Yesterday was my birthday. I’m 39 and have two gray hairs. When I’m 78, I’ll have four.
I got a bunch of swell presents. My son drew me a picture of a Jack-o’-lantern with the words, “Happy Birthday, Dad! Love, Evil Death (Jack).” He gets me.
Also the first Flashman novel, some of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens books, my third recording of Arcangelo Corelli’s Opus 6 concertos (they’re all satisfyingly different), a barometer, and the Mötley Crüe biography.
I was a Crüe fanatic as a teenager. I had Metal Edge and Circus Magazine pictures covering the walls. The Dr. Feelgood tour is still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen; they knew exactly what the audience wanted and delivered it to perfection. So far, the book is living up to the legend. The New York Times wrote, “Open it anywhere and find a story to remember.” This is trüe.
One non-depraved early anecdote I enjoyed was Mick Mars’s first encounter with Nikki Sixx:
“[Nikki] seemed like an all-right guy. But then he said he listened to Aerosmith and Kiss, and I can’t stand Kiss. I never f__king liked them. I instantly crossed him off my list of possible people to play with.”
That cracked me up. I assumed all the 80s hair metal bands liked Kiss. My own feelings about Kiss are conflicted. I loved them as a teen but I’m iffy about them now. Just yesterday I heard a radio bit about a music producer (I think?) who was overheard backstage at a Kiss concert: “This is the worst rock ‘n’ roll band I’ve ever seen live, and the best rock ‘n’ roll show I’ve ever seen live.” That about sums it up. Kiss has just enough something to overcome the fact that actually kind of suck. That something, however, was not enough for Mick Mars.
Somewhere in the house I have a photo of myself dressed as Mick Mars for Halloween. I’ll have to dig that up and post it in the coming weeks.
My favorite present, however, was a Fitbit. It helps me track my food and exercise and sends it all wirelessly into an iPhone app. Now the CIA can keep tabs on my calories-in/calories-out ratio. I’m going to wow them with my protein consumption.
Yesterday, right before bed, I read a news story about The Great Big Idaho Potato. It was here in my own hometown and nobody had told me. I’d never heard of it before, but it’s a 12,000-lbs. replica potato, it’s already travelled 18,000 miles cross-country, and it was parked less than five miles from my house.
It was scheduled to leave for Syracuse the following morning. I went upstairs, walked into the bedroom, and said to my wife:
“There’s a giant potato parked in Troy. I’m going to drive down and see it.”
“Go out in the hall and walk back in,” she said.
I went out in the hall and walked back in.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“There’s a giant potato parked in Troy. I’m going to drive down and see it.”
“Why am I even surprised?”
“I know! I won’t be long.”
Yesterday I saw an Outback Steakhouse commercial that went:
“We heard ya, mate. We’re adding one more week of unlimited scampi, buffalo, or crispy battered shrimp.”
Their Unlimited Shrimp promotion had been running all week and now, due to popular demand, they were extending it another whole week.
I imagined how it all played out:
Monday: The waiters and waitresses reading feedback cards, compiling the votes, and rushing the results to their managers.
Tuesday: The regional managers contacting corporate: “Our folks in Spokane love this promotion,” for example, “and aren’t afraid to tell us.”
Wednesday: White-collar emergency session at Outback Central. Sleeves rolled, heads together, plates of shrimp to fuel the all-nighter.
Thursday: Creative gets the call and springs into action. The script is written, actors are auditioned, the commercial is shot and cut and raced to networks.
Friday: Network sales teams negotiate terms, honor make-goods. Outback demands NFL placement: “Make it happen.”
Saturday: Local franchises receive early word. Although the extension is officially secret for one more day, favored customers are given telling winks.
Sunday: Twitter explodes. #EvenMoreUnlimitedShrimp
I have no memory of yesterday. It was Thursday, according to iCal. The weather was sunny, I think, and 70 degrees, same as it’s been all week. I went to the gym, brushed the dog’s teeth, and worked on my novel. I know this because I do it most weekdays. It’s my routine.
But I’m having trouble remembering specifics. Dumbbells, bacon, novel. I blogged about krill and I was pretty content. Good day? I’m almost certain.
Yesterday I got addicted to a couple of pop artists that would have been have huge in the 80s, when MTV and pop radio were occasionally daring. OLD PERSON ALERT, I know, I know. I’m not going down the “why doesn’t MTV play music anymore” route. All I’m saying is that a bunch of great songs come along each year and get stuck in Pitchfork land, marginalized as indie tracks and cradled by people who sneer at–*hack, hack*–popular music.
Cred and artistry matter, but put those qualities aside for a second. I’m referring to songs that are built to please, by musicians who, I suspect, would like to break free of the weird little indie nerd enclaves and score a major hit. Songs that are actually catchier, and fresher, than the perfectly fine but oddly routine Gaga and Katy and Miley fare battling up the iTunes chart. Listen: I like a lot of Gaga, Katy, and even Miley. I like Taylor and Timberlake. But geez, is Daft Punk the only crossover act that’s allowed in a year?
So here: Great new pop from Sky Ferreira and CHVRCHES. Play these in the car and at the gym and tell me they don’t belong in every car, every gym.
Yesterday we fired up the wood-pellet stove for the first time of the season. I like to wait for fall before we do this, even though it was cold enough a couple weeks ago to turn the regular heat on. There must be seasonal standards. Rituals and markers. Like the pumpkin spice coffee I drink every fall, with loads of cream and sugar, despite my preference for regular black coffee. I’ve done it every fall. It must be done again.
So pellet stove. Worshipped by our cat Max (R.I.P.), now enjoyed by our dog Bones and the rest of the family. More than just a heat source, this thing has provided untold psychological comfort over the long Northeastern winters.
Yes it’s a chore hauling 4,000 lbs. of pellet bags from the street (we lack a driveway), feeding them into the basement window, and stacking them up for the season. But even that has become a tradition. And a serious annual workout. Plus the pellets are cleaner than old-timey LOGS, and the fire is more satisfying than gas flames. Livelier, somehow. Natural and primal. You can imagine our ancestors cooking mammoth over pellets. Huddled, telling stories. Cozy in the cave.
I also freaked out about novel revisions but eventually calmed myself down.
I’m not much of a runner and haven’t gone night-jogging in years. Last night, still full from Saturday dinner and finding that the gym closed early on Sunday evenings, I ran around the neighborhood.
The weather was comfortably warm/cold, Jupiter was bright near the moon, and although I missed a huge green meteor that two friends witnessed from locations two-hundred miles apart, I made the enjoyable discovery that neighbors around the block illuminate their garage year-round with decorative pastel lights. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It made the whole little hill road cozy.
It’s like an Olympic torch-pass without fire or athleticism! I love this idea, much as I enjoy a good torch. Many months ago, somebody came up with a bunch of questions for an author with an upcoming or new project. The author answered those questions on his or her blog, and then passed the questions to another author. The current participant always links to the blogs of both the previous and upcoming author, so everybody ends up connected in a big chain of mutual support. The original author was Kevin Bacon.
I recently got to know Nicola Griffith via Twitter. We share a love of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels, and we also share a publisher with FSG. Nicola has a GREAT sounding novel called HILD coming out on 11.12.13. It has a gorgeous cover. I’m looking forward to scoring an advance copy as soon as they’re available.
Nicola just answered The Next Big Thing questions and kindly passed them along to me. You can check out her answers (and learn more about HILD) over here at her blog.
Hey, remember when Evil Superman blew out the Olympic torch? What a jerk.
Here are my answers about FELLOW MORTALS:
- What is your working title of your book (or story)?
THE NOVEL I WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT: A NOVEL, by Dennis Mahoney
- Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’ve explained this a lot more thoroughly in an essay I did for Barnes & Noble, but here’s the gist: I started with the main character, Henry Cooper, who’s based on a minor character from an earlier failed novel. I needed a hero who would drive the story and create his own drama, not someone who simply had things happening to him. I had a very good sense of Henry right away. He’s old-school, decent, big-hearted, active. A great guy. The kind of person you’d love to have as a regular mailman. Then I needed to put him through a grueling self-generated ordeal, and I kicked a lot of ideas around, waiting for something vivid and elemental. I eventually thought of a tragic neighborhood fire that Henry accidentally starts along his route. Once I had that, Henry did a lot of the rest.
- What genre does your book fall under?
It’s literary, which basically just means it isn’t any other recognizable genre. The book is primarily about personal and interpersonal struggles, in marriages, friendships, and a tiny community, but the characters do stuff and there’s a lot of motion in the plot, so it isn’t a book of broody rumination.
- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Of course my wife and I play this game from time to time. She’s usually better at it than I am. I’d love to see a lot of great character actors take it on, rather than anyone super famous. I do think Gosling would make an interesting Sam Bailey, the sculptor whose wife dies in the fire, but I can see plenty of people playing Sam.
Michael Shannon is beginning to corner the market on fascinatingly disturbed outsiders, and might be perfect as the spiraling neighbor Billy Kane. I have no idea who would play Henry’s wife Ava, who’s a major character and really just lives in the book for me at this point. The only actor I can see playing Henry is Dean Norris, who plays Hank on Breaking Bad. He’s got that amazing mix of goofball manliness, awkward but profound emotion, and real strength. He’s has some of the funniest and bleakest scenes in that series, which is saying something.
- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When an affable mailman accidentally starts a neighborhood fire, he risks his life and marriage trying to make amends with the victims, especially a sculptor named Sam whose wife died in the fire.
- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m published by FSG and repped by Jim Rutman at Sterling Lord Literistic.
- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Six months. I spent a lot more time revising and rewriting.
- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Shakespeare, The King James Bible. Those books by Homer What’s-His-Name… the old man who used to read at weddings.
I honestly have no idea. FELLOW MORTALS been compared to the works of Stewart O’Nan, whose books I love, and who was gracious enough to write a front-cover endorsement, but flattering as that comparison is, I don’t entirely understand it. I suppose we share a pursuit of telling detail, especially about characters and relationships, but you can say that about most literary authors. I’m going to have jump ship on this question.
- Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See Answer #1.
- What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’ve been happy to find that different readers have different favorite characters. There’s a danger in writing a book with multiple points of view; it can be hard knowing whom to root for, and a reader might connect with some of the characters but feel cold toward others. So far the general reaction has been concern for the cast at large, with one or two characters really striking chords.
And I love that it’s different characters and chords for various readers. It’s like when somebody knows your aunt, and you can talk about your aunt, and then another person knows your spouse, so you talk about her. I was thrilled when a recent reviewer fell in love with Henry’s dog, Wingnut. I cared about Wingnut, too.