Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mike Hastings died today--Miss you already, buddy

Famous people are often annoying. Then they die, which is sad, but I get REALLY annoyed, and feel guilty for it, reading all the half-truth obits painting them as saintly perfection.

Mike Hastings was highly unsaintly and imperfect. He could be harsh, volcanic and unforgiving, and he picked way more fights than he needed. And a few other things. I worried about him. So no bullshit that he was a sweetheart to everyone. But God he was nice to me. And funny and endearing and an inspiration. I miss him like crazy already. So this is not meant as the complete Mike Hastings bio, just what he meant to one guy in this world.

I knew Mike kind of a short time, four years, but what an impact. I met him over the phone, when he interviewed me about my book--the only close friend I think I ever made that way. We had a great conversation, for about an hour, during which I mentioned I was thinking about going to Afghanistan to research my next book. Then he spent another two hours helping me sort that out. Basic questions like how and where I get body armor, and embarrassing ones like, "What are the chances I'll die?" I skitted around that last one awhile, because I felt like such a weanie and feared the answer would be: If you have to ask, you're not cut out for it.

I did ask, though, because he put me so at ease. From the start. Right up to the last time I saw him, a week and a half ago. He was so damn sincere about everything. So candid. He was riddled with fears, too. But so bold about charging ahead anyway.

Then I moved to New York, we met for drinks when he came through town, and it was friendship at first sight--with both him and Elise, who quickly became two of my favorite people, who married each other.

I could go weeks or months without seeing him, and we'd pick up instantly, like we had been cracking jokes five minutes ago. I could tell Mike anything, so of course I did. Why? I was about to say, "no judgments," which will make a few heads explode, of his adversaries in the unlikely event they are still reading, because man, could Mike eviscerate people who upset him. Brilliantly. He was an artful writer, and you did not want to get on the wrong side of his pen. And yet, for me, I tell you candidly, I confessed to Mike a slew of shortcomings I would never divulge to my own mom. (Especially my mom--haha--but not to most of my other friends either.)

I think, because he knew I was trying. And trying to figure it out. No bullshit from me either. I never doubted a word that came out of his mouth. I had to tell him he was an idiot, sometimes, or a buffoon, but I always got the truth. His best attempt at figuring out what that was.

That's the main thing Mike was after in this world, I think: truth, sincerity, an honest attempt--at whatever it was you were trying to do.

He forgave some of my grave failings, too, never called me on an obvious one. I'm so Godddamned slow. I have a feeling it drove him nuts, how long I took, because he just cranked out the copy, gorgeous, vivid stuff that had me envious, while I plodded along for years at a time on one thing. He never made me feel shitty about that. He kept on encouraging me, and helping me with edits and guidance and introductions. We me, he was incredibly generous.

Everyone has been lauding his reporting, but man he could write, and that's where he really helped me. So many times, so many ways. The story I've been working on now, he's been encouraging me for three years. So many times, my confidence sagged. I believed in it because he did. (Elise, too. What a pair.)

Here's where I get to pick a little fight with him. Mike wrote this really vivid, amusing and totally spot-on list of ten bits of advice to young journalists on Reddit. You'll get a sense right away of his candor and intensity--everything that made him so special--so I have to laugh at his derisive stab in #2 at reporters focused on their writing, or God help them, "prose." That's what makes the list so God damn special, you idiot: your amazing facility to convey so much insight with so much personality, in so few words. That's called great writing, goofball. Vivid prose.

Two things I didn't tell Mike:

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mesmerized by the PBS' 'American Masters' on Philip Roth.

Now I get why Roth was such a master.

My favorite bit: seeing his corrections. Looks just like mine! What a relief!!

The episode was engaging from the start, because he was so amazingly, refreshingly candid: the good, the bad, the whatever--no bullshit, and amazing self-awareness (and insight into others).

Of all the takeaways of that show, it's that he was a great writer, because he was totally liberated from fears, reticence, anything that comes between him and the page: what he felt, what his imagination was capable of, he spilled it out, let the page soak it up.

PLUS, he's really

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Columbine named to 50 Coolest Book Covers Ever

How cool is this?

Shortlist.com just picked the "50 Coolest Book Covers Ever," with titles like 1984, Catch-22 and Clockwork Orange. (And yes, In Cold Blood.) And . . . 

