I have just returned (to my desk) from a great and perilous journey to the farthest reaches of the building.
And let me just tell you right now, the length of this blog is exactly 1,667 words, which is the number of words I need to write every day for my NaNoWriMo novel. So if it seems long, you're right, it is. Bring a snack.
It all started in a meeting on how to promote the 8th edition of a nursing textbook, and the book's editor had an idea.
"Lo, and we shall have a brochure that does depict a grand collage of all book covers of editions past! Editions one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven shall be pictured on the brochure, proudly displayed in their historical significance beside the new 8th edition."
It wasn't a bad idea. We'd never really done anything like it, which is always my first complaint whenever we're asked to execute something that specific. Like, let's put the book cover on the front of the brochure! Same as every other brochure! And we'll show a student.. a happy student… and she's happy because this book is really student-friendly and accessible. But it's got comprehensive coverage of the material, you get me? Are you feeling it? Student-friendly, accessible, and complete! That's our hook. Hell, that's our headline! I think we've nailed it here, people.
After about five of those meetings in a week, I start picking at my wrists with my fingernails to see if I can find a vein.
But this concept might be worth pursuing, and it might even be fun. Tracy, my design teammate, always the pragmatist, asked where we might find images of the covers from such aged editions? Were there digital files somewhere? Did they have hard copies of the books that we could scan?
They handed us editions six and seven, and wished us luck.
Tracy caught up with me after the meeting. "Would you like to accompany me on a little scavenger hunt?"
Our Quest began in the most logical of all places, the corporate library.
It's a gamble what you're likely to find in this library.* Many years ago, it was managed properly with card indexing and a system for checking books out. We had a librarian on staff who was very sweet and willing to help you find a certain book or obtain permissions from other publishers if you were working on a manuscript that included references or tables or artwork from books that weren't ours. Very handy. But after a few mergers and shifts of ownership, our librarian is gone (her office has been converted to a conference room) and the stacks are spottily populated with certain books here and there, with no real logic behind any of it.
But it was a good starting point. I headed for the shelf it should be on, figuring I could begin with optimism at least.
And there, lo and behold, sitting on its shelf in perfect alphabetical order was a beat-up copy of the fifth edition.
This early success inspired us to keep searching. We scoured every tiny little bookcase in every hallway and every abandoned office. We asked managing editors, developmental editors, publishers, even editorial assistants if they had ever heard of the book. Those that had merely shook their heads when we asked for anything older than the sixth edition. "Did you check the library?" some asked.
We walked in circles for a while, examining bookcases we'd already seen. "There's no way," I said, beginning to lose hope. "The old editions don't exist anymore."
"I wonder if they ever did."
"You know, there's one place we haven't checked yet…"
By that, I meant Production.** The production department and my own Creative Services are polar opposites. We toss footballs, play with play dough, and fill out Mad Libs with fart humor of a third-grade level sophistication. Production has no patience for anything loud, childish, or playful. This is a business, people, and we're here to have as little fun as possible, now will you please keep it down. I've often thought that if you brought Production into direct contact with Creative Services, we'd explode like a matter/antimatter reaction.
With some reluctance, we climbed the stuffy stairwell to the second floor. Production assistants and project managers looked up from their proofs and printouts, eyeing the outsiders with suspicion.
While wandering those eerily quiet halls, we stumbled upon what appeared to be a conference room undergoing a transition into a makeshift library. Stacks of books were leaning against the walls, ready to be shelved. "Do not remove books from this room," said a severely handwritten sign by the door.
We looked at each other, then ran a finger down the rudimentarily alphabetized shelves. S…R…Q…P… "Oh my God… it's the FOURTH EDITION!"
Tracy held it out from her in wonderment and a light seemed to shine down on it from above.
I glanced nervously behind me. "We can't take it. These people shun daylight and drink the blood of animals."
"Well, what should we do? Ask?"
She propped the Holy Grail up on the floor to lean against the shelf.
"Who's in charge up here?" I said.
"I don't know," said Tracy. "Why don't you go back out into the hall and shout for help really loudly."
"Are you trying to get us killed?"
But it wasn't long before we found someone who would listen to our situation. We confessed to being stumped and asked for suggestions.
"Try the mail room," she said.
We chuckled. The mail room! Who says Production people don't have a sense of humor.
But she went on. "Rick in the mail room keeps tabs on old books."
"Okay!" said Tracy. "We'll, uh, try the mail room. And by the way, you know the room full over books right over there? We found on of the editions we need… do you think it'd be okay to borrow it?"
"Sure," she answered. "Just let someone know."
"Right." A pause. Then Tracy said, very deliberately, "We're… going to… borrow that book."
"Okay," she said.
Tracy and I exchanged a sideways glance and then backed away.
The mail room. Assuming we weren't being led astray for the twisted amusement of our Production sister, this Quest was now about to take us to, of all places, the darkest, loneliest corner of the building. The mail room. As the door opened onto concrete flooring and warehouse shelving, I could have sworn I heard a flutter of bats scattering overhead.
"So this is where old books go to die?" I whispered.
"Rick…?" called Tracy, her voice echoing off the far walls.
A figure stepped out from behind a towering shelf of boxing materials. His shoes clacked against the hard floor and he was holding something, thwapping it against the palm of his other hand. A box cutter. That wasn't intimidating or anything.
"Yep. Whatcha need?" he asked. I'd said hi to Rick in the halls, and he's a nice guy. But surrounded by his domain, in the dim, poorly distributed light, he seemed a little more rough around the edges.
"Yes," said Tracy, stepping up to the proverbial plate while I pretended to be very interested in a stack of Fed Ex labels. "We were told that you might have something to do with locating some old editions of a textbook."
"How old," said Rick.
"Old!" I said. "Like the 80's."
"Ohh…" Rick scratched the stubble on his chin with the edge of his box cutter. "Yep. Those are gonna be at Iron Mountain."
"Sweet Christ!" I blurted out. "Iron Mountain! Are there dragons?"
"Which ring do we use to get back? The green one? Or the yellow?"
Rick acknowledged neither of these references and led us deeper in to the warehouse to his desk, which contained stacks of white printouts gummed up with dusty fingerprints. He picked up a handful of papers and studied the top one for a moment. "Yep," he mused. "Iron Mountain. That's where everything that old is archived."
It slowly dawned on us that Iron Mountain was an archiving service, not another stage of our journey to be conquered or climbed.
"Tell you what," said Rick. "Can you send me an email letting me know the author and title of the books you need? I'll get to it first thing in the morning."
It seemed funny to me to think of anyone tapping away at email surrounded by delivery truck exhaust and packing tape. But why not?
On the way out, Tracy said, "Look! Iron Mountain." She was pointing to a stack of boxes with Iron Mountain imprinted on the side.
"Why have I never heard of it until now?" I said.
"Who even knew there was an archive?"
"It's not as if there would be a system in place for instances like this. That would be silly."
Tracy rolled her eyes at me. "What, and eliminate fun excursions like this to the bowels of the building searching for something as simple as an archived textbook?"
We walked back in silence for a while. Then I said, "I did kind of want to go to Iron Mountain, though."
A song began playing slowly, sadly in my head.
Oh, to live on Iron Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Iron Mountain
Though you're thinking that
you're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon...
* This is the point in the story where you might interrupt me to say something like, "Wait a minute. Why wouldn't a major publishing company keep copies of all the books it publishes? Doesn't that just make sense?" To which I would reply, "You've never worked in publishing, have you."
** The possibility exists that I have now offended several loyal readers who work in Production. Do not be offended, for most of this blog contains exaggerations added for dramatic effect. I love you, Production. Please don't eat me.