They say that you can sell anything you believe in. I very much believe in my writing and photography, as evidenced by my nearly 15-year-old blog.
Over the last few years I’ve begun publishing books of my writing and photography. I believe in my creative work so much that I want it to find a wider audience beyond the blog.
Yet somehow, I’d rather break all of my fingers than market, promote, and sell those books! It’s deeply uncomfortable for me.
Sometimes I force myself to do it. Like today. You may not know about the books I’ve published, and they’re all lovely. If you enjoy my blog, you will enjoy my books!
Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME 2017, 8½”x11″, 44 pages, $12.99 on Blurb.com.
My first book set out to prove that exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it.
Textures of Ireland 2018, 8½”x11″, 36 pages, $12.99 on Blurb.com.
Ireland is a country of color — especially green, in astonishing shades across its rolling countryside. Yet I shot black-and-white film all over that country, looking for light and shadow. What I got was a set of images with such texture that you want to touch them. When you do, you’ll be surprised not to feel the textures in your fingertips, as if they were pressed into the pages in relief.
A Place to Start 2020, 6″x9″, $14.99 paperback, $9.99 e-book, $7.99 PDF, on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play, and Leanpub.com
When my always difficult marriage finally ended in a brutal, protracted divorce, it nearly crushed me. I started writing as a way of processing everything that happened. I published my writing on this blog and let friends and family know. This blog was a place to start building a happier life. This book collects the best stories and essays from the blog’s first two years. They’re ordinary stories of an ordinary life, well told.
The modern American suburban subdivision is all about cheerful homes. But so many of them are built to a minimum standard and it shows. I take an unflinching look at one such neighborhood in central Indiana in a photo essay that strips bare its banality.
It’s a photo essay about the suburban neighborhood I live in — a vinyl village. That’s where the title comes from: Vinyl Village. It’s a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the point of view of many, many walks I took through the neighborhood studying it closely.
If your country isn’t listed, go to your country’s Amazon site and search for Jim Grey “Vinyl Village”. If that doesn’t work, try the URL https://www.amazon.XX/gp/product/B09JJKG225/, where you replace the XX with your country’s domain.
I’m pleased to be able to price Vinyl Village at just $9.99. (It’s priced equivalently in other countries.) Publishing on Amazon is key to me being able to offer the book at this price. Amazon takes a much smaller cut than services like Blurb, which I have used in the past. I’ll write more about my experience publishing a photo book on Amazon in a future post.
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“Vinyl village” is a pejorative term for the kind of suburban neighborhood I live in: curved streets filled with frame houses, all swathed in vinyl with some brick decoration. Generally, the houses are built to a minimum standard. They are up to code, but in the least expensive possible way.
But the book isn’t about construction standards. It’s about the way the houses are built to be attractive from the front, but the sides and the back are huge swaths of vinyl interrupted only by the occasional, randomly placed window. It’s also about how the houses are arranged on the land, revealing the vinyl-slathered sides and backs of dozens and dozens of houses and making private back yards hard to come by. Finally, it’s about the high-voltage power lines and the petroleum pipeline that run through, and the Interstate highway that borders it.
For a neighborhood that has this many challenges, it sure has no trouble attracting residents. Houses for sale here frequently sell the day they’re listed. It’s rare for one to stay on the market longer than a week. It’s because this neighborhood is the least expensive way to own a home in what is otherwise a wealthy suburb with well-regarded schools. Few of us get to live in our dream homes. We find the best situation our finances allow, and if we are fortunate, we like it well enough.
Come take a look at my neighborhood. It’s so quintessentially American.
More details, and how to get your copy, at Midnight Star Press here.
My photo essay book, Vinyl Village, is available! Click here to learn more and get a copy!
If you take my monthly newsletter, Back Roads, you read this a couple weeks ago. The main point of Back Roads is to give subscribers previews of what I’m working on and let them be the first to know when I publish a new book. I’m also a little more personal there than I am here. If this sounds good to you, sign up here!
On February 7 my blog will turn 14. When I started it, I had no idea where it would go or how long it would last. I wrote about whatever I wanted and hoped I’d attract an audience. I paid attention to which topics got the most interest, whether in pageviews or in comments. I wrote about those topics more, and l left behind topics that readers ignored.
