Monday, July 15, 2013

My First Time: Don Rearden

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Don Rearden, author of the new novel The Raven's Gift, which has just been released in the US by Pintail Books, a boutique imprint of Penguin USA.  Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska.  His experiences with the Yup'ik Eskimo culture shaped both his writing and to a larger extent his worldview.  He lives in the mountain community of Bear Valley, Alaska, and teaches as an Associate Professor Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  He also serves as the president of the board of directors for the 49 Alaska Writers and has served as faculty for the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference.  Click here to visit Rearden's website.  [Want to win a copy of The Raven's Gift?  Click here to enter this week's Friday Freebie contest.]

My First Time...Again.

I never quite understood the term “born-again virgin” until now.  Like most first-timers, I dove into the backseat of the publishing car with little knowledge of what I was doing and utterly devoid of any idea as to the future consequences of my actions.  What was perhaps unusual about my initial romp with publication was that it happened outside the US.  And while this first time was beyond exciting and totally satisfying, like most first-timers, it left me yearning for more--and something more--you could call it an S.T.I. that I’d never get over (a Sexually Transmitted ISBN, if you will).

My first tryst was with a Canadian.  A very popular Canadian.  An important Canadian.  A hot Canadian.  The kind a debut author kills to climb in bed with.  The problem?  This made me like that kid in junior high, you know the one who had a girlfriend, but she lived in Canada?  The Raven’s Gift debuted there in 2011 with Penguin Canada, but they only acquired rights to Canada, and this made getting the novel here in the US, and particularly in Alaska, where it was beyond my expectations popular, exceedingly difficult and expensive.  All roads to publication here in the US seemed impossible, perhaps because the world happened to be ending at the time (stock market crash, publishing industry crash, and death of a Bee Gee) and the book dealt with that very subject matter?  I don’t know.  Whatever the case, I could only keep writing and working hard to promote the book and hope that some US publisher would want to crawl in the sack with me--I mean publish the novel.

All the while, the Canadian book grew in popularity here, despite or perhaps in spite of the availability.  The book received Alaskan novel of the year by the Alaska Professional Communicators, then runner-up by the National Federation of Press Women.  I’d acquired an impressive list of blurbs from some of America’s most popular authors.  But still, I was just that guy with a girlfriend from Canada.

Then, much to my amazement, the book was picked up by major publishers in Australia and France.  I was a first-timer again!  Then again.  See, just like getting to be a born-again virgin, in publishing your debut status is renewable, country by country!  It’s all really a mind-set.  One that I was still having trouble grasping, since my own country apparently had no interest in getting intimate--I mean publishing the novel.

So all this time I’m working diligently doing the publicity dance that writers must do these days and wondering if I shouldn’t just move to one of those other countries.  I suppose my friends and family were ready to send me, too, as they must have grown tired of me being a first-timer again and again and again, and yet they had little proof of such relationships but a photo.  “My new girlfriend,” I would joke as I attached a cover of the most recent edition of the novel in an email to my buddy Seth Kantner, author of Ordinary Wolves.

“Where is she from this time?” he’d ask.

To be honest, I’d pretty much given up on getting any action here in the US with The Raven’s Gift.  I’d grown accustomed to being the guy with the mystery girlfriends.  I learned to be happy with the long-distance thing while I tried to re-Kindle a new affair with those Americans publishers that had shown serious initial interest but ultimately rejected me.

Then I got the message.  It was a strange message.  One I never expected.  Sort of like coming home from a high school dance, where you didn’t get to actually dance at all, and your mom says, “that cute girl you like called.  You know the one from Canada.  She said she’s moving here and wants you to call back.”

Penguin Canada and Penguin US had formed a new boutique imprint of popular Canadian titles and The Raven’s Gift made the list.  My Canadian girlfriend had transformed, from Penguin to a beautiful Pintail.  She’d sprouted some wings that could lift her over the border.

That’s how my first time happened.  Again.

Author photo by Michael Dinneen

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