Cowboy Poets and Storytellers

Participants in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gatherings

Cowboy poetry readings are usually called gatherings and may occur at any time of the year. For example, The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is held every winter (late January or early February) in Elko, Nevada at the Western Folklife Center. The get-together lasts for a long weekend and includes film and music performances, along with the traditional poetry reading and storytelling sequences. It is also a big social event, where members of the sponsoring organization have a chance to get together and share experiences.

The Network

Besides the big event at Elko, there are many other Cowboy poetry events that are held around the country. Not surprisingly, many are held in Western States, where ranching is still a way of life. For example, Texas, Montana and Wyoming all have such events on an annual basis.  And then, on a smaller scale, fans of this venue can find numerous smaller poetry events, usually supported by interested municipalities, folklore museums and heritage sites. Add all this together and you have an extensive network that supports the colorful poets, storytellers and musicians.

The Bet at the Bar

Watch below, as Waddie Mitchell recounts his humorous tale, The Bet at the Bar. This performance is from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.

Music and Poetry

Music is also an important part of Cowboy poetry gatherings. Here Michael Martin Murphy, a successful recording artist in his own right, performs a song at the Elko national gathering.

Cowboys have been singing and telling stories for many years
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Carrying On Without a Comma -^?/!…:”*!+_+_+”{}”’……Oh Boy!!!What the F#*//*It’s National Punctuation Day

Watch out for those exclamation points. They can derail your entire writing effort. Current literary advice says only to use these common forms of punctuation between dialogue tags and not in the main body of the story. photo by author
Watch out for those exclamation points. They can derail your entire writing effort. Current literary advice says only to use these common forms of punctuation between dialogue tags and not in the main body of the story. photo by author

“And she could throw a mean Tarot
And carried on without a comma
That she was someone I should know”  Frank Zappa from the song Camarillo Brillo

National Punctuation Day !!!

Tomorrow, September 24,  is National Punctuation Day, so go wild and use as much <.?/!@$ punctuation as your little heart desires. This day only comes around once a year, so splurge and go %$#@! hog-wild with the semi-colons, apostrophes and exclamation points……You deserve it…/…You’ve earned it,,baby!!! You’ll definitely feel better afterwards!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Forget about the war against _)&^#!!?,.ISIS, forget about the <://(7%# climate changes and forget about the political fortunes of our not-so-illustrious president. Just be grateful for all the **!//? various forms of punctuation that grace the  !?./<,)( English language. And for those of you who use English as a second language, here are a few examples that will make you ^*%#1!! homesick for the old country……- – – -.  §¡Æ÷ṓ¿ɸȹ………..  So skip that friendly visit to your church, chapel, synagogue, mosque or chapel!!!! Just go out and celebrate National Punctuation Day. Make it the most important day of the year.

And For Those Who Wish To Increase Awareness of Correct Punctuation

LOL!!!!! But if you are really serious about using just the right choice of commas, periods, dashes, hyphens or colons, you might acquire a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss……..and then read it!!!! You won’t be disappointed for Miss Trull has taken a rather mundane topic and made it into a bestseller that has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Or……. you could search out local businesses, who have displayed improper punctuation, and enlighten them to their errors. (Better yet; you can spray paint the words Your Punctuation Sucks on their front window with crimson Day-Glo paint. P.S. Avoid defacing other parts of the building, as you will probably get arrested for criminal destruction of property)

Go to the the National Punctuation Day Website and vote for your favorite form of punctuation.

Throw a punctuation party. This might include cookies or cakes decorated with punctuation marks, games and/or clothing decorated with some form of punctuation.

 

Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

When Authors Go On Tour

Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential campaign, from wikipedia, photo by Brett Weinstein
Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential campaign, from wikipedia, photo by Brett Weinstein

The Celebrity Hardcover Book

The celebrity hardcover book  release is something most of us will never experience unless we survive a shark attack or make it to the White House as Commander in Chief. Despite dwindling sales numbers, people in the news have not given up writing non-fiction tales of their life in the limelight. One such author is Hillary Clinton, who has been around Washington politics since the early 90s.

The Hillary Clinton Book Tour

When you get a multi-million dollar advance for your memoir, chances are pretty good that you can probably afford to do a book tour. I would even go so far to say that it is expected by the publisher. Currently, one such author, Hillary Clinton, who just released “Hard Choices”, is winding up her American swing and will soon be headed across the pond to visit Germany and France. I know this seems like the carefree life of a well-to-do jetsetter, but bouncing around the world in a jetliner can be exhausting and I’m sure nobody is more aware of this than the former Secretary of State, who logged quite a few air miles, while serving in that post.

