Road to a Pulitzer

December 17, 2017 | New York, NY

Books, books, books!

It’s the time of year to find the perfect present to give to your literary friends to prove that you, too, are a Smart Attentive Person. No present demonstrates this more than a book. More so, an award-winning book, one that’s been hailed by other Smart Attentive People as worthy of their time.

Luckily, you’ve got this column. Today, I’m speaking with Hugo Luna, Pulitzer-winning author of Once Upon a Dreamless Night. Luna’s novel won this year’s new “Genre-Defying” category.

When we meet, he’s wearing a t-shirt, khakis, and an air of nonchalance (like most geniuses do). It’s always nice hearing fellow writers’ success stories, so I can’t wait to hear the wisdom Luna’s about to drop. Here are unedited excerpts from our conversation.

Your book, Once Upon a Dreamless Night, has been quite the bestseller this year. How do you feel?

Hugo Luna: (Shrugs) It’s just luck. I’m lucky.

Well, what inspired Once Upon a Dreamless Night?

HL: Uh, well it’s hard to get a girlfriend. You have to do so much stuff. Get flowers, iron pants, take more baths, pretend you think she’s sexy with retainers. Just so you have someone to talk to.

But I got one. I got a girlfriend.

Then, uh, 2 years ago, she started asking for a bedtime story. She’d ask before we went to sleep, during long drives, awkward silences…And I’d always say, “Gina, I don’t have a story.”(He shrugs.) Just like that. And she’d say, “So make one up!” She always said it in this high-pitched voice so I figured she had a point.

The inspiration for your novel was a bedtime story?

HL: Uh, yeah. Then one night, May 16th – I remember because I bought a new pair of khakis that day – I told her a story. She loved it and kept asking for more. Every night after that, I tried to better myself. Then the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” ended. My story got longer and I had to write it all down.

“Everything’s so upside down. You give people exactly what they want and they call you a rebel.”

What were some challenges you faced while writing this?

HL: Well, uh, I’m a writer. (He shrugs.) I give up easily. Gina broke up with me. She said I was lazy but I wrote her a story, didn’t I? After she left, I didn’t have anyone to tell stories to. My khakis got tighter from all the eating. One day at work, my messenger bag ripped and everything fell out. My coworker, Joe, found my old manuscript on the floor. He liked it and helped me get it published.

When Gina found out, she called and said I should submit it for a Pulitzer. I thought, Why not? Besides, uh, I missed the smell of her coconut conditioner.

That’s quite a story.

HL: That’s what she said every night. Hey-oh!

So much of your novel links back to the immigrant story. I loved that because my parents were also immigrants to the U.S. What influenced this decision?

HL: Uh, Gina always said I was emotionally unavailable. She’d say, “Hugo, why can’t you get deep?” So I told her the story of my parents coming to the U.S., my childhood, meals my mom cooked, struggles we had. I just threw it all in the book.

It’s funny ‘cause on the news, it looks like everyone hates us. People don’t like immigrants here. But they love beautiful stories about tragic things. And they loved my book. They called it ‘Genre-Defying.’ Everything’s so upside down. You give people exactly what they want and they call you a rebel. At least I got to tell my family’s story and make some money.

In a word, what would you say is the essence of your book?

HL: I mean, uh, it’s about being an American- what it means to be an American.

What does that mean to you?

HL: Well, uh, this.

(He points to himself, slouched down in his seat.)

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

HL: I heard Gina’s seeing someone new. But I bet he doesn’t tell Pulitzer-winning bedtime stories. That’s what women want, right? I’m back on these dating apps with my bio like ‘Award-winning bedtime storyteller.’ That’s sexy, right? It’s like a literary six-pack.

I suppose it is.

HL: See, I’m a winner. Deep down I knew I had it in me.

And so it goes. Behind every award-winning man tends to be an insatiable woman who wanted more.

