I just returned from watching the New York Mets play the Washington Nationals at Citifield with my lovely wife Amanda and my lovely client, the urbane ESPN anchor Adnan Virk. The game was a matchup of stud pitchers--Max Scherzer for the Nats (who had struck out 20 batters in his last outing) and Noah "Thor" Syndegaard for the Mets (who had hit 2 home runs in HIS last outing, and actually entered the game with a lower ERA than Scherzer). We knew we were going to see a true old-fashioned pitcher's duel, and my over/under for total hits for both teams combined was seven (turned out it was 9). I thought the game would end 3-1; it was in the end 2-0 Mets.
Most important though, was the time of game. So often, major league baseball games run 3:15, 3:20. This is simply too long. Endless pitching changes, long innings, general inefficiency. The great thing about tonight's game is that even with two plays where the umps reviewed tape to determine the call, the game lasted a highly manageable 2:40. We still had time to talk and take in the atmosphere, but the game never became oppressive. And watching a game with a person who makes his living watching sports is a treat. Adnan's observations are effortless and still trenchant, with great background.
We got home at 11--and now it's time for bed. And thanks to Thor and Scherzer for their efficiency.
So for the past couple of months, my posts have either been brief or nonexistent. That’s because, for the second straight spring semester, I’ve taught The Role of the Literary Agent to the terrific students at the NYU School for Professional Studies. It’s on Monday nights until 9, there are preps and grades and all manner of work that ended up crashing the party of my time. (Also the new puppy was—and is—insane, and I found myself on very long walks most evenings.) Oh yes, and the only thing more insane than #Layla is the election, which also heats up on Tuesdays.
So now the semester is over, the dog is (slightly) more manageable, and the election…well…no. And hey, as my dear friend and client and co-Dead Guy Jeff Cohen has pointed out more than once, this week has included Opening Day for baseball, where optimism reigns. So let’s think of this week as a new Opening Tuesday for this Dead Guy. I’m back, and I’m starting every seventh day.
Next week I’ll be in London for the London Book Fair (Interleague Play?), and that’s usually one of my favorite posts of the year. I’m totally jazzed up when I’m at the Fair—I love the experience of 15 meetings a day in a weirdly-configured convention center, followed by cocktails and socializing with people who are usually identified by email tone. I feel like I understand my job and industry much better. It’s funny, though: The first time I went to LBF I left kind of depressed—people seemed to be uncertain where the business was going. Last year, though, whether because I understood the lay of the land better or had more books to pitch or…something…I left feeling excited and optimistic.
And this year, for the first time, two members of HSG will be going, and the indomitable (and on a selling hot streak!) Danielle will be coming as well, now in her role of Foreign Rights Manager. And that’s the other thing about this year—and this time of year, when I often take stock of where we are as a company—we’ve grown. A couple of weeks ago, the insanely talented photographer Michael Soluri came to our office and took new photos for our website. He sent us our proofs today, and the group shot of the now SIX of us made me look twice. I said to my partner Carrie, “Hey, we look like a Firm all of a sudden.” And it’s true. And very cool.
So I look forward to the next several months, where I’ll be writing about publishing; some music, probably; the experience of seeing a child of mine look for, apply to, and (hopefully!) find a college to attend; and most likely some discussions of how people treat each other. That’s been on my mind lately, and I think it bears analysis. By the way, if there is anything you’d like to see from this blog in the coming weeks, please just let me know.
But in the meantime excuse me--#Layla needs to go for a #walk.
So in the past week...
...Two of my daughters got the Norwalk Virus and we did a lot of head-holding and commiserating...
...The dog developed a parasite (didn't hold head...lots of tummy-rubs)...
...Oldest Child realized he was a second-semester junior in high school and freaked out a bit...
...the Super Bowl was unwatchable...
...as was the political campaign...
...Next week, the dog goes to obedience school (we call it Dogwarts)...
...my wife and I will spend Valentines Day night watching a Smiths cover band called the Sons and Heirs (because that's how we roll)...
...and then the Boy and I get to go visit colleges together. He's preparing 19 hours of mixtapes...
...and then we will have a book party at Book Culture in NYC for The Yid (where there ought to be vodka, or at least borscht)...
Life will be sweet.
I'm away from my desk today, so I asked Jeff to put up again his post looking for support for our fellow Dead Guy, Erin Mitchell. It's plenty important enough that you can wait a week to hear about why you shouldn't write in the passive voice or curse in middle grade books, or whatever else I was coming up with today. Back next week. Go Mets (Yes, I said that--maybe my next post will be defending my right to say that after having worked with the Yankees for 9 years--or maybe it's obvious from that!)
We here at DEAD GUY are taking today to urge you to donate to what we believe is the worthiest cause on the planet.
Our very own Erin Mitchell.
As she has documented quite eloquently, Erin's been having some pretty serious health issues, and as anyone in the United States knows about such things, it has not been inexpensive. She is self-insured, so the bills are mounting pretty staggeringly. We believe Erin should not have to shoulder the burden alone while she's dealing with so much at the same time.
So there is a grassroots (that is to say, crowdsourcing) movement to try and help, which was set up by Ellen Clair Lamb. Many have contributed (including some on this blog), and if you are able to do so, we'd urge you to send what you can.
Anyone who has read Erin's posts here or encountered her elsewhere know she is an amazing woman, one whose wit and general good humor coexist with strong views and a sense of right and justice. She is being dealt a hand she doesn't deserve, and the overwhelming cost of health care in America should not be something she has to contend with when she's fighting a much more important fight.
If you can spare a few bucks, we'd appreciate it if you would take a look. If you can't, why not comment below and let Erin know how much you like reading her here on DEAD GUY or elsewhere. In fact, why not do both?
She's already overwhelmed with a situation. Let's overwhelm her with how much people care.
We do. You get well soon, Erin. We want you back here on Fridays.
So now for a quick response to Jeff Cohen’s column from yesterday, since what I need to be thinking about as I go in for the most solemn evening of the year for the Jews is sports talk radio and traffic on the Gowanus. But sometimes you have a calling…(which reminds me—how ‘bout the traffic planned in NYC for the Papal visit—should be huge fun!).
Back when I was running the Staten Island Yankees, I drove to work every day, On the way out to SI I listened to Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio, and after a couple of years I would know whether I was running late based on what street I was on when different commercials would come on. They were fun, had good guests (particularly during football season), and they were the alternative to Imus, Stern, and the Z Morning Zoo.
In the afternoon, when I’d go home over the Verrazano Bridge and through the Belt Parkway, I’d listen to the Michael Kay Show on the local part of the ESPN Radio day. And Jeff, while I think he has gotten a little stale, and obvious, I consistently found him to be smart, intelligent, snarky but not obnoxious, and much, much calmer and less condescending than Mike and the Mad Dog, his competition. Plus, he had a theme song by (JOEY SAL-VI-A!) that you could hum.
So while I prepare to ask for Forgiveness and forsake coffee (and only incidentally food), I suspect that while I’m hearing “Who By Fire” I’ll be humming “And every 20 minutes you get SportCenter with Don LaGreca, he's a heck of an anchor…”
Just to follow up on some of the ideas I was discussing last week: I'm a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees. (You may despise me all you like, but I'm not changing my affiliation. Deal with it.) And, since I am not nearly wealthy enough to buy season tickets (and uninterested in making the two-hour hike to and from the Bronx 81 times a year), I watch almost every game on television, as the gods intended.
Hang on, writing fans. I'm getting there.
Seeing that number of games broadcast--and for us die-hards it's actually seven days a week for some stretches of the season--naturally we get to hear the announcers very frequently and pick up some of their verbal patterns. Each one has his own style (except Meredith Marakovitz, who has her own style). Some of the ex-players speak in such arcane detail about the swing of a bat or the release point of a pitch that I can feel I've never actually seen this sport before and must be watching it with the SAP button pressed on my TV because it's in a foreign language.
Others, the professional announcers who have not played the game themselves, are there to remind us there's a game going on sometimes (the ex-players tend to reminisce or explain a point for the next six plays). They usually provide play-by-play, telling you what you're seeing on the screen, rather than "color commentary," which is the inside story of the game, these days so overloaded with statistics it helps to be a mathematician to watch the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles.
But the point to those of us who pay inordinate attention to words is that there are recurring patterns to the way people talk, particularly when they are required to do so for at least three hours at a stretch. Some of them are endearing (the genial and knowledgeable Ken Singleton shouting "Look out!" whenever a pitch gets a little too close to the batter), some are simply noteworthy (John Flaherty never says, "Joe Girardi should be pleased"; he says "If you're Joe Girardi, you're pleased." That would be fine, but I'm definitely not Joe Girardi). Some grate on the ear to the point of distraction.
The "TV voice of the New York Yankees," Kay possesses the voice we fans most often hear. Some adore him. Others want to run him out of town on a rail. The former must outnumber the latter, because he also has a radio show in New York talking about all sports, and he is certainly not in danger of dismissal from his TV job. I assume the same is true of the radio gig.
But he repeats certain words and phrases without mercy, and if you're listening closely, it can set your teeth on edge.
I understand the concept of signature phrases. Phil Rizzuto had "Holy cow!" (which was widely assumed to have been stolen from a previous sportscaster), and that never bothered me. Rizzuto was also the most idiosyncratic sportscaster in history and could be entertaining even --or perhaps especially--when he forgot there was a game going on. Which was not infrequent.
I get that every announcer is expected to have a home run call, although that seems odd to me. Why not just respond to the game as it happens? But okay, that's an industry standard.
The problem is, virtually every inning has a Kay trope. As the first pitch is being thrown, you can expect, "(Name of pitcher) is ready. (Name of batter) is ready. Let's do it!" Which is uncomfortable in and of itself. This is immediately followed by "and we are underway," in case you didn't know the game had started.
(Again, keep in mind that it's the repetition of the phrase, night after night, that grates. Doing it once would not be a problem.)
Each home run will be greeted with, "That's hit DEEEEEEP to (direction) field! Track! Wall! See ya!" Some of the wall scrapers, particularly in Yankee Stadium's right field, are not hit all that DEEEEEEP, but okay. The reuse of the same phrase every single time makes the moment less special instead of more. It's like each home run is the same as all the others because they will all be described the same way.
The whole "see ya" thing is I guess a trademark. Every announcer likes to have a signature call for home runs. John Sterling, the radio voice of the Yankees, is famous--not necessarily in a good way--for his home run calls, tailored to each Yankee batter. (But then, John Sterling's description of a baseball game is a surreal affair from beginning to end, leaving the listener with the unshakable impression that he has somehow crossed the space time continuum and is now listening to a present-day baseball game being described by a fan of odd commercial segues and musical comedy from 1948. That's another issue entirely.)
Even in the obligatory statement of copyright (repeated each night so people can't pirate the broadcast of the game), Kay sometimes feels it necessary to insert himself into the announcement. He can't tell us not to use anything in the broadcast "without the written consent of the New York Yankees" and just read the words. He adds the word "aforementioned," as in "the aforementioned New York Yankees," presumably to alert the viewer to the face that he knows a four-syllable word. The one area where the words SHOULD be the same every night, and he wants us to remember who's reading the boilerplate.
When the team behind in the score has two outs in the ninth inning, Kay will say--without variation--"the (Yankees or other team) are down to their final out." Followed, when the batter has a two-strike count, with "the (Yankees or other team) are down to their final strike." It's the word "final" that grates here, because it's never anything else. There is no word "last" in Kay's vocabulary. There is just "final."
The repetition of words has an effect on the listener. It's not soothing and it's not congenial. It irritates. In writing (you knew I'd get to it, right?) quite often an editor will suggest a change in the manuscript when the writer uses a word too often, or uses it more than once in a short sequence. That's because reading is in many ways something we do with our mental ear--we hear the words as we read them--and that repeated word quickly becomes abrasive to the reader.
When that repetition--and the lack of spontaneity it represents--continues over 162 games in six months, it compounds itself. Too many final outs, too many tracks, too many walls, too many aforementioneds, too many let's do it-s. It becomes an illustration of why the mute button was invented.
For a writer, that's something to keep in mind. Don't irritate your audience. Use all the words you can without becoming a walking thesaurus. Mix it up. Reread your work and see if you might add more variety. Talking for three hours a night isn't the same as taking your time to write. Michael Kay can't go back and edit himself, and he has to keep an audience entertained for long stretches when not much is going on (and no, baseball is not a slow sport if you actually understand the game).
