Monday, October 31, 2011

all good books are about everything, abbreviated

I believe that good books are about everything that has ever happened.

This was a long and extremely tiring weekend, and now I am home for a little while.

Yesterday, I went from San Diego to La Verne, where I participated in Bridge to Books' event called The Why Chromosome. It was a panel discussion with six male authors who talked about boys and literacy.

It was very interesting, and we had a good crowd of enthusiastic readers, educators, and parents.

Bridge to Books plans on taking it on the road and doing this again in the future, too.

I have participated in countless author talks in the past few years. Usually, I am in the extreme minority (frequently the only male on the panel). I think everyone noticed a tremendous difference in the tone and substance of yesterday's talk. I don't mean to imply anything crude or sexist.

It was just different.

Very different.

Ask anyone who was there, and they will tell you. It was a good thing.

I have met just about all these guys at various events in the past. It was really cool to see how funny, smart, and insightful the other authors were about their own childhoods and how they discovered their literate drives.

It was a really positive event. And there were actually guys (dads and boy readers) in attendance in the audience, which is also a rare occurrence at book events (especially ones on Sundays during football season).

Here is a photo of the authors who participated in the panel:

The back row, left to right, is John Stephens, Allen Zadoff, and Greg Neri. In the front are Johnathan Auxier, me, and Greg Van Eekhout.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

another universe, part 2

This afternoon, I will be talking about another universe: The universe where boys and books coexist, and boys actually read and write and are not discouraged by institutional brainwashing that has redefined literacy as a feminine trait.

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking at length with some fellow writers from all over North America whom I had previously only met through Facebook and Twitter.

That was kind of like going through a wormhole, too.

In any event, I will have more to say about this other universe I am leaking into this afternoon when I get a chance to meet with yet another group of great writers and educators at Mrs. Nelson's Books in La Verne.

On the panel, which will be moderated by the brilliant Cathy Blackler, are myself, Allen Zadoff, Greg Neri, Greg Van Eekhout, John Stephens, and Jonathan Auxier. We will all be signing books afterward, and the event begins at 1:00.

And, just so you know, in keeping with the trend of discussing universes and such (which began on Friday -- check it out -- with my piece about the cosmic architecture in The Marbury Lens and its sequel, Passenger), I do plan on running a piece sometime this week about the universe of Stark McClellan, the narrator and protagonist of my latest novel, Stick.

His universe is something else altogether.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

another universe, part 1

Yesterday, I wrote a lengthy post about Jack Whitmore's universe in The Marbury Lens, and Passenger, its sequel.

Today, I am writing about another universe.

It is a universe of hair, capes, swords, and unpronounceable names.

Yes, I am at World Fantasy Convention in San Diego.

In the universe of my hotel room, I have this staring directly at my King-size bed:

 This is a painting that talks to me.

It says to me: "As soon as you shut your eyes I am going to jab an icepick through your temple."

As though that weren't disturbing enough, on the opposite wall is a Japanese image of 5 cranes. I know you don't believe me, so here:

Their razor-sharp beaks are pointed directly at the head of my bed.

They may also be pointed directly at the painting of ships on the Grand Canal in Venice -- I can't be sure.

I would post a picture of the painting of the ships on the Grand Canal in Venice, but the glare coming in from the window is too much.

I have a feeling you believe me about the painting of the ships on the Grand Canal in Venice.

This is my universe today.

Tomorrow, I am going up to Mrs. Nelson's in La Verne to talk about boys and reading.

I have a lot to say about that.

I read an article in the Washington Post a couple days ago. It was about the woman writer who started the American Girl series of books and dolls. She wants to do something like that for boys.


Do not do that.


We have done enough to scare boys away from reading, thanks, in no small part, to people who have good intentions about what boys should be like and should be interested in, from a successful white woman's point of view.

Hey, American Girl lady: Leave them kids alone.

And, can I interest you in some fine artwork?

Friday, October 28, 2011

an awful lot of math

Yesterday, a Twitter friend in Idaho posted: Is @marburyjack right? Are we living inside a series of nesting universes? 

(@marburyjack is my Twitter user name) 

She linked to a National Geographic article that reported findings from a recent study proving by mathematical equation that the universe is, in reality, just as Jack Whitmore (the narrator of The Marbury Lens) described it to be.


To the Nobel committee: I would be happy to come to Sweden and accept my one million dollars and sparkly medal, and I am available for lectures. 

The article begins:

Like part of a cosmic Russian doll, our universe may be nested inside a black hole that is itself part of a larger universe.

In turn, all the black holes found so far in our universe—from the microscopic to the supermassive—may be doorways into alternate realities.

If you have read The Marbury Lens, you might find the study above to have some eery similarities to the architecture of Jack's universe in my novel.

At the opening to Chapter One, Jack says:

I am going to build something big for you.

It’s like one of those Russian dolls that you open up, and open up again. And each layer becomes something else.

On the outside is the universe, painted dark purple, decorated with planets and comets, stars. Then you open it, and you see the Earth, and when that comes apart, there’s Marbury, a place that’s kind of like here, except none of the horrible things in Marbury are invisible. They’re painted right there on the surface where you can plainly see them.

...And throughout the book, Jack keeps coming back to this image of things inside of things; universes inside of universes -- how he is actually at the very center of everything.

The universe.

A few years ago, when I was writing The Marbury Lens, I initially started off with the intent of making the novel a kind of dark thriller about Jack's kidnapping, guilt, and an accidental murder.

But when I began writing the novel, I also started having coincidental dreams about this place inside of our world, which was inside yet other worlds.

The place I dreamed about was called Marbury (and, in my dreams, it looked a lot like the place in the book, too). I drew pictures of nesting dolls (I keep paper at my bedside) and I imagined myself -- as Jack does -- as being a kind of arrow that goes through multiple layers at the same time. I thought, what would that be like? 

This is why Jack gets shot with an arrow the first time he pops in to Marbury, and why arrows and images of arrows keep coming up in the book. Die-hard fans of Marbury, get ready: The Arrow is the title of Part V (the final book) in Passenger, which is the sequel to The Marbury Lens.

(That's not giving away too much, is it?)

Well, at that time a few years back, I figured I had to include these concepts in the novel I was writing, so along came this creepy British guy -- Henry Hewitt -- and a pair of broken glasses -- The Marbury Lens.

So that's how Jack's universe is built. People have asked me to explain it hundreds, maybe thousands, of times. Universes that stack and enfold one another like Jack's grandmother's collection of Russian nesting dolls.

And Jack is an arrow, an antenna -- as we all are -- that happens to be able to "tune in" to other layers. Given the predictability of pattern that is evident in living and non-living things (lately I have been obsessed with biological, political/social, and inorganic iterations of the Fibonacci Sequence), then it stands to reason that there are going to be other "Jacks," and also worlds where those other "Jacks" have already died -- which happens to some of the characters in the initial novel, The Marbury Lens.

And if it were possible to "tune in" to one of those other universes -- as Jack, Conner, Ben, and Griffin obviously do -- it would be ridiculously egocentric to presume that life would stand still and not go on in our absence. This explains the pictures Nickie takes when she meets Jack on the Thames River cruise ship.

The real issue for Jack is this: If you could pop around, as he does, how would you ever be certain what was actually real? 

In The Marbury Lens, Jack seems unwilling to admit that Marbury is actually real. 

In Passenger, Jack has to confront the very disturbing possibility that not only is Marbury real, Marbury is everywhere.


And maybe he never "gets back" to any place he had ever been before, even if he believes, as he says, "This is real."

In Passenger, Jack, the arrow, gets to rip his way through his universes. He sees himself as standing between endless walls of mirrors that come from inside him, and he is shattering them all, watching everything fall apart.

So I took a picture of my iPhone between two flat mirrors, to show what Jack's universe looks like to him:

And mind the gap.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

eva nightingale

This week begins a stretch of traveling around the country that will bring me to San Diego, Miami, Chicago, and New York.

Well, except next week. Next week I am going to stay home and run a half-marathon. It's been a while since I've done a full (26.2 miles) marathon, but a half is like a 13.1-mile walk in the park.

Seriously. Full marathons (I've run 30 of them) are way more than twice as difficult as a half marathon. Try one and you'll see.

I am excited to be going back to Miami. I haven't been there in a while, and I really like the vibe, Cuban food and music. I'm going to be at the Miami Book Fair International. On Friday morning, November 18, I am going to be doing a solo appearance at their Student Literary Encounters, an event where they bring in kids from nearby schools, and all the kids have received copies of Stick.

The following day, I'll be participating in their Young Adult Authors Program with my friend Ellen Hopkins.

From there, I'll be going directly to Chicago to do a couple days of events at the NCTE/ALAN conference, which I'll tell you about later.

I promise to take pictures and tell the truth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the trap door

If I took a picture of my office and posted it here, you would swear you were looking at an image from that television program about compulsive hoarders.

The rest of my house is not like this.

Just my office.

Well... my garage, too.

But, I ask you, what sane person has a tidy garage?

I blame it on my cats.

I blame most of the shit that happens to me on my cats -- them, and the Satan-worshiping Andrea Bocelli fans on the other side of the creek bed.

A lot of the stuff piled up in my office are manuscripts. There are thousands of pages of them here, all at various stages in the publication process -- from original edits through first-page typeset passes.

I will admit, too, that I have actually thrown away complete manuscripts. I have a hard time doing that, because (and I suppose this is symptomatic of compulsive hoarders), I feel an emotional attachment to the pages, especially once they acquire my editor's comments and marks (which are usually in pencil -- except for my Simon and Schuster editor, who marks in red ink) and me (and I always write editing notes in red ink on my manuscripts, which was kind of confusing when I did my last revision for Simon and Schuster).

So I had an idea for something I'd like to do.

I'd like to offer readers a "peek" -- just like Jack needs when considering a visit to Marbury -- at Passenger, which is the forthcoming sequel to The Marbury Lens.

I am actually going to give away some of the original manuscript pages (signed) from Passenger over the coming months, right up until the release of The Marbury Lens in paperback, and the ultra-creepy sequel, Passenger, in hardcover, which will be in the fall of 2012.

The pages will be random, and may include markings and comments from my editor, Liz Szabla (chimes!), which will be in pencil; and me, which will be in ink. Some of the ink markings may be in black (which I was forced to use when I was traveling and forgot my red pen -- and the only pen in my hotel room was black).

The first page up for grabs is page one of Passenger. It isn't actually page one, which would be the title page, but it is the first page of writing, which happens to be page five in the manuscript.

Also, this particular page is folded a couple times because I carried it around in the back pocket of my 501s for a few days, which is a superstitious, compulsive hoarder kind of thing I do with the first page of manuscripts before I stop pouting and start working on revisions.

Passenger has been a remarkably easy revision for me, but Liz (chimes!) and I know each other pretty well by now.

Want to know how you can win a signed manuscript, original first-page of Passenger?

Go to my friend Kristen's blog, which is linked below.

To my other blogger friends who conduct giveaways and cover reveals (and you know who you are), drop me a line and I might be able to set you up with a page for a giveaway, too.

I am willing to give out six pages or so. Maybe more.

I'll be sure to pick really good ones.

You can enter Kristen's giveaway here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

bugs do two things

On Saturday, I will be down in San Diego for the World Fantasy Convention. So I downloaded an iPad App that translates English to Icelandic.

Then on Sunday, I'll be up in La Verne at Mrs. Nelson's Bookstore for a discussion on boys' literacy, called The Why Chromosome. This is going to be a terrific event, with some amazing authors and books present. I'm really looking forward to it, and I hope to see you there.

The event is hosted by Bridge to Books, a nonprofit organization that helps connect kids to reading. They are great people, and really serve the needs of our increasingly literate kids. This is a good thing, because I think there are actually people out there who do not want kids (especially boys) to read books. Anyway, you can hear more about this on Sunday at Mrs. Nelson's. Also, check out Bridge to Books at

Here is the Bridge to Books The Why Chromosome flyer:

Also, this morning, a friend sent me a link to a video book talk from Lesley Kohles that had been posted on YouTube. The video is really one of the better book talk videos I've seen, and it happens to be about The Marbury Lens (which, coincidentally just won the 2011 SCIBA Award).

Anyway, it is quite enjoyable.

Here is The Marbury Lens book talk from Lesley Kohles:

Monday, October 24, 2011

the death-ray gun

Last week was Teen Read Week.

So I put together this little video of kids reading and talking about their favorite books with other kids.

There were so many teens who participated that I couldn't show them all, and the video was rather hastily patched together because I have been away on a blurry voyage since Friday. These clips were all filmed on Monday and Tuesday, using an iPad, at the beginning of Teen Read Week.

You will have to forgive the fact that there are some kids reading from books that I wrote. I told them all: No reading from Andrew Smith books.

But you know teenagers.

They do not listen.

They are pretty good readers, though.

Again, I have to say that there are far more teens reading books than there were 20 years ago. This bodes well for our planet, I think. I also see more kids these days sharing books, loaning them out, and making recommendations to their friends.

All very good.

So, enjoy the little film. By the way, the music is composed and performed by Jimmy Marino (also a teenager), the kid who narrated and acted in the book trailer for Stick.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a discussion about experiments

This is what I have been doing since I arrived here in Long Beach:

I have finished working on the revisions for Passenger that my editor sent me a few weeks ago. That doesn't mean the editing work is finished, though, because I have been waiting for the rest of the book to come.

It was theoretically sent to my house in the mountains while I have been down here at the beach.

In case you were wondering, revising, editing, is not writing.

It is nothing like writing.

Revising compares to writing in the same way that running a vacuum cleaner across a throw rug on the floor of your living room compares to building the house the living room is in.

So I am still not writing.

But I am not working, either, and that is a dangerous place for me to be.

So when I get home, I am supposed to have a package of work sitting on my doorstep.

I have also been sending a lot of email to friends.

For some reason, just being away from my home makes me feel so disconnected and lost.

I thought I was going to hang around the SCIBA events yesterday afternoon, so I could see some real authors signing books, but I did not. I took a boat out onto the ocean instead.

There is something to be said for living in Southern California, where you can take a boat out onto the ocean at the end of October, wearing only a short-sleeved (Sex Wax) T-shirt. And Levi's.

It was a nice day with my daughter (who is sick) and my wife.

This is what Long Beach looks like from a mile out to sea on a perfect Saturday afternoon in October:

So, I went to the SCIBA Awards Dinner last night.

Here is what happened:

It was very nice. Brian Selznick, who wrote Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret was the main speaker. That was cool. I got a beautiful, signed copy of Wonderstruck, as well as about 40 other great books. I got to hang out with very cool indie booksellers, lots of other authors, and great supporters of literacy from everywhere.

And The Marbury Lens won the SCIBA Book Award, too.

This was something I was totally unprepared for, and boy did my speech ever show it.



Here is what I said:

I said I would like to thank Meghan Cox Gurdon.

It was a very big, quiet room.  I was afraid I was accidentally standing up in front of a NewsCorp convention or something.

I do not really remember after that. I know I said something about the importance of the support and patience of my family, and how terribly I missed my son, and I talked about my editor Liz Szabla (the sound of bells ringing... I was going to say "chimes," but that, apparently, is a confusing word), and then I think I said Happy Teen Read Week, or shit like that before losing consciousness on stage.

I was pretty much a complete idiot. Trust me.

Here is what the award looks like:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

there's blood on your spam

Today, I'll be hanging out at the SCIBA show, looking at what new books are coming out soon.

There are a few authors speaking today that I thought I'd go see.

Then tonight is the big SCIBA Awards dinner.

I always say I will take pictures at these things, but I rarely do.

I will try.

There are some amazing people hanging out here and speaking at the dinner tonight.

I do not know what I will wear.

Probably pants.

It would be a good idea.

People have been asking about my Teen Read Week video. I have decided I will post it here in the next few days, so you might want to keep an eye out for it.

I can't do it right now because I am in a hotel at the beach, and the video is on my computer at home, in the mountains.

This is what it looks like from my window at exactly this moment:

I am on the top floor.

That is the Pacific Ocean out there.

You can't see it because the fog is so thick, you can't even see the ground below.

Last night, we went through the haunted mazes on the Queen Mary. It looked like this:

I may post more later today, depending on what I see here at the SCIBA show.

Friday, October 21, 2011

gimme shelter

Today I am leaving for a weekend on the beach.

I am going to Long Beach for the SCIBA Book Awards.

The Marbury Lens is up for an award. It is very flattering just to be there as a finalist, sitting among all those real writers. I would name the names of people I am in awe of who will be in attendance, but that would be too fan-boy-ish.

Who needs that?

Just know that there are some pretty impressive real writers hanging out this weekend.

I will be alone, lurking, and on my meds.

I always end up going to these things alone.

And people say to themselves, Who is that creepy guy?

I got a letter this week from a kid in Texas, which is another reason why I am now planning on showing up at one of the three huge book events in Texas this coming year. Yes, that's right. I am finally going to Texas.


I will be the guy without a Stetson, who looks like a hobo.

This is the letter I got:

Mason Parker Dunn's class is doing a project associated with this book they're reading. The project involves writing letters to "famous" people.

He said he would send me an autographed baseball card from his Little League Team if I replied.

That is quite an offer.

Of course I sent Mason Parker Dunn a reply.

I am waiting for my card.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

skating and kayaking

Four days without writing.


My head is quiet.

Today, in addition to being Thursday of Teen Read Week, is also Spirit Day for the Trevor Project. It's a day when we carefully think about acceptance and love for all kids.

I don't like the word "tolerate."

It sounds like a chore you would be forced to do to put up with something unpleasant, like bad breath or something.

Just to be "civil," which is a stuck-up way to be.

If all you do is "tolerate" LGBTQ kids, then the best you can expect is for other human beings to "tolerate" you, because you stink, or shit like that.

Make yourself more pleasant than that.

Smell nice.

Love kids.

Go put on something purple.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

teen read week

Happy Teen Read Week.

What are you doing this year to encourage teens to read?

Every year I have done something. Last year, many of you saw the artwork kids did for me, in which they explained the books they were reading. I showed these in various presentations I gave around the country, and it was really cool.

I found something out in working with the teens who contributed to my 2011 Teen Read Week project.

What I found out is this: Teens read a lot. They read a lot more than we think they do. Especially boys.

In a couple weeks, I'll be speaking with a group of guy authors at Mrs. Nelson's Bookstore in La Verne, California in a panel (which I named) called The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Really Do Love to Read.

I have found that there is this myth about boys and reading. The basis of the myth is rooted in some observable data, but the real message to boys regarding reading and writing is not. The message is: You are not welcome here.

Anyway, I will talk more about that on October 30, at Mrs. Nelson's. And I'll talk more about it here, too, in the days leading up to the event.

So, this year for Teen Read Week, I made a video of teens reading to and talking about books with other teens. It turned out to be a pretty amazing thing. I had many more kids participating than I thought I would. The majority of them happened to be boys, too. These kids were all reading books of their choice -- not ones assigned to them by teachers or required by classes. The range of titles and genre breadth are pretty amazing.

There were so many kids I couldn't even put them all in the video. Video editing is a chore. Good thing I am not writing.

