Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Young Adult or Middle-Grade? Who Cares? I Do!

I am peevish. I have a lot of peeves. If peeves were cats, my neighbors would be banging on my door to complain about the yowling and the smells.

Among the most vexing of my peeves is when the middle-grade novels Charlotte’s Web and A Wrinkle in Time appear on one of those “Greatest YA Novels of All Time” lists.
Great book, but not "Young Adult."

To put that in perspective, I also get upset when some writer confuses a shotgun with a rifle, or misattributes a quote, or uses the phrase “begs the question” incorrectly. Every writer’s error diminishes me, because I am a writer and I am involved in writerkind. (Sorry about that, Mr. Donne.)

I just read an article by Sarah Hannah Gómez about the middle-grade vs. YA thing. Nice article, Ms. Gómez! Now you got me all stirred up, because I’m having a MG vs. YA moment concerning my soon-to-be-published novel, Slider.

Is Slider YA or MG?

Easy answer: It is middle-grade, suitable for ages 10-up.

Real answer: Slider is upper-MG. It is lower-YA. It is both, and it is neither. The prose is accessible to most nine-year-olds, and a smaller number of eight-year-olds. The story, the issues, and the humor are geared to ten- to twelve-year-olds. My protagonist is fourteen, an age of particular interest to fourteen-year olds. And I hope my even older readers will find it to be a fun, easy read that will not insult their burgeoning intelligence and sophistication.

You may be saying, Middle-grade, YA, tomAYto, tomAHto…what’s your damage, man?

Well, it’s about making the book available to readers who will enjoy it most. Most of my work has been for “young adults”—that is, ages 12-16. I want this book to be read by a younger audience, one that my YA books do not reach. So it matters where it is shelved in bookstores and libraries.
The transition from MG to YA is not seamless. Between the two lies a gulf, both literal and figurative. 

In most libraries and bookstores, middle-grade is shelved in the children’s section along with Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon. YA books are given their own space, often at the far end of the library or bookstore. There is relatively little traffic between the two spaces.

Such Balkanization is a recent development, and it is by design. Around the age of twelve, kids start resenting having to eat at the kids’ table with the five and eight year olds. They want to be acknowledged as teens, aka “young adults.” They want their own table or, failing that, they want to sit with the grownups.

This presents a dilemma for precocious ten-year-olds who are intrigued by more complex, forward-looking books, and for teens who might prefer to read the easier, less angst-ridden books found in the children’s section. It is also an unsolved marketing problem for publishers.

A middle-grade novel.
The cover of Slider says that the book is suitable for ages 10-up, what you might call “upper middle-grade.” It will be shelved with the children’s chapter books, as are my previous two MG novels, The Flinkwater Factor and The Forgetting Machine. That is good; it’s where it belongs.

Up next: Should "middle-grade" be hyphenated? Experts weigh in.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Profiles in Gurgitation: Part Four

Over the next few months, while waiting for Slider to be published, I’ll be profiling heroes of the sport, both IRL and fictional. Today I present a tribute to a character from the book.

Although in this case, “tribute” might not be the right word.

Virgil “El Gurgitator” Schutlebecker
Weight: 247 lbs
Height: 5’11”
Age: 36
Virgil “El Gurgitator” Schutlebecker, better known as simply “The Gurge,” is more antihero than hero. As Jooky Garafalo once said, “Virgil looks like the love-child of Gary Busey’s and Nick Nolte’s mugshots, and he has a personality to match.

In fact, the Gurge is arguably the most despised competitive eater on the planet. Known for his capacious appetite, dirty tricks, and unrelenting trash talk, the Gurge has been disqualified from more contests than he has won.

Nevertheless, he is a true talent, the holder of several records (some disputed), and a force to be reckoned with.

“If the Gurge didn’t cheat, he’d rule this sport,” says top competitor Jooky Garafalo. “But he just can’t help himself. Dude was born a jerk.”

