Jonathan Lerner: Swords in the Hands of Children

October 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary – Jonathan Lerner – OR Books – Hardcover – 9781944869472 – $22 – 224 pages – December 5, 2017. Ebook versions available at a lower price. Order direct from the publisher, OR Books.

As Writerscast listeners doubtless know, I am interested in books about the sixties, a period in our history that shaped so much of what is now our current worldview and world situation, for better and for worse. This was a period in American history marked by social and political conflict, sparked principally by the Vietnam War. For many young people, it was the time in their lives when political and social idealism flourished, yet for some, directions taken and decisions made, acts committed, that would later appear misguided and wrong.

In the early sixties, Jonathan Lerner was a student at Antioch College, who almost accidentally became a full-time staff member of Students for a Democratic Society, the most powerful organization of the New Left (among its founders, the recently deceased Tom Hayden). In this book, Jonathan recounts the story of his life during the most fraught years of the political upheavals of this era.

Jonathan Lerner was at the center of many of the most important political events of that time. He became a founding member of the Weatherman faction of SDS, which ended up taking over the organization in 1969, and was the editor of its newspaper Fire! and an “above ground” representative of the Weather Underground organization, that was responsible for much of the far left spawned violence of the era.

The Weather Underground ultimately carried out a campaign of bombings across America. Some of its members died, many stayed underground for years, and some went to jail. Lerner tells some compelling stories about this time in particular and the people he worked and lived with. Overall, he seems to have been almost an accidental radical, who like many in the sixties, “went with the flow” of events and people around him, trying to find his place in a complicated environment.

Jonathan tells his story with brutal honesty, questioning much of what he once took for granted, as an insecure gay man existing in an environment that was not supportive in any way. This memoir has much to offer to those of us still seeking to understand the politics and culture of our youth, as well as for those too young to have experienced the sixties directly.

Lerner is the author of the novels Caught in a Still Place and Alex Underground, and is today a journalist focusing on architectural, urbanist and environmental issues. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York state with his husband.

We had a great conversation in our wide ranging conversation. Visit Jonathan’s website here.

“Imagine if your favorite uncle, a brutally honest, worldly, self-reflective gay raconteur, had been, as a twenty year-old, a lieutenant in an underground guerrilla army dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. Jonathan Lerner is that favorite uncle you never had, telling unbelievable true stories―no bullshit―from the ‘revolution’ fifty years ago. This is the closest you’ll ever get to being there.” ―Mark Rudd, national secretary of SDS, founding member of the Weather Underground and author of Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen

Nancy MacLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

September 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America – Nancy MacLean – Viking – Hardcover – 9781101980965 – $28.00 – 368 pages – June 13, 2017

I will say this clearly and forthrightly: whatever your political opinions or positions, you must read this book. It shines an important light on the history of what has now become the most potent force in modern American politics. This book reveals in detail how the Koch brothers and other shadowy billionaires’ political philosophy has been weaponized in an ongoing war against democratic beliefs and institutions.

Professor MacLean came across this historical record more or less by accident, while she was researching the Nobel Prize-winning political economist, James McGill Buchanan, the principal architect of the ideas and institutions  the Koch brothers and their allies have harnessed to radically alter the American political landscape in their distorted image of “economic libertarianism.” This philosophy fully recognizes that anti-democratic efforts are necessary to secure the wealth of the few against the “predations” of the democratic majority, and all their work for the last forty years or more has been aimed toward controlling and weakening democratic institutions. They have been remarkably successful in their efforts.

There is so much to learn in this book, yet still so much more for us to uncover, and ultimately then, so much that needs to be done by those who feel the need to defend democratic liberalism and American institutions. It is remarkable to learn that this effort is essentially part of a longstanding effort to reach far back into our history to undo FDR’s democratic reforms, as well as those of JFK, LBJ, and the civil rights movement. And that Charles Koch is so ironically a follower of the principles of that old Bolshevik, V.I. Lenin.

We learn here that Koch and his cronies have built a secret cadre of true believers who want to do what their hero Buchanan did in Pinochet’s Chile, which was to use the institutions of government to control and contain democracy. They have come a long way toward succeeding in our own country, as most citizens are completely unaware of what they are doing, especially with their takeover of the judiciary. And in Trump’s America, they are free to have their way with us.

One way you can tell Nancy MacLean has made an impact with her research is the level and sheer ferocity of mostly personal attacks from the right against her. Those who post in opposition seem to have neither read the book, nor care to think about the author’s actual work. One of the tools used by the Koch-financed opponents of democracy is the personal attack and what they call the “increased transaction cost” for anyone who opposes their views. Since they usually cannot win intellectual or even political arguments, they prefer to disparage and attack those who dare stand against them on other grounds than reason.

I urge listeners to read this book, think about what MacLean has uncovered, and then, if you agree with what she says, use what you learn from this book to stand up for freedom and democracy against oligarchy.

“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . [MacLean] takes the time to meticulously trace how we got here. . . . If you’re worried about what all this means for America’s future, you should be. . . . And if someone you know isn’t convinced, you have just the book to hand them.”
—NPR

“It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.”
—George Monbiot, The Guardian

“[A] riveting, unsettling account of ‘Tennessee country boy’ James McGill Buchanan, key architect of today’s radical right.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

Nancy MacLean is also the author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry (a New York Times “noteworthy” book of the year) and Freedom is Not Enough. She is currently the William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, and lives in Durham, North Carolina.

David Wilk interviews Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn

Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology, mostly talking about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As every media business continues to experience disruption and change, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as it is affected by technology and the larger context of culture and economics.

I’ve now expanded this interview series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

The rise of self publishing authors is one of the most significant elements of change in the modern publishing landscape. Technology is one element – ebooks and digital short run printing (aka print on demand) give authors access to low cost production and distribution capabilities. The internet as a disseminator of information has helped to democratize publishing skills and knowledge, and generally to drive down the costs of production for books of all kinds. Disruption among traditional publishers has also helped by creating a large pool of experienced freelancers that can provide high level publishing services at reasonable cost.

And crucially, a large group of successful do-it-yourself publishing authors and publishing professionals have become teachers and guides, assisting writers at every level of experience, of every kind of writing,  to themselves learn the ropes of what was once a somewhat esoteric set of skills and knowledge. And because change is such a prominent feature in the modern publishing environment, no author can afford to not be in a continual state of learning. The advisors, consultants and teachers who both know “how to do it” and how to keep learning have become tremendously important resources for a wide range of authors.

One of the best of the brightest of these is UK-based writer Joanna Penn. Her fantastic website, The Creative Penn, has become one of the largest of its kind in the literary world. Joanna is an award-winning, best-selling thriller writer and she writes really good nonfiction books for authors. She is now a publisher too (Curl Up Press), a speaker, and of course, an entrepreneur. She’s endlessly energetic, smart, perceptive, and gives consistently great advice. I am a regular reader of her work, and refer to it frequently on the self publishing blog I operate myself.

I could not pass up the opportunity to speak with Joanna about her work as a writer and self publishing guide. It was great fun for me, and I am sure will be for my listeners as well. Even if you never self-publish your work, it is well worth hearing what she has to say. At least for me, the time flew by, and we could easily have talked much longer. Thank you Joanna!

Jessica Anya Blau: The Trouble with Lexie

June 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

The Trouble with Lexie: A Novel – Jessica Anya Blau – HarperCollins – paperback – 9780062416452 – 336 pages – $14.99 – ebook versions available at lower prices.

I interviewed Jessica Anya Blau in 2014 about her previous book, The Wonder Bread Summer, which I found to be wonderfully entertaining and fun to read. Her latest novel, The Trouble with Lexie, displays Blau’s signature wit and fast paced story telling. But it is a complicated book with a seriously flawed and emotionally scarred main character, who faces a very challenging situation in her life.

The book’s opening is pretty compelling (as book openings should be!):

The problem wasn’t so much that Lexie had taken the
Klonopin. And it wasn’t even really that she had stolen
them . . . the problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had
fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin.
And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

Lexie is an engaging and sometimes irritating main character. As we watch her try to figure out her life, I suspect most readers will want to reach into the pages of the book and tell Lexie directly when she is about to make a big mistake. But she is on her own path and we must follow along as she makes her way toward and through disaster.

Lexie James makes for a terrific main character. She is funny and thoughtful, comes from a decidedly untraditional family, and as a relatively young adult, has figured out how to conquer her panic attacks. She is also engaged to a truly nice guy, and has a job as a counselor at a prestigious private school (presumably in Massachusetts).

But with the wedding fast approaching, Lexie is faced with doubts about her future and who she really wants to be. She falls into a wild love affair with an older married man, a typically bad decision that readers know will have serious consequences.

Most of us have been in similarly fraught situations at one time or another, always convincing ourselves that we’re different and “everything will work out” when we know that is not really true.

