Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Kelly at Stacked lists her favorites of 2010. A taste: "Brezenoff's book is the perfect tale of the average kid navigating the tricky terrain, the painful events, and the completely normal aspects of being a teenager in high school."
And Jamie at Bookmarked Reviews includes |-1| on her favorite debuts of the year. "...I think it's probably the most under-appreciated debut of the year." Thanks!
Sunday, December 5, 2010
But I digress. I have a tendency to do that. Back to Mindi.
Mindi's debut, FREEFALL, from Simon Pulse (where I totally used to work, thankyouverymuch), is an achievement of the highest magnitude. Seth McCoy is a well realized, superbly voice, and completely believable protagonist. His story is difficult and deep, and Mindi handles the dark and light equally well. It's a fantastic debut, and it's been out since early October, so you should have read it by now.
And now, here's Mindi's guest blog on the usual guest blog theme: fish out of water.
People are always asking authors whether the characters in their books are inspired by people they know in real life. For Freefall, my answer to that question is "no," especially in regards to Seth McCoy, my narrator. He's probably the most truly fictional character I've ever created.
There are a few things that I have in common with him, though. One of those is that the first time I stepped foot at a country club, I felt like a fish out of water. Everything was so elegant and everyone there who wasn't me seemed so oblivious. Like, it was just an ordinary day at an ordinary place, la la la, who cares!
In my book, there is a scene where Seth visits a country club for the first time. The narrative is very much filtered through his point of view and in his voice, of course, but the out-of-placeness he experiences is similar to mine . . . which is cool, because it makes me feel less alone and stuff. ;-)
Thanks, Mindi! Here are some links and such for more info on Freefall and Mindi.
Links about Mindi:
And the trailer for FREEFALL:
Friday, November 19, 2010
Tuesday, November 23. 6:30 EST: I'll be the guest on A Book and a Chat, the latest in a long string of male writers of young adult books for Male YA Author Month. Take a look at the guest list for the month. Not too shabby! Unfortunately, you've already missed a lot of it*. But fortunately, you ain't yet missed me, baby! Call in. No, seriously. You. Call in.
Saturday, December 4. 2:00 CST: I'll be joining Pete Hautman (author of Godless, Sweetblood, and, most currently, Blank Confession, among much else) at the Loft Second Story Reading Series, hosted by the inimitable Swati Avasthi and Heather Bouwman. I plan to read a bit from The Absolute Value of -1, and a bit from next year's Brooklyn, Burning.
Saturday, December 11. 1:00 CST: Magers & Quinn, where we held the |-1| launch party and reading, has invited me to sign some books for an hour or so. Also signing during that slot will be Alison McGhee.
I hope to see or hear from some of you at one or all of those fabulous, mind-blowing events of death! I mean, just events. Not of death. Never mind the death part.
*Actually, they're all archived, I think, so you can totally still hear them.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
First of all, this song has been on repeat in my ears most of the day. I never was much into Buckner, but this song closes the Merge Records sampler I got when I bought the latest Superchunk CD, and I'm obsessed. Perhaps you'll enjoy it.
Second! As you may have noticed, a couple of posts ago I started using the add-on IntenseDebate. I'm loving it, and if the surge in comments is any indication, y'all are too. This pleases me, but now I feel a pressure to always post on issues that are likely to inspire comments. I'll certainly post about music again, though maybe not with the focus of that Greatest LPs post, and I hope to write another post that compares NY and MN linguistic intricacies.
Until then, please enjoy this review by Emily. I like it especially because she was a teen on Long Island, just like I was, and just like Lily, Noah, and Simon are.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Well, for a million reasons -- not the least of which is that it actually come close to fitting in with the alleged theme of this blog -- I have decided to compile a list of differences between everyday interactions, here in Minnesota, and back in the tri-state area. (That means New York City and its suburbs in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.) For our first installment, we will visit the most popular coffee shops in each area: Caribou and Starbucks.
In Minnesota, the Caribou cashier will greet you, and actually smile and listen to your reply to "How are you doing today?"
In New York, the Starbucks cashier might make eye contact when she asks what you want: "Can I help you?" If she says "How are you?" it just means "What do you want?", and if you reply and ask how she is doing, you will get a vacant stare in response.
In Minnesota, the cashier will then ask you if "you need anything else today?" She might tell you how nice/cold/rainy/hot out it is, and that the football game will be on later, and perhaps you plan to watch?
In New York, the cashier will, while writing on your cup, say, "That it?"
In Minnesota, after you pay, the cashier will ask if "you need a receipt at all?" ("At all?" What does that mean, anyway? Am I supposed to say, "I need it just a tiny bit"?) She will suggest you have a great rest of the day, and perhaps stay cool/dry/warm/inside/outside.
In New York, the cashier will put the receipt in your hand with your change in such a way that the change will fall from your hand and roll off the counter. She will say "sorry" and turn to the next customer while you try to get the coins that are rolling around the store.
In Minnesota, after you take your change, no one will make a move to order until you've put everything in its proper wallet or pocket or zippered bag compartment and moved completely out of the way. While they wait, they will smile and look at you. It will make you nervous.
In New York, the moment you have your change (or are scrambling for it all over the shop), the next person will start right in, often before being asked, leaning across and in front of you if necessary: "Yeah, lemme get a double nonfat latte in two cups . . ." It will make you nervous.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Life Pursuit -- Belle & Sebastian
London Calling -- The Clash
The Soft Bulletin -- Flaming Lips
OK Computer -- Radiohead
Pet Sounds -- The Beach Boys
Something about these LPs--and I have no doubt there are many others, too--connects them. They are the best work the bands have done (obviously that is debatable, but I have a suspicion that if I checked sales numbers, they're at least the best-sellers*), and they seemed to come from nowhere. Example: The Flaming Lips were, despite renown on the college radio scene, essentially a psychedelic punk band known as much for their strangeness and inability to cross over as for their sound. Their biggest hit before 1999 was "She Don't Use Jelly." In fact, it remains their only hit in the States. But in 1999, they released The Soft Bulletin. Many longtime fans (including myself) were surprised (and, yeah, disappointed) by the drastic change in their sound. We eventually came around--or most of us did. But more importantly, the Lips were suddenly critics' darlings. They were all over the Mtv. The Soft Bulletin was called the third best album of 1990s by Pitchfork, and the best album of 1999 by NME.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots followed for the Lips. In my opinion, it is an uninspired follow-up to The Soft Bulletin. It's a good record, sure, but I'd rather listen to--I don't know--Clouds Taste Metallic or Hit to Death in the Future Head. It doesn't hold up to repeated listenings, and no one was talking about it as a groundbreaking, career-changing release.
Radiohead's OK Computer. Where the hell did that come from? Seriously, did anyone expect that after the tepid Pablo Honey, "Creep"'s success notwithstanding? The Bends was a stronger record, I suppose, but Radiohead was--to me--another mopey group of Brits, one of whom (lead singer Thom Yorke) looked an awful lot like Martin Short doing a mopey Brit. Then one morning in 1997, getting ready for work with Mtv on, I caught a new video but missed the opening credit. I didn't move from the couch till it ended. It was "Paranoid Android." (Not an embeddable clip, but worth clicking over if you haven't seen this video.)
OK Computer was a daring and brilliant record. Radiohead found fans they never had before, in the public and the press. It made nearly every best-of-the-year list, in the US and the UK, and won a Grammy. (I kind of get a kick out of how much Robert Christgau of the Village Voice didn't like it. Scroll down to Dud of the Month.) But the point: this was a daring, sparse, experimental, unfamiliar album. No one outside of the band's inner circle could have predicted this musical shift. But there it is, and it's brilliant, and everything since for Radiohead doesn't come close. Sure, the Kid A lovers exist (I'm not among them), and they continue to sell LPs and fill halls, but they never again saw a career-exploding popular and critical success like OK Computer.
I am not a Clash fan. I am a huge fan, though, of London Calling. In 1979, these guys recorded an album that explored ska, reggae, punk, rockabilly, and good old rock 'n' roll. It turned out to be the breakthrough they'd been looking for in the US, and went on to appear on not just the best-of-the-year lists by many rags, and not just best-of-the-decade (often making best of the '70s and best of the '80s list, despite being release in 1979), but best of all-time lists. Rolling Stone called it the eighth best record ever. They never had the same success again. They never pleased the critics or the public in the same way. Of course, hardcore Clash fans exist in great numbers, and they swallow up the discography like delicious foodstuff. But for most music fans, I think, London Calling is as deep into that discography as we need to get.
I won't go into detail on The Life Pursuit, except to say that B&S fans who have been around since Tigermilk will tell you that simply everyone who never much cared for B&S adored The Life Pursuit. Well, they've put out their follow-up, and it's . . . good. But I'm not listening to it repeatedly.
Or Pet Sounds. You want a WTF moment? I can only imagine what happened when a bunch of Jan and Dean fans slipped this slab of wax on their Victrolas, maybe expecting to hear the ilk of "Surfin' USA" or "California Girls." This is the album Paul McCartney played for John Lennon--over and over and over--and that was after they'd already done Rubber Soul. Come on!
And Pet Sounds is a great place to stop, because it highlights well the problem with such records: what followed for Brian Wilson--the LP's mastermind--was a "lost" LP called Smile. It was simply never good enough, and it didn't see the light of day until 2004, nearly 40 years after Pet Sounds was released. And that's the only truth about all these LPs I can figure: every artist I've mentioned simply never did it again. They struck absolute greatness--created some of the best and best appreciated music of all time--and then slipped toward mediocrity once again.
Why? Is it the grasping for greatness, having touched it once, that makes it impossible to hold (like soap in the shower, if you will)? That's the best explanation I can give. Of course, what might be more valuable is an answer to this: How did they hit greatness to begin with? The bands above didn't give any indication that they'd someday create such start-to-finish masterpieces, albums I would, at a moment of weakness, even call flawless. But they did.
I guess if we had an answer to that, we'd all have framed platinum records hanging in our living rooms.
*I checked, and Yoshimi is gold, while Soft Bulletin is not. My best guess is that Yoshimi was released to a public suddenly familiar with the Flaming Lips. Also, "Do You Realize?" was frequently used in commercials.
Friday, October 15, 2010
(The Tom Petty music in this coffee shop is too loud and makes it difficult for me to enjoy the Smiths and Noisettes and Belle and Sebastian and Avett Brothers in my headphones. The complicated musical collision is unpleasant and I keep making all the typos and losing track of sentences before I finish them.)
Where was I? Oh yeah. Titles. When I wrote |-1|, it was called Splinters. In my head, and to my wife, I still sometimes call it Splinters. It was only very recently that I renamed the folders in my PC, from Splinters to Absolute Value.
I've got a WIP right now--about a girl addicted to a popular MMORPG, losing her grip on reality--that I call A Terrible Mistake. The aspect of the plot that produced that title is now gone, but I think I'll always call it A Terrible Mistake in my mind.
There's this other one--I just sold it, and I got my revision notes from the AE last night--that I've been calling Two Summers around the Fire for, well, like a year, I guess. It takes place during two separate summers, and between them was a fire. But yeah, it sounds more like it's a camping story. (Is there such a thing as a camping story? I've never camped, so don't ask me.) Therefore, I exhibited exactly no surprise when that title had to go.
We brainstormed. Everyone I know brainstormed! Well, like five people I know brainstormed! I don't know a lot of people.
We came up with a few great ideas, several mediocre ideas, and a multitude of crap. (Have you ever seen a multitude of crap?! It's not what the angels had in mind, I can assure you.)
