The Wind Was All Awhirl

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December 21st, 2021

Geez. That headline is just straight poetry. Seriously. OK, maybe not but it was fun to try to mix the words up a bit.

Things have definitely been going at full speed lately. As much as I’ve put this blog off to make all the stuff I’ve done happen, it’s still a tight deadline today to get it all into words and posted. I seem to be all awhirl as well.

This one will outline two important weekends. The last two weekends. They were really important, basically critical, when you lay out the things that have to happen to go from an idea to a book. There are no shortcuts. Well, yes there are shortcuts but they end up looking like shortcuts and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted the best.

The first assignment was a “glamour shot” photo of little old me, for the back cover of the book. And while I was doing that, I should also have a wide variety of such portraits taken for the PR effort and other book-related needs. So, I needed a professional portrait photographer with mad skills and all the right equipment. It takes “mad skills” to make me and my face made for radio look like a serious author.

When I knew this had to happen, and it had to happen fast, it was Barbara who sprung the idea on me. She said, “You need to get down to Orlando and have your niece Kerry shoot these. She’s awesome. She’ll kill it.”

Kerry is married to my nephew Ewan, who is my sister Mary’s son. Yes, he was born in Scotland and hence the name. He’s also about 6-foot-9 and a former college basketball player. Plus, both he and Kerry and their three kids, Matt, Ryann, and Cal, are all really cool people.

And Barb was right. We’ve seen a lot of Kerry’s work on social media and it’s world class. Plus, Ewan and Kerry have been moving around the country pretty much nonstop for the last couple of decades, and it’s been really hard to get to see them. I think the last time I saw Ewan was when he and Matt attended the Charlotte race eons ago. Matt was just a boy at the time. He’s in college now.

What’s worse is that I had never even met Ryann and Cal. How is that possible? I communicated with Kerry and we set up the photo shoot for Sunday, December 12, at their house in Maitland.

Maitland is right next to Winter Park, which is a lovely town I could actually see us living in, if we were so inclined. Full of shops, restaurants, and fun places. Also very walkable.

Ewan picked me up and we headed to a restaurant called Rome, in Winter Park. Unfortunately, for me, Matt was still at school at the University of Delaware, so he wasn’t there. Fortunately, for me, that meant I got to use his bedroom.

Mmmmm. Gelato!!! With the Smiths, no less!

Dinner was great, the conversation was rollicking, and we all had a great time. After the Italian dinner, we walked a few blocks to enjoy some gelato. Photo attached of the smiling faces.

Back at their beautiful home, Ewan and I stayed up way too late after everyone else went to bed, just telling stories and reliving so many memories. It was a fabulous conversation that only took about 15 years to happen since the last time we were together. I shall not allow the stark lack of visits to happen again.

Bright and early on Sunday morning, Ewan and Kerry set up the backdrop and the big light, and I put on a dress shirt and jeans. I thought that looked authentically authorish. Spell check says “authorish” isn’t a word. Too bad, spell check. I’m using it.

The whole photo project was fantastic. Kerry is such a great photographer but she’s just as good as a coach to get the subject (me) into the right poses with the right smile. “Chin forward, head down, lean a little to the left, and smile!” Click, click, click. She worked magic.

Chin out, head down, look at me, and smile!

We did standing up, leaning against a wall, seated, leaning on a chair (which had to be placed on top of Tupperware dishes to make it high enough) and a bunch of other poses. It was foreign territory to me, but I had a helluva coach.

We took a break for a great lunch, just a block away, and later in the afternoon Ewan ran me back to the Orlando airport and I jetted home. A quick trip, but hundreds of clicks and Kerry took the initiative of going through all the images and sending me a link to a few dozen of the best ones. I whittled that down to a short list that would be candidates for the back cover of the book, and the rest we can use for other PR purposes.

It was a marvelous trip. I wish Matt could’ve been there, but then I would’ve had to sleep on the floor. I’ll catch up with that young man later.

And, if you live anywhere near Orlando, or can get there, and you need some phenomenal portrait photography done, call Kerry. She made me almost look handsome! That’s a miracle. Here’s her website:

And a word about my nephew Ewan. I am so damn proud of him I’m busting at the seams. He’s always been a great guy, even when he was a great little kid. He’s risen through the ranks in the business world and is now the President and Global Chief Revenue Officer for a company called Electrosonic. And he’s not done moving up the organizational chart yet. Remember I said that. He will rise all the way to the top. He’s amazing, but he’s still exactly the same guy I’ve known since he was born. Bravo, Ewan! You rock buddy!

Now let’s move forward to this past weekend. One of the most challenging things about this book has been the cover. Having worked with Todd Myers for many years on the NHRA tour (he was the PR rep for Kalitta Racing) and on the cover of my first book, I knew I wanted his talent for this cover. The first book cover was photographically based, thanks to the uber-ridiculous skills of Mark Rebilas behind the lens, and Todd did all the PhotoShop and graphics for that cover. He’s a genius.

This time I wanted him to do the whole thing. It would all be graphics. I, sadly, steered him wrong at first, challenging him to think and work not just “outside the box” but also miles from it. I thought a wild impressionistic cover would be cool. I wasn’t smart enough to know that the one key thing a cover provides is a glimpse into the book, its story, its characters, and such. The title also has to be instantly recognizable and legible. I sent Todd off on that original misguided gambit and we were just wasting his time.

If there’s one thing Todd doesn’t have a lot of, it’s time. He works two jobs that keep him busy all week. He also is devoted to painting, and one of his oil paintings hangs in our house. With all that said, I knew we weren’t making enough headway remotely, via email and text, and it was Barbara who again had the right idea. She said, “Find a day when the two of you can go into his home office and close the door until it’s done. You have to go there. Find the time.”

So this past weekend, I flew to Detroit late on Saturday afternoon and stayed at the Westin that is right inside the main terminal. On Sunday, I got up and picked up a rental car, dialed Todd’s address into the GPS on my iPhone, and off I went on my way to Todd and Betsy’s home in Waterville, Ohio. About an hour south of the Detroit airport.

We immediately got to work. No time to waste. Todd had been messing around with some silhouette images of a baseball pitcher and a hockey player, and he had merged them into one image. It was way cool, but I had to break the news to him, “That pitcher is left-handed. My character is right-handed.” Within a minute he reversed that out and magic was made. By putting the pitcher on the left side of the image, it was crazy how both of the athletes’ legs lined up in perfect symmetry. Even the hockey stick was in perfect alignment. I’m telling you, it was magic.

Beyond that image, we had a blank computer monitor staring back at us. We had a long way to go…

Todd still had the cover template from “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” and even though that book was 7 x 10, and this one will be about 6.5 x 9.5, we at least had that to use for the concept. He knew he’d have to adjust a lot of the layers to fit the smaller size, once Outskirts Press sends us the template, but this was a good way to build the cover from scratch and lock in the concept.

It was an amazing process, and we not only worked well together, it was absolutely uncanny how we were consistently on the same wavelength. Basically, any time I’d say “What if we do this..?” he’d smack his forehead and say “Stop it. I was just thinking that exact same thing.”

It felt, to me, like what musicians must go through to write a new song together. I mean, we started with nothing but a silhouette image of two athletes and we just let our minds go. Throwing every idea at the wall. Considering everything. Learning what worked and what didn’t work. It was a spectacular experience. And yes, Todd Myers is a just a little talented. If by “a little” you mean “enormously.”

Every now and then we’d stand up and walk to the other side of the room, just to get a different perspective on what the whole thing would look like. And if Todd said, “I don’t hate it. I really don’t…” that meant he loved it. And I loved it too.

After about six hours, we were physically and mentally drained. It was getting hard to focus but we had the bones of it completed. As Todd put it, “I think we’re done. I’m going to have to go back through all these images and layers to format them to the new template anyway, so we’re wasting our energy trying to fine-tune this too much. We, sir, have a cover.”

Still some more “cleaning up” to do here, but the cover will look like this! What a day. What an experience!

And we did. Here’s a sneak peek at the front cover. The rest of it is still a ways from being totally “publisher ready” but we covered a million miles in one six-hour period in Waterville, Ohio.

Again, I can’t say enough about Todd’s focus and determination, not to mention his phenomenal skills on the computer. At one point he said “You’re getting a first-hand tutorial on how to do this. For your next book you’ll be able to do it yourself.”

My response was, “Not a chance. Unless I sketch it in crayon…”

I drove back up to Detroit basically beaming. We had covered so much ground and created this thing out of thin air. We’ve been friends a long time, and have been through a lot together, but this one day in Waterville, Ohio was magic. I’m not going to say we were like Lennon and McCartney, but we were so in tune with each other’s ideas it was just flabbergasting. We made one helluva team.

So how about the book? Well, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so they say, but I hope you judge this one well.

Today, I resubmitted the manuscript after having made 37 small edits to it last week. That was a busy week, going through it page by page and paragraph by paragraph. Basically, word by word. After Outskirts made those changes they gave it back to me for one last look. I stared at the laptop screen and thought to myself, “I’ve been through this a million times. Greg Halling and Terry Blake have been through it front to back as well.” I figured it was just time to say “OK, we’re done.”  I clicked on “Approved” and there we were.

I just, moments ago, got an email from my author’s rep at Outskirts that outlined what we have left to do. It’s as simple as this:

They will send me a template for the cover by the end of the week, and I’ll share that with Todd.

Todd will then reconstruct the cover to fit that template, for the front, spine, and back.

Once we send that back to Outskirts, they will put it through a review process to make sure it will fit and look correct when printed.

Then… And strap yourselves in for this bit of news, it will be about two weeks to finish the book, publish it, print it, and get it on Amazon and other platforms. Holy crap!!!

We need to get the cover done, and Elon Werner and I need to map out our PR and publicity strategy, and then we’re staring at a brand new bouncing baby book. Weird… Early February? That’s very possible.

Get your Amazon fingers loosened up. It will be just $29.95 and the cover will rock your world. I’ll keep you all updated on Facebook, Twitter, and here on the blog. We’re not at the finish line yet, but I can see it from here. Whew. Makes me nervous!

It’s one thing to get so personally invested in a book project, putting your heart and soul into these characters and the words you choose to tell the tales. It’s another to then let the other side of your psyche think, “But what if nobody likes it?”

I remember the first day “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” went on sale back in 2017. I’ll never forget it. My initial feelings really weren’t like joy and excitement. Basically, I was scared to death. I’m sure it will also be that way for “How Far?”

So that’s it. I’m exhausted. If you just read this blog and thought “Well, that wasn’t awful” or you quoted Todd Myers by saying “I don’t hate it. I really don’t” please do me a solid favor and hit the “LIKE” button here at the bottom.

I’ll keep you posted as we keep nearing that finish line.

And here are a few random shots of this blogger taken by his niece Kerry Smith, the amazing photographer. Enjoy.