Posts Tagged ‘Counterpoint Press’

Weekly Offerings

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

signed & numbered

Twelve by Todd

“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

I was nearly forty when it first occurred to me to write anything other than fiction and poetry and plays. At thirty-nine, I still thought of myself as a moderately successful novelist and short story writer. Furthermore, I rarely read non-fiction; and so in 1989, when Melinda Welsh, the editor of the brand new Sacramento News & Review invited me to write essays for her paper, I accepted her invitation with little understanding of what such reportage entails. Now, thirty years later, writing essays is my most persistent writing habit.

When my fiction and screenwriting ceased to bring home the bacon, so to speak, writing essays became a source of much-needed income, and I have no doubt that without such financial incentive, I would never have become habituated to writing non-fiction. Which is not to say I ever earned vast sums writing essays. Melinda paid me one hundred and fifty dollars per essay for the Sacramento News & Review; and for the entirety of my eight-year tenure writing a weekly piece for the Anderson Valley Advertiser, I was paid twenty-five dollars per. Nowadays I am paid by the knowledge that at least a handful of people look forward to my weekly offerings.

Melinda Welsh was a wonderful editor. She generally liked my take on things, appreciated my senses of humor and irony, edited my lines with a light hand, and rewarded me for my non-fiction efforts by paying me relatively large sums to write the News & Review’s annual Christmas story (fiction!) for several years running. One of those Christmas stories, The Dreidel in Rudolph’s Manger, was syndicated after appearing in the News & Review, and appeared in dozens of weeklies and dailies across America. Eureka!

In those pre-internet days, I belonged to a lucky little population of writers in America who made actual money writing original works for actual three-dimensional publications. Then seemingly overnight (but really in a few shocking years) our numbers were reduced to virtually zero by the advent of the worldwide web and the simultaneous and astounding (to me) discovery by magazine and newspaper editors that most people cannot distinguish good writing from bad. Therefore, why should those editors pay good money to good writers when, for little money or no money, they can avail themselves of quasi-readable chunks of verbiage yanked from the internet?

When I moved to Berkeley in 1995, I submitted essays and stories to four different Bay Area weeklies, but found no editorial champions and so ceased writing essays for the next eleven years. Instead, I wrote hundreds of short stories, forty-two of which became my book Buddha In A Teacup (recently issued in a lovely paperback edition by Counterpoint Press), and another hundred of which became my novel of stories Under the Table Books, winner of the 2009 American Indie Award for Best Fiction.

In 2007, the year after I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley, I sent an essay entitled Sister to Bruce Anderson at the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and Bruce published the piece. He then invited me to become a regular contributor to the AVA, a regularity that produced four hundred essays and gave me the ongoing pleasure of hearing from readers who enjoyed my work, as well as the ongoing displeasure of hearing from readers who were adamant my essays were a blight on the AVA.

As of mid-May 2017, my AVA career a memory now, I continue to write a weekly essay and post it with an accompanying photo on my blog at Underthetablebooks.com. Shortly thereafter, Dave Smith does me the honor of presenting my article and photo on his admirable web site Ukiah Blog Live.

And today I am pleased to announce the birth of Sources of Wonder, a handsome coil-bound collection of eighty-three of my favorite essays culled from the aforementioned four hundred, available exclusively from Under the Table Books. Among the stories in Sources of Wonder are Sister, Of Onyx and Guinea Pigs, The Double, Three Presidents (and a First Lady), What’s In A Name, Her Children, and My Butt (The Musical)—all the essays in the collection having elicited heartfelt responses from readers.

“The artist spends the first part of his life with the dead, the second with the living, and the third with himself.” Pablo Picasso

Speaking of heartfelt, as I was putting the finishing touches on Sources of Wonder, I was given a book of essays by the Scottish poet and nature writer Kathleen Jamie, and I was thrilled to discover an excellent living writer, writing in English, who is not even close to being old or dead—an experience for me akin to coming upon a living and breathing unicorn who allows me a good long look at her before she winks slyly and saunters away into the mystic. I highly recommend Jamie’s books Sightlines and Findings.

If you have never purchased any of my coil-bound self-published works, I hasten to tell you that each copy of Sources of Wonder is signed and dated and numbered, the whimsical numerals sketched and lavishly colored by the author to make each volume a collector’s item and an ideal gift for friends who love to read and enjoy pondering the divine and mysterious and hilarious and fascinating interconnectedness of everything.

As Mr. Laskin says to Derek at the end of Under the Table Books, “I refer to it as chumming for synergy. There is nothing the universe appreciates more than action. Do you know why that is? Because action is the mother of the whole kit and caboodle.”

Two Stories from Buddha In A Teacup

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

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Change

What was her name? She modeled for him twice. The four paintings he made of her sold before the paint was dry. Something about her angularity—a hunger in her bones. Or was it the sorrow in her eyes—the first glimmering of old age?

A gigantic face looms before him, startling him. “Hello Boo Boo,” says a voice coming from enormous lips on their way to press a kiss against his cheek. “You poopy? Need a change?”

Huge hands close around his middle, lifting him from the cushioned chair. He moans softly, a sound his mother hears as the beginning of language.

I’m Walter Casey he tries to say. The artist.

But only the most primitive sounds escape him, his brand new larynx yet untrained.

*

Helpless on the changing table, his mother frees him from his itchy pajamas and lifts away his soiled diapers. He sighs with relief to have his bum free in the open air. She wipes him clean, cooing as she pulls the string on the musical bear—Twinkle Twinkle Little Star playing for the thousandth time.

Mendelssohn he tries to say. Mozart. Anything but this ice cream truck twaddle.

*

She sits with him in dappled shade, chuckling at how ravenously he feeds on her.

Maria. That was her name. She wanted to make love with me. All I had to do was ask. But I was too arrogant. No. Afraid.

His mother pulls him off her nipple. He begins to shriek in despair.

“Hold on, Boo Boo. Switching breasts, that’s all.”

*

He falls asleep and drifts through layers of time to

a snarling dog lunging at him

his father saying You Are No Son Of Mine

forms appearing on his canvas as if by magic

mother clutching his hand as death takes her

his lover kissing his throat

*

The man who comes to visit every day is not the baby’s father. The baby’s father is bearded and stays in the house throughout the night. This other man has no beard. He only stays for an hour or so, speaking out loud to the baby, but conversing silently with Walter Casey.

How are you feeling? asks the man.

I forget more than I remember now.

Yes says the man. Soon you will forget almost everything that came before this life.

But I don’t want to forget.

What do you wish to remember?

Everything.

Choose one thing.

The baby laughs. The man laughs, too.

*

The creek tumbles down through the wooded gorge—a sensual chill in the air. Yellow leaves drift through slanting rays of sunlight and settle on the forest floor. Walter stands at the water’s edge, the tip of his fishing rod pointing toward the sun, his line disappearing into a deep pool. Tomorrow is his seventeenth birthday.

His mother appears on the ridge above him. She is small in the distance, lovely and strong. She waves to let him know it is time to come home for supper. Walter waves back to her and reels in his line. Now he looks up at the falling leaves, at the branches of the aspens, at the billowy white clouds in the gray blue sky, and he begins to weep.

*

“Don’t cry, Boo Boo,” says his father, lifting him from his crib. “Here we are. Don’t be afraid.”

I am not afraid. I was remembering the happiest moment of my other life.

“Don’t cry, Boo Boo,” says the gentle, bearded man. “Mama will feed you. Everything is okay.”

 

Beginning Practice

Joseph, a self-conscious young man with a shaved head, sits at a small table in the darkest corner of the café, writing a poem. The first two lines came easily to him.

broken glass, green and brown—

a necklace round the tree trunk

Beyond that, he has drawn a blank. He wants to say something poignant and meaningful about the trees that grow up through the sidewalks of the concrete city, but every new line he writes sounds trite.

He puts down his pen, rubs his eyes, and decides to have a cup of tea. He prefers coffee to tea, but the three people he admires most—his mentor at the Zen center, his yoga instructor, his favorite poet—all drink tea, so he is trying to develop the habit. His father, from whom he is estranged, drinks quarts of coffee every day.

