Monday, August 25, 2014

This Summer's Wedding

As June bled into July, it seemed I was in a protracted stage play where the actors each made timely, carefully choreographed entrances.

Late June, mid-morning, the first actor loped from behind the curtain of my kitchen doorway. It was the groom–my adopted son Sean, a week ahead of schedule with that familiar vandalous grin spread across his sharp jaw.

Chika & Cal
On a Saturday some ten days later, through the windshield I saw my son Jack’s broad shoulders pop through an automatic door at the Indy airport. He’s the best man, home from Denver with a trimmed beard and fresh haircut. The next day, their brother, Cal sprung from his mom’s car in my driveway, tall and lean with a travel-wearing smile. He and his Japanese girlfriend, Chika had come from Tokyo. She introduced herself to me with a firm handshake. Soon thereafter the bride, Courtney arrived from Ohio, her signature lion’s mane of blonde hair framing that happy, childlike face.

A year ago right now, my kids were all living here. Since then they’ve each flown the coop. But for that week this house where my kids grew up was wonderfully full again.
Josh, the blonde, longhaired, bearded, barnstorming musician and groomsman entered the stage early in the week in time for beers and a pool party. His ready laughter was written deep in the week’s script.

Seeing Sean and Courtney’s accumulated relationships appearing one at a time in the form of family and old friends, reminded me of all the people we touch and who touch us as we move through life. There were cookouts, bar meet-ups and late night conversations around the kitchen table.

Some of those who played serious rolls or mere cameos first arrived at my house years ago on bicycles or skateboards in their early teens. Now they’re college grads spread across the country and around the world.
I don’t really recall when Schweke showed up, but he’s hard to miss with a face that never ages and a 1,000-watt smile. When I headed up the stairs to bed Wednesday night, I think he was the one who asked me to leave the front door unlocked. “Jake’s gonna arrive in the middle of the night from Nashville.” When I came down in the morning, Jake was asleep on the couch, an arm thrown across his face. He opened one eye and waved.
Later that day as I sat alone drinking a beer at a picnic table at Bonge’s in Perkinsville, waiting for the bachelor party to float down White River from Anderson, a fresh-faced young man wandered down the road toting a heavy backpack. He looked lost. I noted, then ignored him, then dashed down to the river to pull sun burnt and drunken groomsmen from their canoes & kayaks. The young man with the backpack was still waiting along the road when we returned to the restaurant. Turned out it was one of Sean’s college buddies, Michael, linking up with the group.

And Courtney’s brother Dan, too, found a place on my living room floor. A gentle soul with and a kind, sober-face, Dan would pass the time throwing Frisbee out front on Cherry Street.

The accumulated scenes played out at bars and restaurants, on patios and pools, and even on the river during that week were a testament to the rich relationships Sean and Courtney have created in their young lives. During the rehearsal dinner I looked about and noted common threads among those faces. None are shallow or foolish, no hot messes, no macho jerks, no lost souls. Not a one you wish would hurry up and go home. All are well-grounded young people composing the next act in their lives – taking new jobs, marrying, moving to new places.

The groomsmen at Bonge's: drunken & sunburnt
Birds of a feather.

There was a lot of beer, and some fun-loving craziness here and there, but more often there were thoughtful conversations about life, faith, love, and the possibilities that lay ahead. We are just past the clustered years of graduations with this group, and entering the years of weddings. When your kids are little people tell you to savor the moments, because they’ll grow up before you know it. Fear not. I enjoy the company of my children and their friends more now than ever.

Courtney & Sean at the wedding
And appreciating those faces, loving having them drinking beer on my patio or crashing on my couch reminds me that Sean and Courtney’s real journey didn’t start the way we often think of it – on the wedding day. Instead, they were already deep into the journey by that time, and the people who took the stage here were the proof – the ones they’d already gathered up along the road; the sympathetic souls that make up a circle of friends.

The wedding was held far from plastic-covered subdivisions and asphalt-ringed stip malls. It was in a grassy patch beneath tall ancient trees, ringed on all sides by cornfields – a place that still looks like Indiana. It went off without a hitch with each player reading his lines to perfection.

And as quickly as they came, they stepped off stage, scattering across the world, back to their personal journeys: gone in the morning, or dropped at the 
airport, or pulled away from the curb.

Buy Kurt's book: Noblesville
Visit Kurt's web page

Thursday, August 7, 2014


When River’s Edge Marketing came to me last year and asked to reedit, repackage and remarket my first novel, Stardust, I was amazed. I thought the ship had sailed on that old story. That somebody thought it still had a chance at a wider audience outside of Indiana was exciting.

