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Walking with Wolf is the story of Wolf Guindon and the community of Monteverde, Costa Rica, but it is also the story of his wife Lucky. She was eighteen-years-old when she moved with her twenty-year-old husband, Wolf, to the wet mountaintop in Costa Rica and began life as a pioneer in a land very different from the cornfields of Iowa where she was born. They raised eight children in this remote environment and for the first thirty years she was a full-time mother, living in relative isolation, having to walk at least a couple of kilometers to meet with her neighbours and the rest of the community.
In 1972, a couple of North American artists, Bill Kucha and Ron Tomlinson, came to Monteverde and started teaching art to the locals. The amount of talent on that mountain was extraordinary. There are now many full-time artists in Monteverde who had their beginnings with these classes. Lucky was one of these. She developed her style of pen-and-ink drawings, detailed, intricate portrayals of the trees, vegetation and forest that surrounded her. She generously donated the drawing featured here, Judy’s Entrance, to be part of Walking with Wolf, but there are many more of her beautiful drawings available, both originals and prints. I have included a website in the links where you can contact the gallery in Monteverde where her art is shown. Although the website doesn’t yet include any images of Lucky’s work, it will one day soon. It does however feature their daughter Helena’s work, stunning colourful vistas from their farm over the Gulf of Nicoya and studies of the tall twisted trees and vibrant plants found in the forest.
As Wolf’s son, Tomas, says, “In what each of my brothers and sisters [and mother and father] is doing, there’s art or there’s the woods. The art comes right from nature, from feeling the forest around you. There’s the human need for peace and tranquility, for a spiritual calm that you only get when you’re surrounded by nature.”
It’s interesting what happens when you invite a few people into the cyber-birthing room. I hesitantly cracked the door open, to welcome a few friends in for a visit, you know, to check out the surroundings, and the next thing I know, the door is wide open and there is a party going on that has spilled out into the hallway. I’m not complaining – I’m just in awe of the power of networking, the speed with which news travels, and the kindness that people have shown in support of what so far has been a very personal project on its way to going public. Bit by bit the news of the coming of Walking with Wolf is spreading throughout the land.
I must acknowledge my blog-master guru guy, Jeremy Bloom, down in Portland, Maine. He very patiently taught me how to work this site, what is possible, what all the different headings mean (in my naivety I had mistaken a post for a page – how gauche). J has a very clear, uncomplicated way of explaining this strange life to those of us who have managed to skip the blogosphere so far. He isn’t responsible for my babbling, but he is responsible for getting me to babble in the right place. Thanks J honey – at least some of your sown seeds have taken root.
With every email I send, I receive at least one helpful suggestion back as to what I should be thinking about. And for once, I don’t mind being told what to do. This is new territory for me, selling a product as well as self-promotion. Benefiting from the expertise of others who have already walked this road is a great gift, a huge resource. So anyone reading who has an idea, a contact, or a plan with which I can conquer the world, if you take the time to send it to me, I’ll appreciate your effort & your concern. Right away, I realize I’m going to need to manage my emails, like a real business person. With the increased traffic on my cyber-highway, I’m going to start losing people and information if I don’t learn how to file it. And one day soon, I’m going to have to keep “books” – as in an account of how many books I sell. The organized Virgo part of me relishes the idea (making all those columns, lists, adding up numbers…), the rest of me (who has pretty much gone through life winging it) just sighs and repeats “it’s inevitable”. All of me says “it’s incredible”. The book is done. Let the book tour begin!
As the date the printer gave me for shipping Walking with Wolf approaches (May 8 – 4 days from now) I move into practicalities – re-enforcing my floor to hold the ton of books that will be stored here; writing press releases, getting my garden ready for abandonment (anticipating the jungle that will exist when I return in August), deciding who I should get this book to before I leave for Costa Rica, and who can wait till I’m back in Canada.
Mostly, I’m trying to sleep soundly, stay healthy, save up my energy, enjoy myself, and prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the culmination of this now 18-year project. I can’t stop smiling when I think of seeing Wolf and placing the book in his hands. The tears will flow, there is no doubt, and then the dancing will begin. And hopefully, his knees will be in good enough shape that we can go on a good trek through the cloud forest together – a celebratory rite-of-passage, into the lush, leafy world that inspired him, and in turn me, in this life-time project.
