Friday, September 30, 2005

The PWLGC Effect

Last month, I told you about an enjoyable open house at one of my favorite civic institutions, the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, where I periodically
teach. You may recall that I also mentioned two of my blogger pals were there--Jeff Hess and Chas Rich, who expertly kept a close watch over the beer supply while chatting amiably on the porch. These guys have been busy ever since, scooping up attention, both local and national. On Monday, I told you about Chas being named a national finalist by the Online News Association (check out his reaction here). And now Scene Magazine, which not long ago drew the ire of some bloggers for a largely meaningless throw-away line about most local blogs being "banal," has just named Jeff Hess's as the best local weblog. Since the item's not online, here's what they said: may get more press, but Jeff Hess' is terabytes above the local competition. His daily posts remind the public of Cleveland controversies long after the local media gets bored and moves on. His continuing series on grassroots efforts to keep Wal-Mart from swallowing every Ohio town is fascinating and more in-depth than anything in the dailes. While this East Side educator's left-wing philosophy comes off as heavy-handed at times, he does his best not to take himself too seriously--he'll often post haiku or bumper stickers for a quick laugh, or links to weird news from around the world. If you're wondering what's happening behind the scenes in Cleveland or how our town is connected to national news stories, this site is a must-surf.
Of course, I'm mostly teasing about there being any relationship between their appearance at a PWLGC event and their winning awards and attention, but for me it does point up the importance of bloggers to get out of the blogger ghetto occasionally and be part of the larger writing community. It perhaps means dropping one's post-adolescent anger at the mainstream media (however well-deserved that is occasionally), but I can almost guarantee it will prove valuable in the end. And I know it's good for the region and its creative milieu to have all these sharp minds and warm souls mixing together more frequently. As it happens, there's another open house at the Literary Center in Fairhill this very evening, from 6:30 to 9:30 (directions are here). Dubbed Writer's Night out at the Lit, it offers the chance to rub elbows with some famous and not-so-famous names in the writing community, all for a mere $5 donation (which includes wine and other refreshments). Where else will you find a deal like that to kick off your weekend? Here's hoping both Jeff and Chas will be on hand again, along with lots more of my blogging, writing and journalism pals. Whether these fellows make it or not, we'll be raising a glass in celebration of their accolades.

Last-Minute Notice on Tomorrow's Writing Seminar. Sorry, I've been bad. The fall season has been packed with lots of writing, travel and speaking and teaching, and I haven't been good about telling you about any of the latter. Last week, I was at the Lakeland Community College semi-annual
writers conference, leading a session on how writers can better leverage the Internet. Earlier this month I did a two-evening class on deepening your craft at the PWLGC. Tomorrow, Saturday, I'll be speaking at an all-day writer's conference at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma. It's a special place for me, because the Jesuits have been a central influence shaping my life, my faith and my work. And since stumbling over this group, the (largely westside-based) Skyline Writers, last year when checking into the Retreat House as a venue for writing classes, I've become close friends with its president, Claudia Taller. By day, she's a high-powered legal talent who drafts the language governing giant corporate mergers, and in her off-hours she writes splendidly and generally follows the dictates of her hero Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. In fact, Claudia and I had a chance to collaborate on something else recently, a radio appearance on a book-talk program (more about which later). Anyway, if you're free tomorrow and have an interest, do consider coming to this event. In fact, if you show up at the door and identify yourself as a friend of Working With Words, you'll receive a discounted registration.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Need a Crack Designer? Just Give Me a Holler

I wear several hats, but one of my favorite (and possibly most important) is as an informal talent agent, a service for which I've never charged, but which I tend to pursue with great relish. Why? That's easy--I'm blessed to know some impossibly gifted creatives who are far too modest about their accomplishments when it comes time to find their next gig. So I like to fill the void and shout on their behalf. My current project is on behalf of an old friend, Clarence M., an impossibly gifted print designer, hip-hop poet and man about town. Clarence has deep experience in all manner of print design, from book jackets to company logos to magazines (he was the chief designer of the late, great bible of literate protest, Urban Dialect, and was once art director for the Free Times). If you or anyone you know has a need for such a jewel, I hope you'll give me a holler. A lavish lunch goes to the Working With Words reader who passes along the tip resulting in a successful match.

UCI's Terri Brown headed for Nat City. We hear that University Circle's executive director Terri Hamilton Brown, often rumored to be interested in running for mayor of Cleveland some day, is leaving for a new job as head of diversity at National City Bank. That sounds like a good fit for a woman who always seemed in a little over her head representing UCI. In this memorable interview, she was asked a routine question about the Circle's founding vision. Her response: "I'm not that much of a historian." This time, Terri, just do a little bit of background reading on your new employer so you can sound at least moderately informed.

Gunlocke's Latest Musings. My friend Bill Gunlocke, founder of Cleveland's first and still best alt-weekly, the Cleveland Edition, now lives in Manhattan, where his impossibly hungry mind has found its proper outlet. On a trip in April, I had the good fortune of staying with him and spending hours wandering around bookstores, walking the streets of Soho, the Village and the lower east side and talking about life and family and reading. Always, when you're with Bill, there will be hours of talk about writing and reading. He's the hungriest reader I've ever known, which is saying something. He once told me he was so eager to publish and share with readers so many of Cleveland's best writers that he could never get enough budget or pages to do half of what he wanted.

His friends regularly marvel over how well-informed he remains on the Cleveland writing and journalism scene despite not having lived here for some years. His secret, of course, is that he stays in regular touch with lots of well-informed people who fondly still hold him in high regard as a friend and mentor. Among them is Angle Magazine co-founder Amy Sparks. While on WCPN's Around Noon program some months ago, she nicely tipped her cap to Bill as a a crucial person in the development of her career. So it's not surprising that she makes sure that his byline periodically appears in Angle. She also makes sure her fellow editors go lightly on the changes, lest they fool with his signature style, familiar to readers of his weekly editorials from years past. Bill's latest Angle essay is an interesting rumination on how a Catholic kid came to revere so many Jewish novelists. And if you don't already subscribe to Angle, please consider doing so. It's a certified jewel on a local media landscape in desperate need of several more such quality pubs.

The Edition, by the way, has its own entry in the excellent Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. One Cleveland's Lev Gonick reports that he has had discussions with the encyclopedia editors about helping to sharpen their web outreach. Armed with wiki pages, they'll be able to invite a larger group of knowledgeable professional and amateur local historians to submit information for possible use in the next edition of the encyclopedia. Stay tuned for more details about that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

WaPo's Magazine Reader Reviews the Good, Bad & Ugly

The Washington Post's Peter Carlson, a.k.a. Magazine Reader, has a great job. He reads and reviews magazines for a living. And as "Mr. Magazine" Samir Husni (a journalism professor in Mississippi who has carved himself a career as a regular quotemeister) observes, Carlson is unlikely to ever run out of new ones to review, since would-be publishers are forever ignoring the long odds against success in this industry. Unfortunately, most of these new magazines are ill-advised, little more than vanity presses for their owners. Today Carlson expertly carves up a trio of idiotic new entrants to the local Washington magazine rack, including one that boasts it will never run a negative restaurant review or any investigative journalism. How honest of them--most pubs these days have similar policies, but they keep it to themselves.
Carlson isn't always negative. Not by any means. I spoke with him by phone briefly a few years ago, after he had written about Cleveland-based Funny Times, calling it one of America's great lesser-known humor pubs. The monthly humor digest, whose offices are on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, has been the little engine that could for more than 20 years, owned and still operated by a married couple. And I've always been impressed with how Carlson took the time to review such a relatively obscure title.

In fact, he revels in sharing his enthusiasm for obscure magazines, as this Mediabistro interview notes. You can check out some of his work at this archive of his columns.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chas Rich Wins Well-Deserved National Honors

A smart and savvy Cleveland writer, blogger and journalist who has put his legal training to good use in closely analyzing regional news coverage has just been nationally recognized for his fine work. Eastlake-based Chas Rich, a graduate of Case law school and a guy who also writes about his daughter and his beloved Pitt Panthers, has just been recognized by the Online News Association for his Neobabble blog, in the category of online commentary for mid-sized websites. The annual awards, which have become online journalism's most prestigious, are jointly administered by the ONA and the Univ. of Southern California Journalism School, which has been ahead of all other programs (with only the possible exception of NYU's J-school) in recognizing and nurturing online journalism, principally through its always-interesting Online Journalism Review.

This is also a special moment for my friend Denise Polverine, a fellow SPJ board member, who sits on the board of ONA and who no doubt nominated his work for this prize. While is a regular target for abuse from local bloggers (often deservedly so) Neobabble is the direct result of her facing criticism head-on. Several months ago Denise attended a blogger meet-up, buying a few rounds of beers for the rabble and listening to complaints about the site. She had an ulterior motive for braving abuse: she was looking for a few bloggers to add to her lineup, and Chas was the prize catch that day. His site (whose name still strikes many, including me, as at least faintly disrespectful of the entire blog form) is often promoted as the marquee blog on the blog section. Chas's new gig momentarily unnerved our friend George of BFD, who was worried that his role as the hub would be eclipsed (at it turned out, nothing of the sort happened). Chas is an innovator. In a classic bit of blogger innovation, he has worked out his own system for allowing readers to comment on Neobabble, since offers no such capability. He simply refers would-be commenters to his legacy blog, where he posts their comments.

I hereby move that the next gathering of local bloggers be devoted to a celebration for the Sardonic One, our friend Chas.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

March on Washington 2005

The old lefties were out in force, of course, along with the peaceniks and the Palestinian sympathizers and the professional rabble rousers sporting crimson Che Guevara T-shirts. But there were also thousands of soccer moms and well-scrubbed college students and earnest young married couples carting the kiddies. There were hundreds of scantily clad teen girls with "make love not war" emblazoned in magic marker on their backs. But also a doe-eyed young woman with a "wholesome Midwestern girl" T-shirt.

The Ellipse area south of the White House is a gigantic open area, a place whose broad dimensions are a testament to designer Pierre L'Enfant's visionary sense that a reclaimed swampland would one day serve as a front porch for a massive continental empire. In my 20s, I used to play weekly softball on these very grounds. In the outfield, you'd crouch awaiting the ball, with the White House in the middle distance in front of you, and as you turned to go back on a long hit, the Washington Monument would be over your shoulder. Wheel to throw the ball back into the infield, and you'd get a quick glimpse of the Lincoln Monument. Sometimes it was hard to keep one's attention on the game. Even after several years, I never got blase about the surroundings. It was always special.

Today, that ellipse was crammed with Americans who came together with Cindy Sheehan and Jesse Jackson to take the anti-war message to Bush, from a distance he couldn't miss. Around noon, they massed into a mile-long ribbon for a slow march to the White House. I was set to head down to Crawford, Texas a month ago, even had my Amtrak tickets reserved. I was curious about this mother of the dead soldier who had finally managed to touch a chord and coalesce the anti-war movement, so I wanted to see for myself the spectacle that had gathered around her. But then she had to head back to the west coast to tend to her sick mom. So instead I headed to Washington for today's culminating march--half as observer and half as participant, I suppose. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by an old writing comrade who lives in D.C., Bill, a veteran of more than his share of political protests and marches.

It helps to be tall and to have sharp elbows in these situations. Much of the time I was able to work my way up to the front of the action, and take some pictures from point blank range. I'll post some more of those photos later.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Words To Live (and Write) By

'There's only one person a writer should listen to, pay any attention to. It's not any damn critic. It's the reader.'
--William Styron

'However great a man's natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.'

'I was a writing fool when I was 11 years old, and have been tapering off ever since.'
--E.B. White.