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Bookstories 20: Marc Thompson’s Ordinary Time

libraryofbabelEvery book tells its story, but what of the other story, the story behind the book? Bookstories offers an opportunity to tell that story. If you have a story about a book or poem you would like to share, contact us and we’ll help you make it happen. Thanks for letting us know the rest of the story!


My first book, Ordinary Time, was forced on me by the events of September 11, 2001. It wasn’t really an attempt to make sense of things, since that seemed impossible at the time, so much as it was an attempt to order the chaos of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath. My chaos, I should say, since we all reacted to the events of that day differently.

I was working for a small consulting firm outside Harrisburg PA. It was a beautiful late summer morning and our sales guy called in to tell us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Sales Guy wasn’t known for factual accuracy so we mostly discounted his story and kept working. Until we heard the radio reports. Then our bookkeeper brought in a television from her truck (I have no idea why she had a TV in her truck, but that was Joanie) and everything stopped. The plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was 15 minutes flying time from our office. I worried about my brother who is a commercial pilot: was he flying that day? One of my staff kept apologizing to me that he wasn’t getting any work done. We all just stared at the images on the TV.  

The next day I went to a meeting at the PA Dept of Labor where guards with automatic weapons checked the IDs of all who wanted to enter the building who weren’t white. The Mennonite farmers in Lancaster County (Mennonites are a peace church) stocked up on ammunition. There was a run on the Holy Koran at local book stores. I was having dinner in a local restaurant when the waitresses handed out candles to the diners and we all trooped out to the parking lot for a candlelight vigil. Then we all returned to our meals. People felt compelled to tell each other where they were when they heard the news. Everything was jumbled together and I needed to get it on paper and out of my head.

As I wrote the pieces that eventually became the book the odd undertones came out. There was no particular reason the attack took place on that date. No secular or religious atrocities, victories, celebrations, or events had occurred. It was just in ordinary day. I vaguely remembered a verse from the Koran about how it was Allah’s will that humans get along together despite their differences. I did my research and found the verse which seemed at odds with the attacks. I looked into the Christian liturgical calendar and discovered that the attacks took place during Ordinary Time; no significant events were celebrated. 

The pieces were coming together. I had a title, I had the elements of the book, and I knew what I wanted it to look like. The cover had to be green. Green is the color for Ordinary Time just at purple is the color for the Lenten season. I also wanted the book to physically be a tall rectangle reminiscent of a tower. Because I had a clear vision of what the book should look like, I decided to self-publish under the Laughing Gull Press imprint (why Laughing Gull? Because Black Vulture was already taken). And I found out how much work is really involved in producing a book!

I laid out the copy using Microsoft Publisher. It’s not the best choice for the job, but it’s what I had available to me. After that I interviewed printers.  After about half a dozen I found one who was willing to work with a newbie like me. She was very patient and made the process as painless as possible. Along the way I learned about different types of paper, how the number of pages affects the cost (it’s not what you would think—14 pages can cost more than 16 pages), proofreading marks, more details than I knew existed, and the weird problems that can crop up. For instance, there was a shortage of green cover stock available and I really had to scramble to find something that would work.

Since I self-published I also self-distributed and the book never received wide circulation. Not even by haiku standards. But I was satisfied with the final product and the people who bought it seemed to like it. Would I self-publish again? Perhaps. I have since worked for a publishing house and as a newsletter editor so I now a lot more about it now. If it were necessary to meet specific goals I would. But I would first query editors I know to see if I could work with them. My second chapbook was professionally produced and it was a much smoother process. But that is a different story.

—Marc Thompson

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