Category Archives: Writing History

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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The Power of Group Book Signings — and Birth of a New Literary Series

In this era of extreme tidal changes in the publishing industry, writers, readers and those who love personal author appearances will be happy to know of a great trend: enterprising authors banding together to form group appearances and signings.

The power of the group read, this occurring at Vista Library, site of the North County Literary Cavalcade: Sunset Poets and Hummingbird Review  launch. (L-R) Sunset Poets creator and poet Dick Eiden; "Dances With Wolves" author Michael Blake; poet and musician John Doe, of the legendary group X; Charles Redner, Jr; Hummingbird Review publisher & author Charles Redner; fictionist Alwyn Pinnow; and yours truly

The power of the group read, this occurring at Vista Library, site of the North County Literary Cavalcade: Sunset Poets and Hummingbird Review launch. (L-R) Sunset Poets creator and poet Dick Eiden; “Dances With Wolves” author Michael Blake; poet and musician John Doe, of the legendary group X; Charles Redner, Jr; Hummingbird Review publisher & author Charles Redner; fictionist Alwyn Pinnow; and yours truly

 

AK Patch, the author of "Passage at Delphi," will appear Feb. 23 to launch the North County Literary Cavalcade series at Vista Library.

AK Patch, the author of “Passage at Delphi,” will appear Feb. 23 to launch the North County Literary Cavalcade series at Vista Library.

Not necessarily. Speaking from San Diego County and nearby areas, I can report that a few enterprising authors are working hard to create more group signings. Kaitlin Rother recently hosted an event at the new San Diego City Library that drew a standing room-only crowd. Author Lin Robinson, one of the most innovative and funniest writers around,  is stirring up the waters for a group signing series as well. “My thoughts are to get some local writers together and do something major and newsworthy, maybe in the atrium of the new San Diego library, or across the street in the beautiful Jing Si Café,” Robinson said.

It goes from there. A genre-based group, the Crime Fiction Collective, has been staging group signings for awhile. The La Jolla-based indie bookstore Warwick’s presents not only national authors, but individual and group signings with area authors — in which the author gets a table and signs for several hours on a Sunday afternoon. Very cool.

Group signings are awesome. Several authors appear together, read from their works, perhaps hold a short panel discussion, and then meet, greet and sign. While every author wants (and should have) the stage to themselves, I can tell you that booksellers and libraries love group signings. Why? They put more butts in the seats — and more buyers, or patrons. Readers feel like they’re at an event, and when you attend an event, you want to take the energy and memory of it home with you; hence, buying a book (that’s why motivational speakers and leaders always sell books at the back of the room). Plus, authors receive the dual stimulation of sharing stories from the trenches with other writers, and engaging with their readers.

We will be actively promoting all group signings on this blog, and on the Word Journeys Social Media Network. If you’re an author, band together with a couple other authors, visit your bookstore or library, and set yourself up. It will be much easier than you think — and you will connect eye-to-eye with your audience. Readers and writers, stay tuned.

 Speaking of libraries, I’m pleased to announce something I’ve wanted to create for a long time: a monthly literary series. This one even gives a naming nod to the Golden Age of radio and TV! The North County Literary Cavalcade will be hosted by Vista City Library. Reference librarian Kris Jorgensen and I met earlier this week, and laid out the plan for a combination of author signings, group reads, student presentations, panel discussions, topical workshops, open mics and festival events that will involve national and area authors, educators and poets. Best of all, we’re drawing authors from all fiction and non-fiction genres, plus young adult authors, sci-fi writers, and children’s writers. No matter your reading preference, you’re going to be up close and personal with a prominent author at this series.

Vista Library is a great venue: We hosted a pair of Hummingbird Review launches there, drawing large crowds in both cases. The secret? Yep — group reads. We had six to eight readers on each occasion.

Our first event takes place Sunday, February 23, from 3 to 5 p.m. Author AK Patch will present the history and backstory of his new historical adventure thriller, Passage at Delphi. This book brings the famous Greek-Persian War (source of the “300” movie series) into modern-day light, as eyewitnessed by time-traveling professors. They are under the influence of the Greek God Apollo, who worries that today’s civilization will go the way of the Ancient Greeks. If you’re a “300” fan, and pacing the floors waiting for the March 7 premiere of 300: Rise of an Empire, this book will not only feed you, but give you a counter-story filled with excitement and depth.

