Monday, October 25, 2010

More Blurb Love for DON'T EVER GET OLD

Lisa Brackmann, author of ROCK PAPER TIGER offers this praise for DON'T EVER GET OLD, a novel that she gets to read, but you still can't because it isn't coming out for, like, a year:

"Skin that bruises from the slightest bump, muscles no longer able to throw a punch and a brain suffering from "mild cognitive impairment" aren't enough to stop retired homicide detective and WW2 vet Baruch "Buck" Schatz from embarking on one last mission—capturing the Nazi war criminal who nearly killed him and got away with a fortune in stolen gold. If this sounds like serious business, on the one hand it is— old age ain't for sissies—but on the other, Schatz' comic but clear-eyed misanthropy and stubborn refusal to quit make the journey laugh-out-loud funny as well as surprisingly poignant. 

Kudos to Daniel Friedman for giving us a nearly ninety-year-old hero who's not going gently into that good night—he's going out with guns blazing, F-bombs flying and a pack of Lucky Strikes." 

Friday, October 22, 2010


Bestselling author Nelson DeMille has provided the following blurb for DON'T EVER GET OLD, a novel that I wrote. You will have an exciting opportunity to buy this book in stores in about a year, so start saving your money:

"Baruch "Buck" Schatz is an 87 year-old cigarette-smoking, foul-mouthed, very funny Jewish former homicide detective who is on the trail of an equally ancient Nazi war criminal. And I guarantee you, once you start reading this wonderfully original and totally engrossing story, you'll do what I did: keep reading, mostly to see what comes out of Buck's mouth next. When I'm 87, I want to be Buck Schatz.

Thank you, Daniel Friedman, for creating an octogenarian wise-ass who's earned the right to say and do whatever he wants."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Message from Lord Byron

This is from the second canto of Lord Byron's masterpiece "Don Juan."    
"Hair of the dog."
     Few things surpass old wine; and they may preach
     Who please,—the more because they preach in vain,—
     Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
     Sermons and soda-water the day after.

     Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
       The best of life is but intoxication:
     Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
       The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
     Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
       Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion:
     But to return,—Get very drunk; and when
     You wake with headache, you shall see what then.

     Ring for your valet—bid him quickly bring
       Some hock and soda-water, then you 'll know
     A pleasure worthy Xerxes the great king;
       For not the bless'd sherbet, sublimed with snow,
     Nor the first sparkle of the desert-spring,
       Nor Burgundy in all its sunset glow,
     After long travel, ennui, love, or slaughter,
     Vie with that draught of hock and soda-water.

Hock, incidentally, is a British term for German red wine, which doesn't seem like a good thing to mix with with soda water.  But cocktail culture had not evolved to a high level of sophistication in the early 1800's; people mostly lived in their own filth.  And if you spent too much time trying to engineer a balanced cocktail, Lord Byron would seize the opportunity to sleep with your wife.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


"What up. Small step 4 a man, y'all."

On September 9, 1956, Elvis Presley played the Ed Sullivan Show.  Sixty million people watched the King and his hips that night.  Some were awestruck and some were scandalized, but none of them were ever the same again.  Popular culture was transformed.  Music was transformed. Elvis changed the world.

On February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Sullivan Show, before an even larger audience, and reshaped the world again in a monumental debut that heralded the start of the British Invasion.  Rock was, once again, fundamentally altered.  Tectonic plates ground uncomfortably against each other.  Parents didn't understand, but their daughters certainly did; it was a revolution, and the only appropriate thing to do was scream, and scream and scream.

On July 20, 1969, the world watched in hushed silence as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the lunar lander, and left their footprints upon the face of the moon.  The event signified mankind's conquest of nature; it was a kind of miracle and a kind of immortality, broadcast live.  Everyone watched.  Everything changed.

In the 1960's there were only three television channels, so a single major cultural event could claim the whole of the viewing audience.  Today, cable gives us hundreds of choices, and television competes with numerous other media.  A mass audience for a network television event today is barely a quarter of the size of the one that watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, even though there are now twice as many Americans as there were in 1964.  We are segmented.  Isolated.  Lonely.  The closest thing to a uniting cultural event my generation has is the tragic terror attack of September 11, 2001.

Until now.

