Sold: “The Twenty-ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra” by Alex Messenger

One of the most exciting things in my work as an independent editor and literary agent is when I have the opportunity to work with a new writer on their manuscript, helping them develop it to the point where a publisher later makes an offer to publish it. That is what’s occurred with writer Alex Messenger’s book, The Twenty-ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra, which I recently sold to Blackstone Publishing. They’re an Ashland, Oregon-based company that in the past couple years has grown from being a publisher of audio books only (several months ago I sold them audio rights to The Last Days of Sylvia Plath), to now having a full print program, with reissues such as Mr & Mrs Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and their Entertainment Empire by Kathleen Sharp (by coincidence I edited the original edition for Carroll & Graf Publishers in 2004) and new, never-before-published titles. Below is a lightly edited version of the pitch letter I submitted to editors with the manuscript, prompting the offer from Blackstone. 

A denizen of the wild places and freshwater lakes of northern Minnesota, by his early teens Alex Messenger had already gone on many wilderness and canoeing journeys, sometimes with his family, other times with peers through a local YMCA camp. The summer he was seventeen, a friend encouraged Alex to be a paddler on what would be his most ambitious trip yet: 

“’You should come,’ Mike urged me. Going on the Hommes du Nord expedition would mean spending forty-two days traveling through northern Canada, a near month and a half on trail, of whitewater canoeing, of portaging, of sleeping on a thin mat in a thin tent, forty-two days of dried food, adventure and fresh air.”

For the first twenty-eight days, Alex and his fellow paddlers confronted many difficulties in the Canadian sub-Arctic, including ferocious whitewater rapids that challenged their paddling skills, and an island locked in by shifting ice that barely allowed them to paddle their canoes away from it. The most dangerous animals they encountered were ornery musk-oxen. But on the twenty-ninth day all that changed when on a solitary hike Alex encountered a grizzly bear that attacked him. A life and death struggle ensued as Alex tried to retreat from the bear’s grasp, then bounced his heavy camera case off the bear’s snout, all before slipping in to a state of semi-consciousness. 

When Alex came to, he was alone, wounded and bleeding but somehow still alive. Forcing himself upright, he struggled back to camp in terrible pain from a severe thigh wound, where he was soon being treated by his resourceful companions who sought advice on emergency care from doctors back home via their satellite phone. An immediate evacuation was considered, but in the short term they resumed the canoe journey, hoping to reach the point on the map where the whole expedition was due to conclude at a remote fly-in village. In the days that followed, Alex tried to make himself useful on the water, helping to paddle when he could, though his injuries made the effort excruciating while aggravating the wound.  

A few days later, Alex, his fellow paddlers, and the camp directors back in Minnesota faced a difficult decision: let the party navigate to the village, or have Alex evacuated right then. I will let you discover their decision for yourself. 

The 85,000 word manuscript recounts an unusual coming-of-age story filled with inspiring descriptions of Arctic landscape, thrilling riverine adventures, and high risk adventure, all written more than a decade later from the perspective of a more mature Alex Messenger, who continues to enjoy wilderness camping and works in the outdoors and camping equipment industry with outfitter Frost River, for which he attends many trade shows; these will afford him an excellent opportunity to promote the book. 

Two comparable books that you might look to as models of success would be Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston and The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, which it so happens I edited and published at Carroll & Graf in 2001. 

Below is an announcement that ran in the book industry newsletter Publishersmarketplace. The photographs illustrating this post are by Alex Messenger, whose Instagram handle is @messengerphoto. If you enjoy adventure and survival narratives such as  Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (where by contrast the young protagonist did not survive his wilderness ordeal), Admiral Richard Byrd’s Alone, and Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge, then you’ll definitely enjoy The Twenty-ninth Day  when it’s published in 2019 or 2020.


