And Speaking of Field Testing….

That’s what I’ll be doing to my marriage for the next three weeks. My ever-lovin’ wife and kids and I will be taking a camping road trip to the East Coast until July 4. Cooperstown, Plymouth, Boston, Maine, Lake Champlain, and points in between. Pray for good weather, small crowds, a sudden dip in gas prices, and a surfeit of exotic license plates for Highway Bingo. See you in a few.

PS: Please go and check out the Field Tested Books collection of essays, and buy a copy if you feel like it. Disrupt the dominant publishing paradigm!!

Field Tested Books

Now that summer’s here, it’s time to think of summer reading. You can get a reading list from just about anywhere–NPR, your local paper, public library, Field & Stream, whatever. There is no shortage of suggestions. But I’m going to give you one–a source to consult, anyway.

Coudal Partners is a Chicago-based design firm that explores many different media in fun and intelligent ways. (Their site is terrific but it can be a huge time-sink, so beware–but also definitely check out the film “Regrets” by Steve Delahoyde, starring David Pasquesi. NSFW) This year, for the third time, they’ve asked a wide range of authors to submit short essays examining the personal link between a book and a place in their lives. In other words, many times the enjoyment or importance of a book relies heavily on the place or places where it was read. The writers explore why this is, and in doing so get to look back on their lives, memories, and personal development.

The result is Field-Tested Books. The essays are irresistible reading, and go down like gin fizzes on a hot day. They give you an intriguing little peep into the inner workings of writers (and readers, too, because all writers start out that way). I’ve had the pleasure of having two essays included in Field-Tested Books, one two years ago about my love for Damon Runyan. The newest essay you’ll have to read for yourself by going to the site. Take some time and browse around all the essays, and send your friends to the site. Maybe buy a copy of the book, since this is a little experiment in internet publishing, and everyone has put a lot of work into it. There’s even a complete index containing the previous two editions of FTB. And keep a pad of paper handy, because you’ll come across many books, both familiar and unknown, that you’ll absolutely have to have in your canvas bag this summer. Cheers!!

Radio Silence Broken!

Didn’t you always want to say that line? I know I have. It sounds so official, and it must certainly be good news, right? Because when it isn’t broken, they find the bodies frozen in the ice a few months later.

I haven’t exactly had a radio SILENCE, but whatever you might call the interim between commentaries has effectively been terminated. An idea has been kicking around in my barren head for about three years to write an essay about uncles for Fathers Day. Sadly, no amount of coaxing could pry it from the sticky beneath-the-seat-cushion realm so that it could be worked into something worth hearing. Then this spring, for no reason, bamf, there you are sir, here’s your essay.

(Many people think that’s the wonderful part about being a writer, that ideas seemingly show up at your doorstep unexpectedly and you have to invite them in. Actually, while it’s certainly better than not getting any idea-visitors at all, this unpredictability is something that greatly taxes my nerves. I’d much rather choose my own idea, put a certain amount of hours into it, and have a finished product to show off and maybe sell. All that cal about the wonder of characters springing up and taking your stories in unexpected directions? Do accountants appreciate it when their spreadsheets take on lives of their own and write their own endings? Do carpenters like it when their crossbeams twist themselves in surprising ways? Feh. Mystically creative muses are fickle and taunting. And they leave rings on the furniture.)

The essay “Uncle-Hood” was broadcast this morning on WBEZ’s “848” Program. You can listen to it here, and follow the instructions I embedded in the text.

I’m very glad they slated my piece to go before the interview with David Sedaris, who’s in Chicago for a book tour. Now I’m his warm-up act, my White Snake to his Def Leppard. It’s certainly better than following him. I think he’s a fantastic writer, and keeps getting better. I remember 10 years ago, talking with my then-editor at my then-publisher about the humorous literature world in general. He thought Sedaris was a flash in the pan after “Santaland Diaries” and “Barrel Fever”, but I knew better. I knew he had the chops and the skills to make a good career out of a moribund genre, and his success would reflect well on all of us who try to make a living at the funny.

On the other hand, my editor thought that everything I put down on paper was golden. Maybe that’s one reason he’s not in publishing anymore.

An Idea to Benefit All Mankind

My friend Steve Fiffer started a blogsite last year called Ampolo. It’s meant to be a place to share those ideas that come to you in a flash, ideas that could be worth millions or change the world or liven up your next family barbecue but you haven’t the expertise or time to make them a reality. I like to read it because it makes me feel less isolated in the world when I see someone else actually thinks that weather reporters should have to post their “batting averages” at the bottom of their screens during the TV news.

For a year, I’ve tried to come up with an innovative notion that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to send Steve for possible inclusion on Ampolo. And I’ve finally done it. I think. The embarrassment might come later. But it’s just possible that my idea could become the “gull wing doors” of the new century. Call me Clyde Crashcup. You can check out the idea here. And return to Ampolo often. It’s slick, informative and fun.

Sunset on Mars

Science fiction has never been a big genre with me. I read it here and there, but I don’t gobble them down like so many devotees do. However, last year I did enjoy very much reading Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for the first time. The early stories in that book (about the first colonization of the planet and the corruption of the native culture) came to mind this morning when I spotted this picture of a Martian sunset on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, who got it from NASA’s Image of the Day,

Can’t you just picture enjoying a nice cool Epeftian Manganese Fizz on your veranda, before you have to go indoors and batten down the house against the carnivorous sand weasels and spleen bugs that are just beginning to stir in their holes?

Thank God THAT’S Over With!

Last night was certainly a momentous event in history, and it came none too soon. After a long, drawn-out battle, Barack Obama was finally elected President of the United States! I wasn’t sure I’d see it in my lifetime, our country pulling together behind a charismatic candidate of color, ready to lead us to new realities in the 21st century. After seeing last night’s speech, I’m thinking the future looks awfully bright again.

Wait. What? I came in the middle of the thing. Who’s the old white-haired troll in the blue suit they keep showing footage of? He reminds me of Hans Moleman from The Simpsons. Like he was a little winded from climbing up to the podium. I’ll have to check out his speech today online, see if there’s any news about the Mystery at the Old Well.

And that woman with the bobbed hair? I never saw such a big audience at a taping for the Psychic Network. I know all about the premise of that book, The Secret–that you just have to believe in something enough and visualize it, and you’ll be rewarded with all the happiness you deserve in life. But is it necessary to have a couple thousand of your friends on hand to help you visualize it? None of them looked very happy to be there. They must have owed her a favor or something.

But enough of my channel-surfing habits. Congrats to President Obama, the first president to come from the South Side of Chicago!! Whoda tought a dat?

Brain Hurt

Man, I don’t know if I was ever a facile writer, the kind that can quickly jump between different projects, genres, assignments, etc., or whether I’m just feeling old today. But after an actual day’s worth of writing and rewriting, I’m spent. I’ve got a lunch meeting tomorrow with an artist to gauge his interest in launching a six-issue comic book series. For that meeting, though, I was hoping to get him a good copy of a second draft of the script. But for the life of me, there’s something missing in the whole story. I know I can give him a taste of the world I’m creating with a script for just one issue, plus some extra writing, so I’m going to have to hide my misgivings tomorrow and sell the idea.

Actually, they aren’t misgivings. I love the story and know it will work, and have lived with the characters in the project for years. I just won’t have a perfect mystery laid out in my head to dazzle him with. And that makes me feel like a piker. Grand schemes have been agreed to, bought and sold on a lot less than I’m going to bring along, but like the little gnomic perfectionist that I am, I’m going to feel nervous because I don’t know the backstory of a secondary character or two. I gotta get over myself one of these days.

Anyway, comics. Not as easy to write the scripts as I’d thought, shifting from a completely text-based story to lively pitchers and all. That’s probably what’s hurting my head. I don’t know how much this artist would like to have spelled out for the pages–some like lots of direction, some like more freedom. I hope he’s one of the latter, b/c I welcome his ideas and a good give-and-take.

The worst part of working on this, if the whole thing sees the light of day, will be to hear my mother say 35 times, “I thought you’d all get over those comics books when you were kids.” Oh yeah, nothing like unconditional support. Nothing at all like it.