Thursday, December 06, 2012

A brand-new review of the Cactus Eaters, in this month's Memoir Journal (this blog journal entry was thoroughly updated on Monday, December 17)

. I just found out that this month's Memoir Journal, featuring this arresting cover photograph and a Wild interview with Cheryl Strayed, includes a brand-new (and as it turns out, very positive) review of my book, The Cactus Eaters. It's nice to find out that reviews continue to trickle in at this late hour, especially now that I've settled down, bought myself a CPAP, and stopped all my adrenalized wanderings and pulse-pounding adventures at least for the time being. Unless you include  going to the corner store and attempting to buy organic prunes without getting mugged by some idiot. See entry below. Addendum to this blog posting: I finally read the review. They loved The Cactus Eaters, and described it as a companion to Wild. One particular line in the review made me gasp when I read it, but I've decided to just let you read the review for yourself (rather than perpetuate the line by putting it on my blog.) A bunch of people asked me why I don't just post a link to the review. The answer is, the magazine does not, as far as I know, exist in an online version so you will need to head to a bookstore and pick it up.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What is Cactuseaters, anyhow? A compendium of links regarding this blog, various writings, Catamaran Literary Reader information, updates, uncensored book reviews and more

             I'm still stewing about that prune incident, and I'll have more to say about it soon.

In the meantime, here are some links and other readings for you to consider, especially if you're new to this blog. Here is a new story about Catamaran Literary Reader, which employs me as contributing editor, and another recent news report.  Here are links and uncensored editorial reviews about my first book, The Cactus Eaters, which is a true story.  I have gone ahead and republished and updated The Cactus Eaters FAQ. Also, here is story about my unfortunate run-in with the people at the Pain Quotidian bakery. Here is a podcast of my Catamaran talk with TC Boyle.  And here is a blog post about my neighbor, who wants his housemates to touch him on the knee. By the way, I used to have a whole bunch of Catamaran and Cactus Eaters links on my home page, but I somehow pressed the wrong button and they all went away. That accidentally pressed button resulted in an instant unwanted streamline and instant redesign of my blog, which is looking a little too 'aspirational yuppie" for my taste.  I'll have to call the good folks at Blogger and ask them how to bring my blog back to its old, clunky self and restore those missing links.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Some idiot just tried to mug me in the middle of an organic health food store!

Alternate title: "Some idiot just tried to mug me at the Food Bin"

You won't believe this. On Sunday at 1:30 p.m, I was set upon by a loud, anti-Semitic, near-toothless mugger, right in the middle of a health food store. To be precise, he tried to mug me in front of the shriveled apricots.

That afternoon, I stopped by the Food Bin & Herb Room (you know this place? In Santa Cruz, California? It's this endearing if dark and dingy little throwback of an organic food store with "like, dude'' cashiers and interesting produce. ) I stopped there to get some dehydrated plums. They have really good ones there, for some reason, and just as I was loading up my little plastic bag, I saw this guy behind me with only four teeth, in the lower part of his jaw. He was probably in his early 50s with a smeary coat and a black beard.

"This is when you give me some money for a few of these goodies, brother," he told me.

 That got my hackles up right there. When a stranger in Santa Cruz calls you 'brother,' nothing good will ever come of it.

When I just kept on shopping and ignoring him, he grabbed me by my shirt, gave me a little shove, and he said, "You're not understanding me, brother. This is NOT a yes or no question."

When I brushed his hands off, and got in his face, and told him, "you're getting no money off me, brother," he called me a word that you generally do not want to call any Jewish person (I just so happen to be Jewish) if you want to leave a health food store with your four teeth in their rightful places. I explained to him that this was a highly offensive term and that he would now have to leave. Although he took several giant steps toward the door, he stopped in front of the bulk food aisle, at which point he indignantly told me I couldn't kick him out "because I used to work here."

Anyways the management finally, sort of, came to my assistance and told him he should leave and he finally did, so the whole thing came to a nice, non-violent conclusion.

I'm proud to say he didn't succeed in mugging me, and I'm glad I told him off. So it all ended well. Still, I'm buying my prunes from Staff of Life or New Leaf Community Market next time. Security  there  is generally good, and you don't have to worry about people shaking you down for lunch money in front of the kale display.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Remembering Don Rothman, a voice for writers and writing

                                                   photo by Scott Rappaport

I just spoke with Don on Tuesday afternoon at some length. During our phone conversation,  we talked about the importance of writing and composition courses and how they teach students to engage not only with the academy but with the wider world. I've taught composition at San Jose State and Columbia, but I've rarely met a professor who articulated the goals and potentials of writing so elegantly. He will be missed. The full story is right here, and here is a lively discussion between Professor Rothman and his old friend and colleague Herman Blake. If you would like to hear about Don Rothman in his own words, here is a link to his website.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Catamaran Literary Reader's launch party at the Salz Tannery: and welcome to the new website

The URL address may be the same, but Catamaran Literary Reader's website is now full-service and turbocharged as you will see. Take off your shoes and visit for a while.  And I know I keep saying this, but I so appreciate your messages and feedback -- a real boost for me every week. And it is great to see  the magazine is 'making the rounds.' Also, a huge 'thank you' to those of you who have taken out subscriptions, and in many cases, multiyear subscriptions. 

We are grateful for your support. In case you missed it, here are a couple of photos from our launch party at the historic Salz tannery. 

Our book table featured publications from Catamaran contributors and editors.

The crowd was large and spirited. 

Editor Catherine Segurson was master of ceremonies. 

That is me on the left, and to the right is Elizabeth McKenzie, who is both the managing editor and the fiction editor

And here is a picture of me 'performing' part of my interview with T.C. Boyle during the Catamaran launch party some weeks back.  Photos courtesy of Catamaran. See you all soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our bookstore!

Just the other day I met an author I've admired for a long while, Ann Packer, who wrote a lovely appreciation of the Capitola Book Cafe. Her essay appears in a newly released anthology, My Bookstore, in which more than 75 authors pen tributes to their favorite booksellers. Someone was kind enough to videotape the entire "Our Bookstore" presentation at the Book Cafe, highlighting the work of  several writers who spend lots of time at the Book Cafe, including me. As far as I know, it is the only video of me reading anything anywhere. Check in later this week -- I'll try to get that link up on the blog just as soon as I am able. And thank you for the latest round of messages about the "Shoebox Man" essay in P & W.  I appreciate each and every one of your emails.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Catamaran Literary Reader in the news!

Thanks to the generous readers who let me know about this lovely article about Catamaran in the Santa Cruz Patch and another one about Peggy Townsend's recent publishing triumph, as written by Christa Martin in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. And thanks for the kind mentions of my work in these stories.  I truly appreciate it.

He's your man: Leonard Cohen concert review, San Jose, California, November 7, 2012

"Old age isn't a battle: old age is a massacre."

So said Philip Roth, but Leonard Cohen is not about to concede defeat.

There was something graceful and defiant about that magisterial voice, the dancing, the sexual posturing.

 He made every song, even the ones that referred to the inevitability of death and decay, boom out through the HP Pavillion last night, and when he blessed the audience at the end, hoping for safety and peace for those with families, and those who found themselves alone, he added a lovely touch of high holidays to the proceedings. 

The man is 78, and he often referred to his advanced years in a funny, rueful way:

My friends are gone
And my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play. 

And yet he addressed the audience, sang his songs and recited "A Thousand Kisses Deep" with such vigor and authority that I expected him keep going all night long.  When he announced, with apparent sadness in his voice, "we're running up against a curfew," it was 11:30 p.m., and he showed no sign of flagging.  "Lazy Bastard In A Suit"? Hardly. 

His set took the audience on a 45-year journey from the "Songs of Leonard Cohen"  in 1967 to his current status as the "poet laureate of pessimism." The set  included a stomping, jaw-harp-driven rendition of "Democracy," and a rendition of "Hallelujah" that left a woman sitting to the left of me in tears. And he didn't just sing these songs. He sang them while dancing, he sang them on his knees, he sang them with his hat to his chest. After watching him perform (but not in this order) "Dance Me To The End of Love,"  "In My Secret Life," "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Suzanne,"  "Sisters of Mercy," "Tower of Song," "The Future," "Bird on a Wire," Who By Fire," "I'm Your Man," "Everybody Knows" and several others, I kept expecting his focus to drift. Never happened, although it must be said that this intense performance left his vocals a little bit wobbly by the time he launched into the encore of "So Long Marianne" and the set closer, the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance For Me."  I find something so comforting in that impossibly low voice. Cohen must be aware of his oversize reputation, and he took the air out of it from time to time on purpose with his cheeky references to his "golden voice," and his gently sardonic response when the audience roared its approval for his hesitant, touch-type-style keyboard flourishes on "Tower of Song."

He's like that cool grandfather we all want to visit, the one who secludes himself for long stretches of time, then gives you all his attention when you finally see him, hands you souvenirs from his travels, and tells you only the best stories when you get together.  

And it looks like we might see him again very soon? 

"I suppose we will meet again sometime," said Cohen, who assured that he would "keep doing this" (touring the world) for at least a couple more years. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Trick or ... TREAT!!!!

I started the evening, believing that everything was going to the dogs. Then the polls started perking up, and everything changed. Then I went to sleep believing Proposition 30 was going to the dogs. Then I woke up and was in for a big surprise. What a relief. It could just as easily have been a "TRICK."


Enough said. Instead of emigrating to Canada, I am going to mark this grand occasion by going to a concert by a grand Canadian: the great Leonard Cohen, appearing tonight in San Jose. Actually attending the concert will be quite a logistical challenge for me, but I am going to do this by hook or crook ...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Memories of a hurricane: our Sandy-whacked New York City adventures

On this busy election day, I thought you might take a moment out of watching those polls (relentlessly, joylessly, fruitlessly) and take a look at this brief travelogue. The bottom line is, I got off extremely easy. No power loss in my part of the city, and no flooding. Yes, I saw some harrowing things -- gas rationing, traffic lights bopping and pitching in the gusts, awnings blowing down, and bits of brownstone falling off various buildings. But the bottom line is, I ended up in NYC for three additional unscheduled days, which is  kind of like throwing Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch. The hard part was knowing that a number of my friends were either in harm's way or undergoing severe hardships ranging from electrical outages to flooding and gas rationing.

Walking out of our temporary residence, we saw some scenes of devastation including downed trees in front of the American Museum of Natural History. In fact, there was so much tree-carnage that we could barely get from one place to the other, as you can see below.

We checked in on friends and colleagues to make sure we were OK. Unable to leave home for Santa Cruz in time for Halloween, we decided to improvise, making an on-the-spot costume for my daughter, J., and hitting the streets for some candy. Remarkably, most folks seemed enthusiastic about the holiday, even though they had every reason to hide out in their apartments and not answer the door.  We even stopped by Obama's headquarters for some Halloween candy, although, as you can see, the president was a bit too busy to go trick-or-treating with us on this particular day. He was calling people up, household by household, trying to get the vote, and had no time to partake of waxy fangs, lime Lifesavers, banana Laffy Taffy or any of that other nonsense.

Walking around New York City shortly after the storm, I noticed that many businesses were still closed, while quite a few die-hards (or at least a few die-hards located in some of the more mildly or lightly affected areas of the city) soldiered on and stayed open, including the Ding Dong Lounge, which posted this hopeful, rain-washed message in chalk outside its main entrance: it reads: "Ding Dong Lounge: You don't have to work tomorrow. Get drunk."

Tentatively exploring the city the next day, I ran headlong into that crazy scene with the giant crane hanging off the side of a building.(crane photo courtesy of ABC's online news site)

We finally left on Thursday. On the way to the airport, we saw a line on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, the traffic backed up as long as I could see. Many of the cars had just a single passenger; without power in their homes, the drivers did not get the message about the three-passenger minimum, so many of those people must have gotten turned away at the tunnel. I also saw a ridiculously long gas line, going on for blocks and blocks and blocks, with a single nervous-looking police officer standing by at the pumps.

Hoping to return to New York very soon, under easier and happier circumstances for the city. It will be a long time before I forget the patience, calm and good humor of all the people we met during that strange and rainy week. And in case you are wondering, that is a poster of Obama, not Obama himself, lurking in the background of that photograph. (We did not actually get to meet him, nor was he in NYC on that particular night)

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Man in the Shoebox in Poets & Writers Magazine

hi everyone. I just wanted to say thank you very much for your thoughtful and encouraging responses to my "Shoebox" essay in the latest P & W (the one with Chris Ware's artwork on the cover.)  I guess I hit a nerve with this one? Anyways, I hope you continue to soldier on with your projects. There is every reason not to continue with your books and your stories -- every reason except for the fact that you want to write them, which is reason enough to keep plugging away as far as I'm concerned. And if you think a home-made desk-bound artifact will help keep you on task, you might consider making one for yourself. Remember, it doesn't have to be anything fancy to get the job done so get out those glue sticks and those cardboard boxes and shipping containers right now. By the way, there wasn't quite enough space in the article to list a few extra ingredients in my shoebox man recreation. I also used a generic knock-off version of Fun-Tak Reusable Adhesive, a swatch of discarded wallpaper and a bit of foam rubber for texture.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Tonight's big Catamaran party at the Salz Tannery

See you there? Read the story right here by the talented Wallace Baine.

Back from our Hurricane Sandy adventure

I couldn't have picked a more interesting time for our New York City family vacation. I will tell you all about it once my brain is a bit less fried from the entire experience. Stay tuned. Meanwhile I wanted you to know we are back in Santa Cruz -- it's pretty amazing that we got a flight out of Newark yesterday (many were cancelled all around us, and I felt terrible for the families who were waiting around, in some cases for days, to get out.) I have a longer report coming your way, but I just want to say that the New Yorkers were incredibly good-humored and patient during a difficult time for their city.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ben Lerner's essay will change the way you watch and interpret the Presidential debates

Here is a brief excerpt from a wonderful essay that Ben Lerner wrote about his days as a smash-mouth high-school debater. As you will see, most of the text is behind the paywall. To read the whole thing, you will need to head off to your friendly indie bookstore and buy this issue of Harper's.  While this analytical and personal essay is not explicitly about the latest round of debates, you might wish that Lerner was up on the podium, giving grief to everyone involved,  including the moderator.  This essay is not short, but if you get in your car or cinch up your sneakers right now,  you will have time to reach your neighborhood bookstore, buy the magazine and a cup of coffee,  read and re-read this essay before Obama and Romney mix it up this evening.  If you remember from a couple of weeks ago, Ben Lerner is the author of Leaving The Atocha Station, and I am proud to say that I've got at least one of my Cactuseaters readers hooked on that book. You know who you are.

San Miguel and beyond: my interview with T.C. Boyle

I noticed that Andrew Goldman has a Q and A with T.C. Boyle in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine. I spoke with T.C. Boyle a couple of months ago about his exploration of mankind's turbulent and strange relationship with the natural world. In light of the publicity for Boyle's new novel, San Miguel, and the launching of Catamaran this week, I am posting a brand-new edit of my previously posted podcast interview with Boyle. And here it is. You will find the podcast image and link about halfway down the page, which also includes detailed info about Catamaran's inaugural issue.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Video: Watch the first issue of Catamaran literary magazine getting printed out (while triumphant music plays in the background)

What does it take to publish a literary magazine? A group of hard-working editors, a whole bunch of talented contributors, lots of brainstorming sessions at the Salz Tannery in Santa Cruz, and a group of determined printers working with an enormous and complicated piece of machinery. In case you are curious, here is what it looked like when the first batch of them got printed up. Enjoy. Every time I watch this video and all those whirring, sorting, printing contraptions, Rube Goldberg comes to mind.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Please check your mailboxes over the next few days ...

... if you're a subscriber to Catamaran or if you are getting, for one reason or another, a complimentary issue. Your copy or copies should be arriving in the mail any day now. So if it doesn't arrive today, check again tomorrow. If not, Catamaran will be available in bookstores nationwide. And speaking of check again, I know that some of you weren't able to attend our reading last week. If that is the case, I just wanted to let you know that someone filmed the entire thing including the Q and A session at the end, and it should be uploaded at some point soon; I will let you know and will probably post the link here. Also, do me a favor and drive over to your local indie bookstore or to your Barnes & Noble or whatever you have in town and pick up the latest issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, which has a beautiful cover illustration by the great Chris Ware and a piece about the wonderful Louise Erdrich,  author most recently of the novel The Round House. I'm happy to report that this particular issue also includes a personal essay of mine, "The Man in the Shoebox," about an artifact that hangs on the wall to the right of my desk. In fact, it's hanging right above my keyboard as I type these words right now. At some point I really ought to take a picture of this artifact and upload it on the blog so you can see it. It is, truly, a conversation starter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Martin Rees on extraterrestrial life, space travel and the fate of mankind

Martin Rees, the United Kingdom's Astronomer, gave a fascinating presentation incorporating billion years of cosmic history. This was truly one of the highlights of the fall season for me. Here's a little story I put together about it. Photos by Steve Kurtz.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thank you for the great reading

hi everyone -- just wanted to let you all know that the reading went really well, and it was very heartening to see loved ones and pals who braved an unexpected, awful rainstorm and went up and over 'the hill' just to be there. Thank you so much for that. It means a lot to both of us. Also, it was great to see some SJSU undergrads from Kate Evans's writing class. This was Amy's first reading -- ever -- and it went over extremely well. As for me, this is the first time I've aired out any aspect of a new project that I'm working on. It has no title, and every piece of the project relates in some way to a physical artifact that I've either found or kept over the years or, in some cases, made from scratch. I'm envisioning this project as a kind of living museum or wonder-cabinet. Some of the material is pretty dark but I chose a piece that was quite a bit breezier and more lighthearted.  If you missed last night's presentation,  pick up the winter issue of Poets & Writers Magazine because the essay is going to appear in that issue.  By the way, the event was videotaped (all of it, including the Q & A afterward) and one of these days it is going to be posted on the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies' website so I'll give you a heads-up when it happens. I also wanted to let you know that Catamaran Literary Magazine (I'm now contributing editor) has been printed and copies of the magazine are going to ship really soon. In other news, I've dry cleaned my best shirt and suit because I am going to the UC Santa Cruz Founders Forum and Founders Dinner this Friday. I'm very excited about both of these things. On Friday I will have a chance to take in a presentation by Sir Martin Rees, one of the world's preeminent astronomers. The talk at this point is completely sold out but this TED talk should give you some sense of the breadth and the scope of Friday's discussion.  I will post a full report about Rees and his presentation on this blog early next week so stay tuned. I'll also do a big write-up about the dinner, too.  If the dry cleaners makes a mess of my shirt, I'm really up the creek.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Your final reminder and poster

Here is one last reminder for this event. Mostly I wanted you to see what they did with the poster; thanks, Nick Taylor, for putting this together.

Monday, October 08, 2012

If you are going to our big reading on Wednesday but can't figure out how to get there ...

Close to 100 percent of the people who read this blog will be going to my reading with Amy Ettinger so I'd better step up and give you better directions.

First of all, the basics: Amy Ettinger and I will both read personal essays that will most likely be incorporated into longer nonfiction projects. The reading starts at 7 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library on 150 East San Fernando Street in San Jose. Once you arrive at the MLK library, proceed to the fifth floor. We will be speaking at Room 550 -- the Schiro Program Room.

Refreshments will be served including wine and cheese but you already know that. You're here for the directions. You're sick of being reminded about the wine and cheese.  So here goes.


 If you just so happen to be traveling from Cupertino, here's what you should do. Get on I-280 toward San Jose. Take the CA-87 N/Guadalupe Parkway exit, EXIT 3A. Take the Santa Clara Street exit toward Downtown San Jose. Turn right onto W Santa Clara St. Turn right onto S 4th St. Turn left onto E San Fernando St. (You will see Flames Eatery Bar on the left) You will soon see 150 E SAN FERNANDO ST on the right. You could try your luck with the parking meters but there are parking garages that are pretty close to there, too. Most of them are within easy walking distance.


First, you'll want to get on Highway 17.  Then you'll want to merge onto I-280 South toward downtown San Jose.  Take the CA-87 N/Guadalupe Parkway exit, EXIT 3A. Take the Santa Clara Street exit toward Downtown San Jose. Turn right onto W Santa Clara St. Turn right onto S 4th St.Turn left onto E San Fernando St. Flames Eatery & Bar is on the left but don't eat there if you can help it. If you reach Paseo de San Antonio you've gone about 0.1 miles too far. The library, on 150 E SAN FERNANDO ST is on the right. If you reach S 5th St you've gone a little too far. I stole these directions straight off Mapquest. If these directions suck, blame them, not me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Yarn-bomber turns tree into go-go dancer!

My friendly neighborhood yarn bomber has turned a perfectly ordinary magnolia tree into a high-kicking, long-legged go-go dancer. If you want to see this in person, drive out to Santa Cruz and head out to Cayuga Street in the Seabright neighborhood. It is impossible to miss.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Leonard Cohen: we'll be seeing in you in San Jose

I was amazed to find out that the great Leonard Cohen will be playing live in San Jose on November 7. At 78, he's a good seven years older than Bob Dylan. A few years back, an unexpected financial setback  (involving a trusted associate's skullduggery) forced him to hit the road again. It was just another extreme example of retirement cut short during the financial hard times that are affecting us all. Anyways, this setback was a surprise boon for fans. I missed him last time around -- and this time I'm not making that mistake again. Here he is, performing Tower of Song. And if you -- the three readers of this blog -- aren't familiar with the works of Leonard Cohen, you might want to start with The Essential Leonard Cohen, a lovely, two-disk overview. Don't miss the liner notes by Pico Iyer. Not surprisingly, the talented Sylvie Simmons is getting strong reviews for her biography of Cohen. I would love to read the book by the time Mr. Cohen appears in San Jose but I've got about seven other books to read before that one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A busy October awaits

October is going to be busy. My first personal essay (in quite a while) is getting published and should be coming to a news stand near you. The inaugural issue of Catamaran is coming out. Also, we're starting to practice for our event at SJSU on October 10th. More news soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More books I love (or am in the process of loving). P.S. -- would someone help me design my website?

