(Hindsight is) 2020

I made some lists! Anything marked with an asterisk was a particular favorite.

Books read this year:

1. Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré
2. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
3. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
4. Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner *
5. Still Life by Louise Penny
6. Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
7. Prodigals by Greg Jackson
8. Blue Moon by Lee Child
9. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
10. Me by Elton John
11. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
12. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
13. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
14. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James *
15. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
16. A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie
17. Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms by John Hodgman *
18. A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré
19. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
20. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
21. Faithful Place by Tana French
22. You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett
23. Phantom by Jo Nesbø
24. The Institute by Stephen King
25. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock *
26. The Humans by Matthew Haig *
27. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
28. Devolution by Max Brooks *
29. Drive by James Sallis
30. The Intimacy Factor by Pia Mellody
31. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
32. The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited
33. Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
34. How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
35. The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal
36. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
37. Network Effect by Martha Wells
38. Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
39. Night School by Lee Child
40. A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carré
41. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
42. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
43. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Movies watched this year:
(I only started keeping this list in July, and didn’t include rewatches like Alien or shit Andy and I watched for the podcast.)

1. Searching for Sugar Man
2. Crawl
3. 13th
4. Nanette
5. Palm Springs
6. Douglas *
7. The Blackcoat’s Daughter *
8. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
9. No Direction Home
10. Under The Shadow
11. Drive
12. Being John Malkovich
13. The Wicker Man *
14. The Decline of Western Civilization Pt. I
15. Red Dragon
16. Casting JonBenét
17. Munich
18. Us
19. Body at Brighton Rock
20. Good Boys
21. Die Hard
22. The Lodge *
23. Prospect
24. Borat
25. Borat Subsequent Movie Film
26. Ready or Not
27. Hail, Caesar!
28. The Trip
29. Ghost Stories *
30. Prisoners *
31. The Vast of Night *
32. Deadpool 2
33. Horrible Bosses *
34. The Ghosts of Sugar Land
35. Underwater
36. The Maze Runner

I didn’t keep a list of TV shows I watched, but my favorite series was easily Ad Vitam. I watched it in the spring, and I still think about it maybe once a week. More than anything else I watched or read this year, Ad Vitam did an incredible job building a world with seemingly endless possibilities, and it only has one six-episode season! It’s French, so you’ll impress your friends, and you can stream it on Netflix.

Honorable mention goes to Dark, a twisty sci-fi not for the faint of heart, but it’s also the only television show I’ve ever rewatched. Dark is also on Netflix, but it’s in German, which is less impressive to your friends.

Happy holidays, stay safe, keep wearing masks, thank you for voting, etc.


Dad Rock and the Viagra Album

As an almost thirty-one-year-old white male, I have an enduring fondness for what is loosely termed “Dad Rock.” The moniker was created by Rob Mitchum in his review of Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky. Wilco is one of my favorite bands, and while Sky isn’t my favorite Wilco record, it does include one of my favorite Wilco songs. No matter how much I love “Impossible Germany,” it might best be described as excellent weather channel music. This descriptor is equally applicable to Steely Dan’s entire oeuvre, and possibly Dad Rock in toto.

Sky Blue Sky also features “Hate it Here,” in which singer Jeff Tweedy describes doing various chores to avoid pissing off his wife. While Sky is a clear departure from Wilco’s preceding and critically acclaimed records, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, it’s also their first album recorded with their current lineup, a roster that’s held stable for 13 years.

More than a mere shift in Wilco’s trajectory, Sky Blue Sky illuminates a paradigm toward a better understanding of Dad Rock: Sky Blue Sky is Wilco’s Viagra album, the album demarcating their entry into the Dad Rock canon, and separating all their future records from their prior, less dad-centric music.

While Sky Blue Sky inspired the Dad Rock lexicon, the Viagra album was used to great effect by Jackson Browne in 1993. Music critic Steven Hyden has categorized Browne’s I’m Alive as “none more Dad Rock.” It’s the dadrockiest, the grandfather of what we recognize as Dad Rock and a compelling example of the Viagra album.

Upon its release, I’m Alive was lauded as a return to Browne’s 1970s excellence, and directly followed the overtly political (and hectoring) songwriting on his prior release, World In Motion. By the end of the 1980s, no one was questioning the depth of Browne’s talent, except perhaps Browne himself. World In Motion was three years in the making, and throughout, Browne sounds like he’s trying so damn hard: trying hard to be angry, trying to make listeners angry, and trying to yell over the clatter of 80s synths. (An argument could be made that every Viagra album is preceded by a mid-life crisis album.) World In Motion sounds like your friend who won’t shut up about their new keto diet, but instead of keto Browne’s obsessed with nuclear disarmament.

