The new book comes out in May 2011. We are just in the process of finalizing all the edits and then it will be an ARC and then my ARC will grow up to be a brand new book. I'm as excited as can be. Here is the new, new cover for you to take a sneak peek at! Or: At which for you to take a sneak peek! GRAMMAR FAIL. Evidently, I have used up all my grammar on this book.
This book is pretty different from anything I've written before. Writing it was an accident. I was actually in the middle of writing a funny, slightly weird, middle grade novel called THE KING OF BANANALAND, about a kid who is forced to live with his dad at a run-down fair for the summer, only to find that his dad isn't as much of a loser as he thought. It was a fun, light book to write and I had begun saying to people, "I'm not writing any more teen angst! Middle grade humour is where it's at! So fun!" when...
The character of Dex Pratt came to me and wouldn't let go. He was pretty rude. Every time I tried to write something about JC Cola, my middle-grade hero, he interrupted. Swearing. I think he was high. He really got lodged in my brain. Worse, he did NOT fit into Bananaland and even worse than that, he did not care that I WAS BUSY.
Dex was a seventeen year old with a lot to say and no one to listen. The more I thought about Dex, the more I struggled with what I WAS DOING, i.e. the hilarious antics of JC Cola. The more I thought about Dex the more I thought, "Hey, I should write this down."
Which is breaking the cardinal rule, of course. The cardinal rule being: FINISH WHAT YOU START OR YOU'LL NEVER GO BACK. LOOK AWAY FROM ALL SHINY NEW IDEAS.
"Fine," I said to Dex. "I will quickly jot down this book and I will never look at it again, so I can get back to BANANALAND and get you out of my mind and out of my way."
I probably swore. So does Dex. A lot.
Sounds crazy, right?
It is. A lot of writing is crazy. The writers who aren't crazy just aren't crazy YET. Give them time. When your brain is housing so many different people, you tend to lose a bit of your sanity. Trust me.
So I wrote down Dex's story and it turned out that there were aliens in the story and an awful lot of drugs. There was sex and betrayal and some adults who really, really, really messed up. It took three straight days and most of three straight nights to write, but Dex's story eventually emerged pretty intact. A novel. It had a beginning. A middle. An end. It was around 20,000 words. Too short to be a "real" novel and too long to be ignored. I re-read it and I thought, "Heck, maybe it's pretty good, after all." (And also I hate to throw out any words that I've written because THEY IZ ALL MY PRECIOUS BABIEZ.)
Then I immediately began visualizing a future like that BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY guy, who ostensibly wrote his book in a day or a week or an hour or something and became so rich and famous that when Meryl Streep starred in the movie version of his book, he bought a ranch in Montana.
The kids would like a ranch! Montana is nice!
I thought about writing in a part for Meryl.
Then I remembered that I was being crazy.
So what I did instead was send it to Orca Books, who I knew had a publishing program targeted at reluctant readers -- readers who either learned to read late due to circumstance or just struggled with reading in general -- and Dex seemed to me to be exactly the right kind of character for that series. And, just as importantly, the book seemed like the right length.
I didn't hear back for a while and went back to finishing THE KING OF BANANALAND. Then I got a note from Andrew at Orca. "Yes," it said. "But not for the Soundings Series, let's make it twice as long and put it in the YA section of the catalogue."
"Yes!" I said. I did a happy dance, like you do when you sell something. I congratulated myself on being valid and AWESOME and I drank some champagne or something similar and rested on my laurels for at least a month or probably more.
OK, fine, way more. But I didn't really "rest". I swear. I found a new agent! I rewrote KING! I sold something else! Etc.!
Then I remembered the bit about "twice as long".
Coincidentally, the edit of this book took twice as long as a "normal" edit -- and I'm using the word "twice" here to mean "ten times" -- because it wasn't an edit, really, at all, it was a complete rebuilding of the book from the ground up.
The book got weirder. And weirder. And I lost more and more control over it. It was a really particular (unusual) story that wanted to be told a really particular (unusual) way and finally I just gave up -- I'm very busy over here trying to be more zen about everything in my life, a move that includes giving up CONTROL, which is normally my very favourite thing in the world -- and wrote it down.
From Dex's point of view.
And his point of view was more than slightly messed up.
Then I started thinking about how when people are supposedly "abducted" by aliens, we (as a society) generally write them off as crazy, which maybe they are, who can say. But also, sometimes these stories come with plotlines that are impossible to explain. I read in The Enquirer or The Weekly World News or some paper like that about a woman with cancer who was (allegedly) abducted (no proof) but afterwards, her cancer was gone (proof). Bizarre stories where it all sounds like a hallucination, EXCEPT FOR ONE THING: The ballbearing in the neck. The sudden inexplicable ability to speak only Chinese. The crop circle.
So I added that one thing to Dex's story, in his case, a cure for a busted knee.
And then I wanted to make the audience ask, "Which part of this is real?"
And then I wanted to make the audience ask, "And what difference does it make?"
Really, what difference DOES it make if someone WAS abducted or just BELIEVED themselves to be abducted? Isn't the perception that something happened to you really no different on a lot of levels than if something really DID happen?
Belief is a powerful thing. People have been healed by belief. People have been destroyed by belief.
So I took Dex and I let him go down all these bizarre corridors of things that may or may not be true and I asked Dex what he believed and I let him decide whether it healed him.
Or destroyed him.
And two years later, the book is very nearly almost ready for YOU to read and to ask yourself the same questions. Will you buy it?
More on the book in the coming weeks...