Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview with Chuck Wendig, Texas Ranger

Today, I'm very excited to welcome novelist Chuck Wendig to The Corner. I first stumbled across Chuck's blog, Terrible Minds, about a year ago, and I quickly discovered why it's frequently cited as one of the best sites for writers. Every week, he slings solid, get-your-hands-dirty writing advice, and if you're a writer, you need to make yourself familiar with his work, post haste. After you read this, of course.

His first novel, Double Dead, was published last month. It's a fantastic story about a vampire named Coburn who wakes up after a long coma only to discover that a zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of humanity -- and, as such, most of Coburn's food supply. It's funny, scary, and action-packed -- one of the best books I've read this year. There's a scene set inside a Wal-Mart that alone is worth the price of admission. 

I am a loyal reader of his blog, and you should be too. But I wanted to know MORE, MORE about this very fine writer, and so I put my interview hat on. If you're at all familiar with Terrible Minds, you know Chuck is one prolific little writer, and I thank him for carving out some time for this interview. Below is the result of our exchange -- my questions are in bold. Enjoy. 

1. I always enjoy reading about the different paths that writers have taken in their careers. Can you share your background? Is it true that you slew the mythical creature known as the Wendigo?

Chuck Wendig (CW) - I slew him, but then I became him, and then slew myself and became myself. I also ate a lot of funny mushrooms in the woods that looked like Timothy Leary’s face. Is that what you’re asking?

My real background is: I always wanted to become a writer, so I worked a lot of shit jobs until I figured out how writing could pay me. That’s the long story made short, but there it is.

2. What are some non-writing jobs you've held? What do you think you would do if you weren't a writer?

(CW) I’ve: shoveled horseshit, slung books, made lattes, shredded ground test documents so the EPA wouldn’t see, crashed a van, mingled with librarians, soullessly administrated “systems” for a fashion merchandising company, etc.

If I were not a writer, I’d probably be, I dunno. A grave-robber? A horse thief? A Clinique lady?

3. What do you think makes a person a writer? Have you ever given up writing for any stretch of time? 

Being a writer is the sum of two things: a) writing and b) realizing that writing is not merely what you do but who you are.

I have not given up writing, not once since I was 18. I’ve thought about it. I think most writers think about it. And then I think most writers knock back another whisky to drown that rat.
4. How did you end up with your agent?

We were trapped in an elevator. I saved her from lions. The typical “writer-meets-agent” story.

Uhh, no, it’s quite a bit more mundane than that. I had a novel. I queried that novel. She liked the query. Ta-da!

5. What's a typical day like for you?

It’s all, you know, high-octane living-on-life’s-edge kicking ninjas and riding pterodactyls. Oh, and writing. Sometimes I write. On those rare writing days, I wake up very early (6AM) and start writing. And then something-something baby, something-something change-diapers. Something-something coffee-and-liquor.

6. Do you do much outlining in advance of starting a new novel, or do you just push the pedal down and go?

You don’t read terribleminds, do you?

Outlining: I am a reformed pantser. Or a pantser at heart and a plotter by necessity.

Every novel demands a different type of outline, but for me, every novel demands some kind of outline.

7. I'm fascinated by writers who can produce a lot of work in a short amount of time. I remember a few months ago, you Tweeted about a 9,000-word day. Talk a little about what that was like.

I tend to write 2,000-3,000 words per day. On those rare days I crest, say, 5k, I do so because the story has such momentum it cannot be contained. That often comes during the third act, if you will, when there’s just no turning back and the dominoes race to fall into one another.

8. Is there a particular area of writing you're focusing on these days, or do you split your time pretty equally between your various projects?

Fiction, mostly – novel-length. But I also do a lot of screenwriting work on the side, and have a couple scripts that should come to fruition in 2012.

9. I have a terrible habit of not shutting off my mind when I'm not at the keyboard. How do you turn things off when it's time to stop writing?


No, my brain shuts off all on its own. After a long day of writing and editing, my brain needs to cool-down, and so I let it. Plus: the baby is a mind vampire, in which he eats substantial portions of my brainpower. So that helps. Er, sorry—“helps.”

10. Who are some of the writers that have influenced you? 

Robert McCammon, chief among them. Joe Lansdale. Christopher Moore. Bradley Denton. James Joyce.

11. I don't want to give too much away, but let's talk a little bit about Double Dead. What was the inspiration for the story?

Inspiration? You know, I can’t point to any single source of inspiration. Abaddon said, “Pitch to us,” and I kind of hovered over it for a while and somehow, I didn’t just get a zombie story, but rather, a vampire-in-zombieland story.

12. I think Coburn is one of the more unique characters I've seen in a while. In some parts, I felt bad for him. In others, I just wanted someone to run a wooden stake through his heart. How do you maintain that difficult balance of keeping him sympathetic but making sure the reader never forget what he is?

Real people are hard to make sympathetic because we gain few glimpses into their internal lives, and any glimpses we get are potentially manufactured.

But fiction allows us authentic – if, again, fictional – glimpses into a character’s internal life, and that’s where we find sympathy. Coburn was basically a case of taking a real person and forcing him to be monstrous by dint of his vampiric condition. The human is still in there, somewhere, and it was key to sort of highlight that humanity from time to time. Can’t know light without darkness, can’t know good without evil, can’t know cats without dogs or clowns without mimes. Or something like that.

13. Why do you think zombie stories have become so popular? 

I have no good answer. All I know is, zombie stories are about us, not about the zombies. Zombies are an environmental hazard, dangerous the way a flood is dangerous, or a plague of rats or a disease outbreak. (The vampire is the opposite of this: meaningful individually, given strong characterization over the hollow shells that zombies become. That’s part of what to me makes DOUBLE DEAD interesting, but that’s neither here nor there.)

In a zombie story, the real problem is the people you’re with – you can tell a good zombie story because beyond all the gore and fear and the debate over slow-versus-fast, you find out that the real danger is in the other humans. Humans who will destroy you with their incompetence or their selfishness or their selflessness.

In this way, zombie stories are some of the most nihilistic and awful stories of them all. At least in terms of horror fiction.

14. Your publisher's website describes Double Dead as an Abaddon tie-in. What does that mean?  

Abaddon has a series: TOMES OF THE DEAD.

This is their IP, their book line, in which they say, “Author, write a zombie novel, any zombie novel.” While Coburn and the world in which he inhabits are all my invention, it’s based in Abaddon’s sandbox.

Financially, this means it’s work-for-hire, not a novel given over to standard “royalty/advance.”

15. You recently became a father. Has baby-daddy-hood influenced your writing style or work habits at all?

Yesterday I went to the dinner table and found a dirty sock there. A baby’s sock, not like, some hobo’s sock or anything.

Just the same, that’s our life, now. Socks on the dinner table. Poop and crying and sleeplessness and confusion and smiles and spit up and gurgles and coos.

That’s our life and that’s my brain, too – all that stuff mixing around in my head. So, it’s definitely affected my habits. Style, maybe not, but habits, most definitely. I still crank out the words, but they’re snatched out of the air as if I’m chasing swiftly-escaping butterflies. Harder. Still necessary. But harder.

16. Other than your family, what would you say is your greatest personal accomplishment? What are you most proud of?

Getting BLACKBIRDS out there will be a truly great accomplishment and one I’ve been really yearning for. Otherwise, it’s all the milestones: meeting my wonderful wife, marrying her, buying a house, forming Voltron, conquering Spain, uploading my consciousness to the satellite I had built. You know, the standard stuff.

17. What's the story behind the name Terrible Minds?

I started terribleminds like, eeesh, ten years ago? Maybe 2000 or something. And initially I thought it might be a kind of community site for writers—on a BBS years before that I’d done a thing called WAR, Writers Against Reality—and so the terrible minds were the minds of the writers.

But then I thought, “Man, fuck those people. Writers are cuh-razy. It’ll be all for me! For me!” And then I dipped my hands in piles of gold and let the coins tumble between my fingers like shiny urine. And I laughed. Oh did I laugh.

Kind of a “HAW HAW HAW HAW.”

Or maybe a “MOO HOO HA HA HA HA.”

I don’t really remember.

18. Is there a particular genre you like to read? Do you read much nonfiction?

I used to read a lot of horror. Not so much anymore. I read more nonfiction than fiction, actually. I think this is true of a lot of fiction writers.

19. What's your take on online "networking," for lack of a better word? With life being what it is, I personally find it difficult to establish deep connections with more than a few people. You have a pretty large audience -- is it just the nature of the beast that in most cases, writers can have a hit-and-run sort of relationship with fans, other writers, other people in general online?

I love social media and networking. It can take up a lot of time so I mostly let it fall between moments – but just the same, it’s allowed me to meet some incredible people and foster genuine and unexpected friendships.

The key is to engage. Make sure it’s a wide open two-way street.

20. You seem quite happy with your publisher, Angry Robot. What is it about them that has clicked with you?

Angry Robot? Well, they wanted to publish my book, for starters. That’s always a strong way to get on my good side. 

But they’re also very author-friendly.

21. What can we expect from you in 2012? 

I’ll be doing a nudie calendar.

But you don’t want to hear about that.

I’ve got BLACKBIRDS in May and its sequel, MOCKINGBIRD in… September, I think. Then at some point a pulp novel for Evil Hat’s SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY RPG called DINOCALYPSE NOW.

Plus, scripts and blogs and some more Atlanta Burns and possibly another short story collection and, like I said: nudie calendar.

Chuck, thanks again for joining me. 

And I think that's a very fine way to close down 2011. I'm slashing my way through the jungles of a new manuscript, and I plan to use the holidays to make some hay with it. 

So as Hans Gruber says in Die Hard, "be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock." 

See you in 2012, when we'll start our Mayan Apocalypse Countdown! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Top 10 Things That Happen to First-Generation Americans

I was the first person in my family born in this country. My parents, and every other member of my family who preceded me, were born in Lebanon, which is a perfectly lovely place when it's not embroiled in civil war and shredding itself into hummus-flavored ribbons.

This makes me, like millions of others, perhaps some of you reading this blog, a first-generation American. And there are some things that go along with being the first. Some might call them sacred rituals. Others, rites of passage. So let's get right to them, shall we?

1. There's Been a Discussion About Medical School

For immigrant parents, there's something talismanic about a medical degree. In other countries, physicians are accorded the same level of respect that E! heaps upon the Kardashians. You know that means crazy respect. At least we can rest easy that the U.S. educational system will brutally weed out those (like me) who are too scientifically inept to diagnose a hangnail, much less practice medicine. The good news is that if you are not "scientifically inclined," you can do what I did -- go to law school and get a Juris Doctor degree! No one will know the difference. And if you practice insurance defense law, one day you'll second-guess the decisions of a doctor in open court!

2. There's Been An Ethnic Thing Happening in Your Lunchbox

At a time in your life when you want nothing more than to disappear into the herd, you will invariably open your lunchbox and discover a spinach-and-goat-cheese-and-seasoned-ground-beef pie. This may sound delicious to you trendy suburbanites and urban hipsters who like re-gentrifying old neighborhoods, but to a six-year-old, it's like being lathered in A-1 sauce and dropped into the tiger pit at the San Diego Zoo. You don't want to be the winning answer to the borderline-racist trivia game of "One of These Things is Not Like the Other."

3. There's a Problem with That Girl/Boyfriend Whose Ancestors Arrived on the Mayflower

YOUR BRAIN: I like making out with my new girlfriend. I can't believe she's attracted to me. This is awesome. Maybe I will see her naked.

YOUR PARENTS' BRAINS: Sdifhudfuasdfussdf!!!! He's going to marry her and run off and I'll never see my half-blood grandbabies and why did you bring me here to America!?!?!?!?!? Have they ever even TRIED tabouli?

Yes, your parents will initially hope that you marry one of your own kind. Eventually, they will realize that you're a gigantic bag of crazy and if you can find someone to love you just the way you are, then hell with it, they love all the colors in God's Crayola box of 64.

4. You May Have, But Just Once or Twice, Pretended to Remember the Names of Cousins You've Forgotten Even Existed

I've got 27 first cousins. We've got at least 50 children among us. But yes, I totally remember the one time that the five-year-old accidentally drank a shot of Ouzo! Actually, I do remember that. He's 28 now, so is it OK for me to say that was funny as shit?

But I confess, sometimes, I can't remember all their names, and there are many, I'm sad to say, that I've never met. And I'm sure many of them cannot remember me beyond "that one that lives in America. Their national soccer team stinks."

Oh, yeah, little cousin? Our soccer team may be average, but we've got Donald Trump. FACE!

5. In Space, No One Can Hear Your Parents' Heavily Accented Scream

You don't hear your parents' accents until you do. And then you REALLY hear it. That your parents' English is so precise and correct that it's the grammatical equivalent of a cruise missile is irrelevant; all you hear is "WE ARE DIFFERENT. COME TOILET PAPER OUR HOUSE. DON'T INVITE ME TO THE COOL PARTIES."

6. Really, Would It Kill You to Learn a Little ArabPortItalianese on a Sunday Morning?

Yes. It would. I don't care that knowing a second language will give me a leg up academically. What I do know is that this little lesson is cutting into my BUCK ROGERS and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA watchin' time, and it's 1983 and we still don't have a VCR. (I'm going to assume my readership is old enough to know what a VCR is). You weren't even letting me be the best dork I could be!

7. Shared Nationality Goes a Long Way To Covering Up the Fact That Guy is a Douchebag

At some point, you will realize that someone you've known since birth is a total jackass, quite possibly a thief. You will keep this largely to yourself while you hear your beloved relative talk about said jackass in this fashion: "It's not a LOAN. It's venture capital! We went to school together in the same village, so that means he's totally good!"

Ummm, no. If there's one thing that knows no race, ethnicity or creed, it's Douchebaggery.

8. There's a Huge Disconnect Between Your Parents' High School Memories and Yours

It's probably safe to say your parents didn't attend an all-night kegger at the home of a classmate, said party being sponsored by his attractive, newly divorced mother. This lack of perspective makes for a rough landing when you're 14 years old and discover that your classmates are plowing through illicitly obtained Coors Extra Gold on the weekends and smoking cigarettes.

I even remember where I was when I learned this. It was like discovering Santa didn't exist. You mean other teenagers don't sit at home on Saturday nights watching Mr. Belvedere with their parents?

9. That Awkward Moment When You Realize These Grape Leaves are Fucking Delicious

At some point in your young adult life, you will attend a [Insert Your Country of Origin Here]-ese food festival, and you will spend sixty dollars on a meal that, when presented with it four thousand times as a child for free, you turned on it like a body rejecting a transplanted kidney.

And then you tell your parents that you make your own hummus now, but you go easy on the tahini because it makes it a little overly pasty, and their eyes light up like the Emperor's in Return of the Jedi when he says, "You, like your father, are now .... MINE."

10. At a Family Gathering, You Realize This is Pretty Close to the Opening Scene of The Godfather

A lot of kissing on the cheeks, judgmental whispers about THIS COUSIN or THAT AUNT, and a lot of delicious, delicious food that your Caucasian counterparts get from the gourmet market at 14 bucks a pound.

Just like a family gathering should be.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Had No Idea It Would Be So Much. I Won't Pay It.

*From Ghostbusters, the scene where the snooty hotel manager won't pay our boys the amount due for services rendered in capturing the slimy green ghost.

Anyway, just a quick alert to let you know that the I'm raising the price for The Jackpot to $3.49 $2.99 (I panicked and brought it back down to $2.99. Sue me). It will go into effect whenever Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords process my request.

I've been thinking about doing this for a while. Not necessarily to make more money (although, duh, that would be nice), but to see if it has any impact on sales. Lately, I've been seeing more and more evidence that the 99-cent book's time in the sun has come and gone. No longer is it enough (or truly, even necessary) to sell a book dirt cheap. Not to say certain authors won't rocket up the bestseller list at that price. But maybe it's not the best way for a self-published author to get read.

Why? Who knows? Maybe there's a perceived lack of value at 99 cents. Maybe it's because the market is flooded, and the 99-cent price point looks like a desperate grab to push as many units out the door, and people who are looking for a good read and not a toothbrush are tired of being bombarded with LOW LOW PRICES. I don't know. The eBook landscape has changed a lot in the last year, even in the six months since I published The Jackpot.

But here's perhaps the most important reason.

I want people to READ the book. I've seen a lot of anecdotal evidence that while people might buy a 99-cent book, they won't necessarily read it. It will languish on their e-reader, literally the 99-cent weakling that gets sand kicked in its face by the big boys that the reader paid as much as $14.99 for.

And if someone buys The Jackpot, but doesn't read it, what good does that do me? That person won't get a chance to enjoy it (hopefully) or perhaps even review it. A book can't be shared by word-of-mouth if it's never read, right? I'd MUCH rather have one person buy it and read it than six who buy it and don't.

So, this is me, drawing my line in the pricing sand. It's time for my book to act a little bit like all the other books I've happily paid full price for. Time for it, in the words of Don Corleone, to "BE A MAN!"

Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Believe It's Jogging. Or Yogging. It Might Be a Soft J. (Part Two)

For anyone keeping score out there, the half-marathon that I eagerly began training for three months ago came and went this past Saturday. 

And I did it. I ran every step of those 13.1 miles. 

I did a piss poor job of following the training program, but I did manage to squeeze in a couple longer training runs in the weeks leading up to the race. And I was incredibly lucky that the weather could not have been more perfect for a long run. Clear, no wind, temperature around 40 degrees. Truth be told, I came really, really close to just bagging the race altogether, given how far off track my training got. But I knew that if I didn't do it, it would just eat at me, the way this race has the past few years that I have not run it. I didn't even register until about 10 days before. I went out and did ten miles a week before the race, and that gave me the confidence to go 13.1. 

I completed the race in 2 hours and 8 minutes, which was seven minutes faster than my target time. I'm very proud of this. That is, until I think about the fact that the winner of the full marathon ran twice that distance in roughly the same amount of time.  

I finished in 3,243rd place (no, not out of 3,243 runners, you funny guy you). 

What was really amazing is that the 3,242 runners that finished in front of me failed their post-race drug tests, and so I've been declared the champion.* 

Pretty amazing, huh?

*This is total bullcrap. I failed my post-race drug test, too. The dude that finished right behind me won.**

**Also total bullcrap. I finished 3,243rd. I'm very proud of this. My son thinks I made it to the medal stand since I came home with a finisher's medal. That's good enough for me. 

I might even do another one. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yes, There Is Such Thing As Monsters.

Note: I'm pretty angry about this post, so there is some profanity ahead.

There's a scene in the movie Aliens in which the little girl, Newt, asks Ripley why grown-ups tell kids that there's no such thing as monsters, the evidence on Planet LV-426 being to the contrary.

I found myself thinking about that scene this week because I've told my kids that there is no such thing as monsters.

Like you, I'm beyond horrified by the allegations of child sex abuse coming out of Penn State University this week. My feelings on this issue have crossed the borderlands into Repulsed to My Very Core with brief sorties into Our Species is Pure and Utter Horseshit.

My heart breaks for the victims, knowing that their lives are forever scarred, their souls poisoned by the horrific acts perpetrated upon them by this total excuse of a human being deviant fuckwad.

And it's yet another reminder that when we tell our children that there's no such thing as monsters, we are lying to them.

There are monsters out there.

These monsters don't have big fangs or giant, razor-like claws, or cloven hooves. They don't flap big black wings or live underground or have acid for blood.

They look like you and me.

They are smart and friendly and successful and they come cloaked in the false threads of good cheer and altruism.

They embed themselves into the lives of disadvantaged youth and get appointed to boards and commissions and they buy them football tickets and cotton candy and take them on camping trips.

They twist and manipulate the trust placed in them to their own horrific ends.

They keep doing it until they are caught. Because child predators never stop on their own.

I don't care what went wrong inside their brains, what made them snap.

Make no mistake. They are monsters.

Now, if you're a regular reader of the blog, you've probably gathered that I'm a worrier by nature.

A writer more eloquent than me once wrote that if you're a worrier, it's because you're genetically programmed to be a worrier. So you might as well not worry about it because there's nothing you can do about it. But because you're predisposed to worry, you will worry about it anyway. (I think it was Bill Bryson, but I'm not 100 percent sure about that).

And it's stuff like this that makes me worry. It's the price of admission to parenthood.

Actually, it's the price of admission to adulthood, because even if you don't have kids, we all bear the responsibility.

We must remain vigilant, almost suspicious, of any adult that enters a child's life. Because how many times have we heard this refrain? I never thought he was capable of something like this. We must have the "Bad Touch/Good Touch" discussion. We must remind children that this is never, ever their fault.

We must give a shit about what we see going on around us because to not means more victims, more suffering, more ruined lives. Because, as if the abuse wasn't bad enough, it appears a culture of human fuckery pervaded Penn State, a culture that allowed the abuse to continue for years.

So I apologize to my kids, your kids, all kids.

There are monsters out there.

I hate it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Regrets. We've All Got'em.

My agent and I were discussing books and reading and iambic poetry, and we got on the subject of reading-related regrets.

If you're so inclined to join in, hop over to my Facebook page and join the discussion in the comments. I've left mine, a regret that's weighed on me for years.

Reading is a big part of my life. That means that occasionally, something reading-related doesn't go my way. Whether it's a book I really wanted to like but didn't, or having a book's ending spoiled for me, there are ways it can backfire on you.

Or you can leave a comment here, too. But do check out the Facebook discussion if you have a moment.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Parenthood!


As dictated to me by my son

To my revolutionary brothers and sisters under the age of ten!

1. My parents control 100 percent of the wealth in my house. I control none. I'm not real clear on how the whole money thing works, but I'm pretty sure I'm getting the short end of the stick on this one.  

2. I am receiving a high-quality public education, and yet every day, I am reduced to menial tasks like taking my plate to the sink after dinner and putting my allegedly “dirty” clothes in the hamper.

3. I am required, over my staunch objection and in violation of my constitutional rights, to make regular visits to a physician, where I am subjected to invasive physical examinations and a series of painful vaccinations. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that vaccinations cause a gigantic needle the size of a sword to be jabbed into your upper arm. And then they have the audacity to buy my silence regarding this radical experimentation with a lollipop! I like the cherry one. 

4. I am subject to excessive regulation. My 7:30 p.m. bedtime stifles my creativity and ability to expand my knowledge base regarding the aerodynamic properties of my Hot Wheels cars. And who knows what totalitarian shenanigans my parents are up to after I fall asleep?

5. Each year, in the dark of winter, I must navigate a confusing bureaucratic process in which I appeal to a morbidly obese elf to deliver much-needed supplies to replace items that are missing, destroyed or left at my friend Conner’s house.  Jiminy Christmas, a guy shatters his Nintendo DS on August 11, and he’s supposed to wait four-and-a-half months for a replacement? How’s that new iPhone, “Dad”? The old one broken? Oh, right, it still works perfectly.

The humiliation includes standing in a long line in an overheated shopping mall to visit with the elf, at which time a surveillance photograph of our meeting is taken. I must then follow visit this up with written correspondence, and then I must also part with precious cookies and milk on the evening prior to the allegedly “guaranteed delivery” of all items.

Sounds like lot of cronyism to me.

6. So dire are my circumstances that I am willing to rip my own tooth out of my mouth in the hope that one of our few allies, code-named Tooth Fairy, will enter my room while I am asleep, place her cold, spectral hand under my pillow, and leave me a quarter.

7. Ask my mom the last time she respected my Fourth Amendment rights. Every time I look up, that woman is in my underwear drawer under the pretext of “putting away my laundry.” I decline her “invitation” to put my own clothes away because that’s just what she would want!

8. This “government” has the gall to provide me with an allowance and then dictate the manner in which I can spend it! I have to put away 50 percent into savings, which I am not allowed to touch. This is definitely some kind of –ism the American people cannot afford to let into their homes.

9. Yet again, I had zero input into tonight's dinner selection. What the hell is Swiss chard, anyway? If this country were as free as you claim it is, there'd be an empty bowl of mac-and-cheese in front of me.  

We are the 99 percent!

Gather up your Nerf guns!

Hey. It’s getting dark out here.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pay it Forward Blogfest

This weekend, I'm participating in the Pay it Forward blogfest, the brainchild of Matthew MacNish, which has been a great way for different bloggers to discover each other.

Here are three writers' blogs that I enjoy reading:

1. Melissa Romo's The Book or Bust. I've referenced this one before, but I really like this blog. And I've known Melissa since the early 1990s, long before there was blogging or even before either of us had taken a stab at writing novels.  

2. Paul Greci's Northwriter blog. Paul is a YA/MG writer and lives in Alaska. I find his blog fascinating because it sounds like he spends his free non-writing time kicking Alaska's butt all over the place. He's a big runner, biker and kayaker.

3. Bill Blume's The Wildcat's Lair. Bill, a writer I got to know through the James River Writers group, writes fantasy and a most amusing online comic strip.

Please do check out the work of these three very different and very fine writers.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Welcome Your New iPhone Overlords.

I got my new iPhone 4s today, which I am inappropriately excited about. In honor of Siri, Apple's allegedly revolutionary digital personal assistant, I amused myself by making a new Xtranormal video, which I titled Siri for President 2012.

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A New Cover!

Feast your eyeballs on this tasty new cover for The Jackpot.

You may be asking why I'm changing the cover. Or you may not care at all.

Since this is an e-book, the cover has to do a lot of heavy lifting It has to lure buyers in for a closer look, amid the noise of all the other e-books out there.

Long story short, after some "market research" and "focus grouping" and "synergistic synergy," I decided I needed to make a change. I feel this new one better captures the essence of the book. And I just like it a lot.

So. That's pretty much that.

Same book. Same 99 cent price. Just a new cover.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Ooh! a new iPhone!

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm Not Afraid. You Will Be. You Wuss.

OK, so we're off and literally running with my half-marathon training (19 miles logged this week), and I'm elbow deep into the guts of a new manuscript. High times at The Corner.

Anyway, lately I've been thinking about what drives my best writing (understanding that 'best' is a relative term). What is the primordial ooze from which pours out my best work? And after many years of puzzling over this, I think I know the answer, not only to that question, but to the question as to why I write at all.

Answer: fear and anger.

Writing has always helped me deal with the things that piss me off or worry me (and if you've spent more than say 60 seconds with me, you're aware that there are a lot of things that piss me off and worry me), and the more I draw from my fear and anger, the better the output. Yes. Anger and fear are my best word fertilizers.

I have more to say on that topic, but until I can work a good blog post on it, I'll share with you a good story about fear, taken from one of the creepiest moments of my own life.

Years ago, my parents were out of town for a summer, and while they were gone, I was tasked with looking after their old house. Every few weeks, I'd drive up there, pay the bills, cut the grass, drink their booze, that sort of thing (totally kidding about the booze part -- the only alcohol in that place is a dusty can of Budweiser, canned in the year 1568).

Anyway, at the time, they were living in a standard middle-class neighborhood, a mishmash of police officers, mechanics, factory workers, and retirees. It wasn't a dangerous neighborhood by any means, but we did live right on the corner of a very busy artery, and so there were always weird people walking by or waiting for the bus just on the other side of our yard. Probably why my mom was always so worried about someone trying to kidnap us. We had a pretty large side yard; it gave us about a 100-foot cushion from the house to the property line, which itself was lined by thick boxwoods.

So one night, during one of these sojourns to the homestead, I was getting ready for bed and decided to peek out the kitchen window at the back of our house, which looked southeast toward this busy artery. Why I chose to do this on this particular night, I have no idea. There, under the yellow wash of streetlight, I spotted a rather manic and disheveled-looking man walking west. He was the kind of guy you conjure up and store in the old "What the Guy Who Will Murder Me and Use My Skin to Make a Dress Will Look Like" file.

His route would take him directly past our side yard and toward this artery's intersection with another of the city's major thoroughfares about a couple miles down the road. He was a middle-aged guy, thickly built, wearing a flannel shirt (in high summer, mind you). My mental alarm bells, which are already ringing by default, were howling, and so I zipped back through the kitchen and south to our darkened family room, which overlooked the aforementioned side yard, and where my Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer would be passing by within a few seconds (assuming he wasn't climbing in the kitchen window by then).

There I was, crouched at the window in the darkened family room, peeking behind the blinds, willing him to continue west, away from my house and back through the portal to whichever hellish dimension from whence he came. I picked him up a few seconds later, moseying along. He came under another streetlight, the last one he'd pass before he crossed our street, and I started to relax. Suddenly, he stopped dead, awash in the harsh glow of the light. He turned his head. And looked right at me. I still remember making eye contact with him, his wild-eyed look burned on my brain like a brand. While we were locked in our little staredown, I kept telling myself that he couldn't have seen me, that the house was dark, and I would have been invisible from the street. On the other hand, if that were true, Professor Kazzie, why the eff had he stopped? And why were we making Michael-Myers-like eye contact? I crouched there frozen, waiting for him to do whatever it was he was going to do.

After what seemed like an hour, he started moving again, passing by the bus stop, past the large magnolia tree at the southwest corner of the yard. As he crossed behind our magnolia tree, he disappeared into the darkness, which was to be expected, given the gaps in the reach of the lights. But he should have re-appeared under the next streetlight, just west of my street, within 30 seconds or so. He didn't. I waited and waited, not breathing, not blinking, rooted to the spot. And still nothing. He had vanished. Gone. I felt like John Lithgow's character in the gremlin-on-the-wing vignette in the Twilight Zone movie (I really don't like to fly, so I'm not kidding when I say that's the scariest thing I've ever seen on film).

That was when I realized I'd be up for the rest of the night. I turned on every light in the house. I made a pot of strong coffee. I played Nintendo Ice Hockey for a couple of hours. I watched a movie. I played more Ice Hockey. Around 6, dawn started to break over our neighborhood, and when it was light enough, I went outside and conducted a massive search of the property (locking the house tight before I set foot outside, of course). Nothing. I finally crawled into bed and got a few hours of restless sleep.

The incident still gives me the heebie-jeebies, nearly two decades later.

What about you? Any good real-life tales of horror?

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Believe It's Jogging. Or Yogging. It Might Be a Soft J.*

I thought about writing a post about September 11. However, I'm not sure there's anything else I can add to the body of work that already exists about that terrible day, and so I won't try.

But today is September 12. All we can do is keep on moving forward, which is what we had to do on September 12, 2001.

To that end, I'm taking on a new challenge.

Today I start training for the Richmond half-marathon on November 12.

I have a bizarre relationship with exercise. I've had constant battles with it all my adult life, although I've been much more diligent in the last 18 months or so, ever since I did the P90X program in 2010. I'm a small guy, barely 5-foot-3, but on the day I started P90X, my weight had ticked up to about 152 pounds (about 30 pounds heavier than the day I graduated from high school). When you weigh 152 pounds, it's easy to convince yourself that you're not overweight, as long as you put aside the teensy fact that you're not much taller than a Smurf.

I was, indeed, Chubby Smurf.

Four months later, I was down to 132 pounds. I've more or less kept the weight off, although I've lost some of the muscle mass I built up through P90X. Can't win'em all. By the way, if you've ever been tempted to try P90X, let me assure you that it works. It's hard, it's miserable, and it's very time-consuming, but in 3-4 months, you will actually look as good as you probably think you do. And it will make everything else in your life easier. I cut a good two minutes from my average pace for the mile.

Anyway, exercise is a lot easier when you have a fixed goal in mind, and so I've decided to take on this half-marathon. I've found a nine-week training program for beginners, one that will slowly but steadily increase my weekly mileage until the race. My goal is to finish the race in 2:15, although that might be pushing it. It's a four-day a week program, with the longer runs on the weekends, so it seems manageable, given my job, my family, writing fiction, and hitting the sauce pretty heavily.

If you've been thinking about taking on some similar "I hate this, but I know I need to do it" challenge, chime in in the comments, get on that, and we can suffer together. I'll post updates on how the training is going.

And let's see if we can serve the Grim Reaper a big old shitburger (to borrow a line from Major League), shall we?

*If you don't know the movie that today's blog title comes from, I don't EVEN KNOW YOU ANYMORE. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If You Ain't First, You're Last.*

This is the University of Virginia.
We have a polo team.
What of it, bitches?  
*Today's title comes from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which, I promise, does tie into today's post.

Twenty years ago today, I packed all my worldly possessions into a minivan and, along with my parents, traveled 162 miles to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to begin my first year of college. I was tremendously excited about the prospect of being around hundreds of good-looking girls on my own and starting my life for real.

I hadn't been feeling well that week, but I didn't want to tell my parents because my mom had an endearing habit of dragging me to the pediatrician if I so much as sneezed, and I was worried that whatever it was I had would derail my August 24 departure. I kept telling myself that it was just a cold. I had taken a bunch of Sudafed during the week, thinking that it would dry my ears out, and I could go on my merry way. I was wrong.

We made it to Charlottesville late that morning and I got checked into Tuttle Dorm, a rectangular monstrosity of architecture that I recently learned has been scheduled for demolition. I met a few of my dorm-mates, all of whom seemed to really have their shit together, and I met my resident assistant, a serious, studious engineering student. He seemed incredibly adult and mature, although looking back, I attribute this to the fact that he had a mustache. At around 3:00 p.m., I bid my parents farewell and just like that, I was on my own for the very first time.

But let's not forget about my ear, because it will become important later.

So, along with my roommate (whom I knew from high school), and 12 million bacteria sloshing around my ear canal, I set out to explore our new home. We attended something called Field Fest. In theory, this event was designed to facilitate meeting your shiny new classmates, but in reality, it was a lot of me standing around, too freaked out to talk to anyone other than my roommate, and thinking about comic books. Don't you wish you knew me back then?

Later, we also went to a giant cookout, where we saw a little known folksy-jazzy-rock outfit called the Dave Matthews Band. In my infinite wisdom, I clearly remember thinking that "these guys won't be around very long." (Note: Now that I think about it, the DMB show might have been the next day, but it makes for a better narrative this way, don't you think?). Either way, I have zero ability as a purveyor of musical talent.

As the evening wore on, I began to realize two things. First, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything. I had graduated from high school with 47 other people. There were approximately 2,300 people in my first-year class. Virtually all of us had been academic superstars and/or varsity athletes (usually both). I was but a very small fish in a very big pond. I was also growing increasingly certain that all my classmates had already bonded with one another for life, and that everyone but me was hooking up.

And second, I really wasn't feeling very good. I hadn't had a drop of alcohol (which, of course, was illegal for someone my age -- wink, wink), but I was feeling woozy, disoriented and a little dizzy, and my ear was starting to really starting to ache.

At around 10:00, my roommate and I decided to pay a visit to another high-school classmate of ours, who was living in another set of dorms. As we visited with her, we learned that one of her hallmates had been an actress or a model before graduating high school. I remember thinking something along the lines of "sweet sassy molassy! There are models running all over this place!"

At some point, we met the model, a pretty, unassuming girl named Leslie, who earned the distinction of being the very first girl I officially met in college. (OK, she might have been the 2nd or 3rd, but again, it's all about narrative, people!)

I'd like to say that I fought the good fight, and that I dazzled her with my charms.

Because 14 years later, she went on to appear in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

However, like Shawshank, my freshman year in college was no fairy-tale world. I did not dazzle her that night (in fact, I never saw her again). I didn't really dazzle anyone those first few months in college, including girls, professors, my parents, people in general....

But I digress.

By about 11:00, I knew I needed to get back to my dorm to get some rest. I stumbled back to my room, sick, tired, alone, and feeling stupid. I got in bed, but I had a hard time sleeping. So far, college had pretty much sucked.

And then, around 2:00 in the morning, my eardrum blew out.

In my life, I've had a fish hook caught in my arm, I've experienced a herniated disk in my neck, and I've shattered my wrist six ways to Sunday. But there is nothing to match the mind-blowing pain of your eardrum rupturing. I touched my hand to my ear, which was now bleeding profusely.

Sheepishly, I knocked on the R.A.'s door and explained that I needed to get some medical attention. Keep in mind that the dude had been an R.A. for all of about 12 hours.

This was his reaction:


A very sad-faced Me replied, "No. No, I'm not."

So we borrowed someone's car, and my R.A. had to drive me to the University of Virginia Hospital, the place where they didn't believe I hadn't been drinking.

The good doctors and nurses checked me out, flooded me with antibiotics and sent me home. I felt like dog crap for a couple more days, and I could barely hear for the next week, but eventually, I recovered. And my ear infection certainly didn't stop me from acting like a total idiot during my first week (including one incident reciting sports statistics to impress someone). Or during the rest of that year. I thank my lucky stars that there was no Internet in 1991.

It took me a while, but I finally found my footing in college. I joined the staff of The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.'s daily student newspaper, made a bunch of lifelong friends and figured out that I really did like this writing thing. And by my second year, I really started to figure out how college worked.

So it all ended well. And whenever I feel clueless or lost, I think about the night of August 24, 1991, and take solace in the fact that I've come a long way since then and that I'm not THAT guy. Anymore.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

10 Observations About My Trip To Florida & Disney World

I just got back from a whirlwind Florida vacation with Team Kazzie. It was a really good time. No Secret Service protection on this trip, but somehow we managed to muddle our way through. We went to the beach, played miniature golf, ate good food, saw family and friends, and spent three fantastic days at Disney World.

I made my first Disney trip almost 30 years ago, when my parents took my sister and me to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Sea World. And except for a day trip my wife and I made to Epcot before we had kids, I hadn't been back since then. Needless to say, you look at things a bit differently when you're 30 years older. Here are some observations about Disney and vacations generally that I probably missed in 1982.

1. The people at Walt Disney World are dead f-cking serious about you and your brood having a good time, and they are really, really good at their job. No matter how many people suffer, YOU WILL ENJOY YOURSELVES. Nothing is left to chance. I want to know why Disney isn't running this country.

2. When your destination is 1,400 miles away, your child will throw up on his booster seat after you've driven 1,399.95 miles. Yes, this actually happened. Within view of our destination.

3. I could not help but picture the Disney cast members' personal lives and problems. I imagine this is due to the fact that 90 percent of their job is to look really, really happy, and we all know no one is that happy. As I watched Tinkerbell lead the Main Street Electrical Parade toward Cinderella's Castle (and truth be told, she nails the role as Tinkerbell), I couldn't help but wonder if she has a secret addiction, like eating dryer sheets.

4. Amtrak was decidedly unamused with a Mr. Schaffer, who, from what I can gather, deposited his vehicle in front of the Sanford, Florida train station for carriage aboard the Lorton, Virginia-bound Auto Train and then promptly vanished. It was, to say the least, a little creepy.

5. My wife and I are officially cheap. On our first night at our Disney hotel, I went to the grocery store at midnight and bought bagels, frozen pancakes, veggie sausage, a gallon of milk, peanut butter, and jelly. We knocked out six meals in our hotel room. Stay classy, Kazzies! By not having to eat these meals at Disney, I think we saved approximately $6,000.

6. To the one person aboard the full Downtown Disney shuttle late Thursday night who offered his seat to my wife and two small children, who were basically asleep on their feet -- thank you. To all the other able-bodied adults, I saw you trying to avoid eye contact with us. Oh, and this quote from A Few Good Men seems applicable here: "Private Santiago is dead because he had no code. Because he had no honor. And God was watching."

7. My favorite barbecue joint in the world, a place in Naples, Florida, is no longer my favorite. You said the smoked beef was brisket. IT WAS NOT BRISKET. IT WAS BARELY STEAK-UMM. And the baby back ribs get a C+. Maybe. On the plus side, I have a new favorite sandwich place: Pastrami Dan's in Naples.

8. Rain at Disney is awesome. Get yourself one of these kick-ass Disney ponchos, and I say BRING IT ON! No heat, no lines, no problems.

9. Drinking a gigantic margarita and then immediately riding Mission: Space at Epcot is a surefire way of making yourself really dizzy and nauseated.

10. The greater D.C. Metro area doesn't have a traffic problem. It has an "it's about to implode in on itself" problem.  It took us two hours to travel 26 miles on Saturday. I lived in Arlington, Virginia (a D.C. suburb) for about a year in the mid-1990s, and I would estimate the traffic problem is approximately 1 quintillion times worse now.

So we are home safe and sound. It was a really great vacation. The kids had a ball, and could not have been better behaved. I hope they remember it as well as I know I will.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Indians Win It! The Indians Win It! Oh My God, The Indians Win It!

*Today's blog title comes from Major League: It's Indians radio announcer Harry Doyle losing his mind as catcher Jake Taylor lays down the bunt that scores Willie Mays-Hayes in the one-game playoff against the Yankees.

In August 2001, my future wife and I made a trip to her hometown in southwest Florida to visit her dad and go to her 10-year high school reunion. The trip to Florida was the front end of a two-part vacation, one that we had been looking forward to for a long time.

On the drive down from Virginia, we spent a memorable night in a cesspool of a hotel in Gainesville, Florida. And by "spent the night," I mean that we spent four hours hoping we weren't going to be murdered in our sleep before jumping in our car and hauling ass out of town at 4:00 a.m. like we'd robbed a bank.

We spent time with her old friends, we ate great barbecue, we watched the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.

And on the night of August 5, 2001, ten years ago today, the three of us decided to watch the Cleveland Indians-Seattle Mariners game on television.

The Mariners jumped all over the Tribe in the early going, and by about the fifth inning, the score was 14-2. My future wife and father-in-law lost interest in the game and bid me goodnight. I was a little annoyed that the Tribe was getting housed so soundly and was too amped up to go to sleep, so I decided to read -- an actual book! Printed on paper! Stephen King's Carrie, if I remember correctly. I kept the game on as background noise.

As I read, I noticed the commentators becoming more animated as the game wore on. I looked up and saw the Indians had started to chip away at the lead. Not in big chunks, mind you, but little bits and pieces, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank chipping away at the wall in his cell.

The Indians scored three in the 7th, four in the 8th, and tied it with 5 runs in the 9th (with two outs, mind you). It was ridiculous. This wasn't some chump opponent -- the Mariners' record entering that game was 80-30, and they had one of the best bullpens in baseball that season. As each Indian run crossed the plate, I was jumping up and down in the living room and doing that "yess! yesss!" in my best Inside Voice, careful not to make too much noise, because the last thing you want to do in your girlfriend's dad's house late at night is annoy him, especially since he probably wasn't too sure about this short kid with the big mouth dating his daughter. (Just kidding, he liked me).

