» Posts from March, 2011
March 21, 2011
I rarely write about the publishing industry, about eBooks and that of-the-moment stuff. Fact is, I’m not that knowledgeable about it. My writing process is pretty unique. Since I’m a major league luddite, I write all my books by nautical flag. I string them up on a schooner that I sail down the Hudson River. The editors at Random House all stand at their windows, eyes to spyglasses, and they take turns calling out what they see:
“Blue stripey one!”
“Like the Swiss flag, only with yellow instead of white.”
Meanwhile the great-great-grandson of Jack London, who interns there, jots it all down and translates.
“…and they all lived happily ever after…except for Darius…on account of the yellow fever.”
Once the book is transcribed, and my schooner finds a favorable tack, they send their edits back by morse code using a naval spotlight. And the process starts over.
It seems hard to believe, but I assure you it’s true. Which also means, of course, that this blog has not been written by me on a computer. I always whisper my thoughts into a tin can attached to a string, which travels across an alley, through a window and into another tin can that’s manned by my best pal Tommy McNulty. Tommy listens, memorizes, and then relays my blog post into his CB radio. A long-haul trucker with the handle Hokum N. Jokum, writes the words on cans of vienna sausages that he delivers to a convenience store about 45 miles south of Boise, ID.
Here’s where things get tricky. There is just one person who eats vienna sausages from this convenience store, a charming senior citizen named Beatrice who also happens to be the widow of Eugene “Porky” Lee of Little Rascals fame. Beatrice’s diet consists almost entirely of milk and vienna sausages, but her appetite is lilliputian. Hokum N. Jokum, who I’m told has the most elegant handwriting in the freight industry, can usually fit a single blog post on eleven cans of vienna sausages. Beatrice only eats one can a day, and since she’s on a fixed income, she only buys one can a day. So it’s usually a week and a half before she’s collected an entire blog post (and people say I should blog more often!). At this point, Beatrice hands the empty cans off to her milk man. He brings them home and gives them to his children to read, because he doesn’t believe in television and can’t be bothered to get a library card. These kids are major brats, not to mention eco-terrorists. The nasty little buggers invariably proceed to proclaim their love of pasteurization, which is about the worst thing you can say in front of your milk man father. Then they throw the cans out their bedroom windows.
The cans typically roll around the neighborhood for a day or two, until a boy scout named Bucky Weeks picks them up. Bucky has all the merit badges except for two. The first is the Swearing Badge, which is typically the easiest badge to procure, but Bucky’s lisp is severe and the “sh” sound is one he may never master. The second is the Vienna Sausage Badge, which no scout has ever earned. To receive the Vienna Sausage Badge, a scout must retrieve 15,000 empty cans of Vienna Sausages and mail them to 728 Garfield Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030. At last count, there were only 14,327 cans of vienna sausages in distribution in the world, so this badge is basically a fool’s errand. Which makes sense, because it’s something I made up and slipped into the Boy Scout charter during a clandestine infiltration of their headquarters in 1993. Of course, Bucky Weeks doesn’t know this and being the insufferable little go-getter that he is, he has mailed over 8,478 cans to the address above, which also happens to be the home of Tommy McNulty, my best pal and next door neighbor. Tommy reads the cans and makes sure they match his memory (Proofreading, gang! Essential!). If he’s satisfied, then he pulls out his MacBook and types it all into WordPress. Presto!
So, as you can see, I don’t know a heck of a lot about the technical end of publishing. Still, when has ignorance ever prevented someone from offering an opinion on the internet? So when asked about self-publishing and eBooks and whether it’s a viable option, I don’t refer people to J.A. Konrath or Amanda Hocking or any Amazon.com algorithm that proves we will all have Kindles surgically implanted in our thighs by 2017. I ask them one simple question:
If you were to write your book in Aramaic, and send it through a wormhole back in time with the following note: “Dear Methuselah, please bury my masterpiece somewhere dark and holy,” would scholars dig it up 4,000 years later, begin to translate it, then give up somewhere around page two because it contained any or all of the following phrases?
“…but Constance Pennyweather’s garden club was not your typical garden club. No, no! Indeed it was not! True, there were hydrangeas to prune, yet only after they had solved the case of the missing trowel.”
“…beneath his letterman jacket beat the mummified heart of an Egyptian pharaoh.”
“You killed my wife, Carbone. Now I’ll kill you. As revenge. For killing my wife. Which still causes me, Detective Jim Beam, a great deal of pain. Which I express through anti-authoritarianism. And drinking.”
“…never believed an android could learn to love, or that a Farlusian would ever master the art of crystallized quark trasmorgification.”
“His features were very Jewy.”
