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July 5, 2011

Geoff Herbach: Boy Book Dream

Posted by jordana

herbach1closeupsmall.jpgstupidfastfinalcover1.jpgHi everyone! Hope your July 4th weekends were full of fire (works, of course), grilled goodness, and maybe some beach time if you were lucky! Today we have Geoff Herbach, author of STUPID FAST, a book about a boy, sports, and being a serious dork, and he's here talking with us about writing for boys and looking forward to the day when more guys head out to bookish events.

I’ve done a lot of author events lately to support my new book STUPID FAST. Most of these events have been with other debut YA authors – all of whom are women. I sort of enjoy that.  

Here’s a problem, though: Audience members at these events are always, approximately, 98% girls and their moms. I know girls read and have lots of books aimed at them. But where are the boys? It’s a problem.
When I was fourteen-years-old, I played sports. Football was my favorite, by far. I played it during the day and dreamed of it at night – often times I couldn’t run in these dreams, because the air was made of Jell-O, and my mom was yelling at me from the stands to turn my jeans right-side-out before stuffing them in my laundry basket, and, speaking of pants, there was a giant hole right in the butt area of my football pants? Everyone could see my butt? These weren’t great dreams. 
I also played in the orchestra, tried out for plays, and did okay in school. On paper I looked like a normal kid, maybe even a pretty high achieving kid.
Here’s the truth, though: I was all crazy on the inside. I was all like: “I should shower again because… is there a weird smell? What are you looking at? I think Kerri and Audrey are laughing at me. I hate them!  My shirt doesn’t fit. What’s that smell?   I love Jenny. I love her. She hates me! What’s wrong with my shirt? There’s definitely something wrong with my ear. What are you looking at? What’s that weird smell?” ETC.
Crazy town. But… here’s the truth: not abnormal.
Having taught writing to college kids for the last six years, here’s something I know for a fact: Almost everyone felt like a dork as a teen. They all write about it.  
Crazy feelings of remarkable dorkiness are part of growing up. But, boy culture puts a premium on hiding the truth. The only time emotion should be demonstrated is after a victory of some kind. Score a touchdown, defeat your gamer enemy, destroy the competition at the spelling bee, then, go ahead, jump around like a crazy monkey (maybe just high-five someone if you’re in the spelling bee). Otherwise, do not emote! And, so, I think boys feel alone. They don’t know that everyone else feels dorky, too.
Reading helps. When I was fourteen, I read. A lot. If I hadn’t read Catcher in the Rye my life would’ve been much worse. Holden Caufield’s thoughts were so familiar to me. Even if they were a little terrifying, and he was on the edge, I knew that I wasn’t alone. I began to devour anything with a male teenage protagonist. The more gritty, the more down to earth, the better (this was a big change, because up until that point, I pretty much read fantasy). Vision Quest, The Chocolate War, I am the Cheese, A Separate Peace – all of these books went down fast for me. But soon, I ran out of material. I moved to adult books and then sort of stopped until college.
Now, I have a thirteen-year-old son. He’s just gone through that transformation. A year ago, he was a kid. Now, he definitely isn’t. A year ago, he read every single fantasy series he could get his hands on. Now, he’ll read if he finds a book that speaks to him. He read Going Bovine twice. He plowed through It’s Kind of a Funny Story. He devoured House of Tomorrow.  I just handed him The Pull of Gravity. There are a handful of other titles and thankfully John Green is in his future, but really, honestly, there isn’t much out there written for him (and his very smart crew of friends, none of whom read very much right at the moment they need it most). They need more books, seriously!
I’m on a mission, I guess. I want to write good stories that anyone might love, but I’m aiming squarely at teen boys. Girls are so lucky to have dozens of great books coming every month that speak to their experience. Because boys have a reputation for not reading, the book business doesn’t pop out much for them. But, boys are whacked out dorks like the rest of us and they need this material! So, if you’re a boy, go to book events, seek out new work. If you’re not, make sure the boys in your life are aware they’re not alone. And get them what’s available so the business puts out even more.
Yes, I have a dream. I dream of a day when I do an author event filled with dudes who are psyched to read more. I only hope I don’t have a hole in my pants on that day.
Tell me your book dream. Contact me at or on Twitter: @geoffherbach. 
--- Geoff Herbach