The Cross House

An Extraordinary Possibility

When I was a child in the 1960s, my parent’s had a fiberglass sailboat and I spent countless hours and years aboard her. But I never loved her. She was plastic and smelled funny. And, she was…small.

Very occasionally we would happen upon a big old wooden yacht. These fascinated me. In the pages of Yachting magazine, in the For Sale ads, could be found many more big old wooden yachts. I would gaze longingly at the small grainy images and dream of owning something so glorious.

One day! One day!

In the mid-1980s, I was living in New York City and had my own architectural design firm. One night, while gazing upon the East River, I was struck by a thought: It was now possible to manifest a dream from childhood!

So began my hunt for a gorgeous 1920s wooden yacht. In time, I amassed a large file of Xerox images from old Yachting and Rudder magazines and the hunt eventually led me to…

 

…Alondra. And my childhood dream became reality.

 

Me, being the obsessive type, had tried to purchase books on classic wooden motor yachts but it developed no such book existed. This seemed curious as the old yachting magazines were filled with gorgeous images of gorgeous wooden motor yachts. But…no book.

My ever-expanding file offered reason to think that such a book should exist and that I should write it. Everyone I knew however said that getting a book published was near impossible.

“You need an agent!”

“You need great connections!”

I had neither.

Still, I wanted to write a book about big ol’ wooden boats.

One day, I arrived home with a new book about the world’s most extraordinary yachts. It was full of color images of modern yachts but with one or two classic wooden yachts included. I poured over the latter images.

In the acknowledgments, the author’s wrote to the effect: “Our editor, Jim Mairs of W. W. Norton, suggested that we write a book about classic motor yachts but we decided to do this instead. But thanks, Jim, for the idea!”

I held the book in my hands, frozen. I read the line over and over. And I thought: But I want to do a book on classic motor yachts.

Without even thinking, I went over to the side table and pulled out the phonebook (remember those?). I looked up W. W. Norton. Ahhh, they were at 500 Fifth Avenue in the city. I called. The receptionist answered. I asked for Jim Mairs. A moment later I heard: “Jim here.”

I explained why I had called, read him the quote from the book, and explained that I wanted to write just such a book book.

Jim replied: “I have been trying to get a writer to do just that for twenty-five years. So, if you really want to write about classic yachts I will publish it!”

And many years later Norton published my two books about classic steam and motor yachts. Jim was not only my editor but a Norton partner.

Writing the books, and their research, was the most fun I ever had. When Jim showed me the cover for the first book, I stood in a conference room, surrounded by other people, and cried. It was soooooo beautiful.

After the book was published one of Jim’s support team members told me I was the most enjoyable author she had ever worked with. This confused me and she noted the look on my face. She explained: “Every phase of the long process excites you! And it’s such a relief working with that!” She noted my still confused look and said: “Most author’s are horrible to work with. They freak out at every suggestion! They act like we want to saw their leg off for an editing suggestion! They hate the cover art; they fight to the death with the copy editor; they scream about royalties! But with you? Like I said: the whole process excites you!”

The confused look left my face. I replied: “Why would any author fight with all of you? I mean, from my perspective, you all work really hard to make the book better but I get all the credit with my name on the cover! I wish I had a team of people managing every aspect of my life!”

One night, late, my phone rang. It was Jim. He rarely called late at night. “I’ve just finished reading your book and wanted to let you know how proud I am of it. It surpasses my wildest dreams! It’s so much better and so much richer than I thought possible. You found amazing images and accessed an astonishing amount of information. Of all the books I’ve published over the decades yours is one of my top ten favorites.”

I laughed. “Jim! Stop! You say that to every writer!”

Jim, with grave assurance, stated that this was not so. And from his tone…I believed him. “Jim, wow, I’m really touched. This means the world to me.”

My second book came out in 2004 and a few years later I began a new company restoring vintage lighting. The company took off fantastically and consumed my life. Writing books became a thing of the ever more distant past.

After buying the Cross House in 2016, I called Jim right away and we looked at online images of the house. Jim was insane for big old houses and he went crazy over the Cross House. After I created the blog, I talked again with Jim in 2015 and he loved the blog. “Ross! I absolutely want to publish a book about the restoration of the Cross House! It’ll be incredible! Just let me know when you are ready.”

I could not have known that would be my last conversation with Jim. He died in 2016 and I did not learn about his passing for several months. His death felt like a sucker punch to my soul. Jim was always incredibly generous and gracious to me. We never once argued. Rather, we laughed and laughed and traded stories about old yachts and old houses and old cars and old movies. On several occasions I spent time with him at his house in the Hamptons; one day we drove through a new neighborhood on Long Island filled with McMansions and we laughed so much at the horror of each passing house that our lungs hurt. I knew Jim’s fabulous wife, Gina, and had met his young children.

