Saturday, November 7, 2009

INTO IMAGINALIS

In May of 2006, Mike Ploog and I were in Washington, D.C., riding high at Book Expo America.  Abadazad, our all-ages comic book series that nearly drowned in the tsunami that was the CrossGen collapse, had been miraculously resurrected as a children’s book series, thanks to the benevolent spirit of Walt Disney and the brilliant efforts of Hyperion Books for Children vice-president/editor-in-chief Brenda Bowen.  So there we were, walking up stairs decorated with Mike’s art, strolling beneath giant posters of Zad’s beautiful, blue-skinned Queen Ija, and marveling at the fact that almost everyone in the hall had an Abadazad lanyard around his or her neck.  Drunk with delight, we signed advance copies of the first two books in the series—we’d contracted for eight, with the possibility of even more—and listened, with equal joy, as a Hyperion  executive all-but guaranteed us a second printing.  (This, after being told that The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief had first printings of 100,000 copies each.)  The icing on the cake came at the Hyperion dinner on Saturday night, when we were approached by Michele Norris of NPR’s All Things Considered, who invited us to come on her show to talk about Abadazad.

The next few months found us finishing up work on the third book in the series—The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—traveling to Finland for the Helsinki Book Fair, doing signings and, finally, landing that NPR interview.  The night the interview aired, we watched, stunned, as Zad shot up the Amazon.com sales charts.  “Dreams come true and miracles happen,” as someone (I think it was me), once wrote in a song.


But by December of ’06, when I turned in the manuscript for the fourth book in the series, Historcery, we discovered that the good ship Abadazad had hit an iceberg—and we were sinking.  Sales, we were told, were disappointing (although healthy in the comic book market and with our friends in Finland and other Nordic countries) and it had been decided that The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—the best in the series, in my opinion—would only be published in England.  Brenda, who always believed in our story, and in us, was looking for ways to save Abadazad.  One thing she suggested was dumping the hybrid form—the books were part prose, part comics—and doing a straight-ahead prose novel (with new illustrations from Mike, of course).  Were we disappointed that the series hadn’t done better?  Absolutely.  Still, having seen Abadazad go through one death and resurrection, we were ready to see it rise again.  And the challenge of turning Kate Jameson's adventure into a novel—and actually finishing it in one volume—was a very exciting one.  But the excitement was short-lived—

—because, within a few months, Brenda Bowen—our champion, our guardian angel, our biggest booster—had departed the halls of Hyperion and we were left in the hands of...well, we weren't quite sure who.  Our spirits brightened when we learned that Brenda’s right-hand man. a smart young editor named Christian Trimmer, had taken Abadazad on:  Christian was a huge fan of our series and he very much wanted to see it continue; but, without a heavy-hitter like Brenda there to advocate for us, we didn’t know how far Christian’s enthusiasm would take us.

Our spirits brightened again when Christian told us that he’d spoken to Brenda's replacement (I honestly don’t remember the executive’s name), who, we were assured,
very much wanted to make Abadazad work.  After discussing different ways we could go with the series, what formats might be best, we were told to hang tight while The Powers That Be worked out a solution.  So, heartened and hopeful,  we waited.

And we waited.

And then, in the spring of 2007, the word came down:  No.  Just like that.  The gods of Hyperion had thought it over and decided, for reasons that never became clear, that they didn’t want to invest any more time and money in Abadazad.

We were finished.  Just like that!

Mike and I went through a shared grieving process, after which I, literally, slipped into my personal bed of despair.  In Victorian novels, there’s often talk of characters “taking to their beds”:  putting the back of a hand to the forehead, with a Lord Byron-like flourish, and collapsing among the covers, in a wasted, heaving heap.  Well, that’s pretty much what happened to me.  I had invested so much of myself, of my heart, hope and inspiration, in Abadazad that the cancellation of the series hit me like the death of a loved one.  Part of my depression certainly involved the loss of income.  As noted, we’d signed for eight books and those upcoming four were going to carry me—and my family—through the next year.  That’s not a small thing.  But that wasn’t the core of my despair.  What truly devastated me was the loss of those characters.  Characters?  No:  beloved friends.  I believed in Kate and Matt Jameson, Professor Headstrong, Queen Ija and all the rest.  Believed in them with every cell in my body, every vibrating particle of my consciousness.  With all my heart.  And now, I thought, they’re gone.  Trapped in some literary limbo, beyond my reach.  How will Kate ever rescue Matt from the Lanky Man, how will—

Wait.

Characters trapped in limbo?

