Tag Archives: Horizon Books

March 25, 2017

Jerry’s and Glenn’s limited-edition letterpress print, “Lake Michigan Winter,” is available here and at Big Maple Press. If you’d like to receive early notification of the others in the series, including “Spring Comes to Lake Michigan” (due out in April)—as well as an array of other upcoming Big Maple Press prints, broadsides, books, chapbooks, and ephemera—click on this link and we’ll add you to the list….

Jerry is now Tweeting about books, nature, and the writing life; if you want to follow him, you can….

Many thanks to Keith Taylor and “Stateside” on Michigan Radio for the fine review of A Walk in the Animal Kingdom….

While we’re tooting our own horn, a 5-star review of A Walk in the Animal Kingdom came our way (and another, here). The three titles in the Wonders of Nature Series are available at our favorite independent bookstores. If you can’t get to an indie store, visit the newly revamped and user-friendly Big Maple Press website or visit the “Books” page here on the J.D. site….

This thoughtful and well-researched article in Traverse Magazine by Jeff Smith is an excellent overview of the issue about the aging Line 5 Pipeline that flows under the Straits of Mackinac. The Enbridge pipeline should be removed as soon as possible, before it ruptures and unleashes a disaster. We urge everyone who cares about the Great Lakes to visit  Oil & Water Don’t Mix and FLOW For Water and add their voices so that Michigan’s governor and attorney general will take immediate action….

We hope you’ll sign up at the bottom of this page for Jerry’s monthly newsletter, which offers observations on the seasons, updates on works in progress, and insights about the writing life. We promise your address is secure and we will never share it.

WE LAUNCHED A SMALL PRESS AND ARE PUBLISHING BOOKS SOLD ONLY IN INDEPENDENT STORES. ARE WE CRAZY?

Yes. But it’s a good kind of crazy.

Artist Glenn Wolff and I have made our livings illustrating and writing books for nearly 30 years. In that time we’ve witnessed the publishing industry go through the most dramatic changes since Guttenberg.

When we met in 1986, Glenn and I could not have anticipated how much the world was about to change. Glenn was drawing his illustrations on illustration boards and delivering them in person to art directors in their Manhattan offices; later, when he moved back home to Michigan, he sent them overnight via Fed-Ex.

I was writing my books by hand on legal pads, then typing the final drafts on a typewriter—initially on the manual Royal my parents gave me when I was in high school, then on an industrial-grade electric IBM that rattled so furiously that it walked across my desk as I typed. I made corrections with White-Out, and when the manuscript was finished made a Xerox copy, sealed the original in the carton that the Southworth 25% cotton typewriter paper had come in, and mailed it to my publisher.

By then Glenn was a regular illustrator for the New York Times and for magazines such as Audubon and Sports Afield, where my nature essays were also appearing. We liked each other, had some ideas for books, signed with an agent, and started publishing with New York houses. (You can read the story of our first meeting and the ensuing fun.)

Almost from the beginning we talked about someday starting a small press, an idea that grew with the years, especially after our early collaborations, It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes and The Bird in the Waterfall went out of print and we reacquired the rights to them. This summer we had the chance to team up with the wonderful Gail Dennis, a graphic designer with 30 years’ experience designing books and other publications and who is superbly organized and a master at implementing the ideas Glenn and I so casually sling around, and jumped at it. We named the press for the sugar maple in Gail’s and my front yard and Glenn designed a logo featuring its silhouette.

BigMaplePress-logo-verysmallThen we made a momentous decision: Big Maple Press would publish books to be sold only in independent stores.

Why? First, because we want to stay small. We’ve heard too many horror stories about start-ups driven into bankruptcy when big distributors and big chains ordered thousands of books then returned them. We’d rather work closely with a single distributor—Partners Distributing, in Holt, Michigan—and with a manageable number of independent stores that appreciate our books and might be inspired to recommend them to their publishers.

