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The Man from Johnstown

The Man from Johnstown

My wife and I were roaming around an RV show at the Daytona Speedway yesterday and the older (cantankerous!) gentleman behind the smoke and heat of the hot dogs and hamburgers he was grilling somehow mentioned he was from Johnstown and I about jumped. One of my favorite writers, Erik Larson, cites David McCullough’s book The Johnstown Flood as a great book and one that was influential on him. I’m reading it now and completely understand what was so great about it–I’m about half-way through.

“No kidding!” I said, “I’m reading The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough right now!”

He grimaced–Not sure he was familiar with the book.

“It’s about the flood there,” I said.

“Which one?” he said.

It turns out the small town was plagued by floods before and since. And with the exodus of all the steel work it once had, the town hasn’t apparently grown much in the hundred+ years since the flood which I’m reading about, brought to life very well by McCullough.

And that’s a large part of why I love the non-fiction narratives of McCullough and Larson. I find them exciting, even, and read with a different kind of confidence as they’re based on real life fact and cited. The exception may be the sort of founder of the genre, Truman Capote, who cites no sources with In Cold Blood,, but which, of course, is another great book.

The ability to visit sites written about, and meet people who were there in some way are part of the allure of the “creative non-fiction” genre. But more than that I enjoy the time travel in these books, and the journeys to so many real-life places. I find my sense of history develops as these little islands of historical focus, brought to life in my imagination by research, and by extrapolation of the many human stories, start to expand and their edges touch, and I find I enjoy, more and more, a greater sense of the trek of human civilization, if in a very limited way.

And that makes the present all the more appreciable, if you ask me.

Do you have similar experiences?



Part of the magic of St. Augustine for me–just one part–has always been its mysterious ability to make me feel refreshed and alive again. I didn’t quite know why, I just observed that it did, and that was part of why we keep going back, even talk of moving there or nearby. It has to do at least in part with the rich history. An environment of relaxation helps, too. But I think I realized today why it might be so therapeutic. I’m also becoming more of a naturalist. We just drove through the Smoky Mountains and got to see not only incredible vistas, infinite foliage, exotic mushrooms, cabins from the 1830s (still there), but animals in the wild as well. I plan to do more National Park hopping, as soon as humanly possible.

But the effect the mountains capes had on me was akin to contemplating the ocean. I thought both must be so therapeutic for the perception of space, distance, the expanse. I’m a star-gazer, too. Then it hit me with St. Augustine and other historical sites–the expanse in time must have a similar effect as expanses in space. It might be as simple as the old trick in solving a problem–to contemplate problems similar in size and larger ones, making your seem very surmountable.

In any case, looking at nature and history make me feel good. I might be a little closer to having an idea as to why.

How it all fits with this blog is in thinking about it, and I’ve never seriously blogged before, I realized this blog should be more about appreciating history and other matters I might write about, rather than another how-to site for writers. That area I can discuss on my other site,, which is about writing and publishing books.

The other therapeutic factor, if you ask me, is discovering prior cause. I remember in grade school, the prettiest girl in school broke up with me and she cried. I just wanted to understand why (yet I’m not a cyborg!). I finally did–I was coming on too strong, at least for an eighth grader. I was doing things that would make a working girl float, like interrupting cheerleading practice to give her roses, but at 12, that’s a bit much. But I understood! And I learned from it, and of course, I missed having her as a girlfriend, too.

So when we see the coquina walls all over the Oldest City, when we see the clouds ring the mountains below their peaks, when we happen upon a clear, starry night, and when we finally find out how Perry got that patch on his eye he has always worn, we get a little closer to prior cause, a little closer to truth, a little more understanding of the world around us, and it feels good.

And maybe we at least feel like we understand ourselves a little better in the process, too. I certainly do as I find things that light me up, proving either 48 is the new 30, or we really are here to experience, learn, and develop.

What rejuvenates you?

A Writer’s Life and Tribe

A Writer’s Life and Tribe

The life does include flip flops and lots of coffee, lots of freedom and lots of excitement and pride when you see–when you hold–that book in your hands. And it’s sexy to talk about, of course. I’ve enjoyed certain “titles” along the way (“real estate investor,” “broker,” and so on) and “writer” is right up there. But all bullshit aside, there are lots of challenges, money being the first. If not for the support network around me and a kind of unusually patient wife, I simply would not have made it this far–and I have a long way to go.

Most writers sell something like 20 books nowadays (just grabbed that from the air, but it’s close!), because so much goes into creating a book, many are shocked to find they’ve simply created one more drop in the ocean. Inertia. But inertia can start working in your favor, if you just set your book up for “health” (quality writing, professional design, lots of reviews, and a LONG-TERM commitment and plan). But many fall down at that point. In fairness, lots of people achieve their goal just by having a book. It can be a kind of miracle in terms of professional credibility and as a newfound tool and an ability to reach and engage with people–even without many sales. In fact, I had a pretty savvy professional I had to convince to list his book on Amazon, because he didn’t want the headache of accounting for just a few books sold! And just a few sales was his plan!

But where most writers fall down is after their first book. It seems they had the wrong expectations, and that they lack half the formula for success as an author, which is “list x list,” meaning your list of books published (or “backlist” in the biz) and your list of emails you can promote to. Social media following is helpful as well, but not nearly as good as a list of people who have consciously decided they dig what you’re doing and want to hear from you, and are likely, therefore, to buy and recommend your book. It’s Marketing 101, 2017.

Yet so many dinosaurs and shysters still don’t get it. There are “marketers” who are stuck in the 1980s and think simply (and falsely) acting enthusiastic will compel a simple mind their way, and get them to part with their time or money. Or simple repetition of exposure will do the same. Anachronisms! When the internet destroyed a percentage of real estate salespersons’ practices it was either an inability to adapt or a former reliance on a sort of synthetic exclusivity that was abolished once anyone could find out what was for sale. And when the bubble in Florida burst, hairdressers and lawyers alike who had left their original callings for the easy money in real estate sales went back to their natural habitats, and it was a good thing. Likewise, the agents who remained had to embrace, often for the first time, the fundamentals.

Accumulating the identities of people who are interested in what you do, make, or sell, and satisfying them with things of relevant value are the basics of exchange. Always have been! Technology facilitates that, and exposes the pretenses in the market. It takes money, time, and if you want to move ahead more quickly, both.

So every good writer with a book also needs to “grow their base” while, of course, working on the next book.

This is why my current website is devoted almost solely to finding and connecting with potential fans and friends. I can say that loudly because I have no interest in a simple quantity-based business model. And life is too short. There are plenty of people in this big, fat world who are fans and friends and just don’t know it yet.

Why not find them?

Once you Go Mac . . .

Once you Go Mac . . .

I finally made the leap. I went Mac.

I looked into it a few years ago, but went with the Lenovo I’m typing on, and I still love my Lenovo Flex 2-15. I loved the touchscreen with Windows 8.1, but after years father-like care, my backpack rolled out of the side door of the family van and hit just right, cracking the top right of the screen, leaving just the bottom right portion alive to the touch. Then the “k” key fell off.

I got the Mac for ease of use and longevity, for a long-term relationship and more time writing, editing, designing, and less time cleaning, defragging, defending. I’m surrendering to the overt milieu control Apple pushes, akin to Disney’s efforts to monopolize your vacation time and dollars with hotels, restaurants, attractions, and so far, like Disney, the quality is high and the experience clean and fun.

Maybe I’ll take my family with me.

Secrets Revealed

Secrets Revealed

Both of my mentors, Erik Larsen and David McCullough, say the research is the funnest part. It is. Well, maybe. I reserve the right to switch to saying it’s the launch or the royalties, but in my case the launch of my own first hard-won book title will be a serious thrill, after helping so many others create books of their own. Anyway, on my list of rare books is a set by Rusk, who apparently did the most thorough job about a hundred years ago of compiling letters and journal writings of Emerson. The more popular books on Emerson today offer broad views and some go pretty deep, but Rusk evidently had a somewhat unabridged collection that included the days I’m writing about, when Emerson was 23 in 1827, and all through his time just before, during, and after his few months in St. Augustine, Florida. I couldn’t find Rusk’s series anywhere–Even on eBay the volume I needed (Volume One) was not to be had.

Then, while traveling with my wife and daughter through Columbia, South Carolina, for an exotic pet show (they sell hand-made “dragon wings,”, I found parking (the first good omen) and hoofed it to the University of South Carolina’s main library, where I FOUND THE RUSK SET IN FULL. Maybe I’m a real geek, but my heart raced. As I pulled books from the shelf and made a pile to take, crack open, and photograph, I felt like I was up to no good, but that’s what libraries are for (research, not “no good”)! It was pure heaven, honestly. And I have my first chunk of “traveling research” performed. That has to count, somewhere along the road to becoming an author of historical fact, right?

The icing on the cake was strolling through the State House and grounds, all before my meter expired.

Love your work!