Wednesday, September 30, 2009

back to the usa

I am coming back home today, and looking forward to getting caught up on everything I've missed.

I realize, as I wait for my flight, having been thoroughly searched, undressed, and groped by a suspicious BAA staffer, that it isn't at all the truth that I dislike flying. As a matter of fact, I enjoy it. It's just the people on the plane and in the airport that I hate.

Anyway, we're bringing back some souvenirs. My son got a really cool Clash shirt at a record store in London, and he's also bringing the H1N1 virus back, too.

Yeah... fun times.

I mean... do you even really want us to come back?

And last night, I received a lengthy email from my editor regarding the revision work on next year's The Marbury Lens. I'd write about it, but I can't until tomorrow... I am currently only going through Stage One of coming to terms with revisions.

I will clarify tomorrow.

And, finally, I am going to try something. Here... an attempt at a very sizable "I:"


Hey. It worked.

That is my preemptive "Big Gigantic I" for when I write about the revision process. It's to preemptively mock any authors who think I'm stupid because, "That's not how I do it."

Monday, September 28, 2009

arthur's day

On Thursday, we celebrated Arthur's Day in Dublin. The city pretty much partied until around 5:00 AM. I don't know if it was an actual "Worldwide celebration," as promised on the billboard, but I don't think anyone in Dublin cared about the extent of the festivities outside their own city.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

dublin to london

Everywhere we went in Dublin, people were reading in the path of falling objects. Like this guy here, who took a break from toiling away pulling in barges from the River Liffey.

I have lots of cool stories about Dublin, but I'm saving them for later. One very cool thing, though, is that my daughter lost a tooth in a bar there. Not very many 12-year-old girls can say they lost a tooth in a bar in Dublin.

Now we are in London, enjoying some of the nicest weather I've ever seen in the city -- and it's almost October.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

from dublin

Last night, I think everyone in the city must have been walking around with pints of Guinness in their hands. It was quite a remarkable night.

Everyone here is currently sleeping off their jetlag, and our trip was not without its problems.

In Heathrow, somebody else picked up the daughter's suitcase and left with it, leaving the daughter with nothing but the clothes on her back. The people at the airline were very sympathetic, but we also had a plane to Dublin to catch (at another terminal... and Heathrow is bigger than some entire cities).

Almost impossibly, we ran into the suitcase while finding our way to the connection.

So we stole it back.

The son got frisked getting onto the plane for Dublin. Why? Because he was carrying a 6-inch pair of (very sharp I might add) scissors in his backpack. They had been there ever since school... ever since we left Los Angeles.

We debated whether or not to just leave him in jail. Heck, it was Guinness Day in Dublin and the pints were free.

Now, this morning, I realize I've left my camera's USB cable at home, so I can't put up any pictures from the old Nikon until I get back to the States. I do, however, have an iPhone, with which I took a picture of this amazing urinal last night at some place where we were drinking beer that was very dark and had a pudding-like skin on top.

Oh yeah. That is the god of urinals.

An army could piss into that all at once.

And why, you might ask, were there no supplicants at the porcelain altar? Duh... because I was taking a picture of it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the future of the mcbloog

I am currently on my way to Ireland.

If all goes as planned, there will be more posts put up at irregularly-spaced and random times, due to the time difference.

Be back soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

another thing or two about drew

DR. BRIGGS: So, what do you think about that "Red Book?"
DREW: Mao's or Jung's?
DR BRIGGS: Heh. I guess the brilliance was the guy could go right to the edge of sanity and peer over its borders, and then come back. It was freaking brilliant.
DREW: Psychosis Interruptus.
DR. BRIGGS: Well, you can't deny there were plenty of Jungian structures in your book, Ghost Medicine.
DREW: I don't write the books. How many times do I have to tell you? I write the blogs. That pathetic "Andrew" writes the books.
DR BRIGGS: Oh. That's right. How many others of you are there?
DREW: What? At The Company? There's just one. The Kid. He runs the place.
DR. BRIGGS: The kid?
DREW: I'm not allowed to talk about him. Only "Andrew" can, and only just recently.
DR BRIGGS: So... you really aren't real, are you?
DREW: Bob, we were roommates in college. You've known me for decades.
DR. BRIGGS: But what they say about you -- your stubborn close-mindedness about such things as punctuation marks, masculinity, and what books to read -- is all true, you realize.
DREW: I like a good fight now and then, Bob.
DR BRIGGS: You know what I think?
DREW: I probably do, since I'm writing this. But, go ahead, tell me, Doc.
DR. BRIGGS: Drew, getting into an argument, confrontation, or heated exchange with anyone -- even anonymous folks -- on the internet, Facebook, or through email -- is pretty much like being the only entrant in an "Ugliest Baby Contest." Sure, you may win, but in the end you are still ugly, a baby, and totally alone.
DREW: Thanks, Bob.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Let me tell you why I don't, as a rule, read (or like, for that matter) blogs by "book bloggers."

