Saturday, October 31, 2009

days off

Okay. I don't really consider myself a Type-A personality (not that it matters, because considering and being probably have no actual connection in the overall scheme of things), but when I write books, I do have a tendency to never want to take days off.

Maybe that accounts for why I can finish a book so quickly.

In fact, when I was writing Ghost Medicine, I had to force myself to take some days off. I did it by going on a vacation, out of state, and leaving my computer and internet behind. It was challenging, and the experiment was effective, too. When I came back, I had a kind of renewed energy in my writing.

But I didn't like doing it, so I abandoned the practice with all my subsequent work.

Which brings me to where I am now, sitting in the dark, in a hotel room with two major projects running on the screen in the background: something for my editor, and an entirely new novel that has taken over my time.


Friday, October 30, 2009

big scary weekend

This weekend, I am going to be hanging with my good friend, author Lewis Buzbee (who wrote Steinbeck's Ghost and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop).

I swore to my editor, since we both have some work deadlines to meet, that of all my author friends, Lewis is probably the LEAST likely to get arrested with me. There shall be photographs, but I cannot vouch for their authenticity. We'll have to see what happens later today and tomorrow.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. It comes with no baggage, no obligations or roles that must be convincingly performed. It's all about having fun, which is what I plan on doing.

Jail or no.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

pardon my distraction

I'm a bit distracted. I slept later than usual, as you might notice from the timestamp on this post.

November is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. If you don't know anything about it, you should check it out at I am trying to get as many kids as I can to participate in it.

It isn't as difficult as some people want you to think it is.

I am writing a novel during November, too, but it isn't an official NaNo project. It is, however, why I am distracted. We are just about finished with the work on next year's The Marbury Lens, and the manuscript has gone to copyediting (I may explain those steps some time in the future).

My threadpulling editor wants me to add four small things to the script, though. No big deal for me to do it, especially since they are easy fixes and great ideas (that will also make more pages, which, for some reason, is always something that I like). But it is making me a bit schizo right now.

Because I am writing -- really writing -- another novel. So, it's like having half my head in daytime and half my head in night (which is also probably a good thing, now that I think about it, all things considered). A week ago, I had no idea this novel was trying to get written.

Now it's about 1/4 finished, and I plan on completing it -- you guessed it -- in November.

Over the last week, I had the privilege of going out and chatting with a couple top-notch agents.

[Don't worry -- I am not "looking around." I just happen to know these people]

Two interesting comments from them:

Agent one expressed frustration at the number of query submissions from people who claim publishing credits via self-publishers; as well as the predictability and lack of originality in the majority of submissions received.

Agent two remarked about a frequently asked question regarding dealmaking and the state of the economy, saying that just as many deals are being made, but the deals are different and agents now have expanded job descriptions.

Just thought I'd share those observations for all those people out there poised at the edge of one world and thinking about jumping into the NaNosphere.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

writing (for) teens

Recently, due to the fact that I've been making so many appearances all over the country, I've found myself faced with a few very frequently asked questions.

First of all, when I talk to teens, without a doubt the number one question I am asked is: How much money do you get paid for writing a book?

It's a fair enough question, I suppose, and it's justifiable for teens to ask such a thing, especially if any of them potentially sees himself as a writer at some point in the future. But I don't really answer it, either. I am a master of changing the subject to make it appear as though I've answered the question. You know... like politicians do. But, believe me, I could never withstand the scrutiny of the public should I endeavor to pursue a career in politics.

While I may have a birth certificate, my closet has no remaining available space for fancy outfits due to all the skeletons I've crammed in there.

Now, a question that I am most frequently asked by adults (assuming they're not aspiring authors, in which case, they either ask the same exact question listed above, or they'll ask me to recommend them to my agent) is: Why did you choose to write books for teens?

And that's a question I can really sink my teeth into.

First of all, I do not write books for teens. I write books for me. I write the kinds of books that I have to write, the stories I need to tell. Now, it just so happens that most of the stories I feel the need to tell come from my younger years and they have main characters who are teenagers, but I always start out and finish up assuming my novels will be read by adults as well as "young adults."

Furthermore, I like to employ young characters as protagonists because a reader can be far more forgiving toward them. In many cases, teens have to grapple with making poor choices for the first time in their lives. And that's okay... we expect them to make mistakes when they're first starting out and faced with some tough decisions that require experience and maturity. Sometimes, telling a lie to a friend or a family member seems the best thing to do, for example, and often teens will learn from the poor choices they make. We can easily forgive that in our younger protagonists. We like to see them grow through their trial-and-error misjudgments. On the other hand, as a reader, I am not going to "hang in there" through the length of a novel for an adult character who lies to his wife or best friend.

So, since it's easy to be more forgiving toward younger protagonists, it's also easier to come up with engaging stories that take readers places they never imagined they'd go in an effort to "hang in there" for the hero of a story.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

jai guru deva om

You know, I have often said, publicly and privately, that there is nothing in the world that comes close -- not by a million miles -- to making a connection with readers.

It happened this week, several times, too -- so I must be accumulating good karma. Or maybe the cosmic scorekeepers haven't been watching me too closely.

But you know how last week or so, I mentioned something about the rush of hearing from kids who'd never read a book before in their lives, but read -- and loved -- my first book, Ghost Medicine?

Well, one of those very kids I was talking about was able to get a copy of in the path of falling objects at his bookstore, and he tore through it -- then sent me the following:

"I just finished in the path of falling objects. All I can say is it was the best book I ever read. I could not put it down."

Then, today, I get an email from a professional reviewer who told me that she'd never had a response on her reviews from an author until mine. Heck... I try to thank everyone who says something about my work... [gulps] even if it's not that good [haven't gotten a bad one yet].

And... this is ultra-cool: I was able to send some goodies to Fond du lac High School in Fond du lac, Wisconsin, to help them celebrate Teen Read Week. I did it because I'd met the librarian (I think...) at ALA in Chicago, so I arranged to have an ARC of in the path of falling objects sent to her, at her request. Well, she and her school really like the book... so how could I not offer to send some goodies to them for Teen Read Week?

Also, the terrific team at Feiwel and Friends helped out by sending them a bunch of my books for the kids.

Yeah... we do things like that.

It's all about the kids.

So, without further comment, here are some pictures of how I was able to play along with Fond du lac High School's celebration of Teen Read Week, 2009 (I LOVE stuff like this)...

Monday, October 26, 2009

obsessions and nano

Ever since I started writing, I've been obsessed with a couple (well... honestly, that is a ridiculous underestimation) things about what I do.

First of all, one of my things is that I am perhaps a bit overly concerned about not just what I write, but how it's written. What I mean is, I look at white space, the actual physical shape of my paragraphs and sentences. I look at the words and consider their structures and components in the way a musician might study sheet music.

I know, that's crazy. But I have been getting more and more obsessed with that idea.

So what I'm working on at the moment is a novel about how the world sounds, and the words on the pages are supposed to create a sound in the mind of the reader. It's supposed to be sound without actually being audible, but it's not like it shouldn't be read aloud... you'd just have to do it differently, and I'm sure that makes no sense at all. So you'll have to wait until I finish it, which will be, like....

Anyway, with NaNoWriMo coming up, I've been working on this little beast pretty much, and although I will not enter the NaNoWriMo thing, I am planning on finishing this novel by the end of November.

We'll see.

