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Try as I might to hunker down and get to the piles of writing work I have waiting for me, I seem to be caught in a vortex of distraction. Although I’ve been “home” for a few weeks, I’ve actually been gone at least half that time, so I’m blaming my inability to focus on not quite having my feet firmly planted yet. I can sit down at my laptop but that new addiction in cyperspace, Facebook, proves a reliable source of neglect for all things of actual importance. I find it a wonderful tool for keeping up on what’s going on in the world around me and staying in touch with friends but when I realize that I’m using it as an avoidance tool, it’s time to start putting serious limitations on my time spent wandering around the Facehood.
I was supposed to be up on beautiful Lake Obabika in the Temagami region of northeastern Ontario last weekend. It was the 20th anniversary of the blockade of the Red Squirrel Road, a political action I was very involved in that is discussed in Walking with Wolf. Unfortunately, automotive difficulties changed our plans at the last minute and I wasn’t able to go. Having just returned from a road trip a day before, I was relieved as well as disappointed – now that the weekend has passed, I’m just disappointed. I’m truly sorry that I wasn’t there in the north with old friends – activists, natives, and bush folk – breathing in the pine-scented air. I hope they had a wonderful reunion.
Once the plan changed, my time filled with alternatives which turned out to be great consolation prizes. The first of these was a photography show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. In 2008, a newly- transplanted-in-the Hammer photographer, Larry Strung, dedicated himself to photographing a person each day of the year (which turned out to be a leap year hence there were 366 photographs) to illustrate the character and diversity of this cool little city of ours. He had spent four years in Liverpool England just prior to moving here and compares our red-brick working class town with its very solid and growing artsy base to that famous home of the Beatles.
I met Larry while he was taking another woman’s photograph and ended up being one of his models (February 26 at http://www.hamilton365.com). No matter where I was throughout 2008, I would go online and see beautifully-shot faces in a very familiar landscape. I knew so many of these people – either personally or simply from seeing them on the street – that this website became a lifeline to home for me. And Larry became a good friend.
Larry has taken all those digital photographs and developed and framed the prints. There is now a colorful display of his artistic photography and all those endemic faces of the Hammer hanging in the city’s art gallery. There was a gala for his “models” on Friday which I attended with my friend Susan Peebles, bumping not only into Larry and his patient wife Monica (who watched him head off on his bicycle or by foot every day of 2008 in search of a model, without ever bringing in a penny for his effort), but also a number of other friends and acquaintances. Two of these were Barbara Maccaroni and Peter Ormond.
Peter renovated an elderly little house in our fiercely proud northend neighbourhood, paying close attention to recycling materials, sustainable construction and eco-sound systems. It is now known as the Green Cottage. He’s run for the Green Party here in the last couple of elections, is a tireless campaigner for our earth, and can be found at pretty much every activity in the city that has to do with smart-living, besides playing a mean piano. Barbara has just started her own raw food catering business out of the Green Cottage (see http://www.blove.ca), is a yoga-instructor and also happened to house-sit my own abode last winter when I was in Costa Rica (as I recall, I came home to happy plants and the place being cleaner than when I left!) When these two hooked up, they created quite the dynamic-duo-of-wise-living, besides being just a little too cute for words (but pics don’t lie).
I got out of the big city for most of the rest of the weekend, returning to see my friends who live in a little camp north of Toronto. I hadn’t seen Treeza and Rick since visiting them in Guatemala for Christmas last year so there was lots to catch up on. I love being with friends who live their lives in alternative ways – besides their little cottage in Nvelte (once a camp in the wilderness now an oasis of simplicity surrounded by out-of-control suburban development), they are in the process of building a home in San Pedro in Guatemala. I fell in love with this place (see: In the land of the Mayans and the Hippies or The Magic of San Pedro blog posts) and know that I will return on one of my trips back and forth between Canada and Costa Rica.
Treeza and I went to The Dominion on Queen Street East in Toronto on Saturday night for a great night of rockabilly. My pal with the honey voice, Lori Yates (www.loriyates.com), was singing a set with a very hot rockabilly band, the Royal Crowns (www.myspace.com/theroyalcrowns). Rockabilly is the music that merged rock and roll, blues and hillbilly but I think of it as the punk of the country world.
The Crowns have a sophisticated and smooth-as-hairgel jazz sound mixed in as well. Lori added her sexy voice and another layer of kickass attitude to the trio of Danny Bartley, Jason Adams, and Teddy Fury. The place was packed, the costumes were vintage, old cars were polished and lined up on the street and the music – well, it rocked this filly.
I spoke with Wolf this morning. He is getting over a cold but seems to be getting his medication situation under control. I’ve been gone long enough that he’s starting to miss me – Wolf has learned to equate my arrival in Monteverde with “work”. We are both excited about getting steps closer to the publication of the Spanish translation of our book but are practicing patience. What we were very sad to discuss was the passing of our friend Rachel Crandell.
Rachel and her late husband Dwight worked enthusiastically for years to raise funds for the Monteverde Conservation League through their organization MCLUS, providing protection for the area known as the Childrens’ Eternal Rainforest. She was also a talented writer and photographer who produced beautiful books such as The Hands of the Maya and The Forever Forest: Kids Save a Tropical Treasure. Back in 2003, Rachel was responsible for Wolf being nominated and then receiving the international Conservation Action Prize in St. Louis, Missouri for his own dedication and lifetime of hard work for the future of tropical forests. She was a teacher and a mother and a great inspiration for how to get things done.
Both her and Dwight will be greatly missed not only in Monteverde but I’m sure in communities throughout the world. I’ll end with the words of Edmund Burke, words which provided Rachel herself with inspiration:
“Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little”.
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.