November 01, 2014
Boy, that King Dork Really Got Around Didn't It?
That's Mick Jones of the Clash.
October 31, 2014
Forget the Marketing
Though I obviously agree with the basic thrust of the classic "don't feel bad about reading/writing teen fiction" essay, and while I have a lot to say about this topic myself, most such essays say the same basic thing as all the others. This, however, is something I haven't seen expressed in quite this way before:
The binary between children’s and adult fiction is a false one, based on a limited conception of the self. I have not ceased to be the person I was when I was an adolescent; in fact, to think so seems to me like a kind of dissociation from a crucial aspect of one’s self. And the critic should be concerned with what is good and what is bad, what is art and what is not—not with what’s “appropriate.”She ends with the familiar quotation from C.S. Lewis about how "putting away childish things" when it comes to literature should properly include putting away the childish thing of putting away childish things. This is well-put, and I agree with it very much.
It's not just "the critic" who would benefit from a larger, more inclusive notion of "the self" when it comes to assessing the place within one's intellectual world of childhood and adolescent experiences and the books that treat of them. The derailment she points out is prevalent wherever YA books are discussed, not just in formal criticism. I'll quote myself:
Publishers will "aim" [a book] at this or that market, and marketing terms like "YA" or "literary fiction" are most useful when the topic is marketing. But to ask whether or not a given book truly lives up to or fulfills the promise of its marketing category, or to wonder whether its audience is fulfilling its most proper role in the hierarchy of this "aiming" -- those are just about the least interesting questions that can be asked about a book. The answers are negligible. That they dominate "serious" discussion of books these days is both funny and sad.Think of any great novel you've read, A Confederacy of Dunces, Jude the Obscure, The Code of the Woosters, Black Swan Green... whatever you like. Would you say, of any of these, "you know, I'm having trouble understanding whom this book is supposed to be aimed at, and whether or not I am technically a member of that demographic, and whether the aimed demographic is really going to buy it like the publisher hopes it will..." No, you read them as novels, and you take from them what is meaningful to you. And the fact that you're not yourself an overweight, indolent, parody Don Quixote in early-1960s New Orleans, a late 19th-Century stonemason, an Edwardian gentleman who won a prize for scripture knowledge and whose aunt wants to him to steal a cow creamer, or a kid growing up in Thatcher's Britain doesn't mean you are incapable of engaging with the text. (And in fact, to the degree to which such a consideration is relevant to one's ability to engage, the force of the argument is mostly on the side of teen fiction, really, because having lived through adolescence is one of the few things 100% of adults definitely have in common.) Whether a given text is worth engaging with is, of course, another question, but looking to a marketing strategy alone to provide the answer to it seems like a pretty bad way to go about the whole business of reading.
What I'm saying is, the demographic of a publisher's marketing strategy doesn't, or shouldn't, enter into it. (If it does enter into it, you're no longer discussing literature, but rather marketing.)
The other thing I'm saying is, these books, the ones marketed as YA fiction, but in reality, at least as far as most authors are concerned, "aimed at the world", are really, in fact, actual novels, just like regular novels, hard as that is for some people to believe. And this is the case despite their place in the aforesaid marketing category and despite their position as part of a literary tradition that concerns itself with exploring the teenage self. There are good and bad ones, and there great and less-than-great ones, as with everything else. Find the good ones. And then forget the marketing and read them.
October 30, 2014
This Theory Has Become Known as the Waste of Time Theory, and Was Abandoned in 1956
My publisher is Random house, whose logo is a picture of house. Recently they merged with Penguin, whose logo is a picture of a penguin, and the merged company now officially (I think) goes by the name "Penguin Random House" (despite the habit of many of us to call it "Random Penguin" which is too whimsical and irreverent to give up on all the way.)
I don't know what their official logo is now, or if they even have one, but you often see it done like this, with a gigantic penguin standing next to the house:
Anyway, this image has always reminded me of this, and I thought I'd share:
October 28, 2014
How I Spent My Insomnia
After that I spent much of tonight's insomnia perusing Sundberg's rather amazing Nordic post-apocalyptic web-comic Stand Still, Stay Silent. Well worth checking out.
The New York Times Ends "Structuring" Law Abuse with a Few Pointed Questions
The government assumes that depositing amounts over $10,000 in a bank account is inherently suspect and must be documented and investigated to ensure that the money was not obtained illegally. The law against "structuring" is premised on the idea that anyone who deposits less than $10,000 in a bank account must be trying to evade the first law, trying to disguise the illegal money as legal money. If you're caught doing either of these things, that is, depositing more (or less) than $10,000 at a time, they get to take your money, without having to prove (and in some cases, it seems, without even claiming) that you've done anything illegal or wrong.
Well, here's some good news for a change. This article on the subject claims that after a call from the NYT asking about this ploy (which has been going on for years and years) the IRS began to have second thoughts, and contritely announced that it would "curtail the practice" of summarily seizing innocent people's money on a technical pretext just because they could and focus instead on "cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally".
Well, yes, in retrospect I suppose, focusing on cases where there was no indication whatsoever that anything illegal was occurring and stealing innocent people's money anyway may not have been the most defensible policy. The party's over, apparently, thanks to a well-placed question from the New York Times. (Maybe they could call the DEA and ask them about the drug war, too. I see lots of wonderful possibilities here.)
As Megan McArdle points out, this practice is (or, was, I suppose I should say, now that the New York Times has put a stop to it) but a facet of a much greater civil forfeiture problem, and she likens the process to that illustrated in the song about the old lady who swallowed the fly:
So think about what has happened to our government agencies. We passed a law, to raise taxes, or curb the usage of addicting drugs. That law didn’t work as well as we wanted, because a lot of people were evading it. So we passed new laws, to make it easier to enforce the original one, like requiring banks to report all transactions over $10,000. And then people evaded that, so we made another rule … and now people who had no criminal intent find themselves coughing up tens of thousands of dollars they shouldn’t owe...
As in the case of the fly, we were better off leaving the original ailment alone. No, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to catch tax evasion. I’m saying we shouldn’t try so hard that we end up criminalizing a lot of innocent behavior. There are worse things than a country with some tax fraud. And one of those things is a government with vast and arbitrary power to punish people who have done no wrong.
Fortunately, with the Times on the case, there may be light at the end of our dystopian tunnel. Keep asking those questions, guys, because I know I speak for a lot of us when I say I'm getting pretty tired of living in dystopia.
October 26, 2014
Press "send," and you're done
Transforming a writer's words into a readable e-book product can be done with a combination of software and a minimal amount of training. Book publishers do not have any substantial expertise in software development, but Amazon and its key competitors (Apple, Google, and the B&B/Microsoft partnership) do.(via this TNR critique, by way of Ron Hogan.)
October 25, 2014
It's back! And by "it" I mean those Sam Hellerman shirts...
King Dork Approximately shirts coming soon, too, by the way.
Logos (not the Jesus kind)
So I'm not sure what I expect to get from this, but I thought it could be worth trying so bear with me while I explain what it is.
You know how you (probably) used to devote a great deal of time in your teenage years to designing your theoretical band's logo? I mean, maybe you still spend time doing that, and if so I won't judge you. What else are you going to do with your time? It's not for me to say. Anyway in King Dork Approximately this is a recurring theme, which will not surprise anyone who has read King Dork, I'm sure.
I have often thought it would be fun to have logos of some of Tom's and Sam's bands, and I've even tried designing a logo or two myself from time to time.
But, in fact, I really suck at drawing logos, or anything. Even when the goal is to look awkward and amateurish -- doing that authentically can actually take more talent than producing something straightforward.
So I thought, hey I will ask the internet, and see what happens.
The assignment is to design a logo for the band Encyclopedia Satanica. From the book:
Oh, you haven’t heard our band? Encyclopedia Satanica? Well, that’s what it was called at the time I’m describing—that is, at the beginning of Sam Hellerman’s phone call about the letter. You should have seen the logo: so squashed-together and spiky that it was completely illegible. No way anyone was going to be able to read that thing. And it was really more of a sinister cult than a band. By the end of every show all audience members, especially the ladies, were thoroughly brainwashed and eager to do our bidding like sexy robot zombies.And one of the conceits in the story is that logo is so illegible that they actually use it over and over for several of the subsequent bands, to wit:
I showed them the logo.
“It used to say ‘Encyclopedia Satanica,’ ” I explained. “Then it said ‘I Hate This Jar.’ But now it says ‘Teenage Brainwashers.’"
Got it? Anyone feel like drawing it? If so do and send it to me at email@example.com or by any other means you like.
This isn't a "contest" or anything like that, but if anybody does do it it'll be fun, probably, and maybe there's some kind of favor I could do for you one day (if it doesn't cost me any money because I'm stone broke.)
p.s. I'm also trying to come with a (legible) new MTX logo, so if any logo-happy people out there want to give that one a shot, please do.
October 23, 2014
King Dork Approximately Amazon music list
I did one of those Amazon list things for King Dork way back when, and I did another one for King Dork Approximately just now.
It's called the King Dork Approximately Music List and it's basically a list of music referenced in the book, along with quotes from the text.
I'm going to do it with books, etc., as I did before with the King Dork Reading List, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, pre-order KDA now!
October 22, 2014
End of an Era
Wonderful, if bittersweet, news: the ninth and final series of Peep Show will air sometime next year.
I am going to miss these characters (all of them, including the writers) but of course all of those involved will continue to do stuff, so there's still more to come in that sense.
In so many ways this show was, for me, the absolute pinnacle of comedy, as well as the a.p. of other things, like writing and acting. It "spoke to" me in a way that pretty much nothing else ever has. I can't think of a bit of art of any type, musical, literary, visual, that has meant as much to me or had as much impact on my life as this series, strange as that may sound.
But wanting to end at the appropriate time, and while the premise still makes sense, as explained in the article, is a fair point. And it's true that things already seemed to be winding down in the last series, if not earlier.
Hail Mark and Jez, et al. Can't wait to see what happens next.
October 21, 2014
"Frank Portman, singing my new favorite jam..."
Tiffany seems to have had a good time at the Texas Teen Book Festival, and here's her re-cap of the day, which includes this photo:
The jam in question is "Cinthya with a Y", which she incidentally gave the best review a song could ever get:
I'm still obsessed with the song Frank Portman sang inspired by his book, King Dork. The song was called "Cinthya with a Y," and now that I've typed that, it's going to be in my head for the rest of the day.Cinthya is actually a character who appears in King Dork Approximately, and we're planning to record it for real at our next opportunity. I have to say I'm surprised at the great reaction people have had to this songs the few times I've played it so far. Laughs at every line.
Anyway, thanks Tiff!
Text from Your Ex
My friend Tristin described this collection of allegedly real text message screen shots as "MTX songs come to life" and I can see why!
October 20, 2014
So TX Teen Book thing was good. Mostly hung out with the core “team” of music-y YA writers from that previous Anderson’s conference (Len Vlahos, Kevin Emerson, Joelle Charbonneau) but also kind of “bonded” over shared friends and music, past and present, with Gayle Forman, and Led Zeppelin with James Dashner (“mark my words: rock and roll is gonna make a comeback”). Also Cory Doctorow, Scott Westerfield, Ransom Riggs, Jason Reynolds, the indefatigable Sarah Petre (a/k/a Posh Deluxe of FYA), and lotsa others too of course.
One thing you can’t complain about concerning the YA world: pretty much everyone you meet is really friendly, nice, pleasant to be around…. I can’t think of another “world” where that is so much the case. Anyway niceness makes everything easier, including lit conferences, even when you know you have to go back to the real world.
Thanks for all the everything folks. I hope all your books sell millions and millions if they haven’t already.
My panel was called “Come on Feel the Noise”, so, with that quick mind I am known for, I decided to play “Cum on Feel the Noize” for my sound check. This did not register or compute, from what I could tell, to nearly 100% of those in the room, which is not super surprising. This is the world we live in, a world where a panel called “Come on Feel the Noise” is presented for people who are completely unaware of “Cum on Feel the Noize.”
But it is also a world where a nine-year-old girl, say, can come up to you and say, in reference to your AC/DC shirt: “I love your shirt. That’s my favorite classic rock band.” This happened several times this weekend.
The moral of the story is, things are good but we need more Slade education in our public schools.
October 15, 2014
Spark Life interview and various other recent KD/KDA links
So YA etc. author Kathryn Williams interviewed me about King Dork Approximately for Sparknotes as part of their "Teen Read Week" and the result can be read here. I reveal my most-hated childhood nickname, which of my characters I most "relate" to, how uncomfortable it was to write about Tom Henderson making out etc. in the Slut Heaven Rec Center girl's restroom with the broken lock (answer: not very), and what my favorite toothpaste is.
Also they have posted a "sneak peek" excerpt.
Other recent links I've maybe noted elsewhere but not here:
-- YA authority and aficionado Professor Steven Bickmore includes King Dork on his list of ten adult novels that have stayed with you. Thanks, Steve!
-- Emily Maas and Popcrush list ten YA books they wish were required reading and include King Dork on it. I've always been a fan of the idea of making the consumption of my product mandatory, so this feels like a step in the right direction. Well done, Emily.
-- Tiffany of Beneath the Jacket reviews the cover of King Dork Approximately and pronounces it "pretty cute". Design success!
-- Our own Nathan Pensky pushes back against complaints about the creeping "likability" standard in American letters. Fair enough, but in my defense, I'm really more of a curmudgeon and pedant than a snob.
-- Mahnaz Dar's review of King Dork Approximately in The School Library Journal (scroll down) is very kind. Excerpt:
...Portman has crafted a perceptive protagonist, whose brilliantly wry observations will keep readers laughing and whose voice is infused with an all-too-believable mix of innocence and cynicism...Well, shucks that's kind of exactly what I was going for so that's nice to hear. Also kind of a relief...
-- another very nice review by Miriam from the Bookpeople Teen Press Corps:
...My favorite character is Roberta (the female robot) because she’s really quirky and random. Her personality helps tie the book together...No writing I've ever done has been as much fun as coming up with the Robot's various notes...
More to come, at least, let's hope so.