Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hey! You look familiar

Hey all

Muchos exciting Nuevos.

First off, gracias for coming on back to this site. I know its been a long time away and all of you have many other things on your plates. Work, family, a pepper steak, and it’s summer and the weather’s been nice (at least out here in the northeast).

Much news to share. First, my book, The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness in Africa (alternate titles: A what man in Africa, Africa on 40 decibels a day, Africa? I thought this was Jersey, and my favorite: Are You There God, It’s Me Josh), is due to be released on Sept 4th. Along with the crack teams at Henry Holt and ICM, as well as the secret weapon, the amazing book publicist/superaunt Judi Davidson (aka The Unpaid), I’ve been busy trying to rev up the publicity machine. Will there be parties? Yes, there will be parties. And yes, you are invited and I hope to see you there. There will be readings, too. In NY, Massachusetts, DC, and LA thus far. I’ll post the schedule for all these events as the time approaches. You can pre-order the book here.

In the meantime, we just got this review from Publisher’s Weekly:

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa
Josh Swiller. Holt, $14 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8210-4
Although doctors diagnosed Swiller’s deafness early enough to fit him with hearing aids, the young man from Mantattan’s Upper West Side still felt different. As a young adult he drifted from college to college, job to job, relationship to relationship, never quite finding what he was looking for: “a place beyond deafness.” He found that place in the mid-1990s, when the Peace Corps posted him to a remote corner of Zambia. During his two-year stint working in a run-down health clinic in a rural village, he fought for irrigation projects and better AIDS facilities. He befriended a young local who played chess and provided constant counsel in the ways the young white American could—and did—run afoul of local tribesmen (and women) and their age-old ways. Deafness would have provided a unique sensory filter for anyone, yet while Swiller may have his particular aural capabilities, he also has literary talents—an eye, a voice and a narrative talent—in abundance. A story in any other Peace Corps volunteer’s hands might have been humdrum, but in Swiller’s becomes intensified, like the rigors of day-to-day Zambian life, through deprivation. (Sept.)

PW is the prime early reviewer in the country. That is, bookstores and libraries and reading groups take their lead from its choices, so hopefully this will lead to more attention, more sales and I may some day pay off my credit card bill and student loans. Some call me a crazy dreamer, but that’s only because our society has been so corrupted that crazy dreamers who used to wish for a world full of international goodness and kindness now just wish for balanced bank accounts and buy bracelets for Barack.

But I digress. In addition to planning events, we’re placing book excerpts and lining up radio interviews. Many things are in range and its exciting and I'll have the information for you shortly. Also, my website, www.joshswiller.com will be up soon, and will have all this information and more. But it ain’t up yet either, so I imagine this update feels a little like fooling around with a girlfriend/boyfriend in junior high – everything’s there, more or less, but you just got to wait to get the full effect.

I can say this for sure: The Unheard will be reviewed in several national magazines in the fall, which will be nice. Outside, GQ, and my personal fave, Penthouse will all give it some space. I believe the Penthouse review will be written by my old friend, Nameand Addresswithheld, and will begin, Dear Penthouse, I never thought I’d ever write to you but you’ll never believe what happened to me…

It’s been a long slog to get the book to this point, round after round after round of edits, during which I read my own words so much I began to see messages to Satan in them and also we had a bit of a struggle to get the right cover before finally coming up with this one:

Which I really like, though I look about twelve. It captures the feeling of the book.

I have to thank Supurna Banerjee, my Henry Holt editor who has read the book more than I have, and yet stayed enthusiastic to the end. Also Dana Trombley, my amazing publicist at Holt. And AJ, who has put up with far too many moments (days? weeks?) of artistic self-indulgence and mood-swinginess. Ugh.

On a personal front, two and a half months ago AJ and I moved from Brooklyn to the bucolic village of Cold Spring, about an hour up the Hudson (that's the view from town up above). Our Brooklyn rent went up a bundle and our landlord was constantly confusing our comings and goings with his eight campaigns in WWII (bless him for that, but we were just getting the paper) and so while looking around the neighborhood and considering renting one-bedroom shoeboxes and walk-in closets, we thought, let’s try something different for a change. Now I’m sitting on the front porch of our cottage as I write this, looking out over the Hudson river, over acres of trees, hills shaped like the faces of reclining Indian chiefs, and a man riding a motorcycle while wearing a helmet with buck antlers welded on it. Are the antlers a homage to the history of this place? Or is he just a buttface? It’s the circle of life. At least thanks to the implant I can hear his motorcycle’s 950 cc engine just fine. Neither Amos nor Otis know what to make of him either, though they too, seem to be enjoying the country living. They have become champion swimmers. Otis especially, is just a few bike lessons from competing in triathalons.

Meanwhile the world continues to burp up news stories that just make you shake your head or bang it against a wall. They’re swimming at the North Pole! They’re turning the corner in Iraq! Posh and Becks are here! But we’ll get to that in future posts.

So to sum up: Book: done. Blog: back. Hills: beautiful. Parties, excerpts, readings: a-coming. Penthouse: buy it for the articles. Joshswiller.com: soon.


Blogger kostia said...

This is a lovely, inspiring post, and it's nice to have the blog back.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

I'm trying to track down a review copy of your book, but can't find HH publicity info. Can you shoot me a note about who to contact at: frankbures@yahoo.com?



2:56 AM  
Blogger jlallen907 said...

Just pre-ordered your book!
This is Chris Haydon's sister, Jaime. Hellen sent me a link to your blog, and informed me about your book. I absolutely can not wait to read it. I'm so excited for you. I've heard many stories from Chris and Hellen about Zambia, and I'm anxious to hear it from another perspective. Good luck!

7:47 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Hi Jaime

It's nice to hear from you. Give them a hug from me.

6:41 PM  
Blogger doc503 said...


I listened to your interview on NPR this morning. Your account of the bus wreck brought back memories for me. I was a volunteer in Honduras 80-82 and during the first few months in service, one happened to me. I was traveling back from the capital city after 2 days traveling up to the north coast to visit friends. While in the capital, I bought a brand new Coleman lantern which didn’t require alcohol for lighting. I spent a pile on this lantern and was being very careful with it. After arriving at the municipality closest to my small town, I went to catch the last bus to Agua Fria- my site. The sun was going down. The bus was a “busito” or a van with seats and very cramped for a 6 foot Gringo. The driver wanted to put my big box containing my lantern on top with the rest of the baggage and merchandise, but I refused. I sat in the very back with 3 other men on the small bench seat and I could tell they didn’t appreciate me taking up room with this large box on my lap. We were hip to hip and I was next to the window on the right.

The bus was so loaded it squatted and people even sat as best they could between the seats in the small aisle. We took off through town and turned west onto the Pan American highway. Just out of town there is a long steep hill about a mile long. I could hear the driver going through gears as he downshifted trying to cope with the weight and the hill. We were just about to the top and he was down to first. The engine stalled and died. Thinking back, he could have cranked the wheel and just ended the deal by backing into the cliff on my side, but he tried to freewheel back down the hill. On the left was a steep drop off. We started picking up speed and of course his brakes were shit. He tried to keep it straight, but we soon started these swooping, sickening curves only a vehicle going backwards at high speed can make. I looked back once, but I knew what was going to happen and just turned back and dug my head into my Coleman on my lap. The other people on the bus were looking back like it was possible to do this. They didn’t start screaming until the wheels came off the ground during one of the swoops. Just out of luck, the driver put the rear of the bus into the hill on our right. The seat in front of me jammed into my knees as the bus rolled over two times. I ended up on top of the three on my seat. We started to climb out and people were bloodied and still screaming. I got out through the window on my right and burned my hand on the exhaust. Limping around I started to help others. I remember taking some of my dirty socks and bandaging gashes and cuts. The “cobrador”- the guy who takes the money for the bus, rode at the front door and could have just stepped off at the apex of the ride. Instead the guy stayed and rode the thing down. He said he broke his arm between the shoulder and elbow and I had him wiggle his fingers. I guess from watching movies I had it in my head a person couldn’t move their fingers with a broken arm. I was still convinced until he swung his arm and it looked like a third joint above his elbow. I agreed he had a broken arm.

We shuffled about wondering what to do with it getting dark when we heard the screams of a boy still in the bus. His legs were through the windows and his body was still in the bus. His mother started freaking and I thought we could lift the bus, but who would climb in and pull him out? All the men automatically went over and lifted the bus off his legs and the kid shot out of that bus faster than a monkey out of a tree. He was okay. Nobody died.

Me and one of my students started to walk towards our town. We met cars and trucks coming from Agua Fria because word travels fast about a bus wreck and Hondurans have a morbid need to view tragedy. They soon started coming back by. I imagine since there were no dead bodies to look at, they were disappointed and headed home. We climbed in the back of a small pickup and made it back.

The next day was Monday and a holiday of some sort. School was closed and I was just hanging out in a hammock at my house when the Peace Corps director walked in with my program manager. He looked a little angry to see me sitting on my ass, until I described what happened the night before. The look on his face made me think he was more relieved he dodged the bullet on a mound of paperwork over a dead volunteer, rather than being thankful I was okay. I limped around and showed him the school and was glad when he left.

Nobody knows why certain things happen the way they do Josh. It’s just bald ass luck.

Take Care

9:35 AM  

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