Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Attack on Big Mac

Mark McGwire saved baseball. In the summer of 1998, when America's national pasttime was floundering after the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995, when stadiums were empty and televison sets were on different channels, McGwire and Sammy Sosa singlehandedly reinvigorated the game with their chase of Roger Maris's home run record.

I was a freshman in college in 1998. Every morning that Fall I walked to football practice with my friend Matt, a freshman defensive back who also lived in Butterfield B. On our way to the Freeman Athletic Center we would pass by the beloved Neon Deli (best grinders in Middletown). Every morning Neon's owner would update the day's top stories on a chalkboard set up outside the entrance. That chalkboard would inform us whether Mac or Sammy had hit another one the previous night (we were usually in bed by 10, up by 5:30). Our morning practices started at 6:00 am, too early to read the paper or check the internet, so Neon was our first source of baseball news. If Mac or Sammy cranked another one (or two) the previous night, we would pump our fists. If not, we looked forward to tomorrow's chalkboard.

Yesterday the ballots were released for the 2007 baseball Hall of Fame voting. This is the first year Mark McGwire is listed on the ballot. And according to ESPN, there's a very good chance that McGwire will not be voted in. The reason? Steroid allegations.

But let's be clear here. Mark McGwire has never tested positive for steroids. Mark McGwire has never admitted to taking steroids. He has never been tried, convicted, or suspended for steroids. In fact, even when these allegations were alleged to have occured, steroids were not a punishable offense.

Yet somehow the Baseball Writers of America have a higher moral superiority than that of our court system. Innocent until proven guilty? Not a chance. Innocent because an incident was not even disallowed? No way. If a person was ever charged with a crime, but it was determined that, when the infraction was committed, there was no law in place and that the allegations could not be proven, that thing would get thrown out of court in a nanosecond.

But not McGwire. The BBWA has appointed themselves America's conscience and legal system all rolled into one. There is a provision on the voting ballot that says voters should take a player's character into question. Obviously steroid allegations fall under that provision. Yet in the mid-late 90's, Mark McGwire was baseball's character. His outsize personality, genuine love for the game, and humility despite his accomplishments reminded fans of everything that was right about the game. In a time when baseball was on life support, McGwire breathed new life into it.

McGwire was never vilified in the press like Barry Bonds or Gary Sheffield. He never fought with or took potshots at his manager or teammates. He never tested positive like Rafael Palmeiro or Jason Giambi, never admitted to juicing like Jose Canseco or Ken Camineti. And it can be argued he did more for the state of the game than any of those players combined.

Let's make this clear. If Mark McGwire is denied entrance into the Hall of Fame for steroid "allegations," the BBWA must deny entrance to anyone ever mentioned in news articles, books, or reports, regardless of proof or admission of guilt.

This includes:
Barry Bonds
Jason Giambi
Roger Clemens
Rafael Palmeiro
Andy Pettitte
Gary Sheffield

Doesn't matter that players like Clemens have denied taking steroids, according to the BBWA once you're alleged to have done it, you've done it.

Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn will likely be first ballot Hall-of-Famers. They both had respectively brilliant careers, and retain status as two of the most beloved players of their generation. They deserve all the accolades they get. Had the steroid allegations (stress the word allegations) not occured, McGwire would be mentioned in the same breath at these two statesmen. McGwire's citizenship, not to mention his statistics, easily rival and possibly surpass those of Ripken and Gwynn.

I don't know if Mark McGwire took steroids. The allegations and his refusal to discuss the past leave me with a queasy feeling that he did. Yet I would never convinct someone because of "a feeling in my stomach."

Mark McGwire did more for the game of baseball than almost any player in history. Steroids only make you a legend statistically. They do not create a legacy. McGwire's legacy reaches far beyond his gaudy numbers. And for that, he would have my vote. And I hope the BBWA realizes that in a perfect wourd they would follow the moral and legal example set forth by our country and vote not on allegation, but on fact.

Mark McGwire belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Best Book Covers

I hope everyone had a happy Turkey Day, and if you are, were, or plan to be a member of the New York Giants I officially ban you from ever reading this site, passing me on the street, or urinating without intense discomfort.

Moving along...

I want to pose a few discussion topics relating to book covers:

What are your favorite book covers of all time?

What are some recent book covers you feel stand out?Are there, shudder, any book covers you feel were so awful that they either made you steer clear of the book, or perhaps even buy it out of curiosity?

Here are some of my choices:

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

Just a terrific, evocative and altogether frightening cover that both stands out and echoes the sentiment that by burning books we are in fact burning ourselves as well.

JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton

I've always had a soft spot for a good beastie book where some rabid genetically altered creature runs amok and snacks on dozens of hapless scientists and/or army personnel before being felled by a rocket launcher/machine gun fire/napalm explosion. Needless to say, JURASSIC PARK is the mother, father, grandfather and inbred reheaded stepchild of all beastie books. And to fully appreciate this cover you have to put it on context. This was before TYRANNASAUR ALLEY, before THE RELIC, and was simply the behemoth of techothrillers. With a jacket designed by designer-celeb Chip Kidd, JURASSIC PARK was the King Kong of beastie books when it was released in 1991, and that skeleton defied any reader not to dig it up.

THE BIG BAM by Leigh Montville

I just love this cover. The picked the perfect shot of Ruth, used the perfect font, and let the Babe speak for himself. My biggest pet peeve when it comes to covers is unimaginative or bland font, images or designs that serve no useful purpose other than to simply exist, and elements that just don't mesh or convey any sense of the book. All of those elements mesh perfectly for this cover, in my opinion.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Ok, cards on the table, I've never read a book by Sherrilyn Kenyon. But I distinctly rememeber surfing upcoming releases, seeing this cover, and thinking Wow.

Just look at this beauty. The red sky, gothic font and "ruggedly handsome" dude on the balcony, and this is one bad ass book cover. Just to make it clear, despite this dude's "Rugged Handsomeness," I could definitely kick his ass. Anyone with cheekbones that high can't weigh more than 47 pounds. No doubt that cloak conceals a frame that would make Napoleon Dynamite laugh. But I digress...I almost bought this book just for the cover (and $19.95 price point) just to see what kind of book could merit such an awesome design.

So these are just a few, most are recent, and I'll post more as they come to me. So what are some book covers that stand out to you?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

O.J. Has Made it to EBay

This looks authentic...bidding is already nearly $1,000

Let the feeding frenzy commence. And if it's real, no matter what the bidding ends up at, it's safe to assume that it's only a matter of time before the contents of both the book and the interview are leaked.

Monday, November 20, 2006

First "Citi Field," Now This

Between losing game 7 of the NLCS, the announcement of (yack) Citi Field, losing Pedro to shoulder surgery, likely signing Moises "I might be 49 years old, but I can still pee on my hands" Alou, and the below pictures courtesy of GQ, I have to believe this is all a massive ploy to lower Mets fans expectations for the 2007 season.

I mean, could you ever take the Mets seriously after seeing pictures like these? If you were Trevor Hoffman, pitching with nobody on and two outs in the ninth and a one-run lead, could you help from bursting out laughing if either of these guys came to the plate?

With a $120,000,000 payroll, you'd think the Mets could afford a P.R. department that made sure their players weren't photographed looking like rejects from a Village People casting call.

Friday, November 17, 2006

He Might Be On To Something

I shamelessly stole this tidbit from Maud Newton, but I find the fact that Richard Powers wrote(?) THE ECHO MAKER using voice recognition software fascinating. When writing or editing dialogue I always speak it out loud (or at least sound it out in my head) to make sure it's authentic. To confirm that, within the context of the story and the character, the words ring true. I always encourage others to do this as well, and spoke about it on my panel EDITING YOUR THRILLER at ThrillerFest. I've found that if you can't hear the character reciting the dialogue, or find that when spoken it sounds like grist for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 mill, it needs to be rewritten. Speaking the words out loud helps me write, helps me edit, and I truly believe that good writing often mimicks honest speech.

So maybe Powers is on to something here, because if dialogue can be honed in this way perhaps prose can be as well. And hell the guy just won the National Book Award, so he must be doing something right.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Killer Year Taking Over the World

Hop on over to Sarah Weinman's site for some breaking news regarding the Killer Year class of 2007. To say this is great news is like saying O.J. Simpson needs money.

Also, check out the CrimeSpree blog for more info.

This really will be a Killer Year.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Some Books ARE Successful

Since I'm a little tired of the incessant number of "this book didn't earn out its huge advance" and "the author's second book didn't do as well as the first" articles, I want to acknowledge the books that exceeded expectations. Books whose authors received either a modest advance, relatively meager publicity, or faced major obstacles in their career or writing, yet found adoring readers despite the odds.

There are certainly a few famous cases.

1969: After receiving a $5,000 advance, Mario Puzo publishes THE GODFATHER, which becomes a cultural tentpole in every sense of the word.

1973: An English teacher named Stephen King, at the time scraping by on $6,400 a year, sells a horror novel titled CARRIE to Doubleday for $2,500. A few months later, Doubleday sells paperback rights for $400,000. King later becomes mildly successful.

