Paul Harding’s Conversion

I haven’t read Paul Harding‘s debut novel, Tinkers, and I have only the vaguest memory of the band he used to play drums for, Cold Water Flat. (I want to say I saw them open for, say, Buffalo Tom, back in 1995, but I was going to three or four shows a week back then, and much of that period is now a blur.) But I found his interview with Bookslut interesting on a number of levels. So few musicians seem to successfully make the shift to fiction (Wesley Stace, Nick Cave, and Willy Vlautin being a few exceptions that prove the rule), but Harding also took the matter seriously, studying at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa with Marilynne Robinson. A strong sense of discipline comes through reading the interview with Harding, especially when it comes to reading: By knowing Robinson, he began devouring theology books that seem to inform Tinkers, though it’s not a book about religion:

[I’m read a lot of theology] [p]artially because of my friendship with Marilynne Robinson. Probably practically speaking that’s why I started. The thing that sustains me is the quality of the theological writing that I read. I grew up kind of an off-handed atheist. A middle class white boy charging around with my copy of Good and Evil, and I never really thought about [religion] until I’d been Marilynne Robinson’s student for some time. It occurred to me one day that this writer I admired was also one of the most profoundly religious people I’ve ever come across. I thought there can’t be a complete disconnect. She’s very much identified with Calvin, so I read a lot of Calvin, and then I started reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I’ve just been doggedly chewing on the Church Dogmatics for the past five years. It’s gratifying on every single level that you could want as a writer of fiction, as a person who contemplates. It’s just some of the most vigorous, consistently world class thinking and writing. It absolutely helps me with my own fiction writing.

Robinson blurbed Tinkers, which certainly helped the novel, published by the indie Bellvue Literary Press, get some attention. But it also helped that the publisher bent over backwards to help booksellers get the word out, as Pat Holt detailed back in March. Lise Solomon, a sales rep for the book distributor Consortium, told Holt:

“The buyer at Book Passage in Marin County loved ‘Tinkers’ so much that she asked if there was any way Bellevue could print a hardcover edition for the store’s First Edition Club. The publisher did a short run of 500 copies, which sold out quickly, and ended up printing another 500. Then Powell’s in Portland, Oregon (the Northwest rep loves the book, too) asked about selling its own proprietary hardcover edition, too, and Bellevue printed 750 copies that presold out quickly.

“But most stores responded to the trade paperback. They were willing to bring in 4-12 copies of an unknown author from an unknown press.”

3 thoughts on “Paul Harding’s Conversion

  1. Hi Mark. Thanks for linking to my interview with Paul. “Tinkers” is by far one of the most intelligent, beautiful debut novels I have ever read. I’m glad you enjoyed my conversation with the author!

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