When I think of the people to blame, the first name on the list is Mildred Parker. Here is how it happened. Two years ago my friend and high school quarterback Johnny Donberger (class of ’58) died tragically as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Thinking about Johnny and others from Charleston who had passed away, I wrote a very long letter to the editor of the Charleston Express. The letter was printed.
Not long after the letter was published I got a note from Mildred Parker. She said kind things about my story and then she said one more thing and that was where the trouble started. She suggested that I write more articles for the Express even though it would probably require, on my part, some research.
These days when I am asked to do things that look like work, my knee jerk response is, “No, thank you.” I was certain that I wanted no part of actual research (WORK!), but as days passed I began to remember stories that I found amusing. I would jot them down and submit them to Editor Gramlich. They were my memories completely free of research or verification of any kind. Paul kindly printed them and their number grew.
When the number of them was over twenty I got a note from my friend Leon Raney (class of ’56). His name is the second on my list of people to blame. He said kind things about my articles in the Express and then he made a suggestion that got his name on my blacklist. He said I should write a book about growing up in Charleston. My immediate reaction was NO THANKS! Writing a book definitely sounded like work and I try to avoid work at every opportunity.
But just as with Mildred’s suggestion, Leon’s idea set me to thinking. Why would I want to write a book? Who would be the audience? I had given almost no thought to who the audience was for my scribblings in the Express. I am just an old guy remembering times gone by – reminiscing. I supposed my audience was other “old folks” who like to read about times long ago. Writing my articles had not felt like work and, for a time I pondered the question of motivation for writing a book.
Then one day I was reading an article in the Roanoke Times written by a retired surgeon. He semi-regularly writes articles for the paper and in this particular piece he said something that stunned me. He said that he writes so that his grandchildren will have things of his to read after he is gone. There, I thought, is my motivation. I will, indeed, write a book and the audience will be our grandchildren. When they are middle aged and I am only a fading memory, they might be curious about me and the world in which I grew up. (I would put the surgeon’s name on my list of people to blame but I can’t remember his name and I refuse to do actual research to find it.)
One chapter of my book would be the Charleston Express articles up to November of last year. To my surprise they constituted 150 pages. After I retired and we moved to Roanoke, I began to write political commentaries that were published in the Roanoke Times. Those pieces could be one of my chapters. That turned out to be about 30 pages.
Up to this point my “book writing” thing was easy. My wife Elise is the computer literate member of our household and she did the work of assembling previously written stuff. Then, finally, I did some work. I wrote family stories from before I was born, and stories about my mother, my father, and my big brother Bill. I wrote about memories from each year of school from first grade through high school, and each year of college until 1963 when Elise and I married. That part amounted to another 150 pages.
Here was the plan. We would choose one of the many companies on the internet who print books like mine; self-published books. We would order enough copies for each of our children and each of their children and a handful for a few other folks who had shown an interest in my writing. The books arrived. I wrote a note in each one and gave them away. The project, I thought, was finished.
I was wrong. Several people heard about the book and wrote me notes expressing interest in buying it. It had never occurred to me to sell the book. What to do? Then we heard about a service that Amazon provides. They will make a book available on demand. That is, when a person orders a book they print one. No approval process is necessary. Anyone can write a book! This part of the process turned out to be serious work for my wife. Getting the manuscript into a form that they would accept proved very frustrating. But Elise persisted.
So now a person can get on the internet, go to the book section of Amazon.com, type in “A Trunk,” by JD Hansard and up will come a picture of the book cover, table of contents, sample pages, etc. and a price. The book sells for around $10.
The book has turned out to involve considerable work. I “blame” Mildred and Leon for making the innocent suggestions that got me started on this project. But I am deeply grateful to each of them for their suggestions. Someday, I hope, my grandchildren will be grateful to them also. The book would not have happened without their suggestions.
By the way, my slice of the purchase price is $0. When Amazon agreed to print the book they asked how much I wanted to make on each copy. I said “nothing” and that is the arrangement.
I feel a little foolish calling my book a “book.” I grew up in a time when the word book referred to things written by the likes of Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Hemmingway, and a Charleston boy, Francis Irby Gwaltney. The word “book,” in those days, did not refer to things written by a retired math teacher for his grandchildren.