I’m Alive is so refreshing because it sounds goofy following the doom-and-gloom of tracks like “How Long.” Once again the songs are personal, always Browne’s forte, but they’re also amazing. “My Problem Is You” might be the most romantic song ever written about the very real difficulties of being married. Then of course there’s “Everywhere I Go,” a sweet, catchy song that gave birth to the white-boy reggae further mined by 311. The song uses more of those 80s synths, albeit lower in the mix, and Browne takes it upon himself to rap not one, but two of the song’s verses, including the line “movin’ my body in a ragamuffin style.”

So. Much. DAD.

What ultimately works about “Everywhere I Go” is Browne’s willingness to be a little silly, to poke fun at himself and his self-seriousness. You can only move from World In Motion to “Everywhere I Go” through the crucible of Dad Rock and the Viagra album.

I compiled a list of what I consider Viagra albums by some of my favorite artists. As sure as the arc of time pushes us all closer to death, the arc of white-male musicians points inexorably toward Dad Rock.

Jackson Browne – I’m Alive
He Who Must Not Be Named – Ashes & Fire
Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
The Decemberists – The King is Dead
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
The National – Boxer
Death Cab for Cutie – Plans

I’m Alive is not the first Viagra album, but is perhaps the best example. Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 self-titled makes a strong case for being the first ever. Some bands like The Beatles never made a Viagra Album, the individual members devoting themselves to Dad Rock in their later and solo careers. Radiohead and Spoon have yet to cross the Viagra-album rubicon, and it’s possible they’ll disband before doing so.

Then there are bands like Coldplay and fun. that will never make their Viagra album, because from the start, their music never had any balls. These bands fall into a separate category known as Castrati Rock.


At some point over the past few weeks I started recording an album. It’s called bloom and I’m really proud of it.

You can buy it for $5 on bandcamp or cdbaby, and it’s available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and lots of other places.

Bloom is one of those words that has several different meanings, which is useful when you’re trying to think of an album title that’s both evocative and innocuous. It’s also the collective noun for jellyfish and just fun to say. bloom.

Until whenever,

19 People

It was surprisingly easy to part with all of my Ryan Adams’ records. With a few taps I’d already deleted his songs from my phone and wiped them from my computer. Over twelve years I’d acquired all but two of his studio releases on vinyl and overpaid for a 15-disc vinyl box set of a solo acoustic tour. The owner of The Old School Records in Forest Park gave me $170 for the lot. When he sorted through the stack of vinyl I brought in he asked, “Has the backlash begun?”

If you haven’t already seen it, The New York Times ran a disturbing article about Ryan Adams, detailing a pattern of abusive and manipulative behavior toward younger female musicians and romantic partners–promising career advancement before reneging the offers when the relationships didn’t progress to his satisfaction. For years, Adams was my all-time favorite musician and one of my creative heroes. I remember sitting at a high school graduation party, all of us trying to ignore the drunk band playing on my friend’s deck, when someone started talking about Adams’ record Easy Tiger. I downloaded it when I got home, the album moving from “Goodnight Rose” into “Two,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Halloweenhead,” followed by “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” I wanted to ask someone, what is this? It was a huge moment, similar to when I first heard Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, or Hendrix singing, ‘Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.’

When I left for college that fall I was well on my way to a Ryan Adams obsession. Easy Tiger was his solo ninth album, and I had serious catching up to do. One thing Adams does exceptionally well is give all of his songs such a satisfying ache–he believes every word he sings, even on seemingly throwaway records like Rock n Roll. For a depressed person it was comforting to see someone else take beauty and inspiration from extreme sadness. Even more startling was the sheer volume of songs Adams had written, far more than any other contemporary artist I’d listened to, and so many of them were amazing. Songs like “When the Stars Go Blue,” “Dear Chicago,” and “Crazy About You,” a song that feels like it’s been around forever that Adams wrote when he was 25.

All of this was happening while I was dealing with undiagnosed clinical depression, trying to talk myself into loving biochemistry while secretly indulging an interest in writing. For my first two years of college, listening to Ryan Adams was the only thing that felt good. I enjoyed writing but felt like an impostor. For everything else I was going through the motions. Finding an artist completely unafraid to create so much remains inspiring to me. The same way I’ve never sat down to write anything without thinking of Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ve never picked up an instrument without thinking of Ryan Adams.

There will probably be a time when I’ll wish I held on to some of my Ryan Adams records. “Dear Chicago” is still my favorite song by any artist, but since I read the article I haven’t been able to think of playing it without getting a weird feeling in my stomach. For situations like this, I’m not sure we get to pick and choose. If the idea of Louis C.K. “dropping in” to perform comedy sets makes me want to punch something, continuing to support Ryan Adams is also off the table. I’ve probably left a wake of co-workers and first dates who only remember one thing about me, that thing being that Ryan Adams was seemingly my end-all be-all. Even if this is only true for a few people, I find it deeply embarrassing, but I don’t get to take it back. For years I acted as an Adams evangelist, on some level hoping people would conflate my enthusiasm for Adams’s music as part of my hip, cool personality.

The New York Times article states “seven women and more than a dozen associates” were interviewed regarding his behavior. That’s at least 19 people. 19 people who confirmed Ryan Adams is, in fact, a monster, and in need of serious help. What is most alarming to me about the piece is the story of Ava, a gifted bassist who began corresponding with Adams at age 14. He offered to produce her band and jumpstart her career, had “pet names for her body parts,” initiated naked Skype calls, and sent her the text “I never see pics of you anymore. You were blowing my mind.” By the time all of this ended, Ava was so discouraged she has since stopped pursuing music. This is blatantly predatory, but Adams also robbed a young woman of her passion. I’ve tried to think of anything that would make me decide to give up on writing or music, and short of losing both of my hands I can’t think of anything. How awful do you have to be for someone to give up doing what they love?

After selling my Ryan Adams’ records my first thought was to donate the money to charity, maybe Women In Music or a local domestic violence shelter. I still might do that, but that money would help with The Mechanic’s publishing costs or countless other worthy pursuits. For now it’s collecting interest in my bank account.

Today is International Women’s Day, so I hope we can all do something positive to mark the occasion. However you do that is up to you, but please don’t listen to Ryan Adams. Here are some things you can check out created by amazing women.
The Forgotten Arm by Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann is one of my all-time favorites, and while she doesn’t need any help from me I do feel like The Forgotten Arm is a sleeper among her better known albums. It’s a loose concept album about a couple that falls in love, one of them struggling with crippling alcoholism. I promise it’s not as depressing as it sounds, and all of the songs are flat-out gorgeous.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Maybe you’re completely sick of YA-dystopian novels with a bit of romance, but this one is badass! Half the United States is underwater, and the Navajo gods erected an enormous wall of stone and turquoise around their territory while giving some of the Navajo clan powers (a very nifty way of introducing double-edged superpowers). Oh, and the Navajo have to use these clan powers to fight off monsters, witches, and trickster gods. I inhaled this book and can’t wait for the next installment.

Whoever you are, man or woman, I encourage to approach today with the confidence of Pete Davidson. The dude looks like he’s had a cold for the past decade but is dating Kate Beckinsale. Truly anything is possible with the confidence of a mediocre white man.

Until next month,


Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, I was a younger person. And on that day, my high school Physics teacher shared that February 15th was the most depressing day of the year. He explained how many people don’t enjoy Valentine’s Day, and that by mid-February any goodwill from the holidays has largely worn off. At the time I remember thinking I didn’t feel that way because the 15th is two days shy of my birthday, and birthday cake is rad.

As an adult, I generally don’t look forward to my birthday. This isn’t due to anxiety over aging, but my birthday, and to a lesser extent new year’s, has often been an occasion to reflect on the many ways I came up short that year.

But as Paul Blart once said, “NOT TODAY, DEATH!!

I’m thrilled to announce that I just got off the phone with the publisher at Eckhartz Press, and they want to publish The Mechanic!!!!

I’m very, very stoked. Eckhartz Press is a hybrid publisher, which means they split publishing costs with their authors. Hybrid published authors generally sell fewer books, but they make more money per book.  Now, is it possible The Mechanic could be published by Penguin or Random House if I queried a thousand agents and really gave it the good old college try? Sure. It’s also possible Olivia Munn will fall in love with me and together we’ll live happily ever after on a farm with lots of rescue dogs and cats.

Would it be great to make some money from The Mechanic, or compete with Jonathan Franzen on the bestseller list? Of course, but that’s not why I woke up at 5:30 for six months to work on a book I thought might never get published. Writing the book is the reward–anything after that is just gravy.

When I was in college I remember challenging myself to publish a book before I turned thirty. Because I’m me, I arbitrarily decided that Birthday Suits didn’t count since it was self published. With The Mechanic finding a home and hopefully lots of new readers days before my thirtieth birthday, I’m calling this one a win. Another benefit of working with a smaller publisher is that they work fast, and we’re already discussing The Mechanic coming out in the next few months. More details to come!

Fun with Statistics

Hello friends, and welcome to the year of our lord 2019. I promised real updates last month, so please join me as I imitate Nate Silver to discuss the query process for The Mechanic.

Since submitting my first query letter on August 3rd, I have sent 36 in total. Of those, I have received 18 rejections, as broken down below:

Say what you will about literary agents, but they are unfailingly polite. Each rejection has assured me it is not a judgement of my writing ability, but that the “industry is incredibly subjective” and they hope I find an agent “who will be an enthusiastic champion” of my work. All of these rejections–including the two clearly not written from a template–are so similar the language and tone is clearly agreed upon at an industry-wide conference.

For the remaining half of my submitted queries, one agent was kind enough to inform me they were currently closed to submissions but would accept them at an unspecified time in the not-too-distant future. The others have provided no response whatsoever.

Of those queries that received a rejection, the average response time currently stands at 20 days. I sent my most recent query on November 20th, which was more than 50 days ago. I think it’s safe to assume that any queries sent last year with no response have either timed out or are lost forever to the great slush pile in the sky.

Additional Fun with Statistics:

  • 83% of the agents I queried are female
  • Despite being smaller in number, male agents were 1.4 times more likely to not respond
  • All male agents requested materials in addition to the query letter (e.g. synopsis, page/chapter selection), but 20% of female agents requested no additional materials
  • 38% of literary agencies that did not respond to queries began with the letters F or P

The size of my sample is too small for any of this to be really meaningful, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

What does is all mean? It could be that The Mechanic isn’t ready for publication, my query game is terrible, or some combination of both. The first queries I sent out were objectively awful and all of them are perhaps premature.

I took a break from querying over the holidays, largely because querying feels a lot like looking for a job while managing to be more depressing. Over the break I worked on a short story I’m excited about, but I also started going through The Mechanic chapter by chapter, trying to make the prose as tight as possible. Definitely should’ve done that before sending any query letters, but here we are. I’ve also put one of the more exciting/scary chapters first, since a lot of agents are only willing to read the first 10 pages. It’s embarrassing how long I held on to the idea that the whole story mattered more than immediately grabbing someone’s attention.

I’m really proud of The Mechanic, but I also understand it would be difficult to market: It’s sort of a novel, sort of a literary thriller, parts of it flirt with body horror, and it has enough chronological shifts to make Quentin Tarantino blush. Some agents request a one-sentence pitch when you query them, and mine was always “a superhero story for the #MeToo era.” It is not a feel-good story, but it is a good story.

I’ll probably send more queries when I’m finished with these edits. I’m also thinking about self-publishing again (I already designed a cover I like), and I’m toying with the idea of releasing it as a podcast audiobook.

Those are my updates. I hope you had fun with stats.

2018 in Review

These are a few of my favorite things.

Album of the Year – Master Volume by The Dirty Nil

I didn’t listen to a whole lot of music this year, mostly podcasts and audiobooks. But since Master Volume‘s release, not a week has passed without me playing it my car at high volumes. It’s punk meets classic rock meets totally freakin’ awesome. Click to hear the record on YouTube.

Best TV Show – The Good Place

More like The Best Place, amirite?

Annihilation (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures

Best Movie – Annihilation

Surely you already know this.

Best Tweet

I seriously forgot pants like this existed.

Best Animatic – Big Debbie

Thank you to the McElroy brothers for such good, good content.

Best 90s Nostalgia Trip

“She thinks that happiness is a mat that sits on her doowaaaaeeeeyyyy”

Person of the Year – Gritty

He’s less a person and more of a monstrous muppet, but he brought much joy to the internet. That’s more than most people can say.

Have safe and happy holidays, everyone.

This is Badwatch!


I’m writing this before the mid-term elections and scheduling it for the day after. If things went great you can celebrate with my new podcast! If things went not so great, you can embrace/stave off an existential crisis with my new podcast!

The show is called Badwatch, and it is co-hosted by myself and my brother-in-law, Andy. He’s fine by himself, but together we are hilarious. On each installment of Badwatch, Andy and I watch an episode of what I would consider an objectively bad television program and then make fun of it. It’s great! So far we’ve covered the Hawaii 5-0 reboot, Quantico, and a miserable SyFy show called Dark Matter.

Andy and I had a blast making our first few episodes, and we’re excited to finally share them. You can subscribe to Badwatch here, or in the podcast provider of your choice. Our first episode is out now, and we’ll be releasing new episodes every other Wednesday.

October Sux pt. 2

On September 28, Pinegrove released their second album, Skylight. Pinegrove is a band I like, but one I used to love. Their first record felt tailored to be something I’d be completely obsessed with. Its earnest, emo lyrics and twangy guitars and vocals are extremely my shit. Maybe six weeks ago I realized they were due for another album. After some googling I found a Facebook post from Pinegrove’s lead singer, Evan Stephens Hall, saying he’d been accused of sexual coercion.

As far as #MeToo apologies go, Hall’s falls below Dan Harmon’s but still surpasses Louis C.K.’s “I never showed a woman my dick without asking first” non-apology. Hall’s message is vague and a little confusing, and after reading it I wasn’t sure Pinegrove was still a band.

Then a couple weeks ago, Jenn Pelly published “Reckoning With Pinegrove” on Pitchfork, which detailed the circumstances that led to Hall’s message and why he’d written it the way he did. In short, most of the language he used was borrowed directly from the alleged victim, stating “It was meant as a symbol of respect to have her dictate the language of the conversation.” I don’t think this is wrong, but it seems to place responsibility for the ambiguity on the alleged victim. Wouldn’t it have been equally effective to use the alleged victim’s language and explain what it meant?

Pinegrove is still a band, and Hall claims they never considered breaking up. Instead, they took a year off from touring, and are donating all of the proceeds from Skylight to the Voting Rights Project, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Musicares. The band also agreed to the alleged victim’s request that Pinegrove take a year off from touring and that Hall enter therapy. I finished reading the Pitchfork article still confused, but a quote from Hall really stands out to me:


Skylight is a great record, a major leap forward musically and lyrical from the band’s debut. But it’s harder to listen to knowing all of this. I’ve tried to imagine how I’ll react if Ryan Adams is accused of sexual assault. Would I throw out all of his records? Would I stop listening to him entirely? Perhaps more importantly, would I be able to separate his art, which I adore, from his behavior? I don’t know, and hopefully I won’t have to answer these questions.

I’m not the first person to write about the art vs. artist conundrum. Steven Hyden did so in his Grantland piece “Pied Pipers,” and although it exclusively deals with how we listen to music when its creators have behaved badly, it’s equally applicable to conversations about other media. I was listening to a podcast recently, and one of the hosts addressed this tangentially, saying “Chinatown does not stop being a great movie because Roman Polanski is a monster.” I’m inclined to agree, but the thought of buying a copy of Chinatown, thus supporting Polanski financially, feels very gross. I feel the same way when I think about all of Louis C.K.’s masturbation jokes–jokes that used to make me laugh–but are now so tied to the trauma he inflicted on women. It makes me sick that Louis C.K. continues to “drop in” to perform at New York’s Comedy Cellar, and that so many male comedians fail to understand how deeply wrong that is. In one of the many articles written about those performances, someone was quoted as saying how great C.K.’s set was. The perceived quality of his set is completely beside the point. Expertise or talent is never a reason to forgive someone, especially when that person has shown so little contrition.

april wolfe

For Louis C.K., it’s easy for me to say he should pursue another career out of the public eye. But for Pinegrove? I’d like to hear more music from them. Having said that, after listening to Skylight so heavily after its release I haven’t been able to go back to it. To what degree and how soon do we forgive in situations like this?

Again, I don’t have answers to any of this, but grappling with these questions is important, particularly when it’s difficult to turn on the news without hearing about sexual assault. I’d like to be perfectly clear, however, that the events surrounding Brett Kavanaugh do not fall into the same category of separating a person’s work from their behavior. If someone, anyone, is accused of sexual assault, their ability to be a judge in any courtroom needs to be seriously questioned. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony combined with Kavanaugh’s petulance and hysterics in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee speak to his profound lack of moral fiber, a trait necessary for any judicial position.