Annual Guide Outtakes: “There’s a lot more padding in your writing than you think there is”

To me, the 152 pages of this year’s Cape Cod Life Annual Guide represent a lot of effort. After countless hours of research, talking, and transcription, the best part of the endeavor is holding a copy in my hand for the first time. The worst part comes a little before that.

It wasn’t uncommon for each raw interview transcript to number several thousand words–some were 3,000, some 6,000, some even more. But when it comes time to put them into the magazine, we rarely have room for more than 1,000 words of real estate. Editing is horrible subtraction.

So while the brightest moments invariably end up in the magazine, it also means a lot of wonderful stories and sentiments end up on the cutting room floor solely because of the page’s physical space. With that in mind, I’m going to be posting some of my favorite out-takes from the Annual Guide over the next little while. I’m starting with Bob Finch.


photo by Dan Cutrona

My mother, who passed away about five years, was a great reader and a strong supporter of me as a writer, but we had very different tastes–her favorite writer was Danielle Steel. She came to me one day and said, “Bob, I really love your books, but couldn’t you write a potboiler, something with a lot of sex and violence in it?” And I said, “Mom, I do, but nobody notices because it’s not humans!” (laughs)

I can’t complain too much about being called a nature writer because I was complicit in establishing it as an official genre. But I guess what I’m trying to say is I sort of fell into the whole business of nature writing. It was never my intent and never how I thought of myself. In a way, I felt something of a fraud because I was not a trained naturalist and I was not primarily an environmental writer. My books weren’t about the importance of the environment, although I did a lot of conservation work when I lived in Brewster. But I always try to keep my environmental activism separate from my writing. That’s an ongoing dilemma for a lot of nature writers—I know some who really agonize over it. What they love, like I do, is the freedom to write about what most interests us. And yet they feel this pressure, this responsibility with that’s happening to the earth—which none of us disagrees with—to try to get people to act, to try to change people’s minds.

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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