It’s been awhile since I’ve read a young adult novel, and it’s certainly been awhile since I read one that I enjoyed as much as I did Patrick Ness’ Release.
The other day when I finally finished writing and published my blog about writing queer young adult fiction, I reread the articles I linked to in the piece–the ones that triggered me writing it in the first place–and discovered that one of the books considered “problematic” for its depiction of gay teen sexuality was Release by Patrick Ness. I looked it up, and discovered I had already purchased it back when I was originally writing the entry, shelved it, and forgotten about it. It was right there on the top of the first bookcase I went looking for it in, and I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and read it.
I’m really, really glad I decided to go ahead and finish those pending draft entries, because that led me to reading this delightful book.
Adam would have to get the flowers himself.
His mom had enough to do, she said; she needed them this morning, pretty much right now if the day wasn’t going to be a total loss; and in the end, Adam’s attendance at this little “get-together” with his friends tonight may or may not hinge on his willingness/success in picking up the flowers and doing so without complaint.
Adam argued–quite well, he thought, without showing any overt anger–that his older brother, Marty, was the one who’d run over the old flowers; that he, Adam, also had a ton of things to do today; and the new chrysanthemums for the front path weren’t exactly high in the logical criteria for attendance at a get-together he’d already bargained for–because nothing was free with his parents, not ever–by chopping all the winter’s firewood before even the end of August. Nevertheless, she had, in that way of hers, turned it into a decree: he would get the flowers or he wouldn’t go tonight, especially after that girl got killed.
“Your choice,” his mom said, not even looking at him.
Release was, for me, kind of a revelation, and what more can anyone ask for from a novel?
As I mentioned the other day, one of the primary issues I’ve faced–and worried about–in writing queer young adult fiction is the issue of sex and sexuality; times have changed in many (and better) ways since I was a terrified teenager deep in my closet and afraid someone, anyone, might find out my actual truth. There’s also the endlessly cliched trope of the coming out story; there have been many of those stories written and published; what else can you do that’s fresh and new? The trope of the deeply religious parents and their inability to accept and love their child has been done plenty of times; to the point where I’ve really not ever wanted to go near it. Release is yet another one of those, but it’s actually done so well it seems fresh and new; Adam’s dad is an evangelical pastor at a wannabe megachurch, but their church exists in the shadows of a much more successful local one, and so Adam’s family is a bit cash-strapped, particularly since his mother lost her job.
But the most refreshing part of the story is that Adam actually not only thinks about sex, he actually has it. He is currently on his fourth (secret) boyfriend, one of the only out kids at his high school, and still mooning over Enzo, with whom he was involved for fourteen months and then was transitioned into the “friend zone”–while Enzo moved on and went back to dating girls. He still has unresolved feelings for Enzo–what teenager hasn’t been dumped by someone they still love?–that interfere with, and complicate, his relationship with Linus, who actually does love Adam. The “get-together” that night is Enzo’s going away party; he and his family are moving to Atlanta, and this will be the last time Adam will ever see him. It’s teen melodrama, worthy of Gossip Girl orany number of teenage melodramas, but it’s done so well and Ness makes Adam so likable and relatable, you can’t help but root for him to figure it all out and not mess it up.
There’s also an absolutely lovely sex scene between the two of them–Adam and Linus–that, while undoubtedly making certain people uncomfortable (Oh no! Two gay boys in bed together! HAVING THE GAY BUTTSEX!!!!) is actually neither explicit nor graphic, and says a lot by saying very little; which also made me realize that yes, indeed, Greg, there’s a way to write sex scenes so that they are expressions of desire and need, yes, but also of emotion and love. (Mine–when I used to write erotica–were athletic and nasty and passionate.)
I highly enjoyed this book, and while there is a weird subplot story going on at the same time as Adam’s story–one that never really is explained the hows and whys of, or of how these supernatural creatures are somehow connected to Adam–it’s not jarringly off-track, even though possibly unnecessary or connected.
It’s a terrific book. I will definitely read more of Mr. Ness’ work.
Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone, I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).
To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.
I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed.
Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love. David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)
(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)
My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.
Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.
Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.
One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.
Interesting, isn’t it?
And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.
And what about desire?
A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.
I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)
I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.
I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.
It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.
And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)
I slept rather well last night, which was lovely, and today is one of my short days, which is equally lovely. I made some terrific progress yesterday on Major Project, not so much on the WIP but it’s okay. I’ve made peace with the fact I can’t work as hard in as short a period of time as I used to, and I feel confident that once Major Project is out of the way, I can make some more progress on everything else I need to get done.
I still have short stories I need to write, as well as an essay, and am hopeful that between today and tomorrow and this weekend–plus the long birthday weekend i am treating myself to next week–will give me the time to get all the things done that I want to get done. I haven’t had time to do much reading this week, but I need to get moving on S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer so I can dive into Laura Lippman’s new Lady in the Lake, which is getting raves everywhere. Again, hopefully, that will come to pass this weekend, and what a lovely birthday gift for myself to spend my birthday long weekend curled up with the new Lippman?
Life rarely gets better than that, seriously.
We finished watching Years and Years last night, and it remained interesting all the way until the end–even if the death of my favorite character kind of cost me some of my emotional investment in the show. I was quite critical of this character death yesterday, yet still held out some hope that the death wasn’t really exploitative and would make sense in the over-all story, once it was finished; you know, the sense that it wasn’t done simply to advance the story and motivate characters to the actions that would move the story to its inevitable end. I think it could have gotten to that inevitable end without this character’s death, frankly, and so it remains another sad example of show business’ favorite gay trope, bury your gays.
Overall, despite this disappointment, I did enjoy the show…although not as much as I did before bury your gays reared its ugly head.
But I am now in the short part of my work week, the two half-days that help me ease my way into my weekend. When I get home from the office late this afternoon, I can do some straightening and cleaning and I can also get back to work on Major Project, or the WIP. Tomorrow I also get off relatively early–one in the afternoon–and it has occurred to me that I could just run to make groceries then and get the mail, negating the need to leave the house over the weekend (running those errands always seems to throw me off every weekend but I need to be more disciplined anyway; soon enough Saturdays will be all about college football and Sunday will be Saints games, so my weekend productivity is about to go into a severe decline (I often read and/or edit while I am watching football games that are neither LSU nor the Saints, so there’s that), so it’s crucial that I start getting things done throughout the rest of this month. I’d like to get all these little things done this month so I can focus in September more clearly on JUST ONE THING for a change.
I’ve slowly been coming to a conclusion about my career, and I actually said it out loud to my friend Laura at lunch on Tuesday, which made it more real, and having said it out loud, it resonated inside my head and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Simply put, I don’t think I’m going to write much more young adult fiction, or novels that could be classified that way. Watching y/a Twitter has been horrifying, and that entire world just–yeah, no thank you. I had always wanted to write books for teenagers, going back to discovering Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine and Jay Bennett back in the early 1990’s (Jay Bennett was amazing, absolutely amazing), and it was never about trying to make a lot of money or anything (despite being accused of that any number of times), but simply stories about teens that I wanted to tell. Currently, I have three novels in some sort of progress centering teenagers; I am going to get them finished and then I am going to leave y/a behind (I still have two good ideas for y/a books; I may eventually write them, or I may not).
I’ve been reassessing my career a lot lately–I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me I should write something more mainstream, so I could make more money….because I would then have so much money I wouldn’t need to write anything at all. There are stories I want to tell–I have ideas coming to me all the time–but I am never going to stop writing stories centering gay men. I’m just not wired that way. I may write things that are more mainstream–a lot of my short fiction isn’t about gay men–but i am never going to stop writing gay stories. I’m just not going to, nor should I have to, and while I understand the good intentions behind people telling me to write something more commercial, I can’t help but wonder if people say that to other minority writers?
I kind of doubt it.
But now I need to get ready to face my day, so it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have an absolutely lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow.
Wednesday morning, and I am awake ridiculously early. I actually woke up just before four, but stayed in bed until six–at which point I got out of bed and figured might as well be productive instead of just laying here staring at the alarm clock. It’s also my long day at the office, but c’est la vie. It is what it is. If anything, I should sleep really well tonight, at the very least.
I didn’t read any short stories yesterday, alas, as I spent most of my weekend reading Karen McManus’ One of Us Is Lying, a huge phenomenal bestselling young adult novel that’s being adapted as a TV mini-series, a la Thirteen Reasons Why.
