And basic humanity tip: don't be a douche bag like this lady.

The carnage starts up in the comments, and if you have a few minutes and would like a laugh, I suggest you click through the 300 or so comments.  It gets weird. 

For all my writer-readers or potential writer-readers or just readers who don't want to find themselves in a quagmire of online controversy, never, ever ever respond to a bad review online.  That is simply a bear that should not be poked. 

Do like I do, listen to The Cure and eat Sun Chips until the pain goes away. 

Authors note:  Why won't you love me Kirkus?  Why!   

 
 
This clip from Steven Segal's "Hard to Kill" sums up my online presence: 

Steven Segal takes pictures of shady dudes in hats:  The early, promising start to my blogging career.  I have some funny posts, commission the finest animators in all of India to make me a video game, and have an unprecedented spike in comments for my cat joke contest video.  Things couldn't be better. 

Steven Segal gets shot by a bunch of dudes while wearing a tuxedo vest:  Six months into the blog experiment, I get super lazy and only post once a week.  Also, those posts are unbelievably shitty.  I start posting videos of french people dancing to Star Wars music without any commentary.  Basically, this blog becomes terrible. 

Steven Segal's funeral:  For the past nine months, I don't post a single thing.  Tens of fans fear that benjaminesch.com will disappear forever. 

But then hope returns...

Steven Segal in a track suit punching things and shooting guns:  Sometime very soon, this blog returns from the dead and starts kicking the internet in the dick.  And in the words of the great Segal, "I'm gonna take you to the bank, (evil) Senator Trent...the blood bank!  

So, here's me saying that the blog is coming back from the coma.  Sure, we got shot by some guys with bags over their heads and we've appeared dead for way too long, our blogging limbs have atrophied, and we have grown a weird coma beard, but we shall return...and after a montage of punching a board and swinging a bo staff around and meditating with smoking needles sticking out of our doughy chest, we will be ready to provide excellence to you, the reader, once again. 

And you can take that to the bank...the fun bank. 

Ben Esch

P.S

If you want to hear some people singing about how strange it was when (spoiler alert) Steven Segal died in the first act of Executive Decision, please watch this video...
 
 
Hey readers,

Well...first of all, let's start out with an apology.  It's been way, WAY in the hell too long since the last time I posted.  Now, there are various reasons why I've been neglecting the website (95% finishing the new book and 5% general laziness). 

Anyway, I'm gonna be turning in my new book in a couple days (author's note: holy crap!) and I'll get back to my old blogging routine after that.  Or not.  We'll just see how the creative muse strikes me. 

But as long as we're on the subject of the new book, here's some thoughts about it:

Thoughts about my new book: 

1.  I like it. 
2.  I have been assured that it will be out in a year or so. 
3.  My mom likes it, too. 

So there you have it.  My next book is gonna kick ass.  More details as they become available. 

Okay, I'm gonna talk about the LA Times Book Festival in a bit more detail in a sec here, but for those of you who don't live in LA or just didn't feel like spending your Saturday in Westwood, here's a youtube clip of what you missed. 

Some thoughts about the clip: 

1.  Sweet Christ John Green had a long autograph line. 
2.  I had an autograph line after my panel as well. 
3.  Technically, two people count as a line. 
4.  I have no goddamn idea why the people who made this video talk about mustard so much, but the video is in focus so let's focus on the positives. 
 
 
Hey readers

I'm gonna be talking at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend.

What:  Me and other people talking books.  Specifically, being a guy and writing books and/or writing books for guys.  Anyway, the panel is called "Boys Will Be Boys." 
When:  Saturday, April 24th at 1:00 PM
Where:  The YA Stage at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA. 

