Welcome to “the green grapevine.” web log that is part of our new look for 2009. I figure with half a million people blogging around the world, perhaps one more can sneak in without doing too much additional harm. I haven’t read enough of those efforts, so I am more than likely to repeat all of their mistakes. Bear with me here while I report our little victories and defeats, funny encounters, random thoughts and a journal of my progress toward that elusive goal we all chase, self actualization.
What is an architect and planner doing writing anyway? And he writes books also, you say. It’s a long story, starting with parents, a housewife and an ex-Marine, who were both writers and publicists, a grandfather who was a construction contractor and me, a person that just loves to tell stories. My choice of architecture was a matter of interest and aptitude, but it also had something to do with finding a “practical” way to earn a living. And for a long career I have designed buildings, planned development sites and promoted my firm, all activities that I still enjoy. My favorite among these, however, was always describing the projects and getting people excited about hiring our team. This resulted in millions of words cascading from my computer screen over the years. That’s a lot of writing practice when you think about it. Then, after a nostalgic trip to Annisquam, the scene of my sixth summer in 1945, I was aware that there was a story worth telling (see my Foreword ). When I stepped down a few years ago from my day job (temporarily, as it now seems), I had time to peruse some 400 letters that my dad had written home during World War II, some funny stories he wrote about his personal war with the Marine Corps and a script Mom wrote for Dad’s surprise “This Is Your Life” 48th birthday party. Then over the next year, the story, which I had only begun in fits and starts, poured out and became my nonfiction family memoir, Dad’s War with the United States Marines.
The rest is the history that I’m here to tell you, if only in little bits and pieces. Once the writing was done, it was merely necessary to find an agent and a publisher. In case you haven’t checked lately, unless you’re the next Tom Clancy, literary agents rarely look at your work. That’s often because–despite your book’s readability and potentially wide appeal–you’re not hot enough to spark a bidding war over your next great novel with the five or six big publishers that remain in the English-speaking world. Most of those charming little presses like Borzoi Books and Doubleday, Doran & Co. have been snapped up by the great leviathans that today rule the commercial book world.
But just as I was about to give up all hope, Roger Hayes, the published writer of a Vietnam war story (On Point, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2001), whom I met through my military clients in St. Louis, said, “Forget everything you’ve been told: just approach the publishers directly.” My search then began in earnest, and I discovered that, as small to medium-sized publishers were acquired on the demand side, even smaller firms were being created or still existed on the supply side. After a renewed Internet search and a new flurry of inquiries and submissions, on a day in May 2006 one of my e-mails brought an answer. I met Jim and Lynne Rock of the Seaboard Press, an imprint of an established publishing house, one of those boutiques that still do exist. The tender loving care that they invested in the publication of my work, especially their fascination with my father’s hand drawn sketches sent home in his letters for me, his six-year-old son, was far in excess of what I might possibly have coaxed out of Simon & Shuster, even if they had beat down the door to publish it. I was on my way.
As the fall publication date neared, I put on my publicity hat and let the local press know that my dad had played a special role in the war’s history. On August 14, 2005 Harry Levins of the Post-Dispatch broke the story, on the anniversary of V-J Day, that it was my father who scooped the news of the Japanese surrender to the world sixty years earlier (See News and Reviews page) from his outpost at Armed Forces Radio Station WXLI on Guam. Other media attention was soon to follow: John Pertzborn interviewed me on KTVI Channel 2. From there, I dashed over to a downtown hotel, where Charlie Brennan was broadcasting a Veterans’ Day program on KMOX radio, raising money to provide phone cards for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He devoted the entire morning to interviews appropriate to the day’s celebration, including one with me about my book. In our lively exchange, Charlie couldn’t get over the fact that during the war we used to save bacon grease and other meat drippings in Mason jars and take them to the butcher. We were told that the government could turn them into explosives for our troops, although I still have no idea how they did that. (If you know, please post a comment.) That same day I held two other presentations and book signings in St. Louis and the book’s sales campaign was underway.
This, then, is a brief explanation of of why an architect attempts to write books. You can be the judge of how well I’m doing. It has been a fulfilling and a wonderful experience, although I miss my friends back in the office.
And my next book? It’s called “Crimes of Design,” a mystery about an architect who must turn sleuth to save his life, rescue his family and spare his beleaguered city. But this you can check for yourself back on my website.
Good reading until next time,