Thursday, October 22, 2009

ABADAZAD...AGAIN


I want to write about the genesis of my upcoming fantasy novel, Imaginalis—and I will, very soon—but in order to do that, it's important for you to understand the long and tortuous journey of the project that preceded it, Abadazad—because it was Zad's demise that sparked the idea for the new book.  I'd love to just link you to a lengthy post I did, a few years back, on my Amazon.com blog, but, as I've mentioned before, Amazon has pretty much torched those archives.  What follows is a slightly-edited version of that post.  It ends on what was, at the time, a justifiably happy note.  When I continue the story, I'll fill you in on what happened after that initial rush of pre-publication joy and how Abadazad's crash and burn led to the birth of the kingdom of Imaginalis.  But, for now, let's go back in time to 2006 for the Semi-Secret History of Abadazad.

***

I've often quoted Joseph Campbell’s famous advice to “follow your bliss”:  In my experience, following your deepest passions may not lead you exactly where you want to go, but they'll always lead you someplace good; and sometimes your final destination will be better than the one you had in mind. 

Case in point:  Abadazad.

As many of you know, the first two books in the Abadazad series—The Road To Inconceivable and The Dream Thief—came out just about a month ago.  What many of you don’t know is how long it took to get here.  Looking back, it’s a lesson to me in how important it is to hold tight to our dreams...even when everyone around us is telling us to let them go.

Back in the mid-1980’s I had an idea for a story called “Silver Shoes.”  It was about a little girl, living with her abusive father, who’s befriended by an old woman named Dorothy.  Not just any Dorothy:  this old lady claims to be Dorothy Gale, from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.  After Dorothy passes away, the girl finds a gift the old woman has left behind for her:  a pair of silver shoes (that’s what they were in Baum’s book.  MGM magically transformed them into technicolor-friendly ruby slippers for the 1939 film) that the girl uses to escape her father and live happily ever after in Oz.  It was, I thought, a wonderful idea, but I never did much with it.  At the time I was fairly immersed in the Marvel and DC comic book universes and there was really no place for “Silver Shoes” in those worlds.  I recall pitching the idea to a television series called Tales From The Darkside...a kind of low-rent Twilight Zone...but they passed.  (I may have even pitched it to the revived Twilight Zone a few years later.  Trivia Fact Of The Day:  My first professional sale in that strange land called Hollywood was a 1986 Zone episode called “The Girl I Married.”)

Rejection is part and parcel of the freelance writer’s life, so I just sighed, filed the story away...and forgot about it.

For ten years.

In the mid-90’s I started toying with an idea about a mother who discovers that her abducted son has been taken to a magical world that—she’d assumed—only existed in books.  I named the world Abadazad—and began developing it as a movie treatment.  In fact, it was the comment of a producer I’d pitched the story to that led me to change the main character from a parent to an older sibling.  Without that offhand remark, Kate Jameson might never have been born.

The more I worked to flesh out the Abadazad concept, the more I was convinced it should be a comic book.  The comic book business had been exploding since the 80’s, opening the door on new—and far more challenging—content.  This growth allowed me to do projects like Moonshadow, Brooklyn Dreams,  and Seekers Into The Mystery—all aimed at an adult audience.  Unfortunately, this new direction left what was once the prime target audience for comic books...children...out in the cold.  As a parent—and, as a reader who’s taken many nurturing journeys to Oz, Wonderland, Neverland and Narnia—I found this a frustrating state of affairs (to say the least).  So I hatched a plan: 

My idea was to do smart, literate, beautifully-illustrated comics for kids .  The comic book equivalent of the finest in children’s literature.  (I’d actually attempted this once before, in the late 80’s, with a series called The Stardust Kid.  Took me more than fifteen years to get that one into print.)  At first—encouraged by my old friend, and Overseer of DC Comics’ Vertigo empire, Karen Berger—I tried to sell everyone from Marvel to Archie on a proposal for an entire line of sophisticated kids comics.  When that failed, I whittled the concept down to two titles:  one of them—The Life and Adventures of Skylar Orion—was a co-creation with Sandman illustrator Michael Zulli.  The other was Abadazad
 

Skylar almost got off the ground a couple of times, but never quite made it.  Michael and I put it aside—and I focused my energies on the Land of Zad.  By this time I’d begun weaving Abadazad into my daughter’s bedtime stories—and I was becoming obsessed with the idea of creating a comic book that I could share with her.

