February 15, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: HECK, WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO, by Dale E. Basye

First Title in Series
When I started the Birth Stories for Books series, I had no idea how much I would learn in the process, or how many different versions of paths to publication there could possibly be to share. What a treat it has been to read so many different and varied paths to publication.

I also never anticipated that a guest contributor would frame their Birth Story in quite the clever and hilarious way that author Dale E. Basye has done with this post. How I wish I had thought of this framework myself ... and yet, I don't think anyone could have pulled it off as well as Dale has. So, before this baby is overdue, let's turn it over to Dale and allow him to share how his first book, HECK, WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO was conceived, carried, labored and then birthed.

When an Idea and the Incessant Need to Prove Yourself Fall In Love…
by Dale E. Basye

Conception

It started innocently enough. I was reading a lot to my new son. Mostly snarky classics by Roald Dahl, but also new stuff like A Series of Unfortunate Events (which was new then, as were we all…). And at some point, I was thinking “Wow…you can get away with a lot in children’s books! It would be really fun to write one!” Meanwhile, I had been working in advertising for nearly ten years and the cracks in my creativity were beginning to show. I needed an outlet: beyond my ever-growing desktop folder of rejected advertising campaigns deemed too edgy and bizarre. 

About this time, I—like most new fathers—was thinking a lot about hell. And, perhaps Pat Benatar’s “Hell is For Children” was on the radio, but that’s when the idea of an under-aged underworld popped into my head. Not quite Hell—that would be a little bit much—but maybe something more kid-friendly, something like…Heck. And then one thing led to another…

Testing Positive

I had a regular lunch with a friend: a fellow writer who was stifled by her advertising agency job and wanted to stretch out by developing ideas for potential books or screenplays. As was typical with our lunches—after gossiping and dishing dirt on our mutual acquaintances—we got to the work of sharing our accumulated ideas. So, when it was my turn, I read my list of ideas along with a pithy synopsis of each. One of these was “Where do the souls of the darned toil for all eternity, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first? Well, Heck, course. ‘Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go’.” She loved it! So that was all that I needed: just a little direction on what idea to pour my energy into for the next few months.

First-Trimester

I initially envisioned Heck as a TV show (which may very well be the case someday soon…full circle and all), as I “saw” it in my head. So my first draft was in screenplay format. I entered it into a Bravo TV contest where the winning entry would result in a pilot and possible series! I’d like to think that it came in second…along with all of the other entries that lost. But at least the contest got me off my butt (or got me sitting on my butt, more to the point) to “finish” the story (as if any story is ever finished…).

Second-Trimester

I have always needed some sort of deadline…some tape at the finish line to break, even if the finish line itself was self-imposed. So to me this was the Willamette Writers Conference. I picked an editor to pitch to, Diane Landolf of Random House Children’s books, and thus I had my goal. So I busied myself adding flesh to the skeleton that I had created for the Heck script to make it more bookish. And so the date of the conference arrived all too soon, and I valiantly pitched Heck (along with another story about a robot on Mars) and—while expecting polite refusal and perhaps some useful feedback—I surprisingly, received an invitation to send her the finished manuscript. Leaving the conference table, slick with flop sweat, I assumed that this was standard procedure. She didn’t want to make a “scene,” so she allowed casual solicitation. It wasn’t until a month had passed when I received an email from Diane asking where the manuscript was that it hit me: she really did want to read Heck. In fact, she also relayed that my pitch was the best that she had heard, and that she had checked out my website and knew that I could, in fact, write, so…

Third-Trimester

…I had to hustle to bring this baby to term! I finished my manuscript and sent it off to Diane, trembling all the way. She got back to me fairly quickly saying, while she loved the story (uh-oh, I thought: looking for “while”s and “but”s like landmines in her letter), she couldn’t offer me a publishing deal as the story didn’t really have an ending (it still had a sort of “tune in next week…” kind of pseudo-ending). But, she went on, she was confident that—if I followed her extensive notes (more words than the manuscript itself, it often seemed)—that she could offer me that wonderful of most wonderful things: a publishing deal! 

Contractions

Isn’t. Can’t. Don’t. Shouldn’t… yeah, the contractions were coming fast and furious at this point. Here is a glimpse into my typical response to feedback: “What?! There’s no way I could do that. Absolutely no freakin’…well, I suppose I could do this. But, then…no…well, wait: sure. Actually, yes! If I did that, then I could do THIS! Oh…yeah! Great!” 

Labor

And so it went. Back and forth. Back and forth. Push. Push. Breathe. Breathe. And, after a couple of months, the manuscript was “finished.” 

I use quotations for “finished” because, well, then there’s the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) to edit…a process where I learned that you can not change major things at this point (I have an irritatingly George Lucas-ish habit to want to drastically change things I’ve already done rather than just move on).

