For the past week Sue and I were in Florida cleaning out my father’s stuff from his condo.  As I wrote this last sentence, I immediately realized that stuff was a totally inadequate word for what we were doing.  We were actually cleaning out the man.  Taking his life and sorting it into three piles: Keepers, Giveaways, and Trash.

We always knew he was a pack-rat, but that label didn’t come close to doing him justice.  He was OCD and a hoarder wrapped into one package with 92 years of perfecting his art.  There wasn’t a nook or cranny of that 1800 square feet that wasn’t bulging with neatly wrapped or boxed aspects of every era of his life–and before.

Although there is something wonderful about learning a person’s life from what is left behind, problem was the proportion of each pile was trash–an entire building’s dumpster full, give-aways–two work hours of two men from a charitable organization, and keepers–a suitcase and a half.

Talk about sifting and winnowing.  Boxes and boxes labeled “short wooden pencils,” filled with, as you might suspect, short wooden pencils.  Plastic bags (with neatly folded plastic bags within them), financial records from 1976 on, all carefully recorded on columnar pad spreadsheets carefully taped together to expand to 11 x 34 inch dimensions. But of course, they were filed randomly so we had to go through each of them.  He was an accountant after he left the bar business and the only person we knew with the precision and parsimony to deduct the postage from his Schedule B and D tax forms.

And that was the easy do.  I’m scheduled for shoulder surgery in May, ripped tendons that leave my right arm with little strength and limited range of motion.  This meant that Sue was stuck with all the heavy lifting.  Broken VCRs, multiple busted toaster ovens, dead appliances, a storage bin of hardware from non-existent who knows what, old printers, and stacks and stacks of records of lost Publishing Clearinghouse contests, all dated and in chronological order.  It’s one thing to throw away a few sheets of paper, but try a tree’s worth.  Some serious heavy.

Of course, even rummaging through the tosses had its funny and quirky moments.  Sue brought me a folder marked “Sad Loses” and I gritted my teeth before opening it fearing mementos of those who died during his life.  Turned out it was certificates stock buys that had gone belly up.

The giveaways were almost as endless.  Old televisions, radios that banks bestow when opening an account, the never used Abdominizor, desk lamps that hadn’t had bulbs in them for decades.  Caps with built-in fans to keep his head cool.  Suitcases and more suitcases.  I suppose some people still use heavy leather ones.  Did he really imagine he would at 92?  I don’t think so.  Hell, there was one furniture console television that even charity wouldn’t take.

But there were some really sweet surprises as well.  Pop had a folder for each of my kids where he kept every note or picture they ever sent him.  A folder for Sue where he had kept any articles about her books or stocks she ever sent him.  Had one for me as well where he kept the reviews of my books.  Reviews I don’t recall sending him so he clearly made an effort to get them.  His Army Medals and Letters of Promotions as well as his history of working as a government accountant.

The diamond in the dirt, however, was his picture collection.  We’d already had seen the ones that had any of my nuclear family in them, but those were just the tip of an iceberg.  I now have pictures of my grandparents as young people, finally have seen what my great grandparents looked like.

There are pictures of his parents at the opening of Klein’s Tavern—Number 39 on the State’s License.  A tavern where my father once hired my musician cousin Hank and his band to play.

But the most fun was seeing my father grow from high-school, to college (where he looked like an aspiring author) to the jauntiness of his attitude while he was in the Army Air Corps, his marriage to my mother and to then Lenore, who clearly had been the love of his life.

A long week with much mishagas to deal with and think about, but it also allowed me access to my father’s mind.  The crazy and not.

This past week was Sam’s last gift.

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got. ~Art Buchwald


Bernie Sanders:
The wealthiest 400 people in America now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

The Fix:
People love #sotu because it feels like genuine bipartisanship is possible. It’s like opening day in baseball

Jamie Kilstein:
All right obama, time for you to trick me into liking you and getting my hopes up for a few minutes.