I don't know what I'll end up doing with the video. I was thinking I'd bring it along with me to NCTE/ALAN next month in Chicago. Maybe I will post it here.

The thing that strikes me most about it (and you'll have to forgive me if I get a little gushy here) is how beautiful and brilliant these kids are when they've got books in their hands; when the books they're reading are expressions of their freedom to choose; and when their friends actually listen and maybe even write down titles and authors of books they're hearing about for the first time from another kid.

I have said it before, and I know this is true: Kids today read much more than they did 20 years ago. And the boys are really starting to kick ass as readers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

lucky, a cigarette run, and the bison

This weekend, I will be down in Long Beach for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association's Author's Feast and Trade Show.

On Saturday evening, at the Long Beach Hilton, SCIBA is awarding the 2011 SCIBA Book Awards.

The Marbury Lens is one of four finalists in the "Children's Novel" category.


It is very flattering to have my book on the list of finalists, but a bit unnerving, too.

Just to make certain there was no mix-up, I did a Google search of any other books that came out this past year whose titles rhyme with The Marbury Lens.


Some former child actor wrote a picture book about pink chickens called The Strawberry Hens.

I knew it.


A couple weeks ago, I got an email from an actual genetically-related cousin of mine.

My cousin said I don't think your book will win an award in the "Children's Novel" category because it has too many f-bombs in it.

I went to a SCIBA Awards dinner a couple years ago, and afterward hung out in the bar with some really great writers to hang out in a bar with.

This year... I am not so sure.

I am worried about the whole "rhyming book" and "too many f-bombs" catastrophe.

You can look for me there.

I will be all alone after the event.

In the bar.

Signing copies of The Strawberry Hens.

Monday, October 17, 2011

great big jar

I am so happy to be finished with you.

For too long now, you have been a constant preoccupation. You kept me from doing things, interfered with work. There were days I would get out of bed and then not get dressed, all day long.

Because of you.

You would keep me up at night.

Worse, sometimes you would wake me from a sound sleep.

That's how you always were.

But now I am finished with you.

You can go now, and I will go my own way too.

I woke up this morning and realized something.

This is what I realized:

I used to be a boxer.

One summer, around the time when I was 21 or 22 years old, I took off, with all my clothes stuffed in a backpack and a one-way ticket to Italy. After spending a month alone, camping in Yugoslavia, one morning I woke up and something finally dawned on me.

What I realized was this: I did not have two black eyes and did not groan when I stood up in the morning. There was not dried blood in my nose.

It was a real epiphany.

That is how I felt this morning.

It is October 17 and I am not writing.

Goodbye, stupid 105,000-word-long goddamned novel.

I am finished with you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

looking for wiggles


Now I am doing something else, too. I have been invited to contribute to an anthology coming out next fall (2012) from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I am happy about this. The project sounds really fun, and I think it will be something kids and schools will really get into.

That means next fall, I will have three things coming out: The Marbury Lens (paperback), Passenger (the sequel to The Marbury Lens), and this anthology, which I will tell more about at some point in the future.

I've been pretty down on the whole writing thing this week, which is why I only posted a picture yesterday.

This week, I've been thinking quite a bit about being a writer, and how much I suck at it.

Let me make this clear: When it comes to writing, I think I am pretty good. I have some chops. I love/hate the writing part of what I do. It's the being a writer part where I am an absolute failure.

You know what I mean.

Some people want to be writers, and they may even end up pretty accomplished at being writers, but they do not know how to write.

I can't tell anyone how to write.

Lots of people can tell you how to be a writer.

I do not listen to them because I think it is boring. I am a bad student when it comes to boring stuff, which is why I fail.

I envy people who are good at being writers.

Here is my way of being a writer: Have some horrible shit happen to you when you are a kid; then, in your young adult phase engage in reckless behavior that you will probably not live through because you really do not care about living or dying; read a lot of non-shitty books and throw the shitty ones across whatever room you are in; and, if you survive, one day, when you wake up in your adulthood and realize, holy shit, how did I not die yet? you can write it down when the words smack you in the face and force you to start spitting them out.

Why would anyone ever tell you to do that?

You're better off just downloading Scrivener, or shit like that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

enola gay and beau barton's boner

This is a true story.

All stories are true.

It is my job to tell the truth.

Yesterday, I was in a very bad mood. In the afternoon, I went on a long run in the hills so I could think about all the things that were making me mad.

It was a long run.

Deer hunting season opened on Saturday.

A friend told me I am supposed to wear orange when I go running.

I said, why, they will shoot me anyway.

When I run into groups of men in camouflage, carrying deer rifles and shit, they usually have coolers of beer with them, too.

I am coming out of retirement as a runner.

I have run 30 full (26.2 miles long) marathons in my life. It has been a few years since my last marathon. On November 6, I am going to run a half-marathon. That is an embarrassing 13.1 miles. But I am coming out of retirement.

