Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “October, 2011”

Christopher Moore – As Left Coast As They Get

When Christopher Moore offers a book signing in San Francisco, people flock to hear and meet him. When he launched his last novel, Fool, more than 300 hundred people lined up around the perimeter of Books Inc eager to have him sign copies of their books or to exchange a word. I had gone hoping for a little chat…some chance!

But Moore didn’t become a cult hero in San Francisco because of his parody of Shakespeare (Fool) or even the book that launched him, the irreverent and hilarious tale at the first 30 years of Jesus’ life (Lamb). What has enabled Moore to gain such status here are his three books about vampires in San Francisco.

The Man – as funny in person as on the page.

Please don’t bother if you want to be terrified, or if you seek Stephanie Meyer romance. Christopher Moore wrote the book (excuse the pun)  on how to create characters, bind them to a city, and have people begging for more. This is why I chose to write about him during California Writer’s Week and on Saturday for my “Writer’s Corner.”

At the book launch that I just mentioned, the questions were not about either his latest book or Lamb, it was all about the books that bound him to our city, and why we claim Christopher Moore as one of our authors, even though he lives in SoCal.

A Dirty Job, Bloodsucking Fiends – A Love Story, and (after he released Fool) Bite Me, all contain three vital ingredients: a vivid city, engaging characters, and that extra ingredient – in Moore’s case, his wicked sense of humor.

With such a combination, Christopher Moore came up from Santa Barbara and conquered the heart of our fair city. He deserves his place in my California’ Writer’s Week.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Loser Hippies with Nothing to Say

I’ve been a part of several protests over the years, some with thousands of other people and some with only twenty or so. But I have to admit I don’t like it very much. I get tired of standing around the same real-estate, shouting the same slogans while holding a sign. So while I have been cheering the “occupy” protests on from my couch, I haven’t played much of a part and, like most, I have formed my own image of what these camps of protesters are probably like.

So, just a couple of days ago, I finally paid a visit to, “Occupy Oakland,” (basically an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street) taking place in Frank Ogawa Plaza which has been unofficially renamed, “Oscar Grant Plaza.” I knew, before my visit, that the media had played to the semi-conservative crowd in criticizing the occupy protests as being basically a bunch of disorganized hippies with nothing significant to say. I knew what the media were trying to accomplish and so I knew not to believe it. But I was still somewhat stunned by what I did see.

When I took a walk through the ad-hoc campground at Oscar Grant Plaza, I saw organization everywhere. There was an information center near the entrance with printed information and people to answer questions. Leaning up against the information center was a huge whiteboard with the day’s events listed. Then, as I moved into the camp, I saw the cooking operation – almost military in it’s efficiency if not its appearance. A saw people lined up in a civilized manner, waiting for their food, which had been donated by camp members and other well-wishers and some of it purchased with donations.

Then I spotted – not too far past the garbage and recycling center, the library. As you might imagine, the library did not contain the collected works of Shakespeare, but mostly political books and information. Outside the library, was the energy center. A guy was riding a stationary bicycle, rigged to a small generator that powered laptop computers and several other devices. There was a schedule of riders such that someone would always be pedalling and keeping the camp alive and connected. Next to the library was the supply tent. In front was a big chalkboard listing the items needed by the camp. Inside were the things that had been donated but not given out yet. There is no money exchanged in an of this. Have – give. Need – get.

Then I took a walk through the middle of the “residential” tent area. The path had been “paved” with wooden pallets so as not to turn to mud and leave the grass destroyed. Signs were posted along the way saying that quiet time began at midnight. Near the end of the pallet path was a first-aid booth. There was an EMT on hand and the booth was, at the moment, manned by a guy that had been trained as a back-country medic of some sort. The booth looked like a little drug store, with lots of bandages and the like. While I was standing there one of the supply guys came up with some pain-killers, Advil, Tylenol, etc., that had been donated.

As I was walking around I talked to a few people. They were not homeless. They could go home to their apartments or houses if they wanted to, but the chose to be here at Oscar Grant Plaza. This and the other qualities of the camp that I had observed led me to beleive that this was a movement – not just a protest, and certainly not a cool new fad. These people are in it for the long haul and that’s exactly what is needed. If they give in to the various pressures, the movement will accomplish nothing. The “establishment,” as it is known, has shown in no uncertain terms its anxiousness to ignore, dismiss, and even accuse this group. “They are the losers of society,” I have actually heard on the news.

Take a walk into an established “Occupy” camp. These people are anything but losers. They’re just not filled with the desire to win at any cost – even at the expense of their neighbors. Cooperation. Comeradery. Consensus. Companionship. I’d call these the goals of winners. I’d say that those are the foundations of a great community and a great way of life. Many have asked, “Will they be successful?” They already have. I’ll ask this: Will we all be successful?

 -Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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California Writer’s Week

Eight years ago, a Joint Legislative Resolution  was passed in Sacramento to recognize California Writer’s Week which begins today. The authors of note include a fine list that we can all be proud of.

Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948) Mary Austin (1868-1934)
Raymond Barrio (1921-1996) Delilah L. Beasley (1872-1934)
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928)
Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) Bret Harte (1836-1902)
Jack London (1876-1916) Joaquin Miller (1837-1913)
William Saroyan (1908-1981) John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
George Sterling (1869-1926) Mark Twain (1835-1910)

But I can’t help feeling that this reinforces the old adage that the only way for an author to be successful is to be a dead author. So I want to spotlight several authors who are alive today and crafting their magic in the Golden State.

My list includes (with no significance to order) Christopher Moore, Kemble Scott, Adam Mansbach, Deborah Majors,  Matt Stewart, Seth Harwood, Tanya Egan Gibson, John Putnam and… I’m sure there are many more.

I realize as I am writing that most of them actually share something in common – they write about San Francisco, or at least Northern California. I guess this is important to me. My next three books will be based here because San Francisco is a magical city that I have fallen in love with, so I guess this makes sense, even though I haven’t connected the two in creating this list.

It's in Black & White.

Therefore, I want to share a few of my favorite local authors with you over the next week, all of whom are alive and can be met at numerous author events that they participate in. Meeting inspiring authors remains a thrill for many of us and perhaps this is a flaw of the newly consecrated California Writer’s Week, that it highlights authors from the past.

So it is slightly ironic that California Writers Week follows Litquake, a San Francisco smorgasbord of literature-related events, apparently based on the premise from USA Today, that San Francisco has the highest per capita consumption of both alcohol and books.

Whatever the reason, it is a great event. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to curl up with a good book and a bottle of wine. How I love San Francisco! Who is your favorite Bay Area author?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

Locked Down

As mentioned previously, my weekend blog post relates to what is happening in either my own or the writing world in general.

I have already blogged about John Locke, congratulating him for becoming the first self-published author to sell one million ebooks. Now Locke has decided to share his business model in a new book – How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! – and it is a great read for anyone in the business.

Locke is an entrepreneur and has already made his money in other ways. He seemed to take as much satisfaction from proving his sales model as he did from writing his novels. In fact when someone commented that it was easier for him because he chose a popular genre (detective), Locke went and wrote two Western novels (considered the most difficult genre to sell) and applied his model to marketing these books.

John Locke

 

I’m not going to give everything away here as Locke deserves your $3 for sharing his ideas. But I do want to focus on one important aspect that is the basis for any measure of success – identifying your target audience.

Who are the people that buy your books? I mean the audience who will consistently purchase, enjoy and recommend your book at the water cooler the following day. In May, a colleague of mine, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth led a workshop on creating a business plan for authors. She also stressed the need to identify your target audience and it was surprising how, even after JoAnn explained why this is important, so many of the participants were resistant to the assumption that everyone wants to read their novels.

JoAnn Smith Ainsworth writes historical romance.

I am spending quite some time defining the characteristics of my target audience and it is not easy. Who are the people that get excited about social injustices in fictional form? What is the profile of the reader drawn to characters who go through a transformational process?

If you have a moment, please help me out here. Whether you are one of my target audience or not, please leave a profile of the sort of person I should be focusing my marketing efforts in the comments below.

On another note: Happy Birthday, Dad – 86 years old today and can still out-foxtrot most on the dance floor.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Look Back At Borders

There is a great article on CNN about the demise of Borders, great as in one of historical value and a look behind the ethos of the company. Although I wrote a tribute to Borders after my final author appearance there, I want to share this story. Employees talk of the pride and mission they felt working there, and the original owners vision.

A sad sight to any eyes

Truth is, I miss my Borders. There were two situated near my home and office respectively, both with convenient parking and I used to peruse when I wanted to buy books for my staff at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover. I created a tradition where I give a gift of a book to each of them that I hope will be meaningful or timely for them and I used to deliberating in a store. This year, I did my search online.

But it is my fault that they collapsed. I am the typical customer who rarely purchased a new book. I often picked up something from the bargain bins for myself or a friend, but that never paid salaries. And yes, I admit that I often used Borders to research books that I then bought used, often on Amazon.

Now I have my kindle (or I will when it gets fixed) and I am truly committed to the ebook revolution, primarily for environmental reasons. I believe the most expensive ebook that I have bought new in a while is $7.99. I bought a couple of YA books for my son (Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowlings) new and in tree book form (we are a one e-reader family), but this is not the pace that the remaining bookstores need.

Joe Gable, right, manage a 1st Borders. Robert Teicher, left, the chain's longtime fiction buyer.

