Saturday, January 31, 2009

firing squad

I had another weird dream last night.

I was in an elevator, going up, and it was moving so fast that when it stopped and the doors opened, I felt like I was going to pass out. And I really physically felt like I was blacking out, even though I was asleep.

Anyway, the elevator stopped on the ninth floor. I was moving into a new apartment on the top floor of a building that looked out on the ocean. Apartment 900. Yeah... I have this thing about numbers. I had this huge trunk with me, and I managed to pull it into the apartment.

Inside, the carpeting was worn through and I could see plywood flooring, and the place was strewn with junk left behind by the former tenants. But I liked the place, even if it was run down, cluttered, and dilapidated. It had a homey feel to it.

That's it.

When I walk into a room of people that I don't know, into a new situation, I feel like I'm going before a firing squad.

Yesterday, I sat in on a book discussion group that had read Ghost Medicine. They said a lot of things, and had many questions for me that I generally shrugged to and said that it didn't matter what I intended to mean in a certain passage, that it only matters what a reader thinks.

I don't really remember too many specifics of what the group was saying. It was too high-energy and excited for me... too many people talking at once, which drives me insane.

But the thing that really stuck in my head was that one person present just could not get over the fact that I didn't specify a year and exact, precise location for the novel. The person seemed desperate, almost angry, and begged me to just say something -- anything -- so the setting and time could be pinpointed.

Now that's a true firing-squad marksman there.

Friday, January 30, 2009

book report time


Kind of a weird day, all the way around.

First off: I got an email this morning from a reader of Ghost Medicine that was, like, all kinds of awesome. She blogged a book report about it here.

That kind of stuff makes me feel so good, because I've never been a pillar of self-confidence, anyway, and I still can't believe I ended up on ALA's 2009 list among those incredibly talented authors and such great titles.

I think I'll be heading to Chicago this August. ARCs of in the path of falling objects, too.

And, as promised, we now have a teachers' discussion guide for Ghost Medicine available as a downloadable PDF on our Teachers' Page. There are currently more than a couple high schools and at least one college that are using Ghost Medicine in their classes.

Oh. I guess I'll skip the weird parts about today.

Ugh.

But, finally, if you liked the in the path of falling objects video trailer, just wait. There's another one on its way, even edgier, this one shot by a real, honest-to-God cinematographer who asked me if he could make it. So I gave him a really cool little script, and we'll see what he comes up with.

Can't wait.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

bbya, baby

Well, this is really exciting.

Yesterday morning I got the news from my editor that Ghost Medicine has been picked by the American Library Association as one of 2009's Best Books for Young Adults.

That was really nice. Thank you to all the people on the committee who read my book and honored it with inclusion on this list.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was working on a discussion guide for Ghost Medicine for the students at Seneca Valley Intermediate High School in Harmony, Pennsylvania. It's been completed, I sent it off to their teachers, and I will post the entire guide on the Ghost Medicine website in a couple days. I'll put notice here when it's available.

But here are the first two topics from the guide, just to give a taste:

• When you read Ghost Medicine, who do you imagine as the author’s intended audience? Is there an audience “change” between the prologue and the first chapters? Does the narrator’s voice change in that moment, and then again in the final chapter? If you perceive a change in audience or voice, what do you think is going on – on the other side of the page?

• Fire is one of the natural images and symbols occurring throughout the story. The book opens with Troy lying on his back and watching sparks in the air, the boys return frequently to their “firepit,” the wildfire frees all the horses on Rose’s property, and, in the end, Troy and Gabriel burn Gabriel’s rope. What other instances can you find of fire being used as a symbol or recurring image, and why do you think the author relies on this to shape the environment of Ghost Medicine? What about the other symbols and recurring images in the book? How do they contribute to a message, flow, or rhythm to the story?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

five-minute blog


Okay.

Wow. In case you haven't seen, my Balloon Animals post elicited an interesting comment:

If you are looking for cheap prescription drug pharmacy, I would recommend you... "

Hmmm... I never delete comments, but blogspamming (unless it sells my books) is kind of uncool. So... yeah... I took that one off.

It was spam, right? I mean, was he really trying to prescribe meds for me??

I just wanted to quickly send my gratitude out to Seneca Valley Intermediate High School in Harmony, PA. They have a gifted group of kids who are reading Ghost Medicine, and asked if I could provide them with some prompts for discussing and analyzing the novel.

