Thursday, July 29, 2010

My work with Beth Israel Hospital is featured in the BIDMC news . . . .

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For best-selling author John Elder Robison, a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 40 was something of a revelation, explaining everything from the social isolation of his youth to his penchant for electronics. With this new insight into his life, Robison discovered that he could help others with the condition, an autism spectrum disorder. Writing his bestselling memoir Look Me in the Eye (with the sequel to come in April 2011) and speaking publicly about his own experiences has earned Robison international recognition and caught the attention of BIDMC neurologist Alvaro Pascual-Leone, M.D., Ph.D Click here to be inspired by John's story.
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The benefits of being an author

I don’t often write of the fringe benefits of being an author, because, frankly, I do not perceive authoring to have many benefits as compared to other trades one might ply. Sailors have smuggling contacts in every port. Long haul truckers have girls in every city. Cowboys have the glory and glamour of the rodeo. Swindlers and carnival operators have marks everywhere.

What do authors have? Just books.

Yet there are times when nothing but a book will do. This, for me, is one of those times.

It all started with a windstorm, back in June. The wind took down trees all along Harkness Road, and I headed out to cut them. The trees were not particularly big, and the work was not terribly hard, but something went wrong. The day after clearing the brush, I could barely walk. I’d sprained my knees before, but this was worse.

I waited a month, hoping things would improve, but they didn’t. I actually got worse. With great reluctance, I made an appointment for an MRI. My friend Joe Polino was the radiologist on duty that day, and he showed me the problem on the monitor, among shadowy outlines of leg bone and tissue. That’s a big tear in your medial meniscus, he said. It’s not going to get better. You need surgery.

Off I went to John Corsetti, the orthopedic surgeon. He greeted my wounded knee with the greatest of enthusiasm. We like cases like these, he said, because your pain is right where the MRI shows the damage and there’s no sign of any other trouble. That means you have a really high likelihood of a good outcome. But no matter what my likelihood, I did not have much choice, the way I felt.

I submitted to the carving knives Thursday morning.

I was due at the hospital at eight o’clock sharp, and I went, tremblingly. If I lived, I’d be home by noon. Or so they said. I was very worried, having never done anything like this before. But it went well. I remember was the anesthesiologist telling me to breathe deep, and a moment later I awoke in the recovery area with a big white sock covering my leg.

I was indeed able to return home for noon. When I got there, a remarkable gift was waiting. My editorial assistant – Stephanie Chan – had sent me a big box of books. That was just what I needed, in my newly disabled and drug-addled state. As soon as the Percocet wore off, I began to read.

Kings of the Earth, by John Clinch . . . All I’ll say about this wonderfully gritty tale is that I remember the people he wrote about, from my own childhood in rural Georgia. I highly recommend this book.

No Angel tells the story of Jay Dobyns and his multi-year investigation into the Arizona Hells Angels as an agent for the ATF. It’s a well-told tale, one that brings back memories of life with outlaw bikers from my own past. Only one thing about this book troubles me, and that has nothing to do with its writing. After reading about these guys lives, I can’t help but wonder . . . what are we doing spending millions of taxpayer dollars to infiltrate them and ultimately throw it all away with bungled prosecutions? Why are we there?

The Lost City of Z is David Grann’s story of the fabled city of Z that’s supposed to be hidden in the dark heart of the Amazon. The book doesn’t tell you where to find it, but I know it’s out there still . . . I thought back to a trip to southern Mexico with Cubby and his mom years ago. We stood on the summit of a pyramid at Tonina, a remote archaeological site near the Guatemalan border. Peering from the top I saw wooded hilltops all around, as far as the eye could see. Those are probably all unexplored pyramids, our guide said. We have not even uncovered one percent of the history hidden here.

Then I tool a break from Random House to read two old Elmore Leonard books, and after reading No Angel I had to read for Hells Angles President Sonny Barger’s new book, Let’s Ride.

Then I turned back to Stephanie’s box . . .

Priceless tells the story of Robert Wittman, who founded the FBI’s Art Crime team and solved some of the biggest thefts in American history. I never thought of art that way, but as he points out early in the book, the Gardner Museum Heist was the biggest property crime in US history. I’m in the middle of Wittman’s book tonight, and really enjoying his tales.

Next is the Oprah bio, a big bestseller from the spring.

After that, I have Did LSD Kill JFK?

Escape from the Land of Snows

and the Immortal Henrietta Lacks. I may actually get mobile again by the time I finish these titles . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vermin in our food

Last Sunday I had dinner with the Jeffways. We always have a good time together, and sometimes bizarre and exciting things happen. Readers of Look Me in the Eye may recognize the name . . .Bob and I were engineers together, back at Milton Bradley. I met Bob, Celeste, and three of their five kids at Joes Pizza for a fine meal of pizza and spaghetti. Afterwards, we went in search of their daughter Alex at a local ice cream establishment.

We found her sitting with two girlfriends at the Florence Friendly’s. The females had just begun ingesting ice cream treats as we sat down around them. Alex is normally jolly, but at that moment they were focused on food and the sight of us made her focus even harder. Halfway through her sundae, Alex paused. For some reason – we may never know why – she glanced down at her spoon. That’s when the shrieking started.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuug! Normally a three letter word, Bug was stretched and extended for high volume delivery. It was like a song, but off key and obnoxious. The other patrons turned to see what was going on.

What was she yelling about? Alex was, after all, a teenage girl. She was right at the age where unpredictable audio emissions just occurred. But I saw it wasn’t just her . . all three table mates were showing signs of extreme agitation. Something was up.

I had seen responses like that in the past, when I was standing at a crowded bar, and an inebriated patron sprayed vomit across the room. But no one had vomited tonight. Yet.

I looked closer. Still, the source of their distress remained invisible. Yet the table was erupting. The three girls were wriggling and squealing. The only guy was reaching for something in his pocket. A bottle? A gun? A phone?

Seconds later he was pointing a camera at Alex’s sundae. Following the camera’s aim, I saw the creature. Half an inch long, vile, and black. Emerging from beneath the fudge. Check him out:

The verminous thing stood defiantly atop a curl of chocolate, under the harsh fluorescent light. Insect King of the Sundae dish. All at once, everyone had something to say.

Bob observed that the Mexicans dip insects in chocolate and sell them

I was glad I had not yet eaten anything served by that particular establishment.

The girls all said, Gross!!

Mary, the youngest Jeffway, offered up the bug with a smile, but there were no eaters

The waiter said, I’m just glad it’s my last day here. So I don’t care.

Alex backed away from the food. Her half-eaten dish sat on the table. In fact, all the dishes sat on the table. People’s enthusiasm for dining had gone. Or more likely, their confidence in the restaurant food supply had evaporated. After all, if their ice cream was infested, what could you expect in the foods that are more prone to spoilage. I shuddered at the thought.

The abandoned table . . .

Everyone else wondered how many insects they’d eaten, before this one got out alive? Other diners gathered round for inspection before fading quietly into the night. All over the restaurant, tips were quietly recalculated.

In the midst of it all, the waiter presented the check. What a minute, I thought. A check? For verminated food?

I sought out the manager. “It’s policy, she said. If there’s a bug in your ice cream, you don’t have to pay for it. But you still have to pay for the rest of the food.”

I thought about that a moment.

Does this happen often enough that you have a regular policy for it?

Well, she answered, it does happen. And that’s what my manager told me to do. I took her picture, but she was too ashamed or scared to face the camera.

Meanwhile, the establishment had emptied out.

With some reluctance, we paid and left.

What might you have done differently, had it been your restaurant? What can my fellow eaters learn from this? What will you do, the next time you are served vermin with ice cream?

Eat it?

Throw it?

Send it back?

Friday, July 9, 2010

An old friend in a new role

Are you thinking of publishing a book? If so, you’re probably wondering how to stack the odds in your favor, in terms of market success. And if you’re not thinking that, you should be. Why? There are three hundred thousand new titles published every year in America. Of that, no more than a few hundred make the New York Times list.

But that’s not the worst of it . . . most bestsellers are written by authors who wrote bestsellers before. In any given year, fewer than fifty debut authors break out into the mainstream lists. If you want to be one of them, you need more than great writing.

You the right story at the right time, shaped in the most compelling way. Armed with that, you must catch the interest of a fickle public, and for that to happen fast enough to make a bestseller, you need the power of the media behind you. I’d like to tell you about a friend who might be able to help you out . . .

Let me introduce Steve Ross, the publisher who discovered Look Me in the Eye and many other huge bestsellers. Steve headed Crown Publishers back in 2007 when I took up the book writing trade. He left Crown before my book came out, but I credit him for having the vision to acquire the title – something that took a lot of vision and courage, since I was a complete unknown.

My book would never have been the success it is, if not for his original vision, and the work of the team he assembled to bring it to market . . . Rachel Klayman, my editor; Tina Constable, who took over Steve’s role when he left; Whitney Cookman, who created the wonderful cover; and all the marketing, promotion and production people who brought my story to the world.

Steve Ross left Crown to run one of the divisions of HarperCollins, but his position went up in smoke when the economy imploded in 2009. Since then he’s been consulting with authors on his own. In today’s Publisher’s Weekly, I see that he’s formalized this new career by taking a new position at the Abrams Artists Agency.

To quote PW’s Rachel Deahl:

Ross has been running his own author services business since last February, when HarperCollins closed the unit Ross was president and publisher of, Collins. Starting July 12, Ross joins Abrams, working both as an agent and heading up the company’s newly formed Abrams Author Services.

Ross will be director of the book division and will, as he explained, be bringing the consulting business he’s been overseeing to Abrams. While Abrams currently handles some books—Maura Teitelbaum is the sole literary agent there—Ross said the company, which he described as “solidly entrenched in other talent management,” is looking to sign more authors.

Ross . . said Abrams Author Services will offer the same kind of package he’s been delivering to his clients, which means guiding authors in the editorial process and helping them with everything from title selection and jacket design to deciding on the best distribution option. As a result of the consolidation and cutbacks at the big six houses, Ross said, agents are finding it harder and harder to sell books they would have easily placed five years ago. This, in tandem with the growth in distribution/delivery options, means, he believes, that there’s a greater wealth of worthwhile books that have an audience but no major publisher.

Ross . . will be working from Abrams’s Seventh Avenue office in Manhattan. He can be reached at

Give Steve a shout, and if he puts together a deal for you, be sure and let me know.

Here's the announcement from Publisher's Weekly

Here's the press release from Booktrade