It’s been over a week now since Spy Rock Memories was officially released. No one has come right out and asked me, “How has your life changed now that you’re a published author,” but in case they do, I’ve concocted an answer, one which most of you will have seen coming: not much at all, at least that I’ve noticed.
To be fair, this is far from the first time I’ve seen my name and/or my writing in print. I published 40 (and a half) issues of Lookout magazine, and wrote columns or articles for at least half a dozen other magazines.
I’ve also contributed essays or interviews to several books, but that doesn’t come close to the sensation of seeing your own book in print, and I’d like to thank Joe and Zach at Don Giovanni Records for taking a chance on me and making it all possible.
Zach in particular worked hand in hand with me on the editing process, which wound up taking a LOT longer than I imagined it could, but which I think was well worth it. Aaron Cometbus and Emily Rems also gave the text thorough goings-over, catching a fair few errors and glitches that Zach and I managed to miss.
Once it was finally out, a brief flurry of excitement—a few really thoughtful and nice reviews like this one and this one, some interviews, and a sudden spike in Twitter followers—was followed by a plummet back to normality. Not that there’s anything so terribly wrong with normal. And not that, given the checkered and turbulent course my life has taken pretty much ever since I started having a life, I’d be likely to notice the difference.
There’s still plenty—potentially, an open-ended amount—of work to do. When Jon Ginoli’s book was published, he set out on a personal odyssey that saw him crisscrossing the nation’s bookstores for the better part of the year that followed.
Whether or not that helped him sell more books, it sounded like a great adventure, the sort I’d look forward to if I ever had a book of my own. Other writers, Aaron Cometbus, for example, simply release their work into the wild, confident or at least in hopes that it will be able to fend for itself. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of personal appearances Aaron has made to market his writing and come up with a couple digits of change.
Surely there’s no one right way of doing it. It’s true of music, too: it’s an article of faith that you’ve got to tour relentlessly to sell records, but Operation Ivy broke up a week after releasing their one and only album, never played another show to promote it, yet went on to sell over a million copies and go down in punk rock history.
As a newcomer to the publishing world, I’m not sure how often that happens with books. Seldom, I suspect. And yet part of me wants to hope Spy Rock Memories reaches its audience by osmosis or old-fashioned word of mouth so that I can retreat into my study and start/continue plowing away at my next project(s).
I already have two of them, in fact, both already in progress. But I’m kind of hamstrung at the moment over the question of whether I can or should try to write two separate books at once. The result is that for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t written anything for either one.
For years people have been asking, expecting, demanding that I write my version of the history of Lookout Records. It seemed like the logical next step, and I had finally got started on doing just that. I even had an opening chapter ready to release here on the blog, just as I did with Spy Rock Memories.
But on a recent trip, during which I was fortunate enough to see Helen Mirren’s excellent, excellent play, The Audience, I was seized with an inspiration about how I could do something I’ve long wanted to do, but couldn’t quite get my head around: write about London.
I’d held back in the past because no matter how much time I’d spent in London, I was ultimately an outsider. I felt like I owed the place more respect than to come charging in with the attitude of, “Okay, London, I’ve been visiting you for 38 years and lived in you for 10, so I think I know what your deal is now…”
London is so vast and complex that even someone who’d spent his whole life there, and devoted that life to unraveling the skein of mystery, mundanity, intrigue, and banality that comprise the sum of its parts, would struggle to delve more deeply than its sufficiently fascinating surface.
But I think I’ve come up with an angle. It occurred to me while chatting at the interval with a blue-haired Home Counties lady of undoubtedly long-standing Tory lineage.
As we talked I marveled at how I, an American who’d grown up in a time and place where few people ventured more than a couple hundred miles from home and were content to remain blithely indifferent to any goings-on that unfolded on foreign shores, had come to know and love England with at least as great a passion as I’d ever known for my native land.
