Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Lieu of a Christmas Letter...

...Here's a quick, last-chance summary of the year.  Which can't help but be a tad self-indulgent.  But a lot of friends are contacting me through Facebook.  This will help bring them up to speed.

The year didn't start well:  In mid-January I got fired from my crossword editing job.  It wasn't a sure thing at first--I had just really screwed up and knew I was in trouble--but my friend Tracy said, "I hope they fire you.  Your job is the only thing you ever complain about.  It could be the best thing that ever happened to you."  

Turns out she was right.  By very great luck I was able to stay rent-free in Brooklyn for three months while I collected unemployment and tried out Plan B.  (The friend, Jocelyn, was doing an extended stint with Habitat for Humanity.)  I spent January and February working on my book proposal for How to Love God Without Being a Jerk, and adjusting to the life of a writer:  I began working out every day on my bike.  I began to cook, and to eat heathily and carefully.  (I also stopped drinking; turns out I'm slightly allergic.)  [Side note: I also decided, thanks to Netflix, to watch every major film noir there was, at a rate of roughly one a day.  I am now pretty much an expert on the genre.]

On March 18th I sent out my proposal, and immediately got a response from an agent who said, "I can't sell this, but I like your writing.  What else have you got?"  I then sent him the proposal for my Kansas City memoir, and he bit.  On March 21st (Easter!) I got my agent, Adam Chromy, who has been absolutely amazing.  How amazing was proved in only a few weeks.

On April 1st, I made the rounds to several different publishers, and on Monday of the following week, the book had gone to auction.  By April 6th, I had a book deal for enough money to actually live on for a while.  (At least temporarily.  I'm returning to work once I'm done with the writing and touring part.)   My life changed instantly.  It still makes me dizzy to think of it.

So I spent April actually writing the book and waiting for the contract.  In April I stayed with my stalwart friend Tracy, who was away with Habitat for Humanity.  (If you ever need to couch-surf, go to the Habitat for Humanity chat rooms.  I have references now!)

In May I moved to my amazingly generous friend Sherry's country house way out in the Hudson Valley, still waiting for the contract, still writing and exercising and eating well.  I lost weight.  I had to buy new clothes, and Tracy helped me buy clothes that actually fit.  (Part of this weight loss may have been nervousness: I only had unemployment money through mid-July.)  So I spent all summer in the Hudson Valley, writing and waiting around, and FINALLY, at the end of June, I got the contract.  In July, I got the first part of my money.  Thank god for unemployment insurance.  It lasted exactly as long as I needed it.  

In August I took my current apartment in the East Village, but I couldn't move in because I was finishing the book and a move would have thrown me off.  I finished the rough draft at the end of August, and spent September moving in.

It was weird, moving, because it turns out that, after years of being other peoples' roommate, I didn't really own anything for living on my own.  I actually had to buy plates, and cups, and salt, and a bed and a desk and so on.  And I made a number of impulsive errors that I will improve on next time I move.  Moving is surprisingly exhausting, and I wasn't able to return to the manuscript (draft 2) until the end of the month, when I fixed it up and turned it in.

So I am now finally living the life I've always wanted: a self-supporting writer (for now, at least) living in Manhattan.  I've also lost 25 pounds and three inches off my waist, which puts me in the best shape of my life--equal, roughly, to my freshman year of college.  I dress well, I smell nice, and I'm basically happier than I've ever been.  Also, Obama got elected, which is not only good for the country but it won me a long-standing bet.  So it's been a really, really, really good year.  

I just want to thank my agent, Adam Chromy, and my friends Jocelyn, Tracy, and Sherry, who saved my life when I really needed saving.  Thanks also to the Moth and the New York storytelling community, without whom I would never have met all the friends who sustained me this past year.  (This also means big thanks to the amazing Cyndi Freeman, who introduced me to the storytelling scene in the first place.)  And of course, huge enormous thanks to Ira Glass and everyone at This American Life, who are a total delight to work with.  It's been crazy busy, but I'll get something in this year; I promise.

In 2009, I'm eying a move (in August) to someplace in Brooklyn with a little more room.  (i.e., something large enough to have office space I can deduct from my taxes...and small enough that the tax savings are comparatively impressive.)  And I'll have finished my book and begun starting on the next one.  Aside from that, I'm actually daring to hope that 2009 might even be better than 2008.  And that, just possibly, things keep improving from here.  

Happy New Year, y'all!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Baffling Things Overheard in New York

Guy passing me on the street talking to his male friend: "She'll get over it.  She's dating a Mexican."

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Think I've Found My New Nickname

Found in a vending machine in a laundromat in northwest Tucson.  Kalil is the local bottling company, so I doubt this stuff is found outside Arizona.  But look--the DR has a period!  It's about time one of these soft drinks stood up for proper punctuation.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Joy of the Season

Wasn't going to post today--I've got a lot of Chinese food to eat--but I saw this on Dan Savage's blog and couldn't resist sharing. Merry Christmas from me...and Henriette and Myrna.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Tucson, Such As It Is

I spent the last ten days in Tucson, Arizona with my family, and one of the events we went to with my niece and nephew was the "Snowfall."  At a high-end mall in the north of town, they have a scheduled snowfall every Friday and Saturday night for about twenty minutes.  "You should come," said my sister.  "I think you'll find it hilarious."

It was hilarious indeed.  They had carolers.  The place was littered with kids, some of them actually bundled up against the snowy cold.  (It was about 60 degrees the night I went.)  I thought they were actually going to break out the snowblowers or whatever it is they use up on Mount Lemmon to add snow when there isn't enough.  But--although it's very hard to tell with my shitty camera-phone--that light mist you can see near the lights isn't actually snow at all.  It's soap foam, drifting down in appropriately sized bubbles, shooting out of some sort of cannons.  From a distance, it actually doesn't look too bad in the air.  But it's soap and water.  It doesn't collect on the ground, you can't make it into snowballs or catch it on your tongue, and aside from the visual it's basically useless.  It was a huge hit.

The saddest thing for me was when I saw two children lying supine on a patch of dirt--which was now muddy dirt, of course--flailing their arms in imitation of a snow angel.  It was too dark to capture, alas, but the image is burned in my brain as a symbol of the most depressing kind of wishful thinking.  As a desert rat myself, I never thought I'd miss snow, but I was happy when I returned to New York and found it already on the ground, officially Christmaslike.  

Anyway, enjoy the dark video, and snark away if you like.  


Best Christmas Hymn Ever

While there's still time, I'd like to make a pitch for my own favorite Christmas song.  In the past few years I've been introduced to my recent favorites, "Fairytale of New York" and "Baby It's Cold Outside," and I'm grateful for the exposure.  But when it comes to traditional Christmas songs, there's one that stands out more than any others, and you almost never hear it sung.  The hymn in question is "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."  

I've loved the song ever since I first performed it in choir almost 25 years ago.  It's eerie and somber and speaks to the potential unearthly holiness of Christmas better than any other hymn out there.  (The medieval mode helps.)  Unfortunately, a truly great version that's free is very hard to find.  So I've offered two YouTubes here.  The first, a single voice, will give you a sense of the lyrics, and the second will demonstrate how it can sound when it's arranged all pretty.  

If you enjoy it, spread the word!  I'd love to hear some pop singer cover this instead of "Silent Night" for the gazillionth time.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's a Festivus Miracle!

The good news is, after my blegging, I discovered that there IS supposed to be a Festivus celebration in New York.  And not only is it in Manhattan (I was guessing it'd be in more hipster-friendly Brooklyn), but it's only a few blocks from my apartment, at BAMN!, an honest-to-god automat on St. Marks.  

The bad news is, the website is down or screwed up or something, so I can't confirm the time.  I remember it being 6:30 to 8:30, with any overflow crowds being shunted to the bar next door.  But now not only is the site not letting me in, but there are ancillary reports that it's supposed to be invitation only, and/or that it's a promotion for Festivus The Book, which is being released in paperback.  

So I was going to make this a post saying, "Hey, everybody!  Come join me for a Festivus celebration that's apt to be a real hoot!"  Instead, I'm now offering myself as a sacrificial lamb: I'm going to head over at 5:30 or so and report and take pictures and so forth, so we'll see what happens.  I'd hate for anyone else to make a long trip--say, from Jersey City--only to be spurned at the threshold and left to weep in the cold.  Wish me luck.

By the way, BAMN! stands for By Any Means Necessary, which is not much of a surprise when you notice that one of the proprietors is named Nobu X.  

UPDATE:  Forgot to mention: Festivus is TODAY, December 23rd.  So if you want to risk joining me, you've only got a few hours.  

LATE UPDATE:  The website is fixed!  And as you can see here, the event starts at 8:45.  Good thing I checked!  Looks like you're all welcome, and there's still several hours to RSVP.  Woohoo!


Eating the President-Elect, Part I

I was in Chicago for Thanksgiving, and I asked my friend Jen, "How come I'm not seeing any Obama stickers on the cars?"  She said, "In Chicago, it goes without saying."  

I guess this is the case, because here are a few pictures I took at a deli we visited a few days later.  I have to say I'm impressed at the accuracy of the drawing.  I couldn't do a recognizable Barack even in pen, much less in frosting.

UPDATE:  I should add that, although she's clearly very popular, not all of Obama's foodstuffs had him sharing the spotlight with his wife.  Here was a twofer I bought whose point seemed to be Illinois Presidential pride:

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Back on Schedule

As you may have noticed, I haven't blogged for a full month, and even before then my blogging got really spotty.  I apologize.  My life as a writer is terra incognita, and I'm learning as I go how to manage my time.  What I learned this time around is that I really need a schedule in order to get things done.  As of yesterday, I have one, and it's made all the difference.  Now that I know when I work and what counts as "done," I am also free to blog and doodle and do all the other things I love without fear of squandering important writing time.  Whew!

So expect me to return to my former habit of two or three posts a day, starting today.  (Or, just possibly, starting after the 25th, for obvious reasons.)  With any luck, hiatuses like these will be less common in the future.