New Book Announced: JUST KILL ME

Here's a deal memo being sent around today:

Adam Selzer’s JUST KILL ME, a dark humored novel in which a teen intern at a Chicago ghost tour company is interrogated for murder, when the reports of “real” ghost sightings increase along with the number of missing tourists, to Dani Young at Simon & Schuster, by Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

So, it looks like I'm finally writing myself into one of my novels! I won't be the teen intern, though - the narrator is a young woman named Megan. "Adam" is the owner of the company, a middle aged recluse who reeks of gin when he shows up at all and seems to be harboring a dark secret. This has been a lot of fun to write so far, and now I have ten weeks to finish the draft - in the middle of working on promoting PLAY ME BACKWARDS!

Cornersville Trace High School Crotch Kicking Rules!

In Play Me Backwards, Leon and Dustin Eddlebeck reminisce about the time before they became complete slackers, when they were engaged in such pranks as trying to talk the school into starting a crotch kicking team. Dustin leads a few other Gifted Pool veterans in a spirited rendition of the fight song. This is that fight song, "Til They Can Taste 'Em," as performed by The Enjoyment Buzzers.

The Great White Grape Slushee (Play Me Backwards teaser)

So, we got one of those "Soda Stream" machines at Smart Aleck's Guide HQ. Didn't much like the Splenda-based syrups you could buy, so we started making our own. We made hundreds of them, and ended up making a whole new Smart Aleck's Guide with 100+ recipes, 50+ soda fountain formulas, and a whole bunch of pictures of people wearing stupid hats.  They'll be putting up new excerpts every day this week over at  Also included are recipes to make White Grape and Purple Vanilla slushees, which appear in the upcoming Play Me Backwards!

Here's an excerpt to plug both at once, with simple recipes in the sidebar:

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Bootleg Soda: 100+ Homemade Soda Syrup Recipes, plus 50+ classic fountain drink formulas.

Just $2.99 on Kindle

"White Grape" and 
"Purple Vanilla" are
actually two of the easiest
soda/slushee syrups to
make; neither uses
fresh fruit, like most
of the recipes.

White Grape:
Mix 1 part white
grape juice with
2 parts sugar, boil
to dissolve, and cool.

Purple Vanilla:
Avoid real grapes
for this; take one
packet of "purple 
stuff" drink mix,
2 cups sugar, and
1 cup water, plus
1 tablespoon of 
vanilla extract (or
to taste).  Booil to

Add to carbonated
water for soda, or
directly over shaved
ice for Slushees.
From PLAY ME BACKWARDS: in which Leon and Paige have been commanded by Stan (who claims to be Satan) to search Des Moines for the possibly mythical "white grape" flavored slushee....

Paige and I were back out hunting for Slushees the next day. Now that we'd established exactly how we'd celebrate getting the White Grape one, she was much more into the whole quest than she had been before. In the days since the 5-yen piece appeared on the wall, we'd searched for the Great White Grape Slushee everywhere: among the subdivisions of Ankeny, the split-level houses of Clive, the brick bungalows of Beaverdale, the stately mansions of Sherman Hill, and the neatly-ordered streets of downtown Des Moines. 

By this time we'd found that we could usually predict what they'd have in each gas station. Casey's General Store usually had the same three flavors at every location, Kum and Go usually had the same four, and Quick Trip had the same six. 

But now and then there'd be a wild card, and on that day we found two new flavors: "strawberry citrus freeze" and something called "purple vanilla,” which was tasty as hell. "Purple" is a reliably good flavor to start with, and adding vanilla made it practically a gourmet dish, as gas station grub goes. Rather than sharing one, like we usually did, we each got our own. Paige hadn't had a whole one in a long time; she usually just had a sip of mine and got a bottle of juice, if anything. But one makes exceptions for purple vanilla. 

When we got to the car, I called Stan.

"We found purple vanilla," I said. "Is that it?"

"Why would purple vanilla be the same thing as white grape?" he asked.

"Well, purple usually means grape, and vanilla-flavored stuff is usually white, right?"

"You've got a fine understanding of junk food semiotics, Harris," Stan said. "But you still haven't found the Great White Grape."

Play Me Backwards by Adam Selzer is coming in August from Simon and Schuster

Take Over Your Class with Smart Aleck's Guides!



Everything you need to launch YOUR career as a 19th century Resurrection Man, the Smart Aleck way! A complete history of one of the oldest professions, with tips and tricks of the trade. Fully illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


Based on our hit Playground Jungle blog, the history of songs like "Miss Suzy Had a Steamboat" and "Abe Lincoln Was a Good Old Man" will blow your mind! Find out how a song about making a violin from a dead body evolved over the centuries into a song about befouling your overalls. With an index, active table of contents, and more.  2.99 on kindle


Specially-priced standalone!

Whether you’re a Shakespeare newbie or a scholar who just enjoys cracking jokes about Harold Bloom, our Shakespeare series is just as informative and hilarious as their acclaimed SMART ALECK’S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY (Random House 2009).   This is everything you need to take over the class in one short (42,000 word) book - without resorting to using drawings of Shakespeare wearing sunglasses or rewriting Hamlet to make it sound like the instructions to an NES skateboarding game from 1991! Only 99 cents on Kindle.


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Romeo and Juliet, with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, jokes about stupid hats in the illustrations, an in-depth history of the play, where to find the hidden swear word, movie version guide, and more! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Julius Caesar with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, a script for a play about peer pressure starring Brutus (who is easily prey to such things), Rome 101, Roman and Latin words to know, ancient Roman graffiti (much of which is about poo), tangents about the Muppets, and more! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Macbeth with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, notes on witches, the fascinating history of the play, speculation on how much of the original might be missing from the modern text, a review of the play from 1610, a guide to film versions, and more! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle


The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the full text of Hamlet with scene-by-scene summary and analysis, character guide, notes on what the heck is wrong with Hamlet, the quarto/folio controversy, film version guide, a hardboiled detective story, tangents about Muppets and Star Wars, and lots of pictures that show Hamlet's stocking-covered butt. Illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle

The complete "Shakespeare 101" guide, plus the guides to Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth, all in one huge, specially-priced volume! Illustrated, with an active table of contents. Over 260,000 words.
A big value for 6.99 on kindle



"Speeding along on humor, Daily Show-style,…the irreverent, often laugh-out-loud approach should win over reluctant readers."
 - Publisher's Weekly

 "In the style of acclaimed writers Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) and Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), this witty, comedic and appealing volume is sure to appeal"
- School Library Journal

My Best "Call Story."

People love to talk about when they got "the call." The phone call saying that someone wanted to publish their book. I honestly don't remember too much about my first one. I know I said "So, it's definitely going to come out now?" I think I was in my kitchen, but it's a blur.

The better story is about the time I got the call for Play Me Backwards, the new one. I was quite literally dumpster diving when I got the call about that one.

My career was at sort of a low ebb, you might say. In late 2011 I had two novels out on the same day from different publishers (and under different names). But I never saw either one of them at a store where I didn't do events. The one that came out under my own name didn't even get reviewed in the trades; when your new hardcover from a major publisher doesn't even warrant a mention in the trades that loved your last one, it's hard not to feel like you're pretty much washed up. Even one of the contracts for those two had come with a lecture about what a risk I was, and how I probably wasn't going to be worth it. Now that they weren't troubling the sales sheets, it was hard to see a way towards recovery.

After a dozen or so books, I'd never had one that sold even moderately well, and one can't live on good reviews forever. My editor at the old publisher had left, and the two new projects I came up with failed to land me a new one; one editor responded to my middle grade project by saying "Did he ever think of writing YA?" I felt like that was a good punch line for the end of my career (since I'd published several YA books) at least until WorldCon 2012, where I somehow ended up booked to do an autographing session sitting next to George RR Martin. That was the better punch line. I didn't sign a single thing, and none of my books were for sale at any of the dealers' booths.

But then the book I did under SJ Adams won me a Stonewall Honor, so I felt as though I was going out on a high note if this was the end. And Random House told me I could spin off the "Smart Aleck's Guide" series for whatever ebooks I felt like, so I'd always have something to do. I could write Shakespeare guides for years and not worry too much that the global market for The Smart Aleck's Guide to Timon of Athens was pretty tiny.

And now I had a new agent who was sending out the project I called Satan's Parents' Basement, the "Satanic YA" novel that I'd really written just to stay sharp. I'd been tinkering with it for a while; I'd work on it for a few weeks, then decide it was time to get back to "work" and switch over to something more commercial. This was the era when a book being a "boy book" made it seem about as marketable as a technical manual written in Welsh, after all. It felt like the only options for a book with a male narrator were either to get it made into a movie, be John Green, or get James Patterson's name on it somehow. For the record, I'm not sure we're entirely past that yet, but the market has changed enough that contemporary books by lower mid-listers at least have a shot again.  Still, I always assumed that the Satanic one would be one that I just had to toss up on Amazon or something.

By the way, I got "the call" from this agent saying she wanted to represent me while stuck in traffic on the way back from a haunted cemetery where I'd had some photos taken for my new Ghosts of Chicago book, none of which showed a ghost, but some of which showed more butt crack than I'd intended.

So, anyway, one cold day around January, 2013, I was dumpster diving. Not that I was that broke (I was paying the bills as a tour guide), I had just made a mistake. But I was digging around in a whole series of dumpsters. In the snow.

