Sunday, June 29, 2008


Talk about a book, just finished one called, While They Slept. I read the whole thing in one sitting. It is gruesome in some ways: in the mid eighties I think, this teenager killed his Dad and Mom and little sister, only leaving an older sister still alive. He beat them to death with a baseball bat. Sounds great, eh? Well, what the book is about is not only that event but everything that led up to it; the sorry, sorry parents, the abuse, the incest sorts of stuff; and, kids attempting to survive in that environment.

But, it is also about the writer who did this story. What were her motivations? What was she out for? Her interpretation. And, a remarkable thing is that the oldest, Jody, a daughter, has reinvented herself, educated, now has a high position in D. C., I think; but, she cooperated in the writing of the book. Absolutely a page turner and intriguing.

What amazed me is how many people these kids involved along the way to get help; teachers, social workers, etc.; all dropped the ball, some of them so blatant that it is simply astonishing. What I came away with is the idea that society is so at fault, especially our American culture and the way we handle our view of not getting involved. Here these kids have bruises, etc. and it is as though they are invisible. Amazing.

Two movies I've seen recently echo the same sorts of themes, yet not the violence: poor parenting in particular. Savages is about a sister and brother who are somewhat dysfunctional, to use that overused word, but appropriate here: they are surviving mostly well but with all sorts of issues--the older son, a college professor, the sister, a would be playwright. Laura Linney and Phllip Seymour Hoffman, probably close to the top if not the top in their skills, are the brother and sister team. Great job! The tragic figure was the father as this brother and sister have to get involved to get him in a nursing home. The father has not aged well; probably an a'hole when young and worse now. Along the way, the brother and sister have trials and tribulation and in a sense, cope as best they could. And, they find some connection with each other. Although some might say, the film was oppressing and depressing. Not for me. Many lessons to learn, very pensive.

The other film is Diminised Capacity. Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen are former sweethearts. Story is about this family trying to figure it out, cute story. Matthew Broderick is coming out of the fog from a concussion which means he has trouble thinking. Virginia Madsen, the former girlfriend of Broderick who left their town for the big city, is seeking her own place in the world. And, at the center and somewhat of a subplot is a rare baseball card, very valuable. However, the true scene stealer is Alan Alda, who is missing a few steps. He is struggling to keep it together while knowing that he is slowly losing it. Good movie to see and discuss. We should not be afraid of these topics and as Philip Seymour Hoffman points out in Salvages, "Denial is our worst enemy." Three parachutes for these movies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shuttering the Doors

The venerable Cody's book store in Berkzertly has closed. It is a household name in the Bay area and I read the obituary with a certain amount of sadness. However, sometimes things seem obvious in business but are hidden--nothing reveals this more than the demise of Cody's. In almost 25 years in this business, what I see is that bookstores, to include independents, have been hostile to small publishers. In tooting our horns, we bring many good books to light that would never make it without us. Bookstores cater to the big publishers and those they think have a reasonable expectation of selling. They display them prominently, usually getting paid by the publisher to do so, ethically questionable, in my view. So, what do small publishers do? We go to Amazon that welcomes us, teaches us how to promote our books and more than anything levels the playing field. Once our loyalty is there, we promote Amazon in all sorts of ways to the demise of stores like Cody who wouldn't have us.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Recently, I was talking to a fellow professional and was encouraging him to write his memoirs. He said something like, "You (and he named several) have written your stories. There are already too many books and why would I want to add another one to the collection." I know the thinking, you walk into a book store and think, "who is writing all these books?" But, still, what thinking! In his case, since he is a clergyman, it is almost like saying, all the sermons have been preached and all the revelations revealed. Please!

I have another friend who is a wonderful writer, and I have encouraged her over and over. Her correspondence, mostly these days with emails, are treatises and good. But, she continues to resist. Her life, is a wonderful memoir: orphaned in a sense as a small child as her Dad, in a drunken rage, killed her mother. Being raised by an Aunt, who was close to Cruella de ville but good in a way too. Much of her life of pain and pleasure and today one of the most positive people I know. Even in the midst of the ultimate tragedy, a beloved son with enormous promise took his own life, she has soldiered on--an inspiration and a sincere one. She has a story.

It is so sad that more don't write memoirs. I think that the media and the book business in general often discourage would be writers. They have it all wrong with their idea of what makes a good story. Simply, everybody doesn't have to write block busters, not many of those anyway. A Memoirist merely wants to tell her story in the hopes that it might encourage or inspire someone else. How about this? Leaving behind something for your grandchildren is enough of a reason.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Once at the grocery store, I witnessed an older women take the last item of something, almost right out of the hands of another shopper. Her comment was something like: I'm old and I deserve to have this.

I've thought about her comments often as relates to age. I surely don't believe that because one is older, they have a right to say and do what they want. But, I will have to admit that occasionally it is kind of refreshing for an older type to just "tell it like it is." In an interview with the often called, Literary Lion, Gore Vidal, the New York Times Magazine printed his candid, humorous, uncensored comments.

I'm not a fan but will have to say this interview was hilarious. He bashed John McCain and discounted his POW experience. When asked about being related to Al Gore, he said that his Grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore, invented the state of Oklahoma, obviously a reference to Al Gore inventing the Internet. When asked to comment on his colleague, Bill Buckley, who died this year, he said, "hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those who he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred." This is my favorite comment: "at the age of 82, you will be publishing your new collection of essays this week, which seems likely to confirm your reputation as one of America's last public intellectuals. Why do you think that critics have traditionally praised your essays more than your fiction, which includes, Burr, Myra Breckinride and 20 other novels." That's because they don't know how to read. I can't name three first rate literary critics in the United States of America (as Barach Obama says). I'm told there are a few hidden away at universities, but hey don't print them in the New York Times.

And, seems appropriate his views on gay marriages. "You live in California, where last month the State Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage. As someone who lived with a male companion for 50 plus years, do you see this as a victory for equality?" People would ask, how could you live with someone for so long without any problems of any kind? I said, There was no sex.

"Are you a supporter of gay marriage?" I know nothing about it. I don't follow that.

"Why doesn't it interest you?" The same reason heterosexual marriage doesn't seem to interest me.


Sunday, June 15, 2008


And nobody understands more than me. I have been a subscriber for at least 30 plus years. How long has it been published? Dang, if I know... But, let's face it, writing magazines like WD sell hope which isn't a bad thing but readers would do well to accept the inspiration with somewhat of a jaundice eye. My view.

And, let's face it, there's no profession quite like the writing one. It is impossible to say the least. For most of us, we ought to be out selling cars or something; no, we have about as much chance at getting one of the "big boys" whoever they are, to publish us as winning the lottery. I don't know the odds but the lottery might be a better possibility.

I get the Digest and sit right down and read it. As a bonafide ADD, (attention deficit disorder) if I don't, it will languish among the other projects. My reading is to see if there are tidbits, something I might pick up. This time it was an article on marketing, right at the end by MJ Rose, a best selling author. Every writer who appears in Writers Digest is a best seller. I hear you!!!!!!!!!!! Regardless, interesting article and a couple of tidbits, one was her last paragraph which made me smile: "if you are still reading, you'll understand why a lot of people say I'm a never ending source of depressing information." And, part of her never ending source of depressing information is an earlier statement: "marketing a book is difficult in the era of what I call, 'choice fatigue.' There are approximately 500 books published every day in the U. S. and the competition among publishers for attention from the bookstore buyers, the reviewers and the readers is more than intense. It borders on the impossible."

I will give it to the Digest--At least they let someone say the realistic. Read her article, very insightful. I am a voracious reader and simply know what I like which is a broad section of nonfiction. What also her comments reinforced for me is that there are some aspects of publishing that are inherently unethical, I think. For one, the idea that the publisher pays bookstores for strategic placement of books appears simply to be not right. And, it is why I buy most of my books from Amazon. At least there is the perception that the playing field is level.

All the above to say, "Don't get discouraged." You have to write for yourself and that is no small thing. A friend of mine said he would not write his memoirs because there were already too many books. How absurd! It is like saying everything has been said, seen, experienced. Please! Give me a break. What I discovered with my last book which happened to be a memoir was that after returns, I had books to give away--it has gotten my story out which was by far the important thing to me.

So, suck it up and if need be, give Writers Digest the one finger salute or simply say, F... 'em!!!!!!!!!!! Next case.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The 5th Draft

I do not put that note of spontaneity that my critics like into anything but the fifth draft. John Kenneth Galbraith

Friday, June 13, 2008


I just read two books that the NY Times Style section profiled: my favorite subject--sex. It is titled, Yes, Dear Tonight Again. It has to do with two books, both having to do with jump starting marriages that are almost sexless. The books make the claim that they are getting it on every day, one for 365 days and the other for a hundred straight. Now, everybody who believes this, "raise your hand."

But, very interesting--the books are titled 365 Nights and Just Do It. I think there's merit in the books but let's face it, these sorts of books just don't happen--in this case, just so happens that one author was a marketing type and her best friend an editor.

Here's my point of what drives writers crazy: I read a similar book by a therapist, at least 3-5 years ago. And, the sex was a prescription for married couples, often troubled ones. But, nobody ever read the therapist book, other than me and one other; yet, here these two books get great press. And, the poor therapist, unless she is saintly, is saying, (am surmising this) "I already thought of all of this, was there first and why didn't my book get coverages?" Well, it is the writing life.

I do think that the authors of these two books are onto something and it should be self evident, at least to me; sexual intimacy in marriage is incredibly important, especially in a marriage of longevity. There is something about writing about sex as essentially an experiment which makes me question a little--probably my NC upbringing. There is something about sex which is sacred, and I guess that the intimacy of it tends to make me think it is private and not shared. But, that is just me. Nobody has been clamoring for my opinion anyway and I don't even know any editors.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


WONDERFUL MEMOIR. This is a wonderful book that illustrates in a sense what a chance that Amazon gives to writers. It may not be as polished as some and maybe could stand a little editing but it does what a memoir should do: tells a story. What needs to happen in the publishing world is the encouragement of those like this author to get his story out there. I wish I was not ADD, had some business sense, and was not so far along in my own life, I would make a point to find those like Ollen Hunt and help them get his writing out. The flip side of the coin is that he didn't need my help but there are those who do. Let's encourage them, at least. The following is pretty much the review I put on Amazon and on the Airborne Press website.

I knew about the Buffalo Soldiers from military days at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. What I most liked about Buffalo Soldiers was how very personal it is. I read it at one sitting and then thumbed back through my favorite parts. And, in a sense, it is only partly about Buffalo Soldiers who have contributed greatly to our history--often have not gotten their due--also about the rich life of the military.

I love memoirs and especially when they are so personally written. What the author has done is tackle issues that African American soldiers have faced and put a new face on them. And, better than any book I've seen in a long time, he shows us why the military has been so good at integration and how far they are ahead of the civilian community, even to this day, on racial issues and equality. Very simply, the author points out that the military sees people as people and are colorless. What a beautiful way to look at it.

Ollen Hunt has lots of wisdom if this book is any indication. And, he was in the military during such interesting times and witnessed history, i. e., the Nurnberg trials of the Nazis.

In reading the book, it affirmed what a rich life the military provides. This memoir does what a memoir is suppose to do: provide a perspective that makes the reader glad that he's in a world with an author like Hunt. I'm going to order several copies to pass along to friends. A delightful book that deserves a wide readership and thanks to Amazon for giving authors like Ollen a level playing field.

Friday, June 6, 2008


As I am constantly a student of writing, I have something to share. To say writing is my hobby is an understatement: six blogs and two websites. Recently, I read this interesting letter to the editor. Apparently, it had to do with an article in the NY Times Magazine about self publishing, POD (print on demand) and a very decided view. It is so "right on." Here is a portion with apologies to the letter writer as I am using this without his permission but I have a suspicion he wouldn't mind. He used a couple of words I'm unfamiliar with: sclerotic and superannuated

...publishing is still a closed community with a sclerotic farm system that develops talent in a very restricted way involving students, their professors, agents and editors. But must good writers come from the academic writing pool? Obviously not; the great didn't--Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Bellow, to name a few. The potential pool of remarkable authors consists of people who are not part of a superannuated system, are not celebrities and do not write for fame. They write because they are passionate about the written word. They are the voices lost in the muddled middle who spend five years writing a novel and seek the same opportunity for survival as traditionally published authors. They may sell 200 books, or 200,000, or only one, but now they can, at least, be read. DP