Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's goodbye to the west coast

It’s time to say goodbye to the west coast. It’s hard to believe I’ve been out here a whole week.
I started last Sunday at Book Soup in West Hollywood, next to Los Angeles. That was a small talk, but the highlight came after when I got to have dinner with blogger Kanani Fong and her Writerly Pause group. Kanani was one of the earliest supporters of my efforts via her blog and book reviews, and it was great to finally meet in person.

The next morning, I flew to Denver where I met a book escort for the ride to Boulder. Book escorts are a little-known secret of the publishing industry. Their job is to shepherd authors to bookstores, media events, and hotels. They even feed and water us. And sometimes they read our books, and talk about them.

When you fly into a strange city, and you’re due at a radio station in less than an hour it’s invaluable to have someone who knows the way, knows where to park, and knows all the people you’re going to see.

My Boulder appearance was actually set up back in the winter when I walked into the Boulder Bookstore while in town for a speaking engagement at the University of Colorado. They called the publisher and asked if I’d visit when my paperback was released.

The talk went well. We had a full house in their upstairs event area, including one family that drove all the way from Colorado Springs. I’m always touched when people travel so far to see me. In addition, I had a fine tuna dinner at Jax with fellow author Doreen Orion and her husband and bus driver, Tim. When he’s not driving the bus, Tim works as a psychiatrist, and he was happy to explain the parameters for commitment to his hospital as we ate. I won’t repeat them here because the place is full and I don’t want to give away any trade secrets.

The next morning I was scheduled to speak to the folks at Google. Random House travel had put me in a hotel rather far from the center of town, and of course I didn’t have a car. And since this was a paperback tour with a limited budget, I didn’t have an escort either. So I set out on foot. A quick review of the map showed the fastest way to to town – a jog alongside the railroad tracks. As I was trotting along, I was surprised to be passed by a pronghorn antelope, moving at a brisk clip. Surprised, I looked around. Luckily there was no large predator in pursuit and in continued on my way.

Google was a fun place. I was particularly interested in the work they are doing with their Sketchup drawing and modeling program and kids on the spectrum. I’ll write more about that when I get home. I loved the offices and the environment – it was so free, and so different from what I’d encountered as an engineer 25 years ago. As I told them, it was a place I could have succeeded, if it had existed when I worked as an engineer.

After that I was off to Vail and the most spectacular scenery of the trip. I wish I’d had more time to take some pictures because the views were just magnificent. My Vail appearance was at the Bookworm of Edwards, a community place where everyone seemed to know everyone else. We had folks from all the local schools, plus a pediatrician and a psychologist in the audience. I had a great night there and a good sushi dinner with the owner and her husband later.

In the morning I was off to San Francisco and my first appearance at Corte Madera. But before that – I went for a walk. I stayed at the Rex Hotel, a small place just around the corner from Union Square. At the square, I hopped on a cable car and rode it all the way to the end, at fisherman’s wharf. I walked all over, and looked at the ships and the sights.

At the bookstore I had the pleasure of meeting author Becky Foust, a mom who had a book of poetry about her Aspergian son. Once again, I was struck by the many parallels between her son’s story and my own. We Aspergians are so different, yet so alike. I also met Max Sindell, one of the people behind the popular Redroom author's site.

The next night I read at Books Inc in the Castro district, and then it was off to Portland. My brother in law – Little Bear’s big brother – and his family have lived out there many years, and it was good to see them. I also enjoyed seeing the shipping on the Columbia River, though it was just the briefest of glances. My Portland event – at Powell’s Burnside store – was scheduled for the same time as the presidential debate. To my amazement, we had a full house despite the televised competition.

The next morning, I was off to Seattle, where I’m writing to you now. I spoke in front of a packed house at Third Place books and met several amazing people. Autism mom Tami Giles came with a bunch of her friends, and they brought food treats. But even more amazing – my next door neighbor and friend from the time I lived in Seattle came to see me. It’s been 45 years since we lived out here, but Cathy has stayed in touch with my mother the whole time. When I arrived she took me to our old apartment, the Ronald School where I attended kindergarten, and even the local beach. It was the most amazing thing, seeing it all again.

I’ve had a wonderful trip, thanks to all of you and your support. Now, I’m headed east to Dayton and then back home. But it’s not over . . . I’m back on the road again this coming Saturday, when I speak to the Asperger Association convention with my brother.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'll be on You the Owner's Manual this Saturday at 2:30 live

Here's a link to get the show via webcast, and you can also get it live on Sirius and many local radio stations . . .,com_mtree/task,listcats/cat_id,25/

After that, I'll be at Seattle's Third Place Books at 6:30PM.

Monday night I'll be back East, in Dayton Ohio. After that, I've got a few days off and then I'm at the Asperger Association convention in Marlborough, MA.

Thanks to everyone for a great Friday night, at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. We had almost a hundred people, which amazed me given the competition for people's attention. I can't thank you enough for coming to see me with the McCain-Obama debate dominating the airwaves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mexicans, Aspergians, and history

There was a Mexican couple at one of my last appearances, and we talked about the way Aspergian traits seem to be inherited. Their visit got me thinking about how Aspergians fit into today’s world, and how we’re perceived by different cultures, and what that may say about Aspergians through history.

Their questions made me realize that I know nothing at all about Asperger’s in Mexico. I’ve been fortunate to do radio shows all over the world to support the foreign publication of Look Me in the Eye. I’ve done interviews and discussions in Brazil, other parts of South America, and all over the US and Canada. But Mexico – right in the middle – remains an enigma to me.

In a few hours I’m on my way to speak to the staff at Google. We now know that tech companies like that are full of Aspergians. Indeed, Aspergians are all over the creative, scientific and technical scenes. When we read Aspergians of the past, we hear names like DaVinci and Newton – more creative, scientific, or technical people.

Where were the Aspergians in other cultures? As far as we know, Asperger’s and autism are fairly equally distributed among populations and races. So getting back to the Mexicans . . . who were the Aspergians in their past? Where are the Aspergians in their present, for that matter?

Some parts of Mexico are very similar to the US. They've got medical research, scientific labs, and engineering firms. I'm sure they have their Aspergians, just like here. But what about rural Mexico, which is, after all, what most of the world was like before all this new tech stuff sprouted? What do the Aspergians do in those places?

Perhaps that sheds light on another question: What did a creative eccentric do in Mexico, 500 years ago? Were they the priests, the ones who are credited with the advanced calendar and astronomical knowledge? I really have no idea. What about Asia? It’s well known that many eastern cultures revere and venerate certain traits (love of math for example) that are closely associated with Aspergians. I’ve expressed admiration for those attitudes before. But where does it come from? Who were the Asian Aspergians of yesteryear?

I have no knowledge of forensic psychiatry, or whatever skill one would use to identify people with Asperger’s in the past based upon their writings or what’s known of them. But perhaps some of you in the blogosphere do . . . who were the Aspergians in other cultures in years gone by? What did they do, and why?

In our own culture we know people with more autistic impairments were historically dismissed as retarded. There was an ugly period where some went to “state schools” or other institutions but prior to that, most lived quiet lives in their communities. The lower functioning population was not just written off, though. Our written history identifies a good many “different” folks with extraordinary talents and abilities.

I have often wondered about the evolutionary purpose of autism and Asperger’s. As far as we know, it’s been with us forever, but why? Did we - as some people suggest - evolve to be out of the box thinkers? It would not surprise me to learn that the world needs a few people whose thinking it totally unique to move society forward, at all levels of functionality. Perhaps a look at Aspergians in other cultures would give some insight.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News from the road, fresh from Hollywood

I’ve just spent a wonderful evening with the folks at Book Soup here in West Hollywood. I was also able to have dinner with blogger Kanani Fong and her Writerly Pause group . . . check her blog for the story on that.

Now I’m off to the airport, but before I go, I want to update you all on this week’s events. If I make it to a city near you I certainly hope you’ll come say hello.

Tonight * Monday, September 22, Boulder, Colorado
Join me for a night at the Boulder Bookstore, 1107 Pearl St. Boulder, CO (303) 447-2074 7:30PM

Tuesday morning I’ll be talking to the folks at google. You’ll be able to see this event on authors@google

Tuesday evening, September 23, Vail, Colorado
If you can't make Boulder, come to Vail! I'll be at Bookworm of Edwards, 295 Main Street- Unit C101 at 6PM. This is a $20 ticketed event - the ticket price includes a personalized copy of the book and of course whatever spectacle you and I create.

Wednesday, Sept 24, San Francisco area
Join me at Book Passage, Corte Madera store 7PM

Thursday, Sept 25, San Francisco
If you miss Book Passage, or if once is never enough, I'll also be at Books Inc. at 7:30PM. They're at 2275 Market St. @ Noe in San Francisco (415) 864-6777

Friday, Sept 26, Portland, Oregon
I'll be at Powells Books Burnside Store at 7:30 PM - Located at 1005 West Burnside Avenue (800) 878-7323

Saturday, Sept 27, Seattle, Washington
Join me at Third Place Books at 6:30

Monday, Sept 29, Dayton, Ohio
Look for me at Books & Company, 7PM, and meanwhile, check out with the Cleveland Plain Dealer had to say:

And then we come to a break. I fly home for a few days of rest, after which I’m off to the Asperger Association conference with my brother.

Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Burlington Book Festival

I awoke at daybreak, and gathered my belongings. After petting our old blind poodle, and tossing my bags into the car, I headed north toward Interstate 91. With the cruise control set, I was able to reflect on my journey and the times I’d taken this same route in years gone by. Some of my first driving adventures had happened on 91, and I passed the scenes one by one.

First there was the embankment we’d gone down, when Juke’s VW Bus lost it on the ice. Then there was the long downhill grade, the one where the Vermont State police were waiting with a radar gun that said 124MPH. That one was good for a trip to the local jail. It seemed like every mile held some kind of memory.

I made the turn onto I-89 as the sun came out. The world changed from black and white to Technicolor. I passed a long line of Harleys, twenty-plus bikes holding the left hand lane.

Arriving in Burlington, I checked the web, where I was delighted to find Look Me in the Eye recommended in the Washington Post

On that note, I went in search of the Festival. I found it, along with hosts Rick, Elaine, and Shay, in a long building overlooking the waterfront. The festival was going full tilt, with events running in three spots all the time. They had quite an impressive roster of authors, as you can see:

I am embarrassed to say I was too shy to actually meet most of the authors, but I had fun anyway.

My talk was scheduled for one o’clock, which was taped by Burlington Community Television. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s available online. Afterwards, I signed books and spoke to people in the main lobby, until Shay appeared to take me to my next appointment.

He’d organized a smaller gathering at a local school library – about twenty younger Aspergians, and some parents and teachers. That was very interesting, with a lot of good discussion.

As soon as that ended, I was off to the hotel to check in – Rick had gotten me a room at the Mariott with a view of the water – and then it was time for the author’s dinner. There was no real plan for the seating, so I milled around until a plan emerged.

My seat mates proved a most enjoyable lot. On my right was award winning novelist Ann Hood – author of The Knitting Circle and nine other books written over a 22 year period. To my left sat Crystal Zevon, the widow or ex-wife of musician Warren Zevon. She was there with her book I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – the dirty life and times of Warren Zevon. Between them was noted music critic Anthony DeCurtis, author of In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and Work, and editor of the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock’n’Roll.

It was a long but fun day by the time I crawled upstairs to bed at 11.
This morning, I did a radio interview with Burlington radio host Ann Barbano. You’ll be able to download that soon. After a brief stop at the Festival, I was off for home.

And now it’s back to the world of cars.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tales from the road . . . stop #1

The first stop on the Look Me in the Eye paperback tour was River Run books in Portsmouth, NH. I told stories, answered questions, and signed books for a few hours, starting at 7PM. My brother was at this same bookstore a few months back, talking about his new book, A Wolf at the Table.

It was a good beginning . . . the first time I've spoken about the New and Improved version of the book, and what's going on now. The event was co-sponsored by the Birchtree Center, a local autism/Asperger program.

Right after that, I did an interview for the Psychjourney Podcast series. You can listen to it here:

I've left River Run with plenty of signed copies, and I've also signed the stock at the Portsmouth B&N. I try and sign stock wherever I go . . . right now, you can find signed books at the Amherst/Northampton independent book stores (where I live) plus B&N stores in Holyoke and Hadley, MA, and Enfield CT. You can get signed hardcovers and paperbacks at Borders in Holyoke, MA.

Before the event, I was able to shoot these photos of the seaport. The first shot shows three Moran tugs at rest. The second shows the Hamburg Pearl delivering a cargo of salt to the mineral terminal. Her load of salt will be spread on roads all over New England in just a few more months.

For any of you in Vermont or upstate New York . . . my next appearance is tomorrow, Saturday, at the Burlington Book Festival. I will be appearing at one, followed by a small group discussion with a local Asperger group and an author dinner that night. Stop by if you're around.

And it's just one more week till the British Invasion, followed by my west coast tour - LA, San Francisco, Boulder, Vail, Portland, Seattle, Dayton. I hope to see many of you on the road.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The paperback has arrived

Well, it's finally happened. The New and Improved paperback is finally on sale:

I'm off on the book tour, and when I get back, I'll be hard at work on the sequel . . . .

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Why do people read Look Me in the Eye?

Some books are written just to entertain. If the book is enjoyable to read on a cool fall night, that’s enough. I enjoy reading books like that sometimes, but as an author, I want more. I want my stories to help people; to increase their understanding. I especially want to give people hope. That thought was always in my mind as I wrote Look Me in the Eye.

As an author, you assume you know everything there is about your book. After all, you wrote it. When Look Me in the Eye came out in hardcover last fall, I too made that assumption. Boy, was I wrong!

As soon as my book was published, comments began coming in from teachers and parents. Something magical was happening. Teachers were taking passages that I’d written – foolish stories of my misfit childhood – and using them to teach today’s kids understanding and tolerance.

More than one parent described my book as a window into the mind of their Aspergian child. That's a very powerful thought . . . could it be true, I wondered? A year later, I see what they meant. So many behaviors that I thought were unique to me are really common to many people on the autism/Asperger spectrum

I was stunned. I had no idea that I’d written something that could be applied to others in that way. Yet it was happening. I began getting invitation to speak at schools, and I saw it for myself.

Grownups studied my story too. I began getting very moving letters from people on the spectrum, saying things like this:

Your book is more than an entertaining story about a dysfunctional family. It's even more than just a memoir by an Aspergian. It can help a lot of people to understand where they are coming from, and why they feel and behave like they do. It can teach us something about who we are. I count myself as fortunate to have read your book, because now I know more about how other Aspergians are or might be. And by knowing that, I also know more about myself and my own problems.

I realized the most remarkable thing. The book was bringing people – misfits like me – together to form a community.

Look Me in the Eye has had an effect far beyond anything I might have imagined.

I made a number of changes and improvements to the paperback edition as a result of all this feedback. You can read about the changes in earlier blog posts, or you can just read the new and improved paperback book. It’s on sale everywhere this Tuesday.

Here are a few links that talk about what I've added and improved:

I’ll be kicking off a national tour to meet as many readers as possible. The dates are on the right sidebar of my blog, at

It all starts Tuesday night, September 9, at River Run Books in Portsmouth New Hampshire.
From there I go to Burlington, VT to the book festival. Then it’s LA, Boulder, Vail, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Dayton, Marlborough, MA and beyond. Keep checking the blog as we'll be adding more dates.

Stop in and say hi if I come to your town. . . And I can't wait to hear what you think of my improved and enhanced paperback edition. So come back and let me know!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thoughts on Amazons and Microorganisms and the ways they me be similar

Even if they don’t admit it, I’ll bet most authors watch their Amazon ranking. Some, like me, go beyond admitting “watching.” I will admit to tracking and analyzing, in some detail. That should not surprise any of you who know Aspergian nature.

In an analysis of 20+ big books last fall, I found the absolute Amazon rank, and the rate of rank change (up or down), and the longer term momentum to be strongly predictive of trends 2-4 weeks later on the NY Times Bestseller lists. As much as people disparage these ranks, I think there’s a lot to learn by watching the movement at the top.

Many articles have been written about Amazon rank and I won’t repeat them here. In this post, I’d like to talk about something different: the hidden relationship between Amazon sales and bricks-and-mortar stores.

I have tracked Look Me in the Eye since last June, when preorders began trickling in. Back then, my Amazon rank was in the 250,000 range, rising to 2,000 two weeks before the on-sale date. When reviews came out, the rank shot up. A full page in People pushed the rank into the top 100 the day the magazine went on sale. Appearances on network TV pushed it even higher, into the single digits by the on-sale day. After the media blitz, my rank dropped through the top hundred over a few months, and the top 1,000 over nine months.

The meteoric rise is common for books that get a lot of media coverage. The slower trail-down is normal too. Obviously, some books trail off at a steeper angle than others but the general trend is shared by almost all books.

For the past 11 months, the demand curve for my book (as expressed by Amazon rank) has been steady and fairly predictable. Suddenly, a month ago, demand dropped precipitously. What happened?

In the space of a few weeks, the rank dropped from 1,000 to 10,000.


It took me a little while to figure out the answer. My Amazon rank dropped as bookstores allowed their stock of Look Me in the Eye to run down in anticipation of the paperback release. The less visible I was in stores, the less I sold online.

There is a fascinating and observable correlation between the visible presence of my book in stores, and the Amazon rank. What does this say? I don’t know about you, but it tells me that people see a book in a store and then buy it on Amazon.

Why would they do that? Why buy later online if you are actually next to the book in a store? There are many possible reasons. I’ve even had people admit to this to me in stores. They’ve said things like, “I enjoyed coming to see you tonight. I’m going to go home and order your book!”

I always wonder at comments like that. I’m standing in a store, next to a pile of books, and someone says, “I’ll go home and order it.” I say, “Why not buy a copy now?”

Sometimes they look like I suggested something shocking, and they buy the book. More often, though, they offer some inane excuse and wander off.

So we have a kind of commercial symbiotic relationship. The evidence of my own book shows how Amazon feeds off people’s exposure to books in stores. How does the existence of Amazon benefit the bricks-and-mortar stores?

I know some booksellers will read this and feel like jumping all over me with hostile disagreement . . . but consider the balance between Amazon and the traditional bookstore like the relationship between many microorganisms and the host body.

Those organisms have evolved over thousands of years to a point where both benefit the other in some way (thought it may be hard to see), and neither one is too lethal to the other. Is there such a balance between the traditional retailer model, and online models like Amazon?

For online businesses like Amazon to succeed, I submit that they must achieve a stability based upon mutual benefit, just as microorganisms do. Is that happening?