Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't just shop local...Read local

For those around here looking to give something a bit more unique for the holidays, how about a personally autographed book?  Next week, I'll be part of the "Del Norte Authors' Holiday Book Signing and Sales" at the county library in Crescent City.  It's put on by many of the fine folks who bring you the annual North Coast Redwoods Writers' Conference (including yours truly), and will include some author readings and free food and drink (likely coffee, tea, cookies--that sort of thing).

It goes down on Thursday, December 3, the same night as the Business Improvement District's annual Miracle on Third Street, in which  downtown shops stay open late, offering free goodies, and Santa hangs around for the kids.  The Miracle on Third is from 4-7pm, and the book reading/signing/sales will be from 6-8pm (to catch some of the foot traffic from the Miracle). In between readings, we're planning on having some light music and time for people to chat with the authors.

I believe I'm on deck to go second in the book reading.  I'll read some from my children's book for adults, The Little Veal Cutlet That Couldn't about the happy cow that ends up at the slaughterhouse. Or I might surprise and read from something more festive (though I'm pretty sure I will not read from "Blitzenkrieg," my Santa Claus vs. The Cockroaches apocalypse story--I don't think it will be the right crowd)

If you're in the area, stop by, say hi, and support local authors.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book recycling

I just registered yesterday for my final semester in Humboldt State's Teaching Writing program (graduation is May 15!).  And it reminded me to start looking for books.  For a few years, I've been using this useful website,  The concept is simple: you send people the books you no longer want, you receive new books that you do want.

Basically you post a list of what you have.  If someone else sees something they like, they request it.  You pay for postage to ship to them (generally around $2.50 or so via media mail) and then you get a credit.  You can use the credit to request any of the millions of books other people have listed.  And they ship it to you for free (well, free to you).

One of the best features is that you can create a Wish List for books that aren't posted as of yet.  Then at the moment someone does list the book, they send you an email asking if you want it (provided you're at the top of the waitlist).  You have 48 hours to claim it, or they ask the next person on the list.

I've found it a great place to get the books for my classes. Of course, it works best for literature classes, as every fifth person has a Charles Dickens or George Eliot novel they want to part with.  But I've been able to get a few textbooks for other classes out of it too.  So right about now is when I should email the professor to ask for a reading list (because if I wait until I get the syllabus on the first day, it may be too late to get a book in time for the first assigned reading).

Check it out at

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Miss Snark (and Dick Cheney)

Doing the ol' Google of myself (I know you do it too), I discovered something I wrote at Miss Snark's blog.  Miss Snark is a literary agent who disbursed wisdom for writers wanting to get their foot in the door with agents and publishers (she has since stopped writing the blog).  She would hold an occasional (annual?) Crap-O-Meter extravaganza in which writers could submit their "hooks" for a book proposal.  She would then comment on whether it was any good from a literary agent point of view.  For the few she liked, the writer could then send the first 750 words or so.  And she would comment on those.

For kicks, I submitted a synopsis/hook type thing for one of my National Novel Writing Month novels, Dick Cheney Saves Paris.  It's definitely not your father's literary fiction, but I'm happy to report she liked the the hook. And that meant I got to send the first chapter or two for a response.

Interesting side note about Dick Cheney Saves Paris: I used to work for an on-demand publishing company (they make DVDs and books when there is an order for them, so there is no need for struggling artists to buy a huge inventory that might take a garage to store and forever to sell).  In doing a beta-test of their book service, I ordered a copy of my Dick Cheney book as well as two other books.  I wasn't planning on self-publishing these books, but since it was really just a one-time printing for myself, and since I was told it could not go live, I figured what the heck.  I mean, it's not like printing one book for myself could stop me from finding a publisher some day, right?  And plus, I was getting paid to test the system.  So I tried it out.

But did I mention that had bought the company?  And that when I tested out the book process, there was a bug that allowed my books to be listed on  I let the tech people know and they fixed the bug (good thing we were doing that testing).  The books were never actually for sale--I hadn't yet approved the proofs for them--and I was told they would no longer show up on Amazon.  But lo and behold, one of the three was still there when next I checked.

I thought of complaining again, but I kind of like the idea that people doing a search for "Dick Cheney" on may stumble across this.  So maybe this will stop a publishing company from picking this up--the fact that it looks like it has been self-published.  Sure, it says "Out of Print--Limited Availability"--I have the only copy, after all--but if any publishing company wants to see the book regarding which Miss Snark said "I"d read this" (and yes, she also said "I doubt I could sell it"), let me know.  I swear it hasn't been self-published.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Read Zeitoun

I just finished Dave Egger’s latest, a nonfiction book called Zeitoun. I usually don’t get so into the nonfiction books (which may be weird because I read tons and tons of nonfiction magazine articles, but there you go), but it looked lonely there at the Crescent City library with no date stamps on it (yes, they still do things the old fashioned way here—hand-stamping the date). So to break in the book, I picked it up and carted it off.

But since I was driving home, my wife started perusing it. Two days later when she had finished it, I was finally able to read it. And I too read it in two days. Zeitoun tells the story of the Zeitoun family living in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina is about to hit. While his wife Kathy flees with their four kids, Syrian-born Abdulrahman stays behind to keep an eye on their home and business. He begins helping others where he can, feeding dogs and picking up the elderly in the canoe he uses to traverse the city streets. All the way, calling his wife each day to say how he is safe and well. Until the day when the phone calls stop and she has no idea where he is or what happened to him. It doesn't lesson the heartbreak for the reader to know that he was arrested for looting his own home and accused of being part of Al Qaeda. And things get worse.

Eggers’ style is pretty spare. Not much in the way of flowery passages or any of the literary hijinks he’s known for. He gets to the point, detailing Zeitoun’s story in a straightforward manner. But the story is the thing. On one level it's about a man working hard and trying to do his best yet beat up by the injustice of a broken system. But on another level it's an indictment of the Bush administration and "Heckuva Job" Brownie and all that went wrong in New Orleans. Though I should note that Eggers rightfully lets their actions and/or inactions speak for themselves.  This is no polemic.

Zeitoun is an important work, and should be read by anyone who thinks the problems of Katrina are all behind us now.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Big Book Sale

Well, I missed the Big Book Sale in San Francisco for the first time in 5 years or so, but I had a good excuse. Each year around the last weekend in September, the San Fran Public Library holds a book sale at Fort Mason, and even though it’s a 7 hour drive, I try to be there. What other library book sale can say they have over 200,000 books for sale?  Yes, you read that right—it has to be the biggest library book sale in the country. And on Sunday, everything is $1 or less. So for an avid reader such as moi, this is an event (especially considering the dearth of quality book stores in Del Norte county--it ends up being roughly a year's worth of book browsing for me, unfortunately).

A few years ago, I went down with about $60 in hostel petty cash, with plans to start a book exchange (I believe the slick venture kids call that “seed money”). And I came back with about 50 great books. Or at least ones that I think are great. I don’t know if it says something about my tastes that many of them are still here, three years later. Right next to our Laundry area is the sign for “Need a Book, Take a Book; Have a Book, Leave a Book."  And right below the sign are the books.

Sure, I came home from that trip with some of the stuff the popular kids are reading—Grisham and Harry Potter and so forth. And they disappeared pretty quick. But each time I pass by the book swap, I see those books that I know are great—The Contortionist’s Handbook and The Tetherballs of Bougainville and others. Ones that I had read and loved and couldn’t pass up for a mere $1 and bought figuring sure, maybe no one has heard of the authors, but if they at least open to the first page and start reading, then they’d be hooked. They would “take a book.” And they do take a book. But it’ the latest Sue Grafton, Y is for Why are these other strange books here?

Oh—my excuse for missing this year? My wife and I were in the middle of giving birth. But hey—there’s always next year.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Best in Show?

I forgot to mention some good news from last month:  I had submitted a few poems for the 2009 Del Norte County Fair (theme "Cowboy Boots and Country Roots").  Yes, it's not just bunnies and cows and apple pies--you can submit poetry to the good ol' county fair.  And yes, I do say on my website somewhere that "I don't do poetry." But you just can't submit novels or travel stories or children's book (for adults) to the county fair.  So I took a few really short stories and re-formatted them to add more line breaks.  And off they went.

Well, I may need to change that note about whether I do poetry (in fact, it might be gone now), because in the adult poetry section, I received the Best in Show and First Place ribbons, for my submissions "Orange" and "Noodles." And just to be clear, when I say "adult poetry" I don't mean poetry of an adult nature.  They had a division of poetry by adults and another for poetry by kids.  Though it might be more fun if they did have an adult adult poetry division.  But then the kids might think it's unfair because you can't have a children's adult poetry division.  That just wouldn't be cool.

In other fair news, I also received a first place in the digital photography division for one of my banana slug mandalas ("Slugdala #3").  So whaddaya know--an award winning poet and artist. 

But will anyone buy my novel?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Free writin'

Just a quick note to say that this coming week, we will celebrate 100 years of Hostelling International and 75 years of HI-USA (formerly HI-AYH). Here at the Redwood Hostel, Kaci and I will have a series of activities to commemorate the big occasion.  But since she and I are both writers, one evening we will be sponsoring a travel writing free write. If anyone is in the area and wants to stop in, it will be Tuesday, August 25, at 8pm.  For a full description, go here.

Friday, July 03, 2009

What's going on here

I posted this on my Facebook page a month or so back, but since not everyone is a "friend," I thought I'd post a note here.  It's not about writing, but for anyone interested in what Kaci and I are doing in Redwood National Park, the Medford news ran a segment on our little hostel by the sea.  Check it out here.  (And no, you won't see me in the video--I had school that day.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Percival Everett does it again

Several years back author Percival Everett was on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine, about the time I was trying to see how many books I could read in a year (answer: 72 if I don’t have a job for a few of those 12 months). While perusing the library looking for slim books to up my count, I found a book with his name on it. I don’t think it was all that thin of a book, but I thought “Hey—this is the guy from the magazine” and I took it home. And I’m glad I did because I found my new favorite author.

I had never heard of him before that P&W cover story, and to this day, I'm fairly certain none of my friends know who he is. Which means, of course, I’m not doing my job in convincing them to read his books. Or maybe I just know that his writing is not for everyone. Sure, his novels are some of the smartest funniest works out there. But not everyone likes smart and funny. No offense.

My first Everett novel was Erasure, about Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, a writer of experimental novels that don’t sell. His editor begs him to write something that will sell, focused on black life. So Ellison writes a joke, a parody of what the editor wants, basically as his way of saying “screw you.” Of course, it’s not taken that way. Rather, everyone thinks it’s a shocking and realistic portrayal of the African-American experience. And so it does become a bestseller. Everett’s novel is a critical examination of the state of both publishing and race relations. And it’s very funny.

Since that time (I’m guessing early 2004), I’ve been reading two or three of his books each year. Which means I’m about halfway through, as he’s written somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25. Usually I don’t read them new because I’m cheap (or maybe poor). So I get them at the library. But I had a gift certificate to my favorite northcoast bookstore (Northtown Books in Arcata), which I’d been saving for a special occasion (saving the certificate, not the bookstore). And when I heard that Everett had a new novel out, there was the occasion presented.

His latest is called I am Not Sidney Poitier after the lead character in the book. No, the character is not Sidney Poitier—he’s Not Sidney Poitier. Due to his mother’ death, Not Sidney ends up with a huge number of shares in TBS, Ted Turner’s company. In fact, without parents, Not Sidney ends up living with Ted Turner. Well, not exactly. He lives on the same estate, but rarely sees Ted. He’s mostly left to his own devices, though Ted often provides random non sequiturs to the young Not. The novel follows Not’s travels as he confronts racism, wealth, and more, and his life somehow parallels the scenes from Sidney Poitier movies (though at one point Not Sidney has a few interesting meetings with a college professor named Percival Everett).

I won’t say much more about this work, but I’m not sure why Everett isn’t more well known. I feel he’s just as good at bending genre conventions as someone like Jonathan Lethem. Don’t get me wrong—I love Lethem’s works, they're brilliant (though maybe I’ll save that for another post). But for his wide range of styles and content, for his humor, and for his biting satire, I’ll take a Percival Everett novel any day

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Returning from our weekend (took off to the tiny wood cabin we have up on the Illinois River in Oregon), I found a letter inviting me to read my poem "Noodles" at the College of Redwoods Poets & Writers release party on May 1.  So now I may be reading two times that weekend.  Friday night at the College of the Redwoods and Sunday afternoon at Humboldt State University for the Toyon release party.  Their reading is by sign-up that day (rather than invitation), so I may sign up to read from the short play I wrote that appears in this year's journal (though it will make more sense if I have a few readers join me--there are 3 characters, after all).

In other College of the Redwoods news, I've been part of the steering committee putting together this year's Redwoods Writers' Conference, which promises to be one of the best yet.  September 18 and 19 in Crescent City.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Gwendolen Harleth Can Teach Us About Sarah Palin

This coming weekend is the annual North Coast Student Research Conference and Graduate Fair at Humboldt State. For the most part this means presentations about scientific data, such as estimates of salmon populations or the dispersal dynamics of bullfrogs.  But each year there are a handful of us from the Humanities presenting our work.  This year I'll be presenting from the paper I wrote last Fall for English 546, a literature class focusing on Victorians and Benevolence.  We read Jane Austen' Sense & Sensibility, Gaskell's North and South, Trollope's The Warden, Eliot's Daniel Deronda, and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.  And we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol.

In reading Daniel Deronda, I saw some similarities between one of the main characters and someone I'd been hearing about nonstop during the then-ongoing presidential campaign. Honest, I tried to write a normal literature paper. But Sarah Palin kept creeping in. (As an interesting side note, one other student in that lit. class decided to examine modern-day politics in light of the Victorian literature we were reading.  Jimmy will also be presenting at the conference, on "Obama’s Argument: Neighborliness and Benevolence as Elements of Public Policy.")

Here then is my abstract, direct from the conference program:

What Gwendolen Harleth and Ideas of Morality Can Teach Us About Sarah Palin


“Was she beautiful or not beautiful? and what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance? Was the good or the evil genius dominant in those beams?”

  —George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

So begins George Eliot’s last completed novel, Daniel Deronda.  With its publication in 1876, Victorian England was introduced to the woman in question, Gwendolen Harleth. She is presented as a “beautiful, spirited, but spoilt” woman (Oxford 80) who goes from financial ruin to become the marriage partner of a rich aristocrat, attending parties and constantly in the eye of society.  Of course, that is until her husband drowns in a boating incident for which she blames herself. During the presidential election in 2008, the United States was introduced to the character of Sarah Palin, Alaska Governor and Republican nominee for Vice President.  She—or perhaps the media’s representation of her—mirrors the character of the beautiful and spirited Gwendolen.  With her beauty-queen good looks, her spirited political rallies, and her “marriage” to a wealthy senator, the formerly small-town mayor was suddenly cast in the public spotlight and constantly a source of discussion.  That is, until her partner’s campaign “sinks,” for which she receives much of the blame.

This presentation examines the position of Sarah Palin today, in light of Eliot’s Gwendolen Harleth.  The purposes of this examination are two-fold.  First, to consider the similarities and differences between the position of a woman in Victorian times—in our case, almost-governess Harleth—and the position of a similar woman of today’s world—here Governor Palin.  While the place of women in our modern nation is certainly different from Victorian-era London, a comparison between the two is be justified by an examination of the commonalities between the two women in four different areas: beauty, education, non-traditional interests, and relationships.

The second purpose is to determine if and how the ideas of morality and benevolence represented in Daniel Deronda compare with those in today’s world.  Within each of the four areas noted above, the moral component of their respective actions is examined. What can we learn about ourselves and the morality of our society, by viewing our actions in relation to those represented in Victorian literature?  What can Gwendolen’s ideas of morality teach us about Sarah Palin’s own moral responses?

As will be demonstrated, it is my thesis that Sarah Palin is a modern-day Gwendolen Harleth, and that the comparison grounds the moral actions of Sarah Palin in a historical precedent.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mom will be so proud

Just got word that one of my "slugdalas" won the Staff Art Award for the upcoming volume of Toyon, the literary magazine of Humboldt State University.  If this year is anything like last, the 2009 edition should be out by early May.  A short play I wrote was also selected for inclusion, as well as a couple photographs (Crater Lake in July, Tree Man, and Foot Bridge).  Yes, with 5 total items, this year's Toyon is sure to be one my parents will want to keep!