Did a guest post for author Jill Edmondson (Sasha Jackson mysteries) on the bright side of 1-star reviews. Turns out they make me smile (sometimes).
Here's the link.
I love the apocalypse. Well, really I love the idea of the post-apocalyptic future (PAF, for short). I’ve had a (moderately) unhealthy obsession with the PAF since I was a kid. I blame the Mad Max series.
But two years ago, I got serious about the PAF. Sort of serious. After watching a cheesy — but totally gripping — History Channel docu-drama about a family fighting its way through a PAF wasteland, I realized something: there was no way in hell that a guy like me would last a day in the PAF.
That troubled me. And Christina was no help.
Me: Honey, I can assure you that we’re not grid-down material. I’ve never shot a gun, and you’re kind of a klutz. Seriously, did you hear anyone say “Whoopsie-doodle” in The Road Warrior?
Christina: What are you talking about? I’m Scotch-Irish. We can survive anything.
Me: Well, I’m a neurotic Jew, and we do our best work in a civil society.
Christina: Yeah, but you’ll be with me, if the shit gets real.
Me: Honey, look at my glasses!
Me: What if they break? Where will I find an optometrist in the PAF? I’m totally blind without them!
Christina: Ok. Well, do you have a spare?
Me: Of course I do! But two is one, and one is none!
Christina: Babe, I think you’ve had way too much coffee.
The thing that bugged me about the History Channel special (aside from the fact that a fictional future is pretty far from anyone’s concept of history) was that the male lead was pretty much ready for the PAF. He was an EMT. He knew how to hunt, start a fire, hot-wire a car, and do a dozen other manly things that I haven’t even read about in books.
So after a few days of wondering what a dude like me was supposed to do in the PAF, I got to pitching. Which is where Penthouse comes in. See, every year they do a Badass issue, and one of their editors thought it would be a good idea for me to write an article explaining how a typical guy — think modern city dweller / cubicle jockey — could survive the PAF, or at least a temporary grid-down situation.
Now, I wouldn’t exactly call what I wrote for Penthouse journalism. It’s more like entertainment that draws on some journalistic skills. I talked to survivalists, security experts, and even a doctor who specializes in disaster relief.
I tried to talk to some really hardcore survivalists (basically a few people who had written some of the bestselling books on the topic) but they said their morals precluded them from sharing their advice with Penthouse readers. I asked them if they could live with knowing that some Penthouse readers might die because they refused to share their knowledge. They said they were ok with that.
So that brings me to the warning section of this blog post. All the information you’ll find in the Penthouse article is solid. But if your survival plan is based solely on reading Penthouse, you will die in the PAF, most likely at the hands of a hardcore survivalist who runs his PR opportunities by Jesus.
ANYWAY, it’s still a fun read. And for reasons that aren’t totally clear to me, Penthouse has decided to drop its paywall for some articles. My friend, and former colleague, Steve Javors pointed that out to me recently. So after two years, everyone has access to some really Badass advice just in time for the Mayan apocalypse.
Here’s that link.
I've been thinking about City of Thieves a lot lately. For those who don't know the book, it's David Benioff's wonderful coming of age adventure set in World War II Russia.
I read the book a few years ago. The story sticks with me. But the story of how I came to read the story is what I've been thinking a lot about. That story takes place in a bookstore, specifically the Borders on the corner of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood. That store, like the chain, are no more. But back in 2009, I used to go there often. Sometimes I would go to Borders to buy a specific book, but more often than not, I just went to browse. I like browsing in bookstores. I like it so much, that I'd probably pay a buck or two for the privilege. But sadly, a door fee is more of a hypothetical these days, since there just aren't that many bookstores left.
ANYWAY, I was wondering aimlessly through the store when a sales clerk came up to me.
Clerk: Are you looking for a great book?
Me: No… well, yes. Actually, that's a pretty amazing pitch.
Clerk: I know.
Me: Seriously. Because you can't say no. I mean, I'm in a bookstore.
Clerk: I know.
Me: It's just very effective. You should work in sales.
Clerk: I do.
At that point, the clerk located a copy of City of Thieves.
Clerk: This is the book you want.
Me: How do you know?
Clerk: It's my job to know.
The clerk left me with the book and I did what I always do — read the first few pages to see if anything grabs me. About ten minutes later, my girlfriend (now my wife) found me reading. I told her that a clerk had just come up to me and said he had the book for me. Christina was a little skeptical, and it didn't help that the clerk was nowhere in sight. But I bought the book and tore through it in a few days.
The clerk was right. I did want to read that book, I just didn't know it.
Quite often these days, I hear readers bemoaning the loss of bookstores. Usually, they say they miss the endless browsing opportunities. I totally agree. But more than the possibility of physical discovery, I miss the people in the store. I miss staffers who could just look at you and tell what sort of book might interest you. Sure, there are algorithms that know more about you than a sales clerk with a gift for profiling, but sometimes the old-fashioned way is just more fun. And who know, maybe the algorithm never would have suggested City of Thieves because I was only lukewarm on 25th Hour, another Benioff novel.
Did you know that you can highlight text from the books you read on Amazon's Kindle? I've never used this feature. But apparently, some people do.
If enough people highlight a passage, Amazon will post the passage on the book's page. That has begun happening with Murder and Other Distractions.
Here are the top three highlighted passages so far:
“The Internet is no place for an existential crisis. Being connected to everyone and everything ought to be illuminating. The truth is, it’s madness…”
“Only humans can examine their lives, but most people aren’t up to the task. They just move on.”
“You can Google Jesus, but you can’t Jesus Google. When your name becomes a verb, you’ve really got something.”
I suppose there's an award for just about everything these days. There are even tongue-in-cheek awards for the worst of something. The Razzies come to mind. Add to that list the Literary Review of London, which named eight finalist for its Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
Personally, I find most sex scenes to be pretty awful. For some reason (perhaps reader expectations) authors tend to ratchet up the flowery language when the clothes come off. But beyond the flowers, I find most sex scenes to be somewhat dishonest. I'm not talking about realism (that's not for everyone), but about truth. Often when I read a sex scene I find myself saying, yeah right.
I reread one of the sex scenes I wrote for Murder and Other Distractions. I'll let you judge the truthiness of the scene. But I will say that I regret using the word manhood. Nobody uses that word when referring to a dick.
The door to my apartment is slightly ajar, and in my neighborhood that’s a sure sign that you’ll need to go to Best Buy and get a new television. But then I remember that I probably left the door open in my mad dash the previous night.
When I cross the threshold into my place, my relief to see all of my things is instantly dashed by the sight of Inside Girl.
“Why didn’t you return my texts?” she asks.
“It’s not Friday; what are you doing here?”
“Your door was open.”
This is actually the way we talk. We exchange words so that it sounds like we’re having a conversation. But the words never really make any sense. We just lob them back and forth like some sort of insane tennis match until one of us—usually me—gets bored. That’s when we fuck. It’s a peculiar façade that we engage in, and I’ve never been able to understand why we do it. We never go anywhere. We never exist in the presence of outsiders. It’s just Inside Girl and me, and yet we persist with the ruse; it means nothing, though I suspect that it matters to her.
“Were you with another girl Friday?”
“I’m wanted for murder. Two counts.”
“I’m seeing someone else, too.”
“My lawyer may be calling you; I need an alibi.”
“What’s that smell? Is that you? You should take a shower.”
“Who knows, I’ll probably get the death penalty—life in prison if I’m lucky.”
With that, Inside Girl takes me by the wrist and leads me into the bathroom.
She lets the water run as I peel off my clothes.
We shower together without touching. We’ve done this dance before.
I wash my penis and an erection follows in short order.
“I’m not going to fuck you,” Inside Girl says. “I came here to tell you that it’s over.”
Ten minutes later, her hands are pressed up against the foot of my bed and she’s yelling at me to fuck her harder.
Doggie-style is our best position because we don’t have to look at each other. If relationships were just faceless sex, we’d be a stellar couple.
“Harder! Harder! Give it to me!”
I groan as I accelerate my pace.
I think about the Dodgers and why they suck so much. We need pitching, hitting and defense, I tell myself. And luck, we need luck, too. Then I realize that’s pretty much everything, which means that I’ll probably be the oldest man in San Quentin when the boys in blue finally get their shit together. Do they let you watch baseball in prison, I wonder? Boyd would know, I think. Maybe prison won’t be so bad, at least when it’s baseball season. But what if I’m stuck in the pen with a bunch of Giants fans?
Inside Girl grinds her ass back against me, and I reciprocate by slowing down and letting her feel my manhood fill her up.
I’m trying to calculate the total Dodgers payroll to determine if we can pick up a few free agents at the trading deadline, when it occurs to me that sex is the one selfless act Inside Girl and I engage in.
We’re each entirely selfish when it comes to our relationship—each of us sees the other person as existing only as a fuck. But I’ve never left her unfulfilled, and she’s always delivered the goods for me as well. Yet, by every other measure, we’re two perfect strangers. Fucking Inside Girl is like watching a relationship through a keyhole. It’s easy to be myopic and confuse the sex for something of meaning. But the truth is, even though the sex is meaningless, it matters a lot, at least while you’re doing it.
“I need to be on top,” she advises.
I oblige, gently slapping her backside as a signal that I’m going to shift my position.
She climbs on top of me without a smile. I can feel her hot, little pussy against my groin. Her wetness drips onto my lap. She’s close, so I decide to rest my back against the headboard so that I can suck on her tiny nipples.
Maybe the Dodgers are cursed, I wonder. Has anyone looked into this? Los Angeles is too superficial to dwell on weird curses that plague hapless sports teams in other cities. That’s a Boston or Chicago thing. But there’s got to be some weird shit afoot here. I don’t have any real proof, but I’d like it if some sports reporter looked into the 2006 playoff fiasco when two Dodgers runners were tagged out back-to-back at home on the same play. That kind of thing never happens. In Boston or Chicago, they’d write dozens of books about that one play, but in Los Angeles, the sports reporters forgot about that colossal fuck-up even before the series ended and the Dodgers went home for good.
They’ve only won one playoff series since 1988. This is troubling. Someone should really look into this.
Inside Girl shakes wildly, and I roll forward, shifting into a missionary position. It feels natural to kiss her, but I balk at the idea of pressing my tongue against hers. Instead, I just stare at her face, watching the orgasm run its course.
I’m pumping lightly, not thinking about her or the Dodgers. My head is clear for the first time in ages and I lose track of time. The rhythm is automatic like a metronome.
Inside Girl pats my ass as if to say, You can cum now.
Instinctively, I pull out and tear off my condom. I jerk and then she jerks a little, and we both wait for me to explode on her chest, but nothing happens. I’m hard and harmless when she says: “What’s the deal?”
“You were serious about this being the last time?” I ask as she strokes my penis with the enthusiasm of a retail worker at the end of a double shift.
“Yeah. Do you want to cum on my face one last time?”
“Are you going to finish?”
Inside Girl stops stroking my cock. Holding it in her hand, she asks if I’m sure.
“Is this the end of this?” she asks, removing her hand from my cock.
“I’m not sure this was anything.”
“So, you don’t even want to cum?”
“If it’s all right with you, I’ll take care of it myself.”
“Fuck you,” she snaps.
“What do you care?”
She doesn’t care and she knows it.
“I hate you,” she says.
“No you don’t. We don’t have enough between us for hate.”
Inside Girl doesn’t quite know what to say, and neither do I.
“Maybe a blowjob,” I suggest, hoping that will placate her.
As it turns out, sucking my cock is a lot easier than confronting the fact that we’ve shared so many countless nothings.
I think about The Girl Who Got Away, as Inside Girl flicks the tip of my penis with her tongue. I miss The Girl Who Got Away, but it’s not the sex that makes me wish we hadn’t split up. I liked myself better when I was with her. I wasn’t so dispassionate. I gave a shit. I meant something, I think; I mattered, I hope.
But thinking about The Girl Who Got Away is more of a wood-killer than the Dodgers’ inability to win, so I concentrate on Fuckable Coworker’s perfect bottom.
I match Fuckable Coworker’s ass with Inside Girl’s mouth and search for a pair of tits from my spank bank. I remember a girl who used to work at my neighborhood Starbucks and I graft her luscious boobs onto the Franken-fuck monster I’ve created for the occasion. For some reason, the idea of a Fox News correspondent talking dirty sends me over the edge, and I blow my load when I recall the smug gusto with which that network’s hotties cheered victory in Iraq.
“Mission accomplished,” I sigh.
Inside Girl cleans my cum off her face and stomps out of my apartment for the last time.
I went to college in the 1990s. We had the Internet back then, but it wasn't a big deal.
One thing all of us had access to was email, which was often written with a hyphen back then. Mostly, we used email to write to friends at other schools because it was cheaper than buying stamps, which were a lot cheaper than they are now.
Forwards were the shit
Seriously. Forwards were actually cool back then. You wanted to get them. If there was a must-read forward making the rounds, you actually wanted to get it before your friends so that you could be the one to forward it to them. This was before Kenyan spammers. This was before Google. I'm not sure where people found forwards, they just arrived in our inboxes, like magic.
Smurf porn (then)
It was either 1995 or 1996 when I first saw the Smurf Porn forward. It was a crass, but hilarious, story about a Smurf gangbang. This was before Todd “I'm here for the gangbang” Phillips introduced that porn niche into the pop culture lexicon.
I don't remember many of the details of the Smurf Porn forward. But I do recall that we thought it was so funny that we printed it out, which meant it was funny enough to walk to the computer lab, because that's where the printer was.
Smurf porn (now)
Recently, I got a message from a college friend who told me that my use of the Smurf Porn forward in my novel really brought back memories. I had used that forward to illustrate just how basic the Internet was back then. But to be honest, I hadn't thought much about the content of the forward while writing the book. In fact, I hadn't even bothered to search for the original forward, until now…
Unfortunately, I can't seem to find that Smurf Porn forward. I Googled it. I refined my search query several times. I even searched the “deep Google,” which is where you go when you're definitely not feeling lucky.
