Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

HANK: Leave it to Jeff Cohen to have A Modest Proposal. A modest--mystery proposal. And leave it to Jeff Cohen, as leave us laughing. And then leave us doing a double take. Which leaves us thinking--hey, underneath that humor and elbow nudging and wink wink--there's a gorgeous big heart. And--well, let him tell you....

JEFF: I've come to the conclusion that the world would be a better place if everyone was always on a book tour.

Hang on; I hear you. I know that if everyone was on a book tour at the same time, there wouldn't be anyone left to read or buy the books, or show up at the events. I understand the logistics of the situation would make the whole thing impossible. I'm not suggesting we all leave tomorrow.

But. Wouldn't the world be better off if we all behaved as if we were on a book tour? If we were all acting as if we had a new title all ready to go, and wanted the rest of the population of Earth to know about it?

Earlier this month, I embarked on the Jeff Cohen version of a "book tour" to help promote my latest, A NIGHT AT THE OPERATION (only $7.99 or less at a bookstore near you). That is to say, I attended Malice Domestic in Arlington, VA (a four-hour drive from my New Jersey compound), then hopped in the Prius and ventured to Oakmont, PA (a four-hour drive from the Malice hotel) to attend the Festival of Mystery at the Mystery Lovers Bookstore, and then across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, where I teach screenwriting to unsuspecting college students twice a week, then home.

In all, five days, three-ish cities, about 1000 miles on the hybrid. Not what anybody would call a major scouring of the country, but entirely what I could afford to do. And it was a lovely trip.

But boy, was I tired of being nice to people by the time I got home!
Persuading people that you're an affable, likable and best of all, $7.99-or-less-worthy human being takes a lot of energy. But it's completely worth it. I smiled at everyone I saw (almost always sincerely, as well). I spoke to anyone who would approach (try THAT on the streets of Manhattan!), I'd laugh at jokes that were, let's face it, lame (and a few good ones), and most of all, I thanked virtually everyone who passed through my line of sight just for acknowledging me. For five days.
Now, imagine if everyone did that all the time. Sure, it'd be exhausting, but then, who'd have the energy to start a holy war? Maybe our mothers were right, and after all that smiling, our faces really WOULD freeze in that position! Eventually, it would become second nature, and after even more time, maybe even FIRST nature.

Of course, the downside would be that if everyone was nice to each other all the time, there would be no more crime, and we mystery authors would have to look for another line of work. So maybe I should rethink this whole theory.

Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.

Can't let Jeff get away without a couple of questions. Nice ones, of course:
HANK: . How did you decide to put movies in your mysteries? I mean--what was your first glimmer of a thought about it?

JEFF: Like everything else in writing, it starts with the character. When I made up Elliot Freed, it was to unleash the insane comedy fanatic in me--he was going to do what I'd love to do if money were (guffaw, guffaw) no object. Elliot was going to own a movie theatre and show only comedies, specifically the classics I love. That especially meant the Marx Brothers, because they are my religion. But others as well--Buster Keaton, Peter Sellers, Walter Matthau.

Because I want people to agree with me that they are as important to life as breathing. I'd always had that fantasy; Elliot can do it because he has enough money to try. I never will.

Writers write to improve lives, mostly their own.

HANK: You're so funny in real it easier to be "funny" in print or in person? I guess they both have their pluses and minuses...

JEFF: Easy? I honestly don't know. I have this talent for saying things people think are funny. Half the time, I'm not working at it; I think I just listen differently than most. I was at a party once with the incredibly wonderful Julia Spencer-Fleming and her equally fantastic husband, Ross Hugo-Vidal. And the conversation drifted around to their mutually hyphenated names. And Ross turned to me and asked, quite innocently, "if you and your wife were hyphenated, what would you be?"So I answered, "Presbyterians."

I don't know where the answer came from. But that's how my mind works. The difference is that in print, I can take two hours to think of the quip Elliot comes up with on the spot. In real life, I get one chance, and if I blow it, there's no going back.

HANK: And are you guys still friends? Anyway. Lots of talk about whether in-person book tours are--"worth it." What do you think?

JEFF: Well, I've never done a REAL book tour, because I can't afford the travel (I absolutely fail to understand how authors manage it). I've gone hit-and-miss to places, attended conferences and visited as many bookstores as I could drive to. I don't think the "two-hours-and-a-card-table" signings are helpful, to anyone. But when a bookstore and an author collaborate on an event and make it something special, I think those are great.

They help the author because the bookstoreowners (managers, personnel of all kinds) get to know the author and hopefully like you enough to handsell the books after you leave. When it's a seat next to the children's section and an inaudible announcement over the store PA system, I don't think it helps.

But then, not having been seen within miles of the New York Times Bestseller list, perhaps I'm not the person to ask what's "worth it"to help book sales.

HANK: I'm still back on the Presbyterian crack. And trying to think of what Jeff's next movie-title book could be. Anyway. Authors? Readers? Book tours--yes or no?

And what's your favorite Marx Brothers Movie?


  1. Come to think of it, I haven't heard from Julia and Ross in a while... hmmm...

    Yes, of course we're still friends. They're way too nice to get mad, even at a rude comment like that. One has to know one's audience.

    Favorite Marx Brothers movie: Horse Feathers. It was my first.

    Thanks so much for inviting me over today, Hank and everyone else here! I'm very honored, and it was a lot of fun!

  2. How old were you when you saw it? Horse Feathers, I mean?

    And it really changed your world?

    What are your top five funniest movies?

    Sullivans Travels, for me. Born Yesterday. Desk Set. Hmmm.let me thing..

    HOw about you, JRs?

  3. Let's see... probably around 1974, so I would be about 16. And yes, it changed my world. It showed me that funny could be aggressive, and unapologetic, and speak the truth. And I was falling off the couch laughing. One of those few times I can say a movie really did change my life.

    Top 5? Why not just ask me which of my books I like the best?

    A sample (in no particular order):


  4. I love the way you think. LOL.Hopscotch was a wonderful movie.

  5. Welcome to JR, Jeff -- I am SO jet-lagged that I read Hank's line: "I'm still back on the Presbyterian crack" as "I'm still back on Presbyterian crack" -- and I Presbyterians get high?

    Never mind. You had to be We amuse ourselves.

    Jeff, you are so right that on book tour you have to be NICE to everyone, and it sure would be a kinder gentler, if somewhat less interesting world if everyone was. It's hard to stay nice on tour when you're schlepping yourself around and **fill in the blank** (it's snowing, hailing, raining, hot as hades, or the world series or the presidential debate is running, or ...) and self pity is the emotion de jour. Having said that, I'm so happy when even one person (okay, happier when 10 or 20 do) show up to talk with me about my **fill in blank** (wonderful, provocative, intriguing...) new book.

  6. Duck Soup
    Great blog! Keep it coming Jeff. Laughter is good medicine and does a body good!

  7. Ah - Horse Feathers AND Duck Soup! Though I used to see them regularly at the local, ahem, art house and not sure they'd be the same without the weed. Maybe they would.

    Presbyterian crack... probably made with lard and refined sugar and incredibly addictive...

  8. We're delighted to have you visiting today Jeff! I couldn't comment earlier because out doing a gig with Hallie. The thing is, you never know what will lead to what, so you have to rely on your budget and common sense and leave the rest to Kismet...and yes, always be nice. Which Jeff always is.
    Good luck with your funny books--we can all use a few laughs!