Thursday, September 30, 2010

banned books week #4

Today's selection for the kids comes from the book that has probably been more influential to me than any other novel: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

Yeah, books like that one get banned, too.

And, it's kind of fitting that I mention that particular book as selection number four in my kids' read-alouds for Banned Books Week, because last night -- well, actually, up until just a couple hours ago this morning -- I took my son down to Los Angeles to see his favorite band in the world, The Felice Brothers, play a very personal show in a tiny, unmarked club barely bigger than our living room.

We had to cheat to get him in the club (no minors allowed), but the ethical transgression was worth it. And, I know, teenage boys are supposed to be all into Hip Hop and stuff like that, but not my son.

So, not only were we there for this most incredible show, standing right next to the performers (I've been to more crowded keg parties), but we got a special treat in that Conor Oberst was the opening act -- so it was actually like two amazing concerts (in your living room) in one.

What does this have to do with Mark Twain? Well, I'll get to that in a minute. But first, anyone who is very familiar with The Felice Brothers knows that they toss around quite a few literary references -- mostly American novelists.

Among the snobby beliefs I have, I adhere to a firm conviction that American novelists, as a group, have written the greatest works ever to be published. Save your protests, please. I'm functioning here on one hour of sleep in the past two days, but I am still thinking clearly. It's my opinion and you're not going to change my mind by expressing your indignant outrage over my dismissal of Proust or Dickens, Dostoevsky, or anyone else.

Anyway, the thing that makes The Felice Brothers so great is their essential Americanism. When you look at their assortment of battered instruments which includes a washboard (that got worn flat by the end of last night's show) used to smash into crash cymbals, you might think that these guys make do with what they have. On the contrary, true to the ingenuity of their pedigree, they don't just "make do," they make something that amazes and inspires.

That's America. That's the American novel.

Their last full-length LP is titled Yonder is the Clock, and it includes some particularly well-written songs that dig much deeper through the dimensions of the American experience than a first listen may lead you to conclude.

And the title of the album comes from Twain -- in particular, from this passage from his novella, The Mysterious Stranger:

By profession I am a fortune-teller, and I read the hands of you three--and some others--when you lifted them to stone the woman. One of you will die to-morrow week; another of you will die to- night; the third has but five minutes to live--and yonder is the clock!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

banned books week #3

Today, for the kids, a quick blast from Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Do you have insane neighbors?

Do they have motion-activated lights and security cameras pointed at your house?

Do they like to idle their diesel motor home in their driveway for an hour, once per week?

Do they put up yard signs that make you uncomfortable during political campaign seasons?

Have they ever talked to you about keeping a cache of food and weapons for the end of days?

Do they complain about American morality and culture?

Would they try to ban a book from your local school's library, even though they are childless?

Do they refer to themselves as "mommy" and "daddy" when they talk to their corgi?

Are you pleasant to them?

Do you get the idea that they think of you as "one of us" or "one of them"?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

banned books week #2

More reading to the kids today.

I really love reading aloud to kids.

Maybe The Chocolate War today. I always liked that one.

We have this religious kind of conviction about writing and freedom, its fairness, the inherent equality of all human beings when they connect via the written word.

It's kind of funny.

I know a writer -- a new one -- just now trying to get published. There is a publisher interested in her novel. She was asked by the publisher if she would be willing to be published under a gender neutral name.

You know... initials and a last name.

I wonder why she was asked that.

It's kind of funny.

I saw a "like" request on Facebook for a group of debut authors called "The Class of 2k11." This is a promotional group for debut authors, writers who will publish their first YA or MG books in 2011.

I was in the "Class of 2k8" for a couple of weeks. There are some really good writers who were in that group. I got out, though. When it started, I was the only male in the entire group. I couldn't hang. I think they got one later.

The Class of 2k11 has 20 authors. Two are male.

I wonder if they were ever asked to neutralize their names.

Monday, September 27, 2010

banned books week #1

Do you get vibed out easily?

Do you think this is about you?

Well it is.

This week, I am reading banned books to my kids. My teenage son reads everything he can get his hands on. In the past few weeks, he's read novels by Ken Kesey, Joseph Heller, and Hunter S. Thompson... and not because he had to, because he wanted to.

But he's never read Looking for Alaska by John Green, so I'm going to read the first few pages of it to him today. I don't know if the book is really my kid's style, but I'm sure he'll read the whole thing after today's taste.

