A Kindle Blogger Gets Honored by Reader’s Digest

A trophy

A funny thing happened when I found Reader’s Digest‘s list of the “Best Reads of 2011.” A post from my blog was #4 on the list!

Woody Allen wrote the #3 article on the list, and Roseanne Barr wrote the #13 article. (And I also recognized the names Christopher Hitchens and David Brooks). The editors of Reader’s Digest had selected “the most unforgettable articles” for the entire year from newspapers, magazines, and from the internet, but it still took me a while to fully accept what had happened. The “best reads” of the year came from The New York Times, Vanity Fair magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and — from this blog!

I write this blog under a pseudonym — and I’d also used another pseudonym when I published a “short picture scrapbook” about my girlfriend’s dog. It’s kind of funny that the Reader’s Digest list apparently just used the dog book’s pseudonym for their list, which meant that the honor of authoring the #4 ‘best read’ of the year went to ‘Moe Zilla’, the non-existent persona I’d created for writing funny children’s picture books like “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme”. I was too shy to ask Reader’s Digest to correct the name — so I’m just changing this blog’s byline to “Moe Zilla” from now on. :)

The post they’d selected was about the cartoonist who drew the Family Circus comic strip. I’d started out lamenting how he’d published nearly 100 paperback collections of his newspaper comic strip — and yet none of them were available on the Kindle. But soon I was reminiscing about “my favorite memory” of cartoonist Bil Keane — and the day when a piece of kindness somehow magically escaped from his comic strip and found its way into the real world. (The editor of Reader’s Digest’s “Select Editions” called it “the touching story of a real and honorable gentleman.”)

But the truth is, I was sharing an actual memory of my own about the early days of the internet. Back in 1999, I was still caught up in all the excitement about the very first years of the web. And I’d laughed hysterically — till tears rolled down my cheeks — at some of the crazy new web sites that were springing up in my web browser. And yes, that included that very rowdy web site where anonymous strangers submitted “alternate” captions for Bil Keane’s Family Circus cartoons. But in a strange way, there was a real innocence to it. Pesky concepts like copyright infringement simply hadn’t occurred to a lot of people back in 1999.

An invisible community slowly started to grow around the act of re-captioning someone else’s cartoons. At one point, I’d heard that a handful of people even flew in to Chicago from all across the country — just to share that connection in real-life. (Before it was over, someone played a VHS tape of an animated Family Circus holiday TV special, and they’d all joked about it together.) I’m not sure any of them understood it as having a larger significance — beyond “It was really fun.” But I wonder sometimes if it was something special — a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the near-spontaneous formation of a massive grass roots comedy collective, united only by their strange, shared belief that this needed to happen.

After four years, there was almost a sense of tradition about it. (And to this day, there’s a rumor that all 50,000 of their captions are still being secretly passed around, preserved like a sacred text from the ancient 1990s.) That’s the forgotten piece of history that I think ultimately was left out of my story. That there was a very strong sense of community on that day when a lawyer showed up in their virtual village — and demanded that they all stop.

It was a “wild west” moment — but I mean that in the best possible way. In this strange new frontier, the villagers then gathered together to try to work out what was fair and what was right. There was some fretting and some chest-thumping, but there were also some very earnest and absolutely sincere discussions about the right to freedom of speech, and for their legally-protected right to create a satire. But it was a frontier moment in another way, because beyond all that high talk about powerful institutions — about a “body of intellectual property”, and the law firms defending it — were people.

“This showdown finally ended in the most unexpected way imaginable,” I wrote in my blog post. “One day the webmaster picked up his phone, and discovered he was receiving a call from cartoonist Bil Keane himself.”

The webmaster never revealed what they talked about, but “…as we got further into the conversation, I just realized I couldn’t really go on doing what I’m doing,” he wrote later on his web page. Bil Keane had simply surprised him. “He’s actually a nice guy….”

Their 90-minute phone conversation may have disappeared into the mists of internet history. But maybe Reader’s Digest is right. Maybe it’s worth taking a moment to remember that day when a moment of Bil Keane’s genuine warmth somehow magically escaped from his comic strip – and found its way out into the real world.

A Very Special eBook – about My Dog!

Funny free Kindle ebook about our dog

My girlfriend actually cried when I showed her her birthday present this year. I’d written her a Kindle ebook about her dog!

I’d told her I’d hidden her present somewhere in the apartment — not in the kitchen or in the living room, but somewhere close to the bed. “Is it on your nightstand? Nope, there’s nothing here but your Kindle… But let’s turn it on anyways and take a look. Well, there’s nothing here on your home page. But maybe we need to look in the Kindle Store…”

I’d told her it was a scavenger hunt, and the first clue would come up when she typed in her dog’s name. So she did — and there he was! She saw a picture of her own dog staring back at her — as the cover of a Kindle ebook.

She sat there, stunned. Smiling, but stunned. Her eyes moistened. She didn’t move for a few seconds. I think she thought that I’d hacked into Amazon’s Kindle store somehow, and pasted her dog’s picture onto one of their ebooks. But then she pressed the button that brings up the ebook’s description on Amazon.com.

