Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adam Makes Chili: Battle Stations, Everyone

When Adam decides to cook something for the staff, well....we drill for it. There is to be much "mmmm"ing and rubbing of stomachs.

He spent most of the week turning his kitchen into a science lab to make his entry for this year's Chili Cook-off at Sip Coffee. He often makes a chili that includes pepperoni, but this year he took it a step further and used sausage instead of ground beef. We here on the staff are divided as to whether it's really a chili or just a "pizza stew," with "homemade pizza crust oyster crackers," but we have to admit it's awfully tasty. Try it!

- 3 cans of diced tomatoes
- 1 can of kidney beans
- 2.5 pounds of hot sausage
- 1/4 pound thinly-sliced pepponi (if you can get the above an Italian deli, do so).
- 1 tablespoon Deep Dish Pizza Seasoning from The Spice House. Substitute some red pepper and paprika and garlic if you don't have any of that.
- 1 teaspoon Chili Powder

Empty tomatoes and beans into a crock pot. Removes sausage from casing and brown, breaking into small chunks in the process. Add to crock pot, along with seasonings. Leave it there all day, then remove to plastic containers to freeze overnight. Thaw in fridge for a day, then return to crock pot. Cut pepperoni into small bits and stir in. Add more seasonings if desired.


Mix up a handful of flour with a cup of water, a package of yeast, a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of oregano. Mix, adding more flour until the whole wad of dough can be kneaded without sticking. Roll onto cookie sheet or stone and bake for about 10 minutes at 400. Remove when it's fully baked (but not too crisp) and cut into oyster cracker-sized bits. Keep in a separate bowl.

Spoon chili into bowl, top with mozzarella cheese and the pizza crust crackers. We may not have won the award, but it was the first entry to run out!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Boss Meets Weird Al

Smart Aleck HQ now sports a new centerpiece: a spatula that the boss, Adam Selzer, got Weird Al to sign.I'll let him tell the story - here's what he put on his own blog after he attended this breakfast (while I fed the interns their gruel):

Yesterday was the annual Children's Literature Breakfast, at which Anderson's Bookstore gathers 50 or 60 authors from around the state to meet with 500 or so teachers, librarians, etc. I go just about every year; it a good place to meet up with people who have the same job as me. After the event we generally carpool out to some place to have lunch and whine about the rough side of our jobs. It's great!

But this year, the keynote speaker was "Weird Al" Yankovic. To be a guest at the same event as Weird Al was a CLEAR highlight for my career. Even better than when I was on the same radio show as Hulk Hogan.

The first album I ever owned was Al's Even Worse record - it's still probably just about the only album I could sing along with line for line. I have every one of his records, and a White and Nerdy hoody, and DVDs....well, you get the idea.

Al is a role model for anyone working in comedy or satire - the man works his butt off and takes what he does very, very seriously without taking HIMSELF that seriously. It's a tough line to walk! To keep it up for roughly 30 years takes an incredible amount of dedication. I only know a few authors who've been in the game that long, and they're mostly bitter and grumpy. I'm already bitter and grumpy most of them time when talking about my career. Al has plenty of reason to be bitter; he has to take the blame for every crappy parody that he didn't write floating on the internet (which are often attributed to him erroneously), and he's been working in the music business and film business for three decades (two businesses that are generally known for being even worse than publishing). But if he's bitter, you'd never know it.

Me grinning like a chubby-cheeked fool. Obvious reasons.

Above: Al was nice enough to sign my spatula, which is now a centerpiece at Smart Aleck HQ.

Working my table with Al in the background at his.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How We Spend Our Down Time

When we're not working on a new Smart Aleck's Guide, we here at Smart Aleck HQ still have plenty to do. Adam keeps us busy.

Today, he handed down the assignment of helping him try to find a version of the K-I-S-S-I-N-G in print before 1970 for use on one of his many websites, <a href="">Playground Jungle</a>, which studies the origins and variations of naughty playground rhymes. That was a tricky one - everyone sort of assumes that the rhyme is ancient (and it probably is), but it doesn't seem to have been written down until about 1970. Weird. Adam was always interested in this sort of thing, and in 2009 he got interested enough to start to blog about it to go with all of his OTHER blogs. No word on whether it'll turn into a book, but we've learned never to assume anything WON'T turn into a book around here.

We're also working on the trailer for SPARKS, my new novel, and tweaking the audio on the trailer for Adam's new one, EXTRAORDINARY, which is already filmed and ready to go as soon as the cover is released.

And gathering and organizing junk for a couple of Chicago history books Adam has been hired to write (one of which, at least, will use something of a Smart Aleck voice).

Now, I'm not saying that we do all of Adam's work for him - far from it. He spends HOURS digging up stories and information. He disappears into libraries, talks his way into old buildings, and gathers data from the field (a fancy way of saying he interviews weirdos).  And he's always working on about 5 different novels, so the office is a MESS of papers, chalkboards, notebooks, etc. Projects on the table this month are code-named MAGWITCH, MARS, SATAN (which he might let me take over), OBSTACLE, and LUCRETIA.

Yesterday, he did an interview for CBS about the link between Facebook and depression - we didn't know he was an expert on that! (Neither did he, for the record - he's pretty sure he'll come off looking like a dork) (to which we reply: "Why should today be any different?")  Tomorrow he has a big author event where the keynote speaker is Weird Al. Next week he has a couple of school and bookstore visits out in the suburbs. Us? Well, we'll hold down the fort clean out the litter boxes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Smart Aleck Staff Survives a Near Attack

We knew when we were working on THE SMART ALECK'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY that we were going to run afoul of a few Civil War buffs. See, there are a lot of them who insist that the war had nothing whatsoever to do with slavery. And that's just silly. Sure, you could argue that it wasn't really a Northern crusade against slavery, and that most soldiers probably didn't care much about it one way or the other, but all of the states who issued articles of secession made it VERY clear that they were seceding mainly to prolong the institution of slavery.

Now, we get the odd letter, but never had an actual attack...until today. Here's how it went down on twitter:

SJAdamsBooks: Group of Civil War re-enactors gathered outside of Smart Aleck HQ. In gray. More coming up Grand Ave. This can't be good.  #CivilWar2?

SJAdamsBooks: @adamselzer ordered us onto lock-down; I'm on look-out duty. They're calling us yankee revisionist pigs. And they look stinky. #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks: Can we handle irate civil war buffs who insist slavery had nothing to do with the war? Armed ones? Hey, man... we drill for this! #civilwar2

SJAdamsBooks: At least we can fight these dudes without proton packs. Most battles we fight for Adam involve proton packs.  #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks: Gotta say, though, there are some FANTASTIC mustaches among our would-be conquerors...more coming... battle stations, all! #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks:  We are outnumbered, and having the facts on our side won't win us this battle. But @adamselzer says we're going down fighting. #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks: Ranks outside are growing. They're shouting something about "state's rights." Very mad at us for over the civil war chapter. #civilwar2

SJAdamsBooks: And they won't just be debated...we may have to fight this out. We drill for this, but not for a group this size....  #civilwar2

SJAdamsBooks:  Our fearless leader, @adamselzer , is going to make a speech before our battle with the civil war re-enactors gathered outside #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks: it REALLY St. Crispian's day? @adamselzer says it's St. Crispian's day. Making the speech from Henry V. What a maroon.  #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks: Note: the same speech is in Adam's next book. Shouted out by kids driving a Wells Fargo Wagon full of unicorn poop thru Des Moines. Really.

SJAdamsBooks: "Extraordinary: The True Story of My Fairy Godparent, Who Almost Killed Me, and Certainly never made me a princess"  11/2011

SJAdamsBooks: ( 50 suck-up points, please, boss) </shameless plug>  (he's STILL speaking to inspire us pre-battle...who's he think he is? Edward Everett?)

SJAdamsBooks: It's a St. Crispian's Day miracle! Civil War re-enactors disbursing. Adam thinks it's because of his emotional speech and song. #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks:  I think they responded more to my telling them that the first Chicago Chick-fil-a is about to open on Chicago and Wabash.  #civilwar2?

