Sunday, March 30, 2008

Remember When the Words Were New?

By Kevin Guilfoile

There are far too many words written about sports, and I'm partially to blame.

I come from a baseball family. My dad was a Major League Baseball executive for forty years. I spent five years in the sports information department at the University of Notre Dame and parts of three seasons with the media relations departments of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros, dedicating each working day to convincing journalists that they should write even more words about sports than they do. And I loved my job. I loved going to the ballpark every day. I loved sitting in the press box. I loved being part of a team, and not in the artificial, corporate Tiger Team sense. I loved that at the end of every day (or lots of days anyway) we won or we lost. I loved the highs and the lows.

But as much as I love sports, I don't listen much to sports radio or watch the highlight shows and I generally don't write much about sports myself because the beauty of athletic competition is that it doesn't need any context. Every game is a perfect little live drama that sets the stage for the next game all by itself. Last night tiny Davidson College with all of 1,700 students, was down by two and had the ball with 15 seconds left, time for one shot to send the number-one seeded Kansas Jayhawks home from the NCAA tournament. One shot that could put the Davidson Wildcats--Davidson!--into the Final Four with Memphis, North Carolina, and UCLA.

William Faulkner couldn't improve upon that drama with words, but this morning there will be literally millions of them spent describing the Jayhawks' escape, in newspapers and SportsCenters and on talk radio. Maybe more words than were written and spoken about V-E Day on May 8, 1945.

Today is the opening day of baseball season. More words are probably written about baseball than all other American sports combined. And possibly the most discussed baseball event took place sixty-one years ago, when Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.

Of all the events in sports history, though, that might be one about which not enough has been said.

The day Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers it was for millions of Americans, millions of white, ethnic Americans, millions of Italian and Irish and German Americans--my Bay Ridge grandparents among them--the first time that they needed a black man. The first time they shared a common purpose with a black man. The first time they cheered a black man.

When Dodgers President and GM Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson, he was asking him to shoulder more burden than any man should have to accept. Rickey asked him to absorb both the high expectations and skepticism of Dodgers fans as well as the outright hostility of everyone else. But Jackie Robinson is not a hero because of what he was asked to do. Jackie Robinson is a hero because of what he did next. He delivered. Under the most difficult circumstances, Jackie Robinson helped lead the Dodgers to a World Series, and handled the insults and epithets and even death threats with public grace.

Last year Chicago writer Jonathan Eig wrote one of the finest accounts of that season in his bestselling book Opening Day, which is out in paperback tomorrow.

Even if you're not a baseball fan, it's a milestone worth contemplating during a year in which we might be electing an African-American President of the United States. It seems like such a trivial thing, but if Jackie Robinson hadn't been a great baseball player, if he had turned out to be an average baseball player or even a merely good one, the trajectory of the civil rights movement between then and now might have been radically changed.

Now that's something worth talking about.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Victimless Crime

by Sara Paretsky

In the March 24 New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg riffs on Eliot Spitzer and American Puritans, and includes a long solo from our own Martha Nussbaum on how stupid we are to be so obsessed about sexual peccadilloes, which don't belong in political discourse. After all, as Alan Dershowitz, among many others, explains, prostitution is a victimless crime. Maybe Eliot's in trouble at home, but he shouldn't be in the State House, not for having sex with another consenting adult.

The most reliable studies on women who are prostitutes show that 85 percent remember a history of childhood sexual abuse. They learned from the earliest time in their lives that they didn't have rights, that they existed to be used and abused.

Eliot Spitzer is almost 50; his "consenting" partner was under twenty. Not that there's anything wrong with that, no, because it's a victimless crime.

It's been just about a year since the Supremes ruled that the so-called "Partial-birth" abortion ban was legal. The law includes a clause which makes a doctor performing such an abortion liable for monetary damanges for psychological injury to the woman’s husband and parents. So the law is a model of pre-1960 law, which holds that a woman is the property, either of her parents or of her husband. They own her; that's why they can sue for alleged damage to their property. The law also explicitly omits any exception if a woman's life or health are at stake: fetal life trumps female life as the law of the land.

Yup. No victims here, just pieces of property to be used at the owners' discretion.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Week Without a Computer

by Barbara D'Amato

I know not to open an attachment that comes from an unknown source. This one came in with the name of a person I knew slightly and told me they had a book display idea they wanted in to discuss. The minute I saw there was no content in the attachment, I deleted it. I then Googled the name of the “company” they said they were establishing and – what a surprise – it didn’t exist.

