Monday, December 31, 2012

closing the books


Here is how I ended my work year yesterday: I hit send twice.

I sent a brand new and exceedingly strange novel to my agent, and then a few minutes later I sent him a new short story, too.

As a general rule, I am not one of those writers who ever talks about WIPs or how many words I'm producing on a given day. I don't have a problem with people who do that stuff; I realize it's one method by which some writers remain focused and disciplined, maybe. I won't even say the title of the book, so it will from here on be referred to as My Most Recently Finished Novel Which Includes A Non-Prime Numeral In Its Title.

But now I can talk.

Yesterday, I told a friend about this latest novel. Usually when I finish something I like to take some time off from writing, I said. But here I am, having coffee and watching the last sunrise of 2012, and I'm thinking about what I'm going to do next.

To be honest, I already know what I'm going to do next. It's just a matter of deciding if I'm going to go to work on it today or wait until tomorrow -- 2013.

When I visited St. Louis last month, a student at Cleveland High School asked me a very interesting question about writing--one that I'd never been asked before. He wondered if I experienced a "sophomore curse"--the inability to produce a second work after I had gotten my first novel published.

I really haven't had that problem. So far, I've been writing 2 or 3 novels per year, which accounts for the Passenger - Winger - Grasshopper Jungle logjam of novels coming out over a very short period, and for the three or four other completed novels I have on my hard drive that nobody has ever seen (well, my agent has seen one of them... and now he got another one yesterday).

I am so relieved to be finished, just in time to start something new.





Thursday, December 20, 2012

more of the best of 2012


So this is a just-in-case post.

Tomorrow I am assuming there will be plenty of Mayan Apocalypse anxiety.

It is also going to be (or not-be, as the case may be) my wedding anniversary. Will the Mayans get me off the hook for flowers and dinner?

Another thing: I don't gripe about personal matters here, but as far as personal things go, 2012 was one of the worst years in my life, and as far as I'm concerned the Mayans can bind its hands and feet and toss it into a cenote.

On the other hand, there were some tremendously great things that happened to me in 2012, and I'm going to list my TOP TEN THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO THE GREAT-BIG-GIANT-ME IN 2012 (as usual, in no particular chronological or ranking order):

1. THREE GREAT DINNERS

Yes. That's it. Well, I mean I had plenty of terrific meals in 2012, but I also had three great dinners with some very intelligent, articulate friends, and these were them: I had dinner with Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla; on another occasion I had dinner with my agent Michael Bourret and co-conspirator A.S. King; and, when I was in St. Louis, I had dinner again with A.S. King and Heather Brewer -- and her husband Paul.

2. VALENTINE'S DAY

No. It's not what you think. Valentine's Day 2012 was the day Julie Strauss-Gabel acquired my forthcoming novel Grasshopper Jungle. I hope she still likes me. I think I am a burden to work with. But I will admit that Grasshopper Jungle is my favorite child; the best thing I've ever written. I think the reason why it rings for me is that when I wrote it, I had decided to quit writing and as a result was only doing it for myself. I had even resigned from my agency and honestly planned on quitting. And that's when I met Michael Bourret, and we talked a few times at length about writing and shit like that. And Michael made me not quit, so I told him about this crazy, insane, twisted thing I was working on called Grasshopper Jungle, and asked if maybe he'd like to take a look at it. He did not know this until very recently, but I dedicated the book to him. In honesty, I thought the book was my ticket to the nuthouse.

3. SCHOOLS

I got to go to so many schools this year. I have a special place in my heart for four of them: Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, California; Cleveland Naval Junior ROTC High School in St. Louis; Miami Senior High School, and Miami Springs High School, both in Miami (duh!). I love these schools and what they do for kids so much.

4. PASSENGER

Yeah. On November 2, my sequel to The Marbury Lens came out. It's been so well-received. I am blown away by the critical love for the book.

5. WINGER

It's not out yet, but I've worked on my novel Winger for so long, and when I finally got to hold that beautiful ARC in my hands and see the amazing artwork inside (by Sam Bosma), it was an amazing thing. I really love this book a lot, and I can't begin to say how terrific the team at Simon & Schuster have been about making this book as special to them as it is to me. It comes out May 14, and that's not a long wait, considering how long ago it was (and I totally remember this) when I wrote the first lines and started doodling around with Ryan Dean's comics and charts.

6. AUTHOR BROS

What a kick in the pants it was to speak on a panel at ALA about the burden of testosterone with my brofriends Michael Grant, Jon Scieszka, Daniel Handler, and Daniel Kraus.

7. SLPL

That stands for St. Louis Public Library, where I was honored as this year's "Read It Forward" author. And I also got to speak with another group of author bros: Greg Neri, Antony John, and Torrey Maldonado.

8. MBFI

And that stands for Miami Book Fair International, which is my favorite, favorite, favorite book festival EVER. Much love to Miami Dade College and all the people who run this remarkable celebration of books.

9. KING OF MARBURY

This was a surprise to me -- being asked by Tor Books to write a short story about Marbury and the kids we know from there. Beautiful cover on this one, designed by the amazing Scott Fischer.

10. BOOKS AND LETTERS FROM FRIENDS

I love it when friends sign books to me. This year, I picked up some very special ones: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, Burning by Elana K. Arnold, and Scowler, by Daniel Kraus. Also, Kraus sent me the funniest email a few days ago which I won't repeat here, but it made me very proud. And another thing about Kraus -- he sent me those pesky Hostile Questions for his magazine Booklist, and I had a blast being hostile right back to him in my responses.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

best of 2012


So here we go.

In music, 2012 had some of the worst things that ever violated my ears. Cat Power's hawk screech in the middle of her song "Cherokee" comes to mind (and, by the way, my daughter asked me, Dad, isn't it kind of stereotyping to put a hawk screech in the middle of a song called "Cherokee"? To which I answered, I don't know, honey, but it makes me crack the shit up because it sounds like the beginning of The Colbert Report). And it was a year for Larper Wave, too. I don't know what else to call the vapid meaningless shit put out by Purity Ring and other similar outfits.

