Tomorrow is a huge day for me. My new book, the most personal and most rewarding project I have done thus far, officially comes out! It’s called Hello NY and is a half guidebook, half memoir about my love, the Big Apple.
I grew up on a small island in the Bronx, that few New Yorkers have even heard of, called City Island. I left for college at RISD and wound up back in Brooklyn as soon as I graduated. So, I’ve spent 29 years and four summers in New York City – pretty much my whole life thus far.
Sometimes, I’ll be at a party talking to a fancy person and they will tell me how they’ve lived in Berlin and then Mexico City for a year, before spending some time traveling up the west coast, then ultimately deciding to come to NY for a little while, before settling down somewhere in the country. Then they’ll ask me about the places I’ve lived, and I will chug my wine, and excuse myself for another. Maybe I’ve been too scared to move anywhere unfamiliar, or felt too much guilt about the idea of leaving my family (everyone I am related to lives here), or maybe I just really, really love this city. I like to believe it is the latter.
After working on Farm Anatomy a couple years ago (having known nothing about farms previously), I decided it was time to do a book about something I really knew a lot about – my home. Almost two years ago, I pitched the idea of a guidebook graphic novel about New York City over the phone to executive editor Christina Amini at Chronicle Books in a shaky, nervous salesman voice. I told her this would be my dream come true and that I had never wanted anything so bad (I really felt that way!). Somehow that worked and a few months later, after an approved proposal and contract signing, I was sitting in front of the computer screen with Text Edit open trying to figure out what this book would be about and really freaking out.
The pressure was unbearable. I wanted this book to be amazing and live up to what I imagined, but I felt incapable of such a feat. I doubted every single part. I missed the first deadline for the book. The manuscript was weeks late and then the first galley was months late. Bridget Watson-Payne, my amazingly patient and reassuring editor, was actually worried this time. I told her I had written it but I hadn’t drawn anything yet. Then after another deadline I emailed her that I had drawn everything but I didn’t paint yet. It was always “coming soon – just need a few more days!” I put it off until the last possible moment. I was always going to catch up on the weekend but then Saturday would come and it would be a really sunny day. I stressed that the writing was too personal… then it wasn’t personal enough. The drawings weren’t loose enough. The places I mention weren’t obscure enough. Then they felt too weird – would anyone really care about a troll museum in the Lower East Side?
I wouldn’t let me friends read it or see what I was doing. I avoided it like crazy and worked on other projects. Months after the final deadline it was half finished. Bridget wound up calling me to tell me I wouldn’t make the fall list because I was too far behind and it would get pushed to the Spring ’14 season. I took the afternoon off to cry.
At some point I decided this book would have to be what it was and it would never be perfect by my standards. I had my sister and Jenny look at what I had and they actually liked it! I became more confident. I started painting all my drawings and really enjoyed the process. I got really excited about how it looked in color. And then one day I finished it and sent in all the Indesign files and went out for dinner.
A few months ago I received two advanced copies in the mail and it felt glorious. I had done it and it was mine! And surprisingly I felt really proud.
My dad is in it, sharing stories of the street games he played on Barnes Ave. in the Bronx when he was a kid. The story of my late grandmother losing her first tooth over the side of a boat before coming in through Ellis Island takes up a spread. I painted my childhood home that my parents still live in. I illustrated parts of New York I still love, even if they are touristy – the chandeliers in the main Public Library, the backwards Grand Central ceiling, and the Coney Island Mermaid parade.
I also write about some of the obscure places- Dead Horse Bay (where 1950s garbage washes up on the shore), Orchard Corset (my favorite lingerie store run by Hasidic Jews), the New York Tattoo Museum (where a guy named Dozer covered in tattoos explains tattoo history for an hour in his shop), and Spa Castle (the relaxing Korean bathhouse). I interviewed Melinda Beck about swimming in the East River, a taxi cab driver about how dangerous his job is, and a sommelier at a super fancy restaurant.
I have personal stories too- sleeping outside the box office for Rent tickets when I was in high school, and how I lost my keys on the subway tracks but how a stranger risked his life to retrieve them, how I reached my hand into a soaking soup pot to wash it only to find a mouse had committed suicide by jumping in…
The book comes out tomorrow, AHHH! You can get a copy here or in stores. I really hope you’ll like it. Thanks so much for checking it out. xoJulia