I am delighted to be back on home turf for a few weeks, promoting Vine Lives: Oregon Wine Pioneers and hanging out with my family.
Here’s a few snapshots from the journey so far..
Creativity isn’t the exclusive privilege of so-called creative professions. You can be a creative retailer, waiter, mechanic, teacher, or botanist.
To see this in action, step inside the sliding glass doors of Vino y Co in Sant Jordi, Ibiza. Behind the counter are the shop’s yin and yang: Jeroen Hamersma and daughter Rosa. He sports Cuban shirts and black-rimmed specs that snap together at the front; thick dark hair styled in a wind-tunnel. She is cool and elegant, with freckles and a showstopping smile.
Jeroen got into wine thanks to his brother Harold, one of the Netherland’s top wine critics. Indulging his interest wasn’t easy after he and his family moved to Ibiza, so he started shipping over the odd pallet for personal consumption. Friends asked for bottles, then cases. In 2009 Jeroen went pro and opened Vino y Co. Later persuading Rosa, a successful print designer in London, to return home and become a partner.
Rosa and her dad prove creativity is about how you do what you do. Invest your work with Curiosity, Relationships, Ethos, Aesthetic, Time, Integrity, Value, and Expertise and it will be creative.
Curiosity: Amidst the shop’s wall of white wine is a book nook. Among them, cloth-bound wine almanacs Jeroen bought in the ’80s in Amsterdam. He read, bought and drank teaching himself vintage, varietals and terroir. These days a laptop sits on the shop counter, poised to answer arcane questions about anything from geology to recipes.
Relationships: “Wine sellers are story-tellers,” is one of Rosa and Jeroen’s favourite sayings. Like all good story-tellers, they are adept at making relationships between people, places, and things. Jeroen can take someone looking for “Rioja, I guess” and deftly connect them something they would have never thought to try. Rosa can glance at a bottle and tell you what restaurant will sell it, who will order it and what they’ll eat.
Ethos: A wine shop is a wine shop, unless it’s
Vino y Co. Then it’s a crusade. Jeroen and Rosa’s passion is fruit-driven, expressive wine made by inventive, idiosyncratic, often downright eccentric oenologists. It’s what they drink, buy, sell, and tirelessly promote. They scorn drinking (much less buying) wine based on fashion or reputation.
Aesthetic: Vino y Co is part of an anonymous retail strip on a busy road. But inside is a chapel. Its rosé collection is shelved along the all-glass shopfront, turning it into a glorious stained-glass wall of wine. The zinc-topped counter is faced with wood Jeroen salvaged from packing crates. Tables run lengthwise between shelves of wine, artfully arrayed with books and bottles.
Time: It took 25 years for Jeroen’s oenophilia to blossom into a business,and Vino y Co is the better for slow ripening. You feel it when you step inside: they are efficient but not hasty, prompt without rushing. Jeroen can talk for hours to curious customers; Rosa doesn’t begrudge gift-wrapping or pouring lemonade for kids while their parents browse.
Integrity: Vino y Co operates at a level of transparency rare on an island whose operational principle is that corners were made to be cut. It is over-the-counter, on-the-books legit. “That’s how I do business,” Jeroen says. Integrity is essential to creativity. Without it, creation lapse into imitation.
Value: After tasting a superb Casa Cesilia Sauvignon Blanc-Macabeo I checked the price – seven Euros and change. The memorable Gran Cerdo Rioja is about six-fifty. Fabulous Suriol Cava is under a tenner. They could charge more but their priority is to make good wine accessible, and win repeat business. Properly valued work is an excellent way to earn both respect and a living.
Expertise: It is hard to leave Vino y Co as ignorant as you arrived. In the course of a few casual visits I sample Spain’s rising-star grape (Mencía), learn about native fermentation, and discover what ‘sans dosage’ means on a Champagne label. Rosa and Jeroen are equally adroit with restaurant recommendations, saké lore, island gossip, politics, geography, travel, books, design, and fashion. This is the stamp of a creative: never bored and never boring.