CJ Werleman:
Rick Perry is at home wearing a beer helmet, while watching the State of the Union he wants to secede from.

Stephen Colbert:
SOTU drinking game: One shot after each time Obama says something socialist. If you’re confused, it’s at the end of every sentence.

Michael Ian Black:
If Obama wants to draw a stark contrast between himself and Gingrich tonight, he should do the State of the Union shirtless.

Tim Duffy:
Why is the State of the Union Address ignoring Ron Paul?

Ali Abunimah:
Boehner, Our Nation’s first Orange-American Speaker. A milestone for the fake-tan community.

Lizz Winstead:
Clarence Thomas busy amending tax returns tonight I guess.

Evan Kessler:
Pretty funny when politicians who hate each other pretend to be enthusiastic about shaking hands.

Eric Stangel:
Drink every time Biden wipes his nose… The count is at 1

Stephen Gutowski:
Starting off with the bungled Iraq withdraw seems kind of odd.

Lisa Pepper:
RT .@AngryBlackLady: Somebody check President Obama’s back to make sure Cantor didn’t tape a “kick me” sign.

Mother Jones:
“Obama Begins State Of The Union By Asking Congress To Imagine Newt Gingrich Standing Before Them.”

FYI: Black America has watched its wealth plummet to the lowest its been in 25 years.

Imani ABL:
On a scale of Hammered to Shitcanned, how drunk is Orange Julius?

Dylan Stableford:
Oof. John Kerry looks like an unpublished Bloomberg Businessweek cover.

Ron Feiertag:
RT @FrankConniff Only half of the audience seems to be enjoying President Obama’s speech. Tough room.

Top Conservative Cat:
Has anyone yelled “you lie!” yet? No! Then why did we elect you #teaparty bozos if you just sit there instead of calling Obama out?

Whenever they show Eric Cantor, all of my plants die and I feel sad inside.

The Illuminati:
As Obama speaks on jobs moving overseas, the “Made in China” sticker on his American Flag Lapel Pin is starting to show.

Tuskegee Airgoon:
I gotta get me one of those U.S. Flag lapel pins so that people will shut up whenever I speak.

John Fugelsang:
Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting the man I’ve devoted my life to smearing.

@HotlineReid: I want to see Mystery Science Theater 3k version of #sotu

Ed Schultz:
Nice to see GOP sitting on their hands during the “teachers matter” applause line.

Biden drawing pictures of trains now, but Boehner won’t look at them.

Tim Duffy:
Guys, I’m a little afraid that John McCain CAN’T stand up.

David Corn:
There he goes with facts. That can’t work.

Evan Kessler:
I think “The Promise of Clean Energy” was the name of a Paula Abdul song.”

He watched the president’s speech with a glint of hope that things could indeed be better but then he realized he had eaten too much cheese.

Jesse Taylor
I think we’re about three years away from a State of the Union where the President walks around Congress with a wireless mic.

Andy Borowitz:
“I am proud to report that in addition to bin Laden, I just killed the dude who wrote that milk joke.”

Andy Borowitz:
BREAKING: Gingrich Now on Fifth Wife

Michael Ian Black:
This guy is so good I wish he was president.

Brandon Mendelson:
“We want a government leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of Americans, so I’ve signed us all up for The Biggest Loser”

Andy Khouri:
I think it’s cool that Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi traded haircuts.

Matt Binder:
Obama: “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.” For a second, I thought he was breaking out in song again. But then he continued.”


Bianca Jagger:
RT @lejlaows: So basically homeowners are screwed, banks are allowed to commit fraud, and we’re entering World War III. Excellent.

Garance Franke-Ruta:
GOP finally picked someone for this career-destroying SOTU response assignment who has no presidential plans.

Gabe Delahaye:
FUN FACT: Mitch Daniels is the guy who squeezed his fish face through the prison bars in X-Men 2: More X-Men.

Shannyn Moore:
“Government as big and as bossy” from a guy representing the party who wants uterus control.

