The Other Stories podcast, episode 20


A writer friend of mine convinced me to do this podcast called The Other Stories. Yeah, I know…a friend convinces you to do something…but this turned out quite well. I was interviewed by Ilana Masad, the podcast host, and our discussion veered from the peculiar habits of writers, to the dangers of surfing, to Eudora Welty. An interesting feature of the podcast, to me, is that I read an excerpt of The Pursuit of Cool which has music. The podcast people created a soundtrack, a musical background to the excerpt: “The Bauhaus Mixtape,” which is from Part III of the novel.

You can find the podcast here.

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Thoughts on Writing and Surfing: Facing the Great Unknown

You have a vision, a story, a project in mind you want to write. It tantalizes inside yourimages-1 brain. The only way to test it is by writing. Let’s say you want to surf. You stand on the beach and watch the ocean as waves, big and menacing, or small, or promising in shape, crash toward you. You on the sand, the waves out there. In each case you don’t know what will happen.


And anything could happen, good or bad.


Want to catch some waves? Want to pen that crazy yet promising novel? You must move into the turgid waters. You must focus your mind and face the blank page.


And there lies a hesitation. The great unknown.


images-2Page 5 isn’t so hard, but can you make it past 150? Shuffling through the knee deep splash zone is no big deal. You got that. It’s the peeling 3 and 4 footers raising and smacking in the break area. And once you’re paddling and committed, a row of angry 6 footers might pop up on the horizon.


One reason I love National Novel Writing Month, is that it’s about Doing It. You will write it in November! It is the month!


To get past the hesitation on the beach syndrome, do these three things.


1) Have a Plan.


You might be hesitating because your subconscious brain wants you to nail down specifics: like the beginning, middle and end of your story. Before you write it, you have to know what it is. You must be able to explain it to yourself. What is this character’s inner journey? What event triggers the story? What middle plot point am I driving toward? Push yourself, and your brain will figure these things out. The more planning and defining you do upfront, the less tangents will distract, the less drafts you have to write, and the more solid your final story. Every fiction writer should read Robert McKee’s Story, because it’s the best technical explanation of storytelling that exists.


Standing on the beach, you say to yourself: ok, I’m paddling out through this channel, popping over the little foamy waves, then pulling steadily to get to the “outside” of the breakers. That’s how I’ll get from point A to point B. Then I’ll sit on my board, gentling rocking on the swell, and reassess.



2) Be open to changing your plan.


So maybe you start writing, but it’s slow going. Something isn’t right. You get 5,200 imageswords into Chapter 1 and your heroine suddenly has time travel capability…but, it links up with this other strong notion, and you know THAT’s the real story, the more clearly defined story. Go with that.


Or maybe after thoroughly exhausting yourself paddling to avoid several crashing 3 footers, an unexpected 5 footer crops up out of nowhere and swipes you off your board, pushing you down and dragging you along the sandy bottom (each square foot of water weighs 60 pounds.) You realize it’s time to take it into shore. This idea didn’t work out.


It’s fine. You learned stuff. You’ll get it next time.


  1. Enjoy it.


What will propel you to complete the project? What will make you sit your ass in the chair, before the color monitor, to work day after assiduous day, scene after vividly described scene, of complex characters in conflict with one another?


You will want to do it if you make it fun. Make your daily involvement with the writing a playful thing. Take pleasure in the small, in a great sentence or an action which is revealing of a character. Play some music. Let it rip.


Catching waves is great, but most of surfing is paddling. It’s hard work. But paddling can be sublime and satisfying. In the wave break zone, when you paddle hard toward and over a wave as it peaks — but before it has broken — the front half of the board pops upward as the wave bucks it skyward. Then you slap down on the other side. It’s kind of cool.


For your sake, be kind to yourself! It’s a first draft and therefore imperfect. Let it flow. Remember what Picasso said: every work of creation at some point can be said to be horrible, but only because of its incompleteness. So relax. Press on. You will perfect the story and make it beautiful.


So get in there. The ocean is calling you.

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Here’s What Happened During My Last Promotion

From today, Sat May 31st, until Tuesday June 3rd, The Pursuit of Cool will be available on Kindle for .99 cents! Normally, the novel normally sells for $4.99, so this special sales price is an 80% discount.

It will be offered at this sales price for just four days. So buy now. If you have already read the book, then please tell your friends and family about the promotion. And thanks!

Last November I gave the Kindle Free Book promotion a whirl for three days and I reached No. 1 of the Top 100 free books in Literary Fiction. My deepest and most sincere apologies to Victor Hugo and Charlotte Bronte (I’m not worthy!). I gave away 4,235 books during the promotion. Yes, I got zero in royalties…zip, but the idea of 4,235 people with the ability to read the novel is a valuable thrill in itself. Also, I got a nice bounce in the sales rankings when I came out of the promotion, and a ripple in word of mouth.


Please help me make this .99 cent promotion a similar success!

Spread The Word.

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Jim Morrison’s Great Leap of Faith

IMG_1500When you measure it off, it’s an impressive leap that possesses a healthy danger. Water’s edge of the pool is nine feet away from the two story bungalow. The rail of the top floor balcony, where Jim Morrison planted a (likely) bare foot during his running takeoff, is twelve feet high over the pool patio. The math is daunting. Coming up short of the water meant broken bones. Leaping long enough but too far left meant wreckage on the concrete north edge of the pool.


In 1968, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, stayed in room 29 of the Movie Colony Hotel, in Palm Springs, California. From the open air balcony of the bungalow, he took his famous leap and, by all accounts, landed successfully in the pool.


The leap wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for Morrison, it was part of his life plan. IMG_1501Morrison was an erudite and well-read guy. A class discussion enthusiast, he delighted in challenging teachers and professors based on his independent reading. At Florida State he played a game where he challenged people to pick up any of the hundreds of paperback books in his room and read one sentence. He would identify the exact book. Morrison was a serious poet and a Dionysian who believed that the key to creativity was inebriation to overwhelm the conscious mind. “I am not mad. I am interested in freedom,” he once said in an interview.


I went to the Movie Colony Hotel to check out the mid-century architecture and to investigate this leap. The pool area is charming, intimate and relaxing in a Dean Martin, dry martini way. Don Draper and Pete Campbell, in plaid swim trunks, might hang there. Drunken, whooping Jim Morrison flying through the air to do a cannonball seems out of place. The leap is nothing I would ever attempt, not even in my most daring or reckless moment. It’s just too physically risky. It’s scary.


This is the problem with taking leaps of faith. The results (or what we fear they might be) prevent us from taking action, and this fear keeps us from exploring our freedom. With physical risk it’s probably for the best, but in our larger lives it’s bad.


Jim#1Jim Morrison was an extraordinary human being. To him the real hazard of life was not taking enough risk and thereby surrendering his freedom. He elected to leap, again and again, sometimes failing, but overall with spectacular results. Even with his failures – he would likely argue — he was fully alive.


He achieved amazing things. After graduating from UCLA Film School he spent the summer of 1965 sleeping on the roof of a Venice Beach apartment building. He took lots of LSD and had a vision of a wildly successful rock band named The Doors. He wrote the song lyrics for their first two albums, all before he ran into Ray Manzarek on the beach. The Doors were the most enigmatic and original band of the 1960s. Morrison was the dark Shamanic figure of the era, causing several riots. He also published two books of Jim#2poetry and made two films.


Unfortunately, he became a hardcore alcoholic. The bottle became controlling. His drunken daredevil tendencies may have contributed to his death. In 1971 he fell from the roof of a Chateau Marmont bungalow when a rain gutter failed, and also from a London roof. He was coughing up blood days before his Paris death. One theory is that these falls caused a blood clot or a lung injury which contributed to his death.


It is rare a person comes along who so readily and consistently takes the leap, and embraces all their physical and spiritual freedom. We should look within ourselves to take leaps more often.

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Letters From the J. Crew Dude, Part 3 — The Conclusion

To those readers who have not read Part 1 and Part 2 of Letters From the J. Crew Dude, I strongly urge you to do so before you read Part 3. You will understand the overall flow and have a greater sense of the psychology of the Dude and why it ends the way it does.

If you cannot hold back and want to dive headlong into Part 3, then here is a brief recap of the real life origins of Letters. When my wife and I first started dating, she met this guy in a bar. They chatted in an innocuous way and he claimed to be a model. She didn’t believe him, and told him so, then later saw him in one of my J. Crew catalogs. I was inspired to create a story line that this guy was infatuated with my wife, and insanely jealous of me. I wrote a series of imaginary letters to my wife (with cutouts of the actual J. Crew Dude). The Letters here are based on those actual letters. A fuller explanation is found at the beginning of Part 1.


Dear Lady of My Dreams,

This is the last letter you will Ever receive from me. You will have to savor it, and it alone. There, the truth sits before us, like a chained barge in the river Thames.

It has been awhile since our, or rather, my last communication. No doubt you noticed I was not in the last several editions of the J. Crew catalog. And naturally you wondered about me. Many do, I often wonder about myself.

img291Anyhow, I am with a new brand: I’m Mr. London Fog now! It’s foggy, it’s so Sherlock Holmes…the pints of ale, the soccer violence – it’s invigorating! No more dopey clambakes in Bangor, no more Telluride fake snowball fights in damaging UV ray sunshine…I’m all international sophistication and polish now, all about those black cabs driven by toothless dudes with cockney accents. London is a city of dignity, and unlike Miami, nobody wears thongs at dinner, mainly because it’s too cold, but even if it was warmer nobody would because all Londonites have attended posh schools where manners were taught and lesson one was: Don’t sit your bum down for dinner if it is only covered by dental floss!

No, no…do not think Mature. London Fog is Sophisticated. All sophisticated international people wear proper outerwear when weather conditions are inclement, while J. Crew buying Americans pour beer over their naked, green-painted selves at subzero football games. Over here hooligans at sporting events might trample each other to death but they wear sensible and chic outerwear when doing so.

That is Beatrice in the ad with me. Never believe a word from her. The water was not, as she claimed, a warm 68 degrees, and she did not throw that flotation device to help me, or pay me my 5 pounds in hypothermic dare money. Don’t challenge her to a pub crawl either. She stores alcohol in her giant ears and will stand over you and laugh as you wallow helplessly on the pavement.

I’ve moved on to a new brand, and to be perfectly frank, I have moved on from you. Not because of your consistent lack of reply to my letters, but because, in every way in my new life, I’m in a different place. A jolly good place!

So I bid you, as they say over here, good day.

This is it. You blew it. Goodbye.

No more.


— J. Crew Dude


(1 week later)

Dear Lady (no longer of My Dreams),

I must make one thing clear, just for posterity, and that is the sole reason for this contact. So please, do not read anything into this communication (certainly no subtext regarding my feelings).

I will reveal an important truth to you, but only with assurance I can keep the matter strictly in your confidence. Do you promise? Very well. After I reveal the hellish nightmare I endured at the worst, most brutal, photo shoot ever, which taxed my physical and spiritual limits, you will agree with me that I had no choice but to leave J. Crew!


We travel now to the marshy hell of the Everglades. Sebastion’s insistence I wear an insulated swamp jacket for three hours to get this shot was my first indication that the top J. Crew brass had changed their feelings about me.

Is that the Volga boatman there, or a simple janitor? No, it’s me!… stirring muck. Gee, I wanna buy that swamp jacket because wearing it I can stick poles in the mud! Unspeakable gases were released from my poling, so sickening and putrid my female compatriot is turning her head. Only my consummate professionalism prevented me from barfing into the gatormobile.

img292_2Yes, live gators inhabit this ecosystem, which made it all the more galling and cruel when I was forced into this vessel, a “canoe.” There’s a reason even Indians phased this one out, a modern development called “stability” which solves the “capsize” and “drowning” problems. So there I was, in a blue chamois and striped waffle t-shirt, up to my elbows in marsh fleas, at the whims of the tide, man-eating reptiles thunking against the gunwales. There’s a reason I’m on my knees: I’m praying to Annie Leibovitz that my inner terror will not interfere with chamois shirt sales.

Don’t even ask me what this shot is selling, besides humiliation and a sympathy for img292political prisoners. It is called the Feet in Bucket While Sitting on a Hard Metal Thingy in Your Undies torture and a special session of the United Nations banned it. Two hours to get this gem? Sebastion, you evil shit, you were unable to crack me. I stuck my damn feet in that bucket and sold those undies because I am a Pro. But J. Crew’s message to me was clear so I quit.

I’m free from my tormentors, and with a more sophisticated brand.

