Saturday, December 31, 2011
The last day of the year here in California.
I'm trying to imagine what predictions I would have made about my own trip through 2011 exactly one year ago, on New Year's Eve 2010.
They certainly would have been wrong.
When I was an undergraduate, I read a 19th-century novel called Looking Backward, which was written by Edward Bellamy in 1887. Bellamy tried to predict the social and economic progress America would experience by the year 2000 through the eyes of his character, Julian West, who is hypnotized and wakes up in Boston 113 years in the future.
Bellamy, not one to be frightened away from speculation by labels which today have become epithets (um... like socialist), actually envisioned a kind of utopian Marxist-socialist society where everyone would be cared for and share in the productive capacity of America.
Then I was thinking about 20th-century authors who wrote about the future. Guys like Orwell, Huxley, and Vonnegut certainly had a... um... more tempered optimism than Bellamy.
Dark, dark, dark.
And they always get the machines all wrong, too. Bellamy, of the four, was actually pretty good at foreseeing certain technological changes.
I can't say I read contemporary books about the future. Of all the books I've sold for publication, there is actually only one of them that takes place at some time in the distant future in America -- Once There Were Birds, which is going to be published by Simon and Schuster in 2014.
I don't know if it's a good future or not.
Yesterday, I had a little fun on my Facebook page.
Today, I am supposed to have my AUTHOR PHOTO taken for Simon and Schuster.
I stress about things like this. Not because I'm concerned about blemishes, my hair, or whether or not a particular outfit makes me look fat.
It's because author photos tend to categorically be very douchey.
This is something else they need to cover at those $450 Writers' Conferences:
How to take an author photo.
I think this year, in 2012, I am going to have an entirely FREE Writers' Conference. I will volunteer my time and conduct panels and breakout sessions.
In order to provide all these valuable tips and tricks for free, rather than have it at a posh city-center highrise luxury hotel, we will hold our 2012 No-Fee Writers' Conference in an abandoned foreclosed home in the Antelope Valley, which is in sunny Southern California.
There are plenty of locations to choose from there, and some of them still have meth cooking on their stovetops.
I will teach you how to have an author photo taken.
A photo that says: Beneath all this simmering awesome-gravy I am pouring out on you is a hunk of pure literary man-meat.
That is what my author photo will say to you.
I think I will wear a scarf.
Friday, December 30, 2011
This is not actually the end of the world.
But I am going to blog today about something I never blog about, which may lead one to erroneously conclude preparations are underway for some apocalyptic occurrence.
I do not know anything at all about movies. Everyone knows that.
Yesterday, I had coffee with one of the producers who holds the film option for The Marbury Lens. A lot of people who know me don't really know anything about writing or the writing business, just like I don't know anything about movies, television, awards shows, and the State of Delaware, which, I am convinced, does not actually exist.
Here's what a lot of people who know me and do not really know anything about writing believe:
1. Editors fix your mistakes. (Editor's fix you're mistakes.)
I just punched myself in the face for writing that.
2. Writers have to pay money to get their books published.
3. If you spend $450 and go to a Writers' Conference where people dress up in kooky costumes, swap sexual partners, and get drunk, you can also become a successful published author, providing you have enough money to pay for printing your book and you higher a good enough editor whom can fix all your spelling airs.
Why do I keep getting emails asking me to sign up and pay for these conferences?
Attention: I am NOT coming to your $450 conference to have "face time" with someone who once got an email from Nathan Bransford.
At least the emails I get from China about penises and shit like that (I run them through Google Translate -- I am not making that up) are reasonably entertaining.
Where was I?
Oh yeah. Some people ask me what, exactly, does it mean when a book is optioned for film.
You know what I say?
I say this: I don't know. Maybe I should attend that $450 conference, after all.
I actually do want to talk about the film option for The Marbury Lens, and where we're at in the process of making this movie, but I just flashed on something I'd been meaning to gripe about and neglected to attend to.
I am like that when I start typing.
I never know what the next line is going to say, and before he gets really really pissed off at me for throwing his name out there, sorry Nathan.
I fly a lot.
I realize I say a lot a lot, too. I need to stop doing that. It will be one of my resolutions.
A lot is a stupid thing to say.
I am also going to make a resolution to write a novel in 2012.
I know. You are probably thinking that is a cowardly, wussie-like resolution for me to make.
Oh yeah? You try writing a book.
Just because I write a lot of them doesn't mean it's easy, or shit like that.
So, anyway, when I travel, not only am I the snob who refuses to carry his entire wardrobe through the airport so he CHECKS HIS BAG, but I also carry with me the following: An iPhone, a Macbook Air, and an iPad. I carry them in a frayed black nylon backpack.
That is what we writers call "backstory."
Cha-Chinnnggg!!!! That will be $450, please.
[Note the exquisite use of the word "frayed"]
Anyway, here's the deal. Some airports, the TSA people get angry at me if I take my iPad out of my backpack. I have actually been mocked -- in San Francisco, no less -- for doing that.
"Oh!" The TSA screener shouted and pointed, laughing mockingly, "An iPad is NOT a laptop! Ha ha ha! You, sir, are a world-class buffoon!"
[TSA screeners are known to talk all haughty like that]
[Clever dialogue breakout session]
[ALWAYS avoid adverbs. Get rid of the "mockingly"]
[That is why we can charge you $450]
Okay. So, in the past month, I have flown back and forth across this continent three times.
Since I was taunted and emotionally scarred by a TSA screener at SFO, I no longer remove my iPad.
At one of the six or seven wonderful airports I passed through this month, leaving my iPad in my backpack was not a good idea.
At this particular airport, however, the TSA screener did not say anything to me at all. She only shook her head, pointed at another white-shirted officer, and motioned for me to go down an alternate chute.
When I got to the end of the roped-off tunnel I had been directed to, the man at the end said this to me:
"Don't be nervous."
I am not making that up.
He was in a uniform. With a badge and latex gloves on, and he said only this to me, and nothing else:
"Don't be nervous."
I should have known that "Don't be nervous" is the intergalactic greeting that roughly translates to:
In about 30 seconds, I am going to grab your balls.
Because that is exactly what happened to me.
I do not think it is possible to "not be nervous" when someone in a uniform is grabbing your balls.
This is true.
I bet shit like this never happens to Nathan Bransford.
I will tell you more about the Marbury Lens film option... soon.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I have a list, too.
This is the time of year for lists.
This morning, when I woke up and started my usual stuff, I saw this post from Paul Hankins, a teacher of literacy who reads something like 650 books per year. It was about his favorite books for 2011.
Stick is on that list.
I'll put a link below.
It means a lot to me for several reasons. First, maybe I'm a tough-sell, but I have this nagging suspicion that the majority of people who post "Best Books" lists do not read that many books, and the ones they do read often seem to be the buzz books, or ones from the list-maker's favorite author.
Also, it's cool to be on that list with friends of mine. I know it's a good list, because these really are good books. Really. And being on the list alongside people I actually know and have hung out with is really freaking cool. For a moment, I can almost begin to feel like I've gotten somewhere.
I have two books that, to me, are the best books that have ever been written about writing. One of them is not Stephen King's On Writing, although I do like that book very much. One of them happens to be a novel -- just one chapter from a novel, but the novel is about a writer and this chapter is about writing -- and the other happens to be an old smarty-pants experimental thing about writing and teaching writing that practically nobody has ever heard of. The book was first given to me by a friend of mine, a guy I sometimes mention on this blog (who is a real person) as SMIK -- the Smartest Man I Know.
