Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A few thoughts on signing my 12th book contract ...

Weird Stories Gone Wrong, 2012-2018+

Warning: this blog post is totally self-serving, but hey, it's my party. Today I signed my 12th book contract and dropped it in the mail! It hardly seems possible.

How did that happen, really ....

One spring day in 2007, Sylvia McConnell, the publisher of Napoleon Publishing, emailed to tell me about my manuscript submission. Thumbs up or down?

Her tone was apologetic, bemoaning the slow nature of publishing, and I was fully expecting yet another rejection letter (albeit a pleasant one by her tone). Imagine my surprise when half-way through the email, I read the line...

"However, we are still interested in publishing your manuscript, 'Gargoyle.' Please let us know if it is still available."

I read those two sentences over and over.  My brain didn't get it, did somersault sequences of "Wait. What?" Slowly, much too slowly, I got out of my chair and gasped, that full body-gasp where you throw your hand over your mouth, close your eyes, shake your head a little.

The Night Flyer's Handbook series, 2014-2016
Then I burst into tears. 

Tears streamed down my face, I tasted them, I let them roll before I rubbed them off my chin. How often do you get to wipe tears of joy off your face, really? Then I ran from the top of the house to the bottom (a long way, four stories and 38 stairs), jumping up and down, fist pumping all the way, like a 10-year-old, heart racing with shock and something like ethereal joy. Tears and snot rolled freely, and I shrieked for the cat since no one else was home. (I did realize how crazy I looked but cared not.)

The cat cared, however, and quite rightly took one look at me and ran away to hide.

It was quite a moment. There are really only a few moments like that in life, at least for me. How often do dreams come true, anyway? Other than marrying the love of your life, or holding your child for the first time, or possibly winning the lottery (that one is just a guess), hearing that a publisher wants to publish your first book is right up there. Top five, anyway. Thank you Sylvia, Allister and Emma, you'll always have a special place in my heart!

The Lost Gargoyle Series, covers by Emma Dolan
That first gargoyle book, The Gargoyle in My Yard, was published in 2009 followed quickly by book two, The Gargoyle Overhead (2010), and The Gargoyle at the Gates (2012). I was so honoured and immensely grateful each time Sylvia agreed to publish the next book.

Writing The Lost Gargoyle series was one of the greatest joys of my life. I learned so much about writing, so much about character development, so much about story-line and narrative sleight of hand. I loved my main character, Gargoth, a grumpy but lovable 400-year-old gargoyle who had lost his greatest friend. In fact, Gargoth looked over my shoulder all the way. He taught me that I could write. For how Gargoth came to me, read an earlier (and also totally self-serving) blog post: Birth of a Children's Author

Then the writing floodgates opened and between 2012 and 2017, I published five more books: The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden and Jake and the Giant Hand in 2014, Myles and the Monster Outside in 2015, Carter and the Curious Maze and Everton Miles is Stranger than Me in 2016. Those books were all published by Dundurn Press, thanks for all the hard work and beautiful books guys!

Talented and smart people have helped me all the way: publishers like Sylvia and the good folks at Dundurn, editors like Allister Thompson, my editor through ten books now and counting, marketers, production experts, illustrators like Emma Dolan and Shawna Daigle, sales people, retailers, wholesalers, nominating committees, librarians, teachers, and kids too. Thanks to all of them. It's incredibly humbling to have so many people believe in me and in my books.

A cover by illustrator Shawna Daigle
Fast forward to today, November 29, 2017.

I have just dropped the contract for my 12th book in the mail.

I remember going to the OLA SuperConference in Toronto (a big library event) in 2009, and autographing my first book. A woman was watching me carefully, and when I'd finished, she came and introduced herself. She was children's author Marsha Skrypuch, and she asked me some great questions, and said welcome to the author world. When I asked her how many books she'd published, she said "Twelve. You'll get there, faster than you think."

How could anyone possibly write twelve books, I wondered?

I guess now I know. I've done it. And it happens fast, just as Marsha said it would. The secret, if there is one ... is just keep writing. Sorry it's not more interesting, but that's really all I can tell you. Keep listening to that inner 10-year-old, or manic creative voice, or hyperactive pen monkey, or whatever it is that inspired you to write in the first place, and trust it. Do it, despite the creative doubt, the loneliness, the dark thoughts that no one is going to ever read it, that it's trash, that you should just give up ... but you don't. 

Next year, 2018, is a year in which I publish three new books, which meant that 2017 was a year of intense writing! I wrote all winter and spring, and all summer too. In total, I wrote 110,000 words and hundreds of chapters. I wrote about an evil twin (Alex and The Other), a family of shipwrecked kids (Blackwells and the Briny Deep), and a destroyed world populated by children and robots (Oculum). I wrote into the night, slept little, wrote until my hands ached and my fingers seized up. I had to stop playing guitar for most of July, because I only had so much hand strength.

Author touring the neighourhood with
her first book, 2009
I went a little bonkers, to be honest. I dreamed about my characters. I woke up after a few hours of sleep, seeing words on the page, knowing exactly what had to be fixed. I grabbed my journal and scribbled down my fixes, or crept into my office at the back of the house, and typed. I only worked on one story at a time (some people can manage several manuscripts in the same day, I'm not one of them), but I'd switch back and forth between stories every few weeks.

I can't say I ever saw the dawn creep into the window of my office, but I came close a few times. It was the most intense writing I've ever done, with the possible exception of a term studying Moby Dick in grad school.

And here's the thing: I'll do it again. 

Author at 10
Every time I sign a contract, I'm still that 10-year-old running around the house, scaring the cat (except now it's a dog). I don't burst into tears anymore, though, which I guess means my heart has weathered a little, probably a good thing for everyone's nerves. At a reading recently, a boy asked me how many books I'm going to write in my life. I smiled. I've heard this question before, or something very like it. I looked up at the ceiling and said, "Twenty. I think that sounds like a good number."

Somehow, I'm already more than half-way there. My 10-year-old self has some writing to do ... 


Marsha Skrypuch said...

Congratulations, Philippa!

Philippa Dowding said...

Thanks Marsha, it happened fast, just like you said it would back in 2010!