November 16, 2012

Abraham Lincoln

Just watched Steven Spielberg's new film, Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis was mesmerizing. More later.

November 14, 2012

Book Sales: Now and Then

I'm very pleased already with how Walkin' Lawton has fared on

I wonder sometimes how my grandfather, John Dos Passos, measured his book sales without the easy aid of the internet.

I supposed that by the 1950s, as he entered the final phase of his career, he had enough books in the marketplace for him to measure their sales via royalty checks. Although each individual book of his probably generated only a few checks a year, his entire list of publications numbered around forty. So maybe he expected a couple checks a month at least.

Things probably evened out in terms of royalties for Dos Passos; one book might sell poorly one month, but be balanced out by another title on the rise.

I was a different time then--for authors, editors, the whole industry. I love the biography A. Scott Berg did of Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins. It's called Max Perkins: Editor of Genius.

Editors like Perkins--per my idealized vision of that era--saw themselves as recruiters and counselors of talent. They genuinely tried to coax the best out of their stable of writers.

Walkin' Lawton Release Nears

Less than a week now until the official release date for Walkin' Lawton: November 20th.

The Capital and Tallahassee magazine have already noted the book and described its relevance to contemporary politics.

More coverage to come! Below is the wonderful promotional art produced by painter and graphic designer Winnie Sidharta for the book.

November 13, 2012

The Appeal of Biography

I think biography was one of the first genres I was ever exposed to as a young adult.

Non-fiction was my first great literary love but it was almost exclusively composed of biological field guides--fish mostly. The Peterson Field Guide to Altantic Fishes was a constant companion of mine as a boy. The book called Sharks & Whales was always close to me.

Sometime during my teenage years, I began to explore government. And biography, to me, was closely intertwined was a genre. My paternal grandmother often had a biography sitting on one of her tables when I would visit as a boy. And my grandfather loved to rehash stories of grand personalities--FDR, Colin Powell, former Virginia U.S. John Warner. 

In high school, when I first read the John Dos Passos trilogy U.S.A., I first began to wonder about what it took to compose biography. I began to marvel at the method.

Big personalities--Big Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs, Woodrow Wilson, Thorstein Veblen--leaped off the page in U.S.A. 

I'll never forget the memories of that first read of U.S.A.,  or the painted image of Big Bill in my mind--looming as large as a real-life Paul Bunyan.

November 12, 2012

Biography Like Film

One of the stylistic goals in Walkin' Lawton was to skillfully--and extensively--use dialogue. I genuinely wanted to create the feeling of a screenplay.

Years ago, I first read All Too Human: A Political Education, by George Stephanopoulos. I was struck by the fluid quality of the story--it read like a novel, not non-fiction. The dialogue was thick and dramatic. One had the feeling of being "in the room" when great decisions were being made. I think there is an episode of The West Wing that is actually called "In the Room," because that physical proximity to power is closely guarded on Capitol Hill and in the White House. On the show, staff people at the White House measure their power sometimes by counting the inches between their desk and the Oval Office.

With Walkin' Lawton, I tried to make each chapter like an episode in a series. They would be connected. Each chapter represented one dimension of a single person. But each episode, in my vision, should be a separate, distinct entity.

I think if Walkin' Lawton were set to music, the soundtrack would play Johnny Cash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Willie Nelson.