Monday, January 9, 2017

My New Gig and New (Blog) Home (For Now)

Keeping up with the "Oftentimes Un-Updated" part of this blog, it's been awhile since I've been here. I'm still writing, working on a YA detective novel every morning and I hope to have a readable draft ready by the end of the school year.  Cross your fingers and sacrifice a goat for me if that's your religion.

The bigger news is that back in October I was named the Cincinnati Public Library's Writer-in-Residence for the year.  The position will give me the chance to share my writing knowledge with people in the city through podcasts, a blog, and writing workshops.  The middle of these, the blog, is where I'll be residing (mostly) until my term is over.
Actual evidence of me being named writer-in-residence.
Easily faked evidence of the award.
Here's the link.  I'm focusing my position on helping people write novels, covering as many aspects of the process as I can.  That will also be the focus of my workshops which will begin in February.  More info on those coming up on the CPL's website or on the link I posted above.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Update: Where I've Been, What I've Been Doing

Wow, and to think I was doing a good job keeping this thing updated until the book came out.  Oh well.  A short stint in jail will do that, I suppose.  (Kidding, for those of you who don't know me.)

So here's a rundown of what's happened book-wise since DON'T GET CAUGHT came out on April 1st, along with a bunch of terribly uninteresting pictures.

1. Joseph-Beth Launch Party.
According to the J-B manager, I had something like 125 people show up for my reading/signing.  I knew every single one of them, minus one kid who was 12 who'd read my book in one day and wanted to meet me.  It was a great, great night.
Okay, this picture isn't "terribly uninteresting"; in fact, I love it.

2.  Ohioana Book Festival.
This was my first non-family attended event after the book came out and where I learned I'm pretty good at hand-selling books to people walking by.  Barnes and Noble's had ordered twelve books for me, and I sold all of them in a couple of hours.  I then had to dip into my personal stash of books, and sold those, too.  Yay my Svengali-like powers!  I also got to meet Mindy McGinnis and Natalie Richards, who are both fantastic, and John Scalzi, who told me a fun story about his lunch with Tom Hanks.    
There were more people at the event that are in this picture, I swear.

3. Radio Interviews.
I did two interviews, one with Mark Perzel of WVXU's The Book Club, and another with Rodney Lear of Sunday Morning Magazine.  Both were a lot of fun.  The Book Club interview has since aired twice, and I got a personal tour of the radio station by Perzel.  Because I'm an egomaniac I tried to listen to myself on the radio, but I couldn't stand my voice and had to turn it off.

3. Athens Public Library.
In June I traveled down (and across) to Athens, Ohio, where I attended Ohio University back in the 90's.  There I did a great library event with the even greater Cori McCarthy.  OU was out for the summer so the crowd was small, but we had a great time.  If all goes well, McCarthy and I hope to take our comedy stylings on the road soon.
This is my book in the Athen's Little Professor Bookstore, where I used to sit and read the comics for free because I couldn't afford them.

4. Pickerington Teen Book Festival
This was a lot of fun.  I did a panel, a speed-dating thing, and an autograph session.  I also brought my wife with me, so it was a business-y date date thing, as well.  I hand sold a lot of books here, as well, and got lucky when a relative showed up and bought nine (!) books.  Now if only I can get every relative of mine to buy nine copies of my book, I can retire.
Keynote speaker Gene Luen Yang absolutely killing.  He's amazing.
5. OWP Reading
I started writing after attending Miami University's Ohio Writing Project summer session back in 2002-ish.  So I was thrilled to get invited back in July to read to the latest crop of writers.  I had a great time, listened to great readers, and had this terrible picture taken of me.

Other items:
1.  So people are reading my book.
No, seriously, it's weird to say, and maybe obvious to you, but people are reading my book...and some of them are not related to me!  I get messages and notes from teachers and students (and others, too), and sometimes they send me great pictures like this one from my good friend and teacher (and great writer) Kimberly Gabriel.

