Monday, April 28, 2008

cats, dogs, boys, girls

(Author’s Note: I don’t actually cuss. It's difficult not to when I'm talking with my guy friends, but that's one of those things about being a guy, I guess. I only mention this because I drop an edited “effer” in the story below... but it was not in the presence of any human beings. You’ll see...)

I'm going to spend some time on the next few blogs talking about something I feel very strongly about... how boys are being emasculated by schools, especially school literacy programs (I know, sounds like Christina Hoff Sommers), and how there is this tremendous hole... a void that needs to be filled up on the shelves of bookstores and libraries to bring boys back to reading. This is entirely the reason why I decided to finally send Ghost Medicine out into the world to try to find a publisher.

Guess what my son had to do when he was in fifth grade? Learn how to sew. Guess what I did in fifth grade? I went deer hunting with my dad. I can't sew, though. If something's ripped, I'll just throw it away.

I guess most people think you’re either a dog person or a cat person. I own both. Recently I read something critical of the dogs in Where the Red Fern Grows -- that they had been cruelly turned into soulless, torturing, killing machines. This is a terrific book for boys, by the way, but today schools frown on letting boys read stories that involve such topics as hunting and killing animals.

I own three dogs and three cats. But I am by no stretch of the imagination a “cat person.” And I have never seen more perfect and unstoppable killing machines than domestic cats.

Two days ago, I went out to my garage to get a beer from my very manly beer-only refrigerator. One of my cats, a black one who was born under my bed last Memorial Day, was in the garage. She had a bird in her jaws. She loves to torture and devour any living creature she can get hold of, even (I kid you not) rattlesnakes.

The bird was squawking and crying, just looking at me with its little, pleading, obsidian eyes.

I said, "stupid (insert “effer” here) cat." I really felt bad for the bird, and I was mad at our cat, too... I mean, it's not like we don't feed her. Heck we practically sew for her. But the Red Fern basher argues that cats are nicer than dogs, and cat people (as opposed to dog people) are somehow more refined.

What makes a raccoon so much more evolutionarily desirable than a bird, mouse, rat, gopher, or cricket for that matter?

I have close friends who are vegan. I have seen waiters roll their eyes on numerous occasions when they send back their salads because they’re suspicious the croutons may have been tainted with Parmesan cheese.

I enjoy telling them that tomatoes scream like little birds when you slice into them.

Yesterday, I was upstairs in my office, writing, and I heard that same cry of a bird that had been caught by my cat. I went out the front door, and there was the cat with another bird in her mouth. This time, I took the bird away from her and held it in my hands.

It blinked a few times and then flew off into an oleander.

Okay... so I'm going to talk more about boys and reading coming up...

Friday, April 25, 2008

what they say

I got a copy of the fall release catalog from Feiwel & Friends today, and I was very impressed with the look of the magazine, and especially with the soon-to-be-released titles on the list. Of course, I turned directly to pages 28 - 29, where my editor had inserted a note card with a very nice message she'd written me.

What an amazing couple pages they put into Ghost Medicine. Forgive me if I sound a little like Troy (the main character) here, but I really have a hard time convincing myself I deserve words like these. Here's what the folks at Feiwel & Friends say about Ghost Medicine:

"There will be blood. We braced ourselves to read this manuscript. We weren't looking for a "serious" novel about guys who ride horses and are sorting through the friends and enemies in their lives (think The Outsiders meets All the Pretty Horses). But these kinds of surprises are what we love about our jobs, and we sure knew, right away, that we had to have this book. Here's a fine, fine debut."

And, while I'm on the subject, I kind of hate giving away the advance galley copies I received... like I'm saying, "Here, read my book!" And I don't want people to feel obligated to do that, either. But I did get asked by a very nice lady who runs a local book club with some very interesting people in it about my book, so I gulped and gave her a copy... and I received some very nice emails from her over the course of the next few days. She said:

I began reading it Wednesday morning and I am almost done. It is absolutely wonderful. I find that I cannot stop reading it.

In October I will be "choosing" it for our book club to read.

...And, when she finished reading it, she wrote:

I woke up at 4am and finished "Ghost Medicine". Incredibly powerful. My stomach clenched when...

Such a marvelous read. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Congratulations on doing such a superb job.

I left out the stomach-clenching part for the benefit of future readers... but, thanks for saying that, 'cause my stomach clenched when I wrote that part, and then again, like getting slugged, every time I went back through it for the editing, too. I swear I thought writing that part of the book was going to kill me.

And, finally, from one more email I've received:

This is not an empty compliment. I have read many books in my lifetime.

I loved the title and the way you explained it in the book. And especially reinforced it again at the end.

It definitely will make a good movie.

I loved it. You did a super job...and the lessons we all learned from an ambitious and a very disciplined undertaking... Congratulations...and continued blessings in all that you pursue... you are very brave to share your soul with us.

