Apr 142014

Jeff Cohen

In a little less than five weeks, Condoleeza Rice will deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University, just a hair under two miles from where I live. This impending event has raised a good deal of angst and ire among the faculty and some students of the university. I'm an alum and a part-time lecturer there, so I have some perspective from a number of angles.

I don't like to discuss politics in this forum, but without going into detail we can assume that Dr. Rice and I might agree on some pieces of classical music and little else. Since it is highly unlikely we'll ever meet (there will be upwards of 50,000 people at the commencement, and we're not all getting face time), the point is probably irrelevent. But I do have my objections to some of her actions and policies, which I note simply for context.

The debate that has gone on since Ms. Rice (I'll refrain from future references as "Dr. Rice" because I don't want people to go to her for a diagnosis--see your primary care physician) was announced as the speaker has been vivid and spirited. Many have called for a retraction of the invitation issued by the university for her to attend the event and speak. They have been met with bland statements from the Rutgers administration about how we should have free discourse on campus and little else.


I should point out at this moment that I will definitely be attending the commencement despite my sincere objections to the speaker. Normally, I would ignore the event as I have done pretty much every year since 1979, when I was required to show up so I could get my diploma (yes, I know I could have gotten it without showing up--that's called "artistic license," or "laziness"), and to introduce the speaker that year, John Kenneth Galbraith. As vice president of the senior class, I delivered what would have no doubt been a rollicking speech if the echoes in the newly built Rutgers Athletic Center had not obscured my words to everyone, including me. But this year I will attend, breaking a string of 34 years that I had assiduously not shown up, essentially due to indifference.

The Rice speech evokes free speech issues for me. I believe that a university especially should be a place where all points of view are respected and debated, but I think common sense demands that a line be drawn. I don't think this year's speaker crosses any line I'd consider a deal breaker. I simply disagree with her.

But I do think that a university commencement is not the place for such a debate. It should be a celebration of the accomplishment of the graduates. It should be about them. (It never is, by the way, no matter who is invited to speak.) The controversy over this year's speaker distracts from the students, and I object to that.

I also believe that any speech, particularly one at a celebratory event, should be entertaining. I think everything should be entertaining (as loyal readers of this space will hopefully attest), but understand that when the occasion is a somber or tense one, it's possible the laughs should be kept to a minimum. When I was asked to suggest a speaker in 1979, I brought up the names Mel Brooks and Bill Cosby. We got John Kenneth Galbraith. Such is the nature of higher education.

Personally, I think every commencement address should go like this. But I'm reallistic enough to know they can't. It's a shame.

Still, I believe the invitation by Rutgers was wrong. I disagree with the presentation of an honorary degree because that constitutes an endorsement of the speaker. I don't think that's appropriate here. That being said, I don't think the invitation should be revoked. It would simply be rude. No, the invitation should never have been issued to being with. That's my point of view; your mileage may vary. 

Free speech is a funny thing: We're all for it when the speech involved takes up our position on something, and not so crazy about the concept when it applies to those we wish with all our hearts would shut up. That's not how it works; if you believe your point of view is sacrosanct, then the other must be just as well protected.

We won't discuss hate speech. Who needs that kind of topic on a Monday morning?

I'll go to the commencement this year. I'll listen to the speaker, and I'll no doubt hear some boos or see some people turn their backs (this is New Jersey, and asking everyone to be respectful and polite is just unrealistic). That's fine. Those are two other forms of free expression. I probably will end up being bored by the oration. I'm not going for that part of the event, anyway.

I'm attending this year's commencement because someone far more important than the featured speaker will be in attendance. And I would show up if Satan himself were being given an honorary doctorate in, I don't know, brimstone management. Nothing is keeping me away in 2014.

My daughter 1622775_10152010060873721_1467737281_nEve Cohen will be among the graduates this year. That trumps any speaker the university could have put up on the marquee. I'll be there if I have to walk (and I might). And that woman up on the platform, blathering away about whatever she'll be blathering away about, couldn't matter less. I'll stand and applaud at another time during the program.

That's my idea of free speech.

Apr 132014

You guys! Some thieves tried to steal a pair of ruby slipper replicas from a Staten Island hotel! The best part is, there were three of 'em, a woman and two men, so it's almost as if Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow were to blame (I'm figuring the Cowardly Lion would have been too cowardly to participate.) Mystery writers, wouldn't this make a great heist story, with a few modifications? Someone please write that novel. Thank you. And thank you, Jezebel, for calling my attention to this theft.

Mar 032014

Jeff Cohen

You never know who may be listening to you--Paul McCartney, "Take It Away"

How about those Academy Awards, huh? Were you shocked? I was stunned.

I'm lying. I wrote this a week before the Oscars. Hey. Life gets in the way sometimes.

Still, thinking about the glamor and silliness of Hollywood--and the best thing about the Academy Awards is how silly they are--got me to wondering. My writing has certainly not made me a household name, and I'm perfectly fine with that. But if I'm being accurate (to the best of my knowledge), my books have, in the past few years especially, sold conservatively in the tens of thousands, and that's probably an underestimate. 

So after a while you start thinking that maybe one or two of those mass market paperbacks has made it into the hands of a famous person. 

It's sort of a cool thought. Who might be a fan of the Haunted Guesthouse series? There's no way of knowing, really, unless said celebrity were to reach out and communicate with the author (that's me). And so far, they haven't, with one exception, who was a friend before the series started and has blurbed a couple of the books.

Erin posted a while back about the impression an author leaves when making public his/her thoughts about politics or some other sensitive topic. The flip side of that is wondering whether someone whose positions I support might be reading my work.

Or what if it's someone with whom I disagree vehemently? What would that say about my novel?

So in order to prevent myself considerable embarrassment (after this display of undigestible hubris), I've decided to provide a list of celebrities whom I hope are or will be fans of my work. Because you never know.

My Hoped-For Famous Fans

  • Mel Brooks: Always at the top of my list, unless Harpo Marx is resurrected. If someone knows how I can get Mel a copy of any of my books, don't hesitate to get in touch;
  • Jon Stewart: The smartest comedian at work for the past 15 years. Can take an incredibly obvious joke and still make it hilarious. I don't even care if he likes the book; I just want him to read one;
  • Queen Latifah: Hey, a fellow alum of 8096523-standardFrank H. Morrell High School and multitalented performer. Jersey girl with attitude, someone I'd be proud to have as a reader;
  • Ringo Starr: The People's Beatle and funniest of the bunch;
  • Steven Spielberg: Let's face it--if he were a loyal reader, Josh and I would have heard from him by now;
  • Derek Jeter: Not only an unparalleled athlete entering his final campaign, but an aspiring publisher--someone get this man a book!
  • Bette Midler: Because she's damn funny;
  • Craig Ferguson: Doing the funniest, most subversive talk show on the air, and a fan of crime fiction who books authors on his show. Yeah, you could do worse;
  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Simply the coolest guy in any room he enters. A superstar astrophysicist? You know if Dr. T. likes your work, you must be smart;
  • Bill Murray: I'm not sure why, because I don't think he'd like my work, but I want to hope he would;
  • George Clooney: This generation's attempt at Cary Grant, falling a little short but way closer than most of us get. Smart, talented, committed; what's not to like?
  • Tina Fey: She's really funny, and if she publicly said she liked my books, my wife would be impressed with me for the first time this millennium;
  • Gene Wilder: The best comic actor of the past 50 years, and an author in his own write.

To be fair, of course (or even not to be fair), it's probably right to list a few celebs who, if they are fans of my work, I'd appreciate keeping it to themselves:

Thanks-But-No-Thanks List

  • Ted Nugent: Yeah, and his music is lousy, too:
  • Mel Gibson: I hold a grudge. Move on;
  • Rush Limbaugh: You shouldn't have to ask why;
  • The Duck Dynasty Guy: I'm almost ashamed to have a beard because of you;
  • The Boston Red Sox: Nothing personal. It's a religious thing;
  • Alec Baldwin: Luckily, he's getting out of public life, so that will never become an issue;
  • Vladimir Putin: Keep your shirt on, Vlad. I didn't watch your Olympics, either, so we're even;
  • John Travolta: If he can't get my name right, he's not going to be much help anyway; *
  • Justin Bieber: Get help, man--or just get better advice, and listen to it;
  • Isabel Allende: You know why.

