"This is about as fine as I can write. This is my best novel," Corey Mesler said to himself when he finished Memphis Movie.
"I'm through with writing. It's too frustrating," Mesler said to himself several weeks ago when he heard, along with some other bad writing news, that Memphis Movie was not going to be published, as promised, after all.
The problem wasn't Memphis Movie, which had already received glowing blurbs from writers Ann Beattie, William Hjortsberg, and Memphian Cary Holladay and from actor/authors Peter Coyote, Stephen Tobolowsky, and former Memphian Chris Ellis. The problem was the publisher, which is shutting down before Memphis Movie is set to appear.
Mesler, after years spent having his poetry and prose published by small, independent presses, considered shutting down too. And you can spare him the platitudes. As Mesler — who co-owns Burke's Book Store with his wife, Cheryl — recently reported in an email: "I am not the kind of person who takes it kindly when someone says something like, 'When God closes a door, He opens a window.' My pat response is, 'Yes, to jump out of.'"
If God does indeed open a window after God closes a door, Mesler may want to think again about jumping, because Memphis Movie is now slated to be on the spring list of titles from Counterpoint Press, under its imprint Soft Skull. Counterpoint is home to Wendell Berry, David Markson, Beryl Markham, Gary Snyder, and Guy Davenport. Soft Skull is home to Tom Tomorrow, William T. Vollmann, Jonathan Lethem, Neil LaBute, Noam Chomsky, and Peter Coyote.
Not bad company, and Counterpoint editorial director Jack Shoemaker is no slouch either. Mesler called him a legend in publishing. Mesler also wrote in his email, "I feel like the luckiest writer in Memphis, or maybe in Midtown, or maybe just on Young Avenue. But it is enough. I am grateful."
He's grateful to the writers and editors who went to bat for him. The supporters included: Ann Beattie, who sent Memphis Movie to her own agent; Shannon Ravenel, of Algonquin Books; the people at the small but respected Graywolf Press; and Peter Coyote, who contacted Shoemaker about Mesler's manuscript.
Two weeks later, Mesler learned that Counterpoint was taking Memphis Movie. More than taking it, they were green-lighting publication in record time: April 2015. Mesler by phone last week said he was "dumbfounded" by the news: "This is not the small pool I'm used to swimming in."
This is conference calls with Counterpoint publicists and talk of NPR and Entertainment Weekly interviews. And this is Mesler on the attention he's received: "It's all made me so happy I'm obnoxious. I feel like the Ancient Mariner telling every wedding guest his story."
What's the story? Memphis Movie tells of a director who hits it big after filming a small, independent movie in Memphis. He goes to Hollywood, makes two or three less than successful films, and can't get another one made. But a producer gives him a last chance: a movie made again in Memphis.
"It's a Robert Altman-esque plot with a bunch of story strands, but it's also about a director's vision being subsumed by all the people he has to work with," Mesler said. "Readers are going to think of [Memphis-based director] Craig Brewer, but it's not Craig. I even make jokes about Craig in the story to let readers know this is not Craig."
But it is most certainly Memphis. "I think Memphis is a magic place for any kind of creative person," Mesler said. And that goes for writers and artists. This year alone, Mesler has used artwork by Rebecca Tickle for the cover of his latest collection of poems, The Sky Needs More Work (Upper Rubber Boot), and artwork by Tim Crowder for the cover of his latest collection of short stories, As a Child (MadHat Press). Mesler credits all this creativity to the "Memphis mojo thing." But regarding Counterpoint's publication of Memphis Movie, Mesler's good news for the new year, he also wants his semi-optimism understood: "Any references to film rights, foreign rights, or NPR interviews I consider, in my half-full way, straight from cloud-cuckooland."