Here I Go Again

My literary agent once said I was my own worst enemy – I had too many interests, wrote on too many topics and in too many genres to build a loyal readership.

It’s hard to argue with that. My first book was a young adult novel followed by three humor books. Then I wrote a marketing book and an investing book. Next up were several novels ranging from satire to chick-lit to paranormal. My newest book, co-authored with Jillian Vorce, grew out of a class I teach at BC and focuses on encouraging personal reflection and increasing self-knowledge.

So what literary path have I chosen to pursue next? Obviously something I’ve never done before: a thriller.

It’s been said that most artists – painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, actors, etc. – possess some sort of character flaw bordering on mental illness. That’s probably an overstatement (I hope) but I do believe there’s truth in the fact (not of the “alternative fact” variety) that we tend to see the world from a slightly different (askew?) perspective.

In my case, I think the “disorder” stems from the fact that I’ve never written simply to make money. I write the kind of stuff I enjoy reading. If that means I’ll never reach the stature or earnings of a John Grisham, I’m okay with it.

As I’m writing this, however, I’m reminded that I once did purposely write to make money. And I succeeded. It was back in the early 1980’s and I was spending a week on the Cape. My YA novel had been published and I was selling articles and essays to a bunch of magazines and newspapers – but not making very much money. So I sat back and asked myself a simple question: “What sells?” The answer was equally simple: “Sex!” So, within a week I had written captions for a cartoon book called How To Tell If It Was Good. The book was published by Ivory Tower Press and sold over 200,000 copies.

The moral of the story? Perhaps, unlike white mice, I don’t learn. Perhaps I can’t truly synthesize life lessons – even those that slap me upside the head. Who knows? Maybe the urge to write something strictly for money will strike again. Until then, await my foray into the thriller market – and wish me luck in battling my obvious disorder.

Fun Interview with “Pimp that Character”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.03.09 AMWe’re thrilled to be talking to Patrick/Trish Morelli from Phil Fragasso’s, Going Both Ways. It is a pleasure to have him/her with us today at Pimp That Character!

Thank you for your interview, Patrick and Trish. How old are you and what do you do for a living?

PATRICK: I’m 27. I’m a writer by day and a waiter by night.

TRISH: I’m also 27 like my male chauvinist pig alter ego. I feel compelled to point out that Patrick is a wannabe writer who’s never published a thing in his life and mostly whines about writer’s block.

Can you tell us about one of your most distinguishable features?

PATRICK: Sad to say, but I’m a pretty nondescript dude – mousey brown hair, scruffy beard, bushy eyebrows, and twice-broken nose. On the bright side, blending into the woodwork could come in handy if I ever become a serial killer.

TRISH: The first time Patrick turned into me, he was quite taken with what he referred to as my “rather bodacious ass…a booty that could go cheek-to-cheek with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.” That’s probably the only truthful thing he’s ever said.

What would I love the most about you?

PATRICK: I can be quite charming – quick with a compliment or quip. I’m definitely fun to be around – especially if you’re hot-to-trot or picking up the check.

TRISH: I’m not Patrick.

What would I hate the most about you?

PATRICK: I hate to admit it but I can be a sexist frat-boy who often reduces women to their physical attributes.

TRISH: You’d probably hate that, even when I’m in Trish’s body, Patrick’s Neanderthal psyche is still messing with my mind.

Where do you go when you are angry?

PATRICK: Drown my anger with Jack Daniels and Doritos.

TRISH: Soak in a hot bath and sip a Chardonnay.

What is in your refrigerator right now?

PATRICK: Two Sam Adams Lights, a six-pack of Smuttynose Brown Dog Ale, half-gallon soured of milk, leftovers from the restaurant, eggs, a half-eaten apple, deli ham, ketchup, mustard, and a jar of dill pickles.

TRISH: All of Patrick’s crap plus fresh arugula, blueberries, tomatoes, baby carrots, roast turkey, brie, cottage cheese, yogurt, butter and diet Coke.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

PATRICK: I’m not nearly as boorish as this two-bit writer portrays me. I mean, sure, I like to size up every woman I see and make comments about her face and figure. And I might occasionally suggest some of the things I’d like to do to with her; but it’s all a compliment, it’s not being rude.

TRISH: Very accurately. I’m far more mature, evolved, respectful, and likeable than Patrick. He’s like my evil twin brother.

If you could change one physical thing about yourself, what would that be?

PATRICK: I’d like to be a few inches taller. I’m 5’11” but think my life would be totally different if I were 6’2”. How could it not?

TRISH: Would it sound bad if I said I’d like to have larger breasts? It seems so stereotypical, but I do have this outstanding butt and I think a little more on top would balance me out. Sorry 🙁

Who is your best friend?

PATRICK: My sister Sarah. She’s younger, smarter and way more successful than me – but she loves me unequivocally and I love her as well.

TRISH: Sarah. I’ve only been around for a few weeks, but I’m sure Sarah likes me way better than Patrick.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

PATRICK: I would go into Boston’s North End, the Italian area, and eat my way up and down Hanover and Salem Streets. Lots of pizza, seafood, pasta, pastries, wine, and espresso. And maybe try to get lucky with some of the Euro-trash honeys or college co-eds who hang out there.

TRISH: I would spend a girls-only day with my sister, Sarah. We’d shop on Newbury Street, visit the MFA and Gardner Museum, eat down by the waterfront, talk about life, and wonder how it was possible we were related to Patrick.

Interview with PUYB Virtual Book Club

GoingBothWays_w10441_300Before you started writing your book, what kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?

As a novelist, most of my research comes about during the course of my daily activities. I like to write about relationships – pulling them apart and (sometimes) putting them back together – so the most effective research comes from watching and listening. I’ve always had a lot of female friends, and in my heart of hearts I do believe women are superior to men in the vast majority of ways. I think that’s why my two most recent novels feature guys who tend towards frat-boy boorishness while the women are far more evolved and mature.

Did you pursue publishers or did you opt to self-pub?

I have a literary agent who sold two of my recent nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Going Both Ways. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown in fiction. I loved the book and decided to self-publish – but I first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

If published by a publisher, what was your deciding factor in going with them?

The Wild Rose Press has an excellent reputation among authors. They have a strong corporate culture focused on frequent communications. Their editing and publishing process is very efficient and involves the author at every step of the way. I was impressed with the way they considered my query, requested the complete manuscript, and kept me informed as it moved from editor to outside readers and then up to senior editor for contract.

If published by a publisher, are you happy with the price they chose?

I think the eBook price of $4.99 is excellent. The paperback is a little pricey at $15.99 – but I fully understand that small publishers struggle with printed books and often do it more as a courtesy for the authors than for their own bottom line.

How did you choose your cover?

My publisher has a team of independent designers who design the book covers. Once the book was in the pre-production process, I was given access to samples from all the designers. One designer, Debbie Taylor, jumped out at me as having the kind of style I was looking for. I was able to provide specific input following the first round of design and the final result was dead-on.

Did you write your book, then revise or revise as you went?

I edit as I go and then do two in-depth copy edits before I consider a manuscript “final.” I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to have a general idea about the primary characters and storyline – and then start writing. I very rarely know how the story will resolve itself, and that was indeed the case with Going Both Ways. I loved the idea of a gender-switch that alternated every other day. I wrote almost half the book without knowing how the story would end. Some writers get freaked out by that, but I find it energizing. To me, it means the characters have taken over the story and they will lead it wherever it needs to go. And that’s exactly what happened. The lead character got into a situation that forced the book to move in a new direction – a direction that gave it more power, breadth, and resonance (if I say so myself).

Did you consider making or hiring someone to make a book trailer for your book? If so, what’s the link?

Making video trailers is my favorite part of book marketing. I use Final Cut on my Mac and I edit like crazy to make sure the pace, images, and music all work well together. I became even more disciplined with cutting extraneous material because Twitter only allows 30-second videos. Take a look here and let me know what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3UXGkBVPV0

What’s your opinion on giving your book away to sell other copies of your book?

I think it’s a tactic that’s better suited to self-published books. Publishers make a big investment when they sign an author and hope to receive a return on their commitment of time, resources and money. Having said that, I do believe in raffle-style giveaways of the sort that Goodreads offers and have participated in several for my books. The exception to all this, of course, is books that are part of a series. If the reader likes the free book, they’ll likely buy additional titles in the series.

What are three of the most important things you believe an author should do after their book is released?

First, stay with it. Bringing a book to life is akin to having a baby – and similarly is sometimes accompanied by post-partum depression. On publication day and the weeks immediately after, sales and promotional opportunities are all you can think about. For any author who’s not a household name, initial sales tend to be low – probably lower than expected – and it’s easy to become disheartened. In addition, marketing takes a ton of time – 25% to 50% of your day – and is virtually impossible to measure; so it’s another catalyst for disappointment. You simply have to believe in your work, believe it will find an audience, and stay with it.

Second, write something else. The best way to boost sales and visibility of Book ABC is to publish Book XYZ. In addition to helping sales of the first book, writing another keeps your head in the game. Keeps reminding you that writing is what you do and what you’ll always do.

Third, sit back and enjoy the moment. Writing a book is a big accomplishment. Everyone thinks they have a book in them, but very few make the commitment to go through with it. I’m a believer in celebrating the big and little things in life. Too many people focus solely on the past or the future and miss the opportunity to savor the present.

What kind of pre-promotion did you do before the book came out?

I added the book to my website, Facebook author page, and Twitter account masthead as soon as the cover was finalized. I created a short “teaser” video trailer that I promoted on all three of those platforms. I signed up for this tour with “Pump Up Your Book,” added the book to Readers Alley to encourage reviews, and created a Goodreads giveaway that ended one week after the publication date.

Do you have a long-term plan with your book?

In my mind, this book is destined to be a movie. It has all the characteristics of a big-screen hit – humor, sex, and suspense. So my plan is to keep promoting it as a book, trying to boost sales and visibility, and either write a screenplay myself or pitch it as a film adaptation.

What would you like to say to your readers and fans about your book?

Writers write in order to be read – not to garner fame or riches – but simply to be read. Going Both Ways was a true labor of love for me and I want it to be read by as wide an audience as possible. I believe it’s a book that will make readers laugh out loud while also delivering eye-opening insights. I always encourage fans to spread the word and to contact me via any of the social media platforms to share their thoughts and ask questions.

Interview with Jersey Girl Book Reviews

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.16.33 AMBefore we get to the interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself. 
After a career as a marketing executive, I left the corporate world to focus on activities that were more fulfilling on a personal level and more contributory to the world around me. Today I focus on writing and teaching. I’ve often said “I live the American dream” and that is indeed how I feel. With a wonderful wife, two grown children, great friends and a couple of rambunctious Labrador retrievers, I stay very active and involved.

How long have you been a writer?
Truly my whole life. Like many kids I starting writing goofy stories for my own enjoyment and to share with friends. I sold my first article when I was 16.

Do you have a day job, or is being an author your career? 
Writing is now my focus though I’m also an adjunct professor at Boston College and still do some consulting on the side.

What inspired you to become a writer? Describe your journey as a writer. 
I truly had no choice. It’s what I always wanted to be. My first book was a YA novel. Since then I’ve written several books of humor, two nonfiction books, and several adult novels.

Please give a brief description/storyline about Still Counting
A young couple (Adam and Nina) share an immediate and powerful connection to each other. Nina sees life as a 1000 shades of gray, while Adam tends towards black-and-white. Their conflict – and the resulting damage to their relationship – revolves around Nina’s bisexuality. Adam somehow equates bisexuality to promiscuity and feels he now has to compete not just with other men but also with every other woman in their circle of friends and colleagues. Nina wants trust, but Adam delivers irrational jealousy.

What was the inspiration for this story? 
I wanted to write something like Erich Segal’s classic Love Story for a 21st century audience that revolved around contemporary themes. I’d been holding onto the first line – “The first time I saw her it was raining.” – for a long time and finally had a place to use it. I think it served well as a powerful springboard for the characters and plotline.

How did it feel to have your first book published?
I was thrilled beyond belief. It had been a lifelong dream. It also provided affirmation that I wasn’t the worst writer that’s ever lived and encouraged me to continue – and maybe push the envelope a bit in terms of subject matter.

Do you write books for a specific genre? 
My interests are quite broad so I tend to write in a variety of genres and on a broad array of topics. My focus now is on fiction that provides insight into male-female relationships – e.g., romance, chick-lit and women’s fiction.

What genres are your favorite(s)? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why? 
I’ve always had a soft spot for what I would call “mainstream/commercial literary fiction” – books like The World According to Garp, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and This Is Where I Leave You. They’re all funny, sad, and universally relatable. Also loved Still Alice and The Notebook – both of which combined stories of true love with the inevitability of aging and death.

Do you have a special spot/area where you like to do your writing?
I have two primary writing spots in my house – a small den where I work on a MacBook Air at my desk or while sitting on a comfy chair with a “lap-desk.” I also have an iMac set up in a nook in the basement, and I work there if I need the larger screen or am creating supporting multi-media like video trailers.

