A Thank You and a Promise

A heartfelt thanks to all those who participated in the free-ebook promotion of my novel, Problems of Translation, this past July 2-4!  Many thanks to those who shared the information about the promotion, and of course, to those who downloaded their free copy of the ebook.  Hope you enjoy the novel, and if you do, please tell your friends and, if you have a moment, write a review on Amazon.

For those of you who don’t yet know, it’s the story of Charles Abel Baker, a short story writer who travels around the world attempting to get one of his short stories translated successively into 10 different languages before returning it to English.  That’s why I subtitled it Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness.

Thanks to the promotion (and your sharing and downloads), Problems has more potential readers–and, I hope, reviewers on Amazon– not only in the US, but in Germany, the UK, Canada, India, Spain, and Japan, as well!  What’s not to love about that? (Actually, when I learned of that first order from Japan, I was momentarily convinced it was downloaded by Haruki Murakami, since he’s the only Japanese writer who is specifically mentioned in my novel. But on reconsideration, that didn’t seem likely, since the chance that he knows about my novel is outrageously slim.)

In any event, thanks to everyone, and for those of you who haven’t yet purchased a copy, please avail yourselves of the fun.

And my promise is that in the very near future I’ll descend from my state of enrapture with my own novel and go back to doing more blogs about other people’s writing, not just my own.  Actually, I’m reminded that I have two such in the recent past. See my review of Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron (6/20/15) and also of Robin McLean’s book of short stories, Reptile House (June 27).

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Problems of Translation - Front CoverYES! Free! Bupkes. Nada. Niente. Zilch. Zéro. (Feel free to translate into additional languages!)

In an effort to get my novel Problems of Translation into even more hands (and with my permission, of course), Amazon is running a sale–on the Kindle ebook edition only–for a three-day period starting tomorrow. That’s July 2nd through the 4th. Just go to  the Amazon page for the Kindle edition of Problems of Translation (click here!) on Thursday, Friday or Saturday to collect your copy!

If you haven’t heard about Problems, it’s the story of writer Charles Abel Baker’s quest to see one of his short stories translated successively into ten different languages before returning it to English. Unable to get a publisher to back his ploy, he travels around the world to accomplish his goal himself, winding up in trouble almost everywhere he goes. The subtitle, after all, is Charlie’s Comic, Romantic, Terrifying, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness, and that pretty much says it all. Well, not all, of course, since there are subplots involving dueling CIA operatives and romance, along with many other surprises.

Wonderful reviews and comments continue to accrue. Recently got a nice one from Kirkus! And then there was that person who wrote: “Alice in Wonderland for 21st century adults” and gave it five stars! Still, who can top Gary Shteyngart’s evaluation? “An insanely amusing adventure with a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core.”

And now, for a brief time, you can get it for . . . let’s see . . . what was that price again? . . . oh, yes, free. So, if you haven’t read it yet, get it now! And please tell your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, your minister, your rabbi, your mistress – woops! – I didn’t say that! Oh, and please remember to write a review for the good folks at Amazon!


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Bold. Brilliant. Imaginative. Scary. Meet Robin McLean’s “Reptile House”

Once you’ve read these nine stories, forgetting them is as unlikely as discovering the end-point of pi. Kissing cousins to George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, and perhaps even Don DeLillo, they are nonetheless powered by a distinctive new voice. McLean dives fearlessly through the Looking Glass; she scrubs the psyche raw, perhaps in an effort to get even closer to what constitutes “reality”. Like lifting up a rock to see what’s crawling underneath. Ever wonder what Real, REAL COLD is like, and what it might make you do? How about having dinner with giraffes while an amulet of yours rides the cosmos with an expiring lady cosmonaut? And what happens after a man sees a snake in a zoo swallow another snake will chill your blood.

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I imagine I am interviewing Jim Shepard.

“Jim,” I say. “Yes, Jim?” he says.

