What have been some of the most pleasurable aspects of working on this publishing project? In particular, have you enjoyed working with the design elements of your website and with the book covers?
—Patricia Zontelli, Menomonie, Wisconsin (and London)
Pat, I do like thinking about all the pleasures there have been in what has been a very large and sometimes exhausting enterprise. Though I’ve sometimes been flummoxed, I’ve liked the challenges of doing things that are entirely new. Some have required a learning curve that’s more like a line shooting straight into the sky. The website definitely goes into that category. But before talking about that more I want to say how gratifying it’s been for me to have gone through the final editorial process with my books. In honesty, I was a little afraid of it. I’m such an inveterate reviser that I wondered if I could ever manage to conclude the books were actually finished. Something happened though as I moved from revision to copy editing checks to rereading digital files. At some point, I virtually stopped being the writer and became just a reader who found myself engaged in the stories that had drawn me to create them in the first place. I felt great about that, so that has to be at the top of my list of pleasures.
Certainly another pleasure has been getting so many good interview questions. At some point along the way, as my answers grew longer and more filled with personal stories, I realized that evolution meant I was, in effect, creating a memoir of a writing life. I was surprised, because I’ve never had an intention to write any kind of memoir. But I found that the questions drew a certain candor from me that I would have shied away from as a younger writer, but now find rather liberating. I suppose these questions have let me, once again, not take myself too seriously, yet to somehow say how important a writing life has been to me, how integral it is to who I am. I’m not sure if it needed to be said, but something about this format and thinking about the specific questioners has meant that I’ve both wanted to respond fully and have taken some pleasure in doing it.
Now to the most fun part. While the Sky Spinner project has always been first and foremost about the stories and words and about rolling up the writing efforts of a lifetime, I have absolutely loved having a chance to work with its visual elements. For one thing, it’s been a great diversion so that I haven’t been locked into working with words every waking hour. Someone told me once that a vacation is a change of occupation, and I think it’s possible to analogize that to just changing activities. Switching from reading through a manuscript or writing one of these answers to playing with PhotoShop Elements is absolutely satisfying, maybe as good as a trip to the beach. There have been so many times when it’s totally revived me. And I’ve had such a sense of accomplishment when I’ve figured out how to do new things in that magical and seemingly infinite PhotoShop world. As someone who has no ability to draw at all, to be able to translate my visual ideas into actual images has been very exciting. I’m blown away by the cheat sheets of the new digital age.
I’ve also had the good fortune of working with terrific visual people. I was lucky enough to be able to choose my own cover art, much of it from people I know, much of it work I have loved for a long time. I was also able to experiment myself with the narrative montage I wanted for the Time Stamp cover and create a PhotoShop starry sky for The Second Magician’s Tale. Of course, I had a great designer to make it all work, who translated rough ideas into workable images and did amazing things with fonts and layouts that were totally new to me. I was often so excited when the cover sketches appeared in my Inbox that I would forget to proofread the copy I’d sent for them. What was happening, of course, was that books that had been books in theory were becoming books in reality and that’s just an amazing process.
But before there were covers, there was the logo for Sky Spinner Press. The name Sky Spinner came to me the way story ideas often do. It popped into my head, and I thought, that’s it. I then had these ideas for a logo, but again, I can’t draw. I told the logo designer, who was also my web designer, that I wanted something bold and sent him some pictures of publishers’ logos that are. Then I sent him a picture I’d found of a Pallas Athena sculpture. After that, I tried doing something in Word (I didn’t know how to use PhotoShop yet) and ended up with a prototype of a head that appeared to be stuffed into an old swim cap. It is so valuable to have a good designer who has your back! Mine kept refining and I kept offering not quite articulate suggestions until bingo. There was a logo that just seemed to work and that could also be adapted for the website banner. For the record, my very favorite version of the logo is the one in gold on the spine and back cover of The Second Magician’s Tale.
When it came to the website, the web designer took my rudimentary ideas, visual and otherwise, and made them work. Even though I’d spent a fair amount of time visiting websites, it was actually quite hard for me to comprehend how the elements I wanted on the site could be created. I had to learn to think in a way that eluded me for quite some time and was pretty frustrating. It was as if I had a big block in my brain I couldn’t get around. I think it was actually the thrill of seeing some of the images go up on the site before it was live that made me realize it was all something that could work. It was major excitement when we found a WordPress theme for the site that would allow different banners, and I was absolutely wowed when the designer made the first banners using crops from the early cover designs. Once I got the hang of working with various images in PhotoShop and then adapting them to use in pages on the site myself, I was really hooked. I also loved the fact I could add music links for the different books, and that I could be as mischievous as I wanted in choosing them.
Some things about the project were gratifying just because I was finally able to figure out how to do them, such as getting ISBN numbers from the Bowker website or PCNs from the Library of Congress or figuring out a bit about how to do AdWords for advertising on Google. But all the learning involved in the whole project and the experimentation with visuals from cover art to bookmarks to bookplates were exciting and pleasurable primarily because they finally meant two things. At a time in my life when my horizons were starting to narrow and I felt some urgency about getting my work out there, a combination of the tried and true and new technologies drew me like a magnet to new ways of thinking about bringing my work to the reading public. Though I felt uneasy at times, mostly I loved the feeling of stretching into the unknown. Beyond that, because I’ve been in charge of the whole project, it’s meant that every aspect of it, not just the words themselves, has been part of a single vision. That’s felt pretty wonderful. In fact, it’s felt amazing.