Sunday, January 24, 2016


The biography of Berta and Elmer Hader is finished! The proof copies will be coming out in 3 weeks, in mid-February. It’s been a very long process.

Wouldn’t you think, as an author of eight published books and several library guides for students, this would now be easy? Hah! One of the many admirable Hader traits was the way they adapted to the many publishing changes in the early and mid-twentieth centuries. Of course, those kept threatening their livelihoods—they supported themselves all their lives on their publications and art.

My writings are more “how to do it” books—companions to my teaching career. Writing is still basically the same—put your seat on chair with a supply of ink and paper. The technologies though, have changed the way books are edited and published.

The editorial process is always interesting. It’s been different with each different publisher. My very first book, a bibliography of academic articles on how to teach library skills came out in 1986 from Garland Publishing, a small academic press. The volume itself looks very different than books published before or since. Personal computers were just coming into widespread use. I couldn’t have written and rewritten the bibliography of 700 or so citations without using one, but the publisher couldn’t translate my computer created manuscript directly to their own computer. Instead, the editor sent me a template for the pages. All the margins were marked, and my typed pages had to fit this layout. Then each page was photocopied before being printed in the book. I had to create the headers and footers for the pages, and even make the index in those early, pre-mouse days of Microsoft Word. (I still have moments when I threaten to toss Mr. Mac out the window, especially since he knows more than I do but still allows my operator errors.)

The next books were also “how-tos” based on a favorite student project: the Battle of the Books program which is in almost every state. These were authored with several other school librarians, so a teacher new to the program would have a broad overview of how it could be adapted to different types of schools and libraries. The books came out from educational publishers, and the editors knew exactly what content was needed. We librarians did much editing among ourselves. Since we were all in different states, manuscripts went back and forth via the post office and emails, and by the time the finished product was in editorial hands, most of that work was done. Another “how to” book of household tips was edited and compiled as a fund-raiser for our branch of the American Association of University Women.

Walking Portland—the first version—was published by guidebook company, Falcon Press, in Montana. This was planned to be one of a series of guidebooks to convention cities for those who were tired from speeches and wanted to see the town. The series editor, Judith Galas, had written the first guide for Colorado Springs, and we used that as a template for Portland’s. She was fun to work with. She asked me to buy two identical city maps: one for each of us. I mailed her each walk as it was completed, and she checked it against her own map for accuracy. Then she would edit the text, making sure the punctuation and spelling were consistent and matched the company’s own style manual—a hyphen in Douglas-fir for example, and that street names matched those on the map. When she returned the manuscript back it was splattered with questions and suggestions on sticky notes.

By the time the second version of Walking Portland Oregon came out (Oregon was added to the title because east coast friends wondered what I was doing in Maine) Falcon had been sold to a much larger publisher, Globe Pequot, in Connecticut. Portland had changed dramatically in fifteen years: I’d told friends I thought the rewrite would be like sprucing up a few rooms in a house, but it was more like tearing the place down to the foundation and then rebuilding each part. Much of the city artwork had been moved to different sites and many new buildings had been built. An entire new city district—the South Waterfront-- had been created, which also gave access to the older neighborhoods once cut off by the freeways. New walks took the place of older ones.

Publishing had changed too. Not only was the new company much larger, but also computers had changed drastically in the intervening years. Instead of the original editor writing corrections on sticky notes, chapter by chapter, these were now handled using the computer editing function. Instead of retyping a sentence, changes were made in the handy little drop-down box. My notes were in one color and the various editors’ notes were in another. The mistakes were obvious.

Maps were another huge change. In 1998 I outlined my walks in colored ink on a large photocopy of the city map, and then turned those individual walks over to husband John, who had studied drafting in school and could draw excellent maps. Falcon designers used these maps as a base for their own style of map, with consistent icons for playgrounds and restrooms. Satellite imagery now provides “geopoints” for every spot in the city, improving map accuracy. These left me completely baffled. Fortunately, Carolyn, my city planner daughter-in-law, rewalked each chapter and converted all my notes into this new format. The maps in both versions of the books look the same, but the technology behind them is completely different.

My latest book has been edited over and over, and will be launched sometime late spring 2016. It is a life story of two very talented New York artists/writers, who had to change their creative output to meet new publishing demands. They were friends with a large community of artists and writers, who frequently put down their typewriters and came out for the weekends, leaving their typewriters behind to help Berta and Elmer hand-build a house from the ground up. Besides their creative output (nearly one hundred books and three Caldecott awards,) and weekend visitors, the Haders were active in gardening and conservation. They even successfully joined forces with other villagers to save their village from being destroyed by the State of New York.

There will be more about writing biographies in later blogs. This has been a real change in writing direction, requiring new skills and new ways of working with editors. Nothing ever stays the same!

Now I am working with another small academic press, Concordia Publishing. Because it is in Portland, there has been much more face-to-face interaction. I know my editors personally, which makes it easier to create an acceptable manuscript, and makes it harder to disappoint. This has been another new experience: not in the technology and the distance, but all the steps involved in a new type of writing. It took me nearly ten years to finish the biography. And it seemed so simple to start!

I’ve learned a lot, and I might as well share it. If nothing else, it will help me to remember for the future. I don’t ever expect to write another biography—but I have learned never to say never! Who knows.

* I longed for the early days of Walking Portland when all footnotes were done by feet, forgetting that those entailed rewalking everything at least three times to get things right. This WAS physically easier!