One Story will be celebrating our 100th issue, “Beanball” by Ron Carlson at AWP this week in NYC. Please stop by our booth, #282, in Americas Hall I or come see our panel, at 3:00 pm on Friday, Feb. 1st featuring One Story authors Ron Carlson, Brock Clarke, Nicole Kelby and Paul Yoon. For a full schedule of the conference, go here.
John Fulton, who recently read for One Story in New York, and One Story author Rebecca Barry have both been shortlisted for The Story Prize. John for his new collection, The Animal Girl and Rebecca for her novel in stories, Later at the Bar. Out of 74 books that were submitted, John’s and Rebecca’s made the top 15. To see the whole list, go here. To listen to John read from his collection, go here. To hear Jim Shepard, who also recently read for One Story, and is a finalist for The Story Prize, go here.
This is the final installment of “Notes From a Tramp Printer” by Jim Dissette. Jim is the master printer who put together a special letter press edition of “Beanball” by Ron Carlson.Many thanks to Jim for taking the time to write up these wonderful notes, and to Josh Wolf Shenk and the folks at Literary House,who came to us with the idea and put together this very special volume to commemorate our 100th issue. We will be selling copies of the letter press edition of ”Beanball” at AWP this week, and also at our store (check back in a few days for this to be available online). Only 90 copies were made, so this is a real collector’s item for any fan of Ron Carlson’s, or One Story.
[at this point in our narrative, Jim has just finished printing the pages, working nine straight days and nights. The beautiful results you can see below, in the title page for "Beanball." ]
“After manually collating the sheets, we sent them to the Campbell Logan bindery in Minneapolis. The books, miraculously, are now between hard covers, and ready for you.
In the last 20 years I’ve never attended a letterpress printing demonstration at a college or university that did not evoke a sense of awe from its participants. It’s one thing to watch a sheet of homework slide out of a laser printer and quite another to see a freshly inked letterpressed page roll of a Vanderoock proof press. Often, a small core of students will be drawn to the process enough to want to continue learning about fine press printing and its history to continue on through their college years and even beyond.
Colleges and university presses have a strong presence in the fine press world–like Mills College or the Iowa Center for the Book–and those who have embraced the printing arts understand its natural alliance with literature and art and have gone on to contribute greatly to the fine book publishing world.
Unfortunately, the list of failed attempts to establish a working fine press exceeds the success stories. Often times a printing press at a college with languish in the horse-latitudes of “museum pieces and curiosities from a bygone age” rather than be recognized for their real potential: to participate in and enliven the printing arts; to offer students first hand experience in the production of a hand-printed fine-press book; and to another facet to a liberal arts education. There are also obvious prestige factors for the college, especially those whose curriculum include a strong creative writing program. If it’s about writing, it’s about books. If it’s about books, it should be about constructing them and knowing their histories. I’d venture to say, that despite ongoing attempts to invent a viable electronic book and the surfeit of alternative media, coupled with a vast sea of cheaply produced paperbacks, that the finely printed book and its audience is at least here to stay, if not grow more than it has during these past 20 years.
Fortunately, Washington College does embrace the printing arts and over the years has strived to keep it alive, not without its ups and downs as administrations and people change. “Beanball” looks to be a leap in an incredibly healthy direction–to publish in limited edition not only current authors, but previously unpublished material (although “Beanball” is being published in tandem with One Story’s trade edition). Joshua Wolf Shenk, the Literary House Board and the College’s Dean, Christopher Ames, have set an exciting precedent for the Literary House Press, and it will be exciting to watch as they grow, attracting more students, more fine book buyers and collectors. It was a pleasure to be a part of it. ”
[Jim & his "printer's devils": Emma Sovich, Mac Boyle & Katrina Skefos]
This part of Jim Dissette’s post has to do with artwork for “Beanball” as well as the printshop and students at Washington College, who helped create this special letter press edition of One Story’s 100th issue. Enjoy!
The printshop at the O’Neill Literary House is a printer’s dream. For years, Mike Kaylor, the Master Printer there has collected presses and printing equipment for decades. Chandler & Prices, a Vandercook 4, type and furniture trays, binding equipment, cases of type, a huge worktable, long vertical windows for lots of available light, enthusiastic printer’s devils (the trade term for a shop assistant) all make for a wonderful place to create a book. Just stepping into its environment creates the right frame of mind to take on a printing project. Along with newly added Mac workstations (one monitor so big you could work on it from across the room), the Literary House pressroom is one of the most inviting work spaces I’ve experienced.
[Jim Dissette talks with Emma Sovich, a student at Washington College, a printer's devil, and the author of The Composing Stick, a blog about the printing arts.]
We were ready for the project and kept our fingers crossed that the plates would arrive no later than Saturday Dec. 1st. And they did.
Another issue in designing a book are the prerequisites. It is not unusual for a contracted book design to embrace certain styles, sizes, colors or the like to meet the standards of the publisher. In this case, it was requested that I design a book the same size as the trade edition to be published by One Story. One Story’s format is 5×7, so that would be mine. Since I didn’t want text running edge to edge on the page, my smaller text area would run the book into more pages than I expected, 76 pages, but the pages needed to have breathing room, especially in light of the intensity of the story. So the die was cast–there would be close to 4,500 passes on the hand press to finish in nine days. I prayed that the ink would dry quickly enough to print on the second side of the sheets without ink offsetting onto the cylinder and smudging that page.
By the third day I was getting to know Emma Sovich, Mac Boyle and Katrina Skefos, all students at Washington Collegeand all smitten with the book arts. Each of them helped in ways I’m not sure they appreciate. Working this quickly requires decisions made on the spot–ink colors, binding colors, title-page design, endpaper choices. There was no time for second chances. We all worked on a gut, intuitive level and I listened to their reactions when I showed them a sample, reading between the lines of their not wanting to insult my ideas. We broke through that formality quickly with “Um, that sucks, Jim,” or “Not bad.” They had good printer’s eyes and I’m sure Mike Kaylor had everything in the world to do with that.
Probably the most important element in book design–aside from format size, typographic choices, paper and ink–is the art chosen to accompany it. “Accompany,” however, doesn’t convey clearly what I like to see happen with art in a fine press book–art should be a visual parallel narrative to the text. Inappropriate choices can destroy the bridges between text, image and reader. In my humble opinion, art should not be so much a pause or an aside in the flow of the narrative, but a compelling leap onward to the story. Should it be a line drawing, a metal intaglio etching, a linoleum or woodcut illustration? Each process has its own intrinsic “attitude,” from the fine hairline illustrations of a pen and ink drawing turned into a copper plate to the bolder strokes of a linoleum but. These are the questions book designers ask as they get a feel for the text and search for a sense of unification, not embellishment and addition of disparate parts just for the sake of “eye-candy.”
For “Beanball” and its critical time limitations, wood illustrations and etchings were out of the question. In most cases, working with artists can take months of dialogue and proofs, often with the artist actually printing the pages of their own art and sending them back to the press for the text printing. We had no time for that. Luckily, Mary Rhinelander made herself available for the project. She and I had worked together before on a project for the Literary House Press,(a find press edition of an original essay by John Barth, called “Browsing”) and share an intuitive and trusting approach to the development of images to be used in mutual projects. Because she is such a good and close reader of any material to be printed I was able to feel secure about entrusting her with total control over what she wanted to express. I was elated when the art came in. If a book designer can say, after seeing the final art, that they could not envision it any other way, that’s always a good sign.
Her three linoleum illustrations were perfect for the story: emblematic of the mystery and the wonderfully strange juxtaposition of baseball and noir-ish, Dashiell Hammett-like mystery.
[One of Mary's illustrations for "Beanball", hot off the press]
At this point, current technologies were again about to dovetail with a 600 year old technique: we scanned the prints from Mary’s original art and sent them to the photopolymer plate maker, Box Car Press in Syaracuse, New York.
As in the past, Mary provided me with printed proofs of her art, not the linoleum blocks themselves. Working this quickly, printed proofs gave me the latitude to scan, resize or to crop them if necessary, or even to use smaller parts of an illustration for additional images in the book. Thankfully Literary House Press offers a well-equipped design station with a new high-res Epson scanner. Each illustration proof was scanned at 1200 dpi, translated into bitmap art files and contrast balanced in Photoshop using the Threshold function, an often harrowing moment of best-guesses which, in this case, (and along with the fine work done by the plate maker), proved to be perfectly balanced.
Let there be no doubt that subtle (or dramatic) changes often occur with this kind of translation from original art. Going through two interpretations (the scan and then the photogrpahic film process for the photopolymer, magnesium or copper plate) will alter the original art. Sometimes finer lines may drop out while other lines may thicken changing the visual weight, the nuances of the art. In my experience most of the processes have pleased artists involved, but when there’s time, it’s always a good idea to allow the artist to approve the transitional image printed as it would look in the book.
When we had the plates, we were ready to ink the presses and run.
Tune in tomorrow for the final post of “Notes from a Tramp Printer” by Jim Dissette.
This Monday, Jan. 28th I’ll be talking with Washington Post columnist Carole Burns, along with Alison Smith and Mary Kay Zuravleff about Carole’s recently published collection of interviews with writers, Off the Page, at McNally Robinson Booksellers: 52 Prince Street, NYC @ 7 pm. This event is free and open to the public.
This continuing post comes to us from Jim Dissette, the master printer who put together a special letter press edition of our 100th issue, “Beanball” by Ron Carlson.
Ron Carlson’s Beanball came to me through Josh Wolf Shenk, Director of the Literary House of Washington College.on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The project sounded interesting: to produce a fine press edition of the 100th issue of One Story magazine. But the time constraints seemed impossible. Most books printed letterpress on a hand press like a Vandercook can take several months (if not a year) of planning, ink and paper tests, finding the right artist, trying different layout possibilities and finally printing–and we were to have only 12 days. The time issue was made more dramatic because we were not to receive the final manuscript until Nov. 27, the day I arrived in Chestertown. To meet a deadline of mid-January of 90 bound books would require high-velocity, error-free coordination with lots of help and espresso. Obviously the time frame eliminated metal typecasting (Monotype or Linotype). A 17,000 word text would take 4-6 months depending on the typecaster’s schedule and there are probably less than ten in the U.S. (Here’s one.) Luckily, I’d just finished a book printed with photopolymer plastic plates and liked the results enough to see this quick-turnaround process as our saving grace.
All metal type, each individual letter, comma, period, etc., are cast at a strict height (type height). In the last 10 or 15 years, a photopolymer process has come into play in the printing world, not without philosophical and artistic arguments. Using photopolymer, book designers are able to transfer digital type to plastic plates (with raised letters of course), which in turn are placed on a finely machined metal base. The plastic plate and the metal base raise the type to the required height required for letterpress printing.
Here’s an image of a plate from Beanball on the press bed:
There are some drawbacks, however. Setting type on the computer is different from setting type in metal by hand or by a type-casting machine. On the computer, letterforms and spaces are optimized, even reshaped to some degree, especially when working with justified text (flush on both sides). Computers interpret the spaces needed to fill out the line and adjust everything accordingly, conflating or expanding even the typeface a bit. When we read a modern trade book today, set on a computer, we are little aware of the differences in how that book would appear set in metal, so used to seeing past aberrations of computer-set line spacing, hyphenation, etc. Suffice it to say that if I placed a page from “Beanball”set by hand in metal, next to a page set for photopolymer, you would see the difference. Some of these issues are less dramatic if one chooses a good digital type face for photopolymer, does some manual kerning and spacing to give the expansion of the plastic type (each letter changes a tiny bit in the process) enough breathing room and finds a line length that will call less attention to photopolymer’s limitations. That said, good photopolymer printing has arrived after a decade of nay-sayers. It does not take the place of metal printing for book length projects, but is being accepted as a vital tool in keeping the letterpress art alive. After all, beautiful old metal foundry type eventually succumbs to time–nicking, chipping, wearing–and is virtually impossible to replace.
I chose Linotype Electra as the face for “Beanball”. Designed in the 30s by W.A. Dwiggins, Electra is a face I’ve always wanted to use in a book project. It has character without being too quirky and a kind of merging of the classical letterforms with the modern. Dwiggins knew his stuff and every printer loves to pay homage to the master type designers by using their fonts for specific projects. I was pleased wit h the photopolymer results: the letters retained their line-weights and printed without dropping out the finer elements of the face. So on the day we received the manuscript, I laid it out; we madly proofed the text and sent it off to Boxcar Press.to produce the photopolymer plates, giving me time to work on the title design.
Tune in for Part 3 of “Notes from a Tramp Printer” tomorrow!
Our 100th issue will be a special double edition of One Story, featuring “Beanball” by Ron Carlson.To commemorate this event, One Story has paired with Washington College’s Literary House to create a fine press edition. In this week leading up to its publication, we will be running a blog from master printer Jim Dissette, describing the process of creating this beautiful little book.
Notes From a Tramp Printer*
“A well-turned out book has a serenity which hides every vestige of the disarray which has so often marked its gestation. The number of things that can go wrong int he making of a book is so great, it is small wonder that none has ever been produced entirely free from fault”–Brooke Crutchley, Printer of the Cambridge University Press, 1930s
I panic a bit when asked to write about the book arts and how I construct a book. Each book is like starting over for me. I always face it as if I know nothing more than how to dab ink on a press roller. Though I have my share of techniques, I know I’ll encounter invention and risk at every turn. Printing on untried papers, different inks, a typestyle that might end up not being the clear choice for the Vox of the text–these challenges all wait with a new project. And “Beanball” by Ron Carlson would offer the additional challenge of meeting an almost impossible deadline.