I guess I need to grow a ponytail to appreciate stuff like that.

And it was a year for Sonic Sleep-Aids: The XX and Beach House, for example.

Yawn.

But there were some very good albums put out, too. And here are my favorite ten of 2012, in no particular order of preference except I will say which of these offerings is my pick for Best Album of the Year:

Twins -- Ty Segall

You know what Ty Segall did this year? He released THREE albums, that's what.

Um. Ty. Chill. This noisy and raunchy LP is everything great about Ty Segall. Amazingly good from such a hard-working kid. Like Titus Andronicus (below), this is great blue collar rock from a gifted and powerful performer.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light -- Spiritualized

Spiritualized is such a damn cool band. Watching them play, listening to them, it's easy to feel transported in time back to the 1970s. One of the best singles of the year is on this one -- an epic -- "Hey Jane," which also is connected to what is easily the most cinematic and disturbing music video I've ever seen. Space out to these guys.

Centipede Hz -- Animal Collective

I know this album took a lot of hits from people, but I totally dig this year's release from AnCo in the way it combines the richness of Merriweather Post Pavilion with the edgy vocals of their brilliant Strawberry Jam. Another psychedelic album on my 2012 list... and you've got to love Animal Collective just for being Animal Collective. Thank you for making this album.

Information Retrieved -- Pinback

An absolutely beautiful, lush album that is so very Pinback. Maybe a little trippy/psychedelic, too. I don't know why these guys remind me of a funky reincarnation of Pink Floyd, but they sound so good and their songs ask such provocative questions. It has been 5 years since Pinback released a studio LP, and this one will not disappoint their fans.

Remember When -- The Orwells

It's hard to compare this album to Lonerism. If there were two lists, this would be at the top of my second one, and I find myself sometimes changing my mind as to which, exactly, is my BEST offering for 2012. I always seem to put an album like this on my list: some very young kid (in this case, a number of them) who makes what is basically a home-recorded masterpiece. When you listen to this album, you can't help but feel like you're sweating inside some friends' smoked-out garage. I love this album.

Lonerism -- Tame Impala

This is the BEST album of 2012. One of several offerings this year falling in the psychedelic department; this one a rocker, reminiscent of 1970s-era John Lennon, and filled from corner to corner with addictive and beautiful tracks. So listenable.

Blunderbuss -- Jack White

Okay. It's not a White Stripes album, and Jack at times goes a little overboard on the overdubbed vocals, but what the hell -- it's Jack White. Fun album. Great sound dimensions, and a clever song about eating crackers or something. Can't wait to see what Jack comes up with next.

Cobra Juicy -- Black Moth Super Rainbow

This album was financed through Kickstarter, and brings together some trancy/psychedelic/folksy/trip hop droned and punctuated by the characteristic soundquakes of founding member Tobacco.

Fragrant World -- Yeasayer

Another trancy psychedelic album -- this one perhaps more accessible, poppy, and dance-oriented than Cobra Juicy. Yeasayer's third album is slick and heavy. Outstanding production.

Local Business -- Titus Andronicus

TA's third album and third iteration of the band, too, having lost the amazing Amy Klein who is pursuing other projects. No matter what the makeup, though, the band is really the voice and soul of Patrick Stickles, a kind of angry and hungrier version of Bruce Springsteen. I will admit it: this is my favorite band in the US. You will not see a better show than a TA concert from the center of the mosh pit, and Stickles is such a smart lyricist with a commanding presence on stage. I'll admit this, too: it's easy for favorite bands to disappoint me (The Antlers put out a real stinker of an EP this year. WTF???) Local Business rocks.

Singles worth mentioning: I love Dinosaur Jr.'s "Watch the Corners" and Alt-J's "Fitzpleasure."

Looking forward to in 2013: Releases from Foals, Local Natives, Nick Cave, Arcade Fire, Foxygen, Atoms for Peace, Indians (this guy is from Denmark, and his first single, "Cakelakers" is so very good), Phosphorescent, and hopefully no Purity Ring. Should be a good year for tunes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

YIH8YA[2]


On Friday, I posted a piece about confining Young Adult Literature into the box of an age level as opposed to a genre. I talked a little bit about my YA, and how it embodies works which deal with essential adolescent experiences first and foremost, although many of the titles within this category include works which were primarily created for a specific age level of reader.

I veer away from the age-level definition of YA because using age limits as constraining characteristics of the genre dictate whom the works are for, as opposed to what the works are about.

Any other genre of novel is about something, as opposed to being for someone.

So let's talk about what my YA is about, in a macroscopic sense.

Micro-viewers like Meghan Cox Gurdon may fixate on language, sexuality, or the testing of boundaries--all of which are components of essential and universal adolescent experiences, but, aside from those triggers of righteous outrage, it is possible to have an academic discussion of what makes YA.

So here goes. These are five essential adolescent themes that run through Young Adult fiction. I'm sure there are more, but these are ones I keep coming back to:

1. Everything that happens is interconnected, happens to me, and has a reason (The “Center of the Universe” concept).

2. Everything that happens to me is the way things are for everyone else, too.

3. Being the same as the group is more desirable than being the one who sticks out.

4. If bad things happen to me, they are MY FAULT.

5. There is something WRONG with me, while all my friends are completely normal.





Friday, November 30, 2012

why i hate ya [1] YIH8YA


A few years back, I wrote a series of posts on the subject Why I Hate YA.

But a few years back, I was just an immature whelp of a writer who had no idea how deeply this hatred could bore its way into the soulless core of my being.

Okay. I'm just kidding.

I think the reason why I frequently find myself hating YA is that most people don't know what my YA is. But an awful lot of people talk about YA, even though they can't specifically define it, which means they also don't know what they're talking about.

And I remember when I wrote that series a while back, some concerned person posted a comment like this: Well, if you hate YA so much, then why do you write it?

Um. Er.

But here's THE BIG REASON why I hate YA.

People say the following things to me:

"Oh. You're the guy who writes books for kids."

"Oh... So, when are you going to write a REAL book... You know, one for GROWNUPS?"

