Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's June. How'd That Happen?

I've been gone for a while. Sorry about that. It's June. That's crazy. The last time I checked, I was still not believing that it was May. Apparently, I have issues with time. I zoom in, I zoom out. I'm afraid this trend will continue.

Updating you on things and pictures and travels.

Rochester Teen Book Festival ROCKED as always.

This was year 9 for them. (Next year is year 10 and hell yes I'll be there! Holla!)
Got to hang out with good friends, read a few minds (that's my talent--did you know that?) and present a panel called Boxing With Friends with the incredible Andrew Smith.

Here are some random pictures.

Happy TBFers. Me, Andrew Smith, mystery guy, Terry Trueman.

More happy TBFers! G. Neri, Laurie Halse Anderson, Andrew Smith.
Mind reading. I got that. 

Got my hands on a book I really wanted. Traded my only GLORY O'BRIEN arc for it.
Worth it. This book is awesome.
Coming in September!

So...we cut it kinda close on the way home.
I always say, "Remind me to fill up before I leave Rochester."

Then I did some stuff. It probably involved teaching. And revising the still-secret 2015 book. I have no idea what else happened. I know I didn't write a new book because I finally started doing that this weekend. I read some great books. I read a ton of graphic novels (Andre the Giant thanks to :01 publishers) and I loved them.

Next up: BEA--Book Expo America in NYC. 

BEA rocked. I was so honored to be invited to the Bookrageous party on Wednesday night at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe where I got to meet so many awesome people. There are pictures from the night all over Twitter (check out E. Lockhart's selfie of us--it's adorable...also like 2 weeks old by now) but I didn't get one shot of anything with my own camera. Bonus: I finally got to meet Liberty Hardy--my favorite badass bookseller after years of Internet love.

Before the party, I got to hang with Jen Blom--remember I talked about her book Possum Summer here a few years ago? Jen lives in Berlin and organizes/runs book fairs in Germany and beyond and though we've spoken many times, this was our first face-to-face meeting. I took her to my favorite NYC diner for breakfast-for-dinner and then we walked through Times Square for kicks.

Jen Blom rocks. 

The next day, I signed books...

Green room!
 ...I heard my waiting line was long and I thank everyone who stood in it for an hour or more to see me and get an advance copy of Glory O'Brien's History of the Future. For me, nothing was longer than the lines for the ladies bathroom at Javits. Dudes. What's up with a 20 minute lady-wait to pee? It's just not cool.


See?
...and then I went to a Little, Brown party at Lucky Strike, the coolest venue I ever saw. There was bowling, a pool table and a bar. Who needs anything else? And yes, I bowled I strike. I also bowled a gutterball. Just like life, my bowling. I also won one game of pool and lost one game of pool. I love a balanced universe.

Whenever I see Daniel Handler he makes me laugh and I like that.

Next up, Carson City Literary Festival.
Look. When Ellen Hopkins asks you to do something, you do it.
And then you have fun. A great weekend was had with many awesome authors and events and I can't wait to go back if ever I'm lucky enough to be asked.
I took no pictures. I have no idea why. But here are the pictures I took on the trip:

Wing shot. About to land in Reno. 

Let's have a look at the perspective here. Is that a giant razor blade or a tiny fork? An even tinier bar of soap? And is that tabasco sauce? And hold up--top left--isn't that a tissue? So...razor blades and tissues? How are they alike? Anyway. Enjoy this one. I sure did. 

This picture is only for Black Sabbath fans.


I found this awesome graphic on Twitter thanks to Bookshop Santa Cruz. I'll be there this October while I'm traveling to the west coast and then to Austin for the Teen Book Festival there.
Fall tour dates to come. 


ALA is at the end of the month. I'll be at the Little, Brown BFYR dance party on Friday night (6/27) and then in the Little, Brown BFYR booth signing from 2pm-3pm on Saturday (6/28). Then I will be whisked off by a unicorn pony and taken back to the airport for a redeye home.

Save the date: The GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE launch party is Tuesday October 14th at Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA. 7pm. Bring your friends. We're bound to have fun and eat cake. More on that once I come to the surface.

Now, more silence from me until I get back from VCFA July residency. It's been a crazy year. It will be another crazy year to come, but then there will be a celebration in May 2015 that you might hear all the way from the moon when Mr. King becomes a teacher. Never say never. You can do anything you put your mind to whenever you want to. This man is walking proof.

I swear I'm forgetting something.

If I remember, I'll be back.
If I'm not back, have a great summer. I'll be swimming laps, writing and reading books, and wearing more skorts. Because: skorts.


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Groovy Train Interview Thing--A.S. King Edition



I am so honored to be asked onto a groovy train of authors who are blogging over the next few weeks about the writing life. I was invited by my good friend Beth Kephart, whose Going Over is a beautiful story of two teens in Berlin in 1983 and you should read it because I’m telling you it's gorgeous.



This blog post is going to sound a little frenzied because I am. Rushed and frenzied. Most of the time these days, that’s me. Jobs, kids, life, writing, teaching, reading, sleeping, eating, breathing. Some days it kinda gets on top of me. I’m learning to be a better life-juggler thanks to people like Beth Kephart who juggles more than I ever could. The thing about Beth is that when you ask her if she’s working on something, she says “No. Not really.” And then she has another amazing book coming out what seems like every year. On her blog last week, she told us about two new books to come. They sound amazing, as all of Beth’s books are.

I met Beth in the small and groovy town of Lititz, PA back in…was it 2009, Beth? It was the Lititz KidLit Festival run by my local independent bookstore, Aaron’s Books. Beth thought I was wearing rubber boots but they were actually Doc Martens—the brown ones I wear everywhere, the ones I fear will one day get old and die before I do. The memorable wardrobe situation for me from that day was the green jumper dress that was too short and the stools we were asked to sit on. Never a good combination.

Since then my friendship with Beth has grown. We’ve been in many venues together and once drove halfway across our lovely state of Pennsylvania together to hang out with awesome librarians because really, who wouldn’t do that?

Supportive, loving, smart, savvy, talented, wise. That’s Beth Kephart.

Now. On with the blog thing we’re supposed to be doing. Questions. And answers. And stuff like that.


What am I working on?

I’ve been working on a somewhat surreal novel since last February about a boy who builds an invisible helicopter and a girl who needs an escape. Or, a girl who is a biology genius and a boy who needs love. Depends on how you look at it. At the moment no one can agree on a title, but one day you will hear of it. It's due out in fall 2015.

I’d usually have another book on the go by now, but I’ve been traveling a lot to schools, festivals, conferences and teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Between these two other jobs as well as working on the 2015 book with my editor and life, I’m a bit spent at the moment. But my brain is always working. I make notes. I write scenes. I read books. Right now, I don’t have a project. But even if I did, I couldn’t tell you about it because I’m weird like that.  

My 2014 release, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, goes on shelves on October 14th. I have a strange process of trying to forget about things like that when they’re coming up. My brain is in 2015 and 2016. This sometimes doesn’t help with the here and now. For example: How is it May?

I am also working on a garden for the first viable time since I moved back to the US. Gardening used to be my life and I miss it. The size of my entire backyard now is smaller than just one of my old patches, but I get to try things that would never grow in Ireland. Outdoor tomatoes. Peanuts. A good watermelon. I reckon there’s a lot to be said for a good, homegrown watermelon.

Polaroid of the old garden.
The new garden is a 1/100 of this.
My knees approve. 

How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?

I have no idea. I just put the words on the page and see what happens. I never know what’s going to come out on any given day.
Some people say I write like I talk.
I think I write like I think.
So there’s that, I guess. No one can think like anyone else.
I don’t know is my favorite answer.
Because does anyone really know?

Why do I write what I do?

Writing allows me to feel things in a different way to real life. I never felt engaged with existence fully until I started writing. I wrote my first novels for adults and yet, they always started in the main character’s childhood or teen years. I think it’s because I feel adult humans are ultimately made before they are 18. It’s like a complicated recipe. You may bake it for the instructed time at the instructed temperature, but if you screwed up any ingredients the result might surprise you. When I started writing for a young adult imprint, my work didn’t change much in the style, voice, or even characters. For example, I’ve always had adult characters in my YA books. I can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t unless the story was about how all the adults disappeared.

To me, nothing is more useful a weapon for adulthood than open and honest thought and communication. That’s what my books are to me. It’s what I call a truth-stream. I think the truth-stream helps my characters, my readers and ultimately, me.

The shorter answer to this question is: I have no idea. I just write. It just comes to me. Bob Marley said once, “Jah write all dem songs anyway.” Take that whatever way you want. It just comes to me.

How does my writing process work?

