Launching Quirky Berkeley!

quirky berkeley
Things were hopping at Berkeley’s North Branch during Quirky Berkeley‘s launch party. Photo: Dave Peattie

Another reason to love our library: last night, Berkeley’s North Branch hosted the launch party for Tom Dalzell’s new book, Quirky Berkeley. Published by local Heyday Press, it is a collection of visual delights culled from the quirkiest of little cities–our own Berzerkeley. From Buldan Seka’s Giant Ceramic Freaks on Spruce Street to the whimsical steel structures of Mark Bulwinkle all over Berkeley, his book documents all those fun double-takes one experiences when walking Berkeley streets. The book is a natural follow-up to Dalzell’s wonderful blog of the same name. Rather than attempt to describe any theme myself, I am borrowing words from Heyday’s publisher emeritus Malcolm Margolin, who sums it up in his foreword so perfectly:

And then there’s Berkeley, and the pilgrimage of Tom Dalzell to what are, in my mind, shrines to the revolutionary and dangerous idea that we can build a vibrant community not by hiding our uniqueness but by sharing it with the world.

Tom Dalzell
Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A slide show of highlights from the book ran continuously, and John Storey’s photos of selected art hung on the walls of the library wherever there was room. Besides the author, attending celebrants included Margolin, dozens of well-wishers from the community, and many of the featured artists themselves. The promotion provided by yesterday’s Berkeleyside article no doubt added to the throng of those who paid the library a visit on a Monday night.

Refreshments were served, which shouldn’t surprise me but still does because I think of libraries as sacred places unsuitable for Oreos and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Not that I don’t imbibe, mind you; I never pass up free food. . . Stacks of the feted volume were sold, and Dalzell signed each copy presented to him by appreciative fans. Since Tom pointed out two of the artists standing nearby, I got signatures from Doug Heines and Rob Garross too! Mark Bulwinkle was scheduled to be there, but we left before the merriment drew to a close, so I may have missed him.

Special shout-out to supervising librarian Jack Baur, who puts on events such as these at Berkeley’s North Branch. (No, not Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer from “24”…) You can see him behind the circulation desk in the far left of the panorama shot, sporting a ginger beard and a lavender shirt. You know, in case you want to recognize him and thank him for the lovely job he does.



Twitter Tips for Authors

I don’t reblog often, but this piece by Charlotte Ashlock on Andy Ross’s blog is a no-nonsense way of approaching Twitter that just might get me to try it.

Ask the Agent

 Ok. I admit it. I just don’t get Twitter.  My promotion savvy brother, Ken Ross, advised me when I was becoming an agent, that I should market myself on social media, which means Twitter. So I signed up and waited around for followers. After the first 20 prostitutes tried to contact me, I gave it up. Today we are having a guest blog from Charlotte Ashlock, who is digital editor at Berrett-Koehler Books in Oakland. She likes to tweet and seems to be having more luck at it than I had. Here’s her advice.

Use what you already know

I’ve introduced a lot of beginners to Twitter, and they always have anxiety about how to behave in this new environment.  My answer?  Use the social skills you have been practicing for decades of your life!  Those skills will serve you just as well on Twitter, as they do…

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Experiment reveals startling gender bias in publishing

I knew that women had to try harder than men to get published. I just didn’t know how much harder. . . . Then I read this piece by Catherine Nichols on Jezebel. My first reaction was depression. But then I felt a fire stirring that I hope will fuel a redoubled effort in my quest to be published. Read it and let me know what you think.

Nichols piece on JezebelHomme de Plume: What I Learned Sending a Novel Out under a Male Name

Poets & Writers event– Part III: Why We Write

Why We Write panel
from left: Melissa Faliveno (assoc. ed. of P&W magazine), Wendy Lesser, Yiyun Li, Alejandro Murguia, D.A. Powell, Michelle Tea

The final panel of the day was titled “Why We Write,” which featured Wendy Lesser (author and founding editor of the Threepenny Review), novelist and MacArthur Fellow Yiyun Li, author and professor Alejandro Murguia, award-winning poet D.A. Powell, and novelist and memoirist Michelle Tea, who is also the founding editor of Mutha magazine.

Wendy Lesser, who had gone to college intending to be a city planner, gave this advice: “It’s easier to cut out the stupidity after your first draft than to write it all perfectly the first time.” She also stressed that structure is really important to start with while writing, but you have to be willing to change if necessary.

Yiyun Li was a scientist when she emigrated to Iowa City, where everyone she met was writing a novel. Once she discovered writing fiction, she loved it. She said, “I feel like I’m a boring person and my characters are interesting, so I can’t wait to be with them.”

Alejandro Murguia, who is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, commented, “Structure is important, but so is discovery. My favorite writing surprises me.” He also offered this gem: “Reading to your lover is one of the sexiest things you can do.”

D.A. Powell finds writing “a suitable place to be irresponsible” and notes that it is “a place where you get to say what you wish you’d said in the moment.”

Michelle Tea considers writing a compulsion, although she admitted that as the mother of a two-month old baby, she worries that she may never write again. She believes in Anne Lamott’s idea of the “shitty first draft” and recommends that writers “barf a bunch out and clean it up later.”

I thought the most interesting comparison made was by Wendy Lesser, who said that writing was “like a serial killer: “the pressure builds and builds until you have to do it, and then you feel great.”

