Saturday, June 29, 2013

conscientious objector

Like Ryan Dean West, my alter ego from Winger, I often have conversations with people in my head.

This one's been going on for some time. It's with someone who objects to some of the elements in the novel Winger. It goes like this:

CO: There sure is an awful lot of sex and foul language in Winger.

ME: What? Sex? There's no sex in the book at all. Where do you get that from?

CO: Well, there are those words, you know. And it is YA, so there shouldn't be certain words in there.

ME: Look, YA is a genre, it is not an age-level. (And yes, I am calling you out on this, Chuck Wendig.) It's a genre in that--whether the story is fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, pararom, or whatever--good YA deals with those essential adolescent experiences. And adults read as much or more YA than kids do, because most adult readers realize how significant and life-altering those adolescent experiences are. If I wrote down to, say, a fourteen-year-old audience, I would feel like a condescending prick. If you're seeking out something to read because you want to be treated like a fourteen-year-old--well... that's actually quite creepy. Grow up.

CO: When I read Winger, which, by the way, I liked very much, I was kind of grossed-out by all the testosterone flowing through the book. I felt like I needed to wear a raincoat, or take a shower after some parts of it.

ME: Well, that's definitely a reaction, I suppose, but I wonder about the angle of this as a critique of the book, and whether it's okay to make backdoor sexist comments about what are perceived "boy" books, especially those written by male authors. I'd probably be justifiably lynched if I ever said something like reading Jane Eyre made me feel like I was ovulating.

CO: Okay, well what about the ending? It really bothered me.

ME: Why?

CO: There weren't enough pages dealing with it.

ME: There are parts of the book that are haiku.

CO: But you don't spend enough pages dealing with the aftermath. I need to know about the aftermath.

ME: My, you are spoiled, aren't you? Look, the book is about a disaster, not the cleanup. And more than that, the book is about storytelling itself, which is why Ryan Dean talks about "conscripting" his audience, narrating entire passages and then saying things like, well it didn't actually happen like that, luring you into this complacency where you can't see around the corner, but he keeps telling you the corner is coming up (so you better watch out), and that he knows what the next panel in the comic is going to be. And this is the toughest lesson about growing up. That's what the book is about. Apparently, you're asking for a sequel. Talk to my agent.


Anyway, I have been anxious ever since I read this post by Chuck Wendig about 25 Things You Should Know About YA that appeared earlier this month. It's linked above, and you should read it and let me know what you think. I could imagine having a very healthy debate on some of his points at a conference some time. And that would be a panel to see!

Friday, June 28, 2013


Think green.

This is the cover of Grasshopper Jungle, which is coming February 20 from the amazing people at Dutton (an imprint of Penguin).

There is so much I want to say about this book, and how it came to be through working with my amazing agent Michael Bourret and the incredible Julie Strauss-Gabel, my editor.

So I will say some things about the book eventually. But for now, you can read what Entertainment Weekly has to say about my work and this very, very strange novel.

Read Entertainment Weekly's exclusive on Grasshopper Jungle here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

the terrible mrs. b

 I realize it's been a while since I've posted anything new here.

The fire is out and our phone service (which was out for two weeks) has been restored, so I no longer have to drive five miles to the llama ranch to make a phone call.

So here will be a lengthy-ish post about some things I'd been meaning to talk about.

About writing, believe it or not.

A few days ago, a Facebook friend who is an author (and I apologize because I can't remember who it was at the moment) posted some photos of papers she'd written when she was a schoolgirl. There were comments written on the work--in red teacher pencil--praising her talents and saying things like "I know you're going to be a published author some day!"

Stuff like that.

It's really neat to see how an encouraging teacher can really shape a child's future.

And it also made me think about what happened to me when I was in Middle School. Remember, I was the kid like Ryan Dean West, my protagonist in Winger, so I was, like eleven years old when I was in 8th grade. That was really horrible. Eighth grade is sheer hell on boys. As a tiny kid, I'm lucky I didn't get pecked to death.

But the teachers were worse than the other boys.

When I was in 8th grade, part of our English curriculum (this is absolutely unheard of today thanks to the one-size-fits-all approach to schooling) included creative writing, which I liked very much. One of our major assignments was to write a short story.

I remember the short story I wrote in 8th grade, too. It was really dumb--a horror story about a guy who has a vacation rental and likes to drive his guests insane by making them think the house was haunted, which it was not. The story was called The Owl. I worked really hard on the story, and I thought it was very good.

After I handed it in to my English teacher, a horrid woman named Mrs. B--I waited (just like we wait for editors and agents) for some time for her feedback. When the class's portfolios were returned after grading, Mrs. B called me up to her desk because she wanted to talk to me.

