One day in 2011, I was walking with my wife and lamenting how I have never properly expressed my fascination with medieval bestiary books, as one often does.
“Come to think of it,” I said, “I have never finished any book that was entirely my own thing.” (Much stewing ensued. Important, because this moment led me to think of “a book” as a single, important, all-encompassing art piece for an illustrator. I see a single-creator book as = a fine art installation at a gallery.)
The next day, on the very same walk, there was a huge Mexican Eagle hopping nervously around roadkill. We have both admired them many times, for what they are and for the job they do for all. I said, “Birds of Lore. That’s what we’ll call it, because we’ll unite a history of fantasy birds, from every place and from all throughout time under the theme of ‘birds.'” (More stewing ensued. There seemed to be no good way to do this. Time and $…Time and $…Always the pin that bursts the bubble of an idea!)
After a whale-load of research and contemplation, we found some wonderful partners and launched a humble Kickstarter, which drew even more wonderful backers–or at least just enough backers (or so I thought).
The month of the Kickstarter was startling (because it was all up to me to find enthusiasts), grueling (because I was up all night trying to learn how to do that as I went) and a unique learning experience (because most artists are repelled by the challenge of marketing and I am no exception). I also tried to finish a lot of art work for the book, at the same time.
We made it, by the skin of our teeth. But an even closer call followed, when I realized that I was trying to print a full color, large-format, 100 page art book (it is costly, no matter how one breaks it down). Shipping was also, by far, the dragon that I failed to prepare for and failed to slay. By all accounts, I was eaten by that dragon.
Proper allocation of funds was not my strong suit. I tended to overpay (although I wouldn’t call it an “over-payment”!) the guest illustrators because I related to their effort so much, and I appreciated them.
When the dust settled and my backers understood that the project was being created, I sat down to write what I promised. To my horror, my precious theme, a history of fantasy birds, was truly nowhere near as interesting as the artwork we had made for the list. I was literally falling asleep at my desk, combing through their origins. While I don’t see myself as a professional author, I have been hired to write children’s nonfiction and to add flavor to fantasy. I asked myself if fiction had ever accompanied all-encompassing bestiary books? I had foggy recollections of “field-guides” and pretend “journals.” I tinkered with that, but found present-tense journal notes exhausting for a long book. I pulled an old, obscure book from my shelf called The Tourist’s Guide to Transylvania. That hit home. That book almost reads as if the authors were setting up the bible for an entire RPG game world before such things existed. The narrator is very serious with the warnings for the would-be traveler. The tone is that, “everything you relate to Gothic Horror is real, and you will most likely die in way(s) you never imagined.” But as the reader, you go there anyway, and you see all the things you are not supposed to see. THAT was my new center. I needed a narrator for my journal who was blithely venturesome and who was as weird as his quest to see weird monsters.
Thus we have the story of the Mythologist in Birds of Lore, (volume I). In the 408 days it took me to produce volume I, I actually created nearly 80 more pages of work, which is woefully waiting its fate if and when volume II happens…