We narrowed it down. We bartered and haggled and compromised and held firm. We added commas. We took them back out. We put them back in. We added "is," and took it out again. We put it back. We capped it. We lowercased it. We took it out again. There was a comma under my desk, so I put that in. A question mark got stuck in my shoe and I had a limp for a week.
I went to the Metro State library and worked with the research librarian for 45 minutes to properly attribute a quote of Jeremy Taylor that he probably never actually said.
I watched this video like six times.
And this one.
And then this one, for no good reason. It's a freaking Four-Chord Song, but I couldn't stop. I'm going to watch it again.
Then, last night, I met with the AE at a coffee shop here in St. Paul, where we both live. While I waited for him to show, I watched this video again. I'll leave out the boring part, or at least save it for a post about revisions, and cut to the title--the final title for what was Two Summers around the Fire--and is now . . .
Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Fire. Love. Arson. Sunrise, sunset. It's pretty perfect, really.
Monday, October 11, 2010
We're back from our very short vacation! Here is the crazy house we stayed in. We loved it.
It was our first vacation as a family, unless you count trips to family events or obligations, which we don't, and if you go by those rules, which we did, it is even the first vacation for Beth and me as a married couple! Or even as a freaking dating couple! We never went anywhere! The point is, traveling with a toddler is a job of work. But Sam did love the lighthouse and the choo-choo. Here is Sam near the choo-choo.
He claims he liked the big boats as well, but there was only one, and we didn't board, and I don't think he was paying attention when we walked past it*.
Also, regarding Duluth: If you play Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening, and if you haven't yet bought the expansion Witch Hunt, don't. Why? Because (A) it's pretty boring and doesn't really answer any of your questions, and (B) Morrigan is working at the Duluth Grill. She's shorter in person, and isn't wearing that crazy outfit, but you wouldn't either because she's an apostate and has to stay on the DL, so she can't very well go around in that get-up with a staff on her freaking back, can she? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, all the better.
Out of respect for my adopted state, I did not wear my favorite baseball cap all weekend. But when the next series starts on Friday, it's back on my head. Don't give me any crap.
*Photos are by Beth, and from her new blog.
Friday, October 1, 2010
But before the big list of links, let's talk about Swati Avasthi's just-beginning blog tour for charity! Here's a banner!
There's loads of great items--from signed books to MS crits--including a personalized |-1| and 100-page crit from me! Go bid right away.
In other news, I think we have a final title for Two Summers, and it ain't Two Summers, folks. It's better, I can say with astute clarity. I feel like using words that aren't entirely appropriate in context today. Anyway, I'll blog about titles and such soon.
Okay, so. My little blog tour. Here it is!
An interview with Noah, one of the |-1| narrators
A review of |-1| at The Hiding Spot
A short interview with me
A review of |-1| at Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf
A guest post at Lost for Words
A review of |-1| at Lost for Words
An interview with me
A review of |-1| at A Good Addiction
Another interview with me
A review of |-1| at The Book Scout
Sunday, September 26, 2010
At the reading, I read one chapter from each major narrator (reading Lily was way more difficult than I thought it would be, by the way. When it came time to start reading Noah, with all his ridiculousness, it was a huge relief), then answered a few excellent questions. My wife's grandparents sat right in the front row, and did not flinch at the dozens of F bombs dropping from the lectern. So yay!
There were also black-and-white cookies, that New York dessert staple, and a box of red wine, which apparently some people didn't notice. More for me! Kidding. I only had like ten cups. Kidding again! I only had one.
The turn-out was excellent, and I hope I can do another event at Magers & Quinn soon. They're great. I do wish I'd taken a photo from the lectern, but next time I'll remember. Oh, and M&Q video'd the thing, and the sound might be very low, but we'll see. More to follow if it's at all watch-worthy.
Anyway, big thanks to everyone who showed up! Good lookin' out.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I did not invent the word, so don't give me a hard time about it. However, if you do want to give me a hard time about it, the best time would be during my Twitterview.
Please join me -- @sbrezenoff -- at 1 pm central time Wednesday, September 22. Ask me anything; just use the hashtag #absolutevalue, and I'll see it and reply. It will be so freaking fun.
Until then, peruse my responses to Minnesota Reads' "6 questions we hardly ever ask." I bet you can't guess my ultimate Jeopardy! categories.
Friday, September 17, 2010
I was interviewed by Jessica at A Fanatic's Book Blog. She asked some excellent questions, so it's a pretty interesting interview, if I do say so myself! All credit to Jessica, naturally.
Next, the latest Booklist includes a review of |-1|. I can't link to it, because their website requires a subscription, but I found the full text on the Hennepin County Library website, so I grabbed a screenshot and here it is!
And finally--seriously, "last but not least" was invented for this--|-1| was called Young Adult Book of the Year by local lifestyle glossy magazine METRO. Please read the whole list, because it's an excellent list, and my book and I are in some pretty impressive company, not the least of which is Forever Young Adult! You'll no doubt recall that their review of |-1| was jaw-droppingly awesome. Well, METRO thought so too, and they featured that excellent blog right in conjunction with |-1|. So cool.
Reminder: The official launch party and reading is less than a week away now. The details! Please come, and yes, I will be cussing. At least a little bit. Twitter told me it's okay.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
In other news, the inimitable Josh Berk has MasterBerked |-1|. There's also a fine rap. Embedded!
And finally, Mindi Scott, author of Freefall--which will be out October 5 and I hear is great but I haven't read yet and want to--interviewed me for her Magic 8 series. Linked!
Apparently, I'm feeling my Strong Bad this morning. Techno'd!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
(Of course, it's been available for sale online--and in one or two brick and mortars--for some time now. But I've been looking forward to September 1, 2010 for a long while, so we're not about to just ignore it, am I right?)
At the end of this entry, I'll announce a contest that begins right now and ends at midnight tonight. So if you're impatient, scroll down for the details.
