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Archive for August, 2016

Fairly early on in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Kellen gets arrested while he’s out drag racing with Wavy. The deputy who picks them up tries to make an overture of friendship toward Wavy. It’s clear that he thinks something is wrong with the situation and that she is in need of protection.

deputy sheriff… before we could walk out, the deputy reached across the desk and handed me a piece of paper.

“If you ever need anything, Wavy Quinn, you call me,” he said. That’s what was written on the paper, his name—Deputy Leon Vogel—and his phone number. I stuck it in my pocket and followed Kellen outside to the car.

Later, when Wavy’s parents are doing drugs and fighting, some of my early readers asked me to explain why Wavy wouldn’t call the police. I was startled, because it hadn’t occurred to me that for many people, calling the police would seem like the solution to a problem, rather than a whole other problem. The same people who have sometimes wondered how I could have kept my mouth shut as a kid, knowing my father was manufacturing and selling meth. I realized I needed to include an explanation in Wavy’s narrative, to help people understand.

Deputy Vogel told me to call him if I ever needed something. It’s what they taught in school, too. They said the police were there to help you, but I don’t think they knew what happened when the police came to your house. Cops ruin everything. They kick in the front door, throw people on the floor and handcuff them. They break things and steal things. They lock you in a patrol car, make you spend all night in the police station wearing your nightgown, and then send you home with strangers. That’s why I would never call Deputy Vogel, no matter how much Mama and Liam fought. I’d thrown away the paper with his number as soon as he gave it to me, because I remembered what happened the last time the police came to our house.

There are kids who call the police on their parents. I knew a few when I was younger, and you sometimes read about it in the news, like this 10-year-old boy in Pennsylvania. I hate to see those stories, because I can imagine how bad things must be at home when calling the police seems like the only escape. When taking a chance on strangers seems less dangerous than continuing to trust your parents. I can’t help but think of Victoria Martens from my post last week, and wondering if there was ever a point where she considered calling the police. If she ever had a chance.

Wavy chooses the devil she knows over the uncertainties of going into foster care, and the likely risk of being separated from her brother and from Kellen. As the story progresses, she begins looking for other ways to escape her parents, and so do real kids in these situations. It’s worth remembering that their solutions don’t always make sense to those of us on the outside. That doesn’t mean their solutions are inherently wrong. They’re just outside our understanding.

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Sometimes when I’m talking about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, I have a hard time trying to get across the point that there are worse things that can happen to a girl raised around drug addicts. For a lot of readers, Wavy’s life seems utterly horrific, as is her relationship with what one person described as a “drug-dealing bike thug with a violent, hair-trigger temper.” Even as I wrote Wavy’s story, though, I was carrying in the back of my mind the knowledge that things could have been so much worse for her. As bad as Wavy’s parents are, there are far worse monsters out there.

Victoria-MartensToday, the morning news contained a visceral reminder of that. Here is the story of Victoria Martens. Drugged, raped, and murdered by her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s cousin. This is real life, not fiction, and it illustrates the absolute most horrific thing that can happen to a child when the adults in her life are drug addicts who have lost touch with reality, decency, and respect for human life.

And while the news doesn’t mention it, these people are drug addicts. Casual users of drugs pop pills or snort coke, like they’ve seen in the movies. Casual drug users don’t keep the necessary equipment to inject a 10-year-old girl with meth so that their boyfriends can rape her on her birthday. (I have no interest in parsing the details of who did the injecting, raping, murdering. If her mother was there for it and could have intervened, she as good as did it all herself.)

So while I will be the first person to acknowledge that Wavy’s relationship with Kellen is neither ideal nor desirable for a young girl, I also tend to look at it from the slant of other little girls’ tragedies. I wish every girl in this situation could simply get out of it and go to a safe home to live with responsible, loving adults. Failing that–and as a society, we are failing that–I wish all the girls in this situation had at least one person to provide them with unconditional love and protection. I wish the Wavies of the world could always have a Kellen in some form or another, but so often they don’t.

Love and peace to you, Victoria.

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It was recently (like 5 minutes ago) pointed out to me that this might be useful to readers who’d rather not do math between chapters. This is the chart that I sent to the narrator of the audio book of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, to help her parse how old everyone is at various points of the novel.

Chapter Year Kellen Wavy Donal
Part 1, Chap 1 1975 18 5 x
Part 1, Chap 4 1977 21 8 18 mos
Part 1, Chap 8 1978 22 9 2
Part 2, Chap 1 1979 23 10 3
Part 2, Chap 3 1980 24 11 4
Part 2, Chap 6 1981 25 12 5
Part 2, Chap 9 1982 26 13 6
Part 4, Chap 1 1983 27 14 7
Part 4, Chap 11 1986 29 17 10
Part 5, Chap 1 1987 30 18 11
Part 5, Chap 3 1989 32 19 13
Part 5, Chap 5 1990 33 20 14
Part 5, Chap 20 1990 34 21 14

It has also been pointed out to me (like 2 minutes ago) that I should perhaps do an actual FAQ page for the book. This seems a bit daunting, but I’ll consider it.

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Among the unexpected responses I’ve gotten to All the Ugly and Wonderful Things are reviews and emails bemoaning Kellen’s physique. “Whyyyyy?” one reader asks. “Why does he have to be fat?” Also: “Ewwww, that’s so disgusting.” Plus: “It’s so sick that you made him a gross fat guy. What purpose does that serve?”

Many of the characters who describe Kellen in unflattering terms aren’t necessarily characters we ought to trust. Liam, that Prince Charming, is the one who calls Kellen a fat fucking slob. Dee refers to Kellen as sweaty and walrus-like, but then she also considers him slow. (I’d like to see her rebuild a motorcycle engine or solve a Rubik’s Cube.) Miss DeGrassi, a more reliable narrator, describes him as greasy and meaty.

Of course, even if we look through Wavy’s eyes of love, she’s the one who says, “I had nothing on my body like the warm damp crease between his tits and belly.” That line apparently makes some readers cringe. Man boobs are not on the list of desirable traits in our society.

It makes me sad when readers write to say, “I was so disgusted at him being fat that I just had to pretend he wasn’t,” but I regret nothing. While some readers may be turned off by Kellen’s size, it’s at the heart of Wavy’s physical attraction to him. His status as the Giant means that he can protect her. His size is safety. Also, as a skinny, hungry girl, she admires how he eats, and she desires the solidity and strength that his body represents. She goes so far as to compare him to food she wants to eat. For her, he’s attractive because he’s powerful but soft.

It’s not just as a writer that I’m saddened by this negative reaction to Kellen being something other than a chiseled stud on a motorcycle. Personally, it makes me sad to see so much hate for big boys. I readily admit that it was easy for me to tap into Wavy’s desire for Kellen’s flesh. Objectively I can admire a well-toned physique, but in my personal life, I’ve never been a big fan of sculpted abs. I like big boys. Guys who look like they could wrestle a bear and still make a good pillow. At a few of my book events, readers asked me to “dream cast” a movie of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. That’s a really hard question because for the most part Hollywood doesn’t offer any actors who are remotely like I imagine Kellen being. (As much as I like Jason Momoa, he’s not even close.)

In fact, to try to show you what I mean about the beauty and power of a big, beefy guy with a belly and tits, I had to go the wrestling route. My current favorite rikishi is Endō Shōta. Although he only clocks in at 6’1″ and 330 lbs (quite a bit smaller than Kellen), he embodies the kind of physical presence I imagine Kellen having. And while Kellen is Choctaw, and Endō is Japanese, he has an adorably shy smile and soft brown eyes. Although he’s carrying enough body fat that he would be called “fat” in America, he’s also carrying a whole lot of muscle under that protective fat. Nothing sculpted or toned about him, but he’s built for the hard work of wrestling.

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Or here, have some of my other favorite wrestlers, like André Roussimoff and Akebono Tarō:

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Of course, André was an actual giant, massive and formidable, but Akebono is 6’8″, and at the height of his career as yokozuna was 500 lbs. (A little bigger than Kellen.) He was magnificent and nearly unbeatable. Consider the incredible power stored in a body like that. To me, that’s gorgeous and sexy as hell.

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Well, my people, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things has been loose in the world for ten days now. Now that I’ve got an evening to sit on the couch and pet dogs, I thought I’d do a little wrap up of my last two weeks. There were three TV appearances, two radio interviews, four interviews for other things, and four book signings!

Back when I worked for Planned Parenthood, I had to get up in front of people and talk all the time, but I’ve never been in the habit of discussing my own stuff, so it was a bit of a gantlet. For fun, here’s a little slideshow of my past two weeks.

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As for what’s coming up … well, I’ll be in San Diego for a day-long book club event at Mysterious Galaxy in October. (Have not yet worked out whether I’ll actually be doing just a reading/signing.)

I’m in Lawrence Magazine this month. And I’m on Bustle.com. Heck, look in your glove compartment. Maybe I’m in there, too. (If so, could you slip me some chocolate?)

Also I’m Skyping with book clubs! If you’re interested in having me chat with your book club, get more info here.

And at some point, when my head is spinning a little less, I’ll be buckling down to work on the next book.

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Despite some doubts along the way, it turns out that I really wrote this book, my amazing agent really took a chance on it, my incredible editor really bought it, and it’s really for sale today!

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL

It’s for sale pretty much everywhere in North America: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Books-A-Million, plus maybe even your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, they can order it for you.

Now, obviously, I love this book with all my heart, but you don’t have to take my word on whether it’s worth reading. Here are some of my reviews:

Kirkus Reviews called it a “powerful, provocative debut” and “Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.”

Publishers Weekly says it’s “a memorable coming-of-age tale about loyalty, defiance, and the power of love under the most improbable circumstances.”

Library Journal said the book is “so freakishly good and dangerous that it should come with a warning label.” I’m pretty sure they mean that in a good way.

The Associated Press calls it “captivating and smartly written from the first page … instantly absorbing.” But they also warn would-be readers that “This book won’t pull at heartstrings but instead yank out the entire organ and shake it about before lodging it back in an unfamiliar position.”

Tonight I’ll be having a book release party at the lovely Lawrence Public Library at 7:30 pm. (Co-hosted by The Raven Book Store.) If you’re in the area, come on out!

Tomorrow night, I’ll be at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. If you’re long distance and want to purchase a signed copy, you can order one through them.

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