Blue Noon in Paperback

Two quick things:

Blue Noon, the last book of the Midnighters series, is out in paperback at last. Now you can own all three for about $20.

Also, Justine is reading here in New York on Wednesday night!

Wednesday, March 7
6:00 to 8:00PM

Tompkins Square branch of the New York Public Library
331 E. 10th Street (west of Ave. B)

Erin Downing (Prom Crashers)
Maryrose Wood (Why I Let My Hair Grow Out)
Justine Larbalestier (Magic’s Child)
Leslie Margolis (Price of Admission)
Eireann Corrigan (Ordinary Ghosts)
Daniel Ehrenhaft and Adrienne Maria Vrettos (reading from 21 Proms)

See you there!

Resplendently Scandalicious Scrotaphobias

Allow me to destroy your mind: SCROTUM!

Gee, that was almost too easy.

Okay, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about: There’s a front-page story in the NY Times today about Susan Patron’s Newberry Award-winning book The Higher Power of Lucky.*

The novel starts with a ten-year-old girl named Lucky hearing a conversation from next door. The neighbor’s dog has just been bitten by a snake . . . on his scrotum. (Poor thing.)

Lucky hasn’t heard this word before. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.” Like any language-loving kid, she finds these secret words fascinating. (Much like my tridecalogism obsession in Midnighters, but along a somewhat different axis.)

Cue the real world.

According to the Times article, has been burning up with this seven-letter kerfuffle. That’s not exactly true, but some school librarians have actually said they’ll ban the book, and the debate has leaked out to various litblogs and library sites. So I thought I’d offer my thoughts.

First some odd but revealing quotes.

The Times reporter writes, “Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.”

Hmm. How does one “sneak” something into a book? Everything in a book is right there in black and white, literally. The only people past whom the contents of a book can be snuck are people who don’t read books. You know, the ones who leaf through them distractedly, looking for reasons to ban them.

Nice of you to adopt their framework, NY Times.

And by the way, the word (cover your eyes!) “scrotum” appears on page one of Lucky. That’s some pretty crappy sneaking. All my snuck-in words are printed upside down on page 217 in invisible ink. (Hint: Lemon juice.)

Also bizarre is the phrase “leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book.” Yes, that’s us lazy authors, leaving librarians to ban our books. Why can’t we ban our own books for once?

A teacher and librarian from Colorado is also quoted: “This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope, but they didn’t have the children in mind.”**

This is just so random. Who else would Susan Patron have in mind, except children? Children who find fascination in new words. Word-nerd kids for whom the mysteries of the body and those of language are wrapped up together. And does anyone really believe Patron is trying to get on Howard Stern with this?***

But I don’t mean to be harsh, especially not on school librarians! I know you have a tough job. You have all the usual trials of working at a school, plus tons of crackpots hanging around waiting to pounce on every word in every book you shelve. I also realize that librarians have more at stake in this than I have. Like, their jobs. And I get that my books are YA, while Lucky is middle grade, and will admit that I haven’t ever used the word “scrotum” myself. (The subject hasn’t come up.)

But let’s remember that we all have children in mind. They are our readers, without whom we’re just wasting our time. No authors I know are trying to sneak, offend, or randomly envelope push. We’re trying to write the best, most relevant books we can.

That often means balancing the needs of kids who want to read their own stories in their own vernacular with the needs of parents who don’t want their cotton-candy invented memories of what childhood is like disturbed. This is a very hard line to walk.

Susan Patron walks this line by telling an uplifting tale of surviving the loss of a parent, while throwing in one amusing anatomical term. I walk this line by writing about bomb-throwing, eco-terrorist, self-harming, champagne-drinking, tattooed heroines, while never using dirty words. (The astonishing thing is that I get away with it and Patron doesn’t. Even with the age difference, this tends to support what I said about some folks scanning rather than reading.)

