Sunday, May 31, 2009

something about jack

Let me tell you something about deadlines.

I love them.

I'm not kidding. Ask anyone who's ever worked with me. I know that most writers fall back on generous grace periods and persistently extend their deadlines, but I get a great deal of comfort in knowing that something is expected from my by a specific date.

And then I beat that date.

By a lot, usually.

Now, let me tell you something about what's going to happen later on this week.

I am going to check out mentally and go insane. So, the blog may sound different, say, on Thursday or Friday... possibly sooner. Jack is probably going to pop in and blog a bit, and we're trying our hardest to get Ryan Dean over his self-consciousness and post something, too. We'll see.

Tomorrow: chickens and eggs.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

at the end

A few posts back, I wrote about the postpartum experience some writers have when they finish a novel. Of course, Grant is the big exception here.

I'll be honest. There really is nothing like hitting that final period key when you complete an entire novel. Or, I guess, exclamation point or question mark when you finish a really shitty one.

For me, the postpartum craziness doesn't really begin until I am totally finished with the work and I send it off to my editor and agent. That's going to happen on Wednesday of this week, so I'll be having some guest bloggers, no doubt.

I wrote two books in the past 9 months. The first was 85,000 words long, and the second was well over 90,000. I don't mention the page counts because I use a word processor and 12-point font, as opposed to, say, crayons.

Friday, May 29, 2009

sex in young adult fiction(one librarian's view part 2)

In conclusion of yesterday's guest blog, here is librarian Lucia Lemieux on Sex in YA:

If some authors feel graphic description is necessary to their work, it is their prerogative. However, it is also a parent’s prerogative not to allow a minor to read a certain book, or watch a certain film. That’s the American way. It gets fuzzier when it comes to libraries. Library school, if nothing else, teaches librarians that individual core values should never be a factor in collection decisions—at least at the public library level. Some would disagree, because a library is considered a “limited public forum” and as such, may not have all of the same First Amendment liberties as other public forums. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to get into legalities here. Generally, at the public library level, librarians are supposed to be neutral. For now, most public librarians try to balance their collections with as many views as their budgets will allow.

School libraries can be another matter. School personnel are in loco parentis, Latin for “in place of a parent.” This means that teachers, which librarians are (one must hold a clear teaching credential to even be accepted to a library credential program), must act in a parent’s stead with regard to health and safety issues. A recent article in School Library Journal, confirms this, but with the caveat that this doctrine does not apply to censorship (Feb, 2009). However, the same article did suggest that governments (schools?) might censor materials that are obscene, contain child pornography or are harmful to minors. What constitutes obscenity? Whose definition should a librarian use? At schools, we tend to look at materials through an age-appropriate lens. Obviously, books at the high school level can contain different information than books at an elementary level. However, age-appropriateness continues to change, as more authors write increasingly explicit materials for the children’s and young adult audience.

Although teacher-librarians are trained to make material selection decisions based on many criteria, they don’t always have the final say. In many school districts, librarians have to write purchase orders for books. Titles are required. Sometimes the librarians get what they ask for; sometimes certain titles are rejected. Many of us try to push the envelope a bit, but there is a fine line. Highly graphic depictions of sex are generally not the domain of school libraries. But once a book is there, it is there. Librarians normally don’t remove them. That would be censorship. So what’s a librarian to do?

Let’s take another look at my experience with The Exorcist. Had I gone to the public library instead of the drugstore, the librarian may have intervened a bit. While she would never tell me what to read or what not to read, she would make suggestions, or give hints. Had she noticed me checking out The Exorcist, Mrs. H. may have said, “Honey, you are welcome to read this book (remember I had a permission slip on file) but you should know that it contains some very graphic rape scenes that might be disturbing.” Well, she probably would have whispered “rape scenes” or used some euphemism, but I would have understood. At thirteen, I probably would not have taken the book out with such a warning. But maybe today’s kids are different. I don’t know. My daughter is 15, and she doesn’t like the graphic stuff either. She too would rather use her imagination. Personally, I think we all can learn something from Mrs. H.’s kind of librarianship. Sometimes a gentle heads-up can make a huge difference. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps, if we all use some common sense—from author on down—censorship would never have to be an issue at all.

By the way, I looked at my high school library shelf. Guess what book I found? I thought I’d check it out, and see what impression it left me this time.

I’ll let you all know.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

sex in young adult fiction(one librarian's view)

When I ran the series of guest blogs on the topic of Sex in YA Fiction, I wanted to be sure and get the viewpoint of a librarian.

I met Lucia Lemieux last fall at a book signing for Ghost Medicine. Since then, I have been invited out to her school, Newbury Park High School, a couple of times. Lucia is a writer as well as a librarian, so it made sense to me to ask her to chime in on the subject. Here is what Lucia had to say (in two parts, concluding tomorrow), on the subject of Sex in YA:

I read The Exorcist when I was thirteen years old. It horrified me.

No one prevented me from reading it; in fact, I remember that I bought it myself, at the local drug store on Mound Road in the Michigan suburb where I grew up. The drug store was a short walk from my home — much closer than the public library, where perhaps, the branch librarian, Mrs. H. might have gently reminded me that this book was intended for an adult audience, and may contain some concepts for which I might not be ready. In fact, I’m sure she would have. I had been a frequent visitor to the library since I was two years old. She knew me quite well, and knew what I could handle, even though I had a permission slip on file saying that I could read adult-level books. Yes, in those days in that community, any child under sixteen had to have parental permission to check out adult-level books—even academic ones.

No one at the drugstore said anything at all—they just took my dollar-seventy-five and sent me on my merry way. Even before I opened its pages, I knew from friends that The Exorcist was about a girl named Regan, twelve years old, who became possessed by the devil and began acting in strange and scary ways. When I didn’t know what that the book contains a lot of explicit and graphic description describing some of the rituals and behaviors of those who worshipped Satan—which I will only describe here as the “desecration” of statues of Jesus, Mary and various saints—as well as a very brutal “rape” scene. It grossed me out, and gave me nightmares for weeks.

Of course, the impression a book leaves depends upon the age of the reader. I read many books these days, and, for many reasons (sheer volume, memory overload or flat writing), I don’t always remember their plots, or even their authors. There are some books I personally would not choose to read if I weren’t working in a library, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Yet, for me, the best books are those that leave some of the more graphic details out, and allow me to use my own imagination. There are exceptions, of course, but the art of nuance is a skill I wish more writers would practice. Perhaps it’s as simple as this: the more explicit the content, the less I remember it. I’m guessing this is because my brain doesn’t have to work as hard when every detail is spelled out for me.

However, I find that the books I read as a child or a young adult are still with me. Many have created lasting impressions. The Exorcist was one of those because it scared the innocence right out of me. It made me realize that evil—in whatever form it may take—exists. I can honestly say that the book crushed some of my then-Pollyanna views of the world. I’m sure that would have happened eventually, but perhaps I could have lived a little longer with that optimism. One’s emotional virginity, once taken, cannot be restored.

Despite that experience, I still believe in intellectual freedom (the right to seek and obtain information without restriction), which the American Library Association, that stalwart and essential library leadership group, hails. And, as a writer myself, I do not believe in censorship. I do believe, however, in common sense.

