Sunday, December 20, 2009

narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life

Little cat, so
thin on love
and barley.


I have been scattered for the past few days. This post will bear the heavy mark of that. After a heady first week of work, I fell off a little. The intention is to recover, but with the holidays it is likely that little will be done between now and the first of the year. What has gone wrong? Perhaps my cooking hasn't been spicy enough.

A friend passed recently, a dog named Tess. I had known her for seven years. She was the companion to Liam, who comes to the Pub every day at noon and drinks a few pints of Hen. Tess was a fine old black lab who, in her younger days, would occasionally come by the pub without her old man and we'd have to call him. (This was before my time.)

In the past year she lost a great deal of weight and her trouble walking became more pronounced. She lost interest even in the treats we would give her. Liam had her put down last week.

Off to the Pub in the sky, old girl. I'll see you when I get there.

I found a new dangerous place in Santa Cruz, a bookstore called Logos. Despite the dandified sneer of the middle-aged host, or maybe because of it, the shelves are filled with odd and old used books for very little money. All the poor remaindered Tuttle editions of Natsume Soseki, two of which I hadn't found previously, and a number of old volumes of Andre Gide's work... I read and was much impressed by The Counterfeiters years ago, but hadn't sought out the rest of his work at the time. I devoured Strait Is the Gate in a single sitting.

The distance between such writing and writing now is too sad to really think on this morning.

But, like many major foreign writers, (Pessoa, Soseki, etc) Gide is hardly if ever read even by literate people in the country. The culture of reading has changed, I guess, and turns to books for reasons different from my own.

I read somewhere that the percentage of books published each year by foreign writers in translation hovers around 0.4-- Oy. It's probably higher, at least statistically relevant, if the books were limited to Fiction/literature, but still.

The Orthodox church nearby is devoted to St. Lawrence. I do enjoy all the stories of the saints, so I looked him up. The story is not usually told as a joke, but it is, and an excellent one.

St. Lawrence lived in pre-Christian Rome where to be elected to an office in the church almost assured martyrdom. St. Lawrence was elected Treasurer. He was promptly brought before the judge who ordered him to turn the treasure of the church over to Rome.
"But your honor, I will need three days to gather up all our riches."
Three days were granted to St. Lawrence.

During those three days, St. Lawrence tended the poor and sick and desperate just as he always had, but asked all those who were able to appear outside the courthouse when he was being tried inside.

One the appointed day, the judge asked St. Lawrence if he was ready to turn over the church's riches to Rome.
"I am ready, but our wealth is too great to fit in the courtroom. It lies outside. Come."

So the judge and the soldiers and all the observers followed St. Lawrence out of the courtroom. They found the steps and the streets filled with the poor in their rags and the sick in their torments. St. Lawrence turned to the judge.

"This is the treasure of the church. I entrust its care to Rome."

And when they were flaying him and roasting him on a spit, he couldn't stop laughing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Something like wit

Discovered yesterday afternoon in conversation with A.

'Pynchon is Dan Brown for assholes.'

Glib, over-simple, and mean-spirited, but I stand by it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Growling each letter to itself

Letter to the Light

Morning's paper is splendidly unfolded
on the Earth, it is a new day
and a tractor is already out there with its lumpy fist,
writing a letter to the light, growling
each letter aloud to itself, for it's important
to get everything in, the thunder and the bees,
the ant trail that's extended it's little
silken foot in the grass, our peace
and the unease we feel about everything-- it has to get
all these in.

Large moist lines and a slow hand
that shakes a lot but now it's all said,
the page is full and everything's laid out in the open
like a letter to no-one, the plow's letter
to the light that anyone who wants to can read.

Rolf Jacobsen

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


It should also be noted that my little sister, Stacie, also attended the church in Mentor, and that its function was also very social. We both benefited from the kindness of many of the Mentor United Methodist Church.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The St. Lawrence Orthodox Church occupies a broad, barn-like and very beautiful redwood building a scant two minute walk from my apartment in Felton on Highway Nine. Orthodoxy has fascinated me since my acquaintance with it, academically thru my Russian Studies major, and personally thru a lovely Professor, one Masha Kipp, who more or less adopted me in college, often providing my meal for the day accompanied by wine, brandy, good bread and literary argument. It values beauty, in an opulent, Near-Eastern manner, and retains enough old church qualities, like the singing of the service, the dedication of each day to one saint or event or another, to please me and seem, somehow, essentially honest. It will often surprise you with its modern lyricism. The church blooms 'like an orchid in Siberia' and the Lord is asked for mercy for all those 'unwatered by the streams of grace.'

However, incense makes my throat close.

Having a longing for devotion, prayer, and ritualized beauty, and believing in building my life thru the accident of what surrounds me, I stopped in last night for their Vespers service, sung almost nightly, and twin to Matins, a morning service more or less the same.

I can't say I grew up in any church per se. Our family was vaguely Irish Catholic but my grandfather had had a falling out (or, rather, a casting out) and this carried over to Mom, who also honestly worked too much to have time for church. The only church in Mentor, the little grain elevator town I lived in before the farm, was Methodist. Being a civilized sort of feral child and immensely curious, I began attending by myself, sitting in the unoccupied second row, and devouring everything, hymns, parables, homilies, that the services and their books provided.

Now, since the fervor of prohibition has mostly come and gone, Methodism has become one of the most milquetoast of the Protestant churches. They use grape juice for communion, and only do that once or twice a year, but other than that have adopted a bland, Mid-Western, middle-class tedium of faith, which was, for me, saved by the garrulous, fearless, melodramatic personalities of the mostly elderly membership. They hated and thwarted each other so politely! And the pancake feeds where all the kids served and stole sausage links dipped in syrup on the sly.

