The Man Who Came Uptown

The Man Who Came Uptown

Can a book change a life?

Anna thinks so, believing that putting the right book in the right hands at the right time can turn someone around. She’s a librarian at the DC Jail, responsible for picking out titles for troubled men. With time on their hands, they are avid readers, devouring everything from Westerns to Steinbeck.

One of the men is Michael Hudson, facing a felony gun charge. He’s freed, thanks to Phil Ornazian, a private investigator, who sprung Michael to involve him in a series of armed robberies. Phil, and his partner, an ex-cop, target drug dealers and pimps. They think that they’re the good guys.

With a library card and a new-found love for reading, Michael is trying to go straight. Can he escape those who seek to entrap him in criminality?

That’s the basic plot of The Man Who Came Uptown but the novel is really about the line between good and bad. Pelecanos is great when it comes to depicting men who operate on both sides of the law, people who commit violence in the name of justice. But once you cross into that kind of criminality, is it possible to come back without consequence?

His style can be awkward at first, with characters that speak in exposition, explaining things like gentrification in ponderous sentences.

But if you live in DC, this is a must read. George Pelecanos portrays a gritty Washington of neighborhoods far from the monumental core. It’s also a love letter to books and the DC Public Library system, a feeling that I share.

There really is a library at the DC jail. Books can change a life. It’s possible to come back from bad and rediscover your essential goodness.

Shameless Plug: If you liked The Man Who Came Uptown, check out my crime novel Murder on U Street. It traverses many of the same neighborhoods as Pelecanos’ book but with more of a satiric bite.

A Good Pitch: The Age of Surge

Sometimes people send me books to review; sometimes I review them. The Age of Surge is one that caught my interest.

As a writer myself, it’s an interesting approach to marketing. Based upon my previous Amazon reviews, authors have approached me to review their books. It’s almost always business books, and rarely novels or bottles of whisky. Perhaps this is because business authors are more marketing-savvy.

The email pitch was a good one:

I’m a first time author reaching out to those who love learning and reading about innovation, leadership and new ideas on reinventing companies for digital.
Your review of StrengthsFinder 2.0 is what caught my eye.  Our new book (The Age of Surge.) was written to help leaders and everyday employees take the kinds of ideas covered in StrengthsFinder 2.0 and show how to put them to work in even the most dysfunctional, “broken” companies.   I think you’ll find our book provocative and thought provoking…  you might even like it 🙂
Would you be open to reading our book if I send you a free digital copy (no strings attached)?  Obviously I’d welcome and appreciate any time you’re willing to spend leaving an honest review.

This was a good pitch for a couple of reasons:

  1. It was personalized. The email was not just a press release but a personal note that highlighted the fact that I liked a similar book. There was research behind it.
  2.  It was written in a human voice. The pitch came from the author. It was direct, concise and respectful of my time.

That said, just because it’s a good pitch doesn’t mean I’m going to review it.

I look at these books on business reinvention with a jaundiced eye – my novel Don’t Mess Up My Block satirizes the genre, following a clueless consultant who leaves disaster everywhere he goes. It’s based upon my experience seeing organizations conduct ill-conceived change initiatives.

I didn’t want to like The Age of Surge. But it is a very readable, humane look at change in the workplace from someone who operates in the real world, not the theoretical domain of management consultants. The author praises middle management – I’ve never seen that before.

So, it’s not enough to craft a catchy email. First, you have to write a great book. But to get reviewers to read your book you have to approach them with a personalized, human, relevant message. That’s a good pitch.

Behind the Screens – Read it for Film Festival Secrets

Behind the ScreensDo you dream of walking down the red carpet? Want to see your film on a big screen?

Then get Behind the Screens, the new book by Jon Gann that uncovers what film festival programmers really think. Gann, the founder of the DC Shorts Film Festival, has interviewed the directors of top festivals from around the country, including:

• Ashland Independent Film Festival
• Byron Bay International Film Festival
• CineSlam/Pride of the Ocean
• DC Shorts Film Festival
• LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival
• Napa Valley Film Festival
• New York Film Festival
• Prescott Film Festival
• Razor Reel Fantastic Film Festival
• Scottsdale Film Festival
• Seattle International Film Festival
• SILVERDOCS
• Sonoma International Film Festival
• Sundance Film Festival
• Tallgrass Film Festival
• Washington Jewish Film Festival

Every film festival is different. Rather than blindly submitting your film to every festival you’ve ever heard of (and paying hundreds in submission fees), spend $20 to get this book. Do some research and target the right festival for your film. Behind the Screens reveals what programmers are really looking for, in their own words.

Full disclosure – I’m a friend of Jon’s and have been a judge for DC Shorts for years. DC Shorts is unique in that anyone can volunteer to be a judge. The films selected reflect an urban sensibility and a preference for comedy. A lengthy documentary on deforestation wouldn’t be a good choice for DC Shorts while a “meet-cute” flick set in Dupont Circle would be ideal.

Other festivals have their own unique attributes, shaped by the festival director and the audience. They have their own culture. Which is why it makes sense to get a book like Behind the Screens, where you get narrative information beyond what you will find in a directory of film festivals.

Author Friend: Allison Silberberg

My friend Allison Silberberg has written an inspiring new book, Visionaries in our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World.

I first met Allison more than ten years ago. She used to run the FilmBiz Happy Hour, a monthly meetup of aspiring filmmakers in Washington, DC. Held at the former Biddy Mulligans, these fun events attracted a diverse crowd of writers, actors, directors, voice artists and others. What made them different was that every month, Allison selected a charity to benefit from the happy hour. The charity collected the admission fees and also got to speak about the work that they were performing in the community. Allison brought a real passion to finding deserving organizations. She researched them, talked to their leaders and vetted them – they had her stamp of approval and meant a lot to her on a personal level.

So, it wasn’t surprising to me that she wrote Visionaries in our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World. The book profiles amazing people working in the shadow of our nation’s capitol finding innovating and expansive ways to serve the citizenry and, in particular, the most vulnerable among us. And she got a quote from Studs Turkel!

“This is a book of wonders–and hope. It tells us of extraordinary things `ordinary’ people can do.”

What’s impressed me over the years is Allison’s compassion. I remember discussing with her the hopeless case of DC’s public schools. Hopeless from my perspective. She believed that positive change was possible.

Allison is speaking at her (and my) alma mater, American University. Here’s the info:

Book Talk and Signing with Allison Silberberg
Visionaries in our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World
Wednesday, April 6
7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
School of International Service – Room 300

Admission is complimentary, but please RSVP online.

Contact Judy Donner, 202-885-1616 for more information.

Parking is free after 5p.m. in the SIS garage – entrance on Nebraska Ave. at intersection with New Mexico Ave.