ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Productivity, Publishing & Apex Predators

Amazon is going to destroy the Big 6, destroy bookstores, destroy 95% of all agents, destroy distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor), and revolutionize the publishing industry by becoming the dominant force… Blaming Amazon for your eventual downfall is like blaming a lion for being king of the jungle. (Joe Konrath)

The Chama River Canyon Wilderness. Scull Bridg...

The Chama River Canyon Wilderness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m graced with one more week writing with Benedictines and coyotes in a desert canyon. What a life! It’s hard to believe that almost three weeks have already flowed past with the burbling Chama. Productive time, but it’s passed in a blur. Twelve to fifteen hours of writing, rewriting and editing every day except except for Saturday. Yesterday was an exception. I cut out late in the afternoon and drove in to Santa Fe to celebrate a friend’s birthday. An inspired and inspiring evening with new and old friends. When asked which of the trails I’d hiked and ruins I’d explored during my stay in Abiquiu I surprised myself by responding, “None.” Not a single adventure! And despite the missed opportunities (fortunately I’ll be back), I was amazed to realize that I’ve actually managed to stay focused and on task. Totally on task! For a change.

That said, there’s still ample toil ahead. I habitually underestimate how much time projects will take, but I have the growing sense that one of the lessons I’m meant to learn during this sequestered month is to let go. To find closure. To move on. And with the storytelling and publishing worlds evolving faster than ever in history, I’m accepting that it’s critical to launch Rosslyn Redux and move on the the next project and the next and the next. Time. To. Move. On.

Time will tell whether Joe Konrath‘s much cited assessment of Amazon’s role in the future of the publishing industry above is clairvoyant or bluster. But the lesson isn’t just in his bold prediction. The lesson is in the jungle. And the harsh desert. And I’m learning to listen… Not just to the coyotes who sing outside my window each night. But also to the muddy old Chama.

Ol’ man river,
Dat ol’ man river
He mus’know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’keeps rollin’

He keeps on rollin’ along.

A quick post before I wind my way back into the Chama canyonlands. Thanks for your indulgence over the last few weeks. Anticipate me back to my noisy self in April. Cheers!

Power of Story

About a month and a half ago I received a wonderful gift from my friend and research/editorial/blogging assistant, Katie Shepard. Before the hubbub of the 84th Academy Awards; before this fourteen minute long cartoon about the enchanting power of stories, reading and books won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film; before I would have comfortably volunteered that I loved watching an animated film, Katie sent me a microscopic email.

I think you would like this video…

Since then the video has become password protected at Vimeo, but The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is viewable on YouTube and you can download the short film at Moonbot Studios website.

If you’re a “book cynic”, then I join Bookigee in challenging you not to be inspired by Morris Lessmore. This bibliophiles fantasy was co-directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg in Shreveport, Louisiana. Here’s what they have to say about this tidy little masterpiece.

Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. (

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a timely reminder wrapped up in a “poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.” Thanks, Katie, for bringing it to my attention (and for scooping the Academy Awards!) Everyone else, please accept my apologies for failing to share Mr. Lessmore sooner.

Rosslyn in the Desert

Frosty Morning in Abiquiu, New Mexico

Frosty Morning in Abiquiu, New Mexico (Photo credit: Princess Stand in the Rain)

As of tomorrow I’m at the halfway point for my desert retreat in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Eleven days in; eleven days to go. That’s 12+ hours/day, six days a week editing, revising, shuffling and rewriting. In silence. Without interruptions or distractions. Without internet access. Without excuses!

It’s been a productive stretch despite the fact that my manuscript is still bloated and desperate for a liposuction/stomach staple two-for-one… But I’ve discovered the heart and soul of my story, and the next two weeks I’ll perform ruthless, unsentimental surgery, cutting away all nonessential narrative. With luck and endurance I’ll return from the desert at month’s end with a svelte memoir.

I spent the first week focusing on the most enjoyable sections, and last week I dug into the darker sections. Death, depression, failures, violations. It was a tough week. A proverbial roller coaster ride. More like a bucking bronco ride. I’m feeling whiplashed and bruised today, but licking my wounds in Santa Fe.

Each Saturday I’ve driven two hours from the Chama canyonlands to the city where I lived from 1996-9. I re-provision, de-soil my laundry and pig out on delicious New Mexican food. And after a week without telephone or internet access, I spend hours on the phone with my amazing bride. My generous, understanding bride who’s tolerating my time at the hermitage. I offer my deepest gratitude to this woman who transformed my world over a decade ago, the woman who’s allowing me to share our sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing and always intimate story.

Thanks also to the Benedictines for use of their handsome hermitage and to my colleagues at The Depot Theatre and Champlain Area Trails for letting me vanish for sooooo long. The last couple of weeks have reminded how much I love Scrivener, so thanks to the good folks at Literature and Latte for simplifying my work on Rosslyn Redux. And thanks to all of you who’ve encouraged and pushed me. Now it’s time to jump in my jalopy and head back to the desert for another productive week. Cheers!

Immersion Writing

Hats off to Patrick Ross (@PatrickRwrites) who’s blog The Artist’s Road chronicles his open road quest to live an art-committed life. His AWP post on immersion writing struck home note only because it reported on a panel I was sorry to miss on the final day of AWP Chicago (too many compelling, concurrently scheduled panels!), but because he reflected on a couple of familiar memoir writing/revising challenges.

I attended a Friday morning AWP panel titled “The Writer in the World: A Look at Immersion Writing.” As a sports fan I grew up admiring George Plimpton, who immersed himself so deeply in his writing that he even got to be a “quarterback” for the Detroit Lions. But as explained by Robin Hemley–a multi-published author and director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa–immersion writing should be viewed more holistically, incorporating “Memoir, Journalism, and Travel.” (OK, I cheated there; that’s the subtitle of his book A Field Guide for Immersion Writing.) ~ Patrick Ross in The Artist’s Road

Ross shared Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s story about being asked by editors to include more personal personal details in her first book. Include more of yourself, they told her. She did. And she promptly received two offers!

Ross apparently received similar advice for his memoir, and the overwhelming feedback I received from agents during the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference was similar. I was pitching Rosslyn Redux as an Adirondack counterpoint to A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun. The memoir had already evolved dramatically since inception as a book about green renovation and historic rehabilitation. As the chapters collected and the page count rocketed to catch up with the national debt, I was drawn more and more to the social and historic narratives connected with the house. “But what’s your personal experience?” I was asked again and again.

Ross also sharedJoe Mackal’s (author of Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish and editor of River Teeth) advice to let interviewees read what you’ve written before publishing your work. Their feedback and perspective is valuable even if you ultimately decide what to cull and what to keep.

This advice was echoed in several memoir-focused panels I attended, but the reason was slightly different. By sharing your manuscript before publication, those represented are less likely to object, and the author has the opportunity to discuss and convince. If they only read the final, published work they stand a greater chance of being offended and angry. Unless your portrayal flatters the pants off of them!

Blog Out Loud with Les Miserables

I’ve been thinking a lot about theater lately. Even more than usual. A leadership transition at our Depot Theatre (@DepotTheatre) and a recent debate with Porter Anderson and Viki Noe about the relevance and roll of live theater in the digital age primed me to appreciate Susan Silver‘s post, “12 Most Fabulous Blogging Lessons from Les Miserables”. She’s distilled a dozen tips for better blogging from Victor Hugo‘s novel-turned-musical.

I want you to learn how to blog out loud by following conventions drawn from musical theater. Open up and sing with the 12 most fabulous lessons from Les Miserables. (12 Most)

Here are my favorites from Ms. Silver’s list:

  • Think globally: Just like Les Miserables, “your blog also has an international audience you can accommodate.”
  • Sing it: Find your blog’s unique first-person voice and sweep us up in your song.
  • Diversify: “To give longevity to your content utilize multi-media. Speak in the voices of all the platforms you have available; print, video, blogs & more.”
  • Be thematic: Discover, define and refine your blog’s narrative threads.
  • Epicosity: Like Les Miserables’ epic song “One Day More”, “every once in awhile it is fun to write a piece with a grand scope.”
  • “Heart Full of Love”: Court a niche/topic/theme that you are genuinely passionate about.
  • Write for longevity: Les Miserables’ endurance is inspiring. The novel is 150 years old, and the musical has been performed for a quarter century. Aim for nothing less!
  • Bring down the curtain: My bride frequently reminds me about this one! “We need to take off our blogging hats at the end of the day. Make unplugging from the computer a routine. Enjoy the time you have with friends and family.”

Great tips! And I’d like to add one slightly less obvious, but no less important lesson that bloggers should learn from Les Miserables: Not everyone will love your blog! That’s okay. Despite Les Miserables’ storied success, it doesn’t appeal to everyone no matter how well it is produced, performed or attended. Know and grow your audience, but don’t get discouraged by those who neglect your niche or criticize your song. Sing better, sing louder, sing louder. And before long your audience will be humming along with you.

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