Friday, November 29, 2013

Man Stealing Copper Wires Killed By Electric Shock: Schadenfreude, Baby!

"Cable thief dies due to electric shock" was a headline posted today in the Facebook feed of one of my friends. The pleasure that one takes in this ironic misfortune is Schadenfreude, which leads me to the next in the next in my series of features on past titles.

Schadenfreude, Baby was published in 2008 by Lyons Press. Sarah Lindensmith of the Midland Book Examiner described it this way:

Schadenfreude, Baby! is a hilarious light read for anyone who appreciates a little sarcasm, turning of the tables, or other laughs. The word "schadenfreude" is actually German, and means "to take pleasure in another's sorrows or downfalls." There is no English correlation to this word, so we simply stole the German word and made it our own. Schadenfreude, Baby! is a collection of short stories (usually only a paragraph or so) about someone who did something stupid, mean, or less-than-legal and then got his comeuppance in a humorous way - well, humorous for us, at least.
Before Broke is Beautiful was published, this blog was Schadenfreude themed. I created it to talk about this book. So if you think Schadenfreude is fun, go back in the archives.

For those who love ironic tumbles and people hoisted by their own petards, you can get an autographed copy of this book for just $14.95.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Portland Book Review Gives Four Stars to Don't Screw It Up a "How Not To" Book Published by Reader's Digest

"I was surprised to learn something new on almost every page. I wish this book had been available decades ago!"-Fran Byram, Portland Book Review

"...the type of book that you will not just read once, but will continue to keep reading in the future as you screw things up again (and we all inevitably do!)."-Dad of Divas' Review

"One of the best things about this book, beyond the helpful hints, is that the author is funny, very funny. She is candid, tells it like it is, and inserts humor that helps keep the pages turning."-Feathered Quill Book Reviews

Have you ever had a little thread pull out from your sweater and in your attempt to fix it unraveled the entire thing? Can you figure out how to re-heat pizza without making it soggy or revive brown sugar that's turned into a brick? Do you secretly suspect that you're getting out of your office chair the wrong way?

I dreamed up all of the things that can, and do, go wrong and looked for solutions so you don't have to learn by trial and error and error and error.

It sells for $19.95 and you can get an author autographed copy to wrap for the accident-prone on your gift list.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Major Label Debut: Blame it On the Rain

"Students will enjoy Lee's concise, conversational style and the quirky relationship she identifies between humans and the forces of nature."-School Library Journal

Blame it on the Rain came out in 2006, the same year as The Elvis Impersonation Kit. I was writing at quite the clip back then, it seems.

One of the great things about writing for a publisher like Harper Collins is that your work gets translated into dozens of languages and from time to time a small box of books in Japanese or Korean would arrive in my mailbox.  (A number of my other titles have been published overseas as well. I usually only learn about this reality by accident, say when a reporter from South America wants to interview me.)

The episode that inspired this book was the Battle of Barnet during the British Wars of the Roses in 1471. It was a civil war with many intrigues and shifting allegiances. The shortest version of this tale is this: in the deep fog the Marquess of Montagu mistook the emblem of the Earl of Oxford's men (a star with streams) for that of Edward IV (a sun with rays). Thinking Edward's cavalry was attacking him, he ordered his archers to open fire.  When Oxford's division found itself under attack by Montagu-- who was supposed to be an ally, their first assumption was that Montagu had changed loyalties mid-battle. The entire endeavor was thrown into utter confusion as no one knew for sure who was on their side and who was against them.

The episode, and the idea that history could pivot on the ability of soldiers to tell the difference between a sun with rays and a star with streams in a heavy fog, stuck with me.  So a number of years later, when a publisher (not Harper Collins) asked me to write a proposal for a book on the weather, I included a chapter on how weather influenced history in the outline. The publisher that originally asked me to send a weather book proposal passed on their own idea.  (This happens more often than you would think.)

I didn't want to let my work on the proposal go to waste, but I decided that there was only one part of it that really excited me-- the weather and history chapter.  I expanded that small part into a full proposal and the rest is history.

It was a challenging book to research. I had to read a lot of history in the hopes that I would come across references to the effects of weather.  Later The Weather Channel did a program that explored weather's impact on historical events.

Some of my favorite chapters in the book are the non-military examples, such as how the Little Ice Age might have created the sound of the Stradivarius violin, and how the dramatic sunsets in the wake of the Krakatoa volcano's eruption inspired the painting The Scream. I also found a couple of examples of things that didn't happen because of weather, for example, a planned slave revolt that was thwarted by torrential rain.

If you have a weather or history buff on your gift list, I hope you will consider purchasing an autographed copy

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Best Seller: People Love Their Pet Peeves

“These are the maddening moments in life and they’re cataloged hilariously in Lee’s book… Her specialty is simplifying academic jargon and turning it into amusing information.” - St Petersburg Times

The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation is by far my biggest seller.  People responded to the idea of the science behind annoying things in a way that I never expected. Especially as the book was scheduled to release (and delayed) the week of September 11, 2001. At that moment in history, the idea that anyone would want to focus on life's petty annoyances seemed impossible and I was sure the book would disappear without a trace. Instead it launched my humorous/trivia/reference career. It was also the first in my series of "negative things" books including 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life, Schadenfreude, Baby! and Don't Screw It Up!

I attribute much of the book's success to the fact that it was promoted in the Radio TV Interview Report. It was a radio-friendly theme, and for a while I was doing as many as three radio interviews a day on this topic. I was much more fresh out of my radio career, and must have sounded OK in the interviews.

The inspiration for this book was a mosquito. I remember the exact moment the idea for this book came to me. I was sitting by a pond near my apartment in upstate New York and I was being attacked by mosquitoes. I am one of those people who other people invite to pic nics so the mosquitoes will stay away from them. I wondered what the science was behind who attracts mosquitoes and who they like less. I thought that there must be answers to why a lot of the annoying things in life happen and instead of solving my mosquito problem (the answer, by the way, is scientists recognize some people are more attractive to mosquitoes, but they don't know why) I sat down and wrote a book proposal.

I sent the proposal to Black Dog and Leventhal, unagented, and editor Will Kiester responded to it, invited me to come down to NYC and meet the team and my first title with a mid-sized publisher spawned a long term relationship with BD&L folks and it is still my best seller to this day.

If you would like to learn about the science behind fingernails on the blackboard, why songs get stuck in your head, and why no one calls the police when they hear a car alarm, please consider purchasing an autographed copy.  They are only $12.95. The book is compact enough to fit in a Christmas stocking. If you would like it dedicated, please indicate this in the comment box on the order form.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Most Fun I Had Writing a Book

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be featuring some of the titles in my back catalog. The book that was, by far, the most fun to write was The Elvis Impersonation Kit published in 2006 by Black Dog and Leventhal. The volume itself is slim, highly illustrated, both practical-- if you want to take a shot at acting Elvis-- and humorous.

The humor comes from the genuine sense of pleasure and fun the professional Elvis artists expressed. I interviewed quite a few of them. As a group they were positive, warm and did not take themselves too seriously. If there are any editors out there who would like to assign me a similar project- I stand ready!

Here are some of the things I learned writing this book: You don't have to be white or male to have a career or hobby as an Elvis. Some female Elvises or Evli as they are often called, manage to sing like Evlis is a "you have to be kidding me, that can't be a woman" kind of way. There are supposedly Elvis impersonator groupies known as "sideburn chasers." Those late-period Elvis costumes are labor intensive to make and expensive to buy. I spoke to a leading manufacturer of high-quality Elvis wigs, an Elvis-impersonating minister who has an Evlis-themed church, and a dialect coach with tips on authentic Elvis stage banter. (More on Elvis talk in this old article.)

The Elvis Impersonation Kit comes packaged with Elvis glasses, sideburns, a ring and a CD. If you think you might like a kit for someone on your list, please consider ordering one directly from me. I will sign the book, and can write a dedication. Just include it in the comment box on the order form.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Heat Your Room for 8 Pence a Day

I tried to do this but I didn't have success. My proportions (pot sizes and base size) must have been off. The votive kept going out. I like it in theory.