Behold the Colossus

1. Marcia and I had a nice trip to Las Vegas last weekend to see Katelin and John. For entertainment, we visited The Neon Museum, The Punk Rock Museum, did a hike up the north side of Mount Charleston (getting turned back by snow and freezing rain just below 10,000 feet), and had a pool party with friends. We also had a great dinner at a restaurant called Black Sheep; I don’t watch reality television, but their owner/chef was apparently a big hit on Top Chef, if that’s meaningful to you. Either way, the food was outstanding and interesting, and I commend it to you should you be seeking a non-Strip culinary experience while in Vegas. As always, I took pictures, and there’s an album awaiting if you click on the image below. It’s from the collection at The Punk Rock Museum: the saxophone played by Fear’s Derf Scratch (RIP) on “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones,” both on record, and during their infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live. Pretty darn cool, along with loads of other goodies there for gawking, especially great if you know what you’re looking for and at going in, since interpretation is pretty minimal in the exhibit spaces.

2. When we got back from The Punk Rock Museum, Katelin put on one of the many curated punk rock playlists on Spotify as background music for our obligatory Settlers of Catan session. After an hour or so of listening to the usual suspects (e.g. the more accessible songs by the likes of the Sex Pistols, Ramones, Clash, various precursors of the Iggy variety, and adjacent post-punk faves like XTC), it occurred to me that this really did not sound at all like what my own key punk and post-punk listening years sounded like, in large part because the more brutal and less melodic hardcore artists were largely ignored. So for our pool party, I rectified that situation by making my own Punk and Hardcore Mix, focusing on North American artists, not English ones, largely from the period between 1980 and 1995. Genre Police Bores might quibble that some of my selected artists would not be judged as punk, nor as hardcore, when viewed from 2023’s lens, but having lived and experienced it in real time, these sorts of songs were all part and parcel with the musical extremism of the era which my posse embraced. I honed the playlist a bit after getting home, limited to some extent because a lot of my favorite artists from the ’80s were obscure to the point that they don’t exist on Spotify in 2023, but still and all, I’m quite enjoying headbanging to the collection of 100 songs. Want to join me? Here’s the playlist:

3. A friend asked me recently why I wasn’t posting photos of my Sedona hikes on my website anymore, as I did for the first couple of years here via my 10,000 Words series. The easy answer is that I’m doing it in real time, most every day that I hike, on Facebook now instead, having rejoined that social media time-suck to promote various writing projects, despite my better judgment. But if you’re on Facebook, and we’re not connected, and you want to see the hiking photos, you can follow me here. I will take no responsibility for the time you waste there, just be forewarned.

4. Speaking of writing project promotions: I posted recently about the pre-order window being open for my forthcoming book, Ubulembu and Other Stories, and then later shared my gratitude for the robust pre-sales that the story collection has already accrued. So thanks again to those of you who pre-ordered, that helps a lot! And if you’ve been meaning to get around to it, well, there’s still time to build buzz and convince the brick and mortar bookstores to stock the work right from its release date on August 1st. You can click the book cover below for a link back to the page with all of the ordering site information, and (once again) I will be deeply grateful to any and all of you who choose to reserve your copy now. They’ll make great gifts, too, so go ahead and load up and save yourself some time when the holidays roll around!

Heirloom 13 (On Books)

1. It’s Memorial Day today, which is always a notable commemorative holiday in my family, given the many generations worth of veterans (me and Marcia included) shaping both branches of our family tree. Thankfully, none of said family members died in service to their Nation during our lifetimes, but any and all of us could have, as an integral part of taking our respective oaths of office, and I deeply respect and honor the families who mark the day more meaningfully. I’m having a bit of a supplemental reaction to Memorial Day this year, too, having spent much of the past three years researching and writing about fallen military figures with my writing partner, Rear Admiral Jim McNeal, and then promoting the fruits of our labor: Side by Side in Eternity: The Lives Behind Adjacent American Military Graves. An over-arching theme throughout the book is a study of the ways in which survivors have honored (or occasionally dishonored) their fallen colleagues, from the American Civil War to the present, complemented by an assessment of the emergence and evolution of the National Cemetery system, within which so many of our fallen veterans lie. If your own reflections on the day include open questions about the ways in which families and society at large respond to the deaths of military and military-adjacent individuals, the book might help answer some of them, in what we believe to be an informative and engaging fashion. You can click on the cover image below for links to order your own copy, if you’re so moved:

2. And while I’m pimping books: last week, I posted a piece about the importance of pre-orders in the bookselling world, and respectfully asked you, dear readers, to help support the pre-launch campaign of my next book, Ubulembu and Other Stories, which comes out on August 1. I was really very pleased to see how many of you did so, with some moderately attention-getting numbers being posted in the days that followed. Thank you for that, most deeply and sincerely. The more copies of Ubulembu that are pre-ordered, the higher the probability that brick and mortar bookshops will stock the book right from its release date, and the higher the likelihood that critical outlets will notice and engage with it. I’m eager to keep pushing pre-sales through June and July, so if you’ve been considering acquiring your own advance copy, I’d remain most grateful if you ordered the book from the outlet of your choosing. You can click on the book cover below for information on where to order it, once again with my thanks.

3. And how about some chit-chat about a book I didn’t write, to cleanse the mental palate a bit? Marcia got me a great book for my birthday, called Quantum Criminals: Ramblers, Wild Gamblers, and Other Sole Survivors from the Songs of Steely Dan. Written by Alex Pappademus and illustrated by Joan LeMay, the book is one of more entertaining, informative, and opinionated rock biographies I’ve read in recent memory, crafted through an original lens: each chapter is anchored around one or more of the (usually sketchy) characters found in the lyrics composed by the Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. That type of oddly-angled rock analysis often produces overly precious product, but Pappademus’ prose is as perfectly sardonic as it could possibly be when examining the lives and works of the grimly cynical Messrs Becker and Fagen, and his deep research and insights into the Steely Dan canon gave me a surprisingly large amount of fresh perspective, given how long and how deeply I’ve been immersed in and obsessed by their work.

I covered my history with the Dan in fairly lurid detail during my Favorite Songs by Favorite Bands series, and you can read that report here. But I think what made Quantum Criminals resonate so deeply with me was the fact that I’ve obsessed over Steely Dan’s quizzical lyrics in similar ways to Pappademus and LeMay, often in partnership with my equally obsessive, nerdy, and cynical friend Wilson Smith (RIP). Way back when (in Internet terms), Wilson and I created two deep digs into the Steely Dan lexicon and shared them online, and I re-share them with you today, even as I encourage you to score and read Quantum Criminals, whether you’re a Dan Fan or not. It’s that good of a book.

The first Dan-related lyrical project Wilson and I posted was anchored in the fact that Becker and Fagen extensively used imperative or directive forms in their lyrics, regularly and aggressively. A sample: “You better tell me everything you did, baby,” from the The Royal Scam (1976) track “Everything You Did.” Not “would you tell me?” or “could you tell me?” or “won’t someone tell me?” They used straight up command forms, directed your way, no doubts about it: “You better tell me.” Donald and Walter didn’t ask you for your advice or ideas or thoughts or suggestions; if they wanted them, they gave them to you, as orders, or commands, or statements that this was the way it was going to be. You there: “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening,” over and over and over again. It’s a key part part of their menacing lyrical charm, I think.

So Wilson and I created an interactive page called “What Would Don and Walt Do? (WWDWD)” The core concept was that Becker and Fagen were the coolest, wisest people in the world, and they’d laid out brilliant rules for living in their lyrics. You could type in a burning life question at your desktop, hit a button, and receive a message from the Dan, as a sort of Magic Eight-Ball or Oblique Strategies approach to changing your thinking or actions, with every one of the commands given having been culled from their lyrics. And there were a lot of them. The original WWDWD website crashed ages and ages ago, but I was able to preserve its text, include the complete list of Dan Commands, and I posted the whole thing in my obituary for Walter Becker after he flew away in 2017. You can read the complete WWDWD text here.

