Thursday, September 27, 2012

Podcast of Danny Ain't is complete

Danny Ain't is now up and running on iTunes.  You can download it for free.  Go to iTunes, search for "Joe Cottonwood Danny" and you'll find it.

Danny is hungry.  Danny is a boy living alone who is befriended by a couple of coyotes.  Coyotes are tricksters.  Coyotes are clever survivors.  So is Danny.

Though the book was published way back in 1992, the themes of hardship and survival seem as if they were written for the present day.  It's a "children's book" that is secretly enjoyed by many adults.

I hope you like it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lit Night in La Honda

Tonight is Lit Night at Cafe Cuesta in swingin' downtown La Honda, California.  I'll be reading at the open mic, along with Terry Adams and whoever wanders in off the street.

It's always a fun evening.  Starts at 7 pm, usually over before 9 (hey, this is a working town).  Come early for dinner.

Malcolm (chef at Cafe Cuesta) will be making gnocchi.  Beer and wine, as usual, at the bar.  

Shirts not required.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Danny Ain't: The Mitt and Ann Romney Edition

My novel Danny Ain't was written in 1990 and published in 1992.  Some of my friends are claiming that I wrote it about the 2012 presidential election.

I can see their point.  Episode 14 gets to the heart of it:

"Danny?  Have you already eaten?  Or would you like to join us for dinner?”

“I might have a few bites,” I said.

I walked over the white carpet down the hallway, following the smell of steak and baked potatoes in the air.

As soon as I sit down I grab a glass of milk and pour it straight down my throat until it’s gone with a few drops dribbling down my chin.  Then I cut off a big hunk of steak and slam it into my mouth, and cut another and stuff it in there before I finish chewing the first one so my cheek bulges out and I can’t even close my lips, and I cut another and happen to look up and see that Mrs. Livermore was just sitting there with her fork halfway to her mouth, staring at me.

“Hungry, Danny?” she said.

“A little.  I — uh — I’m not used to eating so late.”

Mr. Livermore was looking at me, too.  Like he’d look at a big hairy spider.

I slowed down.  Mr. and Mrs. Livermore drank red wine with the meal, one whole bottle and half of another.  I drank two more glasses of milk, ate another slab of steak, and helped myself to one and a half baked potatoes.

Mrs. Livermore with the blonde hair and blue eyes, the diamond earrings, and fancy dress looked to me like a movie star.  She could’ve been dressed for the Oscars instead of just for dinner.  Mr. Livermore had dark hair and one of those faces that always look like they need a shave.  Next to her he looked old and tired and angry.  His shoulders slumped forward, and his jaw looked like concrete.

When Mr. Livermore finished eating, he leaned back in his chair.  “Well, Norma,” he said, “I spoke with that man Henry Hoggle, and he said he could begin work on the pool tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Mrs. Livermore said.  “My, that’s quick.  Oh, this is excellent.”

Mr. Livermore nodded his head and said, “It’s a pleasure to speak to a man who’s eager to earn his money.”  He looked at me.  “Don’t you think so, young man?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.  “I mean, what other way is there to get money?”

“Some people,” Mr. Livermore said, “seem to think they can get money by whining for it.  There’s only one way to get ahead in this world, and that is to work for it.  Work hard.  It’s a choice you make.  You can choose to be poor, or you can choose to be rich.  You aren’t going to choose to be poor, are you, young man?”

“No, sir.  I’m not.”  Hear that?  I’m not.  Sitting at the Livermores’ table with Mrs. Livermore wearing diamond earrings under a sparkling chandelier, I could talk right.  It sounded right.  I said, “I’m not going to be poor.  I’m not going to make any more wrong choices.”

Mr. Livermore raised his eyebrows.  “You’ve made some already?”

“Well.  One,” I said.  A big one.  The first choice of my life.  If you believe that stuff.

Mrs. Livermore smiled.  “We’re all entitled to one mistake, Danny,” she said.  “But be careful.  There are a lot of temptations.  Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on what you want.”

“I can stay focused,” I said.  “It’s not hard.”  Check it out: It’s not.  No more ain’t for me.  I was feeling like one classy dude.

Mr. Livermore sat leaning back in his chair, scowling.  He spoke, not to me but to his wife: “The main temptation of the poor,” he said, “is that they spend all their money as fast as they can get it.  They get paid, and they go directly to a tavern.  When I drive by that bar in town and I see all those decrepit old cars parked outside — and motorcycles — I can’t imagine what pleasure they see in there.”

“They meet their friends there,” I said.

“And spend all their money, no doubt,” Mr. Livermore said.

“Not really.  Pop goes there, and he doesn’t drink half as much as you do.”

Mr. Livermore winced. 

Mrs. Livermore said, “Danny, that’s not a nice thing to say.”

Mr. Livermore went back to scowling.  He leaned forward.  “Don’t mind what he says, Norma.  He’s just a little urchin.”

I’d seen urchins washed up on the beach.  They were purple with spiny things all over.  I didn’t know why he called me that.  But I didn’t like it.

“Well,” Mrs. Livermore said with a smile that seemed to take a lot of work, “tell me about this soccer game you’ve roped Law into playing tomorrow.  What is the name of your team?”

I coughed.

“What, Danny?”

“I forget.”

The funny thing was, I was taking a liking to Mrs. Livermore.  She meant well.  She could’ve brushed me off like a fly, but here she was feeding me dinner at her table and talking to me like she cared about me and encouraging Law to be friends with me, even though she didn’t know — she couldn’t even imagine — the way I live.  All she knew was that my clothes were raggedy and my skin was brown — two reasons for her to freeze me out of her life, if she wanted to.  But she didn’t.  The one who wanted to was Mr. Livermore, I think.  I guess that’s what he meant, calling me that name.

“Mr. Livermore,” I said, “about what you were saying — about earning money?  Could I ask you a question?”

“What is it, young man?”  He looked uneasy.

“How did you earn the money for that car?”

“Oh.  Well, you see, I was a Cee Eee Oh.  That means Chief Executive Officer.  I was the boss.  I ran a company.”

“You don’t anymore?”

“Well . . . no.  The company doesn’t exist anymore.”

“You mean you quit?”

“No.  The company quit.  It went bankrupt.”

“Bankrupt?  Doesn’t that mean it went broke?”


“That sounds like a dsh situation.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“How can you get rich if your company goes broke?”

Mr. Livermore frowned.  He didn’t answer.

Mrs. Livermore leaned forward and explained: “You see, Danny, he didn’t own the company.  He just ran it.”

“Norma,” Mr. Livermore said, “it is not necessary to explain — ”

“The boy wants to learn,” Mrs. Livermore said.  “You see, running a company is a very important job.  So they pay you a lot of money.”

“But if the company goes broke, doesn’t that mean you didn’t do your job right?  Isn’t it your job to keep the company from going broke?  Why would they pay you — ”

“That’s enough!” Mr. Livermore said.

“Yes, Nathan,” Mrs. Livermore said.

And they both poured themselves another glass of wine.

“So,” I said, “the way to get rich is to run a company that goes bankrupt.”

Mrs. Livermore shook her head, but she also smiled.  Mr. Livermore just scowled.

“Going bankrupt,” Mrs. Livermore said, “is very complicated.  I never understood it myself.”

“Then I guess I can’t, either.”

“Some day you will, Danny.  When you learn more about business.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do.”


“I’m going to work hard and earn a lot of money and buy a car just like yours.”

“Good, Danny.”  Mrs. Livermore looked pleased.  “We all should earn the money for the things we want.”

“What about you, Mrs. Livermore?  How did you earn the money for that car?”

“Me?  Oh, well, I married Nathan.”

“Is that like going bankrupt?”

Mr. Livermore pushed back his chair with a screech that made me wonder if he’d ripped the carpet.  Mrs. Livermore raised an eyebrow and watched him leave the table.

She never answered my question.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Danny Ain't on YouTube

Audiobooks on YouTube? Well, yeah.  Lots of people listen to music on YouTube, much of it displaying nothing but a static album cover.  So why not a book?

It's an experiment.  While my podcast host, has been down for a few days (making all my podcasts temporarily inaccessible, even from iTunes —sorry), I started thinking about YouTube as an alternative.

Here's the result:

Episode 01

and Danny Ain't, episode 02:

If feedback is good, I'll upload the rest of the episodes.  Please — let me know what you think.

And good news: podiobooks is now back on the air, and so are my podcasts.  I'll upload the Danny Ain't podcast this week and let everybody know when it's ready for downloading.  Or you can get an advance listen on YouTube.

The images, by the way, are various versions of the bookcover, ranging from the original hardback edition to sketches for an ebook cover through various stages.  The two versions of coyotes on a hillside are by the wonderful Chartan, while the final ebook version is by Melody Pilotte.  Then there's a photo of Will Fourt, the singer on the intro and outro.  At the end there's an old photo of myself from the original Danny Ain't bookjacket, which was published in 1992.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gidget, Kathy Kohner Zuckerberg, and (ahem) the great Kahoona

The original novel called Gidget, The Little Girl With Big Ideas — which started the whole Gidget craze — came out in 1957.  I've just read the new edition of 2001 which is titled, simply, Gidget, and I'm amazed at how much I liked it. The new edition's forward by Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, who was the real-life Gidget, puts the story in perspective.

Kathy Kohner was a petite (less than 5 feet tall) perky Jewish girl who became obsessed with surfing back in the days before the Beach Boys started singing about it, before most of America had even heard of the sport. Her actual photo was used on the original book cover and again on the new edition. In the novel, Gidget remains a petite brunette, but I can't recall any mention of being Jewish. (She became a blond in the movie as played by Sandra Dee.)  Gidget is not interested in dating, at least not with her high school peers, and she is something of a tomboy. But she also wishes that her "bosom" was bigger. She's on the edge of discovering her sexuality at age 15 and is attracted to the college guys who spend the summer surfing at Malibu, especially one guy named Moondoggie. She also befriends the leader of the group, an older man called the great Kahoona who is a non-collegiate full-time beach bum, and quite proud of it.

With spunk and determination, Gidget ingratiates herself into the group of surfers, who reluctantly - but protectively - accept her as something of a mascot. There's a fascinating tug-of-war between Gidget's growing attraction for Moondoggie and the surfing group's determination to keep hands off.

Gidget is a rebel of the 1950s. She lies to her parents and sneaks out of the house.  And what's weird is that all this little rebel wants to do is surf (which was considered a boy's sport) and get pinned (frat pin, that is) by Moondoggie. How it all plays out is well worth the very short read.

An interesting dimension of the story is that the author, Frederick Kohner, was writing the novel about his own daughter with her cooperation - and her actual diaries. Some people will get creeped out that a father was creating a character of his own daughter and writing about her sexuality and her attraction for an older guy. As a writer and father myself, I admit to some queasiness, or at least some curiosity, about the situation.  Fred Kohner was a professional writer, a good one, who recognized that the sexuality was the essential part of the story. He also had a PhD from the University of Vienna, the training ground of Sigmund Freud.  Kathy Kohner in later life seems to have had no problem with what her father wrote and is in fact quite proud of her role - and interestingly, she was always attracted to professors and eventually married one. Analyze that, if you wish.

Ed McClanahan has written an interesting follow-up, based on his lifelong friendship with Kathy (he was her first English professor at Oregon State College in 1958): 
And the next thing I knew there she was, right there in the front row of my very first class, a drop-dead cute, Malibu-tanned, feisty-looking little Jewish beach bunny whose natural insouciance made her an enlivening presence amongst all the Presbyterian peaches-and-cream sorority girl home ec majors.  ...When, in her first in-class theme, she used the term "shit-heel squares" to describe certain of her peers ... I knew right away that this was someone I wanted to know. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Three Without Fear

A wonderful adventure, Three Without Fear was published in 1947 but is just as engaging today. It's like Gary Paulsen's Hatchet but for a younger age, and instead of a boy alone in the wilderness it's about three kids alone in the desert. I read it to a third grader, and neither of us could put it down.

After a shipwreck, an American boy named Dave is cast ashore on a beach in Baja California. He is found by Pedro and Maria,
brother and sister orphans who have run away from virtual slavery in a foster home at Cabo Blanco and are now hiding in a makeshift shelter in the desert. Dave wants to return to his parents in California, while Pedro and Maria want to find their grandmother in northern Baja. Together they decide to hike north following the desolate Pacific Coast (Baja in the 1940s was much more isolated and unpopulated than it is today). It will be a journey of hundreds of miles, on foot. Accompanying them are a half-coyote dog named Chico and a roadrunner bird with a broken wing.

 It's a story of survival, discovery, and friendship. They improvise and invent. They hunt rabbits with slingshots and dig up clams on the beach. They endure storms and days without water or food. They start fires without matches.  They make tortillas by grinding the seeds of wild plants into flour.  They are held captive by a bad man. They attempt to repair a derelict boat with nearly disastrous results.  They face these adventures, as the title says, without fear while their friendship grows.

The California white boy and the Mexican brother/sister learn their cultural differences and common humanity, which is woven nicely and unobtrusively into the story. In the trek, Dave becomes nearly as brown as his companions.  The ending - and their parting - is both happy and touchingly sad.

Only the rigid gender roles might betray the book's age (Maria cooks; the boys hunt) but the roles are consistent with writing in 1947 and particularly true to the Mexican locale. Maria, by the way, is one tough cookie.

The illustrations by Ralph Ray, Jr. are a striking bonus to an excellent story. The book is out of print and costs a small fortune on the used book market (I paid $50 for mine).

Here's the opening:
Dave was never quite sure how it happened.  He only knew that he awoke as he was being hurled from his berth, and mingled with the startled awakening, there was a terrific explosion.  For a moment or more he lay stupefied on the floor of his stateroom, struggling to regain his senses.  Then slowly he realized the steady throb of the engines, to which he had grown so accustomed in the week since boarding the ship, had abruptly ceased.

I recommend it to boys 8 to 12 and to adults who love good books about kids.

Given the nature of this blog, I was particularly enchanted by the inventiveness of the kids in plugging wormholes in a leaky old boat, building a raft, and in Dave's invention of a still consisting of a gourd filled with water sitting on an oyster shell to protect it from flame, heated over a fire with the steam escaping through hollow reeds to drip into another shell, by which they slowly and painstakingly converted salt water to fresh water.

Robert Coleman DuSoe (also spelled Robert C. "Du Soe" with a space between Du and Soe
— it makes a difference when you search) was born February 20, 1920 in Los Angeles, California and died September 1, 1964, also in Los Angeles.  He wrote several books for children, including a nice one called Sea Boots.  He is credited with story or screenplay for two movies, a noir The Devil Thumbs a Ride and a western 20 Mule Team.  That's all I can find out about him.  Whoever are the heirs of Robert C. DuSoe, (or Robert C. Du Soe), I beg you to re-issue at least Three Without Fear — or contact me and let me do it.