Thrilled to see that my next novel, "Twenty-one Truths About Love," was listed in the Washington Post's list of "The 18 books to read this fall!"
A book comprised entirely of lists appearing on this prestigious list of books made my day.
Thrilled to see that my next novel, "Twenty-one Truths About Love," was listed in the Washington Post's list of "The 18 books to read this fall!"
A book comprised entirely of lists appearing on this prestigious list of books made my day.
I’m not going to die, of course, but in a hypothetical world where death would come for even me, I think that some of the last words of Hemingway’s Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls would be the perfect epitaph:
"The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it."
Kind of perfect set of words.
Not that I’ll ever need them.
The manager of a chain of hotels in Japan recently spent 1.2 million yen, or roughly $11,000, for 24 grapes.
It sounds crazy, but expensive, specialty-grown fruit of unique appearance or intense taste is a trend in Japan, used as gifts, or in this case for promotional purposes, Guest at the hotels will be able to eat one of the grapes for about $460.
The specific variety — Ruby Red — first came to market in 2008, and about 26,000 will be sold this year. The expensive, but perfectly unblemished and flavorful fruit is one way that small farms are able to compete against the enormous agricultural companies.
Okay, that’s their business idea, which I like a lot. Rich people like things that are exclusive, innovative, interesting, and entertaining – as well as things that are rare, unusual, valuable, and otherwise desirable. There are a lot of wealthy folks looking to spend money on unique experiences who have already spent ridiculous amounts of money on items designed to set them apart from the masses:
Bottle service. Hand-crafted furniture. Custom-build automobiles. Ostrich coats. Six-figure handbags. Wine cellars.
Why not take advantage of this market by pricing a single grape at a $500?
Now for my business idea:
Single edition short stories or novels. Stories written for a single buyer that no one else will ever see.
A novel written for your eyes only.
Admittedly, a part of me would be devastated by the thought that I might write an entire novel that only one human being could ever read, but that devastation could be significantly mitigated for the right price. If I could send my two kids to college for the price of a book or upgrade to a larger, mortgage-free home for a single story, I think I could find a way to let one story disappear onto the bookshelf of a single reader.
Single edition novels:
Brilliant idea? Artistically-bankrupt idea?
I think it depends on the price.
This is one of those moments when I’m going to apologize for complaining about something that really shouldn’t be a complaint.
While visiting Pike Market in Seattle a couple weeks ago, we stopped in a great, little bookstore called Lion Heart Books, where we were thoroughly entertained by the owner, David Ghoddousi. His store didn’t carry any of my books, but it was small and eclectic. I was willing to forgive him.
Of course we bought some books for the kids (and a few for me). Clara and Charlie love books, and I’m always willing to spend a little money on the written word.
But for the next hour, Elysha and I had to demand that the children stop reading their books and “Look around!”
“Pick your heads up!”
“You can read anytime! You won’t see this place again for a long time!”
At one point Elysha popped into a Starbucks, so the kids immediately camped out on the corner, opened their books, and pretended that I didn’t exist.
I surrendered. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll look at the big, beautiful world and you can stick your noses into your dumb books.”
I know. I should be happy, and I am.
But still… look at them. What a couple of giant nerds.
As you probably know, Toni Morrison died this week. The world lost a literary giant.
I read every one of Morrison’s novels - mostly in college - and they frightened the hell out of me. I remember finishing The Bluest Eye and thinking, “Damn I’m never going to be able to write a novel if this is what novels need to be!”
Happily, it turns out that you don’t need to be as talented as Toni Morrison to have a publishing career.
Toni Morrison was also at the center of one of my most memorable academic achievements in college, including a question I have wanted to ask her for 25 years.
Now I won’t get the chance.
It was my second year at Trinity College, taking a class centering on literature by Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer. Over the course of the semester, I read every book that Morrison had published. Though it made for an intense reading list, I was enjoying the work a great deal.
We had just finished reading Morrison’s Beloved and were discussing it in class. As the hour was drawing to a close, questions about the ending of the book eventually arose. Specifically, the professor wanted to address the way in which the ghost of Beloved inexplicably explodes near the end of the novel. She explained that she had never understood Morrison's decision in this regard and hoped to one day meet the author and ask her about that ending scene.
The exploding ghost had seemed a little odd to me as well, and my classmates agreed. We ended class on that note, leaving the issue unresolved.
Fifteen minutes after class, with the idea still rolling around in my head, I had an epiphany. I was eating a cheeseburger in the cafeteria when an idea struck. In an instant, I thought that I understood Morrison’s decision completely.
The next day I came to class and raised my hand.
“I think I know why Beloved explodes at the end of the book,” I said.
Okay,” the professor said, sounding dubious. Why?”
“Think about Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred,” I said and then recited the poem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
“Beloved represents a dream deferred. A murdered baby who never became the child that her mother wanted. Morrison is eluding to what might happen when a a dream like this is deferred. Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? No, says Morrison. It explodes.”
There was a silence in the class for a moment, and then the professor’s eyes widened. She smiled and said, “I think you got it. My God, I think you got it.”
Sadly, I’ll never know.
Whether or not I am actually correct is this assumption, it was a wonderful moment for me. I was six years older than any of my classmates and managing a McDonald’s restaurant full time while also attending Trinity College full time.
Even in year two of my Trinity career, I still didn’t feel like I belonged. It was ridiculous, of course. I graduated in the top 10 of my class in terms of GPA and was doing just fine in every one of my classes, but when you’re in the midst of people who are so unlike you, it’s easy to feel like an imposter.
A moment like this made me think that maybe I could do this work after all. Maybe I really did belong.
And it made up for all those moments in Feminist Literary Criticism when my four other classmates, all female, were talking about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in lofty, literary terms and I was still unable to understand a single word of the damn book.
A couple bits of book love that have me feeling great this week:
One of the first reviews of my upcoming novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, has arrived via Kirkus Reviews, an important book review magazine, and happily, it’s a good one!
Dan Mayrock is in a bind: He has not yet told his wife, Jill, that his business is failing and they are almost out of money. He's kept this secret for 13 months now. A former teacher who left his job to open a bookshop, Dan struggles daily with not only the slings and arrows of economic instability, but also the existential questions of what it means to be a man in the 21st century. What if he can't provide for his family? How can he measure up to Peter, Jill's deceased first husband? Is robbery a viable, not to mention moral, supplementary career path?
Meanwhile, Dan's father, who left home when Dan was only 9 years old, is trying to reconcile. Too angry to even open his father's letters, Dan turns to Bill, a 72-year-old widower he met while scouting a bingo hall for theft potential. A Vietnam veteran who lost his wife to a carjacking and his son to cancer, Bill may be the friend Dan needs.
Told entirely through the series of lists comprising Dan's journal, Dicks' latest novel sketches surprisingly complex characters. Much like the famous six-word story often erroneously ascribed to Hemingway ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn"), these lists—and the silences they outline—conjure a tense world in which, no matter how hard Dan tries to gain control of his finances, his life, or his emotions, he continually gets stuck in simply recording the absurdities of life and making futile plans to become a hero to Jill. As the days pass, Dan's lists reflect his increasing desperation, ratcheting up the tension until life throws a potentially devastating curveball at him that pushes him to reassess everything he had thought to be true.
A clever, genre-bending portrait of a man under pressure.
Then there’s this:
A staircase that features a features favorite books. Clever!
The reader sent it to me specifically because of the third step, which features the UK edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.
When I published my first novel a decade ago, I had no idea how kind, thoughtful, and generous readers could be. Such a beautiful surprise.
I am celebrating my tenth anniversary in publishing today!
On July 14, 2009, I published my first novel, Something Missing, with Broadway Books, a division of Doubleday, thus making a seemingly impossible dream come true. I can still remember walking into the now-defunct Borders Books and seeing my book on the shelf for the first time.
This was followed in 2010 with the publishing of my second novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, also with Doubleday.
In 2013, I switched to St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, and published Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, my most successful book so far. In 2016, I published The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, also with St. Martin’s Press, and in November of this year, I’ll publish my fifth novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love.
Sometime in 2020, my sixth novel The Other Mother, will publish here in the United States. It’s already been published abroad.
I also published Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling in 2018 with New World Library.
Six books in ten years. It’s been an amazing decade.
in addition to publishing in the United States, my books have also been published in more than 25 countries overseas, and three of my four novels are currently optioned for film.
I’ve also become the humor columnist for Seasons magazine and an advice columnist for Slate magazine. I’ve published pieces regularly in Parents magazine
The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists has awarded me first prize in the opinion/humor writing category in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was the 2014 Dolly Gray Award winner and was a finalist for the 2017 Nutmeg Award in Connecticut.
I say all this because despite a decade of consistent work in the publishing world, here’s the crazy thing:
I still don’t feel like a real author. I still feel like at any moment, I will be discovered for the fraud that I surely am and be unceremoniously kicked out of the literary world.
Isn’t that crazy?
I’ve often wonder when the day will come when I will feel like an honest-to-goodness writer and rid myself of this persistent imposter syndrome.
Then again, maybe imposter syndrome isn’t such a bad thing. It keeps me on the knife’s edge, working like hell to stay relevant, valuable, and in the game.
Still, it would be nice to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” by saying “Teacher, writer, and storyteller” and not feel like the writer part of that answer isn’t real.
Either way, it’s been ten years today. A decade that I never would have dreamed possible and still seems kind of impossible when I reflect back upon it.
And would’ve been impossible if not for the support of friends, family, editors, publicists, booksellers, Elysha, and my agent and friend, Taryn Fagerness.
Hopefully I’ll be writing a similar post in another ten years, and perhaps by then, I’ll be feeling like the honest-to-goodness author I’ve always wanted to be.
Thinking about writing a review of a book you enjoyed?
Probably not, I know, but you should! Positive reviews help readers find books and make authors quite happy.
The Other Mother, my sixth novel, won’t publish in the United States until sometime in 2020, but it’s available in the UK and abroad now. An unusual situation created by my US publisher’s decision to reverse the order of my books.
I saw this review of the book on Instagram the other day and thought, “Damn… this is how to write a review.”
Shooketh! An invented word! A beautiful word! An act of creation!
Also a word that appears in the urban dictionary, credited to a YouTube comedian in 2017, but still…
Invent a word. Break new ground. Write a review. Bring a little joy to an author’s life.
I’m reaching out today, readers, listeners, and friends, because I have always believed that the wisdom of the crowd is better than the wisdom of the one, and also because when I’ve asked for help in the past, you have been amazing.
When I wrote about my desire to find the title of the first library book I ever borrowed, one reader found that title based upon my vague description and another actually sent me the book. It’s sitting on my shelf today.
When I wrote about Mrs. Carroll, the kindergarten teacher who taught me to tie my shoes and was the first person to teach me about the value of grit and determination, one of my readers put me in touch with Mrs. Carroll, who was in her 90’s at the time, allowing me to thank her for all that she had done for me.
When I wrote about the Blackstone Valley snipers - two men who terrorized the parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island where I grew up by firing rifles into windows at night and requiring the National Guard to patrol the streets - the girlfriend of one of these men (who was about to be paroled) reached out to castigate me for calling her boyfriend a monster.
That last one was not exactly helpful, but it certainly was interesting.
But time and time again, I have put out requests on my blog and social media, and time and time again, folks like you have stepped up with answers and assistance.
So I bring a new problem to you today in hopes that you might offer some creative ideas and assistance of any kind.
On October 15, my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, publishes. It’s a unique book in that it’s written entirely in lists. List after list after list that tell the story of an obsessive list maker and his desperate need to save his marriage from financial ruin.
My publisher will be marketing the book, of course, but unfortunately, authors must do a great deal in order to market and sell books these days, so I’m in the process of putting together my own plan for publicity. This will include a launch party, a festival tour, a tour of regional bookstores, a podcast series that will teach listeners about the birth of a book, and much more.
I also plan to leverage the unique list format to run several contests in which readers will be asked to submit their own lists based upon some of the titles of lists that actually appear in the book. I’m also hoping to get some attention from the media in this regard.
I also plan on appearing on as many podcasts as possible. I was interviewed on more than two dozen podcasts for the launch of Storyworthy, and it helped tremendously. I hope to do the same this time.
Now I turn to you. Two requests:
What ideas do you have for marketing and selling this book? Any and all ideas are welcomed. Don’t be afraid that your idea might sound crazy or obvious or impossible. I want to hear it all. What ideas do you have for getting this book into the zeitgeist?
Do you know anyone who might be able to help? Do you listen to a podcast where I might fit well, and and if so, can you reach out to that host and recommend me? Do you have contacts in the media who might want to interview me? Do you know an author who might be willing to offer an endorsement? Do you belong to the Obsessive List Maker Club of America? If there really is only six degrees of separation between any two people in the world, then one of you should be best friends with Terry Gross, Marc Maron, Oprah Winfrey, Peter Sagal, or Stephen King. If you could get them to read and love the book, that would be great.
I look forward to all of your ideas, thoughts, connections, and hair-brained schemes. You can tell me all about them in the comments on this post, via social media, or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much.
One of the books I hope to write in the next couple years will be a nonfiction account of my attempt to try things that I was once did in my youth but have not done for a very long time.
The book will center on the idea that so often in life, we do something important to us for the last time, yet we often don’t know or bother to notice that it’s the last time.
We don’t take the time or have the awareness to savor that final moment.
If you’re a parent, for example, you spend years picking up your children. Carrying them everywhere. Lifting them to hug and kiss them. Tossing them into the car. Then they get taller and heavier, and at some point, you pick them up for the very last time.
Can you imagine?
Happily, I have not reached that point with either of my kids yet, but that day will come.
Will I recognize that this is the last time I will pick up my daughter like a little girl?
Probably not. Except that every time I pick up Clara now, I savor the moment, knowing that she’s ten years-old and might stop asking to be picked up sooner than later. So maybe. I might get lucky and recognize that final lift for what it is. Maybe.
My book will be filled with slightly more exciting moments than picking up my kids. For example, for two years I pole vaulted in high school, becoming good enough to win the championship of our very small region that contained very few pole vaulters.
Most schools did not actually have a pole vaulter or pole vaulting equipment at all.
Still, I was a vaulter, and I loved it. I was looking forward to my senior season when a car accident in December of that year nearly killed me and ended my pole vaulting career short. As I recovered from my injuries, I wasn’t able to compete, and that ended my career.
The nature of pole vaulting doesn’t allow it to be a backyard or weekend sport. When I went through that windshield two days before Christmas, my pole vaulting days were over.
But I wish I had the chance to vault again. To spend some time enjoying and recognizing and savoring those final moments in the pole vaulting pit.
That is what I want to do. I want to vault again. Join a high school pole vaulting team for a season. Try to clear opening height. Enjoy this thing that I loved so much one last time.
This is what my book would be about. The chronicling of one man’s attempt to recapture his youth. Do those things that he might not be able to do anymore at all in the coming years.
I have a list of these things - about 10 in all - that I would attempt. Some are easier than others, but all would make great stories, I think. It would be a chance for me to both look into the past as well as tell stories about what’s happening in the present.
