Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Joe and Terry Show: Pas de Deux

I'll be giving a poetry reading this Thursday, October 23, with my good friend Terry Adams at the Peninsula Ballet Theatre in San Mateo (California). Being at the ballet theatre, we'll be the "Pas de deux."

Terry and I have become a rather popular duo. They call us the "Joe and Terry Show." We trade poems, each trying to harmonize or counterpoint or somehow riff on what the other has just read. 

We open with a few stretches and calisthenics because one should always loosen up before a poetry workout. It's fun. 

Terry and I both have spent our lives in the construction trades, so we take a non-academic and somewhat irreverent approach to poetry and if nobody stops me I have a tendency to break into song at some point while Terry might break into bombastic psychedelic preaching (briefly, both of us).  

 The theater (they call it "theatre") apparently is plush and large, which will be a new experience for us as we normally read to small audiences in the backrooms of bookstores and our local pub. We'll be preceded by an art show reception and followed by an open mic. 

Actually we have no idea what sort of audience we'll gather, if any. What works in a small room might seem utterly asinine in a larger venue.  So I'm a little nervous, which is probably a good thing. If anybody can make it to San Mateo on a Thursday night, I'd love your support. The Peninsula Ballet Theatre is at 1880 South Grant Street, San Mateo (just off Highways 101 and 92). The art reception is at 6:30 pm, the reading starts at 7:00. Hey, bring a poem and read at the open mic.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Free Audiobook of 99 Jobs to the first responder

99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses is now available as an audiobook at the iTunes store or at I've got a free coupon I'll give to the first person to send me an email (joecottonwood at gmail). But, hey, it's worth buying. I read it in my own lovable raspy voice, so it's an authentic experience.

If you want it on CDs (and the sound quality is better that way) I can send you a set of ten CDs, which includes the entire audiobook. For that I'll have to charge $40 to cover the expenses.

The link to the iTunes store is here.
The link to the Audible store is here.
For CDs, shoot me an email.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I am utterly embarrassed to be a member of the Authors Guild

I am utterly embarrassed to be a member of the Authors Guild.

I joined the Guild about 30 years ago when I was first published by a mainstream publishing house. The Authors Guild back then seemed to be fighting for my rights as an author against the big bad publishing industry. The Authors Guild fought for me while I published six books with the big guys.

Times change. Now, like so many not-exactly-bestselling writers, I'm indie.

As an indie writer, it's painfully clear that the Authors Guild is fighting FOR the big bad publishing industry. They are puppets of Hachette. And they are clueless about the needs and issues confronting indie writers. What the hell happened?

My Authors Guild membership is up for renewal on September 30. After three decades, I am not renewing. I'm not angry, just sad.

Meanwhile, you can still buy my books from Amazon. The big bad publishing industry won't sell my books, but Amazon will.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Labor Day: 99 Jobs at a penny a job!

To celebrate Labor Day USA, I'm doing a one-week price reduction of 99 Jobs to 99 cents in the e-book editions. That's a penny a job!

Here are the links for
Any edition of the e-book will be priced at 99 cents through Labor Day.

If you're in the United Kingdom, you can celebrate Labor Day, too. You'll get the same price reduction at UK Kindle or Nook UK (it may take a few hours -- or days -- for the price reduction to trickle out to all the worldwide servers).

Happy Labor Day everybody.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another honor -- Kirkus Starred Review!

I was reluctant to submit 99 Jobs to the Kirkus review service because they are reputed to be the grumpy curmudgeons of the book review biz. On the other hand, a good review from them would be an honest honor. And lo and behold, they not only gave it a great review but also a Star! 

For an indie writer, a starred review from Kirkus is a rare and lovely accolade.

Here's what they said:
A general contractor and author looks back on a 35-year career contending with a variety of houses and people—most in disrepair. 

