Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the sound of falling objects

So yesterday morning, bright and early, my son and I headed down the mountain to Los Angeles to sit in on day one of the production of the audio version of in the path of falling objects. My son wanted to come along to see what the studio and process were like, and I was happy to spend the day with him.

The Random House/Listening Library facility is really nice, and all the people who work there... well, let's just say they obviously enjoy their jobs. And how could you not, if you worked in a place like that? Dan Musselman, who runs the place, gave me and Trevin the grand tour of the facility. Trevin liked the studios and tech stuff. I liked the library -- a warehouse room with bookshelves that were probably about 15 feet (or more) tall, and stuffed with books.

I realized last go-around, when they did the audio for Ghost Medicine, that it's usually a good idea for producers to have access to authors, just to be certain how particular words should be pronounced. And I knew that the only issues that would come up for in the path of falling objects were going to be place names: locations in New Mexico and Arizona, and a couple spots in Vietnam (where some of the novel takes place).

So we got all that technical stuff sorted out, and Trevin got to meet our producer, Jessica Kaye, and actor Mike Chamberlain, the same team who made the audio for Ghost Medicine, and we settled down into the studio and watched them do their thing.

The first time I'd gone through this was a strange experience, because when I wrote Ghost Medicine, I never once thought about the possibility of audio format. So, it honestly made me feel kind of uncomfortable hearing it read aloud. And the book was so personally connected to me, too... maybe that's why I still can't bring myself to listen to it. But while they were recording Ghost Medicine, I happened to be writing in the path of falling objects, so I kept thinking to myself: what would this sound like as an audio? And I tried to write it with the intent that it be read aloud.

[Side Note: A lot of writers think that you must read your stuff aloud to be able to tell whether or not it's any good. Nonsense. Words on a page are words on a page. They are presented in that medium for a reason. Just my opinion.]

The strange thing is, though, that in the path of falling objects has even a stronger personal connection to my life, and I really loved hearing it as Mike read it aloud. He did an incredible job... which is probably why my son and I stayed there nearly the entire day. We didn't want to stop listening to it (especially because Mike was getting into the really tense parts just at the end of the day). Producer Jessica told me she had wondered how Mike would pull off the psycho Mitch parts of the book, and after his first couple descents into Mitch's voice and perspective, we all agreed:

Mike, you make a damn good psychopath.

If I lived nearer to the studio, I'd probably sit in there every day for the recording. It really is that good. And I definitely will listen to the thing when I get my copies from Random House.

One more thing... I don't think I could ever be a voice for an audio book. That is one heck of a tough job.

Monday, June 29, 2009

we -- the mighty pronoun

Eh... I had this lengthy tirade all typed up and ready to post this morning, but decided to wipe it out. Maybe another day.

I'm in one of those I-give-up moods and I've decided to give myself the short shrift today. So here's my plan for today:

[Name drop alert!] A few days ago, Newbery Award winning author Susan Patron wrote via Facebook: I just finished GHOST MEDICINE and loved it. Such powerful, elegant, eloquent writing.

So, I was, like, wow. That's a really nice compliment. And she asked for an ARC of my next book, in the path of falling objects. So, Susan, I am happy to say that I am coming down from the mountain today and am mailing off that book for you some time this morning.

And I'll be doing it in conjunction with a trip to Los Angeles to sit in the recording studio for day one as Random House/Listening Library begins production on the audio version of in the path of falling objects. The studio people are always so nice and hard-working, and I will admit that last time I was there, when they were making Ghost Medicine, I really didn't know what to expect. And I'll be honest, too... I still don't want to listen to that book (and haven't).

This one's going to be different, though.

I let my friend Yvonne (whose book The Vinyl Princess is coming out in February and has a kick-ass cover) read it, and yesterday, she said this:

Reading your book was like going on one of those road trips where you arrive in your driveway sweaty and spent and broke and there's empty beer bottles rolling around on the floor mats and you have phone numbers in your pocket that you can't explain and speeding tickets from out of state and you know it's all probably going to come back to haunt you but you'd turn around and do it all again in a heartbeat.

This is why people don't want to take road trips with me.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

of cars and girls, books and boys

I recently looked up various research lists on the top car preferences of women and the top car preferences of men. I'm not going to talk about cars -- I don't really care at all about them as a matter of fact -- but, what I found interesting is that each of the sources had lists with absolutely no overlaps.

In other words, cars that women liked to drive, men chose not to, and vice versa.

Hang in there... I swear this isn't about cars.

The thing is, though, if I ran a car dealership that only sold cars from the "girls'" list, I'd have a lot of reluctant boy buyers. Or absent boy buyers, altogether.

As a result of what I would inevitably come to observe about cars and boys, I'd probably start to convince myself of the following: Gee, boys don't like to drive cars, since the only gender I see getting anything off my lot is the double-X variety. Sheesh, boys are lame. Stupid, non-driving boys.

The same kind of thing is happening in schools and school libraries. In this case, the people running the "car lots" are designing curriculum, learning models, and stocking the shelves of their school libraries primarily from one list.

We know this has been going on for about the past 30 years, and I've pointed out in previous blogs the educational data that shows how we've really helped girls' literacy scores, but we've seriously hurt boys.

Educational writers like Michael Gurian are quick to point out, however, that a girl will typically have no problem reading a book from a boys' list, but that a boy will generally not read a book from a girls' list.

So, let's say our "car dealership" has the ability to stock ten new models this year, and eight of them are from the girls' list. It happens. And it's time for damage control.

I know, I know... I've been an educator for decades, so trust me when I say that schools and school libraries always have the loudest voices when they call on our kids to line up and drink the diversity Kool-Aid. But they don't really walk the walk.

And we should all be on the same side, I would think, when it comes to dealing with the damage we've done to our nation's boys in terms of reading and writing.

So, if you're a "car dealer," and you've only got room for ten new models this year, split it down the middle: five from column "A," and five from column "B." Simple as that, no matter how much pressure or temptation you feel about getting that one additional chick-lit YA title about the girl who wants to go out for the horticulture club because the boy who's club president is a handsome vampire who must re-bury himself every Friday night beneath the foundation of the high school's chemistry building.

Yeah... go ahead and use that one, too.

Five and five. Be fair and help start turning things around for boys in America. Then we can start talking about some of the other subgroups you can try to reach in your newly-balanced dealership (and God knows how terrified some high school librarians are of throwing in the occasional LGBT title, but that's for another day).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

mad years

I remember when I started high school: just before the year began, they brought the entire freshman class into the gym; and the principal gave us a speech that started something like this:

You are all about to begin what you will look back on as the best four years of your lives.

And afterward, over the course of the next four years, I believe there was not a single hour that passed by when I didn't find myself silently wondering:

Holy Shit! If these are the best years, I might as well shoot myself in the fucking face right now.

Well, since I'm doing a week of blogs on writerly quotes, I thought I'd drop something out here that is one of my favorite, most honest quotes as far as Young Adult fiction is concerned. From Stephen King:

I don't trust anybody who looks back on the years from 14 to 18 with any enjoyment. If you liked being a teenager, there's something really wrong with you.

Thank you, Stephen King. I mean... come on! Are you kidding me? Being a teenager sucked.

And I'm not going to say that it was pure hell... that it didn't have its moments (like when Lisa Chadwick streaked the stage during a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in eleventh grade. Oh sure, she had her face covered, but every boy in school knew it was Lisa, because we had, every one of us, properly fantasized just exactly what Lisa's boobs would look like... and we were mostly right). But, really, other than those few "passing" moments... not too good at all.

And even though teens will stubbornly deny it, there's so much pressure, and so much effort on their part, to not be individuals and to fit in with others -- from their choices in clothing labels, popular music and movies, what books to read, and, most disturbingly, about making choices dealing with risky behavior: drugs, sex, alcohol, etc.

Okay. That said, nobody likes to talk to a guy who can't get rid of the chip on his shoulder. And if you try to "keep it real" as an author dealing with Young Adults, sometimes that can be a little off-putting for readers. So, a lot of YA can either go entirely in one direction and be completely ditzy -- you know, stories about summer romances... falling for the terrific boy who strangely won't come to your Sweet Sixteen pool party because you find out he has three nipples and is afraid to take his shirt off (feel free you use that one, and I expect to see it on some damned YA Librarian book blog next summer); or, in the opposite direction, can be "edgy" to the point of scaring some readers away.

Meet Jack. He's one of my favorite characters, the narrator of next year's release, The Marbury Lens. With him, I had to do a real balancing act, because Jack is justifiably very angry about things that have happened to him, and he hates the pressure he feels about being a teenager. But, at the same time, Jack has some likable, genuine, and empathetic qualities, too (and only two nipples... but you can still use that idea above). Maybe it's just me (and possibly Stephen King) who's had a fucked-up teen experience... I don't know. But whether it's Troy and his friends from Ghost Medicine, Jonah and Simon Vickers from in the path of falling objects, or my friend Jack, all of these guys have some realistic hardships to deal with during these very tough years... and all of them have a hell of a lot in common with me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

following the road

There are a few other authors that I do very much enjoy sharing ideas and communicating with. And I will note the distinction between "writer" and "author," thanks to a previous comment from James Preller on this blog, where James said:

...I make the distinction between "writer" and "author," which in my mind has to do with publishing, and money, and most of all, permission.

It's easy to be a writer. Just write. It's the one step in the process that you completely control. Yet it is stunning how many people who purportedly want to be "authors," who want that "lifestyle" or reward or validation, are unwilling to BE writers in the first place.

So, the other day, I'd exchanged a few emails with an author friend who has been letting me read some of his WIP (that's writerspeak for Work In Progress)... and -- let me tell you -- I really like what I'm reading. That's beside the point, though. I got the idea, because of the way he described what was going to happen in the book that he was an "outliner," so I asked him about it.

I paraphrased a quote from E. L. Doctorow to him in my email, but I found the actual quote, and here it is. Doctorow said:

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

I like that idea, and I think Doctorow describes fairly accurately my approach to writing. That is to say, I know that there are going to be certain "turning points" in the journey -- and I usually will list these turns on some kind of note, pad of paper, or email to myself (so if you want to call that an outline, go ahead) -- but the direction my characters go off in is really up to them.

So, just as in every novel I've written, I knew exactly where I would drop my main characters off in the final scenes of in the path of falling objects or The Marbury Lens, but what they did in those final scenes was pretty much entirely up to them.

And their decisions made sense, too, based on the road they'd followed to get to that final destination.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

one more thing

Since I've been on this three-day kick of quoting other writers, let me throw in a final admonition from Lillian Hellman:

If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talk about writing or themselves.

Well... duh.

Anyway, young people don't listen to anyone, Lilly. That's what makes them young.

So, let me straighten a few items out regarding yesterday's post:

1. I do hate writing.

2. Random House is NOT putting a picture of ME on the audio version of in the path of falling objects. They say I look too much like the Sham-Wow guy, and they want to actually sell some copies. Go figure.

3. It is NOT my voice that will be on the audio version. It's going to be Mike Chamberlain, the same actor who did the audio for Ghost Medicine. Great voice, and a monumentally patient young man.

4. Since I have all this free time in Chicago (besides the raging parties and such) at ALA, I've decided to host an all-night poker game in my suite. Guys only. Bring lots of money and whiskey. I will make you cry.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

things we hate

"Writing is the flip side of sex – it's good only when it's over." -- Hunter S. Thompson

I know that a lot of authors and aspiring writers go on and on -- almost like they're at some 12-step group meeting; offering witness as to how they've seen the light -- about how much they love writing, but I'm with Thompson on this one.

I hate it.

But, I hate it when it's over, too. So, at least I'm consistent in my contempt for what I do. I know that you're probably thinking, Drew, you are a complete ass. If you hate doing it, then you should quit.

On the surface, this pronouncement seems reasonable, but my consideration of the alternatives precludes the acceptance of this simple remedy.

1. The exploding head
2. Wearing shoes and "trousers"
3. The manifestation of a socially unacceptable form of insanity

So... I didn't even take a break from the last thing I finished up (seems like just days ago), and here I am working on yet another novel. Part of me probably just wants to see if it is humanly possible to write more pages in a year than New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Grant, but there's also the whole self-flagellation thing, too.

Anyway, I am really hoping to force a quit to the self-destructive behavior after ALA Chicago in a few weeks, at which time I plan on leaving the country sans laptop.

Yeah, right.

But, speaking of ALA, here's the schedule for getting your funk on with the Drew:

1. I will roll into town on Friday morning. There will be lots and lots of parties and stuff... for about 48 hours, until...

2. Sunday, July 12, 8:30 - 10:00 AM: Ow. My head. I will be one of the authors "speed dating" with folks at the YA Authors' Coffee Klatch. I don't know what other authors will be there... but, trust me, it won't matter. I'll be wearing shoes. And pants.

3. Sunday, July 12, 1:00 PM: I will be doing an in-booth signing of Advance Reader Copies of in the path of falling objects, at the Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan booth 1813 in McCormack Place West. You want one.

In other cool and trouserless news: I will be going in to the recording studio [good God! not my voice... I sound like an idiot] on this coming Monday, June 29, as Random House/Listening Library begins production of the audio version of in the path of falling objects. I'm really excited about this because I think this particular novel will make an amazing listen-to.

One problem, though...

[Stop reading now if you work in the Flatiron Building]

... there is still no final cover design for the novel. So, Random House has opted to put a picture of ME on the outer packaging.

Sitting there with no pants, drinking whiskey, slouched over my keyboard while my children plead: "Daddy, please feed us! We are so, so hungry!"

I hate writing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

not anything

Ernest Hemingway. He's probably my favorite author.

He's credited with the quote, "The first draft of anything is shit." It's become one of those writerly prescripts to which so many people religiously adhere. But Hemingway, as much as he rocks, may be a bit out of date.

In Hemingway's time, first drafts were actually first drafts -- things on paper, often written by hand in ink or on a standard typewriter. How could they not be shit? For most authors today, technology prevents the completion of anything that could legitimately qualify as a first draft.

Now, I'm not saying that other people out there use the same method as I do when writing -- and I talk to so few published authors about manners of execution, anyway -- but I'd estimate that by the time I actually type out the last couple paragraphs of any novel, that I've actually rewritten the entire draft -- every section of it -- from 5 to 10 times.

Just imagine how difficult it would have been in Hemingway's time to substitute a word, correct spelling, change the placement of a passage of paragraphs, entirely change a character's name, or shorten or lengthen the time frame of the arc of the narrative? I've done all of these things in the novels that I've written, and, given the technology that writers utilize today, it's pretty damned easy to do as you go along.

I would imagine, on the other hand, that writers working between, say, the 1920s and 1960s, like Hemingway, would have to get everything out on paper, cross things out, cuss, write in margins, draw arrows, and toil through the entire project (as a true first draft) before going back to the beginning and "making nice" with all the demons they scared up along the way.

Now, I'd also imagine that today there are writers who, when they begin writing, move in one direction only and plow through a first draft without looking back, doing multiple saves, keeping reference passages tucked away for possible future use, etc. That's another way of doing it. But for me, when I finish the draft of a novel... it's pretty much ready to go.

Not shit.

Monday, June 22, 2009

nicest email(ever)

I received an incredibly thoughtful email last week from a reader of my novel Ghost Medicine, and I wanted to post it here. I will add, though, that things like this really make my day -- knowing that there are people out there who find a connection to what I've worked on...

Hi Mr. Andrew Smith,

I’m an English major with an emphasis in creative writing. Whenever an author is asked to give advice to future writers, the author always seems to say read. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve fallen in love with the Young Adult genre.

While I was searching the library shelves and internet for books, I wondered why there aren’t any horse books. I grew up reading every horse book I could get my hands on. I even checked out books on how to draw horses. Then when I got to junior high and high school, the horse books seemed to disappear. So when I saw the cover of
Ghost Medicine, I whipped it off the shelf and checked it out without reading the inside flap to see what it was about – I was that excited to finally have a cowboy book to read.

Ghost Medicine didn’t let me down. It was a powerful novel with intensity, friendship, love, adventure, and heartbreak. There was strong description, the dialogue felt real, and I was completely caught up in the story. I was amazed by the character development, and I felt like I knew the characters better than some of my own friends. Maybe if everyone had a novel written about themselves, we’d all understand each other a little better.

After I finished your book, I went to your website, and I decided to send this email to tell you I really enjoyed your novel. I love reading because of books like
Ghost Medicine. Good luck with your future writings and I’ll watch for your new book this fall.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

dad's day

Let me be clear about this right now: I am an orphan. And it's hard for me to express how envious I am of my guy friends who can still hang with their dads.

Strangely enough, my dad and my wife's dad both died unexpectedly the same year. We were both very young, and, although we lived near one another, didn't know each other at the time. So there were lots of things I couldn't do with, or ask my dad. I never got to sit down and drink a beer with him. He never got to see me get married, or hold my children when they were babies.

When I was a teenager, when I was in college, I swore I would never have children. But when I got to that right point in my life, there was nothing more in the world I wanted more than to be a dad myself. Maybe I was just trying to make up for something I'd missed out on. I don't know.

When my wife got pregnant, I convinced myself that something terrible was going to happen to us... especially when we found out we were expecting a boy. Because I swore to any God who'd listen that I'd give my son everything I missed out on getting from my dad.

When my wife was about five months along, we moved into our first condo. The night we moved in, we ate take-out food on the floor and slept in sleeping bags in the living room because none of our stuff had been moved yet. We did move one thing: a plaster bust of Elvis Presley that I'd bought years before in Mexico. The Elvis Head was special to me. Don't ask me why.

Well, that night we both woke up in the middle of the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. Our condo was just about smack on top of the epicenter. We didn't have anything to break... except for my Elvis Head. It fell off a shelf and shattered on the floor right next to our own heads. But my wife, and unborn son, were okay. Elvis had left the building, though.

A few months later, when my wife went into labor, we packed up my truck and headed off for the hospital. We were going to have the baby about 50 miles away, because that particular hospital allowed me to be present in the delivery room and actually handle the baby as soon as he came out. They even gave me my own bed in her room so that the baby would NEVER be out of my immediate control. Yeah... hospitals don't do that kind of shit anymore.

The ride there, needless to say, was pretty tough on my wife. The roads were still busted up and bumpy from the quake, and she was puking into a mixing bowl the whole way. When we got there, I walked into the emergency room and told them my wife was having a baby, and they were, like, lah-de-dah... sure, bud... you need to calm down, man. But when I finally carried her in and they looked at her, she was already at 10 cm. and the baby came out in about 30 minutes.

Oh yeah... no drugs, no C-section. My wife wouldn't have that.

I've heard it's called a "King's Dream" when you have a son first, and a daughter second. My daughter was born almost three years later. Coming from a family of only boys (four of us), having a little girl around was quite a trip.

Now my daughter, Chiara, is 12, and Trevin is about to turn 15 in five days. I know I haven't answered all their questions yet, and I haven't done everything with them that a dad is supposed to do, but we have time.

Or, at least, we have to hope we do.

The picture at the top of the blog is a picture of my dad. I think he was about 19 years old then, a soldier in Italy, where he met my mother.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

finale of seem

Okay. So, continuing with a few posts about writing and such, here's one that I get nearly every time I speak before students at high school and colleges; one that I see posted on every writers' discussion site on the internet.


It's this: I really, really want to be a writer. I just love everything about it and I just want to be a writer, like, sooooo much!.


Long answer. First off, "being" a writer is not a lifestyle that you can simply choose. It's kind of like leprosy, freckles, and sexual orientation. Believe me, if it were a matter of choice, I'd be on the first sled to Alaska and track down that minister whose congregation could "pray the write" out of me.

Who the hell "wants" to "be" a writer? It's like gravity, and there's not a good goddamned thing you can do to stop it. I certainly can't offer advice on how to reduce the pull of the earth on you.

Wait. Maybe I can.

Eat more fiber.


I honestly believe I do not like the "being" part. The consequence to what I do, just because I was born that way.

But, if you must... if you've convinced yourself that you can will "being," and you really want to give it a shot, then here's how I "be" a writer:

Drew's Day -- Saturday, June 20:

[do not try this at home]

Oh... and this is exactly why I don't TWITTER. My life is colossally boring...

1. Wake up when it's still dark outside. Usually between the hours of 3 and 5 AM. Do some push-ups and sit-ups to get the blood going to the brain.

2. Turn on your computer. While it's booting up and the old WiFi is getting juiced, stumble downstairs and pour a very large cup of coffee. It is essential that the coffee is not bastardized in any manner by cream or sugar.

3. Come back upstairs. Email is first. Delete them all without opening them, unless they're from a very short list of people who don't consummately despise you. Answer those few emails. (Later in the day, expect to get emails beginning with phrases like what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-answering-email-at-three-in-the-morning?)

4. Read The New York Times online.

5. Look at Facebook and silently curse the people whose Twitter tweets automatically post as Facebook status because you can't understand what the fuck they're t@lking @bout.

6. Write for an hour or so. Or more. Refill coffee as needed. (This is why I fucking hate myself. I swore I'd take some time off after finishing my last novel a few weeks ago. But... no. And I'm fucking impossible to live with when I'm writing. I fully predict my wife and kids are going to murder me in my sleep before August.)

7. Go outside and feed the horses. Then go running in the hills for 5 miles with a partially-healed broken foot that makes a sound like a Coke bottle under a tractor tire as you go.

Gee. isn't being a writer fun?

8. If the coffee is still warm... no... even if it isn't, pour another cup when you come back. Go back upstairs and write for a couple more hours. Wallow in self-contempt.

And that's all before noon.

Friday, June 19, 2009


A lot of the writers I know bemoan the revision/editing process, but, for me, it's the most enjoyable step in the process of seeing your work through to publication.

Maybe it has more to do with the idea of working with trusted teammates, all of whom share the common goal of making the book as good as it can possibly be. At least in my experience, this step usually begins with a bunch of questions. Some of those questions I look at and say, well... duh. The answer's right there in the manuscript. But many of them allow me to add more flesh to the bones of the story I've turned in, and those are the fun ones to answer.

