SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know E.J. Copperman's true identity (and I'm guessing that category applies to no one at all), don't read any further. I wouldn't want to disillusion a reader. Or a non-reader. Or anybody else.
So here's the thing: As was discussed in some detail last week, THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, the first Asperger's mystery featuring the fictional Samuel Hoenig, will be published by our very own Terri Bischoff's Midnight Ink in just a hair over three weeks, on October 8. It's a mystery involving and told by a man who has a high-functioning form of an autism related disorder, and it involves, as one might expect from the title, a missing head, in this case a frozen one.
It's also the first official collaboration between myself and E.J. Copperman, and that's sort of an interesting situation.
That's right, friends, it's the first book I ever wrote with myself.
The cover of the book clearly states the authors' names as, "E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen," as if that clears anything up. But the fact is I was alone in the room when it was written, although that's hardly a definitive indication that anyone called E.J. Copperman didn't write the book. E.J., after all, is me, and nobody's tried to keep that a secret for quite some time.
In and of itself (which is an expression that doesn't mean anything, but whatever), the fact that both of my names are up on the cover of the book is somewhat irrelevant. If you enjoy the book, it could be written by Hans Gruber and it wouldn't matter. If you don't enjoy the book, it could be a work of William Shakespeare (who as far as I know never knowingly wrote about Asperger's) and that would be equally unimportant.
But sitting down to write the book a few years ago (it took a while to find a home, and thankfully Terri liked it), I honestly didn't know if it was going to be a Jeff book or an E.J. book, and I do actually approach the two differently, even if I'm not conscious of the effort at the time. So in writing THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD (which had another title back in those days), I was sort of channeling the E.J. side of my brain even while the Jeff side was poking his nose into it just to keep things on an even keel. So it really is a product of both.
I got the idea when Evan Hunter and Ed McBain (both of whom were actually Salvatore Lombino) wrote a book together. Now, that seemed like a great idea! You get two author names on the book for followers of either previously published writer, and you don't have to split the royalties! What's not to like?
It does irk me when (as a number of review sites and an online retailer or two) some people consider THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD as strictly an E.J. Copperman book and leave my birth name off it entirely. I mean, I worked as hard as E.J. on it--harder even, since I was doing the typing--and I think I deserve a little credit, don't you?
Having just sent off the draft of the second Samuel book, whose title has not yet been confirmed (and I've learned to keep my mouth shut about such things), I can say the second time around it was more of a total collaboration because now I was aware both names would be on the cover. There was more give-and-take, but either way, I got or gave because there wasn't anyone else there. Except our new dog Gizmo, who is adorable but chews things a lot.
So I can tell you something I never knew before: Collaborating with yourself can be fun and rewarding. But the best part, without question, is writing the authors' acknowledgments, when I got to thank myself twice.
P.S.: Our sincere wishes for a quick and easy recovery to our own Josh Getzler, just now starting toward getting his shoulder back the way it should be. We want you back here ASAP, sir, so get to work!
P.P.S.: While we're on the subject of Josh, he has informed me that HSG Agency, of which he is the "G", will match my total donation to ASPEN, the Autism Spectrum Education Network, when we tally it all up from the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE (announced here last week). Remember the rules: Buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD and have it in your hands on its publication day, October 8. Take a picture of yourself with said book (or e-reader title page thereof). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter and make sure I see it. I will donate (and now Josh will match) $3 for every picture posted up to 100 pictures that day. Don't miss your chance to donate to a very worthy cause without spending any extra money! And thanks, Josh and everybody at HSG!
Like many of you (I’d guess most of you), I received a very cheerful email from iTunes this morning, letting me know that I was one of the lucky 500 MILLION account holders music lovers who received, free of charge, the new album by U2 in their iTunes library. Then they said the following:
Never before have this many people owned an album — let alone on the day it was released. This is a big moment in music history. And you're a part of it.
OK, let’s talk about this for real for a minute. What U2 did, fundamentally, was participate in a publicity program not unlike a Kindle free book promotion, only iTunes eliminated the step where you need to get the ebook into your device—it simply put it there. And frankly, that’s fine, if perhaps cheesy. But then to call it “a big moment in music history” where “never before have this many people owned an album” is eye-rollingly disingenuous. What’s more, it speaks to numerous arguments about value/worth/price of a product.
When I began to work in minor league baseball in 1996, I took over an organization in upstate New York which had, for five years, effectively given away its tickets to every game through a (badly thought-out and inefficient) coupon system that made it unnecessary for any fan to pay for a ticket. The previous operators reasoned that they would make their fiscal nut by getting people into the park for free, then having them purchase food, beer, and merchandise. Didn’t work. Going to a game was thought of as, first and foremost, a Cheap Night Out, and fans were not in fact spending more money on hot dogs because they had budgeted a certain amount for the evening and then had more because of the free tickets. Rather, they spent the same amount or less, because everyone knew that the tickets were going to be free—they had no value, so there was no real savings. The first thing we did when we arrived in town was to set a real value for tickets—albeit a very low number—and while fewer people came initially (because they resented paying for something all of a sudden which had previously been free), those who did actually spent more on food and merch because their expectations had shifted from being a Cheap night to a Fun night.
There have been lots of conversations recently, in the Hachette/Amazon fight, over the way Amazon has stated that less expensive ebooks sell more copies, and therefore will pass the break-even point with the current pricing models and make authors more money while charging less to the customer. I think there are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of this. But there is also a significant danger in basing a policy on lowering prices all the time for all products. Amazon itself saw this a few years ago when WalMart stood up to it, and there was a Race To Free for a number of titles. For one or two instances, a retailer can deal with it (and the authors were receiving full royalties so they didn’t suffer, even as it cost Amazon and WalMart money—much as Apple is losing sales on U2 albums in the interest of a splash and enormous distribution). But as a policy…tough to maintain. Amazon clearly believes it has the winning algorithms to make more money for itself while charging its customers less and paying its authors more. If it emerges victorious, we will have to see.
Which brings me back to U2. I’ve been a fan of this band for more than 30 years (JEEZ!) I saw them for the first time at 16, and again at 43. I’ve bought all their albums, and worn out many of them. They haven’t been particularly in the forefront of my mind since I saw them at Giants Stadium a few years ago and thought they were…fine. But when I’m on shuffle and Sunday Bloody Sunday or Beautiful Day or Magnificent comes on, I realize that they are the hall of famers they are.
They also release a TON of odds and sods and remixes and dub versions and acoustic demos, so when I got word that they were releasing their new album for free, I figured it was one of those. Which is to say, because it was for free, I figured it had (virtually) no value. It was just going to be a gimmick, and would be worthy of the eye rolling, and would take U2 further out of the middle of my consciousness.
Then I actually listened to it, and thought it was terrific. It’s new, but hearkens back to The Old Stuff I Love, and feels like a real ALBUM, with an overarching theme (albeit a possibly pretentious one, but hey, it’s Bono) and soaring choruses etc. And I suspect, that by simply spamming it to half a billion people, they’ve actually UNDERSOLD it. How about that?
Quick Note: I’m going to be going on the Disabled List for a couple of weeks for shoulder surgery. This slot will be taken by some terrific guests—Danielle Burby will write next week, and author Todd Moss (The Golden Hour) the week after. See you down the line!
I’ve been having the funny feeling the last couple of weeks that I’ve been regressing back to high school. It’s not simply that I ALWAYS feel nostalgic this time of year, as the kids get ready to return from the summer. But this summer vacation has been filled with reminders of my days with big hair and long overcoats and bright yellow Walkmen.
First I read Eleanor and Park on the advice of the 12 YO, and it took me back to the Smiths and the Replacements and XTC (and bright yellow Walkmen); then last night we watched The Breakfast Club with the kids, and between the layers and overcoats and the Molly Ringwald Dance and Simple Minds I was back to Junior Year, wondering if I would also lose my soul when I grew up.
Tomorrow I’m going to Washington, DC for a couple of days of meetings and the launch of Todd Moss’s Golden Hour (had to get that in!), and I’m back to being a Congressional Page at 17, watching Live Aid and running around the Capitol Building in the roastingly hot DC summer. Then in the fall I’ll be seeing Sting’s new musical The Last Ship, and I’ll be back in my very enthusiastic high school band trying (enthusiastically!) to play So Lonely. And I just looked through the musical offerings in DC Thursday night. The Buzzcocks are playing a little club. The last time I saw them it was around 1988, and I was in college. And I just got my 25th Reunion notice. My son just finished watching Weird Science while my daughter was listening to Marlene On The Wall.
All we’re missing is a Soviet Premier threatening to use Nukes…oh.
So, have YOU been challenged yet?
Wait! Wait! Don’t click off. I realize that between summer and shoulders I’ve not been that active recently, and I missed the initial rosy glow of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now, when I want to write something supporting it, I look around and see the Backlash. Money being raised will take away from other charities. Less funding will be available to use for developing cures for diseases with more victims. Why are we pouring ice on our heads when there are water shortages? When ALS uses genomes? When scientists test on animals? When we should be thinking about ISIS and Gaza and Ferguson and Ukraine and Ebola and…
Stop it. Pull back for a minute.
A few weeks ago, ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease—was mostly known about by friends and relatives and colleagues of people who have, or more likely died, of the disease. My wife’s aunt, the incorrigible, powerful Carol Kaufman, was my link. She died several years ago after a terrible, painful illness where the humiliation was only lessened by the incredible love and dedication of her family. But beside Carol, I have never been affected by ALS directly, as opposed to cancer or Parkinson’s or MS or many other illnesses. There are only (only…) a few thousand people suffering from ALS at any time. There is no cure, and researchers are not overly well-funded. Last year, at this time, the ALS Association had raised somewhere around $2.5 million.
