Archive for May, 2010

Balancing your Booklife: A post for the writers out there and the writerly-curious

Posted in Life, Uncategorized, Writing on May 24, 2010 by Matt

I don’t normally read books on writing, and I don’t recommend many books on this site.  But if you are a writer, or interested in the life of being a writer, then stay tuned because I’ve got a good one for you (there’s a hint up top!).

It’s not that I have anything against writing books per se, and I have come across a few that were highly recommended and proved to be worthy of praise (Stephen King’s On Writing, comes to mind).  I just usually approach my own work in a “if I look at it too hard it might disappear” sort of way, and therefore tend to avoid books about book-making.

But some personal background first: recently I found myself in a bit of a professional pickle as a perfect storm of overcommitment, poor stress management and a whopping illness knocked me back on my bottom. And how.

I’d just pitched for, and been offered, a job working a series of books for a Very Cool Publisher that I’ve always wanted to work with when I started to feel a little unwell.  A bit of the flu, no big deal. And this new writing gig was going to be so much fun that I ignored my physical self and focused instead on the work.  It was a tight deadline, and between teaching, my commitments to Knopf and this new Very Cool Publisher, I was working somewhere around 80 hours a week (the wife did the math just prove a point. Turns out she didn’t have to.) 80 hours a week, plus family and I just got sicker. And sicker.

Eventually, I broke.  A battery of medical tests later, plus a bunch of medicine and doctor-ordered bed rest brought it all to a skidding halt.  Luckily the Very Cool Publisher was very understanding, and they let me out of my commitments to them with little fuss, though it was the hardest time I’ve ever had saying “no” to anything.  Heartbreaking.  But my health recovered. My family forgave my lunacy.  The rest of my work, thankfully, did not suffer (although my students had to put up with a couple weeks of subs.  Sorry guys.)

See, my private booklife was out of balance. Dangerously so.  When you are a new writer it is soooo hard to say no to anything. In my case, I always feel like someone might come along tomorrow and take it all away, so I’d better do it all today.  Before I’m found out and they realize that this blog and those books belong to someone else.  Someone who’s a real grown-up.

Booklife.  It’s the title of Jeff VanderMeer’s book on balancing a writing life and it’s superb.  In my own situation, some of the damage is done, but I still have a very full plate ahead of me, and Jeff’s book is a great, no-nonsense guide of how to manage a crazy career like writing.  How to balance your work with your life is a question that applies to all of us, not just the writers out there.  In the interest of full disclosure, Jeff was a teacher of mine a few years ago at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and I’m just generally a fan of the VanderMeers all around (Jeff’s wife Ann edits the terrific Weird Tales).  But I wouldn’t put fingers-to-keyboard if I didn’t sincerely mean the praise.

So for any writers out there, or really any creative types that put something out into the world, I recommend this book.  And I recommend sleeping. And if you feel sick, go to the doctor.  I mean it.


Should we scare them? Yes, yes, and yes again!

Posted in New Book, Powerless, The Dead Gentleman, Uncategorized, Writing, YA Books on May 17, 2010 by Matt

I’m a bit of a come-late-to-the-party sort of guy when it comes to hot internet topics, even when they concern yours truly.  A week or so ago, there was some chatter on KT Literary regarding how bad to make the bad guys in children’s fiction.  Apparently this was sparked by a very friendly review of POWERLESS that nevertheless asked the question whether or not the antagonist of that book was a bit too evil.  I assume the reviewer shares the same concern that parents have everywhere (myself included) about scaring the little ones.  It was an interesting discussion that happened over there, and if you have the time I suggest you go take a look.

As for the question at the heart of the debate – I say scare them.  Scare them good.

YA literature is allowed to be scary (or not – golden sparkly vampires?) but folks seem to want to soften the rough edges off of children’s literature and to that cry foul!  When you read a scary book that is in fact not scary, that is called BORING.  It doesn’t matter your age.  Going all the way back to Grim’s Fairy Tales, there has been an element of, yes, horror in children’s stories because children love it.  Underestimate the discriminating taste of a ten year-old at your own peril, my friends!

Now horror isn’t gore, though the two have gotten blurry now and again. I’m not calling for drippingly descriptive decapitations (though there’s a ten year-old boy somewhere who just perked up at that bit of alliteration I can promise you). I’m also not asking anyone to write GOOD NIGHT MOON AND THE BLOODY WEREWOLF for my two year-old.  I am however saying that this writer likes his villains evil and his scares scary.

And while  it’s technically more adventure than horror, THE DEAD GENTLEMAN delivers on the promise of its title. There’s a very bad fellow at the center of that plot and the things he does . . . . well, you’ll just have to read to find out (with all the lights on, I find it’s easier that way.)

It’s official – THE DEAD GENTLEMAN arrives in summer 2011!

Posted in New Book, The Dead Gentleman, Writing, YA Books on May 15, 2010 by Matt

The New Book is dead!  Long live THE DEAD GENTLEMAN!

The title has been settled and our creepy, lovely dark horse has galloped past the finish line.  I must admit, I’m a bit surprised at the enthusiastic response from the publishing powers-that-be. I’d feared that the title would be considered too dark for children’s literature, and in fact had a different (safer, more boring) working title all along.  But it just goes to show that editors and designers are really smart people. Far smarter than your average writer.

So what’s the book about, you ask?  Well, since we are still a year away from publication, I can’t spill too much.  But I will say that this book is epic adventure, in the vein of Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s as dark and exciting and mysterious as the title, and I had a lot of fun writing it.  It was also a LOT of work, but it was worth it.  I’m very proud of the finished product.

Oh, and there might be an airship or two.

And just wait till you see about the cover!

Names have Power (and so do titles)

Posted in New Book, Powerless, Uncategorized, Writing, YA Books on May 11, 2010 by Matt

The New Book is nearly done, and how do I know?  Well, for starters my editor reported back on the last round of edits that we were nearly done, but even more telling is the back-and-forth, round robin series of emails and phone calls regarding the title.

Yes, it’s book title time.

Titles are tricky things, and it’s not always widely understood that the name of the little file on the writer’s hard drive is not necessarily the name that ends up on the cover.  For POWERLESS it was, but there were a few others bandied about. I was lucky in that my very talented book designer saw my title and immediately connected with it – the art folks have a lot of power!

I’m not complaining about the title business, mind you.  Publishing folks share the same goal as the writer – they want the book to succeed, to pop off the shelf and into the grubby little hands of readers. And often they know more about that end of the business than I do, so I’m usually content to let them have their way (with my two cents, of course).

But I’m also lucky in that I work with a great editor who really partners with her authors on these things (even if the author is an indecisive wish-wash like me).

So we’re talking titles.  And there is one that is in the running, a dark horse if you will, that is edging up on the finish line. And it’s a doozy.  I can’t wait to talk about it!

That is, of course, if we don’t change our minds four more times tomorrow.