But he still drives me crazy. "Last," Michael. It's a word. You can use it. Who knows; maybe you'll like it.
For reasons that defy explanation I spent some time going back over my own Facebook and Twitter posts last week. Don't worry; I haven't been hacked and nobody's suing me (as far as I know). But it did lead to a few short pieces I sort of liked that didn't show up anywhere else and didn't have another forum until now.
In other words, I didn't have a post for this week.
In response to Terri's post last week, I thought it was just too much fun not to play along, so here are my answers (and we hope you're feeling much better very soon, Terri!). Your mileage may vary:
1. What time did you get up this morning? About 7. Don’t sleep like I used to.
2. How do you like your steak? Medium well.
3. What was the last movie you saw? The Wrecking Crew (documentary).
5. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? Maybe the San Diego area. Maybe Oregon. But I love New Jersey except the winters.
6. What did you have for breakfast today? I never eat breakfast.
7. What is your favorite cuisine? Italian. I’m from Jersey.
8. What foods do you dislike? Fish. All fish. Yes, even that one.
10. Favorite dressing? Isn't that covered under #12, below?
11. What kind of vehicle do you drive? Prius c. Yes, I’m that smug. (51 mpg!)
12. What are your favorite clothes? Jeans, t-shirt, sneakers.
13. Where would you visit if you had the chance? Paris, Australia, Florence, maybe Japan. I'd drive cross country if I had the time and the money.
14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full? No. If it's full I'll drink it and if it's empty I'll fill it up.
15. Where would you want to retire? Retire? Writers don’t retire. We keel over at our keyboards.
16. Favorite time of day? When my wife gets home.
18. What is your favorite sport to watch? Baseball. Only.
19. Bird watcher? No. I don't watch anteaters, either. Animals deserve their privacy.
20. Are you a morning person or a night person? Night. It's when I usually write.
23. What did you want to be when you were little? Taller. I still do.
24. What is your best childhood memory? Playing at the swim club with Dad.
25. Are you a cat or dog person? Dog.
26. Are you married? Only for 28 years. So far.
27. Always wear your seat belt? Yes.
28. Been in a car accident? Yes, but not a serious one. Never anyone hurt.
29. Any pet peeves? The dog is a brat.
30. Favorite Pizza Toppings? Peppers, onions, meatballs, garlic.
33. Favorite fast food restaurant? Closest I get to fast food is Tastee Sub in Edison, NJ.
34. How many times did you fail your driver's test? Never.
35. From whom did you get your last email? That I actually read? I think Josh.
36. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? Ticketmaster.
37. Do anything spontaneous lately? Answered these questions.
38. Like your job? Love my job. Want to keep my job. Buy some books.
39. Broccoli? If with cheese.
41. Last person you went out to dinner with? My wife, son, daughter and daughter’s friend.
42. What are you listening to right now? Mr. Dieingly Sad by the Critters (iTunes is on shuffle).
43. What is your favorite color? Blue.
44. How many tattoos do you have? None. I don’t get it.
45. What time did you finish this quiz? 11:10 pm.
46. Coffee Drinker? Decaf iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts. Never hot coffee.
For the past four years, my family has bought season tickets to see the New York Liberty women’s basketball team. We were hooked in the end of the 2010 season, when the Liberty made it to the WNBA playoffs behind guard Cappie Pondexter, and 14,000 fans chanted “MVP, MVP” in Madison Square Garden even as the hated Atlanta Dream beat them in heartbreaking fashion.
What followed was exile followed by decline. The Dolans of Cablevision, who own MSG, the Rangers, Knicks and Liberty, decided to renovate the arena during WNBA season for three years. So the family bought our tickets and schlepped out to Newark, where we watched the team get older and more injured and eventually dropped out of contention.
Dolan even hired the (formerly) hated Bill Laimbeer of the 1980s and 90s Detroit Pistons “Nasty Boys” to coach the team, and…it just didn’t work. Even a return to MSG last season with a new star—Center Tina Charles—to work with the ever-intense Cappie, saw a tired and fractured club. They didn’t make the playoffs, and then, in typical New York basketball fashion, didn’t win the ping-pong ball draft lottery to get a top-two draft pick.
And then they did an extraordinarily odd and unaccountable thing: They hired Laimbeer’s former teammate and ex Knicks coach Isiah Thomas to be President of the Liberty and part owner. While that was a head-scratching decision to begin with on merit—Thomas’s reign with the Knicks was risible—it was his departure amidst a sexual harassment scandal that made his Liberty hiring so tin-eared. The Liberty has an executive in waiting in Teresa Weatherspoon—T-Spoon, a former Liberty Star, has been in the front office for years now. She is of the team, and beloved by the fans. Instead they hired a man to run the team whose tenure with the Knicks was so poisonous that there were pages of depositions that described his disrespect for the women who worked for him. On opening night there were 20 people in “Liberate the Liberty” t-shirts picketing outside the Garden calling for his ouster. How could this possibly work?
We decided in the end to keep our season tickets. We love the games. The players, as I’ve said in this space many times, are extraordinary role models for both our daughters and our son; and the fan base is much more relaxed and diverse that the fan base of the Knicks or Rangers. And tickets are around a third as pricey. And the game, as years have passed and more and more players come from big-time women’s college basketball programs, has gotten better and better.
So tonight was our first game of the season. Over the past off-season, in a sad but probably strategically advantageous move, the Liberty traded away Cappie and several other core players. It was a new bunch, and they had been blown out of their preseason games. Our expectations, I will tell you, were low.
And then the Liberty went out and blew out the Indiana Fever. Tina Charles was outstanding. But what gave us hope, what made us want to come back not just because we are fans and that’s what you do, is that the young players, drafted out of Cal Berkley (Brittany Boyd) and U Conn (Kiah Stokes), were extraordinarily strong, gifted, and energetic. There is depth and talent, and it was without Epiphany Prince, the star on the other side of the Cappie Pondexter trade. The players were bouncing down the court, rather than wheezing. And the Garden was rocking more than it did through the entire wretched Knicks season (there is a reasonable chance that the Liberty, in a 34 game season, will win more games this year than the Knicks did over 82 games this year).
I know this isn’t a publishing column. But on the other hand, it’s about passion and entertainment and family and the business of leisure. There are similar challenges in marketing the WNBA to trying to sell mysteries or middle grade fantasies. And in the same way that I want my column to make people read books, I want them to watch women’s basketball. I’ve got the season tickets—if you want to come with me (and I know you! Yes, that’s important too…) let me know. I’ll buy the beer.
One week off of flogging my own work for this commercial announcement.
Two days ago, Americans and those around the world commemorated the 71st anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Normandy, otherwise known as D-Day. One young sailor who participated in that invasion, a gunner's mate on the USS Bayfield, was named Lawrence Peter Berra.
Later a Hall of Fame catcher, coach and manager of the New York Yankees, a manager of the Mets and a coach on the Houston Astros, Yogi Berra carved out a remarkable career in sports. He also established a scholarship at Columbia University that still exists 50 years later.
Yogi became incredibly popular as a homegrown philosopher, although he himself admits that "I didn't really say all the things I said." Some of those Yogi-isms were indeed written by public relations agents but they were working with the personality of the man himself. Yogi has become much more than a baseball figure; he is known worldwide by people who have no interest in the game.
But he's much more than that. Having established the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey (where Josh and I took the accompanying photograph), Yogi--because it is disrespectful to call him anything else--has become a strong advocate of education. He is a staunch supporter of the U.S. military and an ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization promoting LGBT rights in sports.
He is a remarkable man and, at 90, still serves as an example of how to do things right.
There is a petition online to urge President Obama to award Yogi the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his service and his remarkable life. I am a lifelong unapologetic Yankee fan who never saw the man play, although I did once sell him a pretzel. So I've signed already. But even those who detest the team (and I understand that on some occasions) should see the wisdom in signing that petition.
As of 11:25 p.m. Monday, the petition is 5000 signatures OVER the necessary 100,000, so thanks to everyone who helped and okay, Yogi! Hope we hear good news soon!
The man is a national treasure. No joke. Let's acknowledge that formally. Sign the petition.
Well, I had one really great blog post planned today about CrimeProm 2015, otherwise known as the Edgar Awards, which took place last week and were extremely cool (even though I ended up being The Guy You Don't Want to Sit Next To, since both my Client Steve Hockensmith and my seatmate on the other side Ben Winters didn't win their categories. But they were lots of fun to schmooze with nonetheless, and congrats to everyone who did win. The Death Montage with the song Warren Zevon wrote while he was dying was a little macabre, but, you know, crime fiction...)
Then this afternoon the New York Liberty, the women's basketball team my family is obsessed with (particularly my tween girls), hired Isaiah Thomas to be its president, in an extreme case of Tin Ear. Let's see: Zeke has been such a disaster as a coach and talent evaluator that I probably wouldn't let him near the Ramaz Middle School Girls Soccer Team which has been outscored 39-4 in its four games this year. But then there's the sexual harrassment suit that ran him off the Knicks the first time. Just what you want, PR wise (never mind in the workplace) for a team that is striving to be a group of badass role models for future female athletes. It's horrible. See this article for details : http://www.sbnation.com/2015/5/5/8553115/isiah-thomas-new-york-liberty-knicks-raptors-pacers-cba-fiu
But then I got home, said hello to my son...and couldn't straighten up. So I'm writing this like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, and need some Advil and scotch to loosen it up. Daughter #2 offered to rub my back, felt the spot of the spasm and said "Holy" and then a word that is unbecoming for a 12 year old. So On to next week. When I'll talk more about books and less about basketball or backs.
In 1968, when I was a wee lad, Mickey Mantle decided not to play baseball anymore. Since I was indeed a wee lad, and Mantle was my idol of the moment, this was a huge thing.
Less than two years later, it was announced that the Beatles were disbanding, and would no longer record or perform as a group. And if you thought the Mantle thing was big, this was universe-sized. We were stunned. No Beatles? How was that even possible?
Immediately, in both cases, the speculation began: Who would be the next Mickey Mantle? Who would be the next Beatles? I recall reading an interview with Ringo Starr in Rolling Stone (back when you could trust what they said) where he was asked the question: Who's going to be the next Beatles?
Ringo was diplomatic about it, as ever, and even suggested a few people (I think Elton John was among the names mentioned), but he knew the truth, and pretty much said so:
There is no Next Beatles. There is no Next Mantle.
What there will be is someone who is who they are. Is that too oblique? There's no point in trying to duplicate something that moves you. It can't happen the same way twice.
There never was a Casablanca II but there was Star Wars. There never was Back With the Wind but there was To Kill a Mockingbird. No new Peanuts but Doonesbury and Calvin and Hobbes. Nobody ever managed to recreate I Love Lucy, but instead we got The Dick Van Dyke Show. Which, I'm sorry, was better.
So when writers try to emulate or piggyback on the enormous success of some phenomenon, when they try to be the next Harry Potter or the next James Patterson or the next Gone Girl, they're asking for trouble. Is is possible to achieve some popular success based on something that has been immensely lucrative before? Certainly. Remember that 50 Shades of Grey allegedly began as Twilight fan fiction.
But can a writer really take something that preceded his/her work and create a new phenomenon? Particularly, one that has the same emotional and societal impact as what came before? It's unlikely, because writing something that isn't what you chose to write, what moved you enough to sit in that chair and type all those words, is a losing proposition.
Instead of a new Mantle, there came (only 30 years later) Derek Jeter. A totally different type of player, but a wonderful one in his own way.
Instead of the Next Beatles, we got Elton John and Michael Jackson and Carole King and Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Adele. Depending on your taste, you got NWO or Eminem or Wu Tang Clan or Josh Groban or Justin Bieber, if he's your thing. There is no Next Beatles, but there are people expressing themselves whose work you might take to your heart.
If you're writing, write for yourself first but keep an audience in mind. Don't write something because that's what publishers are looking for now or because some great big huge phenomenon just hit and you think you can change a few details around and make it something new. Write what you would write even if nobody was going to read it. ESPECIALLY write what you'd write if nobody was going to read it.
Writing is an art form, a craft and a job. But before anything else, it's a form of expression. What's the point of expressing someone else's thought, particularly when they've done that already?
There is no Next Beatles. Be you.
Editor's note: This is NOT a post about baseball. Trust me.
As I noted last week, baseball season is back, and that means many things to me. One of the things sports fans love more than normal people is a good argument. What player is better than another. What would a player from the 1950s do against a player now. That sort of thing.
One of the favorites is to combine a Starting Nine in baseball. Name a player (from your team, from all teams; the rules vary) for each position and then argue about why you chose one over another. Fans are essentially crazy (it is short for "fanatic," after all), so you can get a whole evening out of a Starting Nine.
Well, I think I'll start an argument. The following is my personal Crime Fiction Starting Nine. Each position on the ball field is manned (or womanned) by a writer working today or some other day. And I've chosen mine carefully, based solely on personal preference and in some cases, who's a friend of mine. I get to choose any way I want. Feel free to post your Starting Nine below.
Crime Fiction Starting Nine
1. Leadoff hitter/center fielder (a player who is quick and agile, usually--not one of your big power people, but someone who can get on base so the sluggers coming up can drive him in): Ellery Adams.(Nobody quicker, more nimble.Will tickle you to death.)
2. Second base (a second hitter should have a little more raw power, but still get on base a lot, field well and understand his role): Chris Grabenstein. (Very high average, can always get the story going in a hurry.)
3. First base (usually the best hitter in your lineup all around--can hit for average, hit home runs and hopefully field the position): Dashiell Hammett. (Find someone better. I dare you.)
4. Third base (power hitter, good fielder, the person you want up in the pressure situation): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.(Invented Sherlock Holmes and had the good sense to invent Doctor Watson to buffer him from the reader.)
5. Right field (definitely some power in case #4 doesn't get the homer; strong throwing arm, drives in runs): Robert B. Parker. (A heavy hitter, not lots of finesse but plenty of power.)
6. Left fielder (run producer, but probably higher average, less power than 3-4-5 hitters; should be able to catch the ball): Donald J. Sobol. (Funny, brilliant, wrote more stories than everybody, inspired every crime writer since including me.)
7. Designated Hitter (I'm doing an American League lineup because I don't have a strong starting pitcher analogy--this hitter should do as much of it all as possible because, well, he's just hitting): Julia Spencer-Fleming.(Can do anything, but mostly does one thing very, very well.)
8. Catcher (someone who has to handle the pitching staff, know all the opposing hitters, and also hit pretty well while taking all the physical punishment of a prizefighter): Raymond Chandler.(Always thinking, and you can see it.)
9. Shortstop (not usually a huge power hitter, often someone who hits a lot of singles and can field the position): Let's say E.J. Copperman. (It had "Short" in the title.)
So. Who's on your Starting Nine?
This past weekend, two men died. Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott were from different generations, with very different career trajectories, and other than both being fathers and public figures—a politician and a sportscaster—didn’t have much in common. Governor Cuomo was 83 and died of heart disease hours after his son followed in his footsteps and was sworn in for his second term as governor of New York. Stuart Scott, who has two teenage daughters, died of cancer—which he publicly fought for the past seven years—at 49.
I had a real reaction to these deaths. Not simply because they were figures in two of my longest-held pastimes, politics and sports. It was because Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott, bridging decades, reminded me of Sunday nights.
When I was 11 or 12, I used to listen to a transistor radio under my pillow after lights out (c’mon, Mom, you knew). Most of the time I listened to whatever local New York team was playing, whatever sport. One Sunday night, though, it must’ve been football season, or the Knicks were on the West Coast, or the Yankees had played in the afternoon, because there was nothing on. As I flipped though the stations, I stumbled on a guy talking in this thick New York accent, not a newscaster. He said something like “This is Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo, taking your calls for the next hour. I’m here to help.”
The next thing I knew, it was an hour later and I was hooked. He was friendly to some callers, combative to others. He had a rough job—New York was going through tough times and lots of people were angry or depressed. But what I remember was thinking, in my pre-teen way, that he was smart and he was kind. Now certainly not everyone will agree with the kind part—read Jonathan Mahler’s masterful Ladies and Gentlemen the Bronx is Burning to see a terrific take on the complexity of Cuomo’s early political career navigating the cesspool of local borough politics—but everyone knew he was smart.
From that point, I was a fan of Governor Cuomo, even when he seemed to dither about whether to run for president; even when he occasionally descended into the muck of negative politics. I think my obsession with the political process started those nights listening to a young Mario Cuomo tell Florence from Brooklyn that he’d look into why her neighbor was allowed to keep chickens in the back yard.
After I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment—a studio with a lovely view of the Hudson River until Donald Trump built high rises directly in front of my building—I began to watch SportCenter on ESPN, almost always The Big Show at 11 PM. I spent several years watching Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann revolutionize the highlight show, and it was as much a part of my night as listening to the radio under my pillow growing up.
Eventually ESPN started a second station, and Stuart Scott joined ESPN2 for a while, then shifted over to work The Big Show, mostly in those days with Rich Eisen. And while Dan and Keith and Berman and Craig Kilborn were in some ways the dorks who took over, with their catchphrases and snark, Stuart Scott was a whole different thing. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow, to use one of his own phrases. He brought hip hop to SportCenter, made it even quicker. And like Lieutenant Governor Cuomo, he was so clearly smart and, it certainly seemed, kind. Sunday nights as a twenty-something watching Stuart Scott on ESPN were like Sunday nights as a kid listening to Mario Cuomo on the radio. It was the end of the weekend. I was tired and a little tense because I knew the new week was beginning, but I wanted to listen or watch. I knew I’d be entertained, and I often learned something. After I got married, Amanda and I would watch SportCenter a bit less often (though I’m lucky to have married a woman who shares my twin obsessions), and we saw Stuart Scott’s health decline. We saw him a couple of months ago for the first time in quite a while and were taken aback by how gaunt he looked. But he still had a twinkle, still put over the catchphrases, still entertained.
Look, I didn’t know either Stuart Scott or Mario Cuomo, and my perception of their character was shaped completely by what I saw and heard and read about them. But I know that, decades apart, they affected me in similar ways, on Sunday nights.
(Pay no attention to the photograph above. It's not their wedding picture, I'm relatively sure.)
Now on to business: Because Josh is a great agent, I had a little bit of extra money in the bank account. Not enough to go buy a new car or put a down payment on a mansion, but I didn't want those anyway. This was just a little extra. Enough after paying the bills (always a joy!) that I could indulge myself a tad.
So I went out looking for a guitar.
I have an excellent 12-string acoustic Takamine that my wife and children got me for a birthday that can't possibly be seven years in the past, and yet is. And I love that guitar. But every once in a while, you feel like playing something else, to get a different sound.
A few weeks ago, I joined my lovely wife in New Orleans for a few days after she had finished her work at a convention she was attending for her job. And strolling around while we were there, we'd wandered into a music store where a used six-string was on display at a very reasonable price. I sat down to play it and while I didn't fall in love, I certainly had a decent infatuation.
The problem was, by the time we added a case (you can't transport it without a case) and the cost of shipping back to New Jersey, it was no longer a very reasonable price for a pretty low-end guitar. So we passed it up--not really a big deal--and went to get some more beignets.
But it had put the idea into my head, so I figured I'd look around a bit.
Long story moderately shorter, I have been to all the music stores I know in the area. I've seen some nice guitars, many of which I couldn't afford no matter who my agent might be, and some that were affordable and knocking on the door of adequate.
But I haven't gotten an infatuation again. And I know why.
It's not the guitars' fault. No matter which brand name or model I try, the fact is that I'm not a very good musician. I can play all right as long as nobody's listening but me. I know a couple of tricks but my technique is certainly wanting, and 40 years of practicing bad technique have made it difficult to fix.
So I keep trying out guitars and I still sound like myself, which is disappointing. I'm sure that with some professional instruction I could improve my playing, and the day might come when I decide that's something I'd like to do. But a new instrument wasn't going to fix it.
It's the same with writing, to some extent. Each of us is born with whatever talents we're going to have. It's up to us to cultivate them and constantly strive to improve. But if we think that a new software program, a course from a "professional author" or an upgraded laptop is going to increase our talent level, we are seriously mistaken.
Yes, you can get better at writing. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it certainly does make better. But if you were meant to be a painter, no new gadget or online advice is going to make you a literary lion. You're already the writer you are. Practice and some instruction will make you the writer you're going to be. But if you're not a writer--someone who doesn't write just because s/he has to--there isn't a magic formula that will transform you.
Mel Brooks once wrote, "You may be Tolstoy--or Fannie Hurst." He did not suggest that if you're Fannie, you can become Tolstoy by getting a better pen.
I'll keep trying out guitars, though. And one of these days I'll come across one (probably used) that will have a sound I find pleasing when I play it. I just won't expect it to turn my into Eric Clapton.
That job is filled. My job is to be me.
P.S. I ended up getting a set of lighter-gauge strings. A definite improvement for less than $10.
Not to belabor the point, but the fact is that THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD , the first Asperger’s Mystery from Midnight Ink, will be published Wednesday, and you should buy it. In order to better entice you to do so, please consider the following list of dire consequences that might—just might—occur if you choose to skip this book and wait for the movie.
Quick side note: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is set for Wednesday, the publishing day for THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Take a picture of yourself with the book or the title page on your e-reader and post it. For everyone who does on Wednesday, $9 will be donated to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN) helping families touched by autism spectrum disorders. So don't forget to post that photo!
But hey, no pressure.
On the other hand, here are a few things that might happen if you do buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD this Wednesday (or even now on your e-reader!):
Benefits of Buying the Book
So there you have it: Scientific evidence that you should buy and read THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Do you want to argue with Science?
Assuming you are not living on Jupiter, the news might have passed by your eyes and ears that Mr. Jeter, who is an employee of the New York Yankees, will retire, in every likelihood, late next Sunday, the 28th of September after a 20-year career with the firm.
Non-sports fans: I promise there will be some relevance beyond baseball statistics, but you'll have to bear with me.
My daughter and I went to see him ply his trade Friday night at his office, 161st St. and River Avenue in the Bronx, New York. While not the same office in which he began his illustrious career, it bears the same name: Yankee Stadium. And don't think for a moment we were there for any reason other than to pay our respects one last time.
He was as gracious a host as ever, helping to produce a win for the home team with two hits and some nice fielding plays. And he tried his best not to notice the fact that the crowd of more than 40,000 people gathered there had done so specifically to see him and not the rest of the team, since this has been a dismal season for the home squad, and the immediate future is better not considered at all because it will be like this, except without Derek Jeter.
I'm a lifelong Yankee fan and make no apologies. In my five decades of paying attention to this team, I have not seen a player as beloved as Jeter. I saw Mickey Mantle play in person, and he was basically a god in the sport. I lived through the bleak years and saw Don Mattingly as the only bright light on the dark horizon and he was adored in the fans' eyes. But neither of them was Derek Jeter.
In five years, give or take a few months, Derek Jeter will be in Cooperstown, New York to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That is not debatable; it will happen. And while his statistics in the sport are indeed impressive, he was never the flashiest player on the field. Many mediocre players hit more home runs. Even in his younger days there were those who questioned his fielding range. Now a group of statistics cultists explain how he's really not all that good a player.
They're wrong, but that's beside the point. Derek Jeter is the ultimate Yankee, the face of all Major League Baseball, because of his parents insistence from a very young age that he behave like a gentleman and be responsible all his life. He has not disgraced them, ever.
Dating supermodels, actresses and anybody else who might grace the cover of Maxim? Sure, he did that. Have a little practical joke fun with teammates, acquaintances, even reporters? Yeah, that was part of the deal with Jeter. Did he ever give an interesting interview? No. The answers were bland and information-free, and that led to zero scandals and no horrifying revelations. Did he let us in to see what the innermost Jeter was like? Sorry; that was for family and friends. Mostly family.
What Jeter gave the fans was his best effort, every single time. It's unfortunate that most players don't run as hard as they can on every ground ball, because they know they're going to be thrown out. Jeter ran every time. Every time.
In an era where sports news is a combination of police blotter, financial reporting and pharmacology, Derek Jeter (while making boatloads of money, let's be fair) has always been about the team first. He did what it took to win, and he won a lot. His statistics were secondary--the only thing that mattered was whether or not the game was a victory. A season without a World Series title was a failure. End of story.
Derek Jeter will retire universally respected throughout the world of sports. He will be given a ceremony Sunday to send him off in grand style, and he'll get it at Fenway Park, home of the Yankees' most bitter rivals. Expect the fans, who have booed Jeter for decades, to stand and cheer, and mean it.
