I was on the receiving end of some helpful and encouraging counsel from Mike Gecan as I launched into the writing of my first book. "Write what you know." "Tell a story." Above all, "Write!" Those wise words taken together became my north star.
This web/blog journal is something else again. The admonitions still apply, but because there's no permanency in this format I can be more experimental, try some shit out - a bit like community organizing in a new context. Sure, there are habits and practices associated with organizing work just like there are with literary endeavours, but common to both is the requirement of invention.
The way to break out of an organizing rut is to move somewhere else and try to create something fresh. For me, when I retired from organizing, that breakout was a plunge into a book length project. It was a new and somewhat scary place because I had never done it before and wasn't sure I could pull if off. It was risky - like starting from scratch in Las Vegas - because my own sense of self was at risk, along with the success or failure of the venture itself.
There were breakthroughs along the way. One was triggered during my struggle to figure out a frame for the book as a whole. Mike jumped in with the suggestion of a sharpened tension between my two grandfathers (one familial, the other political). Another was inclusion of IAF's statewide organizing in Arizona, which mysteriously I had overlooked (credit Linda Victoria with calling me to account on this). A third was going stream-of-action-as-it-happened in the two Las Vegas chapters. Greg highlighted the shift at first as a negative, then resolved it with a tight reframe before moving the reader to the LV chapters themselves.
Then there was the problem of how to end it. My first idea was to attempt a fairly abstract grand summation. You know, the kind that tops off a lot of academic texts and explains and integrates everything. I wasn't happy with that because I figured the reader would find it tedious (as I did just thinking about it). Academic books on organizing drive me crazy with all the blah, blah, blah boiled down into grand summations of importance as if the reader didn't get it the first couple of times around. So fuck that. Greg must have read my mind. Out of the blue he says, "How about moving the bus blockade chapter to the end?"
When I agreed he opined, "That's why I get the big bucks." (Yes, he deserves them, skimming from the huge sales haul from books like mine.)
I've known Linda Victoria for what seems like forever (she appears in the lower right corner of the above pic, snatched from a Victoria created collage). During my last years organizing in Tucson, she anchored the Pima County Interfaith Council office while studying digital arts under Steve Romaniello at Pima Community College. Since then, she's scratched out a living running a small business as a creative.
You may have taken note of the collages that appear in this website, along with the design of the site itself. All Linda's work. I won't detail the numerous other examples of her craft with which I'm familiar (neighborhood street signage, websites, promotional materials, and so on) but I do need to mention her contribution to my book. Because she writes and edits so well, she was able to lend shape and substance to my first draft. A good thing too because it held up well after being forwarded to editor/publisher Greg Pierce with Acta Publications.
It helps to write a good book filled with stories folks can relate to, but that doesn't mean anyone is going to buy it and read it. My sales guru says there's something like 4 million books published a year. So the odds of a breakthrough by a novice are long indeed.
Still, we little person authors soldier on, believing we have something important to say to the world out there. In fact, I'm sure of it and so are 4 mil others.
My sales guru stunned me when she said that on Amazon, everyone's equal. Well, not entirely, but more so than when competing for position on a Barnes and Noble display shelf or a New York Times Book Review (ha, ha). The truth is, get ready for it - Amazon reviews matter more to authors like me than the Gray Lady's reviews, whose cataracts would likely reduce Sometimes David Wins to a blurry insignificance anyway. So go ahead buy my book, read it and review it on Amazon. You'll be better for it and so will I. Yep, right here: Sometimes David Wins: Organizing to Overcome Fated Outcomes: Pierson Jr Frank C: 9780879467067: Amazon.com: Books
Novice writers like me have to wade through a thicket of difficulties. Setting aside the challenge of what to say and how to say it, when it's done and published, a whole new set of uncertainties kick in.
It may go without saying that I came at the sales question strictly old school. You know, traveling with a bunch of books in the back seat, contacting indie bookstores, book signings with a handful of customers (or not), local talks, maybe some sort of book tour.
When editor/publisher Greg Pierce suggested connecting with Mary Doyle, I jumped at the chance. She's been through all this and come out of it with a ton of sales reflective of her learn-by-doing (yeah, trial and error).
I don't think I'm revealing any trade secrets here because whatever the aspiring author/bookseller does depend mostly on the individual - relational assets, energy, and skill sets - that good coaches like Mary and Greg build on. The first key point that came through loud and clear: What not to do. Uh, oh! The what-not-to-do's line up pretty well with what I thought I had to do - the old school stuff. (To be continued as the plot thickens.)
My original plan for Sometimes David Wins was to end with a summary chapter hearkening back to Grandfather Silas and the events involving his company (Colorado Fuel and Iron) connected to the Ludlow Massacre. My editor/publisher Greg Pierce suggested pulling the Bus Blockade story from the middle of the book and placing it at the end. Not only because it was chronologically correct, but more importantly because it was a fitting conclusion to a story that's still unfolding. I took his proposed move as an inspired editorial intervention and embraced it.
Now, almost a decade later, the events of that day seem an eerie foretelling of the riot/insurrection of Jan 6, 2021 in the Capitol. The Pinal County Sheriff of the time - Paul Babeu - played the instigator (Trumpian) role. Arizona Militia members played the armed/threat (Proud Boys/Oath Keepers) role. Social media posts stirred up turnout - both planned and opportunistic.
At least two of the blockaders, both Oracle residents, later self-identified as Oath Keepers (although I doubt they traveled to DC for J6). One of them in 2013-2014 endorsed the lynching and re-lynching of then President Obama in the presence of Attorney General Eric Holder. His on-line posts joined a hemorrhage of profanities and insults directed at "libtards", "fudge-packers" and, of course, numerous "pieces of shit" (POS), presumably like Kaz and me.
It's a natural question. Three hundred pages is substantial. I worked on Chapter 7 by far the longest. My curiosity about labor/management struggles at Magma Copper Company got the best of me. And well it should because I've known so many individuals - some are close friends - who lived the experience themselves.
That chapter took several months to write from start to finish. I had to research it, including with three of the principals, because I had only bits and pieces of memory to fall back on. One that I thought was indelible - a labor rally half a block from our Oracle home - turned out by a couple of years to have happened later than I first thought. Much of the story might qualify as "original research", based as it was on recollections of participants in key events, including several not reported in the media.
If you read Sometimes David Wins, you'll see how my family history connects directly with Chapter 7's storyline. And there's a lot more to it for me - living next door to the largest underground copper mine in the country, experiencing the pluses and minuses of that proximity, identifying with both labor and management at different points and spending much time in nearby San Manuel during its heyday. San Manuel, built from the ground up by Del Webb at the behest of Magma Copper Company, lays claim to being the last true company town constructed in the USA.
The book works! It is about organizing as an approach to significant change. It lifts up IAF in a thoughtful and non-boosterish way. Your treatment of Ernie is respectful, appreciative and yet not over the top.
I like the Vegas chapter a lot. Teaches the complexity of building an effort and learning in place. In this chapter and throughout the book the primacy of leaders is clear.
You as an actor attempting to act with integrity in a world of outward and inward complexity is well done.
I think it teaches action/reaction well. I will give it more thought.
Love the Harding chapter! It and the culinary union leader story teach how what Ed called “the mixing of spirits” can happen quickly with depth and authenticity in a meeting well done. I will buy at least ten. - Perry Perkins
I've gotten a surprising number already. Some of them quite moving. I'm pretty happy about this. May need a section of this website that captures several of them. (Of course, I will always get permission of the writer to post.) Here's an example: