The Sporadic Beaver

A Taste of Publicity

June 4, 2015

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, Michael Lee Nirenberg, Back Issues, Huffington Post, book promotion

Despite a lack of Harry Potter-like sales and the absence of my name on celebrity A-lists, I've still managed to publish two critically acclaimed books.

That's yesterday’s news.

In 2015, in order for me to get another deal, an agent must submit my book pre-reviewed and pre-publicized.

Recently, filmmaker Michael Nirenberg, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, asked if he could read my just-completed novel, Bobby in Naziland. The book is about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, in the aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Nirenberg liked it enough to interview me for The Huffington Post. It’s Bobby in Naziland’s first taste of publicity.

Thus begins the long journey to publication. Glad you’re along for the ride.

Some Days I Think About Word Counts

May 2, 2015

Tags: Joan Didion, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Bobby in Naziland

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea: 24,191 words

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's: 26,433 words

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 27,622 words

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice: 28,770 words

Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays: 32,482 words

Albert Camus, The Stranger: 36,451 words (Translated from French to English by Stuart Gilbert)

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness: 37,746 words

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day: 38,816 words

Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John: 41,909 words

Robert Rosen, Bobby in Naziland: 44,527 words

Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?: 45,361 words

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea: 45,499 words

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby: 47,104 words

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters: 47,739 words

'Twas the Day After Christmas

December 26, 2014

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, The Independent, Dagospia, censorship, Beaver Street, Brooklyn, Hollywood Scandals, John Lennon

I'm not in the habit of discussing here, at least on a daily basis, the book I'm currently working on. But there are references to Bobby in Naziland on this blog dating back to October 2011, so it's hardly a secret that I've been writing a novel. And if you were one of the people who attended Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, in 2013, then you heard me read the opening pages of the book and have a sense of what it's about: a child's view of Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

I haven’t posted here in nearly four weeks because I’ve been working on revisions for Bobby in Naziland, and it’s taken up what little free time I’ve had. Also, in the middle of doing those revisions, the British government passed a new censorship law, and The Independent, apparently fans of Beaver Street, asked me to write about it. The piece I wrote, “No Female Ejaculation, Please, We’re British,” went viral and was then picked up by Dagospia, an Italian political-gossip site. This was one of my two major-media highlights of 2014. (The other was an appearance on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, which ran multiple times on the Reelz Channel.)

So, here it is, Boxing Day, Henry Miller’s birthday, and the day after Christmas—the traditional time to reflect on the year gone by. Judging by the horror that smacks me in the face every morning when I foolishly pick up the newspaper because it’s lying outside my door, 2014 seems to have been little more than a series of catastrophies. No need to innumerate them here; we both know what they are. Which is why I’m going to take a moment to feel especially grateful that I’ve gotten through this year relatively unscathed. Also, I’m going to put aside my cynicism for a day or two and look to 2015 with a sense of hope.

Call me crazy.

In the meantime, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you next year, if not sooner!

The Eichmann Transition

September 30, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, Mary Lyn Maiscott, writing

New York Times article from May 25, 1960.
Mary Lyn Maiscott, aka the Mistress of Syntax, is an editor whose judgment I trust implicitly. (That's one reason I married her.) She edited my two previous books, Nowhere Man and Beaver Street. In both cases, when they were accepted for publication, the editors at the publishing houses barely changed a word.

Four months ago, having finally reached the point where I felt I could do no more on my own, I gave Mary Lyn the complete manuscript for Bobby in Naziland, a novel I'd been working on for more than five years and had shown to nobody. She has since read it and has been giving me feedback--specifically flagging passages that she thought could be clarified, tightened, or somehow improved. (I gave an example of this in a previous post.)

Though I’ve been making improvements, there’s one passage that’s been driving me crazy since 2009, and that I continue to struggle with. It’s the primary thing that stands between me and a finished book. I call it “The Eichmann Transition.”

The capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Final Solution, is a story that I knew as well as any story: In 1960, the Mossad kidnapped Eichmann off the street in Buenos Aires and spirited him back to Israel to stand trail for crimes against humanity. I drew on my memory of these events to write a chapter titled “Tales of Eichmann.”

But when I turned to the historical record to check the accuracy of my memory, I came upon a fantastic tale that had been declassified only a few years earlier, and that changed the very essence of the story. Though the Mossad had taken all the credit for capturing Eichmann, acting as if they’d learned of his whereabouts clairvoyantly, it so happens a former Dachau inmate who’d fled with his family to Argentina had tipped them off.

Once settled in his new country, the former inmate, Lothar Hermann, did such a good job of concealing his Jewish identity, not even his teenage daughter Silvia knew about it. She was, in fact, so oblivious of her heritage that she began dating Eichmann’s rabidly anti-Semitic son Klaus, who used his real name and bragged to the Hermanns that his father was a high-ranking Gestapo officer.

The Hermanns, acting as spies, then confirmed Adolf Eichmann’s identity, at which point the Mossad took over.

This story, reduced to little more than a historical footnote, remains generally unknown to anybody who hadn’t researched the matter in the past few years. And it cried out to be included in Bobby in Naziland, a fictional memoir that in part explores the meaning of memory. But how to include it? The story of the Hermanns was not part of the narrator’s memory and its inclusion seemed to violate the narrative structure of the book.

And this is what I continue to struggle with—how to seamlessly transition from what the narrator remembers about Eichmann to what he couldn’t have possibly known, because nobody outside a select inner circle knew it.

Sometimes it feels as if Eichmann will be the death of me yet. But, I swear, with a little help from the Mistress of Syntax, I’ll nail the bastard sooner or later.

In Denial

September 23, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, conspiracy theories, Facebook, Google, Nowhere Man, John Lennon, Shade Rupe

In the Adolf Eichmann chapter of Bobby in Naziland, the novel to which I'm currently applying some finishing touches, one of the things the Mistress of Syntax flagged was my reference to a bone-grinding machine used in death camps. She wanted to know if the machine had been built specifically for use in the camps. This was a good question, I thought, and turned to Google for an answer. The search terms I put in, as shown in the graphic, were: bone grinding machine Nazis. I was shocked and dismayed to see that the first three results were Holocaust denial sites. (In a search two days later, the denial sites placed two and four, and the order continues to change.)

One of the first things that popped into my head was the idea of a kid in grade school, who knows nothing about the Holocaust, being given an assignment to write a report about the Nazis. He goes to Google and the first thing he sees is that the Holocaust didn't happen, thereby handing a tremendous victory to the deniers.

I posted this on Facebook, and it led to a surprisingly large number of comments, notably from fellow Headpress writer Shade Rupe, who’s done a great deal of Holocaust research.

What I hadn’t mentioned on Facebook was that part of the inspiration for Bobby in Naziland was my own dealings with a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who’d read Nowhere Man, and in Internet postings that described me as a “Jewish writer,” said that I was the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who’d given the order to kill John Lennon. He also tried to goad me into an online debate about whether or not the Holocaust really happened.

In the book’s endnotes, I say of this (naturally) pseudonymous fellow, “That there are people like this lurking on the Internet should come as no surprise to anybody. That other people who call themselves journalists echo such theories in cyberspace and, on occasion, have published them in books, and in at least one legitimate newspaper, is an alarming truth that cannot be ignored.”

That’s just the way it is in the fact-free 21st century. Holocaust denial is spreading and Bobby in Naziland is, in part, my own small response to it, for whatever that may be worth.

And, yes, the bone-grinding machines were specifically built to grind human bones in Nazi death camps.

Return of the Beaver

September 9, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, Nowhere Man, Bobby in Naziland, Amazon, Kindle, Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, Deep Throat, The Rialto Report

It's been nearly seven weeks since I last posted here, and the ninth day of the ninth month (see Nowhere Man) seems like an auspicious day to declare an end to summer hours. Regular readers of what used to be The Daily Beaver will notice the name change. I'm now calling this blog The Sporadic Beaver, which means that I'm no longer going to post Monday-Friday, but will make the effort to post at least once every week.

A lot has been going on since July 24:

· I’ve given the complete Bobby in Naziland manuscript to the Mistress of Syntax, who has read the entire thing. I’ve since been working on corrections and rewrites.

· The Beaver Street Kindle edition was re-released on Amazon U.S. and Canada, and last week it was the #1 “Hot New Release” in pop culture books in the U.S., and the #2 “Hot New Release” in art books, behind Gertrude Stein’s The World Is Round, in Canada. This is my first #1 anything in the U.S. since September 2000, when Nowhere Man was riding high on numerous bestseller lists.

· In other Amazon news, the secretive company has made the Kindle edition of Beaver Street unavailable in the U.K., telling me that they “don’t have the rights to sell it.” This is what Amazon U.S. told me last year about the print edition of the book—before the threat of a public protest against Amazon censorship persuaded them to make the book available. Perhaps the Brits will sort this one out, though they’ve given no indication that they’re capable of doing so.

· I’ve been kicking back in Machiasport, Maine; Saint Andrews, New Brunswick; and Greenacres, Florida, doing my best not to think about Amazon or any of the other routine aggravations that the publishing industry is so good at generating.

· Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been preparing for our next group reading on Tuesday, September 17, at 8:00 P.M., at the 2A bar in the East Village. The theme is politics, and I’ll be reading from the Lockhart Commission/Deep Throat/Watergate section of Beaver Street. Stay tuned for more info, and in the meantime, you can listen to Eric talk about Deep Throat on The Rialto Report.

What About Me?

