Commentary, Literary

# 98,201 With A Bullet: Building a Kindle Bestseller

Or, How BookBub Helped One Struggling Author Reach His (Modest) Dreams — Sort Of

12/2/2017 9:14 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

Today is the day of my BookBub promotion for my novel, WREATHED.

Nice cover, eh?

If you don’t know about BookBub, they are the premier company out there in the book-recommendation market. They have developed several mailing lists of hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are voracious readers with a few extra bucks to spend on electronic books. If you’re an author, you can apply for a BookBub promotion to get your name on a mailing list — but there’s a few things you have to do.

First, you generally — not always — need to widen the distribution for your book. A lot of independently published books like WREATHED are Amazon-exclusive, because Amazon consistently delivers better results than any other channel. But a lot of BookBub readers are in the Apple ecosystem, so it’s a good idea to widen your distribution network.

Second, you need to discount the price of your book. BookBub offers promotions for e-books you are giving away for free, and books you are selling for anywhere between 99 cents and $2.99. For this promotion today, I am selling my book for 99 cents. (I did a free promotion for this book two years ago, and did very well.)

Third — and this is the crucial part — you need to convince BookBub to take your money. BookBub is famous for turning down independent authors for slots, a practice that has gotten more widespread as more traditional outlets use the service and crowd out slots. I had been turned down several times recently, but got lucky this time (after I widened the distribution channels).

So it’s early here, and I had to get up early to work on a paper for grad school, and the BookBub e-mail hasn’t gone out yet, so I’m basically waiting for that to happen. I had three sales yesterday, and one sale overnight, so that pushed the initial Amazon ranking for the book to a healthy #98,201. (To provide some context, my children’s book — which hasn’t sold any Kindle copies in months — is at #1,570,774.) My goal is to get in the overall top 100 in the romance category, and ideally in the top 1000 site-wide. But it’s early yet. I’ll check in throughout the day. (The promotion runs through the end of next week, and I’ve promoted the book on other sites, so I’ll keep track of that as well.)

12/2/2017 10:22 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

The last BookBub promotion I did was on a Friday, and the e-mail went out around noon. This is a Saturday, and I think the e-mail may have gone out earlier. Or it may not have! I am using multiple services today (a process called “stacking”) and I can’t specifically say that today’s sales are due to BookBub or not. But so far, things are looking pretty healthy, with 89 sales. The Amazon ranking hasn’t updated yet; it’s showing WREATHED at #107,035. It’s hard to be patient; you want that number to go up, not down.

12/2/2017 11:17 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

I am working on a grad school project this morning, and the person I am working with was supposed to be on a conference call with me to discuss it, but I had uploaded a lot of content to the project and she hasn’t had time to read it yet. That means I am sitting here at my computer, trying to figure out ways to not check sales numbers every five seconds.

Since my last BookBub, the program has gone international, so there are going to be sales in the UK, India, Australia, and Canada as well. Whee! Most of the international sales are from the UK so far — that makes sense, because people are awake there now. I am very curious as to how well the book will do in India (it’s not the least bit Indian) but there is only one sale there so far. My guess is that those will come in overnight, but who knows.

The Amazon ranking is sitting at #112,872, which means that the sales-rank algorithm is behind on calculating the last two hours of sales. (I shouldn’t complain; it is going to take days to figure out if I had any sales through Apple or Barnes & Noble.) But it’s still frustrating. The main reason for doing this is to see if I can drive this book on some kind of bestseller list, and that’s not showing up as of yet.

12/2/2017 12:17 PM EST — Somerset County YMCA

Since it’s the season of giving, I took the Mrs. and the kids to an Operation Shoebox packing event here in the boro. Operation Shoebox sends care packages to American troops overseas — in this case, gallon Zip-loc bags full of travel-size shampoo and soaps and Q-Tips and whatnot. What you do is this: they hand you a bag, you take one item out of each bin, and put it in the bag. You get enough unskilled labor to do this, and many hands make light work.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

But the problem is that so many people showed up to help that there was a line to go through the process. This is the kind of problem you want to have from the organizational perspective, but you leave a lot of volunteers standing in line. So I checked my phone, and sure enough, the algorithm had updated. WREATHED is now up to #2,757 overall in the Amazon US marketplace. It’s starting to show up on category lists, too, although it hasn’t broken the Top 100 in romance or new adult yet.

12/2/2017 2:16 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

A much smaller jump this time, to #2,166. The problem, of course, is that just because you’re on BookBub, it doesn’t mean other people aren’t. Even some big-name authors are doing the BookBub thing today — Michael Chabon’s publisher is discounting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and go read THAT if you haven’t. You’re competing with all of those guys, and everything else that’s new and popular, so it’s hard to break through to the top 100, even with a lot of sales. Over 200 sales in the US so far today for WREATHED, and another hundred or so worldwide, so that’s a fair amount.

12/2/2017 4:58 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

Child A somehow managed to knock over the gasoline can, leaving a good-size puddle of fuel on the floor, so I spent a productive fifteen minutes breaking up charcoal briquettes with a hoe and spreading them on the garage floor to absorb the fumes. Fun!

WREATHED continues to climb up the charts, to #1,628 overall, and #81 in contemporary romance. That’s 354 sales overall (I’ll wait to break down the international sales later).

12/2/2017 7:58 PM EST — Bahama Breeze, West Windsor, New Jersey

Out to dinner with the wife and kids. (I got the chicken tortilla soup and coconut shrimp, and an interesting Puerto Rican cocktail that was basically coconut egg nog with rum.) The Mrs. takes the kids to the potty while I’m trying to flag down the waiter to get the check. I check the sales rank on my phone. WREATHED is at #861 overall on Amazon. I resist the urge to get another egg nog.

12/2/2017 8:46 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

The sales rank is up a tick more, to #763. What has happened (what I think has happened) is that the month-to-date tab on the Amazon KDP site (which shows you how much you’ve sold that month) has caught up with the sales dashboard tab (which shows authors real-time sales). Usually the month-to-date figure lags a little bit. I don’t know which they use in their sales algorithm, but if it’s the month-to-date, well, that figure seems to have caught up, hence the rise in sales.

The real metric for a promotion like this is return-on-investment. I paid BookBub $270 for this promotion. Right now, I’ve probably made something like $150. I need more sales to break even, and I don’t know if I will get them. A lot is riding on how well I do with the next round of promotions, and sales in Australia and India.

12/3/2017 11:08 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

So far this morning, WREATHED has maintained its place in the top 1000 books on Amazon, at#879. And that’s fine, but it’s not going to put the book on a bestseller list, which was kind of the point. I did OK in Australia (38 sales) but lousy in India (only one sale). I have three other promotions going on at other sites, so we’ll see how well I do overall. But I am worrying that we have hit a sales peak, and that I won’t make enough over the next four days of the promotion to break even.

12/3/2017 8:57 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

You know a great way to keep yourself from checking your sales figures every five seconds? Catch a cold. I got tired of working on my school projects, sat down to watch a little NFL football, and slept for the next two hours. And then I was so miserable and stuffed that I couldn’t get off the couch. Over 100 total sales today, which sounds good but doesn’t look good next to the 462 sales from yesterday. The book is still in the top 100 contemporary romances, and is #1,335 overall, which is not too shabby. And I’m #277 overall in Australia, which has to count for something.

12/5/2017 1:05 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

Only 4 sales today. That was fun! Sorry it’s over.

Commentary, Literary

Why I Wrote a Picture Book About America in the Age of Trump

There is only one real reason anyone writes a book for children, and that is because they have children who pester them until they do. Or at least that’s what happened to me. I have eight-year-old twin daughters, and they are both avid readers. They know that I’ve written a couple of books for grown-ups, and they are not incredibly happy that they’re not allowed to read them. So they started lobbying me to write a book they could read.

This kind of thing does not always work, of course — I have successfully turned a deaf ear to multiple entreaties to get a dog, or a cat, or a hamster, or an iPhone. And, initially, I was able to deflect request to write a children’s book. “It’s actually harder to come up with a new idea for a children’s book than you think,” I would say. “You also have to illustrate it, and I have no idea how to draw.” I figured that would be enough to defuse the issue.

It might have been, too, except that I was driving the children home one day, and they were prattling to each other, pretending to be different people with different names. “Well, my name is Amanda,” one of them said to the other, and something about that struck home. (Amanda is their main babysitter.) Later that night, I wrote the first couplet for the book:

If my name was Amanda
 I’d live in Atlanta
 And I’d say hello to a shark.
 If my name was Bonnie
 Then I’d live in Boston
 And catch fly balls in Fenway Park.

