Release Day & Book Deals & News

December Boys high-res copyI am always wary of plastering social media with too much stuff.

I have A LOT of stuff to plaster. So I figure I’ll plaster it all in one jam-packed, chock-ful blog post.

First, today is RELEASE DAY!

Though December Boys was made available early by the fine folks over at Amazon (it all counts toward the week 1 push for bestseller lists), today, June 7, is the actual release day. Though I’d love for y’all to buy the pretty hardcover edition, the e-book is for a very limited time just .99. The reason my publisher and Amazon did this is simple: the more first week sales, the better my chances of making that coveted bestseller list. So please, buy, share, tell your mom about it (if she is, y’know, cool and hip and likes her mysteries like I like my chocolate, semi-dark and bittersweet. That’s not true I like milk chocolate. Fuck dark chocolate. Dark chocolate tastes like a broken promise).

13246122_503936559803455_940881873_nSpeaking of deals … The fine folks over at Amazon have also made Book One in the Jay Porter Thriller series, Lamentation, a Kindle Monthly Deal, meaning for the rest of June that book too will be just … .99.

And sorta burying the lead on this one … but Oceanview is buying TWO MORE JAY PORTER NOVELS. Which for those of you keeping score at home brings us up to FIVE books in the series. Meaning you can expect a new novel a year until 2019 (holy fuck am I old).

And last I will be launching December Boys with a few readings in the Bay Area in the next couple weeks, starting with Why There Are Words this Thursday, June 9, followed the next night with an In Conversation with David Corbett (Friday, June 10), and capped off a week after that with the formal launch at Pegasus Books (Friday, June 17), where one lucky winner will win a chance to poke Rob Pierce with a stick.

13227871_503866013143843_24893243_nI think that’s it. For now. I’ll be doing a tour of the East Coast, culminating with a trip to New Orleans in September. And there’s the Beast Crawl and Litquake and regular Lip Service West stuff. Also I’m wrapping up Mike Creeden’s All Your Lies Came True for Gutter, and hoping to start tackling the long-alluded to Cash anthology.

And now here is Micah Schanbel of Two Cow Garage singing “Jackson, Don’t You Worry,” the title track from December Boys. Every book of mine gets a soundtrack, and Micah’s song provided a particularly poignant one this time. (And he graciously allowed us to reprint the lyrics.)

 

Better Than the Beatles

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I recently discovered Frank Turner, an English singer/songwriter from, well, England. How this artist has alluded me, given my constant search for new, life-affirming music, mystifies. Then again, not really. My ability to compartmentalize is legendary, if only in my kitchen, where I spend 99% of my time (Brian Fast once said: no matter how I treat my guests, they always like my kitchen best).

10348204_680049412099995_5254871434238716560_nAnytime you discover a great new artist, you push it down the throats of tell your friends because you want them to feel good too. One of these friends is a guy named Petersen who lives on the East Coast. A surrogate father, Petersen grew up in the ’60s, which as everyone from that generation knows boasts the best music, the best movies, and best athletes of all time. And if you’d don’t believe me, all you have to do is ask; they won’t shut up about it.

Whatever era you came of age, nostalgia always holds a special place in your heart, but it’s tough to argue with the music one. I mean, all anyone has to say is the Beatles.

I know people who claim to dislike the Beatles (I don’t believe them), but only an idiot will deny the band’s place in the pantheon on rock. Some purists/contrarians will go back to Robert Johnson or even earlier, talk about purer blues, and I won’t argue. I mean, I don’t give a shit. The Beatles were the first band to put it together in the modern pop culture vein. But that doesn’t make them “the best.”

My buddy Petersen, like a lot of … older … people frequently complains about how “there is no good new music.” The rub being when you try to introduce good new music to someone who lived in the ’60s, you are up against not only the Beatles, but the Stones and the Who and Dylan and the list goes on. No matter how good an artist is, you can’t beat the Beatles.

12241272_932149966839988_8204072385303865074_nExcept you can. Now I love the Beatles. Or rather I appreciate their place in the lineage of rock and roll. Like I said, only a moron would deny that. But does that make them the best? Because there are bands I like a fucklot more: Springsteen, Gaslight Anthem, Hold Steady, and, now, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. I mean, literature has deigned Don Quixote the first novel. Don Quixote isn’t close to being the best. In fact, it’s rather unreadable. Author Miguel de Cervantes did as well as he could given that he was fucking inventing a new form. But art dictates evolution. How sad would it be if music never got better than the Beatles?