It took me back to the brief excitement of 13 years ago when I signed with the original publisher. But that excitement quickly turned to frustration. The best example of that first fractured publishing experience came they asked to cut a chapter. They said that chapter’s story line was one tragedy too many. I explained that I was simply writing what had actually happened in the small town of Noblesville in the summer of 1893. It was reality that was crucial to the entire story. “Nobody will believe that,” they said. I became suspicious they were just trying to cut the book for length instead of quality. So I suggested, “It would be far better to cut this other chapter and keep the one you want to cut.” Before I could finish my sentence, they say, “YES! Then let’s cut that one.”
The original cover.
Hate the color. Love the image
I was right. They were cutting for length only.

I challenged the logic. They claimed the average best-seller was approximately 333 pages. I replied, “That’s meaningless. When I’m in the car with my daughter, the average age of passengers is nearly 24-years-old. But I’m 41 and she’s 6 (at the time), so averages can send you in the wrong direction if you don’t see them for what they are. Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s With Morrie is 192 pages, and John Grisham’s A Time To Kill is 515 pages. Both best sellers. Why don’t we edit for quality, not length?”

The frozen silences on the conference call betrayed pursed lips and knitted brows around a conference room table in Portland. They were no doubt thinking, “Kurt’s a difficult artist. He’s not a team player.” At least that’s how they treated me from that moment on.

I would later discover that they were in financial trouble and just pushing product out the door as fast as possible, in some cases to get authors off their backs, and in others hoping that something would catch fire and make some quick money. Within a couple months of my book’s publication, they were bankrupt. I spent two years marketing the book, doing book talks, sending press releases to newspapers, and stocking stores myself. I eventually sold all 5,000 of the copies that were printed.

Eleven years later, the folks at River’s Edge saw the weaknesses in the pages of that original manuscript and suspected that with more professional editing it could reach a wider audience. I flew to Little Rock, Arkansas last January and signed a contract. Stardust would live on.

The new editor worked like a therapist, seldom making bold pronouncements, but mostly asking of weak or tedious points in the story, “How does that make you feel?” constantly urging me to listen to the voice at the back of my head. “If it doesn’t feel entirely right, it isn’t right. Trust the voice.”

What resulted is a tighter story, less pontificating–which I am prone to, more of the soul of the story–the romance between David and Mary. And the technology that constantly simmmered at the background of the original was updated to reflect how smart phones, wifi, and the Internet have affected our lives in the past decade.

Last January, in a Little Rock conference room that looked out over the Arkansas River and a high bluff beyond, I was asked to give a synopsis of the book to the marketing department. They listened carefully. Finally a man about my age asked, “What does Stardust mean?” I quickly realized he had no knowledge whatsoever of the song Stardust, written by Hoosier songwriting legend Hoagy Carmichael and the most recorded love song of the jazz era. “How is that possible?” I thought to myself. But he was smart. Yet he didn’t know. Anyone would know by the end of the book, but we were debating how to get them to open it and read the first page. On the flight home I kept replaying that conversation in my mind, finally realizing that it was a very smart question.

He then slid the original book out onto the table. “Let’s say I’m walking down the main aisle of a Barnes and Noble and I see this cover on a stack of books on a table among a vast stack of other books. What is that cover supposed to mean to me?”

I stammered some vague comment like, “The past is a foreign country and the cover conveys a compelling lost language that kinda evokes the past, blah, blah, blah.” Truth was, I mostly just thought it was cool.

The new cover created by Paula at River's Edge Media.

He shook his head, smirked, pushed himself away from the table and folded his arms, “I don’t get it.”

It didn’t insult me. Didn’t hurt my feelings. I like having my feet held to the fire and having to defend what I’ve done. But if he didn’t understand, how many other people wouldn’t understand? In the end this can’t be me trying to figure it all out on my own, like it was first time around. These are trained professionals. I decided to let them do their jobs. It felt right.

Back to the title. Neil Gaiman’s highly successful book called Stardust created problems for us. If readers went looking for my book, they would first find Gaiman’s. My title had to go. That was tough to accept. But again, it made perfect sense. Easier to retitle my book than unpopularize Gaiman’s book. My very fitting title had to go. When the editor and I kept coming up empty handed, Paula, in the River’s Edge marketing department said, “Why not just call it “Noblesville?”

For a split second, it sounded dumb, but it sounded smarter and smarter as each day passed. Every step of writing the story I was trying to evoke a sense of place and to respect that place as Indiana. Why not make the boldest and simplest of statements about place and name it for the town where it's set, “Noblesville.” Paula not only renamed the book, she designed the new cover.

Smart girl.

So here I am, 22 years after I started writing the story, it’s being published for a second time with a new title and a new cover, leaner, at 15+ pages shorter, and it’s more expressive than it was first time around. Thanks to the folks at River’s Edge, it’s a better story by far than the one published a dozen years ago.

We're still in the very early stages of placing the book in retail locations, but a few options are already online. It can be bought in the town of Noblesville currently at The Wild Bookstore.

Books from River's Edge Media 
Buy Noblesville from Amazon
Buy Noblesville for the Nook