Friday, October 31, 2008

day of the dead

I have no reason to write anything about Halloween other than to say the holiday does play an important role in the most recent novel I wrote... and that the next time I dress up in costume for a party, I'm going to wear exactly what the main character in that book wears.

It's a great Boy Book, too, perfect to read during BoNoBloMo.

So many times I have been tempted to put portions of my novels on this blog, especially some of the Halloween stuff from this latest work, but I think that blogs are for blogging, and not for writing... and that serious writers should never post their work-to-be-published on line.


Just my opinion.

So, it is fitting that BoNoBloMo ends on Halloween, and this day marks the 68th consecutive day I've written a blog post. I'm not going away, either, but I know I'll be laying off the blog for a week or so when I leave the country next week. I'll post about that, too.

Tomorrow, November begins, and as all writers know, November is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I am not competing in the event, but I am writing a novel at the moment... and I have no intent to finish it in the coming month because I have enough other stuff that's still out there, and this one is requiring much research (which is all I'm doing on it right now).

Another fitting recent event for BoNoBloMo is yet another flattering review of Ghost Medicine from School Library Journal. My editor notified me this morning that on the SLJ website, there was an article called "On the Hunt" that stated:

The most recent survey report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that in 2006, 12.5 million people aged 16 and older enjoyed hunting a variety of animals within the United States. While many hunt for sport, others do it to supplement commercial food sources. The National Rifle Association offers a variety of hunter education programs for youth, as do many state wildlife agencies and the Boy Scouts of America. If hunting is a popular activity in your region, think about featuring magazines such as Field & Stream, Hunting Illustrated, and Petersen’s Hunting to pique reluctant reader interest.

...and then went on to list what, apparently, were the best books for boys who liked to hunt. And right there on that short list of five titles, just next to Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows was this one:

SMITH, Andrew. Ghost Medicine. Feiwel & Friends. 2008. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-312-37557-7.

Gr 7 Up–Seventeen-year-old Troy is working through some issues—his mom just died, and his father doesn’t seem to be able to be part of his life. When given the chance to work on a local ranch, he jumps at the opportunity—he’ll be close to his friends and beloved animals. Befriending an eccentric old woman creates unexpected results for Troy and his friend Tom, giving them hope for the future. But when the local bully and sheriff’s son, Chase Rutledge, kicks up his game a notch, the friends become prey for human hunters. Heart-stopping suspense on horseback.

Woo hoo! Thank you, School Library Journal, again, for another very nice review of my book.

By the way, as I've said in older posts, I have nothing at all against hunting. It was the primary way my father put food on the table when I was a kid. Unfortunately, the opportunities for boys to experience such things in this day and age have declined with the shrinking of America's wilderness.

So... I'm not dressing up for Halloween this year. I fully plan on getting that special costume for Halloween 2009, though, for the end of the second official BoNoBloMo.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

live from an attic in texas

Well, here we are with only one more day left in BoNoBloMo. This means I've been blogging every day without missing one for over two months.

I realize that it got easier as time went on. Not that I am ever at a loss for something to say, anyway.

So... that picture? It was taken last night in an attic in Texas. Pretty creepy, huh? Well, very many years ago, when I was young and reckless, I shared a backseat with that guy driving up through Mexico with two of my best friends, Mike and Steve. I don't know how I got stuck in the back... but Mike was driving, and Steve is taller than me. So... yeah.

Talk about a crazy boy story. I better not tell it on a blog, though... I think Mike and Steve's wives still like and respect them. Or something.

Anyway, the guy in the picture and the whole road trip from Mexico kind of got woven in the story of my next novel, in the path of falling objects. Yesterday, I got the final, galley-ready pages to look over some very minor copy edits. There is something that's really cool about seeing the copyright page in your yet-to-be-released work that says "copyright 2009 by Andrew Smith," has the short Library of Congress summary, and gives an all-new ISBN number.

I know.

I'm a geek.

But I am agonizing... I know this is not at all hard to believe considering the magnitude of my self-contempt, over ONE WORD. That's it. Just one word that I can't make a decision on. I mean, I can see both sides... to change or not to change.


I am such a loser.

And I'm not going to say what the word is, either. But somehow I will have to come to that decision and be okay with it within the next couple days.

Maybe I should make a tequila-based determination. Just like the three of us did all those years ago when God only knows how we made it back out of Mexico.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

q and a day

I've been doing more than a few interviews this week, and I thought I'd put a few of the better questions and answers up on the old blog today.

So, here goes:

1. Are there any writers, teachers, or other individuals that have had a major influence on your writing or helped you further in your career?

I honestly think there were a couple high school and undergraduate writing instructors who taught me what I needed to know to get started. But that education is dwarfed by what I learned from my agent, Laura Rennert, and my editor, Liz Szabla. My writing “influences” are many… and I know I’ll think of a dozen more after I answer this, but I would list major influences as Hemingway, Faulkner, Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain. Okay… you can call me ethnocentric, but I just happen to think American writers are the best. I will say, though, that I also consider myself to be influenced by Hardy, Dostoevsky, and the great author Octavio Paz, all of whom I mention in Ghost Medicine.

I would also like to say that my dear friend from high school, Kelly Milner Halls, a Middle Grade Non-Fiction author of more than a dozen books, gave me critical advice that helped me steer clear of the damaging mistakes that newbie writers inflict on themselves.

2. Can you briefly describe the process you go through when writing a novel or book? Where do you get your inspiration?

I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for experience; that people may want to write, but if they haven’t lived yet, what they produce will be less than genuine. So I lived through enough wild and reckless experiences in my life to fill at least fifty novels, and that’s where my inspiration comes from. For example, in my youth, during a time when I was really into Hemingway, I camped out, by myself, for a month in what was then Yugoslavia. One day I know I’ll weave that experience into a book. My writing process begins with thinking… for a long time. Then I usually write down some notes on characters and the first few pages of the manuscript. Next, I put that away, sometimes for months, and let the ideas stew in my head. When I’m ready, I write. In that phase I write sometimes as much as ten hours per day until I am finished… completely finished, with no revisions or changes to come. That part drives my family crazy, and, I will admit, it’s probably a little self-destructive, too. But it’s how I do it.

3. You’ve created some very interesting characters. What is the character development process like for you?

I start with names and descriptions. I keep these in my notes file. I like to think that all my novels are intensely character-driven, so it is very important to me that my characters are as real, believable, and individual as possible. One of the things I do is I keep a file on the characters in each novel, and I find photographs for every one of them. I do this by just randomly searching around on the internet until I find a picture of a person who really looks like I imagine my character. From time to time, I’ll pull that picture out and try to visualize how that character would phrase things, or how he or she would react to certain events… how their faces might change when they encounter stress. I haven’t heard any other writers say they go through this process, and maybe it’s crazy, but it works for me. And before anyone asks, no, I will not show the pictures I used to create any of my characters.

Okay... so there you go.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

wiped out

The signing last night at the Barnes and Noble in Thousand Oaks was the best such event so far. The crowd was truly appreciative and engaged, and it was so obvious that manager Michele Kantor and her staff truly love books.

I'd like to thank Michele, as well as Rose Anne Savo, who also participated in the event, and runs a regular Monday evening class at that Barnes and Noble for a local community college. It was, as I said, the most positive in-store signing so far.

It was very gratifying to see students from several local high schools in attendance and asking such terrific questions. I met the librarian from Newbury Park High School, also, and plan on paying that school and its students a visit very soon.

After a late-night dinner, and now operating on less than four hours' sleep and ready to start working again today, I'm as wiped out as the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

Yeah... we sold all the copies of Ghost Medicine... but I understand they've been selling out there a few times in the past couple weeks.


Monday, October 27, 2008

sleep deprivation

So, I am conducting a self-imposed sleep deprivation experiment.

Let's see how long I last.

It's going to be a long stretch. This evening, I'll be in Thousand Oaks, California, again, reading and signing copies of Ghost Medicine at the Barnes and Noble in the Westlake Promenade, beginning at 7:00 PM. I have a lot of friends and family in that area, too, so the expectations for the wild after-party preclude any possibility of sleep before, say, Wednesday.

Sorry for the brevity of this post. I have lots of work to cram in to the hours between now and then.

I hope to see lots of you this evening at B & N.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

want to see something you'll never forget?

Okay, so I don't know if I said everything I wanted to say about yesterday's SCBWI Writer's Day in Thousand Oaks, but now I don't think I can remember everything, either. But I will try.

I remember that in my speech, I also gave my What Would Liz Do? story, about how influential and empowering my editor has been over the years (years???) I have worked with her, and I think that boosted a lot of the aspiring authors' hope for their own progress. Afterwards, I spoke with a group of writers who seemed stressed out by a widely-held idea that once you write your first book, the pressure of coming up with subsequent novels was so great that most writers couldn't do it.

Well, again, I have to say that I really don't know anything about anything, but I do remember that when I wrote Ghost Medicine, that I kind of believed that I wouldn't be able to write another book... like I was emptying myself in some way, and I wouldn't ever be filled up again. The truth is, though, that the next books I wrote came easier than Ghost Medicine, and they are completely different in every way imaginable: tone, setting, voice, and structure.

Again, I do not believe that writing is easy at all. It's a complete pain. And I did confess to Jamie at the conference that I believe the way I write is pretty self-destructive... that there is a physical and mental emptying out that actually takes me two or three months to recover from. So I wouldn't want to write more than, say, two books a year, because I think it would literally (no pun intended) kill me. But, yeah, I think I can manage getting two out. So, I'm on my second one of the year, and when I get all the research finished and arc the story out it will be back into the manic, self-destructive phase for Smith.

Yeah. I'm looking forward to it.

The cool thing about the conference was that Feiwel and Friends had sent a big box of books and freebies to SCBWI to use as prizes, and everyone was so appreciative of the great stuff my publishers sent. But that's how they are, and it seems like everywhere I go in the writing biz, people keep telling me how incredibly warm and kind the folks at Feiwel and Friends are.

But I've known that for years.

Okay... best part of my weekend:

I got home pretty late last night and I was incredibly tired (never sleep very well in hotel beds). So I went to sleep early. When I woke up this morning, I saw that I had received an email during the night from Jean Feiwel herself.


Two things: Wait, three things:

1) I am a total nervous dork when it comes to Jean Feiwel because I am so in awe of her.

2) The email came in very late... so I think she must have stayed up late at night reading the final version of in the path of falling objects. This is a good thing.

3) I am not going to put what she said on my blog, but she said the most amazing, incredible, flattering things about this book of mine that's going to be coming out next fall.

Hell yeah.

Thanks, Ms. Feiwel.

So that explains the title of this blog post. It's a quote from the first page of in the path of falling objects. And like I replied back to her... just wait till you see the next stuff.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

quick throw up

Okay. So I'm quickly throwing something up here (not that blogging actually counts as writing) just to keep the streak going.

Can you say OCD?


I spent the day at the Southern California SCBWI Writer's Day at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. And I wasn't stalked or harassed. Yay for me. And I know you will find the following statement suspicious, especially considering what a loser I am, but the day was really amazingly uplifting.

(soft music begins in the background)

No. Really, it was. From the faculty dinner where I got to sit down and talk with some amazing storytellers to the actual day where I got to hang out and listen... and then practically soil myself when it was my turn to talk, all I can say is Wow.

First of all, I got to hang out and talk with Jamie Weiss Chilton, who is an agent with the same agency that reps me... and she is, like, uber-cool. And I met Dan Hanna, an illustrator who really knows how to put on a show, and Tim Egan, an author/illustrator who really can tell a story. And Patrick Collins, who works for Holt (in the same building as my publisher) gave a great presentation on cover art... so be nice to him next time you see him in the elevator Feiwel folk, because he is a really great person.

I guess I gave a good talk, because people there went out and bought my book and asked me to sign it just because of what I said. I told them my "Holy Shit" story (sorry... you know I don't cuss, but there's no way around that one), and I told them about how my wife thought I was conducting an on-line affair when I wrote Ghost Medicine because she couldn't figure out what I was doing up in my office on the computer for so many hours a day.

Like she probably thinks now.

Oh well.

I'll put more up about Writer's Day tomorrow... there are still a few things I need to say.


Friday, October 24, 2008

few words

Okay. I know I'm a high maintenance person who needs to be talked down fairly regularly.

So I'm just throwing out a few words for the next couple days because I'm going to be gone. And stuff.

This evening I'll be attending a dinner with some writers and illustrators and others from SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). Yeah, for some reason YA writers are in that group, too, even if one high-maintenance YA author I can think of kind of cringes at being called a "Children's Book Writer."

Not that there's anything wrong with writing children's books, or that they are somehow easier to write than novels, because I know I couldn't do it. But... okay, I'll shut up now before I offend another literary genre this week.

Then, tomorrow I will be in attendance and speaking at SCBWI's Writer's Day 2008 at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. I'm looking forward to it. I'll be talking about "tribes."


Thursday, October 23, 2008

sixty days

I haven't missed a day of blogging in 60 days. I knew this would happen, too. I get like that.

Thankfully, I will be leaving the country in two weeks and I swear, I swear, I am not going to blog from the iPhone.

Damn. I just caught myself wondering if the hotel I'll be at has WiFi, and, if it does, should I bring my laptop?

You know I'm going to pop over to their website and check it out.

I am such a loser.

Okay. So much for that. There's WiFi.

I don't know. It's like running now. I haven't missed a day of running in nearly nine years now. That's called "streak running," but it isn't like the streak running people used to do in the 1970s. The next few days are probably going to be short blurby posts. I'll explain about it tomorrow.

Today's is short because I am in a really bad mood.

Boy rules say you're not supposed to show your feelings. That's not entirely true. Boys are allowed to show some feelings, happiness and anger, for example; but not pain or sadness. We're like cars that can't go into reverse I guess.

So, today, I'm going forward with the anger. And that's not a good place to write from.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

if smith wrote fantasy (yeah. right.)

I have an intense, almost insane, need to vent, to spew out one of those thousand-word, one-sentence rants of mine today.

But I can't. Too personal.

But I can share one thing that made me cuss. Several times. I admit it.

Okay, so, not only am I in the room that kills people, I'm in there with an exceedingly crappy computer. I am not going to get into a PC/Mac discussion... they're pointless, but, suffice it to say the computer they gave me to spend what they hoped would be Smith's dwindling days on this planet runs on Windows 98.

You know... 98, like a FREEKIN DECADE ago? I mean, come on... give me a freekin break.

I mention it in passing. They laugh, saying, "Smith is using Windows 98? Ha ha... he should have been dead long before we made the switch from XP to Vista, anyway!"


Like I'm supposed to know what that means, much less think it's funny. My freekin iPhone has more computing power than the Dell in the room that kills people.

But they have to save face, too, and try to look like they care. They send their tech guy to "fix me up."

Okay. Why do guys who fix computers have to have ponytails? Is it a job requirement, along with being able to prove you're a Dungeons and Dragons Master and a level-70-plus Douchebag on World of Warcraft? (I only threw the terms "Master" and "Douchebag" in there because I don't know anything about those games... let me know if those are, indeed, the titles of elite-level gamers). Oh... and you also have to speak Elvin, have runes tattooed somewhere on your body, and be a LARPer, too. (That's someone who dresses up and goes out in a field with a bunch of potheads for Live Action Role Playing, reenacting the Ogre Campaigns in the Battle for Hrgarzeroth).

Have I ever told you how much I despise fantasy?

Quickly inserted disclaimer -- No offense, fantasy folk. And, believe me I will not get pissy if you say how much you despise reality.

I'm going to tell you what fantasy would be like if Smith ever penned one, but I need to get back to my tale of the visit from Ponytail-D-and-D-Master-World-of-Warcraft-Douchebag-Elvin-talking-rune-tattooed-Ogre-fighting-Larper. He's pulling a wooden cart behind him, no doubt to carry along both plague victims and stupid computers, and he laughs mockingly, shaking his ponytailed head and says something with a bunch of numbers in it, like either he's casting some WOW toxic spell on me, or he actually thinks I know what the hell he's talking about, then he prances (in a non-gay, kind of medieval minstrel way... hmm... okay, I guess it was gay) over and scoops up the computer.