At ten I encountered my religious crisis, my first thoroughly intentional and conscious act as the man I have become, and left the church, tho retaining a sort of automatic monotheism and habit of prayer. The rest has been a reflexive animism grounded in the transcendence of beauty.

So I attended the small service, made up mostly of the monks actively serving, and stood along the back wall with one of those thin aged to agelessness women heavy with suffering and devotion found in every Orthodox church everywhere. They may not even be people, rightly speaking, but a kind of goblin native to the buildings.

How good it felt to sing the response, Lord. Have Mercy. in the ancient lilting minor key melodies. The plea for mercy-- I believe in this.

Kýrie, eléison.

After the service, I spent a modest amount of time looking at the many icons and the organization of the church. Imagine my surprise, and complete lack of surprise, when I turned to the icon directly behind me and found St. Patrick. Has it been you the whole time, Pat?

I could go on. I have an entire line of thinking based on Religious 'gesture'
for instance, but I'll leave you with some words from the newsletter that I essentially, tho clearly not in every detail, agree with, and describes what I try to counter when I invite people into my home.

"It seems thousands of years removed from us, but it was not so very long ago
that life was marked out by religious feasts. Although everyone went to church,
not everyone, of course, knew the exact contents of each celebration. For many,
perhaps even the majority, the feast was above all an opportunity to get a good
sleep, eat well, drink and relax. And nevertheless, I think that each person felt, if
not fully consciously, that something transcendent and radiant broke into life
with each feast, bringing an encounter with a world of different realities, a
reminder of something forgotten, of something drowned out by the routine,
emptiness and weariness of daily life.

Consider the very names of the feasts: Entrance into the Temple, Nativity,
Epiphany, Presentation, Transfiguration. These words alone, in their solemnity,
their unrelatedness to daily life and their mysterious beauty awakened some forgotten
memory, invited, pointed to something. The feast was a kind of longing
sigh for a lost but beckoning beauty, a sigh for some other way of living.
Our modern world, however, has become monotonous and feastless. Even our
secular holidays are unable to hide this settling ash of sadness and hopelessness,
for the essence of celebration is this breaking in, this experience of being caught
up into a different reality, into a world of spiritual beauty and light. If, however,
this reality does not exist, if fundamentally there is nothing to celebrate, then no
manner of artificial uplift will be capable of creating a feast."

Things not to do

I could fill up the internets with my own personal list, but today's lesson is this: don't completely rewrite your work after a publisher has already agreed to publish it. It bothers your editors, who are very good people (and at least one them reads this blog) and will eventually earn you a reputation for being difficult. Which really isn't as interesting as you might think. As a once-editor myself, trust me, difficult artists are not more passionate or more interesting than others, they just get off on being willful, like two-year-olds.

And for complete transparency, here is basically the manuscript they first agreed to and prefer.

Oh, and in case there is any doubt, I rolled over. My revision will just live in my heart!

This contains some storyboard based suggestions, but you're all smart people. You'll get it.


Kenichi, the brave, Kenichi, the adventurer, but first, Kenichi, the little boy, sat perched like a bird along Osaka harbor. Sailors filled Osaka Bay with little sailboats, and all the boys liked to watch them. But no one watched as closely as Kenichi Horie.
The wind took the boats far from shore until Kenichi could see only the white dots of their sails. Before the day grew dark, all the white dots came closer and turned into boats again.
Kenichi wondered why.
Why come home when
the wind blows forever
across an ocean that never ends?

Kenichi's journey began with that question. Kenichi began to transform. He studied the living map of the stars. He learned the names of clouds. His hands became practiced with needle and thread.
During the day, Kenichi sailed with men and older boys. They teased him and worked him until his bones ached, but Kenichi never complained. At night, Kenichi drew sailboats, studied them, and then threw the drawings away.
One day, after Kenichi had learned all he could, he visited the shipwright in secret.
“Build this,” he said, “but tell no one.”
Kenichi visited the shipwright every day after that. Planks were slowly sanded and slowly bent. Wooden mallets slowly drove in wooden pegs. The workers moved so slowly!
“Stop yelling at my workers,” said the shipwright, “your boat will be ready tomorrow.”
Finally, the boat Kenichi dreamed was real. It floated proudly before him. He named it: The Mermaid.

[Two page Mermaid?]

Kenichi slung a fifty pound bag of rice over his shoulder. He squeezed rolled maps of the ocean floor and the sky under his arm. He put thirty jars of jam, a radio, and some books into a box and carried it all toward the Mermaid. He pulled eighteen gallons of water behind him in a wagon as he walked alone down the deserted streets to the harbor. Shadows filled Osaka Bay.He boarded the Mermaid, untied it, and sailed into black Osaka Bay. Only the little old woman who sold rice balls to the sailors saw him go. From Japan to America. From Osaka to San Francisco. From one edge of the Pacific Ocean to the other, because
the wind blows forever
across an ocean that never ends.

[Two page departure?]

But the ocean is a monster, and is home to monsters. Innocently the Mermaid floated, small as an eyelash, across its uncaring surface. The first monster came on cloud feet: the Typhoon!
The ocean scoured the sky. The wind drove its fists into the sea. In between, Kenichi was lost. Helpless. Alone. The typhoon fought the sea for fourteen days before it became bored and went away.

The ocean and the sky were bright and new and calm, but Kenichi could not see them. He sat huddled in a shadow. He had been so scared, but there were no arms to hold him, no eyes to warm him, no voice but his own. He cried out: Kodoku-- the cry of loneliness. Then Kenichi breathed evenly. He mended the little things the typhoon had broken. A porthole. The sail. His courage.

Swarms of fish followed Kenichi as he sailed. He bent his arm to the water, waited, then snatched the little fish from the sea. The good days tasted like fish.

Sometimes, in the enormity of life, we find friends we will never see again.
Kenichi met a pod of whales sunning themselves lazily in the wide soft ocean. When the wind told him that it was time to leave, he was full of sadness..

[The world grew bigger each day.] --Can be cut in favor of a two page spread.

The ocean hides great hunters. As the fish liked to follow Kenichi, Sharks liked to follow the fish. When the sharks came to feed, they slammed against the side of the Mermaid. Kenichi hid, trembling, until they were full, until he was sure they had left.

Ships are floating cities propelled across the ocean by enormous engines. They carry thousands of people. They weigh a million pounds. As the Mermaid passed through a ship's shadow, Kenichi waved at hundreds of people on deck. Then he sailed on, alone, with only the wind to help him.

Kenichi forgot about land. He forgot about everything but the never ending ocean, the wind that goes forever. Once the ocean was full of man-of-war, jellyfish like creatures that use the wind to sail. Kenichi forgot he was not one of them.

San Francisco carved a hole in the night with its lights. This was the end of his journey. Had he won? Was the ocean defeated? San Francisco Bay is filled with rocks. Biting his lips, Kenichi dropped anchor and waited until morning.

As the sun rose over North America, Kenichi sailed into San Francisco Bay. His soul was as big as a bridge. He stepped on shore and kissed the comforting earth. He burst with joy. But somewhere inside him, he heard, like the beating of a drum, the words:
The wind goes on forever
across an ocean that never ends.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

the shout

Yesterday I met with Hanae Rivera, illustrator of Kodoku, to try to work out her storyboards. I had known since my meeting with J. at Heyday that I couldn't stand most of my previous draft, but had hoped the feeling would go away. It didn't because I was right. My previous draft was not good enough. It was muddy, went in all directions, lacked form.

I had written it before I worked on Kodoku the play. In writing the play, I finally realized why Kenichi was important to me and why I felt the thrum of the story so powerfully. It's about becoming an artist.

Here is the new version. The first bit is just an informational paragraph. The later part of the manuscript is intentionally sparse to allow for some purely visual storytelling.

In 1962, twenty-three year old Kenichi Horie boarded a
sailboat called The Mermaid, left Nishinomiya, Japan and
began to cross the Pacific Ocean. His destination was San
Francisco, California. His solo journey lasted ninety-four
days and was the first of its kind. Kenichi Horie has spent
his life as an adventurer. His first sailboat, The Mermaid
was donated to the San Francisco Maritime Museum.


Kenichi watched the waters. The waters watched back.
They showed him the wind and the boats and the wind
moving the boats across the waters. White smudges on
Osaka Bay. The waters shouted to him.
The wind moves forever
across an ocean that never ends.
That is what Kenichi heard, but the shout is different for
everyone who hears it.

The shout leaped inside Kenichi like a heartbeat. To be a
sailor on that wind... To launch a boat across that ocean...
To prepare, Kenichi studied the living map of the stars. He
learned the names of clouds. His hands became practiced
with needle and thread.

Kenichi grew older but the shout stayed young.
The wind moves forever
across an ocean that never ends.
He bent wood into a boat that was small, sturdy, and fat.
She was built with his sweat. She was built with his blood.
She was built with his breath. He called her The Mermaid.

The journey began in a night with no moon. The waters
that called to him were black. The wind kissed the sails
softly, as if frightened to wake them. Only an old woman
saw him push off slowly from shore. No one knew he was
crossing the ocean.

The ocean is a monster and is home to monsters. The
typhoon came on cloud feet. Kenichi and The Mermaid
fought the monster for fourteen days before it became
bored and went away.

The waters were bright and new and calm, but Kenichi
could not see them. He sat huddled in a shadow. He had
been so scared, but there were no arms to hold him, no eyes
to warm him, no voice but his own. Those who follow the
shout will hear this also: Kodoku-- the cry of loneliness.

His journey became broader and stranger.
The good days tasted like fish.

In the enormity of life, there are friends you will only meet

The shout can consume you. Kenichi began to forget
himself. There was only the ocean, only the wind. He lost
his past. He cared nothing for his future. He rode the wind
with men-of-war and thought he was one of them.

San Francisco carved a hole in the night with its lights. It
said, warm bath and it said hot meal and it said people!
Other people! Kenichi dropped anchor and waited until the
sun rose to show the way.

Kenichi's soul had become as big as a bridge. But even as
he touched the land again, and even during the parades and
parties and fame that followed, he heard it. The waters. The
wind. The leaping shout.
The wind moves forever
across an ocean that never ends.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The months and days are wayfarers of a hundred generations

Yesterday my wife Olga turned 30. We were not able to celebrate together because she was down in Irvine at a conference, getting hugged by Joe Palca (NPR), and sang to by an entire room during a panel discussion. Instead, Irene and Jeremy came down to Felton to visit. We celebrated on Olga's behalf by wine tasting in the mountains.

After Irene and Jeremy headed back to Oakland, I settled in for my first night alone in our new place. As I was was operating on roughly four hours of sleep over 56 hours, had been wine tasting all day, and had nothing else to do, I poured myself a nice glass of Jameson, put on some Brahms, flipped thru Basho's Narrow Road to the Interior, stripped to my wife-beater and boxers, and got all dozy.

But first I wanted to charge my phone so that when the wife did call, I could talk to her. As she had taken our wall charger with her, I had to improvise. I went out to Nash Lenin, our second car, turned the key so the electrics would start, and plugged my phone into the car charger.

All of these details are important, really.

I read: "My close friends, who had been gathered since the previous evening, sent me off in a boat. When we climbed out of the boat at a place called Senju, I was depressed by the thought of the three thousand miles that lay ahead and shed tears at a parting in this illusory world." and fell happily to sleep.

