Well What Do You Know

I’m really excited to be able to share my latest novel, The What Do You Know Contest, which is now available as a Kindle book. The title, as those of you who grew up in New York in the ’60s and ’70s probably remember, is inspired by a contest held by the Board of Ed every year, and which for a few of us truly pathetic dweebers, was a chance at some kind of validation.

It was one of those contests where you compete first against your homeroom, then your grade, and finally all the way to some state-wide Armageddon of knowledge.

The reason I wanted to write this story, and the reason I named it that way, is because I wanted to explore ideas like the value of intrinsic knowledge, the judgment of others, the quest for some kind of religious truth, and to get at the prayer I think hovers on the lips of every person at some point in their lives: I hope to whatever is holy that I’m getting this right.

“This” meaning your entire apprehension of the world, your personal ontology; that the sacrifices and the choices you’ve made are what you’d do all over again if you ever get the chance to die, know whatever there is to be known, and then get to be reborn with the chance to make the same choices all over again.

That’s why the story is narrated by the adult Max, who reveals — in footnotes to the story of the year of the Contest — a midlife crisis that reflects his ongoing desire for validation and an affirmation that he isn’t, after all, a sap. His adult life is in many ways a parallel to his adolescent life, with many of the same types of choices and ramifications.

Even as kids, too many of the choices we make have long-term ramifications. And many of the yearnings we have as adults seem as unreasonable and impossible to achieve as the dreams we have as kids. There’s no easy part of life. Max’s dreams of winning back his girl, striking out the best high school baseball player in the city, or saving his sister from her drug-dealing boyfriend and getting involved with the dog-walking lady, a beautiful and mysterious young woman who lives in his neighborhood, are no more or less inconsequential than his desire to win the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to his Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism while bedding the woman of his dreams.

Oh yeah, the other thing is Max’s seemingly insatiable desire for sex — another trait that follows him from high school to his career as a journalist. So there’s some fairly graphic sex in this story — in case  you were thinking of buying this for your 13-year old.

I hope you try it out — and I hope you like it.

The What Do You Know Contest: Launched!

Mike’s new novel The What Do You Know Contest
is now available exclusively for Amazon Kindle.

Drugs! Treachery! Painted toenails! In this story we follow Max’s recounting of his crucible childhood spring and summer of ’74, but while we do that, the now-grownup Max’s current bullshit bubbles to the surface. A coming of age story told the way only Michael Hickins can tell it.

Special thanks to Mr. Hickins for composing the secondary narrative entirely in Microsoft Word footnotes, which I had to surgically excise and restitch into the narrative proper. I hope you enjoy the interstitial story. Don’t forget, Prime Kindlers can always borrow the book from the Kindle Lending Library.

The What Do You Know Contest

Mike has a new novel I’m hoping to finish up converting and release on Kindle this weekend, so here’s a preview!

I awoke and kicked off the covers, violently cursing myself under my breath. I had no idea how long I had been asleep or how late it was. I dressed rapidly in the light of the streetlamp that bent its neck outside my bedroom window. I felt for the lump of Valiums and folded paper money in my pocket. I slipped on my denim jacket with the MVP patch sewn on my shoulder.

I opened my creaky bedroom door and shut it closed again.

I could hear the strangulated gargle of my mother’s snoring through their bedroom door. It would take a lot to wake her up.

I fought the urge to hurry and slowly edged my way along the hallway past their bedroom and into the living room where some light filtered in from the outside, past the sturdy black and white television set that my parents wouldn’t junk because color TV causes cancer.

The luminous dial of the clock radio in the kitchen showed that it was 11:30 PM.

I opened the apartment door and shut it quietly behind me. Continue reading

The Review that Got Away

While I’m on the topic of reviews remembered and best forgotten, there’s one I just found today that I never knew about until today, and wish I had. (This was all pre-Internet, and I only learned about reviews that my publisher saw fit to send me. Fortunately, Jaz has my back.)

Turns out that Spy Magazine’s gregarious Walter Monheit liked The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing. He wrote, “Missing may be Hickins, but Hickins won’t be missing from the National Book Award committee’s shortest of short lists come judgement day!” (Exclamation point in the original!)

Maybe Knopf didn’t pass along the review because they didn’t know whether to take it seriously or not — it was Spy, after all, and Knopf was already into its post-irony days.

Don’t care what Knopf thought, though — it just makes me smile to think I was on the mind of a debonair “devoted nightclubber and boulevardier,” if even for just a minute.

Getting Panned

I had a conversation this afternoon about having a thick skin, and it reminded me of the one really terrible review I got for The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing. It’s not really so bad in retrospect, but at the time it felt awful, especially because it came from Kirkus Reviews, which along with Publishers Weekly, was one of the two trades that bookstores used to evaluate which new titles to order. Needless to say, I didn’t think this would help, but my editor at Knopf, Gordon Lish, encouraged me to see it as a badge of honor.

Here’s the Kirkus review in its entirety:

This strange collection of 11 stories, some of which have appeared in The Quarterly, tries hard to shock, disturb, and impress with its creepy logic and evil posturings–all meant to be the dark dreams of a latter-day Zelig, who takes on the identities of all sorts of demented characters: a gangster, a foot fetishist, a hit-man, a rapist, and a failed baseball player. Michael Missing’s many lives are all narrated by the same admittedly “”mean and cynical”" voice, an angry, foulmouthed liar who also happens to be perpetually horny. As a Queens boy in “”In the Boroughwides,”" his science-fair project for saving the starving people of India is a huge local success but never answers the larger question: “”Why is the universe so stingy and short?”" We learn here the secret to Missing’s fantasies–his desire “”to be dangerous.”" “”to hit people, To rob from the rich. Get killed.”" No modern Robin Hood, in “”Caper”" he works for shady Uncle Feldstein running numbers, boosting furs, and dealing drugs. A number of stories record his checkered romantic history: His unrequited lust for his sister (“”I hated my sister because she never fucked me”") leads to many strange episodes, such as toe-sucking his eighth-grade teacher (“”The Last Donna”"). When his nubile French cousin visits in “”Summer Romance,”" she prefers the lesbian hitchhiker they pick up on their way to San Francisco, where the beautiful cousin ODs. Married, 19, with one child (in “”A Person with a Gun Is Dangerous to Those Around Him”"), he dreams of killing his family. “”The Backswing of the Slugger”" bemoans his career in the lowest of the minor leagues, where his best swings are at his girlfriend. He fantasizes life as “”a poor young wetback”" in “”Going Home to Mother,”" and as an 18th-century pirate in “”The Memoirs of Younge Michael Missinge.”" The longest piece, “”The Profound Convictions of Michael Famous,”" brings together all his offensiveness into one surreal narrative, full of whores, ballplaying, murder, a bid for the Presidency, and Jewish guilt. Anger and sadness lead to delusions of malevolence for someone who seems to be in fact a nebbish from Jackson Heights–a weird and unconvincing debut.

Blomqvist Hits Kindle, Free on Friday!

Blomqvist is now available on Amazon Kindle! Prime Kindlers can borrow the book for free, and as a special surprise it will be free to purchase all day Friday 6th January 2012!

Set in 11th Century Europe, Blomqvist is narrated by the protagonist’s devoted amanuensis, faithful standard-bearer, and unrequited lover, Axel Oxensteirna.

Axel tells us the story of Blomqvist’s search for his betrothed, but in the telling, he also bares his own struggle to find his spiritual footing in a confusing and shifting world.

Part historical fiction, part mystical meditation, this Mediterranean odyssey traces the course of human history in matters that are relevant to this day.

If you’ve already read it, please consider reviewing it on Amazon! Don’t forget you can get a Look Inside on the Amazon.com Blomqvist book page or read an excerpt below. Continue reading

The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing (Paperback)

Eleven stories told from the depths of anger, lust, and the confusion of doing the right things at the wrong times.

Michael Missing, the name of eleven different young men in various states of unrest, is the linked but unrelated protagonist of these wry and angry tales; a hit man, the cabin boy of 19th century French pirate Jean Lafitte, erstwhile baseball hero and the man who would be President of France, a frustrated salesman who loses an evening with Captain Kirk in the unrequited hope of laying the town slut of Scarsdale. Continue reading