by Edward Shanahan
Like a force of nature, the flow of words from the mind and computer
terminal of Fred Contrada of Florence continues unabated.
Just putting the finishing touches on his seventh novel, he also
has written a book of hitch-hiking adventure stories and a collection
of short stories.
So why is this local author and newspaper reporter whose byline
appears almost daily in the Springfield Union-News not better known
to most of us.
Why have we not been invited to Contrada's book-signings and readings,
why no magazine or newspaper profiles of this prolific author?
For the simple reason that until now none of his works has been
published. For more than 20 years, Contrada has been toiling after
hours on his craft, having his fiction critiqued in a weekly writing
workshop, completing one novel and moving on to the next.
"It's a lonely, frustrating endeavor for a lot of people, including
me," says Contrada, 48, during a recent interview. "The writing
is lonely, it's the nature of writing; it becomes lonelier because
you don't have that much of an audience."
But with a huge boost from the rapidly changing publishing technology,
Fred Contrada's most recent work, "Trager Stories," a collection
of seven short stories, has come out in a handsome, quality paperback
Fred Contrada, who grew up in East Boston and graduated from Holy
Cross, is more than a little pleased that one of his works has finally
been preserved on printed pages between firm covers as an actual
And he is more than a little thankful for the new technology - print
on demand - that can put copies of "Trager Stories" in some local
bookstores or allow orders on-line or through those same bookstores.
Last fall Contrada signed up with the on-line firm Xlibris, an affiliate
of Random House, to assist him in publishing his short stories.
For an fee of only $50 (that has since been increased) Contrada
contracted for Xlibris' core publishing service, which provides
an author's representative to guide him through the process.
The process is actually pretty simple. Contrada sent Xlibris his
manuscript on a disk, Xlibris reformatted it and shipped it back
to him to proof read and indicate corrections. Xlibris made the
corrections and printed five copies for the author on good stock
paper, bound with a three-color cover. The book sells for $16.00,
By the time the corrections were made, Contrada had spent a total
of $58 on the publishing venture that gave life to a 160-page book
of stories. A higher level of services - such as greater choices
of type face and illustrations and other features - can be purchased
for higher fees.
"It's a theoretical book," says Contrada, "It exists in concept
until someone orders it. When someone orders it they a print a copy."
"It's a quality-looking paperback," he explains. "The book looks
great, I think. There's really nothing for me not to be pleased
Contrada's experience will become more and more commonplace as the
pace of change accelerates in the publishing field, according to
Increasingly, not just self-published books, but works produced
by the large publishing houses will be available a book a time on
demand rather than in lots of tens or hundreds of thousands which
are shipped to bookstores, and if unsold, returned to the publisher
to be remaindered or pulped.
In his recently published volume "Book Business," legendary Random
House editor and publishing innovator, Jason Epstein, described
a rosy future for book publishing as a result of swiftly emerging
Writes Epstein: "An example of these new technologies is machinery
that can scan, digitize, and store permanently virtually any text
ever created so that other machines can retrieve this content and
reproduce copies on demand instantly anywhere in the world, either
in electronic form, downloaded for a fee onto a so-called e-book
or similar device, or printed and bound for a few dollars a copy,
indistinguishable in appearance from conventionally manufactured
Epstein foresees the not too distant day when such inexpensive book-printing
machines "can be housed in public libraries, in schools and universities
and perhaps even in post offices and other convenient places ....
in effect, ATM machines for books.'
He even foresees that "machines that can print and bind single copies
of texts will eventually be common household items, like fax machines
Before the advent of books on demand, Contrada had become almost
resigned to the notion that his fiction would never take the form
of a published text.
Besides competing for attention with the "great amorphous sea of
books" of fiction, Contrada said his inability to get published
over the years was because "I' m not a conventional writer, I'm
always pushing the envelope. I don't tell stories in conventional
ways or write sentences in conventional ways. I don't use conventional
techniques of point of view."
Getting a book published is so difficult, he found, because "I don't,
know what they want. I'm stumbling around in the dark." Mainstream
publishers "are looking for something they are familiar with, that
fits into a known market."
"Trager Stories," on the other hand, he said, are "existential detective
stories." Trager is a "spiritual seeker" who encounters "interesting,
weird, violent people back in the woods... there are magical elements
in some of the stories, but they are by no means fantasy," Contrada
Contrada himself has logged a good deal of time "back in the woods,"
pursuing his passion for mountain climbing, which, he says, "as
hard as it is, it's up to me to get to the top. If I can do it,
I do it."
Drawing a parallel between mountain climbing and the long road he
has traveled to finally becoming a published author, Contrada says
that with new publishing technologies "it's in my hands, I can publish
my book, it's nobody else's decision."
The downside, of course, is that bookstores can't order on consignment
and return the books if they go unsold; authors don't get complimentary
copies. All of the distribution, publicity and marketing work is
"entirely in the hands of the author too," Contrada says.
"It depends on how hard you want to work" in order to gain attention
and sales for the book, but Fred Contrada in his low-key way is
prepared for the challenging ascent.
He will read from "Trager Stories" at Edwards Books in Tower Square,
downtown Springfield, on May 5 at 7 p.m.