Just wanted to let them know that I am working on it, and will send my suggestions directly to the school (with my appreciation), and post my guide as a PDF here and on the Ghost Medicine website.

So... look for that coming out in the next day or so.

Also, thanks to College of the Canyons, in Valencia, CA, where they are teaching Ghost Medicine in their freshman English class this coming semester.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

balloon animals


Okay.

This is bound to be revealing in many ways. It's currently about 3:30 AM. I woke up about half an hour ago. Had a really... well, typical dream for me. Here's how it went:

I was out at a restaurant, having breakfast with a group of friends (I never go out for breakfast). Then my phone rings.

As usual, I barely get it out of my pocket before it switches over to voicemail. But I manage to answer the phone just as it's making the switch.

The guy on the phone is a producer at a radio station. He tells me I'm going on air as the next caller for a chance to win the prize, and he tells me to speak clearly and wait for the host to finish what he asks.

Okay.

Then, the host comes on and asks if I'm ready to answer the question.

I guess so.

He asks a question... about Women's Speed Skating.

I am totally not making this up.

I really am insane. I know it now.

I answer, "Balloon animals."

Then the host gets mad at me and says, "What kind of idiot would give an answer like that?"

And I say, "What kind of idiot would ask me a question about Women's Speed Skating while I'm having breakfast?"

Please. If there are any psychoanalysts bloghopping today, post a comment and let me know what this means.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

it happened today

It happened today.

I was on my morning five-mile run. A rainbow had formed over the lake... a whole one, stretching all the way across it, east to west.

I was running along, looking up at the rainbow.

That's when I stepped in some dog poo.

yin and yang attack on the eve of Chinese New Year.

Maybe, like Troy Stotts, the main character in Ghost Medicine, I look too closely for signs in things. Just maybe.

Anyway, that first novel of mine has been nominated for an ALA Best Books for Young Adults, so I kind of stalked myself and looked at their website for the list of nominees today. Good luck to everyone on that list... I am happy to say I actually know a few of you.

And good luck to all for whatever comes out of the ALA Midwinter in Denver... we'll be hearing about it tomorrow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

more randomly falling objects

It's really great, the reaction I've been getting to in the path of falling objects from all over the place... and the book video, too.

So, I am having the www.pathoffallingobjects.com website updated (the www.ghostmedicine.com one, too) because I'm having another book trailer done, and I've got a couple upcoming appearances that have to be listed, too.

Oh. And I'm in the middle of writing another novel (my fifth, believe it or not), and it's pretty intense, too. I won't tell you too much about it, but it's about a boy who gets kidnapped (hmmm... I think I know something about that), a ghost with a terrible story, a life-altering accident, and losing the trust of your closest friend.

All rolled into one.

It's going to be tough keeping that one under 100,000 words.

Friday, January 23, 2009

another day at the office

Okay. So I got to go through all the final FINAL notes on our galley pages for in the path of falling objects, and it struck me how freekin' smart the editors I work with happen to be.

Looking at the back-and-forth notes posted between Liz (Editor-in-Chief) and Dave (Managing Editor), it's like, I'm thinking they're just making that stuff up... right?

So, anyway, I was thinking... like, why do they actually come down to this planet to work with such invertebrate faux-life as me? Anyway, I sent a message off to Dave thanking him for all his work (because... damn! they really looked at every black squiggly thing on the page), and Dave sent me back, like, the Holy Freekin' Grail of e-mail rants... one of the funniest things I've ever read... the Sistine Chapel of the Holy run-ons. I love it.

I have the best editors in the world. Sorry. It's true.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

new stuff

Well... there's a few new things going on.

First of all, there's been a little change in the book trailer for in the path of falling objects. It is ultra-cool and super creepy. You can see it at YouTube by clicking on the old blog post below this one (a few down), and also on my Facebook pages, where the resolution is much clearer.

Look for that book trailer to be fairly widely available. As trailers go, it's pretty addictive, thanks to the edginess of Liz's flap copy description.

Also, I'm pleased to say that I will be hosting a dinner table at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association's Book and Literacy Dinner, which will be held at the Westin in Pasadena on Saturday, February 7. I'll be signing copies of Ghost Medicine there, and talking up the crazy excitement behind my September release of in the path of falling objects.

Creepy. But cool.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

one of those moments

Okay. I almost didn't blog today because I'm in a terribly depressed mood. And I thought, what the hell, it being an international freekin' holiday and all...

So let me just say that I am grateful that my children, who are both too young to know they lived during another presidency, during a time of peace, will have an opportunity to see a new America... and I may get to actually teach them about, and give them examples of, our Constitution restored and functioning.

But yesterday, I got one of those moments a writer lives for. I don't know if anyone else has these, but a girl from Colorado wrote me a message via Facebook. It said:

i just finished ghost medicine and its the greatest book i've ever read
keep writing!!


I can't even begin to say how much it means to me when I get emails and messages like that. And I respond to every one of them... even the so-so ones. Well, to be honest, there's not really been a so-so review.

I wonder sometimes if people like John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher, or Ellen Hopkins ever gets so many of those kinds of emails it bothers them. I've met all those authors, so I just wonder what it would be like to be inundated with praise from readers you connect with... or if it becomes a chore to express your gratitude for your readers' appreciation.

I don't know.

I'm in a weird funk. I'm going to rest.

Monday, January 19, 2009

random falling objects


Okay. So I got "tagged" in this kind of game on Facebook where you have to list 25 random facts about yourself.

I usually don't go for such things, but the people who were involved were so impressive, inspirational, and genuine... and I found out that people I know and like, I actually like more now that they've shared their random lists with others.

So here's mine:

25 Random Things about Me

1. I was the first child in my family who was born in the United States. So I spent a lot of time in Italy when I was young, and, as a result, do not know many of the members of the American side of my family.

2. The characters in the books I write are all based on ME, or people that I've known. So, for example:

3. Like Tommy Buller, in GHOST MEDICINE, I used to (USED TO) chew tobacco when I was a kid.

4. Like Jonah and Simon, in IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS, I had an older brother who served in the Army in Vietnam. I still have every one of the letters he wrote when he was there (he doesn't know that). I was just a little kid, and was terrified my big brother was going to be killed. His letters provided me with a great deal of the subplot in that next novel.

5. I am one of four boys. My next-older brother died when I was pretty young. I held his hand at exactly the moment he died, and nobody else was there except for us. My father died about 3 years before that. So, it was rough becoming an adult without a dad around, and my oldest brother stationed away in the military... and I always envied boys whose dads showed them things like how to change spark plugs.

6. I was kidnapped when I was a teenager. Really. By an absolute stranger.

7. One of the coolest things I ever did was sailing down the Adriatic coast of (what was then) Yugoslavia with my cousin, Carlalberto. He taught me quite a bit about sailing.

8. When I was between the ages of five and eight, my family lived in an honest-to-God haunted house. My room was in the basement. Sometimes, at night, I'd see the ghost of a boy down there. Years after we moved away, when I was older, I told my mother about it, and she told me she used to see ghosts in that house all the time.

9. My oldest brother was born on top of the kitchen table in the house my parents lived in, in Trieste, Italy.

10. I actually knew another family of "Smiths" in Trieste. And none of their boys could speak English. Sadly, I've gotten really rusty on Italian.

11. My wife and I own a 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet convertible. It belonged to her father, who passed away. The car is actually a kind of character in my novel, IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS.

12. The worst job I ever had was working in a chemical milling plant. I'm surprised I don't glow in the dark.

13. I heat my home with a wood stove only. My friend, Lewis Buzbee, who lives in San Francisco, tells me they have "wood police" who will write you a ticket if you burn an actual fire. They drive around in cars to catch people. Cars. Go figure. Lewis always points out these little paradoxes of life.

14. I currently live at my home with: 3 horses, 2 dogs, 5 cats, 1 parakeet, 9 chickens, 3 goats, a bunny, and a lizard (gecko). I think that's all. It's hard to remember.

15. I am an avid kayaker.

16. I have run in, and completed, 30 marathons (26.2 miles).

17. I don't really think I'll run another marathon, but I do run every day (usually about 5 miles), and I have not missed a day of running in 9 years.

18. My son once vomited into my mouth. Seriously. I was holding him over my head when he was maybe 6 months old, and he let go of the warm gushing stream. An entire mouthful. It happened at my little brother's house, and they had such nice white carpets, so I didn't know where to spit it out... so it had to stay in my mouth for a while. The worst part... it didn't taste bad. My wife breastfed, too. I can't imagine how rancid formula would have tasted.

