Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pearls of Wisdom...

From Jim Harrison's "What I've Learned" piece in the August issue of Esquire...(these are a just a few I filched, the whole thing is worth reading...

I don't see any evidence of wisdom accelerating as you get older. Old people will say it does, but they're generally speaking full of shit.

I won't even talk to young writers anymore unless they can give me a good reason. I say, "I don't have any time to talk to you unless you intend to give your entire life over to it, because it can't be done otherwise."

 I probably wouldn't have been a poet if I hadn't lost my left eye when I was a boy. A neighbor girl shoved a broken bottle in my face during a quarrel. Afterward, I retreated to the natural world and never really came back, you know.

 It's like hunting with Mario Batali. He checked his fancy phone and said, "Fuck. I've got 280 e-mails." And I said, "What do we do now?" And he said, "Nothing" and put it in his pocket, and we went hunting.
I don't know if it was writer's block or if I just didn't have anything I wanted to say.

I work every morning, all morning, sometimes in the afternoons. Then sometimes I hunt in the afternoons—quail, doves, grouse up north—but just to stay alive, because writers die from their lifestyle but also from their lack of movement.

 Has happiness changed with age? Yes, I expect less of everything.

 What's the meaning of it all? Seems to me nobody's got a clue. Quote Jim Harrison on that: Nobody's got a clue

And my personal favorite...

Unlike a lot of writers, I don't have any craving to be understood.

You know the worst part about telling someone Jim Harrison is one of my favorite writers? That part where the person I'm speaking with invariably says "who?" and I have to say "you know, "Legends of the Fall, Brad Pitt..." and they say, "Oh, yeah, yeah. I saw that movie. Cool flick. So it was a book, too, huh?" And I have to keep from calling them a goddamned moron. Yeah, that's the hardest part.

Literary Reality Check

We're all wrong, sometimes. Some, like myself, are fated to be just a little more wrong, and a little more often, than most. You know, the kind of person who sometimes makes predictions about things that are, in the cold, hard light of hindsight, a bit giddy,a tad over-optimistic...

So what the hell an I talking about? Well, first go back and read this blog about self-publishing that I wrote back in 2013. It offers most of the context for this blog post...

Finished? Good. Now to the present...  

Last night I was talking to a fellow freelance writer about assorted writing stuff (OK, so it was an extended bitch-and-moan session, which is pretty much all that freelance writers are capable of when they get together) and he told me about an interesting story he had seen on the New York Times opinion page last month. It was penned by a guy named Tony Horwitz, who is a helluva good book writer (I've got his Blue Latitudes, about Cook's voyage, and have been meaning to read his others, all universally lauded) as well as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. 

Horwitz's piece in the Times chronicles his foray into the world of digital non-fiction, and it's an eye-opening read. In fact, I'd say it's a must-read for anyone considering (as I am) stepping into the world of digital non-fiction, which is a completely different beast than the genre fiction that makes up so much of the digital self-publishing world.

From the story

Five months ago I published a short book called “Boom.” Commercially it was a bust. No news in that: Most books lose money and are quickly forgotten by all but their wounded authors.
But this experience wasn’t just a predictable blow to what’s left of my self-esteem. It’s also a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we’re so often told is the bright shining future for writers and readers.

Last fall a new online publication called The Global Mail asked me to write about the Keystone XL pipeline, which may carry oil to the United States from the tar sands of Canada. The Global Mail promoted itself as a purveyor of independent long-form journalism, lavishly funded by a philanthropic entrepreneur in Australia. I was offered an initial fee of $15,000, plus $5,000 for expenses, to write at whatever length I felt the subject merited.

At the time I was researching a traditional print book, my seventh. But it was getting harder for me to feel optimistic about dead-tree publishing. Here was a chance to plant my flag in the online future and reach a younger and digitally savvy audience. The Global Mail would also be bankrolling the sort of long investigative journey I’d often taken as a reporter, before budgets and print space shrank.

The rest of the story details his long, strange trip through the digital publishing world. Like I said, it's a must-read. While I continue to believe that self-publishing is the future for a lot of writing, Horwitz's experience shows that it's just not yet there for non-fiction, and in fact may never be there. 

