Matt McHugh

Matt - Blog - November 2009


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Thanksgiving 2009


November 26, 2009

This year, no big car or plane trips to dinners with relatives. Nope, this year, just a day with the wife and kids. Not even a home-cooked meal.

Got up at 5:30 am and bundled the kids up to go to the Macy's Parade. I've never seen them get up and dressed so willingly. Took a bus to Port Authority and a subway to Columbus Circle. Arrived at 66th and Central Park West at 7:15 am and it was already dramatically more crowded than I expected. Worse than that, the Central Park side was closed for MVP viewing only, so we had to cram into a spot on the street as best as we could, five rows back from the barrier. It wasn't a bad viewing spot, but the kids were too short -- even my freakishly tall almost-9 son -- so they spent the better part of 90 minutes on our shoulders. The boy weighs over 80lbs and taxed me to my limits. Neck is still killing me.

Afterward, we struggled through the crowds and walked crosstown. We were so tired, we had to stop at a diner just to rest, more than eat. We walked back to Port Authority and got a bus home. I slept for two hours until my stiff neck and aching calves woke me. At 5:00pm, we all went to a movie then had dinner out. Kids were in bed by 9:00 pm. All in all, a long, tiring day.

And a wonderful one. The kids were in ecstasy over the parade, and endured the lengthy pre-start waiting just fine (thanks to an iPod rental of Coraline and dual earphone jacks). The bus and walking trips were about as painless as could be expected, and even being back-to-chest with thousands of strangers for three hours, a little slice of hell for me personally, could have been much worse. The movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, was pure pleasure and dinner at Legal Seafood -- though pricey -- was excellent. All in all, a long, tiring, fun, exciting, and satisfying Thanksgiving Day.

So what am I thankful for? Put simply, that I was able to give my family that day. My kids are still young enough to be awestruck by big balloons and whoop with delight when a float with the real, live people and puppets of Sesame Street passes by. I was able to bear my son on my shoulders for most of the parade. Seven years ago, I herniated three disks in my lower back and for nearly four years lived with daily, crippling pain I truly believe would dog me to the grave. And while this economy, these uncertain times, have certainly got me worried, I can still spring for dinner and a movie without an anxiety attack.

For all these things, all these simple and remarkable things, I am immensely, immensely grateful. The cloudy melancholy of my disposition often leads me to brood glumly over the mediocrity of my accomplishments and splenetically lament my limitations. But when I consider the fact that I am able to have a day like today, fully cognizant of how rare and precious that is, I am truly humbled and grateful.

-- mm


Results of Scrooge & Cratchit Day


November 25, 2009

On Tuesday, November 24, I tried a grass-roots, viral marketing promotion to drive one-day sales of the Kindle version of Scrooge & Cratchit to see how high it would go in the Amazon sales ranking. Here's the results:

"Scrooge & Cratchit" day went well. Thanks to all of you who helped out (Ellen Reavis Gerstein gets the Queen of Social Media award). The ebook's ranking in the Kindle store went from 22,000 to peak at 684, with about 29 units sold in a 24-hour period. That's not bad, though fell short of my goal to crack the top 100. All things considered, that was probably unrealistic. The top 100 in the Kindle store is dominated by major releases and free titles (which publishers compensate Amazon for... surprising number of "bodice rippers" in there), so very tough to compete with that.

Still, it gave me an interesting view of the dynamics behind the Kindle's e-commerce and confirmed this social media stuff, which I have always been skeptical of, does have real viral marketing power. I think people actively enjoyed the idea of being given a small, specific task -- download X book on X day -- that was not too taxing or expensive. I think the time limitation lent some urgency that helped. I've promoted "S&C" every year for 7 years now, but I don't think I've ever gotten 30 downloads in a day -- excepting last year's free iPhone app, which exploded beyond any expectation.

The Kindle itself still has a fairly limited market penetration (under 1 million in worldwide circulation, far as anyone has counted), but owners of it are passionate readers and proselytes. People who don't have one have all heard of it and are curious; some replied to me, excited to learn that they could get Kindle ebooks on iPhone or PC. As Kindle owners increase, and as ebook formats standardize to better enable sharing over multiple devices, that universe is just going to expand exponentially. I liken the current state of ebook readers to the web of 1999: primitive but poised to revolutionize the world.

So again thanks to everyone who helped out, either with a purchase or a pass-along. This was definitely an interesting experiment and even if my little scribblings never bring me fame and fortune, it's gratifying to see them get a tiny toehold in cyberspace.

-- mm


Never Let 'em Slide


November 3, 2009

My review of Kazuo Ishiguro's book Never Let Me Go, as posted on Amazon:

I picked up this book because of Ishiguro's reputation and the glowing reviews from major magazines blurbed on the cover. Perhaps all that hype created unfair expectations, but I found "Never Let Me Go" a mediocre novel through and through. It's basically a memoir of childhood and adolescence, wholly unremarkable in tone and style. But -- wait! -- there's a deep, dark secret lurking under those endless, mundane reminiscences of a Brit boarding school. Little by little, you find out the students are "different." Intrigued yet?

The kids are clones, created for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs when they grow up. I drop this spoiler because the book takes itself too seriously to bother to make that a compelling revelation. Nay, this is no tawdry potboiler that resorts to such cheap devices as, say, plot. This is character-driven, intellectual fiction that will not debase itself by attempting to be interesting or believable.

Obviously, I hated this book. I hated it because it feels like a cheat, a dishonest attempt at literary gravity flaunting bad writing (the narrator is far from eloquent) and pop-science bioethics. Ishiguro takes the shallowest look at big questions then hides behind the ignorance of the characters as an excuse. Pissed me off. I read "The Remains of the Day" and did appreciate its subtlety and measured pace, so I was plenty willing to give this book patience and attention. But, it screwed me, giving me nothing in return -- no drama, no insight, no ideas, no humanity. I don't know where all that press-praise is coming from (other than media conglomerate machinery in action), but this particular book doesn't deserve it.

As a final thought: being something of a struggling author myself, I agonized over giving another writer a bad review -- but, then I woke up and remembered that me and Mr. "Booker-Prize-Winner" Ishiguro ain't in the same league. I toss around the pigskin with my drinkin' buddies on the weekend; Ishiguro's an all-star quarterback. I can bitch when he overthrows a receiver now and then.

-- mm

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