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books? 
I got a million of ‘em. Seriously, I have way more ideas, characters, and plot twists than I could ever use. I can’t point to how or why, they just pop into my head.

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes? 
I’m very disciplined. When I wrote Still Counting I had an objective of at least 500 words a day, 7 days a week. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll wait a long time.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most? 
I love writing dialogue and short scenes. I’m not a big fan of long detailed descriptive passages; I often skim them in books I read and I know I’m awful at writing them.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing? 
My wife and I have two yellow Labs and we take them for a walk or two every day in nearby woods. I’m always reading two books at once – one novel and one nonfiction title. I could perhaps be defined as a Netflix addict but I prefer Netflix “enthusiast.” In all honesty, however, writing is my favorite thing to do.

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received? 
Just do it! You can think about it and agonize over minutiae but it’s all for naught unless you actually put words on paper.

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer? 
I love to hear that something I wrote touched the reader or provided insight. There’s nothing better than that.

How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans? 
The usual suspects – Twitter, my Facebook Author Page, and blogging.

Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences or are they purely all from your imagination? 
I don’t believe there is any fiction that has not been influenced by real-life experiences in some way. Having said that, the storyline is purely fiction and the characters are not based on particular individuals.

What authors have been your inspiration or influenced you to become a writer? 
I most loved Steinbeck, John O’Hara, and Philip Roth when I was younger. Still love Anne Tyler, Nick Hornby and Elizabeth Gilbert. The commonality is their writings focus on interpersonal relationships and always offer a few ah-ha epiphanies.

What is your definition of success as a writer? 
Being read and enjoyed by a wide audience.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit of it with us? 
I have another book, Going Both Ways, coming out on March 18 from Wild Rose Press. It’s a gender-shifting paranormal romance. I’m currently writing two novels — a black-comedy and a road-tripper.

“Stranded on a Desert Island:” Novel Escapes Interview

pexels-photoIf you could only have one book with you, what would it be/
The One-Volume Columbia Encyclopedia.  There are many books I could re-read multiple times, but not continuously. The Columbia book could keep me interested for weeks and probably stimulate a lot of story ideas.

What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?
Assuming a Lear jet or helicopter was out of the question, I’d probably opt for a Bose music system loaded with my entire music library. I can cope with most anything with Springsteen and Dylan playing in the background.

What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?
Fishing pole and tackle. I’ve always loved fishing and stranded on an island I could entertain myself and fill my belly at the same time.

Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?
Depends on circumstances. Was I planning to be stranded? If so, I could probably go a month. If unplanned, I’d enjoy it for a week at most. I’m actually comfortable being alone. I did a major rewrite of Still Counting in Seville, Spain by myself. I was teaching at Boston College and went there for a week during spring break while my wife had to stay home and work.

If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?
Probably Jon Stewart. He’d challenge my thinking and make me laugh in the process.

What modern technology would you miss the most?
My iPad. It combines a laptop, phone, TV, stereo system, library, notepad, and movie screen into one compact package.

What food or beverage would you miss the most?
That’s a no-brainer: ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.

How many days do you think you would cope without rescue?
I’m not a particularly handy guy so I wouldn’t be building a raft or canoe. I’d probably try to survive by fishing and crabbing. I tend to feel like “I’m starving” if I go a couple of hours without eating – so I’d probably start whining within the first day.

What is the first thing you would do when rescued?
I’d go to Regina’s in Boston’s North End for a large pepperoni pizza.

What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?
“There’s gotta be a book in this!”

Interview with “Change the Word”

Blackboard with chalkChange the Word: What was your inspiration for Still Counting
Phil Fragasso: I’d always wanted to write a classic romantic page-turner like Erich Segal’s Love Story, but I wanted the story to revolve around contemporary issues (in this case sexual identity). My goal was to create a character-driven story that would make readers laugh and cry and provide some insight in the process.

CTW: What was the greatest challenge you faced while writing it, and how did you overcome it?
PF: I’ve often said that my tragic flaw is having too many interests. I’ve written in a wide variety of genres and my most recent work has been nonfiction. I have a literary agent who has sold my nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Still Counting. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown in genre fiction. I loved the book and had decided to self-publish – but first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

CTW: If you could spend a day hanging out with one character from Still Counting, who would you choose and what would you do?
PF: It would have to be Nina. She’s a remarkable young woman. Strongly independent beyond her years (she’s only 22). She’s a beautiful and sassy artist who knows exactly who she is and makes no apologies to anyone. I love people like that. I’d want to spend the day walking around Boston and Cambridge with her talking about whatever popped into our heads and eating at some of the cool restaurants and bars mentioned in the book.

