Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Club!

I had no idea how much literary stardom would change my life.

Since the release of Here Comes Your Man, people have started recognizing me on the street (yes, mostly our neighbors), I get constant requests for autographs (particularly when paying with Visa), and the invitations to exclusive events just keep coming...

Okay, so maybe I've only been invited to one exclusive event so far, but it was a good one: the June meeting of my friend Carrie’s book group, which steadfastly excludes anyone possessing a Y chromosome. Unless—and here comes my big loophole—you happen to have written the book they’re discussing!

When Carrie asked if I'd be interested in joining them, I did my best to act cool and breezy, as if accustomed to fielding such requests, but...seriously? Lasagna and Ring Dings with seven women who all read my book? I wouldn't have missed that meeting even if it was being held in the wilds of New Hampshire (which it was), and even if they'd wanted to discuss the right & wrong ways to euthanize a chicken (which, um, we did).

And about the chicken thing: there are more wrong ways than I'd ever imagined, particularly if the chicken is suffering from acute smoke-inhalation, you’re already late for an appointment, and soiling your outfit is simply not an option. (But I think that's a topic for an entirely different blog. Perhaps Julie Powell would like to take it up?)

Regardless, we still managed to stage a lively discussion of Here Comes Your Man, which included a group effort to cast the inevitable film adaptation. A number of excellent actors were mentioned—Mark Ruffalo, Ellen Page, John Krasinski, Scarlett Johansson—all of whom we agreed would have to be younger, older, blonder, less blonde, or less handsome to fit any of the available roles. (One possible solution: have Mr. Krasinski direct it, and invent some new characters for the rest of them.)

As much as I love movies, I didn't volunteer any casting thoughts, worrying that rendering the official "author's opinion" might suck the fun out of the whole exercise. Having already written 89,000 words about these characters, I’m happy to sit back and let readers imagine whomever they like.

Although, while we're on the topic, there is one classic duo that I think would be fantastic as Garrett and Clay. The only real question: Would Bert be willing to shave his head?

I'd like to send out big thanks to the whole book group for hosting me and feeding me so well: Carrie, Carol, Astrid, Alison, Sarah, Kristin, and Liz (who brought the Ring Dings), and also to my friend John (who was present but barred from participation owing to his incontrovertible maleness).

See you all at the premiere!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Dream Within a Dream, Within an Air Conditioner

I have a tradition of lying to myself every year around this time.

Although the exact date is a moving target (like Easter, or Chinese New Year), this lie always coincides our first sustained wave of summer swelter, when our house finally becomes so unbearable for sleeping that I’m forced to haul our unholy trio of 70-pound window air conditioners down from the attic.

And I recognize that, to the untrained eye, this operation might appear a tad haphazard, almost as if the AC units and I are actually falling down the steep attic stairs together, but rest assured that every knuckle-bashing breath of profanity has been carefully scripted, and it's all part of a time-honored technique passed down over the generations (provided that none of the previous generations have actually killed themselves executing it).

Oh, and here’s the lie, the angry little mantra I mutter over and over throughout the process. I tell myself: "This is the last [flunking] time I will ever do this. Before next summer, we're [flunking] getting central [flunking] air."

It's a lovely little daydream, and I cling to it while dead-lifting the AC units into our house's decaying window frames, a step that spawns a new "replace all the [flunking] windows" daydream within the original...

Imagine having windows that go up and down like they’re supposed to? That actually keep the cold outside in the winter?

...And really, if you’re already having the "replace the windows" daydream, you might as well save yourself a few bucks and have the "replace our rotting shingles daydream" at the same time. So I do...

And with my attention thus divided during the job's most dangerous maneuver—steadying the AC unit in the window with one hand while lowering the balky sash with the other—there’s always at least one moment when I nearly lose my grip on everything and drop the air conditioner directly onto my car, sitting defenseless in the driveway ten feet below. (Alex, from downstairs: Need any help up there? Me: No, I've got it—thanks!)

