Some writers dream of being published with a six- or seven-figure advance. Others dream of selling a book to Hollywood and watching it come alive on the big screen. Some dream of being ensconced at the MacDowell Colony or subsidized by a National Endowment for the Arts grant. But for Chicago-based novelist Chris Mendius, the purest writer only dreams of the act of writing and getting his or her story out to the people.
That’s why, once Mendius finished his novel, Spoonful, about junkies in Chicago’s Wicker Park during the Clinton administration, he almost immediately decided to eliminate the middleman and go the self-publishing route.
“I really wasn’t into the whole submission process,” he says. “I gave it a little bit of a try, but it just started to feel, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s like I had another job. It was so far from the creative part that I couldn’t motivate myself to really do it. And then, after a little while, that’s when my wife, Jayne, suggested that we start our own little publishing company, called Anything Goes, and go at it that way.”
And it looks like Mendius’ creative drive and Jayne’s single-minded support as his editor and literary midwife have paid off. Spoonful is one of Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2012, with a review any writer would kill for: “Writing with a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a keen eye for social nuance in every setting from housing projects to chic galleries, Mendius makes this classic junkie opera feel fresh and believable.” It was also a finalist for the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards and is currently available in more than 100 libraries, Mendius says.
Spoonful tells the story of Michael Lira, a low-level drug dealer with lofty dreams; his partner-in-crime, Sal; his best friend from high school, Dante; and Lila, the beautiful artist/stripper that he shares (in secret) with Dante. When asked how he happened upon his story, Mendius says, “I had the idea for a story a long time ago after hearing the song ‘Spoonful,’ by Willie Dixon. I didn’t have to do any research, per se, for a lot of stuff in the story. I have my own history in that world. But when I was living that, I wasn’t in any shape to tell the story or even know a story. I was just surviving. But I had heard that old blues song back then, and I’d always been interested in storytelling. It gave me the idea that you could tell a story about a bunch of different people who all have that thing they’re chasing after.”
Chris, who’s also a vice president and plant manager at mineral company Silbrico, is currently working on a sequel to Spoonful. “It’s called In the Pines—that’s another old blues song, too—and it picks up pretty much where Spoonful leaves off, for the readers who wonder what happened to Michael,” he says. Like its predecessor, it will be edited by Jayne and self-published. His advice to aspiring writers? “Write regularly and don’t get discouraged by whatever’s going on outside of whatever world you’re trying to create.”
Sage advice from a self-published author whose artful debut novel can proudly stand alongside such classic works of outlaw literature as William S. Burroughs’ Junky (1953), James Fogle’s Drugstore Cowboy (1990), Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (1993) and, especially, Nelson Algren’s Chicago-set The Man with the Golden Arm (1949)—putting Mendius in excellent company indeed.