Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Am I Blue?

"It always starts with a blue Volvo, driving away." 
—Still Life Las Vegas

In some ways, my book must be a big pain in the ass for my publishers. I mean, they bought a novel, but it's not just a straight up novel. There's narrative art in it as well (the twenty-buck term for cartoons). Plus sketches. Plus color. Plus colored text. All those pluses add an expense to the printing, and for a debut novel, it takes an extra measure of faith. So, when my editor, Sara Goodman, wrote in July that she was waiting on approval for adding color, I wasn't holding my breath. 

I also took a preemptive dip into anxiety. I knew that Sungyoon Choi's amazing illustrations would certainly hold up on their own, but a POP! of color could add that much more to a reader's experience. It also served as a subtle but pervasive thematic element that wove several strands of narrative together. At least, this is the argument for color that I imagined myself giving as I threw myself on the conference room table of St. Martin's Press in a last ditch appeal for a CRUCIAL element, just as I was resigning myself to the idea of black-and-white art.

Two weeks ago Sara wrote me again. Color was in

She had just gotten approval for one other color, plus black (YAY Sara!). This color had to be derived from a single Pantone shade, not comprised of several colors together. We needed to send the colorized art files to the book's interior designer and the whole production process would begin.

The hunt for Blue was on. 

What followed was a ridiculous amount of emails propagated by me in the dark of night and hurled towards Choi, Sara and my agent, all about what shade of blue was the perfect shade of blue. Was this blue too gray? Was this blue serious enough? Didn't this one look like it came from a mimeograph machine?  (Only my agent got this reference.) And not only what shade, but where the blue was going to be used. Should this text be in blue? What was it saying if it wasn't blue? Or should it be a blue box? Could the blue of the hat match the blue of the car window?  I had a sudden appreciation for my husband's futile attempt to get me interested in the color of the dining room trim. 

Luckily, everyone humored my molehill preoccupations and gave sage, considered advice. Choi doled out color revision after color revision with the patience of a Baskin-Robbins scooper handing out samples. And the winner?:

It really is a lovely blue. And what Choi can do with one shade of blue is nothing short of miraculous.

Color does make a difference. A big difference. I am the luckiest guy in the world. Who has developed a sudden craving for panettone.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Billie Holiday, Augusten Burroughs, and Underwater Dogs: Business and Pleasure in New York

A week on the East Coast. One last hurrah before the blessed regularity of school kicks in.

Four moves in six days. Beds of varying comfort. Uniformly good showers (except the one at that hotel where the water was perpetually tepid). These are the ways older folks measure their vacations.
First stop: Rhinecliff, in upstate New York, where the Morton Library was showcasing my son Ben's photographic work. Ben has a series of underwater photos of our dog, Rowdy, who dives to the bottom of our pool in an obsessive quest for The Ball. This was Ben's first public viewing, the first time his photos have ever been by frames and red dots. The reception was a big success, well attended. As per the artist's request, Hawaiian punch and cheese puffs (both crunchy and puffy) were served. 

Could not. Be prouder.
His Auntie Sue arranged the whole event. We stayed at her beautiful home, ate from her garden and watched Swallowtail Caterpillars munching on her fennel. 

Back down to the City, where we stayed at our friends Denis & Hugo's most comfortable digs in Ft. Green, Brooklyn. I had some business of my own in Manhattan. Took the N train down to the Flatiron Building, where I had my first visit to St. Martin’s PressMy editor Sara was away on vacation (as almost everyone is in Manhattan during August) but I was warmly welcomed by her assistant, the young and impossibly refreshed-looking Alicia Adkins-Clancy, who looked as if she had just stepped from a meadow filled with daisies instead of from a tiny white office in the warren of St. Martin's in the heat of summer. 
I then enjoyed a lunch with Ivan Lett, the tall, poised Marketing Manager of “Team Still Life.” He gave me all manner of good advice (hint: it involves social media) and I left lunch armed and reassured. Did you know I now have a tumblr account? And a Facebook Author page? There's also tin cans connected by string dangling from my window so you can connect with me no matter where you are!

Ivan Lett, the man who will make me talk to people.
A quick stop to Eataly, Mario Batali’s food-court-on-steroids emporium of Italian gourmet food. It's like a Disneyland for foodies: Pastaland! Torroneville! Proscuitti of the Caribbean! I want to book a room and eat my way through every department. If you had seen the delicacies on display, you would not blame me for taking away a caprese panini even though I had JUST MOMENTS BEFORE eaten lunch. Mario must bring one to Los Angeles, we are a poorer town without one.

Lunch the next day with my agent, Christopher Schelling. It was our first meeting after more than a year of phone calls and email correspondences, and it had the possibility of becoming Momentous; luckily Mr. Schelling was as warm and friendly as his phone persona, and a good time was had by all.  He brought along Augusten Burroughs, the author ("Running with Scissors,” "Dry") with the piercing eyes and a mordant wit, whose perception of family hews close to mine own. I tried not to burble like the fanboy I am. 
I swear, I did not cripple Christopher. He came that way. 
The 9-11 Museum and Memorial: profound, and sensitively rendered. Also, intensely immersive. Fear not the commercialization and Disneyfication of the event, native New Yorkers—I think they got it right. 

Husband Doug also had a reason to be in New York: a long-awaited birthday present of seeing Audra McDonald in “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill.” We saw it the night before we left, and spent most of the performance agape at Ms. McDonald's vocal transformation into Billie Holiday. A great capper to a whirlwind trip. 

A year 'til my book is out! The countdown begins!