Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Final days in LA

The next to last day of a trip is always worse than the final day. Getaway day, you're prepared to leave, and you begin preparations such as repacking the suitcase, figuring out how to get in those extra things (books) that you didn't bring with you, and how best to avoid freeway traffic and find the least harrowing route to the airport--well, actually, that final thing might be unique to LA and LAX, since I'll be traveling to the airport during rush hour.

My first trip to the City of Angels has been a memorable one. Seeing my son for the first time since August was the highlight, but there were so many other things. Attending my first major book festival, the Festival of Books on Saturday, spending time in some of the great neighborhoods of the city, like Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. That entire morning in Silver Lake was very enjoyable, beginning with a visit to Angelus Temple, strolling around Echo Park, and then relaxing over coffee at Intelligentsia, drinking in the vibe of hipness, while being the antithesis of "the scene" there, that morning.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway, late Sunday afternoon was a highlight, as was yesterday's amazing visit to Griffith Park and Observatory. The park was stunning, and the views fabulous. This was one of the "must sees" I had on my list of things to do, and it exceeded my expectations. What an amazing gift that Mr. Griffith bequeathed to the people of Los Angeles, and those that come here to visit. I know that if I lived here, this would become my periodic sanctuary from the urban craziness.

[One of the highlights of my visit to LA]

Last night, my son and I spent dinner with many New England transplants, at Sonny McLean's, watching the Celtics eke out an exciting OT victory over Chicago. One of the great things about west coast time, is that games from the east are on so early. Nothing is worse than fighting sleep to stay up on a work night, or worse, going to bed and missing the excitement. Here in the west, most ball games are done, and the box scores online, long before slumber, and playoff games from the east are watchable over the dinner hour. A sports junkie's dream!

The city has been so much more than I expected. Actually, I didn't know what to expect. It is more beautiful, in its urbanity than I expected. Yes, traffic is crazy, and Angelinos cannot drive, or park their own cars, or mow their own lawns, etc., but by and large, as cities go (and I'm not really a city guy), LA exceeds Boston, Chicago, and the other U.S. cities I've spent time in.

The visit's also been good in one other way--I've actually gotten a bump in my blog stats from readers who have found Write in Maine based upon my posts on the Festival of Books, so that's been positive.

Today will be another great day, as I'm getting together with Bill, an old friend and fellow writer. He and I got to know one another when he was living in Portland, attending Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. He was part of a group of writers that founded the free weekly, The Portland Pigeon that helped me get my start, writing regularly, and having a supportive group of people to critique my articles. It was this group, and the paper that helped me hone my writing, crafting articles like this one, which then led to my first book project. As they say, the rest is history. I've continued to write, blog, and I'm in the early stages of a third book. The Pigeon helped lay the foundation for that.

My friend is now back on the west coast (where he's from), attending the graduate journalism program at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. Like many, as newspapers decline, and the face of journalism changes, people like Bill are opting to pursue graduate school, as they hope to have a role in changing reworking news journalism in the digital age. This article from The Times touches on that phenomenon.

As I contemplate my departure, I have plans to keep Los Angeles close over the next few months, reading books connected to the city, and its culture. There is a posting here of someone asking about good books about the city, and understanding its uniqueness. This seems like a good starting point, including the books by Mike Davis, which I plan to tackle. There was even a recommendation of Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block. I welcome any other suggestions from readers.

I bid you "Adios," as this will most likely be my final post from Los Angeles. The next time I sit down to post, I'll be back in Maine, but enriched from my time here.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

A festival for readers

The LA Times Festival of Books is being held at UCLA, a sprawling campus, located in the Westwood section of the city.

As a longtime viewer of C-Span’s BookTV, I’ve watched much of their frequent live coverage emanating from various major book festivals from around the U.S. Yesterday, I had my first opportunity to attend one of these festivals in person.

Arriving early, with my son, I parked my rental car in one of UCLA’s numerous remote lots and boarded one of the shuttle busses headed for the campus. Even at 10:00, when the festival first opened, there were already thousands of other book aficionados focused on the same task as we were—getting to the festival.

