And you're still going.
Well, yeah. I've got a new book of essays and stories coming along. I guess that's what I do. I tell stories and I ask about stories and lay them down. It's okay. I'm 73 this year and I can't see stopping or quitting or retiring. It's too exciting.
Good for you! Over the last twenty years, you've written eight best-sellers. You have millions of books in print in dozens of languages. Third Wish is your first novel. It was initially published in Czech, Hungarian and Slovak, I understand. It's only now coming out in English. That's a tad unconventional. Why did you do it that way?
Well, you dance with them that ask you to dance. And for God knows what reasons, my books were extremely well-received in the Czech Republic. When I started writing this novel, I never thought that I would publish it actually. It started out as an adventure of my own. And my publisher in New York put me in a box and said, "You're a non-fiction essayist, inspirational writer and if you try to write novels, we'd have to reposition you. Please don't do that."
So much for spontaneity!
Yes, well, that says something about the shape of American fiction and American publishing, but that's another story. And so my editor in Prague wanted to know what I was up to. And I said, "I've just been working on this novel." So she said, "Send it to me. I'd like to read it." I sent it. She said, "Edit it, revise it and we'll publish it." And I said, "You've got to be kidding. You're out of your mind. No, this is very complicated. It's got illustrations and music in it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And she said, "We're going to do it." And so I said, "I think you're crazy. But, here's what I'll do."
And I swear to God, this is the truth. It's on my wall in my office in Seattle. The entire contract to do that book said, "Publish my book, the novel, well. And if you make some money, send me some." And they said they would. And that was the whole arrangement.
Now, you've probably seen the contracts that an American publisher will put out. They're like telephone books. So, one line, in Czech! I always say that the reason my books have always done so well in the Czech Republic is because my translator is a hell of a better writer than I am! A wonderful guy whom I've gotten to know very, very well. So, they published it. And it was a best-seller for months and months in the Czech Republic and they got it. An American publisher, whose name I won't come up with, said to me, "Why did you want to do that? What do they know about literature?" And I said, "They were publishing books when we were still eating dirt in the trees here. Come on!" So, that says something else about our attitude.
The American publisher said, "Well, we'll have to completely revise this." And I said "No, no. You don't understand. It's been published. You can take it or leave it.\ But you don't revise somebody else's because you've got a better idea. You wouldn't think of them doing it the other way." So, anyhow, now the next phase of this novel, which is very interesting. American publishers didn't want to touch it - too big, too complex. Czechs had no problem with it. Americans' attention span is too short, la la la. Every excuse you can imagine not to do it. And then, I happened to come along in the time when Amazon was trying to really push its Kindle. And so Amazon agreed to take the novel and, as an exclusive, to publicize and sell it. But also, to put it as premium on its Kindle because it has music and has illustrations.
And so, instead of having to go through all that jazz in New York, they took it as published and there it is. It hasn't had the success here yet. Although I think something will happen to it over time. The new novel that I just finished which is only 188 pages has characters in it from the former novel. If you haven't read the Third Wish, the big one, then it'll stand alone. But if you've read it, you'll realize that it all hooks back to that. And then it becomes a richer experience. We'll see. But I wrote it because I believed in what I was doing and if it never sold, I was quite content to have one "book in a box." There's a picture on my website of the first novel which is just a whole bunch of pages in a box.
What you want in life is to have adventure. And what you want is to grow and be richer and wider and deeper as it gets shorter. And the novel, the Third Wish, really made that for me. It was a great adventure. And, if it didn't work out, well, we all go off in wrong directions. We'll see.
Let's pause here. When we return, Robert will talk with us about recording his books, his semi-nomadic life and more. I hope you'll join us.
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