Updated often, so check back from time-to-time why don’t you?
Saturday, May 2, 2015: Hudson Children’s Book Festival (Hudson, NY) from 10am – 3pm. Appearing with dozens of picture book, middle grade and young adult authors in one of the Hudson Valley’s loveliest towns.
Friday, May 8, 2015: Horace Mann School (New York, NY). The students of Horace Mann were kind enough to pick The Riverman as their Mock-Newbery winner this year! So I’m stopping by for the day to thank them. Closed to the public.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015: Unity Prep School (Brooklyn, NY). I’ll be visiting the students of Unity Prep, thanks to Word Bookstore. Closed to the public.
Saturday, May 30, 2015: Kids Author Carnival at Jefferson Market Library (New York, NY), time TBD. Join me and over 30 middle grade authors for fun and games and books. I’ll be playing Charades!
Saturday, June 6, 2015: Thousand Islands Book Festival at Cape Vincent Elementary School (Cape Vincent, NY) from 9:30am – 3:30pm. With Kate Messner, James Preller, Vivian Vande Velde, and Rachel Guido DeVries.
At the dawn on the internet, I was kicked off the internet.
I’m guessing it was 1991. I was probably 14. My father was the earliest of early adopters and for years there had been a modem hissing through our phone lines. Email and online forums were new frontiers for us, however. So when we were enticed to give them a try compliments of CompuServe, we jumped at the chance. Oh mighty mighty CompuServe, the only game in town during the George H. W. Bush era. My family signed up for a single account because that’s all we needed. One log-in and email address to access kilobyte-upon-kilobyte of text!
I’m not sure when I found out about the forums, but as a seasoned prank-phone-caller, I immediately saw their appeal. I could chat up strangers. More specifically, I could needle strangers. I could pretend to be someone else, and I didn’t even have to change my voice. I could deceive and outwit people. It was the outwitting that really hooked me. Outwitting was addictive. Because it was a form of winning.
The forums were heavily moderated and had clear policies, even back then. No harassment, no insults, no foul language. In the beginning, I abided by those rules, even while taking on different personas, even though my goal was always to enrage and provoke. To outwit. To win.
I must note: I was a dabbler. Most of my time was still spent on school, the outdoors, TV and video games. I’d only log on when I was hanging out with a friend or my brother, because I viewed this as a spectator sport. Like a prank phone call, it was no fun to perform alone. In fact, doing such things alone seemed more than a little sad. Online anonymity was essential, but at the same time, someone else had to know about my winning.
As far as I recall, nobody used the term “troll” back then. That’s clearly what I was, though. I probably would’ve claimed, “I’m just playing devil’s advocate,” something people still claim with shocking regularity. Of course, playing devil’s advocate in the faceless world of the internet is akin to walking down the street and yelling insults at strangers. Without any context, you can never be some theoretical advocate. You will always be the devil himself.
Thankfully, I wasn’t the devil for long. I was warned by a moderator for pushing the boundaries of their policies, so I pushed them even further by calling someone a “crack baby.” The moderator immediately suspended the account. Now remember, my family had just the one account and CompuServe ran the show. So my actions basically banned us all from the internet.
My parents were not pleased. We had to wait until AOL came onto the scene almost a year later to get back online. By that time, I was either too ashamed or too busy to resume the trolling. Probably the latter.
I finished high school. I went to college. I played devil’s advocate in dark dorm rooms with friends who always knew when I was pushing buttons merely for the sake of pushing buttons. Feelings were rarely hurt and when they were, apologies followed. My online life at that time consisted exclusively of occasional emailing and visits to IMDB. Usenet newsgroups were popular then, but I didn’t bother with them because most of the people I knew didn’t bother with them.
That was about 20 years ago.
These days, I (and most of the people I know) spend an excessive amount of time online. I can excuse some of it as work, but certainly not all of it. Especially the hours I spend in comments sections. Yes, I have read the comments…far too many times. And yes, I have contributed to the comments…and regretted it every time.
