Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cartoons That Scared Me As A Kid

The recent theatrical re-release of The Lion King reminded me of how much it scared me when I first saw it. I was 10 years old when it came out, right at that liminal period of childhood when one is growing up and becoming rapidly inured to scary imagery but can still be frightened by things on a movie screen.

Yes, I thought The Lion King was pretty scary. And before you call me a pusillanimous fraidy cat (which I probably was), I urge you to revisit that scene when Scar murders Simba’s dad and think about how traumatic it was to a young ‘un not prepared to witness such brutal fratricide. If you were either too old or too young to be affected much, you’ll just have to trust me: It was disturbing. I remember that I managed to stay in my seat with a frozen expression, but plenty of parents around me had to escort their wailing kids out to the lobby. You just can’t kill off a parent in a children’s movie without repercussions. I know it traumatized tons of kids; The Lion King is the Bambi of my generation.

The whole concept of scary cartoons and animated features is a little weird. There’s something strange about scaring the bejesus out of kids with something that is ostensibly made for kids. (I know things like the Pixar movies have done much to change the audience for animated features—not to mention the anime coming out of the Land of the Rising Sun. But cartoons are still mainly for kids, at least in the US.) But then again everything would be pretty boring if cartoons were all sweet and nice and benign. And sometimes there’s no telling what will scare someone. Like finding something funny, being scared is a totally subjective experience.

I watched a lot of older cartoons and movies when I was a kid because I had a brother and sister who were a few years older than I was, so I basically watched what they did. There were a ton of VHS tapes of Disney movies and TV shows lying around the house. A lot of this older stuff seems way freakier than the stuff made from about the mid-‘90s on. I don’t know if this is because I was older by then and things didn’t terrify me as much or what. Maybe there was a general effort to make things less frightening, like the people who were funding this stuff realized that movies that made people laugh and smile instead of scream and cry made a lot more money in the end. It’s also true that most of the kids’ movies today are made with computers and look really slick compared to hand-drawn cartoons. There is a kind of crudeness to traditional cell animation that allows it to be almost impressionistic at times, making it easier to infiltrate our dreams (and nightmares).

Or maybe I was just young and easily scared. You be the judge. Here are a few of the horrors (as I remember them):


My brother was obsessed with the Thundercats. He owned all the toys, which I eventually inherited. I wasn’t the biggest fan, although I do remember really wanting the Sword of Omens. The cartoon was mostly a fun-filled romp with lots of action…that is until Mumm-ra turns into his Ever-Living form. Then it gets positively nightmarish. It’s even a little freaky to watch today.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

This is an old Disney short movie (I guess it was paired with another short movie to fill out a full-length feature). It’s pretty silly and non-threatening for the most part but builds to a terrifying climax. The horror show begins at around the 25-minute mark. For a company that is synonymous with family entertainment, Disney sure made its share of frightfests.

Aeon Flux

This was more unnerving than it was jump-out-of-your-skin scary. I remember stumbling on this show while flipping the channels and just being utterly disturbed by it. It was so weird and the things I was seeing made me extremely uncomfortable. There weren’t any particularly scary moments in any given episode, but it induced a constant low-level dread within me. It was like a David Lynch movie in cartoon form. Watching it now, it remains a little creepy and very nonsensical.

The Last Unicorn

My sister loved this movie. I don’t know how she made it through the Red Bull sequences without running out of the room, screaming. That thing was the scariest thing I had ever seen.

The Secret of Nimh

There were tons of scenes in this movie that made me want to hide under a blanket. The movie does such a good job of making you see the world through Mrs. Brisby’s eyes, which makes pretty much everything terrifying. The heart-stopping terror of the tractor, the fearsome owl, the ever-present danger of being attacked by the cat—it was almost too much to take. Added to all this, the art design made some of the characters look truly sinister—especially the evil rats like Jenner. The movie’s a classic though, as is the book it’s based upon.

The Black Cauldron

Another nightmare-inducer from Disney. This time the scares come directly from the villain of the story, the Horned King. Usually Disney villains have a silly or humorous quality to temper their horribleness. Not so with the Horned King. This guy wouldn’t look out of place in an R-rated horror movie. I had the movie tie-in paperback of The Black Cauldron and I was so creeped out by the Horned King on the cover that I always had to make sure the book was face down so I couldn’t see him.

