I’m No Ringo. And Neither Are You. (Unless Ringo is reading this which would be awesome!)

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Music, Sports, Television, Writing  Comments Off on I’m No Ringo. And Neither Are You. (Unless Ringo is reading this which would be awesome!)
Apr 202015
 

Jeff Cohen

In 1968, when I was a wee lad, Mickey Mantle decided not to play baseball anymore. Since I was indeed a wee lad, and Mantle was my idol of the moment, this was a huge thing. 

Less than two years later, it was announced that the Beatles were disbanding, and would no longer record or perform as a group. And if you thought the Mantle thing was big, this was universe-sized. We were stunned. No Beatles? How was that even possible?

Immediately, in both cases, the speculation began: Who would be the next Mickey Mantle? Who would be the next Beatles? I recall reading an interview with Ringo Starr in Rolling Stone (back when you could trust what they said) where he was asked the question: Who's going to be the next Beatles?

Ringo was diplomatic about it, as ever, and even suggested a few people (I think Elton John was among the names mentioned), but he knew the truth, and pretty much said so:

There is no Next Beatles. There is no Next Mantle.

What there will be is someone who is who they are. Is that too oblique? There's no point in trying to duplicate something that moves you. It can't happen the same way twice. 

There never was a Casablanca II but there was Star Wars. There never was Back With the Wind but there was To Kill a Mockingbird. No new Peanuts but Doonesbury and Calvin and Hobbes. Nobody ever managed to recreate I Love Lucy, but instead we got The Dick Van Dyke Show. Which, I'm sorry, was better.

So when writers try to emulate or piggyback on the enormous success of some phenomenon, when they try to be the next Harry Potter or the next James Patterson or the next Gone Girl, they're asking for trouble. Is is possible to achieve some popular success based on something that has been immensely lucrative before? Certainly. Remember that 50 Shades of Grey allegedly began as Twilight fan fiction.

But can a writer really take something that preceded his/her work and create a new phenomenon? Particularly, one that has the same emotional and societal impact as what came before? It's unlikely, because writing something that isn't what you chose to write, what moved you enough to sit in that chair and type all those words, is a losing proposition.

Instead of a new Mantle, there came (only 30 years later) Derek Jeter. A totally different type of player, but a wonderful one in his own way

Instead of the Next Beatles, we got Elton John and Michael Jackson and Carole King and Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Adele. Depending on your taste, you got NWO or Eminem or Wu Tang Clan or Josh Groban or Justin Bieber, if he's your thing. There is no Next Beatles, but there are people expressing themselves whose work you might take to your heart.

If you're writing, write for yourself first but keep an audience in mind. Don't write something because that's what publishers are looking for now or because some great big huge phenomenon just hit and you think you can change a few details around and make it something new. Write what you would write even if nobody was going to read it. ESPECIALLY write what you'd write if nobody was going to read it.

Writing is an art form, a craft and a job. But before anything else, it's a form of expression. What's the point of expressing someone else's thought, particularly when they've done that already?

There is no Next Beatles. Be you.

My Crime Fiction Lineup

 Books, Jeffrey Cohen, Sports, Writing  Comments Off on My Crime Fiction Lineup
Apr 132015
 

Jeff Cohen

Editor's note: This is NOT a post about baseball. Trust me.

As I noted last week, baseball season is back, and that means many things to me. One of the things sports fans love more than normal people is a good argument. What player is better than another. What would a player from the 1950s do against a player now. That sort of thing.

One of the favorites is to combine a Starting Nine in baseball. Name a player (from your team, from all teams; the rules vary) for each position and then argue about why you chose one over another. Fans are essentially crazy (it is short for "fanatic," after all), so you can get a whole evening out of a Starting Nine.

Well, I think I'll start an argument. The following is my personal Crime Fiction Starting Nine. Each position on the ball field is manned (or womanned) by a writer working today or some other day. And I've chosen mine carefully, based solely on personal preference and in some cases, who's a friend of mine. I get to choose any way I want. Feel free to post your Starting Nine below.

Crime Fiction Starting Nine

1. Leadoff hitter/center fielder (a player who is quick and agile, usually–not one of your big power people, but someone who can get on base so the sluggers coming up can drive him in): Ellery Adams.(Nobody quicker, more nimble.Will tickle you to death.)

