The first leg of the Life in a Fishbowl book tour starts tomorrow, and that means it’s time for a new book tour playlist. When you travel to promote a book, you have a lot of time in cars, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. You need music. And for me, I don’t want to just put my iTunes on shuffle, I want a selection with a little more thought behind it.
The last time I went through this exercise was three years ago, with The Scar Boys book tour. I’m happy to say that, while there are many of the same artists on the new list, there is only one repeat song. I’ve also taken a completely different approach.
In 2014, I harkened back to my youth and treated the playlist like a mix tape. I restricted myself with a whole bunch of rules. But you know what? Screw that. The world has changed. Here’s how my appoach is different this time:
1. I’m not limiting myself to one song per artist. In fact, you’re going to see a whole lot of Sheryl Crow here. That’s right, I like Sheryl Crow. I like her a lot. I’m even going to cop to being a fanboy. Her voice just makes me melt. Deal with it. I also have two by the Eagles, and two by U2. Everything else is, I think, a one-off.
2. I have some guilty pleasure music on here, and you know what? I don’t feel guilty. We like what we like. It’s all good.
3. As I created the last list to mimic a mix tape, the order of the songs was important. And truthfully, that is the art behind a great mix tape. But times have changed. My “Walkman” now has a “shuffle” button. (For you folks born after 1990, this is a Walkman. Rad, right?) With this in mind, the songs below are listed in the alphabetical order (by artist) in which they appear on my iTunes. I do not intend to ever listen to this list in this order. Shuffle baby, shuffle,
Now that you know my process, I want to know what you think. Specifically, I want you to look at this list and say, “Okay, Len likes this, he might also like this…” Turn yourself into a human Spotify or Pandora, because after all, it’s always better to get a recommendation from a human than an algorithm.
Let’s all have some fun talking about music!
Without further ado, I present to you the Life in a Fishbowl book tour playlist:
|You Shook Me||AC/DC||This one reminds me of my kids. They love to jump around to AC/DC.|
|I’ve Got A Feeling||The Beatles||Has always been one of my favorite guitar riffs, and I love Paul’s vocal.|
|Lord Only Knows||Beck||Other than the pain-inducing opening scream, I love the haunting mood of this track.|
|Scenes From An Italian Restaurant||Billy Joel||I’m staying with my sister two nights on this trip. We saw Billy Joel in concert together when I was a kid.|
|Can’t Find My Way Home||Blind Faith||Like so many songs, this is one that gets in my brain and stays there…like an itch that needs scratching, in a good way.|
|Dreaming||Blondie||I haven’t included this song on any playlists in a long time, and since I finally got around to watching the CBGB movie last night (Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome!!!), I thought I should include it.|
|Thunder Road||Bruce Springsteen||We recently hosted Bruce at the bookstore I own, Tattered Cover.|
|Brick House||Commodores||This is a fixture on a lot of my playlists. I think it means I’m really old.|
|Big Yellow Taxi||Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton||I like this version way better than the original.|
|45 South Reprise||Craig Smith||Craig is a Kiwi writer of Children’s books, and maker of great music. This is the final instrumental piece from his album 45 South. Since Fishbowl is being sold in New Zealand, I thought I should include it.|
|Life Is Long||David Byrne & Brian Eno||I was never really a Talking Heads fan, and Eno is a better producer than a song writer. But I love this song.|
|The Long Way Around||Dixie Chicks||I rarely make a mix tape without including the Dixie Chicks.|
|The Last Resort||The Eagles||This is a long, monotonous song, but I find it very, very soothing.|
|Desperado||The Eagles||This song played a central role in the Scar Girl launch party, and makes me think of my wife and partner in all crimes and misdemeanors, Krissy. She’s super awesome and especially cute in the video link in this paragraph.|
|Long Black Road||Electric Light Orchestra||I had forgotten about this song until I saw American Hustle. I love movie soundtracks.|
|I Still Have That Other Girl||Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach||Elvis has one of the best voices…ever. And it’s still great.|
|New Life||Everclear||Another song that I haven’t included on lists in a very long time.|
|That Old Pair of Jeans||Fatboy Slim||If you see me with headphones, dancing down the aisle of an airplane, there’s a good chance I’m listening to this song.|
|Hey Julie||Fountains Of Wayne||Happy little song.|
|The Message||Grandmaster Flash||This song reminds me of my teenage years, going to dance clubs in NYC. (So does Billy Idol’s Dancing by Myself, mostly because I was almost always dancing by myself. I would never include the Billy Idol song on a mix because, well, it’s annoying.)|
|A Quick One-While He’s Away||Green Day||Green Day, as a band, is the natural heir to The Who.|
|Some Nights||Fun.||The song is indeed fun.|
|I’m Yours||Jason Mraz||Some of my friends from back in my punk days — Chad, Rob, Jon, Steve, Joe — might scratch their heads at this one, but again, there are no guilty pleasures. It’s a goood song.|
|Barking At the Moon||Jenny Lewis||Okay, so yes, this is the theme song from the movie Bolt. Doesn’t matter. I love it, and love to play it on guitar. (And it’s even better with my friend Stephanie singing).|
|I’m the man||Joe Jackson||This song is perfect for 2017. It’s about cyniscism and corporate manipulation. (I could have also chosen Sunday Papers.)|
|With A Little Help From My Friends||Joe Cocker||One of the all-time great covers and great live performances, captured in a single track.|
|Ring of Fire||Johnny Cash||I’ve never made a mix without Johnny Cash. I never will. My kids and I love to sing Ring of Fire.|
|Picture||Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow||Great duet, fun to play on the guitar.|
|Can I Get a Witness||Marvin Gaye||The list was lacking a little soul…|
|So Far So Good||Michael Bruce||This was an old song I had somehow missed. This guy was Alice Cooper’s guitar player, but I like this better than anything Alice Cooper ever did.|
|This Year||The Mountain Goats||One of my favorite musical discoveries over the last few years. I love this guy.|
|Express Yourself||NWA||This used to go on a lot of mixes, then it fell off. I watched Straight Outta Compton (film) recently, and was reminded how much I like these guys. This is my favorite song from that incredible record. (Hey film and TV friends, check out how well this trailer for the movie was cut together…incredible.|
|Pretty Persuasion||R.E.M.||I owe a lot to Peter Buck, so I always like to include something of his. This is my favorite R.E.M. guitar riff.|
|Just||Radiohead||The Bends is a top five all-time record for me.|
|Old 8 x 10||Randy Travis||I want this man’s voice. I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I had it, but I want it.|
|Seven Spanish Angels||Ray Charles & Willie Nelson||The only song to make the 2014 and 2017 lists, and one of only two songs – I think it’s only two – mentioned in Fishbowl.|
|For the Summer||Ray LaMontagne||I had this on a mix when I commuted to NYC, and associate it, along with a few other songs, with reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Go figure.|
|Basement Apartment||Sarah Harmer||Great song introduced to me by my friend Eileen from Cape Cod.|
|C’mon C’mon||Sheryl Crow||This song and album got me through the worst break-up of my life.|
|Detours||Sheryl Crow||Title track from an underrated album.|
|Mississippi||Sheryl Crow||Dylan wrote this. Sheryl sings it better.|
|First Cut Is the Deepest||Sheryl Crow||I told you I was a fanboy.|
|Waterproof Mascara||Sheryl Crow||I’m such a fanboy, I even like her contemporary country record.|
|We Will Become Silhouettes||The Shins||I need to listen to more Shins.|
|Jacksonville||Sufjan Stevens||Corey Whaley turned me on to Sufjan, and my friend Pete Stitcher told me it’s not pronounced Suf-Jan. Thank you both!|
|To Old Friends and New||Titus Andronicus||Sister of the singer in this band is a bookseller in NYC and a soon-to-be-published YA writer. Hey Stickles, I want to see your playlist when the book pubs.|
|New Year’s Day [live]||U2||Krissy’s favorite band, and I like them a lot, too. This is the best live album start to finish I’ve ever heard, and that includes BB King, Johnny Cash, and Cheap Trick (all of which are great).|
|Out of Control||U2||My favorite cut on this great live album (see above).|
|Oh! Sweet Nuthin||Velvet Underground||As noted above, I finally watched the CBGB movie last night and this was in the film, though, oddly, not on the soundtrack.|
|Leave the Pieces||The Wreckers||Good country pop that I sometimes use as an alarm tone.|
Bringing a book into the world is a bit like bringing a child into the world: It’s a labor of love; there is blood, there is sweat, and there are many tears; and it’s a kind of joy you don’t really understand until you experience it yourself. Only with a book it takes longer.
