I ran into an old friend the other day, someone who was over the moon to hear that i had exchanged my destination for Southern Maine. “Are you SURE this time? not going to change again?” “I am certain this time” i said, as if to convince myself……Yeah real life dialog is lame like that. As I said, i think i will get more visitors in Maine than elsewhere, I have a circle of old friends who share my affection for it.
I better be sure this time, I have started working on a bunch of Maine books to populate my wire racks, i still don’t have. My business plan has finally firmed up like Jello in the fridge; it took a while for it to make sense to me. The publication plan i had developed for the Methuen/Lawrence area had a narrow focus and was deeper than it was wide. Basically find everything and anything that has an appeal to someone interested in local history, even if it doesn’t have a wide appeal. My goal was to make the material available in a modern binding, so that it would exist ON THE SHELF, either in the library or at home. This worked out terrific for me, because i could scrape up material that only existed in manuscript format or unpublished and bring it to light. For the last two years i have been deeply absorbed in sifting all kinds of sources, online, libraries, microfilms, basements etc. Then I hit the road block, i couldn’t get access to the publicly owned material in Methuen…it’s been over two years since i asked for access to the public historical archives. They just don’t give a shit here. So, my work came to a halt in Methuen and i started looking at other towns. I felt that in a passionate town…such as Greenfield, it could make it a personal challenge to see if i could put nearly everything possible into print. Starting with a narrow focus on the town and then spiral outward to other towns. Since it was a hobby publishing project I could bury myself in it and only worry about entertaining me. It didn’t HAVE to be profitable, or at least not cost me anything. And I still think it would have worked here, we have lost, burned and stolen so much material, that the little that is left would be entirely possible for one person to put into print.
But a new location, a larger location, needed new parameters. I couldn’t find enough material on Biddeford alone, not even when combined with Saco and Old Orchard Beach..not enough to fill a spinny wire floor rack , more than once or for very long. My buyers will be a lot of tourists as well as locals. Ultra specific material has to be much more entertaining to a modern reader. I need a new game plan, a bigger game plan. My little hobby publishing house, will still be small, but it has to service a larger area and clientele, so it may not stay small if i do it right.
Winter bound here for the second week, my truck is off getting new ball joints and pissing away what’s left in the bank….there are no sales to refill the coffers, so i have nothing better to do than research. I have been sifting through out of print Maine related books, leaning heavily towards old young adult novels like The Campfire girls and the Ranger Boys and so forth… books that will LOOK like souveniers….I am also thinking books which have young people hunting and fishing will have an appeal, you don’t see a lot of kids books on hunting in the bookstores that still exist. Those combined with the common titles Thoreau’s Maine Woods, Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs, and some other traditional Down East titles… i think i can fill a 24 title rack by the time I move to Maine…or at least by 2015. And there are a number of others i can scout to see if their contents are MAINE enough for inclusion. I feel less panicked than i did last week. But i can’t get overly excited, acquiring hardcopies of the better books will take some money i don’t have. I spent about $70 so far this week just buying cheap and beat up copies of likely suspects. Even if i have an text file from online someplace, i need hardcopies to get any illustrations…covers, frontispieces, internal ornamentation etc… In the end i actually want to own the real copy to make sure i have done my job correctly.
The book I thought i had finished last week…Isaac W Ambler’s biography has proved to me more complicated that i had first thought. I really should have investigated it more..but i couldn’t afford to buy a hard copy when i started working on it. What i discovered is that the 1860 text of the 1st edition I downloaded is half the length of the 1873 second edition. Isaac Abler an illiterate, immigrant to Maine, deserter of the British Army, child coal miner, mill weaver and hopeless alcoholic, had a fella named Freeman transcribe his life story into a biography when he traded in the bottle for a bible. Between the 1st and 2nd editions, Ambler had become a bit of a civil war hero and a local celebrity, so the 2nd edition, lacks any mention of Freeman and the life story gets larger and more elaborate, and then devolves into a christian tract with many quotations of publicly know figures to the author’s heroics. Now i took the 1st edition at face value, thinking if it is only marginally Baron Munchausen it is not worse than any other 19th century life story. But the 2nd edition, holds less interest for me, perhaps I am being unreasonably suspicious, but i can’t help thinking that the longer edition may be LESS true and just more sensational. I prefer the shorter unembellished, squalid story of a repentant drunkard confessing his sins, than an inflated story of a great man’s rough beginnings and noble redemption. I am leaning towards just publishing the shorter edition…. but i can see that makes no logical publishing sense… wouldn’t an illustrated, story of a war hero be more appealing? i dunno. I am putting it aside until i finish working on more definite less complicated titles, i will decide later.
There are enough old public domain titles to keep me busy, but i will miss the excitement of finding an unpublished manuscript and uncollected articles and forgotten speeches etc. I will have to make a point of playing nice with the local historians..i don’t want to tread on toes, but after the experience here, perhaps i should just stick to what i have easy access to. It’s a decision for another day.