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I recently realized it's been ten years since the publication of my first book, the novel Storm Chaser. I've had ten more published since then, but you never forget your first.

My publisher, the now-defunct Whiskey Creek Press, accepted it almost exactly a year earlier, in 2010, but the publishing process grinds slowly. It was the beginning of summer in 2011 when the book went up for sale, and I received my own copies.
 
Ah, the innocence of youth.

Anyway, I had an idea of how to celebrate, but I can't really talk about it right now, which is also something that happens a lot in the publishing business. For now I'd like to show you the column I wrote just after getting the word, which tells why the big moment didn't go at all like I'd imagined. I'll be sharing more soon, but until then I hope you enjoy this blast from so far in the past that most likely none of you have ever seen it before. After all, in internet time ten years is a century!
For many years I fantasized about what my reaction would be when I got The Call.

“Mr. Hunter, this is Head Editor at XYZ Publishing Company, and we want to buy your book! It’ll go up for auction the day after tomorrow – Steven Spielberg is bidding for the movie rights, and we’d like to sign you to a three book, eight figure deal!”

Of course, hundreds of thousands of new books are published annually, tens of thousand of them novels – and that’s just in English. Those multi-million dollar advances? Publishers can't take chances on an unknown quantity. Doubleday gave a $2,500 advance to a young first time novelist named Stephen King, for his book Carrie.

Still, I had my fantasies about getting the word.

There would be swelling music, of course: The kind of John Williams penned stuff that comes at the climax of a movie about some guy who slaves away for years in anonymity, staying optimistic in the face of overwhelming odds, until he triumphs at the end.



Not that I stayed optimistic.

I would, of course, be calm and cool on the phone, taking an “aw, shucks” attitude as the editor praised my work and discussed details on what would happen next. Edits, proofreading, more edits, decisions on cover art, author photo, inside cover blurb … and the hard part, selling my baby to the cold, cruel world.

Then I’d hang up the phone and either:

A. Jump in the air, screaming.

B. Collapse on the floor, sobbing.

That latter isn’t as unlikely as you might think. Consider that I’ve been writing fiction since, literally, before I was old enough to write: at the age of around 7 or so I dictated a story about the Land of Oz, which my mother typed out on the old manual typewriter that she later gave me. (The same typewriter that later began my career as a non-fiction writer.)

At 17 I started trying to sell short stories to science fiction markets. That means I’ve been writing fiction for forty years, and trying to sell it for three decades. If I’m good enough to get published, it may be through sheer repetition.

Gotta love those overnight success stories. Break down crying? It’s a surprise I didn’t drop dead of a heart attack.

My other fantasy was split: either I would be among a gathering of my loved ones, or somewhere public, where a crowd would witness my triumph and let out a cheer. The call would come in, and gradually silence would settle over the room as people began to notice my incredulous expression.

Then, after disconnecting, I’d turn to the others and breathe, “They’re buying my book.” Pandemonium would, naturally, follow.

Yeah. None of that happened.

It was the weekend my grandson was rushed to the emergency room, and my daughter got into a crash with a hit and run driver. When my fiancée and I finally got to bed, we’d been up for 24 hours. To say we were exhausted is putting it mildly.

We’d been asleep for about two hours when my daughter called. We were looking for a dresser, so she (and her now-husband) searched around until they found a great buy--which they were bringing over.

I stumbled down the stairs and, since I had a little time to wait, shuffled over to the computer. (You know you’re addicted when you get up in the middle of the night to check your e-mails.) With blurry eyes, I read the first one:


Good Afternoon, Mr. Hunter!

Congratulations!

Whiskey Creek Press wishes to offer you a publishing contract for your manuscript, STORM CHASER. Please review the attached contract carefully, and if you accept the terms, please (electronically) sign and email back to me within seven (7) days.


There was more to it, of course: Several pages worth of more. I remember thinking:

“Huh.”

Almost mechanically, I printed out two copies. When my daughter arrived I handed her one, and asked her to run the contract by her grandfather, who’s a retired circuit court judge and knows his stuff contract-wise. Charis took it, and stared at me as if I was crazy for just sitting there like a lump.

Then I carried the other copy upstairs and went back to sleep.

That was it.

When Emily woke up several hours later, I handed her the other copy. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded.

“Well … you were asleep.”

It was all very anticlimactic.

The whole thing still hasn’t really sunk in, two weeks later. I set my sights too high – John Williams and the Boston Pops weren’t waiting on the front yard when the word came, and in the end I was sitting by myself, half asleep and not entirely convinced I wasn’t hallucinating. Still, plenty of big firsts are yet to come: The first look at the cover art, the first copy in my hands, the first buyer, and eventually the first royalty check. I have a feeling that, once it’s official, I’ll never get tired of identifying myself as a published novelist.

And despite being too tired lately to dance around and hug perfect strangers, I’ve noticed that I smile a whole lot more.
But once I woke up, it was like the sun broke through the clouds and bathed me with glory!

 

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