Tag Archives: The Bird in the Waterfall

April 27, 2017

Jerry’s and Glenn’s newest limited-edition letterpress print, “Spring Comes to Lake Michigan,” is now available at Big Maple Press. If you’d like to receive early notification of the others in the series—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?

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WHAT A GLORIOUS MISTAKE A TITLE CAN BE

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The new edition, published by Big Maple Press.

Glenn Wolff’s and my “forgotten” book has just appeared for the first time in paperback. The Bird in the Waterfall: A Natural History of Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes was published in hardcover in 1996 by HarperCollins Publishers, on the heels of our national bestseller, It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes. We were scheduled to launch Bird in the summer of ’96 with a national tour, and everyone had high expectations for success. Then came bad news.

HarperCollins was in trouble. Profits were down and the corporate suits weren’t happy about it. They fired the upper managers, then herded hundreds of authors out the door and locked it behind them. The accountants had decided it was cheaper to cancel books than to publish them, so they canceled them by the train-load.

The books already in production, including The Bird in the Waterfall, were published but they were orphaned. Our tour was cancelled, as were all other plans for promotion. There was barely enough money in the budget to send out a few copies for  review. Glenn and I did the best we could, setting off on a road tour at our own expense that took us from New York to Boston, Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. Two printings of the hardcover sold out quickly, but HarperCollins declined to print more. They also declined to bring it out in paperback.

The original HarperCollins edition from 1996.
The original HarperCollins edition from 1996.

Over the years Glenn and I turned down several offers from publishers to reprint the book, including one from an Australian firm that wanted to dismantle it and repackage it as a coffee-table book, mostly because we didn’t think they “got” the book and would do it justice. Early this year our agent released it as an ebook and print-on-demand paperback under his firm’s imprint, DCA, and made it available in all the usual online places.

That was fine, but we wanted more. For years Glenn and I had dreamed of giving The Bird in the Waterfall the care that we felt it deserved. So we decided to do the job ourselves. Our first and most brilliant act was to team up with the multi-talented Gail Dennis, who has thirty years experience designing books, magazines, and other publications, and who presented us with many ideas of how to make the book better, from its cover and interior design, to its editorial content, to its title. The three of us formed a small press dedicated to publishing our works in special editions that will be available only in independent bookstores. With Gail as Creative Director and Glenn and I doing art and words, we’ve just released a spanking-new version of  The Bird in the Waterfall. In a couple weeks we’ll release the new indie-store edition of It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes. Next year we’ll publish an original new book about wonders of the animal kingdom. You won’t find any of those editions at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Walmart. I’ll have more to say about Big Maple Press in a few days. For now I want to talk about the title.BigMaplePress-logo-verysmall

Titles are never easy. All my books have required dozens or hundreds of attempts. Often the right one has come in an ah-ha moment, but only after much effort. A Place on the Water and The Windward Shore arrived that way. The title “The Living Great Lakes” was the first to occur to me for that book, yet for some reason I went on to consider and reject more than 100 others before circling back to the original.

But no title has been as tough as The Bird in the Waterfall. During the three years that Glenn Wolff and I worked on the book we constantly fired ideas back and forth. One difficulty was the scale of the project. We wanted to include the entire panoply of water, from the molecular structure to the hydrological cycle; from the behavior of waves, currents, and tides to legends and myths and aquatic wildlife. How could we fit all that into one title?

In the end, with the publisher pressing us for a decision, we fell back on the title of one of our favorite chapters, about the American dipper and its habit of nesting near and even behind waterfalls. Our editor was okay with our choice, but he had doubts. Some friends advised us against it. But we were exhausted and out of time.

Now I’m fond of the title in the same way that I’m fond of the warped floors of our old farmhouse. For the new edition we’ve changed the subtitle to Exploring the Amazing World of Water, which is truer to the spirit of the book than the original. But we’re standing by the old title.

Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. My favorite criticism so far was posted by a reader on Amazon.com:

“Great Book Hidden by a Lousy Title” by Mark Thrice (5 stars)

“I don’t know what led to the title, ‘The Bird in the Waterfall,’ but it was a misfortune. This book is powerful and teaches in a way that is compellingly interesting. It has nothing to do with birds and little to do with waterfalls. It’s about water and how water keeps our world going—a finite substance—there can never be more water than there is right now on our planet. Trees are slow-motion fountains of water. Get the book— there is so much more in it. Don’t make the mistake of judging this book by its title.”

Do you agree with Mark Thrice? Or should we have gone with Hydrologica?

How about Tidal Waves and Sea Monkeys?

Or should we have settled for Aquamania, Aquatica, Planet Aquatica, Aquatic Planet, Aquatic Oddities, or An Aquatica of the Mind?

Or From Spring to Sea, From Creek to River to Sea, From the River to the Sea, From Sea to Shining Tributary?

I can go on: A World of Water, Abundant Waters, The Spirit of Water, Water on Earth, The Lay of the Water, Sustained by Water, Taking the Waters, Overflowing With Water, Brimming With Water, or Water/Water.

Liquid Planet, Waves on the Planet, The Water Planet.

The Watery Realm, Realms of Water, Realms of Blue, Flow of Blue, Currents of Blue, World of Blue, Blue World, The Water is Blue, Vast Blue Waters, Beyond These Yellow Sands, Between These Yellow Sands, Between These Yellow Shores,Beyond the Deep Blue Sea, Beyond the Ocean’s Rim, Filled to the Brim, Beyond the Deep.

The First Element, Beyond the Shore, Between the Shores.

Over the Waterfall, Behind the Waterfall, Through the Waterfall, The Spirit in the Waterfall.

Prevailing Waters, The Tide is High, Water Tripping, Down in the Flood, Tsunami Dreams, A Mighty Swell, The Great Wave of Kanagawa, The Surface of the Deep, Riffles and Runs, Downstream, Water is Life, Water Itself, Whispering Brook/Bellowing Sea, Waves as Big as Mountains, The Shape That Water Takes, Aquatic Marvels, Water Wonders, It’s a Wet Wet World, All the Rivers Run to the Sea, Defining Water, Pondering Water, The Counsel of Water, Mindful of Water, Mind Full of Water, Literal Water, Neptune’s Realm, Neptune’s Kingdom, River Fast/Ocean Deep, Sargasso Dreams, Past Raging Rocks, The Book of Water, Of Water, About Water, Essential Water, Hands Filled With Water, Views of the Water, Pond to River to Sea, A Fondness for Water, Wade Until Dark.

And, finally, my absolute favorite, which Glenn faxed to me at 3 a.m. as we were finishing the book. It must have emerged from one of his fever dreams: I Think We’re All Hosers on This Boat Where Turtles Dream and Dolphins Dance.

The ebook edition published by DCA.

The ebook edition published by DCA.