Jonathan Waldman: Rust

Rust cover

Jonathan Waldman
Simon & Schuster, March 10, 2015, $26.95
ISBN: 1451691599

Waldman reports:

I was part weary, half-seasick, and definitely broke when my idea for a book about rust came to me. I’d been living aboard a 40-foot sailboat in San Francisco for a year, coming to terms with a romance for the sea that was failing to develop. This was problematic, because I’d endeavored, with two friends, to fix up and sail that sloop around the world. It was to be a final grand adventure for us 30-year-olds before regular life took hold.

While the actual sailing part failed to compel me, the refitting part consumed me. Our boat was in a sorry state, and nothing was more satisfying than tearing out some rusted, rotted, worn-out, or otherwise janky component, and replacing it with something smart and sturdy. Who knows, maybe I should have been a carpenter. At any rate, there was so much rusty stuff to fix that I got to know all of the employees at the local chandleries, and learned the peculiar strengths of the dozen nearest hardware stores.

One store I enjoyed the most: the fastener distributor, up in Berkeley. On at least a dozen occasions I plopped bags of rusted screws on the counter and said to the owner, Larry, “Can you help me replace these?” I spent a lot of money on stainless steel at Larry’s place. On one particular April day, Larry showed me a “fastener test report,” and got to talking about metallurgy. That’s when a whole world opened up.

Jonathan Waldman

Jonathan Waldman

Like most people, I’d never thought about rust before. But like most journalists (I’d studied science journalism at Boston University), I knew how to pull on a thread. So off I went to a Navy conference called Mega Rust, where I met the nation’s highest-ranked rust official. In time, other people who fight rust took me from Deadhorse, Alaska, to Key West, Florida.

I had the luxury of cobbling together a book proposal while on a fellowship at the University of Colorado, and then the additional fortune of a grant from the Sloan Foundation, in support of the public understanding of science, to help me pull off my plan. That and an encouraging agent I found by scouring the acknowledgements pages of my favorite books. He found me a good publishing house with a sharp editor, who in turn knew where to snip my words.

I only wish I'd known sooner that a book — and all its length — could be so much more freeing than short magazine pieces. Even one that starts over nuts and bolts.

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Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you started this project, or had done differently.


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March 11, 2015

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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