Out I went (again!) into the marketplace:  You can still hear the echo from all the doors that slammed in my face.

Nobody wanted it.  Nobody got it.  Well, that’s not completely true.  There were a few editors who understood what I was trying to do—Joey Cavalieri and Shelly Bond at DC, Philip Simon at Dark Horse—but  they weren’t the ones who made the Big Decisions.  Still, I’m forever grateful for their encouragement along the way.

Years were passing and the comic book landscape was changing rapidly, skewing ever older.  The notion of doing kid-friendly comics, at least for a mainstream audience, was looking more and more hopeless.  But the deeper I got into Abadazad, the more I fell in love with it.  The idea was pulsing through my blood, my bones, my soul.  I knew Kate, Matt, Queen Ija and The Lanky Man—and I had to tell their story.  Problem was, there really weren’t many avenues left open.

In 2003, I decided to give it a last shot with a relatively new company called CrossGen.  I didn’t know all that much about them, but they seemed interesting, forward-thinking.  And they had a new line called Code Six that seemed perfect for Abadazad.

My proposal arrived at the CrossGen office on a Wednesday.  Two days later I got a call from Code Six editor Ian Feller, who told me that he absolutely loved Abadazad—and so did CG’s owner and guiding light, Mark Alessi.  All the rejections had rattled my brain considerably, so I wasn’t quite sure I was hearing correctly:  “You actually want to do this?”  Ian assured me that they did.  (And, for that, both Ian and Mark have permanent plaques in my Hall of Gratitude.)

The enthusiasm at CrossGen was encouraging, to say the least—but I went from encouraged to completely blissed-out when Alessi recruited Mike Ploog to do the art for Abadazad.  Mike, if you don’t know, is one of the greatest fantasy illustrators on the planet.  He’d made his mark in comics in the l970’s and then (with a few rare and brilliant exceptions) left the business to focus on the world of film, where he’s done storyboarding and production design on everything from Superman II to Shrek.  Having been a huge fan of Mike’s work at Marvel, I was delighted—and really, that’s too small a word—that he’d chosen to return to full-time comic book illustrating with Abadazad.

Mike and I hit it off pretty much from our first phone conversation and the more we worked together, the better it got.  When we started out, I wrote detailed outlines/descriptions of the characters...and those went off to Mike (who lives in a hobbit-hole, somewhere in an English forest). He then did designs based on those notes. Sometimes Mike would give me exactly what I saw in my head, sometimes he went off in a new direction and came up with something better than I could have ever imagined...and sometimes I drove the poor guy crazy, making him redraw and redraw till the characters were just right.

The result was magical.  The kind of creative combustion I’d only seen happen a handful of times in my career.  With each issue we produced, Mike and I were pushing ourselves into new, and more creatively exhilarating, places:  We were flying high.

Then, after only three issues of Abadazad had seen print, our publisher crashed and burned:  CrossGen went bankrupt.  I don’t need to go into all the depressing details here but let me say that, by the summer of ‘04, The Esteemed Mr. Ploog and I had hired a lawyer in a bid to get Abadazad back.  We were hopeful—but we knew the process could take years.  Which meant that, for the moment at least, Abadazad was dead in the water.

Rather than sink into the quagmire of our misery (which was considerable), we decided to do the only thing we’re really any good at:  create.  I dusted off an old project of mine—the aforementioned Stardust Kid—and Mike told me, in about five minutes, how to make the story better than ever.  We corralled our Abadazad colorist, Nick Bell, and letterer Dave Lanphear—and we were off.

All the while Abadazad was hovering, a dark cloud, in the back of our minds.  (And the legal bills were piling up, too—which certainly didn’t help things.)  We’d heard about various companies sniffing around the CrossGen corpse—the name Disney came up once or twice—but these were just rumors, so we kept working on Stardust Kid and hoping for the best.

The best arrived in the form of an e-mail from Brenda Bowen, vice-president and editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books For Children.  Brenda told me how much she loved Abadazad and that she envisioned relaunching it as a series of children’s books.

