Behind the Scenes: The Chapbooks

The chapbooks were part of the wedding favors and contained a ghost story I wrote specifically for the occasion. Since it’s exclusively for the wedding guests, I won’t talk too much about plot specifics—but I will tell you how the process went.

I got the main idea for the story on June 2 when I was visiting friends in upstate New York. An antique wedding gown was hanging on the back of the door in the guest room where I was staying, which inspired the story’s opening scene. On Saturday, we went out for breakfast, and all three of us had an egg dish. I noticed, though, that I was the only one who didn’t use any pepper or salt. From there sprang the original opening line (which was later stricken): “Stacia was the kind of girl who thought omelets were too complicated and preferred her eggs poached with no spice, so…”

01 Poached Eggs

The poached egg that inspired the ghost story’s original opening line.

The story pretty much popped into my head on the ride home that weekend, but I could tell I wasn’t ready to write it yet. I simply hung onto that line in my head until Monday, June 18, when I could hear the rest of the story’s words in my mind.

Much of the work was stop and go—I’d decided to set the piece in 1976, so I had some research to do, and that took up a lot of my time. First, I needed to find out what wedding gowns in the 1970s looked like, so I could have a visual to describe. After much searching through old patterns, I found this, which I felt was perfect because it has specific details that could create the image in the reader’s mind in just a few quick strokes.

02 1970s Wedding Gown

The gown the one in the story is based on.

Since I never come right out and say the story’s set in 1976, I used references to products in the hopes the reader could tell (well, older readers would, anyway), and one specific reference to a Karen Carpenter song having only been out just a few weeks (at least one of my test readers told me she knew right away what era we were in, so I guess it worked). Here are some fun blasts-from-the-past:

03 Brim

In the café, jars of instant Brim sit on the table.

04 GladeAirFresheners1976Page1

Glade was coming out with all kinds of new scents in the mid-1970s—today we’d probably consider them simple and say, ‘what? No pomegranate-vanilla-dream?’ But there’s a mistake in the ad—it notes choose from five scents, and only four are listed. I believe the fifth one had “herb” in the title, but I can’t recall what it was now. I went with Sunny Lemon.

05 Shampoo

I really needed her washing with a shampoo that said ‘seventies.’ Faberge Organics—which I used as a kid—seemed like a pretty good bet, but in the end, I went with Wella Balsam, because I thought it would be more obvious.

06 Don't_Be_Afraid_of_the_Dark_TVGuide

In the story, there’s a scene that notes she doesn’t want to be remembered only for a bad TV movie she was in called Don’t Turn Out the Light. Yeah…guess what THAT was inspired by?

07 LeeRemickTheOmen

Susan makes a mental reference to the expression on Lee Remick’s face. I don’t mention it in the story, but the expression she’s referring to is here, in The Omen, which had come out just a few weeks before the story takes place.

The first draft of the story was completed, and a couple of people read it and liked it the way it was (the original draft was half the length of what it is now).  Knowing what the cover was going to contain—I was solid on my title—I went ahead on printing those up on June 27.

Below, a video of the cover print run. Note the commentary for the recent film The Woman in Black in the background. When I’m working on a creative project, especially if it’s a ghost story, I like to keep myself in the zone.

08 Chapbook Cover

The finished cover.

09 Chapbook Cover 2

10 - Printer Shot

The completed stack of covers. I made double the number I actually needed, because extras are always good, especially when you’re doing this only one time. I will most likely never reprint this unless there’s a demand for it.

10A - Extra Bad Apple Covers

Because I decided to make double what I needed, I had to order additional Bad Apple Cover Photos. They arrived Friday July 6.

After the covers were printed, my next step was to figure out how to embellish them. All of the ephemera related to the wedding has some sort of jewel or rock-piece embellishment on it to better tie it in with the overall theme. Originally, I had a specific stone in mind—I had seen pale blue, shiny, “clay”-looking embellishments which I thought would really pop on the chapbook’s orange cover, but when I went to Michael’s on Wednesday, June 26, they were out of them. I spent some time wandering all over the store, looking for something similar or perhaps even better, but came up empty-handed. Everything I found wasn’t quite right, or was too pricey—I had even changed my mind, during the course of searching, to consider doing something 1970’s-looking (I found some funky blue flowers) or stick-on lace (again, to go a little tactile). But everything I found was just so expensive—to buy enough to cover my print run was going to run me about $60—so I was quickly getting discouraged.

While still in the store, I called my friend Michele, who has been a scrapbooker for many years (we used to get together and scrapbook together, but we just got too busy doing other things). I don’t remember how we got on the subject, but I started looking at corner-punches—punching holes in the edges of the plain white paper insides to make it look like lace, which was a perfect match with the piece (I had already decided the interiors would be printed on plain white paper to better reflect lace; all the other ephemera is on an off-white fleck-finish). There was a Martha Stewart’s lace punch, but it was very expensive. Michele to the rescue! She had a punch and promised to bring it to work the next day.

It worked like a charm, although in the end, I decided only to punch the front cover, not the interiors. I felt less was more. On Sunday, July 1, I set to work.

11 - Travel Channel Ghost Stories

Not without my entertainment! Repetitive jobs like assembling chapbooks is incredibly boring. I need something to keep my mind busy. I know this series is really cheesy (the announcer’s dialogue is really campy—I think what they were trying to do was do a “ghost story around the campfire” thing type of feel, but because they didn’t connect it to that, it just comes off sounding ridiculous), but I’d gotten it cheap enough.

12 - Fiskers Lace Punch

Michele’s lace punch, right, and the front cover embellishment.

When I’d finished the first draft of the story on June 25, I sent the completed story to my friend Rob Mayette for critique. By that Wednesday, he had noted that he felt like there wasn’t enough build-up – and I agreed. It felt like half the story was missing, in fact. So, without waiting for his detailed comments, I used the first draft as an outline and worked in additional scenes.

I wasn’t done yet, though. Nine meticulous drafts and a few rewrites of the closing note later, I felt it was what I wanted for the chapbook.

Next came laying out the interior—always a challenge for me, since I do okay with Publisher but I’m no expert.

I knew I wanted the story followed by the Afterword, of course, but I also wanted a page on which to announce Bad Apple (my forthcoming dark emerging YA novel from Vagabondage Press Books) and use the ARC covers which I’d had printed as high-quality photos (I’ve talked before about how much I love adding differing tactile elements to a printed piece). With the way the story had laid out, this left a couple of pages blank.

I had done research on the Howe Caverns Main Lodge and Motel while I was writing the piece—hoping to find photos of the place in the 1970s. I’d come up empty, but had found a few interesting postcards from earlier eras. Given that the Lodge and the Motel are the main settings in the story, I thought it might be interesting to include these postcard images.

The book amounted to 28 quarter-pages, which worked out to 7 sheets of paper per book. It was a big task: lots of paper, LOTS of ink. Thank God for Costco’s cartridge refill service or I wouldn’t have been able to afford to print the books in full color. All told, I was looking at 1120 double-sided pages: 2240 printed sheets. Not counting the glue sticks I’d need to secure the Bad Apple photos.

On Sunday, July 2—knowing I really needed to start printing these things, as it was going to be time-consuming and the whole process could take up to a week of constant work—I went to OfficeMax for paper, and to Costco for glue sticks and print cartridge refills (I would be paying them a couple more visits before everything was finished; all told, I ended up refilling eight cartridges). I spent that evening beginning the print run and gluing the Bad Apple photos onto the appropriate pages (however, since my print run was greater than anticipated, I had to go to Shutterfly and order additional photos, which meant the full run wouldn’t be completed for at least another week).

13 - Chicken and Root Beer

July 2: What’s better than chicken and my favorite Stewart’s Root Beer for dinner while I work?

Below, the beginnings of the print run of the interior. Note the cheesy Ghost Stories dialogue in the background.

I spent most of my Independence Day—a good 18 hours—babysitting my printer, taking one two-hour break to go hit the outdoor pool at the Y.

Printing was not without its trials and tribulations. For one thing, during assembly, I would discover that some of the pages were blank, because the printer had sucked in two pages together and hence missed one. Because of the way I need to coordinate the print to make the books—“print pages 1-1” which is actually, in booklet format, pages 1 and 28; “print pages 2-2” which is actually, in booklet format, pages 2 and 27, and so on—it was hard to tell which pages I needed to reprint. I quickly created a “page guide” so that I’d know.

14 - Page Guide

The Page Guide, which helped me reprint pages that had come out blank. Having this really cut down on waste.

Then I created a PAGE REPAIR folder. Any pages I found that weren’t right would go in this file with a Post-It Note that told me what the page needed in terms of re-print.

15 - PageRepairFolder

The Page Repair Folder.

Sometimes, an ink cartridge would go dry in the middle of a run—usually on the back side of a page. Which meant I’d wasted a whole bunch of ink and have to print both sides all over again, as sometimes only the color sections on a page would print. A couple of times I got away with just reprinting, but a few times, not. I had to repeat the run, wasting more ink.

Speaking of ink, because I’d had the cartridges refilled, the HP printer would sometimes put up a message: “HP HAS DETECTED COUNTERFEIT INK! DID YOU BUY THIS FROM SOMEONE WHO CLAIMED IT WAS NEW?” …after several warning messages, it wouldn’t print because it would claim I’d have to realign the cartridge, which is a complete pain in the ass. You have to open up the printer door, reinsert the cartridge. Then it prints out a page, which you have to scan. Sometimes, the printer would just hit TILT and keep flashing the message and lock everything up and I’d have to force a shut-down and reboot everything to get it to stop. Eventually, I got smart and just forced a stop-alignment, only carrying through with it unless the cartridges unless I really HAD put a fresh one in. It made no difference. But let me tell you, that’s a bunch of crap. I’m never buying an HP printer again. I don’t really care if you don’t like the ink. Just do what I tell you to do.

While the pages printed—I was running them in sets of 20—there were other things to be done—things best done before collating. One was gluing in the Bad Apple covers.

16 - Gluing Bad Apple Covers

Gluing in the Bad Apple Cover Photos.

And signing and dating the Afterword.

17 - Signing the Afterword

Signing/Dating the Afterword.

Last was the job of collating, folding, and stapling. I listened mostly to the Discovery Channel’s A Haunting while I did this task.

18 - Pre-Collating

A stack ready to be collated.

19 - Collating

Collating.

20 - Ready for Stapling

A collated stack, ready for folding and stapling.

22 - Folding & Stapling

Folding and stapling.

23 - Final Product

The final chapbook. I think the lace cut-out does look really neat. Right choice!

24 - Complete & Ready to Be Stored

The completed run, ready to be stored until September.

All in all, I started the story on June 18 and everything was ready to go on July 8. I had done little else during those few weeks, but it was worth it (most of these printing and assembling steps I described were done repeatedly in smaller groups, not all on one day). Sometimes it’s just best to focus on the task at hand.

And there was another one just like it coming down the pike: the programs, for which I wouldn’t have finalized information until sometime in the middle of August.

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