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Preview: One in a Thousand eBook

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Digital technology has allowed a Thousand Islands photographer to open a new window on his favorite region. Todd Moe talks with Ian Coristine and the creative team behind a new e-book on the Thousand Islands. One in a Thousand uses images, video, voices and music to illustrate Coristine's love of the river and his own small, granite island.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

Ian Coristine grew up in Montreal but spends the majority of the non-winter months along the St. Lawrence River. He is a renowned landscape photographer and publisher, and he is the author of five print books about the region. He has flown ultralight aircraft for years and has explored the Thousand Island region from the air for more than a decade. He is also the owner of Raleigh Island, a small granite island that is one of 1,864 islands on the river.

“I continue to be deeply passionate about this place, and when I first came here, I tended to think people took it for granted,” said Coristine. “Once, many years ago in the gilded age, it wasn’t that way, but now it was.”

Coristine has spent half of his life as a pilot and says that he has seen the world from a perspective that most people never have the opportunity to enjoy. In an excerpt from his audio ebook, Coristine said, “For many years, I flew a Challenger Ultralight, exploring low and slow without any flight plan, only discovering my destination when I finally got there. Sometimes though, we land in a place we realize we’ve been heading to for a long time. That’s what happened to me.”

For Coristine, this place was the Thousand Islands. In the summer of 1992, he set off on a flight that fundamentally changed his life. “Before the sun had set, I’d travelled to a place I could not have imagined, and from where I never fully returned,” said Coristine. Coristine combined his story of resurrecting a 100-year-old cottage on an island with his love of the river and the region in creating his ebook, which is available for the iPad and eventually for other platforms.

Author and editor Donna Walsh Inglehart co-wrote the text for the ebook, and CEO of Toronto’s McLellan Interactive Publishing Doug McLellan helped create the iPad app. Great Lake Swimmers contributed music to the ebook.

“I learned about the region through my husband Dave, whose family goes back several generations in the area, and I had met Dave in grad school. When I came to the river for the first time, my impression was very much like Ian’s,” said Walsh Inglehart. She grew up in New England, but says that she had never seen a place like the Thousand Islands before. They lived on Wellesley Island for several summers and raised their daughters there. Now, the family lives in Maine.

Walsh Inglehart recently published a novel called Grindstone. When her daughters were young, she wrote a young adult mystery novel set in the Thousand Islands region. She said, “There was something about this story that resonated for a long time and so about 10 years ago, I started doing significant research about what was happening in the area.” She was interested in immigrants moving to the area and the Civil War connection. She used the protagonist from her first novel and says that she hoped her novel would tell the story of the people who came to the region before its current residents. “The more I researched, the more I discovered, and it became infinitely interesting,” said Walsh Inglehart.

McLellan, the multimedia publisher of Coristine’s ebook, began sailing in the 1970s and travelled from Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. “That’s when I first saw the Thousand Islands, and it was unbelievable,” said McLellan. “I fell in love with the area. Back in that time, I couldn’t believe that, as Ian says, mere mortals could get one of these. I always figured if you had one, you kept it forever.”

As his business grew, McLellan began to look into purchasing an island. He met with a real estate agent and gave her a wishlist of the things he wanted to have. He received a call within a week, and said, “I went down, and sure enough, it didn’t meet absolutely everything, but it had about eight of the 10,” said McLellan. “Caroline, my wife, and I have now been on the river. We celebrate 25 years here this summer and we’re on the island right now.”

Coristine has worked with a wide variety of media in the past, ranging from text and photography to audio and video. “It was a really interesting and winding path getting to this point, and frankly, it wasn’t easy,” said Coristine, who added that this place had changed his life in the same way that the characters in some his favorite books, A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, were changed by their locations.

“I went through the typical experience of finding the abandoned, dilapidated, tear-down cottage and trying to renovate it on an island, which offers a whole lot of interesting challenges,” said Coristine. The photography aspect of his work evolved from that project, and he realized that the Thousand Islands provided an exotic setting for his story. Some of his favorite books transformed tourism in the regions they were written about, and he said, “It was the books that made them famous, and I began to think that I had more pieces than words alone; I had pictures.”

Coristine also had music and video footage to work with, and said, “I began to realize that it would be crazy to waste this and try and do it in print. And it wasn’t doable in print because by the time you have 85,000 words, which is what we ended up with, and we have 455 images in this book. Well, you can’t print that and sell it at a price that anyone would be able to afford.”

When rumors began to circulate about the iPad, Coristine realized that it would be the perfect platform for his project. It took a year or two before a company called Push Pop Press evolved and created an ebook for Al Gore to showcase their technology. Coristine says that readers saw this as the future of digital publishing. “I celebrated that I had my solution,” he said.

Coristine began to work with McLellan, who  believed that this digital revolution would have even greater impact than the onset of digital photography and music. “We’d like to lead the way,” said Coristine. “And secondarily, we’re also island owners and passionate about the place and would like to kind of leave a gift to the community. So I’m incredibly grateful that that this happened, but it was all just incredibly good luck.”

Walsh Inglehart disagreed and said, “I wouldn’t say it was good luck. I would say that Ian is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met and he’s also a visionary. One of the cores of the connecting piece is that he helped us. He helped me when I contacted him out of the blue for the cover of my book; I wanted to lease one of his photographs. It’s his open-handed willingness to give without any strings attached that pulled me into the fold and the story about Doug’s connection is very similar.”

It is Walsh Inglehart’s first foray into ebooks as an author. Her husband has created multimedia historical projects, and so she was exposed to the concepts prior to working on One in a Thousand. She said, “As a novelist, I have been very much word-based and it’s been and my belief that you become centered in a world of words. That’s the magic of literature. And this project has proven me wrong. It’s absolutely changed my understanding of how stories can be told.”

In terms of working with Coristine, Walsh Inglehart said that an issue they faced was defining the point of the memoir. In his collection of stories and memoirs, Coristine saw the potential to write a story about people who found a place that transformed them and wanted to illuminate the Thousand Islands. Walsh Inglehart said, “But I’m a story teller and I teach literature and writing, and my strong belief is that if that story is not centered around an interesting person, it’s not going to hold up because there’s lots of beautiful places in the world.”

In reading the manuscript of Coristine’s ebook, Walsh Inglehart thought that there was a story to be told. “For me, the story was about Ian and about his coming from, I would say, the school of hard knocks growing up in Montreal and his early career as a racecar driver, to finding his dream and making a new life in the Thousand Islands. So for me, the story was about Ian and he was very shy and modest about that, and we tussled a bit about that.”

McLellan said that the photography included in the book is incredible. “He is the iconic photographer of this region,” he said of Coristine. “If you’re going to buy a book on the Thousand Islands, you go and buy Ian’s books, if you can find one.” For years, Coristine spent mornings and sunsets out skimming the water and tree-tops in his plane to capture images of the area.

“My background with my company has always been story-telling, and we’ve been at it for about 25 years,” said McLellan, who was originally in television. His company started with film and video, then moved to the web, and finally to interactive technology in the form of CDs. Now, he says that he’s convinced the iPad ebooks will be the future for books like One in a Thousand and also for textbooks and magazines. These ebooks offer a wide range of possibilities: they can be read as text, or appreciated for the multimedia approach they take to conveying information.

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