Pre-order my next book, The Underground Culinary Tour

I recently co-authored a book about the numbers and cutting-edge trends in the restaurant industry. Think Moneyball—only for foodies. 

It’s a book that pulls together some topics I’ve covered in the past in my journalistic work such as math, science, and statistics—combined with a delicious helping of food writing.

Entrepreneur Damian Mogavero created the software that makes restaurants tick. He counts among his clients some of the world's greatest chefs. People like Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongrichten, Wolfgang Puck, Tom Clicchio, Giada DeLaurentiis, and countless others. In this book, we take readers inside the kitchens and dining palaces to show us how data and statistics are helping restaurants stay profitable and are changing the way we eat.

From our publisher, Crown/Random House:

In the bestselling vein of Moneyball comes an entertaining, behind-the-scenes narrative about how the restaurant business is being transformed by the use of data, in an industry historically run by gut and intuition. From celebrity-run restaurants to today’s cutting-edge culinary trendsetters, The Underground Culinary Tour looks at how the use of data is revolutionizing how restaurants are run, from hiring chefs and training staff to pioneering new recipes, reengineering menus, and transforming the dining experience from the inside out, so that no restaurant is out of anything you want, ever.

If you know anyone who works in the restaurant industry, they need to read this book to catch a glimpse of the future. And if you love food, cook at home, dine out often, can't resist snapping photos of the food on your plate, and enjoy game-changing books by Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis, you maybe ought to check it out.

The Underground Culinary Tour pubs January 24, 2017, but a few stores are accepting pre-orders now. My local bookstore put up a special link, which you'll find below. 


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My New Obsession: Fancy Notebooks

From top, left to right: Field Notes Byline Reporter's Notebook, Leuchtturm 1917 Jottbook, Clairefontaine, Apica CD Notebook, Life Notebook, Rhodia Meeting Book, Nanami Paper's A5 The Writer Notebook, Midori MD Notebook, and the Maruman Mnemosyne 196 A5 Notebook.

From top, left to right: Field Notes Byline Reporter's Notebook, Leuchtturm 1917 Jottbook, Clairefontaine, Apica CD Notebook, Life Notebook, Rhodia Meeting Book, Nanami Paper's A5 The Writer Notebook, Midori MD Notebook, and the Maruman Mnemosyne 196 A5 Notebook.

Back in the day, I took tai chi classes from an older instructor, or sifu, in Hoboken, New Jersey, who, among other things, also gave me a short course on firearms. He invited me and my then-girlfriend out to his house in the country, where we spent time shooting all kinds of handgun and rifles at targets.

Once I happened to mention that I had bought a fountain pen. He was immediately intrigued, and showed me that he carried one every day. He preferred them over all other writing instruments. "If you have even one," he said, "you should write with it every day."

Well, I didn't. I tried, I really did. But I found that pen to be too fussy to be an everyday writing tool. Eventually the nib of the pen would stop writing and I'd try to get it to start up again. It worked for a little while, then stopped. I was forever setting it aside in favor of a handy ballpoint, and the ink would proceed to dry in the fountain pen and need to be cleaned out laboriously at a later date. Disgusted, I'd move on, leaving the ink blotches and ink-stained fingers behind me. A year or so later, I'd buy a new fountain pen, get fired up to use it, and I'd have the same crappy experience.

Hence my love/hate relationship with fountain pens.

Not long ago, I was telling another friend why I'd given up on the lovely pens I'd bought over the years. (This guy was not a tai chi instructor, just an ordinary pen geek.) He said, "Well, what kind of paper are you using to write on?"

That blew my mind. Turns out paper quality strongly impacts fountain pen use. If the paper's crappy, the fountain pen tears it up as it writes, and the paper fibers clog the pen nib. Or the paper just gets soaked with the ink and bleeds through. And in some rare cases, the pen nib just needs to be tuned up by someone who knows what the hell they're doing.

Which led me to research better quality paper and notebooks. I figure I could spring for this kind of luxury since it's ostensibly related to my profession. I'm currently writing my way through a lot of different notebooks. Suffice to say that the paper in these books is smoother and stronger. They don't shred under the pens, and they don't bleed. In the parlance of stationery geekdom, these notebooks are "fountain pen friendly." Well, wouldn't you know, these old pens of mine are behaving like totally different instruments. It's amazing.

I'll share more about this development soon enough, but the current batch of notebooks are shown above. Most are destined to be the daily notebook I keep on my desk. Some are already dedicated to one specific project or client. Most are A5-sized notebooks, which is the size I like best for my desk and which is roughly 6 X 8.25 inches in size. I've bought them variously at Amazon, Nanami Paper, and Goulet Pens. More on the latter two indie businesses one of these days.


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New Bookplates for My Fibonacci Book!

Two different styles of bookplate.

Two different styles of bookplate.

Many authors enjoy printing custom bookplates to give to fans of their books. I’ve never done so until now.

A friend recently returned from a trip to Tampa-St. Pete with the news that my Fibonacci book was being sold in the gift shop of the Salvador Dali Museum. I confess I had to research the venue, since I was unaware that the flamboyant surrealist had anything to do with Florida.

Turns out his work was eagerly collected by a pair of philanthropists who launched the museum in their home state of Ohio in 1971. The collection, which contains the largest grouping of Dali’s work outside Europe, moved to St. Pete in 1982. It took me a while to grasp that the gift shop was carrying my book because of its association with the so-called golden ratio, which Dali supposedly used in his work.

Shops like this are known as special-sales venues in the traditional book business. They sell books, but they’re not bookstores. And that’s usually a good thing for authors because within those four walls competition from other books is limited, and gift shop buyers have an almost moral imperative to buy something.

Since I was unlikely to get to St. Pete anytime soon to sign those books in person, I wrote the gift shop asking them if they were interested in signed bookplates. They said they could use all I could send. The book apparently does well there.

Thing was, I didn’t have any bookplates. I’d tried to design some via Vistaprint a few years ago, but their template and online designer was too complicated for my limited skills. The one on worked really well, and I was ordering not one design, but two, in less than hour. Really, all I had to do was drop a JPG file of my book cover into the template, and add some text. Specifically, I used their Custom Rectangular Stickers. Since their website can be overwhelming, I’m providing the direct link here.

The order took a few weeks to get here. (All print jobs take forever unless you spring for rush shipping.) The resulting bookplates are pretty nice. The image of the book cover is reproduced crisply, and the paper is suitably sticky.

The only cons: I was expecting stickers about the size of those “Hi, My Name Is…” stickers, but at 3.30-by-2.17 inches, these are just slightly larger than a business card. I foolishly didn’t use a ruler to check the size before I ordered, so that’s on me, not that it would have mattered much. These are the only rectangular sized stickers Moo offers, so if I wanted to use their design engine, this size came with the territory.

Because of their size, I thought about signing my name with a Sakura Pigma Micron, which has a very fine tip. But the stickers’ waxy coating wouldn’t take the ink. So I went with a plain ol’ Sharpie instead. I think the results are pretty nice, but I prefer the horizontal design over the vertical.

Would I order these again? If I can figure out how to work with Vistaprint, probably not. I’m probably still unreasonably attached to creating a 4-by-3-inch sticker. But these designs are saved now to my Moo account, so it would be ridiculously easy to order more if the Dali Museum—or any other venue—wanted some more. And the price is $17 per 50, even less if I were to order in bulk. (The price-per-sticker drops from US$0.33 to US$0.27 if you order 400.) It’s hard to argue with the easy thing.

I may get some just to carry with my business cards. I have noticed that whenever Denise hands out bookplates to strangers, they seem genuinely excited. Bookplates drive action in a way bookmarks never can. Armed with a signed plate, you have a collectible in the making. All you need to do is buy that darn book.

 If you are an author, you have one other calculation you ought to consider. As I mentioned above, the price of these bookplates can get close to a quarter. That’s not dirt-cheap by any means. Most authors are earning very little on royalties. I earn US$0.89 on every copy sold of this picture book. If I routinely gave away a 33-cent bookplate to everyone I met, it would mean that my per-book-earnings were dropping to 56 cents a book. That’s not great. But all authors like having swag to share with fans, and I think autographed bookplates are more meaningful than handing out bookmarks to anyone who breathes. And yes, under US tax law what you spend on bookplates and other promotional materials can be tax-deductible. So there’s that. The cost should not prevent you from having them made; it’s merely a consideration, and a warning not to go nuts.

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Huzzah! My July 4th Book Is On Sale!