SMIK knows how I feel about words.
So here are the reasons I was thinking about a list:
Being a writer is kind of like standing on one side of a noisy river and trying to shout across at people on the other side.
Teachers and librarians are really the bridgebuilders for us. (In that category of Teacher, I would also include Parents -- although, sadly, an awful lot of Parents have deferred this responsibility on to technology and other people). Bloggers and booksellers help to reinforce the structure, but the teachers and librarians are the ones who fundamentally connect kids to words, to books, literacy, and to writers.
Let me tell you how important this job is.
It pertains directly to the future of human civilization.
I am not taking potshots here as an outsider. I have been a professional educator for -- ugh -- decades, and I know what I'm talking about.
There is a distressingly large population of teachers being churned out by the standardized credential mills in the country who do not read.
This is true.
Not only do they not read, but they have not read any literature of substance in their entire lives. I spoke to one teacher (who has been in the classroom for something like 15 years) earlier this year who told me that she wished she could get her own teenage children to read books, but she herself did not like to read, and could not remember the last time she'd bought or held a book of her own choosing.
I am honestly not making that up.
There are more Teachers like this than anyone thinks.
This is also true: That particular Teacher is moving up into school administration.
Hooray for the future!!!!
I've said this before: Everything we know, everything we have ever done or discovered, and everything we ever will find out is a word.
Words are everything.
The vast vacuum of nothingness is wordless.
The war against words is being waged with Number 2 pencils.
So I wanted to make a list of some of my Favorite Bridgebuilders of 2011.
I know bridgebuilder is not a word. I have had lengthy discussions with my editors and copy editor Anne about my inclination toward constructing Germanic-style compound structures on my own.
I can do that.
I am a writer.
So I started to make this list of my favorite Bridgebuilders of 2011, and I realized that there are an awful lot of them. I keep thinking up more and more as I sit here, too.
So let me start with 9 of my most appreciated footsoldiers on the right side of this battle to save humanity (with more to follow... lots more):
Cathy Blackler, California
Paul Hankins, Indiana
Kristen Pelfrey, California
Dodie Ownes, Colorado
Jennifer Sternberg, Wisconsin
Andrew Lawrence, Arizona
Alan Geibe, Arkansas
Jen Rogers Bigheart, Texas
Drue Wagner-mees, California
You can read Paul Hankins' Best of 2011 List here.
Oh. By the way, you notice how I not-so-cleverly avoided giving the titles of those two best possible books that have ever been written about writing?
I did that on purpose.
One day, I may actually give a real class at a real conference that is really about writing.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Here are some more tips from my ongoing Online Writers' Conference.
I am still in that generous kind of mood.
I hope you are, too.
Last week, I told you one of the big infomercial lies they want you to believe: Show, don't tell.
Show, don't tell is the Sham-Wow of craft.
If you know what the hell Show, don't tell means, and you do it, you will be magical.
Today, I am going to tell you two more things that are lies. For some of you, I am re-gifting one of them. It is one thing I always talk about with the writers I coach.
Here it is: To be a writer, you need to have a thick skin.
That is a lie.
To be clueless and insensitive; to have an impermeable, monolithic ego, you need to have a thick skin. To dumbly believe that your story is brilliant and original, even though you cannot spell or use punctuation and set it in a place called "Middle Earth," you need to have a thick skin.
Those are the only things that thick skins are good for.
And maybe living in a malaria zone.
The only writers who are better off with thick skins are ones with lots of money who keep going back to expensive writers' conferences to share samples of their brilliant and original story (for they almost uniformly only have ONE story they've been carrying around since the fucking Reagan Administration) that has some spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors (but that's what editors are for, right?) and happens to be set in a place called "Middle Earth."
That was a really long sentence.
So I will inject a free third lie: Sentences are not allowed to be that long.
You must always count the words in your sentences. Once you have gone past the number seven, insert a little black dot followed by something you typed using the shift key.
How long was that sentence, anyway?
That was a baby. Only 76 words.
Maybe I should not say this. In my book, Winger, coming out from Simon and Schuster in spring 2013 (and, by the way, it is completely finished with edits and on its way to copy editing, page design, and illustration)... um... there is one sentence that has 233 words in it.
Heads will explode.
Where was I?
Oh yeah. The other lie.
I love Ernest Hemingway.
That is not the lie.
I really do love him.
So much he would undoubtedly be uncomfortable about it. If he had a pulse.
But this is wrong:
The first draft of anything is shit.
Hemingway said it. The big fat giant THEY keep repeating it at expensive writers' conferences.
I'll bet my house that some knucklehead with thick skin and a fat wallet even got that shit tattooed on his body somewhere.
But it is wrong.
No, the first draft of anything is NOT shit, you moron.
The first draft of something that is going to always be shitty is shit.
That is the truth.
Try making soup out of shit, Hemingway.
Even you wouldn't eat it.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
“my fear is that when boys read books such as this,” he said, “they will assume there is nothing at all wrong...”
That did not last very long at all.
Although my service provider is FedExing me a new, free modem for my DSL, I went out and bought one yesterday after holding out for about 90 minutes, which was how long it took for me to do my morning run.
Now I have material for a third Marbury book: going to a big electronics/gadgets store two days before Christmas.
No, I do not want your "Black Tie" extended service plan. If the thing is a piece of shit, I do not want you to fix it two years from now. I will buy a new one.
And no, I am not writing a third Marbury book about electronics gadgets stores.
I have flown back and forth across the country three times in the past month. I am sorry if it makes me a snob, but I always check my bag. I do not want to carry my bag through the airport.
There are now airlines that will let you board the plane first if you pay them ten extra dollars.
I always sit on the aisle.
You know what you get when you board the plane first?
You get a lot of peoples' asses in your face, that is what you get.
I was thinking last night about a couple books I wrote this year, in 2011.
I realized that I wrote parts of them in reaction to ignorance.
Some people just did not "get" Jack and Conner's relationship in The Marbury Lens. While I would never say that "all boys" are like Conner, or "all boys" are like Jack, an awful lot of us are.
Oh well, you will see when Passenger comes out in ten short months.
I also wrote this new book called Grasshopper Jungle almost as a complete reaction to the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon's attack on me and my novel, The Marbury Lens. So, thank you for that, Meghan. I think it is a very good book.
I even considered dedicating the book to Meghan Cox Gurdon, but only for about five seconds. I assume from reading her that she is a very concrete thinker, and might take the dedication the wrong way.
I have never said anything offensive about Meghan Cox Gurdon, and have nothing cruel to say about her now.
If I could have one gift for 2012, I would like to have an academic debate with Meghan Cox Gurdon about literature and society and history.
The problem with such discussions is that people often resort to emotions like outrage and offense when they have difficulty countering rational academic positions.
That's what happened when I was interviewed on Minnesota NPR. The on-air host wanted me to get all emotional and angry. She was doing a good enough job of that on her own, I thought. I just wanted to talk about literature and society, and shit like that.
By the way, Minnesota NPR: I am still waiting for my invitation back, like you said.
I will bring a big ol' sack of outrage if you want.
Speaking of rational academic positions, I have some really fantastic news:
I have been invited to speak at the Booklist Youth Forum at this summer's American Library Association Annual Conference, which, I believe, is in Anaheim this year.
The Booklist Youth Forum will be held on Friday, June 22, at 8:00 p.m. This year's topic is writing books of particular interest to boys, and will feature authors who have been strong advocates of promoting literacy for guys.
Um. I want to say something about this right now, too. The other day, my agent said something about the number of manuscripts featuring boy protagonists he was receiving. This is a good thing.
But there are lots of different kinds of boys, and what makes them all "boy" is not necessarily sports or trucks or swords or gross stuff or hot chicks.
I think a lot of people still get that totally wrong. That's why some people get confused and uncomfortable with boy characters like Jack or Conner, or now Bosten and Stark, the brothers in Stick. And the other characters you'll be seeing in 2012, 2013, and 2014, too.
Yeah. I have lots of books coming.
Anyway, the forum is going to be moderated by Daniel Kraus, the author of Rotters. Absolutely nothing could be better than that, except maybe digging up the corpses of Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway to take part as well.
Also, Daniel Kraus has read Passenger.
Just saying, too.
And, speaking of Passenger... Um... I think there will be lots and lots going on about this book, coincidentally, at ALA this summer, too.
Maybe you might want to think about heading out to Southern California in June.
Friday, December 23, 2011
How do you like your machines?
Here is what happened this morning.
I always start work by checking my email. This time, I could not get anywhere.
My modem has completely died.
It was an old modem. It worked nicely. In fact, I was the very first person here in my little non-gay lakeside community to have DSL.
That is the truth.
When I called my service provider (keep in mind this was very early), they talked me through all this dumb stuff for, like, 45 minutes.
[actually, it was exactly 45. I checked my phone record.]
I do not even own a "landline" at my house.
Unplug your modem.
Unplug your router.
Plug them back in.
Reboot your computer.
It was all very dumb.
I did all that shit, like twice, while I was on hold and answering a computerized but pleasant-sounding female voice.
They finally decided that my old modem was dead, and they would need to send me a new one.
I am not certain if there are less-convenient days for a DSL provider to decide you need a new modem than two days before Christmas.
So I am blogging from my iPad.
I have this really cool wireless keyboard built in to my iPad's case.
It's not like I really need the internet, or shit like that, for a few days. I was doing some writing work (which did not include composing a goddamned autobiography) entirely offline, anyway.
I need to go outside and feed the horses.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Let the conference continue!
Have I ever told you how much I despise exclamation marks?
This is what an exclamation mark represents to me: The spot on the bottom is my eyeball. The slender pointed thing on top is a filth-encrusted, burning hot knitting needle that stabs me in the eye. It goes entirely through the eyeball, popping it like a grape, and continues onward to the center of my brain.
That is what exclamation marks do to me.
You know what else I despise?
Having to write a biography of myself.
The class begins:
By the way, in case you have not noticed, the noble colon is perhaps my most-favored punctuation mark.
It reminds me of halibut.
I know this: I will admit that even if you are a man, as I am, and you are a writer, again, as I, you probably cannot avoid using that utterly disgusting exclamatory implement of punctuation.
It is wise to avoid ever creating a character who routinely says shit like this:
If I were, as I've wished in the past, an amoeba, I would split in two just so I could punch myself in the face for having written that.
On the other hand, I find characters who say the following to be both endearing and masculine:
In this case, the exclamation mark is kind of like kissing your wizened, phlegm-hacking, chain-smoking grandmother: Disgusting, but obligatory. It is also offset by the indisputable coolness of the preceding two-word combination:
Holy + Shit
And, unfortunately, if you are a man, and you are a writer, somebody is going to inevitably require you to compose a short autobiography.
Autobiographies, like exclamation marks, make me feel slutty.
So I thought I'd give some tips to aspiring writers (especially manly ones) about how one goes about conquering the task of composing a short autobiography.
I have little arguments in my head between myself and myself.
This morning's argument went like this:
DREW 1: The people at Simon and Schuster are asking me to send in a biography.
DREW 2: Make shit up!
DREW 1: Why did you use an exclamation mark?
DREW 2: I like to fuck with you.
DREW 1: I got an email from a kid this morning. He asked why we don't have a Wikipedia page. I do not know why we don't have a Wikipedia page. I never thought about it.
DREW 2: You know what does have a Wikipedia page?
DREW 1: What?
DREW 2: Pus has a Wikipedia page. Also Underarm Hair has a Wikipedia page. You want to know why you don't have a Wikipedia page? Because you are a fucking loser, that's why.
DREW 1: Maybe I do not have a Wikipedia page because I do not ever submit short autobiographies of myself when people ask me to.
DREW 2: Let me write your autobiography for you. I will tell them all the most embarrassing shit I can remember about you.
DREW 1: Um. Look. I can't believe that author biographies and photos contribute in any positive way to the published work.
DREW 2: You don't believe in a lot of shit.
DREW 1: I'll have to give you that.
DREW 2: Did I actually just win this argument?
DREW 1: I think you did.
DREW 2: Squee!
This was my morning.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I am in that benevolent online Writers' Conference type of mood today.
You know the drill.
It's Christmas and Hanukkah, after all, so drop your cash and feel better about giving and generosity, and shit like that.
I will tell you some things.
I get plenty of questions from writers who hand me great heaping stacks of stuff, which they ask me to read and then tell them if I think their great heaping stack is any good or not.
Why would you ask me?
I am insane.
I do not know whether or not your great heaping stack is any good, because it is 50 pages long and appears to be a solitary, single-spaced paragraph. With dialogue in the middle of it.
I am not making this shit up. I have seen this more than once.
Since you, apparently, are not Octavio Paz, I must begin by telling you that you do not know how to write.
I am going to buy a van and paint a clever message on the side of it. I will also paint a picture of myself on it. I will have a slogan, too, as soon as I think of one.
I am going to use this van and travel around the country. Then I will set up one of those folding card tables outside the entryways to expensive Writers' Conferences where people get to speed-pitch and schmooze, and all kinds of other shit that have nothing to do with writing words.
My slogan will be something like: Save money now, ask me how!!!
People will hand me their great heaping stacks and I will tell them to go home and learn how to write.
Do you think that is mean?
Do you think that is meaner than taking money from someone who doesn't indent a fucking paragraph and imbeds undecipherable dialogue within its body?
Somehow, someone has pitched the idea that it is all about the story.
That is a lie.
It is a lie that people who watch too much television and play video games assume to be true.
Writing is about writing.
Writing is about the words.
Ideas do not come before words.
Aristotle was stupid.
You don't get an idea and then make it real with your words.
Words must exist, in all their precision, before an idea can be anything. Your idea comes to you in words. If it did not, you wouldn't know it was an idea.
Here is a lie that people who take your money will tell you:
"Show, don't tell."
What the hell does that mean?
Especially when they tell you that.
They tell you to show. They can't show it, because they need to have words.
All writing is telling. That's what words do.
You know who shows and doesn't tell?
When you hear that said to you, you have obviously signed up and paid for a Mime Conference.
Writers are all about telling.
But I will show you something:
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I have been encountering a lot of uptight people lately.
Seems like everywhere I go, people are lacking that certain this-time-of-year spirit.
I am not Christian.
But every year my wife and kids celebrate Christmas.
I enjoy giving gifts, but I do not like receiving them.
We've had this talk before.
Anyway, my family likes to decorate the tree and stuff like that at this time of year.
I am okay with that.
We have a nice tree.
Would I be a bad person if I said that I think we have a predilection for hanging ornaments that are particularly gay?
