Simon and I leave for Asheville today. We are presenting on Friday at the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR) annual meeting - the Ranger Rendezvous - about the book project. Our hopes for this trip are (1) that we get good feedback from the ranger community about the book project, (2) we get a number of suggestions of rangers we need to profile around the country, and (3) we get the chance to see some fall color, since we'll be in the NC mountains in peak fall season. If eyes are glazing over during our presentation and we hear a lot of "good luck with that" comments we'll have to regroup, but as an optimist I'm hoping for encouragement. I want to find out where we might be going into sensitive territory, where we might not be touching on important aspects of living life as a ranger, where we may be bordering on the trite. I realize rangers themselves are not the only audience for this book, but it's important to us that we respect the reality of their lives, and understand what is important and not important to them. I feel that the sum of these profiles will add up to a story in itself - a story that's still a bit of a mystery - and so, to do a good job with these individual stories, I feel Simon and I need to understand more about the overall culture and context within which these individual tales emerge.
This also starts the public phase of this project. To this point I've had a number of phone calls with people across the country, consulted my friends here, worked hard on the 4 profiles we've completed in two parks, and worked with Luke McMahon, Jenn Bird, Simon Griffiths and Marc Harkness, our Asheville designer, to craft the material you see here on the web site and in the presentation we'll be giving to the ANPR. After Ranger Rendezvous we intend to start building support for the project, advertise the web site, get onto social media and begin looking for a publishing option. I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Justin Martin, author of Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted. Justin was a great help, and his understanding of the publishing and writing industry was invaluable. Gratifyingly, Justin seems to think a publisher would likely be interested in this book. Up to this point we had held the traditional publishing model as "Plan B", while thinking about self-publishing or partnering with a parks-related non-profit, but now I'm mulling working both sides at the same time. We'd still love a partnership that would result in some of the proceeds of the project going back to the National Park Foundation, the National Park Conservation Association, or the ANPR. But, ultimately, we want the book to be out there so people can read it and see Simon's photographs.
I'm admitting also to a bit of concern about defining myself as a "writer". I have been a number of things - a planner, a landscape architect, a bureaucrat - but now as I enter the "third third" of my life I find what gets me up in the morning is crafting these stories. I am lucky to have as my closest friend a real writer, David Brill, who also happens to be the person I shared by through-hike on the Appalachian Trail with. He is the rare author who has found a way to really live the life - working as a free-lancer out of his incredible cabin in East Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau. Dave's always been an inspiration to me in many ways he probably doesn't even know about, and I am grateful for his support. I think I'd make a lot more money being a development consultant or even an organizational consultant for governments, but my passion is getting ideas down on paper (or in the word processor). I remember spending probably absurd amounts of time in my prior career crafting memos to be succinct, to lay out clear points of decision for elected officials without overloading them with detail, to frame an issue with many facets in a short document. I also remember spending a lot of time trying to listen well enough to get what people were (fill in your emotion: angry, frustrated, excited, worried...) about. I hope if I match the listening with the telling in an effective way I might sometime be a little more comfortable calling myself a writer. For now, I am on a steep learning curve, and I appreciate having as accomplished an artist as Simon as my partner in this project, and truly great writers like Dave Brill and Sylvia Adcock (my Pulitzer-Prize-winning neighbor and friend) helping me out. For at the end of the day what we are seeking to do is art. This isn't a report, it's a tale and needs to hit you on the right side of the brain, in a place where your senses and emotions are in control.