Over the summer, because I was bored, I ran about 10 miles every day. Now I run twice per day. I do 2 - 3 miles in the morning (at 4 a.m., when it is still very dark), and another 5 miles in the afternoon, when I am usually in a bad mood and need to run.

I live in a very remote area, which is why there are deer hunters here who will probably kill me.

There are no street lights, traffic lights, grocery stores... there is nothing here except guys with guns, camouflaged outfits, and alcohol.

There are no police, either.

So you might imagine how quiet and dark the world is when I am out, running alone, at 4 in the morning.

This morning, I ran past a house where a man had been shot five times by the police. That happened about two years ago. The man lived, too. He was despondent over losing his job, so he barricaded himself inside his home. As you can guess, he had plenty of guns and alcohol. So the police shot him five times. But he lived, and after he got out of wherever they put a despondent jobless guy with five bullets in him, he moved back to his house.

I mention this because when I ran past his house today at 4 in the morning, I heard a scream coming from inside the house.

One scream.

Long and loud.

It was a man's voice. It sounded like someone was being murdered, but who knows?

It was at least four seconds long, and on the anguish scale, it was a solid nine out of ten mousetraps on your balls.

So I thought, there is an inherent sexist bias in human reactions when you hear someone screaming in the middle of the night.

I thought, if I heard a woman screaming, I would have... I don't know... knocked on the door, or shit like that.

But when a man screams in the middle of the night up in guys-with-guns-camouflage-and-alcohol land, it's like... well, buddy, you are either going to live to see another hunting season, or you're not.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

the intergalactic bug cops

Yesterday was a quiet day.

We stayed home and ate hot dogs for dinner. I actually watched part of the Detroit game.

My son told me to send him my book.

Son, I have no books.

I will send him one that nobody has ever read yet. I did that with another unread manuscript when he went away to college and he liked it, so I will just send him another file of another book that nobody has read yet to keep him occupied.

Yesterday, I received two very special Congratulations on Pub Day emails. One was from my editor.

She said something that has also been a matter of some considerable distraction on my part. She noted the tone of surprise in many of the reviews popping up all over the place for Stick.

The surprise element comes in because a lot of reviewers picked up Stick anticipating another trip like Marbury.

I keep telling you people, I DO NOT WRITE THE SAME THING TWICE.

Even the sequel to Marbury, Passenger, is not the same old Marbury. I have told you that, too.

You will see.

So, anyway, back to this surprise, I have been slapped in the face with hope reaction to Stick.

Stick is my fourth published novel since 2008.

If my books were meals, here is what they would be:

1. Ghost Medicine -- This would be a very fancy, small-plate meal (like I had at A Coté last week) that would include every imaginable course, cheese, great wine, and spectacular dessert. The meal would involve great conversation and would last 4 hours.

2. In the Path of Falling Objects -- Barbecued bull testicles, with moonshine served in Mason jars. Funfetti cake for dessert.

3. The Marbury Lens -- Army C-Rations served in the jungle in Vietnam in 1968. Oh, and you're all alone because everyone you know and rely on has been killed. Also, you do not have a can opener. It's raining. You are the dessert.

4. Stick --  Pancakes in the kitchen at your favorite aunt's house.

So, sit down and have some pancakes, kid.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

it's a boy

It is here.

Happy arrival into this world, Stark McClellan.

Monday, October 10, 2011

the battle of kelsey creek bridge


I am freaking out, like I always do the day before my book comes out.

In a matter of hours, it will be October 11. That is the release day for Stick.

Stick is coming out tomorrow.

Coincidentally, tomorrow is also National Coming Out Day.

I do not think it was planned for the release, but it does make a lot of sense, too. There are some gay characters in Stick. But I think they are different kinds of gay characters, or I hope so, because they are just regular, normal kids.

I don't know.

Remember back when Mattel got into all sorts of crap for making a Barbie doll that complained about how hard math class is?

Someone should think about starting shit for the way YA portrays boys, and especially gay ones.

Anyway, if you know a GLBTQ kid and he happens to respect you enough to be open about who he is, don't forget tomorrow to tell him he's worth something to you and you're better off for knowing him.

That's all.

I'm going to shut myself back in my dark office and freak out today.

One last thing, an amazing librarian from Texas posted such a nice review of Stick on her blog, I Read Banned Books, today. The link is below.

I really need to get to Texas. There are so many great readers there, connected to works like mine through so many involved librarians. And there is no shortage of love for the Drew in Texas.

State of Texas: I am indebted.

Best quote from the review:

I went into reading this book with my eyes wide open. I was ready for the bat-shit genius that Smith is so famous for. 

I love that.

Thank you, Jen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

satan and the pastor (2)

ME: The sad thing is, all the serfs have totally bought into the immutability of economic feudalism in America.

T: It's why the Occupy movement will not work.

ME: True. Even poor people in America believe that there is something diseased about themselves, and something holy and pure about the rich. I don't really get it. It's why so many of these ideologues who bash any economic balancing act that involves reestablishing previous tax rates on the super-rich attract so many working poor followers.

T: With pitchforks and torches.

ME: Ow!

(the needle buzzes)

I have never done this before. I am going to quote two brilliant paragraphs from one of the most talented American writers who ever lived. In fact, people who know me will verify that I do not use words like "favorite," but if I could only read one man's books for the rest of my life, they would be this man's books, which are among the only books ever written that I find myself capable of reading over and over and over.

Here are the paragraphs:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.
-- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, October 8, 2011

satan and the pastor

A couple things kept me awake last night:

1. Stick is coming out the day after tomorrow (well... at midnight). Stick is coming out and I do not even own a single copy of the book. I lost the one and only copy I had. Oh well. It's what was supposed to happen. I don't care about that.

2. I want to quit being a writer again. Oh well.

3. The Wall Street Protests:

This is a true story.

As I said yesterday, regarding how I write a novel, I tend to stew about things for a very long time before I actually do them. And I really do not like talking about WIPs (Works-In-Progress), but I started writing this novel on July 7 and it seems like I have been right at the end of it for about 95,000 words (which is how long the novel is).

It never takes me 3 months to write a novel, but when I finish writing, I am finished. There is no such thing as a draft in my universe. I don't care how anyone else writes, and going to conferences so you can hear people TELL you how they write is a waste of time.

Everyone writes their own way.

I do not draft.


Did I mention that I do not care to know how other people write?

Among the reasons this novel has taken 3 months to finish are the revision jobs I have had for two different books and two different publishers.

I enjoy that stuff very much. It's been tough.

There has also been bullshit business stuff. I can't express the level of my revulsion at all things bullshitty and businessy. My friend Michael Grant, I think, is a good businessman. He is like a general in the army of dealing with that shit. I faked a battlefield injury and waved a white flag a long time ago.

I realize this is a long intro to a true story.

So, anyway, I have been stewing about this recurring character in the book I've been writing since July 7. Yes, July 7 was the day the first line came out of my hands. The first line is not really the first line, because there is a one-page prologue before it, but the first line kicks ass and made me write this 95,000-word (and still inching along) novel.

So I have been stewing about this character and why he exists and what he really means to everyone in the scope of all the everythingness that I tried to box inside the pages. And some time ago, I decided that because I was so obsessed with this particular character that I was going to have him tattooed onto my flesh.

I know that is a revolting idea to some people, but I do not care about that either.

My friend Matthew expressed a "Bullshit!" call when I said I had this character tattooed onto my flesh. But I really did it. I'm telling the truth.

It is my job to tell the truth.

The artist who did the tattoo is absolutely brilliant.

The tattooing took several hours, and while she did the work, the artist and I had a great conversation about this particular character, why he keeps popping up, and how he relates to the everythingness of where we are at the moment.

I am not going to talk about that. It would be like letting you read the book, and maybe nobody ever will. But I will include a bit of our conversation here:

T: Are any of your novels used in academia?

(T is obviously very intelligent, and also very well-read)

ME: Actually, one of my novels has been used in some college literature courses, and others as recommended readings in MFA programs.

T: Oh.

ME: But the way my books are really used in academia is that I would never have been able to pay for my son going to college if I did not write books.

T: Ha ha.

(T also gets my jokes)

ME: I do not understand how people do it. It's like they are trying to make it impossible for brilliant middle- and working-class kids to go on to college and develop their brilliance and invent the shit that will save the world and exponentially grow economies.

T: The elitists are winning the war.

(to be continued)

Friday, October 7, 2011

the good doctor accounts for history

Four days.

Tuesday, Stick is coming.

Also, next month happens to be National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Coincidentally, I wrote Stick during NaNoWriMo in 2009. Stick is a NaNoWriMo book.

I will admit that I don't have a lot of faith in planning a start date and end date for producing a novel. It's not like booking travel arrangements for an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation or something. Well, if it were like that anyone could do it and there would be a lot more terrible novels out there than there already are.

So I will say that writing Stick during NaNoWriMo was more of a coincidence than a plot.

Which brings me to another question and answer from my ecent interview. This was also a question I was asked on Sunday at the Orange County Children's Book Festival:

Q.      How do you know when it’s right to start putting the story on paper? Does something click in your head? Does your protagonist let you know; if so, how do you experience that release to write?

A.      Usually what happens to me is that I think holistically about the story for a very long time, and then at some point an opening line or group of words will come to me. Usually this happens at night when I’m lying in bed. When it does happen, and I get these words down onto a document, the ball begins to roll and it does not stop rolling until the work is complete.

And I am honestly looking forward to that NOT happening again anytime soon. I have been writing continuously for more than two years, have produced a number of complete novels, and I would really like to make my NaNoWriMo stand for National Not Writing Month.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

take my arm, take my leg

I am home.

There are only a few days remaining until Stick comes out.

I read from Stick on Sunday at the Orange County Festival of Books. It was interesting because, although I always intended for this book to be read aloud, this was the first time it ever happened.

I read a short passage from a chapter ending where Stark is lying in his bed, listening to his brother crying in the house upstairs from his room.

A couple weeks ago, I participated in an interview for an MFA program, and I was asked some very interesting questions. I thought I'd stick some up on the blog from time to time. Here's the first one:

Q. On the most basic level, why do you write the story down? (For instance, many writers say they write to find out what happens next.)

A. To some extent, I also find out what happens next in my writing, but I can’t say that I am ever surprised by what happens. I might sometimes be surprised by how things happen, or the way certain characters react to situations, but I am never surprised by the ultimate outcome of what I write. I think I write the story down because I am fascinated by words – by how they look and fit together, the rhythm of the syllables and sentence structures on the page. I think that’s more the why I write things down, as opposed to anything else.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

a chance meeting under a portrait of a presbyterian


It is coming.

I get funny looks sometimes when I wear Sex Wax T-shirts. Then I look down and see I've forgotten to put on trousers.


Seriously, though, most people don't have any idea what Sex Wax is, so they assume the shirts have some subliminal prurience, which, maybe they do. If you live on the beach in California (and you surf), there is only one thing you think about when you see the familiar circular logo, though. Well, actually two, because you would also think about how great Sex Wax smells.

Anyway, not that I'm into product placements in my books or anything [Dear Mr. Zogs, I would like some more shirts - size L - and a couple pucks of your amazing-smelling surf wax], but I am definitely not opposed to naming brands of things when they are more than just generic stuff in the story.

And Mr. Zogs Sex Wax [yes, it bothers me tremendously that there is no apostrophe on Zogs, which means that Zogs is actually Mr. Zogs's name and not Zog, which would mean the brand name is not possessive in this case] plays some minor yet significant role in Stick, which is coming out on Tuesday.

I am still in the undisclosed secret location, by the way.

Over the last two nights, I have had the pleasure of having dinner and drinks with two of my trusted writing friends, Yvonne Prinz (dinner), and Michael Grant (Um... uh...).

Yvonne wrote The Vinyl Princess and All You Get is Me, and Michael wrote everything else that is published in YA. Actually, among Michael's writing credits are the GONE series, and a new one that sounds really freakily amazing called BRZRK.

Michael is so good he does not even need to use vowels.

Anyway, it's good for writers to have a few real friends who also do what they do because writing is, by nature, such a self-absorbed preoccupation, and you need to pull your head up once in a while from the ostrich hole to see if the other ostriches have been eaten by lions and shit like that.

It's been a good four days here at the undisclosed secret location.

I will be home tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

an unfortunate incident involving an inflatable whale

Another day in the undisclosed secret location.

Stick comes out one week from today.

Today is the final Tuesday in which Stick does not exist.

So I have been working on Passenger from my undisclosed secret location. My pouting period was an all-time record for brevity. Seriously, I never get into work on revisions just two days after receiving the assignment.

I know that a lot of people out there are kind of down on the whole idea of sequels. Believe me, in the most general sense I am too. So when I set out to write Passenger, which is quite long, I wanted to try and do something that was not so sequel-ish.

Without giving anything away, my thought (and I've hinted about this before) was this: Suppose every time Jack thought he was going back and forth, he was actually going someplace completely different -- that he was never going "back" home, or back to Marbury, for that matter, either.

I think I left some clues (well, obvious ones to me) about that puzzling dilemma in The Marbury Lens. Look. You will see. And, what if the little differences started to get bigger and bigger, worse and worse, so that Jack and the boys become hopelessly lost in their struggle to get "back" to any place that is exactly the way they left it?

That is Passenger. And I hope that makes you excited to read it.

But first, you can get excited -- and take a little hopeful breather --with Stick.

This coming Tuesday.

Monday, October 3, 2011

rat men from mars

Blogging from the secret undisclosed location, day one.

They have very fast Wi Fi here.

One week from tomorrow, Stick will be here.

I read from  Stick yesterday at the Orange County Children's Book Festival. It was a really great day, and a beautiful venue for a book festival. Also, the crowds at all the readings and stages filled every available seat with many more people standing on the fringes, which is always a great thing to see happen at book festivals.

I think one of the things that attracted so many people out was the fact that the college is in a very nice community, and it was easy for thousands of people to manage transportation and parking (which was free and right on site of the event).

Here I am, in fact, wearing my Sex Wax T-Shirt, reading from Stick.

Sitting next to me is the talented Jessi Kirby (Moonglass). Also on my panel were Kirsten Hubbard (Like Mandarin) and Lindsey Leavitt (Sean Griswold's Head).

This is us:


For all boys who have ever dreamed about being an author one day, let me just say there are what to most people would be considered unexpected perks.

We are vastly outnumbered by beautiful women in the book writers' union.