Lightning Bolt

HicklebeesCrowd

I received the following email yesterday:

I’m Ella. You probably remember me, but I met you at Hicklebee’s and introduced you for the event.

I wanted to share with you a song by one of my favorite artists that has been my musical and emotional inspiration lately.

Also, the song’s title has something to do with The Scar Boys. :)

I love this email. It was short, sweet, and so thoughtful of Ella to send. (She also did a kick-butt introduction at the Hicklebee’s event, which was one of my favorite events on the book tour.) But best of all was the song, Lightning Bolt by Jake Bugg. To paraphrase one of the YouTube comments, I don’t know how I haven’t heard of this guy. (The video and lyrics are below.)

In so many ways, this is the perfect song for Harbinger Jones. I kind of wish he’d written it!

Thank you Ella!!!

Lightning Bolt, written by Iain Archer and Jake Bugg

Morning, its another pure grey morning
Dont know what the day is holding
When I get uptight
And I walk right into the path of a lightning bolt

Sirens of an ambulance comes howling
Right through the centre of town and
No one blinks an eye
And I look up to the sky in the path of a lighting bolt

Met her as the angels parted for her
But she only brought me touture
But thats what happens
When its you whos standing in the path of a ligthning bolt

Everyone I see just wants to walk with gritted teeth
But I just stand by and I wait my time
They say you gotta toe the line they want the water not the wine
But when I see the signs I jump on that lightning bolt

Chances, people tell you not to take chances
When they tell you there arent any answers
And I was starting to agree
But I awoke suddenly in the path of a lightning bolt

Fortune, people talking all about fortune
Do you make it or does it just call you.
In the blinking of an eye
Just another passerby in the path of a lightning bolt

Everyone I see just wants to walk with gritted teeth
But I just stand by and I wait my time
They say you gotta toe the line they want the water not the wine
But when I see the signs I jump on that lightning bolt

It was silent, I was lying back gazing skyward
When the moment got shattered
I remembered what she said
And then she fled in the path of a lightning

The Book Tour in Still and Moving Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand words (as an author, I might actually dispute that), so below are a selection of images and videos from the West Coast swing of The Scar Boys’ book tour. I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoyed living them.

You can see more videos on The Scar Boys YouTube channel, and see my photos on the Flickr photostream. If you missed the live event, it’s not too late.There are still tour dates left.

And finally, if you were at one of the events and haven’t yet entered the contest, it’s not too late!

Kate with The Scar Boys shirt
Kate of Hicklebee’s Teen Advisory Board with a homemade Scar Boys shirt. My favorite part of the whole tour.
Hicklebee's Teen Advisory Board
Select members of the Hicklebee’s Teen Advisory Board, and me sporting my new TAB shirt.


Friday Jams was the band of 9th and 10th graders that opened for me at Vroman’s in Pasadena. More poise and talent than I EVER had playing in a band.

Lincoln Hoppe
Jamming with Lincoln Hoppe, narrator of The Scar Boys’ audiobook.
Eliza Untucked
Teen Eliza Bigelow sharing her awesome new lit magazine Untucked.


A passionate, energetic performance of a Cake song by Ben at San Lorenzo Valley High School in Northern California. Awesome.

Guitar pick
Krissy getting creative with The Scar Boys schwag.
Andrea Vuleta
The extraordinary Andrea Vuleta of SCIBA.


This is one of my favorite student performances. The audio is bad because the iPhone was too far away. Listen with the volume up or with headphones to appreciate this beautiful original song.

Signing books
Signing at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton, CA.
Students at Thurgood Marshall High
Students at Thurgood Marshall High.


Beautiful original song by Emma (high school senior) at The King’s English in Salt Lake City.

Welcome to MCHS
Welcome to Mira Costa High School.
Students at MCHS
Awesome students at Mira Costa High School.


These were two of half a dozen students at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach that were brave enough to come on up and perform. The level of talent at this school was off the charts.

Ruby at Vroman's
The adorable Ruby at Vroman’s.
Mary Amato
The super talented Mary Amato, author of Guitar Notes, performing at our joint event in Huntington Beach
Playing guitar
Still my favorite thing to do…playing guitar.

The Book Tour Playlist

I’m writing this from 34,000 feet above the Great Lakes, strapped tightly to my seat but still jostled by turbulence so intense that the flight attendants have suspended servcie. I’m en route to Denver for the longest single leg of The Scar Boys Book Tour. Five separate flights, three hotels (plus my brothers’ couch), three states, and fifteen events over nine days (and ten nights).

I. Am. Stoked!

While I will see many friends along the way, I’ll also have a lot of alone time. And what do I fill alone time with? Books and music, of course.

The only books I’m bringing with me — I tried e-books and they didn’t really take, so I’m still lugging print — are Dave Egger’s The Circle, and Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing. I am, however, bringing a lot of music.

My laptop has a sizeable library of my favorite tunes. While it’s fun to put that library on shuffle and let it play, it’s more fun to construct an actual playlist, which is basically this generation’s version of the mix tape. Those of you old enough to remember mix tapes, also remember how many painstaking hours you spent trying to get the tape just right. While it’s much easier with a playlist — each song on a mix tape was an irrevocable commitment, the invisible magnetic filaments on the tape having a feeling of permanence once a song was recorded — the construction of a playlist is done with no less care and attention. And of course, there are rules:

  1. Only one song per artist.
  2. Each song has to mean something to me.
  3. No Journey. (I don’t actually have any Journey in my library, but I have a whole lot of other stuff that could be labeled as “guilty pleasure” by me, or “Len, really?” by you.)
  4. Thirty songs total. No more, no less.

I should note that there is a Spotify playlist of all The Scar Boys’ chapter heads, and while that’s fun, it’s not really what I want to listen to. Those chapter heads were chosen for literal relevance to the action about to unfold in the story. They don’t necessarily make for a cohesive listening experience. No, I need something to draw me in, “to pick me up and undress me, lay me down and caress me,” as Joe Jackson sings in song # 30.

So here, then, is my first book tour playlist. What do you think? What would you change? What’s on your playlist?

