I guess the way people normally do things is that, when they finish a big project, they kick back and catch their breath for a while. I guess I’ve never been good at that. So it turns out I’m writing another book. No, not the novel. Another one.
When I got back from my first season on the ice, I found myself giving talks about the South Pole to elementary schools, high school STEM days, community centers, public libraries and even a couple of international “thought leader” retreats. It’s been enormous fun, and I seem to have a knack for getting everyone from kindergarteners to nonagenarians to former members of Congress excited about life and science on the frozen continent.
Everyone kept asking if/when I was writing a book about it, and I kept saying “Yeah, some day, sure.” But then I heard that the NSF’s Antarctic Artists & Writers grant program had been renewed. They don’t give you money – they give you access. A chance to go back to the ice, back to the places where only scientists can go: Mt. Erebus, the Dry Valleys, out on the ice shelf and the meteorite fields of La Paz. The South Pole.
I immediately knew that, if I was ever going to write this book, I needed that grant. And the proposal deadline was…May 1st, just over two months away. Criminy.
Now, it’s been over 25 years since I’ve written an NSF grant proposal, and that was for an itty-bitty bit of computer science research. This needs to include a broad plan for traversing an entire continent, letters of support from all the research teams I’m planning to interact with, an online media plan and a publisher who’s agreed to take on the result of what I created.
Wait – what?!? I need to have a book deal lined up? For a book I haven’t even written yet? Yup. Crap. How long do I have now?
Needless to say, I’m scrambling. It takes most people years to get a book deal. I’ve got five weeks. Three, if you count the time I’m going to be away in Cuba next month. (Did I mention Devon and I were going to Cuba? These things tend to get away from me. Geez.)
I spent four frantic days last week putting together a book pitch package for Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ice: Science in Antarctica. I’ve got my elevator pitch, synopsis, table of contents, competitive market analysis and sample chapter. And now, in parallel with preparing the grant, I’m pleading, bribing seducing and blackmailing for all I’m worth to get introductions to suitable publishers, most of whom won’t even return email if you don’t have either a proven track record or incriminating pictures of them.
I do think I’m starting to turn the corner, though. My favorite editor on the planet (thank you thank you thank you!) reintroduced me to an old family friend who may be able to help, and I’m starting to pick up a few leads beyond as well. The thing is, the more I work on this pitch, the more I’m believing that this book needs to be written, and that I’m the person to write it. It’s become a little, well, all-consuming.
I promise that I’ll be chronicling our travels around the Pearl of the Antilles as internet access permits, but alas, other than that, I’m afraid the blog is going to be a little quiet until I come up for air in May.
Oh, in the meantime: as a reward (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) for reading this far down, I should mention that I put a short piece about Liberia up on Medium.com a few days ago. Warning: it’s a bit, um, heavy.