Second, because we hate bullies. In September I was one of 600 authors who signed a full-page letter in the New York Times protesting Amazon’s strong-arm business tactics. As a Macmillan author, I had watched the buy buttons on four of my books and every other Macmillan title disappear from Amazon’s website in 2010, when the publisher refused to buckle in to Amazon’s unreasonable price demands. Not longer after that, Amazon put a stranglehold on small literary publisher Melville House and nearly drove the house out of business. They used the same tactic this year against the large publishing group, Hachette. Jeff Bezos’ oft-quoted statement “that Amazon should approach small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle” sends shivers down our spines. Maybe publishing a book or two a year that the Bully can’t touch will be satisfying, like slinging pebbles at his forehead.

But there’s a third reason, and it’s the one that matters most. Glenn and I owe our careers to independent booksellers. It was they who championed our work starting with our first books, back when the big chains wouldn’t bother with us, and who support and encourage us still. It is only right at this stage of our careers that we should publish special editions that can be purchased only in independent stores.

We’re here—we’ve always been here—because we love books. We love writing, designing, and illustrating them. We love proofing them, opening the first carton of a new title, organizing them on our shelves, opening their covers and burying our noses in their pages, settling into our chairs on winter nights and losing ourselves in them. We’ve poured our hearts into all of our books and made them the best that we can. Now we have a chance to make them even better.

Is that crazy, or what?

INDIE LOGO

MAY I LIVE IN YOUR BOOKSTORE, PLEASE?

If you own a bookstore you’d be very smart to hire me. I would never be late for work and would cheerfully clean the bathroom when necessary and add pennies from my own pocket to the take-a-penny dish. I would make your customers feel so welcome that they would run home and get their sleeping bags and come back to have a slumber party and maybe move in forever. I would have hundreds of books in mind to recommend and would run through most of them before I thought to recommend those I wrote myself. If any customers wanted to buy any of the books I recommended but didn’t have enough money I would loan it to them. When they countered with book recommendations of their own, as customers often do, I would buy them on the spot, probably two or three for every conversation. I would also buy ten or twelve new releases and classics and obscure translations every day because in my house we’ve been getting rid of furniture lately to make more room for books. Three times a day I would buy coffee and sandwiches on the premises because I would never want to leave the store. Also I would work for free.

Novelist Sherman Alexie, independent bookstore superhero

So you can imagine how much fun I had last Saturday working the Indies First celebration at two of my favorite bookstores. Indies First is a national event championed by Sherman Alexie to draw  support for independent bookstores everywhere, and it inspired 1,000 authors across the country to donate their time November 30 to work in 500 or so stores. I split the day between Horizon Books in Traverse City, Michigan and McLean & Eakin Booksellers 75 miles away in Petoskey. And I wasn’t alone. I teamed up with artist Glenn Wolff, who is on tour to promote his and Bob Sullivan’s A Child’s Christmas in New England (and Glenn has illustrated many of my books, including the newly updated It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes). Other writers and artists were there also, some of them on overlapping schedules, so in addition to chatting all day with customers I got to talk with some author/artist friends I haven’t seen in a while as well as a few new ones. It was fun comparing notes and learning who had books coming out and who had recently been given options for movies. It was even more fun talking about the books we’ve been reading.

Glenn Wolff, Jerry Dennis, and Matt Norcross at McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

Glenn Wolff (with A Child’s Christmas in New England), Jerry Dennis (with It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes), and Matt Norcross (with The Living Great Lakes) at McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

Matt and Jessilynn at McLean & Eakin had asked their visiting writers to provide them with a list of six books they wanted to recommend. They then ordered copies of them and displayed them along with the visiting authors’ books. I was delighted to see Glenn’s and my books displayed in stacks all over the store, including at the prime spots next to the cash register, in the staff recommendations section, and on the shelf over the stairway leading to the lower level. Like only independent bookstores can, they made Glenn and me feel like we’re maybe a little special. Combine that with how jazzed we were to talk about books, and we had a pretty great day.

