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How HUMPTY DUMPTY and AC/DC Fall … Into Place

My first goal when writing is to keep the spirit of the narrative consistent and I find listening to the right music keeps me on track. My guiding light for HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  I blasted that bad boy thousands of times and every time I did it felt like a shot of adrenaline to the heart and a kick to the head that put me exactly in the mind-space I wanted to be.

For starters the opening guitar riff creates an intense mood of expectancy. You hear it and you know something big is about to happen. Me, I get so charged, I don’t know whether to start dancing’ or throw myself out a window. Really.

Now once the drums, bass and vocals kicks in several things hit me that are consistent with the kind of writing I want to do. First the over the top machismo of the lead singer, Brian Johnson‘s, ruff vocal quality says “I am fearless. I will bare my soul”. Me, I want to own that.

Then the over the top images conveyed by the barrage of assertive words… She was a fast machine/ She kept her motor clean/ She was the best damn woman that I ever seen… in the context of the kick ass track speaks that the man telling his story has extreme confidence. In fact he’s so confident he is able to mock himself. I want to own that too. I love people who can make fun of themselves and this recording is the ultimate example of one that allows the listener to experience both the intense emotion of “being there” while at the same time be distant enough to see the ridiculousness of it all.

And finally like all good writing there’s the coup de gras, denouement, the cherry on top, stupefying, satisfying explosive ending; in this case, that massively thick Gregorian chant-like chorus behind which a contrapuntal guitar riff takes the emotional level to new heights. When it comes I feel the pure joy of expectation superceded, that kind of emotion that comes when something unpredictable is delivered, a thunderbolt jolt of satisfaction.

I want my writing to be fast, fearless, intense, faster and funny and end with a knock out punch. I want to take the reader to places that are so intense he gets to the point that he can’t decide whether to put the book down because he doesn’t want it to end or finish it to put an end to the intense experience of reading it. “You Shook Me All Night Long”, the way I feel when I hear it, is the epitome of that experience.

Way back when, I was fortunate enough to write a song with the legendary rocker Willie Nile.

The chorus goes:

You’ve Got To Be A Buddha In A Place Like This

Every now and then there’s a momentary bliss

You’ve Got To Be A Buddha In A Place Like This.

Cranking up “You Shook Me All Night Long” is my fast track ticket to momentary bliss, which is my destination of first choice when I’m about to write.

If you’ve read HUMPTY I would like to know if you imagined a soundtrack to it. Writer/director Raymond de Felitta, who is doing a film version, asked me for musical suggestions. While I‘ve been tuned into a lot contemporary music by artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, I plan to do a lot more listening before making recommendations, so far the list is short and consists of classics:

AC/DC                                        You Shook Me All Night Long

Run DMC/Aerosmith             Walk this Way

Grand Master Flash                 The Message

(from the Travelogue files) It’s better than poo…

To my niece,

What you heard is true and this is the whole story:

Jeanne and I went on our four-wheelers to a place called the ‘dry rain forest’. You’re probably thinking I have it all wrong, how can there be a ‘dry rain forest’? Is that like a ‘hot snowball’? Well, yes and no. The dry rain forest is named so because it is dry half of the year and wet the other half, but not very wet. So, instead of calling it the ‘not very wet rain forest,’ they call it the dry one.

The forest is about five miles from our house. In order to get there, we take a small dirt road to a smaller dirt road that’s only big enough for one car. We have been on this road before and we know some people who live in Coyado, the village in the forest.

Anyway, before the forest, there is a lot of land that cattle graze on. As soon as we’re past the open pastures, we’re in the forest. It happens suddenly. One minute you are in the bright sunshine and the next minute you’re in the shade, surrounded by huge trees that stretch high up into the air. At times, you can hardly see the sky. Inside the forest it’s cool and comfortable.

When we were about a half-mile in, we began to hear deep, loud sounds, almost like a motorcycle. We looked into the trees and way, way up we could see moving figures. They were howler monkey’s.

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There were about four of them above me. They howled. I howled. And every time I howled, they answered me. I must have gotten them very agitated, as, all of a sudden, I felt drops, but I knew it wasn’t rain. As soon as I realized what it was, I drove away as fast as I could. Later, I was told I was lucky, because I learned when they feel threatened they sometimes throw poo. I guess I was really lucky!