2. Second base (a second hitter should have a little more raw power, but still get on base a lot, field well and understand his role): Chris Grabenstein. (Very high average, can always get the story going in a hurry.)

3. First base (usually the best hitter in your lineup all around–can hit for average, hit home runs and hopefully field the position): Dashiell Hammett. (Find someone better. I dare you.)

4. Third base (power hitter, good fielder, the person you want up in the pressure situation): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.(Invented Sherlock Holmes and had the good sense to invent Doctor Watson to buffer him from the reader.)

5. Right field (definitely some power in case #4 doesn't get the homer; strong throwing arm, drives in runs): Robert B. Parker. (A heavy hitter, not lots of finesse but plenty of power.)

6. Left fielder (run producer, but probably higher average, less power than 3-4-5 hitters; should be able to catch the ball): Donald J. Sobol. (Funny, brilliant, wrote more stories than everybody, inspired every crime writer since including me.)

7. Designated Hitter (I'm doing an American League lineup because I don't have a strong starting pitcher analogy–this hitter should do as much of it all as possible because, well, he's just hitting): Julia Spencer-Fleming.(Can do anything, but mostly does one thing very, very well.)

8. Catcher (someone who has to handle the pitching staff, know all the opposing hitters, and also hit pretty well while taking all the physical punishment of a prizefighter): Raymond Chandler.(Always thinking, and you can see it.)

9. Shortstop (not usually a huge power hitter, often someone who hits a lot of singles and can field the position): Let's say E.J. Copperman. (It had "Short" in the title.)

So. Who's on your Starting Nine?

My Personal Rules for Twitter

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Music, Sports, Television, Writing  Comments Off on My Personal Rules for Twitter
Jan 122015
 

Jeff Cohen

1. I will not follow your cat.

2. I will not follow you just because you follow me. I have to know who you are. I'm funny that way.

3. I will feel free to post about my books and urge you to buy/nominate/vote for them.

4. I assume you will feel free to ignore me if you don't want to read stuff like that.

5. I will use Twitter to say stuff I think is funny. If you don't, that's entirely your right.

6. I will occasionally say political stuff. Again, your option is to block, ignore or argue with me.

7. I will block you if you get personal in your arguing with me. I won't get personal arguing with you.

8. I still won't follow your cat.

9. I will follow famous people–if I respect their work–and try to get them to notice me. Isn't that what Twitter is for?

10. I won't follow people I know to be dead. 

11. I WILL follow some people I know to be fictional, if they're entertaining about it.

12. My baseball-to-posting ratio will be higher on Twitter than elsewhere. I'm an impulsive fan.

13. I do not expect you to follow me unless you want to. 

14. I will post about television, movies, sports (well, baseball), current events and things other than books. 

15. I will not post to anyone in my family, because none of them has a Twitter account.

16. I will check my Twitter account multiple times per day.

17. E.J. Copperman's account will be checked every once in a while.

18. Maxie Malone has a Twitter account. That almost never gets checked.

19. I will follow other authors, especially if they're actually friends.

20. I will not pay much attention to the number of followers I have. Perhaps I should.

21. I will follow the President of the United States. The fact that he follows ME confuses me a little.

22. I will block you if you try to impose your religion, political beliefs or sports affiliations on me. If you just want to state what they are, that's your business. Don't tell me what to do.

23. I will not always use "cozy" language on Twitter. I don't really have a problem with any word in the English language, depending on how it's used.

24. If you use one of those un-cozy words to insult or provoke me, I'll block you. I don't use them that way.

25. No. I'm not following your cat.

Sunday Night Memories

 Current Affairs, Josh Getzler, Sports, Television  Comments Off on Sunday Night Memories
Jan 072015
 

Josh Getzler

This past weekend, two men died. Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott were from different generations, with very different career trajectories, and other than both being fathers and public figures—a politician and a sportscaster—didn’t have much in common. Governor Cuomo was 83 and died of heart disease hours after his son followed in his footsteps and was sworn in for his second term as governor of New York. Stuart Scott, who has two teenage daughters, died of cancer—which he publicly fought for the past seven years—at 49.

I had a real reaction to these deaths. Not simply because they were figures in two of my longest-held pastimes, politics and sports. It was because Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott, bridging decades, reminded me of Sunday nights.

