Mono no aware (fleeting beauty)
Nearly every afternoon when my daughter was little, we used to walk along a creek behind our house, sorting through the day’s events as we searched out the ducks and frogs and critters along the way. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we’d see a majestic Blue Heron or Snowy Egret perched ever so briefly on the bank, taking a break as it navigated its way along the shiny ribbon of creek that served as it’s highway up from the marshlands of the south bay. When it saw us, it would spread its great wings, push off on its long, black legs and soar up into the sky, in a gesture so graceful it was like a ballet. It was hard to say what we loved more—catching a glimpse of those regal birds poised on the bank, or watching them rise up and fly away, disappearing into the sky.
The path along the creek stretched from east to west, and sometimes, if the timing was just right, we would be treated to a magnificent sunset of orange and gold and pink and violet. To avoid the sun in our eyes, we walked from west to east, and so the sunset would be behind us, and we would keep turning our heads back to see it as it morphed from its brilliant colors and faded into dusk. Once, when it was particularly beautiful, my daughter had the idea that if we walked backwards we could keep it in our view longer. And so we did, holding it with our gazes as long as we could, as if we could will it to stay.
Of course, it didn’t. Mono no aware.
In praise of book clubs
This is me shamelessly hawking Rescue Man, because, well, I DO have to sell books. But actually this post is about the wonderfullness of book clubs. (Yes, I’m aware, as spellcheck keeps telling me, that wonderfullness is not a real word, but it IS a real concept). Book clubs do what writers love best, which is connect them to the people they most care about–readers. Readers make writer’s words and ideas come alive. Without readers, the emotions of a book just float aimlessly in the cosmos–they’re a basketball flying through the air with no hoop, a radio signal with no receiver, a puck flying from a hocky player’s stick with no goal net to reach. I’ve been extremely lucky to have been invited to a number of book clubs now, and each time I’m touched by the power of books to reach into our psyches, to pluck at the strings of our experiences and make them sing. I’m grateful for all the readers who’ve shared their stories with me—their losses, their joys, their sorrows, their lives. It’s the closing of the circle.
Sex, novels and a Noguchi table
Behold Rescue Man on a genuine Noguchi coffee table, sent by a reader with impeccable
taste (in both tables and reading matter). For those of you who have read the book, you’ll recognize the irony in this image, since a Noguchi coffee table makes an appearance in the glass penthouse of Miranda Holloway, a love interest of Rescue Man’s protagonist, Will Thompkins. In truth, the Noguchi table is witness to a rather racy scene between Miranda Holloway and Will, who is frankly way out of his league dealing with both Miranda AND the Noguchi. But if you want to get the full story, you’ll have to read the book…
With apologies to the cat…
This is the look of a cat who has just realized that Rescue Man
contains absolutely no mention of a cat anywhere in its 279 pages. There
is a dog named Max, but that is hardly a comfort. The author apologizes
for this glaring omission, and promises to rectify it in the sequel.
#RescueMan in Israel!
How far can a paperback travel? Well, to Haifa, Israel if you happen to have a brilliant jet-setting Israeli friend. It’s also a convenient marketing tool when that same friend happens to be a talented designer who can manage to make a croissant and cafe mocha look as though it just stepped out of a Parisian cookbook. Plus, let’s face it, cafes are #RescueMan’s native habitat.
Marketing a book in the Trumpocalypse
In retrospect, November seemed like a fine month to publish a novel. After all, the holidays are around the corner, and what’s not to like about a novel filled with family, love, loyalty and redemption. Who knew that lurking in the shadows was an election so acrimonious, so poisonous and soul-killing that people could hardly imagine gathering for Thanksgiving dinner without breaking into a fist-fight.
The publishing world is awash with such stories. My brother finished his brilliant Russian spy novel just as the Soviet Union was dissolving into a bankrupt puddle of countries no more capable of exporting spies than in paying their own armies or designing a laptop that didn’t look like a 1950s television set. Ann Coulter (a name so evil I actually have trouble typing it without expecting goblins to fly out of the floorboards and swallow me) published a book about the glories of Donald Trump’s take-no-prisoners immigration manifesto the same week he…well, changed his mind.
What is an author to do? There are four stages of grief. First, denial (until the sales figures start spiraling down). Next, a great deal of hand-wringing and negotiating (maybe if I keep hitting refresh on the Amazon sales page), followed by crying and finally copious amounts of drinking. I’ve heard there is a fifth stage, acceptance, but it appears to have eluded me.
And we have lift-off…
How I love the smell of ink in the morning! At last it’s arrived. 25 copies of the book I have toiled over lovingly for years, delivered to my door unceremoniously by my local UPS delivery man. And even though he complains that the box is overweight, and the dogs are coming perilously close to biting his calves as I sign for it, I feel in my bones that this is one of those life-altering moments of self-fulfillment that I will never forget. I am heading to the fridge to open champagne to celebrate when it hits me: Now I actually have to sell it.
So you want to publish your novel
Here’s the thing. Writing a novel—even a novel your intellectual writer
friends tell you is a good novel, a novel you have sweated over for a couple of
years tweaking and reviewing—has absolutely nothing to do with actually getting
said novel published. That, as they say, is a whole other ball game. A long and
slow and scoreless ball game, a ball game that has rain delays, bad calls by
the umps, longs stretches of waiting while questionable plays are reviewed by
the video team in New York. A game that requires you to sit through
excruciating extra innings, even though you long ago lost any interest in it
and really just want to go home and put your pajamas on and crawl under the
covers with your dog and a valium. THAT kind of ball game.
It Turns out you DO judge a book by its cover
Advice from experts about book covers: They should be exciting, they should
be edgy, they should make an immediate emotional connection with the reader,
they should reflect the book’s contents. They should be gorgeous, uncluttered,
ethereal, dramatic, soaring, life-transforming, maybe even solve global warming
and the energy crisis. In short, they should make a reader want to buy a copy
of your book, and one for all of their friends, in the first second they set eyes on it.
Oh, and by the way, they are 6 by 9 inches.
About the author (unexpurgated version)
After chucking a career as an adjunct professor teaching writing and
literature to mostly distracted college students, I found myself doing an
unlikely stint in a foreign policy think-tank working on arms control treaties
(a fact my brother—who used to watch me catapult water balloons into
unsuspecting neighbors yards—said scared him). Eventually I landed in Berkeley
as a managing editor for the University of California, where I was fortunate
enough to hang out with some enormously talented writers, along with a lot of
other people who were the smartest kids in their class (and who grew up to be
I’m quite well known in the Berkeley café and bar scene, mostly for my propensity for drinking large quantities of Trumer Pilsner, and for my considerable talent in making a
lunch hour stretch to two..or three. Rescue Man is my first published novel. Although I have a drawer full of manuscripts if you’re interested…
This is the way the world ends—not with a bang but a whimper
So your dream of having an agent who will magically make your novel a
best-seller, or even help it become a quiet, but well-reviewed little indie
book has taken a beating. It’s kind of like getting your jacket caught in the
car door without realizing it, and you drive a long way down a dirt road with
it flapping in the wind, and when you do finally liberate it, it’s been turned
into a mangled, greasy, unrecognizable knot of fabric with tire-tracks all over
You go to to the local bar to drown your sorrows and your writer friends,
feeling your pain, tell you to keep the faith. And maybe it’s just the beer, but as they tell you this, you don’t notice that they are looking away, grimacing at their own memories of the long and
dirty journey they have traveled on that very same road—with their
jackets caught in the car door.
Platform, platform, my kingdom for a platform.
You’re pitching your novel, and it’s not War and Peace, but
by all accounts it’s pretty good. You’ve made it through the query
labyrinth, and even managed to convince a few potential agents: “Love the
protagonist!”…”Interesting story line!”…”Some fine writing on the
And then it gets real. “First novel? Have you thought
about changing the main character to a woman–there’s a big market for
chick-lit.” “How robust is your marketing
platform?” “How many followers do you have on Twitter, Instagram,
Facebook?” “How long have you been blogging?”
Uh…no, actually, the entire premise of the book requires that the main character be male, and all I
have is a Facebook page that I use to post pictures of my dog and vacation
photos meant to make my friends jealous at what a fabulous life I’m
living. I spend the rest of my spare time …well, writing. And
THAT is when you hear the loud thud. The thud that signals the wheels of
the literary publishing machine have come to a grinding halt.
Agent X regrets to inform you…
You’ve finished your book at last and now it’s time to find an agent. You
need an agent who understands the workings of the publishing world, the
vagaries of popular fiction, the sensitivities of authors to the fact they are
exposing their creative souls to the world. You need Max Perkins, but he’s
dead, so you comb the agent listings reading their descriptions of themselves.
According to their bios they are all incredibly, unabashedly, deeply committed
to literature and the craft of writing and to finding the talented writers who
they can help shine.
Okay, some are a little specific, like “I have an affinity for the teenage
horror genre,” or “I’m looking for stories that include dogs with supernatural
powers,” but for the most part they seem sincere. All you need to do is send
them a scintillating query letter, include the first ten pages of your
brilliant prose, a teeny-tiny paragraph about yourself and why you think you
are even remotely qualified to take precious time out of their very, very busy
day (more likely their assistant’s day) and you’re on your way!
In theory, anyway…
Max Perkins has left the building…
Every author wants an agent. Not the entitled, modern-day version of an
agent who expects you to email them a brilliant novel with a guaranteed adoring
public consisting of two or three-thousand followers on Facebook. No, what
every author really wants, in their heart of hearts, is Max Perkins. Who was
Max Perkins? Let me illuminate. Max Perkins was the editor who discovered F.
Scott Fitzgerald, convinced his publishing house, Charles Scribner’s, to lend
the boozing author many thousands of dollars, fastidiously edited his books,
and then rescued him from his nervous breakdown. This was in spite of the fact
Zelda Fitzgerald, at the wheel of Scott’s car, had driven Perkins headlong into
the Long Island Sound. Max Perkins was the editor who agreed to publish Ernest
Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, sight unseen, then had to
fight with the ultra conservative Scribner because the manuscript arrived full
of four-letter words. Max Perkins is the editor who sat calmly in his office
while three burly men delivered several enormous wooden crates containing the
bundled, hand-written pages of Thomas Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel,
which Perkins then proceeded to painstakingly turn into a book. THAT is an editor.
I regret to report all those editors died on June 17, 1947 in Stamford,
Connecticut along with Max Perkins.
Now THAT is an editor. Panama hat, fully buttoned wool suit, briefcase, game face
on—in spite of the fact he’s posing next to two stinking marlin and a
self-absorbed writer with the temperament of a 12-year old. Anything for a
book. Well done, Max.