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Literally.

This is my Damn France Book in progress: a file folder for each chapter plus a few more for misc. notes about France and travel and publisher business stuff that I need to keep track of.  My spiffy Reebok shoe box lets me keep all that flotsam in one, portable place.

The publisher wants to keep the page count of TDFB to 208 (for production and price-point reasons), so I’ve decided to go with the same 9-inch by 8-inch  page format that I used in When Wanderers Cease to Roam.  that’s why  I’ve trimmed all my 208 pages into a camera-ready 8 1/2-inch by 7 1/2-inch size and I’ve put each trimmed sheet into a plastic sleeve, (which will protect the art work while I fiddle with the lay-out and final text)  and then the whole shebang goes into a big fat three-ring binder (which will allow me to re-arrange pages easily if I have to, and at this point in the book-design-and-writin’ process happens frequently).  All this is necessary because you have to submit your manuscript, whether it’s a novel or an illustrated art journal, in loose pages.

This week I’ve been working on the Normandy chapter (green folder, because Normandy is a very lush, green province) and today the WIP is opened to the pages where Top Cat and I are taking leave of Omaha Beach and catching a train to a little town called Pontorson:

This is how I block out art work and text. Now that I’ve spent over a year  outlining the book’s arc, deciding which stories can stay in the narrative and which ones I have to sacrifice (for clarity, focus, and length), and have figured out which part of the narrative needs illustrations, and then I’ve dug through my diary notes and sketches and photographs to find the images that I need (sometimes, though, there is an image that I just love too much that I have to find a way to keep, no matter how relevant or not to my narrative…are you still with me?) any way: after all that, then I have to block out my book page by page. Like I’m doing here:

This is the verso page of the above mishagoss. I made these sketches while Top Cat and I were having tea at the D-Day House (top) near Omaha Beach. The fact that there was a bar-restaurant called D-Day House in the town down the road from Omaha Beach, and one called L’Omaha across the street…priceless. Well, I knew that they had to go in any art journal memoir that I was going to write about France.

So here they are, on a page where I don’t have any plans to discuss our tea time at D-Day House; this is one of those times when I can let the illustration stand for itself while I use the page space to recount a thought-provoking conversation Top Cat and I had with some tourists in the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach where Lourdes and Jim Morrison’s tomb in Paris were mentioned as close runners-up to the 9,234 graves here. It was one of those conversations that make you wonder why some people don’t just stay the hell home.

It’s important to me that each page of my book have a chocolate-box look to it (visual variety), so I am very conscious of using text in a way that doles out the narrative in tasty, bite-sized bits. That’s why I break up the page with illustrations and I use scraps of paper to block out where the text will go. And then I either write from scratch or I edit my previous drafts in order to conform with my page design.

This is what I do for every page. Every single page. And then I make sure that all the pages together have a flow — a natural movement and change of pace where necessary– within each chapter, and then I check that the chapters add up to a well-orchestrated book.

I used to wonder why it takes me three years to write anbo art journal.  I think I just answered my question.

Speaking of questions: Mindy asked me, about those street scenes from my last post, whether I copy or scan my drawings to get so many identical copies to work from. Thank you so much, Mindy, for thinking I am hip enough to be digital. The sad truth is that I am so nervous about keeping a record of every illustration which I have seated blood over that I go down to the UPS stor half a mile away and make photocopies of everything I draw. That way, if my house should burn down, I could recreate my manuscript from scratch from the duplicate files I have locked in the car trunk (because what are the chances that your house will burn down AND your car will be stolen??).

This kind of redundancy is especially handy if you are, like me, the kind of person who has to take some practise sessions with an illustration if it involves some tricky new effect. Which is basically ALL my illustrations. Here’s the latest on that street scene from Monday:

Yes, I cropped it like this. And this is how I think I want to feature it on a page – (with some Triscuits on the side). But then again, maybe it would look better like this:

So I think I have to go ONE MORE ROUND with this picture, to get the stone walls the right color grey,and to fiddle with the light coming out of the shop windows, and to get somebody for reals to pose for me (as me and Top Cat) so I can draw those two people walking away from life rather than from memory. 

Even I know that’s a ridiculous amount of time to spend on such a tiny picture, but Top Cat and I had such a romantic walk down that street…it’s another one of those pictures that I have to have in my Damn France Book. And heck: there’s an illustration in my Paris chapter that I had to paint 22 times before I got it Good Enough. And it’s still not that good.

Would you like to be in my book?

To make a point about the truth of travel (did I mention that my Damn France Book is as much about the truth of travel as it is about the art of it?) I need to tell some travel horror stories in Chapter Five. Short stories ,about 50 – 100 words long, maybe longer if it’s a really great horror story, like getting the plague or kidnapped by pirates on the Indian Ocean.

But I’m mostly interested in the usual calamities: a trip-ending fight with your traveling partner, a broken leg doing some kind of stupid tourist manoeuvre, being stranded in some hell hole because of bad weather or chicanery, running out of money and eating garbage, etc.  Did you ever have a melt-down moment on the road? Or a dose of Tourist Rage, where you vowed you would NEVER set FOOT in THAT place AGAIN?

I would like to hear about the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on vacation, on a road trip, on a business trip, or on a honeymoon. And if I use your story in my book it will be fully attributed and your name will be highlighted in my Grateful Acknowledgments. And I’ll ask you to choose an original watercolor from the book for keeps.

You can either write about your disaster here in the Comments section, where we can all enjoy them…and believe me, we all will.  Hey — we’re only human. We likes to hear about other peoples’ train wrecks.

Or, if you are shy, please email me your story at vivianswift@yahoo.com.

I’m hoping you all have had truly miserable experiences. And I mean that in the nicest way.

12 comments to I’m a work in progress. Ha ha.

  • Oh darn! I can’t contribute, because I can honestly say my hols have all been if not great then definitely no worse than fine! :-(
    Good news is that you are giving the romantic walk in the characterful street painting another shot. Real happy to see it. Also interesting to see some of the process with the regards getting a book ready for publishing. Reebok hey! Being published pays so we see ;-)

  • Shelley

    Thanks so much for sharing how you arrange your artwork and figure out how to place the text etc. I had no idea how much work was involved in each page, even after the drawings are completed. I love how you are taking us through your whole process.

    I was astounded when I realized that you had hand-lettered When Wanderers Cease To Roam. It boggles my mind. Will you be doing that on TDFB too? How in the world do you manage to make each letter so perfect and straight? That alone would take me 3 years!

    I wish I had a travel horror story for you, but apparently you have to actually GO somewhere in order to have those experiences. Sigh…

  • admin

    Hi, it’s me Vivian.

    Maybe I overstated the horror aspect of the stories I’m looking for, although lordy knows I do loevs me them tales of woe.

    Have you ever been on a road trip, say, and there comes a time when, due to all that day in and day out proximity to one another, that you’ve reached the end of your patience with a traveling companion/loved one/child/self and let rip? Had a good venting? Screamed at one another over the ways to properly fold a road map? Wanted to kill traveling companion/loved one/child/self if you had to listen to that person clear her throat ONE MORE TIME?? Realized that small personal habits, charming at the outset, drive you crazy after a long car ride?

    A sentence or two will do. Example: A good friend and I took a ten day bus trip to Scotland. The whole time, she kept comparing the country to Bavaria, which was better in every way. By the third day I wasn’t speaking to her. By the time we got home I hated her and all of Germany. (True story.)

    And good lord, NO. I will NOT be hand lettering another book EVER. I can’t go through that again, making text corrections on little slips of vellum and dropping them in place with tweezers… I designed a hand-lettered font that I will use for 80% of the text of DFB. (The trick to neat hand-lettering is to hold your breath. And not minding it when your arm goes numb after writing for five hours. All that light-headed breath-holding and the carpal tunnel are the other reasons I will not hand-letter another text ever, ever.)

  • Here’s my travel story: Before we were married, my true love and I headed for St. Lucia. When we arrived in Miami, we learned the airline went out of business (apparently that instant) but they took our *luggage* on an earlier plane. We booked a flight to the Bahamas instead. While we waited in the terminal, my true love gave me a single red rose and proposed. It was Valentine’s Day. On Paradise Island, I got horribly sunburned. My true love bought me a promise ring that I wore on my pinky because my hands were so swollen. Besides looking like I’d been to Mercury, I also got a sinus infection. So much for romance! A few days after we were home, our luggage returned from its junket to St. Lucia. It must have had a wonderful time. Every bit of my make-up was smashed. Amazingly, my true love married me on Valentine’s Day a year later. We drove to Williamsburg for our honeymoon so we could keep an eye on our luggage.

  • Janet

    Vivian, this is way longer than you asked for, but I once I started thinking of some of the things that had happened to me and my companions over the years — and how these experiences made the trips all the more memorable — one now-funny thing led to another. It’s hard not to have adventures when you’re traveling – why else would you go?

    The airline will lose your luggage and for three days you’ll wind up wearing the very same summer outfit you wore on the plane in a place where a surprise cold front keeps the temperature below freezing (Annapolis, MD). There will be a dozen party animals in the room next to yours at the hotel you’ve always dreamed of staying for a romantic interlude (Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta). You’ll get off the shuttle bus and go back and forth with the people behind the counter at the rent car agency swearing that you absolutely have a confirmed reservation before you realize you’re supposed to be at Alamo, not Budget (San Diego, CA).

    You’ll go swimming in the ocean and your brand new bathing suit will fade in the salt water and dye your skin turquoise for your entire vacation (Cozumel). You’ll order margaritas during a break from shopping and have a meltdown when the bill comes and it’s 24,000 pesos – until you work it out that you owe $4 (Tijuana).

    Ferries will go on strike and strand you for five days in Corfu, the worst of all the Greek islands, and you’ll miss your charter flight back to the US, prompting you to deliver, as directed, a grocery sack filled with $1200 worth of drachma to a “travel agent” in a sleepy Greek village who has a brother who knows someone with a cousin who works for Delta but can get you on a TWA flight to New York if you will drive to Athens in three days and pick up your tickets at a place on a one way street that goes for five miles before you can turn around. (And the tickets will actually be waiting for you as promised.) This will wrap up your idyllic trip to Greece which began when you were nearly run out of the village of Kastraki because the American woman for whom you were to house sit (a friend of a friend and someone you’ve never even met) was having an affair with a Greek guy whose wife has just found out about it and has threatened to kill her and anyone associated with her. It’s way too long a story here for here, but by far it’s the best worst thing that has ever happened to me on a trip.

    On a gloriously sunny day, Air China will cancel your flight – for bad weather – and leave you adrift in Tibet where you eventually will find one person who speaks English and tells you that’s the way things work in China and you’ll probably get another flight in two or three days (and you do, after an extended stay in Lhasa where you find a fabulous jacket for $15 and eat yak steak instead of sheep intestines and chicken beaks). Waiters will bring you the Peking duck you ordered – wasabi-slathered web feet and all (Beijing). You’ll sleep on the Great Wall and watch the spy satellites circulating overhead all night and for breakfast, you’ll have cold rice, warm beer and stink fruit (Simatai).

    A mountain lion will try to get in your tent when you’re trying to sleep inside and praying it doesn’t (Wyoming). It’ll be so cold in the mountains overnight that your VW bus tires will freeze to the pavement and in the morning, you’ll play Frisbee in the snow with all the other hippies until it warms up to 33 (Flagstaff, AZ). In 1974, U.S. custom agents will demolish your camper looking for drugs because your husband has long hair and wears love beads, but you have been warned you’ll be hassled and you have had a glorious high in British Columbia smoking the last of your stash and thwarting the authorities. (The picture of Richard Nixon on the wall on the waiting room where you sit for six hours has been egged so many times you can barely make out parts of Tricky Dick’s face.) Twenty years later, Canadian customs officials at the same crossing will demolish your rent car looking for guns — because your passport says you’re from Texas — when you and your girl friend, now both middle-aged and looking it, are heading to a spa. And you’re not packing because you hate guns and may be one of 10 people in the Lone Star State that thinks gun control is a really great idea.

    You’ll visit various emergency rooms for mishaps that befall you or your travelling companions – in Mexico after a friend gets poked in the eye by sea urchin while snorkeling in shallow water ($3 in 1984), in Corfu for asthma medicine (free in 1995), in Torfino, British Columbia for a kidney stone ($300 in 2005), in Paris for a pinched nerve ($33 in 2009) and in Amarillo, Texas for a broken ankle ($1200 in 2010 for x-rays, a pair of crutches and one 10 mg vicodin).

    Your 75-yr-old mother will be mugged at the train station in The Hague and your sister will chase down the thief (don’t mess with Texas).

    Your bathing suit bottoms will fall to your ankles when the boat pulls you up on your water skis. Of course there will be a crowd to see this (Dallas).

    Africa is my next destination — God only knows what will happen there, but it will certainly make a great story.

  • I thought I had a billion travel horror stories til I read Janet’s. She’ll win, hands down. But, you know I won’t be able to resist sending some anyway. I’m sorting them out in my mind right now. Will the ones I sent you previously count? See how seriously I’m taking this!

  • Janet

    Barbara, I think I’m pretty lucky really — my stories are just inconveniences. I’ve never been mugged, only got scammed one time for one euro by a gypsy in France, never landed in jail, seldom gotten sick, have met lots of interesting people, seen amazing things, only lost sunglasses a time or two though I must say I have lost patience too many times to begin to count, have fallen in and out of love with a stranger during the course of a long weekend and still have a bucket list a mile long. Looking forward to hearing your travel tales, Barbara.

  • I know you didn’t ask, but I like the first street scene better than the second one. Not sure why, but I do.

    And here is one of many travel horror stories:

    In 2002, my husband and I went to Alaska to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and his recent retirement. While we were in Anchorage, I needed to stop at a grocery store. My husband dropped me off and went across the street to fill up our rental car with gas. When I came out of the grocery store, he wasn’t there. I waited and waited for him to return to pick me up; after almost 30 minutes, I was pretty worried. I knew he couldn’t have gotten lost; after all, the gas station was just across the street. So all I could think was that he’d either had an accident or he’d decided to leave me – thousands of miles from home and days short of our 25th anniversary! Just about then, I heard a siren, so then I was sure that he’d had an accident. Luckily, within a minute or two of hearing the siren, he appeared. He explained his late return this way: when he left the gas station, because of a one way street, he was unable to turn the direction he needed to in order to come right back to the grocery store. He thought he would just drive around the block, but the one way street was actually an entrance ramp to a freeway – and there wasn’t an exit for several miles. By the time he was able to exit, he wasn’t sure how to get back to the grocery store, because I had the map and am the official navigator on most of our trips. So he wandered around a bit and finally found his way back. After that, we agreed never to separate in a strange place!

  • Deborah

    I am the dumbass in my travel story. My husband warned me not to do it, but I didn’t listen. We were on our way to Reno for a conference he was attending, and he warned me not to wear my contacts on the flight. I wore them (dumbass thing #1). The dry air of the plane made my contacts feel like razor blades against my eyeballs. Then we missed our connection in Denver. We got another flight, but our luggage would arrive in Reno 12 hrs. after we did. My contact stuff was in my luggage (dumbass thing #2). So there we are in Reno at 1 a.m. or so, looking for a place to buy a contact lens case and some saline solution. Nope. The only place we found was a gas station/convenience store, which sold saline but not the cases. But they sold car fuses in these little square plastic cases that would do just fine in a pinch, thank you very much. The maid might have wondered why all those fuses were in the wastebasket.

  • Rachel

    These are truly wonderful stories, perhaps we need a book recounting the Adventures of Vivian’s Friends.

    I have just been reminded of traveling with my now-ex husband and two other mechanical engineers in Bavaria. We had joined up with a business contact on a weekend off. We drove to Garmish Partenkirten, pulled into a bus stop, and the contact/driver went into the trunk to get the Michelin Guide. When he returned he said *I just locked the keys in the trunk.* By removing the back seat the guys could see the pile of suitcases, but not remove them from the inside because of a metal crossbar. An American GI stopped to see if he could help us. He had tools. The guys sawed through the cross brace, extracted the suitcases and made it to the front of the trunk and the errant keys. Then they folded the bar back into place and returned the seat. Unsafe, but looking complete. Driver then said *Too bad my wife isnt with us. I do this all the time when she isnt along to remind me.*

    There was a later incident that led to me screaming that I was now going directly to England and never wanted to see ANY of them again.

    And a humorous incident, we had driven to the small airport in Lancaster, PA from there to fly to NYC and beyond. On that particular day they were repaving the airport parking lot and had mowed a nearby field for the travelers to park in. When we returned three weeks later ours was the only car in the impromptu parking lot and it was hard to spot for the very tall weeds. We could open the doors, but then not get them closed without doing some weed-clearing of our own.

    And the time we flew out of Philadelphia and parked in the very very furthest lot and took the free shuttle to the terminal. On our return, three weeks later, Phila Transit was on strike and yup, they were the ones who ran those free shuttles. I think we took a cab.

    I once had a friend who used to say *why would anyone want to travel? The people talk funny and the water tastes bad.* But then again, that is so often the case here at home.

  • admin

    Vivian here again:

    Ouch. It hurts to read these stories. Especially Deborah’s story about how NOT to wear contact lenses on planes (insert a corn flake under your eyelid and you’ll get the idea). THANK YOU! Your misery is my gold mine.

    Rachel: You KNOW we want to hear all about your melt down and threat to invade England. Please don’t make us beg. Unless you enjoy watching us grovel, in which case we WILL beg, and cajole, and bribe if necessary. What did those mechanical engineers DO?? What?? WHAT??

  • It is easy to forget that actual WORK goes into producing a book – I suppose that is the way it should be as we want to think about how wonderful the book is as we revel in the content, not how awfully hard the process must be!

    Thanks for sharing some of the hard labour and effort that goes into your books. You deserve every bit of your sucess and then some more!

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