Wednesday, June 30, 2010

more observations from the guy in the corner

Last night, I was lucky enough to take my daughter to her first-ever rock concert, and it was a blast: great venue, the crowd was pure adrenaline, and the band (one of those we-broke-up-but-now-we're-back-together-for-the-first-time shows) played a terrific set.

When we got out of the show, it was very late and we were hungry, so we decided to stop at one of these 24-hour diners (that I haven't been to, I think, since my daughter was born). And I realized how amazing it is for writers to go to low-budget places that serve sit-down meals after midnight because it's kind of like sitting in a multi-screen 3D theater and being able to watch all these amazing performances going on around you.

First, there was the lady with a styrofoam coffee cup holding onto the door when we walked in.

When the waitress came to our table, as usual, she asked if we'd like something to drink.

ME: Do you serve beer?

WAITRESS: Not any more. It caused too many problems.

ME: I bet.

WAITRESS: (Opening the menu and pointing) But we serve all your favorite beverages.

[Side note: I kid you not. She actually said that. All my favorite beverages.]

ME: My favorite beverages are beer and whiskey.

WAITRESS: Ha ha ha. You're very funny.

Then there was the really drunk guy in the booth directly behind my daughter. There was a lady sitting right beside him and he kept saying things like, "I bet you're afraid of me because I'm in court-ordered anger management, aren't you?"

And, "Why do you cry so much? You cry every fifteen minutes. How do you think that makes me feel? I'd like to cry, but I can't."

Then he started talking about the film Dr. Strangelove. I am not making this up. In a moment of brilliance, drunk anger management guy said, "I thought every scene in the movie was great, but when you put them all together, it didn't make any sense."

It was a great night to be alive.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

home again home again

I don't get riled easily.

Yesterday, when I was trying to come home, I got stuck in the DC airport for a while due to a horrendous thunderstorm that stopped them from allowing planes to come to the gates.

I had no problem with the storm or the waiting. I had stuff to do and think about, anyway. But the gate area kept filling up with people who were frantic because their earlier flights had been canceled, people who were pissed off because they were going to miss connecting flights, and people who were arguably -- and, to the point -- insane.

And that can kind of have an influence on you like the second hand smoke at a Neil Young concert. But that's another story.

Soon, every seat in the gate area was taken (which also really gets to me, because I won't work on my laptop when someone is sitting next to me), and people were standing or lying down on the floor. It looked like a bomb shelter on May Day during the Cold War.

Okay. One woman, nicely dressed, professional looking, sitting across from me, kept staring out the windows at the booming lightning and blackout rainfall. And you know how people in these situations will just say things -- ask questions out loud -- even though nobody is really listening to them? (At times like these I try to have the I don't speak English look on my face -- I NEVER say anything to anyone in airports. Ever.)

So, here's what she said:

(I am not making this up)

She said:

"What if the lightning never stops?"

You know, there was a time... like, back in the 40s, I think, when it was perfectly acceptable for someone to slap a person for saying things like that. I could imagine someone, like, say... Richard Widmark, wearing a suit, tie, and fedora just reaching across and slapping a panicked seatmate in an airport for blurting out something like What if the lightning never stops?

And then, he'd probably say something like, "Get a grip on yourself. You're losing your mind."

Everyone standing around would nod, knowingly, and it would get really quiet.

It would also be in black and white.

Then they'd have a cigarette and silently watch the lightning.

Monday, June 28, 2010

from ala (3)

Oh yeah.

I have my finger on the pulse of the publishing biz.

After hobnobbing with the top movers and shakers in literature over the weekend, here is what I found out about the YA world:

1. Brace yourself. Everyone is saying how the hot new trend in characters is going to be living people. I know. That's just too crazy.

2. The "next big monster" is going to be a human being. Sounds like someone's been smoking something.

3. Rich Deas, the artist, really knows his music. We had a great discussion about all the new bands coming from New York. Honestly, Brian James, on his Weekend Music Roundups, gives us access to bands we've never heard or maybe hadn't thought about for a long time, but I have to totally agree with Rich that some of the best stuff going in new music seems to be originating from the Empire State region.

4. The bartender at Elephant & Castle introduced me to Dogfish Head IPA, one of the better IPAs I've tasted, but the really cool part about that is the brewery, in Milton, Delaware (a state that I'm still not entirely certain actually exists), has adopted the Steampunk Tree House and will house the sculpture there, making an expedition of discovery to the fabled land that may or may not exist called "Delaware" a trip worth taking.

5. Yesterday, at ALA, John Green did not wear green. Holly Black, on the other hand, did wear black.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

from ala (2)

Today has been a one of those nonstop busy days from 8:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon.