And this is how my editor works, anyway: more from the enabling/asking questions perspective as opposed to the this-is-crap-and-you-need-to-cut-it-by-ten-thousand-words approach. Less stress, a common goal, giving me the freedom to "create" rather than "destroy."

The fun part of the process.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

who and when

Next couple of blogs, as opposed to blogging about bloggers who blog about writing, I'm going to talk about some of the things I do, as a writer. Oh... and everyone I know does their own thing, as far as I know.

Over the years, I have run across too many writers or people aspiring to become writers who list all these things that you absolutely cannot do when you write a book. Things like, you can't have long sentences, or, be sure to put a hook in your first sixteen lines.


I guess if I sat around thinking about all the rules besides spell good and tell a story that some people overly fixate on, I'd probably never get anything done.

Oh, and there's the if you're going to write a novel and expect it to get published, then you will spend a minimum of two years writing it.

Um... bull. It's taken me an average of 2 to 3 months to write each novel that I have sold for publication.

Well, anyway... today I was going to talk a little bit about POV and tense shifts in fiction -- something that I've kind of gotten into in two of my recent books.

In my upcoming release, in the path of falling objects, there are 5 POV perspectives, all told. Granted, the vast majority of the novel is written in first-person past tense from the perspective of the protagonist, a kid named Jonah Vickers, but some of the novel is written in third-person present tense (the POV of the psychopathic Mitch), too. And then there are a few passages of third-person past tense from the perspective of Jonah's younger brother, Simon; and, of course, the first-person letters written by their older brother Matthew.

All of this can work, I think, if the writer develops the trust of his readers by establishing these perspectives early-on, so they don't become so jarring and unexplainable.

I've generally stayed away from writing in the present tense. It's something that, to me, can be too tiring for a reader. Cynthia Willis does a great job using it throughout Buck Fever, though. It seems completely natural.

I also use present tense sporadically throughout The Marbury Lens. In this case, it's used as a means of pulling the reader directly into the middle of some of the scarier or more disturbing scenes. Again, it's used sparingly, and only at the really tense moments... and I don't think this will be a spoiler, but, also for the entire last chapter.


The POV of that book is a little bit different, too, because the narrator, a kid named Jack Whitmore, tells nearly the entire story in first-person voice. But Jack is so angry and hurt about things that have happened to him that from time to time, when he is especially frustrated with himself and mad about things, he "gets out of himself" and talks about Jack as though he is a distant observer, a third person; someone else.

So there's a little bit of my thinking as far as POV and tense shifts are concerned.

We do not follow rules.

What works, works.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

catch(and release)

I knew this was going to happen a long time ago, so it wasn't too much of a surprise.

I spoke for some time with my editor yesterday, and we agreed that the next book, after in the path of falling objects, will be The Marbury Lens, so you can expect that one out in 2010.

It will scare you.

But, of course, don't forget in the path of falling objects. It's coming out in just a few months, and I'm pretty confident it's going to make an impression on people at next month's ALA Annual in Chicago. And, of course, Yvonne predicts it will rile the Puritans, which is okay with me. And you notice all the pretty book covers I've shown on this blog last week... well, I can't show the cover for in the path of falling objects, because it isn't finished yet.



And, by the way, check out this music video from the indie band, Ghosts I've Met, called "1934." If you have read in the path of falling objects, you'll agree that it's eerily a perfect match for the story.

So, despite reports to the contrary, The Marbury Lens will precede Winger in publication. That's a good thing, but it's sad, too. But if they were children, The Marbury Lens would be my favored son. At least, at the moment.

I'll be working on some edits through July. The book is pretty long, but neither of us sees it getting shorter... and it reads quickly.

I'd tell you about it, but neither my editor nor I know exactly what to call it. It's a fantasy that isn't really a fantasy, scarier than hell, but rooted in the here-and-now, so, we both agree, readers are wondering up until the last few chapters whether or not any of this horrible stuff happening to this kid named Jack is actually happening.

More suspense.

I think you'll like it. But it's pretty "grown up" for YA. No. Very grown up.

The title of today's post? Well, I've written before about dog people and cat people. I have cats, but I am not a cat person. One of my cats, a big orange boy who likes to sleep all day and hunt all night, has apparently developed "green" or compassionate sensibilities. He's gotten into the habit of catch-and-release hunting.

The problem is, he's been releasing everything inside my house: mice, rats, gophers, lizards... they're all sharing accommodations downstairs.

It's like a freakin petting zoo from hell.

Did you know that gophers shriek and hiss?

Yeah. Nice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I had to pay attention to nearly the entire Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night until I saw some books in the background.

Real ones.

Behind Bill Maher.

He had them stacked, horizontally, at the end of his bookshelf, something that men sometimes do when they don't want to use bookends; or when they want the television audience to clearly see the titles.

Two books there: Religion Gone Bad, by Mel White; and (what a surprise!) New Rules by Bill Maher.

Hey Keith! Hey Keith! Come and interview me! I can talk about anything, and I have lots of really good books I can put in the background behind me! And mine are thicker than Bill Maher's!

I embrace my ADD.

Mail. I got an actual fan mail paper letter a while back. It was from someone who'd listened to the audio version of Ghost Medicine, which I could also put on a shelf behind me. Did Maher have an audiobook there? I think not.


Anyway, the letter was particularly adorable (I know. I hate that word, too), because the lady who wrote it simply addressed it to: "Andrew Smith, author" and mailed it to Random House (who does my audio books), who, fortunately, sent it to me at my home address.

[Let me tell you... I have a whole 'nuther blog post, one of these days, about all the people who've been really nice to me because they thought I was a different ANDREW SMITH, and, when they found out I wasn't the ANDREW SMITH of their fond childhood memories, dumped me like a Don Knotts lookalike on a blind date.]

But I digress. I bring up the mail reference because yesterday, my friend Yvonne, who's reading an ARC of in the path of falling objects, tells me:

Man, are you gonna get mail, strap in, it could get ugly.

I'm thinking, hopefully not as ugly as the "Wall o' Fake Books" behind Howard Dean on Olbermann last week.

But, wait. I much prefer the "adorable" kind of mail. Or, I'm thinking, does "ugly" mean I am going to be inundated, whelmed, as it were, by parcels and packages containing rare and exotic fruits; caravans of supplicating postal carriers laden with gifts of spices and ivory?

Or, I asked, might it have something to do with the fact that I wrote a book that is set during the Vietnam era; about romantic-minded boys who follow a delusional maniac out into a desert, looking for something that was never there in the first place, risking their lives -- and everything they have -- for it... like The Wizard of Oz on crack, or, better yet, The Wizard of Oz on heroin withdrawal... are you saying that might scare up bad memories of the last eight years?

Well, in that case, I might be one of those other Andrew Smiths.

Just sayin'.

Monday, June 15, 2009

monday crash

Okay. I think everyone agrees that it's reasonable for a writer to expect some kind of crash after finishing a book, especially one with a highly-charged voice.

This possibly explains the uncharacteristic lateness of this post. I woke up in an exceedingly crappy what-will-I-do-first---delete-all-the-messages-from-my-inbox-or-clear-the-unheard-voicemail-off-my-phone? kind of mood.

Reasonable, I guess.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

another break with(tradition)

Okay. So, here I go again.

But before I talk about (another non-review) this book, I thought I'd start doing this on as regular a basis as I can: talking about and showing off great new books for boys. I don't think anyone else does this. At least, again, the only YA booksites I find seem to be 95%, if not exclusively, oriented towards girl fiction.

