Wednesday, November 30, 2011

grant wallace murdered me


Roger Sutton read my book.

I do not know Roger Sutton, but I have seen photographs of him. It makes me feel kind of weird to think that Roger Sutton has read my book.

He wrote a review of it, as a matter of fact, that is going to appear in the Jan/Feb Horn Book Review.

The book he read is Stick.

I do not know if he has read any of my other books, but if he wants to, I would be okay with that.

Here is the Horn Book review of Stick:

by Andrew Smith
High School    Feiwel    292 pp.
10/11    978-0-312-61341-9    $17.99

“Stick” is at least slightly better than his given name of “Stark,” but what he’s called is the least of this thirteen-year-old’s problems. Stick was born with only one ear, his narration occasionally spaced across the page to mimic his hearing, and his parents are secretly and sadistically brutal. For the slightest infraction of their petty and/or incomprehensible rules, Stick’s father will beat him and his older brother Bosten, a beating that is often followed by consignment to a locked room for a couple of days or even longer: “no lights, no nothing, not even any clothes; just a galvanized bucket to use for a toilet and a cot with one sheet.” Stick suspects that even worse is happening to his brother; after Dad finds out that Bosten is gay, both boys, separately, run away. The violence of the story is intense, but so is the deep loyalty between the brothers, and the melodrama of life at home is balanced by Stick’s sweetly nascent romance with a longtime female friend and both boys’ experience of true family love when they visit their Aunt Dahlia. She is perhaps impossibly benevolent, but, man, is she welcome. Readers who have appreciated Chris Crutcher’s and Adam Rapp’s forays into adolescent darkness will find themselves on uneasy but familiar ground. roger Sutton

Thank you very much for that, Mr. Sutton.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hide the switch and shut the light

Yes, I have been gone for a couple days.

This was not only due to the fact that my son came back home from college for the long weekend. We also, for the first time ever, lost phone and internet service at el Rancho de Drew.

It was probably a good thing, anyway.

But yesterday, I received a copy of the Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books upcoming December review of Stick. A very nice review, in which, according to my editor, the last lines pretty much say it all:

Smith, Andrew Stick. Feiwel, 2011 [304p] ISBN 978-0-312-61341-9 $17.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 9-12
Born with only one ear, Stick has grown used to the teasing he endures at school. Worse, however, is the abuse he and his brother endure at home at the hands of both their mother and father, who express their displeasure with savage beatings and by locking their sons in a room bare of all save a cot and a bucket. Stick and Bosten have each other, though, and they each have a close friend—Stick has Emily, and Bosten has Paul, in a relationship that is more than just friendship. It turns out that they also have an aunt, and when they go to her house for their Easter vacation they realize how different home life might be. It’s hard to go back home, especially when they find out that their mother has moved out, leaving them with their father, whom Stick realizes has been sexually abusing Bosten as well as beating them. When Bosten and Paul are caught in a compromising act, Bosten has no choice but to run away, and Stick soon follows, only to run into more trouble than he left at home. This tragic story has at its heart a solid core of brotherly love and loyalty that survives even the worst of situations; it’s those situations that are exceptionally difficult to read about and conceptualize, with their harsh and gritty realism. Aunt Dahlia seems almost too good to be true if readers don’t think too hard about the fact that she hasn’t tried to see the boys for the first sixteen years of their lives; however, it’s enough that she offers a safe haven for them when they finally make their escape. The prose is strong and evocative, lapsing into imagistic poetry at times to reveal the intensity of Stick’s emotions. Readers should be prepared to have their hearts broken by these vulnerable, utterly lovable brothers.

So, thank you for that nice review, BCCB.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Everyone likes first lines, right?

Have some:

The garage steams with the smell of cat piss and something dead. The reek hangs in the still press of late August heat. 

Every one of us is sick and scared. 

I tell them, “We said we’d do it, and we’re going to do it, okay?”

-- That's the beginning of Passenger, which is coming from Feiwel and Friends next fall, just after the paperback release of The Marbury Lens.

Well, it's really the first lines of the actual story. There is one page that precedes those lines.

And this:

I said a silent prayer.

Actually, silent is probably the only type of prayer a guy should attempt when his head's in a toilet.

-- That's the beginning of Winger. It is coming in spring, 2013 from Simon and Schuster.

Friday, November 25, 2011

lucky, a cigarette run, and the bison

Nobody reads blogs on Black Friday.

I can only hope you are sitting at home by the fire, looking out at the autumn trees and reading a book, as opposed to being conditioned to behave like good consumers by huge corporations with combined revenues that exceed the entire GDPs of more than half the countries on the planet called Earth.

When I was in Chicago, I had a very nice lunch with David Gale, my editor from Simon and Schuster. Among other things, we talked about my novel, Winger, which is coming out in the spring of 2013. David tells me there is a definite pub date for the novel. I hadn't even asked about that before, but when he returns to work in New York after this holiday weekend, I will find out and post it here.

I also know from my Macmillan people that the paperback version of The Marbury Lens will be coming out one month before the release of Passenger (the sequel), this coming fall, 2012.

I think there will be, like, a six-month party coming up in fall of 2012.

Anyway, back to this lunch. David asked some questions about rugby. The principal characters in Winger happen to play rugby, which is a sport that involves much more than just what happens on the field of play. It's kind of hard to explain.

You will see.

Anyway, Winger is definitely not a Sports book. It's just a book that tells a good story, and there happens to be sports involved. Although I believe that rugby fans and players will like the book, there is absolutely no need to pre-load your brain with any rugby information to enjoy the book.

