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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Goodloe Byron Exists

I used to write a lot in coffeeshops back in 2007 and 2008. Buying tea from rude baristas, sweating over words and sometimes writing nothing. Each week I'd pick up the free publications and one day there was an odd one back there: a novel. A free novel. It was called: The Abstract.

I'd normally be content to leave something like that right there on the floor, but this book, was incredibly well designed.  The writing seemed competent and I didn't notice any obvious typos upon skimming. The author didn't have much of a website at the time. Googling his name: Goodloe Byron, just led to a Wikipedia page of a U.S. senator from the 70s.

I had a brief obsession with this book, more so my obsession was with the idea of a guy giving out for free something that seemed like the product of a lot of time and money.

Later, I found a Washington City Paper article about Byron's project. He was actually taking this thing on a city-to-city tour, spending his own money to drop the book off all around the country (and even overseas). The whole thing still seemed unreal and the article didn't explain why he took the name of a dead senator as a nom-de-plume.

I forgot all about Byron, put the book on my shelf for later and went back to the reading and writing for my own project.


Years later, after rarely thinking about Byron, I stumbled across a second novel, Revisions of, in another coffeeshop. Again, it was free and the design was even more elaborate than the previous novel. Just like the first one, I tucked it away on my shelf, putting it on my to-read list.

I stumbled onto Byron again recently, not in the form of a book, but as real live human being. At the AWP Bookfair, standing behind a stack of books with all kind of signs reading: FREE.

By this point I had forgotten everything I read about Byron in the City Paper; to me he was just a mythical generous wildman who wrote and distributed books for free. There's more stuff about him and his works on the web now than there was then, but I hadn't Googled him since discovering that first book.

I asked him why do it this way. He replied that he couldn't think of anyway else to do it. He now had a third book, The Wraith and a CD The Monstrous Blues (available for free download, of course). He said he had printed up about 10,000 copies of each book and each time I saw him he was lugging more books from his car to the table.

He assured me he was a real dude. What I assumed was his nom-de-plume is indeed his name. The senator was his grandfather.

Byron had a real laid back and friendly demeanor. A bit spacey, but that may have been the cold he was suffering from. Said he used to live on a farm in Frederick, MD and does freelance book designs for publishers such as Soft Skull Press, which is how he finances his printing and book tours. His tours have taken him as far as China and all over the U.S.

This third book, he said, would be his last one for a while. Why? His reasons, just like his reasons for distributing his books for free, were non-specific.

Admittedly, I never got around to reading his books. Now I have three of them and a CD. So, what I'll do is read the three of them as part of my 100 Books, extravaganza (and I'll also listen to the CD). And report back to you guys.

Link to Byron's publishing company below.

Brown Paper Publishing

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