Many of you have heard that my first book, TWENTY BOY SUMMER, will hit the shelves in 2009. June 1st, as a matter of fact. That’s in 188 days for you numbers people (not that I’m counting). But what you probably don’t know is that TWENTY BOY SUMMER is… er… not… actually my first book.
Honestly. I wrote and illustrated my first book in 1982, at the end of first grade. It was about a little purple-brown alien who was left behind on Earth and found love and friendship with an American family in the suburbs, particularly with a little boy named Elliot. There were a lot of Reese’s Pieces and bicycle hijinks involved. The book, which I also bound in cardboard with red electrical tape, was a loose adaptation — well, maybe more condensed than loose — of a movie I’d seen earlier that year.
Steven Spielberg’s E.T., THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL.
My teacher, Mrs. Tracy, was a little, um, moody back in the day. She would scream at us in front of the entire class if we had dirty fingernails after playing outside and she had very little tolerance for fidgeting. But somehow, she gave me an A+ EXCELLENT!!!. She was so pleased with my storytelling, in fact, that she immediately organized my first book tour, and I got to read to all of the other 1st grade classes in the Library Media Center on the first floor of the elementary school. Back then, “media” meant hi-tech stuff like microfiche and 5-inch floppy disks that really were, well, floppy. Very chic.
Anyway, after the resounding success of my book tour, I rushed home with all the blind enthusiasm of a first-time novelist and shared the news with my mother. She was equally excited and proud, and somewhere during our shared moment of celebration, I asked her to help me find a publisher for my A+ EXCELLENT!!! work of literary art.
And that’s when she sat me down for the copyright infringement talk. Only she didn’t call it infringement. She just looked at me with her big, serious, dream-crusher eyes and said, “Honey, it’s a wonderful story, but E.T. was someone else’s idea first, so you can’t publish it. You have to write your own stories.”
I didn’t understand. Hadn’t I been the one to toil over the detailed illustrations? Hadn’t I been the one to condense a 2-hour movie into just a few pages of intense prose? And it certainly wasn’t Mr. Spielberg who’d bound my masterpiece with cardboard and red electrical tape! Oh, cruel world, with your strict laws about other people’s supposed ideas!
So E.T., my first book, was relegated to a box in the attic, where he would sit for almost 30 years, undisturbed by mold or mice or the passage of time. After his quiet retirement, my elementary school career in literature went on to encompass hundreds of poems and short stories. I wrote journals and essays, articles and anecdotes. I told stories for my friends, made up things about people I’d met and observed and overheard. And then, finally, a novel grew. One that was all my own idea. One that launched my official, non-infringed writing career, all while E.T. sat patiently, silently, still in that box in the attic, waiting for the day when he would be unearthed and rediscovered and given the credit he so deserved for planting the early seeds of authorship in my little, plagiarizing, 6-year-old head.
Without further ado…
Thank you, E.T.
Thank you Mr. Spielberg and Mrs. Tracy.
And thank you, friends and readers, for indulging me as I share my earliest writing memory with you. Now, when you see a reference to the E.T. incident in the acknowledgments for TWENTY BOY SUMMER, you’ll understand.
Tune in tomorrow to read the actual adapted-slash-condensed story of E.T., THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, by Sarah Ockler!