Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Update, May 2010

For the moment, it seems the world has stopped spinning quite so furiously. After several months of madly intense work, I think I'm finally able to sit back, sip at some fresh air, and provide a fresh Book Update. Honestly, I can't remember where we were at the last significant update, so maybe I'll backtrack a little...

For the better pa rt of 2010, I've been rising between four and five a.m. in order to catch the London workday before noon. Gary Day-Ellison would already have been up and at the coalface for a few hours at this point, and would generally have materials ready for me to review as soon as my alarm sounded. Most of these first-thing emails were marked 'Java Time' ... I suspect it may have been Gary's way of reminding himself that my responses, when they arrived, were likely to be either incredibly brief, or horribly misspelled and unfocused ... Or maybe both!  Why can't early morning come later in the day!? Anyway, as soon as the real java began brewing, I think I began to make a little more sense. You'd have to ask Gary!

We would continue on sending files back at forth for the better part of the day... sometimes to early evening London time, sometimes to the middle of the night. What was discussed? Everything! Placement of images, the ratio of sketches to film stills, new photography of original LOTR props, never-before-seen work from John Howe and Alan Lee, fonts, caps, music examples (which we nicknamed 'the tadpoles'), relative visual weight of recto versus verso, icons, emblems, the significance of color in Tolkien's writing. John Howe gave us an FTP full of imagery. Alan Lee delivered hard drives packed with design work and finished pieces  -- everything from large, frame-worthy illustrations to silly margin doodles (one John Howe doodle shows 'Sauron's Mace' ... a small can of anti-mugger mace spray bedecked with a commercialized Eye of Sauron logo). We were still discovering things up until last week. We had access to so much beautiful work, it was almost ridiculous.

When the day's visual work concluded, I switched gears and began working through reviews and business affairs with New York. Paper weights, cloth choices, page signatures, inks, shipping routes -- and yes, the all-important licenses and legalities -- were all on the docket here.

This would take me a bit past dinner time, at which point I'd do final reviews on whatever I'd not yet checked during the morning. Occasionally this involved some rewriting on my part. It was always helpful to remember that a book is a physical thing, and a physical thing can only hold so many words in so many places. We tend to think of books -- even those with images -- as limitless 'thought depositories,' but a word in a book has real dimensions and properties. It's no longer just an avatar for a meaning. Once printed, it's a solid object. This isn't to say any heavy rewrites were ever necessitated. In fact, seldom was more than a small rethink required ... and that's good, because my brain cells were generally screaming for mercy at this point in the day. This work would usually take me to 10 or 11 at night, at which point sleep would step in and make its presence known.

If all the above sounds like the precise -- if demanding -- workings of a well-oiled machine, then it's only because I'm leaving out the following: software issues, FTP overloads, tech-frying lightning strikes, blizzards, illnesses, hospitals ... and yes, even masked gunmen! ... all of which conspired to make this process a little more exciting than it should have been. I'm not saying this was ever a 'troubled production.' Far from it, in fact. But the more people a project involves, the more complete the spectrum of human experiences will inevitably be. And that means that every once in a while you'll be hung up by some bizarre circumstance that leaves you scratching your head and wondering if the universe is testing you. I suppose in reality, we never faced anything all that out of the ordinary ... the masked gunmen thing did feel like it was pushing the limit though!

But we made it, and as of last week, the book's interior layout is locked and has been delivered to the printers. As I announced earlier, our legal mumbo jumbo is all sorted and we've struck all necessary deals for licensing, royalties, copyrights, manufacturing, publication, distribution, etc. We have our UPC codes generated and our ISBN is registered. In fact, I think the only thing we haven't yet signed, sealed, and delivered is my contract. But that's no cause for concern, and will soon be on its way as well.

In the design world, we need only to address a few details on our dust jacket, and to address our end papers. Oh yeah, and I think we need to finish the sticker that goes on the shrink wrap. For some reason, I like the idea of ending with something as innocuous as the sticker. A little digestif to conclude the creative work.

This summer will be dedicated to printing and shipping ... and press! Our little (or not so little) online community knows all about this book, but now it's time to take it a bit wider. I don't think that will be difficult at all. As you're all well-aware, I can blab on about this project for hours. However, I feel my enthusiasm is justified. This is something so unique. The writing is by turns narrative, analytical and journalistic. The layout is both informative and flat-out beautiful. I always used a couple of key phrases when describing my initial concept for the book. I wanted a piece that existed somewhere between a coffee table book and a textbook. I wanted something that encompassed as many art forms as it could, from literature, to photography, to filmmaking, to storytelling, to illustrations, to music. If we were going to dance about architecture, we were going to do it well! And I think we have. This book is now everything I ever dreamed it would be. And in an atmosphere of cynicism, where there's supposedly nothing ever new under the sun, we've made something that you've never seen before.

I'm hoping that this post will mark a change for me. I *think* this may be the last post where I'm purposefully a bit vague. The book is now real, and I can start speaking about it in specific terms. Won't that be a treat! :) I guess a few things are better left for press releases, but the 'we'll see' and 'hinting' aspects may soon be a thing of the past.

You know, until The Hobbit gets rolling with some authority ...

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