Some Pictures from “Reading Under the Influence”

One of the best and most idiosyncratic reading series in Chicago is “Reading Under the Influence”, which takes place monthly at Sheffield’s Bar. Earlier this month I read a steamy passage of Rex Koko being molested by the formerly reserved wife of a senator, from the yet-to-be-released mystery The Wet Nose of Danger. It went over well, as far as clown sex in public goes, and if you look at some of the other pictures, you can see Amy Guth from the Tribune daydreaming about a romp in the bushes with a healthy joey.

Everybody’s got a fantasy, right?


The rest of the pictures are here:

New 15th Anniversary Edition of PC Bedtime Stories in the UK!

Like in anything else, there have been some ups and downs in my writing career, but one of the luckiest breaks I’ve had has been to have Ernest Hecht as the publisher of PC Bedtime Stories in the United Kingdom. He’s managed to keep me in print for more than 15 years in Britain (along with getting my name in the press once in a while, to keep interest up), with smaller and better thought-out press runs than was the case in the US market. Contrast this with the fact that the US edition of PC Bedtime Stories has been out of print since 1997, two years after selling 2 million copies, and you’ll understand the stark differences between the markets. It’s been so much more fun to have a real person as my publisher, instead of the employee of a large media conglomerate.

Ernest also brought my first book to the attention of Grasset, my French publisher, and Goldmann, my German publisher (and possibly a couple others I’ve forgotten). He earned no profit from this, except in keeping relationships alive and happy. At the helm of Souvenir Press (which he started at age 18 with a special edition of stories and stats for football fans), he’s the last of an old breed of publishers who are hands on with just about everything his company prints. “A publisher’s main duty to his writers,” he’s said many times, “is to stay in business.”

So imagine my joy and pride in the fact that Ernest is publishing a 15th anniversary edition of PC Bedtime Stories AND has put it on the cover of his latest catalog. Those ugly caricatures of Grandma and the Woodcutter have never looked so good.

For a little extra sizzle in this edition, Ernest asked me if I had any other PC stories cluttering up the office that could be included. I looked around and found some things, but none of them truly fit the bill. So I sat down one morning last spring and decided to have a whack at the story that could be made out of what was only a punchline title, “The Duckling That Was Judged On Its Personal Merits and Not On Its Physical Appearance.” To my surprise (or shock?), the words just flew onto the page. After a couple of rewrites, I sent it to Ernest, who was very happy with the result. So that story is included in this British edition, as well as in my e-book edition available in America and Germany.

There is even talk about this hardback edition being distributed again in the United States, which is very exciting news, even if Ernest inserted extra U’s in “color” and “odor”.

Years ago, when the book first came out in Britain, Ernest flew me and my wife over to London to do some media. It was a trip we will never forget. He had me running around a lot, but it was terrific fun. Got to be interviewed by Allan Bennett, visited the HQ of BBC Radio at Bush House, met Walter Mosley at a studio. Ernest put us up in the company flat, which hadn’t been decorated in a while (rotary phone, blue shag carpeting, plumbing that only allowed hot water to make it to the tub if you sat down and used the shower as a handle), but it was a terrific treat for us. Even better was when he took us out to dinner at his favorite London restaurant, the White Castle (I know, we Yanks laughed about it too), and told us stories about his travels, his adventures as a producer on the West End, and his beloved football team, Arsenal.

So my ever-lasting gratitude goes out to Ernest, who took a chance on importing a humor book from America and managed to keep it alive and kicking for longer than anyone anticipated. To his instincts, his savvy, and his generous love of life, I raise my glass.

Finally Back Up to Speed

Well, we’re back in the City of the Big Shoulder Pads, and I think the whole brood is finally getting back in fighting shape. I can now sleep a little past seven, ignoring the workers cutting up the street outside our window for almost 10 minutes. I also curse a little bit less driving around town, although that might have to do with the kids being in the car. And the car windows being open.

Fall is the time when I make lots and lots of resolutions that probably won’t get accomplished. (First got this idea from the Tribune’s Eric Zorn, and it is a much better notion than waiting until January, with its short, cold days and hibernating lethargy.) Of course, there are more demands on my time now, too, but during the day, I’ve got about 7 hours of straight time, which I hope I can put to awesome use.

One resolution is to get out to more readings and performances this fall. Writing is incredibly solitary, but there’s no need to make the problem worse. Any night of the week in Chicago, there’s a good reading series happening somewhere. so I’m going to stick my nose out, meet a few people, and maybe sign up to read, if the hosts will have me.

So far I’ve been able to read at two gatherings. The first was the venerable Uptown Poetry Slam, run every Sunday by my old friend Marc Smith. He found out I had a new ebook to publicize, and his first instinct was to give me a buzz and offer some stage time to read. I hadn’t read there in a couple years. The Green Mill Lounge is one of the most special places in Chicago, a watering hole and musical oasis that could exist in no other place. It looks great, feels cozy, and SOUNDS unlike anyplace else in the whole city. Mark let me read for quite a while, so I brought out the clown bar fight from Chapter 5 of “Honk Honk, My Darling”, and followed it with the steamy encounter between Rex and a certain senator’s wife in the yet-to-be-published thriller, “The Wet Nose of Danger.” I also read for the first time in North America, the newest PC Bedtime Story, now available in the British edition and e-book edition, “The Duckling That Was Judged On Its Personal Merits and Not on Its Physical Appearance.”

What a jolly and engaging stage presence I am !!

Reactions were weird, but I should be used to that by now. Cackle here, laugh over there, but I didn’t have them at my mercy as much as I’d like. I’m also a little rusty, so I can’t pull the audience along like I used to. Will have to brush up on my chops.

Then last week I got to participate in Reading Under the Influence (RUI), which is run monthly by the wonderful Julia Borcherts out of Sheffield’s Bar. This was a totally different kind of reading than what I was used to: Everyone standing up, about four feet from the reader, all drinking, many joining in and heckling. It wasn’t an aggressive audience, but they sure were involved with me and the other readers. I also stumped most of them with my trivia questions about the end of the world and Nostradamus and the Book of Revelation. But most importantly, I met some cool people and heard some good writers, especially Geoff Hyatt, whose new book just came out. I gave away a lot of coupons for free copies of “Honk Honk, My Darling,” but only a few of them have been turned in yet.

And today I sat down with the notion that I was going to write 1000 words. For me, this is like running a marathon. I don’t think I’ve written that much in one sitting in years. And what do you know, I beat it! 1458 words! It felt great! And no one at Facebook even noticed I was missing.