I had this conversation with some friends in Chicago a while back, and have spent a while debating when -- or if -- I'd ever put it up here. Now, don't get me wrong, I do read book reviews written by actual reviewers. Maybe that's overly snobbish of me, too; and while I don't necessarily routinely agree with book reviews, I do find some impressive qualities in a really well-written book review.

The thing about bloggers, we decided, is that they generally make whatever they write about (and especially their book "reviews") all about the big giant ME. I suppose that's the nature of blogging, and it's what this big giant ME doesn't like about it.

So I will tell you a rare truth here, for the first time, and then I will forever and once again slip back into my steady streams of lies: I make things up. That's what writers are supposed to do.

I don't even write this blog. It's written by a guy named Drew, who is not this particular big giant ME. So, if you find yourself at times irritated by Drew's proclivity to stubbornness regarding such things as punctuation marks, Nobel laureate authors, gender roles, and why there are so many shitty books out there being lavished with praise via the masses of big giant MEs... well, it's all made up by Drew, and not ME (but that's a secret).

Oh... but I thought every blog was totally real and valid.

None of them are.

Only Drew's.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the lost code

Pleased as I have been by this week's comments on the blog, I was made aware that quite some time back, I wrote a piece called The Code of Boy, in which I promised to revisit the tenets of that Code.

The time has come.

First, let me explain that the Code did not come to me by any overt attempt to gain enlightenment on my part. I was visiting the Hemingway House, admiring his garden display of urinals, when a disembodied voice (I know... that is a rather Dan Brown-esque descriptor) spoke to me, telling me I should receive and become a guardian of the Code. The Code of Boy, the voice went on to vocalize (again with the Brownisms), would be preserved... here...

And then, a burning roll of toilet paper appeared in the urinal.

Naturally, I picked it up, unscrolled, and read:

The Code of Boy:

1. Never talk about breastfeeding, post-birth recovery, or circumcision. Ever.

2. Never use exclamation points. Ever. Unless they are inside quotation marks.

3. If you use an exclamation point (inside quotes -- see above), never, never, never use more than one. Certainly you shall never use a string of them... like, say, three in a row.

4. When visiting a urinal, always leave one empty urinal between yourself and the next guy peeing. If the urinal is one of those "common trough" type urinals, do not stand closer than 18 inches to either side of the next guy. If all urinals are unoccupied, use the one farthest from the door. Never choose the closest-to-the-door spot to pee.

5. Urinals [2]: Study the grout in the tiles directly level with your eyes when peeing.

6. Urinals [3]: Never talk to anyone when you are peeing, unless he is peeing, too. Do not answer anyone who is not peeing who attempts to strike up a conversation with you.

7. Never make a shopping list. Ever.

8. Remember the following two sentences, they can be useful:

"Sorry I forgot to buy the tampons. I should have made a shopping list."

"The store was all out of them."

9. Never go to the doctor unless you actually believe you may die. If a female urges you to go to the doctor, choose death.

10. There are certain books you should never be seen reading in public -- in airports, on airplanes, by the pool, etc. The scroll containing the Code does not need to list these books by title. You are a boy, you know what they are.

11. Do anything you can to avoid ever -- EVER -- having to wear a "Hello! My Name is..." name tag, unless you scribble in the words "Fucking Loser."

12. Finally, own your crackpot opinions. Do not engage in discussions, exchanges, or arguments as an Anonymous participant. Only girls are permitted to do that.

Hey... don't blame me. I am only the vehicle, and it is a monumental burden.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

excuse note

Please excuse Drew today.

He doesn't want to talk.

I guess there's something meta-something about actually saying you don't want to talk. Talking about not talking. It's kind of like all those essays on writer's block.

I leave in a few days for London. There is something in that, too... especially relative to the things I am working on right now.

Hmmm... I wonder if I'm being followed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the good doctor

When I was an undergrad, my roommate believed that the key to understanding everything was to study psychology. I told him that the key to understanding psychology was to study literature.

So we went our separate ways academically, but I had an opportunity to sit down and have a beer with Doctor Robert Briggs yesterday afternoon. I guess... no, I know, I needed a bit of free couch time, and the good doctor was more than willing to pro bono what he referred to as "an inevitable chapter in my future book on the subject of psychological afflictions."

DREW: I'm really bummed out, Bob.
DR. BRIGGS: You know what I do when I'm really depressed, Drew?
DREW: What?
DR. BRIGGS: Make fun of poor people. And urologists. And my clients, too. That always cheers me up.
DREW: Sounds magical.
DR. BRIGGS: You know... haven't you ever heard that in your chosen field -- being a writer -- that you need to have a thick skin?
DREW: Thick skin? Thick skin? That is the complete opposite of what you need to be a writer. Everyone says that, but everyone is full of shit. You totally can't write with thick skin. You need strong knees, maybe, but NOT thick skin.
DR. BRIGGS: You're an idiot.
DREW: This is why I so look forward to our beer time together, Bob.
DR. BRIGGS: Hey, by the way, I've been meaning to ask you a favor.
DREW: Yeah?
DR. BRIGGS: Yeah. I've been writing this novel. It's really awesome. It's about kids who have a secret vampire club. I was wondering if you could hook me up with your agent?
DREW: That's a coincidence, because I was wondering if you wanted me to piss in your beer?
DR. BRIGGS: This is why you get so despondent sometimes, Drew. You're such a stuck-up snob.
DREW: Is that a diagnosis?
DR. BRIGGS: Yeah. You're all... Oh! I never watch movies, so I can't tell the difference between Ben Affleck and Mylie Cyrus, and I've never seen a television show in my life, either, and oh... Octavio Paz... ever hear of him? No, he's not the new catcher for the Yankees, you retard, he's my own personal deity.
DREW: That actually does sound like me, Bob.
DR. BRIGGS: Dude, I've been studying you for twenty years.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

fall day

I'm kind of disappointed for a few big reasons today.

Everything's changing. First off, yesterday was truly an autumnal day... and I know that most of my friends like autumn, but I don't.

Second, I made an outline. I realize that's a big disappointment for me. I never make outlines, but I am writing another book... and it just fucking happened. Poof. An outline. Well, at least for the first 150 pages or so. But the rest is predetermined after that. Hopefully, I'll be able to bash it with my hammer and make things change.

Third, I didn't manage to keep my pace yesterday. I know... I'm a completely obsessive freak, but once I really get to the "here we go" phase of writing -- even in the usual absence of an outline -- I can tell you pretty much the exact date when I will have in my hands a deliverable product.

On my last book, I was off by about one day.

But yesterday, I didn't get in the sufficient work in the morning, so I forced myself to give up on the entire day. Sure, I had plenty of time available in the afternoon, but I can only write CRAP in the afternoon. It's a complete waste of time.

I have to write in the mornings (which explains my usual habit of posting to the blog before 4:00 AM). By the afternoon, my brain has been too polluted by crap like newspapers, people drinking big foofy coffee drinks with Marie Antoinette coifs of whipped cream on them, right in my face -- and I'm, like, do coffee drinks really need to wear plastic see-through crash helmets? I mean, it's supposed to be freaking coffee, but it doesn't even fit in a goddamned cup, unabashedly parading them around like they're hood ornaments on the demolition derby of life, the eternal deathrace to let's-see-who-gets-adult-onset-diabetes-first, people in cars next to me singing along to mothafucka mothafucka mothafucka rap music and I look over at them and holy shit it's my daughter's junior high school teacher, and I've never seen a teacher with a tattoo of a devil skull smoking a joint on her neck before, so maybe it's just me and I shouldn't be so judgmental of the woman just because she said "Who?" when I asked about the kids reading some short stories by Octavio Paz.

That's why I don't write after 8:00 in the morning.

I need to play catch-up today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

my favorite punctuation mark

This post contains many zen-like concepts.

Most of you know how I feel about exclamation points. Call me narrow-minded, but men should never use exclamation points unless they are imprisoned by quotation marks. And then, they should stand alone: embarrassing flags of surrender to emotional diarrhea.

I have finally settled on a favorite all-time punctuation mark: the colon.

Sure... one would think, by mere count alone, that I have some fond affinity for the lack of commitment so temptingly offered by the semicolon; if nothing else, simply by its recurring appearance in my novels. And, yes... I improperly play around with the flirtatious ellipsis... especially here on the blog (which I insist, parenthetically, is not writing).

...which reminds me about what Mark Twain said about parenthetical phrases.

But I digress.

The em-dash, too, holds a special place -- if there could be one -- in my heart.

But I hate, hate, hate exclamation points.

And periods? Well... they're just part of the circle of life. I'm afraid to talk about periods. What man isn't?

But, the noble colon... that is my favorite: the king of all punctuation marks.

I have nothing but endless respect for writers who cleverly make use of their colons. In fact, I am convinced that I recently read an entire book -- yes, cover-to-cover, despite my intense desire to throw the excreta across the room -- that must have been entirely produced through the author's use of his colon.

Man! I need sleep!!!

(see what I mean?)

sorry, Twain.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

the nostradamus shirt

Something really weird happened to me last night.

I took my kids out to dinner, for sushi.

I was wearing one of my giveaway in the path of falling objects shirts.

I dropped some bluefin tuna on it.


Saturday, September 12, 2009


There are some parts of books that people automatically skip. Me, I go straight to the acknowledgments page in a book -- even before I buy it -- just to see what the author has to say.

Acknowledgments are more of a modern trend in writing, I think. You certainly never saw them in volumes of Melville or Poe... but it does make one imagine what they would have to say if they included one.

I didn't put any acknowledgments in Ghost Medicine, because, as a debut author, I actually believed that I wouldn't be allowed to. Yeah... there's a whole lot of stuff I just do not know about the writing biz. But I admit that I just don't care about the stuff I don't know about the business, anyway.

I've actually been yelled at by established authors for being so naive and unconcerned about certain aspects of "The Biz." But I'm not going to ever change... at least, I don't think I will... because I really don't care about anything else except the following:

1. I write stuff that I think is pretty good.

2. It gets published.

Yep. That's about it.

That said, in case you are a fan of such things, too, here are my acknowledgments from in the path of falling objects:

My older brother, Patrick, volunteered to serve in Vietnam when he was seventeen years old. And I still have the letter he’d written, saying to tell my younger brother, Steve, not to worry – that he promised he would not get killed. It’s a terrible thing when brothers make such requests and answer with such promises.

I rode through the Southwest with two of my best friends, Mike Bowen and Steve Tureaud; and I had to endure being in the back seat of Mike’s car the whole way home from Mexico, sitting alongside a life-size tin statue of Don Quixote that Mike picked up there (legally). The car was not a 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet, though.

Before he died, my father-in-law, Don Letney, bought a 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet. Now the car sits in a garage. I always planned to put that car in a book, so here it is, and now I suppose we’ll have to take it out and put that car on the road, where it belongs. It really is an amazing vehicle.

I do not believe in luck, but I am very fortunate to be represented by an incredible agent, Laura Rennert. She isn’t just a skillful agent, she’s about the smartest person I’ve ever run into when it comes to writing and telling stories. Thank you, Laura.

And thanks to all the “friends,” too. Like my good friend Lewis Buzbee said to me, there’s a reason why it’s called Feiwel and Friends. Thank you so much, Jean Feiwel, for being, like, the coolest person I have ever met. And thanks, Elizabeth Fithian, Allison Remcheck (officially, my first fan), Liz Noland, Rich Deas, Jessica Tedder, and everyone else who works in one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings on Manhattan.

Finally, I have a piece of paper, a sign, taped on the wall of my office that says, “What would Liz do?” My greatest thanks go to my editor, Liz Szabla. She may be the most amazing and talented editor that has ever loved working with stories, but, above that, she’s a friend. Thank you, Liz. You may remember that when you told me how much you loved this book, my answer to you was that if it was any good at all, it’s ‘cause you, Liz Szabla, taught me how to write. I do believe that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

weekend plans

I've written a good bit on the innate differences between boys and girls. My incessant state of wonder at all things female is probably why I could never... NEVER imagine writing a book with a female protagonist. I just don't get it.

This weekend, my cousin is getting married. The wedding is on Catalina (that's an island, inlanders). So, last night, my wife departed for a long weekend, along with her mother and a good friend.

Look: guys do not like weddings. What makes you think we do? Are you kidding me? Just... no. It's okay, though... my wife is very tolerant of my tastes, as I am of hers.

Anyway, so before she leaves yesterday, my twelve-year-old daughter looks at her and says, "Do you need me to fix your hair?"

And I'm sitting there on the couch, with a beer, watching this... thinking to myself, those are words I have never said to anyone in my life.

So my wife and daughter disappear into a bathroom for the hair-fixing session.

Meanwhile, I look over at my son, who's working on a composition on the computer. And I'm thinking, I wonder what he would do if I asked him if I wanted to fix his hair?

Because, now that I look at it, he does kind of look like a bum.

Ah... who cares? It's not like he's going to a wedding or anything.

When I was a kid, the way the "older generation" of males would suggest fixing your hair to younger dudes was usually by saying something like, "Why don't you cut your hair and get a job, you goddamned pot smoking hippie?"

So I try it. I say, "Hey son, why don't you cut your hair and get a job, you goddamned pot smoking hippie?"

He laughs and says, "That's funny, Dad."

I laugh.

That's how we fix hair.

My wife comes out. She looks happy. My daughter looks happy.

Her hair looks exactly the same.

That's the other thing. I think guys only notice a "hair fix" on a woman if they come back looking like freakin' Sinead O'Connor. Maybe not even then.

So, I have no plans for this weekend. I am not going to fix my son's hair. He's not going to fix mine. And we're okay with that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

out of the box

So, yesterday while we were sitting down for dinner, the UPS guy came and delivered a package with the first two copies of in the path of falling objects Born on 9-9-9.

It finally made it, and the release date is here.

Yesterday, I wrote about how great it is to receive a hand-written note from a reader. Well, inside the top copy of my book, I found a very touching note from my editor. Like yesterday's, I'm not going to share that one, either; and, like yesterday's, I'll be keeping that one forever.

Man... and I just cleaned my office out. Here we go again.

I just wanted to say one thing about this book today: it is beautiful.To say someone "outdid" themselves kind of presupposes you thought their abilities were limited. But Rich Deas, Feiwel and Friends' Creative Director, really designed a stunning front-to-back, total wraparound visual look and feel for this book.

And the title page he did... well, I just wish I had a big poster of that.

Wow, Rich.

Totally bitchin'.

The other artistic element is the book design -- how the pages came out, by Michelle McMillian. I know it's probably a manifestation of my ADD, but I can't help but fixate, sometimes, on how pages in books "look."

And these pages are perfect.

Thanks, art folks.

It's a good day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

nine nine nine

Just a really quick post today about why this is such a great week. Well, of course, tomorrow is the release day for in the path of falling objects. But yesterday, I got something in the mail that is the absolute best thing an author could ever possibly receive.

And it's not a contract, advance payment, or royalty check.

Yesterday, I got a hand-written, in pencil, on notebook paper, actual note from a 12-year-old boy who had read in the path of falling objects. His mother picked up a copy at ALA in Chicago... and I was, like, hmmm... are you sure a 12-year-old is okay reading this?

I mean, not that there is particularly objectionable language or material in it... but it is pretty intense. And I'll be honest, I really do want to look out for the kids out there, so if I just blindly put an age range on my book, I'd say 14 and up. But mom read it first, and obviously realizes that her young son is well on his way toward eventual world domination.

So I sent the kid the VERY FIRST in the path of falling objects tee shirt (I have plenty more for all these places I'll be going over the next couple months).

Anyway... seriously... getting a paper letter in the mail from a kid is the BEST THING EVER. I'd reprint what it says, but it contains a spoiler.

H.F. you rock. Thanks, dude.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

the machinery of the universe

Random lines today:

When you bash a hammer into the machinery of the universe, all bets go off the table.

Yesterday, I got an email from two girls who told me A) That they are big fans of Ghost Medicine and B) That they thought it would be cool if I got it made into a movie.

Yeah, that would be cool.

I sent a copy of my book to my cousin in Italy. He's a dentist. It costs a fortune to mail books to Italy. Next time, I'll hand-deliver.

I plan on bringing a few copies of Ghost Medicine and in the path of falling objects with me in a couple weeks when I go over to Dublin and London, to be left at random places. If you're there, maybe you'll find one.

Oh... and I will be bringing my laptop, too. I plan on doing lots of work while I'm over there.

Next trip after that: Nashville, for the Southern Festival of Books.

Monday, September 7, 2009

labor day

Okay. Here's the deal. In three days -- three days -- my not-newest book, in the path of falling objects, is going to be released.

I say it's "not-newest" because any writer knows that from the time you finish writing a book until the day it appears on the shelf of a bookstore usually takes at least a year or two... or even longer if it's your debut work.

And it's "not-newest" because since I wrote in the path of falling objects, I've written two more novels, and am currently "working" on a third. I don't have any idea what this third (my "newest") one is going to be called yet -- a friend of mine asked me a question yesterday about my titles -- but Holy Labor Pains -- it's pretty freaking intense. Like, the beginning just scares the crud out of me because I really believe that things like this can happen -- and I have no idea in hell how it's going to end.

So... if you didn't notice, in honor of today's holiday I've stressed the concepts of "work" and "labor" so far in today's post; and I wanted to talk a little bit about those ideas and how they relate to writing.

To begin with, I don't consider writing to be like "work," and I don't think it's laborious, either. But I do spend a lot of time at it, and I also have a very disciplined work ethic toward my writing. So... if that's all it takes to call something "work," then... okay.

But when I think of all the crappy, horrible jobs I've had in my life, writing doesn't fall into the realm of what I'd call a "job," either. And I've definitely had some enjoyable jobs -- ones where I really enjoyed the work -- but the bottom line is they were still jobs.

I think when writing begins to feel too much like a job to me, I need to do something about my mental perspective. In fact, during the writing of one of my books, I actually forced myself to take a short vacation, leave my computer at home, and get away from it for a few days. Not because I was stuck, or suffering from writer's block, or even getting burned out -- I just wanted to see what getting away from the book would do to me.