. . . my first book, Columbine

That is sweet company.

I am ever grateful to Henry Sene Yee for designing such a memorable cover, and Jon Karp for gathering an amazing team to work on my book.

When the book came out, before it won him a slew of design awards, Henry posted on his blog, explaining his whole artistic process of conceiving the ideas, trying out completely different versions (with pictures shown), and making it happen. It's a great read.

(And I'll use this opportunity, once again, to thank all the gracious readers who keep recommending the book, spreading the word, especially all the high school students and teachers who have embraced it. 

And thanks to Barnes & Noble and a lot of independents for putting it back out on display tables. That's really helping people discover it.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Who cares who Cranky McCain endorses

Regardless of what you think of that particular old crank clinging desperately to his senate seat, I roll my eyes every time I see a "news story" about some politician endorsing.

Who the hell cares? Who is going to let someone tell them who to vote for in a presidential election?

It's refreshing to hear many pundits now scoffing at the idea that Michelle Bachmann can direct her supporters to Romney or Santorum, or that Perry or Gingrich can once they bow out.

Sometimes, on more cheerful days, it makes me smile, though. Because

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Autographed Columbine books

Many of you have been asking about autographed copies of the book. I just signed a dozen copies of Columbine at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in NYC.

They will ship virtually anywhere domestic or international.

Call this number to purchase/ship, and let them know that I signed all their copies on hand Friday night:


Sunday, November 13, 2011

New authors: How to break into publishing

A talentened friend of mine is wrapping up his phd in religious history. His dissertation has promise as a mainstream book, but he knows nothing about the publishing industry. He emailed asking for advice on how to get started (eg, how to approach editors.)

I started by telling him you don't approach editors: you start with an agent. Pretty soon I'd filled a page or two laying out the basics of breaking into this biz, and figured it could help some of you. (I get asked this a lot.)

The email felt like a good draft of a post I've been meaning to put together for a couple years now. But as you might have noticed, I've tried to keep myself from the blog the past year to focus on my next project.

So rather than let this languish in draft form indefinitely, helping no one, I'm just going to post it here as sent, complete with uncaps, fragments and gramatical mistakes. (Minus a few personal details). I think you'll get the gist.

Fiction authors: your process is very similar, except you have to write the whole novel and have that ready to send instead of the book proposal.

I hope this helps some of you writers trying to break in. To find it later, I'll add it to my Advice to Writers page.

The email:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Survey Says Library Users Are My Best Customers

Finally, a study about libraries illustrating what most of us authors have learned from our readers. The PublishersWeekly piece:

Survey Says Library Users Are Your Best Customers             
Groundbreaking new study shows value of libraries to the book—and the e-book—business

This is wonderful to see documented--though I'm curious to read the full study, because frankly, this piece presented a lot of wonderful conclusions with almost no data to back it up. Hopefully the data is there in the full piece.

I have seen incredible evidence of the power of libraries since Columbine came out in 2009. I hear from

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Help Columbine book win Readers' Choice Award

Illinois high school students, teachers, parents, librarians and friends, you can help Columbine reach a wider audience in schools.

Columbine is a finalist for "The 2012 Abraham Lincoln Award: Illinois' High School Readers' Choice Award." Winners are chosen by students, and any Illinois high school student can vote.

Please consider voting and asking a student you know to vote. (Summary of how below.)

I have never lobbied for an award before, but here's why this one matters so much to me:

When the book launched, I was flooded with emails, but then soon after, Facebook started humming. It was students. Thousands of them were reading the book and sharing it. They said it felt real to them, like their life. It made them want to read.

That was the nicest thing I could have hoped to hear.

Teachers and librarians also became big supporters, because of the kids' response. They were reading by choice! And asking questions, wanting to learn more—wanting to learn. Music to a teacher's ears. And mine. They are thrilled at the way the kids are responding.

I had to give up touring to concentrate on my next book, but I've made exceptions for schools, because the impact is so powerful. (I know the kids electrify me.)

In the last two years, I have traveled to schools around the country and met with thousands of students, and skyped with hundreds more. In one week last month, I spoke to about 3,000 kids in four schools around Chicago. The enthusiasm has been overwhelming.

Hinsdale Central last month. More pix here and on Facebook.)

What's so invigorating is the way students are responding. They are excited about reading, asking, learning.

Students and teachers have become my prime focus. I created the Columbine Teacher's Guide and Student Guide—both free. I also created videos for students and class discussions, and do two free skype sessions per month with classes.

The Abe Lincoln Award will open the door

Monday, August 1, 2011

My living room is nearly done--supposedly

We'll see. I tacked on that 'supposedly,' because I imagine I'll change it eight or nine hundred more times. But it's finally feeling complete.

This my first NYC apartment space that I actually created. (The sublet was furnished, and I just moved in there with a couple suitcases.) This place I picked out myself in Hell's Kitchen, and started with almost nothing, except the Moroccan rugs and albums I kept stored in Denver.

It could use a painting or two or even a print, but close. I added a few of the plants and the album covers this weekend:

The bottom left looks really busy, but that's because of the weird angle and the plants too dark to show up well, because of all the window pouring in the opposite window.

Here's the same room, from the right side, instead of the left:

And here from the reverse angle, from the kitchen:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tricking out a writer’s museum—about me

This StackedUp.tv video was lots of fun. I did not expect the manservant to come up.

Here's the setup: Anne Trubek wrote "A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses." She really liked Columbine, so she came to my sublet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to curate its potential as a museum and potential shrine for my work.

That made me chuckle. But I was game.

It was fun imagining myself into that pantheon some day, and considering what people might find revealing in my junk.

This is a great series. Check out more of their videos on authors at StackedUp.tv. Wonderful place to discover authors.


FYI, we taped this in January, and I moved to my own place in Hell's Kitchen last month. None of the furniture there was mine, nor any of the stuff on the walls. But it was comfy, and a good place to get my feet wet living in NYC. I spent seven months there.

Here's a shot of my new place.

And way too much product in my hair, huh?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yoga: a welcome addition, but . . .

I started yoga, finally, three weeks ago, and absolutely love it. Mostly.

This morning was a bit of a struggle. It's going to be a long road.

I started with a lot of negativity today. Not sure why: just woke up a little tired. I looked forward to yoga, but it was a strain right away, and my brain went right to, "God. Three times a week for the rest of my life?"

Plus, I've been doing everything imaginable to help my back. Started a daily spreadsheet of activities, pain and tightness to document what leads to the next bad patch, and used it to log every time I stretch, shooting for five times a day of 10-15 minutes.

And I was very happy about it, until this morning it suddenly seemed like a huge, endless struggle.

But I felt much better at the end of yoga. I've got a great teacher, too--Tim Bouldry at David Barton Gym. He's always exuding joy and plus he said he was proud of me today. That helped immeasurably.

Helped. It will be a challenging day.

Friday, April 8, 2011

This makes writing 'Columbine' worth it. Again

Two years after the birth of my book, I had quietly come to the unconscious conclusion, that it had finished surprising me. Then went downstairs for today's mail.

Truthfully, I ran down to get my royalty check, which I really need, and it wasn't there, but something better was. Four bulging manila envelops from the same address: Fremd High School, where I'd appeared at their Writer's Week last month.

It was an incredible day and I am so behind on posting about it--which I will, with great pictures. But the gist was: two great sessions with students, back-to-back in their auditorium, maybe 600-800 each, followed by two hours in the teacher's lounge talking to students and teachers in small groups and signing their books. They were bright and energized and it was amazing. But it didn't prepare me for this:


This was the best I could capture on my iPhone. It's about a two-inch stack of thank you letters:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hell's Kitchen: my new home

I signed a lease Friday, and I'm moving to Hell’s Kitchen next week. (Pix soon.)

I had two big reasons from the outset:
  1.  Get closer to the city.
  2. A second bedroom for an office in a real room with a real door, and room for two tables for writing vs web. That worked really well in Denver. I need it badly.
I found a great apartment in a cool building in a great spot: in midtown, a five-minute walk from Times Square, which sounds horrifying, but that crap ends abruptly and HK is completely different. This is where friends said I belonged a year ago, but I had to test out the Upper West Side. They were right. The UWS is OK, but feels a bit far, and not at all my people. Somebody else’s neighborhood. This feels like home.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Lincoln Center apt open to sublet

I'm officially moving. Signed a lease Friday on the way to the airport to head to Tucson.

More about that very soon, but first I thought I'd let you know that my current apartment near Lincoln Center (71st & West End) is open for re-subletting immediately.