If you are not a Yankee fan, a baseball fan or a sports fan but read this blog each week or (hopefully) each day for perspective on the publishing business, consider this: Once he retires, Derek Jeter could literally do anything he wants to do. Star in television and film? He could. He hosted Saturday Night Live some years ago and did not embarrass himself. Become a media mogul? Sure, it's possible.
Could he devote himself to charitable works? His Turn 2 Foundation has done a lot to help kids live healthy lives and turn away from drugs and gang violence in tough areas. Jeter could certainly make that his key focus.
Famous as he is, Derek Jeter could do all those things, and probably will do some of them. He's said he wants to travel, that he would like to start a family. He has mentioned the possibility of owning at least part of a Major League team (Josh, could you advise him on that?). At this time in his life, it is not an overstatement to say that anything he decides to do is a strong possibility, and that he will probably be successful at any or all of these things.
But the first venture that will definitely be on Jeter's agenda after the hoopla dies out next Sunday and then there is no more Derek Jeter in baseball?
Derek Jeter is starting his own publishing company, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. You have to love a guy who likes books.
This week's reminder: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is scheduled for--waddaya know!--16 days from today, on October 8! Buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen and take a photo of yourself with the book (or title page of the ebook). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter for all (especially me) to see. For everyone who does that on Pub Day (which you might have heard is October 8), I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism SPectrum Education Network, and our own Josh Getzler's HSG Agency will match the donation. That pledge is good for the first 100 people to post--be one of them!
First let me apologize for not posting last week. I was on vacation and since blogging here is new to my schedule, I completely forgot.
As I type this, I am sitting in the kitchen of a friend of mine who lives in Denver. Tomorrow one of my favorite writers conferences start - the Gold Conference put on by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.
But tonight is the kickoff to the NFL season. I warned you that I would write about the Packers at some point! Ah yes, my beloved Packers will be playing the Seattle Seahawks tonight. I can't express how happy I am that football season has started! I love football - both professional and college.
My nine year old is in his second year of tackle football. He plays middle linebacker. He is #5
Now, as a parent and an avid football fan, I am a little nervous about his noggin. He's a smart kid - I want him to stay that way. Fortunately, our school district and athletic associations follow a program called Heads Up Football. I have seen their logo painted on fields of the preseason games I have watched. It's a national initiative to make football safer and reduce concussions. Organizations that endorse Heads Up Football include the NFL, the Big 10 conference, the Big 12 conference, and Pac 12 conference, NCAA, Pop Warner and a bunch of other organizations. You can read about Heads Up Football here.
Kids are taught to tackle leading with their chest and keeping their head up instead of dropping their head and leading with it. Already at this age, I see a difference in their tackling. And it makes me happy. My twins are in flag football this year and most likely will follow in their brother's footsteps. And when we are watching football this season, I know that my oldest and I will be watching to see how tackles are made and when guys get flagged for making contact with their opponent's head. It will be a fun season!
Next week I will get back to regular programming and talk about books. And if there is anything you are interesting in knowing about publishing or my job as an editor, please let me know. Hope you all enjoy the opening of the NFL season!
My home state of New Jersey has something of an image problem, and it is one that can teach us all something about first impressions, images, perception and memory. In other words, you can learn a lot about writing a story and promoting it if you think about New Jersey.
Yes, I'm serious.
The thing about my beloved home--and no, I don't mean that ironically--is that it is a compressed version of the United States. Very compressed. We're the third smallest state, and yet we have the most densely packed population per square mile. There are almost 9-million people here, and you have to figure at least some of them are not being held against their will.
In New Jersey, one finds some of the most famous beaches in the country. We have lovely suburban areas sitting right to some very accessible and cosmopolitan cities. Great restaurants, hiking, historical areas, theme parks, skiing (if you're into that sort of thing), professional sports teams, casinos, performing arts centers, cultural events, theater, swimming, fishing, music, comedy, film, nature, and one-of-a-kind sights like Lucy the Elephant, which I will not picture here because you just have to see Lucy to believe it.
But there's a problem with the state's image: we are seen, for the most part, as a toxic waste dump run by the mob. Yes, there's political corruption in New Jersey and guess what--there is wherever you're living, too. We actually seem to be better at uncovering and dealing with it than other places, so it gets more publicity.
I believe the problem with New Jersey's image is much more basic, and much simpler to explain than a perception of politicians who close down bridges as forms of retribution or gangsters who somehow aren't quite good enough to work in the big city.
It's Newark Liberty International Airport.
To be more specific, the problem is that most people who don't live in this area come to New Jersey through the airport, which is mostly in Elizabeth, if the truth is told. You get out of the airport, and no matter which way you're headed--onto the train to get to Manhattan or south on the NJ Turnpike--you have to pass through the area surrounding the airport to get to any of the other lovely images I've posted today. And this is what you'll see:
That's the first impression you'll get. So people come to New Jersey--admittedly they're usually on their way to New York or Philadelphia and too cheap to fly into those airports--and when asked about the Garden State, their minds will flash onto the image above. (And we're not even discussing the smell.) When they could be seeing something completely different:
So what's the lesson to take away? If you're writing, make sure you start off at a gallop. Get something into your first chapter, preferably your first page (bookstore browsers are notoriously fickle and have short attention spans) that will grab the reader's interest and make your book a must-buy.
And consider the first words anyone will see online about your book. Think about how you want to introduce it. As Terri's post last Thursday points out, cover copy is written well in advance of the pub date. Be involved with your editor, the publicist on your book and anyone else on the team that creates the final package. Make the right first impression.
Be the Pine Barrens. Be Met Life Stadium. Be the Jersey Shore. Be Atlantic City, if you must.
Don't be Newark Airport.
In September, 1996, my now-wife Amanda was my fiancée. Our first season running the Watertown (NY) Indians of minor league baseball’s New York-Penn League had recently concluded with a heartbreaking loss on a 2-out squeeze play to the hated St. Catharines Stompers. There was nothing to do in Watertown except freeze, so we were in New York getting ready for our October wedding.
I looked at the newspaper one afternoon and saw that the Mets were playing that night against the San Diego Padres at (the late, not-terribly-lamented) Shea Stadium. I turned to Amanda.
“Let’s go to the game tonight.”
She looked at me like I was a crazy person. I wasn’t a Mets fan, and we’d just been to 38 of our own games. The Mets weren’t anything special that year—they were on their way to going 71-91—and there were probably going to be 5,000 masochists in the stands that night.
“What brings this on?” She asked.
“It’s a chance to see Tony Gwynn. He’s getting older, he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and who knows when we’re going to get to see him again—he’s in his late 30’s (he was 36) and the Padres only come to NY once a year. So if we have the chance, we should be able to say that we saw Tony Gwynn.”
Honestly, I have no idea if Gwynn, who died of mouth cancer yesterday at only 54 years old, got a hit that night. My estimate of the attendance was, I believe, optimistic, and we were just happy to sit there, have a beer and a pretzel, and see a future hall of famer with a beautiful swing, 3,000 hits, no chip on his shoulder, and the utter respect of truly everyone in the sport.
And it’s funny. It’s been more than 18 years since we went to that game, and “you don’t understand: it’s seeing Tony Gwynn” has become a shorthand for Amanda and me every time we want to go see somebody who’s legendary and perhaps a bit past his or her prime, even if it’s inconvenient, because it’s simply worth it to have seen them.
“Oh Man, Steely Dan is playing at The Beacon but it’s $110 a ticket.”
“It’s Tony Gwynn.”
“Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart are in Waiting for Godot and the only tickets are the day before we’re leaving on a trip.”
“But it’s Tony Gwynn.”
A few months ago, there was a panel of Mad magazine writers at the east side Barnes & Noble, and my son Joe was hocking me to go because, among others, 90-something year-old Al Jaffe was going to be there. On a school night. Before a test. I hesitated, until my wife looked at me, and said all she needed to say.
“Every book is a self-help book.” I saw this quote from comedian Marc Maron this week. I don’t know the context in which it was said, and don’t know if it was meant to be humorous, but I found it thought-provoking, particularly in light of a non-book experience I had the week before.
The non-book experience was pretty mundane, at least on the surface. My sister is now a grandmother for the first time. Her sons are a few years older than my son, and I was the inheritor of vast amounts of baby clothing. I faithfully put it away after use, along with all my son’s “new” attire, in hope that I would use it again. Life didn’t work out that way, and that’s fine, but the cartons have been in the back corner of the attic for almost thirty years, one of those “I’ll get to it” jobs. The new grandmother wondered if I had a particular outfit from the proud new father’s own babyhood. She wanted to take a picture of the new family member to match a photo she has of his father in the same clothing. It seemed to me that this was as good a time as any to go through those cartons, give what was still useful to charity, and toss the rest. Not really an overwhelming job. After locating the requested garment, and throwing out a few obviously worn-out items in the process, I seemed to reach an impasse. The boxes cluttered the dining room, and I would make desultory attempts to finish the job, feeling exhausted after 15 minutes of sorting. I realized after a while that the task was emotionally, not physically, demanding, and that both dealing with memories (even happy ones) and needing to part with reminders of the past were difficult for me. I berated myself: “The attic is on overflow” “It’s only stuff” “You swore when cleaning out your parents’ house that you wouldn’t leave your own accumulation for others to deal with” “You’re just lazy!”
Then I mentioned all this to a friend. Her response was, “Isn’t it awful! I have all my kids’ clothes and toys and drawings. I just hate having to decide what to keep and what to toss. It totally wears me out.” And suddenly I felt normal again. I’m not the only one with this problem. Of course, there are people who easily divest themselves of the trappings of the past at each new stage of life, and I envy them. But at least I know that there are others like me, too. (Yikes! I haven’t even gotten to the toys and drawings and school pictures and ….).
Disposing of children’s paraphernalia is not a subject so sensitive that one would hesitate to bring it up casually with a friend. But we all have issues regarding our own personalities, quirks, needs, likes and dislikes that we hesitate to share even with those closest to us. It’s on these subjects that I realize I find books to be part of the “Self-Help” genre even when that was not the intent of the author.
In his post earlier this week, Jeff commented that writers are observers, but not necessarily great analysts. It’s exactly this skill of observing human behavior and describing both the behavior and the effect it has on the characters’ relationships that often makes the reader, or at least this reader, pause and realize that others deal with the same problems we face. Readers often discuss the importance of being able to identify with a character in order to become invested in a story. Part of the pleasure of this investment is in knowing that the author has observed that type of person, and if we are like that person, we are not so different from the rest of humanity. I find that I am sympathetic to characters who face issues similar to mine, even if their behaviors (and mine) are not particularly attractive. At least I’m not the only one to feel or behave that way.
The author may not be the analyst, but the self-aware reader might actually be influenced enough by the observation of the results of certain attitudes or behaviors in fictional situations to make some changes. Or not. At least it’s comforting to feel that if characters I read about have the same quirks or obsessions or anxieties, mine must not be too far out of the mainstream.
And now back to the thriller I’m reading. It fees good to know I’m not the only one who fantasizes about decapitating certain people with a machete.
I's Tuesday night, and I'm waiting for my 10 year old daughter to finish her homework so we can watch the NCAA women's basketball championship game between UConn and Notre Dame. Both teams are undefeated, having gone a combined 68-0 this year. Neither team has lost in more a calendar year--and each team's last loss was to the other. The players don't like each other much. The coaches don't either. It stands to be a brilliant game.
So as I was sitting around waiting to start watching, I decided to check my Twitter feed.
And now I'm depressed. Here's what the responses are to ESPN's tweet of
Both UConn and Notre Dame have not lost in more than a calendar year (!!). And each team's last loss was to the other. Talk about a RIVALRY.
Here are the respoonses:
@SportsCenter lebrons a pussy tho.
@SportsCenter i send NUDES to my new FOLLOWERS FAV if you want them
@SportsCenter who cares honestly?
@SportsCenter nobody cares about womens basketball
@SportsCenter Sound fraud but it's not
@SportsCenter yet again, a cooking and cleaning national championship needs to be on HGTV, not ESPN
@SportsCenter no one gives a fuk
@SportsCenter just stop
@SportsCenter Too bad IDGAF
@SportsCenter that's crazy shit
@SportsCenter Who watches women's basketball? 100 people?
