Philosophizing, continued—what’s your dream?

Three things happened yesterday.

Well, one of them happened over the weekend plus yesterday. And it was you.

What profound people you all are! I was amazed at how much thought and introspection went into your answers to the question, “Why do you write?”. From The Four Part Land’s “because I want to” (Flannery O’Connor used to say, “Because I’m good at it”), and Lady Glamis’s “beautiful journey,” Jeffrey’s “I love a good story,” Kathryn’s dream of giving “the gift of transport to some kid who might also need it,” all the way to JR Stone’s simple and honest “just to hold a manuscript.” (We’re still waiting for Gretchen.)

  • UPDATE: Jacqueline Lichtenberg added a great metaphor of literature as a giant bookstore/cocktail party, writers speaking their pieces and answering each other. And Miriam Pia says her sci fi is “anything but autobiographical” (thank goodness).

We should have been talking about this all along. Why haven’t we been talking about this all along?

Another thing that happened is that my husband and I—finally—sent the files of my book off to Lightning Source late last night. We were pretty much ready Thursday, and I told everyone we were sending it. But then we got involved in preparing for this week in San Francisco and my husband’s conference presentation (he’s also doing a demo tonight—he says he’s going to be bumbling through it because the technology’s so new, but he’s also going to be the belle of the ball because, well, the technology’s so new). . .

It was a four-hour drive in pouring rain yesterday, from the redwood coast down the pastoral Anderson Valley, through the winding hills, onto the freeway and suddenly into modern civilization and bad traffic. We stopped in Santa Rosa to pick up a load of books from O’Reilly Publishing to take to the Linux conference as a favor to Tim O’Reilly. We yelled (as we always do) passing under the red arches supporting the long red cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Well, what with one thing and another, it was after we put our son to bed in our hotel room last night that we finally sat down and did a final look through my entire book document. We found a million problems that needed to be fixed and, in a fever of anxiety, fixed them. Then we uploaded the document and cover to the Lightning Source site. (It took a good twenty minutes to upload that cover, folks—that’s a lot of color.)

I had just written to my mother about it last week (yeah, I told her we were sending it in Thursday), saying, “I have always, ever since I was typing on that old Royal in my bedroom under the eaves back on Elizabeth Street, thought I’d publish my books this way—designing them all myself. I guess I just procrastinated until the technology caught up with me.” I didn’t mention it to her (because, you know, she already knew), but we lived on Elizabeth Street in the late 1970s. I was a teen.

Thirty years is a long time to wait for technology to catch up with your dreams. But you know what?

It was worth it.

Traditional publishers don’t let the author have much, if any, input into the cover or design of their own book. I’ve been tweeking that cover, moving a word a fraction of an inch this way and a fraction of an inch that way, fussing with the font size and black bands and La Favorita Press logo, even re-shooting the main cover photo Friday night with a few crucial items added, like my grandfather’s old black phone from 1950, a miniature wooden dresser my other grandfather built for my mother when my parents were first married, and a bird made of horn that my grandmother bought in Mexico in the early 1960s—my mother mailed me the original photo of La Favorita, with its old thumbtack hole and fly spots from hanging on the wall at La Joya, and you can see it now on the bookshelf.

That cover is exactly what I want it to be. The interior design is exactly what I want it to be. The words. . .well, I know for a fact I’m going to find stuff that makes me groan and hold my head once it’s all a done deal, but that’s the same way it is with traditional books, too, and their editor gets to decide when you’re done polishing it, not you. With the added insult to injury that you didn’t even get to design the cover.

Just to hold my manuscript. And lay my book on top of it.

And the third thing that happened just happened yesterday, when my son and I were walking around San Francisco’s Japantown. He’s an origami artist and has been for years, so we went into the Paper Tree origami store, on the plaza across the street from the Peace Pagoda, to see the Primate Display and maybe pick up some origami paper.

And that display just—blew—us—away.

In 2008, Dr. Robert J. Lang issued a world-wide origami challenge: primate, non-human, one sheet of paper. The results that came in were so brilliant, so imaginative, so alive that they were displayed first in New York at the Origami USA Convention, then in Tokyo at Origami House, and now here at this unassuming little store in a corner of San Francisco.

A gorilla with her baby on her back, the tiny knees clinging. A large chimpanzee with the hollows around the eyes tenderly thumbed in. A silverback male with hundreds of folds of shaggy fur. An almost abstract, utterly gleeful orangutan. A chimpanzee with the pale underside of the paper turned up on the face and ears and palms to form an expression of charm and mischief. And a dozen more.

