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Friday, December 20, 2013

The thing about writing

The minute you start to think of it as work, it all falls apart. But if you don't think of it as work, you'll never finish anything.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The last girl I danced with was my Aunt Et. It was my sister's wedding. She was 98. Aunt Et was, not my sister. I'd spent most of the time retreating in the corner with my wife, the only two Orthodox people at the wedding, me clapping in a circle with my family at the beginning while the band played the Hora, the lead singer, this black woman in a sparkly nothing dress who pronounced all the Jewish words way too perfectly to actually be Jewish herself, belting out "Siman Tov u'Mazel Tov" while the big baritone sax gave it an illicitly funky bassline.

So then we retreated, and then my wife, who grew up both Orthodox and in a big family, told me, forget it, she was diving in to dance, and I stood on the sidelines alone. I clapped along and plastered this big toothy smile. It felt fake at first, my face muscles contorted too tightly, and then I watched my sister and her husband dancing and it got to be real. This guy was going to be with her forever. Then I watched my wife get roped into the inner circle, the family circle, by my uncle, who officially shouldn't have held her hand, but I think I was the only one thinking about that. My cheeks burned. I felt more and more awkward with every passing moment. I went to check on the kids. I went to get another drink. Then my wife, who'd been at it this whole time, grabbed me and pulled me in.

Flash forward: Almost an hour later, most of the bridal party has retreated to their seats. Even my sister and her husband are taking a breather at the head table. I, meanwhile, am still on the dance floor, dancing up a storm with all the cousins whose names I can barely keep straight. Somebody pushes me to the center. It's just me and Aunt Et. I am way more out of breath than she is. She has way better moves than I do. She's dressed better, too. She wears a swanky white pantsuit and is snapping her fingers above her shiny hair. I try to do the Fiddler-on-the-Roof thing with my feet, because that's as much as I can compete with. We are holding hands. We are laughing and salsaing and trying our best to ignore everyone around us, because they are laughing too, and watching us like we are the only thing on TV, and probably deservedly so. It's the only near-centenarian in the room and the only Bigfoot-bearded Hasidic Jew in the room, and they're reenacting a scene from Pulp Fiction that's itself a reenactment of Saturday Night Fever. This is how our traditions prosper: One hazy memory transmits from one generation to the next, passed like a drunken game of Telephone, or rocked on the dance floor.

It's two years later. My sister and her husband have just had their first baby. And I have just gotten a call: Aunt Et died today.

I'm not really going to process it right now. She's my grandmother's sister, and now she feels like she's a little lonelier in the world, which makes me feel a little more lonely too. And death is one of those things I can't talk about and can't even think about too hard, or else my brain will revert to thinking about something else entirely, and even when I write a book about it I can't even really tell you what I think, or how much I miss the people who aren't around anymore, or think much past the times we've had to think about what they might be doing now. I've never actually seen a ghost. Unless these count as ghosts, in which case, I think I see them all the time.

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because I was a little too emotionally unstable to think about it myself.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Calling out Joyce Carol Oates

I'm not sure if I wrote this as a dare for her, or as a dare for myself.

(By the way, if you don't have a story due in your grad school workshop, you should go to this. And listen to every word she says, because she is a legend, and then brag about it to me and tell me every word.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

FAQ: What do you do when you hate your book?

Hey Matthue,
What do you do when you hate your book? Start from the beginning? Randomly change words here and there? Delete paragraphs? Chapters? Help!!!

No! Don't delete anything! I save every sentence I write. I'm a total diva, but this is one thing I'll freely cop to. If I'm deleting stuff in my manuscript, this is what I do first:

1) Get to the end of the story. Finish it! No sense destroying the walls until you've got a floor you're happy with.
2) Make a copy of the file. Sometimes I'll go back and steal stuff from earlier drafts. There's always goodness, and there's always sloppiness. Sometimes you don't know till later which is which.

Best thing to do is put it aside until you get over yourself. The problem is, when you're writing, you're too much in the middle of things -- you can't step back and look at the book as if someone else is writing it.

What you can do is, start over. Not from the beginning. But just turn the page, skip to the next chapter, or the next big fight scene/explosion, and start writing something you do feel good about. Don't worry about tying it in, or making it fit. That's what editing is for. Right now, just get all your ideas down and get yourself to a place where you love what you're writing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hasidic Writers Read in Crown Heights

This Monday night, I'm reading with some jaw-droppingly vital Hasidic writers in Crown Heights. Please be there. You really aren't going to want to miss this one.