There is also the artwork. Before publishing my first book, I always assumed that the author and illustrator would meet-up, maybe go camping together, and come up with a whimsical marriage of story and art. But it’s not like that. At all. It is more of an arranged marriage. The first cover art for Heck wasn’t right. The illustrator—who was excellent—created a heroic visual blend of adventure and fantasy that, while beautiful, totally missed the tone of “creepy and funny.” So then my editor told me of an illustrator that Random House wanted to try—Bob Dob—and that Heck seemed like the perfect prospect. And it was: his style was goofy yet dark, scary and hilarious (scarilarious?). At this point, with the art giving Heck its weirdly beautiful face, the book was starting to crown…

Birth

And so the day arrived. The day of birth. Publication day! Frankly, there is nothing cooler than seeing your book in a store. Seriously. The pride in reading your name on a spine, right between J. M. Barrie and L. Frank Baum (in my case), is, ironically, hard to put into words. To this day, if I see my book in a store (usually a bookstore, not so much a Bed Bath and Beyond), I will tidy it up on the shelf so that it puts its best face forward (truth be told, I will sometimes do so at the detriment of Mr. Barrie and Baum).

With birth also comes parties: events to announce your book to the world! Parties filled with strangers: publicists, bookstore owners, librarians, etc. These are all great fun and are a way to get everyone excited for your book (fun fact: librarians really like free liquor…maybe they think they are merely borrowing it for 2-3 weeks before returning it). It makes you feel like you are the toast of the town. But that feeling can’t last forever, sadly…

Post-partum Depression

The attention of a publisher is like a lighthouse. It slowly rotates, in order to illuminate a landscape (in the case of the publishing industry, the works of other authors). And, like a lover’s gaze, you are warm and special…but then that gaze (or the beam of a lighthouse…sorry for the assault of metaphors) moves on, and you feel cold, alone, unloved, and stuck in the dark. 

So there’s that. But, still: there is that afterglow a new author experiences that makes them think that anything is possible. There is a bit of a publicity budget which either affords cool tchotkes (in Heck’s case, cool die-cut brochures and silly giveaway items like measuring tape that gauges “how bad you are”), or helps fund a number of scheduled appearances. And those are great. But then…it’s over. And—if, in an extreme display of idiocy, you promised a series—it’s time to get back to work. At home. Alone. In the dark…

Second Child

The second book is easier. It’s also harder. Easier because you know you can write a book this time out. A whole book. From beginning to end. And live to tell the tale (or write it, more specifically). But it’s also harder (or at least it was for me) since I took the second book a little more seriously. I was a real author now, writing a real book that a real editor and a real publishing house were waiting for. For real. 

Book Eight
And the process continued for books three, four, five, six, seven… Each book selling fewer and fewer copies, with the publicity budget and overall publishing interest dwindling in kind. 

But, like a child, a book takes on a life of its own (even books about death). You have to sort of let it go. Let it be its own entity. People will have their own unique experiences with your book. In the case of Heck, some children who didn’t like reading due to their frustration with personal learning disabilities embraced the book and vowed that it provided an entry into a world of literature: something that actually changed their lives. Conversely, there are also the “one-star reviewers” who viewed Heck as an abomination. And, at least in terms of adjective overuse and pointless asides (like this one), they very well may be right. 

So while the experience has left me with numerous emotional stretch-marks, birthing books is indeed the hardest job you’ll ever love. In many ways, my life has gone to Heck ever since. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dear readers (and labor and delivery nurses), I hope you have enjoyed this story as much as I have. I've read it over and over again, and laughed out loud. Every. Single. Time. (Sometimes in new places that I had overlooked in a previous reading). Thank you so much, Dale, for sharing your story with us, but mostly, thank you for taking my invitation to share your birth story so fantastically literally. May your books always be fruitful and multiply!

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Dale E. Basye is a writer, author, and bon vivant (a fancy French word that means “someone who misuses fancy French words”) who lives in Portland, Oregon, where he must—on a daily basis—wage life-or-death struggles with grizzly bears, nettled beavers, and inconsistent Wi-Fi signals.

Dale E. Basye has written stories, screenplays, essays, reviews, and lies for many publications and organizations. He was a film critic, winning several national journalism awards, and published an arts and entertainment newspaper called Tonic.  

When he isn’t writing books, which is the great majority of the time—time spent either not writing or putting off writing or planning on putting off writing—Dale enjoys riding his bicycle (or anyone’s bicycle, actually), eating tiramisu, and converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. Find out more at http://wherethebadkidsgo.com/.  

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for a laugh and another good look into what it's like to birth a book!

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the post as much as I did, Jane!

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  3. Thanks for sharing your "birth process." Yes, a good chuckle and a story that needs telling and retelling.

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