Thursday, February 17, 2011

Terrific Brooklyn Book Sale!

Next weekend, February 26 & 27, is my wonderful church's unbelievably wonderful BOOK SALE. I use a lot of positive adjectives on this blog, but I could spend all my favorite ones on this sale and still not say enough good things. The books are cheap -- $2 hardcovers, $2 trade paperbacks, $1 mass-market paperbacks; the selection is awesome -- our entire church basement, filled to bursting with every form of media, books fiction and nonfiction, DVDs & CDs & tapes, children's, YA, and adult; and the money all goes to a good cause -- said wonderful church, Park Slope United Methodist.

The sale runs from 8 to 4:30 on Saturday the 26th, 12:30-4:30 on Sunday the 27th. The church is located at the corner of 6th Ave. and 8th Street in Park Slope; take the the F to 7th Ave. or the R to 9th St. for subway access. If you want to clear out your shelves, you can donate books at the church on the following schedule:

  • February 21 (Monday) from 12 p.m.-6 p.m.
  • February 24 (Thursday) from 7 p.m.-10 p.m.
  • February 25 (Friday) from 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
If you'd like to arrange a car pickup in the Park Slope vicinity, call Rick at (347) 538-7604. And if you need any more information, you can click here, but really, you should just COME. You will not regret it. And thank you.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

(Mmm. Pudding.)

And the proofs are also in my hands, as you can see here:

(I imagine y'all might be getting sick of my nattering about Second Sight, but I'm going to talk about this anyway, as it's a nice opportunity for you writers to see a little of the behind-the-scenes book manufacturing process.)

So: This is the cover proof, which I have to approve for color and final text. Both at work and here, the cover proofs come with clear plastic overlays, one for each of the various kinds of cover effects. Here I'm just getting a gloss coating, so there's just one overlay; but if I were getting, say, matte lamination along with spot gloss (aka "spot UV"), then there would be two overlays, one showing the matte layer, one showing the gloss layer, each one positioned precisely to show what areas of the color proof that effect would cover.

And then there can also be overlays for embossing, debossing, foil color #1, foil color #2, printing on foil . . . all the myriad ways in which you can bling up a book, for better or worse. Each individual effect costs money -- an additional three to eighteen cents per effect, per book (costs quoted off the top of my head), depending on the effect and the amount it's used and the print run and so forth -- which goes directly to the unit cost of the book. So the more effects a book has, the higher the unit cost, and the more expensive the book itself might be as well; but that can also pay off, if the effects result in more attention from buyers or a more attractive package overall.

Here's something I don't see at work: an actual bound book proof for approval! At work we see "lasers" or "blues," which likewise provide an absolute last chance for any text changes, but which arrive either as loose pages printed on both sides of special laser paper, or on blueprint paper printed in signatures (hence the terms). I assume whether the proofs come bound or unbound depends on the printer and its arrangements with the production department. And I think I prefer unbound proofs, actually, as they're easier to lay flat, consider, and mark up.

(Which is not to say I am not THRILLED with this as a proof: It's a book! A real book! If my unit cost had increased every time I squeed over this today, I could no longer afford to print it.)

And here you can see the actual interior, showing a spread from "Words, Wisdom, Art and Heart." The pictures are printing very nicely, which was a big concern for me; sometimes you need heavier paper to prevent bleed-through, or more grayscale to render the tones of a photograph correctly, but that doesn't seem to be an issue here. I'm going to go through this proof page by page to confirm that all the pages are there, in order, and no lines have slipped or text gone missing; and then I have to sign and return both proofs to the printer.

Then, in just under three weeks, it will be a real book, with the cover attached. I've set the official pub date as 3/11/11, by which date the books should have reached the warehouse and be available for delivery. (Ordering information to come soon.) Once again: Squee!

ETA, 2/17/11: The cover proof was fine, but I decided to make three corrections to the interior: one italicization that went wonky in the last round of proofing; one incorrect word I'd missed; and one fairly large typo I couldn't let stand. Cost of making these corrections: $52. Feeling like my book is that much more complete: Priceless.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Q&A: Francisco X. Stork, author of MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD

Earlier this month, Francisco X. Stork's much-acclaimed Marcelo in the Real World came out in paperback. Francisco and I are working on our third book together (after Marcelo and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors), but I had never actually hosted him for a Q&A here, so I asked him to answer a few questions for me, and he was kind enough to agree.

Could you tell us a little bit about how Marcelo came to be? 
Marcelo had a long journey before it came to be in its final form. The first version I wrote was not about Marcelo but about his mother, Aurora. In this story, Aurora enters Marcelo’s room a year after his death and discovers his journals. The journals reveal a very special young man. It was when transcribing the journals of Marcelo that his voice became very powerful. It was as if Marcelo was urging me to write his story. So I wrote about him, a book that I initially intended as an adult book. It had Marcelo traveling to Mexico in search of Ixtel, the young woman whose picture he discovers in his father’s files. Faye Bender, my agent, sent this version to adult publishers without success. I then decided to rewrite some of it and we sent it to young adult publishers and this is how the version you got came across your desk. As you know, there were major revisions after you accepted it. The trip to Mexico was canned. The story became more “local.” I think that with your help, I rewrote about sixty percent of the book. [CK note: For my own account of the editorial process, click here.]

The other thing I want to mention is that I never set out to write a book about a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. I created Marcelo, paying attention to the voice that was presented to me, and only later discovered that someone like him would probably be diagnosed with something. It was then that I connected him to Asperger’s syndrome.

Has there been a pattern to where your books begin for you? That is, do they usually begin with a philosophical idea to explore, or the characters, or the situation – or is it different with every book? Once you have the initial seed, whatever it is, where do you go from there? 
It is very difficult to tell just exactly how the seed for a novel is planted or where the seed comes from. It’s a combination of philosophical idea and voice. In Marcelo, for example, I asked myself what would happen if a very innocent, saintly young man discovered a file that would show him the evil and suffering of the world. Once I started playing with this idea, Marcelo’s unique voice came into being. Then the philosophical idea was put aside and the character and the story took over. In the case of Death Warriors, I asked myself what would happen if I put together two very different young men, one who was very down-to-earth, practical and consumed by revenge, and the other, idealistic, philosophical and also gravely ill. Then the voices of Pancho and D.Q. came into being and they led the way. It is very important to me to let character become the driving force of the book.

You often write beautifully on your blog about the act of writing itself. What is your personal writing process like? Do you draft longhand, or on a computer? Write a full draft and then revise, or revise as you go? Do you plan books out, or write as the characters direct you? Do you have a conscious process for developing your characters, or do they just reveal themselves as you write? 
I have a full-time job working as an attorney for a state agency that develops affordable housing. The day job has forced me to find a compatible writing process, which is not easy. When I start writing a novel, I need to accept the fact that the finished product is three to four years down the line. So I strive for patience and I try to be kind to myself. If I can write a page a day, that’s wonderful. Some days I write five pages and some days I don’t write anything. I usually write directly on my laptop and I try to keep an attitude of play about the writing. Being playful for me means that I follow where the characters take me with only a vague notion of where I’m going or what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Somehow tomorrow always takes care of itself. I usually try to develop the character’s voice or personality before I start writing and that happens over a long period of gestation. During that period I will often try out different voices in a separate journal. But, of course, characters grow and develop as I write about them and they quite often surprise me.