19. I have 6 tattoos. My wedding ring is tattooed, because I got married with my father's ring, but it kept falling off and I was afraid I would lose it.

20. My son and daughter are both Buddhist. They even received some kind of official Buddhist certificate and set of beads from the place where they'd been going to chant and stuff. I've never been there, but I'm totally cool with that.

21. I sculpt. We have about 5 or 6 of my pieces in my house.

22. I built my own greenhouse and sauna and barn. And they're all still standing. I use the sauna pretty frequently. It's a great place for a writer to think things out.

23. I got thrown off a train in Paris.

24. I was, at one time, a professional musician. I have quite a collection of old guitars, and I love the mandolin, but my fingers are too flat to play it. I own one, though.

25. When I was a young boy, my father used to take me deer hunting and salmon fishing. I'll never forget this place we used to fish in Washington State... it was called "Point No Point."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

trailer trash

Okay. So, things are finally starting to happen with my upcoming release of in the path of falling objects. The galleys are being run... so here's a neat little book trailer that features the awesome flap copy crafted by my editor, Liz Szabla (By the way, the video looks much nicer on my Facebook page... so go over and friend me):

Oh yeah... turn your sound on.



So, if things go along on the same pace as they did for Ghost Medicine, hopefully we'll see those ARCs around March.

It really is a cool story. I know you're going to like it.

I'll keep posting things as they develop with the release of this new book. Hopefully, we'll get a peek at the cover art in the coming week.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

game day


I may throw up another post later today.

But yesterday, I forgot to include the little excerpt from in the path of falling objects that is on the cover of the galley. So now, it all starts to come together. Here it is:

[[excerpt:]]

The car was a 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet, black and white with broad white-walled tires. Its top was down, and, as it neared, crunching and kicking back the dirt of the road, I saw a man at the wheel and a pretty yellow-haired girl sitting in the front….

It was as out-of-place in that desert as a sailboat would have been, and it was the kind of car you knew had to carry stories with it, but I had no intention of finding out what those stories told.

“Let’s start walking,” I said. “Just don’t even look at them.”

“We should ask them for a ride.”

“No.” I looked at Simon, then put my head down like I didn’t even know or care about that car coming up alongside us.

I warned Simon again, “Don’t even look at them.”

So I just concentrated on not paying that car any attention. And it wasn’t until later, until it was too late for both of us, that I found out Simon was sticking a thumb out to beg a ride.


Thanks to my editor, Liz Szabla, and the rest of the team at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. They have pretty good taste.

Friday, January 16, 2009

the flap copy


I'm going to shift gears a little today because I just received the flap copy for my next novel, in the path of falling objects, and it sounds so good even I want to read it... again... for the thousandth time.

Here's what it says:

Jonah and his younger brother, Simon, are on their own. They set out to find what’s left of their family, carrying between them ten dollars, a backpack full of dirty clothes, a notebook, and a stack of letters from their brother, who is serving a tour in Vietnam. And soon into their journey, they have a ride. With a man and a beautiful girl who may be in love with Jonah. Or Simon. Or both of them.

The man is crazy. The girl is desperate. This violent ride is only just beginning. And it will leave the brothers taking cover from hard truths about loyalty, love, and survival that crash into their lives.

One more thing: The brothers have a gun. They’re going to need it.


Cool!

Then, on the back, is the (ugh!) bio of the author and some nice stuff:

Andrew Smith is the author of Ghost Medicine, which was a 2008 Best Books for Young Adults nominee. In addition to writing, Smith teaches advance placement classes and coaches rugby. He lives with his family on a ranch in the mountains of Southern California, where the nearest grocery store is twenty miles away. You can visit him on the Web at www.ghostmedicine.com, where he also maintains a blog about writing.

Praise for Ghost Medicine:

“Smith's first novel, a deceptively simple coming-of-age story, defies expectations via its sublime imagery and its elliptical narrative structure. . . . While the summer climaxes with jarring violence, the possibility of a true departure never materializes: The outside world is held at bay by the inscrutable questions unveiled in the book's conclusion.”— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“ . . . That summer is a journey of loss, self-discovery, pain, triumph, and growth as the young people try to define who they are and what they’re meant to do. . . . Troy wishes to be lost, but his greatest hope is to be found, and Ghost Medicine beautifully captures that paradox in this timeless and tender coming-of-age story. Not only will it inspire readers to prod the boundaries of their own courage, but it will also remind them that life and love are precious and fleeting.—School Library Journal

Nice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

some splainin'


Okay... I know I'm a loser. I know I think about things too much. But, I honestly could not sleep after reading a comment left by "anonymous" on yesterday's blog. It wasn't that the comment was mean-spirited or angry, but it seemed like I was being misunderstood (I know... that's totally immature and pouty of me), so I wanted to put the comment up here and try to explain myself.

If I ever could pull that off anyway.

Here's what "anonymous" said:

I really feel that I should point out that no actual bookseller would stock your book next to "Hop On Pop". Number one because "Hop On Pop" is a classic, but also because we determine the difference in content by reading the books.

Okay... okay... I thought I was being pretty much over-the-top, but I listed Hop On Pop because it was the only children's book title that I knew from a children's author whose last name began with the same letter as mine. (You know Smith and Suess... seriously, I know I overthink things, but that's because I'm a loser) Secondly, my exaggeration was based on an earlier bit I'd written about how YA is lumped into Children's Lit, in general, in a number of lists (such as in SCBWI), and I think my statement reads as a fairly wiggle-roomy contingency that hinges on the ultra-weasel-esque qualifier of "might." Third... whoa... it's a classic? Honestly, I've never read it. I have seen it, though.

I think.

Don't get mad. I'm not picking on booksellers. The whole point of this blog is me picking on me for being such a loser and for seeing things (like the suppression and dumbing-down of males) that I think are so obvious and nobody thinks are big deals so I must be insane, right?

Yeah.

So... I'll tell you the truth. I have two children: a son and a daughter. When my son was a baby, I read to him every day. Seriously... I'd hold him in my lap when he wasn't even strong enough to sit upright and I read entire novels to him, page by page. I read him Hawthorne, Twain, Melville, Hemingway (he really liked some of In Our Time for some reason), Faulkner, Stevenson, Verne, Crane, Octavio Paz, Ray Bradbury... but I never read him one book that rhymed, ever. I'm pretty sure his mother did, though. He's a hell of a reader, too... but I don't know anything about books for children, so I just pulled the H-O-P reference out of my modern-culturally-deprived ass.

Oh... I did read him The Giving Tree, too... but it doesn't rhyme, and that was my older brother's favorite book and it became mine when he died (he was a kid), so I kind of don't like reading that one.

Not kidding.

The comment goes on (with my own parenthetical responses):

I cannot say where "Ghost Medicine" would sit at Costco,

(it would probably hold up the short and rickety leg of the table where the lady is giving out samples of imitation seafood spread on crackers)

...Wal-Mart

(it would probably hold up the short and rickety leg of the table where the poorly-groomed "activists" are collecting petition signatures to send all homosexuals and undocumented aliens to Iceland)


... or Target, but at our store it will move over to YA after 6 weeks on the new book wall.

(WHOA!!! My book was on the New Book Wall for six weeks???? Anonymous, I LOVE you!!!!)

Really.

three in the morning

Sunday, January 11, 2009

(x)ya characters


So... I want to make some further taxonomic distinctions regarding YA Fiction, especially as these distinctions relate to characters and their motivations.

But first, I'd just like to say that many of us in writing and publishing have been a little angst-ridden over the sour turn in the economy. But, I was confident that this would happen: on Thursday, Publisher's Weekly ran a piece about how strong holiday sales have been for teen books. That's nice to hear.

Notice that PW used the term "teen books." Eh... maybe, maybe not. Here's the deal... as I said a few days ago, YA tends to get lumped into the broader category of Children's Literature, along with Middle Grade, picture books, etc. That means, unfortunately, that a bookseller who is stocking Ghost Medicine might shelve it on the same rack as something like Hop On Pop. I mean... what do you do with something like that, right?

And then there's Middle Grade, too: books that are not quite for first-graders, but not quite as challenging as books for teens (sometimes called Young Adult... but remember: YA is NOT a reading level... it's a content/theme descriptor).

Here's my theory on some key differences... and it all has to do with characters and their motivations.

Characters have four basic motivations underlying their behaviors. Their behavior is either aimed at securing some tangible reward; gaining attention; escaping an undesirable situation; or securing some sensory satisfaction.

