Here I was all about to start a blog post called “That’s 2006, then,”
when I realized
I’d already done that
in 2004. Except it was called
“That’s 2004, then.” Because it was 2004 at the time. Not 2006.
One of the problems with writing all the time is I tend to unwittingly
repeat myself. For example, the other day I received an e-mail that
chilled my spine:
Please stop using the line “he’d never seen so many expensive
pairs of shoes in one place.” You have used it in all three novels,
and it has about outlived its utility.
Could I really be unintentionally inserting the same line into
all my books? That would be pretty embarrassing. And probably
sign of some kind of encroaching mental defect. Some kind of
new encroaching mental defect, I mean. So I went searching
through my manuscripts. Sure enough I found this in Jennifer
John had never been surrounded by so many good pairs of shoes.
… and this in Company:
It turns out to be a bar so stylish that it has dispensed with anything
as obvious as trying to look like a bar, and at at seven o’clock on a
Friday evening it is full of deep orange sunshine and more pairs
of expensive shoes than Jones has ever seen in one place.
But I couldn’t find anything similar in Syrup, thank God.
That’s only two out of three! I reckon that lets me off the hook.
And what about all the lines that aren’t the same? Nobody
writes in about those!
Anyway, that’s it from me for the year. Thanks so much to all you guys who
visit my site, and read my books, and validate my life. If it wasn’t
for you, I’d be broke, bitter, and spending most nights fighting
homeless guys for loose change. Well, I do that anyway, but it’s
a lifestyle choice.
Apparently some people go through life without regret. They
make mistakes, but chalk these up to experience and move
on. I would like to meet one of those people and shake them hard.
I’m the other type: one of those people who breaks into a cold
sweat at one a.m. because I just remembered the time in 1989 when I
asked this girl out and she thought I was joking, so I tried to
play along. In fact, now I think about it, that happened a couple of times.
I probably needed to rework my approach.
But the thing that really haunts me is that one particular person
has been present at nearly all of my greatest humiliations.
This is Elke, who I lived next door to when we were both babies. There
are lots of photos of us playing naked in the splash pool; our parents
joked that one day we’d get married; you know the deal.
Well, Elke grew up to be beautiful, smart, generous, and kind to
animals. And I’m quite sure she thinks I’m the biggest asshole
on the planet, because every time she’s seen me in the last twenty
years, I’ve been rude, drunk, committing a crime, insulting her
brother, or some combination of the above.
It’s eerie. I don’t think she’s inspiring me to these depths. She just
always happens to be there, staring at me in shock.
I swear, if I took off my pants, walked down the street,
beat up a nun, and mugged a homeless person, I would turn around
and there would be Elke. It’s like my life is a sitcom and she’s my running
gag. Only since I’m in it, it’s not that funny.
I understand that we all do dumb things now and again. What I don’t
get is why all of mine happen in front of this one person, whom I otherwise
never see. It’s a little disturbing to know there’s someone out
there with a perfectly rational basis for thinking I’m a scumbag.
I haven’t seen Elke for many years, which at least means that I haven’t
done anything seriously embarrassing since then. But one day I hope to run
into her again, so I can say, “Look, I know what you must think about me.
And I won’t try to change your mind. I just want to say I’m really
sorry.” Then I would probably barf on her dog.
night I sat down with Fin to read her a bedtime story, and she
did the most amazing thing. She reached for the book, but two of
her fingers were caught in her sleeve, so first she stretched her
arm straight out, popping her hand free, then took the book.
Maybe that doesn’t sound so amazing. But I was flabergasted.
It was so grown up.
When I first saw Fin, she was seven cells. I saw her on a TV
monitor, while Fin herself floated around inside an IVF doctor’s
syringe. For the month prior to that, she was in frozen storage
(and for this reason was called “Popsicle” during
most of the pregnancy). She was seven cells. And now
she can free her hand from her sleeve and climb stairs and
wave at trains and moo at pictures of cows.
She’s 14 months old today. I know they grow up fast. But: wow.
Well, that was good timing. No sooner had I posted a blog about my
irrepressible zest for life than the rumblings began. At first I
just thought I was hungry. It was dinner time, so I popped down the
street and bought myself a hamburger and chips. It was good. It was
tasty. And a couple of hours later, it began an emergency evacuation.
I don’t remember having had gastro before. And I’m pretty sure that
I would remember this. This was the single most disgusting experience
of my life. That’s why I feel compelled to share it with you. Not
because I think you want to know. God, no. If you’ve got any sense
at all, you’ll walk away right now, sit in the corner, plug your
ears with your fingers, and shout, “La la la la!” until I’ve
stopped talking. No, this isn’t for your benefit; this is because
I went through such a colossal life-changing experience that I
need to talk about it to believe it really happened.
Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend about colonic
irrigation—long story—and she mentioned that the average person
carries around four pounds of compacted fecal matter. Yeah, sorry,
now you’ll never be able to not know that again, either. Well, on the
positive side, I am fairly confident that I am no longer one of those
One thing I found particularly remarkable was how big my stomach
must be. I mean, just judging from the available evidence, I must
be usually carrying around a shopping bag’s worth of food and
associated juices in there. Well, mostly juices. But still. Unless it was
expanding on exit, I just don’t see how everything could fit.
Jen and Fin both got gastro as well, but less spectacularly. In
fact, Fin’s hardly seemed to bother her: she had a couple of yucks,
then got on with business. I suppose when you’re a baby,
fluids periodically rushing out of your body without your permission is just
part of your daily routine. No need to write a blog about it.
But me, I have a whole new appreciation for the human body. No, wait,
“appreciation” isn’t the right word. Fear. That’s what I meant. I’ve
been reminded that I’m not completely in charge of this thing; that,
under certain circumstances, something else is going to take over the
controls for a while. And that’s an alarming idea. Although, boy: what a
This means I’m immature. At least, according to the world’s great
thinkers. If we’re to call ourselves mature, intelligent
adults, apparently we must each
come to terms with the things we cannot change in life, and one of
these is that it must inevitably end. If you refuse to accept this,
it’s a sign that you are still in a child-like state.
But come on. Isn’t the only reason that we die because we haven’t
got the technology right yet? I once heard an Australian scientist,
Dr. Kruszelnicki, say that the current generation was probably
going to be the last to die or the first to live forever. I
tell you what, if I miss the immortal generation by a few
years, I’ll be pissed.
I don’t get why more people aren’t upset about this. I mean,
I’ve read angry letters to the editor about cabbages. Where’s the
outrage about the inevitability of death?
Seriously, which offends you more: petrol
prices, or the idea that one day people will either burn your
body or bury it?
Okay, there’s the afterlife argument. I’m not convinced. First,
even if you buy the idea that after you die, you go to a better
place, that strikes me as a little too much like, “Hey guys,
let’s ditch this party; I heard that other one’s way better!”
I’m sorry, but I’m enjoying this party. I don’t want to travel
halfway across the city only to discover that all the cool people
already left or we got the address wrong or the driver decides it’s kind
of late so maybe we should just go home. “Let’s go to the other
party” never works, and I don’t see why it should start working
just because I’m dead.
Nope, I want to stay here. It’s not because I have a phobia about
death. Actually, I don’t see how you can have a phobia
about death, because a phobia is an “irrational fear,” and I
can’t think of anything more rational to be frightened of than
imminent nonexistence. But no, it’s not that I’m scared, exactly.
It’s that I think it stinks.
My daughter has a thing for buttons. She’s fascinated by them.
Especially buttons that light up or make a beep when you press
them—those can keep her occupied for ages—but keyboards
are fun, too. She seems to have a particular talent for finding
obscure functions or keypress combinations; she’s sent text
messages, made phone calls, and locked up my computer.
Now Fin has made a movie. She was playing with the mobile phone,
and it has a camera function, and somehow she recorded a short
video clip. I have no idea how.
I don’t want to hype it up too
much, because she is only 12 months old. But I don’t think I’m
exaggerating to say that it’s probably the most insightful, spiritual,
brilliant, and meaningful piece of cinema ever made. The ending…
well, I won’t spoil it. Judge for yourself.
If you’re not seeing the vid above, you can view it
It’s probably time for a big update on what the hell is going on
with some of projects I’ve mentioned in the past. On the one hand,
the reason I haven’t posted any news is because I have nothing
to report. But on the other, it’s probably annoying of me
to post some big announcement then go quiet for months about it.
So here’s the latest.
The Syrup Movie
There has been some good stuff happening, but I’m on strict
instructions not to talk about it. Essentially, the producers at
Fortress are trying to match the script I wrote with some
appropriately cool film-makers. At this stage I’m reasonably hopeful
that this is going to happen. Which means there is a non-zero
chance of seeing a good Syrup movie some time this decade.
I know! I’m excited too.
The Jennifer Government Movie
Section 8, the production company owned by George Clooney and Stephen
and I got the film rights back. Clooney and
Grant Heslov have formed a new production company called Smoke House,
and it’s possible the project might re-form there. Or it might
not. If it doesn’t, there are some other good potential homes for
it. So while this film is about as far away from production
as ever, it has lots of potential.
The Company Movie
Nothing to report here yet; it’s very early in development.
My next novel
I’m working on a book. I would love to tell you how it’s going,
but I know if I do it will be the last coherent sentence I ever
write. I’m superstitious like that. But I am making plenty of
progress. I feel like this time I might end up doing much less
re-writing than usual. Of course, I always think that.
This is my top priority by far, and what I’m spending
most of my time on.
The Maximum Words strategy has
proved difficult to stick to. I keep cheating, like deliberately
not checking the word count when I know I’m over. Still, I think it’s
The sci-fi TV series
I wrote up a proposal, which I’m actually quite fond of. It
probably needs another polish or two and then my agent will see
if anyone but me likes it. This is a very long shot, since
it’s insanely hard to get a TV series up. I am not packing my
bags for LA just yet.
The Australian TV show with Wil Anderson
Hasn’t progress due to the enormous trouble Wil and I have
locating ourselves in the same city simultaneously. We have a good
concept, though, so I hope we can get something on paper this year.
Foreign editions of Company
I wish I had something to tell you. This bugs me like nothing else.
There’s something else I’m brewing up, but I’m not allowed to
talk about it. It would be one of the coolest things I’ve ever
done, though, so I’m seriously hoping it comes off. Yes, you
heard it here first!
And I think that’s it. Huh. That was kind of underwhelming.
But now you’re up to date! That’s got to be worth something, doesn’t
(Language warning: Today’s blog contains profanity. And how! There’s
tons of it. Not from me; I’m quoting someone else. But if you prefer
your computer screens unsullied, you probably don’t want to scroll
any further down. Or, as another tactic, you could squint a
little and tilt your head to the left. Quotes are italicized, you see;
so you might not be able to quite make out the words. Of course,
you won’t make any sense of the blog, either. And you’ll look kind of
stupid. But it’s up to you. I’m just providing you with sufficient
information to make an informed choice.)
Today I stumbled upon
guy’s list of his favorite blogs. All right,
when I say “stumbled upon,” I mean I heard about
Google Blog Search,
and immediately typed in the subject I care about most,
i.e. me. Anyway, my site is on this list—which is not a ringing
endorsement so much as the anthropic principle in action. But here’s
what he said:
Max Barry. Author of several really good books. Seems to be one of the
few authors who really maintains a blog just for the joy of occasional
communication instead of promoting an agenda.
This pleased me very much. I do love that communication, and
while I can’t claim to be agenda-free—not with this many arch-enemies—I’m
very happy that, to one guy at least, that’s not what I’m here for.
A lot of my e-mail is indeed a joy. A lot is spam for Viagra and
hot stock picks, too, but I get more warm, funny, and fawning e-mail
than anyone really has a right to.
As an example, here’s one I
received a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t going to post it,
because whenever I do that quite a few people e-mail
me in a similar vein, presumably hoping I’ll post theirs, too. And in
this case, that would be scary. But in many ways it represents
everything that’s great fun about what I get to do here.
(FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK… say something witty…. FUUUUCK…. DID I
SPELL THAT WRITE? HE THINK IMSTOPID IF I DONT SPELL WRITE!!!!!!!)
Hey Maxeroooooney, ever read Everyone in Silico? Or Torture the Artist?
P.S. I want to marry Six…Is there anyway I can OFFICIALLY marry a
fictious character? Because if so…Im marrying that woman.
I don’t usually reply to my email (which is terrible,
I know), but I banged out a quick response
to this one:
Yes, no, and if you try that, I’m calling the cops.
Then Kale responded:
OMG YOU REPLIIIEDDDD!!! Ahaha…ahahah…
Your books, Mr.Barry, are incredible. I weep everytime I think on
them. When bystanders at the arcade I work at ask me whats wrong,
I just cry harder…FUCKING BEAUTIFUL…BRILLAINT…NO MORE WORDS.
…FUCK, I would love to meet and help ANY of your characters in
WHATEVER way they needed. Do me a favor…and im completely serious…
PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE… name a character
Kale. NAME A CHARACTER KALE. KALE…It’s a rare name! It’s the name
of a vegetable. It’s hawain…it mean’s strong man. WADDAYASAY???
Just…ANY character at all!!!!! I know the use of “!!!” and “…”
can be annoying, but that;s just where im at in this point of my life.
Lots’a passion. Im a 21 year old man. I love your books. I love the
show Home Movies. I get depressed thinking about life. I have so many
questions. I enjoy Jerri Blank and The UCB. I love Lobo. They should
make him read Syrup when they UNCANCELL the series. Front cover. I
like OINK. Ever read that? JTHM was, at one point, the only thing i
ever cared about.
I’ve spilled my gut’s and I still have’nt said anything I wanted to
you…the man who’se stories make me happy. THANK YOU. THANK YOU,
THANK YOU THANK YOU, THANK YOU…
How awesome is that? I read something like that, I feel like a superhero.
Thanks, Kale. And to all of you who write to me or post on this site.
I mean, I don’t want to get too mushy here, but—aw, hell. Come here.
Yeah, that’s it. Thanks, guys.
As of last Monday,
Jen is back at work two days a week. One of those days, my mother
looks after Fin. The other day, I do.
Of course, since I have the kind of job that permits me to loll around
the house unshaven and wearing nothing but boxer shorts (although
not now, it’s winter; I’m not crazy), I already get to
spend more time with my daughter than most Dads. (Heh. “Dad.” Still
cool.) But I have discovered that when it’s just me and Fin, it’s
different; special in a way that’s almost magical.
This is how it works: I get up at 6:30am, make myself a coffee,
and start work. I have about 90 minutes to pound out some words
before Fin wakes. (Which isn’t that long. So I am writing Sunday
mornings, too, to make up for it.) Then that’s it: the rest of the day is just the two of us.
So far we have caught the train into
the city to look at comic books, walked along the river, visited
a mall, and stopped off at an aquarium to inspect some fish.
But where we go isn’t the point; the amazing part is just
having this incredible little girl all to myself.
I know I am probably about the ten billionth
person in history to feel like this, but it really is beautiful. It
feels like an honor.
As you know, I’ve spent most of the last two months in Bedford, England.
No, you do. I mentioned it, like, just a few weeks ago. See, right
here. Well I don’t care if you
do get a lot of e-mail; I thought you’d care enough to remember. Well
I guess not. Well maybe you should. Fine. No, I said, fine! Don’t
take that; that was a present!
Anyway, I am now back home, but before I left, I decided to take a
few snaps of Bedford for you. Now, these aren’t of Bedford’s tourist
attractions. That’s because Bedford doesn’t have any. Instead I just
walked around the block. That was all I needed to capture the real
essence of Bedford, I think you’ll agree.
First, this car was parked outside the house. I took this photo because
it’s what every car in Bedford looks like. Actually, that’s not true;
some have more flags.
(Click for larger versions.)
The flags are because of the World Cup, by the way. Just in case you were thinking
there must be some really rabid nationalism going on in Bedford. I
mean, there could be, but the flags don’t prove it.
A few doors down was a youth social center with high walls and barred
windows. I’m not totally sure,
but I think this is the kind of center where the youths aren’t
actually permitted to leave. This was on the walls:
I spent some time trying to work out what “Coo-Var Anti-Climb Paint” actually
is. My first guess was that it’s really sticky, so when people try to climb
the fence they get stuck halfway up, and dangle there until the police come
and hose them off. But I touched the wall
and it didn’t seem sticky. It didn’t seem smooth, either, or smelly, or
anything else that might discourage climbing. But if I jumped really high I could
see a kind of black smear on the top of the wall, so I guessed that was it.
And when I touched it, it was sticky. But not that sticky. So
I’m still confused about what this product is meant to do.
Around the back of the block, I passed these helpfully labeled bins:
This raised a lot of questions for me. I was tempted to knock on the door
and ask the owner a few questions about exactly how he thought this anti-theft
protection scheme might work. He seemed to have some insights into the
criminal mind that were escaping me.
But that probably would have gotten me stabbed,
so I didn’t.
Note: After my previous Bedford blog, a friend wrote to tell me that Christopher Reeve used to live in
Bedford. This left me confused and bewildered. I kept asking myself:
Why? God, why? Then I discovered he lived
in Bedford, New York, and the world made sense again.
I just happened to browse the site as I am with MY Space .Com.
Some how I came across your website.
One eye catcher is a segment titled: “Women in High Heels Smashing Things”
What is that all about? It turns me on. Tell me more of this story and more
information on it.
Right! I’m going to assume you’re being funny, Norman, because the
alternative is too disturbing. So this is the thing where I look up
what people are searching for when they
visit this site. It’s been a while since I last checked that, but once again
the list is a mix of the bizarre,
the terrifying, the unintentionally hilarious, and the unexpectedly profound.
Here’s a sample from the last two months:
ashley olsen worried and afraid of mary kate
hippos go berserk
how to make my cable modem lights stop blinking
what can i do to make myself more attractive to women?
defense against water balloons
how to write in elven symbol code
benefits of drinking pepsi max
sexiest pants in world of warcraft
what did teenager like back in the days
how tall are victoria s supermodels
what makes plaster casts start to smell?
fish talks crap splish splash
what happens to the hearing of whales when they get older
who does jennifer government look like
my sneakers are too small
i just want to talk not about anything someone
when was 479 days ago?
unshaven giant poodle pictures
is um a word
location of hookers in rochester ny
goosebumps anything to do with your heart
giant rabbit news england
the smurfs karl max
is it true that when you sneeze people are thinking about you
Some of these are hard to stop thinking about. I’m a little
tempted to search for footage of berserk hippos myself now.
Is “um” a word? And seriously, I’m in England at the
moment: should I be worried about a giant rabbit?
This site has a few links to Amazon.com, so people can buy my books online.
Amazon is pretty handy because it delivers to almost anywhere
in the world, even strange, backward countries where some of my books
be unavailable, like Britain, or Australia. Amazon also kicks me back about 6.5%
on the purchase price, which, if I have worked this out correctly, is actually more
than I make in royalties on some editions.
Amazon pays this percentage not just on the items I link to directly,
but also anything else a person picks up while they’re there. So if you
follow a link to Company and, on impulse, add a pair of
Haines Boxer Briefs to your shopping cart—as someone did—I get a
percentage of that, too. A percentage of the price, I mean. Not a
percentage of the briefs. Because that would be weird.
You see where I’m going with this. Obviously there is some fascination in
looking at exactly what people are buying along with their Jennifer
Governments and Syrups. (I can’t tell who bought any
particular item, of course. I’d need to be a government employee concerned
about terrorism to learn that. All I know is that someone did.)
It’s fascinating because people buy some really weird things.
Oh, most are logical enough. Serenity DVDs and Chuck Palahniuk
novels, for example; I can see why someone who’d been reading my site might
want to pick those up.
But sometimes… well, see for yourself.
This is what
somebody—I feel fairly confident it’s a single person—bought from Amazon via
my site recently:
As I mentioned, I’m not doing any publicity while I’m in England.
But I do intend to have a beer at
the Warrington Hotel
at 2pm this Sunday the 28th. So if you’re in range, and you care, you
could come along.
I don’t really know how this will work, but I am imagining something like
this: you see a 6’2” guy with no hair speaking in an Australian accent,
wander over, and say, “Are you Max?” And I say, “Yes, yes I am. Who are you?”
And we take it from there. My only rule—and it’s a very strict one—is
that there shall be no mention
of the Ashes.
I won’t have any books to sell, but I’m happy to sign anything you
bring along. And I mean anything. Underwear, other people’s books, you
name it. I’m desperate for recognition.
By the way, I was originally thinking of inviting people to a pub in Bedford, but
realized I couldn’t live with the stain of that crime on my soul.
Update: Well that was great fun! Thanks to
those who turned up. I gotta say, it’s pretty damn cool to be able to
gather an instant mini-party of interesting people just by posting on
I’m in England. Huh, when I say it like that, it’s as if I just breezed
halfway around the world during my lunch hour, instead of undergoing 30 hours of torture inside a
metal tube with an 8-month old baby and a planeload of people conspiring to
prevent her from sleeping.
Jen’s family live in England, and occasionally we fly over to visit them.
We usually stay for at least a month, and—since the purpose of the trip is
to spend time with them—visit absolutely no tourist attractions or
places of interest. We just hang out in Bedford.
For that reason, I have the general impression that all of England is a
barely habitable crap-hole full of people who look like they’re about to
stab you for your mobile phone, then use it to call their dealer.
Well, that’s not quite true; I have visited a few other places in England,
and with one exception (Milton Keynes, I’m looking at you) they have been
quite beautiful, or at least interestingly history-soaked. But Bedford
is neither. I am told that Bedford’s heyday was in the 1950s, when the
local brickworks was the town’s main employer, and you can tell this is
true because every single house is constructed in the exact same style
from the exact same red
brick. Other Bedford attractions include the River Ouse (pronounced
“ooze”), which is exactly as charming as it sounds and patrolled
by highly aggressive ducks, and… no, actually, that’s it.
Most English people I speak to are hazy on where, exactly, Bedford is.
The answer is you don’t care. I think you’re better off not knowing
how close you may be to Bedford. If, in your ignorance, you do happen
to stumble onto it, well, just hurry on before any of it gets on your
I have no publicity plans while I’m in England; for some reason my British
publisher has always been reluctant to expose me to the public, like
a girlfriend embarrassed to introduce me to her parents. I know what
you’re thinking: at first I thought it was the hair, too. But no:
apparently you just don’t do bookstore events in this country unless you
are sufficiently famous. More sufficiently than me, I mean.
I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe it’s considered bad manners.
The police just chased some guy down the street right outside my
window. I’m not kidding. Ah, Bedford.
the first time on this site, I’m about to plug a book that isn’t mine.