What a fantastic idea for a story!

That concept smacked me across the face, grabbed me by the throat and dragged me out of my bed and into my office, where I found myself typing furiously, outlining the tale of a twelve year old girl—Mehera Crosby—whose life is upended when her favorite book series is canceled; upended even more when she discovers that the characters she so loves are alive, trapped in a strange and deadly limbo—and it’s up to her to rescue them.  I called the story Mundus Imaginalis and writing that outline totally dissolved my foul mood.

For a few hours, anyway.

Once I was done detailing the major beats of the story, exhilaration passed and I crawled, exhausted, back to bed, wrapping myself tight in a cocoon of misery for a few more days.  Then I got up and went back to work.  Really, what choice did I have?  My ability to create goes to the heart of who I am.  No matter what projects may explode in my hands, what doors may slam in my face, I can always (well, once I lick my wounds) pick myself up and begin again.  As a writer I live, not from logic, but from imagination.  From a profound belief in the power of the impossible.  And, in the end, faith in the impossible is all I need.  (You can bet my buddy Mike Ploog feels the same way:  he’s rocketed on to other projects, bringing to them the same passion and brilliance he brought to Abadazad.)

Some weeks after Zad’s death, I found out that Brenda Bowen had landed safely at HarperCollins, where she was starting up a new imprint, the Bowen Press.  Contractual obligations prevented Brenda from discussing new material with me—or anyone she’d worked with at Disney—until the beginning of 2008, but, when Brenda and I finally got together over lunch in January of that year, one of the several ideas I handed her was Mundus Imaginalis.  

And that, I’m happy to report, was the one she loved.  

It took months—as it usually does—for the contracts to be ironed out but, eventually, I was off, starting work on a novel—the title wisely shortened to Imaginalis—that’s now completed and awaiting its June, 2010 release from the HC imprint Katherine Tegen Books.  (What happened to the Bowen Press?  In yet another twist in the tale, Brenda ended up leaving HarperCollins.  She’s now a literary agent, working for Sanford J. Greenburger Associates—and, I’m certain, doing it with skill, wisdom and extraordinary grace.)

I’d love to tell you that I know—to the bottom of my soul—that Imaginalis will be a spectacular success; but, if the preceding tale makes anything clear, it's that the only thing I know for sure is I don’t know a thing.  I certainly hope that Imaginalis does well, that it transforms my career, and my life, in magical, miraculous ways; but, if it doesn’t, I’ll take to my bed for a few days, bang my head against the wall, rail at the gods, whimper pathetically—and then get back to work, setting my sights on the next impossible goal.

Because I’m a writer—and that’s what I do.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

20 comments:

  1. I can't wait until June! I want it now!

    Oh, okay. I'll wait. In fact, now I'm starting to look forward to that old time "it won't be long now" excitement. And to tide me over I'll re-read the Abadazad comics. And then the Abadazad books. And then Stardust Kid.

    Now I'm excited about that too. Yay!

    - Brett

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  2. Well, Brett, I sincerely hope that, when June rolls around, you feel as if your patience has be rewarded. And please know that your enthusiasm is profoundly appreciated. All the best -- JMD

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  3. Speaking as someone who's seen some of his favorite characters trapped in limbo from time to time, I really love this concept!

    Interestingly, amazon has two listings--a hardcover due out in June 2010 and library binding due in January 2010. I'm not sure what the difference is, or if that's a misprint or not.

    Best,

    David

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  4. I noticed that, too, David. Don't know why it's there -- but you can safely ignore the January 2010 date.

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  5. Wow, that's a tough story...but with a good ending, at least!

    That part where you just get a flat "No" made me shudder in recognition, because its sounds very similar to some experiences I've had in the book trade as well. No info, no explaining, just terse answers that don't leave you with much to go on.

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  6. "No" is part of a freelancer's life, Rob. In fact, over the years, I've probably heard "no" more than I've heard "yes." The trick is getting the "yes" to really count.

    The good news is, no idea ever goes to waste. I've had a number of projects that were rejected and tucked away for years, sometimes decades, that eventually found their way into the light. STARDUST KID took about twenty years, SAVIOR 28 about twenty five. (Just to name two.) It's all about persistence. And realizing that, in the big picture, "no" doesn't REALLY mean "no." It just means, "Not right now."

    And when that "right now" finally rolls along, good God is it satisfying!

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  7. Wow, J. M. (is it okay to use J.M.?), I sincerely appreciate your sharing some of the story behind the upcoming story's connection to the previous story all within The Story!

