Serendipity

On December 20, 1991, I was unemployed. Not destitute, mind you (this isn’t a story about facing Christmas with a young family and no money), but eager to find a job after six months of looking. I was also eager to hear back from Albert Whitman (not a guy, a publisher of children’s books based in Illinois). I’d sent Whitman a query letter and some chapters months earlier, and Kathy Tucker, the editor at Whitman, liked what she saw well enough to request the entire manuscript. In those days, everything was done through regular mail, so I packed up the manuscript in a sturdy box, took it to the post office, sent it off, and crossed my fingers.

More months passed. In the mean time, I’d lost my job and set off on a quest to find another. So on the morning of December 20, I was thrilled to get a call from a supervisor at Farmers Life Insurance, where I’d interviewed earlier in the week. He offered me a job. Much celebrating! Dancing and hugging! Beer before noon! We could enjoy the holidays, and I could get back to the workaday world.

But the day wasn’t over. A few hours later, the phone (the kind that hangs on your wall–it was the only one we–or pretty much anyone–had in those days) rang. It was Kathy Tucker. Whitman had decided to publish my manuscript, which at the time I called Thicker Than Water. She had no choice, she said. One of the other editors had taken it home and let her husband read it, and, teary-eyed, he told her it had to be a book. Lucky for me, the rest of the editorial staff agreed. More celebrating! More dancing and hugging! More beer!

If you’ve guessed I was more thrilled about the book than the job, you’d be right.

A year and a half later (May, 1993), after what I came to find out eventually was a typical amount of revising/editing/sweating, the book was published. It was (and is, still) called Someone Was Watching. A couple of years after that, it began appearing on state young readers lists, it won awards, it became an audio book, it was published overseas, it was made into a movie. After more than twenty-four years, it’s still in print. And technology has caught up to it–it’s available as an e-book; the movie is available on Amazon.

Ten more books followed.

So I gotta thank Kathy Tucker, who took a chance on me. And that editor’s unnamed husband, of course. Without his vote, who knows what would have happened to Thicker Than Water/Someone Was Watching? It was my first attempt at writing a novel, I was already up to double digits on rejection letters, and I don’t know how much longer I would have persisted.

Sometimes you can do all the right things, but nothing happens until serendipity steps in.

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