I’ll also be reading, as Dr. Patch’s warm-up act. Kris Jorgensen and I will co-host the event, and we will also present the schedule of Literary Cavalcade events.

Hope to see you there — and at all group signing events.

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Ancient Greece & Apollo Come to Life: Interview with Author AK Patch

What happens when  two modern-day, married professors fall into Ancient Greece through a portal, experience their lives as a page-burner of adventures and harrowing escapes that forges them into hero figures – all at the behest of the Greek God Apollo and his deep concern for the direction of our world today?

PAD cover lo-res

The answer to that rather long-winded question forms Passage at Delphi, the new novel by San Diego-based author A.K. Patch. Passage at Delphi went on sale today worldwide, and is available on online booksellers, Amazon.com, Kindle, bn.com and through all bookstores.

Seven years in the making, Passage at Delphi tackles enough historical, topical and character-driven real estate to open a small state. Flip the pages and you find: protagonists Lauren and Zack Fletcher racing through intrigue, romance and adventure; narrow escapes from predatory hands; their experiences with gods, kings and legendary military rulers; time travel in both directions – from present-to-past and past-to-present; exquisite Ancient Greek landscapes seen and lived through young 21st century professors; a new view of the famous “300” Spartans war against the Persians; and a climactic final scene. All is orchestrated by Apollo, the God of Prophecy, as part of a master plan that reveals itself as Passage at Delphi progresses.

Says the Midwest Book Review of Passage at Delphi: “In presenting action spread out over three different times and characters that intersect, Passage at Delphi creates a fast-paced and challenging story line that places readers at the crux of understanding choices and their wide-reaching consequences makes it a force to be reckoned with: a novel that involves even the most experienced reader of historical fiction, mythology fantasy, and adventure.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of all, Passage at Delphi has the Big Three of great novels – memorable characters, strong story, and plenty of entertainment and enlightenment. It is smart, gritty and dedicated to its details – much like its author, a retired career Naval officer who has been fascinated with Ancient Greece and ancient military tactics since he was a child.

Now, in the first part of a two-part interview, A.K. Patch talks more about the historical adventure thriller that is already garnering strong praise.

WORD JOURNEYS: First of all, Dr. Patch, Passage at Delphi is a very ambitious project, a compelling blend of deep history and crafty fiction writing – a magnum opus in many ways. How long have you been working on it?

A.K. PATCH: PASSAGE has been in progress for seven years now. I’ve been in no rush to publish it and it has become far more interesting and involved plot. I’ll never have writer’s block. The story just comes out. I occasionally write the story in my head while I’m jogging.

WJ: You wrap the story around a pair of university professors from California who travel to their beloved Greece on an archaeological dig – only to be transported back in time, as intended by the Greek god Apollo. Could you discuss the protagonists a bit more?

AP: Apollo chooses Zack and Lauren because they have the qualities he desires. They have the potential to survive his gauntlet of hero training, but are guaranteed nothing. Apollo’s goal is to save western culture from a devastating collapse. Thereby, the United States must be secured, or the western world will crumble. His heroes must be American, physically able to endure what he has planned, and knowledgeable of the ancient times in which they are tossed into. Even more so, Zack and Lauren are connected to The Professor in Athens. That is how Apollo found them. They fit his requirements.

The Greek God Apollo, the plot orchestrator in "Passage at Delphi"

The Greek God Apollo, the plot orchestrator in “Passage at Delphi”

AP: Lauren, like a lot of women, has the capability to rise to the occasion. She has the temperance of a military upbringing. I have personal experience with military dependents and their silent endurance of multiple deployments, low pay, and the ever-present possibility that their loved one is not coming home. Their dedication and sacrifice should be more celebrated by our nation.  Lauren is not so completely hardened, though. She doesn’t realize her strength, and fears separation from Zack. She will endure many physical and psychological battles.

I have asked women what they think they do better than men. One compelling answer is that they multi-task better. Juggling family and career is no picnic. Zack has a lot to learn. He has not had to struggle. He lives under the umbrella of safety that the United States provides to him. What happens to any of us when our umbrellas are pulled and the full force of the storm hits us?