(Just click on the pic, or the related text, to find out details. I think that should work?)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Goldbergs, Meet the Goldbergs

My wonderful friend Sarah Lefton wrote me an email the other day:

I just want you to know that although I have no idea what your feelings are on the matter, and you've been either surprisingly (or studiously) publicly quiet about the matter, I am enraged on your behalf about The Goldbergs and have found myself talking about your book an awful lot lately.

So actually, yes, my first novel was called Never Mind the Goldbergs and was a book that was about a TV sitcom. I'm told that it's totally nothing like the new TV show, although, when I first found out about it, I started telling people that they utterly ripped off my book for their background color.

the goldbergs

I didn't actually think for one second that ABC used or borrowed or even knew about my book. Really, both of us should be dipping our hats to the original Goldbergs, a radio-and-then-TV series in the 1950s written by and starring Gertrude Berg, who was probably one of the most versatile and amazing people who ever worked on TV. (Primary evidence: It takes major cojones to produce an episode about racism and anti-Jewish sentiment in America...during World War II.) Although, hey, I did give the old TV show a shoutout in my book.

Here's the real bummer of it: Never Mind the Goldbergs did really well last year. It sold out its complete first printing -- which, because it's Scholastic, they'll print tons of copies and just expect them to last forever. But this summer, some friends told me that Amazon had stopped listing the book. I called Scholastic to find out what was up. Apparently they had sold out completely, and they don't see a sufficient need to reprint.


I did not write that email to them. I also didn't yell at them when I found out they got rid of the last hundred hardcover copies by selling them for 50 cents each to some random store in the Midwest instead of asking me if I wanted them. I love Scholastic -- I mean, Goldbergs wouldn't be in print if it wasn't for them -- but, yeah. Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes you get the bear trap.

On the plus side, I do own the rights to my book again. And my agent is really excited about finding a new publisher. And in the meantime, I have this new book that, if you haven't heard, is doing pretty insanely wonderfully. So I'm in a mostly-good mood. And if you do want to read Goldbergs in the meantime, just email me and I'll send you an ebook of it.

And, if any of you know those people from that other Goldbergs? Feel free to tell them I said hey. And if they ever want to make another series, we can totally reprint it as Never Mind the Goldsteins.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What Rupert Murdoch Means to Me

Today, Forbes ran a really bizarre (and really nice) article about Amplify, the company I make video games for, and my relationship with Rupert Murdoch.

What We Can Learn From Rupert Murdoch, News Corp, And Amplify

...but most of the folks who work at Amplify are left-leaning liberals who wouldn’t do the work if it was about brainwashing kids into Murdoch clones.
lexicaPerhaps she wanted me to see her point embodied when she introduced me to Matthue Roth, one of Amplify’s head writers and game developers. I already knew a bit about Roth. His children’s book, My First Kafka, is one of my boys’ favorites. I’ve also read Roth’s novel, Never Mind The Goldbergs–a story about a teenaged girl who finds her foundation for countercultural rebellion in observant Judaism. The novel is a thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between orthodoxy, individuality, and conformity. Roth’s Amazon author page describes him as “a Hasidic author” and “slam poet,” hardly in resonance with the stereotypical view we may have of the News Corp lemming. (Come to think of it, Roth is hardly in resonance with the stereotypical view we have of anything).
Um, yep. A tremendous blushing and a tremulous shifting in my seat. But my boss just walked over and clapped me on the shoulder, so I am assuming everything is okay.

You can read the whole thing here, if you want to.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11 babies

yom kippur This is what I was doing on September 11, 2001, and then what I'm doing right now. Just pulled out my copy of Yom Kippur a Go-Go, which is where this is taken from. So weird to have a record of my life, published and accessible to people who are not me. Some parts make me feel queasy in retrospect. This is one of my favorite stories I've ever done.