1991: After his first novel, A TIME TO KILL, was rejected by every major publisher in the country (it received a 5,000 copy print run from Wynwood Pressin 1988), a Mississippi lawyer named John Grisham publishes THE FIRM, which goes on to become the 7th bestselling novel of the year, eventually selling over 12,000,000 copies in hardcover and paperback combined.

1998: A broke, divorced and struggling screenwriter/novelist named Rex Pickett writes a novel called SIDEWAYS about a broke, divorced, struggling novelist. Pickett options the film rights and sells book rights for a combined $17,500. Acclaimed director Alexander Payne then directs an Oscar-nominated film based on Pickett's book. Pickett sells his next novel for much more than $17,500.

2002: Alice Sebold, whose first book, a memoir called LUCKY, sold fewer than 11,000 copies, releases a book called THE LOVELY BONES (for which she reportedly received between $25,000 and $35,000), which goes on to nearly 3,000,000 copies in hardcover.

2004: Matthew Sharpe's THE SLEEPING FATHER, which was rejected by over 20 publishers before selling to Soft Skull Press for a reported $1,000, becomes a surprise "Today Show" selection and a glowing NYT review and sells over 20,000 copies.

There are many more terrific success stories, of course, and many wonderful stories from authors whose names aren't "Grisham," "King" or "Puzo." You don't have to sell a million copies to have a success story.

So I'd like to open up the comment boards for the best "rags to riches" or even "rags to slightly better rags" stories from authors and readers. I want to focus on the little books that could, the nearly forgotten books that did, and the authors who succeeded in the face of adversity, apathy, and a brutal marketplace. Of course success can be defined on many levels, not just from a novel hitting the bestseller list, but even an author finding a passionate publisher for his/her work after many years of hard work.

So what are some success stories you've heard?

Friday, November 10, 2006

On November 10th:

1483: Martin Luther, German religious reformer born

1775: United States Marine Corps founded

1871: Henry Stanley, sent to locate the missing missionary David Livingstone, finally found him

1928: Hirohito crowned Emperor of Japan, aged 27

1989: East German border guards begin to dismantle parts of the 'Berlin Wall'

Oh yeah, and:

1979: Jason Pinter born

Thursday, November 09, 2006

George W. Bush: Making Authors Happier Through Incompetence

TORONTO (Reuters) - Indian novelist Kiran Desai said she may never have won the Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards, had George W. Bush not been U.S. president -- as he put her off becoming an American citizen.

The Man Booker Prize is open only to British and Commonwealth citizens and Indian-born Desai has yet to apply for a U.S. passport, although she has lived in New York for 20 years.

"George Bush won once and he won the second time and I couldn't bring myself to (apply)," Desai said late last month in an interview in Toronto as she voiced her disapproval of the president's foreign policy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Currently working on updating my website. Thankfully we have a programmer in the family, because my web design skills are akin to K-Fed's musical ones.

I updated my About the Author page. Woohoo.

And isn't it shocking when a book with a 400,000 copy first printing becomes a bestseller?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Digging Beneath the Surface

When I agreed to my book deal in March, the first thing I wanted to do (other than laminate a printout of the Publishers Markeplace listing) was to penetrate the secret world of the Crime Writer. Meet other authors. Meet independant booksellers. Observe the Crime Writer in her or her natural habitat, which, I soon learned, always contained a well-stocked liquor cabinet.

My first experience in this new world came back in April at the pre-party for the Edgar Awards held at the Black Orchid bookstore. I went, despite never having met a single person there in, well, person, but figured there had to be a first time.

So I went. Spent the majority of my time looking like a lost kid at the mall, hoping someone might come up and say, "Hey little boy, what are you doing in this big place all by yourself?"

I drank a few glasses of wine, ate some cheese, got into a few good conversations, and left with the surprising revelation that all these people knew each other. Every now and then an author would be whisked away to sign stock, a la the plastic aliens in "Toy Story" being snatched away by The Claw.

It was like I'd rolled over a log and discovered a hidden world that lay beneath. (insert your own joke about crime writers living under logs)

Pretty soon I was googling the authors I met, reading their websites and blogs, buying their books, and finding out more about the crime genre than I had in my entire tenure as an editor.
I spent ten minutes having what I assumed was an innocuous chat with CrimeSpree's Jen Jordan about my dual roles as editor and author, until Sarah Weinman had to tap me on the shoulder and say, "You realize you're being soliciated to write an article."

All I could manage was an ignorant, "Duurr..."
(the article, of course, should run in next month's CrimeSpree)

This experience was an eye-opener for me, not just as an author, but as an editor. Who knew this gigantic subculture existed just under the surface? A nomadic tribe of authors moving from conference to conference, from understaffed bar to understaffed bar?

As an editor who works with publicists and marketers to figure out the best ways to publish and promote books, I wondered how many people in the industry were as clueless as I was. I mean, how could you possibly hope to promote a crime novel if you had no concept of the crime fiction infrastructure?

As the months passed, I slowly tried to dip myself into the crime fiction bloodstream. I started a blog and shamelessly commented on others. I went to conferences and book signings. I met as many people as I could think of, all of whom for the most part were happy to see another writer enter the fray. Not to mention someone who could give insight into the Mind of the Editor (sample insight: "Did I remember to submit my expense report last week?")

With several authors on my list who write variations of crime fiction, these lessons were invaluable and will help my company do its authors proud. As an author, I learned just how little I knew (and wondered if others didn't need to learn more as well).

The bottom line is that you can say you're a certian kind of creature, walk like the creature, talk like the creature, believe you are the creature, but until you walk amongst other creatures you've only seen the top side of the log.

And trust me, the bottom part is much more interesting.

(Remember to insert your own joke about crime authors living under logs. Specifically Dave White)

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Relevancy of Evil

My subway car this morning was packed. I'd grabbed a copy of AM New York to check out the review of "Borat," and see what new political machinations would make me sick to my stomach. Unfortunately the subway was too full for me to open up the newspaper, so I stood with it tucked under my arm.

Standing next to me was a young Indian woman. She was reading a well-worn paperback. Curious to see what kind of book was so engrossing that its owner would brave reading it on a crowded subway, I peeked at the running heads. My jaw nearly dropped when I saw the author and title.

The book was Adolf Hitler's MEIN KAMPF.

I spent the spent few minutes fully enraged. How could someone not only read MEIN KAMPF, but so without any sense of shame? I debated asking the woman why she was reading the book--actually, demanding an explanation would have been more like it.

She was holding the book in such a way that allowed me to see the book's back cover, so I decided to read that. (I thought to myself, "How does someone write jacket copy for MEIN KAMPF?")

The first paragraph went like this:

Mein Kampf is a book never to be neglected by our Indian heritage, always to be studied, so that we don't let another Adolf Hitler rise to power in our blessed country.

I took a breath. Ok, so the book's publisher clearly means for it to be a vessel to understand evil, not to promote it in any way. But still, something about it didn't feel right. I remebered the scene in the movie "Seven" where Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt discuss monitoring people's reading habits, looking for those twisted enough to check books like MEIN KAMPF out of the library. Pitt's character says something along the lines of, "You might find a killer, or you might just find some college student writing a term paper on 20th century violence."

In a strange way, I can almost equate the benefit of reading MEIN KAMPF to the brilliance of "Borat." (stay with me)

By reading MEIN KAMPF, you might better understand racism, ignorance and intolerance, and everyone knows that in order to combat the enemy you must first understand it. "Borat" works because the Borat character himself is essentially a placebo, an assumedly harmless sounding board from which people expose their own ignorance, racism or intolerance (which is why Borat works as much as a sociological experiment as a comedic one). Borat is from a foreign country most Americans can neither spell nor locate on a map, speaks pidgen English, and is unabashadly anti-semitic and misogynistic. This allows his targets to expose their own traits without fearing a reprisal. I can understand the need to understand ignorance and intolerance before ever hoping to be able to cure it.

This is why I find it so funny that the actual nation of Kazakhstan takes such umbrage with Borat. They fail to realize that the target of Borat's material is not Kazakhstan, but "The U.S. and A." If anything "President George Walter Bush" should be the one taking out defensive ads in national newspapers, since all of the racist, bigoted, and idiotic people ridiculed by Borat live within his borders, not Kazakhstan's.

I've read many true crime books, and many books that upon their publication were either banned or condemned. Yet MEIN KAMPF is possibly the only book I would simply refuse to read. Perhaps one could claim a small bit of ignorance on my part for not being able to fully distance myself and read the book in order to understand it, but I'm happy to consider it a blessed ignorance, especially considering my Jewish heritage.

As I got off the subway, I felt no more ill will toward this woman. To some extent I envied her ability to read a book in public that, if noticed, would make her the target of such ire. So to that extent I can understand the reading of MEIN KAMPF. It's not so much to simply understand evil, but to learn from the lessons of the past to make sure it never happens again. Still, I don't see myself ever picking up a copy. This is one evil I don't want to ever understand.

UPDATE: According to bookscan, MEIN KAMPF regularly sells between 500-750 copies a week, and 30,000-50,000 copies per year. That makes me a bit nauseous.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I Hear There's This Thing Called MySpace

And since I've always aspired to be the 2,927,461th person to join the club, I've finally set up a page on MySpace. Feel free to send friend requests. At this point my only friend is Tom, so have at it.

Jason's MySpace

Now I hear there's this thing called YouTube...