Geoff Herbach Guest Post + Giveaway
Geoff Herbach is the Author in the Spotlight here on BookSnob for the month of April. He has written a guest post on why he writes for those crazy, fun loving teenagers in our life. As a parent and a teacher of teens, I'm so glad he does. Plus I love to read YA myself, because I've still got my teenage heart. Read on.
By Geoff Herbach
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve been asked a bunch of times, in various ways, the following: Why YA? Sometimes the question is vaguely snotty (often from smart-looking 14-year-old boys who clearly read Ulysses). Sometimes it’s academic (kids firing out frantic emails to complete school book reports). Sometimes it’s aspirational (“I, too, have a multi-book YA series in mind,” means the insomniac college girl). Often it’s laced with sympathy (“Male lead? Well, good luck to you,” is the subtext of the publishing professional).
At first my answer was pretty flat. I’d say something like, “I just got this wicked monkey voice in my head and what am I going to do with it? Tell it to shut up? No, I’m going to write that monkey down!”
But because the question is asked so often and because the asker has so often been of the non-snotty, sincere variety, I’ve been forced to reflect, to shut my eyes, to breathe deep (exhale = om) and to think hard about my intent. This doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m inclined to spend hours reading the box scores of baseball games. I’m inclined to watch cat videos on YouTube. I’m compelled to look at endlessly excellent photos of family pancake breakfasts, hilarious cake crushing one-year-olds, and Boundary Waters fishing trips posted to Facebook by all 7 or 8 billion inhabitants of planet earth.
Considering my intent? Ow. Makes me want to stare at the contents of the refrigerator (that’s myliteral response, upon which I should also reflect at some point).
Okay. My eyes are closed. Here’s what I know.
A few years ago, my son’s voice dropped and he grew six inches. He grew a fluffy little mustache. He began to smell like a donkey in a stable (as all young men do). And, he stopped reading anything.
I mean anything! Where once he had a book perched in front of him (or a magazine or the text of a cereal box or a ‘how-to’ manual) at all waking hours, he had nothing. Air. Space. He stared into nothingness. He waited for his next opportunity to bask in the glow of whatever electronic screen that became available to him.
When I asked what happened, why books no longer stayed in his hands, he replied, “They don’t apply to me.”
“And the Wizarding World once did apply?”
He shrugged and pulled out his cell phone.
Yes. Really. I started writing YA with the explicit purpose of appealing to my son who no longer liked books. I thought be funny. I thought use some rough language. I thought get sports and music in there, and girls. And I wrote and entertained myself, made myself laugh. This monkey voice, rambling, weird, unending, did its job.
But that was just the start. My son’s brand new fluffy mustache didn’t drive the story.
My eyes are still closed. I’m breathing quietly.
I spent my first few years as a YA writer really focused on sport. It’s something I know. I grew up in jock culture. I grew up among athletes who gained power based solely on their ability to kill it on the field. I probably benefitted from that in high school. I saw athletes sometimes treat others terribly. When I was younger, smaller, dorkier, I was often the victim of this culture of cruelty. Show the weak how weak they really are. Throw around that physical and societal strength.
At the far, worst end, think Steubenville, Ohio.
We hear so many of those stories. Monolithic jock culture crushes goodness… But, wait.
Here’s the truth: most of what I saw in jock culture wasn’t like that. Most of the kids I knew growing up were naturally kind. Most wanted to do good. And, athletes, because they have this societal cache (not that they deserve it, necessarily, but it’s real) have the power to make schools, communities, and other kids safer and better.
I’m naturally inclined to nerdiness. As a kid, I was awkward, uncomfortable, too smart, couldn’t shut up, too jumpy. For no apparent reason, a couple of athletes in my school protected me. That’s what I know.
Having traveled quite a bit to schools, though, I’ve heard the other side of that story, the part where jock culture actually does crush goodness.
My nerdiness manifested itself not just in raising my hand and trying to answer every question a teacher would ask, but also in music. I was obsessed with cellos. I sang in the madrigal choir, which required me to walk around school in Shakespearean garb on some days. I feel those kids, too.
So, this last book Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders, is about a music kid finding his voice and power to make change. He also has to confront his own prejudices. To succeed, he has to be kind, too.
Here’s what I think: I started these books with a simple intent: trick kids (my son!) into reading. They evolved into a meditation on the kindness that was shown me by a few kids, on the many ways a kid can find his or her identity and use that to help themselves and others.
I hope there are kids out there who think after reading these books: I’m going to make the world a better place. I have the power.
That’s why YA. Now, I’m going to stare into the refrigerator.
BIO: Geoff Herbach is the author of the award winning Stupid Fast series (Stupid Fast, Nothing Special, and I’m With Stupid). His next book, Fat Boy verses The Cheerleaders, comes out in 2014 from Sourcebooks Fire. In the past, he wrote the literary novel, The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, produced radio comedy shows and toured rock clubs telling weird stories. Geoff teaches creative writing at Minnesota State, Mankato. He lives in a log cabin with a very tall wife.
If you would like to win a copy of Geoff's Stupid Fast trilogy enter here: Stupid Fast Trilogy Giveaway