First order of business, in our celebration, though: I haven't posted the trailer in an age, so here it is.
If you like it, please nominate and vote for it at the SLJ trailer competition!
And now, on to the sappy stuff. I usually let the AE handle the sentimental strolls down memory lane, but I think this morning I'll take some of it upon myself. I've been going through old e-mails. Here are a few choice excerpts from over the course of |-1|'s creation:
The AE, the day after he received my original manuscript:
I didn’t mean to read the whole thing right away, but I did, and I’d really like to talk with you about it. Suffice it to say I did not find myself humming “Jack and Diane.”
As context, consider "Jack and Diane" to be the opposite of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It was three months later before I sent the AE a closer-to-final version, with a new 30k words. My note:
This MS is by no means perfect, and there is a passage or two I am going to continue to lose sleep over (such as the last five or six words, which I think fall a little flat), but I do think it's ready for some [editorial] input.
The little novel that could made it to an acquisition meeting. The AE emails me a report afterward:
Good news. It went well. Lots of people read it and liked it (got some good notes, too). I’ll be making an offer.
Eventually, the sale is official and made public in the traditional way: Publishers Marketplace.
Steve Brezenoff's untitled book, about four Long Island teens whose lives unravel suddenly and dramatically (and with a fair amount of pot), to Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda, for publication Fall 2010, by Edward Necarsulmer IV at McIntosh & Otis (NA).
It was time to firm up that title. The old title, SPLINTERS, didn't stay in the running for too long. We narrowed it down to these three:
It Was Never About You
The Absolute Value of -1One False Move
. . . before finally settling, very happily, on |-1|, obviously. With a title, it was blurb time. I had my "oh wow that would be amazing" list of hopefuls, and at the top of the list was Sara Zarr. One morning in June 2009, a moth flew into my ear. That evening, after staying far away from the internet most of the day, I got a nice little note from Ms. Zarr.
"I think you've pulled of something pretty special. Really, really good job, Steve."
It wouldn't be appropriate to paste the entire original email from Ms. Zarr, or--believe me--I would. I'd probably buy a billboard in Times Square. But moving on. The point is, I got my dream blurb, and it was cover time. The AE and I headed to Teens Know Best. Finally, more than a year after I'd sent the final draft to the AE, we had the results:
I couldn't be happier that my debut novel is officially out in the world. And now we have reached the contest!
It's a repeat contest, really, but I can't think of a better way to give out a couple of signed copies of |-1| and get the word out that it's officially released.
So here it is: Help me get the trailer out one more time. It debuted months ago, but I think it deserves to be a part of the book's release day, too. So tweet it, embed it, link it on your blog, share it on Facebook . . . however you want! But whatever you do, let me know. If you share it on Twitter, put @sbrezenoff at the end of your tweet. If you share it on Facebook, link to the absolute value of -1's official Facebook page. Or you can just let me know right here, in the comments, if that's easier. Every time you share the trailer, you'll get an entry, closing at midnight tonight, Central time.
Please, only US and Canada residents should enter, and only people 13 or over. Also, if you're offended by lots of cursing and/or drug references, please do NOT enter.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I suppose he wouldn't have had any problem with wind chimes kept indoors. His primary problem with them, in fact, was that they are typically kept outdoors, where they have the best chance of catching any wind. When they do, as any pre-schooler can tell you, they chime. Some are quite large and quite loud. Often, on a particularly windy day--say a breezy spring Sunday, when the neighbors' windows are open--the sound will ring frequently, up and down the block, invading others' homes. This bothered my dad, who believed a person in his own home shouldn't have to listen to someone else's wind chimes, no matter how pleasant the sound might be to the owner.
This made a tremendous amount of sense to me growing up, in no small part because my dad said it. For much of my life, even most of it, I pitched this idea on occasion, believing firmly that no one should be forced to hear wind chimes from anyone else's garden. I had never given it much thought, but instead absorbed it as a knee-jerk belief.
Now, as an adult, I have shed this particular nugget of justice theory. I like wind chimes quite a lot now, and I think I'd have to be in a pretty hostile mood to say a bad thing against them.
Why am I talking about wind chimes? In writing (and in reading), I have my share of knee-jerk opinions--the results of taking part in so many crit groups and workshops, and from reading instruction in creative writing. We all know a handful of these rules--cut to the chase; show don't tell; don't write in first/second/third person without a damn good reason--and they are often important to consider. But they are not, in and of themselves, justification for their own existence. That is, just because the rule exists, doesn't mean we have to follow it.
Without question, a writer should examine the work, consider the old chestnuts (especially "show, don't tell"; I think it's often misunderstood, however, and I'll probably get around to a decent rant on the subject at some point). The writer's workshoppers should apply every little crit trick they've picked up. But they are not gospel. A work in second person that doesn't get its legs till word two thousand, and that commits the "suddenly" sin on page thirteen, might still be a great work. If the writer dwells on these rules, he or she will become paralyzed by their weight.
So sit in your office with the windows open and enjoy those wind chimes. If they need to come down because they're really driving you batty, we can take it up with your neighbor once cooler heads prevail. But if the sound is actually pretty nice, go with it for a while.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Brezenoff … packs his first book for teenagers with emotion. … Lily, Noah, and Simon are friends … who are drifting apart. ... When Simon quits smoking and cautiously begins hanging out with another track team member, he alienates Lily and Noah, and continues to struggle with human connections. … Each of the three teenagers has a turn at first-person narration, revisiting the same scenario from different perspectives. Brezenoff nicely differentiates their voices and personalities, even while their narratives are bound together by the frustrations, self-doubt (and hatred), and pain they share.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Last week, she hosted my pub story. Don't read it. Then, she announced a contest. If you help promote the contest--or even if you just go comment on the contest--you get an entry to win a copy of The Absolute Value of -1. There will be two winners! And, since I'll be sending the books out myself, I can even personalize a copy for you if you win! It doesn't get more exciting than this, folks.
