Monday, March 1, 2010

Joining the chorus of Literary Voices

I'm delighted to have been asked to participate in this year's Literary Voices fundraiser for the UW Libraries. The keynote speaker is author and New York Times columnist Tim Egan (who also wrote the intro for Pugetopolis). The event features a group of other Northwest writers dining with guests at "literary roundtables," including me, Paul Bannick, Nicolette Bromberg, Ellen Dissanayake, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Karen Fisher, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Lesley Hazlelton, Jim Lynch, Heather McHugh, Doug Nufer, Art Thiel, Col Thrush, Sasha Su-Ling Welland, and David B. Williams. The date is: Saturday, April 24 at the UW Faculty Club (a fabulous NW mid-century gem). The time is: 6pm. And the donation is $100. Hope you can make it and support the UW, writers, and the importance of books. Plus, you'll hear a great talk from National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Egan, whose latest book, The Big Burn, is gripping and insightful, a disaster story with an important legacy and lessons for today. Hope to see you.

For more info, check here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Will the book survive?

And I'm not just talking about my book. Seattle is a good place to look at the dynamics of how the book business is changing (thanks, largely, to Amazon and Jeff Bezos), and the effects of technology, competition and the economy on book reading and retailing. In a recent interview with Newsweek, Bezos said he expected the ink-on-paper book to die out and hoped he would soon do all his reading on Kindle. I'm not against e-readers (in fact, Pugetopolis has been Kindled), but really? Do we want a bookless world? What are the differences between e-readers and the printed page? Some of my thoughts are laid out in this story on Crosscut.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Turkey hunt is on for 2010!

When my book Pugetopolis was compiled, I was just getting into reporting on historic preservation. One of the final chapters in the book is about the battle over the Ballard Manning's/Denny's, a controversy that I broke on Crosscut that wound-up generating national headlines. The fight was about more than preserving a "Googie" diner from the mid-1960s; it was a debate over what is important about the past, present and future in a changing urban landscape. Throughout my work, I try to get at what kind of people we are here in the Pacific Northwest, what makes us different, what makes us tick.

Our troubled relationship with our history and heritage is a great place to investigate our internal battles. Are we utopians for whom the future is all that matters, the people who built idealistic anarchist communes and Century 21 and who seek world-class status on Puget Sound? Or are we a people with a past, a young but rooted culture with traditions, baggage, customs and habits that have evolved uniquely in our specific place? Historic preservation is where these personalities sometimes clash over the fundamental questions of what we value.

In the West, it's our tradition not to value our history much. We're a place of reinvention, of starting over, of keeping our eyes on tomorrow. But Seattle, at times, has been at the forefront too of historic preservation. The commonly cited examples are the Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. But the job of preservation in living landscapes is never done: Pioneer Square is challenged by economic and social problems, having once been a paragon of urban development but now being eclipsed by the buzz of "newer" redeveloped neighborhoods (South Lake Union, Pike-Pine, Columbia City). Some are suggesting that the Square needs a major makeover, including loosening restrictions on changes property owners can make to historic properties. Some owners also seem to practicing "demolition by neglect," a tactic of letting old buildings decline so they can be demolished as too far-gone to save.

At the end of 2009, I decided to compile a "Heritage Turkey Awards" list to recognize some of the significant challenges, and forces, faced by historic preservationists. This is not a cheery list of success stories but a grim reminder that even when a building's historic significance is unquestioned, it can still be demolished, neglected, and vandalized. It also reveals that while the public process (both federal and state laws) recognize the importance and desirability of preserving historic properties, it is often government or public entities themselves that are responsible for some of the worst fiascos. School districts, ports, city councils, federal and state agencies. Trite to say, but the enemy is us.

Unfortunately, it's not too early to begin compiling nominees for the 2010 Turkey Awards. I truly hope they will be harder to find next year. But the good news is that the list begins to get at the scope of the problem in the wider region. We are not alone in trying to be good stewards of the past.

Here's the 2009 Heritage Turkey Awards list.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

U.S. approves Salish Sea name

I've been covering this story for months. It's now a done deal: the inland salt waters of the Pacific Northwest from southern Puget Sound north to Desolation Sound are now called the Salish Sea. The U.S. government approved the name on Nov. 12, and the scoop is here. The move doesn't necessitate new maps because it changes no existing names (many people still don't understand this). It's an overlay term, like "the Great Lakes." Anyway, it's a big victory for scientists and ecologists who wanted recognition for the ecosystem, for native tribes who are honored by the name, and for tourism promoters looking for a catch-all trying to attract people to the Cascadian region.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Reading at Seward Park

My last scheduled reading this fall is this week, on Thursday, Nov. 5. I'll be reading at the  Seward Park Audubon Center at 7pm.

Seward Park pops up often in my columns and essays. I've been going there for more than half a century, and I frequently walks its trails. I plan a reading skewed to the park, and I also plan to read from a cycle of poems (not in the book) that have been inspired by experiences in the park. Yes, Mossback writes poetry sometimes, and Seward Park has been a frequent inspiration. (Note: the photo above is not Seward Park! It was taken on Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island.)

If you haven't been to the nature center at the park, check it out. They completely refurbished the old cottage there (it used to be a restaurant and food concession) near the park entrance. They now teach nature classes, guide walks, have a library, and you can post wildlife sightings on a chalkboard outside. Seward Park played a huge role in the appreciation of nature in my life and I'm happy to support that for the next generations.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seattle Bookfest, and trickling down in Eugene, OR

I had a busy weekend. I went down to Eugene, Oregon on Friday to participate in a Society of Professional Journalists conference at the University of Oregon on "The Future of Journalism." I was on a panel with other bloggers discussing the challenges of shifting from print to electronic journalism. We had a great audience, mostly journalists and j-students. It was actually helpful to hear how other people are dealing with the struggles of making a living doing what we love to do in a media arena that is wide-open, unformed, and has not revenue model that is sustainable for most people. (Photographic evidence I was at the conference can be found here.)

One of the points I made was that influence, money, audience: everything seems to some in trickles. There's no one way to fund a website, but if, like, you derive some revenue from donors, membership drives, advertising, grants, foundations, you might just be able to get enough from each stream to make a river. Same with readers: each link, each person drawn by a single story or a niche focus, adds to the whole. As a writer, you freelance for different outlets (in my case, Crosscut, Seattle Magazine, Washington Law & Politics) and hope that is adds up to a modest living. It's a very different mindset than working as a staffer for an established media outlet. 

I drove back on Sunday in time for a Pugetopolis reading to close the Seattle Bookfest on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 25). The Bookfest was great, held in an elementary school in Columbia City and in the classrooms there were tables for browsing books for area bookstores, authors and publishers. I attended a highly entertaining reading by Robert Ferrigno, the noir author who has written a trilogy about the Islamic take-over of America. In the first, short excerpt he read, there was one hand-job and three slayings. Not for the kiddies. But he shared some interesting insights about faith and fundamentalism, and also about his own writing methods.

My reading at 5pm was standing room only and people were very responsive. Some old Mount Baker friends came and we went out for drinks afterwards at Lottie's. Columbia City restaurants and bars were hopping, even on a rainy Sunday eve. One thing I love about the district is that it embraces change but within the context of the past: the old buildings there have been preserved and give the whole commercial district great character. The places I remember as a kid (the old post office, the five-and-dime, the men's shop) have been adapted to new uses and they look like they're working beautifully.

Congrats to the people who put on the Bookfest. I heard nothing but good things about it and appreciate the chance to read there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tim Egan, Elliott Bay's crisis, Audubon talks and more

A couple of things.

First, I attended Tim Egan's Elliott Bay Book Co. reading for his new book, The Big Burn, which I finished last week and it's terrific, another saga of man-against-nature (wildfire) and the consequences of government action and inaction. It's a compelling short course on the creation of the conservation movement, tracking the careers of Teddy Roosevelt and the eccentric and passionate first head of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, all against the backdrop of one of the worst forest fires in American history. It all has resonance today, of course, as the forces of resource exploitation are still at work, and the courage of the people who created our National Parks and Forests is something we should never take for granted because the task of keeping them is never done. Tim, by the way, wrote the introduction to Pugetopolis. He's now off on a national book tour.

And speaking of Elliott Bay, I've written a piece for Crosscut about the implications of their possible move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, which is being motivated by financial difficulties. I think the move could be a real plus, perhaps rejuvenating their business model, though it would also be tough on the Square. But most of all, I do not want to see Elliott Bay go down. It's a tremendous institution and nationally respected and a fine damn bookstore.

Second, I had a great time in Tacoma this morning, rising in the wee hours to catch the Sounder train at 6:10. I was the keynote speaker for the Tahoma Audubon Society's annual early-bird fundraiser breakfast. There were some 300 people there and they were amazingly awake. I reminded them that that great Tacoma writer Murray Morgan once described waking up on a damp, Tacoma morning as feeling like you were inside an oyster! Anyway, the Tahoma Audubon Society is doing great things in Tacoma and Pierce County, the speech went great and I sold out of books (they ordered 50 and we took orders for 10 more). All proceeds to the Society. Anyway, my thanks to the Tacoma greens who got out of their shells and gave Mossback such as warm and friendly reception. 

Speaking of Audubon, I will be reading at the Seward Park Audubon Center on Thursday, Nov. 5th at 7pm

Lastly, this Saturday (Oct. 24) I'll be on an SPJ Panel at the Communications School at the University of Oregon in Eugene, sharing time with Josh Feit of Publicola and others discussing making the transition from print to online journalism.