A lot longer.
A whole lot longer.
Glacially longer. (Okay, I think I’ve made my point.)
Life in a Fishbowl hits the shelves today, January 3, 2017. Here’s a brief glimpse into the timeline of how this book came into existence:
Late fall/early winter 2009 — Some friends and I try to organize a writers group. The idea grows out of something in Stamford, Connecticut called the Blog ‘N Grog — a meetup of local bloggers. (I had started a now defunct Dad blog and had been invited to drink with that august group of bloggers.) Only three of us show up for the writers group: The extraordinary YA novelist Sarah Darer Littman, and the extraordinary blogger (and one of my former Taekwondo training partners), Kristine O’Brien Redlien are the other two. I need pages to share at this first meeting, and since The Scar Boys is already a finished manuscript, I have to write something new. The first twenty five pages of Life in a Fishbowl (called something entirely different at that time) are drafted.
Early 2009 to early 2014 — In fits and starts, I write and rewrite until I have a novel. It is the second novel I ever finish, and it’s the first not drawn from personal experience.
Late Winter 2014 — My agent pitches the book — now called House of Stone — to the publisher of The Scar Boys. Said publisher passes. Instead, I sign with them to write a sequel to The Scar Boys. Where I spent years writing The Scar Boys, and years writing Fishbowl, I write and edit Scar Girl in a matter of months. (Deadlines, dear readers, are NOT fun. I’m on one now. Trust me, I know.)
Winter 2015 — The publisher of The Scar Boys — British publishing house, Egmont — shutters its U.S. office, leaving me and a host of other authors homeless. At the same time, The Scar Boys is named a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award for best debut teen fiction. If that’s not enough, at the very same time, my agent is once again shopping House of Stone (Fishbowl). So there I am, without a publishing house, receiving accolodaes, and with a manuscript. Suddenly, there is interest in me. (There had never been interest in me before. Honestly, no one had ever been interested in me before. Even my mom says “hey, you” to get my attention. It’s a lonely and cruel world.)
March 2015 — Cindy Loh, the super talented publisher and editor of Bloomsbury USA, buys the rights to House of Stone. (I”m not saying Cindy is talented just because she’s my publisher and editor… it’s true. Really true. Just look at what else Bloomsbury publishes — Nick Lake, Brian Conaghan, Elizabeth Eulberg, Leah Thomas, Danielle Paige, Sarah J. Maas, and on and on and on… ) March – May 2015 — Bloomsbury sells translation rights like they’re selling a cure for baldness. The book will now be published in twelve languages in seventeen countries. I’m not kidding. That’s really happening! Here are the Danish and British covers. In addition to the U.S., U.K. and Denmark, the book is being publsihed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Turkey. (At least that’s what someone told me. Boy would it suck if that all turned out not to be true!)
April 2015 to April 2016 — We edit the book. If you’re not familiar with the editing process, this is where you’re evil editor and publisher tells you everthing that’s wrong with your manuscript after they told you how much they loved it when they bought it. The first “edit letter” you receive for each new novel is like having the girl you really like kick you in the teeth, hard. Don’t worry Cindy; I still love you. Just don’t send an edit letter for this blog post.)
During this same period of time, my title is thrown out in favor of Life in a Fishbowl, and the cover is designed. Both of these things make me really happy.
June 2016 — I hold an advanced readers copy (ARC) of the book in my hands for the first time. This is a big deal.
Fall 2016 — Pre-pub events at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville and at the NCTE Conference in Atlanta, and a book tour is planned. (Click the link; I may be coming to your town!) I get to be on panels with some amazing authors, I get to be on television, and I eat BBQ… lots of BBQ.
December 2016 — I hold a finsihed copy of the book in my hands for the first time; I start my blog tour (the posts won’t publish until January); and I start to obsess over online and book industry reviews. (They are mostly very good — phew!)
And that brings us to today. January 3, 2017. It’s been a long stronge trip, but really the joureny is just beginning. And just like I love my children, I will love this book even if no one else does. (But just as I hope for the best for my children, I want Fishbowl to do well in the world. It doesn’t have to be a phenomenal success, just happy, well adjustted, and healthy.)
Happy Birthday, Fishbowl, happy birthday.
After a wait of two years, Scar Girl, sequel to The Scar Boys, arrives in bookstores everywhere and online Tuesday, March 1. To celebrate, I’m making one of the songs from the book available as a free download.
Scar Girl features six different songs. All but one of the six are songs I had written years ago. (The lyrics to one of the songs — “That’s Not My Leg” — were written specifically for Scar Girl. I have yet to write any music for those lyrics. Hey…maybe I should have a contest to see who can write the best music. Hmmm…)
Anyway, regarding the song I’m making available here… In 2008, when I found out my wife, Kristen (pictured on the right), was pregnant with our first son, Charlie (also pictured on the right), I didn’t have any overt, outward reaction. I’m not now and have never been the kind of guy to jump up and down with excitement. (They would never pick me for The Price Is Right.) While I was really and truly ecstatic, I didn’t know how to show it.
So I grabbed my guitar, went into another room, and wrote this song. It pretty much explains how I felt. It’s been adapted here for Cheyenne’s character, and yes, you can consider this something of a spoiler. (But no worries, this happens very early in the book.) I’ll say no more.
The track, Lullaby, features the vocal talents of my friend Stephanie Coleman. (Stephanie, pictured on the left, is going to sing this live with me at the Scar Girl launch party at Tattered Cover in Littleton, CO on March 8.) The song was recorded in my living room using Garage Band and some cheap mics.
Right click this link to download the song: Lullaby
Post a note here to let me know what you think, and enjoy!
After promoting and talking about The Scar Boys for two years — and thank you to everyone who supported that book! — it’s time to turn the literary page. Scar Girl, the sequel to The Scar Boys, publishes March 1, four weeks from today. Events are being planned, reviews are being written, hoopla will abound.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything to this website. Overall, 2015 has been much quieter than 2014 in terms of my writing career. It’s not that things aren’t happening — The Scar Boys came out in paperback, the sequel (Scar Girl) publishes next spring, and I’m under contract to write two unrelated books — but at the moment, most of my writing life is behind the scenes. And that’s good, as the rest of my life has taken some wild turns this year (more on that below)…In other words, I’ve been neglecting the ol’ blog.
But I shall be silent no more, which, as it turns out, is an appropriate theme for this evening’s post. I’m here to write a five star book review of the forthcoming young adult novel, All American Boys. The book, co-authored by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, unapologetically takes on the issues of police brutality and race, and does so in a way that makes you sit up and pay attention. It’s rare to find a book that is not only timely and important, but that is also a literary treasure. All American Boys fits that bill.
Full disclosure. I know both Jason and Brendan personally. All three of our debut novels were published at roughly the same time (winter 2014). The Scar Boys for me, When I Was the Greatest for Jason, and The Gospel of Winter for Brendan (both of their books are outstanding reads). Jason and Brendan toured together (with John Corey Whaley, no less!), and I crossed paths with them a number of times on the road, happily developing a friendship with each along the way. They are really good guys, and really good writers. I aspire to write as well, and to tell stories as compelling, as these two gentlemen. But I know a lot of authors, and I like a lot of books. Sometimes I’ll give a shout out on Facebook or Instagram, but it’s rare for me to write something like I’m writing tonight. In other words, this review is not borne of friendship, but of my sincere assessment as a reader.
Fuller disclosure. As noted elsewhere on this blog, my wife, Kristen, and I are the incoming owners of the Tattered Cover family of bookstores in and around Denver, Colorado. We sold our house, moved our two kids and all our stuff from Connecticut, and settled in the Mile High City’s southern suburbs. I am now a bookseller. This means it is literally my job to sell books. This presents a bit of a conundrum.
As a writer, I have no interest in being critical of other writers’ work. But as a bookseller, I feel obligated to present honest, thoughtful reviews. What to do? First, I will not write disparaging reviews of books. It doesn’t mean I won’t read books that I don’t enjoy…it means that I won’t discuss those books. Not every book is a good fit for every reader; just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t find it’s audience. But if I am recommending a book, I will do my best to give a balanced, sincere assessment of why I want you to read it.
I will take great care in selecting books to review. Not every book I read will get the level of attention I’m giving to All American Boys in this post. In the past year or two, I can think of a few that I probably should have reviewed on this blog — Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley, and Noggin by Corey Whaley, not to mention the aforementioned books by Jason and Brendan. So yes, I’m a bookseller who sells books, but I only handsell the books I truly love. (That’s a promise.)