2.  German bulls!
The German edition of DON'T GET CAUGHT came out in July, and it's been fun using Google Translate to read the reviews....or at least try to read.  Have you ever used Google Translate?  It's like reading after you've had a quart of Nyquil and have taken a hammer to the forehead.

3.  What's next?
The question I get most about DON'T GET CAUGHT is whether or not there will be a sequel.  The answer to that is easy--maybe.  Maybe there will be.  Honestly, Sourcebooks is waiting to see how sales are before committing.  How are sales, you ask?  My agent says they're going "nicely", which may be the bookselling equivalent of "he/she has a great personality", I don't know.  So instead of going full boar?/bore? on a sequel, I'm getting up every morning at 3:30 to work on my YA detective novel.  How's it going?  Nicely.  (Define that as you'd like.)

4.  Books by the Banks
I'll be appearing at Cincinnati's Books by the Banks on October 15th, doing a panel, and an author game of charades in the teen room.  It should be a great time.  Come see me!

That's it for now.

I don't know how to end this blog.

[Hangs up, awkwardly]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Conversation with Anna Breslaw, author of Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here

I've talked on here before about how there needs to be more humor-based YA, how while teen life does have its serious issues, it can also be fun and funny, and YA should better represent that.  That's probably why I enjoyed Anna Breslaw's SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE as much as I did.  It's a hilarious and much needed addition to the YA landscape, full of pop culture references and Scarlett's own twisted view of the world.  Below is an interview I did with Breslaw about her novel:

Me:  First off, a writer test--you have exactly 50 words to introduce yourself.  Go!

Breslaw: I’m Anna Breslaw. My middle name is Stacy, unfortunately. (Anna Stacy—why not just go for Anastasia, right? Only my parents have the answer to that.) I am 28 years old and live in Manhattan and write freelance for websites and magazines as an especially fun “day job.” Bam. Fifty!

Me:  Your author bio reads like a writer’s dream list--you’ve written for Cosmo, New York Magazine, Jezebel…how, if at all, did your approach to writing Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here differ from writing for those publications?

Breslaw:  When you have 800 to 1,000ish words max (which is often the standard with women’s magazines), you want the first draft you turn in to be as clear and polished as possible. With the book, I felt a lot more freedom to throw shit at the wall and have fun and let other people like my agent decide what stuck, although I definitely went back and cut/changed stuff myself beforehand.

Me:  SEHIH is a pop culture junkie’s paradise.  Did you have rules for what references you’d include?  Did you ever worry, “No kid born in the 2000’s would understand this reference”? 

Breslaw:  I should’ve thought about that more! Ha. Oh well. Buffy was my main touchstone for the fake show Scarlett loves, and judging by the treasure trove of Tumblr gifs, teens are pretty familiar with Buffy. I also know that there are tons of twentysomething-and-up folks who read YA, so I guess I just stuck with what I knew, mostly, and hoped most of the references would be understood. I picked my battles, also. Like there’s a Se7en joke in the book that was purely for my own gratification.

Me:  What really pleased me with your novel was just how funny it is.  I think a lot of YA takes itself very seriously, like all teens want to read is about heavy issues.  Scarlett is dealing with serious issues, yes, but it’s written in such a way that there’s a levity to how she sees the world and approaches her problems.  How did you approach writing about her life and problems with humor, while being respectful of those problems?

Breslaw:  I tended as a teenager to see things and/or deal with problems in a similar way to Scarlett, so that made it pretty easy. Oh! Kind of a related story: When I was in college I wrote a short story in creative writing class, and I was really intent on making it all ~*~* serious and heavy~*~*~ or whatever, and I didn’t intentionally make it funny at ALL. But when I got it back, the professor had written something like, “The humor makes it sting. A+” and I was like... oh, maybe that’s what I do. Obviously there is a place for super-dark-and-non-jokey YA novels, and I’m sometimes jealous of people who have the ability to write them, but I’m just not that kind of writer.

