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I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there. And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not. It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.
I’ve been listening to Steve – songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist – for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves. When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless. When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid. Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee. And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in.
He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe. To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way, at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk. In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.
His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs. I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads. So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.
Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story. I was so moved to be able to give him the book. He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.
These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica. I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning. My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby.
Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore. I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me. I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.
Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control. The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees. But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.
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.