Jill Morris:
Looks like they woke up Mitch Daniels from being cryogenically frozen, so if that’s true, he’s doing great.

Jamie Kilstein:
I’m guessing that black mark on his flag is what Cheney uses to control him.

Anders Furze:
Next to their Presidential nominees, this Daniels guy sounds like Che Guevara.

“Haves and soon to haves”? Wtf is a “soon to have”? “Soon to have” means you have yet to HAVE it… Gtfoh!”

Obama: “I’m candidate Obama, and I approve this message.”  Republicans: “Birth certificate, and stuff! #rebuttal” Me: “Mmm… cake.”

Matthew Desilet:
I’m sorry Republicans, but you have NOT been a loyal opposition.


I’m not talking Cheers, your favorite watering hole, your gym, yoga class, or street gang.  I’m not talking about the people you play poker with, or your dry cleaners or your postal carrier.

I’m talking everybody as in everybody.  (In Amerika.)

I’m talking about the Internet, cell phone, gps age, and the long lost issue of personal privacy. Let’s face it; there is none.  Yes, watchdog groups attempt to maintain some semblance of privacy vis a vis the Internet, but from where I sit it’s hopeless.  If you have any modern technology–including cars–you and your technology are being watched, listened to, and certainly being filed.

This isn’t particularly new, though the methodology has grown increasingly more sophisticated.  Pretty much everybody who participated in the civil rights movement or the Vietnam anti-war movement understood we were being photographed and eyeballed.  Didn’t stop anyone I knew from marching or burning their draft cards or throwing themselves in front of powerfully gushing fire hoses.

Hell, when I worked in Chicago we learned to recognize the individual people who worked for the Red Squad and were charged with following, spying upon, and unearthing anyone or anything they thought to be subversive, i. e., a threat to the original Mayor Daley.

But thems and the KGB were small potatoes compared to now.  Today’s big things are pretty common knowledge.  Internet Service Providers, website tracking programs, bots looking at your website to gather information, Google, cameras on stop-lights, and of course, as usual, the government.

I choose to neither fight or flee this open source society.  In fact, after minimal thought about the issue I came to a simple conclusion–fuck ’em.

If they want to know I take music lessons on Tuesdays, fine.  That I have a computer collection of naked celebrities, enjoy.  If they nail my license plate number when I jump a red light, let ’em.  I can grub up money for the ticket.  If my bedroom cable box is watching me make love to my partner and they want to bring down our national debt with a bootlegged tape, go for it.

If open door closets are the ticket to living in our technological age, so be it, because they sure aren’t gonna shut the doors.  That leaves us with ‘be here now.’  Baba Ram Zach.

This isn’t to slam those who would prefer private lives.  There are ways to minimize your exposure.  Don’t buy or use a computer.  Don’t buy cable.  No cell phone.  Hell, don’t take books out of the library with your real name and don’t buy a new car.

I’ll tell you what bothered me after thinking about this issue.  With all the technology in the world that has this ability to peer into peoples’ lives, and all our bitching about it, we conveniently turn a blind eye to virtually the entire third world and especially Africa.

It’s the people whose names we don’t know who are getting fucked.  People who wake up hungry, spend their days hungry, go to sleep hungry.  And while there are organizations who actually try to help–http://thebombomajimotoproject.wordpress.com/ and many more–the overall picture is horribly dismal.  Starvation in the 21st century?  That’s fucking lunacy.  AIDS victims without drugs?  Mindblowing.   Baby death for lack of potable water?  If I were religious, I’d call it a sin.

And I’m not really just talking foreign.  The same is true of all too many who live here in the good old U.S.A.

I believe and support the Occupy Movement; it strikes at the heart of our domestic issues.  Problem is, the Third World needs an Occupy America Movement because we rake in at least a fifth of the entire world’s resources and we ain’t a fifth of the world’s population. We are the pigs of the world.  At the cost of other peoples’ lives.