Stepping to the counter, Joseph smiles at the word BUDDHA printed in large block letters across the pale blue T-shirt worn by Irene, the young woman who works the morning shift at Café Muse. Irene is a voluptuous brunette, each of her carefully plucked eyebrows pierced with seven gold rings, her dark brown eyes enormous. The U in Buddha rides atop her right breast, the H atop her left.

“Green tea, please,” says Joseph, raising his eyes from Irene’s breasts to her eyes. “Are you a Buddhist?”

“Sort of,” she says with a shrug. “Are you?”

“Absolutely,” he replies, his chest swelling with pride. “I’ve been going to the Zen center for years.”

This is not precisely true. Joseph has been going twice a week for three months.

“Is that, like, free?” asks Irene as she prepares his tea. “Can you just…go in?”

“We have regular meditation times.” Joseph’s voice deepens with authority. “I generally go in the evenings. Seven to nine.”

She hands him a white mug and a small black teapot. “I’ll check it out. That’s two dollars.”

“Cool,” says Joseph, eager to prolong the conversation. “So where did you get your T-shirt?”

“They’re my favorite band,” she says, turning around to show him the back. The word GROOVES is written in crimson Italics. Irene turns back around and peers down at her breasts. “Buddha Grooves. They’re kind of world beat reggae with some metal and hip-hop. Very danceable.”

“Are they Buddhists?” asks Joseph, his tone disdainful.

“Is that like a big deal?” she asks, frowning at him. “Knowing if someone is a Buddhist or not? I thought Buddha loved everybody no matter what? Wasn’t that why he stuck around instead of going off to nirvana? So he could spread the light?” She looks deep into Joseph’s eyes. “Isn’t Buddhism about becoming more and more open to what actually is, instead of just following some old dogma?”

Hearing these words from her, the blockade between his mind and his heart—an amalgam of fear and sorrow—begins to crumble.

 

 

Town Life

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

there is always more life tw

There Is Always More Life painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2016)

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” James Barrie

I have now lived in Mendocino for ten years, nine of those partnered with Marcia. Our little town gets flack for being a tourist trap, and there is no question that tourism and cannabis fuel the local economic engine, but so do carpentry, plumbing, school teaching, real estate, dentistry, nursing, doctoring, selling groceries, photocopying, and writing speculative fiction to name a few of the many things humans do hereabouts to make money. Which is to say, having lived in Berkeley for eleven years and Sacramento for fifteen, if Mendocino is a tourist trap, I’ll take it.

This past Saturday night I gave a reading at Mendocino’s Gallery Bookshop to celebrate the new Counterpoint Press edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup. Twenty people came to listen. I knew half the twenty and didn’t know the other half, but everyone got along, enjoyed the complimentary wine, and when I finished reading three stories, the audience requested another story and then another.

After reading, I sat at a little table and signed copies of the book and chatted with some of the people I knew and some of the people I didn’t know. One fellow introduced himself and said, “I enjoyed your stories. Thought I’d say hello because we both live here and…why not?”

I asked him what he did and he said, “Oh, nothing linear.”

“Did you used to do something linear?” I asked, not wanting to be too nosy. “To make a living?”

“Oh, quasi-linear maybe,” he said, shrugging. “Not really.”

I liked him, though I’ve never been great at non-specific small talk.

A woman I didn’t know said she wanted to hear me read all forty-two stories from Buddha In A Teacup and I said she could download my reading of the book from iTunes or Audible or the Audio Bookstore, as well as my readings of three of my novels. She frowned. “How do you do that? Download something?”

I said I didn’t know, but I knew it could be done because I’ve heard of people who do that sort of thing. She said she would ask a friend who knew about computers.

A woman I do know, the force behind the Mendocino Gluten Free Baking Company, bought two copies of Buddha In A Teacup, one for herself and one as a birthday gift for a friend. I couldn’t help calculating that my take from the sale of her two copies, according to my publishing contract, would be two dollars and twenty-two cents, which would not quite pay for one of her delicious gluten-free oatmeal cookies. However, my take of the sales of the book for the night would buy four cookies, which made me feel fat and sassy.