For a while I hoped this was not a disaster, but I backed up the book I was working on. I backed up most of my address list. I emailed the book to two people.

Long story short—first the computer slowed waaaaaaay down, and then odd ads began taking over, blanking out files I was worinkg on. Access to the stick drive was denied.

I won’t draw out the agony here. My guru arrived, said this was a very bad virus, and by the way, I had a lot of spyware, too. He tried to get rid of the virus and couldn’t. Went back to his office to research it. Called and said it was worse than he thought. He was going to send his assistant for the hard drive. Called back. Said he was going to send his assistant for the whole computer, and by the way, he hoped all the data wasn’t corrupted.

Gee, I hoped so, too.

I tried to do other work—the fun closet clean-out, the exciting find-the-crud-in-the-back of-the-refrigerator mystery. Nothing was good enough. The third time I went to the keyboard and started to type, and realized I was typing to nowhere, I remembered a cartoon from many years ago. I think it was by Gahan Wilson, but my Wilson specialist doubts it. Armageddon apparently has happened, since the background is smoking rubble. Two survivors stand in a cave, in front of a television with a cracked screen, bent rabbit ears , and of course, no electricity. One of them says, “All we can do it keep making sacrifices to it and maybe it’s magical powers will return.”

Surely I had enough emotional strength to get through a few days without the computer. But what if someone emailed me? What about my agent? What about work on the book? What about the online crosswords? What about the blog?!

I wanted Google. I wanted Wikipedia. I wanted Yahoo.

I left for Michigan to dye Easter eggs with the grandchildren. That would help for a couple of days. But in fact, I was twitchy without my monitor aglow. Is this addiction? What have we come to? Could you spend a week without your computer?

The happy ending, seven devilled eggs and three egg-salad sandwiches later -- Mr. Dell is well and coming home today. They were able to save him with no data corrupted. Life is good.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A More Perfect Union

by Marcus Sakey

As I made clear here not long ago, I'm an Obama supporter.

There are a lot of reasons for that. I'm behind his policy, which is at once powered by hope and tempered by pragmatism. I'm floored by his lifelong dedication to making the world better. I'm delighted to have a politician inspire me, to bring some passion and energy to what has become an increasingly jaded field.

But I think the thing gets me most fired up is his ability to address complicated issues with intelligence and clarity, while refusing to oversimplify them. In a world of soundbites, Obama has managed to avoid six-word answers to serious issues--and yet he has dodged the trap many a Democrat has fallen into (John Kerry, for example), of getting so lost in his own rhetoric that he misplaces his message.

For my money, two of the president's most important duties are these: first, he or she needs to inspire, lead, and empower the thousands of very smart people who work for them. And second, he or she needs to be able to communicate effectively with the American public and the world at large.

Obama excels at both of these roles, and he does it in the face of challenging, multi-layered issues. A prime example was the speech he gave last week entitled "A More Perfect Union." The full text is available here; or you can click below to watch the video:

What a piece of rhetoric! Erudite, reasoned, impassioned, and unafraid. It blew my hair back. I loved his head-on acknowledgment that we have racial problems in this country. I loved that he acknowledged the validity of those concerns, the very real basis of them. And I loved that he did that without finger-pointing, but rather with a call to action. This speech reconfirmed my belief that for once we're looking at a politician whose primary goal is to make the country better. Period.

But that's just me. What did you think of the speech? Did it get you on your feet, or did it leave you cold? I'd really like to know.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Strand Mag Nom for Marcus

The Strand Magazine has announced its Critics Award nominations. In Best First, The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey.

Way to go!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bad News

by Michael Dymmoch
Friday, March 21, 2008

A week ago, members of The Outfit participated in Mayor Daley’s program to announce the latest One Book One Chicago selection. Library Board members were present; three of us from the outfit; the Budlong Woods Branch manager and his staff; as well as cameras from all the local commercial media—2, 5, 7, 9 and Fox.

The Mayor spoke briefly and from the heart about the importance of reading and of libraries before announcing The Book--Raymond’s Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Sean Chercover then gave a brief explanation of why Chandler’s novel was a brilliant choice, combining literary skill with (still!) relevant social issues. (Reprinted in its entirety in Libby’s Blog for March 15, 2008) The program lasted about half an hour and was followed by a brief photo session.