I don’t know whether I wrote the following here or somewhere else but I had the privilege during the late 1960s to visit Buckminster Fuller’s World Map, also known as the “Dymaxion Map,” which clearly indicates that lack of resources is not one of ‘lack’ but of ‘distribution.’

It might seem strange to connect the issue of personal privacy with the way we think about our lives in relationship to the reality of most of the world.  But I guess I’m strange.  I look at some of the legitimate issues we Americans debate or face, then look outside our solipsism.  People are starving and we’re worrying about whether the Internet has too much private information.  Well, it does.  But it sure doesn’t collect and use enough information about those in the world who we need to know.

They’re dying, we’re not.  Come on people who support the Occupy movement.  When it comes to starvation, hunger, disease, thirst, poverty, and all around miserable lives throughout the world–we are the one percent.


It’s not just proofing and re-proofreading my work–everything from reclaiming the rights to my books to getting them onto as many download sites as possible is taking a lot longer than I ever expected. Not a terrible biggie since I’m not ready to keel over despite what friends say.  And, as impatient as I am to be writing new Matt Jacob books, I do accept the importance of all the above.

Still, there is one remaining area that has my stomach in a knot; how to become part of the signal rather than the noise of the Internet.  There’s the usual press release to particular blogs, websites, virtual and non-virtual newspapers that deal with books–especially mysteries.  There’s the hope of invitations to write guest posts about writing in general, writing a series, writing about my main man Matt himself.  And of course I’d love to be interviewed.  Plus, I have a friend who is actually good at this, Sherri
Frank Mazzotta who is on the Steering Committee of The Newburyport Literary Festival: http://www.newburyportliteraryfestival.org/ and she has been willing to help more than I could have hoped for.

But my gut tells me that even if everything I just mentioned comes true, it still wouldn’t be enough.  Because books sell through word of mouth.  That is true of the paper versions in brick and mortar stores and it’s just as true–perhaps even more so–in this virtual world.  Frankly, I’ve yet to conceive any strategy that actually creates word of mouth despite reading a fair amount of writers who post about this notion of “branding.”  Should I brand my reviews, my character, or myself?

I’ve watched authors plug away on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and other sites.  Hell, I do the same thing for my Monday posts.  I’ve watched as other writers give their books away free, charge 99 cents, have super-sales, and join collectives with the hope that the combined force of their work breaks through and creates that word of mouth.

Maybe some or all of these things actually work.  I’m not privy to sales figures.  But, at least right now, ninety nine centing, pushing my work everywhere I can, leaves me scratching my head ’cause I find this a really tough do.

I’ve been here before so knew this was coming, and was going to be an issue.  When I was publishing through traditional channels, it was the same conundrum.  But before was nearly twenty years ago and I found it easier to do that which I found uncomfortable.  I humped out whatever speaking gigs I could, though I never read from my books.  Even back then that took more hubris than I possessed.  But I did find places which wanted me to speak and mostly I worried whether the publishing house actually sent the stores or groups books for me to sell.  Often they didn’t.  Sometimes they actually did.  Usually because the sales rep for New England (with whom I still remain good friends) hammered on their head.

(An aside: Of all the people I met in the world of traditional publishing, I found the reps to be the most knowledgeable, most dedicated, and thoroughly committed to both authors and independent bookstores than anyone else.  It was a pleasure to go to their parties and talk books because they actually read ’em and passed them around to each other.  No surprise that by the end of my run, reps were being fired by the truckload as the independent bookstores were getting hacked by Borders, Barnes and Noble, and other chains.  And here I am writing for the Internet companies.  I’ll feel better when I get to Ties that Blind, my fourth book in the original series, and beyond because they will be available as ‘books on demand’ at local bookstores that can print them like The Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Ma. http://harvardbookstore.com/  and other independent stores that I will find and link to.)

Obviously I feel pretty damn uncomfortable pushing my own work–no matter how good I think it is.  So part of my new challenges will be to search for ideas to develop a personal method of generating buzz.  Ways that are comfortable to create this word of mouth phenomena.