CTW: What are three things you need when you sit down to write?
PF: First off, gotta have my MacBook Air. It’s weird how my writing process has changed over the years. When I started writing, I wrote on a manual typewriter. When I upgraded to an electric typewriter, I found I could no longer write with my fingers on the keyboard. Maybe it was the impatient hum of the motor, but I had to write longhand and then type it. When I moved to computers I was again able to sit at the keyboard and create. Now I have a hard time writing longhand – probably because I edit extensively as I write. Second thing would be a beverage. Usually coffee in the morning, diet Coke and iced tea in the afternoon, and whiskey in the evening (though not always in that order). Something about writing makes me thirsty. Why? Can’t say. The third thing would be a comfortable place to sit. That may sound strange, but I’m big on comfort. I can write most anywhere regardless of noise levels or lighting, inside or outside, just as long as I’m sitting comfortably. (And yes that means I can’t write while standing up. Tried but can’t do it.)

CTW: Where do you draw inspiration from as a writer?
PF: Everywhere. I have way more storylines, situations, characters, and plot twists than I could ever use. I can’t point to how or why, but the inspiration just pops into my head. Part of it is that I’m always open to new ideas and keep my eyes and ears wide open

CTW: What are your three all-time favorite reads?
PF: “All-time favorite” is tough and limiting it to three is impossible. I’ve always had a soft spot for what I would call “mainstream/commercial literary fiction” – books like The World According to Garp, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Help, and The Invention of Wings. They’re all funny, sad, and universally relatable. Also loved Still Alice and The Notebook – both of which combined stories of true love with the inevitability of aging and death.

CTW: What is the most important lesson you have learned so far as an author? 
PF: Discipline is king. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll wait a long time and end up with nothing. I’ve learned to be very disciplined. When I wrote Still Counting I had an objective of at least 500 words a day, seven days a week. I wrote the first draft in about three months, and then edited and re-edited for another year.

CTW: What’s up next for you and your writing career? 
PF: I have another book, Going Both Ways, coming out on March 18 from Wild Rose Press. It’s a funny, gender-shifting paranormal romance. I’m currently writing two novels – a black-comedy and a road-tripper.

It’s Official: I’m a Girly Man

guy with ipad LOVEI started lusting after girls before I hit my teens. I spent my youth playing baseball and basketball. I love horse racing, pro football, and fishing. I enjoy cold beer, straight whiskey, and the occasional cigar. I’ve owned a series of sports cars over the last three decades. Nonetheless, at the relatively ripe old age of 65, I’ve come to the unequivocal realization that I am a girly man.

As with most things in life, my wife came to this conclusion long before I did. Pretty much from the day we married she’d proudly announce to anyone in hearing range that she was the guy and I was the girl in the relationship. If something needed fixing around the house, I’d look at it, not have a clue what to do, and turn it over to my wife. I’d usually stay nearby in case she needed my “manliness” to reach something high or move something heavy, but for the most part I’d simply stay out of the way.

My wife also likes to point out that I’m the one who remembers our anniversary and can recall who-what-when-and-where minutiae about our first date. I like holding hands and cuddling far more than she does; and I’m the one who reads Nicholas Sparks novels, watches movies with subtitles and, with nary a trace of embarrassment, the one who cried when Haddie returned home from college to be with her cancer-stricken mom on Parenthood.

I used to attribute this aspect of my character to simply being in touch with my feminine side, but I now realize it’s much more pervasive than that. I proactively seek out and embrace the feminine aspect of my character. Many of my closest friends are women and I do find myself confiding more to them than I do to my guy friends. In addition, while noodling this idea, I’ve also recognized that most of my guy friends are also girly men. They don’t cheat on their wives, they don’t drink or gamble to excess, they don’t feel compelled to exercise their Second Amendment right to own firearms, and they tend to be soft-spoken, empathetic and humble. They’re good people who don’t hang out at the country club bar to escape from the old “ball and chain.”