When I write, I continually ponder the details: what to leave in, what to take out. It really boils down to the story one is telling, and if certain details are absolutely imperative to revealing character. There are many ways around character, and sometimes not all of the graphic descriptions are essential. In some ways, I feel authors and filmmakers, too, don’t trust their audience enough. When I studied screenwriting, we learned not to use dialogue that was “on the nose” (obvious), or put in expository or gratuitous scenes. My feeling is that, often times, the same may hold true for sex scenes in books. We the readers—duh—get it.

(continued tomorrow)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

(something)in the air

There must have been some nationwide attack of stupid gas in our country's air supply yesterday.

First off, in the morning, The New York Times ran a story from Reuters about Kanye West's book. The actual article in the Times was much more revealing as far as Mr. West's disdain for books, authors, and reading.

How much harm do you actually hope to inflict upon the kids in America who admire you, Kanye?

Let's make a deal. I won't buss the dope rimez and you don't try to write bookz, Dawg.

Kanye... step away from the pen and nobody will get hurt.

Oh yeah... wait... that "book" you wrote was actually co-written. All 56 pages of it. 'Cuz u don't read. I forgot. My bad. Being a non-reader helped you through life. That's what you're proud to say, isn't it? Gave you a kind of "purity." What you call purity... well... let's just say there's a better word for it.

Then, there was this whole California State Supreme Court decision.

Attention Justices: you are dumb.

When the initiative process began during the early 20th century, there was no doubt it was an effective tool of democracy in combating the capturing of state politics by party machinery. Now, though, the initiative process is antithetical to democracy. The "people" who speak are interest groups or religious organizations who have $50 million to dump on hate legislation. If it were democracy, we'd all be walking around with that much cash to blow on our petty hatreds.

In California, if you have enough money, get in line with a pen in your hand and you can rewrite our fucking constitution.

Furthermore, the decision blows a gaping hole in the Constitutionality of California's application of equal treatment under the laws of the state, as some same-sex couples are being discriminated against by having their liberties denied, while others are not.

Justices, what the hell were you smoking?

Stupid gas.

I hope we can all breathe clearly today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

off the hook

This is why I know there's, like, somebody watching and controlling my life: Yesterday, I wrote about how I'd only tasted moonshine a couple of times in my life. Out of the blue, the bootlegger who'd distilled it phoned me (I hadn't spoken to him in years).

I should say that, yes, when I drank the moonshine, it was from a Mason jar. That's how it's done.

The reason I'm off the hook is that, earlier this week, I realized that my fourteen-year-old, going-into-eleventh-grade son (kind of like the character in my next-next book, Winger, except my son does not have as many apparent fears and obsessions), has gotten to the point where I can no longer assist him with the math and science he's doing.

Yeah, the old math and science will save America cult. In the mean time, North Koreans are lighting up nukes and their citizens are culturally -- and literally -- starving to death.

Mmmm... math and science tastes good on a Ritz.

But I digress. So, he had this problem involving the stretched-out length of grooves on a 33-1/3 RPM LP (if you know what that is), given the playing time... and he asked me to help him do it. And, I'm like, who the fuck cares? and what album is it, besides?

My son had never seen a vinyl LP. So, the least I could do was offer a visual aid. I took him out to the garage (I had to look for a Mason jar so I could drink some moonshine, anyway). I opened up the old crate of records. I have some amazing old vinyl in there.

I let him use a Creedence LP to get the gist of how the grooves thing worked. It's funny, a lot of my old albums still have the plastic shrink wrap and price tags on them. Some were marked "Moby Disk: $2.99."

When I lived for a while in England, I bought lots of LPs. This was during the late 70s/Early 80s. In England, in those days, when you went into a record store, there would be just empty sleeves for the albums or EPs. You'd take the sleeve to the counter, pay for it, and the clerk would put the vinyl in. No shrink wrap. I thought that was pretty cool. I remember buying the first Elvis Costello album there like that.

That album is still in my box. And it was a different play list than the same album he released in America, too.

Anyway, this all came to me not due to my Faulknerian moonshine binge, but because I follow the blog of The Vinyl Princess. The other day, I saw how she'd blogged about Screamin' Jay Hawkins, someone whom I always believed was so far ahead of his time, he's, like, from another planet.

And ever since that blog, I can't get his insane vocalizations from I Put a Spell on You out of my head.

Maybe it's the moonshine.

I like the Creedence version pretty goddamned much, too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

at what cost

Well, yesterday's post elicited a number of great comments here and on Facebook.

It's nice to know I'm not alone in my postpartum afflictions. No, on second thought, it's not that nice to know, but... oh well.

Of course, my good friend Lewis Buzbee keeps coming back to my favorite author: William Faulkner and his notorious postpartum drinking binges. Faulkner, I would assume, being a man's man, probably didn't sip Amaretto straight, nor scour the trendy bars of Mississippi hunting down illegal purveyors of absinthe (which I have yet to try but have already determined I will never sip anything strained through a sugar cube). And Faulkner liked moonshine, at least as far as I can tell, a drink that I've only had a couple of times in my life, and certainly not one I could ever imagine binging on.

But I'd like to try a good old-fashioned Faulkner binge to celebrate (if that's the word) wrapping up my latest novel.

Actually, I really think my family should do the binge thing. I am such an ass when I'm writing. Really. I confess. It's amazing I haven't been murdered in my sleep.

If my characters are angry, I'm angry. If they're OCD, I'm more OCD than usual (hard to freakin' imagine), if they cuss, I cuss like a sailor (did I actually let fly an F-bomb last night?).

Yes. Ass.

Moonshine, anyone?

Sunday, May 24, 2009


In writing, it is so easy to find people who'll tell you the hard and fast rules, what you're doing wrong, things you should never do.

Usually, the people who talk the loudest accomplish the least.

I enjoyed President Obama's commencement address at Arizona State University. His main message was that people should always consider their body of work incomplete. I guess I could be fairly criticized for being a bit overly-prolific. Ghost Medicine, my debut novel, just came out last September, and I have four more novels that are ready to go (see yesterday's post).

I've written enough about those next three releases (2009, 2010, and 2011) for a while, but I hope one thing that is evident by my first four works is that I am definitely not a writer who has "branded" himself by always writing about the same situations, genres, characters that are the same, but with different names, etc.

Finishing a book brings a tremendous psychological crash for me. It will inevitably hit the day after I complete my last pass through the book. That means it's going to happen to me some time in the next couple of days when I finish my final search-and-destroy sweep of things requiring expurgation from my overly-long The Marbury Lens.

Oh yeah, that's one of the things some loudmouths will tell you: don't write YA that's 100,000 words long.

I'm interested in finding out if other writers experience similar psychological crashes -- and, if so, do they manifest themselves in self-destructive or depressive behaviors?

Oh... note to loudmouths: Don't give me the as-soon-as-I-finish-a-book-I-immediately-start-working-on-my-next bullshit, because that's like asking a world-class marathoner to turn around and run the course again after he's just posted a two-hour time.

At the risk of sounding loudmouthy, if you can do that, then you haven't been running like an athlete.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

(the hardest) part

One of the things we talked about at the college class I visited this week was growing up. All kinds of issues with that, both in terms of the narrative content of YA novels, and growing up as a writer, too.

Coolest thing... the next morning I got an email from one of the students in the class, and he told me that he thought Ghost Medicine was one of the best books he'd ever read, that it really captured what his life was like when he was a teen, and that he wanted to be a writer, too.

Okay. I can retire now. That's all I need.

One of the most difficult things for me to ever do is answer the simplest question from my audience: What is your book about?

I know, I'm usually a smart ass (yeah, notify the media) and say something like, "It's about 400 pages or so." Because, as a writer, and (not meaning to sound God-like) the creator of an entire universe, whenever I have to answer that question, I see a universe, and not 50 words or less.

That said, I was recently asked to come up with a couple short descriptions of my next two books (we signed the contracts this week - Yay!) for a particular trade magazine that will be announcing the deal soon, and so here's a couple of universes condensed down to the size of garbanzo beans:

Winger: Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West may be the smartest 11th grader in school, but there are some things he just doesn't get. He's convinced that the woman living downstairs is a witch who's out to destroy his life; believes the girl he's in love with only sees him as some kind of pet; and wonders why his best friend -- the only voice of reason in Ryan Dean's life -- likes other boys more than girls. A funny, sometimes dark, part-graphic YA novel about fitting in, and the consequences that can occur when big deals are made over small differences.

The Marbury Lens: After surviving a kidnapping at the hands of a demented predator, Jack Whitmore is unwillingly pulled into Marbury, an apocalyptic world that's out of balance and more frightening than hell; a place where Jack's closest friend wants to kill him. Worst of all, Jack can't control the physical and emotional addiction of returning to Marbury, again and again, even if it means self-destruction. A very dark, very edgy YA fantasy/speculative fiction.

Okay. The hardest part.

Friday, May 22, 2009

the long day

I had a great time visiting John Albert's English 102 class last night at College of the Canyons. As he warned, his students were prepared with some pretty insightful questions, and their own ideas about some of the elements in Ghost Medicine were very keen.

Today, Sequoia Charter High School and running on empty with just a few hours of sleep.

I'll write more about the College of the Canyons discussion this weekend, but will say I was most impressed with how the students kept guiding the discussion back to this relationship between male characters/male literacy.

Maybe it was just me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

big questions

I'm visiting an English 102 class at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California this evening. The students in this course actually were assigned to read Ghost Medicine and to actually write papers on the book.

Their professor tells me the students have prepared some really tough questions for me.

Good thing I've read the book.

The, tomorrow, I'm visiting a local charter school -- Sequoia Charter High School -- where I'll get to have a few sessions with 5 - 10 kids each. I don't know much about that school or the kids, but it sounds like fun, as long as they aren't zombies.

And, speaking of zombies, I slept outside near the goat's grave last night. I had a 10 mm handgun in my sleeping bag with me. I found out that, according to Night of the Living Dead, that zombies can be killed by bullets, most effectively to the brain. The saying goes something like... take out the brain, take out the zombie.

Problem is, I'm not sure if my goat had a brain. And I am pretty sure its skull is uncrackable, anyway, since I hit it with a hammer one time when I was building my barn and it started trying to eat the shorts I was wearing.

Anyway... no full moon = that bastard stayed in the ground last night.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the change

Yesterday, one of the goats died.

Nobody was sad, believe me. It lived a good, long, life. I guess... how long do goats live, anyway? We had this one for about 11 years.

What do you do with a dead goat? Trash day isn't until tomorrow, so that idea was out.

Kung pao?

No, I think it was bitten by a rattlesnake.

Dig a really really big hole.

If this fucker turns into a zombie on me, I'm hosed.

I also decided to go through my latest book and change a character's name. Heck, it happens. But it's a weird feeling... kind of like digging a big hole for that person you've lived with for such a long time and then *poof* replacing him with someone entirely different.

It'll take getting used to, but I had to do it. It was one of those middle-of-the-night-can't-sleep decisions, so I was resolved to it. And the guy wasn't like a totally main character. Supporting role, at best, but a powerful performance, nevertheless.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the guest blogs(continued)

Well, I'll admit I was all ready to launch into this tirade about how popular arts are perpetuating this harmful myth that it's okay, funny, sometimes even adorable for boys to be completely stupid (but not so cute for girls), which further feeds into the problem of why teenage boys don't read and we're losing the classics (like Great Expectations) in school NOT because kids are too stupid to read the classics, but because teachers are too stupid to teach them (because a lot of those teachers were boys who learned when they were teens that it was cool to be dumb)... Oh, and was that a tirade?

And then... Wait:

I get this great guest blog post from Nevin Mays.

Here's the deal: I met Nevin Mays by exchanging online messages about a book that I'd read. I was kind of blown away by this really cool book and I wanted to find someone to talk to about it. So I asked around, and Nora Rawn from Random House told me that her friend, Nevin Mays (also an editor at Random House) read and enjoyed the same book. One of the awesome unheralded power of books is that ability they have to connect people, even those with divergent viewpoints. So, anyway, I asked Nevin what her take was on this Sex in YA topic, and she responded with this incredible post. So here's Nevin Mays on Sex in YA:

I started reading Danielle Steele’s romance novels when I was about 13-years-old. I borrowed the book from my mom. I did not do this in secret. I thought the sex scenes in that first romance novel were r-a-c-y racy! And I devoured that book, and the next and the next. For a long time romance novels and women’s magazines were the only pleasure reading I did. So my current opinion of sex in YA literature is a bit hypocritical, but here it is: I’m a Prude-with-a-capital-P and I want less sex in YA books!

But stop shaking your head. I’m not na├»ve. I know teens like to read sexy stuff, just like I did. I also know that some teens have sex. And some teens don’t have sex. And sometimes the decision to have or not have sex is taken away from a teen. But most importantly, all teens think about sex. Some of them want it, some have had it (some of those wish they hadn’t), and still others want it but they don’t know how they want it. Puberty is hard, high school is hard, and concerns about sex can be the most difficult to grapple with, not to mention the toughest to talk about.

Reading is the most private way teens can find answers to the questions they can’t ask out loud. Questions about what they’re feeling, what’s happening to them both internally and externally, the strange new thoughts they’re having. So we need to publish for ALL of these readers. We need books where the characters have sex and it’s good. We need books where characters have sex and regret it, and all the possible consequences of those actions. And we need books where the characters don’t have sex.

And, I stress, we need books where sex is not even part of the story. Because, don’t forget, there are lots of other reasons teens read: for school; for escape; to find kinship; or simply for fun. So we need books that serve those readers, too. And to do that we might not need to include any reference to sexuality. Two important questions to consider when wondering if sex is okay in a YA book are: Is it necessary and is it appropriate? To the story, for the characters, for the readers understanding, for the readers enjoyment?

There will be books, just as in general adult fiction, where the story is pure pleasure. In those cases the writer, the editor, the bookseller, the reader might not ask these questions. I’ll be honest here, these are the books I wish stayed in the adult section. If you aren’t questioning the necessity and appropriateness of the sex scenes, write your story for adults, with adult characters, and sell it in the adult section of the store. Yes, teens will find it and read it. I did. But they will know it was written with a more mature, more worldly (I make assumptions) reader in mind. Prude-me feels better knowing that teens know when they aren’t the intended audience. Thirteen-year-old me knew I wasn’t the intended audience of those romance novels and I think I read it a little differently than I would read those same novels now.

But let me end with a final personal disclosure. By the time I was 16, I was buying my own romance novels and they were way more erotic than what my mom had lent me. Yet, despite reading so voraciously about sex and romance, I was not having sex. I attribute this entirely to a healthy upbringing.

So, yes, I do think it’s necessary to have books that cover all experiences, and to have gatekeepers watching our media for teens. But even more important, I think we must raise healthy children. The point is not should there be sex in YA literature. The point is are we raising teens who can choose, read, and understand books appropriate for themselves? And this should be happening long before the sex scene is even published.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Okay, so yesterday I commented about how the deficiency of strong male role models in YA fiction is partly contributory to the fact that reading rates among teenage boys are at unprecedented lows.

