Three continents in a single day

There is something to be said about the golden age of literature:

The time when television, film, video games, and the internet did not steal away eyeballs of potential readers.

Authors like Fitzgerald, Hughes, and Austin had enormous audiences of readers just waiting for their next books, aching for a new story or poem, because reading was one of the primary sources of entertainment in the world.

Today we have to shout and flail just to be noticed above the noise. More than a quarter of Americans report not having read a book within the past year. And more books are published today than ever before.

It ain't easy finding an audience. 

But there are some distinct advantages to publishing books in today's world. Yesterday was a fine example: 

It started with an email from a teenage girl in Columbia, who wanted to know if my upcoming book, Storyworthy, was going to be translated into Spanish. She's read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs (both available in Spanish) and was hoping for the same from my next book. 

We exchanged emails throughout the day. She asked me questions about my novels and my writing process, and I asked her about the town where she lived and what she wanted to do for a living when she was finished with school. Despite the fact that we lived on two different continents and spoke two different languages, we connected in a way that would've been impossible just 20 years ago. 

I ended my day with an interview via Skype with an Australian-based podcast. The host of the show and I discussed Storyworthy and my storytelling career. Specifically, we talked about the teaching of storytelling, the components of an effective story, the best means of delivering presentations, keynote speeches, and the like.

I was able to engage in a face-to-face conversation with a woman on the other side of the world, and that conversation will be turned into a podcast that can be listened to by anyone in the world. 

Remarkable.    

But the moment that best illustrates the good fortune I feel about being alive today came in the middle of the day, when I received a Facebook mention from a reader in India.

He wrote:

"Awestruck seeing how the basic human emotions n stories are the same across continents and time zones and developed and developing countries.. one of my favourite author Matthew Dicks feeling the same in America which I sit and feel here in a corner in India.. Nostalgia is universal..."

This says everything.

A reader in India is reading my blog.

A reader in India is reading my books.

I'm the favorite author of a man in India. 

Best of all, thanks to the internet, enormous distances, multiple time zones, and countless cultural boundaries are pierced rather easily, bringing two people together in both thought and sentiment in a way that could've never happened before the twenty-first century.

I can't tell you how excited and surprised I was to see this appear on Facebook. Thrilled, even. 

Fitzgerald and Hughes and Austin had larger, more attentive audiences for sure. There were far fewer books being published in their day.  

But none of them could've connected with readers on three different continents, in two different languages, in a single day. If given the choice, I would absolutely take a larger, more attentive, more voracious audience of readers, but if that can't happen, I'll take days like yesterday and consider myself blessed. 

A Columbian tradition that I will make my own

I received an email from a mother and son from Columbia, who just finished reading Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. She explained that it's a tradition in her country to sign the last page and date it when finished reading a book. 

She sent me a photo of the last page. 

I love this idea. What a perfect way to record a moment for posterity. What a treat for readers to land on the last page and have a record of anyone who has read the book previously.

I'm doing it. I'm going to teach my kids to do it. I think you should, too.  

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A boy and a book in Columbia

Here is Juan Carlos. a boy in Columbia who is reading the Spanish edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. His mother was kind enough to write to me about how much he loves the book and send me this photo. 

Yes, this is the best part about being a writer. 

I'm working on my first middle grade novel now. Though a couple of my books have crossed over into the young adult market (and have been marketed as YA in come countries), this will be the first book written specifically for kids.

As both a teacher and an author, I am thrilled and can't wait. More kids reading more of my stories sounds pretty great to me. 

The three worst things ever

Sometimes characters in my books speak words and think things that I would never speak or think myself. 

Other times characters say words and think things that are directly from my heart and soul. In these cases, these characters are speaking on my behalf.  

In Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, Budo lists the three things he hates most in the world.

His list is my list.  

1. Waiting
2. Not knowing
3. Not existing

Pulling back the curtain on the translation process

I've been fortunate enough to have my novels translated and published in more than 25 countries around the world. Just this week I heard from readers in Mexico, France, Brazil, and Australia, including two students who are reading Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend in school and one woman who strongly believes that Something Missing must be made into a film.

It was recently optioned again for film, so perhaps she will be proven correct.

