It’s the stuff of dreams: squirreled away in a small space—in Stephen King’s case when he wrote Carrie, it was the laundry room— a man or woman sits in front of a computer screen after work, or at lunch break, or late at night when everyone’s asleep and the house is quiet, writing the book they just know they have inside them. A GREAT book.
And then, one, three, five, ten years later, it’s written and sent off to publishers, and a devilish voice inside the writer’s head says “I hope you’re ready for the rejection slips”—JK Rowling received loads of them before someone was clever enough to fall under Harry Potter’s spell— and the angelic one says: “You KNOW you’re a great writer: they’re gonna love it!”. And then one day a letter arrives from a publisher saying “Dear Sir/Madam, we’re very interested in your manuscript…”.
Well…I suspect that it rarely happens that way, and that most of the people who write books have written professionally for a while—for newspapers or magazines or else online—or are famous for some other reason, or have graduated from an MFA program in creative writing (this is the case for Jaroslav Kalfař’s Spaceman of Bohemia, a startling and sparkling debut novel) or have a connection in the publishing business. But every now and then, a newcomer does break through, keeping every aspiring writer’s dreams alive.
Finding a great writer is every reader’s delight, but for me, reading an emerging author’s work is a thrill. There’s something especially hopeful about the fact that in the 21st century—the alleged age of short attention spans—there are still people willing to pour years of their life (enduring hours of solitude) into the creation of a work that may only be read by a handful of family members and friends.
Which brings me to the reason for this post. Recently, I noticed that in the past year or so, eight of the blog pieces I’ve
written featured an author’s first book. I can’t explain it. It’s a fluke! They didn’t all appear in the Sunday New York Times book section, though a few received rave reviews there. I found some of them in the Guardian or in the NPR Book Reviews section, and others, like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One had been popping up everywhere and was impossible to ignore (the mania has heightened since the first trailers of Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of the novel started appearing online). Joe Ide’s IQ made all kinds of Books to Watch for lists, and David Dyer’s marvelous story of the Titanic and the Californian, The Midnight Watch, snuck up on me—I can no longer remember where—but it certainly caught my eye.
Still, there’s nothing like word of mouth, especially when the recommendation comes from someone whose tastes in literature are proven. Plum Johnson’s wonderful memoir They Left Us Everything was a favourite read of the Stewart Hall Book Club last year, and I ran out and got a copy of Alexandre Trudeau’s Barbarian Lost in preparation for his talk at the Library. I’m so happy I did. He turned out to be a talented, communicative speaker and writer. A natural.
My friend Cindy rescued Ian Hamilton’s The Water Rat of Wanchai from a used books bin and couldn’t wait to pass it on to me. Katy from The Stewart Hall Book Club dropped off the Library’s copy of Norwegian by Night, saying: “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it”. And I was blown away by Ian McGillis’s interview of Quebec’s own Sylvain Neuvel, in The Gazette, and vowed to get my hands on a copy of Sleeping Giants as soon as possible. Improbably, I heard Howard Axelrod talking about the year he lived as a hermit on CBC radio, and learned that he had written a well-received account of this experience, The Point of Vanishing: a deeply personal, thoughtful book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
So, I decided to create a category where you can find all of these wonderful and wonderfully successful “first books”. From now on, all you have to do is click on NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK to find them, and to follow their creator’s progress.
Some, like Graeme Simsion, the author of the endearing The Rosie Project, has since gone on to write three more novels, and the adaptation of The Rosie Project to the big screen is presently in pre-production, which means that you’ll soon have to decide: SHOULD I READ IT OR WATCH IT?
Waking Gods, the sequel to Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants is already out, and a third installment is in the works.
I’m over the moon with the news that Isaiah Quintabe’s creator, author Joe Ide, has signed on to write at least three more detective thrillers in the IQ series, and that IQ is also currently being developed as a TV series, with House of Cards writer Matt Carnahan writing the pilot.
There doesn’t seem to be an expiration date for emerging writers either. Ian Hamilton’s penchant for fiction writing only manifested itself in retirement, and Plum Johnson made her spectacular debut at the age of 68, saying:
“It’s difficult […] to break into the market with a book at any age. But I think when you’re older, some publishers may think you only have one book in you, and be afraid to invest. Well, I’ve got lots of books in me, and I’m hoping to be an inspiration in that regard. I can hardly wait.”
Tragically, some authors are never given a second chance. The most heartbreaking example of this is Paul Kalanithi’s towering memoir When Breath Becomes Air, which was, in fact, published posthumously. It is perhaps the book with the most important legacy.