12304300_875686839212943_4952939902542458265_oThis all started when I told Petersen “Frank Turner is a better songwriter than the Beatles.” Petersen treated the comment as though I’d just took a dump in church. Which made me almost retract. Then I thought about Cervantes. Fuck, there are hundreds of songwriters better than the Beatles. And the Stones. And Dylan. Every time Rolling Stone comes out with a list of the best songwriters, you know damn well it’ll have Paul and John, and Mick and Keith. You’ll get a nod to current trends with a rapper or two, Tupac or whoever. But mostly that list will revolve around ’60’s icons, despite there being literally thousands of artists coming after–artists who took an original statement and then used it to create something better. How–or rather why–would anyone expect the dialogue to retard? How many times do you need to hear fucking Hotel California?

enhanced-16976-1439320460-1I’m not immune. In my world Springsteen and Westerberg reign. Because I came of age to their music. I had a girlfriend, or maybe a wife, who loved Pearl Jam. Personally I’d rather get Chekhoved by Kahn than listen to Eddie Vedder sing, which sounds like a very short man taking a shit with a mouthful of peanut butter. I like Frank Turner because he sounds like the music I already like. But as good as I think he is, I’d never think the dialogue ends here. The best music is yet to come. I’ll just be too old and/or dead to appreciate it.

 

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, and the Force

Maybe it’s left over from my days doing meth or a perverse appreciation of early M. Night Shyamalan movies, but I still look for signs. Not in the hippy-dippy, cosmic sense. Okay, maybe a little bit. Some call it God. Others the Universe. We can go with the Force to keep all parties happy and non-offended. I wasn’t always like this. But like Han Solo, I reserve the right to change my mind. It’s how we evolve.

In my new life, authors are my rock stars. I used to travel across oceans to meet my rock and roll heroes; now I risk puddle jumpers to meet writers who rock my world.

Book Review-The Girl on the TrainOne of the shitty parts about becoming a writer is you trade in the magic for the mechanics. That is, you willingly surrender the transformative powers of (reading) literature to create the illusion for others. It’s a worthwhile trade. Writing books for a living is fucking awesome. I am not complaining (at least no more than usual). But it does suck that I can’t read a book anymore without picking it apart, dissecting the engine to reassemble my own Mickey-moused gears. To misquote Steve Earle, I take every book apart to see how they work.

gone_girl_on_the_trainTwice in the last decade I got swept up again, became just another reader, a fanboy who couldn’t put down the book. A former professor of mine, James W. Hall, said after he read Silence of the Lambs that he felt both enthralled and disheartened. Which is what happens when a book is so good you realize the bar has been raised that much higher. That’s how I felt when I finished Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

Like choosing between The Gaslight Anthem and The Hold Steady, I go back and forth about which one I like more. But it’s quibbling because both are fucking fantastic; they are the books I hope to someday write. I don’t mean copy or emulate. I’m talking proficiency, mirroring that perfect blend of page-turning, pop culture thriller. But, y’know, in my own voice and shit.

JoeMargharita
One of many, many trips to Cabo. This is the last known photo of my naked right arm.

I read The Girl on the Train while I was vacationing in Cabo with the family earlier this year. The locale certainly didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book. Sitting poolside, sipping margaritas (all-inclusive is the only way I roll), I devoured the book in two days, and have recommended it, ad nauseum, to everyone who’ll listen. I gave a reading a few weeks ago down in Pacifica. After my Q&A, a line formed at the register. They were all buying Girl on the Train. That’s how hard I pimp that book. Great art must be rewarded.

IMG_1492.JPGI’d seen that Paula Hawkins was on book tour but, unfortunately, the closest she was coming to San Francisco was Portland, Oregon, at famed indie bookstore, Powell’s. Not that far away. But still an airplane ride, and going that far for a reading might be a little crazy, especially given no guarantee that I’d even get to meet Paula. Holden Caufield says, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” Thanks to the Internet, sometimes it does.

IMG_1497.JPGI’d written Portland author Johnny Shaw, who said if I did come up I’d have a place to stay. Then I had lunch with my agent, Liz, and our foreign rights people. (Italy and Spain are interested in Lamentation. But I really want the French.) We were talking about Girl on the Train and how much I love the book. I mentioned I was even thinking of going to the reading at Powell’s. All during lunch, my phone was going off with incoming messages. After we ate, I checked my e-mail to see I’d … won a meet and greet with Paula Hawkins at Powell’s. Apparently, I’d entered an Instagram contest about a question I’d ask. I don’t even remember doing so. I don’t sleep well at night. See? The Universe, God … The Force. So I booked a flight.

In the days leading up to the reading, I revisited The Girl on the Train. Like any great work, the book only proved better a second time. I don’t want to give spoilers in case you haven’t read it (and if you haven’t read it, what the fuck is wrong with you?). All I know is from the first line, you get sucked in. I suppose voice is the most obvious culprit. Though the book is told via 3 first person narrators, this is Rachel’s story. She is the girl on the train. Alcoholic, defeated, broken. A loser. If you know my past, you can see why such a heroine would appeal to me. There is also the top-flight mystery and flawless pacing.

There-is-nothing-to-writingAs a musician, I learned that the notes you don’t play are every bit as important as the ones you do. Great pacing is about omission, the stuff you leave out. Call it Hemingway’s Iceberg or simply sleight of hand. To write a successful mystery, you only show what is absolutely necessary. But you can’t skimp either. Of course a lot of other shit goes into it; and if deconstruction was that easy everyone would fucking do it. There’s a reason only an infinitesimal fraction of the books written become bestsellers.