Why? Because it takes money to write good non-fiction. You can't just dream it up, like fiction (and to be honest and fair, a helluva lot of good fiction is as thoroughly invested, researched and vetted as the best non-fiction). You cannot sit down at your desk and create a good, engaging, non-fiction piece out of thin air, Google, and a few phoners (although I've had many editors expect me to do exactly that). You've got to actually get out and, you know, report things. Travel expenses, research expenses, the time invested in the piece's creation, all that adds up. The fact is, most freelancers can't afford to to write a non-fiction piece on spec. It's too much of a financial gamble for folks who already live on razor-thin margins. And with editorial budgets drying up faster than Lake Mead, magazines have never been less willing to give writers that needed upfront money, especially if they can find some cheaper, easier way to plug holes in their feature well.

It's endemic pretty much everywhere. Truth, especially crusading, adventurous, independent, close-to-the-bone truth, just doesn't generate as much profit as it used to. These days we like our truth to come cheap, packaged, and easily understood. Sponsored truth (I'm trademarking that phrase, BTW). 

I thought self-publishing would alleviate that, and hopefully it still will; the business model will somehow work itself out, writers will find paying, viable markets for their independent, enterprise work and we'll enter some Golden Age of independent journalism. The freedom to write what you want is great and liberating and all, but in the end writers still need to be able to make a living regardless of where or how their material is published and what kind of material it is.  Am I giving up on it? Hell, no. I'm still drinking the Kool-Aid, mainly because there are honestly no existing markets left for some of the stuff I'd like to do, and self-publishing at least gives you the opportunity to create your own market. Or fail trying. But when a real journalist as successful and talented as Tony Horwitz has trouble finding digital markets for top-shelf non-fiction work, it does give one pause...

And that doesn't even take into account the ancillary-but-connected issue alluded to in Horwitz's story concerning Byliner and its struggles to stay afloat. That's a whole other subject...(for a read on that click here). Takeaway? No one has yet figured out a business model to make independent digital longform profitable, for anyone. My takeaway is that while it truly is a Golden Age for independently publishing your work, we're still stumbling around in the Dark Ages trying to figure out a way to get paid for it...

Interestingly enough, Horwitz's subject, the Keystone XL pipeline, is something I used as an example of the potential of digital self-published non-fiction journalism in yet another cheery, rah-rah blog post from 2013. And yes, if anyone would like to help fund that particular journalism idea, I'm still game. Otherwise, I'm trying my hand at genre fiction and trashy, pen-name romance, 'cause that's where the real money is...          

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Me Wants: Phil Wilson Fillet Knife

 Ever since the Suburban Bushwacker first announced (somewhat shamelessly, I might add) that he had acquired (through nefarious means, I'm sure) his  sweet Spyderco Phil Wilson South Fork, I've had something of a man-crush on Phil Wilson's custom knives. He specializes in some of the most exotic and expensive super metals, and his knives are both functional art and breathtakingly expensive. The Spyderco South Fork, however, is a collaboration between the two, and it's a great-looking knife, especially for someone who, like me, has grown a bit tired of all the drearily-same, drop-point production hunting knives on the market. It's also somewhat affordable, at least in comparison to the same knife custom. For somewhere a bit north of $400 and over a year's wait, I could get a real South Fork made by Phil Wilson himself, or I could find a Spyderco version for around $200-240. A bargain, sort of. Either way it's a no-go for me right now, but what I'd really, really like to have, above all else, is one of Wilson's custom fillet knives, because they are gorgeous. The one above would work very nicely, indeed, please, for both fish and as a boning knife.

Wilson's fillet knives, which are what he's most known for, are just "Holy Cow" beautiful. And universally lauded as pretty much perfect tools. Makes my old, battered, cheap Marttini look, well...old, battered and cheap. I'll never be able to afford a genuine Wilson fillet knife, but if he ever decides to do another collaboration with Spyderco on a production fillet knife, I might have to sell an extra spleen or something to get one. I don't have any compelling reason or desire (or money) right now to get any more high-dollar hunting knives, but I do have a totally unreasonable desire to get one of these fillet knives. Thank god I don't have the money to actually do it, because I'm a sucker for blade porn. The next time I'm staring at a sink full of bluegill, guess what I'll be dreaming of?     