Ben Lerner: Leaving the Atocha Station. Funny, mordant look at an artist who develops in spite of himself during a hash-fueled poetry scholarship year in Madrid. Even his narrator's musings about boredom are fascinating. Thanks to Elizabeth for recommending this one. I don't think I would have come across it on my own. By the way, this book deserves to be republished with a much better cover. Just saying. Normally I don't care about such things but it looks like something somebody printed up in a basement.

Josh Garrett Davis: Ghost dances: proving up in the Great Plains: A lovely, witty memoir about a Midwestern childhood, with seamlessly incorporated research. Not quite done but I'm hooked.

Henry Adams: The Education of Henry Adams. My oh my did I despise this book in high school, but I picked it up again the other month, mostly because it appears at the very top of a revered Wesleyan writer-in-residence's coveted  "lifetime reading list."  I was hooked from the very first page. Mr. Adams could write like crazy. Modern-day reviewers would attack him for his decision not to write about a  personal tragedy that must have been a defining moment in his life (wouldn't that qualify as part of his 'education,' according to his own, broad definition of the term?)  but I love the style, the thinking, and the way he avoids shoe-gazing memoir by suggesting the wider world around him.

If you have reading recommendations, that would be nice. If you are up for designing an author's website for me at a reasonable rate so I can leave behind this cheesy blog interface once and for all, that would be even nicer. Let me know. I know some of you Cactuseaters readers are high-tech wizards. I could use your expertise. If this ever happens, I would like the website to have a name other than "Cactuseaters," which is kind of misleading.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Matthew Parker's Larceny in my Blood -- and the Cactus Eaters! -- featured in The Millions website

Now get a load of this.  This eye-opening interview appears this week in my very favorite web-based literary magazine, and this interview just happens to include a mention of The Cactus Eaters. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed Matthew Parker's hard-hitting, honest and funny book, which was published this month.Oh, and there's one more thing I want you to see: Wolf Larsen's beautiful song, "If I Be Wrong," featured recently on NPR. Here's the link to the song and video. Anyhow, I am glad to report that I am following up my recent TC Boyle interview with a Wolf Larsen Q and A. Stay tuned! By the way, I almost forgot to mention that the TC Boyle interview will appear, in print version, in the upcoming debut issue of Catamaran, which will also include a very brief essay I wrote about Boyle's work.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Now reading

Dave Eggers: A Hologram for the King
Jay Kang: The Dead Do Not Improve
T.C. Boyle: World's End

Sign up for journalist and author Peggy Townsend's workshop at the Capitola Book Cafe!

Journalist and novelist Peggy Townsend says: "One of the most powerful tools at a writer’s disposal is the interview.Whether its purpose is for narrative non-fiction, biography or fiction,the interview is a foundation of great storytelling.  In this workshop we will study effective interview techniques — from how to ask tough questions to drawing information from reluctant subjects to the role of our own lives in productive dialogue.  We will do close readings of interviews such as Richard Meryman’s poignant last talk with Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote’s ego-clashing session with Marlon Brando, and a serialized reconstruction of a century-old love affair as a way explore the elements of a good interview: preparation, persistence, flexibility, courage, and curiosity. In-class exercises will help the writer hone their listening and observational skills as a way to create compelling, dramatic story."

The workshop is Saturday Sept  8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Capitola Book Cafe. Sign up for this right here at Memoir Journal.

 Peggy Townsend was a journalist for the Santa Cruz Sentinel for more than 30 years, covering topics that ranged from the world of storefront boxing to the life of a homeless Korean War veteran trying to hang onto his dignity as his world fell apart around him. She has won numerous state and national awards for her writing, including twice winning first place for “Best Writing” from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.Her> work has also appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe Magazine, American Prospect magazine and the UC Santa Cruz Review magazine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A few thoughts about last week's travel class

Thanks to everyone who showed up for this.  I had students from all across town and all over the hill (one drove here from San Jose). Several volunteered to read their work out loud -- and so much of what they read was touching, specific, evocative and hilarious. There was mystical writing, biographical sketches, a William Least Heat Moon-style road trip, and place portraits focusing on a location in Santa Cruz. Each of these sketches was so different, you'd swear they were talking about different locations. Students imagined they were strangers visiting their own houses, describing them from an outsider's perspective. They did close readings of Jonathan Raban, Annie Dillard, David Foster Wallace and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and wrote several on-the-spot sketches. We shared tales of triumph and absolute horror from the publishing industry.  It was a remarkable group of people. Anyhow, I always get so much out of these class sessions. I'll try to come up with another workshop at some point this fall or early in the winter.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My podcast interview with T.C Boyle on Catamaran Literary Reader's webiste

Listen in on my recent interview with the celebrated author T.C. Boyle about environmental themes in his fiction, starting with "The Extinction Tales," which we are proud to feature in the inaugural issue of Catamaran, which will be coming to a bookstore near you this October.

In other news, there are still a couple of spots left in my writing workshop tomorrow (Saturday) at the Capitola Book Cafe:  In addition to the reading and writing exercises that will be sent directly to your email, we'll also do an additional reading (a great one from Jonathan Raban) in class, some on-the-spot writing assignments and a piece of travel writing that you will complete later on. See you all in a few hours!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A quick update about my class at the Capitola Book Cafe on Saturday and a couple of other things ....

First of all, it is filling up fast so if you want a spot, call them up.  Also, I forgot to mention: please bring, aside from the reading and writing and your notebook, a brown-bag lunch so we can have a 'working lunch' around noontime. Thanks, and I'm looking forward to seeing you all very soon! Last time I had a blast teaching this class, but it went so quickly. So much was left unsaid, and I want everyone to write their on-the-spot assignments at a much more leisurely pace. This longer format class will allow that to happen.  I've also allowed some extra time so we can all talk about things like writing groups (and how to find a good writing group), pursuing a freelancing career, launching your first book projects, etc.

