On Book Banning Zealots & Ostriches

UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and awesomeness, especially on the #SpeakLoudly Twitter thread! Keep reading and keep speaking loudly against book banning!

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Most of you know I’m getting pretty riled up about this whole censorship thing. There was the Ellen Hopkins un-invite from the Humble Texas book event. The Stockton, MO banning of Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. Then the news that TWENTY BOY SUMMER was being challenged in a Missouri school library because one parent thought the title was “promiscuous.”

One parent’s challenge of TBS isn’t a big deal, really. But it speaks to the larger issues of censorship that I talked about last week, and that’s why I was so upset.

But then I got an update on the “minor” TBS situation, and it’s actually much worse than I thought.

Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a fundamentalist Christian and parent in Republic, MO, has issued a 29-page missive to the Republic school board calling for the removal of TBS, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, and most shocking of all — Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK — a book about the date rape of a teen girl which Scroggins calls “soft pornography.” Not surprisingly, he’s also fighting to kill the sex ed curriculum, removing any pamphlets that discuss HIV or condoms and disallowing teachers to talk about reproduction and sex, stating that “…children at the middle school are being introduced to concepts such as homosexuality, oral sex, anal sex and specific instructions on how to use a condom and have sex.” Note that in Republic, kids (or their parents) can opt out of the sex ed curriculum, which is abstinence-based, but that’s not good enough for Scroggins. Apparently he doesn’t want anyone unmarried and under the age of 25 to know about “female parts.”

You all know how I feel about the head in the sand mentality, right? Because I’m sure us girls never even knew we had vaginas (yes, Dr. Scroggins, it’s called a vagina) until we took sex ed and learned “how to use a condom and have sex.”

*rolls eyes*

Sex and girl parts aside, he’s also got a problem with the school’s teaching of the Constitution and lots of history and science books that teach anything other than the strictest Christian interpretation of those subjects.

In his whackadoo-from-the-zoo article, “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” he says this about TWENTY BOY SUMMER:

This book glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex. I confronted the school board with these issues at the June school board meeting. As far as I know, nothing has been done to address these issues to date. This is unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian. How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality? Parents, it is time you get involved!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending my book other than to say what those who’ve read it already know — despite its lighthearted title, TBS is not about parties and sex. It’s about two girls struggling in the aftermath of a major tragedy, with grieving parents and unfamiliar situations and secrets that threaten to kill their friendship. It’s a scary world for them, and my job as a writer is to tell their story honestly, without judgment. And I know I’ve done my job because I hear from teens who’ve experienced devastating loss, and they tell me how much the book meant to them or how they could relate to the characters more than they can relate to their own friends somtimes. One email like that is all I needed to know that I did what I set out to do.

But here’s the thing that really gets me about Scoggins’ comments: When he says, “Parents, it is time you get involved,” he’s not really asking parents to get involved in what might actually be a good discussion and healthy debate. Truly asking for parental involvement would mean encouraging parents to read the books in question, discuss issues and themes with their kids, and come to their own decisions about what’s best for their own families. Scroggins is just calling people out, bating them with accusations of being immoral or “unchristian,” looking for a few good upstanding parents to join his lynch mob.

(And another kick in the ass? According to comments on the article [still trying to find out the source and confirm — anyone know?], his own children are home schooled. If that’s true, this guy is just stirring up shit for other people’s kids, all under the banner of his version of Jesus.)

So we’re back to the whole issue of what censorship teaches our kids, and it’s not something I’m willing to stand for.

If you’re riled up about this to, here’s how you can get involved:

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]- Retweet this post by clicking the retweet button to the right
– Blog about your thoughts and reaction
– Join the #SpeakLoudly thread on Twitter
– Voice your opinion on Scroggins’ original article here
– Write a letter to the editor of Springfield’s News-Leader
– Write to the administrators in the Republic school district

You can also check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s response to the nonsense here: This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography

And don’t forget to enter to win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack now through Friday, September 24!

Thanks everyone for your support!

Twenty Boy Summer Paperback: 10 Reasons To Pick It Up!

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Twenty Boy Summer is now available in paperback (well, May 1st is the official release, but it’s popping up in stores everywhere this month). Why should you snag a copy? Well…

10 Reasons to Pick Up Twenty Boy Summer in Paperback:

  1. The paperback has all the summery sea glass love of the hardcover at about half the price.
  2. If you don’t have access to the real beach, Twenty Boy Summer will take you there from the comforts of your couch or cubicle, no sunscreen required.
  3. Twenty Boy Summer was selected for the 2009 Kids IndieNext List and was just nominated for the YALSA Teens’ Top 10 and the YA Book Bloggers Debut Book Battle of 2010.
  4. Do you know what that little red piece on the cover means? You have to read the book to find out!
  5. Reading Twenty Boy Summer is just like visiting the ocean, only without the uncomfortable post-day-at-the-beach sand in your pants.
  6. The paperback is super portable, leaving tons more room in your beach bag for important stuff like lip gloss, sunscreen, bottled water, gum, adorable flip-flops, and a few other fun summer reads!
  7. Boys, nothing says “I’m smart, sensitive, open-minded, and looking for summer love” like a dude on a beach blanket reading a heart-covered book! Seriously, reading TBS is like wearing a pink shirt or holding a baby. It’s practically a love magnet!
  8. Kirkus calls the book “a sincere, romantic tearjerker” and Booklist says its “lyrical writing will satisfy fans of Sarah Dessen,” the queen of summer YA stories!
  9. Unlike bikini season, getting ready for book season requires no embarrassing public dressing room try-ons, contortionist shaving rituals, or last-minute crash dieting!

    And the best reason to pick up Twenty Boy Summer in paperback?

  10. Even a year later, these adorably awesome book bloggers can’t be wrong! 🙂

Where to Get a Copy

Twenty Boy Summer is available in retail bookstores everywhere (including some of your favorite indies!) and at the following Web sites:

Goodreads members can also enter the Goodreads Giveaway to win a free signed paperback of Twenty Boy Summer, now through May 15.

Sharing the Love

If you read Twenty Boy Summer and want to share your thoughts with other readers, I encourage you to post your review on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other book site!

You can also become a fan on Facebook.

Thank you all, and happy summer reading!

Hey, Amazon, My Book is NOT an @$$hole!

Apparently there’s some cross-pollination going on at Amazon resulting in a weird TWENTY BOY SUMMER mashup. Which might be kind of cool if it was, like, mashing up with Stephenie Meyer’s latest or J.K. Rowling’s or Sarah Dessen’s. In fact, I’m pretty sure that any of the books in Amazon’s 8 million + collection would’ve been a better accidental partner for TWENTY BOY SUMMER than the one currently sharing its key phrases (underlined here in red in case they don’t jump out at you):

Amazon goof!

I know, right? I mean, isn’t every young adult author’s dream to see her listing on Amazon? Like this?

Twenty Boy Summer (Hardcover)
by Sarah Ockler (Author)
Key Phrases: @$$hole rule, inner jerk, destructive jerks…

That’s just the beginning, before scrolling to the “statistically improbable phrases” and “capitalized phrases.” Readers (and parents and teachers), I can assure you that despite what Amazon says, TWENTY BOY SUMMER’s Anna Reiley and Frankie Perino have never uttered any of the following phrases. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I myself haven’t uttered the following phrases, either (at least not since I left my last office gig):

  • @$$hole rule
  • inner jerk
  • destructive jerks
  • certified @$$hole
  • @$$hole management
  • jerk rule
  • The Virtues of @$$holes
  • Garbage Dump Troop, or
  • Satan’s Cesspool Strategy

They’re working on correcting this sort-of-hilarious-but-not-really mess, but in the mean time, I’m pretty sure the only thing that could possibly make me feel any better about this is… if you go pre-order TWENTY BOY SUMMER right now (yes, you’ll get the right book, as long as you click the pre-order button and not, like, the Kindle link for the @$$hole book!). Even if you already ordered it for yourself, maybe you can order it for a friend. That would go a long way in easing my suffering over this ill-advised mashup. Show Amazon that you won’t let a little cussin’ get in the way of your YA reading pleasure!

(No pressure. I mean, it’s not like I would call you the A-word on my blog or anything. That would be pretty statistically improbable.)

Party Like It’s, Um, 2009

Last night I had this crazy dream in which National Fuel (the gas utility company here in Buffalo) totally shut down, leaving the entire region without heat. I had to trek over to some government agency about said missing heat, along with about 1 million other cold people, and the person working the desk told me she really loved my book and wanted to give it to her supervisor immediately.

Hours later, still waiting in the lobby with all the other cold people to get my heat turned back on, the desk woman tracked me down. She needed me to sign some forms because they wanted to give me a $2 million grant to work on my next book.

“My supervisor really loved your book, miss,” she said, handing me a pen. “And we really just have this money sitting around. We have to give it out in grants. It’s yours.”

2 million dollars. Nice, right? Well I must be some kind of mystic, because when I woke up this morning, well… guess which one of those dreams came true?

Hint: Effing brrrrrrrrrrrrr!

National Fuel didn’t shut down, but my furnace died, and I froze all day, and even though they came and fixed it pretty fast, I’m still frozen, because if I start out the day cold (or with bad hair or in a bad mood), my whole day is shot. And still, hours and hours later, no one has arrived with my $2 million check, despite the fact that I signed about seven different forms for that woman!

Life is, like, so totally unfair.

Effing brrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Speaking of unfair, and waiting around for things that never materialize, yes, I abandoned my faithful blog readers again for nearly a month. A lot of exciting things have happened since I last rambled here, including but not limited to two trips to the ER (only one was my own), the start of a brand new year, and the long-awaited swearing-in of a brand new president.

George, don’t let the door hit you in the…


Anyway. January is just the beginning. There are lots of fun things happening in 2009, especially on the YA lit front. Check it out:

12 Months of Debsness

On the 15th of each month, you can win a Debsness bag stuffed with goodies from the 2009 Debutantes member authors. All you have to do is leave a comment on the Debsness post and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll put the link up here before the next giveaway.

2009 Debs Blog Tour

Starting in February, running throughout the year, 37 of the 2009 Debutantes will stop by SarahOckler.com during the craziest blog tour in history1. We’ll learn a little bit about their 2009 releases, main characters, interesting trivia, and maybe some other fun stuff, too.

‘09 Debut Authors Challenge

Blogger Story Siren is hosting the ‘09 Debut Authors Challenge for anyone interested in reading a set number of YA or MG novels from debut authors published this year. I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak peak at several ’09 debuts in ARC format, with a few more on the way, so I’m excited to be part of the challenge. If you like to read and you ❤ YA as much as I do, check it out!

TWENTY BOY SUMMER hits the shelves!

On June 1, 2009, just about two years after finishing TWENTY BOY SUMMER and signing an agent, I’ll get to walk into my favorite bookstore and see it on an actual shelf.

Like, next to other actual books.

That people can actually buy.

And read. OMFG.


1. This claim has not been scientifically proven.

Teen Marketing by Vogue: Drink Smoothies, Be Wooed

Marketing consumer products to teens isn’t an exact science, especially in a downward-spiraling economy. As a YA author who will soon depend on teens’ eagerness to trade their cash for a copy of TWENTY BOY SUMMER, I get the marketing challenge. I’m always on the lookout for creative, original, and even wacktastic ways to promote and share my book with young adults. Giving stuff away for free? Staging a stunt for local media? Embarrassing myself on YouTube? Yes, yes, and where do I find the bucket of red paint and bag of feathers?

Making an international mockery of myself on film to sell books is one thing. But I’m sooo not down with Teen Vogue’s new approach, reported in today’s New York Times.

Teen Vogue Haute Spot

Meet the Teen Vogue Haute Spot, a store that doesn’t sell — well — anything. Instead, it just kind of “presents” stuff, observes, and then “whisks” teen customers to conveniently-nearby retail locations to buy the goods.

A store that doesn’t sell stuff? Check it out:

Instead, the store will be a place for girls to relax, try on clothes and drink smoothies — all while marketers woo them.

The stores will offer free snacks, informal modeling, a perfume bar, a makeup station, charging stations for cellphones and iPods, a gift-wrapping counter and racks of clothes.

Stylists and attendants at the store will advise visitors on lipstick, shoes and outfits.

And, to the delight of retailers, they will whisk visitors to stores in the mall where they can buy the products.

Something about it feels, well, oogie to me1. In my mind, some hip-looking woman clad in black leather lures unsuspecting girls into the store with free samples and cool music. The store is bright pink with silver accents (you can’t see the pink part in the drawing because the store shown here is still under construction), techno beats bumpin’ softly in the background, and clear, futuristic-looking counters holding trays of frosted glass bottles that say “eat me” and “drink me” à la Alice in Wonderland. While girls innocently sample high-end clothing and makeup and smoothies, shopping and texting and modeling, chatting and laughing and relaxing, a panel of corporate researchers in white lab coats and thick safety goggles watches from behind a two-way mirror, taking careful notes against their clipboards and muttering the occasional “verrrry interesting” and “mmm-hmmmm.”

Unless Teen Vogue is verrrry transparent with its customers about the purpose of Teen Vogue Haute Spot — explicitly stating what the magazine and participating retailers hope to accomplish and how they’re tracking and reporting on the teens’ behaviors, purchases, and data — this is not a good marketing tactic for consumers. It might be great for Teen Vogue and its retail advertisers. But for teens? Smarmy.

Here are a few other points I’m uncomfortable with:

Zain Raj, the chief executive of the marketing firm Euro RSCG Discovery, part of Havas, said many other companies sell merchandise not connected to their brands. Teen Vogue’s decision not to sell anything would help raise its profile among its audience.

The fact that Teen Vogue Haute Spot isn’t selling anything doesn’t raise its profile if employees are just marching girls down the hall to the Clinique counter at Nordstrom. On the other hand, if the store offered free products for teens to sample without additional expectations, wooing, or whisking, that would be more of a profile-raise for me. Or — better yet — donate the clothes and cosmetics to girls who could otherwise not afford them, or to girls and moms shelters or in hospitals. But this approach: “That shade of $38 lipstick looks smashing on you. Shall I escort you to Bloomie’s to complete your purchase? Have another smoothie. Can I have your email address? Thanks for being wooed!” Nope. Not cool.

Next point. What do you make of this?

Mr. Raj, who is not involved in the Haute Spot, suggested that publications should “basically get people wedded to the brand proposition for the long term.”

Basically get people wedded to the brand proposition for the long term? Is anyone else creeped out by that statement? Especially when it applies to teens? I mean, I want teens to love my book, and to buy it, and maybe even to tell their friends about it and hopefully buy future books. I’d be elated if they were entertained, touched, excited, saddened, angered, uplifted, or otherwise moved by my books. But do I want them to be wedded to my brand proposition for the long term? No.

If we as a culture spent less time “marrying brands” and more time developing personal relationships and learning about ourselves and the world around us (and, ahem, reading), maybe we wouldn’t have to think up smarmy marketing strategies in the face of a downward economic spiral.

Okay, we live in a consumptive society. It’s part of our problem, but none of us is immune, and it certainly doesn’t have to be all bad. If we like certain brands or products, being wooed by marketers is okay, as long as we know who’s doin’ the woo-in’ and the what and the how and and the why the woo-in’ is bein’ won. I mean, done.

The Teen Vogue Haute Spot plan, conversely, reads like a bunch of smoke-and-mirrors for teens who would probably support the brands enthusiastically without all of the underhanded marketing tactics.

Teens, what do you think about this? Other readers, marketers, writers, and parents — any thoughts?

1. Confession: As much as I find this oogie, I secretly wonder if a similar approach would work with TWENTY BOY SUMMER sales. I could invite a bunch of teens to my house. I could make smoothies. I could offer perfume samples and snacks and outlets to charge iPods and phones. And girls, if you like the book, I could “whisk” you right over to my computer where you could sign in to your amazon.com account and place your order! I wouldn’t even take any notes or where a creepy white lab coat… hmmm… verrrrry interesting… that book looks just smashing on you! Would you like another smoothie?

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