As promised, Monday I got to do something really awesome. I got to share a writing milestone with a future author. Scout just turned thirteen, has two blogs, writes complete stories before I can blink, and constantly has a pencil and paper in her hands. She’s been following the progress of The Stolen Songbird along with her mom, my friend Jessi, since she was ten. I had promised both of them signed copies of the published book next time I was up in Portland, Oregon. Well, life being life, the deadline slipped a bit, but this is the first time a missed deadline actually worked out into something even better…a field trip with friends.
There’s a lovely and wondrous place in Portland called Powell’s City of Books. Yes, definitely go to Portland for Voodoo Doughnuts and the maple bacon bar, but don’t leave Portland before you go to Powell’s. It’s worth every minute of frustration navigating the one way streets and going over bridges you hadn’t planned to go over. Portland really loves their bridges, so much so that you’re not allowed to turn off a street toward a parking lot entrance, but must pass your destination, go over the river on an admittedly very well made bridge, make a U-Turn and come back over said aforementioned very well made bridge to get back to the parking lot you saw originally so you can park and go in. But oh, once you’re inside. Imagine Middle Earth, Oz, Hogwarts, and eight million other magical places melded together into one complete Wonderland.
This is a bookstore the size of a city block that’s three stories tall (or is it four? It’s like going down the rabbit hole for me…). They have a language section to die for. Books in Welsh that aren’t Welsh dictionaries or ‘how to speak Welsh’ books. They had Star Wars in Hungarian. A military history section that J can get lost in for hours, and the science fiction section…wow. Just Wow. But let me direct you to the Purple Room. In the Purple Room is a phenomenal machine that rivals anything Galileo or Jules Verne ever came up with. It takes in dreams and spits out reality. It’s called the Espresso Book Machine, affectionately known as the EBM.
Well, on Monday, we piled into our little Honda, braved the traffic and the bridges, and, with flash drive firmly attached to my key ring, entered Powell’s and climbed the stairs to the Purple Room to meet a lovely gentleman wizard by the name of Keith, who, in my mind, is as good or better a wizard as Harry Potter considering the magic he produced.
First, you have to understand, my manuscript was in MS Word. Even printing it at the copy shop, though enough to make me misty, did not show me quite what The Stolen Songbird would look like in print as a book. I had a dual purpose. First I wanted to thank the beta readers who have supported and cheered me along for ages by giving them a keepsake to have after finding all the errors and the huh-inspiring moments I missed in my read through. Second. I am a hands-on learner, and I wanted to see what all those formatting instructions did to a finished copy of a book. So, I decided to print the betas on the EBM.
Keith gave all of us a tour of the machine… It has glass over the workings so you can watch it in awe. I’m surprised they don’t have to wash drool off the glass. That’s how cool it is. You might think it’s just a really big copy machine, but no… it’s not. First he took my flash drive and checked the files to make sure they would work. He actually talked us through the whole thing. He figured out how many pages it would be to see if the cover would fit properly (good thing too, if he hadn’t done that I would have opted for the thinner paper and the spine would have had Ian’s beautiful lettering cut off in mid-capital S!
Once he verified I had formatted everything correctly, he uploaded PDFs of the cover and the book (now officially called a ‘book block’) onto his desk top and showed us what would be happening. Essentially, very good typing paper goes in the left side, which prints the book block, and 11 x 17 thick, glossy paper goes into the other side, which prints the cover. Then the magic happens. Keith hit ‘send’ and the machine started whirring and purring like some amazing contraption from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
We all had our faces pressed against the glass to watch as the pages of the book block started printing…but then, on the right side, the cover started scrolling down like credits in a movie…I admit it. I squee’d a lot. And cried. And squee’d some more. So much so that I probably embarrassed poor Scout. This all happens on the top floor of the machine.
Once all the actual printing is done, a robot arm grabs the book block and turns it over, dropping it down a level. Then the glue robot zooms into action. The leading edge of it is a razor that scrapes the edge of the paper so everything is even. It’s followed by the glue pot, which coats the edge with glue, before the robot arm sticks it precisely in the middle of the upside down cover.
Now, the ‘trim robot’, which we were alternately calling the ‘guillotine’ or the ‘buzz saw’, comes in to play. The robot arm scoots the book to the third level down, as the second book begins printing (we printed five). A vice squishes the pages and holds them tight to keep them from wiggling, and then the buzz saw slices in and meticulously cuts the book to size in three magical zots.
Then finally, you run around to the other side of the machine and a fully-fledged book pops out into a little slot like candy from the best gumball machine ever.
It’s literally hot off the press. You can feel the warmth of it. Smell it. Touch it. No, I didn’t taste it. That would have been wrong on so many levels.
One would think that would have been enough excitement for one trip… Not quite. Two more once in a lifetime experiences awaited (well, three if you count the superior pork belly ramen from a really cool little restaurant called Yuzu where we all enjoyed dinner after Powell’s). First was going down to the bottom floor of the bookstore to the café and signing beta copies of The Stolen Songbird for two of the most awesome people on the planet…something I always dreamed of doing… That was better than sliced bread, bacon and chocolate rolled up together. Me, signing a copy of a finished book with my name on the cover…squee!
Second, was wending our way back to the science fiction section and discovering a pillar of awesome. It is signed by some of the greatest authors ever… Neil Gaiman, RA Salvatore, William Gibson, to name but a few.
So now I have a new goal. I will keep practicing my craft and honing my skills until my signature earns a spot on that pillar…
Even though I paint with words, I can’t seem to translate the happy thumping my heart still gets up to just thinking about sharing that most awesome cup of Espresso with friends and family. Whoever invented the EBM, you totally ROCK!!!