Sunday, December 2, 2012

On Writing a Book and Surprising Myself

Working can be messy!

I've found it difficult, as you may have noticed, to write as many blog posts for Robin Chapman News these past few months, as I've worked on my apricot book. It is due February 15, 2013, in the offices of the History Press and tells the story of the Lost Apricot Orchards of Silicon Valley.

There have been many days, especially in the summer when the weather around here is just how you imagine it will be in Heaven, that I have asked myself if I really needed to be doing something this difficult at this point in my life.

I've written three other books; but they have been smallish affairs. Two books about travel that I was able to dice up into very small portions so they were fairly easily written, and one, Winter Park in Vintage Postcards, published by Arcadia, that was a book of regional history in pictures and captions. It was a lot of work, but it was basically a picture book. (Click on the link if you want to see what it is like.)
Click Here for Winter Park in Vintage Postcards by Robin Chapman
This time, I wanted to write a real book. With chapters and content and a story I could tell. I've wanted to do this all my life. My first three books were a good preliminary workout. A research grant I won in 2004 was another preliminary for me. And I need to thank the Winter Park Public Library and Rollins College for making that possible and for the encouragement of Dr. Thad Seymour who helped make it happen.

Once I got resettled in my home state and had taken care of my father's estate, projects that had been in the back of my mind started coming forward and dancing around in my head, the way creative projects do. Apricots. I wanted to write about their beautiful impact on all of us who grew up in the valley. An exotic fruit falling from the trees like manna on sunny summer days. Gone now, but so beautiful then.

An apricot drying yard in the Central Valley, near Patterson, California. The business shifted out of the Santa Clara Valley after 1960.

Arcadia only likes to do books of pictures. So, I pitched the idea to the History Press, knowing they were a good company that was just beginning to publish titles in the West. The timing was right and in May I signed a contract with them to deliver the book in the first months of 2013.

That's a fairly short deadline. But I figured I knew the subject pretty well and knew how to research the rest.

Holy cow, as Harry Caray would say. I had no idea how difficult such a project would be. For starters, it turns out I knew next to nothing about the business that had surrounded me as a child. 

I almost gave up more than once. There are many, many things that can interfere with writing. Blank pages are the first.

I knew I needed the short deadline--without the goal in sight I would find countless interesting things to do every day that did not involve getting the job done. At one point--probably more than one point--I felt totally over my head. People I loved got sick. My aunt, may she rest in peace, died of cancer before I could get away and see her. Business pressures reared their ugly heads. Then I got really sick. All that work kept whirling around inside my head. 

They say most artists are a little crazy. Now I know why. 

I'm almost done with the writing now, though there are still many things to do. I have pictures to scan and caption. Careful editing to complete. A bibliography that is quite long to proof read and edit. A (very long) marketing survey to complete. An Introduction to rewrite and Acknowledgements to compose.

But one thing really nice has occurred to me. I have done something new. I am not so young as I once was and this has made me smile. 

I'm finishing up a book on an interesting subject that I have turned (I hope) into a readable tale of 35,000 words. Even if it were never going to be published--which it is--I would be proud of this. 

I don't know why I am the way I am and need to be driven onward this way. This project is certainly not about money--if I make even a few dollars from it I will be lucky.

At a certain point you just have to accept who you are and go with it. Contentment may not be made for people like me who are always straining to see what is over the next horizon. I'm just glad I lived long enough to make it to this one. That's a blessing right there. 

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Janet Grunst said...

Very nice post and reflections, Robin. In writing a book, one learns so much about the subject material, and sometimes even more about yourself.

Florida Beach Basics said...

how fun! as one who also has a limited attention span, I appreciate your need to keep learning/doing new things. way to go! marge