Category: Getting Started
tThere’s all kinds of stuff to do before you actually start writing a book
Joan Jett Belongs In The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame So Shut Up!
Last night I finally caught part of HBO’s Rock Hall Concert – an amazing show that never fails to impress me. Joan Jett and The Blackhearts opened the event playing Bad Reputation, then Tommy James and Dave Grohl came out to play Crimson and Clover with them, and then Miley Cyrus did Cherry Bomb.
For years I have been saying Jett belongs in the Hall. I’ve put it on Twitter and gotten comments back that question my mental state. I even heard Howard Stern wondering why she was inducted. To me, it’s obvious. Joan Jett is a phenomenon. When The Blackhearts hit the radio they smashed it apart. The first album Jett, Bad Reputation, featured the title track and Do You Want To Touch Me!? It was a huge hit and a year later she followed it up with I Love Rock and Roll which featured that single and Crimson and Clover – which, if I remember correctly, were the only two songs on the radio in 1981. You have to remember that at the time the theme song to the Greatest American Hero was the number one song! Sheena Easton’s 9 to 5, Olivia Newton John’s Physical, and Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning dominated everything. Just think about that landscape! Lots of women, but they’re singing soft rock classics. Nothing interesting, and then come the Blackhearts, a guitar heavy, post-punk rock band led by a girl from a notorious and sloppy group called the Runaways. I Love Rock and Roll tore it all apart.
I can hear you.
Lots of groups hit the scene and have huge debuts. That doesn’t mean they belong in the Hall. Well, not all of those groups did it themselves. After coming out of the Runaways no one wanted anything to do with Jett. In fact, she submitted her demo to 23 labels and every single one rejected her. Maybe it was her reputation, maybe it was no one knew what to do with her look, maybe the music industry just wanted something safe – especially from women. So she pressed the album herself, started her own label with help from her band, and just put it out there. It exploded. I’m not saying that she invented the indie label but she certainly showed people what is possible. If you can’t give her props for that one accomplishment I don’t know how to impress you.
And then there’s a steady stream of hits – Crimson and Clover, I Love Rock and Roll, Do You Want To Touch, Bad Reputation, Fake Friends, I Hate Myself For Loving You, Light of Day, Cherry Bomb – that’s a pretty impressive catalog for any artist, especially one know one was betting on.
These days Jett has eased into her roll as stateswoman of rock and roll, still tours, still is active in a number of human rights issues, and still awesome. I saw her play a few years ago in Central Park when she had died her trademark hair blond. It was like watching an Amazonian warrior leading a mosh pit. It’s time to bow down and give her the due she has earned. The Hall isn’t about who had a great song, though Jett had many. It’s about who changed things and The Blackhearts inarguably changed the music industry. When a group makes a DIY album that earns millions the rest of the industry takes notice and if you don’t think doors opened for others as a result then you’re a jaded nutcase. It’s why the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Motorhead, and damn – even Miley Cyrus are in awe of her. She’s the Khaleesi of Rock and Roll.
Now, I’m glad that’s settled. It’s time to start talking about Duran Duran. I’m sure everyone’s going to tell me I’m nuts about them, too – but sorry, you’re wrong about DD as well. Then we’ll work on ELO, but hey, I’ve only got so much time in my day.
RAGING SEA gets a cover and you can read an excerpt right now!
This weekend Entertainment Weekly debuted the cover to Raging Sea, the sequel to Undertow, and naturally my head exploded. Let me just tell you, I’ve been insanely lucky with covers. I’ve had art directors and designers and artists who always seemed to understand my books, and outdid themselves creating the images that get people to pull them off of the shelf. Making great covers is an art and Raging Sea is a masterpiece. I thank everyone involved from the bottom of my heart. WOW!
I haven’t had a chance to update for a few days as things have been insane. In fact, I didn’t even finish my tour diary, but I will. I’m currently working hard on the revisions to Raging Sea so we can get it out to you for our February release. I’m excited about it and if you follow the Entertainment Weekly link above you can read an excerpt. Thanks to EW for helping us promote and thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for making it all happen. I’ll update soon – I met some amazing people at Book Expo and BookCon – authors and fans and a lot of mom’s and dad’s who waited in my line while their kids were in other lines (book conventions are a team effort). I want to tell you all about them, but as they say, it’s back to work!
on childhood and memories and using books as therapy
Awhile back, my friend Julie Sternberg asked me to take part in her new podcast Play, Memory in which she interviews authors about how their memories of childhood inspire their work. We talked for more than an hour and I revealed things about my childhood that I have never told anyone but my wife and my therapist. I didn’t expect to be so honest – it just sort of happened. Hearing it now, for the first time, well – it’s sort of scary and freeing and sad and joyful and nauseating all at the same time – I suppose that’s what vulnerability feels like.
I’m glad I did it. I think. I’d do it again. That’s for sure … I think.
Listen on iTunes, or here
David Letterman Changed My Life
Tonight, The Late Show with David Letterman wraps up its legendary run. Letterman is retiring and I suspect the final show will most likely have surprises and we’ll see less of the sarcastic Dave and more of the humble, kind, and grateful kid from Indiana. That’s who he is at heart, or at least that’s what I believe. I had a handful of experiences with him, mostly while he was hard at work, when I was an intern on the show back in 1996, but I also had a few personal moments when I felt I got to see who he really is. One of those happened on my first day. As I passed by his office he stepped into the hall with a football and told me to “go long.” I ran to the other end of the hall and we threw the ball back and forth in the hallway for about a half an hour, working on perfecting our spirals. He asked me where I went to school and laughed at its party college reputation. He asked what I wanted to be and seemed touched when I told him he had inspired me to do stand up, and, of course, he asked me why I threw a football as well as a guinea pig. Dave is funny and charming, like your dad’s cooler brother who left town when he had the chance and never looked back. I suppose that’s the best way I can describe him. He left Indiana and the rest is history. Now that he’s retiring he’s not planning on going back to his hometown. I think that says a lot.
I was much too happy at having a game of catch with my hero to think about how he had given me the same opportunity – to pull up stakes and not look back, but now I’m older and I see what a tremendous gift it was to me. The internship was more than just a chance to work on his show, to learn a bit about production, or even to live in New York City – it was a personal do-over button and he let me press it.
I once went to a psychic who read my palm and told me that I was born to be a success but not raised to be one. It always stuck with me – not that I believe she was in touch with the stars (even a blind squirrel get a nut sometimes), but because it rang true. I wasn’t raised to be a success. My parents, God love them, were not encouraging hands-on types. My mother did the best she could, but she had a lot on her plate, and my father – eh, he just wasn’t into it, or me, or responsibility, really. I don’t remember anyone ever checking my homework or helping me get ready for a test. I was a straight C minus student and when I graduated I had no idea what the future held. I was lost. I watched my friends head off to college and I just sort of hovered in place. I remember this rising terror the day after I graduated, a sense of doom, a cloud hanging over me and shouting “What now, Buckley?”
Boredom and loneliness were the motivations to apply to college, that and the fact that the best looking girls in Akron were at the university. I had no idea what to study, what classes to take, what I was going to major in – I was totally adrift, and worse, it didn’t feel right to me. My grades weren’t any better. The women were not into me. I was just hanging around taking classes and wasting money I didn’t have. It wasn’t long before I knew I either had to get serious about my education or just drop out and get a job selling used cars. I studied hard and transferred to a better school in southern Ohio. Being three hours away from home changed things for me and my grades went up. I found people who inspired me, and soon I was on the Dean’s List, but as I was about to graduate that familiar doom returned.
“What now, Buckley?”
I still didn’t have a clue. I studied journalism and my hometown had a paper and I couldn’t see any other road forward. Worse still, my heart was broken from a failed relationship and the thought of going home and seeing her was just too much. A professor urged me to apply for an internship on a late night talk show shot in the heart of New York City. He told me not to go home. He told me there was nothing left for me there.
When I actually got the job I was totally unprepared. Completely broke, I was forced to sell the musical equipment I had bought with my band and eventually my car just to pay for a crappy, closet-sized room in a YMCA I shared with another intern. Everyday I ate bagels and soup, sold plasma to make a little cash, and hounded the segment producer in charge of the comedy bits to put me on the show. If I got on they paid me $175. If I had lines, $325! It was my only income but the opportunities were few and far between. I was desperate, but I was in New York City, and as long as I was looking out the window of my room instead of being outside in the rain looking in I felt like I was still winning. Everyone told me to go home, but I just couldn’t do it. Akron felt like the electric chair to me. I could almost hear the warden shouting “dead man walking” every time I was tempted to pack it in. I was determined to stay, no matter how damn hard it got. And it got hard.
