I think I was about 11 years old when I discovered Gordon Korman.
If you haven’t heard the name, he’s an incredibly prolific author of children’s books. He was one of the few authors I could name as a kid. Him and Beverly Cleary were probably it.
I stumbled across his books quite by accident, flipping through the Young Adult collection. The title of the book? Beware the Fish.
A great title, right? A title like that is funny, but it also implies that the book could be about pretty much anything.
As it turns out, it was part of a series that revolved around two characters named Bruno and Boots. Which wasn’t terribly important.
Here’s what was important.
First, the book was very, very funny. To this day, I don’t often laugh out loud while reading, even if I think the book in question is hilarious. But Korman made me laugh. (A Semester In the Life of a Garbage Bag is probably my favorite.)
Second, there were many, many books, even back then. Korman is some kind of YA author-machine, as near as I can tell. The man puts out at least two or three books a year. This is probably what cemented him in my brain, since I kept going back to the library and finding more books he had written.
But here’s the big thing – the author biography at the end of every book announced that Korman had published his first novel when he was 12 years old.
And of course, I was reading these books, and thinking, “Well, I’m (almost) 12 years old...”
And so I decided to write a novel.
There was one central problem with this plan, namely that I didn’t know how to write a novel. I read voraciously, but it never occurred to me that plots had to be constructed, and dialogue written a certain way, and that it would be a good plan to have an actual story idea before moving forward.
Ultimately, I tried to write a novel three different times.
My first attempt was supposed to be a fictionalized account of an extended visit to my cousin’s house. My cousin had, like, horses and a barn and a lot of land to run around on, so I thought I could create a cool story from that. Ultimately, I wrote a paragraph and quit, because I had no idea what I was doing.
Not long after that, an aunt gave me a copy of The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which continued the story of Huck as written by Twain.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about the concept of fan fiction, but now I was aware that for some reason it was okay to write a sequel to a book you didn’t write. So I figured I would continue to tell the story that Further, uh, furthered.
I think I came up with a title. And I remember I called the first chapter Up in Smoke, and I was going to start it with Huck escaping up a chimney. I don’t recall why.
I do remember that I wrote a paragraph, and stopped, because once again the concept of “plot” was juuust outside my reach.
Somewhere in that time frame, I read a book about a red fox, which I swear was called The Red Fox, but the internet isn’t helping me to find it, and anyway the plot is a mystery to me now. I do remember it made foxes sound really interesting, and that it was kind of like Bambi in that it didn’t involve human interaction. It was strictly a story about animals.
Somewhere in my brain was the book Rascal, which featured a young boy and his pet raccoon.
I started writing a novel about a boy and his red fox.
I recall that I got a little farther that time. Maybe a few pages. I was in the seventh grade by then, and I was tasked with writing a short story, so I wrote one that featured the boy, his family, and the fox, and I remember it revolved around Christmas.
I never gave up on writing that novel. Eventually, time just got away from me, and I lost whatever notebook it was written in. And then I discovered Stephen King, whose novels were four and five and eight hundred pages long, and I started to think of that as being “real” novel length,, and who in the world could write 500 pages worth of novel?
So I sort of forgot about it.
And then years passed, and I wrote a few novels, and I couldn’t get an agent, so I put them out myself.
Then one day, a publisher wanted to put out a novel that I wrote. In ebook. And on paper!
Here’s the paper version:
And here’s the Kindle version:
I’m 36 now, three times the age I was when I thought it would be really cool to write books for a living. And while the “for a living” part is probably a ways off (if it’s possible at all), well, I still get to wake up every day for the rest of my life and know that I wrote a novel, and found a publisher willing to put it out.
I’ve managed to do a lot of cool things in my lifetime, things my 12-year-old self would never have expected me to do. But this was one thing 12-year-old me thought would be pretty cool.
So high five, 12-year-old me.