As we all know, it can be a bit difficult to get guys, especially teen guys, into the library to read great books, enjoy services and events and explore their world. To gain a bit of insight, we’ve talked to YA author and all around great guy, Trent Reedy.
Trent Reedy is the author of Words in the Dust, an extraordinary novel about a courageous girl in Afghanistan who was inspired by a real girl the author had met while serving in the military.
What stories interested you the most during your teen years and do they influence your worldview and work today?
TR: I wish I could be like all those cool writers who read every book they could get their hands on while they were growing up. I read a lot in my teen years, but not, I think, nearly as much as many of my fellow authors. I was blessed with some wonderful teachers and dedicated librarians who encouraged reading, but in the small Iowa town where I grew up, sports seemed to be the main emphasis. We were often told about the benefits of lifting weights and shooting many baskets, while but not quite as much importance was placed on reading, and almost none was placed on creative writing. I might be inclined to complain about this, except that even though I was an absolutely terrible athlete, my experiences in sports and particularly in football have been useful since football is featured rather prominently in my two young adult novels Divided We Fall and If You’re Reading This. Our country’s sports obsession intrigues me, and I expect this will come up in some of my future writing projects.
Growing up, when I wasn’t engaged in a futile effort to improve in sports, I loved science fiction and fantasy stories. I read a lot of super hero comic books like Spider-Man and The New Warriors. The Warriors were a super hero team billed as â€œHeroes for the ’90s, a title which curiously didn’t last. I loved Star Trek novels. I read a few â€œknights-and-castlesâ€ fantasy books. Looking back, a lot of those stories involved combat or adventure of some sort, and those elements are important in a lot of my writing.
Finally, were I to be really honest, I’d have to say that I’ve always been a sucker for a romance element in the stories I’ve enjoyed. In the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, I’d always try to make the decision that would help my character get the girl. I believed the cheesy and improbable romances in all those ’80s teen movies. From those films and from music like REO Speedwagon’s hit 1984 power ballad Can’t Fight This Feeling I accepted the disastrously erroneous idea that if a guy just tells a girl all about his feelings, she’ll come around and like him back. All of this led to some seriously embarrassing missteps in my own early romantic endeavors, but I still believe that a lot of guys, if they’re being honest, would admit that the first kiss, those early relationships, are life changing experiences, a part of who they are. So no matter what sort of novel I’m writing, it’s a safe bet that there’s at least some aspect of a romantic relationship in there somewhere.
Were there any specific experiences or programs at your library, youth center, or school during your young adulthood that left a significant impact?
TR: When I was very young, our little town library had story time, and I still remember my frustration when the Yooks, who eat their bread correctly (butter side up) could never seem to defeat the Zooks, who ate theirs butter side down, in Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book. I was four or five years old. Maybe I was missing the point. But then again, so were the two dominant governments of that time.
My elementary school took part in a program called Read a Million Minutes. We were given assorted prizes if we collectively met certain reading goals. That was incredible fun! One year, there was a robot, maybe the â€œRead-A-Tron 2000.â€ (In those days futuristic names all had â€œ2000â€ after them.) He looked a bit like a robot-shaped collection of foil wrapped boxes, but I was amazed when he used his FLAT RO-BOT VOICE to encourage us to read. Given that the most advanced computer (we had just one) in the school was a simple Apple II, I have since begun to suspect that the voice of Read-A-Tron 2000 might have been supplied by our principal using the intercom system.
Years later, caring and patient librarians introduced me to all kinds of wonderful books. As a result I will always love Robert Swindell’s Ghost Ship to Ganymede and Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books.
Outside of that, there weren’t too many library or reading programs. I’m very pleased to note that in recent years my tiny home town has constructed a enormous and beautiful new library, and I know that the librarians and teachers back there in Dysart, Iowa are working very hard to help connect each student with that perfect, magic book. Early in 2013, I had the chance to visit my old elementary and middle school to talk to the students about reading and writing. My stars, what a thrill it was to talk to some of these young and very serious writers. I hope I was able to encourage them to hold on to the Dream.
What has been the most impressive program or event you have seen at a public library during your touring as an author?
TR: We’re really living in a golden age of youth literature. It is such a thrill to see so many young people so enthusiastic about the books they love. I’ve seen readers dressed up like characters from their favorite novels and a whole gym full of middle school students go crazy for YA author Heather Brewer as if she were a rock star (which she kind of is, really). I think that any program that connects readers with the authors of the books they care about is bound to be effective. Authors really care about their readers, and I think authors of books for young people have a lot of potential to inspire youth to be excited about books and about writing as well.
I was very impressed by a program that brought me to a school where I did several talks to large groups, but in which students also participated in a contest by writing letters explaining why they should be one of the dozen young people who would join me for lunch. I feel like I have an enormous responsibility in those types of situations because many of the students are writers themselves and they take my answers to their writing questions very seriously. But I think such events can be quite encouraging for young people. These events place a premium on books and help reinforce the idea that books and libraries are valuable. I dream of a day when a culture of reading and writing is as valued and celebrated as sports culture. I think there’s enormous potential toward that end through the cooperation of teachers, librarians, and authors.