Also, in other news, my interview with TC Boyle will soon be up in Catamaran Literary Reader's website, and I'll post the link here as soon as it's published. I'm also thrilled to report that a print version of that interview will soon appear in Catamaran's debut issue, complete with a brief piece that I wrote about Boyle's nearly 40-year exploration of humankind's strained relationship with the natural world. Cheers, and thanks for staying in touch.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Lots of news: T.C Boyle interview, SJSU talk, new class at the Book Cafe and more

Hello, Cactuseaters readers. Lots and lots of news to share with you during this busy month.  For starters, I just found out that the short nonfiction piece I'm going to read at the San Jose State event is going to be published (!)  which means that the talk will be a kind of 'sneak preview.' I'm pretty sure the publishing event won't happen until several weeks after the talk so you'll get the first look if you go to my event with my wife, Amy Ettinger.  I''ll share the name of the publication and the particulars as the date approaches. Right around the same time, I found out that The Cactus Eaters, at this late hour, is going to be reviewed in a national magazine, which is really great news, too. Eager to see what they'll say. Also, I just had a really good phone conversation with one of my favorite authors, T.C. Boyle; we talked for 40 minutes about the strained relationship between human beings and wild nature in a number of his books and his stories, starting with the Extinction Tales. I conducted the interview with the technical assistance of Catherine Segurson and Rebecca Goldman over at the Catamaran Literary Reader's headquarters at the Salz Tannery here in SC. And the cool thing is, you get to listen in on the talk. It's almost as if the phone line was tapped. The interview will be available in the debut issue of Catamaran  soon. That will be available in bookstores across the country this fall. And finally, the Capitola Book Cafe has just listed my upcoming fully expanded and all-new travel and place-writing class. More news soon! Anyhow, my weekends have been awfully busy lately, but I've been unwinding by going 'pick your own' fruit-hunting with my little daughter. The other day we put together a blackberry cobbler, using fruit we foraged off the side of Highway 1 out here in scenic Santa Cruz. Hope you're getting out there, enjoying the weather, hitting some farmer's markets and taking advantage of everything your town (wherever it may be) has to offer. Hope to see you all soon. All for now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Deeper Sense of Place (updated)

Hi everyone -- just wanted to give you and update on my upcoming class in late August. We'll do some writing exercises and discussion, we'll talk about 'reading like writers,' and then do some in-depth, craft-based readings of a few great travel and place pieces. My list of writers, so far: John Jeremiah Sullivan, Annie Dillard, Tom Bissell, Terry Tempest Williams (and others.)

Also, at the suggestion of two former students, I'll have some practical writing-life material too (encouraging stories, as well as horror stories, from the the freelance world, publishing, etc.) I'll talk about a whole bunch of stuff that I would never even think about posting to this blog, including some things that will make your ears fall right off when you hear them.

In other news, for the first time since hiking the Pacific Crest Trail,  I consumed a piece of prickly pear cactus. This time, it happened right in the middle of  downtown Santa Cruz, where I attended the Festival del Nopal, otherwise known as the Cactus Eating Festival. The festival was fun, but I thought the cactus was disgusting. So slimy! So insipid! So hard to chew! Maybe I'm too close to the subject matter to give you an objective assessment. On the good side, someone took the time to remove all the little prickly things -- a huge improvement over my last experience.

Meanwhile I've chosen the two things I'm going to read at SJSU -- one that is part of a long work in progress, and a small stand-alone piece that's going to be published really soon.

And, finally, thanks for all the Cactus Eaters emails that keep flowing into my inbox. Each one is appreciated. (For some reason, I am getting quite a few of them lately.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Travel writing class returns (new and expanded) on August 25th!

hi everyone --I just wanted you to know that I'll be teaching an expanded version of my place writing/travel writing class once more at the Capitola Book Cafe this summer. The class is set for August 25 at the Book Cafe  from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  I am putting together a list of readings and preliminary assignments. Last class was wonderful but the time passed by so quickly (only two hours.) This new format will give us much more breathing room and allow you to delve more deeply into each exercise and exploration. Bring a sandwich and brown bag for a 'working lunch,' and I'll see you all soon. Almost forgot to mention that you should register directly through the Book Cafe (and not through this Cactuseaters blog.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Introducing Catamaran literary magazine

I've become involved with this brand-new magazine based right here in Santa Cruz, CA. The first issue -- which is forthcoming this fall -- will have all kinds of surprises, including my Q & A with one of my favorite fiction writers, but I should keep my mouth shut for the time being and let you find out for yourself. Look for it in an indie bookstore soon. Anyhow, if you take a look at the link I enclosed, you will see a Catamaran video with all of us gathered at the beautifully refurbished Salz tannery site, which is now a major center for the arts on the Central Coast.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amy Ettinger & Dan White reading announcement at SJSU

It's official. We're now part of the line-up for the fall season. Here is the announcement that has been posted on the Web. Hope to see you all there, and to clarify, this will be in San Jose. We will both read brand new material. (no Cactus Eaters recitations.) I am excited and nervous.  I'm thinking of reading two short, somewhat related pieces, one from a book-length project, and the other a stand-alone essay.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Now reading .... updated

Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? I got plenty of strange looks from people who saw me reading this on the bus in Santa Cruz. They must have figured it was a self-help book in reverse. In one sense it is. This memoir does not provide any soft and fuzzy pathway to creativity.  Winterson's adoptive mother is an accidental mentor who shaped her daughter's language while providing a reason for her creativity. The mom -- identified here as "Mrs. Winterson" -- gave her something to work against. What really struck me here is the amount of light Winterson lets in. The ultra-religious mom is frightening -- she sometimes locks her daughter in a coal hole -- but never comes across as a monster. Worth re-reading to see how she pulls this off. I would have gone through this a third time but it was borrowed and I had to give it back. ILL doesn't mess around.

