Archive for the ‘Progress Report’ Category

Progress Report #110

July 16, 2017

Papa John Karas “making sure that the fish can swim.”

I’ve started work on Chapter 33 of a planned 43 chapter book. One of the remaining chapters has already been written, which leaves ten chapters to go. Without forcing it, the pace of the writing has accelerated, and even though I’m mostly vacationing between July 31 and September 8, I anticipate finishing within a year. I’m exhausted, but happy with what I’ve been doing.

My favorite aspect of the creative process is the unexpected development that seems to come from a source beyond my own mind—certainly beyond my conscious intentions. Music is a big theme in my book—I used to be a street singer—and you can’t really describe music with words. So I thought it would be a good idea to record a few songs to accompany the book. I’m still in the process of recording, but one stands out already, a song I wrote on the island of Hydra in Greece, when I was 17. It was based on John Karas, the Dean of Boys at my high school. A friend of mine called him Papa John, which is also the name of the song. He wasn’t a flaming liberal, but he was a decent man, friendly to the students during a time when turmoil was spreading through the country. He listened to us. I moved away from the area the day after I graduated, but heard through the grapevine later that the school’s football coach thought Papa John was too lenient, too understanding, and got him fired. Try to do something good and the forces of darkness will work to undermine you. That was the theme of the song. I retired “Papa John” from my repertoire decades ago, but the book brought it back to life. I rearranged it and came up with some musical ideas that I liked a lot. Besides my acoustic guitar and voice, there’s a subtle electric piano and three street horns blowing wild. I love it.

Judy likes the song too, and one day it occurred to me that since I have an in-house filmmaker, I ought to make a music video. So we’re in the middle of that now. We came up with an idea that actually means something to us, so it’s more than a commercial for the book. I won’t be lip-synching. I’m barely in the video at all. The subject of the song, John Karas, died more than a decade ago and never heard it. It’s a real pity. As the last line of the song goes, “I wish the best for you, Papa John.”

Progress Report #109

June 12, 2017

A month or so ago I finished Section 3 of Street Song and saw myself taking a few days off and then rolling into the start of Section 4, which is the final section of the book. It didn’t work that way. My brain revolted. Section 4 marks a real change in the story and is the strangest section in the book. My insides needed a bit of time to make the adjustment. But I’m back now. In fact, I’m almost finished with Chapter 29, the first chapter of the last section. I know how it goes, what voice to use, what approach to take—all the essentials. So this is the last leg of what has been so far an 11 year journey. Probably a year to go. It’s taken a lot out of me. As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s been a much greater struggle than I ever imagined.


Progress Report #108

May 15, 2017


My work-in-progress, Street Song, has four sections. Today, with the completion of Chapter 28, I finished the third section. So I have just one section to go. The light is getting brighter. This last chapter was particularly grueling. Day-to-day reality got in my way a lot—as it tends to do anyway. But I think also that there is an arc to the story that my psyche resonates with as I move through it. As I come to the end of a section (which is never arbitrary) I feel the exhaustion that comes with the end of any period of life. Section Four promises to be the most difficult of the book—15 chapters, most of which are relatively brief, but unusually intense. Strange occurrences call for careful depiction. Otherwise you sound like you made it all up—which I didn’t. But I need a few days r and r first. I’m so tired…

Progress Report #107

February 25, 2017

I have some great news. Last week I discovered that I’m much closer to the end of Street Song than I realized. I have some confidence now that I can get it done in a year. (I’m up to ten and a half years on it.) I didn’t see it before because I’ve been ploughing with my head down. When I paused to inspect the field I figured out that I’d made some miscalculations when I laid out the outline–miscalculations that work in my favor. It’s a big relief, a big burden lifted from me. It has often felt as though I would never finish. I feel reenergized.


Progress Report #106

January 18, 2017

I just finished Chapter 22, which is the last chapter in what I call Section 2 of my work-in-progress, Street Song. There are four sections, so I’m approximately halfway done with this, the final draft. The book takes a real turn at this point, so I’m going to take a short break in order to point my mind in that new direction. I’m also going to be busy over the next few days, walking the streets, protesting Trump’s inauguration.

Trump’s presence creates an interesting development for my work. The period my book describes was a time of crisis and upheaval. But I’ve had to soft-pedal that some because we’ve been passing through a time of decadent languor, which has often made the urgency of that earlier time seem false. Not anymore. I’ll make one last pass through the entire book after I’ve finished this draft and will feel free then to reestablish the crisis atmosphere that was present then. Much of the book is about committing oneself to the great universal ideals, something that’s going to be required of us again—soon.

Progress Report #105

December 7, 2016

The pace of progress on Street Song has picked up substantially, due largely to preparatory work I completed a few years ago. I’ve finished Chapter 18 now and am starting work on Chapter 19, which looks to be another easy one. It starts to get complicated again in Chapter 20, but my years of spending months and months on a single chapter  are over. I don’t intend to start posting the news about every chapter I finish. It’s just that I’m feeling  relief over the progress I’m making and want to share it. As I may have said here once before, the only thing I’ve ever done that was more difficult than writing this book was living out the events that the book depicts.

Progress Report #104

November 28, 2016

This is a essentially an expansion of my last Progress Report.

I’m ten and a half years now into my memoir, Street Song. It’s been ten and a half years of constant work, so obviously it’s been a difficult project. Why take so many years out of one’s life to talk about the past? That’s something I’m still trying to come to grips with. It’s been some comfort to know that there are people eager to read the book. What I want to do here is to explain at some length what I’m trying to do and where I am in the process.