We started in the morning with the YA Author Coffee Klatch, which, this year, had some really incredible authors in attendance. I'm sure if you're friends with any of the authors on Facebook, their tagged photos will come up (people took hundreds of them), and you may see me standing next to John Green and David Levithan, although I will probably forever be remembered as the colossal disappointment who came in between Holly Black and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. After the morning event, I went by the Macmillan Aisle and got Deborah Heiligman to sign a copy of her book, Charles and Emma, for my daughter, and Lane Smith (no relation) to sign his kickass It's a Book for me, while the Feiwel folk were sticking these QR scans on copies of my forthcoming The Marbury Lens that will hook your cell phones directly into THIS video (turn your sound up):

Then, I was rushed upstairs to "Bookmobile Sunday," where I sat in on a very moving keynote address W. Ralph Eubanks, about books and growing up in an interracial family in the South during the Civil Rights Era (and he signed his book, The House at the End of the Road for me, too... and we had an incredible chat with my editor, Liz Szabla). Then, I spoke at the event -- for about 20 minutes -- on boys and literacy -- you know, stuff I write about all the time on this blog -- and the attendees were really intensely interested in the things I've been talking about, which was really gratifying.

After signing stacks of books at the Bookmobile event, I went back downstairs to the Macmillan Aisle, where I was scheduled to sign ARCs of The Marbury Lens... and there was a line of people waiting. Not just a line. A huge line.

That's when Barry Lyga showed up to taunt me with his iPad and his insane productivity. And David Levithan also showed up at the booth while my line was raging, which I just need to mention because he is such a freaking talented writer... and then, author PJ Hoover showed up and she even took a picture with me which may or may not one day show up here on this blog.

So, yeah... all in all, I'd say it was a pretty decent day.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

from ala (1)

Yesterday was the day of the big surprise. I was contacted by the Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan marketing people and they revealed to me that they had made an intense and awesome book trailer (video) for The Marbury Lens.

The trailer is going to be unveiled this weekend at ALA, and the people who pick up galleys of the book there will get a code sticker on the ARC so they can view the clip and even download it to their cell phones if they want to.

I've seen it. It's amazing.

I'll be able to put it up here and on Facebook next week, after I return from ALA (I think).

When you watch it, have your sound set on loud, too. The soundtrack is incredible.

Friday, June 25, 2010

observations from the guy in the corner of the room

When I go to parties, I am usually the guy in the corner who watches people.

I know. That's kind of creepy.

Sometimes, I will get up and talk to the people who whirl around in the center, but I invariably slink back to the corner once they flit away to co-mingle with the other whirling center-of-the-room folk.

You can see a lot from the corner of the room.

There are a lot of girls wearing the same dress at this party.

If they spin around fast enough, they think nobody notices it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

packing up

I'm packing up to fly back to Washington DC for ALA this weekend.

I saw this report in the New York Times a while back about this packing expert who could get ten days' worth of stuff packed in a single, regular carry-on bag. I'm sure she's also an expert on making guys with tiny laptop bags keep them on the floor beneath their feet because the overhead bins don't even have enough wiggle room in them for a single MacBook in a neoprene sleeve.

Anyway, I don't care nearly enough about such things to try to make everything fit inside a carry-on. You have to fold and roll and organize and plan. I prefer the wad and zip approach to packing. And then I get to where I'm going and I'm, like, why did I pack a wetsuit to go to a book conference?

Oh well.

Here's the schedule for me for Sunday, June 27, at ALA:

8:30 - 10:00am YA Author Coffee Klatch (This is really one of the coolest things they do at ALA. At least it is for me, because I get to "kick it" with authors whom I consider to be heroes.)

11:30am - 1:30pm Bookmobile Sunday, Convention Center Room 207A
(I am going to talk with food in my mouth)

2:00 - 3:00pm Feiwel and Friends Booth 2813 (I will be signing ARCs of The Marbury Lens and copies of my other books, Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects)

After that, Katy Perry and Kesha will be performing at a Bloggers' party I am throwing in my suite at the Madison Hotel. Gaga was supposed to be there too, but the Yankees are playing that day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the wednesday before

Okay. Well, I am working again.

And getting ready for ALA in a couple days, too.

Among the three major projects I have going on right now, I am also finishing up this lengthy questionnaire the people of Square Fish Books gave me, so they can use bits of it for an author Q&A section in the back of my two forthcoming paperback releases of In the Path of Falling Objects and Ghost Medicine.

One of the questions really made me stop and think. First of all, I have a natural aversion to "best" and "favorite" questions. I don't think I have a "favorite" anything or can zero in on a "best" to save my life. Unless there's no competition -- like, who's my favorite male offspring, or who's my best daughter in the world? (I only have one of each. Well, we don't talk about "garage boy" -- the son we've kept hidden behind the lawn tractor for 13 years).

But, anyway, this question I got was something like What's the best advice you ever got about writing?. And, like I said, I have a really hard time zeroing in on "besties." Maybe it's adult ADD. I think it is. In fact, I think that's why I can't sit through watching television.

Maybe if I got some meds I could watch TV.

That's what's wrong with me.

It needs its meds.

So, anyway, I was thinking that I never really got "best" advice about writing from anyone. Except for maybe I before E, except after C. Does that count?

