Archive for February, 2011

Writers should not telecommute: Hallway

To keep students from dying in the cold, Minnesota State, Mankato has a system of halls and skyways connecting most of the campus buildings.  I really love these halls.  They’re a little like high school halls, except longer, and the vast majority of students who walk them are living on their own and are in control (or not) of their lives.  College is something like high school, except you live in your locker (your locker is a little bigger and it contains a roommate).

This morning I heard a girl say to another: “I like your calves.” The girl with the calves replied: “Thanks, but they’re pretty pastey.”  Another girl jumped in, “My whole body is pastey.”  Another said, “I know.  I ate like ten donuts on Tuesday.”  End of conversation.  I really enjoyed the conflation of “pastey” and “pastry”.  I also enjoyed the sort of random, vaguely inappropriate beginning of the conversation: “I like your calves.”  The girl with the calves wore a short skirt on a very cold day, so I suppose that fact demanded some comment.

The next conversation I heard only moments later: “You look so cute today!” …  PAUSE … NO COMMENT … TWO GIRLS CONTINUE SLOW WALK THROUGH LONG HALL … then same girl says, “I look like a hobo.” SILENCE.  It was a one-sided conversation filled with implied judgment.  Fantastic.

These are fringe benefits.  Of course, every job has these sorts of fringe benefits.  At least, every job that includes a social element.  I don’t think writers should telecommute.

Stupid Fast Book Trailer

I’m just going to make my own book trailer.  Over and Over.  This one is not great.  Maybe the next one will be great.  This one is not.  So, there it is.

Brain Injury?

Martin Amis, who I like a lot as an author, suggested last week that he would only write lit for kids if he had a brain injury.  This brain injury would keep him from writing to his true capacity, and so, as a dumber version of himself, he might consider writing for dumb kids (that’s my spin at the end of the sentence).

Lots of writers are mad at Martin Amis.  I’m not.  He didn’t exactly suggest that writers for kids are brain damaged (only that he would have to be). He did sort of suggest that kids are dumb, which isn’t true at all, but they certainly have some different needs as readers.  That doesn’t make them dumb.  Kids are kids and are not, thank God, adults yet.  The fact that Mr. Amis isn’t intellectually tooled to write for younger humans neither makes him brilliant nor stupid  (I’m positive he likes being a jerk, though — that’s schtick).

Guardian pic shows schtick

Point is this: we should write what we have to write.  Amis was asked if he’d consider writing for kids.  He answered no.  He claimed his aspirations.  He has to use the entirety of his giant, language loving, reference driven brain, or he isn’t producing his work.

I have to write what I’m writing and I’m writing YA fiction right now because I have a story and I have characters I love and I have a couple of first person voices (two brothers, Felton and Andrew) that keep me awake, keep me playing around in notebooks, so curious to know what they will say.  I’m writing YA because I remember how important story was to me when I was a teen (Salinger, Knowles, Terry Davis’ Vision Quest, Vonnegut… 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — John Hughes was in his primed pump house when I was a teen), and I have a serious desire to light fires in the same way.

Also, I want to write variations of the classical story arc.  I want my characters to change.  I do believe in individual transcendence.  YA readers like hope.

So, I’d have to get hit on the head pretty hard to write adult literary fiction right now.  I don’t want to tell stories with largely ambiguous ends, with more worlds falling apart, filled with characters I am cynical about, characters I want to skewer.  I spend much of my conscious life feeling cynical about adult behavior. Repeatedly representing that cynicism seems useless to me.

And, young humans who read good stories turn into less crappy adults.  I definitely think that.  I don’t think it happens immediately.  There are few golden teen readers who float sweetly into the future due to the understanding they’ve acquired from story.  People need to experience the vagrancies for themselves.  But, using myself as an example, in the last several years, I’ve turned back to Holden’s humanity in Salinger (not to mention my absolute love of Franny and Zooey) and to doddering Vonnegut early in Slaughterhouse Five (and even to The Breakfast Club), these most important works to teen me, and I’ve used them as measuring sticks for adult me, and I’ve made changes and I am less crappy.

Yes, I find stories for kids to be the most important stories.  So, I write for young adults.  That’s what I have to do.  Maybe I’ll go back one day to the literary, but it would probably take a hit on the head for me to do so.

Let Martin Amis alone.  Just write what you have to write.

Junior Library Guild

My book, Stupid Fast, which comes out in a few months, is a Junior Library Guild selection.  JLG is a hugely great organization.  I’m very lucky, definitely.  Still, I’m not sure what the selection means for the book.  This little pyramid graphic on their website leads me to think it’s pretty good news.

I can’t be too crazy, though.  One thing I’ve definitely come to trust in: when you write stuff, don’t count on lots of people reading your stuff (maybe they will, maybe they won’t — just keep writing stuff, because that’s what you do). And, really, no point in worrying, because you really can’t do a lot to affect readership (even though we all try).  Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.

Worry?  At the AWP conference, panelist after panelist wrung their hands and worried that books really are done or are evolving so quickly none of us currently writing will understand how to write them by sometime next month…  Can a nice selection affect the rapid-fire evolution of the book (books are changing into genius robots that incorporate colorful video and also know you better than you know yourself, so they can help you find local restaurants that best serve your needs — that’s the word on the street)?  Worry.

I guess I will try to stay detached, because who knows about books at all and I don’t know the exact meaning of this really nice selection from this fantastically good organization… exactly, and I have lots of errands to run, too.

But this: I’m very, very, very grateful to the Junior Library Guild for selecting Stupid Fast.  At the very least, somebody very smart, somebody who cares about books, read mine and really liked it.  That’s really good.

Weeping Sconnie

Here I sit before a painted depiction of the North Wisconsin Woods.  I am weepy, because the Packers have won the Super Bowl.

Joyful, but weeping sconnie.

AWP

I’m on my way to DC for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference.  This conference is a giant clusternut of writerly fear and loathing.  There, outside the center, will stand 2000 MFA students, mostly wearing dorky glasses, many smoking to hide behind smoke, mostly staring at other MFA students who are wondering if the other MFA students are people worth knowing for professional reasons.

By Friday, after some good panel discussions, and some quite amazingly not good, there will be a pent up, cougar tweak in the thigh muscles of many conference attendees.  They will look at one another and get dry eyes and get headaches and they will head to Dupont Circle and they will drink too much and then take embarrassing photos of themselves.

I go back to this conference every year.