The past year has been quite a wild ride, as all of us can attest, and our lives have been turned upside-down in many unexpected ways. But among the lost opportunities and broken dreams, there is good. And thoughtfulness. And friendship.
I know that to be true. I’ve experienced it, in a way that I never expected.
Earlier this year, a friend reached out to me with a proposal that we writers are familiar with. “How’d you like to be a first reader of my new novel?” Dee Dauphinee asked, already suspecting that he had me hooked at the word “novel.”
Over the past few years, I’ve come to understand the book-writing process a bit better, having written one of my own, and having pitched in (as a first reader) on Dauphinee’s super-successful “When You Find My Body,” which is a story about lost hiker Geraldine Largay and her death on the Appalachian Trail.
Participating in someone else’s project, I’ve learned, is a lot of fun, and is a way of giving back to a writing (and reading) community that has been very supportive of my efforts.
There is, however, one little catch: First readers do what they do, and offer the feedback that they offer, without expectation of any payment. We do it because we love watching how words fit together, and how stories develop. And we do it because we’d like someone else to fill that role for us someday, when we dust off our own Great American Novel and try to get it ready to submit to an agent.
Over the course of several weeks, I read Dauphinee’s newest novel and suggested some in-depth edits on his thriller (which, of course, features a couple of fly fishing nuts). He dealt with my comments more gracefully than I would have, and both of us seemed satisfied with our progress as a team.
Then I moved along to other projects, and my full-time work.
On Christmas Eve, I heard a knock on my front door, and my wife opened it. There, on the step, was Dauphinee. And he came bearing gifts that were entirely unnecessary, but utterly amazing.
In a card, Dauphinee explained his take on first readers, and made it clear that while the editors make the money and first readers don’t get paid, it’s customary for the writer to give the first reader something to thank them for their efforts.
I gratefully took the gifts inside, thanked Dauphinee, and wished him a Merry Christmas.
And on Christmas Day, after the other gifts had been opened, I sat down to see what Dauphinee had brought.
It was a handmade shadow box containing a collection of fishing flies by some of the nation’s top tiers. Many were signed. Some were personal favorites that Dauphinee had collected over the last 45 years.
The box, he explained in an accompanying letter, was made from lumber salvaged from a cherry tree that he and his father-in-law cut down more than 20 years earlier. Bangor woodworker Paul Gallant created the shadow box, which features flies mounted on tiny corks, each labeled or signed.
Some of the tiers are famous — A.K. Best, Bob Clouser, Lefty Kreh, Jack Dennis and Selene Frohmberg. Other flies came from writers that Dauphinee met on the water. Included are flies he traded with Bud Leavitt and Tom Hennessey.
Needless to say, the shadow box will take a position of honor on a special wall in my home. The writers and anglers included in the collection are among my idols in their fields.
A second gift that Dauphinee brought was another unexpected gem: A copy of “Chickens, Gin, and A Maine Friendship,” which consists of the correspondence between E.B. White and famed Maine outdoors writer Edmund Ware Smith.
“You are a man of letters — I think you’ll enjoy reading these,” Dauphinee wrote on the flyleaf.
I have enjoyed them thus far, and I’m sure I’ll continue to enjoy them as I work my way through the book.
And thanks, Dee, for putting a nice bow on an otherwise difficult year.
Happy New Year to all.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.