Kirkus Review

I did not know much about Kirkus Reviews until last week when my editor Lisa Cheng forwarded their review of Tap Out. Which was followed immediately by another email from my agent, Kate McKean.

The emails came as I was driving to a speaking engagement at a local high school that uses my first novel, This Side of Normal, in their Biology curriculum. I was mentally running through the presentation when my phone chimed. When it chirped a second time I got nervous, pulled over and read.

Befuddlement swept over me. Kirkus didn’t ring any bells. Well, maybe one. I recently started following Kirkus MacGowan, on Twitter and thought for a moment that both of the industry connections in my life were emailing about him. I don’t know, maybe he was going to blurb Tap Out? I was excited. And then I read the review.

Now, I can’t reprint it in its entirety. For those of you with subscriptions, to Kirkus, the online version is up today. The print version will be out on May 15. However, I can give you one absolutely fantastic line, the very last of the review:

This is bound to have huge appeal to kids whose lives are being mirrored, and it may prompt luckier readers to take some positive action. 

Okay, so I quickly realized that this wasn’t about Mr. MacGowan and that some reviewing had occurred that I was not aware of. In the same moment, I was elated. This seemed awesome, but I still didn’t know who or what Kirkus was. And now I was running late for my speaking engagement.

I made it on time, delivered an inspiring presentation, then hung around and spoke with teachers and parents. When I returned to my van I dashed a quick text to my wife, explaining as best I could that I had some good news. She didn’t know who Kirkus was, either.

I Googled Kirkus immediately upon arriving home and became enlightened–They are, in their words, “The World’s Toughest Book Critics” (and after reading some reviews I tend to agree). I had no idea that Tap Out  was being reviewed by any critics, let alone such a stalwart of the industry. I guess this is the way things go, but I’m such a noob it’s embarrassing.

Regardless, I’m ecstatic for the review and appreciative to Lisa and Running Press for having the faith to submit Tap Out there.

I hope this is the beginning of the swirl of good vibes for Tap Out. It certainly feels that way, especially sinceCalifornia is on the horizon. But more on that next time…

Antacids and Inhalers

Recently I had friends convince me to attend a concert. Not a concert for a headline act, and not a concert from a group I listen to. Really, it wasn’t even a concert, but a show. For a cover band. A Sublime cover band.

I’m not sure why I agreed either. But the fullness of my ineptitude came over me just prior to leaving for the show, when my wife looked at the tickets and noted that it was for “16 and up with I.D.”

In my mind I saw a dingy bar converted into a concert hall with the addition of a stage and some house lights. And of course, teenagers everywhere. I couldn’t have been more correct.

We pulled into the parking lot, the noise–not music–of the opening act playing and I noticed the line of teens. I was surprised that such a band would draw a crowd large enough to necessitate a line. Then I saw the pat-downs in process.

My wife and I joined the queue and watched phones examined, wallets opened, bags turned out, handbags rifled through and pockets and waistbands patted and searched. I know the guards were looking for drugs and alcohol, possibly weapons. I’m not that thick. Yet I simply was not prepared, or had forgotten this part of being a teen. The mistrust.

Now, as an adult, I see the invasion as necessary. As a teen I don’t think I did. Neither did the kids around us, complaining to deaf ears about their personal property. I was taken aback, because this is part of the teen experience I haven’t really touched on. And it’s not just shows where this invasion occurs. Teens are scrutinized on field trips, traveling with teams or clubs, at any event where they will not be under a watchful eye 100% of the time. This was true to a degree when I was a teen, but not to this extreme. It’s a point I’ve been mulling ever since.

As is the condition our security guard found my wife and I in.

She had to explain my glucose meter and inhaler, as well as her prescription antacids. I needed to verify that what was attached to my hip was, indeed, just an insulin pump.

Once through and inside, we met our friends and tried to blend with the crowd. We were not the eldest, but I certainly felt old. But at the same time I was glad to be forced into an element and situation my characters may inhabit, because for all my time with teens in a school setting, I hadn’t felt this, hadn’t understood it.

It was unnerving, and is nothing that antacids or an inhaler can cure.

On Being Awesome

Jim Wendler. His name most likely means nothing to many of your reading this, and that’s fine. Unless you are a power lifter, or like me, appreciate his approach to strength training, then you have no need to know about Jim. Except, you do.

There are plenty of expert coaches and trainers on the Internet today. They have multiple degrees and certifications and a wealth of knowledge offered for the taking. I don’t respect Jim Wendler because of his expertise. In fact, I may respect him more because he’s not an expert in the traditional sense. He lived in the trenches and came out with one hard-edged maxim: Be Awesome.

You can’t quantify such with research and analysis. There are no peer-reviewed articles on the matter. So why should you care, and why do I? Because Jim’s not merely talking about the iron game, he’s talking about life. He’s talking to all of us regarding whatever endeavor we choose. And this is especially applicable to writers.

Like Jim, no one told me I had to do this. I chose. And because it was my choice, the pressure to succeed stems entirely from within. That pressure is more severe than any external force can ever be. Because I don’t just want success so that I can say I wrote such-and-such and isn’t that cool? No, I want to be capital A– Awesome at it.

Why not?

Here’s a reason: being awesome isn’t synonymous with having life easy. Being successful at anything takes some amount of sacrifice and dedication and pain. I think a lot of people would much rather avoid the discomfort altogether.

I can’t. It may be that I’m hardwired for a masochistic life. It may just be that I’m a fool. But I do know that I just finished my first pass on my next manuscript. The story is good and I like what I did thematically. But is it awesome? No, not yet. That’s a bit painful. But I know what to do. I know how to dedicate myself and where I can sacrifice to meet my demands.

As difficult as it is to accept the reality of the struggle is, it’s also exactly how it should be. Awesome doesn’t emerge fresh out of the gate. It takes practice. It stumbles and regroups. It learns. It grows and then it parses itself down into its perfection. Not perfection, but its own form of such.

The last piece, the most difficult to accept, is that being awesome is not the same as being better than, being a cut above. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being awesome means always being hungry and remaining humble and knowing your hold on its elusiveness is fleeting.

So whatever it is you are doing: writing, training, studying, working, parenting… dig in and do it well. Be awesome. Raise the bar for all of us, so we have a greater target to aim for.

Or in Jim’s words: “Start doing and believing in the stuff that works, and do it today and forever.”

Advanced Reader Copy

Monday Night I was coaching at my CrossFit box and checked my phone between classes. My wife had sent a text asking if she could open a package I’d received in the mail. She’d attached a picture, so I zoomed in on the return address: it was from Lisa Cheng, my editor at Running Press. I didn’t have time to reply, but I knew what my answer would have been: Absolutely not.

I raced home to my wife and the package that she had propped on my pillows. “I wouldn’t have opened it. You know that,” she said. Bless her. In that package were two copies of the Advanced Reader Copy of Tap Out.

My wife and I turned the copies over, inspecting like children with new toys. A handwritten note from Lisa had come as well and my wife read it aloud. I was exhausted from my 15-hour day, but was lifted by the exhilaration of it all. My Work. In Print. Looking Awesome. Enough Said.

Now, unlike my previous writing, my wife had not read one word of Tap Out. We’re quite superstitious, and after my first project with my agent Kate McKean didn’t sell, my wife decided she didn’t want to “curse” anything else.

She dove into Tap Out and I got out of the room. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it makes me to have her read my work. I don’t know why, except, possibly it’s because I don’t want to let her down. She’ll love me and my work regardless, but she might not actually enjoy the writing. That would hurt.

I occupied myself for a half hour and then re-entered the bedroom. “So?” I asked.

“So, what?” she said.

Mind you, I heard quite a few gasps and some throat clearing in the interim. The first chapter is quite the slap in the face. So a blase “So what?” didn’t fit.

“Well, you’ve read enough to be able to comment. Right?”

“No, not yet. I’ve been waiting for two years for this. I need more time to formulate the words I want to share with you.”

Fair enough. I occupied myself a while longer and finally my wife was ready.

“It’s really good. Violent and graphic, but in an authentic way. It’s a page turner, and I’m not saying this because it’s you. It’s the story.”

I couldn’t have asked for more.

Soon the copies will be off for blurbs, and I hope that the authors who read them are a fraction as generous as my wife was with me.