Part of it was due to the greatly increased mobility of the working and middle classes that came about in the latter part of the 20th century, but it was equally a function of the way I came to feel at home there. My sense of humor, for example, which frequently elicited blank stares or threats of violence from Americans, actually made sense to Londoners, and their droll, ironic or completely over-the-top excursions into absurdity resonated equally well with me.
In fact, one of the few remaining characteristics that brazenly marks me out as a non-Englishman is my unrestrained enthusiasm for the place and its people: no real English person, in the unlikely event of succumbing to such a patriotic upwelling, would publicly admit to it.
Anyway, that’s more or less what the book’s about, but I’ll say no more until I’ve actually written the thing. At the moment I’m stuck in the interim phases of getting ready to continue writing it, while meanwhile catching up with this long-neglected blog.
But there’s something else on my mind as well. As some of you will know, I’ve always had a fondness for hiking, a fondness that only grew during my years in England and my many journeys around London and the South East, through the Cotswolds, and across the moors in the company of the West Country Walking Society.
One of the only things better than just plain walking, in my opinion, is walking in places where few if any people have walked before. Given the absence of affordable space travel, I’m forced to seek out the ever-dwindling number of such spots here on planet Earth. One of them is Greenland.
I first visited there two years ago, and heard a few locals say that once you’ve touched Greenlandic soil, you have no choice but to return again and again. If that were true you’d think the world’s biggest island would have a population considerably larger than 55,000. Be that as it may, I know I’ve been unable to stop thinking about the place. In a couple months, I’ll be going back for my second visit, and I doubt it will be my last.
Last time I spent all but a couple days in the Arctic town of Ilulissat, at sea sailing alongside the Greenlandic coast, and in the historically unlovely capital, Nuuk. This year I plan to focus on South Greenland’s “banana belt,” where temperatures can sometimes compare favorably with those of a San Francisco winter (or summer, for that matter, not that there’s all that much difference).
It’s the area where Viking explorers first settled 1,000 years ago, seduced into a false and fatal confidence by the Medieval Warm Period, only to be frozen out 400 years later by the Little Ice Age and supplanted by the Inuit Greenlanders who today comprise more than 80% of the country’s population.
Even today, with global warming rapidly shrinking the Greenland ice cap and raising sea levels, the “banana belt” effect really only means that it’s now possible to grow small trees (no, not banana trees, silly!) and a handful of root crops. Most of the greenery you’ll see consists of grass and moss, which take on a dark, brooding color from the bluish-black stone that forms the backbone of the land.
But it was sufficiently green to inspire the Vikings, early masters of the real estate scam, to name their new home Greenland in hopes of luring settlers from nearby Iceland, which actually has a milder climate, far less ice, and in summer, at least, is greener than even Ireland’s Emerald Isle.
Both Iceland and Greenland are among the most beautiful places on earth, and, while they’re the closest of neighbors, are completely different from each other topographically, geologically, and culturally. Film companies looking for the perfect location for their next extraterrestrial sci-fi flick would do very well to choose either of them, but Greenland’s beauty is of a particularly other-worldly variety, compounded—or, some might say, augmented—by the harsh, unblinking and unforgiving stolidity of its precipitous and often impassable terrain.
It called out to me the first time I laid eyes on it, during a flight from London to San Francisco more than 20 years ago, and when I finally got there, did not disappoint. I’m looking forward to some astounding hikes, as well as some long internet-free (Greenland does in fact have the internet, but it’s so heart-stoppingly expensive that it might as well not) opportunities to work on my next big writing projects.
Before that, though, I’ll hopefully be coming to at least some of your towns and bookstores to talk about Spy Rock Memories, sign some books, and give you a chance, if you’ve already read it, to tell me what you thought about it. If you know a shop—or better yet, own one—get in touch and we’ll see if we can work something out. The only event definitely scheduled so far is July 12 at Brooklyn’s Book Thug Nation, but sometime either just before or after that, I hope to see a lot of you out on the West Coast, especially in the Emerald Triangle.