Saturday, September 29, 2007

Aspergian light

Tony Attwood, Carol Gray, and me at the Asperger Association conference yesterday.

What is genius if not intelligence focused to a sharp point, a point that reaches beyond the rest of society? Isn’t that also a definition of some Aspergians?

Not all Aspergians have the overall mind power to meet that definition, but some certainly do. And that realization set me wondering . . . is there a genius who’s not Aspergian? Or do the two go hand in hand? Some of the greatest inventions the world has ever known have come from people who are otherwise so eccentric they could barely function in society. And yet they gave that society – a society that often mocked and ridiculed them - great things.

Yesterday, at the Asperger’s Association of New England conference in Boston, Tony Attwood said,

Asperger’s is like fire.

The world needs fire . . . for light, for heat, for cooking. Fire shines for millions and makes their lives better. But it also burns those who are too close.
Asperger’s is the same. The world needs Aspergians, for our creative talents. Without us, the world would be flat, dull, and slower moving. Our light shines over the whole world, with our music, our writing, our art, and our technical achievements.

It’s the fruit of Aspergian thought that makes the modern world possible. Without Aspergians . . . there would be no Einstein; no Newton . . . we’d still be riding horse drawn wagons to market. If that. Maybe we’d still be in caves.

But those Aspergians who do the creating; who do the thinking . . . we are often tormented. As are those around us. Burned by our light, as it were. Friends can protect us, but some will always be too smart and too driven to achieve contentment, whatever else they may attain.

Try as we might, we don’t always fit in. We can’t. Yet the world needs us more than they know. A world without Aspergian genius would be a world tranquilized on Valium, plodding from task to task. It would be the world portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984, come to life, but without the technology, because there would be no Aspergians to create it.

What drives us to be this way? In many ways, it would be easier to be tranquilized. The other night, at my Brookline reading, a young man with a tormented expression asked me, “If you could take a pill to make the Asperger’s go away . . .would you do it?”

No, I would not, I answered. With a pill, I’d be dull and lifeless. With a pill, there would be no spark. There would be no book, no creativity, and I would not even be here. How could I want that?

Later he came over and thanked me. He didn’t want a pill, either, but he wondered if he’d made the right choice.

Upon reflection, I wondered too. Because it’s easier to give up. As we make our light brighter, it shines over many more people, and brings the world greater and greater gifts. But do we ourselves benefit, or do we just burn brighter until we burn up?

Are we genetically programmed to do this? What drives Aspergians to create, if not a deep-seated need to shine this light for others on a dark road. Creativity is a surprisingly selfless act. Think about it. Did Einstein personally benefit from the theory of relativity, beyond the mental satisfaction of thinking up something new? And yet his thoughts changed the world, and touched million if not billions of people.

Friday, September 28, 2007

It’s a phenomenon!

I don’t know what else to say. Tuesday my brother and I read to a packed house at B&N Union Square, in New York. And of course New York's the center of the world, as booksellers see it.

And out there in cyberspace, my Amazon rank keeps climbing. Slowly but surely, Look Me in the Eye is rising on the charts. First it was in the top 1,000. Then the top 100. Now, it's climbing the top 50. It's like the Energizer Bunny . . . it keeps going. And going. And going. And going.

The next night, I was on my own, and I went to RJ Julia in Madison, CT. “They get all the big stars there,” my brother told me. And indeed, when I arrived, I saw their photos, framed on the wall.

I wondered what would happen. Would anyone show up? I'm no star.

By seven o’clock, the place was full and the books were gone. The crowd had been fascinated, and engaged. They asked questions until the store staff said we had to stop. They had to close at nine. If they hadn’t stopped, I might well have been there till morning.

When the people came up to me in the book signing line, I said, “Thanks for coming tonight.” And many of them replied, “Thanks for coming here. Your story is very inspiring. Thanks for telling it.” I didn’t know what to say.

The next day, Thursday, I read at the Booksmith in Brookline, outside Boston. I wondered . . . would the magic happen again? And it did. As reading time approached, the room filled up, then the aisle, then the stairs. Then it overflowed.

Once again, the people seemed captivated; fascinated. And once again, I thanked them, and they thanked me. One after the other, they said, “Your story is so inspiring and hopeful . . .”

And once again, the books all vanished. I'd promised to buy some books to donate to the Asperger Association event the next day, but there weren't enough left. "We have more on order," they told me.

Where’s it all coming from? I’ve never written a book before. Outside of my friends on the blog, I don’t have an audience or a following. Is the pent up need to know how we think that great? And who’s the “we”? Is it Aspergians? Or is it just people in general?

It's clear that I’ve touched something deep in people, something I had no idea of when I wrote Look Me in the Eye. For years, I’ve wanted to do something to benefit society. I never expected it to arrive like this, out of the blue.

“I’m going to give your book to my son.”

“I’m going to give it to my husband.”

“I’m an Aspergian like you.”

“It’s for my high school class.”

