Friday, October 29, 2010

Walk of Shame

Question: Are Latinos white?

Answer: Depends on whose labeling.

Q: Are halfbreed Mohawks white?

A: See Above.

Becky and I left the Halloween Sock Hop with Dylan at eight pm on a Wednesday.  George Washington Carver Elementary is in Coconut Grove, an area of Miami which is part tourist trap, part haven for black folks.  We left in the middle of a little league football game.  I assumed the folks surrounding the field were parents invested in the players.  Really, the whole neighborhood had come to bask in the bright lights.  

Groups of people clustered around the playground equipment, the bleachers, the sidewalks.  Plenty of entrepreneurs in the crowd, shooting dice, talking about the merits of products imported from the west coast vs. products imported from South America.  

They let us know we're white, as in, "The white folks leavin' their dance."  

Inside, I bristled.  But apart from going around and explaining that, actually, Dylan is mixed race, and so am I, and Becky is Cuban, I couldn't do much except walk on.  Since I'd just come from watching a bunch of costumed elementary kids run around and dance to Pit Bull and Flo Rida, I was grinning.  I got a lot of looks which I interpreted to mean, "Wipe that stupid grin off your face."

The streets were lined with enough cars to render everything one way.  People living within the arc of the floodlights had set up folding chairs in their lawns, where they could drink and talk.  It looked like a homecoming game, but it was just a Wednesday night and some eight-year-olds playing football.

A guy biked past with a toddler in one arm.  My jaw fell open, but no one in the crowd even blinked.  I might not be white, but I'm certainly a surburbanite.   

I wish I didn't feel nervous, but being the only faces shaded lighter than "Pennies from Heaven" on Benjamin Moore's color wheel was unnerving.  Why I read more than curiosity in the crowd's eyes, I don't know.  Okay, fine - racism.  I was scared because they're black and I'm not.  I hope one day that everything I dislike about myself will be gone, but until then I've got to own these kernels of racism in my heart. 

Dylan plowed through the crowd, munching on a Butterfinger.  He doesn't see race.  To him, we're all just old people, made invisible by passing time.  

Passing years will make a lot of things invisible.  Like the color line.  Mixed race will become the only race, and degrees, drops, and percentages won't matter.

In the meantime, please excuse the white folks.        

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Open Letter to an Anonymous Author (3 of 3)

Reading this might have saved me embrassment.

Note to Self,

You wrote a book, but what do you know about writing a book?  You set a deadline, and four-hundred single-spaced pages later, you met it.  You proved to yourself you could chase an idea for longer than a short story, that a couple-few hours in the morning were enough to eventually have a mountain of words.  

Why oh why did you have to show it to people?  Friends and family, maybe, maybe, but people in publishing?  If you want a part in Clint Eastwood’s next movie, you don’t send him a tape of the play your high school drama club did.

Two megabytes spent on the same story, .97 megabytes after your deadline, you finally began a draft you can be proud of... couldn’t you have waited a couple of years?   

Oh, well.  Screw ‘em if they can’t suffer an amateur misstep.  

You recover beautifully.


Not in the Buying Office Forever

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Open Letter to an Anonymous Author (2 of 3)

Not the book in question; just making a point.

Dear Self-Published Author,

You paid a print-on-demand house to publish your book, but what do you know about writing?  Paying to have your book printed means you have money to spare, not that you’re an author.  

You claim it’s not about rejection by traditional publishers or the strength of your work, it’s about having creative control and a bigger share of the profits.  Right, then; what would you do if your P-O-D sales impressed the big boys so much, they offered to publish your book?  If autonomy is so important to you, wouldn’t you tell them to stuff their contract in a pipe and smoke it?  Think of the joy, being able to reject the ones who rejected you.

When you write, you’re pulling thoughts which are beautiful and perfect in your mind and putting them on paper.  You need another set of eyes to tell you how close or how far you’ve gotten from capturing that perfect idea.  It helps if those eyes aren’t on your payroll.

Money can buy pages, but it can’t buy talent.

Very Sincerely,

Your Grammatical Choices Hurt My Brain in the Buying Office

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Open Letter to an Anonymous Author (1 of 3)

(not the author, or her book; just using it to illustrate my point)

Dear Author,

Someone’s published your book, but what you know about the bookselling business?  And as much as it’s a calling, it’s also a business, one which generated 2.3 billion dollars in sales in August (that’s right, this dying business produced a measly 2.3 billion in sales during the slowest month of the year).

But this isn’t about sales; it’s about knowing your place.  You scheduled a launch and asked us to handle the book sales.  Apart from self-promotion, your job is done.  Show up the night of the event, talk, smile, charm, answer questions, and sign – that’s it.  Leave the bookselling to professionals who know what we’re doing.

For twenty-eight years, Books & Books has worked events.  Every event can’t be a homerun, but we always bring the pages for folks to turn.  Did it ever occur to you that the publisher and the bookstore did not provide certain information because, frankly, it’s none of your business?  Worry yourself to pieces all you want, if it’s your nature, but to approach another bookseller once you've made an agreement with us?  That's just wrong.  

Every day is a marathon, and the precious energy we wasted on you and your book could have been spent on someone else.  Someone who knows enough to trust the pros. 

Don't mess with the people deciding whether to stock your book. 


Pissed Off in the Buying Office

Monday, October 25, 2010


The bookseller’s version of State by State has two issues now, the Pacific Northwest Reader and The Great Lakes Reader.  I’m assured my Florida essay will be in the Southeast version.  I haven’t announced it from the rooftops because I want to be dead-solid certain, like, book in hand, before I say anything.

Do you know what a promise of seeing my words in print from a publishing titan did to my writing habits?  Nothing.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I sent out half a dozen stories to various magazines in the fall of 1998.  The rejection letters I received shut me down.  Even the positive one, with the handwritten note and the first page returned with corrections, didn’t keep me going.  I stopped writing.  I don’t remember what I did instead.  Work, I believe.  Cooking.  Handyman projects.    

It was February of 2006 before I started writing again.  Nearly eight years.

On Friday, I got a rejection email from Blood Orange Review for my first cold submission in twelve years.  Do you know what that did to my writing habits?  Nothing.

Well, my first submission in twelve years if you don’t count the Writer’s Digest 2007 competition, where I got three rejections (two short stories and one script) and one Honorable Mention in the Film / Script category.  But first cold submission in twelve years has impact, which is necessary for the repetition of do you know what that did…nothing to work.  I can’t count the Writer’s Digest competition.  I was so excited to get the Honorable Mention letter than I didn’t even notice the rejections.  

I saved the email from Blood Orange Review, as I’ve heard some writers have done with their rejections.  I was disappointed, but it also felt good.  It didn’t rock my world.  It didn’t ruin my day.  It didn’t change that I’d written that morning, and would write again the next morning.  

I’ve been saying that I’ve written past the point where rejection matters since 2008 or so.  

I finally believe it. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Wish I Had Never Seen This

Did you know there’s a feature on eblogger which allows you to track traffic to your blog?  I’ve laughed with authors visiting the store who talk about obsessively checking their Amazon sales rank every hour.  Meanwhile in my head, I’ve judged them.  I’ll never be that self-obsessed and pathetic,  I thought.  But… I didn’t know I could track traffic to my blog.

Looking at Sweet with Fall and Fish, I honestly have no idea why a few hundred folks read one post (and let me delude myself that every time someone opens a post, it means s/he reads it, okay?) and another only gets a few readers.  

Some of my recent posts have seven readers.  Seven.  Since 14 people are following me, if you count me (I was trying to see if I’d get an email when I put up a post; I didn’t, and I haven’t taken the time to figure out how to unsubscribe myself), that means half the people interested enough to see what I have to say on a regular basis aren’t really that interested.

My most popular post has nearly a thousand readers.  Is it because I mention all those popular blogs I like?  Or does it come up on a Google search for tips on getting more people to read your blog?  Maybe it’s because it has so many comments.  There’s probably no way of knowing, but it hasn’t stopped me from whining and wondering all week.

I think it’s the mention of all those high-traffic sites, combined with Tucker Max, Maddox, and "Hot Chicks."  I told Becky I should just start throwing random high-traffic generating phrases into my posts, things like Paris Hilton reverse cowgirl Chilean miners, or Jersey Shore Gulf Spill bukkake.  Only half joking, I made particular mention of a certain singer whose video we saw at a bowling alley with Dylan, said singer who has the ability to make a six-year-old really shake his booty.

“If you mention ------ ------ on your blog just to get traffic,” Becky said, also only half joking, “then we would have to part company.  Now I’m leaving the room, and I’m going to forget this conversation ever happened.”

The singer’s first name is the same as the guy who wrote Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever and co-edited The Word Made Flesh with Eva Talmadge.  His last name is very similar in sound to this animal: 

Should hundreds of followers and thousands of readers come to Sweet, my last illusion will crumble.  Author platform, author platform, if you want to be published then what’s your author platform?  If I garner a large audience (and one could argue that the hundreds of people looking at The Heat Lightning and Lip Service and the thousands looking at Books & Books constitute a platform), I’ll have to face the fact that I’m unpublished because I keep my work to myself.  

