Your host is about to be a published author.

The last three days have been nuts. I can't believe I'm typing these words:

Little, Brown Books have agreed to publish my memoirs about working at Zune.

I'm stunned. I don't know what to say. I really don't. This was out of the blue, literally overnight. It's been a long time since I've been anywhere close to this excited.

Here's the story: I've been furtively working on this book since the beginning of 2013, after spending a long afternoon with a couple of friends in Olympia. I talked about what went down at Zune, and apparently whatever I said was so interesting and amusing that one of them said, "I'm surprised you haven't tried to write a book yet. You should write about Zune!"

So I did, in dribs and drabs when I had some time. I completed the manuscript in June and gave it to an agent my wife met on Twitter. I expected nothing to come from it, and in fact I didn't hear anything until last Thursday when Fletcher Reede of Little, Brown, a casual friend of the Twitter agent, emailed me to set up a phone chat. We had it on Sunday morning, and although it was pleasant Fletcher seemed so lackadaisical I didn't think anything would come it.

Early yesterday evening Fletcher called me and said it was done, and he's hoping it goes to press in October! This was his exact quote: "Zune was a failed brand, but it was a spectacular failure. People love stories about spectacles whether they succeed or not."

My neighbors must have wondered what all the ecstatic screaming from my living room was about.

I'm not nuts about its provisional name -- it's (sorry) Hello From Seattle. Little, Brown likes it. Hopefully I can temper it with a decent subtitle. But at last I'm going to be telling the story of the crazy optimism, the years of toil, the slow-motion decline and, most of all, the stories of the encounters I had with all the famous musicians who came through the Zune headquarters: Paul McCartney, Kanye West, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Andrea Bocelli, Death Cab For Cutie, Tony Bennett -- it's going to be great to finally get these stories out there.

I asked Fletcher if Little, Brown minded if I gave you all a taste of Hello From Seattle. He said I could share this personal anecdote from 2008. It still needs some polishing; hope you don't mind. Here's the excerpt:

I felt foggy, dizzy. The spell came out of nowhere, as if a ghost had slipped through the locker room doors and clamped my head in fatigue. The only time I'd had an event of such intensity was when I fell ill before getting on a roller coaster at Magic Mountain and took the chicken exit. On that ride a woman fell from the car to her death. So I knew this feeling well -- it was a portent that said I was about to be saved. I staggered and sat down on the bench until the sight returned to my eyes and my stomach settled.

My vision restored, I looked to my left. There he was. In Everlast boxing trunks, a Harvard T-shirt and a visor. He was peering at me with a testy, yet consistent sense of gravitas. He stayed that way for about ten seconds as I gulped to re-center myself. Then he spoke -- softly, but with each word carrying the weight of a continent.

"I've seen you. I've seen you in Building 86. You didn't know I was there, but I was watching. Not spying. Just watching. Corralling and assessing your temperament. Watching you recoil from the stings, invisible prickles that wear you down. You seemed like you had the burden of the world on your shoulders. Am I right?"

I was stunned. I choked and coughed, then answered in as level and measured a tone as my tremble could muster: "Yes, Mr. Ballmer." 

He suddenly jerked his head in the direction of the washroom and all the faucets turned on by themselves.

His gaze softened. "Don't think I haven't noticed, Pearson. I understand. I've seen the muses have their capricious, fickle way with you and your compatriots. It's like the story of Job: His losses at the hands of the Lord cut deeper as they continue, yet his numb sorrow only increases little by little. It's like the evolution of the Brat Pack. You see the competition reframe their priorities and turn into legitimate stars, like Robert Downey, Jr., James Spader, Demi Moore... and you, well, you're just C. Thomas Howell."

He sat down again, and put his hand on my shoulder. "I understand, son. It's like what the person who said that saying says: Some days, you're the windshield. Other days, you're a person who's ramming his head into that windshield."

I let out a cry. "Mr. Ballmer! How did you know? It's like you have this eerie sixth sense that reads my mind like the warning label on a box of Ivory Soap!"

He stood up roughly, and went into a mode that combined salesmanship and fiery, Baptist rhetoric. "They have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Pearson, and I won't have it! And I have chosen you, Mr. Pearson, to preach this evangel!"

He then halted and tilted his head wonderingly towards the ceiling. "Do you think Sinbad pants will ever come back in style?" he asked mistily.

My jaw went slack. My mind was racing through equations, illusions, lost weekends at the Plaza with foreign cigarettes and bourbon I couldn't afford. "I don't understand... what you're saying, Mr. Ballmer. It's all such a blur... an array of fumes, a snake popping out of a can..."

His face bore down on me. He met my eyes and spoke as quietly as a church mouse. "It's simple, Mr. Pearson. Ask yourself this question, this very, very sober question." Then deliberate and imploring: "What -- keeps -- Zune -- alive?"


"What is the most important component of Zune? Why do you get in your compact and drive 20 miles out of Seattle to come here every day? What is it that Zune absolutely cannot live without? What keeps Zune alive?"

"Um... SharePoint?"

The bomb went off. He screamed, in that lilting little way for which he was so known: "ARTISTS!! ARTISTS!! ARTISTS!!" Then he clocked a nun who'd wandered into the locker room by mistake.

I came to understand, as he began marching around the locker room, knocking Dale into the towel rack in the process. "We are here for the artist! That's the most important part of this whole enterprise! Without the artist, we are nothing! We must merge with the artist! We must let them come to us, exchange with us, interact with us! We can never shut the artist out of our world! THE ARTIST WHO GIVES US THE NECTAR OF TRUTH IN SONG, VITALITY IN LIFE!"

Then he pointed at me. It felt accusing, but it was really more of a promise. "We will always keep the artist uppermost in our minds at Zune. Don't you ever forget. There is no nobler thing to be. As long as you remember -- never forget -- here, at Zune, we care about the artist more than anything. Anything."

He slung his towel across his shoulder and began to walk away, but stopped mid-step, searching the fluorescent lights for an addendum. "Well..." he said, "user experience, too. We really care about user experience. Yeah, there's that. User experience, and the artist. Love the hell out of 'em."

And as swiftly as he came, he evaporated, forming himself into a cumulus cloud and leaving through the air vent. He left his protein shake behind so I finished it.
Come on, guys. Do I ever take April Fool's Day off? Ever? It's like my freakin' Rosh Hashanah.


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