Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Root beer taste test

Samuel and I were at the deli trying to decide which root beer to get, and we decided to let science determine our future buying habits. The contenders: Boylan, Mug, Stewart's, and Stewart's birch beer.

The verdicts?

Judge #1: "I chose Stewart's. It had a traditional, crisp root beer flavor. Runner-up was Mug, which was good but a tad too creamy. I didn't like the cane sugar in Boylan. And the birch beer was too candy-like. I want my root beer to taste like root beer."

Judge #2: "I liked the birch beer the best. It reminded me of Root Beer Barrel candy, which brought back happy memories of when I was a kid. My runner-up was Boylan, which had a unique taste. I thought there was too much vanilla in the Stewart's."

Judge #3: "Mug was my favorite. It just tasted like root beer. Stewart's was my runner-up. The birch beer had the strongest taste, but it was a little too strong. The Boylan didn't taste enough like root beer to me."

In summary, the judges could not reach a consensus. Judge #4, seen in the background, had absolutely no interest in participating in the taste test to break the tie.

Below, Judge #3 attempts a daring Stewart's root beer/birch beer combo. "Hmm. Not bad." 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas in NYC

The streets and subways were uncrowded--except Times Square. The weather was balmy and spring-like. And my parents came to visit. It was a nice, mellow, low-key holiday.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holiday photo

We wish you simple, pure, loud, fast joy in 2016. 

Our holiday newsletter is at Tarp Street Journal.com.

More about the photo here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Miracle of Science, part 2

Okay, whether my body is truly a self-healing miracle of science depends on the meaning of the words "self-healing," "miracle" and "science." And "body."

I had three runs in a row in which my sports hernia didn't bother me--but I felt my left calf muscle starting to pull and had to walk the last half mile each time. I suppose I can claim that it's a miracle of science that my body knows when it's about to pull a muscle.

Then--two nights ago--I ran a 6:31 mile for the first time all year.

Is that fast? Unfortunately, no.

It's fast enough to brag about on my blog, where three people will see it, but not on Facebook, where a hundred people will see it. I could've gone faster, except I was carrying five extra pounds of body weight and concerned about pulling a muscle. Which is another way of saying I could've gone faster in some alternate universe in which it wasn't 2015. Which is another way of saying I really couldn't go any faster.

Here's something that will either make you feel kind of happy or depress the hell out of you: we're never going to be younger than we are today.

I know--shit.

But I'm happy to be alive. We're gonna shed these extra pounds, sell some more manuscripts, get a better job, put Samuel through college, and, dammit, it's all gonna happen.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Almost a Christmas photo

We finally shot our Christmas photo today, and I spent all day editing it in Photoshop.  

I still need to write the newsletter, so we're not quite ready for the reveal, but for we're going for a musical theme again for the third consecutive year. (Hint above.)

For reference...



Monday, December 7, 2015

Do what you love and you will find yourself living in a trailer in Arkansas

When I was a teenager and into my early 20s, I believed that somewhere there was a group of people just like me, and they all hung out together on a beach, probably in southern California, enjoying the sunshine and partying all night.

I even moved to California for a year after college to find those people. I rented a room in a house by the beach, then immediately went to the beach to hang out with all my new friends. There was no one there.

Then it hit me. Everyone is at work. The only people here on weekdays are heroin addicts and retirees walking their poodles.

Making a living is a grind. People like to say "Do what you love and the money will follow," but that's not true. If people only did what they loved, Central Park would be clogged with joggers all day, and we'd all be running through horse crap, because no one would be there to clean it up.

I have a secret. I do what I love--I write children's books--but I do it in my spare time. Because so far I've made enough money from children's books to live in a trailer in Arkansas for six months. Maybe nine if we shot our own squirrels.

To pay for our little apartment in Manhattan, I have to do things I don't always love. I'm not anti-work. I'm just anti-a-hole. Anti-pretense. Anti-BS. Literally or figuratively, we all have our crap to shovel. I don't think I'd be happier living in a trailer in Arkansas and eating squirrel. It's just life. You make trade-offs.

