Friday, December 13, 2013

We'll need lots of tissues to clean up all those exploded heads

Yesterday I spent a few minutes on Minnesota Public Radio with Kerri Miller and Stephanie Curtis in an attempt to convince them (and their listeners) that Young Adult (YA) novels are not the same thing as Middle-Grade (MG) novels, and that calling A Wrinkle in Time the “best YA novel of all time”* is, well, sort of missing the point of what YA is.

I failed. It seems that Minnesota Public Radio, following the example of Entertainment Weekly,** wants to use the YA label to cover a much wider range of literature than it was ever intended to encompass. All those persnickety librarians, teachers, authors, and publishers who think there is a meaningful difference are simply behind the times, clinging to their outmoded and arcane vernacular. In this brave new world, any novel written for, or about, or read by children can be fairly slapped with the YA label. As Stephanie Curtis so helpfully pointed out, arguing about the difference between YA and MG is like talking about Puffs being different from Kleenex. It’s so much easier to just call them all Kleenex.
Sigh. Hand me a tissue. I mean, a Kleenex.

*If you click on the link, be sure to scroll down and read the comments, where several YA and MG authors weigh in on the issue.

**MPR, EW, what’s the difference? Don’t get technical on me, it’s all Popular Media.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cranial Detonation

Heads are exploding here in District 14 (Minneapolis/St. Paul and environs) over Minnesota Public Radio’s attempt to name the “Best YA Novel of All Time.”


There went another one.

The problem, as most kidlit folks see it, is that despite having all the information available to them, the good folks at MPR failed to educate their voting public as to what is or is not a Young Adult novel. Their list of ten nominees contains only four (or maybe five) books that fit the industry definition of “YA novel.”


Aww, Steve Brezenoff, was that you? Rest in peace, my friend.

Before my own head goes kerblooey, I’d like to weigh in on this issue. Generally, YA novels are books about teens putting on adult shoes for the first time. In other words, coming-of-age stories. In its broadest sense, this would include books like Hatchet, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or A Wrinkle in Time—all of which appear on the MPR list. But wait! Young Adult novels are also defined by their audience, and at this point in the history of Naming Things, that audience is mostly kids in grades 7-10. (A lot of older teens—high school juniors and seniors— read YA too, but most of them have moved on to “old adult” literature.)

The three books named above are written for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and are what we book people call “middle-grade” novels. 


Sorry, Andrew Karre, I’m making this sound simpler than it is. Some editors and authors argue that to be considered YA, and novel must be about the adolescent experience. I don’t know that I would go that far. I can’t think of a book I would call YA that is not about the adolescent experience, but I can think of several books about the adolescent experience that I would not call YA. Stephen King’s Carrie, for example, or Gone With The Wind, or Great Expectations. (I could argue the other side of that, but I’m not gonna do it today.)

Anyway, in an apparent effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience, MPR chose to embrace the broadest definition of YA, and include middle-grade books. I was disappointed (though not surprised), but mostly I was glad they made the effort to deal with YA/MG novels as serious literature. I give them an A for effort, and a B- for execution.

As for the list of nominees—setting aside whether or not the books are “YA”—I think it’s a pretty good reflection of MPR audience tastes, with the exception of the John Green novel, which came out less than a year ago. Don’t get me wrong—Green is a remarkable writer, and The Fault in Our Stars is a fine book, and it will be read and loved for many years to come, but the reason it’s on this best-of-all-time list can be summed up in one word: Nerdfighters.


Not sure who that was. Maybe Kelly Barnhill.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pre-Thanksgiving Post, 2013

This year, for the first time, Mary and I are having our extended family to our home for Thanksgiving. We are expecting thirty. This is far more than will comfortably fit into our three-bedroom rambler, but Thanksgiving is not about being comfortable. It is about being grateful for having enough food and enough loved ones to become uncomfortably full and close.
My homemade pancetta

We’ve lost some folks over the past few years, but on the whole our family has been lucky. Charlie tried to kill himself last summer by falling off a horse. He’s a mite gimpy now, but mostly okay. Otherwise, this year has been relatively benign for the Hautman/Logue clans, with no unanticipated passings, no broken unions, no new terminal conditions, no homes lost to natural disasters. For all that, we are thankful.

I’m the turkey guy this year. Gigantic birds frighten me, so I’ll be cooking two “small” turkeys (the inverse of “jumbo” shrimp) and making a half gallon of gravy. Also, a hen-of-the-woods-and-pancetta stuffing/dressing. Mary is doing pumpkin pies and wild rice. My brothers are bringing elk and a smoked goose. Vegetables, appetizers, wine, and chairs are coming from all directions. We will have four tables set up with a motley collection of mismatched crockery, glasses, flatware, and bourgeois wildlife-themed paper napkins.

It’ll be a little crazy and a lot of fun. I hope the same for all of you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

This Book Will Save Your Life

I woke up this morning with the Pointer Sisters in my head. Now, I like the Pointer Sisters, to a point, but it’s been about four straight hours of “I’m So Excited” looping through my brain, and I am becoming weary of it.

I do not know why the Pointer Worm invaded my virtual ear. I woke up, and it was there, broadcasting tinnily, sounding remarkably like a monaural nine transistor pocket radio circa 1963. Why this song? Why now? Had I heard the song recently? Not to the best of my recollection. Had I encountered the words “I’m so excited” in some other context? I don’t think so. Was I excited? Am I excited?

Well, yes, I am excited, but not in a frenetic hot-to-trot Pointer Sisters sort of way. I have never been that excited. My excitement is more of the slow burn, rising tide, tight-chested variety. It is the familiar sort of excitement that comes with the approaching publication of a new book.*

Because every new book I write is the book that will save me.

It’s a writer thing that writers don’t often talk about, not even to each other. You see, we are all drowning, and that is the reason we keep writing, because every new book is the book that will float us above and away from (choose three) irrelevance, mediocrity, madness, obscurity, obloquy, ourselves.

And so, I blame the Pointer Sisters earworm on the fact that I have a new book coming out in a few months.

Several years ago I read a novel called This Book Will Save Your Life, by A.M. Homes. I picked it up in part because I’d recently heard an interview with Homes, and I liked what she said. Mostly, though, I was attracted by the title. I enjoyed the book—it’s a funny, smart, magical-realistic tale about a lonely, dissociated man who discovers that he is not alone. I would recommend it to some people. But—and this is not a bad thing—the title is the best part.

Why do I write? Why write when there are so many other things I could be doing with my one and only life? Why not become a savior, a saint, a martyr? Why not make a ton of money and surround myself with luxury? Why not raise a litter of children and propagate my DNA? Why not watch TV and drink beer all day? Why not stop breathing and maybe find out that I’m wrong about what happens next?

I write because the next book is always the book that will save my life. The book that will make sense of all that I have experienced. It is a rocket, a flare, a smoke signal, a howl. “Howl” is another great book title. “Call me Ishmael” is a great first line. “Only connect” is a great epigraph.

As I was writing this, my “I’m So Excited” earworm morphed into “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” by Daft Punk. Still the tinny 1960s era transistor radio playing through a single earphone. Same difference, I say.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fan Mail

I have written three fan letters in my life. One to Stan Lee, back in 1965. One to Octavia Butler shortly before her untimely death in 2006. And one to Elmore Leonard a few years earlier.

My favorite Elmore Leonard novel
Elmore Leonard died this morning, at age eighty-seven. I did not know him as a person, but as a writer he had a pretty good run. He was still writing until two weeks ago, when he suffered a stroke. He was an artist who kept getting better at his craft well into his sixties, and maintained that high level of quality until the end.

Back in the mid 1980s, when I was first getting serious about writing novels, I picked up a copy of Leonard’s LaBrava (1983) on the recommendation of Jeff Hatfield, then the manager of Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore. I immediately went on to read every other book Leonard had written. I learned more about writing from those books than I had from any other single author. A few years later, I wrote a series of comic crime novels. If you read the first three—Drawing Dead, Short Money, and The Mortal Nuts—you will see Elmore Leonard’s influence on nearly every page, just as you can see George V. Higgins’ influence in Leonard’s early crime novels, and James M. Cain’s fingers all over Higgins’ early work, and so on back to Sophocles.

My later work displays less of Leonard’s DNA, but it’s still there, tweaking the dialog, shoring up the characters, fine-tuning the timing, making me better. Every day I am aware of him. He was one of the great ones, and for me he was the right writer discovered at the right time, and I will be forever grateful for his example.

Elmore Leonard answered my fan letter. I still have his reply, a short handwritten note, classy and gracious. I must find it now, and reread it. Excuse me.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nom Nom

Hundreds of thousands of science fiction stories and novels have been published over the past century, so it is inevitable that a few of them would have gotten a few things right about the future. Still, it's a fun game to play, and today's entry is The Space Merchants, by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, published in 1952, the year I was born. The Space Merchants is set in the not-too-distant future, in New York, in a world where corporations run the government and advertising has saturated the collective consciousness. Some of it holds up, and some of it doesn't, but what made me think of it today is this article from the BBC.

In the novel, the vat-grown protein is an enormous chicken breast called Chicken Little, from which slabs are carved to supply protein for a vastly overpopulated city. The product grown by researchers at Maastricht University is cow-based. Maybe the research was funded by McDonald's and not KFC.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

First Pass Pages

It’s been a dog eat everything week here at the Hautman-Logue-Gaston residence, and not a lot of work getting done. Mostly we have trying to convince the puppy to chew on things we want chewed, and to perform his evacuations outside. 
But I did finish reviewing the first pass pages of The Klaatu Terminus and making about a hundred small corrections.
“Pass pages” are the stage just after copyediting, when the copyedits have been incorporated into the manuscript, and the work is set in the font and layout that will appear in the final book. They look like this:
This page has one correction, of a typical pass page typo.
When I first went through the publishing process I was amazed by how many rounds of edits, corrections, and proofs are necessary to produce a professionally published novel. The first edition will probably have been combed through by no fewer than six readers, multiple times. And still, there will be mistakes. There are always mistakes. The first edition of my novel Rash, for example, contained a spelling error in the first sentence.
First pass pages are a critical stage for the author, because usually this is the last time he or she will have any significant input into the content of a book before it goes out for review. After that, the book will go through one (or two, or three) more sets of pass pages, and then into ARCs, or “Advance Reviewer Copies.” These are the bound, paperback copies that will go out to Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and other industry publications for pre-publication reviews.
ARCs often contain errors that will be corrected in the actual book, but it is fervently hoped that such errors will be minor, because the pre-pub reviewers will be judging the book on the basis of the ARC.

Anyway, I am glad to be done with these first pass pages, and I’ll be taking them to the post office this afternoon. I think. It always feels a bit like stepping out of an airplane and hoping the parachute opens. Maybe I’ll give the manuscript another read-through. I’m sure I missed some stuff.                         

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gaston has Arrived

Gaston, four months old and weighing in at four pounds one ounce, arrived yesterday. He eats, he poops, he squeaks, he licks, and he is very fuzzy. So far, that is all we know for sure.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


CONvergence is an annual convention for fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy in all media, held each July at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington, MN. It is insane, and you should go. You can register at the door. The costumes alone are worth the price.

Last year I went to CONvergence just to gawk and talk. I had enough fun to return this year in a more formal capacity. I'll be doing a reading, two panels, and a book signing. Here's my schedule:

Friday July 5, 2013 11:00am - 12:00pm
Pete Hautman reads from his time-travel novel The Cydonian Pyramid, Book 2 of The Klaatu Diskos.* Panelists: Pete Hautman
Friday July 5, 2013 11:00am - 12:00pm

*In fact, I will be reading from my NEW novel, The Flinkwater Chronicles. Or maybe I'll read a bit from both.

Saturday July 6, 2013 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Panel: Beyond SF 101
There's a lot of advice out there for the beginning writer, this panel is for those of you who have moved beyond that point. Panelists: John Klima, Michael Merriam, Monica Valentinelli, Scott Lynch, Pete Hautman

Saturday July 6, 2013 7:00pm - 8:00pm
Signing: Pete Hautman/Rob Callahan
Pete Hautman and Rob Callahan will be available to sign his work. Panelists: Rob Callahan, Pete Hautman

Sunday July 7, 2013 12:30pm - 1:30pm
Panel: Atheist Authors
How do authors' personal views influence their works? How does the atheist author approach writing the fantastic? Panelists: Melinda Snodgrass, Rob Callahan, Kelly McCullough, Aimee Kuzenski, Pete Hautman

I hope to see some of you there—especially at the reading!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Commercial Announcement

Drawing Dead, my first published novel, is now available on Kindle for a mere $2.99. I don't know how long this deal will remain in place—I'm guessing for a few more days. That is all.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Apocrypha," not "Apocalypta!"

Last winter I spent about two months emailing back and forth with librarian and author Joel Shoemaker. Joel is an exceptionally entertaining guy to correspond with, and since the main topic of our emails was my books, I was doubly fascinated. Joel had undertaken the task of reading all of my YA novels, several of my adult works, and a book that featured my three wildlife artist brothers. That's a lot of books!

Our extensive interview, in the end, totaled nearly 15,000 words. Joel managed to cut it back by ninety percent, and the result is now appearing in the June issue of VOYA, a leading library journal dedicated to the promotion of young adult literature and reading.

You can access the article here. The interview begins on page 14.

The article's subtitle, BTW, is one of Joel's little jokes—he noticed in The Cydonian Pyramid I make reference to the "Apocalypta of Adrian the Sinner." The word I had intended to type was "apocrypha." Author fail. Copyeditor fail. It happens. We will fix it in the paperback edition.