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Thomas, Rob 1965-

THOMAS, Rob 1965-

PERSONAL: Born August 15, 1965, in Sunnyside, WA. Education: University of Texas—Austin, B.A., 1987. Hobbies and other interests: Performing with rock bands, playing basketball and other sports.


ADDRESSES: Home—Hollywood, CA. Agent—Ari Greenburg, Endeavor Literary and Talent Agency, 9701 Wilshire Blvd., 10th Fl., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. E-mail—[email protected]


CAREER: Author. Teacher of high-school journalism, 1988-94; Channel One (news show for teenage students), Los Angeles, CA, staff member, 1994-95; script writer for Dawson's Creek television series, 1997; executive producer and creator, Cupids television series, 1998-99; executive producer, Snoops television series, 1999. Former bass player for rock bands Hey Zeus and Public Bulletin.


MEMBER: Writers Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Austin Writer's League.


WRITINGS:

Rats Saw God, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

Slave Day, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.

Doing Time: Notes from the Undergrad (short stories), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.

Satellite Down, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.

Green Thumb, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.

Drive Me Crazy (screenplay), Twentieth Century Fox, 1999.


Contributor of the short story "Pet Stories" to Seventeen magazine. Writer of music. Writer of the screenplay Fortune Cookie. Author of the television pilots The Sticks, 2000, and Metropolis, 2001.


WORK IN PROGRESS: Novel (with Ellen Wittlinger) for Simon & Schuster.


SIDELIGHTS: Rob Thomas has written novels and screenplays for young adults. His novels have scenes rendered in precise details readers can easily visualize. Especially adept at writing dialogue, Thomas's ear for the way teenagers talk adds to each book's authenticity. As a former high school journalism teacher who now writes full time, Thomas has a sure understanding of the teen world. His books are socially aware, treating broad themes such as drugs, sex, divorce, and racism. More personal themes, such as love or identity, give the novels an emotional immediacy. As a former writer for the Dawson's Creek television series and as a screenwriter for such films as Drive Me Crazy, Thomas has continued to target the teen audience. An essayist for the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers explained: "Thomas gives voice to jaded, cynical Generation X teenagers as they discover truths and become freed of psychological and social preconceptions. Protagonists survive in a high school culture tinged by drugs, sex, and profanity, and Thomas accurately captures the adolescent language they utter and philosophies they follow."


Even as a high school journalism teacher and part-time musician, Thomas always knew he was going to be a writer one day—just as soon as he found the time. "Writing a book was always sort of this mountain out there in my future that I was going to climb someday," Thomas told Joel Shoemaker in a Voice of Youth Advocates interview. Eventually disciplining himself to write a page of manuscript every morning, Thomas was able to complete his first novel, Rats Saw God, before he was thirty. That book's success with teen readers prompted Thomas to increase his output to three pages a day—and quit his day job to become a full-time writer.


Rats Saw God finds high school senior Steve York on a downslide. He could care less about school—and his future—since learning that the girl who had captured his heart was actually having an affair with one of the teachers at school. Halfway through his junior year in Texas, when he first discovers the truth, Steve begins to do drugs and hang out with the wrong crowd; his grades plummet and he ends the year by bailing out altogether and going to California. Returning to school the following September, Steve is offered a deal by a concerned guidance counselor: if the disillusioned, rebellious teen is willing to chronicle the events leading up to his current self-destructive state in a one-hundred-page story, he can earn back missing English credits needed for graduation.


Steve's story provides readers with an understanding of his change in attitude: His parents divorce and his mother leaves, relations with his emotionally distant father deteriorate, and then he falls in love with Dub in a Dadaist club at school, only to stumble upon the secret relationship between her and one of Steve's favorite teachers, Mr. Waters.


While noting that the length of Rats Saw God may turn away some readers, Horn Book contributor Lauren Adams maintained that Steve's "typically adolescent struggles are related with funny, self-mocking sarcasm and lots of one-liners . . . that make for an entertaining and engaging read." Praising Thomas's ear for teen-speak, a Publishers Weekly critic noted that the author's "sharp descriptions of cliques, clubs and annoying authority figures will strike a familiar chord." Writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, reviewer Deborah Stevenson claimed Thomas's "tone and atmosphere" will attract readers, going on to say, "wisecracking Steve tells his story with an authentically adolescent shallow glibness."


Thomas's second book, Slave Day, encompasses a single twelve-hour period during which both student council members and teachers are auctioned off to students as a way to earn money for functions at a Texas high school. On this particular "Slave Day," African-American student Keene Davenport decides to "buy" popular class president Shawn Greeley. Shawn, a school basketball star, is also black; while Keene participates in the fundraiser to demonstrate how it demeans blacks, Shawn has a different perspective, prompted in no small part by his desire to maintain his student-council presidency in the next election. Differing points of view about the school tradition are also expressed by the six other narrators of Thomas's third novel, which follows a number of crises occurring that day at Robert E. Lee High School, including a rape attempt, a computer break-in by the class nerd, and a host of other activities characterized by a Kirkus Reviews critic as "scary, sobering, hilarious, and triumphant." Slave Day's "vernacular language and ironic plot twists drive the story," commented Shoemaker in his Voice of Youth Advocates review, "while character development is complete enough to show that most characters, even the cruel and shallow . . . have some redeeming qualities."


