Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Update -- Calm Before the Storm

Ah Saturday morning.

I'm sitting at my dining room table watching the wind peacefully loose snow from the trees behind my house. Behind my back coffee is percolating and the music of Rameau is just beginning to fill the room.

I like these calm moments. Creative work always requires you to live in your head, so it's not that mornings such as this are oases of introspection. I think I just like the quiet because I know I'm not ignoring anyone else at the moment. In many ways, creativity is a selfish impulse -- even though you're ultimately trying to share something with the world. It requires that you shut a lot of people out and turn a lot of people down. The voices in your head speak just loudly enough to demand attention, and just softly enough to require isolation.

...And don't read too much into that "voices in your head." I'm not speaking of a Gollum-type situation. :)

I know that this particular moment of calm won't last. As you've probably gathered from my Twitter Feed and too-terse Disqus comments, we've got a deadline fast approaching. A big, snarling, pointy-toothed deadline. So my calm Saturday morning is especially appreciated. I've got a Luzern ROTK program to finish up, and after that I simply need to put my thoughts in order and batten down for the storm to come.

Where are we with everything?

On January 4, Gary Day-Ellison and I set into internal design work in order to create a couple of proposals. I can't thank Gary enough for his guidance and patience during this phase. This is an especially dense and complex book. It's both analytical and narrative in nature, something that can be mined for individual nuggets of information, or read straight through in a strictly linear fashion. The analytical material is often interlocking, and the narrative material weaves together separate timelines and realities. So how do you keep that accessible and beautiful?

It all comes down to the eye. How does the eye meet the material? How do you navigate? How can you turn the page and immediately recognize what's what in our complex interlocked structure?

Gary's suggestion has been to create a rulebook. That's not a metaphor -- I actually typed some of this thing out! The rulebook states how different bits of material must be treated in the book, how much flexibility we have in terms of layout, and what we can not do.

For example, how will a choral text be presented? Where can it appear on the page, where can it not appear on the page? How many texts can you list a row before they feel overly dominant? How do we present a partial text? How does the choral text's font compare to the primary text's font? How will the title font compare to the lyric font? The credit font? What sort of visual flourishes enhance the choral text and what's is distracting? And so on, and so on.

This sort of scrutiny needs to be applied to everything in the book -- theme descriptions, music examples (short and long), section introductions, performers, instruments, captions, anecdotes, etc. But thanks to Gary's rulebook concept, not only will all this material seem like second nature to the reader, but we're able to maintain some semblance of sanity while working on the project. (Speaking of sanity, Gary and I are both lucky to have wonderful women in our lives to help us keep our minds straight -- my amazingly sweet and patient Jill, and Gary's lovely wife, Sandy Nightingale. Sandy, by the way, is currently illustrating a series of Great Women in History vignettes for Sandi Toksvig. You can check out her work at Gary's blog here, and at Sandy's own site here.)

You may remember that I spent my holidays finishing up a rather extensive rewrite of certain sections of the book. This rewrite was made possible by Gary's rulebook concept. Because the rulebook made a complex visual structure so easily digestible, I was was able to restructure the writing in a way I'd always hoped to. "Concurrent information" was no longer a terrorizing phrase. Of course, new text creates an opportunity for new typos... and I do love typos! :) So this week, the rewrite went off to our newest friend, Sue Viccars. Sue is currently proofing/copyediting the text while Gary and I wait for approval on a few visual concepts. Come next week, I hope to have both the approvals we need and the vetted text on hand. Then we'll start to set everything into place, and away we go!

While the upcoming sleep deprivation has me a bit nervous, I'm actually quite excited to enter this phase. With all the proposals and spot-checks of the past few weeks, it will feel quite nice to begin right the start of the book and work straight through it -- Foreword, Introduction, Prologue, etc...

It a project that's been so wildly nonlinear, it's amazing to think that we're now finally able to head in a straight line.
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