Author Fair, Take Deux

I sat next to Marian in the Children’s book section, a probably 60-somehint African American woman with a shock of  gray hair that exploded like a plasma ball from underneath her hat when she removed it. By the end of the four hours I knew more about her life and hobbies than anyone else at the fair. Marian did most of the talking, though I was anything but silent. She had travelled the world, we exchanges stories about Japan and how everyone sought her autograph there back in the 70s.

She was apparently a fixture in this particular library, as everyone seemed to know her, so it was only right that I was the next to be drawn into her world today. She made a comment about samurai and “did I have a man-bun?” I turned to show her my pony tail and she laughed. At one point she alsmot accused me of being metro and we both laughed about that.

I ended up buying one book, Sideshow, a romance story about an aspiring opera singer. I admit that I was first drawn in by the cover, a beautiful ethereal photograph. The subject matter, while not something I suppose I would normally seek out, somehow resonated with me.

My friend Brian was there with his Novel, Chip Dip. There was Claudia with two books of Popcorn recipes. A man who had training and showing exotic animals for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Another author who was at the last fair in Plymouth with a table full of wire- and perfect bound books.

Several people came up to the booth and only one seemed to have no other motivation than to get a raffle ticket out of me. “I’m trying to win something for my cousin,” he said. At least he was up front about it.

The traffic wasn’t terribly heavy, but several people did stop by and leaf through the book while I rattled off an ad hoc ramble about the subject matter of the book. I couldn’t seem to get it straight in my head each time. By the end I was jokingly saying, “it’s a book about a little elephant… who goes on adventures”. True, but not really selling it well.

It didn’t matter. The rainbow of origami elephants drew them in, and several put on the headphones and listened to the audiobook for more than a minute. One woman gushed over the prints and the artwork but only signed up for the mailing list.

One librarian approached me and mentioned something about reading at schools. I acted enthusiastic, but the idea sort of terrified me, because at the moment I can’t imagine reading Zōsan to a classroom of kids. It’s a bit long for that sort of thing, though I could  limit it to the first chapter, which is the best cliffhanger-intro sort of piece anyway.

I did a couple of rounds and like the last time, it was awkward to strike up conversations with most of the people, but at least with a couple of them, we sort of hit it off and talked about both of our journeys to this point. The convoluted path to publishing, the abhorrent cost of digital four-color printing and how in the hell does anyone find time to market themselves?

Not so with Marian. I admit I first felt a captive audience, while I was setting up she would pepper me with questions every half minute or so. She is one of those people you don’t mind talking to because all her inquiries are in such earnest, and you can tell how genuine she is. She’d been to several different countries in her lifetime, she said, but still somehow hadn’t made it to D.C. We laughed at the irony.

That is one of the best parts of these fairs. I gave away more origami elephants than anything, but I did sell two more books to complete strangers. But when it comes down to it, what’s really great is when you find another person that you can connect with on any level.

I had daydreams of the books flying out of my boxes, as I’m sure many attendees do, and when it came time to clean up at 4pm the stark reality that I had only sold one book weighed in. But that is one more book than I had before, and even though it didn’t always translate into a sell, there seemed to be bonafide interest in it. And at least I had Marian to make the whole thing fun.

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Publishers 

It looks as though one secret to getting published is simply finding the right publisher. There are many and their submission guidelines can be fairly specific. 
Sadly I won’t be able to make wallpaper from rejection letters because everything is handled digitally, and most publishers say since they see hundreds or even thousands  of submission every week, they take the “opt-in” approach of only writing those they  intend to publish. Which is understandable. 
Nonetheless the search begins. I’ve already found a small handful that seem like they might have interest and submitted one. Every journey with a single step, and all that. 

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Evolution

I had forgotten the evolution one of the climactic scenes had taken before I arrived at the final version. Many of the early sketches focused on the sunflower close up, but it wasn’t until later that I used perspective to create more drama and further emphasize the idea that it was plucked from above. Also in the final, Zochi is squinting more convincingly.

Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 11.27.13 PM
Evolution of “Sunflower”

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Feedback gives the good feels

Sending out Zōsan was a bit like how I imagine NASA scientists launching a probe out into the great unknown.

There it goes…

The time thereafter is filling with so much silence, though you remain hopeful that it makes it to its intended destination.

…hope it makes it…

And then, weeks, months, sometimes years, that signal comes in.

oh wow!

Every now and then I encounter someone who has my book, and they take that couple of moments to mention a few positive words about it. They may as well have handed me a bucket of dark chocolate and given me a steady five minutes of high-fives. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t motivated by positive feedback. I don’t seek it out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it!

I’m sure there are many out there who have read it and thought these things and for myriad reasons the feedback never got to me — and that’s okay too. Hearing it from even just a few—even with so few words—is enough. After all, the real motivation comes from the making and the doing, but it never hurts to get that faint signal every once in a while.

 

 

 

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Fifth Grade Dreams

This week I mailed out three letterpress editions: one to my cousin, who has been holding off reading the PDF for many months in order to fully experience the whole thing, a second to Clare, the talented illustrator and printmaker in Portland who helped me realize the whole dream, and a third to my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Kevra.

She got wind of my book through a friend’s mom — the parents and teachers of my elementary school were very much involved our collective education. She was our fourth and fifth grade teacher,  with a reputation for being hard on students. Since then I’ve realized that the teachers that everyone said were “too hard” were simply the ones who cared enough to push everyone to be their best, and Ms. Kevra certainly fit that description. I remember half-assing one writing assignment and it came back with a big fat zero and a stern note, which cannot recall verbatim but the message stuck regardless: “You can do better”. She called me out on my own laziness and I never forgot that.

I wasn’t exactly sure how to tell Ms. Kevra how much my time in her class meant to me, but then I realized that for all the words I could throw together, Zōsan was concrete evidence of her influence.

Fifth grade is where I learned to really write. Thirty years ago (!) I wrote silly and not-so-silly stories loosely based on all the things I read. The entire fourth and fifth grade classes pretended we were astronauts, pioneers, revolutionary war figures or native americans, and for the span of a couple of weeks researched and wrote as if we were actually living in that time.

I read a lot more then. And like most kids in elementary school, I did book reports. But Ms. Kevra allowed us to do our book reports on tape, and I loved listening to books on tape already, so I jumped at the opportunity. I read many Paddington Bear books and by the end of those audio book reports I had slipped into a inconsistent British accent that I picked up from renting every Monty Python Flying Circus VHS Cassette that the local video store had to offer. I probably did more than a dozen, though only a handful still exist.

It’s funny to me sometimes because I once dreamed of being a cartoonist, and a writer. It seems that you can’t really run away from those dreams, they merely follow you around until you choose to notice them.

 

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Limited edition prints

They are here! The first limited run print of the book. Printed using a Vandercook press on French paper speckle tone by me in the Signal/return shop, there are only 10 of these (with the text) and 10 without. 

I had some printed with the book – but they were inadvertently folded by the binder. So… I took the opportunity to make some myself. 

You can have one these special 6″ x 18″ prints for $40 (plus shipping)

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Opening day

I had no idea it was also the day the Tigers started playing in comerica park this year. The traffic was bad heading into downtown but thankfully I sidestepped most of it, making that sharp right turn on to Gratiot to swing around to Russell street. 

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for but it felt like it was waiting for me because despite the reams of sport fans parading through the streets there was a single parking spot right outside the front doors of Signal-Return. 

The person that practically greeted me at the door, entering at the same time, was in fact Lee, the printer in residence that I’d corresponded with some weeks ago. And so began this journey.  

   
Despite calling myself a graphic designer for getting close to two decades now it had been years since I approached work this way, in such a a viscerally physical manner, and I’d never worked on an actual press before in my life. Never set type in the traditional sense of the phrase, though I know all the terms and can tell a bad rag from the rest. And now I was walking into the heart of it all, in the heart of Detroit. 

   
   
Reintroduced to the word of metal, wood, and picas I was relearning a new but familiar language. I half followed everything Lee was telling me but refrained from taking copious notes, instead allowing myself to focus on doing. I stopped caring if I made mistakes, or understood everything and treated this like one big if, an experiment. 

And Lee was the perfect teacher. Clearly passionate and a self proclaimed print nerd but neither too pedantic or methodical. We mixed ink by sight and tested it and slathered it all over the place. I suppose the measurements setting up the plates were one of the more meticulous tasks but everything else was very much trial and error. 

But it all quickly felt satisfyingly familiar, as if I’d done it all before wait with all the adrenaline that comes from learning a new thing. I was eager to try but patiently awaited the advice from the mentor. Once into it everything from the turn of the crank to listening to the soft hiss of the ink being applied was a symphony of sensory input that created a fuzzy wholistic picture, both literally and figurately throughout the whole process. 
   
    
 I ended up making about ten prints. Half with the text and half without, using a color close to Pantone 431, a dark cool gray composed of mostly translucent white filler, black and reference blue. It’s a lovely subtle color that resembles the celadon fabric of the book. 

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make it back but you can be sure I will, whether its to make more prints or try my hand at setting type, or learn new techniques from Lee to use in another book. This was going back to roots for me. Everything that got me started in this was all about handling objects, cutting things, manipulating by hand. 

This is just the start of what’s going to be a brand new day. 

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