But we all face the same problem: it’s impossible to please everyone. So all we authors and librarians can ask of each other is, yes, to keep children in mind. Especially these children:

The word-loving kids, for whom silly seven-letter terms that make adults blush are pure magic, the sort that animates a lifetime of language acquisition.

The kids who face abuse and addiction at home, whose only way to understand what they’re going through is through narratives that will curl your hair and mine.

The bomb-throwing kids, for whom tales of future revolution give a framework for their own necessary confrontations with authority.

The vacuum readers, who consume anything and everything, and thereby learn to filter out whatever they’re not ready for.

As long as we keep all these kids stocked up with lots of books, we’re doing a pretty good job.

Now a question for my teen readers, for whom this post was no doubt really boring:

What’s your favorite dorky-dirty word? The kind that makes you giggle, and you’d get vaguely in trouble if you used it at school.

Mine is “dingleberry.”

*Full disclosure: The publishers of Lucky are Simon & Schuster, one of my 29 publishers worldwide. Dude! I just counted : I have 29 publishers!

** “They didn’t have the children in mind?” Why “they”? Lucky is written by one author. Is this a conspiracy? Why am I always the last to be informed of the scrotum-sneaking children’s literature conspiracies? I pay my dues! And why are people always worried about “the children,” and not just “children”? What’s up with that?

***Some people seem to subsist entirely on outrage, and think everyone else is constantly trying to outrage them, because we want to get famous or something. Trust me on this: Most of the time, we had no clue you’d be outraged!

Midnighters Round-Up

I haven’t posted anything for Midnighters fans in a while, so here are a couple of bits of fannish art and one document for obsessed scholars.

But first, the event at Kinokuniya was a blast. Our thanks to all of those who came, especially fan-mail deliverers and shameless flatterers Steph, Jaimee, and Christina/Mikey! Fun was had by all.

So, a few days ago I got this present from Kallie, my own anti-darkling coffee mug!

In addition to this triple-decker tridecalogism, the other side has stuff too intricate for my still-life photography skillz to capture. It features thirteen 13s in Phoenician numerals and the five midnighter talent symbols. Kewl.

Now here’s something for your CafePress pleasure. The tridecashirt!

Yes, it’s amazing how much free time I used to have. But what is this for? Well, I hereby give you all the right to copy, re-mix, and promulgate this image in all media in existence or yet to be invented, forever and throughout the known universe.

In other words, steal it to make t-shirts if you want. Or coffee mugs.

Click here for a much bigger file, and here if you want a vast Photoshop doc without the white background. (‘Save As’ under File after it loads, then open in Photoshop.)

And finally, for the truly Midnighters obsessed, here’s the chronology of events for whole series, from September 1 to October 31. Funny how October 6 in Blue Noon takes 100 pages to unfold!

I apologize for the formatting, but this is the stuff of novelist’s working documents. Page numbers refer to the hardbacks, btw, and may have shifted slightly since page proofs.

Massive Spoilers Warning!

Chronology, Book 1

p. 1 first day of school at Bixby High (Sep 1) Rex sees that Jessica has Focus; Jessica meets Dess in trig
p.17 that Thurs. (Sep. 4) Jessica’s first week of school almost over, she has first midnight experience with frozen rain
p.21 next day (Fri., Sept. 5) Jessica has lunch with Jonathan; midnight with cat, snakes, and panther
p.100 next day (Sat., Sept. 6) Jessica at Clovis Museum; midnight with Jonathan, flying, attack by slithers and darklings, busted by Sheriff St. Claire
p.177 next day (Sun., Sept. 7) Rex and Dess tell Jess at midnight about lore site
p.189 next day (Mon., Sept. 8,) Constanza invites Jess to party at Rustle’s Bottom on Fri.
p.201 next Wed. (Sept. 10) during midnight hour Melissa changes Jess’s parents’ minds about grounding
p.211 next day (Thurs., Sept. 11) Jess ungrounded, kisses Jonathan on top of Pegasus sign
p.231 next day (Fri., Sept. 12) party at Rustle’s Bottom, Jess discovers talent of flame-bringer
p.302 two midnights later (midnight of Sun., Sept. 14) right after midnight time, Melissa picks up on human thought threat to Jessica

