Thanks, for PRESS PLAY, and beyond

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Life has been super busy since the release of Press Play, which I like to say is a good problem to have. However, part of my schedule includes a trip at the end of this week that runs through early next week. Therefore, I wanted to take a moment to express my thanks for so many things before it’s next week and I’m too exhausted to write a blog post 🙂

Running Press, my publisher, has been pretty phenomenal to me, constantly trying to find ways for people to learn about my work. They were very supportive about the making of my trailer, its blast and the subsequent run in the theater. Trust me, as an author, I do so much that impossible to measure, and so to have the business end of books support such is invaluable.

McGreivey’s restaurant, and Art Riley, in particular, has been nothing but awesome to me. For three years Art has agreed to host my launch parties, and every year I am so impressed by his willingness to help out a local author by making my family and friends feel so thoroughly welcome.

Both Barnes and Noble and Market Block Books have been great to me, hosting signings and getting the word out, and Market Block helped with sales for my launch and is on board for an event coming in December. Even though they are on opposite ends of the corporate indie spectrum of business, everyone I have met at each store has his or her heart in the right place, devoted to finding the right book for the right hands. I’m just glad they include me on that list.

WNYT is fantastic for having me on for a third time. Publicity of any kind is welcomed, and the opportunity to wake of the Capital District with Dan Bazile and my books is just damn fun.

So far, Teen Reader Con has been the highlight of my November. The other authors were awesome but the kids were unreal. I have never felt more like a rock star than I did that day. And the librarians who put so much time and energy into the event deserve a round of drinks and hearty applause. Pulling off such a wonderful event that was free and drew such a large crowd form all over the area, is astounding, as well as a testament to their dedication, professionalism, and compassion for the work they do.

And I am already thankful for this week. I will be at NCTE’s Annual convention, followed by ALAN’s Workshop. This opportunity is amazing. I get to meet thousands of English teachers and discuss my work with them, while at a convention that allows me to absorb amazing possibilities for my classroom. And at ALAN, I get to continue the conversation, as well as sit on a panel with one of my favorite authors, Andrew Smith.

And through it all has been Kate McKean, my superstar agent. Because even though I’m promoting Press Play, she’s helping me navigate the next stories, as always, with her pitch perfect sense of fiction and her absolute belief in me as an author.

Of course, it all boils down to my family, especially my wife, who is the only one to whom I can vent my frustrations and share my excitement. So much of what I do is unseen and unspoken, yet Carrie is privy to it all—for good and bad. I respect the degree to which she shoulders the burden of letting me live my dream, because without her, I would not.

My readers get last credit, but my everlasting appreciation. My work is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, they help spread the word, proclaiming the awesomeness of my intense and dark stories. Thank you. Authors need readers, and it is you who I always have in mind when I sit in this office and open the Word doc. It is you who I attempt to thank over and over, as I weave a bit of magic, story after story.

Thank you, and please enjoy Thanksgiving and the company of all of those for whom you are thankful.

MBB

The Good and Genetically Modified in Grasshopper Jungle

I don’t typically review books, here, but it felt right to do so, because I’m kind of infatuated with the novel, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, which publishes tomorrow.

I’m fortunate enough to have picked up an Advanced Reader Copy while at ALA Midwinter. Here it is with Summer on the Short Bus, which I intend to review in April:

GJ & Short Bus pic

Grasshopper Jungle is about small town Iowa becoming overrun by genetically engineered praying mantis, resulting in the apocalypse. I know, it sounds crazy, but there’s so much more to it than corn, Iowa, praying mantis, and more corn.

It’s an awesome read about friendship and loyalty, with one extremely flawed protagonist––more on Austin in a minute. However, the story takes its time in developing the central conflict. There are hints of it, but most of the 128 pages prior to things really hitting the fan are filled with exposition and characterization, as well as a mix of secondary conflicts and accounts of history. And horniness.

The protagonist, Austin, is very easily aroused, by everything: his girlfriend, his best friend, situations that make sense for arousal, and those that have no connection to sensuality. Yet, that’s his quirk, which, for me, made him an endearing character, in spite of his gross selfish interest. Really, he says he loves his girlfriend, Shan, and friend, Robby, but he has a very difficult time showing that love. Lust, on the other hand, is no issue for Austin. He’s filled with it. And such a distinction is important for teens to see.

Yet, this combination of delayed action, which most authors (me included) would have concluded the first chapter with, and quite possibly an unlikable protagonist, could make Grasshopper Jungle a difficult read. But part of the undercurrent of the story is very much a Vonnegut-esque rhythm, of the renown “So it goes.” The looping style is part of the point. The story goes where the story goes, and unfolds as it does, without apology. I respect that and hope enough teens will have the patience to first know the characters and then watch them handle the main struggle. And I don’t feel as if we have to love all protagonists from the outset, or even throughout the novel. It’s important to learn from others, who we may not initially be able to relate to, because I can guarantee, on some level, at some point, the connection will occur.

I’ve read reviews of Grasshopper Jungle questioning whether a female protagonist with the same quirk as Austin would be as positively received. It’s a good question. I don’t know if the YA world would be accepting of such, but I kind of feel that they would. Especially those who read Andrew Smith’s work. Winger, another Smith novel, handles homosexuality well, as does Grasshopper Jungle. Austin’s best friend, Robby, is gay, and Austin is…confused. He never labels himself bisexual, which I like, because at the end of the world, do we really need labels? If ever? So a female protagonist, unafraid to voice her desires, might excel, where Austin comes off as comical. Time will tell.

If you like offbeat, layered stories that do not conform to formulas for plot and character, then I suggest you take a chance with Grasshopper Jungle. I guarantee you’ll find yourself wanting to smoke a cigarette before you save the world. “And shit like that.”

Afterthought:

If you follow Andrew Smith on Twitter @marburyjack, he’s been tweeting pictures of excerpts from Grashopper Jungle. Here’s the most important one, from the Acknowledgements, which he may or may not tweet. I cannot imagine Winger or Grasshopper Jungle not existing, so I’m glad he wrote for himself and then let us see.

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