Part 6 - In A Far Away Land

Sixth in a short series
© 2023 Glen Cadigan
Originally posted on on February 10, 2023.

Cover art by Rick Steele.

I promised in a previous installment of this series to tell about the first time I was ever published, and it's been years since I made that promise. I'm reluctant to do so because it involves juvenilia, and that doesn't really count, does it? But it's a good story with a twist at the end, and I guess it qualifies as a secret origin of sorts, so here it is.

I was always a big reader as a child. Mainly comic books, but also book books. Heavy on The Hardy Boys and science fiction, as was normal for a boy of my age. And, as was also normal of a bookish child, I wanted to be a writer.

There are still scraps of childhood things that I wrote that my mother kept, and every blue moon one will turn up. Of course, I also made my own comic books by folding typewriter paper in half and stapling it together. Wrote 'em, drew 'em, and colored 'em with my colored pencils. Some of those still survive to this day, but don't expect them to debut on the Internet, ever. There's only so much embarrasment I can take!

As happens in every class, there are kids who are identified as having special skills. This one is the class artist, that one is the class clown... and there are always the ones who are really good at a particular sport. But there are also the ones who handle their writing assignments with aplumb, and I was one of those kids. (In my head, I even had rivals!)

On the left, the author at a young age. On the right, his first editor.

So when the school board decided to have one-day writing workshops for kids in Grades Five and Six, that got my attention. It was something like a couple of kids from each school, so I didn't expect to make the cut while I was in Grade Five. When Grade Six rolled around and the one that was held in the fall approached, naturally I expected to be picked. And naturally, I wasn't.

I can still remember the burn to this day! How could they pass me over? Didn't they know I was destined to be an author? How could this oversight have occurred?

I was indignant, but I kept that indignity to myself. However, I think my teacher noticed my disappointment, and when the next (and last, as far as I know) workshop came around in the spring, I got to go.

Finally! Justice was served! There was myself and a boy from the Fifth Grade (showing what I knew about Fifth Graders being invited), and so we went. It was a day off from school, and one of my mother's friends was also one of the teachers who had volunteered to help run the workshop, so I didn't even have to go to school. I was picked up right at my house and we went to wherever it was (it wasn't at a school) for the workshop.

I remember we all had nametags. I remember they spelled Cadigan as Caddigan (the bane of my continual existence), and I crossed out the extra 'd'. I remember that a nice male teacher noticed, was mildly upset that they had made the mistake, and had a new nametag printed up for me. (The good teachers notice things like that.)

We were forced to write something on the spot that day, and I was never a fast writer, so I found that hard to do. We'd also brought work with us, and we passed it around. It was a day off from school, and the first step on my road to publication, even if I didn't know how soon that would be!
Let's hear it for the teachers who volunteered!

After the whole thing was over and life returned to normal, somehow I was alerted to the fact that, by virtue of having attended the workshop, I was eligible to submit something for an anthology. It would feature stories (and poems, and, in some cases, artwork) from the kids who had attended the workshops. Naturally, I was interested, so I set about to craft my entry.

I've always been a little bit cold-blooded when it comes to my profession. Even then, my thought wasn't what I wanted to write, but what people wanted to read. And growing up in Newfoundland, I figured my best bet on getting into the book was to write a story about a hockey game.

So that's what I did, and when I was finished, I gave it to my brother to read. I would've been eleven at this time, so that'd make him fifteen. He read it, and then he delivered the bad news.

"No one wants to read a story about hockey," he told me. "They either want to play hockey or watch it, they don't want to read about it."

Oh, no! My story had been rejected before it had even left the house! So I immediately recalibrated and did what I should've done all along -- wrote a story that interested me.

What would've arrived in a Canadian mailbox in 1983.

At the time, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing was a big deal. I had been reading it before he came on board (my brother had a subscription, and he will rant to this day about how his copy of "The Anatomy Lesson" came with a rip in the cover), so when the British author arrived on American shores, it blew my l'il mind. I remember thinking, "Do they know he just did that?" (they being the people at DC) and I was so inspired I wrote my own story called, "The Swamp Monster." It was what I submitted.

Looking back on it now, I think they would've accepted the hockey story anyway. Let's face it -- there wasn't a very high bar to clear. We were kids, and as long as it was coherent, I think it would've done the trick. I don't know if every story submitted by a child made the cut, but by virtue of having attended the workshop, we were all at least allowed to submit.

I don't remember how I found out that my story was one of the ones selected. I do remember that there was a book launch for it, and I dragged my parents to it. There was no way I was going to miss my literary debut! It was held in either a school gym or a hall, and it resembled a graduation ceremony in that the children all lined up in alphabetical order and went up the stage on the side. There we were greeted by a nun (who told me to "Keep writing!" and I told her I would), then we walked over to the center of the stage to get our author's copy and to pose for photographs, if there were any parents who wanted to memorialize the occasion (mine didn't).
The Special Guests were dancers, and not traditional Newfoundland dancers, either. They were Indian, and I remember it looked like something out of Bollywood (not that I would've known about Bollywood back then).

There was a little gathering after that, and I don't remember how long we stuck around. I do remember they had a stack of hardcovers on a table, and I really, really wanted one. Our contributor copies were nice, but they were softcover, and there were a limited number of hardcovers available -- to be purchased. But this was my literary debut, so of course I had to have one!

Unfortunately, my mother didn't see it that way. "You've got a book right there," she said, alluding to the copy I held in my hand. My mother couldn't understand why I would want her to pay money for something I'd just gotten for free, so I didn't get my hardcover.

Let's face it: there's no suspense here. I made the cut!

There are a couple of codas to this story. Once, either during or shortly after high school, I saw a paperback copy in the wild. It was on a shelf in either the Local or Canadian section of a used bookstore, and I was very tempted to buy it. I picked it up and saw that they were asking $3.00 for it.

Three bucks! What a rip-off! All the other used books were under a dollar! They were charging over three times what the book was worth! The crooks! I left it there on the shelf in disgust, so I guess I really am my mother's son.

Years pass. Hell, we might as well say decades since that's technically accurate. The Internet had since been invented and everyone was online now. Out of curiosity one night, I decided to see if I could locate a copy online. Not only was I successful, but I bought it. Money wasn't an issue any more -- having a backup took priority.

But every once in a while I'd think about that book, and when I would, I'd think about the hardcover. It was too bad that one had slipped through my fingers -- the odds of ever finding one again were probably infinitesimal.

The thing about the Internet, though, is that it's very big. That changes the odds somewhat, and on another idle attempt one night to see if there were any other copies floating around, I stumbled upon a bookstore that had a hardcover listed.

A hardcover! No dustjacket (I'm still not certain if the book ever had a dustjacket) but still...

Naturally, I ordered it. When it came, I was happy to have finally completed my mission, even if there was no dustcover attached. At long last, my search was over!

The hardcover! Without a dustjacket, it's not very impressive, is it?

Except not quite. Now that I had an extra paperback and a solitary hardcover, I should've been happy, right? Content in my acquisitions. And I was... but that didn't stop me from checking again, every so often, whenever the mood struck. I wasn't obsessive about it -- every couple of years or so, I'd remember my childhood victory and type the name of the book into a search engine to see what I could find -- and then, one day, it happened. Another hardcover appeared! Still without a dustjacket, but not that far away from me, relatively speaking.

It was in Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia is right next door to Newfoundland, so a copy ending up over there doesn't exactly stretch the imagination. I ordered it, and then I waited for it to arrive.

While I waited, I had a thought. All these years later, I still hadn't signed my original copy of the book (or any copy). My mother made us write our names on everything as kids, and there are comic books still in my possession that are ruined because of it. So I have an aversion to scribbling my signature in an otherwise perfectly acceptable copy of something to this day, and I wasn't going back and ruining my childhood copy. Besides, I wasn't that child anymore, so it'd be like a forgery. My adult signature is different than my childhood one, and if I wanted to replicate the experience, I'd have to mimic how I used to sign my name back then, which would also mean I'd have to find an example of my signature from those days.

But a hardcover -- ! I might be willing to do that. I mean, it'd still be me, right? I'm not exactly the same person, but it's still me. And now I'd have two copies. It was something to think about.

Eventually, the copy arrived. The no-longer-as-elusive hardcover (minus dustjacket -- if ever there was a dustjacket) showed up in a padded envelope, and when I opened it, this is what I saw:

Hover your mouse over the above rectangle for the big reveal!

Suddenly, a distant memory came back to me. There was a table at the center of the stage, and all the kids had to go sign a copy (only one?) of the book. It must have been a present to whoever organized the whole thing, or maybe there were a couple for the teachers who had volunteered at the workshops. Whatever the story, I can vaguely remember a little bit of a traffic jam at the table, and when it came time to sign my name, there I put it, front and center. 'C' is early in the alphabet, and as you can see in the photo, anyone whose last name started with a letter near the end didn't have a whole lot of room to get in their John Hancock.

I still wonder if there are any other signed copies out there, and wonder at the very fact that a signed copy exists, and by twelve year old me, at that. It's as if someone went back in time and arranged things so I could get my own signature. Without that used copy, I never would have remembered it. That's why it still feels like something is up, somehow. If you put it in a story, people wouldn't believe it, but it happened, so...

When the mood hits me, sometimes I still look for copies. I even found a library copy once that had turned up all the way in America, likely the result of downsizing at Memorial University. It must've ended up in a lot of books after that, which was then bought and sold to someone in the U.S..

There was even a review of the book in a local magazine. It was what you'd expect for a book written by children -- everyone got a pat on the head. And of course I kept it. My first review! I was a published author! The fact that I was twelve was irrelevant to me -- at that age, I saw my future occupation as inevitable.

Check out the bestsellers that week for comparison. And note the price of the hardcover. No wonder my mother didn't want to buy one!

Yes, I know that with forty other kids in the book, I wasn't exactly special. But it's still a fun story, and everybody has to start somewhere.

An ad for Harry Cuff books two years after my debut. Guess they still had some unsold copies!

I'm still at it today. There have been more misses than hits, but I keep swinging. I keep hoping to knock one out of the park one day, and if I live long enough, maybe I just might. I've been at this since I was eleven -- I'm not going to stop now!