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!
September 5, 2012
Guess what? I got into Princeton!
Wait a minute, though. Before you go shining up a class ring for me and calling Goldman Sachs to tell them they’ll have a new CEO in a few years, I should probably qualify that statement. I wasn’t invited to Princeton the University. I was invited to Princeton the Children’s Book Festival.
Which, of course, is even better!
Here are the details:
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08542
I’ll be hanging out in the Purple Tent, signing copies of DWEEB and The Only Ones. We can chat about The Riverman Trilogy, maybe talk some sports or movies, and perhaps solve some of the world’s problems. Hope to see you there!
July 26, 2012
I’ve been holding my tongue for a few months now. Makes for awkward ice cream eating, but a man is supposed to suffer for his art, right? Thankfully, I’ve finally been given the greenlight to Paul Revere it through the cyber-streets hollering: New books are coming! New books are coming!
That’s right. My latest tales have found a home at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf said about the deal:
Joy Peskin of FSG Books for Young Readers has acquired world English rights to Aaron Starmer‘s Riverman trilogy, about a girl who claims she is visiting a parallel universe, where a nefarious being called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. The first book in the trilogy, The Legend of Fiona Loomis, will be published in winter 2014, followed by The Quest of Alistair Cleary in winter 2015 and The Myth of Charlie Dwyer in winter 2016. Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich did the deal.
Of course, I’m ridiculously excited by these developments. And I hope (I’m pretty sure, actually) you will dig these books. I hesitate to tell you much about them right now, but I can say that the first one, titled The Legend of Fiona Loomis, is the most personal and realistic thing I have written, while also being the most fantastical. A contradiction? Maybe not as much as you would think.
Let the record show that a few incredible people are fully responsible for this happening:
- Nova Ren Suma, author of the luminous novel Imaginary Girls, was beyond kind when she vouched for me and my writing. As advocates for artists go, Nova is without peer. And good god can she write the breath out of a room.
- Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management is more than an agent. Honest, impossibly well-informed, and unrelenting in his support of his clients, he’s one of the people who’s daring the book industry to live up to its potential. I’m not sure how he treats his mortal enemies, but he’s a great man to have on your side.
- And finally there’s Joy Peskin, editorial director of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. When I first spoke to her about the project, I was astounded by her contagious enthusiasm and by the way she understood my story better than I did. Her reputation for shepherding projects that are both daring and entertaining cannot be exaggerated, but it’s her uncanny insight into storytelling that will truly guide The Riverman Trilogy from scrappy beginnings to a shiny spot on the bookshelves. Do you have a better editor? I’m not sure that you do.
So there you go. A new day, some new books. I’ll be updating you about the writing and revision progress and with other news as it comes in. In the meantime, to give you an idea of the tone, plot and themes of the first book, The Legend of Fiona Loomis
, I ask to listen to Daniel Johnston’s Some Things Last a Long Time
, to think about C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series
, to read William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow
, to watch The Wonder Years
, and to play some classic video games like The Legend of Zelda
Confused? Intrigued? I hope so. Keep an eye out. More to come…
July 24, 2012
The old refrain: we’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again.
Some disturbed individual buys a bunch of guns and murders a bunch of people. The media falls in love with the story. We endure some rounds of punditry. A few folks change their minds on the issues of gun control and mental healthcare, but most of us stand firm in our opinions. Then, after a few days, we move on, until another wayward soul takes some shots at another awful legacy and we all say, “we’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again.”
I rarely address current events on this blog. I almost never mention my politics. But I feel the need to address the issue of guns and gun violence. Don’t worry, I’m not here with boatloads of links and statistics and I don’t think I’m qualified to offer viable solutions. I’m only going to talk about how this issue relates to my life and my writing.
I’ve never owned a real gun, or even fired one. Although I lived a free-range childhood that involved plenty of squirt, rubber dart, and cap guns, my parents didn’t allow firearms in the house. Even BB guns were off limits. If I wanted to shoot an air rifle, I had to arrange a clandestine meeting in the woods with a friend who owned a pump-action Daisy. During one such meeting, I ended up with a welt on my cheek, the result of poor safety precautions and an opportunistic ricochet. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” indeed.
Six or seven years later, when I was studying in London, a lone Englishman at a party full of Americans approached me and asked me how many of us were carrying guns. I laughed at the absurdity of his question, but he wasn’t joking. Not only did he believe that all Americans owned and carried guns, he also assumed that we did so when we traveled.
A year after that, on New Year’s Eve, I was in a nearly empty pizza parlor on Bleecker Street when a group of teens in puffy coats entered. They didn’t attempt to order. They just stood amid the tables, eyeing up the cashier. When one teen unzipped his coat, I saw a pistol tucked in his waistband. The cashier knew what was about to happen; he placed his hands flat on the counter and didn’t budge. After a tense minute or two, one of the teens finally said, “not worth it,” and they walked out.
A few years later, in rural upstate New York, I attended a 4th of July party. In lieu of fireworks, the host pulled an Uzi from his impressive gun cabinet and proceeded to shoot a few dozen rounds into the air. I don’t know if he was the legal owner of that Uzi, but I doubt it. I left the party shortly after the entertainment.
Guns haven’t played much of a role in my life of late, except when it comes to my writing. These days, I write books about kids. Because my books are about kids, they’re sold to kids. In my books, some of the characters wield and shoot guns. Those characters are all kids.
During the editorial stages, I have been asked to remove plenty of swearing and kissing from my books. It’s a business decision more than an artistic one. Certain libraries and book-buyers refuse to buy anything in the middle-grade market (i.e. fare for ages 9–12) that features a few hells and a little frenching. And yet, I have never been asked to edit out a gun or an incident of gun violence, even when a 12-year-old character is the perpetrator of that violence. The powers-that-be are okay with all that stuff.
Should they be okay with all that stuff, though? I don’t know. I hope they should be, as long as I’m doing my job as an author, which I believe is to provide an engrossing story with compelling characters whose motivations are relatable and whose actions have consequences. Guns in my stories represent the same thing they represent in life: instant power. Instant power is an appealing and terrifying enticement for many of us, and definitely for those of us in the confusing throes of puberty. To leave those enticements out of a story is fine, but to claim such things have no place in books for kids is to deny a very real part of our world. And our world is their world.
I would rather not live in a world where we are constantly saying, “we’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again.” I would rather not live in a world where instant power comes cheap and easy and at the expense of other people’s lives. But right now, we do live in that world. And in that world, I have chosen to write books for kids. I owe those kids the same thing I owe everyone: honesty and compassion, and the diligence to recognize when I’ve neglected the payments on that debt.
April 16, 2012
Oh, the mighty mighty Ohi’. It runs from the Alleghen’ to the Mississip’, skirting the edge of West Virginny and good ol’ Ketuck’ along the way. No, I’m not wanting for vowels. This is how I speak when I speak of rivers. Conversely, when I speak of canals, such as my beloved hometown’s Erie Canal, I add vowels (the correct pronunciation is thus ee-rye-ee, my friends). Things have gotten folksy here and you’re just going to have to get used to it.
Where was I? Oh yes, the Ohio River. About halfway along it lies the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington is a special place for me because it’s where my sister and her family have lived for more than a decade. And over that last decade, I have visited for summer idylls and autumn holidays and winter spelunking adventures. This spring, I return for a book festival. The delightful organizers of the Ohio River Festival of Books have been kind enough to invite me to speak at a couple of local middle schools, and to meet readers and sign books. Here are the details:
- What: Book selling and signing
- Where: Big Sandy Conference Center. Huntington, West Virginia
- When: Friday, April 20, 6:30-9:00 PM
- How: Any which way you can
So if you live in tri-state region of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, please stop by and say hello!