Thursday, July 24, 2008

More changes to the Look Me in the Eye paperback

The biggest change of all was driven by the kids, moms and teachers in the audience . . . and it caused me to rewrite a significant fraction of the book . . .

I wrote Look Me in the Eye as an adult, and I imagined my readers would be adults, too. The language I used in the book was the language of the places I found myself, twenty or thirty years ago. Back then, I was in some edgy places, with some rough people. And the dialogue reflects that.

I know some of you have spent time in jail, or in the company of outlaw bikers or pool hustlers, pimps, crack dealers, or other lowlifes. You (those in that select group) are no doubt familiar with every term found in my hardcover book, and then some. But to my surprise, a significant fraction of the moms and teachers in this country do not have experience with those environments.

Many readers apparently accepted the dialogue for what it was, but some of you commented. And I listened to what you had to say, and I tried to sort out and analyze your comments. I thought, I’ll keep track of the comments by groups.

This is how I categorized your comments:

1-Son of a bitch! I love it when you swear!

2-Your mother should have washed your mouth out with soap talking like that!

3-I have no comment on your language, but I have to tell you what I thought about xxxxx

4-Greeting, Kind Sir. My late husband was Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria and he was killed . . .

After a few months, the trend was obvious. Category 1 contained no responses. None. Zero. Category 2 contained a fair number, more than #4, the Nigerian Scam. Category 3 was the biggest of all, with 93% of correspondents falling into this group.

Some writers would look at those statistics and say, 93% of your readers don’t care about language. So forget it! You have more people trying to run a Nigerian Con on you than complaining about language!

But I thought about that. And I thought some more. I got the statistics on book sales, and I looked at how many comments I’d gotten. I realized that no more than 2% of my book buyers actually wrote me. And that presented an alarming dilemma.

There is no way to know what the other 98% think.

Perhaps I could lurk outside a bookstore, and catch some, and interrogate them.

Then I started talking to schools. By talking to schools, I mean, I went into schools and talked with teachers and students about Asperger’s, and being different, and growing up, and all that entails. I saw the teachers sharing my stories with eleven and twelve year old kids, and I had this realization . . .

I don’t want kids reading that kind of language from me. You don’t use words like that with kids.
The total absence of comments praising my profanity convinced me it probably didn’t add anything.

And meanwhile, more and more teachers gave my book to more and more kids, and moms did the same.

I thought something should be done. Many people disagreed, saying I was nuts to contemplate changes. My editor said, It’s a bestseller just as it is! No one does that! I posted the dilemma on the Backspace and Absolute Write writer’s forums, and 100+ comments came in, most of which said, “Those are your words. Leave them alone!”

But I have always made my own way. I kept thinking of those kids with my book, and I resolved to change the book for them. I rewrote fifty pages of dialogue, and removed all the profanity. I didn’t change any stories. I just removed the swears. It reads just like it did before, only now, my grandmother would not wash my mouth out with soap if I read it to her.

And yes, that really happened, back in Georgia.

So now, I am proud to say, you can give the paperback Look Me in the Eye to your pre-teen or the kids in your class and there is no bad language in there. Nothing to make you cringe. There are still some bad stories, and some tough times, but real life is like that.

You grownup readers are still going to get exactly the same messages from the book. The absence of shits and damns won’t change the essence of my growing up and making my way, or how I think. And if you disagree, Crown is keeping the hardcover in print, so you can still buy the book in its original profane glory.

I realized I don’t need profanity to tell a story. The story is built upon my thoughts and actions and experiences and feelings . . . and profanity is not an essential part of that. Some of you (plenty of you, and me too) still swear some in real life, but a book like this is better off without it. I am convinced of that.

Time will tell if I made the right decision here. I think I did. What do you think?

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's not over yet

Last week it was animals. This week it’s wind. Our own environment is turning on us, like a rabid woodchuck or two cats in a sack.

Animals are often different when the moon is full, and last week was no exception. Our house sits in the middle of a circle of lawn, carved out of the South Amherst forest. Usually, the animals gaze placidly onto the lawn from the security of the underbrush, but last week, they became brazen, invading the lawn in the middle of the night.

We came within a hairs breadth of a takeover, with me, a flashlight, and a spear standing between humanity and aggressive Beasts. Five days later, they have retreated. I shine the flashlight around the perimeter, and the eyes are gone. For now. But when they return, I am ready.

I thought I could breathe easy, having driven the Animals back into the Forest. But of Friday, the Forest itself turned. I had always imagined the Forest as safe, calm, and predictable. Sure, I’d seen those movies where the trees walked and talked and grabbed unwary children, but I knew better. I knew that was just pretend.

But what happens when trees attack, for real?

We had thunderstorms in the afternoon, and things got violent. With the wind and rain, the Trees roared in rage, cracked, and flung huge pieces of themselves at unsuspecting targets all over Amherst. Two large tree chunks blocked both ends of Harkness Road, and ten other main streets were closed with splintered wood, leaf screens and power lines littering the roads. Even the rain has turned aggressive.

