Fall: excuses, excuses (blame it on the book!)

Well, folks, what I was afraid would happen has happened.... I have not been a good little blogger this semester, blogging every day as I hoped to. It's been a week since I posted here - the semester has been so busy (the first few weeks are always the craziest for me) - plus I spent the past week WORKING ON MY BOOK. And it was worth it!!! So I am going to explain a little bit here about this book!

A little over a year ago, I was contacted by Lou Bolchazy of Bolchazy-Carducci publishers, who do Latin books (including the genius translations of Dr. Seuss into Latin!) about doing a project for them. What got their attention was the book of Latin proverbs I had published with Lulu Publishers. So, I was happy that they contacted me, but I was also hesitant - my experience with publishing with Lulu (publish-on-demand, with me as my own editor and publisher) had been GREAT... why would I want to give up that freedom? What could a traditional publisher like this give me that Lulu could not give me?

So, what I proposed was a book project that I did not have the technical skills to do at Lulu - an ILLUSTRATED book of Aesop's fables. I had been doing some research about a beautiful illustrated edition of Aesop's fables - illustrated by Francis Barlow, no less, VERY famous English book illustrator of the 17th century. Since the Barlow book was public domain I was able to get high quality page scans of the images with permission to reprint them freely, but I didn't have the technical skills to put together a book with images like this - the graphic design, the editing work on the images, was all beyond me. They agreed to the project.

So, over the past year, the book has taken shape: 80 fables, 40 of them with the original illustrations from Barlow's book. The text is in prose and is appropriate both for high school or for college Latin students - I've added a glossary and grammar notes for all the fables, along with a thematic introduction to each fable. On Monday, I sent in the final version of the fables and all the notes to go with them to the very nice editor (about a 200 page manuscript when it was all done); they'll start working on the book design - a challenging task! - while I wrap up the final version of the Preface and Introduction this weekend. WHAT A RELIEF TO BE DONE - there will be page proofs and such later, but most of the work is FINISHED. I've been working on it, off and on, for a year now.

Anyway, what I wanted to blog about here was the very good experience I had with this editor. My approach to Latin is very eccentric and doesn't fit neatly into any of the standard schools of Latin pedagogy. That's because I never set out to be a classicist, and my training has been a bit unusual. At the same time, I am a hardcore reader of Latin and absolutely passionate about Aesop's fables in the Latin tradition (I've amassed about 4000 Aesop's fables in Latin which you can access via this wiki... yes, it's crazy, but I love this stuff). So, the editor has been really encouraging me to just BE MYSELF in this book. Thanks to her encouragement, that is what I have done. Whether the book succeeds or fails remains to be seen, but either way I can tell myself that "I did it my way" - there will be no second-guessing myself here. I said everything I wanted to say, more or less, about those Latin fables, and I left out many traditional but tedious Latin things that seemed to me totally unimportant. The result is a book that basically mirrors exactly what you would hear if you were sitting in one of the many reading groups I've conducted over the years, just reading the fables and talking about how cool they are.

Also - this is what I am REALLY happy about - the editor let me treat the book the way I treat a website: full of crossreferences! In a sense the book is hyperlinked from start to finish - each fable references three or four other fables with which it has thematic parallels... and the grammar commentary is crossreferenced all over the place, too. The fables are arranged from easier to harder (more or less - it's very difficult to gauge just what is easy and what is hard for individual readers), but the editor let me state at the outset that really the fables can be read in any order that people want - following the threads of related themes, or the thread of related grammar, and so on. It's not quite as "clickable" as a website, but it's pretty darn close. The book feels like a website to me. I am really hoping people will believe me when I tell them that there is no reason, no reason AT ALL, to do the fables in order.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this - but mostly I'm just blogging about it here to explain my lack of blogging this past week. I really was just insanely busy... but in a good way. In the past, when I've finished a book or an article for publication, I've been depressed and not very satisfied at all. This feels quite different: I was really feeling good about the manuscript when I read it through for the last time on Monday - with no particular desire to hold onto it and keep tinkering with it. It really felt done!

Admittedly, based on what I've seen over the past year, it is going to take them FOREVER to actually get the book set up and published... we'll see if I am so relaxed and contented with the book when it finally emerges in printed form! Ha! I may have to eat my words... but for now, I am smiling. :-)

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Comment by Laura Gibbs on September 12, 2008 at 6:43pm
Ha ha, Ian, I need to invent some kind of "signed" website... because my real goal is to make sure that the website that goes with the book is actually better than the book. It bugs me that the book is going to be stupidly expensive (and no money going into my pocket to speak of): their main market is school systems who buy the books as textbooks... so they charge absurd amounts. Ugh. I won't even be able to afford copies of my own book to give away! (My Oxford paperback was brilliant for that: CHEAP!!! I bought 100 copies and just give them away to anybody at all, I love that!)

But I did negotiate all kinds of statements in the standard book contract so that I can put all kinds of great stuff online without them feeling threatened about it. So the book WILL be useful for teachers and students who need the vocabulary lists and so on... but for anybody who has the patience to use a Latin dictionary (which students should learn to do anyway OF COURSE), they'll be able to find all the good stuff on the web for free. :-)
Comment by Ian Carmichael on September 12, 2008 at 4:15am
Ah, how exciting - even from the outside!
Are you releasing any signed copies - I'll be in the queue (via post). Keep us blogged when you can!

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