When I was 11 or 12, I used to listen to a transistor radio under my pillow after lights out (c’mon, Mom, you knew). Most of the time I listened to whatever local New York team was playing, whatever sport. One Sunday night, though, it must’ve been football season, or the Knicks were on the West Coast, or the Yankees had played in the afternoon, because there was nothing on. As I flipped though the stations, I stumbled on a guy talking in this thick New York accent, not a newscaster. He said something like “This is Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo, taking your calls for the next hour. I’m here to help.”

The next thing I knew, it was an hour later and I was hooked. He was friendly to some callers, combative to others. He had a rough job—New York was going through tough times and lots of people were angry or depressed. But what I remember was thinking, in my pre-teen way, that he was smart and he was kind. Now certainly not everyone will agree with the kind part—read Jonathan Mahler’s masterful Ladies and Gentlemen the Bronx is Burning to see a terrific take on the complexity of Cuomo’s early political career navigating the cesspool of local borough politics—but everyone knew he was smart.

From that point, I was a fan of Governor Cuomo, even when he seemed to dither about whether to run for president; even when he occasionally descended into the muck of negative politics. I think my obsession with the political process started those nights listening to a young Mario Cuomo tell Florence from Brooklyn that he’d look into why her neighbor was allowed to keep chickens in the back yard.

After I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment—a studio with a lovely view of the Hudson River until Donald Trump built high rises directly in front of my building—I began to watch SportCenter on ESPN, almost always The Big Show at 11 PM. I spent several years watching Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann revolutionize the highlight show, and it was as much a part of my night as listening to the radio under my pillow growing up.

Eventually ESPN started a second station, and Stuart Scott joined ESPN2 for a while, then shifted over to work The Big Show, mostly in those days with Rich Eisen. And while Dan and Keith and Berman and Craig Kilborn were in some ways the dorks who took over, with their catchphrases and snark, Stuart Scott was a whole different thing. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow, to use one of his own phrases. He brought hip hop to SportCenter, made it even quicker. And like Lieutenant Governor Cuomo, he was so clearly smart and, it certainly seemed, kind. Sunday nights as a twenty-something watching Stuart Scott on ESPN were like Sunday nights as a kid listening to Mario Cuomo on the radio. It was the end of the weekend. I was tired and a little tense because I knew the new week was beginning, but I wanted to listen or watch. I knew I’d be entertained, and I often learned something. After I got married, Amanda and I would watch SportCenter a bit less often (though I’m lucky to have married a woman who shares my twin obsessions), and we saw Stuart Scott’s health decline. We saw him a couple of months ago for the first time in quite a while and were taken aback by how gaunt he looked. But he still had a twinkle, still put over the catchphrases, still entertained.

Look, I didn’t know either Stuart Scott or Mario Cuomo, and my perception of their character was shaped completely by what I saw and heard and read about them. But I know that, decades apart, they affected me in similar ways, on Sunday nights.   

Writing, Revenge and a 6-String Acoustic (Slightly revised)

 Books, Jeffrey Cohen, Sports, Television, Writing  Comments Off on Writing, Revenge and a 6-String Acoustic (Slightly revised)
Nov 032014
 

Julia&jeter

 

Jeff Cohen

Thanks to the lovely Julia Spencer-Fleming and equally lovely Ross Hugo-Vidal and all the gang at Jungle Red Writers for giving me a place to play last week! 

(Pay no attention to the photograph above. It's not their wedding picture, I'm relatively sure.)

Now on to business: Because Josh is a great agent, I had a little bit of extra money in the bank account. Not enough to go buy a new car or put a down payment on a mansion, but I didn't want those anyway. This was just a little extra. Enough after paying the bills (always a joy!) that I could indulge myself a tad.

So I went out looking for a guitar.

I have an excellent 12-string acoustic AGTW7N-EG523B12-fTakamine that my wife and children got me for a birthday that can't possibly be seven years in the past, and yet is. And I love that guitar. But every once in a while, you feel like playing something else, to get a different sound. 

A few weeks ago, I joined my lovely wife in New Orleans for a few days after she had finished her work at a convention she was attending for her job. And strolling around while we were there, we'd wandered into a music store where a used six-string was on display at a very reasonable price. I sat down to play it and while I didn't fall in love, I certainly had a decent infatuation.

The problem was, by the time we added a case (you can't transport it without a case) and the cost of shipping back to New Jersey, it was no longer a very reasonable price for a pretty low-end guitar. So we passed it up–not really a big deal–and went to get some more beignets.