I recently bought a new computer. I transferred all my old files from my last computer over onto it -- you know, things like all the original versions of everything I've written in the last few years, as well as stuff I am working on at the moment. My intent was to give my old computer to my son to use, but, me being me, I had to hold onto it until I was certain that all of my old files actually are here on this new computer.

I finally broke down and reformatted the old computer's hard drive. To me, that was kind of like watching a funeral pyre. Or I feel like one of those monks who makes a sand mandala and immediately wipes it out.

I'll get over it.

Back to work.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

late post late

I stayed up entirely too late last night.

The SCIBA Authors Feast and Book Awards was a pretty awesome night, with so many highlights, I don't know where to start.

But I will anyway. First, I'd like to congratulate my friend Michael Grant for winning the award in the kids' novel category. [The actual category was Children's Novel, but I kind of bristle at that word -- Children -- when you lump in YA with it, and Michael's stuff is definitely NOT for "Children"]

And he gave a real zinger of an acceptance speech, too, parts of which, I am certain, are already being quoted in the press and on the blogs (but I can't clearly remember).

Afterward, the SCIBA people gave every author this ENORMOUSLY HEAVY box filled with books. Or maybe they contain the chopped-up remains of the book buyers for Wal-Mart... I don't know because I haven't opened my box yet.

Something, however, is apparently dripping from it.

Best thing: At the end of the night, I hung out until after midnight with the three nominees in the SCIBA Children's Novel category: Michael Grant, D.J. McHale (the Pendragon series), Kathryn Fitzmaurice (The Year the Swallows Came Early), and Kathryn's agent, the incredible Jen Rofe.

First off, let me tell you how much I love these guys. No, there was a distinct absence of "Man Hugs" when the tab was closed. To begin with, Michael and D.J. are both scary. But I marveled at how Kathryn actually made her agent carry around her gigantic book box for her -- all night long.

Jen Rofe: agent and Sherpa.

That was awesome. I mean, who'd have thought that the thing to do at events such as this is bring your "people" to act as expedition carriers.

Anyway, it was a great hang-out session where we all got to talk about books, and Michael and Jen, especially, dizzied me with their knowledge of movers and shakers in publishing and agenting, and wowed me with their use of jargon and acronyms.

I realized that I truly do know absolutely nothing and am a complete idiot... Oh, and I also totally suck at the "Guess how old Kathryn's Sherpa is" game.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

the night of many badges

Okay. Well, I am heading down to Los Angeles today for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association's Author Feast and SCIBA Book Awards.

I don't know what author we'll be feasting on tonight, but I sure hope they have plenty of dessert if it's Lisa Yee. There might not be enough to go around otherwise, and I've seen what a group of hungry authors can do to a bucket of chicken wings.

Apologies for the unfocused course of this post, but last night I was forwarded a most flattering review of in the path of falling objects that had been linked on the YALSA listserve, written by Susan (no relation, I swear to God) Smith of Naples, Florida.

Here's what she said:

Bibliography: Smith, Andrew. (September 2009). In the Path of Falling Objects. New York: Feiwel and Friends. ISBN: 9780312375584

Plot Summary: Jonah and Simon are on a road trip, but it isn’t a teenage lark. Abandoned by their mother, out of food and water, they pack the little precious possessions they own and set out across the New Mexico desert heading to Arizona and their prisoner father. When a car flies by and then slows, and the beautiful blond begs the driver to pick them up, Jonah knows it is a mistake to accept, but he and Simon climb in the back anyway. At least Jonah has a gun…

Critical Analysis: This book completely blew me away. It is a rare suspense/thriller in the young adult fiction category. And a good one at that. Smith does an excellent job of building suspense and tension. Telling the story from the different voices of the characters really adds to that feeling. This is used often in adult suspense novels, but I don’t think I’ve seen it much for young adults. It gives the reader different viewpoints of what is going on, and it also allows Smith to portion out information. He reveals and doesn’t reveal events and details depending on who is telling the story at the time.

The setting is very evocative. I can feel the heat, see the desert. Details about the 1970s are tightly woven with the events of the story–clothing styles, hippies, Vietnam. Even descriptions of diners and hotels are spot on. I can almost smell them. Add to that the tone which communicates a real desperation and longing, especially from Jonah. We get other characters’ points of view, but I think this is Jonah’s story, Jonah’s journey. The brothers are traveling to somewhere, but more because they don’t know what else to do, not because they know what to expect when they get there. In the end, the book is about the journey, the physical one and the emotional one the brothers experience.

I am reminded very much of the best western fiction that has and is being written. Not just westerns, like cowboys and horses, but that fiction that takes the ideals of the west and expands them, updates them, bends them into something new.

And here's the link to Susan's review on Readspace.

So, anyway... about this thing tonight. It's going to be a monumental blast. I just hope the security staff at the Millennium Biltmore doesn't recognize me after what happened the last time I was there.

In case you don't remember, you might want to step inside the old time machine and return to October of 2008 to read an unbiased account.

Oh... and then the last SCIBA Dinner I went to, I had, like this complete clothing crisis. I was one of three males present wearing a tie. The other two were part of the wait staff and people kept asking me to bring them more rolls.

I will blog next from downtown Los Angeles, hopefully not the Men's Central Jail.

Friday, October 23, 2009

end of the week

Wrapping up my posts on Teen Read Week...

In the classes that I teach, I always encourage kids to bring in whatever they are reading, or their favorite books, and read aloud to the class during Teen Read Week. I give them candy for doing it, but the thing that's always struck me is how eager teens are to read aloud to their friends when the book is something that they've chosen to read for themselves.

Usually, the exact opposite is true when teachers ask kids to read aloud from textbooks, or from required works of fiction, no matter how good those works may be.

I also allow kids to read whatever they want, no restrictions on content, language, or ideas. One of these days, I am sure, it will land me in some serious trouble... and I don't consider myself a martyr by a long shot, so we'll just deal with that when it happens, I guess.

Here's a list of what some of my kids chose to read to their classmates to honor Teen Read Week, 2009:

Paige chose to read page 88 from John Green's Looking for Alaska. She's memorized that page because it contains a most brilliant line: "...if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane."

Garrett brought in his copy of Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and read his favorite passage.

Corey read from Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto. Come and get me, teabaggers. The kid really, genuinely likes reading Marx. What can I say? He did a great job.

Eric read from Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, and I was, like, wow... I didn't think kids read stuff like this anymore.

Suzy read an exciting passage from Scott Westerfeld's Pretties.

Wes read the opening pages to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol.

And all the kids bugged me until I read some pages from in the path of falling objects, and I talked about the story and why I'd written it. Then I book-talked and read from two books that the kids had never heard of (yet), but I think are amazing gifts to readers: David Small's Stitches, and Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

It's been a terrific week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

still teen read week

So, continuing on with the Teen Read Week posts, I thought that today I'd like to share some bits and pieces from the talks I gave to high school kids this week -- a Drew mix tape, as it were. And tomorrow I'm going to add some things from my own kids that I teach.

So here you go...

A lot of people will tell you that writing is hard, but it's not. Writing a book is actually really easy. There are lots of things I've done in my life that are harder than writing a book, and some of those really difficult things, like saying goodbye to someone you love, actually helped the writing thing get easier.