Fullest disclosure. Two of my favorite people in the world are Kristen’s cousin and his wife, both of whom shall remain nameless for this post. (I haven’t checked with them ahead of time, and don’t wantt to call anyone out who may wish to remain anonymous.) You see, Kristen’s cousin in a cop. Actually, a police captain. When I first met him, he was an undercover narcotics detective who had seen no shortage of horrors on the job. He also spent a year working internal affairs, investigating allegedly dishonest cops.
The cousin is a patient, thoughtful, and gentle man, who only wants to do good for his family and community. He and his wife are more religious than Kristen and I, and are probably a bit more conservative, too. But we think so highly of them that if anything bad ever happened to us, we’d want them – the cousin and his wife — to raise our children. I can’t think of a bigger statement of support or faith in another human being than that. They are, simply put, really, really, really good people. (We love their kids, too.)
My exposure to Kristen’s cousin has allowed me to see the world through the eyes of a policeman. I’ve watched Ferguson, Staten Island, and other stories unfold not only with African American friends in mind, but the police, too. Not all cops are bad. Some are, yes. But many, like Kristen’s cousin, are exceptionally good.
Okay, now that the air is cleared with all my disclosures, let’s get back to the book.
All American Boys is the story of two teens, one white, one black, and their reactions to an incident of racially motivated, mindless, and senseless police brutality. Through an unfortunate circumstance of bad timing, Rashad is mistaken for a thief by a white policeman, and is badly beaten as he tries to defend and explain himself. Quinn, a family friend of the cop, witnesses the attack and has to come to grips with what he sees, and what it means for his own view of the world.
The writing matches the work done by both Jason and Brendan in the past — the dialogue and narrative flow with ease, the two voices complement one another, and the desecriptions are original and intoxicating. But as good as the writing is, that’s not what makes this book so special. What works so well here is the story’s inherent honesty.
Rashad and Quinn are real characters caught in a very real, but also surreal, situation. Each boy’s journey twists and turns from a place of "this can’t be happening to me" to a place of "I have no choice but to confront this thing head on." And each does so in a way that is at times uplifting, and at times (intentionally) uncomfortable.
About halfway through the book I started to worry that this was going to be to one-sided, a heavy handed commentary on racism without trying to understand what it really means. That worry turned out to be completely unfounded. I will not offer a spoiler other than to say that the authors found a way to make me think about how young black men are viewed in America, and how complicated a proposition that is. One of the most powerful scenes is when Rashad and his friends and family recount personal incidents of having been stopped by police simply because they (Rashad et al) were black.
That said, I did want to know more about Paul, the bad cop in question. The very real monsters in our world, I believe, almost never start out that way…they pretty much always have a backstory; I was curious to know more of Paul’s. But truthfully that’s a minor quibble. The story packs a wallop all the way through, and delivers an important message at the end. The book isn’t really about Paul, it’s about the two teens.
I did wonder what Kristen’s cousin, the cop, would think of the book. Would he agree with the thesis? Would he want to defend the police? My guess is that he’d take at least some issue with the story, that he’d worry its characterization of police was trying to draw general conclusions from specific events. And from his perspective, it would be a fair concern. But I also know he’d want his own kids to read All American Boys so they could discuss it as a family.
And that, right there, is the real power of this novel. This isn’t the end of the conversation, it’s the beginning. Jason and Brendan have succeeded (wildly, I might add) in providing a jumping off point for a conversation that is long overdue in America. (Kristen read the book, too, and she and I talked about it for hours.) Like so many great conversations throughout history, this one begins with a book, this book.
Bravo guys, bravo.
(And, of course, this book can be pre-ordered at TatteredCover.com.)
The following press release went out a few minutes ago. Yes, life really is this good.
Tattered Cover Owner Chooses Successor
Joyce Meskis to retire from business in two years
March 26, 2015 (Denver, CO) – Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover, Inc., announced today that she reached an agreement with long-time book industry veterans Len Vlahos and his wife, Kristen Gilligan to assume control of the business over a two-year time frame. Mr. Vlahos and Ms. Gilligan will join the senior management team of the Tattered Cover on July 1, 2015, and acquire a controlling interest in the business on July 1, 2017. At that point Ms. Meskis will retire and thereafter be available on an as needed basis. More specific terms of the deal were not made public.
