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Don’t do it.

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A couple of years ago USA Today ran one of those Top Ten lists that they love so much. It was the Top Ten Most Beloved People in America. I didn’t make the list. But a couple months later they ran the Top Ten Most Hated People in America (I didn’t make that list either), and it doesn’t take special insight to predict the same people were on both lists. Six of them, as I recall now. 

That’s when I came to certain realizations about the opinions of people who know me through my work but I don’t know them. Anyone in that position is both loved and hated for the wrong reasons and there’s nothing much you can do about it. Even Tom Hanks has his detractors and I met a guy lately who thinks Dick Cheney has a nice personality. 

This came to mind because the famous mystery novelist Sue Grafton once threatened to kill me. I don’t think she was serious — I didn’t start locking my doors or anything — but she definitely wasn’t kidding. This is a woman who spends a lot of time thinking about how it would feel to knock someone off. She tends to do it by creating thinly veiled fictional characters out of people she doesn’t care for and then whacking them. 

But the bottom line here is that Sue is a gracious, perfectly nice woman and she doesn’t like me. She’s not the only one. I can name several nice folks that I like who don’t like me a bit. And I wonder about that.

I understand the many wonderful people in the world who think my writing stinks. Lord knows, I don’t judge folks by whether they can stand my books or not. A writer would be a total dingbat if he, or she, turned against people simply for not connecting with the writing (although loving my work does help make a good first impression). I’m not that lost in vapid-land. 

And you don’t turn 35 living in a tent and washing dishes in an Italian restaurant if you care deeply about public opinion, so I’m not going to turn into the cloy king, but I’d like to come up with a stance to take on the issue of being hated by nice people. Anyone with ideas is welcome to throw them out there.

Announcements: 1) Those of you interested in writing or me or my writing can go to an interview at Roses and Thorns and learn everything you want to know about my attitude toward writing novels and then some. http://roseandthornreviews.blogspot.com/2008/04/tim-sandlin-author-interview-by.html

2) The Jackson Hole Writers Conference comes around June 25 to 28 — four days of inspiration and fun. Three writing critiques, seven New York Times best selling authors, seven agents and editors, workshops, and dancing cowboys and cowgirls — if you’ve never been to a writers conference, this is the one for you. If you have been, it’s the one for you also. You can hang around people who are interested in the same things you are interested in (how often does that happen outside the internet?) and, between sessions, wander through the Teton Mountains. Check it out right here.

3) I’m writing a scene in GroVont IV where Lydia goes to the Lompoc Minimum Security Federal Prison in Lompoc, California, to visit Hank. I would love to meet anyone who has served time in Lompoc, or visited a loved one in Lompoc, or knows of anyone who has ever been in Lompoc or any other minimum security federal pen. Surely, with 5,000-whatever of you out there, one of my fans has been in prison. Let me know. You too can make the Acknowledgments page.

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Jackson Hole has the youngest old-timers of any valley in the West. Anyone over 22 who has been here at least three years considers himself qualified to tell a newcomer, “It’s nice enough now, but you should have been here before people like you came and ruined it.” After the subject of billionaires displacing millionaires and wrecking paradise, an old-timers’ second favorite subject is how much worse the weather used to be. To hear them talk, each winter was colder and the snow deeper all the way back to 1911. Before that, exaggerations set in and memories can’t be trusted.

Roger Ramsey was telling me the coldest winter he ever lived through was 1978-79, when it hit 64 below zero on New Year’s Eve and spit bounced. Tires squared, key holes jammed solid, anti-freeze froze, the electricity went out, and several hundred people piled together in a heap in the lobby of the Wort Hotel.

“I’ve been in sixty below temperature and 60 below wind chill,” Roger said, “and trust me, sixty below temperature is colder. Wind chill doesn’t mean squat unless you’re outside naked.”

What I remember about 1979 was the 155 degree difference between New Year’s and the Fourth of July. People who live in states where weather is not the central element of life can’t relate to a 155 degree jump.

Because of a childish prank up Crystal Creek involving a paint-ball gun, a sow grizzly, and the Vice President, Roger Ramsey was recently given a choice between jail and 100 hours of community service. His service entailed going up to Pioneer Homestead where the real old-timers live, and taping oral histories for the Living West in Memory Program which is an NPR show in which myths and legends of the mountains are set straight. We found Caleb Johnstone, T.R. Whitlock, and Betsy Rae McAlester nodding out at a table in the Homestead courtyard, each facing two one-dollar bills, a Delaware Punch, and one of those bruise-colored peanut and sugar patties that are shaped like a hockey puck and have the shelf life of a belt buckle. Roger says old guys eat them for the preservatives.

Roger set up his Radio Shack voice-activated microphone and, as usual, conversation sprang up on ‘How Cold Was It?’

Caleb Johnstone ran his finger bones over a head so bald you could see the separate skull plates, and told us about November of 1951. Here’s what he said:

“They was a flock of sandhill cranes bedded down the night in Christian Pond there and the temperature dropped from forty above to forty below in two hours flat. Froze ever one of those bird legs solid as rebar in concrete. Next morning they was they pitifulest bunch of birds I ever saw. But then, right while I watched, this big old crane seemed to be the boss bird commenced to flapping his wings and all the other cranes flapped their wings and pretty soon the ice broke free from the banks and that flock rose into the sky, carrying the top 18 inches of Christian Pond with them. Looked like a municipal ice rink floating in the air above Jackson as they crossed town and headed south.

“I heard that ice didn’t melt free till the flock was passing over the Odessa, Texas, stockyards where it crashed down in one huge slab. The Texans never knew where it come from, but they had such a mess of pounded meat under ice that they went out and invented the chicken fried steak.”

T.R. Whitlock stared at Caleb with one eye so cataracted it looked like a glowing Ping Pong ball. He said, “Fall of 1951 wasn’t near as cold as late March 1942.”

Caleb came back with the pithiest retort he could think up. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” T.R. said. “That was the spring Molly Van Dyke brought a little bottle of sorghum molasses to the Moran School to pour over biscuits during big recess. To stop the molasses from firming, she kept it under her armpit all morning, but come recess Budder T. Olaf got to teasing her and he threw the molasses bottle and it broke it on the bicycle rack that used to be a hitching post.”

“Does this story got a point?” Caleb asked.

T.R. blinked his Ping Pong ball eye. “After we went back indoors for elocution exercises a grizzly bear that’d just woke up from winter-sleep came out of the woods and took to licking the molasses off that bicycle rack. First we knew of it, that bear busted through the double front door with the rack and my little sister’s ruby red Flexible Flyer bicycle stuck on its face.

“It ran up and down the room, knocking over desks and chairs and the living terrarium with the hibernating snakes and the live iguana. Some of the girls let loose in their pants and what with the doors open that froze the floor slick and the bear fell and slid into the blackboard. Miss Hankfield grasped her Wonder Bread ruler .”

“I remember that ruler,” Caleb said. “It had Wonder Bread Builds Strong Bodies Twelve Ways on one side and on the other they’d written one way per inch.”

“Who’s telling the story?” T.R. said.

Caleb said, “Don’t tell it if you can’t do it right.”

“Mrs. Hankfield reached across the bicycle rack and cracked that bear on the nose. It ran clear out the back end of the coat closet and into Pacific Creek. Carried a good number of jackets with it, but lucky for us my sister’s bicycle fell off. We got away with a flat tire on the front.”

I couldn’t help myself. “So, what happened to the bear?” I asked.

“Nobody knows,” T.R. said. “There was stories going around of a bear with a wide set of iron teeth terrorizing the DuNoir that spring, and in late June a cabin maid at Lake Hotel found the bicycle rack out by the dude corrals. It had a pink tongue stuck to it.”

Roger Ramsey turned a whiter shade of pale.