Thanks for letting me one of the first to read it.

I was sitting in a restaurant in Pismo Beach with my son, having breakfast... just the two of us, last weekend, and I even got a phone call from someone who'd just finished the book and was eager to tell me her opinion on the book.

I'm still scared about people reading it, but now that it's out there I guess I'm scared about people not reading it, too. Like it or not.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

bologna sandwich

I spent some time in Bologna, Italy when I was a kid. My cousin, Fulvio, would take me there on business trips with him. Fulvio was one of those Italian guys that you could never figure out exactly what it was he did for a living. He liked to dress nice, we always had fun, and we stayed in some really nice places.

And Fulvio had lots of girlfriends, too, even though he was married and had two daughters. Sometimes I'd even go over to his girlfriends' houses with him for lunch or just to hang out. I can say this with relative comfort for a couple of reasons: first, and sadly, Fulvio died a few years ago; and second, because nobody on the Italian side of my family speaks English.

I was thinking about Bolgna because it was the site of the big International Book Fair, and my publisher, Jean Feiwel, was in attendance. Bologna really is a beautiful city. As I remember, one of the unique features was the covered sidewalks. That may have changed now, because the last time I was in Bologna, there were no McDonald's, but I'll bet my house there's one there now.

But I do remember how great the food was in that region, in particular, the cheeses and the dark wines. I remember, too, being in restaurants and cafes where they wheeled around mortadellas, from table to table, the size of gradeschoolers. And, I'm pretty sure, that it is the origin of the American food bologna, or, in the vernacular, baloney.

In any event, as cool as this week has been, it keeps on getting cooler and cooler. I saw a picture (posted here... I think you can see it) of MY BOOK, Ghost Medicine, on display at the book fair in Bologna, Italy.

Now THAT is awesome. It makes me hungry. It makes me want to go back to Bologna and poke around in some of Fulvio's old haunts.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

coolest gift ever

OK. I’m going to do something I truly hate doing and talk a little bit about myself on a personal level.

As the bio on the jacketflap says, among other things, I coach Rugby for a high school team. Our team has been around for only three years, but we’ve done quite well. Trust me, it is not because of me. I just happen to be lucky enough to work with kids who are gifted athletes, smart, want to play, and are nice guys (all things you need to have going if you’re going to play Rugby properly).

More than one of our players has caught the attention of the USA national team coaches over the years, but only one of them ever made the team – the USA Eagles. Making a national team in Rugby is kind of like playing in the Olympics (without the Free Tibet protests). In fact, the last time Rugby was in the Olympics, the USA won the gold (not that we would be able to do that now… but we’re working on it).

I think the most important element that elevates a player to this very elite level of abilities is the support of his family at home and his friends on the field. Let me say it again – the coach has almost nothing to do with it, which is what makes Rugby such an incredible, and perfect, game. I may as well just be a water boy, which I am, frequently.

Like all of them, our player who made the Eagles is a pretty terrific kid on and off the field. And I’ll be honest and say that it hurt our team to have him travel to Europe for two weeks during a crucial mid-season stretch of games to represent America in international competition. He got capped three times. In Rugby, a player gets a “cap” whenever he plays for his nation in international competition. Some countries actually give caps to players the first time they do it.

Well, he came back to the US a few days ago and showed up to practice, jet-lagged and worn. We were relieved to see him again. Our team has only two matches to go before state championships and we are beaten-up, sick or hospitalized, and running on fumes and guts at this point.

When I saw him at the field, I went to shake his hand, but he gave me a hug. He held his USA Eagles jersey out in front of him. I asked him about the games he’d played in, complaining that I couldn’t find the US vs. Romania score anywhere on the Internet. He told me they beat Romania, too. He held the jersey out again and I said something like, “That’s really awesome.”

And he said, “It’s for you, coach.” And he told me it was the jersey he wore in the USA’s match against England. The number on the back was still mud-stained, too, which made it even cooler.

I don’t believe in luck, so I’ll never say that I’ve been lucky in my life. I have gotten some pretty cool gifts, though, over the years. Some of them you can touch and some you can’t. But that jersey’s got to be up there somewhere near the top.


And, if you come to BEA next month and you don't know what I look like, just look for the guy signing books in the USA Rugby jersey.

(Note: I capitalize the word “Rugby” because it is a proper noun, and not just a sport.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

BEA 2008

I will be at Book Expo America in Los Angeles May 29 - June 1. I am very excited at the prospect of meeting other writers in real life, as well as my publicist, Liz Noland, in real life (we share a mutual friend).

I will post blog entries from LA when I'm there, but I fully hope the parties interfere with my getting that done.

On Saturday, May 31, at 2 p.m., I'll be signing galley copies of Ghost Medicine in the Feiwel & Friends booth (1508), so if you want a freebie... pop by. On Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. there are general YA signings in the autographs area... so I'll try to sneak in there, too, if I can.