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A World Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(Part 2 of a 2-Part Series)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Beyond ADHD, the highly anticipated book by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling, will release worldwide from Rowman-Littlefield Publishers on August 16. Pre-ordering is available now.)

Happiness and excitement filled our hearts as we drove across the 401 highway in Ontario, Canada, destined for the U.S. border. Our happiness was borne by the anticipation of the answers I might receive at our destination, answers that would explain and perhaps present new directions in a life I’d had such a hard time understanding, right down to my ADHD diagnosis five years before

— From Beyond ADHD, by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling

Jeff Emmerson’s revolutionary look at the ADHD diagnosing and prescribing epidemic, Beyond ADHD, breaks down into two parts: the current environment and pressures that are causing so much diagnosing and prescribing; and looking ahead into much more helpful, progressive, and successful ways of working with those dealing with attention issues.

In this segment of our interview, Jeff gives us a peek into Part II, and how things might look if we utilized fitness, diet, further education, behavioral therapy and other approaches — approaches that, frankly, feed the whole person — rather than the current prescribe-first mentality.

Word Journeys: One of your biggest supporters of this book is Dr. Allen Frances, the former chair of John Hopkins Medical School and esteemed chair of the DSM-IV committee, which sets diagnosis and prescription guidelines for more than 300 defined mental health issues. What did Dr. Frances tell you that further inspired you to address these issues?

Emmerson: When I discovered his stance on ADHD, current diagnosing standards and his beliefs about the big-picture of what it is to be “normal” these days, I was immediately refreshed (if surprised at the same time). He confirmed my fears early on when he spoke about true ADHD diagnosis prevalence being around 4 percent in American children. Considering he was the Chair of the DSM-IV task force, this was very, very believable. After all, it would be only too easy for him (of all people) to “toe the party line,” but no – he told the truth, even when it wasn’t convenient. He also speaks adamantly about the current opioid crisis and many other topics in healthcare that are severely lacking, ones we need to address with courage, honesty and the desire to get ahead of them before epidemics come forth any more then the opioid one already has, frankly. ADHD may well be on the same path in its own way.

Word Journeys: Another big supporter of alternative approaches, and Beyond ADHD, is Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, director of the SENG Institute for Gifted Children. Can you speak to how focusing on a child’s or adult’s gifts, and their natural hunter-gatherer minds, actually takes us beyond the ADHD mindset?

Emmerson: It’s funny what we can achieve when three key things (are allowed to) happen:

  • Our natural abilities are uncovered, focused on and supported;
  • We’re taught to have a “growth-mindset” that teaches self-resilience and focusing on lessons to be learned from every “failure or mistake;” and
  • Different learners or personalities from the “norm” are empowered in environments that focus on strengths and don’t force them to learn in areas that they may have zero interest in (those not needed for day to day life).

Self-worth, confidence, positive morale toward society, and inspiration toward imagination and self-growth need to be taught and nurtured in education systems more than ever. A new day has arrived. We need to buy into the medical model for being “different” and focus instead upon the unique abilities and passions that each of us have within. This cookie-cutter approach to education (at the cost of any alternatives for many millions of us) simply doesn’t cut it, and it’s showing in a number of ways in a profoundly “sick” society.

Word Journeys: What role has Big Pharma played in the increase in ADHD diagnoses?

Jeff Emmerson: An immense one, more than many of us might realize. From suggestive advertising to Americans and those in New Zealand via television to funding healthcare providers, offering incentives to drug reps and physicians to advertising in more subtle ways through online media outlets, and through heavily influencing research findings, they pretty much have their hands in everything, not to mention the U.S. government, in a huge way. While medications definitely help some live better lives, there are billions of dollars changing hands, so following the money to understand its potential influence is of crucial importance.

Word Journeys: A growing number of people think ADHD is a catch-basin, not really an affliction, but more a convenient label for what could be a hundred different things. What is your opinion of that?

Emmerson: I get where they’re coming from! Let’s use some common sense for a moment. I believe that the diagnosis does help some in a wonderful way; I know it does, in fact. I’ve been told tons of stories from others, and I’m all for whatever empowers and helps people learn more about themselves and tools toward self-worth, resilience and most of all, self-awareness. However, the pendulum has swung way too far in favor of rushed, ill-informed ADHD diagnoses to put a band-aid on issues we simply aren’t equipped to address at their deeper cores.

Once I discovered how easily I was wrongly diagnosed with ADHD, my world was never the same again. I saw the elephant in the room where ADHD is concerned: What it is; how to diagnose it (as a diagnosis of exclusion since nearly one hundred other true root causes mimic it); and how to treat it/see it in society. I could NOT, in good conscience, let this newfound awareness go. My soul screamed to bring it to the world through building the largest online community I humanly could.

Word Journeys: You combined your personal stories with the pressing issues in Beyond ADHD. What did you learn about your own journey while weaving your stories into the material?

Emmerson: First of all, I quickly realized that I’m far from alone in living with these symptoms. Beyond that, I’m both humbled and fiercely driven from all the learning I’ve done over the last four years or so. I now have three or four additional book topics in mind for future projects (based in mental health and current society) that I know are needed desperately by millions of people going through challenges in this realm (including those who care for them in any number of capacities).

I also learned (and confirmed to myself) that even if life seems lost, even if the conventional road to what society calls success doesn’t work and we make mistakes that seem insurmountable (with the shame that often comes with them), we CAN completely turn things around with the right support, shift in mindset and faith/resilience. Man, that’s the most humbling part of it all for me – that and seeing others who have been somehow touched by my efforts. I now want others to feel the way I do. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. Everything from here on in is icing on the cake.

Word Journeys: If you could envision a society beyond the current ADHD protocols, what would it look like?    

Emmerson: We’d re-evaluate current education, healthcare, food, water, industry, parenting and other social support structures/initiatives in society. Then, I’d look beyond labeling in psychiatry/psychology and look at ways to evolve through a strengths-based approach, entrenched in a solid foundation from as young as possible. From there, massive investment into the collective well-being of society would be made in forms we deem most important from both macro and micro perspectives while ensuring minimal waste of said investments to ensure well-targeted and efficient service to society. It would be tracked and watched to constantly be improved upon as time passes and the world evolves/encounters challenges. That would be a good start.

As we know, it’s much easier to raise a healthy, equipped child by investing in their upbringing than it is to try and mend a distressed or “damaged” adult human being. We should always be mindful of that — from the moment we become parents, educators or healthcare providers.

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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.

THE LATEST from 366WRITING BLOG

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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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of my two-part series that compares 15 points in common between the writing process – particularly book and extensive projects – and running marathons. Actually, it’s 18 points in common, but who’s counting?)

“The race begins at 20 miles”: Years ago, a friend, journalist and veteran marathoner said this to me. While most people might crash and burn at 20 miles (or before), serious marathon racers dig in the final 10K. So it is with book writing. The last leg is often the hardest. You’re tired, you’ve lived with the subject for months or years, and you want to be finished. But this is the most vital part of the book, next to the first chapter. Focus more intently than ever, tap emotional and creative reserves, and power through to the finish.

Enjoy the solitude: If ever four groups of people know and understand solitude better than the rest of the population, they would be runners, writers, artists and monks. We spend countless hours alone with our words. Enjoy the quiet time; enjoy the ideal atmosphere it provides you to create, think deeply, and work. Not everyone gets this chance. Ask someone who works in a cubicle or workstation all day. The material percolates in solitude. The more you can enjoy it and immerse in it, the more you can produce – and the more cohesive it will be.

Push the hills: One of the best road racing strategies is to push hills hard – and then surge for 30 meters or so at the top. All authors know there are many uphill climbs in the long course of writing a book – struggles with scenes, characters, getting the right information, fluid narrative description, etc. Some days, we feel like we can write anything; on others, our sentences feel like back roads clunkers. We all hit them; we all wonder how we’re going to get to the top. The answer: one word at a time. Push past the obstacles, while holding to the greater vision for your work. Write hard to keep the momentum going.

Increase focus as the race progresses: The same thing has happened in every marathon I’ve raced. For the first eight miles or so, runners talk to each other, compare strategies, talk about favorite runs they’ve ever taken, maybe shoot photos of the crowd (if they carry smartphones, which many do — not me!) and truly enjoy being out there. For the next eight miles, the focus tightens, paces become locked in, and the talking lessens. For the final ten miles, there is very little talking and very deep focus. Good authors take us deeper and deeper into their stories, a reflection of their increased focus as they deliver the goods. Focus, focus, focus.

Don’t hit too many aid stations: One of the myths (and, actually, physical dangers) of long races is that it is important to drink at every aid station. NOT SO. When I run marathons, I only drink six times – roughly once every 4½ miles. Everyone has their number, but point is: don’t take too many breaks. This applies directly to writing. Momentum and rhythm are everything; when you’re on a roll, stay on it. If you must, take only small breaks when writing books to recharge, but never more than a week or two. Long breaks are a no-no, unless you’re between drafts.

There will be pain: To borrow from a surfwear manufacturer’s 1980s ad campaign, Every marathoner knows the feeling. It starts at about 15 miles, hits fully at 18 to 20 miles, and envelops you the final 6 miles. PAIN. We know it’s coming when we toe the starting line, but we know how to handle it – by reaching down and taking the race one stride at a time. Likewise, book writing can be (and often is) emotionally painful and mentally taxing, especially tell-all memoirs and novels with characters exhibiting emotions that grab you from the page. When you read scenes like this, you know the writer is feeling it. Embrace the pain, and turn it into your ally. Use it to drive more deeply within yourself, opening new thresholds of possibility for your writing – and greater perspective as a person. The more you can work with writing pain in all its forms, the more deeply touched readers will be.

Head down; one step at a time: This extends from the last comment. I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon with moderate plantar fasciitis. In other words, the last five miles were hell. However, I nearly held my earlier race pace because I pulled my cap over my eyes like I was in the ‘hood, looked down at my toes, and took it one step at a time. That’s exactly how I write books; by adopting that technique, I’ve gone from being a good starter to a good finisher. Keep your head down and write one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time – and one sentence at a time. This approach becomes especially important when revising and self-editing, when you make sure every word fits and every word counts.

Finish strong: One of the best ways to ensure good race results is to finish strong in each training run, picking up the pace at the end. Likewise with book writing. Good final chapters sew up the story or subject, and leave readers feeling: a) like they want more; b) wholly satisfied; or c) Googling you for more books, or for more perspectives based upon the great book you have given them. Reach down and give it everything you’ve got in the last chapter – just like a good racer.

Celebrate!: When we finish something as monumental as a book, or a marathon, it’s time to celebrate! Then take at least a week off from writing of any kind … your batteries will definitely need to be recharged.

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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons

(Part 1 of a two-blog series)

Just finished watching the Ironman 70.3 in Oceanside, with the athletes running the last of those 70.3 miles right by the house. Now, gearing up for this weekend’s Carlsbad 5000, the world’s fastest 5K road race. And, in two weeks, the marathon world turns its focus to Boston for the Boston Marathon – which I plan to run for the fourth time in 2014.

Running_01Speaking of marathons, authors often compare writing books to running marathons. The usual line: “Writing a book is not a wind sprint, but a marathon.” They often don’t really think about why that is (except that writing a book usually takes a long time, along with all the mental energy you can muster). I speak about this when teaching workshops. Readers and writers alike can gain great insight into how your favorite stories come together, and how the author got there, by drawing comparisons to the most celebrated of all long-distance races.

Since I’ve run eight marathons, along with writing ten books and ghostwriting seven others, thought I’d share 15 points in common between marathons and the writing process. Lace up your shoes, boot up the computer, and toe the starting line. Away we go…

Enter the race well prepared: Marathoners know better than to enter a race ill prepared. If they are not prepared, they will become very intimate with agony. Most marathoners train for 12 to 16 weeks, and work out every nuance of the race in their minds before lining up. Same with writing. Make sure your research, thoughts and rough outlines are in place before firing the starting gun for Chapter 1. Let the material mentally percolate for weeks, even months. Play out the scenes or sequences in your mind. Move them around. Sketch them out. Then write. The better prepared going in, the better the finished result – and the happier the reader.

Read the Race: All races are different. The courses, competitors, dynamics and conditions change from race to race. So does the way you feel, what you think is possible, and how you will run the race. Likewise, all stories are different. They require different approaches, paces and characters. That goes for subjects, too, especially when writing non-fiction books and interviewing. When interviewing people, read their faces and expressions, and listen for what is not said as much as what is said. Go into every article, book or story knowing it will be unique – and read it as it unfolds.

Vary your pace: A lot of people thinking racing marathons is a matter of finding a pace and sticking with it for all 26.2 miles –  or bob at skywalker-lores until fatigue and sore muscles slow you down. Not so. Good racers change their pace several times, pushing hills, speeding up for a half-mile in the middle, surging at the end, or even throwing in a 100-meter pick-up just to change the stride. It helps – a lot. Likewise, good writers vary their pace within a book, switching from fast-dramatic-action sequences to slower-thoughtful-contemplative scenes. They do it within dialogue, as well as the way they write sentences. Changes in pace reflect real life. Vary your pace.

Enjoy the process: About 10 years ago, during an arduous 20-mile run in the desert mountains above Tucson, ultramarathon star Pam Reed told me something: “It’s going to hurt, you know it’s going to hurt, so just relax and enjoy the process.” Likewise, whether writing or reading, enjoy it! Writing is very hard work, but what could be a better vocation than sharing stories and subjects with a reading audience? And communicating directly with them through the written (or electronic) page? Feel the creative buzz. Write from a place of love – love of process. No matter how tough the work, try to enjoy every moment. Trust me: readers will notice, and beg for more.

Make tight, well-angled turns: Road races often feature a lot of curves and turns – sometimes, hairpin turns on out-and-back courses. Good racers know to stay clear of the inside on hairpin turns, to swing a bit wide, lean into the turn, and then find a direct line to the next straight section. So it is with writing transitions from one scene to another. Make your transitions lean and mean. Lean into them, using the momentum of the prior scene. Write tightly, carrying us into the next scene, but don’t write them abruptly unless that is part of the dramatic tension of the story. Learn the art of the turn. Write transitions, metaphors and similes that connect – instantly. My all-time favorite comes from the late Los Angeles Times sports columnist extraordinaire Jim Murray, describing a picky home plate umpire: “He had a strike zone the size of Hitler’s heart.” That’s the art of a well-run turn.

Pick your way through the crowd: Good racers know how to anticipate traffic on the course, and pick their way through runners without breaking stride.  Likewise, as an author, you will have a crowded field of other writers in your genre. Distinguish your work by content and voice, identify the crux of every scene among the myriad thoughts pouring through your mind, and run to the exact sentences and words to best capture your scene. And do so without breaking form.

Make your move: Commit yourself fully: At some point in every race, runners make their move to ensure the best finish. They pick up the pace, tap into their inner reserves, and lay themselves out. These surges are beautiful to behold. And readers love it as well. When you commit to a character action or a line of argument or discussion in a non-fiction book, commit fully. Give it everything you’ve got, the fruits of all the hard research, interviewing, deep thinking and planning. Write every sentence as though it were your last. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to “save it up for a knockout punch.” Be like Ernest Hemingway: pour your blood, sweat and collective life experience into every sentence you write. Commit fully.

READ PART 2 of “15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons”

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What’s Going On, Amazon?

During the past 12 years, most of us have grown to regard Amazon.com as an immediate source for books we want to purchase: a) at a discount; b) from the convenience of our homes or offices; and/or c) because we can’t find them at our local bookstores and don’t want to wait for a special order. In fact, we’ve obliged this wonderful service so much that Amazon.com is not only the biggest bookseller in the country, but also one of our nation’s biggest and most cash-flush businesses.

I’ve written before about Amazon.com’s incredible customer focus. I featured it in an online tutorial that I wrote for corporate management and leadership training. Amazon.com’s way of automatically presenting buying choices based on your preferences, their crisp shipping practices and their ease-of-use platform all speak to extraordinary attention to detail. The customers come first. So much so that Amazon.com has an in-house goal: to never receive a complaint.

Well, today, they’re getting a very public complaint from one of their biggest supporters and customers the past 10 years: Me.  It pertains to another of their finest features, allowing customers to post reviews.

Amazon.com has decided to disallow published authors from posting reviews on books. Any books. In other words, because 12 of the books I’ve written or ghostwritten are available on Amazon.com, I cannot write a review for your book, or my friends’ books, or the books written by any of the 440 people in my Word Journeys – Resources for Writers group on Facebook. Or anyone else’s book that I happen to buy and read.

This is absurd. Completely ridiculous. Does Amazon.com think that authors cannot write objective reviews? Do they think authors aren’t customers? If they ran some metrics on their buying customers (which they can do), they would find that a fat percentage of their revenue comes from working authors. By and large, we are  obsessive book buyers. (For my part, I have 2,000 books, plus at least 3,000 that I’ve donated to libraries, schools or charities over the years). I mean, this is like telling librarians that they cannot recommend books to other librarians.

I love writing book reviews. I also love reading the reviews of my books, whether positive or critical. But I have ethics, too, and I do not write book reviews on Amazon or other online services for clients who enlist my services to edit or market their books. Much as I want to (and my clients want me to), I feel that’s a little too conflicting. However, I tell fellow authors about my clients’ books, and my other friends as well, and encourage them to review these titles.

Here’s the thing: Amazon.com works on a ratings system. The higher your book rates in sales, the quicker it pops up on the screen. This is particularly important when you have a title with common words, such as the latest effort by Dr. Steve Victorson and I, The Champion’s Way.  We’ve sold copies, and we’ve had favorable reviews. Presto: Our book is seen by more casual browers.

If authors can’t write reviews anymore, who can other authors count on? If authors can’t support the effort and content of another’s book — with a particular, inside appreciation for that effort — that takes away a vital promotional asset. The beauty of having an author review your book is that they can address the way you put the story together, the journeys of the characters, and the voice you used. It’s a very collaborative and supportive act — something that I think is lost on the hyper-competitive Amazon.  What Amazon.com needs to remember is that the book publishing industry has been torched by the combination of online bookselling, the migration to digital publishing and computing, and two recessions (2001-2 and 2008-onward). First, authors were forced to start promoting their own books. Next, publishing houses closed down by the droves. Now, many authors self-publish, a situation for which Amazon makes many millions of dollars through Create Space.

So Amazon is taking away a vital communications and promotional vehicle for authors. It’s as if they DON’T want authors to help each other out, which I find astonishing since they BENEFIT from our collaborative instincts through Create Space.

I know a lot of authors, many of whom have published through traditional houses, and some through Create Space. NONE of these authors would write the type of review that, I presume, Amazon.com thinks we would write — a blatant fluff piece that smokescreens the weaknesses in content, voice or writing of the reviewed book. We don’t do that. We’re professionals, and we write that way. We also know that we’re doing other authors and the reading public a disservice by sugar-coating book reviews.

And now, Amazon.com has chosen to silence the voices of those who feed both a hefty chunk of its online sales and its Create Space business. I certainly hope this suppression comes back to bite them hard enough to make them reconsider their decision. One thing for sure: I won’t be doing any holiday shopping on Amazon.com this year. Nor will a lot of authors that I know.

Let Amazon.com know how you feel. For those with Twitter accounts, a great handle to address is @AmazonBookPromo. Otherwise, let them know with your wallets.

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Picking Favorite Authors — One Writer’s List

We’re rolling into the busy winter-spring writer’s conference season now, so thought I’d spend the next several blogs sharing materials that, hopefully, will stir the literary blood of writers, readers and editors alike. I’ve got a number of big events coming up, most prominently the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego Feb. 18-20, the Tucson Festival of Books March 11-13 and the Hummingbird Review Poetry Revue in Vista, CA March 20, so I’ll definitely be in the sharing mood for the next six weeks.

So we’ll start by putting the head on the chopping block and seeing what happens — a list of my 50 favorite authors (plus 10 VERY honorable mentions). Here’s the caveat on this list: It only includes people who wrote extensively in the 20th or early 21st centuries. So some other all-time favorites, like Catullus, Archimedes, Sappho, Goethe, the Shelleys (Percy and Mary), Keats, Blake, Tennyson, Thoreau, Emerson, the Rossettis (Dante and Christina), St. Francis, Petrarch, Chaucer and others, won’t be on this list.

Since I write and read in multiple genres, “writer” to me breaks out as novelists, memoirists, essayists, journalists, poets, short story writers, non-fiction authors and even songwriters with particularly poetic styles.

But a fair question deserves a fair answer. These writers have greatly touched my heart and mind and inspired my work, regardless of genre. In all cases, I’ve read many, most or all of their books. They are not necessarily in order — that would be too difficult — although I’d say the top 30 are pretty accurate:

1. Gary Snyder — Poet, Essayist, Translator (Turtle Island, A Place in Space, Practice of the Wild)

2. Paramhansa Yogananda — Spiritual Memoir, Poet (Autobiography of a Yogi is a classic, but his Whispers from Eternity is a poetic gift from heaven)

3. Anne Rice — Novelist (The Vampire Chronicles)

4. Tom Wolfe — Literary Journalist, Novelist (The Right Stuff, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

5. Anais Nin — Diarist, Essayist, Novelist (Delta of Venus, Diaries of Anais Nin)

6. Jim Harrison — Novelist, Memoirist (Legends of the Fall, Call of the North)

7. T.C. Boyle — Novelist, Short Fiction (Drop City)

8. Jack Kerouac — Novelist, Poet, Memoirist (The Dharma Bums, On The Road)

9. Jeanette Winterson — Novelist (Written on the Body)

10. Joyce Carol Oates — Novelist, Short Fiction, Journalist (Blonde)

11. Henry Miller — Novelist, Essayist, Short Fiction, Memoirist (Tropic of Cancer)

12. Annie Dillard — Memoirist, Essayist, Novelist (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

13. John Gardner — Novelist, Short Fiction, Educator (The Sunlight Dialogues)

14. Don Eulert — Poet, Scholar, Translator (Field: A Haiku Circle)

15. Joy Harjo — Poet, Musician, Memoirist (How We Became Human)

16. Tim Winton — Novelist, Short Fiction (Breath)

17. Hunter S. Thompson — Literary Journalist (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

18. Luis Alberto Urrea — Memoirist, Journalist, Novelist (The Hummingbird’s Daughter)

19. J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda) — Spiritual and Topical Non-Fiction, Musician, Memoirist (The Path)

20. Jane Smiley — Novelist, Journalist (A Thousand Acres)

21. Tom Robbins — Novelist, Humorist (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues)

22. Michael McClure — Poet, Essayist (Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems)

23. Joan Didion — Memoirist, Journalist, Essayist (White Album)

24. Diane Ackerman — Non-Fiction (A History of the Senses)

25. Elmore Leonard — Novelist, Screenwriter (Get Shorty)

26. Michael Blake — Novelist, Memoirist (Dances with Wolves)

27. Jimmy Santiago Baca — Poet, Essayist, Memoirist (Healing Earthquakes, A Place to Stand)

28. Anne Lamott — Novelist, Memoirist (Lessons on Faith, Bird by Bird)

29. Ernest Hemingway — Novelist, Journalist (For Whom the Bell Tolls)

30. Ray Bradbury — Sci-Fi Novelist, Short Fiction (I Sing the Body Electric)

31. John Barth — Novelist (Giles Goat-Boy, The Sot Weed Factor)

32. Isabel Allende — Novelist (House of the Spirits)

33. Natalie Goldberg — Novelist, Memoirist, Education (Writing Down the Bones)

34. Taylor Mali — Poet, Educator, Spoken-Word Artist (What Learning Leaves)

35. Mary Stewart — Novelist (The Crystal Cave)

36. Laurel Corona — Novelist, Children’s Non-Fiction (The Four Seasons)

37. Jim Morrison — Poet, Musician (Lords and the New Creatures)

38. Ernest Gaines — Novelist, Essayist (A Lesson Before Dying)

39. Cameron Crowe — Journalist, Screenwriter (Rolling Stone, Jerry Maguire)

40. William Least Heat Moon — Travel Memoirist (Blue Highways)

41. Jack London — Novelist, Journalist (Call of the Wild)

42. Kurt Vonnegut — Novelist, Satirist (Cat’s Cradle)

43. Laura Hillenbrand — Topical Non-Fiction (Seabiscuit)

44. John Steinbeck — Novelist, Short Fiction (Grapes of Wrath, Travels with Charlie)

45. Robinson Jeffers — Poet, Essayist (Women at Point Sur, Thurso’s Landing)

46. Sarabeth Purcell — Novelist (Love is the Drug)

47. Wendell Berry — Poet, Essayist, Novelist, Short Fiction, Educator (Leavings, the Unsettling of America)

48. Muriel Rukeyser — Poet, Essayist, Activist (The Life of Poetry)

49. Anne Tyler — Novelist (Breathing Lessons)

50. Liu T’ieh Yun — Novelist (The Travels of Lao Ts’an)

 

My VERY Honorable Mentions:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Poet, Essayist (Coney Island of the Mind)

Erica Jong — Memoirist, Novelist (Fear of Flying)

Maya Angelou — Poet, Essayist (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)

J.R.R. Tolkien — Novelist, Essayist (Lord of the Rings)

Sandra Cisneros — Novelist, Short Fiction (The House on Mango Street)

Bob Shacochis — Literary Journalist, Novelist (Swimming in the Volcano)

Carson McCullers — Novelist (The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Ballad of the Sad Cafe)

William Faulkner — Novelist, Essayist (A Rose for Emily)

Christina Baldwin — Topical Non-Fiction (Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives)

May Sarton — Poet, Novelist, Memorist (Journal of a Solitude)

Since this blog was always meant to be an open forum, would love to see some of your lists as well — or how you would modify this one.

 

 

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Signing at the Book Fair

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life
As an author, one of my favorite activities is to present my works at book fairs, writer’s conferences and book expos. We’ve got a good one coming up Saturday in Evansville, IN, sponsored by the Midwest Writers Guild and hosted by Barnes & Noble.

I’ll be there to sign and promote The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life. I’ll also bring along my other six books and some promotional literature about the many services Word Journeys provides new and established authors.

Book fairs are wonderful. Authors from many states gather to talk about and sell their works, and to commiserate with each other. I thoroughly enjoy these conversations, because we can compare stories about getting published, promoting our works, researching our subjects, the creative process and so much more. While best-selling authors are always present at book fairs, I always seek out the regional authors, because their works keep the spirits, histories and personalities of their areas alive, and commit them to the printed word. Plus, they are very, very dedicated writers, artisans hard at work with their craft.

As a book fair attendee, I would suggest making it a point to seek out and talk with as many authors as you can. This is a rare opportunity to see the faces behind the voices and words, to pick their brains for their sources of motivation and inspiration – and, likely, to pick up a side story or two about how a certain character or plot line came into being.

For those who live in the Midwest and Upper South, the Evansville Book Fair runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17. The Barnes & Noble store is located on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Green River Road.

We’ll certainly have plenty of stories from the book fair next week on this blog … and an interview with an author or two. Stay tuned.

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