Graham Greene, Brighton Rock.

Charles Yu, How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Kenneth Gross,  Puppet: an essay on uncanny life

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Amy Ettinger & Dan White reading at the Martin Luther King Jr. library in San Jose

Hi, everyone.  I am very excited to announce that my wife, Amy Ettinger, will read with me on October 10, 7 p.m, at the Schiro Room, adjacent to the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, located in Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at SJSU, not to be confused, under any circumstances, with  the Steinbeck Museum down in Salinas, although my mentioning of this distinction will probably cause even more confusion.  A reception will follow.

Amy Ettinger has written for the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Sierra, Backpacker and other publications. Her personal essays delve into issues ranging from parenthood, childhood, mortality, creative competition among spouses and growing up on "the other side" of Silicon Valley. She will read a selection from her recent work.

I am a former Steinbeck Fellow, an occasional teacher and freelance travel writer, the institutional voice of Sammy the Banana Slug, and the author of a nonfiction book, The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail,  which I completed during my fellowship. So it's fitting that both of us will be back at the center when I'm reading from my as-yet untitled, still-in-progress, brand-new nonfiction project. If you want to find out more, you'll just have to be there in person.  Looking forward to this. See you  then. In other news, looks like I'll be teaching a second -and significantly longer writing class out here. More soon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cheryl Strayed at the Capitola Book Cafe: "My feet are fine. They’ve been restored to their original beauty. It’s taken a while for my toenails to grow back.”

Plus: Mary Karr sings and dances, and much more.

Well, it's been a very eventful month here in Santa Cruz, and since I always bring my little black notebooks to all these events anyhow, I figured I'd share a few journal highlights with you. 

Never, in all my years, did I think I'd get to see the great memoirist and poet Mary Karr shimmying, shaking her hair, stomping her boots and singing back-up vocals -- and in one case, lead vocals! -- with songwriting legend Rodney Crowell at the Rio Theatre right here in Santa Cruz. 

In a couple of instances, I had to pinch myself to see if I was hallucinating. Was Mary Karr really up there on the stage, enthusiastically harmonizing to
-->"It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long?" Karr, who must have very good genes -- she looked all of 23 years old -- did not seem to be the principle draw that night. I had a strong hunch that most folks were  there for Crowell. The fact that Karr's last name was spelled incorrectly on almost all the promotional materials, except for the publicity put out by the co-sponsor, Bookshop Santa Cruz, suggests the concert organizers aren't familiar with her legendary work, including her classic, The Liar's Club.  But Karr -- who teamed up with Crowell on a brand-new album called Kin, featuring an all-star group of performers --  proved she could 'kill' even with a crowd that, amazingly enough, seemed to have no idea who she was. Sad to say, I have temporarily misplaced the little black notebook with some of the funny, shocking, and all-too-true observations she made about family and memoir writing. I bet you it's under a pile of laundry somewhere, but when I find it, I'll go right back into this blog entry and fill in those details, so stay tuned. When I find the darned thing, I'll add an "updated" tagline to the subject heading.

Was the Capitola Book Cafe ever so packed as it was on June 21 when Cheryl Strayed was in town to promote Wild? She read from the Hobo Times reporter scene, which had the whole place howling. That evening she offered some insights about Wild's creation and why it resonates with so many readers. 

Among some of the questions she answered from various readers that evening:

Have you always been 'all in' when it comes to revealing raw truths about yourself on the page?

"It's always terrifying. But writing that interests me reveals who (the writer) is with all their humanity. When you are taking those risks --and the endeavor of memoir is to tell a universal story -- when you do that right, other people see and hear themselves. Why should we read about this person's hike? The goal is to obliterate the question so people know why you're telling the story."

Are you surprised by the reception to the book?

"I am stunned --completely shocked. The
-->hike I had back in 1995 was this wholly private thing." (She had a similar feeling of solitude during the early composition process.)  You’re profoundly alone with yourself. The only way to write a book is to go to a place of deep solitude." 

Later in the presentation, she answered questions about the PCT and the book's origins.

"The story in Wild began when I reached what I really thought of as the bottom. I didn’t know where I was going and there was so much I had to regret about where I’d been. It was really sort of by chance that I chose the PCT. There  was a blizzard and I needed a shovel. It was only later on when I realized, 'hey, that’s  metaphor.' I really needed to dig myself out. (Upon buying the shovel, she happened upon a PCT guidebook.) “(The trail) seemed so magnificent and incredible and big and everything I was not, everything I needed to attach myself to. My mother went from being perfectly healthy to dead in several weeks. I didn’t know how to be in the world without her. The question realy was, how could I live without my mother. For a long time, my answer was, I will not. I will do bad things. I raged against myself. Then I found out about the PCT. "

"I'd  never gone backpacking one night, which turns out not to be a good idea. I was a waitress. I had wads of cash. I spent it all on backpacking stuff. The REI people kept saying, you really ought to pack your pack. (Shortly before embarking on the journey), “I could not lift my pack. At all.
-->Those first week weeks were the most humbling experience of my life. I thought, “I can do this. I can walk. Then I got out there and I thought, what the *&$%$! was I thinking?  And that was within the first 15 minutes!”

