Allium Press of Chicago

How it's Going... now

The Reason for Time delivered, officially released by Allium Press today.

Friends and family who know of it have been very kind in their acknowledgements, the first review is favorable, three launches arranged in Canada - Gibsons, Vancouver, Toronto - as yet indefinite plans for a launch in Chicago, near the time of the Printer's Row literary fest. Interacting with other writers, and a few actors, as I plan to present the book with readings in different voices, including mine. Excited to see how that works with two poets (David Zieroth and Paddy McCallum) and an actor (Earl Pastko) reading the opening Carl Sandburg poem; two young actresses (Pippa Johnson and Chala Hunter) and a generous fellow writer, poet/novelist Karen Connelly, reading the main character, Maeve. Hoping for an audience, especially in Toronto, where I have few personal contacts. Searching my memory for potentially friendly faces there, I thought of the man who published my first book, Suburbs of the Arctic Circle, thirty years ago. We have never met in person. With literary presses, especially those a long distance away, communication was primarily by letter and the rare phone call. John Flood and I did not use email then, but I used it today to reconnect. While there is not a lot of traffic on the title, it is still listed in Penumbra Press's catalogue.

Busy head, hard to concentrate on other things. Thinking of words, punctuation I would change in the book. It never ends. Discovering ideas I subconsciously developed in the text. Love that part. And there are parts to the process... from the idea generation, to the struggle to give it form, to the ventures out to the world. Does anybody want to publish it?  Acceptance. Then work,  many emails back and forth between publisher and writer. Finally the finished product arrives. Beautiful. Making a book, the process itself, another reason for time.

"For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. "  T.S. Eliot, East Coker

"The dirigible fell that fast..."

(From, The Reason for Time, Allium Press of Chicago)

"The dirigible fell that fast gusts of pushed out air rustled my skirt around my ankles, and wasn’t I across Jackson Boulevard by then, not knowing whether to tilt back my head to look or duck for cover? First the spreading shadow, then the odd shout sprung up from here and there, bunching into a roar when that big silver egg dropped flaming from the sky right onto the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank. And one of the parachutes meant for escape? Didn’t that fall flaming too, a candle soon snuffed on the ground barely a block beyond. Others floated through the billows so thick you couldn’t see what was attached to them, but you hoped it was someone made it out alive. “Look!” But where to aim your eyes first? The Wingfoot Express. Looked so impressive on the ground, it had, over there at the Grant Park field, but knowing how flimsy it turned out to be had me wondering what fools’d wanted to go along for what the papers called a joy ride. No joy for them that day, maybe never again.

The screaming started with the plunging made it more terrifying. A great boiling soup of sound, roar of fire, shattering glass, clanging bells, keening voices, clattering metal. Then an unholy minute, sure not even as long as a minute after the explosion, when them gas tanks fuelled the airship went up and I might a been deaf. It was that still I thought I’d been killed, like all them in the bank and the fellows crashed into it. But I was not about to die then, no, not killed, only bleeding, and just a dab of blood it was on my neck, like something’d bit me."

An Irish Girl in Chicago, July, 1919

(From, The Reason for Time, from Allium Press of Chicago, April, 2016)

      "I could tell Margaret he’d stood me up—she didn’t have to know who—and, feeling sorry for me, she’d ply me with something, as our mammy used to do. Let me cook you an egg, she’d say, for we had eggs for comfort more than anything else. A nice soft-boiled egg with the skin clinging to the rounded knob at the end I’d pop in my mouth while she salted the rest, scooped it into a cup. Two mouthfuls and gone. Something so delicious coming out of that button-eyed hen clucked at the back stoop and wouldn’t lay in a proper nest, but wherever she felt like it, so some went wasted even though we thought we knew all her hidey places.

"Thinking of home, more than eight years after I squeaked open the wicket gate and crossed into the single room housed us all. Even though I could buy myself eggs and eat them every day, they never tasted savory as that surprise Mammy would find for one of us. To think she might find only one, too, while there in the shops along Halsted were dozens displayed, creamy white, fawn, brown, and speckled.

"I crossed the street, right past the policeman winked at me as I went, must a been he’d decided me an honest woman. I tried to look up and admire the buildings and thought I might even stroll into the Palmer House a few blocks away, as once I’d done, venturing past the liveried boys, onto the marble walkway, up the stairs into the grand lobby with the ceiling painted like a cathedral, angels and cherubs and gold leaf. The same year we arrived in Chicago, me just turned sixteen, and one of them in livery thinking me there to pick up the laundry or polish the silver. The gilt, the marvelous designs in the plaster, the chandeliers with lights Bridey never would have believed, bright, yet spreading gently onto the seating area as if breathed down from the ceiling by one of them broad-winged angels. The liveried one took my arm and tried steering me over to the housekeeping department, thinking I wanted a job.

"But my bold words saved me, me who doesn’t talk much, something made me different from the start at home where, if talk were money, we’d all a given Potter Palmer and his kind a run for theirs. I lifted my chin and said, 'No, I am not here for work, but to meet my father.' Did he believe me, the bell captain? If not, he pretended to and escorted me to a straight chair, velvet, in my favorite blue, color of twilight. I rested from the outside bustle, imagining my da limping up them marble stairs in his cap and his black jacket going orange with age, collarless shirt, stubble on his cheek, the way he’d come through the door at home some days, smiling, smiling, like he’d a secret when he was only imagining something and how he would be reaching for his book to describe every thought."

Now Comes the Hard Part

The book is almost ready. It took years. Though it is a small novel, my smallest, a two-foot-high stack of some of the books I consulted, then kept, and boxes of catalogues, newspaper clippings, website print outs and archival photographs testify to its density. It was fun, too. Not as in sex, drugs and rock and roll fun, but the good deep fun of discovery, then wrestling with imagination, and in this case, putting imagination together with facts I hoped would disappear in the narrative. My first historical novel.
Worth a thousand words

I feel lucky to have found an enthusiastic and careful publisher, who has created a handsome book. While she suggested changes that at first seemed difficult to make without compromising my ideas, the work I put into trying them stimulated my understanding of what I was writing. When I resisted a change and explained why, she almost always accepted my view. "It's your book."

The Reason for Time will be released by Allium Press of Chicago in April. But now comes the hard part.  Nobody is going to buy and read the book unless they know about it. That means promotion and marketing, things literary folks resist because they are, from the writer's point of view, the opposite of sitting in a room by yourself, and from the publisher's standpoint, a lot of effort for questionable results. And yet, books are made to be read, and to choose one over another in the ever-expanding universe of books, you have to be aware of its existence.

Since my first book was published, this end of the business has changed big time. Most new books, including mine, are simultaneously published as print and ebooks, and the eworld must be covered as part of the promotion effort. Authors are advised to have a website, to interact on social media like Facebook and Google plus, all of which I have and do, to some extent. I've avoided Twitter because of its extreme temporariness and I haven't done much with Linked in or my Goodreads author page since I signed up.  Will it make a difference if I do? In the literary eworld,  promotion is frenetic, I found when I first dipped into it a few years ago. Lots of cleverness going on, bright, insistent voices.

It used to be that publishers depended on newspaper reviewers and columnists to spread the word about books.  In fact, sending out review copies might have been a small publisher's main, even sole, promotion effort. It was always a gamble, because editors received so many books. The stacks around reviewers' desks must be growing even higher because there are few book sections left in printed North American papers. Few printed papers period. Even the well regarded Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal went completely digital as of last week.

So, well, we'll see. While it might not be testing oneself against angry bears and arrows from enemies, icy rivers and ruthless companions, publishing a book these days is still a survival challenge.