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Joe repairs homes. With each job, he enters the bathroom, crawlspace—and the soul. Revealing a life. Or changing it.
Joe repairs homes. With each job, he enters the bathroom, crawlspace—and the soul. Revealing a life. Or changing it.
127 backers pledged $4,792 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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$4,792

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New Year’s Eve in 2010, on an impulse I started a blog called "365 Jobs: Notes from the building trades, in search of the humane…

My son in his pickup. Behind him, my pickup.  1977.
My son in his pickup. Behind him, my pickup. 1977.

To my delight, a small community began following the blog. Now I’m hoping to expand that community by publishing a book that will reach a wider audience. I hope you’ll join me in the endeavor. The book will consist of 99 "tool belt tales" from the blog—rewritten, improved, buffed to a shine.

Here's a sample chapter: Screwdriver, Melted.

Here's a lighter sample:  Marmalade.

Here's another sample: Woodpeckers.

I’ve been self-publishing since before it was cool—starting in 1973. After two self-published novels and one book of poetry, I had six novels with major publishers through the 1980's and 90's. Now I’m indie again, right back where I started, and it feels like home.

A couple of blogs have described this 99 Jobs project as "blue collar writing," which might be a put-down in academic or literary circles, but it's a label I'll wear with honor. To me, "blue collar" means craftsmanship, tough labor, and taking pride in what you make.

About the rewards

For a slightly higher pledge, I'll include your name on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book. If the book is a gift, I'll be happy to use the name of the giftee — your friend, your lover, your grandparent. Depending on the level of the pledge, the name will go as Apprentice Carpenter, Journeyman Carpenter, or Master Carpenter.

I was brainstorming with James Adams, La Honda's master wood craftsman, about additional incentive rewards that I could offer.  We were talking in his woodshop, setting our beer bottles on top of his table saw, when I had the idea: "How thin can you cut a piece of wood on that table saw?  Could we make a bookmark?" 

James cut some samples.  A bit of sanding, a bit of finish, an experiment with freehand writing using a router, and — wow:

James has salvaged all kinds of local La Honda timber.  When a tree falls, James is there.  He has black acacia, dark walnut, fir, maple, redwood.  James even has a cypress tree from Neil Young's nearby ranch. That cypress saw many a harvest moon, no doubt, while the wood fibers absorbed music from Neil's studio.  If you hold your ear close to the bookmark, you might hear faint strains of Cinnamon Girl. It's timber with timbre.

Adding to his supplies, I brought James some wood that was salvaged from Ken Kesey's La Honda cabin where the Merry Pranksters and Hells Angels hung out while mixing vats of Kool-Aid and smoking odd substances. Whether anything was absorbed into the wood fibers, I couldn't say, but I will not be responsible if after using the bookmark you should feel a sudden urge to rip off your clothes and paint your body with paisley designs...

I'll be offering bookmarks as incentive rewards.  Put a little lumber between your pages.  Own a piece of legendary La Honda timber.

The default reward will be a bookmark made of Kesey lumber.  Others by request.  There's only a limited amount of Neil Young cypress left, so I'm reserving those for the six-bookmark sets. I'll fulfill those until gone—first come, first served. I'll post an update if the cypress goes.

About the book

Most of my working life I’ve worn a tool belt. Repairing homes, I meet people—the zany and the sober, the poor and the insanely rich. You can meet them, too, from professional clowns to Nobel prize winners, from con men to software zillionaires.  I’d like to share my own story as well.

The jobs range from changing light bulbs to rebuilding entire houses, with stops along the way as plumber, electrician, and remover of romantic woodpeckers. I’ve been showered by sewage, smoked by exploding gas, impaled like a vampire by a wooden stake. Some clients flirt—or something beyond flirtation.  Once I tried to kill a man. I’ve been cheated. I’ve had embarrassingly intimate relations with tools. I like good hard work though I’ve done some bad work, too. Along the way I’ve built a family—my own—and seen how a construction crew is like another temporary family, happy or Tolstoyan, loving or dysfunctional.

I try to write about the people who inspire—and the ones who rip you off. The physical labor. The pride in a job well done. The agony of f***ing up. (Yes, be warned: when I write about construction people, there is occasional strong language).

A house is alive. It breathes. It expands and contracts. It ages. Sometimes it falls sick, and then I’m a doctor of houses. I probe intimate cavities to learn the home’s history. I study the multilayered changes of an old house where generations of remodels have built upon themselves—I note the compromise, the painful choice, or the brilliant solution.  The structure tells a story: tragedy, comedy, or heartwarming family drama as day-to-day life slowly, inexorably leaves an imprint over the attic, on the walls, under the sink—or in the crawlspace.