There are moments in our lives when our intuition rocks us, when we can actually feel the universe shifting beneath our feet:  reading Brenda’s e-mail was one of those moments.   (A brief phone conversation with Brenda only deepened this feeling.)   I wasn’t sure where this contact would lead us, but I knew, with every fiber of my being, that this was a turning point.  More important:  the very fact that Brenda understood Abadazad...what it was and what it could be...gave me hope.

I forwarded the e-mail on to Mike, who was equally intrigued by Brenda’s enthusiasm and grasp of the material—as well as the opportunities that making a deal with Disney/Hyperion would offer.

Disney Publishing did win the bidding—and we were stunned to discover that the reason they went after CrossGen in the first place was because of Abadazad.  We were told, point blank, that Disney was going to walk away from the entire CrossGen deal if they couldn’t come to an agreement with us.

Wait a minute?  Our little comic book?  The one nobody wanted to publish?  My head was spinning.

Long story short (well, shorter):  After some heated negotiating, an extremely satisfactory deal was struck and we were suddenly rocketed from Legal Limbo straight to the Magic Kingdom.  Was I happy?  Delirious.  I’m a Total Disnoid.  Walt Disney is one of my heroes:  it’s extraordinary what one man, armed only with will and imagination, accomplished. To have Abadazad become a part of that history, that legacy, is a genuine honor.

Now jump ahead to May, 2006:  I’m at Book Expo America in Washington, D.C.  The first two Abadazad books are days away from hitting book stores.  Mike Ploog and I walk in and receive our official BEA badge-lanyards.  What’s on them?  Our Abadazad logo.  We look at the stairs leading to the upper level:  they’re completely covered in gorgeous Ploog art.  We head for the stairs leading to the lower level...and there’s an enormous banner with Queen Ija’s face on it, hovering over the crowds like a victory banner.

I’d started out writing a fairy tale and now I was standing in the middle of it.

Twenty years since “Sliver Shoes” edged up through my unconscious.  Ten years since the first version of Kate Jameson’s odyssey took shape on paper.  Slammed doors.  Bankruptcies.  Lawsuits.  Despair.  And I’m grateful for all of it.  Because now I’m sitting here holding these two magical books in my hand.  An initial print-run of 100,000 for each book.  Starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.  And we’re just starting on this journey.

Inconceivable, isn’t it?

If I’ve learned anything from this wild ride, it’s that, yes, you have to follow your bliss—but you also have to know that your bliss might take you down a very long road.  And that you simply can’t give up.

Far more important:  Have faith.  In yourself and in the universe.  Because it’s just possible that every obstacle you encounter is really an opportunity in disguise.  That every door slamming in your face, every (apparently) awful thing that happens along the way—is leading you to a place far better than you could have ever dreamed.

So don’t just follow your bliss:  hang on to it for dear life.  And don’t let go.


***

That advice would serve me well in the following months, as Disney's Abadazad Ride went spinning out of control, crashing into Sleeping Beauty's Castle.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that, without the crash, I never would have discovered the dimensional doorway that led me from Abadazad to a new world called Imaginalis.  I'll share that story with you next week.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis




16 comments:

  1. Great writeup, thanks for sharing from behind the scenes some of the ups and downs. I am curious about the name, Abadazad, seems to perhaps relate to Meherabad and Meherazad, and might mean 'free settlement' or such. Whatever the case, I'm already able to enter the world through the word, so that's plenty.

    Looking forward very much to Imaginalis.

    Thanks again.

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  2. You're incredibly welcome, Tim. I decided a while back to keep the origin of the name a mystery, but I've got to say that you -- No, no, I won't! I won't!

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  3. That's a great Story, JMD.

    When your Wonder Man story got shot down, we eventually got not one but two classic tales.

    'ZAD is, IMO, your best execution of Greenberg's "Brooklyn is Oz" concept to date. So I look forward to a future where the IMAGINALIS series stands alongside the continuing adventures of the 'Zadians. And who knows? Maybe crossover!

    Because if FEARFUL SYMMETRY and GOING SANE proved anything, it's that not only will the Story have its way, it also gains interest. --- David

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  4. Story will ALWAYS have its way, David...and it's a very humbling thing for a writer to realize that. It's also very exciting. In fact, I'm working on an idea right now that focuses on this whole concept of stories having lives of their own. We'll see where it leads me.

