All I Never Got For Christmas Part One

Jingle bells are in the air, which can mean only one thing: Adults around the world are still pissed off about the misspent Christmases of their youth. In the spirit of the season, I polled my friends and family about the presents they always wanted but never got and the presents they received that ruined their lives. These are their stories, in their words (*Note*: Last names have been omitted to save each of you from Google-happy parents. You’re welcome):

Kerry: In fourth grade, I wanted Crissy, the beautiful doll with the hair that grows and grows and grows. Instead I got old lady Mrs. Beasley from "Family Affair." I naturally pretended to be thrilled with the blazing light of the old movie camera shining in my eyes, but oh I wanted Crissy because she represented something unattainable: beauty. Frankly, I looked more like Mrs. Beasley as we had the same octagon glasses and pixie haircut… Karen (my sister): I totally wanted the talking Velvet doll, sister of Crissy, whose hair grew very long when you turned the knob on her back. I got her–and her voice was scarier than anything Rod Serling could’ve dreamt up. She croaked out friendly messages from her plastic smile, but that evil, deep, scratchy voice meant only one thing: She would come to life and kill me as I slept if she remained in my room. I still have her, in a box in the garage, where I presume she feeds on rodents. Don: When I was 10 I wanted a groovy Schwinn bike. It had a frame painted with red metal flake, chrome fenders, three-speed gearshift and big fat tires with thick whitewalls. It was cool and all the cool kids had one. I asked for it for Christmas, then my birthday, then Christmas again. Never got it. What I did get was this crummy cheap-ass bike from Sears, its house brand, J.C. Higgins. No gearshift, no whitewalls, no chrome fenders and worst of all, no adolescent boy cachet. It was a piece of junk; fell apart before the following summer was out. Which was all right with me, ’cause it was the dorkiest ride on the block. Wendy (my wife): For Christmas I always hoped my family would overlook my propensity to decapitate and mutilate every doll I’d ever received. I would beg my mother and Santa Claus for Barbie, Ken and the Dream House. My mother, who I secretly believe hated me, would dig through my toy chest, point to the headless bodies and say, "You wouldn’t have to ask for more Barbies if you appreciated the ones I already paid for." Instead, there’d be boxes of clothes that made me resemble Charlie’s fourth Angel, circa 1978. But I looked foxy on the way to the shrink… Mike: I was a Transformers nut as a kid and I remember begging for the damn things as soon as my birthday was over and done with in September. Three months of solid hinting, leaving comics lying around turned to the ads for Optimus Prime and pushing the volume through the roof every time a "robots in disguise" ad came on the TV. Dec. 25 arrives and I get the Transformers’ cheaper cousins, the Go-bots. This directly led to my one and only brush with the law: shoplifting Transformers with my friend and getting nabbed on the third store we hit. Stern talk from the manager, followed by a short ride in a police car where I got to explain what Transformers were to the bored cop, followed by a long wait for my parents. It was all their fault, of course. Anna: I was about 7 or 8 years old and all I wanted that year was this stupid, hollow plastic pink princess telephone. It was fake, which explains why it was hollow plastic, but when you turned the number dial, it made these adorable little "brrring, brrring" sounds. It probably cost less than five bucks. But my parents didn’t get me the plastic phone. No, they had to go out and get me this dark pink girlie bicycle, one with a flowered banana seat and fringed plastic strips coming out of the handlebars. I was devastated because, of course, they went and bought my little sister a pink plastic phone. My pink plastic phone! Angela: I asked and asked for the Atari game Pitfall. Instead, my dad went to the swap meet and bought 30 cartridges of Centipede. Kendra: The only thing I wanted that I never got was a little brother. My parents tried to make it up to me when my sister was born by buying me an anatomically correct baby doll. This resulted in me saying "penis" in the middle of Sunday school. I was only 3 and I still remember the spanking I got after church. Thom: I never wanted toy guns of any kind but got them nonetheless because my dad was into them and my silly little brother wanted nothing but. They learned after a few years when all I did with them was use them to prop up a little canopy during May when I made some kind of stupid shrine to the Blessed Mother. I was one screwed up Catholic kid.

Happy Holidays!


Your Last Minute Holiday Buying Guide

If there is one question I am constantly asked this time of year, it is, "What do Jews do on Christmas?" We mostly open presents under the Christmas tree and sing songs from the Neil Diamond Christmas album, I generally respond. This year, however, because the yuletide spirit has me in a death grip, I’m also happy to provide a little last minute shopping advice. Below are my ten favorite books of 2004 (with one slight fudging for a book that came out in late 2003 but which is exceedingly long).

