Literary Lunch: Book finds a home at last

By Heather Lee Schroeder
June 9, 2006

APPETIZERS: 1 night, 2 great choices

With the warm season comes a slowdown in author events, but on Thursday you still face a tough choice. Ron Becker will read from "Gay TV and Straight America," and Michelle Wildgen will read from her novel "You're Not You" at the same time, in different places.

Becker, who examines how and why homosexuality has become part of mainstream television culture, will read at 7 p.m. at Borders West, 3750 University Ave.

Wildgen, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1997 and now is an editor for Tin House magazine, also will read at 7 p.m. at University Book Store at the Hilldale Shopping Center. Her debut novel has been praised by Publishers Weekly as an exploration of "the complicated moral territory of ... any young spouse's responsibility to his terminally ill partner."

ENTREE: Book finds a home at last

It's the dark side of publishing: Authors with debut novels are more likely to have success selling their manuscripts than authors who have a publishing record that is viewed (rightly or wrongly) as lackluster.

Milwaukee area author Elizabeth Ridley knows this only too well. When Ridley started shopping a synopsis and three chapters of her latest novel, "Dear Mr. Carson," to agents, she ran up against this phenomenon. She had a publishing record: Her first three novels had received good reviews and sold modestly in the 1990s. But when she approached agents, again and again she was told that her earlier novels hadn't sold well enough.

Several agents loved the novel's concept. The story chronicles the coming of age of a young, overweight woman who is sent to fat camp and who finds inner strength and self-esteem in a series of adventures. But none was willing to represent it.

During this period, Ridley thought about abandoning the project. She also toyed with shedding her old identity (and those sales figures) by assuming a pseudonym.

"The challenge was: How much would I have to give up to get it published?" Ridley recalled in a recent telephone interview. "If I used a different name, then it's not me."

Eventually Ridley came back to Permanent Press, a small independent publisher that had worked with Ridley on a previous project. The press was willing to look at the manuscript without an agent, but Ridley had to finish it. She decided to make a commitment to the book, and so did Permanent Press. It was a welcome relief to know it was going to be published, she recalled, especially since, in total, she received 150 rejections.

The book is set in the 1970s and, while humorous, has an undercurrent of seriousness. Ridley examines size discrimination and weight and self-esteem issues with razor-sharp wit, and she doesn't necessarily take the easy road.

"One thing that was really, really important to me was that I didn't want Sunnie to end up skinny in the end," Ridley said of her character.

The issue came down to whether or not she wanted to send a message to her readers that in order to be acceptable, you have to change. On so many levels, Ridley said, she didn't want to do that.

DESSERT: Local authors earn applause

Madison area authors swept the annual Council for Wisconsin Writers awards, taking top honors in numerous categories. The judging, which was done out-of-state, was based on work published in 2005.

Madisonian Dean Bakopoulos ("Please Don't Come Back From the Moon") shared first place for the Anne Powers Book-Length Fiction Award with Milwaukee's C.J. Hribal ("The Company Car"). Madisonian Margaret Benbow won the Larry and Eleanor Sternig Short Fiction Award for her story "Egyptian."

Sheila Cohen of Madison received an award in the juvenile nonfiction category for "Mai Ya's Long Journey." Mark Galanter of Madison won the Kenneth Kingery Book-Length Scholarly Award for "Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes & Legal Culture."

The Lorine Niedecker Poetry Award went to Alison Townsend of Stoughton. Madison poet Robin Chapman received the Posner Book-Length Poetry Award for her poems in "Images of a Complex World." Madison poet Richard Roe was given the Christopher Sholes Award for support of his fellow writers. The CWW Drama award went to Madison playwright Danielle Dresden.

To learn more about the Council for Wisconsin Writers and to see a full list of winners, visit

Heather Lee Schroeder's "Literary Lunch" appears twice a month. E-mail: Web site:

©Literary Lunch 2006