Self Publishing Notebook: A tale of two lakes and a vacation with Thoreau

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This blog post is late. This is the part when I tell you that my editor has been hounding me, and say something snide about her taste in pets - or how she seems to always be on vacation. But she hasn’t harassed me at all and I was the one on “vacation.” In ways that I did not expect, my trip developed a biblio-theme. (Author's note: Earlier versions of this article contained one of worst sentences ever published.)

As I prepared for the trip, I grabbed my old Kindle. The Original. The non-touch screen, non-lit, non-paper white, slate gray one-function monolith that probably sold for the price of an iPad.

Why dig up this technological dinosaur? 

First, our trip was starting at a lake in the hills outside of Clemson, South Carolina. A wet Original Kindle probably costs less than a Harry Potter book to replace. Second, the thing’s battery life is insane. This thing needs to be charged once a month under heavy use. This is important because if you have, or have ever had young children, you know that they have no concept of where electrical power comes from, even if it comes from the lake they are swimming in. And it’s impossible to explain battery life to them. Hand them a flashlight, two minutes later it’s buried in a couch cushion in the on position until it dies. Not a single device that is battery operated in my house works. Everything died in the on position. Bringing the Original Kindle rather than the tablet, is the equivalent of bringing a plank of wood - they have no interest in it. 

As I pondered what to read, another book that I am reading kept referring to Thoreau’s Walden. I thought, “How poetic! I’ll be at a lake and I’ll re-read Walden.” And by re-read, I mean read it for the first time, instead of faking it like I did in high school. The image of sitting in an Adirondack chair as the water lapped at my feet was too serene to ignore. And Walden is free for Kindle! I almost had to call my 79 year old father to figure out to operate the thing again (the man has a serious Original Kindle addiction), but I figured it out. 

Now, let’s get back to reality. I was not heading to a rustic cabin for a week of solitude like some writer in the opening scene of a horror movie. This is a family vacation to a lake in the deep south. It’s  like a Kenny Chesney video with jet skis and the summer homes of the south’s most fortunate son’s. This was the equivalent of reading Old Man and The Sea in Cancun. 

click to enlarge This is not my family. The world of stock photography is strange. - Photo Credit: imfaral via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: imfaral via Compfight cc
This is not my family. The world of stock photography is strange.

And it was great! Hopping on a pontoon boat with a cold beer, pulling the kids in an inner-tube, and reading something that simultaneously connected me with the observations of an iconic loner in nature - Thoreau was more interesting as an alien. 

Our next stop took us to the heart of the American Mid-West, and another lake, a Great one called Erie. Here we were houseguests of the author of an international best-seller. No, JK Rowling does not have a home in Toledo. Mixing some business with pleasure, we went to Cleveland, Ohio, and stayed with friends, one of whom happens to write the revised editions of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s landmark book, Baby and Child Care. This is one of the best selling books of all time. If you have had a baby, someone gave you this book. After Dr. Spock passed away twenty years ago, his widow carefully continued his legacy and entrusts our new friend to make sure new editions reflect the latest research, while maintaining Dr. Spock’s once controversial ideas on raising kids. Our friend is a doctor, a writer, a musician, and gardener. I’d like to do one hobby as well as this man does all of his. He’s one those interesting, kind, multi-talented, and generous people that we all aspire to be. 

What could go wrong? 

Let me rephrase the question this way: A writer, who has sold hundreds of books brings his wife and two small children to visit a man entrusted with a book on childcare that has sold over 50 million copies. What could go wrong? Well, one child could suddenly start wetting their guest mattress. The kids might not get to sleep until 11:00 on most nights. They might refuse the (delicious) pancakes made from scratch while munching on boxed cereal. My contribution to the discussion of his book in relation to American culture? He was unaware of its central role in the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona in which Nicholas Cage cluelessly refers to the baby book as “the instructions.” I have a feeling we may be the subject of a new chapter in the next edition. 

At one point, my daughter was trying to kill my son by drowning him, and I just shook my head in resignation as the new Dr. Spock laughed. When I asked what he would do, he smiled and said, “Not sure! I didn’t have two kids!” 

The stay was idillic. Beautiful weather, deer frolicking down the hill, great food, wonderful hosts, and not a mosquito in sight. And Cleveland gets a bad rap. The ride from downtown to Shaker Heights consists of miles of beautiful, old, stately homes, each with its own interesting architecture. In those rolling pre World War II suburbs I never spotted a Wal Mart and the public institutions like the Botanical Gardens were world class. Luckily, we arrived post-RNC, and found ourselves in their newly renovated, and imaginatively named “Public Square.” This urban delight (whose upgrade came in order to impress GOP Convention visitors) featured a splash pad for the kids adjacent to a decidedly un-Republican organic cafe serving craft beers. The doors are adorned with the motto: “A big %#*$ off to GMOs — people are not a science experiment.” We spent two afternoons there. Cleveland does indeed rock. 

click to enlarge I kept throwing matches in Lake Erie, but the damned thing wouldn't light. - Jonathan Kile
Jonathan Kile
I kept throwing matches in Lake Erie, but the damned thing wouldn't light.

The Self Publisher’s vacation had to come to an end. I didn’t finish Walden, or the other book I was reading and we went home with even more books. Delta decided to try operating without computers, but we flew Frontier on a plane loaded with “unaccompanied minors.” A three hour delay and flying with two kids made me wish I’d read that Spock book a little more Thoreau-ly. (Oh… that’s bad. Let’s see if the editor leaves that in.) 

When Jonathan Kile isn't writing in cliches and using Oxford Commas, he encourages you to check out his adventure thriller, The Grandfather Clock, which is currently 99 cents for Amazon Kindle. The sequel, The Napoleon Bloom, will be out in 2016. He promises. Jonathan gets his email at [email protected].

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