More numbers

Despite a small kink in the supply line, Bad Monkeys is at #3 this week on the Pacific Northwest Independent bestseller list, behind Khaled Hosseini and Terry Brooks (and wouldn’t those two make interesting coauthors?). On the Book Sense national list, I’ve slipped to #23.

Also, I got a great review in the Democrat-Gazette of Little Rock, Arkansas last Sunday. The online version of the paper is subscriber-only, but here’s a sample:

Beware that this is one of those books that you don’t want to be interrupted until you finish, particularly with pesky daily tasks like going to work or taking a shower. As another reviewer wrote, “Bad Monkeys is almost certain to develop a cult following, however, if only for its distorted view of the world, and anyone suffering from Matrix-withdrawal should get their hands on a copy today.” It captures you and reads like a fast-paced action movie. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is already a movie deal in the works. Yet more than just a rousing read, it engages your mind with age-old questions about the nature of good and evil.

Who knows, I may crack the southern market yet.

“…a science-fiction ‘Catcher in the Rye'”

The New York Times, giving me my birthday present two weeks early, has posted its review of Bad Monkeys:

“Bad Monkeys” is something of a science-fiction “Catcher in the Rye.” The protagonist, Jane Charlotte, tells her life story to a psychiatrist. She cracks wise and doesn’t quite fit into society, and the heart of her story is, seemingly, about a tragic younger brother. She’s a female Holden Caulfield, except she kills criminals with the equivalent of a ray gun.

Along with the Salingeresque details, Ruff has animated “Bad Monkeys” with the spirit of Philip K. Dick, and he’s borrowed a little seasoning from Jim Thompson and Thomas Pynchon. The ray gun is, naturally, pure Dick, and the fact that you root for Jane even though it becomes clear she’s a sociopath is a classic Thompson touch. (See “The Killer Inside Me” and “Savage Night.”) And I felt Pynchon-like flourishes out of “The Crying of Lot 49” in Ruff’s elaborately conceived secret societies. The real debt is to Dick, though, in the way Ruff expertly plays with notions of what is real and what is illusion.

“Bad Monkeys,” allusions aside, is highly entertaining. It moves fast and keeps surprising you. There are also some exciting and hallucinatory action sequences that are so skillfully written I felt as if I was watching the first “Matrix” movie, which I unabashedly loved…

The full review is here.

Mmm, pretzels

I’ve seen an advance copy of next Sunday’s New York Times review of Bad Monkeys, and it’s awesome—much better than I’d hoped for.

More about that later. For now, let’s talk soft pretzels. The good news about the review gave me a pretext to bake something for the gang at Queen Anne Books, and I’ve been wanting to try making my own pretzels for a long time. What’s stopped me, up to now, is fear of disfigurement. Traditional soft pretzels get their distinctive crust from being dipped in a solution of lye and boiling water. Lye doesn’t come from the supermarket, it comes from the hardware store, and it’s caustic enough to burn unprotected skin—the first time I ever heard of the stuff was back when I was a kid and the New York Post ran a story about a cop who’d had a mixture of lye and jelly thrown in his face.

Fortunately there are less dangerous alternatives. The recipe I went with, which is from Baking Illustrated, uses a baking soda solution. The water’s still hot, so you have to be careful, but scalding is a risk I’m used to dealing with. And the finished pretzels are amazing. Not as amazing as being compared to J.D. Salinger and Tom Pynchon in the Times, but close:

1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons baking soda
Coarse or kosher salt for sprinkling

1. Combine the yeast, honey, salt, flour, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Knead for 5-7 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball.

2. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in size (about one and a half hours). Punch down dough and allow to rise a second time, for about 30 to 40 more minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a “rope” about 20 inches long (the original recipe suggests doing this on a floured surface, but the dough’s not that sticky, and I found a plastic cutting board offered better friction for rolling). Form each rope into a pretzel shape and press down to get the ends of the dough to stick.

