Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Today's episode is a rant of sorts. Everyone feels this way at times, and this is from a scene in The Marbury Lens when Jack is in Blackpool and goes to dinner with his new girlfriend, Nickie, Conner, and another girl named Rachel. The kids take turns telling their autobiographies, and Jack launches into quite a rant about abandonment and the feelings of resentment he has toward the parents he never got to know.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Well, due in a considerable part to the anonymous flaming received here on the blog this weekend, I have done some soul searching and I have honestly come to a decision about what I'm going to do and not do anymore. But it would be counteractive to give this any further mention.
That said, I am posting some short animated scenes this week -- what bits of The Marbury Lens would be like if acted out by Fisher Price toys.
Part 1 is a scene between Jack and Henry, the guy who tricks Jack into going to Marbury. Although in the book this scene (these are the actual lines) takes place over the telephone, Henry and Jack meet a few times in this pub called The Prince of Wales. Here, Jack is trying to get even with Henry for what's happened to him.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Sometimes I think I'm a snob.
I don't act like a snob, and I'm not condescending to people around me, but I am just so hard to please, and I'm not overly gushy about things that are frequently "in" or "popular," so I recognize that can be as off-putting as using exceedingly long sentences, but I can't help my general lack of enthusiasm for trendy things: fast food, television, most forms of pop culture, and certain breeds of small dogs; and for these shortcomings, let me say I apologize and I am sincerely disappointed in myself. (That sentence has 90 words, one one-thousandth of a novel!)
And, speaking of novels -- and I'll be honest here -- I actually do enjoy talking to people I meet who are trying -- working -- at becoming writers, people who put a lot of time and energy into their projects, trying to seek representation, and eventually be published.
I mean, that's the dream, right?
But I always preface anything I say to them with the caveat that what works for one person is often times the opposite of what works for another, and that to truly get to "where you want to be" as a writer, you have to find your own way, and do it for yourself.
Quite a while back, one such aspiring writer asked me to look at a sample of work and a query letter that had been written to an agent. Generally, my opinion was that the work wasn't horrible, but it wasn't something I personally would read. I gave some pointers about what could be "tightened up" in the query letter -- but NOT the work in general, since, like I said, it wasn't something I'd read to begin with, so my aversion to that particular genre ruled me out as a reliable editorial eye.
So, last week, I learned that this writer was going to be published. So, naturally, I was pleased and congratulatory about the development. The writer was so excited -- thrilled, even -- and gushed about waiting for editorial comments on the manuscript. Then, I asked the inevitable question: "Who's your publisher?"
The writer told me the name of the publisher -- a for-profit self-publisher whom I have heard endless rip-off horror stories about.
Sorry. I am going to be a snob now. Paying someone to "publish" your work is NOT BEING PUBLISHED. I didn't go there in my conversation with the writer. I just smiled and offered my encouragement. Honestly, though, I feel sorry for the person.
I also felt like I cheated myself out of the opportunity to explain how this method for getting a novel printed between bound covers is much different than the way being "published" really works. Mostly, I was disappointed because I didn't want this delusional writer (not "author") to think that's how everyone does it.
It is not.
I guess I'm a snob.
And I hate myself. Not for being a snob. For not saying anything.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Lately, there have been a number of blogs and columns written about the increasing popularity of YA fiction among adult readers. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that "readers" are not as conservatively constrained by formula to stick to time-tested box office draws; that they like to get out and dip into something different, even if it means dealing with characters who happen to be younger than your average Oscar-winning actor.
That's why Hollywood shies away from making films based on the better YA titles that have been written -- there's no "parts" for George Clooney or Sandra Bullock in them, and Hollywood, despite its apparent fascination with trendsetting, is very conservative when it comes to deviating from "the formula."
Readers don't care about that. It's why a lot of books that people would never consider to have been exclusively confined within the category of YA were monumentally successful across a broad spectrum of readership. And it's why the "genre" (which I will always insist is NOT a genre) of YA continues to attract all kinds of readers who want something fresh and different, not something that reflects any preconceived formulas or is by any means watered down or skirts important issues.
