Brando Skyhorse was a professional book editor until about six months ago, so he knows very well that a short-story collection by a first-time author is not the easiest thing in the world to sell a publisher. Mr. Skyhorse insisted, though, and with the help of literary agent Susan Golomb he succeeded at it last week, placing a collection called Amexicans, a “novel in stories,” with the editor Amber Qureshi at the Free Press.
Mr. Skyhorse’s book, which consists of interconnected stories about Mexican-Americans living in Echo Park, L.A., was acquired along with a memoir about Mr. Skyhorse’s childhood. North American rights for the two books together cost Free Press a sum in the low six figures; the sale followed an auction that also included Jonathan Karp at Twelve and Daniel Halpern at Ecco.
Mr. Skyhorse, who is 35, has never had any work published before, not even in any literary magazines. He said in an interview yesterday from his home in Jersey City that the stories that make up Amexicans were written over the past three years, and completed in the time since he left his last full-time job in the book biz because of “creative differences” with his boss.
Mr. Skyhorse, a Stanford grad, got his last name from a Native American man whom he mistakenly believed throughout childhood to be his biological father. When he was 12 he found out his real father was a Mexican man who disappeared when he was a toddler, but chose to hold onto the Skyhorse name.
He started out in publishing after graduating in the late 1990s from the writing program at University of California Irvine, where he was in a class with Alice Sebold, Glen David Gold and Aimee Bender. When he moved to New York, Mr. Skyhorse took a job as an editorial assistant at a small publisher called the Lyons Press that specialized in books about the outdoors, pets and the military. When Lyons was sold to Globe Pequot Press in 2001 and relocated to Gillford, Conn., Mr. Skyhorse moved to Grove/Atlantic, where he worked as an editor under Morgan Entrekin for four years.
Most recently, Mr. Skyhorse worked at a small press founded in 2006 by his old boss from Lyons—a company that, weirdly enough, was named after him. (“I thought, ‘Sure, if he wants to name it after me, why not?’”) He would not elaborate on the “creative differences” that led to his departure from the company, but was very clear that the six months he had spent unemployed had been crucial to finishing the book of short stories, even as he searched in vain for editing jobs elsewhere in the industry.
Mr. Skyhorse said he met his agent, Ms. Golomb, at the infamous Houghton Mifflin Harcourt office party last October, a cheerful and celebratory event at the then-newly-merged house that took place mere months before the company announced on December 4 that they weren’t going to acquire any new books for a while. Ms. Golomb said she had known of Mr. Skyhorse at the time only as an editor, and asked to see what he’d been working on when he told her about his writing at the party.
The collection he sent her, Ms. Golomb said, was not just an assortment of unrelated stories tangled together artificially, but a carefully mapped cycle.
“Sometimes people come out of writing programs and have stories and try to link them, but that wasn’t the case with this,” she said. “I think [Free Press] is going to work on making more connections and they’re gonna sell it as a novel in stories. The characters are linked generationally. The first story is about a day laborer, and later you meet his wife and their daughter and the daughter’s friend. “
Mr. Skyhorse described the collection as an “episodic” novel. “The characters recur,” he said. “One character at the very beginning of the book mentions his daughter, and then you get the daughter’s story at the very end of the book. In between these pieces, the characters come and go and interact with each other.”
Amexicans is the second such “novel in stories” that Ms. Golomb has represented in the past year. The first was Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, which sold to The Dial Press for a sum in the high six figures last October. Amber Qureshi, who will edit Mr. Skyhorse at Free Press, also has some experience in the field: the forthcoming collection of short stories from Booker-winning author Aravind Adiga, which she is editing in the United States, will be an interconnected cycle as well.
Ms. Qureshi, who is widely thought to be one of the most talented rising editors in New York, said she knew Mr. Skyhorse socially during their early days in the business. She said that the night she read his collection, she sent him a text message at 2 a.m. expressing her enthusiasm, without realizing that the number she had for him in her phone was no longer operational.
“I’ve known Amber for a while and I’ve seen her blossom into this really amazing editor,” Mr. Skyhorse said. “The impression that I’m sure people have in the industry is that Free Press is not totally synonymous with literary fiction, but I think Amber wants to build up something new, and that’s a process that’s exciting to me.”
The short-story collection is tentatively scheduled for publication in June 2010. And though there has been some discussion of the possibility that it’d be better to publish the memoir first, unless plans change, the tentatively titled Things My Father Taught Me will follow in October 2011.