Book #7: The Old Man and the C. Or, How to Produce a Coffee-Table Book in 8 Weeks

bankable farmer26 April 2012, American Chronicle
MANILA - I am 72 years. If you count the years, I am old; but I don't know how to count like you do! So, instead of counting days, in the last 2 months, I have been counting 150 pages of a coffee-table book I was producing for an NPA, a nice-performing agency of government.

Old man? Right now I'm reminded of Ernest Hemingway's little book classic The Old Man and the Sea, published 50 years ago, where old Santiago conquers his months-old bad luck - 84 days without catching a fish. With a fishing line, he hooks a large marlin, more than 5 meters long. The big fish fights, jumping and swimming and swerving to set itself free, but the hook stays in place, and the line holds. It's not going to say die until it's dead. It swims away from shore and drags across the sea the old man on his little boat who will not let go.

On the 3rd day of the battle of wits between man and marlin, the man wins. In fact, the author is the ultimate winner. The Old Man and the Sea wins a Pulitzer Prize in 1952, and the writer becomes a celebrity; and with it Hemingway wins the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 (Wikipedia).

At my age and in the age of million-copy bestselling books of fiction, Ernest Hemingway is still one of my favorite authors; I consciously imitated his use of the active voice and his style of short sentences and simple verbs like "said" instead of "declared" and "asked" instead of "inquired." Here's an excerpt from that book - the old man is talking to nobody and the marlin has been towing him and his boat the whole day:

I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand. Let him think I am more man than I am and I will be so. I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence. …

"Bad news for you, fish," he said and shifted the line over the sacks that covered his shoulders.
He was comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all.

"I am not religious," he said. "But I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if I catch him. That is a promise."
He commenced to say his prayers mechanically.

Now, let me tell you the story of The Old Man and the C, which also refers to a book, the one I was going to single-handedly produce for the Agricultural Credit Policy Council of the Philippines: The Filipino Farmer Is Bankable. The long subtitle gives you a good idea of the range of the book's content:

Celebrating 25 Years of the ACPC: Serving the Credit Needs of Small Farmer and Fisher Households of the Philippines. 

Since I had a BS Agriculture to my name, it looked to me the subject was roses. Since I had been editing technical and writing popular science in the last 37 years, it looked to me the assignment was a breeze. In reality, time was running against me. This book was my marlin, my big fish, in more ways than one. Unlike Santiago, instead of I seeking my marlin, it sought me. I was commissioned to do the book, but I had barely 2 months to produce it! Anyway, I said I could do it. Question: Wasn't I certified crazy to accept the offer, as the contract was in fact signed late February 2012 and I had to deliver the good 25 April 2012? Answer: In the business of creative media, you don't have to be crazy, but it works!

You can get a good idea of what I thought and what I knew if you pay attention to Santiago in this excerpt:
… the boy said. "There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you."
"Thank you. You make me happy. I hope no fish will come along so great that he will prove us wrong."

"There is no such fish if you are still strong as you say."

"I may not be as strong as I think," the old man said. "But I know many tricks and I have resolution."

Like Santiago, I am a Roman Catholic; I am not religious either; unlike Santiago, I did not pray the rosary; instead, I gave thanks to God and let it be. Santiago knew he was a good fisherman; I knew I could write well, and fast; I knew photography and I was a good shot - I just needed a high-definition, high-intelligence digital camera - a Lumix FZ100 was my choice; I knew I could do the desktop publishing myself - designing and formatting and layouting of the book. I knew it had to be a one-man job, and yes, I was a one-man band. I had no doubt that if Nobody could do it, my name was Nobody.

Of course, I worked hard on it. On 27 February, 2012, I started visiting cities and traveling through towns, walking the fields, asking questions and taking photographs in Luzon and the Visayas. I flew to Dumaguete City and travelled by car to Mt Canlaon some 150 km away. I rode a bus to Laoag City, some 500 km away from Manila. I scheduled a flying visit to Agusan Del Sur, bought my round trip ticket, but I ran out of time.

Not to worry. Yesterday, 25 April 2012, or exactly 59 days later, the ACPC celebrated its Silver Anniversary and, among other things, in the name of Agriculture Secretary Proceso J Alcala, Usec Berna Romulo Puyat and ACPC Executive Director Jovita M Corpuz launched the coffee-table book that would ship a thousand copies. I delivered 25 advanced copies of The Filipino Farmer Is Bankable to a celebratory audience and this book launched a thousand smiles. Or so I imagined.

From the reactions of people who saw the 150-page full-color 11x8.5" book that I produced as actual, not virtual reality, I sensed that nobody had believed that old me could really pull out a new modern miracle like that. They were probably looking at my hair (too white), my assignment (too daunting), the writing (too technical) the days (too few), and the composing (too complicated). They had no way of knowing that if there's no way to do it, Frank A Hilario would like to do it himself!

They didn't count on modern technology, and they didn't count on my mastery of the hardware and software I was using. I never doubted that I could make the impossible possible. I never panicked, even when the week of actual printing had arrived, the week before the anniversary, when I was still revising so much so many times. Truth to tell, I had fun doing this book, working on draft after draft, designing the book, positioning image after image page after page, captioning and so on and so forth. Verily, I say to you, it wasn't work to me; it was a game of creativity.

How could I not enjoy working on this book? It was right down my alley. It was just another desktop publishing job to me after publishing 8 books; I was going to show the world again that Microsoft Word was an intelligent desktop publisher if you knew the ins and outs of running titles & pages, line & character spacing, section & continuous & column breaks, image positioning & wrapping etcetera. I had more than enough self-education in desktop publishing in those 5 years I was Editor in Chief of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science. I started with Word 2002 (XP) in 2003, graduated to Word 2003 in 2004, and shifted to Word 2010 in 2010, all the while adding to my growing list of menu shortcuts to achieve what I wanted.

And today I realize that this book is rich in C. "You need vitamin C for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body" (University of Maryland Medical Center, umm.edu). In my case, let me show you that you need the C for much of the Content and that it is distributed in all parts of the book, including the Cover.
C is for the Coffee-table book that was printed by CentralBooks in no time at all (central.com.ph). That's how come there were 25 individuals who each received advanced copies yesterday during the anniversary celebration. Would you believe the speed of printing 150 full-color pages in 150 seconds? I believe because I have seen it. Blessed are those that have not seen and yet have received.

C is for Comprehensive, Coherent, Concise and Clear. The whole book is a summary of the 25-year history of the ACPC in 150 pages, most of it in images. If you want a bird's-eye view of it all, go to the Table of Contents.

C is for the personal Computer that made possible the impossible: The actual writing, editing and desktop-publishing of the book was all digital, untouched by human hands. I have been doing that for books in the last 15 years.

C is for the Core i7 desktop computer of mine with 1 terabyte of hard disk, an ATI Radeon X1550 Visual Processing Unit, and 8 gigabytes of random access memory. This is all for Capability - speed, high-definition graphics, and power - at one time, the Word 2010 file was a Colossal 144,000 megabytes!
C is for the Celebration of the Silver Anniversary of the Agricultural Credit Policy Council, especially so that in the early years of the term of the current Executive Director, the ACPC was seriously considered for abolition. The ACPC not only survived but thrived.

C is for the Competence, Commitment, Conviction and Compassion of the leadership and the followership of this government agency. I think this was summarized best yesterday when the staff of the ACPC told their lady head: "Thank you for leading us so well, loving us so much." The small farmers and fishers and their families would have said that too if they had the mastery of language. I saw the lady was misty-eyed.

C is for the Countryside, where we find the poor farmers toiling under the hot sun, the poor fishers working the cold waters offshore. They show that they can improve their lives with a little help from farmer-friendly banking arrangements.

C is for Credit, the loans available to small farmers and fishers arranged for by the ACPC with the Department of Agriculture, Central Bank, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and the National Economic and Development Authority. The ACPC has so far amassed at least PhP 1.5 billion for loan distribution to small borrowers.

C is for the Coop banks who are retailers of credit to farmers, along with other accredited rural banks, cooperatives, and non-government organizations.

C is for Commodities that include tobacco, tomato, cabbage, pechay, carnation, white onion, rice, swine, not to mention tractors and delivery vans. There are applicable loan packages for all those, and more.
C is for Canlaon City, where we find one lady, unschooled in the formal sense but schooled in the art and science of applying for loans and applying her intuition in making the money grow on vegetables she plants. Over the years, from the sweat of her brow and with the help of the Coop Bank of Negros Oriental, she has acquired 15 hectares and built a house with an assessed value of PhP 8 million, I understand.

C is for Collateral, which the usual borrowers from the usual banks need to complete a loan application. Not so with the small farmers and fishers, most of whom don't own a piece of land. From policies initiated and implemented by the ACPC, the farmer-friendly banks don't require any collateral when the poor farmer applies for a loan.

C is for the Value Chain, that is, the agri financial system that has a forward and a backward loop. The feedforward begins with the ACPC and ends with the farmer; the feedback begins with the farmer and ends with the ACPC. In between, we have the wholesaler of credit (such as LandBank) and the retailer (such as the Coop Bank of Benguet).

C is for Control, monitoring and evaluating what's happening in the field with the farmers. I was talking to my good friend Naz Malacaman, who was in charge of policy for the Los Baños Rural Bank in those Masagana 99 years, and he said their repayment rate was a high 98%. I asked how they did it and he said, "Simple lang, naningil kami." Simple, we collected. If you don't follow up a government loan with the farmer, he will consider it a dole-out.

C is for Captain of Team ACPC, Jovita M Corpuz, Ilocana, innovative, indefatigable lady. May her tribe increase!

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