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new song

"Just Like Big Jake's YA Novel Blues."  I'm playing at Geek Bar Beta on June 15th as a promo for Windycon in November, at which I'm also playing. I'd sort of given up on music, really, so I'm not really sure what kind of set to play. Decided I'd just write up some new stuff and play around on garageband.  I play better on ipad than on any actual instruments. Now I've got a handful of new songs. Some songs are big, Hold Steady / Titus Andronicus-type rockers. Others are a slow beat and some electric piano sounds. One is a Lana Del Rey cover. Not sure if I'm just playing around or if I'll do a whole album or what. It's a fun way to stay occupied between books, but not many people ever get my records or anything.

This one is basically the plot of a book I've been working on; my publisher picked one of my others to do next, though. This might end up being an indie film instead. It's a song for now. Contains my favorite line of any recent project: "If you like John Green, you'll love my hairy ass." Over in the YA world these days marketing departments will compare pretty much anything to John Green. It's like our only hope.

Here's the demo. No actual instruments were harmed.

New job

So, I started a new job. I'm a tour director now.

It's not quite the same as tour guide. I work for a company that organizes school group tours, mostly from out of state. I meet up with a bus full of kids when they get to town and stay with them for the whole time, taking them to museums, restaurants, plays, etc, and point out neat stuff and tell Chicago history stories along the way.

It can be stressful; there's always the chance some place will lose our reservations, or we'll be short a ticket, or we won't be able to find a place for the bus to park. Have to think on my feet a lot. In some ways it feels like my first real, adult kind of job. But I'm good at it. I go home exhausted and proud.

And it's a BLAST. I get to go to all sorts of cool places (boat rides, museums, Medieval Times comes up a lot), meet cool kids, and show off my awesome city. I spend  good chunk of every tour marvelling over the fact that I get paid for this.

The kind of kids I meet are very different from the ones I meet as an author sometimes. Maybe 5% of them actively read YA novels outside of a couple of blockbusters per year; this year no kid has asked me about any book besides Divergent. If they find out I'm an author, they start asking about George RR Martin and Nicholas Sparks, not YA authors. YA is a much smaller bubble than we think it is.  Sure, it seems like a big community online, but the community of people who talk about their "headmates" and stuff on tumblr seems huge, too.

Next week I get to spend four days with a group of theatre kids, doing the kind of stuff theatre kids would do on a trip to Chicago. Jazz, improv, art.

Meanwhile I'm revising my next YA book, Kill Me Now, and copyeding my next nonfiction, Ghosts of Lincoln. There'll be a book signing for Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the US Film Industry, on Saturday at Centuries and Sleuths (a history/mystery book shop, 7419 W Madison in Forest Park) at 2pm. I wrote that with Michael Glover Smith.

I've also been on WGN a lot lately; this sunday I'm going in very early in the morning to talk silent film in Chicago on one show, then very late at night to talk about baseball history on another!  I was last on the Pretty Late with Patti Vasquez show the other night; I sat in and chatted for the whole three hours. Patti's awesome; I climbed 70 flights of stairs with her in Tribune Tower a month or so ago. You can hear the show from the other night here!

Here I Am

Well, here's an update since last time I was here. I don't remember when that was, so:

- Still in my same apartment. Just signed the lease that will mean I lived there longer than my childhood home.

- Started a new job a few months per year as a "tour director" for student groups. I get busloads of students who come to Chicago from point A to point B and show them cool stuff along the way. It's fun, it pays well and I get free food. Still in training, officially, but my next tour isn't for a month or two. Groups don't come in the winter or summer. My tour guide / historical work is getting me a lot of gig offers lately but most of them don't pay. This one does.

- Still running ghost tours, though winter's been slow.

- My book on silent film in Chicago, FLICKERING EMPIRE, came out a couple of weeks ago via the film studies wing of Columbia University press. It's been fun! Mike, my co-writer, and I have done some radio interviews and have some events coming up. Marketing adult nonfiction is WAY easier than marketing YA novels. WAY easier.

- My latest YA novel, PLAY ME BACKWARDS, was ou via Simon and Schuser back in August. The next one will be out in about a year and a half. Last I heard it was going to be called KILL ME NOW. Black comedy set in the Chicago ghost tour world.  PMB has been about like my other YA books; good reviews and all but I've only seen it in a store once so far. I feel like my books are mainly for librarians and award committees.

- There's a table read set next month for I BEAT UP CHARLES DICKENS, a screenplay I co-wrote based on an unpublished novel. We're hoping to film next winter.

- My grandfather died a couple of weeks ago; it was just about exactly 70 years to the day that he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. It was almost like Gd had said "Okay, we'll say your three score and ten starts right now. Go make me proud." I don't think he liked talking about the war, though; he'd probably rather we remember that he once froze the back yard for his kids to play in, or how he'd say "Everybody say 'shit'" when pictures were being taken. He wasn't a big talker but a great deal of what I remember him saying were jokes.

- He also wasn't a big reader. He once told me that the last book he read was some best-seller about sex in the 70s (probably "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask"). He thought it was such bullshit that he stopped reading books. Ten years writing books for a living has left me so cynical about them that I think this is awesome.

