Madden says: Giants by three . . .

In the world of videogames, the Giants are already Super Bowl XLVI champions.
EA Sports ran its annual Super Bowl simulation on Madden NFL 12, with the game picking the Giants to beat the Patriots, 27-24, on a 40-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes as time expires. Eli Manning earns an MVP nod in this alternate universe, completing 25 of 39 passes with two touchdowns.

Full story in WSJ.
What editors say . . .

Just so real . . .
Go, Canada

Legoman in space
An amazing tale . . .

Jonathan K. Idema, a convicted con man who gained notoriety in post-invasion Afghanistan, as a swaggering hunter of terrorists, then ignominy when he was imprisoned for taking Afghans hostage and torturing them, died Jan. 21 at his home in Bacalar, Mexico. He was 55.

Full obituary in NY Times here.

(If you've read Leopard's Kill, you'll understand. At least to the point that anyone can.)

 My bookstore experience

. . . or why I'm likely to buy my next few thousand books on-line

I happen to have been spending a bit of time in bookstores lately. Some of these experiences have been amazing. I have met booksellers, in independent stores and in chains, who have an incredible relationship with their customers. Their stores are places I as a reader would want to wander into, even if I was miles and miles from home.

But the other day, when I wasn’t miles and miles from home, I wandered into a large chain store and came away as depressed about bookselling as I have ever been. Because the people who run that store clearly have no clue about what they’re doing.

Let me say that the two hardcover books I have out currently were readily available, and received much more prominent display than many other books in the store. Some of my backlist was there as well. I appreciate that. I am extremely grateful for the support the store has given me. As a writer, I have been fortunate and treated better than many.

But I wasn’t there as a writer; I came as a reader and a customer. And the general health of this store, and by extension all bookstores and the writers whose work is sold there, depends on how readers are treated.

The experience was, in a word, hell.

It wasn’t just the fact that a good quarter of the store’s floor space, if not more, was given over to non-book items such as games, stationery, etc. Now this wouldn’t be horrible for the store if people were spending a lot of money in these sections – even though the markups in many cases didn’t approach what the store could get for books. But these aisles were empty of people. The selection of items was poor, and the number of items, compared to how many books might have been positioned there, was pitiful.
I don’t necessarily put a lot of stock in the best-seller lists, but they are something of an indication of what people want to buy at any given moment. Did this store make it easy for people to find those books?
No. In fact, you had to hunt around for many of them – if you bothered. Your impulse buying was directed to “bargain books” – things that hadn’t sold elsewhere in the past. Many best sellers weren’t prominently displayed anywhere in the store – maybe a good thing, since the store didn’t seem to have much stock of them.

On the other hand, books that had a good deal of promotional money or other consideration attached were piled everywhere. The only problem was, customers didn’t seem to want those, even with the discounts they were offering.

It got worse the deeper you went. The main shelves were a mess. The layout of the books was terrible. With the exception of romance and very obvious genre mysteries, fiction was a catchall for every type of novel. Defoe nestled next to DeFelice.

I love the association myself, but I’m kind of wondering if someone looking for Robinson Crusoe is going to be interested in Andy Fisher or Jack Pilgrim.

Even in the difficult to navigate nonfiction areas, the selection was chaotic. A great number of the books appear to have been on the shelves for years. There is no attempt to highlight the most recent (and most popular) selections – say the most recent summary of World War II, which has had good reviews and relatively strong sales. If you’re looking for it, you’ll come across the store’s single copy in the wrong section, though at least in the same general area.

Things were even worse over in the music section. I hunted for a half-hour, back and forth, looking for an album that has been the most popular music CD for a significant portion of the last twelve months. I eventually found it by accident. It was actually in a display unit, but the display unit had been shoved into the back to section and situated so that it was almost impossible to find.

