Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts

Thursday, May 21, 2020


A labor of love over many years Explaining It to Someone: Learning From the Arts has been published and is available from Amazon in paperback at $18.95.  For those more digitally inclined, there is also a $3.99 Kindle edition.
The book’s very detailed Table of Contents serves as an index to the hundreds of writers, playwrights, songwriters, musicians, and performances that are described or reviewed.

The book began with the writing of this blog itself.  As a publisher, I have always been interested in good writing and meaningful reading but never imagined that I would have the creative juices to write myself, in particular the freedom from self censorship.  A writer’s life is not private, even if writing only fiction.  This blog was a liberating factor as it offered a platform for the discipline needed to write. 

I was particularly influenced by a book I read long before, Brenda Ueland’s, If You Want to Write; A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, first published in 1938.  She threw down the gauntlet for me: “At last I understood that writing was about this: an impulse to share with other people a feeling of truth that I myself had. Not to preach to them, but to give it to them if they cared to hear it. If they did not – fine. They did not need to listen. That was all right too…. You should work from now on until you die, with real love and imagination and intelligence, at your writing or whatever work it is that you care about. If you do that, out of the mountains that you write some mole hills will be published…. But if nothing is ever published at all and you never make a cent, just the same it will be good that you have worked.”

I emphasize the last few words as they encapsulate my life.  To me it was not good enough to be the passive recipient of the cultural advantages I had in my life.  I felt compelled to share them, analyze them, say what they meant to me, and convey my unabashed exhilaration.

What I cover in Explaining It to Someone is eclectic to be sure.  It’s easier in many ways to deal with the works of a single writer.  Most of the work is related by the tether of my life experiences.  And, this is what distinguishes it from other works of criticism; I often relate it to personal experiences and the times.  These are times we all share.

When I read James Salter’s All That Is several years ago, the seeds of my (now) two published books were planted.  I ruminated over Salter’s epigram from this, his final novel, written thirty years after his last published work:

There comes a time when you
realize that everything is a dream
and only those things preserved in writing
have any possibility of being real

This made such an impression on me that I adopted his epigram for Explaining It to Someone as well. Yes, I said to myself, it is all well and good that I write this blog, but as a publisher, with deep roots in print editions, the digital world seems ephemeral.  Not that I have illusions that by appearing in print my writings magically become long-lived.  But they were NOT a dream, they ARE real and it is GOOD that I have worked.  It seemed inevitable that this volume, in particular, find its way to print (although editing concessions were made, and a Kindle edition exists as well).  
Although it is a companion work to my previously published Waiting for Someone to Explain It: The Rise of Contempt and Decline of Sense, it stands on its own.   Waiting for Someone is all things political and economics, borne out of frustration and disillusion, while Explaining It to Someone was written with passion about the arts.

It is ironic that I have chosen the non-traditional publishing route.  I did not see the commercial prospects of successfully landing this with a trade publisher or even a small press.  And I did not want constraints as to length, organization and content.  The irony about using the Amazon publishing platform is at one time during my publishing days, I dealt with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon when he was on his way up in the mid 1990’s (or perhaps I should say, up, up, and away!).

Little did I know that 25 years later they would become my publishing platform and Bezos the richest man in the world; unthinkable, and just over the last third of my life.

Using their platform and making your book professional requires either learning publishing software or hiring an intermediary to generate the two files that are necessary, one for on demand physical books and the other for the Kindle.  (Again, another irony not lost on me is a 1984 issue of Publishers’ Weekly carried an article on my vision for printing on demand).  I could learn the software, many people do, and if I was younger and wanted to spend precious time, that would have been my preferred route.  Instead I hired a company that specializes in the conversion process, BooknookBiz.  They have been very professional and I have a nice relationship with the owner, “Hitch.”  I enjoy our banter back and forth, her up to date digital knowledge vs. my circa 1960 -1970 production knowledge, the days when I was a “production guy.”

They initially estimated the present book would set out to 714 7 x 10” pages, way, way too large for me.  That’s when my antiquated production knowledge was brought to bear on the problem, resulting in an acceptable compromise, still a large book, 516 pages 6 x 9” and densely set, but readable. This relationship was reminiscent of the time when I handled printing and binding vendors, mostly in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Gone, gone are those days, but the memory lingers on.

The manuscript for this book went through three different editing passes before it was even submitted for conversion, and a major organizational effort (many thanks to my wife, Ann for her enduring help and insight).  In some respects it has the characteristics of a reference book because of the detailed table of contents. The more challenging post conversion issues were with the Kindle edition’s content page hyperlinks “landing” on the right spot in the 245,000 word text.

This might be the last book I write or the penultimate one, as I am thinking more about fiction and memoir perhaps in a couple of years if time and health are good to me, problematic given age and the pandemic, the latter being the stuff of dystopian science fiction only a few months ago. 

What I have to say in this book will be the formative foundation of any I might tackle in the future.  Indeed, most of the writers and musical artists I cover in Explaining It to Someone; Learning From the Arts are my teachers and I am their grateful and humble student.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

‘Waiting for Someone to Explain It’ Now Published

Having written this blog for some dozen years, by the end of last year I felt it was time to make it less of “a job” and more focused on things I enjoy rather than those I obsess over.  That meant less political and current affairs commenting (although I’ll never say never to those subjects in the future).  The present political and economic landscape invites day to day commentary, but I’ve decided to resist it to preserve my sanity.  It is truly a case of existential dread and exhaustion.

Nonetheless, I also decided to mostly exit those subjects by making a declarative statement in the form of a book based on the extensive entries from the past.  Therefore, Waiting for Someone to Explain It; The Rise of Contempt and Decline of Sense (North Palm Beach, Lacunae Musing, 2019),348 Pages, $13.95 is now available in paperback from Amazon and their extensive distribution network. 

The irony of selecting Amazon KDP as my publishing platform hasn’t been lost on me as when I was a publisher I dealt with Amazon in its infancy and now it deals with me in my dotage. 

It is also ironic that it should be published the same week as the Mueller Report which to some extent provides some of the answers I’ve been “waiting for.”  Yet Trump is as much a symptom as a cause. The book reveals the deep roots of our cultural civil war and the intransigence of political polarization, and one person’s quest to come to terms with them. 

It argues that we’ve become inured to the outrageous and accommodative of the absurd.  It points to a deep vein of anti-intellectualism in this country, questioning the veracity of climate change, championing the “right” to open carry weapons, and leading to the worship of false idols: 24 x 7 streaming entertainment.  We’ve become a nation needing immediate gratification, no matter what the societal consequences of borrowing against the future or becoming somnambulists in front of liquid crystal display screens.

Who could have imagined the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States?  As his candidacy ramped up, so did my commentary, all encapsulated in “Waiting.”

The book documents the election of such an unsuitable candidate, who has proved to be worse than feared, a “crazy maker” a gas-lighter of reality, a believer in his own mendacity.  These issues populate the entries.  As Eric Hoffer said in his classic The True Believer (1951), “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.”  During the period I sought out other expert journalists, psychologists, bloggers, economists, and even novelists in an attempt to understand.

The publicity release at the end of this entry explains the title and more about the rationale.  It is not simply a collection of entries from the blog.  There is a narrative tying things together and the entries themselves have been edited to minimize redundancies and present them better in print. 

As an ex-publisher it’s also been a labor of love, to write a book, even participate in its design, bringing me back to my start in publishing in 1964 as a production assistant.  So much has changed since then in the industry.  For me, the publication was as much about the journey. I think of it as an act of professional closure as well as a cry for the kind of democracy our forefathers envisioned. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

This famous dictum by Socrates can be interpreted many ways.  He was a philosopher and it may be that philosophy is indeed the basis for all creative arts, and even the sciences, man’s attempt to come to grips with our place in an endless universe, the meaning of life, and its corollary, death.  When the 400-year-old King Beringer is told at the beginning of Eugene Ionesco’s play, Exit the King, that he now has only 90 minutes to live he rages “why was I born, if it wasn't forever?”

We live in an age of media overload, social, graphic, narrowcasting political views, and instant gratification on cell phones, iPads, and "reality" TV shows.  There are so many “streaming” choices that one’s inner life is suffocated.  Maybe that’s the point of it all, numbing us all into a somnambulistic state so we don’t have to do the hard thinking, just be an obedient lot of consumers.

More than ever we need the arts to find our moral compass, to return to examining one’s life.  Perhaps that is why the theater has become a centerpiece of my blog over the years, particularly the plays produced right here in my own backyard by Palm Beach Dramaworks.  It is among the best regional theaters in the United States, and although there are other good theaters nearby, none have been as consistently adept in their choice of plays, actors, and in their execution as Dramaworks.  It rivals New York and the West End.

Having reviewed so many plays of theirs over the past several years, missing just a few summer productions while we’re away, as an ex-publisher I thought it might be interesting to pull them together into an eBook PDF, something more navigable than going through the BlogSpot site. The software for doing this is not very flexible, thus including entries where Dramaworks is merely mentioned.   As such, some of our personal life, as well as an occasional review of other theatres’ productions, and even a few book reviews get commingled.  Fortunately, there are not many.  The vast bulk is indeed the “history” of Dramaworks during the period. 

What results is a 200 page PDF, easily downloadable into iBooks and therefore readable off line.  I brought my iPad on a recent Caribbean cruise (more on that in a later entry) and thought I’d just look over the results and instead I ended up reading it virtual cover to virtual cover.  I had feared a lot of redundancy.  After all, how many different ways are there of praising a play and performance since PBD’s productions have been uncommonly exceptional? (There are some reviews on my site of other theatre productions which are negative, so it’s not as if I don’t have a critical bone in my body.)

But it seems to come across without much literal repetition and most of the impact reading it as an eBook is from the sheer energy and enthusiasm that went into these reviews, not from any particular “review skill acumen.”   It’s all part of buying into Dramaworks’ vision:  “To enhance the quality of life through the transformative power of live theatre.”  Full circle back to the “examined life.”

Interestingly, the very first entry in the collection, published in November 2007, is entitled Literature and Family.  It is one of those entries that is not a review of a Dramaworks play although one paragraph does cover their production of The Subject Was Roses.  Most of the entry could serve as a fitting introduction to this collection as so much great literature and theatre is about family. That entry taps into some of my own family “secrets.” As Tolstoy said "happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Literature and Family concludes with an essay about my father.  It explains a lot about how I made the journey to the very words you are reading at this moment.

Finally, I thank the PBD professionals who are really responsible for the contents of this document, and in particular, Dramaworks’ founders, William Hayes, Producing Artistic Director; Sue Ellen Beryl, Managing Director; and Nanique Gheridian, Company Manager. 

The PDF of the Dramaworks Retrospective by Robert Hagelstein is available here:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Theatre Roundtable: Directly Speaking

One of the many benefits of Dramaworks in West Palm Beach is the diversity of their offerings outside the productions on the main stage, in particular their ongoing educational program Dramalogue which is “a series that explores all aspects of theatre, in conversations with or about the industry's top professionals and master artists.” This year’s program is one of their best and last night’s Theatre Roundtable, Directly Speaking was, for me, particularly fascinating and relevant.

This was a live question and answer session about directing, trying to answer the question “what, exactly, does a director do?”  The participants were among the leading directors in South Florida, Joseph Adler the producing artistic director of the GableStage, David Arisco, the artistic director of the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, William Hayes a founding member of Palm Beach Dramaworks as well as its producing artistic director, and J. Barry Lewis, Dramaworks’ resident director and who also directs plays at other area theatres. Hayes and Lewis were the moderators of this spellbinding discussion.  Between the four directors on the panel, they estimate having some 400 plays under their directorial belts!

What impressed me was not only the content of their discussion, but their passion as well.  These directors are devoted to their craft; it is both an art and a process.  I was also struck by how closely directing relates to the role I fulfilled during my career, publisher. To be one for nearly forty years required the same degree of passion.

Joseph Adler likened his directorial career to pushing that absurd rock of Sisyphus up the hill, trying to reach the peak, but always being condemned to not reach it and having to do it all over again.  To him, it has always been the attempt to achieve perfection, but having to settle for the act of directing as being an ongoing learning experience.  I can relate. During my career as a publisher; the more I learned, the more I discovered there was to learn.

The director’s role is to present the play as the author intended and to get all the artistic aspects of a production in alignment to achieve that purpose, stage design, lighting, costuming, blocking and movement of the actors, not to mention the auditioning process as actor selection is as critical as getting the actors to understand the director’s vision and to act in harmony. 

Amusingly, someone said when a play is good they commend the actors but when it is bad it’s entirely the director’s fault! It was also said that a leading actor’s off night is always much worse than an average actor’s average night, especially if an actor goes “rogue,” changing interpretation after a play opens.  The production will then most likely stray from the director’s vision of the play.  And, unknown to most audiences, once a play opens (and in the South Florida regional theatre scene that occurs in most cases less than a month from when they first start to work on a play!), the play is no longer in the director’s control; it is handed off to the stage manager.  So the director has precious few weeks to get everything working together.

While there are overlapping choices of types of plays presented at the three theatres represented in the discussion, each has its specialization as well.  David Arisco’s background in musical theatre, as well as the size of Actor’s Playhouse’s 600 seat main stage has resulted in more musicals while Joseph Adler’s intimate 150-seat theater in Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel has gravitated to more experimental productions.  Dramaworks 218-seat theatre is also intimate but Hayes and company have focused more on well-established contemporary dramatic works, with some musical theatre during their summer programs.  And next week it is opening its new 35 seat Diane & Mark Perlberg Studio Theatre on the second floor for its also new endeavor, the Dramaworkshop, a lab for developing new plays, the first one being Buried Cities by Jennifer Fawcett. 

All of this reminds me of my publishing days. We too would have overlapping publishing programs, particularly in academic publishing, but we also forged our way into unique reference programs and even occasionally a competitive trade book (one published for a general audience).  Each press would generally be known for a particular specialty.

Unlike many commercial enterprises (and except for the university presses most publishing is a for-profit endeavor – or at least that’s the intent), book publishing is different as each book is a “unique product.”  Plays are similarly unique, each needing a creative team to produce it.  The director of a play is its CEO, very often involved in the selection process itself, and then heading up his creative technical team, and the actors, to present the author’s vision and to please his audience. 

As in theatre, we had to do justice to our authors. In publishing, our team was comprised of advisory editors (to help select the publishable material or to develop new works from scratch), copy editors, production editors, marketing specialists to make sure the book reaches its intended audience, designers for promotion and for the book itself, and then the back office business -- royalties, sales receipts, customer service, etc.  And there are similar business requirements to run a successful theatre, including fund raising as ticket sales themselves usually cover only about half of a regional theatre’s expenses.

I make these observations as those were the thoughts running through my mind listening to these great directors speak.  They were talking about a creative process I identify with although I neither have the knowledge or translatable experience to direct a play.  Ask me to produce a book, no problem! So no wonder I’ve become a “citizen reviewer” of many of the Dramaworks’ productions, and some other theatre productions as well.  Dramalogue helped bring out the sense of parallelism to my working life.  The “invisible hand” of the director is not so dissimilar to working with a creative publishing team.