Friday, January 24, 2014

BOOK SPOTLIGHT and GIVEAWAY: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos


A severely burned teenager. A guitar. Punk rock. The chords of a rock 'n' roll road trip in a coming-of-age novel that is a must-read story about finding your place in the world...even if you carry scars inside and out.

In attempting to describe himself in his college application essay--help us to become acquainted with you beyond your courses, grades, and test scores--Harbinger (Harry) Jones goes way beyond the 250-word limit and gives a full account of his life.

The first defining moment: the day the neighborhood goons tied him to a tree during a lightning storm when he was 8 years old, and the tree was struck and caught fire. Harry was badly burned and has had to live with the physical and emotional scars, reactions from strangers, bullying, and loneliness that instantly became his everyday reality.

The second defining moment: the day in 8th grade when the handsome, charismatic Johnny rescued him from the bullies and then made the startling suggestion that they start a band together. Harry discovered that playing music transported him out of his nightmare of a world, and he finally had something that compelled people to look beyond his physical appearance. Harry's description of his life in his essay is both humorous and heart-wrenching. He had a steeper road to climb than the average kid, but he ends up learning something about personal power, friendship, first love, and how to fit in the world. While he's looking back at the moments that have shaped his life, most of this story takes place while Harry is in high school and the summer after he graduates.

CONTENT NOTE: Moderate amount of bad language and one sexual related situation.


Len Vlahos is the Executive Director of BISG (Book Industry Study Group) and the former COO of the American Booksellers Association, where he worked for the past 20 years. Len has also worked in numerous bookstores, was an on-air personality for a commercial radio station in Atlantic City, and worked for a time for Internet marketing guru Seth Godin. THE SCAR BOYS is his first book. You can visit him online at and on Twitter @LenVlahos.


As this wonderful blog is called GEO Librarian, and as I’ve been asked to produce a “top ten” list, and as my book The Scar Boys includes a significant road trip, I thought it might make sense to think back through the best road trips of my own life.

Before getting to the list, I should define my idea of a “road trip.” It (a) is done entirely by car—not planes or trains, only automobiles; (b) must include at least one overnight stay; (c) requires eating fast food, and more likely, only fast food; and (d) features at least one woodsy bathroom break. 

Now that we’re clear, here are my top ten road trips.

10. Coast to Coast

When I was six years old (1971) my parents, brother, sister, and I took three weeks to drive to California and back. We hit all the sights—Grand Canyon, Badlands, St. Louis Arch, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone. The trip was done in a Plymouth sedan with all three kids in the back. In those days, little guys didn’t sit in car seats, nor did we—or anyone—wear seatbelts. Somehow, we survived.

When we found a stray dog at a rest stop in Texas, my dad threw his back out trying to coax the dog into our car. (The intent was to bring him to a shelter, which we did.) This incident would serve as inspiration for a scene in The Scar Boys.

You might think a trip of this significance would be higher on the list than #10, but I was just too young to really remember it in any vivid detail.

9. Sugarloaf

Sometime in the mid 1990s, two carloads of friends took a ski trip to Sugarloaf in Maine. This trip sticks in memory for two reasons. First, we drove in blizzard conditions. I had to keep stopping my car to brush off the headlights because the snow was coming down so fast that the lights were getting completely covered. What should have been a nine-hour drive turned out to be twelve, six of them white knuckle driving.

Second, the temperature at the base of Sugarloaf was five degrees Farenheit. With the wind, the peak of the mountain—I don’t know the actual temp—was the coldest weather I had ever (or have ever) experienced.

8. Breakfast in Boston

In college (NYU), my two roommates—Chad (who would figure in two more trips on this list) and Steve—and I decided that we needed to have breakfast in Boston. This was at ten o’clock at night. It was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done. We got hold of a car, drove three hours, and crashed my friend Rob’s dorm room at BU in the middle of the night. (This was long before smart phones, so poor Rob had no warning.) We had breakfast and drove home.

7. William and Mary

The backdrop for The Scar Boys is loosely based on my experience playing in a band called Woofing Cookies. (See below for details.) Sometime after the Cookies broke up, I got a call from the college radio station at William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. It seemed that there had been a raging debate as to whether the format of the station (WCWM) should be alt rock or top forty. For some reason, Woofing Cookies had become the symbol of the dispute on both sides, the alt rockers embracing us and everyone else holding us up as an example of what was wrong with alt rock.

Scotty, a fellow Cookie, and I drove to William and Mary and did a three-hour radio interview, playing acoustic tunes throughout. We crashed in a house full of college co-eds. (No, it wasn’t like that. They were super nice and very hospitable.) It was a magical weekend.

6. The Preakness

After the band broke up, I was living in Atlantic City, working as the overnight on-air personality (DJ) at a commercial radio station. A couple of friends from college—Scott (different from Scotty) and Ed—called to see if I wanted to go with them to the Preakness in Baltimore, and by the way, could I drive?

They took a bus to Atlantic City and met me at the end of my radio shift; away we went. I stayed up for forty straight hours, finally crashing on the floor of some stranger’s apartment in DC. The next day was spent on the manic infield at Pimlico Racetrack. I picked the winner in the big race, Risen Star. That was a bad thing, as it got me hooked on horse racing!

5. Space Coast

Just this past Thanksgiving, Kristen—my wife and partner in all crimes and misdemeanors—and I drove to Florida with our five- and three-year-old sons, Charlie and Luke. We spent anywhere from six to twelve hours a day on the road. It was at times a grueling slog, and at other times an incredibly journey. The highlight was the Kennedy Space Center. Charlie bagged a real-life astronaut uniform and didn’t take it off for three days.

4. Thirtieth Birthday

Several years after the Preakness (seven to be exact) Scott and I had become very close friends, and had become serious horseplayers. We decided it was time to make a pilgrimage to the Mecca of horse racing, Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. As luck would have it, the Derby that year fell on my thirtieth birthday.

For the trip, we made placards with the name of each Derby entrant, and asked everyone we met en route if they had a favorite in the race. If the person could name a horse, we snapped a photo of said person holding the placard of said horse.

The highlight of the trip was when Scott got the entire grandstand (we had long since outgrown the infield) to sing me Happy Birthday.

3. The First Tour

Woofing Cookies initially broke up when Chad and I enrolled in NYU Film School. But the lure of music is powerful, and we were drawn back to the Cookies at the end of freshman year. We had such fun playing together that we decided to book a short tour that summer. Our geographically challenged trip took us through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

The entire tour was conducted in my parents’ two-door, gray Oldsmobile Omega that we had, for reasons now long forgotten, named Boris (see photo). It was so small that we removed the back seat and packed Scotty in with the drum set. In those five or six days on the road, I was (we were) bitten by the touring bug. (I still have it today, and I’m really looking forward to the book tour in support of The Scar Boys.)

2. Bookstore Odyssey

In 2004, a work colleague and I were in Florida for a meeting of the American Booksellers Association Board of Directors. We were both on the staff of ABA, and unbeknownst to everyone else, had quietly started dating.

The colleague, who we will call Kristen (because that’s her name) had been in the market for a used Toyota 4Runner, and happened to find one in Ft. Lauderdale. When asked if I would help her drive the car back home to New York, I jumped at the chance.

We decided to make use of the long trip home to go on a tour of bookstores. Rather than recount the experience here, I’ll point you to a chronicle of the journey that was published on the ABA website:

One thing missing from that article—this is the trip when I fell head over heels in love with Kristen. We married a few years later.

1. The Woofing Cookies McTour

This, our second tour, was cursed from the word go. Our van broke down not once, not twice, but three times. The second of those breakdowns was catastrophic, as it stranded us in Georgia, requiring us to cancel the remaining twenty tour dates. We were supposed to go coast to coast and back, but never made it off the Eastern seaboard.

We wound up taking fast food jobs and living in Georgia (see photo) for nearly four months before finally raiding Chad’s college fund to get the van fixed and head home. To add insult to injury, the van broke down again on the way back to New York, though this time we were able to fix it and continue.

So how could such a snake-bitten trip make number one of the list? Here’s why:

* We met Peter Buck of R.E.M., who was nice enough to produce a song for us.

* That song got us signed to a small garage label in NYC, allowing us to record our one and only album, Horse Gum Tortilla Shoes.
* We had nutty fun and wild experiences in Georgia and elsewhere in the South, and made wonderful friends along the way.
* I tried for years to tell the story of that experience, finally turning it into the manuscript that became The Scar Boys.

How could it NOT be number one?

So . . . what’s your best road trip memory? 


Rock on with THE SCAR BOYS playlist on Spotify:


Len is visiting 20+ cities and bookstores around the country--and he’s bringing his guitar. His tour schedule is here.


Be sure to check out all the stops on THE SCAR BOYS blog tour:

Mon, Jan 13
I Read Banned Books

Tues, Jan 14
Guys Lit Wire

Wed, Jan 15
Read Now, Sleep Later

Thurs, Jan 16
The Book Monsters

Fri, Jan 17

Mon, Jan 20
The Compulsive Reader

Tues, Jan 21
Mother Daughter Book Club

Wed, Jan 22
A.L. Davroe

Thurs, Jan 23
Adventures in YA Publishing

Fri, Jan 24
Geo Librarian


One lucky winner will receive a copy of THE SCAR BOYS (U.S. addresses)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

1 comment:

  1. A memorable road trip for me was driving across Eastern Canada, loved every minute of this journey. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com


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