First trade reviews for The Porcupine of Truth

porcupine cover

So far,  The Porcupine of Truth has received three reviews. Two of them are starred reviews, from Booklist and School Library Journal, and the third is a very nice review from Kirkus!

A starred review, according to Publishers Weekly, indicates a book of “outstanding quality.” It appears that perhaps 10 percent of published books receive a starred review, so I’m very pleased at this early reception to The Porcupine.

Some excerpts from the reviews:

“There are no true villains in the well-developed cast of characters, just people trying to do their best and frequently failing. … Konigsberg weaves together a masterful tale of uncovering the past, finding wisdom, and accepting others as well as oneself.” – SLJ

“Konigsberg (Openly Straight, 2013) employs a colorful style (a day is “warm, like bread just out of the oven,” and Carson’s new room is “like a remote bunker where people store their afterthoughts”) and crafts fascinating, multidimensional teen and adult characters. A friendship between a straight boy and a lesbian is relatively rare in YA fiction and is, accordingly, exceedingly welcome. And that’s the truth.” – Booklist (Starred review)

“…the story tackles questions about religion, family, and intimacy with depth and grace. The mystery of Carson’s grandfather is resolved with bittersweet thoroughness, and Aisha’s storyline comes to a hopeful, if also painful, resolution of its own.” -Kirkus

Somewhere out there, a Truth Porcupine is dancing happily down a Wyoming highway. Thanks, reviewers!

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The Prickly Truth

porcupine stamp

The thing about writing a book with a porcupine in the title is that you set yourself up to be the butt of a lot of puns.

“Sounds prickly,” people like to say, when I tell them that my next novel is called THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH.

“The truth can be prickly.”

“What a prick.”

You get the drill.

A friend even made this meme for me yesterday on Facebook:

porcupinism

It’s hard not to take the last part a little personally, no? :-)

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Heroes and Villains

“Your main character is whiny.”

This is a tough one for me, and it’s a comment I’ve received on a few of my books from both editors and readers. It’s tough because my characters are often parts of me, so it hits close to home. In case you’re wondering why I’m whining about it now.

(Half-) Joking aside, I think I can safely say that creating rounded protagonists is not a major issue of mine. By “rounded,” I mean to differentiate from “flat” characters, characters who are two-dimensional types. Most of the time, readers will comment on how “human” my characters are.

There is, however, an exception to that rule.
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The gratitude game

In Openly Straight, Rafe Goldberg’s family plays a game on Thanksgiving called “The Gratitude Game.” In it, they go around in a circle saying things for which they are grateful. The catch: they only have five seconds to come up with something, they can’t repeat anything, and if they fail, they’re out. The winner is the last one standing.

I made this game up, actually, as I was writing the book. Turns out it’s an actual thing. Since the book came out in 2013, I’ve heard from several readers, wondering how I knew about their family’s game. I dunno. Writing is weird. Yesterday I was writing a scene and I just knew I needed a quote from General Macarthur. I barely remember anything beyond that he was a World War II general, but somehow, there was a quote and it was just perfect. “You are remembered for the rules you break,” he said. I have never heard of Macarthur saying this.

How I knew what I needed there, when I really had NO IDEA, is a fascinating topic I’ll have to touch on some other time.

Anyhow, The Gratitude Game.

A friend of mine often says, “If you live a life of gratitude, it’s hard to be unhappy.”

I’ve found that at the times my brain isn’t quite working, it’s pretty darn hard to get to gratitude. But right now, today, my brain is working just fine. So I thought I would look back at 2014 and play with myself.

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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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