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Life of the Book

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An interview with Kyle Beachy

by Natalie Edwards

beachyKyle Beachy answered his phone, “Kyle Beachy, published author.” It’s a joke. He isn’t married to the idea of being an author, even though he has just published his first book, “The Slide,” which was named “Best Book by a Chicago Author in the Last Year” by the Chicago Reader, and is working on his next. Beachy graduated from the MFAW program at the School of the Art Institute in 2005. He says he went into the program with the goal of coming out with “The Slide,” his coming-of-age saga about 22-year-old Potter Mays, working through a delayed adolescence. Potter moves in with his parents post-college, post-heartbreak, without a plan. He drives a water truck, is obsessed with baseball, takes a fifth-grader under his wing, and watches his parents’ relationship crumble.

Beachy’s path to publication was, as he described it without pathos, “just working very, very hard at SAIC the whole time I was there, the full two years.” He finished his draft as  planned, attended the Breadloaf Literary Conference on a waiter’s scholarship (young authors are given a full scholarship but must wait tables for the big shots while they are there), and compiled a bunch of references that didn’t work out. “I wasn’t able to get an agent, so I just continued to revise [the book], smacked it around and tried to get it into shape.”

After he finished grad school, he taught at the Art Institute, Loyola, and did freelance work, while he shopped his book around. He sent out over 115 queries to literary agents. “I was very aggressive in my search for an agent, sending out e-mail queries daily, like 5 of them. Eventually a woman in San Diego who had done a lot of nonfiction but who was getting back into fiction picked it up and was able to sell it to Dial Press, a division of Random House.” He then worked on revisions for another year with an editor. “It was cool to have someone whose whole job is to think about your book and how it could be made better. You have to justify yourself.” From start to finish, getting his book out into the world took more than seven years.

The more Beachy put into his novel, the more invested he became, and the more confident he had to be. Though the process was long, he said, “It was a total mindfuck to have my book come out and have people reading it suddenly. It was an act of estrangement and alienation from something I had been working on for so long.”

The life of the book could be distracting, but Beachy tries not to Google himself or read his amazon reviews often. He doesn’t take hostile, Slide-related Facebook messages too seriously, either.

“You get in a habit of not caring as much as you did,” he said. In the beginning, he says he cared about internet and book-world chatter, but ultimately, it wasn’t helping his work. What does help, he says, is recalling the reasons he chooses to write.

“The first book you write is very much yourself. I suppose there are authors whose first novels aren’t some minimal deviation from their own story,” he said. “There’s a certain reason the first book is the first, because these are the things you need to get out. You get them out.”

He wants his books to be books you can sit down and get through. “The Slide came out of me as a slow meditation on adulthood, but if you’re going to write a meditation you have to be really smart, have to justify a slow moving book, so at a certain point, I said, ‘Screw it.’ So I’m interested in the idea of speed, and interested in writing a book that can be read very quickly, but that doesn’t sacrifice on some level of insight or relevance.”

Beachy doesn’t believe that novels should be impossible to get through. “I don’t think that pacing and narrative movement have to come at the price of worth, validity, impact.”

For now, Beachy has decided to be a writer, but he says that if he wanted to stop and get a Ph.D. in economics he could consider it. He seems to be preoccupied with assignation of arbitrary and artificial value. He wants to know how the price of his signed edition on amazon.com got set at $49.99.  “Don’t they know I’ll sign anything for free?”

Photos by Jen Mosier

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