Archive for March 31, 2010

Around the Horn

* Want to know the secret of how to write for boys? I refer you to this post.

* If you write a book about bullying, sometimes a guy will give you an eye-rolling response like, “Oh please, you big wuss.” Then there’s stories like this one, and we’re reminded of what’s at stake.

* Loyal readers know that I’m loathe to bring the snark, heaven forfend, but this “Battle of the Kids’ Books” hype does nothing for me. I mean, okay, I get it, it’s a familiar format used everywhere — featuring rock bands or supermodels or favorite cereal brands — all done in good fun to promote great books. But what can I say? The competition angle, with winners and losers, turns me off. It all feels like a rehash of the endless awards season we just experienced. Besides, I’d prefer an old-fashioned Battle Royale. That said: I’m sure the authors are happy for the added publicity.

* I was so, so, so excited for this . . . then I remembered I don’t get HBO.

* The first internet sighting of Justin Fisher Declares War! — on a somewhat dubious “Top 10 Books for Boys” list. Not that I’m complaining!

* Here’s Youtube’s 50 Best Videos over the past five years. According to somebody. Coming in at #1: “Charlie Bit My Finger!”

* Sometimes we forget to spread the awkwardness. And I’m here to remind you.

The caption for this one: “This family just wants

to know what the hell you’re looking at.”

* My 2010 New York Mets prediction: 82 wins. Not optimistic about the pitching. Worse: I’ve lost faith in management. Sorry, Doret.

* Betsy Bird’s countdown for “The Top 100 Children’s Novels” is winding down to single digits. Don’t miss out. As always, she does a spectacular job.

Overheard: Rainy, Sneezy Morning

It was one of those mornings every parent knows too well. My daughter Maggie woke up groggy, coughing, sneezing, with a thtupped-up head. She’d been under the weather for the past couple of days. So it was a struggle getting her out of bed, fed, dressed, and off to school. I mean, there was serious doubt we could pull it off.

I prodded and cajoled — showed sensitivity and firmness (never waver, that’s my motto!) — and finally, miraculously, we were in the car. Ready to go.

The sky was an ugly mass of gray clouds. Rain poured down. Maggie’s eyes were glazed, she snorted constantly, a picture (and sound) of misery.

Sliding the key into the ignition, I said, “It’s not going to rain all day. It’s supposed to get nice later on. Maybe you can walk home.”

Maggie mumbled something I didn’t catch. It was the first time all morning she’d given anything beyond a one-word reply. I leaned in closer. “What?”

“It might be a good day for rainbows,” she observed.


Hmmm. She must get it from her mother.

Cue the Inspiration: “It’s the End of the World”

“Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above?”

I’ve been writing my first YA novel, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the process, it’s often felt like a death match. I’m like that guy on the garage floor, bloodied and short of breath, stretching for that just-out-of-reach crowbar. If only I could grasp it to smash my opponent, that damn story, across the skull.

Anyway: that’s all preamble. We find inspiration in all sorts of places. Small details aid us in our struggle. And for many writers, music can help set the right mood. In a recent interview here, Kurtis Scaletta said that he listened to a lot of Bob Marley while writing Mamba Point, a book set in Africa. David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” reportedly listened to a lot of music from New Orleans while working on his new HBO series, “Treme.”  In fact, he even wanted executives at HBO to listen to specific songs while reading the script. Which makes me wonder: Did Rebecca Stead listen to the $10,000 Pyramid theme song — over and over again — while writing When You Reach Me? I hope not, but you never know; writers can be a nutty bunch. It does amuse me to think of her pecking away at the keyboard while this song played on an endless loop:

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Anyway, my current book involves sixteen-year-old characters. I’m doing a lot of remembering, soul-searching. Again, not so much the specific details of that time but the essential feelings of that age. First summer jobs, first car, first love.

Somewhere along the line I remembered “The End of the World,” an amazing 1963 Skeeter Davis tune, produced by Chet Atkins, music by Arthur Kent and lyrics by Sylvia Dee. My goodness, what lyrics. Has any song better captured the heartbreak of teenage love? Absolute perfection. A song that could not possibly be better.

“I can’t understand. No, I can’t understand/How life goes on the way it does.”

Don’t you agree?

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Why does the sun go on shining?

Why does the sea rush to shore?

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world,

‘Cause you don’t love me any more?

Why do the birds go on singing?

Why do the stars glow above?

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world.

It ended when I lost your love.

I wake up in the morning and I wonder,

Why everything’s the same as it was.

I can’t understand. No, I can’t understand,

How life goes on the way it does.

Why does my heart go on beating?

Why do these eyes of mine cry?

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world.

It ended when you said goodbye.

Happy Nappy Bloggy Baseball: Around the Horn with Doret

My friend, Doret Canton, of The Happy Nappy Bookseller blog, goes around the horn with nine authors of children’s baseball books. It’s a pretty cool lineup with some heavy hitters, sure to score runs in bunches.

Doret’s come up with a fun, inventive way of sharing her passion for baseball and baseball books, with each author answering interview questions over a series of days.

Here’s the lineup:

1. Gene Fehler, Change-up: Baseball Poems
2. Linda Sue Park, Keeping Score
3. Kurtis Scaletta, Mudville
4. Alan Gratz, Brooklyn Nine
5. Julianna Baggott, The Prince of Fenway Park
6. James Preller, Six Innings
7. Jennifer E. Smith, The Comeback Season
8. Carl Deuker, Painting the Black
9. Mick Cochrane, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

Alongside this company, I’m like that kid at second base, murmuring to himself, “Don’t screw it up, don’t screw it up, please God don’t let me screw it up.”

Here’s Round One, questions 1-3.

Here’s Round Two, questions 4-6.

Stop on over and check it out.

By the way, I interviewed Doret back about a year ago. She’s a passionate, voracious reader and I love her attitude. You wanna get real? Go talk to Doret. But don’t believe my word for it, decide for yourself.

After spending time with Doret, you’ll definitely want to put on a squeeze play.

Breaking the Silence: Interview at

I’m breaking my self-imposed gag order to alert my Nation of Readers of an interview I did with Carl DeLuca over at

Click here like a crazed ferret and you’ll find it.

I think anyone interested in boys and books (together, at last!) will appreciate the effort, commitment, and care that Carl has put into his new website. You should check it out! There’s thoughtful essays, lists, interviews (so far: Jessica Lee Anderson, Laura Manivong, Kurtis Scaletta, and Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen), links, and free pizza and beer for every visitor (no, I’m lying).

Thanks, Carl!