Three things happened yesterday.
Well, one of them happened over the weekend plus yesterday. And it was you.
What profound people you all are! I was amazed at how much thought and introspection went into your answers to the question, “Why do you write?”. From The Four Part Land’s “because I want to” (Flannery O’Connor used to say, “Because I’m good at it”), and Lady Glamis’s “beautiful journey,” Jeffrey’s “I love a good story,” Kathryn’s dream of giving “the gift of transport to some kid who might also need it,” all the way to JR Stone’s simple and honest “just to hold a manuscript.” (We’re still waiting for Gretchen.)
- UPDATE: Jacqueline Lichtenberg added a great metaphor of literature as a giant bookstore/cocktail party, writers speaking their pieces and answering each other. And Miriam Pia says her sci fi is “anything but autobiographical” (thank goodness).
We should have been talking about this all along. Why haven’t we been talking about this all along?
Another thing that happened is that my husband and I—finally—sent the files of my book off to Lightning Source late last night. We were pretty much ready Thursday, and I told everyone we were sending it. But then we got involved in preparing for this week in San Francisco and my husband’s conference presentation (he’s also doing a demo tonight—he says he’s going to be bumbling through it because the technology’s so new, but he’s also going to be the belle of the ball because, well, the technology’s so new). . .
It was a four-hour drive in pouring rain yesterday, from the redwood coast down the pastoral Anderson Valley, through the winding hills, onto the freeway and suddenly into modern civilization and bad traffic. We stopped in Santa Rosa to pick up a load of books from O’Reilly Publishing to take to the Linux conference as a favor to Tim O’Reilly. We yelled (as we always do) passing under the red arches supporting the long red cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Well, what with one thing and another, it was after we put our son to bed in our hotel room last night that we finally sat down and did a final look through my entire book document. We found a million problems that needed to be fixed and, in a fever of anxiety, fixed them. Then we uploaded the document and cover to the Lightning Source site. (It took a good twenty minutes to upload that cover, folks—that’s a lot of color.)
I had just written to my mother about it last week (yeah, I told her we were sending it in Thursday), saying, “I have always, ever since I was typing on that old Royal in my bedroom under the eaves back on Elizabeth Street, thought I’d publish my books this way—designing them all myself. I guess I just procrastinated until the technology caught up with me.” I didn’t mention it to her (because, you know, she already knew), but we lived on Elizabeth Street in the late 1970s. I was a teen.
Thirty years is a long time to wait for technology to catch up with your dreams. But you know what?
It was worth it.
Traditional publishers don’t let the author have much, if any, input into the cover or design of their own book. I’ve been tweeking that cover, moving a word a fraction of an inch this way and a fraction of an inch that way, fussing with the font size and black bands and La Favorita Press logo, even re-shooting the main cover photo Friday night with a few crucial items added, like my grandfather’s old black phone from 1950, a miniature wooden dresser my other grandfather built for my mother when my parents were first married, and a bird made of horn that my grandmother bought in Mexico in the early 1960s—my mother mailed me the original photo of La Favorita, with its old thumbtack hole and fly spots from hanging on the wall at La Joya, and you can see it now on the bookshelf.
That cover is exactly what I want it to be. The interior design is exactly what I want it to be. The words. . .well, I know for a fact I’m going to find stuff that makes me groan and hold my head once it’s all a done deal, but that’s the same way it is with traditional books, too, and their editor gets to decide when you’re done polishing it, not you. With the added insult to injury that you didn’t even get to design the cover.
Just to hold my manuscript. And lay my book on top of it.
And the third thing that happened just happened yesterday, when my son and I were walking around San Francisco’s Japantown. He’s an origami artist and has been for years, so we went into the Paper Tree origami store, on the plaza across the street from the Peace Pagoda, to see the Primate Display and maybe pick up some origami paper.
And that display just—blew—us—away.
In 2008, Dr. Robert J. Lang issued a world-wide origami challenge: primate, non-human, one sheet of paper. The results that came in were so brilliant, so imaginative, so alive that they were displayed first in New York at the Origami USA Convention, then in Tokyo at Origami House, and now here at this unassuming little store in a corner of San Francisco.
A gorilla with her baby on her back, the tiny knees clinging. A large chimpanzee with the hollows around the eyes tenderly thumbed in. A silverback male with hundreds of folds of shaggy fur. An almost abstract, utterly gleeful orangutan. A chimpanzee with the pale underside of the paper turned up on the face and ears and palms to form an expression of charm and mischief. And a dozen more.
What struck me most powerfully about them was the casual handling of the paper. The lines weren’t always crisp or straight, the fingers were tiny but imperfect, the bodies weren’t posed, but were almost crumpled into mid-action. “This is my paper,” the artist said with their hands. “I’ve put in my years of dedication, learning what it is, what it’s capable and not capable of, exploring its capacity to touch the mind of a stranger from a distance they may never even know. I know my medium. And I can do anything I want with it.”
And I want to say that to you now: it’s your paper, too. It’s your medium.
What do you dream of doing with it?