Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Conversation With A Boy Who Reads Books

I read books. If you want others like me to
read your book, you may want to know
what I enjoy.

At left is a friend I made via twitter. His name is Lee and he's a boy that reads books.  The New York Times asks the question, "is there any hope?" with regard to boys and books.  I think that there's plenty of hope. But we authors need to step up our game. We need to provide books that appeal to both girls AND boys and that is a tricky devil and no...Eat, Pray, Love is not going to appeal to most boys (sorry ladies).

So those of you who are interested in catching a teenage boy's attention may want to listen to what Lee says about what he likes to read. Sure, he's only one guy, but take a look at his picture and ask yourself...would you like him to read your book? Would you like other boys like him to be riveted by your words? If on and find out what he loves about books, authors, and the written word.

First off, I would like all of you to hop over to his blog located here and to please follow him.  He's brand new to the world of blogging and hasn't made many friends at all (he will also follow you back--he's really considerate like that).  And please drop him a note and thank him for taking the time for us authors to pick his brain.

Additionally, he's also on twitter and quite active. His twitter handle is @fleenewbery and again, he always follows back.

Q: Please give us a title or two of books that you would recommend to other boys because you thought they were amazing (feel free to elaborate on what you thought was amazing about these particular books).

A: ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion is fantastic.  For years now, the bestseller landscape has been dominated by vampires and werewolves and dark fantasy...stuff like that.  But I think we're forgetting quite possibly one of the coolest and most grisly horror creations there is – zombies.  I love zombies, so I was immediately drawn to this book, which is about a zombie named ‘R’, and how he’s a little bit different to all the other zombies.  During a hunting expedition into a nearby abandoned city, he decides to save a girl called Julie (instead of eating her) despite the appetite for brains and other various bodily stuffing that all zombies share.  There is, quite obviously, a romantic element to this novel, but it really is a treat to read.  A very clever and refreshing twist on the whole zombie myth, and it ends up being more of a commentary on humans than anything.  I believe it’s being made into a movie too. 

Anything by Neil Gaiman is good, too – this guy is like my idol!  Such an artistic and creative literary force, I adore his work, although I have quite a few of his books to zip through yet.  So far I’ve read ‘Neverwhere’, ‘Stardust’, and ‘The Graveyard Book’, which is more of a children’s novel, but is personally one of my favourites.  I’m halfway through reading ‘American Gods’.  Definitely would recommend his work to anybody – not just boys, anybody!  He just tackles some really interesting themes in such a different way.  Sort of leaves you thinking ‘damn, why didn’t I think of that’, you know?

I’m currently reading ‘The perks of being a wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky, as well.  It doesn’t sound like a boyish book – in fact, it sounds quite the opposite – but I really am thoroughly enjoying it.  Charlie is just such a memorable character and you can’t help but love him and want good things to happen to him and for him to be all right.  That’s when you know a book is brilliant, when you genuinely feel for a character and care about them for long after you’ve finished reading it.

And how can I forget Stephen King!  One of his most recent novels, ‘Under the Dome’, epic in both size and content, is a brilliant book.  Far-fetched, but since when does Stephen King approach his ideas in a tame way?

Q: If you had advice to give to a writer in reaching boys as their target audience, what would you tell them to do in their books?  In other words...what grabs your interest?

A: I’m a sucker for dark themes.  I like it when authors take something supposedly light and fluffy – like a fairy tale – and make it odd and disturbing.  I think it’s important that authors don’t shy away from all the raw and grisly details – honesty is key, whether you’re writing completely from the imagination in a fantasy world or drawing from life experiences. 

As for other things that interest me when it comes to reading, I have to say I love apocalyptic stories.  I have a morbid fascination with things like that, and I don’t think that has anything to do with the fact that I’m a boy.  I just like thinking of scenarios like that, and I like being scared.  Fear is a big attention grabber for me.  If a book can scare me, I’m probably going to read it all and enjoy it. 

Advice-wise, all I have to say is don’t waste time.  There is absolutely nothing worse, especially for us boys, than dragging ourselves through the first few chapters of place-setting.  Chuck us straight in at the deep end so that we can’t climb out again.  No point dragging out the tedium of the shallows, because we’ll probably just get bored and walk back to shore.

Q: How often do you choose a book based off of its cover art?

A: To be honest, quite a lot.  I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but honestly what else are you going to draw a first judgement on?  It’s the first thing you see.  If it’s got a dull cover, why on earth would you even want to pick it up and read the back?  I think the cover is very, very important.  It has to grab your eye, it has to be catchy, otherwise your eye is just going to flit over it and find something else.  I’d want my book to have the most interesting cover art possible.  I think the cover art is a very big decision when it comes to marketing your novel.  It’s basically a little manifestation of your book.  It has to be good.  It’s what invites you to pick up the book and read about it.

Q: When you begin to read a book, at what point do you give up on it if the book is not working for you and why?

A: If within the first 100 pages I’m still not interested, I give up.  No matter how widely acclaimed it is, no matter how compelled I was at the idea of reading the book, if it’s just boring to read, then I can’t enjoy it.  When the book begins to feel like a chore, that’s when I put it down and move on to something else. 

Q: Are there any things that you would like to see in a story that you've never come across as yet?

A: That’s a tough question, because I like to write myself.  So, if there’s something in a story that I’ve never come across before, I want to write it myself before somebody else does!  I’m just not sure.  It’s like being an inventor and asking yourself what does everybody want in their home that hasn’t been invented yet – it’s complicated just to brew up an idea like that, because until you’ve read it or you’ve got it, you never knew how much you loved it or needed it.  But when I do think of something I’d like to see in a story, I’ll write it down myself!  There’s nothing more evasive than a completely original idea.

I suppose I want this whole vampire-werewolf craze to die down already.  I like when people toy with supernatural beings as themes for their stories, but it really is just becoming repetitive now.  Maybe somebody should write a story about some other supernatural being and start a new craze.

Q: Do you stick to a particular genre (i.e. fantasy or science-fiction or contemporary YA)?

A: When I was younger, I wouldn’t stray from fantasy.  That was my little niche.  But these days, I really do read anything I can get my hands on.  I still have a passion for fantasy stories, and I think I always will, but I also have a big appetite for ghost stories.  I’ve always been interested in the paranormal and the supernatural and things just beyond our understanding; I don’t think I ever want to exist in a world where an objective opinion on these things has been drawn.  To me, the purpose of a book is to take you somewhere extraordinary, a different realm, and I suppose that’s why these genres are so appealing to me.  I always want to live in the worlds that the books I read paint.

Q: Do you prefer first-person or third-person storytelling?

A: I’m indifferent when it comes to this one.  I thoroughly enjoy both.  I feel like third-person offers a more traditional, simplistic, almost fairy-tale narrative perspective, whereas first-person can be very intimate and make it a smoother read.  Saying that, almost all the books I’ve read lately have been first-person, so I suppose I’m going to go with that one.

Q: Do you prefer e-books or paper books?

A: Paper books for sure.  Call me a romantic, I don’t care.  I just love holding a book in my hands and ruffling the pages and curling up with it.  It just feels warmer, if that makes any sense?  It’s just like holding a little portal in your hands.  Also, paper books smell nicer.  E-books don’t smell of anything, and it all just feels a bit cold and inauthentic.  Somehow, the format makes it feel more like an article.

Maybe the kids who are growing up now around e-books will feel differently about the topic, but I will always be more for paper books.  It just strikes me as the truest way to document a story, and the truest way to read one.  It’s just more physical, more personal – I think it’s strange that e-books don’t actually exist anywhere other than on the computer screen, just sitting there in cyber-space.  Then again, maybe I don’t know enough about e-books to comment.

Q: What is a deal breaker for you in a book? In other words...what drives you away from a book?

A: I don’t even have to think about this one.  Cheese.  I just can’t read something that is cheese-infused.  Sometimes it works in movies and TV shows, but it just doesn’t work for me in books. 

And also, being unrealistic irritates me.  Now this might sound ridiculous because I like to read fantasy novels, but what I mean is if a protagonist is presented with trial after trial, obstacle after obstacle, and still manages to come through unscathed, or even alive, this annoys me.  It’s like in movies when the stars manage to still look clean-shaven and attractive even after an hour-and-a-half’s worth of action – it just wouldn’t happen.  I guess this ties in with the whole honesty thing again.

Q: Do you write? If so, tell us a little bit about your writing.

A: Of course!  I love to write.  I like to think of writing as my ‘thing’.  I don’t quite know how to define that thing, but that’s what it is to me. 

I’ve been writing ever since I was little – I don’t quite remember the age, maybe around seven?  I was always a big reader, but one of the defining characteristics of my personality is my hunger to replicate things that inspire me.  So when I initially first read the Harry Potter books as a child, I was so mind-blown that I decided to make it my life mission to one day write books just as good and just as loved.  A big goal perhaps, but I was young.  Of course every writer dreams of their novels hitting number one and being read by millions, but these days I try to be a little more realistic.