Quail Forever in Oklahoma

 The necessity of hustling for a dollar here and a dollar there means that - apart from my own personal activities - I'm not nearly as involved with or even following the whole upland conservation scene these days as much as I'd like or should. But if you're a quail hunter in Oklahoma, (and there seem to be a few more of them in these days of a population upswing) you really should consider joining QF.

Recently QF hired a state coordinator, Laura McIver, and she is, quite frankly, tearing it up. In the space of six months or so, QF's presence in Oklahoma has gone from a few diehards comprising a single chapter in OKC, to something like five or six chapters statewide, with more sure to follow. In a state where over the past thirty years or so quail hunting has fallen from being a ubiquitous cultural icon to a largely-forgotten curiosity practiced mainly by old farts and solitary weirdos like myself, that's pretty remarkable.

I noticed last week there is a brand-new conservation group (sort of, if you count what amounts to a listserv as a conservation group) ostensibly dedicated to deer. Read between the lines, however, and it's really all about whitetails. You can probably take a guess as to my opinion on the need for yet another group or organization dedicated to those tasty, photogenic, hooved locusts, so I'll merely suggest that if you're a hunter with a few extra bucks (so to speak), you save your energy and resources for those species that are really in trouble, like quail or prairie grouse, (or, if you're into the ungulates, mule deer). I can hear the impending howls of indignation set to rain down upon me from the deerstalkers (of which I am one, ardently). I love whitetails, I really do. I love to hunt them, I love to watch them, and I love to eat them, but I see absolutely no need for even more of our already-stretched conservation advocacy energies going toward a game animal so patently not in need of it. (I've got my own thoughts on the alleged recent "declines" in whitetail numbers across some parts of the country that so many hunters are alarmed about, but I'll save them for another time, but I ask: is a decline really a decline if that decline is coming from within a cartoonish, artificially high population to begin with?). 

Anyway...It wasn't too long ago that many of us (including me) were predicting that within a few years the sport of quail hunting would become a sort of shotgun-based falconry, a tiny cult practiced by a dwindling group of monkish devotees. Well, two years of decent nesting conditions (at least in Oklahoma) and a mild upswing in quail numbers has revealed there are a few more of us still around than originally thought. Although I am by nature and choice a solitary hunter who avoids gregariousness, even I admit this is a good thing. We need more quail hunters in this state, because we need more advocates for quail and other upland birds. And as advocates for birds and upland habitat go, QF is a pretty damn good group with a high ROI. So if you're an Oklahoma quail hunter - current, former or wannabe - who wants to do something proactive for your passion so that it may not disappear in the future, go join one of those new QF chapters springing up across the state. It's a good thing. Just don't bother me when I'm out hunting.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Backpacks, Ignorance and Ice Cream Cones

My family just returned from its annual mid-summer trip to Estes Park, Colorado (or as I like to call it, Hell). Despite my low tolerance for people of all types in general and fellow tourists in particular, and especially fellow tourists of the type that frequent national parks (and I'm talking about both the lemming herds of stupid T-shirt-wearing, stupid question-asking, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory-eating family vacation types as well as the insufferably smug North Face-Columbia-Marmot-festooned, Trekker pole-carrying, "hiker left!" screaming trail pricks) I had my usual good time. I managed to catch a few fish, learned a little more (through often hilariously inept trial-and-error) about casting to and catching trout in moving water, caught my obligatory Colorado slam (brown, brook, rainbow and cutthroat), made a few nice hikes (in unpretentious and wholly unfashionable tennis shoes, and with nary a walking stick in sight...) with the family, and even managed to eat a little ice cream and ask a few stupid, touristy questions.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a week. Rocky Mountain National Park is a gorgeous, special place, and I can't complain. But like all national parks, and especially popular, photogenic, mountain-y national parks, it's also just not me, at least for more than a few days. It's too...everything. Too over-the-top pretty. Too magnificent. Too popular. Too postcard. Too (by necessity) regulated. It's everything that everyone imagines when they think of natural beauty, and that makes it somehow a little, I don't know, unreal for me. Hard to explain, really.  I suppose, when you get down to it, there are two basic types of people: national park people, and (for lack of a better example) BLM/National Forest people. The vast, thundering herd are national park people. I love the national parks in measured doses, but at heart I'm a BLM kind of guy. I like my beauty served mostly under-appreciated and undiscovered, with a little silence, a little space, and a helluva lot fewer people sporting backpacks, ignorance, and ice cream cones.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shad, Bands and Peanut Cokes

A few random pics, totally unrelated, because I'm too lazy to write anything today...