“That’s not the end of the story though. A year later Molly Van Dyke marred Budder T. Olaf and for forty-three years she made him pay for that molasses, every night and every day, till the good Lord finally said Enough and called Budder T. home.”

Betsy Rae spit something green on Roger’s Nike. “Cold is one way to judge a winter,” she said, “but I prefer snow as a gauge of harsh.” Betsy Rae claims to be 112 and there are those who believe her. She is considerable older than Caleb or T.R. That much is true. More than eighty years of working outdoors in Wyoming has turned her skin the color and texture of a snapping turtle.

“Nineteen and twenty-two,” she began. “The tallest building in Jackson was the four-story, two-hole outhouse behind the Clubhouse there on Center Street.”

She spit again but this time Roger was ready for her. She said, “The men of our town were too lazy good-for-nothing to shovel snow so they’d just let it drift over the first floor, then open the door to the second and so on until mid-April when the snow started back down and so did the men.”

She poked Roger with a scaly fingernail. “That Christmas, your great-granddaddy Jug Ramsey — who wasn’t no more account than you are — rode his mule Frankie in from the upper Gros Ventre. Jug left Frankie out back in a howling snowstorm and went inside where he got caught up in an all-night domino tournament. Whiskey was involved. And a crib girl from Elk.

“The next morning snow had piled up neck high to a Mormon bishop, as they measured it back then, and Jug couldn’t find his mule. He looked for two days until he became convinced Frankie had died and been buried in a drift. Everyone said Frankie would turn up in the spring, so Jug headed home up the Gros Ventre before the next storm.

“What Jug and no one else knew was Frankie had somehow taken shelter in the first floor of the outhouse. Snow piled up so deep that winter four floors wasn’t enough. They ended up cutting two holes in the roof and stretching a canvas tarp for privacy. When spring finally did come the snow melted down floor by floor until folks noticed an odor worse than usual.

“I’ll never forget the sight if I live to be 115. Frankie was packed in there so tight they had to peel off all four walls. People came in from miles to see that donkey, and the Police Gazette even sent out a photographer. The men never used that outhouse again. The next year they not only built an indoor water closet but they let responsible women join the club.”

Like a fool, I asked, “Did the Gazette run the story?”

Betsy Rae nodded. “You betcha. Right on the front page, they had a picture of Frankie looking for all the world like an eight-foot Fudgesicle with hooves instead of a stick, and the headline there read: Jackson Men Can’t Tell Ass from Hole in Ground.

Silently, Caleb and T.R. pushed their dollar bills across the table to Betsy Rae. Roger turned off the tape recorder and said, “I’d rather go to jail.”

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Four winters ago, toward the end of my Hollywood period, my wife Carol, Leila, and I house-sat for the woman who directed Skipped Parts: the movie. She and her husband had this monster truck of a house that the Welch family of Welches Grape Juice and Jelly built under the Griffith Observatory there in Griffith Park. The Welches planted grapevines all over the mountain that is now an upscale L.A. neighborhood. The house had six marble staircases, a veritable nightmare for a couple with a two-year-old daughter. More than once I called Carol on the cell phone because I couldn’t find her, even though I knew she was somewhere in the house.

Tamra, the director, who is wonderful in every way, is married to a nice guy named Michael Diamond who is in a band called the Beastie Boys. They had some interesting friends, coming in and out of the house. On their son’s birthday, Michael, whose friends call him Mickey D., played disc jockey all afternoon while the kids yelled and ran through the garden and down by the pool. I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs he played. They were all on vinyl record albums.

Normally, it would be bad form for a house-sitter to mention this stuff, but they have since moved, so I think it’s okay now. I enjoyed the winter, in spite of the constant struggle to keep Leila from tumbling down steps. They had a screening room where we watched eight-foot tall Telly Tubbies dance and fall down backwards. Imagine that.