A car in Whatley was crushed like a bug, and the front page of today’s Springfield Union shows it lying dead in a pool of wood chips and car gore, next to its owner’s home. It almost made it. Just twenty feet more and it would have been safe . . .

And I realized they can do it again and again, like marauding earthworms, because trees and worms have one thing in common: They both have the ability to re-grow limbs. It may take years, but they do it, and then they’re ready to strike again. Trees grow at such a slow pace that a single tree has the potential to attack several generations of unsuspecting humanity.

When you think about it, it’s no wonder people cut the trees down and plant big lawns. But what’s underground? Worms. And I can just see it now. When I dig in the garden, I see they are getting bigger. And they don’t crawl and hide anymore. Now, some rear back and strike, like snakes. I wonder if they’re growing teeth. They are getting ready to rise.

But I have a flamethrower.

I wish the Chemistry people had not dumped those chemicals in the landfill back in the sixties. But who knows? Maybe it’s the Air Force’s fault, dumping stuff at Westover. Whatever the cause, the die is cast. It’s too late to turn back.

Saturday and Sunday the rains returned, and with them came more downed trees. Cars were flooded, stomped, or vaporized by lightning. Fearful and crazed cattle rampaged on Northeast street.

Is this global warming? Where will it end?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the dark of night

The animals are changing. They are taking back the night. Or perhaps, they always owned it, and I never knew.

Last night, Cubby and I came home late from the TMS sessions in Boston. At we pulled into the driveway, we saw a flash of gray at the walkway around the garage. “It’s a cat,” Cubby said. But it was a little big for a cat . . . and it wasn’t quite the right shape. We drove closer. It was a coyote.

And it didn’t run. It looked at us, then turned and walked down into the yard. I should stress that. It looked back at us, and walked. Not ran. That, I thought, was unusual. In my experience in the woods, bears and moose sauntered. Coyotes and fox ran. What had changed?

Perhaps Cubby was right . . . the chemicals from the old landfill were affecting the wildlife in strange and ominous ways. Smaller animals were obviously pondering the possibility that maybe – just maybe – we could be food.

Cubby and I took the flashlight from the trunk, and went down the lawn after it. Secure in our position at the top of the food chain, we trotted briskly and shined the light ahead. We found him at the edge of the yard, by the fireplace. Staring back at us. We walked forward, and he backed up. Step for step.

We went forward, and he went back. We went back, and he went forward. After a while, we returned to the house. An hour later, we heard hoots. Stepping out onto the deck, I shined the light and there he was, right where we’d left him. I walked back down the steps and crossed the yard. This time, he stood his ground till I was twenty feet away – almost spear range.

I heard another noise, and looked behind me. To my surprise, there was another set of eyes between me and the house. How did that happen? Suddenly, I realized the truth. It doesn’t matter if I think I am at the top of the food chain. What matters is what they think. And it was clear they were not certain. I remembered the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

They may be small, but there is strength in numbers.

We looked at one another. I advanced on the one on the lawn, and he retreated into the woods. How many more were there? Obviously, the situation was not as it had seemed. I circled the house, and met another dark shape at the edge of the flowerbeds. It melted into the brush, and I kept going – all the way back inside.

I listened to the hoots and cries as I went to sleep.

I’ll consider perimeter security and defense in the morning.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Changes to the Paperback and news of the book tour

Some books come out first in paperback. Book enthusiasts and marketers call those titles "paperback originals." Other books come out in hardcover, and then a while later, a paperback version is released. That's how Look Me in the Eye came out. The hardcover was released last September, and the paperback comes out six weeks from now, this September 9th.

You can preorder your copy here: http://www.amazon.com/Look-Me-Eye-Life-Aspergers/dp/0307396185/ref=ed_oe_p

It will be interesting to see how the paperback orders compare to hardcover orders. Personally, I try to buy hardcover books because I keep them in my library and I just like them better. But I know I'm in the minority. There's always that talk about cheaper prices, pocket sized, foldable, etc. I would have thought schools would buy hardcovers for ruggedness, but the academic marketing folks at Random House tell me almost all their sales are paperback. For my brother's books, the ratio of paperback to hardcover sales has been more than 20:1. Then there are other titles where the ratio is less than 1:1. I wonder what mine will turn out to be?

99% of the time, the paperback version of a book is identical to the hardcover. But I've always been a 1% kind of fellow, and I couldn't resist the chance to tinker with that book just one more time, so I made some changes. Quite a few changes, actually. I'll tell you about some of them here.

The first thing I did was to add a new chapter. I added a 2,700 word postscript describing what I've learned since Look Me in the Eye was written. Why did I do that? I'm glad you asked.

I wrote Look Me in the Eye essentially in isolation. I didn't refer to other books on autism or Asperger's, and I didn't talk to anyone outside my circle of friends. As a result, I didn't really know which thoughts, feelings, and behaviors described in the book were unique to me, and which were characteristic of people on the spectrum. Today, I still don't know for sure, but I've got a considerably better idea. I've described some of those insights in a bit more detail. I've drawn some comparisons with other works, and even hidden the Great and Profound secrets of the world in the subliminal text.

And that's not all . . .

