Of books and bears – Harold Macy launches San Josef

The first time I hiked into San Josef Bay I was wor­ried about bears. Didn’t even see a track. The second time, I woke up one morn­ing and grog­gily wondered why Rick was mak­ing so much noise out­side the tent.

Turns out, Rick had gone to in­vest­ig­ate the sea stacks and a bear was wan­der­ing through camp. Luckily, all our food and toi­letries were safely stowed in an im­pro­vised bear-hang.

I’ve ex­plored San Josef two oth­er times via the prin­ted page. The first was at a week-long writ­ing work­shop at Strathcona Park Lodge. That’s where I met an­oth­er wanna be writer, Harold Macy.

One af­ter­noon, while Harold’s wife and two young sons went for a walk, I sat on the floor of their suite next to a stack of pa­per. Harold poun­ded away on an old IBM Selectric type­writer (com­puters were few and far between in 1986) as I read a draft of his work-in-progress.

I re­mem­ber the evoc­at­ive lan­guage and the strong sense of a wild, wet land­scape and the haunted, hope­ful char­ac­ters that in­hab­ited it. The ma­nu­script began with a man in an oil­skin coat row­ing. For thirty some years I pondered the U.S. civil war deserter’s fate once he reached the strug­gling Danish set­tle­ment on north­ern Vancouver Island in Canada.

This sum­mer I found out when Tidewater Press asked if I’d write a blurb for the back of San Josef. Harold’s story ig­nited memor­ies of my vis­its to the re­mote bay and of the writ­ing re­treat that launched my career.

But most of all, I was struck by the de­vel­op­ment of the plot and per­son­al­it­ies. Both had ma­tured like a boda­cious red wine. Within three pages, Harold cap­tures the soul of a man and the land­scape he finds him­self in.

San Josef is a deep and some­times dark nov­el where hope goes astray but is nev­er lost. The char­ac­ters are as com­plex as a spider’s web, the lan­guage po­et­ic and the en­vir­on­ment a tan­gible force.

Harold Macy is the au­thor of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart. His short stor­ies have ap­peared in PRISM International, The Malahat Review , Orion and oth­er publications.

On Saturday, Oct. 26 Tidewater Press and Harold Macy will launch San Josef at the Courtenay and District Museum at 2 pm. in down­town Courtenay, BC.

Admission is free; stor­ies will be filled with Harold’s trade­mark hu­mour and the his­tory that in­spired this novel.

Preparing to Launch Part 2 — guest blog by Harold Macy

Whatever the occa­sion, go­ing to town re­quires thought as to dress, or could re­quire thought if one was giv­en to care. A quick run to the feed store or Central Builders is pretty straight­for­ward. But for such an event as a book launch, espe­cially if it is one’s own book launch, may call for a bit addi­tional consideration.

If it is a high-brow lit­er­ary event, would I wear the tried and true tweed jack­et with suede el­bow patches, pos­sibly over a sweat­er vest? — how time­less is that combo? Or is it so dated to be pathet­ic. Or per­haps I could try the po-mo look — lots of black, maybe even a fake pier­cing and a temp ‘tat.’

My cri­teria are not driv­en by the whims and caprice of the Style Section of the Globe and Mailwhich we buy each Saturday, but rather by neces­sity. Something that doesn’t show dog hair is high on the list. There is enough black hair in the seat crevices and cranny’s of my truck to knit a new hound. Something that relates to the weath­er, usu­ally water­proof, rein­forces the gum­boot archetype.

Harold Macy is the au­thor of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart

But really, I don’t care. I take les­sons from my Grandpa. His long legs were per­petu­ally clad in blue den­im over­alls. Annually, upon Grandma’s ur­ging, he bought a new pair, stiff as boards, which he ini­tially saved for church. After a few months, they be­came his town and house pair. Eventually they were worn in the shop, on the tract­ors and in the calv­ing barn do­ing the chores he loved. After a year or so on this duty, they were fit only for wipe rags. Grandma made quilt squares from any sec­tion that was not thread­bare, grease stained or soiled by the wet but messy mir­acles of anim­als, but there were only few.

But it is not your clothes that are no­ticed at a book launch. It’s your fingernails.

I gave a talk re­cently and was set­ting up to sell and sign books to the good folks in line, money in hand. I glanced down at my hands and saw the half-moon of cargo delin­eat­ing each and every nail. Not only that but there was a stub­born smear of chain­saw oil giv­ing the edge of my hand a del­ic­ate blush of purple, not un­like a fresh bruise. Various scratches. Enough grit in my fin­ger­tips to make cop prints and a dust­ing of Merville Silt, appar­ently a par­tic­u­lar nox­ious ele­ment accord­ing to the Sears Carpet Cleaning Technician who does our rugs once a year.

So, as the first pink-fingered, smooth-handed lady passed me my book to sign, I al­most felt the urge to make some glot­tal grunt to match what really mattered, my hands there on the page. Now her page. Soiled. She glanced down at the vir­ginal page, at my stub­born grime and made a small si­lent “Oh” with her mouth. I felt her gaze, looked up, and gave a wan smile.

Don’t worry about the clothes, check your fin­ger­nails first.

Paula’s note: Harold ori­gin­ally sent the above in as a com­ment to Preparing to Launch, a guest blog by Susan Ketchen. It’s so well writ­ten — and funny — that I de­cided to run it as Preparing to Lauch Part 2

The sub­ject of clothes, fin­ger­nails and po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments that hap­pen to au­thors at book sign­ings seems to have struck a chord for many writers. Check back in a couple of weeks for Preparing to Launch Part 3 & 4

 

 

Another way to publish your book — guest blog by Harold Macy

So here I was — proud as a new par­ent — with a fin­ished ma­nu­script in a tidy stack on my desk. Virginal white pa­per, ap­pro­pri­ate font, neat mar­gins, prop­erly pa­gin­ated and oh so vulnerable. 

But now I faced that big jump from per­son­al writ­ing to po­ten­tial ex­pos­ure to the whole wide world. And, like many a new par­ent, I wondered how this baby of mine would ever walk on its own.

To take that first step the old school meth­od says to look for pub­lish­ers who spe­cial­ize in your par­tic­u­lar genre — fic­tion, po­etry, mem­oir or es­say — and  write a let­ter of in­quiry hop­ing that one of them will be in­ter­ested and re­quest a sample chapter or two which may then lead to a con­tract.  Ah, hope, the writers fa­vour­ite drug.

When I was through the second draft of The Four Storey Forest I did just that — found pub­lish­ers who pro­moted West Coast and Vancouver Island writers. I sent out let­ters of in­quiry and anxiously walked to the mail­box every day in an­ti­cip­a­tion. Out of the ten let­ters I wrote, I got not one response.

Refusing to be dis­cour­aged, I car­ried on re-writ­ing, search­ing for a pub­lish­er and fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions from pub­lished authors.

Simultaneously, I began ex­plor­ing the world of self-pub­lish­ing. I was leery of this due to the stigma as­so­ci­ated with the term “van­ity press” and the pure driv­el it of­ten spawns.  I thought if my writ­ing made it through the scru­tiny of a pub­lish­er, it would surely be bet­ter. I learned there are ed­it­or­i­al con­tri­bu­tions and there is pub­lish­ing and while I thought the two were in­ex­tric­able, they are not! 

Nearing what I thought was a com­pleted book, I sought out freel­ance ed­it­ors. You get what you pay for so I’d ad­vise any­one tak­ing this route to shop around and check ref­er­ences thor­oughly. My first “ed­it­or” seemed a little too in­ter­ested in sign­ing me up for pro­duc­tion ser­vices as he heaped un­earned praise on my raw and truly un-pub­lish­able work. 

At the same time, I looked into self-pub­lish­ing. Two sources of good in­form­a­tion were the Vancouver Desktop Publishing Centre and Printorium Bookworks. The first is con­nec­ted with the won­der­ful magazine Geist, which is a great read in it­self. The second is a print shop that has an ex­cel­lent how-to guide for self-pub­lish­ing. However, I was not yet convinced.

In self-pub­lish­ing, the au­thor re­tains full re­spons­ib­il­ity for and con­trol of con­tent, cov­er design, and distribution/​promotion. This ob­vi­ously means a lot more work. It is an odd para­dox; writ­ing is a sol­it­ary anti-so­cial act, yet mer­chand­ising the fin­ished self-pub­lished work re­quires one to stand up and be­come a shame­less hust­ler.  Some can do this, oth­ers cannot.

Another factor is that many lit­er­ary con­tests do not ac­cept self-pub­lished books simply be­cause of my ori­gin­al fear — so much dross on pa­per. Nor are self-pub­lished works eli­gible for the most of the few grants available. 

So the choice is: sell your soul to a pub­lish­ing house and in re­turn for the pit­tance earned, gain pro­fes­sion­al ed­it­or­i­al sup­port and wider pub­li­city, sales and dis­tri­bu­tion but re­lin­quish a cer­tain amount of in­come and con­trol; or buy what proofread­ing and cri­tiquing you need and opt for self-pub­lish­ing, ac­cept­ing the joys and sor­rows it may bring. 

 

There are many op­tions for pub­lish­ing a book these days.

For The Four Storey Forest I was for­tu­nate enough to dis­cov­er a third way. Through a net­work of oth­er writers I found a Comox Valley “mom and pop” pub­lish­ing com­pany who had put out a few books of schol­arly note and who were in­ter­ested in branch­ing out to niche mar­kets with new writers. 

So Poplar Publishing did the lay­out, fi­nal proof­ing, some edit­ing and worked with the print­er. The real nuts and bolts stuff. Collectively we cre­ated the cov­er design. Promotion and pub­li­city are my re­spons­ib­il­ity as is ship­ping. My pub­lish­er has a web page with a PayPal ser­vice which means my book has an e‑life. My book baby has taken its first steps out into the world.

I re­cently star­ted work­ing on a nov­el, breath­ing life into the second draft of a ma­nu­script that has been col­lect­ing dust for longer than I care to ad­mit.  However, it is still a good story and, when fin­ished, I’ll go back to Poplar Publishing and hope they’ll take it on. There’s that word again. Hope.