I’ve never been a particularly competitive guy. Whether playing sports or playing board games with friends and family, I don’t really care if I win or lose. I’d prefer to win, but the reason I play is to play. I guess that’s why I’ve never been attracted to the likes of fantasy football. In fact I don’t even understand its appeal. It requires way too large a time commitment and delivers none of the intellectual, social or emotional rewards I value. Plus, if I had Russell Wilson or Luke Kuechly on my fantasy team would I have to root for them even when they’re playing against my beloved Patriots? I don’t get why anyone would purposely choose to add yet another conundrum to our already confusing lives. But there I go again thinking like a woman instead of a dude.

Life is short, which means it’s all about choices. So rather than watching half a dozen sports events every weekend, I limit myself to one or two – and oftentimes none. That means I can’t name the leading running backs in the NFL, the division leaders in the NBA, or the top twenty NCAA teams. But I’m okay with that. It’s not important to me. What is important is learning more about the world around me and the people that are important to me – my family, my friends, my students, and myself. And the way I achieve that is via so-called girly activities like reading, listening, and introspection.

I’ve been a writer for my entire life. I sold my first article when I was sixteen, and I’ve had a wide variety of books and articles published over the years. Recently, however, I’ve decided that the “wide variety” was disadvantageous. I needed to focus my writing. So guess what? I decided to focus on the romance and “chick-lit” genres. I realized I enjoyed reading and writing about the interplay between men and women far more than the cat-and-mouse intrigue of mysteries or the life-and-death plot twists of thrillers. I’ve found that I learn far more about relationships and the human condition from Jodi Picoult than James Patterson. Similarly, I glean more insight when writing a love story than toiling away on a sci-fi adventure. And the beauty is that I can sip just as much whiskey while writing a bittersweet romance as I could working on a hardboiled whodunit.

One of the assignments I give my students at Boston College is to write their own eulogies. That’s a difficult and oftentimes troubling task for young people, and it’s not much easier for folks like me in their seventh decade. But one thing I’d hope to have spoken at my funeral is that “he was a girly man and proud of it.”

If the Character Is an A-Hole, Is the Author One Also?

stupid-man-punchEdna St. Vincent Millay said, “A person who publishes a book appears willfully in the public eye with his pants down.” I’ve long agreed with Millay’s observation, but never more than since the publication of my new novel, Still Counting.

Based on the early reviews Adam, the male lead character, is universally disliked. Readers find him dumb, insensitive, clueless, and far worse. Here are some of my favorite comments:

  • “This is a great book for any woman who has dated a moron in the past.”
  • “Adam truly is a male archetype (duh, get it: Adam?)”
  • “The fact that he just kept digging himself a deeper hole is a typical man.”

The thing is I’m okay with all of this as long as readers don’t feel the same about me. That’s where it gets complicated. Is Millay’s “public eye” viewing me with my pants actually down or only imagining my pants being down?

As the reviewers wrote these comments, they carefully danced around the issue of whether the author had actually intended this reaction and purposely created such an unlovable character. They seemed to hope so – partly, I assume, to not insult the author and partly because they hoped and prayed there was at least one non-A-hole male in the world.

The good news is that I did intend that reaction. Adam is a fairly typical twenty-something guy who tends to believe the universe revolves around him. Women are there for his pleasure; and they need to accept him, warts and all, even if he can’t reciprocate the courtesy. To top it off, if he can’t understand something, he attacks it rather than asking questions and taking the time to learn more.

The bad news is that the author – that would be me – shares some of these traits and is an admitted A-hole in many ways. Like most men I’m significantly over-confident regarding my intelligence and abilities (and maybe even my attractiveness to the opposite sex?). I have a hard time looking a woman straight in the eye if she’s displaying serious cleavage (or even not so serious). And – with sincere apologies to all womankind – I have a deep-seated belief that women are inherently better at cleaning and cooking than the mass of men. On the flipside, particularly as a husband and father to a young woman, I have never underestimated or demeaned women. The two best bosses I ever had were women. In the classes I teach at Boston College, the female students tend to be more engaged, diligent, and insightful than the males. And I think it’s an embarrassment that the U.S. has never had a female president.

One of the reviewers brought a smile to my face with this comment, “The author clearly loves women and thinks men are idiots.” I think that’s my full monty in terms of Millay’s adage. Female readers might view Adam as a cretin but give the author credit for shining such a harsh light on male obliviousness. Male readers, on the other hand, will likely point a finger at the author and curse him out for having broken the bro blood-oath. I’m okay with that as well.

