If the autograph is a barometer for an artist's success, you could say the use of a rubber stamp is a turning point. Patrick Carman used to sign all of his autographs by hand. They read sort of like...
WALLA WALLA — If the autograph is a barometer for an artist’s success, you could say the use of a rubber stamp is a turning point.
Patrick Carman used to sign all of his autographs by hand. They read sort of like a letter.
Kids in line at the Walla Walla author’s book signings would be treated to a note that started: “Welcome to the Land of Elyon,” followed by a personal message usually based on the two or three minutes of preceding conversation.
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That was when only 3,000 copies of his paperback fantasy “The Dark Hills Divide” existed. Before second and third reprints and introductions to an estimated 20,000 kids. Before buzz about the youth fiction book — the first in the Land of Elyon trilogy — seized the attention of the world’s largest children’s book publishing company.
On the verge of an unprecedented, nationwide tour that will take him from Seattle to New York in an RV with his wife and two daughters, Carman plans to go the way of the rubber stamp to help with the tedious autograph signing.
The interaction with children that helped launch him as a regionally recognized author will remain authentic.
Scholastic, which signed Carman to a six-figure deal reportedly worth between $200,000 and $350,000 for the trilogy, is throwing its weight behind the upcoming tour.
Jeremy Gonzalez, Carman’s publicist and a Walla Wallan, said the company is running an unheard of number of books for a first-time author, at least 100,000 copies for retail sales in addition to about 300,000 for the school markets where Scholastic puts on book fairs.
The unveiling will presumably open the doors to Carman’s career as an author on a nationwide level and help answer the question everyone from newspaper reporters to the book’s publishers have been dying to know: Is Carman the next J.K. Rowling?
Sitting across from the family Christmas tree two weeks before the rerelease, Carman was flattered but skeptical about comparisons to the Harry Potter creator.
He said, as if talking about a career installing dishwashers: “How famous do authors really get anyway?
“It would be really easy to get caught up in all that. Being compared is a privilege and an honor. But I don’t believe all that stuff.”
What excites Carman the most is the opportunity to bring his family along for the journey. Most authors, he said, end up going on the road two to three weeks at a time while they promote their books. Carman and his wife, Karen, thought the separation and instability would cause the family some anxiety. So they approached Scholastic about touring in a different way. The parents will drive a 39-foot RV, stopping at elementary schools and book stores in 21 cities. By the time it’s over, Carman expects he will have interacted with 100,000 kids throughout the whole process.
Carman’s wife and kids will be along for three months of the four-month tour, then fly home. Daughters, Sierra, 9, and Reece, 7, will be home-schooled by their mom during the first part of the day. The rest of the time will be spent seeing the sights of the country as an educational experience.
“For the kids, every single city we hit will be new except Portland,” Karen said.
Stocked with a fireplace and television set, the RV has many of the comforts of home, except for space. The girls plan to stay occupied chronicling the trip as kid reporters for Scholastic.
The girls were, after all, inspiration for the original book. “The Dark Hills Divide” was based on a bedtime story Carman made up for his kids.
Over a period of time, his nighttime saga had become so intricately woven he started writing things down: character sketches, maps, chronology.
Carman admits he was never really much of a fantasy-book fan to begin with. His favorites are classics and adult fiction. In preparation for the trip, he recently reread John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
“We’re going on the road,” he said. “I’ve got these visions of that old rickety mattress.”
But Karen loves children’s books. And Carman says when he writes, it’s really for her and the girls.
What he ended up with in his first try as an author was a classic good-versus-evil tale spun for kids between 9 and 12. The most notable difference between his story and those of his contemporaries was the main character, a strong female role model of 12 years old.
That and the fact that Carman was able to sell more than 10,000 copies on his own with a $25,000 investment in the product, visit 70 schools and hold 25 book-signing events throughout the state impressed Scholastic.
But as the use of rubber stamps hints at the popularity of an autograph, another tool of popular culture also gives a clue of what may lie ahead.
Carman’s book was spotted on eBay. Price tag: $200.
“We just want to do Walla Walla proud,” he said. “And we want to stay close as a family. I’m not counting on getting famous.”