The Story Behind Summer on Earth by Peter Thompson


I’ve always been a reader, but I first started writing in my thirties, and it all started as a joke. I was out with my three brothers when my youngest brother, Dan, announced that he was going to write a kid’s book. He already had the title picked out – A Monkey for Cousin Larry. That sounded kind of funny, and we asked what it was going to be about. He hadn’t thought that far ahead, he said, but maybe it would have something to do with a monkey being up in a tree and throwing bananas, or something like that.

A few months later, my brothers and I were at a family get together, and one of us asked Dan how his book was going. He still hadn’t started it, but with a great title like that, he didn’t think it would be hard at all to write it. After hearing this several more times over the next months, my brother Greg and I decided we would “help” Dan (it’s a brother thing), by writing our own versions of the book. So, Greg and I started writing stories, each titled A Monkey for Cousin Larry, and sending them to Dan in the mail. We came up with a couple of dozen stories all together. One was a children’s story, but we also wrote mystery, horror, a poem, a romance, and one that read pretty much like Google directions. Dan didn’t appreciate our help, and he never got around to writing the story. But we had a great time with this joke, and I realized that I really enjoyed writing.

After that I tried my hand at some other short stories, I wrote a few screenplays, and then I had an idea for a novel, a thriller. I joined a writer’s group and started writing. At the time, I had a young family and my wife was ill. Writing became my stress reliever and escape. I wrote early in the morning and stayed up late writing after everyone else went to bed. I had completely stopped watching TV, because getting this story out was so much more interesting. Every week I would go to my writer’s group and learn about writing by reading other writer’s work, and having them read mine. I knew I had something by the reaction I got from my readers each week. They were hooked on the story and wanted to hear more.

It took me about a year and a half to finish the novel, now called Living Proof,  and another 6 months to find an agent. In my first conversation with my new agent, he told me who he saw playing the lead in the movie (Antonio Banderas), and said that this was going to be HUGE. At this point I started to fantasize about my new life as a bestselling author, but it didn’t work out that way. My agent put the book up for auction, but nobody came. The book did eventually sell to an imprint of Penguin-Putnam, as a mass market paperback. It sold 40,000 copies, I got some good reviews and won an award at a mystery conference. But once the print run was gone, they had already moved on to the next title.

By now, my life had changed in a big way and I was a single dad. Besides working a fulltime job, I was also a cook, chauffeur, tutor and counselor to my 3 boys, then aged 8, 10 and 14. I still dreamed of making it as an author, and I did continue to write, but it wasn’t my focus. For the next several years, I started new books regularly, and inevitably ended them after hitting a brick wall of one kind or another. I liked parts of each, but couldn’t make a novel where it all fit together as a satisfying whole. Life was busy, and I wrote less and less.

Then I was looking through some old notebooks, and saw an idea I had written down years ago, and promptly forgotten about. It was very different from what I had been writing. This story idea was about an alien, an extraterrestrial, who is forced to earth to fix his broken craft, and lands on an out of the way farm, where he takes on human form and gets to know a young boy and his family. He tries to help them with their financial troubles by using his technology to create a money tree, which then causes a new set of problems for the family.

Reading my notes from so long ago triggered something. The whole story came to me nearly at once, and I had a sense of the main characters right away – Grady, an 11-year-old boy who had recently lost his father, and Ralwil (Will), an alien engineer trying to get back home. I started writing and came up with most of the novel in about six months. I liked what I had. It was funny, and touching and the emotions seemed real. But like so many times before, I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out the ending. I put it away and didn’t look at it again for well over a year. When I finally picked it back up, I knew where I was going, and finished the book a few months later.

I would be stretching the truth if I said it was a downhill run after that. I’ve re-written the story several times since then, making it stronger in the process. It took a while to get the right agent, and it took her a while longer to find my publisher. This hasn’t been fast and it hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding. It’s exciting to see this story, which means so much to me, now out and available for readers to read. I’m looking forward to the next stage in my writing journey.

About the Author

Peter Thompson grew up in Illinois, and lives near Chicago. He remembers how excited he was when the first astronaut stepped on to the moon. He has had an appreciation of space, and all its possibilities ever since. His love of children’s books developed while reading to his three sons. His first novel, Living Proof, was a thriller published by Berkeley Books. Summer on Earth is his first book for younger readers. It will be released in August of this year.

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