Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Here’s the scenario from last weekend:
EVENT: SCBWI Southern California Writers’ Day
LENGTH OF SPEECH: 10 measly minutes
TOPIC OF SPEECH: How to Sell a Book in Twelve Years or Less
When Robin arrived at my house on Friday night, I was in my writing room, gathering all my stuff. We had an hour to waste till Eve picked us up to carpool two hours south, and my moodiness was driving Robin bonkers. She grabbed some reading material from my awesome collection of autographed books and headed downstairs until Eve arrived. She couldn’t even stand being in the same room as me!
When we finally got to the hotel, my head hit the pillow at 11:30pm, but the last time I checked the clock before falling asleep, it was 1:30am. Then I woke up at 7, ate breakfast, and went to the conference site. I was the last solo speaker and spent almost the entire day running through the speech in my head. The only time I wasn’t thinking about my speech or gazing at the fire alarm near the emergency exit was when the audience broke into laughter or applause for one of the other speakers.
But then my name was called to the stage and all my worries rolled away like water off a duck coated in Scotchgard. And for those ten minutes, I was in absolute bliss. I wasn’t thinking about my speech…I was giving my speech. I wasn’t thinking about any issues in my day-to-day life…I was giving my speech. I heard laughter. I saw tears. I heard more laughter, and then applause. My speech was over. I left the stage. I felt like a rock star, baby, and I couldn’t wait to do it again!
And yet, I know I’m going to be an absolute mess before that next speech, which sucks…but, oh well. Absolute bliss is worth it, even for ten measly minutes.
POST-POST: A couple people asked, in regards to our last post, how I tied the Billie Jean dance into a speech about my journey as a writer. And I’ll admit, I had to tie a fairly funky knot to do it. I spoke about reaching my dreams of selling a book and speaking at Writers’ Day. I told about my wife’s dream coming true by having a song on the audiobook. And then I told them that, back in the 80’s, I wanted to dance like Michael Jackson. So I used that stage as my chance to make another one of my dreams come true. (Of course, I really just needed a good ending to my speech.)
Monday, October 29, 2007
Of course, Jay wasn't about to let his dream of speaking at Writers' Day stand alone. Oh no, he had to make another one of his dreams come true at the same time. At the end of his speech, with Michael Jackson's Billie Jean pumping out over the audience, he proved once and for all that...well...no one can dance quite like Michael Jackson. (Trust us, if you weren't there, there's no way to explain how the dancing tied into his speech.)
...is not my lover, either.
Jay autographing the cheek of Barbara Jean Hicks
Robin with up-and-coming
(and multi-award-winning) Emily Jiang
Jay with future speakers
Eve and Robin
Thursday, October 25, 2007
We’re also going to hear…oh, who was that again? Oh! Our own Jay Asher! Love that guy. His presentation is titled How to Get Published in Twelve Years or Less. And he has a little sumpin’ special planned for his speech. I can’t wait! Hopefully we’ll have pictures to share with you, that is, if I can hold the camera still while I’m crying tears of pride.
On Saturday night we plan to head out to a great sushi restaurant, so if you’re going to be there, come join us! (Watching Jay shudder as he sips sake is an event not to be missed.)
Then on Sunday, Eve and I are going to chauffeur Jay around to a few different bookstores to sign copies of Thirteen Reasons Why. And by chauffeur I mean, “make Jay drive while Evie and Robin eat food and nap.”
Somebody’s gotta do it…
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Then it was time for dinner. They fed the authors first so we could chat with the booksellers at their dinner later on without worrying about anything green clinging to our teeth. Now, I don’t know how to express how cool the evening was without sounding like Mr. Namedropper, so I’m just going to show you a photo taken at our dinner table, and you can just imagine how many times my head almost exploded from being surrounded by so much coolness.
The next day, I went out to lunch with Lisa Yee and Julia DeVillers in Santa Monica. Of course, Lisa brought her li’l yellow marshmallow friend with her, who decided to act like Tarzan of the Peeps for this shot.
Then I spoke to three back-to-back English classes at Flintridge Prep; my first school visit since the book came out. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a nervous wreck while waiting to speak before anything more three-dimensional than a bathroom mirror. But honestly, and I’m not just saying this because I know some of the students are probably reading it, they set the bar pretty high for school visits. Smart. Fun. Respectful. And it’s so easy to get them to laugh! (Thanks for a wonderful visit, Ms. Cooper.)
After that, I headed to Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeeshop. They have a Teen Advisory Board there, which I had the chance to speak with and sign books for. Then they permitted me to stay and listen to the board meeting. The store lets them take home and review publisher catalogues and advance reading copies, thereby allowing teens to help stock the teen shelves. I know…brilliant! Chris Crutcher’s newest book, Deadline, was the only book mentioned by more than one person as a must-read. (Well, that and Thirteen Reasons Why…but the author of that book was sitting close to the cookies.)
Monday, October 22, 2007
Deep into another round of revisions on my middle grade book, I got the crazy idea that I should head to Las Vegas with Syd Field and Richard Walter and hole up in a hotel room with them until the re-write was complete. Not in the flesh and blood sense, only their screenwriting books accompanied me…what were YOU thinking?? This next part may seem random, but it’s entirely true. After sitting in my room for several days, adding scenes to make the story “bigger” I had the urge to leave my walk-in freezer of a room (Why are all Las Vegas buildings air conditioned to the point where frost forms on the windows?) and work by the pool.
Alternating between tapping on my computer keyboard and reading the screenwriting books, I got a ton done. In fact, I was so focused for an entire day that I was completely oblivious to the people around me. When I finally came up for air after several hours of hard work, I started noticing lots of skin. Not your average “What Happens in Vegas” scantily clad folks, but, you know, um, naked people. Apparently, I had camped out by the “Clothing Optional” swimming pool at the Wynn. Of course, as the afternoon wore on and the alcohol flowed, the clothing became a lot more “optional.”
Many of the women surrounding me had, you know, enhanced what nature gave them. Some of them were SO enhanced, on top of their petite waists and hips, that the skewed proportions made them look outrageous and awkward. Now, I have nothing against plastic surgery. But, for me, there’s a point at which things become too big and the overall effect goes beyond enhanced beauty, and borders on unsightly freak show.
So…and this where I bring it all back to my writing… I had an epiphany moment where I realized that BIGGER isn’t necessarily better. Bigger can actually muddy up a story and diminish its heart. Just look at Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook.” It’s a simple story, well told. And people love it. It’s happy and sad and gut wrenching and stays with you for a long long time. But there isn’t anything particularly “big” about it.
Once I stuck to my main character’s journey and took out the extraneous “big” stuff that made it feel too much like a Michael Bay movie with pointless car chases and explosions, my story really came together. So, I’m happy to announce that I’m DONE (again) and ready to send this puppy off to my agent. Let’s hope the rest of the world agrees that bigger isn’t always better.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
So it’s time to get back in the saddle and get back to writing. Sometimes when things are hectic, I find it hard to settle into a quiet groove and get back into my little story. Does anyone else have this problem?
But kind of like jogging, once I force myself into starting, it feels great. (I just have to keep finding new ways to force myself into starting!)
This week, I decided to jumpstart myself by reading books that might inspire me. I’m in the middle of ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT by David LaRochelle. And it is positively great! His writing is so precise, as if he put care into every word. I find that I have a smile on my face the entire time I’m reading it. Which makes the story so satisfying.
So I’m going to get back in the saddle and start writing, thanks to inspiration from David! With my new motto: Put. Care. Into. Every. Word.
Oh, and my other motto: Go. Do. Laundry.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
So let me officially introduce you to the official Thirteen Reasons Why website:
Other than writing the book it's based upon, I had nothing to do with this. And that, to me, makes it especially exciting. That means the people at Penguin (Hello, Ms. Courtney Wood…you genius, you!) took my words and ran with them.
Here are some of the cool things you’ll find:
- Click the cover to read an excerpt from the beginning of the book.
- Copy down the hand-scribbled digits to Hannah Baker’s cell phone. (I dare ya to call it!)
- Check out the Chamber of Commerce map which plays a big part in the book. Click around to read bits of dialogue from Hannah’s audiotapes. You’ll also find five cassettes which you can drag-and-drop into the tape player to actually hear snippets of dialogue.
- Listen to a podcast of me filling out a book report form for…what else!…Thirteen Reasons Why.
- Listen to a podcast of me being questioned by Robin and Eve.
- Plus a few other cool things to read.
Okay, what are you still doing here? Go. Go!
As for me, I’m gonna go slightly mad for the rest of the day.
Monday, October 15, 2007
And with that…a little lovin’ for the Mer-Man:
- - -
Well, your baby was born a little early and showed up in bookstores before the due date. You did a lot of good deep breathing and stayed focused and now the rest of the world gets to read your baby, Baby!! I still don’t think you needed all of those painkillers, so thanks for sharing. (Okay, I’m going to stop this birthing analogy now, because I’m remembering my own experience with childbirth and I think I’m gonna hurl.)
Anyway, the moment we saw your book on the bookshelf was like nothing I’ve experienced, and I’m glad we all got to spend it together (even though Eve spent it with us via voice message…but it was an emotional voice message!). I just want you to know how excited I am that this wonderful story is out in the world for teens to read. They will be changed by your words forever. Just as I have been.
If I could think of some way to tease you at this moment, I would. But I can’t come up with one joke about you being obsessive or balding or girly (the guy absolutely loves Titanic). So congratulations, and hopefully you won’t lose any more hair.
Love you, man!
- - -
What up, J-Man!
I’ll never forgive myself for not being there! We’ve dreamed of this day for five years and I was supposed to be there to hold your hand and say, “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! Push! Push! Push!”
Words cannot describe how proud I am. Why do people always say, “Words cannot describe?” I mean, we are writers, after all. If anyone is able to describe something with words, it’s us, right? That’s what we do all day. We describe stuff with words. What a funny thing to say!
Where was I? Oh, yes. It makes me so happy to watch you bust out in such a huge way. I always knew you would. In addition to being the most dedicated and creative writer-boy I know, you have crafted an important piece of literature that will entertain people and touch lives for many many years. I always say this, but I hope to be you someday!
Congratulations! You deserve this more than anybody I know.
- - -
Thanks for enduring our sappy moment. Please comment if you want to add to the lovefest, or better yet, if you happen to have a better book-birthing analogy, bring it! (We know you guys are good at this!)
- Robin and Eve
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Hello! I’d like to buy this, please.
Thirteen Reasons Why? That’s a fantastic book.
[Jay purchases his own book.]
Hmm… Y’know, this dialogue sounds awfully familiar.
I think I’ve read this before.
Actually, that book just came out.
No, I’m fairly certain I’ve read this before.
I’d like to return it, please.
Um…okay. If you’ll just fill out this form,
I’ll return your cash to you.
[Jay autographs the return slip.]
Here’s your cash back.
And here’s your book back.
I’m sure you’ll find a good home for it.
[Proof that the above transaction actually occurred.]
Oh, Thirteen Reasons Why! I’d like to buy that, please.
ROBIN’S SON [voice-over]
The more I hang out with the Mermaids,
the more this world bewilders me.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Penguin sent 60 hardcover copies of Thirteen Reasons Why to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Oakland. Every half-hour, four authors were scheduled to sign their books, and I was in the first batch o' four. I arrived early to help set-up my books, but they told me to relax and wait behind the curtains until they announced my name over the P.A. (That’s right…I was getting announced!)
“Jay Asher will now be signing copies of Thirteen Reasons Why in the autograph area.”
- Jodie Christensen -
owner of the first autographed hardcover
copy of Thirteen Reasons Why
Michael Hoeye (very cool guy) and I talked for a long time at the Penguin booth about the business-side of writing. Basically, I said things like, “Oh, absolutely. That’s been my experience, as well,” and, “Definitely. It’s all about the facial hair and vertical stripes.”
For the first time, I felt like an official author. Booksellers I didn’t know were approaching me to share their feelings about my book. Or to tell me how many copies they ordered for their stores. Or to ask if I’d be interested in doing an in-store signing.
Yes, this is what it’s all about, baby!
When I got home, a FedEx package from Listening Library was waiting for me on my doorstep. Inside? Five copies of my audiobook! Here’s what disc five looks like:
What’s so special about disc five? The ending! And if you don’t already know what I’m talking about, check this out.
Monday, October 08, 2007
I thought of doing one of those posts where I describe the spiritual connection I have with my cat and how she understands me and how she can see into my soul and how I know when she wants salmon, not tuna. But I can’t do that. You see, Lucy and I…well, we don’t get along very well.
My husband (who was then my boyfriend) brought her home to my cramped apartment after finding her in the woods near a gas station in Athens, Georgia. Which should have tipped him off right there: she’s a feral cat!! Not the kind born inside a cozy box at the neighbor’s house or in a cozy cage at PetSmart. In fact, every time we took Lucy to the vet for shots, they had to wear those leather gloves they use for holding falcons and eagles.
From the moment Lucy met me, she didn’t like me. Actually she didn’t like any women. She looooooooved my husband, so I assumed she felt she had to “get me out of the way” so she could have him all to herself.
Over the years I’ve spent many hours tending to my wounds which she inflicted only when my husband was in the other room…which caused marital strife every time I started up my “Lucy is trying to kill me” accusations.
But in the past weeks, I think Lucy and I have come to an understanding and made our peace with each other. We’ve finally made that spiritual connection and I know exactly when she wants salmon, not tuna. And now that she’s dying, I am very sad.
Now, you probably didn’t come to the blog today hoping to read a cat story. After all, I realize that all people in the world fall into one of two categories: Cat Lovers or Cat Haters.
But then there are the Allergic-to-Cats People, who are really just Cat Haters with a guilty conscience. They’re the types who come to your house and pop Claritin like they’re Tic-tacs and say things like, “Could you put Lucy outside? **Sniff, sniff** Sorry, it’s just my allergies.” Which made sense for Eve to say since Lucy hates women, but Jay!? Well, actually that makes sense, too. Do I need to remind everyone of Jay’s famous Has Anyone Seen My Masculinity post? (Sure I do!)
So I offer to you the following very short video that my buddy CynJay and I discovered while YouTube surfing with my five-year-old. It’s one of those clips that get really funny about the fifth time you watch it. And it will satisfy all kinds of cat people…the lovers…the haters…and maybe even the allergy fakers.
This is for you, Lucy.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
semi + memoir
A lot of memoirs seem to focus on exceptionally sad childhoods, or exceptionally funny ones. Funny memoirs often sound like they’re written by someone having a ton o’ fun reminiscing, while sad ones often seem therapeutic. But memoir-writing is not what I want to talk to you about. I want to talk about semoirs. Semoirs are those stories adults write about their own childhoods, but masked as fiction for children.
One of the most common topics popping up around the Disco Mermaid dinner table concerns books written by adults, about children, that don’t necessarily seem to be written for children…but instead, for adults. Don't deny it; you know what I'm talking about. At some point, you’ve all started reading a children’s book and said, “Would a kid actually want to read this?”
One of the Mermaids recently started reading a book because the reviews described it as a hilarious story. But this middle grade novel is more of a dark comedy, poking fun at the eccentricities of a dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, those dysfunctions are the types dealt with by real children every day. And when you’re a child, there is nothing funny about being in that situation…as that Mermaid will attest. If I told you which book I’m talking about (which I won’t), and you were to grab it off a bookshelf and look at the author’s bio, you’d see that the author had a similar upbringing. Knowing that, the book almost reads like the author wanted to write a memoir, but didn’t want to fully contemplate the meaning of his/her childhood (and that contemplation is essential to a good memoir). Instead, the dysfunctions come across as darkly humorous because the reader never gets a good sense of the character’s emotions when facing those dysfunctions. Yet when real children face those same problems, it’s extremely embarrassing…if not horrifying. And that type of realistic dark humor is not something I think elementary school children can appreciate yet. Furthermore, readers who have better childhoods than the one presented, but who know children with those problems, may not come away very empathetic.
I've been coming across too many children’s books that read like they’re written by an adult looking back…either reminiscing (which comes off as an aloof main character), or glossing over serious issues by removing hardcore emotions (which is…well…it's just not good). I think the reason I’m finding so many books like this is because, no matter which writing conference you attend or how-to book you read, the “write what you know” mantra is endlessly played.
Well, I say we should stop this madness! Instead, let's write what we’re interested in, or what we want to know. Because when we write purely from the School of What We Know, it's hard to fully appreciate what other people don’t know…and that's where we tend to gloss over things. I don’t know how many times I’ve critiqued a friend's manuscript and listened to him/her say, “But that's what really happened.” Right, but it happened to you...in real life. Your situation was a little different from your main character’s, and it just didn’t seem like it would happen to your character in that way. You're too stuck in your own past and not your character's present. (Of course, I'm talking to my generic friend here, and not you…specifically.)
