I confess: I’m lying when I call HONK IF YOU HATE ME my “debut” novel. It’s not. My first novel actually flowed from my pen a while back . . . twenty-six years ago, to be exact. When I was ten.
I found my true literary debut this morning while rummaging my bookshelf. It was tucked between a paperback edition of The Golden Compass and a hardcover The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its thin spine kept the book out of sight, so I’d forgotten it was there. I’d forgotten it even existed, actually. On my knees and literally gasping, I pulled out my aged treasure. Blue and bedazzled with flowers, the novel has a jacketless, paper-over-board format, as in wallpaper hot-glued over two pieces of a cardboard cereal box. The handmade binding was all my handiwork, I’m proud to say, while the sewing-machine stitched spine and typed yellowing pages were my mom’s doing. It was my fourth grade English project: an original sci-fi story, typed and bound, complete with illustrations by the author. We’ll Never Make It Home in Time for Dinner. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?
Of course, I sat right down and read the entire book. All 13 pages of it.
A week ago I blogged about the importance of opening chapter. See what you think of my first ever first chapter:
One hot summer day in early July, two boys named Mike Jerrison and Peter Mooray were on a trip in the woods with Mike’s parents. Mike was a ten year old boy who was interested in adventure. Peter was also ten, but he was more quiet than adventurous. Both boys had dark brown hair, but they had different colored eyes. Mike had green eyes and Peter had brown eyes.
It was 9:00 in the morning when Mike and Peter went out exploring in the woods.
“Hey, Pete . . . Do you see what I see?” asked Mike in a puzzled voice. He pointed to something shining in the bright sun. Peter looked. He saw a spaceship type of thing in front of him.
“Let’s go in for a closer look,” begged Mike.
“No way!” answered Peter in a stern voice.
“Are you chicken?” teased Mike.
“OK, OK, I’ll go in with you,” answered Peter, now with a frustrated voice.
So the boys went in. They saw computers all over the place. Peter saw a colorful button that he wanted Mike to see, but when Mike came over to see it, he tripped and fell on Peter’s legs. Peter slipped and hit the launch button.
“Hellllp!” cried Peter, as the rocket blasted into space.
Now how’s that for a grabber? Ignoring for a moment my withering habit of describing how each line was delivered, it would seem I’ve followed my calling in growing up to be an editor and author. For even at age ten, I had a sense for introducing a story. Clearly I understood the need for character foils (Adventure Boy/Shy Boy, brown-eyed/blue-eyed). I understood the need to establish character ages and give a sense of their physical qualities (we couldn’t have readers thinking Mike was a ten-year-old girl, now could we?). I had a sense of timing for when to use dialogue and when to cut to narrative. And I understood the importance of getting right to the action. Best of all, I accomplished all of this in just twenty sentences, none of them run-ons. That’s more impressive than the three pages I’ve whittled my Teen Novel #3‘s first chapter down to. Plus, it turns out I had a sense for dramatic ending, too: I used fifteen exclamation points to end the final sentence. I think I’ll try that in Teen Novel #3 and see how it flies with my Delacorte editor. “Nice joke, Deborah. Now get serious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I’m over the moon about having kept this book all these years. Actually, I almost didn’t. In a fit of anti-pack ratting, when I moved into my current house I threw out all the elementary school art projects I’d moved from house to house for decades. But somehow I just couldn’t trash We’ll Never Make It Home In Time for Dinner. It was too closely tied with my secret (at that time) dream of being a published author. Boy, am I thankful I granted that reprieve. It was a fabulous to find the book this morning, to read it and transport myself back in time, remembering every word as soon as I read it. I recall that I’d just read the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I created my sci fi adventure, so I laugh to see the lion king character I created. (Although I notice that in the text he’s a “king” but in the illustrations he’s a “judge”. Huh. Maybe lions can hold both jobs on planet Mamolia.)
Most of all, though, I loved reading my story to my sons this afternoon when they woke up from their nap. They then talked about “Mommy’s hwirst book” the rest of the afternoon. (Note that in 2-year-old talk, “hwirst” is “first”, not “worst”. I think.) I’d call that a pretty good review.
As I type this, my old friend We’ll Never Make It Home In Time for Dinner is at my elbow. I’m having a hard time putting it back on the shelf. Yet leaving it on the counter or anywhere else the boys can reach it is out of the question. So I guess I’ll just tuck it back between The Golden Compass and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Somehow, that seems the perfect home for it. Lyra Belacqua and Ford Prefect . . . I couldn’t think of more lively neighbors for Mike Jerrison and Peter Mooray.
Now how’s that for an ending???????????????