photo shoot

Photo By Josh Samson (samsonimages.com)
Photo By Josh Samson (samsonimages.com)

One rainy January day Dan Shafer and I collaborated on a photo shoot with photographer Josh Samson. I requested that the shoot capture a cover photo, as well as document letters, slides, and ephemera for Dan to add to the visual mix of the book. It was a day of gratitude for my pack rat sensibilities. Dan would add these new images to his growing collection of my sketchbooks and personal photos I’d already provided.

Josh’s home studio linked his camera to his laptop, so we could immediately see each image in greater detail. After staging my cover shot, we moved through my life one item at a time: old passports, party favors (photographed above), and a stiff section of Wisconsin birch bark were put under the lights. Dan frontloaded the process so that the most difficult shots were tackled first, with the easiest ones left for the end of the day.

Outside of a lunch break, we worked steadily. Dan and I arranged the items; Josh manipulated his camera and the lighting. Josh took multiple shots of each item until we all agreed we had a winner. Josh’s biggest coup was capturing slides illuminated through a light box he’d devised at my request. This required three exposures that he would later overlay in Photoshop. Huzzah!

I walked away that day with a new batch of memories in digital form and a cover. These visuals made the book feel more tangible and I was motivated for the homestretch of final drafts and layout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

drafts

Writing Room (Photo by A.V. Crofts)
Writing Room (Photo by A.V. Crofts)

I never imagined writing a book would be easy. I’ve written enough to know the agony (and utility) of multiple drafts. I’ve practiced shutting out the world so I could snatch words from my head and stick them to the page.

But it’s work! Every sentence. Every page.

The first draft delivered to Chin Music Press in September 2014 was, in hindsight, just a clearing of my throat. A food writer friend said as much after reading it. While she enjoyed my writing, she felt I only told half of the story and danced around the central character of each essay: me.

The challenge became not just writing about myself, but writing about myself honestly. Who was I really at 21? 37? 13? I wanted my essays to reflect who I was at those ages, not who I was when writing them.

My second and expanded draft landed in the publisher’s inbox in February 2015. By this point, Chin Music had assigned me an editor, Allie Draper, and her careful comments on the first draft had pushed me to be more descriptive and specific.

More revisions followed, and I turned a third draft around in November 2015.

By this time, the book was beginning to gel: 21 essays, ranging from my childhood to the current year. The manuscript had them unfold chronologically. We also lifted a title from one of the essays from China: “Meet Me at the Bamboo Table.” Things were slowly falling into place.

After submitting a fourth draft in January 2016, I met with Bruce and Allie to discuss the current state of the manuscript. We were fixed on a September 2016 publication date. Working backwards, we would need the cover design early 2016 and a final final final draft to Chin Music by early summer. These deadlines were almost a year away from the meeting and already weighing heavy on my mind.

It seemed like forever and also a blink. I was now well aware how long drafts and revisions took. Each draft was pendulum between personal narrative and the food experience. One more course correction was in order.

I produced a fifth draft in April 2016. We were so close. A few essays still needed tweaks, but I could sense an end in sight.

Soon, it arrived. I turned in my last draft May 2016. I was done! For now.

The next step? The files were shared with Dan, the graphic designer, who would start the process of laying out the book page by page.

I caught my breath and waited eagerly for the galley.