The Dark Crystal

Strictly speaking this isn’t animated, but the puppets are plenty terrifying. The Skeksis (Skekses?) in particular were enough to make me cover my eyes and turn off the movie.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Another movie that lures you in with a cute premise, only to end in absolute terror. It’s interesting that the villain, Judge Doom, isn’t that scary until he becomes a cartoon himself. The psycho look of his animated form haunted me for years.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Wild Week

I have to say: It’s been quite a great week.

It started with Deadly Reflections getting two great reviews: one by Book Nook Club and another by The Bibliophilic Blog. The very nice things said by both reviewers put me on cloud 9 for the rest of the day. Star, the main reviewer for Bibliophilic, has done advance reviews of New York Times bestsellers and interviewed their authors, so needless to say it was flattering that she chose to spotlight Deadly Reflections. She’s a great and voracious reader, and her endorsement means a lot to me.

Also, in a wildly successful promotional offer, Deadly Reflections was made free for three days earlier this week. The book gained thousands of new readers and even cracked the top 10 in its genre. (It even charted in its subgenres in other territories; I was pleased beyond all measure to see it on the Romance charts in the French Kindle Store.)

Thanks to all who participated in the promotion. For those who missed it, I will do another free offer later this year with the two remaining promotional days I have left (Amazon gives you five). But in the meantime, I’ll point out that Deadly Reflections is still available at the reasonable price of 99 cents. If the healthy post-promotional boost in sales is any indication, positive word of mouth is already spreading. My hope is to put the book on the radar of every reader who would enjoy it, so if you’ve read Deadly Reflections and like it, please recommend it to a friend.

For all the new readers of the blog: Welcome! I try to keep a fairly regular posting schedule, about once every three days or so (this week was kinda shot because things were so hectic with the promotion). The posts range from musings to news to top 10 lists. I try not to do anything too topical or ephemeral; I want my posts to be substantial and “built to last” so they could theoretically be read a year from now and still be enjoyable. Most of all, I want to do posts that readers will like reading and feel are worth their time. So no “I went to the store, I checked my email, I took a nap”-type updates. (Although maybe if I have a really great, worthwhile nap that I just have to write about, this rule might go out the window. J)

For people looking for more information about Deadly Reflections, I’ve started to build a collection of “Special Features” which are now listed in the sidebar. There’s some great stuff there like an interview with the cover artist and scans of draft pages. I encourage you to check it out. There’s more of that sort of thing coming, including an exclusive look at the original ending of the story, which is drastically different from what’s in the published book.

Lastly, I want to thank you all—new readers and old—for joining me on this terribly exciting ride I’m on right now. My first book has even at this early stage exceeded my wildest expectations, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Take care,

Monday, February 13, 2012

Knicks For The Lin

I’m not sure how big this story is for the average citizen yet. For basketball fans—and for sports fans in general, I think, especially now that football’s over—it is the story. For New Yorkers, it has taken over their lives, as far as I can tell. (There were 43 mentions of Lin in The New York Times on Wednesday when he was featured in a front page article, and there were 88 mentions of him in yesterday’s Sunday edition, in which there were no fewer than 4 articles about Lin.) The whole thing’s reaching a Tebowesque fervor.

I find myself checking to see if the Knicks are playing each night, and if they are I turn the game on or, if I’m away from a tv, I incessantly check the box scores with the Gametime app. At this early point in the season I’m even more interested in the Knicks than I am in my beloved Celtics.

The Linsanity (yes, that’s a word now) started out small, with his having one good game off the bench—something that could be dismissed as an aberration. Next were two extraordinary performances in a starting role. The excitement started to build, but it still felt a little like much ado about not a whole lot.

Then came the Lakers game on Friday. Before the game I told a friend that Lin was either going to have a great game or a hideous one, that it’d be one or the other. It turned out to be the former as Lin willed the Knicks to victory, outscoring the second greatest player of all time, Kobe Bryant. It was quite a week for the phenom: Three career games for a player who didn’t have a career three weeks ago.

My favorite highlight from that game is the three Lin hit in the fourth quarter that put them up by 14. It was off an offensive board by Jared Jeffries, who kicked it out to Lin in the corner and proceeded to take himself out of the play to signal a three to the Madison Square Garden crowd before Lin even shot the ball. That is some crazy confident chutzpah right there.

A couple nights ago he beat the T’wolves with a gutsy drive to the hoop as the clock was winding down. The Knicks are on an undeniable 5-game winning streak, and it’s all because of Lin. (I guess that should be a 5-game linning streak.)

Everybody loves an underdog story, the meteoric rise, the out-of-nowhere success story. We also like to vicariously experience another’s success, and Lin makes it easy to do so. He doesn’t look like anyone else on the court. He makes the league equivalent of minimum wage. He doesn’t have that super flashy game we’ve come to expect from even mediocre players in the NBA. He’s all fundamentals, armed with nothing more than preternatural court vision and a quick first step. It’s easy to picture him as nothing more than the best player at the local rec center, going from schooling former high school stars to outplaying the best players in the world. A win for him is a win for us, in a weird way. (Only in professional sports can a Harvard graduate be an avatar of the everyman, but there you go.)

So until the other shoe drops, we’ll keep rooting for him. It’s been a wild ride so far . . . I kinda hope it continues. Just as long as they lose to the Celts if they meet in the playoffs.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Deadly Reflections: Deleted Scenes

The major difference between the penultimate draft of Deadly Reflections and the final released book is the excision of two chapters.

Both came pretty late in the book and were written with the best of intentions. I felt the need to provide closure for every character that was introduced, no matter how minor they were. The only problem was that once you get deep into the second act—when that big bulky ball (otherwise known as “the plot”) has been pushed over the crest of the hill and is rolling implacably along, crushing anything extraneous in its path—at that point there is no room to fit in stuff that no one really cares about much. About halfway through the book, Justin and Sarah took full control of the story, and anything that took the focus away from them was an annoying distraction. So it was an easy decision to cut these chapters, knowing I’d make them available in the future for those who were interested.

The first deleted chapter comes between 19 and 20 in the book. It describes more fully the fate that befell Steve, events that are alluded to in the epilogue. Besides being an unwelcome tangent, it is also written in a different style than the rest of the book. The first half and coda of the chapter are written from Steve’s mom’s perspective, and I tried to write it in a prim way that was almost a John Updike parody or something—that slick writing associated with suburban angst. Most of the second half of the chapter is from Steve’s point of view, and I had fun getting into his mind and following the rhythm of his thoughts. It came out like a Hubert Selby, Jr. homage, complete with funky punctuation. This description of the chapter probably makes it pretty obvious why it was cut.

The second chapter came between chapters 23 and 24. It shows what happened to Gerhard and his girlfriend, Heather. It felt particularly awkward because the last mention of Gerhard was roughly 60 pages before this chapter, and you hadn’t actually seen the character in well over 100 pages. So to have him pop up suddenly was jarring, to say the least. At this point, the drama of Justin and Sarah’s story is really picking up and even I as the author wasn’t particularly interested in anything else. I think my lack of enthusiasm shows in the writing—the resolution feels perfunctory and listless. Sadly, Gerhard and Heather are hardly missed, by either the reader or the other characters.

I hope they are amusing enough for anyone who is interested.

Chapter 19.5: The Good Life

Something insidious was occurring at the Thierry household.
            Pungent smoke wafted up the basement stairs, sneaked around the corner, and infiltrated the kitchen, making its presence known to the room’s two occupants.
            One of them, a Mrs. Samantha Anderson, who was seated on one of the stools by the island, wrinkled her nose in disgust. “What is that noisome stench?” she said, thoroughly aghast.
            Mrs. Thierry brought over two cups of tea. “What stench?” she said disingenuously.
            Samantha Anderson fixed her with a look both withering and incredulous. “What stench?” she repeated. “You can’t smell it? I mean, you really can’t smell it?”
            “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” She set a cup in front of her guest, along with a teaspoon. “Do you take sugar or Splenda?”
            “Just some cinnamon if you have it. Though I don’t know how I’ll be able to enjoy my tea in the midst of this nauseous cloud,” she added querulously.
            Mrs. Thierry briefly considered pretending she hadn’t heard this last comment before responding, “Well, we’ll just have to get through it somehow.”
            Samantha Anderson harrumphed and made little fidgety movements to let her host know that she was most displeased, to say the least. Mrs. Thierry quietly drank her tea, thinking, My Goodness, she’s acting like a sewage pipe had burst or something. This probably sealed it—Samantha Anderson would most likely never come over for tea again. And Mrs. Thierry, in turn, would probably not be invited over the Andersons’ home for this month’s book club meeting. In all likelihood, this would be their final get together, their interactions henceforth limited to polite comments after PTA meetings, if that. It was a prospect Mrs. Thierry regarded with equal parts relief and sadness.
            Her relief was understandable, because, well, What a bitch. But despite Samantha Anderson’s shortcomings in basic manners she was the only neighbor who would still even consider coming over in a social capacity. Everyone else on the street had already concocted excuses—elaborate and otherwise, with varying degrees of plausibility—to turn down any invitation Mrs. Thierry might extend. Cookouts, birthday parties, holiday bashes—nothing could entice the other housewives to bring their families over. Mrs. Thierry’s home was stigmatized, and Mrs. Thierry herself was treated like the community’s resident pariah. She eventually stopped receiving invitations to others’ homes as well.
            She reflected ruefully on the unfairness of her undeserved status. Her house was as neat and tidy as everyone else’s and was chock full of all the luxurious amenities one could want or need. She was a warm and cheery person, ready to greet people with a smile and a pleasant word. She had never wronged anyone, or done any of the sneakily underhanded things neighbors do to each other sometimes, like borrowing a hedge clipper and never returning it.
            It was just not her fault that no one wanted to be around her. (She would never be so haughty as to say this aloud, though in quiet, self-pitying moments she thought it to herself quite intensely.) And even though Paul, her husband, was not exactly the most friendly and gregarious fellow, he was not at fault, either. There were times, yes, she wished he would try to be more socially involved with the community. She remembered the one fairly large-scale party they hosted once when they were the newly arrived family on the block and how Paul had been such a wallflower, projecting a taciturnity and lazing by the pool all day (which was a good two feet wider than any other in-ground pool in the neighborhood, Mrs. Thierry noted with empty satisfaction). Maybe if he had made more of an attempt to befriend some of the other husbands and gone to the poker nights, the ballgames, the pool halls (all of which he had no interest in), maybe then they would both be in better standing with the people who now shunned them.
            Of course, a similar indictment could be leveled against the other men, too. If they had only taken the time to discover what Mrs. Thierry already knew—that underneath a cold exterior her husband was actually interesting and funny and clever—then they would want to come over and be in Paul’s company all the time.
            She just didn’t understand it.
            And as she sat there bemused on a stool in her kitchen, looking into her tea and saying nothing as her guest did the same, there was no telling anymore whether she was consciously deluding her herself of had honestly forgotten why no one wanted to be associated with her. Because she must have, at one time, known the reason—it was obvious.
            But it is true that strong emotions oftentimes cripple the senses, and maybe the love she had inside her had rendered her insensate, leaving her blind to what everyone else could so plainly see, deaf to what everyone tittered about behind her back, and oblivious to the distinct aroma that had convinced Samantha Anderson never to come back.

Oh God this was some top-flight stuff talking chronic-level ganja here.
            Steve sat back holding the blunt inches from his face soaking in the cloud that made him feel so at ease. He was so glad he kept for himself some of that stuff he sold Tommy. Its no wonder he drove right off the road this stuff was so good. He tried to remind himself to charge more for it but theres no telling if he would remember it when he came out of the feel-good haze.
            He looked around the room and thought for the numerous time that life was good. He had all he wanted and needed down here. He loved his posters all swirly-colored and his stereo he could pretty much blast as loud as he liked no matter if anyone else liked reggae or not he didnt care. And he loved his recreationals no doubt. People made fun he was well-aware but at the end of the day were they even happier than him? Nope.
            Nope he giggled. Rhymes with my favorite pastime. He sucked on the end of the la-filled churchill well-aware that the leaves were soaked at the end where he must of slobbered a little without realizing it but he didnt care he just inhaled deeply and felt all content.
            He was feeling so good that he wanted to feel a little better and reached underneath the cushions of the sofa he was sitting in and reached all around till he felt the appropriate plastic baggie and pulled it out full of fine white powder. Just a little extra kick something to bring him to a new higher level of well-being. He rubbed it between his fingers a little in anticipation then sat up and got down to business.
            There was no doubt that a nice big fat cocoa puff would hit the spot no doubt but he was way too mellow and comfortable to go to all the trouble of turning his blunt into a p-dog so instead he grabbed for the small hand mirror across the coffee table. He cleared off a spot in front of him moving bongs and bowls and empty bags of chips and all sorts of paraphernalia. He put the mirror straight-down in front of him and poured a healthy amount of snow down upon it and used his school id to arrange them in nice neat rows. He always wanted to use dollar bills for this but never seemed to have any around handy and now again this was the case. So he grabbed a stray zig-zag and rolled it up into a tube and was ready to blast off.
            He bent over the mirror snorted one line up and leaned back and let the feeling wonderful wash over him. So so good. This was turning into the best night ever.
            He bent back over to hoover up some more magic-happy when he stopped when he saw something standing over him. He took a moment trying to figure it out what he was witnessing exactly. He bent closer to the mirror to get a closer look and a part of him was well-aware that this was a ridiculous way of going about it because the thing was behind him but he did it anyway.
            It looked like halloween. Cloaked and everything. Just standing over him watching him. And he could do little but marvel at the sight wondering what was real or not.
            And as he was watching the things eyes glowed brightly red. His jaw fell open his blunt fell to the ground. He got scared so much so that he felt really sobered-up and things got really clarified all of a sudden.
            Im never doing drugs again he said out loud.
            The thing brought what looked like knives up and swung them down at Steve too paralyzed to react.

Mrs. Thierry closed the door behind Samantha Anderson and sighed heavily. She felt a bit melancholy, but was resolved to move on quickly and not spend one more second fretting about things beyond her control. In the end, she was happy with her life. She might not have a lot of friends, but she loved her home and she loved her family.
            She had a wonderful husband. Her daughter was currently excelling in an anthropology program at an Ivy League School. And her son was a unique, independent individual.
            Mrs. Thierry glanced at the basement door, which had been closed for a while. He was probably getting hungry down there, she thought. He hadn’t shown much interest in the dinner she had prepared earlier. She decided to go into the kitchen and make up some s’mores, figuring he wouldn’t be able to resist his favorite snack.
            She whistled a peppy tune as she pulled marshmallows out of the cupboard.
            Life was good, she decided.

