“A Little Help From My Friends

…and the kindness of strangers

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m doing my serial careerist thing, moving from working in the law, back to writing.  Although writing new Matt Jacob novels may seem like simply returning to a prior career, I see much of it as something new.

I left writing sixteen years ago, in large part, because my experience with publishing houses drove me out of the writing world.  (Another story, another time.)  That hurt a lot and I wouldn’t have thought about writing books again if it meant duplicating that experience.

But we live in a different time now; all types of communication have gone through revolutionary changes.  And publishing is no exception.  Self-publishing is no longer just the domain of people writing their family history for their grandchildren, or seen that way.  Some people have become bestsellers through their self-published books.  Some bestselling authors have left their publishers to strike out on their own.

I’ve been watching these developments and have created my own plan.  I am digitally re-publishing the first three volumes of the original Matt Jacob series as e-books (the cover for the first one is fantastic!).  Then when I publish the fourth book in the series (which I took when I escaped my publisher), it will come out both as an e-book and a paperback Book On Demand (BOD).  And that is what I will do for all the new books I write for the Matt Jacob series.  These publishing methods allow me to bypass the censorship issues I was forced to battle sixteen years ago.

It’s not just the technological innovations that lure me to write a “new” Jacob series, but in fact, the sixteen years that have passed since writing the fourth novel (TIES THAT BLIND).  Times have changed, I have changed, and I’m really interested to learn how Matt is dealing with his and our social and cultural changes.  I imagine many aspects of his character will remain, but sixteen years certainly adds more than just years to one’s life.

So Matt and his crew will be different.  I can’t say exactly how since writing for me is a discovery process.  But I do know that the prospect of playing with that time difference is really exciting and has captured my interest in a big way.  So much so, that it transforms the series into something that feels like moving forward, not going back.

Which brings me to my request for help.  As mentioned above, before I can begin to write a new Matt Jacob, I’ve been getting the original series ready for digital release.  Building a new website, formatting the originals for the various Ebook platforms (Kindle, Nook, Ipad, Downloadable PDFs etc).  If all goes well, STILL AMONG THE LIVING, my first book and a N.Y.Times Notable, should be ready for downloading by the end of October.  In the meantime I’d like to build the distribution list I’ve been using to announce my Monday posts.  Sorry, those ain’t going away despite this new venture.

If you know someone—friends, family, colleagues–who you believe might be interested in my posts and/or book it would be great if you checked with them to see if they’d be willing to be added to my mailing list.  Sorry to ask for that extra step, but I really don’t want to spam anyone.  If they are, please send me—or have them send me—their email address to: zacharykleinonline@gmail.com.

Of course, if any of you are uncomfortable with this request, just ignore it.  You folks have already been kind enough to follow my posts on a regular basis and I don’t want to impose.

This isn’t one of my regular Monday raps, but I appreciate your time and understanding.  Thanks.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
Lao Tzu

Writing From The Heart

I received a ton of feedback on line and off about “A Marriage Passed.”  Each one was encouraging and lovely, and I very much appreciate the time and effort people took to comment-thank you.

One thing that struck me was that many called the piece “writing from the heart” and urged me to continue to do so. I think what that meant was the degree of emotional honesty came through as clearly as the content.  And that was true.  Yet, my posts have generally been “from the heart.”  Okay, not the television one where I was having some fun.  Or the “Harbingers of Spring,” in which I rued Boston’s weather (well, maybe).  But my post about “Israeli Regime Change,” or “The Obama Conundrum,” and even the Dylan/Ochs conversation were reflections of deeply held beliefs-though written in differing styles and forms.

And while I appreciated last week’s comments and feedback, truth is, I started this site as a road back to a kind of writing, which is of my heart.

It began with the intent of shaking the rust off due to an eighteen year hiatus.  I chose nonfiction posts because it was something I’d never done.  I hoped the newness would both jack me out of silence and broaden my skills.  So far it’s done both and, while I enjoy the freedom to pick different topics, love the response to my pieces, enjoy the arguments they occasionally provoke, I still miss the hell out of writing fiction.

I miss the freedom to play inside my imagination.  I miss the people I create.  I miss hearing the different voices inside my head and the unique personalities that eventually emerge.

I guess writing novels is my safe way of experimenting with multiple personality disorder.

I’m also hungry for the interpersonal interactions and relationships in which my people engage.  I don’t miss plotting but that comes with the package and there’s simply no way to avoid it–especially since I intend a return to detective fiction.

(Excuse me while I momentarily extemporize.  It was no accident that I took up the saxophone when I walked away from writing. I liken detective fiction to jazz for a number of reasons.  For one, jazz is an indigenous American art form and I believe the same about hard-boiled.  Just as jazz upends traditional songs, it’s rewarding to create variations on the hard-boiled historical structure which, while maintaining the form, also changes it.  Most of all it’s a gift to follow in the footsteps of novelists like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Bart Spicer and Ross Thomas.  (Someday I’ll share a more complete list of the “greats” in this space.)

I walked away from publishing after several censorship battles with a major house–and thought I was done forever.  But this new age of communications has given me another shot.  Right now I’m converting three out-of-print Matt Jacob books (along with the fourth I took with me when I walked) into eBooks, which I will control.  That was my thinking when I started the whole project, but in the course of creating this space I’ve decided to bring Matt Jacob out of retirement.  I’ll begin a new novel once the earlier ones are up and running.  Frankly, the idea of playing with that eighteen-year gap tickles me.  And while I don’t imagine my older voice will be the same, (hell I haven’t stayed the same for the past eighteen and certainly my voice hasn’t), I’ll try to write books that reflect the realness of life and relationships, much as I tried to do before.

So what does this have to do with writing from the heart?  I suppose the connection is that I have to follow my heart in order to write from it.

At the same time I have no intention to give up these posts.  I’ve discovered the pleasure of stretching my abilities and have thoroughly enjoyed the reactions to the different columns.  And most importantly, there are cultural, social, political, artistic and personal issues that intrigue me and I intend to explore.

Although most of my posts won’t be about loved ones, they will be honest and often “written from the heart.”

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. -Mahatma Gandhi

Back In The Day

 No, not back in the days when Ozzie and Harriet were huge or my cousin had his 1958 gold Chevy Impala with music notes dancing along its curved fins (he was a top shelf sax man).  I’m just going back as far as the 80s, but if you measure that in computer time, it was the Bronze Age.  It was also when Sue, my life-partner, and I bought our first computer-a KayPro lV

I remember it well.  We’d paid a fortune for it-over three grand in 2011 dollars.  And there it was, sitting on our old oak dining room table in all its then modern grey box glory.  We unclamped the keyboard, which served as the cover of this 26 pound metal suitcase, turned it on, and stared blankly as its 9-inch phosphor screen lit up with a flashing green C:> in the top left corner.

We were stumped, stupefied.  Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  Eventually we learned how to use the machine and Sue had an easier time writing her magazine articles (She’s now a prolific nonfiction children’s book author–www.susangoodmanbooks.com) while I churned out my first novel.

But the real hook for me was my eventual upgrade, the Kaypro 4 with a 300 baud modem.  These were pre-Internet days but folks had already figured out that computers would change communication.  People across the world had set up electronic “post offices” that relayed messages to and from each other and allowed those people who had free computer programs provided by the local “post office” to send and download their mail.

The Great Leap Forward, though, was the development of different interest groups that used this new form of pony express.  I jumped into a writers’ circle that eventually became Pen & Brush and away we went.  Although there were plenty of conversations about writing, the group became a home for open-ended discussions about all things political, religious, cultural, and of course the government.

For decades, it was the same group learning, chatting, arguing through evolving communication processes until the Internet hit and we landed on Yahoo Groups as Keyboard and Stylus.  And there a few of us still remain, more as alter kockers rocking on the porch than engaging in all out debates.

But, there’s life in me yet.  I’ve joined a new group that has fresh blood hungry to view the world through its many facets and a desire to express what they see.

Face (book) the Nation Open Group, housed on Facebook, was created by my college roommate Mark Kruger, now a professor of humanities in St. Louis, with the tireless help of Indira Freeman.  Let me quote her description:

“University of St Louis students and non-students from the entire nation are discussing and seeking to raise awareness about national issues. Topics have included global climate change, wars, homosexuality, education, interest groups, party systems, Wall Street, banks, government power, etc. Our goal is to create a healthy, open environment where everybody has a right to talk about various subjects.  We are group that wants to let every sluice of knowledge be open and set a-flowing. We respect all and believe in equality. Please become a part of this great environment.”

Since I began participating about a month ago, I’ve found the conversations thoughtful, stimulating, and very reminiscent of the old Pen & Brush.  Indira’s description is pretty right-on, though there are some wild and wooly moments. The group is incredibly diverse and the opinions expressed run the full spectrum on a whole host of subjects.  There are trolls, but few and far between.  All in all it’s an experience that engages and one that I fully enjoy.

I say “all in all” because this “alter cocker” finds navigating through all the various topics on the page petty damn difficult–though I have found a personal method to keep track of the various subjects.  But first let me explain how to participate if you’re interested:

1. You need a Facebook account.

2. Once you have a Facebook account (and I urge anyone who signs up for one to go over the privacy settings with a fine tooth comb), type “Face (book) the Nation OPEN GROUP” in the search box at the top of your page, and it will take you to where you can click on “JOIN.” (Given Facebook’s propensity to change how it does things about every twenty minutes, if you have any difficulty enrolling, just leave a note here and I’ll add you the group as my “friend.”)

That’s it.  But if you have trouble with the way Facebook organizes its pages here’s my system:

I created a dedicated email address for the page. In the “Edit Settings” box on the Face (book) the Nation Open Group I have set: NOTIFY ME WHEN A MEMBER POSTS OR COMMENTS, EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS TO the email address I set up,and finally I checked the box that says SEND ME GROUP CHAT MESSAGES.

This allows me to click on emails that take me directly to the specific conversations in which I have interest.

I understand this seems like a convoluted way to screen and follow discussions, and I’m also aware that many people are reluctant to join Facebook.  But if you aren’t uncomfortable with joining, or you already have a page, Face (book) the Nation Open Group is worth the price of admission.  Especially if you enjoy intelligent free-wheeling conversations about a variety of important topics.

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from 
mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not 
thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and 
courageously uses his intelligence. Einstein