I don’t think it does work. I manage.
I have no set schedule. That’s an issue. So I write when I can.
When I do write, I start with a character and I build that character. If I am still building that character and everything they are toting with them in two weeks’ time, there’s a good chance this might turn out to be a book. That’s always a relief. Then I keep writing until I feel I have to stop and figure out what the book and its characters are trying to tell me. So I stop, make a lot of notes, revise the first parts and then travel on to see what happens in the end. Sometimes this is easy. Usually, it’s not. My endings still trip me up, but I’ve tried outlining and it doesn’t work for me, so this process is the one that works even though it’s sometimes difficult.

If it was easy would it be as much fun as it is? I don’t think so.

So then I revise. A lot. I love revision. And then once my editor has it, we start the process all writers have. More revision, line edits, copy edits. And then I start all over again on a new book.

That’s it. I sit my ass down. I write a book. I sit my ass down again and try to make the book better and better. Then I send it to someone (how lucky I am to have a someone. I went 15 years without this part of the process) and then I start a new book. Repeat. Infinity.

Soooo…
I don’t really like talking about myself and I think I've said enough. So this seems like the perfect time to introduce next week’s blogger, Karen Rile. What a boss magazine she’s editing. Check it out.


Cleaver Magazine shares “cutting-edge” artwork and literary work from a mix of established and emerging voices. We were founded in January 2013 and are currently preparing our 6th full-length issue, which will launch on June 11, 2014.

We are a web-based magazine. In our first year we received 60,000 unique visits and over 100,000 hits. To give an idea of our readership: over the past three months, we had visits from 119 countries, although about 80% of our readership is American. Our editors have deep ties to the Philadelphia community. We are an international magazine, but maintain a commitment to publish about 25-30% Philadelphia-based writers in each issue. 

We publish poetry, short stories, essays, flash prose, visual art, and reviews of poetry books and other small press publications. We publish quarterly, in March, June, September, and December. In each issue we present several emerging writers and at least one emerging visual artist alongside established writers and artists. We see ourselves as facilitators and stewards of the literary and artistic work that we publish. 

We are independent and self-funded and are grateful for support, in part, from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and Kelly Writers House.
 


Next Monday visit Karen to hear more about her writing, her process and what she's working on.

 .

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I've neglected you.

.
I am in the revision cave.
I'm not coming out to blog unless something is on fire.



PS: If you're anywhere near Rochester on May 17th you should come and see me and Andrew Smith do a panel called "Boxing with Friends." Should be boss. We're very athletic, you know.
.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Who's Afraid of A.S. King?


This week, I heard from a good friend of mine who works in secondary education. She was talking to a friend who works in a high school guidance center. My friend's friend seemed shocked that Reality Boy would be allowed in my friend's school (due to possible parent complaints) even though she personally loved the book. I hear this a lot. I'm used to it. People from my generation didn't have this kind of literature when they were in school. (I'll add they also didn't have the Internet, cell phones, cable TV, or crime shows that got much worse than Quincy or Hawaii Five-0.)

But.

A year or two ago, a friend of mine who teaches high school English, and whose school I've visited many times, was talking to a fellow teacher at a conference and she mentioned that I visit her school and her students dig me and the fellow teacher, who also loves my work, said, "Aren't you afraid to have A.S. King into your school?"

Yikes.

Last year I got quietly uninvited to a school because a math teacher didn't like the last book (from another author) that the organizing librarian promoted during a previous reading initiative. The principal got involved. I did not go to that school--an inner-city school that cannot afford author visits and whose students would have probably loved and needed the presentation I give about the "personal suitcase." The librarian had worked so hard on this visit that we were both in tears when the final verdict was given--in quiet code that no school board ever found out about.

I have had my books blocked from school libraries based on a principal reading an Amazon review. (I'm guessing he probably looked for the bad reviews. What do you reckon?)

People have been shocked when I tell them I visit Catholic schools. 
I have no idea why they are shocked. Do they think that Catholics can't relate to books that talk about everything from bullying to genocide? Last time I checked, Oliver Cromwell was quite a bully and wanted all Catholics dead. 

Yet, people never seem shocked when I tell them that I've visited a juvenile detention center or an alternative school. I can't figure out why. Is it because these kids are throwaways? I think e. E. Charlton-Trujillo does a fantastic job of talking about the shortsightedness of this type of thinking already in this article. But still, it seems logical and okay to some people that I would go to talk to the kids they've already given up on. Weird.

When I take all these facts and swirl them around, I can't make much sense of it. What is it, exactly, that these people seem to think is so dangerous? 