That was the easy part. (The “shark” reference is for the Georgia Aquarium.) Once I had the basic formula established, I had to figure out matching first names and cities for each letter in the alphabet, and then I went back and tried to get the rhymes to work. (I also ended up taking the Fenway Park reference out; I didn’t want to run into any trademark issues if I could avoid them.) After that, I had to get the meter just right, so it would be easy to read. That involved taking the entire text and putting it into a spreadsheet, with a separate syllable for every cell.

Once I got the text finished, and decided that the title should be If My Name Was Amanda, it was time to find help with the artwork. I lucked out and found an illustrator on Twitter — an English artist who turned out excellent work at a bargain price. Once I got the artwork put together, then it was time for the acid test — reading the book to the other kids at my daughters’ school. (They liked it, and their teacher was enthusiastic about the book’s use as a classroom aid to American geography.)

But why go through all the trouble to put out a children’s book in a market that’s already glutted with children’s books? There are already, literally, hundreds of rhyming alphabet picture books alone, many of them incredibly well-done and well-known. Why bother with another?

Ultimately, there were three reasons why I persevered and kept the project going.

1. I wanted to write a picture book that kids and parents could both enjoy.

This is sort of a cop-out — who wouldn’t want to write a children’s book that kids and parents can both enjoy? But there are a lot of picture books that don’t make for easy and convenient bedtime reading. Even the esteemed Dr. Seuss wrote Fox in Socks, which is just tongue-twister after tongue-twister; I finally put my foot down and refused to even touch it. I never did figure out why Goodnight Moon was so popular. The nearly-wordless Good Night, Gorilla is lovely, but requires the adult reader to fill in the blanks — and woe betide the tired parent who leaves out a key detail. I wanted my book to be short and concise, and I wanted it to have a simple rhyme pattern with a good rhythm for easy reading, and I think I accomplished that. (My model in this was Sandra Boynton; if you have a very small child in your house, you can’t go wrong with one of her board books for bedtime.)

But I also wanted it to be a book that wasn’t pushing any particular kind of behavior. A lot of children’s books focus on discouraging negative behaviors. We liked the Llama Llama books by the late Anna Dewdney, but they are almost all about how the young character has to learn not to throw tantrums every time something doesn’t go his way. (If that was, in fact, the intent of the books, they have been a spectacular failure at our house.) We also liked the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems, but several of those are behavior-related, too — like I Really Like Slop, which is all about Piggie trying to push “pig culture” on Elephant Gerald (sound it out) by making him try a nasty-looking bucket of slop. I have nothing against any of these books, you understand, but I also didn’t want something with a heavy-handed behavioral message. Kids get that sort of thing all day long; can’t they get the occasional break from it?

2. I wanted to write a picture book that showed that America is more than a collection of strip malls.

I live in a small town in central New Jersey that has a lot of the same big-box retailers and fast-casual restaurant chains that you probably have in your town. I dislike the essential sameness of the suburban outback; when I travel with my kids, I want to try to get away from it as much as I can.

If My Name Was Amanda was designed to introduce some of the beauty and majesty of our country to children. It also showcases just how different the different parts of our country are. The young girl who is featured in the story visits beaches and ski slopes, monumental structures and pizza joints, wilderness hikes and urban adventures. In her imagination, she crisscrosses the country from the badlands of South Dakota to a balloon ride over New York. This is a big, interesting, diverse country, and I tried to capture some of that flavor in the book.

3. I wanted to show children a positive vision of America.

One of the most depressing statements of the last decade was Michelle Obama’s declaration that she had not been proud of America until the point that her husband began his Presidential campaign. (One wonders how she feels nowadays.) Akin to that in spirit, although not in content, is Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again,” which of course implies that America is not great now (and that only Donald Trump can make it great again). Both statements are not only profoundly negative, but depend on the premise that politics — and only politics — can make America more praiseworthy.

What a pathetic lie to tell to children! America is great in spite of her political leadership, not because of it. There is not a whiff of politics in If My Name Was Amanda, outside of a background picture of the Capitol dome. That’s because the things that make America great have little or nothing to do with politics.