4. Put the baking soda and 6 cups of water into a 12-inch skillet and bring to a boil. Line a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with oil. Using a flat metal strainer or a slotted spoon, lower the pretzels into the boiling water (you should be able to fit 3 or 4 at a time) and boil for 30 seconds. Flip them using tongs and boil for another 30 seconds. Then, place them on the cookie sheet. (A couple tricks I figured out: first, the reason you use the strainer to put the pretzels into the water is not just to avoid splashing, although that’s part of it. If you just drop them in by hand, they’ll sink to the bottom of the skillet and stick, which is bad; sliding them in slowly gives them a chance to become buoyant and slippery. Also, because you only want to flip them once, you should lower them in “face down”; that way they’ll be right-side-up when you move them to the cookie sheet.) The pretzels won’t expand much in the oven, so you can crowd them pretty close together. They should all fit on one sheet.

5. Sprinkle pretzels with salt. Put in oven, and bake for 12-16 minutes, or until pretzels are well-browned. Transfer pretzels to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm.

Baking Illustrated mentions two variants, which I haven’t tried yet: in one, you sprinkle the pretzels with cheese instead of salt; in the other, you bake them “plain,” and then, while they’re still warm, brush them with melted butter and dip them into a mixture of 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

While I was out of the country…

…Bad Monkeys reached the #15 spot on the Book Sense national bestseller list.

…the Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer simul-published their reviews of the novel. Though neither is an unqualified rave, both say enough nice things about me that, by the time HarperCollins’ P.R. machine gets done excerpting them, they will be remembered as unqualified raves. Be warned that the P-I review contains plot spoilers.

…the San Francisco Chronicle, having already run the Associated Press’s love letter to Bad Monkeys, decided to give me another three paragraphs in a round-up of summertime sci-fi adventures.

…the corn I had planted in the front yard, mostly on a lark, set its first cobs.

… weighed in here.

…HarperCollins decided to order a fourth printing of Bad Monkeys—five thousand more copies, due from the printers on September 7th, which happens to be the day before my birthday.

Bad Monkeys is #34…

…on this week’s Book Sense extended bestseller list. Not bad for an opening weekend.

In other good news (we hope), the New York Times Book Review is going to review Bad Monkeys on August 26th. And the Washington Post Book World review is scheduled for next Wednesday. Woot!

I heart the Associated Press

On Monday my publicist sent me a list of the magazines, newspapers, and web sites that we know are planning to review Bad Monkeys. The list includes publication dates, but in most cases there’s no indication whether the review will be positive or negative (Men’s Health is reviewing Monkeys in their September “Must Have” column, so I’m thinking that one’s probably a thumbs up). One of the most important items on the list is the Associate Press review, because that one is syndicated and will run in dozens if not hundreds of places. Fortunately I didn’t have much time to bite my nails over it — it started appearing online yesterday. Here’s an excerpt:

Drawing on story lines and characters from many a science fiction novel and movie, Ruff nevertheless continually surprises. With tight plot twists and an utterly engaging main character, familiar images of the doubting psychiatrist, the suited assassin and the reluctant hero take on new life and are sustained with overflowing energy… “Bad Monkeys” is a short read and if you have the time, it will be difficult to put down. Rarely is a book that flirts with both the nature of reality and theories of good and evil so absolutely entertaining in a “do-not-talk-to-me-until-I-am-done-reading” way.

I couldn’t have asked for a better publication day present. Thanks, AP.

Hey, you got Tlön in my Armageddon!

This morning brings a nice review of Bad Monkeys on Powell’s bookstore Review-a-Day blog, including one of my favorite review lines ever:

Bad Monkeys is an intriguing exploration of moral relativism set in a plot so labyrinthine that it could have sprung from the mind of Borges if he wrote screenplays for Michael Bay.”

Yet another reason to support your local independent bookstore

I got a heads-up yesterday from the folks at Queen Anne Books that the July Seattle magazine has a rave review of Bad Monkeys (“The twisting and turning action-adventure novel contains snappy movielike dialogue and enough mind-bending action scenes to make the writers of The Matrix jealous…” GRADE: A-). The booksellers found out about it when a tourist from California came in looking for a copy of the novel for her plane ride home. Of course this would be an even better story if they’d had one to sell her, but the review includes a nice shot of the cover, so she should remember it when it finally turns up in stores.