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Fossil Dreams

May 24, 2011

In my May 21, 2011 entry, I wrote about “The Saga of Selected Lives” – the first book I wrote for publication. After my initial failure to get it published in 1986, I began work on book number two. I decided to pull together my drawings and writings about fossils, fossil collecting, time, and the beauty of nature into one illustrated volume, to be called “Fossil Dreams.”

This book featured poetry and fanciful artwork, as well as straightforward sketches of my collecting sites and the fossils I found there. Descriptions of my collecting experiences were also included, but no specific locality info. I also planned to use some of the drawings of prehistoric animals from “Selected Lives: The Autobiography of a Soul.”

I was much less confident when I began to approach publishers and agents about this book than I had been with “Selected Lives,” but modesty did me no favors. Again there were no takers. However, an editor at Johns Hopkins University Press by the name of Anders Richter saw something he liked. He said that, if I removed the poetry and whimsical drawings and rewrote the book as a guide to collecting in the region, Hopkins might accept it.

After some agonizing, I decided to accept the opportunity and do the revisions, which involved preparing another 13 locality drawings and giving away the location of most of my sites. The result was “Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic States” (see my May 19, 2011 entry). I managed to sneak in 4 poems and a few whimsical illustrations, but it seemed that “Fossil Dreams” was not going to be.

Several years later, I wrote a children’s book entitled “The Magic Beach” about a boy and girl encountering prehistoric animals at the beach. This book was also universally rejected, but it did contribute some more fossil-related pictures to my stack of unpublished material.

By about 10 years ago, I had learned enough about building web sites to attempt a digital version of “Fossil Dreams,” featuring cool mouseovers and animations. I put this on CD and on my website and tried to sell it as an ebook. I got some very nice reactions from people, but ebooks were still in their infancy and my webmastering and marketing skills were not exactly state of the art even then, so this version lapsed into obscurity.

Finally in 2007, flush with my defiant publication of “Selected Lives,” I decided to self-publish “Fossil Dreams.”  I included most of my unpublished poems and pictures – and even used some sketches I did as a teenager and scans of actual fossils. Sales have been modest, but the book has had some great moments.

Most memorable was having the book reviewed by two successive 5th grade classes taught by Jim Jenkins at Mountain View Elementary School in Purcellville, Virginia. Mr. Jenkins read some of the book to his students and had them write down their reactions and send them to me. The results were amazing – often hilarious, usually insightful, and always entertaining. I hadn’t thought of “Fossil Dreams” as a children’s book, but they definitely got it.

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