There are a few reasons you should check this out.  Let's start from the top: 

1.  You might get to meet Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm.  The chances are pretty small, but he's gonna be there to promote a book, so at least you'll be in the same general area as him.  Ahh, the glamor of Hollywood.   
2.  There is supposed to be an outstanding muffin buffet in the green room, and I'm bringing my backpack.  Translation: muffin buffet for everybody! 
3.  I'm going to be on a panel with the very talented Blake Nelson ("Paranoid Park"), Allen Zadoff ("Food, girls, and other things I can't have") and Andrew Smith ("In the path of falling objects"). 
4.  The name of our panel is "Boys Will Be Boys," which sounds a lot like a boy band. 
5.  I miss boy bands. 
6.  If the four of us were going to be a boy band, I would really like to be the "bad boy" one, though I'm afraid due to my body type, I will always be the "sexually non threatening Joey Fatone."  Jesus that's depressing. 
7.  Do any of you guys remember that show 2gether on MTV about the boy band and Chris Farley's brother played one of the guys?  That show was neat. 
9.  This is the first year that there's gonna be a YA stage at the LA Times book festival, so if you don't go, then we probably won't get a stage next year, and in your own small way, you will have set back the teen literacy movement.  No pressure, though. 
10.  I recently got a haircut.  I think it looks good.  Maybe you will too. 
11.  Uhh...John Green's gonna be there.  Just not on the YA stage.  He's gonna be in one of the auditoriums with the other fancy authors and you have to buy a ticket to hear him talk...and I think they sold out.  So, I guess this really doesn't affect you in any way.  But still, John Green has written some really fantastic books. 
12.  My panel's gonna be free though. 
13.  Does anybody who reads this blog actually live in LA?  Because as much as I think I'm gonna be brilliant at this thing, you really shouldn't drive more than five hours to see it.  That's just not realistic. 
14.  I'm over my cat sweater phase.  Seriously.  I'm gonna wear normal clothes like a normal person, I swear.  My shirt will have a collar and everything.  You won't be embarrassed by pictures of you and me, I promise. 
15.  I'm gonna be signing books afterwards.  The people from the festival were really specific that I was only supposed to sign books, but if you're cool and show up, I'll write something in your yearbook.  I WILL NOT sign body parts though.  This is a family friendly festival! 
16.  Here's the link to the festival so you can see all of the panels and stuff for yourself. 

THE LINK TO THE FESTIVAL

If you can, come on out, and see the world debut of "Boys Will Be Boys."  It will be the most exciting thing happening in Los Angeles from 1 to 2 PM on a Saturday. 
 
 
But he has been kind enough to tell us how he does it.  Well, I guess he isn't telling "us" so much as the dudes who wrote on a show of his called The Unit, and I guess he isn't telling so much as writing a super long email with CAPS LOCK on for some reason, but there is still some writing gold in there. 

I've read through this a couple times, and I'm still not exactly sure what it's all about, but I know that there is some wisdom in there.  David Mamet is one of the best writers out there, and I will listen to any advice that the guy who wrote State and Main has to offer. 

Okay, I'm about to post his advice, but if you need a little extra motivation to read this, I want you to give this video a look.  This a scene that Mamet wrote from Glengarry Glen Ross, and I guarantee-goddamn-tee that it will knock your socks off. 

Warning:  There is a whole lot of cussing and Jack Lemmon getting verbally abused in the video, so please, keep sensitive ears away from this.  Unless you want to expose those sensitive ears to some first rate Mamet action.  I mean, your kids are gonna get exposed to cussing eventually, right?  Why not have it start with David Mamet? 
“TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATIONAND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE - THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)”
 
 
Hey readers,

Okay, I know it's a little late in the game to try to re brand my writing advice posts, but that's just what I'm gonna do.  From now on, my writing tips will be known as the "Weekly Writing Tips."  I'm not sure if that means there will be one a week or two a week or even three if I'm feeling particularly frisky, but I'm feeling good about this name change thing, so let's just go with it. 

Let's get to the tip: 

"The journey is the inn." 

Supposedly, that quote comes from Chaucer, but I first read it in a book by John Wooden.  What's that?  You haven't heard of John Wooden?  Okay, basically John Wooden is like a cross between Yoda, the coach from Hoosiers, and your favorite grandpa.  In short, the most awesome person in the universe. 

