Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
I like to take the first few days of each year to get my grounding, to stabilize my feet under me, and to consider what the new year might hold. We’re all moving in a jet stream, propelled from behind by so many changes in society and in publishing that it’s hard to keep up with what’s new. But I think it’s instructive to consider what people are thinking about, how they’re reacting to life, and what that means to those of us who, ultimately, are either responders to society’s direction or movers of that direction. Either way, if we don’t know where our culture is going, we can neither write about it meaningfully nor influence its direction.
One thing I’ve noted is an uptick in the domestic arts. I’m not just talking people who like to cook, sew, knit, or build a bookshelf. I’m talking about people who are taking their activities to a new level. Sunset Magazine’s January 2012 issue had a section devoted to domestic artists. There I met:
Austin Durant, who is into fermenting–sauerkraut, pickles, even ketchup. He founded Fermenters Club in San Diego.
Emily Collins Kell, who makes cider because she had a backyard crammed with productive apple trees.
Emily Ho, who creates soda drinks because she found traditional sodas too sweet for her tastebuds’ liking. She carbonates drinks based on ingredients like elderflowers, oranges, rosemary, and cherries. She forages in farmers markets and on walks in her LA neighborhood to collect ingredients.
Jeff Pratuch, who cans tuna. A leisuretime tuna fisherman, he wanted albacore all year long and realized canning his catch was the way to stay stocked on the stuff. He says his homemade tuna bears little resemblance to the fare we eat from cans.
Cousins Brett Wittman and Jason Marwedel, who became sausage makers when they entered a sausage contest. Their family has been curing sausages for more than a century, but the guys knew they were onto something when, after three years of perfecting their skills, they beat not only their uncles but also their grandmother in the sausage contest.
Henry Chang, who roasts his own coffee. He started out trying to duplicate the espresso he tasted in Italy and eventually found the perfect roaster for him online–he had to learn to type in Chinese to communicate with the makers and eventually flew to Taiwan to pick up that precious baby.
What do all of these people, who from their photos look as though they’re in their 30s or 40s, have in common?
- They were inventive.
- They became obsessed with their hobbies.
- They saw a need (too many apples, sodas too sweet, couldn’t find a good espresso, etc.) and decided to meet it for themselves (and for friends). None of these individuals earns a living from what he or she creates. Most don’t sell their wares. Their day jobs are: ob-gyn, banker, construction manager, wine merchant manager, publicist, food writer, software project manager.
- They created something uniquely their own.
What does this tell us about our culture as we enter 2012? Individuals like to personalize their experiences. In a world where we all shop in the same stores and wear the same brands, it’s refreshing to make something no one else makes just as you do.
They’ve developed a sense of exploration.
They enjoy self-expression.
They want to take what is at hand and create something new from it.
What does that translate to for writers? Readers want to “discover” you on their own. Rather than buying your book because everyone is reading it or because an ad told them to, they want to find your book–probably online. And they want to connect with you, not just with your writing.
And best of all would be if you could offer them a way to express what you’re writing about in their own way. If your novel’s character studies flowers’ genetics and develops new varieties, explain in an appendix how the reader could play around (in an obsessive kind of way) with doing the same. If your nonfiction book is about the importance of emotions, develop a website where readers can engage with each other on the topic.
A crafty lifestyle is an “in” lifestyle nowadays. How can you tap into that–and be true to yourself and your message?
Do you have any other insights as to why people are choosing to express themselves in such unique ways? Or how to apply that to your writing?