In spite of the importance of literacy to solving our national and local issues, the media devoted more time hourly to advertising its upcoming coverage of the Obama-Rezco connection (pretty much a made up story, since—apparently—no laws were broken) than it did all night to the city’s brilliant initiative.

Channel 7 spent 20 seconds on One Book One Chicago during the 6 o’clock news; Channel 5, 15 seconds on the 10 o’clock news. If the other stations mentioned the announcement at all, I missed it.

All of which seems emblematic of the irrelevance of commercial “news” media—shills for the crap hucksters are pushing disguised as information.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thriller Award Nom for Sean!!

The Outfit's own Sean Chercover is cleaning up this year, having won a Lovey and clinched nominations for both the Gumshoe and now the Thriller Award:


No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay (Bantam)
The Watchman by Robert Crais (Simon & Schuster)
The Ghost by Robert Harris (Simon & Schuster)
The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz (Viking)
Trouble by Jesse Kellerman (Putnam)


Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell (Dutton)
Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover (William Morrow)
From the Depths by Gerry Doyle (McBook Press)
Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi (Henry Holt and Co.)
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (William Morrow)


The Last Nightingale by Anthony Flacco (Ballantine)
A Thousand Bones by P.J. Parrish (Pocket)
The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli (Bantam)
The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon (Pocket)
Shattered by Jay Bonansinga (Pinnacle)

Congrats to all the nominees, but especially our boy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sex for Beginners

by Marcus Sakey

First off, I'd like to thank Sean for covering for me last week, and also for the both the character assassination and an image I can't get out of my head. When he described dancing ideas, I think he had in mind some sort of Dance of the Seven Veils thing, but what I'm seeing is the dancing popcorn and soda singing, "Let's go out to the movies!"

Which tells you a little about my brainstorming process. Apparently my imagination would rather catch a matinée.

Anyway, onto the real stuff. Recently, I had two separate people whose opinion I respect recommend the same book. When that happens I get me to a bookstore. The novel is called THE BOOK THIEF, and it's classified as young adult, although having since read it--it's wonderful, pick up a copy--I'm not sure why. Yes, the language was simple and approachable, but shelving it as YA is like shelving Vonnegut as YA. Accessibility shouldn't be the only criteria.

The reason I bring it up, though, is that this marked my first visit to the YA section of a bookstore in recent years. Things have changed since I was shopping there:

Gulp. When I was a young adult reader, I had to settle for looking up the word "vagina" in the encyclopedia. Lucky kids today.

Besides the sexual intimations, everything was so slick, so tightly packaged. There used to be authors--now there are brands. Whole shelves devoted to series playing at Sex & The City for teenagers.

Does this seem odd to anybody else?

I'm not laying a the-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket trip on you. I think today's kids are smarter than my generation, and while yeah, their attention span may be shorter, that's because they can process more information than I could, and process it faster from multiple sources at once. (Total aside--my brother wrote a great piece on this last week, well worth checking out.)

Still, I find the whole thing odd. And it got odder when I came on a Newsweek article on a recent study of three major series, "Gossip Girl," "A-List," and "Clique," which posits, among other things, that:
  • Brand names (Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs, Chanel) appear an average of once a page
  • There were 65 references to brand-name alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription drugs
  • Brand names were used to define character--each of the 22 references to Keds were used to label the girl wearing them a loser
It's hard not to see this as at least a little creepy, if not downright insidious.

But what do I know? I don't have kids. What do you all think? Is this a bad thing? And what does it mean not only for today, but for the future? What will those kids be expecting in literature--and life--when they get older?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chandler, "One Book, One Chicago" and The Outfit

by Libby Hellmann

Last Friday Mayor Daley held a press conference to announce the Chicago Public Library’s spring selection for the One Book,One Chicago program. For the first time since the program’s inception the choice was a crime fiction novel: Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE. Combined with the National Endowment of the Arts selection of THE MALTESE FALCON as their "book to read", this is a very good year for crime fiction, no?

The Outfit will take part in the THE LONG GOODBYE program by blogging about the book and Chandler for two weeks starting Monday, April 14. In addition to the seven of us, some "friends of the Outfit" will be joining us. We’re pretty excited, and we hope you’ll want to be part of the discussion too.

For now – although we’re not officially starting yet – I wanted to share with you the eloquent comments Sean Chercover made at the press conference. BTw, Sean wanted me to make sure I mentioned that Marcus and Sara contributed to the speech as well.

On behalf of my fellow members of the Outfit Collection: Libby Fischer Hellmann, Sara Paretsky, Barbara D’Amato, Michael Allen Dymmoch, Kevin Guilfoile, and Marcus Sakey, I’d like to thank Mayor Daley, Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, the Chicago Public Library Foundation for their strong support of the One Book, One Chicago program. And to the dedicated librarians across Chicago who works so hard to make it a reality. We are truly in your debt.

We came together as The Outfit Collective, in part, to raise awareness about Chicago’s growing reputation as a hotbed for contemporary crime fiction. So we were thrilled to learn that, for the first time, a classic crime novel has been chosen as the featured book.

I think the entire city is in for a treat.

It is often said that crime fiction has taken up the mantle once held by the Victorian Social Novel, and later the American Industrial Novel. That crime fiction offers the best opportunity for writers and readers to examine the society in which we live… to address its ills and take note of its blessings.

Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE was one of the first detective novels to embrace that lofty goal. Here we find the place where genre fiction and literary fiction meet. The crossroads.

Chandler owned Los Angeles like Nelson Algren owned Chicago. Long-time readers of Algren will find much to love the THE LONG GOODBYE. It is Chandler’s most ambitious, most political novel, and it has inspired generations of crime writers to boldly take on the bigger issues.

Ross MacDonald said that Chandler “wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.” And it’s true. Chandler’s stories resonate with a gritty kind of romanticism. And he did write like an angel. He told stories that make you think, and used language that makes you feel.

What sets this book apart, what makes it important, are the difficult truths it tells us about the world. The world then and the world now.

Chandler is at his best when he’s talking about social issues, taking on politics, society, religion, commercialism. Hypocrisy and corruption were Chandler’s favorite targets and he went after them relentlessly, no matter where he found them.

Chandler was a firebrand and his words still burn.

On America’s increased commercialism, he writes, “We make the finest packages in the world… the stuff inside is mostly junk.” He calls a situation “as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency.” He writes, “There ain’t no clean way to make a hundred million bucks.:

The issues he raises, and the anger behind them, are as relevant today as they were then. Maybe more so.

Chandler came from the hard-boiled school and wrote hard-boiled stories, but he never succumbed to nihilism. He believed in things like justice and honor and loyalty. Above all, loyalty. And although those vales did not always triumph in his stories, he believed they were values worth fighting for.

In private eye Philip Marlowe, Chandler gave us a modern and complex her. A man not always heroic by society’s standards, and who sometimes fails even by his own standards. Marlowe sees what’s wrong in our world, and he forces himself – and us – to look at it squarely, even when he can’t change it. Marlowe pays a high price for this knowledge, but Chandler insists that the cost of willful blindness would be ever higher still.

Putting all the highfallutin’ stuff aside, THE LONG GOODBYE is a hell of a great read. It’s an enormous amount of fun, filled with twists and tension and action that will keep you up way past bedtime.

Over the coming months, members of the Outfit Collective will be participating in the One Book One Chicago program. We’ll be blogging, conducting workshops, and appearing at libraries across the Chicago area. We hope to share some of our passion for the work of Raymond Chandler.

So dive in, Chicago, and enjoy the ride.

Stay tuned... we'll have more in a few weeks. And Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

Friday, March 14, 2008

So You Want To Be Rapture Ready By The Time You Hit Calumet City?

By Kevin Guilfoile

"What do you want me to do, hire my enemies?"

That's a probably apocryphal quote that's been attributed over the years to just about every machine politician in American history, from Boss Tweed to Richard J Daley. But we're in the middle of an election cycle without end and I happen to have three friends with books coming out, really, really good books, each very different from the others, and you probably haven't heard of any of them yet.

I didn't know Charlie Newton eight months ago when I was sent an advance copy of his debut novel, CALUMET CITY. The publisher was hoping I would give it a blurb. I read it and I loved it, although my blurb turned out to be unnecessary after Lee Child called it "The best cop noir in years" and Booklist gave it a starred review. But I started emailing Charlie, a Chicago native who now lives in South Africa and we finally met when he was recently stateside, so I will disclaim my friendship with him when I tell you it's a book you have to read. And not just because of the fantastic hook.

The protagonist of CALUMET CITY is Patti Black, a south side symbol of community policing and the "most decorated cop in Chicago." I was maybe a quarter through the book and already in love with the character of Patti when something triggered a memory in my brain and I googled that name. Immediately I came across a ten-year old article in the American Prospect, written by another friend of mine Jonathan Eig. Jon's article was about the real Patti Black, a southside symbol of community policing and the most decorated cop in Chicago.

Charlie Newton has made up a painful backstory for character Patti, but the hours and hours he spent on the real streets with the real Patti are vivid on the page, and his pitch-perfect noir voice feel's absolutely authentic. The novel is shocking and violent and fast-paced and difficult to put down the same way a rattlesnake is once you have his head pinched.

(By the way, Charlie is going to be a guest on Rick Kogan's terrific radio show, The Sunday Papers, this Sunday morning (March 16) between 6:30 and 7 AM on WGN 720 AM. If you don't live within a few hundred miles of Chicago, you can listen on the internet.)

Daniel Radosh was my editor back when I was a contributor to the web site Modern Humorist. Daniel is a former writer for Spy Magazine, a contributing editor for The Week, and a popular blogger, perhaps best known for his hilarious and weekly New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption contest. Daniel's new book is called RAPTURE READY: ADVENTURES IN THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE OF CHRISTIAN POP CULTURE. It's a fascinating and extremely funny first-person exploration of the mostly separate but multi-billion dollar subculture of evangelical pop-culture that occasionally crosses over into the mainstream in the form of Left Behind books and Sixpence None the Richer albums. But Daniel takes you much further, into the world of Christian raves and theme parks and stand-up comedy and sex therapists and pro wrestling and BibleZines and superheroes and traveling skateboard exhibitions and television prank shows (did you see the episode of Prank 3:16 when the teenage girl thinks she's been "left behind" after the gang fakes the rapture?). That last one might sound snarky when I say it, but Daniel covers all this territory with great humor and also respect.

Eight years ago, John Warner and I were hired to write a quickie humor book about then president elect George W. Bush. We knocked the thing out in 19 days and only a few months later, MY FIRST PRESIDENTIARY went to #1 on the Washington Post bestseller list. A dime will probably buy you ten copies of that book now, but John is out this week with another entry into presidential campaign politics--SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT? Like everything John writes it is smart and funny and relevant and you should buy two because it makes a great gift.

MEDIA ALERT: For all those who have followed the David Cornbleet murder case here, this Sunday night, the entire hour of Dateline NBC will be devoted to Dr. Cornbleet's killing. It will include interviews with both Jon Cornbleet, the victim's son, and Dr. Tom Peterson, the father of accused killer Hans Peterson.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gumshoe for SEAN!

Sean Chercover's debut novel, BIG CITY BAD BLOOD, has been nominated for a Gumshoe award for Best First. Congrats, Sean!! Let's celebrate!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

And then he put a gun into my mouth and I

My new novel, Bleeding Kansas, purports to be set in the part of Kansas where I grew up. I've provided photographs of"my childhood home"and of me with my "brothers." The truth is, I was raised by space aliens, who assumed human form only during the day; at night they committed such bizarre and unusual acts that even fiction, let alone the memoir could not do them justice. I thought it would be more credible to create a middle-America background.

The fake memoir is not new, but it is a compelling part of the contemporary cultural landscape. The most recent to be unmasked: Margaret Jones, who traded her affluent LA upbringing in for a childhood spent among the gangs in South Central LA (Love and Consequences, Riverhead). Kakutani herself reviewed it glowingly in the Times two weeks ago, although she said "...some of the scenes she has recreated from her youth (which are told in colorful, streetwise argot) can feel self-consciously novelistic at times." Turns out, because they were a novel. (the review was so glowing that Jones's real-life sister outed her. Talk about sibling rivalry. Fortunately my birth family are still on the planet Zorg, no danger there.)

And then there's the Belgian, Misha Defonseca, whose harrowing memoir of the Shoah includes being raised by wolves in the French forest--translated into 18 languages, made into a French film.

James Frey seems pretty benign compared to Defonseca's abrogation of one of the most dehumanizing, suffocating episodes in human history.

I used to think writing was the process of turning emotional experience into stories so that you could make sense of it, and perhaps help others to make sense of their own lives. But it almost seems as though we are so remote now from real experience that we prefer the ersatz, we need it to be shocking--let there be lots of rape, crack, prison guards, let's get down into it with both hands and cover ourselves in it. And then walk away to the next faux thrill. I'm not putting this very well; it isn't quite clear to me. But what happened to traveling much in Concord?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fear and Loathing at the Keyboard

By Barbara D'Amato

The story goes like this:

Your first book comes out. The critics say, “Not bad, but shows some of the problems of the beginner.”

Your second book comes out and the critics say, “Not up to his usual standard.”

Is it any wonder writers have deep doubts as they write? One of my first books was set in a retirement community in New Mexico. One critic said, “She certainly knows New Mexico, but the plot line was weak.” Another said, “Great puzzle plot, but she is not familiar with New Mexico.” Most of us have had this kind of thing happen, haven’t we?

Everybody is entitled to criticize you. It’s like standing naked at the corner of Adams and State Street and letting people jeer. Except it lasts longer. And—cliché alert—the worst critic is yourself.

I start with some glowing, golden idea of what the new novel is going to be—fast-paced but rich [maybe not possible to be both], characters so rounded they practically jump off the page and hit me, deep social consciousness but a light touch of wit. Well, it never comes out quite like that.

In twenty years I’ve met only one author who liked her books when she was in the middle of writing them. She was Mary Shura Craig, who wrote children’s’ books under the name Mary Francis Shura, espionage under the name M. S. Craig, and mysteries under the name Mary Craig. I would meet her at an MWA dinner and she would say, “I’m about halfway through with the most wonderful story.” I would just stare at her in amazement. When mine are half done they are recalcitrant, sagging, stupid, and will never come to an end. I’m pushing a chain uphill. And why did I think this was a good idea for a book, anyway?

Probably one of the best moments in life is the Aha! When you get the idea that will not only solve a plot problem but be a vivid, effective scene. But the worst is to be stuck. The more you reread the thing, the less fresh it seems.

And there are all those critics out there waiting to attack you.

This is some scary job.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Seduction of Ideas (or, Marcus is drunk) . . .

by Sean Chercover

Okay, so it’s Friday. Marcus can’t blog today, because Marcus is drunk in a bar somewhere in Denver.

He asked me to fill-in. At least I think that’s what he said. Hard to be sure.

You know, I just posted a thing on Wednesday. Really, you people who have solo blogs and post new stuff every day? I don’t know how you do it. Anyway. Where was I? Oh yeah, Wednesday. I posted on Wednesday, about Sam Zell and Wrigley Field. Remember? I do. Like it was just a couple of days ago. That was a fun post. Oh, what a time we had.

Yeah . . . good times . . .

So now I have to blog again . . . about . . . something.

Dum-da-dum-da-dum. Dum-dee-dum-dee-dum.

A-hah! I’ve got it!

Let’s talk about . . .

No, wait. It’s gone.


Don’t you hate that? The way ideas dance around the edges of your conscious mind. Teasing you. Taunting you. Dancing. Oh yes, they dance all right. Sometimes they dance with seven veils. Sometimes they dance naked. And sometimes they sing while dancing.

“La-la-la, I’m a great idea, look how pretty I am dancing around in all my nakedness, I know you want me, la-la-la.”

I may be paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of what they sing.

And then you reach out for them. And, poof! Gone. Maybe because you reached too fast. You were grabby, and grabby never gets.

Norman Mailer wrote a book on writing called The Spooky Art. I haven’t actually read the book. But I’ve read the title. That’s gotta count for something, right? Marcus has read the title too, and he might be posting about it right now, were he not drunk in a bar somewhere in Denver.

The Spooky Art. Writing does feel that way sometimes. And writers do a lot of crap in an attempt to seduce those ideas, to keep them from going, poof!

Meditation, long walks, hot showers, listening to music and/or dancing around the room in your underwear, exercise, masturbation, wearing your lucky writing hat, yoga, substance abuse . . .

What works for you?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sam Zell - Evil Genius?

by Sean Chercover

If you live in Chicago or are a Cubs fan or pay any attention to MLB, you know by now that Sam Zell (new owner of the Tribune Company and all of its assets, including the Cubs and Wrigley Field) has been making noises about selling the naming rights to Wrigley Field.

For baseball fans, it’s like selling the naming rights to Mecca.

Zell dropped this bomb during an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. He said (among many other things), “…when I bought the Tribune, I didn't get a discount because I wasn't going to use the naming rights that field represents . . . Perhaps the Wrigley Co. will decide that, after getting it for free for so long, that it's time to pay for it.”

When reminded that many loyal fans have strong opinions about renaming Wrigley, Zell said, “Excuse me for being sarcastic, but the idea of a debate occurring over what I should do with my asset leaves me somewhat questioning the integrity of the debate.”

Predictably, everyone flew into a tizzy. Chicago newspaper columnists expressed their displeasure, and the Sun-Times organized an email campaign for fans to vent.

Even Zell's own assets - The Tribune and WGN TV (see inset video in the Trib story) - covered the controversy.

All the way over in Connecticut, ESPN weighed-in with appropriate outrage and indignation.

And in California, Jim Rome (who is never found wanting for an opinion on anything) got in on the act:

But Sam Zell is no dummy. He knew exactly what the reaction would be, and if you watch the Squawk Box interview, it’s hard not to conclude that this is exactly the reaction he was trying to get.


Because Zell’s plan is to sell the team and the ballpark separately. He knows that Wrigley Field is in desperate need of substantial restoration and renovation in order to remain a viable (or even structurally sound) ballpark. And that will cost a lot of money.

Not coincidentally, The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority had just announced that it is set to make an offer on the property in the next couple of weeks. As they did with U.S. Cellular Field (formerly the new Comiskey Park), the state plans to buy Wrigley and lease it to whomever buys the team. Fair enough.

But former governor James Thompson, chairman of the Sports Authority, estimates that it will cost $400 million to get the place into shape, and that money has to come from somewhere. He promises that it won't come from new taxes.

And here’s where Zell is a genius. Zell says he might sell naming rights outright. Fans envision Wrigley Field becoming Viagra Park, and they pitch a fit. Then Thompson steps in and says that the ISFA would never do that. He says that Wrigley Field will always be Wrigley Field. But, he adds, the restoration and renovation must be paid for, so they might sell limited naming rights.

Says Thompson, "It will be Wrigley Field at XYZ Plaza or something like that..."

So Zell plays bad cop and Thompson gets to play not-as-bad cop. And relieved fans say, “well, that’s not as bad. I guess we can live with that."

By causing all this ruckus, Sam Zell has greased the skids, making a quick sale to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority more likely.

Which may or may not be evil, but is definitely genius.

Monday, March 03, 2008

I confess. I'm a pusher.

by Michael Dymmoch

To get people hooked I often give away free samples. And like giant pharma, I try to advertise my wares. I push other people’s stuff, too—things I find particularly addictive. I don’t draw the line at kids.

In fact, I like to get them hooked early. With Goodnight Moon, and Pat the Bunny and Mother Goose for toddlers, then Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. For the older kiddies The Little Prince and Harry Potter and The Alchemist.

Teens are suckers for Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye and Rumblefish. And His Dark Materials, for the better readers. Kurt Vonnegut is particularly habit forming.

The paper drugs for grown-ups are too numerous to mention—from Andreae to Zimmerman, a drug for every taste--Conroy and Connolly and Child. Some of the old stuff is still pretty potent—like old wine—Chandler, Macdonald, and especially, Mark Twain.

It’s not just stories I’m selling. Some writers ideas are incredibly addictive—Darwin and Malcolm X, “The Machine Stops,” 1984, “Rashomon”...

I gotta say I learned my trade from the best. My mother was a pusher, a grade school librarian. She knew how to approach each kid to get him hooked—on books. She got it from her mother, who told marvelous stories right out of her head.

One of my heroes was Andrew Taft, who carried a concealed copy of the Bill of Rights and didn’t care who knew it. And Norman Senski, who said, “If you can’t say it in other words, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” And Yohma Gray, who taught me fuzzy writing is indicative of fuzzy thought.

I don’t think I’m an anomaly. I think there’re lots of us around. Because if you’re hooked, you’re probably a pusher.


Fess up.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Congratulations, Libby

For a starred review in Library Journal for Easy Innocence. Well done--great new mystery, great hero--hope everyone gets a chance to read it-- it's on sale now