Paper or Plastic – or Virtual?

My latest book, entitled “Arts & Crafts Shopmarks: 1895-1940,” is currently at the printer, where they are preparing a proof for me to approve, hopefully before Christmas. That would be a nice gift for me.

There’s an old joke about a famous author who was once asked which was his best book. He replied, without hesitation, “My next one.” The Shopmarks book will be my twelfth, yet I still get excited about seeing the proof for ‘my next one.’

A young bubbly reporter asked me over the weekend why, when I was her age, I left journalism. My answer, though nowhere near as pithy, was just as direct. “I wanted to write books.”

Journalism is a career. Writing books, I quickly learned, is an obsession.

Obsessions seldom send a regular paycheck.

“Keep your job,” I advised her.

I opened my chapter on Arts & Crafts lighting by declaring that Thomas Edison had more influence on the design of 20th century lighting than did Louis Comfort Tiffany. Prior to Edison, every lamp that Tiffany produced had to include an open flame, a device for controlling that flame, a glass chimney, a hole in the top of the shade for the chimney, and a bulky fuel oil tank. After that he could do whatever he wanted.

I am sure that someone has already said much the same thing about the influence Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have had on American business. They didn’t tell us how to design our businesses. They just eliminated the hole in the top of the shade. After that we could do whatever we wanted.

The computer continues to revolutionize both writing and publishing. I wrote my first book on a manual typewriter, then handed a corrected manuscript, full of notes in the margins, crossed-out lines, and arrows showing where words were supposed to be, over to a professional typist. What probably amounted to three drafts of the manuscript took nearly a month. Today I can do three drafts in a day.

Despite these revolutions, however, I cling to the printed page. I have no desire to write a book that can only be read on a computer. I have no interest in owning a Kindle or creating an ‘app’ (yet another new word for the next Oxford English Dictionary).

Of course, this is coming from someone who also resisted owning a cell phone, buying a digital camera, and creating a website, so take that for what it is worth….

And so it was that last night, as I watched the Baylor women hold off a determined Connecticut basketball team, I used that time to begin stuffing 12-page packets of information into envelopes. They will be mailed later this week to those of you who have already registered for the 25th National Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference.

To be certain, I could have saved a great deal of time and money, not to mention a few reams of paper, by simply announcing that the Information Packet could be found at But a part of my brain, obviously that which stems from my Cro-Magnon ancestors, still worries, “What if no one reads it online?”

And so it is that as the 25th Arts & Crafts Conference approaches in February, I find myself writing a Conference Catalog that will appear in print, stuffing reams of Information Packets into paper envelopes, and awaiting the arrival of fifty cases of the first edition of my latest book — all 328 pages of it.

Yet my Monday morning musings are being sent to nearly 20,000 of you with just a click of my keyboard. And no paper.

Ironic, eh?

Until next Monday,

Have a great week! (And stay out of the malls….)


For a preview of Arts & Crafts Shopmarks, which will be released at the Grove Park Inn in February, please go to