Still, I knew the internship was a game changer – being around funny, creative people was inspiring. I made friends fast and eventually I got out of the YMCA (which, by the way, is nothing like the song). I don’t know how much I learned about television. I certainly learned my way around a copy machine and a stapler. Mostly, I learned that people who work on tv shows are overworked and stressed out and probably sadists. I learned that a lot of celebrities are just beautiful birds with A.D.D. I learned that Billy Murray is actually a really sweet person and that none of the other interns thought Al Franken was as cool as I did. I learned that every once in awhile Tony Randall would call and just want to talk to whomever answered. I learned that Paul Shaffer uses the word “cat” to describe his friends and is a musical genius. I learned that all the quirky habits of the backstage crew that Dave made part of the show were real. I learned Larry “Bud” Melman was truly as weird as he seemed. But I also learned the city, my new home, running the endless errands my bosses in the research department required. I learned the subway system and which way was uptown and downtown and how to use landmarks to find east and west. I learned the neighborhoods and the people who lived in them. I learned that if you are hopelessly lost in Central Park then you should consider yourself lucky.
I learned that if you let it, NYC will wrap you up in its arms and squeeze. Sometimes, you won’t be able to breath and sometimes you will feel warm all over. I also learned that the city will chew you up if you let it, but it can also show you how to be your best self.
That five to six months on the Late Show was a daily challenge. Sometimes the only thing I ate was the free pizza they gave us once or twice a week, but I was stuffed to the gills on NYC. I got to ice skate with Dave Letterman. I made him laugh. He let me join his family and when I was old enough he pushed me out of the nest into the big blue sky. Yeah, this is getting corny, but well, it’s Dave’s last day. Corny is long overdue.
I know that if I had given up and gone back home my life would be very different. I wouldn’t have have met my wife or had my son. I’d probably still be lost and unhappy, stumbling to figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be and never understanding why I felt so out of place. David Letterman showed me that my hometown wasn’t really my hometown. New York City is where I have always been from. A guy who left Indiana showed me where to hang my hat. For that, Dave, I will always be grateful and thankful that I got a chance to walk your halls. I wish you the best. In the meantime, I will keep working on my spiral.
Undertow Tour Diary – San Francisco
I love San Fran. Love, love, love it! This is only my second time visiting – the first time I was so busy with a job that I had no time for sight seeing, so this time, since part of the trip was on a weekend I had fewer appearances on my plate. I did my best to take advantage of the time.
My first event was a school visit in which I experienced my first run in with a rarely known animal called “the teenage heckler.” The more I talked the more he commented and it took every fibre of my being not to verbally rip him apart. The problem is actually a funny one to have – I used to do stand up and I know how to handle a heckler. But the hecklers I’m used to were grown ups and usually inebriated. This kid was fifteen – maybe – and if I took him apart like I would a person in a comedy club he would be in therapy for the rest of his life – lol. I literally had to tell myself not to take the bait. It wasn’t easy but I managed.
Talking to teens is a new thing for me. Not necessarily one that I have wrapped my head around yet. Much of my experiences, at least the ones that might impress another human being, were things I did that a little kid would love. Teens are not so impressed with the time I met the voice of Spongebob. I’m not sure what impresses them but I’m gonna figure it out.
I did a couple signings at some lovely stores – Books Inc. in Burlingame and BookPassage in Corte Madera and met some really fun book sellers and fans.
Then I just wandered, checking out neighborhoods on foot. I went to Fisherman’s Wharf and saw Alcatraz. I also saw a handful of insanely tough people swimming in the bay in 50 degree weather.
The next day I went to Clarion Alley, also known as the Mission District, where an entire alley has been transformed into a street art gallery. There was so much color and emotion – some of the pieces were just beautiful while others had strong political messages. If you get a chance you really should stroll down the alley. You’ll come out the other end getting an education in art and modern politics.
Sadly, there are still many neighborhoods I could have visited but there was only so much time and I had to get to Los Angeles, but the little taste of the town I got was delicious. I hope to go back sooner rather than later.
Undertow Tour Diary – Portland
Here’s what I’ve learned about Portland – it’s just like the show Portlandia, much to the chagrin of the people who live there. The insane feminist bookstore Women and Women First is based on a real bookstore. People actually do have jobs painting birds on housewares. There are tons of micro-biotic restaurants that either have, or need, fart porches. I talked about the show with a lot of people, including some great friends who live here, and they all said the same thing – it’s dead on. The bicyclists are super aggressive, people do care about the lives of the free-range chickens they eat, clowning is kind of a big thing.
But, the place is also beautiful and interesting. It’s got a river that runs through it so hanging out on the shore is huge. I stayed in a hotel right on the Riverwalk and every morning I looked out my window onto the water and saw dragon boat races, people were riding bikes and running and feeding geese.
I visited a few bookshops to sign stock, then went and did my first presentation in front of high schoolers. I’ve done hundreds of these presentations over the last decade and I know how to get kids excited – that is, if the kids are under the age of 13. Once they hit 14, well, they scare the crap out of me. Teens are a tough audience. It’s hard to impress them, maybe because they’re cooler than I was at their age (and I am now) or maybe they’re afraid to be interested about something in front of their friends. I don’t know, but there were a lot of stony faced kids when I started that talk. Still, I managed to get about a tenth of them involved and in my book that’s a good number considering that they could have all just gotten up and beaten the life out of me. #winning
That evening I raced over to Powell’s Cedar Hill Crossing for an event where I met a kid who came to an event i had in the same store almost seven years ago. She’s 16 now but here’s a pic from back then.
We grew to adore each other, of course. As I marveled at her enthusiasm for what I do I was once again reminded of how good I’ve got it. Not too many people have a job like mine, where I get to enter the life of a kid through my books, then get to see them again years later and the work still means a lot to them. sigh.
It was also a chance to reconnect with some old friends who live there – I’d post pics but those are all too outrageous and I want to protect the identities of the innocent. Still, Kelly, Lorna, and Mindy – i love you. Thanks for hanging out with me. Oh, and Kelly, you’re totally the funniest.
Undertow Tour Diary – Seattle
I love the Pacific Northwest. Yes, it rains every ten minutes and the traffic is really soul crushing but it’s just gorgeous. Seattle is a city that looks like it was carved out of the environment rather than the other way around. Everyone is cool. Everyone reads. It’s pretty wonderful. It’s on the list of places I’d like tor retire in when I am much older and grayer. The architecture is really wild – like this scary ass top-heavy building that was right next to my hotel, threatening to topple over and crush me!
I also stumbled into a restaurant called Purple that stores it’s wine inside this magnificent flight of stairs.
There’s a statue of Vladimir Lenin outside a Taco del Mar. The story of how he got here is pretty amazing but not as interesting at what the locals do to him on Christmas and other assorted holidays. The brutal dictator wakes up some morning to find himself dressed as a fairy princess or the Easter Bunny.
I learned a few things about the place that was interesting – like how umbrellas are for amateurs. I was told if you are carrying one around you’re not a local. Locals just suck it up in Seattle! Rain comes unexpectedly, sticks around for ten minutes, then vanishes like magic. I found an awesome record shop near Elliot Bay but I have so many records right now that I haven’t listened to yet that I couldn’t bring myself to buy another – still, it was fun sorting through the racks.
University Bookshop hosted a signing – a nice group of people came out to hear about my new book and talk about some of my older stuff. I found this shelf talker for NERDS pretty hilarious, it reads “This book is about nerds… who have super powers! After a popular kid joins them (long story) they have to face off Dr. Jigsaw and his machine to destroy the world.” I like how she sums it up. To be honest, I need to start inserting “long story” into more of my own conversations.
I visited a whole bunch of school and got to meet some amazing kids – funny, clever, curious, and I also worked with some amazing book shops. Seattle and the surrounding area have great stores and lots of them – Secret Garden, University Bookshop, Elliot Bay, Eagle Harbor, and Third Place Books are just a few and I got to visit most of them. I did a signing at University Bookshop in Seattle proper and saw some old friends and made a few new ones.
They’re here! Undertow Book Tour Starts Today
I’m sitting in my hotel room looking out at the Space Needle and wondering how I got here. Sometimes, I marvel at where I started and where I’ve landed – a practice I should probably do every day. It could have turned out much differently and it’s important to have a little gratitude for the universe and the people who make all this possible.
Today I’m starting a book store in Seattle, one of my favorite cities in the US, sent by my new publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and a team of passionate and dedicated editors, marketing experts, publicists, and I’m sure some very awesome interns. Undertow is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a whole lot of wishing and risk taking – not only by me but a whole lot of other people. Will anyone buy this book? I hope so – I’m proud of it and the reviews are good and there are some amazing bloggers and nice folks on social media who are championing it. I’m so grateful to all of you.
Today I’m going to talk to two schools about it, visiting and signing stock at two amazing local shops, doing a press interview, and doing another talk/signing at University Bookstore here in Seattle. I hope if you’re in the area you can make it out to say hello. If not, there will be signed copies at the stores. I’ll post where there others are later today.
I’m going to write a little tour diary on here – seems like fun – so there will be more to come and pictures as well, but for now, well, as the say, it’s time to jump into the deep end*.
*I promise the water puns will stop soonish.