But I wrote a response to the question about the worst advice I ever got about writing. I hear some of the worst stuff also, coincidentally, being most-often repeated. The tantric mantras of things I would absolutely NEVER do.

Oh. Don't worry, I'm going to share the big list of Worst Writing Tips Ever, but I was just wondering about yours.... Do you have a "worst advice for writers" experience, or is it just me?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

back from away

The vanishing act is now officially over, and shall be replaced by routine. At least for a few days.

We have made a final pass through the contents of an official Teacher/Student/Librarian Study and Discussion Guide for The Marbury Lens, and, as promised, it is now available -- in time for the people who will be attending the American Library Association Annual Conference this weekend in Washington DC.

Good things about the guide: It "looks" terrific, and you can get a fair sense of what the book is about without it offering up any spoilers -- which I absolutely HATE in book reviews and study guides.

Also, I've had a bit of an epiphany regarding the speech I'm giving this weekend, which is a very good thing considering the two weights pulling my balance askew: 1) I am not uncomfortable speaking before groups of people, and, 2) I am generally afraid of librarians.

I know. I need to get over this. Librarians are super-cool. But then, last night, I had a dream that my plane to Washington was late -- which is a super-stressful thought since I have serious party plans upon arrival -- although the stress was somewhat assuaged by the fact that for whatever geographic explanations, my flight got diverted to Hawaii. I think I've got altitude sickness.

Anyway, you can download and see the terrific The Marbury Lens Guide by clicking on this linked text.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

solstice week

...and I am leaving town again today. Heading even farther into the mountains.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I have a confession to make: I love going to book shows and conferences, and I am greatly looking forward to next week's American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington, DC.

Because I think ALA's the best event of the year. I also think that, after having been to a few of these things, that we have misappropriated an American idiom. Rock stars party like librarians.

That's all I'll say.

Also, I am kind of excited about some of the new possibilities for the coming year. Since The Marbury Lens will be released this fall, I was thinking that I might actually get to go to some of those fantasy/sci-fi/alt fiction book shows and see if that crowd can possibly party like librarians, too.

But I don't know. The Marbury Lens is a kind of genre-bender, and I wanted it to be that way because I think there is a general, preconceived bias regarding the depth of those kinds of books, the quality of the writing, and the maturity level of readers of fantasy/sci-fi/alt fiction books. So I wanted to, as most readers of The Marbury Lens have commented, try something new. And we'll see what the experiment produces.

Now, I have to get back to writing my speech that I will be giving at next week's unrestrained saturnalia of literacy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

rich does it again

As I mentioned yesterday, I have three books coming out this fall: the paperback versions of Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects, and my new release for 2010, The Marbury Lens, for which Nora, who was fortunate (or not) enough to scrounge an ARC left this terrific review yesterday:

I read Marbury in about 24 hours, I think: it was one of those books you don't want to stop, as much as there were parts where I had to look away and compose myself. It was incredibly disturbing, and so real--in the awful running through the wastelands, but also in the human bonds on both ends. I don't understand how you do it. Such different books too, and yet all clearly from the same vision, and all investigating the same things--learning to be independent, I suppose, and the bare terror of life. Such perfect love stories too. Pretty amazing. It was all I could talk about while I was reading it, by the way--mostly the intense f'ed upness. Those ties he put on his own ankle...sick, but genius.

Thanks, Nora.

But I wanted to share with you the terrific new cover designs for the fall releases from our talented Art Director, Rich Deas. He really did it again. I love all three of these:

And, of course...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

the day i quit

This fall, I actually have three books coming out. Two of them are paperback versions of my first two books (cover art coming soon): Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects; and the third is my newest and destined to make some people squirm uncomfortably The Marbury Lens.

So, of course, this is all very exciting for me, and the people at Square Fish (who are doing the paperbacks) plan on putting some author questions and answers and excerpts from my books in the back pages of the new editions. So they sent me this formidable list of questions, and I decided to share a few of them here today, as a kind of preview for what's coming up (and they're good questions, besides):

As a young person, who did you look up to most?

When I was a kid, I looked up to my brother, Patrick, the most. He was older, and we shared a bedroom (there were four boys in my family) until he enlisted in the Army -- when he went off to fight in Vietnam. Patrick drove a 1959 Cadillac – a gift from our aunt – and he used to drive the three of us younger boys around with him and his tough-guy high-school friends on their crazy adventures, and we listened to AM radio stations and daringly used words like bitchin’ when we talked.

Which of your characters is most like you?

Well, to some extent, all my protagonists are part me, but if you had to isolate one individual character, I think there’d be no doubt about it: I am most like Simon Vickers, from In the Path of Falling Objects. He always takes risks without seriously considering the consequences, and I think he has an attitude – maybe due to naivete – that nothing bad will ever happen to him. He likes to push buttons and then acts indignant when the people around him get pissed off. Yeah… that’s me.

When you finish a book, who reads it first?