Lucca is a cuddly Cocker Spaniel dog who belongs to a woman named TC. “I love TC very much,” reads the caption on one photo. “And she loves Lucca….”

Since I’d wanted to give her a special gift, I watched her face nervously to see her reaction. She’d started to read the rest of its page on Amazon, but then got too excited, and just downloaded the ebook straight to her Kindle. And when she opened it, every page seemed to dazzle her.

Dedicated to TC

with love

on a very special birthday

“TC says Lucca is the best dog in the world.
He cuddles with you on the couch while you’re watching TV…”

Last year TC had given me a smartphone for Christmas with a built-in camera, and I’d used it all year long to snap photos of her dog. (There’s 32 of them in the book.) Whenever Lucca did something cute, there was that camera in my pocket on the Christmas-gift smartphone. And that spring when our dog became friends with the cat downstairs, I was able to get some great pictures.

Dog Lucca and cat Finch become friends

You can see those pictures in color if you download the book to your smartphone (or to your Kindle Fire tablet). But the dog’s charm always jumps out from his shaggy face, even on a regular black and white Kindle. If you want to see a preview, just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/GoodReadsDog – but the whole ebook is only 99 cents, so you could just download the whole ebook to your Kindle (or to one of the free Kindle apps), and then give our dog a look, from this special URL.

http://www.tinyURL.com/OurFunny Dog

TC never did read the rest of the book’s description at Amazon, but I think she would’ve liked it. (“This ebook collects pictures with clever captions into a quick look at the life of a very happy pet dog…Our Dog Lucca takes you on a visit to that happy house where Lucca lives – and introduces you to a very charming dog.”) It’d feel a little weird to be making our pet dog into something famous, so if it became popular we’d probably donate most of the proceeds to an animal rescue shelter. Lucca is a “rescue” dog, and sometimes we wonder if that’s made him extra sweet.

But as I walked past our Christmas tree, at least I knew that Lucca had helped make my girlfriend’s birthday feel magical.

Download the ebook to your Kindle and see the dog ebook that made TC smile

http://www.tinyURL.com/OurFunny Dog

Funny free Kindle ebook about our dog

I Wrote My First eBook!

Yes, it’s true. After years of blogging about new authors writing exciting new ebooks for the Kindle, I decided I had to write one too. The whole thing is written in rhyme, offering a “Thanksgiving mystery” that’s fun for young readers and grown-ups too.

Point your computer’s web browser to

There’s four talking turkeys that are awaiting the farmer’s axe on Thanksgiving Day — but one of them has a plan for escaping! (“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name!”) I worked hard, cranking out more than 16 pages of rhymes and including 12 different illustrations. And the next day I discovered that my turkeys had snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals — and they’d stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

Curious George ebook

And within an hour, they were in the top six on Amazon’s list of children’s ebooks about birds — appearing right next to one of the very first books that I’d ever read in my life!

Amazon Children's ebook best-seller list

Amazon had surprised me by publishing my book within 12 hours after I’d submitted it to the Kindle Store. (I’d heard estimates of “24 to 48 hours.”) Since it’s a Thanksgiving story, I’d wanted it released this week, but…well, I’ll just quote the e-mail I sent to my friend.

I was almost paralyzed with excitement when I finally saw it for the first time on Amazon! The night before I’d been marveling that there’s sort of a paper-thin wall now between “published” and “unpublished”, and we can walk through it whenever we want to. Now the only barriers are in our own minds…

This summer a guy named John Locke became the first self-published author to sell one million ebooks. (And then he wrote a book about that (called “How I sold one million ebooks.) It was such an inspiring read, but I think he’s really just another excited self-published author, recognizing the thrill of how easy it is to create your own ebook. “The rules have changed. Whee! Look at me! I’m on the other side of the ‘published’ line!”

I should publish my grocery list, just to prove how easy it is. (“Unpublished… Published!”)

Maybe there’s real opportunity here, but whatever’s happening, I felt like I needed to have this experience. I needed to walk away from whatever psychological dings hold us all back from crossing that paper-thin line between “unpublished” and “published.” I even have some things that I’ve always wanted to see in a book, so it really is just a matter of *deciding* that I want them to be ebooks — and then publishing them. I told my girlfriend there’s a big yellow button on Amazon’s Kindle publishing page that just says “Upload Book.”

And you can create that book in Microsoft Word. (Or, heck, any text editor.) You can cross through that paper-thin line just by cutting and pasting!

I love books. And when I read books, I go to a special place. And now I’m *in* that special place — I’m on the other side of the page, so to speak. And that makes me feel somehow like I’ve inherited some of the importance of the other books I usually read. (Now instead of looking at other people’s books at Amazon.com and their thumbnail images, it’s my book, and my thumbnail image…) My excitement really kicked up a notch when I saw how good the illustrations looked. (I’ve really been struck and blind-sided by how easy it was — how it all came together, and how everything I needed was already there.)

I’ve tried to savor this day because it will always be my only first ebook

Anyways, tinyurl.com/TurkeyBook – and tell any friends you have who own Kindles!

Or click the funny turkey to see the ebook on Amazon…