The Seems: Behind the Scenes

This is the diary of Michael Wexler and John Hulme's West-Coast swing of their pre-publication tour for "The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep." (October)


Day #1 - "The Nor'Wester"

I (Michael) guess it was probably a good thing I didn't look at the itinerary. I figured I would just wake up each day and go where they (our publicist Deb + The Powers That Be) told me. Little did I know what was in store...

Day #1 began with the Nor'easter that slammed the East Coast. Somehow our plane for San Diego (me and John Hulme, my writing partner/co-author) made it out of Newark before the governor (or "acting Governor" - (Governor Corzine was hit and run on the NJ Turnpike by a red pickup), got on TV and declared a state of Emergency and closed all the airports.

Unfortunately, Deb was not so lucky. Her flight out of JFK was cancelled, leaving two maniacal authors on their way to the west coast armed only with an ARC - and no corporate card!

It was at the point we decided to blow off all the scheduled events, rent a garish yellow Hummer and go off-roading in the desert. Just kidding.

Luckily, once we arrived in San Diego, we met a very nice girl who we nicknamed "Carmin" - our GPS navigation system - and she helped fill the void. We managed to stay on schedule and stop in at the Yellow Book Road bookstore in La Mesa to meet the staff there, AND make it to the dinner with Alex Uhl (owner of A Whale of a Tale in Irvine), Kristen Baranski (co-owner of Yellow Book Road), and Ms. Mayfield (a librarian at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School in Irvine). A few drinks and some rigatoni later and we were feeling no pain. We talked about books, love, religion, the meaning of life, Sesame Street, John's son Jack (aka "Jackie Peepers") and in the morning, lo and behold - Deb had arrived (after an epic journey to Washington DC by car and then to the West Coast.) She knew that if left alone for a second day, the inevitable would happen...

This is co-author John Hulme chiming in, which I'm going to do from time to time whenever Michael forgets something or gets it all wrong. Because the one thing you should know about Michael Wexler is that despite being a very intelligent and likable guy, almost none of what he says is true. Usually it's tinged with some element of truth, but for the most part, he will always sacrifice the facts in hopes of a telling a good story. This is extremely helpful when you're trying to craft your first kid's fantasy novel, but when it comes to writing a road diary, it renders him a somewhat unreliable narrator. I'm not trying to undermine his credibility or anything. I'm just warning you...

Trust nothing.

Day #2 - "Mary Kate and Ashley"

With Deb on board, John and I were very comforted. As writers, we have a hard enough time taking care of ourselves at home, but being on the road without parental supervision was intimidating. Deb took over driving duties and Carmin was relegated to second billing - But anyway....

Our first event was pizza and soda at Ms Mayfield's school, coordinated by Alex and Deb, where John and I would get our first exposure to "the kids." All 14 of them had been given the manuscript to read prior to our visit. Now keep in mind that even though we operate on a 12-year-old level (as many men do), we usually do not interact with other groups of 12-year-olds.

We arrived at the library not knowing what to expect and were immediately greeted by a piercing screech which sent me unpacking my gas mask and searching for anti-radiation pills when I was casually informed by one of the eighth graders (Victoria) that it was just "the bell." Oh yeah - I forgot about the bell.

But there were more surprises to come. I guess in my mind I had expected the kids to ask the rudimentary questions - ie... "What is The Seems again?" "What is a Fixer?" "What's a perfect score on the SAT (Seemsian Aptitude Test)?" but au contraire.

One of the first hands that went up, that of a thoughtful seventh grader, and a startling query quietly emerged: "Um, do you have any plans in future books to explore the concept of Death and or dying, and part B to my question, you mention in the footnote on page 104, the Edge of Sanity -- Can you tell us where it is and when we're going to go there?" It's a good thing John was sitting to my right. We looked at each other and smiled -- The Seems was not just a world that we wanted to play in and Fixer was not just "the best job in The World" to us. There were now other kids out there who wanted to deploy their Me-2's(TM) - leave the "real world" (at least for a while) and go on the greatest Mission any of us could think of...

What he neglects to mention is that it took us almost 11 years to create the world of Becker Drane and The Seems. At some point during year 9, I began to fear we were crossing that fine line between passion and self-delusion (especially when you're trying to pay the mortgage and raise a little boy (and avoid getting thrown out of the house)), but somehow we managed to survive the experience long enough to finish the book. To have a group of kids as smart as this one be so excited about the story and the characters and the world was the greatest payoff imaginable (not to mention what it felt like when they proudly donned their limited edition Seems T-shirts). Best of all, the first ten questions they asked about Book 1 ("The Glitch in Sleep") were all related to the subplots we've planted for Book 2 ("The Time Bomb") and Book 3 ("The Lost Train of Thought"), which made me that much more psyched to get back to work. For more time than I'd care to admit, it felt like we would never get to write those books, so the opportunity to keep playing in The Seems and solve all (or at least some) of its mysteries is almost too good to be true.

The only downside to the whole afternoon was that it's been quite some time since I've been surrounded by 11 and 12 year olds, and I definitely began to regress as the day went on. I found myself doing a lot of giggling and blushing, and am quite sure they thought Michael was the cool one and me the weird one. But what can I say. That's probably the case.

Now back to the rest of Day 2.

After having our minds blown by the kids, it was off to LA for a short but sweet meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel. About two weeks ago, John and I were lucky enough to close a deal with 20th Century Fox for the film rights to "The Seems." Shawn Levy, the director of "Night at The Museum," loved the book and attached himself to direct, while John and I will get first crack at writing the script. The story actually broke on the cover of the day's "Variety" (which made Deb (and our Moms) extremely happy)) but we hadn't actually gotten the chance to meet Shawn yet in person. So the two of us donned the most dressed down, I don't care, sunglass adorned writer outfits we could dig out of our soon to be dirty laundry and sauntered into the velvet appointed lobby of the lush so cal hot spot.

Ten minutes later, Shawn came in (even more dressed down than us) and we talked for a good 40 minutes about movies, love, religion, the meaning of life, Sesame Street, John's son Jack (aka "Jackie Peepers) and what The Seems would look like on the big screen. Shawn's ideas were awesome, and the entire meeting was a blast. But before we got up, he couldn't help pointing out that we had a "star-sighting at twelve o'clock" - Mary Kate Olson, or what's left of her, strutting by our table. It was cool.

Later that night, looking up at the draping sails of Twin Palms in Pasadena and trying to decompress with Kris Vreeland and the crew from Vroman's, we ate molten lava cake and laughed at John who had tragically ordered the strawberries and cr --

Unfortunately, this is one of those rare circumstances where Michael is right on the money. There's nothing worse than feeling satisfied with your dessert order, than watching as EVERYONE on the other side of the table orders the same piece of chocolate perfection, takes a moment to laugh at you, then simultaneously chows them down without offering you a single bite. I'm tempted to blame the guys on my side of the table for not warning me, but since I'm a father now, I'm trying to learn a little bit about taking responsibility for my own actions. That doesn't mean I can't be bitter about it, though...

Anyhow, as work days go, this was just about the most rewarding/exhausting one I can remember, and I'm not exactly sure how we're going to work up the energy to start it all over again tomorrow. But like I said before, after 11 years, the prospect of talking about The Seems with total strangers is so utterly surreal and wonderful that it's impossible to shut my mind off and get some much needed shuteye...

Better put in a call to the Department of Sleep.

Day #3: "Musical Chairs"

Day #3 got off to a rocky start when John decided to dump an entire cup of coffee all over himself just as we arrived at Walter's Restaurant in Claremont, CA for breakfast with the gang from Mrs. Nelson's. It's not that this was anything surprising - John is renowned for his spilling capabilities (and his penchant for eating the food off your plate) - but while he was sojourning in the bathroom, I was left to explain what "The Seems" is really about. Fortunately, it's fairly fun to talk about how the world isn't what you think it is, so I think it went reasonably smooth.

That goes for one of us. I, on the other hand, had to do an entire wardrobe makeover in the bathroom, sneak out to the car to dump my soaking wet jeans, then come back inside and pretend that none of it had ever happened. The whole fiasco was salvaged by the man to my right, Pat Nelson, who effortlessly yanked me out of my "they all think I'm an idiot" thought process. Pat's family founded "Mrs. Nelson's," and we had a lot of fun talking Seems, favorite book fair discoveries, and movies - especially Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker," of which he was the only other fan I've ever met. (If you've never seen it, it can only be appreciated alone, when you don't have to worry about whether the person next to you is bored out of their skull).

The whirlwind of Day 3 continued with another chat with a group of kids at the legendary Hicklebee's in San Jose. This one was particularly intense for the fact that most of the kids brought their parents in tow - but once we realized a few had actually read the book as well, things got fun. The comments were amazing (we got about a dozen ideas for future Missions, including the one where the Dept. of Language goes haywire and no one can understand each other), and one kid actually came up with an idea for an entirely new book (where's super-agent David Kuhn when you need him?). John and I just kept looking at each other like, wow, this is really happening (might have even whispered that under our breath), and tried to stay out of their way.

We were also pleased to find that the book seems to be resonating equally with girls and boys. We always felt boys would dig it, especially because our main character Becker Drane is really just the 12 year old kid we wish we had been (and some times wish we are), but it was also important to us to have some awesome female characters, too. Girls and women that both boys and girls could find themselves in or aspire to be. But the fact that two girls named Meg and Phoebe were totally obsessed with what might happen if the Fabric of Reality began to fray or fade in color is just the happiest of accidents...

After the kids finally headed for home, Hicklebee's co-owner Valerie Lewis showed us the old back door containing the signatures of JK Rowling, doodles by Clive Barker, and a small spot that we could sign if we wanted to. John and I didn't want to invoke The Jinx Gnomes by putting our name in that company, but what the heck? I scribbled "Fix to Live. Live to Fix" (the Fixer credo) on the door and we hobbled out for another incredible dinner.

That's an understatement. When Michael and I were living in Wilmington, NC in the mid-nineties, supporting ourselves by being extras on "Matlock" (watch any random episode, and chances are, one or both of us are in the jury), we had a thing called "The Prime Directive", which meant that the chance to eat a good meal superceded any other possible course of action. Good doesn't begin to describe the food we've been eating, and when you throw in the company, it's a been like being invited to sit at Andy Griffith's private table night after night...

Tonight had us playing musical chairs between Hicklebees owners (and sisters) Valerie Lewis and Monica Holmes, their manager Anne, and our sales rep Kevin. Deb is expert at recognizing that perfect moment when its time for Michael and I to swap seats and start stabbing each other in the back (as people who met each other on the JV soccer team in high school are wont to do), and for me, it was a pretty spectacular transition. I went from talking about the last true master of the nine martial arts with Kevin and Anne to the trials and tribulations of running an indie bookstore with Valerie and Monica - a struggle which I'm only just now beginning to appreciate. Back in Central Jersey, stores like Hicklebees or Whale of a Tale are all gone now, but out here, the community is so dedicated and tightly knit its inspiring. Very exciting to think that this Fall, when the book comes out, we're going to be a part of it...

As for later this night, I can't quite explain what happened to Michael, so I'll let him take care of it. Just remember, there was a lot of kids, and a lot of vino...

Back at the hotel and not sure where I was or what day it was, I took out the "Material" hair gel that Carmen (not to be confused with Carmin) had given me in Highland Park to look cool on the road, accidentally put a bunch on my toothbrush and started to brush my teeth.

It was disgusting.

Day #4 - "Grand Theft Auto"

Deb had said from the start that she wouldn't feel right if we were driving because it was her job to help chaperone us around to the various bookstores, middle schools, and 4 star dinners that would be our lives for the week. Part of me was a little nervous, being the control freak that I am, but soon enough as we weaved through the mountain passes of Northern California on our way to Book Passage in Corte Madera - with The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz off to the side, I realized that being a passenger was not the worst thing in the world.

Before he died, my grandfather (Kevie Schulman (he was in the garment business) drove a little bit too far to the right. I think he had some eye problems - he was 80 after all - but it didn't become a problem until he took his friend Heshe Berman's car door off as the unsuspecting senior attempted to enter a local Rite Aid. It was a good thing he didn't take Heshe Berman off with it, but I couldn't help but notice that Deb was manifesting a similar affliction.

Now I'm certain it's easily treated and I didn't want to say anything because I'm already at risk of being voted off the island, but just as I was contemplating this fact, I heard a disturbing noise to the right. There was no lane to the right - that much I knew, but as I turned to explore the situation, there was a car to the right -- bouncing through the grass and stones, while the woman in the front seat struggled to maintain control and flip us the bird at the same time. In Deb's defense, it was a merge situation and frankly the story wouldn't have been notable if not less than a mile later, Deb accidentally ran the same woman off the road a second time, while trying to swerve towards our exit.

Even though the back windows were tinted, I ducked my head for fear of the other driver's karmic retaliation, but thankfully we were spared. It was not until later than night, when Deb smashed the SUV into her friend's garage, that any permanent damage was sustained.

Get back to the book tour, dude.

Fine. Whatever.

Back on "beam," and some time before Deb nearly committed double vehicular homicide, we made our way to Book Passages, with its sweet coffee shop and even sweeter set-up for author events. One of the things we've been exploring with the focus groups of kids is what kind of presentation we want to put together for the Fall - something that will be both fun for us to do and for kids to hear - and checking out the space at Book Passages really helped our concept coalesce.

From there we were off to Brandeis Hillel School which reminded me of Hebrew School and my Bar Mitzvah at the Y. Roz Tolson, the crack librarian led us into the rumpus room for our sit down with the kids, who were a prepared and precocious group of bouncing molecules. A few weren't sure what to make of the beginning of our book (we drop you into Portugal with just your Badge and Toolkit) but Zeke, a long haired skate-board type 5th grader with a cast on his arm (broken thumb) assured us that this was, in fact, the way to go. Seeing the reaction on the kids' faces when they received their galleys (and T-shirts) and listening when Shannon Mathis from Books Inc. concluded with the question - "Who here would recommend this book to their friends in the Fall?" - and EVERYONE'S hands shot up - I wasn't all that worried. (That and a little red-headed girl's assurance to me under her breath - "But only to my cool friends...")

Riding the high of Zeke being on my side about the first chapter, I was all fired up for dinner at Luella with the staff at Books, Inc. Even more so when I was told that they served the best Mac & Cheese this side of "South's" in Tribeca, and even more so when Deb's continuing game of musical chairs dropped me next to Books Inc. book buyer Calvin Crosby. There's not too many people in the world I can talk with about the love of dogs, trucks, and Daredevil #181, so I was pretty much in hog heaven. Jen to my right also hit me with a haymaker of a story about Jamie Lee Curtis and a Michael Myers wannabe, so I can honestly say I don't remember eating the entire Mac and Cheese appetizer before anyone else could get a bite. My only defense is that 1) the bowl had been on the table for over ten minutes and no one had taken a bite, so all bets are off, 2) I was still bitter about the chocolate molten cake disaster, and 3) I really am the worst person to sit next to at a dinner table.

But at least I didn't spill anything on anyone.

Day #5 - "The Department of Weather"

Earlier in the week, I had received an email asking me to put in a good word with The Department of Weather for the conditions on Friday on behalf of Jonatha Foli (like Jonathan minus the N) the free-spirited librarian at an enchanted school in the crags of Marin county. In The Seems there are multiple "Departments," each which control a function in The World, and I had a little collateral saved up with Weather, so I decided to cash it in.

Thursday featured torrential rain and I feared that my request would go unheeded but when we awoke on Friday, the sun glistened off the newly dented fender of our intrepid SUV, The smells were mellifluous (compliments of The Olfactory), and the greens were greener and the blues bluer than any of us had seen in quite some time. It was one of those "Perfect Northern California Days" which can only be ordered up in finite amounts due to the preparation and love which are required to create them.

We arrived at Marin Primary Day School and as fate would have it - it was "International Day." Kids scampered about, trying to figure out which way was Ireland and which way Croatia - whether they had been to France before or were needed in Australia -- and amidst the jasmine breezes, the three pale East Coasters in sunglasses soaked in the sun. It was truly glorious as were the smiles of the children. As the principal told us later, "We were afraid it was going to rain. We had all kinds of contingency plans." But John and I knew better.

Johnatha showed us the student garden and took us out onto the playing field for recess, where she found the one child who had received the bound galley the day before. He had already made it to the cafeteria scene where Becker and Simly tried to fix their broken Glitchometer(TM) before it was too late. And his eyes lit up when asked how the book was.

I remember how I felt when I was carrying around "The Chronicles of Prydain" or "The Island Stallion," and though I hesitate to say that this or any other 6th Grader was feeling the same way, it's amazing to even come close.

We left Marin county on our way to lunch with the women of Copperfield's and talk of tuna, Jackie Peepers, Mexico, the meaning of life (or lack thereof) and The Seems! We concluded the marathon day with a stop-in at The Storyteller in Lafayette and a high-level meeting at a low-level table (kid size) with Linda Higham, the owner, in the best mood and with a clear understanding of the gold which people had discovered in these hills.

Day #6 - "The Power of Now"

I woke up this morning and went running on the stairmaster. I definitely think I've driven Deb and John a bit crazy, but that's part of my charm. If you're not driven a little bit crazy than how can you fully appreciate when you're not being driven crazy? I guess it's all about managing expectations.

Having run and sweat out the toxins and misplaced anxieties of life, I retired to room 612 (which I am convinced is haunted by the ghost of some poor child) and began to write this diary. There are still 4 more days left of the trip!!!! And already it has been one of the most amazing, special, unexpected, horrible weeks of my life.

Today is our "day off" and John is going to play hoops with Nicolai - the fiance of Shannon from Books Inc., who we had dinner with two nights before.

Nicolai, if you're reading this, you were right about that whole "You're gonna be up all night because we blew the last game" thing. But winning 3 out of 4 ain't bad for a solid Saturday morning run, and I promise to find you some good games when you guys come east for BEA. And oh yeah...we're definitely naming one of our future Fixers "Tahoe"...but that's Another Story.

Deb is off to wine country with Shannon and Calvin, also from the Books Inc. clan, which leaves me alone to cause further trouble.

In a few minutes, I'm heading to Vic's Laundry around the corner. The hotel does laundry but it's like $3.00 for a pair of socks and I have like 30 items. I could probably charge it to the room and hope for the best, but $100 for laundry is a little indulgent, even for me.

I'm not sure what's gonna happen tonight or tomorrow - or ever for that matter, but as Fixer Blaque so eloquently says: "No one, not even a Case Worker can see into the heart of The Plan. And beware of anyone who says that they can..."

Day #7 "BONUS COVERAGE"

Today is our last day of the tour and we are in sunny Seattle (yes, the sun was out yesterday, again compliments of Weather.) Just when I am convinced that Department needs a reorg they come through with a splendorous afternoon.

John is asleep so maybe he won't be able to "chime in" and edit me anymore! Actually, he's ok - considering.

Yesterday we were back in the swing after a much needed day/s off. The morning was another kid pow-wow, inside the AMAZING scribble-covered-room at "All for Kids." Again, these kids were prepared with their comments and "editorial notes," but quickly we got into the fun of it - talking about possibilities for The Seems map and what a picture of "Nothing" would look like! It never ceases to amaze me where these minds will go and Deb is like a parent who has to steer me and John back from going into the Middle of Nowhere with them!!!

Lunch bridged the beautiful Monday with Sushi and the guys from University of Washington Bookstore -- Stesha, Laura, and Duane. Duane's almost 7 feet tall, and rarely have I seen John Hulme meet his match in height or in sci-fi/fantasy geekdom, but today it was a valiant battle.

Let's just say I took a good ol' fashioned beat down and leave it at that.

Of course, Duane suggested a stop at Top-Pot donuts where we all pigged out before piling in the store mini-van and returning back to base.

If John wakes up I'm sure he'll be wanting to interrupt about now, but the action packed day concluded with a tapas dinner with booksellers from All For Kids, Third Place, and more that reminded me of the Last Supper (or Passover, Mrs. Tolson!).

I'm awake (barely), and my last communique will be to thank Sergio the waiter for publicly humiliating me just because I asked for some spicy Spanish mustard to go with my spicy Spanish sausage (apparently, a sacrilege at good tapas joints) and to give kudos to Liz, librarian at Kellogg Middle School, for the coolest idea for a job (besides a Fixer, of course) - sailing the Caribbean in a boat version of a book-mobile, bopping from island to island, while the kids on the beach come running and screaming "Here comes the book lady!"

Here's to that excellent dream coming true, and I'll do my best to call in a few favors from the Agents of L.U.C.K. But back to the last supper...

It WAS the last supper for us and I can't get John's prescient comment out of my mind: "Dude, it's gonna be hard going back to Highland Pizza after this."

Yes and no. It's been an amazing, cosmic, cool, and constructive trip, but like in The Wizard of Oz...there's no place like home.

Amen to that.