Thursday, August 24, 2006

Friends for breakfast

This morning, I got up, lifted weights and took a walk with my dog. This has become my every-other-day ritual since going back to work, three weeks ago. While it’s still semi-dark at 5:30 am, when Bernie and I set out, I wear a fluorescent vest and the traffic hasn’t yet picked up. If we wait until 6-ish, many folks headed off to work begin clogging our section of Route 9.

These walks are good because they allow me to put my day into focus and think about ideas and other things I’d like to do, particularly on the writing side. While my means of making a living has shifted from my writing to the 9-5 gig, I still am drawn to my blogging, as well as other modes and methods of writing.

After my walk, I sat down for some breakfast and coffee and as I’ve done most every day since I can remember, read through the morning newspaper. The Go section of the Portland Press Herald occupied most of my attention, today. I’m glad I took the time to read through the movie, music and restaurant reviews, because tucked at the end of these sections was an interview with Cactus Highway, a talented Maine due. I have a special affinity for this exceptional musical act, since I once worked with Andrea Wollstadt, who comprises one half of the duo. The other half, is Andrea’s husband, Rob Duquette. Andrea used to be a frequent participant at a semi-regular lunch gathering of four or five folks, the last time I occupied a corporate cubicle. Both of us were “between things” and I enjoyed her genuineness and good humor.

Getting to know Andrea, I found out she was a musician and that her and Rob had toured the country a couple of times, with Cactus Highway. I had the privilege of meeting Rob one Friday, a few years back, over beers at Gritty’s , in Portland. Like Andrea, he came across as genuine and someone easy to be around. I finally got to catch their act two years ago, in Auburn, during one of their summer noontime concerts. They totally blew me away. Andrea has this incredible voice and is a talented multi-instrumentalist, primarily on sax and flute. Rob, who plays both guitar and drums, has a wonderful percussive playing style, reminiscent somewhat of Trey Anastasio, of Phish fame. While duos can be limited in the groove they put down, both Andrea and Rob were phenomenal—one of the best local acts I’ve seen. I had the opportunity to catch them again, about a year ago, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, in Portland, shortly after Andrea had given birth to their daughter, Estella.

Check out the Cactus Highway website and if you enjoy music that’s original and well-performed, make an effort to catch them, as they ramp up their performing. According to Ray Routhier’s piece, they intend to play a bit more, as their daughter gets older, so that’s a good thing, as their recent gigging has been sporadic, at best.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Life's realities affect one's writing

Writing is what I love to do. It’s what I’ve used to eke out a living for nearly three years, give and take some part-time contract work to even out the income troughs endemic to the writing life.

While plenty of writers make a living from their craft, with some living quite well (think Stephen King, Tess Gerritsen, or J.K. Rowling), many make considerably less and most don’t make a living at all. The writing community is populated by a considerable number who pay their bills by waitressing, driving a cab, working in a bookstore, or several other varieties of gainful employment.

For much of the past six months, I knew that I had to make some major changes if I had any hope of keeping a roof over my head, or the repo man from my dooryard. As much as I hated to admit it, the money coming in from writing, was less and sometimes, considerably less than my monthly bills. Finally, When Towns Had Teams had reached the break-even point and the summer’s steady sales were a welcome addition to the income stream. Unfortunately, a leaky roof, various car repairs, as well as other household improvements that I couldn’t bear to put off any longer were staring me in the face. As supportive as my loving wife and soulmate remained, I realized it was no longer fair to continue placing such a financial burden on squarely on her back.

Compounding the income difficulties was a recent buyout of the company where I was deriving steady part-time income. In the beginning, getting paid required invoicing and a wait of two weeks for payment—not an issue, really, at all. However, the new company, a newspaper chain, based in New Jersey, began paying its contractors like we were vendors. What used to take two weeks, now turned into a torturous four and five week wait for payment—totally unacceptable and disastrous from a cash flow standpoint

My publishing goal for RiverVision Press was a non-fiction anthology of Maine writers, focusing on life in the land of pine trees, persistence and in too many places, poverty. With high hopes for writing that would paint a more realistic picture of the Pine Tree State, I anticipated the types of writing that my call for contributions would bring.

As manuscripts began toppling in, choking my post office box, occasionally, some very good and even outstanding material would come across the transom. More times than not, however, the materials wasn’t worthy of the time, expense and energy of producing another small press offering on my own diminishing dime.

I spent three to four months reading material, editing it, even going as far as bring on a summer intern to help with the project. As I neared the printing deadline that I had set to send my project to the printer, with an eye towards an early fall release, it was becoming apparent that the material wasn’t substantial enough, or possessing enough strong talent to warrant the light of day. You see, RiverVision Press isn’t in the business of publishing material for the sake of merely having a title on the shelf. I’m limited in what I can produce and throwing funding behind a project that wasn’t igniting my passion was a red flag for me.

For several weeks, I agonized over what to do. Could I make an appeal to the five or six big names I had originally contacted when my project was in the formative stages? Obviously, for some, they were too busy. Others were too self-important to help a new publisher get a second title on the shelves. I finally decided to pull the plug.

I spent a couple of weeks sending out emails and mailings, notifying writers of my decision. Honestly, it made me feel like shit, having to go back on my word. Almost all of the writers were very understanding. A couple of writers were obviously pissed, but at that point, I didn’t really give rat’s ass about what they thought.

I'm now back in the work-a-day world, holding down a Monday through Friday gig. I actually really like what I’m doing, as I’m using a lot of the marketing and networking skills that I fine-tuned during my freelance period. The lessons learned over the past year, marketing When Towns Had Teams were invaluable and impossible to duplicate in another environment. The book received a prestigious regional award, from a national trade association. I continue to receive positive feedback and my sales remain steady.

I continue to work on ideas for upcoming projects and hope to have some funding available, possibly in the spring, for another title for RiverVision Press.

This past Sunday, in the Maine Sunday Telegram, there was an article on Mark Kleinhaut, a jazz guitarist from Maine. Kleinhaut tried to make a career of supporting himself from his music. After about a year, he decided to take his finance degree and enter the world of banking to support his music. He continued to play evenings and weekends, but for the first time, he had some income and no longer depended on his music for monetary gain. Kleinhaut has been playing music for nearly 25 years and only recently has his passion been rewarded with some national acclaim and recognition in jazz circles.

The article was inspiring for me, as I realized that just because I was working during the day, earning my keep, didn’t mean that I still couldn’t spend time in the evenings and weekends, doing what I love to do, which is to write.

I’ll continue to operate RiverVision Press and freelance articles when I can. I’ll also no longer feel the crushing pressure to make money off everything I do pertaining to my writing. Rather than a disappointment, I actually feel liberated. Now I can write for the pure joy of plying my craft, rather than having to compromise and shill it out to pay my bills.