On the top shelf of a bookcase in my living room, between Catch-22 and Portnoy’s Complaint, are a couple of proof copies of my new book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.
When the first one arrived in the familiar brown cardboard Amazon packaging, I tore it open with an enthusiasm and anticipation not felt since I was a kid.
I wrapped my right hand around it, measured its heft. Raised it to my face. Was there a secret scent only the author could detect?
“You’ve been waiting for this your whole life, dad,” daughter Jodie said on Christmas Eve when I showed her the book.
She’s not far off.
In my early twenties, while paying my dues and learning the craft of reporting and writing news, I dreamed of someday picking up where Hemingway left off, engaging in literary combat with Mailer, going Gonzo alongside Hunter S. Thompson.
My writing heroes changed over the years, but I never lost the belief that I would someday have a book – many books – published.
All the false starts, frustrations and disappointments are chronicled in The Expat Files. What’s not included is how this book came about.
In November 2006, I turned sixty, a time for looking back and trying to figure out how I got that far. I’d kept all the files of my working life, from the letters I wrote and received as a teenager applying for newspaper jobs in New York to the memos and emails that ended my career at Canadian Press and revived it at CBC News in Toronto.
There were boxes of bylined newspaper and magazine clips and stacks of cassette tapes from dozens of interviews I’d conducted as a reporter.
I finished the second draft of a memoir on May 1, 2007. What happened next is in the book.
Flash forward to last summer, when I decided to rewrite the manuscript with the intention of publishing it through Amazon. I took an axe to the original and added more personal stuff than I’d ever revealed in my writing.
My goal was to have it published when summer turned to fall. Didn’t make it.
I set a deadline of my birthday in November. Missed it too.
I kept rewriting, cutting, trimming, making corrections. When I sent the manuscript to Amazon in early December, and it came out to 600 pages, I screamed “holy shit,” pulled it back, and cut 18,000 words.
The Kindle edition came out on December 21. The print edition was available the next day in the United States.
I was told it could take up to thirty days to release the paperback in Canada. Every day, I checked Amazon Canada. One year ended, another began.
Amazon sent me those proof copies I mentioned. But, as far as I knew, I was the only one in Canada with my hands on my book.
Finally, late last Friday, I found the listing on Amazon.ca.
I immediately fired off emails and social media posts – already prepared – to spread the word.
I spent the weekend replying to messages of congratulations and encouragement. The most gratifying was a Facebook comment from a former CP colleague, Dan Slovitt, who wrote: “Your book is captivating so I haven’t accomplished a damn thing for the past day.”
My sister called twice from New York to tell me again and again, “I didn’t know about that!”
I talked to my pal Ken Ernhofer in Atlanta, one of my favorite people from my CBC days, who had finished the book. He offered praise and kind words, though we argued about the merits of hockey – he loves it, I hate it.
Will writing I hate hockey cost me book sales? I hate thinking about such things more than I hate hockey.
Salesmanship – salespersonship? – makes me queasy.
All I want to do is get back to the real work – writing – move on to the next project, a novel.
Maybe next year I’ll get my mitts on another book. Then I can call myself not only an author, but a novelist.