On Being Chosen for Indies Introduce Debut Authors

Very excited to announce my novel “We All Looked Up” was chosen for the American Booksellers Association’s Indies Introduce Debut Authors, a program that recognizes 10 debut novels in the field of children’s lit (and another ten for adult lit) to receive special attention at independent bookstores (i.e. the best places on Earth). Congrats to all the honorees! Out of laziness, I’ve simply copied the official press release from the ABA below. Enjoy!:

For the fifth consecutive season, two panels of booksellers from every region of the country have chosen 10 debut adult titles and 10 children’s titlesfor the Indies Introduce Debut Authors and New Voices promotion. Featured Winter/Spring titles include fiction and nonfiction, middle grade and YA, publishing between January and June 2015.

These standout debuts will take readers from the familiar to the exotic, from New York to Paris, from Montana to Pakistan, and to Swedish Lapland in the 1700s. There’s a mystery, an unforgettable boy and dog, unusual chickens, and a first book by an independent bookseller from Mississippi.

“After weeks of reading and discussing wonderful debut books, it is an honor and delight to highlight 10 new authors out of such a worthy and talented pool,” said the chair of the children’s panel, Tegan Tigani of Seattle’s Queen Anne Book Company. “The selection process introduced us to dozens of books we can’t wait to recommend, and through much deliberation, we honed our list to a spectacular, can’t-miss 10. Readers will fall in love with these books — and fall deeper in love with reading.”

Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, who chaired the adult panel, noted that the committee chose books they believe can be top handsellers in indie stores across the country. “Many of them become staff picks, many will land on the Indie Next List and bestsellers lists, all of which show our value as booksellers to authors and publishers,” said Philbrick.

ABA member stores that have not signed up to take part in the Indies Introduce program are encouraged to do so now. The sign-up deadline is October 31, 2014. Stores that have participated in past Indies Introduce promotions are automatically included and do not need to sign up. To help support booksellers’ decisions to promote these unknown authors, publishers have provided special terms.

“This program exemplifies what indie bookselling is all about,” said children’s panelist Sarah Holt of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri. Rather than just running algorithms on reader surveys to determine what the hot new books will be, each panelist gets a chance to argue for their dark horse candidates and to hear from others doing the same. This allows not only the universal favorites to emerge, but also the more quirky and unconventional titles that might be overlooked if not given a personal touch. I feel confident that we can get these books into the hands of all readers, not just fans of the latest trends.”


An Indies Introduce display at Vroman’s Bookstore.

To sign up to participate in the Winter/Spring 2015 Indies Introduce Debut Authors and New Voices promotion, click here. (A BookWeb username and password are required.) And stop by the ABA booth at the regional trade shows to see some of the books and galleys that are part of the promotion.

The Winter/Spring 2015 Indies Introduce Adult Debuts are:

  • Black River, by S.M. Hulse (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry (Ecco)
  • Etta and Otto and Russell and James: A Novel, by Emma Hooper (Simon & Schuster)
  • Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, by Nina MacLaughlin (W.W. Norton)
  • Soil: A Novel, by Jamie Kornegay (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Travels of Daniel Ascher, by Deborah Levy-Bertherat (Other Press)
  • The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan, by Rafia Zakaria (Beacon Press)
  • The Valley, by John Renehan (Dutton)
  • Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekback (Weinstein Books)
  • Young Skins, by Colin Barrett (Grove Atlantic)

The Winter/Spring 2015 New Voices middle grade and young adult titles are:

  • Because You’ll Never Meet Me, by Leah Thomas (Bloomsbury)
  • Conviction, by Kelly Gilbert (Disney-Hyperion)
  • Denton Little’s Deathdate, by Lance Rubin (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir (Ben Schrank/Razorbill)
  • The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart (Scholastic Press)
  • Mosquitoland, by David Arnold (Ken Wright/Viking Juvenile)
  • Murder Is Bad Manners, by Robin Stevens (Simon & Schuster BFYR)
  • Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard (HarperTeen)
  • Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • We All Looked Up, by Tommy Wallach (Simon & Schuster BFYR)

On My Novel Being Optioned for Film

Hello Beautiful Friends,

I write with good and fine news: my debut novel “We All Looked Up” has been optioned for film. This process has been taking place for the past couple months, and I wasn’t able to announce publicly (though many of you already had some word) until now. The official announcement can be read at Deadline over here, though I’ve pasted the text below: 

Paramount Insurge Options Apocalyptic Novel ‘We All Looked Up’

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Insurge has optioned rights to Tommy Wallach’s forthcoming debut novel We All Looked Up, I’ve learned. The science fiction tale is set two months before a meteor is set to pass through Earth’s orbit with a 66.6 percent chance of striking and ending all life on the planet. Against this backdrop, four high school seniors – the athlete, the school slut, the slacker, and the overachiever – find their lives intersecting on the eve of the cataclysmic event.

It’s an early deal on the book, which doesn’t hit stands until March 31, 2015 via Simon & Schuster. Chronicle producer John Davis will be producing for his Davis Entertainment banner while Brittany Morrissey is overseeing for the company. Alison Small is overseeing for Paramount Insurge, the microbudget branch at Paramount whose upcoming projects include The Cellar with Bad Robot. We All Looked Up marks the second recent genre deal between Insurge and Davis Entertainment after the companies teamed on sci-fi script Prism last fall, with Davis set to produce. Wallach is repped by Greenhouse Literary and Resolution. Paramount did not comment on the deal.

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It turns out that selling a book to the movie folks is a long and complicated process, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to explain it. If that sounds boring to you, I recommend you watch some Strong Bad Emails or something instead.

Step 1: The larger literary agencies out there have their own dedicated film agents on staff. Film agents are distinguishable from normal agents by the way that they wear sunglasses indoors and call everyone “Babe.” My agency does not have a full-timer such as this on staff, but most good literary agents know at least a few people in Los Angeles they can call up. The conversation usually goes like this:

Literary Agent: Hello!

Film Agent: What’s the word, Babe?

Literary Agent: I have this novel you might be interested in representing. It’s good. 

Film Agent: But is it hot, Babe?

Literary Agent: Um…yes?

Film Agent: Alright then. Send it over and I’ll give it a read.

(Eons pass; Film Agent calls Literary Agent back)

Film Agent: I love it, Babe! It’s hotter than Vesuvius. Let’s make a movie!

Literary Agent: That’s great news! I’m so excited to be working with you. Does this mean I can call you “Babe” now?

Film Agent: Don’t you fucking dare.

Step 2: After the film agent has decided to represent (or “rep,” in film parlance, because people in Hollywood don’t have time for polysyllabic words) the film, they open up the old Rolodex (“dex”) and telephone (“tel”) their producer friends (“fr”). These producers are people who sit around in offices all day waiting for film agents to call them. The conversation between a producer and a film agent usually goes like this:

Film Agent: Hey, Babe!

Producer: Hey, Babe!

Film Agent: So I got this hot property on my hands. Ouch. It just burned my hands. Hold on while I put on some oven mitts. (Time passes.) Okay, I’m back.

Producer: That sounds hot. Send it my way and I’ll read it.

(Eons pass; Producer calls Film Agent back)

Producer: Take me to the motherfucking burn ward, Babe, because this book is like FIRE.

Film Agent: What did I tell you, Babe? That book is like an oven on the self-cleaning setting. It gave me third-degree burns on my heart.

Producer: Word. Aight, Babe. You hold tight while I bring this to the studio.

Step 3: Film agents have this conversation with many different producers, many of whom have what’s called a “first look deal” with a given studio. That means that any project the producer wants to develop has to be brought to that specific studio first (and if the studio passes, the producer can then present the project to other studios). The conversation between producers and their associated studio usually goes like this:

Producer: I’m calling you on a hands-free telephone, Babe, because I’ve been holding on to a property so hot it melted my fucking fingers off

Studio Executive: Ooooo, that sounds hot.

Producer: It is hot. It’s hot like Hansel. Hot like a couple of crossed buns. Hotter than a sauna in the Sahara in the summertime.

Studio Executive: Send it my way, Babe. And pack that shit in ice.

Producer: On it. It’s coming to you in an Igloo cooler like a motherfucking picnic lunch.

(Eons pass; Producer calls Studio Executive back)

Studio Executive: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! MY FUCKING EYES! IT’S HOTTER THAN A SUPERNOVA! IT MAKES THE SURFACE OF THE SUN LOOK LIKE THE SURFACE OF NEPTUNE! YOU COULD ROAST A TURKEY ON THIS THING!

Producer: What did I tell you, Babe?

Studio Executive: Alright. Here’s a bit of money and a contract, Babe. Go give it to that author and tell him we’re going to do our damndest to get this searing hot property into movie theaters.

Producer: Hell to the yeah, Babe.

Step 4: This money is known as an “option fee,” and it gives the studio the right to attempt to produce the movie for a given period of time (usually a year). In this year, the studio has to locate a screenwriter, director, and a primary cast. Conversations with prospective screenwriters usually go like this:

Studio Executive: Babe! I got a match made in heaven right here. You’re a hot screenwriter. I got a hot book. Let’s put you together and watch the temperature rise. 

Prospective Screenwriter: I am an artist. I won’t get involved in any project that doesn’t inspire me, you corporate parasite.

Studio Executive: I love the passion, Babe! I’m sending it over pronto.

(Eons pass; Prospective Screenwriter calls Studio Executive)

Prospective Screenwriter: The book is…adequate. I shall begin the screenplay immediately. It will take a year.

Studio Executive: You’ve got 6 weeks, Babe.

Prospective Screenwriter: Impossible.

Studio Executive: You wanna get paid, Babe?

Prospective Screenwriter: …yes.

Studio Executive: Then you’ve got 6 weeks, Babe.

Prospective Screenwriter: Very well.

Step 5: If a screenwriter, director, and cast are successfully secured, then the studio will make a final decision about whether to fund the project. Once it’s funded, the movie is “greenlit” (or “greenlighted,” if you’re an old school grammarian who shuns the shortened form of the past participle) and goes into production. At that point, everybody gets paid a goodly sum of money, and there is much merriment.

To be clear, the “We All Looked Up” movie is currently at the beginning of Step 4, so there’s still a long way to go between here and an actual film. But I couldn’t be more excited. The studio that optioned the book (Paramount Insurge) has never optioned a property before, and I know they’re going to do everything they can to make this movie happen (many big studios option properties that they have no real intention to produce, just to make sure no one else produces them). To have this happen for my book 7 months before its publication date is more than I ever could’ve hoped for.

In closing: Big thanks to John Cusick at Greenhouse, Adrian Garcia at Resolution (Hey, Babe), Brittany Morrissey at Davis Entertainment, and Alison Small at Paramount Insurge.

Hot.

-t

P.S. Only a fool passes up the chance for a call to action. You can add my book to Goodreads here. Or if you wanna go all out, you can pre-order “We All Looked Up” from Barnes & Noble here

On What’s Wrong With the Slate Anti-YA piece

Twitter was all atwitter yesterday with a Slate piece by Ruth Graham entitled “Against YA" (read it right there). Aside from the click-bait title (and Slate is as guilty of this game as any online magazine—right now they have articles up called "Hillary’s Always Right" and "Your Next Smartphone Will Do Three Big Things that Your Current One Doesn’t"), there are a lot of things wrong with this article. Here are some of them, in no particular order.

#1: Can a book be called YA if its readership is primarily made up of adults?

The Slate piece quotes a 2012 Publisher’s Weekly report showing that 55% of the YA-buying public is over 18, then goes on to lambaste adults for reading children’s books. The illogical nature of this leap should be obvious. The books we call YA clearly aren’t children’s books, the definition of which should be books written with an audience of children in mind. While the exact percentage of adults reading YA has likely gone up over the past few years, it has been significant for a good long time (probably for decades). The first Harry Potter book came out in 1997, over 15 years ago, and was read by a significant number of adults. And adults have been reading CS Lewis and Tolkien for years (or are those not YA?—see below). And any author writing YA knows this. Therefore, YA is not really children’s literature. YA is just a title for a certain genre that isn’t actually defined by the age of its readers (a bit like Ph. D. standing for “Doctorate of Philosophy,” referencing an obsolete definition of “philosophy”). If the writers writing YA books know that their audience will be made up equally of kids and adults, they are not writing children’s books. To say they are is a pure logical fallacy.

#2: What’s YA?

Is Tolkien YA? Is CS Lewis? Is Madeline L’Engle? Or are we only calling something YA if it isn’t good? And what about the runaway “adult lit” books The Lovely Bones, The Age of Miracles, or The Goldfinch? These books are primarily concerned with the lives of teenagers (or even younger children, as in the case of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and yet their publishers market them as adult lit as opposed to YA. Are they not YA simply because they’re “good”? I would argue that it’s simply a marketing choice (The Lovely Bones in particular is no great literary shakes!). Either way, it’s irresponsible to hate on an entire genre that has no clear boundaries in the first place.

#3: Adult literature isn’t satisfying?

Somewhere in this weeping sore of a Slate article, Ruth Graham says this: “Most importantly, these [YA] books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering.” Now, I can’t think of a good or popular novel that doesn’t have a “satisfying” ending, whatever this author thinks. Ulysses ends with Molly Bloom reliving the moment she fell in love with Stephen and, in a way, agreeing to love him again. SATISFYING. Lolita ends with the cruel and narcissistic pedophile crushed into the dirt by the girl he emotionally and physically ravaged for years. SATISFYING. Pride and Prejudice (and everything else Austen ever wrote) ends in joyful marriage to a rich man. SATISFYING. So what the hell books is Ruth Graham reading? 

#4: What’s good for you?

Running through the article is a strain of judgment about “escapism.” Now I’ll tell you the truth: I can be judgmental of escapism too. I think people have plenty of ways to escape, and they could stand to subject themselves to difficult art a little bit more often. But here’s the problem: nobody can do that all the time. I don’t know Ruth Graham, but I’m willing to bet she has a few guilty pleasures of her own. The problem is that “guilty pleasure” is just another way of describing bad taste. So while we’re hating on YA, why not hate on Game of Thrones, Agatha Christie, Henning Mankell, Joe Nesbo, John le Carre (people have given me crap for including John le Carre here; I love le Carre, and have read half a dozen of his books, but he still isn’t considered canon, because he wrote page-turny spy fiction (even if it was really dark and interesting page-turny spy fiction)!), Anchorman 2, Wayne’s World, pretty much everything Judd Apatow has ever done, Frozen, and every other piece of art that doesn’t strive to be an intellectual powerhouse but is enjoyed by adults? Should an adult be ashamed to watch “Toy Story”? Should an adult be ashamed to see “Wicked: The Musical,” which is devoid of intellectualism, full of dumb music and bright colors, and worst of all, based on a cheesy, shallow novel based on a brilliant, inventive YA novel! By Ruth Graham’s logic, yes and yes. Be ashamed of everything you do that isn’t volunteering for a charity or reading Proust.

#5: Why be ashamed of anything you do?

This is a small point, as it’s very likely the ignorant and ignoble Ruth Graham wasn’t responsible for the tagline on her article, which encourages adults who read YA to “be ashamed of [themselves].” But it bears mentioning that no one should be ashamed of any art that they indulge in, as long as they aren’t shitty people because of it. To be honest, I’m not a fan of most YA, in spite of the fact that I write it. I agree that the majority of YA (and crime fiction, and spy fiction, and science fiction, and fantasy, and literary fiction) is often shallow and uninteresting. But so are video games, which I sometimes play. So is Game of Thrones, which I totally watch. So was Ian McEwan’s “Solar,” which I totally read. Why should anyone be ashamed of any of it? Everyone should read good books and watch good movies and listen to good music. They should also be free to do what they want without getting slapped in the face by a moron on Slate.

That is all.

Cover Reveal for “We All Looked Up” - Featuring Lots Of Totally Serious Alternate Covers

Hello Friends and Enemies and Frenemies and Barbara Walters,

It is time for the cover reveal of my debut novel “We All Looked Up,” out March 31, 2015 from Simon & Schuster BFYR. Are you excited? Good. But you better hold onto that excitement, because we’re about to go on a journey together. It is a journey that begins up here, with the paragraph you are now reading, and it ends with the freaking final cover of “We All Looked Up”—a cover that is unlike any cover you’ve ever seen before (no joke)—and an ARC (Advance Review Copy) giveaway. On the way there, I’m going to take you deep inside the process of developing a cover. I’m going to show you all of the drafts we went through, so you can see first hand how a cover gets designed, iterated, and finalized. This is totally serious. Like…totally serious. These are certainly not a series of parody covers I came up with just to entertain you. I would never do something like that. Never.

For those of you who don’t know, “We All Looked Up” is about four teenagers dealing with life in the six weeks before a giant asteroid passes through Earth’s solar system, an asteroid with a 66.6% chance of colliding with our little blue planet and…you know…killing everyone. It’s mega-cheerful. And that’s why the first covers we considered were also mega-cheerful: 

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My Response: I loved the boldness of the colors, and the novelty of the font, but to be totally honest, I didn’t like the look of that…thing on the cover. I mean, what is he? A cat? A person? He looks like a smug, dirty Q-tip. And what’s with the hat? Does he think he’s Pharrell or something? Get out of here, dirty Q-tip Pharrell.

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My Response: At first glance, this one was a winner. The connection between the title and the single eye in the face is solid. However, on closer inspection, there turned out to be a couple of big problems. First off, I didn’t like the unnatural aging on the jacket. This looks like a $3.99 paperback from the sixties or something, right? Even more worrying was that little penguin in the corner. It’s as if Simon & Schuster forgot they were publishing this thing. Honestly, this cover made me so angry I almost got drunk in a milk bar and beat up a bunch of strangers.

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My Response: This one really came out of left field for me. There’s a bird in my book, but it’s a hyacinth macaw. This looks more like some kind of pelican. And the arrow? What’s that about? Honestly, this cover felt less like the cover of a book about four teenagers dealing with the possible end of the world, and more like…I don’t know…some kind of YA take on the Japanese cult classic “Battle Royale.” One man’s opinion, anyway.

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My Response: This cover has bestseller written all over it. And though my book doesn’t technically have any dinosaurs in it, who cares? Dinosaurs sell books, god dammit. Everybody knows that. However, after much consideration, I realized that the tiny arms of the Tyrannosaurus Rex made me sad. I mean, what does he do if he gets an itch on his back? Just suffer in silence? I didn’t want to think about that every time I saw my book, so I told the designers to start over from scratch. Scratch. Itch. And now I’m sad again.

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My Response: This is such a great cover, full of brilliant design elements. Take a look at the little dancing guy there, literally looking up at the title! So, so smart! However, and I know this might sound crazy, I just didn’t want my book to be the same color as an IKEA. It’s really a personal thing, and I don’t want to get into it right now. Just mind your business about it, okay? (Fine, fine, I’ll tell you. I once lived in an IKEA for an entire year, mistaking one of the tiny, well-decorated rooms in the bedroom section for my apartment. I miss it. It smelled like Swedish meatballs all the time.)

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My Response: I can’t explain it, but just looking at this cover made me feel like a total asshole.

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My Response: This one could’ve been perfect, but Simon & Schuster thought it would be “edgy” to put that 50th Anniversary Edition sticker on there. I was all like, “But the book comes out in 2015!” And they were all like, “Suck it, Tommy.” So we had to shut it down. (Also, why refer to it in the small print as an “American” classic? Are you trying to imply that I don’t have international appeal, sticker?). 

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My Response: Wow. This should’ve been the one. Total perfection, right? I mean, you can tell that whatever lies between the covers of this book right here is going to be sheer literary genius. The image just screams “Joycean erudition” and “Nabokovian wordplay” and “Austenian social commentary” and “Dickensian scope,” doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it turns out that Apple Inc. has trademarked any image of an apple, or of any delicious piece of fruit, or any word with the letter “A” in it.

So there you have it, friends. The development of a cover. All of which led us to the final image. And here it is:

Drumroll please…

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Ta-da! Now, I feel like it’s pretty important I make a couple things clear.

1. The covers before this one were indeed a joke (thank you to the brilliant and beautiful Ellen Epley for making them for me—can you name all the original covers in the comments, people?).

2. This cover, designed by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, is not a joke. It is totally real. Like “anthropogenic climate change” real.

3. I know what you’re thinking. “Where’s the title, Tommy? Come to think of it, where’s your name, Tommy? Come to think of it, how do I even know your name, Seamus Macklemore Cumberbatch?” And the answer is this: what you see is what you get. We are doing this book with no text on the front cover. Just the unbelievably beautiful image you see right there. And here’s the back (See! My name IS on there somewhere!).

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So there you have it, friends. My amazing cover. Time now to shout out the geniuses responsible for it.

1. First and foremost, Lucy Ruth Cummins, who designed this wonderful wonderfulness. She is the artistic marvel behind the covers of “Winger,” “The Monstrumologist,” and a million other beautiful books. Worship her beauty. Right now. You’re not worthy.

2. Meredith Jenks took those incredible photographs. If you go to her website, you can see lots of her other stuff, including pictures of amazingly sexy and awesome people (her portraits of Janelle Monae are particularly super rad).

3. Christian Trimmer, editor extraordinaire, and everyone else in S&S editorial, design, and production, who have supported this book to the extent that it can have the most crazy, ballsy cover I know of. I am so honored.

Now, here’s what you can do for me (because I’m sure you were wondering…). Enter this giveaway for an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of “We All Looked Up.” Please share around this little cover reveal post of mine, and super please add my book on Goodreads, because I literally use the number of people who’ve added my book every day to determine whether to get out of bed in the morning.

I haven’t left my bed in twelve years.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

We All Looked Up

by Tommy Wallach

Giveaway ends June 11, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Boop.

On Walking Through First Class

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Row 1: Look at this guy, wearing a suit on a plane to Minneapolis. Who’s watching, big man? Like you don’t own sweatpants. What’s he reading? Malcolm Gladwell. Of course he is. God forbid he pick up a novel for once in his life. Probably hasn’t read a real book since high school. I bet he spent his four years at Duke (because it’s always Duke, isn’t it?) getting hammered at frat parties. When people asked him what he was studying, he’d say, “Having a good time.” Then he went to business school so he could become a consultant. What a dumb fucking job title: consultant. I wouldn’t consult this asshole on how to use toilet paper. Now he’s looking at me. I bet he’s jealous because I get to wear sweatpants and he has to dress up in that monkey suit. Well fuck you, corporate America. That’s the price you pay for all that legroom.

