March 15, 2014
The Riverman arrives in just a few days but a few people have already read it. They’ve got some things to say, so hear them out, okay?
- Wall Street Journal: “…an ominous awareness of loss flows all the way through Aaron Starmer’s riveting and sophisticated novel for younger adolescents…There is plenty of surprise, though, and it resides in almost everything else that happens in this emotionally complex tale…The story of what follows…unfolds with disarming naturalness, yet every page feels so carefully written that, although we can’t predict what will take place, we feel certain that the author knows exactly where he is taking us.”
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review): “Lines between reality and fantasy blur in this powerful, disquieting tale of lost children, twisted friendship and the power of storytelling.”
- Booklist: “In this dark, twisting tale, readers are never sure if Fiona’s story is true or not, and they won’t want to stop reading until they find out…this magical tale is sure to please readers of urban fantasy, and with its theme of missing children and changing friendships, it will be perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint, too.”
- School Library Journal: “This novel built of stories yields nightmares…This writerly, chiaroscuro book is replete with the portent of violence, and thick with ideas about the psychological need for stories, all while questioning the ability of stories to redeem the tellers. Readers will find themselves confronted with deep, unanswered questions regarding the relationship of collective imaginary worlds to reality, the evolving nature of memories and friendships, and the unknowability of people. Those ready to explore darker realities will devour this book.”
- The Bulletin of the Center For Children’s Books (recommended): “Somewhere between Holly Black’s Doll Bones and Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone in audience and tone, this blend of magical realism and mystery blurs the line between reality and fantasy, setting up a creepy unease that both disturbs and propels the reader forward…the deliciously tangled web of a plot defies categorization.”
- Publisher’s Weekly (pick of the week): “Starmer explores the relationship between creation and theft, reality and fantasy in this haunting novel…the novel’s strength is in the pervasive aura of unknowing that Starmer creates and sustains.”
- VOYA Magazine: “The Riverman contains plenty of boisterous action—mischief nights with “eggings”—and dialogue peppered with enough “greasy farts” talk to entertain middle schoolers. Alistair, Fiona, and Charlie are memorable characters. The amazing Fiona-controlled Aquavania where chocolate-chip-mint ice cream covers the ground will also delight fantasy readers. But this story also incorporates deeper story threads ripe for exploration…There is a lot to ponder and recommend in this unusual tale.”
- Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 Blog (at School Library Journal): “As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best of 2014…Once everyone’s read it, I’m going to have SO much more to say. A good book does that. It gives your tongue wings. The Riverman may creep you out and make you want to hide under the covers for a good long while, but just TRY to set it down. Can’t be done. And that is what I look for in a book.”
- The Off-Topic Blog of Kurtis Scaletta: “Like When You Reach Me and Breadcrumbs, The Riverman is about real people with real problems who find a twist in their reality. And like those books, I would find it deeply engaging even without the fantastic angle. It is the nuanced, believable children dealing with mundane crises that make it a great book.”
- Smell of Wine and Cheap Perfume: “I not only burned through this one, but wanted to start reading again immediately as soon as I was finished.”
- Great Imaginations: “The Riverman is at once an entertaining fantasy, a coming of age tale, and scary glimpse of what can happen when one is stuck in one’s own head for too long. With dark, dry humor, and a smart protagonist, The Riverman is a book that will be stuck in my head for a long time to come.”
- A Reader of Fictions: “Do you have a vast imagination and love to think about the worlds it could create? Do you like middle grade novels that will creep you out and make you think? If yes, then you need The Riverman in your life, I promise.”
- Reed Reads Book Reviews: “The story unfolds slowly and beautifully, the reader never sure of where it is going. When I reviewed Aaron Starmer’s The Only Ones, I said it was “weird, in the most literary way.” After reading his second book, I can say that Aaron is one of the most creative children’s writers out there. There is nothing formula about either books.”
- Hidden in Pages: “This is an incredibly engaging read and very hard to put down…This is a truly unique book and I really enjoyed it.”
- Bibliomantics: “Sure on the outside the novel seems like a book about a boogie man that children need to fear, but it goes so much deeper than that, exploring the flawed nature of memories…and even more so about how the unbelievable stories people tell themselves in their own imaginations are merely coping mechanisms to deal with the world at large.”
- Three Storey Books: “Aaron Starmer brings us on a dark, atmospheric fantasy adventure that deals with friendship, belief, love and all of the challenges these bring to a 12 year old boy. Not your typical coming of age story, The Riverman is infused with a sense of foreboding and more questions than answers as Starmer’s exceedingly well crafted characters lead us on Alistair’s well meaning, insightful journey into what could be either a menacing alternate reality or the mind of girl trying to make sense of fear and abuse.”
- Cougars Book Blog: “The Riverman is odd and intriguing, suspenseful and absorbing. Middle school readers, as well as juvenile and YA fiction readers of any age, will not be able to put this down.”
- Lust and Coffee: “This book is a page turner. Every chapter is so tense that I really wanted to finish it in one night, but my eyes wouldn’t compromise.”
March 2, 2014
Over two years ago, before The Only Ones came out, I did a countdown of 99 things (books, movies, art, places, etc.) that inspired it. It was a fun way to revisit some stuff I was actively thinking about when I wrote the book, as well as some stuff I didn’t realize influenced me until I had some time to reflect.
Well, it’s 99 days until The Riverman hits shelves and I figured, why not do it all again? So, without further ado, here is my list of #99inspirations that I’ll be counting down daily on Twitter. This doesn’t represent all of my favorite things (sorry, no bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens here), though it does include some stuff that I truly love. And hopefully it sparks some conversation about the stuff you love and the stuff that leaks into your creations.
- 99: Some Things Last a Long Time by Daniel Johnston
- 98: Adam based on the Adam Walsh story
- 97: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- 96: Eraserhead directed by David Lynch
- 95: Fayetteville, New York
- 94: Myst by Cyan
- 93: The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
- 92: Orange Crush by REM
- 91: The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh
- 90: The Scroobius Pip by Edward Lear (completed by Ogden Nash)
- 89: Heavenly Creatures directed by Peter Jackson
- 88: Kid Icarus by Nintendo
- 87: Luka by Suzanne Vega
- 86: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- 85: Yuma, Arizona
- 84: Ranger Rick magazine
- 83: Christmas at Ground Zero by Weird Al Yankovic
- 82: Beverly Cleary
- 81: Breaking Away directed by Peter Yates
- 80: Misguided Angel by Cowboy Junkies
- 79: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think by Dr. Seuss
- 78: Nøkken
- 77: Balance directed by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein
- 76: The Shankill Butchers performed by Sarah Jarosz (covering The Decemberists)
- 75: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
- 74: Old Forge, New York
- 73: River’s Edge directed by Tim Hunter
- 72: I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen
- 71: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
- 70: The McMartin trial
- 69: Charon
- 68: Castlevania by Konami
- 67: Iron Maiden
- 66: Captain Hook
- 65: River Man by Nick Drake
- 64: Requiem directed by Hans-Christian Schmid
- 63: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
- 62: Mischief Night
- 61: My Drug Buddy by the Lemonheads
- 60: Halloween directed by John Carpenter
- 59: Dark Castle by Silicon Beach Software
- 58: Friendly’s
- 57: The Far Side by Gary Larsen
- 56: Riverman by Errol Le Cain
- 55: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
- 54: Tour of Duty
- 53: I’ll Be You by The Replacements
- 52: The Burnet Park Zoo
- 51: The Blue Lagoon directed by Randal Kleiser
- 50: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- 49: I Can’t Make You Love Me performed by Bon Iver (covering Bonnie Raitt)
- 48: Capturing the Friedmans directed by Andrew Jarecki
- 47: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- 46: Metroid by Nintendo
- 45: Lamborghinis!
- 44: Anything, Anything by Dramarama
- 43: Cropsey directed by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman
- 42: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd)
- 41: Salt potatoes
- 40: Zip City by The Drive-By Truckers
- 39: SimCity by Will Wright
- 38: The Independence River
- 37: The Abyss directed by James Cameron
- 36: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
- 35: Lake-effect snow
- 34: Jaguar by Mogwai
- 33: A Nightmare on Elm Street directed by Wes Craven
- 32: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- 31: Pitfall! by Activision
- 30: In Your Room by The Bangles
- 29: The Berlin Wall
- 28: Jacob’s Ladder directed by Adrian Lyne
- 27: Kilgore Trout
- 26: Panasonic RQ2102
- 25: Dispatches by Michael Herr
- 24: Barnaby, Hardly Working by Yo La Tengo
- 23: These movies
- 22: Visit Scotland’s email newsletter
- 21: The Red Notebook by Paul Auster
- 20: So Long, Lonesome by Explosions in the Sky
- 19: Dreamscape directed by Joseph Ruben
- 18: Final Fantasy by Hironobu Sakaguchi
- 17: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
- 16: The Conversation directed by Francis Ford Coppola
- 15: Thirteen by Big Star
- 14: Shadow of a Doubt directed by Alfred Hitchcock
- 13: I Know by Fiona Apple
- 12: Mean Creek directed by Jacob Aaron Estes
- 11: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- 10: Paradise Lost directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
- 9: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- 8: Stand By Me directed by Rob Reiner (adapted from Stephen King’s The Body)
- 7: The Wonder Years created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black
- 6: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- 5: A documentary I watched once. I forget where, or when, or what it was called, but it inspired the opening chapter.
