A woman in Indianapolis wanted to interview me. Well, it wasn’t actually even as grand as that. She wanted her kids to interview me.
She had a project for her children to interview people in different lines of work to see how they got there. What were their interests when they were the age of her kids? What steps got them from there into a line of work that really fit who they were?
So we had an amiable chat in their back yard. The kids were very much readers themselves, so I thought we made a good connection.
At one point I found myself saying, “You know, I’ve always been making books–even at your age.” They wanted to know more. So I told them that often, when I had major reports to do, I found myself making them into booklike objects. Cover. Table of contents. Chapters. Even if the whole thing was only a few pages long.
And then in junior high a friend and I created The Ant Dictionary. We gathered up all the words we could think of that had “ant” in them and cooked up definitions. You know,
abatemant–what an ant uses to catch an efficiant
bouyant–opposite of a girl ant
currant–an ant without a pedigree
delinquant–an ant on a chain gang
exorbitant–an ant in outer space
And so forth.
We got another friend to draw some delightful illustrations and we went to a local print shop (this is way before the day of Kinkos) and got several hundred printed and sold them for a buck each. We even did a second edition and sold several more hundred.
Finally, we sent them off to a couple dozen publishing houses we found in Writer’s Market who did novelty books. At the tender age of thirteen I got my first taste of publishing reality: a dozen publishers that sent rejection letters and a dozen more publishers that never responded at all.
But I got one personal letter from Doubleday. A publishing assistant wrote that she and her boss had looked and laughed at it, but didn’t think they could sell enough to make it work financially. (That’s a line I’ve used many times since in rejecting proposals–except for the laughing part, of course.)
Well, the mom was very impressed by this story. She thought it was a great thing for her kids to hear about. So I felt I had done a service to the future of publishing and set these young people off in the direction of a bold, exciting career.
Then as I left, she said that the next day they were interviewing an FBI agent.