I guess a job is something where you actually look forward to, and have to plan for, your days off. But writing isn't like that for me. There's really no need to save myself by asking "a boss" for days off, and I can do the "work" of writing no matter where I am, no matter the weather, or the hour in the day.

Unlike, for example, being an undersea welder.

Oh well... I need to get back to work.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

the monkeys are running the zoo

So, finally... I guess if the whole evolution thing erupted right now, John Scopes would be lynched, in science and history classes, we'd be teaching our kids how the earth is only five thousand years old, and we'd be sending our boys off to fight in a crusade.

oh... wait...

Never mind.

I just wanted to thank author Cecil Castellucci, the Los Angeles Public Library, and YALSA for organizing a most spectacular city-wide event as Los Angeles celebrates Teen Read Week, October 19 - 23.

I'll be reading from in the path of falling objects at the Los Feliz Branch (time TBA) on October 20, along with author Cylin Busby. I'll also be giving out some signed books and audiobooks and other cool stuff -- like tee shirts -- for the kids (and, of course, for the awesome YA librarians who work to put this together).

Cecil, who organizes our LAYA (Los Angeles YA) group, says that Los Angeles Public Library is really behind this event, so there will be a lot of promotion for it city-wide. For writers, it's also our chance to give back to the community, maybe inspire a few (hundred) kids, and help the LAPL begin to really key in on all the excited focus on YA literature that has been sweeping the country.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

a few more thoughts on school

If you visit any public school in America, you will generally find in every classroom, or at the very least in the office, some type of "Mission Statement" or "School Constitution" hanging on the wall.

I've seen dozens of them over the years, and it strikes me that no matter what region of the country I'm in, those mission statements of American public schools all include the same basic ideas: promotion of literacy, the development of "life-long learners," fostering in our children critical thinking skills, and (I always see this one) making them better citizens.

One method by which schools pursue this citizenship goal is by bringing in representatives of our government: police officers, firemen, military personnel, local elected officials, and sometimes, even governors and congressmen.

It happens all the time, and schools do this routinely. We don't question the ideology, race, sexual orientation, or religion of those representatives... that has already been done for us. It's called Election Day, and the people have spoken.

So I'm not going to use the word "outraged" here -- it's a dumb word -- but I am going to say I find myself slackjawed in stupefied amazement by the scores of American parents who are threatening to remove their children from school on Tuesday because they just don't want their kids listening to President Obama's speech to them.

What's even more disturbing are the steps being taken to accommodate this idiocy in the high school district in Santa Clarita, California... where teachers are required to provide "alternate assignments" for kids whose parents don't want them to hear our president speak, and remove those children from the environment where the speech is being broadcast.

Now that's just wrong, and teachers should not be ordered to do that. Remember the "Mission Statements" of our schools? I challenge you to go to your local school and look yours up, and I'll bet you're going to find something about the school's assumption of the responsibility to make its children "better citizens." If schools, as public institutions, have a compelling interest to foster the development of good citizenship within the framework of our great participatory democracy, just like teaching kids to read or calculate a math problem, then the schools -- and not wing-nut reactionaries who've been stirred up by broadcast ideologues -- must be in charge of calling the shots.

Otherwise, where does this go?

Can a parent object to their child being exposed to quadratic equations in Algebra, and then insist that the kid be given "alternate assignments" and still pass the class? It's the same rationale being applied in Santa Clarita.

Okay, kids... you may as well just stay home and play Grand Theft Auto until you're eighteen. We'll give you a High School diploma, as long as your mom writes you a note.

Remember all the blogs I've written about our kids' (boys especially) lackluster academic performance, and how underachievement is related to our kids' conditioned knowledge that whatever they do they will not fail; and there are no consequences for non-performance... because Mommy and Daddy will write them a note, or get outraged.

And the school's administration always kowtows to "outrage."

And it doesn't matter what kinds of unthinking losers society turns our kids into... as long as our little ones have good self-esteem.

I have a strong feeling that some of the same parents who are "outraged" that President Obama is speaking to their impressionable children undoubtedly lack that same indignation over the messages from popular music their kids pump into their skulls via earbuds and iPods. I'm sure they have no clue as to what their kids listen to. And I'm pretty sure they choose to disregard the content of video games and online activities their young innocents spend countless hours with in drooling states of mesmerized fascination.

But listening to the President of the United States of America?

Oh... the outrage.

Friday, September 4, 2009

what crawls out from under the wet rocks

I am posting tomorrow's blog today. Something unnerving is happening in the community of Santa Clarita, California, an affluent suburb just north of Los Angeles.