That's it. No other reasons exist. Period.

Categorizing books as Middle Grade or Young Adult, then, doesn't really have a lot to do with the age of the principals, but their motivations. In other words, for something to be appropriately categorized as Young Adult, it has to have sex in it.

Now... don't overreact. I'm not necessarily talking about detailed depictions of sexual acts, I'm talking about some underlying recognition of sexual tension, attraction, and imagery... things that begin to shape themselves as major motivators to human behavior when we cross the threshold out from childhood, especially in the teen years. If you aren't nodding your head in affirmation, then you probably didn't have much fun as a teen.

So here's a big, uncomfortable reason why YA should not be lumped in with the superclass of "Children's Lit:" sex.

I'll talk more about character motivation (in detail), sex, altruistic behavior, and Young Adult Literature in posts coming up this week... but, for now, I am right in the middle of writing a pretty sexually-tense book.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

on the real

Whew. Big relief... Billy Bones is actually a boy. A naked, dead one. Yeah... you can tell by the... pelvis. I guess.

That means that in the SCBWI group, there may be as many as 10% males in the population. I say "may" because sometimes just telling gender by a member's name is kind of like interpreting intent on a Minnesota election ballot... could go either way.

So... if you've followed my blog for, I don't know, like the last 200 posts, you'd know that I've written quite a bit about how schools discourage boys from reading and writing and how boys have actually been harmed by literacy and language arts programs in schools in the last 20 years. I've presented the data on this conclusion, and I'm not going to restate the facts today.

A few days ago, though, I got a comment about my blog from my great friend Kelly Milner Halls, a very accomplished author who's been my friend for many decades. She said this:

"Yes, we need lots more men in force, and we MUST encourage boys and young men to read and write. We've had this discussion a WHOLE lot of times, Andy-pie. So you know I don't disagree with you on this."

Okay... first of all, let me just say that when you've known a guy since before he went through puberty I guess you can get away with the Andy-pie crack.

Or not.

But at least she's on my side, and as unpopular as the view may be among some authors, she recognizes that there is an anti-male bias in YA Literature today that has a negative effect on boys and reading.

That said, today I'd like to leave with a conclusion I've arrived at that deals with gender-confusion in YA Fiction. I know stating this premise may get me killed, or imprisoned in some forced-breeding program (see below)... BUT... I can kinda tell when a novel is written with a male protagonist and its author was a female.

Okay... go get your torches and sharp things. You know where I live.

In fact, I think I can tell this about 90% of the time, at least... when I read a book and the boy or young man main character acts... well... like a girl. And it's not a gay/straight thing, either, because I've read books written by gay authors and their protagonists don't act like girls, but I really can tell when a male character's puppet strings are being pulled by a woman.

Is this a bad thing? Mmmm... I'm not sure, but I do see it having an effect on boys when it comes to choosing a book, sticking with it, enjoying it, and empathizing with its main character. Maybe it's just me and my own chauvinistic biases... but when I read books like that, I frequently find myself saying A real boy wouldn't do that, or A real boy wouldn't say that or make that kind of decision. Maybe I'm just totally full of crap... but, heck, Billy Bones, who runs around naked unabashedly... now there's a real boy.

Friday, January 9, 2009

call the papers... smith gets serious

Okay. So I've been thinking about a lot of stuff in the last few days about writing and reading and being a man and stuff. So this may, as is usually the case, end up getting a little scattered.

A few days ago I was lamenting (not a very manly verb, I'll admit) about the fact that YA Literature is so girl-oriented, female-generated, and frequently anti-male... and how the majority of outreach programs aimed at inspiring young people to write are... well... girly.

That's just the cut-to-the-chase version... sorry if it seems abrupt. I apologize, too, if it sounds sexist... because, believe me... it is really the absolute opposite of sexist if you stop and think about it. I think I can make a very strong case for the fact that males (and male interests) are dis-included or, at least, underrepresented in this particular field.

For example, I recently joined the Facebook SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Group (I am an SCBWI member, by the way). I checked the list of members this morning on their page. So far (and the group just started yesterday), there are 120 members, 10 of whom are males (I think "Billy Bones" is a male, but I'm not absolutely positive. Unfortunate name, either way...).

What a universe this would be if there were only an 8% male population distribution. I mean... think of the possibilities...

Part of the problem, obviously enough, is that some YA authors (and, I'm guessing, especially male ones) kind of bristle at the term "children" when it is applied to what we write. The simple fact is that for many of us, the label "Young Adult" doesn't refer to a reading level, it refers to an underlying philosophy that helps to shape the content and thematic structures.

This is modern YA Literature: It is not dumbed-down, big-print, monosyllabic, rhythmic and rhyming picture books for teenagers who can't read challenging fiction... it's a new way of looking at the classical and recurring problems of humanity through the experiences and perspectives of contemporary, fresh characters.

I like to read and write YA Literature because I can be more tolerant and empathetic to the characters. For example, I am less likely to feel sorry for a 40-year-old stockbroker who conceals a lie and keeps secrets from his friends and family than I would for a younger character -- simply because that stockbroker should have learned his lessons in life and matured by the time he's forty. But it's easier to put up with moral misjudgments in younger protagonists because, as readers, we hope to stick with that character as he or she grows through having to deal with these kinds of critical issues, usually for the first time in their lives.

If that makes sense.

The other thing that strikes me about modern YA Fiction is the breadth of the category. Forgive my closed-mindedness, but, to me, it's reasonable to lump together all Children's Lit in one broad category... but to include YA within Children's Lit is probably about as accurate a placement as lumping all plants and animals together in the taxonomic super-classification of "Living Things," and leaving it at that.

Worse still, is that within YA we have fantasy, sci-fi, romance, humor, chick-lit, and every other sub-genre that you'd see on "Adult" shelves in a bookstore or library. So, when someone proposes a topic like "What's your favorite YA book of all time?", that's kind of like asking, "What's the best thing you've ever seen on paper... EVER?" And that would include take-out sushi, the Declaration of Independence, your last paycheck, or Blood Meridian, arguably the best book ever written in the English language.

...And, if you're asking those questions to a room of 1000 people... and only eighty of them are guys... then guess what's going to happen? The guys won't answer because they'll be sitting together making completely inappropriate comments to one another while the 920 women there talk about... well... you know.

But, those 920 women will also have a great deal of authority in determining what kinds of books boys should read in their reading clubs, in classrooms, and what will be stocked on the shelves of libraries.

Guys... we can only hope they get it right.

The bottom line is that boys do read. But a lot of times, boys who like to read have to adapt their tastes to the limited offerings available to them. I can't tell you the number of times boys whom I've never met before have told me exactly that when I see them at book signings and author visits.

A quick little (true) story... I, at one time, belonged to a writers' group of published authors. I was the only male in the group. One day, the topic came up about cover art for our novels. The eager discussion seemed to reach a general consensus (I abstained) that the anticipation of cover art was just like the excitement and nervousness a young girl feels when she is waiting to get her very first menstrual period.

I am not fucking kidding you.

So... the next day, I diplomatically, however lamely, left the group.

So... I'm going to leave it at that. I'll talk more about the specifics of YA Literature in coming posts.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

radio silence


radio silence

(radio silence)

I am shutting up today until I find a way into a better mood.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

the xy deficit -- DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE A GIRL


Wow.

I am really sorry about that.

That is just wrong on so many levels.

Make it stop.

Okay. So yesterday, I'd mentioned that the only recipients of the deeply psychologically scarring amputee-with-a-hook-swatting-your-ass-in-front-of-every-kid-and-employee-in-the-fucking-school were boys. Yeah... stands to reason, right?

Whatever.

And I did get a bit of an argument from Kelly about how she'd been paddled in grade school... but two things: 1) her trauma does not compare to what happened to the boys I went to school with; and 2) I know for a fact that where she went to school is, to this day, under dispute as to it actually being part of the United States; okay... three things... and, 3) yeah... so where she went to school, girls couldn't wear pants. And what, exactly, do you think would happen to boys who wore dresses where I went to school?

But I digress. But that's what I do.

There's something to be said for the extreme disadvantage society places on those of us individuals who are unfortunate enough to have been born with an X and Y chromosome pair.

Balls.

One of the most strikingly disproportionate examples of gender representation available is in the US Congress, where women account for something like 16% of the membership, although, obviously enough, women account for about 50% of the population. Why do people NOT want women to be national legislators? I don't know... probably because they'd pass all these programs that take care of our families and keep our house in order.

Just guessing.

