A few weeks ago, Nelson Suit of Inkspokes interviewed me after having read and reviewed Echoes! So grateful for his interest and kind words and what I find fascinating is that Nelson grew up in a town right next door to me! Echoes at work:) He provides a tremendous resource through his website and blog for indie readers and writers. Inkspokes goal is “to build an inviting, supportive community where authors, readers, illustrators and other publishing creatives can make connections.” Echoes at work again!
By Nelson Suit
In a separate post, we reviewed Michelina Docimo’s book Echoes: Listening to the Voices in Spirited Trees.The book grew out of an exhibit by artist Kathy Hirshon titled Spirited Trees that opened at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, Connecticut in the fall of 2009 and comprises of illustrations taken from wood panels created by Hirshon for the exhibition, poetic meditations on the panels and, most of all, fascinating stories from individuals Docimo meets in Stamford and surrounding towns that echo the themes expressed in Hirshon’s artwork. The stories touch on our connection with nature and how that connection might drive our efforts at community building and sustainable living.
Michelina was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of our questions about her and Echoes.
NS: It is apparent from Echoes that you connected deeply with Kathy Hirshon’s Spirited Trees art work. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you think Kathy Hirshon’s Spirited Trees made such an impact on you?
MD: I share pieces of who I am in the introduction of the book and also weave personal stories throughoutEchoes. My background is in English literature and landscape architecture. But even before all the academics, I had a strong passion and appreciation for nature and agriculture. I come from a family of farmers and think this need to be close to the earth was genetically passed down to me!
I also became a master gardener through a program at The Bartlett Arboretum, which is where Kathy’sSpirited Trees show opened. The whole experience felt very serendipitous, like a hand was my guiding me to open certain doors and I followed. I didn’t go to Kathy’s show with the intention of writing a book. I was there to write an art review but the work was so powerful, I felt like there was more to say. The more I looked at the panels, the more I saw. And the more I heard what other viewers were saying, the more it resonated with me. The experience of seeing Spirited Trees opened something in me. Kathy’s work is very much about the creative process and I think it inspired me to do something more, to get out of my comfort zone, to go beyond an 800 word review, to talk about things that I knew nothing about. Some of the issues that are discussed in Spirited Trees are not comfortable like war, racism, the politics of poverty, huge global issues that we think are out of our control. But I think the beauty of the artwork combined with the poetry and stories diffuse these issues in a way that makes them personal, which makes you care. I walked into Spirited Trees with a purpose that kept growing!
NS: What was the process like for writingEchoes? The book touches on a broad range of topics – from natural child birth practice to interfaith dialogues. Did you have a blueprint for the book’s composition from the beginning? Did it grow organically?
MD: It took me about three years to complete Echoes. I had no blueprint and really no idea how the book would evolve. It changed and I felt pulled in a direction that I wasn’t expecting. I spent the first few months with the art itself. I literally took home the panels, interpreted the forms and symbols, counted the faces and tried to connect with them. I read about different spiritualities and religions that I knew nothing about. It was all fascinating to me but at the same time, I felt like I didn’t want it to be a book about general spirituality. I’m not a theologian. I knew what I didn’t want first.
As I began speaking with people on a deeper level, connecting to them on things that mattered most in their hearts, this is when I realized the similarities of words and themes not only between what they wanted or believed in but also in what I am passionate about.
You can say the book grew very much organically. It wasn’t a straight line. It was more of a puddle or a knot. I began pulling at one of the strings to see what I could make of it and then the process kept flowing.
NS: Is there one person or story from the book that impacted you the most? Can you tell us a little about that? Would you consider writing more extensively on that person or topic?
MD: I was fascinated by all the individuals I included in my book. Even beyond fascinated, I have a strong respect and admiration for them. It’s hard to choose just one story that impacted me the most. Each person left a lasting impression that I will take with me on my life journey. You don’t forget these people. I can say that pretty much every day, I think about them. It may sound strange but it’s true! I wonder how they are and send gratitude everyday. Some of people profiled in my book I keep in touch with more regularly. Others, not so much, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think about their words.
NS: How would you describe your book production process, in terms of putting the book together in print and ebook formats? Were there special challenges because of the need to reproduce art work within the book? What worked and what didn’t in the book production process and what tips might you give to someone putting together a book like yours?
MD: Yes, there were challenges! I wanted to produce a high quality book that would respect the colors and quality of the artwork while still maintaining an affordable price point. Reprinting artwork is tricky and costly because there are many factors that will determine the outcome, the heaviness of the paper, coatings, ink type and process. But I also wanted the book to have as light of a carbon footprint as possible. I selected Lightning Source because their books are printed in the U.S. and their paper is sustainably sourced. Their paper selection for color printing is limited to two weights and the price jump is significant for the better quality. Their staff was helpful in trying to replicate the colors as closely as possibly and went through several trials. The printed version does not do the art justice because I know it and have seen it in person, but everyone comments on how beautiful and elegant the book is. So I’m happy with how it turned out.
Another challenge was trying to come up with one design that would work for both ebook format and print. Ebook layouts don’t work well with illustrations or images, so we decided to create a pdf file as the ebook. I wanted the artwork opposite the poetry so that the reader could understand what inspired the words. I was able to accomplish some of this with the ebook. Some of the Spirited Trees panels are diptychs or triptychs, which meant running the art over several pages.
I also decided to leave the back side of the art pages blank on the printed book because the ink from either the art or the text affected the quality as well.
Rather than an intricate layout, I imagined the book to be very clean and simple because I wanted the art and words to have strong visual impact. I didn’t want borders or embellishments. I scrutinized everything from the positioning of the page numbers, to go with a dash or other mark, the thickness of underlined words, font size etc. The book designer that worked with me was great in explaining what could be done and what couldn’t. You need to have someone who understands your idea and can translate it into something real.
There are slight differences in the ebook format and printed version, like the inclusion of light silhouettes on the pages. On the ebook format, it worked so well because it tied it all together like a book spine, but when I saw the silhouettes printed on every page, it became heavy and distracting. Visuals change drastically on print versus digital.
A few tips to help with this process would be to really look at books with a different eye. Look at covers, spines, borders, colors, table of contents, look at everything and determine what you like. Then, hire a professional! If you really don’t have the budget and are designing on your own, keep it simple and timeless.
NS: What do you want a reader to leave with after reading Echoes?
MD: I would love for people who read Echoes to be left with a sense of gentle empowerment that they are important, that they can contribute to social good through their own unique talents, that their words and actions do have lasting impact beyond our time on this earth. If the reader is ignited to do something, even if it is to be more curious and empathic, then I would feel that they have understood my message. I hope that at the end of the book, the reader continues the journey.
Thank you, Michelina, for taking the time to talk with us!
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Michelina Docimo, CSBA, is a certified sustainable building advisor, writer, and project manager. Her goal is to bring sustainability and a sense of art and soul into every project, capturing its unique qualities that will benefit not only the client, but the community at large. Her book Echoes: Listening to the Voices in Spirited Trees is available from Amazon and Michelina Docimo’swebsite. See Nelson Suit’s review of Echoes here.