Sunday, October 31, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] Paul Jessup on Collaborating with an Artist

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

In this installment of Beyond the Wordcount is Paul Jessup, of whom I had the pleasure of reading his short story collection Glass Coffin Girls, an eclectic mix of weirdness, madness and a bit of beautiful absurdity. He also penned the highly praised Werewolves, which will be the topic of his post.

Bio: Paul Jessup is a weird writer, who has lived his entire life on the haunted shores of Lake Erie. He dabbles in many genres, with Urban Fantasy and Steampunk being his two current favorites. He has three books out currently, with a fourth on the way. Open Your Eyes is a surreal space opera, published in 2009 by Apex Books. Glass Coffin Girls is a collection of short stories, published in 2009 by PS Publishing. Werewolves is an illustrated book published in 2010 by Chronicle Books and illustrated by Allyson Haller. In Autumn/Winter 2010 The Zombie Feed (an imprint of Apex Books) will publish his short zombie novel Dead Stay Dead.


Werewolves takes the form of an illustrated journal that plunges readers into the life of a high school girl-turned-werewolf as she makes her transformation. After Alice and her brother are bitten by what they assume are large dogs, her journal/sketchbook becomes a place for her to record the changes they start to experience her socially awkward brother falls in with some creepy new friends, and she surprises herself with new strengths and instincts and a suddenly nonvegetarian interest in raw steak.
Task: I asked Paul to write of his experience working with an artist in order to produce an illustrated book. The process as you will learn is very interesting, albeit complicated.


The process for doing my new book Werewolves was a fairly interesting one. I didn’t work directly with the artist, instead we worked out what we wanted to do with the story first, plot wise. Then started working on a way to tell this as visually as possible. I needed to come up with something that would inspire an interesting visual image on every single page, which was very difficult.

Not only did I have to do a diary entry per each page, but each diary entry had to be self contained, interesting as text, and contain a cool image. This got to be challenging, knowing how much to be into a section, what to leave out. How to get the plot across in a diary format without it being stiff and wooden.

I rewrote entire sections over and over again, trying to get the right emotional pitch, the right level of information, and trying to move the plot in gently and not dumping it all across the page.
I also had to refrain from detailed descriptions in the work itself, and I had to divorce the text from directly stating things that would be better off shown in the image itself. So the text had to be less description, more sounds smells and internal thoughts.

When we were done with the text I know that they picked an artist that fit the tone of the work itself, and wanted to bring in someone that not only reflected the way the character talked, but also got the high school journal feeling down pat.

I didn’t actually see any of the final art until after the novel was ready and rolling toward publication. So I had no idea what to expect at all. But I must say, the final product looked fantastic. I didn’t really have any input into the artist at all, I mostly just came up with basic ideas, notes, stuff that could work as sketches. It was interesting to see which ones the artist (Allyson Haller) used, and which ones she discarded. I could see why she used the ones she did, since some suggestions probably wouldn’t be as striking or as interesting as the ones she came up with.

All and all, it was an interesting experience. One I’d definitely do again.

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