But I'd like to hope that people are beginning to catch on. So, hopefully, once per week or so, I'll be able to talk about a newly-released, or soon-to-be-released YA title for boys. I'll be scouring the stands (be warned) at ALA next month in Chicago, looking for just such books.

By the way, too, I'm going to make a distinction in age-levels, because I really think that the YA stuff that I write for boys is probably a little too -- shall we say -- edgy for boys under 13. Or, at least I'd say parents should be advised, and maybe read first.

Well, they should, anyway. After all, the best way to get your boy to want to read something is if he sees you reading it, too. DAD. So, go ahead and buy 2 copies.

In fact, if you're a middle-school teacher, I think you should buy an entire class set of James Preller's Bystander, a tense, suspenseful, fast-paced study of bullies, their victims, and the consequences involved with being a "bystander."

Ultimately, bullying connects all of these players, whether they see themselves as intentional participants or not. Preller's novel tells the story of Eric Hayes, a new 7th-grader who's pretty sharp when it comes to figuring other kids out and keeping himself out of the line of fire. When push comes to shove, though, Eric has to make some pretty tough choices and confront the monster that everyone else in his school fears.

Every boy who's gone through junior high and high school has found himself in these same situations that Preller sets down so clearly in Bystander. The real value for boys here, I think, is the no-nonsense realism of the plot: There are no tidy and clear-cut answers; and just being "good" isn't always good enough.

Boys are going to love the fast-paced arc of this story. The first 20 pages build so much understated tension that it's impossible to stop reading. Most importantly, Bystander is a powerful and valuable resource for any school looking for additional perspectives on educating kids about bullying.

Publication date is October, 2009.

Recommended for ages 10 and above.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

parting with(tradition)

Okay. So I lied.

A few days ago, I said I don't review books -- even if what I'm going to write about today will sound an awful lot like a review. The reason I don't review books is that there are only a few sources of book reviews that I'll pay attention to. NOT bloggers, NOT crackpots on bookseller websites, and NOT other authors.

See, publishing is so inbred, and so many of us really collect our paychecks from the same small handful of companies, that I always wonder how truly "genuine" an author's review of another's work can be.

Okay. I'll try to get over it.

And this isn't going to be your typical review, either, because, as can always be expected, I'm going to talk about my own weird life.

So, anyway, I don't read when I write. Now that I just finished writing another novel, I've been reading at a fairly manic pace. The other day, I read Cynthia Chapman Willis' novel, Buck Fever. Then I sent her a couple messages about the book, which I wanted to share here:

Sure, lots of books start out just fine, but when I close them up, I mean, really, are they going to stay with me? Buck Fever will.

I say this as not only a guy who grew up with a deer hunting dad (while he was alive), but also as someone who recognizes the definite lack of outstanding books for boys. Cynthia's book resonates, for me, with an experience reminiscent of Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows. I can remember when I was a kid (probably in fifth or sixth grade), and my best buddy loaned me his copy of that book. Yeah, guys actually used to do stuff like that back in those days. But I got so into that book as a kid, I remember telling my dad that I wanted to go out hunting raccoons. And my dad, who taught me how to shoot his deer rifle when I was six -- and he was never a fan of hunting raccoon -- said something like, "Holy heck, I reckon, son! You might as well go out shooting at rats as well as old coons!"

(Seriously. I shit you not. He talked like that.)

And my dad was a real hunter, too. So I never questioned the idea of killing animals as a means of providing for our family. Besides, deer meat is delicious. And cute. My dad could bring home an enormous deer, tied down across the hood of his Ford, but, at the same time, would hand-feed wild squirrels in our yard, and would never dream of shooting the deer that came and stripped the cherries from the trees on our land, telling us boys, instead, that if we wanted any cherries for pies, we'd have to chase the deer off on foot -- and if we caught one, he'd give us a nickel. We got close some times. And a nickel meant something in those days, too.

So I could imagine a boy, in say, 6th or 7th grade, picking up Buck Fever and falling in love with the great experience of becoming a reader, just as I did way back a hell of a long time ago when I used to chase deer through our fields, hoping for a nickel from Dad. Now, as a father of two kids the same ages as the main character in Buck Fever, Joey, and Philly, his sister (but my older is the boy), I found myself wishing I could jump through the pages and slap the living snot out of Joey's clueless parents.

I mean, seriously, the guy's dad is a total crybaby wuss who can't function when his wife is away from home. And his inability to be a man has a devastating effect on his kids.

Let me tell you a secret (since my wife never reads this blog). When my wife is away, it's party like there's no freakin tomorrow at El Rancho de Drew for me and the kids. Feeling guilty about not eating salads? Um. Nope.

But I digress. Back to this remarkable book.

Anyway, I live in this tiny rural community up in the mountains, along the shores of a couple small lakes. There are only a few hundred families here, if that, and all the kids grow up together and attend the same school for grades K - 8. They even bus some kids in from even more remote areas just to get the school population (total) around 400 kids. The Language Arts teacher for the 7th and 8th graders is always looking for books for boys, and I am really excited about giving her my ARC of Buck Fever. It is a perfect book for boys that age.

Honestly. If I weren't such a man, I'd admit that the book almost made me cry.

I will admit, too, that I'm going to break my no-review tradition and talk about another pure gem I read just a couple days ago, because it's for boys, too.

Okay... funny and Zen-like situation: The other day on Facebook, a YA Librarian blogger asked a question: ...hate that women's/ya books are both looked down upon. how do we fix this?

Ha ha. Funny that Women's and YA are joined with an interconnective slash.

That's what I'm talking about. You can start to fix it by:

1) Reading this blog.

2) Stop putting such trashy, vapid, empty, stereotyping books on your review sites.

Hey... maybe you should pick up (and READ) a copy of Buck Fever.

No offense. I've given you an assignment, now go do it.

As for me, the wife and kids have gone up north to some horse thing for the next three days, so I will leave you with three words:




Friday, June 12, 2009


Blogger XY has stepped aside for today, so I've got a few random observations to throw out.

First of all, I can no longer, it would appear, refer to Grant as Grant, since Hunger is going to appear in the #8 slot of the New York Times Bestseller List. He will now be known as "New York Times Bestselling Author Grant," or NYTBAG. (Pronounced "Neatbag")

Second, once again, Drew noticed a background bookshelf behind last night's Keith Olbermann guest number one -- some attorney guy. It was an interesting BBS (Background Book Shelf), because it consisted of a fake wallpaper of title-less leatherbound library volumes that were partially concealed behind a fake paper shoji. I guess they couldn't come up with anything that made their guest look smarter than the guy with the dictionary and Clive Cussler novel from two days ago.

Attention, Keith: I can loan you some books, bud.

And, third: A friend of mine from the Kansas City SCBWI sent me an email in which she asked about whether or not I outline when I write a book. Coincidentally enough, Cynthia Chapman Willis also blogged about outlining yesterday. My answer, succinctly, is No. Well, sort of.

Here's what I said:

Outlines: No. But, I do email myself a lot. Seriously, most of my last novel was written by email... so, when I was away from my office, I would reply to myself, including the message, make changes, reply again, come home, paste into the document, and do it all over again. Yeah... probably 90% of it was done by email. This allowed me to write all day, no matter where I was. Sometimes, even by iPhone. I'd also send an email back-and-forth about "What still needs to happen;" and I'd just make a numbered list, usually with one-word points about all the loose ends that needed to be tied up, and I'd check them off or delete them as I went along.

But an actual outline? No way. The story has to write itself. I literally did not know how it was going to end until I got to that final paragraph.

But I built a barn entirely by myself (even the roof) with just a plan in my head. It's still standing after 10 years, believe it or not.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I'm trying my hardest to be nice. I haven't taken my pain meds, and every time I get tempted to cross the line (which, for Drew, is about as far away from my keyboard as Patagonia), I promise to wheel my desk chair across my broken foot.

Yes. It's still broken.

Again, probably entirely symptomatic of my pronounced attention deficit, I once again became captivated by the bookshelf in the background of Keith Olbermann's first guest yesterday. This time, it was a criminologist, and the guy had a real bookshelf, with real books on it. A manly-looking bookshelf, too, for 2 principal reasons: 1) No RDCBs, and 2) It was messy.

Drew noticed two books clearly. First, of course, was a Webster's Dictionary. And nearby was a copy of Clive Cussler's Inca Gold. Slowly but surely, literary man begins to walk upright.

Hey. I own a copy of Inca Gold, and, yes, I read it, too. Clive, if you're out there, be sure to read in the path of falling objects. The car in it -- a 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet convertible, V-12 -- I have one. It can be yours for a song, bud.


Just don't go letting Dirk Pitt drive it down some semi-active lava tube.

And, speaking of getting serious, here we go, from Blogger XY's universe. Yesterday, I got a message from a friend of mine (who happens to be married to one of my all-time hero greatest MLB slugger hall-of-fame ballplayers EVER) who'd stopped by and read my the little black hole... blog from a couple days ago. They have two teen daughters, and she asked me if I could make any recommendations for books for them.

I'll get to my recommendations in, as usual, a roundabout way, but let me make clear that I, too, am the father of a near-teen (12-year-old) girl, and I like her to read the good stuff, too. See, Blogger XY is like that. He embraces the fact that there are 2 genders in his universe.

But, and without naming names, if you look through the wasteland of YA bookbloggers, YA librarian blogs, YA reviewer blogs... and just LOOK at them first. Don't read them. Look. (Kind of like Drew, beer in hand, looking at the bookshelves behind Keith Olbermann's guests)

Okay. Here's where I'm wincing in pain and rolling my chair across my broken foot. I can't help myself. Visually, the majority of those sites look like a cross between the decor you'd find (I'm told) in cheap whorehouses and the bathrooms in rooms-by-the-hour motels. Not to mention the fact that these sites also promote, review, and list for summer reading books that include vapid how-to-hook-up-with-boys-on-the-beach novels.

Lots of stuff is wrong with that, obviously. As a father, I don't want my girl reading that crap, no matter how clever it may be, and getting the idea that a valuable life equals hooking up with boys. Second, when's this all going to start to break down? Boys are already getting discounted in schools as it is. Their needs are not being met in standardized approaches to literacy and language arts, and, collectively, society -- and boys -- are buying in to the myth that boys don't read, that reading is only for girls, so why should bookbloggers, reviewers, or YA librarians post anything other than girl stuff on the web?

Then the problem snowballs.

Bloggers, librarians, reviewers: you have certain responsibilities.

Responsibility 1: Protect the language. Damn! That chair hurts on my foot. I can't tell you how many I-want-to-be-a-writer-so-I-am-going-to-review-YA-books-oh-yippee! blogs are entirely illiterate crap. But these bloggers get sent ARCs to review. Uh... maybe they should receive a gift of some English courses so they can learn the difference between then/than; your/you're; and how you probably shouldn't begin a post with a phrase like, "If your a author... "

Oh! And then there's the MURDERING of the apostrophe. Apostrophes, you morons, are not for pluralization.
(Apostrophe's, you moron's...)

Responsibility 2: Protect diversity. The universe is NOT 95% girl. Put a little effort into your goddamned (ow. chair.) avocations and at least think about boys who read.

Remember, too, and I have cited studies that show this on previous blog posts, that girls have no problem reading novels with male protagonists, while boys will generally not read one with a female protagonist.


Okay. So, I'm not going to give the entire list I rolled out for girl book recommendations to my friend. But there are no I-am-going-to-invest-my-self-worth-in-a-mission-to-hook-up-with-boys-this-summer-while-my-clueless-parents-ignore-my-slutty-friends titles on the list. I will tell you two of them, though.

Great, great books for girls:

Absolutely Maybe, Lisa Yee
Home of the Brave, Katherine Applegate

My friend went out to get them both last night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

more observations(from the other side of the black hole)

Okay. Well, I'm going to be blogging from Blogger XY's universe for the next couple days, at least... because he has a lot to say about the way we look at things, and the stupid stuff it's okay to get away with.

But one thing that Blogger XY has little tolerance for is the dumbing-down of our universe. Is anyone else noticing this? (I'd put multiple question marks there, but that looks totally wussy)

I'll let you in on a secret ritual that takes place every day at El Rancho de Drew. Every day, at 5 PM, if the Dodgers aren't playing, Drew sits down, cracks open a beer, and turns on Keith Olbermann. I mean the TV program. I don't think Keith actually gets aroused by reclining novelists with cans of beer in their hands.

But, who knows?

But Keith does read this blog. And Keith, you know I love you, but jeez! Drew needs to set you straight on a couple minor issues.

Okay. So, yesterday, sitting down, beer in hand, Keith comes on and his lead story is the usual blah-blah-blah-Newt-Gingrich-blah-blah-blah-Republicans-are-falling-apart. Keith. Duh. Move on, man.

But that's not the really dumb part that grabs Drew by the ears and makes him stare in stupefied horror at the screen. So... I'm barely listening, and Keith has on this MSNBC-Newsweek guy (not the one who looks like a praying mantis, some other guy... I can't remember his name) to talk about Newt not being a citizen of the world (as though 6 billion freaking people are heartbroken over that one)... and this guy is sitting in front of a shelf of books.

Hmmm... books.

Now Drew pays attention.

And those books?

They are Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

And all at once, these thoughts simultaneously fire through Drew's head:

1. Are you fucking kidding me?
2. Do they still make Reader's Digest Condensed Books?
3. Dumbest. Background bookshelf. Ever.

My mother used to read RDCBs when I was a little kid. Know why? Because she couldn't speak English! She taught herself English by reading and singing along with my brother's Beatles records. Seriously.

A few days earlier, when Keith interviewed Howard Dean, Dean was in front of a wallpaper background of fake books (rather Zen-like, if you ask me), like he was sitting in some vast law library or something.

I guess the wallpaper of fake books is just one rung down from RDCBs on the evolutionary ladder of literacy.

I don't know. Things like that bother me. But maybe if you'd start talking about something fresh and new, Drew wouldn't pay so much attention to the dumb stuff in the background.

I'm just telling you this because I love you, Keith.

You know my number, dude.

Call me, and I'll give you some new copy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the little black hole that sucked and sucked

Okay. So, no sooner do I post yesterday's blog (a trip through Blogger XX's YA Universe), than I start seeing all of these similar blogs with suggested teen summer reading lists.

Naturally, all those lists seem to originate from the same unbalanced universe.

So, today, I am assuming the role of Blogger XY; and will offer for you a black hole, as it were: a YA Summer Reading List for Boys.

Note: This list, with only a few noted exceptions at the end, consists of titles released within the past year or two. I am not saying these are the best books ever written, although some of them are on that list. I am also not reviewing them.

I don't review books.

I write them.

But, I have read all of these books, and I think they'd be a good thing for boys to hang out with this summer, while they're out on a camping trip, hanging out by the pool or the beach, or just neglected at home while their parents work and all the other losers in the neighborhood are hanging out smoking pot and playing X Box.

One other note: Amazingly enough, some of the following books were written by women. It's an amazing thing, but in Blogger XY's universe, girls actually read AND write. I know... talk about a twisted perspective on reality.

So, here goes (in no particular order):

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
Paper Towns, John Green
The God of War, Marisa Silver (I love books about the desert)
Ghost Medicine, Andrew Smith (Duh. Take it camping. Don't come home.)
Gone and Hunger, (in that order) by Michael Grant (Scary good)
Out of the Pocket, Bill Konigsberg (Every boy I ever rec'd this book to loved it)
Dog On It, Spencer Quinn

Younger Dudes:
Steinbeck's Ghost, Lewis Buzbee (I love Lewis, even if he does refuse to get into a car with me)
Buck Fever, Cynthia Chapman Willis (I just read it, now that I'm back in the reading mode)

Which brings me to the point... that last title isn't coming out until the fall. I read an ARC of it... so if you are a young dude (say... grades 5 thru 9), and, especially if you live where guys hunt, or if you hunt, or your dad does... drop me an email and I will send you my worn-out and previously read copy (because Smith actually does stuff like that).

Classic Dudes:
These are older titles, guaranteed to increase the size of your testicles. If you have not read a single one of the following titles, please surrender your boy card to me immediately:

The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
'Salem's Lot, Stephen King
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Maus, Art Spiegelman (Best. Graphic. Novel. Ever.)
Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
Whale Talk and Deadline, Chris Crutcher

So there you go.

Just looking out for my little brothers.

Like I said, this isn't supposed to be a "Best of All Time" list. They're just books that I have read that I think boys would like to read over the summer.

Attention Blogosphere: Boys do read.

Some of them even grow up and write.

There are dozens of boys I stay in contact with over the years who've gone off to colleges all over the country... all different kinds of kids who I can still remember having their faces in books almost every day I saw them when they were youngsters.

Monday, June 8, 2009

(a map of)the universe

Still pissed off, but I'll get to Grant later.

The other day, I stumbled across one of these I-have-a-blog-and-want-to-be-a-writer-so-I-am-going-to-establish-myself-as-a-book-reviewer blogs that has a significant following. This particular blog focuses on reviewing YA.


Okay, that's the setup. The blogger (I will refer to as Blogger XX) was all excited about the package of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) Blogger XX received in the mail. So, Blogger XX put a picture of the ARCs on the blog. There were eleven of them, listed by title and author.

Blogger XX ended up by asking fans which one should be read first?

Now, I'd like to break down the map of Blogger XX's YA universe. Eleven books. YA. Every one of them written by a woman. Every one of them with female protagonists. 8 of the 11 dealing with vampires, the undead, other assorted monsters.

So there you have it. That's YA. And it's part of the reason why boys aren't reading. Everywhere they turn, they get the message that YA equals a certain and predictable message. If you're going to blog about YA; if you presume to set yourself up as some kind of reliable filter, then you really ought to take a look at the entire industry and how it relates to readers; and not only focus on the specific bits you're handed just so you can act as a mouthpiece for gender-biased propaganda and reify a problem that we who care about literacy and literature have the ability to address.

I didn't do it, but I wanted to post my answer to Blogger XX's tee-hee-which-one-should-I-read-first? question:

Oh... why don't you think (airquotes)outside the box(/airquotes) and pick the one written by a woman about that chick? You know...

That's the YA universe.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

mind the gap

Just saying.

Don't go in there.

This picture is of a real place that pops up from time to time in my book The Marbury Lens. And this will, inevitably, become a very convoluted blog post, but if you look very closely, the address to the right has an advertisement for The Guardian.

What does that have to do with anything? Well, in today's Guardian, Robert McCrum writes about maintaining a gap between novelists and their readers... and what kinds of consequences manifest when authors pay perhaps too much attention to what their readers -- or the markets -- want and expect.

Interesting stuff, and well-suited for a writer who can get as pouty and self-destructive as I.

I've written how I hate the thought of my being "branded" -- and that the four books I have written/coming out are all as different from one another as butter is from golf balls. In a recent email exchange with my editor, I said that I never have, and never will, write to the market. That's why you won't find a dragon, vampire, nor a single wand (sorry, Nora) in any of my books -- not that there is anything definitively wrong with vampires, dragons or wands. I just don't do it.

Maybe I'd be happier if I did... I don't know.

And I like meeting readers and other authors when I attend Literary Festivals (as McCrum calls them) and such, but I also am wracked by intense feelings of I-should-be-sitting-in-the-corner-rocking-back-and-forth-catatonic-trance-dude-because-I'm-having-a-panic-attack-and-everything-I-say-is-meaningless-and-stupid kind of thing going on.

Now, be serious... anyone who's ever seen (and forgotten) me at one of these events invariably gets deeply creeped out by me.

I don't know. I have a broken foot. I'm in a foul mood. I just deleted my account on Goodreads and came this (holds up two fingers) close to deleting my Facebook as well.


I better get outside.

I mean, limp outside.

And mind the gap.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

(award)for the best(award)(ryan dean)

So, a friend of mine goes to this public high school, and the other night they held their annual "Senior Awards Night."

The whole senior class was there. Because everyone got an award. Little certificates verifying how worthy every single kid was in drafting or R.O.T.C. or "good attendance." I guess if they couldn't have thought up something positive about every single kid, they would have had to end up giving an award for being so good at not getting an award for anything.

Well, to be honest, not every kid in the senior class was there, even if every kid did get his or her name called. Guess who the largest percentage of absent recipients was?


We hate crap like that. There is absolutely no value in giving everyone an award. We like winning, but only when winning equals you come in first -- not tied with 400 other kids for first, which is the exact same thing as tying for last.

This, again, is one of the HUGE things wrong with schools today, and it's one of the things that is turning boys away from education -- the lack of meaningful and beneficial competition.

Duh again.

Friday, June 5, 2009

sleep tacos(ryan dean)

I found out that if you put enough Sriracha Sauce in a taco, it is possible to successfully replace the meat, entirely, with a fistful of Tylenol PMs.

So, I finally got Drew off to dreamland (make that DreamLand Lite, which is the version that includes breathing... I checked a few minutes ago), and I will be taking over the blog today.

He told me I could, anyway. But he's been kind of tense and [makes airquotes, which really should be an HTML tag] forgetful [stops making airquotes] lately.

Anyway, I thought I would riff on this "Boys and Reading" thing he's been writing about, since, as a high school student with the XY option, I have some relevant experience in the matter.

Here's the problem with most schools, as I see it. On the one hand, school administrators try to push their programs as being "rigorous," but doesn't Rigor mean, by definition, that some kids won't make it? After all, not every salmon gets to make it up the stream to spawn.

Kind of sad for the salmon, isn't it? I mean, they spend all their lives going through puberty, then finally get the big chance to, like, totally orgy it out so they can die with satisfied expressions on their gillslits, and a lot of them end up as bear sushi on the commute. But if every salmon got to spawn, there would probably be some genetically inferior examples of fish out there... you know, the ones with enormously big foreheads and really close-set eyes, kind of like some of the kids in my English class, who could actually serve as effective poster children for the This-is-why-you-shouldn't-drink-vodka-while-breastfeeding-your-fucking-baby campaign. If there is one.

Okay, so there's the "rigor" myth. At the same time as there's this No Child Left Behind commitment. Which means that schools have to lower the bar for the general fish population to the extent that every salmon will get to spawn.

And you know what that looks like.

Not pretty.

There used to be some fairly formidable obstacles in our stream: Hawthorne, Dickens, Melville, Hemingway, Faulkner. But now schools won't teach those works because not enough fish will make it to the big show. But the fish that would have gotten through that stuff (and enjoyed the challenge) end up getting lost and discouraged.

Remember... boys, whether they've got fins or feet, LIKE challenges and competition. We like it when some of us don't make it. It's part of being a boy.


So, instead of dying with the contented fishy face, we're dying with the morning-after Oh-my-god-what-was-I-thinking-last-night-please-tell-me-my-children-are-not-going-to-look-like-THAT? expression of horror.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

insanity update

This is what happens. Two days, no sleep. I broke my foot. Why do things always hurt worse at night, when it's quiet?

I am a streak runner. I haven't missed a day of running in about ten years. And now I have a broken foot. I did a couple miles on it yesterday and thought I was going to die. Not sure what I'm going to do today.

Two days ago, I sent my most recent novel to my agent, who is currently in Japan, and my editor, in New York. I read it again yesterday and I found three mistakes.

This is why feet get broken.

Yes, letting go makes for craziness. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing with the big hole in my day that had been occupied by getting this thing out of me.

I have a stack of books that are waiting to be read.


Don't be surprised if this blog gets taken over by someone else in the next couple days.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

(boy) troubles(2)

Did you use a Sharpie when you signed those boys' foreheads, Michael? [see yesterday's comment]

Michael Grant's comment touches on so many of the ideas behind this whole thing I see. First of all, you have to recognize that innate boyness of having someone who's giant and scary sign parts of your body. I'm going to guess there weren't too many girls waiting in line to get inked on their hides. So, there is a connection that can be made, and these guys are looking for it... but there's just not a lot of opportunities for them to find it.

Looking at this through a kind of macroeconomic lens, I think we can draw a couple of fair relationships about why we've been losing boys (in fact, harming them, in terms of their literacy abilities), and, simultaneously, why it is we see fewer and fewer boy-oriented titles and authors.

The 1970s and 80s saw some incredible transformations in the ways American industries looked at things. In the business sector, marketing analysis elevated to a fairly accurate predictive science, as opposed to the hit-and-miss door-to-door approach of the 50s and 60s. Concurrently, educational data collection and testing also began to make some pretty alarming revelations, particularly regarding the gender gap in achievements between girls and boys (with boys outpacing the girls in every assessable category).

So, a couple things kind of converged to make a perfect storm: In the private sector, resources were being shifted to female-oriented consumerism; and in our schools, resources were being shifted to girl-friendly instructional methods and content in order to address the achievement gap.

We know (and I have written about this a number of times) that educational data shows that girls have made positive strides in achievement in the last 30 years, but boys' scores (particularly in reading and writing) have actually declined. We are damaging boys in schools. Not maintaining their ability status in general, actually harming them.

In other words, since the 1970s in America, boys are a declining industry. Resources (both in the market and in educational institutions) have shifted away from one gender and toward another.

I'd like to believe that Michael's first line -- that if you write it, they will come -- is true. That's exactly why those boys were lining up to be gouged by his Sharpie pen.

We need to get to writing those things the boys are looking for, before our school system completes their transformation into absolute, complete, illiterate failures.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

(boy) troubles

Recently, I asked novelist Yvonne Prinz what she thought about this current double-edged sword: losing boys as readers, and the depletion of books targeting them as an audience. Yvonne's fourth book, The Vinyl Princess, will be out in February, 2010 from Harper Collins; and she also maintains a blog called The Vinyl Princess. Here's Yvonne's take on Boys and Reading:

Recently in Toronto I was signing autographs for the usual suspects: smart girls holding a copy of my book, most of them sporting cool indie t-shirts, edgy haircuts (I never get the cheerleaders), and wearing cool footwear. I looked up at one point, however, and caught sight of an interloper moving up in the line--a BOY? I couldn’t wait to meet him. When he got to the front of the line I treated him like a celebrity. I was full of questions. This kid was no nerd. He looked like the kind of kid who rewrites playground rules, breaks hearts and knows what detention looks like, yet he was eloquent and he was enthusiastic about my book. He said he had read it, he said he enjoyed it and I was dumbstruck.

When did boys stop reading? And why? I suspect there’s a shortage of YA books targeted at boys these days since I see tables in bookstores heaped with books about being popular, being unpopular, dating a vampire, being a vampire, not eating, eating too much, losing your BFF, losing your virginity, and the ever popular bulimic Vampire who moves to a new school and finds a BFF, but precious little about being a boy (with all due respect, I’m not including graphic novels here. I do consider these to be targeted at boys but they’re not the boy equivalent of the glossy YA novels you see in bookstores, so obviously aimed at girls). I’m not saying that books intended for boys don’t exist, but not since The Catcher In The Rye has a book inspired boys to read the way that girls do. Granted, Frank Portman enjoyed great success with King Dork, a book that actually riffs off of Catcher In The Rye (the publisher even uses it in the cover art). But if I might venture a guess, King Dork probably ended up being read by as many girls as it was boys.

Where is today’s The Catcher In The Rye? Has it been written? Have I overlooked it? Has it been dismissed in favor of video games?

Years ago, when I first waded into the world of YA literature I was inspired by Jack Gantos. The Joey Pigza series, about a freaky kid with a lot of problems, enchanted me and inspired me to read all of Gantos’ work, including his memoir Hole In My Life, a riveting account of the author’s decline into teen alcoholism and eventual imprisonment. I’m quite certain that this book didn’t get the attention it deserved simply because it wasn’t read by enough kids, namely boys.

I’m not a big conference goer but I’ve been to enough SCBWI conferences to know that if you take away the illustrators, you’re pretty much left with a room full of women. This is a curious thing to me. Are men simply not that interested in this genre? I’m not saying that women aren’t capable of writing male characters. S.E. Hinton is a great example. The Outsiders, written all the way back in 1967 is still a favorite of mine. I have noticed, however, that women tend toward writing female characters and female stories and publishers seem to tend toward publishing the same thing. Do I know that a publisher would leap on a well-written boy’s book if one presented itself to them? No, I absolutely do not but I would certainly hope so.

Is it the readers, the writers, or the publishers who have dropped the ball here?

I can’t remember the last time I saw a boy with his nose buried in a YA novel. I realize that boys are not reading this but if you’re near one, make sure and tell him a secret: Girls think boys who read are hot.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Ah, June.

I've been meaning to get around to this topic, and figure today's as good as any. About a week ago I had an opportunity to speak at a Freshman English class at College of the Canyons. One of the students asked why I wrote Ghost Medicine. Well, I've kind of answered that question in various roundabout ways on this blog, but, in giving my reply to the class, I told them that they were a perfect example of what I was talking about.

Look around you, I said. The class was about 3:1 female to male. Okay, these are not bad numbers for singles bars or breeding programs, but for higher education, the ratio is a portent -- no, a symptom -- of something not-too-good.

Seems like when I was young, guys did a lot of reading and writing. Actually, educational data will back me up on that. And it seems like there were all kinds of books being written for guys, too... AND lots of male authors, as well.

Things are different now. So, I asked: which came first, the "thinning" of the population of male-oriented books and authors, or the dumbing-down of the male gender?

We had a great discussion about that in the class. I'm going to hold off with some of my ideas for a while, though. I've asked some friends to chime in on the subject, in whatever manner they see fit, and will run their responses here over the next couple of weeks or so.

Tomorrow, we have a terrific guest blog response on the topic from novelist Yvonne Prinz.