Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Hello, Weenies (guest post by author David Lubar)

Happy Halloween! Or should I say, “Happy Halloweenies”.  Today, we bring you this special treat – a guest post by author David Lubar. Now you can’t play any tricks on us.  Enjoy this low calorie treat.  Sure it’s not chocolate, but it won’t go straight to your hips either.  But it will nourish your BRAAAIIINNNSSS so they are big and juicy when the zombies come.

The other day, I noticed that my newest story collection had acquired a dusting of one-star ratings on a popular book site. It had an abundance of higher ratings, so I wasn’t traumatized, but I was curious about what was behind this unary starring. As I clicked my way into the depths, I discovered that there are people who feel my stories are totally unsuitable for the young readers in my target audience. (The people in question were the parents of young readers, and not the readers themselves.) They especially objected to the fact that some of my characters experienced horrifying fates.  

It would be easy and cavalier to dismiss these objections with a smirk or a profane response. (Or, given that I’m from New Jersey, a mono-digital flash of the state bird.) But I do consider myself a moral and responsible member of society. I donate to charities, I care about others, I hold doors for strangers, and I try to do my part in the never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way. I decided to give the matter a fair amount of serious thought, and eventually came to the conclusions presented below.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the Weenies short-story collections (currently comprising six books and containing more than 200 stories), a fair number of the tales end with a character’s death or some other unpleasant fate. To cite some examples, a boy is on a carnival ride that turns into a blender, two boys who are frying ants with a magnifying glass get crushed by falling blue ice dropped from a jet’s lavatory, and a boy who is turned into a slug after he’s gorged himself on salty pretzels gets dissolved into a puddle of slug goo by the salt. (If the slug-goo image made you smile, you can climb down from the moral high ground right now and join me in the cellar. If the image of the blender made you cringe, I should warn you that that’s not the worst part of the story.)

I would like to think, upon analysis, that my work shares the sensibilities of three familiar forms of entertainment — fairy tales, animated cartoons, and adult horror stories. It also, serendipitydubiously, connects with the very soul of Halloween, allowing me to present this essay in conjunction with that holiday, as opposed to hurling it at you at a random time. (It also gave me an actual deadline, without which I seem pathetically incapable of getting anything done.)

In the original version of Grimm’s tales, characters meet terrible fates. Eyes are pecked out by birds. Toes are amputated in an effort to fit feet into slippers. And sentences are passified in order to seem deeper. No. Wait. Ignore that last one. But you get the idea. Fairy tales, which served, among other things, to warn youngsters against doing dangerous things like moving next door to a witch or stealing from the king, presented all sort of dreadful outcomes. There is some debate as to what degree these tales were cautionary as opposed to being told solely for entertainment. But if I wanted to do research, I wouldn’t be writing fiction about vampire catfish and vengeful trees. So let’s move on.

Find out more about Itchy & Scratchy at Horrorpedia

In Saturday-morning cartoons, characters suffer hideous fates purely for entertainment, as they do in horror stories. (The Itchy and Scratchy cartoon-within-a-cartoon on The Simpsons is a perfect self parody of this concept.)  We’ve touched on the value of fairy tales. What about cartoons and horror stories? Are they devoid of any redeeming value? I don’t think so. The horror story allows us to face fears we know aren’t real. If you’ve never been scared by the Bogey Man (he was really creepy in Casablanca), are you going to be less agile in your reaction when you encounter a swarm of bees or a rabid dog? If you fear the monster under the bed, and eventually lose that fear, doesn’t that make you a stronger person? I’d like to think so. (As a side note, my next horror collection, Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales, coming from Tor in 2014, contains a story called “M.U.B,” written as a dialogue between a kid and the monster under his bed. I had no idea where the story would go when I started it. I just wanted to write something purely in dialogue. But it turned into a story where the monster justifies his existence on the basis of his role teaching important life skills.)

Cartoons mostly make us laugh, but they can also make us care and empathize. It’s not Bugs Bunny who is getting blown to smithereens. It’s the hunter who is trying to shoot him, or the duck that is trying to best him.  Speaking of empathy, not all of the Weenies stories involve tragic endings. One of my favorites involves a girl who refuses to be a victim. Coincidentally, it is a Halloween story. Happily, you can read it here

I’ll add one more example. Entertainment for grown-ups is filled with the amusing destruction of both the living and the inanimate. (Paging Bruce Willis…) Think about any Monty Python movie. When the Black Knight is being cut to pieces, one lopped-off limb at a time, the audience doesn’t recoil in sympathy — they howl with laughter. Remember when Indiana Jones [SPOILER ALERT!!!] shot the guy who was swinging a sword in a threatening manner? That’s hailed as a classic comic moment in the movies. One human being shot another. In the real world, this would be tragic. But we know the world of the movie – or the fantasy short story – isn’t real. We loved it when Indy pulled the trigger. It was perfect in so many ways.

Halloween, as we all know, is about facing the fears that are beyond our physical control, and even our physical world. The spirits and spooks walk among us for a night, and yet we remain unscathed. Many of the Weenies stories carry this same theme that we should face our fears. The Weenies Topical and Literary Index points to six stories about “Facing Fears.” (Yes, I really created this, when I was badly in need of an excuse to avoid doing real work.) There are also a lot of stories about bullies since, if I’m going to drop a terrible fate on a character, he might as well be a bully.

So, to those who recoil in horror at my stories, I offer two thoughts. If your children are not comfortable with my work, by all means feel free to tell the world about the contents, and your reasons for objecting to them. But also know that there are children out there who love these stories, and they are not being harmed by them. They are learning to face fears. They are meeting a variety of literary structures and styles. (Another joyful aspect of writing stories is that I can experiment without all sorts of viewpoints, narrative tricks, styles, and techniques. It’s a lot riskier to do that in a novel.) My influences include both O. Henry and Borges. I am a fan of Saki and Joyce, as well as Bradbury and King.  My readers encounter a wealth of ideas and a rich vein of imagination. There are stories about Zeno’s Paradox, pyramid schemes, and linguistics. My readers are also being entertained. I humbly submit that I make them want to read more. This is not an opinion or suspicion on my part. I’ve been told this many times, in person and in email, by teachers, parents, and librarians.

I do have standards and limits. I exercise these in two ways. If I’m at a signing and a parent wants to buy a Weenies collection for a younger child, I always say, “Some of these stories are very dark. You should preview them, first.” (Far too often, this draws the response, “He reads above his level.” To which I am so tempted to respond, “And I write below my level.”) I’ve talked people out of buying the books, or into setting them aside for a year or two.

At times, I’ll write a story that is too dark for the Weenies, or too close to something that could happen in the real world. I set these stories aside. I gathered a batch recently. They can be found in Extremities: Stories of Death, Murder, and Revenge.

So, yes, I write stories where my characters are destroyed in horrifying ways. And I don’t deny that this is not typical subject matter for most authors. I’ll even allow that it might indicate flaws in my character or issues that should be addressed by way of therapy. I’m proud, when all is said and done, that I am doing everything I can to create a larger audience for good old-fashioned short stories. And I will argue against claims that my stories are unsuitable for all children or that they break moral standards. Don’t take my word for this. Ask some kids. 


About David Lubar: David Lubar is an author of numerous books for teens. He is also an electronic game programmer, who programmed Super Breakout for the Nintendo Game Boy, and Frogger for both the SNES and Game Boy. 

You can find him on Twitter and online at DavidLubar.com.

TLA Baby!

Tuesday night I left work and drove 4 1/2 hours to make my pilgrimage to TLA.  TLA baby, here I came! It was a truly amazing day where I met a ton of amazing teen authors, talked to publishers and yes, I received some ARCs (which will get their own post).

Although the exhibit halls were amazing, and I’ll get back to them, the fun truly began at the Texas Teen Author Tea.  Here we were invited to speed date with a wide variety of amazing teen authors.  There were 60 authors in total present, but I didn’t get to date them all.  The even was introduced by Andrea White, author of the fabulous Surviving Antarctica, which I have loved for a long time and being a new Texas transplant I had no idea she was a Texas author.  Ms. White, it was announced, gave some money to YART, the Young Adult Round Table, and they were starting some cool online resources including something called SPOT, the Spirit of Texas Reading Program.  My favorite was when she said that our goal – authors, librarians – was to help teens learn that “books are relationships”, a book is more than just two covers with pages in between.  Well said.

