How do you go from an idea to research to organization to telling your story? How do you know when you're done with the book? Really sort of the whole process, every aspect of it. My guess is with Folio, and with a few of the writers who are hoping to come, I'm guessing we'll probably hit a broad range from more experienced to less experienced. Both of us have been involved with books — working with both national and local publishers — for many years. I think we bring a pretty broad perspective to it. One of the most common complaints I hear about nonfiction books, and that I've actually levied against several nonfiction books in reviews, is that it would be better served as a magazine article.
A lot of nonfiction books feel like they're padded-out articles. I was wondering if that's something that you've encountered as a reader. I've read a number of books that, as you say, feel like a magazine article on steroids. You ask, "why didn't they just do this in 10, words instead of 80, words? I think that is definitely a truism. I've seen that in many books that I've read. I think that Lynda and I are more judicious about pruning our books, and trying to tell stories that are more compelling, and not weaving in every fact that we have, though we're both obviously very focused on getting the facts right.
Actually, this has happened to me: I'll write an article and then an agent will get in touch and ask if I could turn the article into a book pitch. A lot of the time, I don't think it's even necessarily the author's fault, it's that the industry always wants more of the same, a known quantity.
Welcome to Issue No. 29 of Prime Number:
My books, for better or worse, have been driven by my particular passion for a subject. I've always been the generator of the idea versus having someone asking me to expand on it. But you definitely have that feeling. I think Susan Orlean's book about libraries was that way. It would have been better as something much shorter. She's still a brilliant, amazing writer, but I had problems with it. This kind of padding is maybe the worst thing that you can do in the attention economy: it wastes people's time. But I think it's very hard for writers to say no to that kind of attention from an agent or a publisher.
It's the classic problem: you do all this research and you think it's really interesting and you want to put it in the book.
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You've done all this research. If you're a diligent researcher, you have the possibility of doing too much research and just wanting to get all the facts down. So how do you recognize when to prune? I like to think that I've gotten better at that over the years, at trying to not feel I have to put a brain dump into the book. And Linda certainly does a beautiful job of that. Very much so, yeah. I've been very lucky that every book I have written has come out of something that really fascinated me.
Stories in Stone was something I'd been interested in for years and finally decided, 'okay, I either have to give up this idea or try and write a book about it. Then the book I did on Seattle's big engineering projects, Too High and Too Steep , was something that interested me, and as I researched it I found it more and more interesting. That drives me as a writer. Your curiosity is definitely always apparent on the page.
Have you done a lot of teaching of this kind of thing? I have not. So how did the format for this came though — as a conversation, as opposed to, say, a lecture? Mary Ann is friends with both Lynda and myself, and we have talked about the process of writing together or separately over the years. With Mary Ann so involved in the book world, I think that's something that has always interested her.
We wanted to do something a little bit different than just talk about the book, and we wanted to have that interaction with Mary Ann, who's so smart. Is there anything about about Folio that appeals to you as the venue for this? I think they're so interested in the culture of the book, and the culture that grows out of conversation of books. It's one of the most literate places around in a place that's so focused on books. It adds another layer to that conversation that's taking place around us.
I think what Lynda and I bring is that we're both grounded in this place. We're writing from a perspective of Seattle and Puget Sound and trying to connect those stories. It's not to say that any other nonfiction writer who's from outside this area wouldn't have that perspective.
My next book is about human and natural history on Puget Sound. Lynda and I are sort of on parallel paths, since her next book's on orcas. I'm taking a wider ecosystem perspective than Lynda, but we parallel each other in some ways. It'll be fun to be in conversation with Lynda about that and think about, again, how do you tell the story of a place?
Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity: June
She is doing it by focusing specifically on one animal and I'm doing it on the broader perspective of trying to connect the ecosystem to place through a variety of different animals and different stories. So, it should be fun. I'm always interested in literary agent Nathan Bransford's annual poll about ebook adoption.
Every year, he polls his readers about whether they're ever going to buy mostly ebooks over paper books. Bransford's fans tend to be more aggressive ebook adopters, but the poll is falling into a fairly predictable pattern. Unless something drastic happens, it doesn't seem like ebooks are ever going to take over the world. We remitted my father this year to the nameless earth, where no gods churn the ground with their invisible hands and no resurrected form yet retains his strange acuity.
The business of the living is to return. My hands tremble at this thought, the emptied vessel, the vow to ascribe meaning to a meaningless death, to forget in him. All that is left. I still see him when I dream, driving an empty bus, his hands curled around the door handle like Charon on his return from the River Styx, ferrying me and my daughter from the earth across the threshold. Sometimes he vows.
Lawrence on hot coals, the earth finally collapsing in around him. He was a martyr even among the living, and in return we grieved at his every step downward, our hands. Yet I vow that this is not his end, and that in these words he will return if only for a moment from the edge of that darkling plain, where he left Blake and Arnold to confer with him under the shadow of the Earth.
This is my wish, to return his voice to the living; to feel his hands once more upon my shoulder as I walk the earth, and to vow this is not all that is left of him. Seattle-based sponsor Orson's Publishing is a small-press that puts out "gutsy books for gutsy readers. Like Wounded Tongue — this novel by Garrett Dennert takes place in a future world without electricity, a total blackout. Masked tribes war over pockets of the new world. A middle aged-scavenger in Waco, Texas meet Vitri, a hearing-impaired orphan.
They agree to travel east together, into the darkness of their world. Read a gripping full chapter from the novel on our sponsor's page.
It's sponsor's like Orson's that make all the content you read this week possible. We've got some prime spots available in the coming weeks before the holidays — make sure your winter event, or book, is in the hands of people looking for great gift ideas for their literary loved ones. At the time, the study revealed some uncomfortable truths about our mental health system, and now Calahan is unveiling some uncomfortable truths about the study.
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