When he says "the journey is the inn," he means that the process is more important than the destination.  Like, the trip to the hotel should be a lot more fun/memorable/neat than getting to the hotel itself. 

It sounds a little crazy, and every car ride I've had to an Embassy Suites would say differently (author's note: goddamn the Embassy Suites are awesome.  And they don't even sponsor me, so you know I'm telling the truth), but let's look at this in terms of writing. 

When I was first starting out as a writer, I spent quite a bit of time imagining how awesome it would be to have my book out in stores and go to fancy writer parties and tell all my old English teachers who gave me a C to suck it. 

This was a pretty fun time, but unfortunately, thinking about a book being in a store doesn't actually get the book in the store.  Nope, I had to write the sucker. 

So, I wrote it.  And it wasn't always fun, but goddamn it was fulfilling.  I struggled, I sat a lot, I drank an unhealthy amount of coffee, I lied to people who asked me what I was doing for a living (author's note: next to the beard, and jacket with leather patches over the elbows, personal shame is the writer's most common accessory) but eventually I finished the book. 

Then some other stuff happened, and the book got bought and even found its way into a few stores.  I even got invited to a fancy writer party or two. 

But when I actually got to the store and found the book on the shelves, something surprising happened:  it was just okay. 

Like, I was happy to see it there, and it was nice to have a few coins jingling around in my pocket (author's note: literally) but it was a hell of a lot less exhilarating than I thought it would be.  Back before I started the book, I imagined seeing the book on the shelves would be the highlight of my life.  Like, I would get bathed in white light and I'd start levitating and groupies would start playing harps or something like that. 

But it wasn't quite that cool.  And maybe I just haven't found the right groupies (author's note: or any groupies.  Goddamn I wish somebody made that clear before I started writing) but I'm pretty sure it's never going to be that cool. 

But when I look back on the last few years, the most satisfying moments haven't been going to writerly parties or doing readings or signing books.  No, the most satisfying moments have been when I was writing. 

So here's the thing, guys.  If you've been struggling with writing, and you're looking forward to some big, awesome, payoff at the end that is going to make all the time you've spent clicking keys worthwhile...well, this is a good news/bad news situation. 

The bad news: this is as good as it's going to get. 

The good news:  this is as good as it's going to get. 

Try to enjoy the process of writing.  Sure, it sucks occasionally and it's a struggle every now and again, but then again, so is anything else worth doing doing. 

Of course, if I ever get a multi-million dollar advance and can finally afford a jet ski and/or mural of myself as a dolphin, I imagine my perspective on what "the best part of writing is" will radically change.  But in the meantime, let's just focus on writing for the joy of writing...and the possibility of "writer groupies," wherever they may be.   
 
 
Hey readers,

Two questions I deal with quite a bit when I do author appearances: 

1.  Do you know Stephanie Meyer? 

And...

2.  Where do you get your ideas? 

Let's focus on question #2 for right now. 

Where do ideas come from? 

To be honest, I really don't know for sure where my ideas come from.  I like to think that a big part of it is just me being really smart and creative (author's note: and humble) but that can't be all of it.

Now, like I said, I don't know for sure where my ideas come from, but the longer I do this, the more I'm leaning toward a theory...

My theory:  the crazy crap we do, see, and hear about throughout our lives sticks to us, and if you can filter it right, this turns into creativity somehow.  And for some reason, the crazy crap that we're surrounded by during our childhood seems to stick a lot harder. 

Yeah, I need to work on that a bit before I can spin it into a self-help book, but I still think that the theory is sound.  Whenever I'm stuck for ideas or characters or locations, my mind always goes back to my hometown.  And lucky for me, my hometown is pretty entertainingly insane. 

How entertainingly insane you ask?  Allow me to demonstrate. 

The following are ACTUAL police calls from my hometown during the last few weeks.  Check out the News of Record in the Union Democrat if you want to see some more. 

6:54 p.m., Big Oak Flat — A woman reported her “tie-dye-jerky” signs vandalized in Big Oak Flat.

