Friday, July 31, 2009

to the edge

“We were doing something we weren’t supposed to do. We were playing on the roof. He fell off and broke his neck.”

Tommy spit again.

“I played on roofs before. Don’t all boys do that?”

-- From Ghost Medicine

Well, a couple days ago I said something about how boys are risk-takers by nature, and they appreciate that element in the books they read, too. At least, if you're planning on drawing boys (especially reluctant ones) into the read, going toward the edge is frequently necessary. Because all boys do play on roofs, and build forts and have dirt-clod wars, and shoot birds with slingshots. That's just how it goes... and that's why I said the other day that older boys enjoy reading about things that can sometimes make adults feel uncomfortable.

They like the edge.

The thing is, though, that if you're a writer and you start laying out a story that goes toward the edge, you can make some critical mistakes and lose your reader and not even know it's happening.

Here's why:

I'm going to start the explanation with another quote, this one from Pablo Picasso: "Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art."

I love that quote. So, the first big mistake I'm talking about is starting off like you're heading toward the edge and then holding back, and doing it in an obvious way that ignores or diminishes essential human characteristics of the readers you hope to reach and the characters you create. Now, I'm not talking about a no-holds-barred, see-how-offensive-you-can-make-your-prose mentality here, but something that skirts honesty is, well... sucky.

Because teenage boys know what's going on... and they know what you're supposed to be saying when, in fact, you're avoiding it. Parents: take a clue. This is a HUGE mistake in communicating with your teens, so why would an author employ the same saccharine method in constructing his work?

Second big mistake of those who would steer toward the edge: the flawless protagonist. I've said before that one of the reasons I like writing novels with young characters is that readers are far more tolerant, forgiving, of flaws and misjudgments from young characters than they are with adult protagonists. Having a protagonist who shows occasional frailties and makes incorrect choices, at least for me, draws me into empathy with the "hero" of the narrative, because I, as a reader, can identify with personal flaws.

Well, I certainly had enough of them when I was growing up. Still do.

And, definitely, all the characters in my books make mistakes... even the characters you're supposed to be rooting for the most.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of "edgy" YA books out there that make those two big mistakes: first, holding back on getting near the essential risk-taking and, in doing so, failing to honestly present the "holistic" experience of the age group; and, second, expecting readers to fully empathize with and root for a robotic protagonist who doesn't have any chinks in his armor. You know... the kind of kid you'd want to beat up if you were in school with him.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the method

In the past week or so, a couple friends have posted bits on their blogs about method, so I thought, since I am at the beginning of writing another novel (number six), that I'd add a bit about the process I go through.

I've written before about outlines, and how I don't use them. When I write a book, I usually begin with a question: What if... and I go from there. Then, I'll think about that question and how it might bounce around against the lives of different characters.

For me, character and voice are probably the most important elements in a novel, and I suppose I'll spend some time in the future blogging about these. But for now, I'll just say that all of my characters have a lot to do with my own life, and maybe that's what contributes most effectively to their believability.

So, after I have that question and my characters worked out in my head, I'll sit down and write out the first pages of the book... maybe around ten or so. Then I'll stop for a while. Once I have that beginning, the general question, and my players, I'll just let it sit in my head for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. During that time, I will frequently get ideas or visions about the story, and I may jot them down or add them to the file -- just hanging out there like icebergs with no referents that anyone but I can understand. Very frequently, since I can't control when these icebergs will come floating along, I will take my phone out and email them to myself so I don't forget them.

I get a lot of weird emails like that.

But I think I email myself more than anyone else.

Finally, when I'm ready to go (usually this is because I get frustrated after a while just drifting along among all these icebergs), I'll sit down and start the real writing. When this happens, I get pretty manic about my work because I'll actually project a completion date in my mind and I always stick to it.

In about 2 months, I'll have a finished and ready-to-submit manuscript... but I work hard and long hours to do that. The last couple of books I finished took from 5 to 8 weeks to go from that sit-down-and-write-after-the-thinking-phase to being in my editor's and agent's hands.

It's always interesting to me, though, that every author I know goes through an entirely personal and unique process for getting their stories onto paper.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

where they go

I received a really good question from my friend Nora the other day, and I thought I would post it and attempt an answer here.

Nora wrote: "I just got to thinking: you say that there need to be more books for guys to read as they get older. I think you're very right. But what are they looking for? Not chick lit, clearly, but instead....what are the ideal qualities? What is it you think they want and aren't finding?"

First off, let me begin by talking a little bit about where high-school-age boy readers go when they want a book to read: It will typically NOT be to their school's library, nor will it be to the YA section in their local bookstore. Why? As I've said before... too much pink; as the question implies, a heck of a lot of chick-lit there. The boy high school students that I talk to (and I'm not going to write about graphic novels here, but they are an important alternative choice for boys) tell me that they will avoid the "teen" section in the bookstore and go right for the Adult Fiction shelves, which are much more boy-friendly.

Here, they'll pick up authors like Stephen King, or James Patterson (currently at #2 on the NYT Adult Fiction list), and while they're in that section, they will also pick up, look at, and maybe get hooked by writers like Tom Rob Smith (whose Child 44 was a bestseller last year and lots of boys read), or the more recent The Doomsday Key (Currently #7) by James Rollins -- just because of the cover and jacket flap.

That's where boys are going.

And that's why so many people -- including authors, teachers, booksellers, reviewers, and librarians -- kind of naturally assume that YA equals books for girls.

I think it's starting to change (I hope), and I'm excited by the incredible enthusiasm I saw evident at ALA when I spoke about writing YA for boys... and there are some really great boy-friendly YA titles coming out in the next few months too (like... I can think of one that takes place in the desolate New Mexico desert, for example). And I'm going to write about some of these new and soon-to-be released titles soon, I promise.

In fact, just yesterday, the publicist at Macmillan forwarded an email to me from an independent bookseller about that particular New Mexico book (called, by the way, in the path of falling objects), and she said:

"I can’t stop thinking about Andrew’s book and I look forward to handselling it to boys who feel there’s nothing out there to interest them."

Well. A new recruit in the army of boy.

Now, as far as the second part of Nora's question -- the one about what boys are looking for, in terms of characteristics/qualities, this may be a tougher one to deal with, but I'm going to give it to you (and remember, keep thinking about why boys bypass the YA section and head toward the Adult Fiction stacks).