Yesterday the pre-print proofs of Walking with Wolf arrived from the printer. Short of some unforeseen disaster (the printing company blows up or falls down? the world runs out of ink?) there is no turning back now. I received the package from the courier, ran to downtown Hamilton, hopped on a bus to Toronto, and met up with my two design guys – Ken and Bruce. We looked over the proofs and decided that all was okay – well, actually, Ken scanned the cover and Bruce carefully looked at the pages while I slurped oysters & wine, too giddy to concentrate. Actually I’m afraid of looking too closely and finding something wrong that would slow the process down. I know that it would be better to find an error now than to have it printed into perpetuity (or at least until the next printing), but at this point, I’m counting on all the proofreading that was done to have caught any mistake that would have been a serious faux pas. I’m prepared for something small showing up – I’ve been told that is inevitable. As it is, we gave the big thumbs up to the printer and now it is in their hands.
That was probably the last event before the book enters the birthing canal. I feel like I’ve been carrying this baby forever, so like all overdue mamas everywhere, I am beyond anxious to finish the process, lighten my load, and bring my child into existence. It’s still scary, but also exhilarating. I can feel the weight lifting off my soul, even as a new fluffy white cloud starts building on the horizon – marketing, distribution, publicity, sales – the next stage. But more than anything, I suspect it will be the waiting for reaction from readers that will make me toss and turn at night.
It is the reaction of Wolf as well as his wife Lucky and their children, whose lives are exposed in this book, that I most anticipate. Although Wolf worked with me on the text throughout the process, there are still a few surprises in there for him, stories from his family and friends added since I was last in Costa Rica in May 2007. Lucky read the manuscript about three years ago, but it has changed immensely since then, although not in any way that she can’t live with, I hope. As soon as I receive the book, I will be on a plane, taking this tome down to the Guindons in Monteverde – no doubt that will be the longest flight I’ll have ever been on.
In the meantime, I expect that these next two weeks, waiting to hear this baby squeal (or is that me?), will be the slowest passing of time I’ve ever experienced. I can hear the clock ticking real slow…
A book is created in many stages: first, the idea has to come to you about what you simply must write, working its way from some small niggling in the depth of your being to an AHA! moment when you truly see the possibility, the life of the project, laid out in front of you; then the writing starts, bogs down, starts again, stops, creeps ahead – dependent on you to keep it alive with one eye constantly searching the endless horizon of this new world you have inhabited, somehow able to see through the clouds and fog that there is a future in what you are doing; the horribly anal process of editing the writing, dissecting each word, sentence and paragraph -just like cleaning a messy house, it will get worse before it gets better; and finally placing your precious manuscript in a package that will appeal to buyers, engage readers, and most importantly do justice to your original concept.
In my case, I chose to self-publish Walking with Wolf rather than spend the time, energy and money on convincing an agent or publisher that it would be worth their while to invest in me and my manuscript. It was a decision that came to me slowly. This book was written in Canada by a Canadian, about a man and community in Costa Rica, with a backdrop critical of American history. Although I know that the market for the book can be huge, I wasn’t sure if a publisher in any one country would see the possibilities as I do. However, when I returned from Costa Rica in the spring of 2006, having “finished” writing the manuscript, I was bent on finding someone to take over the completion of the book. I imagined myself at home, following the instructions sent by the pros, returning perfectly edited copy, giving my final approval on artistic decisions, relaxing with cups of coffee and glasses of merlot in between. I didn’t stay in this unreal world for very long. Once I had taken a breather and truly looked at what was involved with selling my manuscript to a publisher (and after hearing numerous horror stories by authors who had totally lost control of their work) I decided that I was going to keep this project in-house, maintain control and finish the course myself. That simple, naive decision placed me on a whole new learning curve – out of my experience, way out of my comfort zone – and into the hands of the professionals I hired to help me, artists who in short order became mentors and friends.
