Monday, December 31, 2012

closing the books

Here is how I ended my work year yesterday: I hit send twice.

I sent a brand new and exceedingly strange novel to my agent, and then a few minutes later I sent him a new short story, too.

As a general rule, I am not one of those writers who ever talks about WIPs or how many words I'm producing on a given day. I don't have a problem with people who do that stuff; I realize it's one method by which some writers remain focused and disciplined, maybe. I won't even say the title of the book, so it will from here on be referred to as My Most Recently Finished Novel Which Includes A Non-Prime Numeral In Its Title.

But now I can talk.

Yesterday, I told a friend about this latest novel. Usually when I finish something I like to take some time off from writing, I said. But here I am, having coffee and watching the last sunrise of 2012, and I'm thinking about what I'm going to do next.

To be honest, I already know what I'm going to do next. It's just a matter of deciding if I'm going to go to work on it today or wait until tomorrow -- 2013.

When I visited St. Louis last month, a student at Cleveland High School asked me a very interesting question about writing--one that I'd never been asked before. He wondered if I experienced a "sophomore curse"--the inability to produce a second work after I had gotten my first novel published.

I really haven't had that problem. So far, I've been writing 2 or 3 novels per year, which accounts for the Passenger - Winger - Grasshopper Jungle logjam of novels coming out over a very short period, and for the three or four other completed novels I have on my hard drive that nobody has ever seen (well, my agent has seen one of them... and now he got another one yesterday).

I am so relieved to be finished, just in time to start something new.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

more of the best of 2012

So this is a just-in-case post.

Tomorrow I am assuming there will be plenty of Mayan Apocalypse anxiety.

It is also going to be (or not-be, as the case may be) my wedding anniversary. Will the Mayans get me off the hook for flowers and dinner?

Another thing: I don't gripe about personal matters here, but as far as personal things go, 2012 was one of the worst years in my life, and as far as I'm concerned the Mayans can bind its hands and feet and toss it into a cenote.

On the other hand, there were some tremendously great things that happened to me in 2012, and I'm going to list my TOP TEN THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO THE GREAT-BIG-GIANT-ME IN 2012 (as usual, in no particular chronological or ranking order):


Yes. That's it. Well, I mean I had plenty of terrific meals in 2012, but I also had three great dinners with some very intelligent, articulate friends, and these were them: I had dinner with Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla; on another occasion I had dinner with my agent Michael Bourret and co-conspirator A.S. King; and, when I was in St. Louis, I had dinner again with A.S. King and Heather Brewer -- and her husband Paul.


No. It's not what you think. Valentine's Day 2012 was the day Julie Strauss-Gabel acquired my forthcoming novel Grasshopper Jungle. I hope she still likes me. I think I am a burden to work with. But I will admit that Grasshopper Jungle is my favorite child; the best thing I've ever written. I think the reason why it rings for me is that when I wrote it, I had decided to quit writing and as a result was only doing it for myself. I had even resigned from my agency and honestly planned on quitting. And that's when I met Michael Bourret, and we talked a few times at length about writing and shit like that. And Michael made me not quit, so I told him about this crazy, insane, twisted thing I was working on called Grasshopper Jungle, and asked if maybe he'd like to take a look at it. He did not know this until very recently, but I dedicated the book to him. In honesty, I thought the book was my ticket to the nuthouse.


I got to go to so many schools this year. I have a special place in my heart for four of them: Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, California; Cleveland Naval Junior ROTC High School in St. Louis; Miami Senior High School, and Miami Springs High School, both in Miami (duh!). I love these schools and what they do for kids so much.


Yeah. On November 2, my sequel to The Marbury Lens came out. It's been so well-received. I am blown away by the critical love for the book.


It's not out yet, but I've worked on my novel Winger for so long, and when I finally got to hold that beautiful ARC in my hands and see the amazing artwork inside (by Sam Bosma), it was an amazing thing. I really love this book a lot, and I can't begin to say how terrific the team at Simon & Schuster have been about making this book as special to them as it is to me. It comes out May 14, and that's not a long wait, considering how long ago it was (and I totally remember this) when I wrote the first lines and started doodling around with Ryan Dean's comics and charts.


What a kick in the pants it was to speak on a panel at ALA about the burden of testosterone with my brofriends Michael Grant, Jon Scieszka, Daniel Handler, and Daniel Kraus.


That stands for St. Louis Public Library, where I was honored as this year's "Read It Forward" author. And I also got to speak with another group of author bros: Greg Neri, Antony John, and Torrey Maldonado.


And that stands for Miami Book Fair International, which is my favorite, favorite, favorite book festival EVER. Much love to Miami Dade College and all the people who run this remarkable celebration of books.


This was a surprise to me -- being asked by Tor Books to write a short story about Marbury and the kids we know from there. Beautiful cover on this one, designed by the amazing Scott Fischer.


I love it when friends sign books to me. This year, I picked up some very special ones: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, Burning by Elana K. Arnold, and Scowler, by Daniel Kraus. Also, Kraus sent me the funniest email a few days ago which I won't repeat here, but it made me very proud. And another thing about Kraus -- he sent me those pesky Hostile Questions for his magazine Booklist, and I had a blast being hostile right back to him in my responses.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

best of 2012

So here we go.

In music, 2012 had some of the worst things that ever violated my ears. Cat Power's hawk screech in the middle of her song "Cherokee" comes to mind (and, by the way, my daughter asked me, Dad, isn't it kind of stereotyping to put a hawk screech in the middle of a song called "Cherokee"? To which I answered, I don't know, honey, but it makes me crack the shit up because it sounds like the beginning of The Colbert Report). And it was a year for Larper Wave, too. I don't know what else to call the vapid meaningless shit put out by Purity Ring and other similar outfits.

I guess I need to grow a ponytail to appreciate stuff like that.

And it was a year for Sonic Sleep-Aids: The XX and Beach House, for example.


But there were some very good albums put out, too. And here are my favorite ten of 2012, in no particular order of preference except I will say which of these offerings is my pick for Best Album of the Year:

Twins -- Ty Segall

You know what Ty Segall did this year? He released THREE albums, that's what.

Um. Ty. Chill. This noisy and raunchy LP is everything great about Ty Segall. Amazingly good from such a hard-working kid. Like Titus Andronicus (below), this is great blue collar rock from a gifted and powerful performer.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light -- Spiritualized

Spiritualized is such a damn cool band. Watching them play, listening to them, it's easy to feel transported in time back to the 1970s. One of the best singles of the year is on this one -- an epic -- "Hey Jane," which also is connected to what is easily the most cinematic and disturbing music video I've ever seen. Space out to these guys.

Centipede Hz -- Animal Collective

I know this album took a lot of hits from people, but I totally dig this year's release from AnCo in the way it combines the richness of Merriweather Post Pavilion with the edgy vocals of their brilliant Strawberry Jam. Another psychedelic album on my 2012 list... and you've got to love Animal Collective just for being Animal Collective. Thank you for making this album.

Information Retrieved -- Pinback

An absolutely beautiful, lush album that is so very Pinback. Maybe a little trippy/psychedelic, too. I don't know why these guys remind me of a funky reincarnation of Pink Floyd, but they sound so good and their songs ask such provocative questions. It has been 5 years since Pinback released a studio LP, and this one will not disappoint their fans.

Remember When -- The Orwells

It's hard to compare this album to Lonerism. If there were two lists, this would be at the top of my second one, and I find myself sometimes changing my mind as to which, exactly, is my BEST offering for 2012. I always seem to put an album like this on my list: some very young kid (in this case, a number of them) who makes what is basically a home-recorded masterpiece. When you listen to this album, you can't help but feel like you're sweating inside some friends' smoked-out garage. I love this album.

Lonerism -- Tame Impala

This is the BEST album of 2012. One of several offerings this year falling in the psychedelic department; this one a rocker, reminiscent of 1970s-era John Lennon, and filled from corner to corner with addictive and beautiful tracks. So listenable.

Blunderbuss -- Jack White

Okay. It's not a White Stripes album, and Jack at times goes a little overboard on the overdubbed vocals, but what the hell -- it's Jack White. Fun album. Great sound dimensions, and a clever song about eating crackers or something. Can't wait to see what Jack comes up with next.

Cobra Juicy -- Black Moth Super Rainbow

This album was financed through Kickstarter, and brings together some trancy/psychedelic/folksy/trip hop droned and punctuated by the characteristic soundquakes of founding member Tobacco.

Fragrant World -- Yeasayer

Another trancy psychedelic album -- this one perhaps more accessible, poppy, and dance-oriented than Cobra Juicy. Yeasayer's third album is slick and heavy. Outstanding production.

Local Business -- Titus Andronicus

TA's third album and third iteration of the band, too, having lost the amazing Amy Klein who is pursuing other projects. No matter what the makeup, though, the band is really the voice and soul of Patrick Stickles, a kind of angry and hungrier version of Bruce Springsteen. I will admit it: this is my favorite band in the US. You will not see a better show than a TA concert from the center of the mosh pit, and Stickles is such a smart lyricist with a commanding presence on stage. I'll admit this, too: it's easy for favorite bands to disappoint me (The Antlers put out a real stinker of an EP this year. WTF???) Local Business rocks.

Singles worth mentioning: I love Dinosaur Jr.'s "Watch the Corners" and Alt-J's "Fitzpleasure."

Looking forward to in 2013: Releases from Foals, Local Natives, Nick Cave, Arcade Fire, Foxygen, Atoms for Peace, Indians (this guy is from Denmark, and his first single, "Cakelakers" is so very good), Phosphorescent, and hopefully no Purity Ring. Should be a good year for tunes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


On Friday, I posted a piece about confining Young Adult Literature into the box of an age level as opposed to a genre. I talked a little bit about my YA, and how it embodies works which deal with essential adolescent experiences first and foremost, although many of the titles within this category include works which were primarily created for a specific age level of reader.

I veer away from the age-level definition of YA because using age limits as constraining characteristics of the genre dictate whom the works are for, as opposed to what the works are about.

Any other genre of novel is about something, as opposed to being for someone.

So let's talk about what my YA is about, in a macroscopic sense.

Micro-viewers like Meghan Cox Gurdon may fixate on language, sexuality, or the testing of boundaries--all of which are components of essential and universal adolescent experiences, but, aside from those triggers of righteous outrage, it is possible to have an academic discussion of what makes YA.

So here goes. These are five essential adolescent themes that run through Young Adult fiction. I'm sure there are more, but these are ones I keep coming back to:

1. Everything that happens is interconnected, happens to me, and has a reason (The “Center of the Universe” concept).

2. Everything that happens to me is the way things are for everyone else, too.

3. Being the same as the group is more desirable than being the one who sticks out.

4. If bad things happen to me, they are MY FAULT.

5. There is something WRONG with me, while all my friends are completely normal.