Vino y Co
Address: Carretera Ibiza-Sant Josep, 60 (km 1.6, Can Bellotera)
Phone: +34 971 305 324
Opening hours: M-F: 10:00-14:00, 17:00-20:00, Sat 10:00-14:00, Sun closed
Editing requires stubborn patience and discipline. The good news is, all you have to do is read. The bad news is, you have to do it over and over and over. You have to read your manuscript until you can recite it like the catechism.
You must read with purpose, though. Otherwise you bore and blind yourself to what needs fixing.
Structure is how the whole thing fits together:
1. Does it have a beginning, middle and end?
2. Does the pace fit the topic and tone?
3. Does it feel like a book rather than an assortment of pages?
Continuity is how smooth, complete and ordered the writing is:
1. Do the main sections have a logical order?
2. Does each section/chapter fit in the overall theme?
3. Do individual chapters read coherently from beginning to end?
Since Vine Lives: Oregon Wine Pioneers consists of separate profiles with a common theme my main concern was the internal structure of the chapters. If you are writing a non-fiction book where each chapter builds on the previous one you have to be careful to present facts and information in clear, linear fashion.
Your second read takes a closer look at A) style and B) voice.
This was critical in Vine Lives because style and voice are what give the profiles continuity. By the time I wrote the last profile my writing had matured. There were obvious stylistic differences between early and later chapters so, I rewrote. Usually your writing will get leaner and cleaner as you work, so often early chapters just need a good pruning. Rather than treat this as a dull duty take satisfaction in the fact your writing has improved. Showcase this better self.
Your third read should be a GAS: A) Grammar, B) Adjectives/Adverbs, and C) Spelling
Sure, you could hand your manuscript over to a professional editor or proofreader at this point, but if you do you lose a tremendous opportunity to enhance your craft. Writing is like playing an instrument. As a beginner, you go to a teacher or technician to tune your instrument. To become a master musician, though, have to develop your own ear. You have to know if you are transmitting at the right frequency. The key to mastery: practice, practice, practice. Eventually, like the Stones say, tuning your work will be a “Gas Gas Gas”.
Grammar: You don’t have to be formally trained in grammar to check your work. Lord knows, I’m not. Like magisterial prose stylist Joan Didion, I claim “grammar is a piano I play by ear”. Any avid, careful reader (much less writer) instinctively knows when a sentence sounds wrong. If you hit on an awkward phrase and aren’t sure how to put it right, get thee to Google. Most grammatical conundrums can be solved by internet these days.
Adjectives and Adverbs: Patrol your writing for inappropriate use of the two “A”s. Adjectives should not be a substitute for clear description; adverbs should not be a substitute for a decent vocabulary.
Example: In the Montinore chapter I wanted to write: “It was a glorious spring day”, because it was. “Glorious” is vague and subjective, though; “glorious” doesn’t tell the reader anything useful. This is what I wrote instead:
“Rhododendrons, lilacs, roses, cypress, oak, and weeping willow channel the earth’s exuberance into great bursts of foliage and color…. Chipmunks skitter on tree trunks, scolding the birds that loft saucily towards clouds hanging like puffs of whipped cream in the spring sky.”
As for adverbs, watch those “ly” endings. If things are “especially good” better they are “splendid” or “thrilling”, if “awfully bad” try “catastrophic” or “disastrous”, etc. Adverbs are for the most part lazy replacements for strong adjectives, which are themselves often substitutes for specific detail. Be aware of how you use language.
Spelling: Yes, spelling matters. No, you cannot rely on Microsoft-fucking-Word. A writer’s vocabulary should outstrip the paltry mechanisms of Microsoft, especially if you are writing about a technical or specialist subject, such as wine. By all means, run a spell check to correct any obvious typos, but rely on close reading and regular dictionary checks to ensure your words are saying what you think they are. Pin down inaudible differences (“compliment”, “complement”) in print, watch out for malapropisms (“prodigy” for “protégé”) and double check commonly misused words (“disinterested” for “uninterested”).
Now your work is ready for other readers. By all means, pass it around. Fresh eyes will spot incongruities to which you are blind, and generally have an overview you lack. Ask for specific feedback, e.g. “Does chapter three follow logically from chapter two?” or “Is the description of underwater basket weaving clear?” Accept comments dispassionately and with good grace. Remember, criticism of your writing is not criticism of YOU.
Once you’ve incorporated any suggestions and corrections, proofread. I’m a professional proofreader and sub-editor so I proofed Vine Lives myself. If you’re not a trained editor, farm it out to the best proofreader money can buy. You want a hawk-eyed pedant who will read every line of your book as if it were his/her billionaire uncle’s last will and testament. Let him/her correct your manuscript then read it one more time.
Is it perfect? Congratulations. You’ve edited a book. Pour yourself a glass of wine!
Share your editing tips in the comments.
Topic in hand, you’re ready for the next phase of writing your book: planning and research.
Before you begin go back to Step One: Choosing Your Topic and review this bit:
1) What kind of book do you want to write?
2) What research will you have to do? (e.g. What’s the gap between what you know and what you want to write?)
3) How much time do you want to devote to it?
4) What are your constraints?
These questions shape your research agenda. They will help you figure out what you need to know and who you’re going to ask.
In the case of Oregon Wine Pioneers my primary source was winemakers. I had to figure out who I was going to interview, why, where and when. My brother and I put our heads together and started making a list.
He’d had a nice bottle from A to Z Wineworks, so they went on the list. Plum Hill is a family favourite. I’d already interviewed the owner of Abacela for a different project. I went to Willamette Wines and made a list of potential subjects.
Don’t get too hung up on a particular angle, subject, or idea at this point. My initial contact list was probably 40 wineries. Of those, maybe 25 responded. In the end, I interviewed and wrote about 15 of them. Some people I contacted were enthusiastic then stopped answering emails; others were initially aloof but wound up being great subjects.
Depending on the project your primary research focus may be people, books, newspapers, archives, websites, films, police blotters, or YouTube videos. For each source or type of research consider the following:
1. Access: Is the information you need accessible in your area? Your language? Is it confidential?
2. Cost: Phone bills, gas money, subscription fees, printing/copying costs, buying equipment e.g. software, camera, etc
3. Time constraints: What’s your deadline? Is your topic time-sensitive? Are you limited by your work/travel schedule? Is certain information only available at certain times (for example, do you have to attend an event?)
For Vine Lives: Oregon Wine Pioneers my access was determined by the willingness of my participants, so that was straight-forward. Other resources such as existing Oregon wine and travel guides were available in the library or local book shops.
Costs included gas money, phone top-ups, office supplies, and sundries. The biggest expense was a high-grade Sony digital camera to ensure we’d have book-quality photos.
And I was working against the clock: with just six weeks in Oregon I had to schedule my interviews as efficiently as possible. This meant visiting adjoining wineries on the same day, in some cases.
Once you identify your access, cost and time constraints all that’s left to do is research.
You want to have more information than you “need” (remember what Hemingway said about the iceberg) but you don’t want to get bogged down in detail. Here’s a few tips:
-Go into every interview or research session with a list of questions
-Take copious notes
-Use a voice recorder
-Take photos (they’re great memory prompts even if you don’t use them in the book)
-Label your notes/photos/etc (e.g. “Jean Smith interview, July 3 2015, recorded and saved as file ‘JSmith 3/7’)
-Collect additional material (maps, brochures, clippings, ticket stubs, etc) in a file folders
-Gather everything that seems interesting and relevant (within reason) — you can edit later
Good luck! Share your research tips in the comments.