Row 2: How the hell does that woman already have a drink? I haven’t even sat down yet and she has a drink. And in a champagne flute, no less. Is it a Mimosa? It is. It’s a fucking Mimosa. Any drink would be bad enough, but did it have to be a Mimosa? It’s like she’s just on this plane to have a light brunch, while the rest of us choke down our peanuts in steerage. I bet she paid extra to get it early like this, so she could sip it while us coach passengers did the walk of shame. I bet they brought a menu around as soon as she sat down, and it only had two options on it: Mimosa or Mimosa with Schadenfreude. Fuck her.

Row 3: Who is that? I think I know her. I’m waving and she looks a little creeped out but now she’s waving back. How do I know her? She’s stopped waving. Oh God. It’s Neve Campbell. I really thought I knew her, though! She’s just one of those actresses that looks like someone you know, you know? And now she’s going to think I’m the kind of crazy person who thinks that I know her just because I “know” her from TV. But why would she just jump to the conclusion that I recognize her from TV? Is she really that famous? I mean, she hasn’t made a movie in years. I think she was in an episode of Mad Men this season, but that’s hardly a career. What gives her the right to act like some big star? Like I don’t have the right to even wave at her? Fuck you, Neve Campbell!

Row 4: Oh look—an empty seat. The fine folks at Delta would much rather let a big beautiful seat like that go empty than let one of us filthy nobodies from the back rows use it. I’m sure just the smell of us would put all the brunchers off their mimosas. I could sit there. I could just sit down right now and see what happened. Maybe they’d notice the circles under my eyes and smell the airport-bar vodka on my breath and just let me stay there (especially if I pretended to fall asleep straight away). But then what if they’re saving it for someone important, like a soldier returning from the Middle East or something, who’s gonna come on right at the last second? (God knows Delta would never give a free seat to someone for being a practicing pacifist. They’d never say, “Sir, for your lifelong dedication to not involving yourself in wars, here’s a first class seat.”) Then business man and mimosa lady and Neve Campbell would look at me as if I were the asshole. You know what? I don’t even want to sit in first class anymore. Fuck first class.

Row 5: This is good. It’s the last row, and there’s nothing here to get riled up about. Just a young couple, holding hands across the armrest (an armrest that is almost as wide as the narrow aisle I’m attempting to drag my suitcase down). They can’t be more than twenty-five years old. Imagine, people their age being able to afford two first class tickets. And they’re both so attractive. I realize now that my life is never going to be like their lives. And that’s not just the depression talking—it’s the truth. And maybe it’s time I learned to be okay with that. Maybe, as painful as this short journey through first class has been, it might have taught me something. Maybe I can use this as an opportunity to try and be a little bit less bitter and jealous. A little more appreciative of the gifts I do have. Not everyone can even afford to fly! And at least I can count on getting those free peanuts! As if on cue, the curtain that separates the haves from the have-nots is pulled aside and I see them—my people, squashed together in the clown car they call coach. I can feel my heart expanding with demotic pride. I embrace my identity as just another member of the masses—a prince of the proletariat, a playmate of the plebeians, a hero of the hoi polloi. I love you like family, my fellow paupers. Take me into your warm, pungent bosom for the next four glorious, skyborne hours!

Jesus. I’ve never seen so many babies in one place in my entire fucking life.

Business Casual - A Collection of Sartorial Suggestions

Trousers/khakis and a shirt with a collar. No jeans. No athletic wear.

– Business Casual, as described in Forbes Magazine

Business Very Casual

Flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt. No buttons.

Business Extremely Casual

Slippers, a velvet robe, and a pipe. No worries.

Business Racist

A white pointy hat and a white robe. No tolerance.

Business Clichéd Gay Clubber

Leather pants and a mesh shirt. DDF.

Business Stressed

A wrinkled shirt, a loosened tie, and a blood-pressure cuff. No paper trail.

Business Indicted

See business casual, but with a pair of high-quality stainless steel “connective bracelets.” No bail.

Business Arraigned

An orange jumpsuit and four days of stubble. No private toilet.

Business Convicted

A forced smile and a house-arrest anklet. No-contest divorce.

Business Depressed

Sweatpants and yesterday’s T-shirt. No visitation rights.

Business Martini

Gin and dry vermouth, garnished with a green olive. No hope.

Business Mentally Unstable

Strands of plastic bottles tied together with dental floss and a tinfoil hat. No shirt, no shoes, no service.

Business Sociopathic

An Armani suit with 24-karat-gold cufflinks, a crisp white shirt, and a power tie. Underneath it all, your dead mother’s old girdle.

Business Bedtime

Pajamas and Klonopin.

Why I Will Not Be Coming To Your Wedding

Dear Ben,

First of all, a hearty congratulations on your engagement. Though I don’t know Allison very well, the excitement you must be feeling to take such an enormous and some might even say deranged step so soon after meeting the bride-to-be certainly fills me with confidence that this relationship will have real staying power!

That being said, I am afraid I will not be attending your wedding three weeks from now in Allison’s hometown of Jug Hole, South Carolina. Because we are such good friends, and also because you asked me to be your best man, I feel that I need to provide some sort of explanation. Here, in no particular order, are my reasons.

1. The wedding is in three weeks.

Again, I am super impressed that you and Allison have chosen to take this leap a scant two months after briefly chatting on OK Cupid and then sleeping with each other after your first date. I certainly don’t agree with those of our friends who’ve argued that this has something to do with your breaking up with Chloe three months ago and her immediately beginning to date Steven, her co-worker with whom you expected she had some sort of affair (or at least entertained the thought) while you were still together. Nor do I think it is because you are turning thirty-six this upcoming November, and your parents were already married with two kids and a mortgage by the time they were your age. No, I truly believe the mind-boggling rapidity with which you’ve chosen to base-jump into matrimony is a direct function of your excitement vis-à-vis Allison, who is (as you’ve told me many times over) both a yoga instructor and tentatively bisexual. I promise you that my issue here is purely practical. Like most adults, I cannot suddenly take three days off in the middle of the week without any warning to attend a “marriage-themed bacchanalia” (as the festivities were described in your charming invitation).

2. It is in South Carolina.

I could use a vacation, Ben. I really could. And I hope you won’t be offended when I tell you that I was still on the fence about attending your little soiree before I noticed the location. I was hoping for somewhere a little beachier, such as Barbados, or Puerto Vallarta. Of course, I’m sure it’s very important to Allison that her entire extended family be able to attend the wedding, and I know that most of them don’t have passports. But there is still Miami, Ben, or Santa Barbara. Jug Hole, South Carolina is not a vacation spot. It is a place one leaves after dropping out of high school, and then sporadically and grudgingly returns to for family interventions and funerals.

3. I am not Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Jeff Bezos.

Let’s budget this out, shall we? First off, there is a round-trip plane ticket, which, at this late stage, will cost at least $500, unless I want to fly on a budget airline that views fistfights as a valid way to determine who gets to sit in the part of the plane with functioning seat belts. Then, I would have to rent a car to get to the methamphetamine capitol of South Carolina you’ve inexplicably chosen as a venue, to the tune of $85 a day. You also suggested in your letter that you’d love to have a little bachelor party on the night I arrive. Given your extremely high tolerance for alcohol, and the inevitable pity I would feel for the employees of “Bad Decisions,” Jug Hole’s only strip club, this would run me a good $300. Next, I would have to rent a hotel for three nights. The only hotel in town is a a bargain at $28 a night (and the website informs me this includes free access to the Spice Channel!). However, the cost of treating my apartment for bedbugs upon my return to New York would cost an additional $400. I am not a rich man, Ben. I’m not as poor as your fiancée, of course, but I’m not precipitously marrying into money three weeks from now, either! Ha ha! J/K.

4. I care about you.

Ben, you are one of my oldest friends. I love you like a brother. But I feel confident that if I were to drop over a thousand dollars to watch you promise to honor and obey a woman whose middle name you have not yet learned, I would come to hate you. And I don’t want to hate you. So I wish you all the best as you embark on this wondrous journey—without a map, without a paddle, but secure in the knowledge that you have beaten Chloe to the punch in terms of really moving on with your life. Have a great wedding. I promise I’ll make it to the next one.

- Tommy

Harsh Words for Small Children (Part 1)

The following story was written by an actual eight year old named Becky, who is now an adult (and whose debut novel comes out next year). This piece will appear on the Toast in a month or so, just FYI.

Tootsiroll

One day a dog had 7 puppies. Candy, Bubbles, Spot, Flower, Brownie, Bambi, and Tootsiroll. Tootsiroll was the runt. All the puppies had spots. There were 6 nipples on their mother, Apple. One day Flower went up to Bubbles. They talked and had fun. Soon they let all the puppies join them, all except Tootsiroll. Nobody liked his face because he didn’t eat enough because nobody ever let him. Apple noticed this and started waking Tootsiroll up in the night when everyone was speeping. Tootsiroll would suck and suck. Still none of the puppies liked him. They were all as mean as they could get to him. They woke up extra early so Tootsiroll wouldn’t get a nipple to suck because they didn’t know what happenes in the night. They took as much room up on the bed so Tootsiroll would have to sleep on the floor. They took more than one toy each so Tootsiroll couldn’t play with any and they did lots more awful things on purpose. One day they couldn’t find Bambi. They looked everywhere. Soon Tootsiroll got an idea. He looked under the bed and there he was. He barked. All the puppies came running. Everyone was proud especially Tootsiroll and they always respected him.

Becky,

First off, please include your name and an approximate word count on the first page of your manuscript. Also, see the handout you received on the first day of second grade, which describes my preferred formatting guidelines RE: margins and spacing.

Now, let’s begin by talking about your title: Tootsiroll. While I’d love to believe you are aware of the technique known as “sensational spelling,” in which words are deliberately misspelled for effect (see Led Zeppelin, Froot Loops, and Bryan Adams), we both know you’re not. You’re eight. You’re barely aware of the technique known as “wiping yourself after you poop.” But you’ve at least seen a Tootsie Roll, haven’t you? Never forget that good writing starts with good reading.

Your story begins with the introduction of your dramatis personae. But Becky, do you really expect the average reader to be able to keep track of all these characters? Give us time to get to know your puppies as individuals. To that end, I urge you to reconsider your decision to describe all seven puppies as having spots. We need to be able to differentiate between them. Maybe one has spots, one has mange, one is a little bit racist, etc. (Keep in mind, these are just suggestions. The divine spark has to come from you.)

The abrupt sexualization of the story around the fourth sentence (“There were 6 nipples…”) felt forced to me, particularly coming from someone half a decade out from the onset of puberty. Not everyone can be a Nicholson Baker, Becky. At this point, you’re not even a Jenna Jameson. I felt similarly skeptical when the story became an allegorical commentary on anorexia (“…he didn’t eat enough because nobody ever let him.”). Laurie Halse Anderson has really exhausted this subject in fiction, so you shouldn’t broach it unless you have something new to say. As my writing professor at Columbia told me, an issue may be topical, but so is Preparation-H.

Now, a quick word on structure. While I respect the way you’ve attempted to channel the sentence-by-sentence efficiency of Hemingway and the overall flash-fiction concision of Lydia Davis, there is such a thing as too simple. A couple of adjectives or adverbs aren’t going to kill you, Becky. Remember, it’s called “creative writing,” not “instructions for putting together an IKEA-brand kitchen island.”

I do appreciate your decision to feature dogs in the story. The anthropomorphization of animals has a long and impressive pedigree (Ha!—see that’s the kind of wordplay this story could have used a little more of!) in fiction. Consider Orwell, White, and even Kafka. However, the worlds described in these authors’ books are internally coherent, while yours is (and I’m going to be straight with you, Becky, as I know you’d want me to be) a piping hot mess. How about a little bit of context before you launch us into the story? Where are these dogs? Are they in someone’s home? And what’s the deal with this bed? If it’s a human bed, six puppies are simply not going to be able to spread out in such a way as to keep a seventh puppy from also enjoying the bed. If it’s some kind of special dog bed, this only raises more questions. Who built the bed? Some sort of carpenter dog? Have these puppies chosen to forego the proverbial dog pile for some other sleeping arrangement, and if so, why? Does it have anything to do with their distant, loveless mother figure, who functions here as little more than a milk dispenser?

This brings us to your conclusion. Becky, I can’t understand why you would fail to address the fact that Bambi is clearly dead, and that what Tootsiroll has found must be the corpse of Bambi. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he have come out from under the bed when he heard his brothers and sisters calling his name? Tease out the implications here. Which of your characters has both the means and the motive to kill? How about the maladjusted, malnourished loner, starved both metaphorically (for attention/affection) and literally (for milk)? Let us not forget that the first crime mentioned in the Bible (assuming you don’t count sex before marriage or apple theft!) is fratricide. This dark ending would be made even more chilling by the fact that Tootsiroll uses the murder of Bambi as his means of finally securing the respect and love of his other brothers and sisters (see Whipple and Finton’s “Psychological maltreatment by siblings,” Vol. 12, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal).

Final Notes: Becky, there are intimations of a compelling psychological thriller hidden somewhere in this hackneyed family drama. However, a worrying thematic immaturity, to say nothing of a grasp of the subtle poeticisms of the English language I would be generous to call jejune, do nothing to bring them out.

Final Grade: D+

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