But when it comes to the actual translations, I have almost no say over specifics, including the cover art. In the past ten years, I've spoken to translators two or three times in Germany and France when they had questions, but for the most part, I receive a check, and most of the time, I eventually receive the foreign edition of the novel. 

It's a process very much out of my hands.

This is why I enjoyed this video so much. It sort of pulled back the curtain a bit on the process of turning a book written in English into one that can be read by people in countries around the world..

While I have not sold quite as many books as JK Rowling, I'd like to think that translators are making just as many thoughtful decisions as the translators of her novels. 

Great first sentences (and an analysis of the first sentences of my own novels)

I have no definitive favorite first line of a novel, though I am partial to the first line of Slaughterhouse Five:

"All this happened, more or less."

Also, Fahrenheit 451

"It was a pleasure to burn."

Of all my books, I like the first sentence of Chicken Shack, my unpublished novel that will hopefully see the light of day someday, the best: 

"They tried not to receive corpses on the same day as chicken, but since it was impossible to predict when a logger might fall from his bucket truck and break his neck, the two deliveries occasionally coincided."

I like to think that it works well because it’s unexpected and a little mysterious but contains enough specificity to make the initial image real for the reader. Why chicken and corpses would arrive anyplace on the same day is strange, but the specific image of the logger’s fall is enough to also establish the reader within the story. 

At least I hope. 

I also like the first sentence of Unexpectedly, Milo:

"The moment that Milo Slade had attempted to avoid for nearly his entire life finally arrived under the sodium glow of a parking lot florescent at a Burger King just south of Washington, DC along interstate 95."

Again, the sentence contains that combination of mystery and specificity that I like. The moment that Milo has been trying to avoid for his entire life is left undefined, but the setting is clearly established. In doing these two things simultaneously, I like to think that I both intrigue and ground the reader in the story at the same time. 

However, this sentence was not originally the first sentence of the book. Prior to the addition of the prologue, this sentence appeared closer to the end of the book than the beginning. The original first sentence was:

"When he spotted the video camera the first time, sitting on the end of the park bench beneath the dying elm, Milo didn’t take it."

While I like the new first sentence better, this isn’t bad. The use of the phrase "the first time" lends an air of mystery, yet I again attempted to make the specifics of the scene (park bench beneath the dying elm) clear to the reader. 

The first sentence of Something Missing reads:

"Martin opened the refrigerator and saw precisely what he had expected."

I don’t like this one nearly as much, but it accomplished the goal at the time. Compared with the other two books, I put in significantly less thought into the first sentence of Something Missing, but my intention was to begin with action, knowing how much of the story would take place within Martin’s head. I also revised the sentence much later to include the words precisely and expected, knowing how appropriate they are to Martin’s character. 

The first sentence of The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is a good one, too:

"Caroline Jacobs rose, pointed her finger at the woman seated at the center of the table reserved for the PTO president and her officers, and said it."

Truthfully, though, it's really the first paragraph as a whole that works well. The first sentence contains that same blend of mystery and specificity, but it works even better in concert with the four other sentences that make up the first paragraph.  

The same holds true for Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. The first sentence is:

This is what I know:
My name is Budo.

This is the beginning of a list of nine things that comprise the opening page, and these items work well together. In fact, the last item is the sentence that hooked by editor when she was considering the book. 

Sometimes a first paragraph is more relevant than a first sentence.

One of my favorite first lines of a book (and many people's first line) comes from Charlotte's Web:

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

It’s probably my favorite because author EB White appears to have the same goal in mind as I do when writing a first sentence. "Where’s Papa going with that ax?” is certainly intriguing, but White also firmly establishes character and setting in the second half of the sentence.

My wife’s favorite line is the classic line from Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

I recently attempted to challenge the merit this line, claiming that it may have a foundation in sexism, patriarchy, and materialism, but my wife threatened to go out to the shed and get Papa’s ax if I said another word.

But still, doesn’t it?

An alternative to this line can be found in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the retelling of the Jane Austin classic with “ultraviolent zombie mayhem!” Expectedly, the famous first line of Austin novel was re-written for this retelling:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

No question of sexism there.

Do you have a favorite first line to share?  If so, please do.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend fan art

There is nothing more humbling and thrilling than receiving fan art from a reader. I've received quite a bit over the years and seen even more on social media and the Internet. 

