A week before my daughter was born (she’s six and half now) I sat down on my couch with my laptop and typed the very first words of my very first book. I was 35. I didn’t type “The End” until the day before my 40th birthday. I wrote in drips and drabs. I stole moments where I could between bouts of colic, poopy diapers, and the general weight of raising two children (my son would arrive just as my wife and I reached the “we can do this” point with our daughter and thus BLEW UP THE UNIVERSE).
After I wrote the last chapter of that book, I was elated. I’d been working towards this for a long time (and by “working towards this” I really meant “putting this off”). I had studied writing in college and walked away with a degree in creative writing. Just like most of my writing major peers, I started working at a general store.
Eventually I moved to Boston and worked as an editor. I figured that “Hey, I’m kind of doing what I love.” That was a lie. I’d keep lying. Telling myself elaborate tales in my head that involved statistics about publishing. The odds, I’d say. Can you believe the odds? I was like that kid listening to someone tell him that he was a good shortstop but not a good enough shortstop. But the impending arrival of my daughter changed things. I told my wife, I’m going to write them a story. And I did. It took me five years but I did it.
I queried that story through most of last year. Like so many people, I went into things blind. I didn’t have a critique group. I knew diddly about querying and synopsis writing and pitching. But, I trusted Google and did my best. Got some interest here and there. A few agents requested to see the full manuscript but nothing came of that book.
What did come out of that experience though were tons and tons and tons of supportive people who I’d met along the way. We were all marching towards the same goal. We celebrated each other’s victories and offered support through our many defeats. I may not have had any lasting professional success with that first book but I couldn’t have written my second one without it.
You see, some of those people I’d met have become my friends. I’ve never met them. I don’t 100% know what some of them look like. But if I ever cross paths with them, I will hug them and buy them a drink and offer to babysit their kids. A few of these folks were already gathered into a little critique group called The MGbetareaders. One of them knew that I was writing MG books and said I should join the group. So I did.
It was great. I did a few beta reads and watched as many of them found representation (and even sold a book or two) while I continued to toil with revising my first book. I have to admit, there were days where watching success after success roll by carried with it a little sting. I was pouring my heart into my book and I was getting nowhere. This is where the deep breath comes in.
Around March of this year, I told my wife that I was taking a break from my first book. I had started a few other books. Most of those had hit the 20,000 word mark and stalled. So, I started something new. I started something that had been playing around in my head for a while.
It turns out that there is an April session of CampNaNoWriMo and a few of my critique partners were going to jump in and hammer out some words. I was starting something new so I joined in. I’m not big on the “YOU MUST KEEP TYPING UNTIL YOU GET 2,500 WORDS” vibe of NaNoWriMo but the April session lets you set more reasonable goals and I told myself to crank out at least 1,000 a day. I did that. At least 1,000 words a day for the entire month. Never fewer, often more. A few days before the end of April I typed “The End” on my second book. It was a book about kids. It was a book about zombies. It was a book about diabolical octopuses bent on world-wide domination.
I sent that book out to my beta-readers and waited. Their feedback started to flow back into my inbox. It needed a little bit here and a little bit there but THEY LOVED IT. I’m usually a really humble guy but it was really obvious…this little book was special. Four out of my six readers referred to “The Goonies” in their comments. That’s ridiculously high-praise for a guy like me.
I spent all of May working on revisions and then waited for the end of the school year to come around. The last bell rang, my students raced off into the haze of their summers, and I drafted a query. My critique group helped me shape that query into something that looked like a winner and I started to hit agencies. Two business days later I got an email from The Cooke Agency in Toronto (as well as two other agencies) requesting a full of my book.
Within a week, I got the email asking for “The Call” and I lost my mind. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was terrified and elated all at the same time. “The Call” was with Sally Harding and we started to chat and “The Goonies” came up again. She had me at “One-Eyed-Willy”. We talked about my octopuses for over an hour. Things were clicking. She made an offer.
Today, I signed a contract with The Cooke Agency to represent my octopuses and anything else I come up with from here forward.
I guess that if I can leave you with any lasting thought on this whole crazy ride it comes from a strange place. I’m a huge Boston Bruins fan. During the Stanley Cup finals, I saw an interview with one of the Bruin’s forwards named Milan Lucic. The commentator asked him the question “When did you know you were going to play in the NHL?” He said that he remembered when he was in middle-school and his math teacher was asking his class what they all imagined they would do for work as adults. When she got to him he said “I’m going to play in the NHL” and she shook her head and then started to write on the chalk-board (this was Canada after all and she must have practiced the statistical equations for determining the probability of being drafted into the NHL multiple times a year) the odds of getting into the NHL for everyone to see. He stopped her about half-way through her explanation and said “But somebody has to play in the NHL.”
Keep writing your books or painting your pictures or raising your kids or whatever it is that you love because, Milan is right, somebody out there is going to stick with their dream and follow it and chase it and wrangle it like so many cats until they get it. Shouldn’t that somebody be you?