Friday, December 31, 2010

the madness of edward bellamy

Okay. So, back when I was an undergraduate, I skipped around from major to major, accumulating enough unused units to do... um... nothing. But I was thinking this morning (by the way, the Creepy Smoking Guy appeared in the dark just precisely as I stepped out of my messy bedroom and into my horrendously messy writing office) about a novel I read, back in the old disorganized (maybe there's a pattern here) undergrad days that had been written in the 1880s.

I am aware that people who study American history have a general disdain for the shallowness and material preoccupations of our peeps during that era, but, for some reason I feel emotionally attached to it -- like maybe I'm reincarnated from that time.

[Side note, again: My Punjabi friend, who does not read this blog -- which justifiably evokes the thought of why I would mention this -- would be proud of me for having performed a puja for Lakshmi yesterday. I was having a really shitty day. We'll see if it pays off. Oh yeah... I was talking about reincarnation. That's why.]

So, anyway, I've even written an historical novel (don't worry, you'll never have to read it) that takes place in California during the 1880s [Make note, apostrophe bitches: it is 1880s -- plural -- NOT 1880's -- possessive. Just having inserted that apostrophe makes me gag.], for which I did a vast amount of most enjoyable research. Yeah, whatever.

But it's also why I inserted Seth's Story within The Marbury Lens.

Where the hell was I?

So, yeah... I read this novel called Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy, in which the main character (a dude named Julian, from the 1880s) gets hypnotized and wakes up in America in the year 2000. So it was kind of like Bellamy's prediction of what the US would be like... like, now.

Anyway, I still have that book sitting right here in my office, which makes me think of a lot of things I'd really like to say, but you know me... I am always so obtuse, apolitical, and vague... I never name names... and, despite the frequency with which I routinely piss people off, I always -- believe it or not -- go out of my way to try to avoid it.

But Edward Bellamy, since you're either dead or hypnotized, let me just say two things:

1. You rock.

2. I don't know why I brought you up in the first place.

Because I had planned to do the nauseating (sorry about that word, story queen) "Looking Back at 2010" blog post today.

And so I will:

January - In January, while the downstairs of my house was being torn apart by remodelers who took a fucking week longer than they were supposed to take, I went to Arizona with a group of Los Angeles-area authors who ditched me in a part of Phoenix where I nearly lost my life, the cab driver I finally found got lost, and cost me $75 to get back to my hotel. Yeah. Phoenix. Squee! (I can't even describe how much I hate that word, too)

February - Like I will this coming February, in Feb. of 10, I attended the SCIBA Children's Literacy Dinner. Always one of the best book things of the year.

March - In March, I did several high school visits. The best one was at Newbury Park High School in California. The kids were so smart, and I got to sit in on a block-scheduled creative writing class with some really cool and talented kids.

April - Visited my editor and publisher (and Dave Barrett, Ksenia, Rich, and everyone else at the Flatiron) in New York City. Amazing time. And I spoke at the LA Times Festival of Books.

May - We rented a place at the beach for my daughter's birthday.

June - In June, I spoke at ALA in Washington D.C. I also met Ralph Eubanks there (what an honor) and got to hang a bit with Barry Lyga and P.J. Hoover. I also saw Ellen Hopkins' legs. And a whole bunch of other cool stuff.

July - In July, I went to Banff, Canada, for my birthday.

August - Nothing good ever happens in August. Sorry, it's true. Ask anyone.

September - And someone will have to refresh my memory about anything that happened in September. I can't remember that page on the calendar.

October - In October, I spoke at a SCIBA Authors event. I drew cartoons. It was really cool. Ask anyone who saw it.

November - Lots of stuff: I received the Children's Lit Council Award for In the Path of Falling Objects, The Marbury Lens was released, I had a great launch party at Mrs. Nelson's and flew up to San Francisco to have dinner with my editor and Lewis Buzbee and do another launch/reading/party thing there.

December - In December, The Marbury Lens went into its second printing, I was attacked by spiders, I was attacked by the city of San Diego, I got to speak at Mysterious Galaxy's Holiday Book Party, and the Creepy Smoking Guy started showing up every morning outside my window in the dark.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

paradoxical tautology number seven

Those of you who do not read this, will.

I was right, wasn't I?

I have written in the past (getting the scoop on all the other, lame bloggers this week) about resolutions and my general disregard for them.

I will tell you a true New Year's Resolution (hereafter, NYR) story, though, starring the great big giant ME.

Sometime in the last decade of the previous century (I can't remember the exact year), I actually made -- and kept -- a NYR. The resolution was to start eating meat. Previously, I had given it up, and the thought of returning to the unrestrained depravity of atavistic carnivorous gratification sickened me.

But being a vegetarian is hard work for a man, for it requires monumental devotion. So I figured the easiest way to get myself off the hook was to just make a NYR to start eating meat. And I did.


Just like that.

At first, I will admit, it was really gross and disgusting. Seriously. Like smoking cigarettes, which is why I sometimes consider making the "start smoking promise" my next NYR. But I got used to it.

So, if anyone ever says they don't know anyone who's ever succeeded at a NYR, point them to this blog.

And they will either read it or they won't.

And now I will continue to ramble:

Yesterday, I was thinking about how many people I know (I don't know very many people at all) who've said things like Oh... writing a book must be really hard [Side Note: I wonder why it is that every time I paraphrase what the great big giant EVERYONE remarks to the great big giant ME, I always make "them" sound dumb? Oh... wait... I almost forgot: it's because I'm an ass.]


Writing a book isn't that hard.

You know what is really hard?

Writing your second book. And then -- good God! -- your fourth or fifth.

It isn't like childbirth, which, I'm told, gets easier and easier -- so that by the time your cranking out your "Lords a'Leaping" round of squealers, they're pretty much shooting out like there's a potato cannon down there or something [completely offensive remark to all women, for which I am totally disgusted in myself].

No. Writing books gets harder and harder.

I've written a lot of them.


And then there was another thing... well, to be honest, a couple of them, that I wanted to ramble on about today in a completely disjointed way, but I'm sitting here -- it is 5:00 A.M. -- and I can see the "Creepy Smoking Guy" sitting, alone, up in the hills behind my house, in the absolute dark, just watching me through the big windows on my office.

Yes, as well as historically successfully fulfilling a NYR, I also have a "Creepy Smoking Guy" that materializes out of the darkness from time to time.

When I don't see him, it's because he isn't there yet.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010



A couple thoughts about next year. First, I like the number. 2011. Don't ask why, I just do.

This is the time of year when you'll see a lot of "Best Of" blogs, "Predictions," and stuff like that.

First, my thoughts on Best Ofs (By the way, and there are those of you who may argue the point. Save your collective and grammatically-flawed breath. As much as I despise the use of exclamation marks, I have an equal, if not stronger disdain for the use of apostrophes when constructing a plural. Quit doing that, everyone. It is wrong).

Does the right-justification of this text make your brain itch?

It's supposed to.

Where was I? Oh yeah... Best Ofs... Well, I already wrote a post about my ten favorite albums of 2010. I love music, and, snobbily enough, I am not stuck in the past and adhere to the philosophy that anything that came out after The Summer of Love is derivative crap.

So I feel okay in listing my ten favorite albums of 2010 (a number that makes me uncomfortable).

I can't list my ten favorite books, though. I know some writers do that stuff. I just can't.

I also can't list my ten favorite movies for a whole lot of reasons. First, I don't really ever go to movies; and, second, I... um... don't really like movies.

I know.


I mean, in general I don't. Some movies I like. Some movies I can watch all the way through.

But not most.

Just admitting that on a blog is akin to admitting you have tasted human flesh, I think. Which, by the way, does NOT taste like chicken. Especially because I'd kind of (and when I say "kind of," believe me, that's exactly what I mean... kind of) like to see a The Marbury Lens movie.

But that's another thing entirely.

So, that leaves me with Predictions.

I'm kind of torn about making predictions, too, because half of me is totally unrealistic and "hopeful," (I know... not only is this a disgusting trait, but it yawns the doorway wide to crushing disappointment) and the other half is completely pessimistic and stuck in worst-case land, which should be part of Disneyland -- they'd have really long lines and right when you get seated in your ride-mobile, you'd realize you've sat down in someone else's vomit and then the ride breaks down for the rest of the day.

That's my pessimistic outlook side for 2011. I think it's the dominant side of my brain.

But, hopeful, or pessimistic, or just plain neutral, I do have a new book coming out in 2011.

It's called Stick.

And here's the little three-sentence description of the book (that tells next-to-nothing about the actual story) from my website:

Stark McClellan (“Stick”) hears the world in a different way. He is surrounded by cruelty and ugliness, but holds on to a powerful sense of wonder, faith, and love for his best friend, Emily, and the most important person in Stick’s world -- his older brother, Bosten, who happens to be gay.

When the boys’ father throws Bosten out of their home, Stick steals a car and takes off on a three-state odyssey to find and rescue him.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

the bad words

As a writer (oh... doesn't that sound exceedingly snobby?), I don't believe there are such things as "bad words."

To be honest, if you've read this blog (and certainly if you've read my most recently published book), you likely have noticed that I pretty much use just about every "bad word" in the lexicon of profanity.

Except for one or two that I just don't like.

But, most words, I like very much.

In a follow-up to yesterday's post, I thought I'd compile a list of nine words/terms that I do not like much at all. In fact, I hate them. I would have made a rounded "ten" with the addition of the word crossover, which, to me, means a really ugly car or something that would be naturally selected out of the gene pool in the next breeding frenzy, but I decided to sit on the fence about that word for the time being.

Also... yeah... I caught a lot of grief for making fun of Steampunks yesterday. Um... so what can I do? Eh.

Anyway, here they are, in two sections:


DYSTOPIAN (This is a made-up, trendy word. Like "fajita," which is also a word I hate.)

FAJITA (Do you even have fajitas on the East Coast, or, like Machiattos, do they only exist in California?)

MACCHIATO (I know. This really isn't a made-up word, but I still hate it. This foul blasphemization of coffee is actually Italian, for "Douchebag," which happens to be one of my favorite words.)

STEAMPUNK (The only thing worse than saying you're writing a "Steampunk" novel is saying you're writing an "Edgy Steampunk" novel [see below] while enjoying a Macchiato. Shut up and stand still, so I can punch you in the neck.)


EDGY (This word is meaningless and criminally overused. Please do not call yourself edgy. Ever.)

FAERIE ("Fairy" is okay. Just not "Faerie." Ewww... I want to punch myself in the face just for having typed it.)

FALLEN ANGEL (No. Just, no. Never.)


SCROTUM (I have blogged about this word before. Nobody should ever use it, no matter how genteel or anatomically precise you're trying to be. The word should be abolished, to be replaced by the much more lyrical "Ballsack.")

Now, and this shall be the winter break writing assignment for my young writers' group: go write a story that uses all of the above.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I read this piece in the New York Times where they posed a question to a number of YA novelists and other thinker-types, asking for their theories behind the recent popularity in dystopian fiction for young adult readers.

So, I'm going to pretend the New York Times asked me, which in my fantasy-pretend-universe will allow me to exceed the apparently miserly word-count they limited their respondents to. I'm also going to pretend to be obtuse, snobby, and evasive in my response, as well.

Heck. It's my pretend-iverse, after all.

Ah, trends.

Don't you love them?

Trends are terrific and useful things for people whose impulse to sell vastly overshadows their creative capacities. (See? I told you I'd be snobby. Now for the obtuse and evasive bits...)

The truth is that dystopian fiction (and, by that, I imagine we're talking about works which establish a kind of nightmare-world that is generally believable) has been around forever. As long as novels (and even epic poetry) have been written. There's nothing new about dystopian literature at all, and certainly nothing new about its popularity among readers.

So go away with your stupid hipster, scenester questions, dumb New York Times.

(Snobby bit #2)

The thing that concerns me is that the moment people start talking (in all caps) about TRENDS or A SCENE, then there's all this polluted kind of acceptance about necessary ingredients that identify a work as part of this great new giant TREND or SCENE. Then things start to get watered down, neutered, and just not very interesting.

And the door is suddenly open for an awful lot of not-too-clever poseurs who latch on to their coveted list of magical and necessary ingredients and proclaim themselves to be "in the scene."

(Warning: Extreme snobbiness is about to ensue. Stop reading now if you are sensitive.)

I know it's just me. I know I am weak and shallow. I am a bad person. But I want to punch everyone in the world in the face who says something like, "Oh! I am currently writing a Steampunk novel!"

Go away.

Just write a novel.

Make it good.

Then let the hipster, trend-identifier police tell you if you're in the club or not.

I know some people are going to say The Marbury Lens is a dystopian novel. Okay. Whatever. There are also going to be people who say that the guy who wrote The Marbury Lens is an ass. Okay, too.

I am hip to that scene.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

waking up this way

Okay. So I've been asked a couple times now to read forthcoming YA novels for the purpose of writing a "blurb" -- an author's endorsement of a particular work -- for them.

I know.


It kind of trips me out that anyone would care whether or not Andrew Smith thinks a book is worth reading. But... eh... whatever.

So, okay, a couple weeks ago I got my hands on an electronic copy of a book called Open Wounds by Joe Lunievicz. The novel is being published by a small publisher (WestSide) that specializes in YA titles, and is due to be released, I believe, in April, 2011.

One of the things that got me interested in the book right away was that it's boy-oriented historical fiction. Okay. I like YA historical fiction a lot, and I'm not trying to ruffle anyone's feathers here, but I think the genre is woefully underrepresented when it comes to shelf space in bookstores. What is out there, too, also tends to be primarily aimed at girls.

So, naturally, I really got into the idea of reading this book about a kid growing up in 1930s and 40s New York. (Side note: That's really all I knew about the book ahead of time. I purposely did not read the synopsis because I like to discover the elements of plot as I go through a book.)

I finished reading the book a couple days ago. And it was the first book (besides my own when I'm working on them) that I'd ever endured reading in its entirety on my computer screen. That, in itself, is testimony to how the book affected me, because I can not put up with reading novels on anything but paper. (It's also why it took me so long to read the book -- I just don't see how editors and agents and people like that can STAND reading entire manuscripts on a display screen of any size, color, or configuration. Sorry. I just can't do it.)

My take?

The world needs more books like Joe Lunievicz’s Open Wounds.

Open Wounds tells this soaring, huge, sweeping tale of Cid Wymann, a Jewish kid from a poor neighborhood, as he grows up in 1930s and 40s New York.

I loved reading Open Wounds.

It’s one of those books that effortlessly pulls you into Cid’s world and makes you want to live there. Open Wounds is dripping with everything that made me love reading when I was a boy: action, compassion, extreme adversity, and heroism.

The setting of the book (Great Depression and War-era New York) is as real and multi-dimensional as the compelling voices embodied in the story’s fascinating characters: Cid, the fighter; Tomik and Siggy, his boyhood friends who at times lose Cid’s trust and must act to regain it; Lefty, the battle-scarred cousin who selflessly devotes himself to Cid; and Nikolai, the funny (the first time Cid meets him, Nikolai vomits on the kid), disturbing, and deeply wounded man who becomes Cid’s mentor and teacher.

I'm not going to say anything about the plotting or conflict in the story. I just loved reading this book, and can't wait to see a real, cover-to-cover, paper version of the novel next year.

So I guess that kind of counts as reading my first book of 2011. I can only hope that the rest of the 2011 novels I read end up being equally enjoyable.

I don't know Joe, his agent, or anyone at WestSide, but this really is one hell of a good book.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

quiet day

I had planned on taking the day off, leaving little more than the message that I would return soon with ample stuff to say, but I needed to provide a chilling follow-up to yesterday's spider drama.

So, this morning, Jew that I am, I was sitting by the fire, coffee in hand, while my wife and children were cooing over the vast assortment of expensive gifts I foisted off on them [it always goes this way], and, as expected, they gave me the one Dad-marked package.

Naturally, I don't even have to say what's in it. Underwear. Of course.

Oh. And a spider. Not just any spider, but the evil twin of the one who passed away in bed with me on solstice night.

No, Anne, there will be no photographs. No spider nor underwear pictures. Because this one only lasted about three seconds on the couch beside me before being wadded up in cast-off underwear wrappings and deposited in our roaring, Jewish, Christmas morning fire.

There's more than a little bit of me in all the protagonists of my novels. Like Troy Stotts, the constantly questioning kid in Ghost Medicine, I'm always seeing the non-coincidental connections in things, the ripples that weave the strings of one day to those preceding and following it.

This is my week for exceedingly large, quick-on-their-feet spiders who want to cozy up next to me.


Friday, December 24, 2010

things i can't believe i did this year

Blogger = Unreliable Narrator

Don't you know that?

Because blogging, as I've said before, no matter the topic (even economics and politics, both of which I happen to enjoy reading about), is always closely orbiting the great big giant me. Oh, and it isn't writing, either.

But, like writing, blogging has an awful lot to do with making shit up.

I tell a lot more truths in my novels than I do on this blog. People get pissed off about both of them, I guess. Looking back at 2010, there are lots of things I can't believe I did this year.

I can't honestly list the "things I can't believe I did" on this blog because people would get really pissed about them. But I did these things. One day I will probably write about them, too.

Whenever you read any novel written in first-person POV, there is, by definition, a certain expected unreliability presented by the narrator. After all, the story is filtered through the lens of a character's perceptions.

In fact, even a third-person POV has some degree of unreliability inherent, but this deception is somewhat more sinister because of the perception of objectivity created by a detached narrator. There is always going to be a degree of bias internal to any observer when describing the observed, isn't there?

So far, my novels have been written mostly (but there are some passages which stand as exceptions to this) in first-person POV. I like first-person, both as a reader and as a writer.

I also believe that my narrators (Troy Stotts -- Ghost Medicine, Jonah Vickers -- In the Path of Falling Objects, Jack Whitmore -- The Marbury Lens, and Stark McClellan -- Stick) are pretty reliable and honest when it comes to telling their very different stories (Oh, and back on yesterday's topic of "branding," these kids are all TOTALLY different personalities, too).

