Since I discovered podcasts two years ago, I frankly can’t imagine listening to the radio anymore. Almost anything or anyone I want to listen to, I can find by subject matter and download for free to my iPhone or iPad from iTunes. (You can also download many podcasts directly from their respective websites.) I can be entertained, learn amazing new things or laugh out loud as I drive around town or up the coast, cycle, or walk around Los Angeles. Continue reading
This happened on the Academy Awards way back in February of this year, but it hasn’t lost its impact. While everyone else was busy thanking some deity, producer, director, or dress designer, Graham Moore had Academy members standing on their feet cheering. To take a line from his brilliant and deserving screenplay:
“Sometimes it’s the people no one expects anything from who do the things no one expects,”
Well said. It’s the people who take the risks, who dare to think differently who change the world. Or perhaps, manage to put a dent in the universe.
If you’re ever traveling between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, make a little jog off Highway 101 at Ventura and head 16 miles north to the tiny city of Ojai. Most people stop here for the city’s New-Age veneer, mountain vistas and almost-too-precious Spanish-style shopping arcade.
But that’s just the icing on the cake. For me, it’s Bart’s Books.
Basically, the owners of Bart’s books just removed the doors and windows from an old ranch house and put books everywhere they could fit. Inside rooms, under protective eaves, in what was probably an old porch or carport.
What makes it wonderful is a combination of things. First, all the books here are great. No junk. There are no trashy diet books for 50 cents with the cover half torn off. Or ghost-written biographies of flash-in-the-pan celebrities for a quarter. You’ll find Carl Hiaasen, Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Franzen, Steven Hawking, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Kinky Friedman, Christopher Moore. (My favorites in the fiction and science-fiction sections.) Brian Greene, Richard Dawkins, Roger Penrose, Christopher Hitchens in the various non-fiction areas.
Even better, most books sell for about $7, making it easy for me to indulge in my one substance abuse problem: buying more books than I can possibly read. Mass-market paperbacks are even less. I found Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye for $1.50.
My cherished section is the employee favorites, which recently moved to the right of the cashier desk. To the left is the Most Requested and Recently Published sections–also good places to look. Don’t forget to check them out. And inside, to the right of the front desk, is a small section of new books and first editions (cookbook too).
Second, as opposed to another great used book store up the road which I love (The Phoenix in San Luis Obispo), everything at Bart’s books is rigorously shelved in alphabetical order. No piles of books on the floor to rifle through in order to find something.
There’s even a decent kid’s section.
What makes it all come together is the fact that it’s mostly outdoors. And right in town. While you browse in the eternal sunshine of Ojai, you can hear red-tail hawks calling or woodpeckers hammering away in the treetops. There’s the requisite, resident cat, Pygmy (short for Pygmalion) that saunters throughout the store and likes to nap on the front desk.
302 W. Matilija
Ojai, CA 93023
I recently finished a manuscript for a sci-fi comedy and sent queries to a handful of literary agents in New York. I marked my calendar at eight weeks, the average time it takes for most agents to respond. Then I waited. And waited.
In the deafening silence, the malevolent spores of doubt landed on damp, fertile ground in my head. The doubts grew and grew, thriving on shaky assumptions, a lack of information, and wild speculation.
Here are the reasons that popped into my brain.
1. My email isn’t working. Things seem to send out with a whoosh from my account, but nothing is coming back. Well, things do come back. Emails from a representative of the United Nations informing me that I have a titanic inheritance waiting for me in Nairobi. Or amazing investment opportunities involving car engines that run on avocados. Those seem to sail clear through to my inbox. But emails from agents with seven-figure contracts are getting hung up somewhere on the Internet.
2. The agents I contacted had terrible accidents between the time I sent them my query and today. This leads to a bigger problem. One agent I can understand. But all 10 of them? I come up with an answer: they were all on a skiing trip in the Himalayas. Avalanche probably. Or they were victims of a Great White shark attack while snorkeling in a group off Cabo San Lucas.
3. The Many Worlds Interpretation is at play here. The instant I sent out my manuscript, the universe split in two. In one universe, all the agents received my work, loved it, fought to represent me, and the winner secured a seven-figure contract from a top publisher. Unfortunately, I live in the other universe.
4. We’re all just living in a matrix-like simulation, our brains being fed a faux reality from a system of advanced supercomputers while our brains bob up and down in oversized beakers. Since nothing is really real, then what does anything matter? Your manuscript isn’t real. The agents aren’t real. Why worry?
Then a miracle happened. Within a hour of sending out my 11th query, an agent with an impressive list of writers responded, asking for a synopsis and 50 pages of my manuscript.
I sent everything out via email.
I’m back to waiting.
But at least I have a smile on my face this time around.
Videogames, smartphones and tablets were supposed to kill off books. Young readers would no doubt abandon books for anything electronic.
Browsing the Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica yesterday, I got a different view of the future. Teens and Young Adult readers now have their own tables and sections. Publishers have entire divisions dedicated to them. Kids today might be the most tech-savvy generation yet, but they apparently have a taste for a good old-fashioned story.
If you’ve never seen this video, watch the first 11 minutes of this speech given at Harvard University. JK Rowling hits it out of the ballpark, talking how the epic failure in her life led her to put all her energy into the only work that mattered to her. Harry Potter was the result.
I listen to this speech when I need a good boost and to remind me that leaving real estate to concentrate on my writing was a blessing in disguise.
This website is about my favorite things: the universe, humor and writing. It doesn’t mean that from time to time I won’t blog about quantum mechanics, the absurdity of everyday life, the insanity of human behavior, platypuses, barnacles, kerfuffles, and great books you simply must read. It depends on whatever shiny object catches my attention. You never can tell. Stay tuned.