SJAdamsBooks:  Glory, glory hallelujah! The smart aleck staff lives to fight another day! I never doubted it. We drill for this, you know.

Actually Civil War re-enactors are mentioned (and not negatively) in SPARKS.  What they do is held up as a classic example of "practical time travel," a hobby of one character.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Test of Time

So, one of the ongoing jokes in SPARKS is the main character's obsession with Full House. I get warned against this now and then. The first objection people have is a concern that kids today aren't familiar with Full House. This is easily dismissed; that show is on five times a day on various channels. I started watching midway through the first season and stuck with it all the way through to about the last season, when I sort of outgrew it (deciding not to watch it anymore was a milestone in growing up for me). Kids today were raised on it; and, anyway, all they really NEED to know is that it was a cheesy sitcom where people do a lot of hugging, which is explained right away. Those who are more familiar with it will probably get more of a grin out of the book's references to courage hangy-balls and obnoxious neighbors, but prior knowledge isn't necessary. They're explained along the way.

The bigger concern - the one Adam keeps warning me about - is that I'm going to get a lot of reviews that go out of their way to criticize me for using pop culture in the book. These days, one gets a lot of reviewers judging your work against the "rules for writing" they've been hearing, and one of the great rules/myths of the writing world today is that pop culture references will make your book become dated quickly. There were always people going around saying this kind of stuff, but now the author might get a google alert about it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The boss and I are starting up an online feud to see if it drives traffic. Nothing says "sales" like internet drama! Here's today's battle:

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks: You have a potty mouth, you do a lousy job giving the interns their baths, and your work is highly derivative of mine!

SJ: @adamselzer You couldn't clean those interns with a sandblaster. Also, your books are FLUFFY! lThe trade reviews were wrong! #SJvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks I'm critically acclaimed, noodle-loaf. YOU'RE the one who told me only trade reviews count! Also: you pancakes suck.

SJ: @adamselzer nice typo! As usual. Mr. "I Forgot How Many Voyages Columbus Made When the Book Went to Print." #SjvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks Well, I SAID he made 3 voyages, and eh did. He also happened to make a fourth one. YOU were the fact checker. #SjvsAdamFeud

SJ: @adamselzer Not to quote Ronald Reagan or anything, but THERE YOU GO AGAIN with the typos! #SJvsAdamFeud

SJ: And are you ever gonna FINISH that Satanic YA novel, or just say "eh, there's no market for boy books" and quit, quitter? #SjvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks: This is all because I made you get up at 5 for calisthenics, isn't it? Sorry, I believe in physical fitness. #SJvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks And you'll be glad you're in shape next time a group of irate Civil War re-enactors show up at HQ #SjvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks or a band of bloggers who are made that I (spoiler - sj knows what) and had a main character who started out mean #itwasaredemptionstorypeople!

SJ: @adamselzer Okay. Fair point, there. We drill for a reason. I just need some coffee. Let's go get some coffee #SJvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks I'll just have the interns make it. Now let's all go out for frosty chocolate milkshakes! #SjvsAdamFeud

SJ: @adamselzer <3 milkshakes. But we still got beef, Chief. Just SEE if I put "Extraordinary" in an IMM post when I start those! #SJvsAdamFeud

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks Weren't you just joking that you were going to photograph all our junk mail and call it an In My Mailbox Post?

SJ: @adamselzer All my junk mail, plus your new book :) Coffee. Now. Please. Then we'll get to work, Chief.

Adam: @SJAdamsBooks After coffee, we'll settle this like civilized people: Circus Atari!

SJ: @adamselzer I will bury you so deep at Circus Atari even Columbo wouldn't be able to solve the case. You're on!

SJ: @adamselzer And when we get back, we'll see how many sales you racked up from all this drama. YAY!.


- We watch a lot of Columbo at HQ these days. Adam talks like him sometimes. We also play a LOT of Circus Atari. We are FIERCE at Circus Atari.

- We expected a lot of mail pointing out errors in SMART ALECK"S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY. There've only been a couple, though, and all for pretty minor stuff (not counting the "civil war was not about slavery" brigade).

- While I'm on the subject, you know which kinds of bloggers were most likely to feature that book? LIbrarians and right winger. The first we expected, the latter is kinda out of left field for us. They tend to say that we "expose the lies about our history that the government has forced on us" or some such. Which we don't, though we DO expose how ridiculous the guys who talk about "what our founding fathers intended" are. As though the Founding Fathers all had the same philosophy or something! See our video!

For some reason, that video was set to "private" up until now. Searching for an intern to blame now.

See our other videos!

Friday, February 11, 2011


Adam is totally jealous that I get to use the f-bomb a dozen or so times in SPARKS. The only book he ever got away with that in was his adult book about life in the ghost hunting business.

We had some fun dealing with the swear words on SMART ALECK'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY. Random House assumed that the main market for it would be schools and libraries, since YA nonfiction that isn't about "your changing body," Jesus, or SAT skills isn't really a genre at all. And with school sales, even "damn" and "hell" can be an issue. We couldn't even use "ass" when we were quoting George Washington.

So we had to get creative in terms of dancing around it. LIke, transcribing a World War I soldier's song where the last word was clearly "ass," we left it blank with a footnote saying that no one knew what the lsat word was, because every time the soldiers sang it, a bomb would go off right at the end or something. That's always been our philosophy: make the limitations part of the joke (hence the picture of "The Beatles as they appeared from the back row at Shea Stadium").

We did get away with working "hell" in now and then - usually when we were referring to it as a place (such as when Davy Crocket said "You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas" before going off to do both).

With some publishers, we wouldn't have even done that. One particularly publisher who was in the running to publish it said we'd have to change a LOT of stuff. We couldn't use words like "stupid." They wouldn't furnish us with a complete list of unusable words, which was a big disappointment. We wanted to frame it at headquarters!

We're under no illusions about how teenagers talk around here - some researchers swear that kids didn't really start swearing in earnest until the 1970s, but anyone who reads much of Adam's Playground Jungle site knows that kids and swearing have always gone together. In the 1980s, people could have some swearing in kids books, but that's really a no-no these days (realism is kind of out, especially in middle grade).

Even in YA, though, you have to watch out: one of the major chains divides YA into "Age 10+" and "Age 14+." If they think your book is "14+," they'll order about half as many copies as they would if it were "10+." Adam usually has to do a real dance to make it clear that the kids ARE swearing without actually shwoing them doing in. In EXTRAORDINARY, his upcoming one, he has the narrator say "this is the REAL story of what happened. I've cleaned up the language a bit, but that's about it" or something like that. That one SHOULD work as a 10+ - a Wells Fargo Wagon full of unicorn crap plays a prominent role in the story, but that should be fine as long as he doesn't call it "shit."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

SJ Adams here

Busy morning at Smart Aleck Headquarters! I'm trying to do last-minute revisions on my book, SPARKS: THE EPIC, COMPLETELY TRUE BLUE (ALMOST) HOLY QUEST OF DEBBIE (which was originally going to be called Debbie Does Detention, but good luck getting THAT into Barnes and Noble!). Meanwhile, I'm in charge of shepherding the interns around while Adam is "in the field."

Now, "in the field" could mean a lot of things. Maybe he's digging through some murderer's papers at the law library. Maybe he and Mike are in the tunnels underneath the condo where some old film studio used to be looking for Old Man Selig's stash of silent film prints. Or maybe he's volunteering for Rahm Emmanuel. He might just be out stomping around in the Chicago snow pretending he's a Yeti or something (I swear he does this).

Anyway, he left me here to try to get to the bottom of this unauthorized Spanish translation of I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED it that's floating around (he acts like he's going off to fight with pirates over it, but I think he's secretly flattered), but I really do want to get this book done!

Now that I have a blog, maybe I should host a giveaway or a meme or something, huh?
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