Saturday, October 22, 2011

In My Mailbox

In my UPS store box came a pair of copies of the final version of SPARKS!

In my mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by my butt.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Am I Hipster?

The first real, official copies of Sparks arrived at Smart Aleck HQ.  One of the interns flipped through and said "man, you listed the bands you had on your playlist in the acknowledgements? You're a hipster."

I got indignant. "No I'm not!"

I looked around the room. "Oh, you're definitely a hipster," said Adam Selzer, the boss. "I'm sure glad I'm not you!"

"Like you're not a hipster," I said. "Didn't one of your blog posts get tagged as 'hipster' on Reddit a few weeks ago?"

He gulped.

We make fun of hipsters around here a lot. Adam's movie, At Last, Okemah! made fun of them a lot (though it played primarily TO hipsters). In fact, you're hard pressed to find anyone in town who will claim to be able to stand hipsters.  But the truth is, whether we like it or not, we're hipsters here at Smart Aleck HQ - or, anyway, we'd qualify as them in most cities. We're still listening to indie rock in our early 30s, at an age when most of our old friends don't like "that awful new stuff." We live in a big city, use MacBooks, and have a record player.  We take the train. We hang out in coffee shops.

But by Chicago standards, we probably don't. There's not a single mustache in evidence at HQ, nor a trucker hat. We don't go to parties or clubs, and have seldom been seen in a hot new restaurant (even though they pop up on block now and then). We watch sitcoms. None of us precede our name with "DJ." We are not under any illusion that we have any notion of what's cool and what's not these days. In fact, I'd say that most people around here think of us as hopelessly dorky.

I like to think that we're hipsters in the classical, 1950s sense around here. We're more "bohemian" than "hipster," really. Granted, most of the bands on the "Ragged Glory: Debbie Does Detention" playlist were popular indie bands once (Moldy Peaches, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Mountain Goats) but they've probably been absorbed into the mainstream enough now that I'm actually losing hipster cred by mentioning them.

But then again, we live in downtown Chicago, a pleasant walk from the "hipster corridor" of Milwaukee Avenue. We have a skewed sense of what makes one a hipster and what doesn't.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shrunken Heads at HQ

I hate it when Adam, boss of the Smart Aleck's Guide, starts up a new collection. Especially when it's shrunken heads. This month, it's shrunken heads.

I guess someone gave him one as a tip after he ran a ghost tour, and, well, he got the bug. Now HQ is a disaster area. The heads are one thing, but they each come in a REALLY large box (you wouldn't think they would, but they do), and they're all full of styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, and plastic sheets.

And, yeah. The heads bother me. I keep feeling like they're going to start talking and telling me things I don't want to know.

Selzer loves them. He's even mounted a few of them onto Barbie doll bodies to make his own "2 Broke Girls" action figures. With shrunken heads. He has them set up in his own "Williamsburg Diner Action Playset."

And he's not even AROUND headquarters much these days. He's always off running tours, interviewing the grandchildren of serial killers (he got invited out to help exhume one the other day - Gd only knows what he'll bring back from THAT trip), tromping around arboretums, occupying large banks and having milkshakes in the burbs with his wife and Claudia Gray.   Meanwhile, we here on the staff are left in a mess of shrunken heads, trying to work on the new guides and dealing with the blowback from someone calling him a hipster on Reddit, and there're only three weeks until Sparks comes out (on the same day as Adam's new one, Extraordinary).


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Random Passage from SPARKS

Here's a section from Chapter 8 of SPARKS, which will be out via Flux early next year or late this one. Here, the "holy quest" takes Debbie, Emma and TIm to Mid-Iowa Lanes, a local bowling alley where lots of holy quests seem to take them:

The inside of Mid-Iowa Lanes smelled like cigarettes and shellac, and the walls were covered with paintings of guys with mustaches holding bowling balls. Everything in the place was a shade of brown, orange or yellow, except for the glowing pink and blue neon lights that were set up here and there. There was a bar where people were drinking -- and it wasn't even four o'clock. Speakers in the ceiling were blasting “Don’t Stop Believing” way too loudly.

"I never realized how dirty this place looked," I said.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" asked Emma, as we stepped inside. "A place unsullied by the present standards of design."

“Or cleanliness,” I said.

"They haven't even changed the music since about 1989," said Tim, reverently.

"That's the beauty of a bowling alley," said Emma. "There's nothing classy, modern, or sterile about these places. And wait ’til you see the bowling alley skanks who hang out in the arcade!”

Tim started singing a song about bowling alley skanks to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believing.”

“And we mean ‘skanks’ in the nicest possible way,” said Emma. “They’re good kids.”

We started walking down along the area between the bar and the lanes themselves, and I looked around at the people. There were a whole bunch of guys in ugly shirts bowling. Most looked sort of grimy, even from a distance. There were a lot of comb-overs in evidence.

I wondered why none of these men were at work. It wasn't like there could possibly be that many professional bowlers in suburban Des Moines.

Besides the actual bowlers, there were a handful of people who looked like they were just
hanging around. A few guys in tattered overcoats sat by the bar. Five or six old black guys were lounging by the pool tables, laughing and joking.

Everyone there looked sort of grotesque, like they were covered in a thin layer of cigarette smoke or something, as though Megamart was selling bottled cigarette smoke as a gel, and everyone had smeared themselves with it because they weren’t allowed to smoke in public anymore. Maybe they'd hung around the bowling alley so much that that weird smell got into their skin and was never going to go away.

It was just a bowling alley, but I'm not sure I'd ever seen anything so scary in my life. This was not the sort of crowd I was used to traveling among without being surrounded by the Lisa and
her friends.

There was no sign of Norman or the Fellowship anywhere.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

One month until SPARKS

One month to go until SPARKS!

I'm pleased to announce that Adam and I will both be at the Teen Book Fest in Rochester this coming May. Which of us does more panels depends on how Sparks does vs. Adam's Extraordinary, which comes out the same week.  Mine is in paperback, and his is in hardcover, so sales-wise, I expect to mop up the ol' floor with him.

The first few reviews have trickled and, and, to my delight, have NOT dinged me for using pop culture references (to the extent that Full House still counts as pop culture in 2011).  I know Adam got hit a lot for the pop culture references in I Kissed a Zombie  - many reviewers made a point of saying that the book won't age well, since it has a number of pop culture references. Most of them are to Leonard Cohen and Cole Porter, which will be no less dated in 2030 than they already were in 2010, but never mind.

Somehow, word has gone around that you should never refer to pop culture in a book, because the book will be dated soon if you do. Actually, the REAL rule is "never use pop culture to show how hip you are, or rely on it as a means of getting the reader to feel a rapport with your narrator."  Your book will be dated in a few years anyway. The world marches on. And which idiots are we pandering to if we write our books strictly for readers who expect everything they read to seem like it was taking place two weeks ago?  Personally, if I read a book from 1965, I expect a Beatles reference. If the main character in a book that takes place that year doesn't have an opinion about the Beatles, they're probably dead inside.

All books date. Every paranormal romance and dystopia will be dated in ten years, after the crazes have died down. Most likely, after ten years, hardly anyone will read them.

But Roger Ebert recently said that the biggest problem with a ten year old movie is that it isn't thirty years old. The same is true of books. Some of these books will become "period pieces" that continue to connect with readers from across the decades.  But what good book have you read recently from 1981 that truly seems like it could have been written this week?

I like to rant about this stuff. I think I've already done it once or twice on here.

Meanwhile, back at Smart Aleck Staff HQ, we're busily preparing the first four Shakespeare guides to launch next month, and running drills for what happens if Adam gets followed home by a ghost after one of the ghost tours that he's now funning 6-8 times per week. He's going tromping around in some of the most notable supposedly-haunted spots in town, flashing lasers around, and digging up information about long-dead serial killers. Ah, Halloween! When a young man's fancy turns to blood.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Adam's back in the ghost tour biz

...which means we here at the Smart Aleck's Guide have to prepare for the worst. Proton packs are at the ready.
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