My blog has had four phases over the years:
the “I’m not sure what I want this blog to be” phase
the “I hope to become Internet famous by writing about old roads” phase, which failed
the “I hope to become Internet famous by writing about old film-photography gear” phase, which is how I became best known, though it falls short of full Internet fame
a phase where I gave up on Internet fame and leaned instead into building community around the topics I’m interested in, which has succeeded
It feels like this blog could be entering its fifth phase. I don’t know what it is just yet, or what to call it. But I’m starting to lean harder into publishing books of my photographs and writing, and that has implications for this blog.
My next book will be of photographs I made last summer around my neighborhood. I never wanted to live in a modern suburban neighborhood like this one. I’m a city boy through and through. But it made practical sense to move here when I married Margaret, as she was already here and it let her youngest finish at his high school.
Egad, but do these houses ever feel flimsy. Even a moderate wind makes my house creak and pop. In a strong wind, you can feel the house flex and twist, especially upstairs. It’s appalling.
But that’s not what my next book is about. Instead, I’ll show you what you see as you walk this neighborhood. From the front, every street looks fresh and cheerful — stiff neighborhood regulations ensure it. But walk this neighborhood, especially the main road that loops around it, and you’ll see that everything’s not so pretty. An Interstate highway borders it, bathing half the neighborhood in the sound of heavy traffic. A high-voltage electrical transmission line cuts through, its towers visible from most angles. A natural gas and a petroleum pipeline also cut through, creating wide gaps between houses. Houses back up to the main loop road; a low fence isn’t enough to obscure all the backs of those houses. Because of the way the houses are arranged, and because of the electric and gas lines cutting through, the backs of lots of houses are exposed. A private back yard is hard to come by here. From the back, these houses just look cheap — too few windows, huge swaths of vinyl.
I really noticed the beauty and banality of my neighborhood last spring and summer. I worked from home thanks to COVID-19, and to keep active I took walks and bike rides around the neighborhood. I brought cameras along to document what I saw. I felt sure there my photographs could be arranged to tell this neighborhood’s story.
Also, I want to work on another book of essays and stories culled from this blog. I don’t know if I can deliver both books in 2021, but both are on my mind.
I also have an idea for a book about how to use a blog to share your creative work, find other people who do similar creative work, and build a community. Who knows, I might slot that in before the next book of stories and essays.
Sometimes I experience a creative flurry and write a whole bunch of posts in a short time. That happened to me in November and December last year. By last Christmas I had written posts for this blog through my blog’s anniversary date. I wrote most of this newsletter on Christmas Eve!
Other times I burn out a little on creative pursuits. That’s happened to me this month. I had hoped to produce the photo book by now, but I’ve done very little.
I have only so much time to work on my blog and my books. I have a full-time job and a family. The more I lean into books, the less time I have for blogging.
For now, I’ll keep my blog’s six-day-a-week schedule. I know the world doesn’t hang in the balance of me publishing as often as I do. But when I publish this often, you respond with the most visits and comments. When I publish less, I get less of both. When I publish more, interestingly I don’t get more of either. Six a week is the sweet spot.
Besides, this blog is how most people know me. And I love writing in it. I can’t imagine stopping. But depending on how my budding publishing career goes, I can imagine writing in it less often someday. Or maybe I’ll be incredibly fortunate and end up like Mark Evanier and John Scalzi, who both write for a living and write in their blogs several times a day. Oh, probably not; I love what I do for a living and am not looking to change it. But it’s a fun dream.
I will keep writing about the same things. Sometimes I’ll publish something on the blog that I know will end up in a book someday.
A Place to Start is available on Amazon worldwide, so if I didn’t link to your country above, search Amazon in your country for “A Place to Start Jim Grey.”
This book collects the best stories and essays from this blog’s first two years, 2007 and 2008. Those were hard years for me, personally, as I was rebuilding my life after my destructive first marriage ended horribly. I wanted to run away, but my two young sons needed me. I had to find a way to push through. Writing these stories and essays helped me make sense of all that had happened so that I could find a good path forward.
I’m not an optimist. I tend to dwell on the negative. Writing these stories and essays helped me find the good in things that happened. It’s why I keep writing — life can be genuinely hard sometimes, and finding the good helps me keep going.
Whenever I publish stories and essays, you tell me in the comments that you find them to be encouraging, and that they really connect with you. That’s really the nicest compliment you can give me! I’m glad to offer you something positive for your own life.
I’ve illustrated this book with the best photographs I could find, ones that relate well to each story and essay. They’re in black and white in the paperback, but in the electronic editions they’re all in color.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy for yourself. Again, here’s where you can get it: