Brian Eames '88 and "The Dagger Quick"
Brian Eames '88 has a debut novel coming out in May: The Dagger Quick, published by Simon & Schuster. It is a historical swashbuckler for ages 9-13, teeming with pirates and rogues from the 17th century Caribbean. The following is an interview with Brian:
Please tell us the name and subject matter of your book.
The following is copied from the book jacket:
Inside this book awaits a world of heroes, villains, courage and cowardice. Twelve-year-old Christopher Quick, known as Kitto, is cursed with a club foot and a life of hard work as an apprentice to his father in 17th century England. Suddenly his father is mercilessly murdered and his fate is forever changed.
In a moment everything that Kitto ever knew about right and wrong, good and evil, is in question. Left with only the dagger his father gave him and his own inner resolve, he embarks on a journey in which he will find not only his notorious uncle William Quick, a Jamaican pirate, but also his manhood.
So begins his tale of the terrors and thrills of the high seas that will take you from the Caribbean to Cape Verde and beyond. Brian Eames’s first novel is a classical adventure story as surprising as it is satisfying, as tender as it is thrilling.
What inspired you to write a children's book and this particular subject line?
I have taught upper elementary students for nearly 15 years now, so I have read my share of great literature for kids. And in some way or another, I have always been a writer. Pirate history drips with bravado and intrigue and swordfights--who doesn't like all that?--so some years ago when I decided to write a book, it was a natural subject to turn to. I had been reading about Henry Morgan's incredible exploits at the time. He was an amazing individual: ruthless, bold, charismatic and ridiculously lucky. Dreaming up a plot, I was keen to learn about his most famous raid on the Spanish city of Panama in the New World. When the buccaneers accompanying Morgan sacked Panama in 1672 but left with little plunder, rumors circulated that Morgan had secreted treasure away somehow for himself. I decided to tie my story into that rumor, turning the lost treasure in question into the spice nutmeg, which held amazing value at that time. The rest fell into place piece by piece.
How long have you been writing? How did your experience as a student at Paideia influence your writing?
Then about five years ago I read a book--Close to the Wind, by Pete Goss--which is ostensibly about sailing around the world in a solo race, but is really about choosing a goal and pursuing it like a juggernaut. By the time I finished the book, the idea of writing for kids had taken hold of me.
How long did it take you to write the book? How do you find the time to write with teaching full time and parenting three small boys? Did you children or students have any influence on the finished product?
I have three boys and teach 5th and 6th graders at Paideia, so finding the time to write has always been hard. Mostly I get up very early--about 4:30 a.m.--and stand in my cold kitchen with hot coffee, tapping away at the keys of my laptop in monk-like silence while everyone sleeps. I read somewhere that Hemingway always wrote standing up, so I figured I would imitate him and hope for similar results. I'm doubtful about the latter part, but it has kept me from dozing off. Once the drafting process was done, endless revisions followed. Some years I read the story to my students. Their comments and enthusiasm--or lack of it at times--has helped me to know where to keep working. The final product is certainly better because I was a teacher at Paideia and had an eager audience at my disposal.
All toll, the book took about two years to write, but that turned out not to be the hardest part. After some of my early readers--like Natalie Bernstein, Paideia librarian--gave me rave reviews, I tried to get an agent. That was nearly impossible. Mostly I would submit selections of the work, wring my hands and wait. Months later form letter after form letter would arrive in my mail box, informing me that no one was interested. After more than a year of rejections I had given up hope, but then an agent Greg Changnon (Junior High teacher) connected me with called back after having already declined on the manuscript six months earlier. [Easily one of the best phone calls of my life.] In a matter of days I was signing a contract. Once agented, I revised yet again, and soon my agent, Carolyn Jenks, found a home for the manuscript with Simon & Schuster.
The whole process leaves me feeling incredibly lucky. There are gobs of writers out there who would kill to be in my shoes but have never stumbled upon just the right agent or publisher at just the right time. I don't have the slightest confidence that my manuscript was any better than some that never make it off the "slush pile." I just happened to get a good read, probably by someone who likes pirates, too. I love the story and am grateful that someone else did too.
How are Simon & Shuster and/or your agent marketing "The Dagger Quick"
The book is coming out May 10. My efforts these days--as well as those of my agent and editor--are in getting the word out and begging folks to preorder. Simon & Schuster publishes hundreds of books every year, and if you are not Stephen King, you might not garner the promotional support that creates a bestseller. That is what I am working on now, through a website, on Facebook and Twitter, word of mouth, etc.
My editor at Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman, submitted The Dagger Quick recently to the Junior Library Guild, a private organization that supplies books to libraries all over the country. They choose for their collection a fraction of the books submitted to them by publishers across the country. They liked the book and have placed an order for over 4000 copies.
Paideia will host a release party May 24 at the school. I hope to see lots of you folks there.