Authors in the Meadow: From Jim Thom to T.C. Steele

In just four months, A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana is already more successful than the first book I wrote for IU Press, by orders of magnitude. But until Saturday, this second go-round hasn't felt too author-like. After I wrote Eternal Vigilance: Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana in 1996, for example, I did presentations and/or book signings at bookstores across the state, including Evansville, Bloomington, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

On Saturday, that sense of detachment faded some. I had the honor of sharing a Dunn Meadow tent with a couple dozen other authors at IU Press's first Quarry Festival of Books. As A Guide to the Knobstone Trail  author Nathan D. Strange and I agreed, in this business you seldom, if ever, meet the people who are impacted by your work.

Usually with granddaughter Raina at my side, I signed books for enough of them that I lost count -- 12 to 15? -- and talked eye to eye with at least that many more, some of whom wrote down email addresses and URLs. One brought along a copy he received as a premium for a contribution to WTIU public television.

The near-perfect-weather day was also a chance to catch up with friends. When Rain wasn't with me she was hanging with Jim Thom (who wrote the guidebook foreword) and/or Jaime Sweaney (who shot my author photo and was representing the event's co-sponsor Bloom magazine). I traded tales with Douglas A. Wissing, with whom I did business in the early 1970s when he owned a print shop in downtown Bloomington. I sat next to longtime journalism school colleague Owen Johnson, who's new book is about Ernie Pyle.

I chatted with former IU basketball player Kirk Haston, who sat one table down and whose book Days of Knight was hands down the tent's best seller. (I wasn't monitoring, but I'd bet Jim's new book Fire in the Water was a strong second.) One of my former students interviewed Haston and afterward brought me up to date on his career, which began last May.

I confess I was a bit excited about being seated next to Monika Herzig, whose new book is about IU jazz legend David Baker, who turned me onto the genre almost a half century ago playing his cello in the IMU's North Lounge. Indeed, I used that fact as a wake-up call on Saturday morning for new Jackson Creek Middle School Jazz Band member Raina. Monika didn't attend. Rain at least got her lunch.

I also talked T.C. Steele with Rachel Berenson Perry, the former fine arts curator of the Indiana State Museum and author of Paint and Canvas: A Life of T.C. Steele. I recently learned that Steele had a studio in Franklin Hall, almost directly above my new classroom. She assured me a tragic-if-true tale I heard about some Steele work is without merit.

Finally, I had two long talks with the new IU Press acquisitions guy, who made sure I had a card.

I'm a bit star-struck and will stop name dropping now. Planning at least one trip to the woods this week.

Photographs: Top, Latimer Woods; Bottom, Raina and James Alexander Thom.


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