In and Out of Print

by Patrick Dubuque

I published my first book when I was eleven years old. Fresh off my victory for top fifth-grade writer in my school district (for a landmark collection of poems, headlined by “My Digestive System Makes a Wish”), I set upon my passion project: a science fiction novel. I don’t remember anything about it, now. I typed it up on sunny afternoons on the family Macintosh Plus, and while I still have the floppy with the file, I have no way to read it. It must have been more than five pages long. After spending twenty minutes printing it on the dot matrix, I made a gorgeous cover out of construction paper and submitted it. It was my first hint that I was not a novelist.

I spent my twenties trying to write novels, because I was bad at the guitar and I thought those were my only two options. They rarely made it past a thousand words, mostly because I was a poor, shy, white male and had nothing to write about. A few ideas clung to life for a dozen pages: a romantic comedy about a guy with chronic fatigue syndrome, whose consciousness randomly snaps forward minutes or hours into the future; and a narrative about the afterworld, where lost souls collected in random makeshift purgatory-cities and fought off boredom and despair that caused them to die again, and disappear. Now that I write that, the second synopsis still sounds pretty good. But plot is hard enough without discorporeality, and so it never went anywhere.

I published my second book a couple of weeks ago.


It’s nothing much, just a collection of old pieces that felt like they held up. I used the remainders of lunch breaks to format and edit them, spent the better part of an evening photoshopping the 1971 Topps cover. My friend and colleague Robert J. Baumann helped with the design, even offered to publish a short run, a really thoughtful gesture. Instead, I threw it up on Lulu and printed a single copy.

I never wanted to make money writing, because the kind of writing I do can’t make money, and I can’t write the kind that does – not for very long. And it’s weird to hand your own words out as gifts. So the book will go into the baseball section of my library, slotted between Dawidoff’s biography of Moe Berg and Charlie Einstein’s Fireside Baseball Reader. It doesn’t deserve to be there, if we’re talking about books as accomplishments and awards. But if you look at a library as the accomplishment of the reader, of the creation of his or her own experiences, then I guess it’s okay to be on the same shelf as Angell.

It’s vanity, but hopefully the same level of vanity that causes us to put handprints in wet concrete or tend gardens. It’s just another tiny little stupid gesture that says: I was here.