Song Artist Notes
A.M. Radio Everclear One of a few songs on this list about or connected to music, it’s a kickass groove that is a great way to get us started. Everclear is a seriously under rated band.
Pulling Teeth Green Day One of my all-time favorite bands, with one of my all-time favorite songs, off one of my all-time favorite albums. Keeps the list caffeinated through the second song.
Birth of Serpents Mountain Goats Toning it down with this quirky and fun recent Pandora discovery.
Long Black Veil Johnny Cash Not necessarily my favorite Johnny Cash song, but the one I’m listening to (and playing) right now.
Worst Day Since Yesterday Flogging Molly A nice mix from JC to Flogging Molly. Worst Day is great romp from this LA-based Celtic punk band. It’s a pick me up for when you’re feeling down. (Or maybe brings you down when you’re up? I don’t know.)
Growin’ Up Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band My sister is coming off just about the worst year a person can have. As this is her favorite song, I recently learned it to cheer her up. It’s now become one of my favorites, too. (And check out this awesome video of Bruce playing it when he was just a kid.)
A Whole Lot Better Brandon Benson A recent Shazam acquisition with an infectious groove to get us amped back up.
Everyday I Write the Book Elvis Costello Let’s keep the tempo upbeat. (And seriously, I’m on a book tour. Did you think I would leave this one out?)
Lua Bright Eyes A super talented tenth grader sang this song at a high school event I did outside of Chicago and it completely floored me. I downloaded the original and immediately learned it on the guitar. (For the record, I like the high schooler’s version best. A portion of her performance can be viewed here.)
Landslide Dixie Chicks Keeping it mellow for a bit. I love this song and this is my favorite version.
Something to Hold Onto Parachute Another Pandora discovery. This was on a playlist I was listening to while reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The song and the book are now permanently intertwined. Music’ll do that to you.
Ball and Chain Social Distortion We play a lot of Pandora where I work, and one band that seems to be on everyone’s Pandora channel is Social Distortion. We’ve started to refer to them as the BISG house band. This will help me remember my colleagues, remind me to check work email as often as I can, and also remind me that I still very much need a day job!
Sorry Mr. Harris Tom Robinson When I was 13, older friends took me to see a band called Sector 27 at Irving Plaza in New York. Sector 27 was fronted by Tom Robinson, who was better known for his own ensemble, the Tom Robinson Band. I ran out and bought a copy of TRB II and have loved it ever since.
Midnight Radio Hedwig & the Angry Inch Another great song about music, this from the soundtrack to the film Hedwig & the Angry Inch. The film is a brilliant exploration of gender, sexuality, and connectedness with incredible music throughout. (Parents and kids, the film is rated R.)
Pleasant Sounds Me with my friend Jess Yes, yes, I included one of my own songs. Sue me. This is something I wrote a long time ago and got my friend Jess to sing. I love Jess’s voice, and love the way it brings this song to life. (If you come to a book tour event, you’ll understand why I’m a guitar player and not a singer.)
Seven Spanish Angels Ray Charles with Willie Nelson I sang Seven Spanish Angels to my older son, Charlie, every day for the first two years of his life. It’s the only song I can almost sort of not completely mangle a cappella. (Okay not really. I suck. Still love the song though.)
Pretty Persuasion R.E.M. One of my all-time favorite Perer Buck guitar riffs. And hey, his name is on the cover of The Scar Boys, too.
CBGB’s Syd Straw Another song with a musical connection. As CBGB’s figured prominently in the book, I thought I should include it.
100 Years Blues Traveler Kristen, my wife, gave me this song years ago and it still makes me think of her and smile today. It’ll be a visceral reminder of why I love her so much while I’m on the road.
Ripple Grateful Dead I’m couch surfing at my brother’s in San Francisco’s East Bay on this trip. My brother is (was?) a Dead Head. ‘Nuff said.
Half Acre Hem Three mellow songs in a row? Yeah, well, I’m getting older and need some extra chillax time. Anyway, a friend made me a mix tape before she moved out of the area — a mix tape is a great way to say goodbye to someone, as it helps keep them in your memory — and this song was on it. I’d never heard it before, but now it winds up on a lot of my playlists.
Queen Bitch David Bowie Let’s counter the three mellow songs with three songs with a killer groove. I love old Bowie, and this is one of my favorites. (Heroes was the other choice for this list. The “Bitch” won out.)
Brimful of Asher Cornershop (w/Fatboy Slim) Who better to keep a groove going than Fatboy Slim?
Hot Wax Beck Beck, that’s who! When Odelay, Beck’s seminal album, first came out, I have to admit, I didn’t get it. But as time wore on, the groove got into my bones. This is my favorite track.
I Will Follow You Into the Dark Death Cab for Cutie Let’s hit the brakes and bring it all the way back down. This is one of two “death” songs on the list. (See “Kite” below.) There’s been entirely too much of that going around lately. This is one of my favorite songs to sing and play.
Tears of a Clown Smokey Robinson & the Miracles Simply put, one of the best pop songs ever written, and a nice antidote to the darkness of the previous track.
Hey Soul Sister Train A song with great personal meaning that helps keep it happy, until…
Kite (live) U2 The other “death” song on the list, and my favorite U2 song. This version is incredible. (This whole recording — U2 Live at Slane Castle — is a must
listen/see.)
Bangers, Beans, and Mash Infant Sorrow I guess this song is supposed to be a joke, but I don’t care. I love it. I first watched “Get Him to the Greek” on a night when I was feeling really low, and it was like a magic elixir. The tune always makes me smile.
A Slow Song Joe Jackson This song has been on my mix tapes since it came out in 1982. It closes out Joe’s Night and Day album, and is perfect for ending any playlist (or mix tape!)

The End of the Beginning

Today is the day. I mean, it is THE day. January 21, 2014. The day my debut novel, The Scar Boys, is officially published and on sale.

They — whoever the heck “they” are — say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As I look back on this journey, I’m sort of mystified that I’ve made it to this point.

This project began as nearly one hundred pages of notes, written in the late 1980s, on my time playing guitar in the punk-pop band, Woofing Cookies. I had no idea what to do with those notes, but I knew I needed to do something. The experience of touring with a band while still in my teens was something special. I felt compelled to figure out how to tell that story.

I no longer have those notes, nor do I have copies of the essays, short stories, and screenplays I wrote based on those notes. They were fun projects, but none were good enough to keep. That’s because it wasn’t my story I was trying to tell. It was the story of every kid who has ever found confidence, friends, and happiness playing music.

It wasn’t until sometime in 2006 — yes, 2006! — after a conversation with a friend at a baseball game that I started to write what would become The Scar Boys. These are the first few paragraphs from the very first draft:

=======
The pilot weaves a slalom course through the early April thunderheads bearing down on Iowa. Yesterday it was the California Coast, verdant hills of the fading rainy season to the east, the deceptively inviting Pacific to the west.

Or some shit like that.

I can’t figure out if I’m supposed to write the way I talk, write the way I think, or try to write with some style; write like a writer and not like a confessor. I don’t have a fucking clue. I just know I need to get this all down on paper.
=======

Not one of those sentences made it into the final draft, or even the third draft. Harry never gets on an airplane. In fact, the Harry in the above passage is a forty-something man on his way to a reunion of his band, The Scar Boys. All of that, thankfully, went out the window at some point. Or more likely, went out the window a little bit at a time.

Many, many people gave me feedback and advice along the path of this journey, and I am indebted to all of them. They helped shape my thoughts about this story, and in some cases, the story itself. Yes, this journey did begin with a single step, and in the end covered many more than a thousand steps.

And every time I looked up, the whole village was walking beside me.

How cool is that?

I Resolve That…

Time Square Clean up I hate New Year’s Eve. In a nation where getting drunk and acting stupid is something to be revered, manufacturing a holiday for that very purpose seems like overkill to me. New Year’s Day, on the other hand, I love. The idea of resetting the clock once every twelve months to take stock of what kind of person you are and what kind of person you can be, well, that’s awesome.

You see, I’m a New Year’s Resolution junkie.

As time has gone by, I’ve taken this endeavor more and more seriously. This past year I attempted, with varying degrees of success, to keep track of my resolutions. I actually had a spreadsheet on which I logged my year. (Remember, I like charts and graphs.)

I did ok. Not great, but ok. I met my quota for pages read, fell just short of my targeted number of blog posts created, and became hyper-aware of how much television I watch, how much I (don’t) exercise, and how often I play the guitar. I learned something important along the way. It turns out that paying attention to your goals and doing your best to meet them — not the actual result — is what matters.

With that in mind, I present my 2014 annotated resolutions. These are less about specific goals (though there are a few) than in previous years, and more about how I can live a better life. I may not always succeed, but I will keep these taped to the wall adjacent to the bathroom mirror as a constant reminder.