And then someone dumped a bucket of ice over his head, made a donation, posted it on Facebook, and challenged some friends to do the same. And all of a sudden the game had changed. It was 50 Shades of Grey or Gangnam Style, but trying to help eradicate a disease. And it’s all done by taking a video, talking for a minute, dumping some cold liquid on your head, and paying it forward. And what is wrong with that? It’s been absolutely rejuvenating for my Facebook surfing (and by the way, it’s been fascinating to see, as in the article here (http://digiday.com/platforms/facbeook-twitter-ferguson/), how users are staying of Facebook for this, while tweeting the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.) And it’s raised more than $80 MILLION in real money for ALS. And what’s wrong with THAT?
Well, folks are saying that it’s taking away discretionary charitable donation money away from other charities, and this is going to be a giant money suck away from other places that need it. Here’s the thing, though. The Challenge isn’t necessarily forcing anyone to give, or even suggest an amount. People are giving because they feel like doing good. It has felt to me (non-scientifically, so you can roll your eyes if you wish—but I suspect if you’ve read this far you likely aren’t going to do so) that this is the charity version of the impulse buy—the pack of gum or Us magazine at the checkout counter, where you aren’t going to stop buying bread (or, I suppose, the New Yorker, so stretch a metaphor until it screams) because one day you saw Oprah or Benedict Cumberbatch being shown doing something and feel like getting involved. I’m not going to give less to the American Cancer Society or my synagogue or my animal rights charities or my alma mater because I made a small donation to fight ALS because everyone else is doing it and it feels good.
Finally, another thing that’s happening is that people are starting to read about and understand ALS; and whether they are directly impacted by it or not in the future, they might have a little more understanding the next time they read about it or see a tv news story about it.
So that’s it. The ALS Challenge was a great, simple idea that took off unexpectedly. It has done good for the world. And it almost singlehandedly justified Facebook’s existence. There’s enough tragedy and despair in the world; let’s enjoy something good. OK?
So today it's going to be short, since I'm finding typing pretty painful. I've got something in common with the following people:
Yep, I'm a pitcher.
No, no. Rotator cuff issues. They suck. but make it hurt to throw a ball, sleep, hail a taxi, and type. Going to see an orthopedist Thursday, and hope not to be on the DL as long as these guys. In the meantime, enjoy your end-of-summer and join Jeff Cohen's email list! Or EJ Copperman's. Doesn't matter to me. or him. I mean them. :)
Today was one of those where the astonishing range of the writers I work with came out in force. It reminded me why this job, with its stress and never-shrinking inbox (Summer Slowdown? HA!) is so consistently fascinating.
Today, over the course of nine hours, I dealt with the following people and events:
1) A new author, who wrote a wonderful young adult novel filled with angst, poetry, and first love, agreed to let me represent her. When Danielle gets back from vacation she will dance, since she put this novel on my desk and said “READ THIS.” It’s called My Pablo Neruda Summer. Watch out.
2) While I was on the phone with New Client, I was handed an envelope from Putnam, with a first copy, hot off the presses, of Todd Moss’s The Golden Hour. It’s always such a thrill to hold a first copy, and this one stands to MOVE.
3) Once off with New Client, and done tweeting the picture above, it was time to go to a meeting at Oxford University Press with a client, Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit, whose examination of America’s fascination with the image of the Ten Commandments is going to come out in 2016. I was not simply the least intelligent person in the editor’s office; I felt rather that I was the least intelligent person in the building. On the way out I stopped for a moment at Tim Bent’s office. Tim, who’s now been editing at Oxford for many years, was a classmate of mine at the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course in the summer of 1990. We realized that there might not be more than one other member of our class (Random House editor Jordan Pavlin) who made publishing his or her career. And I took a 13 year sabbatical!
4) On my return I had meetings with our summer interns, one of whom was updating our editor database (editors change houses a LOT!) and was getting started on a new project to track foreign sales of Geoff Rodkey’s new, hysterical middle grade series The Tapper Twins, whose imagery is slightly less elevated at times than Jenna’s (dead fish in knapsacks, half-eaten cronuts…). Coincidentally, that was followed by a call from Geoff himself, with some questions about the second in the series.
5) Finally I had a chance to work on some emails. It was 4:30. These ranged from confirming a visit from the talented young writers from Writopia, to organizing a drop-in from Dead Guy Guru Jeff (“EJ Copperman’s CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND”) Cohen, to downloading a new contract to asking for a new author to send me her debut Young Adult novel about teenage angst and love in 18th Century France. A lovely bookend to an always-interesting day.
And the inbox remains full.
So a friend of mine, editor and author Bryon Quertermous, late of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, took his family to Disney World. In his absence I'm going to be stepping in for him later in the week on his website (www.bryonquertermous.com), but I thought I'd tease it with a little background and explanation on the topic.
It started when I read a Facebook post by Ron Currie, Jr. last week with a link to the Warren Zevon song Boom-Boom Mancini (from the amazing album Sentimental Hygene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZS3uDu8jy8) saying that the next time someone wants to know how to write stories, Ron would guide him to Zevon.
I would say that’s a great start. And it got me thinking about the artists I listen to whose songs are themselves narratives. These troubadours have always appealed to me, and I’m going to use my time on Bryon’s site to talk about several of my favorites.
But as I was thinking about which songs to discuss, it occurred to me that it was going to appear weird if I didn’t explain something: This particular set of artists—perhaps because I was riffing off Zevon—is specifically white, male, and (in a general sense) rock. Not hip hop, not country, not female (and Lord knows there are many great narrative voices in all three, so don’t comment about the lack of, say, Biggie or Johnny Cash or Suzanne Vega or Renaissance). Perhaps we’ll get there. And I’m not going to do Tom Waits because he’s kind of like Bonnie Raitt to me—I know I’m supposed to like them, and I understand their talent, but, I just can’t…
So check in tomorrow over at Bryon’s site. Then comment there, here, on Facebook—I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, people I missed, why I’m nuts, and why you’re all rushing to download the catalog of a broken up pub band from Australia that writes songs about cannibals and war and lovers finding time to talk between work shifts and a lonely divorced man who loves Saturdays because every Saturday is Father’s Day. (Teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYKNqftCkSQ)
And then maybe next time we’ll get into songs by female country rappers.
This week, I was lucky to have one of my newest clients, Nikki Trionfo, visit our Chelsea offices. Nikki has written a terrific, searing young adult novel about a girl in California who’s trying to investigate her sister’s death. The girl, Salem, is the daughter of a peach grower in California, and the novel, called Shatter, brings into play the conflicts among white middle-class growers, Hispanic migrant workers, unions, and gangs.
One of the things I enjoyed about Shatter is the way Nikki brings in characters of different races and socio-economic statuses and shows their interaction in a natural, unforced way. When I took her on, I told Nikki that one of the more sought after elements in fiction these days, both in children’s books and books for adults, is Diversity. My colleagues on both the buy and sell side of publishing are actively looking for books that address cultural, racial, and sexual diversity, and I felt that when she finishes her revisions and we go out on submission, we will have a very enthusiastic response from editors.
This afternoon I was looking on Nikki’s website, http://www.nikkitrionfo.com/, and I saw her latest blog post. It was fascinating. In it, Nikki brings up this conversation, and how it took her aback. She hadn’t thought she was writing a book with a Diversity theme in it at all. Rather, she was writing from her own experience growing up in the orchards of California, where different cultures mixed all the time—it felt so natural because it was.
Often, we spend our time in our own bubble of similar-looking and –behaving communities. And often writers, working off their own experiences, create homogenous casts. And part of the need for diversity in literature is to give future readers and writers role models to look to—so sometimes we strain ourselves looking for diversity. (And that’s not a bad thing, and has great cultural relevance and worth.) Which is why I’m so excited when I get a book like Nikki’s where the diversity is so second nature as to be that much more powerful. I can’t wait to see where it lands.
Greetings from...Newark Airport, on my way off to London for a week to recharge the batteries. It's a bizarre thing, too--my wife and I are in the unique position of traveling without children, and without them being with either set of grandparents. We dropped off The Boy at a monthlong theater program at Brandeis U, and the girls are still at camp.
So when we realized that we'd be alone, with the opportunity to take a little break, we decided to take a trip. We hadn't assumed we'd return to London--we'd taken the kids a couple of summers ago, and I'd been to the London Book Fair. But then we heard that adaptations of Hilary Mantel's brilliant Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were playing in the West End, and we decided to Go Tudor (I know, it's not a terrible surprise). We are spending the vast majority of our times exploring 16th Century tourist attractions, with breaks only to go BACK and visit Canterbury and take the Fifth Knight Tour (thanks for the advice, Elaine!), and forward to WW2 to visit the Churchill War Rooms. And we'll be staying right near Sam Thomas's Midwife's London Lodgings (it'll be in book 4, so you'll just have to wait to see how and why she gets there--but it's fabulous!)
The one sacrifice I'm making in taking this trip is that for the first time in five years I'll be missing ThrillerFest. So the intrepid Danielle gets to cut her teeth on Agentfest speed dating (she'll need that drink ticket for the cocktail party after!), and I look forward to following the tweets and the posts.
In the meantime it'll be interesting to visit the bookstores in London, wander the streets, and watch the finals of the World Cup at London's only vegetarian pub.