Because now, we have "First Step 2 Forever," and, by God, it's magnificent.  Those naysayers who crowed about the death of publishing never could have imagined books still had the power to seize the cultural moment and define it, but they never could have imagined this particular book.  The significance of the thing is so massive that it's difficult to conceive, like the inevitability of death or the notion of the infinite.

He is risen.
Indeed, the mere marvelous fact of "First Step" strikes one dumb, yet reading it provides perfect knowledge and oneness with the universe.   That problems that have confounded the world's religions for millennia are resolved in the two hundred and forty heavily-illustrated pages of this slim little memoir. We have, at long last, been led from the Cave and shown the staggering and irreducible beauty of a pure Platonic form.  This book completes you spiritually, and, when everyone reads it, we shall enter a new age of global peace and prosperity.  For all the world's people are more alike than different, and all of us love Justin Bieber.

If you ever felt like everything that ever happened was leading up to a particular moment, let me tell you, you aren't alone.  Nobody ever has to be alone again, because Justin is with us.  We are entertained by Justin.  We are fulfilled by Justin.  We are nourished by Justin.  He's like Elvis, Britney and 9/11, all rolled up into one.  He is like Proust's madeleine, soaked in ecstasy.  His brilliance is so blinding, it hurts a little to look at him, but nobody dares to look away.

To many people around the world with limited resources, though, Bieber has long been something of a tabula rasa, beautiful and remote, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, covered with a trucker hat.  But as a user of Twitter, an outlet whose sole purpose is spreading the gospel according to Bieber, I am not new to the kind of glorious exultation that I am now dubbing "Justinlightenment."  Thanks to Twitter, Justin has been sprinkling my days with 140-character nuggets of joy for some time, but I was, until now, a little worried that his wisdom would not be preserved on the ephemeral medium through which he broadcasts.

Thankfully, "First Step" collects the most momentous of his pronouncements, spreads them to a larger audience beyond his six million Twitter followers, and preserves them for posterity.  That's so important, because Justin belongs not only to us, but also to the ages.  It is our responsibility to preserve and cultivate Justin Bieber so he can be enjoyed by future generations.

But, lest my insufficient words fail to capture the splendor of this man and his beautiful truths or the magnitude of this singular cultural moment, here is Justin:


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Note on First Chapters

First chapters are important because they are the first impression agents and editors get of your work.  These are busy people, they are culling a huge volume of submissions, and they're looking for an excuse to stop reading yours.  From this fact, various myths about first chapters emerge.

For example, the idea that one must start with (or in the middle of) an action sequence is pervasive and wrong.  It's a mutation of the adage that something must happen in those first pages (as opposed to back-story, world-building and other exposition).

Similarly, the idea that a first chapter can or should be markedly better-written or paced than the rest of the book is a canard.  Every chapter should be your best work.  Revising your first chapter should require much less time than making sure your middle section doesn't drag.

The hardest aspects of writing a novel are sustaining tension over an extended narrative, transitioning between plot-points, and providing necessary information and character development without bogging down in exposition.  Compared to these challenges, first chapters are relatively easy.

The purpose of a first chapter is generally to introduce a primary character and a problem that will drive the plot.  So, if you know who and what your book is about, the first chapter is halfway written.

Introducing a protagonist is easier than introducing a secondary character, since you have much less time and space to spend developing the secondaries, and they still need to seem three-dimensional.  And introducing an initial motivating problem is much simpler than handling complications and twists later on.

The reason agents feel comfortable rejecting you based on a first chapter is because a flawed first chapter indicates a flawed manuscript.  But just because those first pages can knock you out, it doesn't mean they can get you in.  If you stick a polished first chapter on a poorly-written or plotted manuscript, that's not going to get you an agent.  Your narrative should be polished and engaging throughout.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If you enjoy magic wands, then you will love this shotgun

You’ve got a problem.  See, your bad-ass Avada Kedavra murder curse requires a six-syllable invocation, and those kids you suck so much at killing figured out that they can stop you with the four-syllable expelliarmus disarming charm.  Now that everyone knows your greatest weapon can be countered by the first spell baby wizards learn in magic pre-school, you are kind of a fucking joke. Nobody gives a shit anymore about how you’ve tapped into the dark and forbidden arts, because the dark and forbidden arts are too slow on the draw.

