THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, 2006) is a friendly and supportive approach to what makes a book, from the writing to the contract and beyond.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Seattle, a place with great public libraries where you can hide from the weather. Much of my later education was in Canada, and I lived in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal for a bunch of years until crossing back over the border. The Yolla Bolly Press, a book packager and fine printer in Covelo, California, had advertised for apprentices and I worked for a year in outer bucolia, setting metal type, printing with the hand press, and learning book design. While there I also started to edit under Barbara Youngblood, an editor with Island Press. I really wanted to be a fine printer but I also wanted to eat. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and was hired by Ten Speed Press in Berkeley as an editorial assistant. This position changed to assistant editor and up to managing editor.
What inspired you to write this book?
Much of THE DOG is based on questions I’ve heard from writers at conferences and workshops, and individual clients as a freelance editor. Writing is hard enough without having the business of publishing be a strange mystery. What a writer does with the answers is up to him or her.
How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?
I was seduced. The first version of THE DOG was a post-modern promo piece hiding behind a chapbook was given to attendees at the 2005 Mendocino Writers Conference, and received with enough praise that Cypress House publisher Cynthia Frank invited me out to dinner in San Francisco. I had the roasted rabbit with rosemary; she had my signature on a royalty contract.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
Most likely this happened in grade school. I liked the tools–pens, ink, paper—and was encouraged by several teachers. Essays made for good grades and covered up for not attending classes on a regular basis. Next was journalism: my first publication was an article titled, “The Queen’s Tour Makes Us Puke.” This was in response to Queen Elizabeth’s million-dollar-a-day tour of Canada while the country had double-digit unemployment. I’ve calmed down since then, but not much. Writers are born. We make sense of the world around us with strings of words.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
The original idea is difficult, as well as professional and personal honesty to keep the words true. Then there is the matter of making a living. Writing demands a certain confidence that cannot be substituted with arrogance.
How do you research your books?
First comes talking with people, the experts and veterans, and taking their advice and direction. Next comes hitting the books: your local library is still your best friend. What is set in type and printed is more reliable than web sites. I also keep a clipboard where I stick notes and clips from newspapers and magazines, and Post-It notes scribbled with sentences and sentence fragments.
Did you learn anything from writing this book?
No one who works in publishing has all the answers, but we gossip enough so we know who is able to provide one answer to one question.
What are you reading now?
You caught me at a strange time. A couple of weeks ago I was going through a small stack of Jim Thompson’s nasty noirs. Right now I’m reading THE NOVEL: Volume 2, Forms and Themes, edited by Franco Moretti, and Burton Raffel’s translation of THE CANTERBURY TALES.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Much of what I read is books on writing so I keep learning and thinking about writing. For my own pleasure I have the novel and poetry. My favorite writers are Blaise Cendrars for his daring curiosity, Raymond Chandler for his approach to American English as a distinct language, Jerome Charyn for his magic on the page, Anne Carson for her continuing brilliance with the poem, Diana Anthill on account of us editors should stick together, Francine Prose on the strength of READING LIKE A WRITER, and, and, and. The list is always growing and ever-changing.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
The latest manuscript I have completed is a novel, FALLING, about a man about to lose his memory who goes in search of his past. This is currently making the rounds of publishers in Manhattan and elsewhere in search of a happy home.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Be strong, remain honest, and marry money.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
THE DOG has been featured at different bookstore readings around the Bay Area, along with workshops and conferences. Appearances on the Internet, at bookseller conventions, and the 2007 IPPY Award for excellence in publishing have also helped.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
There is the blog at www.dogwalkeddownthestreet.blogspot.com. THE DOG is available from the usual Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites, but I prefer www.indiebound.org, on account of independent bookstores need the boost and are more fun than any chain store.