Monday, March 16, 2015

Q&A with Bess Taubman

Bess Taubman is the creator and co-author of My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook 1941: A Nostalgic Collection of Memories. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook 1941?

A: I have been writing about the Pearl Harbor attack story for over 20 years. My goal is taking a complicated piece of American history and finding a way to write about it in a more dynamic and intuitive approach. The basis of my company is changing how historical information is presented to the reader. History can be exciting to read!

I had lost so many Survivor friends of the “greatest generation.” Our heroes from the attack were passing. I began thinking about how to perpetuate the story in a new way that would keep it in the eyes of the next generation. My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook 1941 emerged from that seed as a unique way to tell this important American story.

My challenge became taking this very complicated story and breaking it down into readable, "bite-sized" pieces of text, then combining it with unique and outstanding graphics to illustrate the story. My goal became designing a book that was "hip and cool" yet respectful to the Survivors and their families. Something that they too would be proud of, but would successfully make the leap to the next generation.

We also had strong enthusiastic support from the Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor as well as Pacific Historic Parks who run the park. Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the National Park, wrote our foreword!

Q: How did you, Ernest Arroyo, and Edward L. Cox, Jr., collaborate on the project?

A: Ed Cox, my graphic designer, and I coincidentally live nearby each other. But Ernest Arroyo lives in Stratford, Connecticut. Ernest is a well-respected authority of Pearl Harbor and has authored other books on the subject.

It was a wonderful collaboration. I always had to keep ahead of Ed Cox, who worked very timely and tenaciously. The project was very demanding and I worked around the clock all day and most evenings often until the middle of the night digging, researching, and looking for information that would be fabulous for this book.

Ernest and I wrote the text, but the hard part was piecing the many components of the pages together. I design everything on paper first, sometimes drawing dozens and dozens of thumbnail sketches combining the puzzle pieces of design elements and text on each two-page spread.

My designs were a roadmap that Ed would then be able to follow. My goal in working with my graphic designer was to make his job as easy as possible. Which meant that I had to be extremely organized and clear about what I wanted on each page. We spent hours discussing the look and feel of every page, as well as the entire book.

I believe Ed and I probably talked about the concept of this book-- the look and goals of my vision -- for two months before he began to design it. The original design, for these intense graphic projects, have a tendency to start at point A and metamorphose as it grows until we find our design style.

Ed and I worked very closely together, intensely, for five years! But mostly doing “screen share,” each working from our own computers from our respective offices. We worked like this most nights until two in the morning. We look back on those years, proud of our dedication in working so hard and also that our respective mates were so understanding!! 

Ernest was my life support. There were so many incredible details that Ernest, our scholar of Pearl Harbor, painstakingly explained to me via e-mails. I would write Ernest list upon list of detailed questions and he tenaciously and timely would answer these questions, often explaining history with stories. Ernie also loved to rewrite my work, which I was open to.

Q: How did you research the book, and where did you find the various photos and artifacts included in it?

A: As I mentioned, research is always my most favorite part of the job and one that I enjoy very much! I call myself a "research sleuth.” I like the hunt of it. Reading the important cornerstone books on this subject were my foundation and groundwork. From that point, the details of the story and the unique items are what we called the jewels. This is also what took so much time and energy.

Since the book is filled page to page with fantastic photos, telegrams, newspaper clippings, handwritten letters, pins, buttons, Japanese medals, and so much more, hunting for unique treasures took the entire five-to-six years that I worked on the book.

I was lucky to meet people from many library archives in various cities, my own late-night digging on eBay, discovering fantastic online collections, as well as many curators from museum collections were willing to donate images of their items. It was a fantastic collaboration of many to whom I am so grateful!

Ernest Arroyo’s personal collection of photographs was also an outstanding contribution. He loaned us some very unique and hard-to-find photos from his many hours of combing through the stacks of photographs at the National Archives. Many Pearl Harbor artifacts are also from my own personal collection of 20 years!

Q: Who do you see as the readership for this book?

A: Because the book is so incredibly unique and colorful, one doesn't have to start at the beginning of the book. It was specifically designed for the reader to begin anywhere. Because of the many bits and pieces of incredible detail there tends to be a wide age range of interested readers.

I targeted this book from middle school age and up, appealing to young adults as well as adults. It has a very wide readership. At book signings I have equally as many adults buying as I do kids of all ages! I love meeting the kids, as it’s my chance to open their minds to a story that their grandparents remember.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm busily marketing this book right now to public and school libraries – a Herculean task. But I have also been working on a very unique new project. So, without telling too much, it's another unique way to learn about American history in a more dynamic approach. More on that soon!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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