“Len and Kristen are exceptionally well-qualified and well-suited to guide the Tattered Cover through the opportunities and challenges of the future,” said Ms. Meskis. “Their energy, passion, philosophical faith in the importance of the role bookselling plays in the community and solid commitment to the strength of its future, ensures my confidence in the longevity of the Tattered Cover in their hands.”
“To become part of the fabric of Tattered Cover is literally a dream come true,” Vlahos said. “The important role bookstores play—as conduits for the free flow of ideas and as stewards of the culture—is essential to the health and well being of our communities. There is no better example of what an indie bookstore can and should be than Tattered Cover. I’m deeply honored that Joyce has confidence in Kristen and me to join the team and lead the business into the future.”
When Joyce Meskis purchased Tattered Cover in 1974, it was a small, struggling 950-square foot shop in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood of Denver. Over the next forty-one years she and the booksellers who joined her built an internationally-recognized store known for exceptional service and loyalty to the greater Denver community.
Tattered Cover now owns and operates four retail stores in and around the city, including on Colfax Avenue, in Lower Downtown, in the newly refurbished Denver Union Station, and soon to open in the Aspen Grove Shopping Center in Littleton the store formerly located in Highlands Ranch. There are also three licensed store locations at Denver International airport with one more to follow.
The business has weathered a series of economic challenges: the boom and bust years in Colorado; the roll out of chain superstores; the advent of e-commerce and the rise of digital books; as well as the recent great recession. Yet, Tattered Cover has persevered and remained one of Denver’s most cherished literary and cultural institutions.
Ms. Meskis, 73, is a former president of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and has been honored by numerous organizations for her lifelong and steadfast commitment to free speech and First Amendment rights, including the American Library Association’s (ALA) Award for Free Expression. She was also the recipient of the distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Achievement and Exceptional Service to the Denver Metropolitan Area from the University of Colorado, and served seven years as the Director of the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. Several Authors’ Associations have honored the Tattered Cover for its support. Over the years the store has hosted thousands of author events celebrating first timer and veteran, the controversial to the beloved, all as a community service.
Len Vlahos is currently the Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group—a national, member-based non-profit devoted to facilitating innovation and shared solutions on behalf of the book publishing industry. Prior to that he had a twenty-year career at the American Booksellers Association, leaving as the Chief Operating Officer in 2011. Before ABA, Vlahos was a bookseller in independent, university, and chain bookstores. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed The Scar Boys (Egmont USA)—a finalist for ALA’s William C. Morris Award for best debut teen fiction of 2014—along with the forthcoming sequel, Scar Girl. He recently signed a two-book deal with Bloomsbury publishers for two new works of young adult fiction.
Kristen Gilligan—a book industry veteran as well—had a decade-long career at the American Booksellers Association, leaving as the Director of Meetings and Events. Before ABA, Gilligan was a bookseller and managed an independent bookstore in Chappaqua, New York. She currently works on special projects for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC) and prior to that for the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE). Gilligan is also a former resident of Boulder, Colorado. Vlahos, Gilligan, and their two young sons are relocating to Denver from Stamford, Connecticut.
“I’ve experienced first hand how the profession of bookselling changes lives,” Gilligan said. “There’s a magic and a magnetism in seeing the right book find its way to the right customer. I am thrilled beyond belief that I will have the opportunity to help Tattered Cover continue and grow its great tradition of bookselling in Denver.”
Tattered Cover’s General Manager Matt Miller, who has worked with Ms. Meskis at the store for over 36 years, has served on both the Board of Directors of the ABA as well as ABFFE, and has also worked directly with Mr. Vlahos and Ms. Gillian in that capacity, said the following:
“It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with Joyce these many years, building a business that is so rewarding and so important to the community. Having known and worked with Len and Kristen over the years, I can think of no better scenario for the future of the store than for them to take reins as Joyce transitions toward retirement. I am confident that they will bring continuity and vitality to the Tattered Cover through their commitment, talent, and vision for decades to come. I am looking forward to working with them toward that goal.”
“Joyce Meskis helped create the modern independent bookstore,” said Oren Teicher. ABA’s Chief Executive Officer. “She served our organization with great distinction as a Board Member and President, and her leadership on First Amendment and free expression issues is legendary. That Tattered Cover will continue under the expert leadership of Kristen Gilligan and Len Vlahos reinforces the good news surrounding indie bookstores of late. I can say with complete confidence that all of us associated with indie bookstores are smiling broadly with this announcement.”
