Sunday, August 31, 2014

guest post: folding cranes

One of the most lovely experiences I've had working on book design was collaborating with Laura Stanfill on the cranes for Kate Gray's book (whose official pub date is September 1st) Carry the Sky. I photoshopped their backgrounds out and arranged them, but Laura made them. By hand. Lots of them. And photographed them for me in various positions. Whenever I'd need a new color or a slightly different angle, she'd make more.

This is a book publisher I'm talking about. Hand-crafting paper cranes for the cover and interior of her book.  Not only is that dedication, there's something so personal about it to me. The care with which she ministers to her stories.

I asked her to write about the sweet circumstance in which she became the hand-crafter for this book, and she wrote me a beautiful, little essay. Here's Laura, talking about folding cranes.


In fifth grade, I changed schools. From public to private, elementary to middle. An older girl, during the morning rush of bodies in halls, during the first unnerving week, said “Nice backpack.” She had the same one as me. L.L.Bean. I knew enough not to know whether that was a compliment or an insult.

Before that, I made things. At home. An only child, not lonely at all, with popsicle sticks and glitter and pompoms, staples binding my own handwritten books. I made vending machines. I made a paper toilet that one of the neighbor kids used for real. I made cities. It fit that, when offered an array of after-school activities that fifth-grade year, I chose origami over soccer, and began folding neat squares of thin paper into neater, smaller, intricate objects.

I learned how to wash hands so as not to soften the paper, how to run a fingernail over a crease to make it sharp, and how to read a pattern, when I wasn't doing homework or practicing my flute, I taught myself to work smaller, taking little blots of paper, cutting them into sharp-edged squares, and folding them. I filled a Tic-Tac mint box with tiny origami cranes. Ones that still fly, if I tilt the clear plastic container, open the white plastic spout, and pour a few into my palm.

Many years later, as a small press publisher, I found Kate Gray’s debut novel, Carry the Sky, in my submission inbox. In the boarding school within the pages of her book, teachers are required to wear J.Crew or L.L.Bean. I thought of my backpack and that girl in the hall at my new school, feeling buffeted by all the bodies, feeling unsure. Kate describes the rush between classes as rapids.

As a fifth grader, I didn't have community yet, didn't know the teachers and students who would shape me, fold me, into someone willing to take risks, to continue exploring creativity, to make mistakes, to study hard. Another school, or another set of friends within that school, might have landed me in a world more like the one Kate writes about in the unblinking look at bullying that is her debut novel. I might have continued second-guessing what people said. But I found the right people, teachers who value thinking and creativity. “Nice backpack” was intended as a compliment, and that girl became one of my best friends. Is still one of them.

There’s quite a bit of origami in Carry the Sky. Bugs, dinosaurs, a rowing shell, cranes. When Gigi started working on cover ideas, I mentioned my long-ago training, and she asked me to fold and photograph a few examples. My fingers remember how to fold cranes, can still crease paper the way I was taught in fifth grade, and I fold them for my daughters now, offering them a choice of puffed or flapping. They want the ones that move. Gigi wanted the puffed ones, for that extra sense of dimension.

The same week Gigi asked me to fold, my husband brought me a package. My inlaws hosted foreign exchange students over the years, when their children were high school students. One of them presented a pack of small squares of origami paper, and flat splintery chopsticks. A date in the packet says 1984. Kate Gray set Carry the Sky in the fall of 1983. My mother-in-law had no idea I was working on publishing this boarding school bullying novel, no idea that I needed to fold cranes. She was cleaning out, moving on.

Nobody had ever opened the cellophane. The origami paper was fanned out with perfect symmetry, paperclipped, and preserved for thirty years in one of their closets.

I broke the seal, picked one plain bright square, and began to fold.

Carry the Sky debuts September 1st. The launch event takes place at Powell's City of Books (downtown) on September 5th. You can check it out through Powell's here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

anniversary show off - a retrospective

On Friday, the day before the weekend before the week of our wedding anniversary, both of us busy with projects, Stephen said to me, "Can I ask a question?" He looked like he wasn't sure he should ask. "Have you started working on my anniversary card?"

I said, "Oh my god, no!"

"Me neither," he said. "Everything I thought about working on is lame."

I said, "Oh my god, everything I thought about working on is lame too!"