Older boys (let's say we're talking readers above the age of 14) do not want preachy books where everything works out perfectly: the bad get punished, and negative things only happen to people who deserve them (because they did something bad -- like drank alcohol or shoplifted or had sex). They want honesty that's not dumbed-down or softened to their youthful sensibilities, and they can handle reading about things that (here's a shocker) some adults can't (like cruelty to animals, for example).

Did you hear me? I'm going to say it again: Older boys can handle reading about things that make some adults uncomfortable.

And they really want that.

Because they are thrilled by risk-taking. Including risk-taking in their reading. And this leads to a whole other blog topic, but I will conclude by saying that, yes, there is a degree of responsibility among writers to present the attraction boys feel toward risk-taking in such a way that we don't become complicit in intentionally self-destructive behavior (which is part of the boy experience -- whether you're talking about skateboarding, driving fast, or any more obvious manifestations of putting yourself in harm's way).

I'll continue this thought coming up. Feel free to open the floodgates of your opposition, or comment as you'd like.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

how long is it

One question that comes up again and again when I speak with young writers is how long something should be -- things like books and chapters, I mean.

About this long (holds up gapped fingers).

My usual method is that when I write, I do not separate out any chapters until after I get 40 or so pages finished. Then I'll go back and find the gaps in the narrative that make sense as far as dividing them out into chapters. A book should definitely have its rhythm established by that point, and from then on the chapter breaks become apparent to me.

But for me (and going back to yesterday's musically-themed post), it's all about the rhythm and "sound" of the narrative, and has little to do with word- or page-count.

And I prefer books, like pieces of music, that can maintain a general rhythmic and tonal flow, but then also will take the risk of breaking the predictable pattern and melody from time to time. This creates tension and excitement within the medium of delivery itself, as opposed to confining those elements exclusively in the content (story). I mention this because I am currently reading a book whose rhythm, cadence, melody -- if you will -- plod along incessantly at the exact same metronomic beat. While the story is compelling, the presentation makes me want to skip passages so I can avoid falling asleep at the wheel.

And I keep looking at how many more pages I have to go -- and how all those pages look exactly the same.

Call me weird, but I am a big fan of white space and pages that just "look" different when you thumb-flip through a book. If you do thumb-flip through a 400-page book, and it looks like the page isn't moving, I know I'm in for a snoozer of a delivery, even though the story may be interesting.

Now, of course, this method of writing and finding the rhythm of the chapters couldn't be applied to in the path of falling objects, if nothing else due to the fact that the novel has these jarring voice and POV changes. As a result, there are chapters that can run somewhat long, and there is one chapter, I believe, that only has 13 words in it (and those are three complete sentences, too).

That'll wake you up.

Well, at least that caffeinated delivery happens to work for me.

Now, as far as the length of a book is concerned -- and please do chime in on comments if you're a writer, because so many writers get really "edgy" about this -- I personally wouldn't buy a book that's less than 80,000 words in length. And, yes, I am talking about YA. I know there are LOTS of hugely successful YA authors out there whose books run (to me) short -- at around 50 - 60 K in word count.

But that's not enough for my money. The book I have coming out in 2010 came in at 93,000 words. We'll see if any of that gets trimmed in the next few months (or lengthened -- I'll keep you posted). And, because of the rhythm of the book, it's a very fast read, too. I kind of almost wish it was a bit longer.

But, for me, about 90,000 words is the perfect length for a book -- as long as it doesn't plod musically.

Monday, July 27, 2009

the art of the mix

"Just for the record, I'm a girl who considers herself the all-time reigning queen of the mix. My mixes are legendary... An unexpected mix like this can take you somewhere; it can make you feel nostalgic and renewed or it can completely undo you. But anyone who collects vinyl already knows that..."
-- Yvonne Prinz, The Vinyl Princess

Okay, so, as promised, today I'm kind of going to talk about music, and, in a roundabout way, about this new YA novel that will be coming out in January of 2010 called The Vinyl Princess.

A little more than a week ago, I had a birthday, and I was fortunate enough to receive a specially-created mix CD from the Vinyl Princess herself (and the Veep's identity is a secret). And, like the book that tells her story, this particular mix CD is brimming with hopefulness and life -- a definite trip.

Here's the playlist:

Wait Until You Get to Know Me -- Steve Wynn
June on the West Coast -- Bright Eyes
Run Chicken Run -- The Felice Bros.
Postcard From Mexico -- Kieren Kane, Kevin Welch, and Fats Kaplan
It's Bad You Know -- R.L. Burnside
Jayne's Blue Wish -- Tom Waits
Blue Skies for Everyone -- Bob Schneider
Slow Down -- Cassandra Wilson
You and All of Us -- Hoots and Hellmouth
I Walk the Line -- Live
Path -- Stillhouse Hollow
Indeed in Love -- Quincy Coleman
All You Despise -- The Blue Rags
From the Mouths of Babes -- Old Californio
I Hear a Symphony -- Matthew Ryan
Rack Em Up -- Johnny Lang
Expectation and the Blues -- Corb Lund
Three Penny Charm -- Hoots and Hellmouth
The Departed Tango -- Howard Shore
Johnny Appleseed -- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

Okay. Wow.

Just wow.

A mix like that presents moments of paranoia, maybe manic darkness (Wait Until You Get to Know Me, June on the West Coast, Postcard From Mexico, It's Bad You Know, Blue Skies for Everyone, I Hear a Symphony), but they're all framed in by cuts of sheer joy. I especially liked the offerings from the Felice Bros., Old Californio, Matthew Ryan, Hoots and Hellmouth, and the Blue Rags, but this is not to say that each one of the mix's carefully chosen cuts didn't slice open a vein and pour some hot, black-tar American soul into my system.

Thanks, VP! And, if you haven't heard any of these artists or their tunes yet, you're missing out.

I will say that when she sent me the CD, her playlist didn't identify the artist on I Walk the Line (a cover of Johnny Cash's tune on a tribute to Sun Records)... and I'm, like, hey... that's Ed Kowalczyk, the lead singer from Live. Yeah... I was right.

I have to say that ending the mix with Johnny Appleseed... well, I was listening to it in the car, driving home from dinner with my fifteen-year-old son (who's a HUGE fan of The Clash), and we started talking about Joe Strummer. (Oh yeah... that's what the real music was supposed to do for people... make them talk. But the VP realizes how downloads and iPods are killing all of that) It pissed me off telling my son about Joe Strummer. Unfair. Brilliant song.

Brilliant mix.

