Category Archives: Classic Novels

50 Yrs Ago Today: When Paul Visited Haight-Ashbury to Preview Sgt. Pepper’s

Hard to believe that it’s been 50 years to the day since The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Today’s debut of The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM radio is part of a summer long salute to the band — and album.

One of two albums that defined the “Summer of Love” over all others: Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”. Marty Balin is back row right.

Besides its revolutionary use of the studio and the musical virtuosity of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the album symbolized a time of freedom, expression, consciousness, music, and the hopes of a new generation like no other. It, along with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, also served as the musical symbols of the #SummerofLove in San Francisco.

Interestingly, it was a visit Paul McCartney made to San Francisco in April, 1967, and the story Jefferson Airplane vocalist-songwriter-mastermind and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin told me about the visit, that sparked the beginnings of my new novel, Voices. 

Debuting 50 years ago today, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Published by Open Books Press, Voices is a father-daughter-lost daughter story that celebrates the Summer of Love as the launching point for both story and main character, rock legend Tom Timoreaux. It’s also the music novel I’ve wanted to write after covering bands, albums, concerts and events the past 40 years, currently as editor of the Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards publications and co-author of Stevie Salas’ memoir, When We Were The Boys.

Voices traces the beginnings of Tom and his band, The Fever, in 1967 San Francisco, with the Summer of Love and its enormous impact on music, culture and lives fully recounted through the characters. With festivities cranking up now in San Francisco, it’s a fun time to have a book that roots itself in that amazing short-lived scene.

Back to Paul’s visit, as recounted by Marty from his Haight Ashbury home when I was working with him for his memoir, Full Flight, back in 2001. Bear in mind: When Paul visited, Jefferson Airplane was the psychedelic rock band, thanks to Surrealistic Pillow, which was bulleting to the top of the charts. The Beatles were coming off Rubber Soul and Revolver, with no one yet knowing of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:

Marty Balin, now and then

“We were rehearsing in The Fillmore on an early April day. We were sitting below the stage, in this big room, playing by ourselves,” Marty said. “Suddenly, a big guy comes in wearing a suit and tie – it was Beatles road manager Mal Evans. He booms out in his thick British accent, ‘Master Paul McCartney’d like to visit.’

“What? ‘Well, then send him in,’ I said.

“In comes Paul. Man, we freaked out. I mean, any commercial success we were enjoying was due to The Beatles coming to America in the first place. So we sat around and talked about The Beatles, about the Airplane, about music in general.

“We broke up our rehearsal and went back to the apartment Jack and I shared, in this old Victorian off Haight and Fell. Jack and Paul got into a discussion about bass playing; the British musicians were learning what we already knew, that Jack was brilliant. Jorma and Jack kept trying to get Paul to jam with them; they were noodling all the time on their guitars. Jack took Paul back to his hotel room that night, so I’m sure they talked a lot more about music. There’s a story that Paul tried to play, but couldn’t, because he’s left-handed and Jack had a right-handed bass. I don’t know.

A typical day during the Summer of Love — music, hanging out, self-discovery

“I do know Paul just wanted to relax. He was mainly interested in shooting home movies of the Haight-Ashbury scene. I told Paul about some of the things happening in the Haight, and gave him some places to shoot. Ever since the early days of The Beatles, he’d taken the little home movie camera around and filmed the places and excitement surrounding them. He liked to film the scenes, gallery openings, people in their element; he wasn’t reclusive like John. Paul was always going out, socializing, meeting people.

“Later, I went into my room to get away from the crowd that was in the main part of the house. Paul came in, and we talked a little more about music. ‘What’s new with The Beatles?’ I asked. ‘What’s next?’

Paul smiled. “Oh, I happen to have a little tape here.”

He pulled a tape out and we put it on. It was the song “A Day In The Life.” (“I read the news today, oh boy…”) I just about lost it; I could not believe what I was hearing. Up until then, The Beatles had been like Gods to us. Anything they did was amazing, and in 1964 and 1965, it seemed that every two weeks, they had a new single. They were fantastic, and an inspiration to just about everybody in the rock music world.

“So he played this song. I just did not have the words to describe it. ‘Man, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,’ I said.

This is one of many classic rock & roll experiences that weaves its way through Voices, which I will be sharing throughout the summer as the book makes its way into bookstores and online booksellers — and my signing appearances. I share it first because Marty Balin inspired me to write the book, with stories like this, and with his cool, quiet, understated way of using his magical tenor chops to become “The Voice” — literally, that was his nickname among his peers and early fans, and hence, inspiration for the book title. He and I also brainstormed  off my original story line while walking a very crowded Haight Street prior to the 2001 Haight Street Festival (as reimagined in Chapter 18 of Voices). That basic story line is very close to the final version.

Many more stories behind the writing of Voices are coming. Most of all, on this 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s my salute to what rock, pop, folk and blues music have meant, how they’ve informed my generation, and it also shows the beauty of music to bring us together in a spirit of joy and companionship, no matter our beliefs or world views.

Voices is now available through bookstores nationwide, on all online booksellers, and of course, on Amazon.com. Hope you enjoy it, and please post a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads — 50 words will do (and a few stars!).

 

 

 

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THE WRITE STUFF: Official Newsletter of Word Journeys Inc. and Robert Yehling

V 20, N 1 • January, 2016

Celebrating 20 Years of Serving Authors, Publishers & The Written Word 

WELCOME!

Welcome to the 20th anniversary of Word Journeys, Inc. In 1996, I started the company to provide editorial services to magazines and corporate publications. Soon, my goals and the company shifted into the book world, where we have camped since 1999, providing writing, ghostwriting, editing, marketing, promotion, and publicity consulting services to authors, editors, agents, and publishers. We will provide this newsletter of stories, links, and specials to our Google + readers, and mailing list. We cover everything concerning the works of Robert Yehling, Word Journeys clients, and related publishing activities and events. Beginning in February, past issues will be archived on our website, www.wordjourneys.com.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES…

2016: The Year of the Writer

We’re declaring 2016 the year of the writer, and are re-releasing a pair of books to commemorate: The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life; and Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write. Both books are being published in second edition by Open Books Press of Bloomington, IN. The Write Time is now available, while Writes of Life will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon.com, and will be published in mid-April.

The Write Time features a different exercise for every day of the year — and a story to enhance it. All genres and styles are covered. This is perfect jump-start material if you’re stuck or just need some fresh creative juice. Used in writing conferences, colleges, high schools, and by many published authors. Links to more than 125 top writing and reading websites. http://amzn.to/1O2skaG

Robert Yehling, Martha Brookhart Halda to appear on Write NOW! TV show

Robert Yehling and Martha Brookhart Halda will talk about the writing life, and how they’ve collaborated, on Write NOW!, a TV program in Orange County, CA. The show will air Friday, January 22. Yehling will discuss his various works, while Halda will talk about the German launch of A Taste of Eternity, her remarkable story, and the book’s forthcoming release in the United States. The show hosts are author/publisher Charles Redner, and Judy Saxon.

Just Add Water a Finalist for Dolly Gray Literature Award

Just Add Water is a finalist for the Dolly Gray Literature Award, given to the top family-oriented book with autism themes. It joins ten other finalists for the prestigious award, which is followed by all of the autism organizations and schools. The ceremony is January 25 in Tampa, FL. For more information: http://daddcec.org/Awards/DollyGrayAwards.aspx

The Hummingbird Review: Michael Blake, E.E. King, memoirists featured

The writing of personal story serves as a theme of the winter-spring edition of The Hummingbird Review, now available through bookstores and online. Featured contributors include the late Academy Award-winning Dances With Wolves author/screenwriter Michael Blake, fictionist-poet and Ray Bradbury protégé E.E. King, novelist W. Thompson Ong, Beat-era poet Michael C. Ford, an interview with guided autobiography facilitator Sheri Kohlmann, and the first excerpt of Martha Halda’s memoir A Taste of Eternity to be published in English. Plus more than 60 poems and essays from a dozen nations. Just $10. Order yours! http://amzn.to/1VohQIp

Appearance at Just Add Water at L.A. Times Festival of Books

Robert Yehling will be discussing the development and writing of Just Add Water at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, the nation’s second largest book festival, which takes place April 9-10 on the USC campus in Los Angeles. He will be signing both after the presentation and in a booth on-site. In 2015, more than 150,000 attended the event. Stay tuned for more details. http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

FROM OUR CLIENTS

  • Brandon Cruz, star of the smash late 1960s/early 1970s sitcom The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and I are shopping a pair of titles we’ve been developing for a year, one The Courtship of Eddie, his memoir; and the other a deep look at his work as one of the nation’s foremost alcohol-addiction recovery specialists. Both books are packed with powerful, emotional stories, messages of great hope, and Brandon’s entertaining storytelling style, laced with his sharp wit and insights. Stay tuned…
  • Cracked, Not Broken author Kevin Hines had quite a thrill on January 9, when he spoke at a White House conference on men’s health. Kevin is busily preparing a documentary about his story and speaking engagements worldwide; look for a second book by 2017. http://amzn.to/1Gle6Sf
  • Jeff Emmerson’s long-awaited book, Beyond ADHD, is making the publishing rounds through agent Dana Newman. Emmerson looks beyond the conventional ADHD protocols in this riveting work that combines personal story and the insights of more than 20 medical, neurological, and therapeutic experts. Its findings are not only revolutionary — but potentially transformative. View his Beyond ADHD blog at http://bit.ly/1Rk2lCt
  • Motocross racing fans of a certain age… Remember Gary Wells, the racing and jumping phenom of the 1970s and 1980s? The man who routinely outjumped Evel Knievel for years? As Gary celebrates his 60th birthday this year, his story, Closure, is on its way to publication, thanks to author Tyler Anderson, himself a champion racer. This is a no-holds-barred biography at the up and down sides of America’s love affair with one prodigy and his prowess on a bike, during the biggest 15-year period in U.S. motorcycle racing history. https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=gary%20wells%20closure

FEATURED TITLES

ON THE WORD JOURNEYS BLOG

How Just Add Water Was Written: Behind the Scenes Story: http://wp.me/p8UUi-hB

BLOG OF THE MONTH

Kristen Lamb’s Blog is annually selected one of the Top 100 writers blogs by Writer’s Digest. Not only is it packed with resourceful materials for writers, but readers will delight in all of its behind-the-scenes features. This is a MUST blog to add to your blogroll. https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com

WORD JOURNEYS SPECIALS

Service: 20% off editing of your next book! We’ll bring your manuscript to a publish-ready polish, as we have done with more than 150 others. All genres. Email ryehling@wordjourneys.com. Through Feb. 29.

Product: $5 off hard-cover, signed copies of Just Add Water: A Surfing Savant’s Journey with Asperger’s, the biography of autistic surfing great Clay Marzo. Shipped direct from author. Email: ryehling@wordjourneys.com. Through Jan. 31.

WRITING/READING TIP OF THE MONTH

“Reach into your bookshelf and grab twenty titles of any kind. Read the first paragraphs of each, quickly and in succession. What pops out? What really grabs your eye? How did the writer grab you? Now return to your work, and in the spirit of what you have just read and compared, make your sentences pop and snap.” — From The Write Time, by Robert Yehling

JOIN THE WORD JOURNEYS FIESTA!

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The Write Time: Feeding your Writing Needs Over the Holidays

Welcome to the 2015 Holiday Season … and Launch Day!TWT_WebCov

Today is the release of the second edition of The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, published by Open Books Press out of Bloomington, IN. Since it initially released, it has been used as a teaching tool in dozens of high schools and colleges. Of equal importance, it sits on the shelves of writers ranging from multiple book authors to those writing for fun. Now, we’ve brought in 20 new exercises, as well as fresh photos and a new foreword, to go with the other 346 exercises in the book.

For me, the beauty of this book is its diversity and variety. Since I was young, I’ve kept journals, with the specific intent of writing about something different every day. I believe that diverse writing, along with good reading, observation and life experience, builds our voices and fluency as writers faster than anything. When my book or editing clients say, “You can write about anything! How do you do that?” my answer is the same: “By many years of writing about different things and experimenting daily.”

