MP3 Farnsworth's Revenge - Free

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Question: Would You Sooner Friend a Badboy or a Geek?

Space alien caught out: The tip-off is the pizza is just his excuse for eating the plate.

Today is the long-awaited, much-touted book release of Farnsworth's Revenge: A Rollo Hemphill Misadventure. Actually it's his third silly story. The first two were My Inflatable Friend (2007) and Rubber Babes (2008). And if you appreciate your books as electron flows, the Kindle editions of Revenge and Babes are both on sale for a week, starting today. (Paperbacks also shipping now because electrons make sucky gifts.)
My foolish thought for the day is inspired by all the talk-show patter I hear from intelligent young women complaining about how lame, underachieving, insensitive, and selfish are the male prospective partners in their lives. And just the other day, the father of one such bright girl complained that we must be in a declining era because all society can produce is losers as candidates for his hottie daughter's affections.
I submit that the root of all evil in this regard is the stereotype of badboy as male romantic hero. Charles Bronson as crazed and vengeful (but justified) killer is an old formula. But these days it seems the more corrupt the soul of the male protagonist, the more believable - and even the more lovable. Don Draper on Mad Men is a serial adulterer. Walter White on Breaking Bad has his reasons. And come to Momma, Dexter, because we know you just can't help yourself.
Badboys are more fun, the women seem to think, over and over again. Perhaps true, for a night or two, but why would you ever put one in the same category as your candidates for long-term relationships? Don't tell me you want to fix him. I don't believe you.
Now, Rollo is a geek. His confessional misadventures expose his obsessive thought processes. He's always getting into trouble and then devising some screwball scheme to get out of it. And, oddly enough, in his life circumstances, he continues to fail ever upward. He prospers in spite of himself. But as to his relationships, he's clueless most of the time.
I found out not that long ago that the audience for the Rollo books has at least as many women as men. This surprised me because I conceived the genre as boychik lit, the diametric opposite of chick lit, and deliberately aimed at men. Rollo is a young man continually on the make. And mature men, who buy more books, apparently like to fantasize about what it was like to be young and on the make.
The women of any age, and I'm guessing here, are just entertained by male foolishness.
So my advice. On this April Fool's Day, as the juices of spring stir, consider the clueless geek. Wouldn't you rather be tickled to death?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sneak Preview of Farnsworth's Revenge (Kindle version) Starting Today

Kilroy was here.
Link to the sneak:

It's exhausting being on the bleeding edge because, duh, you bleed. To make matters worse, I'm working in a gray area, and it's difficult to find my way in all this fog.
You could say I'm a self-publisher, but my imprint LaPuerta has published several titles, including some by other authors. And we've also packaged books and even entire series for other publishers. So, as I say, I'm tooling along in the gray area, not ready to play among the big boys but not exactly flogging my first memoir.
One of the many paradoxes of the legacy publishing world is the long lead time required by the media if you want to garner advance reviews for a new release. This traditional model used to apply mainly to hardcover books, then shifted to trade paperback as costs of printing and returns shot up. It's possible for an ebook to have a delayed release, but you see this mostly when it's in coordination with paper book versions. If a book release is ebook only (as I notice Dan Poynter now advising), the market seems to favor "instant" publishing and reviews after the fact. Book-review bloggers and podcast hosts, for example, rarely insist on receiving advance copies. Yes, it may take them four to six weeks to publish a review, but they don't expect you to withhold publication during that time.
Bookstore readings? Great for the author's ego but not a very efficient way to build an audience. I've taken bookstore readings I've done and uploaded them as MP3 clips to SoundCloud, then posted them on my Facebook fan page. Doing appearances that way has not cost me airfare and fretful nights in no-surprise hotels. (I'm curious about blog tours but haven't ventured out, as yet.)
So now I'm publishing my third Rollo Hemphill misadventure Farnsworth's Revenge after promising it to bookstore  audiences since about 2007. (This one rounds out the series, and you don't need to have read the first two.) I decided on a conventional trade paperback release with the customary advance review cycle. So even though the paperback was production-ready back in November, I set the release date at April Fool's Day.
Meanwhile I did a 20-copy Goodreads Giveaway program just before Christmas. More than 500 people entered the drawing, and of those more than 200 marked the book as "to-read."
It seemed a shame to make those sweet folks wait so long. So I'm borrowing from Hollywood and staging a sneak Kindle preview to my thousand closest friends.
So as of today, and for about a week, anyone reading this can grab a prepublication full-text Kindle version of Farnsworth's Revenge on Amazon:
No waiting  -  but to keep faith with our press releases, the ebook will disappear in a few days, only to re-emerge after the paperback release date in early April.

READER ADVISORY: Among other nefarious elements of the plot, Farnsworth's Revenge reveals certain secrets of cold fusion. You'd better click through to get it now. You might not remember to do it tomorrow, and you never know when the Secret Government may shut us down.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

More thoughts on male-centric fiction

"My Childhood in One Picture" Credit: MuelleX on Imgur
I recently started a thread in the Books and Writers group at LinkedIn by asking the question "Is there a male-centered alternative to chick lit?" And I cross-posted some of my musings about boychik lit, my self-imposed genre for the Rollo Hemphill series of humorous misadventures. South African writer Dave Baker commented, "Of course, Gerald. Westerns!" At first, I thought Dave was way off the mark, and I told him so. He came back and apologized that perhaps he'd fired off his response without thinking. After all, chick lit is mostly about relationships. Westerns are about community. The hero of a western is defending the community or is on a mission to help build the community. In this way, a western is like ancient mythology in which the hero battles a succession of enemies on his quest for some prize that will save his world.
And chick lit is all about man-problems. Those might manifest as career problems, but men are usually at fault. (In the case of The Devil Wears Prada, it's a woman boss who in busting through the glass ceiling has learned to be as mean and ruthless as any man.)
Then I thought again about relationships in westerns, and I began to think Dave shouldn't have been so quick to take it back. In those stories, the hero seems to value  protection of the community - as well as his standing among his male comrades - above his personal relationship with a wife or sweetheart. That's a battlefield mentality, and it says a lot about the mindset of the hero as his leaves has family behind and sets off toward his rendezvous with destiny.
I was beginning to think Dave was onto something. Two other big fiction genres with men are spy thrillers and crime stories. In both of those, the hero is also acting on behalf of his community (country or metropolis). And even though some dame may slink in and set him on the path, he's not acting mainly out of romantic self-interest. His goal is not primarily to get the girl. In fact, James Bond's women are literally disposable. Travis McGee's relationships might incite the drama but never last, and often end badly. And poor Philip Marlowe retains a cynical fascination with women, even though he rarely gets close to one. As in the western, the spy or the detective must set his personal feelings aside while he's on the mission. Romantic relationships recede into the background. Think about it: James Bond orders every sumptuous meal as though it were his last. And in his more thoughtful moments, he guesses he won't live long enough to collect his pension.
Thinking back on chick lit, I wonder if the heroine's obsession with finding Mr. Right can be generalized as a preoccupation with family - nest building. And then the male's focus, however much he may want a family or cherish his family, is primarily on his responsibility for ensuring the welfare of his community.
In Farnsworth's Revenge (forthcoming April 1), Rollo has to flee the country because he fears he'll  be framed for an international fraud. Not only does he leave his wife Felicia behind, but he also deliberately hides details of his alleged misdeeds from her, on the presumption that the less she knows the more likely the Feds will see her as a victim rather than an accomplice. After that, it's all about saving his community (the world banking system), but I've said too much already. 

This line of speculation about gender and genre may seem sexist - but remember we're talking about traditional fictional role models, not individuals in contemporary society. Women read all these genres enthusiastically, and so do men. I know I do.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fratire (Frat-boy Satire) Is So Yesterday

It's difficult to discuss this topic because so few people know the term fratire, and still fewer apparently think it deserves any attention at all. The term fratire, derived from "fraternity satire," was coined by New York Times book reviewer Warren St. John after his editor informed him that calling the as-yet unlabeled literary genre "dick lit" was not fit to print. St. John was working at the time on a piece that surveyed the landscape of male-audience relationship fiction. That literary vista seemed unaccountably barren in comparison with the highly populated shelves of the female-audience counterpart, chick lit.
Too bad for the sake of the publishing industry that this anonymous editor made that call. When you have to explain what's behind a brand name, it's not a brand at all. Fratire was a murky concept, and a too-narrow focus. Dick lit, on the other hand, might have gained some traction in popular culture, while also having legitimate roots in Freudian theory (phallic narcissism). And it would have a time-honored literary tradition, albeit with a new label. To explore phallic narcissism, read just about any book by Philip Roth. In this genre, Portnoy's Complaint is a, uh, seminal work.
By the way, it's no use discussing the lame terms guy lit and lad lit. No one knows what they mean. And geek lit is a much larger tent - basically populated with anyone who'd go willingly to Comic-Con.
The poster-boy author for the emergent fratire genre was Tucker Max, whose collection of short stories, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, took his college-age readership by storm. The success of the book inspired a movie, which proved to have exactly zero appeal with general audiences. About the same time, Chuck Palahniuk's Choke was also rendered on film, and it, too, disappeared from theaters quickly. The wizards of Hollywood probably rightly concluded that fratire, or anything like it, would never grow legs. A few years before, Palahniuk's Fight Club had proved a remarkable exception. But that story was not so much about relationships as about the more traditional movie fare of watching reckless, desperate men duking it out. Oddly enough for the purpose of defining literary genres, Fight Club was also something of an exception to Palahniuk's recurring themes in his other books, which have more to do with the puzzles of heterosexual relationships. But that movie, more than any of his books, established his cult popularity. An image of him on his website shows him with a black eye and a bandage over the bridge of his nose, an obvious reference to the enduring popularity of his more belligerent material. And he's announced he'll do a Fight Club sequel.
Two recent articles report the retreat of Tucker Max from the literary stage, along with the predictable pronouncements of the demise of fratire: New York magazine announced "Notorious Frat Douche Tucker Max Is an Angel Investor Now," and ezine Jezebel continues the thread with "Tucker Max Is Now an Investor, Doesn't Care for Hookup Apps."
In my view, there was never anything all that interesting about fratire. I once called it "puke-on-your-shoes journalism." And when Max's stories weren't literally studying his vomit after binge drinking, they were about planning or attempting or succeeding at date rape - or passing out beforehand.
The theme of Max's stories, as well as the popular reception he received on campus-tour interviews, seemed to be that women just want to be dominated. His message to young men seemed to be, "Man up and get it done." And to women, "Cut the crap and admit you're all sluts at heart."
And it won't come as any surprise that this approach was deliberately and calculatingly offensive. After all, it takes a lot to shock audiences these days, and Max pulled it off, for awhile.
On the chick lit side of the ledger, the long-playing popularity of Bridget Jones's Diary, Sex and the City, and The Devil Wears Prada - all of which have been made into wildly successful movies - would seem to indicate that women, unlike men, are eager to analyze their relationship troubles. However, notably absent from the conversation is how sexist the chick-lit genre is. Helen Fielding has admitted that she modeled Bridget Jones's Diary on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The engine of that early 19th century plot is that an educated and refined - but disenfranchised - woman had only one hope of social success - to marry a wealthy nobleman. In Sex and the City, that engine is still purring right along. Carrie Bradshaw thinks she's liberated and self-actualizing. She's a self-supporting journalist and book author, after all. But the engine of her story is all about deciding on a role model for herself. She has three close female friends - each of which has coped with the plight of being single and female in a different way. One is a traditionalist, one a single-mom professional, and one a libertine. Carrie ends up landing and marrying Big, a macho wizard of Wall Street who can give her the social standing she craves. It seems that, despite the measure of success she has enjoyed on her own, she knows she will never go zinging about the globe on private jets and be invited to palatial estates unless she welds herself to such a benefactor.
Even more appalling in terms of its sexism and blatant misogyny is Fifty Shades of Grey. This story  retools The Story of O, a cult novel of the 1950s, which was itself a thinly disguised retelling of the exploits of the Marquis de Sade, whose name inspired the term sadism.
And what's the theme of Fifty Shades of Grey? Women just want to be dominated.
Perhaps it's that women at times like to fantasize about being dominated, about how their lives might be different if they'd found Mr. Big, or about what it might be like to have a new luxury of choice in life direction and relationships.
And perhaps also these urges are no more grounded in reality than my wanting to confront the guy next door and pound his face in. (Which I don't, Rock. Honest!)
I coined the term boychik lit to describe a male-oriented genre that, like chick lit, puzzles about relationships, but from the first-person point of view of a young man. I invented a main character, Rollo Hemphill, a geek who fails continually upward. He is puzzled not only by his success but also by how little that success has to do with the happiness of his relationships.
It may be that boychik lit is as unfortunate a choice of labels as fratire was. Some portion of my audience, not so used to Yiddishisms, might think a boychik is some kind of cross-dresser or transvestite. I really have nothing to say to them. I bet they don't read much.
Again, a brand name that has to be explained is probably no brand at all.
But I did make the effort. And I think an ongoing discussion about what type of satirical fiction might appeal to men should survive the justifiable demise of fratire.
Let's face it, young women - generally, but not always - seek relationships, and young men seek sex partners. So boychik lit is about a young man on the make. But in its audience are also mature men who want to remember what it was like to be in the marketplace, as well as women of any age who can't help being amused by how foolish all men are.
RIP, you authors of fratire. But I fear that, like the newly popular characters of zombie-lit, you won't stay buried. ~ ~ ~

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In which I prove I am not a minion of Satan

Image credit: Jeremiah Lambert
 Okay, that's a pretty heavy opener, I admit. I should start by explaining that I am not a fire-breathing practitioner of any particular philosophy. I don't have an agenda other than to perhaps make you curious enough to read the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.
But I have some objective proof, I think, that I'm not working for the Dark Side.
There are two - precisely two - times in my adult life when I have been violently ill from drinking alcohol. I don't mean upset or hung over. I'm talking protracted retching. Sorry for the image, but read on, it's a fact in evidence. And I don't mean my initiations to drinking - yes, I was a frat guy back in the day and found out rapidly and in the presence of an embarrassed date that you don't consume a mixture of types of alcohol at the same party.
No, the times I was very sick had to do with one specific type of drink, and I was no longer a youngster. When I worked in Detroit, I had a boss, a "silver-tongued devil," and one of my responsibilities as VP to his CEO was to buy him lunch almost daily. And we had drinks before lunch, wine with lunch, and postprandial brandies. We even got in trouble once with the bartender for pouring cognac in a spoon with a sugar cube, lighting it, and promptly dunking the flaming thing in our creamed coffees. (It's called a Cafe Royale, and totally against the fire code in any restaurant or public place.)
I know this story is rambling, but I'm getting there. Mr. Silver's favorite drink was a Perfect Manhattan. I think he liked ordering it so he could ask for a Perfect Man, which is indeed what he imagined he was. A shot of bourbon, a splash of sweet vermouth, and splash of dry vermouth, and a twist of lemon - on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass. Now, if you're feeling adventurous, skip the lemon peel and plop in one or two anchovy olives. Sweet and sour!
Okay, this is a drink to pop the lid off your brain.
Both times I was violently sick it was from sucking down the Perfect Man. But not every time.
I have since figured it out.
Some vermouths, not all, contain the plant extract wormwood. Those brands are, I understand, European.
Wormwood is toxic to the righteous. Look it up.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows

Fascinating, well-researched, masterfully crafted Shakespeare pseudo-history. Silly, overly complicated, implausible, downright infuriating potboiler whodunnit plot - but there's a method to this madness.
Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows bears a lot of similarities to Dan Brown's literate mysteries. It's a rare-book scandal unraveled by following a skein of coded messages. In this case, the messages are 17th-century cryptography. The author seems to have a firm grasp on this arcane stuff, but I can't tell. He explains the techniques in detail, but I can't follow them. Then, I was one of those lazy students who skipped calculus because I had heard that it was hard. My loss, I'm sure.
The Shakespeare invented history is amazing and jaw-dropping. If you haven't read Bill Bryson's Shakespeare you might bring that along. Gruber even invents old documents written in Elizabethan argot. Like the cryptography material, these seem authentic, but I couldn't tell you.
Then there's the mystery plot. He gives us two protagonists - intellectual property lawyer Jake Mishkin and film freak Albert Crosetti, each of whom lusts after finding a long-lost, heretofore forgotten play of the Bard's - The Tragedy of Mary Queen of the Scots. This material would have been too hot politically for Shakespeare's time, which Gruber provides as both the reason it was written and the reason it had to be hidden. He does provide a synopsis, and of all the invented stuff in this book, this play is the most intriguing. It would have been one of the greatest dramatic pieces ever written, right up there with Macbeth.
This convoluted plot may cause you to pull out what's left of your hair. But just when you think it's insulted your intelligence one time too many, Gruber begins to hint at what he's doing. Miskin and Crosetti have a series of heated discussions about whether art imitates life or the other way around. Crosetti insists that movies, being our collective subconscious, provide models for all our social interactions. As it turns out, Gruber's plot is so unsatisfying because it both apes and defies movie formulas. The good guys do some awful things, make all the wrong decisions, and are not particularly admirable except in retrospect and apology. And the bad guys make Tarantino's stupid killers look smart.
So - I'll just say that the mystery plot is so badly crafted - and I believe deliberately so - that it more than proves its point.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: Dan Brown's Inferno

I studied Dante's Inferno when I was in high school, and then in college I wrote a paper on the astronomical references in it, which are extensive and show the poet's depth of knowledge about the subject.
Dan Brown's novel is likewise a descent into a modern hell, using Dante's work as the central metaphor. Professor of semiotics Robert Langdon is back following a coded trail left by a brilliant sociopath whose ego is so huge he craves detection. The plot is formulaic, but masterfully so as are all of Brown's books. My main complaint is that the chase involves ducking into ancient cubby holes, trap doors, secret passages, and such. The narrative details of entrapment and escape provide the engine of suspense. Yawn. Thankfully, there is not much in the way of gun play or car wrecks, although there are just enough to give the adapting screenwriter an excuse for the usual pyrotechnics.Yawn again.
Following an intricate series of coded messages is the staple Brown plot device. You have to suspend your skepticism that a bad guy would go to lengths to create such an elaborate crumb trail. But it is fascinating, and of course it's well researched within the context of the Divine Comedy. The historical background also provides the excuse to run through picturesque locales and their ancient structures, namely the famous buildings of Florence, Venice, and Istanbul. It's a delightful travelogue, and you get a much richer history than any tour guide could provide.
The core theme of Brown's Inferno has to do with the hazards of world overpopulation. This is a serious and sobering subject, and an immensely important one. Ask yourself why it's not being debated on the floor of Congress and you will once again realize how inadequate our political system is at dealing with real problems. I won't spoil this topic for you, but hold the thought that an urban legend (and conspiracy theory) is that consumption of GMO grains causes infertility.