David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: November 2015

Val Emmich and the Book Doctors at Word Bookstore. Sebastian Krawiec, photo

Pitchapalooza Winner Val Emmich Sells His Debut Novel

Pitchapalooza winner Val Emmich, David Henry Sterry, and Arielle Eckstut at Word Bookstore
David, Val Emmich, and Arielle at Word Bookstore (Sebastian Krawiec, Photo)


Arielle and I first met Val Emmich during Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore in Jersey City. He wowed us with his pitch and walked away a winner. Now he’s sold U.S. and foreign rights for his debut novel, The Highs and Lows of Never Forgetting. Look for it in 2017 from Little, Brown.

Congratulations, Val!

Actor and musician Val Emmich sold his debut, The Highs and Lows of Never Forgetting, to Judy Clain at Little, Brown. Jeff Kleinman, at Folio Literary Management, brokered the North American rights deal for Emmich, who’s had roles on TV shows such as Ugly Betty and 30 Rock and the upcoming Martin Scorsese HBO show, Vinyl. The novel follows Joan, an aspiring 10-year-old musician who has the ability to recall her life in full detail. Knowing Joan’s gift, and that she knew his recently deceased partner, TV star Gavin seeks her out. But Joan, who herself worries about being forgotten, will share her recollections of Gavin’s partner only if he helps her write a song that will guarantee she is always remembered. The book sold in a flurry of foreign deals during last month’s Frankfurt Book Fair—it was acquired by houses in Brazil, Italy, Germany, and other countries—before it was sent to publishers in the U.S. It is also out for film, with Sylvie Rabineau representing it.

For more info, visit valemmich.com.

You can read the announcement in Publishers Weekly here.


Pitchapalooza is the American Idol for books (only without Simon) and it works like this: Anyone with an idea for a book has the chance to pitch it to a panel of judges. But they get only one minute. The Book Doctors team up with guest industry insiders to form the judging panel. The Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, all Pitchapalooza attendees come away with concrete advice on how to improve their pitch as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, the judges come together to pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work. Join us for an upcoming Pitchapalooza. 

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Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton on Terror, Climate, Anthropocene and What They’re Terrified of You Knowing

Like many angry teenage idiots, I read “Howl” and it turned me into a poet. When I saw it was published by City Lights, I made it my mission to someday get there. When I first walked into the bookstore in North Beach, I felt like a pilgrim finally reaching Mecca. One of my favorite moments as an author was doing my first event there. Thus, I became a friend of City Lights. When they publish something they think I’d like, they send it to me. This book blew the top off my head, and I feel lucky enough to be in the position to pick the big brain of Roy Scranton.

To read on the Huffington Post, click here.

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David Henry Sterry: Your book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene is in many ways about how the world is changing in dangerous, often horrifying ways. I’m curious how you see this in relationship to the attacks in Paris, in Nigeria, the beheadings, and acts of both sophisticated and crude barbarism which seem to be sweeping the globe at the moment.

Roy Scranton: The word “barbarism” comes from the ancient Greeks. They used the word “barbaros” to distinguish foreigners from citizens, partly by mocking the sound of foreign speech: “barbarbarbarbar.” That’s what I hear every time someone calls ISIS barbaric: not an empirical observation, but an atavistic political judgment about who belongs to the West and who doesn’t.

On an empirical level, of course, there is a very clear connection between climate change, the worst drought the Middle East has seen in modern history, the Syrian Civil War, the rise of ISIS, and the flood of refugees fleeing the region. Similar to what happened when the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi Army following the 2003 invasion, the devastation of agriculture in Syria (partly climatological, partly a result of Assad’s policies) created an army of jobless, hopeless, angry young men. The U.S. Department of Defense has called climate change a “threat multiplier,” but it is also a threat driver: the ramifications of catastrophic climate change are not only going to exacerbate existing conflicts, but are going to create whole new ones.

On the cultural level, fear, scarcity, and instability are going to drive people to increasingly violent extremes. Trump and ISIS are two sides of the same evil, two manifestations of the same fear-driven race to hatred.

DHS: As a soldier, an American, and a citizen of the world, what do you think we can do about this problem from both a macro and micro perspective?

RS: At the macro level, agents are usually trapped within not only institutional norms but also by their own internalized limitations. At the micro level, most of us are too busy trying to pay our credit card bills to do much about anything at all. We’re in a very dangerous time, and all the forces at work are pulling us deeper into the danger. The best that we can do is interrupt the cycles of fear and hatred, create more opportunities for compassionate reflection, and learn to accept our mortality. We need to learn to die.

DHS: I read somewhere recently that a writer was trying to make a connection between fundamentalist terrorism and climate change. Do you see that?

RS: Yes. There is a clear connection.

DHS: Why do you think Western civilization seems so cavalier about the way it is destroying the Earth? And again, what do you think is to be done?

