Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Design

One of my passions is book design. I'm not an expert, though. I appreciate books-as-art-objects, especially novels whose design and illustration enhance the story, where form and content mesh seamlessly.

David Diaz's design and illustration of my book The Wanderer (Joanna Cotler Books, HarperCollins, 2000, 305 pages) is (admitting bias) one of my favorites. (Examples above.)  Diaz designed a different icon for each of the 78 chapters, plus additional full-page sectional dividers. His artwork bears repeated close study for the way that repeated visual elements (swirls of the sea, for example) echo the story's repeated thematic elements. Some day I would like to frame each of his chapter openings!

The first chapter book in which I remember noticing the visual elements was The Timbertoes by Aldredge and McKee (Beckley-Cardy, 1932, 1943). It was also the first book I read in which I was completely and totally 'in the book.'  I remember staring at the illustrations that complemented the text, unable to leave the world of the story:


That color illustration still draws me in; the caption still makes me laugh.

David Diaz also "illuminated" my book, The Castle Corona (Joanna Cotler Books, HarperCollins, 2007, 320 pages.) I was stunned at the way his full-color illuminations perfectly captured the tone and milieu of the story. I may have slobbered over the artwork:

Each chapter opens with half-page full-color art.

The paper is rich, the edges are deckled. I love what Diaz and the publisher did with this book.

Three recent books I also greatly admire include:

Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press, 2006, 200 pages). I would have loved, as a child, to find this book in my hands. I would have pored over every sepia illustration and every full-color one:


Another recent book whose design I especially admire is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little Brown, 2009, 282 pages).  The meshing of form and content is brilliant:

And a third, recent book with elegant design is Pam Munoz Ryan's The Dreamer, illustrated by Peter Sis (Scholastic Press, 2010, 372 pages). Everything about the design of this book–from the paper quality to the font style and size, to the illustrations, to the selection of green ink–embellishes the artistic awakening of the boy who is its subject.

Do you have favorites, especially among illustrated novels, to recommend?

I have more, so I'll need to revisit the topic later.  Meanwhile, please remember that all artwork above is copyrighted by the illustrators.

Ciao, bellas, and good night. . .

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Writer's Notebooks

Readers often ask if I keep a journal, and my answer is 'not exactly.'  Some writers use journaling to expand their thinking, to sketch and explore a character or a place or a plot in words.  Since I am working on a story nearly every day, that kind of exploration goes right into the rough draft, not into a journal.

What I keep are notebooks. The difference between these and journals are that most of my notebooks contain random fragments.  The notebooks on the above shelf, some of which go back twenty years, contain names and titles I might use one day; titles of books I wanted to read and books I liked; paragraphs from articles; cartoons; quotes--all sorts of random bits that felt worth noting.

What might seem odd is that I rarely open these once they are full.  They feel, instead, like 'insurance,' in case I ever run out of ideas!

I choose notebooks with nice paper, usually small:

The one ongoing 'big' notebook (like the 3-ring pink one above) is for the book in progress. I start a new one for each new book; it holds lists of characters, chapter summaries, ongoing questions to myself ("What does this MEAN??"), title possibilities, etc.  A few photos are tucked into that binder; these are from a place that appears in the story.

In the 'current' smaller notebooks go stray words, phrases, and titles that don't fit the current book but are probably zinging around for the next one.  Also in the current books are bits from dreams, random doodles, cartoons, travel notes.

I might save a favorite cartoon (usually by Harry Bliss) or a note about a camera someone has mentioned:

The drawings usually emerge when I'm on the phone but my mind is still 'in the book,' so maybe I am doodling a scene from it, or just letting colors realign my thoughts:

On the right-hand page above, I was in Switzerland, looking out the window, thinking of the angel in The Unfinished Angel, and what that angel might see from her/his tower. I am not an illustrator, obviously; I am a doodler.

If you were to trawl through all my notebooks, I think you would be puzzled. You might wonder how all those random thoughts and drawings could possibly represent the mind of a writer.  But here is how I think of them:  they show some of the flotsam that floats in and out of my head, but the books I write are my attempt to shape something meaningful from all of that 'stuff.'

Do you keep a notebook? A journal?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Drafts, Lake and Trees

In the third draft of the book in progress, I ruthlessly cut a hundred pages and made the pages messy but the story neater. Yesterday I printed out a clean fourth draft: so nice to have clean margins and pristine pages.  Now I'm going through this draft slowly, seeing if is whole yet.

Meanwhile, the outside is calling, calling:

Gorgeous out there!  So I work for two hours and then go outside for a bit.

The dock is out, but the kayak is merely resting, waiting for me.

Back inside, I work for another couple hours and then dare to look out the window:

Guess I'd better get back out there. Maybe those trees and leaves and lake will make their way into the story. Maybe the Deep Significance of the story will come to me as I'm paddling the kayak. Or maybe not.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Last week I wrote about an accumulation of boxes. This week I noticed another clump of objects that have found their home in our home:  rocks.  I love rocks--their solidity, their texture, their permanence. I love to sit on them, walk on them, hold them.  Usually, I like rocks in their natural habitat–outdoors–but a few special ones take pride of place on my desk or night stand.

The large one above at top left was a present from my daughter when she was four; the rock is from northern Virginia.  At top right is a flattish rock with great bumps and mottling, from Lake Chautauqua in western New York.  Bottom left is a special hunk from southern Switzerland, and the one at bottom right, a gift, is from the coast of southern England.

The above two rocks are particularly special. They're from Maine, gifts from my grandchildren.

I use each of the rocks as paperweights or simply as reminders of all that is simple and perfect. I cannot tell you what kind of rocks they are; I'm no specialist.  Perhaps you will know. . .