What information/library services do you believe could be improved to better assist and engage male teens?
TR: It’s a great time to be a young reader. Teens have so many stellar young adult novels and young adult series to enjoy. What I’ve found is that young people are very passionate about their many fandoms and often want to participate in these as actively as they can. They take their fandoms very seriously, and they want to be a part of the stories that they love. They are thrilled reading Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, Harry Potter, and others, but they’ve also learned to love an interactive world, and so they want to use their wonderful creativity to produce, to compose, and to share their thoughts and feelings about these stories.
To that end, I’d like libraries to continue in the role of being a place where people come to consume media, but expand as a place for people to compose media. I’d like to see libraries be a place where teens are free to create videos, GIFs, websites, and other digital graphic expressions of their love for their favorite books. This might be an area where Skype or Apple Facetime could come in handy, digitally bringing in visits from authors or digital artists and graphic design professionals. Because of their literary and technological resources, libraries are uniquely positioned to serve as a hub for a unique and exciting fusion of consumption and composition, of celebrating and sharing the love of books and reading with the whole world.
What is one interesting fact about you that not many others know?
TR: I don’t know how interesting this is, but it is something that not many others know, and it is potentially embarrassing. I like to sing. I sing a lot. I’ve been known to rock out at karaoke, but also, like my grandfather, my father, and my sister, I sing in my daily life pretty much constantly. Some of the songs are pretty basic little ditties like â€œI make the most amazing coffeeâ€ and â€œGuy in the Blue Honda Civic, Won’t You USE YOUR SIGNALâ€ to longer, more complex hits like â€œThe Fall of the Trapeze Artist.â€ After I saw Les Miserables last year, I spent the next two weeks reworking a lot of the lyrics to fit writers, making lines like, â€œ…at the end of the day I’ll be doing revisionsâ€¦.â€ and â€œmust my name until I die, tell just who this is written by? Who am I?â€
I’ve found that being blessed to be able to work at home is very conducive to my private singing career. However, there are some original country music lyrics in my YA novel Divided We Fall, and if asked, I might just have to sing those bits when I’m doing book talks.
If you were a teenager again today, what would entice you into your local library?
TR: A librarian friend of mine once told me a story about a boy who showed up to the library with a bouquet of flowers in hand, asking if a certain girl had arrived yet and if they were having teen writer night. My friend had the unpleasant task of informing the boy that the last week of the program had been the week prior. I feel like my younger self would have had a lot in common with the guy in that story. I would have probably gone to a teen writer program like this because I love writing, but also probably to spend time with a girl.
I also would enjoy programs that connect me to other people who enjoy reading the same books or the same type of books as I do. I would love the chance to go to the library to talk with people who read a lot of Star Trek or Star Wars books. It would be fun to talk about which of the books are the best and to debate other important issues. Han Solo shot first! As I said, we’re in a golden age of books for young people, and I would love library groups dedicated to fandom for everything from The Hunger Games to Harry Potter.
Could you tell us a little about your current work and what we have to look forward to from you in the near future?
TR: I have two novels coming out in 2014, so it is shaping up to be a very exciting year for me. My first YA novel, available everywhere January 28th, is called Divided We Fall. This is the first in a trilogy about Danny Wright, a seventeen-year-old small town Idaho Army National Guardsman who loves football, rodeo, country music, his big truck, and above all his family, friends, and girlfriend. When the Governor sends Danny’s Guard unit to help the police stop a protest/riot in Boise, Danny is hit in his gas mask with a rock, causing him to accidentally fire off a round, and that starts a panic. When the smoke clears, twelve people are dead and nine are wounded. The President of the United States demands an investigation and prosecution, while Idaho’s governor protects his soldiers by refusing to comply. This places Daniel Wright at the center of a controversy that rapidly spirals out of control, leading to a second American civil war. Divided We Fall is what happens when today’s headlines become tomorrow’s nightmare.
Later in 2014 I’m releasing If You’re Reading This, a novel about Michael Wilson, a teen in tiny Riverside, Iowa, who receives a series of letters in the mail from his father, who had been killed years before in the war in Afghanistan. These letters from his distant past help Michael cope with the present and prepare for the future. As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and as someone who lost his father to a sudden, untimely death, this story means a lot to me. I think Michael and I are both working out some thoughts and feelings about our fathers through this story. Also, since this book is coming out ten years after I served in the war in Afghanistan, and since 2014 marks an ending to major American commitment in that country, this novel is my effort to say goodbye to the war. If You’re Reading This is a story of a family that has suffered the painful emotional effects of our long conflict, and how a father’s letters bring hope and a new peace.
Thank you, Trent for sharing your time, experience and perspective. We invite other guys (and gals) to share their ideas and inspiration on YA Library Services for boys. To learn more about Mr. Reedy and his work please visit, www.trentreedy.com.