Monday, December 21, 2009

Poem For the End of the Year

The days are now as short as they're going to get. Here in Vermont, where we're still looking at months of snow, ice, school cancellations and whatnot, knowing that from here on in we're getting more sun offers some consolation. I thought I'd share one of my favorite Uncle Jim's poems, one that lives in its frame on the wall in front of my desk and speaks particularly to this season.


Even the weather
wearies of it and
slips south. This place is
exhausted. Coming

and going in the
emptiness, the sun
exaggerates me.
I fill it all with

the nothing of me
as once I filled my
mother will myself.
She has gone north with

my father. I am
left alone to watch
the sun describe an
arc barely bent, then

bent barer. I bend
under. It is time
to tire. Look how all
day long the sun sets.

COPYRIGHT 1982 BY JAMES L. WEILHere's our western view as the year's longest night descends. Have a beautiful end of the decade.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Review, Two Posts and a PSA

A round-up:

The Therapist's New Clothes just received a nice, thoughtful review on Carla Cantor's Small Steps blog on Psychology Today. Carla, who I met through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, my professional home, is the author of Phantom Illness: Shattering the Myth of Hypochondria. I'm looking forward to whatever she writes next!

On the Espresso Book Machine front, I did a guest post for West Coast EBM pioneer Village Books in Bellingham, WA. And here's a piece in the ASJA newsletter on EBM publishing. With publishing (not to mention journalism and communication in general) in such a limbo-ish state, I'm happy to bring my bit of experience into the ongoing discussion about the future of books. (I'll be taking part in the O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing 2010 Conference in February. More on that later.)

Now for the PSA: For anyone within a jaunt's drive of Southwestern Vermont, the cross-country ski season at Prospect Mountain is underway! I skied a bit as a kid, and still have beautiful vintage Norwegian wooden skis to show for it. But I'm not very good, or at least not fast; I'm one of those who has to step aside when the little old ladies zoom by. Actually, my specialty is uphill skiing. Which I suppose as much as anything describes my approach to life.

Here's a glimpse of our deck after the latest snow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reflections on Meaning

This Monday my work was featured on Therese Borchard's wonderful blog Beyond Blue. I had a feeling Therese would respond to my book. But one of the things that makes writing endlessly interesting is that you never know what a reader will connect with most. In her Mindful Monday post, she quoted from the end of the book. Here's a bit:

"Before medication my life's project was to understand my pain. I was ill and in my illness made the mistake of treating my symptoms as metaphors. I tried to ascribe meaning to them. And I understand the impulse behind that quest. Pain that is part of a coherent story is tolerable. Pain without meaning is unbearable. But this proved a dangerous exercise. The pain had no meaning beyond the brute fact of it."

My initial reaction was, wait -- how could this have any resonance for someone without knowing all that I went through: the illusions I clung to; the signs I ignored; the clinicians who colluded with me in denying my depression? But then I read it again and saw the universality of the predicament. When someone holds out the possibility that your suffering has meaning, it's hard not to grab at it. Letting go of the belief that there was an order to my anguish was one of the hardest things I ever did, and one of the most liberating. Several people have bought the book after seeing Therese's excerpt. I'm glad she gave me the chance to reach those readers.

Since few characters embody inner torment like King Lear, I thought I'd offer up this close-up of my son as Lear in the throes of Shakespearean agony -- a kind of grand finale of his many years at Hiland Hall School.Can the kid act, or what?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Annual Pilgrimage

For this annual interstate free-for-all we Americans stop work for, I’ll be heading back toward New York to my Aunt Gloria’s house. We will all miss my Uncle Jim, the poet I’ve mentioned—and quoted—here before, though we all know that despite a sincere pleasure in seeing everybody he felt such obligatory festivity more a bother than anything else. And there are those family touchstones, the material things that serve as emotional anchors for me: the beautiful portrait of my grandmother, Charlotte, as a child in a white dress, her hands demurely clasped together, in a huge, gilded, circular frame; the grandfather clock, tall and stern and reliable as a patriarch; the steps up to my uncle’s study, a woody realm of books handled reverently and replaced precisely and suffused with the memory of pipe smoke.

I remember an early poem of his about writing poetry, which he likened to a kind of addiction. As a young reader, I was impressed by how he weaved that image throughout the poem—and pleased with myself that I “got it”, as if a successful poem is really a kind of “in” joke. I’ve never thought of the desire or need to write as an addiction. I’m too practical—I’ve regarded it as a tool, a vehicle; a means of connection, expression, and self-assertion. But I still remember its penultimate line: “..and so I find myself plunging into that same vein…”. As, creatures of both habit and nostalgia, we all do in one way or another.Happy Thanksgiving, and travel safely!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Publishing With Respect for Trees

When I spoke to Margot Baldwin of Chelsea Green a few weeks back, she mentioned the Green Press Initiative. I thought: this sounds like something I should know about. Alas, it seems that books are far from innocent in terms of their effect on the environment. Unbeknownst to most of us, however, there are ways to lessen that impact. So I did a little research, and this is some of what I learned:

--Each year the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined consume more than 125 million trees and release over 40 million metric tons of CO2 into the environment

--This is the carbon emissions equivalent of 7.3 million cars

--The fiber used for paper is often sourced from vulnerable ecosystems in several continents

--Some 25% of human-caused greenhouse gases can be attributed to deforestation

On the what-we-can-do side:

--Each ton of recycled fiber that replaces virgin fiber saves 17-24 mature trees and as much as 7.5 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions

--The Forest Stewardship Council offers guidelines and has a certification program for sustainable paper use

--Last month the White House set an example for responsible paper use with Executive Order 13423

--Business and environmental groups are beginning to work together to build forest conservation and restoration goals into industry practices, as in the Carbon Canopy model and the treatise on environmentally responsible publishing signed by more than 100 publishers

--Authors and consumers can make a difference by making their preferences and concerns knownThese are the trees I look out on when I work, though now the leaves are gone.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Sentimental Interlude

I’m taking a break for a few days to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Tony and I will be going back to the scene of the crime—meaning the French Culinary Institute, where we got married, on the Saturday night you get an extra hour. Hard to believe that it was two whole decades ago that we promised to love, honor, and humor each other.

For the moment I’ll leave you with an economic think piece I wrote that’s now sailing around the net. A year ago, who would have guessed that I could understand, let alone write about, new economic models? I mention this because life beyond therapy (or, as I put it last week, losing therapy-the-religion) allowed me to pursue all sorts of ideas and questions; with my mind free of the minutiae of self-analysis I can tune into what’s around me in new ways. That too is something to celebrate.

Here’s a lovely, and undoubtedly wise, creature that spent much time on one of our trees last week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Psychotherapy as Pseudo-Faith

(Note: This was originally posted on Jennifer Haupt's My Faith Project blog, which explores experiences of faith beyond the confines of institutional religion.)

When we hear the word “faith”, we tend to think of it as always a good thing, that faith is ultimately rewarded or at least a badge of strength or integrity. But faith can also be misplaced. I know because this happened to me. Fortunately, this hasn’t left me cynical or afraid. Rather, coming through it has opened me to possibilities I couldn’t have found my way to before.

What did I place my faith in? Psychotherapy. For much of my life, my entire belief system revolved around it. Therapy guided my morality (facing emotional conflict was good, avoidance or—worse!—denial, was bad), values (the unexamined life is not worth living and all that), who I turned to (therapists, of course) and behavior (the rituals of the therapeutic encounter) not to mention my schedule and, I shudder to recall, financial priorities. It was like a full-fledged religion with its sacred texts (Freud et al) and minions of fellow worshipers around the world.

You see, I was hooked on therapy because regular sessions helped me manage what I now know as a mood disorder (mixed anxiety and depression). Plus, therapists assured me that once I “worked things through” I would no longer feel bad. This gave me something to hold onto. When shaky or in despair I could remind myself of my future deliverance: as soon as I swept out the cobwebs in my unconscious I’d be fine. So after I published a book and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself I thought, “Hey, why not be a therapist?” I mean, who knew more about therapy than me?

This accelerated the spiral I was already in. I saw that I could help people, but my own emotional pattern would not budge. Yet how could I give up therapy? It had become my whole life. Finally, after things got so bad I had to do something, I managed to wrench myself away—and got my life back.

This is the story I tell in The Therapist’s New Clothes. It wasn’t until corresponding with Jen that I realized that the book is as much about faith as it is about therapy: it’s about the crumbling of a belief system I had put all my faith in. This loss was painful but I’m stronger for it. For me the pseudo-faith that seduced me was therapy. Anyone else have this kind of experience with therapy?This is the Tomb of St. John the Divine at the Great Mosque of Damascus. Tony took this picture while on a cultural diplomacy trip through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Question Marks

First, here are the latest stores stocking the book: The Book Works in Del Mar, CA (they have a special Mind-Brain series); The Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA (they take Berkshares); and Village Books in Bellingham, WA, which now has its own Espresso Book Machine! And this just in: Warwick's in La Jolla, a longtime favorite and a true mecca when I lived out there.

Now for the questions part: I continue to be confounded by Amazon. (I know I’m far from alone here.) They initially priced the book at $23.95. I felt that was too high so was willing to lose $2 in royalty to offer it at a fairer price. Now, inexplicably, they’ve got it listed at $12.20 (44 % off). This makes it some $2 cheaper than at the Northshire and $2 more than I pay per copy. Hey wait a second—I didn’t forego $2 per book so that Amazon could undercut my publisher. Questions abound: What does this mean for me strategically? Should just order a bunch from Amazon myself, paying $2 more but then 1) improving my Amazon rank (something I haven’t paid attention to) and 2) receiving that $2 back in royalties? Will I ever be able to reach someone at Amazon or will the price continue to vacillate seemingly of its own accord? For the time being, it appears that Amazon’s got the book for cheap (super-cheap with Super-Saver shipping.) As for my lower royalty, oh, don’t mind me...the satisfaction from the higher Amazon ranking will just have to suffice. (Here’s something to think about: are authors so addicted to looking up our rankings that we let the company do whatever it wants?)

