Some of my
journalism

Quite the World, Isn't It?


So, you think you want to write a novel ...

June 18, 2009

Tags: writing, books, friends, fiction, nonfiction, bookstores

My friend Frances Dinkelspiel -- another journalist-turned-historian -- has a nice Q&A on her blog today with Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody's Books in Berkeley. After he closed the shop a couple of years ago, he turned himself into a literary agent, with some pretty good results.

The most interesting part of the piece is Ross' take on the state of publishing which squares with what I've been seeing. Things aren't as bad as in newspapers, but it's still pretty tough. Especially for fiction writers. Frances asked him what is easier to sell to editors, fiction or nonfiction:
"Uhh -- well -- non-fiction is easier by a mile. Look, I don't want to rain on the parade, but look at the numbers. Publishers will only look at fiction that has been submitted by an agent. These submissions have been heavily vetted. I would imagine that out of 100 queries received by agents for novels, they might select 1 for submission (probably less). I have spoken with a number of fiction editors. They inform me that of the submissions they receive, they may decide to publish (again) 1 in 100. Just looking at the numbers, selling a novel is like winning the lottery. Of course, if you are a published author with a good track record, you are in pretty good shape. It isn't very hard to sell a new novel by Philip Roth. But if you are a published novelist whose last book bombed, it is extremely difficult. Publishers are making decisions by the numbers now. They have a data base that tells them the sales of every book on the market. Refined taste in literature plays a very small role."
So I guess the good news is the novel I've got stashed away, half finished while I work on The Fear Within, is a mystery. Not much call for refined literary taste there....


Nice links for the brewpub travel piece

June 8, 2009

Tags: travel, journalism, freelance, friends

Had a couple of nice links to the Los Angeles Times travel piece on brewpubs, one from The New York Times (scroll down to the middle of the NYT item), and the other from a beer historian.


Solid NY Times review for Laila Lalami's Secret Son

June 6, 2009

Tags: writing, books, friends, fiction

It's always nice to see friends get good play and reception for their creative works. This time it's Laila Lalami's turn, with this solid review in The New York Times for her novel, Secret Son.

Truth be told (sorry, Laila), I have yet to crack the novel, which Laila signed for me when we both were speaking (separate panels) at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Just too many on the stack, though I hope to get to it soon. I loved her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, a wonderful collection of inter-connected short stories about the illegal flow of migrants from Lalami's native Morocco to Spain.

Laila's a wonderful work -- I recommended Hope to many friends, and none were disappointed. And it looks like Secret Son is just as compelling, and insightful. Below is the book trailer.




Ludlow verse-novel author wins $40,000 prize

June 3, 2009

Tags: writing, books, friends, history, fiction, Ludlow Massacre

I'm tickled to see that my friend, David Mason, has won the 2009 Thatcher Hoffman Smith Creativity in Motion Prize -- $40,000 to convert his wonderful verse-novel Ludlow in a libretto.

Dave's book and my Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West came out around the same time, and we've done readings and appeared in panels together. He also, coincidentally, is married to Annie Wells, a wonderful photographer with whom I worked at the late Rochester Times-Union in the mid-1980s.

Dave's award, combined with the recent Bancroft Prize to Thomas Andrews for Killing for Coal, a look at the Ludlow through the prism of environmental history, is beginning to bring more attention to the Ludlow Massacre and the Colorado coal war that spawned it -- more than 75 killed in seven months, with the striking coal miners and their supporters controlling 275 miles of the Front Range until President Wilson sent in the U.S. Army as a peacekeeping force.

I still think the story would make a wonderful movie. So far, I've had a few nibbles but nothing has panned out, unfortunately. Keep your fingers crossed.


Unbashed shilling for a friend

May 21, 2009

Tags: friends, literature, politics

My friend and soccer mate Scott Laumann is on a three-month sabbatical in Minnesota with his wife and their young daughter (we're hoping the mosquitoes and black flies are merciful).

But that's not why I'm posting. He's a wonderful artist and remarkable illustrator, with works getting play in the LA Times, Rolling Stone and slew of other places. Below are a couple of samples, but check out his web site for the full array. We have a couple of his pieces (prints) in the living room, part of his giants-of-jazz series.

Great stuff.




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About me


A third-generation journalist, I was born in Scarborough, Maine, and grew up there and in Wellsville, New York, about two hours south of Buffalo. My first newspaper job came at age 16, writing a high school sports column for the Wellsville Patriot, a weekly (defunct), then covering local news part-time for the Wellsville Daily Reporter.

After attending Fredonia State, where I was editor of The Leader newspaper and news director for WCVF campus radio, I worked in succession for the Jamestown Post-Journal, Rochester Times-Union (defunct), The Detroit News and the Los Angeles Times, where I covered presidential and other political campaigns, books, local news and features, including several Sunday magazine pieces.

An active freelancer, my work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Sierra Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Orange Coast magazine, New York Times Book Review (books in brief), Buffalo News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), Solidarity (United Auto Workers) and elsewhere. I teach or have taught journalism courses at Chapman University and UC Irvine, and speak occasionally at school and college classes about journalism, politics and writing. I've appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Literary Orange festival, moderated panels at the Nieman Conference in Narrative Journalism and the North American Labor History Conference, among others, and been featured on C-SPAN's Book TV.

I'm also a co-founder of The Journalism Shop, a group of journalists (most fellow former Los Angeles Times staffers) available for freelance assignments.



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