Monday, May 1, 2023

Books need protecting from Moms for Liberty

When I wrote about book banning in Dispatches from a Tourist Trap, I was afraid that some parts went a little over the top. For those that didn't read it (which, based on sales figures would be most of you), Jason moves to a small town in Eastern Washington after his parents split up, and is pleasantly surprised to find a student-led literature club exists at the high school. But when some, let's call them less-progressive, students object to the book selections, things get heated. The titles grow increasingly controversial, from The Sun Also Rises to At Play in the Fields of the Lord to The Virgin Suicides. The school board votes to require all books chosen be preapproved by them, at which point Jason and friends take it underground. They eventually enter a protest float in the town's Christmas parade, which only inflames matters, literally, when someone sets it on fire.

It was meant to be funny, while also addressing an odious practice with a long history in our country. (While the U.S. is hardly alone in banning books, for a democracy we seem to take it to a whole 'nother level every so often.) Like I said, I was mildly concerned it was almost overdone. I mean, how likely would it be that Jason's band of happy readers would encounter such strong opposition?

I never thought to include any Nora Roberts books on their reading list, though. Maybe that would have made it more realistic. At least if I had set the story in Florida.

The ironically named Moms for Liberty group in Martin County wasn't content pulling Judy Blume and Jodi Picoult books off library shelves. They had to get rid of Roberts' books as well. Some of these recently banned titles make up "The Bride Quartet," a series of four books about friends who run a wedding-planning business. Here's the blurb from the first book, Vision in White:

Wedding photographer Mackensie "Mac" Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be's encounter that has them both seeing stars.

A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac's type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends—and business partners—to see her way to her own happy ending.

Oh my stars and garters, how salacious.

Roberts is, as she should be, pissed off. But in a sense, I celebrate the blatant overstep on the part of Moms for Liberty. Because if they weren't a laughingstock before, they are now. (Note: They were a laughingstock from the start.)

Not that book banning is a laughing matter, by any means. In Florida, where they seem to have nothing better to do, or elsewhere. And we can include my school district in that elsewhere, as there is a group of "concerned" parents trying to remove Juno Dawson's This Book Is Gay from the Hilton High School library. This is actually a major campaign plank for one of the perennial school-board candidates, whose Facebook rantings indirectly sparked the bomb threats that closed school twice this spring.

I can't blame this gadfly for the bomb threat, as the same threat was made against a school in Iowa regarding the same book. The emails were sent from an account with a .ru domain, which could literally have come from anywhere, including Russia, whose leader never seems to mind stirring shit on an international level. Clearly, whoever sent it knew enough about what was going on locally to sound credible on a first pass, though their repeated attempts no longer generate much response. We've been notified of at least four such emails, which the district regards as mere hoaxes by this point.

The book-banning brigades are out in full force in Pennsylvania as well, though they are meeting some stiff resistance, and taking a few noteworthy L's. After Kutztown Area Middle School canceled its One School, One Book event for Alan Gratz's YA novel Two Degrees, about, gasp, climate change, a student protest led to an even wider distribution of the book. Quite the lovely own goal on the part of the groups trying to prevent kids from reading. A similar controversy birthed the Kutztown Teen Banned Book Club, which Jason and his friend Maddie would have loved. (They dubbed theirs the Lost Generation Literary Scholars.)

Climate change and wedding planning will almost certainly triumph in due time. Outside of the most hardcore banners, those books will find enough support to survive. LBGTQ books, however, face a much steeper challenge. Even here, in Upstate New York, This Book Is Gay is at serious risk. Following the bomb threat controversy, the school board assembled a three-parent panel to weigh in on the matter. There were a lot more than three parents to volunteer, however, and they wound up choosing names lottery style. Mine came up 16th on the list, out of how many I don't know. And I have no idea what the political mindset is of the three who were selected. I guess we'll find out later this month when they issue their verdict.

All for a book that has been on library shelves since 2015, and had been checked out a grand total of two times prior to this ruckus. A book that would probably still be available to students if it were titled The Frat Boys' Guide to Scoring with Sorority Chicks. Because let's face it, the title is what put This Book Is Gay in the eye of this storm. If it were a picture book of rainbows, there would still be a number of Liberty Mothers looking to remove it. Gay people are much easier to marginalize in this country than just about any other group this side of transgender folk. LGBTQ releases are the gateway drug of book banners. Once they get an appetite for it, though, the slope gets real slippery real quick. It won't end with Nora Roberts and Judy Blume.

I can't go quite to the extreme of saying no book should ever be kept out of school libraries. I would draw my line at books that promote violence. A book on how to build a bomb or plan a shooting, for example, I could never support.

If that makes me a hypocrite, I guess I can live with the label. But protecting kids means something very different to me than it does to these Moms for Liberty groups.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Wilson's weirdness wins me over

My introduction to Kevin Wilson books came in 2016 when I read The Family Fang. It was different--in a good way. Creative, but very readable. Not that I could tell you a whole lot about the story at this point, seven years later. As it goes, I was still a frequent Goodreader at that point in time. So, quoting old me:

I was in the mood for something different and I certainly found it here. The Fangs are a messed up family, led by crazy parents whose idea of art can most kindly be referred to as mischief. It's best when it involves innocent victims of some kind and must occur in a very public place. They refer to their children as A and B (though they do at least have names, Annie and Buster) and after initially fearing children would interfere with their "art" they learned to incorporate them into the act.

Naturally, Annie and Buster grow up with issues. She becomes a semi-successful actress and he cranks out a pair of novels before winding up scraping by on free lance magazine work. For different reasons, they both wind up moving back home after escaping, and soon find themselves right back in the midst of the Fang turmoil.

Midway through I felt like this was a strong 4 1/2 stars, possibly a 5. It was one of those books where I was already thinking of people I could recommend it to. Then things slowed a little and the ending sort of underwhelmed me. I'll give the benefit of the doubt and round up to a 4, based on the uniqueness of the story and the characters, but there could have been more here.

And I guess at that point I was just lukewarm enough (lukecold?) on the ending to not bother going back into the Wilson pile for more.

Fast-forward to 2019-20, when I was running some steady Amazon ads for Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, and who should start popping into my Also-Boughts but Kevin Wilson. When I first started with the ads, Jonathan Tropper was the gold-standard search target for me. It's a family drama with a bit of humor, which is Tropper's wheelhouse, so that made sense. The Venn diagram for Wilson never seemed quite as overlappy to me. But it persisted, and over time his name became a more productive search term than Tropper's. Maybe those waters were fished out, or maybe with no new Tropper books being released there just wasn't as much interest there anymore.

Regardless, I saw a lot of Wilson's Nothing To See Here cover. That book seemed to be the one most closely linked in the Also-Boughts. Which ... well, still seems like a strange fit. Eventually, I had to read it. And while the fit still didn't make sense, I really liked it.

It's a classic Wilson, in that he starts with a far-out premise, but sets it in a very real world populated with mostly normal people (well, as normal as any of us, when you take a deep dive into our heads). The hook here is there really is something to see, and it's a young brother and sister who spontaneously combust every time they get a little worked up about anything. (Don't worry, they're always fine afterward.) 

I enjoyed that one so much, I went back for more, asking for both of his other novels for Christmas. Santa came through, of course, with Now Is Not the Time to Panic and Perfect Little World. I read Now Is Not the Time to Panic earlier this year, and it moved to the top spot on my Wilson list. Another crazy imaginative premise about two teenagers who start a panic in their small Tennessee town by slapping posters everywhere with the spooky nonsense saying, "The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us." Mayhem ensues. People die. It's both funny and sad in places. And so different from anything else out there.

I'm about halfway through Perfect Little World right now, and I'm not sure where it's going to rank for me. Early days yet. So far, it's fighting for third with The Family Fang, but there's time for it to move up the leaderboard.

Wilson's characters are all a little bit misfit, a little depressed, and a lot interesting. Really glad I circled back for more. I've never been a big short story reader, but he just might tempt me across that line, as he has two short story collections out there. Something tells me there will be craziness involved.

Friday, April 7, 2023

My Shepherd list: best annual baseball releases

I had the opportunity to write an author list for Shepherd recently, and it came out pretty cool. If you're not familiar with Shepherd, they compile lists of books recommended by authors who write in a similar genre. With Major League Debuts as the jumping off point, I created a list of the best annual releases to prepare for baseball season.

The best annual releases to prep for baseball season

No surprise perhaps to see
Baseball America's Prospect Handbook here. I have every edition dating back to 2001, when the first release came out. I contributed to several of them as well, though that's not why I like it. Check out the list to see what else I included.

It's also kind of fun to look and see what other authors listed. I had to, of course, check out the list of "the best baseball novels you've probably never read." Nope, neither The Greatest Show on Dirt nor Nine Bucks a Pound made the cut. Maybe he assumed everyone had read them already. There's also a list just called "the best novels about baseball." I didn't make that one, either, though I have read three of the five there. (And my list of best baseball novels would be quite different.)

If you are looking for a good rabbit hole, head on over to Shepherd. You will undoubtedly find a list that leads to another list that leads to another list. You might even find a few books to add to your reading list.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Major League Debuts podcasting world tour

Hello again.

This has been a busy week for virtual book events for Major League Debuts. There have been three podcasts released (two of which were recorded earlier in the month, but that's the way show business rolls, I guess). There was also a new review released last night. So, let's get to it.

My favorite podcast to date was released this morning. This was done with LockedOn MLB Prospects, hosted by Lindsay Crosby. Lindsay clearly did his homework and had a lot of great questions. The only drawback is I was on camera for this one, and maybe that's not my strong suit. But at least I sound like I know what I'm talking about, and that's something.

Here are the links for the others:

The Show Before the Show, with Benjamin Hill of Ben actually reviewed The Greatest Show on Dirt back when it came out in 2012. Really good guy, whose love for minor league baseball always comes through.

ML Sports Platter, with Mike Lindsley. Sound quality on this one is a little lacking, especially on my side, as it was recorded with me being on the phone.

And here's the new review:

The Sports Bookie, by Bob D'Angelo. Bob also reviewed The Greatest Show on Dirt back in the day. And I believe he did a review for Nine Bucks a Pound as well. He's a big baseball book guy.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

The debut of Major League Debuts

I have news about a new release, but it might not be the new release you were expecting. This Is Who We Are Now is still waiting its turn. It was set aside in the fall for a more time-sensitive project. From September up to now all of my time, spare and otherwise, has been dedicated to the new one. It's called Major League Debuts, and it is out now. And unlike my previous releases, this is very much not a novel.

But there are stories. Three hundred and three of them, to be precise. Major League Debuts is a book about all of the players to debut in the big leagues in 2022. Which turned out to be a record 303 of them. The previous record, set way back in 2021, was 265. That would have been a little easier. Because for each of the 303, I wrote about their first game in the majors, what they did in 2022, and how they got there, with a detailed bio of their career, starting from high school in many cases. I subscribed to 40 newspapers to do the research. I didn't sleep a whole lot. But I got there, and I'm really happy with the way it came out.

Originally, in my head, this book would have been available closer to Jan. 1. Then again, originally it wasn't going to be this long. Or this insanely detailed. When I started in September, the writeups were 300-400 words per player. By the time I finished, it was a challenge to keep them under 1,000. I had to circle back to the guys at the start of the alphabet and beef them up to even things out a little.

The book came out to be 416 pages in paperback. It blows my mind more than a little that I wrote more than 400 pages worth of words in under five months. I honestly have never worked so hard on anything in my life. Novels are hard in a different way, but spread out over a much longer period of time, which makes it less intense, at least the way I write. I needed this book out before spring training started.

I made it.

And now, in some ways, comes the hard part. Selling it. That's no different than for all of my other books. Selling them is always harder than writing them. If you're interested in baseball, or know someone who is, the book is available in both paperback and ebook format.

Paperback - $17.95

Ebook - $7.99

And if baseball's not really your thing, stay tuned for updates on This Is Who We Are Now. It will soon be moving back to the front burner. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Pretty in Pink scratches the ol' nostalgia itch

Thanks to Covid, I've wound up with a rare bit of time on my hands the past couple of days. I keep finding myself on the couch, remote in hand, wondering what to watch to kill off some time. Some nostalgic person on my Twitter timeline planted a seed Thursday afternoon with a post about the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.

I hadn't seen the movie since it came out back in 1986. I was a junior in high school, and there may or may not have been valid comparisons made between my hair and Duckie's. Certainly nothing intentional. Not my fault he had nice hair. I certainly didn't dress like him, and while I may not have been the most popular kid in school, I wasn't quite the outcast he was, either.

Beyond the hair, I can't say I recalled a lot about Duckie, the character. I vaguely remembered the plot, or at least the key points. The ending matched my memory, the rest of it fell into place well enough, though there were points I was waiting for things to happen that happened in other movies. Sixteen Candles, perhaps?

I'm on a minor 1980's nostalgia thing lately. I picked up Tell the Wolves I'm Home in part because it was set in 1987, the year I graduated. I was practically obligated to watch a Molly Ringwald movie. Consider the itch at least partially scratched.


  • James Spader is super rapey in this movie. I mean, I get he's supposed to be an over-the-top jerk, but there is nothing redeeming about him whatsoever. Yuck.
  • You want to ask, "where are the parents?" at times. But given Andie's dad can barely feed himself breakfast and it's the 80's, it's not actually unrealistic. We used to have jobs after school and not come home until long after dinner. We were much more feral back then than most kids seem these days.
  • Of course, by the time I was 18 the drinking age had been 21 for several years and it wasn't even realistic to try to get into a club like Cats. (Well, maybe if you looked older than I did, and had a reasonable fake ID.) That went up in 1984, two years before this movie came out, so not sure if that was an all-ages club or if they took some liberties there. Certainly kids had parties with plenty of beer, not that I went to those.
  • Harry Dean Stanton ... ha, the second I saw him, Repo Man popped up on my "maybe next" list. He's surely a sad sack dad here. Perhaps not 100 percent convincing all the time, but he's hard to dislike.
  • The soundtrack sure held up. "If You Leave," by OMD is the one I've heard the most over the years, but the title track is just as good. And I was today years old when I learned that the Psychedlic Furs first recorded it five years before the movie came out. It was on their 1981 album, Talk Talk Talk. Which I just bought as I started writing this so I could push that nostalgia needle all the way up to max.
  • Holy cats, were the "richies" ever mean. Those girls, particularly, were quite bitchy. And Blaine, even for being the nice guy, was more than insensitive to bring Andie to that party. And then to bring her up to the Steff's room to get away? Really?
  • I know they were just teenagers, and it was Andie's first time to really fall for someone, but to declare herself in love after one really crappy date? Did we think like that back when we were 17? Yeah, probably. How painfully naive.
  • Annie Potts was so great as Iona. Weird, but so kind, and so okay being weird. And such a perfect boss/friend for Andie. I didn't remember her in this movie at all, and she was probably my favorite character.
  • I hope Iona didn't want her old prom dress back. I thought it looked pretty nice as it was, but give Andie points for making something unique for herself. Still, think twice if she asks to borrow anything off you.
  • I miss real record stores. I would have loved Trax. We used to ride our bikes eight miles down to the University District (Seattle) to spend the day searching for cool stuff at Tower Records, Cellophane Square, and probably half a dozen other shops I can't even remember the names of. And book stores. There were several used book stores we would check out regularly. We were nerdy enough to think that was cool, and I still think it was all these years later. So there.
  • The Duckie vs Steff fight in the hall ... I kept thinking Duckie was going to get thrashed, but that was probably a draw. Steff talks better than he punches. Then again, Duckie had righteous indignation on his side.
  • I know Andie isn't obligated to settle for Duckie just because he's so infatuated with her, but come on, how long are we supposed to believe her relationship with Blaine ran after the movie ended? No way they made it beyond the summer. Maybe they saved face when he left for his Ivy League school in the fall and parted friends.
  • I paid $3.99 to watch that on Amazon Prime. I have no complaints.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Dystopia is scary enough without politics

A couple of weeks back, I finally got around to turning a birthday gift card into books. I came home with Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner; Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman; and Lights Out In Lincolnwood, by Geoff Rodkey. All three were table finds, books that caught my eye enough to pick up and read the back and maybe test drive the first few pages. The first two I'd heard of before. Lights Out was new to me. Turns out it was new to everyone, as it was only released earlier this month.

Having slowed to a crawl on the book I was reading (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand), I was open to starting something new. Lights Out leapt to the top of the pile and sucked me right in. The premise, a suburban family of four--dad, mom, two high schoolers--is going about their day in typical suburban fashion, when suddenly the power goes out. All the way out. Not just electricity, but cars, trains, airplanes. Everything stops in its place and/or falls from the sky.

Dan Altman, the dad, has to walk eight miles home from where his commuter train into NYC stopped. Chloe and Max drift away from school once their teachers realize the lights aren't about to flick back on. And Jen, the mom, hits the vodka, which is pretty much what she would have been doing anyway.

Over the course of four days, their upscale New Jersey suburb descends into chaos, as water service is cut to all homes. The Altmans survive on peanut butter and tuna fish, and the cookouts staged by their next-door neighbors, the Stankovics, who they don't actually like. Chloe falls in love, Max searches for a nicotine substitute, Jen drinks herself into oblivion, and Dan wonders why the newly formed town militia won't recruit him.

It's a fun and fast read (even at 529 pages long), but it also sort of scared the hell out of me. I can see too many of my neighbors wanting to sign on for that militia. The cosplay soldiers who could finally feel free to roam the streets with their assault rifles and pretend to be the good guys. Rodkey notes that when he started writing the book he never imagined a pandemic and a disputed election would bring his dystopia so close to real life. But here we are, and the thought of having to line up for rations doled out by heavily armed jackwagons has me wondering how many cans of soup I can stack in my basement.

I don't tend to include politics in my fiction writing. For one, I spend way too much time thinking about stuff like that in real life. A novel should be a place to escape it. In fact, one of my first considerations these days when I contemplate a new story is when to set it. Because if you want to even pretend to be realistic, you almost have to avoid 2019-21. Maybe anything since 2016. I don't want to divide my characters up into Trump fans and sensible folk. I'd rather they populate a world in which he never came to power. Just because I can't live there anymore doesn't mean they shouldn't get the chance.

Lights Out In Lincolnwood never brings up any politician or cult leader by name. We might all be able to guess who Eddie Stankovic voted for, but Rodkey leaves that bit out. Dystopia is frightening enough without it.