Another question: Did I price the book too low? I had rationalized it by thinking I'd make more sales if it’s priced more accessibly. But is that really the case? Truth is, I see that books are selling for $15.95 (or even higher!) that have less incisive wit, fewer life-changing epiphanies, and, well, are just not as all-around fabulous. Am I stuck with $14.95 forever? What would happen if I raised it a dollar? And what would be the best way to do that, just quietly change the price and hope nobody notices? Or would I announce it to give people the chance to get it at the lower price? (Wal-Mart-type day-after-Thanksgiving stampede…)

Now for a marketing question: I now have bookmarks—quite eye-catching, thanks to Amy’s design. Which is the better use of them: 1) to draw attention to the book in stores; or 2) to place in books sold as an extra?

My son once said that if he were to put our dog, Thembi, in a comic, he would always draw her with a question mark over her head. I thought that was quite astute; she always has this wonderful curious/concerned look about her. So in the spirit of inquiry and inquisitiveness, here is a picture of Thembi (she's asking: "Does my winter coat make me look fat?")

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Road, On the Air

Last weekend my book and I helped celebrate the Grand Opening of the Brunswick Community Library. It’s a nice “little-library-that-could” story: the previous building was small and cramped and the library was about to lose its charter. But the library’s valiant staff and the town’s redoubtable readers put together a fundraising campaign so that they could build a larger, more accessible facility. I spent a sunny fall afternoon with many enthusiastic folks, including goat-herding rabbis, the founder of the Music Mobile, and the head honcho librarian, my friend Julie Zelman, who, among other impressive accomplishments, has aced the Weekend Edition puzzle live on National Public Radio (and has the monogrammed coffee mug to show for it).

Speaking of radio, I now have the podcast for my interview on Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s show “Writers on Writing”. I’m less than thrilled by how I came across, but I guess part of that is just the oddness of hearing one’s own voice. To me, every “um” or half-second hesitation is magnified about a zillion times. Funny how one forgives others their imperfections. Still, I came up with some good stuff. Like the phrase “the therapy-industrial-complex”. Thought that one up on the spot.I've been watching this dahlia plant grow all season, and here it is the first of October. Just holding on to a bit of summer color...

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Sustainable Publishing, With Margo Baldwin of Chelsea Green

Much of my reporting these days has led me to books published by Chelsea Green, most recently this article on Slow Investing. Chelsea Green has been at the forefront of the politics and practice of sustainable living, in both the content of their books (landmark titles on social justice, organic agriculture, and renewable energy) and how they publish them; the company has been printing on recycled paper since 1985 and is a founding member of the Green Press Initiative. Since Chelsea Green is just up the road (okay, over several mountains and up a bunch of roads) in White River Junction, Vermont, I thought I’d toss a few questions over to President and Publisher Margo Baldwin.

JDS: It seems clear that the publishing industry faces some big changes. What are most publishers today not dealing with as we move toward new structures and models?

MB: They’re not dealing with the issue of outrageous advances, nor the inefficiencies and wastefulness in the entire system. In part because of the returns policy—where bookstores can return unsold books—we have an overproduction of books and additional shipping and books ending up in the landfill. This is a large part of why many publishers are not profitable.

JDS: Can Chelsea Green break this mold?

MB: We are to some extent held captive. But we go our own way. We have a Green Partner Program with independent bookstores that sets up a nonreturnable policy and the store gets a deeper discount. We have nearly 50 stores in the program and it’s been very well received. The chains will never do this. However, we do what we can on our end by trying to control what we ship out.

JDS: Where will the impetus for change come from?

MB: E-books will force change. This will certainly eliminate the returns question. Change will be coming to the industry no matter what. Just what this will mean, everyone is trying to figure out: what kind of devices will people use, what sales channels will dominate, etc.

JDS: Where do you see the Espresso Book Machine fitting into the mix?

MB: We used the Espresso Book Machine to get two books printed so that Howard Dean could have copies for the Colbert Report. But there’s waste there too. Every book gets trimmed down from the 8 1/2 X 11 size. The cost of goods is ten times higher than with a larger print run. It has a role in publishing in niche situations, but I don’t see it as making a big change.

JDS: Will a technological advance be the changemaker?

MB: The Ebook is more of a solution. Somehow we’ve got to grapple with the fact that paper production is one of the most environmentally-damaging processes out there in terms of toxic emissions, carbon production, and use of natural resources. We will always have some books. But I think some kinds of books will migrate to electronic format. Any kind of “consumable” book—you read it, throw it away. Genres like romances and thrillers. Some readers go through two, three, five a week.

JDS: I’ve read that despite industry troubles Chelsea Green is doing well.

MB: We’ve always been the leading edge of organic, rural living, a topic now coming into a wider audience. We’ve been toiling away on the frontier all by ourselves, and now, after 25 years, finally we’re being recognized. It’s the right content for the times. Also, as a company we’ve been conservative in how we run things. We’ve had slow, organic growth.