Similarly, I recently read a book which mentioned the unusual occupation of the main character’s father. That interesting fact wasn’t dropped until after I knew the main problem of the book. The moment that occupation was revealed, I started imagining all of the extra problems that career could cause for the main character. Unfortunately, his career played no role in the book (other than as a funny aside). And when I came across an interview with the author a short while later…can you guess what I’m about to say?…she'd simply plunked her father’s career into the book. So she didn’t fully appreciate how interesting that bit of information was, and how it could possibly be a distraction to the story (or, better yet, how it could have added to the story, had she explored it more deeply).
What I’m saying is, if an adult writes a story based on a real childhood experience, it's important to remember how it actually felt to be that child, and not write it from the perspective of experience gained through expensive therapy…unless, of course, the author is writing a memoir.
Because semoirs are driving me crazy!
P.S. On second thought...nevermind. It's probably just me.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I’ll admit it. I caved into the hype and watched Kid Nation. You know, the new Survivor-esque reality show, that’s a lot like the other reality shows in that contestants are deprived of food, sleep, contact with loved ones, and made to endure harsh conditions, strangely difficult reward challenges, and verbal abuse from other contestants. Oh, right, except that this particular show features **gulp** 40 unsupervised children.
Okay, okay, I know it’s already been slammed in the media because parents are suing after their children were malnourished, burned, and lord knows what else. Um, yeah. What part of “unsupervised children” did you not understand when you signed the waiver, people? Does anybody, anybody, think we’ve taken this reality thing too far? Aside from the fact that they’re plopped into a freezing ghost town with nothing but a few cans of peaches and a couple chickens, and forced to feed, clothe and govern themselves, it’s harmless, right? Why is it that if I leave my kids home alone or in a hotel room, I’m blasted as a bad parent, or even arrested for endangering children, but if I leave them alone to fend for themselves in a dusty old town, with cute little bandanas and cowboy hats on, all in the name of entertainment, it’s fine?
Yes, the Lord of the Flies feel of the show is intriguing (in a sick and twisted kind of way). I mean, I watched it. Mortified, yes. But I still added to the ratings. My main concern isn’t necessarily that the kids will be harmed in the making of the show. After all, they’ve got that creepy little host guy with the Kermit the Frog voice who pops out from behind old water pumps and whisky barrels every day or so. I’m sure his main concern is their safety. No, it’s the PTSD and countless hours of psychotherapy they’ll have to endure when they get home and can’t get the chopping up live chickens flashbacks out of their damaged little heads.
Now, I’m all about teaching children to be independent and self-sufficient. But there are limits to what we should put them through, no? We don’t live in the 1800’s. We live in the world of Starbucks on every street corner and 24-hour supermarkets. 8-year-olds should not have to choose between cutting off heads of cute animals or starving.
The most impressive part of KN, though, is how sweet and rational most of the kids are. There are a few, though, who warrant concern. When the 14-year-old bad boy fails to receive the gold star (a real gold star worth $20K) awarded to the most awesome-ist kid of the day, he seems to go a little ape-sh#%, glaring into the camera with Malachai-like evilness, threatening to “do something” about being overlooked.
My advice to the producers of Kid Nation: Save this stuff for fiction. Go write an edgy YA book. Or a slasher flick. Don’t put real kids through unnecessary trauma. Unless you want them to start crawling out of the cornfields with machetes. Does “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” mean nothing to you fools? Save the children!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
I honestly can’t stand writing synopses. Maybe it’s because I have to use a different part of my brain (the part that is usually not used) in order to write one. I totally understand the necessity of it, but it seems like an impossible task for my underused brain.
It would be like asking an artist, “Could you look at your most beautifully painted masterpiece, then recreate it to express the essence of the painting, but not the entire essence, and include only the important parts of the painting, but not the boring parts of the painting, and be sure to include all of the techniques you used in the painting, but don’t actually use the techniques…just use stick figures, and, oh…would you please do all of that on this little note card?”
Luckily, the always-entertaining agent, Nathan Bransford has been blogging about this synopsis-writing crisis that all writers go through. And just hearing that agents and editors understand what a drag it is for us makes me a feel just a tad better.
Since I was stressed-out this weekend with all this synopsis writing, my boys decided to take me out on the town. And where did we go? To the 16th Annual Turtle, Tortoise and Reptile Show! Which sounded cute enough.
But I didn’t realize it was going to involve this…
But at least I learned something this weekend: if there’s anything I hate more than synopses…it’s snakes.