Monday, November 29, 2010

All I want for Christmas is . . . an e-reader?

We have a rule at our house. No Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. It’s not that we don’t like Christmas music. It’s just the whole one holiday at a time thing. If you’re going to start playing Christmas music halfway through November, why not have your Turkey dinner before Halloween or shoot off fireworks in June?

Next thing you know, you’ll be buying your wife gifts and taking her out to dinner before Valentines Day. I mean . .  um . . . okay, never mind.

However, now that the dinner has been served—along with numerous follow-up sandwiches, we can discuss the big holiday. With that in mind, I want to to talk about something near to my heart. Something that fills our spirits with joy, reminds us of the real meaning of the holidays, and warms us inside and out.Of course I’m speaking of e-readers.

Without giving away my age, I remember when the big things to get were MP3 players, CD players, cell phones, computers, DVDs, CD players, Sony Walkman (men?), VCRs (both Beta and VHS), eight track players. Yeah, I think that’s far enough back.

Each of these had a perceived and a real impact. Eight track players made it easier to put more music on one tape and access it more quickly. VCRs were going to kill free TV by letting people skip commercials. MP3 players were going to kill record companies. And to some extent all of these did happen. But at the same time none of them completely did.

As I talk to people about e-readers and e-books, I get the impression that this is Christmas/Chanukah/gift-giving holiday of your choice of the e-reader. Lots of people buying, receiving, or hoping for e-readers of one kind or another.  

While I’m convinced e-readers are going to become as commonplace as MP3 players, I’m not completely convinced physical books are going away. Obviously that’s just my opinion. Spend a few minutes browsing the internet and you’ll find plenty of people predicting the demise of everything from bookstores, to publishers and agents, to hardbacks/paperbacks, to libraries.

As an author, I’m excited about e-books. I love the idea of presenting at a conference, school, class, or other event, and having people be able to start reading my latest book before I’m done presenting. I like the idea of people reading about my book on a blog and downloading it within seconds. I like the idea of people buying more books because they cost less. If they like one of my books, they can buy more without paying shipping, tax, or waiting for days. It’s the ultimate impulse buy.

As a reader, I can’t see myself giving up physical books anytime soon. I love physical books. But I also love the idea of carrying lots of books in one little device. I imagine I’ll get an e-reader, but still buy my favorite authors in hardback and paperback. I’ll still prowl used bookstores and visit the library. I think there are enough people like me that bookstores might change, but won’t go away completely.

So my question to you is, are you planning on getting an e-reader in the next 12 months? If so, will you give up buying paper books completely? Do you anticipate buying more books? Will having an e-reader change the way you buy books? Do you think you’ll download many free books by authors you haven’t heard of? Will you choose a $2.99 book over a $12.99 book, or will you focus mainly on authors you already know and love? If you aren’t getting an e-reader, is it a stance against them, the money, not a priority, or something else?

Tell all. I promise it will stay between you, me, and everyone else who reads this blog!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Retro Friday

Hope you all had an awesome Thanksgiving including lots of great food, family, football, and my favorite, naps!

Wow, so many possibilities for today’s Retro Friday. Paint It Black by the Stones. Um, the one about Turkeys, or um football, or gratitude, or naps.

Okay, so maybe there aren’t as many Black Friday rock songs as I thought. I personally stayed home today and recovered from a great day with family and friends, only going outside long enough to have lunch with a couple of friends. But in honor of all you who braved the wilds and crowds to go shopping, here’s one of my old favorites, “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

This song came out in 1970, when many of you weren’t even born yet, and I looked something like this.

Young Jeff  

Stylish, no?

Although many people thought this song was about the Vietnam War, it was actually about violence at home in the US. It has been featured in several movies, including:

Rude Awakening (1989)
Air America (1990)
Rudy  (1993)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Radiofreccia  (1998)
Tropic Thunder (2008)

And it is the song Jack and his best friend, Richard listen to as they cross the country in a wolf-chauffeured Cadillac at the end of The Talisman, written by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Black Box

I know it’s just around the corner from Thanksgiving, and I should be doing a post on all the things I’m thankful for. I might even do that in a couple of days. But I hate doing those for two reasons. First, they always sound like you just accepted a major award. I’m thankful for my parents, my family, my agent, my cleaning lady (no, I don’t actually have a cleaning lady.) Second, it always feels a little weird to make a list of everything you are grateful for because, really, can you put your family, your health, and double-stuff mint Oreos on the same list without sounding a little whacked?

So instead of telling you everything I’m grateful for, I’m going to write about something that is near and dear to my heart at the moment. Acquisitions. I’m not going to talk about where things stand with my latest book. It doesn’t make sense until things solidify, and besides, my agent would shoot me and delete the post anyway.

But I can talk about the acquisitions process. A lot of people (including me) wonder about the mysterious magical method of deciding which books are accepted and which are not. It’s this kind of supernatural black box. You put in a novel or work of nonfiction, stir, wait what always seems like far too long, and—tada!—out pops either a sale or a rejection. But how does it really work? Who decides? How do they decide? Today, I will do my best to open the black box and take you for a tour inside.

Before we delve into its mysterious depths, let me warn you that I am more of a guide than an expert. I have sold books and talked to editors and publishers about the process. But not being an agent or an editor myself, I have never been there in person. Also, different publishers do things differently, but I’ll point out some basics. Okay, put on your hardhat turn on your flashlight and let’s head in.

There are two different ways your book ends up in the hand of an editor. Either you send it directly if the publisher takes unsolicited manuscripts, or it is sent by your agent. Either way, the process is pretty much the same. Your manuscript is typically sent out to a number of different agents. The great thing about having an agent is that a good agent not only knows which editors represent what, but they also often know these editors’ personal tastes, what they have purchased recently, and what they are looking for. Bigger publishers have many acquiring editors, smaller publishers usually have a single person known as the acquisition editor.

Once the editor receives your manuscript, they read through it. I used to think this sounded like the best job in the world. Just sit around all day reading books. Unfortunately that is not the case. The same editor who reads new manuscripts also spends their day editing existing manuscripts. In fact, often, the only chance they have to read new manuscripts from authors who aren’t already publishing with them is on the train, at night, at home, during lunch, etc. (No, I don’t know if they read while on the toilet or not, and I’m surprised you would even ask.)

In the past, if an editor loved your work, they could take it directly to the big cheese of the imprint, usually called the publisher, for approval. These days it’s mostly done through committee. If the editor likes your work, they can either request changes, or put together something called an Acquisition Proposal, depending on how strong they feel your work is. I know it seems odd that an editor might ask for changes before agreeing to publish your book. But this actually works in your favor, because the editor alone won’t be making the decision. It still has to go through the committee who can kill a deal even if the editor loves it. So having your work be as strong as possible gives you a better chance for success.

Author, Harold Underdown, has created an awesome sample proposal here. It’s a good thing to look at either before you begin writing your book or before you start editing, because it’s probably the closest thing to a blueprint you will ever see of what makes a strong proposal. One of the things you might notice is that it’s not all about story. Things like competitive titles, profit and loss, and target audience are every bit as important as how well the story is written.

Starting to feel like your story is a product on a conveyor belt? It’s probably good to see it at least a little bit that way. You don’t want to think like this when you are writing the book. Don’t create your character’s attributes based on what you think will sell, or your story will stink. And even a story that hits the marketing bullseye will not do well if the writing is poor. But once you’ve written “the end” you need to start thinking about things like marketing, positioning, etc. Because to a large extent, you, your book, and your editor, will be judged based on how well your book sells.

So back to the process. Your editor sends the AP to the other departments and editors—marketing, sales, accounting, art, publicity, other imprints, etc. Depending on the length of the manuscript, they may also get an entire copy of the manuscript or a partial. Your editor is looking to get other people’s input and to get their backing. From what I’ve heard some of these meetings can get pretty heated. Your editor obviously wants to publish your book. But sales may not think it is unique enough to get attention. Marketing may not be clear on what genre it actually is. Accounting may think it doesn’t have a big enough audience to be profitable. The process of selling a book can take anywhere from a few days to a year or more. Typically an agent is going to hear back quicker than you will if you submit yourself.

At the end of the day, only some of the books taken to committee will be accepted. If yours is lucky enough to be one of them, the next step is putting together an offer. This is where things like royalties, rights, amount and payout of advance, hardback or paperback, marketing, territory, etc, are all negotiated. And again, this is where an agent can come in really handy. Very small publishers may not have a lot to offer as far as marketing or big advances. But even then, it helps to have someone on your side who knows what is normal and what is not. With a larger deal you may keep foreign rights and movie rights, get a $50,000 advance per book on a three book deal, paid out in four parts, be published in trade paperback, and have x amount of marketing dollars committed. With a smaller publisher, there may be little or no advance, and pretty basic rights.