In the school district where I work, parents are calling in, voicing outrage and protesting that the high school refrain from showing President Barack Obama's televised "Speech to Students" this coming Tuesday.

Maybe I haven't lived long enough, but I can't recall ever hearing parents object to their children listening to a speech by an American President. What's equally shocking is that their objections are being accommodated... and this is a public school.

And I never heard a single liberal parent in Santa Clarita (I hear there are some) voicing complaints about the eight years of Bush State of the Union Addresses we'd show in classrooms. Hmmm...

Sorry, but we have places for kids whose parents object to their exposure to the current and legitimate American Government: it's called "home school."

Or maybe "Ruby Ridge."

I spoke to the switchboard operator at the school, and she told me, "I have had tons of parents calling very upset about this."



Are you fucking kidding me? You actually found someone to breed with?

I can't entirely blame the principal for giving in. But I can be disappointed in the pervasive spinelessness in education today; that when a seated American president decides (as many have done in the past) to speak directly to young people about the value of education, about participating in our great democracy, about bettering the individual as a means to better the nation -- and a chorus of ignorant, misled, ill-informed, dare I say racist and bigoted idiots can call the shots over an institution established by the state to promote the general welfare of kids and society... well, that's an attack on schools every bit as shocking as someone walking through the gates and carrying a weapon.

So on Tuesday, maybe we'll be showing Triumph of the Will instead of President Obama in Santa Clarita.

feel the burn

Last month a friend of mine, Lia Keyes, posed a question to writers on a blog about what she called "characters that sizzle," in particular, what were the kinds of qualities that made characters come alive and jump from the page and into your head.

This is one topic that I have some pretty strong feelings about, and I think that a lot of writers, particularly writers of YA, simply don't get it.

First of all, I like to start with the concept of what the "A" in YA stands for -- adult. This implies a lot of components, not only limited to the content and thematic elements of the work (which is why YA is a particularly vibrant genre... because real YA writers are willing and able to tackle issues that "adults" are afraid to face), but, most importantly, the makeup of the characters themselves. YA characters are becoming adults, and consequentially have to struggle -- and often fail at -- issues that challenge their core values: how they deal with themselves, and how they deal with others.

That being the case, we expect good, vibrant, living and breathing YA characters to make mistakes and contend with their own personal flaws (which readers are able to forgive because we're talking about young people who initially experience some of life's more challenging and traumatizing events).

So, what makes a character "sizzle" for me? As I told Lia, a good YA character has to have flaws and make mistakes, otherwise I can't stick with the story much less root for the character's success. I went on to say that I recently toiled (forced myself to finish, which I normally would have not only "put down" -- but throw the freaking book into the nearest unyielding wall) through a 400-page YA stinker where the protagonist was so perfect, innocent, saintly, and flawless that I wished I could Gumby my way into the book just so I could beat the hell out of him.

Man, sometimes I really wish I could do what Gumby could do.

Characters are supposed to undergo some kind of change by the end of a book. But when you read (and this very often happens in series books) hundreds of pages where the main character is exactly the same at the ending as he/she was at the beginning, then nothing that happened over all those hundreds of pages actually matters at all.

And... duh... that equals "not worth reading."

Anyway, my comment to Lia did elicit a funny response from another author, who wrote:

"I don't know which I like better, the idea of punching one of those saintly protagonists, or the use of Gumby as a verb."

To Gumby... yeah, I like that verb, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

missed by that much

I realize, paying attention as negligibly as I do, that I've been off by one day on the release of in the path of falling objects.

So, the release date is one week from today -- September 10, 2009.

Also, I've committed to bringing myself and my books (and goodies) to the Los Feliz branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on Tuesday, October 20, for Teen Read Week (I am so looking forward to that). And there may be a local-area school visit that day as well.

More details to come.

That's all I have to say today. I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

the healing art

So my eye -- I mentioned this on another blog somewhere -- is totally messed up. I have this nasty infection which has forced me to stop wearing my beloved contact lenses and resort to a poorly-suited eyeglass prescription that makes me feel like I'm stoned.

And to make things worse, my eye -- half shut and unable to focus -- makes me look like Charles Laughton on a bad day. So, I broke down and went to the doctor.

People who know me are aware that it takes a minimum of an unhealed broken bone to get me to the doctor, so you can imagine, I think, the eye.

So, here's what happened:

Of course, the first thing, after the forms and such, is they bring you to the "pre-doctor" room, where they check your blood pressure, temperature, weight, and make you feel like a total wuss for coming to the doctor.

Oh... and at my "pre-doc," they always ask for a cup of piss.

Well, first of all, let me say that I was in a really foul mood anyway, and just barely managed to convince myself that coming to the doctor would NOT be worse than just shooting myself in the fucking face. So, I'm like, "Why do you need me to pee in your cup when there's something wrong with my eye? It's piss. Is the doctor going to do a tarot spread, too?"

Well, pre-doc was not amused, and I half-expected her to go into the minstrel pee-bone's-connected-to-the-eye-bone routine, but, obviously, she thought better of it and left her lonely cup empty, saying, "The doctor will be in in a few minutes."

Now, I have my theory about health companies and pee samples, but that's for another post. I did notice that pre-doc had pulled up my Facebook profile, though.

Anyway, the doctor comes in about half an hour later. He looks at me quickly, then flips over my patient paperwork and starts drawing a picture. I shit you not. A picture. This is what he says:

DOC: This is your eye.

ME: Wow. That's really big.

DOC: It's not "actual size."

ME: Why are you drawing those lines across it? It looks like a giant clam.

DOC: No. It's an eye. Giant clams look more like this.

[Now he begins drawing a giant clam, below my eye.]

ME: Is the clam what hurt my eye?

[He looks at me. I can clearly tell he's thinking "retard," but, Christ, I'm not the one drawing a not-actual-size eyeball and giant clam on the back of a patient chart.]

**Pre-doc enters**

PRE-DOC: Are you drawing lace fans?

DOC: That's not a fan. It's a giant clam, and this is Mr. Smith's eyeball.

PRE-DOC: Well I can clearly tell that's an eyeball, but giant clams don't look like that.

So, after about 20 minutes of art class, the doctor, who has to this point done absolutely NOTHING for my eye, looks at me and says that there's a prescription of antibiotic pills and eye drops waiting for me at the pharmacy.

Okay. That's it.

And I'll be honest -- I've only taken antibiotics one time in my entire life, and I think Doc Picasso accidentally gave me the kind called "uppers," because I've been awake since Monday.


Health care.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

teens, reading, and certain "words"

Welcome to September, and the kickoff to a really busy and exciting time for me. It's a fitting follow-up to August, because the entire story of in the path of falling objects occurs during one August, and the book will be coming out this month -- among other things keeping me occupied (like working on another novel).

I found out yesterday that during my ultra-busy next couple of months that I will be reading for Teen Read Week at the Los Angeles Public Library on Tuesday, October 20. When I find out the specifics of time and branch location, of course, it will be posted. And, naturally, I'll be reading excerpts from in the path of falling objects -- but I haven't chosen which ones yet... aside from the obvious page one.

I'd made a few bets with kids since the galleys came out last spring, that if they could read to the bottom of page one and NOT want to turn the page and keep reading that I'd give them a dollar. Needless to say, something shocking happens on page one and I haven't given out any money yet.

So, that week is Teen Read Week, and every day during that week I also read aloud for ten minutes in every class I teach. You can guess what book I'll be reading from... but you might be wrong, since I let kids choose the book they want to hear at the start of the week. My money's going to be on in the path of falling objects, but I have other choices available to them... and I'll let you know what the kids want to hear.

Of equal significance, though, is the week of September 26 to October 3. That's Banned Books Week and every year during that week I also read to kids each day from a book that has been banned or challenged with banning somewhere in the United States. This year's Banned Books Week Featured Author is Thomas Paine, whose revolutionary pamphlet, Common Sense, was a monumental bestseller in the American Colonies... finding its way into the hands of nearly every literate person in the population.

I was thinking about Banned Books Week just yesterday, because I'd read my friend Ellen Hopkins' (we share the same phenomenal agent) blog, in which she eloquently expresses herself in regards to the matter of language in her edgy new book, Tricks.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that one day, one of my books is going to end up on a banned list somewhere (probably pretty soon, too). But I'm with Ellen on her defense of words, and I work with HUNDREDS of kids every day.

Let me say this: The word fuck is not a word to a high school kid. The word fuck is more like a comma, or a breath teens take between thoughts. So, if you're a writer and you're trying to realistically portray American teens in the contemporary era, you can skirt around words -- and that's okay -- or you can make words up -- but I'm not buying that approach -- or you can just deal with it and say, "Here's this story. It's what I wrote. It's made up of words."

I guess I'm just saying this as a forewarning to people who, next year, read The Marbury Lens.

It has words in it.

A lot of them.

*shifts uncomfortably*

Okay. Well, for the last couple of years during Banned Books Week, I've consistently read Chris Crutcher's Whale Talk. This year, I'm going to change the selection and read John Green's Looking for Alaska. I think the kids are going to like it. Unfortunately, the first two days of that week, I'll still be over in London, so it will be an abbreviated, three-day week for me.

And of course, I'll keep you posted on all my read-alouds... especially what book the kids choose for Teen Read Week.