First, a word about The Scar Boys, a debut novel that releases next Tuesday, January 21, 2014: WOW!
It starts out with an assignment (of sorts): an admission's request for a personal essay, with a limit of 250 words. The book itself--essentially that essay-- comes in at under 250 pages, but quite obviously exceeds the college application limit. Part rock narrative (organized with rock and punk songs as chapter titles, complete with attribution to which recording Vlahos means), part confessional, the book tells the story of the improbably named Harbinger Robert Francis Jones, hideously scarred both physically and otherwise as the result of a childhood incident involving bullies and an unfortunately close lightning strike that mixed blunt-force trauma with disfiguring burns. To make things worse (if that's possible), his worst scars are located on his face and head.
Harry, as he is known, manages to do a lot of things in the course of the book. A lot of things that (as a character later points out, and rightly) most kids would give their eyeteeth for. He has friends, he plays guitar extremely well, he's in a punk band, the band tours and puts a record out . . . but it takes Harry a long while to realize what he's got, and to make peace with some of what he's done along the way. If there's a quibble to be had, it's that the vast majority of the book doesn't read like a college essay at all; instead of a retrospective view, it reads more like it was written along the way. But again, it's a minor complaint, and the story of Harry (and his friends Johnny and Cheyenne) is more than interesting enough to overcome any quibble.
Len Vlahos, image copyright Kristen Gilligan
And now, a word with the author, Len Vlahos:
1. What do you do for a living and what do you like best about your job?
I’m the executive director of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). We’re a national not for profit trade association representing the interests of the entire book industry, and our focus is on standards, best practices, research, and information.
So, for example, when you look at the title page of a book, (print or digital), you’ll see a thirteen digit number called an ISBN, which stands for International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is used to identify a specific title in a specific format. The Scar Boys hardcover, e-book, and audio book all have unique ISBNs. Maintaining and promoting the use of ISBN in the U.S. is just one of the many, many things we do at BISG.
Before BISG, I spent nearly twenty years working for the American Booksellers Association, the trade group that represents the interests of indie bookstores. And before that, I worked in bookstores. My first bookstore job was in college, at the NYU bookstore.
So I guess you could say that my whole career has been in bookselling and publishing. And what do I love about it? Everything. Working with around and near books is a great way to make a living, and the people who work in books are wonderful.
2. Besides for simple information, why do you read?
Holy cow, that's a big question, but here goes nothing: I read because I want to be entertained, because I want to be inspired, because I want to escape from this world and lose myself in another, and because it makes me use my brain.
Reading is better than going to the movies, because with a book I'm the director, casting director, set designer, editor, sound editor, costume designer and more, all rolled into one.
I read because reading is cool, because I like how a book feels in my hand, and because it makes me feel good about myself.
I read because I would feel empty if I didn't, because I like to talk to other people about books, because I like being exposed to new ideas, and because television (though I do watch some) rots my brain.
I read because I love it. Phew! There’s more, but I think you get the idea.
3. What did you read when you were a teen?
I remember reading as a younger kid (my favorite book in the fourth grade was The Runaway Robot by Lester Del Rey) and then again in my early twenties. But I don’t remember reading a lot for pleasure as a teen. I read for school, of course, and the books that stuck with me from that time include Inherit the Wind, Catcher in the Rye, Death of Salesman, and Macbeth.
In twelfth grade I had an English teacher—Mr. Sturdeyvant—who turned me onto Shakespeare's sonnets, and I spent the better part of that year writing poetry. People tend to forget that Shakespeare wrote anything other than plays. The dude was a flat out genius.
The one book—it was a series before everything was a series—I did read for pleasure was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's still one of my all-time favorites.
4. What book(s) do you wish you had read when you were a teen?
Given the answer above, the list is long. But the one book—again, series—that I wish had been published when I was younger is Harry Potter. I've always liked science fiction, fantasy, and magic (I was a D&D kid), and I think I would have devoured all seven books. (I did devour them as an adult.)
5. What are you working on now?
I finished a novel that bridges the gap between adult and young adult fiction. (I think that gap is artificial. A good story is a good story.) It’s a dark comedy about a guy with a terminal brain tumor. Once he realizes he's going to die, he puts his life up for sale on eBay. The story follows his decline; the people bidding on his life; his daughter, who gets caught in the middle of the insanity; and the brain tumor itself, which is one of the main characters.
I'm also working on two different novels aimed more directly at teens, one of which is a follow up to The Scar Boys.
Massive thanks to Len for answering our questions!
If you'd like to catch up with Len elsewhere on his tour, you can check his schedule at his website. I'm told he'll be there not with bells on, but with guitar in hand. If you can't make one of his in-person appearances, but are interested in learning more about Len, check out his blog tour (this is stop #2!), the full schedule for which can be found in yesterday's post by Jen Bigheart at I READ BANNED BOOKS!