On this second reading of The Girl on the Train, something did change: my opinion of Rachel. My question, the one that had won me the meet and greet, was simple: Where is Rachel now? Without giving too much away, I wanted to know if she conquered her demons. The first reading I would’ve said no. The second time through? I think she just might make it.

11990408_10153248763672737_4992777054754062145_nAs for the night itself, I mean, it was fucking awesome. Paula’s super nice and down-to-earth, gracious with her time, funny. I got to bring along Johnny Shaw (who gave me an Advanced Reader’s Copy of his newest novel, Floodgate–eat your heart out, Pitts) and fellow author Michelle Bellon, whose work I’ve read and love (and blurbed). I got to meet Oliver Brennan, another neurotic Portland writer who tries to never leave the house. Once we got past the expected awkwardness of cramming socially challenged writers in a very tiny space, I was able to talk to one of my favorite writers about a work that has shaped my own. While I was reading The Girl on the Train in Mexico, I’d been simultaenously wrapping up my latest novel, December Boys. Though the style and subject matter may differ, there are definitely some threads that link the two, certainly that of madness and doubting one’s own perception, etc.

The Girl on the Train has spent, I think I heard, 39 weeks atop the NY Time Bestseller list? I’m not greedy. I’d settle for one.

Jerry Stahl & 20 Years of Permanent Midnight

men_are_from_mars_151475Tom Pitts used to say, “Reading options suck when the gutter is your library.” They don’t let junkies into the actual library, because junkies immediately head to the bathroom, clog up the toilet, and get blood everywhere. The SF libraries have timers on the lock (and good luck hitting a tiny capillary in five minutes with that dim light). I once read Men Are from Mars; Women Are from Venus simply because I found that crap lying on the street. Oh, who am I kidding? I fucking loved that book (and it would go on to serve as the basis for my myriad marriages and subsequent divorces). Junkies collect stray books like broken men and regrets. You have nothing but time to kill and a life to waste. You see homeless selling these books for a buck on scabies-infested blankets next to broken toasters and one shoe, but that is wishful thinking. Because you can find books for free everywhere when you’re a bum. Just can’t be too selective. You read what you find. Can’t say I’d ever pick up The Unauthorized Biography of Art Garfunkel otherwise. There are, of course, divine exceptions.

Comic-3One day I found Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight lying in the gutter. I’d probably been walking to Gluehead’s shack, a trek I made most every day to grovel for speed. Or maybe I was coming back from Martin De Porres, the soup kitchen on 16th @ Potrero, which cooked up the best oatmeal. I don’t know where I found the book, exactly, only that I did, and that I read it, straight through, riveted. Midnight fast became a favorite, like Catcher in the Rye or On the Road; like it was written just for me. The day the movie version came out, I borrowed my dead friend Troy’s car to take my crazy wife on a date down in Colma. Cost me half a gram. Best balloon I ever spent.

when i rocked
No, that’s all of me…

I just did an interview with the Last Bookstore, which will be hosting my upcoming reading with Jerry and Ryan Leone (Wasting Talent). Like I told them, I know this will sound hyperbolic: but Jerry Stahl saved my life. At least his book did. Or maybe not. Maybe I would’ve eventually stopped shooting junk all on my own, got off the street, gone on to earn my degrees, get married, have kids, publish a bunch of books, and buy a big house in the suburban hills regardless. I have no way of knowing. But the day I found Permanent Midnight, I was eating out of dumpsters and selling my blood (the UFO Study would give you $20 to test for diseases), I was at least 50 pounds lighter than I am now, my face was covered in pancake makeup to hide the sores and oozing pus, and I was dying. Permanent Midnight showed me there was another way for guys like us. Full of self-loathing and black, gallows humor, the story told of a deranged and damaged man who found the better parts of himself through words. Jerry Stahl offered me something in short supply in those days: hope.

And here it is, almost 20 years later. On Thursday, I get to read with one of my literary heroes, Jerry Stahl. I’ve written a lot of fiction since I picked my ass up off the street, but I could’ve have written a better script. No one would believe it.

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Giveaway Pt. II!

11005543_348201172043662_960031543_nSo last week, the audio version of Lamentation dropped. Timothy McKean does the narration, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. He fucking nails it. I was a little worried because (unlike the upcoming Junkie Love audiobook), I had nothing to do with the hiring. We basically sold the rights (to Cherry Hill), and that was that. Having navigated Audible for JL‘s narrator, I knew, first hand, how awful it can be to have the wrong person telling your story. This isn’t a knock on the various artists who submitted tests for Junkie Love. Some had lovely voices. They just weren’t the right voice for the book. A bad reading, no matter how good the original work, can kill a piece’s enjoyment for you forever. 

11807753_1087022291316760_4413934946228167288_oWhich is why I was so stoked to hear Tim’s take on my book. Not only does he do justice to Jay Porter, my protagonist in Lamentation, but he adds the correct amount of gravitas to the rest of the supporting cast, as well. Moreover, Tim gets the tone. Lamentation is as much about the mood as it is the story. There’s a melancholy to the text, and pacing is paramount. One of the criticisms I’ve received on the novel is that it takes a while to get going. I can’t say I intended to have any parts drag, but I did very much want to evoke that heavy drudgery of a harsh New England winter, the isolation and loneliness that comes with working a passionless day job in the ice and cold.

booksontape-2011These are elements that, as a writer, you hope come through in the text. If a narrator didn’t understand that dynamic, any telling would be destined to disappoint. Hearing his first samples I ran the gamut from that initial fear, to relief, to outright elation. Hearing a pro like Tim take my words and render such a powerfully evocative reading, I felt like (to quote Holden Caulfield) an old guy scoring a Navajo blanket on holiday: it was big bang.