It was roughly 6:30.

At 8:30 I wake to find two deputies standing at the threshold of the now open door to my apartment.

So there I am, half awake, half-dressed like poor white men always seem to be when John Law pays them a visit, staring blearily at two armed men.

They ask me my name, ask where my wife is, ask if I've been drinking ('not that we care, we're just asking'), and then proceed to enlighten me as to the reason for their friendly call.

Apparently a neighbor had seen my car with the keys in it, the phone on the seat, and the radio softly going, and had decided that I had been abducted or worse and called the sheriff, rather than knocking on my door or even just minding his or her own business.

The deputies give me my keys back, tell me my phone is in my car, and that I should probably keep my doors locked.

"We almost came in with our guns out."
"Well, I appreciate your restraint."

They also called the last number in my phone, which was Irene. They didn't tell me they got a hold of her and freaked her out with their (im)probable abduction story.

My phone retrieved and John Law gone off to protect and serve elsewhere, I pour myself another glass of Jameson and dozily keep Basho company on his journey.

Then Jeremy calls to see if I have been abducted, because the sheriff called and told them I had been. They are relieved that I am in possession of my own person.

Then Olga calls to see if I have been abducted because Irene had called her to see if I had been. She was pretty sure I was unabducted.

Quite a bit of fuss. A drama involving at least one nervous neighbor, a dispatcher, two deputies, and three cities, (Oakland, Felton, Irvine) two friends and one wife, all around a phone charging in a car and a man napping in his apartment.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

before the stoneday blows the men and animal-swarms empty

That's a line from Paul Celan.

Hello neglected readers, neglected intent. One would think that my own crush in Kansas would have made for ample posting here, but somehow, things worked out differently. My writing has proceeded apace, as they say, but on many other projects.

For instance, Hanae and I signed our contracts with Heyday Books on Wednesday for Kodoku.

It lives.

But I have no time to pause. Remember: "It's later than you think."

My work has been filled recently with a Minotaur, the mythical city Quivera, a giant named Hunger, the diaspora of pigeons, and, today, the ancient oak forest of Long Valley, north Monterey Co, and the crack of a whip.

Tomorrow I'm finally going to make the pilgrimage to Tor House, the stone home built by Robinson Jeffers and his son. Robinson Jeffers is one of the finest poets of the 20th Century but only a handful of people know it. Here, I'll prove it.

Tor House

If you should look for this place after a handful of lifetimes:
Perhaps of my planted forest a few
May stand yet, dark leaved- Australians or the coast cypress, haggard
with storm drift; but fire and the axe are devils.
Look for the foundations of sea-worn granite, my fingers had the art
to make stone love stone, you will find some remnant.
But if you should look in your idleness after ten thousand years:
it is the granite knoll on the granite
and lava tongue in the midst of the bay, by the mouth of the Carmel
River-Valley, these four will remain
in the change of names. You will know it by the wild sea-fragrance of the wind
though the ocean may have climbed or retired a little;
You will know it by the valley inland that our sun and our moon were born from
before the poles changed; and Orion in December
evenings was strung in the throat of the valley like a lamp-lighted bridge.
Come in the morning you will see white gulls
weaving a dance over blue water, the wane of the moon
their dance companion, a ghost walking
by daylight, but wider and whiter than any bird in the world.
My ghost you needn't look for; it is probably
here, but a dark one, deep in the granite, not dancing on wind
with the mad wings and the day moon.

--Robinson Jeffers

Of more topical things I will speak later.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I translated a poem this morning. I like it, so I'm posting it.


There is nothing that is not
a cloud. The cathedrals of unbound
stone, yes, and the stained glass,
all wait to be erased.
The Odyssey, shifting with the sea,
is strange again with each new reading.
Already, your face in the mirror has changed
and the day is a dissimulating labyrinth.
We are the ones who go. The cloud that disintegrates
is our image. Incessantly, the rose becomes another rose.
You are the clouds, you are the sea, you are oblivion.
You are the one you have lost.

--Jorge Luis Borges
(trans. William Emery)

Thursday, September 24, 2009


A few weeks ago I sent a proposal for a children's book to Heyday. Last week (my god, it was just last week) I received some happy noises from them, and and was then inspired to work the material into a play, as my friend Su suggested. This has taken over my writing time and led me away from this proposal. It is going very well, so I don't want to let it alone until I get a draft done. But, as this blog is about my writing as a whole, and publishing, obviously, I thought I'd mention it.

Gee, ain't I laconic. In truth I am very, very excited by this news, not the least of which because I am working with artist Hanae Rivera.

Anyway, here is the proposal. It is inspired by more formal proposals but tailored to Heyday Books and the people I know there.

a story for children by William Emery
illustrated by Hanae Rivera
Proposal for Heyday Books

Kodoku is a 32 page picture book about the legendary Japanese Marine Adventurer, Kenichi Horie. He first made history in 1962 when he sailed alone from Osaka to San Francisco, the first man to ever achieve such a feat. The book begins with Kenichi as a child, fascinated with the ocean, in love with the winds, watching the sailboats ride the waters around Osaka. Kenichi's plan takes shape as he grows older, learns to sail and to read the stars as a map, until he leaves Osaka, in secret, to sail alone across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco on his boat, The Mermaid. The rest of the story contains Kenichi's adventures on the ocean until he arrives in San Francisco, 94 days after his departure.
Sales and Marketing Potential
50th Anniversary
Kenichi made his historic journey in 1962. 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary. Kenichi Horie continues to be an important figure in the world of sailing and 'maritime adventuring.' A children's book of his beginnings will be perfectly timed.
Kenichi Horie
Kencihi Horie continues to make history with his solo sailing. In 2008 he became the first man to sail across the Pacific in a wave-powered boat. He celebrated the 40th Anniversary of his first voyage in 2002 by sailing a replica of the original Mermaid made from all recycled materials across the Pacific. It seems very likely that he will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of his voyage in a similarly newsworthy fashion.
I have contacted a few yacht-clubs that he has ties to and a couple reporters who have interviewed him in the hopes of getting in touch with him. It seems likely that he'd be interested in being involved with the book in some capacity.

