Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Dad the Author

My dad wrote a book. It’s difficult to say those words in the appropriate way. Obviously, I’m very excited and want to share my pride with the world – "Hey everyone, my dad wrote a book!" At the same time, I think back over my life and not once did I ever think he’d be wearing a name tag stating "Keith Estep…Author" while signing his name to his own work at a book fair. With that thought, my expression is more like, "MY dad wrote a book?"

Dad was always very creative. I recall him always drawing something. Many times, it was work-related. He was a draftsman for Monsanto Chemical Company for most of his working life…and he often worked on his drawings at his large wooden drafting table in the basement. But he could also be found in the same place working on a more artistic ink drawing and an occasional charcoal drawing or acrylic painting. I know I’m biased, but when it came to ink drawings of old buildings and covered bridges (a phase that lasted through the 1970’s), he was incredible. He even sold his prints at a couple of local arts and crafts fairs…along with an assortment of other crafts and macramé created by my brother and his high school buddy…in a booth called "Jedz Place". (JEDZ stood for Jeff Estep and David Z. (I can’t remember his last name)…my brother and his best friend). Dad, of course, made the sign…with a supplement sign stating "featuring Covered Bridges of West Virginia, by Keith Estep." In addition, his kitchen (and mine) still features some ink drawings of fruit, vegetables and sunflowers. It wouldn’t have surprised me if some day, Dad MIGHT have a book…but a coffee table book of his drawings. So with this in mind, my thought becomes, "My dad WROTE a book?"

I won’t go into the character of my dad. For that…well…read the book. You’ll discover what makes him tick. You’ll discover events of his life that made him the man he is today, and events that even I never knew until he put them on paper. To understand my dad and to understand myself a little, I’m glad that my dad wrote a book.

His book is titled "Growing Up in Nitro." Nitro is a small town in West Virginia that was literally born overnight during World War 1 around an emerging ammunitions plant. He grew up there after the WW1 boom had gone bust and the town was trying to find its way. To quote the blurb, it’s a book about "basketball, bad guys, and carnivals; circuses, dating, and town characters; games, friends, and sibling rivalries; good guys, grade school, and gym class; high school, hunting, and junior high; medicine shows, mischief and puberty; religion, romance, and school nurses; football, teachers, and tent meetings; the Depression, the War, and fishing." Another promotional blurb states, "if you grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, this story will bring back memories. If you are younger, this story tells how Mom and Dad grew up. You might be surprised!" You know what? I was very surprised…and entertained…and touched…and proud. I’m tempted to make and wear a tee-shirt that states, "My dad wrote a book."

Dad began writing his book not long after my mom passed away in January 2005. He told me once that he was writing a journal of sorts in an effort to keep memories of Mom alive. He loved her like no one could ever imagine loving someone else. You’ll discover that when you read the book. I was fortunate to witness it my entire life. Anyhow, he began to put his heart into the writings and he solicited the help of my brother and his wife to type up his words. After about a year, he had a compilation of stories that were separated by topics; junior high school, fishing, religion, high school, dating, and a wide assortment of additional topics. He included some drawings to depict each chapter, and included some old photos of his parents, brothers, sister and Mom. He also had a list of every person mentioned in the book and what page. I found the latter item to be pretty cool, because I was able to see names in one list that I had heard of over the years…and then instantly refer to such a story. He made multiple copies and sent them to all his existing family and some additional friends. The response was more than he expected…everyone wanted another copy to share with others. Word had spread that my dad wrote a book.

Sometime in late 2005 or early 2006, Dad took a writing course ("just for something to do" as he told me at the time) given by Geoff Fuller, an accomplished local author. Based on what he learned, Dad realized he could write a better story. So, he did. Mr. Fuller, for some reason, took Dad under his wing and helped him greatly. He provided contacts for editing and typing and pretty much guided Dad through the entire publishing process. Eventually, my dad commissioned Geoff for the final steps, knowing that Mr. Fuller could provide a faster path through his experience than Dad ever could as a new comer. It wasn’t much longer that a cover was designed and all the details were in place for the final printing. On October 16, 2006, dad received over 500 copies of his book. My dad had finally written a real book.

My brother and I surprised my dad at the West Virginia Book Festival last week on Oct 21. Jeff lives in northern Ohio and I live in North Carolina, so our arrival was certainly a surprise and well received. We both had separately planned to make the trip, which is a testimony to the pride we both have for Dad and the need to share this moment with him. It was fun to watch him speak with a couple of patrons as he signed a copy of his book. He only sold six books on that Saturday…but he already had received orders for 90 prior to the show. Considering his book actually printed only four days before the show, I’d say he’s had really good early success. He shared the booth at the fair with Geoff and his wife, Karin Fuller, a columnist for the Charleston Gazette (and I recommend checking out her blog at ). Karin’s daughter was also selling her own book at the fair, and she’s only 9 years old. (See Karin’s blog for more info). It was a sight to see two authors signing their first book in the same booth…one being 9 years old and one being 72. That little girl wrote a heck of a book, but my dad also wrote a book.

After that first day of the fair, Dad took my brother and me out to dinner. It was the first time that just the three of us had been together without our extended families since Mom passed away. While we ate our home-style dinners, we commented that Dad still had his nametag on his shirt. He took it off in an embarrassing way as most people would do and we had a good chuckle over it. Most of the discussion was about the whole surreal experience of Dad being an author, and some of his experiences leading up to that day. At that time, some passing acquaintance of Dad’s passed by and said hello. They walked on and we joked that "gee, didn’t they realize he wrote a book?" Suddenly, that person turned around and said, "Oh…by the way, I heard you wrote a book." Jeff and I had to stifle our laughter but Dad just smiled, stood up, and talked all about it. Yep, my dad sure did write a book.

I left West Virginia early on Sunday so that I could get back to my own family. I had a six-hour drive ahead of me, Dad had another half day at the fair ahead of him and Jeff was going to head back to Ohio. While passing through my hometown, I stopped by my mom’s gravesite. I was a bit more emotional than I thought I would be as I laid some yellow carnations on the ground, but then again it’s only been less than two years since her passing. I told her how much her grandkids were growing, told her how much we all missed her, and then turned around to leave. But before I walked away, I faced her once more. "Mom, you would be so proud of Dad, I know I am. My dad wrote a book."

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I always thought that I was the one with the talent for writing, and you for drawing. But you've made me proud. This, as well as the other entries, are really great. I couldn't have said it better myself (well... maybe a little better!) ;-)