Spiritual and Emotional Pushups

I don’t do well with criticism.

There, I said it. Sigh. Load off shoulders. I have all sorts of thoughts and reactions to this, and admitting it to others is hard, because A) it tells toxic people that if they want to get to me, all they need to do is criticize me, and B) I’m an adult. And as such, I’m supposed to be mature, and mature adults are able to process simple things like criticism, and not have it spiral into something insane.

But the truth is that I am not so able to process it, and it does spiral. Insanely. Not always, but often. Some criticism seems to roll off my back, but other things hit someplace deep and core in me and tells me that I’m a screwup, I’ve always been a screwup, I’ll always be a screwup. This is probably the number one core belief I have about me, and no amount of kudos or not screwing up seems to cover that ancient wound.

When it is touched — maybe I should say when it is speared — I tend to find myself in six-year-old mode. I want to take my toys and leave. I want to behave in ways that are passive aggressive, so that the person who has criticized me will be sorry when they see what they’ve driven me to, which is basically like drinking poison and expecting the other person to drop dead.

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First Responders to The Porcupine…

porcupine cover
When you’re waiting for the release of a new book, there’s this period that is almost unbearable.

It’s about 5-6 months out, and it’s the pre-buzz period. You’ve finally seen the Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of your book, you’ve gotten maybe a couple blurbs from authors, a few family members have read it. What you don’t have, though, is any way to gauge how the book will be received by the public.

That’s exactly where I find myself with The Porcupine of Truth. I came back from the NCTE Conference (National Council of Teachers of English) a couple weeks back having said “I’m really excited about Porcupine” more times than I am comfortable to admit. It was the first time I got to sign some ARCs, and I just wanted someone to read the dang thing!

Well… I now have received four comments on Porcupine. Two by email, two on Twitter. And I want to share them with you, because, well, “I’m really excited about Porcupine.”

For now I will focus on the comments rather than who said them, but I will say that in each case, these are PRIMO readers — educators, booksellers, book professionals — who know YA extremely well.

First emailer said, “This was just…WOW. I have never cried so many times (and laughed so many times) or loved a book so HARD from the first chapter right on down to your acknowledgments. … There is so much truth and loveliness in this book. It just gets everything so exactly right about being a child, being a parent, and being a friend.”

The second: “I’ve just finished The Porcupine of Truth and am captivated. The characters are all wonderful in their individual ways (the father is heartbreaking) and beautifully realized; the plot, superbly conceived and executed. … In short, this is a terrific novel.”

The first tweet: “Wow. Just. Wow. This might be the most beautiful book I’ve read this year. Thank you @billkonigsberg. Thank you.” In a second tweet, it continued: “It made me happy and sad and hopeful. I loved everything about it!”

The second tweet: “@billkonigsberg The Porcupine of Truth. Friendship, family, faith, history, identity. Complex journey to acceptance.” A second: “TPOT was painful and lovely.”

I am obviously encouraged by these responses!

There’s simply no way to know if The Porcupine of Truth will resonate the same way Openly Straight has, or if it will break through to an even larger readership. I hope so, but in the end there is only so much I can do to get the book in reader’s hands. I will surely do everything I can, but the most important thing for now is that I feel like I poured my heart and soul into this book, and I’m proud of it. So whatever happens, I will always stand behind it!

The book comes out in May 2015.

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How Can I Help Others?

I got another great email this week from a 17-year-old girl from Texas. I wanted to share it along with my answer, in case it is useful to anyone else.

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My name is xxxxxxxxxxxx. I am 17 years old, a junior in high school in Texas, and I’ve also been out as a lesbian since I was 11 years old. I know you receive emails like this constantly and I honestly don’t expect you to read this, but you are, so great thanks to you.

What I wanted to tell you about what how I commend you on your specific writing styles and ideas. I’ve read both Openly Straight and Out Of The Pocket, and I am currently using Out Of The Pocket for an English project. You have surprised me with your stories quite a bit.

Most of my gay friends are isolated, sort of in an “outcast” group. I could never do that growing up. I am a loud kid who is also athletic, making me outgoing. Being on sports team and so overly loud, I have gained a lot of popularity and I have always wanted to further help kids like me be comfortable in their skin. Your books reflect my life so well and you’ve helped me handle certain aspects of being gay that I didn’t know how to approach before. I want to ask you, how was coming out for you? Your books are so interesting and the main characters in the two I’ve read have had to deal with coming out, but from reading your Q&A’s, you aren’t much like your characters. I want to know, if you’re comfortable sharing, what it was like for you to become who you are.

Personally, I fortunately don’t deal with much hate. But I know so many kids like me do and I feel like it’s kind of my niche as a gay kid who is also very popular among kids who typically are ignorant to the gay lifestyle, to inform those kids who don’t know, and don’t appreciate, the dignity of kids like me. I feel like I could make teen-aged life a bit of a better place, and I want your help. You have made so many people comfortable with homosexuals just by information. Can you help me, maybe give me some advice on how to handle bullying situations, or how to approach shy gay kids who need guidance? I have been looking into speaking at support groups and whatnot but I haven’t found anything in my area.

Mr. Konigsberg, you are a big idol to me and I think you can give me some advice that can really help me and other kids in situations you and I have both been through. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I sincerely hope to hear back from you.

Dear xxxxxxxxxxxx,

Thank you so much for your great email!
So let me get to answering your questions. I don’t have a ton of time but I want to write something useful to you!