It is illustrated, too. And there are comics and notes and index cards and scripts inside it, too.

David asked if I could send some photos of kids playing rugby for their artists, so they could get ideas about cover art. He even asked me if there were any elements I thought needed to be included in the cover art.

That was really nice.

Anyway, I have literally thousands of photographs I've taken over the years because I have coached high school rugby for many years (sadly, I don't do this now, as much as I love it... there just isn't enough time for me any longer).

So I thought I'd share some photos here, before sending them on to New York.

This is a lineout. Yes, you may recognize that the kids happened to be playing on the pitch at UCLA here. There is a funny story about a lineout in Winger.

This is a scrum. You can see our hooker's foot getting the ball in the middle.

This is what the bottom of a scrum looks like. The team in green was from Perth, Australia.

This is a ruck. Yes, it does hurt.

This is ouch.

One last look at a lineout.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

great big jar

The other day in Chicago, one of my co-panelists said something like this: Your imagination is limitless.

I thought about that for a moment.

Moment is a word that I rarely use. It sounds pretentious and condescending.

But I have heard that frequently. It's kind of like mass-hysteria.


Your imagination has no limits.

Or shit like that.



Yes it does have limits.

It has definite limits, and I can tell you precisely and to a pinpoint of accuracy where your imagination ends in the black, idea-less void of eternal dumbness.

Do you want to know where your imagination runs up against the sizzling barbwire fence of emptiness?

Even if it makes your head explode?


Here goes: Your imagination is only as vast as the number of words you have in your head.


In fact, it would be a simple feat to mathematically calculate the exact dimensions of your imagination based on the combination of linguistic structures and the rules by which you apply the syntactical framework of understanding -- making sense -- of those building blocks to reality.


Sorry to burst your giant balloon.

Imagination = Finite.

You can't argue with that truth.

Go ahead.

Try this: Try to imagine something that is also not a word.

You can't do it.

Even if you get all righteously indignant and try to picture something that does not exist, you will not be able to picture anything unless you begin by giving it words -- colors, teeth, hair, geometric constraints, words, words, words.

Words are reality, and reality cannot exist without words.

Which brings me back to the topic of yesterday's post: Is there too much reality in young adult (I will no longer capitalize those words because I am punishing them for being bars on my cage) literature?

I believe this: I believe there is not enough reality in young adult literature, simply because there are far too many examples that can be held up to the light of scrutiny and reveal their predictable sameness, their application of one-size-fits-all imaginations.

We will talk.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Your brains are leaking out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

hey-ho, lemur boy

Two sentences into your future, I am going to use some words that cause uncomfortable and anxious feelings in me.

I will print them in red, so you know what they are.

Over the past few days, I have found myself involved in several conversations about new trends in YA literature.

Every time someone starts to talk about trends in YA (especially at conferences), I can almost feel humidity from showers of Pavlovian salivations among aspiring authors who suddenly come up with brand-new OMGWIPs.

You know what OMGWIPs are.

They are Facebook statuses, usually.

Now, lots of people are talking about Paranormal Burnout and the renaissance of realism.


I will tell you the current trend: Good shit.

At NCTE, one of the panels that I was on dealt with this idea about YA "returning to its roots" by focusing on realistic characters and story arcs. Thankfully, the moderator of the panel began the introduction of the discussion by stating that realism in YA was not a "trend," that it has always been an essential feature of all American Literature.

This is very true. The fear and misunderstanding that underlie the outrage of editorial writers like Meghan Cox Gurdon express a two-pronged condescension of sorts: First, that there is an absolute content limit that can be measured as far as subject matter is concerned; and second, that "too much" reality (which frequently equates to bleakness) in literature is a bad thing to expose young readers to.

In fact, on a librarian listserv I have been voyeuristically following, the current topic is exactly that: Is there too much reality in current books for kids, from picture books and chapter books through Middle Grade and YA titles?


What do you think?

In the coming few days, I want to visit this idea of Realism in literature (not as a trend), and if there is such a concept of "too much" of it going on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the creature in front of the pancake house

This has been quite a memorable trip.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my Simon and Schuster editor, David Gale. We talked about books, of course. He is the one responsible for bringing you Winger in spring 2013. I am very excited about the process and how much Simon and Schuster is behind this book.

Later this week, I am going to send him a few of the thousands and thousands of photographs I've taken over the years of the teams I have coached playing rugby, so the art department can get an idea of potential cover elements. It is not surprising that not too many people here in the US really know what rugby looks like.

When I send him the photos, I may also post them here.

After lunch, I spoke on a panel about books and outraged indignation with fellow authors Paul Yee, Lauren Myracle, and Cheryl Rainfield.

What an honor that was.

When it was my turn to speak, I talked a little about the Wall Street Journal condemnation of my book, what it felt like to me, and how it also impacted my own kids. It was a very good panel.

The room at the ALAN conference was absolutely packed, too, which was very gratifying.

It probably helped that while we gave our talk, Laurie Halse Anderson stood in front of the stage and hurled donuts into the crowd.

Laurie has quite an arm.

One thing I noticed from NCTE/ALAN: Well, maybe more than one. The people there are really incredible. Also, so many people there had read and fallen in love with Stick, my latest novel. There were people who actually waited in line just to meet me and tell me thank you for writing that book.

Things like that are pretty freaking amazing.