But of course the car wouldn’t even be there if we could just rip down our dilapidated tin can of a garage and replace it with something sturdy enough to house a vehicle. Maybe a nice two-car garage with a finished second floor that we could use as an office? With enough room for a ping-pong table perhaps?

But by the time I’ve got the AC unit shimmed, wedged, and duct-taped into place, with that first sour blast of cool-ish air hitting my face, I'm already regaining the ability to distinguish between my daydreams and the facts, which are these: our house is old and ductless, and so retrofitting it for central air would be prohibitively expensive, although not quite as expensive as new windows, new siding, or new garages with second-floor offices.

Regardless, we don't have thousands of dollars sitting around for any of these projects, and even if we did, we’d probably just blow it all on fine wine, Twinkies and Silly Bandz.

I’m proud to say that this year was different though—I turned 40 recently, and I'm already seeing the benefits of my increased wisdom and maturity. This year, I even installed our air conditioners before the heat became totally unbearable. Sure, I still worked up a sweat, I still bloodied my knuckles, and I nearly lost two units right out the window. But I didn’t say [flunking] once, and I didn’t tell myself any lies.

No, we're not getting central air next year. Just the garage and the ping-pong table.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

iPad, iKindle, iTwinkie?

Amid all the iPhone 4 blah blah blah at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference last week, CEO Steve Jobs somehow forgot to mention the biggest, most magical Apple news of the year: Here Comes Your Man is now available in the iBookstore! And for just $2.99!

Yup, you heard right—$2.99 for 89,134 of my favorite words (with a few repeats) in electronic form.

For now, you can only access the iBookstore from an iPad, but iUnderstand that Apple will be iOpening the iBookstore to iPhone and iPod touch users iLater this iMonth. (iThink Apple iSpeak is a linguistic sibling of iPig iLatin.)

If you're as concerned as I am about maintaining the delicate balance of the e-book universe, you'll be relieved to know that I've simultaneously lowered the price of the Amazon Kindle edition of Here Comes Your Man to $2.99 as well.

Why so low? Well, I'm about to embark on a small advertising campaign, my first real effort to market my book to people who don't already know me (or my wife, or my daughter). Printing costs prevent me from pricing the paperback more aggressively than I already have, but electrons are cheap. My hope is that offering an inexpensive e-book will allow readers to try an unknown author like me with very little risk.

And honestly, I can't think of many interesting things you can buy for $2.99. A box of Twinkies maybe? Yeah, okay, that would be pretty interesting, but even still, you'd have to catch them on sale. (Don't ask me how I know that.)

(Note to self: contact Amazon & Hostess about cross-marketing opportunities.)

(Additional note to self: My book cover "man" appears to be Twinkie yellowis that just a coincidence? And more importantly, could I possibly convince Hostess to bake a life-size Twinkie Man???)

Of course, e-books themselves are still unexplored territory for many readers, which is probably one reason why Amazon offers free Kindle apps for Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPad, and Blackberry devices. If you’re even a teensy bit curious about e-books, you can download the Kindle software (pictured below) and test-drive the experience without buying any hardware.

As much as I do love paper books, I'm beginning to see the advantages of their electronic brethren. Beyond allowing you to adjust your books' text size and even background color, they're easier on the environment, easier to carry, and far easier to read while eating a burrito. (Or a pizza, or a box of Twinkies...)

Physical books are still superior for certain purposes though. Years ago, when I was reading The Accidental Tourist for the first time, I remember becoming so exasperated with Macon Leary at one point that I actually threw my little red paperback clear across my bedroom. I can still hear the book's pages flapping in the air and the satisfying THWACK! of its spine smacking the wall. (And then I ran to retrieve the book, because I desperately needed to know if Macon ever smartened up.)

I'd probably never throw a $500 iPad across the room, no matter how Frisbee-like it might feel. But then again, this guy put one in a blender, so who knows?