And the thing is, too, that despite the range of sounds among the tunes on the mix -- from the swamp-rat bluesiness of It's Bad You Know, the swinging croon of Indeed in Love, the Delta folk strains of Run Chicken Run, or the punky Bluegrass of All You Despise, there is something that unites all of these cuts in the essence of our musical experience. Unlike Hip Hop and Rap, the music of "ME," meant to be played on booming systems so loud the world vanishes; or on iPod earbuds that reduce it to the space between your temples, these songs whisper and shout in open-armed honesty, tell huge stories, and are meant to be shared and talked about.

Kind of like The Vinyl Princess -- the book, and the person.

So, when I read an advance copy of The Vinyl Princess, it was kind of like what The VP said about feeling nostalgic and renewed. Anyone who grew up with records and a phonograph will know... I kept wondering what album Allie (the narrator) was going to talk about next, and found myself frequently chuckling at the sideways barbs she'd sometimes poke at certain artists.

Like the VP, I feel a special connection to phonograph LPs -- the way music was supposed to be shaped, held in your hands -- but my collection has reduced over the decades down to a single moving-box full of the LPs and 45s I could never bring myself to part with.

Thanks for the mix, VP. You rock.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

food for thought

See what happens? I have all these plans for what I'm going to blog about the next couple of days and then people post these brilliant comments here or via Facebook and all these other "issues" start coming up.

So, I wanted to just take a minute and say how blown away I was by two recent comments: one, Brian James pointed out, was that he'd read about a person in the Bronx who had to take two buses and a subway to get to the nearest place that sold fresh fruits and vegetables; and the second, shared by Yvonne Prinz about how there are NO markets in West Oakland, CA... and that the people who live there basically survive off what they can purchase at the dozens of local liquor stores.

That means people all over the country are eating potato chips and Hostess donuts, and washing it all down with Coke and Pepsi, for a daily meal.

All this came about in the discussion of a goofy television ad about pressuring Congress not to tax soda pop as a means of funding national health care reform. But I thought... crap, if people in America are really living the way Brian described the situation for people in the Bronx, and Yvonne shared the story about the People's Grocery in Oakland, then it's no wonder why we are such a chronically sick, disease-ridden nation.

Sorry. It's pathetic.

I'm not gloating or anything, but the reason I moved up here to the mountains when my daughter was born twelve years ago, is that I wanted to provide my family with some degree of self-sufficiency in this pre-packaged and processed age. See that picture up there? It's what I picked yesterday morning in my back yard, after reading those comments from Brian and Yvonne. We also have our own eggs, and produce a bunch of other stuff as well. We heat our home in the winter with a wood stove and nothing else (even though we have central heating and air conditioning, which we have never turned on). If everything shut down overnight (remember the Y2K panic?), we'd be in pretty decent shape.

Now, I'm not a survivalist by a long stretch, but hearing those East Coast/West Coast horror stories made me realize how fortunate my family and I are. Those stories also made me hungry for a breakfast plum, so I went outside and picked some.

Oh yeah... no pesticides here, or petrochemicals of any kind. We all agree we'd rather eat bugs than poison.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

just a cigar

Well, there's lots I want to talk about on the blog. First of all, if you haven't read Brian James' comment on yesterday's post, you should do that. It definitely has me thinking about some important food-related ideas that I'll probably get to later on in the coming week. Yvonne Prinz also made a very impassioned response via Facebook about genetically-modified crops that I want to come back to, as well. But, it's the weekend, so I'm short-posting today and tomorrow so I can get outside and enjoy the amazing place where I live.

Also, on Monday, not to rip Brian's or the Vinyl Princess' style, I am planning on posting a blog about music -- kind of -- with a sort-of-but-not-really review of the YA novel The Vinyl Princess, called (if you've read the book, you'll know what this refers to) "The Art of the Mix."

So... food and music coming up this week. And I still have not revealed the secret destination of my dad-and-kids-alone vacation, and that's coming up, too (because I'll be blogging and uploading pictures from there).

I had a pretty strange dream on Thursday night, and it had to do with my book, in the path of falling objects. In particular, it had to do with the cover of the book.

I've written before about the strange and intense dreams I have -- last night's, for example -- I lived in an apartment that was like one of those hamster habit-trail things, if that's what they're called.

Anyway, the cover art for in the path of falling objects was a long time in the making. In fact, it was just finalized about ten days ago (and the book will be out in September -- I think). Anyway, the incredible artist who put it together, Rich Deas, mentioned something to me about artwork on the title page, as well (which I have not seen). That was it... just a mention. No show (but I've been imagining what he might have come up with, and I'm not going to say, but I hope he was thinking like me on that one).

So, in my dream, the book was out and I was holding on to my first copy, but the cover had been redesigned. It had a baby in a diaper sitting at the wheel of the car from the book. And the baby had a scruffy, greasy beard (he was obviously supposed to be the deranged antagonist, Mitch). And the baby was smoking a cigar (Mitch smokes in the book... but not cigars).

Needless to say, I was fairly disappointed in the new cover design.

Which reminds me, I'd really also like to blog about cover art on books, but I'm trying to come up with some way of doing it that won't get me into trouble. I will say, though, emphatically, that the covers of my two books are AMAZING. And, I will say, too, (Rich...) that this one is my favorite so far...

Friday, July 24, 2009

the last thing

Okay. One thing I never blog about is politics. Every possible perspective is already out there in multiple clones, anyway.

But I've seen a political advertisement running on television for a few days now [Note of clarification: Drew does not watch television at all, unless there's a baseball game on, so you know what I was doing when this particular commercial aired]. In any event, I don't really care about the political ideology the ad expressed, but there was something else far more sinister in the ad's final warning.

The ad was about health care reform, and it urged all good Americans to call their Congressional Representatives and urge them NOT to seek funding for the proposed programs through levying excise taxes on soda pop and "juice drinks" (you know, those things that have labels that say "contains no actual juice").

First off, heck... it sounds like a pretty good way to get funding to me. But, then again, I don't drink soda pop or "juice drinks." Not ever. I don't smoke, either, but I'd be okay with them adding a "sin tax" (again) to tobacco. I'll even go this far and offer that they could levy a tax on beer and premium whiskey (something that would hit me in the pocketbook, but, heck, I'm a good American. I even have a birth certificate -- somewhere -- to prove it. But I don't have a pocketbook. Or a wallet, for that matter. Where was I, anyway?).

In any event, funding issues aside, the ad ends with a line (I'll paraphrase here) that goes something like: Tell your Congressman that a tax on soda pops is the LAST thing we need.


