I have a new mini-essay up at First of the Month: http://www.firstofthemonth.org/why-reason-and-revolution/
The editor added the words within the parenthesis to its title. Probably he thought they provided ideological comfort. I don’t mind.
Here’s the portion he selected as the hook:
A few years ago, a Rolls showed up three blocks from our house. It was the only one I’d seen in Berkeley in 40-years. I kept hoping someone would fire bomb it. The fucker’s license plate was MYDOCRX.
I have no problem with that either.
I’d had high hopes for a “reunion” lunch at a deli with my former associate, our suitemate (now an ALJ), and the lawyer whose office had been next door. None, so far as I knew, had bought “I Will Keep You Alive,” so I’d stashed copies in my car trunk (four, in case someone wanted two.) Lunch was fun, lots of talk of children (theirs), other lawyers, judges, former clients, and, briefly, a digression into dementiua (parental). But a desire for Adele and my book was never expressed. (Nor was notice taken of my new cowboy boots, faux snakeskin jeans, or bling, all of which had accreted upon me since our last meeting.)
Our friend Marilyn has a term “boontz,” which covers a situation where one’s entirely self-inflated expectations have been punctured, though remaining unknown to anyone but the person affected. Anyone, I had been “boontzed,” probably in four-star fashion.
[I would add the next day I returned to the deli for take-out, and a bus boy said, “Cool bracelts, dude.” You just have to know your audience.]
In other news…
Word has reached us from Manhattan of the first Book Group to devote a meeting to IWKYA. The audience, all women, all Caucasian, all elderly, all of whom had experienced something analagous, was knocked out. They were taken by Adele and my love story, her ability to convey the intensity of her feelings with such clarity, my ability to convey my experience with such control and humor, and the symbiosis of our different voices working together.
Even if you don’t fit this demographic, the book is worth a look.
“Which one’s free?”
John’d been around the café a decade. Hungarian. Tile Setter. Lived in a van, so he was entitled to his question.
“‘Best Ride’‘s $5. That’s almost free.”
I told him what it was about.
He picked up “The Schiz.” “And this one?”
“A black comedy about lawyers and doctors.”
“I like the cover.”
The Bode Broad.
“That’s nothing.” I showed him Shary Flenniken’s illo.
He gave me a twenty. I gave him change and threw in “Best Ride.”
I was leaving a message on David’s voice mail when Adele called, so I cut my message short to talk to her, and David called back. I finished talking to Adele and called David. I had begun talking to him when the fellow at the next table asked if I had written all these books. I told David I had a customer and would call him back, but by that time the fellow had taken a call from a cousin which went on for 15-minutes.
“What part of New York are you from?” he asked me.
“West Philadelphia,” I said.
“I was in Philly once,” he said.
“Me too,” I said. “For 25-years.
[No, I didn’t, but I’ve just seen “Chinatown” and wanted to give myself a good line.]
Russ was 72, white-haired, plump, patterned grey sweater, bag to catch his urine below. “That’s life,” he said about the bag. He said that too about his older brother dying at 57. He’d been in Berkeley, from Yonkers, since 1970. Real estate. If he hadn’t sold the houses he’d owned in San Francisco, he’d have a penthouse on Central park West. That was life again. We agreed we liked the café before the chandeliers and with the bare brick walls.
But he bought no books.
C’est la vie.
A “Cheesesteak” to a fellow in town from Modesto for a Zen book he co-edited on “loving the world as it is.” What better time for that?
And a “Schiz” to a 76-year-old retired in-house corporate writer for his first published book, a three-novella collection in development his entire adult life.
In other news…
The high was that Z (See earlier “Adventures”) finally gave me my book sale numbers.
The low was that Z gave me my book sale numbers.
The solace is that I had read that the averaged self-published book sells 250 copies and I’ve already beaten that, three-for-three.
And I’ve proved I haven’t sold out my artistic vision.
Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive.” The buyer, a late 50-ish mathematician (I told you I was big with mathematicians), had bought a book from me months ago. “Cheesesteak,” I think.
In other news…
1.) Recent words-of-mouth include (a) “Fascinating. Brutal and painful but fascinating.” [Those, for IWKYA, from a fellow I’ve known on a first-name-but-nothing-more basis since the early ‘70s]; (b) “Literally, on every page there is something I identified with.” [These, for “Cheesesteak,” from a newly connected-to, 75-year-old author from Philadelphia, which is a nice reaction, but, really, if not from him, whom?]; and (c) “Perfect… a thrill.” [This, on “What About Johnny Craig?”, from the editor of “Comic Aht,” in which it will appear next month. Stay tuned.]
