I wrote this book about two years ago -my first book took about four years to go from draft to publication. The point is it’s fun to celebrate with all the people who have supported me and this book along the way.
When: SEPTEMBER 9TH AT 7PM
Where: MECHANICS HALL LIBRARY 519 CONGRESS ST. PORTLAND, ME
What: Cupcakes, Reading, Wine/Beer in a really cool old school library!
I spent a lot of middle school and the early parts of high school trying to be normal. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE my main character Ben is obsessed with the appearance of normalcy and doesn’t understand people like Ilona, the blue-haired skater girl, who reject it. (Who are these people I’m referencing? See last week’s post for character details.)
In order to write a whole book about something I have to connect to the material on a fundamental level. I distinctly remember experiences from elementary school, middle school and high school where I felt called out for being other than normal. In 4th grade I had friend ask the boy I liked what he thought of me. His response: “She’s pretty, but she’s kind of weird.” So for more years than I care to admit I tried really hard to be less weird. Something I understand now as a very typical part of adolescence -but what a waste!
As a middle school teacher I’m most in awe of those kids who seem to move through middle school with a strong sense of self firmly intact. Those kids who don’t try and be anyone but themselves. which in middle school this is not only an act of wisdom but one of bravery.
I have a weird name and weirder still -I made it up when I was 2. My family played the guitar and sang folks songs at Thanksgiving and went to nude beaches on summer vacation. I gave my stuffed animal monkey the name Harriet Irving because I couldn’t tell if it was male or female and I didn’t want to impose gender on it….I was nine. I was weird. And the only thing I regret about it is that I didn’t learn to embrace it sooner.
Next Wednesday I’ll be revealing the cover for WIRED MAN on the awesome YA Interrobang site -stay tuned!
So What’s this new book about anyway? “What’s its aboutness?” is a phrase my former fiction writing professor Justin Tussing used to use. Kind of like theme but more generous than theme, more room for loosey-goosey feelings about what you’re reading.
Yeah Kaufman, but what’s the book about? It’s about friendship, ultimately. Which is why I chose the dedication I’m revealing above. The acknowledgment section of a book is a bit like the blurb underneath one’s yearbook photo (see last week’s post). You want to be sincere and you don’t want to leave anyone out. A dedication is a little bit different. This book is really about finding the friends that make you feel at home in the world and no one has done that for me more than my dearest Tara. In our first meeting on the rugby field I stepped on her foot and broke her toe. This was not a tough girl move -it was a clutzy one. She still decided I was worth keeping around. Like any twenty year friendship we have had our share of ridiculous moments and poignant ones. I know there are more to come.
Here’s a little more about the book from the inside flap copy:
Ben Wireman is partially deaf and completely insecure. The only two things that make him feel normal are being a soccer goalie and hanging out with his best friend, Tyler.
Tyler Nuson is the golden boy, worshiped by girls and guys alike. But Tyler’s golden facade is cracking, and the dark secrets hidden behind it are oozing to the surface. Ben has no idea what to do when Tyler’s memories of their past start poisoning everything, including their friendship.
Enter Ilona Pierce. With tattoos, blue hair, and almost no friends, she’s exactly the kind of weirdo Ben has tried to avoid his entire life. But without Tyler, Ben isn’t sure who he is anymore, and maybe, just maybe, hanging out with a freak is what he needs.
Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature is a captivating and compelling story about the shifting dynamics between two best friends during their senior year in high school, as their loyalty to each other is tested by betrayal, secrets, girls, and the complex art of growing up.
Neal Shusterman’s book Challenger Deep was on my radar even before it won the National Book Award for young people’s literature -I swear! But winning the award didn’t shake my interest either. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression I’m wary of books, especially YA books, with these issues as their focus. Sometimes in YA mental illness is treated too “cutely” for my taste. And I really hate when it’s a surprise plot twist – as in actually none of this happened because the narrator is just batshit crazy!
In adult fiction I often find mental illness too hard for me to read about -call it a trigger if you want, but I just call it hard. It’s hard to read about harmful or scary thoughts that are not that different from ones you’ve had yourself. It’s even harder when the person having them is behaving in ways that are self destructive.
All this is to say I was relieved and a bit surprised to fall in love with Challenger Deep the way I did. Shusterman brilliantly blends the real world of its main character, sixteen year old Caden Bosch with the delusions and hallucinations that have taken over his life. Caden believes he is at sea, on a pirate ship bound for the Marianas Trench. The Captain and the parrot on the ship are at war for his loyalty. The book almost borders on magical realism but it is always clear that this alternate reality is one of delusion and not fantasy. Being on a ship, being at sea are wonderful metaphors for how Caden is adrift and un-tethered from reality and Shusterman is never heavy handed in using them.
Shusterman does an outstanding job of letting the reader understand how seductive this other world is to Caden but also how dangerous it is for him to remain there. About midway through the book the places where the real world and the world of delusion overlap become more clear to the reader -again a writer of lesser skill would have struggled to bring them together. I can’t say enough about this book for any reader seeking a great story and a better understanding of what it’s like to live through the throws of mental illness.
It’s January 7th. I have not been blogging lately. In fact my last post is from October 2nd. In my defense I’ve been busy. I had a kid -yup as in birthed one; Lucius Avi Gray on October 20th. Everything after that gets a little fuzzy as life with constantly interrupted sleep can be. I don’t believe in resolutions per say but I do hope to do more blogging in this new year. There’s a lot of grumbling about the importance (or lack of) and relevance (or lack of) of blogs these days but I have to say I still enjoy the form. Sometime when all other writing is stymied or stuck, a blog post is a good way to get some words and thoughts out.
