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February 17, 2015
By Oren Smilansky
How an indie author went from struggling to publish stories in literary journals to inking a two-book deal with Grove Atlantic.

It’s difficult for a first-time author to put out out a collection of shorts, especially when none of the stories have been published in a literary journal, let alone a literary journal of repute. Of the nine stories in Kevin Morris’s self-published collection, White Man’s Problems, none appeared in a journal. Yet, last year the indie author's collection was picked up by Grove’s Black Cat imprint.

The 51-year-old entertainment lawyer had always wanted to write fiction, but had been busy running his own business— a “very creative endeavor” in its own right, he says. “I never did an MFA or the other things younger writers do to develop their craft,” says Morris. “For me, going to law school seemed like the responsible thing to do. My hope was that I’d gain some life experience and get myself into a position where I could maybe not have to write under tremendous financial pressure.”

Five years ago, having reached a comfortable stage with his law firm, Morris rented a separate office space and started seriously putting pen to paper. Though he had worked with Hollywood writers, Morris had no plans to write screenplays of his own. “I always knew I wanted to write fiction,” he says.

His creative frustrations and inability to fully devote himself to his passion for fiction lent him thematic fodder, he says. Much of the material in his debut book deals with middle-life frustrations that grow out of an inability to express oneself creatively.

Morris is aware that he had many connections at his disposal, but he preferred not to use them. “I know I might have been able to push [the book] through relationships or something like that, but I didn’t really want to. I had enough respect for writing to know that it was a long, arduous process, and that you’ve got to pay your dues.”

"When you look at this world of self-publishing, I have nothing but good things to say about it."
Though his work received attention from editors at St. Martin’s and HarperCollins, there was little hope that it would be published through those channels. Morris chose to self-publish after five years of writing stories.  “I was pretty frustrated with the standard literary fiction submission process,” he says. “I sort of gave up on revising and said, ‘I have a manuscript here,’ and that’s when I looked at the Amazon self-publishing platform.”

Morris admits that he would have preferred to have gone through a publisher if given the opportunity, but appreciates the experience nonetheless. “You think you know everything that goes into publishing a book, but you don’t, obviously. I learned everything that goes into every element of it. I certainly will have no problem in the future with having other people do it for me, but it was great to learn how to put it all together.”

Though modest and by nature wary of self-promotion, Morris says he bit the bullet and decided to throw two book parties after he self-published—one in Los Angeles, and another in New York. At the New York party, a number of attendees took copies of the book. One of those people was Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher at Grove Atlantic. “He called me a few days later and said come over for lunch.” The result was a two book deal.

Morris’s book, meanwhile, gained praise from Kirkus Reviews, which named White Man’s Problems one of their best indie story collections of 2014. Writers Jim Gavin and Tom Perrotta also offered generous blurbs. The artist Karen Green offered to do the cover art, which appears on the final copy.

“When you look at this world of self-publishing, I have nothing but good things to say about it,” Morris says. “I’m having positive feelings about both sides. I know that I’m [now] with a house whose tradition and integrity I admire. Everything has been happening for the right reasons, and people have responding well to the material.”