  1. Do everything in my power to help my children be the best people they can be. One of the things you find out as a parent is that a child is completely and totally dependent on you, in every conceivable way. It sounds like an obvious and apparent truth, but until you live it, you don’t realize what an awesome responsibility that is.
  2. Raise my voice less as a dad. Little kids don’t listen. Or maybe it’s that they listen selectively. You can test this theory by telling a child to eat his or her vegetables and randomly tossing in the words “Fresh Beat Band.” They won’t hear a thing until you say what it is they want to hear. So what is a parent’s default response? Yell. But there has to be a better way. I don’t know if I yell more than, less than, or the same as other parents, but I know I yell too much for my own liking.
  3. Be the best husband I can be. I think this one speaks for itself.
  4. Write every day. Whether I’m working on a novel (primary writing or editing), a blog post of my own, or a blog post for someone else, I need to keep my gray matter limber and well-toned. At minimum, I need to write five days a week.
  5. Do everything in my power to make sure that The Scar Boys has an opportunity to succeed. When I was younger, I played guitar in a punk pop band called Woofing Cookies. We were good. Really good, if I do say so myself. And we were starting to get attention — medium to heavy rotation on college radio; reviews in NY Daily News, Creem Magazine, and CMJ; they even mentioned us once on MTV (back when it played music, and was, you know, cool.) But I (and my bandmates) were too young and too stupid to parlay that nascent success into something more. I feel like The Scar Boys is giving me a second chance to create something meaningful and have fun doing it; I intend to leave no stone unturned.
  6. Settle on one of my two current YA projects by Feb 1 and complete a draft in six months. I have two YA novels in progress. I need to decide which one I’m going to work on and commit to it. A contract would help decide, but absent that, I need to figure out where my heart lies. (And yes, one of the two is a Scar Boys sequel.)
  7. Do everything I can to help House of Stone find a home. I have already finished a second novel, called House of Stone. It bridges the gap between YA and A, landing a bit more on the side of adult. (Honestly, is it just me, or do book classifications based on age often seem contrived, or worse, arbitrary? A lot of great adult novels are perfect for teens — City of Thieves, Black Swan Green, Ready Player One — and vice versa — Will Grayon Will Grayson, Crash and Burn, The Book Thief.) Anyway, I’m proud of House of Stone and hope it finds its way to publication.
  8. Give my best effort to BISG every day. BISG is the Book Industry Study Group and it’s where I work (as executive director). That’s where I spend the bulk of my time and my non-Daddy, non-writing energy. It’s a great organization — a national nonprofit working on standards, research, and education on behalf of the book industry — and I owe it my industry.
  9. Grow BISG revenue and launch a forecasting project. These are specific BISG goals that won’t mean much to the three people reading this post (Hi Mom! Hi Bobbi! Hi Krissy!), but they need to be on the list for me.
  10. Treat my employees with fairness and respect. Speaks for itself.
  11. Exercise more, or rather, exercise. I’m at that absolutely awful age where I feel like if I don’t exercise and eat better, I’m going to just keel over. The trick is finding the time. It ain’t easy, but 2014 has to be the year it happens. Look for me in motel gyms during the book tour.
  12. Stop sweating the small stuff. This is a holdover from last year’s list. I have no idea how to actually accomplish this. I’m open to suggestions.
  13. Watch less TV. I included this on my list for the first time last year, and guess what, I tracked it! I now know that I watch an average of .8 hours of prime time TV a night. It’s a loose number, and doesn’t include putting on a Mets game in the background while I work on a blog post, but it’s close enough for rock and roll. My goal this year is to make that number go down.
  14. Play the guitar at least a few times a week. Until this past year, my guitar playing had really fallen off. I got back on the beam this past fall, and I need to stay there. There is little that brings me as much inner peace and joy as playing the guitar.
  15. Slouch less. Another continuation from last year with no obvious means of measurement. (Though I did just sit up straighter while typing this.)
  16. Walk to the train more. I live in Connecticut and work in New York City. The train station is a relatively flat mile from my house so this is both about exercise and saving parking fees. This is another goal I measured in 2013. The baseline is that I walked 18% of the days in which I had occastion to go to NYC. (In other words, when I wasn’t traveling, or didn’t have some other reason to have to take a train.) The goal is to improve on that number. (Yes, yes, I know, I’m completely anal and kind of a geek. But hey, it makes me happy.)
  17. Be in close contact with my parents. Mom and Dad are long in the tooth and are slowing down. I think about my own future and how my kids will treat me as I get older, and I think I should lead by example. Besides, DUOWYWHTDUY. (Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.) Plus, you know, I love ‘em. Given time constraints and choices we all make, this one is harder than it seems. See Harry Chapin for an explanation.
  18. Donate more money to worthy charities than we donated in 2013. Again, I have a baseline against which to measure. (The actual numbers I will keep private.)
  19. Help people in need. Needs no explanation, other than to say that even though I’m cyncial by nature, I really do buy into the whole "pay it forward" thing.
  20. Eat healthier – fewer cookies and other junk food. See number 11 above. I got an Up Band last summer and was tracking my diet for a while but got lazy. Maybe I need to start using it again. Or maybe I can just eat better without needing technical help. Either way, I’ll give it a shot.
  21. **** * *********. Redacted for personal reasons! (Hey, there had to be at least one, right?)
  22. Go to bed at night knowing that I did the best I could, at whatever I did, that day. Speaks for itself.
  23. Be centered. I’m not a Taoist (I’m what you might call a curious secular humanist), but there is a part of Taoist philosophy that talks about how emptying oneself of all thought, feeling, and burden will allow a person to exist in the cener of his or her own being. (Kind of like Obi Wan Kenobi’s connection to The Force in Star Wars). Three times in my life I felt in such perfect harmony with the world around me, that I could’ve made Lao Tzu blush. Once was while playing the guitar, once was sipping hot chocolate on the top of a snowy mountain in Montana, and once was watching a moonrise with the woman who would later become my wife. I am basically spending the balance of my days trying to capture that sensation again. It. Was. Magical.