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But this blog is not about house-sitting; it’s about fan mail. You see, street kids in L.A. stand on the corners of major intersections selling these things called Star Maps. Tourists buy them and drive around Hollywood, looking for the houses where their favorite movie stars live. So far as I know, the Star Map addresses are wrong. For instance, they gave the address where we were staying as belonging to Brad Pitt. This was back when he was still with Jennifer Aniston, so far as anyone knew.

Later, I asked Tamra and neither Brad Pitt nor Jennifer Aniston had ever lived there. Neither had ever visited the house or lived nearby, but this didn’t stop a daily dribble of cars from driving by the front gate while tourists craned their necks and sometimes even touched our mailbox. Once or twice a week, an airplane or helicopter swooped over the pool and some pushy type leaned out to take my daughter’s photograph.

Once we got past the fear of a nutcase fame-chaser climbing over the fence, we weren’t bothered by the gawkers. Heck, we probably would have had tourists anyway, if they’d known it was a Beastie Boy house.

But the thing was — the mail. Brad and Jennifer got a lot of mail. Someone must have posted the address on the internet. It tapered off later, but the first few weeks brought ten or twenty letters a day. I guess if I’d known where Brad lived I could have boxed up his mail and taken it to him. It would have made a nice icebreaker with Jennifer. But I didn’t know and I don’t think they wanted the mail anyway, so I did what any other normal American would do with a pile of unsolicited mail addressed to Brad Pitt — I opened it.

Not all of it, of course. I had better things to do, like watching eight-foot tall Telly Tubbies jump out of holes in artificial turf. But I opened enough to get the general drift.

I used to receive fan mail myself. Nothing like Brad and Jennifer, mind you, but enough to establish a pattern. Very few were scary. Most of the writers said they enjoyed my books and I should keep writing. Sometimes, guys who’d recently lost girlfriends would get drunk and write these two a.m. twelve-page rave-ons, putting down all the pain they would never dump on their friends. A surprising number of girls wrote to tell me how their boyfriends were in bed.

“I don’t much like him and I would break up with him but he’s so good at . . . ” and then they would describe a procedure I’m not sure is physically possible.

A number of letters started out, “I always wanted to write Such-and-So but then he died, so I decided I should write you before you die.” My not dying years ago seems to have gratified many readers.

Very rarely, someone would say, “I’ve had such an interesting life, everyone tells me I should be a writer. How about if I tell you my story and you type it up and we’ll split the money.” These letters tended to come from guys in prison. My theory is Sex and Sunsets was one of the few hardbacks with Sex in the title, so it sold well in prison libraries. Whatever the cause, I used to be the swamp where prison mail went to die.

Nowdays, I don’t get much post office reader mail. It comes in over MySpace or the Timsandlin.com guest book. I enjoy hearing from readers, although the occasional angry person can be trying. I got a message the other day from a man who said he would have been a best-selling author if he lowered himself to writing sex scenes, the way I do. Humorous fiction brings out the hate in people.

But enough about me, let’s get back to Brad Pitt: Before I grew bored and quit reading his mail, I probably opened twenty letters and not one followed the drift that I get in my mail. No one said, “I like your work,” or “Congratulations, Brad!” or even “I wanted to write you before you died…” Every letter to Brad wanted something from him.

They wanted him to read their script. They wanted him to get them a job as a producer. They wanted him to introduce them to Jennifer Lopez. A lot of them started out, “You’ve had luck and I’ve never had luck and I deserve to be as famous as you, therefore you owe me . . .” So on. So forth. A bunch came at once demanding that he stop smoking on screen. It must have been a campaign because those all hit in one week, then stopped. Any number of the letter writers simply wanted money. Postal spare-change artists.

So, here are the morals to my story: First, don’t write Brad Pitt, asking him to do something for you- The address is wrong. Second, don’t write the federal government and tell them I opened Brad’s mail. I will deny it. Third, don’t write me, asking me to stop smoking on screen. I don’t smoke and I’m not on anyone’s screen. Fourth, don’t go looking for any Beastie Boys over by Griffith Park. They moved. Fifth, don’t send me a CD and ask me to forward it to Mickey D. I don’t know him that well. I was his house-sitter, for Chrissake.

