Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

on never getting old

Maybe it's just me, but when I look up there at that...

It reminds me of this:

Which is particularly creepy.

What that is is the opening page from Grasshopper Jungle. Not the human hand. That's some guy's painting in some beat up old church. I think Walt Disney did it.

Today I get to look at the first pass pages of Grasshopper Jungle.

First pass pages are the initial attempt at putting the book together, with the unrealistic hope that everything will be flawless. Of course, there are bound to be glitches, but these pages are what will be inside the ARC, and, in a perfect world where nobody makes mistakes, will also be in the final released version of the book which goes on sale February 20, 2014.

I think the ARCs will be out very soon, too, and I can hardly wait to actually hold one.

Grasshopper Jungle is my seventh novel (eighth book, if you count Losing It, an anthology whose first pass pages I have also seen, that comes out October 1), and there's just something about seeing those first pass pages that is always so thrilling. Because it really looks like a book, and you get to see for the first time how the artists at your publishing house--in this case Dutton/Penguin--apply their touches to your story to make a complete representation of the published product.

Well, everything about this is just so freaking amazing.

It never gets old.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

dear major league baseball

Okay. There are lots of writing/book issues that I could talk about today, but I feel the need to do something different. So, here goes:

[Author's Note--I am unapologetic in my love for baseball. I love baseball so much I stayed awake in bed last night thinking about how the characters from "Adventure Time" could replace the San Francisco Giants--How "Lumpy Space Princess" could be Pablo Sandoval; "Princess Bubblegum" could be Buster Posey; "Marceline" as Tim Lincecum; and, of course, "The Ice King" as Hunter Pence. Don't judge.]

Dear Major League Baseball:

Let me help you out. Seriously.

You have a little problem with PEDs. I can fix that.

Would you like to know how to fix that?

I thought so. It's really easy. There are two ways to fix it, and I guarantee they are both 100% effective.

Here they are.

These are my gifts, from me to you. Because I love you, Major League Baseball. I love how my dad used to take us kids to Dodgers games. I love Dodger Stadium, and going to Chinatown for great food after games there.

So, take these cures.

From me to you.

Method Number One: Kick the assholes out. First time. Permanent. Done. Did you get that? Kick. The. Assholes. Out. Make them give up their ten-fucking-million-dollars-per-year jobs playing a game in beautiful fields like Dodgers Stadium and go get a real fucking job like selling frozen malts at Dodger Fucking Stadium and walking up and down and up and down and up and down all those stairs for three fucking hours with seventy-five pounds of frozen fucking malts harnessed to their ripped shoulders.

Nobody would care if you kicked the assholes out.

You want to know why?

Nobody would care if you kicked the assholes out because there is an endless supply of young kids all over the world who maybe don't have biceps like Smithfield Hams (and testicles like Sunmaid Raisins) but are still every bit as exciting to watch play the game. And the fans will still go to watch those kids play.

Kick. Them. Out.

Giving an asshole who makes ten million fucking dollars per year a fifty-game suspension is like sending your kid to his room without dinner and then insisting that he come down for dessert later on.

Screw that.

Look: Clearly what you are doing right now is not working. Method One will work. Trust me. Make the assholes carry frozen fucking malts.

Not the big foam fingers.

They don't weigh enough.

Fuck big foam fingers.

These assholes are ripped.

Method Number Two: Just give up and let the assholes take whatever they want to take. Put hookahs in the dugouts. Who cares, right? We get what we pay for, and there are no surprises to people who love the game.

So, Major League Baseball, there you go. It's a very simple problem to solve.

Now I'm hungry for a frozen malt.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

changes coming

So, between now and February 20, 2014, which is when Grasshopper Jungle will be released, there will be lots of great stuff happening.

Like lots of touring and stuff (which you can see on the Author Appearances tab above).

And my WEBSITE has totally changed, too. Everything.

If you go to the old website, you will be pointed toward the new one. It's much better; a needed change.

But this blog will stay put, although it will undergo some cosmetic and structural changes this week, too. For one thing, I have a pending post about why it is impossible to teach people how to write (and I am a teacher... been one for decades). I don't mean like write a noun-plus-verb sentence. I mean the other thing.

You know.

And if I forgot to mention it here (I think I did), Grasshopper Jungle is going to be translated into foreign languages. First up: Portuguese. Grasshopper Jungle will be coming out in Brazil, which is a tremendous reading country. There will be more to come, too...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

stupid people should never read books

That is a title of one of the chapters in Grasshopper Jungle.

My copy editor, Anne, reminded me of this a few times yesterday.

That particular chapter has to do with book-banning in school, and one of my favorite YA authors, Robert Cormier.


I need to vent.

I have received hate mail for every book I've written.  Yes, that is true. Hate mail. Every book. Yesterday, I received my first piece of hate mail for Winger.

It made me think about a lot of things.

First off, the kind of person who writes hate mail to an author in the first place. They have to invest some time and energy finding how to track the author down so they can put themselves directly into your face. I imagine it's someone who watches a lot of daytime television and spends many days in the principal's office at their kids' school complaining about the bullies who pick on their children.

And sending hate mail to an author is classic bullying, because there's nothing you can do about it. You can't turn it off, and if you respond you will LOSE. So you have to take it, and try to ignore it, which is impossible for most writers because as a group we tend to personalize things. It's much different than a bad review on a blog or a poor rating on one of those book rating sites because the writer doesn't have to look at those things (and for the most part, I never do).

But when it's personally addressed to you, by email or on paper (both of which I have received--and at least in the case of the latter the hate-spewer was supporting the US Postal Service) it gets right into your face. And it feels especially caustic.

Look: I didn't send my book into your hovel to offend your sensibilities. You went out and got it.

What kind of sociopath needs to do these kinds of things? It's like walking through a crowd and screaming at the people you think are particularly ugly.

So, hate-mail-sender, I have two things to say to you. Well, three, if I corrected your abysmally lame grammar, but I won't go there:

1. Since you were obviously raised without manners: Shut. The. Fuck. Up. No, really. Shut the fuck up.

2. You undoubtedly care more about my book than I care about you. That's significant, but see number one above.

So I got some nice suggestions from friends about how to handle the ruination of my day.

Catherine Ryan Hyde, who is always so nice and positive, sent me a link to a site that shows images of angrigami -- folded-up negative messages transformed into something beautiful.

Okay, so I took the icky letter and went to You Tube, where I attempted to fold the thing into an origami crane.

Origami is fucking hard.

I suck at origami so bad I wanted to write myself a hate letter about my stupid crane.

I gave up.

The author Emily Franklin said that when she gets negative mail, she gives two extra compliments to people that day. That sounded like a winner. So yesterday, I did a couple surprise nice things for some people in various undisclosed locations, and I gave some compliments to people whom I probably should have complimented much sooner than yesterday.

That worked out. It was a good day. I will abandon the origami in the future, but this is something I think I can manage.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

nyeah, nyeah, nyeah

My favorite poet is Wallace Stevens.

I would have bought insurance from him, just because he was Wallace Stevens.

One time, someone said something like this to Wallace Stevens: I don't understand what that poem is about.

And Wallace Stevens answered something along the lines of: Of course you don't. You didn't write it.

I don't really know why I mention this. I just happen to work hidden Wallace Stevens references into a lot of the stuff I write. There's lots of Wallace Stevens pepperings in Grasshopper Jungle, as well as in the short story I wrote in the forthcoming (September 2013) anthology called Losing It.

Remember this?

Bet you thought I forgot about my pay-as-you-go online writers' conference, didn't you?

Well, I didn't.

I didn't because I am excited to have joined a brand-new ORGANIZATION.

The organization is this: National Young Adult Authors Association.


It is pronounced nyeah.

I know. Cool, huh?

So far, there is only one person in NYAAA, and one faculty member at our mega-super conference, and one guy who takes your money at the door: ME.

If you want to join, let me know, and I'll think about it. After all, NYAAA doesn't take just anyone. In fact, if anyone else does join, I will probably quit. While I was out on my seven-mile run this morning, I kept arguing with myself in my head about how morbidly introverted I am.

I hate my introversion, but not nearly as much as I hate being in clubs.

Anyway, I'm feeling compelled to give a lesson here this week on writing YA. Trust me, it will be tough.

You know why it will be tough?

It will be tough because LEARN is a verb. It requires some type of performance--action--on the part of the student. That's one of the first things I tell my students (and I've been teaching writing for a very, very long time).

Just remember that first bit before lesson one and it won't be as tough.

nyeah, nyeah, nyeah...

Sunday, July 7, 2013


So yesterday I had an online conversation with a fourteen-year-old kid about sports and reading, and stuff like that. He wanted to tell me that Winger was one of the best books he'd read in years.

He said that he doesn't usually read YA, and that, like I did when I was his age, he prefers adult fiction. I think there are an awful lot of boys like us out there, too.

The truth is, though, I'm pretty sure that most of the readers who've gotten into Winger in the last month-and-a-half since its publication have been adult readers.

I also told him--to be quite honest--that I don't read YA, either. (I will explain.)

And this made me think about something I've seen on a lot of writer's advice blogs, and even on advice tips from literary agents. The commonly expressed myth is this: If you want to write YA, you should read A LOT of YA.


Why should you not read A LOT of YA? Because then you'll be reading an awful lot of terrible stuff. The same is true for romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and so on: An awful lot of it is pretty awful.

If you want to write well, read A LOT of stuff that is good writing, no matter what it is.


So I do read YA, but not A LOT of it by any stretch, because I am very selective about what I want to spend my time with. I read more "adult" fiction, though, and currently I am reading the work of a brilliant American playwright. (I am still taking time OFF from writing.)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

a story map

That right there is how I mapped out most of the chapters in Grasshopper Jungle. The chapters usually begin at the ending, then have a frequently long and convoluted story in the middle that stitches together all kinds of improbable events from history, then they go back to the ending/beginning of the chapter again.

It's an interesting kind of path that I'd never used before in a novel, but is evident in some of my favorite chapters:

Stupid People Should Never Read Books

Eden Five Needs You

The Vice-President's Balls

Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone Never Wore Coonskin Caps

Rat Boys From Mars, and an Unfortunate Incident Involving an Inflatable Whale

Yes. Those are chapter titles.

In Eden Five Needs You, for example, the chapter starts as Austin and his girlfriend Shann are eating in a diner after a movie date. Austin goes through the entire plot of the ridiculous movie they saw and all the embarrassing things that happened to the couple in the theater in Waterloo, Iowa, and then the chapter ends again, back in the diner where the following conversation takes place:

“You know what I really love about you, Austin?”
I did not know what she really loved about me. Probably not my endurance.
I said, “No. Tell me.”
Shann said, “I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.”
“Really?” I asked. “I… Hmm… I never noticed that about me before.”