Saturday, April 30, 2011

festival of books

I'm at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books today.

You can bet I'll have plenty to say about it. Some of what I have to say may actually appear here.

The festival is totally free and takes place today and tomorrow on the campus of USC.

Today, I'll be speaking and reading from The Marbury Lens on the YA Stage at 11:00 a.m.

I'll be back on the YA Stage at 5:00 p.m. with a bunch of fellow (and I mean that in a non-gender-specific way, since I'm the only male in the group) Los Angeles-based YA authors for the audience game of LAYAPALOOZA!

There will be prizes.

See you there.

Friday, April 29, 2011

lost in transmission

I delete most of the stuff I write here on this blog. There are almost always so many things that I'd really like to say about the real world on the other side of this screen, but I just can't.

The blogger's equivalent to biting one's tongue, I imagine, is sitting on your typing fingers.

I'm a lousy typist, too.

Because I started writing for news copy, back in the day when we used manual typewriters and carbon paper (see? I just deleted a rather lengthy parenthetical comment about working in journalism back in the days of my youth. I hate myself.), and nearly all of us used the very manly technique of two-finger typing.

I look at the keyboard, too.

Don't judge me.

And, for the love of God, don't watch me type.

But there are like three things that involve writing and related stuff that I'm DYING to say, if nothing else for the pure shock value of saying them, but if I can't see my listeners' faces when I say them, all the fun -- like watching me type -- is wasted in the ethereal void of the internet.

So there.


So I am going to be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books tomorrow. I'll be on the YA Stage at 11:00 and again at 5:00. In the 11:00 gig, I'll be talking about something that relates to The Marbury Lens, because the topic for the panel I'm on is "Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal."

Whenever I do these things, like an athlete preparing for... um... an athlete-y thing... or whatever... I try to "pump myself up." I know... it's a little-known secret about what writers do when we're not all sitting-around-on-stage-and-being-clever-y. I try to anticipate the questions the moderator, or possibly other panelists, will fire at me.

And sometimes, like when I'm in my car, and driving (which is not nearly as creepy as just sitting in my car alone, sitting there, sitting... sitting... talking to myself), I'll actually "rehearse" my canned witticisms that I contrive in anticipation of the questions I expect to be asked.

Yes. This is a deep secret -- kind of like how they pick popes and what John Roberts wears under his robe -- that only us writers know about. And here I am, graciously sharing it with you.

So, I've come up with a list of questions that I "feel" in my frenzy of two-fingered pumping up are going to be asked of me tomorrow.

And this is how I work out.

1. I understand you look at the keyboard when you type. Are you an idiot?

2. As far as the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook are concerned... wait. I just realized that only douchebags ask questions that begin with the invocation of Twitter, Facebook, and the term "social media." Never mind.

3. Tell me about your pets, and if it's still dark when you wake up.

4. I'm going to say some words: Elf. Dwarf. Dragon. Faerie. Vampire. Angel. What do you suppose will be the next must-have Happy Meal toy for aspiring writers of Young Adult Fiction?

5. I don't really care about you at all, but could you please introduce me to your editor? How about your agent? Who are you again -- and what did you write?


I'm pumped.

And ready.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

the thirty seconds game


About that predicting the future prediction...

I will have to hold off on that until tomorrow.

Because this also has something to do with yesterday's "advicey" post about writing.

It's my thirty seconds game.

It's quick, but it's pure hell.

Let me explain.

It really puts young writers on the spot, though. It's when we bring up the topic of tell me what your story's about... I give them thirty seconds to tell me.

That's it.

Because writers love getting sidetracked and explaining all these extraneous, totally unimportant, sub-plottish details about their wonderfully involved and elaborate work so much that they just can't get down to simply stating how the car gets driven from A to B (see yesterday's post).

The funny thing is, if you ask most writers to tell you the general story of nearly anything else they've ever read (that wasn't written by them) they can do it pretty easily... but when it comes to limiting their synopsis to 30 seconds with their own work... they tend to want to start reading (and pausing, going back and re-reading) their entire (oh... by the way... I need to back-fill this detail here...) goddamned novel.

Try it. You go ahead and tell me about... um... Huckleberry Finn or Romeo and Juliet in thirty seconds (bet you could do it in half that time)... Now, tell me about the story you're writing...

It's a tough game. The purpose isn't to be mean, or to put young writers on the spot (even if it can seem that way), it's to get their brains to focus on where they're really trying to go... which makes things so much easier for them when they actually discipline themselves into sitting down and writing the thing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

connective tissue

One of the more difficult questions for me to answer is What's your book about?

I see the same problem with nearly all the writers I coach, too. It's because writers have a tendency to envision what they write holistically -- like a 3D map of the universe -- as opposed to succinctly and linearly mapping out how you get from point A (the beginning) to point B (the end).

Young writers -- well, pretty much all "just starting out" writers -- tend to get battered by ideas, so they frequently have a hard time getting them down on paper. Because the big ideas they see are usually the disconnected emotional peaks on the journey between A and B.

If you hadn't noticed, I'm getting all "advicey" on you.

But this is something that we talk about a lot in our Young Writers' Group, and was a topic of discussion last week when a former member visited me when he was on break from college.

This relates to an article about Vonnegut's mapping images that was recently sent to me by a copy editor friend, in which the great novelist graphically illustrated the seismic-type shifting of emotions in story lines.

It's the parts of writing that span the gaps between the extreme peaks of emotion (the parts that I call "connective tissue") that frequently make inexperienced writers give up on building their universe.

It's because those parts of writing are tedious -- the grunt labor that supports the structure with all that delicious curbside appeal. But they have to be there, because not only do they serve as the skeleton to your otherwise quivering ball of slobbery goo, they also give the reader a pause to catch his breath, too.

Some very capable writers will skip those connective tissue parts with the plan to come back and tidy up later. I suppose that strategy is effective for a lot of successful writers. With my kids, though, I tell them to slog through the grunt work, no matter how slow and agonizing it can be, and they will get to that next great peak-moment on their A to B roadmap.

