Project Focus: Exotic Life by Lisa Alpine

by | Apr 21, 2010 lisa alpine exotic lifeTravel writing, never out of fashion, seems to be pretty popular at the moment. And when you get great travel writing imbued with personality, you’ve got something special. lisa alpineThat’s why I was really pleased to be called on by Lisa Alpine to design the interior of her new book, Exotic Life: Laughing Rivers, Dancing Drums and Tangled Hearts: A Collection of Too True Stories (Dancing Words Press). Lisa’s a longtime traveler, and a longtime travel writer. She teaches travel writing and, with her partner Carla King, runs the Self-Publishing Boot Camp. (Check this link for an upcoming Boot Camp.)

Here’s the description of the book from the back lisa alpine exotic life

From wanting to push her boyfriend out of a plane over the Andes in Colombia to finding a giant dildo in a toilet tank that followed her friends through Mexico, to dancing wearing only a diamond necklace, this collection of too true stories will inspire you to follow the call of a wild life and leave home with your doors unlocked.

Collections of short stories and novels are my favorite design projects as a book designer. Lisa’s book would be 5.5″ x 8.5″ for digital printing, and she already had a cover design completed. All that was left was to devise some different looks for her stories and see which one Lisa felt most comfortable with.

Devising and Designing

The stories were mostly short to medium in length. I knew Lisa wanted the book to run about 200 pages at the end. It made sense to create a big drop for the story opening pages, and to put some air into the typography at the same time. Nothing makes a book easier to read than a little extra space on the page and between the lines.

Here’s what I came up with: lisa alpine exotic life

Click to enlarge lisa alpine exotic life

Click to enlarge lisa alpine exotic life

Click to enlarge


  • The first sample is typeset in Adobe Caslon Pro with Herculaneum heads.
  • The second is Minion Pro for the text and Fertigo Pro for the heads.
  • Third, Chaparral Pro for both the text and the heads, and a Zapfino swash character for a drop cap.

The snake you see in the first two samples came from Lisa. She had used it something like a text break in her Word manuscript. Honestly, it was so small I actually spent some time looking for other images of Mayan snakes. Not finding anything, I took another look at the drawing to see how big the file was, and discovered it was actually quite a nice piece of line art.

In the first sample, the snake adds an exotic element since it’s now large enough to be seen clearly. But I felt it competing with the typography, and came up with the second.

In this opener, the snake both recedes and complements the typography. It was this design that Lisa chose. Here’s what the final opener looked like when we went to press, and a spread from the finished book. lisa alpine exotic life

Click to enlarge lisa alpine exotic life

Click to enlarge

I was really quite happy with the design in the end. It’s approachable, easy to read, with just enough of an exotic touch to help transport us to the destinations her travels take her to. Check out Exotic Life. Go along with Lisa Alpine for the ride.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Joel

    Robby, thanks for your comment. If you’d like to talk about your project, email me at jfbookman (at)

    You might also check my Hire Me! page (see the tabs at the top of this window) for more info.

  2. Robby G

    Wow I’m really impressed. Firstly, the stories sound extremely interesting and the designs are fascinating. I just finished a book and it’s getting edited. I will be self-publishing, but how on earth can I get you to help with similar interior design? I have the book cover already taken care of, but the interior design would add something great. How much do you charge for something like that? Cheers!

  3. Joel

    Well, happy birthday! When I moved back to NY from California in 1979 I looked uptown and down for some decent Mexican cuisine, with not luck. There was a poor imitation of a Mexican restaurant on the upper west side, but nothing like what we had in California. Eventually I gave in and moved back west.

  4. Michael N. Marcus

    >>You’re probably too young to remember that era.<<

    Definitely not too young:

    But from '68 to '71 I was in PA and NY, not CT. It's in the book.

    (Some say that if you remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.)

    Texas Taco started as a pushcart in Central Park in the mid or late 60s. By 1971, it was a real restaurant on 2nd or 3rd Ave, probably in the upper 40s. It moved to Pawling NY around 1973, and then to Patterson maybe in 1978. I’d guess that the Danbury branch started around 1980 – ’85. I only went there once.

  5. Joel

    Michael, that’s great. I was in Danbury in 1968-1971 and I’m pretty sure nobody in Danbury at that time had ever heard of a taco, let alone actually seen one. You’re probably too young to remember that era. My father was a partner in a print shop on Liberty street which, sadly, no longer exists, having been pretty much paved over. I’m particularly bitter about the loss of the terrific Portuguese bar down the street, where there was always a bowl of hard boiled eggs for the afternoon beer drinkers and random college students wandering down from the Wesconn campus.

  6. Michael N. Marcus

    I’ll be glad to send you a book. I’m delaying promotion until LS processes the final (?) revisions. Info is at

    Based on your timeline, we probably have some shared experiences. Maybe we were even in the same place at the same time.

    I worked fo magazines and ad agencies in Manhattan from 1969 until maybe 1980. My father and brother had a store in Danbury from maybe 1985 to 1992.

    Was there a Texas Taco when you were in Danbury, or did you ever go across the border to the main T.T. in Patterson, NY?

  7. Joel

    Michael, thanks, much appreciated. I should have said

    Travel writing … seems to be pretty popular with all the readers of Eat, Pray, Love and the host of imitators it has spawned.

    Meaning a lot of people I know. Purely anecdotal, it makes sense that as the recession has trimmed people’s travel plans, it has also depressed the market for travel books.

    Didn’t know you wrote stories, that’s interesting. Is there a sample around for interested parties? Love to read one.

  8. Michael N. Marcus

    >>Travel writing…seems to be pretty popular at the moment.<<'

    Actually, the latest report from Bowker shows that the number of travel titles published in 2009 declined for the second year in a row, one of "The big category losers…in areas impacted by changes in discretionary spending."

    OTOH, your design work for this book is outstanding. I love the chapter opening with the Mayan snake, and you chose the perfect font for the chapter title. I propably would have been afraid to use both an illustration and a drop-cap on the same opening page, but you made the combo turn out very well.

    Your interior design is much better than the do-it-myself pages in my own story collection, My budget allowed me to hire a pro for the cover, but not for the interior. This book won't win any design awards, but people like the stories. I'll have to settle for that.



  1. Books on the iPad’s iBookstoreindieKindle - [...] the Sony Reader and many other eReaders.   First I downloaded a free sample of Lisa Alpine’s Exotic Life…

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