Sure, anyone who reads any book is totally allowed to not like it. That's valid and important and if you don't like my books, then I don't expect you to promote them in any way. But these things are being said by either people who actually like my books (or in two cases above, never read them) or who even adore my work. So why the shock? Why the implied fear of me, in general?

Is it the cursing?

I am very aware that some of my characters curse. I curse too sometimes. But I was raised in a no-cursing house and I am raising my kids in a no-cursing house. I do not say, "Dinner is fucking ready!" to my children. I don't even curse when I burn a grilled cheese sandwich. I say "Shazbot." I say "Sugar." I say, "Darn it!" So why do my characters curse? Because some kids curse. All kinds of kids, too. Not just what some people label 'bad kids.' Good kids curse plenty. Calculus geniuses curse. Cheerleaders curse. Top-notch athletes curse. Valedictorians curse. Kids who go to church curse. 

My 11-year-old kid learned every swear word on a shared school bus last year. She was 9 then. She also learned the racial words. You know. The N-word, the Sp-word, the Ch-word, the W-word. Usually, these words were used in conjunction with a curse word. Example: "Those fucking N-words are living off the government." or "Fucking W-words are all illegals and need to go back to Mexico." Etc. You get the picture. Apparently, these children, all of whom go to a private religious school, some of whom were younger than my kid, learned these curse words somewhere and they dutifully taught my then-9-year-old about them by using them in competent sentences in casual conversation on a bus before eight in the morning. 

Luckily, she told me. And I told her what the words meant, why they are offensive and why we don't use them in our house. I assume this process is the same for most parents. Frankly, I'm glad she learned the words when she did. This experience made her a voracious reader of novels about racism and injustice, which has made her the type of citizen that I'd be proud to call my neighbor. Thanks to those kids on the bus, she better understood books like Persepolis, Maus, American Born Chinese, March, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Boxers & Saints, Journey to Topaz, Number the Stars, Anna of Byzantium, and The Resistance series and she is far less likely to hate or tolerate hate. Well played, kids on the bus. Well played. 

So, if it's the cursing that makes some adults squeamish about my books in schools, then why do they project that fear when referring to me, the author? Do they think that my author visits, my assembly programs, or my classroom workshops involve some sort of inappropriate material? Do they think that 40+ schools & libraries per year pay me to come and talk to their students because I'm scary? Do they think my keynote event speeches are akin to Lenny Bruce in his later years? I know enough adults to know that many adults also curse. So, I'm thinking that adults are smarter than this. No, it can't be that they think I will curse or will promote cursing when I go to a school. So I'm guessing it isn't the cursing.

Maybe it's sex.

I don't really do sex in my books. I can't write a sex scene to save my life. And I didn't have sex in high school (not like it's any of your business) so I can't really feel what that feels like, so I find it hard to write about it. That said, I know that the average age American teens first have sex is about 17. And I know 14 year olds have sex. And probably 12 year olds, too. And hell no, I'm not all that comfortable with that, but it's happening, right? I mean, 1 in 4 kids in America has been sexually abused or raped by the time they get to be a senior in college. So...yeah, I don't write sex scenes, though some of my characters have had sex or talk about it. But find me a high school student who hasn't talked about or thought about sex and I'll hand-deliver you a home-baked muffin. Seriously. And to those writers in my field who do write sex scenes, I say kudos to you. Especially to those who are writing sex-positive and consent-centered sex in teen fiction. I can't do it because I'm just not good at writing it. Just like the 1960's-sex-ed book that I read as a kid to learn about the birds and the bees, my scenes usually stop at heavy petting or just go vague. 

Even listing these things is making me feel ill. As if there is certain subject matter we can't share with teens...while we are happy to watch CSI-whatever right in front of them.

So what's left?
Violence? My books have a little of that. Sure. So does life. Next.
Death? Seriously. Death is part of life. Just ask Forrest Gump. Next. 
Empathy toward others? Or tolerance toward those who are different to the reader? Um. Not sure how that's scary. But this has been suggested, so I'll list it. Adding: See Eric's comment for more on this. It's brilliant.
Abuse? My books don't touch on this in a full-on way, but again, that's life. Why wouldn't we talk about this? CSI-whatever talks about it all the time.
Drugs & alcohol. Yes. My books do touch on this a bit. I once had an adult contact me on Twitter to say she got to page 11 of Please Ignore Vera Dietz where Vera pulls out a bottle of vodka from under her car seat and she tweeted something like, "A.S. King promotes teen drinking and driving! Not reading the rest of this book!" Shame. She could have actually learned that the book was not at all what she thought it was. Then again, it seemed she was looking for a reason to stop reading and I'm glad she found one. 

Bullying? Yes, my books have this. And so does every school in America. And every workplace. 

Reality? Truth?
I'm thinking that might be the problem. 
I mean, real reality. You know--where life is sometimes hard and parents aren't always perfect and school sometimes sucks and college decisions seem pointless and sex is a possibility on a Friday night the same as smoking a joint, drinking to excess, or getting into a fight or studying for SATs. I have yet to write about stealing a car, but hey, that's a Friday night possibility as much as considering committing suicide, and I've written about that, too. 

Last year I talked to thousands of teenagers in their high schools. When I talk, do you know what I talk about? I talk about making smart mistakes. Do you know why I do that? Because I meet a hell of a lot of teenagers who are afraid of making mistakes. 

One of my presentation slides reads: EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES. 

That's what I tell them. I tell them that making mistakes is universal. We all do it. And I tell them that making a mistake is not a reason to give up. Do you know how many teens need to hear this? Judging by the letters I get from classrooms all over the country: A lot. I'm guessing that might be because someone somewhere along the line gave them the impression that they should be perfect. 

So I tell them that they are not perfect. I tell them that like me, they are flawed and will make mistakes. And I tell them that maybe, like me, if they think about their own mistakes (and the mistakes of others, through, say, reading fiction) and figure out why they made them, that maybe they can be the lucky ones who learn from their mistakes and go on to make smarter and smarter mistakes. 

I also ask them to look into their pasts and I ask them what they're lugging around with them--that personal suitcase--and I tell them that this baggage, we all have it. And then I explain how to unpack and repack that suitcase in order to survive real life and be happy. 

I know. Super scary stuff.
A.S. King Wants Students to Live Happy Lives--Film at 11!

My books are on school and state reading lists all over the country and have won state awards and national awards. I get letters every week from students who read my books and find themselves in them. "This book changed the way I look at the world." I also get letters every week from adults who read my books and find themselves in them. "I wish your books were around when I was in school." 

So why, when chatting over a casual cup of tea on a random morning, would anyone say, "Aren't you afraid to have A.S. King into your school?"

My mother worked in schools and in school administration for years. I understand what goes on intimately. I do not like that teachers--those trained best to teach and run their own classrooms--are not at the top of the decision-making pyramid when it comes to what and how they teach. I do not like that at all. Teachers, teacher trainers, and teaching students who I know (my husband included) know how I feel about these things. One of the coolest administrators I met actually participated in a community read of Please Ignore Vera Dietz and invited me to Skype into her office one day while students were there. It was a fantastic experience. It was refreshing to see a superintendent getting involved in reading and reality. Our discussions that day serve as proof that not all administration is bad or limiting. But this is a rarity and I think we all know it. So we'll move on.

I've worked on library boards and know that some patrons think that 'cleansing' the stacks of anything they deem inappropriate is a good idea. We also had a problem once with a political weeder--someone who likes to remove publications based on political ideals he or she thinks are wrong. People are weird.

I know parents. I know parents who say, "I loved your book and can't wait for my teen to read it!" And I know parents who say, "I loved your book but I'd never let my teen read it!" I also know parents who tell me at signings, "My child can read at a high school level. Yes, I know she's 10, but she loved [insert popular YA book here.]" I do my very best to explain to this third type of parent that age recommendations are for mature (teen) content and that maybe they should read the book with their child, just in case any questions come up. They often tell me they don't have time to read for pleasure and that their child will be fine. I trust them. I have to. It's not my job to censor their kid's reading the same as it isn't anyone's job to censor what my kids read. 

I don't know about you, but quiet censorship freaks me out. It's the censorship that's spoken over tea, over lunch, at random times when we are not prepared to answer because we are caught so off-guard that we really only think about what was said on the plane home. Last year I was asked to be on a censorship panel as an "expert." I had to reply and say I was not an expert at official challenges. So far, my books haven't had an official challenge as far as I know. Instead, I get embarrassed looks from  dedicated librarians who whisper, "My principal won't let me have that one in the stacks." I have quiet un-invitations. I have quiet conversations with saddened teachers who tell me that a colleague said, "But you're not going to actually give that book to students, are you?" I get quiet letters from devoted teachers who apologize for not being able to share my book with a student who needs it because of a fear of losing their job. Ah quiet. It is usually an indication that something really important is being withheld. Like the way we whisper cancer.