Then the speed dating began!

First I dated Morgan Matson, author of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour and the upcoming Second Chance Summer, and Jessi Kirby, author of Moonglass and the upcoming In Honor.  Both of these ladies were incredibly nice and I was lucky to later get signed copies of books by both.  Second Chance Summer and In Honor are both contemporary titles and I am so excited to read them.  As much as I love paranormal and dystopian – and you know I do! – it is always great to have those contemporary titles that help teens see the real world they live in just a little different, to open their hearts and minds and just be.

I had just tweeted that I hoped I got to meet David Lubar and bam – he sat down right next to me.  David is funny, not surpringly.  I also got the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated authors like him who participated in the Yalsa-bk listserv discussions (Alex Flinn and Jonathan Maberry post frequently as well).  And then he mentioned the possibility of Zombie Weenies! I know he would also want me to mention the Weenies Topical and Literary Index, where he painstakingly indexed his weenies stories.  With David Lubar I met Christina Mandelski, the author of The Sweetest Thing.  My favorite part was when she told us that she took cake decorating classes to help her write this book and admitted to being obsessed with The Food Network.

I then got to meet Mary Lindsey, whose book Shattered Souls may have the most fabulous book cover ever.  She did a great job of selling her book and talked about the book cover process and it was very cool.  I ran into her again later and we chatted some more.  She shared that she was in the process of writing a very cool sounding Poe inspired book that I honestly can not wait to read.  With Mary came Greg Leitich Smith, author of Chronal Engine and yes, husband to Cynthia Lietich Smith.  He came bearing dinosaur tattoos and as far as I am concerned, there can no be enough dinosaur books.

I also met (cue squeeing) Megan Miranda, author of the breathtaking Fracture and learned that she has a background in science that helped influence the book.  Stasia Kehoe talked about her book, Audition, and how it really delves into the question of identity and talent and passion.  Also, audition has ballet and dance is really popular right now.  Here is my true confessions moment: I always wanted to be a ballerina, I own a copy of Center Stage and watch it often, and I watch Dance Academy on Teen Nick – purely for professional reasons, of course).  Then P. J. Hoover talks about her undying love of mythology and how it plays into her book series which begins with book 1, The Emerald Tablet.  Fans of the Percy Jackson series will love these.

After being sad for a few moment about the authors I didn’t get to speed date, which for me included Orson Scott Card, I returned to the exhibit halls where I had to buy a new copy of Shiver so I could have it signed by Maggie Steifvater.  Being a huge Shiver fan, this was quite the moment for me and Maggie was incredibly nice and gracious to everyone who stood in that line.

Then – bam – the moment truly had a moment of synergy as just that moment John Corey Whaley had written his Why YA? post about Love is the Higher Law and who should I meet?  Why yes, David Levithan himself.  He is, of course, one half of the brilliant writing partnership behind the truly marvelous Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  And it turns out, he is a book editor.  He is, in fact, the editor of The List by Shiobhan Vivian.  I have been dying to read this book so yes, yes I did buy it and get it signed.  I also got a picture of the wonder team.

Then, the most amazing thing happened! I met Barry Lyga.  That’s right folks, THAT Barry Lyga.  Author of the fabulous, and fabulously creepy, I Hunt Killers.  He himself is not creepy, just the book.  But fabulously so.  Barry himself was very personable.

I also met and talked to a look author named Beth Fehlbaum.  Her book, Hope in Patience, is a 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  Hope in Patience is about one young girls journey of recovery from abuse.  Fans of the Dave Pelzer books will want to read these.

I learned at the Harper Collins booth that Robison Wells was going to be at TLA today, a truly devastating realization for me as I left last night.  Thursday, in fact, is teen day and they are having a ton of great authors, groups of teens, lots of great ARCs and a huge Divergent/Insurgent moment.  I ran into a bunch of great librarians, authors and book bloggers and I am sure there will be lots of great posts in the next few days about it all.  I love conferences because they are this moment when all of us – authors, publishers, librarians – come together and rejuvenate.  We are all working towards the same goal: to get books into the hands of teens.  It’s nice to get together in person and share our stories of success, those moments when we learn how a book made the difference in someone’s life.