Since Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been nominated for a Nutmeg Award, the amount of fan art related to this book has increased.

Each bit makes my day. This recent image that I saw on Instagram is one of my favorites.

A real life person signs my books as his fictional self, which sounds weird and is admittedly a little weird.

I have a habit of including real people in my fictional stories.

If you've read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, you might know that Mrs. Gosk is a real person. She was my colleague for 18 years until last year when she terribly, tragically retired. If you have the audio version of that book, you can hear an interview of Donna and me at the end of the recording.

In A Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, there's a minor character named Eric Feeney who appears in the first couple pages of the book. He's a father of twins who is attending a PTO meeting and waiting anxiously to leave so he can watch the New York Giants game.

Feeney is also real. I teach with him. He has twin daughters. He's a Giants fan.

He's also a publicity hound, so last week, while visiting Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont, he convinced the lovely booksellers to allow him to sign a copy of the book.

I'm not surprised. He also signed copies during my release party last fall. He actually wanted a table set up next to mine just so he could sign as many books as possible. 

To his credit, he is probably responsible for selling at least two dozen books on his own, so it's hard to complain. 

Review of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (and my name change)

It's always interesting to listen to people discuss your novel and the choices you made (including why I am published in the UK under the name Matthew Green). This video review for Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was both positive and fascinating to lis

The real reason for the name change in the UK was publisher request. There was concern that my last name might offend British sensibilities, so I opted for Green, which is my wife's maiden name.

While changing an author's name for international publishing is not uncommon (apparently most American authors named Randy use their first initial and middle name in the UK), authors like Philip K. Dick seem to be doing quite well despite his name. 

In retrospect, I think I should've pushed back harder on this issue.   

A very special chair and a recommendation to librarians everywhere

I visited the Townsend Library in Massachusetts this week. I spoke to some lovely people about my path to becoming a writer, ordered them to go home and write, answered some interesting questions about my books, teaching, and the writing process, and then listened in as a book club discussed The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

It was fascinating to listening to people talk about my characters as if they were real people. In my mind, they are absolutely real, but rarely do I get to hear others talk about them in the same way I think about them.

They loved Polly. Argued about Emily. Identified with Caroline.

They all claimed to love the story, but I was sitting about three feet away, so perhaps they were being kind.

The book club consisted of about ten women and one man, who amusingly had to raise his hand in order to speak. Apparently it's difficult to get a word in edgewise.   

I was also permitted to sit in a chair that very few people are allowed to even touch. Apparently one of the librarians - a woman named Molly - is fairly protective of this commemorative chair, going so far as to placing a warning sign on the chair which contains a picture of the chair in the event the sign somehow falls off the chair. 

I was told more than once how fortunate I was to be sitting there.

Before I left, another librarian, Stacy, showed me the shelves containing my last book: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

So rarely have I thought that a library or bookstore has the right number of my book.

In the case of the Townsend Library, they nailed it.

Librarians around the world may want to take note.

Connor the Unicorn is missing. It's freakin' annoying.

My daughter has a whole host of imaginary friends, who she calls "pretend friends." We hear about them a lot less than we did a couple years ago, but they are still around, and from time to time, we will hear her talking to them. 

Audrey. Elizabeth. Anna. The list goes on and on. 

Most of these pretend friends are related to one another in some complex family tree that is set in stone in her mind. She expects me to have this family tree memorized as well, and she becomes angry when it's not (which it never is). 

Amongst these human pretend friends is Connor, the Unicorn.

Connor went missing about a week ago. The first indication of his absence were the signs that started going up around the house.

Lost unicorn signs. 

Then she began talking about his absence. Lamenting it. Looking genuinely sad. 

The other day I walked into the living room and found Clara sitting on the couch, head in hands, looking as sad as I have ever seen her. 

"What's wrong?" I asked. "Are you sick?"

She answered with one word: "Connor."

This has happened a few times since then. I walk into a room, find her sitting quietly, looking sad, and when I ask what's wrong, she says, "Connor."

You would think that a guy who wrote an entire novel about imaginary friends (and almost finished a sequel) would love this imaginary world that my little girl has created for herself.

You'd think that a guy who had an imaginary friend of his own as a boy (and thought that imaginary friend was real for years and years) would understand his daughter's emotional attachment to her mythical, imaginary friend.