And then Jim…was gone. After thirty years in my life.

Months passed before I realized another loss. My connection to the publishing world had been severed. I’ll never publish another book, I thought.

 

Jim Mairs, in his extraordinary office.

 

During the last six months I have been through a transformative experience: How do I want to spend my remaining thirty-one years? The culmination of this was detailed in a recent post.

The direction I was headed? This hit a brick wall and a new future was envisioned, one where I return to my greatest passion: researching and writing books.

With my connection to the publishing world severed I began learning about self-publishing.

Then, last week, something quite extraordinary happened.

In the recent blog post I mentioned a book I hoped to write:

 

The thought was that, when the restoration of the house was done in ten or fifteen years, I could create a huge, glossy coffee-table type volume.

 

Then Suzanne wrote in. She suggested that, rather than a single volume, why not create a multi-volume set on the Cross House? She thought, based on the blog these past four years, surely there was already enough information to create Volume One?

I read Suzanne’s words and instantly understood the fantastic brilliance of her suggestion.

But…but…this was not a project suitable for self-publishing. No, the volume I envisioned needed…W. W. Norton.

Jim though was gone. I had no other connection at the company. And surely a cold call would be received…coldly. Publishers are inundated with calls from wannabe writers.

A few days later though I realized that I was making a lot of assumptions. Negative assumptions. This was not really like me. So, on Monday, I called Norton. The main receptionist answered. I explained. Then a little voice in my head told me to ask: “Did you know Jim?.” A moment passed before she replied, quietly: “Yes. I worked with him.”

And then I knew that she knew.

After another few moments she said: “I think you should talk with Tom. One moment, please.”

I expected to be put through to Tom’s secretary and that I would, politely, get nowhere. Instead, I heard a click and then: “Tom here.”

Oh. Oh!

I quickly explained and offered a brief outline of the book idea.

And Tom’s reaction? It was good. He needed more information, of course, and asked that I forward him an email with an outline and relevant links to the bog. “And then we can go from there.”

I thanked him and hung up the phone.

Gee. That went well. And then it took a moment for my heart to resume.

 

This was just a first step. An introduction. There is no way to know if Norton will pick the book up.

But, I am least inside the door.

 

 

24 Responses to An Extraordinary Possibility

  1. Oh Ross, I hope this comes through for you. It would be amazing, I shall keep my fingers and toes crossed for you.

  2. Good for you Ross. Like other people who did not take no for an answer or pulled through with an idea passing over their own self doubt only to come out the other side with their dream fulfilled. Your book big and wide would be a great coffee table book to be able to peruse over the details and the final work of the transformation of a true victoririan lady.

  3. How exciting! Let me guess? OCD Ross’s brain is more than just a little occupied with considering which pictures to use, layout, copy, end sheets… well, while you are dwelling on all of that, I will go clear a spot on the coffee table. I have loved looking at blueprints and before/after pictures since I was a little girl. I enjoy your blog so much, I am sure I’m going to love your book. I am excited about meeting you and all the Cross House Ross fans I will meet at the book signing party.

    • Wouldn’t it be great if Ross put a full set of fold out blueprints about half size in the book.

      Actually, Ross, why don’t you figure out what it would cost, including sufficient profit to make it worth your while, and sell copies of the original plans/blueprints of the house. I am not sure if there was such a thing as blueprints in the 1890’s, but you have shown various parts of the original plans to us on your blog.

      • Precisely. Stewart, fold out blueprints is genius. I wonder if those clear plastic overlays with various stages of decoration would be too much to wish for. (And I’m only half kidding about that. Who did not love that part of the encyclopedia with the human body systems in layers?)

        • Dear aB,

          You have brightened my day with your support of my idea and your improvement on it. Half kidding is being shy. I’d love a book with those overlays too, and I am not kidding in any way.

          I think it is a great idea. How about a section in book one that is a picture book starting with the plans and pictures for each room on those overlays that present an exposition of the changes. It could be one of those that one can flick through the pages to create a sort of time exposure of the Cross House from its low point to today …and beyond….! As each book comes out they could be combined for a grand finale when book 1,273 comes out showing the Cross House in 2176, just in time for the Tricentennial.

          Too much?

          I think that a book with such a section would delight everyone: young, old, and everywhere in between.
          How about it Ross, at least we are giving you food for thought. As with all of my posts, you may take what you like and leave the rest.