I mention this all because this week, a friend sent me a link to a blog from Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop (one of our great indie booksellers in California), where Lauren offers a list of her favorite YA titles. She lists two of my novels among her picks.
I am totally flattered. Thank you so much, Lauren, and Mrs. Nelson's.
You can (and should) read Lauren's blog here.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I did something this morning that a superstitious person like me is usually afraid to do. Not checking my astrological forecast. That would be sheer terror. I got in touch with my 70s inner flower child and looked up an online biorhythm generator.
As I might have suspected, my chart showed a perfect storm of all three rhythmic patterns converging, bottoming out in unison as far away from "have a great day" as you could possibly be. A prisoner in one of Stalin's gulags would have a more cheery biorhythm.
I'm an idiot for even looking, and now that I have, I am guaranteed to do multiple stupid things to artificially fulfill my web-based prediction for disaster.
But I did it on a whim because I was planning on writing today about the life-rhythms of writers' works in progress (WIPs).
I write organically. I'm not sure what that means, but I probably wouldn't give you salmonella if you cooked me to a lower-than recommended internal temperature.
When I write something, I write straight through -- without skipping parts, outlining, or making plans to come back and fix things at some later date. It means that when I write a book, I'm trying to get the entire thing -- every last word -- out, from title page to the final word.
When you write like this, you're bound to run into parts that are painfully slow, where getting the words out is like pooping a bowling ball. But those slow-rhythm parts are necessary, although frequently not fun, because they are the connective tissue -- the ligaments -- that hold the work together.
Now stop thinking about bowling balls.
On the other hand, some days when you write this way, you'll run into those parts that you've been dying to get out onto the page -- and, to me, the delay at getting to those high-energy bursts makes them even better, more technically well-crafted, once I am finally able to write them.
So I've been rhythmically looking back at my most-recent WIP. I am nearly finished, but in no rush to get there since I know I'll be through with it well before November 9, when The Marbury Lens is released, which was my goal.
Now to go board up the windows and pad the walls...
Sunday, August 22, 2010
First of all, I read a great story on author Brian James's blog today about how he responds to every letter/email he gets from readers. Really great story, that makes me even more obsessed about forgetting things in the seat pockets of airplanes.
I'm like him. I respond to every one, too. Even the ones that have made me uncomfortable. Like yesterday, for example... I was at a party, and I got an email on my phone from a reader who wanted me to explain a particular sentence in one of my novels because she thought the sentence was grammatically and syntactically incorrect. She loved the book, though. And wrote some very well-worded emails to me with expert grammar and syntax. But she just didn't "get" one sentence.
Attention: All of my sentences are perfect.
As authors, too, I'm sure there are others out there who have had the experience of "chatting" with aspiring writers who are consumed with bitterness and hatred toward literary agents and the American publishing industry. So they spend a lot of their time spewing venom about how corrupt, bereft of talent, and inbred literary agents and editors are... and then you read a page or so of what they've been trying to get repped or published and you're, like, holy crap, I've read better stuff from heroin-addicted gradeschoolers.
So, the latest one of these, the angry and unpublished, tells me how he's totally fed up with American publishers and talentless American literary agents, and could I give him any advice for finding a foreign literary agent or editor to publish his work.
I told him he should build a rocket ship in his back yard.
That's what life is like.
That could be a picture of ME, wearing a tie, passing off my latest work to my agent, an absolute Black Belt in multitasking, who can pen out my latest contract with her right hand while handing over a wad of cash with her left, all the while, (if you look closely) she is speed-reading and falling in love with my manuscript. Good thing her phone's not ringing, or she'd sprout a third arm from her sternum on the spot.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
This week, the folks at Audible/Brilliance are in the studio recording the audio version of The Marbury Lens.
I was planning on blogging about something else today, but I'll save that one for tomorrow. The audio book is kind of a fitting topic today, too, because I'm working on something to send over to Mary Burkey at Audiobooker about how audiobooks and technology work perfectly together, as far as enhancing literacy -- and giving us a different perspective on the whole concept of literacy -- for reluctant boy readers.