Head over there and comment, and Tweet, and link on your blog! So many ways to earn an entry.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Of course, you can imagine how I felt with no comments on my most recent post: unloved, my dear readers. Well, much better now, so thanks to all for the congrats and shoe advice. I decided to go with the classic black-white checker slip-ons, rather than the black and charcoal ones pictured below. By the way, besides my undying love of the canvas sneakers of my youth (Chucks and Vans, that is), I wanted those kicks because a character* in Two Summers wears them. It is an homage--an homage that I can't wear in public because it will embarrass my wife, but an homage just the same.
In other news, School Library Journal and Kirkus have terrible taste. However, Second Star and Guys Lit Wire are wonderful and thrilling in every regard. Please go watch Kellie read some Lily:
And read GLW's thoughtful, in-depth, and fairly long review of |-1|.
*The character in Two Summers is not actually Avril Lavigne, who is in no way associated with this blog, except that once I saw her perform on the Radio City Music Hall sign as she rehearsed for her appearance on the MTV Awards. My then-office was less than a block away.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
"July 23, 2010
Children's: Young Adult
Steve Brezenoff's TWO SUMMERS AROUND THE FIRE, to Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Lab . . . for publication in Fall 2011. . . ."
In other words, YA MS the Third is now officially YA Novel the Second! Well, I guess we can just call it Two Summers around the Fire, since it says the name right there in the announcement. If the title changes, we can worry about that later.
Anyway, yay! To celebrate, I will buy these shoes:
Friday, July 16, 2010
But that's okay, because I am about to point you at another opportunity to win a copy of The Absolute Value of -1, bringing the current number of copies up for grabs to two!
As a reminder, you can still go comment over at Kurtis's blog for a chance to win there. Plus, the always classy Posh over at Forever Young Adult dropped a review yesterday, and -- I forgot to mention this when I twittered it and linked it on Facebook -- she's also got a copy to give away. So go comment there, too.
Of course, Amazon.com has started shipping the book already, so if you don't win either copy up for grabs, you can get your own right away anyway.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Secondarily, I'm posting a sketch I did last week, with the intention of demonstrating that I've gotten a little better in a few days of practice. I'll keep practicing, and I won't quit my day job, particularly because I don't have one.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Until then, though, if you want to learn all there is to know about the new novel, random image collages, and what Shirley Bassey did to Big Bird, you can watch this trailer. They say "a picture is worth a thousand words." Here, Kurtis proves that pictures are indeed worth far more than a thousand words, and many of them you probably wouldn't have guessed.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
So, here's what I've been up to this afternoon. They're just sketches, but I can totally feel myself getting better. Recognize anyone? If you click it, they will get bigger. I think.
Oh, and by the way. I'm racing Kurtis Scaletta to 500 Twitter followers. The moment I do reach 500, I will give away two free copies of The Absolute Value of -1 to random followers. Here's my Twitter. I'm not telling you Kurtis's.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
End of last week, I was featured over at Edited to Within an Inch of my Life, the blog of Heather Kelly. She asked some great questions, and I supplied adequate response . . . most of the time! Some of my answers were totally inadequate! Hence, there were some follow-up questions in the comments. I will now, using my great powers of eye sight, insight, and foresight, answer those questions!
1. The title
That crazy title of mine! It's a catchy, intimidating mouthful, isn't it? And until recently, I had the darnedest time discussing it intelligently. But lo and behold, at BEA, I recorded the podcast linked in the previous entry at this blog, and on the spot as I was, I managed to produce a pretty decent answer. To sum up: The Absolute Value of -1, or |-1|, simply means 1, mathematically. More poetically, the idea is that the three main characters of the novel (Lily, Simon, and Noah) are dealing with a new absence. The title implies a question: what is the value of that absence, and how does it begin to shape Lily, Simon, and Noah into new adults?
As to how we came up with it, this was a group effort on the part of the Aforementioned Editor, me, and my wife. We each made a list of ideas. The Absolute Value of -1 appeared on my wife's list, and after a couple of rounds of voting, let's call it, was chosen.
2. The process
Heather asked me about how I write, and I only answered with regard to |-1|, really rather an oddball book, process-wise. So now I'll try to expand that answer a bit, since I will (hopefully) never write a novel using the |-1| (fifteen-year-long and terribly confusing) method.
(We all know what a pantser is, right?)
I have a couple of distinct methods, depending on what I'm writing. If I'm outlining, chances are good I'm doing a work-for-hire job. My outlines usually work like this: I have a vague idea what I need the story to be about (a recent example is a horror story that takes places in a movie theater). In a very pantsery way, I start an outline. I type "chapter one," and write a few sentences on what will happen in chapter one, including characters who need to be introduced. At this point, since I am at heart a pantser, I have no idea how this thing is going to end, or which characters I really need, so I wing it.
Here is a sample opening chapter in outline form:
NAME is walking to school, very slowly because it’s early. His friend meets him and they walk on. Both are slow and tired. It’s winter. Their hoods are on, their eyes are sunken and dark. Everyone’s are, after all. In homeroom, the principal, who sounds very tired, He announces the typical mumbo jumbo, and then says the head lunch lady, to brighten up our day, has added hot chocolate to the menu, free of charge!
Notice no names have been chosen yet. Also notice a little bit of set up has already happened, specifically that these students appear to be the walking dead, and that there's free cocoa. (Doesn't sound like much, but when you consider this is the opening chapter of a middle-school zombie chapter book, it begins to add up.)
At some point during this pantsery outlining method, I'll actually realize how things need to end, what people's names will be, and other important details like that. Then I can go back and add things. Since it's such a succinct form, that isn't the headache it would be if I simply pantsed it (more on that in my next process section). For example, though I don't save outline drafts, so I can't prove this, I suspect the line about free cocoa was added when I was already halfway done with the outline, since it would not be like me to predict the Chekhov gun I'd need so handily.