The special festival tabloid the the LA Times handed out was perfect, with a campus map, schedule of events, and bios on the various authors that would be in attendance.

Our first panel that we attended was Biography: The Corridors of Power, and had three authors and historians, each talking about their latest book.

The three authors, Jim Newton, H.W. Brands, and Ronald C. White, Jr., discussed their books, and in particular, how they came to choose to write books about Lincoln, FDR, and Earl Warren.

Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas, was particularly engaging. Not your typical academic, droning on about facts and minutae, Brands was captivating, and made a compelling case for why he would choose to write yet another book about Roosevelt. In fact, having spent considerable time reading about FDR and the New Deal of late, I fully intend to pick up Brands’ latest book, Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when I return to Maine.

We attended a second panel in the afternoon titled, Sports: The Athlete As Role Model, which included Diana Nyad, who at one-time was considered the greatest long distance swimmer in the world. She is now a journalist and author. Other members of the panel, moderated David Davis, were Bill Dwyre, sports editor at the Times, and Michael Vetre, who writes for a variety of outlets, including

[David Davis, Diana Nyad, Michael Vetre, and Bill Dwyre on athletes as role models]

While I'm not sure I came away with any clearer picture of where athletes fall on the continum between celebrity entertainer, and role model, but the discussion was interesting. Dwyre, the stereotypical gruff, cynical male that used to write sports, before the influx of the new sports "journalists," like Bill Simmons, and others, was a good counter, to Nyad's perkiness.

One of my favorite activities during the festival was visiting and chatting with the many small press publishers that were in attendance.

There were some great literary small presses, like Red Hen Press, and Akashic Books, represented. McSweeney's was also there.

I stopped by the booth of Small Press Distribution and talked some shop with one of their representatives, as well as picking up a book about Los Angeles, by Otis Books, called Seeing Los Angeles: A Different Look at a Different City.

While the festival continues today, I probably won't be attending merely because my stay in Los Angeles is limited and there is just too much to see and do.

[Yours truly with the C-Span bus in the background]


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bookstores matter

Skylight Books is the kind of quaint bookstore you once found in every community large enough to support a retail book seller, usually perched on main street, or wherever residents congregated to conduct commerce. Actually, let me edit that sentence to read, Skylight Books is the kind of quaint bookstore you once found in every community large enough to support a retail book seller, before large chain and online book retailers began stealing their customer bases.

On Friday, I visited this vibrant book emporium, located in the Los Feliz neighborhood, to hear one of America’s last remaining journalists speak. Amy Goodman was at Skylight, along with her brother, David, as part of a 70 city tour supporting Standing Up To The Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.

The noontime appearance drew a turnout of about 100 people, packing the bookstore with those of us who respect the work of the Goodmans, and the program that Amy is most associated with, Democracy Now. While 100 people is a good turnout at any book event for non-celebrity authors, this was also taking place in a city with a population over 3 million people. Goodman has spoken several times in Maine (appearance I always have missed, unfortunately), and I’m sure that in our state of just over 1 million, in a city like Portland, with 60,000 people, turnouts rivaled her LA appearance.

It’s unfortunate that while Amy Goodman has a devoted following, and many continue to tune in daily to Democracy Now, often on community stations like Pacifica's KPFK-FM, she is still unknown to those who get their news entirely from mainstream sources. Still, while not a household name, those that seek alternative sources for their information respect Democracy Now’s work that regularly covers the stories that corporately controlled media no longer deem viable.

Goodman, who the night before was in Idaho, and ran into traffic issues on her way from LAX, was about 30 minutes late for her 12:30 appearance. The friendly crowd chatted, browsed the book selection, and when Amy arrived, she was greeted by a warm ovation. David arrived a bit later.

She is a captivating speaker, rattling off details effortlessly. Her LA talk touched on how the majority have been silenced by the corporate takeover of our media.

She spoke about how the mainstream got the story wrong (on purpose), when Rosa Parks died. They portrayed her as “lowly seamstress that just wanted a seat on the bus after a hard day of working. “ In truth, according to Goodman, Parks “knew exactly what she was doing when she sat down on that bus.”

Goodman also spoke about Martin Luther King Jr., and his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered exactly one year before this death, on April 4, 1967. King’s speech was a speech he didn’t want to deliver, and was advised to not deliver by those close to him, because he was taking on America’s militarism (and the war in Vietnam), but maybe even more importantly, America’s materialism, and it’s abandonment of its poor. Once more, King’s legacy has been “whitewashed” by a media that doesn’t want its audience to ever consider class, or disavow its culture of fancy cars, electronic gadgets, and cosmetic enhancements, to focus on the inequality of our country, a divide that continues to grow wider.

As Goodman said, “we need a media that is the fourth estate, not for the state.”

She closed with the election of “Barack Hussein Obama,” and the significance of his becoming president. As Goodman put it, “how do we organize today, when the community organizer in chief, is now the commander in chief?”

Both Amy and her brother David said that their new book is about the groundswell that they’ve encountered across America, of ordinary people, organizing, and working to take back their communities, and their country. It is a story of the people—not celebrity activists—but everyday people, working to bring about change. This is the groundswell that swept President Obama into office.

I bought a copy of the new book that I’ll probably read on my return flight. I stood in line with about 50 others, and had it signed by both David and Amy.

Amy Goodman will be part of a panel today, at the LA Times Festival of Books.


Friday, April 24, 2009


So, how do I like Los Angeles? Well, other than the over-emphasis on cars, clothes, and the cosmetic surgery, Angelinos seem like a nice group of people. Just don't cut them off in traffic, or follow too close, as apparently they've not discovered their directionals, yet.

Actually, I spent last night with a bunch of transplanted New Englanders at Sonny McLean's, watching the Celtics pound the Bulls. It was nice to find a place where Boston sports rule, and in LA that would be Sonny McLean's Irish Pub.

Real folks, real food (no arugala, here), and Boston beer (I had my first Sam Adams Summer Ale of the season), and the Celtics had the place rocking.

I'm headed up to Silver Lake later this morning to spend time with the hipsters, and the other artsy types that make Silver Lake and Echo Park home. Given my current book project, related to religion gone afoul, I'm hoping to visit the Angelus Temple, where Aimee Semple McPherson once worked her magic, and duped thousands with the gospel according to Aimee. Actually, today's megachurch stars, like Rick Warren, owe a huge debt to Sister Aimee, because without her, there would be no Saddleback Church.

Tomorrow is book day, at the Festival of Books.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Writing times

I'm in sunny SoCal, in Los Angeles actually. I'm out visiting my son who relocated here last August, from Boston. It's great seeing him (I haven't seen him since he headed west), and I'm also going to spend the weekend with 130,000 other fans of the book at the LA Times Festival of Books, happening at UCLA, April 25 and 26.

Both he and I are up early (4:30), blogging, and typing away on our laptops. He maintains the witty EverydayYeah site, writes fiction, and continues to hone his craft, while also maintaining a f/t job. I certainly have my own experience with burning the candle at both ends. For most successful writers, that's the type of discipline that you must develop if you ever have hopes of moving your writing to the next level.

When is your best time to write, and once you determine that, are you making a regular appointment each day with yourself to spend at least an hour working on something--an essay, novella, that book you've said you were going to finish, or an article for a magazine--writing doesn't just happen. You plan it, or life crowds it out.

In anticipation of my trip to LA, I've been reading Bukowski. While his life has been romanticized by some, especially those that love the idea of the writer's life being one of booze, women, and debauchery (lack of discipline), the reality, when you view the amount of material that he published, he obviously had a very disciplined approach to writing. It may not have been at 4:30, or before noon for that matter, but writing at 11:30 pm, while you're polishing off a six-pack still gets material down on paper. Even better if you can leave the booze for some other time.

If you call yourself a writer, then by all means, write.

I hope to have some interesting stories, photos, anecdotes, and general positive things to report from the weekend's book soiree. On Friday, I'll be at SkylightBooks, in downtown, hearing (and possibly, meeting) Amy Goodman, co-host of DemocracyNow.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A baseball brief

Baseball, more than any other American sport, has had countless books, essays, and articles written about it. For whatever reason, baseball attracts the literate, the intellectual, and writers, in ways that basketball, football, and hockey rarely do.

