September 16, 2020
Greetings from the smokey skies of Oregon. In the midst of plague, fire, social unrest, and other assorted catastrophes I have finished the creation of Winterland Nights and want to bring all my potential readers up to date with plans for publication.
The book is finished—94K words, 300 pages in a 5”x8” paperback format. The manuscript has been in the hands of some early readers since late July, which resulted in a few minor changes, but nothing that altered the original conception. My dear friend, John Schettler, assisted in the reformatting of the Word file for publication, and I owe him a ton of thanks for his work. John has self-published over seventy books, so his guidance has been invaluable.
As I was tinkering with the book in August, I devoted a massive amount of thought as to how I to release it. How I came to my decision to self-publish is a long story, but I’ve written about it here briefly.
I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether to pursue the traditional methods of finding an agent and then a publisher. My vacillation was extreme. And then one of those little synchronicities that pop up now and then appeared by accident.
Back in my student days at St. Mary’s College, I was fortunate to have Chester Aaron as one of my writing mentors. I’ll write at length about Chester in a soon to be started project but suffice to say for now—he was an outlier as a writer himself, as well as an iconoclastic faculty member when he taught at my alma mater: a Jew teaching at a Catholic college. He made a living as an x-ray technician at Alta Bates Hospital while writing his early novels for young adults and came to SMC in mid-life to teach writing to naïve students like me who had big dreams about being a writer.
I was very lazy and self-centered in those days, but Chester encouraged me to keep at it, even though I consistently disappointed him in my early attempts at writing something of value. In my senior year I completed a science fiction novel (which is now mercifully lost) during an independent study. Chester was my mentor for that nascent attempt.
After I left SMC, I bumped into him a couple of times, and over the years lost touch. Just before I made my move from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest in 2018, I discovered that he had retired and was growing garlic on his own ranch in Occidental—Sonoma County California. I thought about looking him up, but I was so involved with all the minutiae of the move that I neglected to contact him.
In July of this year, just as I was wrapping Winterland Nights, I learned that he had passed away the previous August at 96 years of age. I was flooded with regret that I had not reached out to him. I think he would have been proud of my first memoir, even though it took so many decades for me to become serious about the craft of writing.
Since I was no longer reading through a tall pile of books related to research for Winterland Nights, I indulged myself by catching up with some of Chester’s output, which had continued into his years of garlic farming. Many of his own books, long out of print, had been republished in print on demand and eBook formats. Nine of his previous books, including his first novel About Us, are available through Zumaya Publications. More recent books were published by established publishers—Garlic is Life, his “memoir with recipes” was put out by 10 Speed Press in 1996, and in 2006 El León Literary Arts published his short story collection Symptoms of Terminal Passion. (There is a story in that book that brought me to tears, by the way: “The Female of the Species.” Words fail me as to how to describe the soulfulness of that particular story. Suffice to say—it hit home in my own heart and experience.)
As I read Chester’s books 45 years after I knew him as a teacher, I recalled his tenacity and love of life, and that dazzling smile underneath his broad nose. I kept thinking about what a crapshoot getting published is—and how I’m not really writing for the money. It’s a legacy thing for me now. I’m a late starter. It’s taken decades for me to have the time and discipline to produce something of quality like Winterland Nights. A Google search for information regarding Chester led me to an interview with him on the Author’s Den website. You can read the entire thing here, but this statement specifically brought reality to bear in terms of my own situation.
Interviewer: You have been a writer for many years, even when it was financially impossible for you to make a living. What is it about writing that has kept you so undeniably passionate throughout the years?
Chester: More and more, as I grow older and older, I have somehow gained the strength and courage to tell the literary establishment (meaning publishers, editors, agents, established and therefore powerful writers) in San Francisco and New York to kiss my ass. This, after they have let me know that I do not, and apparently do not want to, write the kind of ‘literature’ they can sell in the marketplace. Four years ago (after 15 books published, several translated, several award-winners, fiction and non-fiction, adult and young-adult) I decided that once again I needed an agent rather than rely on myself. I sent letters to 30 agents. Received one reply. That agent had written, ‘Thanks but no thanks’ across my letter and returned it to me. I asked her to please explain her response. She said, ‘Let’s face it, Mr. Aaron. You are 79. Why should I waste my time and money on you?’ Over the following four years I published two young-adult novels, an adult novel (none through so-called main-line publishers) and, one month ago — thanks to Thomas Farber and El Leon Literary Arts – this collection of stories we are talking about, ‘Symptoms of Terminal Passion.’ Passion: the genes and the events that have decided my fate have joined forces to create an old man who is determined to tell the world not just how ugly that world is but also how beautiful it has, occasionally, been.
