Archive for the ‘Progress Report’ Category

Progress Report #117

September 13, 2018

Today marked a milestone in my long journey to get my memoir Street Song out to readers. I handed a spiral bound copy of it to my agent. She reads it now and starts looking for a publisher. (Contrary to what a lot of people assume, I don’t have a contract.) It’s a real relief to get that child out the door. Twelve and a half years of isolation and preoccupation. It’s the last time I do that! We’ll see what happens now.

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Progress Report #116

June 21, 2018

Question: Now that you’ve finished your book, what’s going to happen?

Answer: Actually, I’m working on it some more…I decided to take one last pass, a final read through before handing it off to my agent. It was a smart decision. I’m cleaning up some bad edits and improving the flow. No heavy lifting, though. It’s done in the sense that there’s no more creating to do. Just pruning. I’m also waiting to hear from some readers to whom I’ve given the manuscript. Street Song is not like any book I’ve ever read and I want to get a sense of how various types of people might respond. After my agent gets the book, I intend to start posting to my blog here with more regularity and in greater depth than I’ve been doing. I have some ideas that are more complex and detailed than what one can put on Facebook, and I want to get into them. By August at the latest.

Progress Report #115

May 11, 2018

Finished

I finished Street Song yesterday—a huge relief for my poor weary skull. There’s still work to do, though. If I were to compare Street Song to a head of lettuce, I’ve grown and then picked the head. Now I manicure it—pull off a few of the outer, funky leaves—and find a buyer. In prosaic terms, I’m going to make some print on demand copies so that I can look at it as a real book, make a few minor changes, and then look for a publisher. But for the next few days I’m going to do whatever I feel like doing—something I haven’t really done in more than 12 years.

Progress Report #114

April 6, 2018

So where’s the book? I’m currently making my last pass through, cutting certain things (small things), modifying the language here and there, and changing names. I just finished Chapter 14 and have 28 more to go. Usually I get one chapter done per day, but sometimes half a chapter, and occasionally two chapters. I can see the end now, but it doesn’t invigorate me. I’ve just entered my 13th year working on this and I’m tired. Instead of dashing to the end, I stop, catch my breath, rouse myself, and start forward again. When I began writing one part of me wanted to say everything, while another part of me knew that that wasn’t possible. It’s interesting when you have to decide what not to say. I’ll write again when I’m done–a month or so.

Onward and upward.

Progress Report #113

February 16, 2018

I’m currently working on the final chapter of Street Song, which is presenting me with some expected difficulties. The previous 41 chapters, “the story,” were told in a voice where the narrator (me) never knows much beyond what he is experiencing at the time. This was not a plan. Something inside me resisted using the voice of the omniscient narrator. So this final chapter, which I’m calling “The Afterword,” is told by me as I am today looking back at what I’ve been through, explaining certain things, and drawing conclusions. I need thoroughness and concision at the same time. Difficult to do. I hope to be finished by the end of April. We’ll see.

For the last year, I’ve been working on a collection of songs (called Street Songs) to go with the book. The book is fairly saturated with descriptions of and stories about music, and it occurred to me that you can’t really describe music with words. So I approached one of my readers of the work-in-progress, Bruce Kaphan, an outstanding musician, composer (he did the music for Judy’s latest film Pelican Dreams), and recording engineer, and worked out an agreement with him to do some songs in his studio, Niagara Falls. The original intention was to keep things fairly simple— more than just me and my guitar, but not much more. But things have gotten more elaborate. Two songs in particular have a somewhat large sound. I’ve always been curious about how recording works, and I’m getting some good lessons in that regard.

In my late teens and early twenties, I wanted to be a musician (or a rock star, whichever came first), but never got beyond singing in the streets and in bars during band breaks. It’s difficult to explain here how it happened, but I ended up on the street at the same time my musical ambitions ended. But even after I quit playing seriously, I used to go down to City Lights Bookstore and stand in front of the doorway and sing for spare change. One of the songs I used to do was the Bob Dylan song “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” At the time I was quite bereft—even afraid for my life. To me, I was the immigrant in the song—someone who’d left his old life behind but was having grave difficulties finding a new one. I sang it as if I were praying. It’s in the book, and it’s an easy one to play, so it was one of the first songs I recorded over a year ago. It was just me and my guitar, played simply and starkly. At the time, Bruce suggested he add a harmonium (harmonium is a small organ-like keyboard) and a tambourine. I thought it was a perfect idea, but we moved on to other songs and the track was neglected—until yesterday. We finally dusted it off and resumed work. I was expecting the harmonium simply to add a little instrumental texture—sound. But Bruce knows a good deal about harmony and he added extensions to the chords that gave the song colors and feelings it didn’t have before. I was so incredibly moved—laughing sometimes because I was so happy with what he was doing, at the edge of tears sometimes because it was so solemnly beautiful. Very simple, but just right.

Progress Report #112

December 7, 2017

Today I finished the final draft of Chapter 40, which marks the end of the bulk of my story. I have two more chapters, one of which is a brief look at the years following Chapter 40, and another that I’m calling an Afterword—a summing up. But the hard part is over. It’s a very strange feeling to be at this point after having struggled with the material for nearly 12 years. Once I’ve finished 41 and the Afterword I’m going to a print-on-demand company so that I can read it as a bound book. I don’t like reading on a monitor or even on 8 1/2 by 11 manuscript pages. I want to see it as a real book. My main task, I think, will be to look for things I’ve said a few too many times, along with redundancies. So to all those who keep asking me—yes, I am going to finish Street Song. I’m very close now.

Progress Report #111

October 10, 2017

In late July I took a much needed break from my work-in-progress, Street Song, and returned to it in mid-September. I wasn’t feeling quite as fresh as I’d hoped to be, but I do feel better. A lot better. Since resuming work, I’ve finished chapters 34, 35, and 36. That’s a much faster pace than usual, and it’s largely due to some preliminary work I’d done. I started Chapter 37 today. When I finish that I’ll have only six chapters to go. The end is getting closer and closer, and, damn, does that feel good. There’s a temptation to rush through to the end, but I don’t dare. I have to take my time, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, until it’s finished. When I was feeding the parrots there was a point where I couldn’t remember how I felt before my involvement with the flock. It’s the same with the book. I don’t remember what I was like before beginning work on this seemingly endless project. I’ve said this before, but as difficult as it’s been, I feel good about it. Whenever I reread what I’ve written, it feels like an accurate depiction of what I went through. I’ve been saying that I have from 10 months to a year to go, but I feel now that it could be less than that. We’ll see.

For anybody in the area who’s interested, I’ll be reading from the manuscript on November 3rd at the Beat Museum here in North Beach. There will be two other readers, Terry Tarnoff and Phil Cousineau. The reading starts at 7 pm.

Progress Report #110

July 16, 2017
PapaJohn

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.

Office

Progress Report #108

May 15, 2017

ms_in_may

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…