For the record: I doubt any of these people has ever been in the same room with one of my books, but this is a fantasy league sort of thing, where you get to choose the names and assume they'll go along with you--or not. So that's my list. What's yours?


P.S. Recently the world of comedy has lost its grandfather and its funny uncle. Rest in peace, Sid Caesar and Harold Ramis. It doesn't matter how old you were; either way, it was much too soon. This is a world that can't afford to lose the laughs.

*Added after the Oscars

Jan 212014

Josh Getzler

So the snow is falling, the wind is blowing, the kids got out early, and I have seventeen manuscripts to read (plus one more I just asked for despite myself. Sue me, it's a Tudor thriller, with an Abbey.)

As I settle in with the Kindle and a glass of Uncomplicated Red (and no, Everyone I'm Supposed To Be Reading, I'm not putting your ms aside for the Tudor Abbey...), I leave you with a photo of Chelsea out my office window, when New York City is just so beautiful.


Snow day

Jan 162014

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the nominees for this year's Edgar Awards, honoring mysteries in various formats that first appeared in 2013. Among the honorees are two fine authors being recognized as Grand Masters, Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais.

The awards will be presented at the MWA's annual banquet in New York City, being held this year on May 1. It's also worth noting that this year marks the 205th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's birth.

Congratulations to all the nominees and honorees for a job well - or perhaps fiendishly - done.

Jan 132014

Jeff Cohen

My beloved Garden State (that was NOT meant sarcastically!) was the focus of much news coverage this past week, when some good old-fashioned newspaper reporting revealed that highly ranked officials in the administation of Our Beloved Governor (might be a little sarcasm in there) might have purposely closed numerous access lanes to the George Washington Bridge as political retribution against a mayor from the other party who didn't endorse said Beloved Governor for reelection, of which he was pretty much assured, endorsement or no endorsement.

There's a lesson to be found here, crime fiction authors. You'll see in a minute.

At a nationally televised news conference on Thursday, the Gov took a couple hours to shoot the breeze with the press about this incident. And apologized, in his extremely imitable way, sort of. But when addressing the firing of a close aide, did he explain that it was because of the disservice to the citizenry? The flagrant illegality of what was done? The callous disregard for the citizens of Fort Lee and anyone else who wanted to get into Upper Manhattan for a few days in September?

Nah. It was "because she lied to me."

Forget the Claude Rains ("I'm shocked--shocked--to discover there's gambling going on here") implausibility of his declared amazement at what had happened. Don't even consider the possibility that the traffic gambit was the tip of the iceberg. The bit of wisdom we can all take away from this particular political nonsense is thus: 

It ain't all about you. Ever.

Some authors are tempted, for example when a negative review is posted on a web site, to rebut the points, even inaccuracies being presented as fact. Some authors (see last week's post) can't see past their own titles when considering possible excellence in the field. Some authors believe that the agents and editors with whom they deal should be devoted strictly to the advancement of said author and his/her brilliant product.

Oh, get over yourself. Just because each of us is intimately familiar with our works, and believe what we write to be fabulous in some way or another--a healthy ego IS necessary to do this job--doesn't mean the whole publishing world comes to a halt the moment your word processor keyboard cools off.

Consider the equally well documented case of one Mr. Alex Rodriguez, until recently third baseman for the New York Yankees: Mr. Rod has been suspended from all things baseball for a year because of a list of indiscretions involving banned substances that, from the sound of it, is impressive enough to drop the most jaded of jaws.

Mr. Rod was one of 13 players caught in a particular net, and the only one who didn't just take the punishment and slink back into the shadows. Granted, his punishment was about 3.25 times that of the closest runner-up, which again leads one to wonder exactly how many smoking guns he had left behind ("Leave the gun. Take the steroids."). Nonetheless, it was his handling of the brouhaha from which we can take our cue.

First, he exhibited confidence: The charges were false and he would undoubtedly be exonerated. There was no question. Until there was a good deal of question. Compromises were offered; deals were put on various tables, and it was suggested by the head of Mr. Rod's own labor union that perhaps he would be best served by negotiating. 

No way. Mr. Rod then clammed up. For a while. For the "good of the team," which was in awful shape last year but still had an unbelievably slim shot at success, which didn't happen. Once radio silence was broken, Mr. Rod attended the hearings on his case, even finding groups to picket the building where the hearing was being held. I'm not making a word of this up.

When it was clear things weren't going his way, Mr. Rod threw a hissy fit, banged his fist on the table, left the hearing in a huff, and headed directly to a sympathetic radio program, where he looked into the eyes of the host (and because of simulcast on a TV station owned by the Yankees, the viewer) and insisted he had never done any of the things of which he was accused. Nothing. Nada. 

The suspension was handed out on Saturday, and immediately Mr. Rod announced he would appeal it in federal court. Yes, he wants to literally make a federal case of a ruling that didn't go his way.

Authors, consider: Sometimes things aren't going to go your way. Some editors will reject your work. Some reviewers will criticize it. Sometimes the book buying public will simply refuse to spend its hard-earned money on your hard-earned brainchild. 

Think about how you look when you react. Denial--the editor asking for changes just lacks vision? Your ego can be seen from space; calm yourself. Hissy fit? You're petty. Escalation of the rhetoric? You have an inflated idea of your own place in the publishing universe. Refusal to budge an inch? Yeah, you have your artistic integrity, but you're overlooking one possibility--other people may be right about your work.

With your work, be open to suggestion. With criticism, be deaf to cheap shots. With your sales figures, be blind to any criterion other than whether you wrote the book you wanted to write and did it as well as you could.

Take the high road. But you might want to divert to the Lincoln Tunnel. I hear the traffic at the GWB is a little backed up.


P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 32 days.

Dec 312013

Josh Getzler


So we’re on vacation in Florida, and my son Joe, who’s pinch hit for me before, told me as we took a walk that he’d like to write the year-end post. Since I really had written my Last-of-year post last week, I figured it would be OK. So this is where my always-unique freshman son is on December 31. I hope we all succeed in our hopes and dreams for 2014, and that our expectations are realistic. Happy New Year, everyone!




On the Cusp of the New Year

By Joe Newman-Getzler

Well, folks, in mere hours 2013 can be officially known as “last year” and 2014 will be upon us. I have to say, 2013 was a very mixed year, and at times like this I like to look back at the old year and think of the positive things in my life. After all, I’m an optimist, and who likes thinking of the lowlights when we can celebrate the highlights? In the previous year, I:

  • Starred in 2 school plays
  • Discovered the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, which utterly changed my life
  • Watched Citizen Kane for the first time (lived up to the hype)
  • Fully developed a complete cast of characters and a plot to a cartoon series I’m working on
  • Went to Columbia
  • And finally saw one episode of Dr. Who (“City of Death,” which wasn’t bad)

So, you might be wondering: what are you going to resolve for the new year, and, for that matter, what am I going to resolve? Here’s the thing: I don’t believe in making huge, lifestyle-changing resolutions for the new year. I fear that too often I’ll forget them and resort to old habits. For instance: you can’t just go out and say, “I’ll never argue with my sisters again.” You could never live up to that. It’s easier to say, “I’ll try harder not to argue with my sisters.” And don’t set huge goals like, “As soon I can, I’ll lose 50 pounds!” Start with 5, then 10, then 15, and move up. It’s easier to receive gradual gratification than immediate. So my new year’s resolutions are relatively small. They aren’t huge lifestyle changes, just little things I’d like to do or improve on.

