I wrote my first book when I was 11 years old. It sprouted and took root like all the other books I’ve written during the last 42 years.
Step one: I become bizarrely interested in a topic. Back in 1979, it was how the U.S. military had moved so many people around during World War II.
Step two: research. I went to the school library and paged through every book they had on World War II, drawing the troop transports, jeeps and motorcycles I spotted in the photos. But there wasn’t much there. Back then – way before cable television – my mom took me and my sisters to the city’s public library every Saturday. So I spent three or four weekends there poring over all the library’s illustrated books on the war – drawing, taking notes and writing.
Step three: I write the book. I drew all the illustrations for my guide to troop transport and folded my primitive four-up signatures at my workbench. I managed to staple and glue the thing together. And when the glue was dry, I presented it to my father, who was relaxing with a cigarette in the living room after dinner.
He slowly paged through the book. My father had been a captain in the U.S. Army, and he had served in Vietnam in 1972. So I was certain he’d be interested in my topic.
He handed the book to my mother, who was sitting next to him – also with a lit Kool.
“Why would you write a book that glorifies war?” he asked me. “This (and he nodded at the book in my mother’s hands) doesn’t help anything or anyone.”
It was the most devastating review I’ve ever received (yes, Nick, even worse than being compared to a rapist). And as I stood there with my legs all wobbly, I began to put together the pieces of a family puzzle I hadn’t thought much about.
Yes, my father had been a captain in the Army. But – more importantly – he had served as a front-line physician in a field hospital. Until that moment, I’d never really thought much about what he saw or did in 1972. He’d never talked about it much.
After a few uncomfortable and silent seconds, I took my book upstairs to my room. And in that moment I lost all interest and taste for violence, guns, wars, conflict and hunting. It really was as simple as that.
(Please note that this – or my father’s reaction – was not an anti-military statement. My dad loved the military, and he missed the order and sense of purpose it provided. He didn’t, however, miss the blood.)
And that evening also nudged me onto the path I’m on today. It’s important to me that every article, blog entry and book I write should help something or someone. It’s part of the reason I became a newspaper journalist, and it’s a large part of the reason I started writing how-to articles.
I know what I do isn’t Upton Sinclair. I’ve never tried to fool myself into thinking it is anything more than “put tab A into slot B” with rodent jokes.
But then I remembered a piece of mail I’d pitched this week. Today I went down to the workshop and dug it out from all the shavings and packing peanuts that had been piled upon it. It was a handwritten note. Short and to the point.
Today marks the first day away from my corporate desk job and as a full-time maker. It is also the first time I write fan mail.
Taking this leap to chase my passion could not be possible without the inspiration and guidance from you. “The Anarchist’s Workbench” spoke to me on so many levels, and although I am a bit terrified, I have the knowledge to put my hands to good use.
Thank you for sharing such detailed instructions and leading us all back to more inspired and quality work and items.
The letter made me think of my parents on that evening in 1979. They were about 10 years younger than I am today, but they still had the backbone and the wisdom to tell me what was in their hearts.
“…this doesn’t help anyone or anything.”
Today I opened up the unbound signatures of “The Stick Chair Book,” which arrived this week for our inspection. The book is now being bound and should be headed to our warehouse in the coming week. As I flipped through the pages, I realized that the last line of the book that I wrote is probably the first thing you’ll see on the dedication page:
“For mom and dad.”
I hope “The Stick Chair Book” helps someone or something. I know that would have made them happy.
— Christopher Schwarz
Read other posts from the “Making Book” series here.
34 thoughts on “Making Book Part 22: In Pieces at the End”
very nicely done.
Everything I have so far read from your pen has helped me in at least one of three ways, and most of the time in all three together:
It has helped me gain knowledge of tabs and slots and how they match up.
It has helped me laugh.
It has helped me think for myself about what I do, how I do it and why.
For all this help, and in anticipation of more to come, my sincere thanks.
