Moody Fellows and Surfer Icons: On Outpost 19

Article by ben

by Benjamin Rybeck

Some books—usually bad ones—want to be “for everyone”; other books don’t fuck around, announcing what they are and whom they’re for immediately. Consider a novel I got in the mail sometime in the early part of 2014: Douglas Watson’s A MOODY FELLOW FINDS LOVE AND THEN DIES, published by Outpost 19, an independent publisher located in San Francisco. Like I said, no fucking around: with a title like that, you know whether you’ll like the book. Me? I couldn’t wait.

Turns out, I loved the book—loved its whimsy, loved its detached third person narrator, loved its conceit that a story’s in its telling. In other words, does it bother you to know that the moody fellow (named “Moody Fellow”) will find love and then die? Knowing the outcome ruins only the flimsiest of stories. In the happy parlance of clichés, it’s the journey, not the destination—as they say.

The same is true, in a different way, of BECOMING WESTERLY, the new book from Outpost 19. It’s the biography of Australian surfer Peter Drouyn, whom many know because of his athletic achievements. But Drouyn’s life took another twist when he became Westerly Windina, a female entertainer. In BECOMING WESTERLY, author Jamie Brisick traces the arc of this well-known life, and because the reader already knows the story of Drouyn/Windina, the book’s pleasure and pain—its appeal—is in the telling. Brisick, who first started working with Windina as a filmmaker, making a movie about her life, is a nimble and observant storyteller—but also one as complicated as his subject. Early on, he writes, “I too drift between roles: sometimes the director/interviewer, other times a genuine friend and support.” So what if you know where the book is heading? The voice makes it feel fresh.

Of course, BECOMING WESTERLY comes at an important time in our cultural understanding of transgender men and women, especially in the wake of Bruce Jenner’s stunning interview and the reveal of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. Added to that, there will be the aforementioned documentary, called Westerly: A Man, A Woman, An Enigma. Jon Roemer, the publisher/senior editor of Outpost 19, recognizes the promotional opportunity in all of this, but he’s no crass businessman; he acquired the book long before the Caitlyn Jenner news broke because he wants “this story, beyond book sales, to be out there more broadly.”

I ask Roemer what he fears most when releasing a new book into the world, and his answer comes quickly: “I’m here to advocate for the authors I work with. My fear is letting them down.” He wants his authors “to succeed, to flourish, to be proud of how the book gets received,” and he works hard to make sure that happens. Nevertheless, he says, “My fear is everything goes blank, the plug gets unplugged, and nobody pays attention to some brilliant writing.”

To avoid this, Roemer has been pitching BECOMING WESTERLY to a variety of media outlets, from surf magazines to LGBT publications—not necessarily obvious avenues for promoting something like, say, A MOODY FELLOW FINDS LOVE AND THEN DIES. But the variety of Outpost 19’s list distinguishes it. “Because we don’t do series or all French mysteries,” Roemer says, “we have to go out and find the audience for each book.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that nonfiction like BECOMING WESTERLY has more of a natural audience than a strange little work of literary fiction like MOODY FELLOW, which the pessimist in me might say speaks to the downward spiral everyone always says literary fiction is in, popularity-wise—but damned if mustering pessimism isn’t tough when I hear Roemer’s excitement over his authors, regardless of what they write.

“We were lucky to have it. Some readers didn’t respond to it at all, but I don’t understand why! It’s so sweet and fascinating.” I ask him why he thinks some readers didn’t respond—but of course, I already know the answer to this question. It gets back to that damned title, so enticing to some, so puzzling to others. “If you don’t know what it means to be a moody fellow,” Roemer says, “you’re not going to like the book, and I can’t help you.”

But the way Roemer says this, he sounds like he really wishes he could.

BECOMING WESTERLY is a #BrazosBest pick for July 2015.

Becoming Westerly: Surf Legend Peter Drouyn's Transformation Into Westerly Windina Cover Image
ISBN: 9781937402747
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Outpost19 - July 1st, 2015

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