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!
This week marks one of the most important anniversaries in American history, nay, in world history, nay again, in the history of our solar system. Of course I refer to the six month anniversary of the release of my debut novel, The Scar Boys.
What, you thought I was going to say the moon landing? Really? Okay, I’m kidding. The 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon IS the momentous occasion you should be celebrating. You should watch Apollo 13 (I did last night), you should go outside and look at the moon (preferably with a telescope), and you should eat moon pies (whatever the hell moon pies are). But don’t look to this blog for information on that momentous event; I was all of four years old when it happened. A quick Google Search on "Moon Landing", "Apollo 11," "Armstrong," or "Buzz," will tell you what you want to know. (I find it vexing that Buzzfeed now trumps Buzz Aldrin in search resutls. Ugh.).
While I’m not qualified to wax (or wane — a moon joke, get it?) on the Sea of Tranquility, I can talk all night about The Scar Boys. Fear not, I won’t. But six months (January 21 to July 21) is an interesting enough milestone to warrant a few words.
The lifecycle of a book is a weird thing. I spent the three months post-release visiting bookstores and high schools in support of The Scar Boys, and I loved every second of it. Now, the work of promoting the book is shifting to the festival-conference circuit. (I didn’t know such a circuit existed until recently, but it does.) I’m lucky enough to have received invitations to participate in no fewer than six festivals and cons this fall, and was foolish enough (I still have a day job and a family) to accept them all.I participated in one con this past spring, the Houston Teen Con, and it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Not only did I spend the day with 1500 enthusiastic teen readers — that’s right America, 1500 teens gave up a beautiful Saturday afternoon to come hear a bunch of authors talk about books! — but I got to meet and socialize with other people
Now I get to do it all over again, six times, this fall. The first two events — actually at the end of the summer — are right around the corner:
First up is the Decatur Book Festival. The part of the event aimed at kids is run by Diane Capriola, the wonderful owner of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta). On Friday, August 29, the festival is sending the talented, funny, and sometimes incendieary Laurn Myracle and I on school visits. The following day Lauren and I are joined by Terra Elan McVoy for a panel discussion titled "Just Do It" (I hope we don’t have to sell sneakers or anything like that), and later that same day, I get to moderate a panel titled "Guys and Girls Like Us," featuring Geoff Herbach, Ellen Hopkins, Jandy Nelson, and Andrew Smith. Are you shitting me? I mean how cool is that?
One week and a couple of hundred miles later, I head to Winston-Salem for the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors. (I love Wintson-Salem if for no other reason than it has a hyphenated name. It was like Winston and Salem got married and decided to combine names rather than simply take the name of the husband. Well done, W-S, well done.) The Assistant Director of the festival is one Jamie Rogers.
During my twenty year tenure at the American Booksellers Association, the trade group representing the interests of independently owned bookstores, I had the honor and pleasure of working with Jamie. I know her well enough to tell you that anything she touches turns to gold, including this event. The lineup is incredible. For my part, I’m on a bullying panel with Meg Medina (we are not bullying each other or the audience, but rather, talking about how our books and characters address bullying), I’m doing my own presentation, and I’m participating in a panel on the future of the book. Wow!
Between Decatur and Winston-Salem, I cannot think of a better way to end the summer, and to enter the second phase in the life of The Scar Boys. (Phase three comes in February with the release of the paperback, and phase four several months later with the sequel, Scar Girl.)
In the meantime, I will tear my eyes away from the moon long enough to wish Harry, Johnny, Cheyenne, and Richie — The Scar Boys — a happy anniversary. Like all six month olds, they allow me little sleep, they are always hungry to be fed, and they are full of promise. Thanks to everyone who has made the first half a year the incredible ride it has been.
The Scar Boys “Win an Electric Guitar Contest” is a wrap. For those of you who entered but did not receive an email from me saying that you won, well, thank you for taking the time to enter, but sorry, you didn’t win. For the two of you who did receive that email from me, congrats! (More on our winners below.)
I was thrilled that dozens of you knew the mystery song was actually the tune from the classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
That tune has been stuck in my head for decades.
Two winners were chosen at random from among all the correct entries. I’m thrilled to introduce you to:
Ben from San Lorenzo Valley High School in Northern California.
"People always say that working hard for something makes it more dear, and it’s probably true, but so does serendipity. The electric guitar is gorgeous. As soon as I got home I took the case onto my bed, unzipped it from neck to base, and lay the guitar on my lap. Sixty years of design has made the shape of an electric guitar not only practical and comfortable, but remarkably sensual."
I’m so excited for Ben and Jessica, and am happy that The Scar Boys gave me an opportunity to help spread the gift of music a little further. (Farther? I’m a writer, I should probably know that. I also probably shouldn’t end my sentences with the word "that." But I digress.)
The contest also helped raise $400 for Library for All, a wonderful nonprofit building digital libraries in communities where people have no access to books. It’s not a huge sum of money, but every little bit helps. This is me delivering the check to Nicole, Isabel and Jessica at LFA.
I encourage you to get involved. Visit their website to find out how.
Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congrats again Ben and Jessica!
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
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.
And finally, if you were at one of the events and haven’t yet entered the contest, it’s not too late!
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.
A passionate, energetic performance of a Cake song by Ben at San Lorenzo Valley High School in Northern California. Awesome.
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.
Beautiful original song by Emma (high school senior) at The King’s English in Salt Lake City.
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.
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:
- Only one song per artist.
- Each song has to mean something to me.
- 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.)
- 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?
|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
|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!)|
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?