Thursday, March 31, 2011

in which the unemployment rate increases

I did not sleep at all last night.


Where to begin?

So, I've mentioned a few times now about this short story I contracted to write for a forthcoming YA anthology -- you know, how I wrote the thing at the extreme upper-end of the word count range and I finished it one month short of my deadline.

The story is actually a sub-plot to the novel I am just finishing up, and, well... naturally, I suppose, I like it a lot.

[And, no, that isn't a dumb thing to say... I think at least -- maybe more than -- half the stuff I read these days seems to be written by going-through-the-motions writers who honestly don't give a shit about what they write...]

The background to the anthology was this: The unifying thread stitching the stories together is that they are all YA, Dystopian (yuck! talk about played-out expectations... but -- and you'll agree with me if you've read The Marbury Lens -- my "Dystopian" ain't your Daddy's Dystopia), PLUS the stories all have a love story undercurrent.

So... yeah... this actually fits my arguably-not-typical-Dystopian-YA current project.

Because, after all, all my worlds are Dystopian, anyway. They just happen to be real. And here. And now. Which is why I hate that term, Dystopian. In the same way that to so many people YA equals vampires, or whatever the monster/magical being of the day is, Dystopian now equals the exact same, predictable set of expectations, too.

Which isn't really what the word means.

Sorry for the wide and scenic route.

Anyway, there are lots of "stars" of writing who are anchoring this project. I am no longer going to name their names. Well, except one of them: bestselling author Ann Aguirre.

Ann withdrew from the project a few days ago, and I wanted to know why.

So I looked it up, and found out.

Apparently, "love story" plus "YA," in the minds of many people, excludes love between two males or between two females. "YA" also, to a lot of people, means kids don't swear.

I don't know any "Young Adults" who adhere to those universal boundaries. In fact, I now have a personal policy that if I ever involve myself with a love story anthology and there is NOT at least one story included about a same-sex couple, then I can't be in it.

So, I am now unemployed.


I can't be involved in this project given the editorial stance that was expressed to another author, against same-sex love relationships. The author is someone I won't name, and have never met. But if you're really curious, the story is definitely discoverable.

As far as the swearing is concerned, I will also not be in a YA anthology if there is not at least ONE contextual selection from the following word menu:

1. shit

2. goddamn (or godamnit)

3. sonofabitch

[By the way, the story I wrote... and I worked goddamn hard on that sonofabitch, too... included all three of the above. Shit!]

and, of course,

4. fuck

That's it. They just have to have ONE of those words.

And, yes it's true, I did not use "fuck" one time in my story.

But there were -- ahem -- a couple really crafty references to masturbation -- which I'm sure would have been red-flagged as something that normal "Young Adults" never deal with.

That's it: My policy = one of those words, plus one same-sex relationship.

Is that too much to ask?

One of the explanations I read about this earlier editorial decision against having a story in which two boys fall in love was a reluctance to portray alternative relationships.

There's nothing alternative about it.

It's not a goddamned choice.

It's normal and GOOD for young, as well as old, adults. It's just how human beings are. They fall in love.

And we have a responsibility to let kids know that they're okay, and good, and not abnormal.

Don't we?

So, I hope you don't find it offensive that I have now embraced a will-not-participate-in-YA-anthologies-about-love-unless-there-is-at-least-one-same-sex-LOVE-story-and-the-use-of-one-swear-word-from-the-above-menu policy, but that's just how I roll.

Oh yeah... the Dystopian Love Doctor has eighty-sixed himself.

By the way... as unemployed as I currently am, I have this novel called Stick coming out in October.

I really LOVE that story.

In fact, there are some really touching and intense love stories that weave their way through the plot of that book. Because Stick is really all about how love doesn't weaken in the face of cruelty and ugliness -- it flourishes, no matter what.

And -- guess what? One of the love relationships in Stick is between two boys, who really, truly love each other.

And the characters in the book also use every word on my dessert menu, too.

And, guess what else?

THAT'S the real world.

Where love exists, despite all the ugliness, and there are no "alternative" versions of love, because love comes in only one form -- pure -- unrestrained by the gender of the human beings it connects and makes whole.

It's not a Dystopia.

Anyone want to buy a story about a seventeen-year-old boxer who falls in love with the daughter of a man who works on a ferry?

Never mind.

(Sound of crumpled papers hitting the bottom of the wastebasket)

You may be interested in reading Ann Aguirre's blog post here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

two-drink minimum wage

So, the other day on my post about blogging, I challenged book bloggers to think and read outside the narrowly-constrained limits of YA literature they frequently reinforce -- to read YA nonfiction, or YA written by male authors with stories and characters that appeal to boy readers.

There was something recently in the Huffington Post bashing the NY Times book review section. I think there are a lot of people who believe that the Times "invents" bestsellers in concert with marketing and sales departments at publishing houses. I don't know anything about that stuff, to be honest, but I can see that there are an awful lot of readers who don't even know certain books and authors even exist.

This, of course, is only based on my own observations, but I have, in the past few weeks, seen kids in my Young Writers' Group struggle with and ultimately refuse to finish reading a top-of-the-lists recent YA bestseller (because, they said, it was so bad), and pick up and absolutely fall in love with two recent YA books that you probably never knew were out there (not written by me, by the way).

Well, I'm not going to tell you the title of the stinker, but I will tell you the two books that kids have really gotten into:

Surf Mules by Greg Neri (I mentioned this on my books-for-boys video)

Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan (This little book was just recently released by Running Press)

Just in case you haven't heard of them (and you probably haven't)... the kids really like them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

suspended poetic license

So, yesterday Anne mentioned that April is National Poetry Month.

I've been thinking about posting a poem on April 1, but struggling with how to do that, given the necessary maintenance required by my veneer of insensitivity.

Still, I do tend to take things entirely too seriously.

Anyway, I was thinking about the idea of "brown paper bagging" my short story for kids in high school, and I realized, much to my astonishment, that not once does the word fuck occur in this YA story of mine (but there are some pretty crafty allusions [teachers like that word] to sexuality).

I can't help what characters say. They just do it.

That's why Jack and Conner apply such a liberal strategy when it comes to carpet-bombing the f-word in The Marbury Lens, but some of the characters in that book don't swear at all.

So, I never really thought about this until yesterday's comments on the blog -- that the main character in my shorty (which is a sub-plot to the novel I am finishing in April -- National Poetry Month) has an aversion to swearing, while his co-star cusses with ease (but doesn't use f-bombs).

And, speaking of this not-so-short story, I did a word count on it last night and noticed that it comes in at 17,000 -- when my contract (which refers to me as a woman.. pshaw!) limits my submission to 13,000 words.

Time, I guess, to lap-band an epic and trim it down to a svelte haiku.

Monday, March 28, 2011

monday doesn't grow on trees

When I begin writing a novel, I try to plan out to the exact day when I will be finished with it.

When I started the one I am writing now, I predicted April 22 as my "the end" date. Looks like I may make it.

This weekend, I finished writing the short story I'm submitting for an anthology that will be simultaneously published in the UK and the US. I'm happy they had such a generous word range for the story length (from 6,500 - 13,000 words -- a nice, long, short story).

They got my name wrong on my contract, though, so I have to wait for them to re-send my contract before I can submit, otherwise the copyright to my work might be under another author's name... and we wouldn't want that, now, would we?

Whereas I formerly thought writing short stories was no fun, I am now of the mind that I enjoy contributing to anthologies, and have already talked to others about putting together more in the future.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

the good blogger

On the book blogs, I have seen some pretty nasty stuff.

Most of the nasty stuff is expressed by very inarticulate and poorly-informed, frequently self-impressed people. Sometimes those people are the bloggers themselves, and sometimes they're the post writers in the comments threads.

Anyway, yesterday I posted a tweet (ugh, hate that word) of support for a blogger who had a really nasty anonymous comment posted on his blog. I said that if I ever reviewed blogs, that his would be one of my favorites.

I've often thought about reviewing book blogs, so I gave his blog a quick score and I challenged other bloggers if they had enough guts for me to review their book review blogs.

I didn't think anyone would take me seriously, but I got a number of requests.

I just thought it would be kind of cool if actual, professional, paid-to-do-what-we-do, published authors reviewed book blogs and then gave recommendations as to whether or not they should be followed.

It's not a tit-for-tat (hate that word, too) thing. It's just that some blogs are really really shitty -- for a number of quantifiable, and, I think, justifiable reasons. And some book blogs are really great.

I enjoy reading Brent Taylor's Naughty Book Kitties blog, and I posted on twitter a made-up score for his blog that I'll explain (because I think it's a good blog and I'm not going to name any of the ones that I think are total failures).

So, if I actually posted my rubric for deciding whether or not a blog has any merit, my scoring grid would involve the following categories:

1. Content (Obvious enough) -- I would rate the content in two major categories. First, voice: Does the blogger have a unique voice -- a way of expressing himself/herself (and I'm not going to persist with the him/her pronoun nonsense)? Could you tell what blog you were reading if you only had black-and-white text in front of you? Does the author's voice connect to his readers?

Obviously, Brent's blog rates very high in these areas, if you've ever read it. Most blogs sound like blahhhhhhgs. Yeah... the vast majority of them sound exactly the same.

The second area of content is the tough one, where a lot of the blogs I read get failing marks: mechanics. Does the blogger know the difference between your and you're? Their, there, and they're? Does the author know that apostrophes are for possessives (but NOT on it's) and contractions and NOT plurals?

Grammar, mechanics, and spelling are huge fail-points on blogs for me.

Don't roll your eyes.

If you're going to review the written word you sure as hell better be able to... um... write. And if you can't write, shut the hell up and go review your fifth-grade grammar books.

A reviewer who lacks the mechanics of writing is kind of like a surgeon with woodworking tools -- everyone knows the guy can cut, but he's not equipped to do the job.

Brent's a good writer (hey, kid... you should enter Anne Mazer's Spilling Ink Young Writers' Contest), even though I did notice a subject/verb disagreement in one of his recent reviews. No big deal... for content, his blog gets my high mark.

2. Diversity: I look back at the last ten reviews the blogger has done and make note of the sub-genre, author, and publisher of the works being reviewed. If the blogger reviews 80% paranormal romance, for example, but "claims" to be a YA reviewer -- FAIL. YA is an age range (theoretically), but a lot of bloggers seem to think YA equals vampires or shapeshifters. If a blogger reviews most of his books from the same publisher: FAIL. It's the sign that the blogger is a whore for free books and someone knows it.

There's nothing wrong with having a blog that only reviews books by one author, or one publisher, or only books that fall into the para-rom sub-genre. But don't piss on your readers and tell them it's raining. Admit it on your blog's nameplate that you don't read outside of your narrow little focus.

An awful lot of blogs fail here. Coincidentally, blogs that fail here for me have usually already failed in the first area.

Brent's blog is good to go in this category, too.

3. Design: The last category is important for presenting information via the web. It has to have the right design.

Most blogs are too busy. They have too many badges and ads running down the sides, which are a distraction to your reader. I don't know if bloggers get paid for all that stuff... but it's usually too much for my eye.

If someone has to scroll around just to get to the most important point on your most recent post, then you should rework your design.

If your blog's nameplate is 50% of the initial screen your reader sees, then you need lap band surgery on that bloated beast.

It looks like some bloggers are almost in a contest with one another to see who's got the biggest... um... nameplate on their blog.

Brent's is HUGE. Give up now, Alex Bennett, otherwise you'll need a dual-screen display just to see the next iteration of your blog's nameplate.


So, if I ever did review book blogs, I'd do it on those points.

I'm not going to do it, though.

Brent's always been a good sport, and I really enjoy reading his The Naughty Book Kitties blog.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

the good teacher (part 1)

I've written a lot of posts about how this move toward standardization and the repetitive chant of mathandsciencemathandsciencemathandscience are harming our kids' capacities for creative, insightful, problem-solving (which will, in turn, have negative effects on the world's future).