Once Upon a Dreamless Night is available in bookstores everywhere.
Get your copy today!

Nuclear Lunch

December 10, 2017 | New York, NY

Hungry people make bad decisions.

It’s a renowned fact. Ask my friend, Teri, who skipped lunch and bought $43 worth of Funyuns. Why this would stop being true when world leaders sit around a table trying to reign in the apocalypse, beats me.

There’s been lots of talk lately about how the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was “the worst nuclear deal in history.” Was it perfect? No. Luckily the reporter originally assigned to this story got mono, which means I get to show you what really went down.

Smart e-Pants

December 3, 2017 | New York, NY

It’s been 30 years since Jerry Seinfeld made a joke about Cookie Crisp and in his new Netflix special, he’s here to talk about more cereal.

“You gotta speak with him, he’s coming back!” the Patrick Whitesells of Hollywood say to me when their clients want to Stay Relevant. Which is why I’m meeting the Standup King of the 90s in this café. An odd sort of power I wield, but here we are.

Growing up, I crushed hard on Jerry Seinfeld. No one ever listened to me complain about mundane things, and I now wonder if that would’ve changed had I developed an uptick in my voice, donned some kicks, and turned white.

But today, I have a plan. After coffee, I’ll order a slice of key lime pie and smoothly chuckle, “Yeah, what’s the deal with pies with a fruit filling? If I wanted fruit, I’d eat fruit. Why trick me with fruit inside the pie?” And he’ll laugh and I’ll laugh and he’ll ask if I’d like to drive around in his ’98 Porsche Carrera and get more coffee.


Some Upper West Side café: Jerry Seinfeld walks into the café, blazer and sneaker-clad, flanked by his trusty pal, Larry David. (Of course it wouldn’t just be us! That damn Larry.) I jump out of my seat to greet them.

“Mr. Seinfeld, Mr. David, it’s so nice to have you both here—“

He interrupts, “Oh please, call me Jerry.”

“Sorry- Jerry Seinfeld, it’s great to have you here today.”

As they settle into their seats, I quickly take out my notepad & pen ready to ask Jerry Seinfeld how he feels about his move to Netflix, his newly released special, and whether the science of standing up has changed.

Growing up, I crushed hard on Jerry Seinfeld. No one ever listened to me complain about mundane things, and I now wonder if that would’ve changed had I developed an uptick in my voice, donned some kicks, and turned white.

Larry stares at his menu, then up at me: “Jerry Seinfeld’s back and he’s back big!”

In the manner of two high school seniors who’ve just pulled off a mediocre prank, they smile triumphantly at each other as Jerry goes: “Yup! With pants!”


“I mean, look at the pants scene today. What’s the deal with nonfunctional pants?” Jerry says, “You’ve got jeans, which look great but you can’t wear them to work. There’s slim jeans, which barely fit your wallet. Cargos- hello 1999! And slacks- ugh, slacks. What kind of word is slacks? It’s 2017!”

He’s joking. Of course he’s joking. He’s a comedian. He’s just forgetting to hold his fork up like a mike.

“Your pants should be working for you! And I’ve got the solution: Smart e-Pants.”

I gather myself. “e-Pants, you say?”

“Smart e-Pants: for the informed individual. It’s so important to be well informed in today’s society. Y’know, you wake up, you get out of bed, you wanna know what’s happening in the world. So you put on your Smart e-Pants and sit at the computer…”

He drifts off, gazing onto an unseen horizon. I gaze too, hoping to see what he sees.

“And then what?” Larry’s cranky voice interrupts our reverie.

Jerry shrugs. “I don’t know, I’m still ironing it out. That’s the gist.”

“She’s a reporter, Jerry. It’s an interview. What’s she gonna do with the gist?”

“There’s some basic features, y’know. They blend in so no one knows you’re trying. Neutral colors. Black, beige, navy. You just wash them and put ‘em right on. No extra care needed.”

