May 25, 2013
For years, I’d been hoping that my hometown of Hoboken would hold a book festival. Of course, I could have organized one myself. But such things require gumption, which is usually in short supply after a day of writing and chasing freelance projects. Luckily, the Hoboken Public Library has bucketloads of gumption, and they probably also have some sort of mind-reading technology, because they’ve taken my idea and run with it. They’re holding their inaugural book festival to kick off the summer and I will be there reading, signing and selling The Only Ones and DWEEB. Here are the details:
- When: Saturday, June 8, 11am-5pm (my readings: 11:15am-1:00pm; signing and selling: 1pm-3pm)
- Where: Church Square Park in Hoboken
- Who: Me! and these other wonderful local authors.
- How: By hook or by crook
I hope to see you all there!
May 10, 2013
For years, Jersey City, a place with a population of nearly 250,000, didn’t have an independent bookstore. Tachair Bookshoppe filled the void last year and is already a fixture in the downtown community, a place where you can go to read, drink coffee, catch a musical performance, and see paintings from local artists. Tachair is Gaelic for a meeting place and I hope you will meet me there for some readings from DWEEB, The Only Ones, and (possibly), The Riverman.
- When: Sunday, May 19 at 5:30 PM
- Where: Tachair Bookshoppe at 260 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ
- How: Drive or take the PATH train to Grove Street and walk northwest on Newark Avenue until you reach 2nd Street
- Why: Because it will be fun!
This world needs more places like Tachair. Like them on Facebook for even more information. And please come out and support them…and me!
April 28, 2013
I think a lot about endings. I rarely get far in a writing project if I don’t have at least a basic idea of how it will all turn out. I don’t plan many other plot points, but I need that dim beacon on the horizon. Otherwise, I’m lost. And if I’m lost, so is the reader.
I’m the first to admit that I didn’t nail the ending of my debut novel, DWEEB. Sure, it contains surprising revelations and the ridiculous moments of the book crescendo into an even more ridiculous finale, but not enough is logically or emotionally resolved. I always viewed DWEEB as an origin story. I planned it as a prelude to bigger adventures (adventures that probably won’t happen if one is to trust royalty statements). And while I don’t regret my choice of endings, I understand the disappointment that readers have when they reach the last page and say, “Is that all, bub?”
I feel the opposite way about The Only Ones. The ending, while open to interpretation, is all about resolution. Sure, there are some unanswered questions and I could tell more tales set in the world of The Only Ones, but as a stand-alone novel, it accomplishes what it set out to do. At least for me. And at least for a few other readers. People who really enjoy that book, enjoy it because of how it ends. But here’s the rub. People who really hate that book, hate it because of how it ends.
In books, the ending is everything. For that reason, books are different than music, or even movies. You can listen to a piece of music and simply enjoy the melody or lyrics. If it fades out early or comes to an abrupt stop, it’s rarely disappointing. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Well, that was a really interesting and lovely Bob Dylan song, but I can’t recommend it because I just didn’t believe the ending.”
You can also go to a movie, enjoy the heck out of it, and accept a bad ending. I’ve certainly heard people say, “Well, that was a lot a fun, even if the last twenty minutes were total hogwash. I can’t wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray!”
Obviously, a piece of music or a movie with a fantastic ending will be justly celebrated, and yet it’s not necessarily what makes or breaks them for an audience. But since a book is an investment of significant time, and since a book invites readers to linger over the final pages, the ending is everything.
The main complaint about the ending of The Only Ones is that people don’t understand it. This is something I anticipated. I didn’t want everyone to understand it, but I did want people to at least take some time to think about it. What I’ve found is that some readers finish the the book, shrug their shoulders and say, “well that didn’t make a lick of sense,” and then they throw the book at the wall.
“Oh well,” I tell myself. “So it isn’t for everyone. Neither is black licorice. And god bless black licorice for being black licorice.”
But it clearly bugs me. I wouldn’t be writing this if it didn’t. It bugs me even more when readers reveal the ending in an online review. “Hey everyone! Don’t read this book! Turns out there’s black licorice at the end! I was hoping for peanut butter cups. Heck, I’d have even settled for Necco Wafers. But it’s black licorice, people!”
To be fair, readers who enjoy the book sometimes do the same thing. “There’s black licorice at the end! What a surprise! Hurrah! Black licorice!” I appreciate the enthusiasm, but I also appreciate a spoiler-alert every now and then. Because I believe that while spoilers may attract a few new readers who will enjoy the book, or dissuade a few new readers who won’t enjoy the book, spoilers definitely steal a bit of the book’s currency. Part of a book’s value is its ability to surprise.
I just sent in the final copy-edits for The Riverman. Within a month or two, it will be falling into the hands of people who know very little about it. You might be one of those people. I can confidently say that the ending of The Riverman is more satisfying than the ending of DWEEB and not quite as mind-boggling as the ending of The Only Ones. Whether this means it will be more successful, I have no idea. Still, I hope it surprises you, and if it inspires you to throw the book at the wall or to hug it like a fresh-from-the-dryer teddy bear, then I hope you go online and air your grievances or sing some praises. But when it comes to discussing the ending, please just say one of the following:
- Black. Friggin’. Licorice.
- Holy Cow! Black Licorice!
We’ll all understand what it means.
October 24, 2012
Speaking to students for “Read Across America Day”
Whenever I attend a book festival, people invariably ask me the same question: “Do you ever do school visits?”
I do. I do indeed.
Like many authors of children’s literature, I find that the best way to share my love of books is to talk about them with curious young readers and enthusiastic teachers. But how would people know this about me? Because, until now, I’ve barely mentioned the fact on my web site. Well, it is a fact, my friends. And if you’re a parent, a teacher, an administrator, a librarian, an independent bookstore owner, or anyone else who’d like to arrange for me to visit your local school(s), then please drop me a line. I am available for any or all of the following:
- Presentations — Give me 40-60 minutes and a podum and I will do my darndest to keep a cafetorium full of kids not only awake but enthralled by tales of inspiration, embarrassment and poisonous snakes. Please note: unless contractually obligated to, I will not enter the room to the tune of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
- Readings — I will happily read passages from DWEEB, The Only Ones, and The Riverman trilogy. These passages may involve humor, intrigue and/or a character named Chet.
- Q&As — This is always the easiest way to connect with inquisitive students. They can ask me almost anything about my books and my life as a writer and I will answer honestly, only occasionally uttering the phrase: “Wouldn’t you like to know, tough guy?”
- Workshops — Does your English class want to discuss and practice writing and revision techniques? Learn about the publishing industry? Cook some top-notch enchiladas? I’m there.
- Signings — If you have a local bookstore on board, I will definitely stop by to sign and sell inventory and meet readers one-on-one. Be warned, though. My handwriting is abysmal and still haunts the nightmares of my middle-school teachers.
- Skype Talks — If you don’t have the time or resources, an alternative to an in-person visit is a virtual pow-wow. Quick. Easy. Fantastically futuristic.
So there you go. Every school and situation is different (click here to read about a few past school visits), but I can adjust to your needs. Just contact me and we’ll hammer out the details. The only thing I require is that your students read, or start reading, at least one of my books. It makes the experience much more enjoyable for everyone. And, let’s be honest, you’re not inviting me to your school to show off my tap-dancing skills. (Or are you?)
“I want to highly recommend Aaron Starmer for an author visit. We recently hosted him for what must have been an exhausting day-long visit with 6th-8th graders. His book, The Riverman, won our Mock Newbery Award this year and was our top circulating book of the year so he already has a lot of fans here. He met with several English classes throughout the day (combined 6th, 7th, 8th) and gave a great presentation about storytelling and memories. It was the type of presentation that didn’t depend on kids having read the book. He had kids on the edge of their seats but he was also very funny too. I think the most impressive thing was that it was a huge hit with both 6th and 8th graders which is a hard gap to fill and I could see high school students enjoying it as well. He also met with our book club informally during lunch periods including our Mock Newbery and read to them from his 3rd book so the kids were beyond thrilled. They also got to ask lots of technical questions about the world of Aquavania. Many of the kids who hadn’t had a chance to read his book before his visit are reading it now and coming in to borrow the sequel. Definitely consider contacting him if you’re thinking about author visits for next year. I know he also does visits via Skype as well.” – Rachael Ricker, Librarian (Horace Mann School)
October 3, 2012
Apparently, this week is Banned Books Week. I’ve never participated, but according to Wikipedia, it’s a week when children dress as Holden Caulfield and parade through streets lined with illiterate PTA members who pelt them with rotten tomatoes. It all culminates in a barn dance, where a bespectacled college comp lit major stands on a bale of hay and shouts, “You know who also banned books? Stalin!” And then an animatronic Stalin descends from the rafters and the Caulfields and the PTA members join together to smash the commie robot to smithereens.
Now, if you’re a book lover (as I’m sure yo are), you could participate in such festivities this weekend or…you could come visit me and a whole bunch of other great NY/NJ/PA authors at the Collingswood Book Festival. Here are the details:
Saturday, October 6
Haddon Ave, Collingswood, NJ
10AM-4PM: I’ll be signing and selling copies of DWEEB and The Only Ones
2PM: I’ll be on a panel called Reaching Out to Young Adult Readers
I attended the 2010 festival and it was a beautiful day in a charming town full of friendly people. I’m expecting more of the same!