I love our gay Christmas tree.
I do believe it is the gayest Christmas tree in our little lakeside community.
Even though it is Christmas, my little lakeside community is not very gay at all.
I always thought you were supposed to feel gay this time of year, but up here where I live, people just don't seem to have the spirit at all.
Eh... what do I know? I'm not even Christian, anyway. I probably do not have the right to feel gay this time of year.
My dumb, uptight neighbors need a hug or something.
Maybe if I show them pictures of my Christmas tree ornaments, it will, as the song says, make their yuletide gay. I feel gay every time I look at my tree, and I want my neighbors to feel gay, too.
I'm all about spreading the spirit.
This is my tree:
Here is one of my ornaments:
How can you NOT smile at that???
That little fellow always makes me feel gay.
Here are some more:
I bet you feel gayer now, too.
I would show you some pictures of the sparkling, bejeweled unicorn ornaments, but that might be too much for one blog post.
So here are two other random ornaments from my very gay Christmas tree.
First, this ornament came from (I am not making this shit up) President Ronald Reagan. It is a long story, but it is true. Ronnie, if you are reading this blog from heaven, I just want to say thank you for making my tree so gay and... I don't know... gold plated or something.
That ornament doesn't make me feel so gay. It's a little too regimented and contains a subtle message like "We are not gay in this house." I can almost hear the gold doors slamming. But, oh well... it came from the president of the fucking world. It deserves a spot on the tree.
Am I allowed to say "fuck" in a post about my Christmas tree?
I'll have to ask my neighbors.
And finally, I don't know what the fuck this is. My son made it when he was in 2nd grade.
He always got bad grades in art.
How can you give a child a bad grade in art?
Guess what, second-grade-teacher-with-a-telephone-pole-up-your-ass? My son is now at UC Berkeley, which is, like the number-three rated university in the fucking world. He got in when he was sixteen years old.
Maybe it was because he made shit like this, that nobody understands:
Ho ho ho.
Monday, December 19, 2011
One of my favorite things has to be getting letters from readers.
Here is one of the best letters I received this past year. Well, I will paraphrase it. It went something like this:
Dear Mr. Smith,
I just got a copy of Stick for my Kindle. I am sure you have probably been told this already, but there are some major formatting errors in this first Kindle version of your novel. Some of the words are out of alignment with the text, and some pages contain passages that are right-justified. I just thought I'd let you know. It is a very good book, though.
I was thinking about letters just this morning, as a mater of fact. In the past 24 hours, I received a letter from a boy in high school in one pat of the country, who had some really insightful things to say about The Marbury Lens and Passenger. Really, this was one of the smartest letters I've ever received about The Marbury Lens. This kid totally caught on to something that very few people have dared to suggest.
At the same time, I got another letter from a boy in high school in a totally different part of the country who had some serious questions and praise for Stick. It was also a terrific and insightful letter.
As a matter of fact, I've gotten a lot of letters like these in the past year or so since The Marbury Lens came out.
I know... I don't really put letters up here on the blog because I'm not sure that it would be fair to the writers, and most of them are very personal.
But as I was thinking about letters this morning, it dawned on me that the vast majority of letters that I receive are from guys (maybe 90%)... and most of those are from guys in high school.
More proof that boys do read, and they think about what they read, too.
Sure, the stories I write and the content of my novels tend to emphasize strong male characters and the whole "guy" experience, but the voices I hear coming through from these letters speak loudly to counter the loudmouthed myth that boys do not read and cannot connect to or process literature.
Because, honestly, I got two of the smartest and most well-thought-out letters from boys in high school about two different books in just the past 24 hours, and that's always a nice way to ease out of a pretty good year.
2012 is coming soon.
Jack and his friends will be back.
I'm sure there will be lots to talk about then, too.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The Ten Best Albums of 2011
There is no particular ranking to these albums except for the top three, which to me, represent the absolute best musical offerings of 2011.
Here you go:
1. The Year of Hibernation (Youth Lagoon): This magnificent, quiet, subtle, huge record is my favorite album of 2011. Trevor Powers is this kid from Idaho who created a totally unique sound through which he threads some wickedly insightful lyrics. The Year of Hibernation is a personal work, introspective and sometimes defiant. Powers intended the effort for nobody but himself, but the results went viral after he paid from his own pocket to host a few downloads. The album rings with honesty and doubt, the stagnant reek from a trapped lagoon of youth in this go-nowhere opportunity-devoid era. I love this small and hopeful monument. It will be interesting to see what the kid comes up with next, but I am almost afraid that the simple rawness of the sound and structure of Powers' work will be engineered away by the handlers who will undoubtedly gobble Youth Lagoon up. Buy this album. Drink from the lagoon. It is brimming with greatness.
2. Parallax (Atlas Sound): Oh Bradford Cox. You are such a twisted and addictive talent. Parallax is lonely, harrowing, terrifying -- all the things that make Cox so scary and compelling. You cannot turn away from Bradford Cox. He is like driving slowly past a field of beheadings. This album is intense, ambitious, and crazy. Cox says this work is about his desperate loneliness. Then he throws a hollow pop number like Mona Lisa to belt the equator of this demented world of Parallax. It is a tight album, even better than Logos. Cox crashes down, an alien on this godless planet, hungry for everything and stranded in a desert. Bradford Cox is every bit as lovably doomed and sad as Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim. It is almost too much. Cox himself admits his dystopian Flagstaff makes him want to vomit. And I can't tear myself away from that cut. Parallax is in many ways reminiscent of Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest (last year's Bradford Cox masterpiece), but perhaps more absorbing and deeply sinister. Spend some time with this one.
3. The Rip Tide (Beirut): A sub-compact model in terms of playtime, but what a listenable and haunting gem this album is. The Rip Tide is the manifestation of the maturation of Zach Condon's musical development, both as a lyricist and musician. There is no band that sounds so simultaneously joyous, unique, and hypnotic. The only disappointment is the limited, 9-song playlist on this focused and relevant record. Keep it on replay. It is just that good.
4. Days (Real Estate): I liked Real Estate when they released their first stuff back in 2009. At that time, people didn't know how to get a handle on these New Jersey kids who sounded all throwbackish (I get a strong Byrds vibe from them). They really came into their stride with Days. Here's what makes an album hit my list: You have to be yourself, own the sound, so there's no doubt it's you we're listening to. Real Estate is so tasty in the sound department, so chilly and so evocative of the best influences in American Pop/Rock, but they really own their sound. Nice.
5. Burst Apart (The Antlers): Okay. Would I be a bad person if I admitted up front that The Antlers' album Hospice is one of the greatest albums ever made? When you make an album like Hospice, it's like everything else you do has to measure up, and I'll admit that I did not think Burst Apart could do it. I was wrong. Go home now and listen to Putting the Dog to Sleep, or Parentheses, for that matter. There is something disjointed in the themes within Burst Apart, but that is the essence, I think, of bursting apart. Singer-songwriter Peter Silberman apparently has a lot of shit to get off his chest, and he does it in a way that sounds and feels like nobody else out there. The Antlers explode with whispered intensity. This is a great album from a great band.
