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How Do You Work with a Faraway Author?

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Some of our authors we’ve
never met. They’re dead. We have joked about how pleasant it was to work on
their books, how agreeable they were about editing, and how they never asked
for royalties. We trust they liked the resulting books as much as the
book-buying public did, but then we’ll never know for sure. Marion Shaw, whose
book on the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 we published, died in 1901, and
Elizabeth Taylor, whose volume of travel essays we were proud to compile, died
in 1931.

 

Our other authors have been people
we could meet and sit around a table with over coffee; together, we planned how
their work would be published. There is an exception, however. The co-author of
a title we will be publishing in 2006 is very much alive and we hope to meet
her someday, but we haven’t been able to manage that so far. How we have worked
together, despite the distance between us, is the subject of this account.

 

About Sicily from Japan

 

For a book about Sicilian popular
art, I needed a Sicilian co-author. We wanted someone who knew the field, could
write, and was interested in a new approach. Our topic, the gloriously painted
Sicilian cart or carretto,
had been described often—in Italian, French, German, and Sicilian—but,
never, so far as we could tell, in the English language for an American
audience. A friend sent us a copy of one of Marcella Croce’s books, and we knew
she was the one.

 

That book was about Sicilian
puppets, storytellers, and carts; it had begun as a dissertation for her Ph.D.
at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This meant that she had lived
briefly in the Midwest, only a few hours away from us. After that she had
published other books in Italian about festivals and storytellers, a favorite
Sicilian public art form.

 

Although she sounded exactly like
the person we required, she was somewhere else. And <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>there
wasn’t there, as Gertrude Stein
might have said. There
wasn’t even in Sicily. When we visited that three-cornered island on a research
and photographic trip, Marcella Croce was teaching Italian in Isfahan, Iran.
Then Croce relocated once more, to another teaching assignment even further
away, in Kyoto, Japan. Emails were the only way we could write a book with our
Faraway Author.

 

Early in our email conversations,
Marcella wrote that her friends said she was “very American.” She meant, we
thought, that she not only read her email messages, but also responded almost
immediately (given the time differences) with cogent answers. Her written chapters
and editing changes appeared in our email inbox incredibly quickly, often more
swiftly than answers had come in the past from nearby American authors who
could be contacted by telephone, fax, or mail. What we’d write at the end of
the day (our time) would certainly bring an emailed reaction on the following
morning.

 

For the small-press publisher, the
computer has made many things feasible, if not easy. Research, writing,
designing, and marketing have all been facilitated by the computer. (It could even
be argued that some books are published today because they can be, not because
they ought to be, but that is another matter.) We couldn’t publish without our
trusty PCs and dread the times when the power goes out just when we’d like to
work. Yet, until this project came along, we hadn’t realized what a positive
change computers have made.

 

But perhaps our Faraway Author
should have the last word. When we asked her what she thought about working
together in this manner on History on the Road: The Painted Carts of Sicily, she
wrote:

 

It was
1986. We had just come back from an extremely stressful experience at the
Seattle Expo. I said to my companions, “I don’t believe in technology!” Without
even fully realizing it, this heretical comment had come from my mouth. The dim
moonlight on the shores of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, was not enough
to hide the utmost astonishment stamped on the faces of my two American
friends.

 

Almost
twenty years later, my technological abilities are still quite limited, and I
don’t consider myself a convert to a new religion that has the Computer as the
only God and chips as the local saints. Still I must now unconditionally
surrender to the Internet: from Iran, then from Italy, and now from Japan, I
have been able to write a book with a person I never met [about] the best-kept
secrets of Sicilian carts.

 

Our book about Sicilian carts
should be in print next year. Working with a Faraway Author has been a
challenge for us all. But, we should add with amusement, one of our first
messages from Marcella Croce in Japan was about technology. Where was that
engineer who was to install her DSL line?

 

Moira F. Harris and her
husband, Leo John Harris, opened Pogo Press in 1987. Since then the books
published by this St. Paul, MN, small press include works on art, popular
culture, and history, often with a Minnesota connection.

 

 

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