In February of 2007, on the recommendation of friends in Guelph, Ontario, I hired Jane Pavanel, a professional editor in Montreal. I went to meet her and spent a night in her home, to see if we might be able to work together, and immediately liked her and her family. I am not a detail oriented person, much more into wide concepts (while others stop to identify a tree, I’ll keep on skipping merrily through the forest), but have come to appreciate the personality of an editor – totally anal, completely obsessed with minute detail, capable of visualizing the overall picture being painted even when it is out of their personal realm of experience. I then spent three months in Costa Rica working with Wolf, crawling through Jane’s editorial vision which arrived by internet on a regular basis. We sat on the shady porch of my little wooden casita in Monteverde and worked our way through the manuscript, rewriting, clarifying, reworking. Jane quickly became known as “the dastardly” – and her ears must have burned to a crisp back in Montreal as we growled and grumbled our way through the work. I have absolutely no doubt that the book is much better for the editing, and for Jane’s careful criticism, but the process nearly drove me crazy. How could she not understand what we were saying? How stupid can she be? For the first time in all the years of working on this project, it was I who was more impatient than Wolf, and he spent a lot of time calming me down. One evening at a party in Monteverde, I stood around a bonfire with two other local authors, Jim Wolfe and Mark Wainwright, who were also in the editing process of their current book projects, and we fried editors everywhere, like hot dogs skewered on long sticks then dropped into the flames before us. It was some kind of rite-of-passage as an author I would think. It felt good at the time anyway. And despite the many things said, I am full of respect and affection for Jane, and totally appreciative of what her work contributed to Walking with Wolf.
The editing continued in fits and starts following my return to Canada, through a couple more complete readings, and finally I felt the manuscript was ready for packaging. Through cyber-serendipity, in September I connected with an old friend, Laurie Hollis-Walker, who worked in publishing in a former life but is now the creator of the first eco-psychology undergraduate class in Canada, teaching about the history, concepts, and value of social activism at Brock University. She was exactly who I needed to have come into my life at just the right moment – someone I knew, respected, and trusted – someone who was completely overworked herself but didn’t hesitate to take on helping me with my project. She walked me through the stages of putting the manuscript into page format, kept me calm, and we kept each other laughing. The added benefit to this relationship was being part of her class on activism and getting to know a great group of fourth-year university students who have been permanently altered by Laurie’s approach to the concept of affecting positive social change.
In October I was introduced through my friend David Willis to Ken Kroesser who runs a computer design company in Toronto called Creative Lift Corp. Ken and I worked together to create the cover. This was really out of my field and having someone of Ken’s expertise and extremely considerate temperment was a gift. Working together almost didn’t happen, due to emails not getting through and computer-communication breakdowns, but when we finally met over wine and good food, I knew I would enjoy working with him. And now I consider him not only my mentor and a geek-guru of sorts (although he’s much too cool to think of as geeky), but also a lead cheerleader, mental-health counsellor, business manager, and friend. I also love what he put together, working very much as a team with me, for the cover of Walking with Wolf. It involved last minute requests to Jim Richards, a photographer friend of Wolf’s in Monteverde, who went out in the forest to catch one more image of the man for the back cover. It also meant pouring through old photographs of mine till we found what we were looking for for the front cover. It was imposing on my patient sister, Maggie, who lives in Washington State, to create and send drawings of foliage and sketches for a logo (and can you do that yesterday?). It is her little vine snippet that is the design flourish in the book and her drawing, finished off by Ken, which is the logo for Wandering Words Press, the name of my company. Then, of course, there are all the little details of the actual art and design which Ken patiently explained to me, but I still don’t understand. But I have trust and respect for him and his talent, and I love the final product, and that’s enough for me.
The last person in the pre-printing circus was Bruce MacLean at 11th Hour Imaging/Scan11 in Toronto. A friend of Ken’s, he initially was called upon to scan photographs, but eventually took on the big task of the index. I have decided that if, and when, I write another book, I’m going to write the index first and then write the book to fit the index! I think it would be easier that way. Walking with Wolf is a 300-page book filled with historical and biological data, names, dates, places and events. The final index is ten pages long. The decisions about what to include and how and where in the index to include them is another extremely detail-oriented task – something left to obsessive-compulsive folks, not me. But Bruce did it with professional calmness and an objective eye and somehow we got through it.
I proofread and proofread again. Many times. Always found something. The index was completed, all the computer files were assembled, the picture layout ready, the cover tweeked within a nano-meter of its life. I had chosen a printing company in Quebec, Transcontinental, on the advice of a couple of friends who had used them in the past. I liked the contact I had with Pierre Gilbert, the sales rep at Transcon. Everything was ready to go, a couple of deadlines missed, and finally, in early April 2008 the files were sent. Bruce sent me laser copies of the book at the same time that he sent everything to the printer.