When I finish a book, I read it first. That’s when I try to read it like I didn’t have anything to do with it’s having been written. I am not a writer who shares what I write with friends and family, though. So, when I finish a book, I usually send it directly to my agent, Laura Rennert, and my editor, Liz Szabla. Then, immediately after that I get sick and start asking, Why did I send that to them? Why? Why? Why? And I start calling myself every version of stupid I can think up. Then I get really grumpy until I hear back from them – an interminable and agonizing wait, even if it’s only a few days long.

Who is your favorite fictional character?

“My” favorite fictional character is, naturally, one of my own – a kid named Stark McClellan. You haven’t met him yet, because he’s in a book I wrote, called Stick, that is not yet published. But the reason that I like him so much is that he has this really dry (but definitely not cynical or sarcastic) sense of humor in the way he looks at things; and he has this remarkable ability, I think, to see a kind of wonder in everything – even if he’s surrounded by cruelty and ugliness. I admire people who are like that.

Coming very soon: Cover art and a Teacher/Librarian/Student Discussion Guide for The Marbury Lens.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


This is the day we are putting up new corral fencing for our horses. I think we finally got tired of them busting out and heading off into the hills. It's one of those perfect days to be outside, too: the cherries are just turning ripe. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to come back inside and get back to work on a few things.

Although I'd decided to stop working on the next book, after having a chat with a very wise friend (you know who you are), I realized that it was probably a bad idea -- so it's back to ramming speed for me.

After I take care of a couple things out in the yard.

Monday, June 14, 2010

on the road

I travel a lot.

Usually, because of where I live, I fly out of and into LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). Sometimes, I'll fly out of Burbank, but there's something that creeps me out about that airport. I don't know what it is.

Not that LAX isn't easily among the worst airports in the country. Still, in the next month, I'll be flying back to the East Coast, and then back to LAX; and after that, flying out of the country -- all through LAX.

I love traveling, too.

But as much time as I spend away, there is something that always happens whenever the plane begins descending over the endless flattened blob of Los Angeles: things feel back to normal.

I mention this because this morning, feeling a bit nostalgic, I posted this great music video from the Decemberists on my Facebook page:

It's a great song, from an amazing band, but I also think it's kind of meta-shallow to fall back on the cliches about Los Angeles. At least Angelenos tend to be good sports about the stereotypical generalizations about the city (or maybe they don't get it). Still, it's easy enough to make blanket-generalizations about just about any city -- and end up in a brawl, in most cases, too.

Call me crazy, but I love Los Angeles.

Just not the airport.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

content issues

Last week we developed a Teacher/Librarian/Student Discussion Guide for The Marbury Lens, which will be available as a downloadable document from our website some time during the week before the ALA Annual Meeting in Washington DC. Of course, once it's available, it will be linked here.

The content of the study guide was helped tremendously from all the email I'd received from people around the country (and even in Europe, too) who had the opportunity to read The Marbury Lens and then wanted to talk about it (which seems to be a recurring thing, so far, among the book's readers).

So, great thanks to all of you who contributed your ideas and questions.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

whisper to a scream

I am back.

One of the things about writing that never gets old is receiving letters and email from people all around the world who've read my books. For whatever reasons, I am fortunate enough to have some pretty dedicated pockets of devoted readers in some of my favorite parts of the country (and I'm still trying to figure out why, exactly, I have chosen to make my home in California).

One such favored place is Colorado. Recently, I sent a signed copy of In the Path of Falling Objects to the Smoky Hill Library in Centennial, CO as a gift to one of their young readers who participates in the library's Teen Readathon (don't worry, Terri -- I sent it media mail, so it's moving slow, but it AND some really cool The Marbury Lens bookmarks are on their way).

So I'd like to ask any and all of my writer friends and enemies to help out the library by sending a signed book (YA or MG), some bookmarks, or anything you can spare to The Smoky Hill Library, c/o Terri Clark, 5430 S. Biscay Cir., Centennial, CO 80015-3596.

I know writers talk the talk about saving libraries and library programs, but I can also vouch for the fact that whenever we get a chance to do something, we also pitch in and put something real into the mix, too. After all, without libraries and librarians, we would be nowhere.

And, speaking of librarians in Colorado, I have some special thanks to give one in particular (I won't mention her name), who always brings my books back to some of her favorite young readers. This week, I got this email (the second one from this particular teen reader) from one of my favorite kids in Colorado:

(Our librarian) gave me an ARC of your new book The Marbury Lens and I gobbled up the whole book in two days. I would like to tell you that I thought it was a crazy and wild adventure. I thought about the book so much in fact that I even had a dream based off the book. It really transported me to a different time and place and although it wasn't a very happy book, it was very well written and had new innovative ideas. I would love to know how you got your inspiration for your book because it is so unique. Also I would like to know why you put in the tid-bit about the ghost, Seth.

I would like to let you know that I have shared your books with many of my friends and all of them have loved your work. When I explained the base of The Marbury Lens all of them were very interested to find out what happened next in Jack's story. You are one of my favorite authors and I am thrilled that I have emailed back and forth with you! I can't wait to read what you have in store next. Keep doing what you do best.

Thanks. That's quite a letter, coming from a kid. And that's the biggest reason why we do what we do.

Friday, June 11, 2010

coming out

By Nick Sweeney, Grade 12

So far, I have managed to keep Drew off the blog for two entire days. Drew... if you're reading this, stop calling me: I know your number and I don't pick up blocked calls.

Mr. Smith wanted me to mention all the stuff he has coming out this year as he gets ready to head back to Washington D.C. for the American Library Association's Annual Conference in a couple weeks.

He actually has THREE things coming out this year: He's already written enough (obviously) about The Marbury Lens coming out in November. And, right around the same time, his first novel, Ghost Medicine, will be released in paperback (it has a really cool cover, too).

But we just found out a few days ago that In the Path of Falling Objects, his second novel, will be released in paperback on September 23, with an October 12 on-sale date. We were told that this has a really cool new cover, too, and we will be posting it here as soon as we can.

In the mean time, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that Drew's access to the blog has been at least temporarily blocked. I don't know why Mr. Smith gets him to watch his house in the first place.

-- Nick S.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

truth or dare

By Nick Sweeney, Grade 12

Yes, I am in twelfth grade now, even though it is summer and I am not in school.

I called Mr. Smith's cell phone yesterday because I knew something was up. He is not even in California at the moment. He is staying in a house on the Oregon Coast where they don't even have Wi-Fi.

I know, like why would you ever stay there?

I got suspicious right away after those last couple of blog posts that Mr. Smith didn't write them, and that, obviously, Drew is taking care of his house while he is gone. So he tried blocking me out of the blog so I could straighten things out, but Mr. Smith sent me an invitation to post by his cell phone, so now I get to block out Drew.

Look, you can always tell when Drew takes over because things get really weird and start going to hell and all kinds of people get totally pissed off at Mr. Smith and start sending him terrible emails and stuff.

But Mr. Smith said he doesn't really mind about all the people who said bad things to him just because Drew made stuff up and called America's fascination with television into question... but, luckily, I got in the blog admin spot just in time to put the kill switch on the piece Drew wrote about professional athletes.

Someone would have killed Mr. Smith if that one ran.

Even though Mr. Smith has been trying to get someone to murder him via Twitter, which hasn't worked.

As a rule, I think Twitter users are a little less tense than Facebook people.

Yes, that's for certain.

Facebook people can have issues.

Mr. Smith told me a lot of stuff about writing that pertains to this. He said the reason he doesn't write nonfiction is because you'll always get something wrong. In every nonfiction book, you can count on the fact that at least 5% of what you read is not going to be true. But in every fiction book you read, you can always count on the fact that some of what you read is actually absolutely true. The trick is, knowing that ahead of time when you go in.

So, I guess Drew stumbled onto his own truths about America's obsession with TV: That people who watch too much of it have a hard time figuring out the difference between the stuff on the screen in front of them that's real, and what's made up.

I will try to come back tomorrow if these permissions still hold up. Otherwise, who knows. I know Mr. Smith totally hates entering blog posts from his iPhone, so you can bet whoever posts here, it's not going to be him.

-- Nick S.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

my pet project

I have come to a decision.

I need to work on me.

It will be part of my reinventing a hipper Drew project, and it has to begin with me working on me.

I am going to stop saying things that bother people.

I am going to start by never saying anything when my wife is driving the car. I no longer care if we're supposedly headed to Los Angeles but end up in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Because I need to work on me.

I like New Mexico, anyway. More than Arizona.

Last time I was in Arizona, I almost got into a fight at a cowboy bar.

I used to enjoy fighting.

But not any more.

Because I am working on me.

I was once a boxer. Go ahead, ask my friend Mike -- the guy who made me ride in the backseat of his car next to a life-sized metal statue of Don Quixote, all through Mexico.

When I think of that road trip, you know what I think of?

Not pissing off Mike by telling him which lane to be in.

That, and tequila.

There are no lanes in Mexico, anyway.

Yeah. I need to work on me.

I have never been knocked out, but I did knock a guy out one time.

Mike was there. He'll tell you.

I landed a sweet right straight into the guy's temple. He was about 3 inches taller and had all kinds of reach on me, but his eyes rolled back, his chin pointed up, and he was flat on his back in less than a second.

I never saw the guy after that.

Because me and Mike ran away after we took his wallet.

Then we hid his wheelchair in a dumpster.

I really need to start working on me.

It begins today.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

in which i discuss my hip replacement

I just heard something a few days ago: That LOST aired its final episode.

Is this true?

I feel so hopeless.

O Television,

Please help me be hip. You never showed me LOST. I don't even know what it was about. I wish I was hipper than I am.

No. I wish I was just hip, period.

But I am not.