To make things worse, it seems like teens (who... duh get so many of their ideas from movies) seem to think that the only viable male characters at all have to be completely moronic idiots. I confess... I don't go to movies or even watch television, but I recently had a conversation with teens about male characters.

You know who they talked about? The characters from Superbad. I don't know, but I think that if Hollywood started releasing slews of movies like this one, or Stepbrothers or even The Hangover, but made the cast of pea-brained idiots all women, there would probably be some well-deserved social outrage.

Anyway, that said, here's a really great online review of in the path of falling objects from author Cynthia Willis. Nice! A book with strong male characters who aren't complete imbeciles. Thanks, Cynthia.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Yesterday's post elicited a couple of really great comments, here and on Facebook, that made me think about things. I especially like what Andrea said on yesterday's blog because it brings something up that I've been meaning to talk about for a while, regarding boys and reading. And I figured that, since this is Sunday and not many people read blog posts on Sundays, I should post this today because it's going to likely piss some people off.

I wrote Ghost Medicine when my son was about 11 years old. One of the reasons I wanted to write that book, and others since then, is that there is a serious lack of books for teens that have strong male characters in them. And my son is a voracious reader, but he was getting a little bit too into books where the male character ran around doing things that involved pointing wands at bad guys.

Please. God. Not the wand.

So, yeah, there was sexual content in Ghost Medicine, but, as Andrea points out, it happened "off-screen." Because I thought that was appropriate for an eleven-year-old (oh... and, yes, he liked the book, even though there was a minimum of wand-pointing).

Okay. So, he was a little older when I wrote in the path of falling objects, so the edginess of the narrative is a little more pronounced. He could handle it, lack of wands and all.

Now that he's about to turn 15, I have an interest as both father and author to give him something, once again, with strong male characters and content that is not inappropriate for a boy of his age. Bottom line: he's growing up, and my books are, too.

Sorry, still no wands. But, heck, he's really, truly, almost an adult, and he can handle just about anything (and I don't have to fumble around with trying to explain to an eleven-year-old boy what certain things "mean.")

Which brings me back to the beginning: one reason boys aren't reading (we're going to have this very talk when I visit College of the Canyons next week, where their English 102 class actually teaches Ghost Medicine) is that there is a lack of strong male characters in Young Adult fiction today. Note: I am not saying there are NONE, but there is a deficiency.

Even many books authored by women that feature male protagonists often have that character undergoing some cathartic epiphany by the end of the story so that he becomes more of a catch for the girl of everyone's dreams.


I'd prefer a wand.

Maybe not.

More on boys and reading coming up this week.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the explanation(drew)

First of all, I'd just like to say that the guest blogs this week were all absolutely incredible, and thank you so much to everyone who participated: Brian, Andrea, Kelly, Michael, Nora (currently in Bolivia), Adam, and Bill.

And I think there are going to be a couple more on this topic from friends in the next couple days, too.

Here's the deal, as I explained to my friends: I've been kind of suffering this moral/ethical dilemma regarding the book I just finished writing. Yes... I finished it, so the secret's out, since I know my editor reads this blog. A little background: there is some sexual content in Ghost Medicine, as well as in the path of falling objects, and a little (although more tame) in Winger, too. It's actually all rather tame, kind of as watered-down as a 7th Grade biology class: you know something happens, but they never really tell you the specifics.

Well, the book I just wrote (YA, of course) has sex in it. Right there. No kidding around. A couple paragraphs.



... between teenagers.

Send me to a reeducation camp and give me a box of crayons.

So, I asked my friends what they thought about sex in YA fiction. There's a lot to consider: first of all, I want to tell the truth about things. But, at the same time, there is a certain responsibility that writers have to not contribute to the sexualization of our kids, too. I do want to make it clear that the "naughty bits" in the book are not over-the-top in terms of their presentation, and they are essentially integral to the story.

So, I didn't know what to do and I asked some friends about it.

I still haven't made up my mind, though, and may yet end up cutting those paragraphs out. I know, I know... Susan Patron would be pissed off at me, so don't tell her.

I'm going to sit on the fence for a while and wait for something to come to me.

In the mean time, since I've been thinking so much about this sex in YA issue, I've come to a kind of scary conclusion... and I may be totally wrong, so please comment back if I am. Read carefully: I am not saying "ALL."

It seems like a great deal of YA that includes sexual content focuses on the negative consequences of sex, and sex is often something that alienates and damages the psychology of the characters, or, at the very least, is symptomatic of some greater infirmity.

Is this at least partially because schools and school libraries often have guidelines for the adoption of books that hinge on presenting those consequences? (I do know of at least two school districts whose adoption guidelines are specific in this matter) Same with alcohol and tobacco. The book can't be adopted unless any alcohol or tobacco use, or sexual activity, are shown to have negative consequences.

I confess: when I was a teenager, many of us had sex, used tobacco, and drank alcohol, too. And the vast majority (and I will vehemently adhere to "vast" and "majority" here) didn't suffer any negative consequences. In fact, sometimes, certainly not all the time, those things are just part of being a kid, and sometimes, those things are fun.

So... I don't know.

I still haven't decided what to do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the guest blogs day 5

Bill Konigsberg and I became friends by sharing many email messages about the difficulties of being debut authors in 2008. His novel,Out of the Pocket, was on my list as one of the top five for the year. Bill has also been a sportswriter for the Associated Press, and recently had a feature published in The New York Times. Bill's blog is called Waldorf to Your Astoria. I am happy he was able to take the time during a cross-continent road trip/transplantation to Montana (where he will continue to write novels) to give his take on Sex in YA:

When I was about 12 years old, I found my older sister’s Paula Danziger books. Then one day, I picked up a book off my sister’s shelf by someone named Jackie Collins. I’ve never been the same since.


I probably sound like a puritan when I say that. But let me be clear: my objection to teens reading about sex is limited to teens reading BAD sex scenes. And by that I don’t mean unsuccessful sex; I mean unsuccessful writing.

I need to qualify that I write for teens, and not children, because I cannot answer this question in terms of what is appropriate for children, under the age of, say, 13. I’ll leave that to the experts.

Teens read literature for the same reason that everyone else reads literature: to learn about what happens to people. I was taught that literary writing is different than non-literary writing in that it is focused on character, and is primarily involved in learning about the human condition.

Few things are more powerful to the human condition than sex is. Sex has the power to transform people, and I think we do no one any favors by putting the veil up when it comes to showing the transformative powers of sex.

In a class once at Arizona State University, a student of mine (I was a grad student there and taught Creative Writing) asked about whether he could write sex scenes in his story. I thought about it and said that if he was writing a literary story (see above for definition) he could and should write about sex only when “something is exchanged between the characters.”

This got a huge laugh, and it took me about a second after I shut my trap to realize the numerous double entendres. I followed up by saying I didn’t mean money or bodily fluids, but knowledge and experience.

Seeing how the 12-year-old protagonist in Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy is impacted by the sexual relationship he has with his teacher is such an important thing for young readers of literature to experience. It’s unpleasant, but we learn how a 12 year old becomes unable to experience intimacy with a peer after his experience with his teacher.

And when, at the end of the book, we watch his epiphany – he was molested, not loved – it is such a powerful experience.

