Friday, June 18, 2010

I Read The Deathday Letter

I'm not going to review the book because a. I suck at reviews and b. the author has been known to stop by this blog so 1. If I write a complimentary review people (who, I don't know) would say, "Well of course you wrote a complimentary review" and 2. If I didn't write a complimentary review I'd a. feel like a dick and 2. would be lying.

But the book got me thinking, although not about the stuff I was supposed to think about.

It got me thinking about how difficult it is to succeed writing a book like The Deathday Letter. And by succeed I mean selling lots of books, becoming a household name, and then treating people horribly.

First, I should say that Shaun David Hutchinson made it further than I think most books like this do or will. The Deathday Letter, if you do not know, is about a fifteen-year-old kid who receives a letter telling him he's got one day left to live. It's a clever premise; one that's easily understood and tickles the imagination. And it's funny. And it's well written. And there's a serious message, too.

But the book's target audience is unabashedly young adult males. And I love that. I wish there were more books for these kids. I like to read books like this and I like to write books like this so I wish The Deathday Letter all kinds of crazy success. (Seriously, just buy the book. I did. See photo above.)

Unfortunately, the book has and will continue to fight an uphill battle. I bought the book at a honest to goodness bookstore. It was in the YA section which was on the back wall and took me ten minutes to find. I bought it the day after it came out and it was sandwiched between other authors who last names start with H. And there were two copies.

Conversely, I knocked down seven vampire books with black covers and was screamed at by a gang of goth girls because they thought I was disrespecting Richelle Mead on my way to the YA wall. This was because the vampire books were practically placed in the middle of an aisle so that you needed to go out of your way to avoid them.

Now I know Shaun is just elated to have the thing published and out there and there's no way he'll ever complain (I wouldn't either), but let's just look at the hurdles he's had to clear to elbow aside enough books to get his own on the shelf.

  • First he had to write it. This is hard.
  • Then he had to get an agent interested in it, even though the target audience tends to spend a lot of time playing video games and watching YouTube and playing sports and staring at girls. And when they do read, they pick up fantasy novels or books for adults. (I know. I mostly read Stephen King in high school. I didn't even know there were books for high school kids.)
  • And then said agent had to get a publisher interested, in spite of the above challenges.
  • And now I'm skipping some steps, but after all that there were two (now there's one) copies of the book in my local bookstore (and it's a big one) and you pretty much had to be looking for it like I was to find it.

It depresses me. Mostly for selfish reasons because before I sit down to write another novel I will think to myself, "I really want to write a funny book for high school guys, but will anybody read it? And if nobody is going to read it, then do I have a chance of finding an agent? And if I do find an agent who gets it and loves it, which might be kinda hard because 90% of YA agents are chicks, will he or she be able to find a publisher (more chicks) who not only likes it but thinks it will sell enough to make it worth her while?" And I won't be the only one.

So here's hoping The Deathday Letter gets great word of mouth, high school dudes buy a copy, and publishers are suddenly clamoring for more books like it. Because I really want to click on an agency Web site and read, "I'm always on the lookout for books with penis jokes and scatological humor." Because, dude, that's my kind of agent.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Goals for the Summer

Summer for me does not start on whatever date it's supposed to start. It starts when I'm done teaching. That day is Friday. So I've been thinking about what I'd like to accomplish over the next three months with respect to reading and writing. My goals are all things I can do without help from anyone. This is why you will not see ACQUIRE AN AGENT. ACQUIRING AN AGENT relies on someone other than me (or Anita or Tracy or The Wife or The Mom) reading my stuff and recognizing it for the pioneering genius that it is. Unfortunately, I have discovered that literary agents have a huge blind spot when it comes to appreciating pioneering genius. I call that blind spot The (Il)Literati's Collective Bias Against Anything Written by Paul Michael Murphy.

On to the goals:

1. I am going to query like a madman. My plan is to query over 100 agents for both my middle grade novel and my YA. Ideally, I'll be able to stop somewhere before 100, but I will not stop querying until the agenting community has publicly denounced both my books and me personally. If I were them, I would start with my chin. My chin deserves widespread scorn.

2. I'm going to finish my third novel. I have one that stalled out about halfway through but I still like it quite a lot. So now that I don't have to grade papers or plan lessons or enter stupid data into the stupid work database or watch Criminal Minds, because I think I've seen them all, I can look at it with fresh eyes and finish the thing.

3. I am going to read 40 books over the summer. My reading has been a little behind last year's pace, partly due to lack of initiative and partly due to the cinder block that was Under the Dome, so I'm going to make it up this summer. I still plan on hitting 100 books by year's end.

P.S. Westerfeld's Leviathan was cool.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I Have Discovered a Magic Formula for Titling Books

First, before I share my genius with the world, can I just say that "titling" is an odd word. I want to either read it as "tilting" or think of it as slang for a tiny breast. Just me?

Now. Sometimes, admittedly not very often as evidenced by my lack of blogging activity in the last few months, I am struck by the God of Great Ideas and given some rare insight that we mortals call an "epiphany."

Today's struck in the shower. (This seems to happen more often than not, which makes me think I should spend more time attending to personal hygiene.) I was standing there, you know, with the water beating my chest and et cetera, when a title came to me from out of the mist. Picking Blueberries in the Rain, that was the title. Not too shabby, I thought. Not something I would write, but I could see it as one of those books Target always puts at the end of the aisle. You know, the ones I walk past on my way to walking past the glut of vampire novels so I can find the one or two titles that I might actually consider reading. Picking Blueberries in the Rain would be right next to Three Cups of Tea or Water for Elephants. That kind of book.

And then something else happened. (We're back in the shower now.) Another title came to me. This one was Drawing Pictures in the Dark. I thought that was pretty good too. Kind of mysterious. Might be about an artist with autism. It didn't take divine inspiration to then make the following leap. I soon realized that by using a very simple formula, you, yes, even you, can make your own eye-catching, imagination-sparking title. From the God:


Try it. Pick any verb, plural noun, and place and presto! Even the bad ones are kind of good, like Licking Marbles in the Bathroom.

You could do much worse.

I'd make this a contest, but I suck at sending prizes, so just have at it. Using the above formula, leave your titles in the comments. Go nuts. Leave all you want. But please know that the Murphblog legal department would like to inform you that any title you post can (and probably will) be stolen and used on a future Target aisle book. Someday you'll see it, right next to Making Rainbows in the Sand.