The problem isn't that the original forward isn't on the Internet — I'm sure it's there somewhere. The problem is that there's just too much damn Smurf Porn these days.
What's odd about this — aside from the fact that there are entire websites dedicated to smutty Smurf pics and videos — is that this is the first time in years that Google has failed me.
Which brings me to the purpose behind this blog post. I want to read that forward, but as far as I can tell, the only way that I'm actually going to get it is through the power of social media. Which is how I originally found the forward in the first place. Which means that in a way, the Internet has come full circle jerk.
I neglected to include discussion questions for book clubs at the end of Murder and Other Distractions. My friend Stacey recently brought this oversight to my attention before suggesting that I write a blog post rectifying that screw-up. Well Stacey, this is that blog post.
Bad reviews come with the territory, but I wasn’t expecting this kind of bad review.
After giving Murder and Other Distractions one star, Matt Goff wrote:
I bought this book based on the description and great reviews. What the description and reviews left out was the EXPLICIT SEX WARNING. I flipped the ‘next page’ > button several times and the sex description did not stop. When I bought this book I did not realize it was a porno in print. My only consolation is I bought it during its promotional free period, so nothing lost. I doubt I will ever finish the book if all it contains is sex.
Hmm. While I’m not sure I’d describe my novel as “porno in print,” I’m a little surprised that Mr. Goff was shocked to see so much sex in my book. Did he not see the fornicating stick figures on the cover?
I also used the word “f-buddy” in the description. I would have said “fuck-buddy,” but that phrase violates Amazon’s terms of service.
Still, Mr. Goff is correct. I didn’t explicitly warn readers that there would be sex in the book.
I’m just glad Mr. Goff didn’t spend $2.99 for his porn. That would have been really offensive.
I’m also encouraged by the final line of the review: “I doubt I will ever finish the book if all it contains is sex.”
Keep reading, Mr. Goff. There’s more than just sex. There’s violence. And drug use. And there’s a lot of bad language. There’s also a story somewhere in there.
Feel free to check out Murder and Other Distractions, if you haven’t already. And by all means, if you’ve read the book, review it!
Last night I got the best news of my career.
My publisher emailed to tell me that Murder and Other Distractions had been downloaded 4,000 times over the course of about 20 hours.
Yesterday was my first free day.
Today is my second free day. (There is a school of thought that says consecutive free days tend to be more successful than stand alone free days because you can build on your momentum).
ANYWAY, after I got off the phone with my publisher, my wife and I called my parents.
My mom had read the book, and hated it. My father had not read the book, mostly because he doesn’t read anything longer than a magazine article. But both of them had told everyone they knew to buy the book, mostly because they’re incredibly supportive people.
When I told them that we had 4,000 downloads (and counting!), they were both shocked (in a good way).
“That’s more people than your mom told,” my father said.
And then my mom got right down to it: “What does this mean?”
To be honest, I’m not sure just yet.
I’ve been a professional writer since 2003. That’s how I make my living. But for the most part, it means writing for other people. The dream has always been to write for myself.
Yesterday was a big leap forward in that direction.
But before I go back to the business of promoting my first book and the challenge of writing my second one, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who helped spread the word.
I wrote a book that I am proud of. My friends and family lent support along the way. And Abby, my publisher, created a kickass cover, navigated the confusing wild west that is ebook publishing, and devised a strategy that rocked. But the lynchpin of that strategy was always a great group of friends and family that one might call my social network.
Friends on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest spread the word. And for that I owe them 4,000 thank yous, and a whole lot more.
Thank you, Internet!
Today is my first free day on Amazon.
That means Murder and Other Distractions won’t cost you a thing.
All 55,000 words are free. Even the four references to butt-fucking. Free.
It’s all free.
For two days. Wednesday and Thursday.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is the kind of business model that was only viable in the bubble years.
Well, here’s the thing. While you get the book for free, Amazon still pays me and my publisher. It’s kind of like giving out free meals, but the restaurant pays the staff and the suppliers.
OK. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You want to sell your Amazon stock. They must be fools, right?
I don’t know. Maybe.
Or maybe they’re just trying to dominate the market for ebooks. Maybe they’re offering all you early adopters with readers a deal that’s too good to last forever.
Or maybe the team that founded Pets.com is advising Amazon on the ebook business.
I don’t actually know. It’s the Internet. People give stuff away and sometimes that works. Other times, they charge people and everyone says, don’t they know you’re supposed to give stuff away for FREE on the Internet?
People often write the word free in ALL CAPS online. It’s tacky.
The point is, you get a free ebook.