It's happening. The e-dition of Roland Merullo's newest, Lunch with Buddha, is out and the launch for the print edition is coming right up, next Thursday, Nov 15, 7 PM, at my hometown bookstore, Newtonville Books. This sequel to Breakfast with Buddha, the laugh-out-loud send-up-with-a-serious-undertone about spiritual practice, has its own think-about-it strain, a grieving husband. Even after reading so many of Roland's books, I'm still not sure how he does it: his clever way of doing analogies without constantly using the words "like" and "as if," his ability to hit the emotional notes with precisely the right pressure, his humor-without-insult. The story of how the book has been published is its own brave tale of friendship, dedication, and good business hunches. Here, the press release.
Roland Merullo’s funny roadtrip novel, Breakfast with Buddha (2007), is in its 13th printing, has sold over 130,000 copies, been optioned for film and translated into Korean and Croatian, and was nominated for the prestigious Dublin IMPAC Literary Prize — a success by any measure. However, for the sequel, Lunch with Buddha, Merullo turned down a six-figure advance and chose a very small publishing house owned by a good friend, instead of going with one of the larger houses that have published his novels to wide acclaim since 1991.
Merullo, 59, and publisher Peter Sarno, 58, grew up within a mile and a half of each other in the working-class city of Revere, Massachusetts. They played, at the same time, in different divisions of the city Little League. Their fathers knew each other well. Peter’s mother and Roland’s aunt were best friends, and their acquaintances overlapped in scores of places, but the two men didn’t meet until 2006 when each had moved far from Revere and each other.
During that period, Sarno had returned to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. As part of a course requirement for George Garrett Award winning author and AGNI magazine founder, Askold Melnyczuk, Sarno conducted a craft interview with Merullo based on one of the assigned texts: Revere Beach Elegy, winner of the 2000 Massachusetts Book Award for non fiction. Sarno would later go on to teach literature and writing classes at UMASS. Before the 2011 Spring semester began, he discovered that Elegy, (which had now become one of his own course staples), was no longer available. He contacted Merullo, asking if he could find a way to get it back into print. From that conversation, PFP Publications was born. Sarno proceeded to publish not only five books from Merullo’s backlist, but titles by such notable authors as the aforementioned Melnyczuk, Elizabeth Searle, Craig Nova, Sterling Watson and others.
On November 13th, PFP’s imprint, AJAR Contemporaries, will publish Lunch with Buddha.
The two former Revere kids are doing everything themselves — raising money through an inventive IPO program (more than a dozen investors will each receive a one-time 10% return on their money once the book sells its 10,000th copy) and the on-line crowdfunder Kickstarter, hiring a designer and copyeditor (both of whom are nationally known and happen to live within a few miles of each other and the author on Merullo’s country road), finding printers, putting together a book tour, attending conferences, meeting with booksellers and reaching out to reviewers as well as long time supporters of Merullo’s work.
“We’re determined,” the author says, “not merely to do everything the big publishers do, but to do it better and faster and at a lower cost. Peter and I have been working from breakfast until midnight every day for months now. Our skills complement each other well: Peter’s a detail person, and I’m out in space half the time. He knows the world of computers inside and out, and I can barely send an email. He and his small staff are as devoted to this novel as I am, and after 22 years of putting out books with the publishing giants, I find that immensely refreshing.”
Lunch with Buddha has some refreshing twists, too. There’s an interview (conducted by the noted author Matthew Quick of The Silver Linings Playbook fame) and a reader’s guide between the covers, as well has several hand-edited pages from Merullo’s working drafts, a recommended reading list, and a list of web sites where photos linked to the text can be seen. In addition to the usual hardcover and paperback editions (published simultaneously), AJAR will put out an eBook that will include embedded photos, taken by Merullo’s professional-photographer wife Amanda, from the Seattle-to-North Dakota road trip on which the story is based, and a signed, numbered, limited-edition hardcover with a slightly different design.
“I’ve actually gained a lot more respect for the larger and established publishers during this process,” Sarno says. “It’s not easy reaching an individual author’s fan base, his or her supporters. Or establishing and discovering a new reader-ship in this digital and online world. You’d think it would be. But folks are bombarded with so much info these days that it can be difficult to capture their attention. We’ve employed as many of the new social media tools as we can, and the eBook format has so much potential. Yet, we’ve also gone back to what some would consider the ‘old fashioned’ ways of snail mail, returned telephone calls and cups of coffee with independent bookstore owners, librarians and booksellers as a means of connecting with Roland’s readers.”
The business partners have already contacted many of the book groups that chose Breakfast with Buddha, put together an extensive book tour, including stops in eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New York State, and in the works are radio and print interviews, as well as catalogue and on-line advertising via publishing organizations, Book Buzz, Goodreads, and other reader-centric sites.
“I wrote this novel in such a way that those who’ve never read Breakfast will be perfectly at ease, and those who have read it will continue their American road trip and spiritual search with the eccentric monk, Volya Rinpoche, and the other characters they came to know, “ Merullo says. “This is my 15th publication, and I have to say I’ve never worked as hard or enjoyed anything nearly as much.”
Print books are already available for pre order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and several independent bookstores. eBook versions will be available in Kindle, Nook, Apple iBook and Kobo formats. Merullo plans to create an audio version in the Boston accent he and Sarno have never lost. Join them for the celebratory launch reading at Newtonville Books in Newton, MA, on November 15th, or elsewhere along the road in November, December, and January (For a list of appearances, visit LunchWithBuddha.com, or RolandMerullo.com, or the Facebook pages of Roland Merullo or Lunch with Buddha.)
Roland Merullo and Peter Sarno thank you in advance for any review attention or off-page coverage you can give to this new adventure, Lunch with Buddha.