When I roll an inked roller across a form (the frame holding the type) of type on a Vandercook proof press, I sometimes think of the legends who precede me. There’s Bruce Rogers stopping the presses at Cambridge University Press because the red ink applied to his masterpiece, the Fra Luca de Pacioli,was a shade off, sending him running to his London inkmaker to concoct his own alchemic mix–to the frustration of all the dons wanting their book. There’s Aldus Manutius holding up to a 15th Century Venetian sky his first proof page of the famed Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. I doubt that I will ever print something as incredible as Bruce Rogers’s Oxford Lecturn Bible or the Poliphili, but fine press printers are immeasurable linked to this rich historical past and tend to be very aware of it the way a poet would (or should be) aware of a poem called “The Wasteland” or a play named Hamlet, or an artist or musician would be aware of Raphael or Beethoven. The making of a single book becomes an artery to this past.
To notch down a bit from this gravitas, I recall Ken Kesey sitting in the Vet’s Club in Eugene, Oregon announcing over a slew of beer pitchers that a book, aside from being exceedingly good and a pleasure to behold, should also serve double-duty as a weapon. Our mutually slurred vote was for a folio volume of Moby Dick, which we determined could be a hefty enough volume to wield against anyone questioning the weight of good literature. I’ve actually found some designer books bound with marble slabs, which would pretty much eliminate our earlier choices.
Another designer book I once saw had four wheels and a leash attached to it. Although billed as a book for children, the price tag eliminated anyone but the most avid collector of that press’s work. And there are pop-up books of course, although I have not yet seen a pop-up version of the New Testament (a good choice for obvious reasons: surprising images rising out of the crevice of its open margins.) All this is to say that we are encouraged to look at books in a different way, and designers, knowing that formal classic approaches still hold weight, should allow themselves to work way outside the box.
Work of art, weapon, or enlightening entertainment, books, no matter how complex, simple, artistic or mundane are basically an ink and paper vehicle used to communicate information to the reader. Making a book leap from the passivity of a modern text book or paperback is the instilled goal of every limited edition book printer. Why create a book costing hundreds or thousands of dollars per book–ours will cost $75, but we’re selling it at a loss–if the presentation does not lift the reader into that ineffable zone of appreciation light years from the tables at Barnes and Noble? Certainly good literature can stand alone, and has, without a jot of printing embellishment or artistic enhancement. A first edition “Leaves of Grass” is only spectacular in hindsight because of its rarity (aside from being a masterpiece). But it is not a book famous for its design (although peculiar for using a portrait of the authr as a title page), nor was it meant to be. It was Whitman’s desire to have his song heard. However, Leaves, could be reprinted tomorrow on handmade paper with Centaur metal type with woodcuts by Barry Moser,bound in gotaskin by Claire Van Vliet and it would become a different animal altogether, acting in concert with other fine artists.
[Tune in tomorrow for part two of Notes from a Tramp Printer]
*(No, I’m not being self-demeaning. “Tramp printers” existed in the U.S. after the Civil War and up to the advent of modern typesetting machinery. They wandered the country not only for work but also for the adventure of it. Since their skills were portable, they took advantage of it.)
Publisher’s weekly says: “Beautifully written and outstandingly researched, Iagnemma’s first novel is a keeper” while Library Journal calls it: “A stunning debut novel…intelligent and urbane yet also raw and unflinching.”
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy a few months back, and I have to second these great reviews. Karl captures the time period perfectly, while at the same time creating real characters that stayed with me, long after I put the book down. But what impressed me the most about this novel was the attention to language. Every paragraph ends with a true resonance and beauty. So go buy your copy today, and visit Karl’s website to find out when he’ll be in your town to read. This book is going to do great things.
Sirenland has just announced its 2008 Fellowship winner: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh.
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s essays and short stories have appeared in Granta, The Paris Review, Columbia Journal of Literature and Art, Open City and elsewhere. He is currently writing a memoir to be published by Dial Press about his experiences growing up communist in the United States. Saïd lives in New York City.
The Sirenland fellowship provides travel, room and board and fees for attending the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. It is given to a writer who is in the process of completing a project, but has not published a book before March, 2008. All entries were read blind and the winner was chosen by author Dani Shapiro. The fellowship is sponsored by Antonio Sersale, the owner and manager of Le Sirenuse.
This morning Larry Dark announced the finalists for this year’s Story Prize. They include:
Sunstroke and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
The finalists were selected from 78 short story collections submitted by publishers this past year. The judges will be: David Gates, Patricia Groh, and Megahn O’Rourke. The winner gets $20,000, AND a silver bowl with their name on it. Runners up get a consoling $5,000 each. The winner will be announced on February 27th!