Confessions of a Dedicated Writer by David Lubar
I suffer from a debilitating genetic condition. I am sprung from a people who traditionally slather themselves in worry and guilt with the vigor of beachgoers applying sunscreen. I agonize over any act of mine that might cause the slightest inconvenience to another human being. For example, when I park on an empty street, I worry that I haven’t left the optimal space in front and behind for everyone else who might park there later. This trait recently saddled me with a dilemma: I wanted to dedicate a book to a fellow writer friend, but I didn’t want him to feel any obligation to reciprocate. The book, Sophomores and Other Oxymorons, is a sequel to my 2005 novel, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie. (The fact that scads of incoming freshmen are forced to read this book every summer has also caused me to feel a bit of guilt. And glee.) As I was thinking about key elements from Freshmen that needed to make an appearance in Sophomores, a perfect solution hit me. One of the favorite quotes in the first book, based on reader response, is the line spoken by Goth outlier Lee when she gives main character Scott a Valentine’s Day present (which happens to be a bag of black jelly beans, but that’s another story):
Reciprocity is not mandatory.
Bingo! I realized that this quote was my key to formulating a guilt-free (or, at least, low-guilt) dedication. I liked that solution so much, I decided to use the dedication to thank a cluster of awesome writers. Since tales of kindness are warming to the heart, I want to share an account of how special these people are. First, to whet your appetite, here’s the dedication:
For the writers who’ve always had my back:
Jordan Sonnenblick, Paul Acampora, Dan Gutman, Chris Crutcher,
Neal Shusterman, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Greg Leitich Smith,
Steven Gould, Terry Trueman, Pete Hautman, John Scalzi,
Dian Curtis Regan, and Bruce Coville.
No worries, mates. Reciprocity is not mandatory.
“No worries, mates” is another quote from both books. But that’s another story.
I’ll start with Chris, since all of this is his fault. (Oh, no. I hope he doesn’t read this and think I’m blaming him.) Years ago, my daughter was teaching in a brutally difficult and dangerous high school. She was coping, but I could tell the stress was taking a toll. I knew Chris had a background in counseling. When I ran into him at a conference, I told him what my daughter was dealing with, hoping he might offer some advice. Before I could even finish, he interrupted and said, “Have her call me.” Four simple words. It wasn’t just what he said. His tone of voice and the look in his eyes told me this was an authentic offer, straight from the heart. This meant the world to me. That’s the kind of guy he is; thoughtful, generous, and truly empathetic.
Onward. Jordan Sonnenblick and I both write books infested, oops, I mean invested, with humor. He lives about five miles from me. We found ourselves traveling together to a conference in Denver, back when we barely knew each other. We bonded over our common inability to think clearly in a city that neglected to include oxygen in its air. These days, we talk shop. We get together for meals. We seek advice from each other. We compare levels of guilt. We comment on each other’s tweets. (So can you, if you follow @davidlubar and @jsonnenblick.) He visited me in the hospital after my hip replacement. I drove him to a doctor’s appointment after minor surgery, when he wasn’t supposed to operate heavy machinery or write light verse. While he’s best known for Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie¸ my favorite of his works is Are You Experienced?. Because I’m not. And Jordan would pretend to appreciate that joke, even if it isn’t all that funny. True friend.
Paul Acampora also lives nearby. Soon after we met, he booked me for an evening program at a college where he was working. Being new at this, he forgot to include the authors in the dinner plans. He’s been apologizing for it ever since. (His people, too, have a long tradition of guilt. I think the nuns are to blame.) Paul has put me in touch with several short story markets. He’s another guy I know I can count on for anything. His debut novel, Defining Dulcie, is wonderful. And his latest work, I Kill the Mockingbird, is amazingly well-timed.
I’ve known Dan Gutman since the 1980s, back when we were both working at computer magazines. Here’s how awesome he is. He has a favorite project, Authors for Earth Day. He asks authors to do a school visit on Earth Day and have the school donate the speaking fee to a green cause. One year, after the economy tanked and my visits were way down, I explained to Dan that I really couldn’t afford to do that. The next thing I knew, any time Dan got a visit request he couldn’t fit in his schedule, he passed the contact information along to me. Yeah. He’s a mensch. He recently shared the good news with me that his favorite of all his books, Johnny Hangtime, is being reissued.
Besides writing stunning novels like Unwind, Neal Shusterman is an authentic Hollywood screenwriter. During those rare times when I interact with people in Hollywood, who generally want me to sign away my first-born son, Neal is the guy I can count on to give me good advice (and remind me that I don’t have a son). I got my first national conference opportunity thanks to Neal. He was supposed to speak at ALAN, the YA conference that follows after NCTE. But he decided it might be a good idea to hang around for the birth of his child. (Yes, it was a son. But not the first-born.) I was asked to step in by our mutual publisher. So I got to speak to several hundred English teachers, and open with the line, “Mr. Shusterman couldn’t be here this afternoon. I’ll be your substitute.”