Did I just gloss over a hard part with that whole "simply a matter of" stuff? If so, I apologize. To me, that isn't "process" itself anymore.
Okay, moving on.
Process the second: writing a novel. I'm a pantser for like 20 or 30 or even 40 or 50 thousand words. There was a time not long ago that I would simply give up when I realized I was out in the middle of the ocean with no paddle and no clue where the shore was anyway. Friends used to tell me to simply gather all my lost novels into a collection called Beginnings.
What I do now, as opposed to what I did with |-1| (which I won't dwell on), is to back-outline-- write a synopsis, even. That is, with lots of good scenes written, I put that aside and start building a proper skeleton. Could I do this first? I think probably not, because I can't get a good idea of the story I want to tell without a well fleshed-out character, chock full of voice, attitude, conflict, loss, and whatever else shows up when I'm pantsing.
Creating the skeleton at this point is certainly the most difficult aspect of writing a novel for me. Two cases:
YA MS the Second, which I started around Christmas 2008 and which is still unfinished-- I wrote about 40 thousand words on this one before it began to fell apart. It took months, I think over a year, to get a synopsis that I was fairly happy with. I've now finished a draft, but it is still not right, because the synopsis is still not right. It's going to take a lot of thought to figure where I need to make changes or put my protagonist down a road I was afraid to before. (More on that right now:)
YA MS the Third, which I started about a year ago, came as quickly at the beginning, and again I found myself drowning. But this time I got lucky: while hunting for inspiration, looking at photos of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (the novel's setting), I stumbled on a news story I had missed when it was news, having just left New York. In 2006, a warehouse (one I was already using as a major location in the novel) had burned for two days. Everything clicked then, and I knew what my protagonist had to go through to bring the book's arc where it needed to be. Outlining at that point was relatively easy. The problem then was putting my protagonist through it: suspicion, arrest, social workers would have to get involved. This was more than I'd ever intended when I'd started. I don't know a thing about social work, police stations, criminal negligence! So I hemmed and hawed, I did everything I could to avoid researching and writing those difficult scenes. The whole time, though, I knew that if I could just push through that material, I'd have a finished plot! So why did I resist? I can't say, but I do it all the time, and if my crit group comrades are any indication, so do a lot of other writers. Check yourself: my guess is that you do too.
The solution for me was, eventually, was to remind myself that "testing out" a road by writing a few scenes, even leaving out that which I did not yet know via research, would not hurt me. It would not hurt the finished novel of the future. It would not hurt my protagonist. It would just take a couple of hours. Big whoop! It's well worth that and much more to find the right arc.
One other point when it comes to novel writing. As I mentioned, the "outlining halfway through to be sure I ever reach the end" is the hardest part for me. Don't get the idea I get this done in an afternoon, simply thinking about my characters, the 40k words I have already, and what the overarching conflict is. No no. With YA MS the Third, for example, I divided the existent work into distinct scenes. Since the book contains a buttload of flashbacks, as is my wont, I then arranged the scenes (printed out and everything) in chronological order. I then synopsized each scene, thereby creating an outline of what I already had. I shuffled the scenes around quite a bit to maximize tension, to withhold some information while revealing other information--always to maximize tension. Only when that was done (it took weeks) was I able to see where my protagonist had to go (the lock-up!) to give me the climax I needed.
Oh man, I nearly forgot! If not for this advice from Cyn Omololu, I sincerely doubt I would have finished YA MS the Third even yet. It is invaluable, and I suggest referring to it often.
I am very lucky. I do not have a full-time job (unless you count stay-at-home dad, which you totally should, for crying out loud). I do, however, have in-laws, and those in-laws have been very generous with their time. That means babysitters, people, and babysitters mean coffee shops for me, and coffee shops for me mean work time.
I do have one set day every week (Tuesday, as it happens) on which I will get at least six hours of work time, thanks to a SIL. I'll use that time to write freely, work on a work-for-hire project, write a blog entry like this one, or struggle through any of the steps in the processes described above. Most weeks, I'll also take a Saturday morning or afternoon. Many weeks (especially during the summer), I'll get a second week day, thanks to the MIL.
So is it a set schedule? Sort of. One thing is for sure: I will always get 10 to 12 hours per week with which to write or do related work. I'd like more, and someday I'll get more. Even this fall, when Sam starts pre-school, I'll get a nice twelve hour chunk right there, and I will use it to write assuming I can concentrate while I'm worrying about my son in pre-school!
Okay, I think I managed to answer the questions in the comments on that interview. That process answer was hell of long. I hope it made sense.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
And speaking of the main site, I also finally wrote a "long version" of my bio. Check it out!
Monday, June 21, 2010
Yesterday was Father's Day. Father's Day and I have a spotty history for the last ten years. I haven't been too into celebrating it, in fact, until last year, when I was for the first time a dad on that Sunday. It was a pretty intense shift in my perspective about the holiday.
One of my gifts from Beth, Sam, and Harry this year was a picture book called The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers. It's a beautiful book, about loss and coping and learning how to put one's self at risk again, and it sums up my feelings on Father's Day very nicely. It's also very sad in a way, though it ends on a positive note. If you haven't looked at it yet, I hope you will, especially if you are someone who has lost a parent, perhaps a little sooner than you thought you might.
On the brighter side, I was also gifted with a hand-crank pasta maker and a gift card to a coffee shop at which I like to write. The real highpoint, though, was our bike ride up to Como Park for a late morning picnic. That was perfect. Here's a photo of our bikes: (ETA, Blogger image uploading is wonky. This will have to wait, of you can check this Twitpic.)
Also there was a lovely Indian dinner and a Buffy marathon. We're on a big Buffy kick, Beth and I, the last few days. We started right in season four, the one we probably know the least, but knowing us we'll go right through the rest of the series before we stop. Perhaps we'll even be inclined to watch one, two, and three afterward.
It's just over two months till the official release of The Absolute Value of -1. Watch this space for a bunch of contests and giveaways during the summer.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
I hope it won't disappoint anyone.
I don't make a habit of publicizing my working tunes, but recently, the AE was recommended a particular Avett Brothers song, one that played a nearly formative role in YA MS the Third. We got to tweeting briefly on the subject, and I decided I'd go ahead and share my full set list. I'm finally getting around to doing so.
Some of these are old, old favorites. Others are newer tunes that were in such frequent rotation that they colored the mood of the book to some extent. Others, like the aforementioned Avett Brothers tune, are so appropriate to the book it's uncanny, especially when you consider how much of the plot and characterization was set in stone before I even heard them.
Without further annoying ado!:
(grouped by artist)
"I and Love and You" -- this was the song the AE first tweeted, and the first song that I associated with the book. It's lyrics are crazy appropriate, as its general vibe of hopeful melancholia.
"Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise" -- this one maintains the previous mood, but its lyrics feel somehow even more appropriate. I verge on tears when I hear this one, simply because it reminds me so much of my main characters.
"Kick Drum Heart" -- a more upbeat tune from these bluegrass punk fellows, this tune captures nicely the not-so-uncommon lighter moments in the book.
"Never Forget You" -- I always felt this tune fit the vague retro feel of YA MS the Third. Its theme, also, of long-lasting friendship, especially with booze involved, fit nicely with a sub-story.
"Sometimes" and "Cheap Kicks" -- mood-wise, same deal as above. They just work, to me.
"We Walk" -- you knew I had to get my Ting-Tings in here, and this song is the only one on the album that feels appropriate, lyrics and mood-wise. The Ting-Tings bring the added bonus of being a two-person band, which is relevant to YA MS the Third. Also, there are no rhymes, which always impresses me.
"One Step Beyond" -- whenever I sit down to work on or simply read through YA MS the Third, this is the song I first put on -- it's on right now. It is the over-arching theme of the book to me, though I can't say for sure why. If you see me at BEA next year in checkered Vans instead of orange Chucks, you'll know why.
"Androgynous" -- a longtime favorite of mine that sneaked into the manuscript toward the end of my last phase of revisions, and I'm glad it did. This tune and "One Step Beyond" are I think the only ones mentioned directly in the MS.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"Heads Will Roll" -- I needed a couple of angry vocalists on this set list for one particularly angsty scene, and Karen O -- who isn't from Brooklyn, but always makes me think of Williamsburg -- couldn't have been more perfect.
"Heavy Cross" -- not sure what it is about this tune, but it felt like a natural for the MS and to rock along with Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It's also one of the first tunes my son danced to, so hey.
Belle & Sebastian
"We Are the Sleepyheads" -- I have no idea what this song is actually about, but the frenetic fun vibe of this tune suits plenty of sunny, lovey moments in the MS. Plus I was dying to get something from this amazing album on the set list.
That's it! I hope you hear some new songs and enjoy them. Let me know.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
This was a good vacation, almost entirely, which is a pretty good score.
There was my first visit to BEA, and as a signing author no less. There was the Great Pizza Tour of 2010 (more on that in a bit). There were several books read, which when you consider my reading speed is really great. There was a visit to old friends at S&S. And there was the tummy flu -- which is less fun, but no vacation is perfect.
First up, the books. As mentioned previously, I finally read The Freak Observer. Powerful stuff. I also picked up another Carolrhoda ARC, this time for a middle-grade called I, Emma Freke. So good! I don't read as much middle-grade as I used to or as I'd like to, but I found this book positively enchanting. If the gorgeous cover sets the bar pretty high, the book itself is right there with it.
And speaking of high bars, Angela Johnson, I am sorry for not reading you sooner. I picked up an ARC of Sweet, Hereafter (the book came out in January of this year, so I don't know why an ARC is floating around, but anyway), and my mind was blown. What this woman accomplishes in under 140 pages is astounding. Gut-wrenchingly astounding. Heart-breakingly astounding. I have an ouevre to purchase and devour, I think.
Okay, so. The pizza tour. The first thing I ate when I arrived in Manhattan last week was a slice and a sicilian slice at a random joint on 9th Avenue, called appropriately enough 9th Avenue Pizza. The plain slice was good. The sicilian was about 30 minutes past its prime. A photo I sent to facebook:
Of course if you know me at all, you know that was only the beginning. There was also the requisite trip -- okay, two trips -- to Eddie's. But friends, this visit to NY set a new standard. My accomplices and I began dinner at Motorino, the new-ish VPN joint housed in the space that once belonged to Una Pizza Napoletana (probably where I had the best VPN pie of my life). It was great. Better than Punch? Hard to say -- at least for the margherita pie. But the special we got -- a white pie with brussell sprouts and pancetta -- was amazing. Probably the shining star of the evening.
From Motorino, we headed west to Keste. Here's a photo:
Keste was good, but I think not as good as Motorino nor as good as Punch. The cheese on the margherita, while touted as buffalo and might have been, felt undercooked and slightly rubbery. It didn't have that wet ooziness that Motorino's pies had so well.
Finally, we stopped quickly at Joe's on 6th Avenue, just around the corner, for what is the best good old NYC slice in town. When people say NY-style, this is what they mean, and what none of them can do quite as well.
So there ya have it! Our trip to NYC in a nut shell. Now I have loads of laundry to do, mail to go through, groceries to buy, and this pesky tummy flu to wrangle.
Friday, May 28, 2010
1. For me, it began Monday night with the Lerner librarian preview. I met a few folks, got to chat with the AE about |-1| in front of a small but apparently interested crowd. Also I drank a high ball. For supper, alone, I visited Zen Palate, a vegetarian restaurant I miss pretty regularly, and Simon's favorite:
After ordering, and while I ate, and after I finished, I finally started The Freak Observer. It is a difficult book to put down. Loa really pulls you along. There is great pain.
