Tag Archives: David Levithan

Back to the blog

I fielded a complaint recently. “You never update your blog,” my provocateur wailed. “You’re just doing this flash fiction stuff … and I haven’t read that.”

OK, you know who you are now. Please rest assured that no offence was taken and your observations were accurate. Although you really should read the flash fiction stories. Each one is a pearl, I tell you.

Seriously, my intention this year is plunge into another novel – or at least the detailed outline for a graphic novel, following the ASA Masterclass in penning comics that I took late last year. But before I immerse myself in such a project, I need to get fit again. And by that, I mean writing fit.

If I hadn’t ridden a bike for 18 months or so, I’d need to start with small outings and build up my endurance. It’s the same with writing. I haven’t done much creative writing since Five Parts Dead so the mind muscles need to regain their stamina and flexibility. Flash fiction is perfect for this, like sprint training for the brain.

Basically, I snatch an idea and set myself the task of finishing a story in one sitting, ideally under two hours. Yes, it’s rough and ready writing. But you should still get some sense of the character(s) and, hopefully, enough of a plot to propel you through the yarn. Yes, you.

That’s the rationale for the flash fiction. It’s unlikely to be the best stuff I’ve ever written. But if I rediscover my writing mojo, it’s a win.

But what else has been going on? Here are some random observations on the year so far:

  • I led a PD session with librarians on the different types of interactive books and e-books available for iPad. I’m more than happy to be evangelical on this topic and could talk (and demonstrate) for hours. Great fun.
  • I was rapt to be invited to take part in a ghost stories session in the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival. Can’t wait. Will be brushing up on my creepy tales.
  • I met NY author and publisher David Levithan at the 21st birthday of the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature. David, along with Rachel Cohn, wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – one of the books that convinced me I should write for young adults. Apart from a great author, David was an inspiring speaker and thoroughly nice guy.
  • After various school visits this year some of my bugbears have raised their ugly heads again. One is computers. Believe me, as president of the Crap Handwriting Association, I understand why laptops and iPads make life easier for people. But for goodness sake, instant-messaging-Internet-apps-games-social-media seem all too tempting for some students. I’m going to sound like a dinosaur but kids won’t learn while these shiny distractions are beckoning to them. I can say I’ve seen students doing online shoe shopping and banking, updating their Facebook status, playing Temple Run and Pong, texting, sending emails and much more, when they’re supposed to be otherwise occupied. Perhaps it means I’ve failed as a speaker when this occurs but it’s a big ask to compete with those sorts of toys.
  • Weekend sport is consuming an ever larger slice of our weekends as the kids play two sports and I greet dawn on my bike. Last weekend I covered the Little Dragon’s first cricket final on Twitter as an exercise in instant storytelling. The writing was crude – particularly when things got exciting – but hopefully the drama shone through. Stay tuned for a semi-final tomorrow.

I’ll stop there as other tasks beckon. The writing year, although already well underway, is bubbling with possibility. Who knows, 2012 might be a year for big decisions.

Books for Boys 3

I’ve had a few invitations lately to talk about books for boys. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and all too pleased to tackle. Hey, I’ve been reading for a long time now and I truly believe certain books have made me the person I am. That’s how important finding the right books can be.

On Tuesday night (International Women’s Day) I spoke to approximately 40 fathers and Year 7 sons, at St Bernard’s College in Essendon, on this exact topic. It was a great turnout, given the guys could have been home watching Top Gear on tele. I probably rambled on too long but that’s the risk when I’m recommending books to read.

Several of the father’s present asked me to publish the list of books that I spoke about so here it is. As time permits, I’ll add synopses for the stories as well. Those marked GN are graphic novels.

For primary age readers:

The Dumb Bunnies series, the Captain Underpants series, Dogzilla all by Dav Pikey.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

For upper primary – lower secondary:

The Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell

The OK Team series by Nick Place

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

Rapunzel and Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale (GN)

Chess Nuts by Julia Lawrinson

The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection by various authors including Stan Lee (GN)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Vulture’s Gate by Kirsty Murray

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

The Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden

The Spook’s Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

For mid to upper secondary readers:

Boys of Blood & Bone by David Metzenthen

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

The Cave by Susanne Gervay

Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming by Scot Gardner, not to mention Gravity and all Scot’s other books

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller (GN)

Fighting Ruben Wolf; The Underdog; The Messenger – all by Markus Zusak who is better known for The Book Thief

Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska by John Green

Ten Mile River by Paul Griffin

The Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn (book 1 Across the Nightingale Floor)

Kill the Possum by James Moloney

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

The Beginner’s Guide to Living by Lia Hills

Bladerunner by Philip K Dick (alternate title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

And can I throw in Game as Ned and Five Parts Dead by me?