But... there is an example of gender representation that is far worse than the one evidenced in Congress... or, at least, apparently enough: Male authors of Young Adult Fiction.

I'm just making this up, as usual, but just look at all the "Best of..." lists, award nominations, and so on... and it's like guys don't even write at all. Or maybe about 5% of the population of authors happen to have a set of... XY chromosomes. Not very diverse lists, to say the least.

Note: Before I go any further, I will admit that when I posted comments about my Five Best Books of 2008 a few days ago, my pick for what is BY FAR the best book of 2008 was a crossover YA novel written by a woman (which, as I said, appears on no list anywhere).

Over the past year or so, I'd been invited to participate in a few groups aimed at encouraging young people to become writers. The strange thing was that each of those groups had NO male contributing members.

What's going on? We need to stop writing and preaching literacy as though our only perspective and audience are female.

Now.

Quit it.

Okay... lots of women writers are going to be pissed off at me for saying this... but we need to find and encourage male authors to serve as role models and mentors to boys who might actually want to apply their X-Y perspectives to writing. And there are PLENTY of great male YA authors out there who can do it, but you wouldn't know it from a lot of the lists, conferences, and let's-get-kids-to-write-because-we're-young-and-hip-authors-who-all-happen-to-be-girls groups out there.

Male YA authors of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our second-class status. It's time for us to break through the Paper... I don't know... thing that's a barrier, or ceiling, or whatever.

Which makes me think. I wouldn't mind glass ceilings if the bosses upstairs wore skirts. But I digress again. So... here's a shout out to my comrades in this struggle: let's sit around and have a beer and talk about how guys can't write, never could write, and should be continually discouraged from doing so.

At least, that's the message those of us with the xy deficit have been getting from every side for a hell of a long time.

Friday, January 2, 2009

the one-armed man


Okay. Well, I remembered I wanted to tell this story yesterday... so here goes.

Where I went to elementary school... where I started elementary school (we moved around so much), corporal punishment was an accepted disciplinary device. I know that may sound shocking by today's standards, especially to people who, like me, have never hit a kid for any reason.

Yeah, I received my share of swats from teachers... but never the high-ceremony that was conducted, almost execution-like, by the principal.

Also, I lived in the far northern states at the time, so school architecture (unlike that of California) was enclosed: long buildings with hallways. I mention this because on those celebrated occasions when the principal would spank a student (invariably, a boy... I never saw a girl get it... which brings up another thought I will undoubtedly have to blather away on tomorrow...), he would conduct the application of swattage in the hallway and all the classes would have to watch.

I'm not kidding.

And it gets worse, too.

Because the principal was missing an arm.

Yeah... the carefree, happy times of gradeschool. So, the principal was missing an arm... he lost it in WW2, so, as was the level of technology of the times, his prosthetic device was a gleaming chrome hook.

And, yes, he held his swatting paddle (a handled board with holes drilled in it) with his hook whenever he SPANKED little boys.

Yeah... I am pretty sure that if you carefully researched the boys who attended my school during those years, you might find an uncommonly high percentage of serial killers among us.

Again, let me confirm that this NEVER happened to me, but I witnessed it, firsthand, dozens of times. Once, sadly enough, my best buddy Chip got it for peeing in the woods during recess and Mrs. Lilquist (a wicked woman who was responsible, I am certain, for many vows of celibacy... I'll have to tell a story about her, too...) caught him with pee-pee in hand.

I think the most effective method I employed for avoiding the hook-swat torture was the fact that the principal's daughter, a lovely but poorly-fed, dark-eyed child named Jolie, was my girlfriend.

Hey... a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

so resolved

I've never been big on New Year's resolutions. But I made one this year.

I suppose it somehow interferes with the magical qualities of a true NYR if you proclaim it on a blog, so I'll keep quiet about it. Suffice it to say that the success or failure of this particular NYR is not in my hands anyway... or I've done all I can do, and we'll see if the little acorn grows into whatever the hell it is acorns grow into.

I once made a NYR to start eating meat. I had been a vegetarian. Too much work. But eating meat had become disgusting to me... so I actually had to resolve to return to my atavistic carnivorous ways.

Tomorrow, I have another page or so of TLAK, and I'm reminding myself to tell the true story of my one-armed tormentor from my early childhood. It's a good (and totally true) story.

Happy NY.