I know I'm not the only writer out there who gets asked those presumptuous and preposterous questions, but maybe I just get annoyed by them more than other people do.

I'm shrugging as I type this; I don't know.

Here's the thing: My YA is not an age-level, it's a genre. I do not write books for 12- to 18-year-olds. I write books for everyone to read; they happen to be about what I call essential experiences (themes) of adolescence.

Some of the things that happen to adolescents can be pretty brutal, and frequently the reading-level of the stories I write is pretty challenging. Nevertheless, I write YA, but it's my YA and it is most certainly not an age-level.

Not only that, but I know an awful lot of unimpaired, legal-age adults who have never read a book because they do not know how to. And then I get sixth- and seventh-graders sending me emails about books like The Marbury Lens.

Go figure.

In any event, I do recognize that there are plenty of writers who churn out books that are for 12- to 18-year-olds. That's fine with me. That's their YA. That kind of YA can get a little condescending, stereotypical, watered-down, and preachy; and for some reason a lot of people involved in the for kids aspect of YA can sometimes act like they're "saving" kids from the potential horrors of the real world.

I don't know about that, either. I do know that if I was was incapable of saving myself from the shit that happened to me, I'm probably going to be a complete failure at saving a classroom of ninth-graders in Iowa from anything.

So that's the big convoluted reason why I hate YA. It has become far too simple for the general public, as well as purveyors of books to wrap the genre up tightly within the boundaries of specific ages and grade-levels. But we all know--and there are heaps of data to prove this--that what is called "YA" is mostly being sold to, and read by, Grownups.

Why? Because YA is "Real Books."

And if that's the case, and we can characterize YA as a genre, then maybe it would serve some purpose to discuss the relevant features that make "real" YA. I'm not a literary expert, but I can tell you about what makes my YA.

And that's what I'll be posting about in the next installments.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

miami (2)


Okay.

Before I begin I want to say something I forgot to mention yesterday: When Dr. Adams was getting lost and driving me all over Miami, I asked her how Miami-Dade schools were dealing with budget issues--if, like California schools, they had found it necessary to cut days from the school year in order to lower teacher salaries to "make ends meet."

Dr. Adams told me this: Cutting days from the school year was completely off the table as far as the Miami-Dade school system was concerned. That if cuts had to be made, the LAST thing that would ever happen would be reducing the number of school days in the year.

I wondered to myself why California has its head so far up its ass? Whenever schools here in my state (and don't get me wrong--I love California) are threatened with a budget shortfall, the very FIRST thing they propose is cutting the number of days kids go to school.

What a bunch of bullshit.

See those kids up there? They were a group from a magnet high school in Miami who'd come to see me speak at the Miami Book Fair International last Friday. They were ridiculously early, too, but they sat there patiently while I paced up on the stage like a dummy waiting for the technicians to set up the room.

All the kids who attended that event received copies of Passenger, too. There were hundreds of them. It was actually a pretty clever stroke, because all the vendors who were selling copies of The Marbury Lens at the fair ended up selling out of the book.

When I arrived at the fair that morning, I was escorted to my room by Josh, one of the official media escorts for the fair. On our way, we had a conversation that went something like this:

JOSH: Well, you must be a rock star or something. They only put really famous people in that room.

ME: Uh.

Well, the room was very full. And I spoke to the kids for about an hour on where stories come from in the universe and the importance of words as the defining mechanisms that make what they know become real.

Yeah, I tell kids some pretty weird stuff sometimes. But I think they like my stories and pictures.

And I read to them, too, from 3 of my books, and talked about how those stories pertained to my own life. I read from The Marbury Lens, Passenger, and from Winger.

There was also a very special kid in attendance that day, too: Ian, the now eighth-grade boy who was responsible two years ago for bringing me out to Miami after he'd gotten sucked into Marbury by reading The Marbury Lens. It was really cool to see him again, and see how much he's grown up and matured as a reader. I promised him I'd give him my sole copy of Winger before I left Miami, too (which I did).

Because the next day, I spoke on a panel about Passenger and "darkness" in Young Adult literature, and Ian was there, sitting quietly in the back row of the room.

It was an interesting panel, too, because I pointed out that I resisted the notion of assuming "YA" is an age level, as opposed to being a genre of literature which might be defined by thematic elements, my "essential adolescent experiences."

Eventually, there was no shortage of disagreement on the panel. One of the authors stated that kids stop reading when they're about 13 years old because they have too many constraints on their time.

Um.

Let me say this:

WRONG.

If it wouldn't have embarrassed him, I might have pointed to the 13-year-old kid sitting quietly in the back row who'd read every single book I ever wrote and would ultimately nearly finish reading my 400-page Winger before I got off the plane in California the following day.

The author also said that there were certain content issues, which, if you put them in a book about adolescents they would make the book "Adult" rather than "YA" because there are certain things that should not be in "YA" books.

Um.

I suppose there is that list somewhere.

And this is precisely why I hate "YA."

A couple years ago, I wrote a series of posts I called YIH8YA. I think I'm going to revisit the topic with fresh eyes.

So... like I said, I did get an email from Ian when I got back home to California. He told me that he was nearly finished reading Winger, and that it was his new favorite book written by Andrew Smith.

I'm pretty sure he won't be embarrassed if I quote him here because I am also pretty sure he does not read my blog, but he said this to me:

it is the funniest book I've ever read in my life I cant read one page without laughing my ass off it's awesome your best book yet...

Just keep reading.





Wednesday, November 21, 2012

home again home again


I have spent the last few days sleeping off the jet lag from this past week's trip to Miami.

It was a terrific trip, but the napping was pretty nice too.

Here is what happened:

On my first day, post-flight across the country, I was picked up by Dr. Leslie Adams, an assistant superintendent for Miami-Dade schools. Dr. Adams was my escort for the day as we visited two high schools and got terribly lost when my iPhone's GPS attempted to make her drive me back to my house in California, which, it estimated, would take us 41 hours of driving time.

In the morning, I visited and spoke at Miami Senior High School, which is probably the most beautiful high school I have ever seen. And I've seen my share of them. It has the most amazing library, too -- and my books were the FIRST books in it, since it had just opened up after renovations.