I was kind of excited because I thought she was going to tell me I was a talented writer.

Well, not so much.

Here's what Mrs. B said (and wrote, but in graphite teacher pencil as opposed to red) on my short story:

Andrew, this story is very good. In fact, it's too good, and I do not believe an 11-year-old could have written it.

So, not only did Mrs. B accuse me of plagiarism (I can assure you the story, as dumb as it was, was entirely original and she had nothing to compare my work to), but she gave me a ZERO on the project and set up a conference with my parents to discuss their cheater plagiarizer son.

My parents were pissed. I was destroyed. I had never gotten an F on anything in my life. I'm pretty sure I walked home crying that day, too.

Also, I never wrote anything for Mrs. B ever again.

Yay for teachers!

Okay. Now, after that cheerful story, I want to share a couple bits of Winger love with you all.

First of all, I'm going to be speaking to EVERYONE, live via video conference about Winger on Tuesday, June 25 at 7PM EDT using a platform called Shindig, which is very cool. You can participate, ask questions, talk to me, or simply watch like a creeper to see what I am wearing and what incriminating objects are in my office in back of me, and it's all free. You just have to sign up here:

And, this morning, I woke to find that CNN had listed Winger in its Top Twenty Books to Read This Summer. This is a list of all genres, and Winger is NUMBER EIGHT!!!!

I am so stoked right now, it almost wipes away the trauma inflicted by that horrible 8th-grade English teacher I had.

Monday, June 3, 2013

the homefront

Okay, it's been a particularly rough last few days and here are a bunch of updates to my friends and family:

1. The Fire -- I still have no phone service, and power has been spotty, but at least for now I have the internet and it is the only--however unpredictable--way I can stay in touch with people. We were pretty much caught in the middle of a wildfire that's been burning since Thursday.

On Saturday morning, my wife and daughter went to the beach. By the afternoon, I called them and my son and told them they'd better come home. The reason I called them is that in the middle of the afternoon, the sun from our backyard looked like this:

After I went to sleep that night, my son came and woke me up and said, "Dad, I think we need to leave."

Because this was in front of our house:

...and this was actually before things got too crazy, when you could still snap off a cellphone picture and not be a complete moron for snapping off a cellphone picture.

The bottom line is that with the help of friends who live about 10 miles away (thanks SO much Jeff and Tracy), we got out, one horse was rescued, and our dogs and one cat went with us. 

When we left, we were all pretty certain the house was a goner. There are no houses behind us--only open forest land--and we have two large wooden decks which is kind of like stacking up cordwood next to your house.

Long story not-so-long: The house is okay. We all made it back (just now) except for our one rescued horse, which we have no way of tracking down because there are no phones up here and the police will not let anyone into our community, so if we leave, we'll be stranded again--and that hasn't been fun. For now, the family, dogs, cats, chickens, and one of our horses are all together.

2. Yesterday, Winger was listed in the Los Angeles Times Book Section for "Summer Books." I haven't taken a look at it yet, but here's a picture:

3: The Winger Contest: My last post described a contest involving photos of Winger from bookstores. Up for grabs is a signed copy of Winger and an actual rugby jersey. We received entries from all over the US--really, from Hawaii to Vermont, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, New York, Georgia and dozens of other places, as well as Australia.

So congrats to the winner, David from Idaho who will be getting that book and one of these jerseys:

(Ryan Dean would have worn 11)

(Joey would have worn 10)

4. THE BET: As you may know, every year four authors get involved in a little event called The Bet, which involves choosing a horse (we don't really care if it's a decent horse) in the Kentucky Derby.

The four authors are myself, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Kimberly Pauley, and Brian Farrey. Of the four, the person with the fastest finisher gets to assign the next author a title, and that person has to write a story for the title.

Brian, exempt from writing, came in first of the four, and he assigned me the title Journey, Crimson, Nightmare, Name. I wrote the story. Be cautioned: It is weird and has adult content (NOT YA). It's a story without walls--kind of an EP in music lingo--with four short blasts at cruelty, loyalty, addiction, and sexual attraction.

I got to give Kimberly Pauley a title:  The Druggist and the Apostrophe.

And Kimberly assigned Catherine Ryan Hyde a title: Even Pigeons Can Sing.

So you get three short stories for free.

And here they are:

Journey, Crimson, Nightmare, Name

The Druggist and the Apostrophe

Even Pigeons Can Sing

And that, I suppose, is a good week-and-a-half's worth of blog posts in one shot, while the power is still on and the internet is still connected.