The package arrived one afternoon. I was having friends over for supper and decided to wait until late in the evening for the big unveiling, not really anticipating any problems since I’d been working with Bruce and Ken and seeing the files all the way through the process. About midnight, after a great night of wine and chatter, we had the big drum roll and opened the package. The first page that came out was the color copy print of the cover, perhaps the most important page of the book package. And I cried. The color was super green, hyper-green I called it. It wasn’t what I had been expecting, having seen a much more natural coloring in the images that I had seen on my computer screen. I was heartbroken. I immediately emailed the printer – hold the presses – and emailed Bruce & Ken – what happened? Turns out I was very unaware that the hard copy would be so different from the image on my monitor – but also Ken had upped the green a bit at the last minute (as an illustrator with artistic license). Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I wanted. I couldn’t believe that we had come this far on this book that deals with conservation of the emerald forest, and I was having a profound problem with the cover being too green. It was both anti-climatic and completely ironic.
But working with professionals, everything gets fixed. It is just about having patience, and learning that all deadlines are just that – more dead than active – and that after eighteen years, what’s another day or week, or even month for that matter? The printer has it now – transmission of computer file dilemmas were solved – artistic crises averted – last minute mistakes caught in the eleventh hour were fixed.
And now, we wait.
After spending eighteen years or so gathering stories, organizing information, writing drafts and finally designing & self-publishing a book, the big lesson I learned is that if I don’t just sit down and do it, it ain’t going to get done. I now need to approach this blog writing with the same dedication, or it won’t happen either. The book, Walking with Wolf, will speak for itself once its out in the world (mid-May 2008, all appendages crossed), but to help its entry into the world and to spread news of its existence, blogging seems to be the way to go. So here I am: Kay Chornook, Canadian living in Hamilton, Ontario, almost 50-year-old woman, bush babe, rockera, shit disturber at times, cancer surviver, lover of life, music & fun. This will be my blog.
The wolf is Wolf Guindon: Quaker, pioneer on a cloud-forest covered mountaintop in Monteverde, Costa Rica, leading conservationist of that wet, misty wilderness, father, spiritual often irreverant man of the forest, walking man, talking man, funny man. It’s his stories that inspired the writing of Walking with Wolf – a process that began in 1990 – but at some point the project became a history of the Quaker community of Monteverde, of rainforest conservation in Costa Rica, of living through the changes of philosophy and perspective that come when your heart and mind are open to new influences. The years of gathering the stories (mostly recorded on a handheld tape recorder, carried in Wolf’s pocket as he hiked through the vast muddy drippy forest), were followed by years of moving his voice from tape to page and then adding my voice as narrator and commentator. This last year moved us into a whole new arena – book layout and design, putting together a package to properly display all these years of Wolf’s life and our work. Whole new learning curve – there have been so many in this long process that I’m almost a pretzle of new knowledge.
One of the side-effects of working on a man’s life story over eighteen years is that life is constantly being lived, babies are born, people die, laws change, even trees we discuss have fallen while I was writing. We kept updating information and adding new stories through the whole process right up until May 2007 when I returned from Costa Rica and began the last serious edit. Some very tragic events happened shortly after but they were much too raw to discuss easily and so we chose my return to Canada as our cutoff point. WwW therefore ends its history in April 2007 but the tales don’t end. I will update some of the lives and issues in this blog as I get acclimatized to bloglife. Once the book is out, people will be able to ask questions and in this way, walking with Wolf (and Kay) will continue.
In the short term, it’s all going to be about the final stages of self-publishing, because that’s where we are. The manuscript has been proofed (incessantly it seems to me) and is now in the hands of Bruce the indexer. A multi-layered, extremely anal process left in the hands of a professional. In the next few days the book will come to me for final proofing and then be sent on to Transcontinental Printing in Quebec and (roll the labour pains and contractions drum) birthing should happen mid-May. I’ll then take delivery of the babies, and immediately fly to Costa Rica to put several hundred copies in the hands of Wolf. And then we will weep with relief, laugh with disbelief, and party (a relative term – Quakerwise & bush babe-style). But I get ahead of myself again – focusing on those post-publishing parties is often what keeps me sane these days.
For the first time in fifteen years, I haven’t wintered in Costa Rica. I managed to book the wildest winter in recent history to stay home in the north country and I’m happy for it. My Canadian blood has thickened again – I was definitely getting soft – and I’ve really appreciated the beauty of the snow. I will be heading south on a totally different schedule than the migratory birds I’ve been hanging with for years – but May and June in Monteverde is beautiful too. Leaving my garden as it is just bringing on its hidden delights will be tough – but, once again, I get ahead of myself. Keep with the program K, step by step, breathe.