Now that Poptropica: The Lost Expedition is finally out -- and I'll only spam you with one more link to buy it -- I've realized something. See, I've never been a dreamer or even especially ambitious. I have always wanted to write a book, and to see it on the shelves at a bookstore, but that desire was filed alongside other hazily defined ones like "visit Hawaii" and "own a Scrooge McDuck-style money bin."
Yesterday I went to my local Barnes and Noble, and there it was: about ten copies, cover facing out, alongside several other gleaming new volumes. My book. A dream come true. Knowing how much work went into it, the setbacks, the backs and forths, it didn't feel as much like encountering a unicorn as I had thought it might. More like a relief that I hadn't hallucinated the past year and a half.
About that realization. I've always griped about the speeches that celebrities give when they win an award. "Why don't they use the opportunity to say something?" I'd wonder. "They're just rattling off a list of names of people nobody cares about."
Now I get it. The work is the opportunity to say something. The list of names is the acknowledgment that nothing is accomplished alone. If Joe Schmoe watching at home doesn't care about those people, the person tearfully clutching the statuette is overwhelmed by gratitude. They don't want to pass up the chance to mention, however briefly, the legions of other people whose efforts undergirded their own.
That's why, after four paragraphs about myself, I would also like to acknowledge and thank some of the people who helped make the book a reality. It's a long list, and incomplete.
Without Jeff Kinney and Jess Brallier, Poptropica wouldn't exist. It wouldn't have become a worldwide hit, and it wouldn't have kept me employed for like the past nine years. Their faith in the product and its potential, and in the ability of a low-level employee to contribute meaningfully to its success, is a debt I will never be able to repay. Both of these men have been incredibly generous to me over the years with their time and tutelage.
Kory Merritt is an unbelievably talented illustrator and the genius at work on this series. As a novice graphic novelist, I can't tell you what a relief it was to know that Kory would be the one putting picture to word. Sometimes when I was stuck or unsure of how to pay off a joke, I'd put something like "Jorge makes a funny face!" with the confidence that Kory would make it work. And he always did.
At Abrams, Orlando Dos Reis was an attentive and diligent editor. He helped to shape the manuscript in ways both large and small, striking the delicate balance of preserving the authorial vision while also tactfully suggesting ways in which the author could be less of a dunce. Which happened occasionally.
I've been fortunate to have many great teachers throughout my life, from K-12 public schools to college. I'll risk forgetting some of them to name a few in particular: Heidi Finnegan, my eighth grade English teacher and twelfth grade independent study advisor, was the teacher in whose class my love of writing took root. It was there that I realized writing might be a viable path for me to follow -- and so I have. The book is dedicated to her for that reason.
Emerson College may have been ludicrously expensive, but I still got a hell of an education there. Steve Almond and Rick Reiken were two phenomenal teachers of the art of fiction despite being light years apart in approach and temperament. Bill Donoghue was a literature professor whose enthusiasm and knowledge kept me signing up for class after class, even though it took me until the final paper of my final course with him to get an A. Richard Hoffman was both a teacher and a writer of profound empathy and insight, who taught me most of all about the value of what writers do.
Of course it all started with my parents. We were a family of readers. We had books in every room of the house, and we never had enough. My mom shuttled her three kids back and forth between home and the library every two weeks, lugging tote bags brimming with borrowed books each way. Every trip, we took out so many books that my mom wrote down all the titles in a spiral-bound notebook to keep track of them. When they were due, she sent us scavenging around the house, crossing off each entry as the books were added to the bags. Sometimes they were hard to find. They ended up in some weird places.
As for my family, I wouldn't know where to start. My wife Molly is unfailingly supportive and has saved my life more than once, in more ways than one. My kids can drive me nuts, but they've also given me the moments of greatest joy I've ever experienced, and a reason to be my best self. I still might have written a book without them, but I'm not sure why I'd have bothered.
So there. I still have some grand thoughts on the human condition, but those are in the book.