Friday, July 27, 2012
So, yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Santa Monica Public Library working with a group of amazing teens who write. I may have made their heads explode, because I think I said things to them that were the complete opposite of what they'd been hearing from some of the other authors who'd served as instructors in the program.
What do you expect?
We'll talk about this later.
I had been planning on blogging about my soon-to-be-released novel Passenger (October 2, Feiwel and Friends) today, and the universe must have tuned in on that intent because of this:
I received an email from the top of the Feiwel and Friends food chain, Jean Feiwel herself, in which she expressed her extreme satisfaction with a tremendous STARRED review Passenger will be receiving in the September 1 issue of Booklist.
First official review is in. And it reads as probably one of the best reviews I think I've ever received for one of my books.
So, thank you, Booklist. I'm not really sure if I was allowed to say anything because my editor, Liz Szabla [chimes!], the human being on the planet responsible for limiting my impulses, is on vacation. So I will show restraint and not quote the review, but I will tell you it begins with a big red star.
If I were normal at all, I would probably be gushing with gallons of moist squee.
But this particular reviewer nailed something perfectly right about his interpretation of the book -- something that I had intended to write about today, and something I spoke about when I previewed the book at ALA last month, and it is this:
Passenger really does complete the saga of Jack and his friends in many ways (which is why it is so freaking LONG!). Where The Marbury Lens looked at the effects of trauma within the very tightened boundaries of Jack's own psychology -- his ability to process, deal with things, stumble through choices -- Passenger looks at the larger environment of Jack's traumatic experience as it affects his friends.
And it is a really big environment, in which there is no shortage of blame and anger directed toward Jack from the two brothers, Ben and Griffin. Jack, naturally, wants to fix things but can't. The brothers want to go home, but home isn't there. Uncle Teddy, the preacher who was accidentally killed by Seth in The Marbury Lens, recognizes Jack for who he is and hunts him down through the multiple wastelands of a bigger, more toxic Marbury; and Henry only wants to manipulate Jack into closing the door once and for all so he can get back to the cigarette smoke and warm beer of London. Throughout all this, there is the selfless friend Conner, who only wants to make things good, no matter how bad things really are.
It is a cool story, and a good book with some pretty big surprises.
I also believe you could pick up and read Passenger and get what's going on just fine if you've never read The Marbury Lens, because the two books really do cover completely different paths in their explorations of post-traumatic psychology.
But, if you are a reader of The Marbury Lens, I'd highly recommend you re-read that novel, then wait for the September release of the short story King of Marbury, and count down the days to October 2 and Passenger.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
So I have some important stuff coming up in the future. I'll be talking more about these things and posting pictures, too.
In September, I'll be heading to Park City, Utah for the Annual League of Utah Writers Conference.
I am not a Utah writer, but I'm fairly certain that I will be writing there when I attend the conference.
In November, I'll be heading to St. Louis for the Annual YALSA Symposium. I'll be speaking about literacy and guys, and why it is that the American educational system has been trying to discourage literacy among boys, who are naturally just as literate as non-boys. I'll also visit a couple high schools while I'm there, as well as speak at the St. Louis Public Library.
I am really grateful to the people at the St. Louis Public Library who went out of their way to bring me there.
And, finally, tomorrow I get to wrap up the Santa Monica Public Library's summer workshop session for teens who want to write. I'll be at the SMPL beginning at 2:00, working with these kids, who've had the opportunity to take classes from a number of authors over the past month.
So kids, you know the routine:
Oh, I have no shortage of advice to give these eager young whelps with word processors.
It's just a matter of deciding whether to take the tough love approach or the brutally painful approach.
In any event, my writers' conferences, which are always extremely expensive [but worth it!!!] are based on the following critical assumptions:
1. Reducing the unnecessarily wasteful amount of being spewed into the universe.
2. Learning how to use the slot (see above).
3. Making participants cry.
Sounds like fun!
I will post heart-wrenching photographs of the casualties.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
My blog makes strange things happen.
When I wrote earlier this summer about quantum reality and the idea that if a tree falls in a forest and nobody sees it, then the forest probably wasn't there to begin with, the following day a massive, sixty-foot tree fell down in my yard. For no good reason.
Then, a couple days ago I mentioned how I never read Goodreads reviews or threads, and I found out through a friend that there was some kind of major pissing war taking place there.
Here is my theory: If something gets said on Goodreads and nobody reads it, the universe is probably a better place.
Everyone loves to run in the direction of fights. Nowadays, fights are stupid and dangerous because the spectators on the fringe always jump into the fray. When I was a kid, a couple guys could have a good, honest, one-on-one fistfight and be done with it.
Those were the good old days!
I may as well prepare you now: This is another episode of Andrew Smith's Pay-As-You-Go Writing Conference.
You know the routine. Put money in the slot:
[Note: It's a new, nicer slot with card-read technology!]
So, the other day I spent some time talking with my agent.
I don't need to tell you who he is. Everyone knows who he is. If you want to find out who he is, do your own damn homework [that was a personal aside, a barb aimed at a very good friend who happens to be much more successful than myself and sent me a recent request along the oh-by-the-way-who-is-your-agent lines].
By the way, before I go on, let me warn you: You might get mad, mad, mad! at what I write below.
You may disagree.
You may be offended.
You can handle it.
By the way, my agent told me to tell you that he only wants to have one client: ME.
That should settle it!
So, while we were speaking, I said something like this to him: Whenever I read those preview lists where publishing imprints give short, one-sentence descriptions of what's coming out next fall or next spring, it always strikes me how everything sounds the same, like it's all so tired and has been done so many times before.
[Here's the important part -- the part that probably will not offend you] He said something like this: That's my inbox every morning. I am so tired of getting queries of exactly the same old stuff that's been done over and over. I really wish I could find that new debut author [he was kidding, he really only wants to have ME as a client] who has talent and something new to say.
So can we be done with teenagers who fall in love with opposite-sex manifestations of supernaturalism? Can we be done with kids who discover their hidden pasts and unlock a mystery that places them at the apex of the fight between darkness and light? Can we be done with teenagers who just now are finding out that they are magically powerful?
CAN WE BE DONE?
Here's the tough part: Are you a writer or a whore?
If you're a whore, you'll look at what's out on the streets and make it available to any paying john.
That's okay. It's a living, right?
Speaking of living, did you pay the slot?
I am only trying to help you be a better writer, and you can help me in return. By paying the slot.
Go out and write, writer.
Don't look at what's coming out six months from now, or what's jamming the shelves of "New for Teens " section at Barnes and Noble.
Write a fucking book.
And if you're a writer, stick a Post-It note on your computer to remind yourself to think twice before posting on Goodreads.
Now go write.
I know, this was the tough-love breakout session. I will probably be nicer next time.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
A few days ago I sat down and talked with my agent for a couple hours. Every so often I need to do that. There aren't too many agents who can make the time for their clients to do such a thing, and if you can find one who does -- and he's successful on top of it -- well, you hit pay dirt.
He might not want me to write about this, but one of the things my agent said to me was that he wished he could discover a really talented and unique debut author. I'm going to talk about this some more on a future blog post, but what I said to him was this:
You did discover me at a time when I was seriously going to quit writing. This happened to be last summer, when I wrote Grasshopper Jungle. I found writing the book to be a very liberating experience because I had no intention of getting it published. I was only writing it for me. No pressure. I thought it was too crazy, anyway.
To be honest, I think my agent thought it crossed some lines, too. So, anyway, writing that book was kind of like being reborn -- becoming a debut author all over again. Maybe there's some satisfaction in that for him. You'll see when it comes out.
Another thing we talked about was Goodreads. He, like most of my friends, knows how I feel about Goodreads. I refuse to look at reviews there, and I refuse to review books at all. I've got a few books listed on there -- all books by myself or friends of mine -- but I DO NOT review books.
And looking at Goodreads comments, like those on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, can become a serious problem for authors. I do not ever do it. I have all kinds of reasons why, and I'm sure there are some really great, thoughtful, and literate people who post on those sites. But there are a bunch of bullies and ignorant followers, too. I've never been one for beauty contests and prom elections.
[said the indignant ugly kid]
In any event, my blog is linked to my Goodreads profile. Every once in a while, somebody on Goodreads will send me a message or comment on my blog. I ALWAYS pay attention to direct communication, and if it's a message, I respond to 100% of them.
There's a guy on Goodreads named Robert who occasionally comments on my blog.
Yesterday, he said this:
I am really looking forward to reading Winger. Can't you give us a little taste, just to wet our beak a little?
So I told him I would do exactly that.
And here you go, Robert. Here are a few little excerpts (sorry, I can't put up the artwork yet) from Winger:
There's a little story called The Toilet World at the beginning of the book. It occurs even before the prologue, right after the epigraph. The first paragraphs are these:
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.
Ryan Dean West lives on the upper floor -- the boys' floor -- of a dormitory for bad kids. He is convinced Mrs. Singer, the woman in charge downstairs, is a witch who can inflict diarrhea spells and wants to destroy Ryan Dean's life. One night, as he sneaks out of his room to go to the toilet, this happens:
And as I padded in my bare feet to the end of the boys’ floor, I kept thinking about all the horror movies I’d ever seen where you just sit there, yelling inside your head, “Don’t open that door you fucking idiot!”
So what did I do? I opened the door.
Then I almost screamed like a little girl, but I was too scared to do that, and if I hadn’t just done what I did a minute earlier, I would have peed myself, too, because when I opened the door, I was standing there, in nothing but my underwear, face to face with the so-unhot-she-is-quite-likely-the-only-two-legged-female-besides-his-mom-no-wait-including-his-mom-Ryan-Dean-West-wouldn’t-want-to-run-into-at-night-when-he-is-only-wearing-boxers-and-nothing-else Mrs. Singer from downstairs.
And I thought, I am never going to not-have diarrhea for the rest of my life.
I am such a loser.
Ryan Dean's observations on American Literature (and this was taken directly from the lectures of a professor I had as an undergrad):
In Lit class, we had finished reading Billy Budd; and I was convinced by that time that Mr. Wellins was some sort of pervert because he believed that everything we read had something to do with sex. According to him, Rappaccini’s Daughter was about incest, and, he argued, Billy Budd was about homosexuality. Mr. Wellins said that it didn’t matter what a writer intended his work to mean, that the only thing that mattered was what it meant to the reader, and I guess I could see his point, but I still thought he was a creepy old pervert. Anyway, I just thought Melville wrote a good story, but what do I know?
At one point in the book, Ryan Dean and his best friend Joey sneak away from school to buy Halloween costumes. In the middle of the night, they find Ned, this very old man who walks extremely slowly and appears to be lost. The boys struggle with Joey's willingness to always help out:
“Can you boys please give me a ride home? I’ll pay you,” he said.
Please, for once in your life, don’t be nice, Joey.
“What are you doing out here?” Joey said.
“I just went for a walk,” he said.
And I thought, he either lives about twelve feet away from here or he started his walk during the Reagan Administration.
“And then I got caught in this damned rain.”
“Where do you live?” Joey asked.
But it was too late.
So the boys decide to drive Ned home and they get caught in a flash flood. Ryan Dean, who has a very active imagination, is convinced that Ned is a serial murderer who has lured the boys to his secret killing field. And although the boys are in Oregon, Ned seems to think they're in Iowa (my apologies once again to the fine city of Waterloo, Iowa, where much of Grasshopper Jungle takes place):
So there we were, in the middle of the fucking night, in the rain, on an unlighted dirt – make that mud – road somewhere between Oregon and Bolgia Nine in the Eighth Circle of Hell with an axe-wielding sodomist in a walker who thought he was in Waterloo goddamned Iowa.
Ned stared blankly out the windshield. “I don’t remember any of this in Waterloo.”
“Oh, that Waterloo,” I said. “So, Ned, was Napoleon really as short as everyone says?”
So there you go. A little unillustrated teaser from Winger.
Friday, July 20, 2012
The reason I haven't been posting much is not because I don't have stuff I want to blog about.