So friends, readers, eventually all my copyediting will be finished and I’ll have to turn my attention to publicity.  Get ready ’cause I’m gonna need your help.

But not to worry now–next week I’m back to my opinion posts and will keep the proofing to myself.

“A person is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”
– John Barrymore


I’m not entirely certain what was flapping inside my head when I decided to republish my Matt Jacob mystery series as digital books.  I do know I wanted to continue the series without going through the song and dances that drove me out of traditional publishing sixteen years ago.  A painful experience I have no inclination of repeating.

I also knew people who had been successful at re-launching their out of print books digitally. (See http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/).

But most of all I wanted to control MY work—not only its content, (the final straw with publishing that soured me on writing for almost two decades), but the entire process from cover design (see JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER) to charging what I believe is a fair price.

Damn, was I in for a surprise.  I had very little knowledge of how much time, effort, and work it is to produce a quality E-book.  Somehow, I had imagined getting the original series ready to download would zoom along and I would be able to turn my attention to the new book which excited me.  (As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the idea of contemplating and writing about the individual, relational, social changes that occurred during this time for Matt Jacob draws me like a stoner to an ounce.)

Didn’t happen that way.  I can’t speak for other writers who have done this, but for me the process has been incredibly long, painstaking, with detail piling onto detail onto detail.

A bit about the process.  I first sent three of my four books to a scanning company that turned the published books into scanned documents. (Since I walked out of Random House with the fourth, I already have it in manuscript form.)  I don’t know how many of you have experience with scanning, but it sure ain’t an exact science.  Which meant I had to go sentence by sentence to make certain the scan was accurate.  Until my son Jake’s work picked up, I actually hired him to read Still Among The Living out loud while I scoured the scan.  “Quotation mark, capital, italicized the, period, capital, end of paragraph, indent,” and so on.  Hour after hour.  Day after day.  It reminded me of the Three Stooges, “Slowly I turned, step by step…”

I gotta tell you, Jake was one happy young man when his electrical apprenticing sky-rocketed and he no longer had to deal with our sessions.

That left me swiveling my head until I was dizzy.  On the other hand, I hadn’t read my books in a long time and was relieved and pleased they held up so well.  It was actually fun to see what I had written and how much of what I had written I still enjoyed.  Laugh out loud enjoy.  Although I had been prepared to rewrite if necessary, for the most part all I changed were a few arcane references that might have meant something in the nineties, but who the hell knows Quincy now?

Then comes ‘formatting.’  Life should be so good as to have one set of formatting rules for every digital reading device.  But that’s not life as I know it.  There are at least three or four different formats to accommodate the reading machines that people own. PDFs, (which will be able to be bought from my personal website) to .PRC for Amazon Kindles, .Epub for B&N Nooks, and another for Kobo, Smashwords, CreateSpace, Lightning Source, Ipads, and other E-book marketplaces.

So proofed scanned copies of Still Among The Living, Two Way Toll, and No Saving Grace were sent to http://www.52novels.com/ for formatting. (I was referred to them by Lee Goldberg, mentioned above, and all his advice is spot on.  I can’t imagine a more competent, decent group of people, with a special shout-out to Christina and Amy.)

But formatting comes with many of the same issues as scanning.  It too ain’t an exact science.  So once the books were formatted they also needed to be proofed, only this time, since there’s more than one format, it means proofing each book multiple times.  Gotta tell you, there aren’t nearly as many laugh out louds when you usher at the same movie over and over.  In fact, there are days when my mind simply shuts down after four or five chapters.  And while there are moments when I think traditional publishing and self-publishing are both lose/lose propositions, those moments are few and far between.

What’s really scary is how all the time it’s taking me to catch up with my writing self (and a lot more of that time is still to come) has driven me further away from my sit-down with the older, wiser  Matt and what’s left of his entourage.


“It may be that my sole purpose in life is simply to serve
as a warning to others.”  Unknown.