So, here's what happened today: After writing for a bit on the new project that wants to destroy me, I went out for my usual Saturday-morning five-mile run. I'm not an iPod runner because I live up in the mountains and running with an iPod is a good way to end up getting bitten by a rattlesnake or mountain lion, so I usually think about things when I run.
I knew that this weekend I was going to get a phone call from the actor who's doing the voice for The Marbury Lens, so I was anticipating the questions he was going to ask me. And, of course, he asked me exactly what I thought he would.
See, there's a whole lot of internal dialogue in The Marbury Lens, because the book is all about "stuff" that's inside of other "stuff." And I KNEW he would ask me about the tone of that voice, what it means, and how it should be handled. Well, I'm not going to say specifically what we talked about, but I will say that whenever I write anything (with the sole exception of Stick, coming out in 2011), I never think about audio -- how the thing would actually sound. After all, the book is written, not recorded.
That said, though, I do have to say that the actor who's been cast to do the reading nailed the voice perfectly, and this was, in my opinion, a very difficult thing to do. Jack, the protagonist, is down on himself, he's angry, and he feels disconnected and abandoned by everyone in the universe except for a very few people. All the other actors I listened to interpreted this pissed-off and disconnected attitude of Jack's as sounding mean, which the kid is definitely not.
So I am actually looking forward to listening to the complete audio from the book -- something I've never done with my books before. Because this guy who'll be reading it for you has really turned himself into Jack.
Which, I hope, isn't a bad thing for him.
More details on the audiobook as it nears its release date.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Three days before The Marbury Lens comes out, I'll be honored to attend the Southern California Children's Literature Council Awards at the Skirball Center here in Los Angeles.
The event will be entirely in 3D.
You can see a list of honorees by going to the Children's Literature Council website.
It's quite nice to have In the Path of Falling Objects recognized in such a way.
It seems like so long ago when I wrote that book. Sometimes, I'll look back at things I've written in the past, and it's almost like I'm listening to someone else entirely. Maybe this is primarily responsible for my feeling schizophrenic at times: all my books are so different in content and voice, it's like I don't even know the person who wrote them after I put them aside.
Maybe not so much with The Marbury Lens, even though I wrote a book after it, called Stick, which will be coming out next year. Seems like I have every sentence of every page of The Marbury Lens permanently memorized. I don't know... you'll see. It's a very 3D kind of book.
Oh... and they definitely picked the right actor to do the audio version of it.
I will probably, actually, listen to it.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
So, yeah... I am working. And when I work, other things get put aside.
Let me tell you what it's like to work.
A lot of people who want to be writers have it all wrong. They think the hardest part of the journey comes first. Wrong. The more trying parts come later, trust me.
Like this morning, for example. I woke up and had to pour my own cup of coffee.
And I'm, like, Hello!!! Miss Polska!!! Double-You Tee Eff???
Eva Polska is my secretary. She takes down all my writing on a dictaphone and then has to transcribe it for me. Every real writer has someone equivalent to Eva Polska, only mine is totally lame, missed getting my coffee today, and she has, like, no clue as to when to properly use semicolons and em dashes.
So now she's late. What am I going to do? I can't be expected to actually type stuff, can I?
I'm a writer.
This is not the Stone Age, Eva.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I'll come back.
And when I do, um... I don't know what will happen. Except for the being back part.
Sorry. I've been writing, which usually begins for me every day at 3:00 AM. Seriously. Which explains the time for this post. And I need to finish this soon.
And then that's it.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Charlie raised a good point on the comments to yesterday's blog post, and I completely agree that teens read to connect as well as to escape. In fact, some people enjoy escapism by retreating to dystopian worlds. Kind of like taking a relaxing vacation trip to Antarctica, something I've never understood, but people do it.
There's no doubt that The Marbury Lens is something more than dystopian. Because Jack's world is not in the future, it's right here right now. When I was plotting out this book, I decided that if I was going to "go there," then I had to create the ultimate dystopian world -- one filled with the things that would be the worst imaginable, things I'd never want to see, feel, smell, or hear. I don't think there's any tasting in here -- except for a bag of Skittles (which I despise) and, I suppose, the bugs and monsters that eat you.
