Steampunk Reloaded: Creating Books is Like Cooking?

Jeff VanderMeer • September 8th, 2010 @ 2:29 pm • Writing Tips

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(Some days, you’ve got to love your job. Like, proofing pages from a fake children’s mag titled Five Eyes For Every Child.)

This week, my wife Ann and I have been doing some of the final proofing on the Steampunk Reloaded anthology (pages pictured above). It’s over 400 pages this time, and thankfully Tachyon’s managing editor, Jill Roberts, has spearheaded the main copy-editing/proofing efforts, while we’ve mostly focused on adjustments to image placement, re-checking the intro, and tweaking the 17,000-word “A Secret History of Steampunk” that forms the bulk of original fiction in the book. It’s unrelenting detail work, and important. It’s easy to drop the ball at this point and wind up with errors. Sustained concentration across many different stages of pre-production, production, and publication is key to creating a quality book. (It doesn’t hurt to have genius artist/designer John Coulthart doing the interior layouts.)

In a similar way this week, my colleague S.J. Chambers and I made final text changes to the Steampunk Bible—little tweaks, typo marking, and a few additions of text to help with the flow of images. We also just got done working with the editor to determine the final images and their placement—in the process picking up amazing new stuff by both J.K. Potter and Molly Crabapple. As you can see from the page below, part of the process is taking off all of the image note post-its (our editor has kept the final notes on that part of the process) and then just turning in the pages with text changes.

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In going through this process, and also beginning to learn how to cook, it’s struck me that creating a good book and a good meal share some commonalities…

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For both books and meals, you need good ingredients as part of a sound recipe. For example, the chicken in the Chicken Marengo I made last week would be the equivalent of, say, Jeffrey Ford’s original story “Dr. Lash Remembers” in Steampunk Reloaded, since a lot of other pieces key off of it. That would make L.L. Hannett’s and Angela Slatter’s contributions to “The Secret History of Steampunk” section, which reference “Dr. Lash”, the shallots and tomato paste–ingredients you cannot do without to make the recipe. Rikki Ducornet’s paragraph-long contribution would be the parsley. (I will not speculate on who the mushrooms might be, but in my mind all of the contributors are mushrooms…and chicken, of course.)

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So, then you put all of your chicken in a pot with seasoning and oil–your Fords, your Tanith Lees, your Shweta Narayans, your Stephen Baxters and Cherie Priests–and you cook it for awhile. The order in which you place the pieces matters because they won’t fit nicely in the pot together otherwise. You’ll note here that, initially, I had to put some of the chicken in a separate pot to marinate it properly. (Hmmm. This metaphor may be breaking down…or is that just all the flavors mixing together.)

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You add all of your seasoning, and other ingredients, including the Hannett and the Slatter…I mean, the tomato paste and shallots. You further move things around so they fit and get cooked properly. The seasoning consists of things like the right layout, the right decorative images, a table of contents that looks nice.

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Or maybe I’m confused. Maybe the plate is the layout? Anyway, then you serve your meal. You’ve thought to add a side, like cauliflower, which will taste nice coated in the sauce. In Steampunk Reloaded, Ramona Szczerba’s transition collages with text could be considered the cauliflower. I can see it now: “Ramona Szczerba is the cauliflower of the Steampunk world.”

If you’re lucky, people not only like your meal, but they like the way you presented it. Indeed, some people will like the dish in part because of how you presented it.

You see that sauce spatter? Those are typos. You can still enjoy the meal despite typos/spatter, but you’d rather the cook/editor had fixed it.

Oh–now I remember who the mushrooms are. They’re the Mecha-Ostrich, author of “A Secret History of Steampunk.”

And that’s how Ann and I serve up an anthology….

4 Responses to “Steampunk Reloaded: Creating Books is Like Cooking?”

  1. In which I am either a shallot or a tomato « Lisa Hannett says:

    [...] which I am either a shallot or a tomato Today the inimitable Jeff VanderMeer blogs about the final stages of editing Steampunk Reloaded – and, in the process, compares Angela and I to the tomatoes and shallots in a recipe… [...]

  2. Harry Markov says:

    I am positively hungry now for that book and for that meal. If only things could materialize from pictures, I would be in heaven. Good luck with the cooking behind Steampunk Reloaded.

  3. Little Red Reviewer says:

    great analogy! creating books, or any kind of writing, i think, has much in common with making great food. I wonder what a cookbook for making books would actually look like? what kind of recipes would be in there?

  4. Allan Kausch says:

    Hey Jeff and Ann,

    I’ll be proofing RELOADED after you and Jill get through, so don’t worry about “sauce spatter”!
    I promise to do a good job mopping up…

    Looking forward to working on another great anthology with
    many happy reprintings!

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