Also, yesterday I received from Liz Szabla (chimes!), my editor at Feiwel and Friends, a release of next month's School Library Journal review of Stick.

It is an amazing review.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, School Library Journal.

I will leave you with this:

SMITH, Andrew. Stick. 292p. Feiwel & Friends. 2011. 

Gr 8 Up–A tall, thin frame has earned 13-year-old Stark McClellan the nickname “Stick.” He was born with a deformed ear, more like a hole in  his head, and he is hyperaware of what he sees as a grotesque physical defect. His older brother, Bosten, defends him from bullies when he can, and the boys do their best to look out for each other when their abusive parents are on the rampage. Stick has one friend, Emily, but not much else is good in his life. When Bosten finds some small measure of love with a schoolmate (another boy), Stick keeps the secret without judging, but all too quickly the families find out. Bosten runs away and Stick follows to find him. Well into the story, Aunt Dahlia is introduced, adding a small blossom of hope for the brothers. While staying with her, they experience life free from emotional and physical abuse and enjoy a week surfing with kids in her neighborhood. Dahlia and her seaside home offer the promise of healing and better times to come. Smith effectively structures the words on some pages to mimic the one-sided input Stick hears through his single functional ear. Most of the story is bleak and harsh, and Stick tells his tale in language that is frank, dark, brutal, haunting, and mesmerizing. Suggest this to readers who can handle the intensity of Smith’s In the Path of Falling Objects (2009) and The Marbury Lens (2010, both Feiwel & Friends).–Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

It is my job to make your head explode.

Thank you, Maggie Knapp.

Yet another reason on my lengthy list of why I need to get Texas included on my next tour.

Monday, November 21, 2011

call the roller of big cigars

This is my last day in Chicago.

Tonight, I get to go home to California.

I am happy about that.

Last night was good. I went to the ALAN cocktail party. It was quite the gathering of partying author stars.

I went there with Janet Tashjian and Laurie Halse Anderson. I am awkward in noisy party situations, especially ones attended by stars, around whom congeal swirls of animated people who resemble asteroid belts of wine glasses.

It was, however, very very nice to hang out and talk with the following: David Gale (my editor from Simon and Schuster), Sara Zarr, Jackie Morse Kessler, James Dashner, Heather Brewer (we talked about tattoos), A.S. King, and David Levithan.

I have to admit something: I was embarrassingly swoonful when I met A.S. King. She knew who I was, and I think she is an amazing writer. She also likes corn.

I guarantee I will change that.

You will see, Amy.

I know this is a bad picture, but here are A.S. King and me at the ALAN cocktail party (where I saw a surprising amount of very red wine being spilled -- it looked like a Sam Peckinpah film -- and countless shatterings of crystal glasses. Come to think of it, I've seen teenagers party with fewer mishaps):

It was fun.

Afterwards, I did what people in Chicago do: I ate meat.

It was good.

This afternoon, I am speaking at the ALAN Conference.

ALAN stands for Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.

I know.

I don't get it, either.

Anyway, my talk is on Titles that Challenge and Are Challenged, and I will be speaking with Lauren Myracle, Cheryl Rainfield, and Paul Yee. The discussion will be moderated by David Gill.

After that, I will try my best to get to O'Hare on time to not miss my flight home.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

the intergalactic bug cops

So now I am in Chicago.

Which brings me to the topic of the last blurry couple of days.

Yesterday was my last day in Miami at the Miami Book Fair International.

Well... it was my last day this year. I am certainly coming back for more next year.

This really is the best book festival I have ever attended.

So yesterday I got to hang out and chat with my friend Ellen Hopkins for a while. We talked about business and writing, and what we're doing at the moment. It's always nice to talk to Ellen because we share similar viewpoints on important issues, and also because I think Ellen's process of writing is very similar to mine.

Later, we participated in a panel discussion on Young Adult Literature with graphic novelist M.K. Reed (Americus). It was also a very good session, and we got to spend a lot of time addressing very specific questions from the audience.

But the best part of the evening, and, to be honest, the highlight of my trip, was getting the chance to meet Ian, the kid who was responsible for having me sent across the country to talk to all those hundreds of kids in Miami to begin with (see yesterday's post).

I have told about this kid before. It's just something really amazing -- almost religious, or supernatural, I think -- when you get the opportunity to connect with someone across so much time and space -- and all because of words.

Anyway, in person, Ian is even cooler than he is in his email version. I gave him a copy of Ghost Medicine (which he does not have), and I promised to send him a few pages of next year's sequel to his favorite book (The Marbury Lens), Passenger, too. I also promised him the following (and I always keep my promises to kids who read): When the Advance Copies for Passenger come out, he is going to get the first (and probably ONLY) one I give to anyone.

Here is a picture of me and Ian at my panel discussion last night:

After the panel was over, I had to go directly to the Miami airport and catch a plane for Chicago.

Have I slept yet?

I do not think so.

I arrived at my hotel in Chicago at about 1 a.m.

I think this is the coolest hotel in the entire world. It has those creepy elevators that make you feel like you're trapped inside some steampunk zoo cage.

It also has real keys made from actual metal.

Even though it was 1 in the morning, I had to take a picture of my hallway.

That is my door, on the left.

The challenging thing was this: I was scheduled to meet people this morning at 7:45 in the lobby for today's presentation at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), and I always start my day by running 3 or 4 miles (at least). So I was out on the streets in the dark, just before 6 a.m. trying to get myself to wake up.

