For Stace himself, conducting business with publishers rather than record companies has been pure pleasure. He showed his novel to three different agents simultaneously, all three wanted to represent it, and he sold it in two weeks. Jennifer Walsh, the William Morris agent who ended up snagging him, wouldn’t say what the novel sold for but described the deal as “huge.” “When you meet with the music companies,” he says, “they haven’t looked at your demo, they don’t care, and they think you’re going to heist them. When you meet with the publishers, not only have they read it, but they’ve already put a bidon the table. It’s a completely positive experience!”
It’s also indicative of a publishing world which places a great deal of importance on image and performance. When even pathologically shy authors are wheeled out before the public, an author who’s toured with the likes of Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen makes for an exciting commercial package.
“It’s a huge bonus having someone like Wes who knows how to get up in front of a crowd, who’s been in the world and knows how to promote something,” says Clain. “That was part of what excited me about him.” Since one of the book’s themes is balladry (Stace has long had a scholarly interest in the subject, nurtured through years of prowling secondhand book stores), there’s even a chance that he may bring his guitar along to the readings. He’s done gigs at Borders in the past, so why not?
Although word is finally getting out, until recently very few people knew that Stace had written a book. Not telling people that he was writing a novel was a deliberate policy on his part. “I didn’t want to be the person who was just endlessly writing a novel,” he explains. “I just wanted to be a person who could say, ‘You know what? I’ve written a novel and it’s coming out.’ So people were quite shocked by it. A lot of my closest friends didn’t know about it, hadn’t read it, and now they’re reading it.”
So is this for keeps? I ask. Should we expect to see a lot more novels from Wesley Stace? Absolutely, he replies, though he concedes that writing the first one stretched him “to the very limits” of his capability. He’s already got fairly detailed plans for a couple more. One was inspired by a Werner Herzog documentary about Carlo Gesualdo, an Italian composer from the Renaissance, and the other will have something to do with his grandfather, who was a conjurer, and his grandmother, who was his assistant. Anyway, he adds, “You don’t just write one novel — particularly if your publisher’s bought two!”
John Wesley Harding performs at All Tomorrow’s Parties on November 8. See Concerts for details.