If more than one publisher makes an offer, your book can go to auction. Generally this is a good thing because publishers who really like your work may make better offers. Of course it can also scare off a publisher who was still on the fence about the project. Deciding what offer to take is not always about just the upfront money. One publisher may offer a larger advance, while another lets you keep foreign rights and agrees to make your title a major release with more marketing.

One local publisher here in Utah, Covenant Communications, has a similar process, but after the Acquisitions Editor approves it, they send it out to Beta Readers and decide whether to proceed or not based the feedback forms they fill out. I’m sure there are other smaller publishers who do the same thing. Once you’ve agreed to a specific deal, your editor will begin going over your manuscript again in more detail to put together an editorial letter.

And there you go. Maybe not perfectly clear, but better than that black void, right? The thing to keep in mind is that once your manuscript is sent out, there’s not much you can do other than move on to your next project. It’s agonizing to wait—especially when you don’t even know if anyone is reading your manuscript or what they think of it if they have. But you have to find a way to take your mind off of it, and writing something else is a great way to do that.

On the other hand, when writing (and editing) your work, hopefully, remembering what lies ahead for your baby will make you think a little bit more about creating a story that is both well written and unique. Maybe you’ll take a little more time checking out the market, reading comparable books, checking reviews to see what readers liked and disliked about a particular title. And most of all, every time you read a book, think about the acquisition process and ask yourself what it was about this title that got it through the door. If you do all of that, your chances of getting your own book through should increase dramatically.

Here are some other helpful links about the acquisition process.

http://www.underdown.org/acquisition-process.htm

http://bloomabilities.blogspot.com/2006/06/do-you-remember-your-first.html

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/how-book-gets-published.html

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2006/08/perspective-from-publishing-house.html

http://bluerosegirls.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-do-book-auctions-work.html

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Retro Friday (on Saturday)

Have I told you that I’ve got more weird plane stories than anyone I’ve ever met? The time a flight attendant got caught in the cart elevator and they had to reroute to Japan? The time I got stuck in the last window seat next to a guy who needed two seatbelt extenders, and a lady got knocked out by a metal briefcase halfway through the deboarding? The guy who forgot to take his meds and starting preaching about Jesus until he was removed? The list goes on and on.

Yeah, well, last Friday wasn’t exactly a plane story. It was actually more of a rental car on the way to the plane story. I was driving back to the Westchester, NY.airport with my boss, but we were running late and his flight was first. So I dropped him off and went for gas. So far so good (except for the price of gas in Greenwich, CT. They must have tiny bits of diamond in the gas there to justify $3.39 for regular unleaded!)

The problem came when I decided to put a few things in my suitcase before driving the five minutes back to the airport. I opened the trunk. put the things in, closed the trunk, and got back in the car. But when I went to start the cars, my keys were gone. Oh, shoot, I must have left them in the trunk! But no worries. I’m in the car. All I have to do is push the open trunk button.

I push the button and nothing happens. Weird. I open the door and immediately the horn starts going off. Whaaaa? Apparently—and no one can explain exactly how this happened—the alarm somehow got pushed on the keys. How that happened while the keys were in the trunk, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a new feature. Lock your keys in the trunk? No problem. We’ll automatically set the alarm so you can’t get them out. Anyone who has a new Nissan Sentra, I’d love to know if you can figure this out.

Anyway, I still had an hour and a half, and the airport was only five minutes away. Here’s where things get crazy. It seems that Budget car rental is named budget for a reason. As in, “I’m sorry our budget is too small to send anyone to help you from five minutes away.” I spent, no lie, forty minutes explaining what happened and asking this crazy woman, to send someone to get me so I wouldn’t miss my flight, which was the last Delta flight of the day. I had to fly to Sacramento to attend a library event the next day.

So yeah, that was too much to ask for. Every single item was like pulling teeth with her. She must have asked me ten times how to spell Greenwich, Connecticut. She couldn’t find the Westchester airport. She didn’t believe that the gas station I was at was only listed as Merritt Pkwy North, and didn’t have a street address, even when I had the gas station attendant tell her. At one point she suggested I call the police to get a ride. Five minutes after I hung up with her, another employee calls back to see why I told her I was going to call 9-1-1. “I didn’t tell her that. She told me!” “Oh, yeah, she’s an idiot. Never mind.”

They finally told me to leave my car there and call a taxi. Except the only taxi company in town had a guy who knew only one word of English. Taxi. I have no problem with people for whom English is a second language. Some of my most entertaining conversations have been with taxi drivers from foreign countries. But the guy whose job it is to get a taxi to you? Really?

“ghg kkjjuyhs kkhkm,;c taxi”

“Yes, I need a taxi. I am at the Mobile gas station on the Merritt Pkwy North and I have to get to the airport in time to catch a flight by 4:30.”

“lljjkjk nkndkjdd jiggtysn taxi”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”

“hhgftml jskkjky nijidi buzz buzz taxi.”

“I’m having difficulty understanding you. Are you sending a taxi? I’m in a big hurry here. My flight leaves in forty-five minutes.”

“ghgghgr gyggd piggly wiggly taxi.”

“Did you hear me? Are you sending a taxi?”

“vermin chow, tingle broom, taxi.”

(I’m not sure if he actually starting saying real words or if I was just piecing them together to form words in my head. But it still didn’t make any sense.)

“Is there someone else I can talk to? I really need a taxi.”

Click

I guess he couldn’t understand me any more than I could understand him, because a taxi never arrived. And when I called back, the phone just rang and rang. Just when I was sure I had missed my flight—it was exactly 4:00, and my flight left in thirty minutes—an amazing, awesome, incredible tow truck driver showed up. I’m serious, one day this guy is going to show up in a book up mine and he’ll be the totally awesome hero, who tows cars and kills vampires with a silver crowbar.

I’m still not entirely sure how he did it, but using some kind of slick oily spray, a state of the art tow bar that could actually turn sideways, and amazing driving, he slid my front wheel drive car away from the curb, hooked, it up, and drove me to the airport in amazing time. And this was after trying about a dozen ways to open the trunk.

I got to the counter at twenty after and somehow made it past them, through security, and onto my plane in ten minutes flat. Only then did I call my wife who had spent the day driving the boys to California on her own, and say, “Well, I had an interesting day.”

Of course, on my last leg of the trip we had a woman go into labor—yeah really. But that’s another plane story.

So in honor of my mishaps, I’m posting a song about when the band was scheduled to recorded at a casino in Montreux, using the Rolling Stones Mobile studio. Before they could get there the Casino burned to the ground when a guy shot a flare gun into the the ceiling at a Frank Zappa concert. (I know how you feel guys.)

This classic song, is one of the few tunes that you know just from the beginning guitar riff. Bum, bum, bum. Bum bum, ba dum. If you ever looked like this, you heard it at pretty much every dance you went to.

(Yeah, that really is me in the blinding yellow track suit, with the long hair and mustache. I especially like the “Families are Forever” pillow behind me.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Right Fit

(Friday, when I should have been posting my latest Retro-Friday, I had a rather annoying incident involving a rental car, a taxi dispatcher, inadvertently placed keys, and the last flight of the day. Never fear though. This week we'll do Retro-Tuesday and Retro-Friday. Bonus!)

Back in what feels like an entirely different lifetime, I opened a couple of computer stores in Northern California. For a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, I failed pretty miserably inside of a year. Suffice it to say that I was a great salesperson, an inexperienced manager, and a terrible accountant. When the dust had cleared, I found myself in a position where I would be forced to close both stores and lay off all of my employees in only a few days.

At the very last moment, a possible miracle arrived in the person of two men who offered to take over the stores. A meeting was set up where we were to discuss various options over lunch. My first clue that something was not entirely kosher should have been the restaurant. It was a dimly-lit, rather shabby, Chinese food place (and no this is not a kosher restaurant joke) where the men seemed to be very well known. Clearly this was not a real top-notch place, and just as clearly, they were regulars here. Imagine one of those Italian places mob leaders meet in all the movies, but change the ethnicity of the food.

At first they said all the right things. We want to keep the stores open. We don’t want to lay off any employees. We have lots of experience doing this. You didn’t do anything wrong.

But the longer we talked, the more uncomfortable I began to feel. They seemed . . . slimy. They didn’t answer my questions openly. They avoided specifics. They didn’t have any references I was comfortable with. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have walked away immediately. Except these weren’t ordinary circumstances. If I didn’t work with these men, my stores would close and my employees would be out of work. I had to decide if this solution was better than no solution at all.

I recently read this article http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/ about an author who reminds me a lot of these men. He appealed to authors who felt desperate. They had no money, no prospects of getting published, lots of debt. He seemed like a way out. And not only that, but he was a smooth talker. He knew people. He offered “connections.” The only catch was that essentially you had to give him all recognition, all control, and your complete trust. The students he spoke to had to decide whether signing a contract to write for him was a better choice than signing no contract at all.

A lot of times the publishing world feels this way. Do I sign the first agent to offer me a deal—even if I don’t have a good feeling about her? Do I publish my book with a publisher who has a terrible contract and a bad record? Do I go with the publisher that maybe even charges me to publish my book? Do I give up on publishers entirely and create an e-book on my own?

What makes these decisions so difficult is that often there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. If you don’t go with the agent who doesn’t seem like a very good fit, you may not get an agent at all. If you don’t publish with the publisher who wants a $3,000 deposit, maybe no one will publish your book. At least if you create an e-book it will have a “chance” of someone buying it.

The thing is, you have to step back and look at the big picture. If your book really is good enough that a legitimate publisher will accept it, there’s a good chance another publisher will be interested too. If not this book, then maybe the next one. If one agent thinks your writing is good enough to sell, isn’t it likely others will too?

On the other hand, if the publisher isn’t legit, or the agent isn’t very good, are you really better off signing your baby into their hands than not signing at all? Once you’ve published your book with a publisher who may sell only a handful of copies—if that—or who doesn’t do any marketing, or who may never pay you a cent, you’ve lost the chance to sell it to anyone else. Once you’ve had a bad agent get rejections from all the major houses, it’s difficult or even impossible to resubmit to them. Not to mention the time and energy you’ve wasted.

Going back to my original story, the men at the meeting pushed me to sign a contract then and there. When I told them I wanted to think it over, they began threatening to cancel the whole deal. That was enough for me. I got up and left the meeting. Of course, once they realized I was really going, they made me take the contract with me. Looking it over later that day, I realized I was giving them all of my inventory and assets, while they were guaranteeing absolutely nothing. They didn’t guarantee to keep the stores open. They didn’t assume any leases or debts.

As I talked to other people, I discovered these men had pulled this same scam many times. As soon as I signed the contract, they would have taken all of my assets and disappeared. Signing a deal with them was actually worse than not signing anything at all. Any time a publisher or agent asks you for money up front, I guarantee that you are better off with no deal at all.

I’m not saying all bad fits are scams. There are lots of smaller publishers who just don’t have much in the way of resources. There are agents who are simply not the best fit for your work, or don’t have the types of connections other more successful agents do. And maybe they will work out just fine. You might do perfectly well in either of those situations. Sometimes an imperfect fit is better than no fit at all.

But if you decide to sign a less than ideal deal, make sure you are doing it because it’s the right solution for you, and not because you feel it is the only solution. A good agent once told me that when you reach a certain point of writing, you are publishable. Then it’s just a matter of finding the right fit at the right time. Don’t be wooed by someone telling you how incredible you are, or how you have to sign right away. Of that this is your only chance at success.

If this opportunity you are considering isn’t the right one, have the confidence in yourself and your work to walk away—knowing that down the road you will find the right fit, and that by saying no now, you are getting that much closer to the yes you are looking for.

So how do you feel? If you had the chance to sign with an agent, even of that agent wasn’t very good and didn’t have the best contacts, would you do it anyway, figuring, “Hey, at least it’s an agent.” If you got an offer to publish your book by a publisher most authors were unhappy with, would you go ahead anyway? Or would you wait for the best match for you and your work?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not Me!

When I was in school (you know back before computers, DVDs, whiteboards, felt tip pens, cars, fire. Okay maybe not that long ago, but you get the idea) I was often accused of thinking that the rules everyone else had to follow didn’t apply to me. I talked in class without being called on. I stared out the window and daydreamed. I had swordfights with dull scissors. I left school grounds to look for fossils during recess. I wrote on my desk. I taped up a sign that said class had been canceled due to a heating failure.

This didn’t help my grades (or my mother’s health) most of the time. My teachers constantly told me how much better I would be doing if I just paid attention and followed the rules. Interestingly enough, many of the things that got me in trouble in class have helped me in my writing. Having a vivid imagination, envisioning epic battles, having way too much to say, and a desire to explore unknown territory are great ways to come up with creative story ideas.

Not coloring inside the lines can be great for an author. But just as it was a detriment in school, believing that the rules don’t apply to you as an author can have disastrous results.

It might sound like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth (an expression I’ve never completely understood since speaking out of only one side of your mouth makes you seem odd at the least, and highly suspicious of some nefarious activity at the worst.) How can not following the rules be both good and bad?

Thinking differently is a good way to find a new perspective. When I was imaging Demon Spawn, I started with the basic assumption most people have that angels are good and demons are bad—with humans falling somewhere in between. But what if you saw the world through the eyes of the demons? Might angels be bad? How would demons view Hell—their home—and the humans damned to spend eternity there? Not sticking with the usual rules helped me see things if a different light.

But one thing I see a lot as I teach writing classes and attend conferences is people who believe the things they are being taught don’t apply to them. Prologues don’t usually work? Mine does. Beginning your story with a dream sequence is a bad idea? Mine doesn’t count. Head-hopping within the same chapter or section is generally a bad idea? But look at this great author or that one who got away with it.

We agree with the rules that we followed in our books, but the ones we broke are really more like suggestions. It’s okay for us to break them, because they don’t apply to us.

Here’s the thing. Every rule has been broken by a good author who knows what they are doing. I recently read, “You,” which is written in present tense, second person. “You see this. You do that.” See what your creative writing teacher thinks of that idea. I’ve read books by famous authors that start with flashbacks, dreams, flowery descriptions. I’ve read books where absolutely nothing happens for the first hundred pages. If you want to disagree with a writing rule, you can find an example of pretty much anything.

Sports are the same way. There are amazing basketball shooters who launch the ball off balance, from one side of their body, while falling away. There are batters who stick their elbow out, or bounce their arm up and down while the pitcher is throwing the ball. There are quarterbacks that throw sidearm. Superstars break all the rules and get away with it. Does that mean coaches should teach young athletes to imitate those styles?

Those athletes get away with these flaws because they are so incredible. They succeed despite the fact that they are “doing it wrong.” They’ve managed to teach themselves to hit the ball or make the shot, while compensating for the errors that you or I could not get away with. If we tried to imitate them, we’d fail miserably.

Can you break a rule and still write a great book? Of course. Does that mean you should ignore the rules? Definitely not. If you fill a chapter with back story and infodumps, 99.9 times out of a hundred you are wrong. Can you make it work? Maybe, but the odds are hugely stacked against you. The rules are there for a reason. Before you break them, ask yourself if there is any way you can avoid it. Do you really need that flashback on page two? Even if it will probably get your novel rejected? Is your story really strong enough to survive a protagonist that doesn’t learn and grow during the story?

Breaking rules is inevitable, and sometimes it is the right thing to do. But the rules are there because the vast majority of the time, breaking them will make your story worse, not better. Every time you are tempted to break the rules, do three things.

1) Make sure you understand what the rule is and why it is there in the first place.

2) Examine your story and see if there is a way to accomplish what you want without breaking the rule.

3) Try writing your prose while keeping the rule and see which version your beta readers like better.

If after all that, you still want to break the rule, go ahead and swing away. Just make sure you hit the ball.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Retro Friday

Last week I started a new feature called retro Friday, where I introduce readers younger than me to some of what I consider the classic rock music of my teen years. I always liked rock. But I don’t think I really started paying attention to the bands themselves until I was maybe in seventh or eighth grade. I think maybe my interest at that time came from how much you were identified by your music. You were either a metal head, and listened to Metallica, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, etc. A punker—the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Clash. A discoer which required you to be a better dancer than I ever was. Or you listened to Barry Manilow and got beat up a lot.

Mostly I leaned toward heavy metal. (Okay, I might have had a Carpenters album or two, and I thought Billy Joel was pretty cool.) But I had a lot of friends who had the whole spiked hair, safety pin through the cheek thing going on. I honestly was not a huge fan of most of the music they listened to. It sounded like a bunch of screaming for the most part. But every once in a while, I’d hear a song that I really liked.

About the time I started high school, a new phrase was becoming more popular. New Wave. A lot of time it still referred to punk bands. But over time New Wave bands started to separate themselves. The cool thing about New Wave was that it didn’t sound like anything else out there. It wasn’t metal. It wasn’t punk. It wasn’t the slick rock of bands like Styx, Queen, and Boston. It had its own sound. Bands like the Knack and Talking Heads had a combination of interesting lyrics, a cool new sound, and an attitude that was still punk anti-establishment, but with less of a head banger mentality.

Right about then, a friend of mine whose dad owned what seemed to be a million real estate offices in Northern California introduced me to a band called The Cars. I loved them as soon as I heard them. There are a few bands whose sound is so unique you know a song is by them as soon as you hear it. The Cars were one of those bands.

Here’s one of my favorite songs off that first album he played for me that day.

This video was made by a fan, but I love it because it captures exactly who amazed I felt when I first heard the song. Here's the URL, in case the actual video doesn't come through on all of my links.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1sO6CH2bwM