Monday, May 31, 2010


It is a rare Sunday when I actually have planned to write something on the blog. Well, come to think of it, it's a rare anyday, since I usually just start typing random stuff at 3 a.m. or so.

But I'm not going to write about what I'd planned, because I noticed a kind of trend that has been popping up on other blogs that I follow, so I wanted to chime in here -- which, I suppose, is kind of like copying from your seatmate's exam. But you know what they say: all -- naturally, with the exception of excessive use of exclamation points -- is excusable in blogging.

The topic of the week seems to be about characters. On Lia Keyes's blog, she asked, "How do you make your readers care about your protagonist's plight?" (Okay. Lia can get away with using the word "plight." She's English).

And over on Tabitha Olson's blog, she provides some very comprehensive profile sheets for creating major and minor characters.

Well, there are conceivably limitless different approaches to writing, and both of these posts (Tabitha's is more nuts-and-bolts, and Lia's -- you'll want to look through the comments -- is perhaps more organic. And British.) can be very helpful depending on your own needs as a writer, so they're worth checking out.

In my case, I neither worry about making my readers care about my protagonist's perils (ha... that's a way more Englishy word than "plight," and there's something about the rebel in me that bristles at the thought of "making" people feel certain ways) nor do I fill out comprehensive profiles on the people in my books.

You know why? Because, besides being the spitting image of Gertrude Stein, I am insane. I'm pretty sure I have MPD -- Multiple Personality Disorder. Just ask anyone who's spent more than two hours in my company and they'll confirm my diagnosis. My moods don't swing, they ricochet.

I don't make stuff up about my characters because all of my characters are me. And the few who aren't actually me are real people with whom I have interacted or observed closely over the course of my life.

I suppose that when I run out of mes (That's the plural of "me." Duh. One of my personalities likes to break things when people use apostrophes to pluralize.) that I will stop writing, but I have a feeling that's not going to happen before I get out 20 or 30 more books.

I have only begun to dip small spoonfulls from that dark and polluted well.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

be(long)ing and (no)thingness

I realized after talking to a few of my writer friends this week that I really don't belong to anything. Of course, my friends are really cool, and they assure me that writers, by nature, tend to be reclusive, outsiders.

But I don't know if that's true. Whenever I take part in events where there are lots of writers, I always see great gobbed-up clusters of them that all apparently belong to things -- groups, organizations, movements, clubs, and so on.

But not me. I'm usually the guy with the penned-in name badge ("Oh! We're sorry, Mr. Smith! We seem to have not issued a credential for you! Here, let me write your name in crayon on a lanyard from last year's conference!"), getting patted down at a row of urinals by a keen-eyed security guard who followed me into the restroom after zeroing in on the suspicious crayoned-in credential.

And yes, that has happened to me.

Part of it has to do with the fact that I live so far away from anything. It is true that it's 20 miles to the nearest traffic light from my home.

So I do belong to this group of writers in Los Angeles (which is NOT where I live) called LAYAs (Los Angeles YA Authors), but none of them knows who I am or even what I look like.

This is because there are no Starbucks where I live. So I can't sit down with crossed legs and use their free WiFi plus my laptop to write. And I can't meet my writer friends over a soy latte (I had my first one two days ago and I have to admit that in Hell, I anticipate being very thirsty and being given a choice, from Satan, between soy lattes, Clorox, or piss to drink) and discuss character development and story arcs (which are, like, the only two "writer terms" I can think of since I do not belong to anything that uses such terminology).

So I'll tell you what I look like, in case you ever wonder who's the guy with the crayon-scrawled name badge getting tased on the bathroom floor. I look exactly like Gertrude Stein, except I have a bit of a beard. Well, if Gertrude Stein had a beard, I'd be a dead ringer for her.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

tracking changes

  • I was informed yesterday that my latest book In the Path of Falling Objects was honored by the Children's Literature Council with a 2010 CLC Book Award, "Distinguished Work of Fiction." So, my book and I get to go out to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles this November to receive the award. Needless to say, this is very exciting.

  • A few days after that event, I'll be heading up to the Bay Area, on November 11 to do a reading/signing at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, CA, with my good friend Lewis Buzbee (and, I'm told, some notable and distinguished friends in the audience, too). And this will come just in time for the release (November 9) of The Marbury Lens.

  • More ALA news: Well, I found out something ultra-cool that's going to be happening for me and The Marbury Lens at ALA, but I'm going to wait on that. I will promise my librarian friends that I'll have some really cool stuff for them, though, and we'll have our discussion guide ready to go, too. But I do know I will be one of the authors at the YA Authors' Coffee Klatch on Sunday, June 27 at 8:30 a.m. From there, I am doing an author's luncheon presented by the OLOS Subcommittee on Bookmobiles from 10:30 - 1:00. Then, I'm going to be rushing out to the Feiwel and Friends booth (2812) from 2:00 - 3:00 to sign advance copies of The Marbury Lens. I'd like to thank whoever decided NOT to put me signing at the same time as John Green and David Levithan, and I will advise people looking for a copy of The Marbury Lens to come early. We will run out of them.

  • And, speaking of The Marbury Lens, if you're on Goodreads, pop over there and vote for it for the best YA book covers of 2010. It's not like that's anything to do with the great big giant ME, it's about Rich Deas, the incredible artist who designed the cover (he's Feiwel and Friends' Art Director). And, honestly, it really is the best cover of 2010.

  • Finally, while I was looking up schedules and stuff for my upcoming events, I found an online PDF version of Square Fish's Fall 2010 Catalog, and I was thrilled to see the new paperback version of Ghost Medicine inside. It's a rush to see this book coming out again... and it's my first paperback... with an all-new cover that is totally cool. Here it is:

Friday, May 28, 2010

no trees were harmed in the posting of this blog

Back when I first started writing, everything was done on paper. At my first job, I can remember how nice it was when I got to use my first electric typewriter. Electric typewriters were particularly good because you didn't have to be exceedingly strong to make decent carbon copies. Carbon paper was also something we used back then.

Sometimes when I talk to kids, I'll show them a typewriter and ask if any of them has ever used one. I don't have any carbon paper any more, though.

It wasn't actually too long ago when I got talked into/decided to get my first novel published, and even then it was still a paper publishing world. The horrible query letter that I sent to my agent was on paper, and it included a self-addressed stamped envelope which was thankfully never used, so I guess my agent got a stamp AND me. I probably should have thrown in a Honus Wagner card or something, just to make it fair for her.

Ultimately, I had to also print out that novel and send the entire thing to her. It did eventually get published, but I had to print out several copies that ended up on desks somewhere in New York.

Lots and lots of paper.

I don't print out anything I write anymore. Since those days, I'm pretty sure everything has gone electronic. My editor tells me that you can't tell an editor from a Kindle fan on the subway any longer, because editors aren't carrying around great rubber-banded heaps of paper, too.

Still, there's something that really appeals to the minimalist in me when I look at plain pages with print on them.

I thought about this for two reasons. First, I was sitting with a friend last week and he asked me about how frequently I save copies of things when I write. I told him about every 50 pages or so, I go through a ritual: burning and hiding CDs, mailing multiple copies to different email addresses, and so on. And he said, fifty pages? That's a lot to make up if you lose it.

Yeah. Not really.

Then I was thinking about pages for another reason, too. A kind of convoluted smith-mind-trip reason. Yeah. Here it is: I love listening to music, especially obscure, independent music. Some of the stuff I listen to is very sparse and minimalist: often just a voice and one acoustic guitar -- something like that. But some of it, and you can probably think of examples, is so entwined with modern technology that the music simply could not be replicated in the absence of all kinds of gadgets and wires and panels.

So I was wondering if the emerging e-book/iPad thing was going to have the same effect on storytelling, too: that the technology would become so interlaced with the process that the "words" part couldn't stand alone in the absence of the microprocessor part. You know, maybe you'll be reading about a bomb going off and your iPad will shake like a Playstation controller... something like that.

I am not excited by the prospect.

And as ridiculous as that sounds, it is going to happen.

But those guys who get out there and write and sing with just their voice and acoustics still have audiences, so I guess there will always be people around who just like sitting around with a few squiggly black lines on a blank white page, too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

the wrote and the writ

Further proof that time is relative: For writers, there is this period that comes along during the months before your book comes out when time absolutely moves at a crawl. That's where I am right now: the Sargasso Sea of Coming Soon.

I picked up a book the other day, but I didn't like it, and now it's made me not want to read. When I read a book I don't like, I never name it by name. Oh, there was the book I threw against a wall back in 2008 (I tried reading it twice, so many people praised it... but I ended up throwing it against a wall on my second attempt and then I donated it to a library), and there was the hilariously crappy 2009 book I read that lots of people lavished their praise upon that was so bad I laughed out loud at some of the sentences (and it was supposed to be serious). In fact, it was so bad, I've kept it around just to cheer myself up with when I'm feeling glum about how slowly time passes when I'm waiting for a book release.

In defense of my daughter's teacher (not to stay on any one point too long), I realize that there are kids who, if you don't tell them a minimum length of verse for a poetry project, would pick a haiku about baseball or something, so the teacher, by imposing a 20-line requirement, was just playing the stop-the-dumb-kids-in-their-tracks card. But the problem is that there is now this subliminal teaching going on about what a poem is and isn't (see yesterday's post). It's kind of like the young writer I worked with this year, who, when I suggested that he make one of his paragraphs only one sentence long, asked if it wasn't the case that paragraphs had to have at least five sentences in them.

We just have to be careful when we lay down the rules, especially to the smart kids.

(Checks the clock).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the meter and the math

I've written before about how most schooling and educational practices destroy the innate creative impulse in children. I'm not saying that schools are intentionally evil, but, by their insistence on clinging to regimented, cookie-cutter, standardized, photocopied, one-size-fits-the-dumbest methodologies, they do inadvertently sow the seeds for our future mediocrity.

Here's why I hate what schools do to kids.

Yesterday, as we were getting ready to have dinner (have I mentioned that my family has dinner together every day? Sometimes, when I'm out and about, maybe at seven in the evening, I'll see some kids walking on the street and I can't help but wonder if those kids had dinner at home, or, as I suspected, if they were just expected to fend for themselves)... Okay, so we were about to have dinner, and my daughter asked me if I knew of any good poems that were about 20 lines in length, for a project she had to do for school.

I will admit that I'm not too good with poetry, and what I do know of it makes me a bit of a snob. Usually, when kids ask me to critique a poem they've written or something like that, I lamely make the excuse that I don't know anything about poetry and I'm a snob about it anyway.

But, to be perfectly honest, I do know a little bit.

So I told my daughter it was a no-brainer for me. I told her to go on the internet and look up Wallace Stevens' The Emperor of Ice Cream. I think it is one of the greatest pieces of poetry ever written in American English (and yes, for poetry, I would make distinctions for dialect). It is not only perfect in its meter, imagery, and structure, I explained, but the poem contains everything you could ever care about: sex, food, beauty, desire, self-denial, loneliness, and death.

So my daughter went off to look up the poem.

She came back a few minutes later, and my wife asked her if she liked the poem.

My daughter said, yes, she liked it, but she couldn't use it because it only has 16 lines and the teacher told the class their poems had to have a minimum of twenty.

I guess I must have missed that lesson in poetry class when I went to school:

Poem > 20.

So I said to my girl, "Oh. I guess it's a math class project, rather than an English one."

Which wasn't what I really wanted to say, but my daughter gets scared when I cuss in anger, so I bit my tongue.

I am a teacher, and I hate what schools can do to kids.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the end of the strategy

I realize that my Twitter Strategy has failed to take hold and that I have been unable to discipline myself into Tweeting every Tuesday and follow the suggestion made by Allen Zadoff.

I guess it's one thing to have a strategy, and another thing entirely to actually follow through on it.

Back to work.

Monday, May 24, 2010

the long and short of it

I have a heck of a time coming up with a tagline for anything I've ever written, yet, lately I've had to work on some short synopses of certain things for various reasons. A tagline, which is even worse than a synopsis, is the answer to how would you summarize your book in one sentence?

I feel completely helpless when I'm asked to do something like that. Not that I'm comparing myself to the artist, but when I was at the MOMA last month, I stood in front of Monet's Water Lilies. I wonder what he would have done if someone asked him to make it smaller. Like the size of a Post-it note.

The reason I have such a difficult time with such things as synopses is that I consider myself to be a holistic writer -- someone who starts with a dim image of the entire canvas and then works until all the surface details are filled in. Other authors I know, the recipe writers, use things like graphic organizers, index cards, charts, and --ugh!-- outlines. Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of writing. I just can't do that, either.

Because if I was working on filling out a chart, or making a perfect outline, once I finished with those tasks I'd feel like I had done what I set out to do, and that would be that. In my mind, the end goal of making an outline or a flowchart is the outline or the flowchart.

The recipe is the abbreviation of the cake. Since it can't be eaten, I won't be bothered with it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

the anomaly

One thing I should have added to yesterday's post is that I also have a first-scheduled post-release event coming up for The Marbury Lens (whose official release date is November 9).

In November, I'll be going up to the Bay Area to do an appearance and reading with my friend Lewis Buzbee at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland on November 11. Lewis's terrific (Trust me, I read it) novel The Haunting of Charles Dickens comes out in October, so we'll both have something new to celebrate and share. More details as the date approaches.

But Lewis and I, besides being friends and both dedicated fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers, share some strange coincidental linkages in our writing. In 2008, my first novel, Ghost Medicine came out, the same week as his Steinbeck's Ghost. And, without reading each other's books until after they were out in ARC form this year, we both kind of shook our heads and wondered at the strange coincidental "echoes" between The Marbury Lens and The Haunting of Charles Dickens. Both books take place (mostly) in London. In fact, both books have particularly important parts that take place, specifically, around Regent's Park and on or near Marylebone Road. Both books also have a character who is a ghost -- but not a typical "book ghost" -- the ghost characters in our books are important, developed, and realer than ghosts usually are. Oh, both books also have disgusting bugs in them too. But Lewis's has a cake.

And, speaking of celebrations, we are saying goodbye to our secret location today. The winds have come up fiercely at the beach, so it's a fine day to head for home and re-cake.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

books and the beach

Next month, as I've mentioned, I'll be going to Washington DC for the ALA Annual Conference. I know a couple things I'll be doing, too.

On Sunday, June 27, I'll be part of the most fun event they have at ALA: The YA Authors Coffee Klatch, which is from 8:30 - 10:00 a.m. Last year, in the Green Room before the event in Chicago, I got to sit and talk with Sarah Dessen. About breastfeeding.

Later that day, I'll be speaking at a session, at 11:00. The topic, I think, has to do with bookmobiles -- something that strikes a sad chord in my heart for reasons I will reveal at some point closer to the Washington conference.

Then, the coolest part of the day: That afternoon, I'll be signing and giving away galleys of The Marbury Lens at the Feiwel and Friends booth. I'll put more details about the specific locations of these events when I find them out, because if you're going to ALA and you want a TML galley, you're going to want to be on time. They'll be gone, I'm sure, in minutes.

And, speaking of The Marbury Lens, and, also how it is so difficult for me to come up with an answer when someone asks me about my favorites (books, authors, movies, cakes, totalitarian dictators), a friend just sent me this link from Mrs. Nelson's Book Shop about Lauren's Favorite Books. Great, fantastic list, and Thank you, Lauren. (Also check out the Mrs. Nelson's Book Awards link...)

So... who is your favorite all-time totalitarian dictator?

Friday, May 21, 2010

let the weekend

This weekend I will be posting from a secret location. A secret location with cake. Because tomorrow is my daughter's 13th birthday, which means it's time for me to start getting serious about the whole arranged-marriage thing for her.

I had a groom lined up for her, but I found out two disturbing things about him: He plays Dungeons and Dragons, and he owns no cattle.

I know.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

see if you can fit it on the paper

I'll be honest. I totally love getting mail from readers, and I answer all of it. Not that the volume of it is totally overwhelming or anything, which may have something to do with the lack of certain undead bloodsuckers or girls who fall in love with cursed, yet remarkably attractive monsterboys.

But the other day, I received a stack of real, honest-to-god, paper letters from kids at a high school I recently visited, where I gave a talk about being a writer. I thought I'd share a few excerpts from them here:

...Having you at our school helped me concentrate and focus more on my writing. (PS) You inspire me!

...I would love to study English and write novels, but it isn't a high enough success rate for me to depend on. So it will always be my goal to write, but I also have to remember my priorities and get a steady job for my family and all.

...Honestly, I do not read nearly as much as a young man my age should, but hearing some of your accomplishments inspired me to get out and read more. It opened my eyes and made me see reading more often on my own will only help me in the long run. Before your presentation, I did not exactly think that way.

...I often have ideas for stories and your advice on just writing down everything, even if it's not perfect, has given me a new perspective on writing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

magic eight ball

This week, since I have received this question multiple times from people I know, I will answer it here: No.

If you don't know the question, then you could just imagine what it may be.

I am afraid of those things like "Magic 8 Balls." I never look at them. Nor do I ever read a horoscope. And don't even think of messing around with tarot cards or anything like that around me. Maybe that makes me even more superstitious than people who believe in such things.

But somehow I'm convinced that if the great big giant ME ever shook up a Magic 8 Ball or opened the paper to the Daily Horoscope page, I would see something like:

Today is the day of the supervolcano. It will instantly obliterate 90% of all life on the planet. You will survive for exactly two and a half more days and then die, cold, in darkness, gasping for oxygen. Have a nice day!!!

That's why I never look.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

this must be the place

With places, it's all different. Some of the places in my books are real, but a lot of them are made up. I invent the names and layouts of towns and communities (Three Points, in Ghost Medicine, or Los Rogues, from In the Path of Falling Objects) just because I don't want to be constrained to making things a certain way or including things that are unnecessary.

That said, I wouldn't be able to write about places that I've never been, and feel a deep connection to the places in those two books (and I do throw in some "real" places, too).

The Marbury Lens is a bit different, though. The only "made-up" place in that book is the central California town where Jack and Conner grow up. And there are plenty of concrete details about the other "this side" places -- London, Blackpool, Harrogate, Leeds, and Kent -- where Jack spends some time (I've spent quite a bit of time in those places myself).

I'll even drop a serious clue here about the walled city the boys find in Marbury, and even its name -- it's also a real place from the world on "this side," a place I've also been to.

Monday, May 17, 2010

naming names

So about this name thing. I'll be honest. About a week ago, someone who'd read The Marbury Lens asked me where I got the name "Marbury." And I just kind of brushed him off and said I don't know.

I do that sometimes, say I don't know when I really do know but I just don't feel like answering the question. Does that make me a bad person? Now, I'm thinking, what if I really don't know and I say I don't know? People are going to think I'm being a dick.

So here's the truth. When I wrote The Marbury Lens, I was just planning on writing a kind of psychological/mystery/suspense thing about what happens to Jack in California. But, during the writing, I had a kind of intense dream about this other place called Marbury -- the place in the book -- and it was just like it was in the book. And, when I was dreaming it I knew I was going to write a story about it (I keep a pad of paper and a pen beside my bed and I wrote a few things down after I forced myself out of the dream). And this may make you wonder, but I really don't know why the place in my dream was called Marbury.

It just was.

Character names are different. Some character names just kind of come to me. A lot of times, I will start writing a novel and then change the main character's name after I am well into writing the story. This is one reason why I couldn't imagine writing without a computer. Some of the names in The Marbury Lens changed multiple times before I was satisfied.

Sometimes, I research names. Since Nickie and Rachel (characters in the book) were from England, I looked up websites from schools in England, just so I could find common girls' names that sounded good to me. But Nickie is Swedish (she's named after a real person I knew when I was a teen) -- short for Annika (which I never revealed in the book).

A lot of the names of characters I write about are actually taken from people I know, too. Sometimes I tell the people that I've named characters after them. After all, they're only names. I never write about people I know. Well, at least it's not obvious when I do. All told, in The Marbury Lens, there are about half a dozen characters who are named after people I've known.

And sometimes I use names for characters that happen to be the same name of someone that I actually know, but there was no way I intentionally named the character after that person -- if that makes any sense. Some names, after all, are just names, and after writing the number of novels and stories I have, you kind of start running out of names unless you want to get all hippie-ish. But, if you ask me, would I ever consider reading a book where the main character is named Moonshadow, the answer would have to be:

I don't know.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

long cat wraps around the solar system


I always have cool swag when I go to the American Library Association Annual conference. This is the front of the bookmark we'll be giving out with the galleys for The Marbury Lens.

On the back of the card is the following:

Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly, but when his best friend Conner concocts a scheme to get even with Jack’s abductor, something goes horribly wrong.

Jack is tormented by guilt, and when his California family sends him away to school in England, his paranoia consumes him. He is convinced people are watching him, following him.

Someone is.

Henry has been waiting for Jack to show up in London, and when he arrives, Henry dupes Jack into taking a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, Jack sees another world called Marbury.

There is war and disease in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys named Ben and Griffin. Jack’s best friend Conner is there in Marbury, too. But in Marbury, Conner is trying to kill Jack.

A few days ago, a high school student who was one of the few people on the planet to receive a this-early advance copy of The Marbury Lens asked me about names in the book, and why I chose to name this place "Marbury" -- if it had anything to do with anything.

Fair enough question.

So, tomorrow, I'm going to write a post about where names come from -- at least for me -- and what sometimes happens to them along the way.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

the write place

A few days back, I posted something about being torn between two simultaneous projects and not knowing which one I should pay attention to. I thought about it for a while, and I realized that there is no reason for me to be working right now, because my head is not in the right place for writing. So I stopped. Boom. After 100 pages of work.

Just like that.

What's the "right place" for your head to be in for writing? Well, I definitely know where the "right place" isn't.

And it's not an excuse; and I certainly don't believe in writer's block, but just as there are certain times when you should not be operating heavy machinery and motor vehicles, there are also times when you should not be writing. Well, unless you've got an essay due at school or something, in which case all I can say is tighten your chin strap and watch out for innocent bystanders.

But kids, don't let that make you hate writing. It's not the writing you want to do. It's survival writing, like treading water when you fall off a cruise ship. But the writing you want to do --- well, just don't attempt it when you're in the do-not-get-behind-the-wheel state of mind.

Trust me.

A couple weeks ago, I received a copy of the book Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook, by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.

I sat down and read the book in one day. It is beyond terrific, and will stay permanently on top of my desk.

Until it gets buried, which, by the rate at which matter accumulates on my desktop will happen sometime after lunch. But then I'll just have to dig it out because it's one of those books where you can open it to any page and find some words that just make absolutely perfect sense.

Let me tell you a little bit about the book -- not so much in the way of reviewing it. I am lucky enough to own an autographed copy. Ellen Potter was nice enough to send me one when I told her about my young writers' group of high school students (mostly boys, mostly grade 12). The book is supposed to be for younger kids -- like grades 6 - 9 -- but, I'm, like, are you kidding me???.

This is a book that anyone who's starting out, looking for some tips, wondering how other writers approach common obstacles, simply must read. No matter how young or old you are. Seriously.

It is really that good. The fact that the "voice" of the book is accessible (but not preachy) enough for 6th-graders does not detract in any way from the value of the content.

When I speak to groups, I am frequently asked things like where writers should go to school, what they should study, and if I have any good book recommendations for writers. No doubt, Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook is always going to be waved around (provided it doesn't get buried on my desk).

And teachers and schools: Listen up. This is the book you've been asking for. We need books like Spilling Ink in our classrooms, so we can help kids connect with and rediscover the kind of writing that gives them joy -- the kind of writing that they want to do, as opposed to the kind of writing that merely keeps their heads above water from one grading period to the next.

Friday, May 14, 2010

just great

The Feiwel and Friends Fall 2010 catalog is accessible online here. You should give it a look. It's really a beautiful catalog and there are some terrific titles coming out (but, then again, I may be biased).

This is the back cover of the catalog, a no-text cover image from The Marbury Lens. I think it looks amazing. And I've seen some of the other art elements that are going into the jacket design, too... and I just have to say this is one of the overall coolest cover concepts ever.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

in orbit

Something like 800 people have signed up to win a copy of The Marbury Lens on Goodreads. That's a good thing.

The other day, my editor sent me a note to let me know that the galleys are in orbit -- they've been sent out all over the country, along (here and there) with a letter I wrote about the origins of The Marbury Lens.

Because it's not just an oh-i'll-make-up-a-dystopic-science-fiction-story-because-people-seem-to-be-reading-them-now-and-most-of-the-ones-out-there-just-don't-have-balls books, The Marbury Lens actually came from somewhere. But that's all I'll say.

Anyway, my editor just wanted to give me the heads-up in case people started asking questions about it.

People seem to like asking questions about the book. Which is why, as we did with Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects, we are making a discussion guide for The Marbury Lens, and plan on having it available when I go to Washington DC next month for the American Library Association's Annual Conference.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

moods for moderns

It's Tuesday. The third Tuesday in a row. Time to make myself tweet.

I got an email from someone last week saying that if I really wanted a psychopath to find me and kill me that I shouldn't put it on Twitter, I should put it on Craig's List, whatever that is. I tried LinkedIn, but -- go figure -- nobody on that site is honest about being a stalker/murderer, because I am certain there are plenty members who should include that on their profiles.

So, anyway, for my TweetPeeps, here are the final suggestions for ways to rob and murder me, if you are so inclined:

  • I am allergic to bee stings.
  • I will be wearing a hat today.
  • Not to make this too easy, but on my next scheduled flight, I will be sitting in seat 25C.
  • I never shake out my shoes to check for scorpions.
  • I always sit with my back to the door at my favorite bar.
  • You do the math: Gas grill. Back deck.
  • Trash day is Thursday.

Monday, May 10, 2010

creativity crisis

We've brought this up before on here, and had some lively discussions about whether or not every story that can possibly be told has already been written. To restate my assertion, the answer is no, there are countless new, original stories out there just waiting for someone to tell them.

Believing everything has already been told (puhLEASE don't comment back with the old "there are only two stories..." bit) is kind of like believing that there will be no more innovative inventions dreamed up, no more architectural advances, no more discoveries in math or science.

Because creativity is the engine that drives those things, just as it is the force behind writing.