Chronology, Book 2

p.4 Sat. night (Sept. 20) Jessica goes out at midnight although still grounded for another two weeks, Jessica has been in secret hour two weeks, two weeks later bruises from letting go of Jonathan’s hand just fading, Jessica has physics test on Mon., Jessica and Jonathan spot stalker with camera, Dess awakes early Sun. morning from dream, takes dad’s GPS
p.30 next day (Sun. Sept 21) Jessica had only felt secure in Bixby for a week before cameraman danger started, she and Jonathan visit Rex, Rex and Melissa touch, a week since drive back from Rustle’s Bottom; at midnight Rex and Melissa find Darkling Manor, see halfling
p.89 next day (Mon. Sept 22) Rex and Melissa skip school, ten days since Dess led Rex and Melissa across desert to snake pit, weekend before last found out Jessica was flame-bringer, Jonathan and Dess go back to Los Colonias, visit Darkling Manor, find bill for Ernesto Grayfoot, Jessica locks Beth in closet while out with Jonathan
p.157 next day (Tues. Sept 23) Dess finds Madeleine, Melissa and Rex go to Constanza’s house at midnight, Melissa finds out Ernesto is Constanza’s cousin, Madeleine puts directions to Constanza’s in Jessica and Jonathan’s heads, fight with darklings
p.206 next day (Wed. Sept 24) plan to meet at Constanza’s house on Friday, Beth resumes Beth Spaghetti night
p.235 next day (Thurs. Sept 25) at Madeleine’s, Dess realizes that runway is where halflings created
p.248 next day (Fri. Sept 26) Rex kidnapped, changed into darkling, Anathea released but dies, Jessica burns Rex back into human form
p.328 next day (Sat., Sept. 27) midnight hour, Jonathan meets Beth in Jessica’s bedroom, Dess, Melissa, and Rex at Madeleine’s

Chronology, Book 3

p.4 (Mon., Oct. 6) a month ago beginning-of-football-season pep rally, TEN DAYS ago Melissa invaded Dess’s mind to save Rex, blue time falls just after nine a.m., TEN DAYS since Rex’s transformation, Jessica’s grounding to end, a month from when police brought her home, Jessica’s last night of grounding, Dess at Maddy’s figures out Cassie captured by darklings, midnighters rescue Cassie
p.104 next day (Tues., Oct. 7) Rex found lore signs in kitchen this morning, at midnight Melissa mindcasts Cassie to make her forget
p.123 next day (Wed., Oct. 8,) Constanza tells group in a couple of weeks moving to LA with grandfather, Halloween MORE THAN three weeks away, another eclipse during lunch, Rex meets that night with Angie, then with ancient darklings, refuses their offer to join hunt
p.199 next Wed. (Oct. 15) Beth Spaghetti Night, Beth has Cassie over for dinner
p.210 that same night (Wed., Oct. 15) Samhain is SIXTEEN days away, Madeleine, Melissa, and Rex meld with old mindcasters, find out what darklings put in Rex’s mind about Samhain
p.224 next day (Thurs., Oct. 16) midnighters meet at Madeleine’s at night, to meet for experiments on Sat. morning
p.237 next day (Sat., Oct. 18) another eclipse, Rex does experiment with Caddy, ten days to Halloween
p.255 a week later: (Sat., Oct. 25) Halloween is SIX days away, Constanza to fly to LA day after tomorrow for a week
Samhain (FRIDAY., Oct. 31) Jessica stops rip by putting hand in frozen lightning on Mobile building
p.336 two weeks later (mid-Nov.) Beth taken by midnighters to remains of rip, meets Jessica

Fan Art Friday

Here’s some fan art to amuse you all, perhaps making up for my lack of postage.

But first a little news: Specials and Pretties have appeared on the NYT bestseller list! Specials has re-listed at #7 on the chapterbook list, and Pretties debuts at #8 on the paperback list.