Time for truth telling.
I have had high anxiety that, as an author, I would be a one-note song. That the Scar Boys and Scar Girl — which are really one long, quasi-autobiographical story — were the only good things I would ever write.
As my agent shopped a new manuscript (tentatively called House of Stone) — unconnected to The Scar Boys or to music or to the 1980s, and not drawn from personal experience — I watched as one editor after another rejected the book.
“It’s too adult to publish as YA.”
“It’s too young to publish as adult.”
“The third person narrative and ensemble cast won’t connect with readers.”
“You’re a loser and you should die.” Okay, no one actually said that, but I think maybe that’s what they meant, right? There’s nothing like rejection to breed self doubt.
But writing is nothing if not an exercise in perseverance. I decided not to edit the manuscript based on the rejections I was receiving (as some confidants were advising). I guess I just believed in the book enough to hope it would find a home.
My patience paid off. I’m thrilled to say that I accepted an offer from Cindy Loh, editor extraordinaire and publisher at Bloomsbury Kids, to publish House of Stone. You can see the announcement, here.
Scar Girl will publish in Spring 2016 (from my other new publisher, Lerner), House of Stone in spring 2017 from Bloomsbury, and the book to be named later, well, later.
Much more to come about all of this, but for now, while I still have plenty of anxiety, I am one insanely, incredibly happy, and very lucky dude.
Thank you Bloomsbury!!!!!!
I was completely and totally blown away to learn that The Scar Boys is a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award. The Award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.” I mean, holy cow!!!!
Here, including The Scar Boys, are the five finalist books:
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley (Elephant Rock Books)
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim written by E.K. Johnston, published by Carolrhoda Lab™, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces written by Isabel Quintero, published by Cinco Puntos Press.
The Scar Boys written by Len Vlahos, published by Egmont Publishing.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender written by Leslye Walton, published by Candlewick Press.
I’ve already purchased the other four books from WORD Bookstores (Jersey City and Brooklyn) and am looking forward to reading them and to getting them signed at the Awards Ceremony on February 2 in Chicago.
Nearly two and a half years ago my agent told me that Egmont USA, a small kids book publisher based in New York City, had acquired the rights to The Scar Boys. Since that moment, one cool thing after another has happened to me:
First and foremost, I’ve met an incredible array of readers. From the Teen Advisory Board at Hicklebee’s in San Jose (pictured here), to the amazing students in Ana Medina Fernandez’s library at Ronald Reagan High School in Doral (Miami) Florida, and everywhere in between, I’ve been inspired, edified, and humbled.
I’ve also been embraced by the community of young adult writers. Well-established authors like Elizbeth Eulberg, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Andrew Smith, David Levithan, Sara Darer Littman, Ellen Hopkins, Trent Reedy, Jandy Nelson — and the list goes on and on and on — have not only made me feel welcome among their ranks, but they’ve taught me so much. As a debut author, this has astounded and heartened me, and it has made my entry into this world a heck of a lot easier. These people are just freaking amazing.
My book was the happy benefactor of a starred review in School Library Journal, a #1 Indie Next pick, and a favorable review in the Sunday New York Times. (You can see a lot of media, here.)
I even got a second book deal out of the experience with a Scar Boys sequel (tentiavely called Scar Girl) slated for publication by Egmont in late summer/early fall 2015.
I know, I know… I sound like a gushing six year old at his first baseball game, awestruck by everything around him, but how else could I possibly feel? Pretty amazing stuff, right? But I don’t think anything can be cooler than this:
"I just wanted to write you an email stating that I was still very interested into turning The Scar Boys into a theatre piece. It speaks to me on several levels as a child growing up in the 80s and being so influenced by that music scene."
This was part of a note from Chad Edwards, the theater arts teacher at Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I met Chad at the BookMarks festival where he initially pitched the idea to me. We’ve since confirmed all the details via email. He and his students will adapt The Scar Boys and produce it for the stage, with three live performances in Februrary. I will work with the kids via Skype, and I will make sure that Kristen and I are there for opening night.
Wow. I mean, wow!
I told Chad, and I believe this strongly, an adaptation is a distinct and unique work of art. Yes, it’s dervied from source material, but my hope is that these young writers and actors will take The Scar Boys and make it their own. I’m so excited to see what they do with it.
Stay tuned for updates on the process of adapting the book and of working with the students. This is going to be fun!