Because whenever I comment, I feel myself turning into that 14-year-old boy. Of course, I try not to be a troll. I try to employ logic and compassion. I convince myself that I’m there to pacify the trolls, to reason with them. This is “feeding” them, of course. But it’s also feeding me. That addiction to outwitting–to winning–always surfaces. And it’s all-consuming.
Good ol’ science has proven that if an addiction takes hold of you early in life then it’s harder to beat. I’m lucky. Trolling in my formative years was a brief affair. We can thank that CompuServe moderator who slapped the addictive substance from my hand. And yet, I can’t imagine if I had been born just ten or fifteen years later. I would never have been kicked off the internet. The very notion of that is absolutely laughable now. Odds are, I’d probably be an adult man, lurking online somewhere, fixing to be vile.
Of course, plenty of people can dip in and out of online worlds without consequence. Just like plenty of people can enjoy a glass of wine without downing a bottle or two. But many can’t, and like all addictions, trolling can be affected by your environment. If you hang out with smokers, then you are more likely to smoke. If most of your social interactions play out in comment sections and on social media, then you are more likely to troll. No brainer, really.
So what are today’s young trolls-in-making to do? Even for disadvantaged kids, it’s nearly impossible to step away from the online world. They don’t have the luxury that I had.
And yet, they have a perspective that I didn’t. They can see the hurt they’ve caused, because people are being more vocal than ever about the hurt. I suspect that many of the trolls are probably ashamed of the hurt. Sure, there are sadists among them who get off on the hurt, but I suspect that most are getting off on the outwitting, on that addiction to winning. The hurt is an unpleasant bi-product, something they try their best to deny.
I don’t know if I hurt someone when I called him/her a “crack baby,” but I realize long ago that I wasn’t particularly witty. I certainly didn’t win anything. So while I’m not going to take sympathy on the trolls out there, particularly the ones who have moved from provocation into the despicable world of harassment, I am going to make a suggestion to the young ones.
Print out some of the very best comments you’ve left anonymously online. Hand them to your parents or to the person you have a crush on. Tell them that these are your trolling masterpieces, the things you are most proud of in your life.
That is, if you are proud of them. If you aren’t, well, then perhaps there are better ways to spend your time.
Today is the release day for The Whisper. I wrote the darn book, but you better believe I didn’t write it alone. It exists because of the many people who inspired it, helped create it, and supported it and The Riverman. Since the acknowledgements are buried at the end of the book, I thought I’d post them here. That way, even if you don’t read the thing, you’ll know who was essential to its very existence.
Second volumes in trilogies are notoriously tricky things. They often feel like they’re, for lack of a better term, all middle. When I wrote The Whisper, however, I focused on the new. My daughter Hannah arrived in the world as I was trying to figure out how to make a crazy, unwieldy sequel come together, and her beautiful, babbling presence inspired me to treat it as an origin story–not just of the Riverman and Aquavania, but also of Alistair and Charlie’s relationship and of Fiona’s reluctant journey into adulthood. I wanted to show why the first volume was told the way it was told, and I wanted readers to anticipate the third volume with a fresh perspective on events. If I achieved that goal, I certainly didn’t do it alone. The following people guided and encouraged me along the way:
Joy Peskin was the first person who read The Whisper and she infused it with her brilliance and a healthy dose of confidence and clarity, which is what all books need. Therefore, in my humble opinion, she should edit all books. I’m not sure she has the time, though. Maybe with Angie Chen’s help she can do it. Actually, together, they definitely can.
Michael Bourret, the man I’m honored to call my agent, continued to trust me, advise me, and keep me sane through the entire publishing process. Why? It’s because he’s a sorcerer. Everyone at Dystel & Goderich, including Lauren Abramo, dabbles in sorcery, actually. How else would they understand these byzantine contracts and represent such an awe-inspiring group of authors?
Beth Clark had an even trickier job designing this book than she did with the first volume, considering all the multiple narratives and their unique appearances. Did she pull it off? Come on! Of course she did.
Yelena Bryksenkova created yet another stunning cover that I’m sure people will tell me is stunning, when they really should be telling her. Now they have no excuse. Tell her: yelenabryksenkova.com
Mary Van Akin has been an advocate like no other. She’s tireless and talented and you better watch out, because she will make you read this book. Perhaps she already did, by handing you the copy you’re holding right now. If so, thank her and the rest of the gang at Macmillan Kids for me.
