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If you’re counting – and I don’t know why you’re not – you know that this is my 728th column and also the beginning of my column’s 15th year.
It was June 1, 1995 that my first column – called Half a bubble off plumb – first ran in daily newspaper somewhere in western Maine.
I started writing the column with the idea of eventually having them collected into a book. While shopping those early columns around I learned a lot about getting books published.
One publisher said he was definitely interested in publishing a collection of my columns and said he could do it “quick and cheap.” I said, “quick and cheap, what are you, Walmart or something?”
He said he would staple the pages together in the middle like a town report and we could sell them for about $7 each. . I told him I’d think about it.
Another publisher said he was ready to publish my columns but at a final meeting to discuss details he said: “I just want you to know, John, that I don’t do bar codes on my books.”
“Excuse me?” I said. “Bar codes? Why don’t you use bar codes?” I asked, a little surprised.
He said it was just his little protest.
I said, “I’m sorry but I’ve got to have bar codes on my books. It’s a small thing but my book must have bar codes.”
So much for that book deal.
For those who don’t know, a bar code, according to Wikipedia, is an optical machine-readable representation of data. It’s the thing that sales clerks now look for and scan at every retail establishment in the world.
A publisher in Massachusetts said he wasn’t interested in publishing a collection of columns but asked if I’d be interested in writing a Maine dictionary.
I said I would be interested and then spent the next five months pounding out what became The Maine Dictionary; a humorous look at Maine words and phrases, published in the summer of 2000.
The dictionary was a big hit but about four months after my book came out the publisher started having financial problems. He owed rent on the warehouse where he kept his books and even though he had all kinds of orders for my book the warehouse owner wouldn’t release them until the rent was paid.
I wont bore you with more gory details except to say The Maine Dictionary now has a new and very successful publisher – Commonwealth Editions of Beverly, MA – and the book is doing just fine, thank you.
Eventually, Dean Lunt of Islandport Press agreed to publish a collection of my columns and the result was the book: A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar, published in 2002 and still available at fine bookstores everywhere.
All this time – week after week – I kept turning out the columns. Because my column was eventually available online I started getting e-mails and letters from readers all over the world.
One woman wrote from Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off England, to tell how she’d bought a copy of Moose in Bangor and then began driving across the country to visit friends in Houston. She said she left her copy of the book in a motel room in St. Louis, so when she got to Houston she went to the Borders to buy another copy.
The clerk said they didn’t have the book, to which she replied, Well, they have it in Bangor, Maine.
The Houston clerk called Bangor and the clerk in Bangor agreed to overnight the book to Houston. The woman from Guernsey picked it up the next morning and when she finally returned to her island home she couldn’t wait to write and tell me all about it and what a great country America was. I agreed.
We’re still waiting to hear something from the motel in St. Louis.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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