Carole Marsh Magazine

The Art of the Book

[Based on a talk by Carole Marsh Longmeyer, given at The Conservancy at Palmetto Bluff, February 2015.]

I was born three months early three days before Christmas (determined to be a Capricorn) and weighed one pound and eight ounces. I fit in the palm of my father’s hand. Sans eyebrows, eyelashes, and finger- and toenails, I otherwise seemed to be “all there,” except as later would be eventually noted, pretty much blind as a bat.

Oh, I could see—or thought I could—since I had no other sight with which to compare. In kindergarten it did not occur to my teacher that since I could “tell time” on paper at my desk (but failed every time test when she held up a clock in the center of the room) that I might have eyesight problems. I guess I just thought her clock had no numbers or hands?

In first grade, I only learned to read when those giant Dick and Jane books arrived, large enough to require standing easels, and with words in a bold, 72ish point type font.

Books became my best friends. I was allowed to go to the local library and check out as many picture books at a time as I wished. I would lug them home and read them on our tiny porch, sitting criss-cross-applesauce in a squeaky metal rocker with fat vinyl cushions.

While I turned pages, pages are not what I saw. As a small child, when those oversized picture books were open before me, they became a world. Holding the book close enough to read, I did not see beyond the edges and thus was immersed in a rectangular CANVAS filled with art—illustrations, words, space, color.

This canvas world was such a compelling picture in my myopic view that I lived there, often literally. Once, my mother fussed at me because I had not said a word all day, nor moved from my rocker perch. But how could I?  In the middle of the white world of snowy Alaska, an Eskimo mother and daughter hunkered in their igloo and gnawed seal skin for hours to make it pliable enough to be turned into clothing. In my mind, I was the other sister, and sat still and gnawed—in my mind—and could not speak until my work was done.

To me, a book was not a stack of pages—it was a canvas. When I grew up and became a writer and publisher, I drove printers crazy by often insisting that sentences flow from page to page across the “gutter" causing them to have “registration” nightmares trying to make those sentences line up straight in spite of printing and collating and cutting and binding. I think they only did it because I was cute and young and blond.

People often ask me to talk about writing—how to become a writer, how to get a book published. I usually just start wadding up paper and tossing it over my shoulder. “That’s how you become a writer,” I say. As for publishing, well, I charge a lot to explain the obvious—that you can publish at will. Some people want to know the technical part of printing a book. That’s interesting, too.

But my favorite thing to tell is how a book is created; that’s where the magic happens; the rest is just busy work. Someone once said, “Writing is easy. Take a knife. Open a vein.” Creating a book is not easy. It’s not an event; it’s a process—an almost impossible process since most books are collaborations. But I think it’s fun, in a sadistic—not enough time or budget but way too many people and opinions—sort of way. You can’t do it one page at a time. Take, for example, 200 pages of eight-and-a-half by eleven inch paper and paste it on the wall into a canvas about 140 feet by 190 feet…and begin!

What is a Book, Anyway?

This is a book.

So is this.

I’m pretty sure we can’t even imagine the “books” of the future.

But assuming that to most of us, a book has, at a minimum, words, pictures, blank space, and other stuff—someone still has to decide what all that is and what it looks like and who will do it and where it goes and such.

And all that is called ART.

An Example of the Art of the Book

I admire the person who created the “blank book.” That solved a LOT of problems, even though I’m certain there was arguing over the cover and trim size and number of pages. Even a book filled with blank pages is not easy to do!

The “art of the book” I’m about (for the purpose of this show and tell) is not the most glamorous art you’ll ever see, nor the most complex, praised, or priceless. You will never find this art on Sotheby’s auction block, hanging in the Louvre, or squealed over on Antiques Roadshow.

If I’m lucky, this book may one day be found swinging between two small hands over a belly a’rock in a hammock…or earmarked by sticky fingers and annotated in color pencil…or saved in the peak of an attic or far corner of a cellar—disheveled, perhaps, but too beloved to have been disrespected and discarded as trash. This art is the art upon and within a small press book (although the same applies to any book, published or not, by press big or small, or no press at all.)

In 1979, I (and, as I later learned) around 24,999 other people, created small presses. Many foundered and died; others went on to be moderately, or even outrageously, successful. In the 35th year of my press—Gallopade—I recall the deciding moment that compelled me to take not only the small press, but also self-publishing plunge.