2.) After a couple decades hiatus, I’d decided to resume banging my head against the wall of short story submission. I’d hold out my best unpublished (and most rejected) story and Googled a list of where to send it. Two journals found it “not right” for them within two days of each other. Not an auspicious beginning.
3.) A 76-year-old who is having his first book, a short story collection (and who is also the utterer of the butter-him-up words of 1 (a) above) was referred to me by his publisher, another frequenter of the café, for tips about promotion (“Bob knows everything). Talk about blind-leading-blind. Dogs barking up wrong trees.”Nothing works,” is the message. “All effort is futile.” “Despair, despair, despair.” “Keep your day job.”
On the other hand, as my accountant said to me almost 50-years ago, when asked if I should be shopping for savings funds with higher interests rates, “If it’s fun.” Soon after that, he became a carpenter – then moved to L.A. to write sitcoms.
1. EriH. Lee. “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Yup, I’d never read it. It was on the Free Books shelf in the cafe and I figured it was time.
2. D. Winslow. “The Cartel.” The guy is no J. Ellroy but he keeps you turning pages.
3. S. Schiff. “Saint-Exupery.” Another freebie. A terrific bio writer. I may do more of her.
4. K. Atkinson. “Transcripts.” Entertaining but not up to her Jackson Brodies. (See below.)
5. B. Postema ed. “4 Panel.” Because my comic world buddy Eric Nebel is in it — but I would have to stretch my head to really get it.
6. W.T. Vollman. “Argall.” Because of Mark Merin’s recommendation, a cafe buddy. Vollman is… WOW! Maybe the most extraordinary American writer of the last half-century.
7. K. Atkinson. “One Good Turn. (Second time.) Terrific — but do “Case Histories” first.
8. J. Cook ed. “The Book of Weirdo.” Because Adele and I are in it. Great fun.
9. D. Day. “Malcolm Lowry.” Another free bio. When I was in college, “Volcano” knocked me out. A couple decades later, I just shook my head. Now I may need a tie-breaker third reading.
10. W.T. Vollman. “The Ice Shirt.” (See above.) Only one of the so-far five completed Seven Dreams to go.
Not a blink of interest.
But in other news…
1.) Some nice words-of-mouths on “I Will Keep You Alive.” (A.) An ICU nurse, to whom a friend had tweeted a recommendation, responded, “I enjoyed it through and through”; and (B.) A physician at the health club, who has been battling his own health issues while carrying for an even more seriously ailing wife, called it “A great book.”
[That’s “GREAT book” for those who didn’t hear me the first time.]
2.) One of the pleasures of being a (self-perceived) underappreciated author is the opportunity to share, compare, banter, and ruefully laugh at with other writers similarly positioned the snubs, insults and betrayals to which we have been privy. But just this week, reading a biography of Malcolm Lowry, I ran into a medal-winning experience in this regard. While they were struggling to survive, Lowry’s second wife began writing mysteries. Scribner’s accepted her first, following which they heard nothing, until Lowry walked into a book store in Mexico City and spotted it for sale. Byt this time, Scribner’s had accepted her second. Again, they heard nothing, until a concerned fan wrote because Scribner’s seemed to have omitted the final chapter. (It had.)
I should add, this was during publishing’s Golden Age, and the editor-in-chief was the fabled Maxwell Perkins.
Sent a “Cheesesteak” to a fellow who is writing a book on Overbrook High School et environs in the 1950s and ‘60. When I learned he’d played on the same Hilltoppers’ squad as Walt Hazzard and Wally Jones, I threw in a “Best Ride.” (I always figured my ideal reader for that one was someone from Philly, about my age, who was into basketball. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many of them.)
And sold three copies of “I Will Keep You Alive.” One went to a young woman at the health club about five or six years ago when I’d started on the heavy bag. Her dad, a quintuple by-pass guy, just received a pacemaker. Since I’m the only guy she knows who comes similarly equipped, she sounded me out. One thing led to another and…
The second went to an older woman who’d heard from friends in the locker room what a great book it was. Since she’d already admired the “Love” shorts Adele had made for me and my bracelets, she was already predisposed toward us. (That’s “GREAT BOOK” for those of you still without one.)
The third went to a well-regarded author (and publisher) at the café. He’d read the book in manuscript, liked it, and suggested revisions, some of which we’d made in moderation. (He is also a veteran of multiple cardiac “incidents.”) I offered to give him a copy, but as someone in the business, he insisted on supporting the arts.