The last thing?

So, as I often do, I started pondering that particular idiomatic expression -- the last thing we need.

Ever seen a priest give a dying person their last rites?

I have.

A couple times.

So, I suppose that under this particular PAC's proposal, a priest would administer last rites and then say, "Oh, by the way, I'm going to tax your Dr. Pepper, bitch. It's the last thing you need. Now die."

The last thing we need.

So, I guess that as these calls come flooding in to members of Congress, they will thoughtfully take pause, retreat to their situation rooms and shuffle around their lists of things we need. I guess some of them will look like this:

3rd to the last TWN: Outbreak of Ebola.

2nd to last TWN: Asteroid the size of the continent of Africa on collision course with Earth.

Next to Last TWN: Zombie Attack.

Last Thing We Need: Tax on Pepsi.

Sounds good to me. I'm convinced.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

trash day

There's something liberating about trash day.

I recently began emptying out my entire house of years of accumulated "stuff." Finally, it's getting empty, but I had to rent a dumpster to do it... and dumpsters are prohibitively expensive up here in the mountains. It's not that I'm a pack rat or anything; it's just hard to get rid of "stuff" where we live. In winter, if the snow is bad, we may not get garbage collection for two or three weeks. So, stuff has a tendency to pile up.

When I cleaned out my office last week, the majority of the "stuff" consisted of tens of thousands of pages of printouts of "stuff" I'd written, and probably an equivalent number of burned CD-Rs with various incarnations of revisions. I guess those things were, at one time, hard to just get rid of, but I feel greatly relieved in having finally done so.

I read an article recently about this group of people who had come together in a movement to "downsize" their lives by limiting the number of material possessions they had to 100 things.

I was intrigued by how light your life must feel when you decide to follow such a path. [By the way, my children are both Buddhist, but I do not believe they could ever comprehend limiting their possessions in such a manner. Eh... maybe I'm wrong.] Anyway, I thought it was an interesting idea, and I talked to my wife about it. But I had some serious questions.

For example, do socks count as one or two things?

I went through an inventory of what I took with me on my recent trip to Chicago... in one suitcase and one backpack... and it came out to over 100 things.

I immediately realized 100 was an impossible constraint on my life's baggage. It would require doing laundry WAYYY to often. And besides, if you started at the very top of your list with things that you absolutely NEED in order to get by: a house, a car, soap, a computer, underwear, running shoes, a cell phone, SOCKS, etc., you will hit the cutoff really fast.

And what about books? We have bookshelves -- full ones -- all over our house. Which ones would I have to throw away?

Apparently, the "Kindle" people must be backing this insidious "Downsize Your Life" movement.

Still, though, I am devising an experiment -- a kind of boot camp -- where I will attempt to live for one entire week and limit my material interactions to 100 "things."

God help me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the unrest cure

Eugene Ionesco said, A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.

Well... I am thinking about having a vacation, but I keep toiling over the details -- here or there, kids or no kids -- and all this while I'm working out the beginning to something new. And really big.

I suppose I really should get away for at least a little while, so I'm determined to come up with a concrete plan of escape by this time next week.

Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

in the path

Sometimes, being a writer means you have lots of different work things going on all at once. And sometimes it also means a lengthy stretch of sitting around and waiting for your next assignment.

So I thought that since I have a new book (in the path of falling objects) that will be in the stores in about 7 weeks, and another book (The Marbury Lens) that is scheduled to be out in fall, 2010, that from time to time I would post on my blog about where I am in the process of publication as an author. After all, these are some of the most common questions I get from other writers who are trying to get established.

First of all, the new-look, consolidated website is up and running at The site brings together all my books, appearance dates, teacher resources, and stuff like that. I even put some words on there about The Marbury Lens. But that is not the book's cover up there... we are nowhere near talking about cover art yet -- even if that is pretty slick-looking. Early focus group reports: guys would pick that book up; girls are totally creeped out by the bug.

But that's probably a good thing.

And here's the little blurb from the site about the book:

The Marbury Lens: It’s a place worse than Hell. And Jack keeps going back to it. He can’t help himself. Nobody can.

Jack has his reasons.

He has his doubts, too.

See for yourself.

Just a peek.

The Marbury Lens.

I have a feeling that we're probably going to work through the necessary steps more quickly with this book than my earlier books. I could be wrong, though. Here's where we are: I submitted the manuscript at the beginning of June. My editor liked it (well... actually a bit better than "liked"). We spoke on the telephone about some questions regarding the relationships in the novel. There were only about five or six "big picture questions" that my editor had. (Note to aspiring authors: you should always take notes whenever you're on the phone with an agent or editor, even if -- like me -- you can't read your writing). So, I went back through the entire manuscript and answered those questions here and there, which added about 1,000 words to the novel. This wasn't a problem for my editor, even if the novel is a bit "longish" for YA, at 93,000 words.

Now, having read my revision, my editor says we'll go right into line edits with some marginal comments, which tells me that the work is pretty tight and almost good to go. That's a really fast pace for getting onto the edits, but if we finish everything before the winter holiday break, there will be no problem getting the bound galleys out by spring of 2010. And that's about when they start considering the cover art, too.

As far as in the path of falling objects is concerned, this is the big wait period. Most of the galleys have been given out to the people we want to have them (don't worry, if you put your name on a list at ALA, or gave me your card, those galleys are going in the mail this week). So far, the people that have read it and responded to me about the book... well, let's just say I am totally blown away by their reactions.

So, everything is set and on course for that one. Also, there is a very cool teacher discussion guide for in the path of falling objects available on the website. It's the same one we ran out of at ALA, so you might want to check it out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

around home

So I took some pictures around my house this morning for those who were even remotely curious about "where he works."

First of all, our chickens' eggs are hatching, and in order to spare the chicks from being eaten by our cats, we've decided to take them into the house. Unfortunately, they have imprinted in their minds that we are their family. More unfortunately, they are San Francisco Giants fans.

My office is upstairs, behind the curtain of beads on the other side of the big fish. Yes, that is Lakshmi in the lower right. A gift from a friend in India.

When I am sitting at my desk and the sun's coming up, this is what it looks like. Yes, those are skeletons hanging on my wall. The one to the left of the doors played a minor role on page one of in the path of falling objects.

I pulled back to show the computer I use to write my books. Also, in the corner beside the famous skeleton is my son's first stick-pony named Blackie.