Slave Day was inspired by Thomas's own experience while teaching journalism in a high school in Austin, Texas, where most of the student body was African American. The decision to include within his novel the first-person viewpoint of two blacks rather than just one allowed Thomas to explore contrasting views of racism and other social issues in the book. "I would have been much more nervous had I written from only one black character's perspective," Thomas explained to Shoemaker. "Then, I'm afraid whatever that character was like, it would have been seen as my take on what all African Americans sound/behave like. If I had just had Shawn in the book, or Keene, that would have been scary."


Satellite Down is Thomas's attempt to answer the question he phrased to Shoemaker: "What would happen if a teenaged boy was handed everything he dreamed of and then discovered most of what he grew up believing was a lie?" In this novel, Patrick Sheridan leaves his small Texan town for an internship in Los Angeles with Classroom Direct, a national television network for schools. While in Los Angeles, Patrick's education takes an unforeseen turn when he discovers his coworkers' corrupt journalistic ethics. Disillusioned with his experience in television, he decides to leave for Northern Ireland, afraid of what he has uncovered.


Green Thumb, Thomas's next novel, is his first for middle-grade readers. "Once again, the main character is a young man who is facing both tremendous opportunities and some fairly big obstacles in his life," according to Kylene Beers and Teri S. Lesesne in their essay for Writers for Young Adults, Supplement I. When Grady Jacobs earns an internship with a famous botanist, he learns not only about plants in the rainforest but also a life-threatening secret. Beers and Lesesne continued, "Though Grady may be years younger than the protagonists of Thomas' previous books, he is a young teen with a nicely self-deprecating sense of humor like that of Steve York and Patrick Sheridan. The laugh-out-loud manner with which Grady dispatches the bullies at school (a scene that involves spitballs and depilatory) and the gradual growth toward self-confidence Grady experiences during his jungle adventure are again prime traits readers have come to expect from Thomas' books. They will not be disappointed."


Thomas's unproduced screenplay, Fortune Cookie, about three couples who have dinner at a most unusual Chinese restaurant, caught the attention of the producers at television's Dawson's Creek in 1997. During the show's initial 1997-98 television season, Thomas wrote for Dawson's Creek, a show about four high school friends in the fictional town of Capeside, Massachusetts, which debuted midseason on January 20, 1998. A critical and popular success, Dawson's Creek appeared on the Warner Bros., Inc. (WB) network and garnered over one-third of the female teenage audience watching television during that timeslot. In addition, Thomas created an American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC) show called Cupid, a romantic comedy he compares to Northern Exposure and Moonlighting. The series ran from 1998 to 1999.


A career in television writing has resulted in new working conditions for Thomas. "The immediate difference for a novelist writing for television or for features is that it's a democracy," Thomas has explained. "In fiction I am the king of this little world. My editor will make suggestions, but what I write appears in the book. In features and television you are one piece in a committee of people producing this thing and everyone has a voice. A lot of people who have a voice are your bosses. You are trying to please the producer, you are trying to please the director, and you are trying to please the studio. In the case of television, you are also trying to please the network."


"I write things here in Los Angeles, and I get edits from six different groups of people," he has explained. "I will go to a series of meetings where everyone has a voice. Frequently, those people differ in what they are looking for. It is a tough and frustrating process but a well-compensated process. Once you battle your way through it, you pick and choose your fights, and frequently they do have good ideas that you incorporate in ways you would never have thought of. The key is getting to work with good people."


Commenting on his books for young adults, Beers and Lesesne concluded: "Thomas writes to an overlooked audience, that older male teen who wants characters who reflect his needs, questions, and more-adult-than-kid lifestyle, who wants serious issues discussed against the backdrop of humor, who wants a writer who understands that life is more than history tests and English papers. While doing just that, Thomas' novels go a step further and do what good fiction is supposed to do: they reflect life with all its bumps and imperfections while giving readers the courage to keep looking around the next bend."


BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Writers for Young Adults, Supplement I, Scribner's (New York, NY), 2000.


PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1-15, 1996, review of Rats Saw God, p. 1704; April 15, 1999, John Peters, review of Green Thumb, p. 1524.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1996, Deborah Stevenson, review of Rats Saw God, p. 317.

Children's Book Review Service, spring, 1997, p. 143.

Emergency Librarian, spring, 1997, p. 54.

Horn Book, July-August, 1996, Lauren Adams, review of Rats Saw God, p. 471; September-October, 1997, Richard Peck, "Writing in a Straight Line," pp. 529-533.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, April, 1996, p. 599.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1997, review of Slave Day, p. 306.

Publishers Weekly, June 10, 1996, review of Rats Saw God, pp. 100-101; February 17, 1997, review of Slave Day, p. 220; January 18, 1999, Shannon Maughan, "Changing Hats," p. 198; May 10, 1999, review of Green Thumb, p. 69.

School Library Journal, December, 1996, p. 32.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1997, Joel Shoemaker, interview with Rob Thomas, pp. 89-91.


ONLINE

Rob Thomas Home Page, http://www.hieran.com/rob/index3.html (April 8, 2003).*

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