Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oh, wait, that’s not my darling: Guest author Isaiah Campbell on the dreaded rewrite! + GIVEAWAY

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
October 14, 2014

Everyone, please welcome debut author, Isaiah Campbell. Today he'll be talking about his debut novel, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon, and what he went through to get it published. A great story of perseverance and turning a bunch of no's into a YES! Also, Isaiah, will be giving away a signed copy of The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. In order to enter, please leave a comment! Giveaway open until this Saturday at midnight. Winner will be chosen at random and announced next week!

Take it away, Isaiah!

When I was first revising the glorious nugget of golden literature we shall call from hence forth “My Book,” I had a few pieces of classic writing advice that I happily turned into my mantra: “Show-don’t-tell; enter-late-leave-early; Chekhov’s-gun; only-eat-one-M&M-per-twenty-words.” And the one bit of writing advice that I felt proudest to follow was this one: “Kill-your-darlings.” (Yes, in fact, I may have softened the adage’s blow by muttering “Exterminate” in my best Dalek voice every time I pressed the delete key)

And yet, even after slaughtering whole races of words, phrases, characters, and plot-points from My Book, I was sure that through the submission process, it would probably need more revision. My Book needed to be transformed inside the loving cocoon of a warm agent and a passionate editor so that it could be the monarch I had always dreamed. I imagined any further revisions would be of the “your/you’re/yore” variety, or simple factual errors, or the occasional “why-are-his-eyes-blue-here-when-they-were-brown-before?” frustrating little misses.

It’s almost quaint how naïve I was. Almost.

Now is probably the best time to bring up this detail: My Book was titled Johnny Cannon and the Bay of Guinea Pigs. It was about a half-alien cyborg twelve-year-old who was hand-picked by John F. Kennedy to join a team of super-powered pre-teenagers with the mission of eliminating communism from the world. Oh, and the communists had their own band of robot aliens fighting for them as well.

Yes, it was darling.

My Book had been on submission for nearly a year when my agent called with some bad news. Yet another editor had passed on the manuscript. (This wasn’t so surprising, actually. By my count, we had been in front of more editor’s eyes than the latest version of the Chicago Manual of Style) Unfortunately, this was an editor that she and I had maintained high hopes for. However, he had made a suggestion that, if I was willing to take it, would make him willing to look at My Book again. (The hope in my chest stirred at this, in spite of my best efforts to keep it dead. Dang that Zombie Hope)

“He says he thinks it would be better if you took out the robot aspect. And he likes the parts before JFK comes into the picture. After JFK appears, he says it feels like a completely different book.”

My stomach burrowed its way through my body and into the car seat. “But that’s the whole book!” I said. “If he doesn’t want my book, maybe I don’t want him.”

Unpublished authors have more integrity than any other artists in the world.  Oh, no, wait, that’s not integrity…

My agent, who is always in my corner, validated my feelings and assured me we didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. And so we went forth, my little darling intact.

It was three months and at least a dozen more rejections before I finally realized the truth about my little darling.

It wasn’t a little darling at all.

Instead, as I fought to defend it and worked day and night to keep it alive in spite of every indication that it ought to die, I began to recognize it for what it really was.

It was a little parasite. A little parasite that I’d grown to love.

And so it was that, over the course of six weeks, I went through the painful process of extracting the parasite from My Book. I took away the robotics. I took away the super-hero team. I even took away JFK.

And, once I’d bled and groaned and cried and questioned the universe and destiny, I was left with a book without a parasite. A book without a darling.

A darling of a book.

It only took a few weeks before the editor who had made that suggestion, David Gale at Simon & Schuster, informed my agent that he was ready to make an offer. On My Book 2.0: The Troubles of Johnny Cannon.

It’s pretty amazing how quickly the pain of parasite extraction can fade away.

Author Isaiah Campbell
About Isaiah:
Isaiah Campbell was born and bred in Texas, and spent his childhood reading a blend of Dickens, Dumas, and Stan Lee. He dreamed his whole life of becoming a writer. And also of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Unfortunately, only one dream has panned out. For fifteen years he taught and coached students in writing and the arts before he finally took his own advice and wrote The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, three children, and his sanity, although that may be moving out soon. He occasionally searches the classifieds for the bulk sale of spiders and uranium but hasn’t had any luck yet. Find him online at

Don't forget to comment and enter the giveaway! Feel like sharing the love? Feel free to share this post and get the word out about Isaiah's awesome new middle-grade read!


  1. This is such a FANTASTIC post. It comes at a time when I am considering eviscerating a beloved manuscript that has quite a number of intestinal parasites. Took a long time for me to accept that. Not sure what I'm going to have after I dig them out, but it might be time to try.

  2. I love Isaiah's sense of humor--and his story about the travails of being on submission. Great stuff!

  3. Rewrites are so tough, but soooo worth it! I've killed many, many little darlings! Good riddance to them all! Congrats, Isaiah! I know our agent is proud!!

  4. These are great words that people who want to write need to hear. Hell, anyone who wants to do anything should hear. Great article.

  5. Wow, what a story! To me, the most inspiring part was that it took you only six short weeks to turn your self-described parasitic novel into a DARLING. You must've been on fire! When it's right, it's right! Congratulations, Isaiah!

  6. Brilliant. Also, where in NM are you? I'm in Albuquerque.

  7. It is hard to see your book objectively. Must have been painful to change the entire novel but you now have a published book. Congrats.

  8. Holy crap! Preach! I've amputated and re-stitched more books than I can count and still haven't "made it." It's tough!

  9. Oh, man. An excellent analysis of a revision - ha! Congrats on your book!


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