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  5. Somewhere exciting, I'm sure.

    And very cool that you wrote an episode of the revived TZ. I watched that, too, as a kid. But I can't say I recall this particular episode. I'll check into it as soon as I can.

    Incidentally, I watched "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" the other day with my son.--David

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  6. Considering my love of the Twilight Zone, David, it was more than "very cool." I was totally ecstatic. That said, I make no claim to greatness for that episode. It was a nice solid story -- thanks, in no small part, to some rewriting by the TZ staff -- comic book writer Marty Pasko among them -- but hardly classic. There was a sweet idea at the core of it, though, and I hope that sweetness is still communicated, all these years later.

    I though that link I posted on You Tube was to the entire episode, but, apparently, it's only the first half of it. With luck, someone will post the second half. The episode is also available on DVD, so there's always Netflix.

    My absolute favorite episode of the 80's TZ was "Her Pilgrim Soul" by the amazingly gifted Alan Brennert. Not just a wonderful Zone story but one of the best things I've ever seen on television.

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  7. This story inspired me to keep plugging away.

    Thanks.

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  8. You're very welcome, Nicholas. Let's keep sending that inspiration back and forth across cyberspace because, God knows, we all need it.

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  9. Will do my friend.

    I really appreciate your positive attitude. It's one of the reasons I keep hanging around your blog.

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  10. I must say that Abadazad (the first two books) have inspired my 9 year old daughter. We bought the books on sale at a Borders. I have never seen her pick up a book and refuse to put it down until she had finished. She came to me begging for book 3. I went online to try and find it only to realize it wasn't released in the U.S. and much to her disappointment, there would be no end to the story that held her captive.

    I want to say thank you for inspiring my child to read. I will continue the hunt for book 3.

    -Kris

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  11. Kris, you can't know how much that means to me, so thank YOU for taking the time to post this.

    Book 3 often pops up on Amazon.uk for a pretty cheap price, so I wish you luck with your hunt.

    All the very best -- JMD

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  12. This is a great write-up. I've been writing stories on the side for fun, and it's interesting how an idea of yours from a few years ago can evolve into a story as time flies by.

    Your original idea about the Silver Shoes seems like something that would have been interesting in itself. I have a question, though: when using Oz as part of the story, would you have had to ask permission to use Baum's story had you actually realized it?

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  13. Glad you enjoyed the story of ABADAZAD, Neil. As for your questions re: permission...the Oz books are in the public domain, so no permission is needed. Anyone is free to write any kind of Oz story they'd like. (Which explains the seemingly-endless list of Oz movies currently in development.)

    Thanks for checking in. All the best -- JMD

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  14. Hi, I know that I'm unlikely to get a reply, but I just wanted to share with you my love for your Abadazad. I got the first when I was at least 9, now, I'm 14. That's 5 years. As soon as I finished Inconceivable I begged my mum to take me to get the next one, then after I'd read that I waited two years (I think) to get my greedy little hands on a copy of The Professor, The Puppet and the Prophet.

    My mum couldn't find it anywhere at all in the bookshops in Australia, where we live, but she eventually found a copy in England and had a friend ship it over. I'd finally find out what happens next! I finished it, looked it up online and discovered that they weren't being continued.

    To me, at least, it's sort of like my world ended, 'a book series unfinished?!' I thought, 'what a strange thing!'

    And for some reason, I'm glad I don't know the ending, about what happens to Kate and Matt and all those other adorable people.
    Thank you Mr. DeMatteis, for one of the best series of books ever written.

    -A teenage girl with a love for new worlds.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Cassidy. Very happy that your mother managed to track the third book down (I think it's my favorite of the three), I know they're hard to get.

      I also felt like my world ended when the ABADAZAD series was canceled. (To be honest, I'm still heartbroken about it.) In fact, the premature ending of ZAD led me to write a novel—IMAGINALIS—about what happens to a girl a little younger than you when her favorite series ends in the middle. It came out in 2010. You might enjoy it.

      That said, I'm still seeking ways to bring ABADAZAD back and finally get to tell the whole story. If that happens, I will absolutely announce it here at Creation Point.

      DEEP thanks, Cassidy, for writing to share your feelings about ABADAZAD. You made my day. Actually, you made my week!

      All the best -- JMD

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