Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Something I've Wondered

My part-time job happens in the evening, compiling job listings for a freelance writing newsletter. Fortunately, there's a program on the admin website for this newsletter that grabs up all the potentially viable listings on Craigslist and puts it together so that all I have to do is click the "Filter Content" tab, and there they are, one after the other, for me to decide what to put in.

There has been one thing overall that I've wondered in all the time I've done this, at least since Craigslist began advertising for an online documentary series profiling those who use Craigslist to search for whatever. Take this, for example:

"Native Spanish-Speaking Social Media Writer - Pet Communities"

No disrespect intended toward the purpose of the listing. It's a job, and a job is always good, especially for whoever gets it. But under all that business, the person who has posted the listing clicked the option that indicates: "OK to contact me about appearing in CL documentary series"

Tell me: Why is it always the godawful boring listings on Craigslist that have this indicated?

I've Found My Path

I spent part of the evening sitting on the floor at PetSmart in Stevenson Ranch in front of the sealed-off bird cages, reading "Moonraker" by Ian Fleming, part of my goal to read all the James Bond novels ever published. Mom and Meridith were looking at the birds, deciding if there were any that could make a trio of finches for us. (We have Mr. Chips and Gizmo, but Mom's still on the fence about another third finch. She believes it would be easier this time with only two, just like with two dogs, and certainly when we move.)

I got to page 124 in that span of time, but when we reached the car to head home, I was reticent about hooking my reading light onto this paperback copy, not for fear of tearing, but because despite however many pages I hold to the front cover to create a strong-enough base for the reading light, there's always a droop. So I opened up "Out of the Cracker Barrel" by William Cahn, a hardcover book, ostensibly about the formation of the Nabisco Corporation, but moreso about its founder, Adolphus W. Green. There is such depth of research and clear-eyed observation here. Cahn just wants the facts to be known and it's fascinating to read, along with the historical photos, which are astonishing in their clarity. These are really good black-and-white photographs.

After passing page 22, I couldn't wait anymore. Not that I wait until the end to read an author's bio, but I wanted to know right away who William Cahn was and what else he had done with his life (I just found out that the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit has a collection of his papers, and that he died in 1976). And I got this:

"William Cahn, a Dartmouth College graduate, is a public relations consultant and author of several successful books, including The Story of Pitney-Bowes; Einstein, A Pictorial Biography; The Laugh Makers, A Pictorial History of American Comedians; Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy; Good Night Mrs. Calabash: The Secret of Jimmy Durante. He is also the co-author of The Story of Writing.

Mr. Cahn is particularly interested in the documentary form which permits facts or photographs--or both--to re-create history, whether of a man, an era or an institution. "When the author is more moderator than judge, a work of history comes alive. This is what I have tried to do in Out of the Cracker Barrel."

Mr. Cahn lives with his wife and three children in New Haven, Connecticut."

With that bibliography, Cahn clearly followed his passions. That's what I intend to do. Besides my next book, I've got two novels in mind, one of which will be based upon Don Quixote, and I haven't even read it yet. I like the gist of it, though, and I've figured out an unattainable holy grail for my Quixote figure. However, I'm not sure if I have any more ideas for novels beyond those two, but being that I'm 27, and have probably only seen barely 1/8 of the world so far, there may be more in the decades to come.

I'm also planning two books about condiments (yes, condiments), one involving the packaging of condiments. I know there's enough historical material for both books. I just have to dig for it.

I have a folder on this computer and on my flash drive for plays, and I've got at least 50 ideas. But out of those, there are 2 or 3 that really excite me, and I'm sure I can develop the others over time, if indeed there's anything there.

I don't expect to get rich off any of this. I know a full-time job will be absolutely necessary, but since I know what I want to do, and I'm passionate about either option, that won't be a problem.

But all of this is exactly what I want to do with my life. Actually, it is my life. It's my hobbies, too. I don't feel like there's anything missing. I'm excited every day with what there is to do as a writer. There have been shit days with my words, and there will be more shit days, guaranteed, but at least there'll be something written on those days that can be improved upon on the good days. I've always leaned more toward the editing side of writing, and despite the hardships, I'm grateful every day for those five weeks that I was the interim editor of the weekend Escape section at The Signal. It taught me not only about the pressures involved in getting the words into print, but also how to streamline them, to make them even better for readers.

I get to read and write every day. I can't think of anything else I want. Well, more books to read, but that's a given.

The Moment That Will Continue to Inspire Me Through My Next Book

Just like with "My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House," I started reading "Write It When I'm Gone" by esteemed journalist Thomas M. DeFrank last night, and finished it late this morning. It's a series of three decades of off-the-record interviews with Gerald R. Ford, who told DeFrank he could print all this after his death. And DeFrank did. And while it yielded very little information for my own book, it's a remarkable, highly informative journey through the feelings and historical moments of America's first and only unelected vice president and president, which Ford did not like, and wanted so badly to be elected in his own right, but came to terms with it in due time in his post-presidential life.

In my notes, I took down names to look up, titles of other books to read, political names to look up, such as James Callaghan of Britain, but I found a moment in here that speaks to exactly what I believe in my own life: No one is above me and no one is below me. And I hold the same belief for presidents. They may have access to nuclear launch codes, and their words reverberate throughout the world, but they are human. Their historical position does not change that.

Ford showed that many times, being a gentle man and a good man. DeFrank writes this in his epilogue:

"All of us in this crazy business of journalism retain instances that stick in our brains, moments that really weren't newsworthy or happened past deadline, so they never made it into print or onto the air, but are memorable nonetheless because they offer an unexpected window into the character and humanity of a public life.

For me, one of those iconic insights occurred just four days after Gerald Ford became president, as he was fiddling with the speech he would give to a joint session of Congress in less than two hours.

Suddenly, Ford looked up from his text and a postprandial martini.

"Howard, have you had dinner?" he asked Commander Howard Kerr, the naval aide who had delivered the final speech draft to Ford's modest home in the Virginia suburbs.

When Kerr said he hadn't eaten, the new president led the officer into the kitchen and plucked the remains of the new First Lady's tuna noodle casserole from the oven. Ford spooned out the entree onto a plate and put it on the kitchen table. "Have some dinner," he told Kerr. "I'm going to go work on the speech."

Mr. President, I can't dedicate this book to you when the time comes, but I see now that you are the reason for this book. Thank you.

Another Great Review for "What If They Lived?"

Felix Vasquez, Jr. and I wrote for Film Threat ( at the same time, but our contact was usually limited to occasional conversations, and it's been so long since we've talked at length on Facebook. Phil Hall, the co-author of "What If They Lived?", had a copy of the book sent to him and here is the result: