Last September, I had the good fortune to have the best office in the world: the Alvord Desert.1 Each morning, I got up, made a cup of coffee, and set out my desk and chair with a stack of proofs. There, with an expansive view of the desert playa and Steens Mountain, I worked on a book, the result of an unexpected project that had come together earlier in the year.
The book was not mine, but that of a friend. And, as I worked on the project through the fall and winter, I realized that this was not a one-off event, but possibly the beginning of a new chapter in my life. To that end, I have created a publishing company, Red Notebook Press, and am about to publish its first book.
That book, Aging: An Apprenticeship, is, at its simplest, an anthology of thoughtful, touching, and sometimes funny essays on life as we get older, written by many well-known—and should-be-well-known—authors. Compiled and edited by my friend Nan Narboe, it is a unique book, an important one, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.
Here’s our short description of the book from the book’s website:
“Nan Narboe’s thoughtfully selected essays offer an intimate and lyrical account of aging through the decades. Authors Judy Blume, Andrew McCarthy, Gloria Steinem and others draw from their own experiences, describing a specific decade’s losses and gains to form a complex and unflinching portrait of the years from nearing fifty to ninety and beyond.”
Aging is now complete, and will be published on April 4. There were a few hiccups along the way (the biggest being the nightmare that is building an ebook), but I can tell you that nothing beat the joy at seeing the first copies in Nan’s hands, or finally getting the book visible on Amazon.
I have been in publishing my entire life, but it has been in the world of periodicals. And, while I have never tried to create a book, book publishing is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for years. In fact, part of the happenstance that led me to this project was that I was already knee-deep in research on another potential book publishing project when I ran into Nan. I had done enough investigation about print-on-demand services, creating ebooks, and marketing channels that I knew I could help Nan with two things: guide her book to completion, and create a printed book that looked professionally done. I can honestly say that I have done just that.
As I noted a year ago, 2016 was a year to explore my new world with Susan, and to determine the path forward for my life. I expected to read and write quite a bit, possibly with an eye towards beginning a book of my own, but in the end, I did very little writing. When Nan and I spoke about publishing her book in June, I was in a place of deep dissatisfaction, mostly about my lack of writing, but also because I felt that I had not gotten any sense of where I was headed. I was enjoying our travels, but I felt more like a tourist than someone searching for a new purpose.
Aging was the perfect antidote. In the process of ramping up production on the book, I remembered how much fun it is to manage a big project, work with good people, play with page layout, edit and proof (yes!2), and produce something of true worth.
About Red Notebook
I called my imprint Red Notebook Press for a very specific reason, one that is dear to me. I’m not ready to say much more than this: the red notebook was one of the last gifts to me from Lee. It was an amazing document that has changed the way I think about death and how we prepare for it. I will write about it one day, possibly even as a book, but when I thought about the types of books I would like to publish, Red Notebook Press was the only name I ever considered using.
I’ve been asked by more than a few friends about what I hope to publish at Red Notebook. I’m not particularly interested in publishing fiction, poetry or general-purpose nonfiction. I would like to help authors publish thoughtful, literate texts about living well, especially as we get older; explorations of how we choose to die, and how we can help people die on their own terms; and how to live within the world of grief, with peace and grace. Right now, I don’t have any concrete plans, but I think of one of Susan’s great sayings: “Don’t get attached to outcomes; just remain open to the possibilities.” For me, Aging is a perfect example of that philosophy. I am hopeful that, if there are to be other books, they will unfold as they need to happen.
Over the past few weeks, I have been wrapping up this project. Nan has a good publicist and we’re hopeful that we’ll get a review or two from press outlets to help get the word out.3 In the meantime, I am preparing to head back out on the road for the foreseeable future; our house is packed up and in storage, and we’re readying our new trailer for four to six months through the Southwest and beyond. While I’m out, I’ll be working on books for that other project I referred to above. Again, I’m being a bit vague about this for various reasons, but I have created a second imprint for a different topic, and hope to have news about that later this year.4
So, that’s what I did during my summer (and fall and winter) vacation. I’m extremely proud of what Nan has created, as much as I am at being able to help her realize her vision, and I look forward to the things that this year will bring.