Do Books Deserve Birthdays? On the Similarities Between Book and Human Production

IMG_1825So my first novel with Bill Nye, Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World, just came out. Apparently this is known as your book’s birthday. People send you emojis with birthday cakes and candles. Authors get kids to sing “Happy Birthday” to their new books. Maybe it’s just me, but the whole thing feels a little off. Sure, there are some similarities between making a book and creating a person. The conceiving phase is thrilling, the gestation difficult and the production or publication both terrifying and amazing.

But do books really deserve birthdays?

Let’s skip the initial creative phase – my favorite part of writing a book. The truly difficult business is molding that initial idea, which seems so shiny and brilliant, but often has the structural integrity of yogurt, into something that actually makes sense. Rewriting and revising and all that hair-pulling, coffee-fueled, wrist-cracking madness. It’s difficult. Absolutely.

But it’s not even close to growing a baby inside you. Obviously I haven’t done this myself, but I watched my wife go through it, and I saw Schwarzenegger’s struggles in the classic film Junior. I don’t think I could finish a magazine article, let alone a book, if I was restless all night, throwing up every morning and limited to one cup of coffee at most.

What about the next phase? Assuming all goes well, mothers immediately get to see the product of all their hard work in the form of a newborn baby. Instantly, all that pain and suffering is replaced (momentarily, at least) with joy.

With a book, the moment of completion isn’t quite so well defined. First of all, you don’t always know when you’re done. You think you’re done, but then your publisher informs you of a problem or inconsistency or general weakness. This can be disheartening. Imagine a doctor inspecting a newborn and, after a thorough evaluation, long enough for the mother to feel relief, handing it back and saying, “Let’s shove him back in there for a few weeks. I don’t love the nose.”

When you do finally finish your revisions, and the nose passes inspection, the book disappears. For nine or maybe twelve months, your story wanders across numerous desks, hikes to a far away land to be printed and bound, then returns to the publisher. Eventually, a copy of your finished book arrives in the mail. But you’ve been working on new stories in the interim, so instead of being overwhelmed with elation, you hold it, turn it around a few times, and think, “Huh. What’s this one about again?”

The advantage is that unlike new mothers, who are immediately thrust into a whole new phase of ridiculously hard work, the author’s job is mostly done. Sure, you’re supposed to market the book, but you can only guilt your mom into buying so many copies.

I’ve written a few books now, and to me, publication day isn’t so much a birthday as it is a reunion with an old friend. Sometimes you realize that old friend is the dude you probably shouldn’t have spent time with in the first place. Sometimes you realize your old friend looks or maybe smells funny. But then there are those books that remind you why you started writing in the first place.

Thankfully, Jack and the Geniuses falls into that latter category. The book smells delightful, and I really do like it. When Bill and I talked originally about creating a few science-driven, mystery-filled adventure novels, I wasn’t sure a series would hold my
interest. Then the opposite proved true. We’ve finished two books already and we’re already working on another.

But a birthday? No. I prefer “launch” – and not just because Bill Nye is involved. Rocket launches, like book launches, are simultaneously exciting and terrifying. The initial flight can be beautiful, then end in a tragic, explosive disaster. Or maybe the books or spacecraft soar through those initial phases and then disappear completely, never to be heard from again, like ESA’s failed Schiaparelli lander or my second book, The Truth About Santa.

Hopefully, Jack and the Geniuses sticks closer to the script laid out by the Mars Exploration Rovers. Years after their launch, they continue to capture our imaginations, and Bill and I hope that Jack and crew will do the same.

 

 

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