Story Behind the Story #15:
S.O.R. Losers

S.O.R. LosersNovelists are often asked, how long does it take to write a book? My truthful answer is, about a year. S.O.R. Losers, however, was written in one day. How could such a thing happen?

I was able to do it because the story—about a team of nerds who are required (by their school) to form a soccer team and then go on to lose every game they play—is true.

I was on such a team, and indeed, I had the honor of being captain of that memorable squad. My boys loved to hear stories about what a bad player their dad was, and often asked me to regale them (and their friends) with the saga. Needless to say, I was happy to entertain them, throwing in (just a bit) of exaggerated ineptitude along the way—though my team truly scored a goal by putting the ball into the wrong net.

So it was that when I sat down to write S.O.R. Losers I had, if you will, rehearsed the story many, many times. It was easy, then, to write.

There are a couple of other curious things about the book. I had sent the book to my agent, and (I thought) agreed which editor to whom it would be sent. It did not go to that editor, but (to my surprise) to Richard Jackson, the first of the many, many books I did with him.

Another curious thing: I’m often asked how I name my characters. Perfectly reasonable question. But there is only one book about which I have often been asked: “How did you make up all those weird names for the characters on the S.O.R team?”

The answer? None of them. Every name in S.O.R Losers comes from the actual players on my illustrious team.

Many publishers

avi-booksA sixth grade class from Rochester, NY  writes: “We have been reading a lot of your books. Why do you have so many different publishers?” 

It is true that my books have had many publishers. There are a number of reasons for that.  

Sometimes a particular book changes publishers. Poppy was first published by Orchard Books. The paperback was issued by Avon and then HarperCollins. Orchard Books was sold to Scholastic, and Scholastic issued a hard cover Poppy under their imprint. Then Scholastic sold Poppy to HarperCollins, and they issued the book in all its forms.  


S.O.R. Losers was published by Bradbury Press. The Man Who was Poe was published by Orchard Books. The Christmas Rat was published by Atheneum.  But the editor was the same person. When a writer works very well with a particular editor, and that editor changes the place where he/she works, it’s common for the writer to follow that editor to their new publisher. 


I have worked with a number of publishers who no longer exist, such as Lippincott. The Fighting Ground was first published by Lippincott, which was then absorbed by HarperCollins, who still has it in print. 


A book like The History of Helpless Harry was first issued by Pantheon. The book went out of print, but was later republished by Morrow.


What Do Fish Have to Do with Anything? is published by Candlewick. Scholastic Book Club editions will soon offer the book on their list.

It is confusing, but then the business of publishing is often confusing. Nevertheless, for just one example, though Poppy has had a number of publishers, it has always been the same book. In other words, sometimes it’s the publisher that is changing, not the author.

Read something funny

S.O.R. LosersNow that you’re looking through the bookshelves at Grandpa’s or Aunt Eileen’s for something funny to read, you might try S.O.R. Losers, a tale of a soccer team that does not win. On my website, I often share the “story behind the story.” Here’s what I said about S.O.R. Losers:

“As noted in the entry for Bright Shadow, I am often asked “How long does it take you to write a book?” The answer is, about a year. But it can vary. A lot. S.O.R. Losers took me one day to write. It has never happened before, or since, and I don’t think it’s likely to happen again. How did it happen in this book? When I was in high school I played on our school soccer team. I was goalie. We were terrible. How terrible? We never won a game. My own kids—who had become good soccer players—loved to hear how bad their dad—me—was. So I told them many a story about how we always managed to lose. They thought it very funny.

“One day I decided to write it all up as a novel. Since I had—in a way—practiced telling the tale of our terrible team so often, it just flowed out, game by game—in one day.”

Is losing funny? Read the book and let me know.

This writer’s day

This writer’s day: Up at six, and by six-thirty (with coffee near) working on new book, focusing on the last third. Chat with my publicist about evolving website. An e-mail from the editor of forthcoming book, Sophia’s War, informing me that she is sending the first pass galley. For the first time I get to look at the book in print, always something of a shock, always satisfying. More coffee. We spend an hour and a half going through the book—she’s the leader here—adjusting words, sentences for clarity, deleting repetitions, confusions, what have you. Vital to do. Good editors do this well. Then I go off to the local library to get advice on retrieval of newspaper archives, for information I need for new project.

An hour’s break (a 3½-mile walk). Back home (more coffee).

S.O.R. LosersI work on an old text, S.O.R. Losers, which has been reformatted for inclusion in Breakfast Serials, the newspaper serialization-publishing venture. An e-mail from a different editor, with encouraging words about first 100 pages of that new project. It is energizing, so after dinner, back to that project.

Finally, happily, reading time, a book about Edgar Allan Poe. Always a fascinating subject. One of my books, The Man Who Was Poe, is about him. A long, but productive day.

The writer’s fundamental contradiction

Bright ShadowIt usually takes me a year to write one of my novels. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The longest time period was fourteen years, for Bright Shadow. The shortest period was one day, for S.O.R. Losers. There are explanations for both extremes, but I will save them for another post. Readers, however, are welcome to read the books and see if they can see why. My current project has been two years in the making. The first effort was not very good, and required extensive rewriting. Why was it not very good? In essence, it was too close to my personal experience. Which is to say I was not able to take what was real and meaningful to me, and make it real and meaningful to readers. This flies in the advice often given to young writers: “Write what you know.” The problem of course, is the writer’s fundamental contradiction: A writer must be objective about personal experience to make it a subjective experience for the reader. Never easy.