I've run and completed thirty marathons in my life. And between the ages of about 19 and 21, I was a boxer. And every marathon I ever ran, every time I stepped into the ring against another fighter, at some point during all of those tests, there were moments when I actually believed I was going to die, that my life was going to end right then and there. That's how hard those things are. I have never felt like I was going to die when turning on my computer and booting up Microsoft Word, though.

So writing's gotta be easy.

When I was a kid, I hated to read. There's nothing wrong with that. But a switch got flipped in my head around the time that I was fifteen. It happened at a library, where I actually chose something to read without it being forced upon me. Boys don't like it when they're forced to do something. That's probably why I pursued writing when I was in college and afterwards -- because my parents were against the idea of my not having a "real job."

I'll share with you some of my not-so-hidden hidden agenda: it's about boys and reading. We know that in the last 30 years that boys' reading and writing scores have been going down. It's like they're getting dumber. Girls, do you not agree with me that boys are getting dumber?

If boys' scores for reading and writing are going down, then we must be doing something to cause that decline. We need to fix it. We need to give the message back to boys that reading and writing are not girly things. We know that boys are now far outnumbered by girls in admission to college and earning degrees. If it keeps going like this, in twenty years, males will become second-class citizens.

It all has to do with reading and writing. In fact, there is nothing you will ever do that puts a roof over your head or food on the table for your family that doesn't have something to do with reading and writing. Whether you serve fast food at a burger joint or throw footballs for an NFL team, the guy who can read and write better is always going to have an edge over the guy who can't.

Okay. So now I'll get off my soap box.

One of the biggest motivations for me to write the kinds of books I do is my son. At fifteen, he is very different than I was. He's always been a dedicated reader. I think that has something to do with the fact that ever since he was born, I've read to him. As he grew and began choosing his own books, I realized that there is a serious -- criminal, even -- dearth of Young Adult novels out there which portray boys as just regular boys -- guys who have flaws, make mistakes, show poor judgment at times, and maybe even get into fights with their best friends over stupid things, while still exhibiting those human and universal characteristics of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and sometimes shallowness, that we expect from real, human boys. There are plenty of YA novels out there that portray the realistic struggles and conflicts of growing up girl -- and I could list dozens of them, just released within the last few years, by outstanding women authors whom I totally respect, admire, and envy.

But the stuff for boys just isn't there.

Or... if you're a boy, in a book, and on the shelf of a bookstore, then you're probably a vampire, dead, or have magical powers.

It seems like if you're a boy in a book and lack those non-human characteristics, there's a message that you have no universal story to connect to the boy readers on the other side of the page, and you're powerless as a human being. Because real boys are dumb, don't read, can't write, and don't have any interesting or valuable stories.

The subliminal message here feeds into the dumbing-down myth of boys as far as reading and writing are concerned.

Don't get upset with me. I'm just pointing this out. Go to a bookstore and tally titles for yourself. Art reflects life, right?

Oh, you'll say, that's because boys don't read.

Egg, meet your chicken.

Let's give them something to read.

That's why I write what I write.

But I will tell you the number one thing that keeps me going, the best part of being an author. It's the dozen or so letters and emails I've received over the past year from kids who told me that my book was the first book they ever read from cover to cover, that they really liked it, and, Mr. Smith, would you please write another one?

That's the best thing.

When one of those switches gets flipped.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

teen read week

I was driving home last night, thinking about the blur of Teen Read Week for me. Between Saturday and Tuesday, I'd made appearances before five high school groups and two public libraries.

Here are just a few of the things I saw.

At Ayala High School in Chino Hills, the art teacher, Mr. Robledo, and one of his students, Jonathan Romo, created sidewalk chalk art of my book covers in front of the library.

The libraries at Ayala and Chino Hills High Schools are two of the nicest school libraries I have ever seen, and I have to say they are run by staffs who really get it when it comes to kids and reading. Both of them have all kinds of regular activities designed around getting kids connected with their libraries, and the number of students I saw there showed the efforts had been paying off.

There is absolutely nothing better to me than talking to kids about reading and writing, and I have to say the students and teachers at the schools I visited really listened to my ideas about boys and books, reading and writing (and most of the girls in attendance resoundingly agreed with the idea that boys are getting dumber).

Yesterday, I spoke at Marshall High School in Los Angeles. It's one of those old-L.A. multistory brick high schools, and it is huge, with about 5,000 kids enrolled.

Afterwards, Erika, the amazing teen librarian, drove me to the Los Feliz Branch of the L.A. Public Library (where she works) and I got to walk around the beautiful community of Los Feliz for a while before my panel there in the afternoon.

This is where I found Skylight Books, on Vermont Avenue, a well-stocked and inviting independent bookseller. For an author, it's always a rush to walk into a small bookstore and see my book on their shelf for sale, so I asked them if I could egotistically take a picture of it -- and they asked me to sign their stock (which was so incredibly cool).

Well, I can't walk into an indie store and not buy a book. It's a personal rule, and I felt especially obliged to buy one from Skylight, so (no, I didn't buy a copy of in the path of falling objects) I bought a really expensive book that I've been really wanting to read.

When I returned to the library, it was nearly time for my panel with author Cylin Busby (The Year We Disappeared) to begin. I had a terrific time. The local pizza place, Lucifer's, donated pizza for the kids, too. There were about 50 kids in attendance, and maybe around 4 or 5 adults, and they loved the talk Cylin and I gave about -- you guessed it -- reading and writing. They asked insightful questions, too.

Here's Cylin talking to the crowd:

At the end, the library gave away all kinds of prizes: signed books, audiobooks, posters, and even a couple brand-new Guitar Hero games that had been donated to the program by Activision. The kids had a blast. This guy's named, Jhay. He wanted a shirt:

And, afterward, one of those great moments -- a father who'd been present came up, shook my hand, and thanked me for being an inspiration to his kids and letting them know it's okay for them to want to be writers.

Well, now I guess I get to rest for a while until the big, fantastic, amazing Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Author Feast and Awards on Saturday at the Millennium Biltmore in L.A.

But there are still a few more days left in Teen Read Week, and you know how to get hold of me. And I never say no when it involves helping out kids, libraries, and schools.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

teens who read (and get it)

Yesterday's visits to Ayala High School and Chino Hills High School were the best school visits I've ever done. Totally awesome schools, libraries, and kids. And I promise to kick down the details (and post some photographs, too -- a rarity for me) on tomorrow's blog.

But today.

The finish line.

In sight.

Then I can sleep.

I just have one more school visit to Marshall High School in Los Angeles this afternoon, and then the totally cool Teen Reads Week event at the LA Public Library Branch in Los Feliz (see yesterday'spost for the info and address).