I had taken my first book to an elite publishing confab on Madison Avenue in New York City. The three-piece-suited gentlemen around the conference table may have been flummoxed at the young girl with the Southern drawl perched among them, but were too kind to comment or tease. Indeed, one who sat beside me took sincere interest in my plans. When I expressed a great desire to have a press like his illustrious publishing house publish my first book, he took a look.

He smiled.  After a few moments, he advised: “You go back home and publish this book yourself.” When I looked aghast he added, “And then you can put your publishing revenues in one pocket and your author royalties in the other. [Note: He failed to mention all the associated bills that would come with both!] He looked at the book again and a strangely wistful look crossed his face. “Also,” he added in a soft voice, “you will forever have control of your creation—cover to cover.  That’s important.”

Only time educated me to the wise and wickedly difficult decision he had encouraged me to make. Over the years, I found myself not only an author, in charge of the important content on the pages, but also, and even more alarmingly to me—The Art of the Book.

What is a Book?, Part II

It did not take me long to realize that a book was more than words. The book “package” (a poor name for the slim, chunky or doorstop of bound printed paper that is a final “book”) is what’s important. After all, you can’t have a book without a cover, can you? Or design? Or illustration? The truth is that of course you can. There are authors whose words are so fine and true we would read them if rubber-stamped on a paper bag or squirted onto the sky in light. But in the commercial world of a “trade” book, the package counts, and the package starts with the cover.

When I self-published my first book, it was just as Mr. Madison Avenue had said: I was in control of all. I actually knew how to write, having had my own public relations and corporate communications firm for years, while also writing newspaper and magazine articles, and other things. But what about the COVER? What about the ART?

For a long time, I thought that meant a pleasant design, good photograph or illustration, and an appropriate type font for the title. [This was quite an insight for a for a poor-sight girl who had failed for twenty years to realize that fonts came in different “flavors”!]

I found myself awash in a tsunami learning curve of Century Old Style and a million other fonts…papers of every color and weight and grain and more (who knew?!)…so many colors they came, I learned, in books with names and numbers and formulae for their correct creation. Since four-color printing was the norm, I had to fathom and figure out various presses, who Ruby Lith was, negatives, a pica pole, imposition—and a few hundred other things. My world was a new big art toy box.  Since I didn’t know the “rules,” I had a blast!

Right from the beginning I had a notion that I should “be true to the book.” Since the pages were built of my heart and soul, I assumed that this same passion should apply to the design, illustrations, photography, and “grace notes” of my books. And so, I plunged into the joyful absurdity of creating covers with real pressed-flowers on them for a colonial-era garden book, or hand-tipped in stained glass-colors for a child’s storybook (yes, individually done covers, at night in front of the television, something my husband and son may never forgive me for?), and a book for children on “Bill S.”  (Shakespeare) with cover and interior illustrations done in crayon on parchment.

Sound silly? The truth was that I had the right idea, but it was expensive and time-consuming, and not a great way to scale a new publishing business, but it sure was fun. What I learned in those early years was that the “art of the book” could be anything. That there really weren’t any rules! And, as the Madison Avenue man had promised, I would have control of my books forever—a good thing since that meant I could change and improve them at will.

Over the first few years, I realized that my homespun efforts at the art of the book were a tad corny, quaint, curious, folksy and charming. It was informative and comforting that when I tried to trade new-and-improved covered books for old editions, no one wanted that. “It’s so original,” one reader said. “These will be collectibles someday!” swore another. “It’s like folk art,” a customer told me, refusing to exchange an upside-down bound version for a “correct” copy.

If I could go back, I would have worked harder to stay in this impossible art mode, but I felt I had to trade rubber cement clad, ink-stained fingers, and a gazillion paper cuts for the real world of publishing—if I wanted to make a living as a publisher—and I did.

Version 1.2

Creating a book for a child (and my market was primarily 7-14 year olds) is not a fine science. No one can tell you what will work or what won’t. The finest photograph or illustration may reap a nose-in-the-air from a persnickety young reader. A plain white cover that screams: THIS IS NOT A BOOK COVER may create acceptance chaos—especially if you toss in the word UNDERWEAR somewhere. It’s a crapshoot, even if sometimes, an educated crapshoot.

What I learned from “playing at art” in those early years was to only care about the kid. I told the main book buyer for a major national book chain, “I don’t care what you think when I’m writing or designing the book. I don’t think about YOU at all.”

“That’s exactly how it should be,” she responded. “It’s the only way it ever works.”

