by Jerry Waxler
Stephen Markley, fresh out of college, decided to write a book about “publishing this very book,” a catchy idea which made it all the way from his imagination into my book store. (Read my review of “Publish This Book” here.) In this first part of a six part interview, I talk with Stephen about his transition from college into the working world.
Jerry Waxler: In my teens I read “Catcher in the Rye” and “Lord of the Flies” about the terrors of trying to grow up. In my early twenties I read books like Henry Miller’s “Sexus” about remaining a perpetual adolescent. But I had no literary heroes who actually grew up and became responsible adults. The absence of such role models may have contributed to my ineptitude at becoming an adult myself.
Flash forward 40 years: I am on the other end of adulthood reading your book about the complexities and anxieties of this life transition, joining you on your struggle to become a fully functioning career guy. I wondered if your book could have helped me, or more importantly could actually help a few people now who are struggling out of their college world and into the first leg of adulthood.
Did you read books in which this transition into adulthood helped you visualize where you were heading, or did you notice the same gap I did?
Stephen Markley: I certainly didn’t think of it that way at first, but since the book has come out, I’ve realized there really is a pretty noticeable gap of reading material about this life stage. I’ve since read a pretty awesome book by a guy named Keith Gessen called “All the Sad Young Literary Men,” and I think guys like Dave Eggers and Chuck Klosterman definitely speak to that moment in life, but as far as literary influences for “Publish This Book” I promise I had no overt ones.
Jerry: Were you conscious of this book fitting into that space?
Stephen: At first, not at all. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I began to realize I wasn’t just writing about trying to publish a book but also about this moment in life that it turns out is very, very familiar to people. After reading the first three chapters, a fortysomething guy in my writing group said, “This reminds me so much about my life after college, it’s eerie.” It meant nothing to me at the time, but it turns out that was an important moment in the book’s development.
Jerry: Have you heard from readers who appreciate this empathy for their own struggle to boost themselves across this threshold?
Stephen: Absolutely. The bulk of the e-mails and Facebook communiqués hit on this point first and foremost. People note moments in the book that they recognize from their own experiences: hating their jobs, not finding a job, being broke, struggling to figure out what they want to do, missing college, ending things with a significant other. People love to get these things off of their chests, and I think I just managed to articulate it well enough that it resonates with people living through a certain time and experience.
Jerry: Have you had feedback from readers who recognize the gift you are offering them of a sort of confused flawed role model on the journey towards “real life?”
Stephen: Well, “gift” may be a strong word. As I wrote the book, it wasn’t until I was 100,000 words in that I actually knew it was going to be read by anyone, so I generally didn’t think of myself as offering a gift so much as just generally bitching. Bitching humorously, but bitching nonetheless. Still, there’s a lot of bitching going on in anyone’s life, so it’s easy to empathize. I offered myself not as a confused, flawed role model, just as a guy who has problems like anyone and dreams like anyone. I worried in the book that my story was too normal, too uninteresting to merit attention (there’s a whole chapter on it), but I think that’s what makes people write to me and say, “Hey, man, this exactly what I’m going through right now.” Because most of us just have normal American lives, but even those normal lives are full of drama and conflict and hope and tragedy and hilarity and intrigue and wonder.