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It is Tuesday morning, April 19. My sons are on spring break this week, so rather than school, they are instead spending their days at a nearby golf camp. Neither of them has demonstrated any great passion for the game, but that’s all right by me. This is so because I have seen the alternative:  the two of them sitting on the sofa, side by side, eating chips and fruit roll-ups, huddled fixedly over their little handheld electronic gaming devices as if they held all the secrets to the universe.

That simply won’t do. Kids need structure and physical activity. To allow otherwise would be a textbook example of bad parenting.

Even worse, it would mean they would be spending their days pretty much just like me.

For, you see, this is what writers do. We sit, or sprawl, with a laptop (our preferred electronic device of choice) close at hand and a faraway look in our eyes, trying desperately to conjure up words and thoughts and stories worth sharing. Pajamas are often involved, as well as large vats of industrial-strength coffee. Also present are outside sources of inspiration, such as other writers’ books, and magazines, and even the occasional J. Crew or Pottery Barn catalogue. Showers are optional. It is not an attractive sight.

But that all changes when we take a break from the actual work of writing and go out to promote our labors, whether it be at a bookstore, a trade show, or on a studio lot. Then, we suddenly transform ourselves into what the world at large would like to think a writer looks like. There should be a certain professorial air, yes, but also a bit of rakishness lurking at the edges.  Or, in the case of female writers, perhaps a kind of saucy (for urban types, a la Candace Bushnell) or earthy (rural, a la Anne Proulx) savoir faire.  Overall, there should be a heightened sense of knowing, and appreciating, life’s inner workings. We have seen behind the curtain, and we are now willing to share our wisdom and our witticisms with you.  (Cigarettes used to be, for some, an invaluable prop in this regard, imparting a world-weary chic in a single puff or flick of the wrist. More recently, I have found that having a large bottle of cult-brand tequila close at hand offers this same kind of shorthand authenticity.)

I will be taking my “rakish professor” act on the road next week, when I travel to New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut) for a full week of signings, readings, media chats, and book parties. This little mini-tour was largely instigated by a number of my big-hearted and persistent friends back in that part of the country, who read my book Golden State and liked it enough to open their lovely homes and their overflowing Rolodexes to help me spread the word about my work.

Since I am still relatively new to this, the thought of mounting this kind of large-scale campaign daunts me. Up until now, I have operated more of a guerilla offensive, with isolated appearances and targeted PR salvos smattered here and there, often conducted via phone or e-mail from the comfort of my own home. The truth is, I am not particularly adept at large-crowd mingling, nor do I thrive being the center of attention. Can I keep up the proper façade for a full week, or will I crumble under the pressure? Only time will tell.

Fortunately, one of the characters from my book, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has and continues to provide for me a state-of-the-art demonstration of how to court publicity and convey the desired image.

Arnold has lived most of his adult life in the public eye, and while he has been famous for nearly forty years now, he has managed to transform the focus of that fame, and its accompanying image, multiple times. First as a world champion body builder, and then, in ascending chronological order, as: a charming, thickly-accented character actor (STAY HUNGRY); a full-blown action hero (CONAN, TERMINATOR); a surprisingly relatable comedy star (TWINS); a national fitness advocate and Kennedy-adjunct statesman; and, finally, as a duly elected two-term Governor of the great state of California.

But now, in his latest jaw-dropping incarnation, Arnold has truly outdone himself.  While most pundits deemed Arnold’s gubernatorial efforts to be middling at best, and his approval rating plummeted into the low 20s, Mr. Schwarzenegger recently announced plans to star in both a film and an animated television series for kids called The Governator. In this multi-platform entertainment juggernaut, Arnold will play a former California governor living in mansion-friendly Brentwood, CA, just like himself, who secretly fights crime and defends Truth, Justice, and The American Way as a costumed superhero called… wait for it… “The Governator!”  Talk about meta-fiction. Talk about revisionist history. Talk about big cojones. I’m sure it will be a huge success for him.

And hey, if he can get away with that, what’s wrong with me trying to project an extra dose of stylishly-rumpled jauntiness and joie de vivre? If Arnold can pretend he’s a superhero Governor, why can’t I act like I’m already an established, acclaimed author? Or even better: an acclaimed, best-selling author who also solves mysteries and retrieves stolen ancient artifacts during his spring break!! Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Perception is reality, right? That’s what the experts always say.

So, wish me luck. But if, by chance, things go awry and I show up at your door with my pajamas still on and an empty coffee mug in my hand, looking disheveled and out of sorts, just give me a refill and steer me back in the general direction of my sofa, okay?