Also, I learned that I should not waste my passion for the entire book, cover-to-cover. So many books are created in committee, and we know how that goes for almost anything. I found it was better to be wrong and to be right, than to be right and to be wrong. In other words, I had to follow my own drummer and keep my eye on the prize—the eyes, hearts and minds of my reader.

Oddly, perhaps, this sometimes means not doing your best. In kids’ books, it’s often the funky, weird, course-opposite-to-custom that wins the race to the cash register. Also, and this was so important, I learned to be just as impassioned about the inside of the book as the cover, not just illustrations or other types of art, but little things, even page numbers. I can compromise on covers, but I hold my ground on page numbers—you gotta pick your artistic battles! Just as we refer to “grace notes” in books, I refer to these nice, extra attention to details as “grace notes” in the design and art of a kid’s book. I also call it charm and magic, and kids deserve it.

But let’s get specific here:

The Art of the Book Example

Most people assume that “doing kids’ books” is easy. Not so. As a publishing friend said, “You can make a mistake in a book for adults and no one bats an eye—but make a mistake of any kind in a book for children and you will be skewered!” But what’s a “mistake” in Creative Land? Others are sure to tell you—and they will almost always be wrong.

Fighting the Civil War…Again

One day I spotted a small newspaper article that mentioned the upcoming 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Oops, I thought, our teacher and librarian and museum customers will expect us to do something about that.

There are only two things I really hate to write about:

  1. War
  2. Stupidity

War+Stupidity pretty much defined America during those years. My especially least favorite thing to write about is bloody violence and adults doing really dumb things like standing face to face and shooting one another. I was doomed.

Nonetheless, books were penciled in on the budget and calendar and it was my baby. I do like the hard ones, especially the impossible ones, and these books were just that. After all, they had to be inexpensive enough for teachers to buy, accurate to the hilt so museums would buy, and fun, too, so the kids would read them. Civil War…bloody violence…fun? Yep, humor was absolutely required. That didn’t faze me as much as the 60-day deadline.

Cue Music…

In your head, hear the Mission Impossible theme song. Attacking the book (there turned out to be seven!) like a military campaign (why not?), I gathered my A-Team—writers and artists and designers, editors and proofreaders and printers and more whom I had worked with before and trusted. More importantly, they trusted me, the General of this book. That’s important because, remember:

They aren’t pages.
It’s a canvas.

And so when we all stared at the large volume of square feet of blank paper, we all had, basically, a blank square.  I asked one question: “Who can draw a long oval by hand?” Randi raised her hand and I nodded. She took a pen and paper and drew a thin-ruled long oval. “Good,” I said. “Now draw one twice that big and one twice as big as that one.” When she did, I nodded again. “You are the paste-up artist.”

I pretty much went around the table dishing out verbal assignments against that great white wall before us. Everyone knew I had an idea, which was true. Only, I had no idea what the idea was! That’s the creative part, the trust part, and the art part. I guess that’s three parts. The other part was this: “No one outside of our team can know what we are up to!  No copy, no sketches, no page layouts, nothing must be seen by anyone else in the company.”

“Or they’ll freak out?” blurted my book wrangler.

“Exactly,” I said.  “And with four years of war…”

“Plus ante-bellum stuff,” someone inserted.

“And Reconstruction,” added another.

“And surely we gotta show the whole Emancipation Proclamation,” insisted a third.

“Yes, yes,” I said, with a dismissive wave of my hand, but FIRST…”

And we were off and running!

What Does Come First?

The entire premise of the Art of the Book is that There Are No Rules. You’d think writing would come first, but I had no intention of writing this book, as you’ll see.

I had only two people to please and here’s who I picked:

  1. The book buyer for Gettysburg National Military Park
  2. A history-nerdy fourth grade boy I know.

If we could please them both, we would win this war!

And so, against that blank white battleground staring down at us I continued my assignments:

  • I put Emily on determining exactly how much blood was shed during the Civil War.
  • Yvonne’s job was to do line art to illustrate all kinds of things, cover to cover.
  • Crazy Whitney’s task was to create Facebook pages and twitter feeds for some of the famous generals.
  • Vicki was to design the covers and find us a cool Civil War type font and some great non-blue and gray colors.
  • Randi was on paste-up and design.
  • And John was in charge of ladybugs. “They need Rebel caps and Union caps,” I said. “And work us out a footer where the page numbers are in a cannon ball coming out of a cannon, and the cannon keeps moving along on each page, until…”  “KABOOM!” John finished my sentence. I smiled. I love working with my A-Team.

As we adjourned, Randi asked, “You’ll be sending me copy, right? Copy you haven’t written yet?”

“I will!” I said. “By midnight you’ll have more copy than you can shake a stick at!” Randi and I always work at night, usually from after dinner until three or four in the morning.

“And who will do research?” someone asked timidly. She looked around, accustomed to seeing mounds of books when we began a project.

When I admitted that I didn’t know, and that we had a LOT of pages to fill and only 60 days to go to press, suddenly it was like the first shot at Fort Sumter had been fired. “BUT?” “WHO?” “WHEN?” “HOW?” “WHY?” all were shouted out as hands pointed at the giant empty white canvas hovering above the conference table.

I repeated the same answer I always gave. “I have no idea,” I said. “Remember the movie Shakespeare in Love?” Everyone groaned. “They kept asking Bill S. (that’s what I’ve always called him since I wrote a book about him for elementary school kids long ago—parchment notebook paper, crayon art) the same questions and you know what he said?”

John knew the story well. “He said it was magic. It would all work out.”

“Well it is magic,” I said. “And it will work out.”

Before they could start in again on me with more questions, someone asked: “But what are the titles?”

I stared at the ceiling a moment, then smiled and reeled off:

“WHAT WAS THE CIVIL WAR ABOUT, ANYWAY?”
“WHO FOUGHT IN THE CIVIL WAR?”
“WHEN WAS THE CIVIL WAR?”
“WHY DID WE HAVE A CIVIL WAR?”
“WHERE WAS THE CIVIL WAR FOUGHT?”
“HOW WAS THE CIVIL WAR WON?”

I had turned their questions into titles.

About that time, Lori walked into the room.

She was holding a large paper box. A good-looking soldier (her new husband) followed behind her. He carried a stack of three more boxes. They put them on the table.

“Hi!” said Lori. “We just got back from our honeymoon and I was telling my new hubby about your new project.”

The soldier interrupted excitedly. “I told Lori that I’d been collecting Civil War books all my life. Here they are! Keep them as long as you need to. Hope they help!”

The A-Team’s mouths gaped as the cute couple left the room. The boxes were opened and inside we discovered every kind of book on the Civil War you could imagine, ranging from serious history by famous historians to photo books from famous Civil War sites, to biographies, and even a book on Animals in the Civil War.

I handed it to Emily.

“But how will you write all this up?!” Randi asked.

“I don’t need to,” I said, grabbing a book. I opened it to a random page and pointed my finger to a paragraph and began to read. It was a passage written by a doctor on performing amputations of arms and legs all day long, with no anesthesia. I picked up another book and read a passage by a slave woman on trying to feed her children during the war. I reached for another book and someone shoved the box out of reach.

“Why should I write what has already been so eloquently written—far better, more accurately, and more poetically than I ever could,” I said humbly. I looked up to see moist eyes.

Janice waved her arms at the boxes. “But how will you find all the stuff we need fast enough?”

“Remember the movie A Beautiful Mind?” I asked. More groans. “When he stood there and looked at that board with all those Einstein looking formulas and different numbers just stood out to him? I’ll know them when I see them!”

Our time was up. “Hey, who’s on photos?” I asked.

“You don’t mean like that picture of a haystack of amputated arms and legs, do you?” asked Emily.

I smiled.  “I do indeed!”

We adjourned.  As they left the room, I never let them see my hands tremble. I truly had no idea how we’d get these books done. But as I stared at the canvas, I only knew one thing: We would and it would be beautiful!

As I packed my things to leave for the day, the cover artist caught up with me. “But what about color and humor? On the covers?”

I laughed. “No brown, girl—give me lime and turquoise, purple and red.  And a wild and wiry kind of font. And, oh, yeah, give Sherman a convertible, damn his hide, and a GPS.”  I thought a minute. “And then put a lil’ blond Southern belle in his path. Let Sherman look lost and she can say, ‘Ask directions!’”

John was behind me. “You know we can’t show any bias; it’s one of our biggest rules.”

“Don’t worry about that,” I said. “Wait till you see what we do to Robert E. Lee!”

John laughed. “One of those guys with bad hair days, as you always call them?”

The Battle Begins

Whether you’re a painter, sculptor, composer, writer, or any other kind of artist, you know the only way to make art is to…start. You can erase, edit, or change anything. But I love the sculptor point of view best. Many say, “The sculpture is already in that beautiful block of marble. All I have to do is carve away the stone that does not need to be there.”

I feel the same way. That giant white canvas staring at me was the white space…all I had to do was either add words and art, OR, believe they were already there and just leave the space left behind that did not need to be filled. Magic, indeed.

[Note: With a different team, there might have been chaos as each person expressed a gazillion opinions, each certain only their idea was best. Arguments can range from something as simple as the leading (space) between letters, words, paragraphs, margins, every aspect of art and design, white space, and more. This is generally utter chaos, sort of like much of the Civil War, except with no winner, certainly not the budget, schedule or reader.]

For four weeks I grill over every borrowed book, selecting the passages for what we come to call the “bubbles.” I write some introductory and transitional copy, headlines, and more. I dictate and approve art—so many subtle ways to get it wrong. When I need to say something I can’t say (“No bias!”), I write copy for the myriad ladybugs who wade their way through the bubbles and art. I edit and proof and sign off on bits and pieces. I dream up more ideas and assign ideas that come in from others on the team—great ideas as we gain a total buy-in to sharing the essence of the Civil War with young readers, as well as the caretakers of the history—the Civil War battlefields and other historical sites.

Everyone’s a trooper. Emily calls the CDC and Emory University to see how much blood is lost for an amputated arm, a leg, this kind of wound, that kind of wound. She works magic with facts and algorithms until she comes up with an astounding number, asking, “Who wants to share this with kids?” The answer: “All of us who hope they never go to war.”

Randi gets my copy each night about nine; by then I am spent, but it’s my job to stay up and keep her company as she designs, drops-in copy, offers ideas, and like me, suffers over the story. I love an artist who actually reads the copy. One night she texts, “I’m in tears over that last entry—how do you wade through all that horror and grief? Let’s go to bed.” It is four in the morning; I readily agree, then stay up proofing her work until dawn.

Just as in any sculpture, painting, musical composition, or Shakespeare play, there comes a critical moment where you question why you are doing this. Is it right? Is it good? What are we doing wrong? And for us, a big question, which Janice asks best: “We are only halfway through the book, but we have only a third of the pages left. What will we do?”

As usual, I rely on creative magic, and reality. The war speeds faster as it goes along. If you don’t think so, read the tales of Georgians trying to salvage anything, including their lives, ahead of Sherman’s onslaught and the fire. Read passages that talk about so many bodies on a field that it’s like walking over an endless swath of lumpy fabric. Read of slaves locked in a wooden church, then set afire. We want the end to come, so we head in that direction faster and faster.

The humor helps. The covers are great, bright, impactful, with a tad of humor. The back cover copy boasts, “This ain’t your grandpappy’s Civil War book!” And it isn’t. Whitney does a great job with the Facebooks and tweets—we find tears of laughter for a change, and even wonder, “What if there had been social media back then?”

The cannons and cannonballs finally algorithm themselves together. Lincoln comes to save the day. We endure Appomattox together, a place I once found myself at dawn on an anniversary of the surrender. The morning was so foggy all you could see or hear were ghosts. I cried when Grant let Lee keep his horse and guns. Sober respect. No winner, really, but maybe I am showing some bias, though never in the book. In the book, it’s up to readers to draw their own conclusions. My writing reputation and company have been based on that for more than thirty years.

“The inside covers have to be done NOW!” John invokes. We are near press time and even the editor and proofreader and copyeditor are doing things piecemeal, just to keep up.

“It’s easy,” I tell John. “I want ladybugs marching from the front inside cover right onto the title page.”

“The title page does not appear until page four,” he reminds me. “That slipped out and the managers are in an uproar.” That makes me mad; I respond by adding a stupid note right in the book: Where’s the title page? Page four…get over it! It remains in the final book, as does a copyright page with smart-aleck attitude. What can I say? The war has gotten to us.

Randi is cramming in more and more bubbles. Yvonne’s great line art is tucked here and there like bolls of cotton—we will use it all.

At last there is only the inside back cover; all other pages have been approved and the press is ready. “What?” John asks me. “Not ladybugs?”

“Just a few,” I say, “Confederates and Union. Have them march from the top left to the bottom right and off the page.”

“What will they say?” he asks, looking at the clock in panic.

“Only two will speak,” I assure him. “Let the last one on the left ask, “Where are we going?”

“Ok,” he says, inserting the copy even as I speak. “And the other one, the last one?”

My head hurts.  It’s been a long sixty days, but nothing compared to four long years, plus the prelude, plus Reconstruction, right up until…well, sometimes, I think, it seems like now.