You educate and entertain. That’s helpful. And anything that keeps you from writing lemur erotica is a big plus.
I should be so honored to give all as you have. The Anarchist Tool Chest was the first book of yours that I read in 2013 or so and have read most all your writings since. Your honesty, passion and humble approach to sharing the craft and your life experiences has inspired this 75 year old man to continue learning, keeping me upright and excited to live each day.
I wished I had penned John’s letter a couple of years ago. Your work nudged me away from the corporate life, onto the Rowden furniture school and now, spending many enjoyable hours at my Anarchist bench with my tools behind me in an Anarchist tool chest.
Excellent! And thank you.
Chris Your writing and publishing have helped me and countless others. Thanks for carrying on
Longtime reader…first time commenter (read tongue-in-cheek)
Thank you for your writing. As a new woodworker, I was genuinely inspired by your work to start my journey. YOU made woodworking approachable and not so GD serious if I had O1 chisels instead of A2…
My dad (R.I.P. 2011) was a craftsman who loved building split cane rods from bamboo cones. He was also a Vietnam vet. In his lifetime, my rebellion was to stay well away from hand work.
YOU guided my path to hand work with hand tools.
I’ve always read your post for the truth they speak and the bits of wisdom and inspiration they impart. This post stands head and shoulders above any previous posting (IMHO),
My father in law was in Vietnam. He’s only talked about it once. We were alone and had been drinking but weren’t drunk; just a good bonding moment we were having. The things he described were horrific and still haunted him 40 years after the fact.
When I started reading this post, I was thinking that it would be a “feel good” way to start my morning. Then your dads reaction to your book, and why, landed like a chunk of ironwood. As a combat disabled vet of the Viet Nam conflict I understand pops reaction, but am still saddened by it. I’m happy that it nudged you in the right direction.
This exemplifies an example of an emotional “roller coaster” reaction! And gives me a deeper appreciation for your work.
Thanks, Spike C.
I look at a few websites each morning, weather, investments, local news. But first I read your blog for the sanity.
A sanity that comes from the freedom of honesty.
Hard to find in these times.
I am appreciative, Chris, of your depth as a writer. You and the others you inspire, explore woodworking with depth and breadth that draws out the talents of generations of craftspeople. Honesty is at the core of meaningful writing and requires tremendous courage. As does entrepreneurship. You have a assembled a great team at LAP, respected the talents of outstanding women in a mansplaining world. Whether reading LAP’s books or blog, I’m inspired to be in my shop, making incremental progress on my craft, rather than shop building an arsenal of unused tools. Keep digging, pushing boundaries and taking the risks that have made a great little publishing house in Covington.
Simple yet profound. Made me cry.
War may be horrible,
But many advancements in science, healthcare, and other fields all owe their advancement to war’s needs, including the need for transport in one form or another.
A large percentage of modern pencils use a fired ceramic/graphite mixed pencil lead, the formula for which was likely adapted from reusable casting molds made to reduce the cost of casting canon balls and shot.
The invention of artificial rubber was heavily influenced by the unavailability of natural rubber during WW1 and WW2.
Some of the best fitting boots and shoes i’ve worn seem to use or be based on the Munson Last, designed based on studies by Brigadier General Edward Lyman Munson around WW1, since soldiers may have to walk tens of miles a day, and therefore properly fitting footwear is important. Munson also was in charge of sanitation and army hygiene and wrote several books on the subjects.
Bullet making and the printing press may be intimately linked, since both require precise casting of lead alloy objects requiring tight dimensional tolerances, and made using similar techniques. Firearms requiring bullets were around in Europe before the printing press, but finding information on early bullets isn’t easy, so it’s hard to say whether the techniques for casting printing type were adapted from bullet making, or from some other type of tin/lead casting such as making pewter objects of a more peaceful nature.
War may be unpleasant, but it’s better to learn from the unpleasantness, than to forget.