Then he says he'll be back in an hour and a half, which, I guess, in the world of LARPing nerds, actually means two weeks. I'm sure that to him it felt like an hour and a half, but then again, why wouldn't it feel like that after you swallow a baggie of magic mushrooms and slip through a time portal into Middle freekin Earth?

And he looks at me with one eye (he has to keep his other eye shut because he tells me the Carrot Mage plucked it out with her necromantic talking flute last weekend at a gathering in San Bernardino) and says, "Aren't you the guy who writes the books?"

Hmmm... I find myself contemplating what manner of bewitchery he is attempting.

"Um. Yeah," I say.

Damn it! Why do I always say stupid and overly revealing things to wizards and douchebags?

Then he says, "I have an idea for a book. Do you want to hear it?"

Then, a Zen-like thing happened to me. I realized the horror of being outed at a conference coffee stand as an agent or editor and my brain howled in silent spasms of agony as he began, "Sit down and I will tell you the tale of the Mage of Hrgarzeroth and the secret that he must reveal in order to save the... "

Kill me now.


So... here I am. Two weeks in the freezing world of the room that kills people without even a crappy computer that runs... or crawls... on Windows 98.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the book show

So it was quite a harrowing ordeal finally getting to my table at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association show for my book signing.

I left a miffed and confused security guard in the men's room, and he watched me the whole way.

After a few minutes at my table, I got to meet author Kerry Madden, who brought her beautiful little girl, Norah, with her, and I got to sign a book for her. Later, Kerry also signed her book for my daughter. I know, I'm kind of a geek, but I really get a kick out of meeting "real" writers like Kerry. And I also met Marlene Perez, who has like a constant, small, whirlwind of a party following her everywhere; and I sat next to author Patricia Santana during the signing, too. So it was very ultra-cool (and I probably shouldn't say it, but the coolness was certainly not diminished by the fact that I was, like, the only guy there).

So I kind of had an "in." Lots of people came looking for books for boys... specifically non-fantasy books for teenage boys. And so they swarmed on Ghost Medicine, saying things like, "I never knew such things existed!" And they were all thrilled that I have another non-fantasy book for teenage boys, in the path of falling objects, coming out next year, too.

Okay. So I look up from my signing table, and guess who I see standing there, glaring at me? Yep, the Biltmore Stalker. This time, he's flanked by two other guys in suits (no doubt the urinals had been vacated of any new suspected domestic terrorists), and he points at me and I can clearly read his lips as he says, "I watched that guy pee."


All in all, despite the stalking, getting wedged in subterranean concrete hell, it was a terrific day. I met a lot of great indie booksellers and people involved in the book biz in Southern California. Aside: I don't know if I should say this, either, but the independent booksellers, well... seem to really like books... like it's not just business with them, and that's a vibe that I can relate to. There were also so many YA-specific people there, and they definitely were excited by Ghost Medicine, after having read such nice reviews and other blurbs about it. So I made a lot of friends and got a few more invitations to go out and visit some other parts of California.

But... the very best part was hearing people tell me that they'd heard so much about my book, and actually having a couple complete strangers come up to me (and I'm not talking like the complete stranger coming up to me at the urinal) and telling me that they'd read Ghost Medicine and they "loved it."

That's better than anything.


Monday, October 20, 2008


So there I am, at a urinal, getting breathed on. Kind of claustrophobic, like being in an underground parking garage.

I hate underground parking almost as much as I hate wearing name badges. But in downtown Los Angeles, you just don't have many options.

I know you're probably wondering why I've jumped to the topic of underground parking, but I really feel compelled.

The story about the Biltmore Rapist is far from over, though. He'll be back tomorrow... when I get to the part about the actual signing.

I once actually had a job on the docks unloading ships. I used to unload bananas and cars. Well... not at the same time. The cars had no bananas in them. The bananas came from Honduras, I think (it was a long time ago), and the cars were Mazdas, from Japan (shows you how long ago it was, because now the Japanese cars are made here in the US, where it's cheaper). Obviously, unloading cars was a lot more fun than bananas for a few reasons: the cars didn't have huge bugs in them, I got to drive the cars off the ship, and I didn't have to lift them (unlike crates of bananas). The ships that used to bring cars over from Japan were monstrous, and inside, the inner decks were only as high as they needed to be to fit in cars, so you'd have to walk stooped over... and the cars were packed in as tightly as you could get them.

That's what underground parking lots remind me of.

Okay. So, here's the thing. When I get to the Millennium Biltmore Hotel for SCIBA, I decide to park my car across the street at an underground parking complex. It was just a lot more convenient than parking at the Biltmore, where they employ edgy and stalker-like people.

So, I'm going down into the depths of hell after picking up my parking ticket, and the ceiling in the garage, as they do in these structures, gets lower and lower. Finally, before I get to the only level I'm allowed to park on, there's a sign that says: Clearance 6'4"

Okay. How the hell am I supposed to know how tall my car is? I don't even know how tall my kids are. Come to think of it, I don't have the faintest idea what size of shoes they wear.

Ahhh. Ignorance means you never have to go shopping.

Oh. And ignorance also means you probably shouldn't drive your car into an underground parking lot, either.

But I found out on Saturday that my car (well, it's a 4X4 with kind of big wheels and a roof rack) is a little taller than 6'4".

Yeah... I got wedged on the second level of hell on my way to the book show.

So you see... this is how the day begins for a complete loser such as myself. So it only stands to reason that I'd be hunted down by a urinal stalker before I even got to the signing table.

I know, I know... I promise that tomorrow I will tell about the actual book show.



Sunday, October 19, 2008

boy rules

I have, like, five stories to tell about the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association show yesterday in Los Angeles, so you'll have to bear with my hypergraphia, because this is going to be long in the telling.

Okay. So I get down there a couple hours early. After all, I like hanging out at book shows and looking over all the titles on display, especially the galleys of books not yet released. So I checked in with the registration people and got, as expected, my extra-jumbo, hang-around-your-neck name badge, customized with a red and gold ribbon that said AUTHOR on it.

And you know how I feel about name badges.

I know. I'm a loser.

Anyway, I slip the badge on and duck into the exhibition hall and wander around the displays before the event actually opened to the general population. That was cool. I even saw my book on display. I was going to take a picture of it, but I didn't want to look like a dork. Well... I mean more of a dork, since I was wearing a name badge with a red ribbon on it already.

But the signing tables weren't set up yet, and I had some time to kill before I was actually supposed to be there, so I decided to go for a walk. First step... off with the name badge.

I noticed a long time ago that people at conventions and expos have no trouble walking around with their badges hanging from their necks. I see them hanging around downtown, in public, getting in and out of taxis and limos with them.

What's wrong with me?

Why do I hate wearing them so much?

Oh well. So, I take a walk around in the famous Millennium Biltmore Hotel, just looking at stuff. It's a pretty nice place, I guess. Eh. Anyway, even though I hadn't shaved in a few days, and was sporting a bit of a beard, I didn't think it looked bad or anything... I didn't think I exactly looked like a homeless terrorist, but apparently the security staff at the Biltmore did.

Yeah. I know. Things like this always happen to me.

Because I'm a loser.

What I didn't know is that one of the Biltmore's brawny and stealth agents had been following me around, no doubt deftly ducking behind the abundant pottery and overstuffed chairs any time I might turn his way. Okay... so the Biltmore is pretty boring. It's cadaverous, to be honest, with about as much personality as a velvet painting of a clown face from Tijuana. So I decided to go back down to the Expo and answer my email on the iPhone until my signing table was set up.

Still being followed.

Still clueless.

Hey... I thought to myself, I think I'll go pee. So I went into the men's room nearby the Expo. This is where the significance of the title comes in: Boy Rules. Because the men's room was completely empty, but there were, maybe, 16 urinals to choose from. They were all set at different heights, too... so I was faced with, like, a freekin calculus problem.

I felt like Goldilocks, except I was a guy, and instead of chairs it was urinals. Oh, and the story never said if Goldilocks had to pee as bad as I did.

'Cause guys know that if you have a choice of which urinal to pee in... it's just like the realtor's mantra: location, location, location. And, then if you've got a choice of high-rises, knee-level tureen-styles, floor-to-shoulder cascade models... I mean, which one do you commit to? I mean, come on! ... the choice factor was so overwhelming I began contemplating the virtues of Stalinism. I'm certain there were no such places in the Soviet Union where you had to choose your favorite design qualities among what amounted to be a freekin museum hall of urinalia.

So I finally settle on the perfect model for me: a not-too-flashy midlevel in an upscale neighborhood with a limited view.

I know. I know. I overthink things sometimes.

Well... all the time, actually. Because I'm a loser.

Did I mention I was still being followed by Agent X?

Yeah. So there I am, halfway through a rather satisfying pee when I hear the door open.

Okay, Boy Rule 2: When peeing at a urinal and you hear the door open, you never look to see who just came in to the room. It's just a rule.

I hear footsteps walk past me, to the back of the restroom. I hear the guy turn around. I'm still peeing, but I think to myself, obviously this guy is overwhelmed with the choices, too.

Then, the guy comes right up to me... like, total invasion of personal space distance, and I look at him. He's massive, dressed in a suit. The Biltmore's Agent X, saving the planet once again.

He says to me, "Are you a guest here?"

Okay. Boy Rule 3: Guys know this. You never, never initiate a conversation with another guy who is at a urinal and peeing. It's okay (but a little weird) if you're the guy peeing and you start a conversation, but NEVER the other way around.

And, I may as well add Boy Rule 4: If, let's say, for the only possibly acceptable reason (like, let's say, to mention, hey, bud, did you know your legs are engulfed in flames? or, hey, bud, I hate to tell you this, but a highly venomous brown recluse spider just lowered down from its web onto your penis) that you actually do initiate a conversation with a guy peeing at a urinal, you NEVER stand where you can look down over the top of the "modesty wall."

Yeah, Agent X tore up his boy card that day.

So, there I am. Peeing. I say, "Well, Steed, I can't honestly say I feel like a guest right now."

Yeah. Two things: First, of course, he didn't get it. Second, and this may ultimately become an ancillary Boy Rule, you probably shouldn't be a smart ass when you are peeing at a urinal and talking to a security agent who takes himself a bit too seriously.

He glares at me. Yeah, I catch him looking down, too. And I'm thinking, why can't you just wear the stupid freekin name badge like everyone else does? Do you like having gigantic and confused ex-cons follow you into urinals?

I am such a loser.

I clarify. "I am not staying here. I plan on leaving as soon as you're finished watching me pee."

Not smart. He starts to reach for a walkie-talkie. Or maybe pepper spray. I don't know.

So I say, "I'm an author. I'm here for a signing."

He looks really confused. I can tell words like "author" perplex and confound him. Seriously.

He says, "Signing?"

I say, "Books. You know those things that authors write and some people read?"

Now the guy is really pissed off (no pun intended), which is rather Zen-like, because I'm pissed-out and ready to zip up and be off.

The story doesn't end here... but I will continue later. And I haven't even gotten to the other SCIBA stuff I wanted to tell about.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

sciba day

I'm posting an early blog today because I am heading down to Los Angeles for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Expo, which is being held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

I'll be signing copies of Ghost Medicine there at 2:30 this afternoon.

I don't think I'll be taking any pictures because I'm going there by myself, and have yet to meet the Macmillan Sales Rep for the area. Good thing people wear those ridiculously oversized badges-on-a-rope at these things, or everyone would be anonymous. Not that I care about such things. I am one who despises wearing a name badge. I mean, it's totally cool for anyone else to do it, but maybe it's just from the time that I had to fly to Europe by myself when I was a kid and I had to wear one of these big, yellow, smiling airplane, unaccompanied minor stickers that said "Look at me! I'm a dork!"

Yeah. I've had some pretty traumatic experiences with name badges before.

But I don't mind going places all by myself. When I was young, I travelled all over the world and got into some pretty ridiculous predicaments all by myself. The good thing about that is the lack of witnesses.

Well, I'll have my iPhone with me, so I may take a cell phone picture or two, depending on the circumstances.

Afterward, I might pop over to Chinatown and buy some illegal weapons or something. It's amazing the kind of stuff you can get in LA's Chinatown. The thing I think is cool is the little square where they have a big statue of Sun Yat Sen, like it's some kind of symbol to everyone saying, "See? Communism is bad."

I don't know. I know a fair amount about Chinese history, and I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Sun had less impact on China than dozens of other political figures who preceded and followed his short period of prominence.

But, I better get moving. I'm going out to feed the horses, go run my five miles, and head down the mountain toward Los Angeles.


Friday, October 17, 2008

life on the farm

One of the great things about having kids grow up on a ranch is that they get to really learn some valuable and real lessons about life. My kids have seen animals come and go, they eat the eggs from our own chickens, we've dealt with predatory attacks on our livestock, and, yes, I have actually slaughtered and cooked a turkey of ours (that nobody really personally liked much).

But some things are still tough lessons.

Someone once said that the only reason you put a dog in a story about a kid is so the dog can die. Well, my Aussie shepherd died today. He was an amazing dog. He herded our goats from their pen to the field. He even rounded up neighbors' goats when they escaped and could bring them home.

He knew voice and hand commands. I would take him running with me in the hills, I could tell him to sit down on the side of the trail and run away, as far as I wanted to, and he wouldn't budge from his spot until I called for him. I could stand on the side of a street and tell him to cross it, and he would, then he would wait for me to tell him what to do next.

I never needed a leash with that dog.

So I'm not too sad. He had a great life, and he just died today after spending 11 years with me.

It happens.

The tough part was telling my little girl. She's 11 years old, too. Just like the dog was. So, yeah, she never knew life without that dog.

And it made me feel terrible when she threw herself down on her bed and cried about that dog. It made me feel worse than what happened to my dog.

And tonight, she's going to her first-ever "big kids'" dance, too. So, it's been a pretty weird Friday here. But everything works out eventually. Animals will come and go. My wife is even looking at two more horses.

God. Shoot me now. I do not need two more horses.

But I'd never say no to bringing more animals home to the ranch.

I hope to see some of you at SCIBA tomorrow in Los Angeles.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

how cool is this?

So I was just screwing around the other day, bored, avoiding work, looking for some new music on iTunes, and I found this (Smith points at picture on blog).

How cool is this?

I'm on iTunes.

Just like Elvis and Curt Cobain. Except I still have a pulse. Wow. I just realized how much I like Nirvana, too. And, considering Ghost Medicine is over 11 hours long, I may have more time-space than Nirvana, too... I don't know. Oh... and more audio is definitely coming from me.

And I'm not even going to gripe that it mistakenly says I am the narrator, because I'm not. The audio for Ghost Medicine was done by an actor named Mike Chamberlain. I don't think I'd want to ever do an audiobook myself... it's too hard to pronounce every single word so perfectly. And, believe me, Mike's director (a terrific and talented lady named Jessica Kaye) was an absolute perfectionist with the words.

Anyway, this being BoNoBloMo (boy novelist blogging month) and Teen Read Week all at the same time, I thought I'd go ahead and make some recommendations for books for boys. One caveat, though... I am not going to recommend any current writers. It's not fair, in my opinion. Of course, I'd recommend myself... and, then, who the hell am I to judge the strengths and merits of my peers? But I will say this... when I recommend books for boys, they will almost always be books that were written by boys. Sorry. I have my reasons.

Okay. So here goes:

  • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
  • The Wild Palms by William Faulkner
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
  • Something Wicked this way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Billy Budd by Herman Melville
Okay... why would I recommend those particular books?

