The Indubitable Dweeb
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February 21, 2013

The Power of Whoa, or Lessons from Skateboarders

movie jpeg

A few weeks ago I watched the new documentary about the Bones Brigade. This probably means nothing to anyone who didn’t come of age in the 80s. It probably means nothing to many who did. But for the ones who spent 1987 sitting in the grass cheering on a friend who was wobbling down the driveway toward a rickety wooden ramp, it means revisiting a time when your heroes took risks because they didn’t know any better.

The Bones Brigade was basically the Beatles of skateboarding teams, with guys like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain standing in for John, Paul, George and Ringo. Assembled because of their passion and potential, they were only kids, but they became paragons of their sport. They created tricks never seen before, never even imagined before.

The documentary touched on some of that proverbial skateboarder angst, but mostly it was a celebratory piece about how innovation is dependent on dedication, camaraderie, competition and a screw-em-for-sayin-it-can’t-be-done-because-I’m-gonna-friggin-do-it attitude. It was about kids who found themselves in privileged positions and did not squander that advantage.

I’m glad I watched it because I needed the nostalgia and I needed the reminder that I’m also in a privileged position. I get paid to do something that I love, namely write novels for young people, and at this moment in history, people who write novels for young people are more powerful than they’ve ever been.

In my youth, in those days of Thrasher magazine subscriptions, authors of novels for young people didn’t wield a ton of power. If the publishing world of the 1980s was a high school then young adult and middle grade novelists were the kids who everyone called real sweethearts—harmless, inconsequential, likely to be voted nicest smile. While the Don Delillos and Toni Morrisons were collecting their scholarships and the Stephen Kings and Danielle Steels were throwing raging keggers, the Beverly Clearys were hosting slumber parties and the Gary Paulsens were working their way toward Eagle Scout.

Things have changed. Walk into a bookstore. Check a bestseller list. Look across a subway car. Fiction for young people is more visible than ever and its authors are impressively popular and profitable. It’s not just Rowling, Handler, Meyer, Riordan, Kinney and Collins that I’m talking about. It’s Matthew Quick, who’s probably getting fitted for an Oscar tux as we speak. It’s Rebecca Stead, who traded lawyering for storytelling, a traditionally foolish decision that I’ll bet she’s not second-guessing. It’s John Green, who, one would suspect, will someday end every war in Africa through the sheer power of earnest and cerebral love, Youtube videos, and t-shirt-friendly witticisms. It’s the young scribes with the legions of Twitter followers and the movie options and the names that have become brands. The real sweethearts have claimed one of the cool tables in the cafeteria and saved some chairs for lucky folks like me. Yes, we’ve overthrown the homecoming court. Now we must choose how to reign.

Oh I could go all day with these high school analogies. After all, it’s what we in the kid-literati do when we’re not attending mermaid regattas or unicorn cotillions. But I’d rather just get to the point.

Do. Not. Screw. This. Up.

I’m speaking to myself, of course, but also to my fellow authors, and editors, and book designers, and book bloggers. I’m talking to the creators and the evangelists. We can learn something from those skateboarding punks. They could have coasted along on their talent and their privileged position. They could have listened to anyone who told them to play it safe. And the kids who watched them could have still been entertained, but would they have been inspired? Would skateboarding have gone the way of rollerskating? Because that was cool once too, you know?

There is innovation going on in the world of fiction for young readers. There’s no questioning that. What I’m saying is that there can be a hell of a lot more. The moment to take risks is right now. Yet I feel we often default to the tried and true. Every time I encounter a plot summary that reeks of retread, every time I see a cover that couldn’t be picked out of a lineup, every time I hear about an established author chasing a trend or writing basically the same damn book over and over again and being lauded for it, I get upset. Sure, this happens in all creative industries, but it doesn’t have to happen so much. Especially when you have the public’s attention.