The second Dan Fan project that Wilson and I created stemmed from our observation that the world(s) that Becker and Fagen created are deeply rooted in very precise places, a huge number of which are specifically named over the course of their nine studio albums. Steely Dan’s realities aren’t generic ones, but are rather set in their own places, precisely, which always makes them seem more real, more lived in, and more meaningful than less observational fare might have been. They are universal in their precision, and precise in the universality of their messages because of that. So we created a map of The Geography of Steely Dan, also long obliterated by the entropy of the Internet, though once again, I was able to preserve the text, which I also re-posted shortly after Walter Becker’s passing. We titled it “Show Me Where You Are,” from a lyrical line in 1973’s “King of the World.” And, of course, true to form, it’s in directive, command form. You can read the whole thing here.

Needless to say, reading Quantum Criminals has put me on deep Dan listening jag this week. Damn, damn, damn, were they good. I’d most strongly suggest that you nab yourself a copy of the book, and then pile up a good Steely Dan playlist, and embrace your inner Jerome Aniton (if you have to ask, you’ll never know) because one thing I can tell ya, Brother, he is here tonight, Mister Magnificent One is here, the Beautiful One is here, you little old pretty one, you here too. You know . . . whatever . . .

My copy. You cannot has.

The Power of Pre-Order: A Promotional Plug

In the publishing world, pre-orders are a key tool for alerting retailers, consumers, and critics that a forthcoming book warrants their attention. Strong pre-order numbers can lead to retailers increasing their initial stock, precluding situations when authors are trying to ride the initial wave of on-sale date buzz, only to crash on a barren “sold out” shingle. Pre-order buzz can also ripple outward throughout the broader publishing biome, alerting other denizens in the creative sea of a worthy new addition, perhaps generating increased sales, perhaps generating favorable press, perhaps expanding the number of outlets carrying the work on its on-sale date and beyond.

My next book, Ubulembu and Other Stories (Unleash Press, Columbus, Ohio) has an on-sale date of August 1 for its print edition, and September 1 for its eBook edition. This puts me within the crucial 90-day window when pre-orders can have the most significant impact on the book’s early reach and success. I would be most grateful, accordingly, to those who read my piffle and tripe here, and who might also like to read it elsewhere, if you would be willing to reserve your copy of Ubulembu now, at the retail outlet of your own choosing. It’s a good one, I promise. I’m most proud of this project, and would love to see it land with a big splash when its time is nigh.

I’ve provided the pre-order links for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, and Unleash Press’ Bookstore below Ubulembu’s cover (which I love!), to make it easy peasy for you to pre-nab your pre-copy. (Note that as the book goes through final formatting and stocking, there may be brief points where the pre-order option shuts down for a few days on some platforms, so do keep trying, if you encounter that situation). The book’s acknowledgment appendix contains a heartfelt appreciation for so many of you who have offered so much encouragement and engagement here for so long, and your support of Ubulembu‘s pre-order campaign would just be one more reason for me to be grateful to you all. Thanks in advance, and do feel free to share within your own circuits as well, should you be willing to do so.





Hither and Yon

I’ve been on the road and in the air pretty continuously for the past nine days, pursuing the sorts of ridiculously complicated travel that I used to do all time time during my original stint with TREE Fund, but which I’ve (thankfully) not endured often during the years beyond the Anno Virum.

My first leg was a flight from Phoenix to Charlotte, North Carolina, following a two-hour drive to the airport that began at 4:30 AM. I went to Charlotte to attend the semi-annual in-person TREE Fund Board Meeting, at the amazing Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories. The organization’s incoming CEO joined us, and it was truly great to have him with us. My current term as TREE Fund’s Interim President/CEO will end on July 1, when we’ll engage in the traditional “I had it, you got it” hand-off of the reins.

I had a free afternoon after the meeting ended, so I took the opportunity to visit my Dad’s hometown of Albemarle, North Carolina, seeing lots of nostalgic sights and eating what I consider to be the world’s best barbecue at Whispering Pines, an iconic local establishment since the 1940s, and the first place I can consciously recall having classic Carolina smoked meat.  A big pile of chopped pork barbecue, just smoked, no sauce necessary, some tater tots and hush puppies gave this boy a happy, happy belly. Slightly sadder: I visited my grandparents’ graves in Albemarle. In life, they really cared about where they were to be buried (they had bought their plot many years before they died, and used to take us out to see it when we’d visit), but it’s a bit shabby looking all these years on, and their shared grave marker is in bad shape, the flower urn that was mounted on it having been twisted off, and the stone itself seeming to have sunk irregularly into the ground. I guess “perpetual care” is an easy concept to sell to the living, but a hard one to enforce on behalf of the deceased. Too bad.

That bit of family business done, I headed over to the Uwharrie Mountains, a weird and beautiful ancient forest range just east of Albemarle. In the heart of the Uwharries sits the Kron Homestead. Francis Kron was a prominent early 19th century country doctor who had a farm in the Uwharries. People perceived him as being very wealthy (probably a racist element there, as he was an immigrant Prussian of Jewish ancestry), so legends emerged soon after his death (and then were reinforced after the deaths of his unmarried daughters) that he had buried a fortune in gold somewhere on his property, but that he had cursed it so that the spirits buried there would protect it.

People have been digging around the property ever since, including in the family’s cemetery, looking for the elusive Kron Gold. When I was a little kid, it was a really, truly scary place to visit, because it was way back in the woods, with all the stones knocked over and lots of evidence of grave-robbing attempts. And then there was the fact that “The Legend of the Kron Gold” was one of the more frightening chapters in Ghost Tales of the Uwharries, a seriously scary book written by my grandfather’s friend, Fred T. Morgan. I used to read it most every time I went to Albemarle, and it always gave me the jibblies.

At some point, the North Carolina State Park Service seems to have decided that preserving the Kron graveyard was a lost cause. All of the old markers except for Dr. Kron and his wife’s obelisk have been removed, but the stone walls around the burial plot in the woods remain. It is still kinda creepy: you are in these dark, shadowy woods, with a strange monument that does not seem to belong there appearing as you walk through the forest. Someone (or something) had been making sacrifices recently, as there were animal bones in the middle of the plot. I didn’t do any digging, so hopefully the ghosts did not follow me back to the hotel in Charlotte, or onward to the next legs of my trek.

From Charlotte, I flew up to Minneapolis, meeting Marcia there. Many of her surviving siblings, nieces and nephews gathered for one of her sisters’ 75th Birthday, and all of the sisters present also got to watch the Twins beat the Padres at Target Field. We drove by the house Marcia grew up in, and the church right behind it, where we were married in 1989. We also visited the George Floyd Memorial site, just nine blocks due east of her home; you can see the tower of the church where we were wed from the stoop where George was murdered. We then went out to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, had a great Mother’s Day Dinner at Barbette, and got to spend some nice time with friends from Sedona who decamp for Minnesota during the hot summer months in Arizona. I also visited Fort Snelling National Cemetery and paid respects to Marcia’s parents, who are buried there.

That leg of the journey complete, I flew on to Annapolis, Maryland via Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, with a stop at Chicago O’Hare, getting to see our old condo building at 340 East Randolph as we flew in over Lake Michigan. My writing partner, Jim McNeal, and I had a book-signing scheduled at the U.S. Naval Academy during the annual “Plebes No More” ceremonial climbing of the Herndon Monument. We had a front-row seat for the climb, which was great to see, 40 years after our class completed it. This year’s ex-plebes, the Class of 2026, took two hours and 31 minutes to finish the task; our class (1986) did it in one hour and 44 minutes. It’s a thing to experience, for sure, and it was surprisingly emotional for me to see this year’s ex-plebes get ‘er done, remembering clearly how amazing it felt in May of 1983 to know that my own plebe year was finally, thankfully, permanently done.

I flew back from Annapolis (via Charlotte) to Phoenix, meeting Marcia there as she came in on her own flight from Minneapolis. Another two-hour drive, and we finally made it home last night. A busy, tiring trip, but lots of great visits embedded therein, so worth it all, in the final analysis. As always, I snapped myself some photos along the way, and share them with you below, each of the three destinations with its own album over at my Flickr site. Click and forage, as you see fit!

Albemarle, North Carolina and Environs

Minneapolis, Minnesota and Environs.

U.S. Naval Academy, Herndon Day. (This photo is me pointing at “The Zoo,” where I lived during my senior year).