I can’t think of a sixth.

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A couple years ago Randolph Proust, his lovely wife Chelsey, and their children Lester and Brittania camped at Lava Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park. One hot afternoon, after lunch, a young cinnamon-colored black bear wandered into the campground and commenced to pop open various bear-proof trash receptacles. Randolph decided he would get a cute photo by smearing Sioux Bear honey across Lester’s lips and chin.

“Think cuddly thoughts,” Lester’s mother said before sending the boy off to bond with nature’s wonder.

The next day, when interviewed by the Jackson Hole News and Guide at the Lake Hotel Hospital, Mr. Proust said, “I didn’t dream the Park Service would allow bears to roam freely if they weren’t tame. My kids were raised on Berenstein Bears, Brother Bear, Bear in the Big Blue House. We came to Yellowstone to watch Yogi and Boo Boo steal picnic baskets.”

Randolph’s daughter clutched a Teddy Bear to her chest and cooed, “Winnie the Pooh bit off Lester’s nose.”

I thought of this story the other day when I ran into Roger Ramsey at Hard Drive Café where we was skimming back and forth across the internet, searching for happy-go-lucky dairy products.

“I know I’ve heard of Mr. Cheddar Curd.” Roger’s teeth gnashed in determination. “I just can’t find him. Look at this. There’s a Japanese anime starring the Tofu Twins. I can use that.”

I ordered a half-caff, extra dry, soy vanilla cappuccino and came back to Roger and his computer. “Why are you Googling anthropomorphic cheese?” I asked.

“Because Maurey rented Finding Nemo for Scarlet and now she refuses to eat fish?”

“Maurey or Scarlet?”

“Scarlet. Maurey never would touch my trout.”

Maurey is Roger’s wife. Scarlet Gilia is their six-year-old daughter. Roger calls her Scarlet and Maurey calls her Gilia. Maurey is an ovo-lacto vegetarian and Roger is a hunting guide. It’s a marriage made on the second ring of hell.

“Maurey did it on purpose. All those cute little fish and crustaceans love their families and friends, and the evil humans want nothing more than to slaughter them. What does she think fish eat if not each other?”

“My theory is Disney characters live on fruit juice and Dove bars.”

“Maurey’s got Scarlet so she won’t eat any food that sings and dances. It began with the stupid pig in Charlotte’s Web. Then Benny the Bull from ‘Dora the Explorer.’ She hasn’t touched lamb since the damn thing followed to Mary to school one day, and don’t even get me started on Bambi.”

This was interesting. I sat beside Roger and watched him fly from cartoon site to site. There were hundreds of them. “So Scarlet won’t eat anything other than vegetables?”

“I nipped that in the bud. Went to the library and checked out a video called “Veggie-Tales.” It’s a bunch of Christian cucumbers and tomatoes and the like, teaching each other values. Scarlet sleeps with an artichoke heart now. She’s been cutting out little velvet skirts and blouses for her carrots.”

“How about apples and oranges?”

“I downloaded a Fruit of the Loom commercial. She’s got nowhere left to turn except macaroni and cheese, and as soon as I find Mr. Cheddar Curd, I can put a stop to that.”

I tried to see the logic in Roger’s logic, but it zipped right over my head. “Why are you trying to starve your daughter to death?”

“I’m not trying to starve Scarlet. I’m showing her those idiot kids’ shows have given everything a personality. I’ll drive her back to Happy Meal burgers, like a normal child. Look at this site.”

Roger stopped on the Boohbah Home Page. Boohbahs appear to be colorful amoebas with deep, creative emotions capable of expressing joy and sadness. “Better not show her that one,” Roger said. “Lord knows what she might swear off.”

He switched to Thomas the Tank Engine, which is a show about selfish, jealous, bitter trains who treat each other like human beings. “It’s not just animals,” Roger said. “There’s a new show on Disney about talking screwdrivers. It’s ripped off a PBS show where a front end loader cries when it doesn’t get its way.”

“Bob the Builder.”

“This baloney didn’t exist when I was a kid. You never saw the Three Stooges worrying about a cream pie’s self-esteem.”

“It’s been going on forever,” I said. “John Ruskin called it the Pathetic Fallacy.”

“Somebody got rich selling pet rocks. I wouldn’t call that pathetic.”

“Back then pathetic didn’t mean politics or sports or anything it’s used for now. It meant empathetic. Ruskin had a peeve against angry clouds or majestic mountains. He said no matter how much it rains, the clouds are never angry. A cloud is nothing but a cloud. The river is not an old man. Tumbleweeds don’t tumble because they are laid back.”

“What’s that got to do with forcing a rare rib eye down Scarlet’s throat. I won’t have a daughter so arrogant as to remove herself from the food chain.”

“Ruskin’s was a worthless complaint. Writers couldn’t write without the Pathetic Fallacy. Humans couldn’t be human. Ancient Greeks thought the sun, the moon, the oceans, even the earth itself were all gods who behaved like dysfunctional families. Even us modern types created God in man’s image.”

“Not the other way around?”

“Everything is personal to humans. That’s what sets us apart from the monkeys.”

Roger yelled, “Eureka!”

“You understand my philosophical treatise?”

“Chuck E. Cheese! She’ll never eat macaroni and cheese again.”

“Isn’t Chuck E. a mouse?”

Roger leaned toward his computer and peered at Chuck. “Oh, yeah. Can’t let her find this one. She already goes hysterical at the sight of D-Con.”

“What if your plan doesn’t work?” I asked Roger. “What if you’re creating an anorexic? Girls today have enough neuroses without thinking their lunch is getting in touch with its inner pasta.”

“I see the light,” Roger said.

“You’ve discovered a way to use your brain?”

“I’ll write a diet book. It’ll make millions of dollars.”

“Are these the same millions you made off of self-cleaning barbecue sauce?”

“Nobody ever lost a dime selling weight loss schemes. I’ll call it the Yellowstone Diet. We’ll turn South Beach into a Trivial Pursuit answer.”

“Or Jeopardy question.”

“Every woman in America will clamor for my DVDs and CD ROMS.”

I finished my cappuccino and dug a finger into the bottom foam. “So, what are you selling exactly?”

“Tapes and movies of happy food groups. Living lunch. Whenever a woman puts anything whatsoever in her mouth, we’ll convince her she’s murdering Tinkerbell.”

“Or whoever.”

Roger grinned. “Whomever.”

P.S. Someone finally explained to me that 🙂 is code for openness to a sexual adventure. I’m going to have to rethink my relationship with a whole bunch of you readers out there.

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My daughter Leila turned seven last month and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. For a couple of years, she dreamed of managing a hotel in China, when she grows up. She researched hotel management and knew the track to get there. Then, she moved on to designing clothes. She’s got talent. Lately, she switched to jewelry design.

Sunday night, I mentioned this lack of focus to me wife, Carol. “By the time I was seven I knew writing novels was my calling. I had my entire career mapped out, and I knew what I had to do to get there.”

Carol said, “Yes, but you’re a freak.”

I’m thinking the true freak — me — is the one who doesn’t even know he’s a freak. Self-awareness blows the gig.

I was right around seven when I wrote my first joke. I wrote it for my cousin to tell in the family Christmas Eve talent show. Here it is: “Did you hear about the Cherokee Chief Red Cloud who drank three gallons of Lipton tea. He was found, drowned in his tipi.” I was seven for God’s sake. What do you expect?

At nine, I had my first publication — a poem in either Highlights for Children of Jack and Jill magazine. Sometimes I tell interviewers one and sometimes the other, but the truth is I don’t remember. The poem was entitled “Trees.” There were leaves in it.

Inspired by publication, I wrote basically every day until my second publication — Sex and Sunsets — when I was thirty-seven. S&S stayed in print twenty years, until last summer. There have been six screenplays based on it, but no movies.

