Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beach Reading

It’s ninety-two degrees, but with the steady, southerly breeze coming in off the Gulf of Mexico, the air feels cooler.  Lucky that, because there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the only reprieve from the sun's heavy light is given by an island of shade under my umbrella.  My feet are hidden, buried up to my ankles in sugar-white sand that reflects the sun like a mirror.  Underneath the top layer, the sand is surprisingly cold and soothing to the touch.  It moves in and out of my toes and I wonder in what peculiar places it might later turn up - shoes, wallets, car seats? 

A line of sargassum has washed up from high tide forming a sort of makeshift sea wall.  Most might find it a nuisance, but I'm glad to see it.  The golden tangle of leaves and hollow seeds look healthy, a hopeful sign of renewal considering last year’s Deep Water Horizon disaster. 

Crystal-clear waters glimmer in the sunshine.  So many cliches come to mind to describe the view of the ocean, all of them true.  Blanket of diamonds.  Stars in the night.  Shattered glass.  Called the Emerald Coast for good reason, the water's bright green color drifts into deep blues before meeting sky.  A flash of foamy spray disturbs the surface beyond the first sandbar where a school of fish is feeding off the sargassum shrimp.  After a moment, the gulf is once again calm, and the hit-and-run raid on the crustaceans ends. 

At the shoreline, tiny waves lap at the sand like a pet would the hand of its master.  I listen to the gentle sound from under my umbrella, content in my reclining chair that’s covered by an embarrassingly colorful beach towel.  Beside me is a cooler stocked with canned light beer - the kind with fake lime taste added.  For whatever reason, this brew actually tastes good when consumed near a body of water.  Something to do with the salty air, I guess.

Seagrove Beach, Florida is a well-kept secret, but it has been familiar to me for years and my family and I come as often as possible.  Normally, the beaches remain rather bare, but being Memorial Day Weekend, it’s crowded enough to invite people watching.  Though instead of leering at random people walking by, I’m doing what has become as commonplace on a beach as building sand castles: reading a book.  The Book Thief, to be specific.  For a while, I’ve been dying to read it and so far, it’s poetry. 

Hours pass.  Zusak’s prose has me thoroughly enthralled, though I'm concerned a book narrated by Death is subject matter too heavy for beach reading – an activity usually reserved for airy, light books. Luckily, the whimsy in The Book Thief’s storytelling encourages me on. 

Families come and go.  The breeze shifts and the water currents change.  Waves pick up and then die down again.  Hundreds of beach walkers wander by.  All of this occurring in my peripheral, hardly noticed, my attention glued to the book.

The heat of the day begins to fade as does the afternoon sun.  My last beer is empty and I notice I’m where I started this morning – alone on the beach.  It's time to go.  I fold my umbrella, my chair, and pack up my cooler with empty cans.  My towel hangs from my shoulder, draped like a toga, and after reading the last line of a chapter I deem worthy to be a good stopping point, my book closes and I make my way to the boardwalk.

Tomorrow’s forecast?  Ninety-two degrees, with a steady, southerly breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Summer and the City

In New York City, the frenzy that was Book Expo America 2011 came to a close yesterday.  Many articles written by those in attendance seem to echo a common sentiment that publishing isn’t dead.  In fact, according to Paul Yamazki, head buyer at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, Hardcover Fiction is Back. 

It’s good to see some positive energy coming out of an industry that has had a tough recent couple of years.  Be sure to swing by BEA 2011’s podcast to catch up on some great presentations.

As many of you know who are sweating in upper eighty and lower ninety degree weather, Summer feels like it’s here.  I know the solstice makes it official, but I’ve got a sunburn that says different.  Apparently, the publishing industry also judges the change of season in its own way.  Following BEA, many of those working in New York City begin a time-honored tradition called Summer Fridays: Work till one and spend the rest of the day enjoying the weather, a book, or doing whatever they fancy.  Our Subsidiary Rights Manager at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, Lauren E. Abramo, will tell you all about it here.  Try not to hate your life after you read her post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Expo America 2011

The big thing in publishing right now is, without a doubt, Book Expo America.  A sort of a literary Hajj, editors, agents, booksellers, and authors alike all make their yearly journey to the Mecca of the industry, New York City, to see what’s new and what’s coming up in the near future.

Being the second day into the event, I thought I might catch you up on everything groovy that’s happening on the convention floor if, like me, you were unable to make the show this year.

Over at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, my agent John Rudolph gives his impressions on what he’s seen this year.  It seems energy and excitement are up from the last couple of years, though free galleys are down. 

At GalleyCat, they’ve put together a showcase of the huge banners hanging from the rafters.  Would it be BEA without an Oprah tribute?  All hail the queen.

Literary agent Janet Reid gives us an impression of what it’s like scurrying about the floor, trying to avoid the cheap seats during that kinetic first day.  Stay tuned, because she promises more for the coming days.

And if your interested in the presentations given at BEA, check out BookExpoCast.  There, you’ll find a full audio presentation of the Children’s Book Buzz (Emceed by Julian Moore!) and a full video presentation of the Editor Buzz Panel.   

Lastly, Publishers Weekly is staying on top of all the latest news and stories at the event as it unfolds.  See their most recent article here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lessons from the Hot & Hot

Today I’m having Shrimp and Grits for lunch.  Sometimes, being from Alabama can be a frustrating existence, with its corrupt, Third World government and underfunded, Third World education, but this is not one of those days.  Not when I’ve got a pile of fresh-caught gulf shrimp from Sexton’s Seafood Market sitting on a bed of McEwen & Sons organic white grits smothered in an acidic, creamy recipe written by Chef Chris Hastings of a local top restaurant, The Hot & Hot Fish Club.  Great name, isn’t it?  That man knows his groceries. 

For whatever reason, Birmingham, Alabama ranks with Paris, France for restaurants per capita, and many of ours are, quite simply, amazing (Hot & Hot, Highlands Bar & Grill, Little Savannah). In fact, many of these chefs have released wonderful cookbooks including Southern Table, Bottega, and Hastings’ effort, The Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook, which brilliantly divides the book in to seasonally available offerings to encourage the reader to purchase local, fresh, in-season ingredients. 

The funny thing is, Chef Hastings once fired me.  And deservedly so.  I worked as a bartender for him while trying to finish up college, but even when there, I wasn’t always there.  Distractions and stresses of dreaming up and preparing for the next steps of my life blinded me to where I was standing.  With the real world closing in and only holding a fairly useless degree in communications and film productions – in Alabama, for god’s sake – I was blowing in the wind. 

Now look, I wasn’t the best mixologist, but I wasn’t the worst either.  Though, I think I did once, during the blur of finals week, serve room-temperature white wine to a customer. Routinely, we wound up in the local hipster rag, praised with accolades of having one of the best martinis in town.  Infused vodkas, fresh squeezed fruits – we used only the finest ingredients.  My problem was, there were better and far more professional men and women out there, gagging for the job.  Sadly, I saw the position as only a temporary stepping stone to something else, and not as chance to enrich my life experience.  Since I had no intention of bartending for a career in a restaurant where the wait staff was, and still are, career professionals making a fine living for themselves, I got the axe.

Nearly twelve years later, I wish I could go back in time and kick my own ass for not taking advantage of such a rich learning environment.  As it turns out, I love to cook.  But in college, I couldn’t see the big picture.  When you can’t see the big picture, you can’t appreciate where you are.  Things get missed.  Though I still never had aspirations of working in the restaurant business after college, I regret the opportunities missed from learning from one of the best places I’ve ever eaten in all my world travels. 

I think about my experience at the Hot & Hot whenever I catch myself looking forward to the future.  I’m not saying it isn’t okay to dream – of course it is.  But my failure at that restaurant was a product of focusing on the future at the expense of the present.  In the publishing industry, it’s prevalent.  Fueled by dreams of publication, would-be authors often shoot off unedited manuscripts not ready for the light of day.  Agents and editors are buried in these submissions.  Instead, I learned to take my time.  Take a breath.  In whatever I do, I try to be there and give my all to the moment.  You never know when you just might need what that moment can teach you.

Like lunchtime, for instance.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Destination: BELGIUM (From JohnGreenBooks.com)

At the risk of becoming a fan site for author John Green (Looking for Alaska - highly recommended), I’m linking to his site once again.  But (!) it’s only because his video perfectly hits the theme of INK ROCK:  The connection of place to prose. 

Getting out from behind your desk, away from the internet, and taking your work out into the world can often produce some of the best writing – at least it can for me.  Sometimes you just gotta cut the tether, ya know?  And removing yourself from your comfort zone can definitely inspire a flow of words and ideas.  Or freeze you up.  Really, it's one or the other. 

Do you have a place or spot that has driven you to write something new and exciting?  Share it!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bookstore Bucket List

Salon.com compiled a list for “The World's Most Inspiring Bookstores,” and put together a slideshow (linked here) showcasing their fourteen choices.  They are in no particular order or rank, but some of the more interesting finds, I thought, included an ancient cathedral in the Netherlands now converted into a bookstore, a nineteenth century theater in Argentina, and an entire book town within the city of Tokyo - one hundred and fifty stores, not including mega-stores, and the major publishing houses all crammed into one district of a few streets. Unsurprisingly making the list is a personal favorite of mine, and holding position at the top of my own bucket list, Shakespeare & Co., Paris, France.

Here are Salon’s top fourteen, but definitely swing by their site and experience the slideshow.

1.         Daunt Books – London, England.
2.         John King Books – Detroit, Michigan
3.         Selexy Dominicanen – Maastricht, Netherlands
4.         Borges & Cortazar – Buenos Aires, Argentina
5.         Montague Bookmill – Sawmill River, Massachusetts
6.         Lello Bookshop – Porto, Portugal
7.         Jimbocho Book TownTokyo, Japan
8.         Shakespeare & Co. – Paris, France
9.         Argosy Books – Manhattan, New York
10.       Eslite – Taipei, Taiwan
11.       Powell’s Books – Portland, Oregon
12.       Azbakia Book Market – Cairo, Egypt
13.       Medival walled book village – Uruena, Spain   
14.       City Lights Bookstore – San Francisco, California

Did they miss your favorite?  Let us know!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Destination: AMSTERDAM (From JohnGreenBooks.com)

Recently, while perusing my usual line up of often-frequented industry sites, I stopped by Author John Green’s website and discovered that he had moved to the most famous city in the Netherlands to write and do research for an upcoming book. 

I am Jack's inflamed sense of Jeolousy.

While the invention of a fiction can exist exclusively in the imagination, I’ve discovered that Destination Writing can often produce some of the most vivid and transporting stories.  For example, when reading Looking for Alaska, John Green’s exploration of high school relationships and emotional conflict, you can almost feel the experience of being thrust into the teenage class system of Indian Springs School.  All the details and the nuances in the prose shine in such definition, you might as well be looking at a photograph.  The reason, you might not be surprised to discover, is that John Green actually attended the boarding school which provides the setting for the novel.  One can conclude that experience in a real, physical place only enriches the experience of reading about that place.

While in Amsterdam, John will be communicating with his brother Hank via YouTube (as they have for several years now) and giving very entertaining updates on both the experience of living in the city and his process of writing on location.  http://www.johngreenbooks.com/  - Highly suggested.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Note on Alabama

Since INK ROCK explores the narrative in connection to the world, I think it would be remiss for me not to say a few words about the tragedy that continues to unfold in my state. 

Two weeks ago on Wednesday, April 27, 2011, I awoke at dawn to the sound of an F1 tornado passing over my house.  Hours later, seeing only very minimal damage to our home (some siding torn away) and hearing of some more serious damage nearby, we watched the news and heard the meteorologist warning that the worst was yet to come. 

And then it happened.

That afternoon, an outbreak of F4 and F5 mile-long tornadoes traveled across Alabama, some of them at sixty miles per hour.  Nearly two hundred and forty lives were lost.  Entire towns removed from the map.  Entire towns.  In my yard, debris rained down, including a receipt from a store seventy miles away.  Thankfully, the south side of Birmingham – where I live – was spared.  But others were not.

There will be stories told of that day for a long time.  While on a chainsaw crew my friends and I heard one of them.  We had joined up with a random small town church group from Empire Church of God in Argo, Alabama – one of the overlooked areas - and visited a man to clear trees from his property.  He had terminal cancer and was six months overdue for a grave.  Before he passed on, he wanted to do something for his wife; give her a special place to remember the happy times in their life and so in his yard he built her a fine gazebo.  Sadly, it all was taken away by a tornado only days after completion.  Though his wife no longer has his gift to remember him by, I suspect she will always recall what a good man her husband was after witnessing sixty or so members of his church swarm to his side to assist him in clearing the devestation.

Alabama will be recovering from this event for a long time.  Supplies, able bodies, and money are needed desperately.  I encourage you to participate if you can.  Or donate.  Visit Help Write Now, or text “Tornadoes” to 50555 to donate ten dollars to the United Way of Alabama.  During a book signing, author Lindsey Leavitt had Barnes & Noble create a code (#10486058) that if given at checkout will donate ten percent of sales to victims.  Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Of Premises and Intents

Now that I’ve marked the opening of this blog with the debut of the What’s Wrong With America Cookie, I thought a proper introduction was in order.

There are a lot of authors out there writing about writing and giving insight into publication, and a lot of these authors are doing it quite well.  To some extent, you’ll see similar subject matter covered here.  Let’s face it; the World of Publication is so confounded, it practically exists in some clandestine, shadow universe separated from reality and the common sense of ordinary business.  Most of us gather what we know from a culmination of insiders voicing their experiences.  So conversations about industry insight help, though I still think most of us would only scratch our heads if pressed to take a position on an issue such as the future of ebooks.

INK ROCK’s focus, however, will be on the physical places and their connection to authors and works.  Our planet; our ink.  Authors are spatial observers and, whether intentionally or not, affected and inspired by the cities, landscapes and surroundings that fuel their ideas and stories.  INK ROCK will seek to piece together a new literary atlas by asking some of today’s authors the modern equivalent of questions like, “How did the Lower East side affect Ginsberg and Burroughs,” and “How did Hemingway’s three year stay in Paris inspire his writing?”   

And, of course, when I'm not exploring the literary physical world, INK ROCK will strive to bring you the latest in industry news and issues with topical discussion. 

With all that said, Welcome! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

First Post...The Triple Double!!!

Okay, don't get too worked up.  It's only the first post.  And, really, you don't even know me yet, so there's hardly any justification for the three exclamation points in the post title.  Or so you would think.

Here's the thing, fine reader.  Today is a day for celebration.  It is the new dawn of a changed, new world!  Because I'm blogging, you ask?  No.  Certainly not.  Because this is the first post?  Nope, and it's not a post on literature or other publishing points of interest, either.  Because the National Biscuit Company, now known to you as Nabisco,  has confirmed to NBC News the existence of the NEXT OREO???

Whoa.  Did that just happen?

Look, I know.  It's a lot to take in.  Sure, a regular Oreo is great, yet we all know a part of us wanted more.  Needed more.  Nabisco responded.  In fact, you probably thought the world couldn't handle any more of the chocolaty, creamy goodness that was introduced as the Double Stuff Oreo.  But you were wrong.

Now comes the Triple Double Oreo.  The Big Mac of chocolate cookies, it follows the same structural discipline:  Cookie, filling, cookie, filling, and cookie.  Then they kick it up a notch.  Just when you think you've got it all figured out, you discover one of the cream layers is actually...chocolate!! 

I know.  I just blew your world.  So celebrate the day, people.  Things just got real in the cookie biz.  http://bites.today.com/_news/2011/05/10/6618156-new-oreo-confirmed-and-its-bigger-than-ever

Also, I'm blogging.  About culture, travel, and author stuff.  So that's cool, right?