From the Audience

From the viewpoint of someone who occasionally sits in the audience, I enjoy author talks much more when they talk about how their book came into being rather than when they read directly from the manuscript. For me, nothing is more boring than sitting  through 45 minutes of a writer reading his (or her) own work. This is especially through for poetry, unless of course the bard happens to be a slam poet. That changes everything.

The Numbers Behind Mrs. Clinton’s New Book Release

Over the first three weeks, Hard Choices, sold over 160,000 copies. Sounds pretty good, but in reality, these are not the kind of numbers Simon and Schuster and Mrs. Clinton were hoping for. Based on 1.4 million sold hardbacks for her 2003 title, Living History, S & S gave the former first lady a reported advance of 14 million. Then they printed 1 million copies in advance. However, at present rate, the NYC publisher may have some extra books on their hands come Christmas time. This is because more than half of her sales came in the first week and at present sales numbers are around 20,000 a week. This would be great news for most writers, but the sagging numbers are a disappointment for the NY resident. Still, her book has far outpassed any other current  literary authors, which includes such notables as Elizabeth Warren, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Rand Paul, Liz Cheney and Chris Christie.

Hillary Clinton visiting Burma while Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton visiting Burma while Secretary of State, from wikipedia

Coming This Week: Can the winner of  next presidential election be pre-determined by book sales?

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town

 

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard
Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

The Issue

The issue is not exactly a new one, for the debate between Amazon and Hachette has been around for a while. There was even a Department of Justice settlement recently awarded to Amazon, after they determined that Apple, along with four book publishers (including Hatchette) were found guilty of colluding with Apple to set ebook prices. Incidentally, this was one of the biggest anti-trust lawsuits ever brought by US federal authorities. Since that decision, Amazon and Hatchetet are now undergoing negotiations to work out ebook prices for books sold by Amazon. At issue here is who determines the price of the ebook, Hatchette, Amazon or some combination of the two. During negotiations Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from all soon-to-be-released Hatchette books and is reportedly delaying shipment of  all hard copy books published by Hatchette.

Sound Off

Everybody who’s anybody in the publishing world has been sounding off on this feud, which may be destined to determine how much readers will pay for ebooks at Amazon.com. James Patterson, a Hatchette author and one of the most most successful authors in the world, is down on Amazon, as is Steve Colbert, another large-selling Hatchette author, who also stars in the Comedy Central hit, the Colbert report. On a recent episode of the award-winning show, Colbert joined forces with Sherman Alexie to totally trash Amazon’s dispute with Hatchette. Mr. Colbert even goes as far as to call for a boycott of Amazon. Others supporting Hatchette include John Green, JK Rowling and the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives).

 

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon
JK Rowling, a millionaire writer of Harry Potter fame, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

The Battle of Fingers

When I first read about the ensuing conflict on JA Konrath’s popular blog ( A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing) I was a bit dismayed by his visual display of his middle finger. At the time it just seemed like a lot of arrogance, displayed by a successful Amazon author, who makes over a thousand dollars a day. That was until I viewed an online video of the Colbert Report, where a distraught Mr. Colbert uses the middle appendage of his right hand to stick it to Amazon. I guess dueling it out with middle fingers is a lot better than using pistols at twenty paces, but still, there seems to be a lot of room for improving how one expresses themselve.

Other Viewpoints

Not everybody is jumping to the defense of Hatchette. One of the most adamant Amazon supporters is JA Konrath. You can read his rant and check out his middle finger to Colbert, here. Other interesting opinions have been expressed at the  Huffington Post, the Washington Post (also owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos,) and the Slate.

In 2015 the host spot for the Tonight Show will go to Steve Colbert
In 2015 the host spot for the Late Show will go to Steve Colbert

Not Yet Ready For Prime Time

One of the most surprising and disgusting outcomes of this whole episode is the veracity with which Steve Colbert has defended his own publisher. It is hard for me to believe that soon this guy will have be hosting one of the major night talk shows at CBS. This not bode well for the health of our national TV industry or our political discourse.

My Take

Unfortunately, most of Hatchette’s biggest defenders have been those who make the most money with their writing. Sometimes it seems like the 1% analogy that permeates our current political discussion has trickled down to the literary world. In recent years, breaking into paper publishing has gotten more difficult, even though the Big Five are finding it more difficult to make money or just survive. For mid-list and low-list writers who depend on ebook sales for this livelihood this dispute is most unwelcome. Despite its size and aggressive business practices, Amazon provides much-needed income to writers, who would receive next to nil, if ebook sales didn’t exist. Presently, I see the various ebook markets as a way in which unrecognized writers can find a voice in the world.

P.S.

One much-needed beneficiary of this running debate are the independent booksellers, who are presently seeing a surge in their tree book sales.

Canadian Short Story Writer Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

IDL TIFF file
Sombero Galaxy in Infrared Light, hubble space photo from http://www.ispace.com

The News Story

Today, October 10, 2013 it was announced that Alice Munro has received the Nobel Prize for Literature. For those of you who are not familiar with the writer, she is a Canadian woman, especially known for her collections of short stories. Alice was born in southwestern Ontario and still resides in the country, thus making her the first Canadian writer to receive the prestigious reward. Her short story collections are readily available in any bookstore, so acquiring some of her works is not very difficult.

AliceMunro
Recent photo of Alice Munro

What This Means for the Short Story Revival

First of all, let me clearly state the Ms. Munro has been writing short stories, all throughout her literary career and to my knowledge has not written any novels. This in itself shows true dedication to the craft, for until very recently the popularity of the short story was on the wane with a few brave souls predicting the ultimate demise of the genre. However, most recently, the short story seems to making a comeback. This recent phenomena seems linked to the rising success of ebooks, which now can be downloaded onto various and sundry electronic devices, such as cell phones and laptop computers.

Nonetheless, all this shoptalk on short stories seems mute, as the author has been writing short stories for many years and her success appears to be unrelated to current literary trends. Though it is plausible that the selection committee may have been slightly influenced by current book buying trends.

Appreciation Guide for Newbies

If you are a reader at all like me, you are well probably well aware of Alice Munro’s books, but for some reason never purchased or read one of her short stories. Fortunately, with the recent turn of events avid followers of her work have responded to her latest success by posting advice on which story to read first. Here is one such article posted over at Book Riot. Another such article can be found here.

Another Rock Star, Another Memoir

Arp 188 and the Tadpole's Tail
Arp 188 and the Tadpole’s Tail
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA;

The Literary Man

Pete Townshend has long been associated with the rock band, The Who. In fact, along with Roger Daltry, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, he helped form the band way back in 1964, when the quartet first started playing British nightclubs. Today, The Who is generally recognized as one of the holy trinity of British Rock bands. The other two would be of course the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Who were one of the top rock bands of the sixties and seventies until two tragic events signaled the beginning of the end for this musical quartet. These were the death of Keith Moon in 1978 and a Cincinnati concert in 1979, where eleven fans were killed. As a result, by the early eighties, the band called, The Who, was breaking up. In July of 1983, Pete Townshend took on a job at Faber and Faber Books as an editor, thus completing the breakup of The Who.

Pete Townshend performing in Hamburg in 1972
Pete Townshend performing in Hamburg in 1972

Townshend’s Literary Accomplishments

As major songwriter and wordsmith, for one of the most popular live bands, ever to come onto the rock scene, Pete Townshend has earned his place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and also in the general popular culture of the sixties and seventies. Nowhere are his literary talents more evident than with the rock opera, “Tommy”, a musical creation in which Townshend had the dominant roll.

On a strictly literary note, Townshend should  be noted for a series of three articles that he wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine. These appeared between 1970 and 1977; and were mostly about The Who. Also in 1977 Townshend started Eel Pie Publishing, which featured children’s books, music books and a London bookstore called The Magic Bus. Townshend has also published a book of his own short stories, called Horses Neck (19850) along with several scripts for short films and plays.

The Who in Chicago in 1975
The Who, original line up, performing in Chicago. Left to right: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend. from Wikipedia, photo by Jim Summaria

Who I Am

Just this fall (October 2012) Pete Townshend has released yet another memoir/autobiography by yet another wealthy and over-sexed Rock & Roll superstar. Is it worth reading? I can’t tell you because I haven’t read the book. but is has been on the NY Times Bestseller list for at least several weeks, since its release.  However, given Townshend’s longtime association with writing and his stint as an acquisitions editor, this book might dig deeper into the mindset of one of the world’s premier rock musicians. Early reviews, such as this one at LitKicks, tend to indicate that Pete Townshend has penned a first-rate intra-perspective book on his own personal journey through life.

Pete Townshend Today
Pete Townshend playing in Philadelphia in 2008 with the Who, from Wikipedia, photo by Kubackeck