Greetings, I’m Lewis Buzbee, guest-blogger for the day.
Guest blogger: Lewis Buzbee.
It’s true, I’ve hi-jacked James Preller’s blog to bring you a very cool conversation with Mr. Preller (he makes me call him that) about his newest book, Before You Go (Macmillan, July 2012), which is his first Young Adult novel. I’ve taken control here because Mr. Preller is a very generous writer who frequently trumpets and supports the work of his fellow writers, and I figure it was time to hear from him. James has interviewed me twice, and our conversations have been so enjoyable, so thoughtful, I wanted to turn the tables, see what he had to say.
Before You Go, I must tell you, is a deliciously good book, whether you call it YA or not. It centers on a tough summer in the life of Jude, who has to face all of the toughest questions — what is love, what is death, what comes next? It’s everything a novel should be; it’s funny, moving, troubling, smart, and illuminating. Forget the labels, it’s a beautiful novel, and you should read it.
James, you’ve written picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels; Before You Go is your first Young Adult novel. Why now?
Before You Go was the most logical step in a haphazard career path. You could argue that writing older and longer has been a gradual process for me, roughly parallel to the growth of my own children (Maggie, 11, Gavin, 12, Nick, 19). But you asked, “Why now?” and frankly I don’t have an easy answer for that. Except: opportunity. I’m lucky to have an editor, Liz Szabla, who doesn’t look to put me in a box or turn me into a brand. She supports my randomness.
How was writing Young Adult different?
I felt that writing for young adults came closest to my natural voice. I loved going back to my 16-year-old self, tapping into that rich and vigorous vein. So many ideas and feelings and memories bubbled forth. First love, big emotions, friendships, wild times, painful times, all of it. Location became central to this story, and I set it in my hometown, including real places I’d been. That trip out to the Amityville Horror House, for example, that’s something many of us Long Island kids did in our boredom, in our driving-around-looking-for-something-to-do lives. I am instantly transported back into that car with my high school friends, Kevin, Eric, Billy, and Jim –- a bunch of guys, a little lost, trying to figure out Saturday night.
In this age of desperate self-promotion, of tweets and status updates and high-cost book trailers, of authors being told, over and over again, about the importance of having a web presence, and — God help me, I’ve heard this — “the value of leveraging the media for maximum impact” — I am comforted by this quote, from one of the masters.
“Writers will be judged by what they write.” — Raymond Carver.
Taken from a terrific interview from the Paris Review, conducted by my most respected pal, Lewis Buzbee, with Mona Simpson.
The Haunting of Charles Dickens is the first of my books to carry illustrations, and it’s a thrill to see an illustrator, here the fabulously talented Greg Ruth, giving graphic form to scenes and characters I’d only seen in my head. I’ve often found it disappointing that illustrations disappear from books as the readers of those books get older. Why must non-kids’ books be so bland? Especially in an era when graphic novels have become so popular. Wouldn’t it be great to have this added dimension in every novel?
Of course, it’s only fitting that Feiwel and Friends has chosen to decorate this book. Nearly all of Charles Dickens’s novels were illustrated, both when they appeared in serial form and in their first editions. Today, many of those illustrations are often reprinted in contemporary editions. A typical Dickens novel would have 40 or so illustrations, two per chapter, and while I was writing this book, I couldn’t get that notion out of my mind. In fact, at one point, the main character, Meg Pickel, imagines the scene in her living room as an illustration from a Dickens novel, a scene she titles “The Consolation of the Father.”
Dickens, of course, wrote long before film and television, but even though photography was a thriving technology in his later years, it was still too expensive a technology to publish in books and newspapers. To readers of Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, these illustrated novels were as vibrant and innovative as 3-D films today.
We may actually owe a debt of gratitude to an illustrator for all the novels of Charles Dickens. His first book, The Pickwick Papers, which was enormously popular and made Dickens a celebrity, began as a book of sporting prints for which Dickens was to simply write editorial copy. But when the book’s illustrator, Robert Seymour, killed himself soon after the contract was signed, Dickens hired a new artist, Halbot Knight Browne (known as “Phiz”) to complete the project. Brown (known as Phiz) and Dickens (then known as Boz) changed the entire shape of the book and together created the hilarious and unique Pickwick. Phiz and Dickens continued to collaborate on all his major works up through A Tale of Two Cities.
What I love most about Greg Ruth’s illustrations for The Haunting of Charles Dickens is how much work they do, while at the same time leaving so much room for the reader to use her own imagination. In some cases, Greg’s brush and ink drawings help illustrate a plot point—the map of a constellation, a mysterious iron bolt—while in other cases, he depicts the mood of the story with one simple image—a golden monkey perched on a railing, London’s rooftops at night. His emotional, intense drawings help guide the reader.
But Greg chose not to show the faces of the main characters. He knows that for the reader of a novel, how we see characters is a very personal matter; we build those pictures in our heads. This strategy allows the reader to fully inhabit the novel, and as readers, we see the scenes from the book as if we were in them, rather than watching them from afar.
Like a lot of writers, I’ve hidden little clues in my books, and in The Haunting of Charles Dickens, you’ll find, if you read really closely, references to Dickens’s books and characters, to other great British writers and books, and to pop songs and other odd bits and pieces. Greg tells me that he, too, always hides little puzzles or inconsistencies in
Author Lewis Buzbee and his daughter Maddy tackle a big fat book.
Five Things About Me as a Young Reader
1. I was not a voracious reader as a child — I watched a lot more TV than I read books. My love for reading didn’t start until I was in high school.
2. Neither of my parents had gone to college, and were not what you would call literary. But they read, for their own pleasure and information. My mother read Gothic novels, the precursors to today’s Romance novels. My father read the newspaper every morning at breakfast — he’d read it to us — and he read magazines like Argosy and True Stories.
3. My favorite way to buy books was through the Scholastic Books catalog. My second favorite way was at the local five and dime.
4. My favorite early books were all very generic — The Long Bomb, Murder by Moonlight, Mystery Under the Sea, Radar Commandos. I loved those books.
5. I can still remember the moment, when I was six, when I realized the word “says” on the page was pronounced “sez.” That was a moment of profound understanding.
Lewis Buzbee is a San Francisco-based author of many fine books for both adults and children, including: The Haunting of Charles Dickens . . .
. . .
Instead of “Let Kids Read Comic Books,” I almost titled this entry, “Don’t Be an Idiot.” Because I can’t believe this needs to be discussed anymore.
Over at Imagination Soup, they ran a good piece with a solid message: “8 Reasons to Let Your Kids Read Comics.“ Check it out, there’s a lot of worthwhile links attached to the article.
Here’s their list of “8 reasons” in brief.
1. Comics are fun to read.
2. Comics contain the same story elements and literary devices as narrative stories.
3. Comics provide built-in context clues.
4. Reading a comic is a different process of reading using a lot of inference.
5. Readers need variety in their reading diet.
6. We’re a visual culture and the visual sequence makes sense to kids.
7. Reading comics may lead to drawing and writing comics.
8. The selection of graphic novels is bigger, better, and reaches a wider age-range than before.
Yeah, feh, okay. I get that. We have to establish that comics are credible resources, that it’s valid in the classroom, and there’s a perceived need to throw in a lot of pedagogical goobledygook. But I don’t care. Because one thing I know in my bones is that many (many!) professional authors began their childhood love of reading with comic books. Those authors are almost always men (read: ex-boys).
They read what they wanted to. They read what they liked. They read, period.
One of the critically important aspect of this issue of “boys reading junk” is that well-meaning adults — and in particular, women — need to become sensitized to our bias against certain types of reading. We have to become aware of the messages we send to boy readers, the disapproving, dismissive way we view personal choices.
We must trust in the process.
When I was working on my belly-up blog, Fathers Read, I received written contributions from several children’s book authors, including Matthew Cordell, Lewis Buzbee, Michael Northrop, Eric Velasquez, and Jordan Sonnenblick. One recurring strain in their reflections on their lives as young readers was the love