This idea has been kicking around in my head for about a decade. Last week someone sent me this video. An 84 year-old Vermont woman competing in the pole vault.
I couldn’t believe it.
Maybe time isn’t running out on some of these things as quickly as I once thought. Maybe there’s still time to do more things than I ever imagined.
Maybe there’s still time to pick up your child one last time.
Just last week, I revealed the cover to my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, which publishes in October.
But that wasn’t entirely correct.
My actual next novel is titled The Other Mother, and it will publish in the UK and Australia in June of this year and will publish in the United States sometime in 2020.
In truth, I wrote The Other Mother first, and it was supposed to be my next book published in the United States, too, but then my new editor had the chance to read the first half of Twenty-one Truths About Love, and she and my publisher decided to reverse the order of publication, forcing me to finish Twenty-one Truths About Love early.
If you noticed that I was a little harried last year, now you know why.
But I was thrilled. They were so excited about the book and its potential that they wanted it on store shelves as soon as possible.
So today I’m revealing the cover of The Other Mother, which will grace the UK and Australian editions of the novel. When it finally lands in the United States late next year, the cover will almost assuredly be different.
The name, for example, will definitely be different. My pen name in the UK is Matthew Green after it was determined that my actual last name might offend British sensibilities.
Green is Elysha’s maiden name.
But I like this cover a a lot. I hope you do, too, particularly if you’re living in the UK or Australia.
Not the actual book, which publishes in October, but the cover of my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love. This is the first in many baby steps to be taken before the book can finally land on store shelves.
What do you think?
The book is a bit unusual. Unconventional, you might say.
It’s a novel written entirely in lists:
From the beloved author of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend comes a wonderful new novel about a struggling man, written entirely in lists.
1. Daniel Mayrock loves his wife Jill…more than anything.
2. Dan quit his job and opened a bookshop.
3. Jill is ready to have a baby.
4. Dan is scared; the bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent.
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble. He’s ashamed.
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.
This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances―he wants to become someone.
1. Dan wants to do something special.
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary.
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure.
4. Of living in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.
Dan is also an obsessive list maker, and his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.
In preparation for publication, we’re going to have some contests in which you can contribute to readers’ versions or create your own versions of some of the lists in the book, including the eponymous one.
And if you’re so inclined, preordering the book is ENORMOUSLY helpful to authors. Not only does it increase the book’s chances of landing on bestselling lists, but preorders will increase the initial print run of a book, guaranteeing more copies on bookstore shelves.
Charlie bought a book at Barnes & Noble this weekend entitled “Stories of Boys Who Dare To Be Different.”
As I handed it to the cashier, he turned it over in his hands, examined the cover, and said, “See, this is good. I’m glad they’re writing these books for boys, too. It’s not a boys versus girls thing, but it’s balance that we need.”
The man behind the counter was young and clearly obtuse. Ill informed. I could’ve allowed his comment to go unchallenged, but because I am me, I could not resist.
It also sounded like he was lecturing me, which admittedly annoyed me, too.
So I fired away.
“You’re worried about balance?” I asked. “You really think that I should be worried that my son won’t find characters who represent him in literature? You really think it’s going to be a struggle for my white American son to find authors and heroes and leaders who look like him? I’m happy he’s excited about this book, but if every book for the next ten years was only written about women and by women, the gap between men and women in literature would still be enormous.”
“It’s just that there are a lot of books written for girls today,” he said, sounding sheepish, which was a good sign. At least he understood that the ground he was standing on was flawed.
“Those books aren’t written for girls,” I said with more force than was necessary, but now I was especially annoyed and, if I’m being honest, having some fun. “They’re written about girls, but they are written for everyone. Boys can read about girls, too.”
The man quickly turned his attention to scanning the last couple books. A second later, he announced my total, turning our discussion into a simple transaction.
He was done with me, either because I had snapped at him a bit or because he thought that as a Barnes & Noble employee, this was not the best means of conversation to have with a customer.