Poets & Writers event–Part II: I Think You’re Totally Wrong



David Shields, a professor and the author of 15 books and several magazine articles, wanted to explore “self-deconstructive nonfiction” with a worthy adversary who held contrasting opinions. Caleb Powell, a writer raising three daughters, was once Shield’s student and apparently made a thorny impression on him. The two of them have written a book together: I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel.

And that book has been turned into a movie by director James Franco, who was also once a student of Shields. At the Poets & Writers live event, I got to watch the first 20 minutes, and I look forward to the film’s release so I can see the rest of it.

Shields & Powell
left to right: Caleb Powell and David Shields

Sitting comfortably in big chairs on stage, they chatted a bit about each other and their unusual relationship. Powell read aloud from some of their e-mail correspondence to allow the audience a glimpse of what he referred to as “passive aggressive behavior” by Shields, who remained perfectly calm and never got defensive. Shields admitted that just before launching the project, he thought there was a slight chance that Powell might just murder him during their four-day stay in a cabin together, and added that the experience would either be “really exciting or traumatizing.”I think you're totally wrong

Theirs was a unique presentation that I’m unlikely to forget any time soon. I may just have to buy the book as well.

Poets & Writers event inspires and educates (Part I)




The theme of the day was “Inspiration.” Poets & Writers publisher Elliot Figman started the event in San Francisco’s Brava Theater by describing it as “a living, breathing version” of what they offer in their magazine. The live event was similar to a writers’ conference, but it was not limited to writers, it didn’t have the breakout sessions common to such conferences, and was a bit more theatrical in nature. Because it was an all-day event consisting of eight separate sessions, I will not try to cover every moment, and certainly not all in one posting. But there was much of value to share.

Kay RyanFormer U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winner Kay Ryan gave a brief but memorable keynote speech that included a few of her poems. With a wry sense of humor, she admitted that as a “non-joiner,” she rarely attended gatherings such as the one she was opening on that January Saturday morning. Furthermore, she declared that inspiration was a subject of much “bloviation” and joked that “much literature is a result of complaints and self pity.” But she supports the idea that writers need community, even if it’s just knowing that “other writers are out there.”

The first panel of the day focused on local writers’ resources, and there are many—far too many to list here. Representatives from City Lights Books, Small Press Distribution, Poetry Flash, SF Writers Grotto, and Kearny Street Workshop informed the eager audience of several writing-related programs available to Bay Area residents. I was intrigued by two. The first is the Basement Series, sponsored by SF Writers Grotto, which gives emerging writers the opportunity to read in public with published authors. The other is Lit Camp’s Writing and Drinking Club, which is basically writing quietly in a room for two hours followed by an hour of socializing ( i.e., drinking). During the Q&A session, a CWC member made sure that everyone also knew about the California Writers Club.

As part of a panel that focused on self publishing, editor Debra Englander and publicist Amy Packard Ferro discussed ways that writers could promote their work, including social media options. But in responding to the idea that one can simply request attention on these platforms, agent Ted Weinstein cautioned, “The saddest line in the twenty-first century is ‘Follow me back.'” He added that the best way to stand out is to “put something out in the world that is interesting.”

perfect pitch panelAttendees who had signed up early for the event were encouraged to submit query letters for judges to critique on stage. Three brave writers were chosen to read their letters aloud, which was followed by suggestions from the Perfect Pitch Panel, which consisted of McSweeney’s editor Jordan Bass, Graywolf Press’s Ethan Nosowsky, agent Danielle Svetcov, and publicist Megan Fishmann from Counterpoint Press.

I admit that this session was more helpful than I’d imagined. I previously thought that debut authors didn’t stand a chance of getting published if they submitted manuscripts of 100,000 words or more and, furthermore, that word counts were absolutely necessary to include. Yet one of the writers was pitching a novel of 248,000 words, and the panelists insisted that the length did not deter them from considering it. Svetcov even told the audience, “I don’t think most editors care how many words it is. So leave off the word count.” Nosowsky added, “The length is not as important as the writing.”

Other helpful tidbits from this session:

  • Don’t say that a character is quirky. Show it.
  • Pull an evocative quote from your book to show off your writing.
  • Start with something “arresting.” Be explicit and brief.
  • Put most charismatic elements of the book first.

Watch for Part II: Art v. Life and Why We Write



The Amazon – Hachette Dispute: What’s at Stake for Authors?

My mantra (Amazon is evil) has never been more true. Read how Amazon is doing even more to screw with authors. Go, Hachette, I support you!!

Ask the Agent

bezos_bookstore-620x412The book industry has been abuzz with the latest news of Amazon bullying book publishers. According to an article in The New York Times on May 8, Amazon has been involved in tough negotiations with Hachette Book Group, the fifth largest publisher in the United States. In order to pressure them for better deals, Amazon has engaged in a number of practices to make it harder  for Hachette to sell books through Amazon. This includes “slow walking” Hachette titles — delaying reorders of out of stock books in order to  slow down delivery. Normally Amazon ships books within 24 hours. On some Hachette titles, Amazon is saying that delivery will take as long as 5 weeks. Examples include new and backlist titles and even some best sellers.

Today we learn Amazon has removed the pre-order function for many not yet published Hachette titles. Also typically Amazon discounts books 20-40%. Since…

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