Archive for July 17, 2012


The writing life has its ups and downs, and more downs than I’d prefer. No, it’s not coal mining, and I’m not an ice road trucker . . .

. . . .but this job can be full of doubt and disappointment. Still, and here’s the thing: I’m grateful for this career, thankful for this writing life, because it literally is a dream come true. How many people can say that?

I published my first book in 1986. From then to now, more than half my life, I’ve done all sorts of work, from desperate, pay-the-rent stuff . . .

. . . to books that I’m proud of.

Today, 7/17/2012, my first Young Adult novel, Before You Go, will be available in bookstores near you. That’s the hope, anyway. I don’t expect it to sell well. Or for long. I don’t even know if many readers will like it. It’s not a book for everyone. But this is absolutely the book I wanted to write, the book I needed to write, and I am grateful to my editor, Liz Szabla, and my publisher Jean Feiwel, for giving me the artistic freedom to do the thing I wanted to do.

It’s a rare license these days. And a great feeling, like wind at your back.

And it’s not something I take lightly. It’s taken me a long time to arrive at that moment, to find that I’ve got good people who have my back. Hopefully Before You Go finds some appreciative readers along the way, whatever their number.

I don’t control what happens now.

Look, I want sales, I want to earn a living, I want my publisher to do well, I want great reviews, I want readers. But try as I might, not every book is going to be popular, acclaimed, beloved — these things are impossible to predict. My sense has always been that Before You Go is a quiet book, a slow story, not a whole lot of plot, and one that might be swimming against the tide of popularity. That’s okay. Sometimes as a writer you have to answer a different call. What’s amazing is to have such unbelievable support along the way.

So I look at this physical object in my hands and think, you know, hey, this is a well-published book. I’m glad for it. And grateful to have this piece of art in my hands that was published with such care, and heart, and commitment to excellence. Thank you, Liz, Jean, Rich Deas, Elizabeth Fithian, Holly West, Dave Barrett, Nicole Liebowitz Moulaison, Ksenia Winnicki, Anna Roberto, and everyone else at Feiwel & Friends whose efforts made this book possible. I’m grateful for it, and grateful to you. So thank you.

Just a lucky guy, I guess.

Inspiration: “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone

I’ve long been awed by the song, “Feeling Good,” as sung by Nina Simone. It slays me every time I hear it. The lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse (I don’t know who to credit, exactly) are so simple, yet convey such depth of feeling.

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree you know how I feel


Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
That’s what I mean

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

And when the horns kick in, oh my.

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Anyway, I’ve been writing and re-writing a scene in a new book. So far, it feels like every decision I make is the wrong one. Every path, the wrong one. I try to squeeze some background information into dialogue, it sounds false. I try it with straight exposition, it drags. I’m wrestling with the problem of “set-up,” an issue I’ve faced dozens of times with Jigsaw Jones, and I’m still searching, slashing, deleting, surrendering.

But I did wake up this morning with that song in my head, and I thought about my main character, Samantha, looking up at the clouds — something I wanted her to do, an aspect of her character — and that’s the feeling in her heart. She sees a bird soaring high and she knows how it feels.

Over coffee, I scribbled on a sheet of paper:

Sam was a cloud watcher and a sky dreamer. She looked up to admire a red-tailed hawk soaring through the clouds, and sent a silent message to that bird: You know how I feel.

Will this solve my problem? No, it won’t. Will it make it through the revision and editing process? No idea. But I’m going back in again, this song in my heart, and I’m going to bring that moment with me.

FUN FACT: Newley and Bricusse also composed the original score and songs for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Which, weirdly enough, inspired aspects of the story I’m currently writing. There’s a Wonka-esque character in it. When coincidence comes together, I often think, “Somebody’s trying to tell me something.” I figure I’m on the right track. Time to grab a shovel and dig in.

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