That's got to be one of the top-five worst things, don't you think? Being eaten alive by huge bugs and disease-mutated people who look like devils and want to make jewelry and trinkets out of human body parts. I think I manage to work in all my top five things I hope never happen to me (or maybe never happen again) in this book, especially the having-part-of-my-body-turned-into-a-pendant part.
That's probably why people like watching Shark Week, or, at least, that's what I gather from listening to my friends talk about it.
Sometimes, though, I find myself wondering if being eaten alive by giant bugs would maybe not be so bad after all.
Here's the deal. One of the things that's really been weighing me down, bumming my high, eating me up like giant bugs: I knew when I wrote The Marbury Lens that some people were going to HATE it. Not because I'm a bad writer. I'm not. Not because the characters are shallow, flawless, and two-dimensional. They're not. Not because it has vampires in it. WTF? There are no vampires in any of my books. I knew that some people were going to HATE my book because there are lots of ingredients in it (I won't go into details here -- I'm sure everyone will tell you about them once the book hits the shelves) that make people very uncomfortable.
Do I regret doing that? To be honest, part of me does. I take things overly personally. I think maybe all writers do to some extent.
I loaned a copy of The Marbury Lens to a good friend last week (I really have not been passing this book around to people I know), and I told him that, so far, people who've read the book either totally love it -- think it's one of the best books out for this year -- or they totally HATE it -- can't figure it out, wished it had a different ending, maybe included magical unicorns, and definitely wished the uncomfortable parts would get softer and fluffier, like those big afghans your dead grandma used to crochet. So far, in my math, it's about 90% feelin' the love to maybe 10% wanting to cuddle with grandma's comforter. And no gray areas. Nothing in between.
My friend tells me he loves books like that -- ones that totally drive a wedge between readers. Me... I'm not so crazy about the 10%.
So, with that, I'll leave you with some of my favorite disturbing comments from the teeming masses of humanity:
"What the? This is the weirdest book ever..."
"The beginning was disturbing in some ways and it didn't end like I thought it should."
"This was the first book I ever had to stop reading because I actually thought I was going to throw up. (I was in a very warm pizza place at the time, but it was definitely mostly the book). This book is gross and disturbing and I’m not even sure it made much sense. But like the Marbury lens, I also found the book too gripping to resist and kept going back for more."
[Side Note: Maybe you shouldn't have had that seventh slice... The Marbury Lens: Fighting America's obesity epidemic one page at a time! And, anyway, what the hell is a warm pizza place?]
And, finally, from a current New York Times Bestselling author who shall be nameless:
"I just picked up an advanced copy of THE MARBURY LENS at ALA and I’m really, really hoping to love it."
Um... try to avoid the pizza while you're reading it, Maggie.
Gah! I hate myself so much. As soon as I finish writing this book I'm 300 pages into at the moment, I'm never going to write again.
And then I'm going out for pizza.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
I read discussions on a nameless listserv that includes some pretty bright people involved in reading and the book biz, and recently they had a topic pertaining to the current popularity of dystopian science fiction in YA literature.
I don't post things on their board, but I thought it was an interesting discussion -- not just because of the overt attempts by some to promote books by personal friends -- but because a common sentiment that was expressed was a question about why all the pessimism about the future, why do these novels tend to be so dark, and why can't someone write a rosier forecast for the future?
That's kind of silly and naive, if you ask me. In fact, although I will admit to not being exceedingly well-read in the genre, I can't think of any sci-fi that predicts a comfy, cozy future for mankind. Aren't all sci-fi novels dystopian? I mean, human versus machines, versus aliens, versus the environment, asteroid collisions, diseases, totalitarian state structures... you name it.
And this is part of the problem with the grown-up YA junkies out there. They get so caught up in cheery, whimsical, tra-la-la portrayals of the teen experience that they ruin it with their ridiculous expectations of what YA should be about.