My favorite response to certain books is: "This kind of thing doesn't happen in our town!"

I heard this once in response to Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Here's a funny fact: I based the creep in PIVD on a real guy named Eddie Savitz. Savitz had haunted me for years after his story came out in the early 1990s. But when the book came out, I got all sorts of letters asking how I knew about "Big Bill" or "Teddy Bear" or other towns' creeps. I got more than 10 of these letters just in the year the book came out. None of the letter-writers knew that creeps other than their own town-creeps existed. But creeps happen. All over the place. If you watch the TV news you hear about them every single day. Check your state's online database. I bet you have a creep living near you. 

But not in your town. I get it.
Drugs and alcohol also don't happen in your town, nor does teen sex, violence, or swearing. Or death.
Fantastic. If there really is a town like this in America, I am happy about that. Really truly happy. 
But are your teenagers going to stay in that town forever? Don't you want them to go to college? Or go out in the world and do stuff? And don't you want them to be prepared for all of these real things that happen all the time in real life? Don't you want them to know that they will make mistakes? Don't you want them to learn how to make smarter mistakes? 

Fiction can help. I write my books for one reason, whether they are for adults or teens. I write to make readers think. I write to widen perspective. I write to make readers ask questions and then answer the questions or start conversations. And I write sometimes to give voice to the throwaways, of which our society has many, but we usually hide them because we are still uncomfortable with what we see as our own mistakes. Make sure you say that in a whisper. Throwaways.

As a parent, it is certainly up to you what your child reads, just as it is up to me what my child reads. We can control this at home. No doubt. But the one thing we cannot control is time. And as time passes, our children will become adults. I know my child would make a good neighbor. She knows what hate looks and sounds like. She knows how to speak her mind and she knows she makes mistakes because we make her own those mistakes. I know that one day, when she is your neighbor, she will help you shovel your sidewalk of snow if you need help. I know she will babysit your kids responsibly and play a patient game of Scrabble with them. She will make them brush their teeth before bed. If she reads them a bedtime story, it will most likely be Dr. Seuss or a few Shel Silverstein poems. 

People who know me are reading this blog post. People who really know me. My mom and dad will read it eventually, because they read my blog. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the least scary person you will ever meet. (Unless you're from Pennsylvania Gas and Electric and you ever come to my house to sell me cheap electricity again after screwing me over last month for $400--then you should be scared.) 

My books? Are not anything to be afraid of. 
I mean, unless you're afraid of real things that go on every day. 
I mean, unless you're afraid of kids knowing more about reality than, you know, CSI-whatever. 
I mean, unless you're afraid of an adult whose sole purpose on planet Earth is to empower people to be the very best they can be no matter what hand they were dealt or no matter how heavy their personal suitcase might be.

I'm that adult and I own it. 
If I'm scary to you, then okay. I'm cool with that.
Most teachers I know also have this same goal: to empower students to be the very best they can be. And many of those teachers know that this also scares some people.
I have no idea why.

This isn't about administrator's rules. Those are real and I know in every job, there are rules that dictate what you can do, even if you want to do more. I am so grateful to teachers and librarians all over the world who share young adult books with their teens. And I stand with those of you who are tied by your administrations into this uncomfortable atmosphere of occasional quiet censorship. I know you don't want it. I'm sorry you have to deal with it as well-trained and educated professionals. I don't want you to lose your job and really appreciate the things you do to steer your students toward the fiction they might need when they need it. Thank you. 

When I look back at me at 12 years old, in 7th grade, I see that Paul Zindel's books saved the me that finally fought hard to come back. That's the me you know now. 

The me in between (from 12.5-17.5) was a strange sort of throwaway kid. Bad grades. Bad habits. Bad attitude. I gave up on everything, and the minute I did, so did most of the teachers. But some still knew that deep down, I was a thinker...and I can bet they were wondering what I was thinking while I chose that in-between me who would rather smoke in the bathroom and get detention than study when I was in high school. 

Here's what I was thinking: I can't wait to get out of this bullshit place and be myself. 

And maybe that's what makes me scary.

I don't know. 

What I do know is: I was a throwaway kid in the eyes of my 8th grade guidance counselor (who spelled cello "chello") and in the eyes of many who came after him. And I knew high school had an expiration date and all I had to do was survive until the expiration date was up, so I could then be happy. 

