Dwaine Rieves was born and raised in Monroe County, Mississippi. During a career as a research pharmaceutical scientist and critical care physician, he began writing poetry and creative prose. His poetry has won the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry and the River Styx International Poetry Prize. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review and other publications. He can be reached at www.dwainerieves.com.
Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
Shirtless Men Drink Free is a novel about souls and the bodies that won’t let them go. In more earthly words, the novel is the tale of three highly successful professionals altering their lives in attempts to redeem the troubling deaths of their parents. The story is set in Atlanta 2004, when the state is in the midst of a gubernatorial election. Dr. Jane Beekman’s mother has just died of an overlooked cancer while her husband Dr. Price Beekman must confront the reasons behind his father’s suicide, a suicide that just may impact the election of the state’s next governor.
In short, Shirtless Men Drink Free deals with how a parent’s death impacts his/her grown children—the need for making something noble or at least meaningful from the death. As the book cover notes, Shirtless Men Drink Free makes vivid the human soul’s struggle in a world bedeviled by desire and the fears that leave us all asking—Why?
Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?
What an experience to tell! My novel is a work of literary fiction, so I initially sought the assistance of an agent experienced in this genre. With the completion of a final working draft, I queried over 200 agents. Yes—over 200! The vast majority never responded. Probably a dozen responded, and six requested the full manuscript. The feedback I received from these six agents was consistent—“Dwaine, the writing is great and the story compelling; but it will be hard to sell this work. The market is so tough now, unless you have a connection, a track record or fit clearly into a market niche, the big houses are just not going to take you on. Sorry.”
Indeed, one well-known agent called to apologize for not being able to take on the novel because: “You just can’t write like this initially. You have to have a track record of more accessible, popular novels. Then, you maybe can go experimental with a traditional publisher.”
I have heard many versions of “sorry.” Being a poet, I guess I’m used to rejection. Too, I knew Shirtless Men Drink Free, would never be an “easy sell.” It wasn’t supposed to be “easy.” The novel makes no apology for its Southern soul, which is not an easy commodity for the market.
Shirtless Men Drink Free is being published by Leapfolio, an imprint of Tupelo Press, which published my first poetry collection.
Leapfolio is a form of a hybrid press—a creature I had never heard of until Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press introduced me to the Leapfolio model. In this model, the press and the author invest time, sweat and finances into the book’s production. I particularly like the model because Leapfolio allowed me to make the final sign-off on all aspects of the book’s production. I have a friend who recently had a novel published by a traditional publisher, and I was surprised to hear of how little control the author had over the book’s presentation. Perhaps I’m a control freak! But after working twelve years on a novel, I sure wanted the final presentation to align with story itself.
How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?
Shirtless Men Drink Free is a slogan from the gay bar that has a role in the novel. I chose the title—even at the risk of it sounding somewhat pornographic—because it carries a strong metaphor. The freedom within quenching a thirst with no penalties or constraints of the world or body. That title came to me at the close of the book, following discussions with my publisher. Initially, I had considered solely Shirtless Men. But, no doubt some readers would have been looking for pictures.
Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?
I wanted the book cover to be engaging and coy—an image that suggests a mystery, some narrative awaiting discovery. Of course, one idea was to picture a shirtless man, but no way! That sort of image would have really carried us into the gay porn world, which would have disappointed a great many readers interested in a lurid story about shirtless men. Instead, we settled on an iPhone image shot—a serendipitous discovery of a fairly typical man contemplating something serious.
Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?
I worked with the cover-design folks at Leapfolio, vetting many cover options—abstract images of artwork, digital creations, various photographs from museum pieces. Ultimately, we settled on an image from my iPhone, a photograph I had taken because the light in that moment appeared almost magical in its redness.
How was your experience working with the designer?
Leapfolio was top-notch. With the teamwork approach, I believe we achieved exactly what we were looking for in a cover.
What has been the readers’ response to your cover?
To date, readers have been engaged. Red seems big this year, more saintly than bloody.
What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?
Don’t settle for less than the “Yes, Indeed!” cover. I believe the author should have the final say on any cover, although I also believe it is so useful to have others (cover designers or not) help vet the cover options.
Anything else you’d like to say about your book?
Yes, Indeed! Here are some of the advanced review comments:
“This is brilliant and rare work, as attentive to an absorbing plot as it is to a poetic, chiseled cadence."—Paul Lisicky, award-winning author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
“These characters are all too real. Rieves, as Faulkner, McMurtry and Larry Brown, writes people and story that will worm, burrow into you. Change you even.” —Adam Van Winkle, Founder and Editor, Cowboy Jamboree
“Vividly sensuous, this novel is full of textures, sounds and smells. Rieves tells a terrific story with the sensitivity of a poet.” —Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo
Published by Tupelo Press joint venture partner Leapfolio, Shirtless Men Drink Free will be published in trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-946507-04-4, 326 pages, $16.95) and eBook editions. The novel will be available where fine books are sold, with an arrival on January 22, 2019.