In May, the idea for Spicy Alphabet popped into my head. From the beginning, I knew I wouldn’t try to sell it. Alphabet books are a saturated market, and several picture books about spices already exist. But I have my own website, so YIPPEE! I can indulge pet projects as much as my limited free time allows.
You can read Spicy Alphabet here. (You’ll need Flash.) Here’s the inside scoop on my most delicious project ever.
I knew I wanted to make an alphabet book about spices; however, I had to nail down the exact concept: one spice per letter, each letter would be made out of the spice (fresh herbs if possible), each page needed a food item made from the spice, the text would describe the flavor.
Then I created the thumbnails. Now this was a bit backwards. Text usually comes before thumbnails. However, since I was working with fresh herbs, I wanted to write after tasting. You can see my thumbnails are minimalistic at best. Really, I just needed to decide which spices would get a double spread.
Next I collected the spices. Best treasure hunt ever. If you can imagine my toddlers playing with cans of squid while I poked my nose around the vegetable section of a tiny Vietnamese market, you’ll get a taste for the experience.
Take photos: Once I had the herbs, I arranged them into alphabetic letters. I took 190 photos as part of this project. The white background was mostly copy paper. For wet items, I used a plastic plate.
Cook: Each herb needed a food item. I prepared 14 of the dishes featured in this book. The rest are photos of candies, herb variations, or preprepared items. My children elected themselves heads of taste-testing.
(My oldest tasting the lime zest muffin batter… The muffins didn’t make the final cut.)
Take more pictures: Once the dish finished cooking I needed photos of the final product.
Edit the photos and add them to the template: Each spread is a collage of four or more photos. I used a white background as my standard for combining the pictures into one image.
Here’s my basic double-spread template. Pink is one page, blue the other. The black areas are guidelines for formatting uniformity:
Here’s a sample of two unedited photos copied and pasted together:
I used Gimp to edit my photos. It’s open source (free) software and fairly user friendly. Even writers who feel a little clumsy with visual effects can benefit from it. Here are a few of the main Gimp tools I used for this project.
First –> Under the Color menu pick “Curves.” Pull the curve upwards to brighten the photo.
Second –> Under the Color menu pick “Brightness-Contrast.” Increase the contrast to sharpen the image.
Lastly–> Increasing contrast can oversaturate the photo (especially in the oranges and yellows). So under the Color menu pick “Hue-Saturation.” Decrease the saturation by a few numbers, and you’ll have a clear and bright photo.
Am I forgetting something? Oh yes, then I wrote the book. I’d sit at my computer, an herb in hand. I’d smell it, bite it, and look it over. I’d let the flavor tickle the roof of my mouth and drift into the back of my throat. Then I’d try to capture the unique flavor in three kid-friendly adjectives or less. I wasn’t always successful.
After I put all the pages together, I had a few of my nearest and dearests review the book and check for typos. I usually have a critique group for this kind of thing, but at the moment I’m in between groups. Darn cross-country move. A huge thank you to all my first readers! Of course I needed to make revisions, and we went back and forth until everything felt right.
Lastly my husband imported all the jpeg images into the flash program he designed (from scratch!), and I uploaded the final file to my digital library. If you like the flash book, there are a few similar products out there. I haven’t tried any of them. However, if you would like your own digital library, you don’t need a degree in computer programming to accomplish it.
Each book in my library took me a couple hundred hours to compile (not including writing time). I don’t sleep well when I’m enthralled with a project.
I could go on about things like: why I’m not selling Spicy Alphabet on a digital platform, or how this fits into my long range plan. However, this post is already waxing long. If you have other questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comment section.
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