  4. A good memo for noticing when we are making only negative assumptions. Every once in awhile we should assume something good might come

  5. I love this blog! I cannot tell you how much I would enjoy a book on the Cross House. We need more thought leaders talking about and introducing the ideas and concepts behind restoration, as opposed to HGTV’ism. I think you are uniquely positioned to fill that role in a thoughtful and engaging manner. Now, for my special ask – please think about it as a resource and idea book, as well as a book filled with beautiful glossy photos. Often when I am trying to fix something I think: “When Ross did this, he used this product, used this process, and what was that again. . .I’ll have to go back to the blog and look.” Whatever way you go, and whichever publishing route, it will be great! I look forward to it.

  6. I am very happy for you Ross. A year ago I went through the same self doubt. I felt old and my dreams had passed me by. Then I found a blog to read , I started at the beginning. I thought this reads like a book. I reclaimed my dreams, hope and motivation for my work. That was your blog .
    Thank you for your words of inspiration.

  7. Oh snap! This should prove to be another exciting Ross adventure! I’m truly delighted you are reestablishing further contacts in publishing world. The search for new, a suitable editor will be it’s own reward. And of course, the resulting book will be the perfect companion project to the Cross house restoration! I already can’t wait to get my copy signed. 😉

    🎉 Go, Ross! 🎊

  8. Fantastic, Ross. Truly. Well done for opening the door once more to possibilities that thrill you. Your writing is like sitting with you in conversation, and I hope your vision for the Cross House volumes come to fruition. We will be with you.

  9. Leave no stone unturned Ross. Always ask for what you want. As you see, the possibilities are endless. And you are great at making things happen.

    I look forward to a signed version of the series.

    Ever onward!

  10. This is thrilling! My excitement for you has finally made me overcome my nervousness about commenting (because you’re all a REAL scary bunch on here, right?!). I’ve been reading, and thoroughly enjoying, this blog since I spotted it mentioned in the comments on OHD several years back and I’ve been hooked ever since, like many I went back and read it right from the beginning and have enjoyed every vicarious minute of it.

    This new stage is taking my breath away though, not long ago I was agog for work to continue in the dining room, but now? Wow, talk about the sky’s the limit! The MacTaggart horizon just expanded exponentially and I feel positively giddy at the future prospects.

    Mainly because, Ross, as with many of your readers I’ve learnt to have a great deal of faith in you. Your integrity shines like a beacon, and when you’re published you’ll illuminate and enrich so many more lives.

    Also it’s only fair to warn you, now that I’ve been brave enough to comment, you may have trouble getting me to shush. ;D

    • Very nice meeting you, Jackie!

      And thank you for the kind words.

      I look forward to a plethora of future comments from you!

      Much hugs,

      Ross

  11. You are such an amazing person. I admire your outlook on life, your passion, and your diligence. For eternal students, the world will always hold wonder.

  12. I can imagine the coffee table book lying on a coffee table in the Cross House a hundred years from now and the owners thanking their stars for all your work and the journey along the way, Ross!

  13. I am absolutely certain that Tom is currently binge reading your blog with the profound delight and amazement we all did. Give him a few days to get through all your posts and realize “Wow this person writes soooo well”. The biggest issue with this first book will be what to put into it…you have so many treasures to share. Personal favorites of mine are yourblogs on the lighting in cross house, discussions on period kitchens, the history of the Cross and Mouse families…..etc. I will certainly buy your books! As for self publishing, it seems to me your science fiction one ‘Atlantia’ would be the easiest to get out there…but now you may have a publishing house to advise!!!

  14. This is wonderful news Ross. Beautiful photos along with resources and ideas would make this a go to book for folks restoring an old house as well as daydreamers. As was suggested, this could be a multi-volume set. I would love to have this set sitting on my Victorian footstool, as I don’t have a coffee table, just marble top tables. Hoping Tom gets back to you real soon and starts the process of editing/publishing this book, many people are looking forward to it.

  15. Ross, you are a fantastic story teller and writing is your passion. So glad you are pursuing your dreams. Can hardly wait to see the finished product!

  16. Ross, Thought I would let you know that one of your “Save these Yachts,” CANGARDA was moored in the Genesee River (Rochester, NY) when I was a child. I loved seeing her and her owner over the years. I always wondered what became of her until I happened upon Restoring Ross. She is now fully restored, and a great article about her life can be found here, http://www.thousandislandslife.com/BackIssues/Archive/tabid/393/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/837/The-ldquoCangardardquo-Story.aspx

  17. Oh Ross this is so exciting! I think so many of us wish you would fill a series of volumes — about everything Restoring the Cross House could offer & deliver… I suggested a such when you talking no about writing a book & this was my post— a book about the Cross House. May Jim Rest In Peace & yay Tom!

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