There are a few political children’s books out there. One of the top-selling rhyming alphabet books on Amazon is a book called A is for Activist, which features a raised fist on the cover. One reviewer says ““Reading it is almost like reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, but for two-year olds.” Charming. Chelsea Clinton published a book in May that riffed off of the rebuke Senator Elizabeth Warren received for criticizing the nomination of Attorney General Sessions; She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World features profiles of Oprah Winfrey and Sonia Sotomayor, among others. There are a few political children’s books on the Right as well — most notably by Rush Limbaugh.

I want my kids growing up with a sense of pride in our country and our people, unimpaired by political strife — to the extent that such a thing is possible anymore. I wanted If My Name Was Amanda to reflect that sense of pride, and to help strengthen it. It’s important for everyone, in spite of our political differences, to recognize that there is a great deal about our country that is worth celebrating, and if one little rhyming alphabet picture book can help do that, I feel like I’ve done a good job.

Curtis Edmonds is the author of IF MY NAME WAS AMANDA (if you haven’t figured that out by now) which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Commentary

The Hallelujah Effect

There is a scene in the Captain Underpants movie…

All right. First, let me get this out of the way. I only went to see the Captain Underpants movie because my kids love the books and were dying to see the movie. It is a movie that is (by design) without the slightest appeal to parents, and is only useful for this conversation because of, as I said, this one scene.

So in the Captain Underpants movie, the two elementary-school jokesters that are the heroes of the movie find out a salient fact about their sadistic science teacher. His name is “Professor Poopypants.”

And once they find out this information, a heavenly light shines on them, and the strains of Handel’s Messiah plays, and the two heroes warble the “Hallelujah Chorus,” because they have just been handed the ultimate weapon to use against their tormentors.

What I am calling for the purposes of this essay “The Hallelujah Effect” is essentially a combination of surprise and shock crossed with schadenfreude, the invaluable German word for the joy that one feels at another’s misfortune. It is that moment when your view of the world — whatever view that is, colored by whatever political biases that you have — is vindicated in some alarming way — particularly one that makes your political opponents look bad.

Most people, I expect, have experienced the Hallelujah Effect at one time or another. If you are a Democrat, you may have felt it when the news came out that an intolerant Republican Senator had been caught, literally, with his pants down in an airport bathroom trying to solicit anonymous sex from another man. If you are a Republican, you may have felt it when the news came out about Hillary Clinton’s clandestine e-mail server. The opportunities for the Hallelujah Effect seem to have expanded in recent years — and thanks to the rise of social media, each of us now has a greatly enhanced ability to share our feelings with the rest of the world when the Hallelujah Effect strikes.

And that is almost always a mistake.

A caveat, first. I believe absolutely in the right of free speech. You are of course free to say whatever you like about whatever you like. You are free to engage in horrible forms of speech, like, oh, let’s say, making the sequel to the Captain Underpants movie. I am not going to stop you. But tweeting or Facebooking or commenting on matters political while you are experiencing the Hallelujah Effect is not a good idea, and I hope to dissuade you from doing so, for three reasons.

First, whatever is going on is most assuredly not about you. This is especially true if the event that triggers the Hallelujah Effect is a tragedy. To use the all-too-familiar example of terrorism, when someone detonates a suicide vest at a concert, slaughtering young concertgoers, the issue of whether the terrorist shouted the name of Allah before his dastardly act is not perhaps the most pressing issue. And of course, the terrorist did turn out to be an Islamist, and that may very well validate whatever points out want to make about Islam, or immigration, or radicalization or what have you. But at the moment, what happens in Manchester, or London, or Boston is not about you. You may very well have a perfectly valid opinion that deserves a wider audience. Shut up anyway.

Secondly, you have to realize that the Hallelujah Effect is very often an illusion. If it turns out that the actual facts (as opposed to the reported facts) are different than what you supposed, openly celebrating the Hallelujah Effect in public may prove to be an utter embarrassment. This can occur in spectacular ways, such as the liberal mavens who managed to convince themselves that a Tea Party activist was behind the Arizona shooting that severely injured Representative Giffords, when the actual shooter had no political leanings to speak of. Davy Crockett famously said, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” During Hallelujah Effect moments, the urge to go ahead rather to be sure that one is right can be overwhelming. It is wise to resist it.

Finally, if your purpose is to convince someone else on the other side of the issue that he or she is wrong, well, good luck with that. There is a point to be made, I think, that the increased use of inflammatory and incendiary political rhetoric on the left may have inspired the Alexandria shooter. But even if that was definitely, provably the case (which it is not), pointing this out will not convince even one person on the left that they should change their behaviors. Similarly, I think there is a point to be made that perhaps more could be done to identify potential mass shooters and decrease their ability to obtain deadly weapons. But do you think making that point will change the opinions of any National Rifle Association die-hard? It will not.

This is depressing. Life is depressing — as P.J. O’Rourke reminds us, more depressing than anything except the known alternative. The only corrective that I can suggest is seeking one’s Hallelujah Moments in areas outside of politics.

Commentary

A Small Victory For Adaptive Technology

I took off work today. I am the program manager for the state assistive technology program in New Jersey, where I work with our contractors to help people with disabilities get access to assistive technology devices and services. As a lawyer, I also represent people with disabilities in administrative hearings to try to get them access to durable medical equipment from Medicaid. But I wasn’t doing any of those things today.

I was at my kids’ school, doing Field Day. The way that Field Day works in our school is that you have different stations, and each parent that volunteers is in charge of one station, and explains the game to the kids, and they play it for ten minutes before they grab their water bottles and move on to the next game. My station had two games for the kids to play. One was called “Space Walk,” which involves a sort of curly-W shaped thick wire, which hooks on to two lightweight foam balls at either end. The idea is to balance the contraption on top of your head and walk a short distance, make a U-turn, and go back the other way. All the kids take turns, like in a relay race. The other game was a sack race, also done in a relay.

I’d had two first-grade classes, all of the kindergarten classes, and the pre-K classes all come through. I had figured the next to come through was the remaining first-grade classes. I was wrong. There were about five kids in the next group, all accompanied by an aide.

Special education class, I thought. How come nobody mentioned there was a special education class?

And then, hey, well, of course the special education class is out here on Field Day, it would be much worse if they’d been left inside. You can manage this.

“Okay,” I said. “What they’re supposed to do is walk with these things on their head from here to there.” I took one look at the class. That wasn’t going to happen. I was not about to try to play diagnostician with these kids, but there were some obvious balance and coordination issues going on. It wasn’t going to work.

“You usually have to be a little adaptive,” one of the aides said.

Adaptive, I thought, that’s a word I understand. “Maybe they can try balancing the thing on one hand, like this.” A couple of the kids tried it, but it wasn’t working very well.

I thought back to when I was in elementary school, and what I liked to do, and I came up with an idea. Parachute.

I took the foam balls off the wire thingy, and grabbed one of the sacks for the sack race. “Try this!” I said. I handed one end of the sack to one of the kids, and took hold of the other end, so it was stretched out. Then I dropped the foam balls on top of the sack, and started shaking the sack. “See! It’s kind of like a parachute game.”

“Good idea,” one of the aides said. She took some more of the foam balls and got her own sack, and had a couple more kids play the parachute game. As the proof of concept had been established, I stepped back and let the aides take over. After about ten minutes, the air-horn sounded, and the kids and the aides went off to the next station.

“That was a really good idea you had,” another of the aides said.

I don’t think this is anything more than a cute story, but it can illustrate a larger truth. We can accommodate students with disabilities, even in nontraditional settings. All it takes is a little imagination, and a willingness to adapt to situations as they occur.

Commentary, Food

It’s Pimento Cheese Time, Losers

I have two daughters, and one of them is stubborn. I mean, I guess, all kids are stubborn, but this one is, like, super-hyper-stubborn and won’t do a thing unless she wants to or is bribed sufficiently. Anyway, it is that great time of year where the kids don’t have to wear their heavy winter jackets, which is great because it’s so much harder to buckle them into their car seats when they’re in the jackets. They get to wear their spring jackets.

Except that the stubborn child won’t, for the sensible reason that her spring jacket doesn’t fit her anymore. (Genetics, shall we say, have not smiled on the stubborn child.) She insists on wearing the bulky winter jacket. Under normal circumstances, this means that we put up with a somewhat elevated level of whining. But these are not normal circumstances, or so my wife told me.
“Since I have that bridal shower to go to on Sunday,” she said, “why don’t I take the children to the outlet mall on Saturday? That’ll give you a little down time.”

I should have made a bit of mental calculus at this point. I could use that time to mulch. To build the shelves in the garage. To put together that little table for the paper recycling. To put my next mosaic project together. To promote my novels. But I did none of these things, because that Saturday just happened to be Masters Saturday. Time to make the pimento cheese.

YOUR DELICIOUS PIMENTO CHEESE RECIPE

  1. Start with the realization that pimento cheese is by-God unhealthy for you, and you shouldn’t eat it, ever, except during Masters weekend, when you have to watch golf anyway. I am going to watch the Masters the way that I typically do, by listening to my children proclaim that “golf is so boring.” Relax, will you?
  2. Setting that aside. Yes. Pimento cheese is unhealthy. Sitting in front of a television set all afternoon is unhealthy. But if you limit your pimento cheese intake to one day a year, and your daytime TV-watching to the Masters and the NFL on fall Sundays and the occasional baseball game, you can handle it. I don’t recommend it, mind you, but it can be done.
  3. You want to start with a bag of grated sharp cheddar cheese from the supermarket. Yes, of course, there are better cheeses out there. Of course there are. But don’t waste them on pimento cheese. Pimento cheese is Southern prole food of the highest order, right up there with Beanie Weenies and Cool Ranch Doritos. Anyone who puts fancy cheese into pimento cheese is a fool and a poser and you can write that down in your datebook and sign my name to it. Use the cheapest cheese you can find.
  4. Open the sad little plastic envelope and decant as much of that cheap, sorry cheese as you think you can stomach into a bowl. Then drain a little glass jar of pimentos and pour the pimentos right on top. (That’s how they come, the pimentos, in a little glass jar.) Make sure you drain them, or your pimento cheese will turn out runny, and nobody wants that.
  5. Take an equivalent amount of Heinz India relish, drain it, and pour that on top, too. If all you have is sweet pickle relish, that’s fine, just make sure it’s drained.
  6. I actually made my own relish this year, and I am a better person for it. I took a jar of bread-and-butter pickles and a jar of homemade sweet jalapenos and put them in the blender with some chopped garlic and it came out yummy.
  7. Ideally, in a perfect world, you will have some Miracle Whip hanging around in your sad little condiment rack in your refrigerator. Put a good bit of that in, maybe like a cup or so, who knows? Pimento cheese isn’t really about measuring stuff. If you don’t have that, use Sandwich Spread. If you don’t have either, you can use mayo in a pinch, but don’t mess around with stuff like gourmet wasabi mayonnaise or anything like that. Be sensible.
  8. I tried one element from this Garden & Gun recipe and put in some whipped cream cheese. It wasn’t bad!
  9. If you don’t have Miracle Whip or a reasonable substitute, don’t go to the store, because you might miss Rory McElroy hitting the ball into the pine straw, and if there is anything better than watching a really good golfer hitting a really bad shot and landing it in an awkward location, I don’t know what it is. Schadenfreude isn’t the half of it. Anyway, you probably have other creamy salad dressings in your fridge. Use that. Start with ranch dressing and work your way down. You don’t want to overwhelm the pimentos or the cruddy cheese with a lot of blue cheese or peppercorn flavor. Use what you have but don’t overdo it.
  10. Mix it all up with a wooden spoon. If your mixture is too thick — if it splinters an ordinary Ruffles chip — then put in a little more mayo or dressing. If it is too runny, put in MOAR CHEESE. You’re a grownup. You figure it out.
  11. I went to a fancy-schmancy place in Decatur, Georgia once that served this awesome grilled pimento-cheese sandwich. If you have time, sure, go ahead. Give it a shot. It can’t be any worse than starving to death. But I think it works better as a dip, with strong reinforced ridged potato chips, and a cold Coke or sweet iced tea to drink.

Of course, you don’t have to watch The Masters this way. You can schlep to Augusta if you want to imperil your offspring’s chances of going to a decent college. You can go to Buffalo Wild Wings and eat tepid chicken parts in a sticky sauce with overpriced beer. You can watch it on your iPad while running on a treadmill, drinking a wheatgrass smoothie that will delay your inevitable death by twelve minutes. I am going to sit on my luxurious, super-model approved piece of leather furniture, with a big bowl of artery-clogging pimento cheese and greasy, factory-made potato chips and a sugary beverage, listening to Jim Nantz whispering about the sentimental glories of golfing achievement. At least until my wife tells me she needs me to go out in the garage and put the recycling together.

NOTES REGARDING PIMENTO CHEESE

  1. Wright Thompson wrote a piece for ESPN about three years ago about the “secret ingredient” for pimento cheese sandwiches. To this day, the secret has not yet been revealed. I am furious.
  2. You can put chopped hard-boiled egg in your pimento cheese if you want to. I do not want to. I do not eat eggs, and hard-boiled eggs make me physically ill. (This is my own personal cross to bear.)
  3. The guy who used to write the Deadspin food column did a pimento cheese recipe one year that told you not to use pimentos. I used to spend a lot of time criticizing him for being a dumb-ass about things like putting beans in chili, and he asked me to stop, and, okay, I guess, but it is still foolish and wrong to say that you shouldn’t put pimentos in pimento cheese.
  4. Having said that, Burneko is right about the rooster sauce. I put rooster sauce in it last year, and it was fine. (I am only allowed to put in rooster sauce on the things that I alone eat in my house.) I put Frank’s Hot Sauce in it this year, for variety. It was fine.
  5. I am also totally trying these pimento cheese biscuits.

Note: A previous version of this post appeared on my website, which has been destroyed by the ravages of time. A backup version is still available on Quora, which won’t let me delete it, so there you go.

Commentary

My Novena

Or, How a Lifelong Southern Baptist Learned Something (Really Obvious) about Prayer by Following a Roman Catholic Tradition

I can tell you (mostly) about how I came to do what I did, but not really why. It started out simply enough. I was in my car, listening to Sirius/XM channel 28, as one does, and they played the new song by Florence + The Machine, which is one of my favorite bands. (I adopted my personal motto, Paratus patior, paratus spes — ready to suffer, ready to hope — after a line in one of their songs.) This song was called St. Jude.

So I went and looked St. Jude up on Wikipedia, as one does. I knew (from a misspent youth spent reading newspapers) that St. Jude was the patron saint of lost causes, but I didn’t know why. Wikipedia:

St. Jude is known as the patron saint of lost causes amongst Roman Catholics. This is due to the tradition that, because his name was similar to the traitor Judas Iscariot, few, if any faithful Christians prayed for his intervention, out of the mistaken belief that they would be praying to Judas Iscariot. As a result, St. Jude was little used, and so became eager to assist any who asked him, to the point of intervening in the most dire of circumstances. The Church also wanted to encourage veneration of this “forgotten” disciple. Therefore, the Church maintained that St. Jude would intervene in any lost cause to prove his saintliness and zeal for Christ, and thus St. Jude became the patron of lost causes.

Well, there you go. Wikipedia further goes on to say that Catholic prayers to St. Jude are traditionally done as a novena, which comes from the Latin word for nine, which means that you make the same prayer over nine days.

And I thought to myself, I could do that.

I am not Catholic. I am a Southern Baptist. I come from three generations of Southern Baptists on my mother’s side. My dad was a preacher in a series of tiny Southern Baptist congregations across North Texas and Canada when I was growing up. I went to Baylor University, for God’s sake, which is the largest Baptist university in the world. There is a theory that, when Jesus comes back, that he’s going to Waco and set up the Great White Throne in front of the theology building at Baylor.

You can see where they got the idea, anyway.

So, okay. I am not a Catholic. I am not within a thousand miles of being a Catholic, or ever becoming one. (Truth be told, I’m not a very good Baptist, when you get right down to it.) I had, up until this point, never in my life prayed to a saint or recited a prayer someone else had written down. That is, emphatically, not the Baptist way. Baptists rejoice in the “priesthood of the believer,” the concept that Jesus is the only intercessor that anyone needs between man and God. The concept of praying to a saint is fundamentally alien to the denomination. You pray directly to God and hope that he hears you, or that’s what I was taught.

But…

Well, it couldn’t hurt, could it? It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to pray to St. Jude, would it? Especially if you were in the middle of a lost cause — something you had worked on for over a year, something that you had been oh-so-close to getting more than once, something that you had essentially despaired of ever going right in your life again. If you were in that kind of position, where you felt as though everything you had tried hadn’t worked, well then? Even if it wasn’t part of your denomination, or how you understood your religion?

To quote that great sage of Southeast Texas, Lyle Lovett, “But what would you be if you didn’t even try? You have to try.”

So I prayed. I pulled up a prayer to St. Jude from the Eternal Word TV network site, which I figured was sufficiently Catholic. I put it on my browser on my iPhone. And over the last nine days, I prayed. I prayed the prayer, mostly silently, over and over again, asking for the help of St. Jude on this issue that has consumed my time and energy over the last year. (I won’t say what that was, here, for the obvious reason that I don’t want to.)

I prayed. I prayed in the morning. I prayed at work. I prayed whenever I brought up Safari to look at my (dismal) sales figures for my novels. I prayed the same prayer, over and over. Eternal Word recommends that you say an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” afterwards; I was happy to pray the Lord’s Prayer but I drew the line at the Hail Mary (in part because I don’t know the words but mostly because I’m never going to be that Catholic). And I sent a few bucks to the St. Jude hospital in Memphis, because the prayer said that you would “always honor you as my special and powerful patron,” and that seemed like the best way to do that.

So here’s what happened. When you pray this prayer, you’re supposed to insert what it is you want help with — what your particular lost cause is. And I started out just praying for that one thing. But in the last few days of the novena, I started slipping in a second thing. The second thing was work-related; it was a prayer for a client in a case that I had coming up for an administrative hearing on the 10th. (I can’t say anything about the case, but I will say that I represent clients with serious disabilities at a federally-funded non-profit in New Jersey.) I didn’t really mean to slip it in, but I was anxious about the case, and I wanted to win it for my client, who was in desperate need of the services that he had requested. So I prayed for myself, for my own needs, and for my client’s.

Guess what happened. Guess.

On the last day of the novena, the day before the administrative hearing, opposing counsel in my case called me to tell me that his client had relented and my client could have the services that he desperately needed without having to go before a judge.

And I didn’t hear anything, not Thing One, about the issue I was concerned about in my own life.

Was my prayer answered? I would like to say yes, but if it was answered it was in least in part on the hard work I had put into the case. (“Pray as though everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you,” and if St. Augustine didn’t say that, he should have.) Did St. Jude intervene? Hard to say. I would like to think so, but I don’t really know and I am not comfortable saying that my client’s case was a “lost cause” because it really wasn’t.

Was my personal prayer answered? As of today, I would have to say no, because I didn’t get the result that I wanted within the time frame that I wanted. Maybe my prayers will bear fruit later. Maybe they won’t. Maybe God and St. Jude are not personally looking out for me. Maybe they are, in ways that I don’t even recognize. (I did have a car crash materialize right in front of me during the novena — if I had been in the center lane rather than in the left lane I would have been crushed to death by a flying mini-van. Maybe that was God looking out for me, although if that’s the case He might have kept the mini-van from crashing in the first place.)

After my wife had a miscarriage, my mother tried to comfort me by saying that it was all a part of God’s plan. “If that’s the case,” I said, “then He came up with a stupid plan.”

I don’t presume to know God’s plan here, if He has one. I don’t know if he will hear my cry for help or if he will do anything about it. I don’t like feeling that I am not fully in control of my life — that some supernatural force, call it what you want, is going to decide what happens next to me, and that I have to pray in a certain way to summon a certain saint to make things move the way I want, when I want them.

What I know is that when I prayed for my own needs, it didn’t work, but when I prayed for someone else’s needs, it did. And in hindsight, it’s obvious that it would have worked out that way.

I don’t think I will pray the novena again, but I’m glad that I did. I learned something, and that’s more than a lot of people ever do. I learned a little patience, and a little compassion, and a little humility, all of which are good for you, at least in small doses. I tried to approach faith and spirituality in a different context, which is a good thing, irregardless. I can say that I approached my prayers with a little more consistency and discipline, which are fine things just in and of themselves.

But… it didn’t work, did it? I didn’t get the intended result, and I have to tell you that I feel more than a little disappointed about that, at some tiny selfish level.

And I don’t know what to say about that. It’s not wrong to pray for yourself, although the Lord’s Prayer limits that to one’s daily bread. I didn’t get what I wanted, but that doesn’t prove or disprove the existence of God or the diligence of St. Jude one way or another. It may be just one of those things. It may be that God has something else in mind. It may be (it probably is) that I have to put in more work than I have done already (and although I have done a mort of work so far there is always more you can do).

Pray for me, the prayer reads. I am so helpless and alone.

I may be helpless. It certainly seems that way. I may be alone. It certainly seems that way at times. I am praying, though.

I am praying that I am wrong.