Basket of Eggs

1. Back in November, Marcia and I visited Las Vegas to spend Thanksgiving with Katelin and John. We were staying at a hotel with a casino in it (which is a needless distinction when you mention Las Vegas, I guess), and after I got my coffee one morning, I stuck my change in a slot machine and had a nice little $100+ return. Since I prefer to invest ill-gotten gains of that nature into other potential ill-gotten gains, I put some bets down at the Sports Book window. For the NBA, I put four $5.00 bets on each of Phoenix, Miami, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Title in 2023. None of them were doing particularly well at the time (the Lakers were especially bad), but now: all four of them are in the Final Eight of the NBA Playoffs , none playing each other, so conceivably I could end up with money on all of the Final Four. With the Washington Wizards (my team since their Capital Bullets days) eliminated before the playoffs started, I’m rooting for the Lakers to win the whole thing, as my $5.00 bet on them with pay out $655 with a Finals victory. I’ve also got a bet on the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL, and with the seeming-Team-of-Destiny Boston Bruins shockingly knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, that one’s looking healthier than I thought it might. I’ll have to come up with some really crazy bets as reinvestment if I win these NBA or NHL picks, that’s for sure.

2. I had mentioned here some time back that I was working for TREE Fund again (I had been the organization’s President/CEO from 2015 to 2019) as a consultant,  helping them through a period of executive transition. It took a little longer than any of us expected, I think, but I’m pleased to report that the Board has engaged its next President/CEO, per this press release. I’m most pleased that Paul has agreed to become the organization’s leader, and am happy to see that he has already registered for the Tour des Trees, the organization’s per-eminent community engagement event. If you care about the organization, the cause, and the event, you can join me in supporting Paul’s maiden Tour at his fundraising page, here. This year’s Tour is going from Reno, Nevada to Half Moon Bay, California, in what promises to be a spectacular ride with loads of community engagement events already scheduled. So maybe you want to support it by riding with Paul and the rest of the peloton instead? You can do that here. Great cause, great community, and a life-altering adventure for many. Highly recommended!

3. I will be in Charlotte, North Carolina this week at the amazing Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories for TREE Fund’s semi-annual Board Meeting. I’ll have some afternoon down-time after the meeting adjourns, so am planning to make a nostalgia visit to Albemarle, North Carolina, where my Dad grew up, and where I spent loads of time in my pre-college years visiting my grandparents. It’s a dear place to me, and I don’t get there often. Planned highlight: dinner at Whispering Pines BBQ, a legendary local institution (my Dad used to go there when he was in high school) that I consider to be the pinnacle of the Carolina barbecue experience. Mmmmm . . . salivating just thinking about it! Then I’m headed to Minneapolis, where I will meet up with Marcia for some family celebrations around her sister’s 75th Birthday. And from there, I’m flying on alone to Annapolis for a book signing with my co-author, Jim McNeal, of our Side by Side in Eternity: The Lives Behind Adjacent American Military Graves, in conjunction with the epic annual Herndon Climb. If any of my Navy peeps are going to be on the Yard for Herndon, do track me down and say “howdy,” please and thanks, as I’d love to catch up in person. And for those who have read and enjoyed the book, a respectful request (again) to say that Jim and I would be most appreciative if you’re able and willing to review it Amazon, or on your own websites, or anyplace else. Those blurbs are helpful to marketing future projects, so we’re looking to build a nice catalog thereof.

4. Speaking of future book projects, I’ve received the proof print copy of Ubulembu and Other Stories, which won the 2023 Unleash Creatives Book Prize, and am busy doing a detailed re-read to catch any nit typos or errors that I’ve made and missed along the way. It’s very satisfying to hold it in hand, and I love the layout and design that Jen and Chris at Unleash Press have created for the book. It’s already up for pre-order on Amazon Prime and Barnes and Noble, with a target print release date of August 1, and an eBook release on September 1. Very exciting to be so close to having it out!

It’s a book! With an awesome cover! (That’s a lichen, if you’re wondering).

