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.

Broadchurch, you had me at hello (again).

 Jessy Randall, Television  Comments Off on Broadchurch, you had me at hello (again).
Apr 052015
 

Jessy Randall

Previously, I mouthed off about how much I hated the ending of Broadchurch and how much of a betrayal it was after I'd liked it so much and how I could never trust the show again etc. etc. and then I told Lynne Patrick that I doubted I'd give the show a second chance.

Uh…

Giphy

Then somehow my husband and I accidentally watched the first minute of the second series totally not on purpose and somehow we are now completely hooked. Well, I am. Ross says he isn't going to watch — but then he lingers for a suspiciously long time in the living room while I'm watching. Sometimes he even sits down on the couch with me, not watching.

I can't STOP watching, though. Even knowing they're probably going to betray me all over again, I can't help myself.

Here's the Guardian's ambivalent response to the whole thing.

Not Fresh Off The Boat, But Enjoying the Diversity

 Books, Cynthia Chow, Television  Comments Off on Not Fresh Off The Boat, But Enjoying the Diversity
Mar 152015
 

Somewhat.  The first Asian-led cast of a television show in twenty years (even I thought All-American Girl was terrible) has been more or less well received, despite its inspiration basically smack-talking before it even premiered.  Based on the memoir of gangsta-wannabe chef Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat chronicles the 80s upbringing of a Taiwanese immigrant family to Florida. Fresh

I’ve been sticking with the show, despite my uncontrollable impulse to want to smack the child actor playing Eddie.  It does capture a lot of familiar elements of my own Chinese-American upbringing.  My dad still yells at my mom to turn off the air conditioning because it’s costing him money, my grandmother kept the plastic covers over her furniture to protect them for probably fifteen years, and we do wear our bargaining skills and cheapness as badges of honor.

However, I also have a Caucasian mother, and my bi-racial status (even in the racial lollapalooza that is Hawaii) made life more than a little confusing.  I fully admit to being a “banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), and I still remember the shock of visiting my mother’s enormous Fresno family and being the only Asian at the picnic.  I was lucky enough to have had amazing relatives who never treated me any differently, although that may have been helped by the fact that our family offered free housing for vacations to Hawaii.

Times have changed, and there are certainly more examples of racial diversity available to kids than I ever had growing up.  I mean, I had an Oriental Barbie, and I don’t remember anyone thinking that the term was offensive. 

            What I’ve always sought out, often with limited success, are books with characters who share my mixed-race upbringing.  More often than not, if the Asian characters have white parents it’s the result of adoption and not interracial marriage.  My parents were married in the late sixties, when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states, and the only well-known marriage between and Asian man and a Caucasian wife was Bruce and Linda Lee (which could perhaps explain my mother’s infatuation with the martial arts movie star. TMI?)

It was with joy that I first came across the books by Sujata Massey, which feature a SalaryJapanese-Caucasian heroine struggling with her identity in Japan.  These books wonderfully capture how Rei Shimura often feels like an outsider, whether while working in Japan or living back home in California. 

 

Naomi Hirahara’s new mystery series quickly became one of my favorites as Bambowell.  Here, a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian rookie LAPD bicycle officer attempts to navigate through a suspicious Asian community, as well as the treacherous ranks of the LAPD.  Ellie is mentored by her aunt, the highest-ranking Asian officer who has set the bar high, pushing through a glass ceiling and color wall.

 

Not surprisingly, I was immediately drawn to the Ken Tanaka mystery series by TokyoDale Furutani.  They feature a Japanese-American man from Hawaii, who is enamored with noir mysteries and becomes an inadvertent amateur detective in Los Angeles through the fake PI agency he sets up for a bookclub.

 

 I was introduced to the Kimo Kanapa Hawaiian mysteries by author Neil Plakcy, Mahuwhose Honolulu Police Department detective is a "poi dog" mix of Asian, Hawaiian, and Caucasian ancestry.  The book titles may raise eyebrows in Hawaii, but they are fun novels that accurately portray the Islands' diverse culture.

 

I have to admit, the 1950 mysteries by Juanita Sheridan are some of my favorites.  Lily Wu was probably one of the first Chinese-American female sleuths, and her life during post-World War II Oahu is astounding relatable even Waikikifor today.  I adore these books.

 

So, until I get my Chinese-American female superhero, one who isn't an evil villain, I will be enjoying these mysteries. 

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Win a Free Audiobook, and RIP, Mr. Nimoy

 Books, Current Affairs, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Television, Writing  Comments Off on Win a Free Audiobook, and RIP, Mr. Nimoy
Mar 022015
 

Jeff Cohen

It was difficult this past week to hear of the death of Leonard Nimoy. Like so many others, I was a pretty serious fan of Star Trek from its first airings (yeah, I'm old), and Spock1Spock always appealed more than the other characters to me. 

He had that conflict between his natural tendency to see everything in terms of cold, objective logic and the need to understand his human side, which would react to things more emotionally than the character might want to admit. He was a beautifully conceived character, but he wouldn't have worked half as well if he'd been played by another actor (as we've seen in recent years).

The need to keep raging emotions in check while understanding their importance was what kept the character interesting. And Nimoy, who must have understood him on a basic level, once told director Nicholas Meyer (Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country, among others) that he never played Spock as a character with no emotions.

Instead, he played the alien as a man trying to keep his emotions in check. That makes all the difference.

Yes, some of the plots were downright silly and the special effects on a TV budget and schedule in the 1960s could be laughable. But Spock was never anything but dignified and in the parlance of the time, cool. He could outperform humans on almost every level, but was content to live among them and observe. 

Leonard Nimoy brought that to the role. Did he bristle at being thought of as Spock and nothing else? On occasion, he did; it's true. But he did not disparage the role or the people who had embraced it, sometimes to the point of embarrassment. 

Hey. I was nine years old and it was Star Trek. Cut me some slack.

Many years later when I was going through my unsuccessful screenwriter phase, I wrote a screenplay that had some connections to Star Trek, although it took place in contemporary America and didn't use any of the original characters because I wasn't stupid. I'd probably shudder to look at that piece of work today, but at the time I thought it was pretty good and I was hoping to get it noticed somewhere in Hollywood.

So I sent a letter to Leonard Nimoy asking if he'd like to consider directing the script.

To my astonishment, I received a letter (this was back when there were letters) from Leonard-nimoy-to-palestinians-and-israelis-live-long-and-prosper-in-two-states-2Mr. Nimoy's company saying he'd very much like to read the script. And you can believe that a copy was in the mail that very day.

I don't remember how long it took to receive a response, but I'm sure at the time I thought it was an eternity and I did my best not to pester anyone at Nimoy's company about it (I'm sure Josh can picture me waiting by the phone, only younger). But eventually another letter did arrive.

It's probably not a huge surprise that Nimoy passed on the script, since when you scan my IMDb page, you'll see I don't have one. But he did send a personal note.

He wrote, "I read your script with great interest, and your fondness for the material is evident. Although I am not going to proceed with it, I'd advise you to keep writing." I quoted that from memory.

It was a time when I needed any little bit of encouragement, and getting Mr. Spock to tell me I should keep writing did the trick. It was something he didn't have to do–most other Hollywood types would have sent a form letter or gotten an assistant to write the note–but he clearly saw that the script meant a lot to me, and wanted to connect personally. 

I never forgot that, obviously. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy. You were a good actor who had one iconic role, which is more than most get. You were a talented director, a good writer and I don't know much about photography, but I'm willing to bet you had some talent there too. You were kind to me at a time I needed it, and even though I tried to explain that the one time we met for about a half a minute, I don't think I sufficiently communicated that thought. Thank you. You will be missed.

 

P.S. There's a new contest going on! Win a free download of the audio version of  HeadThe Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen! See details here or here.

Lessons From the Mouse

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Television, Writing  Comments Off on Lessons From the Mouse
Feb 232015
 

Jeff Cohen

There's a lot to be learned for any kind of entertainer by visiting the theme parks in Orlando, Florida. And that's exactly what I'm going to tell the IRS when they ask how a dinner at the Sci-Fi Drive-In at Disney's 2015021795135923Hollywood Studios is a business expense.

It's true: A day spent last week at Universal Studios Orlando and then two days at Disney parks (Hollywood and the Magic Kingdom, which is a slightly intimidating name for a theme park), were more than instructional in the art of keeping a mass audience entertained, enthusiastic and wanting more. The two large corporations behind these resorts have done a great deal of research into what works and what doesn't, and it shows.

If you're a writer, a performer, a director, an editor… you get the idea… take heed. The experts are leading by example. Pay attention, and you can find a way to link the ideas to what it is you do.

First: Always create anticipation. There's a reason there are all sorts of distractions on theme park ride lines, and it's not just that the park operator wants you to forget you're on line for over an hour to get on a three-minute ride. No, the idea here is to plant in the mind of the audience the idea that this is going to be  awesome, so the wait is worth it. Entertainment along the way is part of the package–it makes you feel like the host cares about you, and builds up the experience to come.

Also: Make the audience member feel special. This still pertains to the line only. Both Universal and Disney have systems in place to make the guest feel smart and privileged by passing most of the simple peons on the line to more popular attractions. The differences in the systems are significant, but they have the same goal.

Universal Orlando allows some guests to bypass most of a line at especially busy rides (particularly in the Harry Potter sections, where traffic is highest), but you have to pay more for tickets that do so. It is sometimes possible to get nearer the front of a long line if you're willing to ride by yourself (without the rest of your party), but you then often bypass the pre-show described above, and in some of the rides, that the best part.

Disney's system, as usual, is better thought out. A Fast Pass option is available to all ticket holders. Special scanners at the entrance read the card. You can (if you have the Disney World app on your phone) select three rides the day before your trip and designate them for Fast Pass. Available times will be shown, and you choose. No more than three. If you don't have the app, you can do the same thing at the park at Guest Relations or Fast Past stations, usually near the really popular attractions.

The takeaway: I can feel like a big deal and save time and I don't have to pay extra. It's about pampering (at least in their minds) the audience. 

A quick last note on lines: The wait times are posted outside each ride at both parks. They are almost always overestimated, giving the guest a treat when the wait doesn't actually take quite that long. Another pleasant experience that cost nothing.

And: You have to deliver an experience. The audience is primed and ready for something to happen after all that waiting (or, not waiting). Just the build-up won't satisfy. Make sure your product is superior, because all the smoke and mirrors in the world won't mask the fact that you haven't been trying hard enough.

For the author, this means not letting plot get in the way of character. Not writing dialogue that simply delivers story points and no personality. Constantly entertain.

Say what you want about the theme parks–they're garish, some of them are getting a little ragged around the edges, the commercialism is as blatant as it can possibly get. All that is true. But do they entertain? They sure do. And if I earned in one year what one of those parks takes in for french fry sales in one day…

We can all take a lesson.

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar

 Current Affairs, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Television, Writing  Comments Off on Oscar, Oscar, Oscar
Feb 162015
 

Jeff Cohen

WINTER GARDEN, FL–I'm taking a few days to enjoy not being in New Jersey in February with my family, so this dispatch is being typed a while early. If somehow it has become irrelevant in the interim (like if the film business suddenly vanished this week), my apologies.

So the world is going to Hell in a Buick Regal, Jon Stewart has left us bereft, Brian Williams… I don't really care… the presidential election (U.S.) is a mere 21 months away, you should just get your kids inoculated for goodness sake, and the publishing business is no doubt preparing to lose its collective mind over some new tome that is, invariably, not mine. Okay. Let's discuss what's really on our minds.

OscarsjpgThe Academy Awards.

Six nights from tonight, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences will hand out some trophies and there will be the inevitable overuses of words like "courage," "amazing," and "best crew in the business" in acceptance speeches.

I have no desire nor ability to accurately predict the winners of said statuettes, but I will be riveted to my couch, loving every minute of the interminable ceremony. I love the spectacle and the sheer goofiness of it all, so don't call my house during the Oscars. We're occupied. Or pre-occupied. Or something.

While I still object to the idea of more than five films nominated for the best picture category (that's just pandering and it's silly), I did make more of an effort to see those movies than I normally do. Eight films, and I saw seven, since I have no interest in the sniper thing, mostly because I've never seen a Clint Eastwood movie that didn't need a half-hour cut out of it simply for pacing.

So here are my impressions, for the remarkably little they're worth. Your opinions may certainly vary:

Birdman_trailerBirdman: I'm told that one either loves or hates this film, and I firmly fall into the latter category. What others saw as bold and inventive I saw as pretentious and showy. I didn't care about any of the characters, thought the shot-in-in-one-take gimmick was distracting, and had to take painkillers to undo the damage of the almost-all-percussion soundtrack. I have no problem with Michael Keaton winning for his performance, because I really like Michael Keaton and think he should have won for something else.

Boyhood: A snorefest of the highest order. Again, a gimmick that's impressive, but does not necessarily translate into the great film others believe they've seen. Instead, we get people just sort of hanging around for no particular reason and they get older as it goes on. Okay. The 7-Up documentaries are considerably more compelling, and those people are real.

Grand_budapest_hotel_c371The Grand Budapest Hotel: I am actually not a fan of Wes Anderson because there's only so much arch I can take before I go into painful withdrawal symptoms. But I liked this one better than most, the cast is came and it's nice the Academy is recognizing something that at least tries to be a comedy once in a while. Like most films, this one suffers from not having enough Bill Murray.

The Imitation Game: Biopics are a rough genre. If it's not a documentary–and by definition it isn't–the filmmakers will be criticized for inaccuracies that are inevitable when trying to make a piece of popular entrainment (in other words, a good movie). So this one is better than most, and suffers from the same problems as others: It's reverent without being absolutely accurate, is really made to show off a performance rather than a story, does so well, and ends up being fairly forgettable when all is said and done.

Selma: Another biopic. Sort of. The first movie to portray an actual human Martin Luther King Jr. and that is admirable. It tells a specific story without trying to be a one-stop-shop for the Civil Rights movement. It has a distracting cameo by Oprah Winfrey (probably to help it get made) and only pays a certain amount of lip service to Dr. King's flaws, which isn't a huge problem. It's compelling and watchable, if a bit slow in spots.

The Theory of Everything: Biopic. The last one on this list (again, no sniper here), and very much of a type. See everything I said about The Imitation Game above, and it'll pretty much be true. Eddie Redmayne gives a remarkable performance, as did Benedict Cumberbatch. He probably deserves to win an award. But Michael Keaton. And in this case, the odd thing: Not enough science. We're not really clear on what makes Stephen Hawking the phenomenon he became.

Whiplash-ScreamWhiplash: In my mind, the best of the bunch. I'm no fan of modern jazz (particularly when they try to play it too darn fast), and would rather face a firing squad than a prolonged drum solo (See: Birdman), but this film made me care and put me on edge. It's really a monster movie, with J.K. Simmons as the monster, and doing a remarkable job. Miles Teller as his terrified and singleminded protege is equally good in a less flashy role. I'll be rooting for this one knowing it has zero chance of winning the prize. 

My family also, as has become our custom the past few years, saw the animated and live-action short films (but not the documentaries) nominated in those categories. (They're probably playing somewhere near you, and you should go.) It's not as interesting a bunch as last year's, but the consensus around the homestead here is that the Disney animated short Feast will win, which is okay but not as good as if  MV5BMTQ1OTY3NjAwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQ5ODMwNDE@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_A Single Life would. In live-action, we're rooting for  Fa65177db7c31c8cb0096e419633efa4Boogaloo and Graham, knowing that something more depressing like The Phone Call has a better shot.

Either way, after this all-too-brief sojourn into warm weather and theme parks is over, we'll be back at home, wearing lots of clothing and watching the far-too-long awards ceremony. 

It's one of the best nights of the year.

 

P.S. If Jon Stewart's Rosewater had been nominated, it would have come in second after Whiplash. I certainly liked it better than whatever's going to win. You should find it on Netflix or elsewhere.

P.P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in four days. Spring is almost here.

Not Really!

 Current Affairs, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Television  Comments Off on Not Really!
Feb 112015
 

Jeff Cohen

And then there's the news you only wish was fake.

It was announced and confirmed today that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show sometime this year. And while I see the logic and good sense that goes into that decision, my initial reaction was the same as most others I've seen.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

For the better part of two decades, Stewart has been the safety valve holding the sanity of thinking America from blowing off and putting someone's eye out. And as he's grown into the job, he's become simply the best at something others have tried to do and never come close to equaling.

Plus, there goes the tiniest hope I had of ever being interviewed on The Daily Show.

It seems somehow unfair that Stewart will leave but Fox News gets to stay on the air. One can only hope that there will be a replacement host for The Daily Show, and my vote is in for Jessica Williams. Be bold, Comedy Central.

But whoever comes next should be very different. There's no point in trying to duplicate what Stewart has accomplished. It's as if Derek Jeter isn't going to be the shortstop of the Yankees anymore and someone else would have to step in to… what?

Crap. I forgot.

The world is going to be a less funny place soon. While one wishes Mr. Stewart well in whatever it is he decides to do next, it's hard to believe he'll be the best in the world at it. To watch that man build up a head of steam on an issue and then let loose with some of the smartest comedy on the planet was (and still is, for a while at least) a thing of beauty.

If you're incredibly lucky, you get to do that once.

So here's the thing: Thank you, Jon Stewart. You did something important and you did it amazingly well. You kept it going for a long time and it never wavered in quality. You were fair (yes he was, right wingers–there were Obama and Clinton jokes), you were honest and you were hilarious. That ain't easy.

And replacing you? Not possible. 

Being Too Good

 Jeffrey Cohen, Television, Writing  Comments Off on Being Too Good
Feb 022015
 

Jeff Cohen

Sometimes something appeals to your sensibility. It's a piece of art or entrainment that's aimed right between your eyes, and it doesn't happen that often, so you want to jump on the opportunity when it arises.

Such it was with me and Galavant

This combination swashbuckler/farce/musical/spoof/dessert topping was promoted as a "four-week event," which got me excited. For once, a television comedy miniseries. Something different that TV has been needing for a long time: A finite story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. When the reviews (in advance) indicated it had a "Mel Brooks-Meets-Monty Python sensibility," I settled in sure that the experience would be an enjoyable one.

For the most part, it was. Shot in eight half-hour segments, the story (with crazy musical numbers, asides to the camera, characters commenting on the plot) was presented two episodes at a time for four weeks. It started out promisingly and built nicely, giving the characters time to settle in and interact with each other.

Were the jokes often obvious? Sure. Like the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles was subtle. Did they all hit the target? Of course not. I can think of some clunkers in A Night at the Opera, too.

The songs? Usually clever. Sometimes a little overcooked, sometimes appearing a bit rushed. Alan Menken, who did the music for countless Disney movies starting with The Little Mermaid, was in charge there, alas without the genius Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS when Aladdin was being prepared. It was, as with all of Galavant, fun to see TV try to stretch a little. And most of the time it worked.

So when the last two episodes were about to air, I had a rush of anticipation. The ending would wrap up the story and provide a coda. It would be nice to see the experiment come to its logical, satisfying conclusion.

Then it didn't.

Apparently believing there would be a Season 2, the producers left any number of cliffhangers in place as the story evolved. All the characters were scattered to the four winds, quick changes in status and standing were made, and a final song indicated that you should tune in at some unnamed point to find out how this all plays out.

What a disappointment.

Just when you (or in this case, I) think someone's taking a chance on television and breaking the rules, the rules come and smack you in the face again. Convention rears its ugly head no doubt in anticipation of increased profits, Blu-ray sales and syndication deals. 

The weird part is that if it hadn't done what it did so well, I wouldn't have cared. Well, it was conventional from the outset and remained conventional.  That wouldn't have been so bad. But Galavant had actually exceeded my expectations, so its late decision to think inside the box was a let-down.

The audience is always secondary to what can be earned by networks and studios. Yes, there were risks taken with music and comedy in a Get Smart sort of sensibility. That's not to be discounted. But where there was the opportunity to do something really special, to do comedy for comedy's sake and show what a singular, joyful art form it can be, business won out over show.

It wasn't a huge surprise, but the specter of what could have been did loom. Well, I still hope to see you again sometime, Galavant. Good luck in your travels. Hope enough people watched you to encourage others to try and stretch the medium.

Or not.

P.S. You might have noticed that I didn't mention the Super Bowl. That is because there are only four things I care about less than the Super Bowl, and I care about them so little I can't remember what they are. 

What is important: Pitchers and catchers report in 18 days.

Selma and the State of the Union

 Current Affairs, Film, Josh Getzler, Television  Comments Off on Selma and the State of the Union
Jan 212015
 

 

Josh Getzler

Last night, Amanda and I took the whole family—eyes a-rolling and smartphones in hand, to see Selma in commemoration of MLK Day. And for two hours we were all gripped. There are all kinds of discussions and online complaints about what was added or emphasized or neglected in the story of the conflict, marches, and violence in that period of the Civil Rights Movement. But honestly, they were beside the point, and I think one of the real strengths of Selma the Movie was that the decisions Ava DuVernay made ultimately cast great relief on the biggest of the issues. It’s a big, broad, statement movie, and it works.

One of the most powerful scenes was when President Johnson appeared before both houses of Congress to urge them to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The kids understood extremely intensely what had gone into getting the President into that room to make that speech.

As we were leaving the theater, one of the kids mentioned that this evening was going to be the State of the Union Address. They know that Amanda and I watch it every year, talking to the television, keeping score of the points the president makes (ANY president) and when he falls flat. How often the Speaker or the VP falls asleep, how often one side or the other stands and claps. But this time, we’re watching a little differently, thinking about how inconceivable it would have been to both the majority of the marchers in Selma in 1965, and the people within and without politics trying to stop them, that a president who looks like Barack Obama could be giving a State of the Union Address.

Now it’s time for us to go watch. We’ll get back to publishing next week.

 

Books Are Getting Nominated. Shouldn’t Yours?

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Television  Comments Off on Books Are Getting Nominated. Shouldn’t Yours?
Jan 122015
 

Jeff Cohen

The Golden Globe awards (ha!) were given out last night , and Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday, so the usual group of self-important fun-free flicks will gather up all the honors on the way to a glittering night of unremitting bordom relieved occasionally by a funny comedian (but Robin Williams is dead, so that's a problem) or the anticipation of a jaw-dropping faux pas. I love the Oscars, but this is not an especially interesting year. I'm writing this before the nominations are announced, but I'm already bored. Imagine.

But that led to another train of thought, which is the real reason I asked you all here today. 

Believe it or not, Hollywood is not the only place where awards nominations are being pondered by anxious people placing far too much importance on their chances. Yes, it's nomination season in the mystery book world, too, and if you think people like me (that is, any author who actually managed to get a book–or two–published in 2014) aren't thinking about such things, well, you are adorable. 

There has been much made in various social media outlets (that's what we communicate on these days, kids–outlets) about the proper etiquette for authors to "remind" readers (and voters, we love voters!) that their brainchildren (books) are eligible for various honors. And it's a sensitive issue, seriously.

On the one hand, we don't want to appear to be relentlessly blowing our own horns, to be campaigning outwardly (is there a way to campaign inwardly?) for a crass pat on the back and an ingraved something or other. We don't want to alienate readers, who are kind enough to read our work and hopefully to like it, by becoming annoying one-note singers constantly blathering on about how you should vote for our stuff.

But on the other hand, we really want those nominations.

Writers work in a vacuum. (I'll leave a space here for the inevitable Hoover joke.) We work by ourselves, basically for ourselves, laboring away at a story that didn't exist until we decided to make it real (ish). It can take months. Or years. And all that time, we have precious little, if any, feedback. We honestly don't know if what we're devoting our time and creative energy to might actually be any good. Or not.

So yes, we crave a little ego stroke now and again. And again. We even get one, occasionally. The complimentary review. The thoughtful email from a reader. The Amazon sales number we check with some regularity (is every 6 minutes "some regularity"?). 

The awards? Well, you have to be nominated, and that at least allows the writer imagine, for a few weeks, what it might be like to win the contest. Some actors remove their names from eligibility because they say artists shouldn't compete. I say, bravo to them. But my name–both my names–are staying right out there because I want to get that affirmation. There, I said it.

So here's how I have decided to deal with the campaign-but-don't-campaign conundrum: I will mention in this forum–because I'm guessing you decided to read this blog of your own free will–that both Question of Missing HeadTHE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, by Jeff Cohen and E.J. Copperman, and Final coverINSPECTOR SPECTER, by Copperman alone, if such a thing is possible, are indeed eligible for the Agatha Awards given at the Malice Domestic conference, and my personal favorite (because it recognizes humor), the Lefty Award from Left Coast Crime, this year held in Portland, OR. If you are a nominating voter for either of those presitigious awards and have read and enjoyed either or both books, I would greatly appreciate your consideration.

But because I really do want to be fair about it and because I really don't want to seem incredibly avaricious and self-centered, now I'll invite other writers whose books might be eligible for an award this season to comment here and tell us all about it/them. Please do so. I'm sure everyone who reads this blog would be interested in knowing. We'll look below for your comments.

I encourage all those who can to fill in those spaces on the nominating forms. Whether or not one of the books pictured (subtly) above is included in your choices. Because this is about what the readers really like.

Of course, I would like to know if I have a chance at an award to put on my mantle. Because I don't have a mantle, and would have to price one in the coming weeks. That would be okay, believe me. I've always wanted a mantle.

So let's get the game started. Who's going first?