I’m checking a last few things and putting papers into an envelope when the dog wakes up from her nap. “Hey,” she says, stretching, “What’re you doing?”
“I’m getting ready to mail this,” I say.
“What is it?”
“Several copies of a book contract that I just signed.”
“It’s a book about me, right?” she says, wagging her tail hopefully. “Because I’m the best.”
“Well, sort of. It’s a popular science book, based on our conversations about physics.”
“That’s a good idea, too.”
“Well, some people obviously think so, because they’re going to pay me to write it.”
“How much are you getting?”
“Well…” I bend down, and whisper a number in her ear.
“I kid you not.”
“That’s…” her brow furrows, as she does unit conversions. “That’s lots and lots… and lots.” Math is not her strong suit.
“It’s true,” I say.
“I’ll take my half in steak!” she says, wagging her tail enthusiastically.
“My half of the money. You can give it to me as steak.”
“What makes you think you’re getting half of the money?”
“Well, I’m half of the conversation, I should get half of the money.”
“Uh-huh.” I say. She wags her tail really hard, and tries to look extra cute. “I don’t think so. You may get half of the dialogue, but I’m doing all of the typing. I think I’ll be keeping most of the money.”
“I will get some steak, though, right?” She looks a little worried.
“I’m not promising steak, but you’ll get something, yes.”
“Oh, good. Because I like stuff.”
“Yes, I know.” I seal the envelope, and stand up. “How about we walk over to the mailbox, and send this out?”
“Ooooh! Good plan!” She goes tearing off for the back door, nails clattering on the linoleum in the kitchen.
A while back, I saw Walter Mosley speak on campus, and somebody asked him how to get into writing. He started his reply by saying that the absolute worst people in the world to ask about the business of writing are writers, because they all got into the field by some ridiculously improbable path that would never work if you tried it deliberately.
Now, I’ve got one of those stories.
Back in May, I wrote a post in which I discussed the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics with my dog, because I was in a silly mood. It got picked up by Making Light, and Boing Boing, and then Digg, and Metafilter, and about a quarter of the LiveJournals in the world, I think. I got a whole bunch of comments, and a bunch more emails.
One of the emails was from someone at a talent agency, saying “This was great, we should talk.” I laughed a bit, and forwaded it to Kate, but when he emailed a second time, I agreed to talk to him on the phone. He suggested that it would be a good book, but I was skeptical that the conceit could be stretched all that far. Because, really, how many different things in quantum mechanics can you discuss with a dog?
I agreed to talk to a literary agent about it, though, so he set up a conference call. Two things happened between the first discussion and the conference call: first, I thought of another half-dozen topics for doggie physics dialogues, and second, I emailed Patrick Nielsen Hayden to ask if he’d heard of the agency. When I mentioned that they thought the dog dialogues would make a good book, he wrote back “that’s a _great_ idea for a book. Believe it.” Given that he’s forgotten more about the business of publishing than I ever knew, that did a lot to convince me that the idea had potential.
So, having acquired an agent, I put together a formal proposal, and sent it off. And Scribner bought the idea, for an eye-popping amount of money.
So, now, I find myself signing a contract to provide approximately 40,000 words of “a smart and humorous work of non-fiction that explains the basic principles of quantum physics in language that even our dogs would understand” (that’s verbatim from the contract), tentatively titled How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. My life is really very odd, but in a good way.
(Do I need to state explicitly that setting out to break into publishing by reproducing this path would be completely deranged?)
Anyway, the basic concept is that the book will consist of 10-12 chapters, each containing a dog dialogue similar to those already posted here, in which Emmy latches onto some idea from quantum physics as a means of catching squirrels or bunnies, or just obtaining more treats for herself, and I explain how the physics really works. That will be followed by a more detailed explanation of the physics, along the lines of the explanatory posts I write here, with a sort of canine spin– dog-themed examples and metaphors and so on.
I’ve got solid ideas for 11 quantum physics concepts so far, and dialogue written for a bunch of those. Of course, the dog dialogue is the easy part– writing out the pop-level physics explanations and making them smart and humorous will be the hard part. Which is why I’m keeping most of the
steak money for myself.
I’ve got about a year in which to produce this, and 6-8 months after that, it should appear in bookstores. Of course, I also have a day job, but happily, I’m on sabbatical this fall, and not teaching, which will free up a bit of time. Between the lab work that I need to get done, and writing the book, though, there may be a significant reduction in blogging around here in the near future. Or, I may start taping meat products to things and posting pictures in a deranged procrastinatory blitz.
Stay tuned to find out.