Raised eyebrows and a half smile can go from tentative to relieved, back to tentative so fast. "What would you say," he said, "if just for this year," he said, "maybe," he said.

I reached out and, without saying anything else, shook his hand.

Of course, as relieved as we both were that we could let the tradition lapse for a year (it's not really a year, of course. We make personalized cards for Christmas, for Valentine's Day, for each birthday...), we've been feeling the expected letdown that comes from not being able to get up in the morning and show off the apparent brilliance of our personalized anniversary cards (because isn't showing off what togetherness is all about?). So, I decided what needed to happen was a retrospective of all the silly anniversary cards we've labored over since we started this tradition.

Because I'm not as organized as Stephen, and can't find my file for the card I made him in 2007, we're going to start with him.

2007, his to me. The outside.

The inside.

Neither of us has whatever the heck card we did for each other in 2008. So, we move on to...

2009, his to me.

2009, mine to him.

OK, I don't have that one either But I assure you it must have been terribly clever.

2010, his to me.

2010, mine to him.

2011, his to me.

2011, mine to him.

2012, his to me. I still think this is my favorite of all time.

2012, mine to him.

2013, his to me. This is the first anniversary after his fall.

2013, mine to him. The outside image.

The inside image.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

true love scars

Recently, I was given a sneak preview of a book that's out this month by music writer Michael Goldberg (who was a senior writer at Rolling Stone among other things). It's Goldberg's first novel, and I've been excited to check it out. Years ago, he spent time in Tom Spanbauer's basement, workshopping this very book, and I've missed his runaway freight train of a voice and the story I got to know so well, but which I never got to hear the end of, since Michael moved out of state and out of the Dangerous Writers workshop before finishing the book.

As it turns out, I still have yet to get to the end of the story, because that breakneck freight train has turned into a trilogy. True Love Scars is book one in the Freak Scene Dream Trilogy, a story about Michael Stein, a 19 year old "freakster bro" at the brink of the seventies, doing drugs, obsessing over music and pining for his "Visions of Johanna Chick" - Visions of Johanna after the Dylan song. Dylan is God to Michael Stein, a god almost as important as the narrator's quest for what he calls the "authentic real" - or his quest for the perfect woman:

Ahab got the whale, which is a huge symbol for some unreachable mammoth goal we yearn for, and Columbus gotta prove the world ain’t flat, which is mammoth too, and he runs right into America, and if that ain’t mammoth, nothing is. And Gatsby got Daisy, who’s pretty much the same deal as the whale and America. No disrespect to Daisy, but she’s a symbol too. Well daunting as any of those three might be are my trials regards my Visions of Johanna. I needed a chick bad that fall day. And I’m not talking about getting laid. This was way deeper. I was searching for the key to the rest of my life. If only I could find my Visions of Johanna chick, she’d do for me what Sweet Sarah once did, mirror back to me who I am, and once again I would stand tall. Once again I would be the last freakster bro standing, guns a-blaze.

This is sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, folks, which normally you probably wouldn't think would be my thing, but Goldberg's book is full of a voice that is so breathless and particular and, what attracts me the most, innocent. There is such a sweetness in the narrator, such youthful naive charm under all the F-bombs. (There are lots of F-bombs. Sometimes when he read pages in the Dangerous Writing basement, we'd count the F-bombs.) Michael Stein knows everything there is to know about music and the music scene. He's a walking encyclopedia of rock 'n' roll. But there's so much that he doesn't know. And it's in what Michael Stein doesn't know that the story finds its heartbreaking charm - and, of course, its danger.

I didn't know the hellfuck of what the next years would bring. You can’t know. If you did it would be too much to bear. There’s this Chet Baker album called Let’s Get Lost. Well that year, the year that began that day I met Lord Jim, we were all looking for a way out. Me and Lord Jim, and the others. You’ll meet them. None of us ready to feel. The drugs and booze and cigarettes and coffee and music and sex—all the ways we didn't feel. Well there were times when the future leaked out. When we had to feel something. Mostly it was let’s get lost. We tried so hard. To feel nothing.

True Love Scars is a crazy ride. And a thoroughly dead-on look at what it was like to be young and yearning and out of control and freakster hip in the late sixties and early seventies. You can check it out here.