UnknownAnyway, the audiobook is out. And, no, it’s not cheap. But lucky you for audiobook fans, we have some FREE COPIES. Well, I don’t. Tim does. And he’s offering up 30 of them. Like we did with the hardcover giveaway, all you have to do is send me your email address with solemn pinky swear cross-my-eye promise to leave a review of the book on Amazon when you’re done. Of course, this does exclude those of you who’ve already left a review. (Unless you are an Audible.com member, in which case you can leave a review over there; that’s cool with me. Just not familiar with how the site works.) But anyone else, just hit me up, yo. We’ll get you the code. In the meantime, check out a sample of Tim’s stellar job on Audible.

635669162872195996-785586254_Free-Things

True Detective Season Two: Hobo Hair

**SPOILERS: If you aren’t caught up with True Detective, read at own risk**

Catcher-in-the-rye-2There’s a great line in Catcher in the Rye.

“The trouble with girls is, if they like a boy, no matter how big a bastard he is, they’ll say he has an inferiority complex, and if they don’t like him, no matter how nice a guy he is, or how big an inferiority complex he has, they’ll say he’s conceited. Even smart girls do it.”

The line transcends teenage romance. You see it in pop culture all the time. And, to that end, people seemed ready to hate the shit out of True Detective‘s second season.

tumblr_nr4vibJcDB1skg0ijo1_1280Some artistic efforts are doomed to fail. The upcoming Batman v. Superman, any Eddie Murphy movie after 1985, a Trump presidency, and I’d put the new season of True Detective into that camp well. After last season, this reinvention is playing like a second career choice for Walter White, a follow-up band to the Beatles (fuck Wings). Reinvention is tough.

I am probably one of the very few who is not only enjoying this second season of TD, but who actually finds it superior to the first. I liked Season One; Season Two has more about what I liked of that inaugural effort–a bigger mystery, a better city, with bigger, more believable action and richer, more complex characters. Despite her stellar work in the criminally underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Michelle Monaghan, a good actress, was wasted in Season One, not unlike Vince Vaughn this time around, if for different reasons. (We’ll get to Vince V. shortly.)

Time_Is_a_Flat_Circus_2.png.CROP.original-originalIn S1, I didn’t find a lot of depth in Woody or his wife. McConaughey was terrific, and Rust Cohle a great character, undoubtably the best part of the show. He is a persona impossible to replicate. Nik Pizzolatto & Co. did the next best thing: they spread the angst out among the four leads (Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro; Rachel McAdam’s Ani Bezzerides; Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh; and the much-maligned Vince Vaughn’s [equally reviled] Frank Semyon).

430894_mkt_pa_truedetective_s2_vince_poI read a review about Season Two, I think it was Entertainment Weekly, which said S2 doubles down on S1. If you hated One, you’ll hate Two, loved love, and so on, etc. I, like many of my crime-writing brethren, had waited with bated breath for the debut of Season Two, which judging by the response of social media has been an unmitigated failure. After every episode, I turn on Facebook the next day, and see supporters abandoning the TD ship in droves. What’s funny are the reasons they give, citing the same shit that they loved in S1 as the reason they can’t take any more. I just don’t get it.

61958_600Thomas Pluck writes a great, even-handed review of the show over at Criminal Element. I have the luxury (because no one gives a shit what I write about the show) of not being so impartial. Or critical. In a world of crappy TV like the Bachelorette or American Idol, whatever reality piece-of-shit show they trot out next, a daring work of art like TD, S1 or S2, should be cherished, all sins forgiven. Because that’s big-game hunting. Of course I know that is my aesthetic.

It’s how I look at art. I am willing to forgive flaws and transgressions if the work builds up enough good graces shooting for the stars. Take The Dark Knight Rises, a film a lot of people hated. Like TD S2, it was set up to fail by the impossible standards it set for itself by being so good the first time (or 2nd in TDKR’s case). But I often like the follow-up to the seminal work. I’ll take Wish You Were Here over Dark Side of the Moon.

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Everything has holes. Books. Records. Films. My soul. If you like a boy and he’s conceited. I study this stuff like it’s my job. Because it is. I’d be dancing the happy feet if I wrote something as good as TD, One or Two, so it’s kind of sad watching how the show is being attacked. The question is why? S1 had McConaughey. But Farrell is every bit as good an actor, IMO. His scene with the ex-wife talking about taking away paternal visits? When he vacillates between begging and threatening to burn the whole city down? Fuck, man, it doesn’t get any better. And McAdams is a revelation.

