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Having decided that writing was a noble path, Beachy devoted his full energies to his novel after returning to St. Louis from Vail. Though The Slide's final version employs a straightforward first-person narrative, early incarnations of the book were messy and experimental, featuring multiple voices and borrowing heavily from author Thomas Pynchon.
"It had a very Pynchonesque manner, which at the time I thought important books did," Beachy recounts. "I wanted to write a very philosophically relevant post-modern novel about maturity and entertainment and 21st-century America," he goes on. "I was reluctant for a long time to accept that it was a love story."
Like Potter, Beachy spent many days contemplating what had gone wrong with a college girlfriend. "I think everyone at some point questions if monogamy is sustainable," he asserts, adding that he eventually realized the book's central question was: What is this word, "love"?
In the novel, Potter's girlfriend Audrey is summering in Europe with an attractive bisexual friend. She regularly sends him inscrutable packages, such as a starfish with its legs broken off.
Unable to determine if he's in love with her, he hires his friend Stuart Hurst — a wealthy and unemployed pothead who dubs himself an "Independent Thought Contractor" — to decide for him. Further muddying the waters, Potter becomes dangerously close with Zoe Hoyne, the Lolita-like sixteen-year-old next-door neighbor he's tutoring for the SATs.
Meanwhile, over beers and the Cardinals game at the Ladue restaurant Sportsman's Park, Potter's father awkwardly announces that he and Potter's mother are divorcing. (In yet another real-life parallel, Beachy's parents also broke up, though they remarried five years later.)
I felt two overwhelming desires. The first was to pay for this meal with money I had earned delivering water. The second was to get myself immediately and carelessly laid.
"This is going to sound horrible," I said when the waitress brought the bill. "I don't say this sort of thing ever."
"Right." She stuck both hands into her apron.
"Do I know you? You went to my high school."
"Don't think so."[...]
"My parents are getting a divorce," I said.
"Oh. Sorry. Do you need change?"
"Romantically, I was trying to figure out what I was doing," Beachy says. "I was at a place where I had just seen a relationship that was very important to me come to an end. I had watched my own parents get divorced.
"I wanted to write about a character in a time of turmoil — both in terms of love, and professionally. Periods of transition are periods of human drama. The book came from my own transition."
Beachy showed his manuscript to peers and teachers while earning his master's degree in creative writing at the Arts Institute. He didn't always appreciate their feedback. "There were times I felt like the book was done," Beachy says, "but they would say, 'You have a lot of work to do.' I would say, No, fuck it, I don't want to."
Still, he relentlessly pursued his book throughout grad school. "Ever since I've met him, he's always been working on this damn book," says his Chicago-based friend Dave Cohn, a rapper known as Serengeti. "He's real focused. There's no stirring him. You'll ask him to go out, and he's like, 'No, I gotta stay home and write.'"
Despite his best efforts, however, literary agents wouldn't bite, and without a literary agent it's extremely difficult to win a major publisher's interest. It didn't help that with only one short piece of fiction and a handful of articles to his credit, he was virtually unpublished. "They would say, 'I don't know how to sell it,' or, 'I don't think I'm the person to sell this,'" Beachy remembers.
Still, Beachy held out hope. "I had this idea that published authors attend either Iowa or Columbia and amass this collection of stories, and then suddenly have an agent and a book deal. I saw it as a world I was outside of, so that when I was facing rejection I had something to fight against."
In the fall of 2006, agent number 118, Jennifer de la Fuente, picked the book off of her slush pile. The San Diego-based agent fell in love with it and immediately called to offer representation. "I just felt this sense of relief. It felt completely real and wonderful," Beachy recalls, adding that he started crying on the subway. An old woman sitting nearby offered him a Kleenex.
"I thought his voice was so unique, so fresh and funny," effuses de la Fuente. "I love the Midwestern-ness of the novel, the salami sandwiches, the frozen custard. You can tell how much he loves his hometown."
After working with Beachy on an edit, she quickly sold the book to Random House imprint the Dial Press for a five-figure advance in January 2007. Remembers editor Noah Eaker: "I was laughing aloud from page one, which set the book apart immediately from most manuscripts that cross my desk."
As for the book's moniker: "We toyed with several titles, but in the end I wanted something compact with a meaning that could unfold as a reader became more familiar," writes Beachy in an e-mail. "A simple title. So many books recently have crammed all the hugeness they can into their titles, all the 'Heartbreak' and 'Beauty' and 'Wonder' and 'Glory' and 'Splendor' and so on."
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