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brad listi

Question of the Month: Title

by Susan Henderson on December 7, 2009

Tell me some of your favorite book titles. What do you think makes a good title? What catches your eye?

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I’m asking this partly because, once again, I have to find a new title for my book. The marketing team thinks THE RUBY CUP sounds more like YA Fantasy than literary fiction, and I think they’re right. But how to find a title that fits?

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I have a few links to share. First, when I announced a couple of months ago that I’d no longer be running interviews (because I need to knuckle down and devote my time to writing books), Meredith Resnick very graciously offered to take care of some of the folks I’d planned to talk with. You can read her interviews over at The Writers Inner Journey. And in particular, I’d love for you to read about author Tod Goldberg, and Gina Frangello, one of the best and most generous editors I know.

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Second, if you’re not already a fan of The Nervous Breakdown, the site’s been completely and wildly improved. It’s getting tens of thousands of hits a month, and I hope you’ll read (and maybe even contribute) to the TNB community. I have a weekly column over there called The Evolution of the Book, which has been culled from my monthly wraps at LitPark. The goal of this column is not only to buoy the frustrated writer by letting off steam about things like rejection, close calls, and endless waiting, but also to show a road map of sorts as to how I got this book written and sold. Whether it’s a road map you want to follow or whether you want to learn from my mistakes and take a different path is up to you!

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Weekly Wrap: Just Our Luck

by Susan Henderson on January 26, 2007

After I wrote my weekly wrap, I decided to send it to Huffington Post. If they run it, I’ll link it here. And now I’ll have to write something new, I guess.

The topic of luck sure triggered some emotions this week. I don’t know what I believe about luck. Certainly I work at my craft as if I believe that persistence and talent and good will are the key ingredients. But we all know lovely human beings who left this world with gorgeous manuscripts sitting on their hard drives. It’s a tough business, and I think we all hope we will be the ones to break through.

What I gave a good deal of thought to this week is the fact that 20-plus years of the following have not landed me a book deal: persistence, education, contacts, kindness, patience, awards, humility, stubbornness, conferences, panels, magazine publications, magazine editing, manuscript editing, knowing the market, prayer, hope, hopelessness, advanced praise blurbs, writing every day, taking criticism, taking risks, trusting agents, opening doors for others, listening to my inner voice, and having agents and editors say they’ve fallen in love with my books.

I say none of this out of self-pity. I am posting my quickie-history here as a reality check. It’s the reason LitPark exists – because this is the road we’re all traveling along. And even those of you with book deals and rabid fans know there’s no coasting in this business.

Maybe this week’s guest, Brad Listi was right to say that the most important ingredient in a writer’s career is luck.

Well, then – Can we position ourselves so we are more likely to get lucky? Is hard work, in all its various forms, akin to buying extra lottery tickets? If you buy 100 lottery tickets, are you more likely to win the lottery?

Your answers to the Question of the Week are so awfully beautiful and startling. Thanks to those of you who gave your thoughts: Lance Reynald, Simon Haynes, Betsy, Jon Armstrong, Gail Siegel, Richard, Kaytie, Heather McElhatton, Maria Headley, amy, Paula, Carolyn Burns Bass, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Aimee, Robin Slick, mikel k poet, Julie Ann Shapiro, mattilda, Ronlyn Domingue, Kimberly, Juliet, Cherie Burbach, Dennis Mahagin, and Jason Boog. Somehow, the collective answers are the very definition of a writer’s struggle. I hope you’ll go back and read them. It is truly an honor to have your company and your voice here.

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In the mail, I received a book from my friend, Richard Lewis. I’m so proud of him, I want to show off the cover.

Richard lives in Indonesia, and this is his second book about the Muslim culture in his region. This one happens to be set against the catastrophic tsunami we all know about and an American brother and sister trying find their parents who have disappeared in the storm.

Richard, thank you for what you said in the acknowledgments section. It means a lot to me.

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Tune in tomorrow, especially if you’re a songwriter!

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Brad Listi

by Susan Henderson on January 24, 2007

Brad Listi is the best blogger on the internet. I have no qualms at all about stating that. If you haven’t read his blog, it’s a work of art. Part stand-up comedien, part social commentator, Brad creates a masterpiece everyday, and is always mindful of our short attention spans.

So I talked with Brad about luck. He believes he’s had some – from birth to publishing his bestselling book – out in paperback just yesterday. He’s a great and generous writer who has discovered a lot of up-and-coming writers. I’m going to venture to say that you’ll feel better after reading this interview.

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Do you believe in luck?

Increasingly.

There’s a quote from E.B. White, who once said that luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men. I would disagree. I believe that luck is something you can’t mention in the presence of extreme egomaniacs. Because only an extreme egomaniac – no matter how self-made he is – would be offended by the notion that all of his grand success isn’t his own doing entirely.