Finally, if you look down from one side of the office deck, you can see our greenhouse and some of the gardens. The horse paddock is on the other side of the fence.

So, that's where he works, and that's what it looked like in California this morning.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

the morning after

Okay. The party turned out to be great.

Friends showed up with their kids in tow, and everyone got to hang out by the pool on a perfect summer day. And I got lots of books for the high school's GUYS READ program, too.

One of my friends who showed up has a thirteen-year-old son named Cade. I've given Cade lots of ARCs and books from expos over the years, because he's such a great reader and he says it's hard to find good "boy books" in his school library and the local bookstores.

You can get sensitive about that if you want, but I hear this all the time from kids.

Anyway, the first thing Cade did when he showed up was ask me a question about in the path of falling objects (I gave him an ARC when they first came out). I don't think I gave him much of an answer, either, so I'm going to give him a better one here.

He asked why Mitch seemed obsessed with "gravity" and why gravity comes up so frequently in the book. Well, obviously enough, I put a lot of natural elements in my books; and frequently use the interaction of characters and nature as a complication to their journeys. The thing about in the path of falling objects is that the brothers have to come to terms with the fact that there are forces at work in nature that they can't do anything about, but there are things at work that try to wedge the relationship between the brothers that can be resisted. Mitch, though, is as helpless to resist the forces acting on him as a rock falling from the sky.

So there you go, kid.

Oh... and I'll admit that I totally deserved this very karmic birthday cake. It was the hit of the party, and everyone was eagerly waiting to see my reaction when it was unveiled:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

party party party

Today is the day. I will have to endure the humiliation of a birthday party.

There's little that can be done about it; no practical escape route without initiating a war. At the very least, I have made a requirement that guests so inclined to lavish me with gifts must choose instead to bring books for teenage boys which will be donated to the high school's GUYS READ group.


Oh, and I've been assigned the task of cleaning my upstairs office, which has taken more than two days now -- just in case people make it over from the Club and want to see El Rancho de Drew, and "where he works."

I am going to take pictures -- not of the party (good God no!), but of my office, and I will post them on the blog later this week. Someone in New York wants to see "where he works," too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

pretty in pink

Okay. I am kind of pissed off right now and I've decided not to start writing this until I go out and run at least five miles. So I'm saving, and *poof* the next paragraph I write will hopefully come from the hunt-and-peck fingertips of a calmer, happier, sweatier Drew.

Okay. Didn't really help. But at least I got to strain my thinking to try and come up with the most diplomatic approach to this. And I will try.

First of all, let me make clear that this is not a personal attack on anyone. It's just that the blogger I am going to mention in a roundabout way kind of set me off about everything I've been blogging on for, like, the past year.

Here's what happened -- and I am NOT going to direct quote, I am only going to paraphrase. A YA book blogger offered to me the following: Hey, if you want, I'll mention IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS on my blog when it comes out, even though I only blog about YA, but I can make an exception.

Ouch. Stinger.

Oh yeah. YA. As in, Young Adult fiction. You know... the stuff that will have a photo on the cover that (if it's contemporary) will show a pretty teenage girl and usually just a partial body shot (no face) or waist-down image of some imaginary hunky boy with tight, faded jeans. Maybe she'll have her hand in his pocket. Or, if it's fantasy, there will be a photo of a lone girl with swirling, oceanic hair, and a spaced-out, dreamy look on her face like she's either dropped too many e-tabs or she holds the dark keys to the universe. And lots and lots of pink.


Jeez. I am so fucking dumb.

Here's the deal, folks. The "Adult" in my YA is an "Adult" that includes a broad spectrum of humanity... namely, it includes males. I know this is hard to grasp, given the pinkness of the YA section in your local bookstore or library. This is a big reason why teen boys who read will simply bypass or discount the YA shelves and head straight for the "Adult" stacks (because "Adult" equals both genders in that section).

And if you look at most YA blogs, the authors there seem to have bought completely into this color scheme for the genre, too. Go ahead. I challenge you to look at some of these blogs and go back ten or twenty books. You'll see (I just did this same thing with the blogger mentioned above).

So, yeah... this blogger would be making an exception with in the path of falling objects, because this blogger would actually have a YA title on the site -- as opposed to (and here goes the bomb) what I propose is the impostor-to-YA-genre: AG (for Adolescent Girls).

Let me be clear: there definitely are YA books with female protagonists and strong female authors/characters that appeal to boys, and I have written about some of them and will do so in the future. AG books, on the other hand, have a very focused and limited appeal. This is not to say they do not sell well, but I think it's time to make a distinction in order to clarify what the genre of YA actually is.

Open your bookshelves.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

a glimpse of the future

Well, conveniently enough as I work through a massive redesign of my website,, I received the image for the final cover design to in the path of falling objects, which you see above.

Yeah... it's a great cover. Very intense. And I know how hard Rich Deas and the other people at Feiwel and Friends worked on the details of the cover. Believe me, I heard all about it at ALA; and now, I guess, the umbilical cord has finally been cut and everyone can see the baby.

The cover art also sneaks in to the book's creepy trailer, which is posted below. Have the sound turned on when you watch it.

And of course the cover art and trailer will be on the new website, which also has a page for teachers and librarians, where you can download PDF versions of the teacher discussion guides for Ghost Medicine and in the path of falling objects.

The in the path of falling objects teacher guide debuted at last week's American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, and was a big hit: glossy, full color, folded pamphlet that can fit right inside the book. And, yes, we ran out of those teacher guides even faster than we ran out of books (We had more ARCs, after all).

So the site should probably be ready for unveiling within a few days.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

important news about the website

Well... I think it's important.

In the coming weeks, the Ghost Medicine website is going to undergo some significant changes. The reason for this is that, obviously, I've got lots more books coming out and I don't think it's such a wise thing to have a different website for each book... even though it could be reasonably argued that a different guy wrote every one of them.

In any event, will be my official author's website, and on it I will include all the pertinent stuff about each of my books: Ghost Medicine, in the path of falling objects, and even my forthcoming novel, The Marbury Lens on one centralized super-mega-site.

So let me know if there's anything you think is an essential component of cool author websites... like, for example, blackmail photographs of other authors I know.

Yes, I have some of those.

I don't like keeping things the same for too long, anyway, and this will give me a chance to play around with new content and new aesthetics as well.

But this blog isn't going anywhere, so don't worry... or worry, as the case may be.