Monday, September 24, 2:55 pm.
A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update. If all you knew of Bayview High was Simon Kelleher’s gossip app, you’d wonder how anyone found time to go to class.
“Old news, Bronwyn,” says a voice over my shoulder. “Wait till you see tomorrow’s post.”
Damn. I hate getting caught reading About That, especially by its creator. I lower my phone and slam my locker shut. “Whose lives are you ruining next, Simon?”
Simon falls into step beside me as I move against the flow of students heading for the exit. “It’s a public service,” he says with a dismissive wave. “You tutor Reggie Crawley, don’t you? Wouldn’t you rather know he has a camera in his bedroom?”
Well, that’s a start, isn’t it?
The book is sort of a Breakfast Club turned on its ear; if one of the student archetypes from that film had died during detention and all the other kids in there had a reason to want him dead. It’s a clever idea (one I am kicking myself for not thinking of myself), and the story is, above all else, compulsively readable. The book is told in shifting first person point of view; we get inside the heads and see the viewpoint of all four of the kids who are now suspects, which isn’t an easy thing to do McManus not only takes us there, but by seeing their lives through their eyes–their families, their relationships with friends, their ambitions and goals and so forth–we as readers begin to care about them, which makes knowing that one (or more) of them might be a killer even more problematic for the reader because you become emotionally vested.
Like The Breakfast Club, McManus takes the typical student stereotypes–the brain, the jock, the criminal, the beauty, and the outcast–and turns them on their ears.
In the 1980’s, the teen movie was reinvented and made much more real, more relatable, and more fun than what those that had come before. Serious films about teens were usually told from the point of view of the adults (The Blackboard Jungle, Up the Down Staircase) with an occasional exception, like Rebel Without a Cause. The 60’s saw the teen movie evolve into beach and surfing movies, and of course the Disney films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Now You See Him Now You Don’t–silly comedies that viewed teen life as though it were something frozen in time from the 1950’s (and even that wasn’t particularly realistic–malt shops, sock hops, etc) But beginning with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the teen films of the 1980’s evolved into something different, something else, and John Hughes was one of the driving factors of that with his films, like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, among others (those are the Molly Ringwald trilogy, probably the most famous and best-remembered). In all honesty–and don’t come for me–I never thought The Breakfast Club was that great of a movie; sure, the actors were appealing, there were some great scenes, some funny moments–but the most, to me, honest part of the movie was when they were sitting around talking and Claire said they wouldn’t be friends at school on Monday because that’s what I had been thinking all along.
But One of Us Is Lying completely subverts that and turns it on its head; as it does with a lot of other y/a book tropes, and again, the story moves very well. As someone who has read a lot of crime (and all of Agatha Christie) I was able to figure out who the killer was early on; but most teenagers I suspect would be completely caught unawares.
I really enjoyed this and couldn’t put it down because I wanted to find out what happened to the characters, and I cared about them; and it even ends with a John Hughes moment, which was nice.
Friday night I also managed to read another book, a young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu, and it was a most auspicious debut, The Truth About Alice.
It was actually much better than I thought it would be.
I, Elaine O’Dea, am going to tell you two definite, absolute, indisputable truths.
1. Alice Franklin slept with two guys in the very same night in a bed IN MY HOUSE this past summer, just before the start of junior year. She slept with one and then, like five minutes later, she slept with the other one. Seriously. And everybody knows about it.
2. Two weeks ago–just after Homecoming–one of those guys, Brandon Fitzsimmons (who was crazy super popular and gorgeous and who yours truly messed around with more than once) died in a car accident. And it was all Alice’s fault.
The focus of the book is the story of Alice Franklin, and what she may or may not have done. It’s also the story of how rumors can take on lives of their own, and how they can destroy a person’s reputation and, untimately, their life.
The book is also written in a very clever way; it’s told from multiple first person points of view, so we see the story of Alice as told by some of the kids who know her. This is a difficult feat for an author to pull off, since the voices have to be unique and distinct, but Mathieu managed this very well. She also managed to capture what it’s like to be a teenager.
Before the rumor gets started about Alice’s behavior at Elaine’s party gets started, Alice is relatively popular. She’s pretty, she’s smart, and everyone likes her. Once the rumor starts going around, though, obviously her popularity begins to drop…and then once the story gets out about Alice sexting Brandon while he was driving–drunk, by the way–she is finished in Healey, Texas, the small town where they all live, and she is finished at Healey High. She is ostracized, no one will speak to her, and she loses all of her friends.
In addition to Elaine, the other viewpoint characters are Kelsie, who was Alice’s best friend before all of this got started; Josh, Brandon’s best friend and a fellow football player, who was in the car when the accident happened; and Kurt, the nerdy genius boy who has no friends but doesn’t seem to care because he is really smart, an orphan living with his grandmother, and is kind of socially awkward. He helped Alice once with a math problem, and she was very kind to him…and he remembers how kind she was. He also is kind of in love with her, because she’s perfect and beautiful and kind…and he has observed her “totally in a not-stalker way” for several years. Alice was Kelsie’s first friend when she moved to Healey, and back where she was from, Kelsie was considered a weirdo and had no friends; so she loves being sort of popular. Once the rumors start, Kelsie is invited to become a part of Elaine’s crowd, the most popular kids in Healey–but to do so, she has to jettison Alice. Not wanting to become the friendless kid again, she turns on her former best friend and moves forward with her friends; even starting an even worse rumor about Alice. Josh also regrets blaming Alice for the accident, and it’s never clear why he does in the first place–until later, and then his own guilt and shame also make a lot more sense. Mathieu didn’t quite take the story as far as I thought she was going to–and I think it would have been stronger if she had, frankly, instead of just hinting at it–but it’s still powerful.
Kurt also offers to help Alice with math again, and the two of them start an unlikely friendship as well.
It’s told very well, as I said, and the truths and come-uppances, when they come, might not be as strong as I would have liked them to be, but they were a lot more realistic in their smallness, and satisfying enough. I really enjoyed the book, and will add Mathieu’s other two novels to my TBR pile.
It also made me think about one of my own works-in-progress…and how to make it better. Well done!
So, I braved Costco AND the grocery store on a frigid Saturday two weeks before Christmas; but I did manage to get a lovely space heater at Costco which has already changed everything in the frigid kitchen. I also forgot to turn the heat off when I went to bed last night, but it wasn’t obnoxiously hot upstairs–which makes me tend to think that it must have been really cold outside last night. But whatever. I am up this morning, my kitchen is getting warmer thanks to the space heater, and I have some things I need to get done today so I am going to buckle down and try to get it all done as much as possible. Next weekend I have to work on Saturday, so it’s a very short weekend for me, but I can hang with it.
Pual went to a gallery opening last night for the guy who donated his art for the cover of the Saints and Sinners Anthology, and so while Scooter dealt with his abandonment issues by sleeping in my lap I got caught up on this season of Riverdale; I hadn’t realized they hadn’t gone on midseason break and had missed two episodes, with the midseason finale coming up this week. I am pleased to report that KJ Apa was shirtless a lot in last week’s episode (finally), and this season’s mystery is deepening nicely. It really is a good show, probably the best young actors on a teen soap-style show I’ve ever watched, and visually it’s just stunning. I also got our tickets to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi for next Sunday at one, which is also incredibly exciting. I only have to avoid spoilers for a week.
I also watched two episodes of Soundtracks last night, the CNN series about how cultural and societal events influenced the popular music of the time. I watched the episodes about gay rights and Hurricane Katrina; each one made me unexpectedly tear up at moments as I remembered things. I recommend the series; I’m going to keep watching it. CNN series are really quite good; I’ve enjoyed their Decades series and their History of Comedy; and when I am not in the mood to write (or finished for the day) and not in the mood to read, they’re an excellent way to pass some time.
I think I’m going to read Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire next. It’s gotten some excellent reviews, and I’m a fan of hers; Jessica Jones was terrific, and Paul and I both enjoyed Don’t Trust the B, her one season sitcom. I actually think I may spend the rest of the year focusing on reading y/a fiction, to be honest. I have a lot of amazing books in my TBR pile, but…I want to get the WIP whipped into shape to start the agent hunt again in earnest next year; and I have two more y/a manuscripts to whip into shape as well as the Scotty to completely redo. I hate having to throw out eight chapters worth of work–and maybe some editing can get them into decent shape and usable again. As I said, in talking to my friend Susan last week I realized the plot I was developing for the book simply doesn’t work; primarily because New Orleans is such a small town, and New Orleans society is an even smaller one. There’s no way Scotty wouldn’t have known something before he was surprised with it; just given both sides of his family he would have met the person any number of times and would have heard about him; that kind of throws that plot right out the window. Maybe the entire thing should just be scrapped and I should start over completely. I don’t know.
But so yes, there’s a lot I need to get done. I also have a short story due by the end of the month I need to work on, another project is also calling my name, and I have a grant application I need to get ready. I’ve decided to start applying for grants, long shots that they are; but you cannot get one without applying, and while I may not have an MFA or a Ph.D. behind my name I do have an awful lot of publications; my c.v. is at least fifteen pages long–and it hasn’t been updated in years. But I think I have proven that I can write. And I think perhaps a collection of personal essays, of experiences and observations I’ve made throughout my life, studying our culture and the deep flaws in our society and culture, could actually be rather interesting. I have years of diaries and blog entries to cull from; and I often find writing personal essays, on those rare occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to write them, quite rewarding. My favorite essay is “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”, which was in Love Bourbon Street, and was edited down to be included in another collection, and I could possibly make that the lynchpin of the collection. I also want to pull together my horror and crime short stories into a collection, which will undoubtedly have to be self-published. So many projects, so little time.
And yes, reading Joan Didion has inspired me a bit on that front.
And on that note, I am going to dive back into the spice mines this cold morning in New Orleans. Here’s a lovely hunk to get your week off to a lovely start:
Gah, it’s Wednesday and the week is half over and I’ve not scratched many items off my to-do list. Heavy heaving sigh. Although the weather seems to have turned here and it’s been lovely the last few days. I worked in the storage unit for about an hour yesterday; got a few more book donation boxes together and threw some things away, which was progress of a sort. The primary problem, however, is discovering that almost everything in there appears to be cases of copies of my own books, or my kids’ series–the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, etc.–that I will never get rid of; so I think my next move is to swap out boxes of books in the attic (or decoratively hidden around the apartment), books that I want to keep (copies of books written by friends, etc.) for the cases of my own books; it only makes sense to have easier access to them in order to donate for charity auctions or for book events where they don’t have copies of my books or aren’t able to get copies of my books. Or to sell myself. I do think from time to time I should resell my used books and make some money off them, but it also seems like an incredible pain in the ass and I barely have time to keep up with everything I need to get done, let alone adding another chore.
I am one step closer to sending out the query letters. With the assistance of some amazing friends, I think I had a damned good query letter put together that just needs a tweak here and there, and has also helped me figure out what tweaking, oddly enough, needs to be done in the manuscript itself. So, the goal is to send out a wave of query emails by the end of the week, work on Scotty, finish the final revision of a short story to get sent out there, and make those manuscript tweaks.
I also put another book in the donation pile this week that didn’t pass the fifty page test, and am about to start reading R. L. Stine’s The Lost Girl. I read a lot of Stein and Christopher Pike novels in the early 1990’s–which helped inspire me to write the drafts that became Sorceress, Sara, and Sleeping Angel–so I am interested to see some of his newer work. I met him, not only at the Edgars one year, but at Stokercon in Vegas, and he is a lovely, very nice man. My original thought with those y/a’s was to link them all together at some point, the way he’d linked the Fear Street novels together, and in a way, all of my young adult novels are sort of linked together–Sara is set in a small town in Kansas; that town is where Laura, the main character in Sorceress is from; the town in California Laura moves to is where Sleeping Angel is set; and Scotty’s parents in Lake Thirteen are from the small town in Alabama where my main character in Dark Tide is from…and the town where Scotty lives now, in the suburbs of Chicago, was where Glenn in Sara moved to Kansas from. All connected. I sometimes forget that my young adult books all are in the same world and are all connected…
And on that note, I’m not going to finish my to-do list by sitting here thinking about getting things done.
Today’s Hump Day Hunk is actor Aaron-Taylor Johnson.
Monday morning in New Orleans, after a crazy kind of weekend that included insane street flooding and torrential rains. My neighborhood doesn’t flood quite as bad as others–we’ve had high water on our street, but it rarely lasts for long–because two blocks from the house is Coliseum Square, which is much lower (as is Camp Street on the far side of it) and serves as a kind of flood basin for the neighborhood (which was WAY fun when we lived on Camp Street; my car flooded once and we got water all the way up to the top step–of six–outside out front door). I didn’t work much on the line edit (read: not at all) because I was too busy reading, first Lyndsay Faye’s brilliant The Gods of Gotham, then Owen Matthew’s epic The Fixes, and then I started reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear. (I’ve not read Ambler before) We also got caught up on Orphan Black, and continue to muddle along with The Last Tycoon, which is quite visually stunning but more than a little dull. (And just HOW do you make 1930’s Hollywood dull? Nicely done, F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
Game of Thrones was just EPIC last night. Oh my God, was it ever epic. I won’t post spoilers for those who may not have seen it yet, but all I will say is finally. I’ve been waiting for that episode ALL SEASON. Huz-fucking-ZAH.
So, I read Owen Matthews’ The Fixes yesterday. Owen Matthews is the name Owen Laukkanen uses to write young adult fiction (his first was How to Win at High School, which I have but is still in the TBR pile), and as Owen Laukkanen he wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Watcher in the Wall (I may have read it this year; my memory has truly become a sieve). Owen and I are on a panel at Toronto Bouchercon this year–while the schedule hasn’t been posted yet, I was curious as to why Owen was on a panel called “Reading the Rainbow”; but I haven’t read all of his work as of yet. The panel moderator and I were talking the other day and I brought that up, at which point I was told he does write gay characters, and in fact, one of the main characters in The Fixes is gay. I moved the book to the top of the TBR pile, and tore through it yesterday afternoon: it is a quick read, and moves really fast.
This is a story about a boy’s first crush, and how it blew up in his face.
And all of its explosive consequences.
(You know what? Forget it.)
Let’s start over.
Let me tell you why E set off that bomb.
Eric, or E, as he comes to be called by his friends over the course of the novel, is the son of a state senator, the grandson of yet another politician, and has been raised to understand that he isn’t just anyone; he is a CONNELLY MAN and he has to live up to the family name–maybe even so far as eventually running for president. Eric has given up a lot to live up to his father’s expectations, and is more than a little resentful. As a sophomore, Eric had dated Paige but soon realized he was more attracted to guys than girls…which as a CONNELLY MAN could prove problematic. His future is laid out for him completely, and he is giving up the summer before he starts college to intern at a legal firm his father used to work for. And then, a chance encounter in the office at his high school with Jordan Grant, the gorgeous son of a wealthy filmmaker, derails his entire summer….and possibly his future as well.
Soon, Eric (E, as Jordan likes to call him) has a full blown crush on Jordan, even though he seems to be involved loosely with Haley. All four of these kids–they live in a Malibu-like, affluent wealthy town called Capilano–have some damage: Paige’s father is going to be tried for embezzling and misleading investment clients (a la Madoff); Haley’s mother is a model who idealizes her eldest daughter, a successful model, and is always putting Haley down and making her feel bad about herself, which led to an eating disorder and a stay in a hospital; E himself is struggled against the life path his father has chosen for him; and Jordan is…well, what exactly is Jordan’s damage?
I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the group becomes involved in ‘fixing’ things around Capilano; injustices they step up to correct. And as E becomes more deeply involved in the fixes, as his own life path begins to spin out of control and he falls deeper and deeper under Jordan’s spell..the book continues racing along at a frenetic, insane pace that makes it impossible to put down until it’s finished.
It was also lovely to see a novel, published by a mainstream press and written by a non-gay author, that so carefully, conscientiously, and sympathetically explored the struggle and complexity of coming to terms with a sexuality that does not jibe with family expectations, as well as the emotional grappling with how can I not be my true self for the rest of my life?; not to mention the emotional complexity of falling in love for the first time.
The story is intricate as well; this is a fine example of young adult noir, the kind the amazing Jay Bennett used to write.
Highly recommended, and really looking forward to reading How to Win at High School.