I got to know Cynthia Leitich Smith online, through her active and popular blog, Cynsations, way before she wrote Tantalize. When my wife and I found ourselves at the same conference as Cyn and her husband, Greg, we bonded instantly and had a great time hanging out. Here’s the cutest conference story of all times. On the last day of the exhibits, the four of us made dinner plans. I’m not sure whether it was their first conference, but they were adorably fresh and enthusiastic about everything. As the show was closing, Cyn and Greg each headed out of the exhibit hall lugging a large box of books. They started walking toward their hotel, which was about half a mile away. I asked them why they weren’t taking one of the shuttle buses lined up at the curb. It turned out they thought the buses were only for the librarian attendees, and not the authors. See? Cute. As for having my back, when I’ve asked for coverage in her blog, Cyn has never let me down. Greg (author of cool books such as Chronal Engine) has given me some generous coverage, too.
My first national ALA event was in San Francisco for the YALSA pre-conference. The topic was science fiction. I was the newbie. When I walked into the vast auditorium, this guy came over and pretty much made me his foster child (despite the fact that I’m older). It was Stephen Gould, author of one of the best novels of all time, Jumper. He hung out with me, gave me advice, and made me feel comfortable. Several years later, we got to spend an amazing evening in Indianapolis, but that’s another story.
A decade ago, Terry Trueman got in touch to suggest I pitch short stories to an editor he knew who was doing an anthology for Dial. This suggestion came out of nowhere since Terry didn’t know me well back then. The tip resulted in two story sales. One of those stories, “Science Friction,” ended up being reprinted in textbooks and used for test passages, so that small act helped keep a lot of wolves from the door. Terry has popped up unexpectedly at other times, with advice or information. I did get to do my own good deed for him one time when I was watching Jeopardy! and saw them use his Printz-honor novel, Stuck in Neutral, as a question (or answer, or whatever). Since he’s out west, I was able to call him and alert him to record the show. He’s one of the most caring guys out there.
I met Pete Hautman at a Florida conference for school media specialists. I was standing by myself as the reception wound down, wondering how to spend the rest of the evening, when he came up to me and said, “Let’s get something to eat.” As much as I can schmooze and work a room, I’m not good at finding dinner companions in a sea of people I’ve just met. It was a memorable evening. Most of you know his amazing YA work, but I’d strongly suggest checking out one of his hilarious adult mysteries. I’m especially fond of Drawing Dead, which reads as if two of my favorites, Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, had sired an offspring who grew up to be a writer.
John Scalzi. Where to start? Way back when America Online charged for access by the hour, John was editing a humor feature for them. I started selling funny essays to him on a regular basis. (I actually began my career by writing magazine humor. I’ve collected all of my humor pieces into an ebook called It Seemed Funny at the Time, but that’s another story.) When AOL switched to a monthly-fee format, they no longer had an incentive to keep people online, so they killed the feature. John moved on to become a pioneer in blogging, an activity I though was a fad and doomed to failure. As those of you who follow his Whatever blog know, I was wrong. (I have the trend-spotting savvy of George Costanza.) He’s also become a major figure in the science fiction world (and beyond), starting with the wonderful novel, Old Man’s War. When I’ve reached out for a favor, he’s never said no. On top of which, he’s never afraid to speak out on the side of the angels when bad things happen in the world, or in the writing community.
I met Bruce Coville at a writer’s conference around 1996. Our mutual (former) agent introduced us. We chatted briefly. I managed not to make an ass out of myself, which was tough because I was in awe of him. (At the time we were introduced, the other person in the room was Judy Blume. It was that kind of day.) On the last morning of the conference, I’d checked out of my room and was killing time before my flight, wandering around the convention area. Bruce, passing me in the other direction, said, “Hey, I’m going to hear a talk. Come with me.” He basically scooped me up and put me under his wing. (If you know Bruce, you’re aware it was a left wing.) We stayed in touch, and really cemented our friendship when I went up to Syracuse while his company, Full Cast Audio, was recording a novel of mine. Bruce is one of the smartest people in the industry, which is great for me, because I can be one of the stupidest at times. Whenever I mess up really badly, he’s the one I call for advice. It is a wonderful world we live in when your idol can become your friend.
Dian and I first crossed paths back around 1994 on AOL’s writer’s chat room. I think she’s my long-lost sister, or perhaps we’re each other’s evil twin. During chats, we kept making pretty much the same jokes at the same time. When I got a contract offer from Scholastic, I asked her about it, since I knew she had books with them. It turned out, coincidentally, that the offer came from the woman who edited Dian’s Scholastic books. My series, like her books, was humorous horror. Dian was way ahead of her time with My Zombie Valentine. She’s still going strong, with her new Space Boy series.
Okay, this got pretty long. I feel guilty making you read so much. But I like the idea of showing the caring, giving, supportive side of some of my peers. Beyond the anecdotes listed above, each of these persons has done far more for me than I could list here. Most people who write for young readers are wonderful human beings. There are others I should have listed. I owe a lot to Roland Smith. I feel guilty that I forgot to include him. David Levithan is also always there when I need him. Good grief. I’m guilty and needy. Yikes, I should have included Patrick Jones. And John Szieszka. And Nancy Springer. Now I feel guilty for name dropping. Goodness, I think I need to write another novel for the next set of dedications. Or call Bruce for advice, or Jordan, or Paul, or Dian, or….
David Lubar (www.davidlubar.com) is the author of many popular novels for young readers, including Hidden Talents. He has also published many short stories in young adult anthologies. He lives in Pennsylvania.