I know! I feel like I’m growing as a person. Here’s what happened:
I got sent this book pre-publication to see if I’d be interested in
providing a quote for the back of the book. Apparently the theory is that if
people see a quote by some author they’ve never heard of, they think,
“Hmm… someone that obscure must know what he’s talking about.”
I get sent quite a few books this way, which is good, because I don’t
have to pay for them, and bad, because I don’t get to choose them,
and they tend to suck. So I end up on the backs of very few books.
(If anyone has seen a book with “Meh, it kind of sucked. —Max
Barry, author of Company” on it, though, please let me know.)
Then I got sent a book that was so good I thought they must have confused
me with someone much more popular. Like maybe Jesus. This book rocked.
It was the funniest novel I’d ever read. It was so good that when I finished
reading it, I immediately read it again. And then a third time. It’s
currently my favorite novel.
The book is
and Other Small Victories, by Paul Neilan. It’s out in the US
today. If you like my stuff, I seriously recommend that you get this. And if you don’t
mind Chuck Palahniuk, either, a gaping hole in your life that you never
knew existed is about to be filled. Go buy it. Now.
(Disclosure: I met Paul earlier this
year, after I’d read his book. But he didn’t promise any sexual favors
in exchange for me pumping up his book. Really, he wouldn’t be moved on that.)
I mentioned this once or twice on my book tour, but for those who
weren’t there—you know, because you live in one of those areas that
my publisher hates—earlier this
year I had what I am pretty sure is my nerdiest moment ever.
I am quite proud of my nerdy accomplishments—I have created
a web game,
written a science-fiction novel,
and formed a religious opinion
about operating systems. I consider my nerdiness to be not
abnormal, but rather the way that everyone would be if only they
stopped and thought about it properly. But then I had this moment,
when even I thought, “Ooh, that’s pretty nerdy.”
Here’s what happened. Some time ago, I registered a domain name for my baby
finlaybarry.com. (That’s not the nerdy thing.) I thought this would
be a good way to share photos and news with relatives in
various parts of the world, and, when Fin was old enough,
she could use it for whatever she wanted. Maybe a blog, if by then
those weren’t so 2005.
I have already gotten Fin banging away on a keyboard, because I
want her to get used to the command line before I introduce her
to a GUI. Here is the first thing she ever wrote:
6fcv5jnnnnnnnnnnmmmmmmmmmmmmmjnj /bvyj,[k[ v
That’s not the nerdy thing.
The nerdy thing is that I thought—I actually stopped and
thought—“Hmm… before I name my next kid, I should check to
make sure the domain name is available.”
Join the Tubby Buddies for oodles of bath time fun! promised the blurb,
and that sounded like a good idea to me. So we gave it a road test: Jen
(in bath) narrating, Fin (also in bath) staring at it, grabbing at it,
and trying to chew its pages, and me sitting beside the bath and listening
with increasing horror.
“Rub-a-Dub-Dub,” it’s titled, by Nancy Parent (yes, really). And
the thing is, I wanted to like it. Really. The cover is a little
Disney-cute, sure, but it’s got bright colors and clear lines, and
that’s probably what the seven-month-old baby demographic
demands. Also, the book is made of soft vinyl. Not just the
cover: the whole thing. It’s not until you get a vinyl book in your
hands that you realize what a brilliant idea this is; indeed, that you begin
to wonder why all the world’s great tomes aren’t published like this. You
can spill things on it, roll it up, and if you were reading it in bed,
bunch it up and use it as a pillow.
Fin certainly made an effort to digest the story early, which Jen was required
to arrest so she could begin reading. It’s quite short, so let me
through it line by line:
This is where I started to get uneasy. It’s a two page spread, one line
per page, and the first illustration is exactly the same as the cover with
two exceptions: first, the duck’s eyes are looking in a different direction,
and second, instead of being in a soapy bath, it appears to have drifted
out into the open seas. I mean, there are foaming waves and everything.
Which would be
an interesting plot twist, only it’s contradicted by the text, which
makes it clear this is still meant to be a tub. And that text!
Apparently this wasn’t a clever post-modern homage to the classic “Rub-a-dub
dub, three men in a tub” at all; it was just a rip-off. Once again, I thought
I caught the stench of Disney.
The facing illustration depicts a smiling tug boat, who is looking at the duck.
Or rather, he’s looking a little below the duck: their sight lines don’t quite match
up. But I was prepared to let this go, since technically they’re in two
separate illustrations. I presumed that Mr. Boat was the story’s protagonist,
since there didn’t seem to be anyone else around to be remarking on the
presence of ducks in his tub, but on this I was to be disappointed.
