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?"


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.”