The first joke I wrote for public performance came in junior high. My friend Ronny was running for vice-president of the student council and he wanted a laugh to open his speech.

I wrote him this: “If Chad attacks Libya from the rear, do you think Greece will help?”

The first novel I wrote was The Battle of Bitter Creek, and one of the blog readers wrote me to say he has a copy. Amazingly enough. I’m not sure I even have a copy of the manuscript. It’s set in 1888. The spoiled wife of the owner of the railroad tells the residents of Bitter Creek, Wyoming, they must put clothes on their horses, dogs, cats, and chickens, or the railroad will never stop there again. The hero is R.C. Nash, a name I used thirty years later in Honey Don’t, my political farce. There’s another guy named Overbite O’Brien. The book was fairly low end.

Now, fifty years after the tipi joke and thirty-five years after the bad Bitter Creek novel, I have my first cowboy novel coming out next week. For those of you who keep score, it’s my ninth published book. Rowdy in Paris is set in 2004, I think. Rowdy Talbot goes to Paris to retrieve his stolen belt buckle and finds himself ass deep in a plot to destroy both McDonalds and Starbucks.

Riverhead/Putnam is publishing the book and because the other eight weren’t best sellers, they aren’t investing any money in publicity or marketing. No author tour. No free books to Book Sense stores. No co-op.

(Quick lesson in co-op: My friend who writes thrillers told me Barnes and Noble ordered 12,000 of his newest book. I said, “How did you swing that?”
He said, “My publisher is paying three dollars per copy for B&N to stock the book. It’ll go on the New Arrivals shelf.” In radio, this is condemned as payola. In publishing, it’s co-op.)

The only prayer this book has of selling enough copies for me to find a publisher willing to put out the next GroVont book (I’m on page 320) is if something happens to stick Rowdy on Putnam’s radar. To oversimplify, if they think the book will be big, the book will be big.

This can’t happen without you mighty blog readers. You want me to keep writing blogs and books, give me some support. You don’t, that’s okay too. The world won’t be dramatically different without my writing.

But, if you are of a mind to pitch in, there are two possibilities. 1) If you or your college roommate, ex-lover, or the in-law you can’t abide works for big media, tell them you know about a cool book.

Okay, that’s not likely. Second, if Rowdy makes a good run on the Amazon Top Five Million chart, it might get my publisher’s attention. Amazon measures velocity, as opposed to overall numbers. A book that sold 200 in the last hour will rate above a book that sold 20,000 last month. Thusly, when the guy at the New York Times Book Review said Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty sucked because no on wants to read about sex between old people, the book jumped 30,000 slots the next morning. Which is two books, if you’re in six figure-ville, but Jimi was okay to start with. The dynamite review in USA Today gave it an even better kick.

So, in order to make an Amazon run and hit my publisher in the noggin with a stick, you all not only need to buy Rowdy in Paris, you need to buy Rowdy in Paris at the same time.

Let’s say Thursday evening, January 24, at 6 p.m. Pacific time, which is 9 p.m. on the East Coast. You folks in Europe or wherever you are can figure it out. If you have any desire to read Rowdy or more blogs, buy the book between 6 and 7 PDT, the night of January 24. Buy several. They make outstanding gifts for loved ones.

Maybe, we’ll make a difference. Also, order books you have no intention of picking up from the chains. It’ll get me in their computers. Buy the backlist from your local independent bookstore, or go to my web site and buy first editions from Valley Books.

I would love to publish book #10 and it won’t happen without you guys.

p.s. The Chad-Libya-Greece joke is in Rowdy. Nothing is ever lost.

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Due to the severe isolation of the job, most literary writers, and a few of the genre guys, develop a co-dependency relationship with a specific bookstore. The store is usually a local, mid-sized independent where you can get to know the staff and the staff can get to know you and your idiosyncrasies. Authors become mascots, of a sort, like the store cat that customers see slinking through the stacks. We drop in at these bookstores four or five times a week, just to see the books on the shelves. We buy a few, of course, but most of the time we’re there to absorb vibrations off the printed page. We need to know books still exist. We need to renew faith that the book we’re writing now will one day be on those shelves, real and tangible.