If I’m being honest again, I was disappointed. I was preparing to roll out the fact that I’m a teacher of 20 years and the author of four novels and a book of nonfiction as a means of credentialing myself.
Also possibly making myself look like a jackass.
After I paid for the books, I stepped aside and immediately opened my phone so I could record the conversation as best as I could remember it.
I like to be accurate.
Then I told Elysha because I knew that she would share my annoyance.
It’s incredible to think that there are men in this world who are threatened by the prospect that women might find an equal footing in literature or commerce or science or politics or whatever they damn well please.
It’s astounding to me that a man could work in a bookstore, surrounded by books written by white men, and think that books like the Rebel Girls series or an increase in the number of biographies of women or books written by female authors might be creating an imbalance of any kind in the world of books.
Has he not examined the books on the shelves? Does he really think that the scales are about to tip and books about boys are going to disappear forever? Is he that afraid of the idea of sharing space in this world with women?
This encounter was surprising to me, but it shouldn’t be. Frightened little boys in man suits walk amongst us every day, worried that the privilege they have enjoyed for tens of thousands of years might not be as absolute as it once was. These penis-bearing cowards are afraid of world where they will need to compete against women for power and position. They are repulsed by the idea that a bookshelf might someday hold more books written by and about women than men.
How small and sad these little men are.
This statue of the the classic British children's character Matilda staring down a likeness of President Donald Trump has been erected to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Roald Dahl's 1988 novel.
As the Roald Dahl Story Company prepared to mark the anniversary of the novel, it asked the British public to weigh in on a replacement for Miss Trunchbull, the villainous headmistress. A survey asked who Matilda’s present-day antagonist would be.
Topping the poll by a wide margin was, of course, Donald Trump.
Even in a nation an ocean away, with the likes of Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage from which to choose, the most vile person who immediately comes to the British mind is the same one who Americans despise in historically large numbers.
For the record, Matilda would kick Trump’s ass if given half a chance.
The Turkish edition of The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs has arrived!
It never stops being exciting to see the international editions of my books arrive on my doorstep.
Just this week we sold the Taiwanese rights to my next novel, 16 Truths About Love, which will publish in the fall of 2019. And The Other Mother, which will publish a year after that, will publish first in the UK in the spring of 2019.
Publishing internationally is something I never imagined happening when I published my first novel in 2009. In addition to the excitement of knowing that your story is traveling the world and the financial benefits of publishing a book in two dozen countries, I hear from international readers all the time, often through the magic of Google Translate.
Recently, Mexican teenage girls have been writing to me about my first and third novels, wanting to know what happens next.
It’s a strange, strange world.
I opened the Turkish edition of my book, mostly to see what Turkish looked like, and look what I found. Inside the book, affixed to the binding with a perforated edge, is a bookmark designed to appear like the cover of the book.
Also, why don’t we get something like this in the United States? I’m suddenly feeling like our American publishers are letting us down a bit.
I never understood Richard Scarry's Busy Town. I didn't have a lot of children's books growing up, so I missed out on the series for the most part.
But I also made no effort to get my hands on the book for one specific reason:
Even as a kid, I always thought it was stupid when animals in books and movies just did things that regular human beings already did.
Books like the Arthur series were similar.
I would think: You're going to let animals talk and do stuff, and the best you can do is send them to school every day like me? Give them homework? Make them eat dinner at a table with their parents? Why?
I also thought as a kid that Richard Scarry's books were falsely advertised. A guy named Richard Scarry wrote these books, but there not a single scary thing in any of these books. What gives?
However, I recently ran across to updates to Richard Scarry's Busy Town online, and these I can support. I love both, but I really love second one best.
Jerry Seinfeld explains with perfect clarity why I'm constantly standing on stages, telling stories, delivering talks, and performing standup.
I wouldn't go so far as to call the writing and publishing of books the "definition of hell," but he's correct about the lack of immediate, specific feedback from your readers.