The reason I mention this is that I recently read a (very unreliable -- right?) blog by a self-proclaimed book blogger that talked about the unreliability of first-person narrators, how this blogger didn't like FPPOV because of that (but the blogger blogs in FPPOV), and the blogger was particularly suspicious of male character FPPOV.

Not making that up, as much as I can't believe it. It was interesting to read and think about, though.

There's a significant and unbalanced amount of male-bashing that goes on in YA, and it originates from every imaginable point of inception involved in the literary process (observer and observed). It's something that, unbelievably enough, I will be blogging about more in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: The following is for Anne (see comments).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the brand

In The Marbury Lens, the monsters have these fire-red brands that can't be covered and light up at night so you know who they are.

In writing, there are brands, too. Sometimes, like in the case of the monsters in Marbury, brands can make it easy to sort things out. You know, there are some writers who put out their first book... and then, the second one and everything after that is kind of like the same story with the same issues and the same characters who have different names and live in Florida sometimes and Maine others and the seasons are different, but, other than that, it's... their brand.

But -- call me a hipster (and I evaluated my life on a hipster checklist that my friend Ksenia posted today and realized that, lacking the essential defining attributes, I am, indeed, not a hipster) -- I have always kind of thought of "branding" as a negative thing for me, personally.

So I try to never go to the same place twice in my books. If you're among the five or six people out there who've read my three published novels, you'd probably agree with that (as well as the two or three people who could include my forthcoming fourth in that list).

Forthcoming fourth. That sounds really stupid. But I think my fourth book, Stick is really cool. It's a kind of postmodern journey story about ugliness and beauty and it has this kind of weird experimental structure in places. Anyway. It's different.

I guess some people would say I have a "YA" brand, but I've never really thought of my books as being "YA." (My apologies for that). In fact, I will always cherish the email I receive from one reader of The Marbury Lens which began with the irate (I am only guessing, because tone is such a problematic issue in emails) proclamation: "This is NOT YA."

Well, okay. I don't know what it is, either. I just know it's not like any of my other books.

Which kind of makes me a little unsure about writing another scary book.

I really want to, and I have some burning (like the Marbury brand) ideas for one [side note -- are you actually going to sit there and believe that you can't possibly think up monsters that are cooler and scarier than fucking vampires, werewolves, and zombies??? you have got to be kidding me], but I am afraid of being "branded."

I guess, as far as vampires, werewolves, and zombies are concerned, buyers -- in this case, readers -- get comfortable with certain "brands" too. I mean, if you go out shopping for Wonder bread and you buy Wonder bread, you know what you're going to be putting in your mouth before you even get it home from the store.

Like I said, there are definitely good reasons for sporting the brand. A lot of times, I wish I did, too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the crushed capsule hotel

I am reading an e-book.

The mere fact that I have gotten beyond chapter three speaks eloquently to the draw the book has on me, because I just can't read books on screens.

I suppose that this whole e-book, iPad, Nook, whatever phenomenon is going to initiate some predictable changes in reading and writing. I read an article in the New York Times recently about how e-book sales are really strong for romance titles.

The assumption is that people who might be embarrassed buying a romance book from a brick-mortar-and-paper bookstore don't feel so stigmatized about getting one downloaded on their Kindle. One can only assume that e-book sales will be perky for erotica, as well.

Maybe I should write e-erotica. Half the fun would be thinking up a pen name.

Honestly, though, I don't have time for that. I'll leave it for the real writers who pay their rent and stuff by doing what they do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the marbury experiment

Sometimes, things just kind of happen.

Well, to be honest, I guess things always happen.

I'm not going to quote or repost reviews today, but I will begin by saying that The Marbury Lens has gotten a lot of really flattering, great reviews. I've been thinking about two of them in particular lately, because both of them gave The Marbury Lens their highest-possible ending, but both of them also included passing comments about the ending of the book being ambiguous, or lacking a definitive conclusion.

First of all, I would like to say that I entirely believe -- as the gospel and unarguable truth -- that the only truth in any book is based solely on the reader's perception, so I am not about to argue with those particular impressions. I'm totally okay with them, if nothing else because the reviewers loved the book.

But yesterday, quite coincidentally, Barry Lyga posted a quote from the great writer Samuel R Delaney. Delaney said, Endings to be useful must be inconclusive.

I like that. I think it says something important about storytelling, that a great deal of what really happens must take place in the imagination of the reader. It's what I've referred to as the blind spot -- that place in the human eye that gets "filled in" by our brains. Everyone's got one, and we all take it entirely for granted.

That said, though, I really do wonder about the unfinished business in The Marbury Lens. If you've read the book (and there will be no spoilers here), then maybe you should ask the questions that you probably want to ask at the very end: What happens to Jack? What happens to Ben and Griffin? What happens to Conner?

I think you know the answers (assuming, of course, that you've read the book).

You want to know more than what you already do? I'll write a sequel. But it won't be anything like you'd ever guess might happen next.

Trust me.

Another thing that's popped up hundreds of times in reviews, letters, emails, and personal conversations have been the very frequent observations about how The Marbury Lens has disrupted peoples' lives, given them nightmares, messed with their heads.

This observation I find particularly pleasing. (Imagine what it did to the person who wrote it).

And -- please -- not that I am saying I am by any means talented, but I'd like to throw in another favorite quote here from Mr. Delaney:

Talented writing makes things happen in the reader's mind---vividly, forcefully...

Monday, December 20, 2010

this is it

Last week, I read an article from the Guardian that said writing is in the top-ten list of occupations associated with clinical depression.

Wow. How tantalizingly newsworthy.

Yesterday, I wrote a letter to myself in the future. I'm supposed to read it next year, when I am ME in 2011. In it, I scold myself for being such a disappointment. This is my version of New Year's resolutions. I call it New Year's admonishments.

I wouldn't be good at resolutions anyway, because the only ones I can think of involve starting bad habits. More of them.

How, exactly, do you smoke crack, anyway?