– DP

Over the past two weeks, I have made several attempts to write something worthy here about all the tragic, history-altering things that are going on around the world. It was heavy on my mind and in my heart, and so I felt it was my duty, somehow.

I realize now that I was wrong, which is why those efforts all ended up in the trash.

The truth is, most of these events make no sense at all, and there is little wisdom to be gleaned from their dissection, only more misery and existential angst. We are human, God is randomly cruel, and the universe is mind-numbingly inexplicable.

Not that people don’t try. That is our nature. I see people on the news every day trying to assert that they can predict the next big earthquake or tornado or volcanic explosion down to the second. They are almost always wrong, although they try their best to spin the facts otherwise. And there are no shortage of holier-than-thou crackpots, too, who would like to attribute these catastrophes to God’s Great Wrath, which they always claim is due to some ancient perceived failing on the stricken people’s ancestors. How Godly of them to point these things out, I might add, when the bodies are still fresh, and the waters have yet to recede.

On a nobler note, there is a huge team of brilliant scientists, the best in their fields, working several hundred feet under a mountain in Switzerland trying to discover the basic events and elements that formed our universe. The apparatus for their experiment, the Large Hadron Collider, is epic in scope and cost tens of billions of dollars to build – it’s intention and magnitude so great, in fact, that some people feared it would create a black hole that would swallow the Earth and everything else in its wake – and yet, it was recently derailed for nearly two years, and at the cost of several additional billion, by a single faulty magnet, measuring less than a meter in size. This, in a site that spans over seventeen square underground miles.  Can you imagine the frustration of trying to solve the mysteries of the universe and being thwarted by a simple magnet?

I feel for them. I really do. It’s not so different from the feeling I get when I try to fix something, whether it be a faucet or an awkward sentence or a child’s shaken self-confidence, and I don’t have the tools or the know-how to get the job done: I know there’s a problem, dang it, and I’m spending the time to make it right. Isn’t that enough?!

On the other hand, when I do manage to get it right? When the faucet works, and the sentence flows, and the tears dry? Then, for that brief moment, I feel like a conquering hero, with thunderbolts in my hands.  I know, I know, these are trivial matters in the big scheme of things, but they are tangible and graspable and right there in front of me. Problem solved? Check!

I think we all need to allow ourselves these little victories – not just every once in a while but on a daily basis – so as to make up for all the things in our lives and in our world that are so completely out of our control. The sad fact is, most of us will never be able to find a cure for cancer, or lead the successful charge to end an iron-fisted dictatorship, or appear just in the nick of time to save that orphanage from the rising tides of the tsunami. I wish it were otherwise, but it’s true.  If history teaches us anything, it’s that you generally can’t pick those kind of heroic situations – they pick you.

But this is what we can do: we can make a donation, of money or time or usable goods. We can say a prayer. We can plant a tree. We can pick up trash. We can recycle. We can learn a new skill, or instrument, or language. We can help an old lady across the street.  In fact, we can respect our elders at every available opportunity (because if I live to be 80, I know I’m gonna want some frickin’ respect). We can keep ourselves healthy, and informed, and remain open-minded. We can do favors without expecting one in return.  We can check the organ donor box on our driver’s licenses. We can rescue stray pets, and adopt or foster or befriend needy children. We can be good parents to our own children and guardians to the land around us. We can appreciate what we have, rather than covet and envy what we don’t. We can live by the Golden Rule.

That last one’s a biggie, I have found. It pretty much comprises all the others , and everything else I have neglected to mention. Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you. Now that I think about it, if I can just manage to do that throughout the course of my day (except at the poker table; there, it’s still every man for himself) I will at least feel a bit better when I go to sleep at night, in my dry bed, in my house that isn’t shaken to rubble or floating off to sea, in my free country, in a world that has yet to be swallowed by a black hole.

Amen.

“It doesn’t really work for me.”

“I don’t see the audience for this.”

“We already have something similar in development.”

“Let me think about it and I’ll call you.”

If you have ever worked in the business of creating something, whether it be art, fashion, architecture, or even the next Snuggie or ShamWow, you have very likely heard these phrases and many others like them.

They are all euphemisms, with the exact same meaning: no.

No. That single word, that single, excruciating syllable, can cut through the human heart faster and surer than the sharpest samurai sword.

But to ultimately succeed, one has to learn to accept these rejections with a stoic grace, digest their underlying merits (if, indeed, there are any), and then forget about them.

This is not a skill that comes easily. No one likes to be told no. Yes is just so much more pleasant. In a single word, it says, we see eye to eye. We share the same goals. We’re both awesome and brilliant. Yay!

Which is probably why “no’s” are far more common.

Saying yes demands a commitment. Saying yes means devoting time, and money, and effort. And really, who wants that? Especially when that next, sexy, slam-dunk proposition is sure to be right around the corner…

But when you’re on the other side of this equation, when you have created something and put your heart and soul into it, those “no’s” are much tougher to accept. For you, it is not just a matter of a commission or a casual opportunity being cast aside. Rather, it is someone telling you that your ideas and innovations are not worthy of their further consideration. Having someone say no to your creation, your “baby,” is tantamount to that person rejecting you as a human being.

Of course, not all “no’s” are created equal.

There are, sadly, no shortage of people out there who delight in crushing dreams. It is in defeating other’s spirits that these sadists derive their own sense of self-worth. To them, I offer up a single word of my own: “karma.” And if there is a God out there somewhere, I can only hope that, for these people, she’s a bitch.

On the flip side, there are people who are far kinder in their rejections. Though I hate to generalize, these gracious, tactful no-givers tend to be women.  Perhaps owing to some ingrained maternal instinct, these women manage to couch their “no’s” in all sorts of peppy encouragement and flirty praise, to the point where I have actually left some of these encounters feeling like a prize winner, even though my work was very likely already in their recycling bin.

And yet, the end result is the same. It’s a no. By the time you walk out the door, you can almost hear the voice echoing from down the corridor:

“Next!”

No wonder Van Gogh cut off his ear.

But still, we must persevere, right?

And in fact, the evidence against taking “no” for an answer is so prevalent it is almost incontrovertibly persuasive. Examine any great success story, and their path to glory and riches will almost inevitably be strewn with a minefield of “no’s” before finally coming upon that one fateful “yes.”

A recent, shining example of this is David Seidler. Haven’t heard of him? That’s okay, he’s just a writer. An old writer, too; he’s 73 years old.  And before this year, only one of his screenplays had ever actually gotten produced, and that was back in the 1980’s. Sure, he had done some TV work to pay the bills and raise a family, but his heart was in film, and it was a cruel mistress, indeed.

Among those unproduced works was his pet project, a story that resonated deeply with Mr. Seidler because the story’s lead character had suffered from the same debilitating speech impediment that he did. Both were chronic stutterers. And if you think a film about stuttering doesn’t exactly scream “Box Office Gold,” you can imagine what the Sammy Glick studio executives of the world thought.

Those executives were all wrong, though. The King’s Speech has proved to be an inspiration for people around the world. It has been a huge success financially, and was recently nominated for 12 Academy Awards, more than any other film, including one for the writing.

And it only took Mr. Seidler a little over 30 years to get it made.

Just imagine how many “no’s” Seidler heard over the course of those many years. And imagine what a loss it would have been if he had taken them to heart and given up. And then, imagine being 73 years old and feted every night as one of the hottest “new” screenwriters in town.

This is all the inspiration I need. At least for today. Tomorrow, and the next day, and the next 30 years beyond that, I’ll worry about later.

In last October’s Time Magazine cover piece entitled “Great American Novelist,” Jonathan Franzen said that when he writes, he does so in a small, barren room, facing a blank wall, with no phone, no music, no internet access, not even a window. It’s almost as if he were a monk, channeling lofty words and thoughts rather than God’s spirit.

In contrast, Ernest Hemingway was famous for inhabiting the larger-than-life worlds of his stories. Fishing for marlin, hunting lions, running with bulls… not to mention fighting in World Wars, drinking magnums of fine French wine, and bedding truckloads of exotic babes. God bless him, Ernie was no monk, that’s for sure.

Polar opposites, the ascetic and the immersive. Is it those extremes that allowed these two writers to create such acclaimed and enduring work? I ask myself this, as I go through my daily paces of cleaning up dog poop, paying bills, shopping my little indie-film projects, and making my billionth batch of grilled-cheese sandwiches for my sons and their pals – not exactly hotbeds of literary inspiration – while also trying to drum up interest and support for my own debut novel, Golden State, and maybe conjure up a paragraph or two for my next one.

Did Hemingway gambol about the Serengeti with little plastic baggies to pick up stray rhino droppings? Somehow, I think not.

Does Franzen break from his Zen-writer state to whip up little afternoon snacks for the adorable urchins from his own suburban Minnesota ‘hood? “Hey, kiddies, Uncle Johnny’s got chicken nuggets for ya!” Again, a resounding “no” echoes in my mind.

Of course, the grass is always greener. Hemingway, looking like a debauched department-store Santa from all those years of hard living, committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at the relatively young age of 61. As for Franzen, his one brief marriage ended years ago in bitter divorce, he has no children, and his reputation as an arrogant douchebag is apparently well deserved. Would I willingly accept those fates for the chance to write something as great and enduring as theirs?

No, probably not. I love my family way too much to put that at risk. And the fact   is, most of us mere mortals have our fair share of bland obligations and nausea-inducing messes to deal with, as well as the occasional larger catastrophe. That’s called life.  And I like to think that these things – okay, maybe not in their initial throes, but at least in retrospect – provide valuable perspective and big-picture clarity.  And maybe that’s the sort of storytelling I’m best suited for. Regular people, in all their endlessly fascinating variations, facing everyday struggles in relatable, sympathetic ways, with perhaps a little sociopolitical irony in the background to add some spice.

Now that I think about it, Hemingway often got criticized for his work being too overbearingly macho, and Franzen has the rap for his being emotionally distant.  Whatever flaws I may have (laziness and impatience somehow leap to mind), I am neither of those things.

So, we all have our own crosses to bear. And if mine are not nearly as monastic and martyr-worthy as Mr. Franzen’s, or far less worldly and bombastic than Mr. Hemingway’s, perhaps this simply means that the stories I am trying to tell, and the characters whose lives I am trying to portray, will have a little more resonance for you, my friends and neighbors and fellow American Dreamers. And if that’s the case, then all those bags of poop – in both their literal and figurative forms – will have been well worth their while.

January 3rd, 2011 was Inaugural Day in Sacramento, California.  This was true not only for Jerry Brown, who is returning to the capital city for his second spin in the Governor’s seat, but for me as an author.

Since the backdrop of my newly-published novel, Golden State, is the 2003 recall election season featuring the state’s previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I thought it only appropriate to start here, on this day.  Sort of a bookend to an era.

Of course, when I concocted that plan, I had no idea that a massive snowstorm would close the only major road (Interstate 5) that led from my hometown of Los Angeles to the capital city, 350 miles to the north.  The result is that I had to wake up my poor family in the pre-dawn hours of that day, so that we could load ourselves into the car and make a huge, unavoidable loop around the closed mountain passes, through the coastal towns of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and back toward the state’s northern interior.  It turned an already long drive into a Homerian odyssey.

By the time we got to Sacramento, it was late afternoon, and we were beat – not the ideal conditions to prepare for one’s first reading.  Indeed, groggy as I was at the wheel, the only thing I wanted to “read” was the inside of my own eyelids.

Fortunately, upon arriving, our luck quickly changed.  For starters, we had stumbled into a night’s booking at The Citizen Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel right at the center of town, which has an old-fashioned, Art Deco grandeur that immediately put us back in a positive frame of mind.  Slipping into the comforts of our elegantly appointed corner suite, the hardships of the road were suddenly a thing of the past – we were back on track!

Also helping was Allen Pierleoni at the Sacramento Bee, who wrote a front-page article in the Arts Section (with photos, no less!) to trumpet my appearance that night.  Even though I am new at this game, and thoroughly unproven, I felt welcome.  This was true as well at Time Tested Books, the venerable indie bookstore that was hosting me. The store’s owner, Peter Keat, went out of his way to accommodate me, and help me publicize the read – a much-appreciated effort, since I had no friends of my own in the area to bolster the numbers.

But let’s not fool ourselves.  This was no U2 stadium show.  There were no lighters waving in the air.  This was a novice novelist reading from a book that had yet to garner significant reviews.  There were maybe two dozen in attendance, including my wife, two sons, and Rob, a junior associate at the PR firm I’m working with, who happened to be available because he lived in the area and was still home for the holidays.

That said, the reading went great.  Yes, my sons crawled all over me and blurted out non sequiturs during Peter’s intro.  And yes, the dreadlocked man with the crazy Fu Manchu in the back row slumped in his chair and leaned his head back in agony as if enduring some sort of backroom torture.  But by the time I had finished my chapter, Fu Manchu had sat up and laughed several times, and the others in the crowd had responded at all the right moments, too.  And they followed the reading with questions – smart questions, engaged questions.  People who had glanced at my book then set it back on the shelf to listen to the reading returned to that shelf to grab copies for me to sign.  I had won them over.  I had proven myself worthy.  My crucible, which had begun in the pre-dawn hours of suburban Los Angeles at the cold wheel of my family’s SUV and finished in a stiff-backed chair at the back of a small Sacramento bookshop, was passed.

The road was still long ahead of me.  But one thing was indisputable: I was now a novelist.