Friday, October 30, 2009

I want to meet Laura Bush and Richard Linklater this weekend

OK, here's something stupid. I held off writing this post for at least a month because I couldn't decide which of those two to write about, and thought both would dilute it.

So my plane departs in eleven hours, and I'm still conflicted, and going with both.


Richard Linklater is the longshot. I don't even know if he still lives in Austin, much less is coming to the Texas Book Festival. But he did live there for ages, and he's a bright guy, so you never know. He's one of my favorite film directors, and what a thrill it would be to chat him up. I'm not much for being starstruck--I don't really get the concept of autographs--but actually talking to him for a couple minutes, that would be cool.


Laura I probably will get to meet, I'm told, though she will be in short supply, and it might not be more than a handshake. I'll take that, though. I really like her.  I didn't always.

When George was first elected--running, actually--I wrote her off as a kewpi doll. Figured: the fratguy would grab a trophy wife. It actually took me a couple years to grasp the obvious. She was no idiot. I kind of was for making that assumption.

I think now, that she was just kind of shy. She's smart as hell, though, and gracious and warm-hearted. A thoroughly wonderful human being, as far as I can tell--and what I'm told by people who have spent a lot of time around her.

And she has worked her butt off for literacy, and attracting kids and adults to reading. She started the book fest in Austin when she was first lady of the state, and it's a huge event now, with over 200 writers, lots of big talent. (Unfortunately, I'm on at the same time as one of them: Richard Russo. Damn. I think he will outdraw me. Massively. But it's cool to be appearing at the same event as people like that.)

(BTW, I'm on at 10 a.m. Saturday, in the state capitol building in Austin. Signing at 11.)

I posted on my facebook page that I wanted to meet her, and took a bit of flack for it. I don't get that. So you don't like her politics, or her husband's. Life is not all politics, and I have really come to admire Laura. And I am in her debt for creating this festival, which I am really looking forward to.

I hope to get the chance to tell her so.

And maybe Richard will show up, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Denver snowstorm: Thinking about digging my car out

Denver got 1-2 feet of snow in the city in the last 36 hours, depending where you live. I got around surprisingly easy last night. It helps to live on a major road.

But I woke this morning to one car after another from the neighboring building spinning their wheels two floors below. (My heat is screwed up, so I sleep with the window open.) Some went on and on and on.

I felt bad for not dragging my ass out of bed to help. I'll help people once I'm up.

I'm in the alley, which can be even worse. It's on a moderate hill, with us angled so we have to head up. Who designed that?

There's over a foot out there, and still coming, and I don't think it will melt before I leave for the airport at 9 a.m. tomorrow. I'm appearing at the big Texas Book Festival Saturday, and I sure don't want to miss that. So I better dig out today. I bought a shovel during the huge Christmas storm two years ago when we had over 30 inches. My shoulder is going to get a workout, because it's really heavy, sludge snow.

If I'm really ambitious, I will try to get it onto York St. in front of my apt. That should be clear sailing tomorrow, if I shovel that spot out, too. That could be several hours of shoveling, though.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Price war erupts in the book world--good or bad for writers?

It started yesterday. Walmart.com announced it would sell the top ten pre-release books for $10 each, plus free shipping--meaning they would lose more than $5 per book.

Amazon matched it and the downward bidding continued.

Today it's down to $9 per book from each, and same-day shipping from Amazon.

This is following the ebook debacle, where Amazon is selling new titles on the Kindle for $9.99, about a $3 loss outright, in addition to their costs. (ie, they are selling for about $3 less than they are paying the publisher. Plus of course it costs them to run the company.)

In the short run, this is great for publishers and writers--at least top writers, because only the biggest books are discounted. But the fear is that these companies will only take the loss temporarily and then force dramatically-lower prices on the publishers. At least that's been the fear with ebooks, where everyone is suspicious of Amazon's move to lose money on all those kindles.

In the long run, this could really screw writers, who are already scraping to get by. If it means more books sold, that would be great. But will it?