@SportsCenter ya you would think, but it's not cuz it's women's basketball
That’s the first THIRTEEN responses. And it starts young (my daughter’s friends scorn her Liberty tickets from FIFTH grade, even though she can take most of them in a game of 1 on 1.) Just pathetic.
And then I think about the terrific lunch I had today with a young editor—a guy—who’s building a list. He was talking about the frustration he feels when he receives “guy books” because he’s the new young male editor, despite the fact that he is uninterested in pigeonholing himself as the bro-diter (not his term, but it works). I talked about the fact that I say over and over that I am looking for badass women and strong girls and historical fiction, but it’s taken a long time for that to stick.
Fundamentally, we live in a gendered society with particular expectations and assumptions about us. That’s nothing new. But there are times that I sit in my apartment in Manhattan, with my highly empowered daughters and my son who’s as likely to wear his Liberty shirt to school as his Punisher hoodie, and I forget what a long, long way we have to go. And unfortunately, all I need to do is look at Twitter before arguably the best athletic contest—men or women—of the year, and I’m reminded of the distance we need to bridge before we can just look at each other as people, with talent and skill and game. I think the game is about to start. And I hope Jakobee and Bigg Poppa give it a try.
You never know who may be listening to you--Paul McCartney, "Take It Away"
How about those Academy Awards, huh? Were you shocked? I was stunned.
I'm lying. I wrote this a week before the Oscars. Hey. Life gets in the way sometimes.
Still, thinking about the glamor and silliness of Hollywood--and the best thing about the Academy Awards is how silly they are--got me to wondering. My writing has certainly not made me a household name, and I'm perfectly fine with that. But if I'm being accurate (to the best of my knowledge), my books have, in the past few years especially, sold conservatively in the tens of thousands, and that's probably an underestimate.
So after a while you start thinking that maybe one or two of those mass market paperbacks has made it into the hands of a famous person.
It's sort of a cool thought. Who might be a fan of the Haunted Guesthouse series? There's no way of knowing, really, unless said celebrity were to reach out and communicate with the author (that's me). And so far, they haven't, with one exception, who was a friend before the series started and has blurbed a couple of the books.
Erin posted a while back about the impression an author leaves when making public his/her thoughts about politics or some other sensitive topic. The flip side of that is wondering whether someone whose positions I support might be reading my work.
Or what if it's someone with whom I disagree vehemently? What would that say about my novel?
So in order to prevent myself considerable embarrassment (after this display of undigestible hubris), I've decided to provide a list of celebrities whom I hope are or will be fans of my work. Because you never know.
My Hoped-For Famous Fans
To be fair, of course (or even not to be fair), it's probably right to list a few celebs who, if they are fans of my work, I'd appreciate keeping it to themselves:
For the record: I doubt any of these people has ever been in the same room with one of my books, but this is a fantasy league sort of thing, where you get to choose the names and assume they'll go along with you--or not. So that's my list. What's yours?
P.S. Recently the world of comedy has lost its grandfather and its funny uncle. Rest in peace, Sid Caesar and Harold Ramis. It doesn't matter how old you were; either way, it was much too soon. This is a world that can't afford to lose the laughs.
*Added after the Oscars
I was talking with my fabulous assistant Danielle this afternoon (it’s her one-year anniversary today, so congratulate her on social media!), and we were discussing the way we negotiate contracts. It came up that often, particularly when only one publisher has been looking at a book, we negotiate from a position of weakness, and often can’t retain rights or control the level of the advance we get for the particular project. I decided to tell her my favorite negotiation story, which would have been genius if it hadn’t happened to me, and it explains the value of leverage.
The story has to do with when, in my Past Life, I was working on moving the minor league baseball team I’d owned from upstate New York down to Staten Island. We had to make a deal with the Yankees in order for them to approve the move, and the cost to us was almost half the franchise. We talked with Hal Steinbrenner, then not quite 30 and still learning the trade from his still-very-active father, The Boss, and he asked my father and me to come up with a price that would be fair, but, as he put it “not market value.” (There was no way to negotiate with anyone else, as the Yankees controlled the territory of Staten Island exclusively. And they didn’t really care whether they moved our team to Staten Island or some other, which they could potentially control as well. So they held all the cards in the negotiation, and knew it.)
My father and I worked for two weeks on an appropriate number to ask for, running every number we could think of. Then cutting it in half. Finally, the day arrived for the phone call.
Understand, the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds in Watertown, New York, does not contain luxurious Executive Offices. Our space was a cinderblock room near the parking lot, approximately eight feet wide by 15 feet long. Our general manager and I each had a desk in it, and he chain-smoked. It was a pleasure, particularly in the middle of winter, when opening a door for ventilation would result in immediate frostbite. That day, however, it was approximately a million degrees, with my wife and both parents cramming into the office with the GM and me. A swarm of flies left over from the previous week’s Jefferson County Fair joined us, still hanging out because it wasn’t crowded enough. The phone rang and it was Hal.
There were no pleasantries.
“So, what’s the word?”
I took a breath, gave a short explanation, and named the number my father and I had massaged for two weeks. There wasn’t even a pause.
“You don’t want me to take that number to George.”
It was masterful. I could have said a million dollars or a buck and a half, and the answer would have been the same: “You don’t want me to take that to George.” Apparently, I turned extremely white. I asked him to hold, put my hand over the phone, and said “He says we don’t want to him to take that to George.”
As my father said “Ask him what he wants,” our GM spoke for the only time during the meeting.
“Get Yankee tickets. Behind the dugout.”
Which is how I sold half my team for a fraction of its value, but watched the New York Yankees win three World Series from two rows behind Mayor Giuliani.
Over the last several weeks, I've felt like I've been on some kind of nostalgia tour. I went to Mariano Rivera's retirement game at Yankee Stadium, where all the of players I lived and died with (and some of whom played for me in my Previous Life in Baseball) came on the field and honored Mo. The next week we went to see Mike Piazza inducted into the Mets' hall of fame (where among the old-timers honoring Piazza was Bud Harrelson, the shortstop from 40 years ago whose replica jersey was the first I ever wore--and which I got in exchange for giving up my Blanket...). This evening my wife and I saw Steely Dan play songs from junior high; tomorrow we're seeing Sting; and Thursday, Rodriguez (from Searching for Sugar Man), whose 1970 album became a thoroughly improbable hit in South Africa and whose career was resurrected in 2011.
Besides being our entire entertainment budget for the second six months of 2013, these events tell me something I think of when I hear of a new gimmick in books or music or art. Ultimately, and overwhelmingly often, talent will out. Mariano's cutter was his one pitch (basically--don't quibble, Cohen), which he threw over and over. Steely Dan played 40 year old songs and messed with them enough that they were fresh but still recognizable. They were jazz; ephemeral and improvisational, where Mo was relentless and repetitive.
And they were both brilliant.
When next you hear from me (that's a week from today), I will be just back from delightful (for all I know) Albany, NY, where the traveling roadshow known as Bouchercon is stopping this year.
B'con, as the insiders call it, is a jumble, a blur, a drive-by of a convention, hard to take in all at once. It gathers about sixteen billion people (eight billion of them authors) in one place, adds a bar, and lets things fall where they may. It's always a good time, we get to see many friends we otherwise wouldn't get to spend time with, and the panels are usually a hoot.
It is also physically exhausting, mentally overwhelming, intellectually taxing and worst of all, occurs every year as the pennant races in baseball are in full swing and every game seems absolutely essential. The one thing I always know I can talk to Lee Child about at Bouchercon is the previous night's Yankee game.
Every year I start the baseball season (I don't play; I'm a short, out-of-shape middle aged man who was never much of an athlete) thinking that I won't get that invested. By Bouchercon, I'm a rabid, mouth-breathing, obsessed lunatic who is smiling and nodding at you, laughing at your jokes, and wondering if tonight's starting pitcher can go more than five innings.
For the record, this year I will participate on a panel at 3:10 on Friday afternoon. It's called "Light as a Breeze--How Far Can You Go and Still Be a Cozy," and luckily will include Laura Bradford, Liz Mugavero, Katherine Hall Page, Rebecca Tope and our indispensible moderator Donna Andrews in addition to me (under the Copperman banner). I say "luckily" because I haven't a clue how far you can go and still be a cozy. I've never actually been a cozy. I'm more of a rumpled.
I really do hope you'll drop by to see the panel (if you're in Albany at Bouchercon--just flying in for that one panel would be a grand gesture, but a little odd). The best part of any convention is meeting readers and seeing other authors. If you see me and I looked overwhelmed, please come over and say hello. In a gathering that big, it's nice to be recognized. If I look distracted, it's because I'm not sure who's starting at third base tonight.
A couple of quick commercial announcements: First, October 1 is a mere 15 days away. On that date, AN OPEN SPOOK, the latest eSpecial novella in the Haunted Guesthouse series, will become available to your Nook, your Kindle, and your whatever the heck else you read books on that doesn't require paper. It's a fun story--I rush to point out that it's a NOVELLA (because some reviewers seemed upset the last one was not novel-length)--told from the point of view of Alison Kerby's mother Loretta and involving a missing POW bracelet and the POW, now a ghost, who wants it back. During Hurricane Sandy.
And only 36 days after that (November 5, for you calendar fans) will come the next honest-to-goodness Haunted Guesthouse novel, THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT, in which Alison has to investigate the murder of a local homeless man and a man who may be cheating on his wife (who wants to use the evidence as leverage for the rest of their lives). By the way, AN OPEN SPOOK includes a sneak preview of THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT.
But we had another piece of news to announce a few days ago: Thanks to Josh G's herculean efforts, COOLER HEADS, the first in the Questions Answered mystery series, about a man with Asperger's Syndrome who starts a business answering people's questions, is coming from me and my CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND E.J. Copperman (both our names will be on the cover) from Midnight Ink! It'll be the first of at least three books involving Samuel Hoenig and his associate Janet Washburn and believe me, you'll be getting more information as it develops.
Whew! That was a lot of self-promotion all for one week. And I've got to drive to Albany on Thursday! See you on the other side!
Things I Wouldn't Miss If They Vanished Forever
Things I Miss Terribly When They're Away for a Day
Things I'm Glad Haven't Gone Away Forever
Things I'm Sorry Are Gone Forever
Things I'd Miss If They Left
Things I'm Glad Are Back
I know; you're surprised. But on a recent trip (immediately post-storm, when refugees were leaving New Jersey to find electrical power) to Gettysburg, PA, it was revealed to me that Doubleday was in fact at the battle of Gettysburg, but his only connection to America's budding national pastime was that he tried to requisition some baseball bats and other equipment for former slaves under his command, and was denied. Apparently even that far back, African Americans were being banned from playing baseball.
This comes as no shock. I knew Doubleday was only the mythical inventor of the game, that it was a sort of bastardization of a game called Rounders from England, mixed with Cricket, or something like that. But hey, America did what it does, which is to take stuff from other places and make it our own.
So consider the differences in the English language (particularly American English) if the game of baseball had not been invented, by Doubleday or anybody else. We would have lost the expressions:
Throw a curve ball at you;
Out of left field;
Swing for the fences;
Go for the no-hitter;
Warming up in the bullpen;
Going, going, gone (with a possible exception for auctions);
Pinch hit for;
Take one for the team;
I could go on.
Then, there are the expressions that one hears during a baseball game and wishes would go away:
"He left his feet making that catch";
"Tonight's starting lineups, brought to you by Lexus";
"Our good friends at the Fox News Channel";
What it really means when they say:
"He's struggling a little lately" (He couldn't hit a beach ball at this point);
"He had a really good swing at that one" (He missed);
"That was a great piece of hitting" (He accidentally hit one safely when he was trying to hit a home run);
"He's a veteran presence" (He's old);
"That got a piece of the catcher" (The catcher may never be able to have children now);
"The umpire has a wide strike zone tonight" (The umpire has early dinner reservations);
"The team is in rebuilding mode" (You're lucky if they stay out of last place);
"We'll be seeing you tomorrow night" (You'll be seeing us tomorrow night, if you choose to watch).
Can you tell I'm going through baseball withdrawal?
Pitchers and catchers report in 88 days.
So it's 11:34 and I'm in danger of missing another week's blog day. This time it was not a Jewish holiday and not a conference and not a literary reading, but a Crosby Stills and Nash concert. I was skeptical when we bought ticket--the last time we saw them was 10 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with child #3(who got a great in utero contact high), and they were OLD. But terrific. And we left happy and satisfied that we'd gotten to see them, kind of like when we saw Tony Gwynn in the last year he played for the Padres and we'd shlepped out to Shea to see him just so we could say we saw him. But I digress.
