Turning Points: Choose Your Own Adventure by Jon Skovron

headshot-color_featuredThis guest post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Now, to celebrate the release of his new YA novel, Man Made Boy, out in stores on October 3, here is Jon Skovron sharing his…

Guest post by Jon Skovron

MAN MADE BOY is on sale October 3!
MAN MADE BOY is on sale October 3!

When I was sixteen, I was going to be a rock star. Of course, it would have helped if I’d been able to keep a band together for more than about ten months. Teen punk bands come with a lot of drama. And I lost a lot of friends during that time. To drugs and alcohol. To car crashes or suicides. A couple even to religious cults. That whole “Hope I die before I get old” thing was very real for us. I didn’t plan to live past 25. And I might not have, if it weren’t for a high school theater director who instilled in me a passion, discipline, and dedication to the arts. He also taught me how to be a good enough actor that I was accepted into a prestigious theater conservatory and given a grant.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

When I was twenty, I was going to be a movie star. I ate, slept, and breathed nothing but theater. I was past dedication. I was utterly consumed to the point where I had no life. Then one night, with trembling voice and outstretched hand, I confessed my long secret crush to a female friend of mine. She turned me down. As I walked home that cold rainy night, heartbroken and miserable, it suddenly occurred to me that these sorts of moments would make me a better artist. This is what my acting had been missing! Life experience! So I stopped on the corner of 5th and Shady, looked up at the uncaring stars, and said aloud, “Go ahead then! Give me everything you’ve got. I can take it.” There have been many times since then when I’ve thought back ruefully on the foolishness of that challenge. I’ve never regretted it, though.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

When I was twenty-three, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to be. Not an actor, that was for sure. I’d met the Hollywood machine and found it not to my liking at all. I’d tried to go back to theater, but as I sat there sweating backstage in an un-air-conditioned 90-degree warehouse waiting to go onstage and play yet another fool in a Shakespeare comedy directed by yet another arrogant megalomaniac, I decided it was not to my liking either. I looked down at the copy of World According to Garp in my lap and with the arrogance that only a twenty-three-year-old can muster, thought, “I can’t do that! I’m going to write books!” And from that moment on, I dedicated myself to becoming a professional writer.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

When I was twenty-nine, I wasn’t worried about what I was going to do because I was just trying to survive. I was supporting a wife and two kids by working in a warehouse, dragging half-ton pallets of computer hardware around. I barely made enough for us to live. By then I had two failed manuscripts under my belt. I’d tried “serious literary fiction,” I’d tried “popular fiction.” Nothing seemed to click, and I wondered if maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer after all. But my agent suggested I take a look at this new thing called “Young Adult.” I picked up Holly Black’s Valiant and Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. I read them both in a day and knew I’d found my place.

But even that’s not what I want to talk about.

This is what I want to talk about:

When I was thirty-two, I decided I didn’t really need to know what I was going to do. I was up visiting a friend in New York. I’d finished my first YA manuscript and it was out making the rounds with publishers. So far, there’d been no takers, or even much interest. I sat there in this dingy bar in Manhattan drinking with one of my closest friends, a man I’ve known since I was eighteen, and I said to him, “You know, I don’t care if this book gets published. I love it, and that’s good enough. And I don’t care if I ever get published. I’m just going to keep writing anyway. Because I love it.”

A month later, I got a call from my agent that not one, but two publishers had made an offer on Struts & Frets. Which seems to support my long held belief that only when you truly accept failure can you embrace success.

We each have many turning points, like chapter headings on the journey of our lives. It’s up to us to choose them. Sure, the events themselves are concrete, but our interpretation of them is always subjective. Our lives are stories and we decide which bits are most important. In that way, we determine our own personal narrative. Every day, you’re out there interacting with friends and strangers, making choices, living your life, telling the story of you. Why not make it a story you like?

headshot-colorJon Skovron has been an actor, musician, lifeguard, Broadway theater ticket seller, warehouse grunt, technical writer, and web developer. Now he is the author of Young Adult novels Struts & Frets, Misfit, and Man Made Boy (Oct 3rd, Viking Penguin). He lives just outside Washington DC with his two sons.

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

My Own Darkness: Guest Blog by Jon Skovron

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Jon Skovron, author of MISFIT

In the 1980s, I was obsessed with a television show called Amazing Stories. Each episode was a self-contained tale about some bizarre, impossible event. You never knew what kind of story it would be though, because they ran the gamut from silly to heartwarming to macabre.

There was one episode in particular about a horror novelist that I still consider one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. I can’t quite remember why it happens to him. Something to do with him being arrogant and mean to everyone he knows (yanno, as us novelists generally are). Anyway, for whatever reason, one day while he’s looking at himself in the mirror, he sees a hideously deformed man sneaking up behind him. But when he turns around, there’s no one there. This experience repeats whenever he sees himself in any reflective surface. And each time, the deformed man is a little closer. After a few times, you can tell the man has a wire stretched between his hands and he means to strangle the novelist with it. Well, of course the poor novelist is freaking out, trying desperately to make amends with everyone he knows. But it doesn’t work. The man gets closer and closer. Finally, the novelist covers all the reflective surfaces in his house and refuses to go outside ever again. But then his girlfriend comes over. They’re sitting on the couch, gazing adoringly at each other and the novelist sees his reflection in his girlfriend’s beautiful blue eyes. The man is in that reflection of course, and this time there is no escape. He strangles the novelist. But the novelist doesn’t actually die. Instead he becomes the deformed man. The girlfriend screams in horror and loathing, he throws himself through the front window and runs out into the street, where he’s hit by a car and dies.

Rarely do you get to see such a blatant visual depiction of a person consumed by their own darkness. And that’s what scares me more than anything else. Whether it’s the slow descent into madness in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe or the temptation of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force, there is nothing that haunts me more than our own human capacity for evil. I remember sitting in the movie theater as a very small boy watching Empire Strikes Back. When Vader tried to tempt Luke over to the dark side, I cried out “Luke! Doooon’t doooo it!” and sobbed hysterically into my stoic father’s shoulder. I do get some chills from the forced conversion, when someone gets possessed or gets infected with a zombie plague or whatever. But the real horror for me is when someone makes the conscious choice to let the darkness in.

You might think, then, that I would avoid evil, darkness, and anything to do with it. All smiles and dashing heroics for me! But nope. I never dressed up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween, but I dressed up as Darth Vader twice. My favorite thing about G.I. Joe was the bizarre menagerie of villains they battled against, and I longed for Skeletor or Megatron to win, just once. The only “good guy” I actually liked was Batman. And really, his “goodness” has always been a bit in question. And I still rooted for the Joker.

This fondness for the dark side has carried with me into adulthood. The difference is, now I write my own villains. But the fear remains. And it is very strange to fear the product of your own imagination. I hope you’ll forgive the allusion to my own work, but I often wonder, by writing about the darkness, am I exorcising my demons or encouraging them? How long can I dance along the edge of the abyss before I fall in?

But like all of us, I’m not just one type of person, all brooding and angst. In fact, in real life I’m probably closer to Han Solo than Darth Vader. Because even as I’m pondering the abyss, I’m smirking at it, turning it into a joke, mocking it like anything that takes itself too seriously deserves to be mocked. And at other times, I am ethereal, in love with life, my head so far in the clouds it’s as though I’ve forgotten the abyss even exists. And perhaps in the end, my humor and my hope will keep me safe. In the meantime, I continue to write along the edge of my own fear, which, for better or worse, is my favorite place to be.

Jon Skovron is the author of Misfit, a YA novel about a half-demon girl in Catholic school, as well as the indie rock novel Struts & Frets. He lives with his two sons outside Washington DC. His sons, ages 6 and 8, chose to dress up as Darth Vader and Darth Maul this year for Halloween. He would like it known that this was entirely their own idea and not something he pressured them into.

Visit Jon at jonskovron.com.

Follow @jonnyskov on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away:

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.