The underlying and insidious motive in this movement is pretty scary: since America has moved very rapidly away from an economy that produced goods and services in widely distributed variety toward an economy that is almost exclusively tied to information management, we really can't have future workers who dream of anything other than mathandsciencemathandsciencemathandscience.

And lots and lots of people are buying into that idea.

Remember, it's us or them, and we need to be deathly afraid of the 8th-grade kid from Finland who can outperform an 8th-grade kid from Vermont on a bubble-in test of mathandsciencemathandsciencemathandscience.

And lately, a lot of us have been buying in to the notion that if that kid in Vermont can't kick the Finnish kid's ass, it's the fault of the teachers who have not yet drunk from the chalice of mathandsciencemathandsciencemathandscience Kool-Aid.

So, we're standardizing teachers, too.

And standardization means lump everyone into the same, generic, bubble-test proficient middle.

Make them all the same.

It's the only way we can beat Finland and ensure future generations of dull-witted, thoughtless, soulless information management workers.

It seems like, throughout history, the greatest teachers have always been the ones who DIDN'T do what everyone else was doing.

The kids who grew up and made the greatest impact on the world, also, DIDN'T do exactly the same things that their classmates did.

The new paradigm for students and teachers: make them all the same.

Is that what we really want?

Not me.

I know a couple great teachers. Not many, though. The great ones get pushed out of the profession by the torch-wielding villagers who pray to the bubble-in standardized God of mathandsciencemathandsciencemathandscience.

I'm going to talk a little bit about some cool teachers whom I do not know personally, but I've heard about things they do from kids around the country who send me emails about their classrooms.

It's pretty good stuff.


Friday, March 25, 2011

email is the microwave pizza of letter writing

Yesterday, I posted some advice for kids (or anyone) who want to develop the discipline and craft of writing.

I know... I should probably be a little more disciplined today. I had a sleep-marathon last night and I just spent about an hour writing this epic-length email to a friend.

I guess I have about two or three friends with whom I actually correspond in lengthy, letter-form email, which I like to do with good letter-writers [and I honestly do wish there were no such thing as email and we'd all have to use paper and stamps and write actual letters to one another... and then wait for them, and stuff. But I digress...].

Email is the microwave pizza of letter writing.

Today, I kind of let that, plus my sleeping in (and what I'm doing right now) get in the way of finishing up my short story for this YA anthology that's coming out next year (starring "real" authors like Michael Grant, Carrie Ryan, and Neal Shusterman). My story is basically finished. I plan on submitting it this weekend. My contract deadline is May 1, so, as usual, I have made a deadline submit to my authority and confess it is my bitch.

And, speaking of confessions, I have to say that I'd intended to post something today about teachers and teaching. And... surprise!... not about bashing teachers, but praising the ones (there are some... it's a secret that nobody will ever make Michael-Moore-type documentaries about or post links to on their facebooks) who get it.

Oh... and they're not Sir Ken-types who've never really had to deal with douchebag administrators and one-eyed, toothless, torch-bearing community leaders, either.

Because I got an awful lot of email comments and other off-the-board messages yesterday after my post about writing. And, I thought... hey!!! not only do I feel like running in another marathon (even at my age, my knees and ankles are good to go), but I feel like saying something to the quite-obviously ROCKING teachers and librarians who do exist all over the country out there...

But, I think I'm going to finish my coffee, go out for a five-miler through the hills in the rain, and come back and get on my writing work horse and spank it.

So, I'll continue this tomorrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

willie's houseboat, or why you should have a blog

Yesterday, working with my writer kids, I asked one of them about progress on a story, and the topic came up about making and devoting time to writing.

So I got a little bit preachy, I guess.

But here's the thing (and, as always, there will be plenty of pitchfork and blazing torch-wielding writers -- mostly members of the Church of the Holy Writer's Block -- out there who disagree with me. And... is it just me? But I always thought those angry-villager torches were really cool. Must. Have. One.)... I write every day.



I have a routine. And I stick to it.


You know what else I do every day? I run. I have run (and completed) 30 marathons in my life. A marathon is 26.2 miles long, by the way.

The thing about most non-insane people who want to run a marathon is that they don't just pop out of bed one day and say, hey!!!! I'm going to go run 26.2 miles today!!!

They train up to it over time, running, working out, and contributing to their abilities every day.

That's what young (or anyone who has a goal or desire to one day actually complete something like a short story, novel, or screenplay) writers need to keep in mind:


So, I suggested to my kids they try to establish some kind of routine: set aside fifteen minutes per day over an initial period of time and just write.

A good way to do this -- especially for kids, who are so connected to technology -- AND PARTICULARLY FOR BOYS (sorry, I really despise people who lock their caps), is to set up a blog on one of the many free hosting sites out there (like... ahem... Blogger).

A blog is a good way to have that space that you can go to, jot something down, and save it forever. Nobody even has to see it. You don't NEED to have an audience if you don't want one. But blogging is a great way to build discipline and get into a regular routine about writing... not that you should expect to write brilliant stuff on your blog (even though you probably will).

That's why you should have a blog, kids.

Here is what will definitely work (and I promise you this, so listen up):

Start off by just setting a goal to write something every day for one week. It could be as vacuous as describing the best meal you had that day, what you saw outside your window on the drive to school.

I swear to all things holy, kid, you do have something you could tell me about for fifteen minutes of your writing day.

Okay. Then, when you get to post number 7, day number seven, TAKE A BREAK.

Then, maybe after a few days off, try it again.

Eventually -- like a marathon -- see if you can do it for an entire calendar month.

Fifteen minutes. That's all. Some days, you may only get a haiku's-worth of stuff down. Some days (I promise), you'll look at your clock and say holy shit!!! Have I actually been writing for TWO HOURS???

Once you start doing anything every day for one month, it has become a habit.

Locked in.


THAT'S why you want a blog.

It's like a set of weights in your home gym.

And nobody has to watch you work out. But, after a while, people will notice the change in your physique. You can transform yourself.

But you don't do it by thinking about it.

Now, go collapse a lung, kid.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

marbury movies

So, I mentioned a few days ago that The Marbury Lens was optioned for a movie.

So... yeah... I am mentioning it again.