    By next June, I will have imported Abadazad Book 3 from across the pond, and it'll be a nice birthday wish to obtain this next chapter in the tale.

    Moving outside of the absolute 'No' has been a tremendously freeing and transformative (and scary, and difficult, and painful, and...) process in my own life.

    Once I've seen the gold that was eventually discovered in the deep dark mine gives me the power I need to dust myself off, repair my lamp and tools, and get back to work the next time I find myself in pain and confusion at the bottom of a dark, unfamiliar hole.

    Thanks again for the mirrors,

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  8. Of course it's okay to use J.M.!

    What I've seen over the years, Tim, is that "no" can be a strong directional signal leading to an even bigger "yes." Further proof that, often in life, the so-called negative is actually the positive in disguise...and the sooner we realize it, and open our arms to it, the sooner it reveals itself. Not always an easy thing to do, but a great magic trick when we can manage it.

    You're welcome for the mirrors. Thanks for the lamp and tools.

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  9. The closing of one door means you now have to take another, and maybe that was the one you were supposed to take all along and just didn't know it. I'm not a firm believer in this theory, but I have quite often seen that things do seem to happen for a reason, and not just arbitrarily.

    This was a great column, J. M. I sometimes find the stories about what goes into the creations more interesting and entertaining than the creations themselves. A good writer, such as yourself, makes things like that fun to read.

    Thanks for a great insightful read into some of your career rollercoaster; glad you were able to ride it thru!

    Have fun

    Ken

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  10. You're welcome, Ken. I, too, am a great believer in the "things happen for a reason" model. Sometimes those reasons remain elusive, just beyond our reach...we can sense the reason, but we can't quite grasp it...but sometimes they're astoundingly clear.

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  11. Hello J.M. DeMatteis,

    I have myself have just found your Abadazad book 1 & 2 but unable to get 3. Love the story and sorry to see that this no longer going to be. I have fallen in love with this story and wanted to pass this onto my nextdoor's daughter but now I am unable to. I have collected my book over the years and really wanted to add this set to my collection. Well if you are ever in the USA would love to have the two I do have signed. I will be looking for your 2010 new book sounds like a great seller.
    Best,
    Santa767@yahoo.com

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  12. Keep checking both Amazon.com and AmazonUK, Santa: the third book pops up pretty regularly and sometimes at a very reasonable price. As for getting your books signed, just send them (along with a stamped, self-addressed return envelope) to me in care of Hyperion Books for Children (you can find the address inside the books), they'll forward them on to me...and I'll be delighted to sign them and send them back to you.

    Thanks for checking in. All the very best -- JMD

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  13. (My previous comment didn't get through so I'm writing a shorten version of what I just typed)

    I loved the Abadazad comic but didn't buy the book when it came out. I wanted to wait until all the volumes were released so I could read them all in one sitting. When I found out that the book series has been cancelled, I felt terrible. I kept thinking that if only I had bought the book when I could then this wouldn't have happened.

    Anyway I'm looking forward to Imaginalis. It's good to know that something positive was created out of Abadazad's cancellation.

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  14. I love the idea that one more sale would have saved us, Eve, but I think we were way beyond that point.

    I've got the final proof of IMAGINALIS here in my office, ready for the last once-over. I look forward to your feedback when the book finally comes out next June.

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  15. I just finished reading The Puppet, The Professor, and The Prophet, which I was lucky enough to track down via ebay. I really wish that you could have finished this book series. And I will definitely be picking up Imaginalis next month.

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  16. Glad you were able to track down PUPPET, J.R. -- and I hope it didn't cost too much! (I've seen some heavy price tags on that books since it went out of print.) And I profoundly appreciate your intention to pick up a copy of IMAGINALIS. After you read it, please pop back over here and let me know what you think, yea or nay.

    All the very best -- JMD

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  17. It was like $25, from a seller in the UK. So, not too bad. I loved this series because, in addition to reading comic-books, I grew up reading the OZ series, and Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland, etc. and Abadazad was a perfect mix of all of those.

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  18. Well, we clearly love the same books, J.R. IMAGINALIS -- which (he said, unable to avoid a plug) comes out June 29th -- shares some of the same influences: hope you enjoy it, as well.

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  19. I'm so glad I found this website!!! Too bad the Abadazad series had to end, I simply adored it!!! I hope Imagnalis is just as good!!!!!

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  20. I'm glad you found it, too. I hope you enjoy IMAGINALIS. Please check back here after you'e read it and let me know...and thanks for stopping by!

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