But... yesterday, in the path of falling objects got another kickass review, this one from School Library Journal, that will run in December. Here it is... and remember, I have LOTS to say about the fantastic schools I was privileged enough to hang out at yesterday, and that will come tomorrow, after some sleep (if I have time):

SMITH, Andrew. In the Path of Falling Objects. 336p. CIP. Feiwel & Friends. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-312-37558-4. LC 2008034755.
Gr 9 Up–Falling Objects is a mystical, lyrical, sometimes violent, and ultimately hopeful story of what it means to be a brother. The novel begins with a look back at a murder and quickly moves forward to northern New Mexico and brothers Jonah, 16, and Simon, 14, a dead horse at their feet, a gun in Jonah’s backpack, parents nowhere to be found. From the first squashed scorpion, readers feel the heat and hopelessness of the boys’ situation. Jonah’s most precious possessions are letters from their older brother, who is slowly succumbing to despair in Vietnam. The boys hitch a ride with Mitch, an unstable killer; Lilly, who likes to make Mitch jealous; and a literal tin man who rides in the backseat. Parts of the book are spare and poetic; parts are gritty and grim. Several characters are dead by the last chapter. Despite it all, there is a feeling of closure, as it seems that the brothers could make a new start with a young man they meet, Dalton, and his nontraditional family. For teens looking for something to sink their teeth into, Smith offers a challenging read. Powerful imagery and symbolism are threaded throughout the narrative along with Bible references, a map that Jonah is drawing, a meteorite that Simon takes along as a talisman, and references to gravity and its relentless pull. The intensity will suit serious readers who don’t mind a little blood and gore.– Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

Maggie and SLJ, what can I say? You rock, and thanks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

hold the salt and stuff...

Okay, so the whirlwind week is only just beginning, and I am not going to ask what have I gotten myself into.

Today, I am making four high school presentations at Ayala High and Chino Hills High School, and then, in the afternoon, I am heading over to Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Store in La Verne.

At 4 p.m.

You need to be there.

Then I am going home, but only for a few hours. You see, I've neglected to go to my "real job" for a while now, and the kids miss me, and I miss them, too.


Well, to be honest, not all of them. Some of them I definitely do not miss.

But it is Teen Read Week, and every year during TRW I read to the kids, and they've been bugging me about it for some time. Sheesh!, make a promise to kids and they expect you to get all accountable and stuff. I also let any of the students who want to, stand up and read aloud to their classmates.

And they get to read WHATEVER they want to read. This, in a community populated by Prop-8-Teabagger-Birther-Keep-Your-Kids-Home-From-School-To-Protest-Our-Black-President-Speaking-To-Students-Conspiracists (who, thankfully, do not read the blooogs)... because just guess what their kids like to read?

Okay. You really do have to guess, because I'm not going to say. You know why? Because the oh-so-politically-minded adults in the community don't read books, either. And all they know about the books (and most other things) they learn to hate comes from the flash-comment from some idiot who'll say something like "That book has SEX in it," or, "That book has a Homosexual in it, and portrays him in a favorable light."

So, I'm not telling. So get your tea bags out and try to block access to my classroom. Throw your heaving and prostrated bodies on the ground in front of me. I don't care. Really.

[Read with the accent of stupidity: "Did he just say 'prostrate?' Was that a reference to penises on his blog?"]

But then, I'll be heading directly to Los Angeles to (I think) speak to kids at Marshall High School, and capping off the day with a visit/reading/signing/pizza party/Guitar Hero giveaway (I shit you not) at the Los Feliz Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, 1874 Hillhurst Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027 along with the incredibly cool, I-am-dying-to-meet-her author Cylin Busby (who got top billing on the library's advert, which, by the way, was just a little "off" on the title of my book):

...So you owe me a margarita for that, Los Feliz Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library!

Wait, I hate margaritas. Unless you "hold" all the crap you put in them that isn't tequila. I could even do it without the glass. Take that! Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.

So... go to the library!

Win Guitar Hero!

Oh... and I'm going to be giving away [insert correct title] in the path of falling objects swag of all kinds.

Hope to see you and your kids at the library.

Leave your tea bags at home.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

a note from down south

Okay. Well, I have to admit that I had a terrific time yesterday at the San Diego Festival of Books, meeting and speaking with authors Barrie Summy, Laura Preble and Cindy Pon. We had an opportunity to talk a bit before and after our panel about writing for teens, and I really enjoyed the company.

The best thing about the panel was that we didn't have to come up with our own material, it was moderated by someone who had a list of terrific questions all ready to go. And then, once it was opened up to the audience, I hardly had to think at all, which I found to be very convenient.

I'm going to give a brief synopsis of some of the questions and the answers I gave:

One of the questions had to do with what's next after completing a book... where do you go?

Anyone who reads this blog knows my two-word answer to that one:

"A bar."

I then handed the microphone off to the author ladies, each of whom came up with something brilliant, inspiring, and literary that made me want to be a real writer, as opposed to someone who just shows up to these kinds of events carting along his vast and invisible trunkload of neuroses. Item one: a deep fear of name badges.

[And what could possibly be more literary than going to a bar?]

Another question had to do with where we authors actually do our writing.

Again, I was somewhat shocked to learn that my panel-mates each wrote with children in their homes.


And I'm, like, Hello? Haven't you ever heard of duct tape and kiddie tranks?

But, seriously... how can you possibly write with other people in your house? I send my people AWAY when I write, or I go away myself. If all else fails, they have to stand out in the horse paddock until I blink the house lights three times.

Yeah, so there was that time the Social Services people got called, but, heck, who hasn't stood out in the snow staring for six-and-a-half hours with sad eyes at the smoke wafting upward from the chimney on a warm home? I had a deadline. Helloooo?

Honestly, I can NOT write with people in my house, and, apparently, I am not afraid to say so.

Now, let me just say what an incredible library they've got here in Poway. It's huge, very well-stocked, and full of all kinds of people who love books, sitting in very reading-oriented and study-friendly areas. And they all looked up in astonishment and reverence when we were escorted through wearing our "AUTHOR" name badges. Maybe the fact that I had scrawled something about Inigo Montoya and preparing to die on mine had something to do with that.

But the library staff, the "friends of the library," and everyone associated with the panel and our day here were absolutely great (note I am not talking about people who work for enormous retailers). These are REAL book people who love books and help kids discover the power of reading, and for an author, libraries like this one in Poway, California give you an experience as though you've arrived at journey's end from a long pilgrimage.

Cindy, Laura, and Barrie... it was a fun time. You guys rock, and I love being the "token guy" on the panel.

Oh... and this is exactly one of the points I make when I talk to high school boys about becoming a writer. In the universe of authors, dudes are outnumbered by chicks by fifteen to one, easy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

the road trip begins

The next few days, I am going to be on an author's road trip.

All alone.

And you know how I am with road trips.

There really is nothing better than a good road trip. Lately, I've gotten too used to flying, I think, but road trips to places like Ireland do pose logistical problems. In any event, this morning I am driving down to San Diego, where I will be speaking on a panel with other YA authors to kick off Teen Read Week and the San Diego County Public Library's Page One: A Celebration of the Written Word.

Today's panel, Written 4U: Teens, will be held at the Poway Branch of the San Diego Public Library, 13137 Poway Road, Poway, CA 92064 at 2 p.m. I will be speaking with fellow authors Barrie Summy, Laura Preble and Cindy Pon, and afterward will be signing books and stuff like that.

Then, on Monday, October 19, a bit further to the north, I will be speaking twice at Ayala High School, 14255 Peyton Dr., and twice at Chino Hills High School 16150 Pomona Rincon Rd., both of which are located in Chino Hills, CA, and then, finally, off for another visit and signing at 4:00 p.m. at Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, 1030 Bonita Ave. La Verne, CA 91750.

I'll have more news from the San Diego Book Festival later on, as well as further updates about the rest of Teen Read Week and the big SCIBA Authors' Dinner and Awards coming up next Saturday at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

Friday, October 16, 2009

it doesn't get any easier

I'm going to switch tracks for a day or so and return to a topic I've visited only rarely in the past: advice to aspiring authors. It goes like this:

It never gets easier.

