Death of a Modern Author: Chapter One

⊆ 1:36 AM by A. Liebendorfer | , . | ˜ 0 comments »

    "The Clevengers, that's their name."
    "Lucky number seven," Lucas mocked.
    "Don't be like that Mr. Redding.  We have to always be optimistic."
    "I am optimistic, Janet.  But what if the Clevengers aren't the right fit too?"
    Janet didn't like the tone he used.  He didn't sound optimistic at all, but she couldn't do anything.  He was her boss.
    "Toby's been through a lot, Lucas."
    "I know just as well as anyone, Janet, but after the Clevengers, I don't know.  I think we've done all we can.  Shuttling this kid from home to home won't do him any favors."
    Janet sighed, defeated.
    "You know I'm right."
    "I know, I know.  It just feels like we're giving up on him."
    "He gave up on himself," Lucas replied.
    Both sat at the desk quietly.  Autumn was being forced out and winter was starting to settle in.  Outside the window, the last leaves were finally falling off the birch tree.
    "You know, I lost my mother when I was young."
    "But Mr. Redding, you weren't orphaned."
    "Damn near.  Dad was never home.
    "Look, what I'm getting at is, I never gave up, but this kid apparently has.  He doesn't even try to live with his foster families.  He's at the end of his road."
    "Yes, yes, you're right, I guess," replied Janet.

    Janet's car pulled into the driveway.  Though it was a short drive, night fell, and the headlights glared off the garaged door.
    Toby awoke in the passenger's seat.  He had wanted to sit in the back seat but Janet wouldn't let him.
    He groaned and sighed.  It was the most he said the entire ride.
    "Well, time to meet those Clevengers!" Janet squeaked.  "I wonder what they look like."
    Toby rubbed his eyes and pointed to the front door, where two older people were standing conservatively apart.
    "Hey, they don't look so back. Hey."
    Toby tried to get out of the car.
    "Hey. Look.  Let's try to give these folks a go, ok?"
    Toby glanced up and saw Mr. Clevenger start for the car, but Mrs. Clevenger stopped him.  They apparently didn't know what to make of the discussion in the car.
    The two opened their car doors.  Janet took care of conversing with the Clevengers while Toby collected his things from the trunk.
    "How are you doing, my homey?" asked Mr. Clevenger.
    "Pretty well," Toby replied, "A little tired, though."
    "Understandable, understandable," said Mrs. Clevenger as she ushered him into the house.  Mr. Clevenger followed, and behind him, Janet.
    That he even spoke a reply instead of grumbling it was a enough send Janet beaming into the house.
    Mrs. Clevenger told him where his room and Mr. Clevenger offered to take his bags with him, but Toby only went as far as to acknowledge they were in the same room as him, then he walked flat-footed up the stairs.  As if to reaffirm the point, Mrs. Clevenger yelled up stairs that if Toby needed anything they were "only a holler away."
    Janet came up to his room soon, after she finalized all the arrangements with Clevengers.  From downstairs he could hear her persistent "He's really tired, it's been a long day."
    Unpacking was more eerily silent than in the car.  Somehow moving around his bedroom, Toby was quieter than he had been when he was lightly snoring in the car.
    After it was all said and done, Toby crawled into bed.  Janet stood in the doorway with her arms akimbo and surveyed the room.
    Toby said nothing.
    "Toby, is something wrong?
    "Well, if anything is on your mind, do you have my phone number?"
    Toby rolled over; she apprehensively kissed him on the forehead; he grunted.

    Larry dropped off a package earlier that morning.  The man from the penthouse held the envelope; on the front was scribbled "Bryce Barnes."  For a middle-aged American man, the name had a foreign sound to it.  Bryce always speculated he was an old English mariner in his past life and the name had stuck.  That would be a clever book idea, he often thought.

    As Larry was saying goodbye, Bryce the man from the penthouse closed the door quickly to preserve the silence he had been working all morning to cultivate.

    Writing was the nature of the man's work, and for him at least, it required pindrop silence.  When playing with something as loud at times as thoughts, who needed noise?

     He was excited by the package's thickness.  The first big wave of reviews had finally come.

     He was apprehensive however.  He couldn't find a proper, concrete analogy for it.  It was as though every time he started to get the big envelopes from Larry, he was given an answer key and told to grade himself, and failing meant dire consequences.  One failure would mean no more eating out every night, two failures, no more heating.

    He glanced around the apartment, noting its chic design, its comfortable look, and thinking securely to himself that if all was lost, at least it wouldn't be lost the very instant a bad review was read.  "And that was the idea of reviews, right?" he asked himself.  Self-improvement.

     To the author's mild surprise, the reviews were succinctly positive.  He hadn't expected bad reviews, and though these were mild, the were mild enough to get by.  The man would have never published something he expected not to sell; however, what he had in mind was much more lukewarm than the reception he perused over that morning over cereal.