    So this is what I resolve? How about you?

The Scar Boys in the Media

Apparently when you write a book, other people want to write about it, want to write about you, or sometimes, want you to write something for their blog. Who knew? Here’s a round-up of some Scar Boys media:

“A wry, stylish tale.” — New York Times

Reviews Interviews Guest Posts & More
New York Times WMSE Radio (Milwaukee) Scar Boys YouTube Channel
IndieBound Connecticut Post Scar Boy Event Photos
SLJ Starred Review Kirkus Reviews Bestseller List Apperances
SLJ 2 and SLJ 3 TeenReads.com Dear Teen Me
Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly Top Ten Road Trips
Booklist I Read Banned Books Power Song
WORD Bookstores Guys Lit Wire Cross Pollination
McJ 1 and McJ 2 Compulsive Reader On Writing
Haiku Review Mother Daughter Book Club Scar Boys Back Story
Teen Book Crew A. L. Davroe Blog Wish I’d Written
Little Book Star Kelly Vision Blog My Holidays Music
Rather Be Reading    
Books on the Night Stand    
A Librarian’s Take    
Books and Quilts    
Strung Out on Books    
Waking Brain Cells    
Deseret News    
Mabel’s Fables (Toronto)    
Pima County Public Library    

 

The Audio Book

Listening Library Logo For most of twenty years, I commuted by car to my job in Tarrytown, New York. For the last three of those years, I was driving from Stamford, Connecticut, a thirty to sixty minute ride depending on the time of day and traffic. It was during this time I discovered the joy of audio books.

I had tried to read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road several times, but it didn’t take. The audiobook for some reason worked. Hearing the voice of the narrator brought to life took me inside the story in a way the text never did. The same thing happened with Life of Pi. And the Harry Potter books. (Some of them.) I was still reading more than listening, but audio had opened a door on a new way of enjoying literature.

After I left my job in Tarrytown and started an exciting new career in NYC, I figured that audiobooks would follow me from the car to the train. But the train, it turns out, is prime writing time. With little kids at home, it’s the only chance I get to ply my craft, so to speak. So as much as I was enjoying audio, it no longer fit in my schedule.

When I learned a year ago that Random House’s Listening Library imprint had acquired the audiobook rights to The Scar Boys, I was excited, but quickly put it out of my mind. I have so much to do to promote the print/e- edition, that I just sort of forgot it was hanging around there.

Then, three weeks ago I had an email from the Listening Library producer:

“Len,” she wrote, “I’d like you to review a few different actors we’re considering as narrators for The Scar Boys. And maybe you can play the guitar and/or provide some music to go with the story?”

lincolnhoppeFirst, I reviewed clips from four actors and right away knew that Lincoln Hoppe was the choice. While it helped that he also narrated King Dork, a book that shares some common traits with The Scar Boys, it was the quality of his voice that won me over. This was Harry. Luckily, the producer agreed.

Next, I spent ninety minutes in a recording booth at the Random House building in New York laying down guitar tracks. That’s right, I got to lay down tracks for this project! How cool is that? I recorded music for the intro and outdo of the project, as well as for a song that Lincoln will sing. (The lyrics are in the book.) The experience brought me back to the days of recording music when I was younger. It was an unexpected and added benefit of being published.

I’ve been so impressed with the entire Listening Library team; they have put their hearts and souls into this project. I really hope people get a chance to listen to the audiobook. I, for one, can’t wait to hear it!

The Scar Boys’ audiobook publishes the same day as the hardcover — January 21, 2014 — and will be available on CD and as a download.

The Signed Book

Anderson's Pre-Pub Club Every New Year’s Day, Kristen (my wife and partner in all crimes and misdemeanors) and I reflect on the year just ended. This coming January 1 we will ask each other, “What were your five best moments of 2013?” Most of our combined ten moments will have to do with our two kids, Charlie (five), and Luke (almost three). But this year there will be one moment that has nothing to do with our kids that is likely to top my list.

Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois -— a truly remarkable indie bookstore (remarkable in a wonderful way) —- hosted me as a featured author at their “Pre-Pub Club” for teens and educators two nights ago. Everyone in attendance received an advanced readers copy (ARC) of The Scar Boys, and virtually everyone read the book before coming to the event.

Kurdt plays guitar.

Kurdt plays guitar.

Nearly fifty people (30+ teens, 10+ teachers/librarians) turned out on a cold and rainy night, and I was, predictably, nervous. As the kids ate pizza (sponsored by my publisher, Egmont), I went from table to table and got to know everyone. What an incredible group — engaging, fun, funny. Then I did a thirty minute presentation, with video, live guitar, and lots of discussion. (Special shout out to Kurdt, a tenth grader at Dwight High School who had the courage to come up and play a wonderful rendition of Stairway to Heaven for all assembled. Let it be known from this day forward that Kurdt rocks.) At the end of the evening, we all posed for a group picture, and then I signed everyone’s books (and one teacher’s denim jacket!).

It was a magical night in every way. But the real magic didn’t happen for me until the next morning.

A tradition of Pre-Pub Club is that everyone in attendance signs one copy of the ARC for the author. I tucked my copy away, saving it for the plane ride out of Chicago.

Hannah CommentsThe notes written to me in that book —- in my book, I suppose (still not used to that) —- were inventive, silly, and heart-warming all at once. Case in point. Hannah, a “Freighth Grader” (Hannah skipped a grade and is in ninth grade instead of eighth), wrote on the inside cover that she was going to include a note with each of the forty chapter headings. She did. They sum total was hilarious.

Matt (nicknamed “Jesus”) wrote: “Loved the whole book. Keep writing and doing what you love.”

MattJesus-smBullyComment-sm

In response to one of the bullying scenes, one of the teachers, Wendi (who may have also inadvertently started me on a path to write a Scar Boys sequel), wrote: “Thank you for opening my eyes. My heart breaks for these victims.”

And there were so many more. I loved them all. I don’t know that I’ve ever had so much fun reading words on a page. But there was one note in particular that really got me:

NotAlone-sm

“Thank you for writing this book. Now I am not alone.”

That even one person was able to feel a sense of connection or belonging because of something I wrote is.. is… words fail me. It is validating, but that doesn’t begin to cover it. It is energizing, but that doesn’t really cover it either. It is amazing, though even that doesn’t cover it. Maybe I should just say it’s validenergimazing. You get the idea.

“Now I am not alone.”

I was sitting on an airplane when I read those words, and I almost completely lost it. If the person who wrote that comment should reads this post, know that you are NOT alone. There are so many people who feel exactly the same way. We all just need to find each other. And if The Scar Boys helped you do that in any way, well, then thank you for giving the top five-moment of my 2013.

Crashing and Burning with a New Cover… and R.E.M.

SCARBOYSHCFINALCOVER-sm

You might recall from an earlier post that my publisher, Egmont USA, released a working cover for The Scar Boys (the book) that was modeled on what a band poster for the Scar Boys (the fictional band) might look like. The design was the result of a contest among indie booksellers, and I thought it was pretty cool. But the more we all lived with the cover — me, Egmont, the booksellers — the more we collectively thought it seemed kind of muted. It just didn’t pop.

Egmont tested that original cover, and with input from many of those same booksellers, as well as some teens, decided to make a change. They stayed true to the original band poster from the contest, incorporating it into what’s pictured here.

I love it. L-O-V-E IT!

I was also lucky enough to receive two outstanding testimonials (blurbs in the parlance of the book industry), one for the front cover and one for the back:

Front Cover Blurb: “Compelling. This book not only captures the feeling of what it is like to form a band, but also why you form a band. It took me back to that time of being in a van on my very first tour.” — Peter Buck, R.E.M.

When I was younger (a lot younger…like, a whole lot younger), I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Buck. The band I was playing in at the time, Woofing Cookies, found itself stranded in Athens, GA after our van broke down. We wound up spending three months there, and during that time, Peter produced a song for us.

