As I stood in the press room and watched hundreds of My West covers cranking out of the Docutech Xerox digital press, I had a moment. Every cover in that growing stack was starting a long journey to somewhere in the world - to be touched and fondled, and the book to be read by another human being. Yet I would probably never meet that person.
That's the magical thing about books - how they help us tell stories to strangers and how low-tech and tangibly human they are. They don't self-destruct if you drop them or spill a little coffee on them. They can't be corrupted by viruses or wiped out by power outages. That's why my publishing company, Wildcat Press, may be making some e-book editions available, but we won't ever stop creating those printed copies.
My West: Personal Writings on the American West is a departure for me. Most people know me by The Front Runner and other novels.
People who've read The Lavender Locker Room, or my columns in various publications, know that I also write nonfiction on the side. But the short pieces in My West were written over five decades, with no idea that they would ever be side by side in a book. Not until last year and my growing involvement with the Autry National Center's ground-breaking "Out West" program, did I take a second look at that longtime accumulation of Western-themed writings. A single perspective tied them together - and it was an LGBT perspective at that.
It was amazing to realize that a piece about Oriental rugs going west (for the Denver Post in the 1960s) had a common thread with a 1990s piece for Lesbian News about my first closet love in a small Western town. That a history of haying technology had its link to a history of women (including lesbian and bi women) in rodeo.
What is this perspective, anyway? How do LGBT people who live in this vast region of the United States - one that is so iconic for so many people in the world - see it differently than heterosexuals?
Maybe it's the extreme questioning that starts at such an early age for so many of us. That questioning drives us deep into the culture, into ourselves, to look for reasons, for answers, for ways out of the closet. Ultimately the questions are not only about ourselves, but the world we live in - its past, its rules and rhetoric, its religions and spiritual ways, its history and conflicts, and where it's going in future.
After my business partner and I lost our business office/home last year and the economy continued to tank, I decided that the best medicine for fiscal disaster was to say "damn the torpedoes" and publish a new book. The stories were already written. All my team had to do was scan, typeset, edit, get permissions where needed, design a cover and start the process. I scheduled it for June 15 in Pride Month, which also happened to be my birthday.
In short, My West is a birthday present to myself on my 75th birthday, to renew my conviction that books are what I want to do and that they're still worth doing.
So, as an author who owns a publishing company, I get to do something that many other authors don't - i.e. visit the press room and watch the book being "born." I've been hooked on the smell of printer's ink all my life, from the 1950s high-school yearbook printed in a small town to the 1970s Reader's Digest coming off a mammoth web press at the McCalls plant in Ohio. Today the presses are smaller but just as mighty - and computer-driven - like the one that was clanking out my cover. The press room even smells different now. Digital colors are done with toners now, not inks, so the place no longer smells like an aircraft hangar.
But the feeling is the same. I love that feeling. It's why I do what I do.
My West is available at the Wildcat Press website, for those who want autographed copies. It can also be purchased at Amazon.com.
For those who want to patronize their neighborhood bookstore, the book can be ordered from the store's favorite distributor. Wildcat books are distributed in the United States by Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Bookazine, Bella, HotNotes and Partners West. In the UK and Europe, they're available from Turnaround, and from Builldog Books in Australia.