JDS: It sounds like the company’s path mirrors the content of some of your books. What do you think of the notion of “Slow Publishing” that I introduced?

MB: In terms of emphasizing personal relationships, as between publisher and author, I agree. Plus the notion of scale. There’s an appropriate scale for different books, and publishing “houses” thrived when they were on the scale of a household. But I’d say “slow” publishing with fast turnaround. Publishers are not grappling with the speed of information today. It takes a long time to get a book out, still a good six to twelve months. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Coming NOW to a Bookstore Near You!

The Therapist’s New Clothes is now being printed through Lightning Source as well as by my old standby, the Espresso Book Machine. This means it will carried by the major book distributors and you can order it through any bookstore—or suggest that a bookstore or library carry it! I am told it looks just the same but the cover is glossy rather than matte. I will check it out tomorrow when I give a reading at the Northshire.

This new distribution is all in the realm of the theoretical since I haven’t seen any links or actual sales; everything has to be handled through the store or library ordering. So if anyone sees the book on a store’s website or is able to order it successfully please let me know so I can start to make sense of how this works.

Here are various and sundry book-related posts that have surfaced in recent weeks:

--An interview in The Miami Health Examiner

--An interview on the blog My Faith Project

--A piece in the apparently controversial Self-Publishing Review

--A piece in the SPAN newsletter

Too much abstraction makes me crave something tangible. Here is an heirloom tomato ripening in our garden.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Small Is Beautiful

When people ask how The Therapist’s New Clothes is doing, the answer I give is that the numbers are small but reactions are big. I don’t have a commercial publisher, with its industrial-scale marketing and distribution behind me. People learn about the book through encountering my work on the web, through word of mouth, through my telling them about it personally. Of course I want to kick this up, and plan to. But the way readers are responding to the book makes up for the (predictably) modest sales so far. Acquaintances who picked up the book on a whim call me to say “wow”. An editor I admire told me it's "quite a tour de force”. The book has been accused several times of keeping folks up late, since they couldn’t stop reading. One friend wrote, “If there's anyone who could write a page-turning memoir about psychotherapy, it's you.”

Every time I hear from a reader, friend or stranger, I feel that kind of warm satisfaction that only comes from personal connection. While I know this alone doesn’t mean “success” in a traditional sense—and that I do have larger ambitions for the book—I also know that this matters to me. In my writing on local economies, I have encountered Jane Jacobs’ ideas on how the small, social exchanges around the buying and selling of goods lend vitality and meaning to daily life in our cities and towns. As this post’s title suggests, I’m in touch with the work of the E.F. Schumacher Society, which challenges the all-too-American notion that bigger is always better. In most industries, including publishing, in order to stay viable one often feels pressure to focus on volume to the point where other goals and intents get lost. With books, for example, an author must make back the advance or risk losing the publisher’s interest. Under such terms, it’s hard not to watch the numbers. I’m wondering if there’s room for different views of writerly success than what we tend to rely on, one where meaning holds as much weight as profit. What do you think?Here, from the woods below our house, is an example of the industry of squirrels.

Monday, August 17, 2009

On "Slow Publishing"

You might know about the Slow Food movement. Last week I heard a Vermont Edition interview on Slow Money. Both refer to models that support the local economy, minimize environmental impact, operate on a human scale, stress diversity over monoculture, and respect the relationship side of transaction. As similar goals have informed the way I’ve brought out my book, this has led me to think about what one might call Slow Publishing. In previous posts I’ve written about local economics and environmental concerns. In the future I’ll start to grapple with scale, diversity, and relationship.

One little secret about Slow Publishing: it’s actually fast. Once you’ve got a manuscript and design ready to go, you can have a physical book within minutes. In traditional publishing, the process can take months. Or more. I remember how odd it was to learn that a book was slated for some far-off season in the future that felt a lifetime away.

Since one feature common to Slow Food, Money, and Publishing is local production, I want to draw attention to another local production, my husband, Tony Eprile’s excellent novel, The Persistence of Memory. It's the story of a young South African man who has a perfect memory--and as a result is always bumping into the people and institutions around him. Every time I read it or hear Tony read from it, I discover something new. The bulk of the book was written in a yurt in our meadow, a few hundred yards from the house.

Yes, I said a yurt. I'm posting both hardcover and softcover designs because I like them both and feel each reflects different aspects of the book.

Tony’s first book, Temporary Sojourner and Other South African Stories, is also quite lovely. Many who grew up in that era in South Africa have said, “Yes, that’s the way it was!” Unfortunately, the book is out of print. Wait a second—I now know a bit about getting a book into print! Must have a chat with this fellow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing and Therapy

On the subject of travels, I thought it time to talk a bit about the odyssey that led to my writing this book, that of training as a psychotherapist. My decision to become a clinician was complicated and in many ways misguided. But I found clinical work endlessly rewarding, fascinating, and surprising—in part through the many parallels between writing and therapy.

Interestingly, when I told people I was doing clinical work their response was, “That will help you so much as a writer. It will give you so much story material!” Actually, it turned out that being a writer helped me as a therapist. The tools I had developed over my writing career—verbal precision, modulations of tone, use of dramatic irony—allowed me to make powerful connections and interventions with my clients. In The Therapist's New Clothes, I explore the many ways in which writing and therapy intersect.

One of these tools is metaphor. As a clinician, I learned that much of a therapy session is conducted through metaphor. Longing for a father may be expressed through frustrations with a boyfriend ("He's just not there for me"). Similarly, a loss may be too painful for someone to address directly so we talk instead about appliances that are “always breaking down.”

I first really “got” metaphor through my uncle’s poems. I remember one I read when I was eleven or so about the end of a friendship called “The Broken Toy”, with a line about how whenever you try to fix it “the glue clings just to your fingers.” Who has not felt that way?

Here is a poem by my late uncle, James L. Weil, about writing that could well also speak for therapy:This broadside of the poem, printed on the occasion of a reading at the Sterling Library at Yale University in 1977, has been over my desk every place I've lived. (Click on it for an easier read.) At my J School reunion a classmate quoted this poem to me word for word. I had recited it to him and he remembered it all these years! I'll close with the sprightly image of the colophon for my uncle's publishing company, The Elizabeth Press:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Gets a TV Cameo

While I was on vacation, my book was busy getting itself on Boston television. This clip offers a nice, clear introduction to the Espresso Book Machine. At least one viewer was intrigued enough by the title and image to contact the Northshire and order a copy! Clever of me to have a bright red cover. (Thanks, Amy.)

Since summer vacation only happens once a year, I'm going to take the opportunity to post a family holiday snapshot.That's our boy at a restaurant overlooking Puget Sound. Now it's time to get back to work...and I'll soon report on my wanderings among the independent bookstores of the West.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Business 101 (Or Rather, 2.0)

I never took an economics class. I thought that was just for budding investment bankers. (I knew we had crossed a generational divide because when I arrived at college everyone wore sweats and wanted to talk philosophy and when I left everyone had suits and talked of careers in finance.) So of course it makes sense that now I'm writing more on local currencies and grappling with a business strategy.

The predictable distribution hurdles of selling an alternatively-published book are now staring me in the face. The Therapist's New Clothes will soon go up on a large online site, but with a surcharge. I lowered my percentage as far as I could, but it's still much more than buying at the Northshire. This online site's parent company has a POD program, which might make economic sense, but that would undermine the local alliance that I am committed to. A national distributor also has a POD program that would allow me to sell to independent bookstores and folks at the Northshire are looking into that. Then again, if more venues adopt the Espresso Book Machine the distribution question will be moot. And I haven't even mentioned the confounding matter of sales tax...

This is the challenge of using a model that's still being developed. I'm just figuring it out as I go along (or, more accurately, after I've already gone along.) I'm taking a brief break, so I'll leave you with an image of one of my loyal readers.Makes it all worthwhile!

Monday, July 6, 2009

More 'Bout That Book

The book now exists in three-dimensional, full-color (well, mostly red) form. It was extremely cool to watch the proofing copy drop from the binder like a candy bar from a vending machine and with the same satisfying thunk.

To describe it, let me defer to that quintessential art form, the jacket copy:

"I believed so wholeheartedly in psychotherapy that I became a psychotherapist." In The Therapist's New Clothes, Judith D. Schwartz tells of training as a therapist, shifting back and forth between her experience as beginning clinician and her own increasingly devastating therapy treatment. It is the story of the author's belief system crumbling--and how she comes out the other side."

In the book I explore my love/hate relationship with psychotherapy through my own experiences: the profoundly rewarding experience of helping a client past fear or pain as well as self-delusions that bound me to a process that was leading straight downhill. That's the thematic material. There is also a story: however improbable, these things happened to me. I'll dip back into the narrative shortly. For now, here's a corner of my writing desk with my mouse pad, a replica of what is arguably the most famous Oriental rug in history--the one that covered Freud's psychoanalytic couch.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Interview with POD Pioneer John Oakes of OR Books

The Therapist’s New Clothes is now available!
It’s real. I’m speechless.

How convenient, then, that I happened to have talked to John Oakes, who, together with fellow publishing veteran Colin Robinson, has just launched OR Books—which seeks to combine the editorial professionalism of traditional publishing with a model that draws on new technologies for production, marketing, and delivery.John Oakes (in shades) with Colin Robinson (with the bullhorn) at the OR Books "launch party" during BEA. Photo by Miriam Berkley.

JDS: I’ve been reading about OR Books and admire your willingness to try something new. What keeps you in publishing at a time like this?

JO: What draws people to the book business is a sense of fun and wide-ranging interests. I have a restless mind—an English major also fascinated by science. The appeal of books remains. The world is too fascinating a place to be tied down to one thing.

JDS: Is there still fun to be had?

JO: The system of traditional publishing has gotten less fun over the last several decades. The decline in book-reading predates the Internet. Not reading per se but book reading. But now there’s electronic reading: still less than 1% of the reading public, but skyrocketing as people read on computers more and more. Print on Demand is part of an answer. There’s no upfront cash, production quality is now first rate, and the delivery system more streamlined.