“Kyle had just joined the hottest air-guitar band in Fort Greene, The Betty White Stripes, and his mustache was perfectly waxed. His Tumblr traffic was really picking up, and there was talk of a Pulitzer.”
If your answer to my question is yes, then I suggest you don’t self-publish.
March 10, 2011
I was once an addict. Shocking, I know, but before you go calling Dr. Drew and booking a 20/20 interview, let me provide some clarification. My addiction was a common one for young’ns and agoraphobes and the pasty-skinned of this world . I was obsessed with video games. Many of my pre-teen and teenage years were spent slaughtering goblins and dunking over Larry Bird. Time, money and opportunities to chat up girls were wasted. And what do I have to show for it? An unhealthy knowledge of Kid Icarus and some undying regrets that involve never finishing Metal Gear. All things considered, not so bad. At least I’m not on a street corner, holding some cardboard, and talking about my “radio voice.”
Once an addict, always an addict, they say, but I’m going to dispute that. I set down the video game controller when I went to college, and aside from a few poor showings at Mortal Kombat and NHL Hockey, I didn’t pick it up again. It was an activity I associated with whelps. College meant I was sophisticated, and did sophisticated things. Like drink Gatorade cocktails and run through campus in nothing but my skivvies.
After college, video games occupied the same place in my mind as amusement parks. Sure, I knew they could be fun and they had gotten a lot bigger and better than they were when I was a kid, but I wasn’t about to spend my day riding The Great American Scream Machine and then writing fan fiction about it. I laid off the stuff completely for nearly 10 years.
Then my wife bought me a Wii for my birthday. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I was always comparing her to the masked love of my adolescence, Samus Aran. Perhaps I was talking in my sleep, mumbling, “look out above for Koopa…Paratroopa,” or “up up, down down, left right, left right…” In any case, she tracked a Wii down for me, in the days when they were kinda hard to get. And I was pleasantly surprised.
We had some friends over for a night Wii Sports, and it was just like a commercial. We were laughing and high-fiving as we plowed down bowling pins and beat the stuffing out of each other. The snacks were diverse and plentiful. Good times. And in the following weeks, I played a little bit on the weekends, perfecting my short game and my hook. It was fun, but I was definitely a recreational user.
Then I was reintroduced to Zelda. Just so you know, one of my greatest accomplishments was being the first kid in my 6th grade class to win the original Legend of Zelda. And I did it without the aid of hints and magazines. For a brief time, I was like some guru on a hill. Kids would come to me in the cafeteria with desperate queries and I would answer them in riddles.
“How do I defeat the Digdogger?”
“Well son. I ask you this. Do you have music in your heart?”
As games went, Zelda was bona fide – a top shelf, genuine issue classic. It’s hero, Link, was the sort of icon that Funyon-eaters and children in Kyoto tattooed on their necks. And years later, as I putted around the online Wii store, I realized I had missed out on almost all of Link’s other adventures during my hiatus from the gaming world. And my hands began to shake. I got cotton mouth. I downloaded The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The addiction returned.
This was about two years ago, and I got hooked on the Majora’s Mask too. They are both undeniably cheesy fantasy adventures, where people talk about Triforces of Power and descending darkness and undying pixie love and whatnot. There are amphibious jug bands and rapping scarecrows and kleptomaniacal Amazon women. All manner of ridiculous stuff. But the brilliance of the games is that they never bore you. They are designed so that you can always make progress. There are always puzzles to solve, and livestock to goose, and townspeople’s houses to trash, and woodland creatures to kill. No matter how bad a gamer you are (and trust me, my skills are pedestrian after all those years off ), you will always find something to accomplish, and find yourself proudly saying things like, “I can’t believe I out-swam a beaver in a race for a bottle! My finest moment!”
I dedicated many early morning weekend hours to solving those two games, and had to be pulled away kicking and screaming on more than one occasion. But I beat them both. And I thought I’d beat the addiction too. I set the controller back down and resumed my normal life. It was a relapse, but a minor one.
And then, a few days ago, I found myself on EBay, trying desperately to beat a demon supercomputer in some mildewy Belarusian crime den (or so I imagined) at an auction, so that I might be able to purchase Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for less than $22 (which is like 75% off retail, if you must know). Yes, the monkey had his claws in once again and his banana-breathed whispers in my ear were working.
“You’d be stupid not to try and get it at a low, low price. Just keep bidding. Your wife will never make fun of you for playing a game called Twilight Princess. Certainly not. Certainly not. Ooo Ooo. Eee Eee.”
Guess what? It arrived yesterday. God help me.
March 4, 2011
This week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting two schools in Washington Township, NJ, a charming little community in the northwest corner of the state. According to Wikipedia, Jean Shepherd, author of The Christmas Story, once lived here. I didn’t see any leg lamps in any windows or kids with tongues stuck to poles, so I can’t confirm that fact. But I can confirm that the kids of Port Colden Elementary and Brass Castle Elementary schools are a welcoming and inquisitive bunch, and about the best audience an author could imagine. It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, otherwise known as Read Across America Day, and the kids were decked out in homemade shirts and hats celebrating the late, great master of Whos, and Yooks, and Sneeches, and Zooks. Too many people complain about how kids have no attention spans. Not so with this crew. They sat quietly and cross-legged in the Auditoria (or perhaps it was a Cafetorium?) and locked eyes with me as I gave a presentation on writing. I could see what they were thinking:
“Entertain us, old man. Tell us something we don’t know, because we are culturally refined and our intellects are not to be trifled with.”
When I finished, they hounded me with brilliant questions. I hope I lived up to their expectations. Don’t believe it? Proof lies in this collection of photos from the kind folks at Lehigh Valley’s Express Times. My favorite question?
“What happens at the end of The Only Ones?”
I informed the young man (probably a junior blogger angling for an unprecedented scoop) that I can’t give out such spoilers, especially since the book doesn’t hit shelves for another six months. But I respect his guts and his willingness to get right to the point. To reward that, I am offering a teaser. The Only Ones ends like this:
March 3, 2011
When I was a tot, my pals and I would gather in my garage, set up some pots and pans as if they were a drum-kit and wield some tennis rackets like stratocasters. We’d pop Def Leppard’s freshly minted Pyromania into the Fisher Price tape deck and crank that puppy up to its fattest arrows. We’d charge the neighborhood gang a nickel a head to watch us lip-synch and strum the nylon to Billy’s Got a Gun. Rock and roll, friends. Rock and roll.
Flash-forward about five or six years. I’d pop some gangsta rap into the yellow Sony walkman and go jogging in the state park bordering my house, raging against the machine of upper middle class suburbia, something to which I’m sure Eazy-E could relate. A couple years later, it was Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, perhaps Nirvana and R.E.M. Played in the dark, of course, so I could get all introspective. And my musical tastes evolved from there, matured in the way these things mature. The teenage girls I knew were into the Lilith Fair fare – the mid-90s-heyday of Amos, DiFranco, McLachlan, etc. I couldn’t blame them, but I shied away from the stuff for fear it might paint me as twee. And the thing that irked me the most was that these girls always referred to the musicians as if they were good friends, and used only they’re first names.
“You going to the Sarah concert tonight?”
“No, but I’m getting Tori’s new CD later today. I heard Ani really likes it.”
I mean, really. You can pull that stuff with Chaka Khan, because there aren’t a lot of Chakas out there in the world. But Sarah? And no, I never refer to Bruce Springsteen as merely Bruce. That honor is reserved for Fraggle-eating Mr. Vilanch. But let’s get back on track. My main point was that in my youth, the fellas listened to music by other fellas and the ladies stuck with the ladies, or for the most part. No surprise there.
Let’s now consider last night. I was watching a PBS documentary on singer-songwriters and the late 60s/early 70s Los Angeles Troubadour scene. This was partly because that’s how I roll and partly because I don’t get cable. No excuses needed though, because it was enjoyable, especially when they were discussing how James Taylor was ready to toss some knuckles up in Lester Bangs’s face. But the biggest thing I got from the film was the realization that I like Carole King. Actually, I really dig me some Carole King. No shame in that. She’s considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. But just a decade or two ago, in my hair-band/gangsta-rap/rock canon phases, such a proclamation would have caused me great embarrassment. It certainly wouldn’t have gone over well in the lacrosse team locker room when my teammates were soliciting suggestions for our warm-up tape.
“How about some RATT? Let’s get some RATT up on this thing.”
“Hey, Starmer, you haven’t said anything. What psychs you up, dude?”
“Hmmm…pretty much anything off Tapestry…”
Yes, my musical tastes have changed a lot since my teenage years. They’re more accommodating. And the ladies, well the ladies are certainly welcome. Every night is ladies’ night on my Itunes playlists. And for the young lads out there who, like me in my youth, aren’t so sure about adding more XX chromosomes to their music collections, I offer you this little mix of a dozen random songs from my collection where female singers take the lead (n.b. some are from bands with male singers as well, cause you got to give the guys an escape route). True, none of it reaches RATT-like levels, but maybe you’ll enjoy one or two, and then join your mom and your aunts for a night out at Judy Collins concert. I, for one, will not tease you about it.