Along those same lines, the British historian Edward Gibbon once said that the winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators. Again, I find myself in disagreement here. Try telling that to Dick Scobee, the commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Or Amelia Earhart. Or even a guy like Edward John Smith.

Good luck and bad luck float around. In a lot of instances, I don’t really see any rhyme or reason to it. And I’m not a big believer in a humanistic, puppeteer-like God.

Ultimately I’m inclined to believe that dumb luck plays a big role in life. And by dumb luck I mean luck we play no conscious part in and have little to no control of; luck without a conscience. And sure, I’m willing to concede that the luck may only be “dumb” based on the limitations of human perception. Maybe what seems dumb or blind – or even tragic – to my mind is actually a part of some majestic, grand design, a matter of intricate cause and effect. Maybe when Amelia Earhart’s plane did a nosedive and the crew of the Challenger was incinerated, it was actually a remarkable stroke of cosmic luck that my limited brain can’t really comprehend. But even if that were the case, the brutality of that kind of possibility leaves me feeling edgy and ready to punch something.

I’ll end with two more quotes, the first from Jean Cocteau, who said: “Of course I believe in luck. How otherwise to explain the success of people you detest?”

That one makes me laugh.

The second quote is the famous one from Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

I don’t really agree with Jefferson in an absolute sense, because there are plenty of hardworking people on planet Earth who wind up getting Lou Gherig’s disease at a young age, but I guess if I had to pigeonhole myself, I would say that my feeling on the matter falls somewhere in between Jean Cocteau and the third president of the United States.

A.D.D. in hardcover. A.D.D. in paperback.

When you look at your career, what do you owe to luck verses hard work, determination, talent, networking?

I probably owe the majority of any success that I’ve had to luck.

Yes, I work really hard. Yes, I’m very determined and doggedly persistent. Yes, I’ve hustled and done everything in my power to remain positive and improve my lot in life. But ultimately, I’ve been incredibly lucky.

I got lucky by being born to great parents, for instance, in a country like the United States of America. I got lucky with whatever bit of talent I possess. I got lucky in receiving a great education. I got lucky in finding an agent. I got lucky in getting a book deal. I got lucky with timing. I got lucky in selling a few copies. I got lucky. Plain and simple.

To be certain, my publishing success wouldn’t have happened had I not worked very hard and been savvy, and so on. But it could have just as easily have not happened, too, despite all of those things. Plenty of hardworking people, many of whom are far more talented than I, don’t get the ride that I’ve gotten. I’m well aware of that fact, and it’s humbling.

Do you think luck happens to people who don’t also do hard work and so on, or does that increase your chance of getting lucky?

I can see how hard work and luck often coincide. There seems to be some credence to that notion, some evidence for it in the world.

It also appears to be the kind of thing that the great majority of people tell themselves when they get up to go to work every morning. It’s the mantra of the working stiff. It might very well be one of those pleasant little lies that we tell ourselves in a desperate attempt to make our cubicles feel more tolerable.

And some people who work really hard get hit by trains, and so on.

In the same breath, I also believe that sometimes people just get stupidly, insanely lucky for no good reason at all. Lazy, degenerate, rude, intolerable people sometimes win the lottery – it’s a fact. They are born on cloudless spring days, and birds land on their shoulders.

And it can get even worse, I suspect.

Somewhere in the world, there probably exists a good-hearted man with a 200-foot yacht, an inherited bankroll in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a terrific sense of humor, and a ten-inch penis. He speaks four languages fluently and gives huge amounts of money to worthy causes. He looks like a cross between John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Jakob Dylan, and he plays the electric guitar with God-given flair and proficiency.

It happens.

Tell me what appearing on the bestseller list did or didn’t change in your mood, your career.

Being on the bestseller list definitely changed my mood. I found out about it on a Sunday morning and spent about eleven hours in an unruly state of crazed elation, thinking that I was going to be instantly rich and famous. I was talking to a lot of people on the telephone, and I kept on hugging my girlfriend (who is now my fiancée). My imagination did a temporary number on me. I saw myself swarmed at bookstores from coast to coast. I saw myself leading a hip, reclusive, international lifestyle, owning multiple places of residence around the world, fathering ten beautiful children, putting them all through private school, and entertaining a concubine in my spare time.

Then I woke up and paid my rent.

How would you describe A.D.D., and how did you come up with the title?

This kind of question, for whatever reason, is always a bit challenging for me. Trying to describe a work of fiction is kind of like trying to describe a song to someone who’s never actually heard it before.

The irony, of course, is that I get asked this question more often than I get asked pretty much anything. And so naturally I have some answers that I’ve developed in an effort to properly explain myself:

1.) Attention. Deficit. Disorder. is a contemporary rendition of the classic coming of age novel.

2.) Attention. Deficit. Disorder. is about the difficulties inherent in trying to find meaning in the so-called Age of Information.

3.) Attention. Deficit. Disorder. is about a guy whose ex-girlfriend kills herself and had an abortion but never actually told him about it and so then it becomes this kind of picaresque road novel with lots of thematically relevant nonfiction non sequiturs that attempt to reflect and replicate what it’s like to try to find meaning in an age of information overload, but please don’t think that the book is some kind of hugely depressing bummer like Sophie’s Choice or anything, because it’s actually got quite a few laughs in it, and ultimately it’s meant to uplift people and give them hope, rather than crush them and make them feel sad.

4.) Attention. Deficit. Disorder. is about Cuba, hookers, pizza, weed, freezers, mentally disabled Cajuns, skydiving, spelunking, New York City, sand, and fire.

As to where I came up with the title: I had a little piece of paper in my desk drawer as I was writing the manuscript, and I would jot down title ideas whenever they came to mind. Attention. Deficit. Disorder. happened one day as an offshoot of what I was doing with the novel from a structural point of view. It just popped into my head, and I wrote down the words. I looked at them and considered them individually, laughed, and put a period after each one. And then it made sense.

Describe your fans to me — why do you think they’re so attached to this book and to your blog?

My readers are great. I love them. I’m aware of the fact that there are a lot of books out there on the shelf. When someone takes the time to read my novel, and then has the decency to like it: Jesus. I appreciate the kindness enormously.

That said, I don’t really feel qualified to speak on their behalf, as they all have their own reasons for liking (or even kind of liking) Attention. Deficit. Disorder. If I had to venture a guess, though, I would say it’s probably pretty simple. It’s probably because they like the story and can relate to the characters. The novel entertains them and edifies them, and it moves them emotionally, and at its best, it maybe even changes the way they see the world a little bit. It does, I hope, what good books do.

As for their attachment to it, and their attachment to The A.D.D. Blog, again: I think it has something to do with the storytelling, the attempt at honesty, the attempt at intimate communication, the attempts at humor, and so on. I guess I’m somehow talking to them in a language they understand.

And I also think it probably has something to do with the fact that I’m very willing to engage people. I’m pretty easygoing, and I try to be honest. I’m not insulated. If someone reads my book and my blog and sends me an email or a letter, I always write them back. I take the time to talk with my readers, and I’m consistent with it. I try to be friendly and genuine and have good manners, and so on.

What would you say to those writers who haven’t experienced luck in their careers?

Do drugs. Hard ones, preferably. Drugs will help you to numb yourself against the toxic feelings of bitterness that could easily overwhelm a lesser, more sober man.

And aside from that, I would probably suggest expanding one’s definition of luck. If you’re healthy, and you’re writing, and you have the time to write and the mind to write and the freedom to say whatever you want, creatively, then on many levels you have ample cause to feel fortunate in a very concrete way – New York publishers be damned.

In my experience, it’s the doing of the thing that always brings me the most joy, anyway. The greatest happiness I feel as a writer is not when I’m signing a publishing contract or looking at my book on the shelf or giving a reading at a bookstore. Those things are great, sure, but the most fun I ever have is when I’m locked in my bedroom office, hunched over my keyboard with the headphones on, trying to put the words in the right order. At times, the work can be incredibly frustrating. But even when it’s at its worst, I’m always careful to remind myself how much fun it ultimately is. It’s kids’ stuff, really. It’s storytelling. It’s imagination hour. So enjoy the doing. Make it fun. Make it big. Make it weird. Make it big and fun and weird. Why not?

And then beyond that, hope that in the long run somebody will pay you lots and lots of money for your big fun weirdness, so that you can buy more drugs and live a hip, reclusive, international lifestyle with your beautiful spouse and your ten beautiful children and your massive, adoring concubine in the middle of the Indian Ocean on a 200-foot yacht called Ha.

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Question of the Week: Luck

by Susan Henderson on January 22, 2007

Is luck the biggest factor in a writer’s success? Tell me what you think.

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Wednesday, L.A. Times bestselling author, Brad Listi, will talk about luck in the career of a writer.

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A few (very dark and blurry) pictures from the past week – Mr. Henderson’s gig following Saturday’s Global Warming BBQ and the boys playing at open mic last Thursday:

Mr. H and Kenny; Kathy and Kenny

And sorry but I’ve somehow misplaced the photos of the boys performing “I’m a Believer” and “Let It Be” with Kenny joining in with the tamborine.

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