2. Tuesday, the first official day of BEA, was a visit to Simon & Schuster and therefore several of my favorite people. That was followed by a great lunch with my wife and our good friend, also once from S&S. We met halfway between Midtown and Soho, at Elmo in Chelsea. Good sandwich. Hip place. And Samantha and I got to exchange ARCs. Tuesday night at eight (the latest I've started supper in a dog's age), I met ENIV and the AE for a completely awesome burger and a few awesome beers and plenty of awesome conversation. Excellent day of old and new friends. Good stuff.
3. Wednesday morning, after an excellent breakfast with the Lerner crew at the hotel restaurant and a quick tour of the BEA floor, I needed to rest the dogs (shout out to Heidi -- orange Chucks look cool, but hurt!), so I sat down on a comfy couch far from the exhibition and took the opportunity to get back to Blythe's debut. Soon it was noon, and that meant lunch with several Tenners, and meeting several awesome bloggers. Please see this photo that Berk and I keep stealing from Heidi.
4. For me, BEA ended Wednesday at around 5:15. That's when I signed the last available copy of |-1| and got up from the autographing table. I admit it: I was worried the line would consist of exactly 8 people, all of whom I knew personally. But we gave away 100 copies of the book, and I got to meet many a librarian and blogger and reader and writer on that line! It was pretty great.
5. And now I'm on Long Island, and vacation. We have many friend and family and new-baby visits to make! Ta!
Friday, May 21, 2010
Empire, as we all know, is the best of the three. Jedi is the worst. A New Hope, as we now know the original Star Wars movie, doesn't get a lot of credit either way. Sure, it gets quoted plenty ("But I was going to Tashi Station to pick up some power converters waaah," for example), but its strengths as a film and tale are not so often discussed. I'm here to tell you, it's really good. It's a freakin' awesome fantasy YA, is what it is. Imagine, if you will, a novel version of A New Hope. We'd have third-person POV, natch, with alternating close third for Luke and Leia's convergent arcs. Both characters do quite a lot of "meeting the world," in my mind the foremost quality in good YA. And, if not for -- let's face it -- Mr. Hamill's catastrophic acting and whining, both characters would be insanely sympathetic to adolescent or arrested-adolescent viewers. LIKE ME.
As for Jedi, it's as bad as you remember, or possibly worse. I found it was worse. I found the Ewoks more annoying than I thought they were. I was happy when one died. Also, Luke is STILL freakin' whining. Han, once a scruffy-looking dangerous man, is endlessly slapsticking around with his goofball sidekick Chewie. Poor Chewie. I ask you, would Chewbacca of A New Hope fall for the old meat-on-a-branch trick? No freakin' way.
But I've said too much.
2. It's also the 30th anniversary of Pac Man, in case you haven't noticed.
3. What else? BEA is what else. For me and the good people at Carolrhoda Lab (and the rest of Lerner), it starts on Monday night with the big to-do. I'm not remotely nervous!
4. Did I mention finals are in? Lookit.
5. And finally, as if I wasn't already a nervous wreck, today Sam, Beth, and I visited a pre-school. In the fall, my tiny baby boy will very likely join a two-year-old, two-day-per-week pre-school. I can hardly stand to think of it. Luckily I have the whole summer to get used to the idea.
Friday, May 14, 2010
To celebrate, thus far I have biked for about an hour, enjoyed a margherita pizza with spiced salami and arugula (my new favorite pizza topping) from Punch, and have now settled in at Caribou with an iced mocha and nothing but time. (Shout out to MIL for babysitting today so I can take my traditional "computer on my back, hop on the bike, and see where the day takes me" birthday.)
Gifts: Beth and Sam gave me their excellent gifts last night. From Sam, a combo DVD/VHS player. Sounds weird, I know. The gift from the nineties! But keep in mind that I have a huge collection of VHS tapes up in the attic -- including the last VHS release of the original Star Wars trilogy before Georgie added crap -- that I haven't been able to watch in years. So now I will. And I will make Beth watch the original Star Wars trilogy! WHICH SHE HAS NEVER SEEN.
From Beth, two months of WoW time. Shut up.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Today, the AE has something to say about waiting over at the Lerner blog. He also quotes from The Absolute Value of -1, assembling what amounts to the longest teaser of the book online anywhere, I should think.
Beyond all that, it's worth clicking over to listen to "Waiting Room." If you already enjoy Fugazi, the trip down memory lane will be a rocking one. If you don't know the tune, then the AE has done you a great favor.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Sam is feeling quite a bit better. Beth and I, however, are feeling quite a bit worse. I sound like Tom Waits after a bender.
My new website, you may have seen on Twitter or Facebook, is now live. Please do visit it and send me comments and such at stevebrezenoff.com.
In the last few days I've watched all of season one of Merlin, a BBC series showing in the U.S. on Syfy, and also available on Netflix Watch Instantly. However, there are no eps available beyond season one, and season two is (I think) nearly over on TV.
UPDATE: I'm told season two IS available online. Many thanks to AOB!
Listen, the point is this: I had forgotten how much I can geek out over a TV show. Many of you think that's ridiculous, I'm sure, and you're right. I mean, come on. But more importantly, and more fun, I'd forgotten how much I can geek out over Arthurian legend! I love this stuff, my friend, even (maybe especially) new, unorthodox interpretations of Arthurian legend.
The further point is, get a load of this short Twitter conversation:
In a fit of awesomeness, not only did R.J. Anderson know what in the hell I was talking about, but she is also the newest among the ranks of Carolrhoda Lab authors! We are good company.
So, I'll look forward to seeing season two, and soon three, and meanwhile I'll go read Mordred's Curse again.