July 2, 2013

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Bobby in Naziland, James Joyce, Ulysses

Robert Rosen prepares the audience for his reading from Bobby in Naziland. Photo © Cindy Rosen.
Having written about every Bloomsday on Beaver Street performer except for myself, it's probably time to say a few words about my own performance. Beyond noting that I know I've done better and I know I've done worse as a reader of my own work, I'm not going to get into a masochistic self-critique. But I will add that reading a piece of fiction as emotionally intimate as Bobby in Naziland was nerve-wracking--more nerve-wracking than reading from the so-called "dirty part" of Beaver Street, as I did at events last year.

It was, however, encouraging to hear laughter in the all the right places. And I took it as a positive sign when yesterday, one of my neighbors who came to the event stopped me in the street to say, as if she were surprised, "You really are a good writer."

In a lot of ways, Bloomsday on Beaver Street II was an experiment. It’s the first time I’ve ever organized an event with other readers, and it’s the first time I’ve ever worked directly with professional actors and a professional PR person. Which is to say that coordinating a show with 11 writers, actors, and musicians, all of whom are performing because they want to perform, is complicated and stressful, but ultimately rewarding. Again, I offer my humble thanks to everybody who participated.

It has also come to my attention that my aggressive promotion of the event surprised some people—especially those who know me, and regard me as a laid back kind of fellow. Having been on the receiving end of such promotions, I know how annoying this can be. But the promotion, too, was an experiment. I know that last year, despite the overflowing turnout, I didn’t promote the event aggressively enough. There were at least a half dozen people who told me that they would have come, but somehow got the date or the time wrong. I wanted to make sure that this didn’t happen again. Hence, the constant stream of reminders, on Facebook and elsewhere. Event promotion is still new territory for me, and I’m simply trying to get it right.

And I will try again next year, for Bloomsday on Beaver Street III, which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of when James Joyce began writing that damn book, which he called Ulysses.

Sneak Preview

June 15, 2013

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Bobby in Naziland

The narrator and his non-fictional mother, circa 1957. Any resemblance between them and characters in Bobby in Naziland is purely coincidental.
I know certain people, specifically members of my family and perhaps some high school and junior high school classmates, are coming to Bloomsday on Beaver Street II: Father's Day Edition to hear me read the opening pages of my just completed novel, Bobby In Naziland, which is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

For them, I offer a preview of my introductory remarks, subject to modification:

For those of you familiar with my work, this is a bit of a departure. For those of you not familiar with my work, this is one way to get acquainted.

A lot of people have been asking me, “What’s this thing you’ve been working on for five years?” This thing is called Bobby In Naziland, and as this is my first public reading from the book, I’ll answer that question in detail in The Prologue, which I’ll read tonight along with the opening pages of the first chapter.

But before I begin, I want to say that this is the kind of book that I should prepare my mother for before I publish it, as there’s a character in the novel that the narrator, who might resemble me in certain ways, but is not me, calls “my mother.” I know there are some people here who talk to my mother and are related to my mother—my real mother, not the character in the book. I ask them: What you hear on Beaver Street stays on Beaver Street. So, please, let’s just keep this among ourselves for now. Don’t squeal on me, I believe, is the correct terminology. Or at least the terminology that the narrator would use.

An American in Copenhagen; A Dane in New York

June 12, 2013

Tags: Thomas E. Kennedy, Naja Marie Aidt, Brooklyn, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Bobby in Naziland

Last night, for an infusion of inspiration, I went to a reading at 192 Books, a little gem of an independent store, about the size of my living room, in Chelsea. The event couldn't have been more different than what we have planned for Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, on Sunday.

The readers were Thomas E. Kennedy, an American novelist, originally from Queens, who's lived in Copenhagen for the past 30 years, and Naja Marie Aidt, a Danish writer, born in Greenland, who's lived in Brooklyn for the past five years.

While everything about Bloomsday cries “underground”—Porn Stars! Banned Books!—the sedate and respectful scene at 192 was more mainstream and literary establishment. Kennedy, probably best known for his Copenhagen Quartet, a series of novels set in that city, has published 27 books, and has been compared to James Joyce.

Aidt, whose novels, short stories, and poetry, are now being translated into English, was awarded what Kennedy described as “the Little Nobel,” the 2008 Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, for her novel Bavian, or Baboon, in English.

But the readings themselves, delivered to a crowd of about 30 people gathered around a table, were not sedate, and the availability of free Tuborg Danish beer, both light and dark, only enhanced the literary atmosphere.

Kennedy read from the opening pages his latest novel, Kerrigan in Copenhagen, a poetically rendered travelogue of a middle-aged writer’s efforts to “research” all 1,500 “serving houses,” or pubs, in the Danish capital, and he served up a good 20 minutes of irony, drinking, sex, and humor.

And though Aidt’s a short story, “Blackcurrant,” might have been a little on the sedate side, her poem, whose title I didn’t catch, contained a line about getting “fucked” against a wall, and held my attention throughout.

