Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Funny YA

Prepare yourself for a moment of snobbery from me.


It's not very often a book makes me laugh.

I mean, I find books funny, but an actual book that makes me laugh out loud (or LOL if you're hip),  doesn't happen often. Maybe it's that I've been reading the wrong books.  Or maybe, and this is what I think, it's that humor is hard to pull off on the page.  I mean, in a film or TV show you have the visual, and a comedian has their voice and stage presence at their disposal, but a novel is just black words on a white page.  You're weapons are limited, and so I'm always impressed when a novel has me laughing in a quiet room.  But before I go and break the golden rule of humor--never try to explain why something is funny--I'll skip to the important stuff.

By some wonderful gift from the universe, the last three YA novels I've read were extremely funny.  I've already talked about one of them, DENTON'S LITTLE DEATH DATE, a book you should buy right now for yourself.  (Or that upcoming high school graduate, because what are you going to do, buy them Oh, The Places You'll Go? like every other person out there?  Just stop it.  Buy them DLDD instead.  It's a great, chaotic, start of summer book.)

Then there's Josh Lieb's I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL AND I WANT TO BE YOUR CLASS PRESIDENT.  I read this entire book in the hospital waiting for my daughter to be born, and man, it just made me wish Josh Lieb lived next door to me.  Or in my basement.  One or the other.  But GENIUS is about Oliver, a 7th grade evil genius who...well hell, read the title again, it's as on the nose as you can get.  What's brilliant about this book is that Oliver pretends to be the dumbest kid in his class to mask his intelligence.  Think Ralph Wiggum if he was really a genius instead of a dope.

Here's Oliver early in the book:
"They say that men inherit their brains from their mothers.  This is false.  My mother is a shapeless, witless, mass of mousy hair, belly fat, and boobs.  Don't get me wrong, I am very fond of her.  (Do I love her?  Am I capable of love?  A question even I can't answer.)  She is very useful for making grilled-cheese sandwiches and tucking me into bed.  I like to make her smile, and I try to do that a lot.

Does that detract from my evil?  No.  Even Vlad the Impaler had a mother.  My fondness for 'Mom' (she likes to be called that) serves as a nice counterpoint* to the general rottenness of my character.

*Go look up "counterpoint" in the dictionary."

Excellent, right?  And even if you think that's not funny--which it is and if you disagree you suck--I promise you'll love this book.  A friend and current student (two people, not one) both agree, after I pushed it on them.

Oh, and a great cover, too!

Oliver says, "Read. Learn.  And keep your mouth shut.  I might let you shake my hand someday.  But I doubt it."
Then, oh man, by some sort of cosmic kismet, David Iserson's FIRECRACKER ended up on my classroom bookshelf.  Without cheating and looking at the back of the book or copy and pasting the Goodreads summary: Astrid Krieger is rich, privileged, better-than-you, and now that's she's been kicked out of her private school for cheating, breaking the law, causing chaos and panic, you name it, she has to attend public school for the first time in her life.  The voice in this novel is perfect.  Astrid is the girl you would never want to know in real life but damn it, you love her in this.  Here's a few of Astrid's observations:

"Things were about to change.  If nothing changed, I wouldn't be writing this down because this is a book about the time when everything changed.  And isn't that what every book is about?  No, seriously, isn't it?  I don't know.  I don't read books."

[After her boyfriend mentions an ex-girlfriend]:  'Her name was Julie and she was ugly.  He never said that, but it's how I pictured her.  I pictured her ugly with a messed-up hand."

"You could probably guess exactly what Lucy Redlich was like.  I think it's universal that the girl who is the principal's go-to for showing people around for no personal gain is rarely the sort who attracts other people.  Lucy was covered in freckles and ate her own hair.  She munched on that stuff like it was dinner.  It was disgusting.  I'm getting a little queasy just thinking about it right now."

And the cover for this one?  Great, too!

And before someone points out the obvious omission here, yes, I do read women YA writers, too.  In fact, I'm currently reading Libba Bray's BEAUTY QUEENS.  It's hilarious, but I'll wait to finish the novel to give you my complete thoughts.  Oh, while it's in my head, if you haven't read Allie Brosh's HYPERBOLE AND A HALF you're life isn't complete and we can no longer be friends.  Brosh's book isn't labeled YA, but I think every kid should read it, especially the sections on depression.  It's one of the most eye-opening pieces I've ever read.

So what laugh out loud YA novels have you read?  Add a comment.  (Please!  It's so lonely here!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Old Story, New Publication

I sold "Into the After" 5 years ago to R.J. Cavender's Horror Library, Volume 4.  It's always referred to as that "9/11 story you wrote", but the tragedy isn't necessarily important, it's the aftermath.  The story's about a kid who pays off a fraud psychic--a redundancy, IMO--to tell his father what happened to his wife so that the dad can start healing.  Things, of course, do not go as planned.  (I promise the story is better written than the last two sentences.)

I'm now happy to announce that the story is reprinted in The Best of Horror Library: Volumes 1-5.    I don't have access to the table of contents at the moment, but know the anthology contains great stories by some of my favorite horror/dark fiction writers like John Mantooth, Bentley Little, Cameron Pierce, Jeff Strand, Kim Despins, and Michael Cook.

Oh, and if you're interested, I found a excerpt of the story on this site.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Miscellaneous List: 8 Songs With Laughing, and 2 That Need It wow, it looks like I've been away awhile.  I have a good reason though.  No really, I do.  My wife had a baby.  Baby #4, actually.  And no, we don't call the baby Baby #4 like we're living in the worlds of Anthem or Logan's Run.  We named her Murphy, and she's awesome, but also sort of a time suck at the moment, which is okay because, like I said, she's awesome.  So for now, I'm not writing on a regular basis like I'd prefer.  Eventually things will settle down a bit and life will become more routine, but for now, I'm writing when I can, and when I can, the blog is secondary to my (sloooooow) work on the new novel.  Again, it's all okay and will work out.

So here's something I was thinking about the other night at 2 a.m. while trying to get Murphy back to sleep:  Songs with laughing in them.

My first thought was that no respectable song should have any form of laughing in them, as it comes across as completely phony.  Then, as I thought of more songs off the top of my head, I realized some songs have allowable laughter.  So here's my list of songs with laughter categorized by whether or not it's okay by me.  (Granted, these are the songs I could think of without Google's help.  I'm sure there are others, but they just weren't in my middle-of-the-night purview (vocabulary word!).

Disagree with me or add songs with laughs in the comments section below (with whether you okay it or not).

Songs With Acceptable Laughter:
1. "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne.  Legitimately maniacal laughter in a song is okay, and Ozzy sounds legitimately maniacal here.  A great song, too.  Laugh at 2 seconds in.  (Obviously before he became a reality TV joke.)

2. "Thriller" by Michael Jackson.
A cheat, probably, because it's Vincent Price and not Michael Jackson, but man it's great.  I wish I could pump this into my kids' rooms at night when they're supposed to be sleeping in order to frighten them back to bed.

3.  "Wipeout" by The Sufaris.
Again, a maniacal laugh to start a song, and a great one.  Again, the laugh is at 2 seconds in.  Coincidence?
(Fun fact, I just realized this band was spelled with a "u" and not an "a".  Seriously, I thought it was the Safaris.  This just makes the laugh even okay-er.)

4. "Gonna Buy Me a Dog" by The Monkees.
This is such a dopey, fun song it gets a pass.  They're laughing throughout, so just go listen here.

Songs with Unacceptable Laughter:
1. "Only Human" by Billy Joel.
I'm not going to be a bandwagon Billy Joel basher here.  I like Billy Joel.  Sue me.  But man, the fake laugh in this song, the one that happens after he accidentally stutters, is terrible.  Go watch the video though--laugh at 3:55--it's bonkers.

2. "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.
I'll admit it, this is a awesomely catchy little pop song.  Omit the stupid spoken word moment in here, and you might even have a pop classic.  But that little snide giggle after she sings, "I go on too many dates" is the very definition of forced.  We get the joke, Taylor--"Can I call you Taylor?  Or does the judge's restraining order preclude me from it?--you're poking fun at yourself, but your listeners aren't idiots.  Show, don't tell...or actually the opposite of that here.  Laugh at 19 seconds.

3. Ob La Di Ob La Da by The Beatles
Sorry, no.  And yes, I get it, I accepted a Monkees song and rejected a Beatles song.  This laugh sounds like a studio creation.  Nah.  They sort of laugh throughout the end.  

4. Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran
I'm not sure that what that noise is in the beginning of this song or even counts as a laugh, but it's unnecessary, and ruins one of the quintessential songs in my musical development.  It's a damn weird song, and when I was 12 and heard it for the first time most of the songs I knew were 70's rock standards.  I remember hearing this song for the first time, thinking, "Well, that's different", and also thinking, "But what is that dumb noise in the beginning?"  It's a giggle, right?  That makes it doubly annoying.  0 seconds in!

Songs That Would Be Better with a Maniacal Laugh:
1. The Christmas Shoes.
2. Candle in the Wind by Elton John. (Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana...either version.)