Me:   Where does your sense of humor come from?  Are there specific writers and comedians who influenced your humor?

Breslaw:  Everybody in my family is funny, my mom and dad and two little sisters—like, whip-smart New York Jewish funny—so it’s pretty clear to me that’s a big part.

And, yes, I’ve seen a ton of standup, and comedy in general, and that’s definitely influenced me in kind of a complicated way, in that it’s made me think a lot about the idea of “punching up” (jokes/material that targets powerful, evil, usually ruling majority forces of some kind) versus “punching down” (jokes/material about individuals you’re judging as “dumb,” “trashy,” “shallow” or whatever). There’s something incredibly Slytherin to me about picking on people who you consider low-brow or intellectually inferior because often it’s just a condescending way to be classist, racist, sexist... it’s lazy, I guess. 

Being funny is like having a power, and it’s up to you to decide how to use that power, and I definitely abused it when I was younger, kind of like Scarlett does. Her arc sort of echoes mine, in terms of how someone uses their talent/sense of humor or whatever. She goes from a punching-down funny girl—i.e. her target is “my slutty dumb mom” and “that slutty dumb popular girl”—and maturing into a punching-up funny girl—i.e. her target is pretentious white dudes who love Jonathan Franzen. 

Me:   Okay, I have to ask--Was Ruth, the pot smoking, grandmotherly friend of Scarlett’s based on Ruth Gordon of Harold and Maude fame?  Because man, that’s who I picture das I read the book!

Breslaw:  In my first draft, totally. But by the end, I was thinking of her more as a stern, no-bullshit Fran Lebowitz type, in menswear. That felt like more of a boss feminist role model to me.

Seriously, you need to see Harold and Maude
Me:  Now the obnoxious fan question--what’s next?

Breslaw:  I’m working on my second thing—another first-person YA book—which is darker than my debut in terms of subject matter, and definitely requires more research and thought, but hopefully it’ll be even funnier too, in a black-comedy way.  

Me:  Lightning round time!  I’ll give you five questions you don’t need to overthink or explain.  Think of this as a way for readers to get to know things about you they probably won’t glean (vocabulary word!) from other interviews.  And since your novel is filled with pop culture references, all questions will be centered on popular culture.  Here we go:

Breslaw:  Scarlett’s identity is tied to her fan fiction and the following she’s gained online. If you had a secret online identity writing fan fiction, what show, book, or movie’s characters would you love to write about?

I wrote fic in my youth: Harry Potter and Buffy, mostly. Lately, I’ve been binge-watching You’re The Worst, and writing fic for that show would be really fun. Lindsay (Kether Donahue) is my favorite character, so I’d probably write about her.

Me:  You’re in need of a good cry.  What movie or TV show scene gets the waterworks going every time?

Breslaw:  This is incredibly random, but you know that SNL digital short Sad Mouse, with Bruno Mars? The end gets me every time.

Me:  You’re in a bad mood and need to laugh right NOW.  What online clip makes you laugh every time?  (Bonus points for the link!)

Breslaw:  This. It's so dumb, but it kills me every time.

And this is not a video clip, but I laughed harder at this Mallory Ortberg piece than I have at anything lately.

Me:  You’re about to embark on some sort of adventure and need to feel inspired.  What movie, tv show, or book moment gives you goose bumps every time?

Breslaw:  Such a great question. The first thing that comes to mind is the “I Have A Message For Germany” scene from Inglorious Basterds.

Me:  Dinner party time!  Anyone you invite must attend.  What one rocker, one writer, one actor/actress, and one miscellaneous person are you forcing to show up?  (And yeah, they must be alive because dead people are buzz killers.)

Breslaw:  Carrie Brownstein, Carrie Brownstein and Carrie Brownstein.

A double threat: She can rock your face off or make your throat bleed from laughing.
Essential Breslaw Links:
Twitter: @annabreslaw

Buy Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here:
Barnes and Noble