Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What I Did Last Summer

Why am I posting about summer now? I just found this piece. Sometimes I start a blog and lose steam before it’s done. Instead of discarding the partials, I save them. Every now and then I read them all and try to figure out what point I was trying to make. It’s like a game. So here is one from September.
Years ago in Glen Ferris we had a senior couple who traveled all year long. That was notable because most of the Glen Ferris population did not. When Christmas came, the couple’s annual letter was filled with tales of visits to their children and grandchildren. They called themselves the nomadic [last name] and wrote as though none of us could wait to hear their latest gripping adventures on the road. This post will be the opposite of a holiday letter, or maybe half of one.
In June my 50th high school reunion in West Virginia was interrupted by a derecho (de-RAY-sho), a straight-line windstorm linked to severe thunderstorm activity. I’d never seen one or even heard the word, but the night of our class picnic I was returning to my hotel when the sky ahead turned brown. Broken branches and leaves blew across the road, and what looked like a giant cloud of dirt swept toward my car. In seconds I was enveloped, blinded. Swirling bits of debris ticked against the paint and glass of the car as I slowed down but kept going. Farther on, heavy rains flooded the highway. Orange construction barrels blew over and rolled into traffic. The capital city of Charleston was dark. Fortunately, my hotel had a generator, but the next day power was out all over the region and gasoline stations were shut down well into Ohio. The rest of the reunion was cancelled, and there was nothing to do but go home.
Two days earlier I had sent the manuscript for Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life, to the publisher, giving my brother Joe and me a temporary break from months of discussion and writing. I had finally cleaned my house.
In early July Greg and Annie came to visit. I love the summers because my sweet granddaughter, now nine years old, comes to stay a few days with her Cincinnati grandma. This has been our special time since Annie was two. My son’s visit was an added treat this year, though he divided his time between my house and his company’s offices in Columbus.
The sun threatened to roast us every day. With temperatures in the nineties, it was even too hot to swim. We stayed inside, and Annie watched the Disney Channel. On the 4th of July my air conditioner quit. There was no discussion, no debating the pros and cons of a replacement. The new one was installed in a hurry, and a few hours later we were back to having cool air.
On July 24 my brother had back surgery. This was Joe’s second operation to address cervical myelopathy, a disease affecting the nerves along the spine. He stayed with me for the first two weeks of his recuperation, as his movements were limited initially by a walker and for a month by a neck brace. Though he wasn’t permitted to drive for another two weeks, Joe returned home in the middle of August.
Summer always ends with my birthday, which usually occurs during Labor Day weekend. Now in Ohio our yards are covered with gorgeous fallen leaves. Mr. Joe is in production. Annie’s been back in school for months. Soon it will be time for Joe to put his little red sports car away for the winter in favor of the safer tank our mom used to drive.
Time flies, you know? I haven’t been nomadic, not since the reunion. I’m just grateful that all of my former classmates made it home safely after the storm. I’m glad my brother is on the road again after his surgery. As for Annie, she’s rocking the fourth grade.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bookstore Ambitions

This morning I’ve been reading blogs about what it’s like to work in a bookstore. That’s because I’ve applied for a job as a bookseller.
This is the third time I’ve applied to this particular store, which is located a few miles from my home. I figure its proximity might reduce my driving stress once winter arrives...if I ever get the job.
Honestly, I thought that hiring me would be a no-brainer for the bookstore manager. I’m presentable and articulate. I have related experience and a proven work ethic. What’s not to like? The first time I applied I was on high alert for a few days, expecting to be called any minute for an interview. Really, why did they they even let me leave the store after I’d handed them such a stellar application? It was all I could do not to look behind me on my way to the car. I would not have been surprised to see an employee chasing me through the parking lot: “Please, come back! We need you now.”
The real surprise unfolded when absolutely nothing happened: no chasing, no call, and no interview. I got up my nerve and asked a bookseller about the hiring practices of the store. She was quite chipper and encouraging when she said, “We discard our applications after a few months. By all means, apply again.” I went home and completed my paperwork for the second time, put it all in a folder, and handed it in the same day. I saw no point in playing hard to get.
Nothing happened. Months passed, and I knew that my application and resume had again hit the trash can. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t even been given a chance to interview, but after two tries I let my bookstore ambitions go. Until now.
I know someone at this bookstore, which is how I heard a few days ago that they were hiring. Should I try again? Why not? Maybe the third time really is a charm.
Back in January, my hard drive crashed and many files were lost. My resume was one of them, and so I redid it. I completed the job application—again—and took both documents to the store. I made it safely to my car afterward, and so far my phone has not rung off the hook. At least I’m not surprised.
And that brings us back to the blogs I’ve been reading, the inside scoop about what it’s like to be a bookseller. They keep secret journals of stupid customer questions. They have to clean the public restrooms. The worst assignment in the store is magazines, because people are pigs. Kids run wild. The same in-store music repeats for months until you want to bash in your skull. People try to read entire books without leaving the store.
Do I still want to be a bookseller? Yes. I will let you know if it ever happens.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Is It Done?

Last week my brother and I submitted the manuscript for his memoir, Mr. Joe, to our publisher. I was the one who sent it in, using an increasingly common method: I attached the 362-page Microsoft Word file to an e-mail. Both Joe and I are compulsively early, so the manuscript left on its cyber-journey two days before the deadline—on Wednesday instead of Friday.

Perhaps you heard my “Ta-da!” as I clicked the Send button. At last, the thing was out of our hands. Mr. Joe has been a six-year labor of love, but that Wednesday I was saturated with it, having spent the previous ten days putting in revisions. As the message went to the Out box, I could almost hear the clang of rolling steel, as though a safety door had descended behind Mr. Joe  and forced me to let go—not a bad thing.
Our publisher normally responds like lightning to e-mails, so I was surprised when we heard nothing back from her.  Joe, with his trusting nature, assumed that all was well; but some of us harbor more anxiety. Some of us question everything. All I could think was: Did she get the manuscript? Did she read it? Did she love it or hate it?
The silence was agonizing.
When Friday came—the due date--I ventured a second e-mail in case the manuscript had not reached its destination. That time the reply was quick. Our publisher had been preparing for a huge book fair all week. Mr. Joe, one of many projects, was on her reading schedule for the following week.
“Are you ‘done’ with it?” she asked in her message. “Do you believe it’s ready to go?”
If I thought the silence from Wednesday to Friday was agonizing, this was worse. How could I say it? The day after I sent the manuscript in, I found an error: two words left out of one of the later chapters,  no doubt the result of my cutting and pasting. The spell check hadn’t caught it.
I’d also thought of a great line I could add to Chapter 44, regarding my mother’s statement that she did not want to live to be ninety years old. I hadn’t immediately seen that her words would connect beautifully to an earlier passage in the book.
Now my mind was racing. Should I tell the publisher about these changes? That would mean sending a new file. The changes were tiny. The missing words would be caught in Production. Should I read Mr. Joe yet again? Would I think of a dozen other changes if I did? I decided to delay my response.
She wrote again: “I’ll read it Tuesday and Wednesday if you feel it’s ready to go to typesetting.”
I couldn’t escape the  readiness issue. It made my heart race. It made my mind wild. It made me doubt myself—but let’s cut to the lesson. Joe has had to remind me a few times during this project that everything isn’t about me.  I don’t recall that he said it this time, but his words echoed in my mind like the clang of that virtual steel door.
Our publisher is beyond excited about Mr. Joe. Being also a busy publisher, she likes to avoid reading multiple versions of the same manuscript. Her unsettling questions weren’t a finger-wagging directed at me. She merely wanted  to know if the Author Final was indeed final. I told her the truth: I'm never done. Writers seldom are. We can always find something to change.
As she began her reading two thousand miles and three time zones away, Joe and I did the same in Cincinnati. I intended to make my two little fixes and hope the 91,000 other words would still stand. Here’s the thing: Every change in a manuscript starts a chain reaction. Maybe we should call it a change reaction, because every change can trigger a new story. Every change makes an author rethink what came before and after it. I got lost in Mr. Joe and felt like I was fighting my way out. Maybe you know the feeling.
Luckily, our inner survival mechanism eventually kicks in. When mine finally did, I completed my edits easily and clicked on the Send button without a single stab of conscience.
Thanks to our publisher, Bettie Youngs of Bettie Youngs Books, for her steadfast support and encouragement during the development of Mr. Joe.