Clearly, for all these people, it’s more than entertainment. It’s more than just a story.

But you know, Look Me in the Eye is also a sad, funny, and just plain entertaining book. Where are the readers who just want that? Where are the readers who want a nice book for a cool fall evening? I guess the people who NEED the book have elbowed them out of the way. For now at least.

Tomorrow, I’ll be at the Asperger’s Association event in Boston, and next week, I head for Wisconsin.

If you’re around on Sunday, I’ll be on Weekend Today. And I’ll be on Diane Rehm next Tuesday, on NPR.

And the magic continues . . . . I don’t know what else to say. The responses from all of you just leave me speechless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Opening night in Manhattan

Joe Kahn of the Boston Globe wrote a nice story about me and the writing of Look Me in the Eye. It’s online here.

My eight month wait came to an end today, as Look Me in the Eye went on sale. I walked around Manhattan, signing copies of my book at stores across the city. I even took pictures of the displays, but you’ll have to wait for the weekend to see them, because I can’t resize them from my laptop computer.

Amazon released a flood of books, filling the thousands of orders that have come in recent months. B& did the same. The online retailers actually shipped books two days ago, so readers who bought online would get their copies of Look Me in the Eye today . . . as soon as everyone else.

Then, at seven o’clock, we had our opening night appearance, at Union Square Barnes and Noble. The seating area was filled to capacity. Crowds were standing on the floor behind, and watching the video monitors in the cafeteria below. My brother came out and introduced me, and after some back and forth, I read three passages from the book.

I talked a while, and we both answered questions. Then we signed books. Lots of books. Hundreds and hundreds of books. Then it was over. Nine fifteen, and the last book was signed. The floor displays – full at four o’clock – stood empty. The whole affair was taped, and I’ll let you know next week, when you can see it all online. B&N had each of us wired for sound, and they had three commercial cameras running the whole time. They’ve got a recording capability there that would make many TV stations proud.

It was as successful an opening night as anyone could have wished for. The events manager told me tonight was the first standing ovation they’d had for an author all year. I really did not know what to say. I thank all our friends, all of you who were there, and all who wished us well. I’ll see more of you tomorrow, at R J Julia in Madison.

We’re finally on the road . . . and where will we go from here?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And for those who want to know more . . .

It's almost time. Stores across the country will be stocking shelves with copies of Look Me in the Eye tomorrow, in anticipation of Tuesday's opening. A few stores - the ones who got their shipments Saturday - may even have it out for sale.

Readers are always curious about the authors, hiding back there, behind their books. There’s more and more material about me popping up every day online. Two weeks ago, a Google search on “John Elder Robison” found 820 hits. Today, it finds 22,000. I’ve selected a few of the more thoughtful pieces this morning.

Over on the right sidebar of the Look Me in the Eye blog, there’s a button to read “what the critics are saying” on my website. I’ll embed it here for those of you who read syndicated feeds - But those are just brief word bites from the big magazines. Some folks want to know more. And for you, I have a few articles . . .

Ann Treneman of The Times of London came to America to interview me for this story, which ran in last Saturday’s magazine. They had a wonderful 7-page spread with full page color photography. The Internet version does not do it justice.

I hope I’m not as eccentric as she makes me seem . . .

For a very nice review with a mother and writer's point of view, read what blogger Kanani Fong has to say

Here’s an interview I did with Library Journal Magazine. I especially like the question about James Taylor at the end.

Libraries pay attention to the Journal, and thanks to them and a few others, you'll be finding my book in libraries everywhere.

Here’s a story about me by my friend Alison. Our kids grew up together in town . . .

Blogger Kelly Hewitt posted a thoughtful interview just last week, on her Loaded Shelf site.

Finally, the Boston Globe will be running a story on me in the Arts section. Check tomorrow’s paper for more . . .

And if this isn’t enough . . . come to one of my appearances and ask your questions in person. And watch me with Amy Robach on Weekend Today next Saturday, the 29th. The following Tuesday I'll be with Diane Rehm on National Public Radio, and there's a lot more to come. Stay tuned for media updates later this week.

Friday, September 21, 2007

News Flash . . .this just in . . .

We're the EW PICK in today's Entertainment Weekly:

* begin quote *

Growing up was a mystifying experience for Robison, a bright kid unable to grasp even the most basic social skills - a condition he later learned was a form of autism called Asperger's. Also: his father drank, his mother spent time in an institution, and his brother, who he named Varmint - was shipped off to live with a crackpot shrink.

Dysfunction seems to run in the family. So does talent: Varmint renamed himself Augusten Burroughs. It's a fantastic life story (highlights include building guitars for KISS) told with grace, humor, and a bracing lack of sentimentality.

* end quote *

Hopes Goals and Dreams for a Friday afternoon

It's just a few more days till Look Me in the Eye goes on sale. Next Tuesday.