1. You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon. One of America’s finest short story writers is now also one of our most cherished novelists. A powerful, challenging book.

2. Cottonwood by Scott Phillips. A western. A mystery. A gothic horror story. A tour de force by not just the finest crime writer around, but one of the most diverse chroniclers of the human condition I’ve ever read.

3. Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard. Leonard is as nimble and energetic as he has ever been and Mr. Paradise is one of his finest books, period.

4. And the Dead Shall Rise by Steve Oney. It actually came out in October 2003, but anyone who says they finished this exhaustive 750-page account of the murder of Mary Phagan and the lynching of Leo Frank before the dawn of 2004 lied. Quite simply the best true-crime account ever. Ever.

5. Every Night Is Ladies’ Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra. This excellent debut collection of short stories heralds a fantastic new voice capable of making even the most mundane landscape, in this case El Monte, Calif., as vibrant and alive as Paris.

6. Don’t Try This At Home by Dave Navarro & Neil Strauss. Not great literature necessarily, but a fascinating insight into what makes Navarro tick, or, perhaps, twitch. (A nice companion is Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis.)

7. Born to Rock by Todd Taylor. This collection of essays and interviews about punk rock serves as a definitive account of what it means to be an outsider while craving to know what the inside looks like, if only to fuck the place up once you get there.

8. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn. The title says it all.

9. War Trash by Ha Jin. A hard look at what it means to survive.

10. Covenants by Lorna Freeman. A rich and energetic debut by a fantasy author who looks to have a bright and prolific future.


Greetings from Kauai

I’m sitting here on the lanai of a beautiful, oceanfront condo in Kauai, checking up on my email. My mother sent me this funny anecdote that gave me a smile… I thought it might give you one, too.

A group of kindergartners were trying to become accustomed to the first grade. The biggest hurdle they faced was that the teacher insisted on no baby talk! "You need to use ‘Big People’ words", she was always reminding them.

She asked Chris what he had done over the weekend?

"I went to visit my Nana."

"No, you went to visit your GRANDMOTHER. Use ‘Big People’ words!"

She then asked Mitchell what he had done.

"I took a ride on a choo-choo."

She said, "No, you took a ride on a TRAIN. You

must remember to use ‘Big People’ words!"

She then asked Alex what he had done?

"I read a book," he replied.

"That’s WONDERFUL!" the teacher said. "What book did you read?"

Alex thought real hard about it, then puffed out his little chest with great pride, and said, "Winnie the SHIT!"

What Is Appropriate?

I’ve been thinking about censorship and book banning a lot lately. There have been several instances in the last few months that have made me wonder aloud — both in my column and here on Lee’s blog, both in the comments and during a previous guest-hosting stint a few weeks back — about the reasons behind this upswing. In a comment regarding last week’s note about the English teacher in Wisconsin being castigated for teaching mystery fiction, I said that I thought some of it had a correlation to the recent election and its outcome and at least one regular reader of this blog disagreed, which means others probably did as well. In some cases, there is an obvious bias involved in the request that books be banned or censored — like the whacko the fine citizens of Alabama have representing them who thinks books featuring gay characters and/or themes should be removed from public and university libraries — and other times it appears to be an issue of parents fearing that their children will be ruined if exposed to thoughts and ideas that run contrary to what they are being taught at home.  Lately, this has meant that things involving homosexuals, violence, sex, suicide and drug use are verboten.

So if books containing these things are not appropriate for a 15, 16, 17 or 18 year old to read, what is? What is safe for a teenager? Sweet Valley High? What is worse — a book the distorts reality — like Sweet Valley High or books of its ilk — or books that deal with reality? As a child, my mother always encouraged me (and Lee and our sisters Linda and Karen) to read whatever we wanted and I did. I’d read all the Spenser novels in print by the time I was 13. I read every Stephen King novel in print by the same time. I also read things like Seth Speaks  and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and whatever odd novel was left sitting around the house (like, uh, Jonathan Livingston Seagull for instance) and I’d venture to say that I turned out okay. I don’t have children, but I know many of you do. So tell me: What is appropriate? And what is an inappropriate book for a teenager to read? (If you want some idea about what PABBIS [Parents Against Bad Books In Schools] believes the answer is to the latter, check this out…oh no, kids want to read 100 Questions and Answers About AIDS!)


Keeping The Place Warm While Lee Sips Boat Drinks

As a child, I was often admonished by a certain older brother that I was not to:

1. Go in his room when he wasn’t home.

2. Touch his stuff (which meant, basically, the stacks of TV Guides, over played Knack albums and his novel-in-progress…which was about an underwater sperm lab if memory serves me correct).