First and foremost, YA needs to provide a connecting experience for "Young Adult" readers. These are kids who are looking for the expression of feelings they share, of experiences that they can connect with. The truth is that a lot of kids have had some unfortunate, scary, and crappy things happen in their lives. The more the ethicists of YA push the positive, happy, self-fulfilling ending as the reasonable conclusion for Young Adult literature, we keep telling these kids that there's something wrong with them -- that they're screwups -- for not living in the tra-la-la world.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
A librarian friend from Colorado sent me a link yesterday to the Horn Book's Newsletter that included an article about some of their favorite YA Road Trip books for summer.
In some fairly incredible company, they list In the Path of Falling Objects, and give it quite a clever blurb about rising body counts. What can I say? This is not your mother's YA that I write.
In any event, it's such an honor to be mentioned by such a well-respected source as Horn Book, and just in time for the impending paperback release (which is the cover image I put on this blog post... the hardback cover is the image in the article).
Thanks, Chelsey Philpot, and Horn Book.
You can read the article here.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I have a friend.
Yes, I know I'm expecting you to stretch your concept of the universe. And, well, she's read lots of my books. More than anyone. Even the one that is coming out in 2011.
I think the way genders and sexual tension have been portrayed in contemporary fiction has changed dramatically -- and for the better -- since the days of books like Easy Come, Easy Go. Maybe, at the heart of this, lies one of the reasons why I am a bit disappointed by the lack of male writers in YA, and the imbalanced manner in which male/female or sexual issues tend to be handled by authors.
Anyway, here's a clever thought my friend wrote to me recently:
"I feel like, according to the boys in your books, females are idolized by young men. In contrast (in my experience) when girls think a guy is perfect, they are really just overlooking all of the bad things he does, or she calls those things independent and exciting. Girls don't idolize good guys. Your male characters idolize GOOD girls. The girls actually are practically perfect. It's just a different dynamic. I asked my husband if this was true. It took me forever to get him to understand what I was talking about; the two perspectives are just so different."
That last sentence pretty much says it all.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I wonder what that book is about.
I wonder if it's "YA".
It must be. It's about a high school boy and a hot chick.
Everyone knows the formula for YA.
I wonder if they had "organizations" back in the days when books like this were written, where writers would have "panels" and talk about "craft".
Are you a writer?
Does nasty criticism of your work make you feel suicidal?
Were your parents generally dissatisfied with you when you were a kid?
Did they forget your birthday more than once?
What kind of person are you?
Are you a "go-getter"?
Are you the "go-to" guy at the office?
Do you store provisions in your garage in case the world ends?
Do you keep a deck of cards there?
Do you have someone to play with?
Monday, August 9, 2010
Are you a writer?
Do you write "Young Adult" fiction?
Are you a man?
Sure you are.
Everyone knows guys do not write books for young people.
Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?
Do you want to punch the guy with the red scarf and blue blazer in the face for being such a crappy driver?
Apparently, his "pal" is about one second away from a massive head injury.
And I'm just guessing, but wherever they are it looks like they're going to rely more on things like "prayer" than on fluffy contrivances such as "ambulances" and "neurosurgery".
Everyone knows frozen microwave food is terrible, too, but they still purchase it, probably thinking this... will... be... the... ONE.
Did you write anything today?
Are you afraid of people?
Are you all alone?
Sunday, August 8, 2010
When you were a kid, did you build things?
Did you build "forts" or Revell-brand plastic models?
Did your parents warn you about sniffing model glue?
Didn't it smell great?
And didn't model glue start the best fires?
When you were a kid, did you believe that the only reason to spend all that time building Revell-brand plastic models was so that you could light them on fire in your back yard?
What do you do in your back yard now?
Do you have security cameras?
Do you have an ID chip implanted in your dog?
Are your kids afraid of you?
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Do you belong to a "group"?
Does it have an acronym for a name?
Does it make you feel more like you or less like you when you attend your acronym-named group's functions?
Do they provide you with a "name tag"?
Do you have to pay them to let you in?
Do they have an email group on which certain members are subtly hostile and make thinly-veiled attempts to assert themselves as being "right"?
Do you hate yourself for joining?
Do the subtly-hostile experts within your group determine who is "in" and who is "out"?
Are you "out"?
If you weren't wearing your name tag, would your "group" even know who you are?
Is it time to renew your dues?
Are you afraid of being "alone"?