I like writing fantasy stories, just like the ones I read.  I haven’t finished a novel yet – unless if you count a book I wrote as a 13-year-old – but I’m hoping that I will over the next year or so.  The thing with writing is that you can be anywhere to do it – you don’t have to be sat at your desk with a computer or paper and pen.  I’m writing all the time, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.  I’m constantly watching storylines evolve in my head, and forever forgetting to write them down, which is perhaps my biggest downfall.  At the age of 19, I’d say I’m inspiration and no motivation, but this really does need to change soon.

I’m serious about becoming a writer.  My dream is to one day craft a living out of writing.  I want to be able to scrape enough money from it to call it a day job and I’d love this to happen sooner rather than later because it’s all I really want to do.  I know how tough the publishing industry is these days, and I know just how incredibly difficult it is to make at least a decent living from writing.  So I desperately need to knuckle down and get writing.  Sometimes I feel a bit lost, because I’m young and I’m dreaming of making a life for myself out of such a tough industry, but other than writing I don’t know what I want to do.
I’m hoping to participate in NaNoWriMo this year (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time ever, and maybe this will help me to organise my priorities.

Wish me luck!

So what do you think ladies & gents? Can you get boys to love your books?


  1. Cool post! And pleas let me SCREAM my thoughts.

    I'm also a young boy who reads books!(not very young, though young :D). I actually wanted to write a blog post about it but it is the perfect time to say my opinions briefly. Do authors make them read??????? Mostly YA. Look at their covers! Look at their book titles! Don't they know the book titles and covers affect the sales???? For example Anna and the French Kiss. Book lovers do talk about this very much but I would never buy it because of its cover and title. So girlish! I don't have a Kindle or some other e-readers! I read paperbacks. Actually it looks boring to me! While publishing book, authors (not anyone else)have to think their audience! And I'm not only talking about the cover and titles, they also must think the subject that not only young girls, also boys or older people should understand the book they paid! I hope could explain by the right way. Thanks

  2. What a great post! I just popped over to Lee's & am now a follower so thank you for that.

    One classic I'm submerged in right now is Treasure Island. It's an unbelievable read. I'd recommend that in a heartbeat.

    This was remarkable insight for me.

    I understand that many fantasy concepts can seem exhausted, but I am slightly obsessed when authors (including myself) find a unique way to spin a classic tale. For me, there’s nothing better. I'll always gravitate towards monsters like vamps, werewolves, demons and so forth because it seems kind of fun reinventing the originals and maybe coming up with a few new ones on your own.

  3. NaNoWriMo is going to be awesome this year! Need to plan though...

  4. I know Lee!
    Since everything aimed at young adults is 'paranormal romance' these days, I imagine it's difficult to find an appealing book. Probably why I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction when I was his age.

  5. Fantastic post Michael, and very insightful answers Lee.

    Moody Writing

  6. Thanks Michael, this is awesome! I'm really interested to see what people think... that young guys don't read is such a generalised observation to make!

    Mina - I agree, and I do really enjoy books involving the paranormal and supernatural. There just seems to be a lack of the reinvention that you spoke of, but I love finding a good supernatural gem and getting lost in it.

    Brooke - I know, this will be my first time so I don't know what to expect, I'm trying to come up with a vague concept or storyline now. But I don't know whether or not that defeats the whole point of NaNoWriMo. I'll soon find out.


  7. Is it that writers aren't writing enough books for boys or that publishers aren't publishing enough books for boys? Which I suppose could become one of those chicken-and-the-egg arguments. Though I think publishers look at the stats and say "Girls read more than boys so let's focus on that." Which makes sense in a way to cater more to 80% than 20% of the market.

  8. Mike, this is a very interesting post.

    Lee, good luck with NaNo, and I know what you mean about cheese. I don't like cheese either. Also, my son is about your age and he loves zombies too.

  9. Michael-thank you for hosting this and introducing us to Lee--this was GREAT!

    Hi, Lee--This was excellent--we share a lot of the same loves--Gaiman, King, Harry Potter--. And I write YA, so i love hearing what works for boys. (I always write dark, and in fact I actually have three Armageddon stories vaguely mapped, though one is adult). So far though, my strongest VOICE is female--so I have a question--does a female protag break it for you, or can you enjoy it if it still has enough action? (like say, the Hunger Games, which I hear was a gender crosser)

    This was really great from an author perspective.

  10. Great post! Finally, the male perspective. Thanks,

  11. Interesting interview Michael. If you want to know an audience, there is no better way than to engage them and listen.

    Interesting the response about choosing a book by its cover--though I am not in that age category, I could care less what the picture looks like.

  12. Hart - I love dark stories, they're my favourties, so I'd really like to check out some of your work!

    And definitely not. This is something I think authors worry about - that boys like to read books with a male voice, and girls read books with a girls voice. This isn't true, at least not for me! I recently finished The Hunger Games trilogy, and I loved them! It's not necessarily about action, it's just about having applicable characters. They don't have to be likeable, they just need to be human and interesting.

  13. great post! I'm super excited about the dark book love, because darkness is awesome. I tend to always have some in my MS, because i'm a fan of violence

  14. Michael,

    Thanks so much for conducting this interview. It's really nice to get the info straight from the reader, instead of vague notions gleaned off agents' blogs and whatnot. I can't help but laugh when I read about how agents and editors wonder why they can't get boys to read. Instead of relying on marketing metrics or on a small insular circle of peers for advice, they could, y'know, go ask the boys what they want, just like you did.

    Awesome post.

  15. Hi, Michael,

    Thanks for introducing us to Lee. It fascinates me how you dig so deep to get the truth out.

    Befriending a teenage boy is an awesome way to find out what his likes and dislikes are. SInce you write for y/a and sci/fi, fantasy, this is exactly how to find out what your target audience thinks.


    you sound like a together young man and quite astute. You're right, we should never generalize about any age group or reading group for that matter.

    I admire your enthusiasm on how you are submerging yourself into the web world. I wish I had this opportunity at your age. You are growing up in such an exciting world with so much information just a click away.

    But, Please, be careful. There are some sick people out in cyberspace. Thankfully you've entered our community and you are welcomed and respected for your talent and views here.

    You will find friends who will support your from every age. We are here to help each other. WELCOME!

    I'll hop over to your blog straight away.


    Good luck with NaNo month. If anyone has the grit and determination to write a successful novel in a month, you do.

    Thank you for the kind words you left on my blog the other day... I appreciate you support. It's nice to know my blog is a positive and happy place to visit.

  16. There's a lot to be said for a fresh outlook! Although I don't write toward the youth market, a lot of what he said I think can apply to any writing. I especially liked hearing not to waste too much time setting up the scene, but jump straight to the action. I heard the same advice in a seminar run by Steve Berry. It's good advice!

  17. I love meeting impressive kids who love to read~ great interview and great info on what he likes to read! I agree with Ruth (above) that lots of his opinions can be applied to markets other than youth too! Thanks Lee & Micheal!

  18. I'm impressed with Lee's level of thoughtfulness -- and it's nice of you to introduce him, Michael. I've joined his site & followed him on Twitter (he's got a LOT of followers already.)

    As for what he likes, I suppose I knew this already: many teen boys like books about dark subjects and action. I liked his comment about throwing readers into the deep end, and about reading becoming a chore, both of which I agree with him on.

  19. Nice to meet you Lee and thanks for the introduction, Michael. My first book, which is dark urban fantasy, would appeal to both guys and gals...and I like to hear Lee likes grisly details. I thought I was over the top with some, but they were necessary to the plot. Anyway, I'm heading over to his blog.

  20. Michael, thanks for introducing me too Lee. Don't worry not offended - I wouldn't ever read Eat, Pray, Love either.

    Lee, I'm glad for the zombie recommendation. My son is 13 and loves The Walking Dead comic and show. It's hard for me to find fiction that he can't put down.

    I agree with you about Neil Gaiman.

  21. What a cool dude. I went and followed his blog.

  22. This is SO awesome! Thanks, Lee! *hugs*

  23. @Javid: You are more than welcome to scream your thoughts. I've actually been toying with the idea of making a once a month column where I interview a young reader (boy or girl) and ask them questions similar to what I've asked Lee here.

    @Mina: Treasure Island is one of my favorite books. I called someone Captain Flint one day (and meant it as a veiled insult) because (as you know) Captain Flint is the name of the parrot and parrots repeat everything that a person says. However, when no one at all got the reference, a little part of me died inside because I realized that I was the only person in a room of twenty that had ever read Treasure Island.

    @Brooke: OMG...Your writing makes my head hurt but I love it anyways. When I read your writing I need to get into the habit of looking for things that you aren't saying. Asking questions like...what is Brooke not saying here because that is really what is happening and will put the whole story into focus. You are one intelligent young lady.

    @Alex: You know everyone.

    @Moody: Thank you for visiting.

    @Rogue Mutt: You bring up an excellent point. Now that you got me thinking about it, we both know that sales and money are what drive the publishers. They could actually give a shit about "providing" anything to anyone. All that matters is money. It's only a coincidence that some of the things that make money also seem to appeal to boys. So maybe that's a good chunk of the problem and will slowly be addressed by the rise of small and mid-sized publishers that are independent of the Big Six and authors who self-publish thanks to the tools made available through technology.

    @Cindy: I love zombies as well. I think that zombies appeal universally? I certainly don't know if their appeal is age-related.

    @Hart: Thanks for stopping by.

    @E. Arroyo: You're welcome :). Thank you for stopping by my blog.

    @Slamdunk: Seeing on Lee's bi-line for his twitter that he enjoyed reading really drew my eye. I have to admit...most boys I've met have only read one book by the time they graduate college.

    @Sarah: Without darkness, light has no meaning, right?

    @Reinhardt: Thank you. Some day I'm going to ask/find out why you have an exclamation on the end of your name. It just makes me wonder...

    @Michael Di Gesu: Thank you sir. I always enjoy when you visit and take the time to comment. :)

    @Ruth: I agree. And Lee is a super-smart kid.

    @Briane P: Ayep. I agree sir.

    @Em-Musing: I kind of wonder why us guys seem to like grisly stuff. I need to go visit a blog I follow written by a psychologist and ask her.

    @Theresa: heheh. Eat, Pray, Love was such a nauseous movie...I only watched half of it and changed the channel. I picked on that because of the way the movie came across and there's no way I'm reading that book. Not bagging on the success of the author but it is just not my cup of tea (as it were).

  24. Michael you are a gem for hosting this interview, it's so refreshing to hear from the group that don't do _______ and find out, oh yes they do just not how you think.

    Thanks Lee for letting Michael grab from your thoughts.

  25. Thank you so much for this wonderful interview! After hearing everything discussed, I feel like most of my stories would fit the bill - dark, moves fast, serious consequences for characters, ect. But I am wondering - would a boy get past my female name and female characters to find out that it's their cup of tea?

  26. Followed, with sarcasm.
    Thanks Mike!

  27. Interesting stuff. My teenage son tells me a lot of the same things about books. Mainly, "don't bore me." Okay then.

  28. Yep, this is definitely something I've thought about. Covers are a big sale in books, the names of the stories and the story lines themselves. Many agents these days are seeking more books for boys, especially in MG.

  29. I went over and joined Lee's blog, BUT he has his comments set up in a way that I can't actually comment. This is not just a problem with me, although it doesn't affect everyone. At any rate, some people won't be able to leave comments for him. Also, he has no posted email address, so I couldn't email him about this directly. You get to be the surrogate.

  30. Michael, thank you so much for posting this interview. I'd love to see you make this a regular thing, this was such an articulate, thoughtful post.

    I'm off over to Lee's blog now, I look forward to welcoming him to our community.

  31. This is one of the best interviews I've read. He has great answers that flow smoothly and the information is IMPORTANT! I completely agree on keeping the boy market happy. Thanks for the great information. :)

  32. What a great interview. I can't believe someone so young is so put together. This is great info while I contemplate the MG story I've been wanting to write in honor of my son and his special needs. Thanks!

  33. Lee, it was so great to meet you and hear your perspective. I'm used to talking to girls about what they like an don't like, an my son is in the middle grade reading age, so he's not help. Yet. :)

  34. Great interview and excellent insights. Thanks to you both for sharing this. :D

  35. Well hey, EAT PRAY LOVE doesn't appeal to me either. LOL.

    And I too prefer paper books!

  36. paper books? pfft, a thing of the past ;)

    This is a fantastic interview. It's always good to know what boys like and read.

  37. Great interview with good questions. Two out of three of my own boys love to read and they stick to mostly sci-fi and fantasy. I wish they would be interested in writing. I think we need more males writing for the YA market.

  38. Enlightening interview and I'm so happy to learn he prefers paper books to ebooks. Yeah. Oh and the fact that he writes too is awesome!

  39. Great responses. This young man will be a published author someday, I would bet.

    My two sons love to read, and I know they love my books, because they read them over and over again.

  40. What a fascinating young man! I do believe my current WIP meets all his criteria, and I hope that he is included in my audience when I am published (yes, I said "when" and not "if"). Tell me, how do you find these wonderful people?

  41. Already Lee is reading a whole lot, so it will carry over into his writing.