Douglas Trevor: Girls I Know (A Novel)

October 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

9780983150534978-0983150534 – Sixoneseven Books – paperback -  May 1, 2013 – $15.95 (ebook versions available at lower prices)

A debut novel set in Boston, Girls I Know has an unusual narrative structure that sometimes feels like a love song to the city of Boston as much as a novel about the protagonist, tortured failed graduate student, Walt Steadman.  Walt is a classic nebbish – dropped out of graduate school writing a thesis on an obscure poetic subject, making his living now as a sperm donor and doing odd jobs.

Walt is painfully obsessive – as a way to channel his feelings of failure and indirection.  He goes to the same small coffee shop for breakfast almost every day, where he befriends the owners and their daughter, Mercedes.  He loves Boston in an obsessive way too.  The real story of the novel begins when Walt is survives a terrible shooting at his favorite restaurant which leaves four people dead, including his friends.

Now he is forced to confront himself and in his recovery, try to find the self he has buried in his self indulgent lifestyle.  The girls he knows are both complicated – the effervescent Ginger Newton, Harvard undergraduate – another obsessive, but a much more active one, she is writing a book called Girls I Know about women and their jobs and the heartbroken and speechless Mercedes, whose parents are now dead.  How he interacts with these two “girls” on his path to self discovery and redemption are what this book is really about.

I liked this book much more than I initially thought I would (coming of age stories are not usually my forte as a reader).  Trevor is a very good storyteller, and his characters are all interesting and well drawn. And his Boston comes to life throughout the book.  Trevor knows his way around characters and places and his writing is strong.  His collection of short fiction, The Thin Tear In The Fabric Of Space, won the Iowa Short Fiction award in 2005.  Author website here.Trevor image  Kudos to this independent publisher, Sixoneseven, for doing an excellent production job and a serious effort to market and promote a very good book.

Douglas Rushkoff: Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

September 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Present Shock978-1591844761 – Current – Hardcover – $26.95 (ebook versions available at lower prices, and paperback edition due February 2014)

“If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism, the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.”

As it happens, I started this Writerscast project as an antidote to my own sense of what Douglas Rushkoff calls Present Shock, which is about how time, technology, attention, human intelligence, culture, meaning, advertising, commerce and belief systems that mark 21st century modern life have changed the way we experience our lives.  This is an important book that having read and thought about, I can highly recommend.

What is ironic is that all of the things about our time that Rushkoff talks about in Present Shock, our feeling of being too busy and overwhelmed with input, our inability to filter out what does not matter to us and to focus on what does matter most are all the reasons why so many people I know will end up not reading this book at all.  In fact the author felt those same issues during the writing of the book, and had to devise a plan and method that allowed him to concentrate on getting the work done.

You are not alone if you are feeling the need to make some space for yourself.  It took me much longer to read this book than it would have some years ago.  And it took me much longer to find the space in my life to write this short piece and post it than I am comfortable with.  Technology in communication has enabled tremendous gains for many of us, while at the same time enslaving us to our devices.

Rushkoff brilliantly describes what has happened to us – the end of narrative, changes in the way we perceive and operate in time, what he calls digiphrenia – mental chaos provoked by digital experience – our need to escape the present, and our inability to filter information and sensory input.  We instinctively know what he is talking about because we experience it ourselves every day.

But most of the time, most of us believe all of these concerns are personal and individual – how do I learn how to cope with the modern world?  I think Rushkoff’s point in this book is that these are not individual problems, they are structural, and we need to start thinking about ways we can alter the course of our culture, to take control of technology, to act rather than be acted upon.  In that way, this is an inspiring book, which I hope will lead to change in thinking and behavior.

I interviewed Doug about one of his earlier books, Program or Be Programmed.  He is a terrific talker as well as writer and I am sure you will enjoy listening to our conversation. Rushkoff

 

 

Sites We Like: PennSound

August 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Pipeline

PennSound is an incredible project established by Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein with tremendous support from the University of Pennsylvania, collecting poetry in audio form from an incredible array of sources.  There really isn’t anything like it anywhere.  There are historical recordings, so many of which are fantastic and powerful, that it is almost impossible to know where to start.  All the poets whose work matters to me are here.  And there are many voices from the recent past and the present as well.  You can spend hours on this site and of course you will never be able to experience the full range of what they have, there is just too much.  And there is new work added or highlighted every day!  Amazing.  For anyone interested in the sound of writing, this is a site you must visit.

Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein at PennSound (photo by Mark Stehle)Bernstein-Filreis_Mark-Stehle

PennSound Daily is written by Michael S. Hennessey.