5:50 p.m., duck call — A person called to report a duck in the middle of the road. The caller said the duck could not fly and had attempted to shoo the bird off the road. Police responded, only to find the duck could, in fact fly. Officers were unable to capture the duck.

7:47 p.m., East Sonora — A caller said an intoxicated employee was inside a business and refusing to leave. While a deputy was there, the manager arrived, also intoxicated, but in better condition. The first reportedly intoxicated employee was picked up by family members, and a cab was called for the manager.

10:28 a.m., self-starters — An apartment manager reported that tenants had removed a smelly carpet without consent on the 600 block of Copello Drive.

11:06 a.m., lazy dogs — A person reported that dogs repeatedly chased cars at Bret Harte Road and Booster Way. The offending dogs failed to chase the police car that investigated

4:09 p.m., suspicious circumstances — A man on a horse was lectured about panhandling on the 1000 block of Mono Way.

4:01 p.m., Sonora — A woman went to the Sheriff's Office asking that DNA testing be done on a single hair she found attached to duct tape on her car. She said she uses the tape to cover damage caused when she hit a deer, and someone keeps pulling the tape back. She was told no DNA testing would be done and left.

7:40 a.m., Phoenix Lake area — A person on the 21800 block of Montgomery Road reported that a neighbor's horse had fallen into the pool and couldn't get out. Fortunately, the horse was in the shallow end.

3:01 a.m., Twain Harte — A woman hired to dance at a bachelor party was thrown out of a residence by the bachelor’s girlfriend. Deputies assisted her in finding a hotel room for the night after picking her up at Marquis Drive and Twain Harte Drive.

My advice:  When you get stuck for inspiration, think back on your childhood and where you grew up.  Chances are there's some gems in there. 

My advice #2:  Don't panhandle while on horseback as law enforcement takes a dim view. 
 
 
And you better believe I have some deep thoughts on this. 

Before we get into any of the nitty or the gritty, let me explain the basics of the situation:  Barnes and Noble has started posting "age appropriateness" scores next to some of the books on their website.  A group called "Common Sense Media" is doing the scoring, and they rank whether a book is in the green (age appropriate) in the yellow (iffy whether the intended age group can handle it) or red (any sentence will make your head explode and/or turn Communist at first glance). 

There's a really good article about this on Salon in regards to Judy Blume's "Are You there God, It's Me Margaret." 

Basically, Common Sense Media listed her book as "questionable" (the controversial yellow zone) for the age bracket because of, and I quote "mentions of Playboy, kissing, menstruation, bras, [and] emerging sexuality." 

Now at what age do they think the fragile mind of the child is ready to read about bras and Playboy?  14 to 17.  I shit you not. 

I know it's gotta be tough for any group to figure out the age appropriateness for a book, but really?  14 to 17?  17 like you're a senior in high school?  17 like you can sign up for the military?  17 like you can get a super douchey dye job and listen to Limp Bizkit (author's note: at least that's what I did when I was 17). 

Going by this scale, kids shouldn't be allowed to read Sophomore Undercover until they're 45, and by that point, my readers will probably be a little too worried about mortgage payments and upcoming prostate exams to appreciate the delicate humor and locker room hijinks. 

The worst part about this whole thing is that the Common Sense Media rating is just staring at you right in the face when you go to the Barnes and Noble website.  Not every parent is gonna have time to think through whether little Sally's 12 year old psyche can handle some "emerging sexuality" and "bra" talk.  No, they're just gonna see that the book is in the dreaded red or yellow zone, and buy them something that isn't offensive. 

But do you want to know what's offensive?  Every other goddamn thing that a 12 year old is exposed to in the media.  If we're gonna keep kids away from Judy Blume because it's too racy, well, that's insane, but I'd be willing to go along with it if we had the same standards for video games, TV, movies and the Internet.  There's quite a bit of material about "emerging sexuality" on those things too, but I think Judy Blume covers it with a bit more grace than the Jersey Shore.  

Getting kids to read is difficult enough already.  Let's not keep them from some really great books just because of a little menstruation and Playboy talk. 

