Arts and Entertainment

For Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison, overnight success takes 20 years

Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison
Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison's new book 'West of Here' has garnered high praise from publishing industry.
— image credit: Keith Brofsky Photo

For Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison, overnight success has taken 20 years.

Like his new novel, “West of Here,” Jonathan Evison’s hat reverberates from the past. It belonged to his grandfather, a “pretty sharp dresser.” Decades later, it’s become his grandson’s signature look and Evison will wear it on his 28-city book tour across the United States.

The tour will officially launch from Eagle Harbor Book Company on Feb. 15, but the staff opened boxes yesterday filled with copies of “West of Here,” the rave-magnet that some are predicting will become a classic of modern literature.

How, pray tell, does a man who “barely” graduated from Bainbridge High School in 1986, who drifted through a few courses in college, become an overnight literary sensation?

Years of hard work and a little luck, he said.

Routinely, he got up at 5 a.m. to write, before the day’s distractions took hold.

“I try to make writing the first thing I do,” he said at Pegasus Coffee House during one of three interviews he would give that day.

For a while he met with a Bainbridge-based writer’s group that included Carol Cassella, Suzanne Selfors and Dennis O’Reilly.

“None of us had been published yet,” he said. “Now that we are, we don’t have time to meet.”

He worked at a catalog of part-time jobs to help pay the bills, taking only those that wouldn’t interfere with his writing.

He’d known he wanted to be a writer since the third grade. Within a year, he’d written his first piece of fiction, a children’s story.

Three of his next books are actually buried on Bainbridge Island in the backyard of the home he shares with his wife Lauren, son Owen and a cageful of bunnies.

“It was cathartic. I just had to let them go,” he said.

The rejection slips accumulated, but Evison persisted. In 2008 his novel, “All About Lulu,” was published. A quirky coming-of-age story, it won the Washington Book Award in 2009.

Five publishers bid on the rights to “West of Here,” and Evison turned down more lucrative offers to work with Algonquin. He’d met Adams and liked his working style. Adams had edited and championed “Water for Elephants,” which clung to The New York Times bestseller list for months. The movie adaptation will be released in theaters in April.

“I’ve heard there are film scouts interested [in ‘West of Here’] and that’s exciting. I suspect I’ll get an option, but frankly, I don’t care. It’d be awesome financially, but I love novels so much. A novel is by far superior as an art form. Really, a film never changed my life. ‘Tale of Two Cities, Brothers Karamazov’ — I could list book after book after book.”

Evison isn’t worried the current brouhaha will ruin him.

“If I’m lucky, it means bread on the table. I’m working at quite a large deficit here as far as the ego is concerned. The praise, the accolades, the awards, none of that stuff – you know, I got a long way to go,” he said lowering his hand toward the floor. “It’s been 20 years of humiliation.”

After the book award, Evison was reading at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House.

“The place was packed,” he said.

He followed his intuition and read from “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” the working title of another book he’d been working on after “All About Lulu.”

An Algonquin sales rep was in the audience that night, he said. By 9 a.m. the next morning, his agent received a call from the publisher.

“We want to lock up the next book, too,” they said.

“I think I’m done burying them,” Evison joked.

Indeed.

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