I'd probably suck at being a crackhead, anyway, but at least it would give me something to express my disappointment over for 2012. I'm very sensitive toward things that smell unpleasant.

You know what else I don't get? I don't get how people can sell books they haven't written yet. I have no doubt I would fail at that. Even thinking about it is making the muscles in the back of my neck tight.

How could I possibly not suck if I did that?

I don't know. Maybe I should try, just so I could add to next year's list of disappointments, too. That, and the whole crack-smoking thing.

Can't wait to open that letter next year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

take note:

Yesterday, Brian James said something about taking notes when I run, which I do, but not with paper or anything. That would be problematic, especially on days like today when it is pouring freezing rain and there are wind gusts of -- I'm estimating -- pug-levitating velocity.

But I am going out in 90 minutes from now, anyway.

Wish me luck. I will have floaties.

But Brian's question made me realize something because I am, even as I write this, in the midst of it: I do take notes. I write notes about what I'm writing and what I plan on writing all the time. I do not outline, though. Outlines are different.

They are oppressive.

Notes are kind of like the ingredients in a recipe. If I look up a recipe for something, I can tell everything I need to know by its list of ingredients. I already know if I'm going to like it or not.

So, even though this is a recipe for disaster -- despite the fact that I've promised myself there would be a National Not-Writing celebration looming in the outline of my future -- I have begun assembling notes on yet another novel that I -- God help me -- will start writing in the next couple weeks, after I've assembled the whole list of ingredients.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

seconds over minutes

Things that make me want to punch people in the face:

  • Using more than three exclamation points in a letter or email. Three is my limit. I don't like them anyway, but I'm trying to get over it by forcing myself to tolerate a maximum frequency. It is three.

  • People who respond to an email in all caps. All caps is loathsome. Detestable. I must punch something when people do that to me.

Yesterday, I had a very pleasant email conversation with one of the brightest people I know, Dave Barrett, managing editor at Macmillan. Dave's emails have a particularly soothing effect on me, because he doesn't even use the shift key at all.

One of the things I like about Dave, aside from his soothingly lower-cased emails (and I don't think I've ever seen the guy employ one of those eye-stabbing grammatical blights which would require a shift-key plus one combination of effort) is that, like me, he is a distance runner.

People give me crap for this (which is one of the attractions to living in a sparsely-populated region. Well, that, and it's easy to hide bodies), but I have not missed a single day of running in what is now about to be eleven years. I run in heat, wind, snow, wildfires, and, today, a horrendous storm.

I am about to leave on my usual Saturday-morning five-mile loop through the hills. I don't bundle up particularly well during weather like this, either. I mean, what's the point?

There's almost nobody here to tell me it's stupid.

Lots of people told me I was stupid when I didn't take time off from running when I had a broken foot. It was deliciously painful. And yes, I did it.

Sometimes writers need to experience new dimensions of pain, especially if we ever want to tell stories about things that hurt.

Like certain punctuation marks, and people who use caps lock on their email responses because, I suppose, they think you're not paying attention, or smart enough, or something like that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

making a list

I really appreciate the fact that Jack has been popping up on an awful lot of lists.

I guess appreciate isn't really the right word. I am pleased and humbled by the praise received by The Marbury Lens. But it's kind of weird, too... and I feel a bit emotionally distant, as well.

Maybe other writers can back me up on this, but I frequently feel so disconnected to the things that I write, like I'm possessed or something -- someone else -- when I write them. And then, afterward, I'm, like, where the fuck did THAT come from?

For me, books are kind of like snapshots: they capture a time and place, but they ARE NOT the time and place. If that makes any sense. So, after they're done, it's like... well... that's not me, and I don't know what you're talking about. Go ask someone else.

Yesterday, I saw a notice from Library Journal that The Marbury Lens is on their list of "Best YA Lit for Adults, 2010."

Wow!!! That is so freaking cool, and I feel simultaneously flattered, honored, and weird (like I wish I was the guy who wrote that book, but I'm not... it was written by some fucked-up person named Jack Whitmore).

The concept of that list kind of hurts my brain. YA Lit for Adults.

I received an email a few weeks ago from a person who wanted to get a copy of The Marbury Lens signed as a gift for another person for Christmas, and wanted to know how to go about doing it. The gracious gift-giver also explained (almost apologetically) that the recipient -- who really WANTED a copy of the book (yay.) -- was an "adult." Like, go figure, an adult would want to read a book that people call "YA."


That's a whole other topic.

But it is really amazing to be on Library Journal's list.

Also, another very cool thing: the author Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Once Was Lost, Sweethearts) also wrote a very flattering blog post about The Marbury Lens, in which she admitted that she'd been "dying to talk about" my book.


You know what? It is super-cool when real writers say stuff about your book. And I am totally flattered by the things Sara and other authors have said about The Marbury Lens.

So Jack can add these two to his list:

You can read Library Journal's List of Best YA Lit for Adults, 2010 here.

You can read Sara Zarr's report on The Marbury Lens here.

And, thanks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

story time

Yesterday, there were lots of messages.

First, one of my favorite things happened: I received a hand-made, hand-written card from a friend and reader overseas. I have to say I do enjoy receiving email from readers, especially young ones, but there is nothing at all like getting an actual handwritten note on paper. I keep them always. So, thanks for that, kid. You know who you are.

I also got a very nice email from my agent. Not that I've ever gotten a not-nice email from her. But it's always nice to wake up to such things.

And, on yesterday's blog, Connie left a comment that, Maybe one day your students can share some of their stories with us.

I'm sure they will.

Absolutely positive.

But, in a very cool coincidence, I heard from one of my alumni Young Writers yesterday, who is now away at college, and I really want to share his (edited for confidentiality) message here, and a comment about it, too.

He said:

I just want to thank you for getting me interested in writing. I recently got two pieces published in the newspapers near... Thinking about it now, I would have never had the confidence to do that, had I not had previous experience and confidence from my short story. In the future with any success I have I want you to know the incredible impact you have had on me as a writer.

Okay. Well, naturally, things like that make my day.

