Wednesday, July 30, 2008

thirty-four days

In just thirty-four more days, Ghost Medicine will be in the stores. It's been a long road, but now that I'm on it, things are moving at a steady pace.

In a couple weeks, I'll begin working on the editorial notes for in the path of falling objects, which is scheduled for release in September, 2009. This is my favorite part of the process, and I am really looking forward to it (mostly because of how much I really like this next book).

This week, I also finished writing my fourth novel, but I'm not going to say what the title is, or what it's about. It is very different for me, though, because it's funny... or, it's supposed to be (how can you tell if something's funny when you write it?). I will say that I laughed out loud until I was practically crying when I wrote a couple parts of it... but, then again, I'm a moron, so what can I say? At least no one was home when I did it. Oh... but I did feel like crying at the end, for two reasons: first, because it was such a fun story to tell; and, second, because it has one of those slug-you-in-the-guts endings.

This weekend, I'll be going down to SCBWI-LA to catch up with my terrific agent and some writer friends. And I am really looking forward to meeting a couple of people who'll be looking out for me down there.

Cool picture, huh? (Liz and Allison know what it is... because they've read it).

Monday, July 21, 2008

the first review

I don't know if it's normal or not, but every time I finish something new, I always think it's not good enough. Okay... I'll be honest. I usually think it's crap. This is probably why after I left journalism I never tried to get any of my fiction published for over twenty years.

So, at the end of last week, I saw that the trade reviewer Kirkus was scheduled to review Ghost Medicine this week. And it terrified me. In fact, I hardly slept all weekend. After all, I had heard so many horror stories about how Kirkus was like the monster under the bed for new authors, so I imagined every possible terrible thing they'd say about my book.

It even got to the point where I sent a lengthy and desperate email to a great writer named Lewis Buzbee (his Steinbeck's Ghost is also coming out on September 2... and is a terrific YA novel), because Lewis is such an accomplished author and is so cool about everything. Anyway, here's kind of the gist of our messages:

ANDREW: How do you deal with the stress of getting reviewed? I can't stand it, Lewis. I should have NEVER tried to get any of my books published.

LEWIS: Stop being a whiner and write.

Okay... I'll be honest again. It didn't go exactly like that. I said it was just the gist. In any event, Lewis is such a great guy, he really made me feel a lot better about all the stress I was putting on myself over my first national review. And, when I got out of bed (after not sleeping) this morning to begin my writing routine, I received an email from my editor with the Kirkus review.

Whew. It wasn't that bad. In fact, it was pretty dang good.

Here's a bit of it:

"...The slowly building narrative gathers the heart-wrenching moments together to create a fully engrossing tale. Understating the violence, Smith instead allows readers to create their own graphic images of skewered horses and gunshot wounds. Troy’s attempts at invisibility contrast with other characters’ desire for recognition and fatherly approval. Rose grows beyond a stock crotchety cat lady to provide moments of genuine humor and insight, very much in the mold of Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax... Smith canters to a satisfying finish."

-- Kirkus

Wow. Thanks, Kirkus.

Thanks, Lewis.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

school time

I had an opportunity to make a couple school visits to classes being held at Hart High School and Golden Valley High School in Southern California. These were specially-created all-boy literacy classes aimed at making boys better readers and writers, and they had read Ghost Medicine as part of the course.

The boys were absolutely terrific, and asked some great questions about characters, plot elements, and how to interpret parts of the book. They were also very emphatic about how much they liked the book, which, of course, made me feel very good. The teacher had expected I would come in and read the book to them (they were right at the very end), and I did read a few paragraphs, but it was more important to me to turn the class over to the kids, so I could hear from them and talk to them about what they wanted to know.

I had a great time, and before I knew it, two hours had gone by and I was almost late to another appointment (I was only supposed to be there for one hour). We talked about guy things: the importance of having a "tribe" that works together -- in the case of the characters and conflicts in Ghost Medicine, and, in my case, my agent, editor, and publisher; why certain things need to be ambiguous, or not get completely answered (which is a major element in Ghost Medicine); we talked about dealing with fear, as it related to the book, and also as it related to my own getting over the fear of people reading my stuff; and, of course, we talked about boobs... but, heck, it was an all-boy class, so what do you expect?

Best of all, at the end I had one teacher tell me that he didn't know whether I'd noticed it or not, but there were boys lining up to talk to me about books they'd read and authors they liked (one of them showed me a book he loved written by Andy Griffeths -- fellow Feiwel and Friends author). And the teacher said to me that was what he'd been trying to do all year... get boys to talk about reading and get fired up about it.

I know we've got some future authors in that group.

Friday, July 11, 2008

bye-bye, fourth

I recently read a book by Cory Doctorow called Little Brother. In it, Cory talks about how this current generation of teenagers is the most surveilled group of people ever in the history of mankind.

It's sad to me, and when I talk to kids I often tell them about how free teens were when I was a kid, in the 70s and 80s. In fact, when I was born, you didn't just automatically get a Social Security number. I imagine I could have lived my whole life without one. When I was a kid, you could have just dropped off the face of the earth and nobody would ever have known it. Now, that's pretty much impossible. Yeah, we had freedom to do stupid things, too, like getting fake IDs and going out to bars, or skipping over to Arizona for Spring Break because the drinking age was eighteen and nobody cared anyway. There were lots of ways for kids, boys especially, to vent their wildness, and those opportunities today just don't exist. Yeah, we didn't have the Internet and video surveillance cameras and No Child Left Behind mandates from the government and Gitmo detainees and the NSA listening to and reading everything we did, and we didn't have school shootings, either.

I mention this because, as I visit schools and read to kids and talk to them about the things I write about, I realize that in the past few years, we have all but erased portions of the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Fourteenth, and now, with the passage of FISA this week, Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution. I know that we've been told since 2001 that terrorists hate us because of our freedoms, so I'm thinking that if we get rid of a few more protected liberties and Constitutional Amendments, the logic is... pretty soon they'll start loving us.

We are making kids afraid to read and afraid to write, and their fears are well-founded. And when kids get scared enough, and they don't have a lot of ways to express themselves and vent the natural wildness of youth, bad things happen and society suffers. Remember what Ben Franklin said over 200 years ago, that people willing to sell off liberty in exchange for security deserve neither one.

I'm pretty old. It doesn't matter as much for me as it matters for my own kids and the kids I write for. Because there are moments of pure and wild freedom that the young people in my books get to experience, and I hope that reality does not become exclusively confined to the printed word, because who knows how much longer we'll be allowed to tell stories.