6. El Camino (The Black Keys): I intentionally waited to compile this list, because I had pre-ordered El Camino, which dropped on December 6. I knew I would write something about this album, and I half-suspected it was going to be in the sour-notes-why-did-you-do-this? section on yesterday's post. Not so. This is raunchy Black Keys magic at its gritty best. Danger Mouse's production sensibilities are impeccable. Everything sounds like it comes from inside your head, and your head is a dirty garage, where, quite possibly some heroin has been slammed or someone got whacked with a torque wrench. Nobody can touch Dan Auerbach's guitar playing or his vocals. This album may have hit my top three if I had more time to spend with it. Listen to Little Black Submarines, and for God's sake, turn it up to full volume. Thank you, Black Keys, for this December present.
7. Bon Iver (Bon Iver): Sigh. Oh Justin Vernon. You are just so freaking magnificent.This follow-up album to Vernon's highly personal For Emma, Forever Ago incorporates some new blends of sounds and layers, but the final product is distinctly Bon Iver through and through. Now that you've done this, Justin, I'd most like to see you strip it down and put out a raw, acoustic product with a single-track vocal. You can do it, and I can wait. But this album is pure beauty.
8. Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Girls): I so wanted to put Girls' 2010 Broken Dreams Club on last year's 10 Best list. But it was an EP. It was also one of my favorite releases of 2010. I was definitely not disappointed with Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Who can resist an album with an epic, raunchy, Pink-Floydesque song about obsessive love, called Vomit? This album is so very good. Again, it belongs on this list because there is nothing else like it at all, it rocks, and you will love it when you hear it. That is all. And one more thing: the structure of the songwriting. Brilliant.
9. Dye It Blonde (Smith Westerns): This album might be the surprise on the list. I have a feeling the other nine have popped up on lots of overlap music lists. Hear this: I did not forget you, Smith Westerns, even though this neat and twangy album came out way back in January of 2011. You almost made me believe it was going to be an unstoppable (heh... that's a very inside joke) year for great music, but what you offer was enough to keep me going, I guess. They claim influences as broad as David Bowie and T. Rex, but I hear George Harrison in that guitar and the Beatles in those vocals. This is such a fresh sound, with clever lyrics that taunt our lust for fun and freedom. And besides, Smith Westerns are from Chicago. How can you not love that? If you have not heard Smith Westerns, go get this album. I believe the band still gives free downloads of the single Weekend on their website.
10. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (M83): I did not feel compelled to add a France/trance/trippy/dance/electronic album on this list as a token for anything. As a rule, I do not like France/trance/trippy/dance/electronic stuff. But this thing is something else. It is, in fact, brilliant. And this is a huge album, too. It is Anthony Gonzalez's (AKA M83) homage (is that a French word?) to classic supersized albums of the 90s (in particular, Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness). But the similarities start and end with this album's length. Listenable, moody, mysterious, and big in sound and playtime, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming deserves its spot on this list.
Friday, December 16, 2011
This is that list-making time of year.
Yesterday, Sara Zarr posted on Twitter a congratulatory tweet to the authors whose books were named to Los Angeles Public Library's Best Young Adult Books of 2011. (The link is at the end of this post)
Stick is on that list.
In fact, it is a very good list that includes outstanding titles.
And it is alphabetized.
This is why I love librarians. Not because of the alphabetical order thing, because they read books, and they connect human beings to them... even the small quiet books that kind of sit in the back of the room and don't get noticed. Like Stick. Like the kid in Stick.
So, thank you very much LAPL.
And, speaking of lists:
I'm sure I wasn't the only one who started thinking back in October about what might possibly be the ten best albums of 2011.
I was out to dinner early that month with my friend Yvonne, and I said something like this: "It is not a very impressive year for music."
There were some bright spots, however.
But I just need to get a few sour notes off my chest.
Part 1: Sour Notes
Two things strike me about 2011: First, 2011 seems like it was the year for very short albums. Like, playtimes you'd expect from an EP or shit like that. And, second, it seems the philosophy of If you throw enough shit at the wall, some of it is bound to stick has become a sort of categorical imperative for 2011.
Unfortunately, I now have some shit stuck to my wall.
1. Colin Meloy.
Oh bespectacled Oberon to the kingdom of the hip! You, Colin Meloy.
Know this: I love the Decemberists.
But... Colin... I'd like to believe that maybe you just put all your creative energy and talent into writing a children's book.
But... um... I read that book, and that can't possibly explain it.
What the fuck is going on?
If writing a children's book explains the sterile porridge of The King is Dead, maybe you should have considered producing a textbook on multivariate Calculus, or some shit like that.
Please, for the love of God, Colin Meloy do not write another children's book.
2. Thom Yorke.
I also love Radiohead.
King of Limbs? Not so much.
Maybe Thom might consider writing a children's book.
3. Ian Felice.
Listen: I believe the Felice Brothers are the greatest American band playing.You did not need to put out that album, though.
Ian, do not write a children's book. You are a singular talent. Your paintings are amazing, and your songwriting is perfection. This was an off-year. I will give you that.
Please come back.
4. Stephen Malkmus.
Oh saggy Peter Pan!
The Jicks album constructed a gaudy sonic McMansion from the beloved chicken coop of jangle and lyric that was Pavement.
There is something wrong with that.
I had a talk with my son about this.
It went something like this:
ME: The Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks album sounds so slick and tight and overproduced. I wish he would get wasted or something and make it sound and feel like Pavement.
SON: Yeah, but the songwriting is there, isn't it?
ME: Well. Songs have been written. That's for sure. I can't fairly compare them to the substance of songs like Grounded or Shady Lane, and there's something about an all-grown-up Stephen Malkmus singing about not being able to do one sit-up that is not nearly as romantic as hearing the same cynical self-rebuke coming from the awkward Stephen Malkmus who fronted Pavement.
SON: You are my fact checking cuz.
ME: An island of such great complexity.
I could rant for hours about the musical yawns of 2011.
I suppose I just did.
But there were some great things, too.
Part 2: An Admonition
I just thought of something I wanted to rant about first, before I get to my picks for the best 10 albums of 2011.
It is this: I bought all these albums. I did not illegally steal them from the artists. I paid for them. I paid for a lot of albums that were not so good, too. That is why I have shit sticking to my wall.
The following ten treats make me feel not-so-ripped-off.
(You will have to wait until tomorrow to see my list of the Ten Best Albums of 2011...)
You can see the Los Angeles Public Library's Best Young Adult Books of 2011 here.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
More stuff about this year:
3. Yesterday, I picked my son up from the airport.
He just finished his first semester at Berkeley and is now home for winter break. He took his last final on Tuesday night, and he posted a link to the Mountain Goats' video "This Year" on his Facebook wall.
I'm not sure if that song is optimistic or if it is a joking stab from the perspective of a guy behind the wheel of a broken down car, but the kid made it through a very tough semester away from home.
4. Speaking of music, I have written my annual lengthy rant about the music of the past year, ending with my review of the Ten Best Albums of 2011.
These are ten very, very good albums that came out in an otherwise bad year for music.
The article will be posted in two parts on the blog this week, just in time for you to pick up some of my recommendations at an indie music store.
5. I wish I were an Amoeba.
I would asexually reproduce with myself and write more books.
6. I am going to completely change my website (www.ghostmedicine.com) between now and mid-January.
That is a chore, but it is time.
7. I am also going to start writing my next book in January.
It is also a chore, but it is time for that, too.
8. My cats are still alive.
9. Finally, yesterday Dan posted a comment in which he asked:
If you can offer any advice on how to manage the demands of life and time on a aspiring writer, I would love to read your thoughts.
Okay. I will tell you what works for me.
This is not advice.
I do not want to be responsible for telling anyone what they should do when it comes to managing the demands of their lives and their compulsion to write, if it is a compulsion.
I usually start writing every day at 3:00 in the morning. If I am away from home, I still write throughout the day, using my laptop and my iPad, which I use to email stuff to myself. I can get a lot done that way.
People often ask, When do you go to sleep?
I go to sleep when it is time to.
I do not have a "bedtime."
The reason I do not have a bedtime is because I do not watch television.
Sometimes, when I tell people that I do not watch television, they act offended, as though I am offering some blanket criticism aimed at lifestyle choices that include sitting still and watching stuff on a screen.
Listen: I do not watch television.
I have that condition that makes it impossible for me to stay focused on things like television and movies.
I apologize for that.
People also get very sensitive when I say that I do not watch movies. I have watched some movies, but I usually have to stop watching them very early on in the "action," if you can call it that.
I have this condition that makes it impossible for me to pay attention to movies.
I can pay attention to words, but it has to be very quiet.
I am the tyrant of quiet in my house when I am working.
I have an understanding family, but I suspect it is because they live in fear of me. I am moody, brood constantly over meaningless shit, and when I work they give me a lot of space.
When I start writing something -- really writing it -- I will usually put in about 8 to 10 hours per day on it. That is why I usually finish writing a novel, which is complete and in submission-form, in 6 to 8 weeks.
My last novel was a beast. It took me 11 weeks to finish. Although it is only 103,000 words, it reads really big, because it has something like 90 characters in it and goes back and forth through time over centuries, and shit like that. It took a lot of time to write.
I think that is how I do it, Dan.
Like I said, this is not a prescription. Nobody would want to do shit like that.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I need to tell you about some things I did this year.
1. This year, in 2011, I wrote three complete, new novels. I will tell you a little bit about them.
I figure I am good for about three new novels per year. I know that is a lot to write, but that's what I do. I have a lot of shit to get off my chest.
In total, these three novels add up to 1400 pages. They contain 303,000 words combined. The shortest of the three is 82,000 words in length.
Two of them are already in the queue for publication: Passenger, which will be published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, in fall 2012; and Once There Were Birds, which will be published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, in spring 2013.
Once There Were Birds is the shorty, coming in at 82,000 words. That really is not very short for a novel, especially when you consider that (like Stick, which came out in October) Once There Were Birds uses an experimental approach to the structure of the prose which requires the stripping away of an awful lot of unnecessary words. That's all I will say.
It was very difficult to write.
The third novel I wrote this year is quite the treatise on my insanity. Only a few people know anything about it, and it is far too late for them at this point. I will tell you what it is called, and little else. The novel is called Grasshopper Jungle.
It is about a love triangle in Iowa at the end of the world.
Oh yeah... I forgot. There are already too many books about love triangles in Iowa at the end of the world.
I think people may start to get a look at Grasshopper Jungle in early 2012.
I thought the novel was so different that I wanted to get a new agent to handle it. So I did that.
2. My new agent is a guy.
My editor at Simon and Schuster is a guy.
My friend Kelly told me she believes it is a good thing that I am surrounding myself with "male energy."
Does that sound weird?
It sounds weird to me.
My new agent is Michael Bourret. I like everything about Michael. I have this checklist of what agents should be, and Michael Bourret matches the requirements. I am not going to post this checklist.
It is not the kind of shit they tell you about at "Writers' Conferences."
I have more stuff to tell you about this year coming up.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Yesterday brought a heavy snowfall.
It was pillowfight snowflakes the size of my finger.
I went for a run in it. It was slippery, not good for my ankle, which I twisted while running in New York where there are no soft surfaces at all.
To get anywhere at all, you need to run on sidewalks in New York.
I think the sidewalks in New York are the hardest sidewalks in the world.
This is a true story:
When I ran yesterday in the snowfall, I was wearing shorts, a cap, and a hoodie.
I can't see how people can run in long pants, and I do not get cold when I run.
When I ran down my street toward the lake, there was a man standing in his front yard. He is a new neighbor who had just moved here from what he calls "the city."
He is probably used to hard sidewalks, too.
The man's wife was in their front yard, too.
He said something like this: Look at that crazy guy running in shorts! I thought we left all the crazy guys back in"the city!"
He was taking a photograph of his wife.
She was building a snowman out of three balls of snow and some sticks.
Monday, December 12, 2011
I am home.
Yesterday morning I got up very early to go for a run before my ride to the airport.
It seemed that at 4 in the morning on Sunday, people were just coming home from the Saturday night bars.
I ran past a fistfight in the middle of 8th Avenue.
It was actually a small-scale war, I think, because there were at least eight guys involved in the fighting, and each of them had flanks of supporters shouting encouraging slogans from the sidewalks.
That is what friends are for, I think.
When the police drove onto the scene, their lights made the whole area look like a disco from hell.
Then everyone started running.
Did I mention I was running, too?
Because everyone started running in my direction.
The cops did not run so fast.
Further on, down in Chelsea, I ran past an old storefront where, for a nominal fee, one could purchase a psychic reading.
The building had caught fire and burned a couple nights before.
While I was in New York, I met several people for the first time with whom I had had many written correspondences.
I was fascinated by the expectations I'd developed concerning voice.
Do people, in general, communicate with sound the way they communicate with writing? I tried to see if the expectations I'd developed about how my friends would say things - as opposed to writing them - would be accurate.
Anyway, I found myself thinking about that idea for some time.
It was an interesting trip.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
So last night I got to sit and talk with Dave Barrett, managing editor at Macmillan.
It was good.
We were at a bar that had been established by a boxing "cut man."
Afterwards, I met up with Joe Lunievicz, author of Open Wounds, a terrific book. We walked down through Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea, and he took me to a fencing salle, where we sat and watched kids practicing fencing, and Joe explained what was going on and told stories about how he came to learn the sport.
Naturally, we also talked about rugby. Joe is a rugger, and he's also one of the first people who had a chance to read the manuscript of Winger. I didn't know Joe at the time I sent him the manuscript. I did it because I was very fortunate enough to read a manuscript version of Open Wounds, which I loved, and during the course of our exchanges, I found out that Joe played rugby, so I told him about this book I had written about kids who play rugby.
Um... which is this book called Winger.
So the biggest part of our evening was taken up by a conversation that wove together probably the two biggest forces in our lives: fatherhood and writing. Joe's methods and discipline toward writing are different than mine, but I have always said this from the beginning: Nobody who expects to succeed should ever write (content or execution) like anyone else. That is the largest force behind an aspiring author's frustration and failure.
You have to find your own way, just like the kids we watched fencing got dinged up and driven back, trying to find their own way against the opposition.
Something Jonathon said on yesterday's comments came up during our conversation last night, too: The Fantasy life of an author.
I think Joe and I both agreed how amazing our experiences have been, and what a gift it has been in our lives to have earned the opportunities we have worked for.
I should say that again: My experience as an author has been an amazing thing, and I am appreciative of the gift of the whole trip, and the opportunities I have earned through my hard work.
I work very hard at what I do, and I earned all this good stuff.
I do not believe in luck.
I didn't ask Joe if he did, but I have a feeling I would know his answer.
As far as the other part of Jonathon's comment, the "It's harder work than you'd think" part: I don't know if being an author is harder work than anyone thinks or not, but I do know that the difficulties I have faced were surprising and debilitating at times.
Like losing my whimsy and zaniness, and shit like that.
Here are some pictures I took yesterday when I was out and about:
It was a spectacular day. The New York Public Library.
What can I say? This has to be one of the most photographed buildings in the world, but every time I come to New York I end up taking another photo of the Empire State Building.
Um. I went shopping here. I did not know that people who worked in elevators actually do what the people at Tiffany & Co. do.
Those are really big.
And this was shot, post-Dave Barrett, on my way to meet Joe for dinner.
And yes, all these were shot with an iPhone.
Now, off to the Met.
Friday, December 9, 2011
I spent yesterday at Simon and Schuster in Rockefeller Center. It is quite the impressive place.
Also, Rockefeller Center has that really giant Christmas tree.
It is an unstoppable Christmas tree.
I have a hard time with books. I left Simon and Schuster with a bag filled with books.
Making books is probably the greatest thing that humankind has ever done, if you think about it. Books probably do not offset all the awful things humankind has done, but they do offer some brief respite from our evident bend toward evolutionary nihilism.
I could easily have gotten lost in that last paragraph. I could also have gotten lost walking around inside Simon and Schuster. I must have looked like an acidhead walking through Disneyland. Good thing my editor, David Gale, stayed with me so I didn't get sucked into all the pretty colors. Everywhere, naturally, were books and books and books. And there were posters and cover art, artists' examples of images worked and re-worked.
It was very hard to pay attention. But I have that thing where it is always very hard to pay attention.
At Simon and Schuster, I noticed that all the people I met -- when I was introduced as the person who wrote Winger -- got broad smiles of recognition, like, oh, that's the guy who wrote that book. Clearly, they like my book.
It is very different.
I also got to meet the art director who will be overseeing the artistic design of the book, because it has some weird stuff (go figure) in it, like comic strips and graphs and notes, pie charts, random drawings, stuff like that. Anyway, I came out of that meeting convinced that this book (which is coming out in early 2013) is going to look and read like no other book you have ever seen. I know early 2013 sounds like a very long time from now, but it's not.
And the ARCs will most likely be out in the coming fall, so you can live with that, right?
You know what else will be coming out in the fall?
And the paperback edition of The Marbury Lens.
I spent the evening with my great friends at Feiwel and Friends. It was probably the best evening ever. I signed books for people in the Flatiron, and got to see some friends I hadn't seen face-to-face in quite a while. It was really nice. Better than anything.
So I ran into Rich Deas, the amazing artist behind the cover of The Marbury Lens, which, face it, was probably the best book cover of 2010.
Rich is amazing. He works in absolute secret. Naturally, the first thing I assaulted him with was a half-joking demand to see what he was doing for the cover for Passenger.
Nobody in the world knows what Rich has been doing.
But he did tell me a story about something he did to get a visual idea for what he might put on the cover, and all I can say is this: Holy Shit.
Later today, I am going to get to meet up with author Joe Lunievicz, who wrote Open Wounds, one of the best books of the last few years.
Tomorrow will be an epic day that I will try to record in as honest and unbiased a manner possible: I am going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with copyeditor Anne, whom you know as hellskitchen.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
I am in New York.
I have traveled forward in time from California.
Flying here I was reminded of two things:
First, it is inescapable that flying on an airplane consistently reinforces my deep, deep hatred for human beings.
Second, why do people at the baggage claim carousel always fall under the hysterical delusion that somehow their luggage may have developed stripes, changed color, shape, or size while in transit?
Why do people not know what their fucking luggage looked like when they put it on the plane?
These shall be my Tantric mantras while I stagger through the days.
I am channeling my inner motivational speaker.
Because I can.
Today, I am going to spend some time over at Simon and Schuster, which, I am told, is in "The Rock." I know a lot of author friends who are published by Simon and Schuster, but, so far, I have only met and spent time with my editor, David Gale. He is one of those top-notch, editors' editors. I realized the other day that I actually met David at an ALA conference back in 2008. It is very weird how paths cross and cross in this kingdom of the perky, over which I rule. I also met publisher Justin Chanda, but only in passing... kind of like the way you'd brush a hand across the garment of a Pope.
After my visit at Simon and Schuster I am going to go for a run.
I run no matter what, every day.
It is what gives me my sunny disposition.
When I was in Florida, one of the kids who waited in line to ask me a question on "The Mike," asked me how I stay so young.
I do not know how I stay so young.
I suppose the alternatives are unpleasant.
This afternoon, I am going down to the Flatiron Building, which is where Macmillan Publishing Group is located. I really enjoy the people I work with there. I will be going out to dinner tonight with my publisher, Jean Feiwel, and editor (chimey chimey chime) Liz Szabla.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I am going to New York.
This week has not been much of a farcical romp. Maybe in New York I will recapture my elusive whimsy.
Whimsy and romp: these are the things I live for.
But you already knew that.
This week I have been sullen and morose.
I realize I have used a lot of adjectives.
Sometimes when writers feel sullen and morose, they turn to alcohol.
I turn to annoying descriptors.
I need to recapture the zany.
Zany is what I am.
I am the walking personification of Klezmer music.
I will tell you if I find anything in New York.
Monday, December 5, 2011
I'll be totally honest again.
I do not like jacket copy.
You know, the shorty-short stuff inside dust jackets or on the back of the book that serves to abbreviate the attractive elements to a story?
So when I read it, I keep reminding myself that it is no good. In fact, I often will not read jacket copy on a book until I'm nearly finished with the book, and then, I'm usually, like, eeewww!
I'll be honest yet again: A good cover will make me pick up a book. If I put it down, it's because of the jacket copy (which I won't read at all if I'm seriously thinking about reading the book). I won't even pick up a book with a bad cover, or if it has a cover that would be embarrassing to carry around.
The Steve Jobs cover is good.
You know what it says to me?
It says, "This man is insane."
If it were the author photo on the back of the jacket, as opposed to the cover, I would never touch that book.
That is another thing: If a book has a full-cover author photo on the back of the dust jacket, I will not pick it up. If you are such big-name author that your publisher would actually suggest printing a dust jacket with a photo of YOU as the entire back cover, and you (assuming you are that big of a name) actually are okay with that, you know what it says to me?
This author is insane.
I mention all of this simply because over the weekend I was reading some short jacket-copy summaries for books that are going to be coming out in 2012. I will not say what books they were, or name the publishers or authors, but they all sounded unreadably horrid.
But that's just what jacket copy does to me, I think.
So let me circle my literary wagons and offer an intervening blast at jacket copy for 2012's Passenger, my book, the sequel to The Marbury Lens.
A magical flying unicorn that shits frosted raspberry cupcakes from its ass enchants the whimsical world of Marbury, turning it into a fanciful playland...
Fooled you, didn't I?
Bet you want a frosted raspberry cupcake now, don't you?
How about this - the version without the unicorns and cupcakes:
Jack and Conner prepare to leave for England. They have a plan. They think it's the only reasonable way to deal with the Marbury lens. But the four boys - Jack, Conner, Ben, and Griffin - end up scattered in different places at different times. Jack is lost in a Marbury that isn't Marbury, a Glenbrook that isn't Glenbrook, pursued through every crumbling not-world by an uncaring cop trying to solve the mystery of Freddie Horvath's murder, and a deceitful kid named Quinn Cahill who believes he is the King of Marbury. Jack's universe is collapsing in on itself. He finds his friends. He finds his home. There's always just one thing, and Jack knows it. This can't be it.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
I'll be totally honest.
