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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.