First off, my coming out. My coming out took place almost 30 years ago, and it was a different time. We didn’t have gay characters on TV, and I didn’t even know of any gay characters in books. I felt very alone. I thought there was no one else in the world who understood, and I felt like a freak. So first I was sad, and then I got angry. I got in the faces of a lot of people who I felt were hypocritical, or judgmental of me and people like me. I wrote a play in high school, along with some friends, about LGBT issues and racial issues and gender issues. It helped me and it helped some other people.

But I guess the one ting I would say is that if I had to do it all over again, I would have focused on how I felt about me, rather than how everyone else felt about me. To be happy in this world, the most important thing is to be happy in your own skin. It sounds like you are happy in your own skin, and that’s everything. Trust me. People who aren’t happy in their own skin wind up with addictions, and lots of drama in their lives. To live a peaceful life, we have to get good with who we are.

So maybe I’d say if you want to help other kids, treat them with love and respect. Help them see what’s beautiful about them. Instead of getting in the faces of any people who are bullies, spend your energy befriending those who are bullied. If they’ve been told their worthless, show them that they have worth. Tell them that. If they’ve been told they are sick and perverted, show them that there are other people just like them and that tell them that they most certainly aren’t perverts.

Do you get where I’m going here? To me, the best way to make a difference in this world is to learn to love ourselves, and to help others love themselves.

Best,

Bill Konigsberg
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The Porcupine of Truth – Cover Reveal!

So here it is: I finally get to share the cover of my next novel with the world!

Meet The Porcupine of Truth, to be unveiled to the world in May of 2015.

porcupine cover

I love this cover! I love the adorable porcupine, I love how he seems to be the center of the universe (because, alas, in some world views he is), and I love that it plays off of the icons and fonts of Openly Straight. I do believe that readers who loved Openly Straight will love this book!

But my favorite part of the cover is actually the spine of the book. Because it is awesome:

winking porcupine

Yes, the winking porcupine. I love me the winking porcupine.

There is so much more to say about this, but let’s face it: we have a lot of time. Next month, I will share some early blurbs about the book. Early feedback has been extremely positive, and I have a feeling that this one will be talked about a lot. This book goes to some surprising places. If you enjoy books that make you laugh and cry within the same page, I think you’ll really like this one.

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“From an openly straight fraud…”

Boy oh boy. The terrific, powerful emails keep pouring in. And I hope, by the way, that my answering some of them on my blog will not make those whose emails I don’t answer this way feel like theirs didn’t matter to me; they absolutely matter! If something sparks an idea I want to express to the world, I will sometimes answer on my blog. And know that I will never give away anyone’s private information… anything that might point to a person’s identity, I will change. I promise.

Here’s one I got yesterday. The subject was, “From an openly straight fraud who would like to say thanks.” My response is below.

Dear Bill,

I started reading Openly Straight one night in bed this summer and didn’t put it down until the sun had risen and my pillow was soaked with tears.

I wish there was a way I could articulate the full extent of how your book has changed me.   I’m a nineteen-year-old closeted (confused?) male, a sophomore in college whose greatest life achievement has been his ability to hide himself from everyone he has ever met, including himself.  Since adolescence, I had learned to live with a false sense of reality, brushing away my inner feelings the way one brushes away a recurring nightmare.

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Negative Self-Talk and Openly Straight

I love getting emails from readers. Every single one of them touches my heart. And once in a while, I get one that especially moves me. Here’s a note that I really wanted to share.

Dear Mr. Konigsberg

I just finished your book and I have to say, what an amazing piece of art. I honestly have to say reading your book changed my life. I’m not gay, but I think you don’t have to be gay for this book to be inspiring. When I finished this, I was overcome by happiness. I honestly couldn’t tell you why, but I think it was because of all the honest sweetness in the book. It was happy and loving and beautiful and poetic. I’m sure that’s pretty weird to think, but that’s what I felt after reading your book. Also, Rafe made me think about myself. I tend to be really harsh on myself, for no reason. I have really self-destructive thoughts and I think things about myself that aren’t exactly healthy. I think I feel this sort of guilt, like I’m not contributing to the world, like I should feel bad that I’m not suffering alongside all the sufferers in the world. Its like I’m upset that I’m so happy, and I can’t figure out why. I’ve pondered this time and time again, and have come up with nothing. This is why I love your book. It made me realize that maybe I’m the one who’s always mean to me, that I should stop trying to someone I’m not, some superficial fake person who is afraid to be themselves. So thank you, Mr. Konigsberg, for writing your book, for anyone who was struggling to except themselves, gay or not. I don’t know if I got the message I was supposed to get from your book, but the one I got was a good one at that, and I couldn’t be more elated I had the experience of reading your book. So again, thank you.

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Dear Reader,

If you didn’t get the intended message, I’d never admit it now, because the message you state here is so beautiful. I totally get where you’re coming from. Those voices in our heads can be terribly distracting. I’ve battled them for years. I’ll share with you a few things people have told me that have helped.

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“What happens after Openly Straight?”

I’m so sorry that I’ve been so bad about blogging recently. I’ve been so busy with writing and editing and a few other projects, and I haven’t made the time. Bad author! Bad author!

One amazing thing I’ve noticed has been the incredible uptick in emails about Openly Straight. Even more than when it first came out, I seem to be getting lots of emails with questions about the book. The most common question is, “will you be writing a sequel?”

The answer to that: stay tuned. There may be some news about that in the near future!

The second most common question is, “what happens to Ben?”

A couple days ago, I got an email like that. But this one made me ponder things in a different way. I’ll explain. Let me start by sharing the email. Continue reading

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