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Collective Effort: The Making of an Anthology

October 7, 2009 by · 7 comments

Susan Christerson Brown


The inspiration for When the Bough Breaks fell at our feet when an enormous branch broke away from a nearby royal paulownia tree and crashed to the ground. This shock of a gift came to us during our group’s writing retreat at Hopscotch House in Kentucky during the summer of 2007. We were riveted by the dramatic break, the wound in the side of the tree, the bark stripped away from the raw wood of the branch, the oozing sap, and the certainty that the tree would never be the same. These images spoke to us of the life changes and events that shape who we are. But being inspired was the easy part. After that came the work of making our anthology a reality.

We immediately had ideas about the writing that would belong in such a collection. Some had already written the pieces they planned to include, others had ideas they wanted to develop especially for this project. As the anthology began to come together, however, reading the individual works as part of a whole led us to change many of our choices. We sought the diversity reached through a variety of perspectives, voices, and concerns, along with the unity achieved when various elements work well together. Poetry presented us with the additional challenge of selecting poems that would work with the overall anthology, as well as hold together within their own section. Yet as the final choices were made, we felt that satisfying click of the right pieces settling into place.

A design consultation with Gray 6-2-09 small

Our vision included interpreting the theme of the anthology through the diverse genres in which our members work: poetry, essay, and fiction. But we wanted to honor the history and continuing existence of our writing group as well. We had been together almost ten years when we began this project, and wanted to give voice to the important role that the group had played in sustaining our writing lives. We also wanted to enter into a conversation with other writers about the creative process that gives rise to new work. To accomplish these goals, we decided to include a reflection from each writer on the process of writing her piece.

Composing these reflections proved to be a greater challenge than we anticipated. To provide a coherent summary of a mysterious process is as tricky as it sounds. It demanded attention to the movement of our minds as we did our work. Considering the process of writing also drew us into recollecting the growth we have experienced as part of KaBooM. We developed the form of our reflections collaboratively, writing our drafts then comparing them to develop a clearer vision of what these pieces could be. To further invite our readers into the creative process, we included a “try this” section at the end of each reflection. It offers an idea for getting started on a piece of writing, based on how each selection came to be.

Jan and Mary watch Leslie's instruction 8-16-09 small

We wanted not only to see the book we had conceived become a reality, but also to make design decisions and participate in the production of the physical object. We were passionate about making the book itself as beautiful as we could. The unique look and feel of the letterpress books published by Larkspur Press offered the simple and elegant aesthetic we valued. The cost of producing this volume by hand, however, was simply not feasible.

Our solution was to combine the work of an offset printer and the letterpress. We incorporated the Larkspur aesthetics, with Gray Zeitz consulting on the book design and providing the paper. Typeface, spacing, ornaments, headers, placement of page numbers, margins, layout of the table of contents, and even the wording of the colophon all required attention and discussion. Larkspur designed and printed the cover, which features original artwork by Mary Alexander of KaBooM. Another of our members, Jan Isenhour, typeset the book. I provided the calligraphy placed at the end of the book. We all took part in the careful process of proofreading and copyediting.

Collating the anthology Lynn, Leatha, Pam, Jan, and Gail 8-11-09 small

The pages were printed and folded by a local printer. Our group collated them into signatures, which were then hand-sewn by our members and by Leslie Shane of Larkspur, who taught us this skill and supervised our first day’s work. A blog with photos and a further description of the collating and sewing process can be found here. The website was also a new endeavor designed and built by my son, David Brown. Larkspur Press bound the covers to the hand-sewn signatures. Our contributions were the work of individual writers, but it was only through our collective effort that we created the book.

Susan sewing a book 8-16-09 small

We developed a much deeper appreciation for the work of publishers as we brought the anthology into the world. Unexpected complexity was something we eventually learned to expect: in converting our PageMaker document to InDesign, in communicating our needs clearly to our printer, even in managing to get the parts of the book and the bound copies to where they needed to be. We calculated the most reasonable price we could charge for the book and still cover our costs. We learned how to obtain an ISBN number and bar code, as well as a Library of Congress catalog number. In other words, we became the designers, technicians, trouble-shooters, accountants, clerks, shippers, communicators, fund-raisers, and marketers that a book requires to make its way into the hands of the reader. The varied talents and multiple energies of our group were the only way to get these many tasks accomplished.

Gail at the sewing frame 8-16-09 small

We could not have embarked on this publication without the support of grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and LexArts. Not only was their financial assistance necessary, their affirmation of our work and the value of this project gave us the encouragement we needed to take up such a large endeavor. We are grateful for the faith they placed in us.

A stack of sewn books on the frame small

Our experience with When the Bough Breaks has shown us that it takes a village to publish a book, and we deeply appreciate the community that supports us. It has also reminded us that only our very best work merits the extraordinary effort required to bring a book to fruition. The process of creating this collection reaffirms for us the idea that a book is something truly special. When the writing comes from a place that is deep and true, and is executed with skill and love, its place between the covers of a beautiful volume is earned.

The recently released anthology, When the Bough Breaks, is a product of the KaBooM Writing Collective, published by Argiope Press in collaboration with Larkspur Press.

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