That is why I created The Write Time — to present a sweeping approach to writing about the subjects that interest you, and trying new forms in the process. Between that, the stories embedded within the exercises, motivational and creativity quotes from authors and brilliant minds, and listings of 125 dynamic writing websites, I’m confident in stating that The Write Time goes well beyond typical writing prompts and exercise books. In fact, you won’t find another that offers such a rich experience.2015-12-01 06.23.33 2015-12-01 06.24.09

For The Write Time, I cobbled together writing exercises developed from the past 15 years of teaching at conferences, high schools, retreats and colleges, gave them stories, and brought them together. Every genre and type of writing is covered, from fiction to essay, songwriting to poetry, fantasy to literary narrative non-fiction. Whether you journal, write poetry or songs, novels or essays, short stories or major papers, The Write Time will be a valuable asset.

The other thing — you’ll never have writer’s block again. All you need to do is open the book to the date, or any random page, and it won’t take long for your words to flow. “It serves as a invocation to come sit at the shore of new creativity, take up your ink-cup, drink plentifully, and be refreshed by the waters of a new day, all intentionally assembled by a fellow writer, reader and lover of literature,” wrote Andres Torres, advanced placement teacher at Minooka (IL) Community High School, in the Foreword.

The Write Time is available through all bookstores, Amazon.com, online booksellers, and on the Open Books site. Or, if you’d like an autographed copy for a holiday gift for yourself, or writers among family and friends, contact me and we’ll get one to you.

Finally, to whet your taste buds, the exercise for December 1:

All complete stories arrive at resolution. We entered the story with characters departing from an opening situation. We followed them as they made their way through the world you created for them, enjoying the motives, conflicts, twists, surprises, realizations, discoveries, complications and sub-plots along the way.

Now, we’re ready for resolution. How will your story end?

Write the ending to your story — no matter where you are right now. The resolution can lead to either a predictable, surprising, or twist ending; your call. Whatever the case, make the ending solid and convincing. Refine it over and over. Then, use it as a compass to guide you through the rest of the story.

(Please let us know how you like The Write Time by reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads).

 

 

 

 

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Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

boyle

T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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Which Books Did You Read In 2014?

I always find it fascinating to see the lists of books that people read during a calendar year. 1781999_10203204443174551_906138982_nBesides showing that, yes, some of us still do read many books, these lists also give insight into the feelings, thoughts and areas of interest that crossed our minds during the year. It also gives us a footprint of the paths and journeys we took, or specific subjects on which we focused.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, I ring out 2014 with my own list, which combines books I read for entertainment, book research, personal learning, and sheer pleasure. It’s a low number for me, just 40 books this year (after 60 in 2013), but I also co-wrote a memoir, wrote a biography, finished a novel, edited a half-dozen books, and edited a year of Innovation & Tech Today issues — so it’s been busy on the creative side. My goal for 2015? 60 books read.

After reading this list, send us or post your own list of books read in 2014 – and let’s write and read more in 2015!

The Autistic Brain, by Temple Grandin (Non-Fiction)

The Golden Cat, by Max Brand (Fiction)

What You Want Is in the Limo, by Michael Walker (Memoir)

This Just In, by Bob Schieffer (Memoir)

L.A. Diary, by Sacha Wamsteker (Fiction)

Eat & Run, by Scott Jurek (Memoir)

Finishing the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, by Dale Matson (Non-Fiction)

Marathon Man, by Bill Rodgers (Memoir)

Kings of the Road, by Cameron Stracher (Non-Fiction)

City Primeval, by Elmore Leonard (Fiction)

Untwined: A Memoir, by Joan Creech Kraft (Memoir)

Storms of Fire & Ash, by Marie Alanen (Fiction)

Prostitute’s Ball, by Stephen J. Cannell (Fiction)

Divine Romance, by Paramhansa Yogananda (Spiritual)

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein (Sci-Fi)

Brown Dog, by Jim Harrison (Fiction)

