Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyThe Power of Publicity

  • Sun, 10 Feb 2013 07:49:28    Permalink

    All night during the blizzard of 2013, beneath the winds steady roar, I kept hearing a thumping noise from the back of our house. It sounded as if a door had come loose and was blowing open and shut. But of course, that was impossible. There was already a foot of snow on the ground enough to inhibit swinging doors. What, then?The noise had stopped when I went out to shovel next morning. In fact, I became so absorbed in excavating my car that I almost forgot about it. Only as an afterthought, on my way back inside to sit by the woodstove, did I walk around the house to investigate. An ancient, stately locust tree had made a soft landing on our roof. Last nights thumping had been the sound of its branches, thrashing in the gale. That was the bad news. The good news, revealed by a hasty attic inspection, was that our roof was intact. It was a stout old tree, tipped up at the roots. And it must have done a slow lean onto the roof, rather than a crash. Thank you, tree!Soon the house filled with kids, inlaws and grandchildren, none of whom had heat or lights. Why do people in New England build all electric houses? After a while I retreated to the Catacombs, my man cave beneath Flatrocks Gallery across the street. There, with nothing but the glow of my laptop to keep me company, I commenced an odd thought-journey that began with the fallen locust tree.
    We live on the corner of Langsford Street and Rockwood Lane, which runs about a quarter mile down the hill to Ipswich Bay, and is lined with locust trees like the one that landed on my house.The locals call them rockwoods because  their wood is heavy, tough, and rot resistant. In fact, I suspect the rockwood appellation came originally from New England shipyards, where locust wood was turned into trunnels, trennels, or tree-nails, as Falconer calls them. Heres what he says in his Universal Dictionary of the Marine, TREE-NAILS, certain long, cylindrical wooden pins, employed to connect the planks of a ships side and bottom to the corresponding timbers They have usually one inch in thickness to 100 feet in the vessels length.In Merrie Olde England, trunnels were made of oak, but our crafty New England shipwrights realized locust was a superior material. The wood was cut into sticks which were pounded through a sharp circular die or, later, turned into pegs on a lathe. Meanwhile a man with a hand augur went around and drilled through the planking and deep into the solid oak timbers wherever a fastener was needed. The trunnel, something over an inch in diameter, would then be driven into the hole, which had been bored through a foot or more of green oak. Banging in the trunnels was easy; it was the boring of ten or twenty thousand holes, by hand, with a primitive augur, that was the terrible part of the job. A wedge was pounded into the top of the driven-in trunnel and, when the wood swelled in the water, the joint was stronger and more rot resistant than any metal.
    All this put me in mind of Building the Blackfish, a book I published back in 1988. 
    It was written by my friend, a fifth-generation Essex shipbuilder named Dana Story. He used old photographs and concise descriptions to give a step-by-step account of how a wooden ship was built using traditional methods (though by this time they had an electric motor to drill the holes).
    It was a beautiful book, and I was able to work out a deal with International Marine to distribute it. They made it a special pick in their Dolphin Book Club, so it sold well. I might even have made my money back. Then a friend called in a favor from a friend of his, and got us a spread in People Magazine.
    A detailed and very flattering article, taking up a half page, with two photographs. Man, was I excited! I went out and bought hundreds of extra mailers to handle the flood of orders that would soon be forthcoming.
    We sold three copies.
    Then I recalled that all the books Ive written have gotten great reviews. Gone Boywas an Entertainment Weekly Book of the Year for 1999. The New York Times said Demon of the Waters was a solid contribution to whaling literature. Huberts Freaks was Strange and Excellent according to the New York Observer. However, sales of these finely crafted tomes did not exceed expectations. To say the least.
    And yet, when my latest book (coming out this April) got a glowing review in Publishers Weekly, I got just as excited as I did the first time.Youd think Id learn. But maybe it takes exactly that kind of stupidity to be a writer.
    The kind of thing you think about on a snowy morning in the catacombs
    Falconer, William. AN UNIVERSAL DICTIONARY OF THE MARINE...  Lon.  1789.  b/w folding plates. 4to. Unpaginated. (About 480 pp.) A copious explanation of the technical terms and phrases employed in the construction, equipment, furniture, machinery, movements and military operations of a ship. Illustrated with (a) variety of original designs of shipping, in different situations, together with separate views of their masts, sails, yards and rigging.  This is a new edition, corrected of a most important work on shipbuilding, as noted for its twelve informative folding plates as its hundreds of definitions of shipbuilding terms. Scott 416. See Adams & Waters pp. 70-71 and MacDonald 255 for other editions. Bound in old sheep, rebacked to match with morocco label. Some interior foxing, a few plates stained, but overall a Very Good copy.  $750Next week I left my wallet in San Francisco 

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