Last night, I went out to dinner with the producers. It was nice. I wore my lucky Amoeba Records T-shirt. Not that I believe in luck, although I do believe in Amoeba.

Anyway, I don't have to be totally honest. This is, after all, a blog. But I will say, in complete and unwarranted honesty, say that a Marbury movie will be pretty cool.

And I have a pretty strong sense that this is going to be made real.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

all this but no surprises

Yesterday, I saw that there is a The Marbury Lens page on Facebook.

I think that's cool.

I had nothing to do with it; I think there are some things that just spontaneously generate on the internet, which is why I believe we are anthropogenically causing the evolutionary eradication of our ability to think and act with creative novelty.


This. Moment.

I wonder if I should "like" The Marbury Lens on Facebook.

I have to think about it.

Would that be egotistical?

I wonder if the majority of authors out there actually "like" their books.

I wonder.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

all smiling and swollen

Where was I?

So, the other day...

It was a weird day. I caught this really huge and scary centipede, and then I discovered a gigantic bee hive was being constructed right outside the French doors on my office deck (Sorry, bees. You can't live there. Well, let's just say they're not living there anymore. I wonder if bees can turn into zombies.) I should put pictures of the massive centipede and the even more massive hive of dead bees here. (By the way, I did not kill the bees with poison. I hate poison. Never use it, and I have totally organic orchards here. The bees left their earthly existence because I opened up the hive at night and it gets down into the 20s here, even though it is allegedly spring. But we get good cherries.) I had a few nice phone calls from an editor who is in love with a new book of mine, which is nicer than beehives and centipedes; and The Marbury Lens was optioned for film.

But, none of that is what I want to talk about.

Here's what happened, and you'll have to remember that I'm not a mass-follower of anything, which accounts for my Bieber-Friday-Winning-and-Every-Show-That's-Ever-Been-on-TV stupidity.

Someone, obviously trying to be mean -- trying to be a bully (which, I really don't care if people pick on me because nobody picks on me as relentlessly as I do) -- came up to me and said:

Oh... you know, all of your books are on FrostWire. I downloaded all of them...

...and then, the person added:

and they SUCK.

Well, I don't really care about the "suck" part, because the person who said it is stupid and ugly and has bad teeth. But I was intrigued by this FrostWire thing...

I had no idea what it was.

So I asked some "cool" people.

And, I was, like, fuck that shit.

Getting books off FrostWire, I suppose, is like me coming up to you, ugly dumb person with bad teeth, and saying:

I just made a withdrawal from your checking account...

and then, add:

stupid bee-otch.

But I understand the masses think this FrostWire method of getting anything for free is totally okay, since it's easy to be so anonymous on line, and since "everybody else" is doing it, too.

I imagine most of the people who STEAL SHIT via FrostWire would cringe at the prospect of holding up a liquor store or jackin' some fool's car in the 'hood, but they're totally immune to the consideration of ethics when they STEAL SHIT by using their computer.

Which, kind of, relates to exactly what I was getting at yesterday.

All I can say is, to FrostWire and to everyone who's ever illegally downloaded one of my books over the internet:

I hope you get an intestinal blockage and explode because of all the shit you've got where your soul is supposed to be.

That is all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Yesterday, someone told me something.

There are lots of things I know absolutely nothing (well, next to nothing) about.

I have never heard a Justin Bieber song (sorry), and I also haven't heard that Friday song people keep bashing on.

Which kind of reminds me of something I wanted to mention. You know how it's very hip and trendy to be all up on this anti-bullying thing? Well, among the other things I'm no good at is the whole hip and trendy scene... but I completely agree with the anti-bullying movement, and I recognize the horrible damages that have been inflicted on undeserving people by the disregard for personal "no-fly" zones.

But it seems that a lot of the members of the anti-bully church will turn right around and participate in mass pick-on movements aimed against people like Justin Bieber (who, honestly... and, sorry, Justin, but I've never heard a single song of yours, because you seem like a nice, hard-working kid) and that girl (I don't know her name) with the Friday song (which I've also never heard).

So I guess I'm wondering, if being a bully is so reprehensible, why do so many people dilute their moral and righteous indignation at the concept of bullying and then just throw themselves in with the crowd, simply because it seems to be okay... or trendy... or whatever... to throw all this shit around about one individual?

I have to just shrug.

By the way, I just found out last week what "winning" referred to.

I know.

I'm a pop-culture loser.

I didn't know anything about that guy, either.

So, back to what I really wanted to talk about today, which is yet ANOTHER trendy, pop-culture, everybody's-doing-it-so-it-must-be-morally-neutral, join-the-masses thing.

But, all of a sudden, I'm kind of in a bad mood now and I'm going to go out and do my five-mile run.

I'll continue this tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2011

the noise at night

Yesterday, a few friends pointed out that The Marbury Lens received a very nice starred review in Booklist Online as an audio book.


When I met the people who wanted to do the book from Audible/Brilliance last summer at ALA, I knew they were the right people to attempt to make such a voice-filled novel as an audio book. The really cool part about the process was that I actually got to audition the actors who were trying out to read the manuscript.

All the actors were good. It was kind of interesting to hear how a number of different professionals voiced the exact same passages of my book. But when I heard Mark Boyett read, I knew he was the perfect Jack.

The passage used for the audition is an early passage where Jack passes his grandparents, sitting in their kitchen as he's about to leave for the weekend and go to Conner's house. It's a pretty complex part there, in my opinion, because Jack, a typical teenage boy is so aloof and guarded around his grandparents, who raise him (like teenage boys tend to be). A lot of people interpret Jack's inner voice as being "mean" to Wynn and Stella... well, most people seem to react that way [I can't tell you how many Jack-bashing emails and comments I've gotten from... ahem... mostly moms... about how they think Jack is mean to his grandparents, and why can't he be nicer to them?]

Anyway, Mark totally got the vibe. I knew right away he was the guy to do it.

We spoke over the phone, because Mark had some questions about how to pronounce things, and he asked a lot of questions about the book [yeah... who doesn't?], and then he was ready to go to work.

Here's what Mary Burkey wrote about Mark's performance in her Booklist review:

Through a kaleidoscope of shifting accents (including British) and seamless transitions between carefree conversations, Jack’s self-loathing laments, and achingly honest feelings, Boyett creates a disturbingly private space and the terrifying possibility that Marbury may be a vision of madness. A stellar match of literary excellence and audio perfection.

A couple more really cool things about the people at Audible/Brilliance:

1. Chocolate. Yes, a lot of people know this about them -- they send the most kick-ass chocolate you will ever taste to the people who work for them (even though all I did was write the book).

2. iPods. Audible packages a really cool iPod version of the book, too. It comes in a slick, slender DVD-type case and is ready to go right onto your iPod or iPad, in addition to the traditional multi-CD audio bricks that schools and libraries (or people with older audio technology in their cars) are more likely to purchase.

The iPod version is super cool. This is the thing kids will want. I'm going to have to take a picture of one and post it on here so you can see how cool these things really are.


One more thing. I met Jessica Dobson, who has a book blog, a few weeks ago at the SCIBA Literacy Dinner, and she picked up a (real paper) copy of The Marbury Lens for her husband.

Well, she and her husband both contacted me about how much they enjoyed the book, and she wrote a terrific review of it on her blog.

Thanks very much Jessica, Booklist, Mary Burkey.

And, thanks again, Mark Boyett.

You can read the Booklist review here.

Jessica's review is here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

watch me disappear

I kind of disappeared yesterday.

People often ask me what my "favorite" book is, among those I've written. I really don't have "favorites" of anything.

Well. Except for my children.

Just kidding.

I do have a special kind of connection to all the books I've written. My first book, Ghost Medicine is kind of about disappearing.

I think it's a really good book, too.

Apparently, so do some of the people at Seneca Valley Intermediate High School in Harmony, Pennsylvania. They got 150 copies of Ghost Medicine to use in their 9th grade English classes.

Now I want to go to that school. Next time I'm in PA... I am so going to be there.

That is a really cool thing.

Today is Saint Patrick's Day.

I have been to Ireland. I brought my kids there last year. It was really cool.

I mention this because Saint Patrick's Day actually occurs in my forthcoming novel, Stick. Something transformational happens to a couple of the characters on that day, as a matter of fact. And the boys in the book do happen to be Irish-American, too.

It would be a really good book for a high school English class, too.

Happy non-disappearing Saint Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

scary smart kids

It surprises me, at times, how diverse my readers can be.

I recently received a few emails from an 11-year-old boy who read The Marbury Lens. I was, to be honest, kind of surprised that an 11-year-old would read such a book, which kind of reinforces my belief that we can't just lump kids into particular target groups simply on the basis of age (or gender, for that matter), which is the knee-jerk approach of a lot of adult literacy guides out there.

That's why parents need to read, too. Unless you want the Wii and X-Box to raise your kids. Trust me, they'll all end up being minimum-wage employees at the companies run by kids like that 11-year-old boy who took the time to send me some emails about his thoughts on The Marbury Lens.

And, speaking of 11-year-old kids, you should check out the video clip on Lady Reader's Bookstuff. The ending segment of the clip includes a little mini-review from one of my favorite young fans out there.

Thank you, Lexi.

You can see Lady Reader's "IMM" video here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

the year of water

I'm going to answer a couple more questions I received about my novel Stick today, and then I'm going to leave it alone for a while.

On yesterday's post, Matthew said, I would love to see what changed from manuscript to ARC for this story...

Well, I can say a couple things about that, but, generally speaking, very little changed between the submitted manuscript and the final version of Stick that you'll see when the novel is published, which is kind of a good thing.

Let me explain.

I wrote the novel very quickly for a number of reasons. First, I wanted to see if I could get something decent out of myself by participating in NaNoWriMo (I wrote Stick during NaNo, 2009). I went just a little over time limit, though. I believe I submitted the final draft of the manuscript around December 20, 2009 -- which made it about a 7-week effort.

I can safely say that during that 7-week period, I put at least 8 hours per day into the novel. Sometimes more. No days off. Ever.

Also -- and this is the absolute truth -- I wrote the novel because, at the time, I was feeling very down about my writing. I had just finished all the work on The Marbury Lens, and I felt like I'd spent a year in the dismal wasteland of Marbury. Also, I was particularly bummed out because I'd kind of built a cage around myself as a writer -- people were labeling me, after Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects as this dreary, depressing "excavator of darkness" -- which I have some issues with... Remember in my post yesterday how I remarked that real young adults (not capitalized) usually take everything that happens to them as being completely normal. I know I did, through all the (now, in retrospect) certainly terrible things that happened to me.

Let me just say, too, that I don't find those books to be negative at all. But that's just me, I guess.

And, besides, I have written upbeat, even funny, novels. They just haven't been published yet. So, anyway, I was kind of in a very hermit-ish neg-vibe kind of place and I wanted to get out of that. So I guess writing Stick was one way for me to do that and try to show the kids in the (capitalized) YA neighborhood that the shut-in down the street was not the monster that some people made him out to be.

Which is a very long and convoluted start at answering Matthew's question, but this was also something I spoke about with VOYA this week.

Okay. So I sent off my final draft in December, 2009. Then, the following summer (just a few months ago, really), it was time to start the editing process. Well, the editorial letter I got from Liz about Stick was a half-page email. That was it.

I get longer fan letters.

My phone bill takes more paper.

So, there was very little to be done. In the end, I actually took some advice from a friend (Charlie) who wanted to know a little bit more about a particular character. After I did my revision, then, the book actually became just a little bit longer.

After that, the only changes that came about were formatting changes. We tightened it up a little, in terms of spacing and line breaks.

But that was it.

My editor, Liz Szabla, has always been an empowering and valuable teammate. She knows just how to get "stuff" out of me, and I think we got a heck of a good -- and different -- novel in Stick.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

sunday sharing

A few days ago, I took some pictures of the typeset and unbound pages from my forthcoming (10.11.11) novel, Stick.

I wanted to show how the format of the type, the spacing of words on the page, were elemental to the story.

Today on the blog, Sara asked: That typesetting is really interesting. Was that something you set out to do from the beginning, or did it develop as you wrote the manuscript?

And, earlier this week, a writer for VOYA magazine who interviewed me was interested in finding out the same thing. Not that I'm trying to "scoop" VOYA on a story they're likely going to run in the June issue (and you'll have to check it out for more details about my novel), but I thought I'd give a little explanation and response to Sara's question here.

The short answer is yes, this was my idea from the very beginning, for a lot of reasons.

First of all, let me backtrack a bit and restate something I spoke about a few weeks ago at the SCIBA Literacy Dinner. I said that the thing I find most compelling about writing fiction with young adult (NOT capitalized) characters is that kids go through life with a kind of detached ambivalence toward the things that happen to them. Whatever they experience, they perceive as being perfectly normal, no matter how horrifying our adult filters may perceive some of the events young people have to endure to actually be. This is probably one reason why adults are frequently more shocked by content issues in (ugh, capitalized) YA than kids are.

Get over it, crusty old fussbudgets.

(I just realized I hate that word.)

In fact, kids have this remarkable ability to see things (even terrible things) with a sense of wonder that we crusty grownups shed when we break out of our larval stage and become rigid and judgmental.

Okay, that's part one of the answer. Hang in there.

The second reason for the typesetting is that the narrator of the story, Stark McClellan, says that, to him, "the world sounds different." Words float around this kid's head, sometimes they get stuck inside him and they can't find a way out. When he's especially anxious, the words seem to be frantically trying to push their way off the page.

You'll see.

But I'm not going to spoil it by showing you any of the really cool pages, because they tell too much.

So, the reason for the "experimental" format of the text served as an attempt to get readers to have to shed some of the filters with which we read and perceive the experiences of others, and to actually "hear" the world in the same way that Stark does.

He promises not to mess with your head too much, though.

I do have to add here, again, without revealing too much about the story and the voice, that I had to really trust and rely on my editor, Liz Szabla, to rein me in a bit with the assault on the readers, which she did brilliantly, as always.

There are tough parts of this book. But, ultimately, and uncharacteristically for me (the excavator of darkness), the book is rimmed with hope and wonder, and there are even a couple of parts that made me laugh out loud (and still do).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

cold nausea

Today, I am convinced that Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (maybe Dostoevsky, too) must have had permanent colds.

I never get sick, but, every two years or so, when I do run head-first into a sudden and incapacitating head cold, I believe I stumble upon the true origins of existential philosophy.

I deserve this.

Just this week, I was chastising an eternally-outraged acquaintance... oh, I NEVER get sick, because the great-big-giant ME eats fresh, non-GMO-bastardized apples and runs miles at altitude every day, without fail, even when it's snowing...

I hate myself.

I hate myself even worse than usual today.

Friday, March 11, 2011

the biggest monsters that swim in my head

I have a couple of things coming up (one much sooner than the other) that I just found out about this week and I wanted to post them here.

First, but later, I'm very excited to be speaking at this year's NCTE ALAN workshops in Chicago on November 21. It will especially be cool because Stick will be about a month old by then, and I think it's going to be a really good book for people who are all into the NCTE and ALAN kind of stuff.

I'll be speaking as part of a panel called “Titles that Challenge and Are Challenged” (er... something I have a little experience in) and includes fellow authors Lauren Myracle, Cheryl Rainfield and Paul Yee.

If things work out, that week I'll also be at the Miami Book Fair in Florida, as well.

But, sooner than that, I'll be speaking at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC, in Los Angeles.

Here, I'll be speaking at a session called Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal on Saturday, April 30 beginning at 11 a.m.

The session will be moderated by Aaron Hartzler, and includes fellow author Allyson Condie (Matched). After the session, I will be signing copies of my books at the YA Stage, and I'm going to come up with some clever way of having a contest to give out some ARCs of Stick, so keep following the blog and I will reveal the details when I come up with them.

And, speaking of Stick, I did the unthinkable and gave my son the set of rubber-band-bound loose typeset galley pages of the novel yesterday afternoon.

He's in the final part of the book ("Last") right now. And I kind of knew this going in, which is the only reason why I allowed him to read the unbound pages (this, and the fact that the first pass was remarkably clean), but he thinks it's about the best book he's ever read.

Like I said yesterday, I really love this book, too. I kind of wonder where it came from, but I do believe that I don't so much write books as they just come through me from other places. So I don't really know...

I did an interview with VOYA magazine this week (I'll tell you about that later), and, after explaining to the reporter a little bit about Stick, he asked how I came up with ideas like this.

Just can't say. I really don't know.

One more thing, too. I know I'll be doing something else at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with my friends from the LAYAS (a group of Los Angeles-based YA authors), but I'm not sure, exactly, about that yet, either.

So stay tuned.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

someday i'll be like the man on the screen

Now I can pass judgment.

I took one day to scrutinize the first pass of typeset galley pages for Stick, and I came to three conclusions:

First, I really love this book. Is that an egotistical thing to say? Is it even more egotistical if I say it on a blog?

Sometimes, it's difficult for me to plumb the true depth of my self-hatred.

But I do love this book.

Second, the pages look great. I really like the inside cover, the section title pages, and the way the chapters are broken, which is continuous, as opposed to beginning a new chapter on a separate page. The reason it works well for Stick is that the narrator plots the mileposts of his journey with the names of the people who pop up from time to time in his story. You'll see. The chapters aren't numbered.

Third, there were relatively few errors that I caught. Most of them were missing section breaks, which are omissions that most readers probably wouldn't catch, although they are jarring to me.

In all, there were a total of ten corrections I made, which is remarkable by the standards of most ARCs I ever read. And only three of the corrections were what I refer to as WTF moments -- small things to most readers, probably, but eye-piercing as far as my sensibilities are concerned.

So, it was a good first pass.

Good enough that I'm doing something I have never done before and allowing my son (who pleaded with me) to read the pages BEFORE it comes out as a published ARC.

And, speaking of readers, here's a kid from Canada update:

The kid read, and loved, The Marbury Lens. Nice job, kid. I did send him a formal email, however, (and I CC'd the State Department) apologizing to Canada on behalf of the United States, because only American teenagers would ever use the kind of language and exhibit the reckless and irresponsible behaviors that Jack and his friends so casually flaunt in The Marbury Lens.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

on timing, and everything

So, a few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend who is also a writer, but not yet published, and I told this particular friend that the best time in a writer's life seems like the time before anyone ever suggests publishing you.

My friend looked at me like I was crazy.

But I'll stick to my guns on that one and give a stern be-careful-what-you-wish-for caveat.

There are lots of reasons why I believe this, and before anyone gets all outraged at me, let me explain why.

[And I am NOT whining here, either... being published is great... it's kind of like how being married compares to dating... er... it's like eating the cake that you've HAD for a really long time... it's like dolphin-free tuna... or something]

Before you get published, when you write, you write for yourself and nobody else.

You're not writing to pay the mortgage and put your kids through college.

Most importantly, before you get published, the writing universe ticks to the rhythm of your clock.

I explained to my friend that once you get published, one of the toughest adjustments (at least for me) is coming to grips with the fact that NOTHING will ever move along at your pace and rhythm.



So, enjoy this time.

It really is the best time in a writer's life.

Unless you happen to be writing for some other reason other than loving words and language (like trying to get famous, needing the ego stroke of seeing your name on some shelf, desperately yearning for someone to ask you for an autograph, or any other completely ridiculous and lame-assed reason why, it seems, an awful lot of people want to get published).

Here's a typical case-in-point:

I've been writing a new novel. It's coming along really great. Lots of progress every day, and when I go to bed at night I lie there thinking about how I can't wait to write the next part tomorrow.

That's how it should always be.

Then, yesterday, the pages for my next novel, Stick show up on my front door.

I have to read them.

I can't NOT do that. I need to be certain they're perfect.

And I totally love that book, maybe more than anything I've ever written. But the voice and everything about it completely RIPS me out of the thing I'm doing right now. And now I feel torn because I can't write what I went to bed last night dying to get down.

Because my writing universe is caught up in a bunch of other forces at the moment.

I just need to plow through this and get back to work, but Stick is definitely fucking with my head and throwing all my orbits out of whack.

Just thought I'd let you know what a great space you're in right now.

Enjoy this time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

the delivery man


Well, the pages for my next novel, Stick, and lots of cool news, came yesterday.

Although I was braced for the worst, the pages look really good. But, that's a tentative assessment until I read every word on them over the next day or so.

Advice to all aspiring, soon-to-be authors: always read everything.



So, I'm holding off judgment until I get stabbed in the eye by the first typo or misplaced line break, or until I flip the last page over in complete satisfaction.

So, here is the book.

Notice that it's wrapped in a big rubber band. A lot of writers have asked me about that -- how manuscripts go around when you have to send paper. And this is it. A big rubber band.

My first impression was -- it's a small book. Very short for me, coming in at just 300 pages. But, those pages hold a lot of stuff.

Also, it came in this bubble mailer from the UPS guy. He left it in my driveway, though. I think he was afraid of my dog, who keeps getting out of the backyard looking for something to spawn with. Most UPS guys aren't okay with that.

Okay. First thing... I pull out the dedication page. Check. Then I look at the inside title page.

I love this. Stick figure kids (the brothers, Bosten and Stark), standing in the sea, holding up a matchstick for the "i" in the title. Brilliant, clever, beautiful inside title.

And here you can see the first part of the book, too. The book is divided into three parts -- first, next, and last -- and "first" is called saint fillan's room.

Now, for a couple very short inside teasers:

Stark McClellan, the narrator, hears the world in a different way. As a result, some of the words he hears, and some words he thinks about get, as he explains it, stuck in his head... and stuck in strange places on the page.

That's why you see some weird-looking spaces and fonts in his story...

And, finally, this little bit is pure dialogue. With no quotation marks or nothing. Just the way Stark hears what's going on. That's all I'm going to say.

There are no spoilers here... no nothing.

You'll have to see how the gaps get filled in when the book comes out.

Monday, March 7, 2011

eating snowflakes with plastic forks


So today, I am expecting to receive the typeset galley pages for Stick.

I can't get too excited for two reasons: first, any kind of delivery up here where I live is pretty iffy at best; and, second, I fully expect there are going to be some errors which my obsessive eyes will not be able to overcome.

Still, I promise to put a scan or photo of a favorite page on here tomorrow morning (assuming they come today).

And, speaking of the post's title today, I've seen some rough cuts of the soon-to-be-released live-action trailer for Stick with sound and music tracks laid in, and, well... it's pretty amazing.

We just need to edit in one more already-filmed scene and a couple of crucial graphics, and it will be ready to go. I think it's one of the best book trailers ever, but I'm probably not the most objective judge of such things.

I saw a blog or something yesterday where the author was asking people if they ever watched book trailers. I didn't comment. Maybe, again, I'm not the typical audience, but I do watch book trailers, even from books that I know going in I would never want to read. And I have seen some really good book trailers for books that are definitely not my type.

So, yeah... I watch them. Some of them I'll watch multiple times, too. And if they're done well, like a good movie trailer, they can show you a lot without actually showing you anything, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, it's coming soon. First the pages, then the big cover reveal, and, finally, the trailer trash.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

this writer's life

...because it's been a while since I posted one of these.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

e.e. cummings discovers the emoticon

Is it just me?

Lately, it seems I've been receiving a stream of email from boys and parents of boys about my books, and they all have this unifying thread to them:

They never knew that there were Young Adult books that boys would like to read.

Most people don't seem to know that, either.

In the few years or so that I've been writing novels as a profession, things seem to be changing slowly in regards to the gender-exclusion of boys when it comes to having access to literature they connect with. At last weekend's SCIBA literacy dinner, for example, I picked up a number of titles (including my own, The Marbury Lens) that were boy-friendly. So, whereas back in 2008 the boy-book-to-girl-book ratio would have been about 1 to 50, it has gotten a little bit better in 2011.

Just a little bit.

Like, 3 to 20 or so.

But, seriously, it's about time publishers wake up and smell the boystench in the room.

Here's why:

I remember -- and this is how old I am -- when CD players first came out and people in the recording industry, as well as music lovers, began wringing their hands and wailing over their resistance to a new format and technology. It even got worse when mp3 technology became widespread and people claimed it was the end of musicianship and the entire industry as we knew it.

Definitely, the evolution-resistant businessfolk who pilot such industries as music tend to have blindness when being able to see around corners, so the music industry had to adjust and play catch-up to changes that were so obviously coming that most 7th-graders knew about it.

Attention: I will now shine a light around the next corner for all you dummies with corner-view offices in Manhattan.

There is this thing called an iPad. And now the industry for tablets is expanding like crazy (the Xoom looks pretty damn cool, for example).

Guess who prefers to use those things to read books?

Boys do.

The same boys who have always wanted to read books but are assailed by pink color schemes in the YA sections at their local booksellers and libraries.

Welcome to the next corner. You can wait and play catch-up, or you can start programing the next turn into your GPS now.

Academic studies about the use of technology in schools that I published here a year ago show exactly that -- that boys are much more engaged and positive (and retain information better) when reading the SAME material on a technological device than on paper. Better, even, ahem, than the "other" gender.

Just thought I'd let you know. In case you want to take advantage of an expanding market that is being swept up in a massively expanding industry.

Econ tip for the day.

Use it wisely and profitably.

Boys love to read. You should probably think about giving them some books.

Friday, March 4, 2011

store our brains in mason jars

So, on the great cosmic pacing calendar, things are happening at a different rhythm than they did last year.

I do know that Stick will be released on October 11, nearly a month earlier than The Marbury Lens was released in 2010.

I think this is good for two reasons. I know lots of book folk will say I'm wrong, and I probably am, but November is too late in the year for a book release. October is much better.

Having Stick come out in October also means that, technically, I'll have had two books come out in less than a year, which, I think (but am probably wrong again) is really cool, too.

For those of you patiently waiting for ARCs of Stick, too (and I got an email from a really cool librarian the other day, and she was, like, what the hell? I keep checking my mailbox to see if they've sent me an ARC yet...), all I can say is I'll stick with the original estimate and say that the first few ARCs may be trickling out of the book womb in a couple weeks.

We'll see.

But I was told yesterday that I will be receiving the first-pass final typeset pages on Monday... with a promise that they look great. I'm hoping the people in charge of the typeset and layout "got it" this go round and that I won't have the number of corrections I saw when I got the pages for The Marbury Lens.

And, we'll see about that, too.

I will post an image of the page of my choice when the pages come.

Look for that, maybe, on Tuesday morning.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

words to build stuff

Yesterday, I sent my first-ever book to a kid in Delaware.

Like most Californians, I continue to have my doubts as to the actual existence of the state of Delaware.

We never see cars from Delaware here... so it either must be just that cool of a place that nobody wants to leave or it doesn't exist. Maybe the entire state was abducted by aliens or something.

But, anyway, Brian... that is, if you, indeed are real and of this world, I sent you a copy of The Marbury Lens, just like I promised I would.

A couple weeks ago, I posted something about a boy from Canada who was having a hard time finding books to connect to. So, being fully confident that Canada exists -- having been there numerous times -- I sent him a copy of The Marbury Lens as well.

Mail to Canada, like mail to the cosmos, takes a while. He just got the book yesterday, and his mom, quite a respectable book blogger, posted something about it on her site, The Books I Read (linked below).

Anyway, it's a nice story that makes me feel -- brace yourself -- happy. So I hope the kid enjoys the trip to Marbury, which is probably a lot like Delaware, now that I consider the is-it-real-or-not implications.

But his mom told me that the boy's library actually has a copy of The Marbury Lens on hand.

So, I'm not just extraterrestrial, I am international.

Speaking of which...

The other day I got a chance to meet and chat with author Lauren Kate. It was really cool. Lauren, who writes the Fallen series, told me she'd recently returned from a book tour to the Philippines.

I was, like, holy crap, The Philippines???

I thought that would be the coolest place ever to go on a book tour.

And Lauren was, like, telling me how all the kids there were crazy about The Marbury Lens, too, which I thought was super-cool.

She said something like, You're HUGE in the Philippines, which made me feel a little self-conscious, considering I thought my outfit of choice for the evening was rather slimming.

Anyway, you can read The Books I Read here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


No, this is not the cover.

We are still planning on a "cover reveal" for Stick on a number of YA, book, and writers' blogs.

When we have an actual, this-is-it cover to reveal.

It's no big deal, I suppose. It seemed like it took forever for the final cover of In the Path of Falling Objects, too.

The Marbury Lens cover just surprised me by popping into my inbox one day over a year ago.

And, to be honest, I have seen a cover for Stick, too, and I totally love it, but it can't be shown yet because it's not the final version.

Or something.

But I did find out yesterday that the release date for Stick is October 11, 2011. How did I find out? It's already posted on a few bookstore and review sites (with no cover image, thankfully).

When the cover can be shown, believe me, I will direct you to the few friends' sites that will be participating in the big reveal.

But, like so many things that could serve me well as a motto:

It won't happen here.

Until then... well... what can I say?

I bet there will be people who find out about it way before I do, and then tell me about it. I even have a friend who managed to obtain a cover image for Stick and then gushed about it to me... and I was, like, really??? really???

So I asked my friend to show me the image.

And it was the wrong one. So I had to beg that person to please, please, please do not ever show that to anyone.

Ah... the wonders of the internet.

I bet if I looked hard enough I could probably find sites where I could download a pirated e-book copy of Stick, too.

Who needs patience when you've got p2p file sharing?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

all secrets sleep in winter clothes

I brought home a bunch of signed books from the SCIBA dinner last weekend.

There are a couple I am hoping to keep, but I'm letting the kids in my writers' group who submitted novels to Scholastic's Writing Awards have their pick of whatever they want.

No big deal. They deserve it.

They're submitting work this month to Mrs. Nelson's Young Writers Contest, too.

Mrs.N should brace up. I think she's going to get a lot of stuff from these kids.