The staff and kids there were incredible, too. I met entire English classes who were reading The Marbury Lens. So many of the kids there were familiar with my books. One of them, a kid named Mario, sat in the front row at my presentation and offered some of the most complex theories on quantum reality as it pertains to The Marbury Lens, King of Marbury, and Passenger -- all of which he had read.

At that school, I spoke about Young Adult Literature, and how I categorize it as a genre (as opposed to an age level) that touches on five themes -- essential adolescent concepts. One day I'll post about those themes here. I also read to the students from three of my books. It was really a great school visit, and I hope I get to go back to Miami Senior High again. They gave me a school T-shirt, too, which is just about the best kind of gift I could ever get.

I'd post a picture of it, but it's in the laundry because I was wearing it too much.

After that, like I said, Dr. Adams and I go lost trying to go across Miami to visit Miami Springs Senior High. It didn't really matter. We ended up getting there on time, and I had a remarkable conversation with her.

One of the things I really value in having the opportunity to visit so many different parts of the country is being able to see the differences in culture and attitude that exist in educational environments. The Miami schools were both so positive and uplifting. Kids at Miami Springs even decided to form a book club as a result of my visit, and their first book was The Marbury Lens.

Let me say something here, too: Boys in these schools are readers. There was no perceivable gender gap at all. I don't know where this ridiculous myth about boys not reading comes from, but this also became a topic of a difference of opinions about non-readers that came up on a panel discussion that I participated in on Saturday at the Miami Book Fair.

So I'll be Skyping in to Miami Springs High School to visit their book club when they discuss The Marbury Lens. I can't wait.

Tomorrow, I'll post about the Miami Book Fair (which is the best book festival in the country).





Friday, November 9, 2012

yalsa symposium


So I wanted to say a few things about participating in the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium last weekend in St. Louis.

It was a fantastic experience.

This was my first (but definitely not last) trip to St. Louis, and I was pretty much blown away by the city, its people (especially the kids I met), and the awesomeness of the YALSA event.

On Saturday, I participated in the YALSA Book Blitz, where I signed copies of my books for attending librarians. Two things struck me about the event: First, the line for my books was really long. In fact, the books went out so quickly that some librarians went away empty-handed. Second, just about every librarian who waited also had a personal story to tell about my books and readers they knew who'd found a connection to my books.

It was really cool.

But, seriously, all my books were gone in about 10 minutes.

Also, at the Book Blitz, I had a very interesting conversation with a woman. It went like this:

WOMAN: I need to tell you why I un-friended you on Facebook.

(To be quite honest here, I wasn't wondering. Besides, who would ever go up to someone and say something like that??? I didn't even know who she was or what she could possibly be talking about, but I decided to play along.)

ME: Because I'm an asshole?

WOMAN: (laughing) No. It's because my son-in-law is named Andrew Smith and any time I tagged him in photos, it would tag you.

ME: Oh. I suppose it's good to know it wasn't because I'm an asshole, then.

(curtain)

The next morning, I was stumbling around the hotel trying to find some coffee and I heard someone call out "Andrew Smith! Andrew Smith!"

It was not my not-friend from the evening before.

It was Ellen Hopkins.

Ellen rocks.

I was looking for coffee because I was about to participate in a panel discussion with authors Torrey Maldonado, Greg Neri, and Antony John (see photo at top) and four high school-age boys from St. Louis schools, where we spoke about boys and reading and the preposterous myth that boys are uninterested and incapable when it comes to reading.

Let there be no doubt about that. Listening to those kids talk about books was like a religious experience for me. And our room was packed--standing room only--with attentive and fascinated audience members.

The photo below was taken outside the room where my panel was held. We took it to send to our editor, Kelly Milner Halls, because the four of us--Greg Neri, A.S. King, Ellen Hopkins, and myself--are contributors to her forthcoming Ripperology, an anthology of short stories that twist the myth of Jack the Ripper.




Wednesday, November 7, 2012

books that imitate lives that imitate books


So I'm spending a few days writing about my trip to St. Louis.

It has come to my attention after giving all the talks I've presented over the past few weeks that my books imitate my life, which, in turn, imitates my books.

While I was in St. Louis, I received messages from a librarian in Texas who was actually the first non-publishing-type person to read an advance copy of Winger. I'm pretty sure she liked it a lot.

In one part of the book, the narrator, a kid named Ryan Dean West, gets into a bit of a jam at an airport security screening area.

For some reason, this seems to happen to me consistently; whenever I fly.

When I left Los Angeles last week to fly to St. Louis, I did all the right things to pass through the security check: no belt, no shoes, absolutely nothing in my pockets--you know, stuff like that. They made me stand in one of those machines that looks at your body while you assume the hands-up! position, too.

When I walked out of the machine, the TSA officer said (and these are his exact words) this:

TSA OFFICER: I am alerting on your crotch and buttocks.

ME: (in hindsight, probably not a good idea) Um. Thanks. I get that a lot.

He even showed me his little screen that had a cartoon-image of a body with yellow highlighted areas over... um... my crotch and butt.

I honestly don't know why these things always happen to me, I said, while he ran his hands over the "alert" areas. I also had to have my hands swabbed and checked for whatever atomic particles might be capable of bringing down a jet airliner.

Anyway, such was the beginning of my trip to St. Louis--a scene that mimics one from my forthcoming Winger.

Tomorrow or so, depending on the extent of my jet lag, I'd like to write about the YALSA Symposium.



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

reading it forward


I suppose I'd have enough to say about my trip to St. Louis that I could write a week of posts about it, and I may do that.

I had never been to St. Louis before, but I am definitely looking forward to coming back next October to participate in the <3 Less Than Three Anti-Bullying Conference.

And I didn't really know much at all about what brought me out here this time: the YALSA Symposium and the St. Louis Public Library's "Read it Forward" Program. I'll talk about the YALSA Symposium and my St. Louis experiences on another post, though, because I'd like to say a couple things about the St. Louis Public Library.

Over the past five days I've been here, somebody remarked that there are plenty of reasons why the St. Louis Public Library is rated number two in the nation, and I think I got to see some of those reasons during my visit.

It was quite an honor for me to be chosen the Read it Forward author by the library for 2012. The program is an amazing way the library connects kids to books, literacy, and reading, and it is entirely dependent on the tireless work of librarians like Carrie Dietz.

In the past few months, Carrie visited something like 4,000 kids in St. Louis schools, talking about books and getting students to connect to the public library. As part of the program, the St. Louis Public library purchased 500 copies of my books and gave them away to high school students who wanted them, so when the time came for my visit there was an almost limitless supply of kids who'd read my books and were well-armed with questions about my stories and how they related to me as a person.

I met kids in St. Louis who had read every single one of my books, including Passenger and King of Marbury, which only came out weeks earlier.

On Monday, I visited two High Schools--Cleveland Naval Junior ROTC High and Central High School for the Performing Arts--where I gave talks about literacy and words, and their inseparable connections to being human, and then again I spoke at the St. Louis Public Library in the evening, and even that event was packed with kids. In a library. On a cold, wet night.

Carrie also put on what was probably the best panel session at the YALSA Symposium over the weekend, and I'll talk about that event next time. I have to get ready to catch a plane home (I am so incredibly homesick), so I can be back in time to do my patriotic duty today, which is to sit down and have a drink. And vote. Or something like that.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

the planet of humans and dogs


I know.

I've been invisible.

In fact, the other day my editor Liz Szabla (chimes!) sent me an email asking if I'd gone completely off the grid. Well, the grid is an awfully sticky thing to get away from, so I am trying to be back.

In fact, I have made some appearances in other places.

A few days ago, Publishers Weekly ran a very nice story about me, which you can read here.

And just today, I am honored to be interviewed on the blog of author Nova Ren Suma. We talked about things that scare me. And I am giving away an autographed copy of The Marbury Lens to one of her readers. In fact, I will add that if whomever wins the drawing already owns a copy of The Marbury Lens, I will send them an autographed copy of Passenger instead.

That's how I roll.

You can read Nova Ren Suma's interview with me here.

Ah, the grid.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

revolution week


So, Passenger is one week old today.

I wonder if Meghan Cox Gurdon has read it yet, or maybe just scanned a few pages to find her favorite words.

Meghan, if you're reading this, I'll be happy to send you an autographed copy. I am not kidding.

Yesterday, I took part in a revolution at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, California. It was an amazing day.

The kids there devoted an entire day to books and reading. It started off with a "Pep Rally" for books. I sat in the auditorium with, I think, about 350 kids as they celebrated books. I felt guilty because I "tweeted" to A.S. King during the rally.

Here is why I felt guilty: All those teenagers packed into that auditorium -- and not one of them had a cell phone out or earbuds inserted into their heads. Later I asked them if there was some schoolwide enforcement of a ban on these things that seem permanently grafted onto the bodies of most California teens.

They told me no.

I thought I must have gone to Marbury or something. This school is definitely not-California.

During the rally, the kids watched a video, much of which was filmed at ALA and featured some of the kids' favorite authors (who are all well-represented in their Underground Library). The video also showed older students talking to younger ones about why reading is important, and what kinds of books they liked from the Underground Library.

The kids were divided into groups and rotated through book-type activities for the entire day. One stop was the Aboveground Library, where A.S. King, who came in via Skype, and I, who came in via a four-wheel-drive Toyota, talked to kids about reading, writing, and whatever else they asked about. We also read from some of our books. It was a blast, and I really think Mrs. King and I should take that show on the road.

The school had a carnival outside (it is Ventura, after all, and was 72 degrees yesterday) for books, and one of the really cool things the kids got to do was "speed date" with books. They were given a sheet that listed books from the Underground Library (mine, A.S. King's, Libba Bray, Jay Asher, Daniel Kraus, Sara Zarr, James Dashner, and a whole lot more -- I should have swiped the list so I could remember better) and they spent a few minutes looking through them and scoring them so they could potentially "hook up" later on.

They rotated in to watch student-produced book trailers, too.

At the end of the day, the kids all lined up at the Underground Library and got to select a book of their choice to check out and read. Here is the sad part: there were not enough books for everyone. I've donated a few books to the Underground Library, and my editor (chimes!) at Feiwel and Friends has sent them quite a few, but they need more.

So I'm going to kick down a couple copies of Passenger, and I'll see if I can get them maybe an ARC of Winger, too.

And this is a call out to my author friends, editors, publicists, and anyone else. The Angel Potatoes need more books.




Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

the constellation jack


With just hours to go before Jack's arrival as Passenger, Publishers Weekly has placed a third star (following those by Booklist and Kirkus) on the book.

This is amazing.

Yesterday, I did a reading from Passenger at the Orange County Children's Book Festival. I read a bit from the prologue, where the boys shatter the lens and divide up their pathetic kingdom of Marbury; and then (taking copy editor Anne's advice) a bit from "The Under," where Quinn comes clean and admits to being the murderer Jack suspects him to be; and finally from the scene where Jack confronts the preacher in the middle of the nothingness of the Marbury desert.

It was fun.

Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about Passenger:

Passenger Andrew Smith. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-00487-1 Although 16-year-old Jack and his friends survived their visit to the hellish alternate world of Marbury in Smith’s superb The Marbury Lens, the boys were both badly scarred by the experience and strangely addicted to it. Trying to destroy the lens, they instead discover that there are an infinite number of such universes, each more horrific than the last. In order to expiate the crippling guilt Jack feels over bringing his friends to Marbury, he must find a way to keep them alive and bring everyone home. Smith is a brilliant, almost hallucinatory stylist, who frequently uses his talent to gruesome effect: “The bandages and tape... soaked through with blood and pus that separated like light in a prism as the fluids migrated through the gauze and formed layers of color—the broken-down spectrum of the stuff inside of Jack.” And after all the torment Jack suffers, Smith pulls out an ending that, while perhaps not “happy” (this is Marbury, after all), feels both right and true. Readers who were riveted by The Marbury Lens will flock to this story. Ages 14–up.

