Yes, yes, there’s much bigger news in the world than my book launch and the press I’ve been getting. But that’s just how self-absorbed I am. Feel free to move along if you don’t want any shilling today:
- THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE is one of James’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Picks at Barnes & Noble.
- The UK edition of the novel is mentioned in a roundup of summer thrillers at SHOTS, a crime and thriller ezine.
- Allen Appel gives Cade a shout-out in his rundown of current spy fiction at Publishers Weekly.
- Vampire Book Club was kind enough to interview me about Cade, Lizardmen, and the Greater Good.
- Had an absolutely great time at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Wonderful panel moderated by Nick Owchar with Richard Kadrey and Michael Koryta. You should read those guys.
- Reviews, reviews, reviews. Starting with my buddy Jason Frost, who has a funny video review along with his slightly longer, more detailed text review. Bob Reiss has an excellent write-up of the book and its performance by the inimitable Bronson Pinchot in the audio version. Also, Lady Techie’s Book Musings. Also, Books4Ever. And many thanks to Brent Frankenhoff at CBGXtra.com for spreading the word about last week’s T-shirt giveaway.
We’re just six days from the release date of THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE (available everywhere from G.P. Putnam’s Sons on April 28). That means this blog will set the phasers on shill for the next few weeks. Seriously, it’s going to be like a used-car dealership around here. You’ve been warned.
And now, more news in shameless self-promotion:
- Vampire Book Club gives the book five out of five stars: “Not your standard vampire fare… If you appreciate a good mystery, a brilliant take on the vampire and stellar writing, The President’s Vampire is a must.”
- Jenn’s Bookshelf features Cade on Frightful Friday: “An immortal version of James Bond. He’s got style, he’s got intrigue…he’s got fangs. … In my opinion this book exceeds the previous! …Highly highly recommended.”
- More Cade love at Bite This: A Vampire Books Blog.
- New Books features THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE and the author of the blog, Marshal Zeringue has generously agreed to let me write about what I’m reading at his other blog, Writers Read. I’ll link when that appears.
- Somehow I missed it, but Tor.com listed Cade as one of the “elusive male protagonists” of urban fantasy, alongside Harry Dresden and other notables.
- My lovely and amazing author-sibling Beatriz Chantrill Williams was kind enough to do an interview with me on her blog.
- The good and vicious people behind Pajiba.com were foolish enough to let me rant about Kids Inc., neuroscience and Charlie Sheen. You can see the results here.
- Just like the Monkees, I may be coming to your town. You can check out my tour dates at Booktour.com, download this handy calendar, or just look at the page that’s been set up here on the site.
1. The Feedback column in New Scientist. It is a rich vein of nerd humor with wordplay like “Freddie Hg” and readers who send in the many illogical, incorrect and unscientific uses of scientific-sounding language in the media and the world. “Radioactive peanuts” is the punchline to one of these jokes. (I won’t spoil it for you.) For a few minutes every week, I get to imagine what it’s like inside the skull of a much, much smarter person.
2. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from DC. Back in the 60s, the THUNDER Agents were superhuman peacekeepers for the Higher United Nations — presumably the counties that actually make the decisions, rather than Lichtenstein — who got their powers from advanced technology that also had the unfortunate side effect of being lethal with repeated use. Several companies have tried to reboot the idea since then, but it’s never really worked by now. Written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Cafu (as well as big names like Howard Chaykin and George Perez), this comic succeeds in creating an addictive look at a cold war fought with superhumans. It neatly incorporates the old characters from the previous series — who are more upright and generally heroic than their modern-day counterparts — and creates a new twist on the idea of a secret spy agency out to rule the world. Really fun, smart and kick-ass stuff. Every issue is too short, and the wait between them is getting too long for me already.
3. Community on NBC. I am growing embarrassed by my crush on this show. Really. It’s like a master class in comedy performed in the tightest confines of budget and time. What’s best about it, for me, is how the show has managed to maintain the emotional resonance of its characters despite increasingly absurd set-ups. In a just world, this would be getting American Idol‘s ratings.
4. Kohort. No idea what this thing is. Could be some offshore spam e-mailer. And yet, I reserved my username because I’ve been on every social network since sixdegrees and I’m not about to break my streak now.
5. Monkey Knife Fight Pale Ale. I was out at dinner the other night and saw this on the menu. I would have ordered it for the name alone, but it turned out to be the best pale ale I’ve had in a long time. Smooth, full-flavored and zero bitter aftertaste. Simply great beer, which is getting harder and harder to find these days.
6. Ten days and counting to the release of THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE. The New York Post has kindly added it to its “Required Reading” list. And it’s jumped up to #55 on the Amazon bestseller list for horror.
It’s hard to make people laugh.
Scratch that. It’s easy to make people laugh, especially in America. I read once how Europeans tend to think we’re brain-damaged because of our habit of adding a chuckle to every minor interaction, as if a cashier telling you, “Have a better one” is a hilarious bon mot worthy of Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde.
(I try to think this speaks well of us as a culture — we’re always looking for a reason to smile at other people. Yes, the Zoloft is working, thanks for asking.)
But it’s hard to make people laugh genuinely. Think of the last time you told a hilarious story at a family gathering, and just when you got to the punchline, your Uncle Bob turns and says, “Huh. How about that. Anyway…”
Or imagine the last time you tried to say something funny about politics and got blank stares. That sound? That was the sound of people not laughing. Not even to be polite.
So I have great respect for comedians. They stand unprotected in front of a crowd of drunks who paid money after a hard week and expect to laugh, goddammit.
The best comedians say stuff that challenges, unsettles, and provokes. They force you to face the truth, and only the fact that you’re laughing keeps you from throwing your beer bottle at their heads, because you sure didn’t pay your $20 cover at the Chuckle Hut to think.
This can be disastrous for a lot of comedians. Written down, most comedic routines are stripped of their timing and emphasis and gestures. They’re reduced to a steaming pile of not funny, in other words. (Don’t take my word for it. Take a look at a transcript of, say, one of Dane Cook’s monologues.) I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I didn’t realize this until I’d bought both of Dennis Miller’s books of rants from his old HBO show.
Oswalt, God love him, jumps over that mineshaft. The essays inside the book offer memories and events that shaped the sensibility that Oswalt expresses on stage. From them, it’s clear that he’s a writer first. And this book is filled with incredibly good writing. Anyone who’s seen or heard his routines knows he’s got a gift for imagery and language, but here he puts it to work in prose that’s often painful, funny, and heartbreaking within the space of a few sentences. From “Take a bow, you coke-soaked ogre” to “The coffee tasted like pants” to “If the victories we create in our heads were let loose on reality, the world we know would drown in blazing happiness.”
Many reviews have talked about the moments in the book that are quite sad. There’s a sense of surprise in these comments, as if comedians aren’t people who are frighteningly tuned to the despair and pain of the world. There are only two options when you’re smart enough to see some of the mundane tragedies that most of us ignore like cemeteries on the way to work — like the checkout girl who’s teaching customers to use the self-serve grocery registers that will eliminate her job. Or the guy who puts his heart and soul into a fetish magazine that will only ever be taken out for a few furious and shameful moments, then crammed under a mattress or into a garbage can. Or the guy sitting alone on a Saturday night having dinner at the KFC.
You can either drown in the pain of that, or you can find a way to laugh.
With this book, Oswalt shows us how he learned to look for the funny parts — the joy — where there might be nothing but anger or contempt and sorrow. He has amazing sympathy for his subjects, if not always enough for himself. But he recognizes that everybody is trying to pry a little happiness from their lives, and he shows his respect for the effort, even when he cannot tolerate the methods.
And he throws in dick jokes, too. So you know. Something for everyone.
I am a fan of “The Simpsons” in the way the severely mentally ill are fans of anti-psychotics. Which is to say, it’s less a TV show than the thing that keeps the bad voices at bay for me.
All this week they’re doing “Classic Simpsons Week” at Splitsider, and it’s a perfect excuse for me to indulge my neurosis.
Even though “The Simpsons” has gone downhill in the past decade or so, I still keep injecting the episodes through my eyeballs into my brain. And there are bright spots that cause me to actually Laugh Out Loud, as opposed to just typing the acronym.
But if there’s a moment the show jumped the shark — if I had to name just one — I’d go with “The Principal and The Pauper.” The second episode of Season Nine, it was the first Simpsons ep to crumple all the accumulated love and goodwill of the show and toss it in the trash for the sake of a not-very-funny joke.
Harry Shearer, who voices Seymour Skinner (and many other characters), has said he didn’t know what the hell the writers were thinking when they decided Skinner wasn’t actually Skinner, but someone named Armin Tamzerian. Many fans agree. Showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein defended the episode as “an experiment,” and have said that it’s not really meant to be taken as canon.
There’s an argument to be made about what constitutes the “real” continuity of the fictional lives of a bunch of cartoon characters, but frankly, it’s the effect on the franchise itself that’s more interesting to me.
Todd VanDerWerff of the Onion has a great essay on the two types of sitcoms: the anything-for-a-laugh sitcom, which uses the characters as joke delivery vehicles, with little or no concern for their long-term development; and the character-driven sitcom, which tries for laughs based on the people and the stories rising from their cramped little worlds. Think of it like this: Type 1 is “30 Rock.” Type 2 is “Community.” (That’s at the high end, of course.)
Up until “Principal, “The Simpsons” was a Type 2 sitcom. Even as surreal as it could get — the man falling off the bridge while in line for Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie who screams “I regret nothing!” on his way down — I’d argue its core was always the interactions between the family members. This provided some of the best laughs, but also the genuinely touching moments.
Then, with “Principal,” the show shifted gears into a Type 1 show with such a lurch that its transmission was left in pieces all over the asphalt.
Whatever the intention behind the episode, it broke the show. After “Principal,” the series was a Type 1 sitcom — and that’s something that just does not have the same kind of vital, beating heart as character-based fiction to me. Any interplay between Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie is just another gimmick now. It’s nothing that arises from a sense of them as a family. It’s simply what needs to be done to wrap up the plots and jokes in time for the credits.
You can go from a Type 2 to a Type 1 sitcom; it happened after too many seasons on “Cheers.” But once you break the heart of the story like that, you cannot go back to being Type 2. It would be like Charlie Sheen’s character suddenly asking his mother why she never loved him on Two and a Half Men.
I watch Type 1 sitcoms the same way I read plot-driven novels or watch special-effects tentpole movies — to see what happens. I rarely ever watch them again, because once that question is answered, there’s no reason to go back for more.
But with shows like “Firefly,” “Sports Night” and “Venture Bros.,” I replay them again and again, and not just because I missed some of the jokes while I was laughing. I catch new stuff, see scenes in new ways and discover little hidden meanings in the margins.
Yeah. I need to get out more.
But look back to “The Simpsons” 100th episode and you’ll see what I mean. Another Skinner-centric story, “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” — written by Oakley and Weinstein, by the way — shows the principal getting fired from his job due to Bart’s dog getting loose in the school’s ventilation system. He and Bart actually become friends in the outside world. Of course, everything has to go back to normal at the end of the ep, but it’s not done in the ham-fisted, meta-commentary way of “Principal.” Instead, Bart places a “kick me” sign on Skinner’s back when the two hug after Skinner resumes his job. And Skinner puts a sign on Bart that says “teach me.” It’s an undeniably sweet moment.
And it’s one that the show could never pull off today.
I still love “The Simpsons.” But it’s never going to feel like that again.