Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bookbinders cover it all

Shab Levy takes a whack at it.
I'm an infrequent attendee of a monthly bookbinders' club here in Portland, but when I go I always come away encouraged by others' insight into the craft and their projects. All-around talented guy Shab Levy staged his altered book near the entrance so we could get a laugh on the way in, and the ensuing chat covered many bases, including one member's show and tell of her incredible illustrated journeys and another's fascinating library finds (a journal on written languages? Very cool—and I wish I remembered the name of it).

Often in the honing of my elevator speech given to nonbookbinders, I stumble on how to stress the importance of one of the world's oldest, most effective, and most durable communication tools, but this crowd needs no explanation.

We're all book believers. From that starting point, we pursue infinite conversations that serve as inspiration for making more.

Speaking of making, I head into the studio soon to prepare wares for my only show/sale of the year, which runs 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Northeast Community Center, 1630 N.E. 38th Ave. right here in Portland, Ore.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rejection can make a heart sing

Just a quickie post here to say I received another rejection for my manuscript, with this observation:
You have many strengths as a writer, including character development, integrating Chinese words into the text, presenting facets of Chinese culture, incorporating humor, and establishing scenes.
In the months of writing when I knuckled down before the cursor after leaving behind my newspaper life, I strived for all these things. Now someone's noticed. Along with these kind words, I also received feedback for improvement. Fresh eyes bring new ideas, and I'm grateful.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Think of it as "Eat Pray Love" for the cerebral set

Another day, another draft. China under the Covers proceeds
toward publication. Check out the awesome how-to illos!

At my first job in publishing I wrote rejection letters. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of them. So when I started sending out my queries on behalf of China under the Covers, I could easily imagine where they landed, and what would happen. My missive would add to an ever-growing pile, likely the responsibility of an editorial intern or assistant (bless them) to magically make disappear.

Every once in a while I would sneak a good query from an unknown writer on to the relevant editor's desk at the magazine where I worked, but I knew that was risky. It could get totally lost there, never responded to, and yet—there was a chance a heretofore unknown writer could go on to make contributions and renew everyone's faith in "over the transom" submissions.

My competition—good luck finding it.

I started sending out my proposals last summer. So far—and I just received one today—three rejections. That's still a far cry from the 121 received by Robert M. Pirsig when he shopped Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (one of the half-dozen titles sitting arm's length away from me in the section of my library that I dedicate to inspiring masterpieces).

Given how little information is out there regarding Chinese bookbinding and the burgeoning interest in craft, printing, and books, my book fills a gap and shines a light on one of civilization's most useful and enduring tools. The only other book I've found dedicated to Chinese bookbinding is Edward Martinique's slim manual (left) written for the academic audience and printed in China in 1983.

I have two more agents and publishers to send to, then I embark on the independent route. Luckily, I have incredibly experienced people helping me get there, including ace proofreaders and an expert illustrator.

In other professional development news, this summer I reached a milestone in my quest to get comfortable speaking in front of crowds. So when the China under the Covers show goes on the road, I'm ready.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book production continues, and so does paper shopping

Fresh sheets fatten up the inventory at Ma Nao Books.

For me, inspiration comes in the form of a huge tube full of Japanese paper, recently ordered from Washi Arts.

The riot of color and pattern make the rainy days of fall and winter bearable, even welcome. I look forward to spending time in the studio in a few months—once the book is on its way to press—and dreaming up new wares to wrap in this fantastical paper.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The kid's got to be kidding

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hundreds of years of bookbinding in an hour can make your head spin

... but luckily the students at Warner Pacific College could handle it. 
After a presentation on Chinese bookbinding this month, Warner Pacific students take a look/feel of my book-model petting zoo.

As part of Pamela Plimpton's Global Literature class, students read Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a book about the influence of books on two teenagers undergoing "re-education" during the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s. I follow up with my summary of inventions leading to the book, basically all the Chinese innovations that made Dai's sweet breezy tome possible.

Four books and a box: the xian, baobei, hudie, and jingzhe
books show how one of the world's most
important cultural tools came to be.
Speaking of possibilities, it occurs to me I did not post an official reveal of the project that is central to my forthcoming Chinese-bookbinding book. Along with travel stories, cross-cultural shenanigans, language lessons, and romance, readers will learn how to make four of the oldest book forms in paper (except the scroll) and a shutao hard-bound case to hold them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Making a case for Chinese books

Chinese books, usually softcover, often have a hardbound case for protection.

Folios folded and pressed will make up four books.

Folios divided and collated.

Two books, the xian and the baobei zhuang, feature "paper nails."

The books are covered in the traditional indigo-colored paper.

Finally, the last image/project for the book is done—models of the four earliest bindings aside from the scroll, along with a hardbound case in which to house them. Along the way, I have checked, rechecked, and triple-checked measurements, hoping I avoid any angst or wrath from newbie bookbinders looking to learn the age-old techniques.

The books try the case on for size; measurements are taken
at 32nds of an inch for a perfect fit.

Speaking of the book, I received my first rejection letter! This puts me in the company of so many other authors I admire, and hey at least it is a response. A response from a query sent five months ago, but a response. My first job in publishing involved writing hundreds, maybe thousands, of rejection letters, so it's probably my turn.

Since I submitted to other publishers and agents, I expect to receive more, and also am pushing forward on self-publishing if it comes to that. One author I met recently described his experience working two times with a publisher, and then self-publishing his third book. The latter is the only one that's turned a profit, so I'm heartened. He says, too, that you can no longer count on the marketing muscle that used to be the chief reason to be publish with one of the bigs; many publishers leave it all to the authors now. So I don't feel so timid about taking this path more independently traveled.
Two ties and a couple of biezi clasps, and we're done.

Come to think of it, that's how the book came about in the first place. The foundation that funded my project to learn bookbinding in China stipulated that the learning couldn't come about as a class or through some academic route; it had to be a person-to-person exchange. Pre-Internet, I worked hard through the mails and networking to get a toe in the door at the National Library of China. I twisted that toe until my foot fit, and once I was in there, I smiled big and never let on that I was desperate for a chance to work elbow-to-elbow with master conservator Zhang Ping.

It worked. This many years on, I'm still amazed.