Friday, August 6, 2010
How's your summer?
Have you gone "camping"? Have you been to a baseball game? Did you see all the movies that you were "supposed" to see: Toy Story 3, Toy Story 3D, Inception, Inception while you were awake, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore?
Have you been a good consumer?
Do you stimulate the economy?
Do you go to "matinees"? Do you go to them alone? Are you an adult man? Are you crying out for help? Do you cry? Did you cry at the end of Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore?
Do you enjoy reading your spam email? Do you pretend you know the person who sent it to you?
Did you get mine?
When I asked if you wanted to "Stop Living from Paycheck to Paycheck," did you wonder what was meant by the word "living"?
Are you going to see the new Will Ferrell movie today?
Thursday, August 5, 2010
How's your day?
Are you having a "bad" day?
Maybe your sewer line started backing up into your house while you were taking a shower, and you thought to yourself, hmmm.... I wonder what I am standing in? I don't remember eating corn.
Maybe you called a plumber. Maybe he showed up late and went to sleep in his truck on the side of your house. Maybe he peed there because he knew your toilets do not function.
Maybe the neighborhood kids spray painted their "tag" on your cinderblock wall. Maybe they'll write something indecipherable, like "COTER" or "DRAY." Maybe you'll step on a hypodermic needle when you go outside barefoot swinging your replica samurai sword at them to shoo them off.
Maybe your cable will go out.
Maybe someone will steal your identity and you'll have to begin your life over, and you'll think about sewer lines and meth heads and how you missed DVRing a pivotal episode of a television program that makes you feel alive.
Maybe you're having a "good" day.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I told myself a long time ago that some people would be really outraged over the things I write about in The Marbury Lens.
I'm okay with that.
I'm even okay with the person who wrote, "I have no idea who would enjoy this book and I wish I could wipe it out of my mind."
I wonder how people like Justin Bieber feel when some anonymous internet poster says stuff like that about one of his songs.
Maybe the person who wrote that about my book really is Justin Bieber.
I don't know Justin Bieber, but I think I'm okay with him. I have never even heard one of his songs, but I did see an enormous billboard with his face on City Walk in Universal.
He looks like a nice enough guy.
I mean, if I was sitting in my car in an underground parking complex late at night, weeping, alone, thinking about harming myself, and I got carjacked, I think I'd rather be carjacked by someone who looks exactly like Justin Bieber than, say, someone who looks like one of those flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.
That would be something that I'd wish I could wipe out of my mind.
And now you're probably thinking about that, too, which makes this post just like Inception, except I haven't stolen ten dollars from your wallet.
Twenty-five if you bought popcorn and a drink.
Fifty, maybe, if you're not all alone and empty. Like me.
I told myself a long time ago people are going to hate you if you write this book.
Yeah, when I tell myself things, I tell them in the second-person POV.
I'm okay with that, though.
Monday, August 2, 2010
This one's a bit different because this book is not out yet. This picture is what a book looks like when I run it out of my printer, which is one of the first things I'll do after I complete writing a novel and get ready to send it (electronically) to my agent and editor.
This is Stick, which will be coming out in 2011. And yes, if you can see that handwriting on one of the bottom pages, that's my writing to myself. It's how I keep track of things I'm working on as I go through the manuscript (obviously, this was not a "final" version).
And, like a lot of my books, this one makes literary references to other works that are important to the characters and setting. Near the end of the book, the main character, a kid named Stark, picks up a copy of a book that was very important to me (although Stark has never heard of it) when he is looking for his missing brother.
The book is all about changing, and accepting things. It's not a coming-of-age story so much as it is an account of wonder. And it's when he is forced to spend a couple ill-fated days on a houseboat in Oregon that Stark plays this following song on a record player:
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Is a hay hook.
Chances are, people who take care of horses (especially people who have to move and stack hay) are going to have at least one set of hay hooks. There are no other tools as well-suited for the task for which they are designed.
The thing is, in Marbury, "conventional" is a concept that just doesn't hold water.
Yes, that is my hay hook.
And yes, there is a hay hook in The Marbury Lens.
I use mine for moving bales of hay, though.
That is all.