Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Strange People Are Following Me

Strange things began to happen when I started self-publishing my novels. It started out as small steps; really just tip-toeing into this ever-changing literary wilderness and trying to figure out to attract an audience to my works. 

                                               My Official Author page on Facebook

I experimented with advertising on Facebook and after several stumbles I seem to have hit a vein of interest among my targeted demographic audience. Gradually, people began to read my books and then to’ like’, ‘comment on’ or ‘friend’ my author page. 

I’m not so bold or confident as to think that it’s a reflection on me but rather (I hope) my story-telling abilities and the fictional characters that I’ve created there-in. I expect that these folks care as much about Daniel and Colleen and Jeb and Charlotte and what happens to them as I do.

Then, ever careful to follow social media standards of etiquette,  I took the eye-opening opportunity to peruse my reader’s Facebook pages and examine the kind of individuals I’ve been attracting with my stories; both the westerns and “Love in the A Shau,” my coming of age love story set in the sixties.

I was shocked…or perhaps a better word would be surprised. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was surprised never-the-less.

Somehow I had foolishly painted this picture in my mind of my ideal reader. I thought I knew what he or she might be like. Yet in reality it wasn’t based on anything more than some na├»ve assumption of who I thought would be attracted to my stories and characters. 

Several attempts of advertising on Facebook to reach a female audience for “A Shau” were initially met with disappointing results. We weren’t even getting close to attracting the kind of woman I thought would like “A Shau.” Then we changed our demographics and things began to improve…considerably.

Let’s just say the women who like “Love in the A Shau” (and I’m surmising here and perhaps tip-toeing on sensitive ground) are little like some of the women in the novel except perhaps for Summer Storm.

Most of them probably didn’t go to Bryn Mawr but they value education. I’m may be taking a chance here but I’d guess they’re very sensitive, romantic and have connected with my protagonist Daniel on a very emotional level. They feel an affinity for his socio-economic place on campus and in life. I’m guessing that’s because they knew other young men just like him in real life.

Their comments tell me they appreciate the honesty and rawness of that period and how it affected young people. Perhaps for some of them, “A Shau” was a glimpse back into a collegiate life not unlike that of ‘The Great Gatsby.’ Whatever their motivation, their responses have been heartfelt and much appreciated. I owe them all a deep debt of gratitude and feel a tremendous responsibility to deliver more of the same in future novels.

And as for the men who like my westerns. Well, let’s just say most of them didn’t go to Oxford or Yale. They hale from the United States, the U.K., India, Asia and Australia. They’re down to earth, blunt, realistic, opinionated and strong-minded. I would gladly bend an elbow with any one of them at a pub or go on Recon. if I could.

They like guns and motorcycles. Many of their political views border on conservative. The places where we meet in the middle are in their love of their grandchildren, their thirst for individual freedom and liberty, music of the people, love of country and an unabashed pride in who they are and where they came from. I’m guessing that despite our many differences, there are just as many points in the middle where we could enjoy a beer or two and solve most of the issues in the world in some pub around the world. 

 Surprisingly my readers and I share more in common than I ever imagined. Like Daniel and Robert, my two protagonists in “Love in the A Shau” and “Debris,” I am uncomfortable among the moneyed elite that frequent many parts of Palm Springs and our society in general. These suito-intellectual, class-conscious folks see their status in society as ordained and well earned. They mistakenly assume that luck or inheritance had nothing to do with their million dollar house on a golf course or the Bentley they drive. Their class-conscious, intellectual arrogance belies a lack of class on so many levels.

My readers are an interesting lot and I’m glad to have them. Literature abounds with dozens and dozens of genres and sub-sets thereof. I’m not trying to attract the literary hounds who shadow the New York Times Best Seller List for new arrivals. I write what I want to write.

I tell stories for a living. I like telling stories and as long as there is an audience for my kind of story, I will continue to spin my tales and engage my readers with wonderful characters, interesting backgrounds and a twist or two in the process. It’s a journey we’re all on and it’s been one heck of a ride thus far.

I’m much more comfortable around the folks whom I associate with in my real and fictional life rather than the literary elite. My audience and my friends are the really honest ones around here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

East Beverly Hills

Although there are seven golf courses in Palm Springs, there is only one with a long and storied history that began under the cloud of antisemitism. It’s not talked about in any of the Palm Springs history books or tourism pieces or C of C literature. In fact, it’s seldom discussed in any of the glorified legends of this fabled place.

It’s like that icon called Hollywood back in its heyday where all of our heroes and heroines were white and straight. Everyone pretended as if that sort of thing (discrimination) never happened here or anyplace else for that matter. But it did and as a result a beautiful golf course was built on what was once a large stretch of barren desert. 

Canyon Country Club opened on New Year’s Eve of 1961. Its clubhouse was designed by noted architects Don Wexler and Ric Harrison. It caused an immediate sensation with its eye-catching mid-century architecture situated on a golf course that was surrounded by custom and semi-custom homes. No tract homes were allowed around the course.

When first developed, the area was nick-named ‘East Beverly Hills’ for its show business community of residents. Surrounded by the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, the area became a cache of Hollywood legend and lore. Some of which continues to this day.

But the origins of the entire area was based less on creating a respite for Hollywood’s elite as it was to satisfy the desires of a certain religious class of resident. Canyon Country Club grew out of the need for middle class and upper class Jews to have their own place in the sun along with other ethnic groups that flocked to this desert playground back in the fifties and sixties.

Today more than 32,000 Jews reside in the Palm Springs area. That wasn’t the case back in the mid-forties right after the war. Rampant antisemitism was a fact of life in Palm Springs as it was in many other parts of the country.

It was Philadelphia publisher Walter Annenberg (TV Guide, etc.) who opened the Tamarisk Country Club down valley in 1946 after being refused membership in the Los Angeles Lakeside Country Club. His connections with Hollywood and corporations alike made Tamarisk Country Club a rousing success. Unfortunately that policy to allow Jews and certain other ethnic group’s access to such facilities didn’t change the social barriers immediately in Palm Springs.

It wasn’t until the late fifties that developers began eying a large stretch of barren desert at the south end of town. In the late fifties, Palm Springs was considered just a winter getaway which turned into a ghost town in the summertime. As they began creating the signature golf course and home builders began building custom and semi-custom homes around it, a huge marketing campaign went into full gear. 

The golf course and its unique one-of-a-kind homes were marketed specifically to middle class and upper class Jewish buyers who might be looking for a second home in the desert. Advertisements were placed in magazines and newspapers in the San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego markets as well as numerous second-tier markets. It was an overnight success and attracted a large clientele of enthusiastic buyers.

Part of the appeal of the area beyond its acceptance, and in fact, welcoming of Jewish home owners was the club’s membership roster which read like a who’s-who of Hollywood elite. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle were all regulars. But it wasn’t just celebrities that frequented the course either. Jack Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Spiro Agnew and Gerald Ford were among the many politicians who conducted business between rounds. Walt Disney donated a copper water fountain (crafted in Germany) to the club that still serves as a major showpiece between the 9th and 18th holes.

As the years went by, the homes around the golf course changed hands and its predominantly Jewish population gave way to a rich blend of ethnic groups all clamoring for their place along the fairway. Over time, the golf course itself changed ownership and went from the fabled Canyon Country Club to Palm Springs National to its present day title of the Indian Canyon Golf Resort. Despite the name changes, Indian Canyon is still the only golf course in Palm Springs that features single family homes bordering its links. All the other golf courses in town have condo developments surrounding them.

The name has changed but the links remain well-groomed, the grass is cut on a daily basis and golfers still enjoy breath-taking views all around them. After sixty plus years, the legend and lore and exaggeration that defines Palm Springs continues to this day on this blanket of green.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Does Not Play Well with Others

I am an ISTJ…off the charts. ISTJ is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of sixteen personality types. ISTJ stands for Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging or put another way (Introverted Sensing with Extraverted Thinking.) So according to the Myers-Briggs, I probably shouldn’t be spending a lot of time around other people. My wife keeps threatening to buy me a t-shirt that says: ‘Does not Play Well with Others.’

If I go to a party with my wife, she leaves the place energized and wanting for more. I just want to run screaming out of the room and seal myself off in an air-tight closet for thirty years just to recover from the traumatic experience. (I exaggerate…but not much!)

Thus said, I’m probably not one to have a lot of visitors…which, of course, only happens when we’re in Palm Springs. Who wants to visit Apple Valley anyway?

I need to put in a disclaimer here…my kids are an exception to the rule. Mind you, the grand-children can still drive me crazy with their early morning shouting: ‘Papa, I’m up’ (at five in the morning). Then there is the occasional temper tantrum, five kids vying for constant attention and other normal coping challenges. But overall, family triumphs personality quirks every time.

Out of town visitors are another story.

Stay-over roomies tend to screw up my quiet time, disrupt my writing, keep me away from the gym, sit in my favorite chair, watch mindless TV early in the morning and generally cause me to wish I were in Siberia. 

Fortunately, I have a counter-balance who prevents me from becoming ‘hermit of the year.’ My wife considers entertaining an art form and one that she has a Master’s degree in it. Therefore, I am forced to confront my own shortcomings as a proper host and play the role numerous times each year.

But there are a few good things that have come from the experiences. Having guests forces me out of my daily routine and comfort level. They’ve take you to places I normally wouldn’t visit or have put on a ‘to do’ list years ago. 

Brian took me to the painted canyons in Mecca. Despite the forced march he and seven-year-old Maya forced me on, it was a fabulous exploration of a slot canyon that I can’t wait to return to.

I’ve trudged to an oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve and through the marsh area of the Big Morongo Valley. I’ve hiked up to Keys View in Joshua Tree and watched Pelicans in the Salton Sea. 

 I’ve rubbed shoulders with elite theater folks at the Pantages at Hollywood and Vine and toed the sand in Laguna Beach. I’ve stared in wonder at art in the Getty and chaperoned garage-sales for treasures in West Hollywood. I’ve over-eaten all the lobster you can eat at a casino and looked up Marilyn’s dress in downtown Palm Springs.

It’s been a soul-searching, mind-cleansing experience and forced me to become aware of the wondrous environment all within hours of my home here.

I was once told that the best way to really get to know someone is to go camping with them. Forget about a rendezvous at Starbucks or an evening out, sharing your intimate space with someone else tops them all.

I guess as long as we’re living here in the desert, I’ll have to confront my fear of intimate-sharing and accept the fact that visitors can bring a change of pace I normally wouldn’t experience otherwise. 

In the meantime, maybe I can work on my I or S or T or J.