Still, though I have no cause to complain, I miss the sensory experience of Borders: the clean store (and bathrooms), the color, choice, smell, armchairs, and conversations with their committed staff (read my son’s Eragon experience – he will remember that moment forever).

As I mentioned, I am firmly behind the ebook revolution, but I will miss the disappearance of the bookstore if this is their destiny. I understand that my children’s life will be more screen based, but I would like them to share this experience. And yes, I get a kick out of seeing my books on their bookshelves.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Occupy Protest: The Demands – Roger Ingalls

Mainstream media is finally starting to cover the Occupy Protests but their reporting follows a common theme, “it’s a protest without a real purpose or demand”.

Well…here are the demands:

1)      Create a nationalized commercial bank to fund small businesses based on the prime lending rate plus overhead costs. Bank personnel wages and salaries must be similar to government or military pay grades. Most jobs in America are created by small business (70 to 80%). This will create jobs by providing affordable money to small business. The current Wall Street Institutions benefits from selling financial products back and forth to each other and therefore have little interest in small business lending.

2)      Reinstate the business and personal tax rates and codes (including write-offs and loopholes) used in the 1960s. This was a period of prosperity for both the general population and the business community. These tax rates will balance the budget without compromising public services and will stop the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich that has taken place since the early 1980s.

3)      Create a nationalized commercial bank for home ownership based on the prime lending rate plus overhead costs. This will revive the American dream, bring affordable money back to the housing market and separate housing finance from the risky investment banking practiced by Wall Street.

4)      Allow Medicare buy-in for all people regardless of age. This will provide affordable health care for more Americans. It will also bring needed funds to Medicare because the young and healthy will be participating along with the elderly (costs are spread).

5)      No individual person (real or artificial), company, corporation, PAC, Union or special interest group can donate more than $1000 to a political candidate. Organizations cannot be created for the purpose of funding candidates. Organization with multiple business units or multiple businesses owned by an individual or common group of individuals can only make one collective political donation of $1000 per candidate. This will remove the influence big business and special interests have on politicians.

6)      No artificial person, company or corporation can advertise in support or opposition to a candidate (directly or indirectly). This will remove the influence big business and special interests have on politicians.

7)      Political advertisements, candidates, PACs, special interest groups, supporters and opposition groups of ballot issues must maintain an easy-access website that clearly identifies financial contributors. This will remove the influence big business and special interests have on politicians.

8)      No lobbyist can aid a member of congress unless they have not lobbied in the preceding six years. This will remove the influence big business and special interests have on politicians.

Keep the faith, spread the word and keep fighting…it’s a good fight!

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well-traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

 

Who Needs A Tax Break?

The more I read about rich people and big companies who get tax breaks, the more I am coming to the conclusion that the only reason we are not balancing our national budget (I know that is an understatement), is because not everyone is paying tier dues.

Now I accept that there are some who need the extra help – doctors and teachers in areas that go to underserved areas out of a sense of service (Northern Exposure anyone?), but corporate fat cats?

How about those poor deserving millionaires who are designing violent video games? I’m sure these humble citizens are providing a national service. There are a number of examples of different companies as noted by David Kocieniewski in a recent New York Times article.

Here’s a few highlights:

1. Calvin H. Johnson, who has worked at the Treasury Department and is now a tax professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Those tax incentives — a collection of deductions, write-offs and credits mostly devised for other industries in other eras — now make video game production one of the most highly subsidized businesses in the United States.

2. “Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif., shipped more than two million copies of Dead Space 2 in the game’s first week on the market this year. It shows a total of $1.2 billion in global profits the last five years using an accounting method that management says captures its operating profits. But largely because of deferred revenue, deductions for executive stock options and a variety of accounting requirements, the company officially reports a net loss for the period. And the company reports that it paid out $98 million in cash for taxes worldwide in those years.”

3. ” During the last five years, Electronic Arts has claimed tens of millions in tax savings from research and development credits for its various games, according to the company’s regulatory filings. (Company officials declined to specify how much of that total came from the federal government.).”

Most of these tax breaks came about when these companies were just beginning and, as start ups, they needed help. But they reinvested their profits in a sophisticated lobbying system to ensure they keep these benefits.

Helping start ups is an admirable step. However, there needs to be clear limitations in how long this goes on, and a clear understanding that these companies owe a debt to the taxpayer – simply that they pay their taxes in years to come.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Charging for… Not Charging?

The recent move by Bank of America and others to charge people for using their debit cards provides a porthole into the mind of the corporate person. The corporate person is not a real person that works for a corporation, it is the legal entity that the corporation itself has become – especially in light of recent supreme court rulings.

A corporation is, of course, not really a person and should not be legally treated as such. A corporation much more resembles an ant colony – it’s mindless automatons performing whatever task is needed to satisfy the never-ending hunger of the nest.

