Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How I got here, Part 4: Michael Phipps

Cedar Fort had realized that sales were pretty good DESPITE covers that didn't really shout to kids and parents that, Hey! This here book is a little sumthin-sumthin for people who like that fantasy sorta stuff! Imagine, they told me, if the books actually had cool covers! (I just used three exclamation points in one paragraph. Please never do that, or I vill be forced to cut off zah fing-ah.)

Cedar Fort wanted to revamp and redo the whole series. The plan was to release the fourth and final book in the series with a whole new look, then announce that the first three books would be re-released with new covers and artwork in the coming months. Looking back, I think we would all agree that it was a mistake to do it this way. They should have re-released the first three books first, then have the last book come out. But I guess there are worst things than a publisher wanting to hurry and get your book on the shelves.

The search for an artist began, and luckily they asked me to help. I recommended one guy that I really liked, but that didn't work out so well. He pulled out around crunch time because he had too many bigger projects from his agent. This was a bad thing because Cedar Fort had been counting on him, and there wasn't much time left. They called me one day, a little desperate, asking if I knew anyone else. They'd been looking, but couldn't find someone they felt good about.

Well, call what happened next whatever you want. But to call it a coincidence would be pushing it.

I had just been transferred to a different location at work. The week I started was the LAST week of a certain guy leaving for a new job. Talk about a small window of opportunity. When I told some new coworkers about my book stuff, and the dilemma of trying to find the right artist, they nonchalantly told me about a dude who worked the vending machines in the building. Apparently, this guy was really awesome with a little thing called art. You better hurry, they said, this is his last week.

I won't bore you with any more of the details. This guy's name was Michael Phipps, and he and I are now good friends. Oh, and he also painted awesome covers for all 4 of my books and did inside illustrations as well (see examples above). I absolutely love what he did, and I think I still owe him one of my children for doing so. You have to check out Michael's website---he's now a full time artist and well on his way to fame and stardom. (By the way, the cover for Book 2, A GIFT OF ICE, won some kind of fancy-schmancy artist award.)

You can also see all 4 of the new covers at my website: http://www.jamesdashner.com/

And so it was that the fourth and final book, WAR OF THE BLACK CURTAIN, came out in August of 2005, sans any photograph of the poor little stranger kid who was supposed to be Jimmy Fincher. The new and improved version of A DOOR IN THE WOODS came out later that fall, then the other two came out in the spring of 2006. Now, this created a really awkward time when some of the books had the old covers and some of them had the new covers; but in the end, it was all hunky dory and glorious.

Sales took off. Again, relatively speaking, here. We're not talking Harry Potter numbers here. We're not even talking Lemony Snicket numbers. Or Eragon. Or Artemis Fowl. Or . . . okay, you get the point. No need to sit here and make me feel bad. I was with a very small publisher with no real good way to get the word out. But for them, my sales were wonderful, and the books are still selling to this day, growing inch by inch across the country. (They may be in Costco stores soon!)

Then I remembered that I had a disease. You know, the Imneversatisfiedandwanttobemoresuccessful Disease. I was very, very happy with Jimmy Fincher and its success, but it only got me more excited to seek bigger and better things. I had a million ideas for new books. In fact, as much as I love Mr. Fincher, I was sick to death of writing about him. I wanted to move on. I wanted to write new stories, new books. And I did.

But none of that writing business had anything to do with the next steps in my career. I mean, I'm only an author for crying out loud. No, my career took its next few turns because of three people, two of whom I met in person, the other via a letter and a phone call.

Their names were Jenny Rappaport, Lisa Mangum and Chris Schoebinger. (Actually, those are still their names, but the word "were" seemed appropriate there, so leave me alone.)

(to be continued)


Tristi Pinkston said...

I love these illustrations. I think that small window was one of those meant-to-be things.

Heather Moore said...

So was the illustrator working on other stuff, or were your books his first professional job?

James Dashner said...

He had done other stuff like album covers, posters for events, etc. He studied art in college and has fully intended to be a full time artist from day one. I think it was last year he took the leap.

I can only hope my books helped him a teensy weensy bit, at least to build his portfolio.

He's a stud. Get this: his favorite band is "Yes". He's like obsessed with them. When I mentioned that I liked the song "Owner of a Lonely Heart" he almost had a seizure, telling me I was an idiot because that was their worst song ever.

Again, he's a stud.

Shaunda said...

have totally enjoyed reading through your blog, tho I read it backward (from end to beginning of story)-- as I do everything else -- magazines, novels, short stories -- so it should come as no surprise -- worse, or better -- it still made sense. Maybe the blog world is the place for me ... but I do have a question - how did you get so many school visits and bookstore events? i'm amazed. not only that, but newspaper coverage? because I remember reading about your visits when you came up to Logan. Thanks!
s wenger

James Dashner said...

Shaunda, thanks for the compliment. If you read the blog backwards, that means you're weird, and that means I like you.

Thanks for the question. It's a really good one, and I think I'll save it for its own post in the next week or so.

(Ya know, with TiVo and DVRs, you can now easily watch TV backwards, too.)

Anonymous said...

Would it be rude of me to ask for the original two books back from Adam's half sister? They had the original artwork and well, they may be worth something one day! Ha!

So brother, even though we discussed this already (I uh, forgot a lot of the details)...What would you suggest to someone (like me) who wants to write, but isn't confident in their writing skills..or grammar skills. Where do you start?

James Dashner said...

Another excellent question from my own kin. Sis, I will answer that one in its own post, too.

By the way, my sis has insisted that my blog is embarrassing in its boring look. She's going to implement a new template, which frightens me greatly.

Anonymous said...

I never said it was embarassing rofl! Just wanted you to be a bit more...professional :) Love ya bro!

Luisa Perkins said...

So I guess Phipps is the guy who painted that yarn! ;)

Fantastic illustrations.

I'm also a huge Yes fan. And "Owner of a Lonely Heart" IS their worst song of all time.

Michael Phipps said...

Now, now James. I don't recall exactly calling you an idiot, but if that's the impression I left you with after the occasion, well...

...you DID deserve it.

Seriously, though. Working with James was an incredible experience. We became instant friends and the opportunity sure did seem like one of those "meant-to-be" things, as Tristi said.

James is right, I had done other jobs before, but the Fincher covers were my first books. I've now done another book cover (among other things- I've been full time for over a year now). I'll probably do a post with the said cover in my blog during the next week.

Let me leave by reciprocating James' comment- HE's the stud.

Julie Belnap said...


Rich: Now, Now Jules, you need to relax. You haven't even seen all of his children...
Me: So? I've seen the cute littleish one! Isn't that enough?

That was me arguing lamely with my character. I like the covers.