I will definitely announce the changeover when it becomes official.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

top moments at ala

In no particular order:
  • The Feiwel and Friends/Librarian dinner on Friday evening -- I got to meet some really great people, and the conversation was terrific.
  • The hundreds of people in attendance at the YA Authors' Coffee Klatch -- they were all so nice and loved talking about books.
  • Signing books on the floor -- people who'd read Ghost Medicine actually came looking for me to get an ARC of in the path of falling objects, which vanished almost instantly. And they came from all over America. Best one: a thirteen-year-old boy who'd read Ghost Medicine and waited patiently for an ARC of my new book. That's what it's all about.
  • Then, there were a few others who came for ARCs -- Kim, a librarian I remember meeting at last year's ALA before Ghost Medicine was even out -- she got an ARC, and a signed hardback copy of Ghost Medicine just for herself; and Kathryn Fitzmaurice, author of The Year the Swallows Came Early, who made her way over to the booth before all the in the path of falling objects ARCs had gone; and Riley, who came late, but is a huge fan of my books and asked for an autographed mini-poster of the new book. Don't worry, Riley, I am mailing a signed ARC to you this week.
  • The Macmillan Bloggers' Party -- Super cool event. And I got to hold Romy, the cutest baby in the world.
  • The incredible people from VOYA. I had a terrific evening talking with so many of them at the VOYA reception. Believe me when I say they know what's up.
  • Of course, I have to re-mention the Green Room breastfeeding-and-breast-pumping conversation with Julie Halpern and Sarah Dessen.
  • All the cameras flashing to take pictures of the authors when we stood together at the end of the Coffee Klatch. Again, somehow I ended up next to Sarah Dessen; and I said to her, "You know, Sarah... there were two words that never came up at any of the tables I talked to this morning." And she leaned back and said, "Breast pump."

Monday, July 13, 2009

on losing the card and stuff

Okay, so here's how it happened. The evening before, I got into a pretty serious discussion about the bias against boys in literacy/language arts instruction in schools and in the overall field of YA literature in general.

As one very notable person present at that dinner said, "The YA section in the bookstore is pretty pink." Yeah... and if you look at a lot of the book covers, you get the impression that YA equals soft core porn, too.

But that's all coming up in another blog. I promise.

Yesterday morning, I was fortunate enough to participate alongside a number of very gifted and noteworthy authors at the ALA YA Authors' Coffee Klatch -- an event where hundreds of librarians get to meet and chat with some pretty successful and popular writers.

Okay. Well, I'll talk about that later, too, because the really remarkable events of the day actually occurred just before the YAACK (a rather fitting acronym). I was ushered into the "Green Room" just before the event, and me, being the antisocial, internally agonizing person that I am, sat back quietly in a corner and just watched all the other authors bumping around and having a good time.

Since I give off the strong "serial killer" vibe, nobody sat near me, and the place was getting pretty crowded. So, along comes Sarah Dessen and E. Lockhart and they sit to my right. Let me just interject here that they are very nice, pleasant ladies. Julie Halpern, my friend, comes in and sits on my left.

Julie's got a new baby, and eight-month old little girl who is ridiculously cute and just a bit larger than a plump potato bug; and I start talking to Julie about kids, and how I miss mine, how fast they grow up, etc. You know, kind of giving fatherly advice to Julie because she's so damn young and adorable herself, and my kids are 12 and 15.

Well, anyway, Sarah leans in and says something like I'm sorry for eavesdropping, but I miss my baby, too (she has a fresh one as well, a 22-month-old little girl).

So there we were, in a corner of the Green Room, with me blocked on the left by Julie Halpern; and trapped on the right by Sarah Dessen -- talking about babies. No. Let me be more specific: we were talking about breast feeding, the inconvenience of pumping breast milk when working or touring, and the advantages of particular brands of breast pumps.

What could I do? The conversation lasted for a good fifteen minutes. Finally I held out my red place card that directed me where to go when the authors made their entrance, and I told them both, "Here. This is my man card. You may rip it up now."

But honestly, Julie and Sarah are both so witty and -- just nice -- being in the Green Room with them was just the beginning of a really fun, great day.

And I'll tell about the rest of it later on.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

more from chicago

ALA is huge, very crowded, and the mood is incredibly positive. As one attendee noticed, there are more publishers participating in ALA than were in BEA -- and they didn't have to fly anywhere for the BEA in NYC. Here are a couple pictures of the floor:

And here is the small shrine the hotel staff created for my books. The pamphlet on the left is the ultra-cool teacher's guide for in the path of falling objects that we'll be giving out today at the YA Authors' Coffee Klatch and in booth 1813, where I will be signing books.
I had some really great and edgy conversations last night, but will save them for a future post. I need to get ready to go to work, so I'll leave you with one more random picture of downtown.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

time zones

Okay, so being here in Chicago makes it easy for me to stay up late, but kind of tough dragging myself out of bed at my usual pre-dawn hour.

When I landed at O'Hare yesterday, it was pouring rain. The plane hit some pretty serious turbulence, too. I mean, bad enough that the woman sitting next to me screamed and grabbed my arm. It's really not a pleasant thing to wake up from the unbalanced sleep you get on an airplane to the sounds of someone shrieking, "Sweet Jesus! We're going to die!"

And that was the stewardess.

Anyway, here's a picture of being stuck in traffic in the rain coming into Chicago:

And here's one of Yvonne's book, looking down from my tenth-floor window at Saks Fifth Avenue:

So, last night I attended a very fancy, wonderful dinner with lots of amazing people, whose names shall not be mentioned. And I, like, could totally NOT believe how many of them had read my books. It was awesome... and they thought I actually was someone. That is, until I took out my name badge and they squinted at it and said, "Oh, so you're not Jay Asher?"

Okay, I'm kidding.

And I was talking with my editor (whose name shall also not be mentioned), and the conversation went something like this:

ME: The hotel -- whose name shall not be mentioned because that's where we are having the Blogger's Party and the Tweeter's Jam later tonight -- is really nice.

ED: Yeah.

ME: They even have a runner's map in the room that shows a seven-and-a-half mile running trail up along the lake.

ED: Oh. I must have missed that one.

So I tried to get up early, but didn't get out the door until, like, 7:00 to do that run. By then, it was already pretty hot and humid. But Chicago is quite the runner's town. There were easily thousands of people out running by the lake.

Very nice morning, but a bit rainy at first.

Today, I'm heading over to walk the floor at ALA. I'm going to try wearing my "John Green" name badge and see if people are nice to me.

