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blogbrainsmallSeacoast History Blog #132 
December 14, 2011

You’re right. I’ve been out of touch. But I have a note. I stand at this moment up to my waist in the quicksand of a new book. It’s revolutionary. It will blow your mind, or if you’re under 50, insert the latest version of that cliché here. And I have until the NorthChurch steeple clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve to finish the manuscript. If I don’t make it, the whole book turns into a pumpkin. You wouldn’t want that to happen, which is why I come out of my office only for meals and the occasional nap. Yesterday I dozed sitting bolt upright at the keyboard. Don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up, I had typed the letter “e” for six pages. (Continued below)

 

Writing is hard work, even when you love it. It’s hard on the eyes, hard on the back, hard on the brain. Every book starts out like a hot date and ends up in the painful throes of natural childbirth. This one will be my 11th, which is how many kids my mother-in-law had, and she’s still bouncing around at 90. Odds are I’ll survive this book two, but with four chapters to go and the clock loudly ticking, I couldn’t say for sure.

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Nonfiction history has to be the worst genre. You can’t just make things up. Last night I read two scholarly articles about French fishers and traders in Canada in the 1500s. That research translated into exactly one sentence in the new book. A local historian suggested another source I really have to read on the topic. It turned out to be 704-pages thick and there’s only one copy in the entire Seacoast.

December01I consider 500 words a good day’s work. The last book took 18 months, worse than having Irish twins. But I learned a lot of tricks while writing three history books for juveniles. (“Juveniles” are “kids” who are not in jail, I think.) The company I worked for sends a contract, and by the time you get it, there’s barely two months until the deadline. And that’s not a bad thing since the paycheck rarely covers a month. You learn to absorb an enormous amount of data, but to do so, like any computer, your brain has to shut down a lot of other functions. It’s like Star Trek when the Captain asks for more power to the photon torbedo, so the engineer has to dim down the life support system. The nonfiction history writer forgets how to walk, to speak, and to feed himself as the brain focuses on the topic at hand.

My wife knows the routine. She’s read every book I've written in every draft. In fact it was Maryellen’s idea that I write books in the first place. And worse for her, this one was her idea. It’s about the incredible archaeological discoveries made at the Isles of Shoals over the last four years. You’ve never seen this stuff before. It will blow your mind. (I think I said that already.) The book will be out in May, but for that to happen, I have to make it through the first draft by the end of the month.

If 500 words a day is a good writing rate, then you’re lucky to get 250 done. That’s one typed sheet of double-spaced print per day. And with no time to waste, it has to be flawless. I can hit 1,500 words daily in fiction. (Stephen King does 5,000) But nobody seems willing to hire a novelist these days.

I did exit the office for the launch of the super-gundalow on Saturday. We stood on the opposite shore on the dock behind Geno’s Coffee Shop. Evelyn Marconi was there with Ruth Griffin. We could hear the speeches clearly from across the water. It was a grand moment for the City of Portsmouth, but not as exciting as when the first replica gundalow was towed by oxen and shoved into the river 30 years back. Times have changed. Back then I could never write a book this fast. I couldn’t do it today without the Internet.

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December03

But my mind is wandering. That’s dangerous. I need to get back to Chapter 4 where the French are setting up fishing stations in search of cod. Then came the Basques and then the English, who find their way to the Isles of Shoals. We know they were there by 1620 because we have dsicovered a clay pipe bowl with the head of Sir Walter Raleigh. We have gaming dice made from ivory, and prehistoric artifacts, rare coins, ancient pottery, scissors and a thimble from the Revolutionary War era, somebody’s old toothbrush, ceramics from a late-1600s tavern, thousands of bones including the extinct Great Auk, and one bone from a 120-pound codfish.

Every artifact tells a story. I’ll tell you those stories in this new book in May after the proofer, and the designer, and the illustrator, and the printer get their hands on it. The worst will be over for me by January. I may celebrate by going outdoors. The rewrite is nothing compared to the birth of the first draft, followed immediately by a return to unemployment. The writer is only as good as his last book But so tired. Auxiliary brain power fading. Getting sleepyeee…ee..eeeeeeeeeeee.. eeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeee eeeeeee eeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeee.

© 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson.  All rights reserved.

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