Sylvain Neuvel was watching a show with his then-toddler when he got the idea for his first novel Sleeping Giants. His foray into the publishing world was a whirlwind journey that resulted in selling movie rights to the sci-fi thriller as well as securing a three-book deal.
“I’d been writing all my life in one form or another. It began with poetry contests when I was 10 years old and I’ve been at it ever since,” said the 43-year-old native of L’Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec. “The idea for this novel started when I asked my son if he wanted me to build him a toy robot, and he started asking me a bunch of questions like, ‘What does it do? and ‘Where is it from?’ He wanted a toy with a back story.”
A week later while watching TV with his son, he started thinking about building a robot and if it happened in real life. “My first thought was, we wouldn’t know about it. Only a handful of people would know what is going on, and so I decided to tell the story.”
Neuvel, who dropped out of high school as a teenager but later earned a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Chicago, started penning a novel that begins with an 11-year-old girl who falls through the earth and wakes up in the palm of a giant hand. “It’s about mankind coming to terms with the fact that we’re not alone in the universe, and whether that discovery will bring us together or tear us apart,” he explained.
Once he was a third of the way into the book, he began sending query letters to more than 50 literary agents in an attempt to get it published through traditional publishing houses, however, they all turned him down. “I decided to self publish and got an insanely good review on an American website — if I’d written it myself it wouldn’t have been that great — and, that same day, I got an email from a movie producer... and then another and another, and they all wanted to read my book,” Neuvel said.
He was put in touch with a movie agent in Los Angeles, who then got him a book agent in New York. “A few weeks later we sold the movie rights to Sony, and then the book agent pitched the book and we got interest from a bunch of publishing houses and chose Del Rey, a division of Random House.”
Neuvel signed a multi-book contract and his first title was published in 14 languages. “I wrote book two and will start working on book three,” he said.
He’s still working full-time as a translator as well as keeps busy with his parental duties at his home in Pointe-St. Charles.
Neuvel’s debut novel continues to garner praise. “Thus far, the reaction has been absolutely amazing,” he continued. “I couldn’t have dreamt it better. Leading up to publication we had amazing reviews in the Wall Street Journal, and NPR did a fantastic review recently. It has been received in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”