Another woman I didn’t know said, “You mentioned you were a voracious reader of short stories and on the lookout for good ones.” She then rattled off the names of several writers she thought I might like, but I couldn’t hear her clearly because the next person in line was telling me how she wanted me to sign her copy of the book.

I thanked the bookstore folks for hosting me, and then Marcia and I went to Harvest Market and bought chips and salsa and went home and got a fire going and drank beer and played cards, and I had to laugh about how nervous I was prior to the reading. I hadn’t done any sort of public anything in many years and I had nightmares for three nights prior to the reading. Silly me. My imagination helps me write stories but it also turns innocuous things into giant monsters.

On the Monday after my bookstore appearance, I walked to town thinking what a neato friendly place Mendocino is, and then I came to the beautiful field across the street from Friendship Park, the field I have walked across every day for the last four years to avoid walking on the narrow shoulder of the road. Dozens of people have walked across this field every day for decades and possibly centuries, but on Monday, planted in the ground at either end of the narrow footpath traversing the block-long field, were two menacing No Trespassing signs.

Seeing these signs, I felt more than sad, I felt sick at heart. Neato friendly Mendocino was instantly transformed into elitist, anti-homeless, anti-pedestrian, anti-dog, pro-rich people Mendocino. I suppose whoever owns this lovely field had an unpleasant experience with a dog owner not cleaning up pet poop, or a homeless guy taking a dump in the bushes, or something equally horrendous, but I still felt sad about those No Trespassing signs.

Now when I come to the field and see those threatening signs I take a different route to reach the commercial sector of town. We own a house on two acres and if people we didn’t know were walking across our land every day, we would probably feel intruded upon and want them to stop. This field in Mendocino I’m speaking of isn’t adjacent to anybody’s house, but I no longer walk there because I don’t want to get hassled by gendarmes alerted by the owners of the field.

However, as a result of bypassing the lovely field, I now go down streets I rarely used to go down, and I frequently meet people walking their dogs or working in their gardens or pushing their babies in strollers, and nearly everyone I encounter is friendly and open and as sad as I am about those No Trespassing signs on the field everyone used to enjoy walking across.

Thus kindness and generosity and friendliness have transformed Mendocino in my mind from an elitist, anti-homeless, anti-pedestrian, anti-dog, pro-rich people place into a hotbed of super-neato people—every last one of them supporting Bernie Sanders for President of the United States.

Calliope of Hope

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

calliope-coverD1

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2016)

On Saturday February 20 at 6:30 PM, I will be at Gallery Books in Mendocino reading from the new Counterpoint Press edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup. I self-published the book seven years ago, and now the book will have a life in the larger world, so to speak. The paperback of Buddha In A Teacup from Counterpoint is beautifully designed and fits well in the hand.

Speaking of self-publishing, I just completed my first large work of fiction since finishing the four volumes of the Ida’s Place saga, and the new tome is now available from my web site. As with the Ida’s Place quartet, I present Calliope of Hope tales of the road in a handsome coil-bound photocopy edition, each copy signed and colorfully numbered by yours truly.

Calliope of Hope—tales of the road is both a collection of short stories and a novel. Any of these stories may be read as a stand-alone work, or you may read the book from start to finish and experience the stories as chapters of a novel.

Part of the inspiration for Calliope of Hope came from the late poet and translator Taylor Stoehr who was keen for me to write a companion collection to Buddha In A Teacup with a Sufi bent, which many of the stories in Calliope of Hope have, and many of the stories involve hitchhiking.

Here is the beginning of one of the stories/chapters from Calliope of Hope entitled Henry’s Expotition.

On a sunny morning in April, Henry Abbot, fifty-nine, tall and sturdy, his sandy brown hair cut short, his brown eyes full of mischief, stands on the east side of the coast highway at the north end of Fort Orford, hitchhiking to Portland, Oregon. Henry, who was born and raised in this town of three thousand hearty souls on the far north coast of California, is so well-liked, if he ever ran for mayor—which he will never do—he would win by a landslide, no matter who ran against him.

The last time Henry hitchhiked was forty years ago when he and his pal Gunnar Diggs, who was also born in Fort Orford, made it all the way to northern British Columbia before turning around and heading back to Fort Orford. Shortly after they got home, Henry joined the Army and spent two years in Germany fixing trucks, while Gunnar got a job driving a bulldozer for a local paving contractor, a job he still has today.

A few weeks after coming home from the Army, Henry moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he spent three years working as a truck mechanic and peddling his heartfelt ballads to record companies and recording artists large and small, to no avail. Upon his return to Fort Orford at the age of twenty-five, Henry embarked on a twenty-year career as a lumberjack, and for the last fifteen years he has been the manager of Dorfman’s Hardware, the one and only hardware store in town.

A widower with two teenaged daughters, Henry has never spent a night away from his girls, and though he only intends to be gone a few nights, this trip to Portland feels to him like the biggest adventure of his life.

Henry is dressed exactly as he does for work: brown work boots, red plaid socks, khaki pants, a black T-shirt, a blue jacket with a zipper, and a San Francisco Giants baseball cap. His luggage consists of a blue canvas knapsack and a large brown leather briefcase, and per the suggestion of the woman he is going to visit, he is holding a neatly-lettered sign: Portland.

Ten minutes after Henry takes his stand, who should pull up beside him in an old blue pickup but Arnold Collison, Henry’s neighbor.

Arnold leans across the seat and says out the passenger window, “Where you going, Henry? Car break down?”

“No,” says Henry, showing his Portland sign to Arnold. “I’m going to visit Jolene. Remember Jolene? Stayed with us for ten days last November?”

“Sure, I remember her. Pretty gal. Played the mandolin and sang like a bird. Why aren’t you driving?”

“Marie Louise is staying with the girls while I’m gone,” says Henry, laughing at Arnold’s stupefied expression. “Her car died and I want her to have my truck while I’m gone in case she needs to take the girls somewhere.”

“Borrow our car,” says Arnold, wondering why Henry didn’t think of that. “We hardly ever drive the damn thing. Practically new. We can get by with the pickup until you get back. How long you going for?”

“A few days.”
“Get in,” says Arnold, authoritatively. “I’ll drive you up to the house and you can take our car.”

“Well, actually, Arnold, I want to hitchhike.” Henry waits a moment for this to sink into Arnold’s famously thick skull. “I want to see how Jolene has been getting around for the last several years, and…I want the adventure.”

Arnold frowns. “Sounds pretty weird, Henry. You never know what kind of nut might pick you up. Better to drive. You’re almost sixty.”

“If I’m still here this afternoon, I’ll borrow your car,” says Henry, holding up his sign as a fancy sports car speeds by. “How does that sound, Arnie?”

“Sounds nuts,” says Arnold, shaking his head. “Seems like visiting Jolene in Portland would be adventure enough. Don’t you think?”

“Apparently not,” says Henry, losing patience with Arnold. “I’ll see you this afternoon or in a few days.”

Arnold drives away and Carlos Gomez pulls up in his ancient brown Malibu. “You hitchhiking, Henry?”

“I am, Carlos,” says Henry, nodding.

“Car break down?” asks Carlos, the longtime chef at Rosa’s, the best Mexican restaurant in Fort Orford.

“No, I’m going on an adventure.”

Carlos nods. “That’s cool. I was in Stuyvesant’s having breakfast and Pablo came in saying you were out here with your sign, so I came to see if you were okay. You okay?”

“I am, Carlos,” says Henry, realizing half the town will soon be parading by to get a look at him standing by the road. “Can I ask a huge favor?”

“Of course,” says Carlos, nodding. “What do you need?”

“I need you drive me to Gecko?”

“Sure. When you want to go?”

“Now.”

Carlos smiles. “I get it, Henry. Get in.”

Cover Stories

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

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(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

I recently got a letter from my editor at Counterpoint Press, the daring publishing company bringing out a paperback edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup in early 2016, saying he would soon be sending me samples of their cover ideas. So I held my breath for a few days and recalled my book cover adventures with publishers of my previous books. This helped temper fantasies of a superb cover for Buddha In A Teacup. Indeed, after reviewing my history of book covers, I decided to hope for legible.