Now I started to get confused. The illustration shows the duck meeting a
very happy fish. There’s no sign of Mr. Boat, but I guess he must be
off-page somewhere, still narrating. Because otherwise this giant bath
must contain some
shadowy third party we haven’t yet met, and that’s a bit scary.
I wasn’t thrilled with “Splish-splash-splish”—that struck me as
something Nancy made up in a hurry to rhyme with “fish.” And the
characters still seem to be navigating the oceans, rather than a bath.
On top of that, even though this is a single illustration, the duck’s and
fish’s eyes don’t line up, which gave me a headache the more I looked at it.
I’m sorry—what? What? Is this some kind of duck-rooster hybrid?
Quack-a-WHAT? I was stunned. I’ve heard some strained
rhymes in my time, but this is clearly the worst. The only
possible excuse for something that excruciating is that Nancy is stuck in a
cubicle somewhere, forced to churn out about forty of these books a week.
(Later, I did an Amazon.com author search for “Nancy Parent” and got 342 results.
So I guess she is. But still. Hang your head, Nancy.)
That terrible line concluded the book. I was annoyed by the
unresolved mystery of whose tub this was in the first place, given that
the duck itself appeared to be delivering the final stanza—he’s
even looking directly at us—so this is either a brutal
point-of-view change, or earlier the duck was describing himself in
the third person. Either way, my head hurts.
But as sickened as I was, the target audience seemed impressed.
Fin’s reaction seemed to be: “A terrific book. I
couldn’t get enough of it (into my mouth).”
You know when you mean to call a friend, but you don’t get around to
it for a while, and suddenly it’s been so long that you can’t just
call up and say, “Hi! Anything happening?” You need to have something worth
saying; something that justifies you finally ending the absence.
You can’t just call up and blog about any old thing; you should blog
about something significant, so the friend thinks, “Huh, well, I
may have had to wait for a while, but at least that blog was worth it.”
Sorry about that. What I’ve been doing instead of blogging: mainly,
beavering away on my science-fiction TV series proposal. (Which is
so cool; I mean, it’s got mentally deranged artificial intelligences
and chicks with weird names and everything.) Now that’s done with—for
the moment; nothing I write is ever really done with,
I have discovered—I sit back and
wait for my agent to call up and tell me that the Sci-Fi channel wants
26 episodes and they’re already building the sets and did I want the characters
to have really big guns, or ridiculously big guns? That’s basically it.
But that’s beside the point. The point is that I’ve broken the ice; we’re
talking again, and now it won’t seem so weird if I blog about, say,
a children’s book about a duck that made me very angry. Or at least, no
weirder than you’re used to. Right? Okay. We have a deal. So… how
have you been? Anything happening?
have bought a lot of baby stuff. And I’ve noticed that many of
the babies on the packaging don’t look exactly picture-perfect. Which
is understandable, since
babies probably aren’t very co-operative on photo shoots. But
still, you’d expect the photographer to keep trying until they got one
where the kid looked as if he was enjoying himself,
The makers of the Dohome inflatable play house clearly thought not.
On the side of the box is
in which one child is, at best, listless, and the other
is obviously thinking, “What a load of crap this thing is.”
But even better is the huge picture on the box’s front.
and tell me if that’s a child in the throes of joy and excitement.
That kid wants out.
I just wish I could see the pictures they rejected.
I made some progress on getting NationStates 2 underway.
I got invited to two festivals, one conference, two workplaces to give
talks, and asked to contribute writing to four different places.
Ordinarily any one of these would be so cool that I would scamper to
the keyboard and blog all about it. But there is just so much
cool. To anybody but me, I suspect it is a sickening amount
of cool. Plus I’m getting way more e-mails from readers than usual, including
many hilarious or scary ones that are also clearly worth blogging about.
Basically, there is so much cool stuff happening right now that
I could blog about it non-stop, if only there wasn’t so much cool stuff
happening right now.
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, poor Max, I cry fat salty tears
of compassion for you; how terrible to have all your time taken up by
the realization of all your life’s dreams.” And you’re right;
it is poor of me, because when someone, say, takes the trouble to
involving my book, one of Stephen King’s, and a monkey,
I shouldn’t allow that to pass without comment.
(The best time to write to an author, I have decided, is about two
months before his book is published. That’s when most other people
have forgotten his existence and he’s feeling frightened
and desperate for love.)
Here is my weak compromise: an update in point form. This way I get
to summarize what’s been happening without writing 10,000 words, and hopefully
also without making too many people sick to their stomachs that so much good
stuff can happen to one guy.