I think the real secret to happiness is balancing doing the things you love with finding honest, decent, smart, funny people to shovel the crap with. That's my goal for 2016.

Who's with me?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What I did this weekend

1. On Friday night I rushed home to my family and promptly ignored them to watch an Iowa wrestling match on the Internet. I don't think they noticed.

2. On Saturday morning I got up early (i.e. before noon) and went downtown to Books of Wonder to see a reading by author/illustrator Todd Parr. How nice is Todd Parr? He's like Mister Rogers without all the negativity.

I saw my Little, Brown editor, Allison, at the reading. And multiple toddlers that I wanted to play with--if only we lived in a world in which a middle-aged man could walk up to a mom in a bookstore and say, "Can I play with your toddler?" (I did let one of them chew on my Todd Parr book while I was waiting in line for Todd to autograph it.)

3. On Saturday afternoon I went BACK to Books of Wonder to do my Ninja Day reading with fellow author Corey Rosen Schwartz. We had a decent turnout (enough for a baseball team) and we didn't get booed off the stage. Pics below:

4. Today I went for a run around the reservoir, procrastinated from doing any writing or work on finding a higher paying job, and ended the day with burgers from Shake Shack. (Bonus: Samuel just walked in and said, "Dad, do you want the rest of my shake?")

You know, I wish I could cure cancer, end hunger, and persuade people that God doesn't really want them to kill people in his name.

For now, I vow to hang out with positive people: children's authors, children's book editors, toddlers, kids who like to do ninja kicks, mangy Spaniels who crave food and attention, and my own little family whom I love and who loves me in spite of my not paying more attention to them or how we're going to pay our kids' college tuition.

We're still alive, and that's a good first step.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Let me tell you about Books of Wonder

It's NYC's oldest and largest children's bookstore. It's a magical place that has survived the successive onslaughts of Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. It's a place that has created so many memories for so many children over the past thirty-five years that just to set foot in it is like walking into Disneyland on a day that Jim Henson, Dr, Seuss, and Walt Disney are all there to personally greet you.

I would not have set foot in this place in 1980. 

They did not sell T-shirts with the F word across the front. All they sold was children's books. Bah. And if someone had suggested that in thirty-five years I'd be reading my own children's book here, I'd have said, "What's it called? Go the F to Sleep?" Then I'd laugh and flip the perm out of my eyes.

But here I am, baby. And I'm reading with a fellow author, Corey Rosen Schwartz, who likes ninjas so much that she has written not one but two ninja children's books. She is double cool.

We will be there, center stage, this Saturday, December 5, 18 West 18th Street, at 4pm! How big a deal is this, you ask? Todd Parr, the celebrated author/illustrator of over thirty books and creator of a TV show called "ToddWorld" (which I also wish I'd come up with), is doing his reading at 11am. In other words, he's, like, the warm-up act. Shhh--don't tell him.

Come join us. Buy a book and give it to someone little that you love. Spread a little joy--the world needs it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

National Ninja Day is December 5!

In a brilliant display of author marketing (not my idea), several of us "ninja authors" got together to capitalize on a little-known holiday called National Ninja Day.

The idea, in a nutshell, is to create a diversion in order to sell our books.

Our website is here.

Our Twitter page is here.

We got some press yesterday from Publisher's Weekly, here.

Corey Rosen-Schwartz ("Three Ninja Pigs") and I will be reading at Books of Wonder--info here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cross it off the bucket list

Jen and I drove down to Atlantic City yesterday to see Dion at the Tropicana.

Dion is 76. His biggest hit was in 1961 ("Runaround Sue"). I told Jen, "Be prepared to see old people." 

When we walked in I snickered, "Oh, my God, look at all the canes and motorized wheelchairs. I think we wandered into a taping of 'The Price is Right.'" Then I looked down at our tickets to find our seats and neither of us could read the tiny print. Karma's a bitch.

The concert was fun. Dion's voice is still good. You know, it's rock'n'roll--he was never Pavarotti. The back-up band was solid--and their harmonies on "I Wonder Why" were spot on. It lasted over an hour.

And, you know, 70-year-old women dancing in the aisles? How often do you get to see that? Aside from "The Price is Right"?

An evening well spent. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Miracle of science

I had my best run of the year today--just a short loop around the reservoir in Central Park. I'm kind of excited about it because it has not been a great year for me, physically.

I've had a sports hernia for over a year now--pain in my lower abdomen when I run or do sit-ups--although no visible hernia. I kept thinking, "Oh, just suck it up and run through it; it'll go away eventually."

But it didn't go away. I got steadily slower and slower until finally I had to stop running completely a few months ago. I gained six pounds. I felt old.

Finally, when the pain subsided, I tried a slow trot for a few hundred yards. Then a teensy little jog with lots of stopping. Always resting for at least a day between jogs, and always being extra sensitive to any pain.

Today I ran at under seven-minute-mile pace for the first time in a long time. It feels good not to run like an old woman, you know? And the pain is minimal. My body is a self-healing miracle of science. 

Now I do have a hole in my back where my dermatologist sliced off a suspicious mole last week. So the part of my body that spent too much time in the sun as a young man is apparently not self-healing.

And I'm still six pounds overweight. But...one miracle at a time.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What always strikes at my heart is the juxtaposition between evil and goodness, between tragedy and joy. 

I read about a hundred innocent people in Paris being murdered last night.

Today I watched Iowa set the college wrestling dual meet attendance record. I saw 42,000 joyous people, celebrating together.

I saw photos of friends' kids on Facebook--smiling happily or sleeping peacefully or laughing carelessly.

It takes too much of my heart to try and reconcile the starkness of those alternate realities.

All I can think to do is to embrace the joy, and do my best to spread it to others. If there's more joy, maybe there's a little less evil.

A smile, a hug, a kiss, a high-five, a word of encouragement...the simple ability to treat others with respect, to say thank you, to be grateful, to put as much joy out there as you can.

What else can we do?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

10 questions in 1 minute

About a month ago I went to Little, Brown's offices to sign books in advance of the Texas Book Fair. The Marketing Director said, "Hey, while you're here, let's do a '10 Questions in 1 Minute' interview." 

I said "Okay,"

She said, "By the way, no one has ever actually done it in a minute. It's just a marketing hook."

The magic of marketing.

Anyway, it's not my best work, but there's a reason I'm not a TV personality.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Aw, man...

Why is it that when I really need something important I don't have any money?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My birthday present from Jennifer

No, not Dion.

Not Dionne.


Why is Dion on my bucket list? He's last in the line of the early icons of rock'n'roll that included Bill Haley, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers. He was on the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour; he's the only headliner that survived.

I was blessed to see Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Everly Brothers in the '80s, when Chuck could still do the duck walk, Jerry Lee could still hammer out piano notes at full volume, and the Everlys were still pitch perfect.

I've never seen Dion. He's 76 years old. Will he be great? Will he be decent? I'll let you know.

I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Big Hair and Books Giveaway

The Big Hair and Books blog (bighairandbooks.com) is giving away an autographed copy of "Beep! Beep!"--entry runs for the next 13 days.

I think we only have the robot site header for the rest of today, so I'm capturing it here.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The weekend's never long enough

Saturday morning storytime at Bank Street Bookstore. 

My experience is that readings have zero impact on book sales in the grand scheme of things, unless you're reading to a packed house at Yankee Stadium. Televised. 

But I do it because:

1. Psychologically it makes me feel like I'm doing something useful to promote the book.

2. It gives me something to post on Facebook and Twitter.

3. I find it helpful to read out loud to little kids and see what they react to. (Hint: mostly silly noises and repetition.) 

4. It's just fun to be with little kids. I think that's the main answer.

The other exciting thing this weekend was our new window boxes, which are now installed on every window on the first floor.

I'm on the board of our co-op, and my big idea this year was to add window boxes to our building so that we don't look so grungy compared to the new multi-million-dollar condos across the street:

Our window boxes are now installed, the flowers (fall mums) will arrive Tuesday, and soon we will be spreading some combination of joy and envy throughout our block.