Later on, the Blogger's Party (I will take pictures), then another nice dinner with people who will not be named, and then the madness of the Tweeter's Ball, 140 seconds of mayhem and questionable behavior.

I'll post another bit later on.

Friday, July 10, 2009

vinyl and plastic

This is what you do on a plane to Chicago:

Credits: The role of the dead pirate was played by Adam Ant.

hog butcher for the world

So I'm dashing out the door at a ridiculously early hour to catch my flight to Chicago for the ALA Annual.

It looks like it will be a very exciting weekend, and if you're there, I'd love to see you. My public scheduled appearances are:

Sunday, July 12, 8:30 - 10:00 AM -- YA Authors' Coffee Klatch. Location: Chicago Marriott. Lots of amazing authors will be there. And so will I.

Sunday, July 12, 1:00 PM -- Book signing of advance copies of in the path of falling objects and copies of Ghost Medicine at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Booth 1813, McCormack Place West.

Then, since I'm on the "schedule frenzy," here are some other really cool events I have coming up this fall:

October 9 - 10: Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN

October 16 - 18: San Diego Public Library Festival of Books

October 24: Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Author Feast and Trade Show

November 20: Not Your Mother's Book Club at Books, Inc. in San Francisco (7 PM). And I heard Barry Lyga was going to be there, too.


Looks like an awesome fall, and just in time for my new book: in the path of falling objects.

Well, I'm outta here, California. I plan on blogging again today when I get to Chicago (I already have an idea for an all new El Rancho de Drew comic inspired by Yvonne's ultra-hip forthcoming YA title, The Vinyl Princess).

Back in a bit.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

the r word

No. Not review. That's a different R-word.

I wanted to write a little bit today about how research and experience contribute to the work involved in writing a novel. Yes... even though novels are "fiction," stuff generally needs to be researched.

I think that's one of the biggest reasons why so many young, new, or aspiring novelists opt for the "fantasy track" in penning their first works: they either don't know very much or have limited life experiences, and don't want to research the real world and real people -- so they assume it will be remarkably easy to just "make stuff up."

So I just wanted to go through the list of the novels I've written and talk a little bit about the research that went in to each one of them.

First of all, every time I talk to young writers, I'm inevitably asked the question about where my ideas come from. As usual, my answers are long-winded and convoluted, but I always include the advice that if you want to write, you need to get the hell out of your house and see the world -- bump into stuff.

So, every one of my books has a hell of a lot of my own personal experiences in them -- the stuff that happens to Troy and his friends in Ghost Medicine; the relationship between the brothers, the Vietnam experience, and traveling through New Mexico that is woven into in the path of falling objects; and I actually lived in Kitsap County, Washington (Bainbridge Island) and spent a lot of time in the Seattle area, the location where much of Winger takes place; and all the locations in The Marbury Lens -- Regent's Park, the London Underground, Blackpool -- are all places in which I've spent a great deal of time (not the surreal fantasy world part of the story, though... thankfully enough).

And I've done so much research in writing the historical fiction YA novel, Bird, which takes place during my favorite study in American history -- California in the 1880s -- and, in particular, during the week of the assassination of President James Garfield, who, strangely enough, I am morbidly fascinated with.

I also used some of that research in The Marbury Lens, because one of the important characters in that novel actually lived in California during the 1880s. There is even a Preterist minister in The Marbury Lens, and Garfield's assassin was a Preterist, too... not an uncommon religious following in the 1880s in America, but I'll bet you've probably never heard about it.

So, yeah... even stuff that's "made up" has to be researched or experienced in some degree in order to draw the reader into the worlds writers create.

Tomorrow, I am heading to Chicago (very very early in the morning), so I may only blog a few lines in the morning before I leave. But, like I said, I have a feeling I may be doing multiple blog posts on some of the days I spend at the ALA Annual.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

it's not you, it's me


I'd like to thank my neighbor, the one-eyed toothless hillbilly, for not raping, killing, and eating me yet. Also, thanks to the shadowy figure in my window, and the monster of the lake, originally named "Sham Wow" by the first Spanish settlers here. As always, my deepest thanks go out to my untreated clinical depression, bipolar, and obsessive compulsive disorders (My "Three Musketeers"). You guys rock. As do my general anxiety, despair, relentless insomnia, isolation, self-destructive fascinations, and feelings of intense failure. God only knows that I'd never be able to write if I had even a passing moment of optimism, unrestrained contentment, or hopefulness for the future.

I love you guys.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

blogs from ala

Well, I have a foot out the door and I am ready to leave for the Midwest and the ALA Annual in Chicago from Friday to Monday. I am bringing my laptop (duh... I'm already writing something new, anyway), and I'll be blogging maybe more than once per day.

Sorry, just can't get into the whole Twitter thing.

Now... don't get all sensitive, but to me, doing Twitter is like walking around with one of those "HELLO! My name is fucking loser!" paste-on name badges. And now, I read that there are apps and methods for harvesting followers. Ugh.

Back to ALA...

Oh. And I'll be posting pictures, too. And let me just say right now that I completely vouch for their authenticity ahead of time... if that's any indication of what I plan to shoot.

Hint: If I tell you, "I promise not to post this on my blog or Facebook!" I am possibly being sincere.

I'm going to be at a "Blogger's Party" that will be set up so that guests can blog on the spot. But that isn't even close to the coolest thing about that particular event.

In fact, I am going to host my own "Tweeter's Party" in my suite. It will last from 10:00 PM until 10:02:20 PM on Friday night, July 10. Drinks and everything are completely on me, but you only have 140 seconds to cram it into your mouths.

Tweet freaking tweet.

Just like cute little baby birds.

Damn my ADD...

The coolest thing is that this particular "Blogger's Party" (or, I should say Blago's Party) is going to be held in the Governor's Suite of one of the nicer Chicago Hotels. So I will be getting there early -- before anyone else -- just so I can look under the sofa cushions and between the mattresses for any cast-off relics of the former occupant of that political office in Illinois.

And I looked at the guest list, too... mighty impressive. And let's just say the XY to XX ratio means Drew's dance card will be full. And I've actually met and talked to a couple of the guests at other events.

My prediction: They will have to squint and lean in to the name badge I will pharmaceutically sedate myself into wearing, just to see who I am because they will not have the faintest recollection of ever having met me.

And then, maybe, they'll cock their heads, bird-like, and get a faraway look in their eyes and say, "Oh! I remember! You follow me on Twitter, don't you?"


