Back in 2001, after my agent had sent Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s out to publishers for the first time, I received a small postcard from an editor at HarperCollins New York. The editor in question has long since left the company (name deleted out of consideration and confidentiality), and the novel has undergone at least four re-writes and several edits since then, but the overwhelmingly positive response on that card meant a great deal to me at the time—it spurred me on to write three more novels—especially when it became clear that my books were not genre-specific enough to warrant a publishing house’s commitment. If the card is so tattered and grubby, it is only because I have carried it around in my equally tattered and grubby wallet for the past decade and a half, whipping it out on demand (usually my wife’s demand—Show ’em yer card! Show ’em yer card!) whenever evidence of my authorly credentials was required.
Following HarperCollins’s decision in October 2001 not to pursue the publication of the book (a CIA comedy just after 9/11? Are you kidding?), my editor was sympathetic beyond the call of duty, going so far as to send me a box of books as some form of compensation and offering to read the revised manuscript regardless. The box contained Jerry Stahl’s Perv and Plainclothes Naked, Richard Price’s Clockers, Alex Shakar’s The Savage Girl, Jim Dodge’s Stone Junction, and three or four others that have since gone the way of all things non-flesh: Oxfam. I always felt ambivalent about the possibility of being published by a Murdoch company (and yet here I am publishing using CreateSpace, an Amazon offshoot!) but the fundamental human generosity of my HarperCollins editor, like that of the CreateSpace staff with whom I have worked, will remain long after capitalism has bit the dust.
The long-standing irony is that when Cannibal Joe’s was submitted to publishers in 2001, it was set in the post-crash Ireland of 2015. Had it been published, it would today be regarded as inexplicably prophetic and discomfitingly prescient; instead, it seems like nothing more than a slightly surreal exaggeration of reality that might put bad ideas into the wrong heads within the corridors of power. Assuming that the wrong heads would bother to read it, of course. I’ve seen the standard of Irish Intelligence reports, and they don’t give grounds for such an assumption.
Oh yeah, and “John”? John Green was the name I intended to use for my books. Someone else got there first.