...And, by the way, if you are a die-hard Marbury head, you just may be able to get a copy today if you can make it to one of the two Mysterious Galaxy Books locations. 

You can see the actual Publishers Weekly review of Passenger here.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

one week



Next week, which ironically enough also happens to be Banned Books Week, you will be able to get your hands on these.

First, on Tuesday, both the paperback edition of The Marbury Lens and the new release of its sequel, Passenger will be available.

They will be followed on Wednesday by the short story King of Marbury, which will be published as a free download at Tor.com.

To celebrate a bit early, MacTeen Books is running a blog post featuring five questions from readers to me about the Marbury series. The post is up today, so you can get a taste af what's coming up in just one week.

Read the MacTeen Blog here.





Wednesday, September 19, 2012

number crunching


I have a few things about numbers today:

1. The number 13 is one of my favorite numbers. It's also considered a lucky number in Italy, where I spent a lot of my youth. It is also the number of days until Passenger comes out.

2. I don't know how decisions like these are made, but the powers that be at Tor Books have decided to release the short story King of Marbury the day AFTER Passenger comes out. So you'll have to update your plans... it's going to be published on Tor.com on October 3, which is exactly two weeks from today (14 days).

3. I'll have an upcoming post on Macmillan's MacKids blog in which I answer 5 questions that kids have sent me regarding the sequels to The Marbury Lens (Passenger and King of Marbury). One of the kids asked if there were any new characters or new monsters in Passenger. This is what I said:

There are definitely new characters introduced in Passenger. We meet the survivor kids called Odds. And there’s a new kid named Quinn who definitely has his own, very selfish, agenda that plays out as a deadly contest between him and Jack. And Marbury is different in Passenger, so there are some different—and very slimy—monsters.  A big chunk of the book takes place underground—in the derelict remains of a flood-control system. So there are some new elements to get readers creeped out.


4. Another thing about numbers: 237. This is a good number. It is the number of days until Winger comes out. It is also a good word because in Chapter 78 of Winger, there is ONE sentence that has exactly 237 words in it. You know how people at writers' conferences always tell you to never write sentences that have 237 words in them?

Yeah.

237.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

wrap up on the roundup and utah. and shit like that.


So I spent the weekend in ridiculously beautiful Park City, Utah, where I had been invited out to conduct two workshops at the League of Utah Writers' Annual Round-Up.

I have many memories, some of which I will share here.

First, I finally got up the nerve to submit my final story for the forthcoming Chronicle Books anthology called Ripperology, which is due out next fall (2013) and features Jack-the-Ripper stories from people like me -- well, to be honest, most of them probably are not like me at all -- Ellen Hopkins, A.S. King (my pardner, to use a Utah-ism), and Greg Neri, whom I really miss and hope to be able to sit down and have a drink with soon, like when we are in St. Louis this November.

Oh -- speaking of drinks, I am in Utah, where drinking is kind of different. I'll leave it at that.

Also, when I went running, everyone I passed on the streets said "hi."

I know.

My friend Davis, who lives in Utah and brought his beautiful wife out to have ice cream with me in Park City, explained there are lots of rapists in Utah, and that's why everyone says "hi."

Who am I to argue with that?

So, anyway, the story I wrote for Ripperology is called The Planet of Humans and Dogs. I mention this because The Planet of Humans and Dogs is also the title of PART 3 of the novel I am just now finishing writing, which is called 100 Sideways Miles. So, yeah, the Ripper story also has something to do with another novel of mine, which is also kind of like In the Path of Falling Objects and Grasshopper Jungle, because those two novels share a principal character.

My first workshop was called (I didn't make up these topics) Pushing the Envelope: Edgy Content in YA Literature.

I'll be honest, and I admitted these following things to my audience:

1. I don't like the word "edgy" as it pertains to literature. It implies there is an edge, which, if you get too close, you may fall off. Or get raped. Or shit like that.

Now I realize I am never going to forget Davis' story about rapists in Utah.

2. I have a problem with how most people use the term "YA." Most people use YA as an age level, as opposed to a genre. I challenged my audience to consider what would be the essential features of a genre called YA as opposed to a ratings-level called YA.

I have some strong feelings about this concept, because although my books have many characters who are "Young Adults," I never wrote the first one of them for children, although I have no problem with explaining how they might fit into a genre about the essential adolescent -- YA -- experience.

So, anyway, I think it was an interesting discussion and a good group.

My second workshop (I didn't make up these topics) was called Kids Without Powers -- the Character-Driven YA Novel.

So I talked about my novels and my process in writing them -- what I believe to be a character-driven formula for constructing a balance between character, conflict, situation, and plotting, and how all those things work together -- that in my books, I do not believe the character can stand alone outside of the momentum of the plot, and the arc of action can't exist without the character.

I hope that makes sense.

Apparently, it did not.

About halfway through the workshop, one attendee raised her hand and asked me this:

"Can you please stick to the topic?"

Um.

So I was sitting at the hotel bar yesterday. This is a true story. A guy walks in to the bar. He happened to have been from Iowa, which is where Grasshopper Jungle takes place.

The guy from Iowa ordered a double vodka on the rocks (with a lemon).

I know.

Did you know that in Utah when you order a double they are required by law to pour it into two different glasses?

And, with that thought, I will leave you with a couple lines which occur at the end of Chapter 37 of Grasshopper Jungle (which is set in Iowa). The chapter is called "Eden Five Needs You," and, in it, Shann Collins is explaining to Austin Szerba, the narrator/historian, why she loves him:

Shann said, “I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.”

“Really?” I asked. “I… Hmm… I never noticed that about me before.”



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

i'll have three scoops of the one with bugs in it, please


Sorry to do this to you, but these things happen all the time.

Tor, the publisher of my short story, King of Marbury, has decided to publish the story on THE SAME DAY that Passenger comes out, which is October 2, pushing back the publication date by one week.

You can wait that long, right?

So, not only do Passenger and King of Marbury come out on the same day, it is also the release day for the paperback edition of The Marbury Lens.

Just think -- it's like walking into an ice cream shop and getting a triple scoop of the flavor with all the bugs in it!

