Goodreads Giveaway

07/13/2017 at 10:31 pm (Author Updates, Publishing News)

So the book release date is mere weeks away (August 1st!). Time to give away the last of the Advanced Reading Copies I have. Would you like one? Enter the Giveaway below from Goodreads. Let me know if you’re one of the winners!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Bear Who Broke the World by Justin McFarr

The Bear Who Broke the World

by Justin McFarr

Being released August 01 2017

Giveaway ends in 13 days (July 26, 2017)

5 copies available, 111 people requesting

giveaway details »

 

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Book Readings in August

05/16/2017 at 9:59 am (Author Updates, Publishing News, Telegraph Ave.)

I wanted to share some exciting, amazing news – Moe’s Books in Berkeley will be the official launch of The Bear on Monday, August 7. I couldn’t be happier and more grateful to have my childhood bookstore – where I spent many, many hours poring through the used book racks and salivating over the new releases – as the spot for my very first book reading and signing. I am beyond excited!

Moe's 70s by Nacio Jan Brown

(photo by Nacio Jan Brown)

And if that news wasn’t enough, I will also be having a reading – along with a Q & A session with my amazing mentor, Gina B. Nahai – in my adopted home of Los Angeles, at Book Soup along the Sunset Strip on Tuesday, August 29. Unreal!

book soup

(photo attribution Unknown)

 

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North Beach Blues

05/02/2017 at 9:33 pm (Exercises, Publishing News)

Very excited, and a little nervous, that my very first novel will be officially released in just 3 months from now – Tuesday, August 1, 2017! I have my Book Reading/Signing lined up at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue for Monday, Aug. 7th, and I couldn’t be happier to launch my novel from a place that holds so many great memories for me.

While I was working on Bear, trying to figure out who my characters were and why they behaved they way they did, made the choices they made, I started writing short pieces about them. I have earlier posts about Rose, Stephen, and Ken here on the site.

The piece below is my take on Stephen’s abandoned-them-for-New-York dad, Thomas O’Neill. Here his name is David, and the locale is San Francisco.

 

North Beach Blues

Lily stood at David’s apartment door, still in her hungry i waitress uniform less than half an hour from when her lunch shift had ended. She listened to the strains of an acoustic guitar escaping from his living room, imagining his slender, forceful fingers making love to the strings. A Rolling Stones song, it sounded to her like “Prodigal Son,” accompanied David inside. Keith Richards finished his solo and when a break in the music ushered silence into the hall, Lily timidly knocked.

Another song, “Stray Cat Blues” started up with more of Richards’ guitar licks, and she knew this was the Beggars Banquet album she’d bought for him down on Embarcadero the week before. She was happy that he was wearing the grooves down and practicing his guitar along with it, but she wanted him to hear her, excited for him to let her into the apartment. Still wired from work, Lily needed to come down a bit, have her boyfriend of five months make love to her like he did to that six-string instrument.

After almost a full minute of her knocking, the music lowered to a mumble and she heard his bare footfalls as he moved over the hardwood floors and toward the door.

“Hey, babe!” David, bare-chested, stood before her with only a pair of ripped blue jean shorts on his skinny frame and the neck of his cherry-wood guitar in his hand.

Lily pushed her body into him, her tongue taking command and wrestling around his mouth. She wasn’t normally the aggressor, but today her hormones compelled her to action and her mind floated upward and out of her head with elated thoughts. He tasted like cigarettes and hummus, with a hint of Chablis as well. That’s good, he’s eaten, she thought.  He’ll have plenty of strength for me.

David pulled her into the apartment, kicked the door closed with a hairy big toe and placed his guitar down on the dining room table. He collapsed with her on top of him into a rabbit-white bean bag. Pieces of mail fluttered out of her hand and onto the floor.

Lily whipped her head back and broke the kiss, her ponytail swishing behind her. “Oh, shoot, sorry.” She picked up the mail, then moved back into a straddling position over David.

“That mine?” David asked, his hands unbuttoning her uniform at the base of her spine.

“Your mailman was kind enough to let me deliver these to you myself.”

“Hey, Mr. Postman,” he said in a falsetto, his voice scratchy and deep.

Lily unfurled her ponytail and brushed out her leopard spot-black mane with her unpainted fingernails. “You really are a great father.”

“What makes you say that?” David finished unbuttoning her food-speckled uniform, peeled it off her arms to expose a white t-shirt of his that she’d borrowed the last time she’d spent the night in his North Beach apartment.

“Because it’s true.” She held up an envelope from the small batch of mail. “This is from your kids, isn’t it? Your birthday’s next week, this looks like a card or something.”

“Could be,” he lay back, leaving Lily half-undressed.

She leaned into him, grabbed his arms and helped him pull the shirt over her head. He threw it across the room, where it landed on a pile of books that she’d bought him when they’d first started dating. Books from City Lights, where David sometimes read his own poetry or played his guitar. She was thinking of a few other books she wanted to buy him, but they wouldn’t carry them there. She’d have to go to one of the bigger book stores, where the bestsellers by Harold Robbins, Erica Jong and Dr. Spock’s parenting manuals were plentiful.

“It’s so great how much they adore you, in spite of what a witch your ex-wife is.”

David unfastened his shorts and slid them down his legs, effortlessly lifting Lily’s body off his lap and then back down again. “She’s not so bad. Do we need to talk about her right now, Lil? Or anything, for that matter?”

She sprouted a mock-pout, then wriggled the rest of the way out of her uniform. “I just … it gets me excited when you talk about being a dad. I mean, your girls, they’re gorgeous.” She whipped her hair toward a framed picture on the mantle behind her. “And they love all the time you spend with them, whenever you can get back there to see them.”

“It’s been a while, though.”

She noticed he’d stopped playing with her nipples. She touched his face, caressed his full beard. “I thought you were in Oregon last week. You didn’t see them?”

David laughed, but Lily thought it sounded grim, mirthless. “Look, babe, I don’t … Jesus, let’s go down this road right now. I don’t want to lose it, you know.” He pointed down at his johnson, but she kept her eyes on his face. It was full of lies, she now saw. But which lies, about what?

She peeled herself off him, draped her uniform over her breasts and belly. David sighed, too loudly, and Lily picked up the envelope with an Oregon return address hand-written at the upper left-hand corner. She looked at the name. “This is from her, from their mom, but I thought it was from them …” She breathed in a large breath. It came out in chunks, confused and choppy, with a sob lurking somewhere in her diaphragm.

“You’re so goddamn curious, Lily, why don’t you just open it.” David lifted himself out of the bean bag chair and slipped his shorts back on, his penis flaccid and uninterested now.

She looked up at him, unsure. He waved an arm at it, like what the fuck, and then took his guitar over to the window. He turned the ear-like metal lock, lifted the heavy wooden frame, and allowed the traffic sounds off Columbus into the studio apartment. A pack of cigarettes lay by the windowsill and she watched him tap one out before slipping it between his lips.

Lily sliced open the back of the envelope with her thumb and removed a letter. It looked formal, and she noticed it was a law firm’s stationary, like the kind her uncle in Newark had. He was a partner in a big lawyer’s office back east, and he had sent her letters from time to time, always using their letterhead. Lily didn’t think David’s ex-wife worked for a law firm, she thought he’d told her she was a beautician.

“So what does it say?” David asked when she sat with the unread letter for more than three full minutes.

She touched the embossed lettering at the top, pressing down hard on it with her forefinger in hopes of rubbing it off and making the letter itself just disappear. Her eyes met the first line of the second paragraph, the word “divorce” jumping out at her. She read on, her mouth suddenly dry bedrock, hard and filled with silt.

“You’re not … divorced.” She heard the meekness in her voice, the hurt and fear and confusion all rolled up into a Persian rug, the dead body of their relationship stuffed inside.

“Those must be the divorce papers,” David said, sucking in a mouthful of smoke.  He exhaled and shrugged his bony shoulders. “Well, don’t that fuck all. Her timing was always pretty great that way.”

“What else, David? What else have you lied to me about? Where have you been going the past few months, if not to see your kids?”

“Listen, we never said we were a solid item, right? No exclusivity or anything? At least, I never said it.” A large truck’s horn bellowed on the street below them, as if to emphasize David’s words.

Lily sat on the floor, staring up at her boyfriend, sick to her stomach. Nausea came in on a wave, but she forced it away. There would be time for that later. Now, she needed him to tell her a few truths.

“So what about your girls? Do you ever see them?”

“When’s the last time …” David stared out the window, his back to her. She hoped he was feeling shame, but assumed he probably felt nothing but caught. Lily hated herself right now for misjudging him, for trusting the word of a failed musician who worked nights as a barker for Carol Doda at the Condor Club. For trusting in his word that he was a good and loving father, a dependable man for his girls. And maybe a dependable father for her … child.