When I read that statement several thoughts came to mind. First, as I mentioned, I’m not in this for the money. Second, I’m 67 years old—though I don’t feel like I’m washed up, and neither did Chester at 79, and I imagine he didn’t think that way in his nineties either. Third, because of my age I have limited years left to produce books—and I’d rather spend my time writing than running around begging some stranger to publish my work. I thought that if Chester felt that way, he likely would have told me the same thing if I had looked him up and asked the question: Hey Chester, what’s your advice to get this thing published? His answer might have been: “Tell them to kiss your ass and publish it yourself.”
The other item to consider is the disarray in the publishing industry. I’ve done my research there. As with everything else in our world right now, there is no normal. Maybe there will be again someday. I know I can get this book in my potential reader’s hands immediately if I publish it myself. And perhaps by marketing it through social media and the word of mouth I can slowly build an audience while continuing to write as much as I can. I learned a lot while writing Winterland Nights, and it shows in the completed book. That may help as well.
So here is what’s happening.
Paperback and eBook formats of Winterland Nights are complete. I finished the cover art this morning. I’ll post a sample soon. I should have proofing copies in both formats by the end of the month. There’s been some discussion regarding marketing, and I’m working on updating this site to support that process. (I’m not sure that WordPress is really the end-all for this site, but in the meantime its what I’ve paid for so I might as well use it.)
Once I look at the proofing copies, I’ll be ready to pull the trigger and get the book out there.
Stay tuned. And stay safe.
Here’s the latest news on the book, much of which is a follow-up to my last post in January on the old blog:
Chapter 12, “Don’t You Ever Learn,” has been completed. It is the climactic chapter of the first two-thirds of the book and describes the concerts and adventures around the time the Todd Rundgren visited Winterland with the first version of his Utopia band in May of 1974. A short section is available on this new website. More about that in a moment.
Chapters 1 through 11 have been completely rewritten and polished, again. In the process I realized that some of what I wanted to put in the book will make the book far too long. I’m trying to keep this project to a manageable length so that the pages will keep turning in the reader’s hands. The challenge is keeping a balance between the music and the personal memories. Thus, some of the material will be posted in the new website as Bonus Tracks, keeping in line with the metaphor of tapes and records that I have been using throughout the book to keep the ever-shifting timeline in order. I’ll do that after the manuscript is completed.
Because of the extensive rewrite, the book is roughly two-thirds finished. Rather than immediately start on the final three chapters I turned my attention to the creation of a new website to support the marketing and publicity. This was a slight change of task order in the project, but the website was needed, and I also wanted to take a rest to get ready to write out the remaining concerts: The Who, Peter Gabriel, and Bruce Springsteen.
I’m pleased to announce that the new site is now up and running. There are many excerpts from the book you can peruse, some of which you may already have read in earlier versions. It’s a much more professional looking site than Blogspot and my main reason for creating it is to support the eventual marketing of the book to agents and publishers. I’ll be tweaking that a bit over the next couple of weeks (it needs a good logo) but I like the way it looks now so I consider it ready for the public.
If you like you can sign up for updates at the bottom of any page on the new site, something that was not available on Blogspot. I will be posting excepts from the remaining chapters as I complete them over the next couple of months. If you sign up, you’ll get notified when I post. You will be able to cancel the notifications and manage them in whatever way works for you.
You can also leave comments on the new site.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be removing all the old versions of chapters that I posted on the old blog. There will be no more updates on Blogspot. Eventually that blog will be retired, but I’ll leave a link to the new site when that day comes.
Also, if you would be interested in becoming an early reader, please let me know. I’ll probably create a signup form for that on the new site (once I figure out how to do that). Early readers can get complete chapters in PDF form. In return I’ll ask for written opinions and maybe even set up a survey.
I’d like to thank a few people who have been extremely helpful in this project so far:
- Jeff Dennis, whose memories are as good (or bad!) as mine. His help in Chapters 11 and 12 was invaluable. Thank you, Jeff!
- Charles Brewer, my old radio partner at KSMC, has been there for me through the entire project. I owe Charles a lot (the book will go into that ancient debt in the yet to be written chapters). His enthusiasm, memories, and suggestions are scattered throughout the story. Thank you, Charles!
- Caryl Adams has been my biggest supporter throughout the project, helping keep me on task and providing me with encouragement and insight from the very beginning. Thank you, Caryl!
- Nic Taylor, the owner of Up the Creek Records, has been a big supporter allowing me to read aloud from the book on the stage in the shop. Reading it live has allowed me to gauge the enthusiasm of my readers, as well as practice my skills as a reader. In addition, Nic has made me realize the Coolness Factor of Vinyl Record Shops and rekindled my love of that format. That has contributed to the metaphorical content of Winterland Nights. Thanks, Nic!
And of course, I owe thanks to all the folks who have been checking in with me. Knowing that people want to read the book keeps me going. Writing is a lonely job. I know that sounds like a cliché, but when I sit in the silence of my studio staring at the blank page on my computer monitor remembering that there is a real audience for this project is what makes the words pop out of my inner voice. Thanks, everyone!