Auto Draft

I have a confession to make.

It wasn’t just my computer that was flaking out these past few weeks. My raison d’etre also took a powder.

Yes, I had to stop hammering on my damn Dell and start backing up ALL my files, and yes, I HAVE had serious discussions with people about new hardware and yes, I HAVE wanted to poke my ears out with my elbows just to make them STOP TALKING ABOUT MY DAMN OPTIONS.

But also I have been going through a morose phase of life, the one where I make midnight calls to Alfie to plead, What’s it all about?

What’s it all about when I wake up everyday and I’m not:

A. Still in the Great Pacific Great Northwest;

B. Heading to the Great Pacific Great Northwest;

C. Running at top speed back to the Great Pacific Great Northwest.

They should make warning stickers for every plane ticket to Seattle/Portland: Travel to the Pacific Northwest Can Cause Serious, and I Mean Catatonic, Lifestyle Envy.

But I’m back today, fully integrated into my old status quo, and today I am going to share with you another peek into my fabulously glamorous life of professional book writin’ .

For the past htree weeks I have been a veritable factory of FINALIZING THE FINAL BITS. Four editors have gone over the text, two editors have given me contradictory mandates (yes, I had to change stuff, and then change it back), and another editor has told me to stop saying that the other editors suck, and now all I have to do is prepare the manuscript for final production.

Now, if I were a sane writer, I would have by now an electronic file that Iwould, at the push of a button, SEND to my publisher . End of story, finis,all done, do that smacking of hands thing that people do when they wash their hands of a thing well and done.

But nooooooo, I have to be a crank, have to make my books by hand, have to be in total control, and get all medieval on my manuscript. Here’s how I get my original art work and original hand-set type into a format that can be turned into a book-shaped object:

Step One: Move all my crap from my workroom onto the biggest table in the house, in this case, the Dining Room.

Clockwise, top left: binder containing original manuscript; packet of vellum to cover finished mounted page with,;Elmer’s Glue with which pages are mounted; various rough drafts that I might need as fall-back if I screw up something in this process; 11-inch by 14-inch sheets sent to me by my publisher Bloomsbury with position marks for each page, numbered from 1 – 215 [includes extra pages for mishaps]; paper cutter to trim these out-sized sheets down to a more manageable 11-inch by 11-inch square (something I learned the hard way after doing my first book); pile of already-trimmed sheets.

Got that?

This is my light box, on which I have taped (Scotch tape is crucial to the whole process) a guide: this represents the true dimensions of the final trim of the book, with lines and markings to show me where the center lines of the page are, both vertically and horizontally. I have to place every single page of my manuscript onto this guide and position it so that all the art work and text is straight, aligned, and mounted with the proper margins for top and bottom AND with extra allowances for the “gutter”…that is, the edge that is going to be bound (left side for all odd-numbered pages, right side for all even-numbered pages). Yes, I have to do this manually for each and every goddamn page, all 208 of them.

This is what an odd-numbered page looks like at this stage, mounted on my light box and adjusted so that it is not dead-center, but instead shifted towards the right edge so compensate for the visual equilibrium that will be lost due to the “gutter” on the left hand edge.

Got that?

For reasons that have to due with the fact that during this scrutiny I still find shit that three editors missed (every editor except my French editor, who  was the best) and rectifying it takes research and materials i.e. glue, scissors, tape, white-out, mucho cursing; and I also have to keep all these loose, mounted pages in order and, well, it gets messy.

I got the bright idea to tape pages onto the walls of my dining room so they could dry — remember, I am gluing the art work, and taping the text into place. I took this photo while I was still young and gay (I see the Normandy pages, around 95 – 114). This is true: I sprained my left hand with repetitive motion somewhere around page 135 and had to tape up my favorite index and middle finger to prevent further injury which meant that I was, for all accounts and purposes, left totally right-handed … and still I had to keep turning out pages, and pages, and pages…

Today I am happy to announce that I have finished all the mounting, the last-minute editing, the last-last-minute patching up, and the last-last-last-minute re-writes/re-paints (yes, I did re-paint two whole pages)/re-edits.

After one last look-over, I’m sending this whole pile off to the production dept. at Bloomsbury, and from now until pub date May 2012 it’s their baby.

And now –

and now –

and now –

I’m in the wilderness, mapping out my next project.

It’s a life saver to know that you, dear readers, are here with me, making sure I don’t get toooooo far off track. Thank you for all your emails and good wishes — I nominate you all for Best Readers on the Interwebsnet!

15 comments to The Truth About Publishing, Part 5.

  • Wow! What a great look inside the making of your book! I can relate to the repetitive stress injury as I have tendinitis in my elbow…so glad it didn’t damper your spirits and you were able to finish your pages despite that. I’m sooo looking forward to buying a copy for myself and tons for my French-lovin’ friends! xo

  • Carol

    It is TERRIFIC to see you this morning!! I cannot wait to see the book – it is a BEAUTY!! And your next project – what about Scotland? New York City? Long Island? the secret life of cats? Spoiled Readers who love your work and want to see what is NEXT!! I would say that your reason for being here is to remind the rest of us that life – precious, everyday life which is happening RIGHT THIS MINUTE, even in a Tax Office – is to be noticed and treasured. And THAT is a pretty cotton picking good reason for your being with us!

  • Janet

    Welcome back. Hand layouts — I remember those, with wax machines that laid a think layer of wax on the back of the page so you could just press it down. And light tables…I nearly put mine on Craig’s List a couple of weeks ago and in the end, decided I wasn’t quite ready to part with it. Not sure why. Probably the same reason I kept about 200 albums, next to the turntable that isn’t connected to a receiver and speakers so I could actually use it. Like all your fans, I am eager for Le Road Trip and whatever comes after.

  • Rachel

    Ah, Janet, thank you for the reminder, I too remember waxed pages and hand layout. And stacking one finished section on a radiator and then a cool snap turning the heat on one morning in August and MELTing a bunch of hard work.

    Vivian, it is so very very good to have you back here amongst the interconnected. And in fine fettle as well. Mondays and Fridays have just not been worth attending without your morning encouragement. And now that we are officially into summer…not my favorite season and I need all of the help I can get.

    Hoping that the computer purchase is going ok and really looking forward to more of your commentary on THAT process.

    It is just so good to have you back home.

  • Susie

    Oh dear Vivian, I’m soooo glad you’re back in the land of the internet blogging stuff! We miss your life adventures and photos!

    Seeing your dining room reminds me of making quilts. Not as nerve wracking, but I used the dining room table and stuck quilt blocks all over the walls. Till the cats grabbed them down.

    Your book experience must be um, well, kind of awful, I still couldn’t help laughing at how you describe it all. Did you sleep? Still go to work?

    We’re looking forward to this volume, especially dear since we’ve seen how it’s been for you to ‘birth’ it.

    Welcome back.

    PS. My baby, Derek (29 yrs old) is just now making enough money to travel if he wants. And Seattle is his first choice. I’m afraid he won’t come back to New York!

  • JOAN

    OH, yes! She’s back among the cybernets, she’s back among the fans of Le Vivian.

    I had no idea that the book making process (your end) was SO complicated. I imagine that blue bits of words were flying around that dining room, landing in little ashen pieces on those Oh so killer pages…physically wounding the author. Plus haggling with the editors and having to re-do, undo, redo…Oye! I’d be a very nasty person by this stage of the game.

    In this day of electronic wizardry I’m amazed that you toil at this primitive way of compiling your books! But thank goodness you do. It makes me treasure my first book even more since that one was HAND WRITTEN! Sheesh, you must be a masochist. Once this baby is shipped off…or do you hand deliver it via horse and buggy? I wouldn’t be able to trust the Postal Service. We have a long history of love/hate going on here.

    You said you had tons of options regarding the computer…what did you do? Buy a new one or stick with the old one?

    I’m eager to hear what your next endeavor will be…

    Hope Top Cat bought you a case of very nice wine or champagne to celebrate the end of the manuscript.


  • Fascinating. I had no idea of the work entailed with such a book.

    I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while and our decks and foundation were moldy most of the year. Great rhododendrons and fuschias…a gardener’s dream, but wearing a rain coat for most of the year is a drag. Mold is also a drag.

    Even though your writing skills and imagination would be unchallenged by the subject matter, I vote for a cat book for the next project. Because I like cats and like your approach to them and because I think it would sell very well and who doesn’t like a pay check once in a while???

  • Nadine

    Where are the cats? Don’t they help?

  • Cheryl

    reading this post is going to make your book SO MUCH more valuable to me – I will love it not just for the beauty I see and the words I read, but for what all you have done to create it! AND I will feel so much more connected with it because I’ve watched it be created. and there are no other books like yours!

  • Cheryl

    oh, and I forgot to say that having spent 4 weeks one summer in Portland and Seattle, then a few subsequent weeks in later years in both Seattle and Portland, I sure can feel your pain and longing to be back there.

  • Seattle and Portland — better than Long Island? nooooo.

    Loved your descriptions of hard work you’ve done for the enjoyment of the rest of us. AND YOU GO TO WORK five days a week. I don’t know how you do it.

    That crack team of computer experts you showed us before your break are still working hard, too, I suppose. Cats are very hard workers,for sure.

    Glad you’re back.

  • Deborah

    With all the profits from your forthcoming bestseller, you can buy a second home in the Pacific Northwest — a retreat center would be nice so we could all come visit.

    I hate that each page takes so much work for you, but I love that you use such everyday items/products in producing the great works. Happy for you that it’s finis and that you gave yourself a little vacation from le blog.

    I had a short stint working at an academic journal years ago using the wax layout method. It was kind of fun, but my stint was short because I wasn’t very good at it.

  • Sally

    Congratulations, Vivian, on the completion of your book!

    I’ve been away from blog-reading for a while, and thought I’d have a lot to read to catch up, but no. Good for me, but bad for you, you were otherwise engaged.

    I really appreciate learning what goes into the production of a book like yours, and am amazed that it still takes so much hand work. I am reminded that after I learned to card and spin wool for use in hand weaving, my husband suggested that the next time I wanted to buy a dress, I should just buy a sheep.

    You are not grinding your own ink, or making the paper, but you have certainly put more of yourself into this book than authors who merely spin out words. Really impressive.

    Best wishes for the resolution of your repetitive motion injury.


  • Wow!! One must suffer for one’s art! Well done you. I’m impressed and I plan to use this as a reason to put off putting my own idea for a travel book, at least for this week. No, just kidding, really inspiring and thank so much for letting us all in on the process. I’m excited to get the new book that will sit next to When Wanderers here in my little house in France.

    Keep the faith…

  • Tracey

    I’ve just had to restore my entire operating system, so I sympathize with the computer problems. I, too, have periods of missing Seattle.

    You might want to see if you can get Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene,Brooklyn

    to let you do a book talk on the Damn France book. Dekalb Ave in Fort Greene has great Seattle-like cafe named Tillies that you would like.

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