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2012 Iowa Author Fair

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It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a book fair, so I was pleased when Wendy Delsol contacted me and invited me to be a part of the 2012 Wonder of Words Festival, specifically this year’s Iowa Author’s Fair. Titled “Voices from the Prairie” (not necessarily how I think of myself, but when in Rome . . .), this event featured some sixty Iowa writers representing the full spectrum of literary genres.

Along with the opportunity to chat with local book lovers — and sell a few copies of Warrior of God, of course — the great thing about these events is the chance to meet other authors, particularly those who share my interest in literature and history.

I was especially pleased to get to meet Professor Scott Cawelti, our leading authority on the late James Hearst, about whom I’ve written for Yahoo Voices and Iowa History Journal magazine. Scott, an extremely talented gentleman, is not only a ranking literary scholar and film critic but also an accomplished musician/songwriter as well.

I also greatly enjoyed meeting James Patrick Morgans, a Civil War scholar from Council Bluffs who has written three books about the Underground Railroad in Iowa. In particular, his book about John Todd, an abolitionist clergyman who sheltered John Brown during the “Bleeding Kansas” turmoil, is a subject of keen mutual interest, and James intrigued me with several fascinating local anecdotes from  that historical period.

I was also able to chat with two of my favorite local literary ladies, Alice Meyer, proprietor of Beaverdale Books, and Jan Kaiser, marketing manager for the Des Moines Public Library. Alice and Jan were the driving force of this event, and their tireless efforts to support and promote books — both those who read them and those who write them — rank them among Des Moines’ leading contributors to the local cultural scene.

2012 Iowa Authors Fair
Capitol Square, Des Moines

Yahoo! Voices

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The latest development in my freelancing career involves Yahoo’s Contributor Network, through which writers, bloggers, photographers and videographers  of all sorts, across a wide range of topics and perspectives, contribute articles, stories, opinion pieces, etc.  — and get paid for it!

Gabriel García-Márquez

The general subject categories include news, finance, entertainment, shopping, sports and movies. The specific category that caught my attention was Yahoo Voices, an initiative to build an on-line digital library in areas of general interest such as auto, business, health, tech travel — and even creative writing. Seeing this latter category, out of curiosity I took a look at what kind of stories the editors were looking for. I was pleasantly surprised to see, among the assignments offered, one that would discuss North America’s top five “magical realist” authors. Since discovering Franz Kafka in high school and Gabriel García-Márquez in college, this literary genre has fascinated me.

So I submitted a short article titled Magical Realism: North America’s Top Five Authors, told everyone about it, and quickly garnered over 100 hits.

James Hearst
1900-1983

Encouraged by this start, I then claimed an assignment to write a short essay on my favorite poet. Although my reading tastes tend toward novels, short stories, and historical nonfiction, I was quite taken a few years ago when introduced to the work of James Hearst, a farmer/poet/professor who was Iowa’s unofficial poet laureate throughout most of the 20th century.

USS La Moure Country (LST-1194)

The next assignment that piqued my interest was one calling for a first-person account of some aspect of my military career. Of course, four years in the Navy left me with enough stories, anecdotes and recollections to fill a book. I decided to use a rather vivid episode that I witnessed in Germany on my first extended overseas cruise on my first ship, the USS La Moure County (LST-1194). Titled My Navy Career & Americans’ Historical Memory Loss: What a Doomed Overseas Romance Taught Me, it employs a true-life, latter-day Romeo and Juliet episode to illustrate a larger point about the very selective way Americans learn and remember their history.

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Spec. 5 Dennis Koepp
1940-1968

My fourth article appeared on Memorial Day 2013, when Yahoo voices invited stories from family and friends of American service members who died during military service to share memories and photos of them. I wrote a short piece about an uncle-in-law, Dennis Koepp, who died from a kidney infection while serving in Vietnam as an Army corpsman.

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from family, friends and professional acquaintances about these articles, and even made a few bucks, too (which is always nice), so I will certainly be contributing further articles as congenial assignments are offered.

‘Elmore’ Magazine: Saving American Music

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Although researching and writing Pen & Sword is pretty much an all-consuming project these days, I wasn’t able to resist when an opportunity to keep my hand in as a jazz journalist presented itself in 2011. In the course of delivering a presentation on Warrior of God at the Czech Center New York, I was able to meet my second cousin Erik Spooner for the first time. Among other things, Erik is design director for “Elmore,” a bi-monthly music magazine founded by Suzanne Cadgene and Arnie Goodman that began publication in June ’05.

The only national music magazine that guarantees distribution at music and arts festival across the US and Canada, Elmore puts today’s musical talent in historical context, focusing on a variety of genres of American “roots” music. “Our mission is to preserve and protect those American roots that we perceive are worthwhile,” says Suzanne. “Most American music started with the blues. It’s got elements of blues and jazz in just about everything that we cover.”