Lexie’s story is an example of that central human foible, a form of hubris that makes us believe we can beat all the odds when we want something so much we know we cannot possibly attain. What makes this novel work is that despite knowing that she is headed for a cliff, we end up liking Lexie so much that we want to believe there is a better future for her, and by extension for ourselves. You will have to read the book to find out how this one turns out, no spoilers here.

I very much enjoy talking to Jessica about her books, her characters and stories, and hope you will find our conversation as enjoyable and entertaining as it was for me.

Eugene Mirabelli: Renato After Alba (a novel)

June 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Renato After Alba – Eugene Mirabelli – McPherson & Company – hardcover – 978-1-62054-026-8 – 192 pages – $24.00

Eugene Mirabelli has been writing novels since the late 1950s. His first book, The Burning Air, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1959. Over the years, his style has changed and matured as he developed his voice as a novelist. I was introduced to Gene’s work by his current publisher, Bruce McPherson, who is the kind of publisher who hands you a book and says, “you need to read this.” Over the years, I have made many literary discoveries by following Bruce’s recommendations.

Renato After Alba is the sequel to Gene’s 2012 novel, Renato, the Painter. It is warm, painful, and and highly personal. This book is called a grief novel for a reason. Do not be afraid to pick up this short novel, and dive into this writer’s exploration of sadness and beautiful sorrow. It is moving and entertaining, and revelatory, and as the best fiction does, will make you feel deep emotion in a transformative way.

Artist Renato Stillamare’s beloved wife of fifty years dies unexpectedly, leaving him heartbroken and dazed. The novel is a pastiche of fragments, much like a collage, with the artist trying to discover where all the pieces of his life and memories belong. He recounts stories of the members of his Sicilian-American family, conversations with friends, family members, and even new people in his life. All of it is an effort to rebuild a life without Alba, or with the memory of her, in a way that will enable Renato to continue living. There is humor, and pain and discovery, all the things in life that make it worth living, and a book well worth reading.

One of the pleasures Writerscast has brought me is the opportunity to read great books and to talk to their authors about writing, art and life. Meeting Gene Mirabelli through his writing and in conversation has been a singular pleasure for me.

“For anyone who loves the work of James Salter or William Trevor, Eugene Mirabelli is another writer to treasure, and Renato After Alba is one of the best books I’ve read in ages — a beautiful, profound and exhilarating novel about what sustains us in the face of inevitable loss.” — Elizabeth Hand, author of Hard Light and Generation Loss

As Robert Gray reported in Shelf Awareness:

November 4, 2016 was proclaimed Eugene Mirabelli Day in Albany, N.Y. In her proclamation, Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan noted that in his most recent book, Renato After Alba–a sequel to his 2012 novel Renato, the Painter (both published by McPherson & Co.)–the 85-year-old author “touches upon universal aspects of human existence by creating lovably flawed characters who subtly express the full range of human emotion and experience, from great joy to crushing loss, from deep love of life to rage against the inevitability of death. All written with clarity and cleverness and craft.”

Eugene Mirabelli is the author of nine highly acclaimed novels — five of which feature members of Renato’s extended family and his friends. Visit Eugene’s website is here. Publisher McPherson & Co. website is here.

David Wilk talks with Jane Friedman

Jane-Friedman-e1447852553552Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

There are two Jane Friedmans in the book business, which has caused no end of confusion for all sorts of people and many occasions (even Google can’t figure this one out).

One Jane Friedman is the well known and iconic publishing executive who is the founder and CEO of Open Road Media, a leading digital book publisher. The “other” Jane Friedman, whose work I have been following for a number of years, is an expert in social media and digital marketing who advises and teaches writers in marketing their work and how to be writers in the current rapidly changing environment, as well as working with publishers and others on a wide variety of subjects and concerns. She continually impresses with her intelligence, acuity, passion for writing, and compassion for writers.

This Jane Friedman worked at Writer’s Digest, where she ultimately became publisher and editorial director, and recently she served as the digital editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led a digital overhaul of the magazine. She is now teaching digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia and writes a column for Publishers Weekly (I frequently have recommended her smartly written columns). The Great Courses has released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book and she has a book of her own forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press called The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Given that her thinking, writing and teaching has placed her in position to know a great deal about how things are for writers these days, I thought it would be good to talk to the “other” Jane Friedman for Publishing Talks. Our stimulating conversation follows. What Jane has to say will be valuable and important for writers and publishers alike.

You can follow Jane Friedman at her website, where she offers a myriad of insightful, practical and useful information, advice for free, and also online courses and consulting services at very reasonable rates.

Nice quote from Jane on her site: “The 3 things very important to me: compassion, service, and independence. I avoid environments (or people) lacking these qualities, especially organizations without a strong service component—a strong why—driving their work-play.”How-to-Publish-Your-Book-300x300

Jesse Kornbluth: Married Sex

November 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

25378531._UY475_SS475_978-1504011259 – Open Road Media – paperback – 246 pages – $12.99 (ebook versions available at lower cost)

I’ve been a subscriber to Jesse Kornbluth’s excellent newsletter, HeadButler, for awhile now, and have very much enjoyed his approach to books, music and art (politics and culture too). In many ways, he represents to me the quintessential New York intellectual: smart, well read, opinionated and caring about the future of humanity and our civilization. He’s a writer of screenplays and a number of interesting and successful nonfiction books, and he has long been involved in the emerging forms and formats of online digitally-based culture, going back to his days as editorial director at AOL.

Married Sex is his first novel. It is short, extremely well written, and completely compelling. Jesse has brilliantly portrayed his characters, both male and female, and pinpoints them for the reader in very few words. It’s also a fun book to read. Sex with intelligence, you might say.

Without giving away very much of the story, let’s just say that the focus is on a couple who have been together a long time in a committed, deeply sexual romantic relationship. Then something happens that changes everything. You have to read the book to find out more. I think you will enjoy this book a lot. I love this line about it from Kirkus: “A libidinous fairy tale with an unusual Prince Charming.”

And I also think you will enjoy listening to my conversation with Jesse as well. He’s funny and trenchant, and we had a great time talking to one another about the book, his work, and how this book fits into his life. And oh yes, let’s get this settled right away – it’s a novel, not a memoir.

I often recommend Jesse’s newsletter and website to friends, HeadButler.com, what he calls “a cultural concierge site.” I’ve discovered and sometimes rediscovered a number of books and records through his literate and intelligent recommendations. It’s all free, based on the perhaps dubious concept of readers buying things he recommends from Amazon.

Jesse Kornbuth was the Editorial Director at AOL, was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and New York magazines and is the author of four nonfiction books, including Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken. He has written several screenplays for ABC, PBS, and Warner Bros.

Married Sex is Kornbluth’s first novel. He lives in Manhattan with his family. I am looking forward to reading his next book.Kornbluth headshot

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

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Dan Blank

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk 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.  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 will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

Dan Blank is a very smart and perceptive guy.  He works with writers and publishers – as he says on his website,  to “make an impact and build their legacies.”  Through his company, We Grow Media, he offers a great deal of really valuable free advice – a terrific email newsletter and always interesting blog – along with paid courses and speaking engagements.  I’ve assiduously read just about everything he has written for quite a while now, and have watched some of his presentations on video as well.

Marketing is a tough subject for most authors and many publishers.  Dan always has clear and sensible advice and ideas for writers and publishers.  His ideas and perceptions have influenced my own thinking about how writers can operate in the new media environment.

So I am really pleased and honored to have had the opportunity to talk to him for Publishing Talks and bring what he has to say to my audience about marketing for writers and publishers.  I am certain that you will hear more than one actionable piece of advice or a cogent idea that will make you think, and question your assumptions. And if you get a chance to hear Dan speak in public, make sure you do, it will be well worth your while.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Carl Lennertz about World Book Night 2012

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks, The Future

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk 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.  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 will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

Carl Lennertz has got himself a dream job, as he was happy to tell me when we talked.  Carl is the Director of World Book Night in the United States.  World Book Night originated in the U.K. in 2011 and has quickly grabbed the imagination of book lovers there and in this country as well.  Thousands of people will go into their communities on April 23, 2012 to give specially printed books away to potential readers.  The idea is to enlist volunteers – many are needed – so if you are interested, go to the website (now!) to register.  Even if you miss the 2012 deadline, you will want to participate in the future.

World Book Night is a great idea, supported now by Ingram Book Company in the United States as well as a number of terrific publishers.  A total of thirty excellent books (see the list here) were selected and will be printed in special editions of 20,000 copies each.  Libraries are signing up to participate, along with booksellers, and writers themselves.  Carl is blogging about the whole thing on a regular basis too, visit regularly or subscribe to keep up with all the many events and doings around the country.  This is a great project – we need more book readers in America, where we have far too many non-readers for the good of the nation.

Carl is a terrific person to have this job.  His enthusiasm and dedication is just what this project needs.  Please listen to our conversation about World Book Night, and do what you can to support this effort.

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