We Strive for Excellence

1. In my prior post, I celebrated the best new music of 2023’s First Quarter, including a special nod for Buggy Jive‘s outstanding new single, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” Buggy had written the song about the thought processes behind submitting a song to NPR’s acclaimed Tiny Desk Concerts series, then he submitted same song to said contest, because of course he did. And, no surprise here, given how wildly crazy I’ve been about his work over the years, NPR has warmly embraced it through the ongoing review process of over 6,000 submissions, featuring it prominently in a pair of promotional videos. Here’s the most recent one of those, its first third scored to those sweet and mellifluous Buggy stylings:

The winner of this year’s contest will be announced on May 11. Which happens to be this brilliant soul-rock singer-songwriter’s birthday. I hope and think everything’s coming up Buggy in 2023. Wishing him all best in the weeks ahead (and beyond), and am thrilled to pieces to see his fine work getting this level of attention. He deserves it, for sure.

2. I’ve been communicating closely with, and remain most impressed by, the team at Unleash Creatives as we work to bring my forthcoming collection Ubulembu and Other Stories to market in late summer/early autumn 2023. Jen Knox, Chris Shanahan, and their Unleash Press colleagues are a vibrant and creative and fun bunch, right up my alley, and they place a high value on building community among the writers they represent and publish, which also does my heart good, as a networking fiend. As we move toward the final proof stage of the process, Ubulembu has begun appearing as a pre-order on the various and myriad online bookselling platforms, which is exciting. Even more exciting: Seeing the cover concept coming together, wow! The aesthetic is right up my alley, as those of you who used to receive my black Christmas cards every year may well imagine, and the imagery is deeply meaningful to the title story, even if you don’t know what you’re looking at before reading. Behold!

I’ll obviously provide additional information on ordering as we get closer to publication date, with thanks in advance to any and all of you who choose to acquire it. It is a thrill to know that these stories will be finally set before a wide audience this year, in some cases after they’ve been sitting on my computers for decades. Slow and steady and such, yeah?

3. Also on the writing front, Side by Side in Eternity: The Lives Behind Adjacent American Military Graves is trucking along nicely in its post-publication life cycle. I have a few signed copies left here at the homestead, so if you’re interested in one of those, hit me up, sooner rather than later. For my Naval Academy peeps: I’ll be doing a signing with my co-author, Jim McNeal, in Annapolis on May 17, the day of the annual Herndon Climb. Hope to see some of you there! There will also be a local event in Sedona in September, and we are exploring some other options to discuss and present our work in other in-person or online settings. We’re both happy to present the project if you’ve got any virtual or meat-space opportunities to suggest. If you’ve read Side by Side in Eternity and posted thoughts about it anywhere, do share those with us, please and thanks, as we are working to acquire and assemble blurbs and reviews. We are still hard at work on our next book, Crucibles: History’s Most Formidable Rites of Passage, for Agate Publishing, and it’s been a fascinating and enjoyable process thus far. We’ve already written about our 1982-83 Plebe Year experiences together at the Naval Academy, and also about the French Foreign Legion, the Dahomey Amazons, the Koa (warriors) of Hawai’i, and the Shaolin Monks. We have another 14 chapters coming in the year ahead, plus our analytical synthesis of centuries’ worth of elite society trials, ostensibly to frame what works, what doesn’t, what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s just mystifying and fantastic and fun. It’s a great project, if I say so myself, and Jim and I are very appreciative for Doug Siebold at Agate and Mark Gottlieb at Trident Media Group, who saw its potential and share our enthusiasm for the work. Thanks, guys!

4. I’ve mentioned before that I’m back on Facebook, ennhhh, as a necessary evil for various promotional activities in 2023 and beyond. Since I spend much of my free time these days hiking, I’ve been doing little “photo essay” reports of various routes there, which people seem to be enjoying. One thing that I’ve noticed with all of the photography I do hereabouts is that it’s really, really difficult to communicate a sense of the scale of the rock formations within which we live and play. I’m a reasonably strong and accomplished hiker, and there are a lot of places I go which are struggles, up close and personal, but which in pictures look, well, too easy, I guess. If pressed to name my favorite hike in this area, it’s a loop that I do up to a summit that I can see from our back porch. It’s a tough one, but totally worth it. I decided to do something of a step-by-step documentation of it the last time I was up there, and posted it as its own Flickr album to see if it did a better job of communicating the scale we experience here. If you click on the first picture and then scroll through the rest, I’ve captioned each one to explain what you’re looking at in each case. I’m not sure that it does a better job of showing the bigness and majesty that I feel being in it in real time, but you can click the summit photo below if you’re interested in seeing it and deciding yourself. If you come visit me, I’ll likely propose we do it together. So be prepared.

5. And finally, speaking of hiking: Marcia and I have just booked a 14-day trek through the Alps for August-September, leaving from Munich, crossing Austria, and ending up in Venice. Want to join us? You can do it here. It would be a blast to experience it with friends!

Crucial Velocity

1. Marcia and I returned yesterday from a quick trip to New Orleans. I went on behalf of TREE Fund to help conduct finalist interviews for the President/CEO position, my former job until 2019, and the one I’ve been filling again on an interim basis since last December. Marcia came with me because we’ve both been to New Orleans on our own for work over the years, but we’ve never visited it together. It was a good and fun and productive trip. On the work side, we hope to be announcing the new TREE Fund President/CEO within the next couple of weeks. On the personal side, we got a lot of good walks in, and ate some truly amazing meals, all of them involving various types of crustaceans, which pleased my belly immensely. Of particular culinary note, if you find yourself looking for a meal in New Orleans, were Luke, Toast (for brunch), and Seafood Sally’s. We also visited the New Orleans Jazz Museum and the National World War II Museum, both worth the time and attention. I snapped some pics along the way, as I do, and if you’d like to see our photo album, you can click on the mid-meal scene from our first night’s dinner at Seafood Sally’s. Messy good deliciousness, just so.

When the dinner table features a roll of paper towels, a plastic pitcher, and a bucket, then I know I am where I am meant to be. Mmm mmm good!!!

2. On the writing-related front, things are trucking along very nicely with Unleash Press toward an October 2023 release of Ubulembu and Other Stories. I’ve seen the cover art mock-up and I love it, so will be most excited to have it out for your delectation this autumn. The roll-out for Side by Side in Eternity continues to go well. As I’ve noted before, if you’ve acquired it, thank you! If you’ve read it, even bigger thanks! And if you enjoyed it and would be able and willing to leave a review on the book-buying or personal platform of your choice, Jim (my co-author) and I would be most tickled, indeed. I do still have 11 copies of the book here that are signed by Jim and I. If you’d like to have one of those autographed copies for your personal library, hit me up by email and I’ll be happy to get it off to you, pronto.

3. I’ve typically done a “Best Music of the Year (Half-Way)” type post each summer, highlighting the first six months of each year’s offerings as an interim step toward my annual Albums of the Year report. 2023 has started on a super-strong front to my ears, so I think I’m going to mix it up a bit with a quarterly interim report instead. For January to March, here’s what’s been rocking my world the hardest:


  • Gina Birch, I Play My Bass Loud
  • David Brewis, The Soft Struggles
  • John Cale, Mercy
  • Fever Ray, Radical Romantics
  • Steve Mason, Brothers & Sisters
  • Caroline Polachek, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
  • Iggy Pop, Every Loser
  • Yves Tumor, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
  • Uriah Heep, Chaos & Colour
  • Young Fathers, Heavy Heavy
  • Andy White and Tim Finn, AT


  • Buggy Jive, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”
  • David J, “Quelle Tristesse” / “Vienna Song”
  • Mammoth WVH, “Another Celebration at the End of the World”
  • Public Image Ltd., “Hawaii”
  • Sparks, “The Girl is Crying in Her Latte”
  • Bartees Strange, “Tisched Off” / “Keekee’in”

Since I’m still caving to streaming (grumble), I’ve created a playlist if you’d like to sample one cut from each of these releases, below. Enjoy them, and let me know what else I might have missed over the past three months!


4. I must point out a sad note and a glad note related to songs in that prior playlist. The sad news first: Public Image Ltd’s (PiL) “Hawaii” single was released as a love song for Nora Forster, the wife since 1979 of PiL front-man John Lydon. Nora has been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years, and this beautiful song was crafted as an ode to a memorable vacation that John and Nora spent in Hawai’i, even as Nora’s memories of it, and many other things, were fading. Lydon has been Nora’s primary caregiver throughout her devastating illness, and this song (among other activities) were John’s way of preserving Nora’s dignity, celebrating her life, and heightening awareness of Alzheimer’s impact on those living with the disease, and those caring for them. I was sad to read yesterday that Nora has finally succumbed to her disease at the age of 80. “Hawaii” is a beautiful ode to the long power of their partnership, a mature love song written in the waning days of a life-long romance, not in the passionate throes of its early moments. I can’t think of a lot of other songs crafted from that perspective, with Kurt Weill’s “September Song” (best performed by Willie Nelson, to these ears) as perhaps the exemplar of the idiom. Until “Hawaii.” RIP to Nora Forster, and all affection to John Lydon in the dark and lonelier days ahead of him. His dedication to his wife, though better and worse, in sickness and in health, moves me. Here’s the video for this most sad and special song:

On a happier front, Buggy Jive’s “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” was created for and entered into NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, and yesterday, the judges highlighted nine favorites (out of over 6,000 entries) from their rating and screening process. Guess what? Buggy Jive is one of them. This year’s winner will be announced in May, and I would be tickled pink to have Buggy earn that most well-deserved honor. I’ve counted him as a genius since first being exposed to his work in Albany in the ’90s, and it is thrilling to see him getting this level of acknowledgment and recognition. Go Buggy Jive! I’m cheering and rooting for you, with all that I’ve got! Here’s the video of the song, which is typically fantastic, discussing the whole Tiny Desk concept while participating in the same, meta upon meta upon meta. Plus, Buggy gets his very best band together again for this special performance, worth seeing them work their formidable chops. Oh, and The LORD makes a special appearance, which is always a good thing. Love it!

Writing News: And the Hits Keep Coming

This nice little blurb appeared on Publishers Marketplace yesterday . . .

Needless to say, I’m delighted by this fabulous turn of events, and glad to know that I have another outlet in the pipeline for the story-based nonfiction/history work that I do with my writing partner, Jim McNeal. Our shared experience of Plebe Year at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982-83 is a key framing device of the book, so it was interesting to revisit that, 40+ years on, trying to process not only what we did and learned, but what worked and what didn’t within the experience. Our goal in this project is to evaluate ~20 other crucibles deployed by elite organizations throughout history, then to synthesize our findings into an evaluation of how present and future organizations can create, implement, maintain, or abolish (as appropriate) their own tests and crucibles. We’re about 25,000 words into the project already, and have found it fascinating research and writing thus far.

Jim and I are very grateful to our fantastic agent, Mark Gottlieb at Trident Media Group, for his enthusiasm for our project and his fine work in placing it. I met Mark while at the Writing Workshop Hawai’i, and that has proven to be a transformational professional experience. I learned a lot while there, established some great networking connections, and was able to present my work to people who could help me make it better, before bringing it to market. Thanks on that front to the wonderful Ying Compestine as well for her expert advice at the Workshop, side-by-side with Mark’s, on how best to proceed with my parallel fiction and nonfiction activities. As it turns out, with their sage counsel and support, both of my creative lines will now be advancing to the marketplace of ideas, which is deeply gratifying to me. Win, win, win. I most strongly recommend exploring Writing Workshops‘ other offerings if you are at a point in your creative journey where such connections and learning could be of value to you. Plus, the workshop was super fun and I met some great people, so that’s always a bonus!

I’m also delighted that we’ve found a home for Crucibles with Agate Publishing. Jim and I had the chance to talk with the house’s Founder and President, Doug Siebold, before the offer and deal came to fruition. We deeply appreciated his embrace of our concept, his vision for it within his publishing portfolio, and his overall approach to forging a creative corporate culture that’s anchored not only in bringing meaningful works to market, but in doing so from within an inclusive, diverse, and socially conscious business model. Plus, he’s based in the greater Chicago area, which pleases me, given how creatively resonant my time in the City of the Big Shoulders remains for me. Once again: win, win, win!

2023 continues to be a banner, pinch-myself sort of writing year, with this latest news building on this and this. And it’s still only March, so who knows what’s yet to come. Watch this space . . .