So CSN (without Young, or Tony Gwynn for that matter) was back, at the Beacon Theater (very appropriate now, and Winchester Cathedral was perfect there, just saying), and they are now at least seven years past OLD. And they were fabulous. OK, so after nine months of touring (this is the last set of shows) Stills is finished and could barely croak out Love the One You're With. But the surprise MVP was David Crosby, who could have been MVP for being able to stand at this point. But he has a voice like an angel (still), and was thin(ner) and fit(ter), and the group wisely centered the playlist around his proggy stuff. So we got Guinevere and Winchester and Deja Vu and Stills could play guitar and all the happy fogies like us got to sit back and relax.
As we were leaving we both realized that the upshot was this: We spend so much time listening to top 40 these days because of our kids, it was nice to go to an old school rock concert with black t-shirts and guitars and Hammond organs and singers who allowed themselves to be ragged.
Of course, we're also kind of excited that next week brings us Ke$ha's new album. (Don't be a hater, now!)
One of my clients, thriller writer Eric Seder, came in to the HSG office today to say hi. Conversation, as it does, wandered to baseball.
Eric wanted to know if any of the players on the minor league teams I ran in Staten Island were obviously going to make it to the majors, even when they were newbies in single-A. I replied that there had been a couple on our teams—Chien-Ming Wang and Brett Gardner, for two who just seemed to have “it.”
“How about Melky Cabrera?” Eric asked, speaking of the former Yankee outfielder who was the MVP of the all star game this year, then a month later was suspended for the rest of the regular season when he tested positive for HGH.
I said that while he was the best player by far on a pretty much unwatchable Staten Island Yankees squad in 2003, we were all pretty surprised that he’d made it to the majors in a very quick two and a half years.
“Did you know he was juicing? Were you surprised?”
Those are actually very different questions, I said. I didn’t know he was taking HGH, that’s for sure. Yet, when he first made the Show as quickly as he did, then became a star (and seemingly quite a bit bigger, physically), it didn’t completely shock me that he had taken a shortcut.
The past couple of weeks has seen the uncovering of what seems to be an epidemic of literary “sock puppetting” and pay-per-review scandals, where authors are found to have created false identities on (mostly) Amazon in order to write glowing reviews of their own books to improve their rankings; or paid writers for hire to write raves for them (often without having read the book). John Locke, who’s sold more than a million books independently, was found to have paid for hundreds of reviews. While there was a certain amount of tsking and general outrage, it was nothing compared to this weekend. Then it came out that RJ Ellory, best-selling traditionally-published crime fiction writer and winner of best-book of the year in 2010 in the UK, not only created sock puppet IDs on Amazon to pump himself up, but also to slam and one-star books by many authors competing with him.
There was an avalanche of rebuke, and Ellory apologized for his “poor judgment.”It seems clear, however, that he’s just among the first to get caught, but certainly won’t be the last. It places into doubt the validity of reader reviews on Amazon etc, however, and it certainly feels like their records ought to have an asterisk next to them—kind of like Barry Bonds’s home run mark or Melky Cabrera’s all star game MVP award.
I think that much of the review-manipulation story relates pretty nicely to the Melky Cabrera juicing scandal—talented participants in a highly competitive field use dishonest methods to get ahead of their counterparts. But where the comparison breaks down, and where a lot of the outrage over Ellory in particular comes in, is in the fact that he used his false identities not just to build himself up, but very specifically to break his opponents down. So often when people talk about steroid users they say “well, he was dishonest, and what he did was dangerous—but only to himself. He’s not harming anyone else in the process.” (I know, that’s not really true, but the argument deals with future direct medical consequences of injecting yourself with hormones or rubbing on the Cream and the Clear.)
Ellroy, on the other hand, both raised himself up and brought down, say, Mark Billingham, and that goes over the line. I’m not saying he would have been excused. But the community would not have been so thoroughly angry with him for it had he “only” self-promoted. The author Keith Raffel posted the following on Facebook today, and I think it speaks for so many of us:
“I’m reluctant to pile on, but have you been following the scandal of authors anonymously praising their own books in reviews on Amazon, while savaging books by their colleagues? I can at least understand the impulse behind the former, but the latter seems particularly reprehensible. Sigh.”
Post script to the coda: I was just reading this to my wife, who said “Why are you being so even-handed? I just got back from my first day of school and all we heard about in the faculty meeting was how rigorous ethics must be. Why are you being so understanding of the people who do this, even when they are “merely” self-promoting. It messes it up for everyone and makes people who are working their butts off to make it think that the only way they can succeed is by cheating. It was true in baseball and it’s true here, and it’s true in high school. It’s just not OK.”
Under the "it's hot out" umbrella:
Believe it or not, I found a copy of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. novel I was discussing last week, on eBay of all places. It's called "The Affair of the Gentle Saboteur," and while my memory of the writing wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped, I can now quote the passages I was citing in the last post:
Page 31: (Taking place not in a cab but in a tobacco shop) "Hot," Waverly said grumpily. "Beastly hot, this town."
"Awfully hot, sir,This isn't our best season of the year in Washington, is it?"
"July--definitely not. Quite an inferno out there."
So not quite as long an exchange as I'd thought, but wait! Two pages later, Waverly DOES get into a cab, and the following action-packed exchange takes place:
"Hot," the cab driver said.
"July in Washington--but the hottest," the cab driver said.
"Hot," Waverly said, puffing contentedly.
(Do you get the feeling it was a little warm when the guy was writing this?)
I paid $8 including shipping. That's the kind of sacrifice I'll make for you, dear reader.
But that's not why I asked you here today:
A few days ago, the MLB Network (home for those of us who are obsessed with what once was our National Pastime, leading me to wonder if, say, Indonesia has a National Pastime?) aired a special in which Bob Costas spent a half hour interviewing Jerry Seinfeld specifically on the Abbott & Costello classic "Who's On First?". If you haven't seen the special, I recommend it. Costas really isn't the guy for this interview, but he's the closest MLB has. But Seinfeld is EXACTLY the guy to talk to about this. He's a comedian who really studies the craft and can talk about it for hours.
It's rare that I feel a rush of ego--life is good at reminding you that you're not that big a deal--but every once in a while when I see really intelligent comedians discussing the craft, I think, "I could hang with those guys. I can speak that language. I understand funny, and how it works." All of which might be true, but there's one big difference that bursts my ego balloon before it really gets a chance to inflate.
There ain't no way I could ever do stand-up comedy.
Keep in mind, I write funny on purpose. I see how it works when someone truly gifted has an audience in the palm of his/her hand. I get the rhythm, and I know comedy is closer to music than literature. I even have a good deal of experience speaking in front of "crowds". I have no terror of public speaking.
But I couldn't begin to write myself more than twelve seconds of material, let alone the hour or more the really big comedians have to create on a regular basis. Build a joke and then build it more and then hope that after you build it even more than that, not only will you not forget what you have to say, but that you'll say it the right way, and the audience will be in the right mood to get it (and that no dishes will be dropped during a punchline or a heckler drowning out the necessary set-up)? Um... thanks, but no. I'll be here in the audience, trying to think of something to write in a book.
I don't think there's a job as hard as being consistently funny armed with nothing but your mind and a microphone (sometimes just your mind). I really don't. President of the United States? Look at some of the dolts who've held that position, and you have to conclude that the world might be worse off for them, but it's still spinning. Nuclear physicist? Yeah, that's tough, but you know what? Those people are really well educated in their craft. A comedian has to be self-taught. How many genius comics can you name who came out of the odd Learning Annex course on stand-up?
Geniuses of comedy like Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams and the current rage Louis C.K. take the gifts they're given genetically and they figure out what to do with them. And do it better than everybody else.
I was talking recently to a friend I had not seen in quite some time, and one of the things she said was, "You should do stand-up! You're funny, and you know how to talk in front of an audience." And I hope I'm not being obnoxious in saying that's not the first time it's been said to me.
Like the other times, I shook the suggestion off, perhaps more vehemently than was expected. "I'm not nearly brave enough," I said, which is true. Because I'm sure I couldn't do it well.
So I'll stand in the back, appreciate the art and the craft, and I'll write my books. And maybe some day I'll be in a room with one or more of those great comic minds, and we'll have a good talk about how it all works.
That's really the most I could ever hope for, and I'm fine with that.
By the way, today is "Buy Books For Steve" day, trying to help an author without health insurance pay for his bone marrow transplant. Please take a look here and buy something if you can, or just donate.
She turned to face him, livid with rage. "You're a beast!" she cried. "You tried to run me over with your car!" (It was the 17th time someone had been run over with a car in a book whose title begins with the letter "M" that year.)
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"Don't be so sanctimonious," he answered. "I had to protect myself. After all, you knew that I had a history of drunk driving, and I couldn't let you walk around with that knowledge."
If you drink, drink responsibly. This message brought to you by the Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado.
She raised an eyebrow, calculating. "You still can't afford it, can you?" she asked, her voice trembling only slightly.
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"No," he said flatly. "I can't." He reached into his pocket and pulled out--
--a cigarette case, from which he extracted two filter tips, and offered her one. "Marlboro?" he asked. (The Elias Book Bureau reports that smoking in murder mysteries has declined by 38 percent in the past two years.)
Hey, fans: Smoking doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke. Call the New York State Smoker's Quitline for information that can start you on the way to quitting for good. Call now, or we'll show you another TV commercial featuring lung surgery.
And the typeface in this book is brought to you by our good friends at Toyota. Toyota: Moving Forward.
"I don't smoke," she lied. He shrugged and lit the cigarette in his hand, then put the other back in the case. "What are you planning to do now?"
He smiled, and her blood ran cold.
"If I told you," he said with no hint of sympathy, "that would ruin the surprise."
Are you considering flowers or lingerie as a surprise for her next birthday? What will really get you in her good favors is a Vermont Teddy Bear. The Vermont Teddy Bear company offers any number of personalized bears, and will deliver them directly to her along with a Bear-O-Gram if you choose. Vermont Teddy Bears. Because maple syrup will make her look fat.
She grabbed the letter opener on the desk and lunged toward him, intending to stab him in the heart, but he caught the movement and stopped her hand inches from his chest. Then he pushed her back, disarming her and dropping her onto the freshly vacuumed Persian rug.
And the acknowledgements at the end of the book are courtesy of our very good friends at the Fox News Channel. Fox News. Even we can't say "fair and balanced" with a straight face anymore.
"Don't be absurd," he told her. "That was far too crude a gesture. When I decide to deal with you, rest assured the attack will have more subtlety and the pain will go on for a long, long time."
Do you have pain that's lasted a long, long time? Chiropractic Associates of Long Island might be able to help. Call their caring staff any time, as long as it's during working hours, and make an appointment for an examination and adjustment. Chiropractic Associates of Long Island. Because we were too lazy to look up a real chiropractor who advertises during baseball games.
She was still weeping quietly when he turned on his heel and left the room.
So that ends this chapter. We'll be back with the next chapter, right after this, in the latest mystery novel you've already bought, driven by Jeep.
But first, these words from our sponsors...
So when last I wrote, I’d had two days at the London Book Fair, with another to go. And so I did, and it was terrific, and a wonderful experience. I feel like it’s a great idea for an agent—even one whose role is not to sell foreign rights—to go and take meetings in the International rights bullpen at Earl’s Court. Part of the reason is just because it’s a good idea to inhale the atmosphere—of camaraderie and commerce, professionals jacked up on caffeine extremely focused on meeting their schedules. It’s a bit like when I spent a few summers working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. If you look from above, or on TV, it looks like chaos. But really it’s a bunch of collegial folks doing business.
So last week I said that I’d go through some of what I heard in London; what markets were wanting and hesitant to take; eager to see and backing off. Here goes (realizing that these are gross generalities, and others might have heard different):
1) Europe’s economic struggles are clearly affecting its publishers. Spain and Eastern Europe in particular were very frank in saying that previous aggressive buying has been curtailed. I went with fifteen or so books at the front of my list; my Eastern European co-agent said that they could only see being successful with around three—two of which already had buzz and several other foreign sales; the third was Anne Tyler. With Spain it was somewhat less specific, and more sad smiles and “times are hard.”
