What do you do?

“What do you do?” he asks across the table where we are sipping local brews and wines and scarfing fire-roasted pizza on a perfect September night out on the hipster side of town. Little ones toddle around and dogs recline at our feet hoping for a wayward bit of cheese or chunk of seasoned venison sausage to fall. We’re meeting new friends, sharing small talk. Through a screen of yellowing Aspens I look up at the purple range of mountains in the distance.

I usually give a light dismissive wave of my hand and a brief one or two-liner to the question: “I’m writer. A book architect.”


Dammit, I should have asked the opener first. “Well, we all have to do something, right?” I say. “How about you?”

“Wait,” he says, “I want to know more about this ‘book architect thing’ you mentioned. I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

Um, yeah. Here we go. We all think we do, but that’s usually before giving sufficient thought to the old adage: “Writing is easy, just open a vein and bleed onto the page, blah, blah”–an adage because it’s true.

I smile and give him a brief rendition of helping authors make their way to publication. But I don’t really say what I do. Small talk at a party doesn’t afford the space. We have to establish a little trust first, be a bit deeper into our dregs.

I guide authors. Create sanctuary–a safe place. I hold the rope. I gently nudge and cajole their words out onto the page where we can then attend to the words and the author’s soul and see what happens next. This process takes time, courage, and tons of trust.

In a word, it is sacred.

How do I describe those rare, unforeseen slivers of time when at my bidding a new friend closes the door, turns the dial, first one way and then another…click.

Pulling open the heavy door to the safe, he reaches in and with trembling fingers lifts out a dust-covered story, then dares to let me see its contents–its details. Without removing his hands, he holds up the devastating secret to the light, he wipes away some of the grime and we look at the truth of it together. I cry too and place my hand over his, before tearfully setting the object back in safe keeping. The truth remains, but it is less fearsome, less incriminating now. He owns it.

Spin the dial. Give the lever one more pull just to be sure its secure. [Sometimes the process is dirtier, more of a shoveling of gook and grime to reveal the zombie, or a whole clan of them. I hand over a shovel and he gives it a good thwack in the throat and it flees. Maybe for longer this time.]

What do I do? To make money? To make the world more livable? I have hundreds of friends—maybe even one or two thousand or several— and only some of them writers, coming and going, drawing in close then traveling out far. In this ebb and flow of life, I have a knack for pulling people in to my chest and establishing quick intimacy, connecting to their souls and their truth in a remarkably short amount of time. Then away they go.

The moment is a rare gift, an encounter that I never take for granted. I am honored, and yes a little more healed too, by each and every encounter… at being invited in behind closed doors. What do I do? I walk around in wonder.

I smile and take another bite of pizza.