The other day I was sent a copy of a to be published Urban Fantasy by James Hunter entitled Strange Magic. Now I get a lot of offerings and most of them have far more enthusiasm than ability, but James has talent. His voice is engaging, his characters well fleshed out and there is just enough of the old Rex Stout style of PI Grit in the prose to keep the pages turning. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, which perplexes me. Not a single publisher or agent was willing to give him a shot so he is self-publishing.
I will bet serious money and have the contract notarized that not one of those mamby-pamby agents or publishers even bothered opening the file. More than likely they saw the title and the genre and said, “We already have a lot of urban fantasy on our lists now, it isn’t selling all that well so we’ll pass.” That’s laziness, not business and there is no excuse for it. Jim Butchers first Harry Dresden novel was turned down in much the same way. He wound up jumping the line at a literary convention and forced a read. The same woman who turned him down (she never read the original submission either, though she says she did. Liar.) and he rapidly became their top seller. This story is repeated nearly every time an author who is turned down just because they are in a crowd. You would think the publishing industry would learn, but apparently they are incapable of doing so. I do know I have yet to meet one with more than a room temperature warm IQ…
Here is the opening to Strange Magic:
The piano keys bobbed and danced under the pressure of my fingers. Music—low, slow, and soulful—drifted through the club, merging and twirling with wandering clouds of blue-gray smoke. So many places have no-smoking laws these days, it seems like there’s nowhere in the country where a guy can take a drag from a cigarette in peace. Everyone is so worried about their health, they make damn sure you stay healthy by proxy.
Not Nick’s Smoke House, though. Nick’s—like some rare, near extinct animal—is the kind of bar where you can die unmolested by laws or ordinances. You can burn yourself up with cancer, drown yourself into liver failure, or binge on a plate of ribs until a heart attack takes you cold, and no one will say boo. And you can die to music here: the beautiful, lonely, brassy beats, of the like only ever found in New Orleans.
The house band was on a break, so I sat thumping out an old Ray Charles tune in the interim while I watched the man standing off stage in a pool of inky shadow.
I’d never met the guy before, but I instinctively knew he was looking for me, or rather The Fixer—a shitty alias I’ve been trying to ditch for years. It was in the way he stood: chest forward, back straight, arms crossed, chin outthrust. He was a man used to intimidating others, used to being obeyed. In short, he was a thug. A thug sporting an expensive suit, a three-thousand dollar watch, and a pair of loafers that probably cost more than most people paid on rent. At the end of the day though, he was still just a thug—somebody else’s trained pit-bull.
I don’t know why, but thugs are always looking for The Fixer. Either they got something that needs fixing or they’re looking to fix me. I didn’t know whether this guy wanted option A or option B, but I figured he’d get around to it in his own sweet time. So, instead of tipping my hand prematurely, I continued to pound out melodies on the black and whites. My Ray Charles faded out and I started up a gritty, ambling, version of Meade “Lux” Lewis’ famous “Honky Tonk Train Blues.”
My left hand hammered out the thudding, rhythmic, rock-steady pulse of a driving train, pushing its bulk across the rolling open space of some forgotten Midwest wilderness; the bass notes offered a mimicry of the ebb and flow of pumping gears. My right hand flitted across the keys, touching down here and there, sending up a rusty whistle blowing in the night. The dusty clatter of track switches being thrown. The braying of hounds, while bullyboys searched for stowaways. If there was ever a song to make a man dance his way onto the box car of a rolling train it was this funky ol’ honkytonk rhythm.
I let the beat roll on, hoping the thug would hop and jive his way right out of Nick’s Smoke House and out of my life, no harm, no foul. Though a whole helluva lot a people think of me as The Fixer, really I’m just an old rambler trying to get by and enjoy the time I have on this spinning little mud ball. All I wanted was for this overdressed clown to walk away and leave me be.
The book comes out next month. It’s worth a read