Kate Hurley and Karla Reganold have taught me a lot about writing with their essential copy edits. I would look like a fool without them. I really wood (sic).
Some other authors read The Riverman and said some amazingly kind things about it. Jack Gantos was the first, and I’m still flabbergasted that his words graced the cover of volume one. Following in his sizable wake were Kurtis Scaletta, Laurel Snyder, Nova Ren Suma, Bryan Bliss, Steve Brezenoff, Kelly Barnhill, Kim Baker, Stephanie Kuehn, Kate Milford, Robin Wasserman, Jeff Kay, Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Stephanie Bodeen, Dan Poblocki, and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting. I hope they read this book too. And I hope you read their books, because they are better books than this one.
All the bloggers, librarians, teachers, journalists, booksellers, festival organizers and fans who have reached out to me and helped me share my stories, I don’t know what I’d do without you. Probably pursue a career in break dancing, which would be unwise.
Finally, thank you to my family. To Jim, Gwenn, Pete and the extended Wells and Evans clans. To all the Amundsens and Starmers out there. To Tim, Toril, Dave, Jacob and Will, because this is a story of siblings and kids. And to Mom and Dad, the finest and most caring creators I know.
Finally, Cate and Hannah, you inspire me every day, and I love you dearly. Now put down this book and let’s go get into some more adventures together!
This is what is printed in the book, but there are so many people who I forgot, as well as people who came on the scene after this was written, like Claudia Howard at Recorded Books, who produced the audio version, and Graham Halstead, who provided the voice for Alistair. Not to mention all the other loud mouths and online advocates for The Riverman and The Whisper, including Angie Manfredi, Alex Dawson, Betsy Bird, Caitlin Luce Baker, Matthew Winner, Beth Panageotou, Brooks Sherman, Alex London, Mary G. Thompson, Michael Northrop, J.A. White, Nikki Loftin, Andrew Karre, Sarah LaPolla, Sean Ferrell, Jordan Brown, Laura Ruby, Josh Berk, Ted Sanders, Claire Legrand, Clay McLeod Chapman, Justina Ireland, Barry Goldblatt, John Zeleznik, Jonathan Wlodarski, Mark Bobrosky, Sylvie Shaffer, John Farrier, James Riley, Sarah Hawkins Miduski, Julie Faltko, Colten Hibbs, Jean Giardina, Dana Langer, Joshua Whiting, Marcy Beller Paul, Susannah Richards, Travis Jonker, Lindsay Currie, Victoria Coe, Rebecca Zarazan Dunn, Tara Dairman, Shelley Moore Thomas, Edith Cohn, Stephanie McKinley, Donalyn Miller, John Schu, Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, Kellie DuBay Gillis, Carrie Gelson, Colleen Graves, Jenna Krambeck, Judi Evans, Stacy Dillon, Michael Specks, Chris Dexter, Chrystal Ocean, Jenn Estepp, Julie Jurgens, Beth Sanderson, Tracey Petrillo, Anthony Paull, Maria Selke, Ilse O’Brien, Marianne Knowles, Emily Toombs, Melanie Conklin, Niki Ohs Barnes, Dan Dooher, Mike Lewis, Jason Lewis, Kayla King, Joy Piedmont, and I’m forgetting others and of course I am sorry for that. But a nonillion thanks to everyone who has read and shared these books. You. Are. So. Cool.
If you can’t make it, but are still interested in ordering a signed, personalized copy, then you can do that right here. And if you are my nemesis, remember this: the more you order, the more my hand will cramp up.
Okay. This is insanely cool. Insanely cool. I’ve seen a little bit of fan art inspired by my books, but nothing compares to this drawing by a young reader named Bridget. In it, she depicts every character from The Riverman. Every single one. I’m not joking when I say that my editor is using this guide to keep the characters straight. Heck, when my memory starts to go, I’ll be using this thing.
In any case, check it out and please give Bridget a round of applause if you see her. Now I just have to get her to do the same thing for The Whisper!
Click on the image to get a clear, high-res image: