Josh Berk's Blog
June 3, 2014
PRO: Field trips are better than sitting in school suffering all day.
CON: The chaperone is Mr. Transvaal. He’s the worst. He smells like rotten orange peels, apples, and pig food. I suspect he might be a clinically insane, sociopathic hobo. Why do they let him teach 7th grade Social Studies? It’s a travesty. I can’t even.
PRO: We’re going to Courier Mountain Castle. I don’t actually care about the dusty old castle and all the weird junk they keep in there, I’m just glad there’s a Starbucks across the street.
CON: Mr. Transvaal despises all technology. He’s constantly going on about how smartphones are making us all dumb. He’s already threatened to confiscate any phone he sees on the trip. I already have two strikes against me. And I really love my new phone.
In conclusion, the cons outweigh the pros.
In other words, this trip is gonna suck.
(Note: And then, during the trip, she tries to take a selfie, gets spun by a wasp and spins around all crazy taking tons of pictures. After they leave, they discover that the castle has been robbed! And she might have evidence of the culprit in those pictures! But the phone has been confiscated by the evil Mr. Transvaal...)
May 16, 2014
subject: I KNOW YOUR SECRET
Hey Missy. You are so busted. I have some information about your parents that I think you want to keep secret. Everyone thinks they work for the museum, but I know they are smugglers, stealing ________ and selling them on the black market. I only have one demand. Get me the key to the treasure chest in the museum. Meet me at the dinosaur exhibit tomorrow at midnight or else…
As soon as I finished reading the email, I didn’t feel so good. My heart pounded like a dinosaur stomping on the earth. Some people say they have butterflies in their stomach when they’re nervous. This felt more like tigers clawing at my intestines.
Was the letter true? Were my parents really smugglers? I had overheard them talking suspiciously once, but I was sure they said “snuggling.” Maybe I had it all wrong? I knew one thing. There was no chance I was sneaking in to the museum in the middle of the night. Dinosaur bones freak me out on a good day.
This was definitely not a good day.
March 14, 2014
"WEEK OF THIEVES"
I am walking on my way to school. The sun is just starting to come up. The sky is a watercolor of blended pinks and reds and oranges. I left a little late so I was power-walking like a boss to make up for lost time. If I really wanted to save time, I’d take the shortcut across the bridge, but I really hate bridges. So I stuck to the normal route, only jaywalking one or two (ok three) times.
As I quickened my stride I was seized by the unpleasant feeling that I was not alone. I whipped my head around, but there was no one there. There was just a duck quacking like a madman. I knew the duck was harmless, but I couldn’t shake the frightened feeling. A cold shiver flew down my spine and my heart started to pound. I knew I was being paranoid, but it had been a weird week.
Things kept going missing from my room. Sure, it was kind of messy. My mom always says it looks like a pig sty, but it’s not that bad. On Monday I know I put the book I was reading – Rebel Snowmen From The Future – under my pillow when I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was gone.
On Tuesday, my popcorn disappeared. On Wednesday, my glasses vanished. On Thursday, there goes my phone. Today is Friday and I was half-convinced I was going to wake up on the floor, my bed having been stolen right out from under me. But it was still there. Hurray. The day was still young though, and I knew before sunset something else would be gone.
I just hoped it wouldn’t be me.
HEARTSFIELD DETECTIVE AGENCY
I took one sip of my coffee and spit it right back out. It tasted like it had been brewed with a fresh hairball. Everyone knows I like my coffee black. This was some sort of extra-hot double Venti triple caramel half-caf with two sugars and a couple of crushed candy canes.
“Stefanzo! You ruined my coffee. And my day. You’re fired.”
“I’m so sorry, Miss Doyle. It must have gotten mixed up with Mr. Heartsfield’s.”
“Again? This is the fourth time this week. And it’s only Tuesday. And I told you not to mention Mr. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in this office.”
“But you share an office.”
He was right. I looked over and there was Heartsfield, with a smile like Godzilla after devouring New York. I hated Tom Heartsfield. Even though he was technically the senior detective in this office, I was the brains of the operation. He was as useless as a dry fish. Besides his horrible taste in coffee, he blasted Tom Petty pretty much 24/7 no matter how many times I asked him to turn it down. Tom Petty made me think of my ex-husband. They were not pleasant thoughts.
Heartsfield opened his stupid mouth. “Cheryl. You can’t fire Stefanzo. I’m the senior detective.”
An unpleasant little smirk ran across Stefanzo’s face like a charging bull. “Burnnnnnn,” he whispered.
“I know, Tom,” I said with a sigh. “You mention it pretty much every day. Let’s get down to business. Any new cases come in?”
“Just one,” he said. “But it’s a doozy.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked, still trying to wipe the horrible coffee taste out of my mouth.
“It’s a death threat,” Tom said. He opened the letter. “And it’s addressed to you.”
NUCLEAR FAMILYCHAPTER ONE
Normally I would welcome any excuse not to go to school. Especially on a Monday. But I was not looking forward to March 14. It was “Take Your Child To Work Day” at Glacier Mountain Middle School. I was super jealous of my friends. Amy got to go to the mall where her mom sold jewelry. Sarah got to go to the movie theater where her dad worked. She’d be eating popcorn all day and watching movies until her eyes fell out. Spencer got to stay home and hang out with his dad, who was an author. According to Spencer, being an author pretty much consisted of napping and watching TV while occasionally looking at (but not opening) his laptop.
I, on the other hand, had to go Nukes & Co. with my mom. (Note: Nukes & Co. is not the real name, but that’s what Mom calls it. She has a very weird sense of humor.) I could tell you the real name, but then I’d have to kill you. It is a top secret nuclear facility where the U.S. military creates the next generation of nuclear warfare. I also suspect that they breed militarized mutant cows with the nuclear run-off, but Mom insists that I just have an overactive imagination.
Nukes & Co. is a bland-looking series of buildings with three cooling towers shooting smoke into the sky like an erupting volcano. We entered the parking lot in Mom’s minivan. She showed her security clearance badge to the annoyed mustached man in the tiny booth. He grumbled something at us and waved us through.
“Was that guy speaking German?” I asked mom.
“No, that’s just Bill. No one ever knows what he’s saying.”
“Sounds like a German spy to me.”
“Angel, you have an overactive imagination.”
“You say that now. But when Bill takes over the world from his tiny booth you’ll wish you’d listened to me.”
We parked the minivan and passed through another security checkpoint. Once inside, we put on the white hazmat jumpsuits. “I look like a fat bunny,” I said to mom.
“We’re not here to look good,” she said. “We’re here to work.”
“And also,” I said. “To save the world from Bill.”
(4)EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE
No matter how many times you do it, you never get quite used to walking backwards. It’s like watching the world in reverse; everything is moving away. But as drum major, it was my job. The band depended on it.
Being a drum major is harder than you think. People think you just wear a fancy outfit and wave your arms around like a lunatic. But you have to earn it. It’s a coveted position. After spending all year moving up and three hard weeks sweating at drum major camp, the job was finally mine.
I was trying to keep my eye on Zeke, the scrawny, geeky trumpet player who was a little too much like a hyperactive puppy. If I let him out of my gaze, he’d pop out of time and disrupt the whole band like a soda that had been shaken too much.
Walking backwards, watching Zeke, and keeping time in my head made it hard to do much of anything else. But a shadowy figure caught my eye on the sidewalk. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked an awful lot like Chas, the new kid in my history class. And again, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked a lot like he was stuffing a large, body-shaped object into the trunk of his mom’s car.
January 22, 2014
Read this sentence: "The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners at the group’s 68th Gala Banquet May 1, 2014, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City."
What am I doing on that list? That is the true mystery. Amazing! I think I said that already!
November 11, 2013
I’ve explored pretty much every place there is to explore in this small town. I’ve walked through the old steel factory. I’ve sauntered through the darkened alleys behind the market. I’ve hiked up and down every trail in the Tourne. There was just one place I’d never been. It was literally the wrong side of the tracks, but ironically it was the right side. It was green and full of flowers, full of life, full of hope. In other words, it was everything my life wasn’t.
I decided today would be the day I go there. There was only one way to access this little slice of paradise and unfortunately, that way was a dilapidated bridge shakier than a toddler hopped up on caffeine. But I had to do it. I had to cross the bridge. I climbed the stairs of the rotting pavilion and took the first unsteady step onto the bridge. It swayed beneath my feet like a leaf in a storm.
It was awful. It was like my heart was beating out of my chest. I looked down. I wished I hadn’t. It was a long drop to the murky river below. The jagged rocks were sticking up like knives. I was scared. But I wasn’t truly terrified until I saw the graffiti scrawled on the side of the bridge. It was just one letter:
October 7, 2013
As you can see, it all leads to a BEAR ATTACK! We brainstormed the beginning of the story as well. It went something like this:
"I hate bears. Okay, I don't really hate them, they just freak me out a little. Okay, a lot. I don't like Grizzly Bears, I don't like Polar Bears, I don't even like the Chicago Bears. I won't eat a gummy bear and I'd rather snuggle up with a live shark than take a nap with a teddy bear..."
Then of course there is later a BEAR ATTACK! It was a fun way to show how character can lead to plot which can lead to setting (it takes place in the Poconos). We also decided that Abington Friends School would be a cool setting for a story itself because it's been there since 1697 (!) and there are all sorts of interesting old buildings and secret rooms and so on. What a great place! Have me back any time, ABS!
September 4, 2013
"Telling the story of the year leading up to his arrest, Ritchie grabs readers by the throat before (politely) inviting them along for the (max-speed) ride. A battle of the bands looms. Dad split about five minutes before Mom's girlfriend moved in. There's the matter of trying to score with the dangerously hot Ravenna Woods while avoiding the dangerously huge Spence Proffer--not to mention just trying to forget what his sister, Beth, said the week before she died."
I loved it so much that I decorated my phone with the book cover. I loved it so much that I wrote to Sean and asked him some questions. The interview is below, with a bonus picture of the author as a young rocker and an even more bonuser super metal video by the band Carcass.
Um, warning, re: PG-13 language in this interview.
JB: The first question that comes to mind is: Where did the practice of changing band names to include the word "Fred" come from? It cracks me up: Fred Zeppelin, Grateful Fred, and so on. Is it meant to be a kind of thumb in the eye at rock pretension? Has it occurred to you that the band Right Said Fred is impervious to this jab?
SB: I honestly can't remember if a friend of mine and I used to actually do that as a joke, or if I only wish we did. At some point in high school I just started inverting names in my head about bands I thought were faintly ridiculous. I mean, I loved Led Zeppelin back then (still mostly do), but their whole Black Magic/Middle Earth/Brainless Sexual Allusion routine definitely seemed to need a few jabs in the ribs, even while I was rocking out to "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" in the back of a chopped '68 Chevelle.
You are incorrect about the Teflon properties of Right Said Fred. For a while I had it in the book as Fred Said Fred but cut it when I decided there was less than a 2% chance that anyone younger than 39 would get the joke.
JB: What would El Hella* think of the fact that I was once in a band called "black midget?"
SB: He would probably sneer, shoulder you into a locker, and ask if your pussy band featured you on keyboards or flute.
(*El Hella is the main character's best friend and rock & roll bad-ass.)
JB: What is the author's experience playing in bands? Any old band photos/videos/mp3s you can dig up and share?
SB: The author played in a variety of hapless and generally incompetent bands over the years. Except for Perv Idols, which terrorized San Francisco in the early nineties, released one extremely limited-edition cassette demo, and was really just me and my friend Henry in his attic with a Fostex four track and a bunch of semi-functional instruments. Pic below is the cover of our album, which never existed.
JB: Is Wise Young Fool, to your knowledge, the only YA novel to reference the band Carcass? I used to be obsessed with "Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious," as it was a pretty amusing combination of metal and a thesaurus.
SB: If it's not, I immediately want to buy and read the other one that does. Carcass! I bought that album in a record store in Manhattan because the dude behind the counter had it cranked at top volume and I instantly fell in love with its complete indifference to the social compact. Namely, taste, morals, ethics, melody, and/or an interest in selling a single copy. If I was in therapy right now, the therapist would lean over and point out that that probably means I am inclined to embrace those who hate (or are at least utterly indifferent to) me. And it's true. Probably not my best trait. As far as favorite tracks, I have long been fond of "Manifestation of Verrucose Urethra" and "Oxidized Razor Masticator."
August 28, 2013
Look at that cool cover! Look at how I'm in a book with Clay Aiken! You're wicked impressed. Does Kirkus like it? Funny you should ask:Teens needn’t be star-struck to enjoy this collection,
as under the hubbub of the theater world are themes that deal with
common teenage issues such as insecurity, jealousy,
the fear of coming out and young love.
Definitely worthy of applause. --
And this one I have already mentioned, but I forget if I mentioned that it's out in the world. Well it is! Go buy or order or borrow! Don't steal it. I mean, we are telling you to break rules, but you'll get arrested for that one. Plus all proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Children’s Defense Fund.
BREAK THESE RULES -- If you’re a girl, you should strive to look like the model on the cover of a magazine. If you’re a boy, you should play sports and be good at them. If you’re smart, you should immediately go to college after high school, and get a job that makes you rich. Above all, be normal.
Wrong, say 35 leading middle grade and young adult authors.
(NB: I'm totally a leading author now.)
August 1, 2013
Here's a picture of the first page. Well, after a little prologue. The prologue is good (if I say so myself) but the first sentence really cracks me up (yes, I crack myself up) so I'm positing it here.
And here's the back! I really like the description that my editor came up with. (Full text below if you can't read the pic)
When Lenny & The Mikes return to school for the glory that is seventh grade, Mike's hard work pays off. He wins the coveted position of starting catcher on the Schwenkfelder Mustangs, opposite the new star pitcher, Hunter Ashwell. (Is Lenny jealous? Maybe.) But things take a strange turn when Hunter's perfect pitching streak abruptly goes downhill. Lenny suspects foul play -- specifically, someone stealing Mike's catcher signals.
Meanwhile, Lenny has come across another mystery one he isn't sure he wants the answer to: the Mustangs' former starting catcher, Davis Gannett, who was kicked off the team for theft and replace with Mike, is swearing he was framed. Davis is a mean, towering eight grader with a shaved head -- and he's no friend of Lenny's. But is it possible that someone did frame him? Someone who really wanted that starting-catcher position? As the signs point to his best friend, Lenny can only hope it isn't so. And it doesn't help that Other Mike has started hanging around with Davis in his spare time.
The boys' loyalties are about to be tested every which way, and unraveling this web just may save their friendship...
More about the book here.
Release date isn't until March of next year, but I'm excited!
July 29, 2013
Ready to sign, looking authorly
Exhibit A that Farley's is cool.
I roped this tiny puppy into helping promote my signing, but mainly he just blocked the sign. Stupid dog! Just kidding, Pacer, I love you.
Some guy asked me to watch his baby.
I signed a book and then Jamie took a picture of it and tweeted it and then I re-tweeted it before she even left the store. Now I'm blogging about it. Ah, the 21st century.
I had fancy New Hope frozen yogurt: raspberry pomegranate with blueberry poppins. I am not sure if I'm spelling poppins correctly, or even what they are, other than that they are like weird little fruit bubbles that are awesome.
Then after the signing we walked around New Hope and saw some weird art in its many galleries. This is like some sort of hammer-limbed baby. I love art.
Then we ate at Marsha Brown's, a restaurant that used to be a church. There is still religious art on the walls. Is that Daniel getting stepped on by a lion? Anyway I thought it was awesome.
T H E E N D.