So, with that bit explained…a final goodbye to you.

It is done.


— J. Crew Dude


(3 days later)

Dear Lady of My Dreams,

My confusion and sobbing, my lack of enthusiasm for the application of skin care products, the watching of Lifetime movies… it can only mean something powerful and transformative is going on inside me. Personal development! I’ve been doing introspection! Not thinking about how wonderful I am, but about how I might actually be flawed, or may even be — oh God, the pain – a Jackass.

Honesty! This self-actualization process has raised my level of consciousness until I am now capable only of total Honesty. I now know how Lincoln felt! I will admit this to you: J. Crew let me go. They fired me! Newer, younger dudes with no crow’s feet and more energy for youthful romping have taken my place in the catalogs.

Why has the sun forsaken me? People over here live inside a grey cloud and have no tanning beds. London Fog is a damn rain jacket. It’s for old grey dudes who shuffle off to old grey offices. It’s a cavernous rain tarp, meant to cover every ugly inch of the old man inside. I’ve fallen down in this world. The pretty face ain’t pretty enough anymore!

But from pain comes knowledge. Here’s another advanced, mature person concept I have learned about: Humility. I now understand that my great success turned me into a bloated egotistical monster. I have Matured, and finally I have gotten over myself. I have not been eating Shepherd’s Pie in dear old London town, but the bitter sweet taste of Humble Pie. All those unanswered letters!… It was your way of forcing me to find myself, to get real in my life.

I’ve done it! My ego is gone, wiped totally clean. You crafty, lovely temptress! It was your plan all along. So congratulations.

Now I’m ready for you.

I’ve earned your return letter!

And I eagerly await it.

— J. Crew Dude


 (1 day later)

Dear Lady of My Dreams,

img293I realize I’m going out of turn here, and you’re likely in mid sentence penning your congratulations to me on my personal development, but the fact that both JC Penny and TJ Maxx have made calls to my agent is kind of a huge deal.  So naturally I’m telling you because I’m sure you agree.

The old me would have gloated that I was back on top, and made a lot of noise about being the face of a billion dollar industry, etc., but not this time. I will merely note for the record that I’m likely back in the American casual wear game.

Don’t count out the old Pro just yet. I’ve got snowflake sweaters and tartan flannel boxers and classic chinos still to sell!

But enough about me.

Now it’s your turn!

Go ahead.

— J. Crew Dude

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“The Spectacular Now” and the New Era of Coming-of-Age Movies

This summer has seen the collapse of mega-budget blockbuster special effects movies such as “Pacific Rim,” “The Lone Ranger” and “After Earth.” The computer generated mega-destruction has been exposed to be as boring and predictable as last year’s video game spinoffs. Thankfully, into this vacuum comes a group of intrepid directors and screenwriters who have dared to produce original movies with real characters that real people can relate to.


The strength of coming-of age movies, when done well, is that they combine hilarious entertainment with emotionally moving depictions of a time of life when there is a newness to experience which can be quite intense. The reason John Hughes movies such as “Breakfast Club,” “Pretty In Pink,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and other films such as “Say Anything” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” dominate the nightly TV channel guides, is that they are honest stories with live beating hearts, stories about people who are easy to relate to. Everyone has memorably suffered in high school or is doing so right now. The poignancy of first loves, first drinks, and first jobs transcends generations. Coming-of-age movies provide an inspirational life line and have impact, the way a generation of women can recite Molly Ringwald’s famous words from “Pretty in Pink:” “I just want them to know they didn’t break me.”


The freshly released “The Spectacular Now” is a coming-of-age movie based on a Tim Tharp novel. The adaptation by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber sets a firm narrative foundation. Directed by talented director James Ponsoldt, it is a deeply moving story with acting performances that are no less than spectacular. Sutter Keely, played by actor Miles Teller, is a charismatic though underachieving young man who is pushed to face his personal fears. Sutter is Lloyd Dobler for the Millennial Generation, but with an enthusiasm for alcohol rather than kick-boxing. Teller proves to be a suave and sympathetic leading man who is convincing both in the “perfection” of his party down life and his troubled depths. Miles Teller deserves entry into the gallery of great coming-of-age performances alongside John Cusak, Andrew McCarthy and Sean Penn.