“Choosing a kid to tell the story. Choosing that kid to tell the story. Such a brave and brilliant choice! A boy so unremarkable that he becomes . . . remarkable. It seems to me you’re straddling a line here. A balancing act. A kid who breaks things. A kid who can’t even learn the alphabet. A kid whose own uncle chooses to call him What Were You Thinking?

“By some people’s reckoning, a throwaway kid. And, first to last, everything told through his eyes. Someone getting shot, someone going hungry, someone else getting shot, someone else going hungry, someone getting knocked down, bludgdeoned; him getting knocked down, bludgeoned. Someone getting shot because of him. This kid’s birds-eye view of a great, great man weeping, ranting, begging—and still every emotion filtered through Aron’s tiny, budding yet already wizened little soul. What a choice! How did you make it?”

I have no idea what he would answer. Perhaps, “It chose me?”

Nor does it matter. I am not interviewing Jim Shepard. I am sitting in a chair having just finished his book, and I am crying. I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry.

The Book of Aron is an astounding accomplishment. Not just because of the author’s choice of protagonist, but because of the extraordinary skill with which Shepard carries it off, the choice of tone and style, the choice of what to say and what to leave out of the awful, bone-chilling, unbelievable (yet all too believable) occurrences in the Warsaw ghetto and the fate of its Jewish inhabitants, including the children.

At the end, in my interview, I would say, “Jim?”

And he would reply, “Yes, Jim?”

And I would say, “Mazel tov! And wow!”

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Problems of Translation at BEA 2015Big day at the Javits Center yesterday, as the latest Book Expo America kicked off, and Problems of Translation, my new novel, magically appeared on the shelves of the New Titles Showcase. An image of the cover also winked out at me from the New Titles digital display, as well as from the printed catalogue. I happily posed for a picture pointing it out.The Author and His Novel at BEA 2015

In any event, even though it might not be making quite as hefty a splash as some other new titles, like those of Jonathan Franzen or John Irving, for example, I could not have been prouder to have it acknowledged at the BEA! And people were once again admiring my cover!

Meanwhile, one of my recent readers confided that she was already casting the characters in my book for her imagined film version. Say what? Oh, yes! Not only was she convinced it would make a great film, but did I think Julia Roberts was an appropriate choice for Svetlana? Well, should it ever come to pass that Hollywood comes clamoring at my door, I think I’ll leave that to the casting director. Right now I just hope that those who read it have a pleasant smile on their face when they turn the last page!

On another note, but still talking about film, I noticed that the movie version of Ben Fountain’s wonderful, sad, poignant, funny novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, is scheduled to be released on November 11. When it first came out, I personally nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize (see my blog posts of September 24 & December 9 of 2012), and an NYU professor proclaimed it a “masterpiece,” but it got snubbed by the Pulitzer people and won a National Book Critics Circle Award instead. (Not too shabby!) I can only hope the film does some justice to that brilliant book.

Problems of Translation - Front CoverOh! And if you’re interested in getting a copy of Problems of Translation, it’s available on Amazon in print and ebook.

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Got a really nice write-up in the OSARC newsletter the other day about my book, Problems of Translation. What, you inquire, is OSARC? I thought you’d never ask!

My various writer’s bios (tailoring them to fit the occasion) might or might not attest to the fact that, in addition to my days as college professor, poet and writer of short stories and novels, I’ve also been a bartender, an actor, a cab driver, a banker, a blues singer, a newspaper editor, and a shoe salesman, as well as one of those guys who passes out leaflets on street corners.  What almost none of them will tell you is that I worked for the City of New York for 22 years, specifically for the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, helping design, then administering educational programs. In that capacity, I belonged to a professional union called the Organization of Staff Analysts, whose retirees arm is called the Organization of Staff Analysts Retirees Club (hence OSARC). On page 8 of their May Newsletter they wrote the following headline: “OSARCer Jim Story’s Buzzed-About Novel Goes on Sale.”  Buzzed-about!  I love it!

