Blogosphere

The future of Down the Road

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.

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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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

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My book, A Place to Start, is now available on Google Play, for those of you who prefer to buy that way and read on supported devices! Click the button below to get started.

Get it on Google Play

It is, of course, still available at:

A Place to Start is now on Google Play

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Now available: My new book, A Place to Start

My book is out!

I’m excited to announce that my new book, A Place to Start: Stories and Essays from Down the Road, is now available!

I’ve published it in paperback, for Amazon Kindle, as an e-book compatible with most other e-readers, and as a PDF. Here’s where you can get it:

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:

By the way: People who subscribe to my newsletter got advance notice when my book became available. If you’d like to get early notice of my future projects, sign up for my newsletter here!

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The cover of my next book, A Place to Start

I’m making slow but solid progress toward publishing my new book of stories and essays, A Place to Start. I’ve collected the best of my writing from this blog’s first two years, 2007 and 2008, and edited and sometimes rewrote it to make it better. I’ve also added photographs throughout, many of which I’ve never shared before!

I plan to release the book soon in print, Kindle, and PDF. I’m trying to figure out access for other e-readers, and I’m also thinking about recording it as an audiobook.

Every book needs a cover, and here’s the one I designed for A Place to Start.

I wanted the cover to stand out, so I used bold, golden letters on a textured brick-red background. I’m a bit of a typography geek, so I cycled through a whole bunch of fonts before I settled on this one: Berlin Sans. It’s a friendly font — I didn’t want something stuffy — but heavy enough to draw attention.

I’ve titled the book after this post I wrote about my first apartment. The photograph is me, aged 22, leaving that apartment one workday morning. My longtime friend Kathy had come to visit, and I would drop her at the airport on my way to the office. She made this photograph.

Side note: I’m amused to see how formally I dressed for my job in a software company. Our industry has always dressed more casually than the rest of the white-collar working world. But 30 years ago it was still common to wear slacks, a dress shirt, a tie, and a sport coat. We defied convention by skipping the tie and the coat! Today, T-shirts and jeans are normal. I am sometimes accused of being overdressed for the office because I pair a button-down sport shirt with my Levi’s.

Anyway, I’m working to release the book in November on paper, for Kindle, and in PDF. Stay tuned! I’m excited to put my stories into your hands.

If you take my monthly email newsletter, Back Roads, you’ve already seen this cover. On Back Roads I share a little more personally than I do here, and you get to see what I’m working on before everyone else. If you want in, sign up here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

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My next book, coming soon: A Place to Start

I’ve been writing this blog since 2007. It’s become largely about my hobbies: photography, old cameras, and old roads. But I’ve always written personal essays, that is, stories from my life and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. These posts never get the most pageviews, but you tell me time and again that they’re the ones you like best.

My next book collects the best stories and essays from this blog’s first two years, 2007 and 2008. My horrible first marriage had finally ended after a protracted and brutal divorce. I was left to build a new life, to go in a direction I didn’t foresee when I made my wedding vow, a direction I didn’t want. But our marriage was truly destructive. We weren’t able to fix what was broken about us. Our home was desperately unhealthy for everyone, including our children. The end of our marriage left us both broke, but in every other way our family was better off.

Down the Road, v. 1.0

I needed a hobby. Money was tight. Blogging was free. And so I started to write my stories and share them here. Not the ones from the bad marriage — I decided straight off that I would not air our dirty laundry, would not work through my pain by sharing its causes with the world. It would have been cathartic to do it, as my ex had done some breathtakingly awful things. But I had done some breathtakingly awful things, too. I didn’t want her telling my stories. I wasn’t going to tell hers.

Instead, I wrote about my childhood and my young adulthood. I wrote about the challenges of adapting to newly single life. I also wrote about my faith, which the divorce challenged to the core. Through it I lost my childish ideas of what following God was about, and gained a genuine, sustaining relationship with my creator.

Reading the Sunday funnies in my living room, age 22

I’m titling the book A Place to Start. It’s the same name as a story I first published a month after I started this blog. You can read that story here. I wrote of my first apartment after graduating from engineering school and landing a job. I lucked into a great apartment, one much nicer than my meager income could ordinarily have afforded. There I figured out a new adult life. There I also started to see some of the baggage I was carrying from my childhood — baggage that led me to form unhealthy relationships. I began the hard work to change my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, so I could be a better man. That apartment truly was a place to start.

I’m on track to publish my book in November. When you read it, you’ll see that neither I nor my blog had fully found our voices yet. But I had started. There is so much power in starting. From there, you can find your way. You can’t find your way until you start.

With this book I start my publishing journey. Who knows where it will take me? I get to enjoy finding my way with it, just as I still enjoy finding my way with my blog. Just as, now that I can look back on it, I enjoyed building a new life after my marriage ended.

Blogging for so many years has made me a much better writer. As I laid these stories and essays into this book, I revised them all to better tell my story and to make it more interesting.

I think everybody’s life is interesting — yours too. It’s all in how you tell the stories. I’m an ordinary man with an ordinary life, but these stories together form a memoir that tells how rich even an ordinary life can be.

I’ll share more about A Place to Start in the weeks to come as I finish it and prepare it to be published. I have a lot to figure out between now and then!

If you take my monthly email newsletter, Back Roads, you already knew I was working on this book. I even offered you the chance to review an early draft of it, and give me feedback. On Back Roads I share a little more personally than I do here, and you get to see what I’m working on before everyone else. If you want in, sign up here.

I dipped my toe into the publishing waters a couple years ago by releasing two books of my photographs. If you’re interested, have a look at them here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

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