- 4: The Legend of Zelda by Nintendo
- 3: Let the Right One In directed by Tomas Alfredson (adapted from the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist)
- 2: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
- 1: These People
November 20, 2013
Times have changed. Members-Only jackets and Z Cavaricci pants are out. Sock hops are few and far between. The kids don’t buy the latest Mister Mister cassingle down at the Sam Goody. So what are they into? Well, for the last two years, I’ve been hanging where teens hang, researching their behavior, their likes and dislikes and so on. I’ve been learning, friends, and now I’m passing on that knowledge to you. Why? So you can write Young Adult novels that will be timely and will resonate with the youth of today. Cool? Cool.
Here it is, a list of Things Teens Are Into These Days:
- Worrying about whether everyone will notice the ketchup stain on your shirt
- Getting wasted
- Listening to music, alone, in a dark room
- Procrastinating on chemistry homework
- Sitting next to a phone, tapping fingers nervously, waiting, waiting, waiting
- Not getting wasted and feeling superior to the teens who are getting wasted, while being a little curious about what being wasted is like
- Driving down dark country roads, a little too fast, with the windows open
- Walking four abreast down a sidewalk, laughing, and oblivious to the fact that other people are trying to pass you
- Corn chips, in a variety of shapes and flavors
- Telling people that you love them when you don’t really love them
- Definitely keeping secrets
- Being uncomfortable with your parents’ sex lives
- Body dysmorphia
- Attempting to grow facial hair
- College guys
- Practicing dance moves in the mirror
- Kissing the mirror
- Yelling at the mirror
- Seeing your parents pull up in the Subaru and sighing because they’re your ride home
- Movies with crossbows in them
- Saying, “oh yeah, I do that all the time,” when you haven’t done that even once
- Coming up with band names that are not good band names
- Telling it like it is
- Parties where a guy pisses into something he shouldn’t be pissing in
- Pajama bottoms
- Figuring out exactly where your crush is going to be at a certain moment and then lingering in that spot and nodding hello when your crush walks by and then walking away
- Knowing that while some jocks are jerks, some are actually really nice and smart people
- Believing that you’re a nerd when you’re not a nerd, not really, or at least you won’t be in a year or two
- Chuck Taylors
- Running at inappropriate times
- Young musicians who are the object of your parents’ loathing
- Old musicians who are the object of your parents’ affections, but you totally discovered on your own
- Gym teacher impressions
- That kid who’s kinda your friend but has a pool and it’s June already so you laugh a little louder at that kid’s jokes
- Thinking Ayn Rand is a good writer
- Playing cards on Friday night with the same group of friends because that’s what you prefer doing and there’s nothing wrong with that
- Spontaneous eating contests
- Creative touchdown celebrations
- Audrey Hepburn
- TV shows where people brag a lot
- Living in Eastern Standard Time but sleeping on Mountain Standard Time
- Complaining that there’s never anything to do in this shit town
- Hating to gossip, but having to at least tell someone that crazy story you heard about what that girl you hardly know did with that guy you don’t know at all
- Drinks the size of which would be deemed illegal under the Bloomberg administration
- Huey Lewis and the News
November 8, 2013
I have a confession.
I want you to read my books. Shocking, but true. For years, I’ve told people that I write these things for the sole purpose of creating such a big demand for paper that we have to deforest Saskatchewan. And while we all hold our grudges against Saskatchewan, I haven’t been completely honest. Because, yes, I also want you to read these things.
Before you curse me under your breath and plan your revenge, please put it all in perspective. I’m not asking much. 5-15 hours of your time, maybe? If you live to 100 (and I know you will, because you eat yogurt and take spin classes and look stunning for your age), then at most you’ll have spent .0017 % of your life with my silly little stories. Considering that a recent study showed that, on average, we spend 8% of our lives flossing, then I think you can spare a tiny fraction of a percentage, right?
And once you read my book, you know what will happen? You will tell five friends about it, who will tell five friends, and so on and so forth, until the book is sitting on the desk of the director of the FBI and I’ll be up on charges for running a pyramid scheme. But it will all be worth it.
So, in an effort to get this chain of events started, I’m offering a signed advance reading copy (ARC) of The Riverman to one person (or sentient being). What is The Riverman, you ask? Here’s a teaser:
“To sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here’s mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger.“
Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here’s the difference: She is real.
Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary is her neighbor in a town where everyone knows each other. One afternoon, Fiona shows up at Alistair’s doorstep with a strange proposition. She wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into a clearly troubled mind. For Fiona tells Alistair a secret. In her basement there’s a gateway and it leads to the magical world of Aquavania, the place where stories are born. In Aquavania, there’s a creature called the Riverman and he’s stealing the souls of children. Fiona’s soul could be next.
Alistair has a choice. He can believe her, or he can believe something else…something even more terrifying.
“Every culture has a magical river story. Some rivers promise the pleasures of eternal youth, while others promise the paradise of eternal salvation. The Riverman promises a more exhilarating alternative. Dive into this book and you may never resurface.” – Jack Gantos, Newbery Award-winning author of Dead End in Norvelt
“Like When You Reach Me and Breadcrumbs, The Riverman is about real people with real problems who find a twist in their reality. And like those books, I would find it deeply engaging even without the fantastic angle. It is the nuanced, believable children dealing with mundane crises that make it a great book.” – Kurtis Scaletta, author of Mudville, Mamba Point and The Winter of the Robots.
Intrigued? I wish I had enough copies to shower them from a building Henry Sugar-style, but alas, I have but one to spare. For now, at least. And what do you have to do to get it? Here are the rules.
To enter to win a copy of The Riverman, you must:
- Write a comment, any comment, on this blog post.
- Live in the USA and possess the ability to receive US mail.
That’s it. I’ll pick a commenter at random, assuming there’s more than one commenter. And I’ll mail that moderately lucky person the book. Contest closes on Thanksgiving (November 28), because…why the hell not?
If you’d prefer an e-copy, try your luck at NetGalley. And if you’re a good reader, then go on and add the book to your Goodreads shelf. It will all help the cause, which is sharing a story. Beats deforestation.
UPDATE: A WINNER HAS BEEN CHOSEN! (using Random.org)
Commenter #14 (aka Mark) will receive a signed ARC! Well done, Mark. Your commenting skills have served you well.
July 31, 2013
I was about 10 years old when my brother and I went to see the original Back to the Future. It may seem like a relatively harmless movie, but it warped our minds. Not due to all the Oedipality, mind you. No, it was because we returned home convinced we could build a time machine. Out of a model train. All we had to do was get it chugging, zap it with an electric current, and bingo, bango, next stop Mesozoic Era. Of course, a few hours later, tangled up in wires and scratching our heads, we learned that our goal was a bit too lofty. But it was a pleasure to have those warped minds, if only for a short while.
Young readers of Kurtis Scaletta’s latest novel, The Winter of the Robots, will find their minds similarly warped. It’s a book where kids build robots that battle each other, and it will surely inspire tinkerers and dreamers to build similar robots in their garages. And maybe a few industrious young folks will actually accomplish their goals, but I suspect most will simply muse over the possibilities. Sometimes that’s equally fun.
Kurtis Scaletta has a voice. In the marketplace of middle grade fiction where there are far too many coattail riders, it is refreshing to stumble upon an author crafting distinct stories that are personal and nostalgic, but also contemporary and slightly magical. Scaletta specializes (at least for now) in tales of boys who live in worlds that are almost like ours. But there’s always a slight bend in those worlds. A town where it always rains. A boy who is like catnip to deadly snakes. An invasion of glowing fungi. In the case of The Winter of the Robots, it’s those kids building those robots, obviously. These things aren’t walking, talking C-3POs. They’re more of the Battlebots variety, but they’re also more sophisticated than what most adults are capable of creating. They’re programmed to react in clever ways, and if the book is about anything, it’s about reactions.
There are any of number of things that inspire reactions in the main character, Jim. The attention of a smart and attractive girl. The emotions that arise when that girl starts dating the school tough. The exploits of a mischievous but loyal sister. The mysteries of a rough-and-tumble family. The yo-yo-ing friendship with a brilliant boy who has lost his father.
Jim is a good kid but, like any kid in the throes of puberty, some of his programming is a bit faulty. His reactions run the gamut from foolish to callous. At the same time, he’s trying to negotiate the reactions of others, most importantly those of his father. This relationship is a small part of the story, but an essential one. Jim’s father has a temper and the tiniest things can set him off. Since his father has been programmed to attack (verbally, at least), Jim has programmed himself to defend. It’s what Jim is best at, but it requires deception and flight more often than not. He needs to find an even better way to deal with this, his biggest of problems.
So while the tinkerers and dreamers will be drawn into the book by the robots, it’s the kids who are constantly on the defensive who will find the strongest emotional bond with it. And while it might warp some young minds into believing that garage robotics are as easy as Legos, it will also remind some young minds that relationships can be as hard as anything in life. There are no easy answers about how best to deal with human reactions, but Scaletta provides something as important: the hope that as we all grow and learn, our reactions will change. Unlike robots, we can reprogram ourselves.