The book signing line was humongous, but Strayed, in the spirit of a true PCT hiker,  stayed until the last dog was hung.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell at the Rio Theater

I live almost across the street from the Rio; how could I not go? If I have a spare moment I will try to give you a report right here.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Cactus Eaters reader photo of the week: reading in the highest peaks

Thank you, John Murray, for sharing this picture with me today (it's his daughter, Chelsea, reading my book out in the Himalayas. As far as I know, that is the second farthest point my book has ever traveled.) And thank you, readers -- keep those photos and messages coming.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Former pirates go legit: KZSC radio celebrates 45 years

Here's a little story I wrote about a tiny station whose small "pirate" crew made their first broadcasts during the summer of love, and once tried to use an upside-down garbage can as an antennae. It's an unlikely success story that continues to the present day.

In 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, a group of UCSC students started an FCC-unauthorized campus radio station that broadcast from a clammy basement and tried to use an upside-down garbage can as an antenna.

The broadcasters initially put egg cartons instead of acoustic tiles on the walls, and the disc jockeys played the psychedelic single, “Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, so many times the record cracked. They kept on playing it anyhow.

“When I left campus, [the station] was very shaky,” said Marc Okrand (Stevenson College ‘70, interdisciplinary studies), who went on to have a far-ranging career that included teaching linguistics at UC Santa Barbara, doing research for the Smithsonian and, most famously, developing the Klingon language for Star Trek—both for the movies and also for Star Trek spin-off TV shows.

Read more right here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Banana slug cookies are selling out (plus, books)

Hi, both of you. I hope you're well. First of all, I just wanted to let you know that the banana slug cookies are selling exceptionally well. The bakery actually ran out of them over the long weekend, and now they're into the second printing. Oops,  I mean, baking. In some ways this is even more fun than the publishing thing.  My cookies, unlike my writings, do not provoke extreme emotional reactions. No one can go on Amazon and describe my cookies as arrogant or overly profane. They just gobble them up, wash them down with a nice cold glass of milk,  and that's it. Today I went into the bakery and I vowed to keep my mouth shut, just this once, but just when I was walking out the door, I turned around and said "Those are MINE! I designed those!" 

Now for those books I was talking about. The first one is called The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen. I've been a fan of his work for a long time so it's nice to see one of his books fly above the radar this time.  I just love his droll sense of humor and his writing style. The sentences are so well-tempered and clear. The other one I mentioned is Lydia Davis's translation of Madame Bovary, which is so good, it will make you want to write her letters asking her to translate his other books, too. More news about cookies and books very soon, and welcome back.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Help the Capitola Book Cafe "thrive and survive" this Sunday

I hope to see you all at the festive fundraiser at the Capitola Book Cafe.  I'm not an owner of the bookstore or in any way employed there, but I hang out there constantly and wrote a huge portion of my early draft of The Cactus Eaters there. It's also the place where I met the writing group that helped me get that early manuscript into good enough shape to get a scholarship for graduate school (it would have been impossible to attend without it; now I've rejoined that same book group, and they're helping me move forward with a brand new project, so I guess you could say that a big part of my literary life is tied up with this one store.) Aside from this, I've seen so many great writers there over the years and consumed about 10,000 cups of coffee. A bunch of writers who live around here (including me) will be speaking  around 5 or so. And here's the little blurb announcement: hope to see you there

 Sunday, May 20, 2012 • 3-6pm • Capitola Book CafĂ©


$10 at the door or click here to buy in advance.
(Kids under 12 free.)

Hell yes: my Banana Slug Cookies shall return!

Not to get you overly excited but I just heard that my big claim to fame -- the Super-sweet Extra-Crunchy Banana Slug Cookie with gloppy yellow frosting-- is going to be resurrected soon. Apparently, the Buttery Bakery in Santa Cruz is going to bake up another limited run of these cookies (which I invented and designed all by myself, including the cookie cutter, not to brag or anything like that)  in honor of the upcoming UCSC commencement ceremonies.

The fact is, you won't meet many author types who dabble in baked-goods design. A few of them treat baked items with outright contempt. (I was shocked and upset to read that my favorite fiction writer, Junot Diaz, doesn't like cookies at all.) Anyhow, I'm amped up about this and ready to take on the big corporate cookie producers. Watch your back, Entenmann's.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Friday night at the Capitola Book Cafe

Wow!!! Thanks everyone. Our place-writing class could very well sell out. Really looking forward to this.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Scrambled, out-of-order version of The Cactus Eaters appears in book store

I just heard from a reader who said she purchased a hard-copy version of The Cactus Eaters that begins on page 361.  I am assuming that one of two things took place. 1. Your book contains a printing error, which means it is a rarity, which means you can try to sell it online for $$$$, or 2. HarperCollins has printed a scrambled-up, surreal, non-linear version of the book to attract a more experimental demographic. I'm making inquiries and will try to get to the bottom of this soon. And keep those cards and letters coming. (by the way, I'm not making this up.)

Friday, May 04, 2012

My upcoming writing class

Here are a couple of recent blurb/announcements for the upcoming writing class on May 11 at the Capitola Book Cafe, one in and another in SF And here is the feature story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  I've fiddled with the list of authors just a little bit, and I've created some activities that should be fun for you, while creating food for thought for your place writings in progress. The Book Cafe has been sending out free mini-anthologies of place/travel writings and a couple of preliminary exercises for everyone who signs up.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

My hideous lawn

I now, officially, have the most hideous front lawn in America. Basically, the owner chopped down the shady pretty tree in front of our house and replaced it with a huge pile of jagged stones -- hundreds and hundreds of them lying beside my driveway like a midden of broken teeth. Personally, I don't know what we're supposed to do with all these (expletive) rocks. Unless Goliath attacks our house.  In that case, I'll be well-prepared.