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Philipp Meyer: The Son

July 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Son_Cover_Low_res-210978-0062120397 – Ecco Press – Hardcover – $27.99 (ebook editions available at lower prices)

It is wonderful these days to come across a novel with big ambitions.  It is even better to come across one that succeeds so brilliantly as The Son, which is only the second novel by Philipp Meyer.  His first book, American Rust, was published in 2009.

The Son is rooted in Texas, which gives Meyer the chance to be epic, as the place itself, so large and so much a part of the romantic history of the American West, enables story telling on a grand scale.  There are three generations of stories in the novel, told in three separate voices, all of members of the same family, living out the story of European America.  It’s a terrific story, complicated and sometimes challenging to keep straight whose voice you are hearing, which period you are in, but I was hooked from the outset of the book and could not put it down.  Admittedly, I am a sucker for stories that show American Indians as real people, not as stick figures, and which admit (and celebrate) the complexity of human beings rather than trying to judge them from the perspective of the present.

Meyer is a terrific writer throughout. To be this good so early in his career may put alot of pressure on him going forward.  It is difficult for any writer to continually come up with great stories and tell them well.  Talking to Meyer here about his work, and about how he came to write The Son, I gained a good deal of respect for this writer and his literary vision.  The next book I am reading this summer is American Rust and I am going to be looking forward to Meyer’s next book, which I hope to be reading in the not too distant future.  Philipp Meyer is the real deal, a great writer telling stories of America that help is define who we are in this late era of the American Empire.  052313lunchmeyer_512x288

*Note to listeners – Meyer and I had an unusually long conversation, this interview runs a bit more than 42 minutes, I hope well worth your while to hear all the way through.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Eugene Schwartz

Gene Schwartz PhotoIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Gene Schwartz has been an active participant in the publishing business for many years.  I first knew him as the ubiquitous representative of the magazine Foreword, covering every possible book and technology event for the benefit of independent publishers.  He still works as editor at large of Foreword Reviews.   He is an industry observer, an occasional blogger and columnist for Book Business magazine,  a member of its editorial advisory board and its Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board. He heads his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House, and is currently engaged in new business development projects for Waterside Productions, He is also notably co-founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., an innovative online private press and publication service for professionals , publishers and associations

In an earlier career, he was in the printing business, directed production at Random House and CRM Books/Psychology Today and was director of production and operations for Prentice-Hall/Goodyear. He is a former PMA (IBPA) board member and founder of the San Diego Publishers Group.

Schwartz has a civil engineering degree from CCNY and completed graduate course work in public administration at NYU, so like many of us in the publishing business, he came to this business from a very different background.

I thought it would be valuable to talk to Gene about publishing, past, present, and future, since he has been involved in so many different aspects of the business over such a long period of time.  He is consistently perceptive about the way technology and change can be harnessed by publishers and others in the book business, and has a terrifically tuned critical sensibility that he can bring to bear on any subject.  We had a great talk and covered a wide range of subjects in this interview.ws100_detail_cover

Self Publishing News

June 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Pipeline

self-published readersIf you are interested in self publishing (and who isn’t these days?), there are so many options and choices, it’s not so easy to figure out what your best pathway is.  And it will differ depending on what kind of writing you do, how much you have published in the past, and what your goals are as a writer.

There are all kinds of resources for writers who want to self publish, and there is something new going on almost every day that could be useful, valuable or interesting to writers (and some publishers) in the universe of self publishing.

Since so much of my work relates to publishing and options for writers, I decided to follow new developments and doings in the self publishing arena, and highlight some of those I think will be most useful to writers.  You can find my Self Publishing News on Tumblr. Please take a look, and if you like what you see, you can follow my posts pretty easily.  I’ll be posting 3-5 times a week, depending on my workload and what kind of interesting news I can uncover.  I hope you find this little site useful.  Feel free to send links and news items my way whenever you find something you think is interesting or valuable to writers.

Coming soon: a new interview series focusing on Self Publishing How To.  Video and audio interviews with experts and successful writers talking about what works and what doesn’t, always practical and useful information and ideas for writers and anyone who might be self publishing their work.header_2

Staughton Lynd: Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change

May 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction

detail_496_Accompanyingfront300_copy978-1-60486-666-7 – PM Press – Paperback – $14.95 (ebook versions available at lower prices)

For me and for many others who came of age politically in the mid-to-late sixties, Staughton Lynd was an early and important figure.  He had been a Quaker and war resister, Civil Rights Movement participant, was cogent and critical about social structures and an early leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement.  He taught at Yale, but left academia, earned a law degree, and with his similarly activist partner and wife Alice Lynd, moved to Youngstown, Ohio and became active in the effort to save the steel mills there.  While that effort did not succeed, the Lynds have remained in Ohio for over 30 years working at a grass roots level in the labor movement, as well as with imates of Ohio prisons and with others across the country.

Accompanying is a short book, but extremely focused and coherent.  Lynd contrasts the hierarchical “organizing” efforts of the sixties civil rights and antiwar movements with the concept of “accompaniment” first articulated by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, wherein organizers listen to their colleagues rather than instructing them.  Lynd then applies this distinction between organizing and accompaniment to the social movements in which he has been a participant for the past fifty years, which include the labor movement, civil rights, antiwar organizing, prisoner insurgencies, and the Occupy movement of the past few years. Alice Lynd, who has been his partner in all these efforts, adds her experience as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War era and now as an advocate for prisoners in maximum-security facilities.

The Lynds together bring an incredible range of experience, dedication and commitment to the human spirit and to the kind of social change that so many have wished for and demanded for so long.  I was struck by how their description of accompaniment resonates so well with the principles of cooperation and listening espoused by so many who have grown up in the Internet era.  It’s crucial to connect these ideas to political and economic analysis and to questioning the organizing principles of our society.  Anyone interested in social change in the modern world should read this book and attend to its simple and powerful precepts.  Here’s a great piece by Lynd speaking at the IWW Centenary in 2005, a website with more information about his work, and the publisher page for Lynd and his books (recommend buying directly from the publisher, PM Press, to support its work). 2006_staughton_lynd  I am honored to have been able to have this conversation with this ever intelligent, dedicated, and coherent activist and writer.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Thomas Schinabeck

dotdotdotIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.  They also provide an opportunity to hear what all kinds of leaders and participants in publishing have to say about the communication between writers and readers through the particular lenses of their own experiences.

We’re far enough along in the development of ebooks and digital reading for numbers of individuals and companies to be interested in developing new ways to package and present text in ways that differ from those that developed over the last few hundred years of analog “real world” print publishing.  Applications like Flipboard, Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability all allow readers to curate their own reading experiences by “clipping” articles and stories on the web, and saving them into reading software that makes both a better reading experience on your tablet than websites on laptops or desktops allow, and enables reading at leisure in a self controlled context.  And sites like Social Reader from the Washington Post enables sharing and finding web content through existing social networks.

Dotdotdot, a new application now in beta, developed by Thomas Schinabeck and friends in Berlin is similar in shape, but goes farther, I think, to enable readers to have much finer controls over their e-reading experiences.  Dotdotdot allows me to upload my own epubs as well as content I have discovered on the web, or that friends may have sent me.  The site is socially enabled, so that members of the community can choose to share their own and follow what other users are reading.  Annotation also adds to the reading and sharing experience – marginalia is fully integrated into the dotdotdot experience, so it is a truly social reading platform.  And its archive capability allows readers to use dotdotdot as a repository – independent of devices or the closed ecosystems that e-readers create.  And dotdotdot, unlike all the other content aggregating programs I have seen, is designed around long form reading.

“We thought if we find a technical solution for how we can import texts into a platform that the user already has, we can provide all the stuff on top of it that makes a great user experience, and also uses the full potential of digital text,” Schinabeck said in an article about dotdotdot on Pando Daily in January 2013 (now a bit out of date, but still a great description of the site).

Thomas and I had a terrific conversation in March 2013 both about the program he and his partners have created, as well as exploring some of the philosophical and technological underpinnings that drove the establishment and development of what I think is a really compelling new offering.  The partners behind dotdotdot have paid alot of attention to what readers want and will benefit from in digital reading environments, and have really thought long and hard about how to support a worldwide community of readers.  I’ve been using dotdotdot and find it to be an elegant and compelling experience for reading digital texts, interacting with them, and sharing in ways not provided by any other reading experience, an exciting approach to using the web to broaden the experience of text.

Thomas has a masters degree and part of a PhD in digital media studies, and worked for the record label BMG and was a brand manager at MTV Networks in Europe.  His interesting personal website it here.Dotdotdot-300x131

Note, dotdotdot is still very new, in development and not fully realized yet. Right now it works with DRM-free epubs, as well as HTML web content, and is mainly aimed at iPads and iPhones (and a browser add-on is available for most available browsers).  New features are being added regularly.

 

Brad Meltzer: The Fifth Assassin

April 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Fifth_assassin978-0446553971 – Grand Central Publishing – Hardcover – $27.99 (ebook versions available at lower prices, paperback edition due out in August 2013).

Brad Meltzer is an incredibly active writer, author of myriad best sellers in both fiction and nonfiction, creator of television shows, host of History Channel’s excellent show Decoded – which is fun, compelling and full of amazing historical detail.  He’s also a comics fan and author of many critically-acclaimed comic books, including a nice run of Green Arrow stories, Identity Crisis and Justice League of America, for which he won the important Eisner Award.  Sometimes one wonders if he ever sleeps.

Brad quite evidently has a voracious appetite for history, and especially for the kind of stories in history that fascinate so many of us.  And as an unstoppable researcher, he gets into places that most of us simply never have the time or the chutzpah to find.  What makes his fiction so compelling is that Meltzer is able to combine his passion for history with great storytelling and a clean, brisk writing style that propels his stories forward.  And he does write characters we can relate to and enjoy as well, so there’s another reason to find and read his books.

The Fifth Assassin is a sequel to the earlier, and very successful The Inner Circle,a book I am sorry to say I have not read.  That book introduced the Culper Ring, an informal organization founded by George Washington to defend the presidency of the United States.  Each of these two books (and the next book, which will complete the trilogy these books have begun) can be read on its own.  Being new to the story did not pose any problems for me in reading and enjoying The Fifth Assassin, though I am  sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first book first.  Many of the characters in the new book were introduced in the first – and of course some of them are killed off in the second book, as there are other secret organizations out there, dedicated to much darker aims the Culper Ring must fight.

It does help that I am familiar with and enjoy the Decoded series (disclosure – I work with History Channel on book projects, one of which is a book based on Decoded that will be published by Workman in Fall 2013).  The Fifth Assassin is linked to a number of historical mysteries covered in the Decoded’s two seasons on History.  This novel has a pretty complicated plot, the details of which I will leave for readers to discover for themselves.  There have been four presidential assassinations before now – Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy.  What if there was a secret organization whose members were responsible for all of these murders?  And what if there was a present day plot to add another president to the list of the dead?  And what if the plot is being acted out by mysterious players whose aims are difficult to fathom and therefore difficult to stop?

Beecher White is Meltzer’s hero, and an unlikely one at that.  I think he enjoyed creating a sympathetic hero who does not have any special powers other than his knowledge of history and ability to think – and act when needed, which of course any hero must do.

This is a wonderfully fun book which I enjoyed a great deal.  Meltzer is incredibly skilled at plot creation and keeping his story moving organically, so we don’t feel manipulated or ever question the motivations or actions of his characters, i.e., we do not feel the hand of the plot maker at work, which is a terrific skill I greatly appreciate in a time when so many storytellers struggle to give their stories the kind of credibility and natural narrative movement that Meltzer seems to find so effortless to accomplish.

I’d recommend reading The Fifth Assassin, and then listening to this discussion about the book.  I think it will add to the experience for readers.  Brad Meltzer’s website is here and it’s worth a visit.  If you get a chance to hear him read from or talk about his work in person, it’s worth the effort to see him.  And Decoded, the television show, is in reruns on History’s H2 – if you have not seen them, take a look, there are some fun, thoughtful and compelling episodes.  Brad Meltzer is a terrific writer, and great fun to to speak with, it’s a pleasure to have had the opportunity to talk to him about this book.Brad_Meltzer

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Glenn Nano

glenn nanoIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been having conversations with both book industry professionals and others with interesting perspectives about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in, around and to the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing and culture as our interesting present unfolds into the future.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Glenn Nano is a truly amazing guy I ran across first when he founded Code Meet Print, a “community at the intersection of texts + technology that will contemplate, define, and help build better interfaces for engagement, more relevant curators for discovery, and more useful marketplaces for dissemination of great writing and content to eager readers.”  And at Tools of Change this year in New York, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel called “Beyond Devices: Is The Real Value of eBooks Social Engagement?” on which Glenn appeared, and impressed me with his incisive and original thinking.

Evidently, Glenn is a serial entrepreneur who brings great ideas into being, or spurs them forward.  Aside from CodeMeetPrint, he also created Dictator Goods (you have to visit this site), was a principal at Centurion Venture Partners, and most recently engineered a very interesting start up called AnswerQi (“tech answers from real experts in real-time”, which I think is taking up most of his abundant energy for the moment.

As Glenn wrote in the introduction to Code Meet Print: “Words are finding new modalities, and innovators across disciplines have begun to experiment with how technology might improve their creation, curation, and consumption.”  This sums up very nicely what so many people involved in writing, publishing and reading are trying to understand right now.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with Glenn about his views of the current state of publishing, storytelling and writing, and his views about where we are headed.  I think you will find this conversation to be among the most interesting on these now well-worn subjects that you will hear or read.  Glenn thinks about the digital present in a way that I think alot of people whose roots are in traditional publishing simply do not natively understand.  So there is always something for us to learn from what he has to say.

Alert to listeners, we were having alot of fun talking, so this interview runs longer than usual at 46 minutes.                                                                                        global_22005223

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