Friday, October 28, 2011

Outlaw Boots, pair #10: Steve Brezenoff


(Yes, hello and welcome to another pair of Outlaw Boots, but you guys! You need to know this person!)

This is Steve Brezenoff, fellow YA writer and good man all around. I like this picture, because you can see him. Usually he hides under a baseball cap. He wrote a book whose concept is so simple and so complex it blows me away.

That book is BROOKLYN, BURNING, and it's gotten rave reviews. The short synopsis is this: Sixteen-year-old Kid, who lives on the streets of Brooklyn, loves Felix, a guitarist and junkie who disappears, leaving Kid the prime suspect in an arson investigation, but a year later Scout arrives, giving Kid a second chance to be in a band and find true love.

That synopsis might be true, but the book is waaaaaay more incredible than that. And even though I'd rather let the book reveal it for you, the premise is too cool not to share: Kid and Scout don't have pronouns. Isn't that GREAT? You spend the entire book not knowing if Kid and Scout are hes or shes or zhes or hirs or another kind of human entirely. PHENOMENAL. And imagine trying to write it. Yeah. Not knowing a character's gender spins a narrative (especially a love story) in so many new directions I don't know where to begin. Basically, I'm jealous of the idea, and his lovely writing makes the idea even more profound--and profoundly beautiful.

All of this is to say Steve Brezenoff wears Outlaw Boots. Here's why:

--Who's your most outlaw character (in any book)--why?
I think every one of my characters has broken plenty of laws. But Kid’s the biggest outlaw, despite not being guilty of the central crime.

--Are you an outlaw too? How do you know?
In the general sense, I hope my fiction is iconoclastic enough to pull me along with it into some respectable level of outlawness.

--What kind of shoes does your outlaw wear (you or your character)?
Checkered Vans, just like Scout, and Scout’s an outlaw as much as Kid is.

--Pirate, ninja, nerd, other outlaw title for you/your character:

Ninja, because my book of the moment is AS King’s Everybody Sees the Ants, and it’s got outlaw kindness ninjas and they rule.

--Best thing about being an outlaw:
The hours.

--Favorite outlaw/badass food:
I bet a purely outlaw character would be vegan. Hail seitan.

--Favorite outlaw/badass role model/why:
Butch Cassidy. You thought I’d say Holden Caulfield, didn’t you?

You need to pick this book up, friends, but start your Steve Brezenoff reading extravaganza with THE ABSOLUTE POWER OF -1, Steve's first book. Now go!

Friday, October 14, 2011


As writers, we think about audience, especially if we're kidlit writers. To me, a YA audience seems complicated: does one F bomb make a book inappropriate for 12-year-olds? What about two? Is a trans guy appropriate for 13-year-olds? The answer, of course, depends on the audience members. One dad might be OK with his 12-year-old reading an F bomb. One mom might not be. A writer can't worry about that stuff, at least not right away. It is life-threatening to your story.

How this picture relates: I have wanted purple hair for a long time--a LONG time--and now I have some, and I love it. Kid likes it, husband is neutral. Friends? Nobody will care. The question is my work audience. My boss's boss will assume I'm a bad influence (he already does), my boss won't care, and my students will laugh or make fun of me. Any/all of that is fine. It's my hair and I like it (it's slightly Rainbow Brite, for those of you who remember her, but that's OK). Don't trust my abilities anymore because of my hair? Your loss.

If you grew up in a house like mine, audience awareness was key--you learned it before you learn to read, because the grown-ups were unpredictable and you had to be on guard. As a grown-up, that ability to read the room is very useful, but it's also dangerous when there's no threat. Being on guard all the time is harmful.

Same with writing. If I'm thinking audience all the time, my book becomes someone else's book, because I'm writing for their expectations. I don't want that. If I write the book I love, an F bomb in the wrong place won't jinx things. And if it does, that person isn't my audience. I'll find my peeps somewhere.

Same with purple hair.