Meanwhile, I'm working and working and working on a new book called "I Beat Up Charles Dickens."
I feel like I now have a new lease on life.
I used that feeling to revamp adamselzer.com a bit over the last week. It's cleaner and has fewer dead links now. I'm posting more stuff - mostly my own photos on tumblr.
And this morning I woke up to a good hair day. See?
- Current Music:Beatles
Speaking of Dickens, I started a new blog where I make drinks from his books and explain where the drinks come up in the works. It's like an intro to Dickens via booze; I call it Drink Like the Dickens.
As far as fiction goes, I have a new agent who sent out my "Satanic YA" novel to editors last month. No word yet. I'll have three new Chicago history books out this year, maybe four, but my novel-writing career is sort of stalled these days. Frankly, I found 95% of life as a "published author" to be misery and humiliation (the other 5% involved free food), and sort of wish I could just quit, but I keep coming up with new ideas all the time and can't stop working on them. Last year was the first year I made more as a tour guide than I did as a writer. That trend will probably continue for a while. I'm not thrilled about this, but it's nice to have a regular paycheck, instead of getting one about every six months.
On Wednesday I'm going to Des Moines for the Bob Dylan concert and to meet with a magazine that I believe wants me to do a feature. This would be a new one for me, which is just what I need right now. While in town, I'll be recording with my old band from middle school, Scapegoat 95 (i usually add the 95 because we were not the first scapegoat, and certainly were not the last). We write wildly inappropriate music about beating up little kids, traveling through space, and stuff like that. A year or so ago we finally played our first gig; our setlist was "Something Scapegoat This Way Comes," (a shuffle about beating up little kids), "A Pro-Abortion Country Song For Right Wingers" (just as the title implies) and "The Voyage of the Matador (Dance Zirconians Dance)" (a dance tune that you can hear below. It has lots of auto-tune and features Claudia Gray on theremin.
I will also swing by the east side to visit the naked trike angel statue. Of course.
I feel bad for Iowans these days. Other than a few that were notable enough to make the news, I haven't seen a single commercial for either presidential candidate. The only political ads we get here are for the Walsh/Duckworth congressional race (which is ugly enough). That's it. Iowa has been getting wall to wall ads for the last YEAR. Seeing ads for Walsh is bad enough; at least I didn't have to see ads for Bachmann or Gingrich.
DId 8 ghost tours last week, may end up doing just as many this week, the rate things are going.
Buying up some brown blazers lately. Found one I really liked at Nordstrom Rack, but it was 200 bucks, and a guy like me has no business paying that kind of scratch for a suit. So I bought a couple of similar ones at thrift stores for 1.50 and 5.99. One is a really sharp double breasted job with pin stripes AND herringbone - I look like some kind of gangster in it. Posed for a picture in it. The other is more professor-like. Here I am, posing in it with a pipe that Daniel Pinkwater gave me last week (we have the same agent; he sent it with her to give to me while she was in town). Now I look like a sport! Actually, I look as though I have a plan to kill Batman:
This'll go well with my "tenth doctor" coat that I wear in the winter - a good fall equivalent. Fall comes around and I get to put myself back on. I don't mind wearing shorts and t-shirts a few months out of the year, but it's just not ME, you know?
Writing quirky YA books is the thing I do of which I'm most proud. By far.
But these days reading any "book world" tweets or articles makes me want to go listen to break up songs. "Woke Up New" by the Mountain Goats seems especially apropos these days, even though it's about a person.
I've started calling myself a "recovering author" lately. I'm still working and have a few new novels written, but I don't think there's much room for me in the YA world these days.
After five years and a dozen or so books, being published has been about 95% misery and humiliation and I'm having trouble imagining things getting any better. Many of my books were a LOT more fun BEFORE they came out. Fairy Godmofo and Debbie Does Detention were a lot more fun to talk about than Extraordinary* and Sparks. I think there's a market for my kind of books (every school I go into, there are kids who watch Doctor Who and hate Twilight even more than I do), but that's not the kind of kids publishers are aiming books at. Those kids generally don't read out of the YA section much anymore, and I sure as hell don't blame them. Going into a book store or any book event feels like being single at a Valentine's dance.
So now, with no new novels under contract for the first time in seven years, I'm sort of at a crossroads in which every external sign is that I ought to quit. I can't quit writing, and I'm not inclined to give up something that's been my main source of pride and a sense that I'm doing something of value for the whole of my adult life, but if I have to have one more conversation about ebooks, goodreads, how awful most of the blogs are, indie/trad, the decline of chain stores, how to write/sell/promote a book (most of what you hear on, say, yalitchat is a joke), I might well puke.
I have a Chicago history/ghostlore book due every month through the end of the year. Around December I'll have finished every outstanding contract and have nothing due for the first time in nearly eight years. I don't know what I'm going to do next, and I'm open to suggestions. Very open to suggestions.
But service was friendly, and the place featured the most magical pop machine ever - through a nifty touch screen, you could get all sorts of wonderful concoctions, like vanilla Barq's root bear, raspberry Sprite, cherry vanilla Coke, and peach Mellow Yellow. I had all of these things. Ronni had grape Hi-C. Only one spout, but endless options.
By the time I got home, the castle-shaped Fuddruckers with the magic pop machine just seemed like one of those places you run into in dreams now and then. ALMOST real, but not REALLY real. Remembering the place is just like remembering a dream, except that it wasn't (if it HAD been a dream, they probably would have sold vintage Star Wars action figures of characters that never existed at unbelievable prices, like they do in most of the other odd places I find in dreams) (back in the early 90s I had a good two week run of finding such places in dreams and acquired such figures as a guy named Bespin Hespin, Grand Moff Tarkin (of whom there was not yet any such figure) and Lando in a "pin the tail on the donkey" outfit).
I want to go back and try the bison burger with a strawberry mellow yellow. But I have a feeling we'll get there and find that it's a tire center now, and has been for years.
Last night, outside of the alley the Trib once called "The Alley of Death and Mutilation," I saw a silver sheet containing a couple of pills on the ground. They looked like loratadine, but upon picking them up, I saw that they were anti-diarrhea medicine.
"Good news, everybody!" I shouted into the mic. "Look what I found!"
Later, as we pulled up to the traffic light at Halsted and Harrison, I opened the door next to a black vehicle. "Hi, guys!" I said.
The driver smiled. "I've been on your tour!" she said.
"Awesome!" I said. "You know where we're heading now?"
"Probably that house, huh?" she asked, meaning Hull House, which has been said to be haunted since at least the 1860s,
"Yep," I said. "Hey, you want some medicine I found on the street?"
I like my job.
Nowadays it's still a fun day for me - folks in my neighborhood really do seem to enjoy blowing stuff up. Walk around the neighborhood and there's a fireworks display bigger and more impressive than we had in Windsor Heights going on in just about any given direction at any given time. It's really quite a sight to see. It never feels like the big EVENT that it was when I was a kid, though.
Also, it is about 101 degrees out today, and that's not okay. I allow the city 1-2 weeks per year of miserable heat, and the same for the miserable cold. It's using up the heat awfully early in the year.
Last night, according to the best of my records, I ran my 500th tour. It probably wasn't really my 500th, though. I didn't start keeping records until recently, and filled in the blacks of the last 7 years with old emails, LJ entries, etc. Still - 500+ tours. I have a new "e-single" for Llewellyn coming out in the fall about spending time at the site of the HH Holmes Murder Castle (which I think MAY be about to turn into a regular ghost hunting theme park, so I was lucky to get in when it was still pretty much virgin territory). I may have a couple more "singles" out through them ahead of my new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book next year. Also, there'll be three other Chicago history-oriented books - one on the silent film biz here that I'm doing with Michael Glover Smith, one on "dead jerks," and one on crime. No news on any new novels coming out.
A guy referred to me as "a terrible skeptic" on the radio last week. He meant it in a nice way, though, so I'm not complaining. I'd much rather be a terrible skeptic than a guy who believes anything and makes stuff up constantly. I always bend over backwards trying to at least get the history right - even though that gets me in trouble now and then.
It's tough to be in the ghost biz - most intelligent people hear what you do for a living and immediately assume that you're either a jackass or a dumbass. And with good reason - the field is crowded with asses of all varieties. I try to keep a level, skeptical head about things, though I know that's not exactly good for business. In general, people don't want a guy who says "I can't explain this picture; maybe someone else can, but I sure can't." They want "This shadow is definitely a picture of a little girl who came back from the dead, crying to be remembered. This place is freaking haunted, bro." And they don't really seem to care if the history behind a story checks out or not. I fit into this field about as well as I fit into the YA book scene these days.
But the work is fun, the historical research behind the ghost stories is endlessly fascinating to me, and I get to go inside of lots of nifty places. Also, I've managed to avoid having to do anything I'd find all that humiliating on TV so far.
Sometimes I wish I felt that I was smart enough to get into politics. But every time I have CSPAN on and there's something happening in Congress, it's like an a.d.d. nightmare for me to imagine trying to sit still in that place.
Started reading Vanity Fair by Thackeray last year and had to put it aside. Now I'm back at it. Very funny book! I like Thackeray's attitude. And I like that it's a "novel without a hero." Some of mine are like that.
I've been busy with ghost stuff all week. Monday and Tuesday I was filming Holmes stuff for the history channel, and the last two days I was out scouting locations for another one of the ghost shows that emailed me. Today I'm working up some "e single" stuff that'll eventually be used to promote the new ghost book I'm doing for Llewellyn. In between this, I'm doing six or seven tours this week.
This is my career now, I guess. I still have some novels in the hopper, but the nonfiction projects seem to come into my hands much easier these days. Can one make a living in the ghost hunting field without coming off as either a jackass or a dumbass? We'll see!
Starting some new book projects this week, though. For I am a glutton for punishment.
And last night I got a pretty good taste of what it would be like to run a ghost tour for the cast of Jersey Shore. The 7pm tour was great - one of those nice crowds where no one's obnoxious, no one seems dumb, and everyone's there to have a good time on the tour, not to shout "woooooo" out the windows or bug me to go to a bar. The 10pm tour, though, had a group of 21, of whom 19 seemed to think they had booked a private pub crawl and behaved accordingly. Lots of yelling, lots of threatening to leave bad reviews on Yelp if I didn't take them to some bars, etc. There were some good people in the group, but the rest of them ruined the tour for everybody. Very good thing there were no kids on that one.
It's sort of a personal weakness of mind that I have very little tolerance for people like this. I do not really consider douchebags to be my equals. When confronted with an aggressive, obnoxious drunk, my instinct is to want to grab their back of their head and slam it into the nearest blunt surface. Hard. Probably because it was guys like that who were always calling me a "faggot" in high school.
Today I gave an all-day private tour to a novelist from South Africa, and we managed to talk our way into the Fisher Building - one of the neatest skyscrapers downtown. Once offices, it's now condos, but the doors still have the frosted glass window with the names of whatever office used to be there on them. So someone's living in an apartment with a frosted-glass door that says "Thiel Detective Service" on it. Whoever has that place wins at life. I would spend all day in that place just sitting at my desk, dusting the debris off of my 38 and wondering where the next case was coming from. I'd call my wife a "dame" and talk about how long her legs were a lot. I'd be the coolest guy EVER.
It's called The Fisher Building. One of my favorites in the city already, but now I think it tops the list.