A few quick comments:

– Most of these are great books for female readers, too. Some have tough and inspiring female protagonists. They just happen to be books that I think will work with male reader for some of the reasons I explain in this post.

– I’m biased toward fiction but if your son prefers non-fiction, find what interests him and go with that. I’ll post more on this in future as several people asked how to get their sons reading fiction.

– Graphic novels are a great way to suck people into reading stories because they feel more like TV. My favourite iPad app comes from Comixology and lets me select from a massive range of graphic novels, with many samples for free. For example, Bladerunner, cited above, has been serialised as a graphic novel, under the original title. I’m also looking at some of Frank Miller’s earlier work on Wolverine. Comics on offer include age ratings in case you’re concerned your offspring might select something too edgy.

– There are other highly recommended books I could include, such as Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series. I haven’t read these yet so, until I do, they don’t make the cut.

Hopefully you’ll find something on the list you and your sons can agree on and enjoy. After all, if you both read a book, there’s common ground for a conversation.

On John Greens, Will Graysons and Dorothy Dixers

Speaking of publishing phenomenons, YA uber author John Green (@realjohngreen to his one million+ Twitter followers) has done a turn as Dorothy Dix in his latest vlog.

I’m embedding it here not just because the advice on campus culture and romance should be tattooed on all arms, but because John also speaks the truth on novel (re-)writing. I trust General John’s army of nerdfighters take heed of their fearless leader.

I’m a fan of John’s work and looking forward to reading his collaboration with another YA luminary, David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is out now and both authors are on the publicity trail, judging by this report in the LA Times.

The new novel tells of two characters with the name Will Grayson – and reminds me of the time when I worked for another John Green, a sheep farmer with a property about an hour’s drive north of Melbourne.

I have many memories of working with Farmer John, who was a generous if eccentric and tough employer. One story involves his aversion to rocks. I assume every farmer aspires to improve their paddocks by digging out and disposing of the surface stone but Farmer John took it to extremes. On some of the days I worked for him our main task was to lift rocks onto the back of a flat bed truck, drive them to a cliff and throw them into the creek below. Then start again. The thing about digging up rocks is you tend to find … more rocks.

As we dumped each truckload, Farmer John’s catch-phrase used to be, “Don’t straighten your back, boy, there should be two rocks in the air at all times”.

During winter, when the paddocks got too wet for stone-hunting, Farmer John’s wife asked me to construct a rock garden around her beloved rose bushes. I spent a couple of days doing so before returning to university. When I ventured back to the farm the following week, the garden border had gone. The man with the rock allergy had dug up all the carefully placed stones and thrown them in the creek.

I offered to start again. His wife just rolled her eyes.

Books for boys

An invitation to speak at a book-flavoured breakfast for fathers and sons this week saw me cover a couple of topics – a brief version of my Melbourne Writers’ Festival chat on Ned Kelly and a rundown of the books that I enjoyed reading as a lad. For good measure, I threw in those that I’ve read recently and would recommend to male readers.

Some of the fathers have since requested the list and it goes as follows:

John Wyndham cover
John Wyndham cover

Childhood favourites
To the Wild Sky – Ivan Southall
Biggles books generally – Capt W.E. Johns (mainly because my Dad had oodles of these.)
A Pictorial History of Bushrangers – Tom Prior et. al
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series – C.S. Lewis
Asterix books – Goscinny & Uderzo (a great way to learn wordplay and puns)
Tintin books – Herge (Is this why I became a reporter?)
The Chrysalids / The Trouble with Lichen / The Midwich Cuckoos … anything by John Wyndham
The Stand – Stephen King
Blade Runner – Philip K Dick (actual book title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
1984 – George Orwell
A Kindness Cup – Thea Astley (a book that I believe still influences my life)
The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien

And while I forgot to mention them on Thursday, I’d also include just about all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.

Current recommendations for YA readers
The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling (more fun to read to my son than solo)
Tomorrow When the War Began series – John Marsden (favourite book Burning for Revenge)
Boys of Blood & Bone – David Metzenthen
Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori series) – Lian Hearn
Samurai Kids series (White Crane, Owl Ninja, others to follow) – Sandy Fussell (My son and I got a lot of laughs out of these books.)
Gravity – Scot Gardner (also One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming)
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Fighting Ruben Wolfe – Markus Zusak
The Messenger – Markus Zusak

Of course, there are plenty more titles that have inspired and informed me. When I work out the technology, I hope to post a library shelf to show you what’s currently on my bedside table.

Happy reading.

NB: This post has attracted a LOT of eyeballs. For those who are interested, here’s a follow up post where I expand on my ideas about boys and reading.

To check out my personal library, click here. I have added a Books for Boys tag to anything I think cuts the mustard.