Beginning when the author was just starting out as a novice handyman in the 1970s, this collection of short essays roughly progresses through to the present day, when, despite numerous tumbles off ladders and at least one impaling, Cottonwood is still plying his trade. The many blue-collar jobs that Cottonwood (Clear Heart, 2009, etc.) wonderfully describes in his latest offering may involve worm-gear saws, ladders, lighting fixtures and the like, but they’re really all about people. Some are wealthy, some poor, but all are frail in some way and in need of some proper shoring—that includes the ace carpenter himself. Each vignette confidently stands on its own, whether several pages long or only a few paragraphs. The robust snapshots of the carpenter’s working life toiling in crawl spaces and basements around Southern California over the last four decades consistently play on important themes of mortality, class and personal fulfillment. Elegant entries like “A Working-Class Hippie” and “The Airplane Room” touch on the often ephemeral nature of close human relationships. A vague sense of melancholy pervades much of Cottonwood’s work, even in the midst of relative triumph, such as when Cottonwood receives a check for a job well-done: “This simple act always fascinates me: the transfer of wealth. So casual. So vital. A rich man of immense power, a tradesman with none. What if he refused?” 

Expertly crafted narrative nonfiction that reveals the framework of people’s lives. 
They got it wrong about "Southern California," but I guess from Manhattan anything west of the Hudson River is southern Cal. For the record, it's mostly about the San Francisco Bay Area with stops in upstate New York and St. Louis and Colorado and a bit of Maryland.

You can see the official review at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

99 Jobs -- Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014!

Just announced at the Book Expo America in New York: My book 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses has won the 2014 IRDA First Place as the "Best Non-Fiction of the Year." (IRDA is IndieReader Discovery Award, sponsored by Not "among the best." Not "one of the top five." They called it "THE BEST." First place. The best non-fiction indie book of 2014.

I'm feeling a little proud.

In addition to the honor, the prize includes a free Kindle Paperwhite 3G. I've never had an e-reader, so this will be a new experience for me.

But -- wow. "The best." If you see me smiling, now you know why.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Peter Korn, Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman

I'm a craftsman in two worlds, as a writer and as a construction worker. I don't write the kind of novels that win highfalutin awards, and I don't build the kind of houses that win architectural honors, but I'm pretty good at what I do. I craft. I make a living. So I'm always interested in how other people integrate their values, their families, their simple need to earn a living into their passion for craft.

Peter Korn is a writer, an educator, a furniture maker. As a craftsman he discovered that he couldn't make a living -- or sustain a marriage -- chiseling mortise and tenon joints one by one, chair by chair. He could teach, though. And he could write. In this book, he's a philosopher as he tries to come to grips with what it means to be a craft worker.

We view books through our own personal filters, so here's mine: what interested me was not the philosophy but the memoir aspect, the people Korn met and his own growth as a person and as a furniture maker. He started like me as a carpenter on a construction crew. He had some advantages I never had -- a private school education, Ivy League college, a father who continually bailed him out of business failures and personal setbacks. I envy that. He had Hodgkin's disease and chemotherapy -- twice. I don't envy that. He developed his own furniture style and then really found his calling as an educator, founding and running the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. I applaud that.

Korn traces the history of how society has changed its appreciation of craft -- first as work, then as skill, and finally as art. Eventually Korn realizes that by embracing a life of craft he was seeking self-fulfillment, seeking "a good life." He also realizes that craft alone is not salvation. He witnesses one man who is a great craftsman but fails in most other aspects of life.

Craft itself can be an attempt at redemption. To create something good, one must know something good:
Every man-made thing, be it a chair, a text, or a school, is thought made substance. It is the expression of someone's ... ideas and beliefs.
This book, along with the furniture he made and the school he created, are the expressions of Peter Korn's beliefs. He found his good life.
My father sang a song to me, and then we would sing it together: The bear went over the mountain (repeated three times). And what do you think he saw? He saw another mountain (repeated three times). And what do you think he did? The bear went over the mountain...
And on we'd sing. And so it is. As a maker you put one foot in front of the other and you own the journey. Finding creative passion that governs your life may be a curse as well as a blessing, but I would not trade it for anything else I know.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Self-publishing Before It Was Cool: A Tale from the Old Days

In 1855 an obscure poet named Walt Whitman self-published his first volume, Leaves of Grass. A classic was launched.

A hundred and nineteen years later, in 1974 an obscure writer named Joe Cottonwood self-published his first novel, The Naked Computer. Different outcome.

Well, okay, semi-self-published. At a San Francisco book fair I met a bearded, bespectacled young man (let's call him Manny) who was hoping to become a small publisher. Manny had just bought a used letterpress and was anxious to try it out. He would set the type himself at no cost. I would pay the other expenses: ink, paper, glue. He'd get half the books and try to sell them; I'd do the same.