David took a drag off his cigarette, blew a set of rings out the window, the late afternoon sunlight illuminating them like angelic halos. “Probably been at least a year and a half. I stopped calling them a while before that. Too much hassle, trying to deal with Susan and her garbage. I guess she finally got fed up, saw herself a lawyer. No blaming her, I guess.”

On her feet, Lily lifted the T-shirt from the pile of books, then dropped it back down. She fed her legs into the waitress outfit, cinched it up her waist, and buttoned herself up. Found her shoes and when she was all dressed looked up at David, his head still turned away from her and staring out the window. He flicked his cigarette out the window and she turned toward the door without a word.

As she exited his apartment, she held the tears in, determined not to lose it, not within hearing distance of David. She would cry later, back in her own room, where she would make plans about the baby, who would definitely have a great mother, if not a great father.

 

North Beach 1973

 

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Reading is Fundamental

03/26/2017 at 4:48 pm (Author Updates, Publishing News)

From a very young age, I’ve always been someone who loved to read books, and that desire and practice continues to this day. Even with all the necessary distractions of childhood – school, chores, playing with friends, watching that rerun of The Brady Bunch or Hogan’s Heroes for the umpteenth time while I may or may not having been doing my homework in front of that boob tube – I always found time and physical space to read Beverly Cleary or the latest Guinness Book of World Records, or, as I got a little older, a Stephen King or S.E. Hinton novel. As I matured and gained a bit more education and well-earned wisdom, my pleasure reading expanded into pockets of deeper and more complex reading. For a time, in my early 20s, I consumed books; I read bestsellers, non-fiction, and classic texts in equal measure. The library and local bookstores were my second homes, as were the parks and cheap restaurants that I frequented with a book (or two) in hand.

I realize now that my 20s and 30s were my peak reading years, when I worked full-time but still had the freedom and energy (and single-minded focus) to devote myself to a 200-page, 400-page, or even 900-page book without worry that I would ever actually finish it once I began the journey with “Page 1.” Even when I had girlfriends, demanding jobs, writing projects that I gave myself strict deadlines for, and an obsessive compulsion to watch every single movie (including the foreign ones) ever made, I still found time and an urgent need to read books.

Then, in my 40s, it all changed. I had a lovely wife, three rambunctious, demanding, beautiful little boys, a house, a full-time job, and the aching desire to finish and have published all of the fiction I had been toiling over those many, many years. I still had pockets of free time, but now the landscape of how to spend that free time (even snippets of it) had changed: cell phones gave access to the Internet, where Facebook, news feeds, YouTube, and all the rest were accessible by just reaching into your pocket and tapping a few keys on the touch-screen; Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and all those multiple movie channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) offered hours upon hours of viewing and bingeing possibilities; Kindle ushered in the digital-reading experience, and the options for what to read and how to read them became as overwhelming as everything else that fell under the banner of “entertainment content.”

Now here I am, inundated with so many choices, with less “free” time than I’ve ever had in my entire life (a life that I am blessed with and, please don’t get me wrong, most grateful for), and my reading habit has become more of a reading afterthought. I still read, but it has, quite frankly, become more of a task and less of a pleasure than it ever has before. I find it more difficult to stay engaged with longer books (and there are so many longer books being released every year), and when faced with reading for an hour before bed or watching a new episode of This Is Us or old episodes of 30 Rock, I’ll admit that the HDTV up there on the mantle invariably wins that fight against the paperback on the bedside table more times than not. It’s something I take no pride in, but after a day filled with early-mornings spent getting the kids ready for school and the rest of the day devoted to work, work, and more work, followed by helping with homework, baths, dinner and bedtime – well, frankly, I’m exhausted. And it’s much easier to turn my brain off with something visually arresting than to inhabit a world of words where my imagination and cognitive functions are forced to be activated.

So now that I am an actual author, a writer with my first novel being published this August, the reality of my situation and relationship with books and reading is suddenly more fraught than ever. I recognize the commitment that reading asks of and actually needs from its audience of one to finish a completed work of fiction or non-fiction that a writer on the other side of has spent countless hours thinking about, crafting, rewriting, editing, sending out to agents and publishers, and then promoting in the hopes of reaching interested, curious readers. I know the time I spend reading a book is infinitesimal when compared to how long it took for its construction, and the level of my attention to it can never match the desired expectations the author has for my commitment and reaction to it. As writers, we want our readers to feel the same love and admiration for our work as we gave so many, many of our conscious and unconscious hours to during its creation.

