Monday, August 08, 2005

Author Interview: David Lubar on Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar (Dutton, 2005). An insider's look at Scott's freshman year of high school as he tries to win a girl, finds another, stumbles into sports reporting, is unfortunately successful at politics, joins a theater crew, loses and gains friends, dodges bullies, seeks inspiration in English class, sometimes stands up for what's right and sometimes doesn't, and chronicles the highlights for his still in utero baby brother AKA "you quivering sack of viscous fluids" (p. 44). Ages 12-up. Highest recommendation. See more of my thoughts on Sleeping Freshman Never Lie.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Fear of poverty. I knew that if I could write a really funny book, I’d win all sorts of major prizes and get taken to lunch every day for the rest of my life by really cool librarians. (It’s a little-known fact that librarians nearly always know where to find the best brewpub in any town.) I tried this a couple times before, but I kept forgetting to kill a major character. I think I might have messed up that death part again, but we’ll see. And I probably made the parents way too nice. Beyond that, I was just playing around with the idea of a kid writing a journal to his unborn sibling.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I write tons of first chapters. It’s a shotgun approach. Thank goodness hard drive capacity keeps growing. After I finished Dunk for Clarion, I showed my editor there some of my works in progress, and she liked that one. So I wrote the rest of the book, mostly in the spring of 2002.

The first draft was completely in journal form. Actually, it would be more accurate to call it epistolary, since the journal is written directly to the unborn sibling.

Soon after it was finished, my editor moved to Dutton and asked me to submit the book there. But she also asked me to consider rewriting it, or at least major parts of it, as a traditional narrative since the journal voice tends to distance the main character from the reader. I played around with that and liked the approach.

The book went through various revisions all the way through fall of 2002 and most of 2003. I was traveling a lot, which slowed things down. I think it went into copy editing in February of 2004. It was scheduled for a March release in 2005, but we ran into a snag.

I wanted to call it Flux Sux. We were all set to do that, but a couple months later, my editor got cold feet and said we should change the title. I agreed, but we couldn’t find a title we both liked. She decided to delay the book until July to give us time. Then left Dutton, orphaning me for a second time. On the positive side, she did come up with the new title.

Despite the delay, some nice stuff has already happened. Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio company acquired the audio rights. They’ll be recording it in October. Read Magazine is going to excerpt the first chapter. The book got a BBYA nomination from the ALA and a star from School Library Journal. And it got a very cool review from a teen on Di Herald’s site. The only negative event so far is that Kirkus Reviews liked it. I usually depend on them to be nasty as a sign I’m on the right track. But I think the book is strong enough to survive a bit of praise from the dark side.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

The major challenge for me was the structure. I had narrative and journal entries, along with the creative writing that Scott did. (Bit of trivia – the last item on Scott’s list of reasons not to wrestle is the only things I’ve ever written that is guaranteed to get a laugh from an auditorium filled with 7th graders.) I had to make it all flow, and make sure that the journal was distinct. If the journal was similar to the narrative, there would be no point in having it.

Some of the literary aspects were inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses. (I knew all those college English courses would come in handy some day.) In there, each chapter plays with a different form of rhetoric. I didn’t exactly do that, but instead had the rhetoric play with the form of some of the chapters. (As much as I’m a comic guy and a goofball, and as much as I’d hate to be taken too seriously, I really hope people notice that there’s some very cool stuff going on here at many different levels. I’m sickeningly proud of the point-of-view chapter.)

The writing process involved a lot of moments of giddiness and joy. I had fun, and I’m not about to apologize for failing to suffer for my art.

The other huge challenge was to keep track of all the plot threads and characters. I made a chart that marked the appearance of characters in each chapter, just to make sure I didn’t let anyone stay off stage for too long. But I’d managed to pull of a pretty complex structure with Flip, which had five third-person viewpoints, and I’d woven together various non-narrative elements in Hidden Talents, so I wasn’t in uncharted waters as far as complexity.

Research wasn’t much of a problem since I was doing so many school visits at the time, and my daughter was still in high school in 2002. Besides, this is fiction, so I just make up facts when I need them. I’m pretty sure nobody will notice that the mother is pregnant for thirteen months, or that the Delaware River now flows to Ohio. The ultimate challenge was to make the book as funny as possible, while still keeping it real.

Cynsational notes: see the CLSCLR search engine for a 2002 interview with David. By the way, he coins the word "cynterview;" do we love it? Yes, we do!

Don't miss other recent cynterviews with: Anne Bustard on Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005); Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein on Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America (Harper, 2005); Elisa Carbone on Last Dance On Holladay Street (Knopf, 2005); Mary E. Pearson on A Room On Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, 2005); Cecil Castellucci on Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005); Kerry Madden on Gentle's Holler (Viking, 2005); Jennifer Richard Jacobson on Stained (Atheneum, 2005); Lara M. Zeises on Anyone But You (Delacorte, 2005); and Betty G. Birney on The World According To Humphrey (Putnam, 2004) and Friendship According To Humphrey (Putnam, 2005).

Cynsational News & Links

Frogger's Main Man: An Interview with David Lubar by Peggy Tibbetts from Writing-World.com. See also Peggy's colum, Advice from a Caterpillar: Writing for Children on the advantages of POD publishing over self-publishing.

David Lubar: Award-winning Writer with a Sense of Humor by Sue Reichard from suite101.com.

Legal Writes: Writing About Family Members by Kohel M. Haver, Attorney, Kohel Haver & Associates from The Purple Crayon.

Recommendation of The Perfect Shot by Elaine Marie Alphin (Carolrhoda, 2005) from genrefluent.

Recommendation of A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006) from The Goddess of YA Literature, who incidentally refers to me as her "
fairy godmother and mistress of the best darned web site around." I'm still preening.

And speaking of my site, the redesign is going full-steam ahead thanks to the fabulous Lisa Firke. Expect greatness (and far less yellow) soon.

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