I want to read those scenes. I also want to read about first experiences and how they impact characters. But I could do without gratuitous scenes. Leave that for the pornographers. And Jackie Collins.

Oh yeah, one other thing: I want to see sex I haven’t seen before. No, not like positions. I mean scenes that take me to new places. The best sex scene I’ve ever read was in Music for Torching by A.M. Homes, in which a married couple sobs during sex and says things to each other during the act like “I’m so, so unhappy.”

I don’t have sex scenes in my first YA novel, Out of the Pocket. I admit that I shied away from writing one because the character is gay and I wasn’t sure that would fly with a mainstream audience. But looking back, the instinct was correct. It just wasn’t necessary to the story or part of the character’s journey.

I wouldn’t shy away from writing such a scene and my next YA book does include one.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the guest blogs day 4

I met Nora Rawn by exchanging messages via the Internet around the time when Random House/Listening Library acquired the audio rights to Ghost Medicine. Nora is an editor with Random House, and was one of the first people ever to read my first novel. I am very happy that Nora, who is currently in Peru (and I might say she goes to the coolest places on the planet) was willing to offer her take on Sex in YA:

I didn't read many books that involved sex as a teenager; there were a few racy YA novels illicitly checked out of the library and hidden in my room when I was in elementary school, but once I reached middle school I was too embarrassed to even keep doing that. Without anyone to guide me towards YA literature that dealt sensitively with the subject I came across sex in novels only through the adult fiction I read. What I remember most from all of these adult novels are the many venereal diseases contracted by the characters in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and the uniform giggling that commenced in my English class when our teacher read aloud some of the passages on sexuality in Zora Neale-Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. These were not exactly the most useful take-aways. I learned a fair bit about the sexual practices of American troops abroad in WWII, and confirmed what I already knew about the awkward hilarity that results when flowery talk about sex mixes with teenagers, but I didn't glean any useful information about what sex actually meant--not from literature, at least.

I learned plenty otherwise: from movies (Fight Club: lesson, sometimes you can both possess and yearn fruitlessly to possess the same person simultaneously; Happiness: lesson, sex causes extreme depression, though to be fair so does everything else), from television (Sex and The City: lesson, sexual emancipation goes well with shopping and strong female friendships; Buffy the Vampire Slayer: lesson, having sex with your boyfriend may cause him to lose his soul), from my friends (word to the wise: be careful employing any form of the theoretically neutral, perfectly valid and useful verb 'come' around anyone of age 15 to 17). When I turned on the radio I often sung along, half-unknowingly, to songs about sex, usually only noticing when a song would start playing while I was in the car with my mom, making my love for Garbage or NIN suddenly seem wildly inappropriate. Actually, everything was wildly inappropriate *except* for books, which seemed to exist in a category apart.

And yet books are the one truly safe and thoughtful venue for teenagers to learn about sex and its many ramifications. Do we think Gossip Girl really teaches anyone what intimacy or respect mean? But what is accepted as a matter of course on an hour-long drama can be subject to very real and damaging scrutiny in a novel for high school readers. Something about the printed word scares us as a culture; perhaps it's too immediate and intimate, more so in some ways than a filmed program can be. YA authors take a risk in including mature sexual content in their writing and can certainly narrow the commercial reach of their work by doing so. Their loss is their reader's gain, however. I imagine that most of the teaching, librarian, and publishing world is in support of including sex-education classes as part of the school curriculum (in my ideal world they are, at least). It's time we started broadening our vision of just what 'sex-ed' consists of to encompass not only the practicalities but also the phenomenal change it represents. Rather than be uncomfortable with the subject, we need to address every aspect--the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, the fear that real intimacy and closeness can instill, the need to know oneself fully and to balance the needs of both partners; the loss and the excitement and loneliness and security that can all come from sex. I know I could have used exposure to more than the blossoming pear trees and trips to prostitutes I had to fall back on as source material. Like it or not, sex is part of teenage life, now as always, and even for inactive teens (which is to say for a great many of them) there is a need to be equipped for future experiences. The more voices and perspectives we have to add to this discussion, the better.

I met Adam "Rutskarn" DeCamp when I got to guest-in at a high school creative writing class. Adam is a hell of a writer, who maintains a blog called Chocolate Hammer. So, when I asked him what his opinion, as a kid and reader of YA, was, here's what Adam had to say about Sex in YA:

There’s no denying that sex is a large part of our culture. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of all of our media, from the most garish grindhouse exploitations to the veiled innuendoes of Elizabethan poets, features sexual themes to some extent. It’s little wonder—the subject touches many areas of what makes us human, from our primal urges, to our need to form relationships, to our drive to procreate and raise families.

As a consequence, there is absolutely no sane way to avoid exposing young adults to it.

Oh, sure, I suppose it’s possible to choke off their access to all forms of art, all films, all novels--all forms of expression more sophisticated than pasteboard picture-books and G-rated cartoons. But beyond these, there is almost no safe refuge—not Shakespeare, not religious texts, not even the unbowdlerized forms of our most classic fairy stories.

This is not even to take into account the fact that most kids will actively seek forms of media that contain sexual themes, far from actively avoiding them. The age groups most likely to read Young Adult novels are also the ones that are supremely curious and fascinated by the subject of sexual activity, and they will unconsciously (or consciously) seek it when left to their own devices.

What I’m saying is, there’s no easy or desirable road to sheltering kids of this age from sexuality, literary or otherwise. This isn’t something that can be helped. What can be helped is how maturely, sensibly, and tastefully this material is presented.

Consider this: most kids who can read YA literature can see PG-13 movies without a fuss. Let’s assume (rather conservatively) that 90% of PG-13 movies have references to sex somewhere in them. For every one of these movies that treats the subject with a degree of thoughtfulness or maturity, there will be quite a few that treat it with nothing of the sort. There’s a tendency, in these sorts of movies, to treat sex like an elementary schooler would treat a bad word—with a sort of vulgar, self-conscious fascination that lacks any sort of real understanding of the subject. Let’s say a kid is exposed to these movies on a fairly regular basis.

Now let’s say the same kid reads a novel in which sex is presented, or even described in some detail. Let’s say it treats sex as a powerful, sometimes destructive, sometimes positive force that represents a natural and intrinsic part of who we are. In other words, let’s say it deals with the subject realistically and soberly.

Really, how is this more objectionable?

When moral guardians have knee-jerk reactions to “obscene” subject matter in YA lit, this is often because they don’t treat the subject any more maturely than the Hollywood teen comedies do. Seeding YA novels with references to sex is looked upon by these figures as being akin to handing copies of Maxim to Middle Schoolers—a conflation of honest analysis and pornography that betrays a deep-rooted and almost childish aversion to the material. After all, only the most repressed and homogenous of cultures have managed to entirely quench the discussion of sex among young adults—it isn’t as if a novel that deals with sexual themes is talking about anything these kids haven’t about—if anything, it’s injecting some much-needed maturity into their understanding of the subject.

If I were asked to name a point where sex in YA fiction becomes gratuitous and inappropriate, I’d probably point to the moment where it’s no longer dealt with maturely. When it is portrayed more graphically or gratuitously than is called upon by the narrative, when it forgoes any sense of subtlety or meaning and instead wallows in obscenity and shock value—that is when the material is no longer appropriate for a YA novel. Incidentally, this is the same point where it’s hard to take it seriously no matter what one’s age, where it risks crossing the line between art and pornography.

