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

George Gmelch: Inside Pitch

March 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

9780803271289_p0_v1_s260x420978-0803271289 – University of Nebraska Press Bison Books – paperback – $16 (no ebook edition available!)

Given my longstanding interest in baseball and an early background in anthropology, it’s kind of surprising to me that I missed knowing about the work of George Gmelch until very recently.

I ran across George’s books in some random searching having to do with baseball, and happily was able to get an introduction to him through my anthropologist brother.  When he was young, George was a baseball player, and a pretty good one.  Like so many others, he played for several years in the lower minor leagues, but never made it to the Major Leagues.  It’s possible he quit too early, but it’s also likely that he made the right choice to quit baseball and go back to school (and got his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara) and then became an accomplished cultural anthropologist, studying tourism, sport cultures, and migration. He has worked among and written about Irish Travellers, English Gypsies, return migrants in Ireland and Newfoundland, commercial fishermen, Alaska natives, and Caribbean villagers and tourism workers, and has taught at several universities.

Given his training as an anthropologist and his unusual background as a minor league baseball player, it made sense that he could study baseball players, perhaps in ways that non-players could never manage.  So some 30 years after his playing days ended, George arranged with friends still in the game to spend time with major and minor league players as an observer.  Over the course of five years, he interviewed more than 100 players, coaches and managers, and got to experience and document the inner workings and social milieu of modern day baseball as it is lived by its participants.

Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball is nothing like a typical anthropological ethnography.  There’s a great deal of George’s personal story throughout, and it’s neither dry nor academic.  But the observational techniques and abilities of the trained anthropologist are brought to bear, as George ruminates on the differences between modern players and those of his own era.

It’s unusual for us to get an insider’s view of the game that gets past the public relations walls that the institution and all its participants have build around it to protect the image of the game.  Minor league players, though rarely interested in George’s own experience as a player, were always willing to tell him about their experiences, and even normally wary major leaguers were willing to talk to him once he explained that he was a former player doing anthropology, not a reporter looking for an angle.

So if you love baseball, Inside Pitch is a terrific read, and will enrich your understanding of what it is really like to play professional baseball.  I was especially taken with the writing about and the interviews with players that illustrated the psychological struggles that players go through.  I recently read the excellent RA Dickey memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, which is a terrific complement to Inside Pitch, as so much of Dickey’s story is about how he managed to conquer his personal demons and harness his inner being to finally become a successful pitcher after years of struggle.  Gmelch both give us many quotes of players talking about their mental struggles and writes about these issues perceptively.

Baseball is generally considered a cerebral game because of its complexity and pace.  That, and the fact that there are so many games in a very long season, create a very challenging emotional and psychological environment for players.   We rarely, if ever, get to see close up what that can mean for them.  And because the vast majority of players who play in the minor leagues never make it to the majors or only get there for a brief time, reading about their struggles can change the way you think about the players who do get to the majors and stay there for any length of time.  They really do have to be special, lucky and to have developed a solid psyche in order to be able to survive and thrive in such a difficult and fraught environment.

George Gmelch has written eleven books and now teaches at the University of San Francisco, where he co-directs the anthropology program. I’ve now got an earlier book of his, In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People on my reading list as well.  Talking to him about his experiences as a player, anthropologist and writer was a terrific pleasure for me.2147483669_u_gmelch_georgedickey.book1  Alert to listeners: we had such a good conversation that I lost track of time, and this is a longer than average podcast at 54 minutes.

James Howard Kunstler Reading from an Unpublished Novel

March 20, 2013 by  
Filed under AuthorsVoices

225px-Jim_w_mustacheGenetically and biologically, we humans must still be heavily pre-literate, so the oral transmission of ideas, art and culture is powerful for us; we listen and concentrate on the words differently than we are used to doing when we consume written texts.  I have always enjoyed hearing writers read their work.  The author’s voice carries intonation and meaning that adds to the impact of the work and makes me feel closer to the writing.

So it’s a great pleasure to feature one of my favorite writers, James Howard Kunstler, in the AuthorsVoices series here at Writerscast.  Kunstler is the author of a long list of really interesting books.  He started out as a novelist, publishing novels on a variety of topics and settings through the nineties, when he switched to publishing nonfiction books about social and geographical issues, focusing on the suburbanization of America for the most part.  The in 2005, Grove Atlantic published his The Long Emergency, a brilliant and troubling book about climate change and the ”converging catastrophes of the 21st Century.”

In February, 2011, I interviewed Jim about the post-apocalyptic World Made by Hand series of novels that are his imaginings of what life will be like in the world after the collapse he predicted in The Long Emergency.  At that time, he had written and published two books in the series, World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron.  That interview can be found here. The third book in the series is still in progress, and it is from that novel that Jim is reading in this recording.

Kunstler’s excellent and active website is here.  He blogs weekly and always has something interesting to say.  You can read about his newest book, Too Much Magic, here; this book tells us how and why the long emergency is already upon us.  The world in the novels he imagines may get here sooner than we think.TooMuchMagicJacket72dpi

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