Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seattle Bookfest, and trickling down in Eugene, OR

I had a busy weekend. I went down to Eugene, Oregon on Friday to participate in a Society of Professional Journalists conference at the University of Oregon on "The Future of Journalism." I was on a panel with other bloggers discussing the challenges of shifting from print to electronic journalism. We had a great audience, mostly journalists and j-students. It was actually helpful to hear how other people are dealing with the struggles of making a living doing what we love to do in a media arena that is wide-open, unformed, and has not revenue model that is sustainable for most people. (Photographic evidence I was at the conference can be found here.)

One of the points I made was that influence, money, audience: everything seems to some in trickles. There's no one way to fund a website, but if, like Crosscut.com, you derive some revenue from donors, membership drives, advertising, grants, foundations, you might just be able to get enough from each stream to make a river. Same with readers: each link, each person drawn by a single story or a niche focus, adds to the whole. As a writer, you freelance for different outlets (in my case, Crosscut, Seattle Magazine, Washington Law & Politics) and hope that is adds up to a modest living. It's a very different mindset than working as a staffer for an established media outlet. 

I drove back on Sunday in time for a Pugetopolis reading to close the Seattle Bookfest on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 25). The Bookfest was great, held in an elementary school in Columbia City and in the classrooms there were tables for browsing books for area bookstores, authors and publishers. I attended a highly entertaining reading by Robert Ferrigno, the noir author who has written a trilogy about the Islamic take-over of America. In the first, short excerpt he read, there was one hand-job and three slayings. Not for the kiddies. But he shared some interesting insights about faith and fundamentalism, and also about his own writing methods.

My reading at 5pm was standing room only and people were very responsive. Some old Mount Baker friends came and we went out for drinks afterwards at Lottie's. Columbia City restaurants and bars were hopping, even on a rainy Sunday eve. One thing I love about the district is that it embraces change but within the context of the past: the old buildings there have been preserved and give the whole commercial district great character. The places I remember as a kid (the old post office, the five-and-dime, the men's shop) have been adapted to new uses and they look like they're working beautifully.

Congrats to the people who put on the Bookfest. I heard nothing but good things about it and appreciate the chance to read there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tim Egan, Elliott Bay's crisis, Audubon talks and more

A couple of things.

First, I attended Tim Egan's Elliott Bay Book Co. reading for his new book, The Big Burn, which I finished last week and it's terrific, another saga of man-against-nature (wildfire) and the consequences of government action and inaction. It's a compelling short course on the creation of the conservation movement, tracking the careers of Teddy Roosevelt and the eccentric and passionate first head of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, all against the backdrop of one of the worst forest fires in American history. It all has resonance today, of course, as the forces of resource exploitation are still at work, and the courage of the people who created our National Parks and Forests is something we should never take for granted because the task of keeping them is never done. Tim, by the way, wrote the introduction to Pugetopolis. He's now off on a national book tour.

And speaking of Elliott Bay, I've written a piece for Crosscut about the implications of their possible move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, which is being motivated by financial difficulties. I think the move could be a real plus, perhaps rejuvenating their business model, though it would also be tough on the Square. But most of all, I do not want to see Elliott Bay go down. It's a tremendous institution and nationally respected and a fine damn bookstore.

Second, I had a great time in Tacoma this morning, rising in the wee hours to catch the Sounder train at 6:10. I was the keynote speaker for the Tahoma Audubon Society's annual early-bird fundraiser breakfast. There were some 300 people there and they were amazingly awake. I reminded them that that great Tacoma writer Murray Morgan once described waking up on a damp, Tacoma morning as feeling like you were inside an oyster! Anyway, the Tahoma Audubon Society is doing great things in Tacoma and Pierce County, the speech went great and I sold out of books (they ordered 50 and we took orders for 10 more). All proceeds to the Society. Anyway, my thanks to the Tacoma greens who got out of their shells and gave Mossback such as warm and friendly reception. 

Speaking of Audubon, I will be reading at the Seward Park Audubon Center on Thursday, Nov. 5th at 7pm

Lastly, this Saturday (Oct. 24) I'll be on an SPJ Panel at the Communications School at the University of Oregon in Eugene, sharing time with Josh Feit of Publicola and others discussing making the transition from print to online journalism. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reading at Columbia City's Seattle Bookfest

The old Northwest Book Festival is being revived in Columbia City, which has to be one of the great ideas of the year, not only for Seattle book-lovers, but for the neighborhood. One of the chief organizers of Seattle Bookfest 2009 is Paul Doyle of the Columbia City Cinema. It's a volunteer effort. The festival will be held the weekend of October 24-25 at the Columbia City Event Center, a short walk from the new light rail line.

I'll be appearing, along with some 100 other authors and speakers. I'm slated to read from 5pm-6pm on Sunday, Oct. 25th. My publisher Sasquatch will also have a booth at the fest. 

For me, the event us doubly exciting because I grew up not far from Columbia City. It is part of my old stomping grounds. The wonderful old library there was my first public library and I still can smell the oak and dust. It is also forever part of my internal landscape and remains the archetype of "neighborhood library." (It's been restored and expanded, but retains much of its character.) 

I plan to share some work related to growing up in the Rainier Valley. I hope you can make it Oct. 25th. Admission to the event is a $5 donation.