Here’s my list of recommendations:

No Need of Sympathy: Poems, Fleda Brown (BOA Editions, 2013). Fleda’s a friend but that’s not why her book is on the list. I was pretty sure I was going to include it because of one poem: “The Kayak and the Eiffel Tower,” which I first read when it won a Pushcart Prize in 2009, then reread so many times that it started to seem like my favorite poem of all time. It’s a memory of childhood blended with a sort of dream to reproduce the incandescent perceptions of a child seeing the world in all its strangeness and perplexity. It’s haunting and beautiful and heartbreaking and musical. So are the rest of the poems in the book. I read it in one sitting – 84 pages while my coffee and oatmeal went cold on the table before me – then went back to page one and read it again. It’s up for a bunch of prestigious awards and I predict it will win.

The Maytrees, Annie Dillard (HarperCollins, 2007). I’ve been a fan of Dillard’s essays since Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but for some reason was skeptical about her fiction. Holy crap, was I wrong. I wondered in a previous post how I had managed to live without this vivid and powerful exploration of  love in all its forms. Months after finishing the book I had a  dream in which I explained to someone that I loved it fiercely because “its language had entered my body and was flowing through my veins.” Weird. But somehow it seems true.

Death at the Lighthouse, Loren Graham (Arbutus Press, 2013). Graham’s A Face in the Rock: The Tale of a Grand Island Chippewa is a book I’ve recommended for years during my travels to talk about the Great Lakes, so I was stoked when Nancy Dwyer at Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore handed me this second installment on the history of Lake Superior’s Grand Island. I bought it on the spot and read it in a gulp. Shortly after Graham and his wife purchased and restored the lighthouse at the north end of the island he began researching the 1908 murder of the lighthouse keeper and his assistant that took place there. It became his summer project (he was a college professor, now retired). The result, some forty years later, is a riveting and complex tale that draws on the history of the entire U.P. and brings the place and the era to life. The book is full of typos – I can’t understand why, in this age when it’s so easy to correct them – but I like the book so much that I found it easy to forgive them.

Brown Dog, Jim Harrison (Grove Press, 2013). For weeks I’ve been savoring an advance copy of this collection of novellas, the first five of which were published in collections spanning more than 20 years. Last winter I re-read them in sequence, and came away convinced that if they were published as a separate book they would form an epic 500-page novel that would one day be considered Harrison’s magnum opus. This volume includes a new novella, bringing the total to six. Brown Dog is a unique character in our literature and absolutely unforgettable. He’s a Yooper and most of the stories take place in the U.P. and couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. I recommend reading it with a six pack of Old Milwaukee and a bag of pork rinds.

The Dogstars, Peter Heller (Knopf, 2012). After Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this is my favorite post-apocalyptic novel. The writing drew me in with its originality and unorthodox constructions, but the story kept me turning the pages. It’s a love story as well as a story of survival and hope. Of the many interesting characters, my favorite is a dog. I’ve read it twice this year.

Force of Blood, Joseph Heywood (Lyons Press, 2012). Credit for my late-arriving interest in crime fiction has to go to Heywood, whom I’ve met and corresponded with, and to Aaron Stander, author of half a dozen novels in the Ray Elkins mystery series, most recently Death in a Summer Colony (all of which I highly recommend). Heywood’s Woods Cop series features Grady Service, a DNR game warden, who takes on game violators, drug smugglers, plunderers of Native-American holy sites, and other scoundrels in the Upper Peninsula. I’ve been reading Heywood for a while now, and he keeps getting better — and more prolific. This year he published two new novels and collection of stories, all of which are on my Christmas list. I love that Heywood spends many weeks every year patrolling with game wardens in the U.P. No doubt it’s why he writes with such immediacy and verisimilitude. Plus he can flat-out tell a good stories.