Jesus: Son of Man, by Kahlil Gibran (Spiritual)

Skinny Legs & All, by Tom Robbins (Fiction)

The Big Pivot, by Andrew Winston (Non-Fiction)

Mountains and Rivers Without End, by Gary Snyder (Poetry)

The Road to Woodstock, by Michael Lang (Memoir)

Against all Enemies, by Tom Clancy (Fiction)

The Lenovo Way, by Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers (Business)

Cakes & Ale, by W. Somerset Maugham (Fiction)

One Summer, by Bill Bryson (Travel)

The Customer-Funded Business, by John Mullins (Business)

Collective Genius, by Linda Hill and Greg Brandeau (Business)

How We Got To Now, by Steven Johnson (Non-Fiction)

Driving Demand, by Elizabeth Allen (Business)

Fast Copy, by Dan Jenkins (Fiction)

Bossypants, by Tina Fey (Memoir)

Brava: Space, by Claudette Marco (Sci-Fi)

What Would Mary Ann Do? By Dawn Wells (Memoir)

Walt Disney, by Neal Gabler (Biography)

Sleepwalker Chronicles: The Awakening, by Lillith Black (Fantasy)

De-Stress for Success, by Leo Willcocks (Non-Fiction)

Random Acts of Badness, by Danny Bonaduce (Memoir)

Little Girl Lost, by Drew Barrymore (Memoir)

Long Distance, by Abigail Mott (Poetry)

Lips Unsealed, by Belinda Carlisle (Memoir)

A Pirate Looks at 50, by Jimmy Buffett (Memoir)

Screw the Valley, by Timothy Sprinkle (Business)

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The Intersection of Literature & Free Expression  

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

Whenever I travel to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world, I make sure to pay homage to the roots of my craft near the intersection of Columbus & Grant, where North Beach and Chinatown intersect.

It is a simple little tour, really: just three places. The first, City Lights Books, is a wonderful patchwork of angles, stories, perches, step-ups, cellars and basements loaded with books you may not find anywhere else. It is also home base to celebrated poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who spent the 1950s writing poetry collections, turning a half-dozen unknown writers into the famed San Francisco Renaissance crew (or West Coast Beats), and taking on the U.S. Supreme Court when they censored his publication of Henry Miller.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Now 95, Ferlinghetti is a hawk of a man, tall, imposing and imperious when crossed. He and my old friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, still read together once every October. Every time we write a page, article or book with anything we want to say, and then publish it, we’re reminded of who won that landmark censorship battle that culminated in 1961. It wasn’t the Supreme Court.

City Lights is my favorite bookstore, the bookstore that City Lightssparks me every time I walk through its doors. Now 60 years old, it is what an independent bookstore is all about — distinct character and personality, books carefully chosen by a well-read staff, a sanctuary of the written word, and the hub of a great writing community and movement. It is the best store to buy Beat literature in the world. Its selection of poetry, novels and literature reflects an open-minded, story-crafting, intelligence-promoting approach that is, well, the only approach that should ever matter in a society.

My favorite City Lights moment came in 2001. I walked into the store with Marty Balin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lead singer (and founder) of Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jefferson Starship. During their San Francisco concerts in the wild 1960s, bands used to ask poets to open their shows — celebrations of light, spoken word, dancing and music. Ferlinghetti was the Airplane’s designated poet on several occasions. As we walked inside, there was Ferlinghetti, perched in the checkout area. Marty and Ferlinghetti hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. Immediately, I felt like the luckiest fly on the wall as they caught up and discussed music, literature, and reminisced about those early concerts at Longshoreman’s Hall, the Matrix and The (original) Fillmore.

If the walls of Vesuvio's could talk, who would ever leave?

If the walls of Vesuvio’s could talk, who would ever leave?

Across the street from City Lights is Vesuvio’s, the colorful two-story pub that served as Jack Kerouac’s watering hole during his trips to San Francisco. Hemingway had Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Henry James had the White House Tavern in New York City, and Kerouac had Vesuvio’s. He percolated large parts of On The Road, The Dharma Bums and other novels while sitting inside. Now, the place is lined with classic photos from the Beat generation, along with posters of Mae West, Janis Joplin, and other adornments that were part of the bar Kerouac knew. It looked like a few patrons and bottles of ancient booze on the shelves had never left, too.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio's and leads to Chinatown.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio’s and leads to Chinatown.

After that, we took our haul of books a hundred yards to Vital Tea Leaf, located in the middle of Chinatown. (Gotta love the way ethnic neighborhoods run into each other in San Francisco, so effortlessly, without fences or borders.) Our old friend, the 83-year-old proprietor with a sailor’s tongue and a sage’s wisdom, greeted us with hugs at the door. We then spent the next 90 minutes tasting teas made of nectar and gold (so it seemed), and listening to him mix insightful history and preparation tips with playful poking at customers as they walked inside. I find Chinese tea opens up the creative pores in a way that makes verse and prose pour from mind, body and soul; it is always my chosen drink when writing. So, I loaded up with pu’erh, milk oolong, cloud mist and lapsang souchong (the smoky tea), heard our host’s stories about each (cloud mist grows at 8,000 feet, for example), and headed off to write a few of my own.

To me, Columbus & Grant is not only the junction of ancient and modern literature, or the crossroads of shih and Beat writing and poetry. It is also the shining beacon that reminds me of two endangered species — the independent bookstore and freedom of written expression. As we move into National Poetry Month, we’re reminded of the treasures men and women have written for thousands of years. And the inalienable right and freedom to do so. That’s worth honoring in the best way possible — by writing.Kerouac sign

 

 

 

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Why Back Stories Matter (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Part One of Why Back Stories Matter appeared on the 366Writing blog. In part two, we look at the specific reasons people love to hear the stories behind the story – and I share a few as well from my newest collection of essays and poetry, Backroad Melodies, which will be released on Summer Solstice, June 21.)

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

WHEN WRITING BOOKS, authors spend months or even years pulling together backstory. Novelists must know the ins and outs of their characters, and their characters’ lives, loves and tendencies, before committing the first sentence to paper (or screen). Non-fiction authors must track down all available background information on their human subjects or central topics in order to present their material. In both cases, extensive research precedes any writing. It’s quite normal for an author to pore through hundreds of source materials (books, articles, papers, videos, transcripts, etc.) before writing a manuscript.On top of that, fiction writers invariably pull nuggets of experience or perception from their own lives, and weave them into their characters, plots, or subtext.

The final books that reach bookshelves, online stores, and our admiring eyes compare favorably to icebergs: ten percent of the research and raw material makes it into print. Maybe ten percent of that is character, subject or topical backstory woven into the fabric of the narrative.

As for the other ninety percent? Many writers like to entomb their source and research material into cardboard file boxes or backup drives, never to see the light of day again. As for me? I want to know the backstories, and I want to share them. For instance, in my novel Voice Lessons, I wove nearly a hundred personal anecdotes into the characters, events, lyrics, concerts, plot and subtext – not to mention the prose that took flame from research that included more than two hundred books and articles, two hundred CDs and another hundred DVDs. Will you know which anecdotes are from my life? Not unless you know me, well. Or unless I tell you. Behind each anecdote is another story, the agglomeration of experiences that created it. We could go on forever.

Which is the point: to give readers the experiences that shaped the wonderful experience they just had in reading a book. That’s why fan clubs exist. That’s why we comb through materials in all shapes and forms to find interviews, histories, biographies and reminiscences that add context, shape and perspective to what we just read. When we learn these back or side stories, lights switch on in our heads. Recognition parts our consciousness like Moses finding his groove on the Red Sea. “A-ha!” moments of realization break into smiles across our faces, accompanied by a warm, tingling feeling inside. Suddenly, we know more about what makes the author tick, what prompted him or her to write that passage in that way, or to drop in that particularly amazing detail. We feel good because we know more. Acquired and perceived knowledge always feels good.

51kzcyubVNL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_51S4MUUXEQL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_  Two of the best novels I’ve read in recent years – which I happened to read back-to-back in Spring 2013 – were Fobbit, by David Abrams, and Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. These two men were among four panelists at a Los Angeles Times Festival of Books discussion entitled, “Fiction at a Sideways Glance.” Well, as this piece might indicate, I’m going to be the moth drawn to any writing forum that looks at the craft from a different angle. Both men were engaging and insightful, their shared experiences delighting the capacity crowd. It so happens, too, that Fobbit and Beautiful Ruins are two of the most talked about novels of 2013.

Each book offers a fiesta for backstory seekers: Fobbit draws from a journal Abrams kept while serving as a public affairs specialist in Iraq, thus offering both a comedic (sometimes hilarious) look at the war and a troubling, in-the-trenches perspective we saw or read about nightly during Vietnam – the tragedy and heartache that happens before medals are pinned on our great servicemen and women – but which was expunged from our awareness by the 21st century Pentagon. Dark comedy? Fobbit is one of the best. You won’t think the same about the war in Iraq, or war itself, after reading it. (We will have the pleasure of hearing from Abrams later this month in a Word Journeys Blog interview).

Beautiful Ruins is an exquisite story of a romantic spark between two people that stretches across fifty years of life, in all its ups and downs, set against three backdrops that the author painted with a combination of personal observation, experience and research: the early production Italian set of the epic Cleopatra (or, to be more specific, what went on between Liz and Dick); a tiny hamlet with Italy’s majestic Cinqueterre coast; and the playground of golden dreams and brass-knuckle realities known as Hollywood.

I am a glutton for good stories, and all great books are loaded with creation points that spider outward as far as you can follow. They are all truly silken threads.

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

BACK TO THE BACKROADS. The roads listed earlier anchor the overall backstory of Backroad Melodies. Many of the poems were written about or on them. Since I’ve opened a can of worms, and encouraged everyone to either seek out or share the stories behind the stories, here are a few from this collection:

• “A Day on the Rake”:  I took a day of silence during a long meditation retreat in Northern California (on MacNab Cypress Road), grabbed a rake, and spent an entire day working on a mile of paths that wound between hundreds of plant species and statues of deities representing all the world’s major religions. Truly energizing.

• “Birthing a New Day”: An experience from the inception of my relationship with Martha, at the base of Mount Palomar, in her backyard on Ushla Way, twenty miles from the nearest town. Years later, I can gladly report that very day feels like this poem.

• “Fossil Light”: Standing outside on a crystal clear midnight in February, temperature three degrees above zero, viewing the stars through the prism of their original conception. What we see twinkling today is the way they existed before modern civilization, before humanity … even before dinosaurs. Fossil light.

• “The Way Stones Tell Stories”: Sitting in the San Luis Rey riverbed during dry season, holding a stone, admiring its age and stoic presence. Every sentient being has its storytelling style; our job is to know how to listen, and what to listen for.

• “Morning Prayer”: Driving through Capitol Reef in Eastern Utah just as dawn erupted on the cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges of this monocline, known to geologists as the Waterpocket Fold. I feel Native American spirit and energy most profoundly in the Four Corners region … as on this morning.

• “Ghost Riding”: This could be subtitled, “the songs of trees on back roads.” When wires, lights and busy minds aren’t present, wind feels and sounds like ghosts while whispering through trees.

• “Tea Time”: Over a three-year period, I had the profound pleasure of walking next door occasionally and drinking tea with my friend and favorite poet, Gary Snyder. Few people are more conversant on so many different topics.

• “Four Pool Quartet”: On a hot, late September day in the Sierra Nevada foothills, one of my students asked if we could hold an outdoor class. You don’t have to ask me that question twice. We loaded up cars, and I took them to an out-of-the-way spot on the Yuba River, reachable only by driving a road you don’t want to think about in icy or snowy weather, then hiking down a trail steep enough to tax a bighorn sheep. We sat on giant flatrock, deposited when the Sierra Nevada range was formed five million years ago, and wrote and swam for two hours. (“Did you know this snow-fed, rock-strewn river has five or six different currents,” I told them, “only three of which you see above the surface?”) This poem was one of my two contributions for the day, written behind a back road, while sitting in a river pool.

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