So, if you believe there are no more stories to be told, get out of the way and drop into the ranks of the followers, where you belong.

A couple days ago, I wrote about how the writing regimen we subject kids to in school saps them of their creativity and makes them hate writing. I've seen it happening first-hand for years.

Remember how exciting it was, when you were in school, and you first learned to read and write? If you have kids, as I do, remember how amazing it was for you and your children when they first began building little words and sentences from letters? So, why do so many kids hate words by the time they get into high school?

A couple days ago, I wrote that throughout their entire schooling, the emphasis in writing for kids has steered them only toward linear, highly structured, expository writing.

The evil, consciousness-destroying "chunk paragraph."

But, deep down, kids really want to write. They want to be creative. But there is no room for coaching those abilities along in the school day, and the formulaic, structured, anti-inventive kind of writing they're boxed into churning out at school not only weakens their creative impulse, it actually makes them hate writing.

It's almost like there's a plot afoot... a conspiracy against creativity in the new and improved, standardized world.

This probably explains why Hollywood is churning out remake after remake, or draining the life out of ideas by resuscitating the tired corpses of sequel upon sequel. And, sadly enough, even in writing, we see the increasing trendiness of the "modern retelling" or, worse yet, the "modern retelling with werewolves."

This is really very sad, and it's sadder, still, that the viewing/buying public puts up with it.

Because what would happen if people suddenly refused to spend a dime of their pocket money on seeing a remake of a movie, or purchasing a retold novel?

It would kind of be like what would happen if everyone suddenly refused to eat fast food.

There would still be plenty to eat.

And there are plenty of stories left to be told, too, but we need to help kids find their way back to that essential component of being a human they've been steered away from: the drive to create.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

splitting pages

Last year, when I was speaking in San Francisco, I met a fellow author of Young Adult fiction, who told me that he liked to work on multiple projects -- three or more -- all at the same time.

And I was, like, Are you insane? How can you possibly do that?

He assured me that working on multiple projects simultaneously was the only way to go -- that he'd never have it any other way.

I mention this because I currently find myself well into writing two completely different things (and by "well into," I mean, like 100 pages) at the same time. As I suspected, it's making me insane, and I'm beginning to feel like writing two things at once -- combined -- is going to take more time overall than writing one thing first, and a second thing... um... second.

So I'm finding myself, in the mornings, opening up two files and skipping back and forth. Oh, and these two things couldn't possibly be more unlike one another if I tried. So it kind of feels like skipping back and forth between worlds, kind of like a certain character I know in a book that's coming out in November.

And it's making me crazy, so I am trying to decide which world to ignore for a while.

Now, since I am rambling, and it's Mother's Day, which means nobody is going to be sitting at home reading rambling blog posts, I have a couple random thoughts about writing YA.

A while ago I was talking to another writer and I mentioned that I wrote Young Adult fiction. Then the other writer asked me, Oh, what kind of YA? Vampires or Fantasy?

Not kidding.

My answer was that I write the kind of YA where girls get even with boys for being shallow and dumb.

Second random YA thought: It has to do with yesterday's post and comments, and these generalized boxes we often pack YA into. I was reading a review (I'm carefully going to avoid being too specific regarding titles, etc.) about a recent YA novel that is getting some good press about girls who try to get even with boys for dumping them (kind of like Fatal Attraction but without the psycho element). The reviewer lavished heaps of appreciation for books that portray teen girls as taking charge and being in control. Well... come on now, there aren't too many YA books that paint a contrary picture, are there? And, just for the fun of it, why don't we start listing all the YA titles that portray boys as being dumb, worthy of punishment for dumping or ignoring girls who think their futures are all clearly planned out at the age of seventeen, or boys who are just the mindless objects of girls' summertime obsessions?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

kids who write, kids who read

I've been paying a lot of attention lately to statements made by librarians and teachers of early readers about what boys like to read, and a common thread I've been hearing is something like, when a boy comes into the library, or when it's reading time in my classroom, I guide the boy over to the nonfiction stacks so he can find a book about venomous animals and stuff like that. (Definitely not all librarians and teachers express this... but an awful lot of them do)

I think there's a prevailing misconception out there that boy reader equals reader of nonfiction. Actually, literacy studies have shown that boys have no higher a degree of preference for nonfiction than girls do. Why is there this common buy-in, then, this assumption, that boys want to only read nonfiction?

I have some ideas on this, and they aren't very encouraging as to the creative future of our society. I'd be interested in hearing what readers think about this, though: Why do so many of us "grownups" assume that boy reader equals nonfiction reader?

I'm currently working on a bit for another blog about creative writing and boys. Working with the young writers I've started coaching this year (and I am very happy to say that two of my boys who write have been honored for their short fiction in Mrs. Nelson's 2010 Young Writers Contest), I've found that throughout their entire schooling, the emphasis in writing has steered them only toward linear, highly structured, expository writing.

The evil, consciousness-destroying "chunk paragraph."

But, deep down, kids really want to write. They want to be creative. But there is no room for coaching those abilities along in the school day, and the formulaic, structured, anti-inventive kind of writing they're boxed into churning out at school not only weakens their creative impulse, it actually makes them hate writing.

You don't have to believe me. Go talk to a hundred kids. You'll hear it from them.

So the writing, the reading, the lack of boy-friendly books, the assumptions we make about boys and reading and boys and creative writing -- they're all tied together, and I think it's not too late to undo some knots we've wrapped around kids' futures.

But if you have any ideas on the nonfiction question I posed, then post away.

Friday, May 7, 2010

pride and asphyxiation (advice for murderers 3)

Yesterday, my horses ran away again.

There must be something more than a teensy-bit unsettling for someone, like, when you're driving on a narrow, uninhabited country road and you come around the bend and see two 800-pound horses running at a full gallop straight toward your car.

And I have to admit, I really like that sound.

Not of the horses' hooves clattering on the asphalt.

The terrified, anguished screams, the screech of brakes, the panicked cries of the person at the wheel, "Oh my God, they're going to kill me! They're going to kill me!"

Which reminds me. Tip number three for psycho-stalker-Twitter followers who want to kill me:

3. I would be too embarrassed to admit it if I started choking on a piece of meat while having dinner in a fancy restaurant.

Just in case it ever happens. Like, if you were a psycho-stalker-Twitter-homicidal-maniac, and you happened to be out to dinner with me, and said something to me, like, "Hey, Drew... I bet you a bottle of your favorite whiskey AND front-row tickets to Roger Waters doing The Wall that you can't eat this entire Polska Kielbasa in one bite."

Just sayin'.

It's a pretty decent murder strategy.

Now, what tip for writing goes with asphyxiation?

Naturally, the dreaded exclamation point. I'd like to point out that I used two of them in this blog post, but they were rendered harmless because they were enclosed in quotation marks. Quotation marks are like the Romulan Cloaking Device for exclamation points.

Go ahead, look for them.

Here's why a writer should never use exclamation points, by way of a crude experiment: I am going to rewrite the paragraph above, inserting exclamation points. Observe:

Naturally, the dreaded exclamation point! I'd like to point out that I used two of them in this blog post, but they were rendered harmless because they were enclosed in quotation marks! Quotation marks are like the Romulan Cloaking Device for exclamation points!

Kind of makes you want to slap me, doesn't it?

Kind of makes you want to kill me, eh?

[I think the use of the interrogative form, eh? also makes you want to kill me.]

Tip number 4 coming soon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

death and salad (advice to murderers 2)

Hmmm. I kind of wonder why, ever since I started tweeting ways to rob and kill me advice to psychopaths, that my Twitter following has increased.

If you chum the water enough, I suppose you're bound to see fins breaking the surface eventually.

So here it is, my gift to you, tip number two to offer help for anyone on Twitter who is wondering how to rob me and kill me:

2. I never wash bagged salad.

That's right. Never.

And speaking of bagged salad, you know those birthday cards that make sounds when you open them? They should make bagged salad that does that. They could play advertisements, like for professional food tasters and stuff.

And speaking of advertising, it seems like... back in the good old days of, like, the 90s... remember how we had this national "Do Not Call" registry? And, for years we completely stopped getting phone solicitor sales calls.

What happened? I'm sure getting a lot of them these days. And the other day, I felt bad because I cussed at one. If terrorists really want to destroy America, they'll do it over phone lines, and it will be at dinner time.

Then, in the last couple days, I've gotten two wrong numbers from kids in Mississippi on my cell phone. The second kid's accent was so thick I couldn't understand him, so I asked him to send me a text instead.

Okay. On to writing. I'm sure this all has something to do with my point. Maybe not.

Another true story: I was speaking to a group of people (all aspiring writers themselves), and one of them asked if I could recommend any books about writing. My answer was that every book that's ever been written has a lesson about writing in it, so he should get out and read.

Most of the people in the audience had, I noticed, what-a-smart-ass looks on their faces. So I said that a good book for young people is Anne Mazer's and Ellen Potter's Spilling Ink, which I will be talking about on this blog sometime soon; and for everyone in general, I like Stephen King's On Writing.

Then my questioner followed up with, "Hmmm... Stephen King... On Writing... Do you think that comes in audio? I don't have time to read books."

My lesson from the trenches: to a lot of people "being a writer" is something like Hungry Jack mashed potatoes -- add water and stir (and wear a smoking jacket).

More tips on how to kill me coming up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

advice to murderers

Continuing on with my series of advisory tips to any potential psychos on Twitter who want to rob and kill me, here is tip number one:

1. I never look under my car when I get into it.

Just so you know, too, my car is alarmed, so be careful. I hate car alarms, actually, but mine happens to be one of those super-automatic kinds that can actually produce conscious thought that exceeds the level of intelligence of most writers.

So, be careful.

And, anyway, hearing a car alarm go off up here where I live is every bit as unnerving as hearing a rattlesnake buzz on 5th Avenue in New York City. Not that you'd be able to hear a rattlesnake, because of all the car alarms going off.

I'm going to paraphrase, evade, and hide identities here for just a moment (as I celebrate my cowardice... well, I call it diplomacy), but the reason I made that backhanded jab about how dumb some writers are is that yesterday, a friend pointed out a post on a particular social networking site where an author publicly announced the following (paraphrased here):

Attention, all my writer friends out there: I need help making characters that make sense and are believable. Do you have any advice or know of any books that can show how to do this?

I am not kidding.

A writer actually posted that.

So, I'm, like, (to my friend), "Why is it so okay for writers today to just wave around gigantic banners about how stupid they are?"

I mean, could you imagine, back in the day, Fitzgerald and Hemingway having a chat about something like that? It might have gone something like this:

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: What ho, Ernest (not that I believe for a moment Fitzgerald would have said "what ho," but I need to find a book on how to write dialogue with snappy opening interjections. But I digress. Do over...) What ho, Ernest. Do you have any tips, any nuggets of wisdom, being the clever man that you are, as to how one actually goes about writing a story with a beginning, middle bits, and... an ending?

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: You're a douchebag, Scott.

Remember: if you are a murderer and are not doing anything at the moment, I will tweet daily tips on how to find me and kill me, and how to write stories with "middle bits" as well.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

twits for tuesday

I don't know why I'm struggling with this so much. Here it is, the second Tuesday since I decided to adopt a Twitter Strategy and tweet every Tuesday, and I'm, like, clueless.

I envy those people who can tweet with absolute abandon, freely and openly proclaiming their love for Cinnabon, or how they're stuck in level 4B at the Atlanta airport, as though, somehow, magically, someone else will appear waving a smartphone and shout out, "Me too! Me too! I am here, too!" and then rob and kill them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

let the wenches dawdle in such dress

Well, I know that not too many of my friends ever look at Goodreads, so I lifted this review that was posted by author Brian James. In fairness, Brian didn't rate my book. After all, we work for the same people. But if you've ever read Brian's music reviews, you'll see he has quite a knack for reviewing, and he doesn't pull any punches. Here's his take:

As teen literature continues to be a huge and growing field of publishing, the more mainstream its novels become. When I published my first novel Pure Sunshine, the genre was basically a dead genre. The books that started the new boom were adventurous, daring, and edgy wasn't just a marketing term. There was a sense to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in YA fiction. However, once the genre became an established outlet for bestsellers, there was a reverse pull back to more traditional fiction...more fantasy, flat problem novels, and updated Sweet Valley High books disguised as Chiklet Lit. Hats off to Andrew Smith for not standing for it and pushing back.

The Marbury Lens in an unflinching look at good and evil that not only exists in the world, but also within each of us. Its uncompromising vision of Hell is some of the best post-apocalyptic imagery I've ever encountered. However, it's brutality is not the kind of gore porn we see so often on screen, in this book it's there for a reason and compels and challenges the reader to think, propelling them out of their comfort zone.

Another aspect that I love about this novel is that it remains somewhat open-ended in the conclusions one draws. I know from first-hand experience to responses from my own writing, that some readers don't appreciate this aspect in a book. But I've always felt this to be one of the great things that makes YA Lit what it is. As a teenager, one encounters in order to develop their own ideas. A great YA author doesn't dictate to them, but presents them with a vision and allows them to experience it in their own way.

This is the type of book that YA needs to produce in order to avoid the same fate suffered in the '90s and remain inclusive of teen readers who don't want to read vampire romance.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

let the lamp affix its beam

So there are always going to be lots of things that try to get in the way of the writing. Sometimes I am fascinated by all the things people who want to be writers do to themselves just so they can justify why they aren't actually writing.

But every day starts out with some writing at my house.

And this is one of the reasons why I do write. I keep the windows in my upstairs writing office uncovered. Usually, I'm up there before the sun comes up, but on the weekends, I'll sometimes sleep in until 6 a.m.

This is what my window looked out onto this morning.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

call the roller

Here's the deal: I don't write for anyone except for me. I write the stories that I like to read, and I write them in the narrative style and voice that I like to read. That's all there is to it.

So, a few years ago, when my agent told me she really liked what I wrote, I was kind of flabbergasted. Go ahead, ask her. I never considered the reality of someone else reading my stuff. I never really sat down and thought about it, but, to be perfectly honest, I don't think I ever wanted anyone to read my stuff. It was all too personal. I never even let my family read what I write until after it's published, and even then it kind of creeps me out.

And friends? They are right out. They will never tell you the truth -- they're always "trying" to be positive and stuff... So, if you are an aspiring author... do yourself a favor and keep your "stuff" away from your "friends."

So you can imagine that when my editor and publisher said they liked what I wrote - and that they wanted to publish this incredibly personal stuff that I had no idea would ever actually be READ by anyone, well... that kind of blew me away, too.

I know. I'm an idiot.

Do I respond to criticism well? I think so. But, of the following: Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, School Library Journal, Horn Book Review, Booklist... all of those sources of criticism, I've always felt incredibly flattered by the way they've carefully observed the things I wrote that I never really intended for any eyes but my own.

But you know what eats me up and gives me those why-did-I-ever-want-to-be-a-writer weeks worse than anything? The things some people post on wide-open, come-as-you-are-and-feel-free-to-abuse-apostrophes internet boards like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. Really... not kidding... sometimes the things people post on those sites can make me feel suicidal.

So, I'll share with you a complete review that somebody who obtained an advance copy of The Marbury Lens wrote on Goodreads.


Here it is, the entire review:

"Insightful, gripping, innovative, and dark, The Marbury Lens is nonetheless deeply sad and powerfully disturbing."

And, on the surface, I'm like... wow... those are some incredible adjectives that really describe my work. I can totally live with "insightful, gripping, innovative, and dark." After all, some of the greatest books I've ever read have those qualities. Powerful? Yay!!! [ahem. apologies.] And disturbing? Definitely.

But the reviewer gave the book a 3.


3 out of 5 is like a C.

Here's a picture, to prove it:

Things like that kill me.

Things like that make me have those why-did-I-ever-want-to-be-a-writer weeks.

Okay. I'll stop looking now.