Shakespeare got to get paid, son. Saturday, Mar 13 2010 

The comments I’ve been hearing about “Clod, Pebble” (and thank you for them) have focused so far on the father’s dilemma, both with his ex-wife and daughter and in that crappy bookstore line, confronting the real and the fake.

But there’s another dilemma, enacted on the other side of that table, the never-ending battle between Art and Commerce, and we all know who wins that one, right, at least in the short term? Dragondreams: War! crushes all before it, and poor Mr. Dunbar goes home to a microwaved pizza. Or that’s how the story usually plays out.

That battle interests me a lot, not only in fiction but in my daily life, since what I do for a living is write.  And since the times they really are a-changin’ – not only in publishing but for all us (somewhat queasily-designated) content creators, all across the board – does that make it harder or easier for writers to write books, when the definition of “book” itself is up for grabs?  How about artists?  Or musicians? Who’s going to pay us to do what we do, so we can do it and still keep the lights on? And who, or what, are we creating this stuff for, anyway?  The people who like it?  The idea of art? Ourselves? Itself?

Or, as Amanda Palmer puts it in her interview on NPR’s On the Media: “If you’re a teenager with a dream of being a rock star, maybe you’ll really think about why. Were you doing this to be rich and famous or are you doing this because you really love music and you want to connect with people, and you’ll do it even if it just means you make a living wage? If that’s true, I’m – you know, I’m a fan of the new system.”

Actually, me too. Because the answer is, make up your own answers to these questions, then act accordingly.  The answer is, support the stuff you love to listen to, to read, to wear, to stare at on your walls or in a browser, put your money where your love is, because Shakespeare got to get paid, son. The answer is a Swiss army knife, with some tools we may not have seen before, or know how to use, but that’s why life is fun. The answer is I better get to work, now, I have a book to finish.


Culling the “nerd”, or Oh god! My child is different! Friday, Aug 7 2009 

I don’t really look at parenting magazines anymore, and an article I found yesterday in one of them – no, we’re not going to give it any linkage – makes me glad I stopped.  It purports to advise worried Mr. and Mrs. Middle of the Road, who can remember the “kids who just didn’t fit in at high school,” and fear that their own child … might be … a nerd.  What to do? Force-feed the kid a soccer ball? Take away those awful eyeglasses? Or you could “encourage” your child to “blend in” – because who wants to be a lump in the deliciously bland gravy of Life, right?

What a load.  Parents, if your child’s “difference” makes you nervous for his/her well-being at school, why not confront the ones who are doling out the “harsh treatment” and “teasing”- and the adults who are turning a collective blind eye –  instead of trying to impose Camo Personality on little Brittany or Josh? And kids, all you smart, skewed, lovely different ones – you already know the secret, you just have to get out of the gulag. Please pass the isotopes. I’ll see you in the Big World Outside.


Follow my voice Friday, May 9 2008 

Yesterday I went to the funeral home visitation for my friend John Mijatovich, whose work as an artist and teacher will continue, like ripples in the water, though he himself has now gone. That evening I watched the documentary Follow My Voice, that details, among other things, the impact a school environment can have on a student’s well-being and ability to learn.

And as I watched, I thought about what a teacher means to a student, how the best teachers say – with their behavior; with their philosophy; with their substance not only as educators but as human beings – “Follow my voice.” I’ll go on ahead – not a lot, not so far that all I am is a dot on the horizon – but far enough that you’ll have to struggle a bit, work a bit, to keep up: to follow. And that work and struggle will be your education: what you wanted, how you aimed to get there, how knowledge and desire aided you along the path. I did not take you there: you took yourself, but you knew that you had a voice to follow, that you were never alone on the path.

And it is not only as a student that you follow, but as a person. What you learn becomes part of who you are, informs the greater education of the heart. John knew that. The best teachers always do.

Music vs. words in books Friday, Jan 18 2008 

There’s a great story by Bill Holdship in the current issue of the Metro Times, all about the late, lamented CREEM Magazine.

I’ve written before about my teenage adoration of CREEM – how its humor and attitude soothed my OMG-am-I-the-only-one?! angst and made me laugh until I cried (still does). It wasn’t only about the music, of course, but oh, the music was the beating heart of it.

Now, why is it so difficult to write fiction about music? I realize it’s essentially an experience beyond words, but then, so is smelling a freshly-cut lemon – so are all sense-based experiences – and we seem at least able to approach them literarily, if that’s a word.

But why can I listen to Iggy Pop or Satie (or Iggy Pop and Satie: now there’s a concert I’d pay real money for), be blown away, yet be unable to adequately translate that exhilaration for a reader? Especially in the YA arena, music is not only a soundtrack to everything important, it’s one of the most important things in life, sometimes one of the only things that makes life bearable.

So my question is, not how can I become a better writer-about-music (same way you get to Carnegie Hall), but who out there, especially in YA, is doing it right now? In novels, primarily, but I’d love any pertinent examples.

Movies of myself Monday, Sep 3 2007 

Apologies to Rufus Wainwright – this post has nothing to do with him or his amazing music (I’m a huge fan, been rocking Release the Stars pretty much around the clock), but the title was just so apt for some thoughts about marketing, a subject much on my mind since Kissing the Bee is just out.

There are many strategies one can use to promote a new book, and blogging, yes, is just one of them. And one can hardly expect any but the most aware and loyal readers to keep track of what’s coming out when, so a reminder is maybe not out of place. And there’s a certain reverse snobbery to shrinking your own violet: “Oh my goodness, I’m just too much of an artiste to get out there and — you know, grub for a buck.”

All that said, still, marketing is what I dread most about my job. I have little talent and less facility for the task, and I’m sure it shows when I try. Certainly many other writers are much better at it than I – I’ve observed them, and wished I had their skills. But I’d rather write twenty books — fifty books, a thousand — than struggle to promote one.

Although I love doing readings. In my mind, readings are filed under Feedback, where I get to see what people think of what I’ve done, complete the circuit between writer and reader, or more accurately, between story and reader. The essential thing is to get those words into the brain of somebody else, so I can see if the path I’ve laid down is complete, if what I’ve made actually works: the sweet eureka jolt. Next to that, telling you why you should read my books is like handing you the wrapper, not the candy bar: “Doesn’t this look yummy?” Man, just bite the thing, and tell me what you think.

My op-ed in the Times Tuesday, May 1 2007 

Last Sunday, I had an op-ed piece in the New York Times, “All The School’s a Stage,” taking a (necessarily brief) look at issues of theatrical censorship in schools, a situation I wrote about in my YA novel Talk. Sadly, there are always more than enough examples to examine – this op-ed focused on recent incidents in Wilton, CT and Cross River, NY.

You can read it here.