But that’s an unrealistic expectation, and an unfair burden to place on even our most “ideal” readers, much less on a person faced with a constant barrage or responsibilities and choices which wrench them from here to there and this way and that. So now that I am in the process of doing marketing prior to the release of my debut novel, these realities are inescapable, and demand from me the proper understanding and acceptance.

Now, every time that I send out an email to a stranger requesting they read and possibly review this novel by a complete unknown, I am hyper-aware that mine is just one of a multitude of requests they likely receive on a daily basis. Every time I ask a friend, fellow writer, or cohort to read my novel and to please write a blurb or online review for it (always with the sincere caveat that if they decide to accept the novel and read it, if they don’t like it or are not comfortable associating their name and reputation with it, I will not take it personally), I realize exactly what that request means for them. I am almost painfully aware of how much of their time my book demands – the time they will need to take from any number of life tasks, or from entertainment options that they are guaranteed to enjoy and unwind with – for them to read all 400 pages, and then to make the decision whether or not it merits any further energy to spend even more time writing about it. So when there is rejection of that request, or simply no response at all, I understand, empathize and try not to ever take it personally. Free choice, to say yes or no to any request or to simply ignore it outright, is one of the few things in life that still remains free. Sacrificing that “free time” to do one thing over another means constantly assessing not only time but freedom itself.

In assessing my own free time and the choices that vie for the golden ticket wristband in the seemingly endless, option-filled queue, I honestly try not to lose sight of all the supreme joy that falling into a great book affords; past experience has taught me that the promise of “my next favorite book” may lie right around the next spine. Even if a book fails to meet my preconceived expectations (based on reviews I’ve read or recommendations I’ve been given), no book read is time wasted or lost – there is always something I find to appreciate, admire, have fun with or learn from every single one of them. Again, it always comes down to time: if only I had more, that voice inside my head loudly proclaims, think of all the amazing books we would read, and how many worlds we would inhabit with every turn of the page.

Oh, if only …

Broken time

photo from The Boston Calendar

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The Fads and Obsessions of 1976

12/11/2016 at 12:04 pm (Author Updates, It was 1976, Publishing News, Telegraph Ave.)

With the completion of the design files for The Bear Who Broke The World Advance Reading Copy, it’s time for a small celebration! In January, printed copies of the ARCs will be sent to blogs and magazines for possible review, as well as to a handful of people who I hope to get blurbs from so that I can publicize those when the novel is “officially” published and available to the public in Summer 2017.

Here’s the ARC cover, which makes me insanely happy every time I see it. Hoping people are as taken with the book inside as they are intrigued by the cover.

bear-1-1

 

Because 1976 was such a memorable year for me, the fads and obsessions of childhood lost on the generations that followed, I wanted to revisit some things very particular to that specific time. A few of these get shout-outs in the novel, and others are fondly remembered from my own time as a kid. Enjoy this step back into my old memories of a Berkeley past.

 

CHUNKY BAR

So much great candy growing up – KitKat, the $100,000 Bar, Lemonheads – with most of them surviving the 70’s. Sadly, this one did not. (There is a Nestle “new” version of this, but it’s divided in sections, instead of the big block o’ chocolate that was the original.)

 

WACKY PACKS

What kid couldn’t resist this precursor to the Garbage Pail Kids stickers? As a MAD Magazine freak, I loved being able to stick these all over my school notebooks and on my dresser drawers.

 

 

COMICS & COMIX

The place to buy all the new releases and back-issues of Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Superman, and all the rest. My personal faves in 1976 – Marvel Two-in-One and The Incredible Hulk.

comics-comix

 

BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS

battle-of-the-network-stars-5

If you remember the days when there were only 3 networks (ABC, CBS & NBC), then maybe you remember this show. Pitting the “stars” of TV against each other in Olympic-type events, this was one of my favorite shows. Howard Cosell, Lynda Carter, Gabe Kaplan, Farrah Fawcett, Ron Howard … they were all there. Most memorable from the series: Robert Conrad (of “Wild Wild West“ and “Black Sheep Squadron” fame) always trying to prove he was the best on the field, and unbeatable in every event.

 

This was fun! I’d like to make this little trip down ’76 Lane a regular feature here on the blog. Look for more memories soon.

 

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What Flies Faster than a Peregrine Falcon?

11/27/2016 at 8:57 pm (Author Updates, Publishing News)

Turns out my “vacation” from this site became a whole three months. Wow! Time knows how to fly faster than a Peregrine Falcon.

Updates are certainly in order:

  • I recently had a short story published – you can read it here: The East Bay Review
  • The Bear Who Broke The World is in the final stages of Design and will hopefully be ready by the end of December. An Advance Reader’s Copy for Bear will be ready in January – with a Summer 2017 wide release.
  • Now that Bear is finally edited, polished and almost-but-not-quite-ready for publication, I can focus more energy on extra fun content for this blog. I want to finally deliver on my promise for those book reviews – (2) separate lists of books: Those that fall under “Rose and Ken’s Bookshelf,” which are counterculture books that would have been read in the Berkeley house; and those that share sensibilities or the time-frame that Bear takes place in, but are more contemporary and recent releases.

Thanks for sticking with the site, and here’s to Monday posts from here on out.

Definitely more to come …

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A New Beginning

05/15/2016 at 10:22 pm (Author Updates, Publishing News)

The big announcement here is this: The Bear Who Broke The World will be published in 2017 by Wheeler Street Press!

Now, to the particulars leading up to that decision:

It’s been almost three years since my last post here, which admittedly is a long time to stay away. A whole lot of life… and waiting… has taken place in those years, with the evolution of this book many times at a standstill.

Since July 2013, after my amazing time at Squaw Valley, I have written numerous drafts, persuaded writers and readers I respect to read those drafts in their entirety, and done my damnedest to get an agent interested enough in the novel to offer representation. All of this has taken time, with the work itself demanding many, many hours of my vigorous attention to the rewriting, editing, and eventual polishing of this story about two brothers trying to navigate their world in 1976 Berkeley. Beyond the work, there has been my following agents on Twitter, researching websites about the publishing business and the gatekeepers who guard it so rapaciously, networking with my fellow MPW classmates and asking favors of my fellow teachers. Gina Nahai, in particular, has been an unflagging supporter of me and my novel, reading the entire manuscript and brainstorming with me on the best ways to get an agent to say “yes” – she has offered more to this project than I ever imagined or hoped she would.

The good news is that the majority of people who have read the manuscript drafts liked what they read – there have been exceptions here and there, but if everyone gave me nothing but positive feedback, I would be both suspicious of their critiques and question the fact that this many people were in accord over a piece of writing. I know from my own experience as a reader that some books I fall in love with are books that others hate with a passion, just as books I cannot stomach are some of my friends’ favorite reading experiences. So, I recognize how huge the subjective opinion reigns in matters of creative works. It doesn’t necessarily make it any less painful to get lukewarm feedback about an endeavor I put a whole lot of years, my blood, sweat and brain matter into… but I totally get it.

Which brings me to the agent search. This is where a lot of the waiting has rested, with a search that has been ongoing for more months than I would like to be reminded of, and which failed to garner a single offer of representation. I learned a lot from a different book I queried agents and publishers with back in 2014, which resulted in a lot of polite passes and even an offer of publication (which, for reasons still unknown to me, was rescinded before I even saw a contract). So, my approach to querying Bear came with past experience and a predisposition to overall rejection, and I knew what Janet Fitch told me was true: “It’s a numbers game.” Aware of all the pitfalls of sending my baby out into the cold, insular New York literary agent world, I was still surprised by how little actual response I got from my emails. My polished query and the recommendations I had from a few true literary powerhouses were answered with silence; referrals from published authors failed to attract any kind of response from agents. I expected, and actually looked forward to, a deluge of standard, form-letter rejections. What I wasn’t prepared for were all the no-responses, the total lack of interest to even dash off a quick “doesn’t work for our agency, but keep writing!” email. Again, I went into this agent search with my eyes wide open, not expecting anything (knowing full well that just because I would have liked to hear back from them, they really had no obligation to reply to my emails), but hopeful for a modicum of interest.

Once the writing on the wall became unremovable ink that I was unable to interpret as anything other than the harsh truth that no one cared nearly as much about my novel as I did, that’s when my entire outlook on Bear, and its future publication, shifted. That’s when I decided that if I really wanted this book — which I loved and wanted to share with whomever might care enough to read it — to become an actual novel that lived and breathed in the world, then I would have to publish it myself.

Wheeler Street Press was born, and a plan — or series of plans — was hatched. The creation of a publishing company, with the sole purpose of putting in print and in e-book form all of the finished, polished prose I have labored over all these years, was the most promising step forward I had experienced since I can’t remember when.

As I move forward with this blog, and publication through Wheeler Street Press becomes a reality, more details of this process will emerge. In 2017, The Bear Who Broke The World will see publication as both a trade paperback and and e-book. Until then, I will be here, continuing to document the evolution of my novel.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I’ll do my best to make sure your visits here are worth the trip.

img_4671

photo by Justin McFarr

 

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