I’ve just returned from the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in St. Louis.
I got to room with two fabulous YA writers, Sara Ella and Diana Sharples. Diana is a motorcyclist, drummer, and the successful author of Running Lean. Sara Ella is a fellow Genesis Contest finalist with me. We’ve been penpaling all summer about our common interest in Disney and fairy tales. I am proud of Sara Ella for winning the YA category in the Genesis Contest and hope it leads to the publication of her YA fantasy novel, Blemished. Both Diana and Sara Ella proved to be kind, interesting, and fun roomies.
Also at the conference, I met my publisher, Steve Laube, face-to-face for the first time. Steve is the owner of Enclave Publishing, which specializes in Christian speculative fiction. He’s just as genuine in person as he is on the phone. He’s also a natural storyteller. He and three of us Enclave writers (including Nadine Brandes and John Otte) went out to dinner after training was finished on Friday.
Steve got going on some neat behind-the-scenes stories about the publication world. He told us lots of funny stories, but my favorite, honestly, was about ISBN numbers.
What’s an ISBN number?
Steve writes a detailed explanation on his blog.
For now, you just need to know ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The first 3 digits of the ISBN number are a country of origin code. All books, to identify them as books, are given the number 978 or 979, which identifies them as coming from Bookland.
Yup, you read that right.
Have you ever had one of those moments, where in the middle of a conversation, someone says something, and your brain snags on that one sentence? And the flow of words moves on, but your mind is still stuck on that one idea?
That’s what happened to me when I heard about Bookland.
ISBN numbers, those are official registrations. So Bookland must really exist, right? What if it does? What would it look like?
I once saw a TV segment that showed how to build your own playhouse out of used milk cartons. In Bookland, the houses are out of books. The streets are paved with books. Imagine a brick-and-mortar look, only the colors vary beyond the reddish clay color of brick.
When you stroll down the streets of Bookland, you look up in the sky and see flapping V shapes. You squint, and realize they are not birds, but books.
You eat Alphabits for breakfast and alphabet soup for lunch (or P soup).
Then of course, there’s high T.
Who would live in Bookland? Authors, of course. Which is bound to make the place slightly batty. Their characters and creations also populate the cafes and laundromats. Sherlock Holmes might bump into Laura Ingalls in the grocery store.
The fantasy and sci fi writers tend to live in the same general area. This is not because they are antisocial, but because their pet dragons and robots are not welcome under most homeowner association policies.
The sun never shines over the horror writers’ neighborhood.
The biographers’ neighborhood association erects numerous statues of famous people. The statues occasionally give interviews.
Poets’ Corner is especially nutty. Words with similar endings hang out together in a strict caste system. When one goes rebel, you know it’s free verse.
Bookland follows a tweaked version of earthly physics. If no mass is ever lost, in Bookland, there is a Law of Conservation of Words. When you edit words out, they float into the air, like dust. Over the most populous cities in Bookland, black inky words snag together into a kind of literary smog.
For this reason, in some metropolitan areas cursive is outlawed, because the curly ends of the letters are more apt to tangle together. When the haze of editing grows too thick, the wind of a new blank page turning blows it away.
Bookland is wonderous, but it’s also wild in places. Words can be constructive, but they can also be dangerous. Traveler beware.
In the five minutes after Steve said the word, “Bookland,” my mind went there. I plotted the beginning of a story about a skeptical man who works at the ISBN office, punches the country code 978 into some device he isn’t supposed to have access to, accidentally opens a portal, and gets sucked into Bookland.
Then my mind realized the conversation had moved on. I shook my head, heard the idea rattle around. It settled down as a baby might after you bounce it long enough in your arms, the stillness only temporary. The new idea would cry out for attention or playtime again soon.
Such is the disease of writers. Our minds are apt to leap off into Bookland without notice. We can be talking to friends or family or the UPS guy, when suddenly we hear or see something and zoop! It triggers an idea for a new plot twist, a new character, a poignant piece of dialogue. Truly, I think the ISBN office is telling at least a partial truth. We writers DO live in Bookland. At least that’s where we rent our summer homes.