My book has just finished its first week on the Amazon bestseller list, and it’s not even on sale yet. Who’d have expected that from me, an unknown debut author from the backwoods of Massachusetts? It’s true, I have a famous brother, but the demand for my book really shows how urgently people seek stories of hope and inspiration. I sure hope Look Me in the Eye helps fill that need. I’m pedaling as fast as I can.

I’d like to take a moment to tell you some of my hopes and goals. Every day, people ask me, “What do you hope to accomplish?”

In a general sense, I want to do creative work that benefits society. At the most basic level, that’s what I want to accomplish with my work life. And I hope to accomplish both those goals via my writing. I’ve already achieved commercial success and stability and now I’m ready to add another dimension.

I hope to show the wider world that Aspergian people, and other autistic people, have feelings just like everyone else. Our thought processes may at times be different, but our underlying emotions are the same.

With all my funny stories (at least you readers tell me they’re funny) I’d like to demonstrate that some Aspergians (me, at least) can find humor in any situation. And I hope that most of you readers find my book entertaining.

I hope young people, and anyone are struggling to find their way, can take inspiration from my story. If I, a high school dropout, can have a family, make a few dollars and found several businesses, they can too. And I hope to deliver another message in that regard: you’ll never win unless you’re in the game. Excuses do not make us winners.

I hope my story gives teachers, mental health workers, and anyone else who works with autistic and Aspergian people a better insight into how some of us think and feel. While some of us may respond to medication, others need only understanding. And we don’t always think the way mental health handbooks say we do. I want to make that point very clear, at least with respect to me. I don’t know how YOU think, but I sure know how I thing, and in my case, all those shrinks all through my childhood had some pretty wrong ideas about me. And now that I’m a successful grownup, the proof is, as they say, in the beef stew.

I hope more people will see Asperger’s and autism as an invisible disability. A guy in a wheelchair receives compassion everywhere he goes. An Aspergian who doesn’t know how to fit in may be ridiculed by some of those same people, because he looks normal but acts different. I hope to increase the level of tolerance and understanding in the world a little bit.

While some Aspergians may struggle with day to day life, evidence suggests that Aspergian and autistic thinking may be an essential part of much creative genius. Using examples from my book, I hope to show the wider world that some Aspergian traits that other people ordinarily see as disadvantages may actually be rare and wonderful gifts.

And I hope readers will see the other people around them in a whole new light, once they read my story.

And now, if we could take a moment to mention the supporting cast, back there in the background . . .

Can you step forward . . .

A bit more . . . .

He’s right here, the guy on the left

He’s Shawn Nicholls, the Internet wizard who brings you ME, online. Shawn is the fellow who provides the technological underpinnings for all you see here in the blog. He’s responsible for restyling the Look Me in the Eye blog, to make it colorful and professional, not plain and basic. He’s made countless little devices, like the 3D book. He’s the one who edited the video of my brother and me, and put it on YouTube for the world to see. He’s also the guy who gets my content on sites like Amazon, Perez Hilton, People, and others.

I should point out that many things like YouTube are actually his idea and his creation. He's made a big contribution to the book's promotion.

He’s much younger than me, smart, computer savvy, clever, and hard working. When my stories pop up in out of the way places you can look to him.

And we can’t forget my mate, Martha, known to readers as Unit 2. She builds and operates the website and works with Shawn to keep us looking spiffy.

And those of you who read about me in People or Entertainment Weekly or USA Today or any of the other papers and magazines . . . you can thank my publicist, Christine Aronson, for letting them know I exist.

Look for exciting photos of Christine, me, and my book - stacked up for sale, Monday night. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Words weren't enough. Now I've got PICTURES.. Moving pictures. On YouTube.

One of the online retailers asked if I could make a short video of me, talking about Look Me in the Eye. “Of course I can,” I said, because I try my best to accommodate people. But I’d never made a tape by myself. As you blog readers know, I had the Today show here last week with three skilled cameramen and a million dollars worth of gear. Why didn’t they ask then, when I had trained professionals here at the house?

I even had Amy Robach here all day, to ask me questions. What a chance they missed.

My brother and I went to Sams Ready Cash Emporium and bought us a pawned VCR. Holding the hundred dollar marvel in his paws, my brother said, “This is easy. We don’t need professionals. We can do it ourselves.” In between passes, raking the meadow with my tractor.

And this video is the result:

Now, as if that’s not enough, I’ve got more.

You’ve all heard about the print version of Look Me in the Eye, and indeed it’s what’s garnering all the sales and attention right now. Look closer, though . . . there in the background, you’ll see my audio book.

It’s now in a box, halfway down, on the right side of my blog.

Those of you who read the blog back in July may recall my posts on recording Look Me in the Eye. I did it up here in the sticks, at a studio across the street from my house. A bears-and-moose kind of setting in the front yard, and Yamaha digital mastering gear in the basement.

When I decided to record my own book – read the words myself, that is – it was almost a vanity. It was MY story, and I felt I was the natural one to read it. Luckily, the folks at Random House Audio agreed, and the process went off smoothly, without a fight.

Back in July, I told you all how well things went, and I introduced all the players – Orli (my producer) Charles (my director) and Peter (my engineer). I was really happy with the result, and in the hurry to get ready to go on tour, I kind of forgot about it.

Then the audio book clip came in and we put it on the blog. And something happened. I’ve alluded to this before, but it’s important, so I’m going to allude some more here . . .

People with autistic and Aspergian children began writing me, telling me the voice on my audio clip “sounded like home,” “sounded warm,” and “sounded familiar.” I pondered the meaning of those comments, and I began to wonder . . . is there a “voice of Asperger’s?”

Together, we should answer that question. Those of you with autism or Asperger’s in the family . . . listen to the clip, and write and tell me if you recognize something in the voice. It’s a fascinating concept.

I think there is a whole ‘nother dimension of meaning to my reading of the audio book, one I did not anticipate at all. If it’s true there’s a distinct voice, it’s such a wonderful stroke of luck that I read the book myself and brought it to you, however unintentional it was.

All the online retailers and many brick and mortar stores will carry the adridged audio book, which I read. There is also a limited distribution unabridged work that I did not read. It’s mostly found in libraries. If you have autism in your family, and go to a library looking for my audio, pay attention to which version you get. If you don’t have autism in the family, the unabridged version has all my stories, all the extra stuff we had to cut to fit five CDs for the lighter version.

And before I go, I’d like to also mention that we’ll have a LARGE PRINT edition of Look Me in the Eye soon. I’ll let you know when it’s on sale.

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's showtime, folks

Look Me in the Eye doesn’t go on sale in stores till next week, but it’s an online bestseller now! How cool is that? Out of the five million books in the catalog, mine has climbed into the top 100! And you, the readers of my blog, have been here from the beginning.

I know a few of you blog readers have read advance copies of my book. As soon as you can do it, this is the time to start posting your reviews, on the online book sites and anywhere else. It’s show time, folks, so tell all your friends.

Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Show time starts at 7, next Tuesday, when my brother and I walk up to the microphones at Union Square in New York City. But tonight, I’ll give you a preview and ask your opinions . . .

At my first appearance, my brother and I will talk, bicker, snipe, and answer questions together. I’ll read from my book, and we’ll both sign copies of both of our books. My New York appearance is your chance if you want both of us to sign your books. And best of all - it’s free. It may be crowded, but if the crowd is like the folks on my blog, they’ll all be nice, and the place does have a cafeteria . . .

The next night, at R J Julia in Madison, I’ll be alone. But I won’t really be alone, because Kim Stagliano has organized an army of autism moms, and they’re planning to march on the event. Supposedly, some will bring food. And these moms are HIGHLY motivated, enthusiastic, specially selected examples of mom-hood. So who knows what they’ll do? Come early to find out.

The third night next week, at Brookline Booksmith, is co-sponsored by the Asperger Association of New England, and they will be there in force, since their convention starts just a few hours after my reading ends. I know that some of you can’t get enough of Aspergians, and that will be the place to find us. In quantity. Mister Spock would be right at home.

And if that’s not enough, I hear they’ll be talking up that reading in the Boston Globe, and who knows what kind of audience that will pull from the woodwork. . .

So each reading will be different. As will I. Knowing that some of you will come to several events, I have pledged to read different material at each event. So you will never become bored. And I am doing it just for you. Which begs the question . . . what will you do, by your third or fourth book signing, do to make yourself different for me?? Yes . . . I’ll bet you didn’t think of that. But just as you will be watching me . . . I will be watching YOU.

And now, for the question of the night . . . .

My book is full of STUFF. Some stuff is funny. Some is sad. Some is wild, and some is crazy. What STUFF would you like to hear about? Be specific. Be imaginative.

Would you like to hear me read from my book, and answer questions? That’s what they do at most readings. But is there more? Should I step away from the podium and tell some of my stories, as a standup routine? Or hide behind a podium and a book?

I have a few thoughts of my own . . . Most of my listeners (you) this time won’t have read my book, so they’ll (you’ll) be coming to the event to get a feel for what my book is like. For some of you, my reading is like an audition. If I impress you, you fork over the twenty bucks. If I don’t, you toss the egg.

Since I’m new to all of you, perhaps I should read this tour and do more free standing talking on my next tour. Think so?

I hear it already . . . next tour? Next?

Of course there’s a NEXT. With all the enthusiasm and support from all of you, and now that I’m a bestseller online, before my book is even released, how could you ever imagine there would not be a next?

If you would like to bet on the release date of my next book, send your wager with a ten dollar entry fee to the address on my website. Winners will be notified by mail.

As always, I await your comments with bated breath.

Action on a rainy New England weekend.

I’m back from another British Invasion weekend to find Look Me in the Eye has taken off in the online bookstores. Over the weekend, my sales rank rose into the top 100 – bestseller territory – on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.

What happened?

On Friday afternoon, Elle Magazine hit the newsstands with my book as their reader’s choice for October. At the same time, People Magazine ran a full-page story on Look Me in the Eye. And across the pond, The Times in London ran a long story on me and the book.

The Elle and People stories are in print only. You can read the Times article here:

And with that, the book has taken off. There will be more publicity this week, and then next week, it’s on sale.

I sure am glad people like it. It’s like the stars are just aligned for this book. Everything has gone well from that moment back in January when my agent sent it out to publishers for review. Where will it go from here?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let me tell you about the British Invasion . . .

The Robison Service contingent numbered fourteen people and seven vehicles. Three Land Rovers, a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, and two MINIs. Our crew straggled in during the day, with me bringing up the rear, arriving at 8:30 in my green MINI. When I arrived the dining room at the Stowe Inn was filled with car enthusiasts, and hoots and bellows filled the air. To listen to that crowd, you’d never guess they pretend to be respectable business people by day.

We awoke Saturday to a steady cold rain, fine weather for a British car show. One by one, we cranked up the cars – all of which started – and drove the two miles to the field where the event is held.

Seven hundred cars had turned the pasture into a sea of mud, with cars slipping, sliding, and getting stuck. Our beautifully detailed cars threw rooster tails of mud as they made their way across the field, sliding into parking spaces and throwing slop onto other contestants. If the whiskey tent had been open for business, there surely would have been fistfights.

I walked the field, talking to the many friends I’ve made at these shows over the years. Many people asked about my book, and I continued to be amazed at how everyone seems to have a grandson or nephew or friend or something with autism or Asperger’s. Has it been everywhere all this time, and I never knew? Remarkable.

Jan, our event organizer, talked enthusiastically and considered our plan for the following day. Having whupped the competition like dogs last year in the tailgate picnic competition, Jan and Bobby reluctantly decided to let someone new win this year, and they withdrew from that competition. We polished our cars in the pouring rain, as we considered the fine English weather our hosts had arranged for the occasion.

I had all I could take by two o’clock, and I retreated to the hotel to take a nap.

The Rolls Royce club’s dinner is always a high point of the show, but this year it had devolved among bickering. It broke up into three separate parties, with our group and ten others at the Blue Moon, and the rest at the Mad Dog and the Whistling Duck, two other local establishments. Bob and I bought the group three bottles of fair champagne, which they consumed with enthusiasm. Bob regaled us with stories of toy production in the Far East, and other tales of his life and times. We retired to our rooms at midnight.

The next morning, we rode back to the show field, and lined up in the mud again. The sun finally came out, just in time to leave. We departed for home at lunchtime, and we are still cleaning the mud from the cars.

Next year, I hope the organizers will hold the event without British weather. The addition of accurate weather scared away at least half the contestants.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Four Stars and a Critics choice in People and a Reader's Choice award from Elle

Check out the stories on Look Me in the Eye in the September 24 issue of People and the October issue of Elle. Both are on news stands now. Very cool.

And we're off . . .

3:30 and I'm heading out the door for a four hour trip to the British Invasion in Stowe, Vermont. If any of you ar enear Stowe, stop by and say hi. I'll be in the Land Rover area around our red Defender 90 and the MINI area with our green Cooper S.

I'll post photos from the show.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some thoughts on changing direction

The letter below is a response I wrote to Alan Gage on his blog. After writing it, I realized a few of my own blog readers might find it interesting. Alan is a young man whose family owns an automobile repair shop like mine in Estherville, Iowa. I’ve known his father Roy for a number of years online, and I’ve recently met Alan, who has set out to travel the country in his van. He’s got a blog about the journey here

To Alan:

I’m not surprised to hear that you want a new career. Having read your father’s stories for many years on IATN, it’s clear there more than cars in his own life and probably yours, too. Both you and your father have shown a talent for writing, and you obviously like going out and having different life experiences, so perhaps you’d enjoy reporting and writing. Maybe books, maybe newspapers, maybe online. There’s real promise in the storytelling I see from both you and your dad.

I too am in the midst of changing careers, or perhaps more accurately, adding a new career to the ones I’ve already accumulated. I’ve run Robison Service (my automobile shop) for 20+ years, but I always looked for something more. For the past ten or so years, I’ve told friends and customers that I wanted to get out of commerce and do something that benefits society. And I wanted to do something creative.

I took up photography , but I could not see a good path to turn it into a living. So many photographers just barely scrape by. I thought of other things, but I just never got moving. And my commitments to my family and company tied me to the local area.

Then my brother, my friends and family encouraged me to write a book, and I decided to give it a try. The result, Look Me in the Eye, has been amazingly well received. It goes on sale everywhere in just over a week. My publisher has sent out copies to reviewers and booksellers and responses from readers have already started coming in.

Those responses, things like, “Your book is a window into the mind of my non-verbal child” have come to mean more to me that anything customers at our car company may say. Because I now see that cars are just cars, and a book that touches people and gives them hope or inspiration will always be more important in many ways.

The cars I fix will, for the most part, be recycled into lawn chairs, tin cans, and dishwashers in ten years. But my books will live on, in libraries, homes, and bookstores. Even online. If my voice is an inspiration to a young person today, it will still be inspirational to young people when I am gone. Given a choice, who wouldn’t choose such a legacy?

It’s hard to read letters from readers telling me how my story inspired them, or helped their child, or helped them be a better teacher, and then try to find enthusiasm for talking about changing water pumps in the shop. There’s a whole different level of caring from readers to customers, at least in those instances.

And yet the shop has brought many wonderful people into my life, and I’ve loved machines all my life too. So I’m not really ready to walk away from it, but I am ready to step back a bit. I’m ready to be an inspiration and a figurehead, as it were, while I let our younger staff take over the daily tasks. I’m ready to focus on the wonderful custom projects that I love – the six hundred horsepower Bentleys or the mountain climbing Land Rovers – and leave the routine service and repair work to our crew.

And as an aside, it’s those project cars that will be a vehicular legacy for me – collector vehicles that leave our shop and live forever, or at least a long time, in the hands of enthusiasts who love them as they would a devoted pet.

With that realization, I find the whole trajectory of my life is changing. Everything I thought was constant – career, places, people – all is about to change. My destiny, at least for now, is to be a writer. The only uncertainty is, how will I make a living? Will I sell enough books to support myself? We’ll soon see . . .

For now, it’s a real struggle, because I have to help the car company grow up and find its way with less input from me. It’s almost like watching a child growing up and leaving home. I don’t know what direction it will take, but with all the publicity that will soon surround me and my book, it will have many options. As will I, personally.

The people at the company have the biggest opportunity of their lives, but a lot of uncertainty too. So it’s an anxious time all around. But I think both they company and I will make this transition successfully. I’ll continue to be a source of inspiration and ideas, and I’ll meet and talk to fellow car enthusiasts, but I’ll be a step back from doing the actual work.

Now, to get back to writing . . .

The fact that this book sprang forth from me, at age fifty, should be an inspiration to you, Alan, and anyone else who wonders if they can change direction in their own life. My book is proof one can reach inward and change direction in very fundamental ways. It sounds like you want more from life, too, and I hope you find it in your travels.

Sometimes people change, and all of a sudden what they have isn’t enough. And many times, the “enough” is a spiritual thing, not a material one. One can be quite affluent, and still have little connection to humanity at large. Many folks become lost when that happens. Some, like me, are able to choose a new path and follow it. I think being Aspergian helps me in that regard.

If the “more” in your own life is indeed a spiritual thing, there are many paths to fulfillment. Creative work, writing, photography, film making . . . those are obvious directions. Some take up missionary work, and there are many causes one can support with missionary zeal – it’s not just about religion. There’s the search for cures, teaching our children, fixing our cities. There’s even politics. Others join aid organizations and help the less fortunate in the third world. The Internet offers limitless opportunity for creative expression. There are many possibilities, and you just need to find the right one for this point in your own life. The four careers I’ve had in my thirty year working life should show that choices like these needn’t be the “only one” or the “forever one.” I wish you luck with your search, and I hope you do make it to New York for my appearance on the 25th as you wrote me yesterday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The tour is about to begin!

As we race toward the launch of Look Me in the Eye, I’d like to invite all of you to come see me in person. I am traveling the country this fall, just to meet you. There may be other people at my book readings, but you on the blog are the ORIGINALS. The REAL THING.

So come out and see me. I know - a few of you are afraid of what you’ll find. But let me set your minds to rest. This is not like the Internet dating horror stories you’ve read. I look like the photos, and I sound like the audio book. For real. I am mostly personable and fairly friendly. Small children and herbivorous animals instinctively trust me. Fish, whom I eat, may not.

I have polished my appearance and practiced my sound endlessly, just so I don’t disappoint you. My clothes are clean, and so are my ears. I have trimmed my nose hairs and gotten fresh soles on my shoes. My shoulders will be sore, of course, from lugging that sack of books, but my uncle Bob has the mule and the wagon if I get tired.

With that in mind, I hope that all of you will crawl out from under your rocks – just as I have done – and come visit. Some of you will say, “Your nearest reading is too far away!” If you feel that way, see your local bookseller. Have them call Crown and ask for a reading. If enough people call, they’ll send me.

This weekend, September 15, I’ll be at the British Invasion in Stowe, Vermont. My group will have cars in the Mini, Jaguar, Land Rover, Rolls Royce, and Bentley classes, and I’ll be walking around. Come join us!

On September 25 we’re having a big party at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City. I’ll be arriving to meet you a bit before the 7PM reading time. For the event itself, both my brother and I will tell stories from our books, and we’ll answer questions from the audience. The Union Square store is a big place, and we need a lot of friends to fill it up. Bring everyone you know!

We’ve got a bus traveling from Springfield to New York for the party, and everyone from Robison Service will be there. In addition, many of my home town friends – some of whom appear in the book – are coming. We’ve still got space on the bus if any of you want a ride. Call 413 785 1665.

The next day I’ll be appearing by myself at R J Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT. I’ve already heard from Kim Stagliano and a bunch of moms about this event, and it promises to be good. My brother isn’t coming to this reading, so you’ll have me all to yourselves. I will be signing books, children, pets, and whatever else crawls up to the table.

On Thursday the 27th I’ll be at Brookline Booksmith outside Boston. That event is co-sponsored by the Asperger Association of New England. Aspergians, moms, kids, and everyone else are welcome at this appearance. We may have a get-together after this event, depending upon responses.

So if you live within driving distance of these events, put them on your calendar!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Today, Basketball and Rolls Royces, tomorrow, who knows?

Yesterday I felt like it was time for a parade, so I rounded up a few friends and we did one. There’s nothing to beat it on a hot late summer day. We may be hicks up here in Massachusetts, but we’ve got a few things the slick folks in the big city don’t. One of them is the Basketball Hall of Fame, and this weekend was Enshrinement Time, when they induct new members into the Hall of Fame.

Prior to photographing and embedding them in the Hall’s concrete walls, new inductees are flown to Springfield and placed in the Marriott and Sheraton hotels downtown. I organize a parade of Rolls Royce automobiles to carry the inductees on their fateful one-mile journey from Hotel to Enshrinement.

This year we had six inductees, so I brought seven Rolls Royce cars. Anyone who plans a convoy knows there is a possibility of vehicle casualties (breakdowns, fires, explosions, alien abductions …) so with seven cars and six riders we could lose 15% of our transport and still deliver the inductees, provided they weren’t lost with the vehicles.

As in prior parades, we also had a police escort to keep the lowlifes out and the inductees in. Plus, we get to run all the red lights with the law on our side.

This year’s lineup of cars featured my Mini as the lead car, followed by the renowned Sea Breeze, brother of musician Taj Mahal, in the two-tone Rolls Convertible. He’s followed by my heighbor Gordy Palley in a 2001 convertible, and Perrin Edwards, a famous foot surgeon, in a 2000 convertible. Behind him you’ll see Bobby Hartsfield, one of the most refined gentlemen you’ll ever meet in my red Bentley. Making up the rear we had my friend Gene’s ivory sedan, Paul Picknelly’s two-tone sedan, and Perrin’s spare car.

The buses in the background carry the hordes who are here for the spectacle, along with their gear.

Some of you readers may wonder what Rolls Royce parades have to do with basketball. Well, I’ll tell you. In the twisted minds of those who promote tourism to our city, Springfield was the Birthplace of Basketball. It says so on our license plates, and the convicts who manufacture them are reminded of that fact every single day, as are motorists who can read. Springfield was also the location of Rolls Royce’s American factory, back in the 1920s.

Rolls Royce actually built cars for the American market right here in Springfield, until the depression killed them off. And my company, Robison Service, is located on a corner of the lot that housed the old Rolls Royce manufacturing plant.

So it’s sort of rolling history. Smiling ladies sell copies of that same story for $4.95 at the Tourism Center for our city, so I hope you appreciate reading it for free here.

I am pleased to say all the vehicles and all the passengers transited the parade route uneventfully. Those of you who are basketball fans may wonder who the inductees were this year. They are: Harry Flournoy, for Texas Western basketball, Roy Williams, University of North Carolina, Mirko Novosel, Yugoslavia National Team, Phil Jackson, L.A. Lakers & Chicago Bulls, Pedro Ferrandiz, of Real Madrid, and WNBA coach Van Chancellor.

Everyone had a good time, and to celebrate another successful parade I ate a large waffle cone at the adjacent Cold Stone Creamery.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How to shoot network TV in your own back yard

This morning the Today show crew came calling, up here in Amherst. It was quite a production. We had Amy Robach, who interviewed us; Danielle Kowalski, the producer, three camera men, and two customized Suburbans full to the brim with cameras and gear. In this shot, my son Cubby checks out the cameras, which are somewhat more sophisticated than his . . .

The plan was to film my brother at his house, my brother and me together, and me at my house. They also wanted some background shots . . . me with my cars, my son, my musical stuff, and my old photos. I think they got more than they bargained for. They left, ten hours later, with a duffel bag holding three hours of tape. It was a long day, but exciting and fun.

Watching the crew, the difference between local television and a big network show was apparent. Everything was set up, lit, and miked. There were three cameras: one on me; one on Amy, and one with a wider shot of both of us. Each of us had a lapel microphone for close sound pickup, and they had an overhead mike. All three went into a mixer and then into the recorders, just as in a studio.

I was very impressed by the way they took control of the shooting environment. We shot the first segment in my brother’s living room. They moved all the furniture and set up chairs for the interview. The actual setting in my brother’s house was way too cluttered for television, and they turned it upside down to make a setting that looked totally natural on camera even though it looked like a tornado cleaned the place out in real life. Once the chairs were in place one cameraman watched the monitor while another moved objects in and out of the background, seeking the right scene balance of color and shape. They added lights in the rear, to give the illusion of afternoon sun behind us. They masked all the windows, and replaced their natural light with their more controllable movie lights.

In this shot two of the crew are setting up:

Nothing was left to chance. The Today crew spent several hours setting up a scene that will play for a matter of minutes on network television, but in those few minutes, four or five million viewers will be watching, and they made sure every little thing was right. As a technical guy, I really enjoyed seeing it unfold.

And now it's ready . . . here my brother and Amy get ready:

My brother needed to head for New York, so we did his part of the interview first. I watched to get a sense of what I’d have to do, and soon enough, it was my turn. But it wasn’t that simple . . . the whole set at my brother’s house had to be taken down, and a new set assembled at my house, 750 feet away. New setting, new furniture, new lighting . . . three hours passed while they set it up.

Even though it was my first network television appearance, I was pretty relaxed. Amy was really good and I felt at ease the whole time. I always think of myself as serious and deadpan, but she burst out laughing several times when I was answering her questions, and she assured me the TV audience would feel the same way.

It’s a funny thing . . . when I wrote Look Me in the Eye, I thought it might be boring because it lacks graphic sex, violence, and depravity. But as I do these interviews, I am learning that it’s a fun story for everyone who gets involved, because it makes people feel good, and it’s entertaining, and actually good for people, like the foul-smelling fish oil your mom fed you when you were sick. The interviewers always seem to have fun here.

Once the interview was done, they shot what they call B-roll footage; things like me and Cubby, me with my cars, and Cubby and me talking about the KISS guitars. While we did that, another cameraman used his camera and an easel to film tons of childhood photos.

Finally, it was time to go. It's just amazing what goes into a network production . . . I started getting ready before 8 in the morning, and now it was dark, and the editing hadn't even started. I was worn out. I can’t imagine how they’re going to cut all that down into four minutes for the show. I asked Danielle, and she said they’ll work two weeks editing it. This give a you whole ‘nother sense of what goes into those little stories on network TV, doesn’t it?

And now I’m off, to the next interview . . .

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Look Me in the Eye is reviewed by Easy Writer

I'm very touched by Kanani Fong's thoughtful review of my book. I'm not sure what more to say . . . . read it here . . it's very nice:

And in other news . . . Amy Robach and a crew from Weekend Today were here for ten hours today shooting a segment that you'll all be able to see just as soon as they edit it, in a few weeks. And even better, they will have additional material on the Today website. I'll write more about that tomorrow, with photos, because I'm too tired tonight.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A day at the Pig Races

Everyone loves a Pig Race!

Yesterday the Three-County fair came to Northampton, as it’s done every labor day weekend for the past 82 years. As always, for me and countless other race fans, the running of the pigs is the highlight of the event. They used to race horses, too, but now, the pigs are all we have left.

I made it to the track in time for the 5:30 triple, and with some pushing and shoving, I obtained a seat right by the rail, down low in front.

This was supposed to be a family event, with moms and children all around me. However, not everyone watching the races was as innocent as the squalling ten year old next to me. To the rear, I got glimpses of grizzled farm hands from Hatfield and Whatley. They were unshaven, with scruffy overalls, and pints of cheap whiskey peeking from their pockets. Their rough, dirty hands clutched fistfuls of cash. Like lasers, their beady eyes focused on each pig, one at a time, as they emerged from the pen. Money changed hands as the starting cage shut with a clank.

The pigs were in and the bets were down. It was time to go. At the count of Five! Four! Three! Two! One! And they’re off! The pigs thundered around the track. It wasn’t as exciting as the horse races used to be, but it was close. One toddler stuck his finger through the rail, and a passing pig nipped the end off, clean as a whistle, with hardly a break in his stride.
People - especially kids - forget that pigs are omnivores, and being smart, they grab any opportunity to swap places with us on the food chain. Don't ever go to sleep in a pigpen.
In this shot, the defending champion - who was favored by two in the point spread - thunders into the turn in hot pursuit of the Snickers Bar.

While the toddler yelled, the pigs lined up for the next run and the farm boys laid their bets on the porkers. The bar dropped, and those piglets ran for the money, right beneath the eyes of the local law. After the races, the ones who still had money slunk off to bet the upcoming demolition derby, the losers fought each other, sullen and drunk, and the moms and kids dispersed to the midway, where sharp carnies waited to fleece the unwary with rigged games of chance. I wanted to follow them, but I was distracted by the tractors, and when I turned back, they had blended into the crowd.
Here's one of the old Farmalls, waiting for the Tractor Pull to start:

In this shot, you can see the Racing Pigs thundering around the track with fans screaming in the background: