Arts and Crafts

               What month is it… August? Went by so fast I feel like I barely got a chance to get to know it. My focus sort of shifted this month, I didn’t really spend much time with writing but felt an old familiar draw from the sketch pads in the corner.

                I used to draw, in a long ago, bygone day. My friend Jeremy and I used to go to our local Denny’s and sit up well into the wee hours of the morning drawing and drinking coffee. I remember I’d sit there all night hammering away on the same project while Jeremy churned out sketch after sketch after sketch. I always admired not just his talent, but his seemingly bottomless well of ideas. I watched him struggle a few times with putting an idea down on paper, but never with coming up with an idea.

                I on the other hand, would spend so long thinking about what I was going to draw that once I had an idea I’d stick with it forever because who knew when the next one would come along. It’s a struggle I still deal with in storytelling. So often I’ll go long times between projects because I either don’t have any ideas, or I’m still tinkering with the same idea I’ve been tinkering with for the last six months.

                I don’t have anything new to share. Though I felt the pull to draw, I didn’t feel the spark of inspiration. Back in the day I drew a lot of dragons; I liked dragons. When I started to put pencil to paper earlier this month, it started coming out dragon. I didn’t want to draw another dragon. I mean, at a logical level it makes sense to pick up an old hobby where you left off just to see if you can still do it, but it felt… I don’t know… juvenile?

                Not that there’s anything inherently juvenile about dragons, per se, but more that it felt like a regression to my own younger days. More nostalgia. Another slip backward.

                So I asked a friend for an idea, he suggested a “turtle on a skateboard.” Thanks, Pete. So, anyway, I’m committed to a turtle on a skateboard in the nearish future.

                On top of feeling artsy, I also got a craftsy urge. For some reason I got to wondering exactly how difficult it would be to make a book from scratch. So, I started digging around on the internet to figure out how one goes about constructing a book. I really wanted build a book without glue. I don’t know why specifically I wanted to do it without glue, but I did.

                I found a few tutorials for how to make a modern case-bound hardcover book, but they all used glue. So I looked around for older methods, just so certain that there had to be one from way back in the day that didn’t utilize adhesives. Over the course of a couple of days I became absolutely enthralled the process of sewing and binding and covering books. I just had to try it, I had to make my own book just to say that I’d done it.

                I had paper at home already, and the tutorials suggested “waxed-thread,” I figured dental floss would do the trick (I was right). So I could sew the pages together right away. Which I did. In fact, I did it twice because as it turns out, the tutorial I was using should have been titled, “How to Sew a Shitty Book That Will Absolutely Fall Apart.” But! The second time around with a new tutorial went swimmingly and in a few hours I had a 160-page signature all bound together and ready for a cover.

               It felt really good to have created something with my hands and I was super proud of myself. But mostly, I just really liked the mindset of sitting down and concentrating on a project; the almost meditative aspect of sewing the pages and watching the pieces all come together into a recognizable form… and having it not suck. The following day (it was late when I finished and she’d long gone to bed) I showed my newly created pride and joy to my wife who would have raised a single perplexed eyebrow if she could do that trick. See, I had not discussed this spontaneous project with her before now.

               Now it was time to buy supplies. So the following weekend I dragged the wife to the craft store to buy materials for this completely random project I’d suddenly decided to try. I needed cover board and some cardstock. So I grabbed what I thought would be enough for two books. Also, glue. I was never able to find a recipe that didn’t use some manner of adhesive. In fact, I learned that way back in the Stone Age primitive man was using glue to adhere stone tips to wooden spears. So, glue has been in our collective repertoire of tools for a really long time, it’s no wonder that even super old book binding methods use it. So I caved and bought glue.

                Then it was off to the fabric store. I’ve never been to a fabric store before, not as an adult on a mission, so I wasn’t really sure how to handle it. There were all these rolls and spools and stuff and I’m looking at this giant store and thinking about my tiny little project and how those two things just do not add up. Anyway, I figure my first attempt would be given to my wife when I finished because, well, though I wanted to make a book I didn’t actually need a book. Let alone a book full of blank pages. My “office” is littered with old sketch books I never filled but also never threw away. I’ve got plenty of blank pages. So, seeing as how it was going to be hers I let her choose the color of burlap. I went with burlap because it was both super cheap, and I felt like it would feel good in the hands. Grippy. She went with a purple.

                So I shoulder this huge bolt of burlap and head over toward the ribbon section to pick out a ribbon for the bookmark; because this was gonna be a classy, burlap, book… Sewn together with dental floss to keep it minty. So I pick up these two big rolls, cloth and ribbon, and head for the counter.

                Now, remember how I mentioned this place was big? It seems they are used to supplying larger projects as well because everything is priced by the yard. So I get to the counter and the guy asks my wife (sexist) how much she needs as he starts unfurling the big bolt of burlap. I slow his roll for him, and let him know that I need about 18” of cloth and the same amount of ribbon. He sort of stops and looks at me with this, “Are you sure?” look on his face and I explain, “I’m binding a book.”

                So, dude shrugs, cuts it, and begins to struggle with making the cash register account for how little I bought. Less than ten dollars later, I’m headed home with enough burlap to make at least three books, and a few other cloth bits my wife liked which will likely become covers at some point.

                So I get home and start working on my cover. Things go mostly well. I learned why I didn’t want glue. Glue gets everywhere. If you use too much glue, it soaks into the paper and makes a soggy mess of pages which stick together. Glue is the devil. A necessary evil which, the whole time I’m working with it, I’m contemplating how I can make it unnecessary (which I think I can with some practice).

                But I think the thing which bugged me most about using the glue is that it interrupts the process. Rather than just being able to sit down and sew for hours on end and just lose myself in the work, with glue you have to do a little, set it aside for thirty minutes, do a little more, set it aside for an hour, do a little bit, press it overnight… It just sucks. That zone of Zen, that meditation, it’s just gone. That part’s kind of a bummer.

               I woke up the next morning, took the book out of my makeshift book-press, spent about ten minutes gingerly separating the pages which were glued together and when all was said and done I had an actual honest to goodness hardcover book which I had built. And that was rad… and it -was- grippy.

Book

                So, of course I immediately wanted to start building another book. I looked at so many different ways to do it online when researching it that all I want to do it try some of the other ways. I want to do it again the way I’ve done it, only better. I want to improve I what I know. I want to graduate from burlap to leather, I want to try my experimental no-glue method… There are just so many things I want to do with this because it was so much fun. 

               But there’s one big thing I don’t have and that’s a reason to be making books. Unlike writing or drawing, when these are done, there’s going to be an actual physical product which can’t fit on a hard drive or slipped into a file. I don’t know what I’d do with all the books I want to make, nor do I know what to put in them. So, if anyone wants a blank book (with or without lines) or has ideas for what to put in a book, feel free to contact me and let me know. I really want to make some cheap books for practice before I invest in higher caliber materials; but I really need a place to offload these finished products. I can’t just have them lying around the house.

July Recap; Missing the Mark

                Not much to say about July. I didn’t make my 10,000 goal for the first time this year, though I could sort of see that one coming. The last few months I’ve been skating by on outlining and blog posts and such but no actual original fiction writing so I’m not super surprised that I ran out of steam.

                I blame the weather. It’s been hot… Well, not really hot so much as humid; just really gross, sticky, just-sit-and-sweat humid. I’ve complained before that getting my writing machine in motion takes some very precise parameters; it needs to be quiet, I need to be free of distractions, I need to know that I will have time to make a significant dent in my chosen project or I won’t even start and, finally (perhaps most importantly), I need to be comfortable. That’s why I like to write at night, after the rest of the world has gone to bed. I’m a cold-weather creature living in a hot place, the night time is the right time for comfort. But, with the new job making getting up earlier a necessity, I can’t stay up late on work nights, and the incessant mugginess lately has made even weekend evenings uncomfortably warm.

                Yeah, I’ve got all kinds of excuses.

                I think there’s a certain lack of desperation that allows me to ignore writing.  I watched this TED Talk recently regarding procrastination, it made a lot of sense. The fact that I have a fulltime job that pays the bills removes the sense of panic that might drive me if I depended on writing for my livelihood. That’s a good thing and a bad thing; bad in the sense that it allows me to kick all my projects and ideas own the road indefinitely and get to them eventually, good in the sense that I’m not confident that I -could- pay the bills with my writing just yet.  That is, I feel like I’ve the capability, but I certainly haven’t found my audience.

Quitting my job and taking up writing full time is not an experiment I’m likely to jump into any time soon is what I’m saying.

                I got a review back from a prospective publisher a few weeks ago for “Empty Glass,” the story which was, only a day later, published at The Lamplit Underground. I read the review pretty thoroughly and showed it to a few of my peers over at AWR to confirm my suspicions that the reader had, basically, missed the point of the story. They asked for a number of things which, if I had added them, would have completely changed the tone of the piece. As my friend James noted; the story works because the protagonist is “not a good person” which seemed to be a sticking point with the reviewer in question.

                That’s not to belittle the publisher in question, of course. They have some certain criteria they’re searching for and I didn’t meet it. That’s fine, but it shows me that my concerns about my particular brand of storytelling might not be misplaced after all. I’ve known for a long time that the stories I write are a little different from what I usually read. I don’t spend a lot of time with intricate plots, detailed descriptions of environments or people, or even character development… In fact, (spoilers) the whole point of “Empty Glass” is that the character doesn’t develop; that, despite the events of the story, she remains the person she was at the beginning.

To me that’s realistic. In literature I know that characters tend to have an arc. They learn and grow from their experiences and in the end they’re different. But when I look at life, real life, I just see so many people who act and react the same way over and over and over despite how often it leads them down the wrong path or bites them in the ass. That’s what I was trying to capture, and I think I did so successfully, though admittedly, it doesn’t make for a character you can’t really root for.

Anyhow.

I read somewhere that if you tell people about your goals, you can accidentally trick your brain into believing you’ve, somehow, already accomplished them. So, in that vein; nothing more to report from July, no big plans moving into August.