Sinatra, the Would-Be Romance Writer

33e598bf-0a25-4503-8f8d-fef093e5b5d5Thousands of books and articles have been written about Frank Sinatra. In all of those works, however, no one has suggested that – had he been an author – Sinatra would have written romance novels, chick-lit, and woman’s fiction. Until now.

Sinatra was an incurable romantic. The list of Hollywood stars he wed or bedded can go head-to-head with the conquests of Clooney or DiCaprio. But those short-lived relationships were never about accumulating bedpost notches. Instead, Sinatra used physical closeness to compensate for his lifelong failure to find true love. He believed in – and sought after – a fairy-tale love affair that would never end.

But that’s not the sole reason I believe Ol’ Blues Eyes would have authored chick-lit novels had he pursued a writing career. Rather than stating it myself, I’ll quote from Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters:

“Sinatra finally found a way to allow tenderness into the performance while remaining manly…He perfected the role of the Tender Tough Guy and passed it on to several generations of Americans. Before him, that archetype did not exist in American popular culture…Frank Sinatra created a new model for American masculinity.”

Sinatra grew up in a world where “men were men” and women knew their place. He spent many hours – both in his youth and later years – hanging out with his Rat Pack pals in NYC bars, Havana nightclubs, and Vegas casinos. With his swagger and smirk, he looked every bit the macho player. But everything changed when he sang. That’s why girls swooned over him in the 1940s and why every self-respecting male born before 1970 owns a copy of “In The Wee Small Hours.”

Sinatra was a control freak in the recording studio. He chose his songs with the careful deliberation of a museum curator. He worked closely with the arranger on the pace and mood of the score, and he badgered the studio musicians to deliver exactly what he wanted. There was no settling for Sinatra. He delivered maximum impact from every nuanced lyric he sang. And it is the content of those lyrics that suggest a hugely successful career as a romance novelist. Consider these lines:

You took the part / That once was my heart / So why not / Take all of me

In the wee small hours of the morning / That’s the time you miss her most of all.

I’ll never be the same / There is such an ache in my heart / Never be the same / Since we’re apart

Curmudgeons might argue that Sinatra didn’t write any of those lyrics. Tis true. But what’s equally true is that Sinatra owned those lyrics. He made them his. He filled them with an emotional richness that could transform treacle into soul-deep rapture. The songs Sinatra selected told the story of his life – of love lost, love unrequited, and a future that still held the possibility of true love forever.

Love lost, love unrequited, and the possibility of true love forever are the literary linchpins of women’s fiction and chick-lit novels. Had that been the path Sinatra pursued, he would have been a masterful and bestselling author. You heard it here first.

 

Novelist’s Parents Discuss Son’s Book

Godfather parodyMary Donatello has just opened an Amazon package containing a paperback copy of Still Counting, the novel narrated by her son Adam.

Mary: Hey, Joey, come here, come here. Adam’s an author!

Joey:   A blog about ironic alliteration that no one reads does not qualify him as an author.

Mary: No. It’s a real book. The one about him and Nina. Remember?

Joey:   Did he mention us?

Mary:  How should I know? I just got it.

Joey:   I hope he didn’t say nothin’ about the gerbils.

Mary: Well it would serve you right for kidding around all the time.

Joey:   Let me see it.

Mary: Be careful. Don’t crease the pages.

Joey:   It’s a book. You can’t read it without turning the pages.

Mary:  Just be gentle.

Joey:   Look at this. He says I shit like clockwork.

Mary:  Well you do.

Joey:   But the whole friggin’ world doesn’t have to know it.

Mary: Everyone who knows you already knows your schedule. The rest of the world doesn’t care. Plus it’s fiction.

Joey:   Fiction? Listen to this. He says I sometimes try to talk like a Mafioso. That ain’t no fiction.

Mary:  They say authors should write about stuff they know. So sometimes there’s some truth mixed in with the fiction.

Joey:   So now you’re a literary critic?

Mary:  I read everything on Oprah’s list.

Joey:   Wait a minute here’s something about you.

Mary: What did he say?

Joey:   He says you’re a no-nonsense matriarch with a bellowing voice like a sports announcer. He says you’re a clean freak and you always cook too much when we have company.

Mary:  He’s a good boy.

Joey:   You always liked him best.

Mary: But you’re a close second.

Joey:   Does that mean it’s time to get the gerbils?