We got our van fixed, came back to New York, and that song (and let’s be honest, Peter’s involvement) got us signed to a small NYC-based record label. This was just after R.E.M. had released Fables of the Reconstruction and was hitting that level of super stardom reserved for a rarified few. We were lucky to have worked with Peter, but given the different trajectories our lives, we never had the opportunity to meet up with him again.

Flash forward two decades. I approached the fine people who handle R.E.M.’s affairs — yes, even though the band broke up there is still an R.E.M. apparatus — and asked if they could get a copy of The Scar Boys into Peter’s hands. They did. He read it. He liked it. He provided a blurb. Dang that is cool. I now owe him a double debt of gratitude.

Back Cover Blurb: “A fun, smart, addictive story that will have you forgetting you are actually reading. Laced with poetic lines and real people. Highly recommended for teens and their parents and anyone else who can still remember the 80′s.” — Michael Hassan, author Crash and Burn.

Michael who? Crash and what?

Okay, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Crash and Burn. My publisher had reached out to the editor to solicit a blurb, and it kind of freaked me out. I mean, what if I didn’t like this Michael guy’s book?

I left work the same afternoon we received the blurb and ordered a copy from Posman’s Bookstore. It arrived two days later and I started reading. And I kept reading. And I couldn’t stop.

Holy. Freaking. Cow!

Crash and Burn, it turns out, is a work of absolute genius. It’s the first person account of Steve Crashinsky, writing a book on how he saved his fellow students and teachers when a deranged classmate lays siege to his high school. The work is a master class in writing. The voice and the characters are pitch perfect, unbelievable in their believability. And that’s only the prose. The story itself is infectious. It gets in your head and stays there.

This book is, or at least should be, the coming of age story of the current generation of teens and twenty somethings. It’s also not just for teens. It’s a great example of why I hate labels like “young adult,” “new adult,” etc. A good book is a good book. And this book is beyond good.

So thank you Egmont for the new cover.

Thank you Peter for nurturing young artists all those years ago, and for taking the time to read my book now. (And for the years and years of awesome music. One of the first songs I played on my brand new Taylor acoustic electric guitar — more on that later — was “Sitting Still.)

And thank you Michael Hassan, not just for the wonderful endorsement, but for Crash and Burn.

Y’all rock.

First Scar Boys Book Event

FergLibrary-Presenting-smAnd so it begins…

This afternoon at the Harry Bennett Branch of the Ferguson Library (Stamford, Connecticut’s public library), I presented The Scar Boys to T-MAD (Teen’s Making a Difference), the library’s teen advisory board. The book doesn’t pub for another three months (January 21), so this was as pre-pub as a pre-pub event can get. In fact, this is the first event for The Scar Boys, anywhere. (A much larger, invitation-only event is scheduled for later this month at Anderson’s in Naperville, IL.)

I do fifteen to twenty presentations a year for my day job, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I’m pretty good at it. I’m energized when I’m teaching and am comfortable on a stage. But today? Today I was flat-out freaked out.

FergLibrary-LexiSings-smI lugged my guitar, my computer, my Bose Soundlink, and a borrowed LCD projector to the library. The first few teens to arrive eyed me with suspicion as I set up. I didn’t know what to expect, and neither did they.

By the time I started, there were about twenty kids ranging from sixth to twelfth grade. They sat patiently as I played a video of Woofing Cookies and eased my way into the presentation. When the first hand went up to ask a question a few minutes into the session, and a dialogue began, the butterflies went away.

The kids were engaged and engaging. No, as Harry would say, “strike that,” the kids were wonderful.

My presentation had visuals, video, music (including live music), a reading, and lots of conversation. The highlight was when an eleventh grader named Lexi came up to the stage, took my guitar, and sang a Jason Mraz song. Lexi’s love of music, and the way the rest of the teens cheered her on, was a perfect expression of what is at the heart of The Scar Boys.

FergLibrary-SigningBooks-smMy favorite moment came when Andres, a high school boy, raised his hand: “I don’t read a lot,” he said, “but I read this book in two days, and I loved it.” That’s probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Anywhere.

A huge thanks to T-MAD organizers Amy and Steve, thank you to all the kids, and thanks to Kristen and Charlie for being there. If future book events are half as fun as this, 2014 is going to be a great year.