When I stand on a stage and perform, I know how I did immediately, in real time, and that is a beautiful thing.
I first wrote about this story back in 2012. It's one of those stories almost too strange to be believed.
It involves two people.
One of them is a woman from Wisconsin named Charity.
The other is a man from Connecticut whose name I will avoid using in order to protect his identity, though I would take great personal pleasure in naming him.
But I will refrain. I'll simply refer to him as Mr. Mensa. You'll see why.
The woman in the story, Charity, is one of my biggest fans. She has read all of my books, reads and comments on my blog and social media regularly, and has written me some of the kindest and most generous emails about my work that I have ever received. She promotes my work to her friends. Even her mother is a fan of my books.
I met Mr. Mensa in the green room of a local television studio a few years ago. I was doing a promotional spot for an upcoming literary festival, and he had recently appeared on a game show and was being interviewed about the experience. He is also a writer. He publishes supernatural detective novels and other things.
After chatting in the green room for a while, we exchanged contact information and became friends on Facebook.
Over the course of the next year or so, he began commenting on my blog posts and status updates with great regularity. His comments were almost always negative. He attacked my positions, criticized my writing, and challenged me at every opportunity. His comments were often biting and sarcastic.
Truthfully, I didn’t mind much. I like to fight. But the consistency of his attacks were admittedly disconcerting. He never let up, no matter what I was writing about. Elysha came to despise him for his constant rants. Friends asked me who this man was and what he had against me. He had quickly become my online nemesis.
Then one day Mr. Mensa went away. Honestly, I never even noticed. I wasn't exactly looking forward to his frequent comments.
Two years later, I received an email from Charity:
From her email:
I met a guy online a few years ago. He was nerdy and Mensa, and I was single and have never minded boyfriends who are 5'6" compared to my 5'10" frame. We got to know each other on Facebook for a year and a half. Sometimes things we were reading in our spare time would come up.
After more than a year of getting to know each other, he flew out here to Madison for a few days for a date weekend. He flew out here from Connecticut.
He saw one of your books on the table and said, "I know this guy."
I said, “Oh, I am obsessed with this guy's stories. My mother discovered his first book at an ALA convention and I cannot get these stories off my mind. I'm into book three, and it's good, but this author has me spinning because I never know what to expect.”
My friend said, “I know this guy. He is a know-it-all, and I hate him and even unfriended him on Facebook.”
I was like, “Oh! I'm sorry to hear it. Please tell me more.”
He said that you thought you knew more than he did. Period.
The weekend did not end well because he spent most of his time playing video games on his phone. I asked him about this and he said there's nothing wrong with this.
His books make no sense to me and are not interesting.
I can't get 40 pages into his books.
He was a rotten date, boring dinner company, and played video games all evening long.
First, what are the odds that these two people, with such divergent connections to me and separated by such great distances, would come together, entirely independent of me?
Slim at best. Right?
But best of all is what Elysha said when I shared the story with her:
“Your biggest fan and your arch nemesis went on a date!”
She’s right. Even though they live about 2,000 miles apart, my biggest fan and my arch nemesis came together for possible romantic entanglement.
I like to think that it was the presence of my book on that table that saved Charity from years of dating misery, but I suspect that even if my name had not come up, she would’ve jettisoned this guy.
It’s an incredibly small world, especially when you write stories that crisscross the globe.
I wrote about that encounter back in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, I had the honor of traveling to Maine on a perfect August weekend to serve as the minister in Charity's wedding to her husband, Brent. I had never met Charity or Brent in person up until that point, but Charity wanted one of her favorite authors - who also happens to be a minister living in New England - to perform her marriage ceremony, and I agreed.
How could I not?
In addition to marrying them on the edge of a beautiful lake, I celebrated their nuptials with food, drink, music, and a late night fire-swallowing demonstration by one of their friends that frightened the hell out of me.
