a proud grandfather, I wanted to announce that there is a new writer in the angling world, and his name is Bill Lambot. And mark my words. Twenty years from now people will be writing about Lambot as one of the distinct fly angling voices of this generation, and I can say I was there at the beginning.

Now you can be, too.

-- Dr. Todd

1 comment:

Cutthroat Stalker said...

Dr. Todd,

I would imagine that as an editor it is gratifying to come across such untapped talent. Congratulations!