But it also made me think that there are so few messages kids get from school about what they can be. It seems like all schools want kids to be is part of a column in a bar graph, a contributing factor to their API rating, a number that designates a payoff of proficiency on a standardized test.

And, after that, you're on your own, kid.

Proficiency and test data results are not living.

Nice to know there's at least one kid out there who's taken that message with him.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

go mine the sun


I've actually been thinking about a lot of stuff that I want to write about on the old blog, but I keep holding back because I don't want to have certain people misinterpret what I need to say. And it has a lot to do with "YA" and literature for young people, and I'm struggling with how to frame this and haven't come up with a non-toxic approach yet, so I am going to shut up. For now.

But,in looking back over the past year, I do want to say that one of the coolest things that has happened to me has definitely been working with my Young Writers' Group.

The kids in the group are all 16 or 17 years old, and they are truly some of the most creative and talented young writers I have ever seen. It makes me wonder about what happens to kids when they grow up.


I do get a chance to read a great deal of things written by aspiring adult authors, and, to be honest, the degree of creativity, uniqueness of voice, and fearlessness, in general, doesn't come close to what I get from the kids.

Some of the kids in the group started out being involved in their school's "Art and Lit" magazine, but fell out of their excitement over the project largely due to the limits on things they were allowed to write about.

Note to schools: If you want to foster creativity and ingenuity, you can't put limits on thought and expression. Okay, sure there are areas we have to be especially careful about when it comes to issues where kids are in harm's way... but I am not talking about that, so don't even go there.

But that's another topic, entirely.

So I spent a good deal of time reading the first rather sizable chunk of a novel that was written by one of the kids in my group, and I thought I'd share on the blog here a couple of the general comments I had for him.

(By the way, the only reason I'd do this is 'cause I think the kid is a damn good writer.)

First of all, kid, it's about the starting point. The coolest part of your work that really got me came about 5,000 words into your story. That's a good chunk of a novel (5,000 words), and it's an investment that some readers won't give you. Switch it up. Cutting-and-pasting the exciting part up to the front wouldn't change anything in the story at all, but it will get your reader to turn the page.

The voice and the rhythm of your sentences is absolutely great. Technical ability is the toughest component for the majority of writers. Anyone can "think up" stories. In fact, everyone does. That's the easy part. You have the tough part down. And, obviously, the discipline, too, judging by the number of pages I have sitting here under my elbow.

Finally, make your descriptive passages less "quiet." By that, I am NOT saying the "show, don't tell" idiocy that people throw out with all the careful consideration of a sneeze or a hiccup. You know what I mean, kid, we talk about this all the time, and I'll show you what I mean with some of your own words.

There are definitely times you want your words to be quiet, just like there are times when you want your story to inhale and breathe a bit. Just not so much quiet breathing that it ends up falling asleep on us.

Also, I wrote my notes to you in pencil -- regular pencil. Just like a really good editor I happen to know.

Monday, December 13, 2010

cold earth and quicklime

I am back from San Diego, where it was sunny and 80 degrees yesterday. Sorry to my family in Minnesota, but when I drove past Disneyland on my way home, it was 86 degrees.

I have to say thank you to the people at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego. Their party was amazing, and they treated me so nice. Great food and drinks, and they really know how to pack in a crowd, too.

If you're in that area and haven't visited the store (I understand they're going to be opening up another one near Los Angeles), you really should check it out. It's one of those classic and perfectly-arranged independent bookstores.

And they've got my book there, too, so what could be better than that?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

in which books become gifts

Okay. I know I haven't read as many books in the past six months as I normally do. But I wrote two novels during that time, and finished the revision and editing work (which was ridiculously simple) on a third, Stick (which is coming out in 2011 and will have a fabulous, amazing cover, I've been told).

But I do have a couple ideas here for gift books that I'd confidently recommend, since it seems there is a lot of book-gift-giving going on this time of year.

All You Get is Me, by Yvonne Prinz
Aurora and her dad take up organic farming in a community divided between the economically and socially powerful, and the unrepresented, quiet, and hard-working people we depend on for so much... the kind of people who much of society consider to be invisible and frequently undeserving. It's a powerful examination of what divides us, and what brings us together. Like her previous, The Vinyl Princess, Prinz's latest YA (out this week) is full of quirky and captivating characters who provide no shortage of great dialogue. Hard to put this book down. You'll fall in love with this world.

The Haunting of Charles Dickens, by Lewis Buzbee
Meg's brother, Orion, disappears in Victorian London. Who better than Charles Dickens to help solve the mystery of his abduction? Following his previous Steinbeck's Ghost, another tribute to a beloved author, Buzbee pulls his readers along for a very enjoyable, exciting, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny ride. A great book to introduce young readers to the wonderful universe of Dickens, full of subtle our-generation tricks and jabs. A beautifully enchanting story for everyone.

The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith

In the Path of Falling Objects, by Andrew Smith

Ghost Medicine, by Andrew Smith

I truly believe that if you have a teenage boy who hasn't "gotten into" reading yet, it may simply be due to the fact that he hasn't found any books that speak to him for who he is, what he knows, and give him the kind of stories that boys want to read.

These three books at the bottom of the page fit the bill for that kid.

That's why I write my books -- not that girls and adults and every other imaginable element in the population won't connect to them in some way.

And besides, you didn't really think I'd not recommend my own books, did you?

Friday, December 10, 2010

the carniceria

Getting ready to go somewhere is always a distraction.

This weekend I'll be down in San Diego, speaking and signing and stuff with The Marbury Lens.

It begins on Saturday evening at Mysterious Galaxy, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. #202, San Diego, at 6 p.m. for the bookstore's Eat! Read! Party! Holiday Event. There will be some really cool authors in attendance, and this store, which specializes in creepiness, is my kind of place.

I just hope the menu isn't inspired by The Marbury Lens.

I also received news yesterday, which happened to be the one-month birthday of Little Jack and The Marbury Lens, that the book has gone into a second printing. I know this can't be entirely due to my three friends and one family member who still speaks to me, so all I can theorize is that there are plenty of people out there who have stumbled onto the perfect gift to give someone who has everything except for a book where giant bugs eat people and mutants run around wearing loincloths made of human scalps (which will be toy spinoffs next holiday season, according to Michael Grant).

And still counting down... Sometime, before the beginning of the new year, I swear the not-writing shall officially begin.

Back to work.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the ruler of all the pieces


So, first of all, I haven't really been in much of a talkative mood lately.

Weird stress trip downers are permeating my exceedingly porous cocoon of esteem.

But I'm not saying anything.

This weekend, I am looking forward to being in San Diego on Saturday and Sunday, doing the bookstore things. On Saturday evening, I'll be at Mysterious Galaxy's Holiday Bash. Doing stuff. With books and things.

Like, The Marbury Lens.

And, The Marbury Lens made it on to a couple more super-cool lists this week, too. That makes me feel really good.

You know what also made me feel good (after a really shitty past couple days)? A teacher complained to me because THREE students were reading The Marbury Lens in class, instead of paying attention to the teacher.

Yeah... that's me: singlehandedly undermining the standardization of today's youth.

Keep it up, kids. I will give presents.

So, cool lists for The Marbury Lens this week:

First of all, Jack made it onto Lauren's list of Great Books for Everyone on Your Shopping List, over at Mrs. Nelson's Books.

And, over at Galley Cat, The Marbury Lens was named to their list of Best YA Books of 2010.

Speaking on behalf of Jack, The Marbury Lens and I are very flattered.

Thanks so much.

Monday, December 6, 2010

four walls and adobe slats

Well, I have had a most productive weekend that followed a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me week, but that's another story entirely.

Thing is, I really like what I've done, I am satisfied, and I am just moments away from the initiation of National Not-Writing Month (which, in my universe, will probably not last exactly one month, but you know how things are in Marbury). It could be three seconds; it could be three years.

First off, cheers to all the folks I know who attended the Big Sur Writing Conference over the weekend. What could possibly be better than writing in Big Sur?

Writing at my house, that's what.

Kind of.

And, since I'm in the mood for sharing -- kind of -- I wanted to say thanks to the folks over at Attack of the Book! for posting such an amazing, thoughtful, and flattering review of The Marbury Lens on their blog today.


Oh... and listening update regarding the audio version: the part where Jack meets Henry at The Prince of Wales gave me the chills. It's just that good. A most excellent reading/acting performance from Mark Boyett.

You can read the Attack of the Book! review of The Marbury Lens here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

weigh what he said to help you shape the way you play

Well, it's been a week of very nice reviews and messages from readers and other writers.

Next weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, I'll be down in San Diego doing some bookstore visits. I'll post more on the weekend events later this week. Maybe there will be pictures, but I doubt it since I'm heading down there alone.

A few weeks ago, amid a completely off-base blog frenzy about hidden messages in The Marbury Lens, I got a very encouraging comment from a book blogger named Amy (from Canada) who said she was intrigued by the book and planned on reading it for herself.

On her blog today, here's some of what she had to say:

The world of Marbury and the everyday are intertwined through Andrew's amazing writing. This incredible personal story gets under your skin and stays there long after you have finished the book. The story flowed flawlessly and I despised everything that interrupted my time with the book. I loved how there were scenes that sometimes overlapped in both worlds, although they were drastically different.

So, thanks, Amy.

You can read Amy's complete review on her blog here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

those noisy boys just might have spoken up too soon

Deadline is dead.

Actually, as I said, I received the copy edits package on Tuesday evening. I went through the entire thing and sent back a five-page corrections letter on Thursday.

Yeah. That's how I roll.

It helps when the following three things mesh:

1. You write fairly clean copy. Okay. I'll admit it. I am pretty good.

2. You have a really smart editor.

3. You have a brilliant copy editor.

Then things can be really easy. Not that I didn't have five pages of questions, comments, and explanations. But, again, to quote my son: Deadlines are my bitch.

And now Stick will be evolving (which, I understand is against the law in some parts of the country) directly into an ARC.

I can't wait to see it.

And I can't wait to see the cover art.

You guys in New York have a lot to live up to after the cover you did for The Marbury Lens.

And, speaking of that, I received what has to be in my all-time-top-five emails yesterday from a young guy in Pennsylvania who told me about how he was bored and started looking on the internet for a new book to read:

I begin my search for some good reads on Barnes and Noble's website and start by looking through some new releases and nothing seems to really jump out at me. I am also very picky when it comes to what I read (I'll come back to that). And then as I'm about to give up on my search an interesting cover catches my eye (you can see where this is leading...I hope..) and next to it reads "The Marbury Lens". I clicked to read the description and I thought,"Ok, this looks pretty interesting, maybe I'll give it a try...".

The next day I take a trip to the actual bookstore location nearby and picked it up. When I got home I sat down and began reading. And there went the rest of my week. I couldn't put the damn thing down.

Anyway, I won't quote the whole email here, but it definitely made my day, which probably wasn't hard to do considering the incredibly shitty mood I was in.

And, as I said, too, I began listening to the audio version of The Marbury Lens yesterday.

Mental tennis match:

Did I write this?

Damn. I wrote this.

Okay, it does really creep me out to hear someone read something I wrote. It's like listening to myself sing on a tape recording or something equally terrifying.

But this is really good, and I find myself unable to stop listening to it.

Mark Boyett does an amazing job with the voices and attitude. Perfect. I didn't think anyone could "get it" in terms of the voice/tempo/attitude changes, but Mark nailed it.

And his voice of Freddie is deeply disturbing.

I'm going to be wasting a lot of gas this weekend just so I can keep listening to the discs in my car.

Friday, December 3, 2010

the sound of the lens

I'm going to do something today that I have never done before.

Two days ago, an unexpected package arrived at my door. Usually when I get deliveries, they're from my publisher, I know about them ahead of time, and they're late.

This time, the box came from Brilliance Audio, and it contained copies of the audio book version of The Marbury Lens.

What I've never done before is listen to one of my books. And every one of them has been made into an audio book, too. It just kind of makes me uneasy listening to one of my books.

I don't know if I'll make it through the entire thing, but I am determined to set out on this ten hour and forty-nine minute journey through the audio for a couple reasons:

First, I think The Marbury Lens is a good book for read-alouds. That is, if you're not easily made uncomfortable listening to things like this.