I saw something busting spawning shad along the dam and tossed out a white fluke, which was immediately inhaled. As I was taking the hook out I noticed something moving down there at the back of her throat. I briefly thought about trying to pull the shad out, but figured the bass had caught it fair and square and it wasn't my place to screw her out of a real meal, seeing as how I'd already just screwed her out a fake one. So I put her back in the water. Sorry, shad. Such is life for a baitfish.

I don't care much about collecting bands, or "jewelry" as the waterfowl warriors like to call them. I wouldn't mind getting one (I never have, despite killing a respectable number of ducks in the past thirty years or so), but as a measure of a hunter's worth I think it's not much of a yardstick. But damn it, I really want a quail band, and for the past two years I've tried hard to get one. Of course I've failed miserably, need you bother asking? But every season I hear of some lucky jerk who comes up here from Tulsa or OKC and kills a banded quail. Maybe this fall...

On the last day of quail season the wind was howling so hard that it was impossible to hunt. But I tried. Damn but I tried. I leaned into the wind and swore. I raised my hands to the sky and swore. I wiped the stinging dust from my eyes and swore. And then I said to hell with it and gave up. I drove into a nearby town and bought an ice-cold Mexican Coke and a bag of peanuts. I drove to the lake and sat in the truck pouring the peanuts into my Coke as the dogs and I watched whitecaps curling across the water. I'd rather have had a banded quail, but real Coke (sugar, no corn syrup) and peanuts is a pretty good consolation. Does anyone still remember this, or still do it, or is old-fashioned, glass-bottle, ice-cold Coke and peanuts strictly a weird regional oddity from a bygone era?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not-So-Small Potatoes...

                                                                Please Fund Me...

A year or so ago I was sort of half-ass contemplating starting a small Kickstarter campaign to fund (in what would, in all probability, be a one-and-failed proposition) the type of publication I've mused about in several different blog posts, mainly here and here. It was one of those ideas that sound promising for a bit, but then begin sounding progressively less so the more you apply that damnable reason to it. All sorts of reasons why it'd invariably fail: Too small a potential market. Wouldn't be able to raise the cash. And even if I could, I wouldn't be able to find the time to do it, couldn't financially afford to make the time to do it, didn't have the skills, didn't have the vision and probably didn't have the confidence to do it. You know, all the things you run through your mind over and over when you want to do something bold, but know deep down that it's not such a great idea, and even it were you just aren't brave, smart or stupid enough to do it. So I didn't.

As it turns out, I guess I probably should have asked for money to make a bologna sandwich. I'm sure you've all heard about the guy who started - as a joke - a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising ten bucks to make potato salad. If you haven't, oh, hell, just Google it, preferably with a drink in your hand. I don't have the heart to link to any of the billions of stories about it.

 As of now he's raised over $71,000. And he's got 23 days to go.

Isn't life just a big goddamned kick in the nuts sometimes? You just gotta laugh. You really do. Maniacally.    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

He Sleeps With the Quail...

A couple years ago, following a fruitless yet interesting quail hunt (2012 was a brutal year, quail and weather-wise) I posted a short blog about the experience. I'm just going to post it again in its entirety because you really need to read it in the context of this current blog...

Saturday. I wake up, and in what is becoming an increasingly pointless act of (waning) faith-based rote, load Jenny and go for yet another late-season death march on my favorite local public hunting area, which happens to abut a minimum-security state prison.

I park on the northern edge of the area along a lonely, seldom-used county line road, and as Jenny and I start hunting down toward the river bottom (and toward the direction of the prison, which sits across the river) I happen to look back at the parking area and notice one of those official-looking white vans that scream "government vehicle" parked directly behind my truck. I'm still close enough to notice that the driver is eyeballing me through a pair of binoculars.