On tomorrow's post, I plan on predicting the future.

Well... not really, but, you'll see.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

the loneliness of the... well... it's not that lonely


Just so you know.

I make stuff up.

The other day, a kid I used to coach in writing came to visit me. He's away at college at the moment, but wanted to talk about this idea he has for writing a book. His idea sounds really cool, too.

You know what impressed me about the kid? While we talked, he actually took notes on some of the things I said. I gave him the titles of a couple novels that I thought would help give him an idea of the kind of world he's getting himself into (and I'm not going to list those recommendations here).

You know, if you're going to write, you have to be okay with spending a lot of time alone. If you can't handle that, you're not going to be much of a writer.

It's not only for the process part of writing, but sometimes it can seem like it takes forever between opportunities to communicate with the other people on your team (the people in the bizz).

So you have to get used to it.

So, yesterday, I got a phone call... and I was, like, oh... what a nice surprise!!!

...that turned out to be a "oops. I pressed the wrong button on my contacts list. k. bye."

Then I went back and wrote some more.


At my desk.

I guess the upside is that this year I will be able to make an announcement about several more books I'll have coming out soon.

Stay quietly -- and patiently -- tuned.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

hey cool kid

I'm not good at opening mail.

I got my stuff from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books coming up this weekend. This year it's at USC instead of UCLA. I think USC has better parking, and it's closer to Chinatown, which is a hangout area of choice for me.

When I'm finished on Saturday evening... Chinatown, baby.

Before we do stuff at the festival, we authors get to hang out in the "Green Room."

The Green Room is cool. They have all kinds of fancy food and stuff, but you have to stand in line and serve yourself.

I'm not good at that.

I think if people wanted to be really nice to me, there would be waitresses bringing me my food.

I'd rather have a bologna sandwich on Wonder bread brought to me than Chicken Kiev that I have to stand in a fucking line for.

In fact, if they were really nice, the waitresses would chew my bologna sandwich for me and spit it in my mouth.

Now THAT'S how you treat an author.

So yeah... that was me. The guy wearing dark glasses sitting by himself watching all you famous authors, editors, and publicity people (is there such a thing as a famous publicity person... and, if so, who handles them?) wait in line for your fancy un-pre-chewed food.

And I could show you some really cool spots in Chinatown.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

in case you were wondering...

Sometimes I like to put up pictures of things that are actually in my books.

This is for my readers in landlocked, waveless states.

It's for surfing. Get over it.

To me, there are few memories and experiences more intense or better than this: lying out on the water on your surfboard on a brilliant and warm day when the water isn't painfully cold and the swells are perfect and forgiving, and smelling the sea and Mr. Zogs Sex Wax all at the same time.

One time, when we were kids -- when everyone in the state of California who surfed wore Sex Wax T-shirts -- my brother and I went to Disneyland, and the people at the gates refused to let him into the park because he had a Sex Wax shirt on. He had to turn it inside-out to get in.

True story.

Best-smelling stuff in the world.

(And there isn't a surfer in the world who hasn't seriously considered tasting it -- hence the modern-day, lawsuit-avoiding warning on the label)

Friday, April 22, 2011

is it real, or is it...

Among the interesting side-effects of being a writer who habitually makes everything he does completely different is that people either don't think you're the "right fit" to be in their club, or you get invited to a lot of varied events that kind of force you to shift your personality.

That's okay with me, and I suck at clubs, anyway.

For example, next week, I'll be speaking at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on a panel of authors. Our topic is going to be: Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal.

I suppose I fit into this panel because of The Marbury Lens. So, I'm wondering how to go about phrasing my conviction that The Marbury Lens is totally real. Hmm...

Puts me in a tough spot.

Actually, when I was writing The Marbury Lens, the few people whom I spoke with about writing it (and, by the way, I NEVER talk details about anything I am writing while in the process), I told them that I was "writing a fantasy that isn't a fantasy."

That's really the way I described the book... and they were, like, huh?

And I still believe that about The Marbury Lens, too. Which is kind of why I can appreciate why Booklist will be featuring it on (yay!) their May 15 COVER(!!!) and naming The Marbury Lens as a "Top Ten Fantasy."

Because it is a fantasy.

But it isn't.

And then, coming up this fall, after the release of Stick, I'll be going to Chicago for the annual NCTE/ALAN conference and workshops, where I'll be speaking on a panel of authors and our topic is going to be how Young Adult literature is returning to its "realistic" roots.

I guess I was thought of for that panel because of Stick, which is really kind of grimy-noir-cigarette-smoke-reeking-sarcastic postmodernist fiction.

About a week ago on Twitter, there were a lot of posts back and forth from some pretty notable authors and other people in the LitBiz, squee!-ing about how "the next big thing" in YA was going to be realistic fiction.


I hate "next big thing" discussions. They make frantic and impoverished conference-addicts stay up all night tweeting about OMG! I just got the most amazing idea for my next WIP!!! Squee!!!

Well... I've always been rooted in the grit and stench of realism.

But, then again, Stick has some fairly otherworldly qualities to it, too. But so (definitely) do my other realistic novels, Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects, too.

Anyway, it's nice to be on the fringe.

Clubs are confining.

Here's a tip: the next big thing in YA -- good writing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

raising the mars tax

I know a lot of people do this, but this one's different.

Plenty of writers create playlists for their books -- songs that have some thematic kind of connection to what they've written.

Stick has a playlist, too. But there are just three songs on it, and all the songs actually occur in the book (which has an awful lot to do with listening to stuff, by the way).

If you've read Stick, then you will probably remember what the songs are. But you really should listen to them. In order. I'll bet they make you think about the book.

I'll bet you won't be able to stop yourself from smiling at the part of the book where the first one comes in; maybe being a little sad and angry when you hear the second one; and then feeling totally creeped out when you think about the third one.

Here's the list:

1. It Came Out Of The Sky -- Creedence Clearwater Revival

2. Rock On -- David Essex

3. Mr. Soul -- Buffalo Springfield

Go ahead. I dare you: If you've read the book, listen to those songs. In that order.

I think you'll like that list.


It sounds like this.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

not far from the tree

The apple has landed.

A couple days ago, I wrote a bit about how I decided to finally get some of my fiction published, that it was, honestly, due to my great friend Kelly Milner Halls (who is also a terrific author).

When we were kids -- and, believe me, I've known Kelly since childhood -- my parents were definitely not enthusiastic about my desire to one day become a writer. It didn't really matter what they wanted me to do, though, because I put myself through college and did pretty much exactly what I wanted to do with myself.

[Which reminds me of this irksome question that interviewers keep asking me: "If you weren't a writer, what would you do?" That question is so endlessly annoying to me because I just can not comprehend the concept of anyone ever doing anything that isn't exactly what they want to be doing. I mean... really... if you're doing something other than what you want to do, then you may as well be in prison. Same thing.]

Anyway, last year I started a young writers group with some high school boys because I wanted them to learn about writing and do what they wanted to do in a non-prescriptive and school-bullshitty way. The group was started in spring of 2010, and the boys worked fast and passionately to get stories submitted for a writing competition, in which two of the boys were honored.

So I decided to continue the group this year, and, to be honest, it is without a doubt one of the most rewarding, most fun things I've ever done. Oh, and unlike a lot of really bullshitty programs, this group is not gender-specific. The group is about 60% boy.

The kids are amazing writers, too. We are in the process of making a web-documentary (thanks to Annex Footage) about the group and what we do, so you'll be able to see and hear how the kids interact and deal with one another as writers. None of this at all, not ever, involves reading or listening to one single word of my writing, by the way, as giant as the greatbiggiantme wants to be at times.

Well, a couple days ago, the results for Mrs. Nelson's Young Writers Contest were announced, and a couple of my kids were honored for their writing.

As a matter of fact, my sixteen-year-old, UC Berkeley-bound son, Trevin Smith, won first place for a very creepy short story he wrote, called The Mannequin Man.

I don't know where he gets his creepiness from, but, honestly, when he reads at our group... kids have actually been known to cry. Also, the kid plans on majoring in English at UC Berkeley... and going on to become a writer. At least, that's what he wants right now.

Would I rather my son be a writer than an undersea welder? It's not up to me. I'd love to see him write books one day. Or whatever.

And the other award was an Honorable Mention that went to Kaija Bosket (her name is pronounced K-eye-uh), who also wrote a very creepy story called The Plumber.

Honestly... I really don't know where these kids get their influences.

The one thing about our group, though, is that there are NO RULES. Kids can say and write whatever they want to say and write, which is one of the reasons why the group is not prescriptive and school-bullshitty.

Sorry if this angers or upsets some people, but most schools that have "Creative Writing" programs or clubs, or that publish creative writing anthologies of student work, also have to abide by content restrictions that are passed down by the sage administrators who most likely sought college degrees to suit their parents rather than themselves.

I don't have a problem at all with school-generated content restrictions. It's playing the game, and there are lessons there for all of us.

Like, for example, the lesson about how you shouldn't play some games.

Anyway, kids need to be able to express themselves with no restrictions when it comes to the written word. That's my belief, at least, but I definitely respect people who believe that kids' writing should be content-filtered. But in my kids' group... if they want to say "fuck," or... whatever... well, they say it.

As long as they spell correctly and don't misuse apostrophes, I'm totally okay with whatever they write.

So it really is all about respect. Respect for kids' creative development; and their respect for the written word, and each other. You'll see that in the video when we get it finished.

And sorry to say this so late in this rather lengthy post, but I have to give a huge nod to a little indie store like Mrs. Nelson's for being a massive champion of literacy. Stores like this -- especially ones who have the literary balls to actually sponsor programs that get kids enthusiastic about writing -- do so much more for our future than we give them credit for.

Think about it.

Congrats to all the winners of the Mrs. Nelson's Young Writers Contest.

You can read the list of winners here.

Oh... and I'll definitely be there at the awards presentation. So pack the kids in the car and come out to Mrs. Nelson's and we'll see you there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

los angeles times festival of books

Next weekend, April 30 and May 1, USC will be the new location for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

I'm happy to be participating once again in several events... and looking forward to hanging out with my family (this will be their first time at LATFOB) and a few author friends, too.

I'll be hanging around pretty much all day on Saturday, April 30.

The first thing going that day, I'll be speaking on a panel called Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal... even though The Marbury Lens is totally real to me.

The panel of authors includes myself, Allyson Condie, Laura McNeal, and Tom McNeal, and will be moderated by Aaron Hartzler. The discussion begins at 11:00 a.m., and a book signing will follow at noon.

Later that afternoon, I will be participating with a flock of other Los Angeles-based YA authors in LAYAPALOOZA!, at 5:00 p.m. If you've never seen one of these before, they're a lot of fun and include lots of audience participation and prizes.

And if you've never seen me before, I'll be easy enough to identify because I'll be the lone male on stage with about 10 female authors.

Actually, kind of scary.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I was interviewed recently (a "live" interview, which seems to be a unique thing in this day of e-communication), and I said something about a few other authors whom I referred to as "real" writers.

The interviewer said something to me like, I've heard you say that a few times... What do you mean by 'real' writers?

I guess I don't consider myself a "real" writer for a lot of reasons.

I'd like to think of myself as being in that club, but I don't.

There were a whole lot of things I believed, or assumed, about books and writing before I became published. I could make a cool Venn diagram: Things you believe about writing when you are young and stupid/Things you believe about writing when you are old and stupider.

It requires a lot of faith to hold on to certain beliefs.