About the goal

My initial goal is to cover half the cost of professional editing, design, and production—I'll borrow the other half from my retirement savings. Your support on Kickstarter, if I can reach the minimum goal, will assure me that it's worth risking the funds. Together, we'll make this book happen.

Update #4: We did it!

You all are wonderful. You've given me the backing — and the confidence — to launch 99 Jobs. I'm gratified that many of you remember my previous books and are eager for a new one. I'm delighted that some of you are discovering me for the first time. I'm thrilled at your world-wide distribution. You have pledged from Romania, China, Italy, England, Netherlands, Canada, Maine, New Jersey, Georgia, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Hawaii, and of course from La Honda, the center of my world.

I wanted the project to wrap around Labor Day for obvious reasons. 99 Jobs is about labor.

I'll continue to take pre-orders for 99 Jobs via Kickstarter through September 5. Each pre-ordered book will be personally signed by me — and inscribed any way that you wish. Your name (or a name of your choice — spouse, grandparent, lover) will be included on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book, if you have chosen that reward level. And each pre-ordered book will include one or more bookmarks made of vintage lumber, if you have chosen that reward level.

So far (morning, Sept 1), nineteen people have reached the More Jobs reward level (besides the sixteen shown on the web page, three more have pledged at that level but couldn't make the reward button work — some kind of Kickstarter glitch). In the next five days, perhaps a few more will arrive. It will be a very limited, very special edition. An edition I'll be proud of.

Thanks, everybody, for your warm and enthusiastic support.


Update#3: More jobs...

Before I started this campaign, I'd already selected the 99 jobs to include in the book. Then Kickstarter suggested that I should include a premium reward, so I decided to include one at the $99 level: a special limited edition to be called MORE JOBS which will include about a dozen additional adventures. I have about 300 stories to choose from—and more that I will write. Right now I'm trying to decide among:

  • A Superior Court judge who lives outside the law.  
  • Falling through the ceiling into a woman's shower—while she is showering.
  • A bandit who steals a fortune, lives in squalor, and is betrayed by a cat.
  • "The Mongrel" — a dog who could outwit a Nobel prizewinner.
  • The poet whose hand was (perhaps) eaten by a tiger.
  • A Stanford Hospital surgeon smoking marijuana while conducting a family meeting with his missionary wife and teenage son—all undressed in a hot tub—while I'm installing lights.
  • Working for a toxic couple—young woman, older man—shortly before the young woman is murdered.
  • An illegal immigrant from China who wins the heart of a town—but not quite everybody in town.
  • Selling shovels to miners in the second great California Gold Rush.
  • The libidinous woman—a client offering benefits—who happens to own a mortuary.
  • The policemen who hold me at gunpoint and slam me against my truck—for burglary.
  • The rabbi whose new, improved lighting reveals erotic figures in his furniture.
  • The skinny-dipping Congressman and his skinny-dipping wife.
  • Desperately trying to maintain my demented, dying brother in his dilapidated house—and being investigated for Elder Abuse. 


Or I could include the tale of the incompetent blue jay who needs the help of a carpenter (me) to build his nest—or the time I was hosed by a less-than-satisfied client—or the sugar daddy who uses shopping as foreplay… So many jobs, so little time.

Update #2: Birthday Edition

Today, August 19, is my 66th birthday. I'm aiming for 99 years on this planet, so I'm at 67% of the goal.

Today also marks two weeks of Kickstarter campaigning. At this moment (5:08 pm, Pacific time) I've raised $2707, so I'm at 67% of that goal, too.

I'm adding a new reward level. What the heck, it might be fun. For a pledge of $499 I will give a one hour reading to you and assembled guests at your house — or restaurant, bar, church, library, football arena… I've been giving monthly readings, mostly at the bar of our local restaurant, for the last three years. We call it Lit Night. The drinks make for an appreciative, relaxed audience. Let me bring the experience to you and your friends.

Musicians give house concerts. Why not writers? A house reading.

Reading at Lit Night, La Honda
Reading at Lit Night, La Honda

Update #1

After 11 days, we're halfway to the funding goal. Am I nervous? You bet. If I don't make the goal, I get nothing.

Actually, not nothing: I'm meeting delightful new people through the magic of cyberspace. Some people initiate the inquiries by sending a question or a message through Kickstarter; others respond to my brief thank you notes. I've cyber-met new friendly folks in the Netherlands, Great Britain, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Chicago, California, as well as many undisclosed locations (and undisclosed names — you can be as anonymous as you wish on Kickstarter).

My local paper, the Half Moon Bay Review, wrote an article about this Kickstarter campaign which included this photo of me in my workshop surrounded by genuine La Honda lumber.

