How to Be Manly for a Year: A Great Yes

Yes is my favorite word. This week marks the one year anniversary of one of the greatest yes answers of my career.

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The day an author gets the box of books is a very very nice day.

When Rachel Miller and Anna McCormally of Giant Squid Books told me they wanted to publish my YA novel How to Be Manly, they offered a big, beautiful yes that changed everything. I always believed in How to Be Manly. It was brilliant to find editors who loved my story too.

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The silver giant squid bracelet from the goddesses Rachel and Anna.

I wrote How to Be Manly in 2009, inspired by my high school students who were showing amazing integrity and generosity through struggle. Many of these students were athletes. Many were bright, underachieving students. I had to write How to Be Manly because the young people I taught had few novels to read that reflected their own life experiences in any way.

I’ve talked about how my students inspired me, about how diverse readers need diverse stories. I’ve talked about how economic diversity is important in YA. The editors at Giant Squid Books shared my vision for a simple, truthful, gritty novel that reflected the lives of students sometimes ignored as readers. The editing relationship was co-creative and fruitful. The cover delighted me.

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What an honor to have this young man as a reader.

This is a novel I am very proud to have written, and I am grateful to Giant Squid Books for their YES to Matty, Grandma, Jester and Dirty Harry. I really love this book.

So in honor of the year anniversary of the publication of How to Be Manly, here are a few little known facts about this YA novel about a young man who joins the football team to get a certain girl to like him, yet in the course of a summer learns what it really means to be a man.

  • I wrote over ten thousand words of How to Be Manly when my laptop with all my words on it was stolen from our home in a burglary. I had to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.
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My first signing amid friends and family at the Railroad Book Depot in Pittsburg, California. Such a cool store.
  •  The town of Alhambra where the story takes place is a hybrid geography of Pittsburg, California (where I grew up) and Sacramento, California.
  • The incident (NO SPOILER) at the gas station was lifted from the headlines when a very similar tragedy took place in Sacramento.
  • The character of Kyle Grimes is based on a few educators I worked with at Sacramento Charter High School who worked magic with kids every day.
  • Tre’von Lyle, Izaiah Skelton and Genesis Grimes Scales spent many patient hours with me helping me understand the life of a high school football player. I repaid them with dinner a couple of times. I’m not that great of a cook. It wasn’t an even trade.
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My daughter and I meeting How to Be Manly fans at the Sacramento Library Foundation fundraiser dinner. Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) was the featured speaker and his speech was fantastic.
  • Matty is named after one of my brilliant Advanced Placement students Matthew. The real Matthew was a high school football player but other than that his life is nothing like that of the Matty in my story. I just figured that if I was going to spend years with a character, I might as well name him after a kid I really liked.
  • There is a Manly Music playlist to go with the novel on my old blog. Wiz Khalifa is on it.
  • I designed a Common Core Standards activity packet that I offer free for teachers to go along with the novel. A beautiful teacher friend of mine added to the packet and let me offer her materials to others for free as well.
  • How to Be Manly, though a book about a boy, nonetheless has its own Pinterest page. That’s right. I’ve already cast the movie.
  • How to Be Manly is blurbed by Jodi Angel, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, and Tricia Stirling, all three unbelievably talented and acclaimed authors. Their generosity in blurbing my work was a stunning endorsement that meant more to me than they will ever know.
  • I spent my forty-fifth birthday as the featured author at a book talk in my friend’s classroom at Elinor Lincoln Hickey Jr./Sr. High School where a girl told me that she liked me because I “write what’s real”, and it was the best compliment I’ve ever received as a writer.
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I love my readers.
  • I, like Matty in the novel, secretly love self-help books although I do not steal them from yard sales.  I do read them on the sly when no one is looking. Please don’t tell.

Thanks again Rachel Miller and Anna McCormally of the excellent indie publisher Giant Squid Books. It’s been a wonderful year, and I am honored to be a GSB author.

Thank you to my readers who have made every step of this journey worthwhile. To me, Matty is almost like a real person. I’ve loved sharing his story with you.

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At Elinor Lincoln Hickey Jr./Sr. High School in Sacramento, having a blast.

To see what all the fuss is about, check out How to Be Manly on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and tell me what you think. Every reader who contacts me to let me know how much the story meant to them makes my day. Matty’s story is close to my heart, and I hope it will be to yours as well.

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