When I wrote LMITE, I thought most readers would be like me. Freaks and misfits on the loose. To my surprise, that notion turned out to be wrong. Many, many readers turned out to be teachers, guards, or inmates serving time in our country's Educational System. I realized something had to be done for those people. Freaks on the loose just read books. Inmates in schools STUDY them. So I got together with the folks at Crown, and we devised a study guide, filled with the kind of questions I would ask. Armed with my study guide, next year's middle school students can debate the fine points of wife selection, rock'n'roll, and motorcycle riding.

I actually think the reading and study guide may find uses outside of school. We'll see.

But that's not all . . .

I made changes in dialogue, and in the Reading and Resources, and other secret places. The paperback is almost twenty pages longer, which makes it an even better value. I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but you are going to be buying my very best quality of thought for just three point seven cents a page, at street prices. What do you say to that? There's a few hundred words on each of those pages . . . the price per word is just so low, it's almost nothing. A few of you might want to thank me for delivering all those words almost free, but you should also thank my publisher's parent company – Bertelsmann – and their Berryville Graphics printing subsidiary. It's their massive printing and distributing capacity that makes it all possible.

If I had to print those books myself, here at home, you can be sure I'd charge a lot more than three cents a page. You and I can't even buy paper and cartridges for our inkjets for that price!

I'll tell you about some more of the changes in coming posts.

Now I have some book tour news . . .

My Opening Day appearance is going to be at River Run books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. http://www.riverrunbookstore.com/ I hope some of you New England readers are able to join me. Portsmouth is a very pretty town on the coast, and it's just a short drive from there to the historic US Navy shipyards. I love to visit ships and shipyards, and bookstores too.

A few of you have asked about Boulder . . . I'll be appearing at the Boulder Bookstore, and I'll have an exact date very soon.

I also have an answer for those of you who say, Why aren't you coming to my city?

The simple truth is, you did not get together and make it happen. But there's still time.

It may surprise you to read that the cities we select for book tours are driven by readers like you. You and your friends go into a local bookseller, and you say, "We love this book! Can you get the author here?" You get the bookseller motivated, and he calls the publisher and says, "I have a bunch of readers who love this book! Can you send the author here?" And that's what happens. This time, 187 readers in Boulder beat out 119 readers in Denver. It's truly an example of the triumph of motivated special interest groups. So you see, little cities with big readers can still win, and so can you. Go marshal your friends and fellow readers.

If we have enough demand, and if I have enough energy, we will do more bookstores in more cities. Since I like bookstores, there's a pretty good chance that will happen.

And there's more . . .

I also have some open dates on my fall/winter lecture tour. If you would like me to come speak at your school, or to your school board, or to your autism society, or wherever . . . contact Lauren Verge at the Lavin Agency and they'll make it happen. There's a link to Lavin on the right sidebar.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Planning the fall book tour

We’re finally starting to put together a tour for the paperback release of Look Me in the Eye, which goes on sale September 9. Most paperbacks are merely less expensive versions of the hardcover, but mine is actually changed and improved in addition to being price-engineered. Furthermore, thanks to TMS research, I myself am changed and improved. Now, you can see it all, live and in person. It should add up to an entertaining spectacle.

And actually, fuel costs being what they are, paperback tours are a bit of an oddity this year. Luckily, though, I thrive on oddity. And now it’s time to ask all of you for help. I’ve got a preliminary list of places, but I depend upon you to gather an audience.

The list of cities I’m visiting was initially determined by my publisher, who looks at your requests, nationwide sales trends and requests from booksellers. We (I say “we” because we share the paperback travel costs) then weigh the timing and travel issues, and come up with a firm schedule, which should happen within 2 weeks.

Here’s a partial but mostly complete list of cities.

Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco, CA

Seattle, WA

Portland, OR

Dayton, OH

Chicago, IL

Boulder, CO

Las Vegas, NV

Miami, FL

Burlington, VT – I’ll be at the Burlington Book Festival the second weekend of September.

Newburyport, MA

Boston, MA – I’m appearing at the Asperger Association conference on October 9, but I’ve also been invited to some bookstores and colleges later on

For the most part, these are all cities I did not reach on my original hardcover tour. If you live in any of these cities, and you’re interested in hooking me up with local schools, autism groups, Asperger groups, parent organizations, etc . . . I’d love to hear from you. All of these book tour appearances will be free of charge, and open to the public.

If you work in media in any of these cities, I’d love to hear from you too . . .

My publicist is Ava Kavyani, akavyani@randomhouse.com

My official mom/school liaison is Jan Anderson, jananderson@cox.net

And I am still at john@johnrobison.com

If you want me to appear just for you, someplace else, there’s a link to the folks at Lavin (my lecture agents) on the right sidebar. Lavin books my college appearances, and my engagements with boards of education, private schools, and professional societies. We still have a few open dates for them.

Once again, I hope to meet a bunch more of you bloggers in person. And with names like Anti Wife or Sex Scenes, who wouldn’t want to meet you in person? I’ll even go on a diet and exercise so I’ll be bright-eyed and alert for the occasion.

It’s good to be getting going again . . .