Up the Creek, the first book in the Milligan Creek Series, has just reached an important milestone (at least in my mind). As of this week, it's sold over 10,000 copies! That may not sound like a lot considering some books sell into the millions, but remember that this is an independently published book set in Saskatchewan of all places, and the majority of those sales have been into the good, ol' US of A. In fact, my biggest market is New York City. Go figure! As Frank Sinatra said, "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!"
I wrote the first draft of Up the Creek way back in 2001. I was living in Abbotsford, BC, at the time, and we had just had our first child. I'd gotten a bite on the book after pitching the first few chapters to a mid-sized Canadian publisher, so over the next few weeks, I knocked out the entire draft, revised it, and was about to send it in when . . . that publisher went under, along with a number of other Canadian publishers who were the first wave to go bankrupt in the face of the dot com boom and a major consolidation in the market. Feeling a bit disheartened and not knowing what to do with it, I set the manuscript aside as I spent the next fourteen years or so working in the film industry.
Then in 2015, with filmmaking opportunities dwindling and opportunities for self-publishing growing, particularly through Amazon, I decided to dust off the manuscript and see if I could find an audience.
Initially, I focused on Saskatchewan, seeing as that's where the story is set. Not knowing how to market the book directly to kids, I decided to go to the "gatekeepers" instead--teachers, librarians, and parents--by offering to do writing workshops. Not only did this provide a legitimate service to schools and libraries, it also got me in front of thousands of potential readers. The plan worked, and soon I was booking writing workshops all over Western Canada. That gave me enough confidence to continue the series, until today I'm working on the fifth book with plans for at least two more.
And it all started with Up the Creek, which has now become part of the childhood reading of thousands of children across North America. Considering how formative authors like Gordon Korman, Roald Dahl, and Farley Mowat were for me growing up, it's amazing to think my books are playing the same role for so many kids.
I often joke that writing is all about days and nights of misery punctuated by brief moments of despair--and then something really bad happens. It's not really that terrible, but it is a laborious process riddled with self-doubt. So, I'm a big advocate of celebrating little victories and milestones like this one. Thanks to everyone who has supported Up the Creek and the other books in the series. The best is yet to come!
I preach against procrastination all the time, arguing that it's a form of perfectionism, thinking you have to have all the answers in place before you begin writing. Instead, I tell students in my writing workshops that authors start out with a bunch of questions, and their stories are a way of discovering answers to those questions. Not only does that take the pressure off--you don't have to figure out everything before you put fingers to keyboard--it also makes for a more interesting story because if you didn't know something was going to happen, it's impossible for you to telegraph that to the reader.
All that to say, I've been procrastinating on Snowbound, the fifth novel in the Milligan Creek Series. Yes, I've been tremendously busy with other work, but I've also been fighting fear. Is the book going to be any good? Can I really pull this off again? Did I just get lucky the last few times? The same sorts of questions I ask at the start of any creative endeavour.
However, now that I've put out a novel a year for the past four years, by the time April rolls around, writing the next instalment of the Milligan Creek Series feels like exactly what I should be doing at this time of year. Also, thanks to the coronavirus, some of my other work has slowed down, giving me a bit more time. That and the fact I tend to wake up early (unwillingly), sometimes as early as 4:30 a.m., means I have a bit more time on my hands. So, on Sunday, with about 2.5 chapters written, I decided it was time to finally get the ball rolling.
Now here I am three days later. It's 5:58 a.m., I'm well into chapter four, and I'm more excited about this book than ever. Furthermore, I've committed to write about 1,000 words per day on the book until it's done. So, about a month from now, I should have a spanking new first draft.
That said, rather than working on the book right now, I'm writing this blog post. Another form of procrastination? It could be, so, time to get back to it . . .
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life