One thing about Chicago (and I totally love this city): It is a GREAT city for runners. Anyone who runs here knows that. I can't wait to get out again tomorrow, when I will be a little more into it.

So I had a panel discussion this morning with Julie Halpern, Tara Kelly, and Donna Freitas. It went well, but to be honest, I hardly remember it. My head is a little fuzzy.

Afterward, I got to meet my editor at Simon and Schuster, David Gale, and publisher Justin Chanda, just before sitting down to sign copies of my books for all the people who came out to NCTE this morning.

Now -- no naps. I never take naps.

I am going to a cocktail party this evening, then on to dinner with some of the Macmillan people, Janet Tashjian, and  Laurie Halse Anderson.

Finally, tomorrow, I'll be having lunch with editor David Gale before participating in an ALAN panel discussion with David Gill, Lauren Myracle, Paul Yee, and Cheryl Rainfield.


Sorry I posted this so late. It was my first chance to sit down.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

blind dates at a barn dance

Let me tell you how it went.

I am in Miami. I know that people may have strong feelings about Miami.

I love this place.

So yesterday, I was escorted from my hotel to the site of the Miami Book Fair, and taken to the theater where I would be speaking to a group of about 700 high school students.

I know that people may have strong feelings about talking to 700 teenagers.

I love doing that.

This is what the auditorium looked like just before we opened the doors:

I do not stand behind lecterns when I speak. I like to move around. So I had a remote microphone on.

The books were there because, naturally, I talked about my books. But not in the usual way. I talked about them only in passing references to other things that have happened in my life.

Also, I read passages from Ghost Medicine and Stick.

When I read from Ghost Medicine, a few kids almost started to cry. Actually, I think they did. I explained something about a certain passage in the book that I have never told anyone.

The open book in the middle was only there as a source of inspiration -- a focus point for me. I will tell about it later.

When I speak, I do not like to read from papers or anything. I plan out my speech and I know what I am going to say ahead of time. That book was there to keep me focused on my real message, which was not about the novels I have written, it was about the things that those 700 kids in front of me had not written yet.

If that makes any sense.

Here are a couple more pictures of what the place looked like after they opened the doors:

I stick my tongue out when I concentrate.

I was concentrating on how amazing these kids from Florida are.

I challenged them to reclaim their imagination. We talked about how the world is faced with more serious problems than we have ever had to deal with, and that none of these problems is going to be solved by bubbling inside a circle with a number 2 pencil.

The kids and teachers got it. They applauded for that.

I talked about how they used to spank us (boys) in school when we were bad, and how my principal had a metal hook for his hand and he would hold the paddle in his hook, and they used to make all the boys in the school watch him spank kids (boys) when he did it.

That is a true story.

Kids love true stories like that.

I talked about my horses, and letters my brother sent home when he was fighting in Vietnam, and what it is like to live in coastal western Washington.

But none of that was what I really wanted to talk to them about. 

So we talked about words and where they come from and how words create the universe.

I have lately been fascinated with this theory of Linguistic Determinism called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Of course, none of the kids had ever heard about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Basically, it presents the notion that your universe is only as large as the quantity of words you have in your head.

I made the kids say that. I made them say Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

I made them own those new words.

Naturally, those kids' universes got bigger yesterday.

We played this game: The kids -- all 700 of them -- had to imagine emptying their heads of every word they ever knew. They had to shut their eyes and imagine not having a single word in their brains, and then open their eyes and think about what their universe would be like.

Owen Barfield wrote about this idea in Poetic Diction:

The entire... cosmos must be extinguished. All sounds would fuse into one meaningless roar, all sights into one chaotic panorama, amid which no objects -- not even color itself -- would be distinguishable.

Without words.

Our universe, and the words we use to make sense of it -- to address the constant human desire to figure out what, exactly, is going on -- are not distinguishable from one another. Words do not represent (RE-present, as though showing something over again that is separate and distinct from the actual THING it RE-presents) the universe.

Words are the universe.

The kids really got it. They were pumped.

They are ready to go out and make their universes bigger.

Friday, November 18, 2011

population explosion

Today will be the day of the exploding heads in Miami.

This morning, I am speaking to a group of 700 kids.

I am going to tell them a few of the things they will expect: about my books, why I wrote them, and I even plan on actually reading (I almost never do this) passages from Stick and Ghost Medicine.

But I am going to trick them into listening to something else, too. And that is what will make their heads explode.

Reports to come.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

it happened to the italians in ethiopia

Here is my philosophy about writing scary stuff: If it weren't more than just a little bit real, there would be no chance of it also being scary.

I am on my way to Miami.

Before I got onto the plane, my wife said, Do your agent and editor know how to get in contact with me, just in case something happens?

Whenever someone says SOMETHING HAPPENS in a question like that, it can only mean one thing. It means this: Just in case I receive the Nobel Prize for unraveling the secrets of the universe and must fly off to Sweden to receive my one-million dollars and glittery medal.

That's what it means, right?

I got some emails the other day.

This is what they looked like: (I smeared out the top and bottom messages because they happen to be from someone famous, and not, unfortunately, the Nobel Committee)

The first message was sent on 12/31/00.

The second message was sent on 12/31/69.

Obviously, they would have been Happy New Year messages, or some shit like that.

But I wonder if they were from the past, or from the future?

The 12/31/69 message is particularly fascinating.

There are people who were alive in 1969 who might be very angry with me about something that I recently wrote.

This troubles me.