Chapter 23.5: The Big Moment

The time had come. The moment he had been waiting for. It was finally going to happen.
            Gerhard could feel Heather enthusiastically mashing her face into his. He opened his eyes so he could witness this momentous event. He wanted to drink in all the sensuous pleasure he could. After weeks and weeks of holding out (and thousands and thousands of dollars spent), she was relenting to his carnal need. And it seemed that, despite her previous protests, she had needs of her own. She was all but attacking him, and he was loving it.
            He pressed his lips hard into hers, matching her intensity. He shifted in the driver’s seat to get a better grip on her, sliding his hands slowly down her back.
            “Oh god,” he gasped. “Yes. Yes!”
            “Wait,” Heather said, abruptly pulling away.
            Maybe she wants to climb over the stick shift and straddle me, Gerhard thought. Or maybe she’ll suggest we get in the backseat.
            But she remained separated from him, and the agitated look on her face was very worrisome.
            “What is it?” he asked, desperation seeping into his voice.
            She sat rigidly in her seat and stared out the window of the parked car. He reached over to rub her arm, but she flinched at his touch.
            “No,” she said in an almost inaudible whisper.
            She set her face defiantly. “I don’t wanna.”
            Gerhard felt his heart plunge inside him. “Why not?” he said, trying to remain calm.
            “Because why?”
            Heather’s expression became hostile. “Cuz goddammit, I’m the one that has to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow,” she snapped. “And I won’t be able to live with myself knowing I gave it up to you.”
            Panic filled Gerhard. His life-long dream was slipping through his fingers. “That’s no reason to just stop like that!” he sputtered.
            “I’d say it’s a pretty good reason,” she said with an air of finality. Her interdiction made loud and clear, Heather assumed a calm demeanor. She used the side mirror to freshen her lipstick.
            Gerhard looked at her in disbelief. “You, you . . . cocktease!” he managed to get out.
            She gave him an amused look. “Aw, did my big boy learn a new word?” she said in a mocking voice.
             Gerhard slammed the steering wheel in frustration, accidentally hitting the horn. “Dammit!” he blurted—the only ejaculation issuing from him tonight.
            Heather rolled her eyes. Then she saw something in the side mirror.
            “What the hell is that?” she said.
            Before she could elaborate, there was a loud thud above their heads. They both crouched down skittishly. Something heavy had landed on top of the car.
            “What’s going on?” Gerhard said fearfully. Heather could only shake her head, too scared to speak.
            As he reached out to open the door, the car started to shake violently. Heather screamed loudly, and Gerhard joined in.
            There was the groaning sound of twisting metal. The sides of the car caved in on them, along with the top, front, and back. All the windows blew out, sending shattered glass flying everywhere. The dashboard snapped in dozens of places. Gerhard and Heather were violently mashed into each other.
            The car’s frame continued to close in around them, like it was a piece of paper being crumpled into a ball.
            Gerhard felt stabbing pain all over his body as sharp pieces of metal entered his body. He shrieked wildly, unable to escape the vehicle’s confines, pinned by the mass of car parts collapsing around him.
            Heather’s face was right in front of his. Her eyes were wide open, but they were unfocused and lifeless. Blood flowed freely from her mouth, ears, eyeballs. She had stopped screaming, though her mouth remained wide open. Protruding grotesquely from her gaping mouth was a long pointy shard fashioned from the metal of her door. The tip was drenched in blood. It had penetrated the back of her head and was inching its way forward, through Heather and now easing toward Gerhard.
There was no space for Gerhard to struggle or thrash. The metal point that had impaled Heather was moving so slowly that Gerhard felt it make contact with his forehead before breaking the skin. Gerhard let out one last frantic scream.
            When the car eventually stopped moving, it resembled a heap of scrap metal. Oil leaked out of it, mingling with streams of blood. On a bit of polished surface where the car’s eggshell paint job could be seen, red eyes appeared. They lingered for a second, as if surveying its handiwork, then disappeared.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Casual Sunday

Or not-so-casual-Sunday, really. Happy Super Bowl Day everyone, the unofficial holiday that should totally be made official. (Really, does like Kohl’s need to be open today? I think not.) Hope everyone has a great day spending time with friends and family, and I hope all those who’ve wagered something on the game win (which is impossible, I know, but still).

My pick for the game? Well, I don’t really have a horse in this race (b-ball’s more my sport), but I think we are all culturally conditioned to root for our hometown team when they’re playing a big game (to the point where we actually feel sad when they lose—even if we don’t really care about the sport), so I have to go with the Pats here. (As if this post didn’t have enough parenthetical asides, can I just say that I’m surprised that ESPN doesn’t float around a memo telling their broadcasters to stop saying “I don’t have a dog in this fight”? I know Scott van Pelt is particularly fond of this unfortunate turn of phrase.)

So, for the record, I say 27-24 New England.

Take care,

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Editor Hall of Fame

Every author knows how invaluable a good editor is. I had a really great one work with me on Deadly Reflections. His name’s Noah Wright and he was everything an editor should be: patient, insightful, perceptive. I’m a pretty good editor of my own writing, but it’s impossible to catch every little solecism or inconsistency in the manuscript—especially when it’s your own stuff—and having a second pair of eyes that you can trust is extremely important.

Great editors do more than simply line edit manuscripts, though. They help shape the material, they help with tone and structure, and they help make the good stuff great and the great stuff magical. Behind every literary masterpiece is someone who played an integral role in its creation and didn’t get nearly the credit he or she deserved. But the authors themselves know it all too well. That’s why you see a lot of books dedicated to editors, along with other expressions of an author’s gratitude. (For a mere $25,000 you can own one of the few verified statements Thomas Pynchon has ever made—a heartfelt thanks to his editor.)