And second, I actually got to audition the actors who'd been trying out for the part of the narrator's voice for this project, and one of them, Mark Boyett, who I later got to speak with on the telephone (the East Coast - West Coast thing), I thought nailed the whole attitude and voice of Jack perfectly.

We'll see.

I'm taking the discs and a cup of coffee out to my car for my morning drive.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

the son king

Ha! Deadlines are to me as dolphins are to tuna nets.

Do they still do those questions on SATs?

I know, I know.

Lack of sleep, like chain-smoking, will catch up to you.

And when it hits, it will kill you.

But, anyway, about this taking-my-son-to-see-Roger-Waters-perform-The-Wall thing...

In the last few weeks, my son (who is sixteen years old and getting ready to go off to college) and I have had some deep and life-changing (hopefully) conversations. Which reminds me that I need to write a post about our "coffee talk"; how coffee relates to women, and life, in general.

Hold me to that.

The coffee talk presents a fundamental view of the universe which my father never had the chance to share with me, but I have gifted to my son.

Just doing my duty to the species.

And it probably will only offend about half the population, so as guy-to-guy talks go, it's probably entirely genteel.

So, anyway. Back to the Wall concert experience.

Here's the deal: we quickly realized that there were, like, no sixteen-year-old kids at this concert. Okay, okay... by "no kids," I mean they were outnumbered, easily, about 300-1 by people from my generation.

Which isn't really so bad, I guess.


Scratch that.

It was terrible.

My people are old.

Really old.

And, I'm like, holy shit... are these my people?

Look around you, son. Here we are at The Wall.

This is where the handoff occurs.

My generation to yours.

Look at us.

This is what you see, son. We are the guardians of the world, the stewards of everything we have left behind to you, and this is us:

We are old. Really old.

Look, son, many of us need assistance walking. And those who do use assistance for their ambulation have a hard time grasping their walkers with one hand without spilling their bong water on their hush puppies.

Yeah, son. Look around you. We are the ones in charge: old people who smoke pot.

Lots and lots of pot.

And I'm, like, son, let me apologize right now to everyone in your generation for this -- what you see, and what I just realized is our legacy to you.

My people are a bunch of really old people who can barely move, but we can smoke a shitload of pot and bring down the Western world's economy by refinancing our mortgages.

To buy weed.

Yes, son, that old lady there with the oxygen bottle and little air mask is smoking a fatty joint.

After that show, I won't pee clean until 2012.

Yeah, son, we're in charge of the world.

Look at us.

Some of us are so fat we can't fit in our Roger Waters $200 seats. We have to stand up (with assistance) and use our seat for a shelf for our bongs.

This is the world, son.

Like dozens, maybe hundreds of people present frying on acid or 'shrooms, son, I've just had a Pink-Floyd-induced epiphany:

This explains a lot, doesn't it?

No need to thank me for the world, son. Consider it my gift to you and all your little friends.

Oh. And it doesn't come with a gift receipt. There are no returns at the "World" store.

Don't kid yourself, son. It's not the Ninth Ring of Hell: a bunch of old people who can't move, smoking pot at a Floyd gig.

Oh, and the ones who can move either have to get up out of their seats and block your view every thirty goddamned seconds because they need to pee again, or they fall down a lot. It's a combination of all the booze plus the Nacho cheese sauce on the floor, which makes it really slippery.

And who eats wheelbarrow-sized portions of Nachos at a concert, son?

My people do, that's who eats Nachos.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

this wheel's on fire

Operating on just two hours of sleep here.

Not for the usual reason, like someone screwing with my universe.

Last night, I took my sixteen-year-old son to see the Roger Waters performance of The Wall in Los Angeles.

I could do something very weird and write an actual second music review post in the span of one week... After all, I do think I have a lot I could say about the show, which did have its share of awkward, not-quite-pulled-off-moments, as well as flashes of perhaps the most visually stunning eye- and ear-gasmic triumphs I have ever witnessed, but I'm not going to review the show here, I'm going to talk for a moment about something else.

[By the way, I am going to see the performance a second time in about two weeks, and I'm going to compare my notes to see if my original take on last night's performance has an enduring ring of truth to it, in which case I probably will write that review.]

Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool to go to the concert with my son. Going to see a Pink Floyd performance with me as a kid is probably something that would cause my father to want to unearth his casket and move his remains in to Dick Cheney's undisclosed subterranean place that's... um... undisclosed... and... under... ground. Or something.

But my son and I have similar taste in music (good, I might add), and we've gone to lots of concerts together. In fact, just this year, we've seen last night's The Wall, Wolf Parade, Cults, The Felice Brothers, Conor Oberst, Wavves, Magic Kids, Titus Andronicus, Best Coast, Abe Vigoda, Zola Jesus, and... um... I know there's more, but my head is still kind of ringing and I haven't slept.

Anyway, my son was one of the very few kids his age at the show last night. I'm glad he got the opportunity to see the equivalent of something like an outdoor version of Aida for people who grew up in my generation.

And I also hope we'll keep going to concerts together (and laughing at the people we invariably see who show up entirely wasted out of their minds).

Dude... maintain.

Just before we left for the show, a delivery arrived at my house: the copy edits package for Stick, which I keep reminding you all will be published in 2011.

So, before I stepped out the door, I ripped open the package, pulled out the stack of pages (hooray for publishers and editors who still send sheets of paper -- and sorry if I'm "outing" anyone who doesn't want to be "outed," but I really need the paper for copy edits), and, naturally, thumbing through the stack, I zoom directly to a page where



been done

that wasn't supposed to be "done." It happens. Copy editors, being the word-heads that they are, are always going to pick up on things that -- in the absence of a contextual examination of my universe [which routinely gets screwed with by random strangers and acquaintances and results in sleep deprivation] -- look like mistakes, but really aren't... so they get "changed" to make them "correct," and then I have to change them back so they "look" wrong, but are actually "right."

At least, in my universe.

Does that make sense?

Deadline, prepare to have your ass kicked.

I think.