Thursday, October 01, 2009

It's been One Year...

About eighteen months ago, at a party held by ex-HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, in LA, on the Fox Lot, a nice lady named Riley Ellis came over to me, introduced herself, and explained that she had read an advance copy of The Graveyard Book and that in her educated opinion it would be at least 53 Weeks in the New York Times bestseller list. I took this, at the time, as amiable Hollywood Hyperbole indicating that she had liked it. While I'd had books on the bestseller lists -- I'd even had Number Ones -- nothing ever lasted more than 6 weeks. The books went onto the list, drifted off, then carried on quietly selling forever.

Then The Graveyard Book came out. It went onto the New York Times children's bestseller list. The children's list is only ten places long. Weeks went by. It stayed there. When it started to drift down, it won the Newbery Medal, and drifted up again. And then, in defiance of all reason, it stayed there.

I told Elise Howard, my editor at Harper Collins, that if they could keep it at #1 for four weeks, I would buy everyone at HarperChildren's cupcakes. They did. I did. (Actually, my agent, the amazing Merrilee Heifetz, paid at least 10% of the cost of the cupcakes, and did much more than 10% of the organising to make them happen.)

Somewhere in the cupcake madness Elise promised me that if The Graveyard Book managed to stay on the list for a year, she would bake me a pie. It seemed unlikely, but then...

...people kept buying it. Last week was week 51. And we had drifted down, a place here, a place there, to our lowest position on the chart. We were at number ten. Below that, you aren't on the charts any more.

And suddenly, it became very important. Firstly, 52 consecutive weeks is a lot more than 51 weeks, and secondly, PIE. Elise was going to bake one. (I am sure there are many people who edit books and also casually produce pies. Elise, for all I know, may be one of these people. I do not believe she is. I liked to think that she was someone who, if The Graveyard Book stayed on the NYT Bestseller List for a year, would need to brush up on her pie-making skills, to navigate the unfamiliar twin territories of piecrust and filling. It would be an adventure.)

I sent out a thing on Twitter, suggesting that if there was anyone who'd been putting off buying a copy of The Graveyard Book, this would be a Very Good Week to do it.

And then it was today. Wednesday, when the previews of the Times list creep out to advanced subscribers. And the whole house was on tenterhooks. I was on tenterhooks, as sat and I signed sheets of paper for the Neverwhere Limited Edition. My assistant Lorraine? Tenterhooks. Her friend Betsy, Woodsman Hans (who dug out a giant pond while I was away)? Tenterhooks all the way. The only one not on tenterhooks was Cabal, my big white dog, now back in his People Shooting Season orange cape, who couldn't figure out why we weren't taking him for a walk, and was getting frustrated with the foolishness of people.

The phone rang. Lorraine said, "It's for you."

I took the phone. "Hello," said Elise Howard, happily. "What kind of pie would you like? I was thinking rhubarb..."

The Graveyard Book had crept up to #8. (And Odd and the Frost Giants had gone onto the list at #5.)

So we did our year, and I wrote an email to Riley Ellis saying You Were Right, and she wrote back to point out, very sweetly, that she'd said 53 weeks actually.

So now Merrilee and I are plotting ways to send pie to HarperChildrens (my initial plan of finding a bakery in New York that would enthusiastically make an amazing pie big enough to feed 125 people seems to have been sunk by real life) and once again she will pay about 10% of the price of the pie and she and her assistant Jennifer will do 98% of the organising.

A year ago I was reading the first chapter of The Graveyard Book to a roomful of people in New York. I had just returned from China. I had a broken finger. My dad was still alive. Amanda and I were vague friends and project-buddies. I thought I'd written a good book, and hoped people would notice and like it, but none of the awards or recognition had happened. And now I'm planning my return to China in a few weeks, to wrap up the research for the China book. I'm writing again, and enjoying writing again...


Banned Books Week continues.

Several people wrote in telling me that I had it wrong in yesterday's post and that there aren't bookshops in every little American Town where kids can buy books that have been removed from their school libraries.

Actually, I knew this already.

The last time I posted here about the lack of sarcasm marks in punctuation, people wrote in to tell me that there are Ethiopian languages that actually have a written sarcasm mark, intended to show the world that the person writing means the opposite of what he says. So if anyone is translating this blog into Ethiopian, you'll need to put sarcasm marks around that bit of yesterday's post.

Ah well. To make up for it, here is a link to a sane and civil (and sarcasm-free) letter from a librarian to a concerned parent, explaining why he does not plan to remove a book from the library shelves:

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