In the new year I hope to write more about reading and how it informs my writing and also a bit about parenthood and how it affects my writing -and pretty much everything else I do. Don’t roll your eyes; his is not going to turn into a mommy blog where I extol the virtues of teething necklaces, coconut oil or the latest baby-sleep inducing gadgetry. If I do, I promise it will be purely for laughs.
So that being said, I’m also publishing a post I wrote, but never pubbed, a while ago about my reading of the Goldfinch. Enjoy.
So, I’ve mostly been in bed or on the couch for the last two days -floored by the general discomfort of being 8 months pregnant and a nasty sinus head cold. It’s a really gross combo which needs no more detail here. In the mean time I’m thrilled to get all official with my Publisher’s Weekly report about selling my latest YA novel to Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Lab. This is the same amazing crew I worked with on The Other Way Around and I couldn’t be more excited that this book, currently titled Wireman, has found the same home.
Here’s the official excerpt and link to the PW page:
Andrew Karre also bought a second YA novel by 2014 debut author Sashi Kaufman (The Other Way Around). Kaufman’s second book, currently called Wireman, focuses on the complicated and longstanding friendship between two teenage boys, one of whom is hearing-impaired. Publication is scheduled for 2016; Lauren MacLeod from the Strothman Agency brokered the deal for world English rights.
But if you are here and reading my news in person I’d love to tell you a little more about this story. Yes, it focuses on the friendship between two teenage boys in their senior year of high school. It’s about the complicated nature of friendship between two young men. It’s about loyalty to each other and to a shared past. It’s about self-worth in friendship and deconstructing the idea of normalcy. Whew, it’s also about soccer, and girls, steak and cheese and the importance of the LOTR movies.
A huge hug and thanks has to go to my awesome agent Lauren MacLeod who gets credit for planting the seed in my head a few years ago when she said. “I’d love to see a novel about male friendship and I think you could really knock it out of the park!” I just do what Lauren says 🙂
Also my agency sibs, Jodi Meadows, Robert Lettrick, Valerie Cole, Helene Boudreau who all jumped on social media to congratulate me before I could even pull my head out of the tissue box to notice. I really appreciate the camaraderie. Okay, this Oscar speech is getting a little heavy handed -you get the idea. Can’t wait to share more!
I’m really excited for the Boston Teen Author Fest, which takes place at the Cambridge Public Library in just a couple short weeks on Saturday September 27th from 11-4! (These are photos from last year’s event)
If you’re a Boston person, I’d love to see you. Better yet, if you’re a Boston middle or high school teacher, you should tell your students to come. And of course any and all YA lovers are always welcome.
Besides yours truly, there’s the amazing opportunity to hear from authors like M.T. Andersen, Francisco Stork and A.C. Gaughen! Click here for a full list of who’s attending.
The book launch party was a blast. I’m so grateful to everyone who came out -I think we had fun! And to Chris and Bill and everyone at Longfellow Books who helped make this happen. And yes, that was my mother scraping the poster with my face on it off the front of your store so she could keep it -more on her later.
So many friends, colleagues, former colleagues, cousins, former roommates, teachers, students and of course family. I read two short pieces from the book. One as reader’s theater with the incomparable Liz Hardcastle who was not at all intimidated by the three pages of notes on her intonation that I gave her, and one on my own. Afterwards I was so excited to be done I tried to grab a cupcake and run. But then there was my mother -who stood up (I’m not making this up or exaggerating) and demanded that I answer some questions. Because being a mother is never done and sometimes when your kid tries to turn and flee you have to stop her.
“Was I too obtrusive?” she asked later. We all know what the right answer is don’t we? In all seriousness, I couldn’t be more grateful. Everyone had incredible questions and answering them turned out to be my favorite part. Because I was talking about something I love with people I love.
So many of you who aren’t lucky enough to live in Maine have been so supportive -posting pictures of the book as it arrives at your door and sharing your excitement as you read it. Everyone of those messages is like a big old hug and makes me feel even more blessed. I’d like to share with you what I said as an introduction on Thursday night -so it can be just like you were there. That and a few photos.
Thanks for the love.
The only thing I knew when I was seventeen and applying to college was that I wanted something different from high school and didn’t include fraternities or sororities –which seemed to me at the time like an extension of everything I disliked about high school.
My tour guide at Oberlin College was named Bony. He was a very large, purple haired gay, dance major from the Philippines. And I remember thinking to myself as he toured us through a student cooperative where the people threw food at us –if this guy can be comfortable here to be himself, I’ll have no problem.
I ended up living in that very same cooperative my sophomore year. My roommate and I were far and away the preppiest people to live there, maybe ever. But, And, I loved it. I loved being a part of something that seemed so dangerously different from everything I’d been told was important about being a grown up. The Other Way Around is a little bit of a love letter to that experience. It’s about finding a group of people that make you feel at home, even if they are very different from you and everything you’ve known before.
I don’t pretend to live some radical anarchist vegan lifestyle. I never have and probably never will. But I know that it’s out there. I have sat through a conversation where people argued about whether or not eating honey was exploiting the labor of the bees. And somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was taking notes, probably with a bemused look on myself. Someday, I must have told myself, this will be useful to you.
I am so grateful that you are all here tonight to celebrate me and The Other Way Around. It really means everything that you’re here to share in the story and the sharing of the story. Because, as Lance who frequently accuses me of embellishing the truth for the sake of comic timing can attest to, or my parents who made constant trips to the library or book store know, I do love a good story.