With the release date of The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys now, as of this week, a year away, I thought I’d post some things from time to time related to the book or my experience writing it. First up, the day I got THE CALL.
What’s THE CALL?
Among writers, the day you get a call from an editor (or, by proxy, your agent) saying there’s an offer on the table to buy your first book is one of those near-religious moments that most writers never forget. I know exactly where I was. I was here:
It’s a study carrel at the local small town library. Most weekdays, I spend my lunch hour in this spot, squeezing out a couple pages in the middle of the day. I didn’t used to do this, preferring to spend my lunch hour doing, oh, other things, but after my second child was born and the free time in the evenings became harder to come by, I needed to squeeze in writing wherever I could manage it. It often seems silly to go from working in front of a computer at my day job to just setting up another computer at the library, but the nature of my day job requires me to be available for interruptions at any moment, so even if I’m eating lunch at my desk, it’s a tough place to write. The sojourn to the local public library guarantees that I get at least a few moments of uninterrupted writing time. It’s not enough by itself, but it helps. Instead of turning on my computer a nine o’clock, kids finally in bed, staving off exhaustion for another hour if possible, knowing I’ve got four pages to write, maybe I only have two. That helps. Because, you know, some days the writing pulls you along for the ride, but other days you have to push it.
Back to the moment. So I’m sitting there, typing away, and my agent calls on the cell phone. “Simon and Schuster Children’s,” she said, “has made an offer for your book.”
An exhilarating moment, right? Yep, it was. However, I was in a library, so no whooping or hollering for fear the dreaded librarians would shush me into submission. Plus we knew S&S was interested in the book for six weeks, but as is the nature of publishing, the book had to make its way through the various committees before the offer was eventually made. So we knew it was likely coming. Not definitely coming, but likely, so my excitement (and nerves) was spread out over six weeks rather than concentrated in one supernova of a moment.
I don’t remember if I went back to writing. I do remember that when I was in the car, I called the wife. Called the parents. Called a couple close friends. Lots of congratulations. But as is my nature, I was pretty even keel about it. I was so even keel about it that Heidi wondered why I wasn’t more excited. In fact, you could say I was a lot more excited about my first couple short story sales than selling a novel. You might also say the primary emotion I felt wasn’t excitement so much as . . . relief.
It may seem strange, but I think it’s because after selling a couple dozen short stories to highly competitive, professional markets, stories that were different in style and genre, I knew I could write a sell-able novel. I didn’t know when I might do it — it might take me four or five of them, maybe more (it turned out to be three) — but I didn’t doubt I would sell one. It was just a matter of trying different things, just as I had with my short stories.
So when it finally happened, I felt mostly relief, relief that I’d crossed that milestone, but also tempered with the knowledge that I had a long way to go still. I guess it’s because my goal has never been to sell a novel. Or a story. Or win an award. Or make a million dollars. It’s none of those things. It’s becoming a master storyteller. Those other things are milestones along the path, but the road to mastery is long. In fact, it’s a road that never ends. That’s the only reason I do it, actually. If I knew it ended, I might stop.