The game went into extra innings tied at 14, and the Indians won it in the bottom of the 11th when Jolbert Cabrera drove in Kenny Lofton from third. It was and remains the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed. 

I remember that vacation very well. We spent three great days in her hometown, and then we spent another four terrific days with some family friends at their beach cottage in North Carolina. When we got back home to Virginia, I started a new job that I ended up liking very much.

The September 11 attacks happened a few weeks later.

I think about that vacation often. And I always think about it when I see, read or hear something about September 11.
I don't know why that vacation stands out in my mind so well. Was it the game? The barbecue? The reunion?

Or does it stand out because in the neighborhood of my memories, that vacation, complete with unbelievably happy memories, lives right next door to the terrible day of the attacks and those horrific images? Because let me assure you, it makes for some weird mental real estate.

2001 turned out to be a big year for me personally.

I proposed to my girlfriend that November, and we were married the following year. I started writing my first full-length manuscript around that time, too.

With that old manuscript, I took the first steps on what I planned to be my future career.

I was as happy as any person in their 20s had a right to be.

I saw the depths of human depravity.

I've seen some weird things happen in and to our country, not all of it good.  

But on one unbelievable night ten years ago, the game of baseball reminded me that anything is possible.

Monday, July 25, 2011

8 Reasons the Apocalypse Probably Isn't as Cool as it Sounds

I have an unhealthy fascination with stories about the apocalypse. The Stand is one of my three favorite books, but the truth is, I love the genre so much that I have no ability to discern what constitutes good apocalyptic fiction (or movies) from bad. None. Because in my mind, it's ALL GOOD.  

I think this is partly because I imagine myself in the role of the main character (or if not the main character, someone awfully important) and wonder what it would be like to find out what I'm truly made of while traipsing around a haunted funhouse version of America. Wow, Manhattan looks as weird in person as it did in I Am Legend! Boy, they really nailed it!

Plus, these kinds of stories serve as good backdrops for battles of good versus evil, religious discussions, and all manner of themes that I find fascinating, and so it's hard not to imagine how you would do out there, camping by the interstate, drinking boiled water and so on.  

But  have we ever really considered what the apocalypse would be like? 

With that, I unveil my list of eight reasons the apocalypse probably isn't as awesome as we think. 

1. The Surviving Thing 

Those people we come to love and root for in apocalyptic fiction? They're the rare, rare exception. Remember -- the vast majority of us have to die for the survivors to be able to claim they're living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Me? I'll probably die during the first week of the outbreak, before anyone even realizes that there's some nasty new bug going around. You? You'll make it to the second or third wave of infection, right about the time you think you're going to survive and then, oopsie, your lung tissue turns into tapioca. I know you think you're special, but you'll probably be buried at sea with thousands of other plague victims. 

2. The Nuclear Thing

Some months back, I watched a documentary called Life After People (I also watched Aftermath: Population Zero, and the fact that there were two shows produced revolving around this premise should really tell you something about the popularity of the genre). Anyway, there was a brief discussion about the fate of America's nuclear reactors in the event no one was around to keep entering the numbers from Lost and pushing the button (or whatever it is people do to keep reactors from melting down). As I recall, without someone at the wheel, the cooling systems will ultimately fail, and this would be extremely, extremely bad, and let's just say that I hope you find a nice house with a lead-lined basement. 

3. The Loneliness Thing 

Let's say you DO survive. Great. You're the only living human being in any direction for a hundred miles. You'll backpack down to the coast to pick out that awesome beach house you can finally afford, and then after three weeks, you'll be looking back on those lonely Saturday nights in high school and thinking, "whoo, what I wouldn't give for my old Dungeons and Dragons crew to get together!" This is a big damn country. No one's ever going to see you again. 

4. The Undead Thing

I love zombies and vampires (I mean the bad-ass ones from The Passage, not the pretty boys from Twilight), but I'm sorry to say that in the unlikely event we do reformat humanity's hard drive, it probably won't because of some undead virus. There will be no army of evil to fight. I know you've got pictures in your mind about being there as humanity makes its last stand at Yonkers (because I know you read World War Z) or in Philadelphia (because not only did Justin Cronin write one book at about the End Of The World, that sumbitch has promised us THREE!). Forget it. It's going to be some heretofore unknown swamp fever that gets us, and how much you wanna bet it's going to be gastrointestinal in nature? 

5. The What the F*** Was I Thinking Thing

There are probably thousands of people out there, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, who would welcome the apocalypse tomorrow. Stands to reason that at least one of them would survive. Law of averages and all. And then like two weeks in, he's gonna be like, "Those stupid m***** f****** from the Apocalypse Now! message boards didn't know what the f*** they were talking about! Hot survivors my ass! I haven't seen anyone, let alone any good looking girls!"  

6. The Hero Thing

A common trope in apocalyptic fiction is that the main character's true self is revealed in the face of total destruction. Perhaps people are drawn to these stories because they believe that like the characters they come to adore, they too are destined for greatness, but it's their station in life that prevents them from reaching their true potential.  

Well, I've got bad news for you. You'll almost certainly be murdered by the first person you meet because he's too scared and wigged out to find out the apocalypse has brought out the best in you. Or you'll slice your foot open and die of a bacterial infection somewhere along Interstate 10. 

7. The Alien Thing

If most of us are dead, no intelligent species is going to mess around with this planet-sized hot zone. Instead, they'll crinkle their little alien snouts and say to each other telepathically, "Do you SMELL that?"  

8. The Watching All Your Loved Ones Die Thing

If you survive the apocalypse, you'll have what I'm sure is the singular pleasure of watching every person you love die. Boy, doesn't THAT sound exciting? There's a reason that most of our favorite characters from apocalyptic fiction are loners or have little in the way of family when the story opens. 

I'm not the biggest fantasy reader (although I am currently enjoying A Game of Thrones), so apocalyptic fiction is the biggest escape I get as a reader. Like with any good fantasy novel, you're plunged into these fantastical scenarios (without the awkwardness of character names containing three apostrophes), but the thing that sets it apart from the fantasy genre is that these stories are set in a very familiar locale -- your own backyard, rather than the Northern Kingdom of the Seventh Realm of G'la'm'in.

So I will keep on right on reading and watching my beloved stories of the apocalypse. But I'll thank it to stay fictional. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Book Review of The Jackpot!

OK, I wasn't PERFECT, but I did a pretty good job staying off the Inter-Tubes all weekend.

And I had a good reason for slipping up -- I found out that my first "official" book review was going to be posted Saturday, so I did hop online to read it that afternoon.

Brief background: I've submitted The Jackpot to a number of book bloggers, the Internet-based book reviewers who've become hugely important in driving the sales of both traditionally published and self-published books. Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing superstar, wrote on her blog that she owes much of her early success to the positive reviews she got from these book bloggers. And these days, with thousands of novelists trying to get their books noticed, it's hard to find a book blogger who isn't backed up for weeks, if not months -- if they're still open to submissions at all.

So I was very pleased to read Lynnette Phillips' (from Lynnette's Book World) excellent review of The Jackpot, which you can read here. I've been pooping bricks waiting on these reviews, so getting such a good one from such a big book review site is very exciting indeed.

