Facing the problem head on
I’m not sure it is a problem. That is, accordion music. Polka. The background of my new novel coming out soon. (Watch this space.)
I do know what some agents and editors have said, that mentioning a non-mainstream type of music, focusing on it on your book cover, will turn off people who don’t like that type of music. Even opera was mentioned! Shocking. Who doesn’t like opera?
Well, apparently lots of potential readers. Even if there is no music actually playing while you read the book. Even if the main character dislikes polka himself and has left his accordion-life behind for years. Even if he plays Bruce Springsteen and James Brown on his accordion.
Annie Proulx of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Shipping News’ fame wrote a book in 1996 called ‘Accordion Crimes.’ Not one of her big sellers (and possibly what those publishing people were referencing.)
The squeeze box is the Rodney Dangerfield of musical instruments. Street musicians, clowns, and old geezers at weddings have made it a bit of a laughing stock. All night bar parties and every drunken revel from Italy to Poland to France, and back, have featured it, loud and endlessly. Mostly loud. Once in Paris after a soccer game in the World Cup an Irish bar down the street from our hotel played accordion music ALL NIGHT LONG. Until in the early dawn someone yelled out the window: “Il est cinq heures dans la matin!” (It’s five o’clock in the morning!) Finally, blessed silence.
But I still love the accordion. Apparently, or I wouldn’t have written a novel about a Minnesota polka band. Polka mass! Accordions in church! It took a Duluth Catholic priest, Father Frank Perkovich, to invent Polka mass but it spread like wildfire. (What? You never heard of it? Come on.)
I revealed a mock-up of a possible cover for the novel here, and asked for comment. The Freeman Butts painting of the grain bins in the snow is so lovely. I wanted to use it. But in doing a final pass of the novel this week, I’ve decided I have to face this polka problem head on. There is a grain bin in the story but it’s really about the accordion — as a metaphor for life. The press and draw of family and the individual, the ups and downs, ins and outs, of a young man’s (and a young woman’s) life as they struggle to figure out who they are. How to love your family and still be yourself.
So I’ve decided to face this ‘polka problem’ head on by putting an accordion on the cover. Just an accordion, no player, just an object. I’m working on it as we speak, and you’ll see it very soon. So tell me, is polka a problem?