"Who the hell are those guys and why are they watching me?" I ask myself as he puts down his binoculars and resumes driving, slowly, on down the road. I shrug my shoulders and promptly forget about it as the dog and I continue hunting  a brush-choked draw that leads down into the riverbottom.

Three hours, numerous miles and zero quail later, we work our way back up out of the bottom toward the road when I notice that same damn van parked behind my truck again. Once again, they eyeball me for a few minutes before slowly pulling out of the parking area and cruising on down the road.

Odd behavior, for sure, and I wonder if one of the inmates at the prison has decided incarceration is a bummer. It's actually a fairly routine occurrence, not like this prison is Alcatraz. Once or twice a year someone gets happy feet, and the fleeing inmates generally fall into one of two distinct categories: those smart enough to slip into the small town adjacent to the prison and quietly steal a car, or those who climb the fence and blindly run like hell to the north across the WMA.

The former generally at least make it back to a major metropolitan area before getting recaptured, while the latter spend a few very uncomfortable nights wandering aimlessly around the prairie before being spotted by a rancher and picked up.

So maybe it's not just the dog and me out here, after all, because there sure as hell aren't any other quail hunters. Sure enough, when I get home and check the news, I discover that nope, we weren't alone...

From the Oklahoman
An Okmulgee County man who escaped from a prison in Fort Supply remained missing Saturday, Warden Marvin Vaughn said. Michael Weber, 50, was last seen at an inmate count about 9 p.m. He was still missing at the next count taken at 10 p.m. Weber is serving a five-year sentence for two counts of possession of a stolen vehicle in 2009 in Okmulgee County. He began his sentence in October 2009 and was to be released in August 2013. Weber is 5-foot-9 and weighs about 170 pounds. He has numerous tattoos on his arms, legs and back. The William Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply is a minimum-security prison housing about 1,100 inmates. Deputies from the Woodward County sheriff's office are assisting in the search.

As of Monday morning, Monsieur Weber, much like Monsieur Colinus virginianus, has evaded all attempts to locate him and is still hiding out somewhere in the wilds of far northwest Oklahoma. He sleeps with the quail. And where that may be I have no idea...

He sleeps with the quail, I wrote back then in jest and homage to a great and enduring cinematic meme. However, as it turns out Mr. Weber really was sleeping with the quail, in the true Luca Brasi sense...

Again, from the Oklahoman (last week)

Human remains found in Woodward County may be those of an inmate who escaped from an Oklahoma prison in 2012. Michael J. Weber escaped Jan. 7, 2012, from the William S. Key Correctional Center, a minimum-security prison in Fort Supply that houses about 1,100 inmates. Weber, 52, was serving a five-year sentence on two counts of possession of a stolen vehicle in Okmulgee County in 2009. He began his sentence in October 2009 and was scheduled for release in August 2012. Weber was last seen at an inmate count about 9 p.m. He was missing at the 10 p.m. count. On Wednesday, the skeletal remains of an adult were found by a person walking in a pasture outside Fort Supply, Woodward County Sheriff Gary Stanley said.

An occupational hazard, I suppose. It's big and fairly empty country out here, and at that time of year it wouldn't be too hard to die of exposure if conditions were right and you weren't properly clothed for it. Still, it's not like this is the edge of civilization. As long as he kept walking a straight line in any direction, eventually (and by eventually I mean within a day) he would have stumbled upon a road. It wasn't particularly cold (at least that weekend), there were numerous windmills to get water, no megafauna to eat you, and the snakes weren't out. So why'd he die, out here in this semi-benign and wholly subjugated land? Broken leg or ankle? Maybe. Hypothermia? Good possibility. Or perhaps just the sheer terror of being alone in the unknown did him in, his mind and then his will giving in to those ancient, vestigial fears of what lay beyond darkness and knowing that still reside within our DNA from a time when such fears were well-grounded? Who knows? He most likely got lost and simply wandered until he died. I imagine that for someone on the run and not familiar with the area it'd be a terrifyingly easy mistake to make, even in a place like this, a region once so magnificently wild but now a century domesticated.

 But I guess even a whipped dog can still bare fangs now and then, and the unfortunate Mr. Weber's demise is a good reminder of that, as well as a reminder that nature - the mean old harpy -  still has terms upon which you must pay to play, or live. And when you think about it, that's a completely scalable truth, isn't it?