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Since the world revolves around me, let me say that there are two kinds of readers in the world: Those who read my first book first

Scenes from When Wanderers Cease to Roam

…and think that When Wanderers Cease to Roam is the kind of book I should always write…

More scenes from When Wanderers Cease to Roam

…and those who read my second book first

Scenes from Le Road Trip

…and think Le Road Trip isn’t as bad as the first kind of reader thinks it is.

More scenes from Le Road Trip

It’s like with me and Paul Weller. I first heard Paul Weller and LOVED him when he headed The Style Council, in the mid-1980s:

That’s Paul on the right, looking French/Suave in 1987.

With The Style Council, Paul Weller did music that dipped into his love of Motown and French existentialism. His stuff was very pretty, often sad, and richly melodic, very romantic.  His voice is mature and world-weary, tempered with self-knowledge and humor, and he sings like an old soul in an almost American accent.

It wasn’t until 15 years later that I discovered he had a first group, The Jam:

That’s Paul, on the right, looking English Mod/Punk in 1980.

With The Jam, Paul Weller mixed his deep roots in the Mod mode of pop/rock with songs that used the prevailing punk ethos to fuel the loud, urgent, and political music he made. Paul sang in a heavy London accent that had the rawness and allure of a young man bursting with a mission to change the world.

People who were Paul Weller fans in the early 1980s prefer The Jam over The Style Council. But because I got to know Paul Weller in his second incarnation first, rather than in his first manifestation first, I’ve never been able to understand that. I will always LOVE The Style Council first, even though I have way more Jam records (original vinyl, CD box set).

(I also have the Style Council box set, but I’ve spent much, much more time and money on eBay UK to find Jam rarities. But I listen more to  my Style Council CDs than I do The Jam, when not keeping up with Paul Weller’s amazing 20-year solo career.)

Paul Weller, 2012, still looking MY-T-Fine.

But getting back to me:

I am still learning a lot about book writing, and feedback from readers is the only way I’ll get any better because one thing’s for sure, I am never going to “workshop” a book in progress in a room full of writers. Other writers, in my limited but vile experience, are the worst critics. Either they are too mealy-mouthed because god forbid they tread on the fragile artist ego, or they are too embittered by the writing life  to be the least bit encouraging –

When the hell will I get some RESPECT from the Pulitzer Prize Committee???

– either way, writers are the most unreliable people out there in the Book World. That’s why I depend on my dear readers to keep it real. You readers are committed to books in a way that I totally understand. You depend on books to help you furnish a richly appointed inner life…

My lovely reader Janet B. puts both my first and second books to good use.

…or as accessories in a more literal sense. I totally get that.

Now, I have heard from readers who read my first book first that my second book suffers by comparison, in that Le Road Trip is not as free-ranging a narrative as the one they enjoyed in When Wanderers Cease to Roam. I completely accept that criticism: if I had been a more experienced writer maybe I could have trusted myself to wander off-topic as I moseyed around France. That is after all my experience of travel: your mind does wander much farther than your feet. As it was, I set myself the narrow goal of writing just about this one trip in France with occasional back flashes to my first few solo forays to my favorite foreign country, and within those parameters I am happy that I accomplished a book that takes my readers to places where we can share memories, dreams, desire, and wish lists of France. First things first, you know, and in this book my first priority was France.

The most delightful criticism I have read, so far, from a reader who read this second book first (and obviously did not know what she was in for) is that half-way though Le Road Trip she got tired of all the cats, already.

I rarely burst out laughing while reading a negative review, but this one made me almost choke on my tea. Forget travel, France, books: Life itself and yours truly IS NOTHING without cats.  Right? Well, at least Wanderers  had a cat on its cover, so fair warning there; maybe I should put a cat on the cover of my garden book:

…if I can fit one in. (No, that’s not the cover. That’s just a sampler, for Joan, who requested some pix of the Damn Garden Book).

But I thank all you readers who have suggested that I go back to my Wanderers roots and be more of a roamer in my next book, which will be somewhat easier to do than with the Damn France Book since the garden book is a travelog of the ten most unusual, interesting, dopey, intellectual, idiosyncratic, overwhelming, romantic, and inspiring gardens I’ve experienced in Africa, South America, Europe, and the USA.

