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Literary Journalism: A few thoughts on how to proceed, Part One

September 18, 2014

I’d like to take a course in the writing of Literary Journalism, a field to which I have been aspiring the whole time of the writing of my Tom Crean books. That is, since 1995. I’m not actually taking the course, but I have great respect for Ken McGoogan, the teacher of this course, and The Art of Fact: a Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism even more for the book that is the text for it, edited by Kevin Kerrand and Ben Yagoda.

I haven’t owned the book for an hour. I opened it to the first page that split (pg. 64) and commenced reading where my eyes fell. And could not stop reading. The piece is “An Experiment in Misery” (published 1893) by Stephen Crane, about a couple of seedy characters in search of a boarding house for the night, and later a bite to eat, in a rundown part of Brooklyn. Each sentence, each paragraph is a wonder of description to which I can aspire but never hope to attain. The key here, that we should all take not of is: “could not stop reading.” If you have accomplished that, your goal as a writer has been met.

I got as far as this passage on page 69, when I was moved to write this post:

“The young man saw the dark entrance of a basement restaurant. There was a sign which read, ‘No mystery about our hash,’ and there were other age stained and world battered legends which told him that the place was within his means. He stopped before it and spoke to the assassin. ‘I guest I’ll git somethin’ t’eat.”

The entire scene, the nature of the two characters, the neighborhood through which they pass—-that is, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that stands-in for the world they inhabit, and that inhabits them—-is painted so large and true, with such a few strokes of the writer’s brush. Now, for me, back to Crane’s story, to find out what happens next.

* * *

This, by the way, is not apropos of the launch at Florey’s in Pacifica CA of my new book Rough Weather All Day: An Account of the “Jeannette” Search Expedition by Patrick Cahill. Said launch happens Saturday September 20 at Florey’s, 3:00-5:00. Patrick Cahill’s words, here transcribed, speak for themselves, with the honesty of a daily account of exploration, shipwreck, and survival that needs no further embellishment.

On the value of second-hand books

July 26, 2014

–quoted from Alexander Werth’s “Russia at War 1941-1945″ (Carroll and Graf, NY 1964)–

“When I went to Leningrad in September 1943, the German lines were still two miles from the Kirov Works, on the southern outskirts of the city. The total population had now been reduced to some 600,000 and the city, though beautiful as ever despite considerable damage cause by shells, bombs and fires, had a strange and half-deserted look. There was practically no more bombing, but the shelling was frequent, and often deadly.

“Yet, in a strange way, life seemed almost to have returned to normal. Most of the city looked deserted, and yet, in the late afternoon, there were large crowds of people walking about the “safe” side of the Nevsky Prospect (the shells normally landed on the other side).

“And the ‘Writers’ Bookshop’ near the Anichov Bridge in the Nevsky was doing a roaring trade in second-hand books. Millions of books had been burned as fuel in Leningrad during the famine winter; and yet many people had died before having had time to burn their books, and—a cruel thought—some wonderful bargains were to be got.”

Beauty is where you find it: Monteux School in Hancock, Maine

July 20, 2014


Summer Orchestra in the woods

June 29, 2014

It’s the start of the 2014 Summer season at the Pierre Monteux Music School for Conductors and Orchestra Musician. If you’re anywhere near its campus in Hancock, Maine and you love classical music, now is the time to start making your plans to attend one of their amazing concerts. Don’t let the fact that the musicians and conductors are still students in their craft—I couldn’t tell any of them from seasoned professionals of many years’ experience.

Tonight’s concert was full of adventure and surprises, about the best I have seen, and Monteux’s grandson Gerard shared that opinion. The show started with the Overture from Carl Maria von Weber’s Euranthe. Apparently this 1823 opera’s failure to find a following can be blamed on its weak libretto. The score is lively, full of joy and plenty of surprises.

Next four Symphonic Sketches from George Whitefield Chadwick, composed between 1895 and 1904, combined to make a symphony. The aptly named Jubilee was much like its predecessor in the night’s offerings, full of excitement and surprises, followed by the beautifully lush and flowering Noel, and the witty Hobgoblin and A Vagrom. It’s no accident that I use words like “witty” and “surprising.” Many of these pieces jumped from one time to another, with quick-paced twists and turns that had to make one laugh.

After intermission, we were given Sibelius’s Symphony No.l in E minor. The introductory clarinet solo gave a haunting theme that built and evolved into a powerful and moving piece, moving into a familiar melody with its own repetition and power, that ended with a perfectly timed, perfectly executed single note.

Most of these pieces each had its own conductor. These young men and women were a delight to behold as they led their full orchestra with grace and power, animated as much by the music as the orchestra was by them.

The Monteux School is located in the woods just off Highway One in Hancock Maine. The concert hall a big barn-like building deep in the woods, seats about 225. You are never more than 13 rows from the stage, It’s too bad that tonight’s concert, one of the best, was played to about a 2/3 house. Really, the whole experience is unique. There’s a whole summer of fresh offerings ahead. If you’re nearby, take advantage of it.

Website: Pierre Monteux School for Muscians and Conductors
Summer 2014: Concert Schedule

Literary Stage at the San Mateo County Fair: One of a Kind–June 7-14, 2014

June 6, 2014

The San Mateo County Fair is proud to host the only Literary Stage among all the county fairs in the United States, and I am proud to be one of the stage managers for this unique venue.

The Sixth Annual Literary Arts Stage at the San Mateo County Fair has a full lineup of literary arts and entertainment this year. This “event within the event” has been growing every year, and now offers nearly sixty hours of writers workshops, readings, book launches, and music all day almost every day at the Galleria Stage in the Fine Arts Department of the Fair.

Sunday June 8 features a full day of writers workshops—the “Writers Conference for the Peninsula” designed to appeal to those writers in an around the peninsula who want the benefits of a conference close to home, for a very low cost. All events at the Literary Stage are free with Fair admission. The “Conference” includes presentations by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, journalist Scott Thomas Anderson, first draft and publicity workshops, and free writing consultations.

Other events feature book launches, the Pacifica Poets and Writers Forum, special events for Kids’ Day Monday June 9, and plenty of original and acoustic music every evening from 7:00 on, including the local duo Chinese Melodrama on Saturday June 7. David Hirzel has a book launch (“Rough Weather All Day”) 6/10 @ 5:00 followed by an hour of original acoustic music, and other appearances during the week. Pacifica Poets and Writers Forum Thursday June 12.

All these and more are free at the Galleria Literary Stage, with Fair admission.
GalleriaStage Sched2014

Literary Events All Day June 7 through. June 13.
San Mateo County Fairgrounds: 1346 Saratoga Dr. San Mateo, CA 94403

Come on down and join the fun!

Feel free to FORWARD THIS ALONG to all your friends who love good writing and good music.

Czecho-Slovakia/Ukraine: a sonnet from Edna St. Vincent Millay

May 1, 2014


If there were balm in Gilead, I would go
To Gilead for your wounds, unhappy land,
Gather you balsam there, and with this hand,
Made deft by pity, cleanse and bind and sew
And drench with healing, that your strength might grow,
(Though love be outlawed, kindness contraband)
And you, O proud and felled, again might stand;
But where to look for balm, I do not know.
The oils and herbs of mercy are so few;
Honour’s for sale; allegiance has its price;
The baking of a fox has bought us all;
We saved our skins a craven hour or two. –
While Peter warms him in the servants; hall
The thorns are platted and the cock crows twice.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay
from “Huntsman, What Quarry” (1939)

Ms. Millay published this sonnet in response to Hitler’s gradual and bloodless takeover of Europe’s sovereign states in his relentless drive to add land and people to his personal dream of a restored German empire. The parallels to events in eastern Europe today are unmistakeable.

Redwood Writers Conference: Santa Rosa CA 4/26/14. Don’t miss it!

April 16, 2014

I can’t praise the value of a writers’ conference to the life and work of anyone with a strong self-image as a writer. This will be the third or fourth Redwood Writers Conference I’ve attended, and every time I come away fully charged, greatly informed, energized and ready to hit the keys. There’s much more to it than just the new information on craft and genre that comes from the sessions—new business contacts, new friends, new energy. All in one day, and all for a remarkably modest cost.

The journey “From Pen to Published!” is an all-day event, Redwood Writers eighth conference, Saturday, April 26, 2014 at the Bertolini Student Center of the Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401 (map), 8:00 am – 5:30 pm. Click here for Redwood Writers Conference home page.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. Register here.  Registration closes April 24th.

Morning Keynote Speaker–John Rothmann, “From Conception to Delivery (Not to Mention Labor!): Making The Dream Become A Reality!” John F. Rothmann is a political and foreign policy consultant and is an expert on the American Presidency. He is a professor serving on the faculty of the Fromm Institute at the University of San Francisco. Rothmann is the co-author of Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti, and the Rise of Radical Islam (Random House, 2008) and Harold E Stassen: The Life and Perennial Candidacy of the Progressive Republican (McFarland, 2013). Rothmann was a Talk Show Host on KGO News Talk 810 AM from 1996 to 2011 and is currently the Political Analyst on KKSF 910 AM

Lunch Keynote Speaker Dana Gioia, “The Joy and Misery of Being a Poet” Dana Gioia is a poet, critic, and teacher who’s published four collections of poetry and Can Poetry Matter. As Chairman of the National Endowments for the Arts, he created the largest and most effective literary programs in federal history: Shakespeare in American Communities, Poetry Out Loud, and The Big Read. Gioia currently teaches poetry and public culture at USC.

Schedule for April 26th:
–8:00 am: Check-in with casual breakfast and hear morning keynote speaker, John Rothmann.
–All-day: Craft, Genre, Publishing, Marketing: Select among four tracks with sixteen sessions. We’ll explore topics with expert presenters who’ve made this trek and know the landmarks.
–Noon: Enjoy a buffet lunch with an all-poetry program celebrating National Poetry Month, a Redwood Writers first-ever poetry anthology, conference poetry contest awards, and a keynote presentation by noted poet and critic, Dana Gioia.
–5:00 pm:  Take part in the event finale with Your First Page session, the Helene S. Barnhart Award, and conference prose contest awards. 

Download Full Schedule


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