The article goes on to quote Gary Shteyngart, who you may remember called my book, “An insanely funny adventure that has a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core,” as well as to mention other advanced praise the book has been receiving, and finally lists many of the altogether curious adventures my hero, Charles Abel Baker, gets himself into—in Russia, in China, in Mexico and elsewhere.

While wit and side-splitting (belly-shaking?) hilarity are not, I hope, the only thing to be found in my book, I’m nevertheless proud of the fact that so many people are finding pleasure in the book’s humor, and felt even prouder when I came across the following quote in last week’s New York Times Book Review. The reviewer, while writing about Saul Bellow, quoted the well-known critic Clive James: “Common Sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. Those who lack humor are without judgment and should be trusted with nothing.”

“A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” I like that!

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Problems of Translation - Front CoverAt last!

My novel, Problems of Translation, or Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness, has finally become available as a paperback on Amazon! (E-book shortly.) Check it out!

For those of you who’ve never heard of my book, and are puzzled by that seemingly cockamamie subtitle, you might be among those who’ve always thought literary translation was a simple act, hey? You perhaps never supposed that trying to get a  a short story translated might suck you into an international brouhaha? Never realized it could result in your being pursued by the CIA? Never dreamed it could force you to fly a Gulfstream jet over China when its pilot died? Or that it might land you in the lair of a drug cartel? Create some squirrely hi-jinks in a Karnataka cave? That it could even lead to heavy-breathing ROMANCE? Think again!

After all, this is the book that Gary Shteyngart called, “An insanely amusing adventure that has a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core.”

In any event, I’m very excited that the book is finally here!

SO!  To those who’ve heard me read parts of this novel at the Cornelia Street Café over the past five or six years, and who’ve waited right along with me to see the book finally brought to fruition, the wait is over! For those of you who are newbies, feel free to dip your toes in the water. I hope you all enjoy it!

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I find myself actually trying to dampen the exhilaration I feel, but really, I’m walking on air from all the pre-publication comments my comic novel, Problems of Translation, due out early this year, is getting. I keep having to pinch myself.

Consider this: Gary Shteyngart called my book, “An insanely funny adventure that has a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core.”

Those words are especially pleasing, of course, coming from a man who not only wrote the hilarious, best-selling Little Failure and the wonderful, heartbreaking Super Sad True Love Story, as well as The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan!

And consider the comments of Robert Roth, Health Proxy author and co-creator and editor of the litmag, And Then. Roth wrote, in part: “The greatest comedians by the slightest of gestures—maybe an arching of an eyebrow or a pregnant pause—can send an audience falling off their seats in laughter. There are moments in Problems of Translation, where even a ‘The’ at the beginning of a sentence would have me laughing out loud. For I knew something wild, uproarious and totally unexpected was about to happen next.” He goes on to call Problems a “…comic masterpiece, an adventure, a mystery story of intrigue, betrayal and total absurdity….”

Or how about the words of Hilary Orbach? Orbach (Transgressions and Other Stories) enjoyed my character’s “ lively and sometimes disastrous romp. . ., ” and my “engaging style, … turbulent imagination,” “seemingly inexhaustible fund of cultural and literary lore,” and “passion—indeed, as he calls it, a ‘reverence’—for language.” And Edith Grossman, the award-winning translator of Cervantes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Mario Vargas Llosa, found my novel “A fascinating look at the issues of translation, publishing, and an unglamorous middle-age.”

And there’s Ron Story (no relation), to cite another example. Story is Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love, among other fine titles. He wrote that Problems has “…touches of true poignancy that don’t, however, delay the progress of the story toward its delectable conclusion. It’s pretty much perfectly done.”

All of which seems to justify the subtitle I recently conferred on my book: Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness.

The book is due out in a few months, and when that happens, I hope that others of you out there will enjoy the book as much as these folks have! Meanwhile, have a Happy, Merry, Prosperous, Peaceful and Exhilarating New Year!

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A few days ago I wrote the following lines:

So where would I move? Ames asks himself as the first cold snap in New York City bares its teeth in the middle of November, 21 degrees with the wind chill. I could move to Florida and get swept away by a hurricane, he thinks. I could move to Oklahoma and get sucked up by a tornado. I could move to California and be consumed by a wildfire. To Washington, and get buried in a mudslide. Or maybe Arizona?  Only to be slaughtered by some crazy in a movie theater, right? I mean really, where would I move?

“Ames turns the corner onto West 90th Street, trudging homeward with the wind off the Hudson in his face.”

And today? What would I write today?  The weather outside is a balmy 70 degrees. Seventy degrees! My mood has totally altered. Who can keep up?

Now. To seemingly change the subject as dramatically as the weather has shifted over the past few days, how about listening to my latest story on the crap shoot the literary marketplace has become? And no, this story isn’t about me or my efforts to get published. (Though it may be an appropriate place to remind my readers that my novel, Problems of Translation, will be published early next year, and that on December 10, at 6 pm at the Cornelia Street Cafe, I’m giving a reading from it. Ahem. Subtle, hey?)

But back to that story. A writer (I won’t mention his name but he’s someone who has already won awards) writes a short story. He sends it to a particular literary magazine. It gets rejected. He decides he still likes it, so he continues to send it, over a period of two years, to every literary magazine he can think of, without success. Then he notices that the magazine he sent it to first has a new editor, so once again he sends it there and, this time, it’s accepted. Mission accomplished, you might think.  But is that the end of the story? No. After appearing in that magazine and becoming noticed, it gets included, along with hundreds of others, in a group that gets winnowed down and winnowed down and it finally appears as one of twenty in the Best American Short Stories of 2012.  What’s the moral?  Persistence pays?  Or Serendipity rules?

Sometimes it’s bitter cold; sometimes it’s balmy; you never know.

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Problems of Translation Strikes Again at Cornelia Street Cafe

PostcardImage_240Hello there!  My apologies for the long silence!  Someone has recently complained to me that he doesn’t know what to read anymore because I stopped recommending!

So I promise to start writing more frequently again, about the variety of topics that intrigue me–chiefly books– but, at the moment, this column is to let you know that I’ll soon be on the boards again, giving one of my twice-yearly readings.  December 10, as a matter of fact, and you are all cordially invited.

What will you get when you come to the Cornelia Street Cafe on that evening and slap down your $8 admission fee ? First of all, a glass of wine or other beverage of your choice but, more importantly, me! I’ll be reading from my own fiction, as I’ve done for the last seven years, but this particular evening will feature the novel you’ve been getting snippets of every now and then and will soon (yes! early next year) be published so that you can read the whole thing. Really! Problems of Translation is finally being published, in both paperback and kindle editions. I’ll keep you posted as to the progress–and the Book Party!–but on Wednesday, December 10, at 6 pm, please come and hear yet another excerpt, plus whatever new stuff I have time to read.

Problems of Translation, as some of you know, is a comic adventure, or as my newly created subtitle has it, Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy, Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness.

And that ain’t all!  In addition to me and your glass of wine, you’ll get another award-winning author and reader of fiction, Eva Lesko Natiello, who will be reading from and signing copies of her recently published novel, The Memory Box. Her debut novel has already attracted its own fan club on Amazon, but I’m assured that Eva will have paperback copies to purchase, if that’s your preference. The Memory Box is a psychological suspense thriller: You won’t guess where it’s going and, later, you won’t believe where you’ve been!

As an additional bonus, you might even get to hear the great Ringmaster, Angelo Verga, introduce us!

PostcardImage Side 2_240So that’s what you get for your $8, kiddos, and I think it’s plenty. Please come and enjoy yourself!  Dissipate that December gloom! It’s a great way to kick off the holiday season!

If you want to know more about both Eva and myself, here’s a link to the Events Page of the Cornelia Street Cafe that explains it all:  http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com/downstairs/Performances.asp?sdate=12/10/2014&from_cal=0.

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