RS: I don’t think we’re cavalier about it, I think we’re schizophrenic. Western Europe and the United State have come to dominate the Earth in the past two hundred years through genocide, violent resource extraction, and fossil-fueled technological innovation. These practices worked really well to put “white” Westerners on top, and there is a powerful cultural inertia that tells us that we should just keep doing more of the same, even if that very strategy seems likely to end in catastrophe.

Nevertheless, we’re not completely suicidal. Western civilization faced the moral horror of genocide when genocide was turned against part of Western civilization itself in the Holocaust, and we’ve been struggling with the consequences of violent resource extraction since the 1960s. Only in the past thirty years have we begun to realize that fossil-fueled industrialization is going to kill us. So on the one hand we have long-term, foundational cultural practices and beliefs, and on the other an empirical awareness founded in scientific observation. Add to that the immense power that we have access to through carbon-fueled technology (flying, iPhones, drones), and the immense pleasure that power provides, and our collective schizophrenia about climate change seems to make even more sense.

Sadly, I think our conscious ability to deal with the problem has lagged fatally behind the opportunity we had for arresting climatic feedbacks before they spin out of control. Now I think the best we can do is adapt, dampen the worst effects, and try to keep the Earth from turning into a Venusian hothouse. But even to do that, we need to decarbonize the global economy immediately.

DHS: Your description of the hell on earth that was Baghdad when you entered it in the early 2000s is absolutely harrowing. To what degree do you believe we have brought the extreme violence and chaos in the Middle East upon ourselves?

RS: The United States and Europe have been meddling in the Middle East for more than a hundred years, bombing, funding assassinations, backing tyrants such as Saddam Hussein, eviscerating populist democratic movements, and supporting fundamentalist regimes like the royal house of Saud. Largely, of course, this has to do with oil. We have been spilling blood in the region for decades. Is it any surprise that we’re reaping the violence we’ve sown?

DHS: Your book is filled with such beautiful writing. I was really struck by this line: “Carbon-fueled capitalism is a zombie system, voracious but sterile.” Could you unpack that for us?

RS: Carbon-fueled capitalism–by which I mean capitalism that runs on extracted coal, oil, and natural gas–is a kind of social organization that consumes large amounts of energy but doesn’t feed that energy back into the global ecosystem in productive ways. It is parasitic to the Earth. What’s more, it’s already dead, though it doesn’t seem to know it yet.

DHS: There are also so many wonderful quotes from so many brilliant and diverse minds in your book. I particularly liked your selection from the eighteenth-century samurai manual Hagakure: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” We in the West seem to have such a horrible relationship with death. How did you find being a soldier affected your relationship with dying, and what have you taken with you from that into your civilian life?

RS: Being a soldier in Baghdad didn’t offer any kind of mystical experience or transcendental wisdom. What it did was challenge me to confront my own mortality, a confrontation I could have had the privilege to avoid for many more years as a white male living in the early 21st century United States. But that challenge is one we all must face sooner or later.

DHS: What exactly do you mean by the term “Anthropocene”?

RS: The Anthropocene is a term some geologists have floated to describe the fact that the Earth has entered a new geological era, one characterized by the advent of the human species as a geological force. Thinkers and intellectuals have picked up the term as a rough synonym for climate change. The Anthropocene is a way to name the world we live in today, a world in which climate change is the single most important fact of our existence.

DHS: Have you been following the presidential candidates’ debates? What is your take on them from an Anthropocenic point of view?

RS: I’m very pessimistic about American electoral politics. By and large, the players at the electoral level are symptoms rather than agents; national policy is largely determined by bureaucracies and the corporate oligarchy. The only candidate who has offered a consistently responsible point of view on climate change has been Bernie Sanders, and we all understand very well that his chances of being validated by the establishment powers are practically zero.

DHS: You quote from the Bible in your book. What is your take on organized religion and its relationship to violence and repression as well as kindness and generosity?

RS: Organized religion is like any other institutionalized social structure, which is to say that it operates through a complex mix of inertia, individual ambitions, ideology, political relations to other institutions, and dependence on the group it serves. I quote the Bible for the same reason I quote the Bhagavad-Gita, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and James Baldwin: they’re all part of a rich, polyphonic tradition of human wisdom that can help us learn to live our transient, mortal lives with compassion and grace.

DHS: What do you want the reader to take away from your book?

RS: A sense of peace.

Author, journalist, Iraq war veteran, and Princeton Ph.D candidate, Roy Scranton’s journalism, essays, and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Boston Review, Contemporary Literature, and elsewhere. He has been interviewed by many media outlets, including NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Murdering Zombies & Getting Screwed by American Hardware

david softball 7-19-15 4My heart is dark but light. The devil is screaming in me but the angels are singing so beautiful. The beast feeds up on me and I feed upon the beast. It was exhilarating exhausting and excruciating to watch yin battle yang – good go toe-to-toe with evil – triumph do battle with tragedy in a cage match to the death. As a team we went from world beaters to ass clowns in the twinkle of an eye. We were Einstein’s of softball one moment and village idiots the next. We never said die and then we were dead. And in the end, I must say, I have rarely felt more alive

On to the game.  It was a glorious fall day. Let’s play 3! I thought, full of cockeyed optimism that would eventually be crushed on the rocks of reality.  Let’s start from the beginning, which seems about a month ago even though it only happened this morning. We came out of the gates with our hair on fire. The Zombies didn’t record an out until we’d scored 8 runs. One hit after the other, bada bing bada boom all over the park. After 2 innings we were up 11-0 and it looked like the Zombies balloon had been pricked, their sails had the wind sucked out of them, and they had a lost their undead erections.

And, (on the mound anyway) I was channeling Babe Ruth, whose jersey I was proudly donnning. I was thrown the big high strikes, making Zombies hit ineffectual little pop ups and impotent dribblers.  And on the Dark Side, I struck out swinging.  Let me say that again. I. Struck. Out. Swinging.  I’ve been playing softball 5 times longer than my daughter has been alive, & I have never struck out swinging. That’s the good and the bad.  All you have to do is look at me to get the ugly.

Even when the Zombies did manage to hit a ball hard, the defense kept coming up big over and over again.  Eric had a big game at the plate, 3-4 with 3 ribbies.  & he did a remarkable impersonation of Cespedes in the Series, kneeing a ball gloriously in the hinterlands of the outfield. Gary was here there and everywhere, snagging everything like a hungry human venus fly trap. When he wasn’t going 4-4 hitting and coming a homer away from hitting for the cycle. And of course inevitably one ball, possibly the easiest chance he had all day, clanged off his Michelangelovian hands like they had transformed into frying pans. Final score: 15-7. And it wasn’t even nearly that close.

The semi-final was epic. It was opera. It was the Game of Thrones, minus the dragons and guys having their heads chopped off. As fast as we jumped out the first game, that’s how slow we jumped out the second game. Through three innings we scored one run. We scored eight times that many runs before we even made an out in the Zombie game. And honestly, there assholic ball-gargling pitcher wasn’t even that good. He walked 4 guys. And after five innings we were down 11-3. And after I hit my obligatory feeble grounder to third base for the first out, we promptly went on a tear, culminating in Gary’s grand slam homerun, the second home run he hit in consecutive innings. In fact he had two home runs and two walks in the second game. Dark Side: a routine grounder went right under his glove. I must say, in Gary’s defense of his defense, he was playing with incredible back pain. And has been all season. I don’t even know how he did what he did. 6-6 with two walks? Are you fucking kidding me? So after six innings, we were down by one run. Facing elimination. Naturally we scored a run. Rob Davis, who had a clutch double and a single in the fifth and sixth inning, became the next victim of the Dark Side. There was a play at second base, and the opponent interfered with him attempting to go to third. So Rob, thinking he would get third base given to him, started walking towards third base. But in fact the umpire didn’t see any interference, and he was tagged out, ending what would’ve been the last inning in regulation, instead of standing on second base as the winning run. So the game went to extra innings. They hit some balls very hard. They hit a couple of bloopers that found holes. And suddenly they had scored four runs. It seemed our magical run was over. And yet, it was not. Andrew M, who was one double away from the cycle in the last game, smacked a home run, and it was game on, culminating in Glenn hitting a wacky little dinker down the left field line that cleared the bases. We’d scored four runs. Game still on. Then a moment I was particularly proud of. Top of the second extra inning, they scored one run, and had runners on second and third. There was much debate about whether to intentionally walk the batter. But I felt in my heart I could get him. Sure enough, I got him to hit my pitch, the angels sang, all we have to do was score one run to tie, two runs to win. But alas, it was not to be.

A couple of shout outs: Joey Bag O Hits was playing with a broken toe, he was two for three with a sacrifice fly in the first game, and he busted his ass to first on one leg. Tracy made an absolutely astonishing diving catch in the outfield, it was a miracle on the order of loaves and fishes. Raj was 3-3 with a walk in the first game. Andrew M was 6-8 and caught everything even remotely close to him. Gary made an incredible over the shoulder catch and managed to somehow survive being slammed into by the locomotive that was Eric steaming in from left field. Steve was 2-3 with two RBIs and a triple in the first game. Peter was 5-7 while looking like he just climbed out of bed. But in the end, we were a penny short, and a minute late. Just one more hit, or one less error, a one less walk. Granted I only walked one guy, but as Joey said to me, “You walk a guy you always scores.” I walked a guy, he scored. So while I am gutted, I also am so proud to have played in that game with our team, we just never stopped, took body blow after body blow, and just kept punching back. We were relentless. It was such a riveting ending to a season, extra innings, comebacks, letdowns, pop flies dropped, grand slams hit. It had everything. Except maybe dragons and people having their heads chopped off.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank everybody for a fantastic fall season. It’s so fun to play with our Livingston brothers. With everybody. We finished first in the regular season, and we came within a pubic hair of going to the championship. I hope the winter is kind to all, and that everyone on the team gets laid at least once before the New Year. Well, that’s my two cents, and with inflation, I owe you one.


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