The Story Behind the Story: A few thoughts on I WISH I MAY

I Wish I May FC ResizedI wrote this little book in the spring of 2005. I was on sabbatical and had just finished DOPPELGANGER. I was on a roll and feeling pretty good, so I decided to take a run at an idea that had come to me in the summer of 2003. I still remember that night, out on the deck, watching the fireflies—they were at their peak—blinking across the backyard and into the forest by the dozens, if not hundreds. The night was clear, and the fireflies were like a mirror to the stars. A meteor blazed across the sky, and I thought of the old notion of wishing on a star. Somehow, the ideas of wishing and stars and fireflies and bioluminescence all came together. What if one could wish upon a firefly?

The idea of a beleaguered little boy with a good heart somehow came to mind. I’d just finished reading several Roald Dahl novels, along with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and was taken with both authors’ voices—the narrator as direct storyteller—and the quirky, often dark humor. A devout fan of the poet William Blake, I’d long been interested in the interplay between innocence and experience. The “genie in the bottle” archetype seemed to be a perfect device to bring all these elements together, and the idea of evil using the goodness of innocence to further its own ends was especially appealing. Finally, I’d been teaching a little unit on Lao Tzu in one of my courses, using excerpts from the Tao Te Ching; the concept of doing by not doing, of accepting the world as it is and not as we wish it to be, had its hold on me. Perhaps there was room for a little bit of the Tao, as well.

So I had all the elements. The story came together quickly, and within six weeks I had a manuscript. I had a blast writing it. A zombie dog whose parts keep falling off, a comic-book hero come to life in full Roy Lichtenstein fashion, global brainwashing of children and parents alike—how could I not have fun? Along the way, I channeled many of my own childhood anxieties—the fear of bullies, worries over parents fighting, insecurities over not being liked—and amplified them. I wrote the kind of story I would have liked to read when I was a boy. I wrote it for the boy I was.

Afterward, the book got lost in the shuffle with the publication of DOPPELGANGER and the rest of the TRUESIGHT trilogy. I made a few attempts at getting it published, but the basic plot treads somewhat familiar territory, so editors were leery of taking it on. But I stand by it. I love the story’s pacing and progression. I love little Thurston and his earnest pragmatism. The novel’s themes—of learning to accept life’s pain and make the best of what you have, of not letting others define you with their dysfunction—are a bit unorthodox for a kids’ book, but I like that, too.

So I hope you’ll give it a try! The adults out there will find it a quick, fun read. Younger kids (the book is primarily geared toward middle schoolers) will appreciate the morbid humor. And of course, you’ll be supporting a worthy cause: I’ll be donating a good chunk of every sale to Families of SMA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for spinal muscular atrophy. Thurston and I thank you!

A GATHERING OF SHADES now for only $2.99!

A Gathering of Shades FCValentine’s Day Special! Try A GATHERING OF SHADES for only $2.99 on Amazon.

One of the cool things about having your own line of eBooks is the ability to adjust your price whenever you like, so for a little experiment, I’m offering A GATHERING OF SHADES for 25% off my original low price on Amazon. Not sure how long the sale will run, but I’ll probably try it for a week or so.

Set in my native Northeast Kingdom, A GATHERING OF SHADES was my second novel, and one that I think has equal appeal for adults as well as teens. A reader once described it as a “literary ghost story,” which I think is fitting. A sort of pastoral elegy disguised as a novel, it’s both a book about how we deal with death and mourning and an homage to my native NEK. It also features some of my most crafted prose. Give it a read by clicking here!

 

A Book by Any Other Cover: My First Foray Into the Digital Garden

Despite an early resistance to eBooks (blasphemy!) and a long love for the printed page, I admit I’ve come to appreciate what digital books can offer readers—convenience and price foremost—and, even more importantly, what they can offer writers.  And so it was with great joy that I was able get HarperCollins to revert electronic rights to four of my first books: The Truesight Trilogy and A Gathering of Shades. To make things more interesting, I decided to also self-publish a manuscript that had been languishing in a dusty corner of hard drive for years.

Pretty soon, I was not only in the business of writing books, but producing them, as well. It’s been quite an adventure! Getting the text ready was the hardest part. Fortunately, I’m married to a brilliant copyeditor and proofreader who was able to proof my final digital manuscripts against their printed counterparts. (Good thing—she found lots of errors the original editors at HarperCollins had missed!)

But besides preparing the actual books, I faced another challenge: Covers. Harper owned the cover art rights to my original books, and I needed a new cover for the unpublished work. The one consistent message that came through during all my research on digital publishing was the importance of having a professional-looking cover. A quick tour of Smashwords or the Kindle store will quickly show you the why. The difference between a professional and amateur cover is striking and instantly recognizable.

After some soul searching and some Google searching (I’m starting to wonder if there’s a difference anymore) I discovered Claudia at Phatpuppy Art, an artist specializing in digital art (not to be confused with an illustrator) out of LA. She specializes in book covers and had done several for Amanda Hocking. (For those who haven’t heard, Hocking became a Kindle superstar and multimillionaire after self-publishing a series of supernatural romances.)

Claudia was great. She was diligent in her communications and flexible with her rates. Before I knew it, she was on board. We started with the Truesight Trilogy first. In exchange for a reduced rate, part of the deal was that I would do a lot of the legwork, which involved coming up with the basic layout and design concept along with combing through many, many, MANY online pages of stock photography in search of suitable images.