 And jazz, of course, is where I fit in. When I mentioned the reviews I’ve done for “All About Jazz,” Erik suggested that Elmore‘s stable of reviewers could use another jazz buff. So, every couple months, along with my newest colleagues,  I’m sent a list of new CD’s to look over for consideration. For my first two choices, I selected recordings, not exactly new, by two pianists who had a huge impact on the development of my own roots as jazz aficionado.

My first review, in the September/October  2011 issue, was The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy. This extensive compilation samples from twenty-three recordings Evans made with those two labels between 1956 and 1977.

For the January/February 2012 issue , I reviewed the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Their Last Time Out, a previously unreleased live recording of the DBQ’s final concert in Pittsburgh in 1967.

In May 2012, Elmore’s Web site carried my review of recent DVD titled Morocco Fantasia by guitarist Al Di Meola, whom I’ve seen perform back in the days when he was playing with Chick Corea’s ‘Return to Forever’ fusion quartet. A spectacular musician, Di Meola has gone a long way since then, down a road that only some will find congenial.

Suzanne has mentioned the possibility of writing a feature story for the magazine some day, which I greatly appreciate. If presented, I’d welcome the opportunity.

After the Flood

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Thomas Wolfe once famously declared that “You can’t go home again.” While that may well be true (and my personal experience tends to confirm that assertion), you can always at least write home via e-mail or an old-fashioned letter. On a professional level, it can be done with a contribution to one’s hometown newspaper or magazine. An old buddy of mine, John McMahon, himself a regular contributor to Artvoice, a weekly magazine out of Buffalo, got in touch with me after the Iowa floods of June ’08 and suggested I might wish to write a story about them from the perspective of a former Buffalonian.

John put me in touch with Geoff Kelly, Artvoice‘s editor, who liked the idea. In fact, he ended up using it as the cover story for the July 3, 2008 issue under the title “Iowa Dispatch: After the Flood.” [To read the story as it appeared on Artvoice‘s Web site, click here; to view the print version, click here.]

I was quite gratified when I learned that the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies featured the story as an “Editor’s Pick,” as seen on its Web site, Altweeklies.com. The AAN represents 129 papers published in 41 states, the District of Columbia and four Canadian provinces, and through its Web portal strives to bring high-quality journalism to an international audience with a different perspective than generally found on wire-service and daily-newspaper websites. Recognition by one’s peers is especially flattering!

Senator M.I.A.

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Politically speaking, one of the hazards of living in Iowa — the first proving ground on the long road to the White House — is the risk of overexposure to would-be Presidential candidates of all stripes, ad infintuum, ad nauseum, ad delirium. I’m now entering my third election cycle in Iowa, an experience made more severe by having been a working journalist. This required me to follow these self-important windbags around the state to various VFW posts and high school gymnasiums and watch them eat pancakes, shake hands, kiss babies, and tell anyone and everyone within earshot that they’re all for America’s Hard Working Families. Obviously, I’m suffering from burnout. But there’s something else that has bothered me increasingly.

Now I have no problem if someone without a real job like, say, Rudy Guiliani, wants to hang out at the local firehouse describing how wonderful he is and why he’s smarter than anyone else — that’s his affair. And if governors like Bill Richardson and Mitt Romney want to neglect the business of their respective states to talk about themselves incessantly to a bunch of farmers at the neighborhood Ma-and-Pa cafe … well, that’s New Mexico’s and Massachusetts’ problem.

But when I see (and see, and see some more) senators and congressmen spending as much time here in the cornfields as they do in the halls of Congress, that bugs me. I can’t help thinking that perhaps if our elected national representatives spent a little more time and energy addressing the very pressing international and domestic problems facing this country as legislators, and a little less time daydreaming about how they’d do it as the Chief Executive from a seat in the Oval Office, maybe Congress would get something done once in a while.

So, while writing cranky letters to the editor of the local paper is not standard activity for journalists, it seems to me we shouldn’t be precluded from doing it once in a while, either, when the urge strikes. This I did, sending a little missive to both the Des Moines Register (the local daily) and Cityview (the local alternative weekly) where it was published under the title “Senator M.I.A.” (Read the letter here).

Warhol’s ‘Cowboys & Indians’

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‘Warhol’ window into artist

Cedar Rapids Gazette
November 4, 2006

An article of mine, involving the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, in the Cedar Rapids Gazette was a review of an exhibit of artwork by Andy Warhol (who happened to be Slovak-American) that ran from late 2006 through early 2007. The exhibit included the rarely-seen “Cowboys and Indians,” one of his last series before his death in 1987, as well as some of his signature silk-screen portraits of celebrities like Mick Jagger and his well-known “Moonwalk,” which was later appropriated by MTV as a promotional image. (view story here)

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