Shailene Woodley, an actress with a knack for generating interest even when she isn’t speaking, is mesmerizing as Sutter’s girlfriend. Shot entirely in Athens, Georgia on a small budget, “The Spectacular Now” achieves some amazing results. Kyle Chandler (of Friday Night Lights fame) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Fast Times”) are memorable as Sutter’s father and mother. The movie slowly sucks you in as things get more adult and serious, then heads into a dramatic conclusion.


The Way, Way Back,” also released recently, is the creation of screenwriters/directors Unknown-2Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who were last seen winning an Oscar for “The Descendants.” The hero of this film is Duncan, a classic suffering 14-year-old played ably by Liam James. His stooped shoulders and pained facial expression exude teen angst. While on summer vacation he is tormented by his mom’s boyfriend, a cruel anti-father figure played by Steve Carell. He finds relief at Water Wizz, a water park run by slick older guys, including Sam Rockwell, who mix ribbing with attempts to help fatherless Duncan learn some skills. The horrors of self-obsessed adults whose parenting skills go no further than their egos are on display here. The dialogue is hilarious and sharp, mixing heartfelt emotion with belly laughs. It will remind you of Bill Murray’s best work with Ivan Reitman, such as “Stripes” and “Meatballs.”


Unknown-3The screenwriting team of Neustadter and Weber also wrote “The Kings of Summer,” which was released in May. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the movie follows three teenage boys who are bored with video games and frustrated by their overbearing parents. To escape they construct a ramshackle house in the woods and resolve to “be their own men.” Vogt-Powell adds strong and surprising visuals from Ohio suburbs and woodlands. The recent phenomenon of kids who won’t leave home is given a twist. These boys get the courage to leave, and though determined, they find independence more elusive than they imagined. Using lots of light-hearted charm and humor, the movie still raises valuable questions about modern masculinity. Is it possible to be a King anymore?


I can personally vouch for “The Spectacular Now,” “The Kings of Summer” and “The Way, Way Back” as great movies and I want to endorse them to my readers and to fans of The Pursuit of Cool. You’ll love them, so go see them in theatres now!

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On Sunsets and the Importance of Hanging Around

I have a thing about dusk, my favorite time of day, and sunsets. I think sunsets are nature’s most exquisite art. They never fail to put me in a relaxed state of awe. They are never the same, even second by second during the same sunset. The clouds, the color, the intensity…they keep shifting.

It’s weird how things happen. Moment by moment, we decide what to do, making our best guesses, using our intuition (or not), or maybe we are just caught up in events. We do the things we do and there is no way to tell what would or would not have happened if we had made different choices. At any given time, it seems so easy to do any number of things as the next thing. But there can be only one thing.  And that is the thing. Forever.

A couple weeks ago I was at the Huntington Beach pier with my wife. It was late, almost 7:00 pm. A rolling cloud layer had been overhead most of the day, and at sunset the sun was peeking around the far edges of this smothering gray mass of clouds.


The sunset did not seem promising. The clouds were winning. In fact, it looked like a bust. We were both starved, just about to drop, and agreed it was time to go and get food.

And then we didn’t move for ten minutes. Maybe the gyration of ocean waves smacking against the pier’s pillars had lulled us. Maybe we were just lazy.

“Let’s go!” we both said, holding our stomachs. We took ten steps and then found our elbows on the railing again. The sun was about to drop into a window. Over the next fifteen minutes it worked itself into this slot. Bright orange fire poured through, like a flashlight through a window. As it sank lower, the clouds over our heads became under lit and infused with an amazing purple. The pier was a lit studio.

We took another ten steps and stopped. The purple turned into blue, then green, as we half-heartedly reaffirmed we had to do dinner. We lingered around some fisherman holding rods. Finally the sky became brighter, a turn up on the dimmer switch, as everything was painted an otherworldly neon pink. It was one of the most sublime and satisfying sunsets I have seen.


Androids and iPhones were lifted into the air and aimed with extended arms along the pier. All people who had to stop and look.  Suddenly, the sunset was heavily trending in photos and videos.

We were so stunned we couldn’t talk. Except to say: “I’m so glad we stayed.”

“You have to see this!” a man in an Angels t-shirt was heard to say on his smart phone, and then laughing, “Well, then get here somehow.”

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