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Blogger doesn’t go by the book

Goes digital route to publicize his novel about man’s demise

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A disheveled man staggers along a beach at sunset, swigging from a half-drained bottle of liquor, lamenting an unhinged, overpopulated world in which aging has been cured by science, like polio. Next comes a quick-cut montage of explosions, rioting and magnified blood cells, topped off by a blooming mushroom cloud and giant block letters reading "POSTMORTAL."

It looks like a movie trailer. Sounds like one, too, with ominous music and a professional voice-over. Only "The Postmortal" isn't an upcoming film - it's a just-released novel. Its promotional trailer is part of a digital marketing push that comes naturally to author Drew Magary - a rookie novelist but a seasoned, familiar voice in the blogoshpere.

A 35-year-old Bethesda resident and former advertising copywriter, Mr. Magary is best known as a humorous, oft-profane sports and pop culture blogger for websites such as Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber. His gonzo online oeuvre includes verbal vivisections of popular sports columnists and a memorably ill-tempered screed directed toward - no, really - "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

With "The Postmortal," however, Mr. Magary offers a serious, surprisingly dark look at an imagined future in which a cure for aging leads to moral fray and social chaos, followed by ecological catastrophe and war.

The novel's central premise occurred to Mr. Magary while he was watching a television news story about resveratrol, a chemical compound found in red wine that some scientists claim has anti-aging effects.

"It was like, 'Hey, if there's no death, we would all end up killing each other,' " Mr. Magary said. "Ha ha ha - ah ha. The idea ended up being to take the trajectory of mankind's decline and sort of accelerate it, put it on steroids."

In making the jump from online writing to print publishing, Mr. Magary is following the rough trajectory of food blogger Julie Powell, author of the book-turned-movie "Julie and Julia," and Brooke Magnanti, whose "Belle du Jour" blog later became two books and a television series.

Yet while Ms. Powell and Ms. Magnanti followed the old literary dictum of writing what you know - the latter publishing diaries of her time as London call girl - Mr. Magary chose to extend beyond his comfort zone, in part because he recently had been laid off from his advertising job.

Mr. Magary's previous book, "Men With Balls," was a satirical send-up of the sports world instantly familiar to his regular online readers.

"I didn't want to just write about sports anymore," he said. "I had this desire to do something bigger. When you blog for a living, it's like a ticking clock. At some point you won't be hip enough. People will realize that what you're doing isn't making them money. The hard truth is that there are only so many people who read Deadspin.

"Of course, the risk was - and my first agent told me this - that it can be very transparent that you're a blogger and you don't know what you're doing."

Over a six-month period, Mr. Magary wrote his initial draft of "The Postmortal" as a series of fictional blog entries, the better to make the task more familiar and less daunting. As a matter of habit, he worked without an outline. The end result, he said, lacked strong characters and a cohesive narrative.

When Mr. Magary gave his completed manuscript to his then-agent, she gave him a single line of feedback. This doesn't work. "All I got was, 'Well, fiction's hard,' " Mr. Magary said. "I was like, 'This [stinks], I've written all this for nothing.' "

During a previous, short-lived gig as an aspiring stand-up comic, Mr. Magary said, he found himself in bars near closing time, surrounded by "miserable" fellow comics who wanted "nothing more" than to see him bomb.

The experience led Mr. Magary to start blogging. It also helped him learn how to shrug off rejection. He sent "The Postmortal" to a second agent, Byrd Leavell of the New York-based Waxman Literary Agency.

Drew, Mr. Leavelltold him, this is good.

"That was one of those moments you have a daydream about it happening," Mr. Magary said. "The person who reads your book is spellbound and amazed. I was jazzed.

"Then he told me that the whole second half of the book was wrong. And a lot of the first half. So I had to go back and learn how to write a novel while rewriting it."

But while writing his debut novel was a bear, selling it's been a breeze for the veteran blogger, thanks largely to an ongoing business shift that has seen publishers scale back traditional, store-and-print-based advertising campaigns in favor of digital messaging.

In the weeks leading up to "The Postmortal's" Tuesday release, Mr. Magary wrote guest posts at popular websites The Awl and the Huffington Post. He gave interviews to a number of science-fiction blogs. He reached out to his 20,000 Twitter followers. He wrote the voice-over script for his book trailer, directed by Brian Spinks. He even made a trip to the annual Comic-Con film and comic book convention in San Diego - ground zero of American geekdom - where he participated in a panel discussion about immortality.

Meanwhile, Mr. Magary's traditional book release tour consisted of exactly one stop: a Wednesday night reading at the District's venerable Politics and Prose bookstore.

"They don't do those anymore," he said. "They don't throw book parties anymore. All the publishers figured out it makes no sense to pay thousands [of dollars] to send you on a tour to sell 15 books in a store."

Reluctant to share specific details, Mr. Magary said he already has begun work on his next novel. Channeling his childhood screenwriting ambitions, he previously hoped that "The Postmortal" would be optioned for a big-screen project - that is, until he saw a magazine article about "In Time," an upcoming Justin Timberlake movie featuring a society in which no one grows older than age 25.

"There's also a show, [Starz's] 'Torchwood: Miracle Day' that came out a month ago," Mr. Magary said, shaking his head. "It's about a world where everyone is immortal."

He laughed.

"I thought I had a decent idea," he said. "But now, I doubt there will be a 'Postmortal' TV show."

On the other hand, there will always be a trailer.

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