Thursday, September 18, 2008
Just like my dark curls and my chai-colored skin, writing, illustrating and putting books together has been a major part of me. As far back as I can remember (and even before then, since I possess the books from when I was less than five) I wrote, illustrated in crayon, cut and stapled papers into booklets. Before first grade I was gluing my illustrations onto cardboard, laminating them with contact paper, and binding with glue. One book I even cut out a round medallion, colored it gold, and stuck it onto the top right corner of a book I'd made because I'd noticed several of my books had the same medallion on them. It seemed important.
Throughout all of junior high and high school I perfected the art of walking and writing (Plus side: You can write and get your exercise at the same time. Down side: Running into telephone poles.) At this time I was working on my epic horse story Datashen (this is what I'm working on in the photo, taken when I was thirteen. The feet to the side belong to my brother). The number of pages stuffed binder after binder. When I'd finish it, I'd start over again, rewriting it. At the beginning of the story, because it would take several years to write by hand and illustrate, I would have totally different handwriting by the end of it. The start of the story sported large, balloon-like lettering. By the end of the story, my writing got smaller and sharper as I got older. As I flip through the hundreds of pages of these volumes, I watch my handwriting morph, as if on a radical diet, from plump to gaunt strokes, becoming closer to the sharp and scratchy handwriting I have today.
In twelfth grade, when I wasn't doing much talking anymore, I wrote copiously on this book, and in my journals. One day that year, I finished the horse book, and started over one more time. There it changed from the horse story to another story all together. By the time I entered college, the new version didn't have a single horse in sight.
In my early 20s I set about printing this newer book myself. I hand-lettered the drop caps for every chapter. I did the color illustrations. I tried to learn Pagemaker (my computer kept crashing, wiping everything out). I even got to the point where, not able to afford having the pages bound, I decided to bind them myself. The paper stock for the cover had turned out too flimsy—they couldn't get thick paper through the copy-shop color printer—so I laminated each cover with clear contact paper. (At this time there was a stray cat, Ernie, living in the apartment, and with him came a rampant outbreak of fleas. Often I'd laminate a bunch of book covers, only to find fleas caught between the covers and the contact paper covering them.) I roughed up the sides of the pages with a wood rasp and hot glued the covers over the books. Then I'd carry them, ten at a time, down to get their rough edges trimmed away.
So I guess all this is to say, I love making books. It's as if a book doesn't feel finished until I've designed it and bound it myself (much like my beadwork doesn't feel done until every possible surface is covered with beads).
And so it seemed natural that my newest manuscript for taking care of tightly coiled, mixed-race hair would be done the same way. After putting up the website (my mission is to see no more people go through with their hair what I did with mine), I set about learning the typesetting program InDesign, Photoshop, and reading books on how to design the pages and cover. How amazing would it be to hold a book in my hands that I had done entirely myself? Well, if it's a beautiful book, there would be lots to be proud of. If not, I guess the drawback is I wouldn't have the luxury of being able to blame anyone else.
Then something unexpected happened. A real live book agent took an interest in my book. I'd read stories of people having agents. Previously, I felt having one was akin to stumbling upon a unicorn in the woods. Magical if it were to happen, but you might not want to stake all your hopes on finding one. But nevertheless, I have an agent (thanks in a huge part to my editor). And she seems really nice, too. And I feel if the universe is kind enough to give me an amazing opportunity, along the lines of sighting a unicorn, I will honor the universe.
So now I will do my absolute best to put my all into whatever path I end up taking. Whether I create the book myself, or it's done by a publishing company, it will be exciting, and I know I will grow from either. The great thing is that I will be beside myself happy when I finally hold my published book in my hands. Hopefully minus the fleas.