Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some Links

To two of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy and James Kennedy.

Cormac's link is a rare interview. It's with the Wall Street Journal back on November 20, but I just found it.

Kennedy's link is on his blog and it's an interview with a reader who hated his book, The Order of Odd-Fish. One might argue that doing the interview is itself a very Odd-Fishian thing to do, since one rarely convinces another to relinquish such strident views. However, I think James just might have persuaded the young lady to revise her initial opinions. And if that's the case, then you can hardly accuse him of dithering.

You might not have the perseverence to read the entire interview, but you should at least read the first question and answer where James explains Ian's mustache thus:

I used the mustache as a physical shorthand for Ian’s awkward transition to manhood. Ian wants to be grown-up, knowledgeable, and dependable. But he can’t quite carry it off yet, just like he can’t quite carry off the mustache.

I'm not sure I buy it, but it sounds good.

One more thing. Since you can't comment on James's blog, feel free to do so here. My suspicion is that he'll respond.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Murphy Book Awards

It being the end of the year, I'm handing out virtual awards. I'm calling them Murphys. You know, like Emmys or ESPYS, except without the annoying cachet. I've even created an actual award.
Pretty sweet, huh? If you're lucky enough to win one of these fine looking things, feel free to post it on your Web site. Markus Zusak, I'm talking to you. Like the Emmys, I'm going to include my nominees as well as the winners and carry on far too long. Only books I read this year are eligible. The complete list is in the sidebar.


Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Al Capone Does My Shirts
WINNER: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time


Shiloh Season
WINNER: The Tale of Despereaux (but the movie blew)


Characters and Viewpoint
Bird by Bird
WINNER: Plot and Structure


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Wastelands
WINNER: The Art of Racing in the Rain


When You Reach Me
The Hunger Games
WINNER: The Lost Conspiracy


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Glass Castle
WINNER: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


A Walk in the Woods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
WINNER: When You Are Engulfed in Flames


Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw
WINNER: Skinnybones


Sophomore Undercover
The Order of Odd-Fish
The Spectacular Now
WINNER: Spanking Shakespeare


When the Whistle Blows
Spanking Shakespeare
The Order of Odd-Fish
WINNER: Looking for Alaska


When You Reach Me
The Graveyard Book
The True Meaning of Smekday
WINNER: The Hunger Games


Marcelo in the Real World
The Spectacular Now
An Abundance of Katherines
The Lost Conspiracy
WINNER: The Book Thief


Marcelo in the Real World
The Lost Conspiracy
WINNER: The Book Thief


Next Week: Blog Awards. The points have been tabulated.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Somewhat New Look

So something went a little haywire with my blog for awhile and it gave me the chance to learn some HTML in my attempt to fix the problem. And a little knowledge is a dangerous thing for me. It's always bothered me that the Blogger margins for this particular template are huge. I've got a lot to say. (Usually, way too much. Verbosity is my curse. Like right now, for example, I don't really need this parenthetical at all.) And because I have a lot to say, my posts would stretch on and on down the page and I just knew that, like me, some people would scroll down and say, "The hell with it."

So now I've tricked you. I changed the margins. There were compensations. With the exception of the sidebar, I no longer have those spiffy round corners. (And don't think the lack of consistency doesn't bother me. I may yet have to remove the sidebar curves as well.) But what I do have is space, glorious space! So now my posts will stretch on and on horizontally and that image in the header is even more warped than it was before.

This is what happens when I have time off.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


MG Higgins tagged me in this post and Anita made the mistake of saying she wouldn't do it, so of course I'm totally tagging her. At 26 questions it's a little long, but here's the thing: the questions are all about me. And if there's one thing I like talking about, it's me.

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The last thing I wrote was an example paragraph for my students. It was about how people judge others on their hair and I wrote about a student I had who shaved his head. Everyone assumed it was because of lice. Turns out, he thought bald heads looked sweet. He's right.

I have lots of old stuff that I wrote. Mom saved everything.

2) Write poetry?
I doth. There's a reason Maya Angelou avoids poems about grandpa farts. I got that market cornered, sister.

3) Angsty poetry?
Not on purpose.

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Humorous Young Adult, such as Sophomore Undercover and the forthcoming Hourglass by Myra McEntire.*

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?
Probably the tax collector in a story that will never see the light of day. He was so annoying, I named him Gallagher.

6) Best plot you've ever created?
Actually, the plot in the story referenced above is probably the best, but everything else about the story sucks.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
I have a Donald Sutherland-like mentor who is revealed to be working with the bad guys in one book.

8) How often do you get writer's block?
I don't think I do. I get lazy block, though.

9) Write fan fiction?
No. And I kind of think it's stupid. If you want to write, quit wasting your time with other people's characters. Make up your own.

10) Do you type or write by hand?
I plan by hand and I keep a journal the old-fashioned way, but novels and things I might submit are done on the laptop.

11) Do you save everything you write?
No, but I save quite a lot of it. I blame my mom for this.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Sure. But it usually sucks just as much as I remembered it sucking.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
I wrote a paper on the Cuban Missile Crisis in college that is sheer tonnage of awesomeness.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?
I lot of my friends like the YA I'm getting ready to submit.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
I've written a romantic scene or two. Here's a not very good one:

“It’s beautiful,” said Elly, and from this vantage point it was. Alonzo thought that as far as final resting places went, there wasn’t a more peaceful one above ground. He felt Elly standing next to him and in the cool, moist air he saw her breaths condense. They were coming in short, fast puffs. Alonzo glanced at his torch and saw that it had only a few minutes of flame left. And then he felt her fingers dance along the palm of his free hand and he squeezed, interlocking his fingers with hers. Without looking at her, he led her to the edge of the serene underground lake. Finally, he turned to look at her and in her eyes saw a mixture of excitement and fear. He let go of her hand and for a second, he could see hurt in her eyes, but his own look reassured her and he knelt at the water’s edge and dipped his hand into the cool water. Withdrawing it, he stood again and held out his fingers to Elly’s mouth. He touched her lips delicately and felt the warmth of her tongue licking the water from his fingers. And then his fingers were in her mouth and she used her tongue to caress and savor them. He moved his fingers then, exploring the roof of her mouth and running them along the edges of her teeth while her tongue lay still. Then, once again, she rolled her tongue over his fingers and he closed his eyes in ecstacy. Alonzo lowered his hand and soon felt Elly’s fingers at his own lips and the act was repeated. Alonzo licked and sucked lightly, tasting the water but also the flavor of her skin. As he nibbled at her finger, the light of his torch went out and they were left in total darkness. But while they would have been terrified in normal circumstances they found that on this morning, together, they were without concern.

Alonzo and Elly embraced, pushing their bodies into each other and stood holding one another in silence.

“Alonzo,” said Elly. The name somehow sounded different to Alonzo’s ears. “Oh, Alonzo, what’ll we do?”

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?
My characters find themselves eating an awful lot.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Seriously, one. But there are others that are waiting to re-ensnare me when that one is out the door.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I wouldn't have accepted it if I had.

Not really. But that sounds better than saying no.

19) What are your five favorite words?
I don't know. I like lots of words. I especially like words that sound the way they ought to sound for what they mean. Words like sibilance, harsh, monotonous, glee, and crag. Conversely, there are some words that sound the opposite of how they should and at the top of that list is the word droll. I despise the word droll. You cannot convince me that droll should mean what it does. Droll sounds awful. I woke up feeling droll because it was Monday. That's what droll should mean.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
The main character in my YA is certainly based on me at moments in my life.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
From Fraggle Rock. Jim Henson's the master. I steal from masters.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
I don't dream very often, and when I do I rarely remember them... I think.

23) Do you favor happy endings?
I thought I did, but most of the things I write don't end happily. But they do end with hope and I think that's more realistic.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Yes, and I defend my right to be. They are the rules of the road and can't just be set aside for convenience. Besides, you're going to have to deal with them anyway.

25) Does music help you write?
No. I sometimes use it to drown out other noises, but after the first song I don't even realize it's there. And I doubt it's affecting my subconscious.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.
"Bologna sandwiches are awesome."

I tag Anita and Anita only.

*Hourglass is not actually a humorous YA. But it is YA, and I bet there's at least some funny stuff in it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Early Jump

As most of you surely know, Myra signed a two book deal with Egmont USA, and her debut novel, HOURGLASS, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2011. This is awesome news for many reasons.

First, I like Myra. She's funny, opinionated, and enjoys my locker room poetry. She also tweeted me once, whatever that means.

Second, it gives me another book to pimp, and ever since Chris's book, The Fourth Stall, got kicked around like a ginger in Calabasas, I've been hankering for a book to promote. So mark the summer of 2011 on your calendar, folks, and get yourself to your local Amazon when Hourglass hits the virtual shelves. Because it's gonna be timeslippin' awesome.

Third, once Myra becomes a big shot, fancy pants writer with Ruthian clout she'll probably be able to get my collection of vulgar poems in the hands of an editor. And then the entire world will be able to enjoy the following and I will profit from it.

Bubble Bath

There are no bubbles in my bath.

My mom says we ran out.

"Well why didn't you buy some more!" I say.

"You no-good, shortsighted Kraut!"

Her lips turn down, she glares at me,

“Young man, I don’t care for your tone.”

I push real hard, grunt, and say,

“I guess I’ll just make my own.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Kickin' It, Revision Style

As noted previously, I'm revising my YA with the aim of querying in January. It's in pretty decent shape, but unlike my first foray into the publishing world I'm actually going to try to make this book good before sending it out to be ridiculed, derisively guffawed at, and urinated on by soul-devouring literary agents.

Kidding. Mostly.

Anyway, here's a revision method I've tried. I've included pictures for those who don't like words. As always, you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.

These are index cards on which I've written a word of two for each scene of the book. I wrote this part in black and then I put them in order. I like the index cards because they're more flexible than a list. I can move the index cards around and imagine how a scene might fit somewhere other than where I have it. For some reason, a list seems more permanent.

The next thing I did was make note of my main character's emotional arcs. He has two, although they are closely related. First, my main character, who's a seventeen-year-old guy, has low self-esteem, avoids conflict, and doesn't really go after what he wants. He knows this and wants to change. Using a red pen, I took each card, thought of the scene, and wrote down a few words indicating where on this arc he falls. In the beginning, he's a timid pussbag. As the story progresses, he dabbles in boldness, challenges his father, and actually makes a few moves on a girl. At the end, he's found at least a little of the self-confidence he's always wanted. Marking the cards in this way allowed me to see which scenes contributed to that arc and which didn't.

To keep this short, I did the same thing with the other emotional arc using a blue pen. That arc represents his changing views on what he wants to get out of his relationships with girls. Briefly, in the beginning, he wants to make whoopie, and in the end he also wants to make whoopie but with someone he loves. Or at least really really likes.

Here's a blurry close-up:
I then went back and noted things I needed to either add or double-check so that each scene contributes something. My next step will be to play the role of annoying literary critic. Basically, I ask myself a lot of questions like, "Why'd you start the story there, huh?" and "What's the significance of that scene?" and "How exactly does this scene move the story forward, you moron?" You know, fun stuff like that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I am not a patient person. Just a few minutes ago I misspelled a word verification on someone else's blog and swore at my computer. "Well how am I supposed to read that f&(!^#%@ thing!" That's what I said. And the other night I couldn't find the nail clippers and even though I have no nails because I bite them, I searched the house, grumbling all the while, searching for the clippers so I could snip a bit of toenail because there's something about the tensile strength of toenails that makes playing with them great fun.

I get mad when I lose the radio in a fifty yard tunnel. I put store-bought, room temperature beverages in the freezer so they'll get colder faster. Ever since Comcast forced us to get a cable box, I've had to deal with a half-second delay when I change channels and it really pisses me off. The dryer takes too long to dry my clothes. Sometimes the computer is slow and when I bring up the system processes there's something called "System Idle" that's eating up all the memory and I yell, "The system isn't idle! I'm using the damn system right now!"

And commercial breaks are too long.
The hot water heater doesn't work fast enough for my morning shower.
Sometimes I have to flush twice and waiting for the tank to refill takes an inordinate amount of time.
The FBI Anti-Piracy Warning is on the screen too long and I can't skip it.
My digital camera never takes the picture when I actually push the button, but about two seconds later and by then whatever I was taking a picture of has changed, and never for the better. You shouldn't have to anticipate to get a good photo.
And The Story of Edgar Sawtelle took too long to get rolling. Enough about the mow already.

So you can see how, for me, going through the submission process is a little like having my toenails yanked off without the benefit of nail clippers.

Patience is an interesting thing for a writer. Obviously, the waiting is something we must put up with. But I think there's something to be said for impatience. Writers, in many ways, must be walking sitting contradictions. We must be free-wheeling and creative enough to write the story, but more than a little anal to make it better. We must be able to work alone, but also, if we plan to get out there and market our published work (speaking hypothetically here), able to talk to strangers. We must be able to filter out distractions, but receptive enough to the world that we take notice of the things that become the raw materials of our stories. And we must be impatient enough to write with a sense of urgency. Otherwise, we risk never finishing anything.

So although I will soon be forced to deal with the slow turn of the publishing industry's wheel, I'm not aiming to be a more patient person. I'd like it all. And I would like it now, please.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Kissing of LeAnn

After reading Sedaris, I'm very much in the mood to write a personal narrative. So here goes...

When I was a junior in high school I did what all juniors with negligible self-esteem do: I dated a freshman. Her name was LeAnn and I was attracted to her for three very good reasons. First, it was rumored that she liked me, or at least liked me enough that she thought I might be a suitable person to accompany her to the junior/senior prom. Second, she was a freshman and so would be obligated to look up to me. And third, she looked really good in her volleyball uniform. Her butt was like a soap bubble, nice and round, but somehow delicate.

I knew that LeAnn had been out a few times with one of my basketball teammates, Steve. They were rumored to have partied together. By which I mean he picked her up in his beater of a car, drove her to a pit party, supplied her with adult beverages, and made out with her. This didn't really bother me. I would have done the same, were I not terrified of getting caught or making a fool of myself.

The potential for embarrassment played a prominent role in my lack of success with girls. I hadn't kissed a girl since eighth grade, which, not coincidentally was the last time I'd hoodwinked people into thinking I was cool. I had no clue how to go about it with LeAnn. Should I just close my eyes, lean in romantically, and hope for the best like they do in movies? Should I play the part of aggressive upperclassman, grab her, and force my tongue down her throat? Should I politely ask?

All of these options were replete with peril. What if she turned away? Or slapped me? Or said, "Um, no thanks?" My fragile ego wouldn't have been able to handle it. So for a long time I didn't make any kind of move at all, hoping that she would save me the trouble and initiate the process.

She didn't, of course. I was the junior, she was the freshman. I was the guy, she was the girl. It was my show. As we playfully wrestled on my bed, I'd think to myself, "Now! Go for it!" but then I'd roll away, grab the remote control, and turn on Degrassi High. Instead of the self-loathing you would expect, I usually felt relief. I'd exhale and think, "Whew. Close one."

After three months I knew I needed to kiss her. You can't go on pretending to be a couple in high school without at least making out. Her friends surely knew the situation. They'd have talked. It was the sort of thing I didn't want out in the general population.

"Didja hear Murphy hasn't even kissed her yet?"
"Why not?"
"You don't think..."

People might come to the wrong conclusion.

When you wait that long to do something, the something starts to seem impossible. That's why parents count to three when their kid's standing at the edge of the diving board. The kissing of LeAnn, already rife with potential pitfalls, became an albatross around my neck. When I pulled to a stop in her parents' driveway and we uttered our awkward goodbyes we did so because the words didn't matter. The kiss was what mattered. Was tonight the night? she must have wondered on many occasions.

The problem was Steve. Steve had kissed her. He'd probably kissed her good and hard, fueled up on teenage hormones and cheap beer. Every time I thought of laying one on her I pictured Steve and imagined how he did it. He probably slid his tongue right in her mouth, licked her teeth, twirled it around in there. Oh, she'd liked it, I was sure. Kissing LeAnn became not about pleasing her or even myself, but a competition with my teammate. Was I better than him? That's the only question I cared to have answered.

It's not a question you can ask. But as it turned out I didn't need to. Two days after finally mustering up the courage to plant a gentle, what I thought to be extremely sensitive, caring, romantic, and appropriately brief kiss, I heard via the extremely efficient system of high school gossip that I was, in fact, a terrible kisser. Much worse than Steve.

LeAnn and I kept seeing other for a little while, but the thrill was gone. With the kiss out of the way and her verdict so decisively and publicly rendered, there was little desire on my part to try again. We both knew how she felt. Any more kisses would have been interpreted one of two ways. Either I would still suck at it or I would be trying too hard to overcome my initial performance. Mostly, when we got together we watched bad TV in my bedroom. Afterward, I'd take her home. She'd scamper quickly from my Sunbird before things got uncomfortable. And I'd go back home and make out with my pillow. It never once complained.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Library Haul

First, thanks to the new followers: Rena, who is an absolute blogging machine; the cowgirls (about damn time we got some cowgirls in here), and the inimitable Bryan Bliss. Thanks, all. I look forward to your many witty comments.

Went to the library today and picked up six books. They are:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Andromeda Klein
Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Treasure Map of Boys

And here are my opinions of the books before I even read them:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes is a sequel and as such will disappoint.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim will be funny because, like the cast of Seinfeld, Sedaris is unabashedly selfish and that always makes for laughs.

Andromeda Klein will positively drip with voice, but will be skimpy on plot and probably wander off a bit. But it'll be funny, so I'll read it in spite of its shortcomings.

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo will be good, but won't come close to matching the Bartimaeus Trilogy so it will ultimately be a little dissatisfying.*

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--I've never seen the movie, but I know drugs play a prominent role. I'm hoping for an entertaining voice and some major drug-induced hijinks. If it's not shaping up that way, I probably won't finish it.

The Treasure Map of Boys, or as it's printed on the book, the treasure map of boys, which irritates me. I'm teaching my third graders to capitalize titles, the least the publishing industry could do is stick to the rule. I liked the disreputable history of frankie landau banks so I figured I'd give this a shot even though it doesn't look like my cup of tea. Also realized after I got home that it is "a ruby oliver novel" and I haven't read any other ruby oliver novels so I might be out of the loop.

What are you reading?
*Is there a difference between dissatisfying and unsatisfying? I should probably know if there is.

Friday, December 4, 2009

See Me Interviewed

Since I already spilled enough virtual ink answering Heather Lane's questions, I won't bore you any further today. You can read the interview here. I'm answering questions! So feel free to ask about my collection of McDonald's Dream Team cups.

Thanks again, Heather. 'Twas fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Axed the Journal Format

Having heard back from all critiquers of my YA novel, I have gone ahead and cut the journal format from the book. To those who haven't read it, this means little to you, but I'll speak in generalities the rest of the way to make this more accessible.

The reason I made the change is twofold. First, and most importantly, I always had issues with it, and if there's anything I've learned it's that when I've got reservations about something in my story I'm usually right. A lot of times I refuse to listen to my gut for all sorts of bad reasons, (my ego being one) and stuff I know doesn't work stays in the story for far too long.

Which brings me to reason number two. A number of those who read the novel shared their concerns over the format. When I put this together with reason number one, it becomes pretty evident that there's a problem. My experience with critiques is that, with very few exceptions, the concerns readers have are the same ones I have but have been too stubborn (or scared or self-delusional or all sorts of other stupid emotions that get in the way) to remedy. I'd say 90 percent of the time a reader's concern affirms what I already deep down knew to be true.

So the journal format goes, and getting rid of it was much easier than I expected, both emotionally and physically (I probably deleted a total of a thousand words is all). And even though I had to take out a couple of pretty sweet lines, the book is stronger for it.

Now I've just gotta figure out a plot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From the Vault

My mom saved a lot of stuff from my school years and when they moved she gave it all to me. The cardboard box in the basement contains old report cards, class schedules, certificates of achievement (I was a kick-ass speller), art projects (including a smoking Frenchman. Good luck getting away with that nowadays.), and some writing.

One piece of writing is a story I wrote some time in elementary school. I've typed it below and included a couple of clickable pictures. I also added editorial comments in red. Like the Crash Test Dummies song, the story is untitled. Unlike the Crash Test Dummies song, the story sucks. Without Freddy Adu:


One day a little boy said, "When I grow up I am going to be a policeman."
[Nice start here. You wasted no time in establishing the main character's goal.]

"You are?" said his dad.


"Well when I growed up I wanted to be a person that works at a gas station," his dad said.
[And with grammar like that, he was probably shooting a little high.]

"Dad, I want to make up my own mind," the boy said.
[Ah! Conflict. And we have some characterization here. The boy is not to be bullied by his uneducated, wannabe gas station attendant father. It's getting good now!]

"Okay then."
[So much for the conflict. How much more interesting it would have been if Dad had been involved in some criminal enterprise. Perhaps he could be stealing gasoline from the stations that refused to hire him. How delicious that would have been. The father could have actively worked to sabotage his own son's career, fearful that his thievery would eventually be discovered.]

Boy, I'm a grown up! I am a policeman! And here is my motorcycle!
[Might wanna work on the transition from child to adult here. And having the character struggle to reach his goal is usually recommended. Plus, where exactly is this motorcycle?*]

Oh, no. Here is a bad guy. Here is my motorcycle. And here I go!

I got the bad guy. I have the bad guy.
[Hmm. Interesting use of repetition. A chase scene might have been good. Or maybe the bad guy could, I don't know, actually do something bad, like take a gas station manager hostage. As for the illustration, is there a reason it's upside down?** Is that symbolism? A metaphor that I'm failing to understand? And what's with the criminal's arms? Is he some sort of man-bird hybrid? Because if he is, you probably should have mentioned it.]

The End
[And not a moment too soon.]

*There is no motorcycle because I couldn't draw motorcycles. Still can't.
**The pages are upside down because I screwed up and the teacher didn't have the heart to make me redo them. So she just stapled 'em in there. Truth: I kind of like it.