The Mermaid
The Mermaid, Kenichi Horie's original sailboat, is a part of the San Francisco Maritime Museum's collection. A co-publishing arrangement would be worth pursuing, though I understand that currently the museum is closed for renovations. I have not been able to contact anyone directly involved. Maritime Museums in general will be great nontraditional sellers of the book. There are 648 Maritime Museums alone in the United States.
The simple bravery of the story, a man sailing the ocean alone, will appeal to a wide variety of readers. At the same time, the inherent multicultural message and the Japanese protagonist will appeal to the Asian American community, and anyone interested in diversity in children's literature.

Foreign Rights
Though Kenichi Horie is well-known in sailing circles world-wide, in Japan he is extremely famous. Japanese rights would seem like an easy sell.

The Story of the Project

Joanne first came to me with the idea when we both worked at Heyday. She was just beginning her push for more children's titles and had run across The Mermaid in the SF Maritime Museum. They displayed the boat with a plaque that told the basic story. She told it to me and I ordered a copy of Kodoku: Sailing Alone across the Pacific, Kenichi's Horie's log, out of curiosity. But, as writers and illustrators cannot be ordered out of thin air by the staff of a publishing company, I set the book and the idea aside.

When I encountered the art of Hanae Rivera, a friend and co-worker, the idea came back with great force. Something about the soft, sinuous muscle of her art, and her fascination with things aquatic inspired me to attempt the story in collaboration with her.

I first wrote up a very literal re-telling of his log. The book began when Kenichi left Japan and ended when he arrived in America. The story moved through a series of events, ranging from atomic explosion to eluding rescue, from sharks to man-of-war. I tried to use the simple charm of his prose style and included direct phrasing such as 'like a astronaut on the loose.' I showed this version to Joanne, now at Tricycle, to get her feedback. While still excited by the project, she gave me a tutorial in the rules and formal preferences of the children's book world (information neither of us had when we were at Heyday, incidentally).

Hanae's illustrations and sketches for the project date from this first draft. She is flexible enough to change her style and/or tone as Heyday sees best.

I worked out a new version that followed Joanne's advice. I abandoned the attempt to reproduce his naive language and began the story in his childhood. What eventually emerged was a much more emotionally forceful retelling in a language more my own. I again showed the draft to Joanne who said that it was ready to sell.

Of the ways in which this project could become a book, my first preference is publication by Heyday. It was born there, was shaped by two former-employees, and is a place that I love that produces work that I adore. I think Kodoku might be a good book for Heyday and I hope this project might be another moment in a life-long relationship with the press.

So that's my story and this is my proposal.


William Emery Justice

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I am at war

This is the first draft of the first three stops along my world-and-year-wide tour. It begins in immense turmoil (and Lebanon is next, followed by Uzbekistan). I've realized that there are three historical divisions at work in this story. Muslim vs. Christian world. Colonialism vs. well, everyone, really. And finally Globalization vs. Economic Independence (also, everyone, really.)

To throw myself into these worlds, currently imagined from research's thin gleaning, to attempt it at all-- Well, I have to be Faust once in my life.

Arrival on the Island of Aphrodite. The impetus for this strange journey explained, my small host of vines on the Kansas plains. Commandaria, the world's first wine? Ayios Mamas: a partisan village from the war for independence. Revecca Spirits Winery. Traditional, preserved. First harvest. Then, travel north, towards Nicosia, a city torn in two. Arrival at Vlassides Winery in Kilani. Innovation and chemistry. The Turkish legacy, once settlers, now laborers. The future of antiquity.

Is this enemy territory? Armenian genocide, Islam, Cypriot invasion. Black market production. Arrival at the Corvus Winery on the wine island of Bozcaada. The vanguard of quality Turkish wine. Then, off to Elazig, in Eastern Turkey, to harvest Oküzgözü, one of Turkey's traditional varieties. A trip to Mt. Ararat, site, it is said, of Noah's vineyards.

Arrival in Galilee. Wine and the Old Testament. Yekev Ben-Zimra Winery, Israeli co-operative agricultural tradition. The Golan Heights Winery. Wine-making in a contested land. A spectator in the experimental wine-making station. Then, the Cremisan Winery in Palestine, founded in 1885.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Messina Hof

Howdy! I'm in Texas.

First, the personal update: We have moved house. I now have a cozy little room in what was once our garage, and an apartment in Felton, California, north of Santa Cruz, which has yet to be set up.

Today, this work begins again. The proposal will be done by the end of this week.

I'll be in touch.

Friday, August 28, 2009

in spirits

Last night, Jason, the manager of Solano Cellars, which is my living library of oenophillic study, and where I frequently get drunk, made an Old Speckled Hen pilgrimage to the Pub where I tend the taps. The week previous I tasted Francis Coppola's "Sofia" Riesling. And dammit, it was good, and the price was right, so I ordered a few cases.

I admitted this to Jason when he arrived.

"Hold out your hand." Smack!

But at least, he allowed, it's a Riesling.

I have been well. We've been 'moving' for two weeks now, are perhaps 70 percent finished, and I haven't had time for almost anything else. This project has been paused, but I am going to make more time for it. I'm finally done fucking around. My life is my own now, no more wasted time, no more whine-y namby-pamby bullshit.