A Stark-Naked Challenge to Mr. Barnes


    This weekend, students big and small filed into bookstores across the country to secure their copy of "A Stark-Naked Guide to Everything," the latest coming-of-age bread winner by Bryce Barnes.  I never thought I would see so many children in this day and age flock to books like kids flocked to "A Stark-Naked Guide."  

    It made me feel a little bit nostalgic of the old times.  Gone are the days of lining up for the latest Vonnegut.  While waiting in lines, the kids, ranging from 10-year-olds to high school graduates, weren't without their 21st-century amenities.  Most bookstoregoers passed the time listening to mp3's, texting, chatting on the phone, or multitasking a combination of the three.

     When asked why taken so aback by such a work of literature, one teenager in line responded, "I just can really connect with Bryce Barnes' books."

     An interesting point considering the content of the novel.  In it, the main character, nondescriptly named Toby Connors, is put through one year of pubescent hell.  The book opens with Toby, an orphan brimming with the usual angst, moving in with a foster family, the Clevengers.

     The boy is subjected to harsh reception and the usual hazing once he starts school, and by the flighty arguments he has with his foster counselor, Janet, proves him to be a tough shell to crack.  In the end, though, through various late-night life lessons in Mr. Clevenger's woodshop in the basement, his attitude and outlook pulled a 180 degree turn.  He compiles all the life lessons and ways he used it into a book, "A Stark-Naked Guide to Everything."  By the epilogue, Daylight has won an essay contest, opted to stay with the Clevengers until college, and hooked up with the buck-toothed curly-haired girl of his dreams.  All this after surviving an armed burglary and witnessing the gruesome filet of his biological parents years prior.

    Needless to say, Toby enters the first chapter less than happy, and definitely less than quaint about it.  He's laconic in the opening chapters, a sort of mix between Clint Eastwood and Holden Caulfield.  Naturally, we get the hint that Toby has been floating from foster home to foster home and the Clevengers may be his last chance.

     In the following chapters, we find out if the Clevenger's situation doesn't work for him, he's going back to the local boys' home, where Rosco, described as "strong and fierce, like gnawed-up badger at the rodeo" but "as thick as an ogre swimming in a milkshake," is waiting to give him "the pounding of his life." With this in mind, Toby puts forth the least effort possible to stay at the Clevenger's place.

     And still one night, while Mr. Clevenger retreated to his model boat, Toby opens the door and they have the first of their many heart-to-heart talks about love and life.  You know the rest.

     As I read through this "masterpiece" I couldn't help but think how stiff and confusing Toby was.  In that way, Toby was an extrememly realistic character, perhaps the future of literary adolescent heroes even.  Though that may be a very exciting thought, Toby strikes me as a poorly-written, flat, boring main character.  I highly doubt anybody has every reared a teenager anything remotely like Daylight.

     I'll have to admit, when writing reviews, I tend to spend more time reading other reviews than reading a book.  In describing the protagonist, reviewers threw around words "dynamic" and "engaging" and some (KidsLit monthly) even went as far to say Toby "is the driving force behind this book's numerous rereads."

     "Numerous rereads" is a little strong. The numerous plot twists this young man endures is what drives the story.

     I tried to apply the same criticism to other books of the Young Adult genre.  This led me to a frightening, stark-naked conclusion: Young Adult books are terrible.  

    The plots are only unpredictable by tagging an endless string of shallow, circumstancial disasters -the kind a vast minority of us go through singularly- time after time after time.  To cope with these stresses, the protagonists of these bloodbaths adopt outlooks that are unnatural, constantly forgiving, and just plain lame.  Books like these are teaching our kids that despite the fact you're the only white kid in all-black school and your mother's walked out on you while your father is a dope fiend and though you try to forge relationships with people at your school, you're deep down a homosexual, everything will be hunky dory.

     The fact of the matter is if most of us were put into the same situation Toby was put in -or any other YA character for that matter, we would be pretty angry at whoever did that to us.

     If I were Toby, I would take matters into my own hands.

   So I pose a "Stark-Naked" challenge to Mr. Barnes: Write us a book about yourself going through the things you put your characters through.  Or maybe just a book where you explain to Amanda Simmons why her parents started beating her all of the sudden, or explain how winning point guard Ezekiel Williams beat cancer in four weeks before the big basketball game, or how Toby Connors, Damian Dafini, Sharisa Michaelson, or half the other characters in his books were orphaned at an early age. 

    That would make a good reread.




    This article unnerved Blythe.  He sat in his lounge chair and held the copied paper at arm's length. 

    It was time, the old author thought.  He sighed, then he marched upstairs to his office and locked the door behind him.  Somewhere off in the distance, faintly, he could hear a dirge drumming on.

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