I was asked to submit a short piece for an upcoming anthology. You may have heard about it. It's got a website and everything. I won't say the title, but you probably know what it is.
I said okay.
I wanted to try to do it, and the editors wanted guys to write, because, as is the case with the kingdom of the written word, there are few male voices to be heard.
The anthology involved authors writing letters to themselves as teens. You know.
Um. I'll be totally honest again. When I told my agent I was thinking about doing it, he groaned.
I like my agent. I should have high-fived him on the spot, but I wanted to try.
I realize I have almost nothing to say to myself as a teen that would not be laced with f-bombs.
No part of my teen life was cute or whimsical.
I tried. I read several of the other submissions. They all sound so fun, perky, and shit like that.
I could not do it.
I kept looking for signs of misery and helplessness, and all I came up with was encouragement and dogged determination.
I mean, what can I do? I tried, but words like fuck and shit magically started coming up in my letter to my teenage self. I tried to be whimsical and bubbly, all you-can-do-this-kid! bullshit, but the absolute truth is there were no encouraging adult voices at all in my teenage life.
There are also almost NO photographs at all from my teen years.
Here is one of them (taken when I was 17):
Um. I was not a happy kid.
Dear Teen Drew: You are on your own. When you fall down, you have 2 choices. You know what they are. That is fucked-up, but it is the shitty truth. P.S. -- If it is any consolation -- surprise! -- you live to be older. Squee.
You know what I would rather do?
I would rather write a letter to my office.
Here it is (taken this morning, at 5:45 AM in California):
Dear Drew's Office:
You have let yourself go, man.
I think it is time we stage an intervention.
Since I do not have time to participate in an intervention with you, I am hoping someone else will pick up the ball and run with it.
I'd like to be all encouraging, promise that I have faith in you, and will still be here for you when you straighten the fuck out, and shit like that, but I am leaving for New York and I am afraid when I come back home nothing at all will have changed about you.
Let me clue you in: When men enter relationships with offices, they expect them to STAY THE SAME. What is all this change bullshit?
Just look at yourself.
The rest of the house isn't like this.
Well, I am only guessing, since I am not actually allowed to go into any of the other rooms.
But trust me: It isn't me, it's you.
I wonder if there is a place like the Betty Ford Center, or shit like that, where I can send you for 30 days so you can clean the fuck up, and then come back and be reintegrated as a decent part of the household.
Dear Drew's Office: Straighten your shit out.
I mean it.
I am at the end of my rope.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Here is the danger.
I am totally finished with everything.
No edits. No nothing.
At least I have had about a month and a half of not writing anything new. It is probably about time to start that next thing.
Yesterday, I sent off the final version of Winger to my editor at Simon and Schuster, and to my new agent, too.
Yes, I have a new agent. I will tell you about my agent some other time.
But I wanted to say that this last time working through Winger, I really fell in love with that book again. It's hard sometimes to get in and out of books when you write a lot of stuff, and when, as I said yesterday, nothing you write is anything like anything else you write.
One of the things that is cool about Winger is that the narrator draws stuff in the book, and he puts in notes and phone conversations (and he plays rugby, too). Anyway, I ran across this little self-portrait note from him toward the end of the book that I'd forgotten was in there, and I thought it was a cool cartoon.
I will not show you the cartoon, because I drew it, and there will be a different -- real -- artist doing the artwork for the book when it comes out in spring of 2013. But here's what the cartoonist/narrator has to say (don't worry, there is no spoiler -- not even a hint about anything that happens in the book):
You ever hear of Joseph Conrad? He said, "One writes only half the book: the other half is with the reader."
Mr. Wellins might say that I have made you a conscripted audience; that I didn't give you a choice as to whether or not to believe me, and, believe me, sometimes I can't believe myself.
But I wrote this all down, and I tried to make everything happen the same exact way it did when I was seeing it and feeling it - real time - with all the confusion, the pressure, and the wonder, too; even though I did get off the page once in a while and make jabs at things. Which is kind of like the cartoonist drawing a cartoon of himself while he's drawing himself.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Here are two things I think people will never say about me:
1. Drew is perky, bubbly, and excitable.
2. Drew's current novel is too much like another novel we already have on our list.
How was your NaNo?
Mine was good. I have not written anything new at all since October. That has been nice for my brain.
In October, I finished writing the strangest, most twisted thing I have ever written.
It is not like anything on anyone's list. Probably.
Nobody knows anything about it.
I am going to New York next week. If I run into Roger Sutton, I will high five him for reading my book, Stick.
I am going to get to see all the great people I work with in the Flatiron Building, at Feiwel and Friends; and also the great people I work with at Rock Center, at Simon and Schuster. I'm also going to hang out with Joe Lunievicz, the author of one of my favorite books that was not written by me, Open Wounds. I'm kind of hoping Joe arranges a pickup rugby game in Central Park. I will play.
Joe is also a rugger, and he has read Winger, which is about kids who play rugby. Winger is my first book coming out from Simon and Schuster.
But I wanted to say something about my next book that is coming out from Feiwel and Friends.
It is called Passenger, and it is the sequel to The Marbury Lens.
Almost nobody knows anything about Passenger.
I haven't even let my son read it, although I did let him read the very twisted and deranged 105,000-word novel I finished writing in October.
He liked it.
But, and I don't really like to use the term "favorite," but the guy who wrote my favorite book that came out last year and was not written by me did get to read Passenger.
I will not tell you what he told me about Passenger.
I will tell you eventually.
But I will say what my favorite book of the past year that was not written by me is: Rotters, by Daniel Kraus.
When Rotters came out, Daniel sent me a grave-robbing kit that included gummy body parts.
When Passenger comes out, I am going to send out black gummy worms.
You will see.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Roger Sutton read my book.
I do not know Roger Sutton, but I have seen photographs of him. It makes me feel kind of weird to think that Roger Sutton has read my book.
He wrote a review of it, as a matter of fact, that is going to appear in the Jan/Feb Horn Book Review.
The book he read is Stick.
I do not know if he has read any of my other books, but if he wants to, I would be okay with that.
Here is the Horn Book review of Stick:
by Andrew Smith
High School Feiwel 292 pp.
10/11 978-0-312-61341-9 $17.99
“Stick” is at least slightly better than his given name of “Stark,” but what he’s called is the least of this thirteen-year-old’s problems. Stick was born with only one ear, his narration occasionally spaced across the page to mimic his hearing, and his parents are secretly and sadistically brutal. For the slightest infraction of their petty and/or incomprehensible rules, Stick’s father will beat him and his older brother Bosten, a beating that is often followed by consignment to a locked room for a couple of days or even longer: “no lights, no nothing, not even any clothes; just a galvanized bucket to use for a toilet and a cot with one sheet.” Stick suspects that even worse is happening to his brother; after Dad finds out that Bosten is gay, both boys, separately, run away. The violence of the story is intense, but so is the deep loyalty between the brothers, and the melodrama of life at home is balanced by Stick’s sweetly nascent romance with a longtime female friend and both boys’ experience of true family love when they visit their Aunt Dahlia. She is perhaps impossibly benevolent, but, man, is she welcome. Readers who have appreciated Chris Crutcher’s and Adam Rapp’s forays into adolescent darkness will find themselves on uneasy but familiar ground. roger Sutton
Thank you very much for that, Mr. Sutton.