Beyond the Book: Background information when reading An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

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An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

A Novel

by Brock Clarke

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 305 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 305 pages

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Beyond the Book

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Brock Clarke is the author of three previous books: The Ordinary White Boy (2001) and two story collections: What We Won't Do (2002), which won the 2000 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction; and Carrying The Torch (2005). His stories and essays have appeared in many places including Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, the Believer, the Georgia Review, and the Southern Review. He has received awards from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and others. He lives in Cincinnati and teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati.


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An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England began as a short story, "She Loved to Cook but Not Like This", published in Clarke's first story collection, What We Won't Do (2002), but he says he was never happy with the story - "It always felt as though there was some undeveloped thought or theme therein. So, I kept pecking at it, seeing where as a novel it would take me. Initially, it took me to misery (the voice was too detached, the tone too mean), and then, eventually, to less misery."

The pre-publicity campaign for An Arsonist's Guide in the USA backfired when Algonquin Books sent a one page, seemingly handwritten letter to book review editors and members of the press. The letter, decorated with roses and butterflies, implores a Mr Pulsifer to "burn down Edith Wharton's house". The letter made no mention of a book or publisher and was signed "Sincerely, Beatrice Hutchins, Lenox, MA". A member of the Publisher's Weekly staff contacted the Edith Wharton House in Lenox for comment. They in turn contacted the police, because although the letter seemed like a joke, it contained sufficient "menace" to warrant involving the constabulary.

It was soon revealed that the letter was a publicity campaign, and Susan Wissler, vice-president of Wharton's estate (formally known as The Mount) was more amused than anything. Indeed, there was talk of including The Mount on Clarke's publicity campaign - which just goes to show that maybe there really is no such thing as bad publicity!


Short Stories by Brock Clarke available online
Accidents
A Widespread Killing Frost

This article was originally published in October 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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