     Watches Viagra sex Lindsay Lohan big hard Russian Brides upskirt Glenn Beck boobs sexting Catfish orgy fetish video spank Spanx Pulitzer naked pictures fap adult NSFW butts bikini sexy hot wild dirty naughty filthy Nolte   
Just checking.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Favorite Cop in the World

After Friday’s classes, at a delicious restaurant recommended by SIBA, a group of book lover’s sat down to dinner.  Judith Rosen from Publisher’s Weekly; Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression; Detective Joe Matthews, twenty-nine year veteran of the Miami Dade Police Department; Mitchell Kaplan, former head of SIBA and owner of Books & Books; Becky Quiroga, Children’s Book Buyer for Books & Books and manager of the children’s section at our Coral Gables store; Les Standiford, bestselling author of nonfiction like Last Train to Paradise and The Man Who Invented Christmas, as well as the John Deal mystery series; and Eric Svenson, sales rep and southern charmer extraordinaire for Harper Collins.

Oh, and me.  I read books.

People who love books tend to two camps; shy (or bookish, har-har) and storytellers.  Standiford and Matthews are storytellers.  Mitchell is one who comes across as shy, but that’s just because he’s as good a listener as he is a speaker.  Through the three of them, we hear the story of how Bringing Adam Home became a book.

It started with the timeline of Adam Walsh’s abduction, a document it took Matthews over two years of constant effort to create.  Hoping it would serve as a warning of what could go wrong if investigations were mishandled, he shopped it to a university press.  The editor-in-chief said, “I’m going to do you a big favor – I’m not going to publish this.”  The Uni editor advised Matthews to take it to a big publisher, where it could get the treatment and audience it deserved.  

A few days later, Matthews was having lunch with a friend who mentioned that attorney Joe Kaplan – once a lawyer for the police unions in Miami – had a kid in the book business (if you don’t know books, that’s like saying Basil Fanshawe Jagger has a kid in the rock star business).  Joe M met Joe K, who called Mitchell, who met Joe, who liked Mitchell, who thought of Les Standiford to make a non-fiction document into what Truman Capote called a factual novel.  

To hear Matthews tell it, he and Les hit it off right away.  They met for coffee at a McDonalds and stayed there for four hours.  “They probably thought we were homeless.”

As martinis, cuba libras, mojitos, and Budweisers flow (along with the occasional soda and Odoul’s for souls brave enough to handle sobriety), talk turns to e-books, family, pornography, and movies.  

Matthews tells a great story about a Hollywood actor who wanted to make the Baby Lollipops case into a movie, or a TV series.  This actor nipped around super-stardom from the seventies to the nineties but never quite made the leap to household name status.  He specializes in soft-hearted tough-guy roles, and sympathetic villains.  For the sake of storytelling, we’ll call the actor Guff.  

Guff and Matthews didn’t quite hit it off.  As a man who trains officers on how to administer lie-detector tests, Matthews is uniquely qualified to tell when someone is full of shit.  Still, Matthews agreed to meet Guff at the bar in a South Beach hotel.  

Guff bullied the servers and spent the evening trying to take the female half of a couple he just met to his room upstairs.  Matthews decided to bow out gracefully.  

Guff wouldn't have it.  He followed Matthews into the street, demanding an explanation.

Like a date gone sour, Matthew knew that they wouldn’t work together.  Also like a date, he tried to come up with reasons Guff would understand which wouldn’t hurt his feelings.  Something’s off, we don’t click, now let’s just go our separate ways, the chemistry isn’t there, I’m trying to spare you here, etc. etc.

None of it satisfies Guff.  He wants a reason Joe Matthews won’t work with him.  Matthews is a cop, used to confrontation and plain speaking.  He’s tried to be gentle, but he’s wasted as much time as he’s cared to on this B-list actor. 

“Listen, Guff – I don’t like you.  Is that clear enough?  I don’t like you, and we’re done.”

Guff goes ballistic.  How dare a nothing like Matthews dislike a successful actor like Guff, a man with his own production company, perfect stubble, and chin that could cut class?  He screams himself into a frenzy.  He promises Matthews he’s dead in Hollywood.  He actually uses the phrase, “Do you know who I am?”  

All that would have been fine.  Rude, yes, but Matthews would have walked away.  Except Guff poked Matthews in the chest to emphasize his point.

Matthews grabbed Guff’s finger and bent it back.  To hear Matthews tell it, Guff screamed “in a cowardly fashion.”