Once I finished prepping, we went to work. She crafted a first draft, I made suggestions. Back and forth we went, a flurry of emails and phone calls. Claudia was incredible—smart, no nonsense, honest yet supportive. She understands what makes an eBook cover different from a regular cover. Keep it simple! Lots of contrast between light and dark! It has to look good as a thumbnail since that’s how perspective buyers will see it.

In three days, I had three covers. They looked awesome. Books two and three looked better than the originals, I thought. I was so excited, I signed her on for two more. Two days later, I had covers for A Gathering of Shades and my new soon-to-be released middle grade novel, I Wish I May. I was shocked. The part of the process I was dreading most—anticipating weeks if not months of slow, difficult work—was over in less than a week. And it was fun! Exhilarating, even.

Of course, the work wasn’t finished. The art was done, but the typography remained. For that I turned to my colleague at Lyndon Institute, Ellen Levitt. A talented designer, she spent several wonderful sessions with me, picking fonts, adjusting their placement and appearance.

As an author in traditional publishing, you have very little control over the cover. My editors at Harper and Chronicle were always very good at keeping me in the loop, but at the end of the day, I was more or less a bystander. So it was an interesting experience to be on this side of the process, to be directing the design in partnership with two talented professionals.

Self-publishing is a lot of work, but it is empowering and rewarding with the right people at your side.

Head on over to Facebook for all the latest news!

The Accidental Novelist is not the bloggy type. (Too busy writing!) However, I have found Facebook to be a great place to post the latest news and interact with readers. So click here to head on over to my author page and check it out! (You don’t have to have a Facebook account unless you want to post.)

If you are on Facebook, it would be a great honor to me if you would press the “LIKE” button on my Facebook author page. That way, you’ll be able to follow all the exciting happenings. 2013 is shaping up to be a busy year–A new YA series is in the works, I’m self-releasing a previously unpublished work for younger readers, and I’ve just finished producing a new line of eBooks for multiple platforms! On top of all that, I’m still hoping to produce some teacher guides for Truesight and A Gathering of Shades in an attempt to target the school market. (I am a teacher, after all.)

And of course, feel free to send me any questions or comments you may have. I generally try to respond to readers within a day or two.

See you over on Facebook!

A Few Pages More…

A bit quiet on the website-building front last week. Trying to squeeze in as much summer fun as I can before heading back to the classroom to start a new year of teaching. But I did just add two new pages. One is a contact page listing my brand new email address, along with details on how to acquire precious signed copies of two of my favorite books (that will someday be worth lots of money when I hit the big-time), as well as information for book clubs and schools kind enough to take an interest in my work. I also added a page featuring other places my work has appeared in.

Speaking of teaching, it occurred to me that it would be nice to add a page for teachers who wish to use my books in the classroom. Spinning Out might not be appropriate for classroom use in many schools due to the language, but Truesight, Doppelganger, and A Gathering of Shades have all been used to great effect by several of my talented colleagues in English classrooms at Lyndon Institute. All three novels are very “teachable”, with rich themes for discussion. Truesight is a coming of age story that is firmly grounded in the dystopian tradition, while Doppelganger and A Gathering of Shades explicitly play off of Macbeth and The Odyssey respectively. I’ll hit my peers up for whatever materials they might have (quizzes, tests, discussion questions, etc.), along with some of my own stuff, and make those resources available on this site.

More anon…

Onward and forward!

Okay. Finished phase one–a page for each work. Next week I’ll dig into the juicier stuff–the kinds of things readers might like to know. But for now it’s a start. Of course, I also have to figure out one other important hitch–how to actually get people to the site. One thing at a time…

In the meantime, check out my summer blog tour to promote my latest book Spinning Out. It was my first real foray into cyberworld and encouraged me to establish an online presence via Facebook and this site. (A special thanks to Lara Starr at Chronicle Books for setting this all up!)

In fact, my very first blog post speaks to this…

On to the tour:

Continue reading

Digging Deeper

Added another page today. Decided to go with Doppelganger next. Had fun working in the French and Chinese stuff, though I don’t know if it will stay. Starting to recover from my initial feeling yesterday of being overwhelmed by all this and wondering if I should have just paid someone to put something together. The site is certainly simple, though I kind of like the clean, spare look–it’s got a Scandanavian kind of mojo, the Ikea of websites. Then again, I have a habit of making a virtue of necessity.

Still, sometimes less is more. A site doesn’t need to be fancy–it just needs to have good content. With time, I think this one will.

I’m still digging the idea of a series of essays or posts about the stories behind the stories–everything from the origins of the novels, to their writing and revision, to the issues of design and cover art and titles. Some of these books have some interesting tales behind their creation. Not sure if I should include them here on the front page blog or if they should go on their own pages or on the pages of the titles they’re linked to. That’s the thing about putting a website together. Lots of decisions to make!

I changed the title of the site to “The Accidental Novelist” for reasons that will soon be explained. Stay tuned!

Am going to shoot for getting the rest of the book pages up tomorrow, then I can turn my attention to the really interesting stuff…

 

Getting Started

Started in on the page today. This whole web creation business is trickier than I thought, even without having to do any coding. I’m learning as I go, though, and things are slowly coming together. Added some links, a page for Spinning Out (with still more content to come.)

I’m planning on having a separate page for each title, with some basic information along with a behind the scenes commentary for fans of the book. Feel free to e-mail any questions you might like answered!

Hello world!

Thanks for stopping by. You’ll notice there’s nothing here right now, but don’t worry–this will soon be rectified. The pages will overfloweth with content, and it will be good. You’ll soon know more than you ever wanted to know about David Stahler Jr.. But for now, I have to stake my claim and start putting it all together.

Come back in a week or so. Or maybe two–it’s summer, after all…