We’re two years out now from the publication of Marcelo, and almost three years from when you finished writing and revising it. What is your relationship to the characters at this point? Do they still feel present for you, or have they faded away a bit in favor of the people you’re writing now?  
The characters from Marcelo are still very present for me. Every once in a while I’ll ask myself: What would Marcelo do? It’s a terrible burden to create characters that are better human beings than you can ever hope to be! Now and then I’ll read a passage from Marcelo for inspiration (usually one of the dialogues with Rabbi Herschel). Reading Marcelo at this point is like reading something written by someone else.
Do you know what the characters from Marcelo are doing now? [This next passage, with Francisco's answer, is blanked out to avoid spoilers and for readers who might have their own visions of the action. Highlight to read:] In my mind, Marcelo finished his last year of high school. He had some fitting-in problems but he managed okay. His mom and dad unfortunately got divorced and Marcelo has had to deal with that. He is going to nursing school in New Hampshire. He visits Jasmine and Amos every weekend and is currently trying to convince Amos to buy some ponies. He and Jasmine are in love.

You wrote once on your blog about Marcelo, “the role of religion in the book is in the asking certain type of questions when the asking is done with mind, heart, body and soul.” I would say all your books reflect this kind of religion – the asking of those big questions, which come to occupy the characters’ and the book’s whole heart. To what extent are you conscious of those questions when you’re writing the book, and to what extent do you discover them later and weave them into the revision? 
Let’s just say that I’m semi-conscious of the big questions during the first draft. I know the big questions are there and I’ve created young people capable of asking these questions, but because I’m writing a novel and not a philosophical essay, I’ve let the characters and the story take over. Then, after I finish the first draft, you have asked me to write a letter that addresses the big themes in the book. It is through this letter that I become aware of those big questions and how I was trying to deal with them. Once this awareness is present, you and I can revise the novel in such a way that the big questions become part of the flesh and blood of the book.

What are you reading now for pleasure? 

Whenever I’m in the process of writing, like I am now, I like to reread those authors who have the kind of language and rhythms and characters that are inspiring. For me, the work of people like Annie Dillard, Flannery O’Connor, Dostoievski, Cervantes always do the trick. I also read every day something from or about a world religion.

What makes you tell stories?
I’ve always liked Flannery O’Connor’s response to the question: Why do you write? “Because it’s worse when I don’t,” she answered. So it is for me.  Telling stories is part of why I came into this world and so when I don’t write, I have a sense that I’m not quite living up to my end of the bargain. Of course, writing is not the only reason (or the most important) why I came into this world, so I try not to be anxious about the process of writing. I do what I can. I try my best. What else can I do? There is also a social element connected to the telling of stories. I tell stories about intelligent, sensitive Latino young people who in many ways serve as role models for other young people and that fulfills a sense of personal and social responsibility.

Thank you, Francisco!

Monday, February 07, 2011


The Annotated Table of Contents and Introduction are now live on my website.

ETA:  The "Introduction" link was broken earlier; it should be fine now. Thanks to those who brought the mistake to my attention!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Blogiversary and Book Cover!

Today, February 4, is a pretty significant day in my personal yearly calendar. In 2003, my dear Grandma Carol passed away. In 2005, I rejuvenated this blog, which had lain dormant for exactly two years. In 2006, I celebrated my first blogiversary, and I've tried to mark it every year since with a few brief words.

And in 2011, this is going to print:

And this is very much the culmination of all the February 4ths that have come before it: Second Sight is dedicated to the memory of my grandma (as well as my papa), and it would never have come about without this blog -- quite literally, as the blog led to my website led to writerly interest led to more talks led to the idea led to Kickstarter led to this finally happening. Thanks to all of you for your support through the years, on the blog and for the book: It is truly, deeply appreciated.

The cover was designed by Whitney Lyle, who is newly on staff at Scholastic, with much gadflyish art direction from me. (Seriously, editor + author + client in one person = designer's worst nightmare, but she has borne it with good grace.) I've been looking at versions of this cover for about three months now, and somehow posting it here and on Facebook today, e-mailing it to my book fulfillment people for my online shop, getting ready to send it to press -- it has finally become really real. Which I find a wee bit terrifying, I confess. But I so admire all you writers and illustrators for your daring and bravery, making things you imagined real in the world; and I'm excited to finally be taking that step myself at last. Hooray!