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

nobody makes hair shirts nowadays (part three)

Now it's time to talk about the water.

In the first post on this subject, I mentioned that I'd told Rachael you can't honestly write something THE PEOPLE are going to call Young + Adult and omit the element of sexuality/sexual identity.

It's the same thing as the water to the fish in the Zen parable: It is everywhere, at all times; it is the universal climate change that occurs during the Young Adult experience. And it puts particular pressure on boys, which, I suppose, is why Rachael found The Marbury Lens so intriguing, and why she asked the question.

In the book, in several passages, Jack rants about how much he hates being a teenager -- that there is nothing remotely whimsical or adorable in the sexual awkwardness and the external pressure he feels to "be a man." Like a lot of kids, he is confused and anxious,  even questions his sexual orientation at times.

This is all part of the universal experience, I think, but it can also be emotionally troubling for kids like Jack, especially when combined with other traumatic (in Jack's case, at least) events.

Let me tell you a little side note about mean comments (and another mean comment story will come up later in this post): When my first book, Ghost Medicine, came out, I received more than a few comments from people (none of whom happened to be males, but I am not going to make a generalized statement as to the significance of this) who said Boys are not introspective like this in real life. They do not look inside themselves and examine things like love and life and friendship. This stuff never happens with real boys.

I am not making this shit up. That is the truth.

The thing is, that because boys (like Jack) feel so much pressure to "suck it up," to not express unmanly feelings (as though society dictates that genderless emotions such as love, attraction, or appreciation of beauty are feminine, and that other -- equally genderless emotions -- are masculine) externally, they are, in fact entirely vastly more likely to be introspective than girls, especially when it comes to sexuality, sexual identity, and the anxiety they feel because of sexual expectations -- pressures from outside.

If you don't realize that, then I am glad I taught you something which may make your head explode.

It is my job to tell the truth.

And this really is (if there were such a thing) a recurring concept that ripples through just about every book I have ever written.

When you pile all these pressures and expectations on a reasonably bright and aware kid, like Jack, from The Marbury Lens, it is not at all unreasonable for him to conclude -- as he does -- that there must be something wrong with him, and he better not talk about it, too.

Which brings us to Conner.

Lots of over-the-top mean comments came in about that character, the book, and me -- all because of Conner Kirk. In fact, there was a blogospheric supernova that occurred on one Oh-I-am-a-self-proclaimed-BOOK-BLOGGER's blog about how homophobic and bullying I am to have included a character like Conner Kirk in The Marbury Lens.

I am not making that shit up, either.

That person just doesn't get teenage boys.

Conner Kirk is the absolute opposite of a homophobic person. He masks his own curiosity and self-doubt behind a veneer of boisterous masculinity -- always testing Jack, wondering if his friend will have more guts than Conner does himself and come out and talk openly about sexual confusion and the pressure to "act like a man."

Of course, neither boy does that, because boys aren't allowed to do such things, and Conner, if nothing else, is society's manifestation of a perfect boy. Inside, he's got some issues, like most of us did at that age.

It's normal stuff.

Tomorrow, I am off to Miami, where I promise to make 700 kids' heads explode.

I have been working on this speech and presentation for them, and I honestly think it's some of the coolest shit a writer will ever tell young people.

I'll tell you about that later.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

nobody makes hair shirts nowadays (part two)


The questioning fish is just not tuned in to the fact that water is actually everything to him, it constrains the limits of his universe and defines his existence.

I think there are two important aspects of sexuality that are frequently mishandled, trivialized, and obfuscated (that word sounds nasty) in popular "YA" (and let me tell you how much I absolutely hate that categorical brand) literature: gender identity and sexual identity.

They are different things, and both of them put a hell of a lot of pressure on adolescent males.

I don't know so much about females. Never been one.

The gender identity aspect has to do with what it means to act like a man -- the expectational pressures placed on boys to behave in certain ways -- to "suck it up," for example. This is no small part of Jack's problem in The Marbury Lens. He doesn't tell about what happened to him, because he believes he isn't supposed to. It's just the way boys are socialized to behave.

A side note -- I have met hundreds of people who have read The Marbury Lens, many of whom are young adult males who've had similar experiences to Jack's. Their stories have been distressing and predictable to me. I have also received lots of emails from very irate -- outraged -- people who have said things along the lines of, Oh, I totally stopped caring about Jack when he didn't report what happened to him to the (police, his family, etc. etc. blah blah blah).

Nice one, Mother Teresa.

In fact, Jack only tells two people -- Conner, who loves Jack and would do anything for him -- and Nickie, who also loves Jack but does not want to put up with his self-destructive bullshit. So Jack promises Nickie he will get help (of course this is a lie, because Jack expects he is supposed to "suck it up" and be a man, and he doesn't want to lose Nickie).

The gender role of Nickie is also important to me. Guess what? She is NOT the Barnes-and-Noble crafted YA female lead. She is not a huntress, queen of the forest, who will fix a shallow, flawed, and frail Jack. She is in love with Jack for his endearing qualities, but she draws the line (and suffers because of it) when she recognizes she doesn't have the power to mend the things broken inside this guy she cares about.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the more important part of the water in our fishbowl -- the pressure of sexual identity.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

nobody makes hair shirts nowadays (part one)


I sent my completed revision for Passenger in yesterday.

You know. Passenger is the sequel to The Marbury Lens.

I did it just because I could. The "dream" deadline was today, but I beat it, like I always do, so felt compelled to send it in on Sunday (when nobody is ever home to notice, anyway).