Broadway Restaurant, a NYC institution on the Rebound

June 27 2018 Update

If you’re a friend, associate, or perhaps one of my authors, I may have invited you to meet for breakfast or lunch at Broadway Restaurant, near my office on the upper west side of Manhattan, on Broadway btw 101st & 102nd St. It’s a stalwart survivor of the golden age of NYC coffee shops from the early 1970s, a vanishing breed that’s hanging on even in a time when so many small businesses have gone under. Amid the tumult of yesterday, with a Supreme Court vacancy opening alarmingly, I am excited to announce some positive news from my own micro-locale: the operators of my favorite local diner, the Broadway Restaurant—Chris, Angelo, and Tony—have reopened following the fire their establishment sustained last winter. Here are some pictures from today’s opening, with the building front bedecked in pennant flags.  I’m sure I’ll be having a meal there very soon, so let me know if you want to meet up. I’m happy I can go back to giving them my custom. #community #thirdplaces

Amid the tumult of today, with a Supreme Court vacancy opening alarmingly, I am excited to announce some positive news from my micro-locale: the operators of my favorite local diner, the Broadway Restaurant—Chris, Angelo, and Tony—have reopened following the fire their establishment sustained last winter. Here are some pictures from today’s opening, with the building front bedecked in pennant flags. The restaurant is on Broadway between 101st and 102nd Street, if you want stop in. I’m sure I’ll be having breakfast there very soon!

Original post from March 22, 2018

Happy to see one of the metal shutters raised at the stalwart Upper West Side diner, Broadway Restaurant, with renovations now underway on its fire-damaged interior. The fire happened sometime during New Year’s week, and both shutters have been down ever since. In January, a neighboring merchant told me he’d heard that the owners plan to renovate and reopen, and I’ve been happy recently to see signs of activity. The establishment dates back to the early 1970s at a time when Greek-style coffee shops were common in NYC, though they have become much more scarce over the years. It has been my go-to place to meet clients for breakfast or lunch in the neighborhood. The veteran staff, Chris, Angelo, and Tony, have become friends, along with others who work there, and I’m hoping to see them all again sometime in the Spring.

In case you wonder about the location, here’s some info. They have great reviews on Yelp, including one I wrote:

Broadway Restaurant
2664 Broadway
New York, NY 10025
b/t 101st St & 102nd St

Broadway Restaurant
2664 Broadway
New York, NY 10025
b/t 101st St & 102nd St

Sold: “The Investigator: Justice and Demons of the Balkan Wars” by Vladimir Dzuro

In my work as a literary agent, I represent former Prague police detective Vladimir Dzuro, author of THE INVESTIGATOR: JUSTICE AND DEMONS OF THE BALKAN WARS, which I’ve recently sold to Potomac Books*, a division of University of Nebraska Press, for publication in Fall 2019. In the 1990s, while the wars in the former Yugoslavia were still raging, Dzuro began investigating war crimes. Thanks to publishing friend Janice Goldklang of Other Press, who introduced me to the author. His book is a view-from-the-ground narrative account of the brutal conflict fought among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. It combines insight from his investigations of war crimes cases while the brutal war was still unfolding, and the search for and capture of war criminals after the conflict ended. The book was first published in the Czech Republic by Grada (pictured below). Author Dzuro is now Chief of New York Headquarters Office at the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services.

I’ve long been horrified and grimly fascinated by the Balkan Wars, and in 1995 edited and published a remarkable book titled Sarajevo, Exodus of a City, by Bosnian playwright Dzevad Karahasan. The back cover copy explains that the author “Sketches a cultural portrait of Sarajveo, describing the city plan, its domestic architecture, even its culinary styles—all intertwined with searing descriptions of the siege, and anecdotes about how his life and those of his neighbors were ravaged by war. A Muslim, Karahasan invokes the Sarajevo that was once ‘a microcosm, a center of the world that contained the whole world within itself,’ a ‘new Jerusalem’ where people of different languages, faiths, and cultures lived together harmoniously.” For the author, Sarajevo was a shining city, a second Jerusalem, from an explicitly philosemitic viewpoint. The Village Voice Literary Supplement named it one of their best books of that year. The book’s had a long shelf life, as in 2015, an Indian travel writer named Abhijit Dutta visited postwar Sarajevo and in a beautiful essay on a website called LiveMint closely read Karahasan’s book and used it to gauge what has been lost since the Balkan Wars began in 1991.

Despite the horrors of our calamitous century, and the last one, I derive meaning and purpose from helping authors like Dzevad Karahasan and Vladimir Dzuro contribute to the historical record about the recent war that gave rise to one of the darkest phrases in our modern lexicon, “ethnic cleansing.”

*Earlier this year I sold Potomac Books  Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets by Robert Bauman and Dina Rasor, which will also be published in 2019.

A Quartet of Summer Readings at Books Are Magic

Just attended a really enjoyable quartet of author readings for three books-in-progress, and one that just been sold to a publisher this week, at Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. An MC informed members of the audience that the Brooklyn Writers Space, with two locations in the borough, was a sponsor of the reading series. The four participants, and evidently many other local scribes, find space to work and write there, at what we heard are “humane” rents.

I had come primarily to hear journalist Diantha Parker read from what I understood would be a memoir about her father. I’m enthralled by a lot of first person writing, so I went eager to hear some of the work. Parker read first. She set up her excerpt by explaining that in the very early days of WWII, before the US was in the war, her father, a rather proper Bostonian, had enlisted in the Canadian forces to join the fight against fascism. He fought in and survived the lethal battle of Dieppe, where he was captured and made a Canadian POW for the next three years.

She read well, with many deft strokes about his life and dark habits, a complicated man whose postwar life was shadowed by his brutal years as a captive, and the near-death march he and other Allied prisoners endured just before war’s end. Other passages showed how she’s fleshing out what this all means to her now, so many decades later. I was fascinated by the Canadian aspects of the story, and can imagine that many Canadian editors I know, and reader friends there, would likely be interested in the story. Fair to say, I will now be eager to read or hear more from her work.

The other readers were also excellent: Ryan Harty, Joanna Hershon, and Julie Orringer, all published novelists. Their work was also all very strong, and quite varied one from another. Bravo to the Brooklyn Writers Group, which is clearly helping writers produce great work. First pic here is Diantha Parker. Books Are Magic is a very nice bookstore, with a superb vibe for readings!





Saying Goodbye to Noah, 36 Years Ago

Link to my personal essay that includes the origin story of how I came to have Noah as a longtime companion.

An Ode to Michael Powell’s 1936 Film “The Edge of the World”

Quite possibly my favorite filmmaker is Michael Powell, the British director who with his creative partner Emeric Pressburger made such classic movies as “Black Narcissus,” “The Red Shoes,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” Two personal favorites were set and filmed in black & white in the Scottish Hebrides, “The Edge of the World” (released in 1936, made before he knew Pressburger) and “I Know Where I’m Going” (made with Pressburger, released in 1945). I have been to Scotland on four visits over the years and remain in thrall to its history, people, and landscapes.

I was cheered to see in this recent NY Times magazine travel piece that Powell and his work also enchant Indian-born novelist Neel Mukherjee, who for his story visited the mostly depopulated St Kilda archipelago where “The Edge of the World” was filmed. I shared Mukherjee’s story and linked to it on Facebook, and embedding that post here with the NYT link.

The epigraph in Powell’s 1986 autobiography, attributed to Hein Heckroth, art director on “The Red Shoes,” is

Movies are the folklore of the twentieth century

The book opens with this paragraph:

“All my life I have loved running water. One of my passions is to follow a river downstream through pools and rapids, lakes, twists and turnings, until it reaches the sea. Today that sea lies before me, in plain view, and it is time to make a start on the story of my life, to remount it to its source, before I swim out, leaving behind the land I love so much, into the grey limitless ocean.”

Powell tells great stories about the making of his movies, including the duo filmed in the Hebrides.



The European Union & Privacy Matters

I don’t know how many readers I have that live in the EU, or are EU subjects, but I know that the international body is installing new requirements about safeguarding web users’ information, so whether you EU readers are one or many, this statement is for you, and really for anyone concerned about their privacy and personal information.


I don’t have any data harvesting software that picks up people’s info, even when they don’t leave it deliberately.


If you choose to subscribe to my blog—which you can do by clicking through to “Get New Posts By Email on the right-hand rail adjacent to this post—that just means you get an email announcing each new post I publish, but my referral system doesn’t do—and will never do anything—with your email address, other than to automatically send you the new posts.


If I ever were to email you directly and personally it might be to announce something major, like the creation of a wholly new blog, but not randomly or incessantly.


If you happen to subscribe to this blog, or to my other site, Honourary Canadian: Seeing Canada from Away, thanks for doing that. But whether you do,or not, I promise to keep your data away from any commercial users. Thanks most of all for reading The Great Gray Bridge and Honourary Canadian.

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