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I have no tears and I must cry

When I was a sophomore in high school, Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison was banned from our campus library. So naturally I went to the public library, checked it out, and read it cover-to-cover. That book, in all its dark, twisted, brilliant complexity, made me want to be a writer. In part because it’s a fantastic collection of genre-destroying short stories. But also, because it was the first time I realized that books could cause people to absolutely lose their shit.

From that point on I began a decades-long quest to read everything that Harlan had ever written.

But along the way, what I savored most were his collections of personal essays, most of which had originally appeared in The Freep (LA Free Press) in the 70s. These pieces—ranging from politics, to the death of his parents, the girl who broke his heart again and again and again, to gonzo-journalism restaurant reviews—were funny, incendiary, and revealed a certain vulnerability. 

For me, these books were cathartic. I found myself hiding in bookstores until closing time, reading those essays when my world was on fire.

For a famously short man, Harlan was a larger than life figure who marched with Martin Luther King to Selma, Alabama, who hung out with the Rolling Stones, who was on Nixon's "subversives" list. He defended writers and manned the picket line when they went on strike. Ever the showman, he wrote more than 100 short stories in bookstore windows. The point was to write live—to let the audience see the work, word for word, line by line. The pages would be posted in the bookstore window as he created and audiences would patiently follow along.

So, when I was asked to write in front of a live audience for a fundraiser for the Seattle 7 Writers, called The Novel Live, I wrote Harlan and asked if I could borrow one of his tobacco pipes. Just a little something to take onstage as an homage—a little nod to the man himself. 

I didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t quite expecting a phone call. 

"Jamie, this is Harlan..." 

We talked for 90 minutes. By that I mean, he talked, and I listened, rapt and spellbound. Oh, and he sent me a pipe and a bunch of other goodies.

Harlan also shared that he stole the idea of writing in front of a live audience from Georges Simenon, who, as a young writer, was purported to have written for 24 hours while sitting in a glass cage in Paris. (Harlan later met with France's Minister of Culture who broke the news that such an event had never occurred, but somehow the legend lived on).

Speaking of legends, when I had a modicum of success from my own books, I contacted Harlan again. This time I asked to buy his first typewriter, a 1938 Remington Noiseless Portable—forged in the fires of Mount Doom (it’s now my preciousssss). His mom bought it from a second-hand store in Painesville, Ohio, back when Harlan was just a lonely, angry, bullied, Jewish kid with an overactive imagination. 

I was invited to Ellison Wonderland for the first time—a place in LA that Harlan calls The Lost Aztec Temple on Mars. I spent a magical day there, learning from one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction (a term Harlan always loathed) and ate leftover tuna & noodle casserole, courtesy of his lovely wife, Susan.

On another visit he showed me his reading aerie and his favorite chair. He said, "Sit down and shut up." Then he read to me from one of his favorite books, The Seven Who Fled by Frederic Prokosh. If you’re wondering if being read to by one of your literary idols is a magical feeling—it is.

But sadly, one of the last times I spoke with Harlan was when he called while I was at one of my daughter's volleyball games. I stepped outside for a moment and learned that the New York Times had called him. They wanted to send a writer to his home for a multi-day interview. Harlan had never received much love from the Times, so he was over the moon. Until he realized that after being ignored by the nation's foremost literary venue for much of his career, they wanted to send someone out to write what was essentially a canned obituary, a piece to have on-hand, something to run...today. 

He told them to shove it. That was so Harlan. And, now he's gone at 84.

I tell ya—I can't bear to look at the New York Times to see what they've cobbled together in Harlan's honor. But whatever it is, I assure you, it's not enough.


Please, judge this book by its cover

Good news for book clubs everywhere, the trade paperback edition of LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES will be available June 19, 2018. Though it's available now for pre-order wherever you buy books. This particular story seems to be making a lot of people happy (much to my authorly delight). Hope you enjoy it. 


Best books of 2017

I'm finally back at my writing desk, with the dust of 38 cities on my suitcase, and a bit of glitter in my hair.

I'm staring at the outline and early pages of a new book. So weird to be sitting down, going back to Storyland.

But, before I disappear, I'm delighted to share that Library Journal named LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES as one of their best historical fictions novels of the year. Also on the list was LILI DE JONG by Janet Benton, which I loved and have raved about. But, my favorite book of the year by far was LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng.

If you can buy two books, I hope one of them is mine, but if you had to choose only one, I'd say buy Celeste's. I'm still basking in the strenuous, maddening, heart-rending, infuriating afterglow of that story. 