I'm very conflicted. I know a lot of writers, and nearly all struggle badly every year, and it's getting worse. And with the journalism/media markets crashing, it's much harder to make your rent that way, doing books for the love of them, as a second job--which is nearly impossible to begin with.

Tough situation. I'll keep watching.

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Meanwhile, Barnes & Nobel is set to unveil it's big new ebook reader Tuesday, to go on sale in time for Christmas. I hope that helps.

They leaked the first pictures of it this week.
Barnes and Nobel ebook reader, leaked photos

So far, ebooks have been good to me, it seems. My publisher told me last week that they have accounted for nearly 10% of my sales, which is way higher than the 1.6% average of all books. (Though I was told by industry people in Nashville that the rate is much higher than 1.6% now for new books, my rate is still higher than most new books at my publisher, which is the third largest in the U.S.)

I make about 33% more on each hardcover than ebook, but it's impossible to know whether the ebooks are canibalizing more hardcover sales or adding to them. And more readers is a great thing--if in fact, it's actually increasing readership, versus just shifting them to a different object.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Congratulations to National Book Award finalists

The list is out. Congratulations to all the finalists.

I have special admiration for the nonfiction finalists, having gone through that little adventure (of creating one):
  • David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)
  • Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press)
  • T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt(Alfred A. Knopf)
God, I don't know any of the authors, or the books. Usually I know several of the fiction authors/books and one or two of the nonfiction. I guess I've got some reading to do.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony in NYC Nov. 18.

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And if you find the sea of book awards a bit confusing, this piece gives a good basic overview. A snippet:

"If you say to a writer, 'What do you want to win,' they wouldn't say the Nobel because that would suggest they're kind of insane," Cheuse says. "It's like saying they want to be immortal."

Much better to shoot for a Pulitzer. Coveting the Pulitzer is like saying you only need to live to be 112.

The Pulitzers go to epic, fat, sweeping American novels, like "A Thousand Acres" and "Empire Falls." American experiences. American themes. Judges are always describing the finalists as "haunting" or emotionally walloping, or downright painful.

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Have any of you read any of these? I'd love to know what you think.

Any crimes of omission?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Kevin Costner moment

It has been a really sad, heavy 24 hours--reading Sue Klebold's painful essay about Dylan's role in Columbine, reflecting on it, and talking about it--so I thought I'd lighten the mood a bit with an odd moment I just had.


It is of no consequence whatsoever, but I had a Kevin Costner moment tonight. You might know that in "The Big Chill" Kevin played the part of the hands of the guy whose funeral brought everyone back together. (He filmed more than that: he played the character, which appeared several times in flashback in the screenplay. But in editing, they decided to drop all that. So you just see his hands and other body parts--no face--as the body is prepped at the funeral home.)

So I just watched Nightline's piece on Sue's essay, which was very moving. I was very pleased to hear Brian Rohrbough express such compassion toward the Tom and Sue Klebold and Wayne and Kathy Harris. I hope that helps them.

I sure felt awful for them. For some reason, the image of Sue crying into a dish towel really tugs at me.


In the midst of watching all that, something peculiar jumped out at me, which I am probably the only person in the world likely to notice. While someone was talking, they showed footage of some hands flipping through Dylan's journal. (TV people call that B-roll.) Those are my hands. They shot that B-roll for the Nightly News segment I did today, and I guess their comrades at Nightline edited it in to their piece. Only my hands appear on Nightline tonight. I found that oddly amusing. I needed a smile tonight. I'll take them where I can get them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sue Klebold wrote a remarkable essay for O Mag

The issue of O Magazine is not supposed to be out until Tuesday, but NBC found a copy on sale in LA. They faxed me a copy this evening just before taping an interview for tomorrow's Today Show.

I had to read it fast, but it stopped me cold several times. I good deal of it is about the experience Tom and Sue (Dylan's parents) went through, and it was heartbreaking. It's a must-read for anyone interested in Columbine.

