by Jeff Weddle
My first book was two folded sheets, eight pages, counting the front and back covers, cheap paper photocopied with my poems and bound with two staples. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I was lonely and broke and living in a busted up trailer In Oxford, Mississippi, sending my poems out like crazy, occasionally getting an acceptance from some small magazine or another.
One of the coolest little mags of the day was called Impetus. It was beautiful and raw and hip and groovy, published in Stow, Ohio by Cheryl A Townsend, better known in those days as CAT. I had tried Impetus several times over the years and eventually placed a poem there. That was a really big deal to me, and I guess that acceptance gave me the idea to send CAT a big wad of poems written around the idea of Barbie dolls being the root of all evil.
I hoped she might take one or two but, to my great shock, she took them all and wrote me that she was going to publish them as a stand alone booklet.
Booklet, hell! To me, this was a book. My first book.
And so I checked my mailbox every day, waiting, waiting, waiting. It seemed like years. It seemed longer than that. It seemed like forever. I was going crazy with need. I HAD to hold this thing in my hands. And, one fine day, it arrived, a smallish box with a return address of Cheryl Ann Townsend, Implosion Press, Stow, Ohio.
I stood staring at the box, but couldn’t bring myself to open it. After the wait, not just since the poems were accepted, but since the first time I picked up a pencil and knew I wanted to be a writer, I couldn’t do it that fast. I had to celebrate. I gathered myself up and took the box — the treasure — to Captain D’s, the best restaurant I could afford. Even then, I waited. It was only after I got my food and was seated in a booth that I finally opened it. Inside was my glorious, precious book. Hell yes, it was a book, even at eight pages. It had a title, Not Another Blonde Joke, and it had my name on the cover.
I read through it three or four times before it seemed real. I wish I could describe how I felt that night, but I don’t have the words. The best I can offer is that it made me believe in myself in a way that I never could before. It made me feel like a success. Like an author.
I thought of this tonight after watching the recent version of Little Women with my wife and son. The last shot of the film has Jo March, unspeaking, holding her novel for the first time. There is something fierce in her silence. Just for a second, before the scene fades and the credits roll, she holds her mouth in such a way that speaks more than words could convey. It is pride. Accomplishment. Vindication. All of that and so much more.
That’s how I felt holding that eight page, photocopied jewel almost thirty years ago. I’ve published a number of books since that day, real books that no one would quibble about, and have loved each of them. I have marveled at these books as I held them for the first and second and hundredth time, but nothing can top how I felt in that Captain D’s booth that fine Mississippi evening, holding the first one in my hands. Finally.
It was beautiful.
So, this is to offer an embrace to my fellow writers and to the small press editors and publishers out there who make dreams come true. And it is especially for CAT, one of the greats. My first real publisher.
Jeff Weddle grew up in Prestonsburg, a small town in the hill country of Eastern Kentucky. He has worked as a public library director, disc jockey, newspaper reporter, Taekwondo teacher, and fry cook, among other things. His first book, Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), won the Eudora Welty Prize and helped inspire Wayne Ewing's documentary, The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press (Wayne Ewing Films, 2007), for which Weddle served as associate producer. He is also the author of an award winning short story collection, When Giraffes Flew (Southern Yellow Pine, 2015). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in dozens of venues, including the anthologies Surreal South '13 (Press 53, 2013); Pressure Press Presents (Pressure Press, 2014); Stovepiper Book One (Stovepiper Books, 1994) and Mondo Barbie (St. Martin's Press, 1993). Weddle's most recent books are two poetry collections from Nixes Mate Books, Comes to This, and Heart of the Broken World, both published in 2017. An earlier collection of poetry, Betray the Invisible (OEOCO, 2010), is a limited-edition, fine press book handcrafted by master book artist Mary Ann Sampson. He is also the author of a chapbook of Barbie poems, Not Another Blonde Joke (Implosion Press, 1991), and co-author of The Librarian's Guide to Negotiation: Winning Strategies for the Digital Age (Information Today, 2012). Jeff Weddle is an associate professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama.