Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
Two Cranes in One Day
Jason Erik Lundberg
The scene is a classic one:
a heroic cowboy steps out onto the dusty main street, his spurs clanging, his jaw set, and he faces his nemesis. As they stare each other down, a tumbleweed blows across the road, and the onlookers hold their breaths. Time seems to stop in that perfect moment of anticipation, the combined concentrations of our hero, his nemesis, and the onlookers calcifying the moment into temporal stasis. Someone gasps, and either the hero or the nemesis twitches, it doesn’t matter who, then both men draw their guns and fire.

On a bitter mid-December morning in North Carolina, I was that cowboy, facing down my nemesis. Only, instead of a grizzled, world-weary, dark-hearted gunman, my showdown was with a printer named Carl. His eyes were beady and his cologne smelled of rancid tar. The overheated print shop we stood in caused a drop of sweat to trickle down between my shoulderblades. The air reeked of toner and inks.

Carl’s upper lip twitched. It was the signal.

We both drew our weapons.

I was faster.

My second year of graduate school, I decided to publish an anthology with my wife Janet Chui. We’d had some fun putting together a chapbook of our fiction, artwork and poetry the previous year, and the copies had sold well. On the success of that small book, called Four Seasons in One Day, we wanted to put together a collection of other people’s fiction. Many of our writer friends were doing it—specifically couples, like Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, Christopher Rowe and Gwenda Bond, and Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw—so why not us? Instead of a zine, we decided on an anthology, which would allow us to publish more stories and sell the book in bookstores.

Our theme was food, and we decided to call it Scattered, Covered, Smothered.

I wrote up the submission guidelines, and pestered everyone I knew to send me stories. We ended up with twenty-two short stories, five poems and eleven recipes, with contributions from Jeff VanderMeer, Nalo Hopkinson, Barth Anderson, Rhys Hughes, Toiya Kristen Finley, Bruce Boston, and many others. We had ourselves an honest-to-Buddha anthology.

As editor, I was in charge of choosing the stories and shaping the book (with much consultation from Janet), and Janet was in charge of the cover art and the book design. Once she had finished the arduous task of taking all the disparate contributions and laying them out into a consistently styled book, she found a printer in town that could produce 230 copies in about a week. We had already gotten the covers printed by a fantastic online printer, so all this new printer (called IMP) would have to do was the interiors, and then the binding for all the copies. We compiled the files into one PDF file, and dropped off a CD to IMP on a Friday afternoon.

The following Tuesday, I got the phone call: “Your proof is ready.”

I left work early, drove the twenty minutes to downtown Raleigh, parked in the deck down the block, and, bounce in my step, walked into IMP. Standing at the counter was Carl, the man we’d dealt with over the phone, holding a copied and bound proof copy of Scattered, Covered, Smothered.

“Hi,” said Carl. “You sure got here fast.”

“Well, this is pretty important,” I said.

Carl smiled. “Here it is, take a look.”

On first glance, it looked fantastic. The pages had all come out in good quality, and had been trimmed to the size we wanted, half-letter, or 5.5” x 8.5”. The stories were all in the right order. It was a book.

But then I looked at it again. The graphics that Janet had used on the contents pages and the recipe pages were fuzzy. In fact, they looked downright terrible. Intended as corner borders for these pages, the graphic was of an orthogonal grapevine, which fit in with the whole idea of food-related fiction. But the images looked as if the resolution had been downscaled.

And as I turned back and forth between the pages, the paper got stuck in the binding. We had chosen a twin-loop wiro binding to continue the food motif, since it is the style used by many publishers of cookbooks, but as I turned the pages, it quickly became obvious that the diameter of the loop was too small. Pages caught on other pages, making the turning difficult. Not only that, but the loop was not closed completely in the back, meaning that the last few pages kept slipping from the binding and falling out.

I mentioned these problems to Carl, but all he said was, “Huh,” as if I had just pointed out a thoroughly unremarkable insect. In an attempt to remedy the page slippage in the back of the book, he compressed the loop from a circle into an oval, making it even harder to turn the pages.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said. “We’ll fix it later.”

When I asked about the fuzziness of the graphics, Carl shrugged and said, “That’s just how it came out.”

“Did it occur to you that maybe fuzzy graphics are not what we wanted?”

He shrugged.