But it had put the idea into my head, so I figured I'd look around a bit. 

Long story moderately shorter, I have been to all the music stores I know in the area. I've seen some nice guitars, many of which I couldn't afford no matter who my agent might be, and some that were affordable and knocking on the door of adequate.

But I haven't gotten an infatuation again. And I know why.

It's not the guitars' fault. No matter which brand name or model I try, the fact is that I'm not a very good musician. I can play all right as long as nobody's listening but me. I know a couple of tricks but my technique is certainly wanting, and 40 years of practicing bad technique have made it difficult to fix.

So I keep trying out guitars and I still sound like myself, which is disappointing. I'm sure that with some professional instruction I could improve my playing, and the day might come when I decide that's something I'd like to do. But a new instrument wasn't going to fix it.

It's the same with writing, to some extent. Each of us is born with whatever talents we're going to have. It's up to us to cultivate them and constantly strive to improve. But if we think that a new software program, a course from a "professional author" or an upgraded laptop is going to increase our talent level, we are seriously mistaken.

Yes, you can get better at writing. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it certainly does make better. But if you were meant to be a painter, no new gadget or online advice is going to make you a literary lion. You're already the writer you are. Practice and some instruction will make you the writer you're going to be. But if you're not a writer–someone who doesn't write just because s/he has to–there isn't a magic formula that will transform you. 

Mel Brooks once wrote, "You may be Tolstoy–or Fannie Hurst." He did not suggest that if you're Fannie, you can become Tolstoy by getting a better pen.

I'll keep trying out guitars, though. And one of these days I'll come across one (probably used) that will have a sound I find pleasing when I play it. I just won't expect it to turn my into Eric Clapton.

That job is filled. My job is to be me.

P.S. I ended up getting a set of lighter-gauge strings. A definite improvement for less than $10.

How Many Missing Heads Will We See Wednesday?

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, libraries, Sports, Television, Writing  Comments Off on How Many Missing Heads Will We See Wednesday?
Oct 062014
 

Jeff Cohen

Not to belabor the point, but the fact is that THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD , the first Asperger’s Mystery from Midnight Ink, will be published Wednesday, and you should buy it. In order to better entice you to do so, please consider the following list of dire consequences that might—just might—occur if you choose to skip this book and wait for the movie.

Quick side note: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is set for Wednesday, the publishing day for THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Take a picture of yourself with the book or the title page on your e-reader and post it. For everyone who does on Wednesday, $9 will be donated to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN) helping families touched by autism spectrum disorders. So don't forget to post that photo!

Possible—Just Possible—Consequences

  1. There isn’t going to be a movie. Buy the book.
  2. You might be the only one in your book group who hasn’t read it, leading to ostracization (that is, you can get ostracized) and possible expulsion.
  3. You might fail to catch the first adventure of Samuel Hoenig, the borderline genius with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Janet Washburn, his newfound associate. This could lead to terrible feelings of regret when Book #8 in the series is published and you have to catch up.
  4. Your bookseller, who knows your taste, might look at you funny.
  5. It’s possible you won’t be laughing enough. That’s bad for you.
  6. You won’t be helping to contribute to the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE, and will therefore miss out on getting $9 contributed to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN) without spending any extra money yourself. So you don’t want to help support families touched by autism, huh?
  7. Your local bookstore might need to sell that one more book to make the rent this month. You want that on your head?
  8. If you don’t buy the book, I might have to get a regular job. At my age? Please.
  9. That short leg on the kitchen table? This book is the exact right thickness to prop it up level. If you don’t buy it, you could drop hot soup in your lap.
  10. You might very well miss reading a book you’ll like a lot, that Publishers Weekly called “delightful and clever.” Do you really want to skip something that’s “delightful and clever”?

 But hey, no pressure.

On the other hand, here are a few things that might happen if you do buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD this Wednesday (or even now on your e-reader!):

Benefits of Buying the Book

  1. There’s the slimmest possibility it will change your life. Preferably for the better.
  2. Maybe if enough people buy the book (like, for example, you), there will be a movie!
  3. Smiling is good for your face.
  4. You could get a slightly better understanding of what it’s like to be a person with an autism-spectrum disorder. You might treat such people better afterward.
  5. As previously noted, the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE will see to it that for every person who posts a picture of themselves on Wednesday holding THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD in some form, $9 will be donated to ASPEN, and it won’t be your $9, but you can claim responsibility for it.
  6. You could be seen reading Question of Missing HeadTHE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD on the subway. Someone whose attention you might want to attract could see you’re reading an intelligent, witty (or "clever and delightful") book and strike up a conversation.
  7. You might learn something about cryonics or the probability of hitting a ball fair out of Yankee Stadium. But it won’t feel like work.
  8. If you figure out who the culprit is, you’ll feel smart. If you don’t, you’ll be delighted when the culprit is revealed. It’s a win/win.
  9. Reading helps keep your mind agile. Even reading this post is good, but THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD is much longer, and provides more benefits over time.
  10. Let’s face it: You want to know what question could be asked regarding a missing head. What better way to find out?

So there you have it: Scientific evidence that you should buy and read THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Do you want to argue with Science?

Sep 222014
 

Jeff Cohen

Let us consider for a moment Derek-Jeter-will-be-the-last-Yankee-player-to-wear-2-Image-from-MLBDerek Jeter.

Assuming you are not living on Jupiter, the news might have passed by your eyes and ears that Mr. Jeter, who is an employee of the New York Yankees, will retire, in every likelihood, late next Sunday, the 28th of September after a 20-year career with the firm. 

Non-sports fans: I promise there will be some relevance beyond baseball statistics, but you'll have to bear with me.

My daughter and I went to see him ply his trade Friday night at his office, 161st St. and River Avenue in the Bronx, New York. While not the same office in which he began his illustrious career, it bears the same name: Yankee Stadium. And don't think for a moment we were there for any reason other than to pay our respects one last time.

He was as gracious a host as ever, helping to produce a win for the home team with two hits and some nice fielding plays. And he tried his best not to notice the fact that the crowd of more than 40,000 people gathered there had done so specifically to see him and not the rest of the team, since this has been a dismal season for the home squad, and the immediate future is better not considered at all because it will be like this, except without Derek Jeter.

I'm a lifelong Yankee fan and make no apologies. In my five decades of paying attention to this team, I have not seen a player as beloved as Jeter. I saw Mickey Mantle play in person, and he was basically a god in the sport. I lived through the bleak years and saw Don Mattingly as the only bright light on the dark horizon and he was adored in the fans' eyes. But neither of them was Derek Jeter.

In five years, give or take a few months, Derek Jeter will be in Cooperstown, New York to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That is not debatable; it will happen. And while his statistics in the sport are indeed impressive, he was never the flashiest player on the field. Many mediocre players hit more home runs. Even in his younger days there were those who questioned his fielding range. Now a group of statistics cultists explain how he's really not all that good a player. 

They're wrong, but that's beside the point. Derek Jeter is the ultimate Yankee, the face of all Major League Baseball, because of his parents insistence from a very young age that he behave like a gentleman and be responsible all his life. He has not disgraced them, ever.

Dating supermodels, actresses and anybody else who might grace the cover of Maxim? Sure, he did that. Have a little practical joke fun with teammates, acquaintances, even reporters? Yeah, that was part of the deal with Jeter. Did he ever give an Derek-Jeters-Plans-to-Retire-After-2014-MLB-Seasoninteresting interview? No. The answers were bland and information-free, and that led to zero scandals and no horrifying revelations. Did he let us in to see what the innermost Jeter was like? Sorry; that was for family and friends. Mostly family.

What Jeter gave the fans was his best effort, every single time. It's unfortunate that most players don't run as hard as they can on every ground ball, because they know they're going to be thrown out. Jeter ran every time. Every time.

In an era where sports news is a combination of police blotter, financial reporting and pharmacology, Derek Jeter (while making boatloads of money, let's be fair) has always been about the team first. He did what it took to win, and he won a lot. His statistics were secondary–the only thing that mattered was whether or not the game was a victory. A season without a World Series title was a failure. End of story.

Derek Jeter will retire universally respected throughout the world of sports. He will be given a ceremony Sunday to send him off in grand style, and he'll get it at Fenway Park, home of the Yankees' most bitter rivals. Expect the fans, who have booed Jeter for decades, to stand and cheer, and mean it.

If you are not a Yankee fan, a baseball fan or a sports fan but read this blog each week or (hopefully) each day for perspective on the publishing business, consider this: Once he retires, Derek Jeter could literally do anything he wants to do. Star in television and film? He could. He hosted Saturday Night Live some years ago and did not embarrass himself. Become a media mogul? Sure, it's possible.

Could he devote himself to charitable works? His Turn 2 Foundation has done a lot to help kids live healthy lives and turn away from drugs and gang violence in tough areas. Jeter could certainly make that his key focus.

Famous as he is, Jeter17n-1-webDerek Jeter could do all those things, and probably will do some of them. He's said he wants to travel, that he would like to start a family. He has mentioned the possibility of owning at least part of a Major League team (Josh, could you advise him on that?). At this time in his life, it is not an overstatement to say that anything he decides to do is a strong possibility, and that he will probably be successful at any or all of these things.

But the first venture that will definitely be on Jeter's agenda after the hoopla dies out next Sunday and then there is no more Derek Jeter in baseball? 

Derek Jeter is starting his own publishing company, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. You have to love a guy who likes books.

This week's reminder: Question of Missing HeadThe MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is scheduled for–waddaya know!–16 days from today, on October 8! Buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen and take a photo of yourself with the book (or title page of the ebook). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter for all (especially me) to see. For everyone who does that on Pub Day (which you might have heard is October 8), I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism SPectrum Education Network, and our own Josh Getzler's HSG Agency will match the donation. That pledge is good for the first 100 people to post–be one of them! 

Football!!

 Sports, Terri Bischoff  Comments Off on Football!!
Sep 042014
 

First let me apologize for not posting last week. I was on vacation and since blogging here is new to my schedule, I completely forgot.

As I type this, I am sitting in the kitchen of a friend of mine who lives in Denver. Tomorrow one of my favorite writers conferences start – the Gold Conference put on by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

But tonight is the kickoff to the NFL season. I warned you that I would write about the Packers at some point! Ah yes, my beloved Packers will be playing the Seattle Seahawks tonight. I can't express how happy I am that football season has started! I love football – both professional and college.

My nine year old is in his second year of tackle football. He plays middle linebacker. He is #5

Noah football

Now, as a parent and an avid football fan, I am a little nervous about his noggin. He's a smart kid – I want him to stay that way. Fortunately, our school district and athletic associations follow a program called Heads Up Football. I have seen their logo painted on fields of the preseason games I have watched. It's a national initiative to make football safer and reduce concussions. Organizations that endorse Heads Up Football include the NFL, the Big 10 conference, the Big 12 conference, and Pac 12 conference, NCAA, Pop Warner and a bunch of other organizations. You can read about Heads Up Football here.

Kids are taught to tackle leading with their chest and keeping their head up instead of dropping their head and leading with it. Already at this age, I see a difference in their tackling. And it makes me happy. My twins are in flag football this year and most likely will follow in their brother's footsteps. And when we are watching football this season, I know that my oldest and I will be watching to see how tackles are made and when guys get flagged for making contact with their opponent's head. It will be a fun season!

Next week I will get back to regular programming and talk about books. And if there is anything you are interesting in knowing about publishing or my job as an editor, please let me know. Hope you all enjoy the opening of the NFL season!

Don’t Be Newark Airport

 Books, Current Affairs, Jeffrey Cohen, Music, Sports, Television, Writing  Comments Off on Don’t Be Newark Airport
Aug 252014
 

Jeff Cohen

UnknownMy home state of New Jersey has something of an image problem, and it is one that can teach us all something about first impressions, images, perception and memory. In other words, you can learn a lot about writing a story and promoting it if you think about New Jersey.

Yes, I'm serious.

The thing about my beloved home–and no, I don't mean that ironically–is that it is a Activity_2006compressed version of the United States. Very compressed. We're the third smallest state, and yet we have the most densely packed population per square mile. There are almost 9-million people here, and you have to figure at least some of them are not being held against their will.

In New Jersey, one finds some of the most famous beaches in the country. We have lovely suburban areas sitting right to some very accessible and cosmopolitan cities. Great restaurants, hiking, historical areas, theme parks, skiing (if you're into that sort of thing), Aerial-view-of-atlanticprofessional sports teams, casinos, performing arts centers, cultural events, theater, swimming, fishing, music, comedy, film, nature, and one-of-a-kind sights like Lucy the Elephant, which I will not picture here because you just have to see Lucy to believe it.

But there's a problem with the state's image: we are seen, for the most part, as a toxic waste dump run by the mob. Yes, there's political corruption in Pinelands_bridgeNew Jersey and guess what–there is wherever you're living, too. We actually seem to be better at uncovering and dealing with it than other places, so it gets more publicity.

I believe the problem with New Jersey's image is much more basic, and much simpler to explain than a perception of politicians who close down bridges as forms of retribution or gangsters who somehow aren't quite good enough to work in the big city.

It's Newark Liberty International Airport.

To be more specific, the problem is that most people who don't live in this area come to New Jersey through the airport, which is mostly in Elizabeth, if the truth is told. You get out of the airport, and no matter which way you're headed–onto the train to get to Manhattan or south on the NJ Turnpike–you have to pass through the area surrounding the airport to get to any of the other lovely images I've posted today. And this is what you'll see:

7386756458_9469840214_z

That's the first impression you'll get. So people come to New Jersey–admittedly they're usually on their way to New York or Philadelphia and too cheap to fly into those airports–and when asked about the Garden State, their minds will flash onto the image above. (And we're not even discussing the smell.) When they could be seeing something completely different:

Overlooked-Attractions

New_jersey_nj

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So what's the lesson to take away? If you're writing, make sure you start off at a gallop. Get something into your first chapter, preferably your first page (bookstore browsers are notoriously fickle and have short attention spans) that will grab the reader's interest and make your book a must-buy.

And consider the first words anyone will see online about your book. Think about how you want to introduce it. As Terri's post last Thursday points out, cover copy is written well in advance of the pub date. Be involved with your editor, the publicist on your book and anyone else on the team that creates the final package. Make the right first impression.

Be the Pine Barrens. Be Met Life Stadium. Be the Jersey Shore. Be Atlantic City, if you must.

Don't be Newark Airport.

Seeing Tony Gwynn

 Josh Getzler, Sports  Comments Off on Seeing Tony Gwynn
Jun 182014
 

 

Josh Getzler

 

In September, 1996, my now-wife Amanda was my fiancée. Our first season running the Watertown (NY) Indians of minor league baseball’s New York-Penn League had recently concluded with a heartbreaking loss on a 2-out squeeze play to the hated St. Catharines Stompers. There was nothing to do in Watertown except freeze, so we were in New York getting ready for our October wedding.

 

I looked at the newspaper one afternoon and saw that the Mets were playing that night against the San Diego Padres at (the late, not-terribly-lamented) Shea Stadium. I turned to Amanda.

 

“Let’s go to the game tonight.”

 

She looked at me like I was a crazy person. I wasn’t a Mets fan, and we’d just been to 38 of our own games. The Mets weren’t anything special that year—they were on their way to going 71-91—and there were probably going to be 5,000 masochists in the stands that night.

 

“What brings this on?” She asked.

 

“It’s a chance to see Tony Gwynn. He’s getting older, he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and who knows when we’re going to get to see him again—he’s in his late 30’s (he was 36) and the Padres only come to NY once a year. So if we have the chance, we should be able to say that we saw Tony Gwynn.”

 

Honestly, I have no idea if Gwynn, who died of mouth cancer yesterday at only 54 years old, got a hit that night. My estimate of the attendance was, I believe, optimistic, and we were just happy to sit there, have a beer and a pretzel, and see a future hall of famer with a beautiful swing, 3,000 hits, no chip on his shoulder, and the utter respect of truly everyone in the sport.

 

 

And it’s funny. It’s been more than 18 years since we went to that game, and “you don’t understand: it’s seeing Tony Gwynn” has become a shorthand for Amanda and me every time we want to go see somebody who’s legendary and perhaps a bit past his or her prime, even if it’s inconvenient, because it’s simply worth it to have seen them.

 

“Oh Man, Steely Dan is playing at The Beacon but it’s $110 a ticket.”

 

“It’s Tony Gwynn.”

 

“Oh…OK…”

 

“Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart are in Waiting for Godot and the only tickets are the day before we’re leaving on a trip.”

 

“But it’s Tony Gwynn.”

 

A few months ago, there was a panel of Mad magazine writers at the east side Barnes & Noble, and my son Joe was hocking me to go because, among others, 90-something year-old Al Jaffe was going to be there. On a school night. Before a test. I hesitated, until my wife looked at me, and said all she needed to say.

 

“Tony Gwynn.”

 

RIP