WJ: No good historical action-thriller with a romantic twist can thrive without an antagonist – and Passage at Delphi has a most memorable one in Bessus, the Persian commander who threatens and harangues Zack and especially Lauren throughout the story. Can you tell us how you created such a menacing character, and why?

AP: Bessus represents evil, but would not most ancient warriors act in the manner he does? There are no terms of chivalry, no mercies extended. That is true today also. One aspect of Bessus I might mention is that he has suffered and struggled, and in his mind, cruelty and domination is survival. A monster such as Bessus is not all evil. He yearns for his son, to hold onto his hard-won gains back in Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan). He was betrayed by his mother and her people, seriously enough that you can hold a grain of sympathy for him. Even though he transposes his brand of malice to the modern day, evil, greed, and malevolence can come in many forms. It doesn’t just hold a two-headed axe. It can wear a three-piece suit with cufflinks and plot domination of markets, too.

The Temple of Delphi, the centerpiece of the novel, where Lauren and Zack are pulled through the portal.

The Temple of Delphi, the centerpiece of the novel, where Lauren and Zack are pulled through the portal.

WJ: How did this gritty, elaborate story originate for you?

AP: PASSAGE originated as a vehicle to bring the Battle of Thermopylae to the attention of readers. The Greeks of that time were presented with a horrific decision of submitting to slavery or fighting the overwhelming power and wealth of The Persian Empire. I find the Persian Wars period fascinating, and it could be considered a climactic event in the development and survival of Western culture. The questions may soon come to be: are we living in such pivotal times? And what may we have to do to survive and pass our way of life to succeeding generations?

WJ: How do you feel people today are connected to the Ancient Greeks themselves in order to arrive at this correlation you’ve formed as a major plot point?

AP: The ancient Greeks might be called our distant grandparents. Their significant advancements in philosophy, mathematics, architecture, art, sculpture, and playwriting are a solid foundation of our western culture. Ultimately, they gave birth to democracy and more so, fought to the death to defend their way of life, allowing those advances in human spirit to be passed to us.

WJ: Can you elaborate?

AP: Sure. When freedom was largely unknown in the ancient world, when kings and despots ruled the lives of populations, a hardscrabble group of Greek city-states on the western edge of the great empires of the east forged a society. As it turned out, that society made a lasting impact on the future generations of the west – and the east, for that matter. We look to Athenian democracy as our crucible of freedom, but it was not inclusive. Only male citizens of wealth and military training were allowed to vote. It is a kernel of what we have today, but an amazing development for the time. Our enlightened founding Fathers declared equality for all, but that didn’t happen for some time.

WJ: What endeared you to the history of Ancient Greece and its relevance in today’s world?

AP: I loved Hercules movies and some of the other big Sword and Sandal Classics of the 50’s and 60’s. Cleopatra, Spartacus, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and my ultimate favorite, The Three Hundred Spartans from 1962.  Without video in those days, you would see a movie once and then wait years to see it again. Torturous, if it was a movie that made a big impact on you!

I have been entranced with ancient history for so long that a lot of the events and settings are second nature to me. I did dig deeper into authors and texts regarding life in those times. I especially respect author and educator Edith Hamilton and her works. When I develop plot twists, then I’m looking for an unusual aspect of ancient life to add substance.

(Part Two will be published on Wednesday, Nov. 27)

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An SI Article Trip Down Memory Lane

Since it’s football season, wanted to tread back into memory lane as a writer — with a big assist from Sports Illustrated.

While flying from LA to Kahului, Maui, where I’m working with surf star Clay Marzo on his biography, “Just Add Water,” I read an article in Sports Illustrated that stopped me in my tracks. Well, two of them. The first was  “Exit Sandman,” an incredible story of the greatness of Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera — with an ending that will take your breath away.

The second concerned an old friend and a very special time in my life, when footballs flew all over San Diego and many great careers germinated in the same tiny place. It happened within Tim Layden’s article, “You Spin Me Right Around, Baby”, concerning the back-shoulder pass that drives NFL defensive backs crazy — because they can’t defend it. This pass has become a part of several quarterbacks’ repertoires, most prominently Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. It’s been around in various forms, this Kryptonite play to all defenders, but who used it consistently first?

That’s where the article stopped me. Turns out it was Bob Gagliano, a journeyman USFL and NFL quarterback for 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s. Bob was the quarterback at U.S. International University in San Diego in 1979, when I was a student and assistant sports information director there. Bob and I formed a good friendship, and I always took him with me to community outreach events, such as meet-and-greets with junior high and high school students. He took what Division I  schools considered average ability, used his incisive brain, and after leaving USIU, became a strong D1 quarterback and a spot starter for Kansas City, Detroit and San Diego.

I remember sitting with Bob in the Chiefs locker room in 1982, after he’d made the team as a rookie. He told me about this new pass he was trying out, which turned out to be the same pass I’d seen him throw a few times in USIU games: you hit the receiver on the trailing shoulder, he reaches back to get it, and the defender can do nothing about it.

A few years later, Bob did it on a regular basis for the USFL’s Denver Gold. That got him a second chance in the NFL.

Every so often, I think back to the USIU team that Bob quarterbacked. It was one of those freaks of fate, a ragtag group cobbled together when USIU made its short-lived jump into Division II football. I was publicizing the team, part of my trade-out for a free ride so I could get through school. THe group looked shaky at first, but finished the year 9-3 and beat a pair of Top 20 Division II schools along the way. No one wanted to get into a shootout with USIU, just like their neighbors eight miles down I-15, the San Diego Chargers.

Bob wasn’t the only one from this collection of young guns and Division I rejects to make a splash in the NFL. Not even close. The head coach, Tom Walsh, went on to become offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. His offensive assistant, Mike Sheppard, did the same with the Cleveland Browns during their glory years in the late 1980s. As did Mike Solari with the Kansas City Chiefs. Defensive back Vernon Dean won two Super Bowl rings with the Washington Redskins. Three other players made NFL rosters, at least temporarily.

Then there was the young defensive backs coach, just out of San Diego State, a former safety who wasn’t fast enough for the NFL: John Fox. Then in his early 20s, Fox whipped his defensive backs into one of the top units in Division II. He was tough, he connected with his players, and he instilled in them his passion for the game, his passion for excellence.

Fast forward to 2013: Fox is commanding the greatest offensive ship in the NFL, the Denver Broncos. He’s been an NFL head coach for 11 seasons after a brilliant run as a defensive coordinator, during which he won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants. Now, he goes to work every day and sees Peyton Manning. How great is that?

I can only imagine what Fox was thinking when he opened his Sports Illustrated and saw the article on the back-shoulder pass — which he loathed while coaching the Giants and Carolina Panthers — and then seeing who first put it to use regularly in games. Fox always praised Gagliano in USIU practices, because of the way Gagliano’s accuracy made Fox’s defensive backs better.

Those were fun times — and a joy to relive 34 years later.

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Cruising the L.A. Times Festival of Books (part one)

festival of booksblog 1(This is the first of two blogs from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It also serves to launch a new companion blog, http://366writing.wordpress.com, which will be my daily account of one writer’s life and activities. The Festival of Books blogs will appear on both sites; after that, I will continue with a variety of pieces on this site while keeping the daily account on 366writing.)

Here’s a quick trivia question: Which author with a name recognizable to millions lists as her most influential writers such titans as Joan Didion, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dyostoevsky, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, most notably, the late short story master Raymond Carver?

I’m sure you can come up with plenty of good guesses – such as, your favorite authors. After all, many working authors of renown in the late 20th and early 21st century were influenced by all or some of these writers.

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But what if I told you that this particular author made her first splash in a much different way, as America’s teen cinematic sweetheart in the classic 1980s movies Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club?

"When It Happens to You" author Molly Ringwald

“When It Happens to You” author Molly Ringwald

Hard to believe Molly Ringwald is now 45, but there she stood, resplendent on the LA Times Festival of Books main stage at USC, being celebrated for the passion that burned within her well before becoming a movie star: writing. She read a chapter-story from her bestselling novel-in-stories, When It Happens To You, and answered audience questions with a fresh openness that doesn’t happen so often at these events.

What struck me most about her work was its depth and quality: this was no actress cashing in on her entertainment platform to get a book out. You could sense Didion’s astute observation, Hemingway’s sparseness, Fitzgerald’s intimacy and Carver’s incisive delivery in her work, yet it was exclusively her voice. That takes years of practice. As Molly said in response to a question about when he knew her work was ready, “I just wrote and rewrote and worked on it and then let it sit there until I felt my voice was good enough to bring it out.”

