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.