You’ve already beat them, why not join them?

An open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Dear Jeff, or, if I may, el Jefe:

Friends tell me I’m foolish to offer this idea to you, gratis, but I’m thinking that in your wisdom—and all that data you’ve been collecting on us—you’ve already thought of this.

You need to open Amazon Indie Bookstore in a neighborhood near me. While it may seem weirdly anachronistic to you, immersed as you are in artificial intelligence and algorithms that I couldn’t possibly understand, it entirely makes sense.

This is what you do: Buy up some former big box retail warehouses that have been shuttered because of—how do I put this delicately?—Amazon. On the front end of these stores, you’d have an awesome bookstore that would actually sell the books that Amazon Publishing publishes (we both know that no one else seems to want them)—and on the back end, you’d have one of your “fulfillment centers”—more on that lovely euphemism in a moment—where you could get me and other Prime customers our merchandise pronto, like today. And stocking it should be no problem, since you’re already reading our minds.

Not far from me, there’s a Loehmann’s that is no longer. All that empty space, just waiting for the Amazon Book Store and fulfillment center. The shopping center is called Loehmann’s Plaza. Just think of it: Amazon Plaza. Don’t tell me you don’t like it. And surely you know that where I live, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, we’re in the middle of one of the best read areas in the country. Seems to me you also own a newspaper or some such thing hereabouts. Just spitballing the synergies here.

And you really do need to humanize Amazon, el Jefe. Make it approachable. Maybe the bookstore itself would be a wash, but just think of people like me, a stone’s throw away, coming to pick up all that stuff I really don’t need, but could not pass up. You don’t need drones or UPS or FedEx. You’ve got us, already drones, already here, ready to buy and pick up.


And about that fulfillment center thing. Personally, I hate the term “wellness center.” Wellness is, well, all well and good, but I want fulfillment, and I’m not talking about packing up stuff and shipping it out—but you knew that.

A fulfillment center could be so much more. Think of it: In a fulfillment center everyone would be in the moment and in a Zen-like state of pure flow. Even saying fulfillment comes close to nirvana. Glass not just full but overflowing. Golden, heavenly light. Which seems not to be the case with many of your fulfillment center employees. That’s another story, but think about it. Bookstore near me. Real fulfillment.

Eat Your Yard

My First Artichoke!


my first artichoke

My First Artichoke

Last year, I tried to grow artichokes—got a plant from my go-to herb and tea man, Sabry Alsharkawi of Sharkawi Farms at the Annandale farmer’s market, where I’ve been going for years—nearly 20, I’d guess—but didn’t have a lot of luck, and then with the crazy winter, it didn’t make it. Likely it was that I didn’t do my due dilligence on preparing the soil.

Here in my neck of the woods, it’s a pretty solid clay—which may partly explain the lack of cicadas in my neighborhood. This year, plenty of compost. This morning, I went out to get the newspaper, and there it was, my first artichoke. This is the same kind of plant that I got from Sabry, but got it a month or two before the FM opened.

Came from DeBaggio’s Herbs, as a lot of my plants do. If you’re in the NOVA/DMV area, you owe it to yourself to check them out. They’re not the cheapest in the world, but they certainly are reliably high quality. Several of my raspberry bushes came from there.

This is what DeBaggio’s has to say about this variety: “Cynara scolymus ‘Imperial Star’. 85 days. This is the first artichoke developed for the home gardener. Generally hardy in our area but may need some protection. Plants are easy to grow, reach 3 to 4 feet tall and produce 6 to 8 mature edible buds. Thomas Jefferson grew artichokes at his Montecello home.”

Can’t wait to try them when there are some more (knocking on wood, crossing fingers).

The Voice vs. The Pen

I have no idea, really, why I started watching The Voice. Generally speaking, I have very little interest in “reality” television or in singing contests. So, what’s to account for my unaccountable affection for this singing contest? This is actually something that gave me a bit of pause, but in the end it seemed to remind me of some of the best qualities of writing workshops, especially those intensive writers conferences, like Bread Loaf. When the coaches get down to coaching, to criticising and complimenting their contestants—and despite all the “I love yous”—you get the impression that they tend to treat these mostly young, sometimes very young, people as peers, with real affection for their talent.

The show has even gotten better this year with the addition of Shakira and Usher. The latter, in particular, adds a kind of adds a kind of wacky athleticism to the program.

It’s clear, from the outset, that the contestants are talented, even if much of the music I don’t care much for, and some of them are extraordinarly talented, and so there’s none of that sort of drive-by gawking at people making fools of themselves that I once saw on American Idol. All of the coaches are clearly committed to craft, and so when they’re working through technical aspects of performances, or criticizing them, you can see that they know what they’re talking about. Wouldn’t it be cool to have that kind of show (what’s the tier below basic cable?) and coaching for writers?

In my more fatuous moments, I imagine a program called The Pen. The panel would be eclectic. I imagine Stephen King or even George Pelecanos as the Blake Shelton Continue reading

The Bob Delusion Update

I completed my novel, THE BOB DELUSION, earlier this year and more or less haven’t touched it since. That’s because “completed” and “finished” are two different things. I’m utterly convinced that it’s a good and in some ways inventive novel (if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have spent six years working on it.) Right now, it’s the best that I can make it on my own. I’ve got it out on submission to about 15 agents (although I’m not even totally certain that I am going to need one) and one publisher (the real point of this post), and though it’s been a while, I have heard from only two. Given that it’s still out there, you can guess what the response was.

It’s remarkable to me how much the publishing industry has changed in the years that have intervened between the time when I worked at Berkley Publishing, The Ellen Levine Agency, and later, Viking Penguin—this was the late eighties and early nineties, before you were born, probably. Before Putnam Berkley and Viking Penguin made nice-nice and merged, or whatever the deal was. Of course, a lot of this change has to do with computers, but mostly with the Web. When I was at Berkley, David Shanks was the only one who had a computer in his office. At Viking, I don’t remember seeing very many, except on the desk of people who set the type. But the biggest change for me is the submission process.  Continue reading

Bundle Fever

Both MacUpdate and MacLegion have attractive $49.00 bundles of Mac software going right now. I’ve bought a few of these bundles in the past, and to my mind, the MacUpdate one is slamdunk easy, as it includes the latest version of Parallels, which is worth the price by itself. But MacLegion also has Toast, which is also worth the price by itself.

Here’s what MacUpdate’s bundle looks like:

screenshot of MacUpdate bundle spring 2012


And here’s the MacLegion bundle:

MacLegion Bundle


Thank You

I’d like to thank everyone who has downloaded the Kindle ebook edition of The Final Appearance of America’s Favorite Girl Next Door. It’s been free for a couple of days now, and I’m really thrilled that thousands of people around the world have taken the time to download and, I hope, read it.

If you do read it, please take a few moments to review it. I mean this sincerely — love it or hate it, or somewhere in between — let other people know what you think.

The good folks at Free Kindle Books and Tips have made it easy to find, wherever you happen to be. Just use this smart link.

Happy holidays and happy reading.

James Salter at the Folger

Way back when (1988, to be exact), I bought, read, and loved James Salter’s book Dusk and Other Stories, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1989. So I was excited to hear him read when he accepted this year’s PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the short story at the Folger last weekend. I have a fairly extensive collection of autographed books—this happens if you go to readings and writers conferences and tend to fetishize books—and so Continue reading