But first, I have to box up my kitchen.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Despite my best intentions, life has overrun this project for now. We're moving to Santa Cruz and our garage, respectively, and I've had no time for else. Things should improve next week, marginally.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The revolution in Wine-- thoughts

(This was written two years ago before a research trip to upstate New York. I was then interested in a book on Native American Wine-- to follow up the then unpublished Edges of Bounty. I couldn't convince myself of its worth at that time.)

"To come to terms with the shallowness of the material. Cups and saucers. It is neither the small specific eternal, an axe, much wood use, a thousand hands in its atmosphere, nor a useful catagory-- love, honor, truth.

Moreover, it is corrupted. Surrounded by midge noise black flies gnats mosquito hum. Luxury, expertise, power.

The enormity of the fortunes and the span of empire.

These forces carry a kind of psychic weight. Once can fight or play into or attempt to see honestly. The force is real but the basis is false.

The author's option is to create his own world in story or a personal associative philological texture of expression.

But in nonfiction, every thing is more immediate- the distillation doesn't happen... or that is my fear. A fear of immediacy.

I am discontent.

Wine as peasant craft.
Expression of place, but ignoring the fetish of place, the privilege of it... specificity and distinction without the exclusion of others... kaleidoscope. Non-hierarchical.

I must always return to the thing itself. It is not a redemption- the is no solution- (or, what is 'solution') but it is a touchstone, a grounding moment a method of honesty.

'Discriminating.' Don't forget the larger issue-- this is part of a liberating work. Take this seriously. It is good work.

The thing is, this has not been clearly articulated..."

There is a lot here to cling to, enlarge, and finish. A fine document found while cleaning out my garage.

late night cleaning

"Knowing that it is the earth that we walk, we learn to walk carefully, lest it be rent open. Realizing that it is the heavens that hang above us, we come to fear the echoing bolt of thunder. The world demands that we battle with one other for the sake of our own reputation, and so we undergo the sufferings bred of illusion. While we live in this world with its daily business, forced to walk the tightrope of profit and loss, love is an empty thing, and wealth mere dust before our eyes. The reputation we grasp at, the glory that we seize, is surely like the honey that the cunning bee seems so sweetly to brew only to leave his sting within it as he flies. What we call pleasure in fact contains all suffering, since it arises from attachment. Only thanks to the existence of the poet and the painter are we able to imbibe the essence of this dualistic world, to taste the purity of its very bones and marrow. The artist feasts on mists, he sips on dew, appraising this hue and assessing that, and he does not lament the moment of death. The delight of artists lie not in attachment to objects but in taking the object into the self, becoming one with it. Once he has become the object, no space can be found on this vast earth of ours where he might stand firmly as himself. He has cast off the dust of the sullied self and become a traveler in tattered robes, drinking down the infinities of fine mountain winds."

--Natsume Soseki, from Kusamakura

I'd like to rewrite this section, this entire book, really. But, regardless, what I can only imagine is the beauty of the original is discernible behind the fog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A dirty joke for Kyle

I first heard this from my friend Maggie. We trade jokes.

Every year a pub in Dingle holds a dirty limerick contest, and every year, since the contests inception, Seamus O'Shaughnessy, the dirtiest old man in the county, wins. The prize is gentlemanly- a free pint of porter.

The contest came around again and Seamus scratched his head and arse and downed glasses of malt whiskey until inspiration struck. Snickering filthily and leering at lasses, Seamus O'Shaugnessy took his dirty limerick, yet again, into the pub the morning of the contest. After giving the barman a certain look, Seamus went home, had some soup, and recited some of his thirty or more winning dirty limericks, already savoring victory.

When he ventured back to the pub in the evening and demanded his free pint of porter the bartender shook his head.

"You didn't win this year Seamus."
"Wasn't my limerick filthy enough for you?"
"It made me sick to my stomach, Seamus, but someone wrote something even worse."

Seamus couldn't believe what he had heard. Everything went black, and there was an irritating little whine in his ears. When reason resumed her seat, he had only one question.

"Who is it what wrote a filthier limerick than me? Tell me!"
"It was Sister Mary Agnes, from the nunnery, Seamus."

Everything went black again and when Seamus returned to himself he was walking furiously toward the nunnery.

He smashed his fist into the door until someone opened it. Sister Mary Agnes greeted him shyly and inquired after his business.

"You know very well what I want. You beat me in the dirty limerick contest and I can't believe it. I need to hear the limerick that beat mine."

"Ok," said Sister Mary Agnes slowly, "but I'm too embarrassed to say the really dirty parts. So, if you don't mind, I'll simply say 'ta-ta' for those instead."

Seamus thought this ridiculous but told her to go on, out with it, let's have it then.

Sister Mary Agnes cleared her throat and recited:

"Ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta-ta

ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta

ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta-ta

and they fucked in a river of shit."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

biography perilous

Well, we knew this was going to be weird. I didn't know it was going to sound like this tho.

There is an appendix wherein I'm attaching the clever bios I created for other books, as well as quotes about my work from famous people, and of course a publication list and my cv-- anyway, this is long enough. I'm not sure why I had to tell the story at the end. But I did. And I think it will stay.

A Few Biographical Paragraphs

I do not pretend importance. Though, at twenty-nine, I have four books variously to my credit, have been an acquisitions editor at a small but distinguished publisher, and am five years into the creation of a middle-plains winery, I have not been granted any letters to adorn my name nor made an equivalent fortune. I manage a small pub in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spend a lot of time on the family farm in Kansas, and I write.

I offer, instead, perspective and capacity. Rural Kansas is a hard strange place. My struggle, ongoing, to fit myself into it, has given me a unique lens through which to view the world at large. My time spent as a student of Russian, as a political activist, as an editor at a regional publisher, as a bartender, has given me the ability to address everything from globalization to the pornography of food. I can tell a dirty joke or ruminate on the role of drink in mystic tradition, with, I think, equal aplomb.

