29 January 2009

Mashing the Banana

Michelle Obama's brother is writing a book. Laura Bush is writing a book. The guy renting a cottage in Mendocino has published the story of his life. Raise your hand if you have a book in you, maybe two.

Last fall, three employees of my former bookstore celebrated a booksigning together. Each of them has published a book. It's catching, being around books, reading them, reshelving them, tripping over them.

Before you got teeth your mother fed you mashed bananas. At some point you tried to mash your own banana. You made a mess the first time, but that didn't stop you. You wrote your book. You mashed the banana.

Getting published is getting easier. When you've finally got the banana thing down you can find places on the Internet to convert your words into a book, for a fair price.

The more difficult task is to find someone not in your immediate family or immediate circle of friends to read your book. Even harder, find someone to pay money for your book. It helps if your book turns out to be very good, but of course books that are not very good get published all the time.

Apparently, I am the official book reviewer for this radio station. Books drift in from publishers as big as Random House, as small as Lost Coast Press in Fort Bragg, and from tiny ones, too: Sawmill Ballroom Publishing in Eugene, Oregon, for example.

Sawmill Ballroom is owned, managed, chief executized, and otherwise run by Joseph Emil Blum and his wife, Nancy. They so far have published two books, both by Joseph Emil Blum: "Bedtime Stories," a novel; and "The Sawmill Ballroom Lavender Farm Guide to Growing Lavender."

The name Sawmill Ballroom reminds me of The Band, and bluegrass, and thousand-plant lavender farms in the Willamette Valley.

Mr Blum wrote me a note the other day. He wanted me to know that my former bookstore in Mendocino provided "the memory for the setting on page 53 of the book."

That's odd, because as far as I can remember, we never showed movies there, and the bookstore doesn't smell like anchovies. But sure enough, just as in the novel, "each time the... doors open, a gust of cold ocean air carries the plaintive barking of scores of sea lions hauled out on the rocks below... the wooden plank sign is weather worn from years of salt laden Pacific air..." and "inside... (the store) is redolent with the fading smell of anchovy as if the stolid rustic beams, impregnated with decades of the once-numerous fish, are breathing."

Blum tells the story of how he came to mash his own banana: "After a period of trying to secure an agent, it became apparent that publishing the book on my own was going to be the best option. Agents were either polite or not, but of the 150 contacted only two actually read the book... What seemed like a problem, was, in the end, a relief because it allowed me to make the book exactly as originally envisioned.

"Writing a book is a deeply personal process. You spend a lot of time alone and there are great moments of satisfaction and challenge. One of the great ironies of that process is that by the time the book is released you're probably on to something else.

"The story that lived in your head for years is now displaced by something else just when the people you wrote the book for are holding it in their hand for the first time."


"The Sawmill Ballroom Lavender Farm Guide to Growing Lavender, Second Edition: Practical Guidelines for the Successful Cultivation, Propagation, and Utilization of Lavender" by Joseph Emil Blum. Sawmill Ballroom Publishing paperback $20. ISBN 097998161.

"Bedtime Stories, A Novel of Cinematic Wanderlust" by Joseph Emil Blum. Sawmill Ballroom Publishing hardcover $26. ISBN 9780979981609.

Both books available at your local bookstore or directly from the author/publisher: http://josephemilblum.com/index.htm

The Gallery Bookshop event "The Women Authors of Gallery Bookshop: Johanna Bedford, Jeanette Boyer & Katy Tahja" took place in November, 2008. Here's the link:


Anonymous said...

> >>Michelle Obama's brother is writing a book.
>Did I ever mention that Barack was my classmate from seventh through
>twelfth grade? For real! I wrote a book about it. Here it is:
>"I can't remember ever having a single conversation with him, but I
>knew, deep down inside, that one day he would become the President of
>the United States. I had absolutely no inkling at the time, however,
>that one day I would become a bookseller."
> >>Laura Bush is writing a
> >>book. The guy renting a cottage in Mendocino has published the story
> >>of his life. Raise your hand if you have a book in you, maybe two.
>I have written another book that, if read and followed to the letter
>(so to speak), is guaranteed to make you lose weight. Here it is:
>Eat Less.
>Exercise More.

Charlotte Cook said...

Saying that I am a follower made me think I didn't need to comment but I like this particular post so much, I must add a word or two of my own. Great column and comments on writing and writers.

Also I just saw "Last Chance Harvey," which reviews say that only people of my age group will appreciate because it isn't story-driven but character rich. I mention it because at the end ... no giveaway here ... a novelist proudly reads a bit from his book and it's AWFUL. That was the point, I'm sure. Too many people captivated by their own writing and the few with wonderful things to write and share get lost in the compost. Unless we celebrate them ourselves whenever we can as Tony does here.

Bravo Blum and bravo bravo Tony.

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