The crazy thing is that Pretties has been out for more than a year. So the book’s appearance on a bestseller list means that you guys have been talking it up! And I mean that: At this point the only marketing is word of mouth. (And slipcases! Someone give me slipcases!)

So onward to the fan art . . . Here’s happy Tally celebrating the news. Dance, Tally, dance!

Animated gif by Breca H.

And here’s a vision of New pretty Town from the UK.

Picture by Joanna L., who’s working on a university design project based on Uglies.

And finally, an entry in the long-awaited Halloween costume ball, Dess with Purposelessly Hyperinflated Individuality!

Costume designed and worn by Kallie P., plus Psychokitty!

Send any more costume shots to my fan mail address. To do that, here and click “contact” in the upper right corner. Then replace the “at” with the “@”. Why is this so hard? To make spambots choke on their own bile, that’s why.

(I will keep your names secret, of course.)

And again, thanks for getting me on the list. Without you guys, I’m a crazy guy saying “bubbly” way too much.

YouTube Extravaganza

Yes, I may be in Thailand, but I’m working terribly, terribly hard on my next book.

No, really. So it wasn’t me who found these videos on YouTube, I swear. I’m working way too hard.

But here they are:

This video for So Yesterday has lots of cool split-screen energy.

And a smooth one for Midnighters. Check out the casting.

And this one, although it’s not really about Uglies, does give you some idea how much work goes into making people in magazine ads into pretties. (In some ways, Photoshopping inspired the trilogy more than cosmetic surgery.)

And here’s another really creepy one about extreme retouching. A must watch. It’s like the operation unfolding before your eyes.

And finally, I mentioned this excellent video review of Uglies in a previous post, but include it here for completeness.

Can you guys find any more? (One link per post, please, or my spam filter has a whole bag of zap with your name on it!)

London Reviews

So back when we were in London, which seems years ago now, I did a bunch of interviews. They’re starting to leak out this weekend, so I thought I’d give you guys a heads up.

Note to US and Australian readers: my YA books only appeared in the UK this year, so it’s all “new, new, new” to them.

First, here’s a profile by Amanda Craig, the YA and children’s reviewer for The Times—paper sometimes known as “The London Times” to us clueless USians.

Amanda’s a huge Uglies fan, so her profile is pretty cool. (And by the way, here’s her review of Uglies from earlier this year.)

There was also a great photoshoot for the article, in which I posed with a scalpel, surgical gloves, and an evil leer. Sort of the-author-as-Dr.-Cable. The photo isn’t online yet, but I’ll try to track it down. I’m dying to see it.

Secondly, I sat down with Meet The Author, a video series in which authors discuss their books. They have a whole siteful of cool interviews.

I’m trying to sound non-stupid. Can’t you tell?

It’s an interesting format: The author, which would be me, sits and talks straight to a camera for a minute or so. It’s all one continuous take, no editing, so it’s sort of raw and stumbly, but real. And highly unnerving for those of us who are used to rewriting our words a few dozen times before anyone see them.

Here are the results for The Last Days, Midnighters, and Peeps.

Note that for the moment, Peeps is called Parasite Positive in the UK. Apparently the slang word “peeps” has different connotations there, or something. (Trusty British readers, can you verify?)

(Hey, you can download these as audio from the iTunes store! Search on “Meet the Author,” then open up the “Meet the Author UK Podcast.”)

And finally, an amusement unrelated to the London trip: The Wikipedia entry for Samhain now lists Midnighters as a “Modern Popular Culture” reference.

One small wiki-woot for me, one giant step for Darkling-kind.

Update: This wiki-factoid was pointed out to me by Lyra!

Halloween Plans?

Hey, we’re headed out of town in an hour, and blogging may be sketchy, but to keep you guys entertained . . .

Is anyone planning any Westerfeldian Halloween costumes? Specials? Pretties? Midnighters? Peeps? Or just plain old zombies?

