Monday, November 29, 2010

Suddenly, December

Yet another commercial message from our sponsor, the publishing entity known near and narrow as “Pete Hautman.”  Pete wants you to know that Saturday will be your last opportunity to acquire a personalized copy of Blank Confession before the solstice. 

Second Story Reading Series
When: Saturday, December 4, 2:00 p.m.
Who: Pete Hautman and Steve Brezenoff

Pete will read short sections from BOTH of his “BC” books: Blank Confession and his January, 2011 novel, The Big Crunch.  

Steve will be reading from The Absolute Value of -1, and maybe something from his next book, too.  

There will be snacks.  It will be fun.  Please come - you will be glad you are there and not at the Mall of America.

The Second Story Reading Series is curated by Swati Avasthi and Heather (H.M.) Bouwman, two talented YA/MG authors who recently published their own excellent first novels.  Check ‘em out here and here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Was that a dodo?" he said flightlessly!

Once a year, on Thanksgiving, I revisit the Turkey City Lexicon.

Never heard of the Turkey City Lexicon?  Then you are probably not an SFF (sci-fi/fantasy) writer.  The TCL was collected and published by the Turkey City Workshop, a sci-fi writers' workshop out of Austin, Texas.  It's a collection of terms describing Things That SF Writers Do that, probably, they shouldn't.  I'm not talking about drinking and driving and eating too much (like many SF writers may have done yesterday), but about writerly things like overusing adverbs and revisiting tired plot devices.  You can find it here on the SFWA website.

A couple of my favorite items include:
Fuzz  An element of motivation the author was too lazy to supply. The word “somehow” is a useful tip-off to fuzzy areas of a story. “Somehow she had forgotten to bring her gun.
You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit  An attempt to defuse the reader’s incredulity with a pre-emptive strike — as if by anticipating the reader’s objections, the author had somehow answered them. “I would never have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it myself!” “It was one of those amazing coincidences that can only take place in real life!” “It’s a one-in-a-million chance, but it’s so crazy it just might work!” Surprisingly common, especially in SF. (Attr. John Kessel)
As you can see, these errors are not exclusive to SFF writing.  

Recently I have been watching the first season of "24" on Netflix, which provides many examples of this little TCL gem:
Idiot Plot  A plot which functions only because all the characters involved are idiots. They behave in a way that suits the author’s convenience, rather than through any rational motivation of their own. (Attr. James Blish)
Because I've seen so many TCL items represented in crime fiction, I've decided to add a few of my own crime-fiction-related items to the Lexicon.  Although I've never been to Austin and I don't know any of the TCL creators, I call my addendum "Turkey City Noir."
Ross Thomas  A character who drinks enough to put an elephant under the table twice over—but remains competent and functional.
Mike Shayne  Any character who get knocked unconscious three or more times in one book, and who suffers no ill effects that cannot be treated with a stiff drink.
Kinsey Milhone  Any female sleuth who drives a cute car.
Perry Mason  A mystery in which the killer can reliably be guessed by simply choosing the most unlikely suspect.
Burkism  Ending a chapter or scene with a bizarre metaphor or image, as, “…my knuckles were round and white as quarters on the steering wheel.”  Or “…her calves clicking with light in the bright air.”  (examples from Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke)
Bottoms Up  A book that opens from the point of view of a dying person.
Jesus Plot  A character presumed to be dead near the beginning of a book turns up alive.
Thin Man  A character who does not exist.
Hailey Mary  A book with six or more viewpoint characters, all of whom are rushing headlong toward the same disaster. (after Arthur Hailey, author of Hotel and Airport.
Effing Cozy  A cozy that contains the F word.
One Bad Thing After Another  A novel in which each chapter brings a new personal disaster (loss of child, loss of limb, loss of husband, public humiliation, sudden weight gain, loss of job, etc.) until, at the end, one good thing happens that makes it possible for the protagonist to go on with his or her miserable life.
DoG PileD  A mystery in which the protagonist represents a small minority, every member of which will buy the book.  (from Disabled Gay Portuguese Detective.)
Slippery Witness  A plot that hinges on the detective putting off, for various and trivial reasons, interviewing the one witness who holds the key to the mystery.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Thanksgiving Post

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Most of us will be having dinner with family and/or friends.  I hope you are looking forward to it.  I am.

Everybody’s Thanksgiving expectations and experiences are different—yet the same.  I was looking at this Norman Rockwell painting and wondering how many of us have ever had such a Thanksgiving.  Thinking about how odd it was that even though that painting does not resemble any of my Thanksgivings, it still produced a twinge of nostalgia in me. 

At the same time, it made me feel like a voyeur peering in at some vaguely alien scene: Who are these people?  What are they thinking?  Is that really a turkey, or the last dodo?

It got me to wondering what other people’s Thanksgivings are like, which made me think that you might be wondering the same thing.  If so, here’s a preview of what my tomorrow will look like. 

(Warning:  This might be one of my most boring posts ever!)

Mary and I will be driving through a (probable) snowstorm to my cousin Bill’s house.  He and his wife, Sherrie, have volunteered to host the Hautman Thanksgiving celebration this year.  There will be about forty of us—three or four survivors from the eldest generation, maybe two dozen of us baby boomers, a few younger adults, a few teens.  No babies or toddlers this year—my parents' generation was notoriously fecund, we baby boomers have been more circumspect, and the young ones have yet to breed.

There will be nearly as many dishes as there are people.  Our Thanksgiving is a loosely organized potluck.  There will be turkey, of course.  Possibly two.  There will be venison and ham and maybe a few ducks (we have several hunters in the family).  There will be sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and “dressing.”  There will be cranberry something, assorted salads (including Charlie's broccoli salad), appetizers, at least one green bean dish, a mystery dish (Put some on your plate, taste it, turn to the person next to you and ask, “What am I eating?”), and plenty of beverages—cousin Tom will bring his award-winning home-vinted apple wine, and there will be a dozen or more assorted bottles of commercial wines—everything from proseco to reisling to pinot to cabernet—some plonky, some divine, depending on who brought it.  There will be beer and soft drinks.  There will be coffee.

The food will be excellent.  Some dishes will be fantastic.  There are several talented, adventuresome cooks in the family, and the quality of the viands improves every year.  But our Thanksgiving is not really about the food. 

It’s not about saying thank you, either.  There will be no invocations, no toasts, no prayers.  That practice disappeared when my generation reached adulthood back in the 1970s, and my parents and aunts and uncles realized that ninety percent of their offspring had no interest whatsoever in organized religion.  It might be more like ninety-five percent—I’m not sure.

With so many people involved, there is no way this can be a “traditional” sit-down dinner—no carefully planned courses, no wine pairings, and no beautiful table setting.  It will be a scattered and disorganized buffet, with people sitting wherever they can find a space—a card table, the sofa, the floor.

Although the food will be good, most of it will hardly be tasted, because everybody will be talking between (and during) mouthfuls.  Our Thanksgiving is about seeing each other, catching up, making contact.  I will see relatives I haven’t seen since last Thanksgiving, and I might meet an "orphan" or two—cousins' friends who happen to be in town.

What do we talk about?  It would be easier to say what we don’t talk about.  We don’t talk about politics much.  Or religion.  Not because we actively avoid those topics, but because most of us simply aren't that interested.  In all the Hautman Thanksgivings I’ve been to, I don’t recall any serious arguments.  No shouting, no fistfights, no shocking revelations.  When I hear stories about other peoples' pyrotechnic Thanksgiving dinners I feel somewhat drama-deprived.  Perhaps we have a dark, seething, river of decay running just beneath the surface, and our apparent civility is a desperate form of denial.  There are indications of such pestilence, certainly—we have our share of family secrets, feuds, and embarrassments—but for some reason these things do not, thankfully, come up at Thanksgiving.

There will be a few serious conversations fitted between the jokes and laughter, but most interactions will be brief and superficial.  That’s a good thing.  I have just as many flat-out irritating relatives as anybody else.  I may be one of the more irritating ones.  Still I enjoy seeing them all.

Do I love Thanksgiving?  As much as I look forward to it, I’m always relieved when it’s over.  We’ll get there mid-afternoon, talk and drink a bit, start eating around five, and by six I’ll have talked to everybody for a moment or two, at least, and I’ll be working on my exit plan.

That’s it.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blank Confession: In Stores This Week

On Saturday, November 20, at 1:00 p.m. I'll be signing books at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis. If you can't make it, give them a call (612-870-3785) and have them set aside a signed and personalized copy for you. Once Upon a Crime is one of the Midwest's premier booksellers - they'll be here long after the last B&N has closed its doors.  Especially if you give them your business.

Saturday, December 4th, at 2:00 p.m. I will be at The Loft Literary Center for a reading from the new book.  It's free, and there will be snacks.  This is part of the fabulous Second Story Reading Series curated by Swati Avasthi and Heather Bouwman.  Each reading features two readers, one "established" YA or MG author (that would be me), and one "rising star."  In this case, the rising star is Steve Brezenoff, who has written a YA novel with the excellent title The Absolute Value of -1. Last chance to get signed copies for the holidays!

One more thing - on Saturday, January 22, at 2:00 p.m., I'll be at The Red Balloon in St. Paul to talk and sign copies of both Blank Confession and The Big Crunch.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

CRUNCH VIDEO - the Redactor's Cut

Okay, so I made a book trailer for THE BIG CRUNCH and posted it on YouTube, and put it here on my blog and on Facebook. And I spammed everybody in my address book, and a whole bunch of you watched the video. Thank you!

But then I got a kind note from a middle school teacher (my BFF Dana), who said nice things about the video, but said that she would not be able to share the trailer with her students because it contained the acronym "WTF."

I was embarrassed, to say the least. In an effort to blame my own lack of judgment on Mary Logue, I said, “How come when I showed you the video you didn’t tell me to take out the WTF?” 

She replied, completely serious, “What does WTF mean?”


Anyway, I guess I'd been thinking that “WTF” fell into the same category as “LMAO,” or “Jeez." I was wrong, and should have known.  The last thing I want is to make a video that teachers are not comfortable sharing with teens. So what to do?


That’s right. Here it is, the “Middle School Approved” version of the THE BIG CRUNCH book trailer. I think it’s actually a little better.

(Some of you might be wondering if this is a "censorship issue."  It is not.  It's about creating an invitation - an advertisement, really - that works.  My use of the WTF acronym had nothing to do with the book.  It was just me trying to be amusing.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hey! I Made Another Video!

This one is to promote THE BIG CRUNCH.  I promise, this time there will be no singing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

YARN Interview

The Young Adult Review Network (YARN) recently posted an interview with me. They had some good questions. You can read it here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boys and Girls

In a recent interview I was asked how I am able to write in the voice of a teenage girl, as I did in How to Steal a Car, Sweetblood, and my soon-to-be-released love story (from both the boy's and the girl's perspective), The Big Crunch I said something like this:  "I start with the assumption that boys and girls have almost everything in common.  Boys and girls are not really that different from each other."

To expand on that thought, consider this: An alien life form arrives on Earth.  This alien is a silicon-based crystalline intelligence about the size of a mustard seed.  It derives energy from magnetic fields and communicates by means of UHF waves. 

The alien observes both a mouse and a stalk of corn, and determines that the two creatures are identical:  Both are enormous, grotesque, carbon-based entities that feed upon each other.  The differences between the two—one is motile, the other is not, one contains a higher level of silicon, one squeaks while the other rustles, etcetera—are of no importance to the alien, who leaves the planet believing that Earth offers only a single life form of little or no interest.

The DNA of chimpanzees and humans is 96% identical.  The fact that we regard chimps as being vastly different from ourselves has to do with the relative importance we place on a few minor variations having to do with body shape, hairiness, climbing ability, and so forth.

So it is with boys and girls.  We all eat, sleep, love, cover ourselves with fabrics, feel pleasure and pain…the list of similarities is nearly endless.  Those differences upon which we place so much importance—slight variations in communication techniques, body shape, reproductive equipment, and taste in movies—are relatively minor.  But those minor differences are, subjectively, major.

When writing from the point-of-view of a female character I rely upon a lifetime of close observation, in-depth studies of scholarly texts and laboratory experiments, reading chicklit, and extensive interviews with a variety of female simians.  Then I show my work to Mary Logue and she tells me where I went wrong.