How To.See How.Many Cod Points I.Have Without Going.On An Interview with Illustrator Bob Staake About His ‘Orb of Chatham’

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An Interview with Illustrator Bob Staake About His ‘Orb of Chatham’

Chatham, Cape Cod:

Christopher Seufert: I read that you finished both the drawings and the text for the

Orb of Chatham in a week. How could that possibly be true?

Bob Staake: You have to understand, and people who know me know that I’m an

insufferable workaholic and that I work extremely fast, that the book was the type of

thing where just a lot of things coincided at the same time. Once I decided to do it I

didn’t rough out the book or anything. I went straight to my final illustrations and

they were working out, and I thought, “Well, there’s no real reason to go ahead and

rough this thing out. I can just take it straight to finish, and do it.”

It was the first of my forty or so books that I have done that way, where I have just

completely gone through and gotten it finished without sketches or anything. I think

some books are just like that. It was a story that was so simple, that at the end of

the day when you look at it, it is 290 words or something, and 13 illustrations.

I just tend to work very quickly and when I get on a project or on a book I’m not the

type of person who wants that protracted deadline. When I’m given that 9 months

by a publisher to get an entire thing done, I’m always waiting until the final month

because I don’t want to spread out those illustrations over time. For me to keep a

cohesiveness and a consistency between the illustrations it works best for me to sit

down and (hand motion) do it straight up. I don’t jump from page to page. I don’t

say “I want to do this spread,” you know, like a video director would do or the way a

movie director would cut back and forth between these scenes. I tend to have the

whole thing flow out, so no, it literally took a week. It was one of those projects that

I did over Thanksgiving of 2004. I figured I had a little time to do it so I just

hammered through.

CS: So you just did it like that without a publisher okaying your idea or anyone else

giving you a thumbs-up?

BS: Yeah, I’ve just done this for so long that what comes with that is a certain level

of confidence. I mean, I will tell you that one of my concerns was that this is the first

book that I have completely done without an advance or a contract from a publisher.

But my second book, a book called the “Red Lemon,” is coming out with Random

House and it was done the same way too. All the way through. And you sit there

with these books and you think, “Am I being delusional in thinking that this story

actually has wings and can fly?” Because you’re not showing anyone. You’re showing

your friends, and your friends are all going to say “This is wonderful!” You know, no

one is honest with you. It’s only when you take it to that publisher and “Boom!”

within an hour, they’ve offered you a contract on it, and you go, “Okay ,great, I’m

not delusional. My head isn’t somewhere it shouldn’t be.” So then there is complete

vindication, but politically, when you work with editors and art directors and

publishers, I was certainly hyper-aware of the political ramifications of essentially

telling an editor, “Hey I don’t need you here on this book.” But, happily, that didn’t

turn them off and happily the book is doing very well.

CS: Is it? It stands out for me an is refreshing in that it asks for an active

participation on the part of the reader, whereas most books are much more of a

passive experience. But I wouldn’t necessarily think that would translate into

commercial success. Of course authors like Edward Gorey really worked that market

well.

Are most people you talk to “getting” the concept of the mystery you’ve laid out,

with the co-dependence of the book and the web site?

BS: Those people who get the book, those who read the book, and unlock the code

and go into the deeper web site and see all the stuff that’s there, they are

responding incredibly well to it. There has been some interest in an Inside The Orb

of Chatham, and in what happens next in a follow up book, and I don’t know. You

know, one of my feelings about the book is that the reader is the person who

creates that back story. The reader is the person who takes the basic story and

develops it in his or her mind. I mean, it is truly an experience. What I wanted to do

was to democratize the literary experience between reader and writer and book and

to really elevate the importance of the reader, and to make the argument that no

book would exist without a reader, okay? At the end of the day that’s really true,

but what I really wanted to do was to absolutely just build upon that in spades. I

wanted to truly make an experience where one person’s reality with that book is

different from the next person’s. They are that causal, integral part to the entire

process that completes the picture. So the idea of doing a follow up book, the idea

of doing something else beyond that, it kind of flies in the face of what I’ve done

here with the book.

CS: Personally, I was able to unlock the code and get into the web site, but I was

pretty blown away by the depth of the web site within. The onion layers peeled

away and I don’t know that I’ve yet gotten a full grasp of the mystery that is

presented there. So, I went back to the book, re-read it, and my whole perspective

on the story changed again. Then, of course, back into the web site, and this is the

way it’s been going. I’m still trying to understand the actual questions that are

being asked of me as a reader of the book.

BS: A lot of people have looked at the book and they’re just kind of blown away that

someone figured out a way to incorporate a literary experience with a web site

component, and kind of make it this whole multimedia thing and I’m flattered by

that, but I have to believe someone else has done that. I think that it’s a very

ambitious web site and there is a lot going on there, but to me it seems like a

complete natural. Certainly, for a mystery like this, it was a case where I did not

want to tell this big, elaborate story in the book. I could have very easily done it but

I really wanted the web site to function as a…. This is what I tell people, “The end of

the book, the end of the Orb of Chatham, is truly the beginning of the story. That’s

where it begins.”

So, you set the stage, and once they unlock the code and go to the web site, it

continues on, so for me, both as a writer and as a illustrator, it was a terrific way to

experience..to continue to let the story breathe, to just take angles and to insert

incredible detail into a back-story that just would not have worked with the printed

book coming in at 290 words. I wanted it that bare. I wanted it that bare and I

wanted the illustrations to be really sparse, and then I wanted to just continue it off

of there.

CS: Was the web site a sort of second idea, or was that always part of the initial

concept since day one?

BS: Honestly I can’t remember. I can tell you this much. It was essential to do the

Orb of Chatham and to complete the entire book, and to take it to a publisher, a

small regional house like Commonwealth Editions in Boston, who did a beautiful

job. They really got behind the book in a way that Viking or Simon and Schuster or

Random House would not have. But when I was considering Random House I

thought, “There is no way I can do it the traditional way,” which is to show the cover,

show the story, and show a couple sample spreads. I mean, everyone would look at

it and say “What?!” I’m at a stage in my career where, because of utilizing the web

the way that I do, I can pitch a book over the internet to an editor. When I call up an

editor and say, “Here’s what I have,” they can see it online. There’s no more reason

to have those hard copies flying down to New York. So, I think that as I built the

pages, showing how the book would flow, and it was very important to show black

background on the left with gray type and illustration on the right, it was just a

natural to then develop it beyond there.

CS: What sort of reaction do you get from those who don’t “get” the book? Are there

those who don’t “get” it what it is you’re asking the reader to do here? That it’s not

supposed to be a traditional book?

BS: No, I don’t think it’s a case of people not getting it. I think there are people who

will look at it and say, “Oh no, this is going to require work,” you know. I just

happen to be a puzzle person, I like stuff like that; any sort of puzzle, any sort of

thing that you have to decode or figure out, you know. I am fascinated by things like

that. There are some people who like that and some people who don’t, those people

who like tomatoes and some people who don’t. This is a big juicy tomato. It never

ceases to amaze me. Some people will say, “I’ve been working on it for three days to

try and solve the code,” and I say, “Hey at least you’re working,” and I sit there and

say,”You will get it, you will solve it.” One review said what was interesting about the

code is that there is a couple of very simple questions, and they kind of empower

you to believe, “Piece of cake, I’ll fly right though this,” but then it gets difficult and

people are going back to a couple of clues that they can’t quite get.

CS: So what is the proper way to approach the overall mystery and the individual

components of the book and the web site? Is the solving of the mystery better done

with logic or with the imagination?

BS: People look at me and say, “This is a number based code,” and it’s really not. It

requires numbers, but it really requires all the senses.. a visual sense, a tactile sense

in holding the book, certainly a oral sense in terms of hearing the music, because

it’s really creepy and it kind of sets the stage. It’s almost a total immersion thing.

One of the things that I found interesting, and it’s one of the things that I wanted to

do in the book, was when you read the book, you form a conclusion about the story.

If you are compelled to go ahead and solve the code and get in there, then what the

web site does is to take your original hypothesis and turn it inside out. All of a

sudden, you’ve got a completely different view of what really happened, you know.

That’s what I wanted to create. I wanted to create a kind of “Aha!” moment for the

reader where they think, “You know what, I really thought this was the real story,

but now I have a completely different take.”

And now for an exclusive clue: Author Bob Staake has kindly provided this

interview’s readers with an exclusive additional clue to the Orb of Chatham mystery.

In order for you to understand this clue however, you must already have cracked the

initial code at his website and gained access to the inner mystery of the orb. If you

haven’t yet accomplished this basic first step go back and do that before attempting

this additional research phase.

The Christopher Seufert interview clue is not required for you to solve the mystery

(you only need the book and his official website for that http://

http://www.OrbofChatham.com) but it does indeed point to an an additional piece of the

puzzle that is only available through this exclusive link. But we’re not going to just

give you the clue- you’re going to have to work for it. Investigate earnestly and

your clue will be revealed.

Now, visit the online clue at [http://www.MyChatham.com-] One of the true

“orbacious” links at the right leads to Bob Staak’s additional research clue. Read the

ten links through but don’t guess- then select the bottom button on the one you

most feel leads closer to the heart of the mystery. Choose wisely, however. You

only get one guess every two hours from your current computer. You get unlimited

guesses, but If your guess is wrong you won’t be allowed to guess again for that

time period.

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