Somehow, we had all forgotten how Rabbi Mendy’s wife Tali was pregnant. Hugely pregnant. Nobody at the synagogue noticed, or realized, because pregnancy was a normal state for Hasidim, but when New York broke, so did she.
Mendy called me from the hospital. “Tali’s in the E.R.,” he said. “Everything’s fine, thank G-d, but Golda is here and she’s not used to hospitals and I was wondering if you were maybe free for the day?”
I told him I was on it.
We met at his house, a few blocks from the hospital. Golda was in her crib, snoring peacefully. Her little lungs shot out huge noisy breaths that filled the small room. Trickles of sunlight poked through the border of the curtains. Mendy left me with another apology—“I’m sorry we called you out of the house so close to Rosh HaShana”—and I was, like, Rabbi, don’t apologize, you do not choose when a baby is going to fall out, and I showed him to the door.
I heard a scuttle of footsteps, and walked through the kitchen to find Golda in her pajamas. She looked up at me, confused.
“Where Mommy?” she said.
I kneeled down to the level of her eyes. “She’s at the hospital with the baby, remember?”
“Baby?” she repeated.
“Baby,” I said.
“Where Mommy?”
The second time Golda asked, she didn’t wait for an answer. Her jaw dropped open and she started to scream.
One day I am going to make the worst father. Children crying make me crumble into helplessness. This feeling of utter sadness wells up and makes me all depressed and I want to concentrate on my own depressed state, not how to make them feel better.
I talked to her in that soft bedroom voice. I pleaded with her, showed her Mommy’s coat and the door. I dug through her toybox to find an ambulance or a hospital or something, but Golda was ultra-protective about her toys and when I touched them, she started screaming about that instead.
I shrugged. I got up, walked into the next room, which was Mendy’s office, and took out some computer paper and a set of Magic Markers. I threw them in a pile on the floor and started to draw.
Eventually Golda stopped hiding her toys under the sofa and waddled over to me. With her index finger in her mouth, she said, “What you doing?”
“I dunno,” I said, shading in the side of a woman’s dress.
“Who that?”
“That’s Mommy.”
She plopped down, grabbed a marker, and started to draw on the other half of the paper. She drew another woman holding a baby. “Is that Mommy too?” I asked.
Golda shook her head. “This is Golda,” she said. “I going to have a baby too.”

Now it's a bunch of years later. I'm headed into Times Square, which feels like an ominous thing to say, then walking to the Port Authority terminal to catch a bus. I'm going to see my sister and meet my niece for the first time. I don't know what it's going to be like, and the more I think about it, the more it's going to be about my memories and expectations, the What Should I Be Feeling parts of being a writer, and less about the actual experience of being there. So here's leaping headlong into life. I'll let you know how it goes.

And, because I'm not sure why, the Roots doing "Call Me Maybe."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sneaking into the Basin

This is where I walked today:

View Larger Map

Mill Basin is one of those places that makes you say, "I can't believe this is Brooklyn," but it is so incredibly Brooklyn. The houses are lavish and spread out, with lawns that are like nature preserves and cars that belong in museums. It's ostentatious and lascivious, but there's something about the neighborhood that makes you want to bathe in it completely, a cross between rubbernecking at an accident and watching Gossip Girl. There's a street that's clogged with houses, shoulder to shoulder, blocking off the view of Mill Basin itself. Some of the houses are Lego atrocities, but in a really compelling way. Others are like little Greek palaces. Just being in visual distance of them makes you feel like your blood is soaking up some sort of classical-masterpiece-based culture. And then there is this house, which I desperately want to get invited to a party at:

...Which, okay, the place ostensibly has its own issues. But there is some beautiful waterfront out there. I really just want to watch a drunken sunset there, possibly while laughing ostentatiously, just once.

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Open Letter about Orthodox Sex Offenders

Rabbi Horowitz is this amazing rabbi in Monsey who, in addition to his actual job, fights against Jewish sex offenders and educates kids. He has a post today about how the D.A., Thomas Zugibe, and his office, are letting these people go under pressure from Orthodox Jews. I just wrote a letter to send some Orthodox Jewish pressure the other way.

If you agree with me, feel free to copy this letter (the relevant parts, anyway) or write your own. His email is Ugh. Thanks for bearing with the break from writer talk, you guys.

Dear District Attorney Zugibe,

I just read a piece on Rabbi Horowitz's website about the reprehensible treatment of Orthodox Jewish sex offenders such as Herschel Taubenfeld, Shmuel Dym and Moishe Turner. (It's right here, and it's a very sad and powerful article.)

As a Hasidic Orthodox Jew myself -- and, more importantly, as the father of young children -- I want to protest this treatment. These men have been convicted as criminals under U.S. law, and should be locked away and forced to do penance under the justice system.

Please don't plea bargain with them or cave in to community pressure! Many of us support you, and we don't want these sick people returning to our communities and living around our children.

A Jewish father

Once again:
(and thanks to Rabbi Fink for posting in the first place.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How do you handle negative reviews?

A new-author friend just emailed me to ask about a negative review. (I'm not saying which friend, or which negative review {actually, it was more a not-entirely-loving review than a negative one, if you ask me...but I will be telling you about this book in the months to come and how amazing it is, so just stick around.) I should be embarrassed or chagrined by the question -- yes, I am your go-to guy for questions relating to bad reviews -- but by this time, I'm pretty okay with it, and besides, the sheer amount of amazing stuff that people have said about Kafka is reason enough for me to owe the universe some karmic feedback.

So, here it is, my advice for dealing with negative reviews.
  • get it out of your mind. see what i did, starting the email with something else? [note: I started the email talking about something else.] there is SO MUCH FREAKING STUFF going on in your life, and so many people are going to be reading your book and thinking good things that you won't have time for the naysayers. Get a jump up. Start disregarding them now.
  • make it drive you harder.So 10 people won't buy the book from reading that review. Write to a blog or a smaller site that passionately cares about your subject matter. Force yourself to do more publicity. Publicity is the most important part of bookselling, and it's the part authors hate most. Combat that feeling! Bring it on. 
  • Here's the thing about reviews: They don't matter. There was just this major study of books featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. They discovered, being featured only sold a couple hundred copies at most. Think about anything that's only reviewed inside. Think about anything that isn't the Times. Yeah, it doesn't really matter.
  • Way more effective: The aforementioned smaller sites with readers who are actually passionate about what you're writing about. And, like, PEOPLE. Ordinary people. People who aren't consumed by a zillion books every day. these are people who will love what you write, and who will tell their friends about it. love sells tons more copies than a review. even a good review. there are still people who care about books in this world -- not all books, but a few books -- and those people are the reason that books are still in business.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"His memoir reads like virginal masturbation"

Such an intense and flattering review of Yom Kippur a Go-Go on Goodreads. I asked, and received, permission to repost it.

I just came across the review today, and also came across this news, that the Lusty Lady -- the worker-owned co-op strip club which figures prominently in the book (but which I still haven't {and, well, never will} set foot inside), is closing. It's weird; one more element of the San Francisco I used to live in that won't be there anymore. I wonder what Armistead Maupin does about this stuff? Anyway. My skin still kind of crawls when I talk about this book, primarily because it's all about all the stupid stuff I did when I was younger (when a book is fiction, you can pretend that, well, it's fiction). But I've also never felt closer to it. Here you go, guys.

Nophoto-f-25x33Amanda said to you:

I spent all day devoted to Matthue Roth's memoir, in such a matter that I became him and when the book ended I was left in a deep sucking void. My own life is slow to raise up and greet me now, so I clicked on the computer and yes, sent him an email. A short email. I was inspired to ramble onwards, giving him my own memoir in return, but wrote three sentences and one Kudos.
Growing up, I've always read. I've adored books, libraries, the smell of musty pages, the quiet refuge, the chance of seeing more of the world than this small isolated town could ever offer. I've only wanted to really meet one other author out of all the books I've devoured soundlessly. My hopes are realistically dashed--Kurt Vonnegut will be dead before the planets align, and really, what would I talk about with a man so many years my senior?
But Matthue? I see myself hanging out with him, just another misfit in his cast of characters so profoundly opposite of everything he is trying to cultivate within himself. I'd delight in all the things he could teach me about religion, specifically about being a Jew and with the same amount of zealousness follow along into the genderfuck San Francisco scene.
His memoir reads like virginal masturbation, with such a sexual tension brewing with only self-release to be had. I can't believe he remained a virgin throughout his time in San Francisco, my age and innocent. It only added to the depth of his experience, to be a witness to such depravity and sexual embrace without fully understanding the complete release that sex brings.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Late-Night Storytime

I had the closest thing I'm probably going to get to a Kafka release party at this otherworldly party called Chulent. If you've never heard of Chulent (you can read some New York Times articles about it here and here), it's this late-night gathering of independent-thinking and questioning and rebel Hasidim. A while ago, when I ran away from San Francisco and visited Brooklyn for the summer,* a friend brought me to this midnight barbecue of Hasid-types tossing around Sartre and Kirkegaard in a bombed-out building in the middle of a completely-empty factory district. 

Nine years later, they've graduated to a magnificent crumbling synagogue on Ocean Parkway. There's some Russians drinking malt liquor out of brown paper bags and some club kids that speak in fierce Yiddish accents. It's all pretty wonderful.

And at around midnight, we all gathered in a circle in the sanctuary hall and I read them some Kafka.

The remarkable Geo Geller took a series of great pictures (some are here; the rest are on this page). or you can actually listen to the whole reading (with a slideshow). It was the second time I read the book straight through, all three stories, not counting in my kids' bedroom. It was a little bit intense. You can probably hear me breaking up toward  the end of Josefine, which might just be Geo's recording. Yes. Let's chalk it up to that. 

listen .  photos . kafka )

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kafka in Swedish! Kafka in Romanian!

Brief nuggets of awesomeness. Here is a piece of press about Kafka in Swedish.

