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Scar Girl Book Birthday and Song

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…)

KrisCharlieOceanAnyway, 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.

StephanieThe 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!

How anxiety can lead to a two-book deal…

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!!!!!!

The William C. Morris Award

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
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley (Elephant Rock Books)

The Story of Owen
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
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces written by Isabel Quintero, published by Cinco Puntos Press.

The Scar Boys
The Scar Boys written by Len Vlahos, published by Egmont Publishing.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
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.

Woohoo!!!

Momentous Occasion

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.

Houston TeenCon

View from the stage at Houston TeenCon

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 dumb corageous silly enough to want to make a career writing teen novels. Seriously, it was my first experience as an active participant in the community of writers, and it was a highlight of my year.

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.

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 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?

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.

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.

Fred

I have worked in the book industry on and off for thirty years — my first bookstore job was at NYU when most of you were still gleams in your fathers’ eyes — and I have watched this industry endure one seismic shift after another. It has changed so much people don’t even want to call it the “book industry” anymore. Now we’re the “publishing ecosystem,” or the “published content community,” or, I don’t know, “Fred.”

But here’s the thing about Fred. He’s a resilient sucker.

First there was the massive retail expansion of the early and mid 1990s, when Barnes and Noble and Borders were dropping superstores on the landscape like Johnny Appleseed. The square footage devoted to book retail in America tripled in a few short years, while the overall size of Fred remained relatively flat. Do the math, it’s not pretty.

Then it was the rise of e-commerce. Not only was the retail pie getting cut into ever smaller pieces by the brick and mortar crowd, now it was being cut into wafer thin slices by a seemingly infinite expanse of virtual square footage.

But those were only the warm-up acts. They were Marshall Crenshaw and Aztec Camera getting the crowd ready for Elvis Costello and U2. Retail expansion was impactful, but it wasn’t transformational. No, for that, we needed something beyond comprehension. We needed digitization.

The digital transformation of Fred has been written about ad nauseam and covered from every conceivable angle. I’ve read how print books will be dead in two years, and I’ve read how e-books are just a fad. (“No,” and “gimme a break,” by the way.) I’ve heard speakers posit a world in which digital content will save Fred, destroy Fred, and introduce Fred to a nice girl from Hartsdale so they can settle down, all in the same speech.

And yet, when I ride the commuter train home from New York City, I see people reading books. Lots of books. True, many of them are Kindles or Nooks, but an increasing number — you read that right — an increasing number, are reading print. It’s as if there has been a collective sigh of exhaustion from looking at screens all day, and people are craving the tactile and visual sensation that is ink on paper.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if digital books are going to slowly fade into the sunset. They’re not. And it’s not as if Fred — and in case you’ve already lost the thread of this meandering post, “Fred” is the book industry — doesn’t have its problems. It does. People who used to buy books to learn how to cook spaghetti, or build a deck, or be a better lawyer, now often get their content from the Internet, and usually for free.

But even with that, there’s something about books that continues to hold our interest. Books, as artifacts, are special. Think about how quickly music changed. The iTunes store launched in April, 2003. and within five years, by 2008, people were buying twice as many downloaded singles as they were CD albums, and CD albums were in steep decline.

cd sales
ALBUM SALES 1973 – 2010

single sales
SINGLES SALES 1973 – 2010

In the book industry, uh, er Fred, while digital book sales have soared, the growth still pales when compared to the music industry. (For a clarity’s sake, we’ll continue to call “the music industry” the music industry.) Why? For one thing, listening to a downloaded MP3 is experientially identical to listening to a compact disc. For another, music can be sold in small discrete packages (songs). With books, neither of those things is true. Maybe that explains why for the most part, print has held its own even while digital has grown. (I say “for the most part” because mass market books have in fact taken it on the chin.) If anything, we should be thanking digital for growing the pie again.

calmbeforestormBefore any luddites out there rejoice, we might simply be in the calm before the storm. We could be one technological innovation away from another seismic shift. The truth is, no one knows and I’ve given up trying to predict the future.

But let’s not worry about the future. Let’s worry about the here and now. And for now, for right now and right here, Fred is alive and kicking, and people are reading books, print or digital, they’re reading books. And that, my friends, is good.