1434736465_rachel-mcadams-colin-farrell-lgWhen I went to the stylist to get my hair cut last time (yes, I go to a stylist; I’m not a fucking barbarian. You pay $14 for a haircut, you’re getting a $14 haircut), I brought up a picture of Farrell’s Velcoro on my iPhone. “I want my hair to look like this,” I said. (My wife, Justine, says, “But it’s so greasy!” Exactly!) Tabitha Wilson, a writer/friend/entrepreneur on Facebook, says she, too, is going after McAdams’s/Ani’s “hobo hair.”

No one has a problem with Farrell or McAdams, or Kitsch, for that matter; most seem to agree, the latter has done solid work too (albeit with far less interesting hair). So why the hate? Yes, the plot is convoluted, and yes it has major holes (so did S1). Every movie and/or book has holes. If you want to look for and/or point them out. The dialogue is heavy and clunky at times. Someone called it the “big voice.” But what’s Rust Cohle’s “time is a flat circle” speech? That’s about as “big” as it gets. Which is why it’s so easy to parody. My point is there was just as much ridiculous shit in the first season, but (almost) everyone was willing to overlook it.

Which leaves Vince Vaughn.

Bx4D2SyIAAAXwyrNow I like VV just fine. I mean, he was great in Swingers. And I certainly don’t hate him in Season Two of True Detective. But I can’t much defend him. It’s a combination of the role and not doing much with it. I had blamed the blandness of the role, and then I read at the Office: “Think how much Bobby Cannavale would nail this part!” Then I saw Ant-Man, and was like, Yeah, pretty much. Vince Vaughn isn’t right for the role of gangster Frank Semyon. He lacks menace. His henchman seem woefully inept and, well, tiny. You just don’t get the sense Frank could be feared. Others sense this too. I think it’s in the 3rd episode where Frank tries to assert dominance, gets laughed at, and then beats up a dude, before pulling out his teeth. The pulling out of the teeth with pliers move is always a good one for noir. But a scene that needed to be vicious and devastating was almost comical. Despite being 6’7″, he doesn’t look like he could actually fight. Or intimidate. He seems like a guy who majored in theater. What’s even weirder is apparently the role was written specifically for Vince Vaughn.

Still, like Holden says, I am willing to forgive the flaws of True Detective Season Two for one simple reason: I like the conceited boy. It’s not his fault he acts this way. He’s insecure.

BookBub / Bestseller

19c8peiyk6e98jpgOne of the nice parts about making the jump to the bigger publisher is that feeling you’re not doing it all on your own. I work for a small publisher (Gutter) so this isn’t a knock on the indies. Snubnose gave me my start, Battered Suitcase my break (Junkie Love), and I’ll forever love both. Just the reality of the biz. When you have teams of two (Hi, Tom!), there’s only so much you can do. You sign the author, edit/format and upload the book, and then it’s on to the next one. The promotion, interviews, launches, the writer is on his or her own. It is all about the hustle.

Like any (successful) marriageL1 copy, the relationship between a book player (as my son Holden calls it) and the (bigger) publisher still requires the writer to do a shit-ton of work. Most of which is the un-sexy marketing stuff. Like many, I’m sure, I had the original disillusion that once the book came out, you got to sit back and watch the money roll in. Maybe for guys like King and Panowich (that last one’s a plug for my boy, Brian, whose book is due out this week with Putnam, and for whom I am predicting BIG things). The sad truth of writing is no one is getting rich (except maybe King and James). Which is cool. Writing is about the craft, and my kids can grow big and strong from a heaping bowl of integrity.

10403547_10153403919036763_1438473545402863607_nDavid Ivester, the publicist over at Oceanview, does a bang-up job. I can’t tell you how much I love the man. It’s more than not feeling alone as I walk through this valley of a bazillion books (seriously. Is everyone I know an author?). David’s worked with authors like me before. We are needy, insecure things, desperate to be loved. So his job transcends promotional strategy and media kits. Occasional pep talks get sprinkled with the father’s love I never received. Anyway, Dr. Goldberg and I will have a lot to talk about in today’s session.

In the meantime, David worked out a deal with the fine folks over at BookBub, blasting out a couple e-mails over the holiday weekend advertising Lamentation‘s sale of .99 for Kindle. Which is really fucking cool. Even before the blasts went out we’d shot up to #23 on the bestseller list at Amazon. BookBub has, like, 2.2 million subscribers, so working this out was a pretty sweet fruit. By the end of Sunday, we’d hit #1 for Kindle.

1972312_10205897380024907_4538266175163988145_nFor my part, I still had to do my share of pimping. I’ve grown leery of the unabashed hard-sell. I know it rubs some folks the wrong way (Julie Kazimer: People like to buy; they don’t like to be sold.) Over 30+ people shared this news on Facebook over the weekend, which catapulted Lamentation up the charts). So to everybody who helped make this promotion such a success, I say thanks. But I’m not done. I’m told BookBub “averages” 3K – 4K in sales. Which is fucking sweet. I don’t know if that’s true. But I like arbitrary numbers, especially when I don’t have to do the research. Turning arbitrary into an unrealistic expectation? Even better, I will hit my goal, or hate myself for failing. Either way, it’s a win.

article-0-01B52E1F00000578-77_468x536For everyone who put up with the shameless self-promotion interrupting America’s birthday, sorry. And thanks. Lamentation is still on sale, and will be until July 12. For the price of just .99 you can, well, get a digital copy of my book. I know this constant barrage of “buy my book” and/or “look at me!” can be, well, grating (if not outright obnoxious). So I appreciate the patience/support while I make all my dreams come true.