Charity remains in occasional contact with Mr. Mensa today. He reportedly likes to brag about his Mensa status (calling his Mensa status seriously into question), and he presumably still despises me and my work.
But who knows? Had Mr. Mensa appreciated my fiction as much as Charity does, perhaps my biggest fan and my arch nemesis date for a while, and Charity misses her chance at meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Brent.
Maybe Brent meets Scarlet Johansson at a roadside corn stand and they hit it off. Elope. Create beautiful music together.
It's fun to imagine. Right?
I hear from a lot of readers and storytelling fans from around the world.
Just this week, readers from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Columbia, and Ecuador wrote to me about my books an stories.
Add to this folks from Orlando, Seattle, Dallas, and the "mountains of West Virginia."
There was a time in publishing when books held decidedly greater attention and appeal to the American public, as evidenced by these disturbing statistics:
Though I wish the public still treasured books as much as they did 50 or 100 years ago, I take solace in the fact that writers like Hemingway, Dickinson, Baldwin, and Fitzgerald were never able to wake up to an email from a Mexican teenage girl who was dying to know if characters from their first novel ever got married.
This happened yesterday.
Or a Facebook message from a woman in Australia who spent the evening binge-watching my YouTube channel.
That also happened yesterday.
Or the email from Canada who told me that page 181-183 of my new book, Storyworthy, helped her to release an awful burden and perhaps save a friendship.
I received that about a week ago.
Or a photo from a woman in Ecuador who loved their third novel and sent a photo of where that book resides on her shelf.
I received it about a week ago, too.
Yes, I wish more people read books, and I wish more people read my books, but the daily communication I receive from people around the country and the world is pretty amazing.
A lot less profitable, but pretty amazing nonetheless.
At a book talk about a week ago, a woman asked me if I'm ever worried that someone might steal my stories and use them for their own purposes. "Your stories are so good," she said. "How do you protect them from someone who might try to tell them as their own? Or write and publish them? Or write a novel based upon your life?"
I was amused by the question. Copyright, I explained, protects me. There is no need to file any official paperwork in order to establish copyright. If I were to write a poem on the inside of a box of cereal, it would immediately be copyrighted. If I stand up before nine people in a bar and tell a story about my life, I'm instantly protected by copyright.
Copyright is a beautiful thing.
Then I added something like this:
Besides, who would be so desperate and pathetic to steal one of the stories? What kind of sick person would pretend that my life was their own? Even if someone wanted to steal one of my stories, I spend a large portion of my life trying to convince people to write. To tell stories. To preserve their own stories and their own voice in some way for future generations. But the vast majority of these people - almost all of them - ignore my warnings, continue to stare at the television, and live lives of eventual, lamentable regret.
People are lazy, I explained. If a person can't take the time to write or tell your own stories, why would they ever find the energy or initiative to tell my stories?
I liked this answer a lot. I thought it was funny and honest and a little pointed. All characteristic that I adore. And it made the audience laugh, hopefully in the way you laugh at things you know are terribly true.
Then I went home and told Elysha about my impressive answer. Waited for her to express as much admiration for my response as I was feeling.
Instead she said this:
"But Matt, someone did steal one of your stories. Don't you remember?"
She was right.
About four years ago, a low life scum of a human being was speaking to two of my friends when he launched into an amusing story about his childhood. My friends listened in horror, quickly realizing that he was telling one of my childhood stories as is own. They allowed him to finish before calling him on it, at which point he attempted a few feeble excuses and slithered away like the worm that he was and still is.
Damn. That lady at RJ Julia Booksellers was right. People steal stories.
Correction: Low life cretins steal stories.
It admittedly takes an especially sad, despicable, and rotten human being to do such a thing - someone who hates their own life so much that they will steal the life of another - but it's a real possibility.
My clever, cavalier answer was nonsense.
My only hope is that the number of low life cretins looking to steal stories is low.