The agony of writing (3)…life on the Mississippi

So by the late summer 2015 I have three full tales on my desk, so to speak, two of them in pretty finished form, formally edited, revised, and a third finished but needing an editor and more work yet containing the bones of a good tale. That fall a group of us from Lyn’s Literary Fiction class at UW start meeting at her house every month to read, discuss our work, continue the struggle. It’s a small group, four to six every time, and not always the same four or six, but it’s a way to stay in touch and continue to get that invaluable feedback without which I at least am doomed . A few are from the class I took in 2013-2014 and a few others from her class the year before 2012-2013.

Lyn had mentioned to me earlier when I first came back from Baltimore and the ship there that she knew of someone who had started a publishing house, might be willing to look at my stuff. When we started the sessions at her house I recognized one of the attendees as someone I had met the very first night I started her class in 2013, just before we went to class and I started my first tale, a student from the year before Lyn had introduced me to, Ethan. He was at Lyn’s when our group began to meet, a group we now sort of call the Edge of Discovery Writers, and I realized after a couple of meetings that fall that he was the publisher Lyn had mentioned, or I guessed he was, and after a class in early December  I asked him if he was a publisher and he said yes and I asked him if he’d be willing to look at something I had done, and he said yes again. I spent a day or two cleaning up all three tales and then printed and bound them all in one huge tome, left it with Ethan about mid-December to read. I go to the union hall and get a ship, Louisiana, as bosun, plan to drive down to in in early January, and just before leaving meet Ethan again and he says he is interested in the tales, and will work with me on the first one.

This by the way as the record of refusals and rejections continues, right up to December. I should have kept a record of all the queries and refusals, they would fill a book.More than a book.

So. It seems now I have a publisher, IronTwine Press, a nearly brand new outfit but an outfit, local, and we agree that after I get back from the ship in the spring of 2016 we will crank out the first book, which had been titled The Spear Thrower and then The Short Face Bear and finally Strong Heart.

January 10 2016 I drive to Louisiana via LA, stop and see a couple old friends and one of my sons on the way. Texas is a big damn state. Then I’m on the Shughart, working, and about a month after I get there I get this big package, my big tome I had left with Ethan he has mailed back to me with comments and edits, and when I have time I spend every minute working through the tales, line by line, a kind of last edit, at least for the first two. I was on the Shughart and for the first two months before we sailed to the shipyard we were tied up with another reserve ship, the Yano, both of us tied alongside each other to a long pier in Violet Louisiana a ways south of New Orleans, delta flatland, not far from the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Living on the ship. Living on the Mississippi River. Life on the Mississippi. It was just fine, watching the ships and long barge tows pass, the brown river rise and fall. Then, though, we cast off, which was a long tale in itself, and went down the river to the mouth and across the Gulf to New York. Eventually. All that time on that river I worked on the tales when not working on the ship.

Then we leave for the 14 day run to New York. I enter my 70th year at sea. We made it…..


Once done with my duty at the shipyard I drive back to Seattle in May and arrange with Pete Wise to edit my third tale and start working hard with Ethan on the first book – its production, cover, final edits, marketing plan.

The gig on the ship was fun, enjoyable, and of course a pain in the ass a lot of the time, with the added benefit of a voyage to the shipyard in New Jersey, which was interesting. After I got back from the ship – I had to fly back down to New Orleans to get my car – I decided to make a real effort here, making this whole book thing successful, which meant, not sailing again but instead spending the time and energy helping IronTwine get this tale out and read. My worst nightmare, frankly, doing this blow your own horn stuff, but if IronTwine is willing to try this the least I can do is do my best.

I decided to think of it as a project, a task to be done, and that’s what’s been going on since. Besides, it’s a little uncanny that the person publishing this book is the person I met in that coffee shop years ago literally five minutes before I started writing the actual tale in Lyn’s class. Or is it?

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