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Father’s Day 2015: Cat’s in the Cradle

The oft-mentioned original draft of Junkie Love with the tiny monkeys. Yes, Virginia, it exists...
The oft-mentioned original Junkie Love with the tiny monkeys. Yes, Virginia, it exists…

When I went back East on that Lamentation book tour, I gave a talk/reading in New London (I think it was New London. Or one of those other coastal towns near a naval base). A guy I knew in college, Steve, runs a reading series/book group down there and had asked me to come by and do my thing. The night was a blast. Great crowd and questions. The whole tour was like that. (Seriously, Connecticut makes me feel like a rock star.) Steve had known me at Central CT State University, back when I was first starting out. By “starting out,” I mean just getting off the street following a decade of shooting heroin into my neck. I was all over the place, waxing about global conspiracies, the inherent dishonesty of a recommended 8 hours of sleep, the residual of hyped-up, meth-fueled “the Man is out to get you” horseshit (“8 hours, man, is a lie. A complete REM cycle is 3 hours. 3, 6, 9. See? 8 hours is specifically designed to make you groggy, all out of it, easier to control, man”). My point: I was a little … edgier.

Now some good stuff comes with being edgier. You don’t care about practical elements re: a profession. Like sales or sustainability. You aren’t a “sell out.” I don’t consider myself a “sell out,” but I do consider myself an adult now (sort of). I also consider myself a professional writer (most of the time), and with that comes playing by some rules, as we talked about last week. Anyway, at that reading in New London/CT Naval Town, Steve asked, jokingly, since I am now a suburban dad, if I plan on writing one of those awful suburban dad kid books, like Marley and Me, some Chicken Soup for the Father Soul crap.

10421258_10205940787790482_1491442027914041222_nObviously I am not writing Eat Pray Love any time soon, but, yeah, being a dad does change some perspectives. A part of you knows this is it; the old you is being phased out so this new, better you can begin the journey. Circle of Life, shit, yo.

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A couple weeks ago, I took my son out to dinner at my new favorite restaurant, El Mono. It’s a Peruvian joint. Basically meat and potatoes. But spicier. Which I grew up on. Not the flavor so much as the meat, which, of course, I never ate. I remember the old man bringing home a whole box of filet mignon, how proud he was. I ate spaghetti with butter. I was a terrible eater. These days, I’d feel fortunate if my four-year-old ate spaghetti with butter. Every meal is a fight with that boy, whose diet is basically bread (toasted with brown and black crusts), cream cheese, butter, with the occasional piece of fruit. And I was thinking, as we walked out of the restaurant following another fruitless attempt to get some protein into the child, how much his resilience and steadfast resolve reminds me of me, the king of cutting off noses.

Which is both the enthralling and really, really disturbing part about being a father, how much your kids resemble you, physically and in terms of other stuff like hardheadedness. I have two boys now. More than anything, I want to not fuck them up. The pressure to “get it right” overwhelms at times. Reminds me of the Philip Larkin poem, which I’ve quoted often on here.

This Be the Verse
By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
     They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the extra faults they had
     And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
     By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were sloppy-stern

     And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
     It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
     And don’t have any kids yourself.

confusedkidsYesterday was Father’s Day. At four months Jackson is still basically in the slug stage. I mean, he can smile and is beginning to appreciate complex human interactions like “Peek-a-boo.” He’s cute as hell and I could sit and make silly faces at him all day. But as a baby, he doesn’t know what planet he’s on. Jackson is really easy to love because he’s my child and the only challenge is maybe when he cries (which isn’t often). Holden is four and a half, and our relationship is … far more complex. I can get a glimpse into the future teenage years, when head-butting between fathers and sons becomes an art form.

Of course I expect to do better than my dad (be hard to do much worse). I hope my boys always love me like they do now. But that’s not really the important part of being a father, is it? I mean, who doesn’t want to be the “cool dad?” My job, however, is not to be liked. I am not here to make friends. I want them to like me. But I have to prepare these kids for the world. And it ain’t easy.

10442382_854659782926_7583221484326952817_nThe mixed messages part of being a parents trips me out. Do as I say, ignore my fuck-ups. Someday I will have to explain Junkie Love, and why my kids shouldn’t do drugs (“worked out all right for you, Dad!”). I guess still have some time to figure out how to navigate that one. For now I get to appreciate how blessed I am to be a dad, something I never would’ve thought I could love this much. Not to get all Chicken Soup Soul on you or anything, but it’s pretty fucking cool when your kid quotes the Mountain Goats in a Father’s Day card.