John looks worried.  “One more line,” he encourages.

“No,” I say.  “One more word.”

“Where are we going?” John reads the previous line back to me.

“Home.”

He types it in and the canvas is finished. We go to press.

Masterpiece or Big Mess?

It’s been an ordeal. I can tell because we don’t even celebrate. We know that the managers (and even though I own the company, I have to care what department heads think and they are reasonably miffed that I have shown them nothing except advanced covers, so they do have some hint of what’s coming inside the book.)

But whether management cheers or groans at what they see (too late now—orders to ship!), the A-Team begins to back-up final drafts, pack up the books, return all the tools, and otherwise clean up from what’s been a big project—to cram a four-year war into very few pages and make it 100% accurate, and, fun to read.

I thank everyone, but it will be weeks before we can even tolerate each other enough to have a celebratory luncheon together.

I go home.

End Game

By now, the canvas on the wall is limp and scrawled upon.  It is not the book pages…but it is the “art” that inspired it all. That and real heroes, many just children, brothers berating, then killing, brothers, women who tuck their hair beneath caps to go to battle with their husbands, and more, so much more. In the corner of the canvas there is a diagram of how many swimming pools or freight train cars it would take to hold all the blood shed. There’s an X through the pool—we just can’t taint such a pleasant image; we have gone with the train cars.

The next time I come into the office, the canvas is now wadded in the big, green trash can. Early orders have shipped. A set of new books sits on my desk; I can’t even look at them. Did Picasso ever feel this way?

I wander into the sales and marketing department. Everyone is at lunch. I spy giant yellow ruled pages (like you buy in a huge pad from Staples) taped to the top of the wall, and cascading down onto the floor. I go closer and read a neatly written list:

VICKSBURG
ANTIETAM
NATIONAL ARCHIVES
FREDERICKSBURG
MANASSAS
WHITE HOUSE GIFT SHOP
TUSKEEGEE INSTITUTE
BANK STREET BOOKSTORE
STONE’S RIVER
APPOMATTOX
And on and on.

A sales rep wanders in. “What’s this?” I ask. “Places we are calling about the books?”

She gives me a curious look. “No,” she says. “These are the places that have bought.”

I look at the list again. I picture our loyal accounts that always buy our new history books. Then I picture the lovely gifts shops at the many amazing Civil War sites. I try not to picture the sites “back then,” but I can’t help it.

I find a step stool and climb up and strain to read the name at the bent top of the yellow sheets: GETTYSBURG.

I get down and go to a phone. From our database I find the number and call the gift shop buyer there. I do not know him.

I tell him who I am and ask if he’s gotten his books. He says yes, that they are out on the shelves now.

“What made you buy them?” I ask.

He hesitates. “You know, kids are not so into history these days. We have to sell it, especially if we want to stay in business, and keep the history alive.” I know this to be true.

“But didn’t you have to read the books, send them through some approval process, check our facts?”

He laughs. “When I saw the covers, I knew they were for us—history, but exciting. Even humor—gotta love Sherman with a GPS!”

I’m stunned. All you can do is the “art of the book”…but the final review is up to the viewer.

“I gotta run,” the buyer says. “Great job. In fact, I’ve got to handle a sale of all the books to a teacher—she’s been standing there reading them aloud to some kids for an hour now!”

“They could, uh, just go outside and see for themselves,” I say.

“Hey, hang on,” he says and I hold the phone, listening to background chatter I can’t understand.

At last he comes back. “You’re gonna love this,” he says. “There’s one kid who likes the books so much…he wants to buy you a book.”

“Not my own book?” I ask, perplexed.

“No, no,” the buyer assures me. “He wants to buy you a biography of a Civil War general. He asked if I thought you’d like one on General Sherman!”

Now I stand in my office in Georgia, just south of Atlanta in Peachtree City. You can’t get much more Southern than that.  I laugh, “You tell him that will be just fine, as long as he autographs it for me!”

The buyer laughs. “He’s doing it now.”

Blood, Sweat and Tears

People only think books, or any other art, are created with paper, ink, stone, paint, music notes, etc., but it’s not true.

In the tenth grade when I know for sure I want to be a professional writer I wrote a definition of writing:

THE EXCRUCIATING ECSTASY OF TRANSFORMING GRAY MATTER INTO BLACK TYPE.

I have never changed my definition (especially since “Take a knife, open a vein” was already taken.)

Art, of the book, or otherwise, is about pains and joys, and excited girls and boys.

—CML