Matthue Roth säger att han kan räkna upp miljoner skäl till att han valde att förvandla några av just Kafkas berättelser till en barnbok. Hans nya ”My first Kafka” om ”bland annat gnagare och jätteinsekter är nu omskriven lite varstans, av exempelvis New Yorker-bloggens Kelsey Osgood som gillar bearbetningen och noterar att det inte är något nytt att barn fascineras av otäckheter.
And a longer one in Romanian.

Volumul "Prima mea lectură din Kafka" cuprinde fragmente din trei povestiri ale scriitorului ceh de limbă germană Franz Kafka (1883-1924), pe care autorul american le-a rescris sub formă de versuri – „Metamorfoza”, „Excursie în munţi” şi „Cântăreaţa Josephine”. Versurile lui Roth sunt însoţite de ilustraţiile în alb şi negru ale graficianului Rohan Daniel Eason.  Prima strofă din „Metamorfoza” prezintă  schimbarea prin care trece Gregor Samsa, personajul principal al poemului în proză: „Gregor Samsa urât adesea a visat /Într-o dimineaţǎ s-a trezit/Că într-un gândac s-a transformat”. În 2005, M. Roth a publicat prima lui carte, „Never Mind the Goldbergs”, căreia Librăria Publică din New York i-a oferit titlul de Cea mai bună carte

(Goldbergs! They said Goldbergs!)

And Brain Pickings, one of the most gorgeous blogs out there, wrote a lengthy and really complimentary piece about it that talked a warrantedly lot about Rohan's illustrations and called my text "hauntingly beautiful."

And my comic-artist friend Mat just visited, which meant we stayed up late and played games and drew some mini-books, which I'll try to post tomorrow, if I can get them scanned. That's all thanks over and out.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kafka & Kafka

Somebody just sent me this picture, of My First Kafka and Kafka's first Kafka.

Also, if you haven't seen Rohan's work yet, you really need to. In addition to illustrating Kafka, he's done Wolves of Waverly Place and some simply breathtaking other stuff. (Including a gorgeous book that's out of print and like $100 on Amazon, and I wish I had a copy of it.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life after Kafka

kafka google
It's been a weird run of weeks. My First Kafka is doing amazing. The BBC! The New Yorker! Electric Lit! Google! (Granted, the Google thing was more, well, Kafka himself than the little book that Rohan and I put together, but I'm so not complaining.)

And the same week I got some hugely awful news about a close friend, and some more pretty hugely awful news about my first book, Never Mind the Goldbergs, going out of print -- this had actually happened back in April, but Scholastic didn't tell me, and they sold all the remaining copies to some Amazon reseller, and the only way I found out was that people kept asking me why it was out of stock. (I still have a bunch of copies on my site store, which you can buy if you want, until they run out, and if they do, I'll just send you a pdf if you ask.) And then I came down with this cold that turned into a cough that didn't go away that, apparently, is pneumonia.

Anyway. it's been pretty wild. Thank you for sticking with me. The fact that I have now appeared on the same network as Doctor Who is really all I've ever asked out of life, and I've got it, and the blessings are flooding in like moldy bread.

And now it's the Three Weeks, this period in Judaism where we mourn for the burning of the Temple, and more crazy stuff is happening. I have a ton to say about it, but most of it's not really relevant -- for actual insightful stuff from an Orthodox perspective, you should totally read Rabbi Fink or Yakov Horowitz. Me, I'm just good for stories, mostly. These days I keep getting a Kafka quote stuck in my head: "The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary." (Granted, it was part of the Talmud a while before Kafka, but who am I to come down on the man for appropriation?)

It's almost two in the morning. I have a head stuffed with snot and a brain stuffed with thoughts that won't quit. But the trees look so nice out my window in the streetlights that they're actually glowing, and Brooklyn doesn't feel like an iron city but an actual place to live, and I'm going to try to sleep for a bit before I have to wake up and make video games. Like I said. I'm blessed. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kafka on the BBC!

bbc world update

I flew out to the far remote borough of Manhattan yesterday to record an interview for the BBC! They did some really cool things with it. I had a super long conversation with one of their producers, completely without knowing that they'd recorded her 7-year-old listening to (and reacting to) our version of "The Metamorphosis" being read.

Here are the oddest things about it:

a) it was in Manhattan, not London;
b) the person interviewing me was in London, and so I ended up talking to an empty chair in a completely empty room;
c) they asked me a line of questions about what my kids thought of the book, and what other kids thought of it, and then they asked a question about how Kafka's feelings about the Austro-Hungarian Empire led to his feelings of isolation. I didn't really answer that one well. Seriously, interviews make me into a deer in the headlights! Which is really odd to say, itself. I'm not used to, you know, saying "interviews" in the plural. Or being on this side of the gun. Err, the microphone.

