September 13, 2011
Today The Only Ones is released. I’ll be running around reminding everyone of this fact because I want you to read the darn thing. Forgive me if I even show up at your house with a sandwich board and a blow horn. A man must do what a man must do. Now there’s plenty of information about The Only Ones on this web site, and I encourage you to read and watch and listen to it all. But today, the blog will be dedicated to the people who made this book happen and continue to make it “happenin’!”
Most authors include acknowledgements, and it’s always nice to read about the people who helped turn one person’s words into something lovely and tangible and available at your local bookstore. But as an author, choosing acknowledgements can be a bit of a nerve-racking experience. Part of you wants to thank everyone, from the friendly UPS guy who delivered all the marked-up manuscripts to the friendly obstetrician who delivered you into this world. Another part of you wants to cast a light upon the select handful of people who spent hours with the book, giving their best to make it better. It’s the big vs. small wedding debate. Neither is right. The guest list is always hard.
In my book, I went with the “small wedding,” but that doesn’t mean these were the only people who had a hand in the creation of The Only Ones. I’d like to expand the list here:
In July 2009, a painting called The Mainland by Jamie Wyeth sparked my first ideas for the book. In the year and a half of writing and editing that followed, there were countless other inspirations, 99 of which I’ve cataloged on Twitter via a #99inspirations hashtag. You can see them all here.
Cate Starmer, my astoundingly wonderful wife and greatest friend, is also my #1 fan and she’s always the first to read my work. In September 2009, I showed her the opening chapters to what was then called The Lonely Ones and she offered ideas and encouragement and the assurance that she believed in this book, and in me, and in us. She is, as I like to say, a wonder.
Stephanie Sun, then an assistant at Weed Literary and now an agent to be reckoned with, was the next person to read the beginnings of the book. She astounded me when she called it “beautiful” and confirmed that perhaps we had something here.
Elisabeth Weed, the super agent who so valiantly plucked me from obscurity, added to Stephanie’s praise and provided some invaluable suggestions regarding pacing and characterization. Then she boldly took the book to the streets.
Michelle Poploff, a legendary editor who has worked on bestsellers and Newbery winners (and who has written her own books), took a chance on the manuscript, seeing something in this strange story of loneliness and ramshackle adolescent creativity.
Rebecca Short, assistant editor extraordinaire, added excitement, depth and clarity to the tale with her thoughtful and essential edits. And she was the one who suggested the title switch. Because of her, The Lonely Ones now carries the more intriguing and fitting title The Only Ones.
Beverly Horowitz runs the show over there at Delacorte Press, a division that has published the likes of Lois Lowry, Judy Blume and Gary Paulson. I am extremely honored that she has welcomed me into the club.
Lisa Ericson, who I’ve known for over 20 years, came through in a pinch and created the sort of cover authors dream of. It’s an image that will be forever linked to the tale, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Vikki Sheatsley designed the beautiful pages you find inside, the remarkable look and feel of the thing. There were so many signs, and notes, and journal entries, and bric-a-brac to layout, and she handled it all perfectly.
Jennifer Black is one of the finest copy editors and proofreaders I have come across. She made sense of my nonsense and gave the book a good scrubbing.
James Dashner of Maze Runner fame read an advance copy and gave me the invaluable gift of an endorsement. He’s a generous and jovial guy, and a grand master of the teen adventure novel. I was humbled by his words.
Jeff Kay, author of Crossroads Road and the man behind the inimitable West Virginia Surf Report, has been an advocate of my writing since we were paired up many moons ago to work on an ill-fated book for National Lampoon. A great guy to read and know, with fantastic taste in music.
Noreen Herits enthusiastically kicked off the publicity for the book before she answered the call of motherhood.
Deb Shapiro jumped in where Noreen left off, and has been a huge advocate for everything The Only Ones ever since.
Andrew Mittman has been campaigning for the success of the book from the moment he read it. If other readers have even a tenth of his enthusiasm, then this thing will do just fine. A perceptive and ambitious guy. I’m so glad to have met him.
Josh Berk went to college with me, but we didn’t know each other then. We met in the wild world of kidlit (he wrote The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin and the upcoming Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator) and he has been a humorous and encouraging colleague ever since.
Kurtis Scaletta wrote The Tanglewood Terror, which shares a publisher and publication date with The Only Ones. We traded interviews (here and here) and deep thoughts on each others books. Kurtis is an engaging, intelligent and passionate writer and spokesman for artistic endeavors. Follow and read him and trust his recommendations.
Matthew Cody, author of Powerless and the upcoming The Dead Gentleman, is someone I met way back in the DWEEB days (err…2009), and one day we’ll figure out a grand scheme that will combine our superpowers and conquer a bestseller list or two. A gentleman (and very much alive).
The Random House Sales Team can be found at their Random Acts of Reading blog when they’re not out on the road singing the praises of The Only Ones. Their love of books is infectious.
Twitter is simply lousy with brilliant writers, readers and tastemakers. Check out the #kidlitchat, #yalitchat, and #mglitchat hashtags. Or just follow who I’m following. They’re good folk.
Patricia Schultz, who kept me busy during my downtime by putting me to work on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I haven’t seen all 1,000 yet…but I also haven’t died. Still a chance.
Daniel Kaizer and Darrel Schoeling of Longitude Books. They provided me with my ale and mutton by employing me for nearly 8 years, and now they’re graciously opening their doors for our release party.
Micato Safaris will take to Africa if you’d like to go. They are the best of the best. Give them a call. Tell them I sent you.
Fans of DWEEB. Including the kids of Washington Township, the Fresh Air Fund, the Manhattan Charter School and many others. It’s a weird little book, but a few of you call it your favorite, and that’s more than an author could ever ask for.
My friends (and their young’ns) here in Hoboken and beyond, including Greg, Amy, Caitlin, Andrew, Mary Kate, Ben, Joss, Jon, Chelsea, Amelie, Trish, John, Dave, Liz, Tom, Meg, Christian, Bridget, Joe, Grace, Caroline, Rick, Hui, Matt, Kim, Terence, Nick, Heather, Bill, Karen, Szabi, Erica, Sean, Jenna, Scott and many, many more…
The Evans, Totani, and Valocchi families, who always welcome me into their homes and give me food and drink and great times. They also spread the word about my books far and wide. Taylor Evans lives upstairs, steals from our fridge and keeps social media aware that I’m out there, punching the keyboard. Thanks T.
Jim, Gwenn and Peter Wells. According to the sitcoms, I’m supposed to fight with my in-laws. Sorry, but that ain’t the case. They are an amazingly supportive, caring and fun bunch. I am lucky to call them family.
All the Amundsens, Finneys, Glitmans and Van Scotters out there. There are a ton of them and they’re fiercely clever and talented people. Many of them, like me, have Viking blood. So watch out.
The Starmers and Lavenders: My Mom, Dad, brother Tim, sister Toril, brother-in-law Dave, and nephews Jacob and Will. You couldn’t ask for a better, more understanding and more proud and loving family. I’m going to cry now…
And finally, Mort, Phoebe, Webster, Haakon and the other beasts out there. If we all disappear some day, the world is all yours.
September 12, 2011
The world of children’s literature is full of generous and supportive people. First and foremost among these are the authors. If they’re competing for shelf space and bestseller lists, they certainly don’t act like it. I’m new to this world, but have been lucky enough to meet and learn from dozens of authors. Kurtis Scaletta has been at this about as long as I have, but it would seem as though he’s been doing it forever. He’s already a seasoned pro. His newest book is The Tanglewood Terror, a beautiful mash-up of classic science fiction, football, bicycle-back adventure, and bittersweet family drama, with a healthy dose of adolescent awkwardness mixed in. It will be released on the same date as The Only Ones: tomorrow! To celebrate the occasion, we decided to interview each other. I’m answering questions on his blog. He’s answering questions here. If you can find a better deal than that, then pin a tail on me and call me a donkey. Because it don’t exist.
Aaron: First off, congratulations on crafting an utterly unique story, a gentle but ominous tale about a plague of mushrooms and a family struggling to hold itself together. And congratulations on your third book in three years (after Mudville and Mamba Point). It’s an astounding accomplishment, especially considering they’re each stand-alone novels set in vastly different times and places.
Kurtis: Thanks. I published my first book at age 40 and I think I was trying to make up for lost time by putting out a book a year.
Aaron: I guess that leads to my first question. In a children’s book industry dominated by trilogies and series, what is it about the stand-alone novel that appeals to you?
Kurtis: Kids love series, no doubt about it. They ask about sequels a lot. I think it’s because they feel really connected to the characters, they make these temporary friends and want to keep seeing them. But I’m usually focused on a kid in a time of upheaval and transformation. By the end of the book, that kid and the world around him have changed too much to go back and do it again. But I did love series as a kid, too, and I have one in the works… it’s for younger readers than my first three novels so it can be a little more static.
Aaron: The Tanglewood Terror is set in present day Maine, in a world of cell phones and the internet. Yet it also seems to exist in a time when kids were granted more freedom. The characters roam the woods for hours on end. There are none of the “helicopter parents” we hear about. The wonderful title and cover art communicate the retro aspect of the story, but I’m curious how this notion of freedom and autonomy informed your writing. Was it something other than nostalgia for you? It reminds me of the New Yorker article from last year about the dystopia trend. It starts with some interesting quotes from Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me) about the autonomy of youth.
Kurtis: I love that book and I’ve read the interview. She’s right. It’s hard to write a good kids’ book with parents hanging around. We need the kids at the center making decisions and driving the plot. But that’s also the reality I knew as a kid – both of parents were very committed to their jobs, and from ten on I was fairly at large to do what I wanted. I don’t think it’s really that rare anymore. I see kids running around in my neighborhood without parents—and I live in the city. Besides, adults complain about the parents missing from children’s books, but I’ve never known a kid complain about it.
Aaron: The Tanglewood Terror is more than just a creepy tale about some glowing mushrooms. It’s about family, community, knowledge, history and unstoppable change. It’s also infused throughout with symbolism and metaphors that I’m sure many adults will notice. Noticing these things is not necessary to appreciate the story, but it certainly adds to the enjoyment. How important is it to you that younger readers pick up on this? Or would you prefer them to sense it more than understand it?
Kurtis: Thanks! I wish you were my Kirkus reviewer. I set out with the idea that the fungi would be a touch-off point for anxiety and fear and panic, that it would be a more sociological book, but I think I ended up with something else. It is about the world coming apart on you: your house, your family, your friends, all at the same time. It’s more psychological and personal. I think a lot of kids can relate to that feeling.
Aaron: I tend to think most good MG books are “puberty books.” The fear and excitement surrounding change is not only great fodder for angst, but for the need to seek out adventure. I definitely think TT nailed this, along with the feeling of being unable to control your emotions and body, and the struggle to know what lies beneath the surface of relationships.
Kurtis: I haven’t really played up the smooching and body hair aspects of puberty, but there’s an different kinds of coming of age. Eric is still basically uninterested in girls and in many ways he’s a kid but he has all this responsibility – babysitting his brother, taking care of this pig, helping Mandy. That emerged from reading William Brozo’s book To Be a Boy to be a Reader and thinking about how literature give different ideas of what manhood means. Eric is a tough guy, but he’s a nurturer.
Aaron: Your first book, Mudville, was a baseball book. In The Tanglewood Terror, football plays a prominent role. While there is a “big game” in the story, it’s not the hinge in the plot. Sports for Eric, the 13-year-old main character, are a large part of his life, but not the only part. What did sports mean to you at his age? What do they mean to you now? Why did you decide to include football in The Tanglewood Terror?
Kurtis: I wasn’t much of an athlete but I was very active. I did love skating (the quad kind – it was all the rage) and that figures into Mamba Point. Mudville was always a baseball book but the football in Tanglewood Terror is more about Eric’s personality than the needs of the plot. He’s a big, physical kid who’s used to pushing people around (literally) and horsing around. That gets him into some trouble.
Aaron: The conflicts between science fiction and pure science play out in interesting ways in the book. The term science fiction has become so formless that it now accommodates all sorts of things that have little to do with science. However, science is at the heart of your book. It is obviously extremely well researched. But how far were you willing to stray from solid science in order to tell a good tale? Was this even an issue for you?
Kurtis: There are a couple of scenes over the top, but much of the initial layout is true to known science – giant underground monstrosities that live for hundreds of years and glow in the dark. Seriously, it’s all so strange that it feels like science fiction without needing to make up anything. That’s what’s interesting about it to me. I’m not a big science guy but I do love nature and the crazy things you find out there.
Aaron: There are a lot of other interesting aspects of the book that I haven’t covered. The power of storytelling, the elusiveness of knowledge, the lure and cloak of the forest, the love of music, the pig! Is there any aspect of The Tanglewood Terror that you’d like to talk about that isn’t clear or covered in the standard marketing materials?
Kurtis: One thing I felt I had not done in my first two books is to have really compelling female characters that are not moms or girlfriends. I decided to correct that in book three, so there are quite a few female characters I’m proud of: Mandy, Ms. Weller the science teacher, Michelle, and Ms. Bailey. Not to mention Cassie!
Aaron: Finally, we’ve never met in person, but we’ve traded barbs, music recommendations and authorly advice on Twitter. Twitter has become the place for writers of middle grade and young adult fiction to collect and converse. One thing people constantly talk about is the future. You have carved out a passionate, knowledgeable and trustworthy voice in this community. What worries you about the future of kidlit? What excites you?
Kurtis: We have to be so careful about our personas. We want to promote our books, but we also like to socialize, and we end up using the same Twitter and Facebook accounts for both the promotion and the socializing. I tend to err on the side of candor, even carelessness. I throw out a joke I know is a bit crude, or vent a political opinion, or a bit of frustrated malarkey, and everyone sees it: kids, schoolteachers, librarians, people I barely know, etc. If I was writing YA it would probably be cool, that whole Harlan Ellison ranting genius persona, but I think the expectation for younger kids book authors is that they maintain a very genteel avuncular persona.
Personally, I like the Kurtis that errs on the side of candor and I hope to hear and read much more from him in the future. And I thank him for the visit. Now go out and buy The Tanglewood Terror!