For example, the Gurge won a chicken wing event in Pennsylvania—six pounds of wings in ten minutes. The results were disputed. The second place finisher claimed that the Gurge had stuffed several wings down his shirt. Still, the Gurge won by more than two pounds—no matter how many wings he rat-holed, he had his opponents so dominated he would have won anyway. Maybe it’s like Jooky says—he just can’t help himself.

There’s even a word for getting beaten—fairly or unfairly—by El Gurgitator. They say, “You’ve been Gurged.”

 Next up: Jooky Garafalo

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Profiles in Gurgitation: Part Three

Over the next few months, while waiting for Slider to be published, I’ll be paying tribute to the heroes of the sport.

Takeru Kobayashi 
Weight: 131 lbs 
(at first Nathan’s appearance)
Height: 5’7”
Age: 39
Without Takeru Kobayashi, you would probably never have heard of Competitive Eating as a sport.

Sure, the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest has been going on since 1916, when an Irish immigrant named Jim Mullen devoured thirteen hot dogs in twelve minutes.* Since then, the contest has been held on the Fourth of July at the Nathan’s Famous stand on Coney Island.** Mullen’s record was broken, then broken again and again, but the nascent sport was little noticed outside Coney Island and environs until Takeru Kobayashi appeared on the scene.

In 2000, the record was held by Kazutoya Arai, a 100-pound Japanese mattress salesman, at 25½ dogs in 12 minutes. (Note that it took eight-four years for Mullen’s record to be not-quite-doubled.)

But in 2001, Takeru Kobayashi demolished Arai’s record by inhaling an astonishing 50 hotdogs. Second place that year went to Eric "Badlands" Booker, who managed “only” 26.
At the time, Kobayashi weighed in at 131 pounds. He spoke virtually no English, but his speed, capacity, and unusual technique communicated volumes. Kobayashi’s breakthrough technique was to separate the hot dogs from the buns, dip the buns in water while shoving two naked dogs at a time into his mouth, then follow them with the sodden buns.

Kobayashi easily won the Nathan’s contest for the next five years. In 2007 he set a personal record of 63 hotdogs, but was defeated by the much larger and equally talented Joey Chestnut, who ate 66.

Kobayashi's reign at Nathan’s ended shortly after when a contract dispute with Major League Eating (MLE)—the organization that sanctions the Nathan’s contest and most other eating events in the United States—banned him from MLE sanctioned contests.

Nevertheless, Kobayashi persisted. He performs internationally, and is credited with eight Guinness eating records. 

Takeru Kobayashi singlehandedly changed competitive eating from publicity event to a bona fide big league sport.

* Mullen's feat may well be apocryphal.
** There are several gaps in the record up until 1978.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Profiles in Gurgitation: Part Two

Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas
Weight: 105 lbs
Height: 5’0”
Age: 48
Over the next few months, while waiting for Slider to be published, I’ll be paying tribute to the heroes of the sport.

There are three basic requirements for success in the challenging sport of Competitive Eating: Technique, Dexterity, Speed, and Capacity. You might think that Sonya Thomas, at 105 pounds and 5’0” tall, would not be competitive at a professional level. You would be wrong.

Sonya Thomas, who hails from Alexandria, Virginia, has been a top competitor for going on fifteen years. She's not nearly as big as Joey Chestnut or Matt Stonie, but she makes up for that with her speed, dexterity, and sheer heart. Her talents were highlighted by her 2012 performance at the Acme Oyster House Contest, which she won by eating 47 dozen raw oysters in 8 minutes.

Forty-seven dozen oysters amounts to less than two pounds net weight—well within the capacity of most oyster lovers. But just try to slurp down 564 of them in 8 minutes. That takes some fast hands!

Thomas may lack the sheer capacity of Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest champion Joey Chestnut, but she did capture the record in the women’s division by eating 40 hotdogs in 10 minutes back in 2011. Her capacity is, relatively speaking, prodigious. Eleven pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes? Pound for pound, that would be like Joey Chestnut eating 24 pounds!

Sonya Thomas is currently ranked the #7 competitive eater in the world. 

Next up: Takeru Kobayashi