My home store is Valley Books in Jackson, Wyoming. Steve Ashley owns Valley Books and he is the finest human I’ve known in my days on Earth. I have owed Steve money continuously for over thirty years. Back during the dishwashing decades, I would charge all my Christmas presents there, for the family back in Oklahoma, then spend the rest of the year paying off the bill.

After that, came the flush screenwriting years when I pretended Steve allowed me to hang out in his bookstore for a hundred dollar a month cover charge. In exchange, I pretended all the books were free. Most months it worked out well. Only in winter did I drop so far behind I had to write a massive check in the spring.

When I’m in the throes of writing a novel, I tend to get more than a little spooky. Steve’s employees have always been kind and patient with my abnormal behavior. More than once I came to after a bookseller touched me on the arm and asked after my welfare, when I was frozen up in front of a shelf.

Which brings us to Christmas Eve. Fifteen to twenty years ago, in appreciation of all Steve and his staff did for me, I would go in during Christmas week and clean the employee bathroom. I hoped to start a precedent ¬¬– a movement, if you will – whereby all authors clean their local bookstore employee bathrooms during Christmas week.

It never caught on. To this day, I think if Phillip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Updike had followed my lead, we would have created a new tradition, equal to Secret Santas and black-eyed peas on New Year’s. But then, Steve remodeled the store and did away with employee bathrooms. I would have probably stopped, eventually, anyway. There comes a time of life where it’s considered peculiar to clean other people’s bathrooms.

So, here is the current Christmas Eve tradition: First we – the family and I – go to the 4 p.m. Christmas carol service at the Episcopal Church here in town. My daughter, Leila, loves to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” I like tradition and ritual.

(Last Monday night, Dick Cheney was at the service. By my modest count, seventeen members of the congregation were packing guns. We skipped the Peace. Made the Good Will to Men thing seem a bit warped.)

Then, after church, I take a bottle of Frangelica liqueur to Valley Books, and right before closing, the staff, the owner, family members, and late shoppers toast to Christmas and the wonderful folks who sell books. Actually, we share several toasts. I don’t drink much anymore, so it doesn’t take but a couple shots to zip me right into the holiday spirit. And I’ve found the staff is more appreciative of a Dixie cup full of cheer at closing time than they were of a clean bathroom.

If there’s any Frangelica left, I take it home and put in into the French toast Christmas morning. I heartily endorse baking with liqueurs.

On another note, I once tried to explain to Leila why teenagers hate poems and songs featuring their name. I used the example of “Georgie, Porgie, pudding and pie.” I never met a kid named George yet who doesn’t loathe that poem. And girls named Brandy – my advice is don’t break into “Brandy, you’re a fine girl,” when you meet them. They’ve heard it before. At seven, my Leila is not impressed by people who knock out a verse of “Layla” the moment they meet her. Besides, no one can remember the line after “You got me on my knees.”

For me, the most damaging Christmas icon is that little brat Tiny Tim. God, I hated that sanctimonious suck-up. I was small for my age – I grew seven inches after high school – so the whole tiny thing made me neurotic as a Democrat in Utah anyway. It didn’t help for other kids to taunt, “Where’s your crutch, Tiny Tim? When are you going to say your line?”

But then I grew up and I am no longer an insecure, short, isolated, frightened, resentful, nerdy, twerp.

I don’t think. To prove my point, I will now take a giant step forward in my development as a whole human being.

“Merry Christmas.” Here it comes: “God bless us every one.”

p.s. Mark it on your calendar. Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty comes out in paperback on January 4. If you’ve already read the book, buy a few for your loved ones. Grandparents love it even when they claim their friends won’t. And order three from chain stores. You don’t have to pick them up. Unclaimed books will eventually reach a shelf. I’m too old to wash dishes professionally.

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