- I've been listening to a lot of Duke Ellington. There was an article about an album of his called Masterpieces by Ellington going around in December and it's just as good as advertised. Got me on a major Ellington kick.  The new Dylan album has given me a break in my Ellington kick, though.

- I've had multiple people listen to Dylan's new album (which is all old songs Sinatra recorded; I wouldn't call most of them "standards")  and email me to say they want "That Lucky Old Sun" played at their funeral. You guys okay?  (the whole album is terrific but that song, in particular, is magnificent).  He closed the last show I saw him do with "Stay With Me," a fairly obscure Sinatra song from 1963 and it was dynamite.

- Star Wars: Rebels is my favorite addition to the Star Wars world since at least Return of the Jedit . Love it. I think it bodes well.

- Went to the American Library Association convention the other day to sign very early copies of my new Ghosts of Lincoln book for Llewelyn.

- Listening to the band Bleachers a lot; going to see them in April. No idea what other sort of people like this band. Hipsters? Teenagers? Party kids? I dunno.

- Went to see "Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play" and loved it. Taking my stepson soon.

- In December/Jan I wrote both a middle grade book and a YA book, as well as a screenplay (doing a screenplay and the "novelization" at the same time is fun and helpful). Now I'm working on another middle grade draft and turning an old YA draft into an adult book. I have a good routine going where I write in the morning at the coffee shop, then at night I make a pot of coffee (moved the maker to my desk) and work while I listen to records. Getting stuff written faster than my editor and agent can read them but I never do feel all that productive.

- Read a bunch of Sinclair Lewis last month; I'm kind of into books about crappy midwestern towns between the Civil War and about World War 1. Main Street, Spoon River, Winesburg OH, Midland IN, etc.

Guess that's about it. Shoveling the car out soon so I can take Ronni to lunch and take a couple of pictures for an article I'm doing on Chicago tombs.

PLAY ME BACKWARDS cover reveal

Sometimes, you just have to trust that the dark lord knows what he's doing....

Leon Harris is perfectly satisfied being a slacker.  In fact, he’s embraced it.
But when Anna B.—yeah, that Anna B.—says she might be moving back from England, Leon is desperate to get his act together.  Desperate enough to ask his best friend, Stan (who may or may not be Satan), for help.
Stan’s orders?  Listen to the whole audiobook of Moby-Dick.  Find the elusive white grape Slushee.  Join the yearbook committee.  And go out with a popular girl.
As each strange task takes him farther from slackerville, Leon has to wonder if maybe Stan really does have unholy powers after all….

Excerpts, downloadable soundtrack, and maybe an a NSFW trailer coming soon...

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back cover

New book news, etc!

Well, if you haven't heard already, I'm pleased to announce that the infamous "Satanic YA" sold to Simon and Schuster last week - it'll be released next year! Still brainstorming possible titles for it. Also demoing new versions of the songs from my back catalog that were written into the book.  Maybe I'll get a new band together.

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?


So, that's been my life.

Mostly running tours, doing Chicago history research, and nonfiction books. It's winter, so I'm reading Dickens again. Last month I finally read all o Pickwick Papers, which is like watching the sitcom being formed out of primordial ooze. After that I switched over to one of his "mid-period" books Dombey and Son, and the effect is like going fro Meet the Beatles to Revolver I've read about a third of Dombey before, and while the parts with Little Paul tend towards a sort of pathos that I think Victorians were more into than I am, the rest is just stunning. There's a scene where Mr. Dombey is riding on a train and thinking about death that goes on for about three pages, and the prose is about as good as Dickens ever got, which means it's about as good as anyone ever got. I never finished this one before (I have a crap attention span), but this time I will. One of Dickens's darkest and dreariest books, but he could never write more than a few pages without saying something hilarious, too. SO many great comic relief characters - Susan Nipper, Major Bagstock, Mrs. Skewton, Miss Blimber, Mrs. Pipchin, Mr. Chick, Captain Cuttle... so many in one book! 

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. 

Work work work

Finishing up the last draft of my HH Holmes ebook for Llewellyn, which'll be out October 1, along with ebooks on Devil Babies and Resurrection Mary.  Having trouble getting started this morning, though, so I'll just post here instead. 

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?

Was It All a Dream

Last night we drove out to the suburbs to go to Fuddrucker's for some burgers. I'd never been to this suburb before, and the Fuddruckers there looked odd - it was shaped like a castle, with turrets and everything, and the parking lot was bizarre. The whole place was isolated, tucked away all by itself, near (but not in the parking lot of) a mini mall and next to a Union Pacific Railroad office. Until we made it right to the front door, we weren't even sure if the place was open. There were only a couple of employees visible, and most of the tables were vacant. 

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.

The Working Life

My favorite thing to do on tours is pull up alongside unsuspected cars and passers-by.  A giant black bus that says "ghost tours" on it is the single greatest instrument ever created for the purpose of messing with people. Sometimes I'll challenge cabbies or CTA busses to a race. Sometimes I'll ask people if they have any grey poupon (still funny after 20+ years!), and sometimes I'll ask if they want to follow us to the body dump.

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. 


When I was a kid the fourth of July was just about the biggest day of the year. We'd go to my grandma's place in Windsor Heights to see the parade (or ride in it with bikes covered in streamers), then play in the carnival they set up in the park, swim in the community pool, and watch fireworks. Neighbors came and went. There was Pepsi. 

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.