I rearranged some of the furniture in there. Made some parts creepier, and some parts sadder, too. I deleted an entire chapter (and no, I will not tell you what happened in it), and, in the end, the thing came out... longer. I think.

536 pages, nearly 120,000 words.

Nobody ever told me it was too long.

Readers have been asking for more. I gave them more.

I am selfless like that.

A couple days ago, I got mentioned in a Tweet, which, naturally, happened on Twitter, which is the only place I ever get mentioned in Tweets.

My aunt in Italy had a mynah bird when I was growing up. His name was Beo. He was the creepiest, smartest bird I ever saw.

Anyway, back to Twitter, where a friend named Rachael said (her exact tweet):

LOVED Marbury Lens! Curious if you have ever written a post about male sexuality in it, because I found that aspect intriguing.

Hmm... First off, I like to write blog posts in response to specific questions from readers. So I tweeted back and forth a few times to Rachael because I was trying to wrap my head around this concept of writing about male sexuality in The Marbury Lens.

Um. Here goes:

There is this Zen parable that I am especially fond of. I tell it over and over because it's kind of a pivot point to my life. It goes something like this:

Two fish are swimming along beside one another. One fish turns to the other and says, "So, tell me about this water stuff I keep hearing about."

That is the story.

Good, wasn't it?

Now I suppose I should explain.

One of my respondo-tweets to Rachael said something like (and I will not abbreviate for the sake of character limits):

You can't honestly write what people are going to call "Young" + "Adult" and NOT include some element of sexuality. If you try to do that, you are really just writing Middle Grade (a bizarre and twisted, asexual universe in which, my dear friend Michael Grant points out, nobody ever says "fuck" -- what a Marbury that shithole is...) with numerically aged characters.

This post is going to turn out to be quite long.

I'll leave you with that initial thought, as well as the story of the fish, and will continue with a discussion about male sexuality in my book(s) tomorrow.

Swim in peace.

Friday, November 11, 2011

if you ever want to get shot in ealing

So, the reason I did not post anything yesterday was NOT because I have nothing to say.

I've just been... um... kind of immersed in something.

As I said, I have a Monday (as in the-day-after-freaking-tomorrow) deadline for Passenger (the sequel to The Marbury Lens).

Guess what?

I am finished.

Guess what else?

I am reading the entire book again. Just because it's a trip.

Passenger makes The Marbury Lens look like a Thomas Kincaid painting.

With fluffy kittens.

Just so you know.

So, to make up for skipping out yesterday, I have four things to give you today (aside from the above taunt, which, admittedly, is kind of like standing in front of a tiger cage and waving a Polska Kielbasa through the bars).

1. The Miami Book Fair International: I will blog more about this in the coming days. I promise to upload pictures and stuff from there. I looked through the stuff they sent me yesterday, and I was like Holy Shit! I absolutely can't believe what an incredible book festival this is. Guess who will be there.


Chuck Palahniuk.

I do not care about anything else.

2. Someone asked me for the story about the kid named Ian: I have told this before. I think. Maybe not. But I'll start with a side-story:

At the first Bridge to Books event I attended, at Vroman's in Pasadena, I met this young blogger named Tessa who asked me to sign The Marbury Lens for her. Tessa was 14 at the time, a very sweet and brilliant girl. I was, like... Uh... How old are you? This book is kind of mature...

But it was all good. She had actually already read the book, and liked it very much. And I met her parents, too... so, it was like Whew!

Look. I'll be honest. I want young kids to be careful about reading my books. Every reader is an individual, and that makes the whole idea of "recommended ages" completely impractical.

So, when I got an email from this kid named Ian, who was ELEVEN years old and wanted to ask about The Marbury Lens, I (this is absolutely true) asked him if his parents were okay with him reading the book. I also thought I was probably being pranked by someone.

After all... eleven???

But I always respond to all my email. Even the ones from China trying to sell me aphrodisiac ointments.

So, Ian and I exchanged several emails. Eventually, he asked if I would be willing to come to the Miami Book Fair International, because his mother is one of the organizers of the event.

Where Chuck Palahniuk is going to be.

This is why authors should always answer email.

Even if they have to use Google Translate.

So, Ian, a brilliant young reader, actually arranged for me to be part of the Miami Book Fair International this year. And I am really looking forward to meeting this young man of impeccable taste and maturity well beyond his years.

3. A video review of The Marbury Lens: You Have to see this. It is such a great book show:

4. A random and genuine photo I took this week: I am having a hard time understanding this.

Weird things happen to me in urinals.

I do not know why.

I have blogged about this before.

I was in a urinal this week. Alone.

It was a good thing nobody else was there.

Guys get anxious when you take out a cell phone camera in urinals.

That is another story entirely.

But somebody left this in the urinal:

If you cannot tell what it is, it is a plastic scientific beaker that is partially filled with piss.

I am not making this up.

It is my job to tell the truth.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

roof access ⇑

So I am getting ready to head to Florida next week for the Miami Book Fair International.

Let me tell you about this. On November 18, Friday morning, I will be speaking -- alone -- to a group of 700 kids.

That is amazing.

And the organizers of the Miami Book Fair have purchased something like 100 of my books to hand out to the kids at that presentation.

So, I'm making a little show for them. I like doing stuff like that. I promise I will have stuff for them that I've never shown or talked about before.

And I mean that in the most non-creepy way possible.

For me.

