When Did You First Meet Griffin & Sabine? Stories from Our Staff
This year, 2016, is the 25th anniversary of Griffin & Sabine—a seminal title in Chronicle Books’ history. The Griffin & Sabine saga spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, redefining storytelling with its interactive and tactile format.
To celebrate, we’re releasing a new book in the series, The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine’s Lost Correspondence. It’s book 3.5 in the series, and it finally shares what happened to the lovers. We went and interviewed some of the key players who worked on the original book; read on for some of our favorite stories from Chronicle Books staffers and the Griffin & Sabine community!
When and where did you first meet Griffin & Sabine? Do you have a story about how the series impacted your life? Share in the comments—we’ll pick one person to win a copy of the 25th anniversary Griffin & Sabine and The Pharos Gate.
Nion McEvoy, Chairman and CEO
McEvoy remembered that Victoria Rock, Chronicle Books Founding Publisher, was pursuing author Nick Bantock because she was looking for a pop-up children’s book. She spotted something in Bantock’s bag and asked about it, to which he said that he didn’t think it was publishable and that it wasn’t a children’s book. To that, Victoria told him he was right, that it wasn’t a children’s book, and asked to borrow it and disappeared. Shortly after, Annie Barrows—McEvoy’s assistant at the time—showed him the book with a quick “You don’t mind if I take this to the board, do you?” tossed in. Barrows, who went on to author the Ivy and Bean series, became the editor on the books.
“It seemed like everything a Chronicle Book should be,” says McEvoy, “which is beautifully designed and made, and not overly expensive.” He credits a “keep the price down and invite more people to the party” strategy, as well as over-delivering “in terms of wonderment.”
Victoria Rock, Founding Children’s Publisher
“When we first met Nick Bantock, he was working for a children’s pop-up book packager and came to our offices to show some ideas he had been working on. He had a bag full of dummies with him. As we sat together by the windows in the design space at our old offices on 5th St, he pulled out projects one by one. I don’t remember the details of those projects. I know we spent a lot of time talking, and I am sure we were playing with the mechanics of the interactive books. Finally, he sat back in his chair—finished—but for some reason, maybe a bit hesitant on his part. I asked him what else he had in the bag. He answered something along the lines of “Oh, something not publishable.” And then he pulled out a last dummy: Griffin & Sabine.
It was unlike anything I had seen before, and instantly enticing. We looked at it together and I asked if could hold onto the dummy to show to others. I started showing the dummy around the office, and others were as intrigued as I was—there was a definite passion for it. When we discussed it at our board meeting, those who loved it really loved it, and those who didn’t were a little perplexed by it. We weren’t even sure we could figure out how to produce it, but it was clear we were going to try to publish it.”
Annie Barrows, Author and Griffin & Sabine Editor
“One of the most radical things a person can say is ‘Why not?’. These are the magic words of innovation, of invention, of art, and the extremely cool thing about Chronicle Books. Way back in 1990, when I brought Griffin & Sabine to an acquisition meeting, ‘Why not?’ was the response I got. An illustrated novel for adults? ‘Why not?’ Told in letters and postcards? ‘Why not?’ Entirely new format for a novel? ‘Why not?’ Tip [paste] in real envelopes? ‘Why not?’
Griffin & Sabine was beautiful and strange and almost impossible to produce, and what Chronicle Books said was, ‘Sure. Let’s do it.’ Even all these years later, that’s something to be proud of.”
Jack Jensen, President
Jensen recalled bringing Griffin & Sabine to ABA (a trade show now known as BEA), where people were immediately hooked. The book had to be guarded, and by the end of the fair people were lining up every day to come see it. The overwhelmingly positive response and palpable excitement gave the team the confidence to come home and triple the print run.
“Reading other people’s mail is fun. There is no doubt about that. But on a really real level, it delivered mystery, intrigue, curiosity, and in the best sense of the word, romance.”
Jensen credits the book for broadening the reputation of the company with a wider audience and an array of readers. “I like to think of it as our first book with words, the perfect Chronicle Book with words,” he says. “It looked and felt as good as it read. The object itself was equally important to the content.”
Nick Bantock, Author
“When Chronicle Books agreed to publish Griffin & Sabine back in 1991, it would have been virtually impossible to guess that the book would one day be described as having changed the way publishing saw itself.
Griffin & Sabine was a chameleon, different things to different people: a marriage of words and images, a love story, a mystery, an art book, an alchemical journey, voyeur’s delight and a three dimensionally interactive epistolary novel. Much of the book’s immediate and enormous success came thanks to the independent bookstores who championed it with incredible enthusiasm, and I consider myself enormously lucky that those good people insisted their customers take the book into their hands and open it up.
Things have changed since those days, including the way word travels, but The Pharos Gate, like its siblings, remains an animal of touch. It’s a sensual creature that I always wanted the reader-viewer to engage with whilst they lost themselves in the story.”
Lindsay Sablosky, Senior Director, Production
“I worked on the production of the first book (yes, I was 12 years old…). Nothing was digital then. If I’m remembering correctly, we worked with both original artwork and slides of Nick’s artwork. There was dummy after dummy after dummy to get the format right. It was like nothing we (or the printer) had produced before, and there was so much to get right.
I loved the book, and the editor, and Nick, and the production, and when it was all said and done, I got a tattoo that is a replica of a piece of artwork from the book: the sun/moon from a stamp (pictured below) . Then there was the story someone told about being in a bookstore and hearing a guy tell his friend he was buying the book for his wife because they had honeymooned in the Sicmon Islands. Ha!”
John Mesjak, Sales Rep/Partner at Abraham Associates
“My first bookstore job was Anderson’s Bookshop in suburban Chicago. When Griffin & Sabine was first published, it turned into this monster hit for us. For the entire holiday season in 1991, we kept a stack of of the books at the front counter, and hand-sold it to any customer who needed a gift but couldn’t decide what to give. Like many booksellers outside of the Bay Area, Griffin & Sabine was my first introduction to Chronicle Books.
Is it giving too much credit to Nick Bantock that, one day, my wife and I moved to San Francisco and I ended up working for Chronicle Books? Is it too much like a Griffin & Sabine story if I think of it as my destiny?”
Kelli Chipponeri, Editorial Director, Children’s
“I have purchased numerous copies of Griffin & Sabine over the years. Always all three together, and always as gifts to give to book lovers who would appreciate the storytelling being told through the novelty of opening and reading someone else’s correspondence. The set I currently have, I bought in Philadelphia more than 6 years ago at a 2-day Spring Festival in Fitler Square. There was a used book stand where I found all three copies and paid $5 each for them. I love buying used books from someone else, knowing that someone else had turned the pages before me. The cases of the books have all been cut in the same place, as if someone accidentally caught them with a box cutter when opening a box. And one of the books is from the first printing!”
Lara Starr, Senior Publicist
“My mom has had Griffin & Sabine on her nightstand since it first published, and has added to the stack with each subsequent volume. She even has the parody book, Sheldon and Mrs. Levine: An Excruciating Correspondence. She still picks them up from time to time and re-reads the letters and postcards and is so excited to finally have the final chapter of the story!”
Amy Treadwell, Senior Editor
“I’ve worked at many bookstores over the years (independents, Barnes & Noble, Bookstar, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Doubleday Bookshops), and my fellow booksellers and I knew we were looking at something special when Griffin & Sabine hit the bookshelves. We consumed it (and all its sequels) in the backroom during our lunch breaks and recommended it to all our customers (I probably hand-sold hundreds myself).
Years later, I landed in San Francisco, a little weary of the retail scene, and turned my head toward publishing. Nothing was more thrilling than landing a job at Chronicle Books, the home of Griffin & Sabine, and a place where creativity and ingenuity is part of its DNA. It’s ruined me for any other publisher.”
Mark Kaufman, Owner, Paz & Associates
“I had been living in the SF Bay Area in the midst of a career transition when I reconnected with Carol Orsborne, an author acquaintance who had recently moved from Mill Valley to Nashville, TN. . .Carol organized a workshop retreat that I decided to attend, and that’s where I met Donna Paz, who had been the General Manager of Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, and one of the first people Carol met.
Over the course of the weekend, Donna and I found that we had much in common and enjoyed one another’s company. When I returned to the Bay Area, we began corresponding by letter (this was in 1992, so we weren’t quite up to speed with email just yet). As a token of my affection, I had sent her a small gift for her cat (since I was really a dog-lover at heart). In return, she sent me a copy of Griffin & Sabine, which I cherish to this day.
As a result, our exchange of letters became more frequent and more intimate, which led to another visit to Nashville. But that time, I never left! Donna and I have been together ever since (though it took a good six years for us both to put marital histories behind and decide to re-marry). We are now partners in life as well as partners in the Bookstore Training and Consulting Group of Paz & Associates.”
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Be sure to share with us your Griffin & Sabine story in the comments.
Photos by Irene Kim Shepherd
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