I tasted my first ripe pear last year. Our neighbor, from whom we buy hay and who occasionally gives us venison, pulled up the long driveway, parked, and pulled a box of overgrown squash from his the bed of his truck. His mother was dying; the garden had been let go. He’d appreciate it, he said, if we’d take a trailer over and harvest the rest. And the pears, he said, don’t forget the pears.

Most of the tomatoes had already fallen or split. We filled the trailer with butternut squash, zucchini and melons and then moved over to the pear trees, taller than his farmhouse and wild from struggle with the winds. We did as our neighbor instructed: after each pear was picked, we wrapped it in a page from the local newspaper and placed it gently into a box that once held a vacuum cleaner.

They ripened in our storm cellar for a couple weeks. The spiders mostly left them alone. I was halfway through my second pear when I learned that our neighbor’s mother had died. I had just started my fourth when a box arrived from California. The advance copies of my first book were inside, each book carefully wrapped in plain brown paper.

The Logic of History

Jeremy sent me this article by a NYT writer named Eric Asimov. I had to check-- yes, yes, he is the nephew of the grand old man, Isaac Asimov. He's also the chief wine critic at the Times. I imagine he gets to eat free at many places I could never get into.

The article is about one winery in Rioja, Spain's most well-known and fashionable wine region, that achieves that enviable duality of being traditional and avant-garde.

And yet, as fusty and as backward-looking as López de Heredia may seem, it is paradoxically a winery in the vanguard, its viticulture and winemaking a shining, visionary example for young, forward-thinking producers all over the world."

Now, the man has to write weekly features, appear on the radio, travel and research, etc, so the coming criticism is not meant cruelly, (not to mention his aims are different from mine. His readers, essentially, want to know about interesting wines that can be had on the cheap. I'm looking to understand the terrible nature of things) but the issues are much more complicated that the amnesiac lurching of fashionable wine suggests.

First, there are many, many winemakers all over Spain still rooted in tradition. Spain still consumes more wine domestically than it exports. In rural areas, home winemaking is still very common, usually using methods and knowledge passed down for generations. However, for the purposes of this report, if a fact doesn't fit into the 1) hagiography of this winemaker, and, by implication, the trusted opinion of this wine critic or 2) the grand narrative of innovation vs tradition then it isn't a fact at all.

... I realize I am ranting. I will distill. What is missing from this article is the specific politics of this place, and even the slightest hint at economic factors. Spain was fascist until 1975 and economically in ruins-- there was no modernization, and more importantly, no globalization of its vineyards until much more recently. The disappearance of traditional winemaking in Rioja does not date back to post-WWII agricultural 'improvements' but to the 1990's when traditional wine regions all over the world began to be gobbled up by huge international companies. Countries like Spain, who were still struggling economically, were especially susceptible to foreign 'investment.'

This unowning of vineyards and wineries is a recent phenomenon and therefore able to be commented upon and criticized-- and should not be hidden behind a generic narrative of viticultural change that reaches back generations and exudes inevitability.

Fashion is a symptom of politics and economics, not their generating force.

This kind of critique is what I want to do with 365 Crush. I want to know what wine has done to these places, what wine is to these places, specifically... with no other aim but to see clearly.

When I'm not drunk on strange wine.

And another thing! Traditional winemaking is described here as 'backbreaking.' As is any description of agricultural work. Some is and some is not. Running a vineyard, I assure you, is not. For a month during harvest it approaches that kind of work, but there has always been an abundance of labor to ameliorate that condition. I've never seen a brokenbacked winemaker. In fact, they usually look so hale and happy you want to punch them in their cheese paunch.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

the strong do what they can, the weak do what they must

I've had a trying day-- nearly all of it devoted to attempts to reinstate my troubled driving license, most of that nearly all spent trying to navigate various gov'mental automated phone services.

So nothing, save reading a long rich article about the fucked up history of colonialism in Cyprus, has been done to aid or abet my plan.

But I am trying to post every day, at least at first, so here I am. Here's a small beginning of a thought I had at Solano Cellars last week.

"Winemakers, or, rather, the owners of wineries, are like the rulers of independent city-states. Seemingly benevolent, if essentially corrupt in essentially blameless ways, they are apolitically rich. The larger regimes change, the armies march, but they remain. They are secure, behind walls of wine, prestige, and pleasure-- fat, jovial, prone to mysticism and sentimentality, they remain living relics of times gone by."

There are many, many fascinating refutations of this musing-- in Lebanon, in the post Soviet countries (for a while, the State, naturally, made all the wine), but there is something interesting, an assonance, between Mondavi and medieval Venice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This little piggie went to market

Market is a euphemism for slaughter in the nursery rhyme you know.

The trouble with Nonfiction books is the cult of expertise. Readers of nonfiction take extreme pleasure in not only education, but in the creation of formidable opinions. The best-selling nonfiction writers, in nearly every genre, have an ax to grind and a high pedestal, academic, political, or financial, upon which to grind it.

Which is fine, so long as they don't hide behind the disingenuous smugness of objectivity still being taught, even this very day!, in our fine institutions of higher learning!

But, for people like me, who have managed to avoid expertise, selling a nuanced and private matrix of responses on a given subject can be tricky, can be excruciating, can be gloomy, but can be done.

Travel Writing is the genre of nonfiction (not counting Memoir, which I judge as fiction) which most commonly aspires to and achieves literary value, in the same way that a walk up the street can become a poem, but 6 years in graduate school cannot. Travel is thin enough for aesthetics.

Which is all something of an aside to the task at hand. The proposal continues to acquire dark and terrible life.