Really, this whole exercise was just an excuse to use the word "Bowdlerized" in a sentence.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the guest blogs day 3

It is a distinct pleasure to hear from Michael Grant, the author of Gone, on this topic. Michael's newest novel, Hunger: A Gone Novel, will be available later this month from Harper Teen. Get it. Michael cracks me up, and I mean that in a good way. You should check out his blog (I have posted on it, too) called Stupid Blog Name. Brace yourselves for Michael Grant on the subject of Sex in YA:

Oy. Sex. In YA books.

Heavy sigh.

Let's back it up a bit and talk about language. I'm 54 years old. And for at least 45 of those years I've used curse words. Daily. Hourly. Often several times a minute. Sometimes, like when I'm driving, I forget to use any other words. One of my great concerns about doing school visits is that I'll drop the F bomb. If I do, I will of course yell F! at the top of my lungs because that's what I do when I make a mistake. And that in itself will be a mistake, so I'll yell it again. Figure eight or nine repetitions. Then, as a softening transitional phrase I'll put in a regretful "goddammit."

I have kids. A boy 12 and a girl 9. (Feet tall. Ah hah hah! I love that joke. No one else does.) My kids know most of the words I know and use them on occasion. I'm conflicted about this. The words don't bother me, but they seem to bother other people, so in the interests of allowing my kids to pass as normal I try to get them to stop. Usually by saying, "Goddammit, watch your F-ing language."

My daughter asks for clarification. "Is crap a bad word?" And I have no idea. Is it? Can you say "crap" in school? Who the F knows?

And yet, see how I'm cleverly avoiding using the F word (Frak) here? Drew does it all the time. But I'm pulling back. Why? Because I'm not a literary writer like Drew, I'm a series writer. And I intuit that there are different rules for series.

Same for sex. One set of rules for single titles, another set of rules for series. How do I know this? I don't. I'm guessing.

When Drew writes a book it's 200 or 300 pages and is a thing unto itself, beginning, middle and end. He writes literature and is thus under the umbrella of "art."

The GONE series will run 3600 pages, in round numbers. I write entertainment, and I'm basically under the umbrella of "TV."

Look, I don't make up the rules, I just intuit them.

Think about 200 pages of teen sex. Then think about 3600 pages of teen sex. See how your feelings kind of changed when you looked at it in light of the numbers? The word "overkill" comes to mind. In an Andrew Smith book two characters can have a touching love scene or two. In one of my series we'd be looking at 20, 30, 40 sex scenes before we're done. I deeply don't want to write that. I think the sheer weight of it would kill the narrative. I don't think I want to go to a teen chat room and see kids discussing the sex scenes on pages 49, 78, 110, 145, 197, 243, 296, 308, 355, 401, 459, 513, 580 and 600. In book one. And then, in book #2. . . And in book #3 . . .

Same thing with questionable language. If I wrote GONE using the kind of language I use in real life you'd be able to do a word count when it was all done and find three or four thousand f**ks, two or three thousand sh**s and en equal number of a**holes. I could get a bulk discount down at the Cuss Barn.

I have no moral objection to sex scenes in YA books. (By the way, if you're looking for moral objections to much of anything you probably shouldn't come to me.) Every writer has to make his own call on that, his or her own choices. That's the gig: choosing what to write about and how. If I were writing literary single titles I would fearlessly go wherever the story took me. But I am in a related but different business: writing series. The rules are different for me.

I think.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the guest blogs day 2

Kelly Milner Halls is the author of more than a dozen books for kids. Her newest, Saving the Baghdad Zoo, will be released by Greenwillow/Harper in November, 2009. Notably, she is one of the publishing industry's most active anti-censorship spokespersons and maintains a blog called The Wonders of Weird. Here's what Kelly had to say about Sex in YA:

SEX. It is definitely a super-charged entity.

Whether it is embraced or repressed, the impact of human sexuality is undeniable. For kids struggling with adolescent development, it can be earth shattering. The scars of teenage missteps will ache long after hairlines recede and waistlines balloon.

Such a universal theme is natural fodder for fiction writers. But they, along with editors, librarians and some readers struggle with even the concept of teen sexuality written for teens.

“They’re too young,” the censors whimper. “Let them stay innocent as long as they can.”

“There is a difference between innocence and ignorance,” the realistic fiction authors reply. “Give teens stories they can talk about -- help them safely find their way.”

Both seek what’s best for kids. But they opt for decidedly different paths. In a nation protected by the First Amendment, that should be okay. Render unto Caesar, right?

Except we seldom take the concept of free speech entirely to heart. It’s dandy as long as it protects the things we love. But the minute it shields something we consider distasteful, all bets are off. And what we find distasteful is subjective – relative to the choice of our lives.

Moral ambiguity can paralyze editorial endeavors. But it shouldn’t. Each author and each story has something unique to offer the reading public. As long as a diverse population of writers pound out a diverse library of fiction, every kid has a shot at finding just the right book at just the right moment. Enlightenment is within reach.

But, as author Chris Crutcher so often says, censor realistic stories and you censor the lives of the kids they reflect. Censor fiction that mirrors their struggles, and they’ll never feel safe enough to ask for help. How can they when well intentioned grown-ups contribute to the power of shame?

Don’t be one of those grown-ups. If the authenticity of your story requires graphic sexual expression -- of length or even powerfully brief – just do it. Don’t hold back for fear of any response beyond your own. Write YOUR story, and let the readers find their way.

That may be easier said than done. Censorship has reach far beyond the enemies of “sin.” Some publishers who fear economic backlash censor stories long before they see the light of the bonfire.

Find another publisher. Fight for your work and for the kids aching to read it. Tap into your creative conviction.

For every adult lamenting the “pornography” of John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA, there are five more wondering why sex is never depicted as a natural part of exploring young love or lust? Again and again, librarians – the first responders in the war against literary oppression – ask that question, to an all but silent response.

Answer the call. If you’re inclined to write fiction with a thread of gold – an element of truth and authenticity – don’t ignore sexuality; a human connection more powerful than any other.

Take the blindfold off. Take the bull by the horns. Go for the spicy twist. Just do it!

The censors will growl -- like a pack of snarling Chihuahuas. But bigger dogs, serious people who believe in the power of story and the importance of free expression, will be there to back you up.

There is no need to silence the opposition. We need only defend our right to stand toe-to-toe. And that is a righteous battle. It’s one we can win, but only f we’re willing to take a stand.

Just do it. In the end, it’ll feel so good.

Monday, May 11, 2009

sex (in young adult fiction): the guest blogs

This week, we have some very impressive guest bloggers from all facets of teen reading and writing, who are offering their takes on the subject of "Sex in YA Literature." Please feel free to join in the discussion and post a comment or two.

Brian James is the author of more than 20 books for kids and young adults. His latest, The Heights, was just released last month. He maintains a blog called Saving the World One Story at a Time, which among other things, has some terrific music reviews introducing some very talented and underrepresented artists. Here's how Brian answered our question:

The topic of sex and sexual identity and how it should or shouldn’t be portrayed is one that often comes up in any discussion concerning YA fiction. Sex is an unavoidable subject when it comes to the genre, much like it is in the actual life of teens. In the debate, there tends to be two camps; those who think sex has no place in books for impressionable teens and those who think representations of sex in teen fiction are simply a matter of dealing with reality.

This isn’t an unfamiliar argument. We hear these same sides echoed in the political landscape regarding condom use, Sex Ed, teen pregnancy, and pretty much anything dealing with teenagers and sex. There are those who want to ignore what goes on and those who think there’s nothing wrong with what goes on. Somewhere along the way, I think common sense gets lost as both sides dig in their heels.

Personally, I think ignoring sex as a topic when telling the story of teenage character is kind of irresponsible. However, I also think there are YA books that go way over the top and glorify promiscuity without examining the consequences. In my opinion, it’s not a question of whether or not sex and/or sexual identity belong in YA lit or not. I think it obviously has a place. Sexual identity is a major part of being a teenager. Any realistic portrayal of a teen character is going to have some moments where he or she thinks about sex. The question for the writer then is how to handle the subject.

I don’t believe that YA authors have any obligation to give moral lessons to their audience. There are those who do think that should be our job…I’m not one of them. I think our obligation is provide some insight on a time in our lives that we are removed from. There’s an opportunity to pass along some (hopefully) acquired wisdom without creating a judgmental narrative about right and wrong.

When it comes to sex, I think a lot of adults become too far removed from what it was like to be an early teen (keeping in mind most readers of YA fiction are 12-15 years old). We remember the positives, along with the awkward moments, and these are the attitudes that are projected back in books.

But I think most adults forget that often times sex could be a scary thing at that age. It’s an unknown. Add to that the fact that there’s all of this pressure put on you to do it. The pressure comes not only from friends, but also from television and from marketing campaigns that continue to sell the idea of sex to younger and younger audiences. In this realm, you can also add an increasing number of teen books that feed this pressure to kids that if they’re not sexually active then they’re abnormal in some way.

I’ve always found that attitude to be slightly nauseating, and in many ways, the way I’ve chosen to deal with sex in my novels is from the other point of view. I’m very conscious of the fact the a good chunk of my readers are 12 year old girls and I do consider what kind of message a story gives them. That said, I don’t believe in censoring real life. But there are lots of aspects and points of view to every topic, especially sex. So I chose to present a side that I think is under represented (and happens to be the way I felt at that age, so it makes it easy). In a way, I suppose I hope to provide a balance or at least a comforting portrayal to that kid who feels they’re odd for not fitting the sort of Gossip Girl attitude toward sex.

Andrea Vuleta does just about everything there is to do (including moving bookcases) for Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop. Most importantly, she knows just about everything about YA fiction. So, we were very happy she offered up this:

Often I am asked the question, “Is this appropriate for my kid to read?” I always have to dig a little, just to discover what my customer might consider to be “appropriate”. My staff and I read most of the new titles we sell. And there are indeed books out there with some level of sexual content for teens. Why? Because teens do think about and (some) engage in (some) level of activity. Or at least they are aware of sex, and perhaps have friends that engage in some sexual activity. The thing that I tend to fall back on in recommending these types of books is that it is potentially safer to learn about the positive and negative qualities of being sexually active between the covers of a book, than to be potentially caught unaware. (The same can be said for many other activities, but that is a different blog.)

There are darn few positive real life examples of sexually active teens out there for kids to model their behavior. And they aren’t likely to be emulating adults at that point. Interestingly, some books that have minimal physical content are so super-charged with drama and passion, that I am concerned some kids will be in over their heads before they know it. If you are worried about sex in a book, consider this- is the portrayal realistic? Is it integral to the story or character development? What are the repercussions for the character? What are the behaviors or reactions of the supporting characters regarding the activity? Do you recognize that kid today, or from your own adolescence?

As a teen, I was often confronted with behaviors among my peers that I did not understand. I knew what sex was, I knew about teen pregnancy, I understood the mechanics. I did not understand the very real emotional costs involved. I might have been a better friend to my 8th grade pal that became pregnant, or possibly have seen that coming had I imagined or read about people in those situations. I am thankful that today’s authors are offering some examples of real life in fictional situations.

Books are safe zones to engage, ponder, and adapt all kinds of information. Kids that read about sex don’t necessarily engage in sexual activities more or sooner than kids that don’t. What if your kid isn’t ready to read about sexual relationships? Odds are they won’t be interested in books with sex, or they’ll self-edit, by skimming past those passages.

American Library Association related link

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Jack resents the title of this post.

Sometime in the next week or so, I'll be wrapping up work on my fifth novel, The Marbury Lens. It's a strange book, and the process was a difficult one on many levels.

Maybe I over-think things, but in considering the genre of YA (Young Adult) fiction, I've spent a lot of time asking myself the unanswerable question -- What makes YA "Young" and "Adult?"

Forgive me if I get too psychological here, but I think fiction aimed at children is kind of obvious (whether or not we're talking picture books here) because kids have only four basic motivators as characters. Kids (characters and real ones) do things for only four reasons:

1. To get attention (positive or negative).

2. To escape an undesirable environment (like eating vegetables, or sitting quietly in their bitchy teacher's classroom).

3. To gain a tangible reward.

4. For sensory pleasure (this is why boys often tap their fingers or shake their knees).

And that's it. Period.

But adults have another motivator: sex.

So, sorry to break this to you, but if you're going to talk about YA, you're going to have to deal with the subject of sex. Sex is a powerful motivator for teens, and it shapes a great deal of their behaviors. Worst of all, it's always there, hovering in the background.


Or else we're not talking about Adults, young or otherwise.

So, that's Jack's Big Question. It's about sex and YA Literature. Jack and I asked some incredible people involved in YA fiction, and they've offered some opinions and advice on the subject. So, this week, we'll be posting guest blogs dealing with Sex in YA from authors including Brian James, Kelly Milner Halls, Michael Grant, and Bill Konigsberg (as well as a few "surprises"). We've also invited along Andrea Vuleta, from Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop (an indie bookseller that rocks); Nora Rawn, an editor with Random House; and a very talented young writer, teen blogger Adam DeCamp.

Please feel free to join in the discussion and post comments. We'll also include links to our guests' own websites/blogs and other information about their work when they come up. By Friday, Drew will hopefully have worked out his own ethical crisis, so he can be more specific about how this idea came to him.

Tomorrow: Brian James and Andrea Vuleta offer their takes on my big ethical dilemma.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


That was rough.

I can't say that I really liked turning the blog over to Jack, but I've been having some issues lately, and, at this point, I still haven't worked them out.

In any event, I have invited some incredible people onto the Ghost Medicine Blog this week to help me sort through something that's been bugging me... that really doesn't need to be as complex as I make it out to be.

But I tend to do that, like, all the time.

And, after I've read through some of the things they've written to me, I feel like such an idiot... like, why does everyone else have such a death-grip on reality and I give myself stomach aches just trying to decide what to order at a Starbuck's?

Well, tomorrow I'm going to talk a little bit about the ethical dilemma Drew is facing, and I'll reveal some of the names of our upcoming guest bloggers, too.

Friday, May 8, 2009

the big question(jack)

Let me tell you about something that's been bugging Jack.

It's about being a teenager. I hated being a sixteen-year-old boy and having to adjust to the stuff I was going through. It was worse than anything. For all the crap I'd ever read in "teen issue books" about the clumsy awkwardness of my age, how a guy's voice changes, how goofy we act, and how we are enslaved by embarrassing and involuntary bodily functions at the least convenient times, being sixteen was never comfortable, cool, or even remotely humorous for Jack. I couldn't stand having to deal with all this shit.

So, beginning on Monday, Drew has asked some real people (they aren't friends of his... believe me... Drew? Friends? Are you fucking kidding me?) to answer one of Jack's big questions.

He's got some authors, editors, booksellers, librarian-types, and even a literary agent person (whatever that is), who've written some little answers to "Jack's Big Question," just for this blog.

They may surprise you.

As for me, I'm out of here for the weekend.

I'm going to let Drew come back tomorrow and Sunday to tell you more about his blog guests.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

jack (toys of paper)

Let me tell you something about Drew.

He wasn't too good at keeping all the cages locked one night and now the zoo is staging a small-scale revolution.

You should have kept a better eye on Jack, and now that he's out you're going to have some unkind surprises. See, I've already made you more accountable -- the "new and improved" Drew -- by getting rid of mountains of shit you'd constructed into your own cage.

But I'm liking taking over on the blog.

Like my pictures? They're sick, as we teenagers would say.

You should never have let me out.

So, you have this ugly choice: save yourself or save your friendship. It's why the shitheads who run things turn boys into soldiers: to us, the bond is more important - a flag, an officer, your teammate - it’s more worthy of sacrifice than the body.

Don't worry, Drew, now that I'm out, I'll take care of you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

jack(takes over)

Drew handed me the password to the account.

Step one: start deleting some of his accounts on the net. No more visiting shitty book review sites where the critics can't even write a fucking syntactically correct goddamned sentence -- or they claim to be "genre reviewers" and their websites contain (are you fucking kidding me?) exclamation points (!!!) and reviews of ten books by the same author and each one begins with "I love love LOVE her newest book!!!"

I thought step two would be screwing with him on Facebook, but I couldn't live with myself if I even looked at that shit for one minute.

Step three: the blog is mine. At least, for the next few days while Drew tries to "sort himself out," which is bullshit-speak for growing some balls where none previously existed.

So let me tell you what Jack thinks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

fifth of jack

I recently had the opportunity to be a guest at a creative writing class for kids and we somehow got onto the topic of critiques.

I told one girl that, as a writer, you really wouldn't want everyone to love what you write, because some people are just not meant for your stuff. Makes sense, right? It's kind of like the suspicious 100% voter turnout rate that we sometimes hear about from totalitarian states. You know something is wrong there.

Anyway, Jack is in an extremely pissed-off and anxious mood today, despite all the contrived celebratory atmosphere behind the festival (especially here in California).

See... here's the thing... or, part of the thing: I'm in this real quandary right now about substance and execution.



Monday, May 4, 2009

may four (jack)

I'm in one of those extreme self-doubt moods. Like I always get when I finish a manuscript. And I go back through and say to myself, you can't say shit like this, Drew, and I cut stuff out. Then I put it back in.

Then I cut it out.

Then I don't sleep. Sometimes, I'll lie awake at night because I'll think about some arbitrary paragraph that I feel suddenly compelled to insert in the most random part of a book, and it keeps me awake all night until I finally do it. That happened this morning (3 AM, as usual).

Or, I'll think about one word... and I know exactly where that word is, and it's been bothering me for months and so I finally go to that one precise word and change it and it feels like when a scab falls off.

That happened last night, too.


Yesterday, I got a message from one of the sweetest people on the planet, literary agent Jen Rofe, who told me she was in the Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica, California, and saw that they had Ghost Medicine face out on the shelf. That made my day.

They obviously haven't received the ignore at all costs memo on me in Santa Monica yet.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

coming (up)

I've finally put more information about this summer's annual ALA conference in Chicago on the Ghost Medicine and in the path of falling objects websites.

But, here's the lowdown: First, most importantly, I will be attending the party of parties, the ALA Bloggers' Party on Saturday night. Last year, I met and chatted with some incredible author people who later told me that they instantly forgot who I was at that one. This is good, and confirms my "King of Anonymity" crown. Do not try taking that off my nondescript, indistinguishable head.

This year, though, Drew is going in my place. He's a lot more comfortable wearing name badges, and I've promised to give him mine. I never wear them, anyway. They clash with the crown, and who, honestly, doesn't like getting arrested for being an unauthorized attendee at these functions?

I live for that shit.

That, and letting Drew do mobile uploads of cell phone photos of urinals to my Facebook page.

On Sunday, I am actually going to be an author-presenter at the Y.A. Authors' Coffee Klatch, at which, a very hungover Drew will be in attendance from 8:30 - 10:00 AM (Location TBA). This is really one of the coolest things at the annual event, at least, to me it is. But I am already preparing a list of remarks for Drew to make when he shows up and the organizers ask the inevitably-always-asked question: So, who the fuck are you?

Later that day, I will be doing an in-booth book signing at 1:00 PM at the Feiwel and Friends booth, 1813, McCormack Place West. That may be your last chance of the weekend to have your memory erased, as well as to pick up an ARC of in the path of falling objects.

Cool stuff on the blog coming up: Oooohhhh... guest bloggers. Probably people you have actually heard of. We'll be talking about a very hot topic that I've been dying to spout off about, but will wait until my invitees have a chance to give their takes.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

back up (jack)

It's interesting, to me, the wide variety of reactions I've received from advance-copy readers of in the path of falling objects. One thing, they've all been very positive... but each reader, it seems, keys on entirely different elements in the story and its characters.

One male reader told me that he identified with Mitch (I know... for those who've read the book, this is a fairly frightening confession). The reason, he said, was that he was a habitual "counter," too. Mitch, the psycho, takes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to an entirely religious level.

But I'll admit that just about every writer I know is a bit OCD... and some of us take it to an extreme level, too. That's why it was easy for me to come up with a deranged character like Mitch... all I had to do was wonder about how far you could let a disorder like this go. Sadly, too, when I was a kid, my best friend who I used to hang around with every day, had to live through his mom repeatedly being institutionalized for the disorder.

Anyway, one of the things that I do that is very author-OCD is make backup copies of my work.

They're everywhere.

I burn CDs and leave them in my car (in case my house burns down). I email entire manuscripts to myself at multiple addresses (in case my house burns down and somebody steals my car). Because one thing I do not ever want to have to do is rewrite an entire book from memory from page 1. So I go through this multiple-backup ritual every 5,000 words or so... which means that if my manuscript is, say, 100,000 words long, by the time I'm finished with it, there may be 70 or 80 copies of it in various stages of development all over the planet.

This is what happens.

I'm going to go through this crap again today.

Then, when I truly am finished... sometimes I have a hard time figuring out which copy is the "one."

Don't send me suggestions. I'm a sick, sick sonofabitch.

Friday, May 1, 2009


A couple weeks ago, I was interviewed on the radio, and the interviewer had really done his homework on me. He had all these printouts from my blog, and he started quoting from them.

I was, like, You're not supposed to read my fucking blog.

He laughed.

Me: I don't write it, anyway. Some really self-destructive, cynical asshole named Drew does.

He said, Oh, the artwork on it is really nice.

Me: Drew does that, too.

Place is so important in the stuff I write (I know, you're going, like, what the fuck is he jumping from a radio interview to a discussion about SETTING for?). Of course, in Ghost Medicine, the location of Three Points was almost an omnipresent character in itself, ambiguous and emotional. My September 2009 offspring, in the path of falling objects, is almost a painting in homage to my attraction to the Southwest, particularly the Indian lands of New Mexico and Arizona.

I only mention this because I've been reliving many earlier memories in writing The Marbury Lens, most of which is set in some of my favorite places (where I've spent massive amounts of time): London, the West Coast of England, and North Yorkshire. Something about England that really contributes to a brooding, mysterious, and scary story.

Oh well... back to work.

It is, after all, Labor Day (at least in just about every part of the world except the States).