Talk about seeing a life flash by in front of your eyes! Imagine closing a business after 25 years and rifling through the voluminous files of customers, suppliers, industry mags, personal contacts, important memos or research. To double the fun, make the company a book publisher.
That is how I spent I couldn’t count how many hours last week pillaging the Publishers Place Inc. files for any nugget to keep, all the while deciding to pitch almost 98% of our “stuff’” into shredding or an industrial-size dumpster.
And that was just the files. Unhappily, and against all best practices for managing a small publishing firm, we had kept mountains of inventory of books large and small that we had issued over the past two decades plus.
Authors’ faces and voices rose up from the files and from the books. In any number of cases I came upon marked up manuscripts or proof copies of works we had contracted to publish. When I knew an author had passed — and some quite a time ago — I had to wince.
Working up a book with someone is an intimate endeavor. A book is the author’s “baby,” and an editor is the midwife. You get close. Often you become friends, and not infrequently friends for life. The author, the editor and the book form a triad. A deep and lasting relationship.
The accounting was there too in the mad dash to close out our shop, as our landlord had other plans for our space. Invoices, receipts, reminders, contracts, memos, correspondence, sales records, marketing plans ... a swirl of paper that added up to the complexities of shaping up a book and putting it on the market.
One happy part was coming upon awards our books had won, often emblazoned on plaques or certificates. Books such as Carter Taylor Seaton’s debut novel, “Father’s Troubles,” or Dwight Harshbarger’s incisive fictional treatment of the 1930-31 Hawks Nest tragedy — the deaths by silicon poisoning of over 700 workers hired to dig a hydroelectric tunnel for Union Carbide.
Carter’s book was a finalist for Best Historical Fiction of 2003 in the ForeWord magazine awards. Dwight’s masterpiece, “Witness at Hawks Nest,” was voted book of the year in 2011 among in-state authors by the West Virginia Library Association.
I saw our first book, “River Fog Rising,” in its early stages of workup, a collection of wonderful prose and poetry from Mason County students. Their work ushered forth from an English 102 class I taught at Point Pleasant High School for Marshall University college credit.
Then I also tumbled upon poems in page proofs from our landmark anthology of our state’s poets: “Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry, 1950-1999.” Gov. Cecil Underwood threw a gala celebration for the book at the Capitol, and many of the 130 poets represented in the volume came for the festivities from every corner of the state.
He also bought hundreds of copies out of his own discretionary funds and ordered them placed in every public library and all high school and middle school libraries statewide.
Publishers Place was not Random House, but we did put out close to 50 books over the years and also helped our authors move along in their careers to larger houses, all for the sake of boosting the literary patrimony of our fine state.