Chenoweth's 'Doubt': The summer you're glad you didn't have
Several drafts of Avery Chenoweth's new book, Radical Doubt, had been sitting on a shelf when a dire event at the gym made it imperative for him to get it published. "About a year and a half ago, I had a whopping heart attack," he says. "In the hospital they said if I'd been out jogging, I'd be dead."
The author of Albemarle: A Story of Landscape and American Identity had five or six unfinished novels sitting on the shelves as rainy day projects. "I felt the clock ticking," says Chenoweth— so urgently that he chose to publish Radical Doubt on Kindle rather than go through his agent, because if he found a publisher, it would take at least 12 months. "I don't have 12 months," says Chenoweth, 57.
Set in the '70s, Radical Doubt is about two college kids on a summer road trip who veer off to the Poconos to make money at a resort and end up encountering "a world they didn't know existed," says Chenoweth. "It's funny, creepy, and dark."
Very dark. Like prostitution, porn-video, violent-psycho dark. "As if Holden Caulfield wandered into The Shining or Blue Velvet," reads the book's description on Amazon.
Hook essayist Janis Jaquith couldn't put it down, and she insists the five-star review she wrote wasn't logrolling. "...I judge my author friends more harshly than I judge other authors," she says. "I don't know why this is so, but there you have it." She didn't even want to stop reading her Kindle to cut on the light as it got dark. "It's THAT absorbing," she writes.
Not surprisingly, Radical Doubt has autobiographical elements about a place Chenoweth worked that was really violent and had some exceptionally bad characters. "People met a terrible fate," he says.
Chenoweth grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and went to school at Johns Hopkins University. He came to UVA for an MFA in the creative writing program, and like so many others, remained in Charlottesville.
In 2003, he collaborated with photographer Robert Llewellyn on Albemarle, which has become the definitive pictorial history of this county. The two worked together again for the 2006 Empires in the Forest: Jamestown and the Making of America. Chenoweth also published Wingtips, a collection of short stories, in 1998.
Publishing on Kindle is a bit different. "I love the idea of Kindle as a publishing outlet," says Chenoweth. He also acknowledges that in the brave new world of online self-publishing, "adolescent novels about vampires" are currently what has the greatest success.
Even if he had a publisher— and he's not discounting still sending it to his agent— promotion is another task that's been delegated to those writing the book.
"I really enjoy promoting other people's books," he says. "It's a little awkward to be doing my own."
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