Inside Moves. Published in 1978 by Doubleday, my first novel had a basketball subplot and the cover sample featured a small airborne man holding what might have been a basketball, but also might have been a bowling ball. This ambiguous athlete, wearing slacks and a sweater, was floating through the air surrounded by gothic-like letters with enormous serifs. At a glance, the letters seemed to spell INSIDE MOVIES. I expressed my concerns and the ball problem was addressed, but the confusing lettering remained and the book was often shelved in the Hobby section of bookstores.

Forgotten Impulses. Published in 1980 by Simon & Schuster, my second novel was originally entitled Mackie, which remained the title until a month before the book was to be printed. The cover for Mackie featured a spectacular oil painting of a woman wearing a sunhat and kneeling in her vegetable garden, the roots of the plants growing down through layers of soil to entangle the name Mackie. Alas, my editor called at the proverbial last minute to say Sales felt Mackie lacked punch. Could I come up with a meaty sub-title? My brother Steve, who came up with Inside Moves, helped me come up with Forgotten Impulses, and Sales dropped Mackie entirely and went with Forgotten Impulses. The hastily assembled new cover was composed of garish yellow gothic-like letters on a red and blue background.

Not that it mattered much. Simon & Schuster took the book out of print a few days after it was published.

Louie & Women. My third novel was published by Dutton in 1983 and featured a poorly rendered painting of a short buxom naked woman standing at a window. Filling most of the window frame was a painting of a wave—a painting within the painting. On the bed in the foreground of the room lies a pair of large white men’s jockey-style underwear. I strenuously objected and my editor said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to kill the book before it comes out anyway, so…”

“But why?”

“They don’t think it will sell. Sorry.”

Ruby & Spear. My fifth novel was published by Bantam in 1996 and the cover shows a black man going up to dunk a basketball into a hoop with a half-ripped net. This cover was so antithetical to the spirit of the story, I called my editor to express my disappointment and she said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to take the book out of print.”

“But the book hasn’t been published yet?”

“I know,” she said sadly. “Sorry.”

The Writer’s Path, published by 10-Speed in 2000, is a large collection of my original writing exercises. The proposed cover design was hideous and featured misleading subtitles that made the book sound like a touchy feely book for people trying to access their inner artist. The cover was changed from hideous to blah shortly before publication, but the misleading subtitles remained. Sadly, the hideous proposed cover was put up on all the online bookselling sites and remains there to this day. Nevertheless, the book sold ten thousand copies entirely by word-of-mouth. 10-Speed did absolutely nothing to promote the book, and then, in their great wisdom, Sales decided not to do a third printing because, after all, the book was selling itself.

“Everything in life matters and ultimately has a place, an impact and a meaning.” Laurens Van Der Post

Shortly before the cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived from Counterpoint, my editor wrote to say he had presented the book at a sales meeting and the response was positive. However, the consensus was that my original subtitle—tales of enlightenment—was inadequate because it did not say the short stories are contemporary. So I came up with Contemporary Dharma Tales, which he liked.

Ere long, five cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived via email, and just as I was about to unzip the big file to peruse them, another email came from my editor saying they had selected two finalists from the five and I should ignore those five and look at the two. But I looked at the five, loved one of them and disliked the other four, and then with trembling mouse opened the file containing the finalists. And lo, the one cover I loved was one of the two finalists. My wife and several friends agreed with my choice, I sent in our votes, and…

Will the final cover be the one we want? Will the book have a long and eventful life in print? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am about to finish writing Ida’s Place Book Four: Renegade, the fourth volume of a fictional epic set in a mythical Here and Now, the covers for the Ida books exactly how I want them because I create them myself with the help of Garth the graphics wizard and Ian the master of the color copier at Zo, the finest (and only) copy shop in Mendocino. Coil bound copies of the Ida books, lavishly numbered and signed by the author, are available from my web site until that glorious (mythical) day when some prescient publisher presents them to that great big world on the other side of the tracks.

The Ida’s Place books and the original self-published hardback of Buddha In A Teacup are available at Underthetablebooks.com