O.A.R Teaser Emails

Starting in June, 2016, I started sending biweekly emails to update friends and family on the progress of One American Robin. If you’d like to catch up, I’ve reproduced these emails below. I copied them from another source, so I apologize for any issues with formatting.

 

* * * Email #1 – sent June 19 * * *


First of all, thanks so much for your calls, texts, and emails. All of your support has meant a ton to me. Writing is a solitary activity, so it’s been a nice change of pace to open things up. Since last time, I’ve made some progress toward a late summer publishing date. In this email, I’m going to share a short synopsis of the book’s plot as well as some other publishing factoids.

I thought the challenges were over once the book was written, but man was I wrong. Summing up your book in 150 words is an art in itself, and it takes a different skill set than writing a 75,000 word novel. I’d be happy to hear your feedback on what I came up with.

– Synopsis to be printed on the back of the paperback –

“Robin is a lonely, whip-smart twenty-five-year-old muddling her way through a rough summer. Her father’s losing his mind to dementia. He also might be falling in love, which is nice, but it has Robin wondering: is it adultery if you can’t remember you have a wife?

Then there’s Corey, her mysterious neighbor who works on his house all day, every day. When Robin finally meets him, she sees an attractive lifeline into a new phase in her life. But how well does she know Corey really? Why doesn’t he ever leave his house?

As summer bleeds into fall, Robin answers these questions while juggling familial fissures, money problems, and a fruitless quest to capture her father’s rapidly deteriorating memories. Set in Providence, Rhode Island during the worst recession in generations, One American Robin is a funny and heartbreaking examination of love, dementia, and the life-changing power of home improvement.”

Snowy Owl

One of the early scenes in my book takes place in Middletown, RI on a journey to see a snowy owl. This is based on a real event; in 2014, conditions in the arctic sent hundreds of young owls south searching for food, and a few took up residence in RI.

If you’re interested, you can read the Projo article about the snowy owl here.

Random Publishing Factoid

I was surprised to learn about halfway through writing the book that song lyrics are protected by copyright and can’t be reproduced without permission. This should have been obvious, but I’d just never thought about it. And I’d used a lot of song lyrics in my book.

Fortunately most lyrics were from local bands, who were all generous enough to let me use their lyrics (thanks!).

Sadly, getting a hold of Van Morrison wasn’t quite as simple. I used some lyrics from the album Astral Weeks (one of my favorites albums ever) in ways that were integral to the plot, and it wasn’t as easy as just shooting Van a Facebook message.

Fortunately, there is a process for this, the same used by anyone who wants to use a song in a car commercial. I got a hold of Warner Brothers, who sent me to Alfred Publishing (they handle literary usage). I had to show them the lyrics in context of the book. In the end I am paying a reasonable fee to reproduce lyrics from three songs in my book. The whole thing was a lot easier than I expected. And while I’d like to imagine that they emailed Van my pages, which he read on a bluff on the cliffs of northern Ireland and wept from the power of my prose, more likely than not a random intern just processed my paperwork in between coffee runs. Either way, I’m excited to keep the lyrics in.

That’s all for now – look for another email in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading.

– Eric (EA)

 

 

* * * Email #2 – sent July 4, 2016 * * *

 


Thanks again to everyone who’s been reaching out. I hope you all had a great July 4th weekend. In this email I’m going to talk a little about where I got the idea for my book, and I’m also going to share a page from the finished book. 

Depending on where you fall on the OCD scale, designing a book yourself is either a dream or a nightmare. There are hundreds of tiny decisions that affect the look of a book. Most of them probably don’t matter, but if you’ve wanted to write a book your whole life, as I have, you can bet you’re going to obsess over every one of those decisions.

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Anatomy of a Page

You’re looking at one page from the finished document for One American Robin (click it to enlarge). Looks like a standard book, right? You might be surprised to know that there are dozens of decisions to be made for even the most standard looking book.

A – Inside Margin. The size of this margin is very important and relates to the size of your book. Picture a really thin, 100 page book and how flatly it can open; now picture a thick Game of Thrones type of book. For the thicker book, each page has to travel farther out of the spine before you can see the text. Meaning the bigger the book, the bigger the inside margin (mine was .75 inches NBD).

B – Text font, size, spacing. You can drive yourself insane choosing fonts – there are thousands of them. I ended up choosing Palatino. It’s clean and easy to read, but stands out a bit from the standard Times New Roman/Arial that we read on our screens all day.

C – Outside (Gutter) Margins. The outside margins are less important than the inside margins, but they set the tone for the look of each page by providing white space. I must have changed this a hundred times. Across an entire book, small changes can make a huge difference. At one point I decreased the margin by a quarter inch and it added 40 pages to my final book.

D – Page Numbers. Here’s something I’d never thought about: on every book I own, the even numbered pages are on the left hand side. And the numbers don’t start until the actual story-part of the book. It was very important to get this right, and to insert blank pages into my book toward the beginning so that the title pages would line up.

E – Interstitial doo-dads. (not a technical term) Everyone has their own style, but generally when there’s a scene switch within a chapter the writer will place some white space between paragraphs. Sometimes they’ll even put some * * *’s or a little graphic. In this case I used grey-scale versions of the flowers and birds that will feature prominently on the cover. They were hand-drawn by my friend, Holly Emidy, who is super talented and is also designing the cover.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

I’ve had a few people ask me this question. For me, story ideas are usually a matter of a few related ideas kicking around in my head until they rub up against each other in a way that feels interesting.

 
In 2005 I bought an old house, and I found myself completely unprepared for the amount of work required from it. At the same time the housing boom was on, and even getting a plumber or electrician to return my calls was difficult. So I dove in, using a mixture of curiosity and cheapness to try to build my home improvement skills. I wanted to write about the feeling of pride in using my hands to solve problems, mixed with the terror of living in a house that would never be done, where you go to bed feeling like the roof will collapse in on you.

At the same time, my grandmother was succumbing to dementia, and it became harder and harder to have a conversation with her. So many of her stories were never captured, and suddenly this resource that I’d taken for granted had dried up without warning. Stories from her childhood that had bored us as kids became vital, and I became obsessed with writing down as much as I could. I’d never realized before that memory was not just important; in some important ways it’s everything. Without it, we’re not really ourselves.

Then one night I was at a house party outside of Portsmouth, NH. The girl who owned the house, a friend of a friend, was fixing her house up for sale for her family. I asked her how she’d ended up in her position and she said, somewhat ominously: “my father is not well”. Suddenly the whole story snapped into frame: a way to tie together the two big ideas I had kicking around in my head. Not just the themes, but also the fact that the main character would be female. It made the story more interesting to me, but it also had a practical benefit: if I wrote from a woman’s perspective, I was less likely to just make the character a stand in for myself, which was the last thing I wanted to do.

A Tent City In Providence?

When I lived in Providence between 2009-2010, something strange happened. Reeling from the Great Recession, a large number of disadvantaged residents set up a city of tents underneath an unused highway onramp.

This happened all across the country to varying degrees, but two things made this city stand out. First, the tent city itself was on the East Side of Providence, a stone’s throw from Brown University and some of the most expensive houses in the state. But more important was the design of the city itself. It had some semblance of order, with rules, shared resources and even a “mayor”.

Despite living near this place and walking past it almost daily, I didn’t know it was going to be in the book until I read an evocative piece about it by New York Times writer Dan Barry (click here to read). The moment I read his article, I knew that tent city would play a small but important role in the novel.

That’s all for now – thanks for reading. Check your inbox in a few weeks for a preview of the book cover, which I could not be more excited to share with you. – Eric (EA)