What am I trying to do? The book began with an image I had of myself sitting on the porch of an SRO hotel in North Beach watching people pass by me. I’d had that image for several years before I started work. When I finally started writing, the book went elsewhere, which has always struck me as peculiar. But books write themselves. If you struggle to take it in a direction that your conscious mind prefers, all you encounter is endless conflict. I’d been trying to keep the finished manuscript at around 350 pages, but I see now that it’s going to be longer. I understand why. I was born into a very conventional family in middle America, but I’ve ended up—philosophically, spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, whatever word you want to use—far, far from there. The book traces the nuances of that development. Nothing I say about anything will be understandable or believable unless I show the twists and turns. It’s not that I’ve arrived at some quirky individual mindset that I think might make entertaining reading. I write because, while traveling a highly unusual path, I discovered some fundamental realities that are universally true and have been either forgotten or consciously dismissed by the modern world. They are not my ideas. I believe that if we don’t get back to them we are doomed.

Where am I in the process? I had to do a lot of research before I could even begin writing. I’ve seldom kept any kind of journal, so I had to piece together my past. It was laborious. The research continues to this day—although there is much less to do. When I finally started on the manuscript, I wrote a quick, moderately long first draft. The second draft was nearly 1,000 pages, which I knew was much more than I would ever use. My approach was inspired by the Chinese sage Lao-tse: “If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.” So now I’m on the third and final draft. I have an outline that calls for 48 chapters—although that could get cut down as I move through the manuscript. I’ve completed the first 14 chapters, which I call Section One and regard as the foundation for the rest of the book. It took a long time to find the right balance and compression to build that foundation. I’ve finished Chapter 15, the beginning of “the rest of the book,” and, as I hoped, the writing has sped up considerably. I’m able to bring my Draft Two material straight across and focus on editing it down to a reasonable length. That wasn’t possible with the first fourteen chapters. I’m optimistic that I can go on a roll now. I need to get this book off my plate.

Progress Report #103 (Where is He Now?)

September 7, 2016

I’ve been making good progress. I just finished what I call Section 1, consisting of chapters 1 through 14. That’s between a quarter and a third of the last draft. But I have too much book in this first section. What I intend to do next is read through it and spend some time cutting, compressing, and removing any repetitions that have worked themselves in. Then I move on to chapter 15. The pace is picking up because I’ve reached a point, working from the previous draft, where I’d finally evolved a method that allows me to do more editing now, instead of rewriting. A subtle difference, but an important one. I still have another year to go, but I can see the light.

Sorry to put this up here with so little notice, but I’m reading from Street Song tomorrow, September 8, at the Presidio Officers Club starting at 6 PM. The event is free, but you have to reserve a seat. You can find all the information you need right here.

Progress Report #100

October 4, 2015

A few days ago I returned from a two-week stay at the Mesa Refuge, a writers retreat in Point Reyes Station, California. My stay there enabled me to put some focused work into my book, Street Song. So where do I stand?

I have the first seven chapters of a 49 chapter book essentially finished. Those first seven chapters have taken a great deal of time because, for one thing, while working on them I saw that they contain the kernel of everything that comes later. I had to get them right. Another reason they’ve been difficult is that my initial drafts of those first seven chapters were a mess. I hadn’t yet found my way when I was working on them in the first two drafts. I still have a little bit of work to do on chapter 7. I also have two other chapters finished that come later in the book. They were written to show to potential publishers. My task now should be editing and refining what I’ve already written in previous drafts. They’re reasonably close to how they’ll be in the finished manuscript. So I hope the work will start speeding up now. I’ve been working on this book for over nine years. When I started I never imagined it would take this long. I’m eager to be done with it, but I have to get it right.

Am I happy with the work? Yes. As the Beatles once said, “it’s getting better all the time.” It’s satisfying when you begin to see your lines begin to look clean and deep. I’m on a roll right now and aim to stay on it.

One more thing, I will be reading an entire chapter from the book (one of the later chapters) at the Bauhaus Gallery in North Beach on Sunday, October 25th. The time of the event is from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. I’m one of two featured readers. The Bauhaus Gallery is located at 703 Columbus Avenue here in San Francisco. It’s a fundraiser for the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, so there’s a $10 cover charge. “Refreshments will be provided.”

Progress Report #99

September 17, 2015

Getting to this blog has been like trying to get off a packed subway car. I get an idea and work on it in my mind. But when the train pulls into the station, the doors open and close before I can get out. The crowded car is my work on Street Song. It overwhelms everything. Sometimes I want to give up on this blog, but something inside me won’t allow it. So I’m going to do another progress report.

Tomorrow I leave for the Mesa Refuge, an artists retreat. For two weeks I’ll essentially be taken care of and have the solitude I need to work on this book. It’s been a long and difficult struggle, much longer and much more difficult than I ever dreamed. I’m over nine years into it now with at least one more year to go. I have the first seven chapters essentially done, and two others that come much later in the book in essentially final form. I’m going to use these two weeks to refine that work. Those first seven chapters are the foundation that the rest of the book is built on. They need to be exactly as I want them. The Mesa Refuge is in a rural area, so I’ll have plenty of peace and quiet. Because it’s impossible to work the whole day, I’m taking my bicycle. It’s a beautiful area for both writing and riding. When I come back to San Francisco I should be quite tuned up. I don’t have any interruptions after that and I hope to make strong progress. I hope before the end of the year to have a contract. I’ve been working all this time without one. I’ve been showing Street Song around to a few people, and the responses have been quite favorable. I’m hopeful for this book.

If you live in the San Francisco area, toward the end of October, I’ll be doing a reading from one of the chapters at an art gallery here. Details to come in early October.

Until then, Mark!