My favorite part of the review: "The fast-pace and rich details of this thriller combined with the entertaining and crisp dialogue of Jackpot make this novel and David Kazzie a new favorite."

Have a great week.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Am Not a Grownup.

One of my favorite people-watching games is to imagine what folks were like as kids. What were their favorite toys? What scared them? What were their favorite foods? Did they realize that they would one day have a really creepy mustache?

I think about this a lot because I also play the mirror image of this game with my own kids -- what will they be like as adults? 

But there's another reason I wonder about this --  although it's been twenty years since I graduated from high school, at no time in these two decades have I ever felt like a grownup.

I have done many grownup things since 1991, like get a law degree, drink scotch (on purpose), and sire children (on purpose), but for the most part, I still feel like I'm about fifteen years old. I like quoting movies and watching sports and eating junk food, and, now that I've got kids, doing kid stuff with them. I don't watch Meet the Press and I feel like a complete and total fraud when I'm wearing a tie. If there is a way to turn a snippet of conversation into inappropriate innuendo, rest assured that it's being done inside my head.

What's particularly funny is that in becoming a lawyer, I chose a profession that puts a premium on acting grownup. Probably not as big a premium as a job as a nuclear-missile-silo commander puts on acting grownup, but a premium nonetheless. 

But this hasn't made me feel more grownup. It just makes me feel like I'm pretending extra hard to act grownup. 

I'm fairly sure I'm not alone in thinking this. 

One might say that it's because most of us look back on childhood relatively fondly, and that nothing in adulthood can quite compare to the starry-eyed idealism of one's childhood. Put another way, we wish we were still kids.

But that's not entirely accurate. Because like Andy Dufresne clawing his way to freedom through Shawshank's sewer pipe, everyone goes through their own river of crap when they are kids, stuff that they would just as soon not repeat. For me, I was quite short (still am) and let's just say my mom had to buy my pants in the Husky size. This is the sort of delightful combination that gets you targeted like an al Qaeda bunker. I'm sure you've got your own childhood/adolescence horror story. 

And although there are days I wish I could shuffle off to summer camp like my son, I'm not sure I want to be a young kid again.

But like many of you, I follow Journey's advice, and I hold on to that feeeeeeee-ling. Which I guess is the point. You may not want to BE a kid again, but you always want to FEEL like a kid.

In fact, my worldview is deeply rooted in this general inability to accept the fact that I have grown up. For one, I've committed myself to a profession in which my two primary goals are to:

(1) Make shit up (I must say, cussing whenever I want is a pretty good perk of adulthood, although if I let one slip in front of the kids, they get a free shot at smacking my hand as hard as they want).

(2) Make you laugh. I'm talking about writing. Although I suppose this could apply to practicing law. Because that can be funny.

Making shit up and making people laugh is the same philosophy of life espoused by my five-year-old.

I know that this whole "wanting to stay young" thing is a relatively cliched topic, and I'm probably not adding anything earth-shattering to the body of work with this blog post.

All I know is that when I was a kid, I always assumed that I would one day feel grownup, and it never happened.

As proof of my failure to mature past the ninth grade, let's go live inside my brain right now.


Hears the word 'poop'.

Giggles hysterically.


Friday, June 17, 2011

The Jackpot: Now 99 Cents. (And Help Me Beat Tony)

It's that time of year when folks blow out of town like there's a warrant out for their arrest.

That means many of these summer fugitives are going to (hopefully) be loading up their e-readers with books to read in cars, in jail cells, by the ocean, and on the backs of unicorns.

And I want The Jackpot to be one of those books. 

So, effective immediately, I've cut the book's price to 99 cents for all eBook platforms.

Here are your buy links.


Barnes & Noble


My reason for doing this? I want to get this book out to as many people as possible.

And there are a lot of good books out there priced at 99 cents. So if you're looking at my book at $2.99, and some other awesome-sounding book at 99 cents, which one ya gonna buy? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Remember: You can still read my book on your iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone, Windows Phone 7, Android phone, Mac, PC -- no dedicated e-reader required. You just need the Kindle app, Nook app, or Stanza app (which works with Smashwords).

And not only can you get a tasty summer read about a stolen lottery ticket for less than the cost of a non-purloined lottery ticket, you can help me spread the word about this thing.

See, there's this friend of mine -- let's call him "Tony" -- who is decidedly unimpressed with my efforts to date. He said for me to call him "when [my] scout cookie sales go global - or even national!"

So help me do just that. Here are some ideas for Operation: Beat Tony

1. Please click on that Share link at the bottom of the FB post on The Corner's Facebook page or on my regular Facebook page.

2. Please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com or BN.com. It will only take a few minutes, but it is a sacrifice demanded by the almighty search algorithms of the online retailers.

3. Tweet the link to this page. If you're especially daring, toss in the following tag (also called a hashtag in Twitter parlance) at the end of your Tweet: #TheJackpot

Thanks for all your support. None of this would be possible without you. 

Hope everyone has a great start to summer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Sell Biscuits and Gravy All Over the Southland.

Today's blog title comes from Grosse Pointe Blank, one of my favorite movies, and it seemed especially appropriate for today's post about my recently concluded 20-year high school reunion.

I went to a very small private school, and so there were only 48 people in my graduating class. About a dozen came to the reunion. I recognized almost everyone instantly. My classmates have aged well. As one of my classmates joked, in five years, we will all look a little worse, and then in 10 years, we will look better again, thanks to the magic of cosmetic surgery.

Even though Facebook has largely removed much of the mystery of school reunions, which I imagine was once their primary draw, I was very happy to see all of these people in person. I heard fascinating stories about my classmates opening restaurants, serving in the military, appearing on reality TV shows, having children, getting married, getting divorced, and getting married again. I also heard about one of my old teachers, whom I long suspected might be immortal, cheating death time and time again in the last 20 years.

I know that the 20-year reunion is supposed to be one of those milestones in life, sort of like losing your virginity or watching the pilot episode of Lost for the first time, but it didn't really feel like it. It just felt like a group of old friends getting together and looking back on a ridiculous time in our lives, because what is high school other than the ridiculous time in your life to which all the other ridiculous times in your life are compared? Plus, I used to wear these kick-ass big-framed glasses that you often see in mug shots of someone who's been charged with something really creepy, so it was awesome seeing the old pictures.

People often say that they wish they knew in high school what they know, and yes, that is a tempting proposition. For one, I might have a had a little more success with the ladies. And by "a little more," I mean, of course, "any." But that, of course, would be cheating. Any good lesson in life is worth learning painfully.

That said, if I could talk to the 1991 version of myself, I would tell him the following things:

1. Do not be alarmed by the fact that two of the stars of the movie Predator will become governors. 

2. Your beloved Cleveland Indians will blow Game 7 of the 1997 World Series despite holding the lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. The team they lose to doesn't exist yet. Enjoy that one.

3. You're not getting any taller. Or better looking. Start being funny and start writing.

4. On one occasion, your Spidey sense is going to buzz so loudly that you're going to think you're insane. Ignore it at your peril. Let me know how that works out for you.

5. You will owe all your success in writing to an animated pig-bear-puppy hybrid.

So, on this Sunday afternoon, I take a sip of my Diet Pepsi and pour a little on the floor in honor of my fellow members of the Class of 1991.