The Prompter Room

For Friday, January 4, 2019:


Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with a Journal of a Writers Week


It Never Gets Old

A couple of mornings ago, the mail had a treat for me.  Wrapped in a thin cardboard mailer was my third book, A Short Guide to Hospitable Writing.  It is thin and it is short, but it was just as exciting to open it up, to gaze upon the front cover, and to hold it in my hands, as it was my first book.  And my second one.  It doesn’t matter the length or the genre — each one is my baby, and it just never gets old to see them come to fruition in the world.

Once upon a time, wa-a-ay before email and PCs and print-on-demand publishing, my dream was to establish my own desktop publishing enterprise.  Like many writers — and maybe some editors, too — I produced a family ‘newspaper’ that I designed, laid out and typed out (this was so long ago I had to use carbon paper to make multiple copies!), and distributed.  At that point in my life, I planned to be a print journalist, so this was, in my mind, a natural thing to do.  I still remember sitting at a rigged-up desk up in the attic for the whole process, using a little manual typewriter that had been my mother’s.

I had such a good time doing that little ‘newspaper,’ and about two decades later, that morphed — evolved? — into my dream of desktop publishing.  Those papers were followed by much more official newsletters for churches or organizations to which I belonged.  Over the decades, I graduated from manual to electric typewriters, then to a word processor, and then to computers.  I never did become a journalist, even though much of my school training was geared towards that career, but my dream of publishing never died.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to get into desktop publishing because print-on-demand emerged onto the technological and publishing scenes.  Regardless of whether one thinks POD is vanity publishing, it turned the world of books on its ear.  I do not think most POD enterprises are vanity presses.

Rather I think it’s a new take on the newspaper, which, unfortunately, is going the way of the dodo.  Print-on-demand and ebooks now enable myriad people who cannot, or who choose not to, get into the traditional publishing houses.  This, then, means more and more people, authors, writers, have more and more options for getting their own words out into the world.

That is unbelievably exciting, and I am delighted to be part of it on a small scale, both as a writer and as part of a POD enterprise, Branch Hill Publications (  In the five years we’ve been in operation, we’ve published over a dozen books and I’ve edited several others.  That may not seem like a lot, but it means poetry collections, memoirs, novels, short story collections, and non-fiction manuscripts that never would have seen the light of day — or would have taken years to do so — are now available for people’s reading pleasure.  We don’t publish every submission because we’re more than a little picky.  We do, though, read every manuscript, make suggestions for improvement, and encourage each and every author because we know the thrill of holding that book in our hands and want others to have that experience as well.

And now I’ve held my third book, my third baby.  My third!  Well, actually, it’s a proof copy, but it’s the same feeling because I know the real thing will be available in 24-48 hours for others to hold.  It just never gets old — which is a good thing, because more are coming, manuscripts I’ve held onto for years!