I got one huge insight, I think, though, and for that I'm grateful. Sue talked about Dylan's conflicted and irrational thoughts about suicide and murder, which he kept to himself. Then Sue said, "I believe that Dylan did not want to talk about his thoughts because he was ashamed of having them." God, that fits perfectly with the picture I got of him. And it explains a lot to me about how he managed to make that last step to murder.  I'll expand more on that soon.

Sue will likely take flack for seeing Dylan's actions largely through the lens of suicide--motivated by suicide. I have heard many readers sneer in emails at my events, about Sue "conveniently" thinking in those terms. But those are the same terms the FBI sees it, which I see, it, which nearly everyone who has studied the case sees it.
Dylan's was primarily suicidal. That's what drove he. He followed a familiar patterns of angry depressives, who perform vengeful suicides: killing themselves and taking others with him. To understand Dylan you have to understand suicides. (Eric is a completely different story, of course.)

I think Sue Klebold took a wise tack, speaking mom to mom, to women who may have a teen in crisis or approaching one. O Magazine is a great venue for that, and the way she structured the piece and the candor with which she told it will reach them, I think. I hope they hear her loud and clear. I expect many will. If she accomplishes that, it will be a valuable service.

I will have more to say, but I just got back from the Southern Book Festival Nashville, and have an early morning radio interview and need to get food and sleep. (We set up the interview while I was traveling, and the crew was parked in front of my building when I got home. It was quite the logistical ordeal for them from there, and they will be up late tonight editing. I don't envy the people who work those early morning shows.)

Sue is going to take a beating for the essay in some quarters. But within the Columbine community, but I think and hope it will be a limited number of people. It may be worse with the general public. I will be very curious to see.

I think there is great good that can come from this.

I don't want to infringe on the O Mag copyright by posting it all, but may well be in your grocery store now, or very soon. I'm very curious to hear what you guys think.

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And FYI, the Today Show segment is projected to air in the first hour, probably 7:15/7:20-ish, but breaking news can easily change that. I am taping Michael Smerconish's radio show in the morning, and will let you know when they plan to air it. (I guess their afternoon show.) It's on in most major markets.

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The AP story about the essay has some excerpts released by O Magazine, but they had not yet seen the essay. It fills four pages in the magazine.

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Update:
The Today Show segment is online here. 

Update2 :

I will be on ABC Nightly News w/ Charles Gibson tonight discussing the essay and the situation. We just taped it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Famous for a bestseller--but not mine

I get recognized pretty often now--not by face, but name, when I hand over my credit card. Girls and young women have gotten all giggly and can't take their eyes off me.

A bestselling book can do that, apparently. But not mine. They want to know what it's like to be "related" to Edward Cullen, protagonist of the Twilight series. Hahaha. If only I were joking.

I have not figured out a single interesting response to that. Maybe if I read the books. I've been meaning to have a look. I told a few that I actually wrote a book of my own, and they could not care less.

Hmmm. It feels like there should be more to this. I'm not sure what it is. It just keeps amusing me, and I'm not sure why.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hometown COLUMBINE event Saturday: Elk Grove Village

I'm about to catch a plane back to my hometown of Elk Grove Village, for my high school reunion and a few book events.

Truthfully, I'm a little apprehensive about revisiting high school after all these years, but hopefully it will be enriching, and nice to reacquaint. The first 20 minutes will be the hardest, I'm betting. They better be. Hahaha. 

My public presentation/signing on COLUMBINE:

When:  2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3
Where: Elk Grove Village Public Library. 1001 Wellington Ave, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Cost: free
What: the official write-up:

Author Dave Cullen will discuss his New York Times bestseller, COLUMBINE. He will present an intimate portrait of two wildly different killers, and describe the turbulent aftermath. There will be a Q&A and book signing.

Barnes & Noble will sell books there, but it's fine to bring a copy you already have to be signed, or just to watch. No need to buy anything.

The book trailer (icon to the right) sums it up quite nicely in under three minutes. One of the SouthPark team created it. Talented guy. He made me seem concise. Click on the book pic for reviews, summary, etc.

See you there. Tell a friend. And if you come, we encourage you to blog/facebook/twitter whatever about it. I'll be happy pose for a pic for you to post.