My Hennepin County Library bookmark commands: read local. The imperative rings in my ears as I search the stacks or the computer for my next book. I find a range of choices by Minnesota authors and there is a delicious pleasure in reading about a secret meeting on a bench at Lake of the Isles or a household of women living near Como Lake. Even if I omit mythical Lake Wobegon, there are still 10,000 other idyllic locations.
If “Read Local!” is Hennepin County Library’s first commandment, I propose the second commandment should be ….Write Local!
Over the past three years my sister and I have written a non-fiction book that takes place predominantly in the former Soviet Union and Sweden although Minneapolis makes a cameo appearance. As first-time authors we discovered how fortunate we are to live in the Twin Cities, a metropolitan area that nurtures its writers.
We imagined our book and sketched an outline. At that moment, we thought we just had to sit down and fill in the outline and a book would emerge. The original outline now bears little resemblance to the book that emerged. Once the idea had incubated between us, it was time to go public and test our “baby.” Again, Hennepin County Library to the rescue with Loft Workshops. We met other tentative writers, generous workshop leaders, and learned some basic skills about crafting a book.
Once we began to write, the complexity of our topic demanded we think carefully about our structure. We tried a few approaches, asked advice of a local Minnesota author and discovered it was time for a developmental editor. Until that moment we had no idea such a category existed in the writing world. We set some parameters—the editor should live close to our homes and we wanted someone whose style would mesh with ours. All recommendations pointed to the same person who serendipitously lived in Linden Hills, midway between my sister’s home and mine. Patricia Francisco asked us the hard questions and was brutally honest. Leslie and I had both written theses but that’s hardly bestseller reading. Leslie writes client notes and I had been scrawling red marks on student papers and writing college recommendations for years. Undaunted, Patricia offered some nuggets of advice and told us to write and then she’d take a look. She prodded and praised to the final draft.
As a new retiree, I was hunting for meaningful learning and decided I’d try Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) classes. I began tentatively with one class—“How to Publish” taught by Milt “Beaver” Adams, founder and CEO of Beaver’s Pond Press. Beaver led us through the steps involved in mentor publishing. He solicited all our queries and passed them on to his acquisitions editor to assess how marketable our book might be. His enthusiasm and generous spirit encouraged us.
His death is a loss for the Minnesota writing community.
Beaver and our Loft instructors had all advised joining a writing group. Although my sister and I created enough tumult while writing to make us feel like a group, we needed some outside insight. OLLI came to my aid and I enrolled in a memoir-writing group. I felt like an interloper. The other participants were writing their own memoirs, would they accept me? I was writing someone else’s story. The answer to my question was an unqualified, “yes,” and month after month, they listened carefully, offered critiques, and always encouraged. Meanwhile, I listened to their writing and learned more and more about the craft. When one of our members published her memoir, we rejoiced with her. The group became a sacred place where members revealed pain and joy as they struggled to write a legacy for their descendants or simply record their past for personal reasons.
With several drafts of our book stacked in my closet, we were ready to consult with an expert in crafting the perfect query letter and finding the right agent and we set up an appointment with an adviser to aspiring authors, Scott Edelstein. Scott, as it turns out, lives five blocks from my house. With his expertise he provided us with two sets of road maps—one for publishing via the traditional avenue and another for self-publishing.
Meanwhile, we hired a copy editor so the manuscript would be publication-ready. Now we were leaving the confines of our local community for a New York City editor. But her roots are here--a 1965 graduate of Minneapolis North High and the University of Minnesota (’68).
After sending fifty queries to agents and approaching three publishers, we decided to follow the self-publishing route. We needed a cover designer and book designer. “Someone local”—we agreed.
We decided the cover design should come first and then the book design would follow. I had been trolling the web and found more covers I disliked than liked. Finally, love at first sight—the cover of The Assassination of Hole in the Day, a publication of the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Would the artist be local—of course, she was. Cathy Spengler was willing to try her hand at our cover which pushed her into the unfamiliar world of Russia.
When I saw OLLI member Shirley Pearl’s book, The Occasional Man, I thought the book design seamlessly communicated the content. Who was her designer? The same designer who had been recommended by everyone else we asked—a St. Louis Park resident. Patti Frazee served as both a book designer and a guide through the publication process.
Although we eventually published with the aptly named Amazon behemoth, we could have published locally—within two miles of my house.
When you see our book, Jewish Luck: A True Story of Friendship, Deception and Risky Business by Leslie Levine Adler and Meryll Levine Page, you’ll know this exotic tale is a homegrown production.