As Kennedy went to high school in Brooklyn, and Aidt now lives there, the readings were followed by a discussion about the enormous size and geographical complexity of New York’s trendiest borough. Aidt said that she’d like to get to know Brooklyn better, but no longer tries, because it’s too big and confusing. Kennedy then cited the Thomas Wolfe story, “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” reading the last line, “It’d take a guy a lifetime to know Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo. An’ even den, yuh wouldn’t know it all.”

The two writers both seemed like the sort of people who might enjoy what we have on tap for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. Kennedy, unfortunately, was leaving for Boston. But when I told Aidt that I’d be doing my first public reading of Bobby in Naziland, which is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s, she asked, “What neighborhood?”

“Flatbush,” I told her, and handed her an invitation.

We’ll see if the Danish poet ventures across the East River for a taste of the New York underground, and to hear about a time when Brooklyn was a provincial burb and a place to escape from.

Novelist Praises Manual Typewriters; Ethicist Commits Federal Crime

May 31, 2013

Tags: BEA, Jonathan Lethem, Chuck Klosterman, Bobby in Naziland

Jonathan Lethem (left), interviewed by The Ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, at Bookexpo America.
The primary jolt of inspiration for Bobby in Naziland, the novel I'm currently fine-tuning (and that I'll be reading from at Bloomsday on Beaver Street) came from Jonathan Lethem's 2003 novel, The Fortress of Solitude. A good portion of that book is set in what's now called the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, in the 1970s, about two miles from Flatbush, where I grew up ten years earlier.

As I read The Fortress of Solitude, I kept thinking that I should write a book about Flatbush, and bring that time and place back to life, just as Lethem had done in his book. This kind of inspiration is rare, and that's why I thanked Lethem when I saw him yesterday at the BEA.

New York Times Ethicist columnist (and pop-culture aficionado) Chuck Klosterman was interviewing Lethem, on the Downtown Author Stage, about his odyssey as a writer and his forthcoming “political” novel, set in Queens, Dissident Gardens, due out in September.

Lethem, who will be turning 50 in February—“I’m not big on birthdays,” he noted—talked about how, 30 years ago, he’d dropped out of Bennington College, in Vermont, and hitchhiked to San Francisco, where he’d written his first three novels on a manual typewriter. He preferred a manual, he said, because “metal letters striking paper” was like “sculpting;” you could “feel the imprint on the back of the page,” and you produced something real. He fondly recalled his days of using White-Out, and waiting for it to dry.

In the transition from typewriters to computers, the main thing that’s lost, Lethem believes, is the notion of a draft. He scoffed at the idea of his writing students telling him, “This is my third draft,” when all they’d done was edit their story on the computer screen.

“You have to read it on paper and retype the story; it’s the only way you can tell if it works,” Lethem said, explaining how he advises his students to print out their stories, erase it from the hard drive, empty the trash, and retype the entire thing.

Lethem, who does not consider himself prolific despite having written nine novels and a slew of nonfiction, also described the beginnings of his consciousness, and becoming aware of time, at age six, in Brooklyn, in 1970. “I knew about the moon landing,” he said, “but don’t remember it happening. I knew the Mets won World Series in 1969, but finished third in 1970.”

I told Lethem, as he was signing my copy of Dissident Gardens, that Beaver Street opens on Church Avenue, in Brooklyn, in 1961. I think I detected a sparkle of recognition in his eye.

***

Chuck Klosterman was also signing his latest book, I Wear the Black Hat, which is about villains, and as I was waiting to get my copy signed, the two girls on line in front of me handed Klosterman a five-dollar bill and asked him to autograph it, which he did.

“I don’t believe it,” I told him as I handed him my book. “The Ethicist is defacing currency.”

Klosterman’s nervous laughter indicated that he probably didn’t realize that he was breaking the law. But it now leaves me with an ethical dilemma: What do you do when you witness a New York Times ethics columnist commit a federal crime, specifically a violation of 18 USC § 333, mutilation of national bank obligations, punishable by fine and up to six months imprisonment? Should I have made a citizen’s arrest? Report him to the Secret Service? Or just forget about the whole thing, even though I’m aware that ignorance of the law is not a defense.

Or perhaps I should just write to The Ethicist and let him sort it out. I know he’ll do the right thing.

The Writer's Dilemma

May 24, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Brooklyn, writing, book promotion

The main setting of Bobby in Naziland, East 17th Street, in Flatbush, as it looks today.
One of the things I'm going to do at Bloomsday on Beaver Street is read from Bobby in Naziland, the novel I'm in the process of fine-tuning. It's going to be a short reading, about 1600 words that will include the opening pages of the first chapter--just enough to give people a sense of the book's flavor and the voice I've used to portray "an adult consciousness channeling the thoughts and emotions of a seven year old," as I describe it in the prologue.

The book, I'm sure, will be of particular interest to anybody who's familiar with Flatbush, the Brooklyn neighborhood that Bobby in Naziland is set in, especially if they happened to have lived there in the 1950s and '60s, and think they might "know" some of the characters. And I'm sure that readers will derive a great deal of pleasure from my vision of a Brooklyn that no longer exists, a provincial burb filled with goyim and Jews, Auschwitz survivors and army veterans who fought the Nazis, a place where "World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough."

What I’m not sure of is what I’m going to do with the book when I’m completely finished with it. The publishing industry, which never has functioned in a rational way, has changed so much in the past decade, that I don’t know if it makes sense to go with a traditional publisher (assuming I can find one) or to self-publish. The Internet is full of stories by and about authors, many of whom have successfully published with traditional publishers, who are now struggling with this same question. There are as many self-publishing success stories as there are stories of failure and unmitigated despair. For a writer like me, who’s had some success with traditional publishing but has not produced the blockbuster that publishers demand, there are no easy answers. The more I read, the more confused I get.

I can tell you this much: For the past two years I’ve worked as hard at promoting Beaver Street as I’ve ever worked at anything. I’ve gotten the consistently excellent reviews and the high profile mentions that theoretically sell books. But until I can get those Harry Potter-like sales, it’s unlikely that a traditional publisher will send a bushel (or even a cupful) of cash my way.

So, all I can do for now is spend this Memorial Day weekend putting the finishing touches on Bobby in Naziland, and banish from my mind all that other stuff. The correct answer to my question will present itself when it’s good and ready to do so. As it always does.

The Nazi Connection

May 9, 2013

Tags: Ulysses, James Joyce, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Bobby in Naziland, Mel Brooks, The Producers


Max Bialystock, Franz Liebkind, and Leo Bloom in a scene from The Producers.

Of all the Jews in all the books in all of literature, why did Mel Brooks steal the name Leo Bloom from the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses for his nervous and corruptible accountant in The Producers?

Played by Gene Wilder in the 1968 film, and Matthew Broderick in the original cast of the 2001 Broadway musical, Leo Bloom, in the course of auditing scam-artist producer Max Bialystock’s books, realizes that more money can be made from producing a flop than producing a hit. And the super-flop that Bloom and Bialystock scheme to produce is a musical titled Springtime for Hitler, written by a deranged former-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars).

“I don’t know what it meant to James Joyce,” said Mel Brooks, “but to me Leo Bloom always meant a vulnerable Jew with curly hair. Enter Gene Wilder.”

There’s more: Before taking on the role of Max Bialystock in the film, Zero Mostel played Leopold Bloom in a Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown. And the film is full of Ulysses references. In one scene, Bloom asks Bialystock, “When will it be Bloom’s Day?” A calendar on the wall shows that it is Bloomsday—June 16.

I bring this up now because, though Ulysses seems to contain references to everything in the world, it contains no references to Nazis—the book predated Nazism. And since everything that will happen this June 16, at Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, at the Killarney Rose, will, in one way or another, be tied into the Ulysses theme, I thought that a direct connection to the title of my book, Bobby in Naziland, which I’ll read from for the first time in public that night, was lacking.

True, the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew, is a direct reference to Joyce, and I figured that that was good enough. But now I know that, thanks to The Producers and Mel Brooks, which are both referenced in Bobby in Naziland, I do have the Ulysses-Nazi connection that I longed for.

Right Here on Our Stage…

May 7, 2013

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Paul Slimak, Erich von Pauli, Agnes Herrmann, Henry Dorfman, Bobby in Naziland, Byron Nilsson

…direct from Cleveland, Ohio, where he's just completed a critically acclaimed run as James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron in The Iceman Cometh, let's give it up for Paul Slimak!

Actually, it's not a stage, just an area on the floor at the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street, that we like to call a stage. But it is where all the Bloomsday on Beaver Street performances will be taking place, on Sunday, June 16, beginning at 7 P.M. And we have just received word that Slimak, whom you may know as degenerate Nazi fugitive Erich von Pauli from the Beaver Street videos (and whom I call "Henry Dorfman" in Beaver Street, the book) will be one of the performers.

Slimak and his wife, Agnes Herrmann, who plays Diana Clerkenwell in the Beaver Street videos (and whom you may have last seen in The Road, as Archer’s Woman), will perform a reading from Mr. Sensitivity, a play by our MC, Byron Nilsson, about a man who gives his wife a porn stud for her birthday. (Mr. Sensitivity was performed at the Fringe Festival in 2009.)

As a special bonus, Slimak, in the character of von Pauli, will introduce my first public reading of my novel, Bobby in Naziland: A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.

He has ways of making you listen.

In Silence and Secrecy

May 3, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, writing, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Nowhere Man, John Lennon

My actual room is a little more cluttered, and I use a slightly more advanced writing machine.
This weekend, as I've been doing most weekends lately, I'm going to concentrate on fine-tuning Bobby in Naziland, the novel I began writing five years ago, and had not shown to anybody until last week. As I explained in an earlier post, I plan to read the opening pages at Bloomsday on Beaver Street next month, so it was time to show at least those pages to my editor (who happens to be my wife).

I suppose most writers (as well as most readers) find it peculiar that a writer would work in total silence and secrecy for five years, especially these days, when it's become increasingly common for writers to share works-in-progress online with readers who provide instant feedback.

This is the height of literary absurdity and the best of all possible ways for a writer to achieve a state of confusion. Book writing should be a solitary activity that takes place in a room of one’s own with a lock on the door (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf). And I’ve been doing this long enough that I trust my own editorial judgment.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t prefer to be working with an editor at an actual book publishing company who’s given me an advance so substantial, I could concentrate, to the exclusion of all else, on finishing Bobby in Naziland. But I’m not the kind of writer who gets advances, substantial or otherwise, on unfinished books. On the contrary, when I finish the book and begin submitting it, I think publishers will tell me, “Great read, but there’s not enough interest in Jews, goyim, Nazis, the Holocaust, UFOs, the Rosenbergs, or Brooklyn to justify publishing this.”

This is the kind of thing that publishers say reflexively to most writers about most books. It can’t be taken seriously. When I was struggling to publish Nowhere Man—a book that would be translated into a half-dozen languages and become a bestseller in five countries—I was told time and again, for 18 years, “There’s not enough interest in John Lennon.”

Which is one reason I waited five years before showing Bobby in Naziland to anybody, especially publishers. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a writer than to hear from a so-called voice of authority that your work-in-progress is unpublishable.

I also trust the judgment of my editor, and when she reads Bobby in Naziland in its entirety, I want her to read it with a fresh eye. So, I will continue to work in secrecy and silence.

Reading Out Loud

April 29, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, Beaver Street, Brooklyn, Bloomsday

I began working seriously on the novel I now call Bobby in Naziland in May 2008. I had little idea of what, exactly, I was writing. All I knew was that it was time to begin another book, and there was something about the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush, in the mid-20th century, that was worth exploring.

I'd touched on it in the opening pages of Beaver Street, the book I'd recently finished writing (though had not yet sold), describing the goings-on in my father's candy store, on Church Avenue, in 1961. Also, I'd just finished reading The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem, a novel that takes place in an adjacent Brooklyn neighborhood, about ten years later. It gave me ideas.

So, I began the agonizing process of figuring out what my new book was going to be, and I saw it evolve from hundreds of pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, and ideas, to a possible memoir, to the novel that it finally became, and that I think I’m now in the process of fine-tuning.

Over the past five years, I’ve shown what I’m working on to nobody, not even to my wife, the Mistress of Syntax, who’s also my editor. Because I read the book out loud as I’m working on it (I need to hear in my ear what it sounds like), and have spoken about it to people who’ve asked, my editor had some idea of the wide-ranging subject matter. But she’d never overheard more than a sentence or two at any one time, because I tend to work only when I’m alone.

With the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street looming, on June 16, I knew it was time to pick the selection I’m going to read that night, and to finally read it out loud to my editor. That’s what I did this weekend; I read to her the opening pages of chapter one, “The Goyim and the Jews.” I’m pleased to report that she laughed twice, and said, when I finished reading, “It’s good, but I thought it was going to be more solemn.”

Bobby in Naziland is not a solemn book. And if you think the Mistress of Syntax goes easy on me because I happen to be married to her, you’re sadly mistaken. Quite the opposite, actually. Her editing process is uncompromising, her demands for factual accuracy unrelenting, and the proof is in the quality of my previous two books. The Mistress of Syntax is not a title the wife wears lightly. Her “It’s good” is a five-star rave.

To say that Mary Lyn’s reaction filled me with a sense of profound relief would be a gross understatement. But if the pages passed muster with her, it gives me enough confidence to go forward and read Bobby in Naziland (along with a selction from Beaver Street) to a larger audience on Bloomsday.

I hope you’ll be there to listen.

There Will Be Porn Stars

April 25, 2013

Tags: Bloomsday, Beaver Street, Eric Danville, Linda Lovelace, Deep Throat, Lainie Speiser, Bobby in Naziland, James Joyce, Nora Barnacle, Ulysses

As this cruelest month winds down, I find myself thinking seriously about what, exactly, is going to happen, on June 16, at the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street event, at the Killarney Rose, in downtown Manhattan. Last year was easy. My book had recently been published in the U.S., and Bloomsday was a book launch party celebrating not only Beaver Street, but other literary works, like James Joyce's Ulysses, that had once been branded pornographic and banned.

This year, I'm expanding the theme to include other authors whose works lend themselves to what is actually being celebrated on June 16, the day that Ulysses takes place. On that day, in 1904, Joyce had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and to put it in the most explicit terms, she gave him an epic handjob.

This much is definite:

Eric Danville will be reading from his book The Complete Linda Lovelace, which he’s now revising, and will re-release in September to coincide with the release of Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried as the deep-throat artist. I suspect that Danville will read, among other things, a zombie story he’s working on titled “Dead Throat.”

Lainie Speiser, author of many books about sex, will read from her latest work, Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars.

There will be porn stars present. Musicians will perform. Byron Nilsson will MC, read, and sing.

I will again be reading from Beaver Street, this time a historical (rather than a personal) passage. And I will also, for the first time in public, read from my novel-in-progress, Bobby in Naziland, for which I offer no apologies to James Joyce for the subtitle, “A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.” He would have understood.

Mark your calendars now, and stayed tuned for more news about additional performers.

Our Bin Laden

January 30, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland

Adolf Eichmann, the Bin Laden of an older generation.
I'm not going to get into a discussion here of Zero Dark Thirty, which I saw the other night. Suffice it to say, it held my attention and it's a film worth seeing. But it did put me in the mind of something that happened a half century ago, and that I'm currently writing about in Bobby in Naziland, a novel that might be described as a fictional work of historical nonfiction.

If you were born at a certain time, of a certain religion, and grew up in a place where an ungodly number of your neighbors were Auschwitz survivors, then you were aware of an ongoing manhunt for a certain war criminal. And the story of this manhunt was as galvanizing as the story told in Zero Dark Thirty. The difference between Adolf Eichmann and Osama bin Laden was that Eichmann, who organized "The Final Solution," was on the run for 15 years and was responsible for the deaths of six million people. I describe him in my book as "the swastika-spangled Gestapo monster lurking under my bed."

Bobby in Naziland is as much about how memory works and the accuracy of memory as it is about what the narrator remembers. And if there was one thing I remembered chapter and verse, it was the story of Eichmann’s final days, from his capture to his execution: kidnapped off the streets of Buenos Aires… brought back to Israel to stand trial… the man in the glass booth… “I was only following orders”… hung… cremated… ashes scattered.

But as I was writing this story, I realized there was something missing: How, exactly, did the Mossad find Eichmann?

That’s when I discovered that this information wasn’t made public until 2001: A blind refugee who did time in Dachau before the war and then fled to Argentina was the man who found Eichmann out. His name is Lothar Hermann, and he did such a good job of concealing his Jewish identity that his daughter Sylvia, unaware that she was Jewish, began dating Eichmann’s son Klaus, who used his real name. Young Eichmann would come to the Hermann house, brag about his father being a high-ranking Gestapo officer, and tell the Hermanns that the only mistake the Nazis made was not exterminating all the Jews. Lothar Hermann wrote a letter to the German authorities who, in turn, tipped off Israel. The Mossad took it from there, and four years after Hermann made his shocking discovery, the Israeli agents pulled off their famous kidnapping and took all the credit, too.

At least that’s the story in a nutshell. I’m still waiting to see the movie.

American Riflemen

December 18, 2012

Tags: NRA, Bobby in Naziland

Yesterday, a reader, Debra Wheels, mentioned in her comment about my blog post, "America the Deranged," that maybe the best thing I can do about the insanity of as many as 300-million guns circulating in this country, and the National Rifle Association's advocacy of putting even more guns into circulation as a solution to the problem, is to continue writing about it.

Ms. Wheels may be pleased to hear that I am writing about it in the book I'm currently working on, Bobby in Naziland. Unbeknownst to me, as the slaughter was occurring in Newtown on Friday morning, I was editing a chapter that is, in part, about the NRA. That was what drew me to the organization's website and the website for its magazine, American Rifleman.

The Naziland chapter concerns two characters, military veterans trained in the use of firearms, who, in the aftermath of the Harlem and Watts riots of 1965, join the NRA. These characters believe that more rioting is imminent, and that the police aren’t up to the task of protecting them. So, they intend to take matters into their own hands, get some guns, and shoot anybody who attempts to loot and burn their homes or businesses. The likeminded NRA, through their magazine, encourages them to do so.

The chapter is primarily about fear and racism, two emotions that the NRA expertly exploits. But I was having a hard time coming up with a title for the chapter. Various plays on “The Right to Bear Arms” and “The Second Amendment” just weren’t working. That was when I took a look at the two NRA sites, and the title of their magazine jumped out at me. All I had to do was make it plural and I had the perfect chapter title: “American Riflemen.”

It was soon afterwards that I made myself a cup of coffee and turned on the news.

Next Stop: Naziland

November 28, 2012

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, Beaver Street


Brooklyn Museum: A collection of photographs and plates from books.
The streets of Naziland.

Now that all turkey carcasses have been stripped bare and there's no more stuffing leftover to stuff myself with, it's time to get back to blogging. But before I return to the final phase of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, I'd like to say a few words about what I've been working on between meals for the past week: Bobby in Naziland.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you already know that I've described Bobby in Naziland as a combination of historical fiction and black humor about a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s where, to quote from the book, "World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough." And if you know me personally, then you might think that that sounds an awful lot like a memoir. You would be correct.

When I finished Beaver Street, the question before me was: What next? And it occurred to me that there was some very rich material in the Beaver Street Prologue that needed to be more fully explored—mainly the opening scene in my father’s candy store.

I spent the next two years writing down everything I could remember about that particular time and place: Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s. And I found myself with 400 pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, character sketches, bits of dialogue, etc. I read through it, searching for common themes, and what jumped out at me was Nazis, Nazis, and more Nazis. I grew up surrounded by Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, and for them, the war had never ended. This became the heart of the book.

Yes, Bobby in Naziland began as a memoir, but for reasons both practical and personal, it turned into a novel. And now, as I appear to be coming down the home stretch, I’m reminded every day of the William Faulkner quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And Faulkner didn’t even have Facebook.

The Year of the American Beaver

January 11, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Bobby in Naziland, Kendra Holliday, Nowhere Man

If you've been paying attention, then you've probably noticed that I've spent the past week reorganizing this Website for the U.S. publication of Beaver Street as a trade paperback and e-book on March 23, 2012. Which is to say that the home page is now completely devoted to Beaver Street; there's a separate Beaver Street page with an excerpt from the book; there's a separate video page; and there's a separate page for my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, which the Spanish newspaper iLeón recently chose as one of the 10 essential music bios of all time.

Also, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging much lately, choosing instead to devote my time and energy to the book I’m currently working on, Bobby in Naziland. Well, between now and March 23, I’m going to slowly ease back into the daily blogging groove, posting once or twice a week for the time being. So, please check back regularly for updates.

For those of you visiting this site for the first time (perhaps seeking information on porn star Missy Manners) allow me to bring you up to date: Last year, Beaver Street was published in the U.K. to critical acclaim across cultural spectrum. (Check out the blurbs in the right-hand column and links to reviews on the home page.) On more than a half dozen occasions, it’s surged to the top of the heap of Amazon U.K. porn bios, where even on the worst day, it generally resides in the top 20, among the likes of Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy, and Annie Sprinkle.

This augurs well as I kick off The Year of the American Beaver, which will begin in St. Louis—yes, St. Louis!—with a launch party hosted by Kendra Holliday, whom you can see in the March 2012 issue of Hustler magazine. Then, we return to New York for a party on Beaver Street, in downtown Manhattan. Stay tuned for details, and I hope to see all of you there.

Live from New York It's Rew & Who?

December 9, 2011

Tags: Rew & Who?, Otto’s Shrunken Head, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, May Pang, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Hoop, Bobby in Naziland



Two days ago I made my debut on the Rew & Who? show. If you were unable to watch the live webcast from Otto's Shrunken Head in New York City, here are the two video clips of my interview with Rew and her co-host, Alan Rand.

In addition to talking about and reading from Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, I also spoke at some length about my new book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, which is out now in the U.K. and will be published here in March 2012, and the book I’m currently writing, tentatively titled Bobby in Naziland.



Among the people appearing with me for this tribute to John Lennon and Rew’s brother Richard “Dicky” Kesten were May Pang, whom I haven’t seen since 1981; my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, who sang Lennon’s “I’m Losing You” and her own Christmas song, “Blue Lights;” and Hoop, who played guitar for Mary Lyn, and sang his original song about Lennon, “Oh, John.”

You can see clips of all Rew’s guests on YouTube.

The Long March

October 25, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Sleazoid Podcast, Bobby in Naziland



Allow me to take a morning off from exploring the meaning of the Third Reich and its impact on the good people of mid-century Flatbush, as I've been doing in the book I'm currently writing, tentatively titled Bobby in Naziland, and instead say a few more words about Beaver Street, scheduled for U.S. release in five months, on March 23, 2012.

Those of you who’ve been paying attention to this site’s home page may have noticed that my campaign to bring Beaver Street to the widest possible audience is already underway. Last week, The Sleazoid Podcast posted Part One of their interview with me, and boy, do they ever let me talk—about everything from my days as the editor of a radical student newspaper at the City College of New York, at a time when the energy of the anti-war movement was giving way to an emerging punk sensibility, to my tenure as an editor at Swank Publications during Porn’s Golden Age. They’ve also put together a very cool trailer, above, to promote the interview. Part 2 should be posted any day.

This is how it’s going to be for the next five months and beyond, a long march, blog by blog, reader by reader, as I talk to anybody who wants to talk to me about Beaver Street—an exhausting but necessary process, though one that I welcome and enjoy.

The alternative, of course, would be to stop believing in evolution and promote my book by running for president as a Republican. Seems to work for Herman Cain.