I should probably explain how garbage works in Chicago. We don't have "garbage night" or anything. In the middle of every block is an alley full of dumpsters that we put our trash in, and periodically a truck comes and takes it. Black dumpsters for most trash, blue for recyclables. Often, one can find some nice furniture out there, too. It's strange - you decide you need a table top, or a certain kind of shelf, and presto! You find one in the Enchanted Alley.

Theoretically you have a dumpster assigned to your apartment, but in practice everyone just uses whichever dumpster seems to have the most room, and no one really cares (except this one woman who used to live next door, and who also thought that the Navy Pier fireworks were gunshots, and who often told me the End of Days was at hand).  It's seldom that all the dumpsters are too full to fit another regular garbage bag or two, but the recycling bins fill up fast.  On this particular day, I had to spread my recyclables between four or five different dumpsters, since none had nearly enough room for the whole load. Then, when I got back to my apartment, I realized I no longer had my keys. They were either in the snow, or in one of the dumpsters.

It was while I was rooting through them that the phone in my pocket buzzed, and it was Adrienne, my new agent, saying that someone at Simon and Schuster wanted to talk to me about the Satanic book.

"Really?" I asked. "The Satanic one?"

"Well, don't be so surprised, Adam!" she said.

"Huh," I said. "Well, whattaya know!"

Then I found my keys.

This wasn't THE call. There wasn't a firm deal for a few weeks after this. I got THAT call at Disney World, which was a nice change of pace. I knew we were going to find out one way or the other that day, and bought a little devil-face looking thing at Epcot and took pictures of things being sacrificed to it throughout the day. There's a great shot of me holding it up, along with a knife, and standing next to Chip and Dale.

Play Me Backwards will be out in August from S&S.

Make Your Own Fold-Out Chalkboard

I'm always customizing my work environment - cleaning the desk, reorganizing, testing new pens, making know. All the stuff you do as an excuse not to actually work. My favorite customization of my workspace (where I almost never actually work, honestly) is my fold-out chalkboard.

I take notes all over. There are little notebooks in the pockets of each of my jackets, and one on my dashboard, one by my bed. Sometimes I brainstorm by typing into Evernote. And sometimes I just want to crank up some music and draw on a chalkboard.

My apartment is small. Wall-space is a real commodity - there's no way I could find the space for an actual chalkboard of any size. But I do have room for a fold-out one that I made for roughly 30 bucks (though it would've been more if I didn't have hinges and castors lying around).

It fits right up against the rack where I keep my pots and pans:

News of the Week

Sparks, which I wrote as SJ Adams, has made YALSA's Popular Paperbacks list for 2014 - the little novel that could! Every now and then that book keeps getting a new burst of life. It's still my favorite of my books to date. I really must get into Des Moines and leave an offering to the Naked Trike Angel, who is mentioned in the book. It's in a back yard now; offerings are made by putting a quarter in its mouth. I am an orthodox Naked Trike Angelicist.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for Play Me Backwards, my latest, to be released in August via Simon and Schuster. I will now start referring to that book, coupled with the earlier How To Get Suspended and Influence People and Pirates of the Retail Wasteland as the How to Get Your $%^& Together trilogy, perhaps. At least until I come up with a better name. Look for a trailer soon, or least a downloadable song entitled "Satan's Parents' Basement." I think advance copies are starting to circulate now.

Meanwhile, in other news from my other life, the old Chicago Unbelievable blog has been relauched as the Mysterious Chicago blog.  Bringing you all the best in Chicago's forgotten history, ghostlore, and more. I've spent much of the last few months digging through paperwork from 19th century lawsuits in which serial killer H.H. Holmes was being sued (dude was a swindler first and foremost and got sued a lot), next week I'm looking forward into seeing another murderer's paperwork. The party never stops around here! I've filmed segments for two cable shows in the last few months, and may have a couple more in the pipeline.

Anyway, I'll bet at the annual Anderson's Bookshop Children's Literature Breakfast on the 15th, rubbing elbows with the guest of honor (Henry Winkler!) and chatting with kidlit folks from all over.

Me in the Chicago Reader

I'm this week's Chicagoan in the Chicago Reader. I'm a real Chicagoan now!

The article is all about my night job in the ghost busting business (though I tried to get a plug for Play Me Backwards in at one point during the interview).

In other news, while I'm here, I've edited and annotated a new, full-length edition of Chicago Unbelievable's The Murder Castle of HH Holmes ebook - a dossier of drawings, diagrams, and eyewitness accounts of the famous "Castle." All the best info we can find - right down to the combination to the soundproof vault - with detailed info on the background, context, and sources.

Play Me Backwards advance copies

Advance copies of Play Me Backwards arrived at my PO Box the other day. They look GREAT.

On second thought, let's not go to Tumblr. It is a silly place.

Adam's New Book: Sept 2013