That's me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

monday excerpts

When I was an undergrad, I think the best course I took was a very intense American Lit course with a huge syllabus. We were required to read about two novels per week, and some of those titles would definitely be on my list of Best Books Ever.

The funny thing about the class, though, was that the professor was a complete pervert (at least, in my mind he was), because he interpreted EVERYTHING we read as having intense and explicit underlying sexual themes.


You know the drill. When you're an undergrad, the best way to get an "A" in any course is to completely parrot and agree with everything the professor says.


I actually knew morons who attempted to disagree with the old creep.

Anyway, this particular professor became a model for a character named Mr. Wellins in my novel Winger, which is set to come out in 2011. As I dash out the door to pick up some goodies for ALA this week and make an eye doctor appointment, I thought I'd throw out a couple excerpts where Ryan Dean, the narrator of Winger is talking about his Literature Professor:

In Lit class, we had finished reading Foretopman, Billy Budd; and I was convinced by that time that Mr. Wellins was some sort of pervert because he believed that everything we read had something to do with sex. According to him, Rappaccini’s Daughter was about incest, and, he argued, Billy Budd was about homosexuality. Mr. Wellins said that it didn’t matter what a writer intended his work to mean, that the only thing that mattered was what it meant to the reader, and I guess I could see his point, but I still thought he was a creepy old pervert. Anyway, I just thought Melville wrote a good story, but what do I know?

And, later on, while Ryan Dean is having a bit of a distraction, counting up his own dirty fantasies...

So, of course it was next to impossible to concentrate at all on schoolwork while keeping meticulous tallies of my impure thoughts, much less for me to listen to Mr. Wellins blather on and on about sex, because, now that I look at it, every single thought in my head – Annie, Megan, Chas, the game—all, in some way, had something to do with sex. So maybe Wellins was right, after all, that everything does have something to do with sex, even though I found his argument about the underlying sexual themes in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to be a bit of a stretch, and totally perverted, too.

I mean, come on!

Art imitating life as an undergrad.

And of course I got an "A" in the class.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

ala chicago

So I'm going to be spending a lot of time over the next few days getting ready for the American Library Association's Annual in Chicago next weekend.

I've only been in and out of Chicago changing planes in the airport there, but I am told it's a remarkable city so I am really looking forward to going. I will try my best not to be the walking disaster that I am... but just put me in a badge-wearing situation and you know things are just bound to happen.

If you are going to ALA, I'd like to hear from you. Maybe we could hang out and see who gets arrested first. Besides the parties and dinners, here's where I am under obligation to be found:

Sunday, July 12, 8:30 - 10:00 AM -- YA Authors' Coffee Klatch (or YA authors' Coffee Cleavage as I like to call it. And yes, I plan on wearing something a little bit daring... think plunging neckline)

Sunday, July 12, 1:00 PM Book signing of advance copies of in the path of falling objects at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Booth 1813 McCormack Place West

I have some cool stuff to give out.

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

a conversation about dreams

Okay. So, the other day I had this terrific email conversation with Allison in New York, about my next-next book, The Marbury Lens that went something like this:

Allison: You. Scared. The. Hell. Out. Of. Me. I was totally blown away. The only negative thing I have to say about it is, you really have to stop turning in your scary books right when I move into a new apartment. This time, I was reading it in a bigger apartment that actually has rooms, and it was unbelievably terrifying.

Me: I am happy I scared you.

Allison: Do you ever scare yourself?

Me: I have scary dreams frequently.

Allison: I once read an article that said if you’re still having vivid nightmares after you turn twelve, something is weird/wrong about you.

Uh oh.

I never thought about that. But I have intense dreams, like, every night. Usually three or four totally separate ones (I wake up a lot). And I always remember them, too. I'm frequently not even in them; they're about other people -- sometimes, people I don't even know.

So I followed a comment that Allison made in our virtual conversation, and I started asking other people if they had dreams at night. Most of the people I asked said they didn't have them -- or didn't ever remember them.

To me, that's pretty sad. It's like giving away a third of your life to nothing. Sure, I may have creepy dreams (a lot of the story of The Marbury Lens was from a very vivid dream I had), but at least they're worth sitting -- or lying -- through.

Last night, had a dream about ice.

Happy Independence Day.

Friday, July 3, 2009

independence day for horses

I got up this morning at the usual pre-dawn hour. When my coffee had finished brewing, I went downstairs and poured a cup, then back upstairs to my office.

The sun was just coming up, so I paused a moment and looked out the doors onto the upper balcony, across the paddock to the hills south of us that were just getting hit by the sun. The roosters were crowing, and I stood just about even with a very noisy nest of hawks in a cottonwood about 35 feet up from the ground.

And when I looked across at the hills, I saw two of my horses, Dusty and Arrow, grazing. They had broken out of the paddock enclosure and were probably about a half mile away. I took a couple quick pictures with my iPhone.

At 5:30 in the morning, probably the last thing most people want to do is chase down runaway horses. Especially ones as strong and fast as Dusty and Arrow.


I woke up my daughter (the horses like her more than me -- they probably think I'm a bad dad, too), we grabbed some ropes and a halter, and set off on our expedition.

I thought it would be easy. I had a plan. Reno, our good, mellow horse, was in the barn. I figured if I let him out (because he's the leader horse, even if he is very slow and very old), the other two would come back down to the paddock.

Reno, on the other hand, fully realizing that it was Independence Day for Horses, immediately took off and joined the other two up in the hills. No, he didn't just join them, he led them off... like, in the direction of Mexico, I think.


Oh yeah... and I never even got the first sip of my coffee yet.

So my daughter and I, ropes in hand, followed those horses way back into the hills. I'll be perfectly honest -- and it may be hard for some people to understand -- but it's impossible for me to feel angry at those animals. As frustrating as the situation would appear on the surface, there is something incredibly liberating and uplifting in seeing naked horses (no ropes or halters or anything) just running and kicking in the cool morning under the first rays of the sun.

I know... I'm weird. I kind of wrote about that in Ghost Medicine, but it never gets old.

They knew we were following them, too. It was their way of playing with us. Eventually, they stopped, and Arrow, the big and most powerful one of the three, led them to where my daughter and I stood waiting for them. We got a halter on Reno, and they all three, happy to have proclaimed their independence, willingly walked with my daughter and me back down the hills and to our enclosure.

It was a great morning.

Like I said, they were about a half mile from me when I snapped these pictures, which accounts for the graininess from blowing them up... but here's what it looked like at 5:30 this morning.