A Writer in Every Port

I’m not sure why I can’t stay put — why I always need to be planning the next trip to [insert destination here]. I adore my house on wooded acres, tucked into the hills above a tourist destination. Maybe I caught my grandad’s wanderlust that he caught from his dad’s work on the railroad. Maybe it’s genetics, stemming from the same urge that drove my ancestors to trade one continent for another. But it’s more likely a by-product of moving: having so many loved-ones in such a long string of scattered places. Social media is fine for keeping up with the facts of someone, but it’s no replacement for real-time bonding with someone over a shared meal. Even as a child, my parents made sure we traveled on what little discretionary funds we had to maintain the relationships that were important…relationships I would later rely on after my parents left for Africa.

So it’s no wonder that as an adult I followed their example. And once the internet created the ability to meet and collaborate with strangers-who-become-friends, my string of scattered people became a web that now spans oceans. Since 2009, I’ve made a point of meeting up with writer-friends whenever family-travel brings me into close proximity. I’ve shared pints with Mel Bosworth, toured the Louvre with Dorothee Lang, dined in Beacon Hill with Tim Bridwell, took Yorkshire tea with Samantha Priestley…and New York City? Rose Auslander, Casey Tingle, Elizabeth J. Coleman, Paco Márquez… These meet-ups play a critical role in a key component of my writing life: creative kinship.

Dinner at an Irish pub with Ben Moeller-Gaa in St. Louis

Creative kinship is what sparked the idea for my calligraphic treatment of Ben Moeller-Gaa’s haiku. His guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for English-language haiku crossed-pollinated with my guidance on what is and isn’t reader-friendly book design. Our geeky discussions yielded a unique approach to a frequently mistreated poetic form. My practice of that approach over the course of four haiku poets’ collections has honed my calligraphic skills while giving me wabi-sabi instincts. Now I can’t write haiku to save my life, but I have enough awareness of their spirit to help another haiku/haibun poet, dt.haase, develop two works-in-progress. The only thing that could have beat dining with dt. one night and Ben the next on my latest train journey would have been for the three of us to dine together! Maybe someday…

Eating the world’s best pizza (Giordano’s) with dt.haase in Chicagoland

I’m sure it’s possible to write in seclusion and only share work with faceless entities, but I can’t imagine it’s much fun. Working for a press out of my home, writing at a desk in my home — the internet makes these possible. Having to drive an hour+ to engage with poets in real life, however, sometimes leaves me isolated. The creative kinships I’ve developed over the years have opened up collaborations that have taught me skills I never would have gained on my own. And it’s the endorphins that come from these intense, trusting partnerships that carry me through the long, dark January nights when the roads are too icy to attend Writers Night Out…or Down Cellar Poets…or Boston Bookbuilders…

If you have grown thanks to creative kinships, please share in the comments. How did you meet? Have you ever met in real life? What works of art exist in the world now because of your creative kinships?

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Full Spiral

office building with window reflection and metallic streamers
Standing in HMH looking across the atrium at more HMH
If you had told me when I was getting a picture book manuscript critiqued at my first SCBWI conference back in 2001 that I would someday be:

  1. on the 6th floor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  2. as a publisher, surrounded by my peers in the publishing arts
  3. listening to a panel that included a Candlewick Press book designer,

I would have said you needed tranquilizers. Yet last night, there I was in a place I would have killed to be 16 years earlier, just in a completely different role. And what a role I have now: Editor in Chief of Folded Word, exploring the world one voice at a time in little books that breathe. To come full spiral in a skyscraper on a blustery night in Boston after a week-long, tri-state book tour? Someone pinch me!

The panel was amazing, though I have to say I feel blessed that I don’t have to deal with large committees when getting cover and textblock designs approved. I couldn’t believe how many cover iterations some designers had to compose in order to get one that the editor, sales/PR/marketing, and the author could all agree on.

Even more amazing to a type-geek like me was the type-specimen book that Cate Barr (Cengage Learning) brought. Hearing how she used to manually trace letters out of the book to compose an initial cover design reminded me of my days on the high school newspaper, mitering the corners of lined tape with an Xacto knife to make boxes for insets. VERY thankful to be designing books in the age of Adobe’s InDesign!

Big love to Bookbuilders of Boston for binding together all New England presses, regardless of size or budget.