What if Gordon Gekko Was a Coffee Addicted Writer?

I’m just starting my first cup this early morning. What would Gordon Gekko say?

“Coffee, for lack of a better word, is good. Coffee is right, coffee works. Coffee clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Coffee, in all of its forms: coffee for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. And coffee, you mark my words, will not only save my writing, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”


Posted in Thoughts on writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco and The Summer of Love

The de Young Museum (external link), in association with other groups and venues, is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love. Pardon me if I don’t join the festivities.

As the promoters put it, “In the mid-1960s, artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on Haight-Ashbury with hopes of creating a new social paradigm. By 1967, the neighborhood would attract as many as 100,000 young people from all over the nation. The neighborhood became ground zero for their activities, and nearby Golden Gate Park their playground.”

Actually, Golden Gate Park became their litter box. And the City’s been dirty ever since.

Until the late 1950’s, my grandmother in Sacramento could write her son in San Francisco by putting down his address and then writing “The City” as its destination. Everybody knew the town by that name, there was nothing else so grand and magical to warrant such a title.

When my family visited The City we dressed up. San Francisco made a huge impression on me as someone not quite ten. The air was fresh and clean, scrubbed by the minute by wind off the Pacific, the hills and the views and the cable cars tremendous. I could not imagine any city more beautiful.

My third grade class went on a field trip to San Francisco and I was roundly laughed at for wearing my good pants and a red sports jackets. I felt badly for being teased and badly for my schoolmates, who did not understand we were going someplace special. That ribbing did not lose my love for the City.

Sometime in 1967 my family visited San Francisco and Golden Gate Park. The whole area had changed. Half-naked people, grown people, had taken over the swing sets and playgrounds. Long haired men were wearing World War 1 aviator helmets and goggles, t-shirts, and tattered jeans. To put it mildly, the park was one rolling freak parade. The City never recovered.

In with the hippies came a more relaxed view of hygiene and cleanliness. The streets and sidewalks were now something to sleep on, camp on, and go to the bathroom on. All the old standards were thrown out and made lax. The invading army had won. For all the art and music that was created, the City as a temple was destroyed.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”

For me, San Francisco was like Kerouac’s firework’s explosion. The only response was Awww! and awe. Kerouac and company were Beats. They were different. They came before.

As a young man I watched the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. It encapsulated the stirrings I remember before the Summer of Love. Only Hollywood can do that.

First, there was Steve McQueen and he was cool.


And he dealt with people still hanging onto the Beatnik look which was cool.

And he lived in a corner apartment with a bay window. If you have ever been to San Francisco you have looked up and wanted to live in one. This is the filming location, the building now scarred with a garage.

And, of course, he had a smart, beautiful girlfriend. And they had breakfast at the bay window of the apartment everyone wants to live in.

As with any city with dozens of neighborhoods, you can still find places in San Francisco to fall in love with.

In the early 2000’s I helped a friend, the sister I never had, find an apartment in the Inner Richmond district. I was given a key and I could come and go as I wished. The apartment even had off-street parking. For two or three years I reveled in bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoying the New Chinatown on Clement, and visiting countless used book stores like Green Apple Books.

But terrible neighborhoods, filthy neighborhoods, have proliferated and continue to get worse. I avoid them when I visit and that’s all one can do.  For all the good that The Summer of Love brought about, the City was been victimized by its tolerance and acceptance. The City was never loved back.

Stanton Delaplane felt the same way about going into San Francisco as a child as I did. Delaplane (internal link) was a Pulitzer wining columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for over fifty years.

Introduction from The City: San Francisco In Pictures. 1961. 

By Stanton Delaplane

We never called it anything but “The City.”

You packed your things in the car and gassed up at the gas station.

“Going somewhere?” asked the gas station man.

“Up to The City.”

If we were going down to Los Angeles, we said: “I’m going down to L. A.”

San Francisco has always remained “The City” in California. Los Angeles grows out of its citrus skin. The forecasters of the census predict a huge San Jose.

Even San Francisco has shrunk by population moving to the suburbs.

But when we come to town, we “drive to The City.”

In this book we have our best photography of The City — its face doesn’t change much. A few new glass-and-steel skyscrapers. The Western Addition coming down to make room for better houses.

But changes are made with reluctance. We don’t like to change The City. We like it the way it is. (Let those cable cars alone!)

The City, thank heaven, has unchangeable assets: There is no way you can change The City when the fog spills like whipped cream over the barrier of Twin Peaks.

No architect can rearrange the look of the Bay when the afternoon winds are kicking up whitecaps from the Golden Gate to the Carquinez Straits.

The hills stand up against the washed blue sky, just as they did when Dana sailed here in the “Alert” in 1834. (His description is as good today as it was then.)

While other cities change—and maybe for the better—The City photographs with the well-remembered face of an old friend.

In the pictures we found the feeling of The City: the clang of the cable car mounting the California Street hill. The spicy smell of Chinatown when the herb shop door is open. The sound of the wind in the sweep of the bridge. The toot of a freighter headed for deep water.

Said Tessie Wall, one of The City’s best known ladies of the Barbary Coast’s unladlylike days:

“I’d rather be an electric light pole on Powell street than own all the land in the sticks.”

We used to pack the car and pack a lunch. It took more time to get to The City in those days.

We wore our best suit and carried a clean shirt.

“Going to The City, huh?” said the gas station man.

If we’d been going anywhere else, we’d have worn jeans. You couldn’t fool him. When else would you wear city clothes? Only when you were going to The City.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The iStory — A Way to Improve Your Writing?

NarrativeMagazine.com (external link) is promoting a new kind of writing for our too wandering thoughts, a 150-word prose form called an iStory. Here’s how they describe it:

An iStory is a short, dramatic narrative, fiction or nonfiction, up to 150 words long. We are particularly interested in works that give readers a strong sense of having read a full and complete story in a brief space.

The iStory seems well suited for our mobile obsessed culture, as we now read casually on our phones and tablets instead of reading deeply with books. They give four examples at their site. Here is one:

Friendship and Art by Alan Ziegler

The buzzer rings near midnight. It is Robert, distraught. He has had a fight with his girlfriend and walked out. Can he stay with me?

Sure, I say, and put on some tea. We talk for a while. He leaves, and when I next see him, he says everything is all right. I feel good about helping to save a relationship.

Two years later I run into him on the subway. He tells me he is writing poems. He asks if I want to see one. As I read I realize it is about that night. I am portrayed as a cold person who barely tolerates the intrusion and says good-sounding things only to get rid of him.

“What do you think?” Robert asks, as if the poem were about roses in winter.

“It’s nice,” I reply, the words you use when you want to break a poet’s spirit.

Rather than speed the death of long form writing, the iStory may contribute to its survival. That’s because the iStory is very similar to what every article or book demands: a strong lead.

Here’s one of the strongest leads in literature, the original paragraph trimmed to iStory length:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

This opening paragraph is a lead and not a complete story like an iStory. The point of the lead is to mercilessly grab the reader’s attention, bring them along, running downhill all the way. The iStory idea, though, may help you with your writing. Can you encapsulate your entire book or article into 150 words? If you can’t make your story compelling in 150 words, can you ask the reader to stay with you for 70,000?

NarrativeWriting.com is also holding a contest for iStories. At $22 an entry I won’t be contributing, especially given the work and time involved. But I’d encourage you to go to their site to read the other three examples. Interesting.

Posted in Thoughts on writing, Writing by others, Writing tips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Book Proposal and The Benefits of a Short Query

Before you get bogged down in a lengthy book proposal, send a few paragraphs to the editor instead. It could save you a great deal of time. Here’s three paragraphs I sent to a University Press editor and his response.

By way of background, I am fascinated by historical markers and I always pick up books on them when I find them. Most of these titles run into several printings over the years. Nowadays, states have online resources documenting their markers but having a book in the car while traveling is convenient and browsing at home is always fun.

As to this short query, there is a non-governmental group in the West that has been putting up markers for decades. I was dumfounded the editor, whose press deals mainly with history, hadn’t even heard of this group. But I got my answer quickly, saving us both time.

My short query:

I think there is a book waiting to be written on E Clampus Vitus. I run into more of their historical monuments than the “official” ones put up by California or Nevada. They commemorate everything from mining districts to saloons to brothels, presenting an alternative history not matched by their state sponsored peers. And all seem carefully researched.

Waymarking.com, if you search for “Clampus” suggest there are more than 600 monuments now scattered throughout California, Nevada, and points beyond. I’ve included some text below from Waymarking. The last book detailing these monuments seems to have been written in 1980 to honor their first fifty years of installing these plaques.

A secretive group, except when they throw wild parties in public, the Clampers might be an interesting body to research, possibly for the first time in the traditional press, relating their history, their work as a renegade historical society, and their compulsion for monument building. Again, I am writing out loud. I’d probably have to somehow become a Clamper to write about it.

His response:

Interesting idea but I don’t think it would be right for the Press.  I’d never heard of E Clampus Vitus, and now having read their Wikipedia page I still don’t have any sense really of what they are or why they matter outside of an excuse to party and put up an occasional plaque here or there.  I can imagine a really interesting human interest piece of long-form journalism running in a magazine, but I don’t see enough for a book, and I’m struggling to imagine the audience for such a book.  Also the very practical question of access which you raise!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Find a Private Foundation

There hasn’t been enough interest in my Nevada agriculture book proposal so I am turning to private foundations for help. This is unexplored territory for me.

I know that foundations and large corporations are run by boards of directors. These boards meet infrequently so I could be waiting a long time for them just to get together. Also, each board or foundation has different rules for entertaining proposals. Some foundations are off the web, requiring hardcopy materials and conventional correspondence.

It hasn’t been all bad for Nevada Agriculture Past and Present. One press said they’d like to see a scholarly monograph of Nevada’a agricultural history but they weren’t interested in current practices. Another group expressed initial enthusiasm but has now changed their minds. I continue to work on the website devoted to the proposal. (external link)

Are you in Nevada and seeking a private foundation for your project? A kindly soul sent me this four year old .pdf. As they explained, contact people may be different, but most phone numbers and street addresses should still be good. Click here (internal link) or on the image to get the file.



Posted in Thoughts on writing, Uncategorized, Writing tips | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Blue Lichen

Here’s a departure from writing. While rockhounding for another Rock&Gem article, I came across blue colored lichen. I used to day hike thirty or forty times a year, racking up perhaps hundreds of miles over the decades. But I had never seen blue lichen until this day.

I want to think of it as rare but perhaps its not. I will read up on lichen to tell. This was near a roadside in easternmost Inyo County, California. Click on the photo for a full size image. Pretty stuff.


The California desert is beautiful this time of year. This is the South Nopah Wilderness area. Click on the image.

The Old Spanish Trail. Click on the image.

Posted in Magazine article, Photography, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Newsmastering for Illinois

I’m now newsmastering (internal link) about Illinois roadway accidents. This through my Vancouver employer. When an accident report comes in matching our criteria, I hurriedly rewrite the story, post it to our client’s blog, then add the URL to Google. (internal link). We are working on ways to get the news faster and to improve turn-around speed.

This sort of writing, which generates my main income, not magazine articles, can be compared to a graphic artist. (internal link) There, the artist doesn’t usually select the job but instead has the employer telling the artist what to do. A fine artist, by comparison, most often selects what they want to create. It’s all a matter of definition and in the end a writer is a writer.


Posted in Thoughts on writing, Uncategorized, Writing tips | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment