Friday, December 4, 2009

You're such a lovely audience

You can't have a reading without an audience.

Here are a few of the local folks who came not to read but to listen - and eat and drink and be with friends - on our most recent Lit Night at Sullivan's Pub in La Honda.

And in La Honda, you can't have a reading without a bartender:

Next Lit Night, by the way, will be December 30.

Should be a lively night - lots of college kids home on vacation.

Book Signing

I'll be selling and signing copies of my books this coming Sunday, December 6 at the Peninsula School Crafts Fair. Is a writer a craftsman? I think so. I'll be there among the wooden toys, the hand-dipped candles, the jars of honey, the tie-dye shirts.

I'll have a big stack of Clear Heart and another stack of Quake! and a few copies of my other books as well, including the hard-to-find underground classic, Famous Potatoes.

Peninsula School is on Peninsula Way in Menlo Park, California. The Crafts Fair runs from 11 to 4.

Stop by and say hi.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Charlie Cutten: Part 2

Back in April of 2009, I posted an appreciation of Charlie Cutten, a marvelous La Honda musician, a gentle cherub of a guy with a twinkly grin and a white beard. Now I’ve just heard from Mark Horne, an old acquaintance of Charlie’s. Mark shared some memories. With his permission, I’d like to add them here:

“I first met Charlie in 1978. We spent much of the summer together in Avignon. I had just finished my first year at university and was hitching around Europe. For the first couple of weeks in Avignon I worked in a steel plant during the day and hung around the market stalls under the Palais de Papes in the evening. It was there that I met Charlie and within a short time I had given up the steel plant as I was making much more money 'bottling' for Charlie when he played around the cafes in the centre of town. He was such a nice guy and so talented.

“Some years later, after I had finished at university and joined the corporate world, I was on a business trip to Munich. I was coming up from the Ubahn and heard someone playing and singing in the street above. I knew that voice - Charlie Cutten. When he saw me he just smiled and kept playing; typically Charlie. Later that evening some friends of mine managed to get him a gig at one of the local clubs and we spent too many hours afterwards drinking and remembering the days in Avignon.

"I am now a middle aged guy with my own kids who go roaming around Europe during the summer. I have never forgotten Charlie, his sense of fun and his exceptional talent. I can't believe that he is gone.

“There were a number of adventures/screw-ups that we had that summer like:

“Being relentlessly chased by a farmer when we stole a couple of peaches from his farm. He actually followed all the way back to the leather stall where we were staying. We had to hide under one of the display tables for ages, struggling not to laugh, while he argued with the stall owners that he had seen us come in.

“Meeting a guy called Dr. John J. J_____ who seemed really nice until he started talking about Viet Nam. Apparently he spent the last few years of the war taking guys off death row on the promise that if they survived they would get a reprieve. As you can imagine he and Charlie had some heated discussions.

“Walking through Avignon hospital trying to find a girl that was part of our group who had been mugged. We didn't know her name so he walked through the wards playing his guitar trying to get her to recognise us. The matron wasn't very happy but he was a big hit with the younger staff and the patients.”

Charlie Cutten, 55, a Stanford University graduate and well-known figure on the Northern California acoustic music scene, died April 12, 2004. His wonderful CD is still available at

When we die, ripples of our spirit continue spreading, little waves, farther and farther. Charlie's music still moves me. When I hear his "Rejoice," tingles still run down my spine. Somewhere, Charlie is smiling, still touching us in his gentle, cheerful way.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gary L. Lark: Becoming a Librarian

Becoming a Librarian

It was a non-union job
and we were less than qualified,
trainable when we weren't too hung over.
The houses were designed
for the working poor;
there was a government loan
available if you qualified.
The boss aimed to be rich
from this niche market.

It was the stinging grip
of the Skilsaw on frosty mornings,
the ladder rungs digging into my soles
as I carried the last bundle of shingles
to the roof,
the knees rebelling as I finished
a concrete garage floor,
the endless painting of walls,
and shoveling pea gravel
in a steady January rain
that put me back in college.

Four years later the boss bought a ranch
and I went to work in a warm library.

The poem is by Gary L. Lark from his book Men at the Gates, which is out of print. The drawing is by Sue Dolen and is from the same book. All the poems in Men at the Gates (but not the drawing) are included in a newer book called Getting By, which you can buy from Amazon. I'll make it easy: Use this link to order Getting By from Amazon.

Attention Gary Lark or Sue Dolen: if you object to my posting your good work, I will remove it immediately. My intention is to honor you.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A poem by Norah Pollard

The Sum of Man

by Norah Pollard

In autumn,
facing the end of his life,
he moved in with me.
We piled his belongings—
his army-issue boots, knife magazines,
Steely Dan tapes, his grinder, drill press,
sanders, belts and hacksaws—
in a heap all over the living room floor.
For two weeks he walked around the mess.

One night he stood looking down at it all
and said: "The sum total of my existence."
Emptiness in his voice.

Soon after, as if the sum total
needed to be expanded, he began to place
things around in the closets and spaces I'd
cleared for him, and when he'd finished
setting up his workshop in the cellar, he said,
"I should make as many knives as I can,"
and he began to work.

The months plowed on through a cold winter.
In the evenings, we'd share supper, some tale
of family, some laughs, perhaps a walk in the snow.
Then he'd nip back down into the cellar's keep
To saw and grind and polish,
creating his beautiful knives
until he grew too weak to work.
But still he'd slip down to stand at his workbench
and touch his woods
and run his hand over his lathe.

One night he came up from the cellar
and stood in the kitchen's warmth
and, shifting his weight
from one foot to the other, said,
"I love my workshop."
Then he went up to bed.

He's gone now.
It's spring. It's been raining for weeks.
I go down to his shop and stand in the dust
of ground steel and shavings of wood.
I think on how he'd speak of his dying, so
easily, offhandedly, as if it were
a coming anniversary or
an appointment with the moon.
I touch his leather apron, folded for all time,
and his glasses set upon his work gloves.
I take up an unfinished knife and test its heft,
and feel as well the heft of my grief for
this man, this brother I loved,
the whole of him so much greater
than the sum of his existence.

"The Sum of Man" by Norah Pollard, from Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom. © Antrim House, 2009.

Note: I don't have permission to show this wonderful poem, and I don't even know how to ask for permission. Norah, if you or your publisher speak up, I'll immediately remove this post. But in the meanwhile, let's appreciate this fine evocation of the heart of a craftsman. You can read some more samples of Norah Pollard's work - and purchase her books - at Antrim House Books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reading at Sullivan's Pub

I'll be reading tonight at Sullivan's Pub in La Honda, starting about 6:30 pm.

Last month we had some new talent.

The weapons policy was in effect.

And the dress code, of course, was strictly enforced.
Iomega MiniMax Hard Drive, FireWire 400/USB 2.0, 1TB - 33957

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


You can hear a new interview of me by a nice lady at I'm on the first 8 minutes of the show, talk a little about my background and about the making of Babcock.


It warms my heart to learn that there are people out there who collect bricks. Funky, basic bricks, among the foundation of our history, uncelebrated, essential. Here's one person I just learned about, courtesy of the fascinating St. Louis Mosaic blog: a web page by Scott K. Williams called

"Underground Coal and Clay Mines in the City of St. Louis"

and here's a sample:
The internet never ceases to amaze me. A year ago when I was writing about Limey Kay, I couldn't find much about bricks when I googled. Now I find amazing stuff. How about, for example, which is focused on the Hudson Valley:
Or how about the American Brick Collection of the National Building Museum:
More later. I've got some browsing to do...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brick Blog!

If you like brickwork, and if you enjoyed one or another of my posts on the subject, I recommend this wonderful blog: St. Louis Mosaic.

As for my readers, if I have any, I apologize for the lapse in posting lately. We've had serious health issues in our family and have seen quite enough of Stanford Hospital for a long while. My wife is now fine (biopsy benign!) and I am slowly mending from various bodily insults. Enough said.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Babcock Podcast is Complete

It's all there at or at iTunes. The cost? It's free!

I made a promotional teaser. It's two minutes long, if you'd like to hear what the podcast is all about:

Listen to a two minute introduction to the Babcock podcast.

If you're more of a reader than a listener, or if you want to read along while listening, you can download an e-book of Babcock using this link to Smashwords, which offers e-books in all the possible formats for every type of e-reader, or as a pdf readable on your computer. They'll charge you $3.99 for the download, which seems pretty reasonable to me (or you can get a free sample).

“Full of humor, hope, and bravery. Richly drawn, fast paced, enticing, and downright witty. . . Sure to be a hit."—School Library Journal.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reading at Sullivan's Pub

The next open mic reading at Sullivan's Pub in La Honda will take place on Wednesday, September 30 starting around 6:30. Meanwhile, Jane Sullivan has given me some photos she took of the last reading, all taken inside the pub, which remind me that it's time to reiterate some of the standing rules of Lit Night. First of all, we ask that you check your weapons at the door.

If you don't, be advised that Jane is packing heat.

We follow the rules here. I don't know why La Honda gets such a wild reputation...

You can see all the photos at this link.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Babcock is now an ebook

I'm back from vacation and catching up. First of all, the ebook of Babcock is now available from and can be downloaded at this link. Meanwhile, the podcast of Babcock continues. There are now 8 episodes available.

The ebooks of Clear Heart and Boone Barnaby are surprisingly popular with members of the US military serving in Iraq, Korea, Afghanistan, and Germany. I'm gratified. I hope they like Babcock, too. And if you should happen to be in the armed forces, by the way, I make these ebooks available at no cost to members of the military. Send me an email for details.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm a criminal in Italy

While on vacation in New York, I became a criminal in Italy. An Italian prosecutor named Giuliano Mignini has charged me with defamation, which is a criminal, not a civil, charge in Italy and which is prosecuted by the state without any expense to Mignini - though potentially great expense to myself. My offense? I called him a bully. His response, bringing the power of the state against a small fry such as myself, only serves to prove my point.

Here's how it came about: I sent an email to a friend in Italy who is a journalist. I was commenting on the Amanda Knox case. He published my comments (with my permission). This is what I said:
"The Meredith Kercher murder is one of those mirrors that reflects the prejudices of whoever is looking into it. There is no physical evidence and no credible motive, and yet an egotistical prosecutor is blaming Amanda Knox anyway. In the USA, this would only happen if she were black. Perhaps partying American college kids are so hated in Italy that Amanda will be treated as blacks are treated in the USA, and she will be convicted not because of the evidence but because of general resentment of shallow rich Americans. Personally, from what I've read I don't like Amanda Knox. She sounds spoiled, naive, and shallow. But that's not a crime. I loathe the prosecutor, who has a counterpart in every city in the USA - a preening, intellectually dishonest bully who cares more about making newspaper headlines than in serving justice. It's the same all over the world. Power and prejudice are the enemies of justice."

Next thing I know, I'm being contacted by CBS news asking me to comment on the fact that I'm being sued by this nutcase of a prosecutor.

I'm safe in the USA. Bottom line is, I probably will never be able to set foot in Italy again. Which is a damn shame. I love that land, I love those people. I made some good friends over there.

By the way, I regret the way I characterized Amanda Knox. The more I learn about her, the more I see her as simply a naive college kid caught in a bad place. I imagine she's growing up fast.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Babcock: The podcast is live!

At last! The first five episodes of the Babcock podcast are now up and running! I'll be adding one or two episodes every week until we reach the end - there will be 13 episodes in all. You can download the podcast directly from (warning, this requires some technical smarts) or you can do what 98% of my listeners do (including myself) and download the podcast episodes from iTunes. Just go to the iTunes "store" and search for Joe Cottonwood. They're free.

For all you Susan Walker fans, she's back and covering multiple female roles, multiple ages, multiple personalities, each with a distinct voice and with Susan's sensitive interpretation that adds so much to the meaning of each character.

One new voice - and the only female role not covered by Susan Walker - is Caroline Graham doing the voice of Kirsten. Caroline does an amazing interpretation of a spirited 13-year-old girl. Since recording the podcast with me, Caroline just appeared in a stage production of the rock opera Tommy. She's done Shakespeare, too. She's also a writer. You'll be hearing more from this talented young woman.Playing the role of Danny (as he also did in the podcast of Boone Barnaby), you'll hear the voice of Michael Minard. Mike has written music for several movies and tv shows (including a long run on Sesame Street) and is a wildly popular music teacher in New York and Oregon.The role of Boone is voiced by Aidan Wing, who is both a talented musician (he's one of the instrumentalists on the Clear Heart music) and a careful carpenter:
Another local La Honda talent, David Rock, supplies the voice of the character named Law. (He's the one on the promo shouting "Go. Go, man!")
Will Fourt plays the role of Dylan. Also, more importantly, he's the singer and co-songwriter of all the music on the Babcock podcast. It's such a pleasure to write songs with Will. He was also the singer on the Boone Barnaby and Clear Heart podcasts.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reading at Sullivan's Pub

Join me at Sullivan's in La Honda on Wednesday, August 26 starting around 6:30 for some tears-in-your-beer poetry. Oh, and also, we seem to have developed a reputation for reading poems about "genitalia," as Jane Sullivan so delicately puts it. Not so. We treat all of the human body with equal irony. And, really, our subject matter is the human heart. Bring your own body parts, and come listen.

I've posted a photostream of recent readings at this flickr location. Please note that almost everybody is fully clothed. This is, after all, a serious literary event. Plus a bit of stand-up comedy.

Ground rules:
1) Buy something to drink. It pays the rent, plus it makes everybody more friendly.
2) Keep it under 10 minutes.
3) Dress code: Whatever. Or nothing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm on Smashwords

A nifty web site called Smashwords has made two of my books available for downloading onto iPhones, Sony e-readers, Palm e-readers, Kindle e-readers, regular cell phones, laptop computers, wristwatches, whatever platform you prefer. You can sample 50% of each book for free and then - gotcha! - you have to pay to read the second half. It's pretty inexpensive, though.

The future of publishing is e-reading, though the publishers are as clueless as the music industry about how to handle it. Smashwords seems to have the answer: easy, cheap, and user-friendly to the reader. Also, to be honest, Smashwords is generous in sharing its income with the authors (unlike, say, Amazon - or any print publisher).

You'll find my novel for adults, Clear Heart, here: Clear Heart on Smashwords.

And my novel for children and adults, Boone Barnaby, is here: Boone Barnaby on Smashwords.

So if you've been itching to read them on your cell phones - or on your laptops - now you can.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Babcock: The podcast

It looks like the web host has resolved its problems, so I'll begin uploading my podcast of Babcock today. After a few days of grinding through the technical sausage-maker, the podcast should be available for downloading. I'll post a notice when it's "live."

Meanwhile, here's a preview: Babcock Promo. It's an mp3 file, and it's two minutes long.

While the web host was under reconstruction, I couldn't check my download statistics, but now they're back and I see that for example, in one day -- yesterday -- there were 178 downloads of the Clear Heart podcast and 75 downloads of the Boone Barnaby podcast.

It's amazing to me. Instead of tapering off, the downloads of both podcasts keep accelerating. It's totally viral. I haven't publicized either podcast for a long, long time.

(The cover image of Babcock is the original bookjacket, which was painted by Shane Evans.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

"It's funny, very tender, and enormously, tremendously human."

One of the best book review blogs out there is called Bookslut. As you can tell by the name, it has a female, somewhat irreverent point of view. In their August issue, Colleen Mondor wrote this review of Clear Heart:

Clear Heart is a realistic, if somewhat turbulent, look at the lives of hard working men in the California construction business. Anchored by two characters, Wally the contractor and Abe, the teenager he employs and befriends, it includes numerous secondary characters all of whom revolve around a plot based on building houses in a business climate that does not always reward honesty. When Wally finds himself teetering on the edge of bankruptcy after a client turns out to be a liar and a cheat (and an appallingly bad businessman), it is only through the good will he has engendered over the years with the people who work with him that he has a shot at saving everything he loves. Abe, swinging a hammer for the first time in his life, becomes a student of male behavior in the midst of all this drama, the new kid who is at first the victim of harmless pranks but soon graduates to dedicated apprentice and valued crewmember. Abe sees the kind of decent man Wally is and finds a great deal of value in his life and the lives of those who are part of his world. In the end, author Joe Cottonwood succeeds on multiple levels with the novel, from exploring the nature of responsible relationships, both romantic and friendly, to revealing the high value and reward of an honest day's work. There is also, at a very critical juncture, a road trip.

The road trip is the kind of frenzied last minute rescue that brings the book to its soaring conclusion and wraps up multiple relationships. Abe and "FrogGirl," a second apprentice (the name is quirky at first but becomes very significant), set off in a temperamental vehicle to transport a large bell from the east coast to the west. Nothing works out the way it should and Abe ends up questioning love. It's funny, very tender, and enormously, tremendously human. In fact, Clear Heart just might be one of the most human books I've read in a long time.

Life is good today.

Update (a day later): Apparently there was supposed to be a third paragraph in the review - a caution to teen readers about "sex of a real and raw nature" - which has now been restored on the Bookslut web site. Here it is:

Clear Heart was written for adults but Abe and FrogGirl are key to the story and both of them are transformed in significant ways. There is no mystery here, just a dozen small moments of hard work and deep thoughts and why both are important. There’s some sex of the real and raw nature (as in actually doing it as opposed to just talking about it) so older teens only on this one but for the right kid -- for the one who wants to know what to do with their life but isn’t sure how to work that out -- this book could very well be transformative. And if the kid likes to build things, well then, it’s perfect.

Though I wrote Clear Heart for adult readers, my books always have appealed strongly to teens as well, so the caution is appropriate. Is "sex of the real and raw nature" going to keep people from reading the book? You have been warned...