Tried and true might sell for a while, but it’s lazy and engenders disrespect. If so many of our books seem the same, then what’s to stop people from making blanket assumptions about them? In the movie Young Adult, Patton Oswalt’s character learns that Charlize Theron’s character is a YA author and he says something along the lines of, “like vampires and stuff?” Any real YA author has heard plenty of similar quips. Of course novels for young people aren’t all “vampires and stuff.” There are zombies and dystopias too! I’d actually be willing to bet that less than 10% of the books for young readers from major publishers are part of these genres. Okay, maybe 20%. Still the perception persists that it’s more akin to 90%.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy was a hit on par with Twilight and sparked interest in similar gritty, and often thoroughly Scandinavian, thrillers. Yet if I told someone I wrote adult novels, they wouldn’t say “like kinky Swedes and stuff?” We’ve let young adult or middle grade become synonymous with whatever is trending. But we are more than the sum of our trends, and as beacons attracting readers to certain characters and themes, we have to remain bright. The only way to remain bright is to take risks, to challenge, to innovate. I understand. We want to make money. We want to entertain. But those things are not exclusive of innovation. In the long term, they are dependent on it. So I am making a pledge, to myself at least, to write like a 15-year-old kid skateboards:

With fear, but without regret, with the foolhardiness to try ill-advised things, with the incentive to improve and to make a little beer money along the way, with the knowledge that there’s a chance that I’ll scrape my knee, or fall on my ass, or take it in the nuts, or be told that what I’m doing is silly and doesn’t matter, but damn it, there’s also a chance that I’ll land a new trick or two and maybe some kid, sitting cross-legged in the grass, will sigh and say, “Whoa…”

December 14, 2011

Meanwhile, at Facebook Headquarters…

INT. FACEBOOK CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY

Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes sit at a conference table, surrounded by piles of file folders, binders, etc. Mark Zuckerberg paces around the room.

ZUCKERBERG

Moving on. Who do we have next?

Moskovitz opens a file folder.

MOSKOVITZ

We have a…Jenny Richardson.

ZUCKERBERG

What do we know about Jenny?

MOSKOVITZ

Let’s see. Says here she’s from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

HUGHES

That’s Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Zuck.

ZUCKERBERG

Nice catch, Hughesy. Okay, so she’s an Amish then, right? Good. Somewhere to start. We wanna get those Amish fingers a-clickin’. So tell me, boys. What’s ad-sales pulling in on the horse-and-buggy front?

 Moskovitz checks the ledger.

MOSKOVITZ

Nada.

ZUCKERBERG

Damn. Strike one. No big whoop. Homerun idea is…oats! Pretty sure these people love the oats.

HUGHES

That’s the Quakers, Zuck.

ZUCKERBERG

Is it? What’s the difference?

MOSKOVITZ

I think…the hats?

HUGHES

Zippers, actually.

ZUCKERBERG

Zippers? Fascinating. How so?

HUGHES

Don’t like ‘em. Don’t want ‘em. Got no need for ‘em.

ZUCKERBERG

Who? Amish or Quakers? Know what? Doesn’t matter. Skip any zipper ads for Jenny. That includes Ziploc and all subsidiaries. Don’t want to take chances. Focus on oats. I know it’s a Quaker thing, but I’m betting every horse-loving Pennsylvanian needs quality oats. Now make me a happy man, Mister M. Tell me we got some badass oats accounts on the books?

 Moskovitz checks the ledger.

MOSKOVITZ

Best I can do is Hall & Oates. Reunion tour at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New…

(flips page)

…Jersey.

 ZUCKERBERG

Good. We can work with that. How far is Sayreville from Lancaster? Is it doable for Jenny?

Hughes pulls out an atlas, flips through the pages until he finds an overview map of the Northeast. He measures the distance with his fingers, checks the scale on the key.

 HUGHES

Looks doable, Zuck.

 ZUCKERBERG

Horse-and-buggy doable?

 HUGHES

I can’t claim to be an expert, but I think it’s horse-and-buggy doable. A full day on the buggy but, you know, it’s a reunion tour. I heard they’re doing Maneater.

 ZUCKERBERG

Good point. Jenny will make the trip for Maneater.

(beat)

Okay, so Jenny’s going to a concert. What else can we sell her? I need the deets, Mighty Moskovitz. Hit me up. What sorta books does she dig?

MOSKOVITZ

Says here she reads “just about anything good…except for sci-fi. Ack!”

ZUCKERBERG

Ack? What’s ack?

MOSKOVITZ

I think she’s just saying ack. Like…gross. Ack!

HUGHES

Cathy says ack.

ZUCKERBERG

Cathy in the SEO department? Peanut-allergy Cathy? I swear, sometimes I would fire that woman just so I could have a godforsaken Pay-Day bar every once in a tomorrow!

HUGHES

Different Cathy, Zuck. Sorry, should have been more specific. Cathy the comic strip.

ZUCKERBERG

Got it. I know that one. They still running those?

HUGHES

Not sure.

ZUCKERBERG

Know what? Think I saw some funny papers in the eighth floor bathroom. Third stall in. Right up on the tank.

HUGHES

So…? Want me to…check?

ZUCKERBERG

Of course I want you to check! Jesus, Hughesy, we aren’t LinkedIn over here, where they don’t know their Cathy from their Sally Forth! We go public in a few months, this is the sorta minutia people are gonna expect.

HUGHES

Sorry, Zuck. I’m on it.

Hughes dashes out.

 MOSKOVITZ

We still talking about Jenny?

ZUCKERBERG

(grinding his teeth)

Right. Jenny. Likes books. Good ones. Read anything good lately?

MOSKOVITZ

I really liked The Night Circus.

ZUCKERBERG

What’s that about?

MOSKOVITZ

A circus…at night.

ZUCKERBERG

Not a sci-fi circus at night? Jenny doesn’t care for sci-fi.

MOSKOVITZ

Um…no. Not sci-fi. Maybe fantasy? It’s kinda tough to peg down.

ZUCKERBERG

But you liked it? People like it?

MOSKOVITZ

It’s pretty friggin’ magical.

ZUCKERBERG

Good. Good. So I’m guessing Jenny read it too, cause she’s not gonna pass up something so magical. And she’s probably itching to see a night circus in person. Which begs the question…

 Moskovitz nods and grabs the yellow pages. He flips through.

 MOSKOVITZ

Sorry. No listings for night circuses in Lancaster, Sayreville or anywhere in between.

ZUCKERBERG

Day circuses?

 Moskovitz shakes his head.

 ZUCKERBERG

Mother-fudger! Gimme something!

MOSKOVITZ

How about circus peanuts? You know, the candy?

ZUCKERBERG

Really? That stuff is vile.

MOSKOVITZ

Maybe, but they have a big ad budget. Someone must enjoy the stuff.

ZUCKERBERG

And maybe that someone is Jenny. Or if that someone isn’t Jenny, maybe it will be Jenny because she’s all giddied up on the night circus pony. I like your thinking Dusty M. And besides, Jenny will be hungry at Hall & Oates. Oh-oh here she comes, watch out circus peanuts she’ll chew you up….

MOSKOVITZ

Nicely done.

ZUCKERBERG

Bush-league, but thank you. Just getting started. So we’ve sold stuff to Jenny. Now let’s sell Jenny. I’m sure there are companies interested in hearing more about her. What’s her relationship status?

MOSKOVITZ

It’s complicated.

ZUCKERBERG

Dammit! We should’ve never made that an option.

MOSKOVITZ

Not what I meant. It says quite clearly that she’s interested in men. But then I’ve got all these photos of her playing softball.

 Moskovitz spreads some photographs out on the table. Zuckerberg has a look.

 ZUCKERBERG

Bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

MOSKOVITZ

She lists Boys on the Side as one of her favorite movies.

ZUCKERBERG

Doesn’t prove anything. McConaughey is in that picture. Which status updates does she “like?”

 Moskovitz searches through some papers.

 MOSKOVITZ

Her friend Gina’s toddler said something funny about how rain is God “going pee-pee” and she liked that.

 ZUCKERBERG

Okay.

MOSKOVITZ

She liked that Ken Dyer was “gonna get his drink on tonight with all the L-Town hotteez!”

ZUCKERBERG

Why wouldn’t she? Sounds like a good time. How about some things she doesn’t like?

MOSKOVITZ

Um…I thought we weren’t adding that button?

ZUCKERBERG

(sighing)

We aren’t. But the data. The data should still reveal what she doesn’t like.

 Moskovitz searches through the papers.

MOSKOVITZ

Mondays. It appears she doesn’t like Mondays.

 ZUCKERBERG

Hmmm.

(beat)

So she’s a lesbian. I’m guessing Subaru would be interested in knowing that.

MOSKOVITZ

Err…horse-and-buggy.

ZUCKERBERG

Crap-balls!

 The door flies open. Hughes tumbles in.

 HUGHES

(breathlessly)

No…sign…of Cathy. But Sally….Forth…still going…strong.

 ZUCKERBERG

Bingo! You’re back, Hughesy!

HUGHES

Thanks…Zuck.

 ZUCKERBERG

Snoop Mousy Moskovitz! Get whoever draws, writes, and publishes Sally Forth on the horn and tell them we’ve got the 411 on a sugared-up Amish lesbian Hall & Oates aficionado named Jenny Richardson and ask them flat out how many dimes they’re willing to drop to know how she’s doing at Farmville.

(catches his breath)

Moving on.

June 24, 2011

On Why Writing for the Kids is so Darn Easy

©Johnny Ryan

I play a weekly game of spoons with Don DeLillo, Marilynne Robinson and the guy who wrote volumes 3, 4 and 9 of Truly Tasteless Jokes (he’s told us his name a million times, but we still just call him Skippy, an homage of sorts to the gangly neighbor on Family Ties). They’re fierce contests, these games of spoons, draped in cigar smoke and filthy language. A grand time is almost always had.

And almost always, talk turns to wordsmanship and literature or, as Skippy likes to say, the biz. A few years back, I made the bold statement that “any old schmuck can publish a novel for young people” and Marilynne, half in the bag from peppermint schnapps, called me on my bluff. “Well then friggin’ do it you namby-pamby pissant,” she slurred.

Well, I did her one better. I published two. DWEEB, a madcap little adventure of escape and camaraderie among the weak and wedgied, came out in 2009 and appeals to what’s known as the “middle-grade” set. The Only Ones, a dark but funny apocalyptic fable, comes out in a couple months and speaks to a slightly older crowd, the young “adults,” if you’re willing to call them that. Marilynne has conceded that I more than met the challenge, but I see no reason to boast. Because what I did was the easiest thing in the world. You can do it too, if you remember the following things:

1. Kids are stupid. Plain and simple. Look at all the paste eaters in the world. Majority are kids. Nose pickers? 60% are below the age of 16. Ask a third grader his thoughts on Baudelaire and I guarantee the response will be some non sequitur along the lines of “I can make poo poo in the potty.” Teens are even worse. Let’s run through some notable examples. Bobby Fischer? His use of the Poisoned Pawn Variation was overrated at best. King Tut? That joke of a pharaoh died of a broken leg. Joan of Arc? French. Exceedingly French. I could go on, but why bother. Just invite the cast of Degrassi over someday for some edamame and count how many of those googly-eyed Canucks eat the pods.

2. Stupid is as stupid reads. Since these numbskulls like garbage, give them garbage. Name your main character Star. Or Astralique. Or Luminicitus. Something stellar and nonsensical. Start the book with a line like, “Third period Math suckz!” because z’s are perfectly acceptable s’s for this “smartphone generation” and just about everything “suckz!” Speaking of which, pepper the manuscript with plenty of sex, preferably between a southern debutante and some sort of centuries-old man-beast. Thanks to MTV, teenage pregnancy is totally rock-and-roll. These days, every girl aspires to be either Bristol Palin or one of those ancient Greeks gals that Zeus knocked up with a demigod.

3. Make sure to include a heavy-handed message. Read a couple middle-grade or YA novels so you can get the formula down. All middle-grade novels essentially follow the same template: Nerdy boy/girl moves down south to live with a crotchety aunt/uncle, befriends a local cripple, opens a lemonade stand, accidentally knocks a baby into a well, hits puberty, joins a junior spy league, and learns that Pol Pot wasn’t so cool after all. Get a fart in there somewhere. There’s always a fart or two. As for YA, make sure your main character is raised by a methed-up hillbilly and a preening former beauty queen who may or may not be a pagan, but certainly messes about on ouija boards. There should be at least 15 gay characters. Kids weaned on Glee will expect no less. The climactic scene should always take place at prom, because teenagers have no foresight beyond prom—most of them have entered suicide pacts that kick in during the second verse of “Oh What a Night.” The prom scene should always have a twist. Either a chubby kid should be voted prom king, or the prom queen should turn out to be a reptilian space demon here to disembowel us all. The message should be it’s who you are on the inside that counts. Include as many insides as possible. Entrails. Spleens. It should be like an autopsy on CSI.

4. Establish a platform. Start a Facebook community page. Digg! Your audience and your fellow authors have little ability to communicate without emoticons and buttons that let them, with one simple mouse click, tell the world that they think UCLA’s Huey Lewis lip-dub is Shizzalicious! A Tumblr account is a great way to share pictures of the Gossip Girl cast eating cheeseburgers and quotes from Mark Twain that you can attribute to James Frey because who wants to hear from some grey-haired dead guy when we’ve got a dude who smoked crack a couple times to school us all on life, art and commerce. If you use Twitter, your tweets should be along the lines of Hav ya eva stolen a shorty from yur bestie? or OMG. LOL. JK! Epic Fail. PWNED. WKRP in Cincinnati! I haven’t the first clue what any of that means, but trust me. It’s gold.

5. Plan a 19 novel arc. This will keep you in the Krug for at least 3 years and fund your “real” writing. The only respect a writer can ever expect to receive is in the form of an endorsement from Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio and a serialized novella in The Medulla Review. All books for kids are utter drivel, obviously. Literature, true literature, is written for adults, and must have a philosophically resonant plot that doesn’t pander and rely on cheap tricks. There is absolutely no place for tales of mystical children born at the stroke of midnight, or hauntings by antebellum ghost babies, or nerdy magicians and artists inspired by comic books to stand up for themselves and to the Nazis, or squads of stinky goons in punk rock bands, or fathers and sons on weepy, post-apocalyptic road-trips that might as well be “Cat’s in the Cradle Part II”…with zombies. Save that swill for the kiddy table.

The next round of spoons is scheduled for Sunday. And I have a counter-challenge for my friend Marilynne that will be even harder than writing kidlit. “Drink a gallon of milk in an hour without vomiting,” I’ll say. And Skippy will slap a jug of 2% on the table, and DeLillo will laugh and proclaim, “what a slouchy funk of bovine mealiocrity!” and I’ll call shenanigans with a, “Can it Don, mealiocrity isn’t a word,” and he’ll reply, “Sure it is – I just made it up!” and Marilynn will crack open the milk and rip a few pages out of Lois Lowry’s The Giver so she can have something to wipe her mouth with once she gets down to serious business.

April 15, 2011

DWEEB Paperback and Negative Reviews

When I was young books were paperbacks. I knew of hardcovers of course, but I rarely ever read a book in hardcover. I thumbed through cheaply produced light-weight volumes that would split at the seams by the time I’d gotten to the final chapters. That was fine by me. I wasn’t a collector of objects. I was a collector of stories and I shelved them in my mind.

Many of the paperbacks I read were published under the Yearling imprint. According to their web site Yearling has published beloved authors such as “Judy Blume, Christopher Paul Curtis, Patricia Reilly Giff, Norton Juster, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lowry, Gary Paulsen, Philip Pullman, Louis Sachar and classic characters such as Encyclopedia Brown, Harriet the Spy, Nate the Great, and Sammy Keyes.”

And now me. That’s right, the DWEEB paperback now appears under the Yearling banner. An honor, to say the least.

It’s during moments like these when a fellow has to ground himself. Heck, I’m no Judy Blume. I’m not even Judy Tenuta! (If there’s a single kid out there who knows who Judy Tenuta is, I salute you, and fear for you). I’ve written a couple of books and they’ve had very little effect on the global economy. Believe it or not I’ve even fallen victim some negative reviews. Some authors say they don’t pay attention to reviews (some authors are liars). I pay attention to reviews because they often contain helpful advice. Especially the negative ones, even if they’re draped in snark.

That’s not to say there aren’t negative reviews that are basically useless. I did receive one review that featured no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It was sent to me in a box containing a collage of photographs depicting the reviewers showing their disdain for DWEEB, along with the warm corpse of an ivory-billed woodpecker. The review was so cruel that I had to be put on bed-rest for a fortnight after reading it. I contemplated burning it, but now that I have some perspective, I know it’s better to just get such things out in the open. Yes, to keep me humble, but also to remind me that no matter what I do, not everyone will be a fan. Nor should everyone be. So, without further ado, the worst review I have ever received.

Dear author of DWEEB,

We use the word “author” loosely. We have seen vomit better crafted than this alleged novel. The word novel comes from the Latin “novus,” which translates as “new.” Well, the book was certainly new, but only because we couldn’t find it at a used book store. We doubt anyone else has bought such derivitive dreck. Perhaps the CIA has. They probably read it down at Gitmo, causing the inmates to holler, “I’ll tell you anything! The cave where Osama is hiding! The meaning of Mulholland Drive! Just stop reading! You can even put the Creed CD back on. That’s heaven compared to this!”

We would love to list all the reasons why we hated this book, but it would be like listing all the reasons why we think Hitler would make a terrible babysitter. It would take eons. That’s right, it’s only paragraph two of our review and we’ve already compared you to Hitler. It’s actually the closest thing to a compliment we’re going to give you. Heck, at least Mein Kampf earned back its advance.

After reading your book we considered bringing in a priest to exorcise the blasphemous trash. Obviously the pages are simply lousy with demons. The pope suggested we lock it in a trunk filled with holy water, rosaries and the shroud of Turin, and bury it fifty feet deep beneath the Sistine Chapel. “Torch it and throw in the Ganges,” others told us. Nerds advised us to call in Elijah Wood and have the shameless little imp toss it into Krakatoa. But we figured those courses of action had the potential to set off chain reactions, causing blessed springs and powerful volcanos around the world to spew forth mixed metaphors, paper-thin protagonists and overwrought third acts.

We thought the best option was to set out into the southern swamps and hunt down the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker. For years, people thought this beautiful and majestic bird was extinct. Well, it wasn’t. At least, not until Tuesday. We found the last one and we broke its neck. Why would we do such a thing?

1. To prove that your writing is responsible for the extinction of a species.

2. To put the poor little guy out of his misery. When we read that bird the first chapter of your book, he promptly flew into a tree and pecked out a short message in morse code. “Goodbye Cruel World. You Have Finally Bested Me.”

The evidence is enclosed. We hope it makes you rethink your dastardly ways. However, we suspect it will just turn your black, black blood and your black, black heart even blacker. So we will keep our copy of your book and we will take to the streets with it. We will speak at schools and libraries and community centers and religious monuments and we will warn the world about your soullessness. And when Kirkus reviews your next book, we will send them a picture of that woodpecker and a petition signed by millions proclaiming:

Aaron Starmer Must Be Stopped.

Sincerely,

Your nephews Will and Jacob

April 1, 2011

How to Write an Award Winning, Bestselling Children’s Book

A lot of people stop by this site because they’re curious to learn what it takes to not only write a children’s book, but to write a successful one. Some authors appear at workshops where they charge hundreds of dollars to dispense such insider tips. Not me. Today, I’m giving the good stuff out for free. I only ask that you thank me in your acknowledgements and cut me in on any foreign rights. It’s a fair trade for this invaluable wisdom. Let’s get down to it.

First off, the old advice is often the best advice. Write what you know. Do you know a puppy that’s a bit poky? How about some teenagers who hunt each other for sport? Connecting with children is about connecting with the world around you. A few monkeys don’t hurt either. That’s right. Forget wizards, vampires and zombies. Monkeys are what distinguish great children’s books. Try to imagine The Secret Garden without Jose Fuzzbuttons, the wisecracking capuchin whose indelible catchphrase “Aye-yaye-yaye, Mami, hands off the yucca!” is still bandied about schoolyards today? I don’t think you can.

Of course, the magic that is artistic inspiration must find its way in there. So how do you grab hold of it? Christopher Paolini swears by peyote-fueled pilgrimages to the Atacama Desert. I’m more of a traditionalist. A pint of gin and a round of Russian Roulette with R.L Stine always gets my creative juices flowing. Have fun. Experiment. Handguns and hallucinogens need not be involved. Though I see no reason to rule them out. Find what works for you.

Now, you’ll inevitably face a little writer’s block. There are two words that cure this problem and cure it quick. Public Domain. Dust off some literary dud and add spice to it. Kids dig this stuff. For instance, you could take some Edith Wharton and inject it with flatulence. The Age of Innocence and Farts.  Done. Easy. Bestseller.

I give this last bit of advice with a caveat. Resist the temptation to write unauthorized sequels to beloved classics. I speak from experience. My manuscripts for You Heard What I Said Dog, Get Your Arse Outta Here! and God? Margaret Again…I’m Late have seen the bottom of more editors’ trash cans than I care to mention. Newbery bait? Sure. Immune to the unwritten rules of the biz? Hardly.

Okay, let’s jump forward. So now you’ve got your masterpiece, but how the heck are you going to sell the thing? Truth be told, you’re going to need an advanced degree first. As anyone will inform you, kid lit authors without PhDs or MFAs are rarely taken seriously. If you can’t work Derrida or Foucault into a pitch letter, then you certainly can’t survive a 30-minute writing workshop with Mrs. Sumner’s 5th period reading class. So invest 60-100K and 3-6 years of your life. Then let the bidding war begin.

In the off chance that your book isn’t going to sell for six figures, try blackmail. Sounds harsh, but the children’s book industry runs almost exclusively on hush money and broken kneecaps. I mean, Beverly Cleary doesn’t even own a car. So why is she always carrying a tire iron?

Money is now under the mattress and the editorial process begins. Don’t worry at all about this. Editors won’t even read your book. They’ll simply call in Quentin Blake for some illustrations and then run the whole thing through a binding machine they keep in the back of the office. Should be in the front display case at Barnes and Noble by the end of the week.

As for marketing and PR, you can expect the standard twelve-city tour, a Today Show spot, and probably an interview in the Paris Review. After that, it’s up to you. Publishers know that the best marketers are the authors themselves, especially bookish introverts with a penchant for self-deprecation. So go after it. Blog. Tweet. And don’t underestimate the power of guerilla marketing. Shel Silverstein once clearcut a hundred acres of redwoods just to make his advance back for The Giving Tree. What’s your gimmick?

I hate to say it, but you’re bound to get a bad review or two along the way. My advice is to take the high road, ignore the naysayers, and solider on. Your best revenge will be your golden trophies and your framed New York Times Bestseller lists. Still, if you’re dead set on getting back at a grouchy librarian or two, go with kidnapping. It’s a mainstay plot device in YA potboilers and is bound to lead to either hi-jinks or some meaningful rite-of-passage. Be sure to keep notes, because your follow-up book is already in the works! Like I said, write what you know.

There you have it. A step-by-step manual to penning an award-worthy, blockbuster children’s book. As you can see, it’s not very hard. And it’s really the only way to do it. Well…there is one other way, but it feels a bit like cheating. Are you John Lithgow?