  • Read and watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Finish the first episode of my series
  • Work on my novel, Ham City
  • See The Lion King on Broadway (heck, I liked the movie...)
  • Learn how to read music for the spring musical
  • And watch a Simpsons episode at last (I hear “Marge vs. The Monorail” is a good one)

You see? All of these goals aren’t impossible to reach. No, I can’t do them all at once, but that’s what so many people don’t understand about new year’s resolutions. They think the moment the clock strikes midnight, their goals must be set into action and they can never go back. This isn’t realistic! It will make them feel pressured to meet the expectations immediately, and when they forget or change their minds, they’ll feel immensely unsatisfied and guilty. Be gradual, and set realistic expectations. Good things come to those who wait.

In closing, let me wish everyone, on behalf of my dad and the folks here at Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room, a happy and safe new year. Let’s hope you all set good goals and achieve all of them. Bonan Novjaron!

(See Joe’s own blog at http://livetonerd.blogspot.com/, his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/SuperJNG18, and artwork at http://herodeablazingcarpet.deviantart.com/)

Dec 302013

Jeff Cohen

Let me begin by saying that I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. Promises made to oneself, particuarly those that involve doing things like dieting and exercising, are meant in earnest and forgotten by January 3.

Besides: Why not have March 28th resolutions? What difference does it make that Augustus Caesar decided this is when the year begins (and was careful to name a summer month after himself)?

But. I do believe in reassessments, and the arbitrary date ol' Augie set down is as good a time as any to take stock. I don't make promises, but I will consider the current state of, you know, me, and ponder what I expect to happen, not what I wish will occur.

Setting goals is good. Feeling like a failure for not hitting them is destructive. So I have set a few goals for the coming year, and will try to achieve them. If I don't, that's the way it goes.

Be It Resolved that:

  • In 2014, I'll have two novels published: The sixth Haunted Guesthouse book, currently with a title that can easily not be on the cover of the book when you next hear about it; and the first in the Samuel Hoenig Asperger's mystery series, THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. I resolve that the next Guesthouse book will be better than the last, only because I believe in trying to improve each time. The Asperger's book can't be better than the last one, because there is no last one. No sense being silly about it.
  • In 2014, I will try to live a healthier lifestyle. Progress will not be measured in lost pounds, but in the way I feel. I feel okay now, so better would be pretty good.
  • In 2014, I'll teach my students to use punctuation properly; the difference between your and you're; that lie and lay aren't the same word. Will they learn it? Don't be silly. I'm not that good a teacher (and they should have learned all that in fourth grade).
  • In 2014, I'll do my best not to bother Josh and Danielle at HSG too often. (Note to Josh: please notice the word "try" in that sentence.
  • In 2014, maybe I'll read some books I didn't write. No promises.
  • In 2014, I'm making every effort to rewrite a screenplay I wrote back when. Yes, I know which one.
  • In 2014, I'll stop paying college tuition. (That's not a resolution; it's a fact.) Student loans? Those are forever.
  • In 2014, I will try to keep baseball in perspective. (Pitchers and catchers report in 45 days.)
  • In 2014, I will work harder on keeping my fingers pressed down on the strings.
  • In 2014, I will attend the Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic conferences. I hope some of you will resolve to say hello when you see me there.
  • In 2014, I'll do my best to come up with a more interesting post than this one each week.


Dec 242013

Josh Getzler


I always write my last Dead Guy post of the year from Florida, where my family spends winter break with my in-laws. As I look back on these past few years on the blog, I see that sometimes these posts are a recap of the past year's ups and downs; or a somewhat statistical recapitulation of the year's deals and new clients. This year, given the date, I want to talk briefly about what I've learned from the most important newcomer of 2013: Pope Francis.


I've followed the Pope from the sidelines as a kind of interested spectator--as a Jew my immediate skin in the game is limited. But the articles and analyses about his election and first months as Pontiff have been irresistible and fascinating.