In fact, I have a list of stuff I want to blog about sitting at 11 o'clock on my desk, about 14 inches in front of my keyboard.
I've just been really busy.
Okay. So, here's one thing that happened yesterday.
Let me start off by saying I hate it when people do this, but I have no control over the situation.
The situation is this: I received the final interior art for my 2013 Simon & Schuster novel, Winger.
But I can't show it to you.
Winger is different (like all Smith books tend to be) because the narrator draws stuff right in the middle of the story: diagrams and charts of his fears and preoccupations, as well as entire comic book panels of things (mostly imagined) that happen to him.
[Side note: Attention Comic-Con people -- I fully expect you will want me and my illustrator to attend your convention next year. This is a book with actual comics in it. That is all.]
Let me say this about the art: It is beyond perfect. It is funny, evokes the narrative voice of the protagonist (a fourteen-year-old boy named Ryan Dean West who plays rugby), and definitely conveys the emotional direction of the novel.
It is stunning.
In fact, from the cover art, through the interior illustrations, to the back cover drawing, this book is truly going to be a one-of-a-kind thing when you see it.
ARCs should be available sometime this fall.
I've had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and other gatherings where I've talked about Winger, done some readings, and even shown the original artwork that I did on my own for the book. Usually, people say this about my art:
Oh! You are a really good artist! They should have used YOUR drawings!
No. No they should not have.
Let me tell you a little about the process behind the production of this book:
I wrote Winger a REALLY long time ago. For all kinds of reasons, we were never able to "put it out there" on submission to publishers, though. When we finally did get it out on submission, it received numerous offers from multiple houses immediately.
Lots of people wanted it.
Some of them even talked about ME doing the art.
Luckily for me, the people at Simon & Schuster, whom I decided to go with, were sane and reasonable. And they have an incredible art department, they believed in this book, and were determined to make it look incredible -- like nothing else out there.
I can confidently say they did exactly that.
The thing that's most satisfying to me is that the illustrator for the novel used my exact panel and object designs but did a remarkable thing:
He did not draw them like a seven-year-old on hallucinogens!
Go figure. He made them into ART.
I can not wait for people to see and laugh and fall in love with (and get really really sad, too) this book.
I will tell more about the art, the cover, and the real human being who modeled for Ryan Dean West when I can actually show some of the images here.
In the mean time, you may want to check out the website of the incredible talent who translated my crack-addict scrawling into some amazing interior artwork.
His name is Sam Bosma.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
I realize I have been not online much at all this past week.
I am working, though, and trying to get ahead.
I realized a long time ago that when you are a writer, nothing at all ever happens in a convenient way for your schedule, so I was expecting a kind of perfect storm of unreasonable demands placed on me this week.
As a result, I prayed really hard for the Doomsday virus to disable all publishing industry computers on Monday.
So far, it seems to have worked.
I know just saying this is tempting fate, because I actually am expecting stuff -- work -- to start coming in any moment now, which is why I've been trying to not get distracted and make more progress on the new book I am writing at the moment.
So I posted a picture on Instagram today.
The topic was Letter.
I took the picture below, which happens to be a photograph of the cover letter to my contract from Penguin for Grasshopper Jungle.
Of all the books I've written, there are two things that stand out in my mind about Grasshopper Jungle. First, it is definitely my favorite book. My apologies to my other children. Second, it is the only book I've written that I know the exact date when I penned the first lines, as well as the exact date when I wrote the last ones (which will kind of make you cry, I think).
Started: July 7, 2011
Finished: October 14, 2011
Length: 105,000 words
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Recently, a number of people got chuckles from the Texas Republican Party platform that expressed an opposition to teaching critical thinking in schools.
I don't really see what the big deal is.
At least the Texas Republicans expressed in writing what public schools have been working so hard at for the past 20 years. Our public school system, like the Texas Republican Party, is opposed to teaching critical thinking.
You can't teach Critical Thinking when the goal is standardization. Standardization is antithetical to Critical Thinking.
There is a slow and quiet movement taking place in education. It sounds really cool -- National Standards. Ultimately, the idea is that on any given day, for example, every 11th grade student in the United States will be learning exactly the same lessons.