I am most looking forward to meeting this kid named Ian, who was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for bringing me out to Miami. He's a big fan of all things Marbury.

When there are ARCs to give for Passenger, Ian gets number one.

Ian, it will freak you out. I can hardly tear myself out of it right now, and I've read the thing at least a hundred times.

And nobody else can ask me for an ARC of Passenger. I am not giving out any advance copies. If the people at Feiwel and Friends decide to do it, that is up to them. The rest of the world may have to collectively wait until the same time to find out what happens to Jack and the rest of the people (and monsters, new and old) linked together by The Marbury Lens.

Saturday, I'll be speaking with Ellen Hopkins. I am really looking forward to it. Ellen is so smart and funny, and I always have a good time at events with her.

That night, I'll be flying straight to Chicago, where I will be speaking, signing books, and stuff like that at the NCTE and ALAN conferences.

I will post more about these three amazing events in the coming days.

See you soon, Ian.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the inner tomb

I thought I would taunt you with something.

So, I have been working on my editing project for next year's offering, Passenger, which I am pretty sure you know is the sequel to The Marbury Lens.

It is entirely okay to cheer.

Anyway, I sent a short email to my editor (chime!) the other day, just to let her know how things were going. Because I am really into it and having fun... because it is a freaking cool book.

Okay. Well, I just mentioned something in passing, like... I know you're not a high-pressure editor and shit like that, but if you were to do something totally crazy and give me a deadline for this five-hundred-plus-paged beast, what would you say?


She said Monday.


Don't get me wrong... Monday is entirely okay with me. She knows how fast I can work when I am into something, and I am.



So I thought I would taunt you with this: The middle two hundred or so pages freak the shit out of me.

And it gets weirder after that.

Just sayin.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

all roads intersect on pages on my desk

I have run an awful lot of marathons in my life, but this was the first time I'd ever started a race in so much rain. Rain has its particular challenges, like massive weight gain in your clothing.

45 degrees at the start, and pouring through the first 8 miles of a 13.1-mile race.

I liked it.

Most marathoners have had this experience, too. Here is what happened: At the finish of the race, I went back to my car so I could get out of my soaking wet clothes. I didn't even realize this had happened, but when I took my shoes off, both my feet were covered in blood. The rain had caused the tops of my shoes to cut into my ankles, and my sodden socks were completely red. I never even felt it until after the race was over.

That was cool.

I kind of felt guilty that I did not sign up for the full marathon.

Maybe next year.

It has been a very weird week in my life.

I will tell you about it in a week or so.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

running out of non-lutheran boy clothes

Today is is rainy and windy and cold.

And I am getting out of bed to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles).

There are many obvious comparisons between running marathons and writing.

I have run 30 full (26.2 miles long) marathons in my life. Not too many half-marathons. This will be my third.

Running distance is dumb and it hurts. I have also done a 50-mile race.

Writing is also dumb and it hurts.

I think the attraction for me is the idea of doing something that the other 6-point-something billion people in the world would not choose to do, when given the opportunity to remain in bed.

Most people go back to bed after writing about a page and a half of prose, too.

The thing about running is that you are guaranteed to finish, as long as you do not die and keep moving forward.

You NaNo people should remember that, too.

Don't die and keep moving.

Get out of bed and write.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

discarded consonants from the wastepile of history

Here are some pictures of my past week:

First, one that I am particularly proud of. It is from Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. Powell's is a legendary independent bookstore. I hope that everyone in America who gives gifts of books during the holiday season please buys at least one book from an independent bookseller. It's about much more than economic survival.

Next, this is a photo sent to me from a high school class that I am a big fan of in Arizona. The kids read, and their teacher connects them to books. I love this stuff:

And third, I think I have complained too much about my neighbor (ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CREEK BED) who screams and fights constantly (a very happy family) and plays Andrea Bocelli at ear-piercing levels to drown out the cacophony of their domestic discord. My Andrea Bocelli complaints have led to this popping up in my Facebook sidebar ads:

And that was my day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

a tough day at curtis crane lutheran academy

Yesterday, I read a piece on CNN's website by William J. Bennett called Men Become the Target of Jokes.

It was kind of interesting to me, because Bennett points out something that I think is relevant about our culture, and he questions the depictions of manhood and masculine character traits which seem to be generalized by popular art forms (television and film).

I admit I don't know very much at all about TV shows and movies. It is a deficit, and I own it: I do not watch television, and cannot sit through most movies, either.

But a friend sent me a message on Facebook and Twitter yesterday that struck me as a strange and cosmic kind of coincidence to the Bennett piece.

A few friends had tweeted to me how they had written in Stick as their vote in the Opening Round for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2011 in the "Best Young Adult Fiction" category.

That was very nice of them to do that. Maybe 5 people I know took the time to do it.

I also do not read anything on Goodreads. Ever. I have an account, but I never read or write reviews there. I have said this many times before.

In the afternoon, I received a message from a friend who wondered why, of the fifteen "Nominees" on the Goodreads 2011 YA page, there was not one single title written by a man.

I do not know the answer to that.

I'll have to guess it is because men do not write good shit.

But I also wonder what kind of unstated message such displays give to Young Adult boys who happen to be readers, or who happen to enjoy creative writing. I would post a link to the page here, but I don't want to. I'm kind of offended.

I admit, too, that I have only read one of the fifteen books displayed as nominees.

I also do not read "YA."