"You meddling kids!"
And I’m not even afraid to tell you that you look stupid, because you don’t scare me anymore.  If you try to use your death curse, I’ll just pop your wand out of your hand, and laugh right in your pale, damp, perpetually-scowling face.  Your reputation has been downgraded from “He-who-shall-not-be-named” to “that-asshole-who-is-always-dropping-his-wand.”  Your black robes and your death’s head mask don’t look that intimidating when you’re on your knees trying to fish your weapon out from underneath the sofa.

I know you Death Eaters are all about hating the Muggles and the crude tools they fashion. But, whatever else you can say about Muggles, they are very good at committing horrific atrocities, while your own techniques are dated, at best.  When Muggles set their mind to slaughtering a bunch of children, they don’t spectacularly and repeatedly fail, unlike the Death Eaters.  You people kill fewer children annually than the common cold.  But I can sell you some exotic Muggle-crafted tools that are far more efficient than your antiquated forbidden curses. 

This pretty little thing right here is the TEC-9 semi-automatic machine pistol.  It carries a 32-round magazine, and can be easily modified to fire full-automatic.  If you want to be faster than a disarming charm, this is your new best friend.  In the time it takes to say “Expelliarmus,” this thing can spread a kid’s face across a wall like raspberry jam on a motherfucking scone.

But, since you tend to self-destruct in a spectacular deus ex machina fireball whenever Harry Potter wanders into your general vicinity, you may be worried about the tendency of semi-automatics like the TEC-9 to stovepipe while ejecting spent cartridges, causing the weapons to jam or backfire.  Well, in that case, you might like something like this .45 Magnum revolver.  It has a slower rate of fire, but it’s still faster than magical invocations.  And it does a lot of damage, which I think you will appreciate.  This puppy can blow a hole in a human torso the size of a half-giant’s fist.  You know that problem you keep having, where you think you killed somebody, but then they dramatically turn out to still be alive, and they show up at the last minute to save the day?  Well, that wouldn’t keep happening if you double-tapped those bitches with a goddamn .45.

Remember that time you tried to use Avada Kedavra, and you got colossally wrecked by a baby? Remember how it turned out that Avada Kedavra doesn’t work on anyone whose mother loves them? Everybody’s mother loves them, dude.  That’s why you always lose.  But, what I have right here is a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun.  If you skipped Avada Kedavra and used a shotgun, you’d be the king of the wizards.  Instead, you’re spending most of your time sitting in a basement someplace wondering where your nose went.  Let me tell you something about a shotgun: a shotgun doesn’t care how much some baby’s mother loves him.  A shotgun will fuck up that baby’s shit.   

And if you’re really ready to lay down some galleons, I’ve got a case of something called rocket-propelled grenades.  You won’t believe what one of these bad boys will do to a unicorn.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Indistinguishable from Magic

I saw a blog post recently from literary agent Kristen Nelson, in which she mentioned that "urban fantasy" is hot, and "science fiction" is not.  I have no doubt that this is true, or perceived as true by acquiring editors.  But there's no reason this should be so, since science fiction and fantasy are actually the same thing.

Some small subset of science fiction is actually about science or technology.  These stories focus on possible future problems that authors extrapolate from the possibilities of contemporary science.  What are our responsibilities to a self-aware robot?  What happens if some wealthy people are able to create super-children through genetic engineering?  How will humanity relate to alien civilizations?

But the bulk of science fiction uses the high-tech future as a setting rather than subject matter.  "Alien" is about people trapped in a haunted house with a monster.  "Back to the Future" is a wish-fulfillment fantasy.  If you replace "abracadabra" with "one-point-twenty-one gigawatts," you haven't transitioned into a different genre. "A mad scientist did it" is the same concept as "a wizard did it."

Similarly, there's no reason why southern vampire mysteries should be more popular than robot-noir, or whatever.

I am particularly fascinated by the categorization of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story as "science fiction."  The book takes place in a vaguely hyperbolic near future, and I would call it a literary social satire.   The only thing that's even close to a science fiction concept is the main character's company, called "post-human services," which promises immortality to the rich.  But what they're peddling seems to be nothing more than plastic surgery, macrobiotic food and yoga.  Oh, and the characters have slightly-better iPhones than the ones currently available.

One reason "urban fantasy" might be popular right now, though, is that "urban fantasy" is often actually structured more like a romance novel than a fantasy novel.  Mean, rapey werewolves looking to be fixed by the love of a good woman are essentially the same as mean, rapey Fabio pirates and mean, rapey nineteenth-century British aristocrats.