Chairman Mao would be so proud of us!
When that finally happens, they'll be able to take the human beings out of the classroom and hand every 11th grade student in America an iPad.
Buy Apple stock now!
Don't get me wrong -- I love my iPad. You can't teach critical thinking with one, especially if you have kids who are trained not to read outside the confines of their standardized curriculum, and if the reading curriculum is, indeed, standardized.
I've been kind of interested in the Beat movement of the 1950s, and how many of the Beats expressed disillusion with how homogenized American society was becoming -- that regional differences and dialects were becoming uniformly standardized by television, franchise businesses, and advertising.
They had no idea what we'd be doing to our kids in the 21st century.
But if you're in education (as I am), you're not really allowed to talk about it.
When I was an undergrad, I was highly influenced by a "New Left" Marxist philosopher named Herbert Marcuse, who wrote a book called The Aesthetic Dimension. It was all about critical thinking and art, and it really had an impact on me as I developed my writing skills.
Anyway, I just thought about this because yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who expressed disappointment over the fact that public displays of critical thinking often inspire hateful responses -- that the discourse in America has devolved into two massive standardized lumps who all think and say exactly the same things.
You make your bed, you're going to have to sleep in it.
The last three pictures on Instagram were these:
First, The Best Part of My Day.
I took this photograph on my morning run. I go here every single day:
Yesterday's topic was Fun.
I took this photograph a week ago. I posted it with a caption directed at all the GUYS out there (especially the ones who are being lied to about reading and writing and critical thinking).
Guys, this is why you should be a writer -- When you get invited out by groups of other writers to meet for drinks, this is what it usually looks like.
And, finally, today's topic was On The Floor.
Yes, this stack of manuscripts (up to and including next year's Winger and Grasshopper Jungle) is sitting here, right now, on the floor of my office:
Monday, July 2, 2012
So, a few days ago, my wife and kids took off and left me alone at the ranch.
They do this sometimes because they know it helps me get work done, and I like the quiet where I live.
So, that afternoon I went outside to feed the horses and I noticed something was missing. We have a trailer for camping trips that we keep in the side lot near the hay shed, and it was gone. I didn't think it was too weird because I knew my wife was getting some work done on it earlier that day.
The thing is, the guy who's fixing the trailer showed up and hauled it away and I had absolutely no idea it had happened.
The next day, I said this to my wife:
"I noticed the trailer was gone yesterday when I went outside to feed the horses."
My wife told me this:
"I am glad that you do other things beside write all the time. If that was all you ever did, you'd never notice anything going on around here."
She was probably right.
When I was at ALA at the end of June, I came to a realization about something. It was this: Writers who only write all the time and never get out of their writing caves have moist handshakes.
Moist handshakes creep me out.
In fact, I (Writer 1) remember having the following conversation with a colleague of mine (we will refer to as Writer 2) that went like this:
WRITER 1: Hey. I just met (insert name of famous writer guy here).
WRITER 2: Oh yeah. He's a nice guy.
WRITER 1: Yeah. He will never remember me, though. I think I must actually be some kind of Jedi or some shit like that, because whenever I meet people I think their minds go blank and they walk away from me saying shit like, Who was that guy? What just happened? Why is there a gaping hole in my memory?
WRITER 2: Ha ha. You're so funny! Remind me again, who are you?
WRITER 1: Yeah. Well, anyway, I noticed that (insert name of famous writer guy here) has a really moist handshake.
WRITER 2: You noticed that too? Definitely one of the moistest handshakes I have ever had.
WRITER 1: I think I'm heading back to my room. I need a shower after that moistness explosion.
So, today's Instagram topic was Busy.
I am busy.
Yesterday, I took my wife and kids to this old biker bar near where I live. The place is usually a graveyard, but on weekends it gets packed with portly Harley-Davidson riders who like to come up to the mountains and get shitfaced before motorcycling back to their suburban Los Angeles homes.
And one of my favorite all-time guitarists was playing there.
It was busy.
And I took this photograph: