The most exciting part of 2019, writing wise, was the sale of two new middle grade books (one written, one not yet) to Alexandra Cooper at Harper Collins. It really doesn’t get more exciting than that! The book I’ve already written is called Sardines and it follows 11-year-old Lucas and a group of four other kids from disparate social and economic circles as they are forced together each afternoon by the middle school’s aftercare program. As the group bonds, they create a game in which the group works together to grant each kid a wish. That’s the blurb from the publishers weekly rights report. But the book is about a lot more than that. Here are a few things I hope kids and grown ups will take away from the book.
- Everyone is carrying around hard things in their emotional backpacks.
- Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.
- You are stronger than you think.
- It’s okay if you’re not.
- Mental health is as real and important as other kinds of health.
Speaking of mental health, one of the best books I read this year was The Year We Fell From Space by A.S. King. I’m an A.S. King fan from way back. She is hands down one of my favorite writers for young people and for all people. The Year We Fell From Space takes everything I love about her YA books and puts it in a format for middle grade readers. When I was a kid my mom used to say to me, “Everyone has crazy thoughts; that doesn’t make you crazy.” This book follows 7th grader Liberty Johansen as she navigates her family’s divorce and her father’s struggle with depression. Liberty is afraid if her father has depression she might have it too. She’s also dealing with unkindness from peers and the part of growing up where you learn that your parents aren’t perfect and neither are you. What I love about A.S. King is that she does things in middle grade fiction that are usually reserved for YA. She lets the characters’ freak flags fly and doesn’t need to explain everything. She puts faith in younger readers to understand that life is weird and complicated and sometimes defies simple explanations.
Thanks to everyone for their patience (Lauren MacLeod, I’m looking at you) and support (friends, family, twitter and Valerie Cole you’re all over it)!
I hope all of you local folk can make it out to celebrate next Friday night! More details here.
In the mean time here is a list of things you can do to show your love and support for AUTHORS IN GENERAL (not just me-really)
*Buy books – I know, duh, right? But seriously I don’t have an endless budget for books or a house big enough to store them all. But when I love an author, I buy their book. Also books make great gifts!
*Ask your local library to get books by authors you love.
*Write reviews of books you love on sites like goodreads and amazon -seriously, this can make a HUGE difference. Even a short review. Books with more reviews get promoted more on those sites.
*When you go into a bookstore -ask the employee where the book is. Even if they don’t have it this helps spread the word about their title.
*Social media is great for learning about new books. If you love something, let people know!
This, in my mind, is the difference between writing for and about teenagers.
There are problems and they are not resolved.
I have a book coming out this week and one of the things on my mind, besides the fact that I’m a teacher and I’m going back to school and my kid is starting first grade and I selectively forgot to do all the major cleaning projects I thought I might tackle over the summer, and the damn Subaru dealer won’t call me back about replacing my faulty airbags, yeah besides all that. I’ve been thinking about the fact that not everyone will like my book.
Art and literature is subjective. I accept that because if I didn’t I’d be an idiot/insane. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE there is a lot of (teenage) drinking and some drug use. I didn’t think that much about it when I wrote it because it was consistent with my high school experience. I did most of the things my characters did without any major related tragedies. This is not to say I condone those behaviors -whether I do or not is not the point -the point is they happen.
SOME PEOPLE think that if you write YA fiction, you should write books in which teens who have sex regret it, or get pregnant or a disease. If teens drink or do drugs they should regret it or get in car accidents or develop addictions. That way no actual teens will read the book and think these things are a good idea. As though teens (or any of us) might be more influenced by fiction than the trusted people around us. SOME PEOPLE like things tidy and morally unambiguous. That’s not the kind of fiction that interests me whether it’s written about teenagers or adults. It’s not what I’d choose to read so it’s not what I choose to write.
There are problems in WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE. Big problems about friendship and identity, about moving past life in high school and reconciling the future with the past. There will be some resolution because a story needs that. But life is messy and often times morally ambiguous and I think it’s okay for teenagers (and all of us) to know that too.
This morning I listened to a re-broadcast of an interview with David Denby on his book Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives. There were a few moments when I was white knuckling the steering wheel from annoyance. Here are two older white dudes hemming and hawing about kids on their smart phones and the fact that no one reads Huck Finn anymore. In the next breath they were totally dismissive of Twilight and The Hunger Games, which great or not, got thousands, if not millions of kids to read.
There is so much wonderful YA literature beyond the mega-franchises and the interviewer and his guest were acting like reading Dickens is the only way for teenagers to become readers. There was also an element of youth-shaming. As if it’s all well and good for adults to be on their devices 24-7 because they actually read Tom Sawyer (and not the Spark notes) when they were in high school.
Technology is not destroying culture. Stories will always be relevant to our society even if the form they take is something different than what we’ve seen before.
Here is MY list of “great” books to engage your teenage or old fuddy-duddy self in reading.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Winger by Andrew Smith
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
I’ll Give You The Sky by Jandy Nelson
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Feed by MT Anderson (see this one for commentary on technology in society)
In Darkness by Nick Lake
And they are gorgeous! Thanks to the amazingly talented Laura Otto Rinne at Lerner Books. Carolrhoda Lab and Lerner have set the bar pretty dang high for any future books I may be lucky enough to get published. Check out the amazing inside cover.
Both Wired Man and The Other Way Around were so beautifully designed inside and out! With less than two months until this baby launches into the world I’m super psyched to share my favorite quote from the Publisher’s Weekly review (which you read in full here if you so desire.)
“It’s a keenly observed, emotionally deep examination of wounded, insecure teens trying to find their way.”
If you want to pre-order this bad boy feel free to use any of the links below.
Thanks always for your love and support -look out for details coming on a book release party!!
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!