1. Writing the book has got to be the easiest part of the process. I mean... seriously, all you have to do is sit there and write. I know there are lots of people who think that's difficult, but it really isn't... and any published author who tells you otherwise is just trying to magnify their sense of accomplishment.

Just do the numbers game and you'll see what I mean. If you assume that an average-ish book is about 85,000 words long, and you sit down and write 500 words per day (although I am not finished with this yet, I'll predict this blog post will contain more than 500 words) -- which, for me, takes maybe an hour, tops -- you will have a book-length manuscript completed in about 6 months.

No big deal. Now, I'm also not saying that your book will necessarily be good. That's another thing all together... and, I'll be honest, most of the end results of Step One are not very good at all.

But, what the heck, this is the easy part: just getting the thing written. So, go ahead and quit. Tell yourself you can't do it. I don't really care. But, mark my words, it's the easiest part of the entire trip.

2. Getting an agent, for most first-time authors, is the step they'll say is the hardest part. Why do they say that? Because they've already completed the first step and they know how easy it was to just write a book. Most (but not all) agents serve to cull out the true crap from the stuff that actually may stand a chance of getting published, so they are very picky and difficult to impress.

After all, agents see hundreds or thousands of "Step Ones" every month.

So what do a lot of writers do? They end up spending more time trying to craft a really hooky and enticing query letter (I've always been uncomfortable with that term), which is how they try to get an agent's attention. At this point, if an agent asks to see a "Step One," they generally find that it has none of the qualities exhibited by the prose of the query (which the author probably had LOTS of help with and spent LOTS of time on.... unlike the 500 words per day effort they put into Step One).

But, if a writer does land representation from a REAL agent, they will always tell you that Step Two was WAYYYYYYY harder than step one.

[Let me digress for a moment: none of this actually happened to or pertains to my personal experience, which I don't want to write about. So if you happen to be a stuck-on-yourself-impressed-by-the-magnitude-of-your-accomplishment published author who wants to post a comment about how agents aren't necessary and you skipped step two, go right ahead. It still doesn't get any easier, Hemingway.]

3. Making a deal. Now that you've gone through Step One (easiest) and Step Two (difficult), your agent is ready to take your work and pitch it to acquisitions people in New York. If they're not taking it to New York, it's because your agent realizes this step is going to be too hard for you, your Step One, and your agent.

So let's say that it's not impossible. Step Three is now the hardest part.

See? It's not getting any easier.

This is the gut-wrenching, why-does-it-take-fucking-forever step where frequently an author will consider things like how messy shooting himself in the fucking head will be. It seems like once an offer has been made that clocks stop and nothing happens for months before the contracts actually appear on your doorstep.

Oh yeah... you're not the only person in the world who made it to this step, Shakespeare... which, by the way, is harder than steps one and two, and it's why nobody seems to care about you, your agent, or your Step One while you are on HOLD.

Okay. Get the picture?

It doesn't ever get easier.

(By the way-- 600+ words in about 30 minutes. But I always say BLOGGING IS NOT WRITING)

4. Revisions come after the contracts are signed and they put you on a schedule for publication. Generally, your pub date will be a year or two down the road from Step Three. If you live that long.

Waiting is not as easy as steps one through three, and for most first-time-authors, they get so caught up in the stress and agony of waiting that they do not write during this time... even though writing is the GODDAMNED EASIEST PART.

When you do get to the revisions part, some authors really take suggestions for change personally and think they are involved in some kind of ego contest between themselves and their editor.

Big mistake.

You're on the same team.

Again, this has nothing to do with my own experience. On my own path to publication, the revision part has been harder than the preceding steps because I get completely neurotic and hung up on everything during this time. I don't sleep, am very difficult and pouty, and usually wish I could be at step one but I'm not because I have goddamned revisions to do and I want my book to be perfect.

In the mean time, everything else that allegedly is going on in my life becomes chaotic and mismanaged because I can't pay attention to anything except the object sitting on my desk that is the source of my sleep-deprivation, so things get out of control and the little failures begin piling up and I take them all incredibly personally because, after all, I own them and I wonder why the hell I ever did this in the first place.

And then... I'll get an email from someone out of the blue telling me that they want to write novels... and, oh, by the way, it seems like writing a book is really difficult.


There. Nearly 1,000 words in about 40 minutes. At this rate, I could write a novel in about two-and-a-half days, straight, no sleep.

By the way, next month is NaNoWriMo. If you don't know what that is, look it up. Maybe I'll give it a shot, just for the hell of it. It's as easy as...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

the booklist review

This review is coming up in the November issue of Booklist. And, I have to say, this is a great review that avoids the boiled-potatoes synopsis approach and actually takes a position on how the reviewer feels about my recently-released in the path of falling objects:

Jonah and his younger brother, Simon, have it tough, and it's about to get tougher. Their junkie dad's in prison, their mom's abandoned them, and their brother is off fighting in Vietnam. The brothers hit the road and hitch a ride with Mitch, a sociopath, and his pregnant companion, Lilly. After an intense opening murder scene, the book only grows bloodier during the journey through the southwestern desert. The story unfolds through multiple viewpoints, including missives from the brother in Vietnam that become increasingly more unhinged. This counterpoint effectively mirrors the brothers' increasingly violent and desperate plight, unable to either stop or get away from the lunatic at the wheel. Like all great psychopathic characters, Mitch steals the show for much of the story, but Smith also deftly layers in the kind of sibling tension that verges on hatred. A relentless, bleak thriller that nails the claustrophobic sense of being totally out of control, and moving fast.

Now that's what I call a review... from a writer who obviously gets it.

Thank you very much, Booklist.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

a couple more boy recs

When I was a kid, I loved reading scary stories and stories about journeys.

I suppose that's exactly why I blended these characteristics together in my recently-released novel, in the path of falling objects, and my forthcoming The Marbury Lens (which is very scary -- to the point that it bothered me to work on it).

That said, I have a couple terrific recommendations for other books for boys today that are also the types of books that I loved to read as a kid (and still do, by the way).

First up: Half-Minute Horrors

This anthology comes out just in time for Halloween, and it's a perfect book of bust-em-out concentrated little horror stories by some of the most incredible authors out there. I'm not going to name any of them because most of them have restraining orders against me for having shared elevator cars in the past... except for my dear friend Yvonne Prinz (author of the forthcoming Vinyl Princess).

Boys will love the punchy format and the outstanding and twisted stories contained in the book. Totally the kind of book I would have torn through as a teen. One of the most admirable things about this combined effort is that it is brought to you by First Books, a non-profit organization that gets new books into the hands of kids from low-income families.

Check out the Half-Minute Horrors website here.

Next up: Surf Mules, by my friend G. Neri

Again, the punchy and compact chapters, each headed with grayscale illustrations are going to grab boys' attention right away. But the taught and suspenseful story about friends who get involved in the life-and-death consequences associated with drug-running will keep reluctant readers glued to the text.

Read more about G. Neri and his books on his website here.

These, along with a couple of titles I could think of by the guy who lets me write this blog for him, hold a promise that guy-books are making the show more frequently in the YA section of your favorite bookstores.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

the horror. the horror.

Here's yesterday's (oooh... two apostrophized words in a row) Publisher's (orgasmic... a third!) Weekly (couldn't keep it up) review of in the path of falling objects.

Nice review, I must say:

In the Path of Falling Objects Andrew Smith. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-37558-4

Smith's Vietnam-era road trip tells the tense, violent and cathartic story of teenage brothers Jonah and Simon, 16 and 14, on the run after their mother abandons them in their New Mexico home. Their older brother, Matt, plans to desert the army, and the brothers all attempt to meet in Arizona. En route, the boys are given a lift by Mitch and Lilly, on the run from Texas. Lilly is pregnant, and Mitch, whose friendly appearance masks a serious psychosis, is taking her somewhere to have an abortion. By the time Jonah becomes aware of the danger Mitch poses, the boys are already trapped in the car with him, and Jonah's developing relationship with Lilly only fuels Mitch's anger. Smith (Ghost Medicine) paints a picture of a bleak time, with Matt's letters from Vietnam highlighting the depressing and frightening lives soldiers led even as the folks back home faced equally uncertain futures. There are moments of bleak, nasty violence, but they rarely appear gratuitous, instead underlining the despair Jonah and Simon feel, and offering something they must transcend. Ages 13–up. (Oct.)

I can live with that. Thanks PW.

Monday, October 12, 2009

yet another story about name badges and whiskey

Oh yeah.

I'm a loser.

So, in recounting the details of the weekend spent in Nashville at the Southern Festival of Books, I neglected to recount how I was, once again, sucked into the hellish black hole of name badge anxiety.

Here's a general rundown of the day (told in three Acts).

Act One: [The interior of an elevator in my hotel]

Okay. So, I'm in the elevator in my hotel, going down to get a Starbucks in the morning, and I hear this woman rushing down the corridor to catch the car before the door closes. So, I hold the elevator for her.

I can tell she's a writer. She looks so literary.

I say, "Good morning."

She says, "Hello."

[I am not one to shy away from having involved conversations in elevators. It is, after all, my opportunity to provide someone with absolutely no possibility of escape a good thirty seconds of terror.]

I say, "Are you presenting at the Festival today?"

She smiles a writerly smile and says, "Yes. I am an author."

And the way she says "author" would have made the heavens open and angels sing if we weren't in an elevator.

I say, "So am I. I'm presenting later."

And you know what she said to me then?

I am not kidding. She kind of scowled and said, "Where's your BADGE?"

Act Two: [The check-in table at the festival]

So, I get to the festival. Walk around, looking at all the stuff. And I find my way in to the area where authors are supposed to check in. The women working at the check-in are all so Southern and polite. I tell them my name.

One of them says, "Oh. I saw your name on the schedule."

"I guess that proves I exist."

She goes to the table of name badges and begins looking for mine.

There is no name badge for me.

I say, "Oh. This happens to me all the time. I can't tell you how many authors show up at these events and try to pretend they're me."

This kind of statement is similar to Mandarin Chinese to check-in hostesses in the South, I think.

And the woman begins looking harder at the name badge display, obviously convinced that deeper scrutiny will cause the Andrew Smith badge to materialize.

She gives up looking, says, "I guess I'll just have to make you one."

So, where all the REAL authors get name badges that are custom-printed, my hostess pulls out a pen and a white card and prepares to write. my. name.

And she asks me -- out of politeness, I am convinced -- how to spell Smith.

I say, "Oh. Just write William Faulkner on it. He won't care, and just think of what it will do for your attendees."

Act Three: [Inside the "Author Hospitality Room"] So, yeah. Now I am wearing a hand-printed name badge, sitting down at a table. I'll admit it, I'm kind of sulking -- wondering how inappropriate it would be if I drank the free Jack Daniels they put in my author goodie bag. Hell, I'm sure Faulkner would have done it. Oh, and the only reasons I sit at this particular table are that 1) nobody else is sitting there, and 2) it's closest to the door.

Sara Zarr is standing nearby and comes over to my table to sign copies of her books for a librarian. Oh... and my hand-printed-how-do-you-spell-smith name badge is tucked inside my shirt where no one can see it.

Eventually, the conversation turns to me. And not just because I am drinking straight out of a bottle of JD at 11:00 a.m. [Sara Zarr is played by herself]:

SZ: Are you Andrew Smith?

ME: Yes. Sorry I don't have a real name badge.

SZ: I saw your name badge! [I think the exclamation point belongs here. Just my guess]

ME: My stalker. Obviously, he's having a lot of fun.

SZ: No! Your name badge was at the fund-raiser dinner you were supposed to be at last night!

ME: My name badge is quite the in-demand dinner guest at these functions.

So. If you see my name badge out there, or, if you see someone wearing my name badge... just so you know... it isn't really me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Southern Festival of Books Highlights (in no particular order):

1. The author goodie bags contained Moon Pies and Jack Daniels whiskey. Kick ass.

2. Got to meet and hang out with G. Neri. Our podcast panel, "Blood Brothers and Drug Smugglers," was highly interactive. We also got our session host in trouble by redesigning the set.

3. People in Nashville are really nice.

4. Got to hang and talk with Sara Zarr. She's pretty cool. I especially liked the fact that she thought I was her age -- and she's, like, a teenager.

5. I met four book bloggers that were actually very cool and funny. I will post links to their blogs here coming up in the next few days. I made them wrestle each other for a free copy of in the path of falling objects. It was really cool, until one of them ended up in an ambulance. Oh well, that's what you get for being weak. And YOU lost the book.

6. The Nashville airport is really nice and clean. In the past couple of months, I have flown all over the world, and I still have yet to find one airport that even comes close to Los Angeles International Airport in terms of dilapidation, filth, and inefficiency. I can say this as a resident of SoCal -- I'm not taking outsider potshots, but get your fucking act together, Los Angeles.

7. Did not sleep, so I got A LOT of work done. Ha ha on you, self-imposed deadline. As usual, I just kicked your ass.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ten ten tennessee

So here I am on ten ten in Tennessee. And I stayed up entirely too late last night.

The last time I was in Nashville, I was in elementary school. My dad was driving through one night and he made it a point to pull our car past the Grand Ole Opry just so he could point it out to me. Now I really understand why Nashville is called Music City, after walking around downtown last night (this morning?).

Last night I got to meet and hand out with author Greg Neri (who wrote Surf Mules and Chess Rumble), and we had some micro-brew beers that were served in bathtub-sized glasses. Greg and I are co-panelists at the Southern Festival of Books today. We'll be giving a talk called "Blood Brothers and Drug Smugglers," a title which an English professor friend told me smacks of communism.

Anyway, I had a terrific time talking to Greg last night. He also writes edgy fiction geared toward Young Adult and male readers, so we had a lot to talk about, and a lot in common. Like, for example, we did talk about drug smuggling and doing bad things and other stuff that I can't remember right at the moment because I'm preoccupied with getting some work done, there's a guy out in the street in front of my hotel screaming something about "the Friday night whores," (but it sounds rather musical, of course, this being Nashville), and it's really hot and I can't figure out how to work this thermostat.

More to follow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

progress report

I hate working on planes. Admit it, if you're sitting on a plane and the person next to you opens a laptop, how can you not look over at it to see what they're doing? Even if the business-mannequin type guy is sitting there playing Missile Defense?

And then I say, "Oh. You just got nuked, loser."

But, honestly, I completely freak out -- go berserk -- if someone even so much as glances over my shoulder at what I'm doing when I'm working on my computer, so my wife and kids steer clear of my office space when I'm doing that thing.

Besides, when I work, I also have to scatter pages around my desk and I write on them with red pen. My editor is nice. Editor writes with pencil (and very pleasant-looking script -- soothing, almost), but not me. I draw big lines and arrows and circles with red ink all over what I'm doing.

So that, plus laptop, equals fishing for annoyance and intrusion on an airplane.

Which makes me wonder why they let you bring pens on a plane in the first place. My pens are distinctly sharp and pointy. When we went to Ireland, my son had these really sharp scissors in his carry-on backpack. He'd made it all the way through LAX and Heathrow with them. And these weren't just scissors, they were murderously designed. In fact, if I had to go shopping for a pair of scissors with which I would stab someone in the head, I would have chosen a pair like the ones my son had in his backpack.

But I digress.

So I have to work, even on a plane. Yesterday, my editor asked me when I would be finished with the novel. Editor has never done that before, because any time editor has said to me something like, hopefully, you can get this in to me by x..., I have always turned in my work by x-minus-lots of time. I always beat deadlines.

It's one of the reasons my wife and kids are scared of me when I'm doing that thing.

That, and the scissors I keep on my desk.

So I kind of freaked out, told the editor, you will have it by next Friday, which, in Drewspeak, means now I have to finish by Thursday, tops.

And if the person next to me on the plane looks over at this one more time, I am going to do something unpleasant with a red pen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

what we do

God knows there's hardly an hour of any day that goes by when I don't find myself wondering why I do what I do. I still haven't come to any soothing conclusions, but there are some things along the way that help to edify us as writers.

When I was in Ireland, I received a couple emails: one from a high school teacher whose teen readers had all read in the path of falling objects, and another from a young reader who had just finished the book and told me that it made him reexamine his own relationship with his brother.

Well, it's not like I am ever too inundated with email from readers that I can't respond to every one of them.

The teen group had some questions for me -- the teacher explained that the book made them wonder two things in particular about me and my writing. So I sent the kids a response to their questions, which, I understand, they are posting on their school library's website.

Here's the gist of their questions:

The kids were interested in learning about how my personal life related to the story of the brothers (Jonah, Simon, and Matthew) in the novel. They wanted to know what it was like as a kid having a big brother in Vietnam, and they wondered how that impacted the book. And they were also curious about my experiences in the Southwest, due to the locations of the novel.

Here, generally, is the response I gave them:

First of all, THANK YOU for taking the time to make comments about my books. There is nothing better in the world than hearing about kids reading my stuff.

As far as the question about my brother is concerned... I knew I had to write in the path of falling objects because I was so impacted as a child by my older brother's service in Vietnam. I was very young, but, being in a family with four boys, we had to share rooms... so, like Jonah and Simon, I spent every day of my life sleeping in the same bedroom with my brother -- that is, until he went to Vietnam. And he was just a kid, too (18 years old). For me, that experience was terrifying. I couldn't put it into words as a kid, but I had so many terrible nightmares and spent more than a year simply not sleeping at night. We also exchanged letters constantly.

My brother's letters became the background for the stories Matthew tells in his writing to Jonah. Most of those stories about the guys Matthew served with were all taken from my older brother's letters. I rediscovered those letters a couple of summers ago while looking through some old boxes in my garage... and that's when I started writing the novel (which I completed in about three months). The original basis of the story was from a short story I'd written in an undergraduate writing class. My professor begged me to try and publish the story, but I never did. I did hang onto it, though, for decades... and when I was ready to, it became Jonah's road trip with Mitch and Lilly.

So... it goes to show the value of hanging on to your stories.

Also, a big inspiration for writing the novel came, sadly, from having had several students who went on to serve in the Army and lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. I know firsthand what those kids' brothers and sisters have gone through back home in the States -- and how lost we can feel at times. And I wanted to get that message out, too, without necessarily coming off as having a political agenda or being preachy about it. I hope I did what I intended.

And there was a great difference, too, in the immediacy of the Vietnam War in comparison to what's going on today. Today, soldiers' families can stay in almost instantaneous contact with their servicemen, but in the 1970s, it could take weeks just to connect by a letter. So all families could do was sit around and watch the evening news to catch little snippets of images and body counts. That made the whole thing even scarier, I think.

Now... as far as locations are concerned: the locations in my books always have a great deal to do with my life. Even though I am non-specific about the setting in Ghost Medicine (which the kids all read, also), I know exactly where this story takes place. And, when I was a kid, I spent many summers traveling across New Mexico, and have always felt some kind of psychic connection to that land (and I have some relatives who came from the Farmington area, which is where some of the last bits of in the path of falling objects take place).

I also want to say thanks and give a shout-out to the librarians and kids at Fond du lac High School in Fond du lac, Wisconsin for picking in the path of falling objects as one of their featured books for this month's Teen Read Week, and giving my book and website a mention on Fond du lac's KFIZ radio station yesterday.

I hope you have a great week in celebrating terrific books for Young Adult readers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

scary stuff

Today I'm going to talk a little bit about scary stuff.

But I mean that in a good way.

And I'm not dropping names, but I do know that sometimes a couple very good authors of scary stuff stop by here and actually read my blog.

The thing is, when I was a kid, I used to love to read any scary book or novels by Stephen King I could get my hands on. I loved that kind of scary stuff. And now, here I am getting all the final work done on my third book, The Marbury Lens, a departure of sorts from my realistic earlier works because it is pretty damned scary.

People often ask and wonder, I think, if you have to be a little bit twisted to write scary stuff.

Yes. You do.

I think that in order to write content that succeeds in scaring readers, you have to really own and embrace those things that scare you the most. At least, that's just my opinion. But I do often lie awake at night trying to imagine the things that strike the deepest terror in me.

Potato bugs, for example.

I am terrified of potato bugs. So you know what I did? I studied them. I know just about everything you could possibly know about potato bugs: their scientific name, what they eat, where they are found, their life cycle. Knowing that stuff doesn't make them less frightening to me, but I do feel a sense of ownership over something that is truly horrible.

Like potato bugs.

And like the kids of things that happen to some completely innocent (and maybe not so innocent) characters in a place I've had dozens of nightmares about, called Marbury.

But there aren't any potato bugs in Marbury. Way worse stuff than that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

cone of silence

Well, since I've been keeping a running account thus far about where I am in the work cycle, let me jump out of the topic just a bit and talk about running.

Because I am now putting myself into the "Cone of Silence."

Nobody is talking to me. I'm not talking to anyone.

I've run in (and completed) around 30 marathons in my life. Yes... the ones that are actually 26.2 miles long. I consider myself to be a former marathoner, though, because the last one I ran was about 4 years ago (and I got my fastest time in it, too).

Writing is kind of like running a marathon.

Except you're sitting down, and not running.

And you can drink beer or coffee while doing it, and you usually won't spill it down your chest.

But there's nobody standing on the side of the road cheering you on.

And you don't have to wear special shoes when you do it.

But you do hit walls somewhere along the course, every time, and they can hurt like hell.

And when you finish, you ask yourself, "Why the hell did I just do that?"

Monday, October 5, 2009


Okay. It's going good. I've cracked through the revision barrier and may be transitioning into Stage Five, where things get good. Now I can work on The Marbury Lens at my regular pace. But this one is also very different, and it's all Jack's fault.

Friday, I am heading for Nashville and the Southern Festival of Books. The event takes place at the State Capitol Building, War Memorial Plaza, in downtown Nashville. On Saturday, October 10, I will be presenting a panel with author Greg Neri. The panel's title, interestingly enough, is Blood Brothers and Drug Smugglers, and will be held in Room 30 at 11:00 AM to 12 noon.

Afterward, I will be signing books in the "Signing Colonnade," which is directly across from the bookseller's stands and adjacent to the War Memorial Auditorium.

Should be good.

Then, the following weekend I'll be down in San Diego to kick off Teen Read Week at the Poway Branch of the San Diego Public Library. I'll have a lot more information on this posted here in the next week, and you can also read about some of the Teen Read Week news on the News Page from the Ghost Medicine Website.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

what you hear

What do you listen to when you write?

I can't listen to anything when I'm working. I need only silence and white noise: coffee brewing, a rooster outside, wind, stuff like that. If there are any human sounds like conversation, music, or (God forbid) a television going on anywhere detectable to me in my house I absolutely can not work.

This may be why I become so tyrannical in Stage Four.

I don't mean to suggest that I don't love to listen to music, because I do. In fact, I make up playlists of artists and albums that I enjoy listening to concurrently with my work on a particular project -- but never while I am actually sitting at the keyboard.

I thought about this because of a couple comments from friends to me on Facebook recently... and how I've been listening to a couple old albums by David Bowie quite a bit lately. Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs make a hell of a good playlist for me as I work on the final tweaks on The Marbury Lens because, like this book, the albums evoke such a grim sense of being lost in a future world that offers only passing moments of comfort.

So... how does music play a role in your writing process?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

and so it begins

I thought about it for a few days, planned on this, and now I've started working as of this morning.

The revision work has begun. Look out for Stage Four.

When I start working on a revision, I usually go very slowly on the first day or so. But, then when I get into the rhythm of things, I can sometimes get through 70 or more pages in one day. Seriously.

This one will be a test, though, because the character who tells the story of The Marbury Lens is rather volatile and tilts toward self-destructiveness. So I have to be careful about what this does to ME on the other side of the page, but, at the same time, I realize what's expected of me and know that this manuscript really does deliver.

Just... oh well... Stage Four. Let me apologize in advance. I can already feel it setting in. My editor says this will likely be the final revision, claims to have been "judicious" with the line edits.

That's a funny word. Judicious could be a good thing as it pertains to line edits, or it could mean you totally suck (see Stage Two). In the case of The Marbury Lens, though, I think it may be a good thing. As I flip through the script, I don't see the usual battle map of squiggly pencil marks.

Which maybe means I am learning how to write.


If you get a chance, pop over to my friend Bill Konigsberg's Blog about writing (from October 1). It's really short, but good stuff. I don't know if it's his quote or someone else's, but it is so true what he says about staying in the room.

Friday, October 2, 2009

waiting for me

So there were a few things waiting for me when I got back home from Europe. Most importantly, and surprisingly, all of my animals were still alive and present. Better yet, the cats had not dragged any corpses in through their kitty door.

And, on my doorstep, were piled four boxes -- two cases of audiobooks and two cases of hardback copies of in the path of falling objects. And... yes, you can get it in bookstores now -- so, if your local bookseller isn't shelving it, do everyone in your community a favor -- be a hero to them -- and ask your bookseller to order it in. You will not regret doing so.

And speaking of waiting for me, I'd like to add another comment about yesterday's post about dealing with revisions. I am presently on Stage Two, but I am confident that I will organize my thoughts and get down to actual work on this by Saturday, Swine Flu or no. So, that's waiting for me, too.

I'll be completely honest -- I actually am very eager to work on this enormous thing again, because there's something about it that keeps hooking me in and taking control of me. It's just that when I do these kinds of things, I have to let the ideas (see Stage Two) percolate in my head for a couple of days before I actually sit down to the mental and very physical task of getting it out straight.

If that makes any sense.

So now, the great big giant THEY will have to wait for ME.

And, after one day of work, I will know, exactly to the day, when I will be finished. Yeah... I'm weird like that.

This weekend, look for updates on the Ghost Medicine Website regarding Teen Read Week (October 19 - 23). I've picked up a number of new gigs that week and want to be sure to give props to the schools, libraries, and Mrs. Nelson's Book Store for asking me to participate in this great week for our teen readers.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

five steps

Okay. So, the other day I mentioned how I'd received a revision package from my editor, but that I was only in Stage One, so I couldn't really talk about it. Well, I'm over that now and have come to realize that it just may be that I have something important (or not) to say about the writing process for those who aspire to go into this self-flagellating vocation.

First of all, this is my third -- yes, third -- book, The Marbury Lens, which will be coming out in 2010. And, having received the editorial letter, I realized that with every book I've written so far, I have gone through a similar process in dealing with the edits.

A kind of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 5-step process in coming to terms with working with my editor and revising my work. If you are unfamiliar with Kubler-Ross, she is responsible for identifying "The Five Steps of Grief" -- Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I think these steps have a lot in common with the revision process, so here I submit MY Five Stages of Coming to Terms with Revisions:

Stage One: "Skimming"

Skimming is the first thing that happens with an editorial letter. During this event, the subject refuses to sit down and actually read the entirety of the letter, choosing instead to skim through it for words like "perfection" and "brilliant." Very much like Kubler-Ross' Denial, during this stage, the subject may also internally vocalize such statements as... Gee, why is this letter so long when it only takes a few words to express how brilliant and flawless my work is? Sheesh... windbag editors!

Stage Two: "I am a Douchebag. I Can't Do This. I am Incompetent. I Totally Suck"

During Stage Two, the subject has actually taken the time to read the fucking letter. This is when he will usually begin to realize that the editorial diagnosis was correct, a second opinion from the buddy who still owes him a six-pack of Coors Light for kicking his ass at Polish Horseshoes is unwarranted, and the editor has made some keen observations -- leaving a trail of Zen-like, unanswerable questions that frequently result in thoughts of suicide, cutting off one's typing fingers and running away to become "Flipper Boy" in the circus, or any number of self-destructive and career-ending missteps.

Stage Three: "Postponing the Deadline"

"If only I can buy more time," the subject bargains with himself during Stage Three, "then maybe I can do something truly significant with my life -- like organizing my iTunes library." It is while in Stage Three that the subject will attempt to devise a deadline date that is either unreasonably impossible to meet, or falls during a time when the editor is on vacation where there are no cell phones or internet access.

Stage Four: "Commencing the Operation"

During this stage, the subject has resigned himself to the inevitable: it's not going to write itself, douchebag. As Kubler-Ross suggests for step 4 of grief, there's no sense trying to cheer the author up at this point, he is going to be a miserable, foul-mouthed, impossible-to-live-with sonofabitch once he actually begins the work and admits to himself, "Gee! I'm on page one of 412. I hate myself. Death is too pleasant an option for someone as wretched as I. Yippee! Now I'm halfway through the first sentence on page one of 412."

Stage Five: "The Revelation"

It all boils down to this: At Stage Five, the subject finally realizes that only now can words like "perfection" and "brilliant" be applied to the work. He has gone through the first four steps, struggled with understanding his directions, and allowed himself to be guided into producing something far better in quality than he might have done on his own.

Unfortunately, he may revert to Stage Two as a result of this revelation.