I've always written stuff -- ever since I was a little kid. I can clearly remember writing stories and things, just for myself and nobody else, when I was seven years old. So I always wrote.

When I was in high school, I was editor of my school's newspaper, too. My first-ever paid job was as a stringer (the lowliest form of writerly life) for a newspaper.

There are just a couple people from my high school days that I still know. One of my closest friends in high school, though, who also worked on the paper and wanted to one day be a writer, like me, is someone I still know and stay in touch with.

Anyway, my friend is a "real" writer today. She writes mostly nonfiction for kids, and her name is Kelly Milner Halls. Well, I went off to college and studied journalism and other stuff, and Kelly ended up becoming an award-winning author. I also hated every job I ever had as a result of my education.

But I kept writing, throughout my entire life.

One day, back in about 2006 or so, Kelly scolded me with something like, Why haven't you ever published a book?

I didn't know why I didn't.

I never thought about it.

I guess I believed certain things about why I wrote and what I wrote. And I honestly never thought about getting "real."

But I told her, Well... yeah... I've written some stuff. I have a couple novels that I think are pretty good. Maybe I'll try to get one published... I never really thought about it.

And that's what happened.

I sent this "thing" I'd written, called Ghost Medicine off to an agent, and, in the fall of 2008 it was on the shelves in bookstores.

But, seriously, I never thought about being "real."

That doesn't exactly explain what I believe, or what I think makes a writer "real."

Maybe I'm just having an identity crisis. Well... to be honest, I've been having one since Kelly and I worked on the same high school newspaper.

But I look back at all these years of not really thinking about doing stuff, but just doing it, and I realize I have a hell of a lot of "things" that I've never thought about letting people read.

I guess I've written, on average, about 2 books per year. I'm seriously thinking about formatting one of my unseen works as a free downloadable e-book and posting it on my website sometime this year.

Just because I never thought about being a real writer, anyway.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

finding blind spots


So, a few months before The Marbury Lens came out (it's about five months old -- a mere infant among books), I hosted a couple giveaways on Goodreads to win signed ARCs and signed hardbacks.

I am "on" Goodreads, but I have a really hard time justifying looking there. So, I need to figure out a way to do a giveaway for Stick, I suppose, in which I'll insulate myself from staring too long into mirrors.

I don't know. I guess I don't even want the responsibility of having to deal with ARCs of Stick. Pretty much everyone who's asked for one has already received one directly from Macmillan. I got exactly four, and here's what I did with them:

I signed one and gave it to my friend, Yvonne. I gave one to my wife (but I made her promise she would not loan it out to anyone. Nobody.). And the other two: one of them I left out, abandoned after I learned about Rock the Drop Day to promote teen literacy, and the other one is going to Mrs. Nelson's Book Store, because, as indie booksellers go, Mrs. Nelson's has always been so supportive of me and my books.

I need to go back to work.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

a cool breath trapped and saved

Here it is, April 16.

When I started writing this book, I estimated a finish date of April 22, which is this coming Friday.

I'm pretty good at making those predictive estimations.

I'm not very good at just about everything else.

For example, I have a tumbler. Is that how you say it? I don't really know what it is, or what it does, but I have one. I haven't done anything with it, though. I may be wrong, but it seems like most of the tumblers I see are cut-and-paste stuff from other places on the internet.

Not that I really look at stuff like that.

I have a Twitter (@marburyjack), too. I am getting better at that.

I also have a Formspring. People ask me ridiculous questions there. I often delete the questions, or I ignore them. I honestly don't know what Formsprings are supposed to do, anyway.

I think writers who look at too much stuff end up not writing. Or, at the very least, the stuff they write is less than honest and genuine.

It bugs me when I see writers or other people in LitBiz talking about "the next big thing" or how B&N reports that sales of (fill in the blank) genre are down by (fill in the blank) percent over last year.

I guess stuff like that is okay for ad and marketing people, but when writers start spreading that stuff around as though it serves as some divine compass on the path to the Grail, then... well... they deserve to be locked up in some oppressive Maoist reeducation camp.

Just write.

Which is what I need to do.

Friday looms.

And... I really should crazy glue my fingers to cinder blocks or something... I already have an idea for the next book after that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

tomatoes and radio wires

Yesterday, apparently, was Rock the Drop day, a subject I know nothing about.

Evidently, it was an organized campaign to leave books in conspicuous places, with little notes attached to their dust jackets explaining the day and inviting people to pick up free -- and hopefully enjoyable -- books.

Well, the guerrilla Rock the Drop monkeys from Macmillan did a stellar job, dropping a copy of The Marbury Lens at the 23rd Street Subway Station in New York City.

This was a particularly perfect drop because, as you may know, one of the more emotionally-draining scenes from The Marbury Lens takes place when Jack finds himself on a subway platform, disoriented, alone, and wearing a stranger's clothes.

At first, the photo taken by the Macmillan Rock the Drop monkeys was posted on Twitter. I copied the picture and uploaded it to my Facebook wall, and, after that I suppose, the social-network-media gauntlet had been dropped, resulting in thegreatbiggiantme, Andrew Smith, being "tagged" in a series of marginally staged Rock the Drop photos of books from Egmont.

I am a terrific fan of Egmont and their authors, but... sorry... the Macmonkeys ROCKED THE DROP.

Here's the first shot across the bow:

You just can't argue with Jack.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

these are the words


How are things in Texas?

I've been looking at all the rubbing-it-in posts from friends about how great the TXLA Conference is, how it is made even better by the presence of a stock of Advance Review Copies of Stick.

Lots of folk are telling me about getting one, and that is really nice to hear. I am very happy that the people at Macmillan have been so enthusiastic about getting this book (well... advance copies of it, at least) into the hands of certain readers.

So... please enjoy.

And, now that it is springtime in Southern California, we also have the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to look forward to.

This year, the event will be held on the campus of USC.