O Television,

Can you help me? I swear I am going to start watching things that will make me be hip. And I am going to go out today and buy a box set of an entire "season one" of something. I don't know what, but I swear it's going to be really cool.

And then -- and then -- O Television, I promise I am going to let you show me something THIS WEEK that will shoot molten-hot hip-rays straight into my skull through my eyeballs and make me become totally hip.

O how I want that.

Maybe hip enough to be invited over to another person's house, so we can sit down and watch something totally hip, like Jersey Shore on HDTV together.

I want that more than anything.

And, O Television. No. O HD Television,

I promise to get an HD converter for you so your hipness will be purer. I have never even watched you, O Television, in HD. I don't even know what HD is, but if it's anything like the good kind of acid we used to take back in the 70s, then sign me up for it now, Mister Cable Company Phone Solicitor (and I am truly sorry I cussed at you that last time you called).

O Television,

Make me hip. If you can do this for me, after all these years, I promise to purchase a DVR. I have never touched a DVR, but I understand that:

DVR + Burn Notice + Glee + Breaking Bad = Me being hip

Maybe, O Television, if I had a DVR plus HD TV, then I could invite friends over, and we could sit and watch Glee together. Then we could watch my box set of season one of something cool. Then we could watch Glee again, since I would have a DVR, and that's just the kind of hip people me and my future friends are going to be.

And I will have friends.

And, O Television,

If you can do this for me, if you can show me everything hip so that I will be hip and I will be able to participate in those awkward conversations about who's going to win on American Idol... you know, those conversations where I just sit there looking so unhip and my friends (well... I can pretend they're my friends) just glance over at me with nervous expressions that seem to say

I think he's insane.

Why does he never speak to us?

I bet he's thinking about something sexually perverted.

I wonder if he's going to murder us...

Yes, those conversations.

If you can do this for me, O Television, then I promise to get excited about the next awards show. I promise to throw a party for me and all my new friends who like me and talk to me because I am hip. I will throw a party for the Academy Awards and we will all sit together and cheer and nibble at Little Smokies brand cocktail wieners braised in bottled barbecue sauce, and I will be so excited, even if the movies suck as bad as Hurt Locker did, and I promise, O Television, that I will start going to the movies immediately so I can see all the awards contenders that came out in 2010, starting right away, those great films that have been coming out, week after week after week this year, like Shrek part 3 and Karate Kid and Get Him to the Greek, and, O Yes, O Television, MacGruber.

Help me, O Television.

Only you can do this for me.

What I want more than anything else in the world.

Only you can make me hip.

Monday, June 7, 2010

a good day for

Yesterday, I drove out to Mrs. Nelson's Book Shop to lurk in the shadows and watch all these amazing kids receive awards for their submissions to the 2010 Young Writers Contest.

It was quite an uplifting experience, because I could tell how excited these kids -- who ranged in age from 5 to 18 -- were about writing and what they had been able to do. And there were tons of parents and family members there, too, which speaks well to the quiet acceptance of having kids who are actually artistically inclined.

The horror. Where's math and science in all this? Aren't you people afraid... of China or something?

And Mrs. Nelson's did something (well, lots of things) really cool, too: They published and bound the winning submissions in a hardcover book that was given to the winning kids.

The quality that I noticed most in the kids' writing was voice. This is something that adult writers need to pay closer attention to, because it can't be something contrived, generic, or false. Readers can see through that right away and you simply will not be able to "sell" your story to them (and I don't mean cha-ching sell). Voice is the ineffable bridge that connects the reader to the author: you either have it or you don't.

Sometimes, I imagine, readers will hang in there with a story that has a weak voice just because the plot elements are exciting. I've seen -- and read -- more than a few books that have recently been released that have that weak voice/interesting complications mix, and they are not very satisfying to me. Usually, I won't finish a book that suffers from this imbalance. Sometimes I do, but it is so unsatisfying. And I really wish I could name names, just so you would say oh yeah... you're right, but I am a devout believer in literary karma.

Anyway, back to the kids. Two of the boys I coached this year were recognized at the awards ceremony, and I really liked their stories. A lot. In fact, I'd kind of like to beat them both up for being so much better at writing with voice than I was at their age, and I knew I wanted to be a writer then, too, but these guys are, like, I don't know what I want to do... and I want to shake them and say TELL ME YOU'RE GOING TO BE A WRITER WHEN YOU GROW UP.

Okay. Well, Paul wrote a story about guilt and bravery called The Wild Boys, about going to an oppressive all-boys school with his brother in Nigeria; and Corey wrote a story about religious confusion called The Prophet, about a freaky subway ride with a stranger. And I'll be honest: when I read their first drafts, way back in February, I knew they were going to do something.

Nice work, guys.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

the story of the arc

Now that it's officially summer vacation time for me, I suppose I really should start writing something. I mean, I had two serious projects going, but decided to stop because I've been in a bad mood for, like, four months.