2) On the other hand, Brazil seems to be very healthy. Whether from not being in Europe or from having a large population with burgeoning readership, the word from Brazil was “lay it on us.”
3) France is…unique. I have three British historical novels (my joke is that I’m looking for one novel set in every century—to date I’m good with the 11th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. So if you have a good thriller set around Edward III, I’m your man!). A French editor smiled, shrugged, and said “what else do you have?” She was very pleased, however, when I said that I thought the French Revolution could be the next Tudors, and was looking for a good novel set around the storming of the Bastille.
4) Everyone wants a “tentpost thriller” with a Franchise protagonist. Yes, well…
5) Nobody wants to see any more dystopian YA, particularly paranormal. Unless, of course, you know…it’s good. But that’s glib. It’s really that from the YA side, there’s a sense that we’re ready for a next trend, to come after the Hunger Games followers are exhausted, which came after the Twilight followers were exhausted. There was a bit of a sense it could simply be realistic fiction, a la John Green; or perhaps witches or angels or new shapeshifters. Zombies are finishing their cycle too, it would appear. The amazing thing, of course, is that it’s going to be the one incredible story, rather than any industry-wide desire for a trend, that will ultimately determine what will be the next Big Thing.
On Wednesday night, after the nice announcer lady kicked everyone out of Earl’s Court, I went to a pub and had my last supper in London, while I read a manuscript. While I was eating, I noticed that the pub was becoming more and more crowded, and the predominant color being worn by the locals was blue. I discovered that the Chelsea Football Club was playing a Champions League semifinals match against the powerful first-seeded Barcelona club, and the match was about to start. I almost stayed to watch, but knew it was going to become extremely crowded, and I was going to be leaving for the airport early the next morning. So I went back to my cupboard under the stairs, petted Scabbers, and watched while I packed. I’m a very big sports fan with a wide range of likes. I’d never watched a high-level soccer match of this type before, though. It was exhilarating. And Chelsea, which won 1-0, had precisely ONE shot on goal in 90 minutes. And I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This evening I saw on my friend Mark James’ Facebook page that Chelsea had—almost miraculously—defeated Barca again to advance to the finals. All I can say is Go Blues! And next time I’ll watch from the pub.
Today's post is short after the last couple, because I am sitting with my wife and kids, watching the NCAA Women's Basketball championship game. The eight year-old, our future scrappy point guard, is in pretty much awe of Baylor's Brittney Griner, who's 6"8 and dunks (and is brilliant). If our Ita REALLY grows, she'll be a foot shorter. But she can ball, so watch out Title IX! I mean of course she first has to conquer the NYC Yeshiva League, but we're all pretty ambitious.
But I did want to mention that I had the opportunity late this afternoon for a real Holy Cow moment. An email came in as I was about to leave the office from Jen Besser, the editor of Geoff Rodkey's brilliant Chronicles of Egg: Deadweather and Sunrise. It had a wonderful subject line: HOORAY!. There was no message, only a link: http://rickriordan.blogspot.com/2012/04/deadweather-and-sunrise-avast-ye.html . Click the link and you'll know why my beer at Ear Inn taasted particularly good.
Next week I'll be blogging from Orlando, where the family will be having seder with Mickey, Donald, and Harry and Ron and Hermione. I wonder if Butterbeer is kosher for Passover...
New York: One day we Garden Staters are going to be condescended to one time too many, remember you live on an island, and cut you off. I'm just saying.
First of all, for those who have been asking, we went to see THE ARTIST on Christmas Day. It was very good, different (clearly), inventive. My life did not change in a significant way, but I enjoyed it, and that's enough. Later in the week we went to see Lysistrata Jones on Broadway. Fun, breezy, very well performed. Not getting nearly enough press.
On to new business:
*I'm writing something new, without a contract, just for myself (until I finish it and send it to Josh). Not a mystery, not like anything that's come before. And it's scaring the living hell out of me. (No, it's not horror. It won't scare YOU...)
*Far too many of the artists I listen to are now dead. Last year I lost Gerry Rafferty and Phoebe Snow. To go with George Harrison, John Lennon, Jim Croce, Eric Woolfson, Harry Chapin, Harry Nilsson, Elliot Smith and Cass Elliott (among others), that's just too much. This is part of getting older, and like most of getting older, I could do without it.
*I can't wait for Wednesday, just so I won't have to hear about Iowa again for another four years. Except when my wife talks about her college years.
*On January 1, the New York Times printed a special section on the Oscars. Dear New York Times: That's too soon. I can still remember who won some of the awards last year.
*I won't be going to Malice Domestic this year. I'm sorry about that; I wish I could go, but it's not possible. The travel budget won't allow it, and it happens to fall on the weekend of my 25th wedding anniversary. I like being married more than I like being an author, so I'll be back at Malice in 2013. Probably not as the guest of honor, but that's understandable.
*Winter break is just long enough to get used to having the kids back home. They they go back to school and we go through the whole "empty nest" thing again. It's cruel, in a weird way.
*Dear Dick Clark: Retire.
*I've been digitizing family photos, and therefore have been looking through every picture we've pretty much ever taken. What's interesting is how the dog has aged. His snout is now almost all white. It's a preview of coming attractions for my beard.
*Where's Old Zealand? (If this is to be believed, it's an island off Denmark.)
*To Whomever is in charge of weather: What we're getting in the Northeast right now is just fine. Don't change a thing. Until April.
*Just to mention it: OLD HAUNTS by E.J. Copperman will be published five weeks from tomorrow. A to-the-second countdown can be found here. But who's counting?
*Pitchers and catchers report in 49 days.
*Getting ready to teach again, starting next week. I always get nervous ahead of time. Isn't that odd?
*Got an amplifier for my acoustic 12-string as a gift. Had no idea how frightening it would be to actually hear what it sounds like when I play.
*I don't understand the animosity toward the Post Office. Who else is going to carry something of yours across the country for 45 cents?
*My son's enthusiasm is persuading me that I should take a look at DOCTOR WHO. Not sure if or when I will, but his opinion is usually pretty valid.
*Josh Getzler is a really good agent. Shannon Jamieson Vazquez is an incredibly talented editor. The readers I hear from are enthusiastic and intelligent. I am really lucky.
*For those who responded: My son Josh's film SCAVENGERS has exceeded the budget amount he was hoping for--we're blown away by the response. Thank you all. Shooting will begin right after OLD HAUNTS publishes in February.
Well, now that that's out of the way...
It's late December, in case you've been living away from a calendar for the past twenty-five days. And in the style of all entertainment options, I feel that this week's blog should follow a time-honored tradition.
In December--and at other times when they've run out of ideas--television programs especially will provide their viewers with what is termed "a special celebration" of the program, to reward them for being loyal viewers. Sometimes, this is also called "a retrospective."
It's a clip show.
Eschewing "reruns," (remember, kids?) which used to be utterly reviled as cheap programming and cheating by the professionals (and are now sold on DVD and Blu-Ray so that you can program them yourself whenever you feel like it) the clip show provides "highlights" from past episodes, which are meant to recall the best of the best. It also gives the writers, actors and directors a week off. Which, in December, is something pretty much everybody should get. Just because we're about to face another winter, and anything that gives you a break before that is worthwhile.
Don't get me started on "the holiday season."
So here's the first-ever DEAD GUY clip show, which I've borrowed only from my own posts, because I'm in such a lazy mood (closing in on the end of Book #4 in the Copperman series and starting something really out of my comfort zone) that I didn't even ask any of the other DEAD GUYs for their permission. So, enjoy or... come back next week. I promise it'll be all new stuff then. After all, then it'll be 2012 and everything will be way different.
Assume that each of the following entries is in quotes. Here are my personal highlights from 2011:
Reading "said" all the time, even when it's being done by a master like Robert B. Parker, who was addicted to the word, is like being hit lightly over the head with a hammer every few seconds. It's like listening to a story being told by Sgt. Joe Friday. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. If I want to hear just the facts, I can tune in to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
To me, the character IS the book, no two ways around it. I write mystery novels, and I put quite a bit of work into figuring out who did what to whom and why. I look for places to include plot twists and red herrings. I can misdirect with the best of them. The top 46 of them, anyway. And yeah, you might find a joke or two going on in my pages. You'd better.
But without a character I care about, I won't even type the first word.
"Do you realize how hard it would be to move a whole house?" I asked my six-year-old.
Without so much as a giveaway grin, she replied, "Daddy. You call a professional."
I should have considered this years ago. If the one thing that holds a writer back is the financial end of the business--and it is--then there's one way to eliminate the unpredictability of publishing and guarantee artistic freedom and a steady income.
That's right--I'm selling the naming rights to my next book.
Mr. President, I believe in the rejuvenative, therapeutic power of comedy. I think a good laugh does more for you than a ton of briefing memos (but keep reading those--I'm not suggesting you stop!) and "serious" novels. I think an amused mind is one that is more creative, more active, more useful than one burdened with problems both real--and you've got all of ours on top of yours to worry about--and fictional.
If people read my books and come away thinking deep thoughts about the nature of life and how it's all hopeless, complex, depressing and above all, serious, I have badly screwed up the mission with to which I have assigned myself.
Contrary to popular belief, most of us who are without religion are not necessarily trying to strip you of yours. Personally, I think you should believe what you believe, and I'll continue to believe what I believe. As long as you don't try to convince me otherwise, I'll do the same in return.
See, laughter is not an intellectual process. It's emotional and elemental. Nothing in your brain says, "Why, that's quite amusing! I believe I'll make a sound like this--ha, ha, ha!" Laughter is much more reflexive; it's like sneezing. And it is the only emotional response that actually makes you feel better. (Yes, there is a hormone released when one is feeling love, but that's not what I'm talking about.) Laughter really IS the best medicine, except when you need an antibiotic.
Sung to the tune of:
I Am the Walrus
Kindle, e-book, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader, iBook in an iPad/
Some say that all books' gooses are cooked; I disagree/
Books can be on paper/
Or they can be on a Nook/
Authors write for readers, not for certain formats; read me any way you like and I will shake your hand.
You are the reader/ (Whoo!)
You are the leaders/ (Whoo!)
I'm just the writer!
Goo goog a joob!
Oscars: How soon before the Academy announces a comedian will host next year? (Ed. note: Just so I have it on the record, this was posted last Feb. 28.)
Personally, I resent FTD, Hallmark, 800-FLOWERS and the entire chocolate industry telling me when I should feel romantic. And since, in modern America, Romance=Sex (go ahead, prove me wrong), frankly I think it's my own business. Well, and my wife's.
Dunstan McNichol, an extraordinary investigative reporter covering the New Jersey Statehouse for something like the last 30 years, died last week very suddenly at the age of 54. Those who care about the state of journalism in the Garden State are understandably mourning the loss as one that cripples the free press' first responsibility--keeping government accountable to the people it represents--unexpectedly and severely.
Those of us who knew Dusty are more upset at losing his insights, his wit, his talent and his compassion.
In one book, I had a large number of people crowd into a room that had been described, in three books running, as extremely small. And I was called on it by a reader who believed that the square footage would not hold that many human bodies. I referred the reader to the stateroom scene in A Night At The Opera.
Those are the clips I've chosen from the year 2011. If you had favorites I might have overlooked, feel free. Otherwise, we'll be back next week with an ALL NEW show!
My assistant Maddie tells me that every time I tell her I'm loving a submission, she looks at it and assumes she's going to find a strong female lead. I've got a 16th-century nun, a 17th-century midwife, a post-apocalyptic 15 year-old zombie killer, an unhappily-virginal 18 year-old zombyre lover, as well as a lawyer, a slayer, a trucker, a dog trainer, a bargain hunter and an innkeeper (and I've left some out!).
You could get into why I like strong women so much (hello mother, wife, daughters, partners, etc), but that's not challenging. What I find interesting is something Maddie said to me this afternoon as we were discussing yet another manuscript with a strong female voice:
"Why is it," she said, "that so many of these girls and women, regardless of age and also regardless of competence or capability, tend to the unsympathetic?" (Note to clients reading this--it's obviously not about all the female characters we have :))
Hmm...now that made me think, particularly in the context of the crime and adventure novels I work on. Then she continued:
"And why is that not a problem with most of the male protagonists we work with?" Even better. A real gender studies question, and not manufactured, and without agenda.
What's it all about? Is it a question of writers trying so hard to make their female protagonists hard or strong that they make them unfriendly? Or is it that they are concentrating so hard on plotting (which is often fast-paced and frenetic in the kinds of procedurals and adventures we work on) that character development and personality might sometimes be sacrificed. And possibly because--particularly in historical novels--in order for a woman to rise above her typical place and be the kind of person who would solve crimes or take part in adventures she would need to be very strong and possibly threatening to the men who would deal with her. Are authors overcompensating, then needing to dial back some of the aggression? Are we, as readers, equating feminine strength with being unsympathetic or unpleasant, while we are more accepting of a male protagonist exuding machismo; or think of a quiet, brooding...unpleasant man as darkly sexy?
Ultimately it simply doesn't bother me terribly much. I like the strength of my bad-ass ladies and don't apologize for them. I understand the need for a reader to root for a heroine, but I don't like weak women any more than I like incompetent men--and I don't think you need to sacrifice strength for attractiveness. I have two daughters who love Cappie Pondexter, the shooting guard for the WNBA's New York Liberty. Cappie is hard and she's aggressive and she fights and she takes over games and runs the offense. My girls think she's awesome, and don't care that she fouls overly hard sometimes, or whines to the refs or yaps at the opponents or pouts when she doesn't get the call. She's our bad-ass heroine, and we love her.
3. Best Bond? Connery.
4. Best director? Hitchcock.
5. Best team? Yankees (I'll allow for bias here, plus 27 championships).
6. Best Yankee? Gehrig. Seriously. Look up the numbers; they're frightening.
8. Best state? The one you live in.
9. Best religion? No such thing.
10. Best political party? Independent.
13. Best television comedy? The Dick Van Dyke Show.
14. Best writing method? Yours.
15. Best American novel? That's a stupid question.
16. Best novel ever? See previous answer.
17. Best movie? There are literally hundreds.
20. Second best (very close to being best) Marx Brother? Groucho.
21. Best Marx Brothers movie? Any from ANIMAL CRACKERS to DUCK SOUP.
22. Best current screenwriter? Aaron Sorkin.
23. Best screenwriter ever? Bill Goldman or Ernest Lehman.
25. Best STAR WARS movie? STAR WARS. No, there's no such thing as A NEW HOPE.
26. Best sport? Baseball.
27. Best sexual position? In favor.
28. Best actor? Bogart.
29. Best actress? Not sure there's just one. Hepburn (K.), Jean Arthur, Blythe Danner... I could go on.
30. Best TV drama? The West Wing.
32. Best ice cream? Why, is there a bad one?
33. Best current TV show? The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I'm sure no one disagrees. Right?
When I was working in baseball, when we would discuss our attendance projections before the season, we used to say, “Well, we know we are going to do well on Saturday nights, or fireworks nights, or games against the Mets affiliate, or Opening Day. But how are we going to do on Tuesdays in August?” That was code for “just another game,” when there wasn’t any special promotion, when it’s the middle of the week in the middle of the season, and attendance reflected the core market.
Tuesdays in August became such an ingrained part of my thought process that I ended up using it in other contexts. When I ran my synagogue for example, and we needed to plan how much food to get for the post-services reception, we had the High Attendance spread and the Tuesdays in August spread. When my wife and I would get up—even in the middle of winter—to discuss what was going on during a day that didn’t need unusual pickups or babysitting, we’d say “Eh, it’s a Tuesday in August.”
I thought of this when I got up this morning, obviously, because it is a Tuesday in August, and theoretically should be a grind-it-out, not-much-going-on kind of day. But it’s not. This whole summer hasn’t been, really. I’ve been able to start a new business, sell books of wide variety and great interest (and submit, but not yet sell, a good number more to a good number of publishers), read an enormous number of manuscripts, send two children to camp, and watch my father recover remarkably from serious illness. There is no such thing in my life any more as Tuesdays in August in the metaphorical sense.
And yet, I think I’m the happiest I’ve been in years (as long as I don’t look at things like partisan politics, my dwindling investment portfolio, print runs for non-best-sellers, and the fact that there are nightly riots in the city I’m visiting with my wife and children in two weeks). And today also marks another milestone, another non-Tuesday-in-August event: Today is the first day, as I write this later than usual at my desk in my office, that I look around our area and see the whole of Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency in one place for the first time. The Bar Exam is over for Jess, Carrie is back from her vacation and I still have time before mine, and Maddie is drinking her third cup of coffee while trying vainly to keep me organized and the HSG trains running on time. We just got logos for the company that we’re excited about, and our website is, at last, in the works. I even registered for Bouchercon, one of my favorite weeks of the year.
And tonight, I’m going with my family to see the New York Liberty (I’ll write an evangelistic post about the WNBA another time!), and it’s both breast cancer awareness night (so pink jerseys) and a night where the team is placing their former center Rebecca Lobo in their Ring of Honor. I look forward to sitting with my beer and watching the game, and wondering whether, six months ago when the marketing department was planning their promotions, they looked at the calendar at this game and said “well, we better do something fun for this one—after all, it’s a Tuesday in August…”
A little while back, I got a new comment on my lists of best and not-best things. And since it seems at least some people are still interested in a post that went up last October, I figured I'd get the arguments started once again with a few new topics that might veer a bit from the subject of crime fiction writing in spots:
Again, these are in no particular order. #1 isn't necessarily better than #8 in any category.
Best Songs Built on a Guitar Run
Best Actors To Watch in Anything
Best Actors To Watch In Their Signature Roles
Best Actors Not To Watch in Anything
Best Actresses To Watch in Anything
Best Yankees I Have Seen Play Live (Go ahead--argue with THIS one!)
English Phrases That Must Be Eliminated
Movies That Could Be Watched Once A Week
But I don't think people who liked this particular tale of drunken men in arrested stages of adolescence are stupid. I don't. I will readily concede that comedy is without question the most subjective of art forms, and is in my opinion hard-wired into your head when you're born. There are things you're going to find funny, and things you're not, and there is no power on Earth that will ever be able to change your mind.
See, laughter is not an intellectual process. It's emotional and elemental. Nothing in your brain says, "Why, that's quite amusing! I believe I'll make a sound like this--ha, ha, ha!" Laughter is much more reflexive; it's like sneezing. And it is the only emotional response that actually makes you feel better. (Yes, there is a hormone released when one is feeling love, but that's not what I'm talking about.) Laughter really IS the best medicine, except when you need an antibiotic.
So I understand when some readers don't think what I write is funny. I disagree with them; don't get me wrong. I think what I write can be hilarious at times. That's why I sat down to write it in the first place (that, and because writing an entire novel standing up would be murder on my lower back). But if it doesn't hit you the right way, honestly, I get that.
What strikes me is the way some people think they can convince me that I'm not funny. They (and this doesn't happen very often, but once in a while) sincerely seem to believe that they can show me the error in my ways, explain in no uncertain terms why my prose is not the lease bit amusing, and that will be it. I'll simply smite myself in the forehead and turn to more worthy pursuits like writing something that will make me want to slash my own wrists.
Here's the thing, America (and anywhere else): You can't convince me. No more than I can convince you, displaying charts, dictionary definitions and quotes from scripture, that I have written something funny. I'll continue to think of stuff I think is funny and you can read it or not. In a Democracy (and almost every other system of government), nobody is required to read my books.
By the same token, I'm not required to write something serious. It's a win-win.
As part of my screenwriting class, I show clips to illustrate points. One of them is from a Laurel and Hardy feature called Way Out West, one of the few of their features I think is really funny (others have varying opinions). The clip includes quite some time of Stan Laurel being tickled, and laughing hysterically.
After the clip was shown, one of my students looked up, blinked, and asked, "What's with that guy with the hat?"
So I don't have to go see The Hangover Part 2.
In no particular order:
The Ten Funniest Comedies Ever Made
The Ten Best TV Shows Ever
The Ten Best Mystery Novels Ever Written
The Ten Most Overrated Movies Ever Made
(You should have seen the "Most Underrated" List I deleted because even I didn't agree with it.)
Unrecognized National Treasures
Recognized, But Treasures Nonetheless
Greatest Acoustic Guitar Performances
Go ahead, feel free to argue. I don't even agree with them all myself.
1. Tiger Woods, on the golf course or off;
2. Every reality show ever produced;
3. What you need to prevail in your Facebook game;
4. Who judges on American Idol;
5. American Idol;
6. Lady Gaga;
7. Chelsea Clinton's wedding;
8. The angry flight attendant;
9. The Twilight series;
10. Romantic vampires generally;
11. Mad Men;
12. Eat, Pray, Whatever (movie OR book);
14. Levi Johnston and/or Bristol Palin;
15. Whether or not that guy found Ansel Adams's negatives;
16. Inception and/or Avatar;
17. Watching movies on your phone;
18. The Chicago White Sox;
19. Every beauty pageant in history;
20. Who gets cast in the Stephanie Plum movie;
21. Whether or not the James Bond franchise survives;
22. Derek Jeter passing Babe Ruth on the all-time hit list (for #38?);
23. Any ice cream that doesn't have at least some chocolate in it;
24. The impending football season;
25. Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice.
Bonus: Every sport except baseball.
What do YOU not care about? (Keep in mind, I'm not saying these are things I dislike, just that I don't care about them. Well, to be fair, there are a number of them I don't like. But not all.)
Things I Hate That Other People Love
1. Football: I realize millions of people adore watching this simulated warfare. I just don't happen to be one of them. No, this doesn't impugn my manhood or make me un-American. It means I couldn't care less who wins a football game, and can find other things to do when it's on TV. Baseball, on the other hand, is an elegant sport that requires a whole set of skills football players don't need, and I adore it. If Baseball is a Hitchcock movie, Football is something by Michael Bay. I choose Alfred, myself.
1a: NASCAR: They drive in a circle. Oh, boy.
2. SUVs: I've never understood the American love affair with big, ugly, gas-guzzling vehicles that are built to drive off-road and always seem to be in front of me on the New Jersey Turnpike. And I'm sorry, but the Hummer is the stupidest car ever to drive down a highway. Ever.
3. Depressing art: Isn't it just possible that critics call something "daring" and "dark" because they're afraid they'll be wrong if they just say it's a downer? It's easy to spot a bad comedy--nobody laughs. With the more "serious" forms of entertainment, I think there's a distinct possibility that most of the stuff we're informed is bold and adult is actually just drab and awful, but there's a naked Emperor in there someplace nobody wants to annoy.
4. Rap music: You're a great musician? Write a tune and sing it.
5. American Idol: Am I crazy, or did this used to be called "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour?" And is it not encouraging more people to trill and perform aural gymnastics instead of trying to communicate through music?
6. In fact, all reality TV: It's just as close to "reality" as Star Trek, but Captain Kirk had better writers. What you're watching in "reality" shows is a scripted scenario usually intended to find the worst in people and splash it all over worldwide television. THAT'S entertainment! Not to mention, it seems like the only thing you have to do to be a "star" on one of these shows is show up in a bikini (mostly for women) or have more than the average allotment of children, and a desire to exploit them so you can eventually host a talk show (both genders). Someone once advised against voting since "it just encourages them." Until you stop watching, they'll think you want more of this stuff. And yes, I'm including "Dancing With the Slightly Notable."
7. The term "literary fiction": What kind of fiction (assuming it's written on paper) ISN'T literary? Does this mean that authors like Charles Dickens (who surely wrote for the masses) wasn't literary? Or that someone like Mitch Albom is? I'm a writer; I use words for a living--we need a better term, people. Get to work!
8. Political talk radio: Sports talk radio is equally stupid, but everybody KNOWS it's stupid, and it does no appreciable harm. But believe it or not, there are people out there who actually BELIEVE what Rush Limbaugh says every day, and that's not just astonishing, it's frightening as a barometer of our collective intelligence.
9. Seafood and fish: Enjoy your ocean-based dinners, fish lovers. Just don't look at me funny because I don't share your taste. Yeah, it's all kinds of good for you (as long as you stay away from the mercury), and it does wonders for your cholesterol, but you know what? I'm not eating fish. Ever. Except for the occasional tuna sandwich, which doesn't really count.
10. Christmas songs: Yes, even your favorite. There are radio stations that play nothing but Christmas songs from Thanksgiving until the first week of January. Is there any wonder there are more suicides during the holiday season than any other time of the year? And the scary part: Most of the more famous ones were written by Jewish songwriters. Go figure it out.