3.  Mess up the Stratego board (Lee played A LOT of Stratego back in the day).

Cut to 25 years later, and here I am touching everything. It feels excellent. So, until Lee gets back, I rule this blog! I will play "My Sharona" all night! I will knock over his stacks of TV Guides and I will re-write his novel!

In the meantime, should you wish to contact me, send all hate mail, queries, odd questions , naked pictures of Cylons and/or naked pictures of me to

Lewis Perdue v. Dan Brown

Lewis Perdue, my former journalism prof at UCLA, caused quite a stir a while back in the national press when he charged that large chunks of THE DAVINCI CODE were lifted from his novels.  Now he’s filed his lawsuit, which you can read for yourself here. The detailed, side-by-side comparisons between THE DAVINCI CODE and Lew’s DAVINCI LEGACY  and DAUGHTER OF GOD are especially interesting…

Why Tod Goldberg Writes

Tod Goldberg

I once had a real job. Actually, I once had two real
jobs. My first real job went something like this:

7:30am. Arrive at office. Drink coffee. Add non-dairy
creamer. Turn on phones. Listen to voice mail messages
from temps calling out sick from the only job they
will ever get from me. Listen to voice mail messages
from people who are newly temps and want that one job
they will invariably fuck up beyond comprehension,
causing them to forever wander the earth unemployed
and embittered ˆ first at themselves, later at me,
later still at the whole damn patriarchal society. Add
sugar. Contemplate Krispy Kreme.

7pm. Leave office. Loosen tie. Bang head against
steering wheel. Sit in traffic. Contemplate ritual
suicide. Contemplate going back to school and making
something of myself. Contemplate what, exactly, that
degree in English has gotten me besides a crappy job
getting people temp jobs. Go home. Eat Rice-A-Roni.
Beg girlfriend to kill me.

Total time at job: Two years.

My second real job was a little better. It went like

9:00am or 9:30am or 10am (depending on whether or not
I thought we’d be filing Chapter 11 that specific day
or if my boss was going to be hung-over or if my main
client was likely to call me). Arrive at office of
a "direct response advertising agency ˆ which is code for
Joint Where Infomercials Are Made, which is code for
Company That Subsequently Was Discovered To Be In
Cahoots With Its Main Client Over Some Exercise
Machines That Didn’t Work and Possibly Could Kill
Small Children, Pets, and Haitian Immigrants and,
Additionally, Was Funneling Money To Some Cult In
Texas. Listen to voice mail messages from my main client. I’m now an
Account Executive with a very fine cubicle and at least one client who
is quite angry that his infomercial "The Magic Scrub That Will Make
Your Face Break Out in Welts The Size of Cocker Spaniels Whilst Making
You Look Twenty Years Younger" is not performing as well as he’d like
in a few specific markets. Specifically,
he says, "Spo-KANE is ‘sucking ass’" and "who the fuck
wanted it in Spo-KANE in the first fucking place?" Go
to men’s room with LA Times sports section in tow.
Wait until my cubicle partner Dan finishes his twenty
five minute bowel exercise before I can check the
scores. Eat a bagel. Yell at some underling because an
infomercial I hate and am somewhat responsible for is
performing poorly in Spokane. I pronounce Spokane that
way it’s actually pronounced, unlike my client,
because I’m detail oriented, think outside the box,
and am ready to throw myself on the mercy of the cult
in Texas. Do some office-y stuff, like prepare for
Secret Santa week, think about how to tell my boss
that when he says "perfect-o" I want to reach my hand
down his throat until I can feel his spleen. Make some
calls to Ronco. Ask about getting one of those
rotisserie cookers for my mother-in-law. Eat a bagel
(they’re free and provided by the company that is
about to be shuttered).

6:00pm. Leave office. Loosen my baseball hat (casual
office – you know how ad agencies are). Bang head
against steering wheel. Sit in traffic. Contemplate
ritual suicide. Contemplate going back to school and
making something of myself. Contemplate what, exactly,
that degree in English has gotten me besides a crappy
job working for an advertising agency that peddles
Infomercials. Go home. Eat Rice-A-Roni. Beg wife to
kill me.

Total time at job: one year.

That why I write. That’s why I’m a writer.

Tod Goldberg is the author
of two novels, Fake Liar Cheat (Pocket Books), which sold to Hollywood for big bucks, and Living Dead Girl
(Soho Press), which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His book of  collected of short stories will be out in Fall 2005.

Tod’s post originally appeared on Bob Sassone’s Professor Barnhardt’s Journal. Thanks to Sarah Weinman for reminding me of it. – Lee

Holiday Hiatus

I’m heading off with my family  to Hawaii for ten days … so it’s unlikely I’ll be posting much here, if at all, until the new year. However, my TV writing partner William Rabkin and my brother Tod Goldberg will be keeping the blog warm with their wit and wisdom.

Have a terrific holiday and a wonderful new year!

Another Scam that Preys on the Self-Published

I’ve been getting this come-on in my emailbox for days now:

Why join Some of the best movies have been based on
books – Cold Mountain, The Godfather, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil, Prince of Tides, Forrest Gump, L.A. Confidential.

Your book could be next! Wouldn’t you like to have your book or screenplay made
into a movie? publishes 2 catalogs per year which are
distributed to over 2500 film producers, directors, studios, and film agents
nationwide.  Get your full-page color ad in our catalog containing book
summary, book review, book photo, book ordering information, author bio, author
contact information, and representation information.

Email us today at to get your listing in our Catalog.

It’s a fascinating bit of bullshit.  They list a bunch of books that have been turned into movies, the subtle implication being that this catalog had something to do with it.

It didn’t.

None of those books became movies because of this catalog. In fact, the folks at bookstofilm don’t list a single book that has sold to TV or film because of the catalog.

Gee, I wonder why…. could it be, because there aren’t any? Studio & Production Company execs find out about books the old-fashioned way…they read bestseller lists, they read reviews, they talk to agents, they read book industry trade publications, they attend the BEA, they talk to publishers, and they walk into bookstores.

If you visit the bookstofilm website, they make a big deal out of saying they are based in Wilmington, NC…

…fondly known as "Hollywood
East" and home of Screen Gems Studios. Screen Gems is the largest full service
motion picture facility in the United States east of California.  Wilmington has
been the heart of the North Carolina film industry for over two decades. A few
local projects have been Domestic Disturbance, Year of the Dragon, The
Hudsucker Proxy, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles, Billy Bathgate, Day of the Jackal, One Tree Hill, Matlock
and Dawson’s Creek .

They say that as if mere proximity to the Screen Gems soundstages, or just breathing that Wilmington air, gives them legitimacy and insider access to Hollywood.  They list no other qualifications or credits…what a shock.

Only a fool would read this material and think that they are paying for anything besides an ad in a piece of junkmail that’s going to end up in garbage cans throughout L.A…. assuming the catalog is actually sent out to anybody besides the suckers who take out ads.

Pity the poor, self-published author who falls for this transparent scam.

Rose at reports that bookstofilm  is being run by John Weaver, the same guy behind,  a program that purports to get "book store orders" from brick-and-mortar store for self-published authors (I talked about here a few weeks ago).  Do you see a trend here? I bet it’s only a matter of weeks before Weaver launches a service to get self-published authors publicity in 100s of publications and thousand  of TV and Radio broadcasts.

Blog for Buzz?

Author Dave Zeltserman has started a blog. Why?

Several reasons. One to be quite candid, to try to
create some buzz for my books. One of them has the potential of being
big. The editors looking at it now are calling it a high concept book.
A crime novel centering around outsourcing. Hasn’t been done before –
at least not that I know of. More about Outsourced in future posts.

When I started this blog, I certainly didn’t do it because I thought it would get me buzz…or more readers or viewers, though I certainly mention my books and TV shows a lot. Then again, writing books and TV shows is what I do, and is very much a part of who I am, so it would be hard for me to have a blog without talking about those things

So why did I start a blog? I did it because….hell, I don’t know. Probably for the same reasons I have a website with a discussion board and why, for many years, I ran a BBS for screenwriters from a computer in my garage.  I guess I like to yak and gossip and rant and pontificate about things that interest me. I like to publish. I like to broadcast.

It runs in my family, that’s for sure.

My Mom had a weekly newspaper column for years, wrote a non-fiction book, and has a blog now.

My brother Tod, an acclaimed literary novelist, has a weekly newspaper column and a website.

My  sisters Karen and Linda have individual websites, a shared website and a shared blog... and in November, their first book is coming out.

My father Alan was TV anchorman, my Uncle Burl was a DJ (and is now a bestselling author of true crime novels)…so the media is in our blood. And what is a blog, if not another form of print & broadcast media?

Do you think blogs actually create buzz for an author? Has it created buzz for me? Will it create buzz for Dave? Let me know.