“Oh, like regular pants,” I nod. See, I get you, Jerry!

Larry starts muttering. “You know what I hate about regular pants? I hate pockets. I’m always losing things in pockets. I lose my change, I lose my gum…”

“Well, Smart e-Pants don’t have pockets. You’ll never lose anything! In fact, they actually connect with your local Wi-Fi so you can track your pants,” Jerry says.

Larry goes on. “And there’s that little pocket inside the pocket. What are you supposed to fit in there? A penny? What good is a penny?”

“Smart e-Pants: for the informed individual. It’s so important to be well informed in today’s society.”

I can’t take it.

“Mr. Seinfeld-“

“Jerry-“ he quickly corrects.

“Sorry-Jerry Seinfeld, in what situation would a person need to track their pants?”

“We’re getting in all kinds of crazy situations these days. One minute you’re losing your pants, the next, you’re out of cheese. Smart e-Pants help you make the best possible decision in every e-situation. Skip Twitter, go to Amazon and order some cheese. Skip the free adult movies, learn about the refugee crisis.”

Oh. Okay, so this is a humanitarian effort.

My admiration starts tying its laces again, ready to sprint back to this Comedy King.

“Could you give me some more examples of how Smart e-Pants could help its wearers?”

“I’m still ironing out some quirks. But here’s what I want to ask my audiences: How often do you feel like you’re surrounded by geniuses? Are you always trying to keep up? Step One: Step up your style.”

Larry nods his head vigorously, chiming in, “So it’s like you’re becoming a better person.”

“Right, right. What it comes down to is, it’s time for us to all be better people. Let’s start with pants. Smart e-Pants. This is gonna be big.”

With that, Jerry stares off into the horizon again.

We never make it to pie.


I’m older now. I don’t know if my crush on Jerry Seinfeld still holds.

Love waxes and wanes, the expression goes.

So does celebrity.


The Cinnabon Cleanse

November 19, 2017 | New York, NY

If I were to picture my life as a journalist 10 years ago, as a junior at Dwight Hearst High School, I would tell you that I was going to be a war correspondent. I would tell you that I’d be brave enough to go into foreign territory, that I’d stand in the line of fire to inform viewers of God’s honest truth, that I’d be the front page byline that powerful men and women alike clambered to read every morning. I would be that good. I would be a voice that informed millions.

Either the world was that linear 10 years ago, or I was naïve in the perception of my strength. That, and the fact that the Internet exploded, print newspapers started shriveling up, and no sooner had I taken off my cap and gown post-college, that I was hired as an online pop culture reporter in New York City.

I line up these facts as I sit in the second row at the studio of the “The Dr. Oz Show.” I feel my Press badge as I prepare for what new, absurdist medical knowledge I’ll be sharing in the column this week. Nothing surprises me, and I stick to my aspirin-and-tea routine regardless of new breakthroughs audiences here seem so ready to gobble up.

Nevertheless, my pen is poised.

I watch Dr. Oz get mic’ed up. He strides onto the stage as the audience begins to cheer for him. Ah, another day, another show. Another chance to make his viewers smarter, healthier adults. He turns to face the audience.

“What if I told you that in 96 hours, you could have a better body? Would you like that?”

His voice is smooth, brisk, like morning coffee that speeds through your bloodstream. The audience (mostly females) gulps it down, cheering wildly.

“Well, I thought you might. Here to prove it, I have Kimmy Kimbon to share her brand new Cinnabon Cleanse with us! Come on out, Kimmy!”

Kimmy Kimbon walks out onto the stage and sits across Dr. Oz. She is giddy. Her face is round and friendly, and she wears her hair in a big bun. The audience cheers again.

“Nice to have you here, Kimmy. Now, this cleanse seems just too good to be true,” Dr. Oz says, on cue.

“Well, Doc Oz, as my real mother, Mrs. Fields, taught me, nothing is ever too good to be true,” Kimmy says.

Her face reminds me of my childhood. Of women on boxes of baked goods, smiling down at me, giving me their approval to go ahead, eat more, bake more, as doing so is the essence of life. As I watch her speak, I begin to feel nauseated. But Dr. Oz does not.

I would be the front page byline that powerful men and women alike clambered to read every morning. I would be that good. I would be a voice that informed millions.

“That’s a healthy perspective, if I say so myself. And I am a doctor. So it seems like the cleanse rage is getting bigger and bigger in the U.S. We have the Whole30 cleanse that’s big every year, the Master Cleanse, soup cleanses, and a little while ago, the women in California came out with an ice cream cleanse! Now here you are.”

Kimmy smiles, “Yes, yes, well, another thing my mother taught me is that you can have your cake and eat it too.”

Dr. Oz, eating it up, smiles back at her. “OK, so here are the rules, guys. The Cinnabon Cleanse is 4 days long and you eat 4 meals each day. So, Kimmy, give us the details here.”

“You got that right, Doc, that’s all it takes – 4 days. Each meal is our famous Cinnabon – which is the Makara Cinnamon topped with that oh-so-cheesy frosting, but they’ve got a little twist. For breakfast, you have the Sunny Bun. That’s the Cinnabon with maple syrup on top. Then, for lunch, you have the Lunch Bun. That’s the Cinnabon sprinkled with some bee pollen and fire salt…”

I force my vomit down. Keep writing, Soné.

“…Then you’ve got the Midday Snack Bun, which is the Cinnabon sprinkled with some cayenne pepper and lemon gumdrops.”

Dr. Oz looks slightly confused. “Huh, gumdrops. You’re right, that is an odd twist.”

Kimmy goes for the win. “And for dinner, you’ve got the healthiest Bun of all! It’s our famous Cinnabon rolled around in kale and sugar!”

The audience cheers wildly. Some women stand up to applause.

As if their approval of this diet is akin to the FDA’s, Dr. Oz beams at Kimmy. As his perfect coif reminds his audience, he is a cool doctor. “Now, Kimmy, that’s a very interesting lineup you’ve got there. But eating nothing but Cinnabons straight for four days- what kind of effects could that have on someone’s body?”

“There are a few side effects, of course. You might experience frequent bathroom trips with some discomfort. Because Cinnabons are all you’re eating, there is a 78% chance that you may excrete an entire Cinnabon during some of those bathroom visits. One may also develop a lifelong aversion to the word ‘bun,'” Kimmy says, a little too quickly.

The audience cheers wildly. Dr. Oz beams at Kimmy. As his perfect coif reminds his audience, he is a cool doctor.

The smell of the sample Cinnabon tray wafts two rows back towards my nose. I inhale all of it, unwillingly, like a jumble of cinnamon glaze, kale, cayenne pepper, breakfast syrup, and strong hairspray scrambling to the finish line that is my nostrils. I take in the absurdity of an audience that’s eyeing that very tray as their new medical savior. I feel dizzy, though to a rhythm, as Dr. Oz nods his head back and forth.

“Good to know, Kimmy, good to know. Before we finish up, would you like to tell our viewers why they should start the Cinnabon Cleanse now? After all, holiday season’s right around the corner.”

“Let me tell you, Doc, when you’re only eating Cinnabons, you stop confusing your body. It allows your fat cells to really, really flush everything out. You know, you go to the bathroom and plop, plop, plop! Out goes the fat! Plus you have fun! Who doesn’t like buns?”

The audience goes wild. More women stand up to applaud. Those who don’t, stomp their feet on their floor as they clap. The room rings with “Woo woo’s!”

I realize I have miscalculated. I am standing in foreign territory, I am informing pop culture readers of the truth and, as it turns out, the Truth has more to do with Cinnabons than I thought.

Kimmy Kimbon beams at the audience. Dr. Oz beams at Kimmy.

Then the lights fade out.