What is it about a game that was once our nation's pastime, warrant the attention of best selling authors, political columnists, theologians, and many others?

John Dickerson, Slate's chief political correspondent, is trying to teach baseball to his 6-year-old son, with limited success, or so he indicates in his latest column. He's looking for someone to refine the essence of a game, filled with history, scandal, various rule changes, with its current incarnation something that a hard-boiled player from its stories past, say Ty Cobb, would barely recognize, into a pithy 150 words. Why has everything connected to writing and words been taken over by limitations and minimalism? Not everything worth writing about lends itself to 140 characters, ala Twitter.

I did take Dickerson up on his challenge, however, and sent in my 150 word take on America's grand old game.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Publishing experience comes with a price

In 2005, I had a completed a 287 page manuscript, culled from a year's worth of research, and six months of working on the manuscript. My idea for a book had warranted interest from several regional presses. Each one of these small press publishers were intrigued by my idea for a book about small town baseball, based in Maine, during the postwar years of 1945, through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Ultimately, however, none of them had experience marketing a book about sports, so I was left with a dilemma--sit on my manuscript, or undertake the task of doing it myself. I chose the latter, and RiverVision Press was born.

With the release of When Towns Had Teams, my first book, a fledgling Maine-based small press garnered a national award, receiving an IPPY, in 2006, as my book was selected for Independent Publishers' Best Regional Non-fiction Title for the Northeast, beating out a well-established university press, the University Press of New England. This validated my decision to go the DIY publishing route.

Two more books; another author's work in 2007, and my second book, Moxietown, in 2008 (which has sold out its first printing) has firmly established RiverVision as a legitimate small press. Additionally, I recently helped another Maine author with pre-press support, and provided consulting assistance, allowing him to launch his own book, detailing his experiences as a basketball coach in Maine's western mountains region.

By learning to publish through a combination of trial-and-error, seeking out others doing something similar, and locating some very solid resources, and guidebooks, I now have something that borders on expertise in my niche corner of the publishing world. I can help anyone serious about getting a book to market, guarantee it will look professional, and help with the wealth of pre-press details that are the difference between having something that looks amateurish, or producing a sharp looking book that will be accepted by independent book stores, as well as the large chains, and Amazon. In fact, my background in sales and marketing will help any would be author/publisher develop a solid brand and marketing strategy.

Another area where I have a wealth of experience that extends far beyond publishing, is the ability to collaborate and partner with others, which leverages additional resources that I could never provide on my own.

On the writing/publishing side, I've forged a friendship and working relationship with a highly-skilled designer, and fellow small press publisher, in his own right. Ari Meil, of Warren Machine Company has been a real asset and his friendship has helped me to persevere as a publisher, when the going has been difficult. He and I have talked about collaborating beyond what we've done recently, where Ari provided layout and design support (and a great cover) for Moxietown. If the right project were to come along, I'd certainly consider it.

Still, despite my experience and relative success as an independent publisher, I still have many people that initially gravitate my way, expecting me to give that experience away. You wouldn't expect another professional, consultant, or other service provider to work for free--why would you expect me to do the same?

I regularly receive requests from people asking me to take a look at their manuscript, or wonder if I have the time to meet them, to talk about a book idea. Given that I work a 55-60 hour Monday through Friday job, am in the process of working on my third book, and also would like a few hours a week to spend with my wife, and enjoy Maine's all-too-short summer, I would say that having an expectation of being compensated for my services, and expertise, is not unreasonable.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Writing is work

Writers that publish and show output, are writers that find a way to work, when they would rather be doing anything else, but write. Like tonight.

After working a 11-hour day that had me in the office at 7:00 am, I found a way to spend another hour at the keyboard tonight, banging out over 1,000+ words. This is the second night in a row at this level of output, which is good. Normally, I try to average 500-750 words, four nights per week, when in production mode, with weekends given to doubling and tripling that amount. That's the kind of commitment that's required to continue to publish, when you require a full-time job to pay the bills.

Reading Gay Brewer's book on Charles Bukowski, one of Twayne's U.S. Authors Series, I learned that Bukowski worked a series of day jobs, including a 12 year stint with the U.S. Postal Service, which provided the fodder for his first novel, Post Office.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

A web-based slant on journalism

With newspapers continuing to experience their own Social Darwinian contraction, its hard to predict where journalism goes next. As print struggles to remain viable, the migration has been to the web, as various models have sprung up, attempting to capture readers moving away from print, and the younger demographic that never developed an affinity for newspapers in the first place.

Last week, reports were circulating that the Boston Globe was in serious straits financially, with the parent company, the New York Times, telling union officials who represent the paper’s 10-plus labor unions that they need to cut costs by $20 million by May 1, or risk having the veritable Hub newspaper shuttered. The unions have fired back that "enough is enough," so it's up in the air whether the Globe will remain a viable big city daily, or not. Either way, when news stories intimate that a newspaper like the Globe is in danger of going away, you know daily newspapers in general are dangerously close to flatlining.

Yet another new model of web journalism has sprung up, utilizing what is being termed, "open alpha." As Walter Mossberg, the Wall Street Journal's personal technology writer indicated, this means the site, True/Slant, is "rough around the edges, and not yet taking in revenue, but hopes to attract enough participation to hone its design and operations."

The new site is run by a former AOL news executive, Jonathan Miller, and will cover a variety of topics including politics, culture, sports, business, health, science, and food.

It appears to me to be similar in scope and focus to the Huffington Post. Time will tell if True/Slant can capture the critical mass it needs to pay writers, which is what web journalism is lacking at present.

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, who had been a staff writer for Time, has joined True/Slant's roster of experienced journalists, which according to Mossberg, numbers 65.

Takeuchi Cullen offers her take on why she's left traditional print, to help the new site set up its own journalistic beachhead.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Books on LA

I'll be headed to Los Angeles in a few weeks to visit Mr. Everyday Yeah, and also, to take in the LA Times Festival of Books.

When forced to travel, good reading material is a necessity, particularly to while away time in airports, and during my flight. My experience with flying is that passengers don't (can't) hold conversations, so I need something to lose myself in while crossing the country.

John Fante's Ask the Dust might be a good choice. Possibly some Bukowski; maybe some Raymond Chandler.

Anybody have any good "plane reading material"?


Saturday, April 04, 2009

So you want to be an author

You may have noticed (you small cadre of visitors) that the postings here have been more frequent of late. That's because I'm spending more time focused on writers, books, and the world of publishing.

This may be in part because I've dipped my toe tentatively into my next book project. By tentative I mean, I've begun the process of writing again, albeit, more sporadically than I'd like, but it's begun.

As a writer that derives most of his income from some other source besides my writing/publishing, having a demanding day job can make finding writing time challenging, but not impossible.

My last book, Moxietown, came together over a five month period that entailed 70+ hour weeks in order to have a book out in time for a deadline, which for that book, was the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls.

The new book, which I'll remain mum about until later, is less deadline driven, and more about capturing a period in my life that's always been lurking as a book idea, and the time seems right to make it happen. More to come about that.

I happened across a website for the writer, John McNally (can't recall how I ended up at his site), and found that he dishes some good material for aspiring writers, such as the following:

This may be basic to the point of sounding stupid, but if you want to write, you need to read. I can't begin to tell you how many people write but don't read, or, if they do read, they don't read anything contemporary. Writing doesn't work that way. You need to be reading all the time - great books, good books, crappy ones.

McNally's advice about learning to tell the difference between good writing, and crap, is important, particularly since it's not necessarily subjective.

I'm not sure if this happens for other writers, but when people find out that I've written two books, I get a variation of the response, "I'd like to write a book someday," or, "I know I've got a book in me." While I rarely say it, I often think, "have at it," knowing what it takes to get a book to the finish line.

It isn't easy, but if you really are a writer, it's just something that you have to do, especially once you've done it once. In fact, for me, when I'm not actively engaged in working on a new book idea, I usually feel guilty, like I'm not being true to my calling.