The fifth time’s the charm. Maybe.

It’s down to me now. All the others are done with their work. It’s time for me to get it done and get it right. I’ll get it as right as can. I’ve invested too much to not give the final stretch my best shot.

The fifth proof copy of A Housefly in Autumn hit my mailbox yesterday. That’s right, the fifth proof. As I said, I’ve invested a lot.

The beginning of the end?

Will the fifth proof be the last? Cross your fingers.

This copy is mine and mine only. All the skilled people I’ve been fortunate to have help me have done what they could. It’s just me and my book.

There’s something liberating in this. I’m back in control of the pace of things. I don’t have to wait for anyone else. The people who’ve helped me have been more expeditious than I had any right to ask, but waiting any length of time is hard when you’re eager to get on.

There’s also something daunting in it. I’m the last line of defense against little errors hidden in the text. Whatever gets past me this time becomes dirty laundry hung out for the public to see.

Thus begins the first of the “pins and needles” readings. If I find no more errors, I am free to release the book for sale. That would be a happy accomplishment, marred only by nagging doubt about the one I missed. Or the two, depending upon how susceptible I feel to nagging from the back of my mind.

The even more intense pins and needles will happen the first time I look at the book after it has been published, when every page holds a potential embarrassment, despite all my efforts to eliminate them.

My goal as a self-publisher is to produce books that deserve a spot on the same shelf as those published by Random House or any of the other big names. I haven’t reached this goal yet, but with each book, I think I get a little closer. But I still make mistakes, and in self-publishing you don’t get to blame mistakes on your publisher; you can only blame yourself.

I do blame myself, but then I do my best to fix it, learn something, and move on. There’s another story to write. And if that story turns out to be worth publishing, there’s another book to produce.

This means more hard work writing, more tedious work editing, more finding the right people to help, more waiting while those people do what they do, more frustration at getting it all to fit together, and more pins and needles at the end when the skivvies are hung out to dry before the eyes of all who wish to look.

But all that is for tomorrow. For today I have a fifth proof to make as right as I possibly can, so I can inch a little closer to Random House and to saying I know what I’m doing as a writer and a publisher. Wish me luck.

He was a good bear before Hollywood got to him

As a child, I never took interest in Winnie-the-Pooh. My only exposure to what seemed a hopeless band of anthropomorphic misfits was television. TV convinced me Pooh was merely a chubby ne’er-do-well with no sense or self-discipline, who would accidentally strangle himself if left to his own devices.

His friends were no more interesting. There was some kind of mule with chronic fatigue syndrome, whose pity parties wore thin. There was a pig in a sleeveless jumpsuit, and a boy who looked like he needed to eat some meat and potatoes.

I don’t remember all the characters because I never enjoyed the films. I began avoiding Winnie and his crew. I avoided them without a backward glance for about 40 years.

Then a thoughtful person gave my son a Winnie-the-Pooh storybook. I had never consider Pooh as literature because I’d been turned off by him as television. Having seen what Hollywood did to Tarzan and The Little Mermaid this isn’t surprising.

When my son asked me to read from his Winnie-the-Pooh treasury, I winced. I wanted to make up the story instead of reading it. I wanted to say, “Once upon a time there was this ridiculous bear who only wanted honey, and since he had no sense and he could not control his desires, he got his head stuck in a pot of honey and had to live with his head inside the pot for the rest of his pitiful life. The end. And let that be a lesson to you, young man.”

I did not say this; that would have been lazy parenting, and the boy’s mother was sitting within earshot. I did the honorable thing: I tried persuading the boy he would prefer Green Eggs and Ham. When that failed, I sighed and began reading.

To my surprise, the literary Winnie-the-Pooh is quite well done. This Milne fellow knew how to tell a story with charm. Winnie is not nearly so vacuous as in his films. He makes up witty little songs, and though he possesses less forethought than is to be hoped, he does spend some time on afterthought.

Humble Winnie

They were simple times, before all the glamor and glitz, but they were good times. (Image: E. H. Shepard)

Rabbit’s desire to keep his home free of unwanted visitors is relatable to any middle-aged man. The only thing that would make him more perfect is if he came to the door waving an 80-year-old shotgun he never owned shells for.

I remember Piglet to have been portrayed as cowardly on TV. TV didn’t uncover the real depth of Piglet. Piglet has a keen sense of discretion. He is willing to accompany Pooh in pursuit of a couple of potentially hostile Woozles, but when he and Pooh are outnumbered he reads the writing on the wall. Piglet knows how to count and when to cash out. Now, if only he would cash out of that 1920s bathing suit.

We haven’t met Eeyore yet. No doubt, he will turn out to be a grizzled veteran of the Boer War, suffering from a tail wound and in constant pain from a bullet lodged in his hip. What once seemed like incessant complaining will surely be words of wisdom from a hero of the siege of Kimberley.

Though we got off to a rocky start, I like Pooh now. I like the way his stories are written. There is a unique talent for storytelling in the books. I hope it doesn’t take my boys 40 years to appreciate that.