Fourth of July is coming up, so it's a good time to let people know about my three popular history titles from Philly's own Quirk Books. One's on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Another's about the signers of the U.S. Constitution. And the title of the last one says it all: Stuff Every American Should Know. All these books are available through the usual suspects, which you can find below. The Kindle ebook version of the Declaration book, Signing Their Lives Away, is on sale right now for $3.99 on Amazon. I don't know how long that sale's running, so you'd better grab it soon if you're at all curious. The book is a light-hearted, witty look at the men behind the founding document of the USA.

If you're in the market for a Ben Franklin or Tom Jefferson T-shirt, look no further.

If you want an autographed copy, contact my local bookstore, Malaprop's.

Good morrow to you all, good sires and ladies. Enjoy the Fourth.




New Business Cards, Part I

I accompanied Denise on a business trip recently, and was embarrassed to find that my stash of business cards was woefully out of date. I ordered two new batches as soon as I got back home. I used, whose Printfinity option that allows you to print as many as 50 different images on the backs of your cards. Which is a great opportunity to showcase book covers!

I don't know about other authors, but when I meet strangers the conversation usually goes like this:

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

"What kinds of things do you write?"

"Well...uh, um—"

And that's where it breaks down. I typically end up verbally describingthe types of books I've done, and if they ask for a card, I end up giving them my old outdated card, and a few other old, publisher-printed cards depicting the covers of one or two of the books we discussed. (Denise sidesteps this issue by merely giving them a bookmark for The Girls of Atomic City.)

The new cards allow me to show them them the covers, describe the books if we have time, and then say, "Here—take your pick."

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The 2016 Derringer Awards Finalists: Looking at the Stats

Prior to presentation, the 2015 Derringers were contained in this handsome box!

Prior to presentation, the 2015 Derringers were contained in this handsome box!

The Derringer Awards are the only award in the mystery fiction community that focus exclusively on short stories. I'm listing all the finalists, which were announced earlier today. Since I'm still not very good at figuring out where I should submit my stories,  awards like this are always a good opportunity to study the markets.

To that end, I'll note the following stats:

  • Nine finalist stories appeared in print magazines

  • Seven finalist stories first appeared in anthologies

  • Two finalist stories appeared in online magazines

  • One finalist story appeared in a digital-only magazine

  • One finalist story first appeared in a Kindle Worlds e-book.

  • EQMM is the top publication, with six finalist stories.

  • Writer John M. Floyd—who is a heck of guy, by the way—appears twice, in two different categories.

The winners will be announced March 31.

My warm congratulations to the following finalists:

For Best Flash Story (Up to 1,000 words)

  • Jack Bates, "The Hard Screw" (Near to the Knuckle, August 6, 2015)

  • Craig Faustus Buck, "Heavy Debt" (Mondays are Murder: Akashic Books, August 10, 2015)

  • Barb Goffman, "The Wrong Girl" (Flash and Bang: A Short Mystery Fiction Society Anthology: Untreed Reads, October 2015)

  • Vy Kava, "Hero" (Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Level Best Books, November 2015)

  • John Weagly, "Trash Pick-Up" (Near to the Knuckle, September 24, 2015)

For Best Short Story (1,001–4,000 words)

  • Shelly Dickson Carr, "Words Can Kill" (Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Level Best Books, November 2015)

  • Nikki Dolson, "Joe Park's Little Girl" (Mystery Weekly, September 7, 2015)

  • Chris Knopf, "Kill Switch" (Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Level Best Books, November 2015)

  • William Burton McCormick, "Pompo's Disguise" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2015)

  • Meg Opperman, "Twilight Ladies" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2015)

For Best Long Story (4,001–8,000 words)

  • Ron Collins, "The White Game" (Fiction River: Hidden in Crime: WMG Publishing, November 2015)

  • John M. Floyd, "Dentonville" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2015)

  • Katia Lief, "The Orchid Grower" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 2015)

  • Robert Lopresti, "Shooting at Firemen" (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2015)

  • Elizabeth Zelvin, "The Man in the Dick Tracy Hat" (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 2015)

For Best Novelette (8,001–20,000 words)

  • John M. Floyd, "Driver" (The Strand Magazine, February-May 2015)

  • Jane Haddam, "Crazy Cat Ladies" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2015)

  • Richard Helms, "Shooting Stars" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2015)

  • Gordon Hopkins, "Jack Daniels and Associates: The Whiplash Brokers" (Kindle Worlds, March 2015)

  • Travis Richardson, "Quack and Dwight" (Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds: PM Press, November 2015)

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