Tomorrow, I will give the kids a sample of something different... another book that has been banned.

One more thing: I met a really cool (no big surprise) librarian at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington DC last summer. We chatted for a while about books and authors, and she picked up an Advance Copy of The Marbury Lens, too. We've corresponded a couple times since then.

I have to say, I really like her taste in books, and I think her blog is terrific and pulls no punches regarding literature for young people. That said, she wrote a very flattering review of The Marbury Lens, which appeared on her blog over the weekend. You should pop over there and see what she's got to say about this and lots of other books.

Visit Pink Me's Blog Here.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I am sailing through this work.

But my head is fried.

When I was a kid, my cousin and I took his 27-foot sailboat out of Trieste, Italy, down the Adriatic coast of what was at that time called Yugoslavia.

The sailboat was called "Donald Duck" (in Italian).

Two of his friends came along, as well.

Sailing, even on as calm a body as the Adriatic, is pretty tiring, because boats don't just go by themselves in the middle of the night. Someone always has to be working.

We stopped at a few really small coastal cities on the way, and we'd get off the boat and eat or drink in casinos or cafes.

I was the only one of the four of us who spoke English. Mostly, the Serbs and Croats I met were fascinated by the lone American on our boat. Sometimes, the officials who'd inspect our papers when we docked seemed to take an extra-long amount of time looking through my passport and belongings. I think they were just curious about an American being there.

After all, this was during the height of the Cold War, when Yugoslavia was ruled by Tito. I spent a lot of time there as a teen. I don't think I ever ran into another American, though.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

almost forgot

So, I've been working an awful lot these past few weeks, probably more hours per day than I can remember ever doing.

I think that most novelists experience this kind of homesick experience when the publication process kicks in. What happens is that from the time you actually finish writing a book to the time when you come back to work on it as it goes into the publication calendar, a good number of months have gone by.

I wrote Stick about a year ago. I haven't touched it or looked at it, really, since then. Now I am doing some little tweaks on it for my editor as we move it toward publication in 2011.

I almost forgot how much I love this book. No, I think I actually did forget.

So it's real nice to be back home with my book that's kind of a love letter to a couple places that I feel a very strong connection to.

I'm also, as well, sending an entirely different book off to my agent this week. And both of these novels, Stick, and this other one, feel like coming home again after a long absence.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

the big contest


Look over there.

On the right-hand column of this page.

We are doing yet another giveaway contest through Goodreads. The last contest, which ended on September 9, was a giveaway of some Advance Reader Copies of The Marbury Lens.

This one is for the real deal: an autographed (by me) hardback copy to be sent out as soon as the book releases on November 9. So there's less than 7 weeks to go and we've already gotten hundreds of entries.

Get your name in there.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the reading club

You know the drill.

Everyone knows the drill.

The first rule of the reading club is that guys don't read.

The second rule of the reading club is that if guys do read, there's something wrong with them.

You know the rules.

You bought into them.

You pass them on like bad credit scores and head lice to your kids.

Keep it up.

Just don't tell anyone the rules.

You know them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

in which i blog about barry lyga

This past weekend, I did something that I didn't think I'd ever be able to do.

Let me explain.

I met the author Barry Lyga last year. We were both doing a reading in San Francisco, and I'd heard a lot of not-crappy stuff about him from friends of mine, so I read his book Boy Toy, and I thought, wow, this guy is pretty good.

Actually, the book is amazing.

So, anyway, it seemed like Barry and I were pretty much on the same page about how we write and, in particular, how we edit. And the guy was really cool and likable, too. He even gave me a Goth Girl figurine, which I still have to this day, in its original wrapper for two reasons:

1. I have never gotten anything from another writer, especially not one who's been reviewed by the goddamned New York Times.

2. I suspect it has such a high lead content that if I unwrap my Goth Girl figurine I will die of blood poisoning by 3 PM today.

I know, this is a really long introduction to the point about what I did this weekend.

Anyway, I ran into Barry over the summer in Washington DC, too. He showed me how he was writing a graphic novel on his iPad. And I was, like, damn. This guy does everything. It makes me want to lodge my Goth Girl figurine sideways in my trachea.

Okay. So, where was I? Oh yeah. One of the things that amazes me about Barry is that he can work on about a dozen things all at the same time. And I'm, like, dude, that would make me insane. I can only do ONE THING AT A TIME.

And Barry said something like, oh no... once I started writing five or six things at once, I realized I would never go back to monoscribery. (I made that word up). But he did say something like that.

Okay. Now I can say what I did over the weekend. Over the weekend, I channeled my inner Barry Lyga. I worked on FOUR different writing jobs all at the same time.

And I'm going to keep it up until every one of them is finished.

I think I can actually do this.

And I will be working on the Marbury figurines, as well.

Low lead content.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

my big package

This is it.

My big package.

Yeah... I blurred out some of the stuff in the picture -- like my secret undisclosed location. Note the "Next Day" delivery sticker, though. Where I live, no matter the service, "Next Day" means "Just Kidding."

Anyway, this is 2011's offering: a very different novel called Stick. I have to say, too, that I like this book very much. Of course, I may not be an unbiased judge of such things.

So I'm not going to say anything about the story beyond the vague description that it's postmodern. Oh, and you can probably see that the first part of it is called "Saint Fillan's Room," which I also think is pretty cool.

I also blurred out my editor's letter to me (except for the very last part where the editor calls the book "beautiful"). And that is the entire editorial letter, too.

That doesn't mean that I don't have work to do on this, but my editor and I know each other well enough by this point that I get the picture. Also, there was a last chapter that I kept out of the book when I originally submitted it. I struggled for days about whether or not to include that final chapter, and I ultimately decided to leave it out, mostly for personal reasons.

When I send the book back in, I'm going to send in that last chapter with it. The editor is interested in seeing what it said. Whether or not it ends up in the final version of the book is yet to be determined. I still have to think about that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

the best part

One of the best parts of the writing process, for me at least, is working on revisions with my editor. It probably ties in overall satisfaction with finishing writing a book.

For most writers, the time period between finishing a book and working on editorial revisions and line edits is usually fairly long, so returning to the world of an old, good, novel can feel like returning home after a long absence. And you all know what bed feels like after a long stint on the road, sleeping on hotel mattresses.

I happen to be in both of those good places this week -- finishing something new, and getting back to a great old friend, my novel Stick, which will be coming out in 2011. It's a different, postmodern kind of novel about looking for home and hanging on to a sense of wonder in a world that can be pretty ugly at times.

The other thing that's particularly gratifying about the editing process is that so far, through four novels, I have worked with only one editor. And I think we're a good match when it comes to working. Better still is that all my work gets done on paper, so I get to carry around my manuscript with me. I get to read my editor's handwritten (in pencil... and nicely written) notes and questions. And then I write on the pages, too (in red ink)... so, when I'm finished, the thing looks and feels like a real book that real human beings really worked on.

I'm not putting down electronic editing. I am certain that at some point in my future I will be required to do it. But I am also certain that at some point in the future, I'll be reading books on an iPad or something like that, too.

For now, give me paper.

And put me to work.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

may the circle

I've come to certain conclusions about book bloggers -- especially YA book bloggers. Some of those conclusions are good, but some are bad. Since I'm not interested in reviewing reviewers, I'll just keep them to myself for now, which is kind of unfair since I probably shouldn't have mentioned my conclusionosity to begin with.

Eh... well.

I am really stoked, though, about having been interviewed by Manga Maniac Cafe, which is a really cool book blog. Julie asked some really good questions, and I am happy to have had the opportunity to blog-chat a bit about The Marbury Lens, which is so close I can practically feel it.

You can read the interview on Manga Maniac Cafe here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

dear wip (part 2)

More about WIPs...

By the way, I purposely made yesterday's post more than a bit vague for a number of reasons.

First off, WIP is writer jargon for Work in Progress, although I am fond of the idea of Women in Prison, as Connie theorized.

Also, although I heavily implied it, I am not abandoning my WIP, although, as Brian points out, sometimes we just do that, because it's right. And, like Brian, I always save my projects that I've walked away from. As a result, every book that I have ever published has passages in them that have literally been cut and pasted from things that I've stopped writing. Sometimes, that kind of makes me sad because I had intended to make entire standalone novels from them... but... eh... whatever.

If/when you read The Marbury Lens, this may be rather apparent in the story of Seth, a kid who lived in California during the 1880s (a time that I am particularly drawn to, and NOT because it is "Steampunk meets Mark Twain"). His story was going to be an entirely separate novel, but I liked how it just fit into The Marbury Lens. And I have another, completely-written and separate novel that also takes place in California during the 1880s, set in Napa Valley, which is where Seth's story also happens.