The same goes for injuring yourself with tools.
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If you don’t tell it , no one will ever know ,you chris started me on this path and it all started with a square .you made . I thought if you can, so can. I still use it to this day so I say keep writing
I’m not a real woodworker. I will never build a stick chair. I will probably never build a birdhouse. But I buy and read all your books. I’ve often wondered why. This post made me realize why. Your writing (and philosophy) feels like my all-time hero Kurt Vonnegut’s. This post brought to mind his preface to Slaughterhouse-Five where he tells the story of how he was visiting a friend from the war and talking about the book he was writing. He could see the smoldering anger in his friend’s wife. She finally told him how mad she was that he was going to write another book glorifying war and making the soldiers all sound like heroic men when they were, in fact, mostly children. That’s why Slaughterhouse-Five’s subtitle is “The Children’s Crusade.” This post made that association click in my head. Thanks for your writing.
I’m glad to see that your book will finally get printed. I’m sure your parents would have been extremely proud. No doubt this will be an incredibly useful book to many.
Hey Chris thanks for being there or here.
Bring back be kind or be gone .
We will. Just got to remind people not to be jerk-holes
Sniff; damn dust. Thanks; just thanks. I’m proud to trod the earth with you.
Apart from anything else, a lovely evocation of what life used to be like in the old days.
How I can relate to that : legs going wobbly, Mum and Dad lighting up a quiet Kool together in a ‘let’s consider this, son’ moment. Nice.
Long time listener, first time caller…
Just wanted to say thanks for all the knowledge passed on from all of you at Lost Art Press. These blog post help me get the motivation to get out in the shop after a days work and baby wrangling. Cheers to all of you who make this haven of splinter gather’s possible!
That’s a great story and beautifully told. It’s a reminder of several things. That parents used to smoke. That a few decades back life’s lessons used to come in a different package—sharper, more abrupt, but also more definitive, not so much interminable hemming and hawing. That before woodworking, tools or baroque body part humor Chris is a seriously fine writer. Maybe most importantly that all this (craft, publishing, hand tools, furniture, anarchism©️, glitter, treating authors with respect, etc.) is about something bigger. Following the sound of a different drummer? Hard to put a name to it, so maybe best to stick to work holding and joinery options. But having an effect? Look around, amigo. You’re not shipping 30,000 books a year just to talk about different ways to make a mortise and tenon. As important as that is 🙂
I hope you keep going on this journey and it keeps inspiring people. I know how much I’ve gotten. Maybe the best thanks is to keep reading. And order that Dick Proenneke book for my neph. He’ll go nuts! Might even put away his book of laser cannons, er WWII era transports…
Anonymous (kidding! It’s David)
You more than made up for that first book many times over with your dad and mom. And you’re still the best writer – and husband and father – I know.
Now, that made me cry…..
I’m trying to get back on my feet after leaving my dreadful job and a fire in the house. I have a froe and a drawknife, some fallen timber from nearby woods, and the PDF of the Stick Chair Book. Thanks Chris and all at Lost Art Press.
nice one. my mom took me and my sisters to the library every Sat morning as well
Quite simply, without this blog, your books, and LAP I wouldn’t be the woodworker I am today. And as a result, in a year or two you might just have another letter like John’s headed your way.
And that being said, even if you personally never wrote another book after this one, you’ve created a place where other authors are also able to do their best work. Kind of like the sarcastic Ted Lasso of the publishing world, perhaps. In any case, your work matters, please keep it up!
Every time you post a deeply personal, heartfelt reflection – about fifty of us quit our day jobs! It’s been seven years for me – thank you.
I recently watched the documentary “Making a Book with Steidl” that shows how the publisher can enhance the author’s vision through physical design. The author and publisher make the same kinds of decisions you contemplated for this book.
The trailer includes the best quote of the movie, “F**k the midtones.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8McHbjaxpbA
Thank you for writing this series of posts.
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