It feels weird to read someone else’s adaptation of your book. Really
weird. Louis Mellis and David Scinto have written a highly stylized version of Jennifer
Government—the things they do with dialogue are just amazing—but
it’s like seeing your kid dressed by a total stranger: she’s the same,
but so different. It’s surreal on the same level as when I
read reviews that call me “Barry,” as if I am an Important Person.
Company will be developed for the screen by
Tom Shadyac and
Michael Bostick in
conjunction with Universal. And boy are they fast movers! They’re already
talking to Steve Pink
about writing the screenplay. Steve was a writer on one of my favorite
movies, Grosse Pointe Blank, as well the excellent adaptation
High Fidelity. Not only that, but he was good enough to drop
me an e-mail. What a guy.
“Hi, it’s Johnny Cusack.” Only one of the coolest guys on
the planet. On the phone. Talking to me. While my wife hyperventilates
beside me. (I think Cusack even trumps Wil Wheaton, as far as Jen is
concerned. Because he was in Stand By MeandSay Anything. I
am a little concerned, though, that I only seem to be meeting celebrities that
my wife has had huge crushes on.) John—I mean Johnny—I mean Mr. Cusack—was
interested in the Company film rights, and although they ended
up going elsewhere, maybe we’ll get lucky and still get his involvement
If there is anything more professionally satisfying than having a
absolute titan of the writing scene—a guy who is clearly my literary
superior in every conceivable way—write
a bunch of flattering things
about my work in The New York Times Book Review…
then it’s probably illegal.
Hobbie wrote to tell me that Russian Coke tastes a lot like Fukk
is described in Syrup. My lawyers are just waiting for them
to put it in a black can.
Christian delayed responding to a fire alarm in his building
so he could finish a good bit of Syrup. Nice.
Jerry shot me a slightly scary list of
websites devoted to
barcodes, and the
people who love them.
him to convert to from Windows to Linux,
which makes me feel all warm and subversive.
Rachel e-mailed me an exhaustive explanation of why
American shower faucets
work that way and how to master
Brandon explained that although he loves my web site he
is never going to buy one of my books because he doesn’t want to
“spoil the mystery.” I was going to ask him
to elaborate on this theory, but then I decided this
was one mystery I probably didn’t want solved either.
I was starting to get worried: it had been almost two weeks of near-constant
praise. That’s just not natural. Fortunately, this morning a breath
of fresh air blew into my Inbox: a letter from Mike.
I have played NationStates for quite some time and, after listening to your interview on NPR this morning, my assumptions about you were proven startingly correct. I assumed that you were a pretentious snob who is an ego-aggrandizer because your book reviews are consistently negative yet you continue to produce such infantile drivel with such a delusionary sense of accomplishment and self-importance. What you fail to realize is that your “insights” are nothing more than a few whiney complaints of a mal-adjusted mal content who has failed to cut it in the real world. Your comments on NPR, which in my opinion coddles this approach to life, were nothing short of predictable.
I like how Mike’s assumptions were so accurate that even he is
startled by just how on target he was. He must have even nailed my
accent. His next sentence is a little less clear; I’m not sure how “consistently
negative” reviews would lead to me being an egomaniac. That would work
work the other way around, wouldn’t it? And I can’t back him on
“failed to cut it in the real world;” I mean, I’m not living on government
subsidies, here, Mike.
But I am impressed
that he listens to NPR even though he doesn’t like it. Put this together
with his willingness to write to authors to tell them how bad they are,
and you have a man who isn’t afraid to confront what he disagrees with
and set it straight. I appreciate that kind of directness, and I’m
sure Mike does, too.
Let me make a connection between this attitude in your book and this attitude in nationstates. You have created a game in which, much to the difficulty of many Americans (such as myself) to comprehend, the game operators such as yourself rule as their judges of themselves and of their own actions…
This goes on for a bit and after a while
even I lost track of what he was talking about. But I gather it’s his
main point, because he starts writing IN ALL CAPS and swearing. Most of my hate
mail is from NationStates players, which is something I’ve never been
able to work out: if anyone is entitled to yell at me,
surely it’s the person who shelled out twenty bucks for a book she didn’t like,
not the guy who has spent the last year playing my web game for free. But
for some reason it doesn’t work like this.
Mike closes with:
I strongly suggest that you get it together, Max. Time for a change, perhaps?
US of A
Mike! Thank you for your e-mail. It’s been so long since someone
roundly abused me for nothing in particular that I was starting to get
nostalgic. I appreciate your advice, although I am not sure
what you are recommending. But in any case, it brightened my day,
because now I feel as if a little balance has re-entered my life,
and I didn’t have to be hit by a bus to get it. Take care, Max.