I know this fills you with squee.

Or something. 



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

three weeks


On Friday, I'll be heading to Park City, Utah to be a part of the League of Utah Writers' 2012 Roundup.

Over the weekend, I'll present two workshops: The first on content and limits in YA literature, and the second on character-driven fiction. I'm looking forward to it; it should be a lot of fun, and I'll post some summaries and photos of my presentations.

Two weeks from today, on September 25, Conner Kirk is going to find out exactly what -- and who -- Marbury really is, and he tells about it in a short story called King of Marbury which will be published on Tor.com. There's also some ominous connections to The Marbury Lens, and an ominous warning for Jack, too.

And exactly three weeks from today, on October 2, Jack's universe is going to break into pieces when Passenger comes out. We'll see if he can fix it, or if the fix only makes things worse.



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

in the arrivals lounge


In just over three weeks, Passenger will be arriving.

If you could measure time by all the stuff contained in its passage, then the journey from this book's beginning to October 2 has been monstrously long and eventful.

But that's also kind of what this book is all about: What journey does the passenger have to take to get him to his departure gate, and, once he arrives at his destination, where does he go from there?

That's a little hint. It's also the primary question that opens the not-so-short story called King of Marbury, which will be out later this month.

If you're a Marbury-head, here's what you might do to pass the slow drag of time between now and October 2: First, you should re-read The Marbury Lens.

Then, keep stalking the website Tor.com. There will be a story there. The story takes place right after the ending of The Marbury Lens and you will be able to get it for free.

That story, King of Marbury, will come out on September 25 -- exactly one week before Passenger, so mark your calendars and get ready to find out something new and unexpected about what -- and who -- Marbury really is.



Thursday, August 30, 2012

an ultrasound of my unborn children


This is pretty cool.

Two ARCs of books that are not out yet.

And they're going to be big babies.

Passenger has a delivery date of October 2 -- just over 4 weeks away -- coming from Feiwel and Friends and weighing in at 480 pages in length.

Winger has a delivery date of May 14, 2013. It's coming from Simon and Schuster and weighs in at 448 pages in length.

I've got a few zygotes on the hard drive, too.




Tuesday, August 28, 2012

art that imitates life that imitates art


I told my editor at Simon and Schuster that it was a "ballsy" cover.

S&S had really put quite a bit of work into it. They actually started designing the artistic components of the book as soon as we started working on the editorial elements. I suppose that stands to reason, considering the fact the book contains so many graphics.

Way back at that time, my editor had sent me some Polaroids of a prospective model for the cover shoots. He ended up being that guy you see up there. I thought he was perfect for the book for a number of reasons, the most important of which was that he didn't look like a YA Cover Boy, which I definitely did not want. Also, he is wearing a shirt.

They had this guy do some pretty funny things for the photo shoot, but ended up choosing the photo you see above. It turns out to be one of those images that when people get to the part of the book that it's from, I know they'll be flipping back to the cover and saying to themselves, yeah... that's pretty much exactly the way it is in the book.

In the mean time, Sam Bosma was working on all the interior illustrations as well.

In the original manuscript, I had done the artwork.

I intended the artwork to actually be nothing more than placeholders to show what I wanted and where I wanted it. For example, one of the early illustrations is a kind of self-mocking school ID card that the narrator, Ryan Dean West, draws of himself.

My original drawing, which is admittedly pretty clunky, looked like this:



You've probably seen that guy before. I use him in some of the comic panels I draw on this blog.

A little clip from the ID card panel illustrated by Sam looks like this:


Early on in the process, I had been introduced to Sam and had looked at some of the work he'd done. I really liked his stuff, and thought he'd be perfect for Winger (and he definitely is the perfect choice). I'd even seen some early sketches he did of Ryan Dean and some of the other characters in Winger.

What ended up happening, though, is that Sam's drawings evolved to match the model who was used for the photo shoots on the cover. It's amazing stuff, and a great team effort -- something that Ryan Dean would say is "glorious."

Art that imitates life that was imitating art.

Glorious.





Monday, August 27, 2012

winger cover and back cover reveal


And the back cover, by Sam Bosma:





Thursday, August 23, 2012

another date for jack


In 39 days, as you probably have noticed by the counter on the right, Passenger will be coming out.

Just two days before that, on September 30, I will be speaking and signing at the Orange County Children's Book Festival. I'll be on the YA stage at 1:45, and will probably be reading a bit from Passenger, and talking about the Marbury series, even though Passenger unfortunately won't be out for two more days.

So, since I'll likely have an ARC or two of Winger in hand, I'll probably read from and talk about the process that went into making that book, too.

Afterward, I'll be signing books at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore booth. Fortunately, they will have nice, shiny new copies of the newly released paperback version of The Marbury Lens.




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

passengers coming


I found out this week that Advance Copies of Winger are due in to Simon and Schuster this coming week. That's very exciting, and it means that I may very soon be able to reveal the awesome jacket design for this novel.

I don't know when exactly Simon and Schuster will begin making the ARCs available, but I'm pretty sure I'll post pictures of mine when I receive them.

Yesterday, I got a message from Sam Bosma, the artist who did the amazing illustrations and comic panels for the book. He told me that Winger is his first book, which, I suppose, makes it a debut of sorts. He also told me how much he enjoyed working on the artwork and that he hopes the book sells a million copies.

Um.

Yeah.

I told him I hoped we'd be able to work together again. It is a book that could conceivably have a sequel, since it takes place in grade eleven. Hmmm...

I also told him I hoped the book got picked up for film, and then maybe he could do animated segments of the stuff that pops out of Ryan Dean West's head, and that maybe we'd get to speak together at some upcoming book conference.

Conference people, take note.

And speaking of that, the Passenger - slash - Winger tour is shaping up quite nicely. I'll be in Park City, Utah September 14 - 16, Saint Louis November 3 - 6, then Back to the Miami Book Festival International November 14 - 18, and then Fort Worth Texas for the Texas Library Association April 24 - 26.

I'm sure more stops will be popping up soon.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

first pass


I am up in Berkeley this weekend, moving my son back into the dorms at Cal for the start of his sophomore year.

