Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Work-in-Progress Report #1: Jerry Dennis
Jerry Dennis’s most recent book, THE LIVING GREAT LAKES, explored a subject he can’t leave behind. Here’s what this Traverse City writer has to say about what he’s working on now:
“I’m well along on a new book, A WATCHER ON THE SHORE, which I expect to send to my publisher about a year from now. The shore of the title is both literal and figurative: the one ringing the five Great Lakes; and the one we’re born onto, where we’ve erected our cities and composed our philosophies, where we spend our lives telling stories around campfires at the edge of the unknown.
“For most of the past year I’ve been living in houses on the five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, staying for a week to a month at a time in places that interest me, including Northport’s own Cathead Point, where I stayed in a beautiful house all of last January. The other places I’ve stayed have varied from a two-room log cabin on Lake Superior to a 20-million-dollar mansion on Lake Michigan—a dozen or so in all, each drenched with character and each offering a widely different view of the lakes. My usual routine was to spend the evenings reading, the afternoons out in the world exploring, and the mornings writing, using as a guide the ancient Japanese essay genre called zuihitsu, or ‘following the brush.’ (The ‘brush’ in my case is a Sarasa Zebra 0.7 black pen.) It’s been a new way for me to compose, and has opened up many possibilities for surprise. When I started writing about stones on the beach, for example, I found myself meditating on randomness and beauty. Waves during a storm suggested the myths in almost every culture that created order out of the primordial chaos. The death of loons from botulism led to an inquiry into our place in nature and how our attitudes about it are changing.
“As with all my books (and, for that matter, my life), I’ve proceeded without much planning, following my instincts and trusting to serendipity. Along the way I’ve been fortunate to receive a great deal of assistance, starting with the generous people who invited me to stay in their houses. I’m also nearly speechless with gratitude to the Kellogg Foundation, Wege Foundation, and Great Lakes Fishery Trust, which have provided grants to support me while writing the book, and for Tim Ervin, Becky Ewing, and others at the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute and Northwestern Michigan College, who facilitated the grants. They’ve given me a wonderful gift, the result of which, I hope, will be a rich and deeply textured work.
“Now I’m home for the winter, writing every day in my studio/sanctuary in the loft of our stone barn, and spending evenings by the fireplace with Gail, reading novels and playing cribbage.”
Thank you, Jerry, for this window into your writing world, for all the books you have written, and for those yet to come.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!