NOTE: 

Sophomore Undercover didn't get rated by Common Sense Media, so that kept my righteous indignation in check a bit.  I don't want to beg or anything, but what does a fella have to do to get a little negative attention from a parent's group?
 
 
Hey readers,

So a couple of weeks ago, me and Michael "The Situation" Reisman (the guy who wrote the very cool Simon Bloom books), did a talk about writing for boys at Flintridge Bookstore.  It was a good time, and I know I promised that I'd tell you guys about we talked about, and that's still totally gonna happen, but in the meantime, I want to share some even better advice about writing for both boys AND girls that I found over at Pen and Ink

Supposedly, this column ran in a children's literature magazine back in the 50s, and goddamn if this isn't brilliant.  A big thanks to Lupe Fernandez for posting this. 

The link to the article on Pen and Ink is here, and for those of you who are too lazy to click over, I'm going to enable your sloth by posting the article right here:


"How To Write Books for Boys and Girls"

"Always portray the military, politicians and religious figures in a positive way. Remember, these responsible authority figures keep Americans safe against atheists, beatniks and Communists.

"The family in your story should consist of married parents. Divorce has no place in reading material of teens. Broken homes make them nervous and might put unnecessary worries in their heads about whether Mom and Dad are getting along. While many classic stories feature orphans, today’s modern family is more educated and healthy, and orphans are old fashioned characters.

"Dad should always work in an office or to a responsible job like a fireman or a policeman. Fathers should never be an unemployed loafer or a union organizer. Mothers should always be homemakers. Mother’s who work in offices set a bad example for impressionable girls.

"Boy characters should have healthy, manly hobbies like playing baseball, collecting bubble gum cards, and outdoor camping. Girls should like sewing, cooking and talking with other girls about like clothes and boys. Activities that keep boys inside like reading, writing or thinking are not suitable role models for young men. Those are girl activities. On the other hand, too much physical exercise by girl characters would be unrealistic and your reader would lose interest. If your story has a Tomboy, make sure she is not a major character. Make the Tomboy a supporting character who longs to act like a real girl.

"Dress your characters in appropriate clothing. Boys: short sleeve shirts (only puny boys who spend too much time reading in their rooms wear long sleeve shirts), loose, comfortable pants with pockets and Keds sneakers with tied laces.

"Girls: ankle-length skirts (absolute no pants), Mary Jane shoes (only girls with loose morals wear high heels unless attending special occasions like a funeral or a wedding), hair tied in a pony tail or neatly trimmed.

"Language is very important. As boys and girls are often not in control of their feelings, they make many exclamations of surprise.

"Appropriate phrases:
'Jeepers!'
'Golly!'
'Holy Moley!'

"Inappropriate phrases:
'Crazy man!'
'What a gasser!'
'Kookie!'

"Never show a boy and a girl holding hands unless accompanied by an adult or riding in a hay wagon with other boys and girls.

"Never have a girl romanced by a foreigner, especially greasers, scratch-backs, potatoes, pachucos, fruitpickers, or braceros.

"If your story is a crime mystery, make sure your youngsters deal with bunco artists, robbers, or counterfeiters. Never put your youngsters in peril with murderers or social deviants.

"Everybody likes a good ghost story, but stories with supernatural happenings should be confined to misunderstood blithe spirits, college fraternity pranks or escaped convicts in disguise.

"If you follow these tips, your story is sure to be a delight to boys and girls everywhere, and stand the test of time just like the classics you read as a youth.

"End your story with a good, hearty laugh at the dinner table. Perhaps, Skippy the family dog runs through the house chasing Fluffy, the neighbor’s cat.

"These are a few tips for a good writing and wholesome reading."

END OF BATSHIT INSANE/KINDA RACIST ARTICLE

Pretty cool, eh?  I didn't understand quite a few of the words in there, and I still can't figure the connection between girls not wearing Mary Janes (whatever the hell those are) and being sluts, but still, that was an entertaining read. 