And, in the words of Reality Boy, once that time came, it was all "Fuck this shit. Let's grow beards."

Translation: Thank God that's over. Now, let's grow up.  

So I grew up.

And when I entered the real world--the one with awful bosses, crappy paychecks, regular sexual harassment, people who wanted to control me, drug addicts, alcoholics, bad friends, bad drivers, bad doctors, keg parties, your-list-here--I was better able to make smart decisions and learn from my not-so-smart decisions because I'd read about characters who made mistakes and who recovered from those mistakes. Well, that and my parents, who had never once lied to me about the real world. 

When, after graduating college, I went to a mansion party with a 60-year-old businessman who'd promised we'd talk about a full time job (I'd interviewed with him prior to this), I was grabbed and groped and forcefully kissed by a different 60+ year old man who may or may not have been a high-ranking official in Philadelphia government, I knew to get the hell out of that swanky mansion and drive the hour home. 

I was 21 years old on the day of that party. On my way home, I stopped at a friend's house and bawled my eyes out. I was embarrassed, yes. Grossed out, certainly. But most of all, I was afraid that my parents would be mad at me for leaving the party because they had been hopeful about the job from this businessman.

I'll never forget the laughter that night. My mother laughed so much as I told her and my father, through tears, what had happened. They laughed to make me feel better, yes. They laughed because they wanted me to see the humor in this sick and twisted world. They laughed because they wanted me to know it wasn't my fault. They laughed because up until then, they had prepared me for the real world and I'd left the party and I was safe at home, and not still at the party getting roofied and god-knows-what-else. They were, in a word, relieved. 

I know why people want their children to remain innocent. I have a six-year-old. She is adorable. She loves unicorns. She loves dressing up like a princess and she has no idea that the real world exists and so far no harm has come to her and it's a beautiful thing. It really is. We read Freedom Summer together and she knows the evil of racism even though she hasn't experienced it yet. But she will. And when she does, thanks to books like Freedom Summer, she will be repulsed. 

I am repulsed by many facets of the real world teens have to live in now. I am also very aware that my repulsion has nothing to do with its existence. It will exist whether I am repulsed or not. 

And so I write about it.
It's that simple.

If that makes me scary, then I'm proud to be scary. But I don't think I'm scary at all. I'll shovel your sidewalk if you need help. I'll make you a big pot of spicy corn chowder if you're sick. I'll read Dr. Seuss to your kids and I will make them brush their teeth. And if one of them doesn't understand something about the real world--say, racism--and they ask me about it, then I will buy your family Freedom Summer for Christmas and if you feel like sharing it with them, then I bet you'll have a great conversation after you read it. And I bet your relationship will be all the better for the honesty you share. 

Lying never helped any relationship improve. 
Whispering never cured cancer. 
And some throwaway kids become adults like me...if someone somewhere along the way gives them a voice. Fiction does that. Vonnegut did it for me. Zindel. Heller. Rushdie. Twain. Steinbeck. Hemingway. Dahl. Salinger. Golding. Orwell. Lee. They all did that for me. 

But they were quietly censored too. Over tea. During lunch. At random times. 

So maybe it's a big club?

It's scary out there. I know it. I turned on the Olympics so I could watch with my kids and I had to turn it off because the the commercials for prime time that NBC aired--images of frightened, pained children, guns, and violence--were not something I wanted my kids to see. But if I mentioned that I was going to watch the Olympics with my kids, I doubt anyone would say, "Aren't you afraid to watch the Olympics with your kids?"

I've swirled all of this stuff around all day and I can't make sense of it.

Except this part: hiding things from teenagers is a known fail. Teenagers already know what we're attempting to hide from them. They probably know a lot more than we do about the reality of being a teenager today. They're a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. Contemporary young adult books are not going to tell them anything they don't already know. The people who know this best are teachers and teen service librarians. I only wish the rest of the adult world would catch up.



Monday, February 3, 2014

Greetings from the Cave.


Deep in the revision cave a semi-hygenic creature lurks, wearing a pair of sequined camouflage slippers with pink fuzzy accents and pompoms. Last week it wore a scientist's lab jacket to work until Thursday. This week, it is over-wearing its favorite blue, white and black flannel shirt. It drinks far too much chamomile tea with honey. It is a caffeine-free beast who may or may not have stood on a table at some point over the weekend and said, while holding a small axe, "I AM QUEEN! I HAVE AN AXE! DO NOT VEX ME!"

These are the things you miss when you don't follow me on Twitter.