But I do warn you that if you don’t like cats, you can not come with me to the special garden in Key West. Because (as I say in the Key West chapter), if you don’t like cats…

…you have no business hanging at in Key West. They are everywhere in the Conch Republic.

Thank you, Dear Commentors and Readers, for your get well wishes last week.  All the nuisance paperwork since the emergency room visit has been filed,  surgery is scheduled for next Friday, Top Cat has stocked the fridge with champagne and angel food cake for my recovery.

Question of the Day: Style Council, Or Jam? 1940s Frankie Sinatra teen idol or 1950 Chairman of the Board? Orlando Bloom blond Elf, or Orlando Bloom brunet pirate? Electric Dylan or Folkie Bob? Star Trek Next Generation Picard or Star Trek Original Kirk? OR BOTH?



23 comments to First Things First, Unless They Come Second.

  • Keep the cats.
    1950 Chairman of the Board
    Folkie Bob
    Hardly ever both.

    Glad to hear the leg is going to get fixed.

    :D :D

  • Carol

    First – best wishes for a very easy surgery experience and a FAST recovery. Second – Key West is gorgeous! Cats, everywhere – doesn’t the Hemingway house have like 60+ cats??? And Pumpkin and I vote for Penelope to pose for the cover of the garden book! Happy Friday!!

  • Deborah

    Both — I think both/and is a kinder, gentler world than either/or.

    You know, I’ve never reviewed your books on Amazon, and I kept wondering why I was reluctant to do so. The answer came to me the other day: because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and I just couldn’t find a way to articulate that (or, reviews usually focus on ‘the parts’). I kept imagining that if I wrote a review of Le Road Trip, I would say that it wasn’t the usual anemic (disappointing) 2nd book. I’m looking forward to the Damn Garden book in part because I think it will be different from the other two. And even though I’m a dog person, I’ve only seen cats smelling flowers: they definitely belong in the garden.

  • Cannot wait for the Garden book..I am a gardener..I cannot wait..
    When IS the date..? Not rushing you or anything..Love that collage w/ the dress and teacup..
    I painted a page of mittens this week..they look awful.
    Not that easy.
    Take care..All will be well says so on my refrigerator.

  • Well, if I were writing/illustrating my own adventures, there would be a wiener dog on every other page. But even though I’m a dog person, when I see your cats, I just think, “She must feel about cats the way I feel about wiener dogs, and boy howdy, aren’t those amazing cats?” Because they are.

    I admit to being one of the people who preferred Wanderers to Le Road Trip (though I did enjoy Road) mainly because I missed the surprises I kept getting in the first book, never knowing what would come next. I’m very much looking forward to the garden book, cats and all.

    Best wishes on your surgery/recovery!

  • I love Legolas. Why? Because he’s the only CLEAN THING in that trilogy of movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love those movies. Every muddy, dirty bit. But every time Orlando Bloom came on screen, it made me feel better knowing that there *was* the ability to wash up and scrub the day away in that world.

    But my six year old is convinced that HE is a SHE, which I find amusing. She sais he’s too clean to be a boy, which I somewhat agree with.

    (yes, tangent- couldn’t resist!)

  • Nadine

    Neither (Ella Fitzgerald, at any stage of her career, is better than Sinatra)
    No opinion
    Electric Dylan

    Keep the cats, but maybe some of them could be sort of hidden, like Al Hirshfeld used to do with NINA.

    And here’s to a safe surgery and a speedy recovery.

  • I love both books and can’t get enough of cats. So much for constructive criticism!
    Good luck on your surgery. I’ve never had surgery before but am going in for cataract surgery on the 25th. Yipes!
    Check out my blog if you remember Billy Al Bengston and Don Bachardy. (I’m sure do).

  • Sandy

    Bring on that Damn Garden book cats and all. I love all your work.
    And good luck with the damn leg -sure hope there is enough damn champagne and cake!!

  • I am one of those 1st book 1st readers who loved the second book. In actuality I am an artist so I would buy your books even if they were on kitty pans! I love your artwork and your wit. You can’t please everyone that’s for sure. Be true to yourself and that will shine through. You are a rock star in my book – especially that Champagne and angel food cake are your get well rx.

  • Nancy Brill

    I am a first/first type, but I enjoyed both books. They are different in style and intention, but each is a great example of what you set out to do. So make your garden book whatever it wants to be.
    And the cats need to stay.

  • Jeanne Rust

    Yum! Sneak previews of the damn garden book!

    My only complaint? Not enough cats; more cats all around. My fur-faced friendlies love the pages with the cats.

    Fourth book should be The Damn Cat Book.

  • Joan

    Yea! Yea! Thanks so much for indulging me/us with a sneak preview of the Damn Garden Book. I LOVE watercolor paintings of flowers and trees. What a beautiful book this will be.

    By all means, keep the Damn Cats…they belong with gardens. I was in Key West, didn’t seen one single cat…it was spring, maybe they were indulging in mating rituals?

    Chairman of the Board! No opinion on the other questions. I’ve only seen Orlando Bloom in one movie…it was with Paula Deen (Food TV network) I didn’t know who he was until she talked about him during an interview on ABC News.

  • Joan

    Oh, forgot to mention that I hope all goes well with the operation on The Leg…I’m sure the cats and the champagne and the angel food cake will have you feeling good in no time.

  • janet bellusci

    today’s opinion poll:
    no opinion;
    i agree with nadine – ELLA! ;
    bloom as pirate;
    ANY dylan;
    while picard is sexy, i pick SPOCK.

    this “extreme gardener” is looking forward to your damn garden book!

    heal well.

  • Barbara Lemme

    I have both books and do prefer the first. Maybe it was just the discovery of your work and the watercolors. I love the second because I was on the creative journey with you. But in the end, I think it is where we are in life that dictates what we enjoy most at that point. I’m so looking forward to more of the garden book even if I’m not a gardener. The watercolors and the wit grab me every time.

    Good luck with the surgery. I know the champagne and cake will help with your recovery.

  • Sally

    Having just tuned back in after some distractions, I am so sorry to hear about your accident and the need for surgery, and happy to have tuned in in time to hear that the red tape has been clipped away and that there is now a date where the healing process will begin.

    The reasoning behind the criticism of Le Road Trip as not being as far-ranging as Book 1 eludes me. If I pick up a book about France, what is it I expect to read about??? Sheesh.

    Yesterday in the supermarket I noticed a plastic bag in the produce section marked “Apples and Oranges.” Now, if I want some nice apples, I’d like to pick them out of a bin of apples, etc. And if I want a far-ranging book, one with “Wanderers” in the title seems like a good bet.

    But, of course there are similarities, W&W–wit and watercolors, and I expect to see them in a book about gardens or whatever interesting thing you pick up in the future.

    Best wishes for your surgery and recovery.

  • Tracey

    Orlando Bloom – I thought he was great as the crusader in Kingdom of Heaven. Get the director’s cut, which is very timely right now.

    Folkie Bob

    Star Trek Next Generation Picard or Star Trek Original Kirk – Both of course.

    The garden book looks BEAUTIFUL! Keep the cats.

    I liked the Damn France book because it made me really think about traveling in another country. I admired Top Cat because he didn’t seem at all affected by the French prejudice against how Americans dress. He knows how to enjoy himself.

    I also loved the trip to the forest, when you found the tiny stones and were so disillusioned. It reminded me of the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap. I couldn’t stop laughing.

  • christine

    Blessings for a speedy recovery.

  • This particular ex-punk has to pick The Jam (kinda like Joy Division vs. New Order… love them both, but… you know?)

    Get well soon.

    Cats rule.

  • Patricia

    First book, first love … but am crushing on Le Road Trip (and browsing thru my own photos of Paris). Go where you want and take us with you (with digressions and lots of charming paintings). And cats! Please give us tales of charming loveable cats.
    I provide service (feeding, litter box cleaning and constant belly rubs) to a cranky 17 lb inheritance promptly renamed “Shredder” as former name, “Snoopy” was far too snuggly and misleading… ah well, I’d rather have the world’s sweetest mother-in-law and inherit a psycho cat than the other way around…

  • Adorable, beautiful kitty paintings!

  • Too many choices for me – I’m completely confused by 1sts and seconds.
    I like em all and will certainly like the next one and the next all VERY MUCH.
    Yes, Bon Chance on Friday!
    Gawd it’s yr blogging day too :O
    I didn’t think you would be blogging horizontal as you currently are.
    I shall croisee les doigts on all accounts (1st, 2nd,cats, champagne etc.)!

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