Sometime in the early Nineties, I started to write a book about a kid and a bicycle. At the beginning, I had only a vague idea of what the story was, and an even vaguer idea of how to write a book. I got rid of the parents in the early chapters (first rule in children’s literature – get rid of the parents so the children can become the lead actors in their own lives). The mother died in a horrible accident involving an umbrella, a can opener, and an English muffin; the father disappeared in a hot air balloon. I inserted some mean people (Aunt Inga, who makes our hero sleep in the basement of her home). Following my mentors’ leads (Dickens and Dahl) I gave people compound names that reflected their personalities (Dickens had Thomas Gradgrind, I had Anthony Gritbun).
The book had promise. I sent it out and it got rejected. People said they did like it but not enough to publish it. (Hmm, maybe just being nice…) I rewrote it again. And again. I let it sit, neglected, for three or four years. I picked it up again and had friends read it and be as brutal as they could in their comments. I threw out characters, created new ones, rewrote the biographies and back stories of major characters. A couple of publishers nibbled.
Then, success, of a sort. Tim Wadham at the Maricopa County Library in Phoenix decided to publish it as a serial novel online. Simultaneously, Peachtree Publishers took it on.
The editors at Peachtree challenged every weak link in the plot. I had to rewrite again and again. Another year of rewrites. We changed the title from “Flyboy” to “The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher.”
Darius came out in 2006 – over ten years after I wrote the first draft. Fame and fortune? Not quite. Relief and a sense of accomplishment. Yes, those things.
It’s had a pretty good life. At shows, I regularly run into kids who say, “This is the best book I ever read.” Children are given to hyperbole, but hey, it works for me. A number of teachers have told me it’s their favorite read-aloud book to their classes.
This fall, two new milestones – it’s out in paperback, and it’s printed in Japanese. I got the Japanese edition in the mail the other day. It is drop dead beautiful. Who knew my name could be written in kanji? The text is beautiful, it’s a wonderful size, and it has a ribbon book marker in the spine. I wonder what “Anthony Gritbun” and “Colonel Crapper” sound like in Japanese.
And as far as a paperback edition, one of my joys is seeing a kid scrape together enough dollar bills and quarters to buy a book on their own. Paperbacks make it more possible.
I am not an incredibly patient person. I write something and I want it to be in a book or on a recording the next day. And I’m not as brilliant as I’d wish. It takes me a long time to figure things out. I guess if I were smarter, and more diligent, things would happen faster and I wouldn’t have to be patient. But my experience with art (and life) is that things take a very long time to come to fruition, they sometimes ,can’t be hurried and they usually don’t look like what you thought they were going to look like when you started.
But Darius is alive and kicking. One of the questions I get regularly from teachers and parents and children about the book is, “What happened to Darius? Where is his father? When is the next book coming out?” I’ve put all those things off. But after all these years, Darius is reappearing regularly in my thoughts, and I think I know what happens to him.
I just hope it doesn’t take another ten years.
Like Hippocrates said, “Life is short, art is long”. I take that to mean it lasts, but it takes a long time to make it. You just hope that the art you’re making gets a chance to live.
Oh, and by the way, I’d love it if you’d read the book. You don’t have to get the Japanese edition.