In so many words, she described what makes the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and other major book festivals, such celebrations of the written word. For two days, more than 150,000 people converge upon the USC campus – a quite stately setting for the festival. We were there all day Saturday to see author friends, meet with our agent briefly, shop the booths, and listen to speakers like Molly and former Wonder Years star Danica McKellar, whose “Math is Cool” stream of books might be one of the best things going for the self-esteem of teenaged girls.

We also dropped in on panel conversations, which to me are the hidden treasures of these and any book festivals. Book writing is about storytelling, and the stories behind the stories are often treasures of their own. As good as books might be, you won’t get them within the pages, or sometimes even in interviews with the authors. You will get them in these panel discussions, when guards and sales pitches are down and high-spirited interaction is the name of the game. And the LA Times Festival of Books moderators are experts at it.

So many things happened at the Festival of Books, which took place on a day the LA Chamber of Commerce baked up in their dreams: sunny, 80 degrees, the Exposition Park Rose Garden in full bloom across the street, and people of all ages completely celebrating the joy of creativity and good books. The Tumbler vehicle from The Dark Knight was there, as were perfectly costumed members of the Jane Austen Society. The USC Trojan marching band opened the Festival, while a third-grader won a $500 Barnes & Noble gift card in a coloring contest. Funny: I don’t remember prizes like that when I was in third grade. Maybe I would have colored more between the lines! Check that – writers spend their time outside the lines, approaching their subjects sideways and from the back as often as straightforward.

Everyone was also celebrating the end to the tragic week and manhunt in Boston, none moreso than the young lady working the Harvard University Press booth. She flew in Friday night from Cambridge, where the bombing suspects shot and killed an MIT campus officer before getting into a nighttime shootout with police. “I am so happy to be here,” she said, her body visibly decompressing. “No one ever needs to have a week like that. It was wicked weird to drive to the airport in Boston on a Friday without any cars on the road. None.” Added Southern California Writer’s Conference co-director Wes Albers, the author of a great crime novel, Black & Whiteand himself a longtime San Diego police officer: “The stakes were way too high for us not to succeed (in apprehending the Boston suspects).” His comments clearly showed the sense of brotherhood all law enforcement officers felt this week.

Getting right back to the fun side of the weekend, I heard a few great stories (for which books have been written) during a fine panel discussion on “Nonfiction: A Singular Passion”:

• Did you know the federal duck stamp contest program is one of the U.S. government’s most profitable ventures? Duck hunters must purchase a stamp for their licenses every year. The stamp is designed from the winning painting from 250 to 300 artists. The government spends $850,000 to run the contest, and receives $25 million in annual revenue. 98 percent of that money is invested into restoring wetlands. Since being initiated in 1930, the program has resulted in restoring wetlands the size of Massachusetts. And oh yes, The Wild Duck Chase author and Orange Coast Magazine editor Martin J. Smith added,  the vast majority of duck hunters favor background checks as a form of gun control – unlike half of the U.S. senators (all fearful of the NRA), who ignored 90% of the public’s preference the other day (that’s another story).

• The best-tasting taco, according to OC Weekly food editor Gustavo Arellano, the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, is at a taco truck in Santa Ana. He just spent three years canvassing every good Mexican restaurant in the country for his book on the history of Mexican food in the US; he knows.

• Did you know that, while he made marijuana illegal in the United States starting in the 1930s, Federal Bureau of Narcotics director Harry Anslinger – the J. Edgar Hoover of his department – helped Coca-Cola continue to import coca leaves from Peru for its product, even though the importation was explicitly banned by an international treaty? It’s quite a story Richard Cortes dug up — but the blowback he felt is what we heard on the panel discussion about his new book, A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola. “When I matched the letters from Anslinger to Coca-Cola, and called Coca-Cola for comment, I heard complete silence on the phone … they didn’t appreciate it very much,” Cortes said.

These are the tidbits that come from panel discussions – and the authors’ stories about how they find out these delights. Behind it all, they said, are stories about people and social issues far beyond tacos, duck stamps and crooked federal officials. And that’s what makes the books that we come to book festivals to buy.

(NEXT: More from this non-fiction panel – and a wild ride from four top-selling fiction panelists who threw away the typical “how to write a novel” guidelines long ago).  

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Catching Up … Conferences, Poetry, Kayaking & Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

While clearing off a busy desk … Am starting to prepare my presentations for the Southern California Writers scwcConference, which will bring editors, agents, publishers and authors together Feb. 15-18 at the Crowne Plaza Hanalei in San Diego. This is one of my favorite writer’s conferences, full of very current writing, promotion and marketing tips. Not to mention the read & critiques, where peers and faculty members offer up constructive feedback to help work get published.

• • •

Had a moment this week that made me take pause — and remind myself to keep in touch with people I’ve befriended and deeply respect. About 10 years ago, I attended a New Year’s Eve party in Twin Falls, Idaho like no other. The party was hosted by revered Idaho poet Bill Studebaker, whose poems of passion and place are known worldwide. His “On The Bank of Love Creek” is one of the finest love poems I’ve ever read.

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

During the festive night, Bill played Gene Autry recordings from 1915, showed us photos of he and his son kayaking in glacial melt in Greenland (imagine if you roll the kayak!) and engaged in a midnight Amazon blow dart fight across a crowded room with his friend, archaeologist Jim Woods. (Fortunately, the blow darts were not tipped with poison!) Finally, he tried to talk me into kayaking with him the next morning, New Year’s Day, on the icy Snake River in Twin Falls — right beneath where Evel Knievel made his failed attempt to soar across the canyon on a motorcycle in 1976. “What will the air temperature be?” I asked.

“It’s supposed to get up to five above.”

“Uhhh … no thanks.”

After that bash, Bill and I stayed in touch, exchanged poetry and shared a lot of laughs. His sense of humor knew no bounds. Nor did his sense of adventure with his kayak, or his 30 years of dedication to his writing students. He was an expert kayaker, sometimes careening down 40- and 50-foot waterfalls. As I got going with Voices, my novel that will be out later this year, I decided to memorialize the New Year’s Eve party, and Bill, by re-enacting it with my main characters. (See Chapter 23 when the novel comes out.)

This week, I decided to get in touch with Bill after some years of being out of touch, to let him know that the infamous party, and his graciousness, were coming back through my novel. Also, I wanted to see what new poems he was writing, and share a few of my own. Sadly, I learned he died a few years ago in a kayaking accident on the Salmon River.

Regrets? Right now, I sure have a few.

• • •

Just finished a very enjoyable project: writing an online companion to the Jack Kerouac novel “The Dharma Bums”

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

for Barnes & Noble. Those who have known me for awhile know I am an unabashed Kerouac fan. I’m also a huge proponent of the spontaneous prose technique he mastered – right down to effusive 1,200-word sentences in novels like “The Subterraneans.” While I was teaching at Ananda College last year, I even designed a course on Beat writing, starring Kerouac, for my senior creative writing class. With “On The Road” just released as a movie co-starring Kristen Stewart, Kerouac books are once again flying off bookshelves. It’s quite impressive: he wrote these books 55 to 60 years ago.

The Companion piece took on many shapes and forms. It’s far more interesting than the Cliff Notes we used as crutches for countless novels in our school days. The point was to show the contributing factors to “The Dharma Bums”, how it was put together, its philosophy and narrative style, and discuss the central characters.  For me, this last part was particularly enjoyable — and personal. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, the last surviving person Kerouac used to build his characters in the autobiographical novel, gave me some invaluable assistance. Snyder was the model for Japhy Ryder, the hero of the book. Over the years, as we’ve talked to each other, Gary has shared fond memories of Kerouac, with whom he hung out extensively in 1955-56 – and which is chronicled, though fictionalized in many places, in “The Dharma Bums.”

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

So,  for everyone who wants to know Kerouac’s secrets, here are the 30 essentials of spontaneous prose — as presented by Kerouac himself, in a 1953 article entitled “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”. If you want to write with abandon, or need to break yourself out from writing too conservatively, cut loose with a few of these:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never to get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10.  No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11.  Visionary ties shivering in the chest
  12.  In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13.  Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14.  Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15.  Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue
  16.  The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17.  Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18.  Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19.  Accept loss forever
  20.  Believe in the holy contour of life
  21.  Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22.  Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23.  Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24.  No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25.  Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26.  Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27.  In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28.  Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29.  You’re a Genius all the time
  30.  Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

 

 

 

 

 

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