Let me know, and maybe we can put together a photo gallery in early November.

And to fill your swag bags with more than teeth-ruining candy, Penguin is running a bookclub sweepstakes! Enter to win up to ten copies of six books, including my latest, The Last Days. Basically, that’s one copy of each book for all of your bookclub members!

Spread the word.

Ciao till next week!

Midnighter Names

A few days ago, Justine wrote a post about character names. She and I agree pretty much on this issue: We don’t stress out insanely about finding the one and only true name that magically brings a character to life. When I hear other writers talk about that stuff, I wonder if perhaps it’s a way of procrastinating to avoid the real work of getting inside character’s head. (That is, knowing their favorite breakfast condiment, shoe size, and relationship to Pluto.)

But people are fascinated with names, or at least the people who write me fan mail are, so without further ado . . .

Here’s the first episode of “Why I Chose the Names I Did,” which is all about my first YA series, Midnighters!

Jessica Day
Her working name was Gillian Flood, which I still think rocks. “Gillian” is the name of a pal of mine (who managed to get a law degree in the time it took me to write the whole trilogy: congrats!). Alas, my heroine’s name was destined to change.

The “Flood” went early on, in the proposal stage. Basically, an editor at the packaging house happened to have the last name “Flood,” and they found the confluence a bit weird. So someone chose “Day,” for obvious reasons—indeed, too obvious, some might say (including me). I didn’t raise much of a fuss at the time, because this was not where I wanted to fight my battles. So “Gillian Day” it was.

After the book was done, one of the higher-ups at HarperCollins decided she didn’t like “Gillian.” My frequent shortening to “Gill” sounded fishy to her. “Jillian” was proposed, but that spelling felt like a spike in my brain. The issue languished, and the book’s protagonist remained unnamed until late in the editorial process, when I not-so-brilliantly suggested Jessica/Jess as a replacement. (See directly below for why this was dumb.)

And thus Jessica Day was born.

Dess (no last name) was always named “Dess.” As she puts it in The Secret Hour, it’s supposedly short for Desdemona, but secretly short for “decimal.”

I think Dess’s name is perfect, quick-witted and math-geeky, just like her.

Alas, it friggin’ rhymes with Jess. I didn’t even notice this until an editor had run the Search-and-Replace right before the page proofs were produced for The Secret Hour. Egads! All those Desses and Jesses next to each other, causing eyeball fatigue! Some readers have written to say it makes their brain hurt, others don’t notice at all.

In Touching Darkness, I pay a swift homage to this issue:

Beth turned from her cooking. “You have a friend called Dess, Jess?”
“Yeah, it’s a mess.”

At least one highly visual reader said it got even worse for him when this next double-S feminine name was thrown into the mix . . .

Melissa is the first of a Westerfeldian breed: interestingly crazy women whose names begin with M. Later in Midnighters we meet Madeleine, and readers of The Last Days will see the tradition continued with Minerva (more on her in a later episode of this show). Some might suggest that David’s mom in Uglies, Maddy, also fits this profile. That’s probably a bit unfair, though Tally might think otherwise.

But within the midnighters’ world, the m has tons of connections, which brings us to . . .

The initial M makes Madeleine a typographical sister to Melissa. Plus they’re both mindcasters, misanthropes, and malcontents.

But more importantly, a madeleine is a pastry with a history. Savor this, if you will . . .

photo credit: The Food Section

You see, a madeleine features heavily in Rememberance of Things Past, Marcel Proust’s book in which a man eating a madeleine has a memory flashback, vast chunks of the past skittering out of his mind for the next 800 pages, all because of the familiar taste. That’s right, it’s exactly the sort of effect that touching a mindcaster can have (and, of course, mindcasting uses tastes as its central metaphors for people’s thoughts and memories).

Cool, huh? Touching Darkness, and indeed the whole Midnighters series, is all about the rememberance of things past . . .

Pretentious? Moi?

Rex Greene
“Rex” means king, which makes the name pretty ironic at first. He’s supposed to be the leader of the midnighters, but he’s somewhat shaky, as kings go.

Of course, by Blue Noon Rex is more of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Hah!

I have no idea where “Greene” came from.

Jonathan Martinez
Jonathan’s name also just came out of nowhere. Of all the characters, he’s the only one whose last name is a data point about him. After all, he’s Hispanic and has some plot-related knowledge of Spanish. (Also, it would be lame to set a book in Oklahoma without a Hispanic character, especially given the importance of history and colonization in the series.)

“Martinez” is pretty common, just as Greene and Day are. In fact, all the midnighter characters have vaguely generic last names, as if they’re just being slotted into historical roles handed down over the generations. But maybe that’s overthinking it . . .

Other Characters
Don Day: as in “dawn day”? An appalling combination that also didn’t occur to me until too late. Argh.

Beth: for some reason, the ultimate little sister name.

Jessica’s Mom: She has no first nameI What’s up with that? Well, Jessica is really much closer to her mom than her dad, so while she often thinks of him as “Don,” her mom is only ever “Mom.” A subtle but effective way to show family dynamics.

Constanza Greyfoot: I just love “Constanza” as a slightly overblown name for a comic character. And of course (spoiler alert!) her last name is a big deal in Books 2 and 3.

Cassie Flinders: Matthew Flinders was an early European explorer of Australia, where I started to write the series. Cassie herself is an explorer of the Blue Time. And Cassie? Well, “Cassie-Anne” was going to be my name if I’d been a girl. (Tell no one.)

Angie: is a friend of mine who was house-sitting for us while I wrote The Secret Hour. You see, I was telling her how to pay bills and fix the toilet via email, just as the Darklings told Angie what to do via . . . tile-mail. Or something.

That’s all I can think of. Are there any of your fave Midnighters characters I’ve missed?

Actually, that was fun. I’ll write soon about character names in my other books, ending up with The Last Days, of course. Which is (did I mention?) out now!

If you haven’t read the series and your interest is piqued, feel free to go buy Midnighters.

Forums, Sampler, Fan Art (updated)

A bunch of Westerfeldian forums have sprung up all over the place lately, and have been mentioned in the comments, but I thought I’d link to them from here. just appeared and has been rocking, with discussions on all my books. [Update: This one has moved to this new link due to high demand. Update your bookmarks!]

This forum has been around a while, and is specifically about Midnighters.

Here’s the Westerfeld Fans Myspace site.

And the Westerfeld LiveJournal community.

Have I missed any? Let me know.

In other news, Simon & Schuster, publishers of Uglies, have created a free sampler of their fantasy authors. It includes an excerpt of Specials and nine other books:

SWASHBUCKLING FANTASY features excerpts from 10 series by bestselling and critically acclaimed authors such as Margaret Petersen Haddix, author of the Shadow Children series, D.J. MacHale, author of the Pendragon series, Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies and Holly Black, author of Valiant. This online sampler also highlights six debut series from rising stars in fantasy, including Kai Meyer, Jane Johnson and Obert Skye. This fantasy sampler is the perfect way to introduce middle grade through teen readers to alternate worlds, distant pasts and fantastic creatures!

You can either take a look at the sampler or go straight to downloading.

Also, enjoy this lovely piece of fan art from Refrigerate Kate, which shows Tally hanging out in Diego.

I love the use of lighting to show that Tally’s sort of freaked out and alone.

And finally, for those of you who want to know what a tridecagram looks like, here’s one from . . . Alissa! And it came from the fan art section of Morgan’s site. Kewl.

Midnighters Comics 3

More comics have arrived from Brianne! (Remember the ones in this post and this one?) Anyway, she’s delivered more scenes from behind the scenes of Blue Noon.

And, as usual, they rock:

Click here for the big version.

So, I’m headed off to Bologna, Italy for the book fair and SCBWI conference. I don’t think I’ll have much internet access for a week or so, but I will have interesting tales to tell when I get back to Sydney.

I hope.