“Do you know who I am?” Matthews asked the actor.  “You don’t come to my city and tell me off.  Don’t ever call me, don’t ever talk to me, I want nothing to do with you, ever again.”

My favorite part of the story was Matthews tone when he described Guff’s scream.  Matthews sounded surprised, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing for such a little thing.

Clearly there’s a difference between playing tough, and being tough.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jack Johnson RAWKS!

I once read a review which described Ani DiFranco’s voice as rocking the house one minute and rocking the cradle the next, which is a damn near perfect description.  That’s not exactly what has kept me from making the leap from liking Jack Johnson to loving Jack Johnson, but it’s a start.

I do cushy, okay.  I happen to like David Gray, who has been called my generation’s Enya.  But listening to David Gray croon over melodic soundscapes, you know he’s not going anywhere with it.  Each album will sound like every other, and that’s fine because you love butterscotch pudding, and when you’re in the mood for butterscotch pudding it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.

Jack Johnson frustrates me because I hear glimpses of the musician he would like to be.  

He kept coming up on my Pandora Cake radio station, but he never gave me pause until the end of "Flake."  His voice aches into the higher registers while his guitar starts to walk and talk.

Please, please, please don’t pass me
Please, please, please don’t pass me
Please, please, please don’t pass me by

Whoa, who is that?  Former surfer Jack Johnson?  Let me check him out. 

You can have his gorgeous voice, mellow vibes, and upbeat guitar riffs playing in the background for hours before you hear a minute which demands attention.

Of course, Leonard Cohen is a favorite of mine, and no one in his audience points stiff fingers in the air and squeals “Cohen rawks!”  If you’re not listening to the lyrics, he can easily fade into background noise.  But his music is fully formed in a way Johnson’s isn’t.  I say the musician Johnson wants to be rather than the musician I want to hear not only because of those moments he lets loose, but because he tours with G. Love.

Why else would a tight musician with such a rich, pitch perfect baritone tour with a whiny-voiced slopbucket blues musician like G. Love?  I hear legions of fans shouting weed! but I don’t buy it.  If you could put Jack Johnson’s voice over G. Love’s funk, or inject G. Love’s wild puppy playing into Johnson’s veins, you’d have a music legend.

As it is, Jack Johnson has his fans, G. Love has his, and some folks who dig music will still make faces when their names come up.  

Becky took me to see Jack Johnson in concert.  He seldom plays outside of Hawaii unless it’s with a festival, so it was a rare treat.  For her, who loves Jack Johnson.  For me, it was the closest I’ll come to a hippie jam festival.  When the sun went down, the pot came out.  You’ve never seen so many thousands of people gathered in one place being so mellow.  G. Love shook us up a couple times, and Jack Johnson wrapped us in a sonic hug.  As a bonus, Johnson is also one of those performers who sounds exactly as beautiful live as on CD.

Which means I can stick to the CDs.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Girl with the Pigeon Tattoo

Becky’s in a book.  

I snubbed Becky after Eric Carle drew The Very Hungry Caterpillar on her forearm, but Harper Collins, Eva Talmadge, and Justin Taylor did not.

Check out pages 82-83 of The Word Made Flesh:

Cool tattoos are expected, but you could always browse the internet to check those out - it’s the stories behind the tattoos which make Word Made Flesh worth owning.

Eva Talmadge came to Books & Books for lunch with her mother a few months back.  Becky and Eva tried to get Mo Willems' original-drawing-made-permanent-via-tattoo of the Pigeon into the book, but the layout had already been finalized.  

Here it is anyway, for your enjoyment:

If Word Made Flesh is a hit (and if early Books & Books sales are any indication, it will be), I’m sure you’ll see the Pigeon in More Words Made Flesh: This Time It’s Personal.*

The Pigeon debuted at BEA 2010, and made Becky a minor celebrity in children’s book publishing.  She became Tattoo Girl.  She posed for pictures.  Everyone wanted to know which illustrator would be next.  

Turns out Lane Smith was next, with the Monkey from this year’s best picture book, It’s a Book.

Now who’s next?  If Becky could choose, Maurice Sendak would tour (which he adamantly does not) and she’d ask him to draw Max on her arm.  But it doesn’t work that way, and camping out on his doorstep won't happen any time soon.  A serendipitous combination of subject matter, access, willingness (one illustrator balked at drawing on flesh), and financial breathing room need to come together for these tattoos to happen.  

Whoever the next addition to the Mortal Art Project turns out to be, I’ll keep you posted.

* Title not final.  Or real.  Neither is Word Made Flesh II: Electric Boogaloo   

Friday, October 15, 2010

Do Not Enter Room 1408

I went to the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Association conference in Daytona last month. Growing up, I remember Daytona as an iconic party destination, a place I’d go when I was old enough for Spring Break and underwent a personality transplant. Today it’s like the city time forgot. If you want to film an 80s period piece, you could do it in Daytona by moving the cars.

Thankfully, Daytona’s time-capsule surreality is virtually undetectable at night, when we checked in. I’m thankful, because The Plaza gave us room 1408.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Stephen King short story or the John Cusack movie, 1408 is really on the thirteenth floor, but relabeled the 14th for superstitious guests. Both stories are about a man who spends his nights in haunted hotels and writes about them. The hotel manager loses a lengthy court battle and is forced to rent the room to the haunted writer. In both versions, 1408 adds up to 13.

If you’re unfamiliar with Becky and I, we drove four hours and paid (well, she paid) top dollar for a one-night-only Q & A with Stephen King in Sarasota for a book we already owned, read, and loved.

When the clerk handed us the room keys, 1408 rang a vague bell. I’ve read the story twice and I own the movie, but thinking about the Reading Group Panel I would be on first thing in the morning distracted me.

On the elevator, I got a kick out the fact that the floor numbers skipped from twelve to fourteen.

In the hallway, walking toward our room, I finally made the connection.

I stopped and turned to Becky with realization.

“Room 1408,” I said, “1408.”

“I know, right? Ocean view!”

“No, don’t you see? It’s from that Stephen King story.”

By her terrified expression and the sudden tears in her eyes, I saw that Becky did indeed see.

“What? Why, why would you- What do we- No, no-”

Imagining the headlines had me spooked; SIBA Booksellers Check In to 1408 But Never Check Out. Real-Life Stephen King Story in the Town that Time Forgot. Booksellers Gone Wild at Daytona. But seeing how freaked out she was, I immediately backtracked.

“It’s fine, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“That’s what stupid people in horror movies always say before they get it.”

We stood there for a while like 6’3” halfbreed Hansel and 5'1" Cuban Gretel, lost on horrific carpeting instead of in the woods. Ultimately, the lure of an ocean view was too strong. She realized that in the stories, electronic card keys don’t work in room 1408. If the card worked, we’d be fine. It did, and we were.

It's The Dolphin Hotel in both versions, and this was the sign outside our door.  Yeesh.

What horrors lurk inside room 1408? Itchy towels, a dearth of glassware, and too much trashy reality TV.

Sorry to spoil the ending.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

But Wait, There's More

Some people say I look like I just came out of the womb, but I shave. In fact, the greys have moved from my hairline to my jawline. I couldn’t grow a beard to save my life, but the loose cluster of hairs sprouting from the left side of my jaw – sparse though they may be – are all grey. I shave them, they grow back. I shave them, they grow back.

Growing up, my older brother would poke a finger into my forehead or arm. I’d knock the finger away, only to have it return a second later. He was older, stronger, and determined to get under my skin. No matter what you do, his poking finger insisted, I’ll be back.

These hairs are God’s way of telling me I’m getting older every day, and I need to live well or die bitter. I knock his finger away with a disposable razor, and it grows back.


Stop that, God.


Okay, okay, I’m trying to be a better person, are you happy?


I think I’m fine, then aging throws me a new surprise. Watching the sides of my head silvering up is one thing, but now the top is getting frosty. There’s also a dot near the crown of my head about the width of a nickel. I saw it one day while gelling up. 

(Well, really, I use hair wax.  But "waxing up?"  Unless I'm a DJ, a surfer, or rubbing on certain bulbous body parts, that makes no sense)

“What the hell is that?” I cried.

My tone brought Becky to the bathroom, where I bemoaned the new grey.

“That’s just you getting sexier.” With Becky’s slinky tone, I could almost believe it. I dipped my head and leaned down so she could inspect the ravages of time. She poked the dot on top of my head.

“That’s Dylan,” she said.

It starts. One tiny six-year-old and a decade of hearing, “There’s no way you’re ___ years old” is out the window.


When I’m old and incontinent, he better wipe my butt, is all I’m saying.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Stranger Danger

“Dylan, what do you do if a stranger comes up and tries to talk to you?”

A sexual predator had moved into Miami Shores and Becky was just being a responsible parent, making sure Dylan was instilled with a healthy fear of strangers. Her question made the bottom drop out of my stomach. I looked at Dylan and couldn’t even imagine him coming to harm.  How could anyone - ?

I’d known him a few scant months at that point. It’s one more thing Becky has carried as a mother, but she’s probably only allowed those thoughts fleeting attention as he's grown up; I got mine all at once, over breakfast.

A few weeks later, Dylan and I were playing in Becky’s kitchen when he suddenly turned serious.

“Aaron, do you know Adam Walsh?” he asked softly.

Dylan had hidden in a clothing rack at Sears to trick Becky a few days before. She’d freaked out, of course. She told him about Adam Walsh, who’d been his age, and taken from a Sears, and murdered.

Matching Dylan’s conspiratorial tone, I told him I didn’t know Adam Walsh, but I knew who he was.

“Is it true someone took him away from the store and killed him?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is it true they cut off his head?”

Becky gave me two rules in helping raise her child. 1 – never hit him. 2 – answer anything he asks truthfully.

“Yes.” (He was obsessed with this detail for a few days, and Becky had leisure time to repent what she’d told him in the heat of the moment)

Dylan got that faraway look which indicates his little mind is churning; then we played Pirates some more.

He just turned six years old, the same age as Adam, taken about forty minutes north of where I’m typing this. Whether I can fathom it or not, there are people out there who would like to harm him.

As the youngest of three, or six if you include the cousins, I’ve often said that I envy Dylan’s childhood. I grew up with hand-me-downs and a third (or a sixth) of the attention, while he is lavished with the gifts and love of an entire family.

But his is a different world than mine. Fear of strangers is as much a part of Dylan’s life as Nintendo.

Yesterday, we took our first bike ride through the new neighborhood. We used the sidewalk in deference to his age. Another biker passed us in the road, coming in the opposite direction. I said hello, and instructed Dylan to do the same.

“Hello!” Dylan cried enthusiastically. The mustachioed, sunglass-wearing man smiled and nodded in passing.

“Why did you make me say hi to a stranger?” Dylan moaned.

Oops. I’m learning all about Stranger Danger from my six-year-old.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Moving Day

My fever broke but I have the energy level of a sloth. I feel like I could close my eyes and sleep for a month. It’s Friday, the moving truck is rented for Saturday, the Quiroga house is rising at eight to load it up, and the Treehouse looks like a bomb went off.

My angel, my Becky, comes over and packs up all my books after work while I nap. Box after box, she’s relentless, playing beat the clock until it’s time to pick up Dylan from his after-care program.

I don’t know if it’s the nap, Becky’s inspiring presence, or the knowledge that tomorrow I will live with the woman I love, but I manage to stay awake for four hours and pack. Most of the food in the cabinets is a loss due to the leaking roof, which makes me angry over the waste yet grateful for one less thing to pack. I sleep as best I can, rise at seven, and get to work. I manage to finish everything just as the Q’s hit the road. While they drive, I have time to scarf a box of raisins.

I feel guilty for not being there to help them, but I’m also feeling a burst of post-illness energy. Before the day ends, Becky and I will share a home, and we’ll have two days to make that home livable for Dylan.

The move is not effortless, but it’s made easy by many hands and decent planning. We get everything inside before the afternoon rains hit. Becky’s mom feeds us sandwiches from the bakery down the street. The sandwich, the new place, wherever the second wind comes from, now the fun begins – Becky and I get to play with furniture and decide what goes where. We had grand designs on that first night; a bottle of wine chilling, christening every room… but I feel too ill to drink and we’re on a deadline, so tipsy naked time will have to wait.

I feel better but the coughing has begun in earnest. I go to the doctor, as I promised the Q Family I would, and she prescribes antibiotics and a cough suppressant to treat my bronchitis. She can’t tell whether it’s related to the mold I’ve been breathing in the last couple weeks, but she said that “probably didn’t help.” I haven’t had bronchitis since I was seven.

The weekend is a blur, but Becky and I manage to make Dylan’s room, the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room livable.

Welcome home.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Wait? Read These Books Today

Waiting on Wednesday is this cool thing Jill at Breaking the Spine started, wherein book bloggers virtually gather and post a book which has yet to be published, but they can’t wait to read. I’ve wanted to do it since I first heard about it.

I haven’t because I keep picking titles which 1 – have already been picked by other bloggers or 2 – have already been published.

Today, I went to finally do it with Nicole Krauss's Great House. It was Waiting On’ed months ago, and they pushed the release date to Yesterday. Grrr…

So instead of Breaking the Spine, let’s link to The Heat Lightning and see my deep thoughts on books.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


The made-for-television move Adam played on October 10th, 1983, six days before I turned eleven. In the ads, the parents wandered darkened streets, calling their boy’s name, then the screen went blank. The cries continued in voiceover as the letters of the boy’s name flashed across the screen.