I am a revision machine. I fear this trend will continue.
And so, I will keep this blog short. But there are random pictures with bonus screenshots you may not want to miss after the boring news part.


RANDOM NEWS

I forgot to tell you that Reality Boy was a New York Times Editors' Choice the weekend after Christmas. Go Gerald.

Reality Boy also made the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. A lot of really great titles on this list.

There was a really fantastic interview at YALSA's The Hub, where the awesome Julie Bartel asked me some questions and the stars kinda aligned and I found some good answers. I want to point you to it. Click here.

Then today, I found out that Reality Boy made the YALSA Quick Picks list.

All around good week for the creature in the cave.

RANDOM PICTURES


Here is Gerald with some of his bling at ALAMW.
Photo cred: Michael The Awesome Bourret
While we're here, a huge shout out to all winners
at the ALAMW conference in Philly.


I am posting this in order to remind you that:
YOU MUST BUY AND READ GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE  BY ANDREW SMITH.
Look, I know what you're thinking. You think Drew's my friend
and that I'm asking this because of some weirdo writer bond we have.
Not true.
You just have to read it.
It's the best damn book I've read in a long time.
I urge you, adults and teens and whoever likes a good read, to buy it.
Unstoppable corn, man.
It comes out Feb 11th. 

BONUS SCREENSHOTS

It's time to empty my screenshot folder again and ask you what the hell is going on. Remember, I don't actually click on these. I just try to guess what the hell is going on when they appear in my sidebar.


This is news.
Or what passes as news.
Or kinda-news.
And this list is just awesome when read in order.
I have to ask: Who is this Dr. Oz and what is going on here?
Does Dr. Oz also think Photoshop is better than a facelift?
And age is supposed to show, dammit.
And the woman on the right does not look 40.
And the woman on the left is gorgeous. 

First thought: There are millions of women out there who wish
to all gods there were secrets in order to repel men.
Next thought: If a guy is so easily repelled by whatever these
three things are, then why would anyone want to be with him anyway?
Think childbirth.
Next thought: What use is a repelled man in real life?

Oh hold up.
So now Barbie getting older is a female behavior?
No wonder they used to call us hysterical.
I AM QUEEN! I HAVE AN AXE! DO NOT VEX ME!

See you on the other side.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Glory O'Brien wants you to see her cover!

I am writing this on Saturday, but you won't read it until Monday. Any inaccurate details about the weather are due to this time lag. All you weather buffs out there can just calm down...

I am presently in Vermont teaching at VCFA or Vermont College of Fine Arts. If you've never heard of the place, you should know that they have many amazing MFA programs including Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is the program I'm around for.

That was an awful sentence, but I don't care. I just traversed pure ice for cafeteria eggs and bacon. Bonus: I get to drink as much orange/cranberry juice as I want. From now on I want you all to call me "Captain Vitamin C." Say it with vigor. CAPTAIN VITAMIN C!

Also, in using my Yak Trax for the first time, I learned that A. they really work, and B. if one doesn't wash one's hands after using said Yak Trax, one can accidentally put rock salt in one's mouth, and C. rock salt tastes disgusting.

So. You're here for the cover reveal and so am I.

Before I reveal the cover of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, I'd like to kvetch about my own title. There is a word with two apostrophes in it. One word. Two apostrophes. And I'd like to apologize to anyone who might have to type said title because it's awkward. Sorry.

But it's her history of the future, and her name is Glory O'Brien, so since apostrophes give ownership, we're stuck. Here's an interesting fact about me. My biggest grammar pet peeve is the misplaced apostrophe--usually used to pluralize a noun. There was a restaurant down the road from my last house that read, "Tuesday nights: $5 Bloody Mary's" and every time I drove by that sign, I would yell, "Bloody Mary's WHAT? What does Bloody Mary OWN?"

Shoot. I went off track.
So the cover.

Really, first you should know about the story, so here's what the back of the ARC says:


WOULD YOU TRY TO CHANGE THE WORLD
IF YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD NO FUTURE?

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

***



Note to all people who have hair like the model in the above picture: I want your hair. I've always wanted your hair. If I'm to believe what I've heard about people and hair, you've probably always wanted curly, unruly hair like mine. I will never understand why we want each other's hair, but it doesn't erase the fact that I want your hair. 

So there you have it. 
I hope the rest of your week is awesome. 
And I hope to never taste rock salt again. 
And I hope Bloody Mary finds her five dollars.