By the 1970s most books were printed by offset printing, with letterpress reserved for artisanal, high quality, limited editions by small publishers. Here was an offer to produce my novel in a letterpress edition with a small publisher imprint at a very low cost. I was delighted.

So Manny went to work. Badly. With difficulties. The letterpress, in a damp corner of a garage in San Francisco, required hot metal typesetting. A flaw in the Linotype machine allowed hot metal to drip onto the feet of Manny as he was sitting at it, composing type.

Until he could repair the machine, Manny told me the book would be indefinitely delayed. Meanwhile, he showed me a few already-composed pages which contained numerous typos. When I pointed out all the transposed letters, he couldn't see them. He was simply blind to them. In retrospect, I think he was dyslexic. (At the time, I'd never heard of dyslexia.) Reluctantly he agreed to fix the errors.

Months passed. Manny could not repair the Linotype. I gave up on the book and was busy writing another. And then one day Manny called to say that his mother had flown out from Brooklyn, bringing chicken soup, and she had repaired the machine. He printed 400 copies of The Naked Computer. I paid him, as I recall, something like $450.

In classical bookbinding, several pages are printed onto one large sheet of paper, called a signature. When properly folded and combined, these signatures become the leaves of the book. Manny, I learned, was signature-challenged. Due to faulty folding, about half the copies had their pages in the wrong order or else some pages were simply missing. The remaining 200 copies were smudged and off-center. Typos everywhere. It was embarrassing.

A few copies sold at City Lights Bookstore and other shops. I even got a few fan letters. It was my first novel, and it was crappy but had (I believe) flashes of brilliance. The plot, by the way, is about a man who falls in love with his computer, which has been programmed as a female personality. Bear in mind that this was 1974!

My plot preceded Her, the Spike Jonze movie about a man who falls in love with his computer, by forty years. In fact, Spike Jonze was four years old when my book came out. Scarlett Johansson, who is the computer's voice, would not even be born for another ten years. And oh the irony—the script won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

I'm not accusing Spike of stealing my idea. I'm sure he's never heard of The Naked Computer. I'm sure many writers have had the same idea of a seductive siren-computer. But I may have been the first.

Some lessons learned. If you write a novel that is forty years ahead of its time, write it better. Avoid dyslexic typesetters. Wear shoes while operating a Linotype. Bless all handy mothers from Brooklyn.

There's one copy of The Naked Computer for sale on the Internet. The price is $131.50. Maybe I should put my two remaining copies out there. Who knows—I might yet break even.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Stamp of Approval from the Industry Giant

The current issue of Publishers Weekly has a review of 99 Jobs. The words they use are:
"a gritty and entertaining memoir"
"colorful characters and situations"
"Cottonwood's prose is lively and his stories often charming. Readers will find it easy to relate to the author and his experiences, which are likely to appeal to anyone who has worked a less-than-perfect job."
I'm delighted. In the main trade magazine of the big publishing industry, a good review by Publishers Weekly is an important stamp of approval for a small indie publisher such as myself.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Mike Rose!

Mike Rose is one of my heroes. He is a guru of blue collar values and the author of The Mind at Work, a book that lives up to its description as he "demolishes the long-held notion that people who work with their hands make up a less intelligent class. He shows us waitresses making lightning-fast calculations, carpenters handling complex spatial mathematics, and hairdressers, plumbers, and electricians with their aesthetic and diagnostic acumen." I totally recommend the book. 

So I sent a copy of 99 Jobs to Mike Rose. He responded, and posted this review on Amazon: "This is a delightful book, full of engaging stories about work and working life. It is humane and warmly funny." He used a pseudonym to post the review, but he enthusiastically encouraged me to identify him and use the quote. Then he bought another copy and sent it to a craftsman-friend, who wrote back: "I've only read five paragraphs coming back from the mailbox and I'm already laughing out loud."
". . . a delightful book, full of engaging stories about work and working life. . . humane and warmly funny."
—Mike Rose, author of The Mind at Work.
Word of mouth, plus a couple of Amazon reviews, are my only publicity. A self-published book isn't going to get any help from the big media. You won't see 99 Jobs reviewed in the New York Times. Oprah won't be plugging it (though she might like it).

If you've read 99 Jobs and happen to like it, please tell a friend. Maybe even post a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Help people find it.

A few days ago, the UPS driver delivered a package to my house and said, "Hey! I'm reading your book!" Somebody on the route had bought a copy for him. Made my day. I hope you all have a good one, too.