A singular pleasure I’ve experienced since the publication of my book is one I did not expect: Seeing the art that my book inspires. Apart from the book jacket, I hadn’t even thought about this aspect of the book’s life out in the world. But on August 19, 2011, I walked into Swankety Swank boutique, which is filled with vintage and steampunk clothing, jewelry, furniture, and art, and the first thing I saw was a small, lovely depiction of a group of animals called The Happy Family. Maybe because I’ve experienced my fair share of synchronicities, my first thought was, “Wow, what a coincidence that someone made this painting and it is here, in the place where I’m about to give a reading.”
It was only after I saw a second painting, of a bearded woman and a giantess (and titled “Among the Wonderful”) that I realized San Francisco artist Rebecca Schumacher had chosen to use my book as inspiration for her own work.
I remain so grateful that an artist would feel moved to paint scenes from my book. It is extraordinary enough that the book has readers who invite my characters and the world of Barnum’s Museum into the intimate space of their own imaginations. That artists are making visual art out of it really blows my mind.
Soon after the book’s publication, my friend, artist Daniel Gallegos, sent me an image of a painting he’d made with sumi ink. He wrote:
“I was riding my bicycle on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when I came across this building. There are two larger buildings next to it. When I made the sumi ink painting I took the two larger ones out to give it the feeling of New York during an earlier time. I’ve since found others in the area. I’ve seen a few old mansions that even have gardens between the larger apartment buildings. Some of these buildings are even made of wood! These remind me of the buildings that you describe during Emile’s walk out of the city to the countryside.”
A few months later a review of my book was published in the New York Times. And right there beside the column was something I hadn’t expected: a fabulous illustration by Kris Mukai.
Recently Sarah Lawrence Magazine excerpted Among the Wonderful. One of the reasons I pursued this opportunity so fervently with the magazine’s editor is because the magazine is so well designed. I knew that if they published my piece they would do something beautiful with it. And they did. The spread includes this absolutely stunning illustration by Daniel Krall.
In mid October I went to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association fall trade show in Portland. I was invited to participate in an evening event wherein 20 authors, myself included, spent about 15 minutes at each of 7 or 8 tables full of booksellers pitching our respective books. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I wanted to give each bookseller a small token of appreciation (and something to remember Among the Wonderful by). I have always loved hand-letterpressed books and cards, so I decided on a handmade bookmark featuring an excerpt from the book. I quickly found Milkfed Press, in Alameda, and immediately hit it off with Victoria. We collaborated on the design and when I saw the bookmarks I was just thrilled. She did an amazing job.
And how could I forget the first original artwork of all, made by the amazing Clyde Peterson during his work on the book’s original website? Clyde read the first 50 pages of the book before it was even finished and created these layouts. When I decided to work with Clyde to redesign the site, I was really sad to see these go. I still hope to re-incorporate them in a future version.