It's not like it matters, anyway. My next book is coming out in 155 days, and the one coming out in 2011 (let's estimate 525 days from now) has already been written.

Do you know how many books I can write in 525 days? Do you know how many cockroaches can be spawned from a single egg-laden female cockroach in 525 days?

The world turns, my friends. The world turns.

I kind of want to punch myself in the face for saying that.

Maybe I should go get a job at a theme park. But theme parks usually hire bubbly people, so that kind of rules me out on the spot. Maybe they should open a Jean-Paul Sartre World in France, where all the employees can smoke those little French cigarettes and express their unrestrained contempt for other people, give prizes to children who vomit, and all the rides lead into black holes with -- predictably -- no exit ramps.

So, let me tell you about the story of the ARC. When my first two books came out, I gave out ARCs like crazy. I sent them to librarians, teachers, bloggers (I know. What an idiot.)... you name it -- anyone who pretty much had a pulse and asked. Oh, and family and friends, of course.

This go-round, though, for The Marbury Lens, I was, like, forget it. As soon as I got my little box of ARCs, I gave them out. To kids. Which left a lot of people asking me when they were going to get theirs, too. I just shrug and say, well, it's not coming out until November. Do you know how many cockroaches will be born between now and November?

The thing is, and I have to be precise in how I say this, that probably around 90% of the ARCs I have ever sent out -- including those to close friends and family -- I never hear one word of follow-up. These are examples of things I don't hear 90% of the time:

Thanks for the ARC!

Your book makes me want to punch myself in the face. I can't believe I wasted my life reading it.

I didn't read your book, but I gave it to my nephew that I don't like for Christmas.

I liked your book! Thanks for sending it!

Usually I hear nothing. Just the sound of cockroaches. Breeding.

I asked a writer friend of mine (not the one you think... and it's probably not you, if you think it is) about this observation, and she said, yeah... come to think of it, about 90% of the people she'd ever sent ARCs to never said a single word in response, either.

Good or bad, I think we writers all want to hear what people think about our work. Of course, the bad stuff can be pretty painful. But it's kind of like handing in something you've worked really hard on to a teacher at school. You at least want to hear them say, "nice job," or something... as opposed to, say, just dropping it in some slot and then... nothing.

So, if you've been getting pissed off at me for ig-switching your plea for an ARC of my next book, I'm just not into it anymore. I'd rather smoke cigarettes and watch kids vomit (but I do not smoke), or punch myself in the face.

Now... I'm not saying EVERYBODY. Some people are really cool and say thanks, or tell me what they liked or what troubled them about my work. But not very many people -- in the overall scheme of things -- take the time to do that... especially close friends and family, whom, I suppose, feel like they don't actually "need" to say anything because we're friends. Or family.

I don't mean to sound whiney. I'm not a whiney person. And today, I'm not bubbly, either.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Today, my son, who is now in grade 12, is taking his SAT. I'm sure he's going to do well. He knows I will no longer continue feeding him if he does not.

My daughter, who is not yet out of school for summer due to the snow days we had this year, so is still in grade 7, is doing some volunteer work for kids with cancer.

Tomorrow morning, I am heading out to Mrs. Nelson's Book Shop to see their awards ceremony for the 2010 Young Writer's Contest. Hopefully, the kids I coached will make it out, too. Mrs. Nelson's really does something great and amazing for kids who want to write -- so if you're not too busy on a beautiful Sunday, you should head out to one of the great independent bookstores in Southern California.

Finally, on this day of scattered announcements, The Marbury Lens got a passing shout-out yesterday in Publishers Weekly in their coverage of BookExpo America 2010: Big Children's Books of the Show. You have to look in the "New in Novels" section and not blink.

But it's there.

Thanks, PW.

Friday, June 4, 2010

cover story

Some of you may remember back when I wrote a series about why I hate YA (YI H8 YA), which was a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the obvious warts and frailties of the genre. Of course I don't actually hate YA. I just sometimes wish that the people who spend so much time writing about YA would grow up and stop being so closed-minded.

You know who you are.

So, I've been looking at the Goodreads list for Best YA Covers of 2010, which has now grown to nearly 200 covers (with Rich Deas's incredible artwork for The Marbury Lens at number 35 last I checked), and, with the help of some friends who analyzed the images, we broke down the components of YA cover art and found some... eh... predictable trends.