Most of the rest of the music selections were, in a word, obscure. There was a smattering of oldies, but this seemed haphazard at best. Finding anything popular, even in rock, was difficult. This might have been acceptable or understandable if there was a comprehensive catalog of alternative music, maybe some vinyl, or things the wannabe hipster manning the department might have liked – but the selection there was, to be extremely generous, spotty.

I realize CDs are on the way out, but the sales are still, in raw numbers, fairly significant . . . though let me go out on a limb here and say, not at this store, despite the floor space devoted to them.
About that wannabe hipster – the store happened to be running a promotion for a local girls school. The idea was that ten percent of the proceeds would go to the school if you mentioned the school when you checked out. I had their flier in hand but forgot to mention the school until the very end of the transaction, at which point wannabe told me they would not get the ten percent.

In an instant, what had started as a feel-good, we’re part of the community venture, turned one hundred and eighty degrees against the store. Standing at the register, I now felt that the store, even beyond its disorganization and inept retailing, was actively evil.

I told the hipster that he could cancel my sale. Only the groans of the people around me made me reconsider. That and the fact that the gift cards I was planning to use for the purchase would now simply go to waste, because I will never shop in that store again.

And as you might guess, I happen to spend a lot of money each year on books. And this store happens to be the closest and largest near me.

Beyond doing a better job training and managing staff, this chain ought to take a much closer look at themselves. They should think about the experience people have buying books on-line – how easy it is, how selections are suggested, how different items are marketed, connections made, etc.

I wouldn’t tell them how to run their business if over the years they hadn’t told me, in so many words, how to run mine. I’m glad I never took their advice, because clearly they haven’t a clue about what it is they do, let alone what anyone else in the world is up to.

Well put . . .

From Publisher's Lunch, reporting on a panel at Digital Book World:

Michael Pietsch recalled the "paternalistic" era in which he started in publishing at Scribner, and how far we have come since then. "Publishers have been perhaps forced to understand they are service providers" and need to "bring authors into every step of our process as much as fully unleash the enormous value they bring to their publication.
Thanks . . .

Just a quick note of thanks to all the readers I've had a chance to meet over the past few days. I truly appreciate the kind words.

Still traveling; home soon.
I just feel like flying . . .

I love these birds . . . as long as they're on my side.
Ratcheting up . . .

Item - Europe starts to get serious:

Iran Urged to Negotiate as Europe Agrees on New Sanctions
 Under the deal, the members agreed not to sign new oil contracts with Iran and to end existing ones by July 1, said diplomats who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to comment.

Story here (and plenty of other places)

The question is, what is Iran's response?

Interesting . . .

For some odd reason, all of my San Francisco friends stopped texting me last night. I wonder why . . .
Fiction or prediction . . .


MEXICO CITY — The Mexican drug war that has largely been defined by violence along the border is intensifying in interior and southern areas once thought clear of the carnage, broadening a conflict that has already overwhelmed the authorities and dispirited the public, according to analysts and new government data.

Story in NY Times.

Looks like the plot summary for the next Rogue Warrior . . .
Soooo New York

The digital struggle . . .

From an interview with Robert Levine by Ben Watt posted on Buzzin Fly

 I like to say that I want everyone to be able to publish a book - I just don't want everyone to be able to publish my book. That's the difference between fair and unfair competition. 

Full interview here. It's insightful, wide-ranging and thoughtful - and must reading for anyone interested in the future of books, art and music.

Chris & Taya


This aired in San Diego last week.
The difference a great cover makes . . .

Guess which one of these was the final version:

I have to say, the covers have been stunning.

Would I even pass the test?

Someone sent me a link, obviously as a joke or maybe a hint - there's a study guide out to help students trying to figure out what's going in Deep Black, the first book in the Deep Black series.

I guess I should be flattered, even if the study guide is more expensive than the book.

Maybe I should buy it and find out what the hell I was trying to say . . .

'Fresh meat' is a compliment, right?

I'll take it as one anyway.

(A very generous review of the new book.)
Dinner conversation

Her: How's the book going?
Me: Good.
Her: Still in Libya?
Me: Yup.
Her: Still blowing things up?
Me: Yup.
Her: Same old, same old.
Me: Yup.
The changing face of war

One of the more subtle themes of American Sniper is how fighting in urban environments amid civilian populations has caused a dramatic shift in tactics. That shift is what led to Chris and other snipers' large totals.*

Warfare in the 20th century was essentially about mass but indiscriminate slaughter. Most if not all of the key inventions and tactical innovations were related to one central idea - kill a lot of people on the battlefield.

This isn't quite the ideal in an urban environment, and much less so when there's a large civilian population around. In that case, precision fire -- whether by ground troops or aircraft -- becomes a premium.

I don't mean to imply that machine guns and artillery aren't important in the 21st century; on the contrary. It's just that the pendulum has swung in the other direction without most people (civilians, at least) knowing or understanding it. In a very real sense, "snipers" have become an important tool for limiting collateral damage and civilian deaths. The public view of what they do hasn't caught up, yet. And so people focus on a "kill count" without quite understanding the context it belongs in.

I realize it's a paradox - an individual kills more enemy combatants so that innocent people can be spared. But that's what's going on.

* That and the fact that higher ups had them document every kill. Which will be invaluable to historians someday, assuming the records aren't destroyed.

For some reason I find this incredibly scary.

On Dallas public radio . . .

It's dangerous to drive in Iran

Especially if you're a nuke doctor.


TEHRAN, Jan 11 (Reuters) - An Iranian nuclear scientist was blown up in his car by a motorbike hitman on Wednesday, prompting Tehran to blame Israeli and U.S. agents but insist the killing would not derail a nuclear programme that has raised fears of war and threatened world oil supplies.
The fifth daylight attack on technical experts in two years, the killer's magnetic bomb delivered a targeted blast to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's silver sedan as he drove down a busy street close to Tehran University during the morning rush hour. The chemical engineer's passenger also died, Iranian media said, while a passer-by was slightly hurt.

Full story from Reueters here. 
Shining the light

One of the questions reporters always ask Chris Kyle seems like a pretty basic one: Why did you decide to write this book?

Anyone who knows Chris will realize that it's actually a tough one to answer, since it must have been a pretty difficult decision. He’s extremely laid back, not the sort of guy who seeks out attention. On top of that, SEALs really pride themselves on being “silent professionals,” and he's a SEAL through and through. As a general rule, SEALs don’t talk about what they do outside of the small circle of fellow operators.

I can’t speak for Chris, but I have heard him heard say many times that he finally decided to go ahead with the book because of two things:

1) He wanted to “shine the light” on the sacrifices all service people and their families go through, and
2) He wanted to bring some attention to his fallen comrades, Marc Lee and Ryan Job.

I certainly believe that is true, and we attempted to do both things in the book.

(I should mention that much of Chris’s story as a sniper was coming out elsewhere, and so media attention was inevitable. While the actual number of kills is not important to Chris, it is almost always the thing other people focus on. I don’t know if this played a role in his decision, but I would think being able to put the number into the fuller context of who he was and how the war was fought was important.)

Some reporters may think that the motivation of “shining a light” on fallen friends is a public relations invention. In our cynical world it probably sounds contrived. But if you hear Chris talk about Marc Lee or Ryan Job, you realize it’s not contrived at all.

On the contrary, I think it’s a grateful payback not just for their sacrifices in battle – which is something the entire country is grateful for – but in the case of Ryan for his personal inspiration as he fought, successfully, to cope with his disability, and in the case of Marc for his continuing legacy, as exemplified by his mom.

I hope you’ll read the book, but if you haven’t, Ryan was blinded in battle. Before the war, he was possibly the most unlikely SEAL in the platoon, if not the Team. No SEAL is out of shape – you just can’t get through BUD/S, let alone what follows, if you are. But Ryan was far from an athlete. What got him through the experience was sheer will power. And that will power drove him after his injury.

To see a man struggle with a disability is a humbling yet inspiring experience. I can speak of my own visit some time ago to the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where I was quite honestly floored by the wounded men I met there. Most had lost legs and-or arms. They were struggling to deal with those injuries, physically and mentally. The exercises and other rehabilitation routines alone would have been daunting for anyone in his or her prime, even if they hadn’t been injured.

There is no way to sugarcoat either their wounds or the struggle they were facing; I have to confess that in each case I had a difficult time looking at them when first introduced.

And yet, in each case, even a few minutes with them gave me an example of how I should act when faced with difficulties far less critical or life-changing than theirs. I can give you words – determination, drive, perseverance – but they barely begin to describe the emotion these guys evoked. I was continually humbled, and inspired. These are the real role models we need in life.

Marc, unfortunately, died in battle; only memories live on. But his mom has turned her grief into a positive life force for other servicemen. While she is active in a foundation that helps veterans, to me the most striking instance of her efforts, the things that truly inspire me, are her random and unexpected acts of kindness for servicemen. She’ll occasionally pick up a tab or do some other little but greatly appreciated act for a serviceman she sees in an airport or somewhere else. Ninja kindness: Little things, massive effect.

So, while I can’t speak for Chris, it’s always been my impression that a big part of the book is his way of thanking Ryan, Marc, and the others who have fallen in combat – not just for having his back in the war, but for driving him after it, and inspiring him to be a better man. From what I have heard of these guys – selfless, full of humor, determined to succeed no matter what – I can’t see how anyone privileged to know them would fail to honor them in whatever way possible.

A lot of people who haven’t read the book, much less actually met Chris, will form all sorts of opinions on things. I don’t give them too much stock. But I do hope that those people will make an effort to meet someone like Ryan or Marc's mom or any of our other veterans who have passed through a difficult crucible and are now shining a light for all of us to follow.

Little gestures . . .

 . . . can make a world of difference.

The interview at
Excellent perspective on Japan

Was the 'lost' decade really lost?

By many measures, the Japanese economy has done very well during the so-called lost decades, which started with a stock market crash in January 1990. By some of the most important measures, it has done a lot better than the United States. 
Japan has succeeded in delivering an increasingly affluent lifestyle to its people despite the financial crash. In the fullness of time, it is likely that this era will be viewed as an outstanding success story.
How can the reality and the image be so different? And can the United States learn from Japan’s experience?

Full piece in NYT.

The airport comment is especially poignant to anyone who regularly flies in the U.S.
No comment necessary

(U.S. Navy rescues Iranian ship while Iranian "navy" tries not to blow itself up elsewhere. One version of the story; there are literally hundreds.)

Fame is a weird thing . . .

You can save literally thousands of people, win multiple medals for bravery, become the top of your profession . . . and all people want to hear about is a bar fight.

Chris on O'Reilly
Portrait of a sniper

Absolutely intense image of Chris Kyle in Time this week. Check out Pixel Box, Erik Tanner's blog.
Sniper updates . . .

Quick thank you on our behalf (behalfs??) for all the support and kind words regarding American Sniper.

As of this morning, American Sniper is holding at number 10 on the Amazon best-seller list, and an incredible 4 at B&N. There will be an interview with Chris (10 questions) in the upcoming Time magazine, and Bill O'Reilly will see if he can get himself choked out on tonight's show (tentative).

More to come at some point. Today's a travel day...
The proxy war continues

The third installment in the Red Dragon Rising series. Will China overrun Vietnam?

Due out this week. You can get an excerpt here

On a side note - that has to be my favorite cover ever.
The future of journalism . . .

. . . and all creativity.
More people power . . .

A different video mix with Bertolucci's film, The Dreamers . . .

The NY Post checks in . . .

“After the first kill, the others come easy. I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything mentally — I look through the scope, get the target in the cross hairs and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people,” Kyle writes in his new autobiography, “American Sniper.”

Read more:
Full story here.