And most importantly, in a year in America infused with cynicism and ugliness, with civility and kindness and person-to-person respect taking blow after blow, the Pope's very public repudiation of this breakdown in kindness has been a refreshing counterbalance.  It was the perfect time for him to come in, at a seeming nadir, to remind not only his own flock what the spirit of their religion might be about; but also to remind us all--Catholic, Jew, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, humanist, whatever--that kindness, humility, and respect for everyone will make this world a better place.


Make no mistake: the Pope isn't going to fix Congress or likely stop the bloodshed in Syria one the Central African Republic or end despair in Greece or end the brinksmanship in the South China Sea. But the overwhelmingly positive reaction by the millions of people he influences indicates a degree of weariness toward the negative, polarizing rhetoric that bombards our lives every day. And that is something to grasp, and is a cause for optimism at the end of this year.


Merry Christmas to my friends who are celebrating, and Happy New Year to everyone. See you in 2014!

Dec 232013

Jeff Cohen

Relax. There will be no Duck Dynasty comments made here. Some things are too stupid to merit discussion.

I am, I'm sure it is no surprise, not an Political_partiesapolitical person. I have opinions, as anyone with a working brain does. Not to worry: I'm not about to hit you between the eyes with any of my political views right now. If you want to know, feel free to ask and I'll be happy to answer.

But part of not being an apolitical person is to become involved, either as a participant or an observer, in discussions about such topics. And these days, many such discussions take place in cyberspace, because that's where we do pretty much everything now. You're reading this in cyberspace, after all.

Read enough of these things and you start to spot trends. So when I was watching one this past week about how... something or other... happens and one of the opinions expressed was that any information given was by definition suspect because "the media" distorts everything, my brain started to hurt. Again.

Man, I'm tired of people blaming the news Mediamedia for everything they don't like.

It's been a good long time since I was a legit member of a newsgathering organization, and even then I was a pretty feeble one. But the reporters and editors I've had the privilege of working with simply don't deserve the reputation they've gotten.

"The media" isn't responsible for you being uninformed or misinformed. You are. 

This particular trend, to point a finger at "the Media-spoonfeeding-cartoonmedia" and explain that the misinformed masses (meaning anyone who disagrees with you) are simply following along with whichever outlet you happen to despise (and yes, I despise at least one myself, but guess what--I choose not to get my news from that organization) once again removes the onus of getting information from the consumer. If we don't know where Syria is on a globe, or why Kim Jong Un offed his uncle, or which side of any idiotic Congressional debate we might favor, it is our own fault.

(Just as an aside: When people go on television and complain about "the media," who do they think THEY are?)

It's the responsibility of each citizen to seek out information, and if you're interested in being well-informed, one outlet simply isn't enough. Read both sides of an argument (yes, children, I said read, and not "watch" or "listen to" and certainly not "Google"). That's by design. Internet news is fine, except you only get what you ask for. A newspaper gives you what happened, and you choose or don't choose to read it. That's your job, and your fault if you miss something that's available to you.

Do some, if not all, news organizations distort some stories, intentionally or not? Of course they do. Guess what? It's up to you to analyze what you're told and see if it holds water logically. You don't just take in news and nod your head. Question. Research. Decide for yourself. 

I know; thinking, right? What a drag. But you have to do it anyway. It's not a reporter's fault if you drop the ball.

In the 1970s, Cronkite-smWalter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. Despite his strong political opinions, he kept them out of his reporting and told the viewer directly when he was offering commentary and not journalism. Have the lines blurred? Hell, yes. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be a more discerning consumer of news. 

The most trusted man in America today? Probably Tom Hanks. And he seems like a nice guy, but I'm not sure I need his reporting on Kim Jong Un.

I have my opinons. And I get my information from sources--yes, more than one--that I trust. But if they tell me something that is questionable, I question it. I do some research. I hear the opinions and the facts. And then I make up my own mind.

Stop blaming the messenger, ladies and gentlemen. We are in charge of ourselves. The buck stops here.

Oh, and Santa Claus is a fictional character. S/he can be whatever color or species you want.

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