Stuff & Nonsense 041: Begin the Begin

Oh, hi there. It's been a spell.
I'll spare you the excuses for my newsletter absence - mostly because I hate meta-blogging and partially because my excuses are pretty boring. Either way, I'm happy to be back and excited to share some great stuff with you. I've tinkered with the format a bit for this installment. Really eager to spotlight two great books by authors I'm certain you'll enjoy. (Writer/artist pals, if you have an essay-ish piece you'd like to share in this space, let me know and we can make it happen!)

After that, I'll recap my somewhat obsessive reading of late and remind you of a few things I have in the works. Let's get rolling.

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Rob Hart is a friend and no stranger to this newsletter. Heck, we wrote a novella together (Bad Beat, which featured Rob's Ash McKenna meeting my series character, Pete Fernandez. You should check it out!). In the essay below, he talks about something all writers are familiar with - whether they admit it or not: reviews, and how we deal with them.

Rob's latest Ash novel, South Village, is available for pre-order now and out later this month. I was lucky enough to read the book earlier this year and it's the strongest installment in an already-excellent series. Don't miss it.
Third Time’s The Charm A lot of authors say they don’t read reviews of their work. I figure they’re either lying or have way more self-control than I do. Confession time: Sometimes I go back and read reviews. Occasionally the nice ones, but more often, the ones where I got savaged. Sometimes I search on Google for the title of my books with the word “review” next to it, to see if any came out that I missed.

That’s probably narcissistic. Maybe I’m just into the abuse, which puts some of my past behavior into context. But ultimately, I’d like to think it’s part of the learning process.

Take Publishers Weekly.

Their review of my first novel, New Yorked, was overall very kind, until the end, where they delivered a sharp jab to the solar plexus:

“The book’s relentless pacing and strong sense of place compensate for the incoherent plot line, which prevents it from being truly effective.”

That stings. No way around it. But the more I dwelled on it (and believe me, I dwelled a lot) the more I realized they weren’t wrong. The plot was the weakest point of the book. So I stopped dwelling and put more effort into the plot of the second book.

So when the PW review for City of Rose came out, I was pretty pleased to see them praise the “twisty plot.” Still, they found something else to ding me on:

“In attempting to balance the goofy fish-out-of-New-Yawk-water punch lines with Ash’s inner darkness, Hart struggles at times for a coherent tone.”

Again with the dwelling. Again with the focus.

I’m pretty proud to say that the PW review of my third novel, South Village, is positive, top to bottom. No dings, no jabs.

“The story zigs and zags and then heads off in yet another direction, keeping one step ahead of the reader until it ends up in an unexpected but satisfying spot.”

When that review came over, I’d just left my local Barnes & Noble. I was sitting in the car with my wife and daughter and my publisher e-mailed it to me. I read it and pounded the steering wheel. I showed it to my wife. It felt like I’d achieved something; I was able to internalize the reviews in a way that pushed me to do better.

Not all reviews are good reviews. I’m looking at you, guy who gave me one star review on Amazon because New Yorked was too “New Yorkie.” (Really? C’mon.)

And you, guy who gave me one star because you’re not down with the “homo/transvestite/hippy lifestyles being exalted.” (You’re going to love the third one, set on an actual hippie commune.)

Writers have to do what makes them happy and functional. If that means not reading reviews, so be it.

For me, there’s value in reading them. I’m not going to lie: Sometimes it just makes me feel good, which, again, narcissism, but can also help you through some of the rougher parts of the process.

But the ones that hurt can help you, too. Because they’re not always wrong. I’m trying to accept the truth that my first book may very well be my worst book.

I hope it is. Because if it’s not, that means I didn’t grow as a writer.

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Andrea Kleine is a writer I've been eager to talk about in this space. Her novel, Calf, hits a lot of notes that interest me when looking for a great read—crime, politics, obsession, just to name a few. It's an intense, hard-to-forget experience. Really happy to have her here discussing how she got into the mind of her protagonist, who happens to have a key role in modern American history.

Andrea Kleine on Calf

When my novel, Calf, first came out, a writer friend cursed me when she said, “I’m going to ask you the question everyone is going to ask you: How did you get so deep inside his head?”

Calf is a fictionalization of the John Hinckley Jr story and its weird intersection with my life. For those of you under 35, Hinckley was the man who shot Ronald Reagan in 1981 in a bizarre assassination attempt meant to impress the actress Jodie Foster by re-enacting Robert De Niro’s character Travis Bickle from the film Taxi Driver. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital where he met and later became lovers with a woman named Leslie deVeau. Like Hinckley, deVeau had also been found not guilty by reason of insanity. In a psychotic episode she murdered her daughter and attempted suicide. Her daughter and I were schoolmates. She was 10 and I was about to turn 12.

Part of the book explores how a fictionalized Hinckley and a fictionalized, almost 12-year-old Andrea are not so different. One adult’s mental state is collapsing and one child’s mental state is evolving. Somewhere in the destructive and creative nature of the physical mind, these two trajectories cross paths. They are both entrenched in a loneliness that makes darkness and danger look appealing. They are both fueled by a desire to be loved.

To me it was easy to get inside his head. I was looking for the sympathetic in the disturbed.

Last month, a federal judge granted the non-fictional Hinckley’s release from the hospital where he has been a patient for more than 30 years. Immediately, several friends emailed me. “I’m worried about you,” they said. There is the underlying fear that Hinckley was not merely suffering from an untreated severe mental illness, but that he might be a master manipulator, or as one interviewer said, “just an evil person,” or that there might be an iota of conspiracy-theory truth to the internet rumors connecting Hinckley with George H.W. Bush (have fun going down that rabbit hole).

But I don’t think my friends were worried about that. Their fear was that Hinckley, whose illness revolved around narcissism and obsession, would turn his obsessive eyes on me. That he would perceive me as his soul mate, as he did with Jodie Foster. And while many people have been the victim of stalking, I have never experienced it and therefore think that I am immune, think that I could handle it, when of course, quite the opposite is true.

And that makes me feel 12 years old again.

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A few quick things:


ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES comes out Wednesday! It's co-written by Matthew Rosenberg and yours truly with stunning art by my frequent Archie collaborator, Gisele Lagace. This was a fun book to write and I hope you enjoy it. While the title's pretty literal, but I think the execution keeps you on your toes. Plus, it's the RAMONES. The book has Easter Eggs galore and should be a crazy romp for Archie and Ramones fans alike.

You can pick it up at your local comic shop or digitally. The entire creative team will also be at New York Comic Con this weekend, so if you're around, swing by the Archie Comics booth and say hi! Happy to sign a book for you. We'll also be doing a launch party at St. Mark's Comics on Wednesday, if you're around in the evening.

Here's my full NEW YORK COMIC CON schedule!

Thursday, October 6
11am-12pm - ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES signing at the Archie Comics booth (with Matt Rosenberg, Gisele Lagace and Dan Parent)

Friday, October 7
11am-12pm - ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES signing at the Archie Comics booth (with Matt Rosenberg, Gisele Lagace and Dan Parent)

Saturday, October 8
11am-12pm - ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES signing at the Archie Comics booth (with Gisele Lagace and Dan Parent)
3pm-4pm - Archie Comics Forever panel (moderator), Room 1A05
6:30pm-7:30pm -WIZARD: THE COMICS MAGAZINE - 25 Years Later, Room 1B03

Sunday, October 9
2pm-3pm - ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES signing at the Archie Comics booth (with Matt Rosenberg, Gisele Lagace and Dan Parent)



In November, I'm going to Miami Book Fair and hosting the first-ever NOIR AT THE BAR MIAMI. That lineup, right? If you're in the area, please come by. I'll have more info on my MBF schedule as we get closer...

Speaking of NOIR AT THE BAR, we're doing another NOIR AT THE BAR QUEENS - more info on that soon, as it's happening in a few weeks!



I'll be at Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee next month, too. I cannot wait. The Jordans and co. know how to host an event and the author list is a roundup of some of my favorite people. Should be a fun weekend of crime fiction, conversation and laughs.


I wish I had some insightful things to say about new books/TV shows/comics, but I've spent most of the summer (when not working or hanging out with OUR BABY) revising the new Pete book, Dangerous Ends, and reading Stephen King novels I missed - including It, Salem's Lot, The Stand, 11/22/63 and a few others. I'll write a longer piece about the latter next week. We've also been watching The West Wing. So, just call me Out of Time Alex. That said, I've had the pleasure of reading my dear friend Elizabeth Keenan's debut YA novel manuscript and it's really, really topical, well-written and heartfelt. I can't wait to see who picks it up.

Links next week! Until then...