Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Trolley Car Family

What does The Trolley Car Family have to do with my first novel War Remains? Three words: Scholastic Book Services.

When I was growing up in Oglesby, Illinois—a small town in north central Illinois, approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago—and attending Washington Grade School, a few times a year our teacher would hand out an order form for ordering books from Scholastic Book Services. Sometimes there would be a book fair for students to check out what new books were available; other times we would look through the teacher’s copy of the catalog to see what books we would like to order.

After we had made our choices, we would then persuade, convince, beg, borrow, and cajole our parents for the few dollars to buy the books we had checked on the order form. In my case, it usually meant asking for an advance on my allowance for a couple of weeks with the promise that I would do a much better job cleaning the living room, putting away my clothes, and doing the dishes. Sometimes I would sweeten the deal by promising not to pick on my brother.

The teacher would collect the money from my classmates and myself and then, we would anxiously wait for the arrival of our books. Every day when we went to school, we did a reconnoiter of our classroom to see if the books had arrived. It was like waiting for Christmas, one’s birthday, and the first day of summer vacation all rolled up into one anticipatory moment each day we looked for that box.

When that day finally did arrive, the box would be on the teacher’s desk in front of the classroom in plain view for all of us to see. One could literally cut the anticipation with a knife, as we watched the teacher open the box, and then remove the literary treasures inside. We leaned forward at our desks, hoping for a glimpse of the books we had ordered.

With her master order form in hand, she would call out the names of the students who had ordered books and then, one by one, we would go to the front of the class and receive our books. There was no point in having class until we had thumbed through our new books, read a few paragraphs, or showed off our prized new literary possessions to classmates sitting around us.

I remembered how excited I was to finally hold those books in my hand after having only seen them in a catalog or on a table in the lobby of the gymnasium. I loved the feel of the covers and the pages or the smell of the ink. I couldn’t wait to get home and start reading them, like The Trolley Car Family. Unlike books that I could borrow from the library, these were my books.

And that’s exactly how I felt today, when after three weeks since I ordered it, my novel War Remains finally made it to Korea. For the past week, I have been stopping in at the office at school, sometimes two or three times a day to see if the mail and my book had arrived. The same anticipation I felt back there at Washington Grade School forty years ago had become magnified one hundredfold.

This was my book I was waiting for; this was the book that had taken up over a year of my life. This was the book that announced to the world that Jeffrey Miller the novelist had arrived.

As soon as I saw the book mailer from Lulu yesterday, I was filled with the same excitement I felt when I saw the box of books on a teacher’s desk all those years ago. I raced upstairs to my office, and nervously opened the mailer. Would my book look exactly like the one I had only seen on a computer screen? Would the cover photograph look good? Would the print inside be easy to read? Would it really look and feel like a novel?

The answer to all these questions would be yes, as I stood there holding my novel in my hands.

What a great feeling.

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