Blurb, blurb, blurb…

blurb.jpgThe letter was from a big, big, big, publishing company.  Oh, boy! Addressed to me personally, sent through my agent’s offices. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy!  Immediately my mind went into ceremonial procedural mode;

You can’t just rip it open: sit down at your desk, calmly take the letter opener and slit the envelope so no evidence of child-like anticipation, like torn edges, will belie my “professionalism.”

Dear Mr. Avitabile, They spelled it right!

We know you get many requests… yeah, but not from a gigantic publisher who obviously has noticed me! …But can you blurb this book!  Ah, crap! Another request to read a book and say nice things about someone else’s work.

I quickly karmically adjust my transmission into the universe by hitting the spiritual delete button a few times. Then, I rephrase my reaction, Oh boy, a chance to pay forward what I have been so generously blessed with; a writer’s praise for inclusion on the back (or possibly, front) cover of a book. 

But this is not just any book, this is a gigantic publishing company’s book. A major publisher, you know, the one with thousands of employees who stay awake all night endeavoring to get an author’s work into the hands of every reader in America and the free-world.  And along with that book, will be my name…and my pithy, succinct and quotable, quote.  

Well, that blurb worked out well. Turned out it is a great book with a “novel” approach to voicing that could become a thing, like; Gone Girl’s, unreliable narrator was a thing for a while.  Plus, the big editor-at the big house, loved my quote. Good luck, and God bless to the author and the publisher.            But…

Many times I find myself in the unenviable position of reviewing a book that has uncorrected or unseen, earlier draft issues. Glaring malpractices, that destroy the read for me. Things like, temporal errors that drag out a beat or make no beat at all, too much filler or not enough minor, unexpected delights in the prose or style. My first reaction is, how can this book have gotten this far? Who didn’t read it but passed it on after skimming through it. Did some intern right out of lit-school recommend the submission and it just got rubber-stamped all the way to my front door mailbox? Or am I unworthy? Not able to pass judgement on a work that has obviously been worked on by professionals including agents, editors, marketing folks and the author — at least four times! Yet, my reaction is “Yeah, but this book is not-so-good.”

So as in five previous cases, I have refused to lend a blurb.  Usually in an E-mail with a simple open-ended line, “I am sorry, but I cannot recommend this book at this time.”  Three editors got curious enough to ask me what, “This time” meant. I told them it meant, “The book needed more time.” Then I added, “But what the hell do I know.”  Yet, in two of those cases they let me give my notes to the author. I am pleased to say that both authors said essentially the same thing; i.e., No one read it that closely.

But here I am talking obvious stuff.  Like time warps between POV characters or echoes of 10-dollar words whose value depreciates upon every reverberation within the manuscript. Or, sometimes it’s just too much dependency on the willing suspension of belief: like a passage where a reporter is doing a puff piece with the protagonist, while we know (and presumably the world of the book knows), that a murder of someone close to the hero has been committed and the body is lying in the morgue, yet not a question from the media. In fact, the whole interview goes hunky dory and the next chapter begins.

My cat jumps as I scream out loud, “Then why the hell have the hero interviewed? Why take us there to; no conclusion, no foreshadowing or complication…WHY?”

How could any publisher allow a neutral flat plot line between two already neutral plot lines? So that there’s three, NUTHIN’ HAPPENS, sequences in a row, when only one was needed.    — You see why I think it’s me? That I fear I don’t have the tools to do this?

By the way, that book got released with glowing, effervescent blurbs by some of the biggest authors in the publishing universe.  So, WTF do I know?

P.S. Don’t send me your book.

Snow Write and the Seven Muses

SnowpumkinYaaaaaay. Snow Day! It used to mean building forts, snowball fights and belly flopping out in the streets of the Bronx.

All that and NO SCHOOL! No math on a snow day, no history and, most especially, no composition. Composition is what they called writing in those days. In those days, I called it a name more closely associated with composting than composition. I hated it. I hated writing. I hated to be forced to take a pen to paper and form a correct sentence. Jeez!

Dread, loathing and fear crippled me every time the teacher wrote on the board, Assignment: Write a Composition on…, it didn’t matter on what subject, it was God awful to have to write anything.

Enter, “The Great Blizzard of 2016,” the name the media has given to a snow storm and scared the pants off everybody with essentially the headline: We are all going to die this weekend.

The city has shut down. The subways closed. Snowmageddon! Every event, party and casual dinner is scratched because SNOW is falling.

So given this day of inert, imposed idleness, we can all clean our closets, watch TV or read. So why am I writing? Why am I writing this? Well, you know how we authors are supposed to have muses? Mine are more like dwarfs, you know, Grumpy, Stupid, Bashful and the rest? They seem to be my muses, my motivators to write. And since running and throwing myself down on a Flexible Flyer sled has been replaced with the exhilaration of my GS that is so fast it has four speeds, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Jail! – All that’s left to do on a snow day is to write.

Today, Grumpy has the lead, the “Yaaaaay” of Snow Day is now the “Arrrrrgh” of Blizzard. I’m grumpy about how, on a day like just like this, I would be out all day, wearing snow soaked double pants, double shirts and ice-caked galoshes until my fingers and toes froze. Yet, when I was supposed to go home, I yelled up to our third floor tenement apartment, “Five more minutes, Mom.” Today, I don’t want to don my L.L. Bean Thermo-fill, hi-tech ski apparel and leave my opulent penthouse to venture out into the deadly, white killing machine that is, The Blizzard of 2016.

 

I was more of a man back when I was a kid.

 

Not Growing Up…Just Getting Older

The Mick

When I was 10, the New York Yankees were the “best-est” thing ever in the whole world. The world at that time was the entire Bronx. Yogi Berra (8), Joe Pepitone (25), Roger Maris (9) and Mickey Mantle (7) were the bubble gum cards that got you respect and honor in any schoolyard. The Yankees were so cool, that the candy at Ida’s Sweet Shop on Burke Avenue was named after them. Baby Ruth bars and the M&M boys. And Yogi sold Yoo-hoo Chocolate drink on TV. To be fair, Gil Hodges from the Brooklyn Dodgers, also sold Maypo on TV. But Maypo was a hot, maple flavored oatmeal cereal, not peanuts and nougat wrapped in chocolate. The Yankees were, as was candy, the biggest thing to that point in my decade long life.

I remember that on long hot summer days, you licked the salty sweat that dribbled down your face from your lips as the sun bounced off the concrete of the schoolyard’s ball field and blasted you from below and above. Squinting, you watched Joey Mangione wind up to pitch a black electrical tape wrapped, “clincher” softball at you. At that second you fantasized that you would step into the bucket, explode your rear hip and extend perfectly through the swing, connecting on the fat part of the bat and send that ball right over the 12-foot chain link fence into the traffic on Bronxwood Avenue – just like Mantle or Maris! Extra points if you hit Mr. Deputo’s old salmon and dingy white, colored Studebaker that never moved from the spot outside his house.

In all that time, the thought of actually meeting Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle was the same fat chance as going to the moon. We’d hang out on River Avenue at 161st street outside the Stadium after the game. And sure, maybe we’d catch a glimpse of Tresh, Richardson, Boyer, Whitey Ford even Mantle, but they were out of there like a shot. Piling onto the team bus or beyond reach on the other side of a blue, police stanchion line. A couple of dorky lawyer’s kid’s from the suburbs usually got up front to get an autograph or shake a hand. But not us, we was nobody’s kids. We was just Bronx guys.

Now I am considerably older than I was back in the 60’s and hero worship has gone the way of the Studebaker – free agented and drug tested out of existence. But we did eventually go to the moon. And so did I, last week, in fact.

Now that I am an author, my heroes have changed. The new “Yankees” in my life are the literary team that plays at the top of the New York Times standings. Guys and gals who can hit the long ball out 20 to 30 million books. Men and women who keep their percentages up by coming to bat and connecting… connecting with their fans. At Thrillerfest, the International Thriller Writer’s convention that I attended last week, I met the Mickey Mantles and Roger Maris’ of the game I play in now.

My hero worship, adjusted for age and decorum, returned. The same awe and esteem by which I held The Mick and the rest of the pinstripe company was back and at full gush. So that’s how me, a kid from the Bronx, wound up just shooting the breeze for twenty minutes with Nelson DeMille, a kid from Queens. We didn’t talk baseball much, but I did get his autograph… on his latest book, Radiant Angel.

Here’s the thing. In my life, as a Director – Writer – Producer – Author, I have met and worked with some of the biggest stars, names, celebrities and musicians ever and never asked for a picture… but here’s me and Nelson from Jamaica.

Tom and Nelson Cropped