From there, we drove our dirt bikes into the very small town of Coyado, where people still live like it is the dawn of man. No electricity, no running water and no cars, but they have horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. We have a friend there, Gerrado, who has ten horses. His job is to take people on rides. Your aunt and Jeanne went on a long ride once, across a river along a beach and into the ocean. They loved it. When you come, we hope that you will ride the horses, too. They are very tame.

Also, I saw some whales. They migrate right near our house. Before you see them, you see their spouts of water shooting high in the air. Incredible.

I miss you and your mom and dad. Jeanne sends love to everyone, me too.

Uncle Marc

A Magical Moment Before Publication

I had spent so long writing and re-writing Humpty (five years) that I had not given much thought about what would happen next.

Eight months before publication, my wife Jeanne and I, knowing that we were going to be out in California for our youngest daughter’s graduation, set up an appointment to meet with Josh Jason, the publicist for Schaffner Press. When the meeting took place one of the things he asked was this; if I could get any author in the world to give a quote for Humpty, who would it be?

I’m a huge John Burdett fan. His novels brim with suspense, philosophy, wacky characters, and unpredictable turns. His fans strike me as the perfect audience to appreciate Humpty. In my best case scenario each one would read Humpty, love it, then buy ten copies to give to their best friends. So as a lark I said John Burdett, not really thinking anything more about it.

To my absolute amazement Jason called, four months later with this: “A rollicking page turner that engrosses from page one — a unique, hip, urban whodunit that ushers in a new voice to the mystery genre.” John Burdett. The words seemed to propel me off the ground. It was a moment of magic, a true unexpected joy before the book was even published! I could hardly wait to see what happened next.

Library Love

Back in late May, at BookExpo’s Librarians’ Book Shout and Share panel, I met Jason Honig, who is with the San Francisco Public Library. He gave a wonderful presentation on some hot picks from BEA. After the talk, we met, chatted and exchanged cards. Later, he emailed me to tell me that he had ordered 15 copies of Humpty for their library!

It feels wonderful to be a part of the library system. To Jason all the other librarians who encourage reading and are passionate about putting books in the hands of readers: THANK YOU!

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“It’s hard to believe this is his first novel. Blatte has a terrific future.” -Paul Ingram

HUGE announcement!!

“I am pleased to tell you that we have completed negotiations with  Raymond De Felitta for a feature film of HUMPTY DUMPTY  by Marc Blatte. Raymond has written and directed four films, most recently CITY ISLAND, starring Andy Garcia, Juliania Margulies, Emily Mortimer and Alan Arkin, which won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.” ~Barbara Lowenstein, Lowenstein-Yost Associates

YEA! This is amazing news. We’re so  honored to have the opportunity to work with Raymond De Felitta. If you haven’t seen CITY ISLAND, do it! It’s a wonderful piece of work.

Songwriter, Hip-Hop producer to Novelist Part II

I’ve always been a voracious reader. I own a hundred times more books than I do CD’s. I am a big fan of mysteries and literature. Love Michael Chabon, Elizabeth George, John Updike,William McIlvanney, Elmore Leonard. Evan Hunter/ Ed McBain is someone I knew very well back when I was seventeen. He encouraged me to pursue my music and gave me faith through his own personal history -from the Bronx (like me), the son of humble immigrant parents, gone on to become one of the biggest selling authors of all time- that anything was possible.

Around 2004, my wife and I sold our apartment, closed our offices, and hit the road. (More about that in later posts). As we experienced one astonishing encounter after another, I felt compelled to write about them. The more I wrote, the more in tune with my inner self I felt.

I sent travelogues back to the States from China, Tasmania,  Australia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, small islands no one’s ever heard of, you name it, we were there. Each tale was around four hundred words. They were meant to be foolish. Meant to amuse. The response was very satisfying. They were cracking everybody up. People back home kept asking for more.

My cousin, Ken Kalfus, is a writer. Big time stuff. This year, he was awarded with a Guggenheim Fellowship, just one of his many accolades. Among other things, he is an occasional book critic for The New York Times. One day he tells me I’m funny and I should write a book. So I asked, “How do you do that?” He advised me to “start it and finish it.”  Well, ok, then.

So I wrote my book. Worked on it for a year until the first draft was finished. Next, I found an editor on Craig’s List. For a tidy sum, she worked on the manuscript with me for another year. When it was completed, I hired another editor to offer a different perspective.  I rewrote it with him for one more year.

I was then referred by an agent, who liked the manuscript but felt it was not ready for publication, to a third editor. This editor told me the book’s main character did not seem credible. I spent 8 months changing the main character, and after that I felt like I had something pretty good. Next, I hired a copy editor to format it properly. Her work added another 6 months to the process. When she finished, I felt really good about what I had. I liked the story, but I especially liked the voice. It felt unique and righteous.

After that, it was something of a piece of cake. Got an agent and a publisher. The publisher and I spent a year on a re-write and then voilá! Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed was finally complete.

The inspiration for me, in the end, was my love for the act of writing. I enjoy delving  into the process and amusing myself with my mental flights of fancy. It is an adventure, an exploration of the mind. I guess I like adventures.

Songwriter, Hip-Hop producer to Novelist Part I

I was never very interested in becoming a writer-writer. A songwriter, yea. I was interested in that from the day my grandfather took me to see The Music Man.  I was in 4th grade. Seventy-six trombones hooked me and Till There Was You solidified my passion for music.

So that’s the dream I chased. I wrote songs. My first song was recorded on a mono tape recorder at a professional home studio in White Plains when I was 15 years old. I paid for it with money I had made caddying.

The engineer then took the taped version of the song and manufactured an acetate record of it, which, unlike plastic, is soft, and only good for about fifteen plays before the grooves literally wear down. Having the acetate in hand gave me bragging rights to tell everybody I had made a record, which, I guess you could say I did.

When I was seventeen, I recorded some songs with a band I was in. Tapes were the rage then and everyone had a tape player in their offices. I carried them to the Big City and was told how much they sucked. Undaunted, I faced continuous rejection from these same people for the next 8 years. Eventually, there was a consensus among the the big dawgs that my songs were beginning to sound like hits.

Finally in 1981, I had a hit. A big hit with The Four Tops, When She Was My Girl, a song that went to be #1 and earned me a Grammy nomination. I kept at it, and had my songs covered by Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers, and was bestowed with an award for Most Performed Country Song when Marie Osmand covered my tune Read My Lips.

I eventually began composing jingles. Jingle writing is about the most fun a person can have. Great money, too.

During those lucrative jingle years, I followed hip-hop. Back in the day, I had written and produced for Profile Records, RUN-DMC’s label. My love for the genre led my intrepid wife, herself a hugely successful music producer, and I to put some of the money we were making from Pepsi, Texaco, Disneyland and other clients towards the creation of our own hip-hop label. Our venture lasted for 2 years. Eventually, the financial hits we were taking at the label led us to bail out. But we have a lot of great memories and are honored to have been able to work with some of New York’s finest talents.

Sometime after the Trade Centers went down, our parents passed away. I think the combination of events lead to me wanting to express myself in a lengthier format than song. I had more to say. Regarding songwriting, I felt like I was done. After almost a lifetime of being a songwriter I now had no interest whatsoever.

(Please join me for Part II of my story, which will be published Thursday, July 2)

The BEA

My wife Jeanne and I were at Book Expo America in NYC,  promoting my debut novel,  Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed. The previous night, Jeanne was up late, seeking out events that could be relevant to our mission. She found the mother lode. Tavis Smiley is going to be on the main stage interviewing Cornell West. We are certain he’s the perfect audience for the book.

The strategy and outcome seem simple: We attend the event. Afterwards, we approach Tavis. I give him my book. I get invited to appear on his show. Ta-daaaa!

“Hi Tavis, I’m Marc Blatte and this is my wife Jeanne. I was just on NPR with Linda Wertheimer, talking about my new book,” cue flashing book  in his face, “it’s really happening.”

“Nice man,” is the response. I hear crickets chirruping in the background.

Intrepid Jeanne says, “It’s based on a hip hop label we had.”

A little more than nothing. Call it courtesy.

My inner voice is crying out for me to do something as we all stand around looking at each other. It reminds me of when the WB frog gives up his performing, throws down his cane and top hat and lets out that slow, ‘Ribbit…’

A thought! I blurt out: “The Four Tops hit, When She Was My Girl, I wrote it.”

Big smile. Huge hand shake as he breaks into song.

“Yo, Cornell!” he says to Dr. West, who is on the other side of the stage, “My man here wrote When She Was My Girl for The Four Tops.”

Cornell runs the fifty feet across the stage to me. Standing above me, he bows to the floor. “Man I love that song.” He reaches down from the stage and I reach up. We embrace. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

I show him my book. “I want an autographed copy,” he says.

Tavis says he wants one too.

The Village Voice describes…

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Humpty Dumpty was Pushed as “Dr. Dre-meets-Raymond Chandler“