Maybe editors should have a more prominent credit in books, or any credit, really. When you think of their contribution, it’s a little baffling that they don’t get a little mention on the title page or somewhere on the first few pages. I’m not saying they should be mentioned on the cover (although I wouldn’t mind that at all), but, just as the cinematographer’s name can be found in the credits of every movie (while the director’s name is prominently displayed above the title in all promotional material), you should be able to find the editor’s name somewhere in the book. I plan on including a credit for Noah in future editions of Deadly Reflections as well as in any book he helps me with from this point on.

And I think there should be an Editor Hall of Fame. This would include the very best editors in the history of letters, the ones who represent the absolute zenith of their indispensable profession. Here are my suggestions for the three inaugural inductees…

Maxwell Perkins.

Edited: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe.

Mr. Perkins was the ur-editor extraordinaire, at least for American novels. He worked on the novels that became the foundation not only for the august Scribner’s publishing house, but also for the 20th century canon. He worked with a wide variety of authors, all with wildly varying temperaments. Mr. Perkins demonstrated an astounding versatility in the way he handled each individual—Hemingway needed a light touch, Wolfe was the kind of author who wrote reams and reams of words that had to be pared down to a publishable novel, and Fitzgerald required lots of patience (and personal loans, which Mr. Perkins never failed to grant upon request). Under Mr. Perkins’s guidance, these authors produced their best works, which included The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, and Look Homeward, Angel. Every editor holds Mr. Perkins up as the ideal, and every author would give anything to work with someone like him.

Robert Gottlieb.

Edited: Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, John Cheever.

Mr. Gottlieb is one of the last editors from an earlier generation still around. When he was starting out, he was one of a few people who believed in a particular author’s manuscript he thought was special. It was only a couple of chapters at that point, but over the next few years he worked with the author in developing the work and together they turned it into a novel spanning many hundreds of pages. Those short chapters became the first novel by Joseph Heller, Catch-22, an instant classic that did nothing less than enrich American idiom and change the way we think. Mr. Gottlieb went on to work with a panoply of other luminaries including John Gardner, Michael Crichton, and Bob Dylan. His fierce intelligence and enduring dedication make him one of the most respected people in the literary community.

Michael Pietsch.

Edited: David Foster Wallace, James Patterson, Alice Sebold.

Mr. Pietsch is the Executive Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown. He seems to handle all the big books over there, whether it’s Patterson’s thrillers, Keith Richards’s memoir, or new high-profile acquisitions like Chad Harbach’s The Art Of Fielding. But what earns him a spot in the Hall of Fame is the work he did with the late David Foster Wallace—specifically on Wallace’s important, generation-defining novel Infinite Jest, which Mr. Pietsch said he wanted to work on more than he wanted to breath. Wallace regularly praised Mr. Pietsch, never failing to bring him up during interviews (even going so far as to spell his name on the Charlie Rose show). By Wallace’s own admission, his books—which constitute the best writing by anyone of last fifteen years—would have been impoverished without Mr. Pietsch’s help, and for that, recognition must be given to one of the very best editors working today.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Top 10 Taylor Swift Songs

I wasn’t one of the first Taylor Swift fans ever, but I’ve liked her music for a while. My introduction to her was totally involuntary. It was 2007 and the radio at my work was stuck on the country music station for most of the year. I groaned inwardly at the prospect of coming to work and listening to fiddles and twangs all day, but after a while I didn’t really mind it. I realized that country music these days is just another subgenre of “pop music,” and no more unlistenable than top 40 stations or a hip-hop channel or whatever.

I eventually came to recognize and actually like some of what I was hearing. Miranda Lambert, Sugarland, and Alan Jackson were all ok in my book. But the song that absolutely wowed me was “Our Song” by a Ms. Taylor Swift. I loved that song. I’d find myself waiting for the song to be played and, when it came on, stopping everything to listen to it. It was pretty popular; I got to hear it three or four times a day.

After a few weeks, I decided that it was time to buy her album. I went to Best Buy and bought the deluxe edition of her self-titled debut album for $15. (Yes, the same one that routinely goes for $100 these days. Not stocking up on those and not buying Apple stock when it was $80 a share—my two great regrets of the last five years.) I took it home, played it, and loved everything. I don’t think I listened to any other music for months.

That year, I made a little 5 song CD to give to everyone at Christmas. It was the Best Songs of 2007, according to me. “Our Song” was, of course, number one. (Kanye’s “Stronger” was number two. J) (And lest you think it’s cheating to put it on a 2007 list since Taylor Swift was a 2006 album, I’d like to remind you that it was #1 on the country charts when I gave out the CD, so I think it’s fair to consider it a 2007 song.) It’s funny thinking back on that Christmas because at the time nobody had heard of Taylor. They all agreed that her name sounded made up. J It’s almost hard to believe that there was a time when people didn’t know who Taylor Swift was.

She’s certainly come a long way since, becoming a Global Megastar with three albums under her belt. I’ve obviously kept up with every release and I have to say she’s getting better and better. If she tops herself again with her next release—which should come out later this year—it will be really amazing.

Here is a list of my personal top ten favorite songs of hers…

♥♪ The Other Side Of The Door ♪♥

This is a bonus track on the Platinum Edition of Fearless. It’s such a sweet makeup song, told from the perspective of someone who is fighting with her boyfriend, but it’s the kind of fight that both parties wish they could end if they just knew how. The final lines are really cool—they reference a bunch of her old songs, like “Tim McGraw” and “Beautiful Eyes.”

♥♪ Jump Then Fall

Another bonus track off Fearless Platinum. (She has a predilection for putting really great songs as bonus tracks. “I’m Only Me When I’m With You”—from Taylor Swift Deluxe—is fantastic, and she liked “Ours” enough to make a video for it.) This song is so good, it could’ve easily been a top ten single.

♥♪ Sparks Fly ♪♥

This one had been floating around a while before Taylor put it on an album. It got such a positive reaction at concerts that she just had to make a studio recording of it eventually. The final version does not disappoint…it’s amazing.

♥♪ Long Live ♪♥

She’s described “Long Live” as about her fans, for her fans. It’s the final track of Speak Now and it’s got such a nice epic sweep to it, a sort of culmination of all the success she’s had in her career thus far. There’s even a nice melancholic moment toward the end—a reminder that nothing lasts forever, which gives it a poignant touch.

♥♪ Speak Now ♪♥

Her storytelling prowess is on full display here. The scenario she paints is so vivid, and the song is like an explosion of colors in music form. There is real emotion at the core of this fun song, and you have to love the giggle 3/4ths of the way in.

♥♪ Fearless ♪♥

This might be the perfect evocation of reckless young love. Her lyrics are direct and powerful, and the music complements it perfectly by not being too airy or frivolous. The whole song feels strong, sturdy… it’s a song that demands to be taken just as seriously as the sentiment it is attempting to convey.

♥♪ Love Story ♪♥

This is the song even people who aren’t Taylor Swift fans love. It’s just about the perfect pop song imaginable, just really catchy with an indelible chorus. An impeccably constructed gem of a song.

♥♪ Last Kiss ♪♥

She’s probably never been better lyrically than with this song, which has lines in it like “How you kissed me when I was in the middle of saying something / There’s not a day I don’t miss those rude interruptions.” The emotions go beyond callow sadness, into the deeper realm of mature regret. Pretty startling when you first hear it, and ultimately unforgettable.

♥♪ Enchanted ♪♥

Whether it’s “A Day In The Life” or “Like A Rolling Stone,” a great 6-minute song usually marks an evolutionary leap for a music artist, and “Enchanted” is Taylor’s great leap forward. It’s a perfectly modulated song, building at just the right pace to an awe-inspiring emotional peak. Taylor had never shown such masterful control of a song before this incredibly moving expression of yearning, and hopefully it’s a sign of even more tremendous things to come.

♥♪ Our Song ♪♥

This is still the one for me, almost 5 years after hearing it for the first time. I’ve never gotten sick of it; I could listen to it over and over again, still. It never fails to make me smile and feel happy. She really captured a magical sound with “Our Song” that continues to resonate with me and probably always will. “Play it again…oh yeah…”