When Was the Last Time an Author Graced the Cover of a Novel? Probably never.

There’s a reason why novelists don’t put their photos on the cover of their books the same way the latest hip-hop stars pose on theirs.

Let’s face it: novelists hide in dark quiet corners, hunched over a screen, tapping out nerdy words for hours on end. Novelists have disheveled hair, four-eyed faces, pale skin,  rounded-waistlines and a host of other descriptions never seen on the cover of Vogue without spending hours in the Photoshop chop-shop. Novelists don’t spend a lot of time at the gym, but you might find them sitting for hours under a tree, looking at the pattern of ant columns while waiting for the perfect murder clue to make itself obvious so it can be plopped into the latest plot. (How can that ant carry that leaf on its back? Ah-ha! New superhero idea!) Novelists create words of grittiness and glamour, of fantastical realms and hard-truth real-life. They wipe away image and pretentiousness to delve into the heart of the matter–the uncovered motive, the sheer nakedness of belief which leads to any manner of sordid tales. Novelists eat too much, sleep too little, drink too much, exercise too little. (Unless you’re referring to exercising their brain. They would be Olympic champs if that was a sport.)

So is it any wonder that novelists don’t grace the cover of their books. How many people would buy a book with a pale, bespectacled visage sitting on a bench under a tree?  (I’m sure we’d have a goofy smile on our face, too!)

Novelists are meant for small, blurry mug-shots on the back cover of their paperbacks. Nothing more.

Pop stars, however, were made for album covers. Literally. Photoshopped faces and slim bodies with parts hanging out all over are the requisite requirement of album covers. Image is king.

But isn’t image king for novels, too?

Absolutely! And that’s why authors don’t grace the cover!

Unless, that is, if it’s a non-fictional title and the personality, not the story, is driving the sales. That’s when the celebrity chefs and TV personalities plop their images on the cover of their books and ride to the top-sellers list based on their other profession.

But for the novelist, who would dare think that their coffee-fueled or hungover eyes would ever elicit a sale?

 

So keep looking for those stock images, authors. We’re destined for the back cover or the obscure blog post.

And you know what? That’s just fine with me.

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Sitting in Public without a Device

You’ve probably seen the meme that goes something like this: I saw this person at a coffee shop, sitting alone, not on his phone, doing nothing but sipping his coffee. Like a mad man.
That is of course funny because it’s not often when you see a person in public doing nothing. Just sitting there. Possibly just thinking, to himself. Crazy stuff, right?
Well, as I was sitting in a delightful little restaurant/pub in Ireland, I realized I didn’t have Internet and I was dining alone, so I thought I would try it – just sit there and do nothing until my food came. Easy, right?
At first I didn’t know how to do nothing. I felt self conscious, I didn’t know where to look. How bizarre. I scratched my head. I rubbed my hand across the table. I tapped my finger. I glanced around slowly to see if anyone was looking at me. I’m sure they were. They had to be There was this lunatic just sitting there doing nothing in public. But there I sat, trying to focus on something. Hey look, a salt shaker. Yeah, it was pathetic.
Then the thinking started. It was slow at first, as my mind wavered back and forth between self-consciousness and being distracted by a thought. But then the old writer’s instinct kicked in. I started forgetting where I was, and I thought about the script I was working on. I thought of this character and this person. I thought of how great it’s been hanging out in Ireland, even though I miss my family. By the time my food arrived, I had survived the passing of time without talking to anyone and without using a digital device, and I didn’t have it devolve into some ominous plot against humanity. One can survive without a device in public.
Ok, so now I proved to myself that it can be done, I better open Evernote and jot all this down for my blog before I forget the experience. Don’t worry. I can write this note while I’m off-line.

Another One to Love

Love is not an exhaustible commodity.

We know this because when a new person enters our lives, and we love them, we don’t have to release love’s pressure valve and let out a little love from our opposite end to compensate.

Love is more akin to the expanding universe. It finds new voids and new spaces which weren’t there, and it doesn’t spread thinner and thinner like a tsunami eventually drying up on land. No. Love is as deep at its origin as it is at its point of expansion.

That’s a marvelous thought, isn’t it?

This topic has been on my mind, mainly because today I became a grandfather. My grandson, whom I will not be able to meet for a few more months, is a new and immediate object of my love. He hasn’t done anything to earn my love. He just has it by the virtue of being born to my daughter.

Love is automatic. It’s not coerced. It’s not purchased. It’s there. Just like that, the number of people in the world that I love has expanded by one.

And this got me thinking.

What would the world look like if we all understood this truth about love and acted on love’s expanding principles? What downcast soul would be brightened? What violent act would be stopped? How many broken hearts would be mended?

What would happen if we each expanded our reach of love by one more person outside of our regular sphere of influence?

We would all be richer for it.

This is my first lesson of being a grandfather.

Out of the Bubble

I currently live in Saudi Arabia, and as an expat, it’s easy to find yourself living in comfortable bubble. My life in Jeddah feels that way in many respects. My main existence is a combination of apartment living on a compound, busing to school and back, all day at an American school that looks and feels like an American school, and then excursions to restaurants where most of the wait staff is from the Philippines. It’s not difficult to forget where it is I live.

Just for an evening, we decided to stroll the new corniche area of Jeddah, which buttresses up against the Red Sea. It was a Friday evening, and people were out and about EVERYWHERE! This is a beautiful and large new water front development complete with public beaches in the pristine water, children’s play parks, outdoor sculptures, and a terrific bike and walking path right in between the Corniche Road. But while here, I was unmistakably reminded of where I live.  Uncountable Saudi families brought their carpets and spread them out on the grassy areas to enjoy the evening air. Boys played soccer, while ladies in abayas and hijabs chatted in groups and strolled slowly through plethora of sidewalks. Children and a few men splashed in the water.

It’s good to get out of one’s bubble from time to time. You get to feel the flow of the culture. You get to question things you thought you understood, and you get a feel for the local people whom you don’t actually meet too often.

It was a pleasant evening strolling by the Red Sea. Here are a few photos.

What I Learned by Attending a Desert Party

A while back, I was invited to a desert party. It was unlike any party I had ever attended, and it was such a unique and interesting cultural event that I ended up learning a lot about living in Saudi Arabia.

  1. There are farms in the desert. I thought of deserts being these endless sandboxes with nothing in them. Well, I was wrong. The party was at a desert farm. The owner owned “about as much land as you can see” – or should I say as much sand as you could see – but the sand and harshness of the climate doesn’t stop the farming. There were large pens of sheep, goats, and camels — all guarded by dogs — and they all seemed perfectly content to live their lives in the middle of the most deserty desert you could ever imagine. Who knew?
  2. There are more than animals in the desert. People live there too. This became evident at dusk when scattered lights could be seen in all directions. Before the giant ball of fire in the sky dipped below the horizon, there was nothing in any direction except for sand. And then suddenly, lights popped up everywhere. Where did all these people come from?
  3. Saudis know how to party. A large section of the desert was sectioned off by high wooden stakes and a thick, hearty fabric. Inside the walls which swayed in the wind were sections of carpet for lounging, bouncy house, sound system, camels and horses for riding, kites, and a huge spread of so many meats that my cholesterol level rose just by looking at it. One especially delectable dish was layers of mutton and beef ribs which were layered on rice and cooked underground. Delicious. The dancing started and men and women alike shared their varied moves on the dance floor. Arabian coffee and tea flowed freely and shisha brought its fragrance to the corners of the comfortable tents. Outside the walled structure were four wheelers to ride and high-end cars that a dealer brought in for test drives. All of this in the middle of the desert. To find it, one had to drive on the tracks in the sand of the vehicle in front of you. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
  4. Your view of Saudi Arabia is probably not accurate. I know mine wasn’t. This party once again ripped apart my pre-conceived notions of life in the kingdom. I’ve been realizing how wrong I was for the past five months and this just helped to seal the deal. Not one thing that happened that night would have been on my list of what Saudi Arabia is like before I came here. And you know what, it’s pretty cool to be wrong.

It’s so cold. How do people live here?

Coldness. How do people live with it?

For the past week, I’ve had my first taste of winter in 12 years, and while there are perks such as enchanting Christmas morning snow, the recent arctic swoon has destroyed all good will I had for the white fluffy stuff. I now know why geese fly south. I know why northerners retire in droves to the Keys. Living in perpetual frigid air is MISERABLE.

There’s a reason for my misery. Out of the past 23 years, I spent only 2.5 of those years in a house where having a heater was required.

For the past 11 years, I was creating away on the tropical paradise known as Penang. In August, I moved to the burning hot desert knows as Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And then I come home to celebrate Christmas and I’m greeted with this stuff!

I spend most hours of every day covered in blankets, wearing gloves in the house, and realizing that a knit cap is as essential as water for survival. My body’s core has a permanent breezy idling like a car in the winter without a heater. It lives, but just barely.

I’m starting to think fondly of the 105 degree heat which greeted me in Jeddah in August. I know that sounds insane, but it’s true. Because everywhere I go here is cold!

I went to John’s pizzeria in NYC yesterday, and we sat on the other side of the massive place away from the door, near the 800 degree oven, and still, the frigid air swept in and I had to sit the entire time with my winter coat on.

It didn’t help that we moved into a friend’s house where the heat wasn’t working right, and our last night there seeing the temperature dip to 54 degrees in the house.

And then waiting at the train station yesterday.

And stopping at an outlet mall, having to walk across the place to find the Nike store.

And then even at the theatre, watching Anastasia, cold air swept in and distracted me for the entire first half of the show.

What is wrong with this place? It’s freezing out and everywhere I go, even indoors, it’s cold! So cold! I can’t emphasize how cold it is!

But not for long, because I long for the desert, and I’ll soon get it.

Goodbye, America. See you in the summer months!

Hope

My mother-in-law, a beautiful human being, passed on from this life today. It’s been a difficult day for the family, and as my wife boards a flight to head home to be with loved ones during this time, I was reminded of one simple word: Hope. It’s a word I strongly believe in. And as I processed the day with that word in mind, here’s what I wrote:

 

Hope is not a homeless cast-off, living in squalid conditions on the edge of the sunset’s shadows.

Though you will find it there.

Hope is not a forgotten word, buried under scientific jargon, dying an abandoned existence in a dusty appendix.

Though surely you can scan the final pages with your index finger and find it there too.

Hope is not an empty, opiate-filled wish, meant to pacify the cravings of a desolate heart.

Though hope is comfortable in emptiness, tucking neatly in an upside-down crevice of a turned-out pocket.

Hope is the undefinable assurance, proved to the heart by a million micro-steps of life, that joy can never be fully extinguished.

Hope is as high as a thousand-mile mountain peak, yet as thin as an inch-thick stream spreading out indefinitely in all directions.

Hope casts off doubt and lingers until despair yields to its indomitable message.

When the world doesn’t choose hope, hope merely grows stronger, encouraged in the throes of life’s storms, emboldened on the faces of the faithful, ensured that the weary will find their way, that the righteous will find their reward, that a simple seed planted long ago will find its way home.