But no. Not if the damn thing is going to make her sad.

Someone please find this stupid unicorn and make my daughter happy again.

Today I feel like a real author – which doesn’t happen often – and not for any reason that you might imagine.

I’m not sure if other authors feel this way, but most days, I don’t feel like a real author.

Its ridiculous but true.

I’ve published three novels – two with Doubleday and one with St. Martin’s Press – and I have a fourth publishing in September. My last book was translated into more than 25 different languages and was an international bestseller.

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All three of my novels have been optioned for film or television.

I receive emails and tweets from readers all over the world daily about my books.

And yet when I’m completely honest with myself, I don’t ever feel like a real author. At best, I feel like I’ve fooled people into believing that I’m a real author, and at any moment, the literati will discover the truth and my last book will be my last.

Someone recently asked me, “When did you know that you had finally made it?”

Without any attempt at humor or self-deprecation, my instant response was, “You’re probably the only person on the planet who thinks I’ve made it. I’m not even close to making it. I don’t even know what making it looks like. I don’t think I’ll ever make it.” 

I have no evidence, but I suspect that these feeling are true for many authors.

Thankfully, there are moments when this stupidity is challenged. Yesterday a reader send me a photo of her Book of the Day calendar. March 18 had been given over to my last novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

Oddly enough, this tangible mention of my novel, sitting atop a reader’s desk on a square of paper, made me feel more like a real author than many of the moments that should’ve convinced me long ago.

And I have no idea why.

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Just when I start to become a cynical, entitled, unappreciative jerk face, Jenny Slate comes along and sets me straight.

My heart still skips a beat every time I see one of my novels on a shelf in a bookstore or a library. I’m so glad.

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Never take good fortune for granted. Never allow something that once thrilled you to become commonplace.

Remember your roots.

If only I could take my own advice.

I was listening to Jenny Slate on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and she was describing the moment when she was hired to work at Saturday Night Live. For Slate, this was a childhood dream come true. She began to cry as she told the story on the podcast and quickly apologized, explaining that she doesn’t cry often.

“It’s a beautiful story,” she said. “And sometimes I forget that.”

I loved that moment so much.

It was a reminder to never let your dream-come-true moment become anything less than that. Remember how precious and rare these moments are.

Over the course of this past weekend, I heard from readers in Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, France, Australia, and Italy. They contacted me via email, Twitter, and Facebook. Some had questions about the book. Others offered kind words. One is a student of foreign languages at a Russian university. His class is reading my book this semester, and he needed some help with a class assignment.  

My most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, has been translated into more than 20 languages, so I hear from international readers often. I probably average a couple a day.

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When I saw the pile of emails on Sunday morning, I groaned. I rolled my eyes. It would take at least 30 minutes to reply to them all. I’d be answering questions that I’ve answered a million times and thanking people who I will never meet. Instead of writing, I would be corresponding.

Then I remembered Jenny Slate and how incredibly lucky I am. How this pile of email from around the world represents by own dream come true. How my dream-come-true story is also beautiful, and sometimes I forget it,

Five years ago, I just wanted to publish a book. Receiving mail from readers around the world would’ve been a pipe dream. How quickly I had forgotten.

I answered each one with joy in my heart. Truly.

As I did, I thought about my agent, Taryn Fagerness, who is my partner and friend in this dream. She’s the one responsible for sending my books around the world. Far better books than mine receive far less international  attention, and this is because I have Taryn and those other authors do not.

I thought about my wife, Elysha, who was the first person to tell me to write Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. I had no desire to write that book. I thought it was a stupid idea. I thought it would go nowhere. Thank goodness she is smarter than me. 

And I thought about Jenny Slate. I thought about how important it is to remember how fortunate I am. And I thought about what a jerk I was for being annoyed about the emails that I had to answer.

Hopefully the next time I start acting like an entitled jerk face, I have someone like Jenny Slate to remind me how lucky I am and how beautiful my story has been.

High school students wrote and produced raps based upon one of my books

Students at Gavit High School in Hammond, Indiana read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend in English class, and a group of them wrote and produced raps about the book. image

I’ve never been a huge fan of of rap, but these two songs are definitely an exception:

http://www.smule.com/p/282065249_78027425

http://www.smule.com/p/282065249_78028372