I am pleased--no, tickled--to report that during the week of April 10, I will be in the #1 position on the New York Times bestseller list.
You don't believe me (as you would be wise not to)? Just click here.
See? Right there at the top of the middle grade (hardcover) list: The book is called Jacky Ha-Ha. And it's my ticket not only to cracking the list, but to hitting it immediately at the top spot.
What's that you say? The authors of the book are listed as Chris Grabenstein and some guy named Patterson? Yes, that's correct. I didn't say I had written a book at the top of the bestseller list, just that it had gotten me there.
I'm a character in the book.
Yes, it takes place in middle school and the character is not specifically a 58-year-old curmudgeon, but when you turn to p. 111, you'll see my name right up there in the cast list for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the show the kids in this particular school are about to begin rehearsing. And just in case you're thinking, well, there are plenty of guys called Jeff Cohen this little brat could have been named for, let me give you the description (p. 131):
"Jeff is a bundle of energy, curly hair," (Editor's note: See photograph, right) "and quirky eye tics." Not sure where Grabenstein got the eye tics from, but come on. That's me (at that age--I'm hardly a bundle of energy now). I know mostly because Chris alerted me to this the day after the book was released.
The fact is, Chris is a good friend and needed a wiseguy character for his latest collaboration with Mr. Patterson. Since beginning with the wonderful John Ceepak/Danny Boyle, Chris has found great success in middle grades books like his own Mr. Lemoncello's Library series and in collaboration with the ultra-bestselling author he knew from both their days in advertising. Chris even had a very nice New York Times feature in the Real Estate section (!) a couple of Sundays ago.
Authors are not without their egos and their jealousies. Yes, we love to see our peers do well, but we're also wondering why that wasn't us. That's okay; it's a human response. Grabenstein and I started in this whole odd book business around the same time. I remember meeting him at the Black Orchid during one of the wonderful block parties they used to throw (alas, the place is no longer there and the parties have not continued) and picking up his book because somebody told me Chris "writes funny," which in my world is a challenge. Nobody's allowed to be funnier than me.
Well he's not, but it's close.
I will gladly stop a busy afternoon if there's a new Ceepak book, which alas Chris tells me is not coming anytime soon. They're funny but with heart, the narrator is a developing character who evolves from book to book, and Chris always makes you want to turn pages. His ability to plot and to have secondary mysteries that are tied to character and get to the core of the story leaves me in awe.
I have no jealousy for Chris Grabenstein. I begrudge him nothing. I am thrilled for the great success he's found. That's the absolute truth.
And now he's gotten me to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. That's a friend.
Besides, Jacky Ha-Ha is charming and smart. Written as a remembrance by a narrator who is now an Oscar-nominated actress and alumna of SNL, it tells a story of growth and worry. It's 1990 and Jacky's mom, a Marine, is deployed to Iraq waiting for the order to move in, so she has a good deal of anxiety. At home she's having a hard time behaving because she like to make jokes as a defense mechanism and needs an audience, which too often consists of her peers in the classroom. But one teacher sees something in her, and maybe that's going to make a difference.
Jeff Cohen is one of her pals and quite frankly, I think we need to see more of him. Perhaps a sequel will delve more completely into his complex psychology and heroic talents, most of which consist of being quick with a joke (clearly a fictional conceit). I believe he's a character who cries out for a book of his own.
One of these days I'll write a character named Chris Grabenstein and see if it helps my sales. I'm not entirely altruistic.
P.S. Opening Day has been postponed until tomorrow (when I'll be teaching in Philadelphia and won't be able to watch). So you can call me today, but expect me to be grumpy.