JDS: One thing that interests me about POD-- haven’t explored electronic publishing—is the waste it cuts out.

JO: The traditional book system is hell on the environment. One little book is printed at the printer. Then shipped to the publisher’s warehouse. Then to the wholesaler or a major retail client. Then from wholesaler to the bookstore. If the book is among the 50% that are not sold, it goes back to the warehouse of the wholesaler then the warehouse of the publisher. Most likely, unless it’s made of Teflon, the book will be damaged and can’t be sold. This is bad for the publisher, the author, the bookstore—as the book had taken up shelf space—and bad for the planet. For that you’ve cut down a tree.

JDS: Yet most companies haven’t taken this to heart.

JO: The big guys are so entangled in the system it’s hard for them to extricate themselves. You’ve still got those high advances, publishers plunking down $1 million bucks for a first novel. It may be a good first novel, but they do that because they panic—they’re desperate for a hit and think this is the way to get it.

JDS: Where does OR Books fit in?

JO: Colin and I had been talking for a long time before we both, so to speak, found ourselves out on the street. We believe this shift is going to happen, that this is how publishing will look in the future. There’s still a need for professional editors and publishers to work with authors to shape a book and to market it. Some of the technicalities will change but the roles are the same. I don’t know that we will be, say, the Simon & Schuster of the 21st century, but someone will be.

JDS: Will authors balk if you’re not offering those mega-advances?

JO: I don’t think authors will be a problem. We’ve got books in the pipeline and are another round of drinks away from author deals with Dale Peck and a bunch of other name-brand authors tired of their experience with the traditional publishing system. We’re interested in progressive ideas but we look at that broadly. We will do contemporary fiction, edgy popular science, politics and memoir. It will be the independent publishing ideal of publishing what we love.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thoughts On Local (Continued)

The last few days I’ve been going up to the Northshire to look at the galleys and make corrections. I’m in that almost-book stage, when one frets over commas and looks up words in the dictionary ten times.

The Northshire and my other favorite shop in town, Al Ducci's Italian Pantry, have in their windows "Buy Local" decals that look like this.

Upon moving to Vermont a dozen years ago, I was struck by the awareness that in a small market like ours every purchase matters. I found that knowing this, buying things from local merchants took on an added dimension, that of a relationship as well as a transaction. This consciousness of how and where I buy combined with my recent explorations in economic processes have led me to look more deeply at "Buy Local" programs. One result is this article that's been up this week on on why buying local matters.

Okay, so I've got this book that's written, designed, and produced locally. This is an approach that I value and want to support. The book will be sold at the Northshire (and whatever other outlets I can convince!) as well as online. But do I want this to be a "local" book and reach only readers around here? Heck no! I believe that there's another kind of "localness" based on common interest. These are the communities that the Internet and the new social media have allowed us to form. How to find this community of readers will be my next challenge. And that means grappling with the subject of the book.

But for the moment, let's stay local as in Southern Vermont. This is Al Ducci's. I dare you to stop by and not want to buy everything on the shelf. Homemade mozzarella, anyone?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Local Angle

The Espresso Book Machine appealed to me for another reason that I haven’t mentioned: the opportunity to do everything locally. You see, ever since I wrote on the Transition Town movement in the Christian Science Monitor, I have looked at means of production and exchange differently. Why should tasks be outsourced if they can be done right here, keeping money in the local economy? Why should products be shipped (using fuel, raw materials, space, etc.) from production facility to warehouse to distributor to retailer if we could cut out some of those steps?

My response to the current economic downturn has been to ask questions about how money functions and to explore alternate means of exchange. I have found myself traveling down economic byways I never knew existed. Here are links to articles I’ve done on the topic for and Yes! magazine.

How does this relate to The Therapist’s New Clothes? Well, remember that dazzling cover? I am paying designer Amy Anselmo in editorial services. The absence of typos in the book is thanks to Gabrielle Rynes, who would only accept lily plants. Tony once conducted an independent study for daffodil bulbs in lieu of a fee. The daffodils pop up all over every spring and the bulbs have multiplied. Here in Vermont it is too late for daffodils and too early for lilies but our lupine are up in force:I will get back to the theme of local economies in future posts.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

(More) Family Traditions

I can write stuff: books, reported pieces, essays, even the textual haikus that go up on Twitter. But I’m not one for making stuff.

I was curious to know how someone devised a machine that makes books. So I called Jeff Marsh, inventor of the Espresso Book Machine. He explained that he’s always been “a fixer of things. If I can ask the right questions, I can fix a problem or solve it.” He said that the basement of his childhood home was set up with a lapidary lab, geology lab, electronics lab, and chemistry lab, which gave him the confidence to try out ideas and to follow his curiosity.

Though he’s a thing person and I’m a word person it turns out that we have something in common: inventors in the family. Marsh’s grandfather Albert J. Marsh had numerous patents, including one for the metal alloy that allowed for electrical heating, as in the toaster. My great-grandfather Lehman Weil created an early washing machine (the story is that he sold it to Maytag for $10) and the traffic light. I’ve heard other claims about the traffic light, but I do, somewhere, have a 1905 newspaper article describing Lehman Weil’s “Gift to the City of New York”. He was compelled to create his Stop-Go Signal after he witnessed a small child run down by an automobile in downtown Manhattan. In his presentation to the mayor, he read a poem he had written about the risks posed by the automobile.

Lehman Weil’s pride and joy was an early airplane, his Ornithopter. In some drawer I have his manuscript “The Story of the Weil Flying Machine”, which, in lovely embellished cursive, he wrote in anticipation of great success (and fame and fortune). Which never happened. But he didn’t give up. Here is my great-grandfather and his Ornithopter:Maybe there is a gene for quixotic enterprise. You think?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eye-Catching, Or What?

As I mentioned last time, while I was pining away for the unattainable cover, I availed myself of Tony’s photographic services. I put on this red dress......which had been hanging in my closet. I mean really just hanging in my closet; I don’t think I’ve ever even worn the thing. It was early evening and great light, so we went down our hill to the meadow where interesting things were beginning to crop up, enough to tickle the ankles but no mean nettles or anything. (If you live in Vermont you might not have much call for a red dress, but you could well have a meadow.) He zoomed in to get the fabric and zoomed out to get me (my About Me photo is from this run) and then sent the best to Amy so that she could work her magic.

Amy speaks a language on the computer that I could never understand and she adjusted and reshaped the image so that, to our eyes, it looked right with the text (and chaise). There were a few interruptions—her adorable daughters came in to present her with a chain of daffodils and later a lilac bouquet—but despite these rather fetching distractions we were done in no time. And here it is:What do you think of it? The amazing thing about the technology we’re using is that I can try out a cover, and if I decide to change it I can. But let’s not even think about that possibility….This cover makes you want to run out and buy this book, right?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cover Story

It’s about time I got back to my book. It’s called The Therapist’s New Clothes and it tells the story of my training as a psychotherapist. (Note: I am currently a writer and not a psychotherapist.) In order for the book to join its fellows on shelves, display tables, and nightstands, it needed to have a cover.

Now, the inside of my head probably looks something like this:(Photo by Jake von Slatt. See I have no confidence in my sense of design. I approached a local artist, the excellent and versatile Amy Anselmo. Very quickly we established our fondness for the chaise longue, that universal emblem of talk therapy. Here is a chaise of her creation:

Amy did a trial design, a rich red cover with white type and an elegant red velvet chaise. I called her and said that something was missing—clothes. “Come on over,” she said. “We’ll try out designs right here.” So I went to my closet and stuffed a bunch of clothes in a bag, including some flowing jackets I wore during my training and which are mentioned in the book, and drove to her house. And here’s where things went awry: I had tucked in a garment by a designer whose work Amy and I both adored. The light hit funny when Amy tried to photograph the piece, so we played with images from the artist’s website. Some photoshopping, a bit of fading, and we had it—a gorgeous book cover! So easy!

Too easy, as it turned out. The designer wasn’t comfortable with my using it. She had a licensing agreement, deals pending, needed to manage how her work appeared in the world. How confounding this was—the photo was out there, to be nabbed with a few keystrokes, but I couldn’t “have” it. I was attached to the design, kind of like a crush, and had to wean myself away from it. At Amy’s suggestion, my husband, Tony, took a bunch of pictures of me wearing a red velvet dress (we decided to stick with that theme). She experimented with the images and came up with something quite nice. Many who saw both cover designs liked this one better. We just have a bit of tweaking yet to do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another Fine Press for the Purist

As I rev up to use the Espresso Book Machine, tossing my words in the device like so many coffee beans, I can't resist indulging in nostalgia for the older fine presses. This hand press:is the Officina Bodoni, which launched the renowned Stamperia Valdonega (, the firm that produced many of my uncle's works (some special editions on this very press). Uncle Jim used to travel to Verona and work directly with Martino Mardersteig, taking part in the magical process that turns a sheaf of manuscript pages into a book.

Today's Stamperia Veldonega draws upon both old and new technologies. For example, the firm now has digital fonts of classic typefaces. Which I imagine is somewhat different from this:(Photos by R.R. at the Institute for Textkritik in Heidelberg.)

I don't know about you, but just knowing that such presses are out there makes me happy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book, Meet Your Maker

So I drive up to Manchester. It’s a hot day and the leaves are coming out; I see less and less green as I go north and up into the mountains, as though moving backward in time.

As always, things are bustling at the Northshire. I introduce myself to Annette Rodefeld, who coordinates the Print on Demand program, and ask about the Espresso Book Machine (which is right there, occupying the better part of the entrance-way, but I’m rather shy around machines.) “We have lovingly named him Lurch,” she says, “because he groans and he’s big.” I must have given her a funny look because she quickly added, “We had to give him a name—he’s part of the staff.”Alas, Lurch wasn’t feeling his best. He had been turning out books that were slightly trapezoid, with the trim about 1/16 of an inch off. Fortunately, a kind fellow had flown in from St. Louis to tend to his care. And the prognosis is excellent. (Lurch, you see, is a 1.5 model. The new-and-improved 2.0 is one-third the size and the kinks have been worked out.)

Lurch’s dyspeptic state meant I couldn’t see him in action just now. But soon enough…

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A New Take on Moveable Type

What is this contraption to which I have entrusted my literary fortunes?

First, what it is not. It is not this:

That would be Lord (3rd Earl) Stanhope’s invention, the iron press, from 1800.

Nor is it this roll-type from the Vienna Technical Museum:
(Photo by Mirko Tobias Schaefer)

The Espresso Book Machine has apparently been a big hit at the London Book Fair. (You can read about its reception here: Meanwhile, I’ll be heading up to the Northshire tomorrow so that I can get up close and personal with the machine. Actually, perhaps “personal” is not the best word...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just a Link and... excuse to share what we have coming up here on our mountain.

I'll be late with this week's post (I'll be in New York at my TKth[sic] Journalism School Reunion) so I thought I'd leave you with this article about publishing that I found thought-provoking:

I do find it exciting and encouraging that folks are beginning to question aspects of publishing previously regarded as sacrosanct.

Read (and comment) away!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Democracy in Action

The Northshire is the bookstore you want nearby. It is well stocked and well-lit, and bustling with salespeople who not only read books but seem genuinely happy to be there. It has a cafĂ©, a good selection of cards, music and gifts, and even used books—which makes me happy because used books answer the call of serendipity better than new books do. The store also has a history of supporting local authors. I spoke there about a book I co-wrote, and my husband read from his novel The Persistence of Memory (which is one you absolutely should read if you’ve yet to…)

I headed up to the Northshire to ask Chris Morrow, son of the original owners and now General Manager, about the Espresso Book Machine. I had all sorts of ideas about how I could promote the book and their program, but I also wanted something from him that was harder to articulate. So I kept asking questions. Such as: Would they display the book? Yes—they always do that. Would they sponsor a reading? Of course, they do that too. What I really wanted was this: some kind of affirmation that I was a “real” writer as opposed to someone, you know, who just wanted to see their name in print. I mean, I had three contracts with major publishers in my twenties. I once went on a cross-country book tour where I wore suits specially bought from Barney’s NY and learned to force a smile for the camera. I’ve always worked hard, played by the rules, trusted in the wisdom of conventional media companies. Doesn’t that count for something?

Whoa, honey. No special status here. Democratic is democratic. Either I go with it or I don’t.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Have a Book

I have a book. This book took form in my head when I emerged from a dark period in my life and took form on the page soon thereafter. It was the book I wanted to write in the way I wanted to write it. I sent it around and quickly (at least in retrospect; it probably didn’t feel that way at the time) found a literary agent who agreed it was a book that belonged out there in the world. We came close with publishers but never hit a match: it was small when they wanted big; unsettling when they wanted shocking; ironic when they wanted outrage. Then there was the dreaded, unfathomable, “It doesn’t fit our list”—the publishing equivalent of “Really, it’s not you, it’s me.” Editors who wanted it lamented of trying to get it past marketing.

I was left with the shoulda-woulda-coulda embitterment of the thwarted artist, with all the attendant jealousy and resentment (“Why’d they bring out that book and not mine?”) I moved on and wrote and did other stuff while the book sat in my files, following me electronically when I moved or changed computers. Every once in a while a friend would say, “Whatever happened to that book? I loved it!” but I pretty much let it drift into the realm of “oh well”. Until one day I learned about The Espresso Book Machine, a new publishing experiment at a local bookstore. That sounded not too intimidating, even friendly.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Venture, But a Family Tradition

It feels appropriate to launch this journey into alternative publishing after having just attended the opening of an exhibit of my late uncle’s work: James L. Weil: Master of Fine Printing and Poetry. The exhibit is at the Grolier Club of New York, a venerable society for bibliophiles (that would be “lovers of books"). It is a genteel, even gentlemanly place, a reminder that there are still those who regard books as objects worthy of study and admiration. My Uncle Jim was a lover of the word--master of the word, I can say--and of high-quality printing, a writer of poetry and a maker of books. In 1963 he began the Elizabeth Press, devoted to modern Elizabethan and Metaphysical poetry, genres he felt were getting short shrift. He started with Elizabeth magazine then limited himself to books, publishing writers who became influential in the world of poetry: William Bronk, Robert Creeley, Cid Corman, Diane Wakowski.

From Portrait of the Artist Painting Her Son: Selected Earlier Poems

As a child and young adult I would periodically receive a beautiful package from Uncle Jim, a volume of poems or even a single poem. It would be impeccably printed and designed, often with a beautiful woodcut print on the flyleaf, the small book tucked into a slipcover that was itself placed in a linen folder—a veritable matryoshka doll of a book. Each was numbered and specifically inscribed to me. I was proud to own these special keepsakes. I cherished his poems (those I understood, that is) phrases of which I would turn to and sing in my mind like beloved melodies. It never occurred to me that his books or poems were worth any less because he published many of them himself.