Okay. That said, I did not mean to give the impression that my current WIP was being terminated. Quite the contrary, my current WIP is terminating me.

What happens to me is that, when writing, once I get to the point in the novel where the thing that must happen happens, then the arcs of the stories within the novel all come together. The end is in sight. Not just a light at the end of the tunnel -- the END of the tunnel.

At that point, the novel basically writes itself. The real work is finished. It's like cruising downhill to a finish line in a marathon -- there's no way it won't end now, and it's on autopilot.

THAT is a good place to be, especially when you know that all the loose ends are coming together, nothing's going to be left unresolved, and you've actually figured everything out and gotten all the ingredients properly cooked.

That's when a WIP and I part ways.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

dear wip

Dear WIP,

I know I haven't been totally honest with you in the past, but now I feel it's time to come clean.

I'm going to be leaving you.

Maybe I shouldn't have stayed with you all those times in the past when you just wanted to sit there, doing nothing, going nowhere. Those times when it was all me and you gave nothing back.

I know it was hard on you when I suggested you trim down, lose some weight, that maybe you'd increase your energy that way. And, you have to admit, I was right... that you look a lot better now that you've dropped a few here and there.

Maybe I should never had said stuff like you totally suck, and do you honestly think anyone is ever going to believe in you? But... what can I say? I'm weak, and I was admittedly overly critical of your flaws, at times.

Anyway, we can both see it coming, babe. You can pretty much stand on your own now, and no matter what I do, we both know this can only end one way.

So, go ahead. My hands are off.

I know there's no way for either of us to stop you from ending it.

It's been a ride. Just get it over with quickly.

And don't jam the printer on your way out.


Monday, September 13, 2010

oh sciba

I am very honored to be taking part in the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association's (SCIBA) Trade Show and Authors Feast this year.

The event will be held on Saturday, October 23 at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa, in Hollywood (of all places) on Saturday, October 23, beginning at noon.

I'm actually going to give a speech, too. About what? You may ask. Well... about fifteen minutes, I do believe. And, trust me, those will be the fifteen most terror-filled minutes of many lives that day.

In any event, despite the ghastliness of my intended remarks, I will be speaking along with some exceedingly notable people, many of whom have met me on several occasions, but still greet me with a warm, "Do I know you?" every time we bump into each other.

Included on the day's agenda: Ally Condie, Matthew Kirby, Benjamin Hale, Ellen Hopkins, Me (I'll be wearing a name badge that says, "No... you probably DON'T know me"), Michael Grant, and Al Yankovic.

Afterward, I will be circulating amongst the notables, panhandling for cab fare, and signing the LAST EVER Advance Copies of the book that is still trying to kill me -- The Marbury Lens.

Hope to see you there.

Friday, September 10, 2010

the back-and-forth of it

Sometimes karma spills across dimensions and into other universes. I think Stephen Hawking devotes an entire chapter to that concept in his new book.

And one about Marbury, too.

I would like Stephen Hawking to read The Marbury Lens, but he's probably too busy doing things like figuring out the essential answer to the key to existence and stuff.

Still, I have to think that he would enjoy the book, and he would also probably give the Stephen-Hawking-this-could-actually-happen-in-the-universe seal of approval to it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

today is the day

September 9.

In case you didn't know. Today is the day when two people from somewhere in the U.S., Canada, or United Kingdom will win an ARC of The Marbury Lens through Goodreads.


And the winners are:

June Jowers, of Carmarthenshire, Wales, UK

Megan Meyer, of Berlin, Wisconsin USA

Congratulations June and Megan. I hope you both enjoy your books. Meet me at my house this afternoon to pick them up.

Okay. I was just kidding about that.

Thanks to Goodreads for managing the giveaway, and I really appreciate the fact that over 3,000 people signed up to win an ARC of The Marbury Lens

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

advanced organizers

You know the old line about books and covers.

Something about the email over the weekend, and plenty of other comments about The Marbury Lens I've received so far seem to echo a common thread among readers: This wasn't what I was expecting.

Thank you. It looks like my work here is done.

I think there is something almost like a mass-hypnosis that is inflicted upon many readers of genre fiction -- due to the strength of connections that form between the synapses in their brains -- that causes them to expect the book they pick up to adhere to certain very predictable elements.

YA is a particularly viral carrier of that affliction. It's reinforced by authors who continually write the same story, but change the names of the characters; or by those who perpetuate the idea that the following three roadmaps are the only ways to get to the final page of a novel (thanks to my well-read friend Sarah for suggesting these templates):

1. The good girl meets bad boy and she fails at school.

2. The nerdy boy who comes into his own through sports.

3. The kid with the rough family who finds his niche.

But when you get into fantasy/speculative fiction as a genre, the roadmaps -- the expectations -- are even more confining (which is kind of strange, because you'd thing fantasy/spec. fic. would not be so adherent to preconceived rules). Couple those limits with a hint of "Steampunk" and your readers are going to expect a lot of concrete, predictable things to pop up from the pages.

There's nothing wrong with convention or sticking to a formula. It's why Campbell's soup is still an overwhelmingly popular brand. You know every time you open a can exactly what's going to be inside it.

I prefer the kind of soup that, when you open it up, eats you instead.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

letter from the library

No... it's not an overdue notice.

Yesterday, when I woke up, I checked my email to find a very nice letter from a librarian, or a fan of libraries (I'm assuming), who was in attendance at the American Library Association's Annual a couple months back.

Here, with the name omitted, is the message:

Earlier this summer, I attended the Annual ALA Conference in Washington, DC, where you were signing advanced proof copies of The Marbury Lens. Then, about five minutes ago, I stumbled upon your blog. So, thought I would email you as one of the privileged few who have gotten to read it before it comes out and let you know my thoughts...

The Marbury Lens isn't something I would normally pick up from at the library, and it isn't something I would expect to like at all. However, it was SO GOOD. Because I honestly couldn't put it down. I stayed up until three in the morning finishing it (and would have stayed up longer if I needed to). It was extremely creepy, but the whole concept was very cool. I liked how there was a bit of a love story in the story, too- but it wasn't overwhelming. And I liked how the people on the train in the real world mirrored the train in Marbury. Well, basically, I liked the whole thing a LOT and I can't wait to read more. There will be more, right?

Mind the gap *shivers*

Now, that's my kind of library notice.

Thanks so much.

Monday, September 6, 2010

wanda's world of writers (part 3)

Here she goes again. Wearing me down with her verbal waterboarding. That's me. On the left.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

wanda's world of writers (part 2)

In the second part of the interview, Wanda's incisive interrogation techniques begin to wear me down. This is what talk show television is all about.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

wanda's world of writers (part 1)

Last week, I was a guest on a program called Wanda's World of Writers, as a run-up to the release of The Marbury Lens on November 9. I didn't know too much about the show, but came to find out that the host, coincidentally enough a woman named Wanda, is... um... very opinionated, and likes to try to get writers to talk crap about other writers, a trend with legs that's been taking over the literary media.

In any event, I'll be playing my multi-part visits with her on the blog.

Friday, September 3, 2010

fridays in self-contempt land

Fridays in the land of self-loathing look like this.

It's not a pretty sight.

Yesterday, while in the throes of angst about how much I suck at being a writer, I received an email about a mention on agent Joanna Volpe's blog, calling The Marbury Lens a "must read."

I have never met Ms. Volpe, but I'd like to say thanks. And, yes... The Marbury Lens would be a perfect Halloween read.

You can read Joanna's blog here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

on not being a writer

That's it for the Marbury Lens animations. That is, until the real movie comes out.

So, I decided this week that I really suck at BEING a writer. I came to the realization that many of the desperate types who drain their bank accounts by habitually attending writers' conferences at which they may get to speed date exceedingly unenthused "faculty" from the industry and consume nutritionally-void meals and lots and lots of cheap alcohol, don't actually WANT to write -- they just want to BE writers.

Which is something I suck at.

Don't get me wrong. I would die, or at least be institutionalized, if I weren't writing. I've always done it, but I never thought -- even for a moment -- about BEING a writer.

Maybe this is a confusing distinction.

Maybe this sentiment pisses you off.

If it does, maybe you should explore the reasons why.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

on being lost

In this final animation of dialogue from The Marbury Lens, Jack meets Henry in The Prince of Wales, to tell him that he's afraid he's lost the glasses that get him into Marbury. Everything's falling apart, and Jack is convinced that losing the glasses is going to kill him.

Naturally, there are no spoilers here regarding what has happened or will happen in the book, but this dialogue is straight from the novel, pretty much exactly as it would have taken place.