But the producer was wonderful and Dan Damon, the host, was incredibly nice and gracious, and asked about my other books even though the interview was over and he didn't have to at all. I didn't see the real TARDIS, but I suppose they could always invite me back one day. You can listen to the whole dang thing at this link. For the next week, anyway.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Got rabbi?

In 2002, I went on tour with this crazy Australian Jewish punk band called YIDcore. We played a Jewish punk-rock ball at Wesleyan, some New York gigs, possibly Yale?, and one or two other places. I'd always hoped they would pull me on stage to sing "Just One Shabbos" with them (editor's note: this version), which never happened, but just the feeling that it could, that it might, was incredible enough to burst my chest open.

I received this email this morning:

Found an old t shirt of yours :)

Loved it after you left it at Wesleyan and wore it to death, I now think it's time to donate to fabric recycling, unless you want it back?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Geeks Vs. Nerds. Vs. Self Respect

Of the many reasons I love Eric Linus Kaplan, here is the most recent:

[–]Smalz22 1 point  ago
I love Futurama, its one of the greatest shows written and I thank you for being a part of that. That being said, I hate Big Bang Theory and cannot stand watching it. Most of its criticism from the actual nerd community is that its a show about geeks and nerds made solely to make fun of them, not a show for nerds and geeks that partakes in humor and inside jokes that only the nerds would understand.
Do you feel like that's an accurate criticism to have? and what do you do as a writer to make the show like that/avoid that?
[–]ericlinuskaplan[S] 1 point  ago
I don't think that's true. It is a show about scientists. We have lots of jokes that are specifically about science. I don't think "geeks" and "nerds" should call themselves that -- it's disrespecting yourself. Say that you're scholarly, or you like to read, or you don't care about fashion. I don't know that humor that only nerds would understand means. I put in jokes about Frege and logicism -- that's humor that only people who know about that might understand, maybe. But you don't have to be a "nerd" to like science. I know analytic philosophers who dress great and love sports. Why are we allowing this hostile classification to make divisions among us?

He's doing an AMA on Reddit now! Go ask him questions!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inspiration: a dissection

I got a wonderful challenge in the mail from Yael Roberts, whom I met last year as one of the editors of an  Orthodox high-school literary magazine. She sent me a postcard out of nowhere -- actually, two postcards -- and asked me about inspiration for an art project. No idea what the project is going to grow into, but here's my little part of the birthing process. Here's what she wrote me (click to embiggen the images):

This is what I replied:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Heeb Magazine + Kafka

The generous folks at Heeb Magazine just put up a review of My First Kafka, and they seem to like it:

[T]here’s a sense of childlike wonder that permeates even the strangest of Kafka’s parables. That’s a tricky proposition to pull off effectively –My First Kafkaespecially for Roth, who is tasked with the unenviable job of transposing Kafka’s prose into child-sized morsels. Fortunately for weird kids (and their weird parents) everywhere, Roth is more than up to the task, reconstructing three of Kafka’s works into the sort of stories that would fit nicely alongside the Shel Silverstein’s stranger works.
My favorite part is the description of Rohan's illustrations, though: "His ‘Nobodies’ in Kafka’s “Excursion into the Mountains” call to mind Maurice Sendak’s eponymous “Wild Things”, transforming what was originally a passage about Man’s isolation into a whimsical adventure with imaginary friends. Similarly, his Gregor Samsa-bug in “Metamorphosis” is at once monstrous and sympathetic."

Okay. My day is made. Now I'm gonna go and read and stay up all night.

You, on the other hand, can read the review or buy the book (and then stay up all night with me, if you want).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tension and Subtext in Tales of the City

For my screenwriting class today, we had to analyze a scene where the dialogue is multilayered, text vs. subtext, and where two completely different things are being said. Because I have to hand it in on a computer -- and because it's about Tales of the City, and you can never have too much Tales of the City -- I'm posting it here, too.

This scene (from Tales of the City) is a remarkably multilayered example of dialogue. In one way, it’s a cheat to use as an example of dialogue that says one thing and means another -- it’s flirting, after all, and flirting is by its very nature saying one thing and meaning another. But reducing this trio of interactions to flirting is as cheap as -- well, as Mary Ann Singleton is trying to be.

When the scene starts, Mary Ann is fresh off dumping her high-school friend and current roommate; she’s just found a new place to move. They went clubbing together, and the roommate brought home the (admittedly creepy) guy who was trying to make a pass at Mary Ann. Now she’s in the middle of a supermarket, checking people out in a decidedly not-supermarkety way. She’s emotionally wounded and volatile and looking to earn her power back. When she encounters this new creepy guy, the balance of power in the scene shifts remarkably -- he hits on Mary Ann, she turns him down, thereby gaining control of the interaction. She’s also not turning him down, per se -- she’s venting her frustration on her ex-roommate and being single and the whole singles scene. His parting shot is a last attempt to shift the balance of power in the scene to him. It works, momentarily -- she smarts, embarrassed. This provides a springboard for Robert, the hot mustached guy, to insert himself and get some cooking tips.

He’s polite, refined, respectful -- all these things are giving power back to Mary Ann. She thinks he’s flirting with her. She literally giggles with the transfer of power back to her. When she says you have to make hollandaise sauce “hot...really hot,” we know she’s talking in a multilayered rubric -- she’s totally coming onto him. It’s an interesting place in which the audience knows more than the character, not because we’re given background knowledge, but because we have more life knowledge than the character. We (at least, an expected plurality of the audience) know that Robert is blatantly, flamingly gay. Mary Ann, the poor dear, has no idear.

It works partly because it’s an in-joke, and partly because it doesn’t last that long. Also, partly because it does no real damage -- we still love Mary Ann, and we feel truly sorry for her when Robert’s hand is played. Author Armistead Maupin, and director Alastair Reid, crafted this interaction to be embarrassing and humbling, sexy at the same time that it’s completely undermining its sexiness. And the real treat of it all is the introduction, at virtually the last second, of Michael Tolliver, Robert’s boyfriend -- who, ten minutes or so later, will reappear and become one of the principals of the cast. He’s involved in the scene almost not at all, except for an amiable last-minute introduction between he and Mary Ann. He says almost nothing. However, the cumulative actions and emotions from the scene tumble onto his character, and when we remember the scene, we remember him -- the harmless gay guy in love, inserted in the middle of the trashy Social Safeway. He was the only one using the Safeway for its given purpose. He was actually trying to cook dinner. But the moment he shares with Mary Ann in recognizing their shared attraction to Robert, stays with us as the defining moment of his character.

Bonus: Here's Mary Ann's intro scene.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

About Those Games I've Been Working On...

You probably won't be going to the Games for Change conference -- it's a convention that brings together video games and positive social change -- but if you are, some of my posse will be making appearances and talking about some of the video games I've been writing. Here's part of the write-up for our presentation:
As a major part of its effort to reinvent elementary and secondary school curriculum, Amplify Learning is producing an ambitious portfolio of digital games. For the first time, these designers, from across the United States and the United Kingdom, are gathering at a public event to discuss this work and share what they have done so far. 
And here is what they're saying about the games. It's the most anyone has said (meaning, more than anything I've been allowed to say) about what they are.
Micro-Presentations from Game Developers:
  • Jesse Schell (Schell Games) – Lexica, an ELA Game World focused on getting students to read more. Mukashi Mukashi, a syntax and story-telling game based on Japanese folklore.
  • Phil Stuart (Preloaded) – Storycards, a collectible card game featuring authors and characters from classic and modern literature. TyrAnt, a real-time strategy game of competing ant colonies.
  • Britt Meyers & Eli Weissman (High Line Games) – Education version ofW.E.L.D.E.R. (top selling iOS spelling game).
  • Ira Fay (Fay Games) – Tomes, a choose-your-own-adventure series featuring characters (and vocabulary) from classic literature.
  • Zach Barth (Zachtronics) – Metaboism, a pinball-style game about how plants and people get energy. Habitactics, a puzzle ecosystem game.
  • John Krajewski (Strange Loop) – SimCell, a game which enables sustained exploration of a human muscle cell.
 I've written anywhere from little tiny bits of some of these games to the entirety of others. Feel free to guess which are which. Not that I'll be able to tell you, but I want to know what you're thinking.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Well, this is a couple of shades of depressing.

**** <****>
5:12 PM (4 minutes ago)
to me
Hi, Matthue,

I’m afraid we’re out of stock of both the hardcover and paperback of Never Mind the Goldbergs. Our apologies for the inconvenience! There would have to be sufficient demand for reprinting at this time, but rest assured the e-book is still widely available.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Almost Anxiety Attack

I came the closest I have in months to an anxiety attack last night. In a station in Crown Heights, pumping gas, with my wife in the car on the way to this (ugh, meat) cooking demonstration fundraiser for our kids' Hasidic Montessori school, my breath got short and there was too much stuff on my mind and I was about to shut down.

And then I was like, "why is G-d doing this to me?" and then I was like, there are a zillion things I'm supposed to do, and not all one zillion of them matter. So what do I absolutely need to do? I need to finish pumping this freaking gas. Then I need to get back in the car. then, later, everything else will fall together. But right now, it is not my problem.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spoiler Alerts

Three big things which I should tell you about:

First, my new book My First Kafka was officially sent to the printers! That's still a long and complicated process which will take several months. But what it means is, I'm officially off the hook. I'll put up the cover next week (although if you're really curious, you can probably find it posted somewhere). You can also officially preorder it on IndieBound, B&N, and Amazon. If you do, let me know -- I'll sign it when I get a chance. And thank you.

amplify tablet

Second: The top-secret project I've been working on has been announced. On the front page of the New York Times, no less. That's about all I can say about that, but go here to read everything you could possibly want (and then Google around for even more).

And third, my colleague, good friend, and occasional couchsurfing host Rob Auten's own game, Gears of War Judgment, is coming out next week! He's been doing a ton of press, but I think this is probably the best interview I've seen. It's also really illuminating in regard to all the stuff I'm still not allowed to say.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Orthodox High School Poetry Slam

Listen to this right now. Download it if you know what's best for you, just so you can listen to it constantly and nonstop. These are mp3s from the last Yeshiva Poetry Slam Championships, held at the end of February 2013. They're all high school kids. They're all amazing. I mean, you'll find out.

The pieces were recorded by Aaron Roller, who's been putting these meets together. At this point it's sort of all held together by the duct tape of a few people's determination and passion. Because, you know, Orthodox yeshivas don't automatically have poetry slam programs going on -- no, not even in Brooklyn.

I wish someone was doing this stuff while I was in yeshiva. (Not that I was ever in yeshiva.) But -- it's inspiring and crazy and electric, what these kids say about their lives. What they say about G-d.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Forget reality. I've got my new glasses.

So this weekend was IndieCade East, a video game convention for independent game-makers, and in line with my new job I got to go. Most of it was really wonderful, playing other people's games and stepping into their minds for a few minutes.

Tons of stuff I could tell you about if I remembered all the links, but the one that stands out right now is Gorogoa, a sort of puzzle game with amazing drawing work. You fit the pictures together and then they grow out of each other, and explaining too much is probably bad, but here's what it looks like, sometimes, anyway:

And then there was virtual reality. This is what I did. Essentially it's tiny TV monitors inside a set of goggles. The screen turns in time with you, which is uncannily accurate, and the suctiony power of the goggles sort of blinds out everything else. 

It's not THAT hi-tech, in spite of the concept, but it is surprisingly effective. I was shaking as I walked away, forgetting that in reality there were no climbing spires or castles. (Not in Queens, anyway.) Twelve-year-old me would be so pleased. So pleased and so jealous:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Me, in 24 hours

Can I say it again? I work at a dream job. Replace Donald Glover with me, and you can envision my office tomorrow afternoon:

Monday, February 4, 2013

See 1/20 at The Hester

Just a little note that the movie I wrote, 1/20, is screening this Saturday night in New York City! Go here to buy tickets -- it's at The Hester, this little underground kosher speakeasy that my wife happens to run, and that happens to have been recently featured in the New Yorker and GrubStreet and a whole bunch of other places.

It'll be interesting, and fun, and different. And I'll be onhand, probably to incoherently answer any questions that you may have, and stare at my shoes. And eat kohlrabi pickles with spicy hummus. Which, you probably didn't know, but is one of my biggest talents.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Losers Is, Weirdly, Popular!

UPDATE: I just found out what exactly "Popular Paperbacks" means. It actually doesn't mean the book is a popular paperback (or a bestseller or anything); it means that the American Library Association thinks that my book should be popular. That's colossal. And kind of better-sounding.

Whoa! Just got an awesome email from the good folks at Scholastic. Thank you, people! It's really amazing that five years after this little neon novel got birthed (oboyo am I old), people are still thinking and talking about Losers.

(And: the other people on the list! Raina Telgemeier, who did the amazing Baby-Sitters' Club adaptations [that are actually brilliant, srsly]! Michael freakin' Northrop!)

Great news! – the following Scholastic titles are included in lists just announced by the ALA, selected at the recent ALA Midwinter Convention in Seattle.

2013 ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults
·         Prom and Prejudice, by Elizabeth Eulberg (A Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Top Ten Title)
·         Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick
·         Drama, by Raina Telgemeier (A Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Top Ten Title)
·         Does My Head Look Big in This?, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
·         All the Broken Pieces, by Ann Burg
·         Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier
·         Losers, by Matthue Roth
·         Green Heart, by Alice Hoffman
·         Bluford High: Search for Safety, by John Langan
·         Trapped, by Michael Northrup
·         Smile, by Raina Telgemeier

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