It's a big change from last year. He's actually excited about going back.

Earlier this week, I received a big package containing the First Pass pages for Winger (coming in 2013 from Simon and Schuster). First pass pages are the initial run of the pages as they will actually appear in the real book. It's the last step before publishing Advance Review Copies, so it's pretty exciting... especially when you have a book that contains artwork embedded within the narrative, as Winger does.

It's a beautiful looking book.

I almost forgot how much I love this book, too, because I've been so engrossed in writing this new book, and working on several other projects simultaneously. Anyway, I can't wait to see the ARCs.

Also, just yesterday, I found out I'll be going to the Texas Library Association Conference in Fort Worth this coming April. It's been a long time coming. There are so many great readers and librarian fans of mine in Texas, and I'm really looking forward to it. Also, I know I'll be signing both my most recent books there -- Passenger, which is coming out from Feiwel and Friends on October 2, and ARCs of Winger, which will be coming out from Simon and Schuster just a couple weeks after TLA.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

in which i dominate the verb dominate



After watching a bit of the London Olympics over the past couple weeks, I think the English Language should proclaim a moratorium on the verb dominate.

Lately, there have been two items that have been popping up with annoying frequency on my Facebook feed. Although I have commented on neither, they have filled my head with words.

One of them is this:




Dominate.

I read the article, which does not really address the question in the title, and I also read the NPR nonsense in which participants got to play beauty pageant judge and cull out 100 favorite Young Adult novels.

I'm going to whittle my comments down to two points:

1. What makes anyone think that Fahrenheit 451 and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are Young Adult? Are you insane, or are you just condescendingly prescribing to kids the kinds of things you presume they ought to be reading? There is no justification in naming those works as Young Adult.

2. I count 41 spots on the list of 100 that are written or co-written by men. I may have counted quickly, but I think that's accurate. Some of the gender-neutral names may have confused me.

If the list were only the TOP 20, 13 of the 20 titles are written by men.

In any event, I can't see this as "domination."

I'm afraid that (and this is according to a literacy and gender study published in 2011 by David Whitehead) the broader community immediately buys into the "unassailable empirical legitimacy" of anything that appears in the popular media which links poor readership to adolescent boys, who for whatever reasons are encouraged to perceive the pursuit as being somewhat less than masculine. So there's an underlying discouragement to literacy and reading for boys (and men) in many outlets of popular media -- which people naturally assume to be unimpeachable.

I believe it has more to do with economics, globalization, and the predetermined future roles of our standardized kids than any fictionally-contrived differences in language processing and literacy abilities between boys and girls (2009, M. Wallentin, for example).

I think the "why" question is a good one. I'd be interested in reading about that. It's kind of like how, a few years back, we started asking why kids were so fat... and we found out it was because of what we had been shoving into their faces.

Imagine that.

The second one is this:


What a smug and gaseous fart wind of condescending claptrap!

And people keep reposting this used wad of ass-wipery saying things like, right on! right on!

Who the hell is Principal Tapene talking to? Who does he expect to change with his sermon?

I have two teenagers (an XX and an XY) of my own. They don't need to hear this kind of crap from a man in a black robe. They are not spineless crybabies, as Principal Tapene assumes all teenagers to be.

What makes this even remotely cool and right-onish?

What if Tapene gave similar speeches called "Words for Girls," "Words for Homosexuals," or "Words for Black People" in which he uniformly ascribed to these groups all society's collected bigotry and prejudice regarding their character deficiencies?

Attention Facebook Nation: This is stupid shit. Nobody will ever read something like Principal Tapene's ass-blathery (and, mysteriously enough, I think Northland College is in... wait for it... Wisconsin -- CONSPIRACY!!!) and change their life because of it.

If they did, imagine how frightening our future might actually be. Especially if we succeed in convincing boys that they can't read, shouldn't write, and that reading is essentially a feminine pursuit?

Now, go forth and SHARE THIS POST.



Saturday, August 11, 2012

a rambling saturday list


1. To my blogger friends: If you'd like a Passenger countdown widget like that one over there on the right, drop me a line and I will send you the code.

2. I have been receiving a number of messages from people who are reading Passenger from NetGalley. This is a good thing, right? I don't know what NetGalley is, but I'm starting to think it's some kind of orgy.

3. I was thinking the other day about all this stuff, about how I never wanted people to read my books. This is a true story. I'd been writing all my life, and I never considered trying to get one of my books published until I was dared into doing it by a friend, author Kelly Milner Halls. That "dare" resulted in getting the first book I sent out to anybody published. I was terrified at the prospect. You know why I never thought about getting one of my books published? Because I didn't want REAL PEOPLE to read my books.

I have not really gotten over that.

You know the first book I wrote that I actually wanted people to read? Winger, which is coming out in May.

I let a couple people read Winger a while back: author friends Bill Konigsberg and Joe Lunievicz. I have not let my son read Winger yet. And he's read other books of mine which are not yet published, but he's going to have to wait until the ARCs come out.

4. When I wrote The Marbury Lens, I had intended it to be a sort of gallows speech for my career. I was not going to write again after that. Seriously. So what did I do? I wrote a 500-freaking-page-long follow-up to it, and other books as well. Um. Yeah.

You remember last June when a columnist for the Wall Street Journal came out of the corner swinging right at my guts with her attack on The Marbury Lens? I was definitely going to quit writing after that. In fact, I told my then-agent that I was quitting writing at the end of last summer.

I know this is rambling, but I finally "get" what Andrew Karre has been saying about YA being a genre and not an age-level. The problem is, as evidenced by most bookstore shelves and misguided tirade-spewers like that certain columnist for the Wall Street Journal is that YA is condemned to being perceived as age-level FIRST and genre SECOND.

5. Some people who have now read Passenger have asked me this: Will there be a third Marbury book?

Here is my answer: If you read the two amazing reviews from Booklist and Kirkus, you will probably get the idea that Passenger is a fitting conclusion to Jack's story. You could get that idea. But the answer is yes, I am going to write a third Marbury book.

One day.