Wednesday, April 09, 2008

And We're Back

Oh. My. God. The last few weeks have been a little crazy. I wish I could attribute it to a heavier reviewing schedule, or the trip to the Humana Festival in Louisville, but truthfully, I have to say that the book has occupied far more time than I ever thought it would. The good news is that the book is going to the printer either this Friday or next Monday or Tuesday.

At some point, I'm going to have to write a book about the writing of this book. From the wild and wacky adventures working within the Billy Rose Theatre Division (some of which I could publish, some of which I'd withhold for fear of libel) to what I felt was sure to be the absolute crest of the insanity -- my fight with UPS.

Have I ever blogged about this? I don't think so. What the hell. I'm back now and it's all in the past and I think, months ago, I said I'd write about it, so I'll do a little bit of it now.

When I first met with my publisher, he handed me three thick binders with printouts from the New York Public Library's free digital gallery. Here's a link to the current version of it in case you're curious, and here's a link to the new and improved version that I imagine they'll trot out fairly soon.

Anyway, the binders contained the seeds of the book -- incidentally, this was work begun by whoever was the author of this tome before me, and my understanding is that he/she either died or was made to go bye-bye or some such thing, I don't know. Nevertheless, the binders contained hundreds of printouts from the digital gallery and ultimately I decided to separate the wheat from the chaff and devote the book to a pictorial history of Broadway, roughly 1850-1970. Each image has a caption of anywhere between 100 and 250 words, so it's not exactly a pictorial history, per se.

Anyway, at a certain point last fall, all images were selected -- many from the digital gallery, but many, many more from me going to the collection and actually sleuthing around and finding stuff that has never been published before or only occasionally published. Everything was then placed into rough chronological order, and I'd written all the captions by early October (yes, it has taken since then to get the book finished). As I finished things up, I arranged to send the binders back to my publisher. This way, the production team could go page by page, linking up images with text, one by one. A very simple, straightforward way to work. Except UPS, which is the preferred overnight service of my publisher, LOST the binders.

It took six weeks for them to be found. And trust me, that's a great way to completely screw uip a production schedule. After about a week of the binders being MIA, I stopped dealing with those awful and idiotic and brain-dead customer service twerps. You know, the kind of people only too happy not to know how to spell meanial. I mean, menial. I'm a meanie.

What I did, in fact, was dig around for the name and phone number of the CEO of UPS and start calling. Then it got interesting. The CEO of UPS employs someone to deflect people like me from actually getting through. To make a long story short, apparently whole hordes of aforementioned twerps were employed to find the missing box, which turned up in Knoxville.

I should probably add that it never occurred to me that UPS would lose anything so I didn't copy the contents of the first two binders -- I still had the third in my possession and I ended up going through a different overnight service to send that one, which arrived safely. Basically, the inside of the first two binders had material that was irreplaceable -- not the printouts from the digital gallery, but photocopies of the dozens and dozens of additional images I had found, as well as the call numbers and other IDs the library would have to use, ultimately, to scan the photos and transmit them for publishing. Very, very essential stuff. The product of hundreds of hours of work.

As for the last few weeks, well, they've been more difficult in a way because it's been endless bits and pieces to be dealt with, over and over. For example, we anticipated no rights issues with any of the 240 images, but then it turned out there were rights issues for about 10% of them. That was fun -- like waterboarding. In addition, I forwarded all eight of the PDFs of the book to my colleague, friend and mentor Don Wilmeth, who discovered there were issues with some of the images -- some mislabeling on the NYPL's part -- and that meant having to, in a short time, sort of scramble to swap out certain photos for other photos and rewrite captions and blah blah blah. I'm tired. But the book, please God, will be error-free (or as close as we can get it to being error-free) and quite beautiful. I hope.

Oy, I've skipped a lot -- the more I sit here and type these charming memories up, the more I start remembering other things, and, well, better to accentuate the positive at this point. This odd and neat little book is almost in the can.

I was actually interviewed the other day by my publisher's marketing/PR guru, and she posted a more or less verbatim transcript of our chat here. There are some transcription errors -- it was my great-grandmother's apartment in Washington Heights, not my grandmother's, for example -- but the overall gist is more or less correct.

I've got tons of other stuff to post. I'll do more tonight.

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