In fact, next March I'll be back at the Tucson Festival of Books, sharing the stage with Celeste and Tom Perrotta. I can't wait. 


I'm going to need a bigger suitcase

The Consolation Tour: Fall 2017

I'll be hitting the literary highway in support of my new book, LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES, but I'll also be doing community reads and a few high school visits. If you don't see your town on the list, don't despair, I have more dates in 2018. 


Eat & Greet Luncheon
Winston-Salem, NC

11:30 am
Talk & Signing



Free Festival
Winson-Salem, NC

10:00 am
Talk & Signing



Barnes & Noble
1601 Marketplace Dr.
Great Falls, MT 
(406) 452-3299

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Sacramento Bee Book Club
2100 Q Street
Sacramento, CA
(916) 321-1075

5:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Auntie's Bookstore
402 W Main Ave
Spokane, WA 

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Tacoma Public Library
Wheelock Branch
Tacoma, WA 
(253) 617-7811

6:30 pm
Talk & Signing



Third Place Books
17171 Bothell Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA 
(206) 366-3316

4:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Warwick's Bookstore
7812 Girard Ave
La Jolla, CA 
(858) 454-0347

7:30 pm
Talk & Signing



Margaret Mitchell House
979 Crescent Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 
(404) 814-4114

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Parnassus Books
3900 Hillsboro Pike #14
Nashville, TN
(615) 953-2243

6:30 pm
Talk & Signing



Cassiopeia Books
@ Paris Gibson Square
Great Falls, MT 
(406) 727-6350

7:00 pm
Book Party



West Sound Reads
South Kitsap High School
Port Orchard, WA
(360) 475-9170

2:30 pm
Talk & Signing



Cassiopeia Books
Great Falls, MT 
(406) 727-6350

7:00 pm
Group Reading



Tattered Cover
2526 E. Colfax Ave
Denver, CO
(303) 322-7727

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Kappa Book & Author Evening
Palazzo Verde
Greenwood Village, CO
(303) 377-0094

6:00 pm
Talk & Signing



One Book Evansville
Old National Event Plaza
Evansville, IN
(812) 475-1054

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Lexington Public Library
3080 Fieldstone Way
Lexington, KY
(859) 231-5554

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Cincinnati Library
800 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 
(513) 369-6944

2:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Upper Arlington Author Series
Upper Arlington High School
Columbus, OH
(614) 641-2214

2:00-7:00 pm
Talk & Reception



Bishop Hartley High School
1285 Zettler Road
Columbus, OH 
(614) 237-5421

9:00 am
Talk & Signing



Indianapolis Public Library
6101 N. Keynote Ave
Indianapolis, IN 
(317) 275-4085

6:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Wing Luke Museum
719 S. King Street
Seattle, WA 
(206) 623.5124

6:30 pm
Talk & Signing



Opus & Olives
Saint Paul River Centre
St. Paul, MN
(651) 366-6490

5:00 pm
Talk & Reception



Rappahannock Library
1201 Caroline St
Fredericksburg, VA 
(540) 372-1144

6:45 pm
Talk & Signing



Tuckahoe Woman's Club
4215 Dover Rd
Richmond, VA 
(804) 257-7215

11:00 am
Talk & Signing



Allen County Public Library
900 Library Plaza
Ft. Wayne, IN 
(260) 421-1265

6:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Authors to the Pointe
The War Memorial
Gross Pointe, MI 
(313) 434-2074

11:30 am
Talk & Signing



Fact & Fiction
220 N. Higgins
Missoula, MT  
(406) 721-2881

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Elk River Books
120 N. Main St
Livingston, MT 
(406) 333-2330

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



This House of Books
224 N. Broadway
Billings, MT 
(406) 534-1133

5:30 pm
Talk & Signing



Country Bookshelf
28 West Main St
Bozeman, MT  
(406) 587-0166

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



One Book Fargo
Concordia College
(701) 476-4076

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Verse & Vino
Charlotte Convention Center
Charlotte, NC  
(704) 416-0802

5:30 pm
Talk & Reception



Warren County Public Library
175 Iron Skillet Court
Bowling Green, KY  
(270) 782-0252

6:00 pm
Talk & Signing



One Book Cherry Hill
Cherry Hill Public Library
Cherry Hill, NJ
(856) 667-0300

6:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Champaign Public Library
200 W. Greet St.
Champaign, IL 
(217) 403-2062

7:00 pm
Talk & Signing



The Power of Words
Buskirk-Chumley Theater
Bloomington, IN  
(812) 320-2629

6:00 pm
Talk & Signing



Kentucky Book Fair
Literary Luncheon
Frankfort, KY 

Talk & Signing