Positioning/Market Potential

365 Crush is a coat of many colors.

Its conceit belongs to the great tradition of intellectual adventuring. William Least-Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail are stellar examples of this writerly mode. A goal is vaguely and arbitrarily set, while still containing enormous personal importance, and a small but vital set of rules are established to govern and guide the action. The central notion of 365 Crush, a year spent following the wine harvest across the entire globe, would certainly appeal to readers accustomed to traveling with their heads more than just attached to their bodies.

In subject, 365 Crush courts that overlapping triumvirate of interests: Wine, Food, and Travel. The global scope of the endeavor, taken, as it shall be, by a young man with little means through wildly diverse geographical, economic, and political climes, will pique the armchair Magellan.

As the focus of the narrative is on wine as a conduit of culture, as a paragon of place, and due to my lusty gastronomical proclivities and the opportunities they provide for lush prose, food will be an important and constant presence—either that or I’ll starve. Wine may buy the ticket, but Food will schlep the luggage.

Most pointedly, 365 Crush seeks to set-off a series of landmines throughout the world of wine. As the founder of a small, family vineyard and proto-winery in Kansas, I view many of the fetishes, arguments, and fortunes commonly held profoundly askance. My position, and my person, is playful, radical, and rooted in an agrarianism oddly absent from discussions of terroir. Imagine Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey, M.F.K. Fisher, and Umberto Eco trapped in Napa Valley, tooling around in a temperamental ’47 Studebaker, and you’ll get some idea of the voices that guide my pen.

The thread that stitches this patchwork together is fine, ample, and seductive writing. Writing that, as the cliché artists invariably demand, must be experienced, and can be, in the sample chapter.


As is probably apparent, I survive this process thru an ever-evolving series of private jokes, grand, ridiculous gestures, and bad puns. I do and do not, in equal measure, believe anything I write in this proposal.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I hate writing copy

These are the guidelines.

The Overview

The overview is probably the most important section of the proposal, as it sets the proposal up, introduces your thesis, describes the concept behind the book and the approach you intend to take, and basically answers the deceivingly generic question: what is the book? In writing this section, it may help to think about it as though you were writing the copy that would appear on the jacket of your book.

This section should describe the content of the book in detail, highlighting its features, its selling points (who would buy it and why would they want it?), where the information will originate (five years of original data, twenty years of teaching a class, ten years of traveling to middle and high schools and talking to students), what perspective you as an author uniquely bring to the topic. In writing your overview, let the following questions guide you: - What is the concept of the book? - What is your intended approach (Practical, how-to? Humorous? Inspirational?) - What is your thesis/point of view? - Where will the information in the book come from? - What unique perspective do you as an author bring to the subject? - What’s the promise of the book? (What will the reader gain from reading it? Even if it is a narrative there needs to be something gained – even if it’s entertainment – in order for a reader to justify spending the money and the time.) - What do you intend to accomplish with the book? It also helps to open the overview with a story or anecdote that illustrates the need for such a book as this.


And here is the first draft.

365 Days of Crush
by William Emery

Sales Handle

One Man. Six Continents. 18 Countries. 25 Wineries. 365 Days of Crush.


Beyond Bordeaux, never mind Napa, the world of wine is not what, and not where, you think it is. Through the vinous conquest of the Southern Hemispheres, and the recent “New Latitude” wines of India and Thailand, every month finds someone out in the fields, picking sheers in hand, baskets in tow, denuding the vines. In his 30th year, writer and toddling viticulturalist William Emery abandoned everything to follow this unlikely trail across six continents, to climb this Everest of harvest, arriving, ultimately, where he began: a small, ten acre vineyard in the rolling hills of Central Kansas.

Through Emery’s prose, which is, at turns, sensual, subversive, mordant, and deadly serious, the world of wine appears as it never has before: on horseback through the ancient vineyards of Uzbekistan, praying the peace holds in Israel’s contested Golan Heights, resting at a trellised oasis in the Peruvian desert.

Whether you think Merlot rhymes with parking lot or you’ve just added a Gascogne wing to your cellar, Emery’s journey will not fail to provoke and surprise, and may just change the way you drink, and think.

Chicago Manuel of Style

(Correspondence between editor friend and meself)

That's the name of my new Latino clothing line.

Hey stranger!

My excuse for writing you is editorial in nature. I'm writing up a proposal for someone and I need some style advice on numbers. I need, god mother-fucking-help me, to create a 'sales hook,' in a sentence or two, for my project.

So I went telegraphic.

One Man. Six Continents. 18 Countries. 25 Wineries. 365 Days of Crush*.

My question: is it appropriate to switch from the Latin to the Arabic vis a vis double digit numbers. Three-hundred and sixty five days of Crush just looks stupid...

So-- what's the professional's take on all this?


*"Crush," just in case you don't know, is the general term for harvesting wine grapes and the first stages of turning them into wine.



If you were going by Chicago, you'd write out everything but 365 (the rule is spell out 0-100 and any very round number beyond that--e.g. 1,000; 400; 3,000,000; etc.). The way you have it now is AP Style. But, both styles make allowances for parallel structure. Frankly, I would do it the exact way you have it, because it would be too weird to say "1 Man."

I like your sales hook. :)

Essaying into existence

In July 2010, I leave for Cyprus. A year later I will fly home from New Zealand, having spent an entire year harvesting wine grapes in vineyards on every continent.

This is a log of the journey to the journey.

My intention is to turn this experience into a book and place it with a publisher. I am currently writing up a proposal for an agent-- bits of that process will also appear on this record.

Expect wine-related rants, tasting notes, quotes, ruminations, and events, as they happen, in regards to planning a year long 'round-the-world trip and finding a place or places for it in the world of print and radio.

And wish me luck! My heavy breakfast and the process of 'selling myself' has made me rather dour...