Well, I don't necessarily consider them to be the best ten books ever written. Maybe some of them are. But I did actually read all of them when I was a boy. And I didn't have to read them... they were not assigned to me when I was in High School. I actually went to the bookstore and bought them (and many others) on my own when I was a kid.

I guess I was a bit of a literary snob in many respects. But these were, and are, amazing books. Also, I often picked really long books (like Dostoevsky or Hardy), and old classics, because they were always really cheap, and their length made me feel like I was getting my money's worth and giving me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on them.

Really. Honestly. When I was a teenager, those were some of the books I read.

I thought about this blog because I received an email last night from another author friend who thought he detected a taste of Hemingway in Ghost Medicine. So I confessed how I seriously believed, as a teenager, that there would NEVER be a writer who could even get close to licking Hemingway's boots. So I read everything by him I could get my hands on, and I put myself out on some pretty crazy and reckless adventures, too, trying to see what it felt like to live that kind of life.

One of these days, I know I'll write about my own Hemingway-esque adventures. 'Cause I did make it through some interesting challenges.

And I still have a pulse, too.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ghost sightings

So, on Saturday I will be at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Expo at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. I'll be at author's table 3 signing copies of Ghost Medicine beginning at 2:30. I'm looking forward to it.

Next week, I'll be attending SCBWI's (that's the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Writer's Day 2008 at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. I'm attending an SCBWI dinner there on Friday evening, then on Saturday, October 25, I will be one of the Spotlight Speakers at the event.

This is really going to be a great weekend, capped off with a signing and reading at the Barnes and Noble in Thousand Oaks on Monday, October 27, at 7:00 pm. What makes it special is that I have so many family members and friends in that part of California, who've been waiting for this event to get their own copies of Ghost Medicine.

Also, I graduated from high school very near to Thousand Oaks, and my alma mater has some copies of Ghost Medicine in their library. The librarian is going to be in attendance, but I really hope we'll get some of the kids out, as well. Considering it's a Monday night, and there are no high school football games on Mondays, there will probably be a nice turnout.

I'm just guessing that the current librarian was probably in diapers back when I went to High School, and that most of my teachers have likely retired. But, and especially in light of what I've been writing about in my blogs for a while now, I will say that I had a superb, and very boy-friendly education when I was in high school. We didn't do the group thing then... we didn't force boys to be reflective and get in touch with their emotions, we just worked hard. I remember reading Faulkner and P.G. Wodehouse (now, there are two great writers for boys who were recommended to me by my English teacher as subjects for papers), and it was in high school when I realized how much I loved to read, and knew that one day I would become an author, too.

I don't have any spectacular or life-changing memories of high school. Being a high-achiever, I tended to get the teachers that terrified most of my friends, but they were the kind of teachers I liked the most... and from whom I learned the most, as well. I don't think I was a particularly good student, though. I got into an awful lot of trouble in high school, including multiple trips to the principal's office, being suspended, just getting by recklessly as a smart-alecky kid.

And I was very young in high school, too, because I was skipped ahead as a grade-schooler. So I lied about my age so the girls would talk to me, even if I'm sure they must have wondered why I wasn't driving when every other boy in school had a driver's license. And I lied about my age to get jobs, too... but in those days, it was simple enough to get away with things like that. It's funny, but growing up I always swore I would never let my own kid skip grades in school because of how much I hated being so young... but, I allowed my own son to do it when he was in grade school, too.

I know... what a loser I am. But my son, now in high school himself, is vastly more well-adjusted than I was in my teens.

Anyway, there's a little nostalgic trip for me. I sure hope to see some of the kids and staff from my old school next week at the B & N.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the boy school

Boys are less likely to graduate high school or college than girls.

Over the past month or so, I've thrown a lot of stats and ideas out about what schools have been doing to dumb down boys, turn them away from reading and writing, and pretty much destroy their chances over the past couple decades. Again, schools have embraced models for teaching and learning, and adopted expectations for performance and behavior that preordain a lack of success on the part of boys.

So, to wrap this series of blog posts up, I have a list of ideas about what a good "boy school" would incorporate. Here goes:

  • Since boys need competition, it needs to be reintroduced in their school. Infusing healthy and fun competition (individuals, group, class), boys will get more engaged in their learning.
  • When reading and writing, schools have to be more careful about choosing gender-relative subjects. Girls tend to enjoy reading stories with male protagonists/archetypes, but boys do not tend to enjoy those based around females.
  • Things, especially reading and writing, need to be broken into parts... like models, the things boys like to build and destroy.
  • Boy schools don't necessarily emphasize "nice play." Instead, they have hierarchies based on competitiveness.
  • Competition should be used to go to the next higher level.
  • Positive male attributes must be recognized... stories often have kids thanking mom for the nice dinner, but never express gratitude to dad for paying the electric bill. Instead, dads are often characterized as abusive, neglectful boozers. Those aren't the only male characters out there in great stories, folks...
  • Boy schools allow for plenty of individual activities.
  • Boy schools don't structure expectations so that boys are punished or fall behind for not expressing their confusion when they "don't get it."
Think about it. If you're a parent or teacher, I know you recognize how schools don't do the things listed above anymore.

And that's how we're leaving those kids behind.


Monday, October 13, 2008

revenge of the amazons

When I was a kid, my friends and I had guns, and we went shooting. We lived in a place where we could just go outside and shoot, and all the boys had guns.

I wasn't a boy who killed things, though, but I did have friends who liked to kill things just to kill them. I think a lot of boys are like that... and I'm just being honest, as bad as that may sound. Sure, I went hunting and fishing with my father, and I always felt bad about killing things, but I never felt bad when I was eating them.

We had a pet squirrel. I know that's a weird thing to admit to, but our squirrel was wild. It used to come out of the trees every afternoon and it would eat out of our hands. One time, it got a couple ticks on it, and it actually allowed my father to pull them out with tweezers. Somewhere, we still have pictures of that dumb squirrel back when I was probably seven years old( that was when we lived in the haunted house).

Then, my brothers and I sadly found out that an owl killed the squirrel. My oldest brother knew where the owl lived and so he went out and shot that owl. I don't know if I felt worse for the owl, the squirrel, or my brother, but that's how things were then.

So, I've been thinking about boys and school, and why things aren't working out for them. And... remember that stat I gave last time about how men currently only receive 42% of the Bachelor's Degrees in America? In applying laws of statistics, if the current achievement gap persists, it may likely be the case that women will be the only gender graduating from college in about 20 years.

Watch out, boys... In the world of the Amazons, you will be the slaves. You better get used to cooking and doing laundry. Oh... and changing diapers. Kind of like what women had to do in the 40s and 50s.

Please. I am not a misogynist. I'm just trying to prepare our kids for what's coming down the road.

I'm going to talk about "Boy School" coming up... what schools should look like to save our boys from Amazonian enslavement (not that it mightn't be kind of cool), and how to stop our boys from being "dumbed down," but I wanted to share some really nice news from the book world.

My editor just found out that Ghost Medicine has officially been nominated as a "Best Book for Young Adults" for 2009 by ALA/YALSA... and for the California Book Award, too.

Wow. That is really an honor for me, and I sincerely thank whatever person or people actually took the time to submit that nomination. When I look at the list of other authors and titles nominated, it's like... just wow.

And I saw my book on iTunes, too. That is incredibly cool. Sorry... it just is.

This Saturday, I will be at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Expo in Los Angeles, signing copies of Ghost Medicine. Again, lots of awesome, incredible authors will be there. I will try to not act like such a dork groupie around them... but I am, after all, pretty much a dork.

And, next weekend, I have another very special couple of events coming up, too, but I'll post that up later.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

another time out

Okay. This is one of those days where I just don't feel like being too serious. Fall has really set in up here in the mountains, and when I got out of bed this morning it was in the 20s... freezing cold. Time to get the wood stove going. My apologies to the rest of the country where it may be much colder, but this is, after all, California.

Also, we don't have to heat the house with a wood stove, but I haven't ever used the furnace since I bought this house (over ten years ago). And I'm scared of furnaces. Furnaces and potato bugs.

But not fire.

Boys like fires. Well, I mean that in the most non-psycho-arsonist kind of way. When I was a kid, my friends and I went camping often. No grownups. Just us kids. The best places were always way out in the woods, up in the mountains. And, of course, the most important part of camping was the fire at night. That's why it was such an important ritual for the boys in Ghost Medicine.

I once spent a month, camping by myself in Yugoslavia (in a place that is now part of Slovenia). It was a very Hemingway-esque experience, and one day, I will probably write about it, because I did meet some interesting characters and have some great adventures during that time alone.

But, I am actually working on something new right now. I had to because I was getting so crazy bored with being finished and in-between everything else.

It's just one of those slow autumn days. I think I'll go start the fire.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

the competition climate

Earlier this week, I was interviewed.


But this time, it wasn't about writing, the interview was about being a coach. I was asked, what, in my opinion, made a great coach. As usual, I gave a blathering and excessively wordy answer, but I'll paraphrase it here.

I said that being a great coach really depended on the level of team you were coaching, because there are different qualifications, I think, for being "great" at the high school, college, and professional level. I do not believe there are very many "great" coaches at all when it comes to working with kids.

A "great" coach of kids has to remember that kids play sports because it's fun. A "great" coach has to realize that he doesn't win when the boys on the field do... it's their win. A "great" coach for kids has to define "winning" for himself in very personal, non-numeric terms: Did he teach the kids effectively? Did they love playing the game more at the end of the season than when it started? Did the kids have fun?

Those kinds of things don't get reported on in the win-loss records, so the vast majority of high school coaches try to ignore them. That's why there are almost no "great" coaches for kids.

I'm sure if you ever go to youth baseball, soccer, and especially to high school football games, you see how polluted kids' sports have become with this sickening win-at-all-costs mentality expressed by coaches, and amplified by parents and fans on the sidelines.

It's easy to suck boys into that kind of mindset, too. Because boys love competition. There used to be opportunities for competition in classroom settings, too, but those days have pretty much gone away.

That's another reason how we're dumbing down boys in school.

I think it started in the 70s. I think lots of people involved in education smoked lots of pot and sat around barefoot during that decade trying to dream up ways to destroy teaching.

By the way, I have nothing against the 70s, as a rule... my next book, in the path of falling objects takes place during 1970, as a matter of fact. And, well, you'll see how the boys in this story have to contend with the forces of the time that try to destroy them, too.

But, I think during that era we started to see the introduction of games being played at school where no scores were kept... then, we started giving out awards to every single student, rather than the top achievers who clearly separated themselves from the pack... and schools began doing away with valedictorians, and on and on.

The idea was to make everyone a winner.

What we did was turn winners into losers.

There is nothing wrong with healthy and friendly competition. We all grow from it. And boys need it.

But, I've gone on a bit too long today. I will continue on with some thoughts and criticisms about coaching, as well as some ideas about what a "boy-friendly" school would incorporate. Here are just a couple thoughts I want to leave you with today (and if you want the source citations, email me and I will provide them):

1) On NAEP writing tests, boys score an average 24 points lower than girls.

2) By grade 4, the average boy is developmentally two years behind the average girl.

3) Men receive only 42% of Bachelor's Degrees currently being awarded.

Think about that.


Friday, October 10, 2008

okay... so i cussed

I kind of knew it would happen when I did it, but... whatever.

I got an email for dropping an f-bomb in yesterday's blog. I know... I never do that, but I figured nobody ever reads it anyway, and if they do, I figured they'd stop reading before they got to that big bottom paragraph.

So, I'm sorry. But, I want to make it clear that easily half the stuff I say should never be taken seriously. Some of it should. For example:

1) I really am in the room that kills people.

2) I really did get sent here because of the Rainbow Club.

3) I really did make black widow spiders fight with potato bugs when I was a kid.

Just so you know... examples of things not to be taken seriously:

1) I never actually created a black hole in my garage as a teen.

2) I really do not hate kids.

3) Any paragraph I ever write that contains an f-bomb is probably entirely untrue.

Okay, there. I got that off my chest.

Now I'm going to do something which, like Fantasy, I really do not like: I am going to get dangerously close to blogging about politics. It's not that I am not keenly interested in politics, and I am proud to say that I truly know every Article and Amendment to the Constitution... you can test me on it any time. But I also think that writers should write... and if we make a living at fiction, who the heck wants to hear us spouting off about politics?

Anyway, there are ways to get your point across without making it blaringly obvious.

So I was thinking about this "name" thing. Over the years, I guess I have taught several thousand kids. I have a pretty decent memory of most of them; and I figure that I've had maybe a dozen boys who had the name "Hussein." I'm sure there are parts of the country where teachers would be more likely to teach boys with that name... and there are probably parts of the country (maybe near the Arctic Circle) where teachers have never met boys with that name.

But I clearly remember when I was a kid in elementary school how we learned that in America, anyone could grow up to be president one day.

So... am I supposed to tell all these boys that only other kids can be president in America?

Yeah... America's a melting pot, we just want some of our boys to melt on a different burner... away from all the pure folk.

Side note: President Harding's middle name was Gamaliel. Oh... and Rutherford B. Hayes? The "B" was for Birchard.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

black holes and warrior princesses

Boys kind of like to mess with things, too.

Remember a few weeks back when those scientists in Switzerland tried to rape the entire freaking universe by creating a small black hole?

Well, I think it landed on Wall Street. Or Iceland. I mean, if boys could make mini-black holes in their garages, what boy could honestly say he wouldn't want to do that? I'd probably make a black hole and then put it in the arena of death with a potato bug and a black widow.


If you think I'm sexist... well, okay. Remember the English professor who told me that Ghost Medicine was misogynistic?

Yeah... whatever.

But there's nothing wrong with generalizing things out to an entire gender. There are always going to be certain predispositions and talents that are more attributable to one sex rather than the other. It's true in most things, but especially in education (and I'm not entirely through with that topic yet, either).

Girls, for example, make better "warrior princesses." (I will admit I downloaded a few pictures of Xena this afternoon)

I've decided to add a likeness of Xena, Warrior Princess to the Shrine of Protection. I am still winning the battle against the room that kills people, but I've noticed that they've turned the air conditioner down to a setting called "Iceland," (no doubt in an attempt to attract the wandering black hole) and the thermostat cannot be controlled by human beings.

Oh... to top things off... next week is ALA's Teen Read Week (Yay!). So, guess what the school did? They invited an author of one fantasy book that came out in 2004 to come in and speak to the kids about "being published."


Fantasy. Dragons. Wizards. Good thing it doesn't mention the V Word.

I guess the topic should be "having, at one time, been published."


"Long, long, ago."

"In a land called Gorgngal."


It's okay... it's okay. My feelings are not diminished. They were sucked out a long time ago when I fucked around with a black hole in my garage when I was a teenager. I hate kids anyway. And don't even get me started on fantasy, much less my having a multi-book contract.

I guess they haven't figured out that the room that kills people, the black hole, and the "Iceland" temperature zone setting have not killed me yet.

Thanks, among other deities, to Xena.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

thinking about moving


So, I was talking on my cell phone today. I just dialed a random number and started talking. God knows, nobody would ever call me.

And I'm talking to this complete stranger. It wasn't important what we were talking about... that's not why I called. I just wanted to pay attention to how I talked when I was on the phone.

I know... this is confusing.

But I thought about this the other day when I was on the radio, being interviewed about writing. You know how radio stations are set up... the host has headphones, I have headphones. There's a guy who adjusts this microphone in front of me. The host has a microphone in front of him.

And, I'm thinking, why is his microphone so much bigger than mine?

Oh well.

Then, while the interview is going on, I notice the host is, like, flailing his arms and stuff. He practically hits me, even. And then, when I start talking, I notice I want to flail my arms, too. And I'm, like, all fidgety like I have to pee, but I don't have to pee, but just fidgeting and flailing and thinking about peeing kind of makes me actually begin to want to pee.

I am such a loser.

Okay... fast forward to my cell phone calls today.