At this point, I was seriously wondering if we had made a big mistake in choosing these people to put our book together. I was feeling the pressure of deadline; I had promised the people who preordered the book through our website ( that they would receive the book by Christmas. I thought we had left enough time, but the process of getting rewrites back from our authors, and sending out contracts and payment, had eaten into our production schedule, and we were getting crunched for time. The reputation of Two Cranes Press, our small press publishing venture, was on the line. If I decided to withdraw the book from IMP, it would mean pushing back our release date and reneging on our promise.

“Look,” I said, “I need to show this to my wife, since she designed the book and has a very specific look she wants for it. Please don’t run anymore copies until I get back to you.”

“All right,” he said.

I left. There were some recommendations for PhD programs I needed to drop off at the NCSU campus to my professors. Two of them, John Kessel and Wilton Barnhardt, were in their offices and I showed them the proof copy. Despite the problems, I was still excited about it being a book, and they both agreed that it was a neat idea.

When it was time to pick Janet up at her day job across town, I drove the half-hour to her work and showed her the book. She was very quiet at first, turning the pages, cringing at the fuzzy graphics, noticing the bunch-up of pages as she turned them. She then made her objections very vocally clear, the same ones I’d had about the binding and the graphics.

“This looks like shit,” she said. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t there today or I would have jumped over the counter and strangled that guy. Why the hell didn’t he call us?”

I said I didn’t know.

Most of the rest of the ride home was in silence, a sure sign that she was deeply unhappy. When we got home, she sat on the sofa, paging through the book over and over, getting more and more upset. At one point she stood up and said, “I want to see the files.”

I booted up my computer and brought up one of the PageMaker files that included the graphic that had printed out as fuzzy from the printers. Janet had me print out the page directly from PageMaker, and the clip art came out sharp and crisp. Which meant that something had happened to the image between the completion of this file and the page produced by the printers. We’d had to convert the entire book to PDF (portable document format) so that the printers could read it, so I brought up that file and printed off a page. Fuzzy.

Janet got on her own computer and dug around on the internet, looking for an explanation. She discovered that our version of PageMaker (6.5) downscales images to 72 dpi (dots per inch; i.e. screen resolution) when files are converted to PDF. It was a glitch that nobody seemed to know what to do with; no patches were available online. Janet fiddled with files for a couple of hours, trying to trick the software into doing what she wanted, but to no avail. So our options were twofold:

1.      Either upgrade to PageMaker 7.0, which wasn’t an option; publishing the book ourselves was very expensive, and we just couldn’t afford one more expense; or,

2.      Find another format for the images so that they wouldn’t be downscaled.

By this point, Janet was fed up with everything, mostly with the attitude and service of the printers. She had had excellent dealings with the printers in Singapore for various projects, but most notably for Four Seasons in One Day. She had completely laid out that book as well, and the printers there had kept in contact with her over the production of the book to make sure it was exactly what she wanted. Compared to that, Carl just didn’t seem to care.

She went out to the living room, and I looked at the files some more. The images that had been used were jpegs, a raster-type image format that uses pixels. But she had also saved the images as EPS files, which is a vector-type format that uses entities like lines and circles that don’t change if you alter the size. This was the solution. I started replacing the images in all the files that contained the graphic with their EPS versions. There were a few other proofreading goofs that I’d missed, so I fixed these as well. It would take most of the night, and I’d have to reconvert everything, but it looked like the book could be saved.

I walked out to the living room to tell Janet what I’d discovered—

Okay, I have to stop for a bit here. I have a confession to make: the account I’ve been relaying is not entirely accurate. The events I’ve described are as close to what I can remember as I can convey in words, but my part in them is slightly different. It’s hard to admit when you’ve made a mistake. It’s difficult to admit your limitations. However, it’s very easy to alter events slightly to put a better spin on yourself. I keep an online journal, and you can check in the archives what really happened, so it’s easy to check the facts. It’s not fair to you, gentle reader, to give an untruthful account.

When I saw the proof at the printers, I thought it looked great. I noticed the fuzziness of the graphics, but it didn’t seem like a big deal to my untrained eyes. I figured that Janet and I would notice, but that it really wouldn’t be that big a deal to anyone else. The binding was a problem, but I didn’t really bring it up with the printers; I figured it would get fixed when they did the actual binding. I didn’t hold them up to a high professional standard like I should have. If we had put out the book like that, it would have been sub-par, and it would have been notched up to amateurishness. We would have gotten a reputation as a small press who doesn’t give a damn about presentation, when this is far from the truth.

I indeed told Carl that I needed to show the proof to Janet, but I neglected to tell him to stop printing on the book. This would turn out to be a slight problem later. Again, I was blinded by scheduling pressures, which might have resulted in a poor quality book. By that point, we had sold half of our print run in preorders, and I just wanted to get them out the door.

This is part of why Janet was so upset. As the graphic designer and cover artist for the book, she had (and has) a keen eye for detail, and the first thing she looks for is the flaws. She was frustrated by the printers for their lack of communication and shoddy work ethic. But she was also frustrated that I couldn’t see what was wrong as much as she could, that I wasn’t nearly as outraged as she over the condition of the proof. I didn’t “get it” in her eyes.

Like I said, it’s hard to admit your own failings. I was excellent at the marketing and promotion of the book, but when it came to design decisions, she just couldn’t count on me. Part of that evening, while I changed all the files and recompiled them, was spent vowing that I would fix things. I had let Janet down, and some part of this had caused her emotional distress, and I felt terrible for it. With each fix, I was trying to make things a little better, to make up for my limitations.

Once I realized that I could substitute the EPS files for the jpegs, I walked out to the living room to tell Janet what I’d discovered. She was bent over the proof copy of the book, turning pages, and sobbing. I tried to console her, tell her that it was fixable, but she was so frustrated and upset over the whole thing that all I could really do was sit next to her, rub her back, and let her vent her disappointment. I remember the warmth radiating from her, as if her anger and frustration had transmuted to heat within her body. She didn’t come to bed that night, spending it instead on the couch, the first night we  slept apart since we’d been married.

I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. getting everything finished and recompiled into a new PDF. I burned it, and all of the source files, onto a CD, so that I could take it back over to the printers first thing in the morning. I left phone and email messages telling them to stop printing, in case they had started.

Sleep was fitful that night. I was alone in the bed, and my thoughts raced. My neck and shoulders were bunched tight from the stress. A project that we had thought would be fun four months earlier had turned into a monumental hassle.

The next morning, Wednesday, we got ready, and I took Janet to her day job across town. I called my boss from my cell phone and told her I wouldn’t be in that morning because I had to deal with the printing nightmare; having dealt with printers before herself, she could empathize. The drive downtown increased my anger at what had happened, and by the time I had parked the car and walked to IMP’s offices, I was seething. Nobody would be let off the hook.

A different clerk was standing at the counter, so I asked for Carl. He came out of the back room, looking unhappy to see me. Apparently, he’d gotten my messages. His eyes were beady and his cologne smelled of rancid tar. The overheated print shop we stood in caused a drop of sweat to trickle down between my shoulderblades. The air reeked of toner and inks.

Carl’s upper lip twitched. It was the signal.

We both drew our weapons.

I was faster.

“After talking with my wife,” I said, “we’re really not happy with this book.”

“I wish you’d told me this yesterday,” Carl said.


“Because we already ran 75% of the print run.”


“You said it looked fine.”

“I said I needed to show it to my wife.”

“But you didn’t tell me not to run the copies.”

I stood back and controlled my breathing.

“Well, look, I’m not paying for them. You saw the fuzzy graphics yesterday. Why didn’t you call me about that?”

He looked away and shrugged.

“Look,” I said. “This quality is terrible, and we’re not paying for it. I brought you a new copy of the PDF file to use.”

After some more back and forth, him trying to get out of any responsibility, he finally agreed to eat the copies. Fantasies of making him literally eat the copies flitted through my head. I gave him the CD, and he did a test print to make sure all the graphics came out all right. They did, and I sighed in relief.

I then explained the problem with the binding, the too-small diameter, and showed him the condition of the proof copy, which, at that point, looked as if a dog had mistaken it for a ribeye steak. He agreed that it wouldn’t do, but the only size wiro binding they had in stock was that size. If he had to order the next size up, it would take another week, unless he got it overnighted from the supplier. He said he could also contact the local binderies to find out if they could get it done by Friday, which was when we needed it. He asked me to give him a couple hours.

I walked down the block to the coffeeshop on the corner, sparsely populated after the morning rush. After ordering a chai, I sat at a table and called Janet to update her. She had calmed down a bit, and seemed to have faith that I was getting things done. She gave me the number of a bindery in town that might be an option; if IMP couldn’t get the printing and binding done by Friday, then maybe we could get the copies from them, and have the books bound elsewhere. I called the bindery, and they said they could do it, but that I’d have to get all the copies to them by 7:30 a.m. the following morning.

I read the USA Today on the table in front of me cover to cover, breathing deeply, and generally trying to settle my nerves. After the initial discussion that morning, Carl seemed to want to put things right and work with me on fixing the book and getting it done when he originally promised it would be. After the two hours were up, I walked back down to the printers. Carl had made a deal with a local bindery, and all the books would be completed—copied, collated, bound, and delivered—by Friday afternoon. I mentioned the other bindery I'd called, but he said the copies wouldn't even be done until the following afternoon, so that option was out.

“We’ll get everything done and to you when I originally said we would,” he said. “Trust me.”

“I hope you can understand why it’s hard for me to do that,” I said.

“I understand.”

“You haven’t really engendered a whole lot of trust up to now.”

“I know. But we’ll fix everything and get it done by Friday. I promise.”

I took a deep breath. I was putting the book back in their hands. I was having to put my faith in their abilities and in the karma of the universe in the hopes that there would be no more screwups, that everything would turn out right and on time.

“Okay,” I said. “All right, I’m trusting you to get it done. If you run into any more problems, no matter how minor, please keep in touch.”

“You got it.”

I called Janet from the car on the way to work and told her that everything had been taken care of, and, hard as it was to accept, it was out of our hands now. We really had no choice but to hope for the best.

Those twenty-four hours were an extreme test of patience and conviction. It was the most upset I had ever seen my wife, and short of stabbing Carl in the eye with his own tie-tack, I would have done anything to make the situation right. It was also extremely difficult to realize that I was not in fact a jack-of-all-trades, that I had limitations when it came to my own design sensibilities. It was a test of our marriage as well, whether we could survive the collaboration of a publishing project.

Ultimately, everything ended well. The finished books arrived at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, delivered by the printers right to our front door. All the bindings had been fixed to the right diameter, and the loops were closer together with square holes, which was what we wanted in the first place. The pages turned easily. The graphics were sharp and clear. It was only December 17, but in my book, this was a Christmas miracle. Carl had come through for us; he’d stepped up (eventually) and produced the book that we wanted.

We spent that night boxing up all the preorders, review copies, and contributor copies, and mailed them out the following morning. Most of them reached their destinations by Christmas, just like we promised. Since that time, we have nearly sold out of the book, with some very positive reviews in Locus, The Agony Column, and Emerald City. (Another is forthcoming from Realms of Fantasy.) As of this writing, only fifteen copies out of our original print run of 230 are still available.

So fellas, a word to the wise: listen to your wives or girlfriends. Not only is Janet exponentially smarter than me, but she knew what needed to happen with the book so that it could compete with books by the big publishers. Her unflinching vision of quality is why the almost universal reaction on seeing the anthology is, “This is so beautiful!” And for my efforts in dealing with the printers, she gave me an iPod for Christmas, which was a very nice bonus, and very happy ending for yours truly.


An utterly delicious
anthology of fiction, poetry, and recipes (though, tut tut: the publishers didn't warn you not to eat monsters just before bed)
edited by Jason Erik Lundberg,
design and cover art by Janet Chui
Published by Two Cranes Press

Jason Erik Lundberg's short story "Songstress" garnered an Honorable Mention in the Seventeenth Annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and his mosaic flash piece "The Artists Pentaptych" was nominated for the Fountain Award.
His work has appeared (or will appear soon) in over a dozen groovy places, including The Third Alternative, Strange Horizons, Infinity Plus, The Green Man Review, and Fantastic Metropolis. With his wife, artist-writer Janet Chui, he runs Two Cranes Press, a critically-acclaimed small press out of North Carolina. Lundberg is a graduate of the 2002 Clarion Writers' Workshop, and is currently at work on his first novel. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, but currently lives in the Raleigh area with his wife and their dwarf hamsters. He maintains a website and online journal at


Jason Erik Lundberg can be contacted at
jelundberg (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"Two Cranes in One Day" copyright © 2005 by Jason Erik Lundberg
This essay appears here with thanks to Jason Erik Lundberg, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This essay is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2004, 2005