Here's what we did:

We looked through the first 130 titles on the list and broke down the images depicted on the book covers. We could only do the first 130 or so because we ran into a rear-guard of semi-porn showing bedded couples and we started laughing so hard we gave up digging any deeper. But, once we arrived at our breaking point, we got these fairly interesting totals:
  • Of the covers whose main image was an independent, single character, 66 depicted solitary girls. 66 independent girl covers.
  • Not all the covers depicted characters. Some of them had only "things" on them. Often, these "things" were dripping with blood, which, most definitely, boys would like. Also, one cover had a jellyfish on it, which was cool. We agreed that a boy would probably pick up a book with a jellyfish on the cover. Jellyfish are commonly hermaphroditic. One independent hermaphrodite cover.
  • Of the covers whose main image was an independent, single character, 3 depicted solitary boys. One of the covers, we couldn't tell whether it was a girl or a boy. That could be a good thing, who knows? We argued about the manliness of the hands. So we didn't count that one either way. Also, the jury was kind of "hung" over the cover of Michael Grant's Lies. We argued about the idea of independent and single characters. We were pleased Sam changed his shirt finally, and that he was wearing one at all, and also not making out with Astrid. 3 independent boy covers.
  • And, speaking of making out, we found 18 covers with boys and girls suggestively tangled up together in one way or another. If you're a boy, and on the cover of a YA novel, you're 6 times more likely to be "getting some" than standing on your own. If you're a girl, you're much more likely to be on your own than making out. Boys are cover sluts.
  • And, speaking of sex, there were 8 covers that showed boys with their shirts off. Some of them were making out, too. Alas, none of the covers had girls with their shirts off. And you wonder why boys don't read? If you can't afford a shirt, how are you going to buy a book? Get those poor kids some clothes.
  • Nine covers depicted boys -- or males -- as some kind of monster or non-human creature. Boys are more likely to be monsters than independent characters. But they are more likely to make out with a girl than be a monster, which they do about as frequently as losing half their clothing.
What does it all mean? I don't know.. maybe nothing. But if aliens ever came down and destroyed our planet in such a way that nothing was left at all except for a shelf of current YA titles in the burned-out husk of a brick-and-mortar bookstore (preferably indie), what kinds of determinations do you think the aliens would make about our culture and society?

And if any of you librarian, teacher, book-lover types out there are wringing your hands about the "dumber gender" and why boys don't read, take a good long look at what the aliens are going to find after the flames cool down.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

george and me

Okay. Somebody started an "Andrew Smith looks like George Clooney" group on Facebook.


I do have to say that the side-by-side black-and-white mugshots are haunting.

As a notorious non-joiner, I refuse to join the group. And, besides, if the outrageous claim upon which this organization is predicated were actually true, then we could simply extend the logical determination that George Clooney, therefore, looks like Gertrude Stein and could reasonably be cast as lead in the cinematic adaptation of either "The Gertrude Stein Story," or the remake of the French absurdist, "The Guy Who Looked Like Gertrude Stein and Got Tasered in Front of a Urinal at a Writer's Conference."

So, yesterday, I got an email from my editor, asking me if I knew about the Kentucky Bluegrass Award listing. And, well, to be honest... I think she said something about that to me when I was in New York last time, but, with me, if it's not written down I rarely have any grasp of what I'm being told.

And, yes, it is also true that In the Path of Falling Objects is on the award's Master List for the 2011 Kentucky Book Award in the high school division.

This is quite an honor for me and my book, and it's a cool award because it's something that's voted on by the kids in Kentucky. And there are only 10 books on the list. And In the Path of Falling Objects is a really good book, but I say that in the most self-effacing, non-stuck-up way imaginable.

And, if the book actually wins the top award next year, I have heard from George Clooney's people that he will accept it on my behalf, which is fine with me because George Clooney has no idea what it's like getting tasered in a urinal for wearing a crayoned-in credentials badge.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

here we go

The Southern California Children's Literature Council sent me a list of their 2010 Awards recipients, so I thought I'd share them here:

Kathleen Krull - Best Biography Duo

Albert Einstein, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Viking, 2009).

The Boy Who Invented TV, Illustrated by Greg Couch (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009).

Marla Frazee - Most Magnificently Illustrated Picture Book

All the World, Written by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon (Beach Lane Books, 2009).

Andrew Smith - Distinguished Work of Fiction

In the Path of Falling Objects (Feiwel & Friends, 2009).

Mary E. Pearson – Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature

The Miles Between (Henry Holt and Co., 2009).

Hope Anita Smith – Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry

Mother Poems (Henry Holt and Co., 2009).

Maureen Wade – Dorothy C. McKenzie Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Children’s Literature.

And, here's something I noticed, too. Something to kind of ponder on: I mentioned before that The Marbury Lens was on a list of Best YA Book Covers for 2010 on Goodreads. Again, this has nothing to do with me -- I did the inside stuff. The very talented Rich Deas did the amazing cover, which is, undoubtedly, the best cover design for 2010.

Anyway, the thing that struck me is that of 107 titles on the list, The Marbury Lens is currently at number 40. It is the highest-rated title written by a guy. And, of the 107 titles represented on the list, there are (unless I've miscounted) 11 male authors represented.

Of the cover art on the list, there are almost NO covers that depict male characters on them at all. If there are males on the covers, they are either NOT human beings, in the process of kissing a girl, or have their shirts off. Notable exceptions: two covers -- Lies by Michael Grant, and The Marbury Lens.

Humans. Not Kissing. Fully Clothed.

2 of 107.

Gotta ask -- What's up with that?

Just something to think about.