Yeah... calls. I had to make several before I could get hold of someone who would actually listen to me for a few minutes. I was standing outside when I made the calls, too. And I finally zoned in on why it is that the cell phone is the best thing ever invented for a guy.

Well, unless it's me, because no one ever freaking calls me.


Oh yeah... by the way, did I mention I have an iPhone? Well, actually I have two of them.

Hmmm... I wonder what they sound like when they ring.

But, I digress. See, a cell phone is the best thing ever because I can't stand still when I talk. I flail and pace and circle and stamp. Wow. Just saying that kind of makes me need to pee.

Be right back.

Okay. I came to this idea the other day when I watched my daughter talking on her cell phone (you know... the one that actually rings) with her grandmother. She was standing perfectly still, and her eyes and voice were so filled with emotion. And I was, like, how can you do that... all talking and stuff and engaged in a conversation and thinking and not freaking moving???

Guys need to move around when they think about things. And when they talk on cell phones, too. But when boys are in school, they're forced to sit down in tiny, confining student desks and most teachers absolutely FREAK OUT if they ever move.

And I don't get it, anyway.

What's so offensive about moving? Why do old-fashioned, stick-up-the-butt teachers think it's such a horrible thing that boys need to move around? And when they do, they get punished. So they sit there and have to maintain a corpse-like demeanor, and then they start to cook from the inside out, not unlike a badger in a microwave.

And they can't concentrate because they can't flail around. So they don't learn.

Girls, on the other hand, have no problem sitting still while thinking. It's how they do it. But not boys.

The other thing that's funny about schools is that teachers are much more likely to let a girl out of class to go pee (why am I on that topic so much today?) than boys. Their belief is that "boys can hold it." But with a boy, it's not always about peeing... it's about getting the opportunity to FREAKING MOVE.

But that's not allowed in school.

And I'm not kidding, but that's one of the ways we're making boys dumber.

Now go move.

Oh... by the way... give me a call.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the hell


Keeping on the subject of all things boy, I thought I'd write a little today about tattoos.


Remember back in the day when guys in movies would cut themselves on the arm and then mix their blood with their best friend so they could become blood brothers? Well, I'll admit I am pretty old, and, yes, my friends and I did that when I was a boy. But that was waaaaay before the age when society learned that such behavior bordered on suicidal. All my friends did that kind of stuff when we were kids, but nowadays even depicting those kinds of acts in a film is taboo.

So the boys in Ghost Medicine do that, too (and, by the way, there is no clear evidence of what year that story takes place, so we can at least be a little comfortable in the innocence of the age and place). And a couple of the boys in the story also end up getting tattoos, too.

I know you're supposed to be a legal adult to do things like getting tattooed, but you wouldn't believe how many of the kids I work with every day who have them. And, yes, I have "a few" of them, myself, too.

Among others, I have a wedding ring tattooed on my hand, so that one is always plainly visible, especially when I'm doing something like signing a book for someone. One boy who waited in line at a bookstore to have me sign a copy of Ghost Medicine said to me, "I'm just wondering... have you ever regretted getting tattooed?"


And he just kind of looked right at me when he asked it, too. Then he went on to say that he was going to turn 18 soon and he wanted to get one, but he wondered if he would be sorry about it later.

What could I say? I told him the truth. I said there was no way I could tell him whether or not he would live to regret it, but that I did not regret getting any of my tattoos. I said I looked at them as being wallpaper for my coffin, because that's what they really are.

I know today's post is a little serious by my standards. I'm in one of those downer moods. I'll try to get over it, though.

I'll try not to throw anything at the television tonight.

Last month, I wrote a few posts about boys and education, and the damage we've been doing to them at school. I'm not entirely through with that topic, though, so I plan on giving some more ideas about what we can do to create a more boy-centered (boy-friendly) learning environment coming up at times during the month of BoNoBloMo (Boy Novelist Blogging Month).


Monday, October 6, 2008

the room that kills people

So, the boys actually went out and petitioned the school to make the Rainbow Club an official club. And they got it, too. They didn't really know what they wanted, or what the club was supposed to be about in the first place, but the school even funded the club.

I think, in retrospect, that the school's administration was so terrified of being labeled opposed to diversity that they just quietly decided to officially sanction the club and hope that everyone just forgot about it and didn't ask any questions, either. Hmmm... kind of sounds like don't ask, don't tell.

Yeah... like I said, the powers that run the school really have a hard time expressing their true feelings about me. It's okay... I'm all for them preserving their bloated self-esteem, too, even if it comes at the expense of the truth.

But I realized something... that school officials are as terrified of rainbows as vampires are of cross-shaped garlic.

And here, I thought I swore I would never EVER use the "v" word in anything I ever wrote.


So... on to today's topic: the room that kills people. Every school, every university, has one. It's the room where, for whatever reasons, several teachers have died. There are other rooms where people have come and gone; spent their entire careers, but didn't die. And then, there's always that one that just seems to kill people.

That's the room they put me in after the Rainbow Club incident. The "dead guy's" room.



I'll sidetrack here for just a moment... I admit that I am not very much like any of the characters in any of my books. But, of all the characters in Ghost Medicine, one of the things I can most identify with is Troy's superstitious nature. Yeah, it's weak, I know, but I'm a pretty superstitious guy.

So... now you have a superstitious guy who's relocated into the room that kills people, and you pretty much have a recipe for psychological breakdown. What can I do? I talked to the kids on the team about it and we decided that the only course of action would be to establish some kind of protective shrine. That's where the Jesus Action Figure, the bendable Elvis, the Ninja statue, Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, the Heart-Shaped Rock, Garden Gnome, and dozens of other offerings came from.

The boys brought them in so I wouldn't die.

So far, it's worked out okay, I guess.

But you see, boys are pretty superstitious by nature, I believe, and, like Troy, they often come up with the constructs of hidden explanations, meanings, and purpose in the spooky things about life that seem to lack a clear cause. To males, even if the explanation is completely screwy (I don't know... kind of like weapons of mass destruction... or stuff like that), just the mere fact that there is an explanation is comforting. At least to boys.

Not that the explanation of the room that kills people is screwy.

It's real.

But we're kicking its ass.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

rainbow club

BoNoBloMo rocks.

I'm going to kind of change the tone a bit today, and momentarily veer away from blowing things up, conducting elaborate insect wars, building forts, and so on, and talk just a bit (well... probably not a bit, you know how long some of my posts can be) about something else that is fundamentally a component of being a boy.

But I don't know what to call it. So, I'll just tell the story I had planned.

I coach a boys' high school rugby team. It's a lot of fun. The kids are great, and they love playing the game, because it's all about playing and having fun (see the post from last month called "playing games," among others, where I lay into most high school sports for the damage they do to young men). Anyway, I've been involved in this for a pretty long time.

And I know I can be fully honest in my blog posts about the school environment because I know that none of the teachers or principals I work with ever read my blog. One of these days, I'll tell you why they don't read my blog, but that's another story.

One day around the start of the rugby season last year, there must have been about 15 boys from the team sitting in my room having lunch with me, just talking and joking around. An English teacher (I'll call him "Albert") happened to walk into my room that day, and he stopped in the middle of the floor and started giving the boys all kinds of crap.

"Whoa!!!" He said, "What's this, the Rainbow Club??? Don't you guys know there are all kinds of hot girls out there having lunch, and you want to be sitting in here with a bunch of guys???"

In his defense, Albert is a really cool guy, and the kids love him... so, of course, nobody was offended at his dramatics.

We just laughed at him.

Okay, now. Here's a little side note that shouldn't matter at all. Every year that I have ever coached the boys' team, there has always been at least one kid on the team who's gay. In fact, there was probably a gay kid sitting in my room that day when Albert walked through.

I know. What a freekin' shock.

Guess what? It never mattered to anyone... not to me, not to the team, nobody. Never.

See, that's one of the things that's so ultra-cool about rugby. It's such a fringe sport, that borders on the insane, that kids who play it tend to be more confident about their identities, and they also tend to tolerate and stick up for their teammates to a far greater extent than the more traditional sports that demand the loss of personal identity and conformity. Just look at a football team, for example. When they're suited up with their helmets on, they don't even look like human beings, and they all look exactly identical. Football demands that loss of the person in its players.

Sorry, it's one of the things I don't like about it.

It's why Bobby Framingham is such a compelling character in Bill Konigsberg's Out of the Pocket.

Okay... back to the story of the Rainbow Club.

The next day, the boys all started piling in to my room again at lunchtime, but I could tell something was up. They all had these goofy smirks on their faces, and there was a lot of whispering-so-the-coach-can't-hear-us going on. Oh well. I just ignored it. I know better, after all these years, to ever take anything too seriously when it's coming from the mouth or mind of a teenager.

But later on during lunch, the principal came into my room, walkie-talkie in hand, and said, "Uh... Smith, do you want to explain to me the purpose of that sign outside your door?"

Just then, all the boys started busting up laughing.

Oh yeah. Something was up.

I went outside. The guys had hung this enormous, airbrushed poster announcing that this was the meeting place of the "Rainbow Club."


It had, like, every color imaginable on it. I know the boys had to have spent quite a bit of time planning and making it. They even drew a juggling clown in the middle of it, just beneath the apex of the huge rainbow, and they wrote "Smith" and drew an arrow pointing to him.

It was probably the gayest thing I've ever seen.

But it was hilarious, and I loved it.

The principal, never one to have room for a "sense of humor" inside the detention-hall-filing-cabinet of a brain, was not amused. But I took the poster down, and hung it up on the wall of my classroom, behind my desk, where it stayed for the entire school year. Oh yeah, I got plenty of strange looks for it, especially from school district administrators.

It's probably why they kicked me out of that classroom and put me into "the room that kills people."

But that's another story, too.

Oh... and you're probably figuring out why it is that teachers and principals don't read my blog, too. I've got a few more stories about the Rainbow Club, but I'll hold off on those for a while.

Oh... at the top of this blog I said this story was about something that was fundamentally a component of being a boy, but I didn't know what to call it.

Now I do. It's called character.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

let the insect wars begin

In my last post, I mentioned that I had this entire entry planned out in my head; and that's how I write. Usually, when I'm writing something, I'll get a general idea of the elements of the story I want to tell. Sometimes it's triggered by a dream, or just from something random I may have said or heard during the stupid-day. (Days are stupid because your head has to filter such a vast amount of crap, which is why I write at about 3 or 4 in the morning) Anyway, then I'll sit down and hammer out anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages and then I'll put it away and not do anything with it for months. When the rest of the story comes out in my head, I'll begin the actual writing. That's when I can get pretty manic, and anyone who's worked with me in a writing capacity knows I work at a blistering pace.

So, that's how I do it. I'm sure there are as many different writing processes out there as they are writers, so, as always... don't try this at home, kids (unless you have some very understanding friends and family members).

One of the many places where I lived when I was a kid, we had a pond with a bridge over it leading to our house. I know... you're probably thinking nice Feng Shui, but the even nicer thing, being a boy, was that this bridge had the most enormous black widow spiders living under it.

Oh... before I get any irate letters from bug-o-philes, I know black widows aren't insects. So, get over it. Oh yeah... and I will warn you, too, that black widows will end up dying in this story, so if you're offended by that...


I wonder who really cares about spiders being killed.

At times like this, I find my inner voice asking, "What would Gandhi do?"

Hmmm... I'll get back to that thought.

Anyway, my friends and I, of course, liked to catch these big black widow spiders and keep them in jars. Why? you might ask. We did it because we would make these arenas out of rocks and then make them fight with each other, or we would catch potato bugs and make them fight against those ugly things.

I don't know if they have potato bugs in other parts of the country, but, to me, they are absolute proof that the evolutionary mechanism does not favor aesthetics. If you haven't seen one before, this is a potato bug .


So... anyway, like all true-blooded American boys we would stage these contests of life and death. Yeah... it was just like freekin' Rome. The sad thing is, though, that potato bugs seem to be wimpy, liberal, pacifists. So we'd really have to prod and poke them to get them to engage the enemy. I guess the actual contest didn't really matter to us, the boy-patricians, because we killed everything we ever played with, anyway.

Now... I wonder if Gandhi ever did stuff like that when he was a little boy.

They probably have way cooler bugs in India that you could make fight. Cobras, too.

That would be the life.


Friday, October 3, 2008

insect wars

Okay, I'll admit it.

The title is a tease. I mean, who wouldn't want to read about insect wars? And I have this whole blog post planned out in my head (which is how I write, anyway), but I'm not going to do it. I'm saving that one for tomorrow.

And I know this is BoNoBloMo, and we are writing about all things male... but I am going to deviate from that course for today because I'm, like, crap... I don't have enough time to loosen up and write about the very guy-ish topic I have in my head. So I'll do it tomorrow... which reminds me, Bill Konigsberg (another BoNo) is all about the BoNoBloMo, even if he is a little uncomfortable with the name. Oh well... and I have to put a comment on his blog, too.


So I was thinking today.

Yeah... call the papers.

It was a good day. Three things:

1) I decided to never refer to anyone as "Joe Six Pack" ever again.

Oops... okay 4...

2) Dude... don't ever rip off a baseball quote. Ever (Say it ain't so, Joe).

EVER. Please... Baseball and Beer have now been... ew... soiled.

3) I know I'm going to wreck it, but... Hell yeah! Dodgers, baby.

4) I got the nicest message today from the managing editor about my next year's book release, in the path of falling objects: just a quick note to tell you that FALLING OBJECTS just hit my desk, and ... ye gods, i couldn't tear my eyes away from it to do what i need to do w/ it. keep up the damn fine work. i believe! your managing editor

I mean... HELL yeah! (again). That made my day. I can never tell. 'Cause, to me... this book has what every guy wants to read about: a psycho murderer, two brothers who fall in love with the same dangerous and beautiful girl, and a road trip from hell that you don't want to end. And that's the kind of stuff BoNoBloMo is made of.

Yeah. It was a good day.


(Oh... thank you, Dave!)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

fort building

Guys build forts.

I've even built forts in my own (current) back yard.

When I was a kid, we had a fort that was actually a big plywood box that we entirely buried out in the woods by the secret pond we used to have raft wars on (my parents would have killed me if they knew this because one of my friends almost drowned as a result of one of our maritime battles).

You'll have to forgive me if today's blog seems kind of rambling. I came home, opened my front door, and my smoke detector was blaring. I think my daughter's cats had a hookah party or something. I can't figure it out.

And things were moved around.

Cats do that.

My mother played in forts when she was a kid, too. She grew up in Italy during World War II. Her parents used to use her to smuggle things under her coat because they knew the Germans wouldn't look there. She was tough. She told me a story one time about how she and her mother were smuggling salt (salt?) and a German soldier saw her and my mom flipped him the middle finger. I think she was about 12 years old at that time.

After the war was over, she and her friends used to play in an abandoned German bunker. She found lots of handguns and ammunition there.


One day, she and her friends opened up a case of ammunition, pried all the gunpowder out, and dumped it into a pile in the middle of the floor.

Then, like all good kids, they lit it on fire to see what would happen.

Well, they actually made a long line of powder leading to the big pile. Then they lit it and ran.

Ahh childhood.

The problem is, that one of her friends, a boy named Mario, didn't quite make it out of the bunker in time because his pants got caught on a spike in the doorway. But, kids being kids, of course my mother and all Mario's friends ran like hell.

Then the bunker blew up, with Mario inside.

I know... you're probably thinking, "Oh, this is just like the story about the time when Smith accidentally killed his aunt."

Oh... oops. I guess I didn't tell that one yet. Save it for another time.

Anyway, my mom and her friends then drew lots to see who would be the one to go tell Mario's mother that her son was blown up. When the lot was drawn, and my mother was assigned the grim task, all the kids set off for Mario's house. Just before they got there, Mario appeared in the road. All the clothes were burned off his body. He was naked, black, and hairless, and my mom told me he said something that roughly translates to, "You fat whores left me there to die."

Nothing like a good fort story.