Long ago my Grandmother Lutes said I should be a writer. I’ll bet some of you have a grandma who said you would be a great writer, too. It is a typical beloved family member thing to say. I wrote letters by hand in those days (Yup, I am that old). After the dinosaurs died out and we enjoyed the industrial age, I wrote a typed missive of a Christmas Letter to send to everyone including Grandma. I was funny and pithy and challenged them to live better lives. Soon I was writing training courses for my job, and marketing copy and sales scripts. While I do not think any of that would make Grandma proud like my letters to her, I had fun with the words no matter their purpose.
I continued to write, mostly in journals and a few hopeful pieces crafted for NPR radio. (Crafted, not sent.) Once I wrote a piece with fire in my soul and tears on my cheeks and sent it to our own April Lidinsky. Would she like it? Was it not just ‘good enough for Grandma’? April did like it! She asked if I wanted to read it on the radio and yes oh yes oh yes I did! That went well enough they invited me keep doing it and I have inflicted my chatty ruminations upon all of you for ten years now. I later wrote for my own blog and several others. I kept a journal, over posted my witticisms on social media and pretended to write a book.
One day I took a trip to Sierra Leone, West Africa. I shared about that in another Michiana Chronicle, if you missed it. I went equipped with three journals. I knew I’d get some great stories from my wild adventure. While I was prepared logistically for the trip, I was never prepared emotionally for the firsthand experience of a developing country. I lost my writer’s voice. My journals were empty and all I could do was scratch out a haiku here and there. If you are unfamiliar, a haiku is a Japanese form poem consisting of three lines, 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line and five syllables again in the third line. My Dad writes hundreds of them. Friends and I have played back and forth with haiku. I have written many little poems. In Africa, haikus were all I could write. The rigid format was the only way I could distill all the emotions and experiences of my first world travel. I wrote 54 haiku over my two weeks there.
Once home from my trip, I was invited to speak several times about the trip and what I learned. I shared my writer’s block, photographs and a few haiku. My beloved Aunt Ruth and Uncle Frank watched a video of my talk online and contacted me. They wanted to donate to Operation Classroom, as I requested during the talk. I want to raise $3,000 for the Taiama Enterprise Academy, AKA The TEA, I visited in Sierra Leone. As we talked, my Aunt Ruth shared her conviction that many people would enjoy the story and the lessons I pulled from my trip. She thought the haiku were unique and the photos were gripping. She asked me, “Have you considered putting them together into a book?” She said creating a book could make a long-term revenue stream for Operation Classroom, and thus for the TEA. My heart raced and I stood taller with pride. We continued to dream together.
I started out researching photo book pricing, then self publishing, and submitted the concept to a few places. I angsted over paying $350 or more to have it formatted, then realized I used Canva and could format the book myself! I ignored my poor family as I hunched over the computer to work. I sweated, swore and cried over edit after edit. I hate an unfinished project and since the haiku were written and the photos were snapped, it was just a matter of placement. I visited printers, learned about perfect binding, offset presses and how many companies want to charge A LOT of extra money if you need any help at all. I deftly sidestepped it all. I read articles and stalked my author friends. I tried to decide if I was embarrassed to self publish or thrilled because I would get more profits to turn over to Operation Classroom. I ordered author proofs, stalked the UPS truck and at last held my book in my lap with tears in my eyes. I had a real live book with an ISBN and book signings were lined up!
Writing a book will never be this easy; this was divinely inspired and familial-ly financed. (It is worth mentioning that Uncle Frank is one of my mother’s dear brothers, son of that Grandmother who thought I should be a writer.) I don’t know how well it will sell beyond the initial print run of several hundred copies. I’m not sure if my Grandmother was right, or if people even like haiku or if they are too busy to care about a school in a remote village on another continent. I am proud of these pages and I think my Grandma would be too.
Music: "Picture Book" by the Kinks