Typesetting and trust

A week and a half ago, on Easter Sunday, i completed my first full attempt at typesetting. The manuscript is now in the hands of proofreaders.

This project was meant to be a three-chapter practice exercise, but a friend of the Rabbit Room suggested an auction. It occurred to me that some people may be interested in a newly-typeset, hand-bound edition of The Princess and the Goblin, and if i was going to auction it, i may as well do the whole thing. This seems reasonable, and entirely in keeping with what one might expect from someone who calls Pete Peterson her Patronus, but of course it has cost more in both time and brain cells than i ever anticipated.

But done it is, and now i wait. Forsooth, it was something new to be asked “how do you want me to track comments?” and “what’s the timeline?” and to be met immediately with one typo and an exclamation: “i LOVE THE FONT!” What a joy and relief such comments were, and how glad i am to anticipate more of them! Because here is a truth: Creativity is not meant to be carried out alone. We need the eyes and minds and hearts of others. i have spent weeks staring at this document, making near-imperceptible adjustments, and can no longer see what i would as a proofreader for another publisher’s work. And here, here is another truth: We do better work when we submit to each other.

Now while those proofers are busy finding all the perceptible weirdnesses introduced by my imperceptible adjustments, i move on to other publishing tasks: Reviewing another manuscript. Arranging with artists for work they will contribute. Calculating how much paper i will need. Managing quarterly finances. Preparing book cloth. And while the work of bookbinding can be solitary, very little of the work of publishing is done in isolation. Much of it requires trust. It requires honesty, first with myself. In a dozen ways or more, i am still learning these things. i do not know how everything will come together.

In my mentoring this semester, trust has been the major theme. One aspect of this theme is learning to trust myself. And yet the paradox in this is that trusting myself is not the same as relying on myself. Leaning into my own experience is not counter to, but in fact requires, leaning into my own inexperience. Our strengths are often our weaknesses, and i must continue to ask myself whether i am acting in love or in fear. And yet my weaknesses, if i allow them, may be my strengths.

The night i finished that dratted typesetting project, i nearly gave up. i hit two snags in a row and did not know what to do, so i walked away. And then came a quiet voice in my spirit.

“Do you want to be perfect, or do you want to be beautiful?”

i do want to be perfect. i am happy to rail against German text critics who can’t see the poetry for the pattern, but for all that i am one of them. Can this also be a gift i bring to my work, to the author i serve, to our readers? I went back downstairs and let that voice lead me to a new way of seeing the snag that had snagged me. Within an hour the manuscript was done.

“Do you want to be perfect, or do you want to be beautiful?” i’ve got two manuscripts in play now, one with proofreaders and another awaiting a response to my editing. i’m new at all of this. And if i want to be perfect, i will be afraid—afraid to know how many typos i’ve left in, afraid to expose my inexperience, afraid to learn new skills or a new way of being. But if i want to be beautiful, i must instead embrace that inexperience and hold it up to the light. The light is also beautiful. And it is better, better by far to walk in love than in fear.

Publishing, like everything else, is just love-lessons.

Halfway

Tomorrow morning i go back to classes after a much-needed (and still too full) spring break. That means i am halfway through the semester. i am also perhaps halfway through a typesetting project which i hoped would be finished by now (every solution brings with it a new challenge; the final result will be magnificent, but i did not know books could require so much math). My girl and i are halfway through our first full school year together. i split my time between worrying about this year and worrying about high school. “Let Your steadfast love, O L-rd, be upon us, even as we hope in You.”

A little bit of catch-up before the downward slope of this school year begins:

That North Wind Manor fundraiser i announced in my last post, way back in December, was a far greater success than i imagined. i thought i would be happy to make as many as twenty little clothbound journals, but in the end it was more than twice that. Thirty-six were for donors; the remainder went to the Rabbit Room board as gifts for their annual retreat. My author texted me later to say he’d picked the Batman one. i knew he would. 🙂 (It occurs to me that when i say “my author,” i should clarify that i mean the one i work for, not the one i publish, and the fact that this needs clarification is still a little unreal.)

In my own schooling right now, i am studying Greek, which is finally coming together, and supposedly working on my own (English) fiction-writing. One of those two is getting more attention than the other, but if i’m to pass this semester’s mentoring i need to get writing. i committed to eight whole hours—that’s not even a lot, and that such a small goal is proving difficult is disheartening—and to revising my work with the help of others. The goal is trust. i am dragging my feet.

In Julie’s schooling, we’ve been reading some great novels and working on all the language arts stuff—Greek and Latin roots, English grammar, and basic composition. Our current book is Treasure Island. Neither of us have read it before, and i’m enjoying it.

Meanwhile, there’s so much that’s been happening with Weem Adrift that it’s daunting to begin talking about it. This January i filed for sole proprietorship and trademark, and that typesetting project is a steep learning curve on the way to my next release. i’m not yet ready to announce the title, but i’m both grateful and overwhelmed by all the opportunities this process gives me to learn—not only small business paperwork and typesetting, but so many aspects of production i skipped with the last two books. This is also an aspect of my trust plan this semester—trusting that i’ve got this, that i have the capacity to grow into this excellent work and to do excellence, that G-d is pleased with me and keeping a hold on me as i do things i’ve never done before, that i cannot fail with so many encouragers alongside me. At the end of this long process a new book will be alive in the world. Every time i do this it gets deeper and realer. Every time i’m more grateful for the grace i’ve been given.

i’m not quite ready for this week to end. Next week will, again, be too full. But i’m getting there.

Let Your steadfast love, O L-rd, be upon us, even as we hope in You.

Hideously gnawed.

Jubilations released ten days ago. Preorders opened six and a half weeks ago. i started binding in advance—hardcovers, especially when the paper has to be hand-cut, take awhile—but i hit a production hitch right after release and everything ground to a halt. Now, instead of having everything shipped by the end of last week, i’m back to the drawing board, trying to figure out why my bindings are so tight and how i can recover all the work i’ve already done and fill the orders that are still waiting (almost half of them!). For a week or so i’ve been going to bed and waking up worried. People need their books. And it’s finals week—i’ve got homework hanging over me, too. But the good news is i think i’ve finally hit on what’s going wrong.

i hand-stitch all my books, hardcover and paperback, rather than relying on glue alone, but i learned early on that you can’t skip gluing them also. Sewing is what keeps the pages from coming out, and gluing is what keeps the signatures tight. So after they’re sewn, they’re clamped together and i apply glue over that stitched side and squish it into the gap between the signatures. Well. This works really well to insure that there are no gaps between signatures, but when i lay the text block down on the table and open the first page, the little line of glue that invariably ends up along that bound edge keeps the page from lying flat. Instead it has a curve to it. It’s a little pleasing curve, nice to look at. And that curve pulls on the book boards.

The solution to this seems to be that instead of positioning the back of the text block so that it’s aligned with the back edge of the cover board, i need to scoot it back a bit into the hollow spine so that the natural curve of the first page doesn’t pull. i’m reinforcing the spine as i go also, just for a bit of added stability. But i’m pretty sure that this slight repositioning means i can finally get back to binding and shipping.

Meanwhile, what happens to those copies that didn’t go together right? They took a lot of time to make. The cotton rag i’m using isn’t cheap. And the poetry is still exquisite. It’d be a waste to discard them. So i’m taking a page from Thaddeus Glapp, fixing the bindings, and then offering them on a discount as Hideously Gnawed.

Fixing them means cutting them apart, so Hideously Gnawed copies may have doubled endpapers where i sliced out the text block and pasted it back in, or if i had to cut the cover i’ll reassemble it with an extra strip of watercolor paper wrapped around the spine. They might have needed some hinge repair, in which case an extra strip of text paper will be pasted in. They’ll still be perfectly readable and they’ll still have their little hand-torn, walnut-inked J on the front. But you’ll be able to pick up a Hideously Gnawed hardcover for what is essentially cost—materials plus the author’s cut plus about a dollar. i might, as we go along, add Hideously Gnawed paperbacks, too, if a copy’s cover paper wrinkles (as is its wont; i must watch it and weight it carefully).

Right now i’ve got to go write an essay for my Gospels & Acts class, and tomorrow morning i’ll get back to binding. If you’re one of the preorder customers whose books haven’t yet arriven, thanks for your patience. And if you don’t mind a bit of friendly gnawing, a copy in need of a home is waiting for you. 🙂

Henry and the Chalk Dragon (a review)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon cover large
Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton (Rabbit Room Press, 2017).
TIE YOUR SHOELACES.

i am not an impartial reviewer of this book. i’ve been agonizing over this, because i want to write a review worthy of the book itself, but the truth is that i adore Jennifer Trafton. She makes me want to be brave, and sometimes, with her whispered kindnesses in my heart, i can be.

Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, says Henry’s chivalry. It’s hard for him to be brave, too. He is a knight, but he is also an Artist, you see, and his wild imagination is hard to contain, and just as hard to let out. When he tries to draw nice brown bunnies calmly eating lettuce, the Work of Art inside him aches to draw bunnies that jump so high they tear holes in the clouds and land on Mars, or a rocket-powered bunny with laser eyes. His teacher and principal don’t know what to do with him. He has one best friend, but is afraid the other kids won’t understand—even his best friend doesn’t always. So when one day he draws a magnificent jungle-green dragon on the back of his blackboard-painted door and it runs away, Henry is more worried than anything, even though his dragon thrills him. Suddenly, the Work of Art he has been hiding is out in the world for everyone to see.

i don’t know what i love best about this book—the chivalry, which is often funny (“Don’t feed girls to dragons”) and often cuts right to my own fears as an Artist; the golden trumpets of Jade’s bardic songs; the way Henry’s conflict with his best friend, and his dragon, and his Art, and his principal, all collide and swirl toward and past and around each other to resolve into beauty (the one moment with his dragon—oh! i might cry right now); Oscar and his pet octagon; their wonderful teacher Miss Pimpernel with her beaver-teeth hair (she was a superhero, you know)… i could go on for days.

My copy of this book has already been colored in. i couldn’t help it. After reading Henry, the colors won’t hold still. i am going to stop writing and go back to coloring—and then later today, i am going to go back to my own writing. Because when i am tempted to think i can’t, Henry’s chivalry tells me Tie your shoelaces.

Illustration by Benjamin Schipper. Coloring by me and Henry.
Henry and the Chalk Dragon releases April 4. You can preorder at the Rabbit Room—preorders come signed, and with two free coloring pages (but i do definitely recommend coloring in your book!).

Jennifer is also the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. At last count i had bought twenty copies of this book so far. i love it with my whole heart. You should read that one, too.

At the top of the stairs, again.

Classes start up again on Monday, after a six-week break. Six weeks should be long enough, right? And there are factors, changes, which i know will make this semester different from last—and yet.

Ever since midterms of my first semester—a year and a half ago; how is this possible?—i have staved off stress-and-homework-induced panic attacks by writing words on my hands. They’re the words that called me down the stairs, the words which told me that it would be worth it. Three times over break i have looked down while washing my hands to see these words on my wrist when i have not written them there. The third occasion happened today. Do my eyes play tricks on me, seeing the phantom where they have so frequently seen the reality? Or am i being prepared for another death?

It hurts to die, but each time i’m raised again and i’m something new, something i don’t recognize, something i never expected.”

Last semester i stopped believing in resurrection. i didn’t want resurrection; i didn’t want even to survive. i just wanted sleep. i lived in a chemical suspension of exhaustion and adrenaline for two months. It took days to climb out of that grave.

i don’t know what this semester holds, but i hope to regain hope. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

A new writing class and an old ache

Three things happened today, all about writing. The first is that Jonathan Rogers’ Writing With Flannery O’Connor class started. The second was a Rabbit Room post which pierced me through.

That writing class has already given me a lot to think about and anticipate, even though so far i’ve only read one essay and listened to a related short lecture. But the Rabbit Room post woke up my old fears about being behind and leaving stories unwritten.

The third thing that happened was that in response to the Rabbit Room post i finally began the practice of writing morning pages. It was well past morning by the time i did this, but i am glad i didn’t wait until the “proper” time. i also filled out a Hebrew paradigm, for the first time since finals week ended. i am not quite as rusty as i feared.

“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it”1—and the hardest thing about writing is writing. i am fighting a constant battle against desire and futility and the need to create. i know i am not alone in this. It is easy to look around and see that others are succeeding where i am afraid of trying, and to despair of even beginning. But i have begun. i forget this over and over again.

So fall or fly,
i’ll try.
i’ll open my eyes
and dive.

And maybe, just maybe, one day at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.


1Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 5×22, “The Gift.”

Finals, finally

This morning i intended to wake at 6:30 (and be coiffied and preened), spend time with Scripture and prayer and coffee after showering, and then dive into writing and reading. Instead, i hit snooze twice, made tea instead of coffee, and at 9:am, i am just about to begin today’s work. i have a whole book to read and internalize before the end of the week, when i hope to test out of one seminary class. Classes begin next Monday. i feel overwhelmed, and i know i did this to myself.

But in the mail this morning was my Molehill and a note from a Rabbit. That Molehill moved me to intercession, and the Rabbit-note moved me to tears and gave me the courage i needed to finally open an envelope i received before Christmas. i feared it—it lurked in the corner of my mind and whispered failure to me. It was the final exam for the class that broke me last semester. But after that note, i went to it. i held it in my hands. i poked my finger under the flap and tore it, then slipped the blue book from the envelope.

When i saw the grade, i laughed. When i saw the note at the end of my essay, i laughed again.

Then, a month and a half after the end of my first semester, i checked my grades online: An A in each class.

Grace. Hope. Resurrection.

End-of-semester gratitude

My first semester’s finals were yesterday. Oh, i am tired—and so, so grateful.

All last week i had reminders written all over my hands. Not reminders of things i’d need for the tests, but reminders that i would survive the process. Around my thumb and forefinger i wrote, “i have turned my back on my turning back.” Last night after my Hebrew final i collapsed into a chair and curled my fingers and saw how the words made a circle, turning back, then turning back again. And i had been telling myself over and over that i must not turn back, that as weary as i was i would reap a harvest if i did not give up. At that moment the words became true. i had turned my back on my turning back. It was accomplished. i knew that i had come far and could begin to gloan upon it. As we drove home afterwards, i could feel the semester receding behind me as if time was a place.

IMG_3930

i am grateful for:

  • Jonathan. Oh, Jonathan. He was on call all last week, and had finals and papers of his own (he has one final yet), but he took care of all our dinners (and the dishes) all week long so that i could study. He planned our Geek family night, too. Every time i cried that i could not, could not, could not, he told me i could. He prayed for me and pastored me and served me, my priest. Every day, he preaches to me the way of Christ to the church.
  • My beautiful Hebrew family, my classroom table-mates. Asher and i had an uproarious time studying together yesterday afternoon (we were both sleep-deprived and deliriously hilarious). Atarah brought us chocolate and little hand-written cards of appreciation last night. Gadi lets me mother him. i could not have asked for a better group of people. i never expected them. They are a gift of grace.
  • Dr. Dallaire, my Hebrew professor, has been an endless source of encouragement all semester long. Last night she gave me a hug i could live in and told me i’d better write to her in Hebrew while she’s on sabbatical. 🙂 She graded our finals before leaving last night and i had an email waiting for me when i got home. For the midterm and the final both she brought us food. And one of the questions was, “True or False? Dr. Dallaire loves chocolate!” 🙂 Again, i could never have expected her. i’m so grateful for her. Just knowing her (not to mention learning from her!) this semester was the best way to begin seminary i could imagine. She taught me that seminary is not scary, but an exhilarating, encouraging, enlarging adventure. i am keeping her forever.
  • Dr. Hess, my Pentateuch and Wisdom Lit professor. i learned so much in his class, and much of it was about myself. His style of teaching and grading stretched me, and is stretching me, and i am better for it, and i will be better yet. He was an instrument of sanctification in G-d’s hands. Again, it was grace that placed me in his class this first semester.
  • My darling amanuensis Rachel. i texted her crying so many times this last week. She prayed for me and brought me ice cream and ginger soda and hugs the night before finals. She wrote me haikus to keep me going. She shares my heart.
  • Andrew Peterson‘s song “Day By Day,” and Josh Garrels‘ “White Owl,” both of which tethered my heart and my mind as i studied. i played them for hours. Hours.
  • Pete Peterson and the Budge-Nuzzard. Pete’s witness that faith does not always end in despair gave me the courage to begin seminary. The Budge-Nuzzard, in ways known only to Divine Grace, became my own story as i struggled to finish my first semester well. The fact that the story is yet unfinished may itself have been a grace, as i was able to see myself in it without the distraction of pressure or fear regarding where the story was going. The first time i read Hind’s Feet on High Places, i was too afraid of resolution to finish. In the Budge-Nuzzard, uncertainty came alongside my uncertainty and helped me along. i know that a story this weird (but i am so weird!) is an unlikely candidate for spiritual direction and courage. But—
  • My merciful Abba loves me so well. He’s close to me when i struggle. He hides me in His heart. He rejoices over me with singing. He stoops down to make me great. i so often seek life everywhere but in Him. He is gracious, and He grows me in grace. He’s teaching me to rest in Him. And He knows that i am made to respond to stories; He made me that way. So when i cry out for stories to help me along, He never shames me for needing them but instead He provides grace upon grace, and gives me stories to enlarge my heart.

This sounds like an Oscars speech. But seriously—i am so deeply grateful.

My list of things to do today includes “read a poem,” “take a walk,” and “blat at someone.” i am eager to dive back into fiction-reading (and writing). i might take a nap. i need to buy groceries. Facebook will wait until tomorrow. Short-story-writing will wait until Friday or even next week (yeah, i never did any writing in November, and i am not really sorry). For today, the theme is gratitude and peace.

The term is over. The holidays have begun. (Yes, that’s a Lewis reference, although this semester break is only a foretaste.)

Baruch atah, Adonai.

Tomorrow, the end

Now, however, having squeezed from within me all that was happy and glad, I am left with my task at hand and the troubling knowledge that my wicked progeny is yet abroad. I can tarry here no longer, and lo, indeed does the road call to me now. I step upon it, and though I cannot see its end, I know that the Enthoovian, all arumpled and bescroached, awaits me whence it leads.”

“Tse el HaEnthuvi!”
— “Forth to the Enthoovian!” (my translation into Hebrew of this gleeful, if blearily confusing, encouragement from dear Jouncey most sage)

All this to say, my first semester’s finals are tomorrow. i wish for a Sha-Una of my own, salty taste or no. The Leapers Wee are gathering and i have no spiny pods to stay their menace.

Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.

The Budge-Nuzzard and the coming resurrection

It hurts to die but each time I’m raised again and I’m something new, something I don’t recognize, something I never expected. I’ve gotten no better at avoiding the pain, but maybe, just maybe I’m getting better at trusting in the coming resurrection.”

I have indeed gone to action. That sweet abode of my arrival is now but a dollop of memory within my upper head. I must confess that in my weaker moments, I have longed for it and three times now have turned back to seek my solace within. But at length I have turned my back on my turning back and hence have come far and now gloan upon it.”

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the L-RD forever,
for the L-RD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Finals are on Tuesday. i am tired. i am struggling to focus. i can’t remember why i began this journey, one which terrified me and thrilled me only three months ago and now just makes me bone-weary. How did the first half of the semester, full of excitement and voorish glee, turn into this slog? i wonder: Can i make it? i wonder: Do i want to?

“i hope it’s good for your soul.”

Well, you weren’t kidding. i wasn’t thinking at all of my soul when i started; that exhortation took me by surprise. i didn’t even burn everything i own, but it is hard anyway. And one of the most remarvelant surprises of this journey has been discovering what a source of strength and spiritual formation lurks in the ludicrous lobidiousness of The Budge-Nuzzard.

i do want to turn back. That sweet abode of my arrival seems so homely and comforting. But i will keep turning my back on my turning back. If there is a resurrection at the end of this, i want it. G-d is an everlasting rock and i can trust Him to help calm my mind and tempt it not to wander. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

Next week, i will have come far enough to begin the gloaning.