Reading Les Standiford and Joe Matthew’s Bringing Adam Home made me remember the ads for Adam for the first time twenty-seven years, but a line from the movie didn’t need prompting from any book. It was the last line I heard before my parents sent me to bed. The words have echoed through my mind ever since, equipment hanging close at hand, leaping into my consciousness any time I hear a certain word or inflection. The man who played John Walsh, teeth clenched in rage, chokes back tears as he tells his wife, “They found his head.”

My parents probably wanted me to watch so I’d learn about what would come to be called Stranger Danger. I think they realized I might learn a little too much.

I took my time going upstairs, looking over my shoulder every step. The boy was dead? How was that possible? Children didn’t die in movies, and let alone movies that were supposed to be real.

By the time I heard that line, the nation had been obsessed with this tragedy for nearly two years. More than my family’s worry, more than being ten-going-on-eleven, I think the line has stuck with me because I never found out what happened.

Apparently another hour of TV wouldn’t have done me any good; it took twenty-five years to solve this one.

Toward the end of Bringing Adam Home, when members of the killer’s family reveal the knowledge they’ve shared for so long, I was forcibly reminded of Terri Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise. All the locals knew who took an axe to Jentz and her best friend on a camping trip some decades before, just as it was “common knowledge” in the killer’s family that he’d murdered Adam Walsh. Bringing Adam Home will enrage you for what ifs, near misses, and unspoken truths. It’s emotionally wrenching and impossible to put down.

Detective Joe Matthews’ struggle to give closure to the Walsh family makes this book more than just an excellent police procedural. The way Eric Larson's Devil in the White City sets up the Chicago World’s fair as the playground of two men - one the architect who dreamt it into existence, the other the killer who stalked it - Bringing Adam Home uses Adam Walsh’s abduction and murder to speak about good versus evil, the best of men’s nature against its absolute worst.  Once you begin reading, you won't be able to put it down.

Since finishing the book, I’ve looked at Dylan - six, the same age as Adam when he was abducted – and can’t help thinking of what happened to Adam Walsh.  I force these images from my mind, realizing what happened is beyond comprehension.

I can’t let the world’s darkness spoil my time with this amazing kid. All I can do is scoop him up and smother him with kisses, to try and show him he’s loved.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Would You Like a Side of Divorce with that Moons Over My Hammy?

Andi agreed to drive me to the courthouse.  We shared the awkward small talk and physicality of a first date.  We caught up on our lives and managed to laugh, despite the circumstances.  We also discovered that the courtroom language of divorce is not irreconcilable differences.  There were two single petitioners.  There was one man with his best friend and one woman with her best friend, both groups surely destined for an early lunch soaked in alcohol.  Then there was us.

The judge pronounced all our marriages irretrievably broken.

On the drive from downtown, Andi told me she would still love it if we could be friends.  She asked if I thought she was a serial cheater.  She told me if I ever wanted to “give this thing another shot” she was game.  She also forced me to say why it’s painful to see her: I didn’t want my marriage to end, and it ended anyway.

She asked whether I meant last year, or in the car at that moment.  Last year, I said.  Wanting the divorce didn’t make it any easier to see her.

I get it now.  She’s proof that love doesn’t conquer all, that even dreams you work for don’t always come true.  I set that aside long enough to be civil, and eventually we laughed like old friends, but that doesn’t mean I’m inviting her over for barbeque.

When we pulled into the driveway at the Treehouse, I suggested breakfast.  She said she’d been working up the courage to ask the whole drive.  Shades of our marriage, afraid to say what we want because it might not make the other person happy.

We decided to hit a Denny’s.  As Kevin Brockmeier writes on choosing a restaurant in "The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device," sometimes “you want nothing more than the simple curt reactiveness of a stranger.”

It felt great, for the most part.  We avoided sentimentality.  I enjoyed our rapport.  If she saw and wondered about the new scar on my forehead, she didn’t mention it.  The way she spoke about her new guy and music, I realized that my friend Z is right; the divorce was a correction.  I love music, but it doesn’t light me up the way it does Andi.  Becky and I share a passion for books, the thing I love most.  It was a hole in my marriage.  Clearly you don’t need to have everything in common, but still.  Becky’s read more of my work in a year than Andi read in sixteen.

Packing up to leave my bachelor pad the next day, I came across my wedding band.  I felt like crying, but I didn’t.  I guess there are a finite number of tears you can shed over certain events.  Irretrievably broken, I thought.  Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want, I thought.

When I saved the ring, I had pictured something from a movie.  I’d bike to Kennedy Park and stand on the pier looking thoughtful for a time before throwing the band into the water.  I suppose I could have saved it for that trip, but I didn’t want the ring in my new home.  It also seemed like too much effort.  Instead, I cut the band in half and laid it into a flat line, cut that line into pieces, and threw those pieces in the trash.  I still didn’t cry.  I felt empty.

Irretrievably broken.

The marriage is broken, but life is still as wonderful and beautiful as it ever was.

Cracks and all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Porning of Sweet with Fall and Fish Part 2: The AVN Show

Last post I quoted The Porning of America and said we don’t need to search for porn because porn will find us. Z, the other buyer at Books & Books, and I met with a rep. As we pored over catalogs, we came across Goliath Books, a catalog which features everything from  Naked Girls Smoking Weed to erotic short stories and comics to how-to manuals.

Being the professional she is, our rep suggested that BD/SM, naked people, and some of the how-to fetish manuals would sell well at our Miami Beach store, while the coffee table erotica might do well at the Gables.

Almost every publisher carries some erotica. Many publishers known for art and photography feature pages of naked bodies. Looking at a marketing department’s best attempt to sell sex in full-color gloss while sitting with a charming, attractive rep is one of the more awkward moments of my job. I prefer to keep my sexual tension at home, thanks.

Anyway, the rep said they had a bunch of extra passes for the AVN Show at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood that weekend, and we were welcome to come.

AVN stands for Adult Video News, and the Hollywood convention was supposed to be the largest show ever. The Westin Diplomat keeps the yearly event very discreet, and the raciest thing on the AVN website is the advertising. Becky and I showed up with very little idea of what to expect (Z chickened out, and Cleopatra stepped in).

The hotel was closed for four days to anyone not attending the AVN Show. If you ain’t in porn, you ain’t invited. Becky’s lanyard identified her as a sales rep for Revel Books: Erotica and Sexuality. My lanyard proclaimed me Revel Books’ President.

Our lanyard’s also advertised an innocuous-sounding instant messaging service called, sponsored by the not-so-innocuous-sounding PussyCash.

Going upstairs to the various meeting rooms wasn’t so uncomfortable. You’ve seen far more graphic ads surfing the net, I’m sure. The classes didn’t draw us in; business strategies too sexy for comfort, yet not sexy enough to compel us to forget our outsider status and waltz in.

The next floor up featured a balcony with a stunning view of the sun shining on the Atlantic and the pool area.  It also had a curving row of glass display cases for art. The cases displayed 2009’s AVN Award Winners, things like best lube, best dildo, and best vibrating toy.

The convention floor was very much like Book Expo America, booths with various vendors hawking their wares. Except at BEA, you don’t come around a corner and have someone thrust a flyer for a penis-enlargement pump into your hand. The vitamin supplements, the website design services, the sexual lubricants; it was like the spam from my email blocker had come to life. Coochie-cutter short sporting, fishnet stocking wearing, clear six-inch-heel strutting life.

What’s the implication of a girl dressed to arouse giving me a coupon for sexual enhancement? If you want somebody sexy like me (ie, boney and bare), you’ll need a pill. Mahalo for the ego boost.

Becky and I saw porn videos in 3-D. We met some extremely friendly people in the toy business. We got to wirelessly connect a vibrator to an Ipod and feel it vibrate in time to Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back. A girl felt us up with a vibrating hand massager which is “perfect to combine with a still toy if we wanted to try hand-fucking.” An androgynous wo/man invited me to pull on he/r strap on to feel how solidly it would stay in place, telling me the harness was good for “high fucking or low fucking.”

Clearly, I need to get out more.

We met the number-one selling sex toy for men in the form of a Fleshlight wall, five Fleshlights wide by ten Fleshlights high. A vagina, a mouth, an anus, and another vagina with a different interior were all rendered realistically, if hairless silicon can be described as realistic. The last column of Fleshlights on the end were fashioned to look like tiny butts, as if a group of forest gnomes playing naked piggyback had been trapped in a wall. Becky fingered a mouth while I went for a forest gnome, both of us giggling like elementary kids.

As fake president of Revel Books, I heard my share of pitches for erotica. The person I spoke with the longest was a slim, handsome, gay man - a friendly, stylish purveyor of sex toys whose boyfriend was attending a creative writing program.  I borrowed liberally from advice I’d gleaned from Elizabeth Gilbert's website and told him to submit the writing to magazines and publishers everywhere. There are people paid to read their stuff. A writer’s job is to write, and put the work out there, not to pre-reject themselves. Good advice, that.

The entire time we spoke, the man held a dark grey silicone cock the size of my forearm, absentmindedly slapping it into the palm of his empty hand. Because we’re professionals, Becky and I managed to keep our expressions serious.

Oh, the places booksellers go.