Saturday, April 23, 2011


Weird things people say when they find out I've written a memoir.

“Who is the memoir about?

Some people think you need to be a celebrity to publish a memoir. That confusion is understandable. A few agents told me the memoir wouldn’t sell because I wasn’t a celebrity, so if the gatekeepers are saying no, then it’s understandable that people who aren’t even in the business would be confused.

“Maybe I can finally figure out who you are.

This might seem a strange comment, but it actually makes sense.

I never talk about myself. I never talk about my past lives. I willingly left them behind. And how do you convey an event or a series of events in a light conversation? In a few sentences? It can’t be done, so why try to share it? Especially if the story is dark. People don’t want to hear about that kind of thing when you’re out for dinner. It’s not the time. And maybe if you got wasted enough to share some dark corner of your life, chances are you’d regret it once the hangover wore off. So I can totally understand the bafflement 95% of people feel when I tell them I’ve written a memoir. And stranger still, that anybody would want to publish it. Because live and in person, I’m pretty ordinary. Boring, really.

But as you get older, you begin to realize that those events you stuck away shaped who you are, and maybe it’s time to take them from the bottom drawer and examine them. If you dare. Because it’s a head trip.

I’m working on a second memoir, and more bafflement comes my way. “A second one? I don’t get it. Why would anyone write more than one?”

I’ve come to realize that many people, including the media, confuse memoir with autobiography. There’s a huge difference. Memoir is an artistic interpretation of an event or events. It could be about a day, a week, a month, a year. Or a lifetime. So a single person might have many memoirs in her.

I thought this second memoir would be easier, but I'm struggling with the same issues that I now suspect come with the memoir territory. How to make true life a page turner. How to broaden the story so it is more than the sum of its parts.

A dead body. I'd kill for a dead body right now. Really wish I would open a closet door and find the beef-jerky remains of a man dressed in a leisure suit. Or at the very least, a fetus in the attic.

I have to remind myself that I've been through this before. And the story came together before. And it will be okay without a dead body. And once it starts sounding like a memoir, I know I'm off track.

This week I sent out fifteen ARCs of The Orchard, and realized that no one outside people in the publishing world, the publishing world including friends who freelance edit, have read this book. No one. Gulp.

I still have a few ARCs left, so if you are a reviewer or bookseller and would like a copy, let me know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Another year has rolled around, and the latest issue of The Lineup, Poems on Crime is now available!

This is such a labor of love, and such a wonderful chapbook. Let's all support it. And speaking of support, I was in my local library yesterday where a copy of The Lineup #3 was displayed on the checkout counter. And they are eagerly anticipating #4.

I read somewhere that people have asked Gerald So why The Lineup isn't available as an ebook, and it's because the formatting gets lost in the conversion. And poetry is so much about format. I kind of like the fact that it's only available in print, although I believe you might be able to get a PDF file. ?? It's a chapbook that, in my opinion, captures a very specific time in crime-fiction writing, and I applaud Gerald for his years of dedication to this very special project.

update: The first three issues of The Lineup are available from as PDFs.

Everything you need to know about the Lineup #1, #2, #3, and #4 can be found here:

The Lineup #4 (2011)

Edited by Gerald So with Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, and R. Narvaez

Poems by Ken Bruen, Michael Casey, Reed Farrel Coleman, David Corbett, Mary Agnes Dalrymple, Mary Christine Delea, Jeanne Dickey, H. Palmer Hall, Paul Hostovsky, David Jordan, Laura LeHew, Thomas Michael McDade, Peter Meinke, Keith Rawson, Chad Rohrbacher, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Nancy Scott, Kieran Shea, J.D. Smith, J.J. Steinfeld, John Stickney, Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson, Randall Watson, Charles Harper Webb, Steve Weddle, Germaine Welch

As you can see, The Lineup #4 has...well, a great lineup of writers/poets. I hesitate to single anyone out, but I especially enjoyed Paul Hostovsky's Stealing the Bowling Shoes.

I thought I'd end with my contribution to last year's Lineup #3.


Sun sinks behind barren trees
Temperature drops to twenty below
The dogs know the way

The sled moves silently over
A broken path, cut that morning
Through northern wilderness

The distracted moon reveals a frigid landscape
An eerie glow as harnesses jingle like dull bells
The dogs know the way

Lamp in the window
Barks of excitement
A final sprint for home

No vocal command
Their master unmoving, one small hole between his eyes
The dogs know the way

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Last week I read The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon (pub date: May 4) and loved it. I would give it a 5 out of 5 stars.

It has an interesting structure, moving back and forth between central characters while covering a large passage of time. Rachel Simon did a fantastic job of weaving everything together while opening up the story to reveal the importance of earlier clues.

Here is a description from the Hachette website:

It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

Hachette Book Group

author website

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I had no idea you could add VIEW to a blogger URL (shall we call it Earl?)for dynamic views of blogs. If you're like me and didn't know about this, you do have to make sure your settings are right and dynamic enabled or something like that. It's kind of cool because you can easily see posts going back years.
I'm not sure of the benefit of such a thing other than fun, but there might be one.

I'd briefly thought of taking both my website and blog to Wordpress, but I've given up that idea and am sticking with Blogger and my website-building for idiots. I'm messing around with my Blogger header, so it might continue to change off and on until I'm happy with it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and he was telling me a story I'd heard years ago. I laughed just as hard this time, so I started thinking about how tough it is to translate real-life humor into writing. It's not just a case of you had to be there, because the verbal teller can work the story for years and years. But when you try to write it down, it feels flat and lifeless.

Emotional replays often work better in text, so why is humor so tough?

Here's a little experiment. This is a bit of the conversation I had the other day, but I'm not sure the humor holds up in this form. This is just the beginning of the story. It goes on and on. It might help to know that Mark is a burly farmer.


We’re standing in the mall, and there’s this display of shoes at the front of a store. My wife picks up a cowboy boot and looks it over, then she hands it to me and says, “Put this on.”

I check the size and see it’s an eight. I wear a ten. Sometimes eleven. “This won’t fit,” I say, and start to put the boot back on the table.

“Put it on!”

“It’s an eight.”

“It’s on sale!”

I’ve seen that look a million times, so I sit down on this padded seat, take off my right shoe, just to show her that I can’t even get my foot all the way in the boot.

“Put it on! Force your foot in there. Just shove it in there! Shove!”

“Can’t. It’s too small.”

“It’s on sale!”

If you know Darlene, you know she won’t take no for an answer, so I cram my foot in there, mash it in there, and my toes are layered one on top of the other.

“Too small,” I gasp, grimacing in pain.

“Walk,” she commands.

I hobble around, and my toes are screaming.

“That’s a nice-looking cowboy boot,” she says.

“It’s too small,” I tell her.

I tug off the boot, and my toes pop back. I’m tying my sneaker when I look up and there she is, standing at the counter, paying for the damn boots!

Then she’s aiming herself at me, handing me the bag. “Put them on. Wear them home.”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“Put them on.”

So I sit back down and shove my feet into the boots. I wonder how in the hell I’ll be able to stand, but I’m finally upright. Then, like a baby learning to walk, I hobble out. My knees are bent, and my feet feel like balls.

“Hurry up!” she says, looking at her watch. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me? What the hell do you think?”

As I hobble to the car, she keeps casting glances at me and my new cowboy boots.

“Those look so nice,” she says, beaming.

“They’ll look a helluva lot nicer once there off my damn feet.” I’m looking forward to hiding them in the back of the closet. Maybe burning them.

“You should wear them all the time. Whenever we go to town.”

“All the time? I need a wheelchair to wear these.”

“They look nice.”

“They’re killing me.” My elbows are sticking out, but my legs are finally straight. My body is already figuring out how to walk without toes and it's like walking on stilts.

“They were on sale,” she says.

“What does that have to do with anything? There were adult diapers on sale back there, but I’m not forcing you to wear them.”

She glares at me. You know Darlene.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


It's been a busy few weeks, and I'm finally getting caught up. Went to NYC. Got home. Edited galleys. Shipped galleys. Got sick. Cold. Asthma. Found my old inhaler with expiration date of 2006. Used it. Got better. Once Upon a Crime book signing yesterday in Minneapolis. Lovely dinner last night with writer friends. Back home. Corpse Kitty wouldn't let me sleep in. Relax...

One thing I keep wondering: Does it make sense to blog? It seems that most of the people who read my blog follow me on Facebook, so I wonder if blogging is redundant. But the big advantage to blogging is that the posts don't vanish or roll off the page in a matter of minutes. But Facebook is just so much faster. And feels less formal. And people can share what you post. And people are more likely to comment. So I don't know.

But anyway, here's a bit of my New York trip that I posted on Facebook a while back but am now posting here. And I'm not even going to try to catch people up, just drop you in the middle of a scene. Because I'm lazy that way.

The cocktail party: the CEO of Hachette introduced all four authors, me, Joel Salatin, an organic farmer, Jerry West, NBA star, and Lemony Snicket. Then the publisher of Grand Central introduced me. So glad I was up first. So nervous for days, but once I was up there, I wasn't nervous at all. But definitely one of the weirdest evenings of my life. It felt like I was in a Truman Capote movie. Not In Cold Blood, but Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Almost all of attendees had already read my book. (I thought I was supposed to tell them about it!) When I was finished, I sat down next to my editor. She handed me her glass of wine which I promptly chugged. Next speaker was Joel. I finally calmed down by the time Jerry West spoke. He's written an autobiography that will be out in Oct. I really want to read it. Then Lemony Snicket. He and his illustrator were droll and charming and hilarious. He shared a baked apple recipe with me that I must try. A peeled, cored apple and Tab. Their book comes out in about a year. It's a compilation of worst (or best) breakup stories. I'm sure it will be hilarious.

Before the event: Met my editor for lunch where we ate sushi and talked. (Hadn't met her before.) Then she took me to see the publishing house which was basically across the street. Super modern glass building with a very sleek, Swedish look with pale floors and walls and pale wood. Very crisp and orderly. I had to show an ID at a desk, get a photo taken before I could pass through a certain area. Elevators require a code and don't respond until you type in the code. then the box will show which elevator you should stand in front of, A - J. Elevator won't respond until it detects you in front of designated door.

Day after event: I met my agent for breakfast in a cafe attached to Grand Central Station. Once we were done, she invited me to see the Century Association. I had no idea what she was talking about, but soon I was following her through Grand Central Station and out into the street and right in the middle of the St. Patrick's Day chaos. OMG. OMG. We lost each other several times. Streets were closed. Green drunks shoulder to shoulder, shouting in unison for no apparent reason. Finally made it to the Century Association, a club that is basically for the artistic elite of NYC. Walls were lined with paintings of members old and new. Winslow Homer. Teddy Roosevelt. First edition books from floor to ceiling. Can't even describe it, but you can find a bit about it on Wikipedia.

Now somewhere in this chaos was my daughter. I was supposed to catch up with her so we could visit Central Park. OMG again. And I have to mention how glad I was that she came with me. I can't imagine trying to navigate NYC for the first time in my life without having her along. We finally found each other in Central Park. She'd spent the past few hours trying to escape the crazy green people, so we were both wiped out and had probably walked miles by that point. But it was a gorgeous day! In the seventies!

No restrooms. A gazillion people in the streets, and no portable toilets anywhere. Restrooms in Central Park were locked. So we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and and paid $15 to pee. While we were there, we checked out Guitar Heroes and some mummies.

And then the train ride back to the hotel. Another OMG Really, I just wanted to laugh. The trains were so packed that the doors wouldn't shut because asses were hanging out. I mean real asses. And the people would stand there blank-faced while the door continued to close and open on their butts.