In other news…
1.) I sent a series of questions to Z (See previous “Adventure”), of which he answered none. I called Customer Service at the Corporate Behemoth. Its spokeswoman said it would only respond to an e-mail. I sent an e-mail with my questions and copied Z. He immediately replied he would pay me. I told him to relax. I just wanted to understand what was going on and then we could work things out reasonably.
Sold one “Most Outrageous.”
The cute-as-a-button young woman who selected it had asked me to describe each of the five books I was displaying. “True crime,” I said. I added, “You have to be over 18 to read it.” Usually, I am joking. This time, regarding her closely, not so much. But she turned out to be a UC graduate in mathematics. You would be surprised, but my books do well with mathematicians. I am always impressed, though, by someone edgy enough to pick MO, esp someone like her, a “first” actually, who has “barely” heard of “Hustler.”
In other news…
1.) According to the small indie publisher guy, (Let’s call him Z), under whose umbrella my books have been distributed by a corporate behemoth, said behemoth has fudged its records, resulting in his being hit with a a $13,000 overpayment charge he can’t pay. (Hell, he can’t even pay to have his recently rear-ended car fixed or his whip-lash treated.) He has shut his doors, liquidated his stock, all but lit out for the territory. Whatever happened to the the dollars that should have been mine has been lost in this shuffle. The silver lining is my sales have been so meager these dollars are likely not many. But I am trying to straighten it out. Suggestions are welcome.
2.) On a sunnier front, editorial negotiations over my introduction to the forthcoming university press cartoonist-novelist collaboration (See previous “Adventure”) have gone well. My punctuation and grammar have been spruced up – and if anyone can give me the rule for when to use “which” and when “that,” I’d appreciate it – and my “gonzo academic” style praised. I’ve given up my use of “Nip.” (It’s a cusp of WW II book.) “Hebe” is under negotiation. (I’ve proposed substituting “Hebrews,” citing James McMurtry’s usage in “Choctaw Bingo” as authority.) And I’ve replaced “knockers” with phallic-S&M imagistic allusions.
3.) Then I received this even bigger lift. An e-mail from a guy with a Japanese name, a subject line of “Review,” and an incomplete sentence seeking “representative in north america with a stipend commission and salary attached” There was no period and no attachment.
Why, I wondered, would someone in Japan with an incomplete command of English and its punctuation be writing me? Clearly, a manga publisher wanted a well-known “gonzo academic” in the U.S. to “review” – its books or a comix-related magazine wanted the same. (Clearly, too, it was a case of good karma resulting from my eliminating “Nip.”) So I requested further info.
The attachment that arrived was from a steel import/exporter seeking representatives to establish good will with customers and collect overdue invoices.
It’s all coming together, I thought. Maybe the job will help me deal with Z.
No sales. (Again.)
Not even a noteworthy conversation.
But five pre-10am medical-related appointments between me and Adele got us out of the café so early sometimes I didn’t set my display up.
In other news…
1.) A gratifying response to “Who Was That Masked Man?” from an FOM reader: “I’ve read and been reading around (Levin’s piece)… and I’m not up to the job to say anything much about it except I thought it was great…”
2.) Word from the border states (Civil War border, that is) is that the comic book novella-
adaptation to which I provided the introduction has been green-lit by its university-type publisher. I am to hear from the editor who, the cartoonist assures me, thinks “it’s REALLY good, perfect… and they’re all impressed/excited” but that, in “the picking gnat shit out of pepper” mode of editing that weighing of cultural/PC impact has brought about a couple of my word choices (“Nip” and “Hebe,” for instance), and my “over-heated” description capturing the drawing of the female lead may require toning down.
Well, hell, I’m a reasonable guy – not the “eccentric” who drove editors to “tearing at their hair,” as I have been memorialized in the otherwise (mainly) estimable oral history of Fantagraphics Books. So here’s my chance to set the record straight.
3.) Received an e-mail from a cartoonist whose heroine had, mid-story, been confronted by menacing litigation and needed a plausible way out. I woke up at 3:30 am, brainstorming, and sent my ideas. She grabbed one or two and promised me a credit and free comic. (I will be denied a cameo in it however, as my wisdom will be delivered by the She-Hulk’s alter ego, who happens to be an attorney.) “You ought to write comics, Bob,” she added.
Turning to my area of expertise, I pondered. What if a burnt-out Batman brought a workers’ comp claim against Gotham City and was denied for being an independent contractor? I could get into the whole gig-economy thing. (Plus, I had a spiraling-into-further-darkness sub-plot involving Robin I won’t get into here.)
“All I need is an artist willing to work on spec,” I said.
“Ha, ha, ha,” the cartoonist replied