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slippery when wet

News Archive: Max 2006

Thu 21
Dec
2006

Annual leave

Max 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 Government:

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.

Fri 15
Dec
2006

My Life as a Prick (or: Forgive Me, Elke)

Max 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.

Fri 27
Oct
2006

Astonishing Acts Involving Sleeves

Max Fin mid-mealLast 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.

Fri 29
Sep
2006

Of Poo, And Such

Max 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 people.

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 show!

Thu 21
Sep
2006

In defense of living

Max I don’t want to die.

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.

Can someone do something about that, please?

Fri 08
Sep
2006

How Stripy Is My Jumpsuit

Max 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 here or here.

Fri 11
Aug
2006

Retrospective #8: Nothing Happens, Film at 11

Max 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 Soderbergh, recently broke up, 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 helping.

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.

Project S

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 it?

Fri 04
Aug
2006

The Joy of Text

Max (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 some 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.

From Kale:

(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.

Max.

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… PLEASE… 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.

Thu 20
Jul
2006

Daddy’s Girl

Max Fin Flies HighAs 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.

Wed 21
Jun
2006

Farewell, my Bedford

Max 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.)

Bedford car

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:

The mysterious Coo-Var

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:

Optimistic 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.

Wed 14
Jun
2006

There are no stupid questions

Max Norman writes:

Dear Max:
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?

Wed 07
Jun
2006

Be Afraid

Max 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 would otherwise 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:

Now you know what to do if a person wearing this approaches you one dark night. That’s right: you say, “Hey, are you a Max Barry fan too?” It could save your life.

Wed 24
May
2006

Have a Beer with Max in London

Max 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 [Map] 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 my blog.

Tue 09
May
2006

My Favourite Author Went To Bedford And All I Got Was This Lousy Blog

Max 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 clothes.

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.

Tue 02
May
2006

You Need This Book

Max Apathy and Other Small VictoriesFor 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 Apathy 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.)

Update: Paul has a blog!

Fri 14
Apr
2006

I, Nerd

Max 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 girl: 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.”

Sun 26
Mar
2006

Max reviews the classics: Rub-a-Dub-Dub

Max Rub-a-Dub-Dub[Previously in this series: Sealed With a Kiss (Mary-Kate and Ashley #20).]

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 take you through it line by line:

Rub-a-dub-dub!
There’s a duck in my tub.

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.

Splish-splash-splish!
Meet the little fish.

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.

Quack-a-doodle-do!
I love a bath, don’t you?

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).”

Thu 23
Mar
2006

Hi, it’s me, Max

Max 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.”

You know?

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?

Wed 08
Mar
2006

mktg case study #41: mktg children’s toys

Max Totally unexcited childI 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, wouldn’t you?

The makers of the Dohome inflatable play house clearly thought not. On the side of the box is this picture 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. Check out this baby 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.

Wed 22
Feb
2006

Goodness

Max This has been my last two weeks:

  • I received a copy of the Jennifer Government screenplay.
  • I sold the film rights to Company.
  • I talked to John Cusack.
  • The guy who is probably going to write the Company screenplay e-mailed me to talk about his ideas.
  • I got a bunch of great new Company reviews, including a fantastic piece by Douglas Coupland in The New York Times Book Review.
  • I did a bunch of interviews.
  • The L.A. Times invited me to review a book for them.
  • I wrote a proposal for a TV series for the Sci-Fi channel.
  • Wil Anderson asked me to write a TV series for Australian TV with him.
  • I worked up a final polish of the Syrup screenplay.
  • The Chinese language version of Jennifer Government was released.
  • 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 compose a photograph 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 Me and Say 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 somehow.
  • 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.

And some standout e-mails from readers:

  • Kyle, a student in Canada, decided to create a web site for Zephyr Holdings (the company in Company). You know, just because he could.
  • 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.
  • Phill says I convinced 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 them.
  • 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.

Thu 09
Feb
2006

Feel the Love

Max 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.

Dear Max,

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?

Mike 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.