Transition / Floating vs. Swimming

556c7a224ae56e586e457d3e_vf-cover-bruce-jenner-july-2015If you’ve been on social media lately, you know that former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner has transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner, a moment celebrated with her appearance on the recent cover of Vanity Fair. This news prompted one of two responses (which also nicely tipped individual political ideologies). The first group called Caitlyn’s actions heroic, and lauded her for her openness, honesty, and courage; the second group posted a lot of pictures of soldiers or police officers (but mostly soldiers), in life-or-death struggles, with reminders that “this is what real heroism looks like!” No matter the semantics and presentation, the subtext was pretty clear.

tribmediaNow I’m going to do something I seldom do: focus on the big-picture positive. Speaking bluntly, I will go on record as saying most of the solider-posters aren’t fans of what Jenner did. I think if you got them in private moments, he or she might be more vocal about this POV. Or maybe not.

What’s remarkable about this recent pop culture event–and I am a pop culture guy so I am always fascinated by this stuff–is how few people came out and openly criticized Jenner, and when they did, they were promptly smacked down and very publicly shamed. I am sure there are some places (I’m guessing Kentucky. I mean no disrespect to Kentucky. In fact, the one time I was there I found it a lovely state. I just need to make a generalization, and I’d rather have one state angry with me than the entire South) where folks are sitting around a bar using much more colorful language. Or maybe not.

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borg2See, this is the positive part, the amazing turning tide of public perception re: the subject of LGBT rights. And history bears this out. When societal change/opinion occurs, it occurs swiftly. I believe strongly in the collective unconscious. Or to put that in common parlance: shit be weird out there. I can’t explain this thread that connects us all.

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I have this shirt.

It’s why Holden Caulfield said he believed in God because why not? Just in case. It’s as likely a possibility as all the others. I think it relates to quantum mechanics somehow. I read a book about that in rehab, In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat. Didn’t understand it. Think it has something to do with infinite realities, like if you drink a cup of tea in China, it can affect the way a leaf falls in VT (I was coming down hard). I just know that you can have several folks interested in optioning your work, and then one turns it down, and within minutes the rest do, too. I believe in the Borg.

i-gotta-be-meI don’t know if suddenly more people are accepting of transgender rights, gay marriage, or any of the other perceived “progressive” causes; or if they just know better than to vocally oppose such in public forums. But I am not sure that matters. People are acting respectful. That’s the first step, the important part. They say in AA “fake it till you make it.” Going through the motions can help get you to where you need to be. My stake in all this is that I have lived my life with one purpose: to be true to who I am. Corny, I know. But it’s the fucking truth. Books, records, films, these things matter.

plan-vs-reality-e1411645592128Tracing back my … issues … I can ascribe the genesis thusly: I couldn’t square peg round holes. And you couldn’t make me. An artist, I needed to make art. As my writer friends will attest, making a living at this shit ain’t easy. I can’t do it. I know of no one who can. But I still make my living doing this shit. If that makes any sense. And I know it doesn’t.

Unable to find straight paths, we cobble. Here a pinch, there a pull, whatever it takes. I just gotta be me.

This is my kinship with LGBT rights–the desire to remain true to one’s self. I don’t have to “believe” in what you do. Just respect your right as a grown, consenting adult to make that decision.

6naHwyVAs a … young man … I used to be very judgmental. I still am. Everyone is. It’s like that John Oliver bit about racism anytime someone claims race isn’t an issue. You know how you know that’s not true? Because that sentence has never been true, anywhere on Earth. I have control over my actions. I hate on principal, but if you want to get high in the desert making shitty art, I have your back, brother. (Just don’t talk to me about yoga.)

I don’t know if what Caitlyn Jenner did is “heroic.” That’s not a term I use often unless I am talking about Batman. Comparing a Vanity Fair cover to D-Day seems rather silly. Likewise we can’t ignore some of the luxuries privilege affords. Still, apples, oranges. (I didn’t have a piece of fresh fruit till I was 21. And it was lime.) I do think anyone who simply survives another day on this spinning blue ball without being a total asshole–giving back more then they take, adding to solutions more than they do problems–makes the world a better place–is something to be championed. Life is hard for everyone; I don’t care who you are. It’s much easier to float than it is to swim. So by that standard, yeah, I laud anyone who answers the call: to thine own self.

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Mad Max & Feminism

Book Review-The Girl on the TrainI’d planned on using this week’s blog post to gush about The Girl on the Train. Much like I fell in love with Gillian Flynn and Gone GirlGOTT is the latest popcorn literary thriller to capture my heart. And after I left message professing said love on author Paula Hawkins’s Facebook page, she wrote back (in total British fashion) calling my compliment “completely lovely,” which made me flush as a school girl on Homecoming night (I assume I’d be going to the Big Dance with a Brad. But I may be projecting). So, seriously, read that book. I mean, if you read this blog, then you like what I do, and if you like what I do, you’ll have to like that book. Because Paula Hawkins is where I hope this ride takes me.

farside_sheep1_1However, on Friday the lovely Justine and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, a film I had zero interest in seeing. I’m just not a “Mad Max” guy. I’d been watching Todd Robinson and Co. go nuts about its impending release, and I didn’t get it. I’d seen parts of the original, snippets of its sequels, and they were okay, but I was decidedly meh about this one. Post-apocalyptic wastelands sorta depress the shit out me. I heard one guy at the theater say how he always gets Mad Max and Kevin Costner’s Waterworld confused. Yes, one is a lot of sand and a shortage of water, the other vice versa, one rocks, the other sucks, but that’s how I felt. A tyrant rules the precious resource, band of rebels band together to rebel, etc. And, yeah, I was wrong.

11259151_674494655989392_7575626668108946317_nMad Max: Fury Road is probably the best action film I’ve ever seen. Now keep in mind #2 on that list is The Rock, and you can get my sensibilities. Still, the film has a 98% or some shit on Rotten Tomato (I use RT pretty much exclusively. They are never wrong. Although the 6% for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 might be optimistic. I am stealing that joke from Entertainment Weekly).

png_base645d25284dc5b834eBut honestly even if the wife didn’t want to see MMFR, I might’ve gone once I learned Men’s Rights Activists were upset about the film’s “feminist propaganda” (we’ll get to that “criticism” shortly). Like hearing an opinion from a Phish fan on his way to Burning Man, I know that no matter what that opinion is I am going to feel the exact opposite way. Because Phish sucks, and Burning Man is for dust-covered dipshits.*

(*I am also stealing that joke. No [further] offense to BM-goers, many of whom I consider friends, but apparently this year’s event went public on Facebook, and was trolled viciously [and hilariously]. I feel like I really started something.)

cebf6df2391f54fe56cbbd1f9925e0865d61211dfe9db09e66c34aeeaa24d970Like most, I’m sure, I find the concept of “men’s rights” laughable. You don’t get to champion minority status/cause when you are the oppressive ruling class. Duh. It’s like the Louis CK skit about the benefits of privilege. Or the alleged war on Christianity, Christmas, or any other mainstream institution. Trumped up-charges, manufactured for effect. I have seen the enemy, etc.

Having proponents of such a group criticize a film for “promoting a feminist agenda,” I mean, fuck, you know that shit’s gotta be good. And Mad Max: Fury Road is better than good. I called it among the best action films I’ve seen, but it’s honestly one of the best films, period. A lot goes into making art great, and the recipe is hard to replicate. Trust me–I spend every day trying to mine and mimic the ingredients to whip up the concoction for y’all–it ain’t an exact science. There is a special blend of character, pacing, plot, etc., that goes into this shit. Waterworld and Pride & Prejudice (and Phish songs) have those things, too, but they still suck.

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Amy Dunne: the only woman who could make P&P tolerable.

11220852_10203180816236099_7003819408255868816_nI can’t deduce why MMFR is so fucking good. Except to say it perfectly combined all those narrative elements with stunning visuals and a kick-ass soundtrack, and I walked out going, “Holy shitballs! That was AMAZING!” If I was a filmmaker, I might be more interested in deducing the why. But for our purposes today, I’ll just say, you should see the movie (and then read The Girl on the Train.)

31525266111346264_n9gevlro_cRe: the “feminist propaganda” of the former, I have no fucking idea what anyone could take objection to. There is nothing in the film that I’d consider overtly “feminist.” Not that I’d mind if there were. The movie is simple great storytelling with fascinating characters and arc. But it makes sense a female-centric film that transcends SNL skit is going to piss off some asshat.

joss-whedon-strong-female-charactersWhen I think of true feminism in the arts, I think of Kathy Acker, one of the seminal writers of my 20s. But the truth is, as a white dude, in his mid-40s, even one who wants to believe “he’s cool, he’s hip,” I don’t encounter much oppression or marginalization these days. I try to be aware of the injustice. I want to believe I can be part of the solution and not the problem. But sensitivity doesn’t address global scale, and intentions and/or sympathy do little to fix gross inequalities. I know I should do more. Life is hard for everyone. Like Willa Cather said, “Even the wicked get worse than they deserve.” (I stole that from a Law & Order episode.)

11059562_10205839536400271_256735521798792115_nThen again, I’m not the jacktard who calls to boycott a movie that dares have a strong female character who thinks/acts independently and doesn’t need a man to save her. Without spoiling, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa wants to escape a tyrant. Same as Max. And countless other movie characters. There’s a scene where Furiosa makes a shot Max couldn’t. I guess that’s what they are upset about. Or maybe because Furiosa is trying to free sex slaves and wants to find her mom? Hope for a better life is too badass? Beats me, man.

When I think about feminist film, at least the mainstream, populist ones, Thelma & Louise comes to mind. I’m not sure the movie started out that way. At least not to the bean counters trying to make a buck. But it ended up championing women’s causes, or at least feeling like it stood opposed to the status quo. And that resonated with me. Maybe because I was born in the 1970s and the movie came out at the right time. I seem to recall people (who will never be in my kitchen) chiding that movie for being “feminist propaganda,” too. And (spoiler alert) we are talking about a film where a rape victim shoots a would-be rapist and the two women commit suicide in the end. Even that was deemed a threat to these guys. I don’t know how you can appease MRAs. Except make bigger trucks to compensate.

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