Friday, October 14, 2011

Evan Roskos: DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS

Yawp!
I never thought I'd write a YA novel. Blame my own snobbery, compounded by MFA-infused snobbery about so-called commercial genres, basted with my lack of understanding of the genre, and garnished with my fear of limiting my writing prospects. But, I met a YA writer and after we became friends and writing confidants, he suggested we try to write a book together.
     Material was produced, but our differing processes caused us to rethink the project. I was left with twenty pages describing a boy named James that talked to an imaginary pigeon and recited Walt Whitman's poetry with an exuberance bordering on insane. DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS is the result of a long, meandering writerly journey that began in the second grade, when I won a prize for my first story: "My Trip to the Moon." I illustrated it, too, though drawing was a talent that never blossomed.
     A few years later, I wrote, illustrated, and even 'bound' books for my Gifted and Talented program. Those hilarious sci-fi masterpieces still sit on my bookshelves (though they are thin and have spines made of black tape, so it's hard to admire them from afar). 
     In middle school an English teacher requested I write some poetry for the school anthology. We had 40 students in my grade and very few writers. My poems were influenced by 80s speed metal and Stephen King. In high school I wrote a 20 page short story for my English class. We had to read them in front of everyone. I ran out of time and had to spend ten minutes the next day finishing up. Even I was annoyed with me.
     Poetry took my attention, for years, and it taught me to care about words and sounds. Or maybe I cared about words and sounds and that's why poetry took over? Blame SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY and grunge music. By the time I reached college, I had no idea what writing meant to me. No idea what it was for. It was therapeutic, satisfying, and seemed to impress people enough to earn me some credibility as an artsy, though socially awkward, type. 
     Years passed. After dropping out of the first semester of a PhD program, I was perfectly willing to get a regular job that slowly dissolved me, but my wife instructed me to get an MFA. How awesome is she? Pretty awesome. 
     DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS is not the only book I'll ever write, but it might always be my favorite. Thankfully, it doesn't include illustrations done by my miserable, clumsy hands.

In this often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking but always hopeful young adult novel, 16 year old James Whitman is trying to navigate high school and a tough home life while wrestling with depression and anxiety. James recites Walt Whitman, hugs trees, talks to an imaginary bird therapist and tries to figure out why his sister Jorie has been kicked out of school and out of the house. His parents won’t talk about it and act like their family is better off now that she's gone.
     But James feels guilty for failing to defend Jorie over the years and one day while snooping through his sister’s room, he stumbles upon a box that reveals some of Jorie’s secrets.  
     In his quest to try to bring Jorie back home, he ends battling with his parents, the principal, his best friend and even himself as he tries to figure out what part he played in Jorie’s exile and discovers that some of Jorie’s secrets aren’t that different from his own.   
     The novel packs quite an emotional punch at times, as when James contemplates suicide, but we never doubt that James will pull himself out of his hole as he searches for and finds help in surprising places. 
     This debut novel by MFA Evan Roskos offers an incredibly compelling view of teen angst and depression, capturing all the anxiety, dorkiness, emotion, conflicts, passion, and confusion that teens can go through.


Twitter: @EvanJamesRoskos

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