Oct 272014

Jeff Cohen

I'm going to get into so much trouble for saying this.

The fact of the matter is, I did not grow up as a fan of mystery books. I didn't dislike them or anything, but they weren't my driving force, my obsession. I did not devour Christie and Hammett and Chandler without stopping for lunch. I didn't envision myself as the next great mystery author when I grew up (which turned out to be an ironic term).

Most mystery and crime fiction authors, when you ask them about their childhoods, will regale you with fond memories of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. The more ambitious will mention Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple or Poirot. They'll explain their love of the form, the neverending search for the responsible party, the thirst for justice, the desire to see the guilty punished and the righteous rewarded.

Not me.

I was--and remain--a comedy geek. My mind was blown the first time I heard a Bill Cosby album. I saw Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein more often than I met my own Cub Scout leader. Some kids looked up to Dr. J., I had Bugs Bunny. 

When we reached adolescence together, many of my friends went off on quests for spiritual elightenment because they'd heard Ravi Shankar or other kinds of enlightenment because they heard Pink Floyd. I sought the secret of life from another source after the first time I discovered the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers.

Some people's lives were changed when they first encountered a book by J.D. Salinger or a thriller by Ken Follett. My existence has never been the same since the time I found a copy of The 2000 Year-Old Man by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at Vogel's Records in Elizabeth, NJ for $2.67. I still have it (although I have digitized the album, like all my vinyl records, in case of catastrophe).

My wife finds it... limiting that I rarely want to see a movie with no sense of humor at all. I figure I have a limited amount of time to spend in this existence and can easily get depressed on my own with no help from filmmakers, writers, actors, playwrights, musicians and especially politicians. Give me a laugh or give me a nap, I say.

No doubt none of what I've said will come as a shock to anyone who's read my work. I get a good number of emails from people pointing out that there are occasional gaps in the plot logic of some of the Aaron Tucker books. Once in a while a timeline error might make it past the virtual army of editors who work on my writing, and it is always my fault. I do sometimes have to scramble for a character's motivation, although the effort is always there and we do try to tie up all the loose ends.

But for me, if you smile or laugh when you're reading my work, I've succeeded. My favorite communications from readers are those where a particular line of dialogue or side comment that made the person laugh is cited. I love hearing that; it makes me feel like the effort I put in was worthwhile.

In THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD (you knew I'd bring it up, right?), the challenge was more complex than ever. Samuel Hoenig, the main character and narrator of the book, has Asperger's Syndrome and sees things in what might be considered an unusual way. He is not trying to make the reader laugh.

But I didn't want to be exclusively serious, so finding the humor was a little bit more work than usual, and not as obivous (one hopes). But the challenge was--from a writer's standpoint--exhilarating, and doing it again for next year's Asperger's mystery was better. I'm never as happy as a writer as when I'm painting myself into a corner.

So please, if something I wrote makes you laugh, don't hold back. Let me know. As my mother used to say (and probably still does), "It just encourages him."

Oct 252014

Marilyn Thiele

I want to thank Dani, my intrepid assistant, for filling in for me here last week and for keeping the shop running efficiently in my absence. As to the blog post, when one says to an employee “Will you?” one is never sure that it’s not being heard as “You will,” but either way I think she enjoyed the opportunity to write about her convention after listening to all of the mystery fans here go on about Bouchercon. I’m sure she also enjoyed being free of me for nine days.

The holiday was our annual trip to London to visit our son, who lives and works there. Dedicated Anglophile that I am, I am happy to have this excuse to get to the UK regularly. Kevin and his partner, Claire, always manage to plan a “little” side trip that turns into an exciting excursion. They could have careers as travel planners if the energy industry begins to bore them. Last year it was Scotland, and the opportunity to meet our own Lynne Patrick on the way. This year it was Provence, as Claire wanted to show us her country. Having just arrived back two days ago, I am still full of the sunshine and warmth of southern France, and could go on about the scenery, the ancient hill towns, the beaches, and finding in Claire’s mother a fellow book and mystery lover. I knew there was some reason those two found each other. I got clued in to several French mystery authors, so you may find a switch from the Scandinavians in my future posts.

One pleasant surprise was arriving in London on October 15 and learning that October 17 was the opening of an exhibit at the Museum of London: “Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die.” There was time to see this exhibit after our return from France, so instead of boring you with the glamor of the Cote d’Azur, I will linger a bit in Victorian London. Sherlock Museum Poster

The best term to describe the exhibit is “atmospheric.” In addition to some of Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts and the original lithographs of Sidney Paget’s illustrations, there were photos and paintings from the period, depicting the “dense yellow fog settled on London.” One began to feel the shadowy world in which Sherlock’s villains operated.

Entering a door numbered “221B,” one is treated to examples of the forensic tools available to Mr. Holmes, with appropriate references to the stories: an early typewriter, for the unique imprint of each letter; newspapers, open to the crime stories and personal ads through which sinister plots were uncovered by the genius detective; hats, shoes, and clothing of the times which the master of disguises used to go undercover; and chemical apparatus for determining the origin of clues such as mud or ashes. A display of codes was particularly fascinating; included were examples of Pitman shorthand, with the English Book of Common Prayer “translated.” Commentary about the army of young women who found employment through typing and shorthand skills was food for thought. There were also the requisite violin and drug paraphernalia, along with other evidence of a Bohemian existence.

One section was dedicated to the stage, film and television versions of the Great Detective, ending, of course, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s incarnation of Sherlock. Throughout the entire exhibit, there were screens with clips from early films alternating with clips from the current BBC interpretation. Seeing Basil Rathbone in the role again, I was reminded of the late nights I spent while young watching the Sherlock movies. It occurred to me that at the time there were only three stations to choose from, but always something good to watch. Why is it that now, with hundreds of choices, I can never find anything that I want to see?

Sherlock Holmes could not have gotten around London without the hansom cab. At one point, there are three maps of London with moving arrows showing his route in a particular chase or investigation. Next to each is a screen showing the same route from a car-mounted camera in today’s city. The city is brighter and cleaner, but no less crowded.

In a section on Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, there is much made of his admiration for Edgar Allan Poe, and of the fact that Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock because he felt it was distracting from his “serious” writing. My thoughts went to recent posts here about Wilkie Collins and Anna Katharine Green. I had to admit to myself that Collins and Green may have been the pioneers of the detective novel, but it was the short story writers who really got the genre going. And that, even then, the “fun” writing was belittled by many, including its creators. But it sold! Doyle ultimately had to resurrect Sherlock.

The subtitle of the exhibit is “The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die.” As I left the museum, I realized that I felt for the first time as if Sherlock Holmes was, and is, a living person. It’s time to reacquaint myself after many years. Basil? Benedict? The stories? Where to begin?

Note: The exhibit is on until April 12, so if anyone of our readers is in London during that time, I would highly recommend a visit. Even if you get to London after this show, the museum is well worth a visit. The history of the city from its primitive beginnings to today is displayed over several floors. On my first foray, I got only to the Great Fire. This time it was Sherlock Holmes. I want to go back to again … and again.  


Oct 202014

Jeff Cohen

Here's the (mostly) final update on the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE: Thanks to all who posted pictures of themselves with the first Asperger's Mystery from E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen! We all greatly appreciate your effort and hope that you enjoy the book! Donations are being made to the Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN). While the Challenge is officially over, we'll keep donating for those who continue to post pictures!

And on to business.

Just for the record: My son is actually nothing like Samuel Hoenig. Seriously.

I understand why I get the question. If I were in the position of those who ask it, I would probably do the same. It's not at all too large a leap to attempt. But the honest fact is, there is very little connection.

Samuel is the "hero" (he would not ever consider himself such) of Question of Missing HeadTHE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, the aforementioned Asperger's mystery. He is 29 years old in that book (sorry, Josh Getzler--in my mind Samuel's in his 30s because I'm already past Book #2), lives at home with his mother, prefers working by himself, has a driver's license but doesn't drive, and is formal in his language and meticulous in his observation.

He has Asperger's Syndrome, which until recently was a disorder and is now a nebulous part of the autism spectrum, but that's a whole other story. (Grammar fans: I do in fact know there is no such word as "nother.")

My son Josh (not Getzler) is 25 years old, lives at home with both his parents, prefers working by himself, drives pretty much every day, and is not at all formal in his language nor especially meticulous in his observation.

But he does have Asperger's, and that's why people ask.

I've written about Josh before. In fact, I wrote two non-fiction books about raising him (and other people raising their children with AS) long before Samuel ever came to life on the page. I've occasionally posted about him here, and if there's anybody out there who's looking for an employee doing... just about anything, he's still mostly available. Don't hesitate.

In the Aaron Tucker series, back when I was a feckless youth of 43, I included Aaron's son Ethan who--waddaya know!--had Asperger's. That was mostly because nobody knew what it was in 2002 and I figured I could reach some and educate them while writing what I hoped was a funny mystery. And sure enough, the 38 people who read those books often get in touch to let me know they learned something, which makes me proud.

So because I have mentioned Josh's Asperger's in public, and now I write an adult character who has AS, people naturally assume he's the inspiration for the character. And I suppose he is, in that I wouldn't have known much about Asperger's or autism or a number of other things if I had not been Josh's dad. But the similarity ends there.

My Josh is a graduate of the Drexel University film and video program and has made a few short films. He lives at home because he managed to get out of college and enter the absolute worst economy since Tom Joad graduated from Hard Knox. He'd love to be making enough to rent his own apartment. Sure, he likes his parents, but maybe living on his own wouldn't be so awful.

Samuel lives at home because he likes it, enjoys his mother's company, and if he were being completely honest, the thought of being in his own place probably scares him a little bit.

Josh is working part-time at a movie theater and wants to make, or assist in the making of, film or television. Samuel owns a business called Questions Answered, which he operates out of a former pizzeria.

Samuel's Asperger's makes it difficult for him to process idioms and understand body language. Josh might have had those challenges when he was 10, but he's learned enough that it doesn't really seem to slow him down much anymore.

Samuel asks everybody what Beatles song is his/her favorite. Josh likes to talk about comic books, superhero movies, and Doctor Who. It's not at all unusual for a person with AS to have an intense interest in one subject.

The things Samuel does in THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, including investigating the theft of a frozen specimen from a cryonics lab and the murder of a scientist, are things Josh wouldn't ever do. And if a loud alarm were to sound, while Samuel is almost incapacitated, Josh would be uncomfortable and probably annoyed.

Samuel would probably never make a film in which a baby devours his babysitter (off-screen) for fun. That's all I'm saying.

So if you want to know whether I wrote Samuel because I've grown up with Josh, sure. There is much to learn from people with any type of autism spectrum disorder. I've become a better person through knowing my son. It helps write with compassion when necessary.

If you believe that  Samuel is based on Josh? No. They're really very different. 

But thanks for asking.


P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 116 days.

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 292014

Jeff Cohen

Note: For an update on the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE, see below. You'll want to read this.

Seriously: Have I ever given you any indication that I know how to get thousands of people to look at a blog piece? On a good day, I get 200 people to visit here.

You're a little ticked off now, right? Think I misled you?

But marketing is a necessity to the author. (Don't ask, "The author of what?" Just go with it.) It's not about trickery and it's not about lying to the reader. Do those things and you might get someone to take a look. Once. What are you going to do now that you've annoyed them? What have you accomplished?

I can't claim to have the magical formula that will bring the thundering hordes to your blog post, your Facebook page, your web site or your front door. Anyone who tells you they know for sure is lying or mistaken. But I can tell you what certainly DOESN'T work, and I can say so with confidence, since I have tried each one and watched it fail in a spectacular fashion.

  1. Promising a visitor something you can't deliver. (See above.) This is especially good at getting people mad at you. Because the intelligent ones will realize immediately that you're a fraud, and the less intelligent ones will try what you advocate, fail, and blame you.
  2. Making general statements based only on your experience. If you want to blog about yourself, that's fine. I do it sometimes, and posts about my daughter, my dog and my wife have attracted some of the larger audiences I've gotten here. But don't try to extrapolate your experience and make the reader think it will definitely apply under any circumstance. You don't know, because your experience is just that--yours.
  3. Stating something without doing the research. If you want to make a statement, make it. But be sure you're right. I have gone off on a tear at times here and made statements that, when I was typing them, felt great--only to find out I was astonishingly wrong. Colossally wrong. I mean, wrong. Check first.
  4. Politics, religion--what could go wrong? Everything. Write about the "forbidden" topics if you want. That's your right. But go in knowing for sure that your opinions are definitely going to piss some people off. And maybe you know in your heart they're just wrong, and what the hell--maybe they are. It won't convince them of anything and it won't make them less mad. It's fine to do if that's the kind of blog you want, but don't be naive about it--you're going to annoy. Be prepared to deal with the consequences.
  5. Making your post a flat-out sales pitch for your book. I have done this one (see two weeks ago, sort of) and I promise you I will do so again. That's perfectly fine--this is a forum about crime fiction and I write crime fiction. The reader is always free to click elsewhere. But doing nothing BUT hawking your book is just going to bore and irritate. The fiction you write isn't the only place you have to worry about entertaining an audience. And by the way, I have a Question of Missing Headbook that came out last Wednesday and another coming in less than two months.

This week's reminder: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is now extended to this Wednesday, October 15! Before then, 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, so tag me on it) to see. For everyone who does that on  I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism SPectrum Education Network, and our own Josh Getzler's HSG Agency will match the donation. And our own Terri Bischoff's Midnight Ink will match THAT donation. And our very own Marilyn Thiele will add $1 each, to bring the total to $10 per picture! That pledge is good for the first 100 people to post--be one of them! 

Also: I'll be at the Barnes & Noble in East Brunswick, NJ on Tuesday (Oct. 14) at 7 p.m., talking (because try and get me to stop), signing and taking MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE pictures with anyone who has a copy of the book. Come by if you can--Cathy Genna of the B&N there really knows how to put on a show!

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! 

Aug 312014

Marilyn Thiele

Now that the summer rush is about to end, it’s time to think seriously again about ordering books for the shop in a less frenetic fashion. In the spring, thoughts are about what will be popular for vacation reading. Laying hands on copies of the summer reading lists of the local schools is another chore; the schools’ websites are becoming inaccessible to outsiders, and curriculum planners may or may not take the time to respond to a request for a list. Customers with kids turn out to be the best resource. Once the season begins, it seems more time is spent restocking  (“We’re out of Maze Runner again!”) or ordering items you didn’t think would be big, but turned out to be.

Only a few years ago, I could peruse the biannual New York Times Sunday section listing films to be released in the next several months, and feel comfortable that stocking books on which forthcoming films were based would satisfy demand for those who want both the written and visual versions. I just had to be careful to get the right book cover; most of my customers hate (as I do) the “media tie-in” covers. The physical book looks dated in a very short time, whether it’s still on my shelf or in the customer’s library. When I have tried having both versions on display, the non-media copies are the ones that sell. I have had customers say it cheapens written work , and I agree.  A while back, the standard cover for As I Lay Dying was temporarily out of stock, and so I went with the movie tie-in cover. I overheard a customer saying that he wanted the book, but couldn’t stand looking at James Franco. He was willing to wait for a “real” copy.

More recently, I find that being aware of upcoming film releases is only half the job when it comes to ordering for media-related books. The burgeoning  number of series television shows on HBO, Netflix, STARZ, and who knows how many other outlets  has created a huge market for the books on which they are based. The Game of Thrones series was always popular with fantasy fans and a steady seller. It has now become mainstream, has moved from my Fantasy section to a more central display area, and requires a quick inventory check whenever I am placing an order, especially if a new season is beginning. Outlander is beginning to follow the same pattern.

I am not a big TV or film fan. What leisure time I have is usually spent reading. I am tempted by some of the ongoing (and completed) TV  series, but will probably wind up “binge-watching” if we have another bad winter. Thus I have to rely on written sources to find out what’s happening. With the advent of the mini-and maxi-series trend, I find myself making notes while reading the newspaper or magazines so that I can anticipate which books will be in demand.

My totally unscientific observation (and from one who is not a filmgoer) is that there has been a steady increase over the last few years in the number of movies based on bestselling (or classic) books, and more recently, based on young adult fiction. I feared for a while that this trend would decrease the interest in books. I have heard the comment, particularly from young visitors to my shop who are being encouraged by a parent to choose a particular book, “I saw the movie. I don’t need to read the book!”  Fortunately, this sentiment appears to be the minority view and is usually expressed by reluctant readers. Film and TV versions of books are increasing sales. Some want to read the book before seeing the film. Others love the film and realize that the written version probably contains character development, subplots, and details missing from the visual version. (I wonder how the upcoming film of Gone Girl can possibly contain all the plot reversals of the book, even if it is 2 ½  hours long.)

Certainly the Game of Thrones and Outlander television shows have introduced book series that have been ongoing for years, but limited to audiences of Fantasy or Time-Travel Romance fans, to mainstream readers. Both are deserving of this wider audience and offer much more than their previous “genre” classifications implied. Readers who never read fantasy and have completed the Game of Thrones volumes are looking for more books in a similar vein: Thus the increase in sales of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.  More important, readers are expanding their horizons and discovering that this “genre” stuff might be every bit as good as the “literary” works they have limited themselves to in the past.

Keeping up with what’s happening in the film, television, and on-line entertainment worlds means a little more work for the bookseller who wants to offer the consumer the print versions of their favorite shows or movies. But if these other media are leading readers back to books, showing them the advantages of the written word, and causing them to seek out more books, even if they haven’t been filmed (yet), it’s well worth it.

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:


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:




o 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.

Aug 122014

Jeff Cohen

When my daughter texted me on Monday evening with the words "Robin Williams!" I thought she had just seen him on the street. Eve moved into Manhattan a couple of weeks ago, and that's the kind of thing that happens there. 

What had actually happened was unthinkable.

I will not claim to be a friend of Robin Williams; the fact of the matter is we never communicated in any way, not even the way one occasionally interacts with a celebrity's assistant on Twitter. We never met. I never so much as wrote him a letter to tell him how much I admired what he could do. 

But if you don't think Robin Williams was important to me, you don't know me. Or Robin Williams.

Right now on social media people are debating what the best Robin Williams movie was, whether he was funnier on his breakthrough sitcom Mork and Mindy or in film. They're missing the point.

The finest performances that man ever gave were in his original medium, as a standup comic who could operate like none other who ever lived. See if you can find his perfomance at the Metropolitan Opera (originally on HBO) on YouTube now. Check out any other performance of his, on the amazing Comic Relief specials with his accomplices Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. Early bits on improv specials or later opportunities to play on Whose Line Is It Anyway.

Take a look at the riff he could do with a scarf, unprepared on Inside the Actor's Studio

Robin Williams was a genius, and like too many geniuses, he was his own worst enemy. He had well-documented substance abuse problems, and now we know he was battling depression, a battle he finally lost.

I'm terribly sad tonight, and so is my daughter. And so are my wife and son. We were all fans. We all saw the honesty in the man and the willingness to share himself with us. And we are very, very sorry we will never see that again.

But I'm angry, too. At the disease that took him, just as surely as if it had been cancer. He was sick and he fought for a long time, but the disease was stronger, and that makes me mad. The world should not be deprived of a quick, childlike, brilliant mind like that prematurely, and now that has happened and there is nothing that can reverse it. 

I've always believed that depression needed to be better understood and that it needed to be brought into the open to be conquered. Maybe now that will happen and that will be his final legacy.

Unfortunately, I'm too sad to think about that tonight. And even putting on a Robin Williams DVD won't make that better.

Rest in peace, sir. If only you had found some in your life.


 Books, Film, Lynne Patrick, Television  Comments Off
Aug 062014

Lynne Patrick

Apparently publishing as we used to know it is dead. Or suffering from terminal asphyxiation which will see it off sometime in the next few years. I know this because I keep reading it in the book trade newsletters the good old internet drops into my e-mail in-box most mornings.

The only thing is, I seem to have heard the same thing before, though not about publishing.

Back in the 1950s, live theatre was in its death throes, and couldn’t possibly survive the decade.

Then it was the turn of film.

Online news, it’s claimed, has very nearly put paid to print newspapers, and all the various ways of watching stuff on a computer screen instead to a pre-arranged schedule on TV make a nonsense of the way they used to count viewing figures.

More recently, the demise of the novel has been announced on a pretty well annual basis. And of course print books are a thing of the past, as are bricks-and-mortar bookshops.

Yet as far as I can tell out here in the real world, theatre, film, newspapers, TV, bookshops, and especially the novel are alive, well and positively thriving; in fact, every now and then, one or other appears to enjoy a resurgence of popularity. Earlier this week, alongside yet another article on the death of publishing I read one about a new bookshop that’s just opened in London, and one about a revival in the fortunes of small independent bookshops where the staff actually know something about what’s on the shelves. For the time being at least there are enough of us who like the feel, look and smell of real books to ensure that that keeps right on happening.

Sure, technology marches on – but the impression I get is that, rather than the latest development heralding the end of the previous one, we’re simply offered more choices. Erin’s post a few days ago is the living proof: she likes print and eBook versions, because they serve different purposes in her life.

When I was a kid, shopping was a matter of going to a couple of places and choosing between two or three versions of the same item. Nowadays retail parks and designer outlets proliferate, there are half a dozen major supermarket chains and the average town is awash with small and large shops. And that’s before you start thinking about online shopping. Not that I do; on the rare occasions I shop at all, I like to see what I’m getting.

And so, I suspect, do the majority of aspiring authors. Yes, there are more options than there used to be for getting your book out there. Yes, you can get someone to turn your peerless prose (or poetry) into an eBook, and make it available online within days of typing THE END, instead of waiting months for an agent to respond, then sending it to another agent who also takes months to say no, and maybe, just maybe, after a seemingly endless process, find a conventional publisher who shares your vision of it and is willing to invest time and money in making it a success, or at least a physical reality.

And yes, I do know that it’s frustrating and dispiriting to have to go through that process with only a small chance of success. And that people sell millions of copies of self-published eBooks. Some people. A few people. Actually, let’s be realistic: a very, very few people. But it does work for some people. It’s another option. Not the only option: just another one.

Sometimes the amount of choice that’s available is overwhelming. I have a vivid memory of my daughter, aged about five, on her first visit to a large bookshop. She learned to read when she was three, was a regular visitor to the children’s section of the local library and had already accumulated a sizeable book collection of her own – but faced with quite literally thousands of books to choose from, her brain went into overload and she burst into tears.

But as we grow up we all develop the mental filters that help us cope with the world and deal with the vast amount of choice it offers us.

I think maybe we’re conditioned by the way technology works. Upgrades and new versions appear so often that anything new is out of date before it leaves the shop, and the old version soon stops working or ceases to be compatible. But it doesn’t have to be like that; the arrival of something new doesn’t necessarily mean an earlier version becomes redundant.

Change and progress aren’t synonymous. Sometimes the new way is just another way.