Photo by Charles Russo
Photo by Charles Russo

Risks and challenges

I've been self-publishing since 1973 and have probably made every self-pub mistake you can make—and won't make it again. But maybe I'll find a new way to screw up. Construction is the greater risk. I'll try to stay alive and fully-fingered until the project is complete. As long as I don't fall off any more ladders (see Job #9 and also Job #99) or get bitten by another tarantula (Job #44), electrocute myself (Job #31), get attacked by an angry mob of little old ladies wielding umbrellas (Job #34), have a tree fall on my house (Job #38 and #43), drown in sewage (Job #3)... Well, you get the idea. I'm used to overcoming obstacles. That's how it is in construction.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00

    Good job! Thank you! (I wanted to establish a minimum pledge of 99 cents, but Kickstarter says it has to be a dollar minimum.)

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    E-book: one e-book (pre-release: you’ll get it before the official publication date).

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    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Join the crew! You'll get one e-book of 99 JOBS (pre-release), plus your name will be included in the Construction Crew List at the back of the e-book as Apprentice Carpenter.

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    Pledge $15 or more About $15

    E-book, crew list, and bookmark. Combine the digital and the physical. You'll get one e-book of 99 JOBS (pre-release), your name will be included in the Construction Crew List at the back of the e-book as Apprentice Carpenter, plus I'll send you a lovely wooden bookmark made by hand (and table saw) from lumber that was salvaged from the Ken Kesey cabin. Put a little history in your pages!

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    Paperback: One author-signed paperback book of 99 JOBS (pre-release: you’ll get it before it’s released to the general public).

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    Join the crew! One author-signed paperback of 99 JOBS (pre-release), plus your name on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book as Apprentice Carpenter.

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    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    Paperback, crew list, bookmark. One printed book (pre-release) signed by the author, your name on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book as Apprentice Carpenter, plus a lovely wooden bookmark made by hand (and table saw) from lumber that was salvaged from the Ken Kesey cabin. Put a little history in your pages!

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    Pledge $35 or more About $35

    99 JOBS combo: paperback, e-book, crew list (in both paperback and e-book) as Apprentice Carpenter, and a lovely wooden bookmark made by hand (and table saw) from lumber that was salvaged from the Ken Kesey cabin. Put a little history in your pages!

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Bookmark Bundle: I'll send a set of six bookmarks, each one different including one from the Ken Kesey cabin lumber (including fumes) and one from the Neil Young cypress (until the cypress is gone—I'll post an update if so). And you'll get the 99 JOBS combo of paperback and e-book. Plus your name will be included on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book as Apprentice Carpenter.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    CLEAR HEART bonus. One printed, autographed copy of my novel CLEAR HEART (or e-book if you prefer). Plus the Bookmark Bundle: one e-book, one printed book of 99 JOBS (pre-release) signed by the author, and a set of six lovely wooden bookmarks made by hand (and table saw) from salvaged local lumber, each one different, including one from the Ken Kesey cabin lumber (including fumes) and one from the Neil Young cypress (until the cypress is gone—I'll post an update if so). Plus, your name will be included on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book as Journeyman Carpenter.

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    Pledge $99 or more About $99

    MORE JOBS: special limited edition. Here are about a dozen more jobs that didn’t make the final cut for one reason or another (too personal, too X-rated, and because 99 Jobs is a good title but 113 Jobs is not). I’ll print a special limited paperback edition called MORE JOBS. Each copy will be signed and numbered from one to ninety-nine. If only one person selects this option, then it will be a super special limited edition of exactly one printed copy—how would that be for a collector of rare books? And even if a million people should want it (in my dreams!), the special edition of MORE JOBS will be limited to a maximum of 99 copies. MORE JOBS will not be available as an e-book. Plus you will get all the elements of the Bookmark Bundle: e-book and paperback of 99 JOBS plus a set of six bookmarks, each one different including one from the Ken Kesey cabin lumber (including fumes) and one from the Neil Young cypress (until the cypress is gone—I'll post an update if so). Plus your name will be included on the Construction Crew List at the end of the books as Master Carpenter. Limited to the first 99 people.

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    Pledge $499 or more About $499

    Lit Night at your place. For a pledge of $499 I will give a one hour reading to you and assembled guests at your house — or restaurant, bar, church, library, football arena… I've been giving monthly readings, mostly at the bar of our local restaurant, for the last three years. We call it Lit Night. The drinks make for an appreciative, relaxed audience. Let me bring the experience to you and your friends. (You must be within a reasonable distance of La Honda. Contact me about what is reasonable.) Musicians give house concerts. Why not writers? A house reading.

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    Pledge $999 or more About $999

    I’ll come to your home and repair your toilet. Or add an electric outlet in your bedroom. Or make that sticky door stop sticking. Or any reasonable small job. SF Bay area only or as far as my not-so-young pickup truck can drive in a couple of hours. Plus all the goodies of the CLEAR HEART bonus, delivered in person wearing my tool belt, face to face, at your front door.

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Funding period

- (31 days)