How to Write the Great American Novel

Oh, boy, this is great! Especially since the guy eats OATMEAL! (In-joke, sorry. But those of you in on it will be cracking up right about now…)

[Thanks to GalleyCat for finding it.]

Writing Gay/Gay Writing

(Thanks to Justine for pointing this out.)

My friend David Levithan gave a terrific, impassioned speech when he was in Australia last month, talking about the importance of courage when it comes to choosing what books to place on the shelves in schools, libraries, and bookstores. David was talking specifically about books for kids that deal with homosexuality, pointing out that for many people, homophobia is the last “acceptable prejudice” (an oxymoron if ever there was one).

It’s a great speech — and short, only about ten minutes — so I encourage you to give it a listen if you make your living in any way with books. Hell, I encourage you to give it a listen if your only connection to books is that you read them — it will make you think about what ends up on your shelves and why.

Sadly, what he says is applicable in the U.S. The speech was given in Australia, but you can find plenty of communities in the States where the clock has rolled back to the 1950s and beyond vis a vis gay rights. A couple of years ago, my ex-wife found herself embroiled in a controversy for putting the book And Tango Makes Three on the shelf in her elementary school library. Why? Because it’s about two male penguins who adopt a baby penguin.

Oh, horrors!

Yeah, the county where she worked (the same county I grew up in, the same county that banned Carolyn Mackler‘s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things) is so reactionary and so homophobic that the idea of two male birds raising a baby bird terrifies them. (I joked at the time that the issue wasn’t homosexuality — the powers that be were just afraid that kids would mimic the penguins and start wearing tuxedos at too young an age…)

I also want to take a moment and talk about what the speech meant to me personally. I’m not used to talking about things like this in public, so forgive me if my fingers stray to some odd words or turns of phrase on the keyboard.

Of fiction, David says at one point, “In the right hands, it doesn’t just entertain — it’s meaningful. It says, ‘You belong.'” And he’s right. The best fiction does this regardless of subject matter — it finds its audience and brings that audience into the light.

And that’s actually why I changed what my third book was going to be.

If you go here, you’ll see that my third book is titled Hero-Type. Assuming someone wants to buy it, it’ll be my follow-up to Boy Toy. But originally I was going to write an entirely different book. About a gay kid in Brookdale who doesn’t come out of the closet. He’s too afraid. He sees how other out kids are treated and he decides, “That’s not for me.” It was going to be about the summer where he’s on vacation and is able to truly be himself for the first time…and what it’s like to come back to Brookdale — and the closet — after that.

But you know what I realized? I realized that I’m not the guy to write that story. My intention in coming up with the idea was to grab a straight audience by the scruff of the neck and force it to realize the price of its own intolerance. But here’s the thing — what message would it send to the gay audience?

I’m not a big fan of self-censorship. I don’t induldge in a lot of hand-wringing, thinking, “Oh, but what will people think of me/the book/the character?” And those of you who’ve followed this blog know that I hate the idea of writing at an issue.

But in this instance I realized that my whole point could be obscured far too easily. Far too many people could read the book and come away from it with the idea that staying in the closet is the good thing, the sane thing.

This is a topic, a story, and an audience that deserves the very best. Like David said, homophobia is the last bulwark of “socially-acceptable” idiotic, unreasoning bigotry and hatred. It’s not that I’m afraid. It’s just that I’ve realized that I lack the perspective to do it justice.

Does this mean I’ll never write that book? Well, I never say never. But David’s speech made me realize that I made the right decision a year or so ago when I decided to write Hero-Type. Better one less book on this topic than one that does its audience a tremendous disservice.

Additional Boy Toy Reader Responses

Below, you’ll find the original Boy Toy Reader Response comment thread from the old barrylyga.com. If you want to continue the conversation, use the comment form at the bottom of the page. [Read more…]

Fanboy Goes to Hollywood

So, yeah — I’m happy to announce that Fanboy has been optioned as one of them fancy moving pictures. A talkie, even!

Director Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, other stuff, too) and his production company (Tinroof Pictures) have picked up the option to the book. This has been a long process for everyone involved, and I want to thank Jeremiah for sticking with it, my agent Kathy Anderson for negotiating the deal, and her lawyer, Eric Feig, for handling the nitty-gritty. I also want to thank Liz Dubelman at VidLit for giving Jeremiah a copy of the book in the first place!

Now, you should know a few things: This deal is for an option. That means that Jeremiah now has eighteen months to figure out how to put together the financing for the movie and then buy the rights from me. The option is basically a contractual way of saying, “I really want the rights to make this book into a movie, but I’m not ready yet. Here’s a little money as a good faith gesture and in return, you agree not to let anyone else buy the rights for the next year or so.”

If, within that option time, Jeremiah is still interested and is able to get his ducks in a row, he then comes back to my agent and says, “OK, here’s the money we agreed upon for the rights. Now I’m going to make the movie.”

So basically, he’s bought the rights to buy the rights at some point down the road. And if a year and a half goes by, he can renew that option and get another eighteen months. So it could be years before we ever see a glimmer of a Fanboy movie.

Or, it could happen tomorrow.

Or, it could never happen. He could lose interest or not find the financing. Or just keep renewing the option until kingdom come.

This is par for the course. Hollywood deals are Byzantine and take a lot of time, I’ve learned. Movie interest in the book began as early as January 2006, nine months before the book even came out. That seemed (and still seems) odd to me, since no one had even seen the book yet! But who am to complain about some pre-pub buzz, right?

As spring came, some of the buzz began to solidify. One director called me and spent about an hour telling me how he would make the movie. He sent me a pre-release DVD of his latest movie so that I could see his style. I enjoyed the talk a lot and here’s the thing: I realized, as I hung up, that I wasn’t really bouncing off the walls at the idea of a movie being made from the book. What I was bouncing off the walls about was this: A complete stranger had read my book and loved it enough to call me and tell me that. Wow. That was huge to me, especially considering that we were still months away from the book hitting stores.

When the book did hit stores, the Hollywood interest picked up a little bit, with the occasional e-mail from production company folks. Fortunately, I had read Brian Michael Bendis’s absolutely brilliant Fortune & Glory, perhaps the ultimate primer on Hollywood. (Yeah, I know other folks have written Hollywood primers, but they’ve all done so from the inside. Bendis wrote F&G while still an outsider, to a degree. Plus, it’s just the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time!) I knew that Hollywood moved slowly and capriciously, so I just put movie stuff out of my mind and let Kathy handle it.

And then I got the call from Jeremiah.

Now, I knew that the call was coming, so right beforehand, I rectified a long-lived, shameful oversight — I ran out to the video store and rented Benny & Joon.

God, what a brilliant movie! The man who made this movie, I knew, could make my book come alive on screen.

I spent about an hour or so on the phone with him. He told me what he liked about the book, how he saw it developing into a film. We talked at length about traps to avoid — and we both agreed on what those traps were!

Later that day, Jeremiah wrote to my agent to officially begin the process of negotiating for the option.

That was about a year ago. Like I said before — Hollywood stuff takes time.

But hey — it’s the first step. And just like I felt a year ago, talking to that first director, I’m still excited. Not by the idea that there might someday be a movie of my book. No, by the idea that someone liked it enough to want to make a movie in the first place. Everything else is gravy.

G’day! (Fanboy Goes Aussie)

Well, it’s official, I guess — I’m now an “internationally published author.”

Just yesterday, my friendly neighborhood mail delivery person dropped off a beaten-all-to-hell box on my doorstep. This box looked like it had been through a war. Either that, or it had traveled from the other side of the planet.

Guess which it was?

Since it wasn’t the special Baghdad version of Fanboy, there’s only one other possibility: It was my comp copies of my Australian edition! Whoo-hoo!

I can only assume that this means that the book will be on store shelves in Australia very soon. I expect an influx of Australian IP addresses to this site any minute now. Don’t disappoint me, Australia.

Other than the fact that it’s in paperback and slightly smaller than the American edition, there’s not much that immediately tips you off that this is a foreign edition. Then you start to notice little things — like the single quotation marks on the cover blurbs. The new publisher name/logo. Even the spine is slightly different. (It has my full name, not just my last name.)

Inside, there are almost no differences, as I’m told the book was reproduced directly from the American files. A typo I found in the American hardcover has been corrected. (Huzzah!) The indicia page has been replaced entirely with a new Australian indicia page. (Which means that the dedication originally on the American edition is now gone, alas.) And there are some ads in the back for some other Pan MacMillan titles, including a little something called The Book Thief.

Yeah, that’s right — Markus Zusak rides on my coattails. You heard it here first, people.

All in all, it’s a nice package, and it’s very cool to see my very first foreign edition! Thanks to Anna and the rest of the crew Down Under for making this happen.