But I wonder, too, if some intrepid and sociologically-minded reader could read all fifteen of these books and put together an aggregate image of the boys who float through the pages as characters, and what kinds of depictions of adolescent males are being presented to our American young adults as iconic and elemental images of our boys.

It could be an eye-opening aggregate, I think.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

a bath, a shave, and modesty

I have decided that since I give such good advice to writers that I would start my own advice column.

I am going to start an advice column for spam email.

Here is an example of what I get in my "advice" inbox:

I received a desperate cry for help just today. The subject line said this:

春藥 壯陽 增長增大 持久 激情藥

When I translate it, this equals:

Aphrodisiac drugs aphrodisiac growth increase lasting passion

I don't really know what you are asking me, but I will try.

The email came from someone named Cherry. 

I figure if you name a kid Cherry, they are pretty much going to be in a good mood for their entire life.

How could anyone named Cherry ever be disgruntled?

Cherry, my advice to you is to wear lots of bright colors. You should also invest in a sassy boutique dog -- like a Pomeranian, or shit like that -- and walk it where singles gather!

Thanks for writing!

I got another email that said this:


It was from someone named Japan.

Japan's parents were probably hippies.

Google translated the message to this:

We very much for waiting.

I feel bad, like I've strung Japan and his or her hippie sensibilities along or something.

Don't wait for me, Japan.

I think it's time for you to move on.

Try treating yourself to a relaxing foot bath!

Thanks for writing!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

the diving bell

I have a hard time answering this question that I am most frequently asked: What is your book about?

My usual answer is this: It is about 400 pages or so.

The reasons I have a hard time answering the question are many, and here are a few of them:

1. The book is "about" something else to me than it will be "about" to you.

I do not know how to make up a good answer as to what it will be "about" to you.

I have never read flap copy on one of my books that did not make me want to crawl under some random object of furniture and drink Clorox (and I apologize for saying that).

2. I see my books holistically. It is almost impossible for me to describe a storyboarded this then this then this, which is how most people "see" books. So, for that reason, I also cannot really say what my books are about.

3. I do not like talking about the "about" of my books. I apologize for saying that, too.

But I will talk, from time to time, about universes.

Last week, I wrote a post about universes -- scientific theories about this one here, and how those theories relate to the structure of Jack's universe in The Marbury Lens and in Passenger.

I mentioned that at some point in the future I would talk about Stark McClellan's universe, too. Stark McClellan is the narrator and protagonist in my latest novel, Stick.

Don't ask me what it's about.

I was interviewed by a radio station yesterday, and the interviewer asked me what Stick was about. I didn't really know what to say. My answer took about fifteen minutes, I think, and I don't think I described one single this then this then this kind of event.

Because I was looking at a universe.

I think if you grow up inside a blacksmith's furnace, you will not know there are universes which are not hot and smoky.

Heat and smoke will be the exact same things as cozy blankets in bed and the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking in the house to other people in other universes.

A blacksmith's furnace is a pretty simple universe.

Kids have an amazing power to see universes with awe and wonder. We learn to get sickened and scared when we grow up.

That's what Stick is about.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

breakout session two: the proposal

Maybe you thought I'd forgotten about my online How To Be a Writer Conference.

I did not forget.

Here is Breakout Session 2: The Proposal.

First, remember, nothing is free.


Your money goes here:


So, the other day I was talking about writing books and shit like that with some of the guys. Yeah. There were actually guys who write gathered together at Mrs. Nelson's on Sunday. If you missed it, that's why you're here, paying me.

I was chatting with my friend Allen Zadoff. Allen is a great guy to talk to. He is funny and he knows a lot of shit about writing, which is a definite plus considering he's a guy, and everyone knows guys don't know anything about writing and women's hairstyles.

So I was telling Allen how I just write books. That's it. I write them. Nobody knows about them. I just do it. My fourth book, Stick, just came out. And I have another book coming out next year. It is called Passenger. It is the sequel to The Marbury Lens. I have already written that book, too. I am currently pouting about it, though. I will tell you some other time.

I also have a book coming out in Spring of 2013, shortly after Passenger. That book is being published by Simon and Schuster, and it is called Winger. I have already written that book, too. And in 2014, Simon and Schuster will also publish my novel called Once There Were Birds.

Guess what? I finished writing that book too.

Um. And I just finished writing another book. Nobody knows anything about it (except for my son, who has read it, and one other person). So, I'll tell you. It is a very long book. It is a completely insane science fiction, and it has a deliriously happy ending. That book is finished, too.

So I was saying to Allen: I can't understand how most writers sell books, or even multiple books, on proposal to publishers before they are even written.

That would scare me into illiteracy, I think.

Because, if I said, I am thinking about writing a book about this and that, and shit like that, and then someone said, I will pay you to write a book about this and that, and shit like that, as soon as I sat down and started working on it who knows what would happen?

I do not believe stories come OUT of me. I am pretty sure they come THROUGH me.

So I could never be boxed-in by the constraints of a prefab great idea, even if it was specifically about this and that, and shit like that.

On the other hand, there is cash and cash to be made selling great ideas, I am told.

This is how you do it: You walk into an editor's office (it would be nice to have an agent with a briefcase and an iPad with you), and you hand the editor a slip of paper with your proposal on it.

A proposal looks like this:

If you do not know, an enchanted lamprey looks like this:

You can tell it is a lamprey, because it does not have a briefcase or an iPad, and has a circular mouth with rows and rows of needle-sharp teeth.

I hope you learned something today in my online How To Be a Writer Conference.