I'm scheduled to be speaking as part of a panel called Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 30. This is a great topic, and very fitting, especially in light of The Marbury Lens being named to Booklist's "Top 10 Fantasies."

Should be a really cool discussion.

After the talk, I'll be signing in the, duh, author signing area.

Later that afternoon, at 5:00 p.m., I'll be participating in the very fun and audience-participation-ish LAYAPALOOZA! with a bunch of other Los Angeles-based YA authors.

At that event, I'll also be giving out some cool prizes... You'll have to be there to find out what they are, but, trust me, they're cool.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

all these pills and powder

Yesterday -- duh! -- I didn't post anything.

You know what's the most distracting thing for me, that gets in the way of productivity? It's not noise. It's the business part of writing. I don't like having anything to do with that stuff, which is why, to me, having an agent is so important.

So... the couple-week-long distraction has pretty much ended and now I can go back to doing what I'd rather do.

And, in a couple days or so, I'll let you know about a couple new books that will be coming out (written by me, naturally) that I haven't said anything about on here.

I'm not really one who discusses things that I'm writing publicly (or even privately, come to think of it, because the way I live makes a Mongolian nomad's life seem hectic and metropolitan), anyway -- except to say something very general and vague like "I am currently writing something new," which is something (ugh! I used the word 'something' three -- no four -- times in that tirade) I haven't been able to NOT say since, like, 2008.

Or something.

(Needs a break, and will take one. Eventually.)

But, let me share some OTHER great news with you while I am in the process of suspending your attention.

My most-recently published work, The Marbury Lens, is going to be featured on the cover of Booklist magazine, for their May 15 issue.




Go get that 'zine.

Inside, Booklist is listing The Marbury Lens in their Top Ten Fantasies for Youth.

Pretty freakin' cool.

I'll tell you another thing that distracts me: It's that sometimes... no, a LOT of times... I wonder whether or not I should keep doing what I do. Usually, I get all pouty and say to myself I-am-never-writing-again (like, at least ten times per day).

Here's a typical event from my life:

PERSON A: I read your latest book.


PERSON A: Yeah. It's NOTHING like your other book(s).


I know it's shocking. I keep writing different shit.

The nerve of some people.

Well... very few, actually.

The thing is, when people like Booklist do stuff like what they're doing on May 15, it kind of softens the distraction of my near-hourly I-am-going-to-quit-writing paroxysms.

Not that I won't have one again. Like, in 45 minutes or so.

But it kind of makes me feel like writing again.

That, and wrapping up this business nonsense.

Thank you, Booklist.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

road trip 3

Today we get to head back home.

I suppose that if you're ever going to drive the length of the state of California, the month of April is the time to do it.

So, back to my golf story. So, on my first night here, this place was totally empty and quiet. I decided to have some tea and sit for a while in the hotel lounge, where they had this big flat-screen television that was showing the Masters Golf Championship.

That's pretty much how uneventful the first night was. But I noticed something about the televised program: on every break, there was a commercial -- sponsored by one of these huge oil companies (I think it was Mobil -- and how nice of Mobil to sponsor such encouraging commercials as a means of lessening the burden of taxation on an entity that makes more money that most countries in the world). The commercials all pretty much showed the same things: nice looking, optimistic young students, whose lives were completely transformed by taking AP (Advance Placement) Math and Science classes in high school.

Awww... thanks for telling our kids what they need to do, Mobil.

This is going to guarantee a shiny, happy future.

Now, let me admit, I am not a Math/Science basher. As a matter of fact, my son (remember, I'm up here in Berkeley because he's an incoming freshman at Cal) got 5s (perfect scores) on every one of his math and science AP exams. He even got a 5 on AP Biology when he was 13 years old.

Conversation, yesterday:

ME: How many kids were in your program at Cal?

SON: About a hundred.

ME: Did you meet any other English majors?

SON: There weren't any English majors. They were all engineering or science.

The thing is, lots of kids do well in Math and Science. I personally know hundreds of them, and a lot of them end up getting denied entrance into overcrowded universities -- or they can't afford to go. And universities, like Berkeley, are completely filled to the rafters with kids pursuing math and science-related degrees. They can't possibly take any more kids.

Yesterday, we had coffee with one of our favorite Berkeley authors, Yvonne Prinz, whose novel All You Get Is Me is up for a Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book Award today. I gave her my only extra ARC copy of Stick. Then, we went in to San Francisco and had dinner with Josh, another life-long friend and San Franciscan.

All in all, it's been a very nice three days.

Back to decision-making time.

And, remember... the video trailer for Stick will be posted here tomorrow.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

road trip (2)

Okay. Now, I may as well get it over with.


I love it. And, since I love it so much, I've decided to bump up the debut of the book's video. I will post it here on Monday morning.

Look out.

So... the road trip. Of course, as these things happen to work out, it started snowing at my house the morning we left. A lot. Unplowed roads, lots of snow, having to drive in 4WD to get through the mountains toward the freeway.

I realized something, too, when we left. My daughter (who will be starting high school next year) got up from bed to say goodbye to her brother when we left. And I thought... well... you never think about these things too much, maybe, when you're a dad. But, as brothers and sisters go, my kids are, like, best friends. And I guess it's going to be like this now that the boy (who's only 16, goddamnit) is going to be going somewhere like Berkeley.

But we made it. For Jonathon, a playlist (when we weren't listening to the wheels in the snow): we listened to some Tamaryn, Wolf Parade, Smith Westerns, Girls, the entire album of The Moon & Antarctica (underrated greatness), and I'll make a couple other references below.

Because, naturally, after arriving in Berkeley and getting some pizza in his mouth, my son wanted to go here:

Amoeba Records. Where the kid bought the lone Neutral Milk Hotel EP he needed to complete his collection, and a great Pixies CD, too.

While we were there, driving through Berkeley and walking on the campus, I got about three phone calls from my agent and a whole bunch of emails about some exciting news that I'll probably be sharing in the coming week (after the book video -- don't forget).

It's all really great, exciting, life-changing stuff, but as nice as it all is, stuff like this makes me not sleep at night. I don't sleep well in hotels, anyway, and, to top it off, I had to drop my son off for his dorm stay at Berkeley.

So I have to make some decisions.

My son and I went in to a used book store, too. He walked out with what I told him were two of the greatest books ever written by American authors: In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway, and Light In August, by William Faulkner.

I wrote a whole novel that bounces around and makes tons of references to In Our Time. I'll tell you about that book soon.

Anyway, as we were walking away from the bookstore, we were passed by a chanting band of Hare Krishna folk.

My son said, "That is so cool!"

We don't see too many Hare Krishna folk in the mountains.

And I told him (this is the truth) about how when he was just days old, a group of Hare Krishna folk played drums and chanted a blessing to him in the jungle on Maui.

Now, here we are: he has to make decisions, and I have to make decisions.

Okay. Well... I need to tell you about how I watched golf (The Masters) on television last night in the hotel bar. But I'll save that for next time...

The bay from my window:

Friday, April 8, 2011

road trip

Can't really say too much about the road trip yet, because my son and I are just about to depart.

But you may have already popped over to the five blogs (linked at the bottom) that are revealing the cover of Stick today.

Hope you like it.

Here's one more thing I'd like to say about Stick:

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting up in my office, working on my latest novel, and my wife was downstairs reading an ARC of Stick. [Yes... it's true... I do not EVER let anyone in my family read my stuff until it is actually published. There's no point in it. Trust me. Attention all other authors out there: Stop letting your mates and offsprings read your stuff as soon as you hit the "print" button. They can't possibly know what they're talking about and they will lead you straight off the nearest cliff.]

Anyway, I heard her laughing. Out loud.

That's a good thing.

It would be something else, entirely, if she were reading The Marbury Lens. Then, I would think she's insane.

But Stick is a kind of human-being test, in my opinion: There are going to be parts of the book that will make you laugh (as evidenced by the spouse on the lower floor), and there are going to be parts of the book that... well... if you don't get at least a little choked up... then you're not a human, and you've failed the test.

Now... off to the endlessness of the Golden State Freeway.

Here, again, are the blogs revealing the cover of Stick today:

...more to follow, from Berkeley.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

on the doorstep

First off -- and before I forget -- here are the blogs that will be exploding tomorrow with the cover art for my next novel, Stick:


Yesterday, lots of amazing stuff happened, most of which I am not allowed to talk about yet. But as soon as I can, I will.

I know... writers do that more than anyone else, but there are reasons why.

Anyway, I did receive a very small package of ARCs of Stick yesterday.



They are here, and those of you who are awaiting one can rest assured they will be out there soon. Those of you who are anticipating reading it, you may as well clear your heads of anything you've come to expect from the YA mills of late, too. That's all I'm going to say.

I need to tell you about one of the nicest things ever:

So, last night, I was lying in bed (yes... with a copy of Stick) and my wife and daughter came home from the dance studio and said that another package had been delivered on the front doorstep.

Two deliveries in one evening. I thought it was kind of weird.

Then my daughter announced that it was a box from Random House. I thought that was weird, too. I mean... my first two novels, Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects were made into audiobooks by Random House, but that was a long time ago... so I had no idea what could possibly be inside the box.

Also, as a side note, I have to say that the people who work at Random House must be some of the most thoughtful people anywhere. One time, they even sent me (by FedEx) a handwritten letter from a fan of Ghost Medicine that was only addressed to my name, care of Random House.

Anyway... as I've said before, I am a HUGE (well, I am reasonably slender) fan of the handwritten-on-paper note, and I always save them.

Okay, so, I open the box.

Score! -- a handwritten note.

From an author. And I don't think I've ever crossed paths with him, either.

Anyway, here's the inside of the box --

And the note reads:



I couldn't resist sending you this humble offering.

Please enjoy!

And it was signed by the author -- Daniel Kraus

Beneath the note was a copy of Daniel's just released novel, Rotters (about grave-robbing. LOVE.), a shovel and a rake (obvious tools of the trade), and a bag of honest-to-God dirt with "Body Parts" in it.

The book.

The tools.

The dirt and body parts.

Really, honestly... this was just about the coolest and most random (house) thing anyone has ever done for me.

I have a few things to say to you, Mr. Kraus:

1. Thank you for the note about The Marbury Lens. This will be framed and hung, my friend.

2. Now I have something to read this weekend when I take my son up to UC Berkeley for his freshman orientation and I'm sitting alone in a hotel room, rocking back and forth, in fetal posture because my 16-year-old son is going to leave and go to college.

3. Rookie Move! -- Dude, you didn't sign the book. I will hunt you down.

4. Thank you.

More on the big good news coming soon, and don't forget: the cover reveal for Stick is tomorrow (Friday, April 8), and the video trailer will debut on Wednesday, April 13.

I plan on blogging from my road trip with the son. There will be pictures.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

trailer in tow

Two days to the cover reveal.

I hope you're ready.

I'll re-post the blog links here tomorrow.

And I am supposed to receive my arcs of Stick today, as well. To top it all off, one week from today -- Wednesday, April 13 -- I will upload and debut the live-action video trailer for Stick, too.

So I wanted to tell you a little bit about the two-and-a-half-minute video before you get a chance to actually see it.

A couple of months ago, I met a kid named Dave Espinoza, who had just finished reading The Marbury Lens and really loved the book. We talked for a while. Dave had lots of questions, and, like most people, his own perspective on some of the things that happen in The Marbury Lens.

During our conversation, I learned that Dave is also a filmmaker. Coincidentally, at that time, I was communicating with some professional film crews about making a short trailer for my upcoming novel, Stick, and I learned a lot about the different approaches to making book trailers.

Anyway, I asked Dave if he'd be interested in making a trailer for Stick, and if he thought it was possible that we use only kids (everyone on the entire cast and crew was 16 or 17 years old... um... except me). So, Dave cast the actors, arranged for the equipment, sets, crew... everything... and, over the course of what turned out to be several weeks (for a two-and-a-half-minute film), we made a trailer, using a script that I wrote (that was entirely taken from lines in Stick, so it was an easy adaptation).

Okay. So, here are the kids who worked on the film:

Dave Espinoza was the director and cinematographer. Camera work was also done by John Denny and Trevin Smith (yay... my son). Grips and lighting were Zack Latade and Trevin Smith.

Sound recording was done by Dave Espinoza and Jonathan Halterman.

Still photography was shot by Kaija Bosket, a very talented young photographer who also shot an author photo of me that is going to appear in the June issue of VOYA. That photo was taken on one of the sets with the actors.

The three sixteen-year-old kids (what a shock! actually using teenagers to play teenagers) who played roles in the video are all talented actors with extensive credits in local theater groups and even some film work.

Demetri Belardinelli plays the part of Ricky Dostal, the "bad kid" who gets beaten up by Derrick Deakins, who plays the older brother, Bosten McClellan.

Stark McClellan ("Stick") is played by James Marino. James also does the voiceover narration that runs through the film (he wants to do voiceover professionally, and you'll see how good the kid is at doing it). And James also composed and recorded the original musical score for the Stick film, too (he wants to study composing in college).

So, next week, when you see the video, you may have to remind yourself that this was actually done by a bunch of kids.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

arcs and facts

I received word yesterday that the ARCs for Stick have arrived in the Macmillan offices.

I haven't seen them yet, but I will be honest and admit that I am a little anxious about a few things. I am set to receive mine tomorrow, and I will be waiting.

But I won't post a picture of them here or on Facebook for a while... because of the big cover reveal happening in just three days (see yesterday's post for a list of participating blogsites) and also because I'll be out of town.

But I am a little stressed about the product.

So we'll see.

The ARCs should be available at the TXLA (Texas Library Association) Conference this week, too -- so to all you terrific, incredible librarians in Texas, head over to the Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends area and grab one while you can. I was also assured that if they run out, if you leave your name and address at the Feiwel and Friends booth, they will send you one. Yes. An ARC. Of Stick.

Attention Texas: I expect a massive line, a civilized mob, or, at the very least two disgruntled librarians camping out in front of the Feiwel booth because they thought that was the place to get a freebie copy of City of Fallen Angels.

But, in honor of the ARCs coming out (and I have already sent a list of names and addresses of people who asked for one to Macmillan), I thought I'd share two random facts about the book, which you may already know, anyway. But here goes:

1. I wrote the book in 6 weeks. First words to submission time to Liz Szabla, my editor. I wrote it in November, 2009, in an attempt to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal of NaNo is to write 50,000 words in November, which I did. But I didn't finish the novel until mid-December. The finished word count was just under 75,000 words (my shortest novel ever, but still not at all "short" by YA standards).

2. Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, Once Was Lost) got to read it first. Well, after Liz Szabla did, that is. And Sara really liked it. In fact, a little blurb of hers is printed on the cover. Here's the incredibly flattering thing Sara wrote:

Andrew Smith is one of the most courageous and compelling authors I've read. Stick moved me deeply.

So... Friday. The cover. And I also want to talk about book trailers in general, and then, specifically, about the trailer that was produced for Stick.

Then I'll be debuting that, coming up very soon...

Monday, April 4, 2011

and the boy in the crow's nest will cry

Okay. Well, the big surprise for this week is that the cover for Stick is going to be revealed by the Friday Five -- 5 bloggers whom I've chosen not-so-randomly, just because they cover things in their own ways and they're located all over North America.

So I'm pretty sure the revealing is going to kick in at a fairly early hour, regardless of what time zone you live in.

I'll be blogging from a remote location that weekend, as my son and I take a road trip up to the Bay Area so he can visit his school of choice for next year, UC Berkeley, and hang out in one of the coolest areas on the planet.

Yesterday, I posted a short status update on Facebook, proclaiming my love for Los Angeles (In my reckless and swooning passions, I included the <3 emoticon). I didn't do it to try to sway my son into choosing UCLA over Cal (he got into both), I only did it because I really do love L.A.

That's a hard thing for people to wrap their heads around, I think.

In the same way that the "standardized" mass psyche buys into the concept of bashing certain common targets (I can think of a few celebrities, for example), it seems like it's totally okay -- especially for outsiders -- to bash on and spew hatred for Los Angeles. And, yes, I'm calling you out AGAIN, Colin Meloy, and my offer still stands -- you can review my book, and I will continue to review your music.

After all, parts of Stick do actually take place in Oregon and around Portland.

And I may as well tell you now, Stick is a kind of love-letter for places that I... well... love. Like the Puget Sound and coastal towns in Washington, the small beach communities of Ventura County, California, and, especially, Los Angeles.

No spoilers here, but the ending of the book takes place in downtown Los Angeles. When I was writing the book, I wandered around the streets in L.A. taking notes on what I saw happening around me -- scribbled-out snapshots that bump into Stark McClellan as he's searching for his missing brother, Bosten.

My son, who taunted his friends with the fact that I actually allowed him to read the unbound, typeset pass pages of Stick (and... no, I do not know when the ARCs are coming out), tells me that his favorite part of the book is the part that takes place in Los Angeles.

As dismal and strange as I tried to make L.A. seem in Stick, I guess there's no masking my love for the place.

And, with that, here are the five blogs who will simultaneously be revealing the cover for the novel on this Friday, April 8:

...By the way, any of you out there who are just starting out, working at the craft of writing, and maybe in the process of looking for a literary agent, I can't recommend Matthew's Query Blog highly enough. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

writer's window

I wrote a book.

It has a lot of Ernest Hemingway references in it.

When I was in college, learning how to write, I thought there would never be anyone who could write like Hemingway, and for a very long time I refused to read anything that post-dated him.

I got over it when I grew up. But I still love his writing.

Like a lot of writers, I keep re-thinking his quote, The first draft of anything is shit.

And I wish I lived in the day when drafts were actually done his way, when people wrote letters, and phones were attached to your wall and not your skull, or you had to find a gas station and pump dimes into them.

I mean, I can see what Hemingway is saying, but I don't even have first drafts. Technology means you don't have to sit down and write everything out (on paper) and then come back to it, clean it, gut it like a fish, and do it all over again.

So I can stay on a schedule and predict with reasonable accuracy when I'll actually be finished writing a book. And when I finish, I finish. Because, as I write, I find myself rewriting, frequently chopping up, every single sentence at least a hundred times or more.

And then doing it again.

So my first drafts end up being my final drafts, which are, on the average, my thirtieth drafts.

Technology has changed what we write and how we write it.

The bad side of it is that with the interconnectedness of readers and writers, publishers, marketers, booksellers and so on -- there is a heavy force that herds writers like cattle toward the abattoirs of markets and content; our human stories and real experiences, trend like celebrity faux pas on Twitter.

Just look back at some of the fiction bestseller lists in America, pre-bastardization of culture via technology, and compare the breadth of their content to recent years.

As douchey as it is to paraphrase McLuhan, in writing, the medium is definitely casting a massive shadow over the message.

Standardization is like God and Facebook. It's everywhere.

Yesterday, a friend (Sarah) wondered about the inclusion of a prologue in a manuscript -- if doing such a thing would be perceived negatively. It's a topic that comes up frequently with writers (when I talk to any of them).

When I wrote my first book (way back in 2008), Ghost Medicine, I included a prologue on the novel. I even called it Prologue (I know... the horror). But I was very "disconnected" at the time, so I didn't know that you weren't supposed to do such things; that readers sometimes assume that prologue equals self-absorbed essay by boring scholar about the author or something like that.

But nobody ever questioned my inclusion of an actual, named, prologue in that novel. And I like prologues anyway. My next three novels, In the Path of Falling Objects, The Marbury Lens, and Stick all have prologues to them.

I just don't call them "prologue" and they happen to be very short and punchy.

And the novel that I wrote with the heavy Hemingway/American Literature references also has a prologue, too -- with a title (but it's not called "prologue").

My way of fooling the prologue-bashers out there.

But, go figure, the novel that I am finishing THIS MONTH (I need to keep repeating that to myself so I can feel the pressure), has no prologue. It just goes.


Tomorrow, I'm going to post a list of the blogs that will be participating in the great cover release for Stick this coming Friday, and I'll tell a little bit more about that novel, too.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

cover band

So, finally... yesterday I received the cover artwork for Stick.

I'm certain I've said it before, but the cover is absolutely beautiful. Rich Deas, the creative director who was responsible for the brilliant cover on The Marbury Lens came up with another masterpiece for Stick.

I can't wait to show it off.

But I will.

The cover for my next novel, Stick, is going to be revealed on Friday, April 8 on the web. But not here. It will be revealed on a few other blogs out there, and I will post all the relevant links to them coming up in the next few days.

So be patient.

Patience is something that is rarely mentioned when it comes to the writing business. If you're just starting out and working on your first "real" project... and if you think it's tough enduring the wait-time to get a response from an agent... you haven't seen nothin' yet, kid.

Just wait.

You'll see.

I'd tell you about all the other tests of patience and periods of agonizing waiting, but I wouldn't want to spoil the natural maturation process of an author.

So, on Friday, April 8, the cover will be blown. I'll tell you a little about why I like it so much, though. I think Rich really captures some of the essential elements of the book -- without giving away too much. It's a cover that I could see myself flipping back to and looking at during various moments in the story -- and that's what you're supposed to do with a book's cover, right?

Also, there's a really nice blurb about me and the novel from Sara Zarr, whom my editor sent the manuscript to many months ago -- before we were even finished with the copy edits. Needless to say, I guess Sara liked the book.

And on Friday, April 8 I will be heading up to San Francisco with my son, who just got in to UC Berkeley and will be doing a weekend freshman orientation thing there. I plan on blogging from Berkeley that weekend, and I'll undoubtedly post the cover art here on that Saturday or Sunday.

And now that the cover art is ready for mass consumption, that means the live-action video book trailer can finally be revealed as well. It's been ready to go for a while now, but we were just waiting to splice in some images of the book cover and now that's done.

So I anticipate opening up the video (which has a really amazing story behind it) in the week following the big cover reveal, coming up on Friday.

Friday, April 1, 2011

the season of insects

I suppose the whole thing wouldn't have been so surprising if I paid more attention to things going on in the writing business; maybe if I spent more time on Twitter or something.

But I am so easily distracted, which is why I have to live so far away from everything, out in the mountains with my horses, reckless dogs, and occasional cats.

I can't keep the internet running and write at the same time.

I can't even listen to music and write at the same time.

So I never know anything about what's going on in "the business" (I despise all things business-y, anyway), and, unlike just about every writer I know, I don't hang out with other writers. As a matter of fact, I don't hang out with anyone. I can't just pop open my laptop at a Starbucks and sip coffee and write and visit at the same time.

In fact, if anyone is even near me at all, I can't write.

So, yeah... I am really bummed out. And, yes, I did drag that entire file into my trash and hit delete. All 17,000 words of it.

There's something really liberating in destroying something you've worked so long creating. It's kind of a rush.

Now, all these novel folders on my hard drive are eying me suspiciously... like they're saying please, please, please don't kill me.

I also had no idea that March was NaNoEdMo -- National Novel Editing Month. And now it's over. I would have had a lot to say about editing and editors, too. If only I'd pay more attention.

To stuff.

And so here we are at the threshold of National Poetry Month. I actually wrote a poem for this post -- about insect time, as a matter of fact. But I deleted that, too.

What a rush.