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Monday, August 30, 2010

He Decided to Make a Difference

Both as a reader and as a bookseller, I approach self-published books warily and have written about this topic in an earlier post. Too many such books are badly written in the first place and/or don’t get the editing they need, and even the best-produced can fall stillborn without a good marketing and distribution plan, also often lacking. A couple of northern Michigan mystery writers, Aaron Stander and Robert Underhill, are among the exceptions that prove the rule, but there are others, and yesterday, completely by chance (digging through a box of used books someone dropped off at the store), I came upon a nugget of gold, Extra Hands, by Jack Orchard, and very, very early this morning after half an hour sitting out by the meadow under moonlight and stars, I finished the story. Next obvious step was to go online, where I was not surprised that my search turned up the news that Orchard had died a year ago July (2009) at the age of 41.

What’s important and inspiring about entrepreneur Orchard’s story is not his illness, not his death but his decision to create a meaningful life, while he had time, by doing for others. Here is an excerpt from his obituary in the St. Louis Beacon, his hometown newspaper.
One of the most improbable things Mr. Orchard did was write a 183-page book after most of his body had ceased to function, including his fingers and his voice. He wrote his memoir, “Extra Hands-Grasping for a Meaningful Life,” with his eyes. He learned to use Eyegaze, a special computer that tracks eye movements and types the letters on a screen, at the highest speed possible. Proceeds from “Extra Hands” were used to fund the nonprofit foundation he founded, Extra Hands - ALS, that paired high school and college student helpers with people living with ALS because, he said, ALS can be a lonely disease.

He founded Extra Hands for ALS and the Jack Orchard ALS Foundation. His faith was humanism, and he lived it.

8 comments:

Karen Casebeer said...

Interesting post, Pamela. I think self-publishing is changing with more and more respectable writers getting a start through that process, especially with first books. It's becoming increasingly difficult for authors to get picked up nowadays through mainstream publishers. BTW, just returned from a week long trip to the UP and when we visited the Diner for ice cream in Grand Marais, wearing our Northport t-shirts, of course, the owner knew you. Small world, indeed.

P. J. Grath said...

You're undoubtedly right, Karen, that more and better writers are now self-publishing their work. And/but (logically equivalent!) there isn't any way I can think of to prevent bad stuff from being self-published, which is where the traditional methods still offer an advantage to booksellers, buyers and readers.

You met Ellen Airgood! Yes, indeed, we know her. Did you know she is to have a book published by Viking Penguin? Last I heard (a few weeks ago), the title was still up in the air. Did she mention it, by any chance?

Michigan writers! Small, RICH world!

torchlakeviews said...

First of all, thank you for drawing Jack Orchard's book to my attention. Independent booksellers are invaluable.

Now then. While I concede that many "self-published" books are in serious need of professional editing, design, printing and marketing, there isn't any way I can think of to prevent bad stuff from being published by "traditional methods" either. And apparently there's no end to the twaddle that some academic presses will impose on students.

It is wonderful when a worthy writer lands a contract with a mainstream publishing house, but it is also wonderful when a worthy and entrepreneurial sort of writer manages to make a living independently.

I don't think of independent writers as amateurs any more than I think of the farmers at the weekly markets as amateurs. Big publishing houses, like agribusinesses, are sophisticated and efficient. But they'll never sell you an heirloom tomato . . . :)

P. J. Grath said...

Peace, peace! Excerpts from Jack Orchard's book on new post....

P. J. Grath said...

Actually, there are whole categories of books I approach warily, but I don't think I'll open another can of worms by listing the categories. I'd rather the attention today go to Jack Orchard's life and legacy.

Karen Casebeer said...

Pamela...Actually, it was a man, around our same age range, that we met. I cannot remember his name, but it seems that it began with a D, such as Devon, or Darren, or ??? Sorry, but that piece escapes me. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

Ah, yes, Ellen's husband, the one who cooks all those wonderful meals at the West Bay Diner. Excuse me while I go shake up my head until his name falls back out. He's usually behind the scenes, and we have most of our conversations with Ellen.

P. J. Grath said...

Ellen's husband's name is Rick! It's Rick and Ellen who own and run the West Bay Diner in Grand Marais. There is also another young woman, Jenna, who waits on tables. Great Up North place to go!