I'm gonna write about the stuff me and Michael talked about in my next blog, but just as a warning, none of our stuff is half this entertaining and only a quarter as sexist besides.  So, be sure to adjust your expectations accordingly. 
 
 
Hey readers,

I know a lot of you guys are writers and as writers, when we get together, our conversations usually tend toward the same topics: 

1.  Is Costco hiring? 
2.  God I wish I had written something about vampires. 
3.  How in the hell do you get an agent? 

Let's focus on #3 for a second here.  When I was first starting out with the writing, I didn't think about agents or publishing that much.  Mainly, I was just happy to be telling a story and all that other fruity artistic stuff, and I figured that I'd worry about the business parts of it later. 

But there was one day, I'm not sure when, I think I might have been about two hundred or so into Sophomore Undercover, when I decided to do a little internet research into how I was going to turn all these words into a jet ski. 

So I Googled "how to get an agent"...and holy shit was that depressing. 

I couldn't find any straight information, and spent the next five hours figuring out how long I could live off of six hundred dollars in Eastern Europe. 

But after I calculated that the plane ticket to Estonia would leave me with approximately 15 dollars, and deciding that it was probably a lot easier to be a hobo if I knew the language, I got back to writing. 

A few months later, I finished the book and I decided to go about finding an agent again, but this time I had a website.  I think my brother found this one for me, and thank god he did, because this site is awesome.  www.agentquery.com

Now, agentquery has every agent in the business listed, and you have one of two choices here: 

Your choices (as represented by a dating analogy)

1.  Be the asshole at the bar who throws a weak pickup line at every girl who passes. 

We've all seen this guy.  Hell, we've all probably been this guy at one point or another (author's note to younger readers: stay away from any drink that has "malt" in the title and isn't a delicious chocolaty beverage), but this is no way to start your new career as a writer. 

Don't send your query letter to every single agent on the website.  Don't send mass emails with fifty agents CC'd (this actually happens).  Don't send your romantic vampire query to an agent who specializes in historical non-fiction. 

Instead, be the guy who: 

2.  Studies the room, finds the person sitting at the bar who is the perfect match, and then slides over and then says something flawlessly written, completely relevant, and with enough of a hook to keep the conversation going. 

Okay, my bar analogy is kinda falling apart, but I think you get the idea.  Here are some key points: 

1.  Figure out what kind of book you wrote: the genre, other books that are like it in the market, other books that are your influences. 
2.  Do some research on agentquery and google to find out who represents the kinds of books that you both A) really dig and B) are similar to your book. 
3.  Get a list of the agents that you think would be a great fit for you. 
4.  Write a goddamn brilliant query letter.
5.  Jet ski.  

Number 4 really deserves a few thousands words on its own, so lets leave that alone for now. 

Point being, you should really do some research to find the agent that would be perfect for you.  Because even though they need to choose you, you also need to choose them.  Think of this as a marriage (author's note: disregard the fact that I've never been married. This advice is still gold).  You don't want to just take the first person that will have you, you want to find the person that you will be a good fit with for the rest of your (professional) life. 

That's not to say that there might not be some rocky times and/or divorce, but if you do your research ahead of time, then you're a lot more likely to find yourself in a happy partnership. 


Here's my story: 

I read King Dork by Frank Portman (awesome, awesome book) and I thought that my book was kinda similar.  I looked in the acknowledgments and saw that Frank thanked his agent "Steven Malk."  I did a little research on Steve on agent query and Google, saw that he represented some other authors that I really dug, and figured I'd give it a shot.

I sent him my query letter.  He liked it.  And seven months of revisions and a whole lot of emails letter, we signed the papers and made it legal. 

Steve is a really great agent and it's been great working with him.  Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast just ran an interview with him the other day, and you guys should check it out.  He's got an interesting back story and it was cool to learn about his journey to becoming an agent. 

The INTERVIEW IS HERE

Okay, my hands are cramping and I gotta go drive to Santa Monica to talk at a panel for the California English Teacher's Convention.  So, you know that's gonna be a party.