What struck me most powerfully about them was the casual handling of the paper. The lines weren’t always crisp or straight, the fingers were tiny but imperfect, the bodies weren’t posed, but were almost crumpled into mid-action. “This is my paper,” the artist said with their hands. “I’ve put in my years of dedication, learning what it is, what it’s capable and not capable of, exploring its capacity to touch the mind of a stranger from a distance they may never even know. I know my medium. And I can do anything I want with it.”

And I want to say that to you now: it’s your paper, too. It’s your medium.

What do you dream of doing with it?

6 thoughts on “Philosophizing, continued—what’s your dream?

  1. Lady Glamis says:

    This is so beautiful. Thank you!




    Lately, even though I haven’t even queried at all, I keep wondering if self-publishing is what I want more than traditional. More than anything, I know that right now I am not ready to publish any way at all. My work is still growing to where I need it to grow, and although I think I could maybe get and agent and sell my work right now, I’m not ready for that, and I’d like my work to be better. I’ve been is such turmoil lately over this, but it is nice to see how happy you are with your work and what route you have taken. It is heartening and beautiful, just like that origami.

  2. Iapetus999 says:

    Sorry, when I read that final bit, I had an image of printing out my final manuscript, and then crumpling up each page, one at a time.
    Maybe I can turn that into a flash fiction piece.
    “As I crumpled ‘The End’ into a useless wad of trash, the phone rang.”

    I don’t think any of us really know what will happen once we put our stuff “out there.”

  3. Jeffrey Russell says:

    You ask hard questions, Victoria. “What do [I] dream of doing with [my book]?” Hmmm.

    Kathryn said (in her post to Philosophizing, Part 1) how much she liked going on the voyages on which books took her as a child, That sums up everything about books to me. Be it reading one–or writing one. The beauty and excitement of the voyage. And also, like Kathryn, I too am grateful to the people who took me on all my voyages. They are pretty cool people in my eyes; knowing all those great places to go, and having both the skill and desire to take me (and others) there for visits. But you know what? Each time I got home after a voyage I told all my friends a lot more about the trip itself then I did about the captain who steered the ship.

    But now, for some reason which I don’t fully understand and probably isn’t important anyway, I want to be the captain. I’ve built my first little ship, and I want to find a place along the crowded dock to moor it, so that all those readers looking to go somewhere can find me. I’m hoping I sell lots of tickets, and get to take lots of people to the new place I made, and which only I know about. I want them all to be glad they chose me, and then tell all their friends about it. I want them to get their money’s worth.

    But even if I don’t ever get a mooring at the dock, and no one ever knows about the new place, I’m glad I made it. I think it’s a pretty cool place. And you know what else? I did my best to make my little ship as good as I could.

    So, Victoria, that’s what I dream of. Finding a place at the dock for my ship, then taking lots of people on voyages. If I’m lucky, and enough people choose me and my ship, I can keep both me and her afloat. And if I’m really lucky I’ll get a second ship moored next to her!

  4. Kathryn says:

    Now that I’m no longer homeschooling, I’ve been cleaning out my son’s notebooks. There are three pages from his literature notebook that I cannot bear to toss or file away and which will become the first three pages of my new writing notebook: Chief Joseph’s surrender speech, The Gettysburg Address and the poem, The Children’s Hour. I also have a framed quote from Charles Dickens on my nightstand. “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” And of course, we have “The Road Not Taken” in just about every room in the house.

    If I’m gonna dream, I’m gonna dream big: I would like my work to be like that – felt down in the gut, true. That’s a tall order I know, but it would be absolutely the coolest thing I could ever ask for.



  5. Nancy says:

    How awesome. I live for the day I can afford to have my history book printed and the fiction books. I was so excited when I was able to format the history book using Desktop Author. The sense of accomplishment is outstanding. Though the query process is a necessity, it is mentally dilapidating and physically draining.
    Congratulations Mrs. Author on taking your dreams and bringing them to fruition.

  6. Anjali says:

    I have to say, Victoria, you’ve really changed the way I’ve started thinking about self-publishing. It sounds really exciting to me now, and it’s something that I will seriously consider for the future.

    My dream is to publish a book. Just one book. No matter how it’s done (self/indie/traditional), it’s what I want to do.

    (PS I’d love to hear your opinion on a post I just wrote about Writing For Free on my blog.)

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