Corporations are armies raised to seek profit. There are many ways to make a profit, and to increase your profits. The “free market” fantasy professed by so many politicians (and their corporate owners) promotes the good, old-fashioned way – by making something better than your competitors or somehow offering more value to your customers so that consumers buy more of your products/services.

Another way to make more profit is simply to charge more for the product or service that you already offer. Banks know that it’s a pain for customers to change to another bank, and if gradually ALL the banks charge for the things that used to be free, there won’t be any incentive to change anyway.

To a corporation, an incomplete opportunity to make a profit is seen as a cost. Let me say that again, because it’s an important insight into the inherently disfunctional corporate mindset: If there is some way that money COULD be made, but it is not being fully exploited, that it seen as a LOSS.

Through the lens of this contorted thinking, bankers at BofA and other banks realized that they make lots of money when customers use credit cards, but not debit cards. Hmmmm… How to fix this? It’s simple: charge your customers for using their own money.

How do banks and other corporations get away with changing the basic terms of a debit card or other contract? When you enter into an agreement with a corporation, say for a bank account or something like cell-phone service, the contract explicitly states: “This agreement is subject to change.” What???? Well I certainly don’t have the power to change it. Only they can change it and, guess what? It’s never once been to my benefit.

I’m writing my bank now, in type size 2 (here’s an example), and informing them that they are now paying me 99% interest on my deposits – weekly. I’m sure it will work.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Millennials – Another Point-of-View

I wrote a post on Friday about how I see the millennials and paid tribute to their parents. A few people have taken issue with me and claim that I wrote a very one-sided article. Probably true. So today I wish to focus on the other side of the coin. Ironically, the Pew report that I referenced on Friday, has something to substantiate this perspective.

Millennials claim that what sets them apart from previous generations is their relationship with technology. I think they mean that they are better connected to their family and friends, more in touch with cultural changes, and genuinely believe that technology unites rather than isolates people. I do not think we should read anything into the fact that 83% of millennials sleep with their cell phones. I know what you’re thinking!

Social historian Neil Howe disagrees. He sees millennials as sheltered by helicopter parents who wouldn’t even let them go unattended to the park to play. With their parents always there, picking them up from school, driving them to play dates and soccer practice, there should be little reason to wonder why the millennial has sought to leverage technology to build community.

While their parents fought for individual rights and boundaries, the millennial seeks community and acceptance. In many respects, they are more conventional with regard to social mores. “Asked about their life goals, 52% say being a good parent is most important to them, followed by having a successful marriage; 59% think that the trend of more single women having children is bad for society.”

The study also shows that they tend to see the trend of unmarried couples living together as not the optimum solution. Their desire for inclusiveness is well illustrated in that, though they support the institution of marriage, they believe that gay and interracial couple should share the marital experience.

One final point touches my work at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center. There is a general perception that the millennials are not interested in religion, or as one individual told me: “the millennials religion is themselves.” But what the study shows is that the young generation sees itself as spiritual and do pray. What it reveals is that the millennials are not attracted to institutional religion.

I think we can take great hope out of this study. This generation might not be turning out the way the older members of the community are (but then who ever did?), but this is a generation seeking experiences that are meaningful to them and they want to do this as part of a community.

Students are looking for community

Above all, the millennials are incredibly optimistic. This study has left me feeling optimistic too.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Author’s Corner: The Creative Period

I was recently asked in a workshop how I find time to write. I had just surprised the audience when I asserted that I can write a 90,000 novel in 100 days. I have done this twice this year and would keep writing if I didn’t have to attend to marketing and promotion. All this while holding down a challenging full-time job and being an active and involved husband, father and community member.

Finding a couple of hours on a road trip

Many authors have their own personal framework: the sacred space in the house, listening to music, the writer’s retreat, and many more. Whatever works for you is right, but my desk in our kitchen. I swivel my chair around and I am at the dinner table. I can write in coffee shops, on the BART train ride as I commute, while several boys enjoy a rambunctious play-date in our tiny house.

It is a state of mind. When I am writing a novel, I am in an intimate relationship with my characters. Given that I do not plan my novels, I am absorbed in the plot, sharing the thrill of what might happen next, just as my readers and characters do.

I am able to switch off, to leave my characters while I focus at work or home, and switch back on when I have an hour to write. What I do think is important is that I am writing consistently. When I am in the creation process, I must write every day. In fact, I suspect that I can become quite insufferable when I am not keeping up with my characters.

Writing our 1st Fantasy novel on a camping trip - a team effort!

It is an amazing thrill, a rush, to see the novel taking shape under my fingertips. It is what makes the periods between writing so frustrating, and what keeps me coming back for more.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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