2 May

The New Era: First Reading At Battenkill. “Only The Forgotten Are Truly Dead.’

by Jon Katz
The First Reading

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill.

We had a quiet but lovely reading last night at Battenkill Books to kick off the publication of “Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us,” out today wherever books are sold.

This is my hometown bookstore and Connie and I were expecting a substantial crowd to launch my discreet book tour,  but there were only eight people in the audience, including Maria (and Red and Fate.)

Of course I would write about it, I have no secrets, and thus am free. I am only embarrassed by lack of effort on my part.

I confess when I came in for my grand entrance with the dogs and saw Connie and her mother alone in the bookstore, I thought of that wonderful Tess Gerritsen line, “Only The Forgotten Are Truly Dead.”

When I first began writing books, I entered a vast Borders Store in Virginia, and there was not one soul sitting in a single one of the 200 seats neatly set up for my talk. I thought I must have come on the wrong night, but the embarrassed manager assured me this was the right night. Eventually, one elderly woman came in out of the cold night and sat in the very rear of the big room and waited. She looked homeless to me, her sneakers had big holes.

I told myself that I would act the same way if every seat in the room was filled, and I gave one of the best talks and readings of my literary life. By the end, two or three employees – ringers, I think, because they took their ID cards off – came in and I got some polite applause.

It is true that failure is always more public than success, that was a good lesson for me.

That night, I resolved to be the same way when there  one as when there is an adoring full house.

Book readings are like that, some take off, some don’t. But you can’t short the people who show up.

Writers are complex, one I knew always quoted Mother Teresa when he came into an empty book store: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

I told my friend Mother Teresa was talking about the poor and the hungry, for God’s sake, not dramatic and self-absorbed writers. She was all about perspective.

An empty bookstore is not a tragedy. It is part of the writer’s life, fearing being forgotten. Any man or woman who dares to open his soul to the world will experience it, and more than once.

I define myself not by how I deal with great success, but how I deal with different kinds of failure and rejection. Everything I want is on the other side of fear.

This is also part of the way we live in America now, we are letting go of the material world for the realm of screens and images. Everyone sees it, we talk to one another but we no longer know one another.

This is my 25th book, and I have been to a lot of great readings and a lot of grim ones, but I know the era of readings is fading, and that is the true nature of life, even in my own hometown. It doesn’t mean more than what it is.

I loved the crowd that came tonight, there were a number of true friends, people I loved, and I smiled every time I saw them. I remember too many times when there was no one for me to love, or to come to my readings, and I am fortunate to be alive and loved on the earth. This is my 25th book. I can die happy.

I’m not sure why the crowd was so small – the smallest ever for me in my hometown. It could have been the awful storm that hit yesterday, which caused a great deal of damage, or it could have been the rain or it could have been the angels having a bit of fun with me.

Or I could, of course, be over, the secret dread of every creative person. But honestly, I don’t think I’m there yet.

The truth is, we’ll never know. I’ve been on tours with 200 people one night and five the next day. Nobody ever knows why. Tomorrow, I’m coming into Battenkill to sign 200 more books to be shipped out. Anyone who complains about that is a fool.

The small crowd didn’t stop us from having a great deal of fun, intimate gatherings are often the most meaningful. I can look into the eyes of people and know right a way how I’m doing. I liked what I said about the book. I will perfect it a bit more with each reading. But it went well.

In a few years I doubt there will be physical book readings at ll, only video conferences, book readings in the digital realm. I don’t do nostalgia, I had my turn, it is somebody else’s turn.

The material realm is giving way to the digital.

More and more, people go on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat to meet and socialize with people, not to physical gatherings in the physical world. Art least 100 people told me they were excited to be coming to the reading and couldn’t wait. But I know that to be Hollywood agent talk, I know they mean to, but life often intercedes or distracts.

There are countless good reasons to stay home.

I am not into nostalgia, the days when I was driven around in limousines to four star hotels are long gone. It was common just a few years ago to  face huge and adoring crowds – 1,200 people came to see me in Forth Worth, Texas one night – but I can’t say I miss the old days. This is my time. I am happier and more creative now, for sure. I have my blog, the center of my creative life.

I am content with where I am. And I am still at it, I have yet another book to finish, and more readings ahead of me. This is the fascinating part, more than four million people read my writing regularly, but it is an effort to get a dozen to come and hear me talk.  I have never been read by more people in different places.

This is America today, I think.

And then there are sales.

The reports about my book sales are good. Connie has taken more than 700 pre-orders, a record for her store. My publisher e-mailed me tonight to say they have had a good response from their accounts. Barnes & Noble has ordered 3,600 copies and Amazon took 2,200, independent book stores  have ordered 1,600 copies of the book.

Those are good numbers  these days so early on.

My editor said Simon and Schuster has printed 14,000 copies of the book, he thought a second printing was “imminent.” I  hope so. Publishers have to fight for every single book. Mr. Trump is harming book sales by taking up much of the media that would have gone to culture and book coverage. In the media, it is pretty much all Trump all the time.  That is hurting a lot of young writers.  Maybe he will be quiet for a week or so. It does not seem likely.

Writers always say that you can tell who your friends are by who shows up at readings, but I do not feel that way about it. Failure is never fatal in itself, I think, but failure to change or accept change is deadly. One of my first writing students, the very gifted John Greenwood, a truck driver turned brilliant creative, drove two  hours to see me. I really appreciated that.

I don’t take it personally. I am willful and determined, and when I was eight years old I decided to be a writer one day, and decades later, that is what I am. And that is what I will be when I die.

Readings are important to authors. We work on books for years, and first night readings are a big deal, a coming out, the first opportunity to talk about our books and gauge the response in the eyes and body language and yawns of the audience. At readings, the book comes to life and becomes real. That happened to me at Battenkill tonight.

The book is alive, warm and very real.

There was only one yawn tonight, and when I saw two, I wrapped it up, it meant 25 per cent of my audience was tired. Red was stellar as usual, politely greeting everyone. And young Fate, at her first reading, jumped up on every single person and then lay down at Maria’s feet and went to sleep. A triumph.

I talked about the visualizations in the book, and the story of the New York Carriage Horses, and the urgent need to understand the real nature and needs of animals if they are to remain among us in our world. I talked about my efforts to communicate with animals, and to listen to them.

My editor said the book was full of “heart and wisdom,” and that feels good to hear.

He said there was growing excitement about my next book “Lessons From Bedlam Farm,” and that was wonderful to hear.

But the next few weeks belong to “Talking To Animals.” I will keep pushing those numbers up, I hope. I want that second printing, and also a third one. I intend to be relevant and to write books to the last gasp, even when nobody comes out.

If you wish to order the book through Battenkill Books (it is no. 1 in “Hot New Releases”), you can do so here. I will sign and personalize every copy and Connie will give you a lovely tote bag for free.

19 December

Something New: My Voice On The Blog

by Jon Katz

Tonight, I’m launching something I’ve been working on for some time – adding my voice and narration to the blog. I’m using an audio sharing app, Itunes and a voice recording program to post audio – I’ll do poems, commentary, excerpts from my books, occasional musings about philosophy, animals, and also some anecdotes from the farm. I share photos and words, why not my voice.

This is a powerful new tool for writers who wish to share their work and ideas with their readers, a new way of our inter-acting with one another. A kind of informal podcast. This will not replace words but occasionally supplement them, a new way to use the creative tools we have to…well, be creative.

My first broadcast, accompanied by a photo of Deb and Jake, two beautiful lambs, both gone now. And I read from my notes that helped me begin the first chapter of my next, next book “Lessons From Bedlam Farm,” out in 2018 and just underway. I use italic notes to help me get started on new chapters and these were about the lessons I learned in just one week of living on my farm, one of the great teachers in my life.

So welcome to the voice of me, hopefully the first of many and thanks for coming along on this ride with me as I seek to re-invent the life of an author in the new world. I do not intend to be irrelevant. Thanks for supporting me.  I love the challenge of creativity, and thanks to my good friend John Greenwood for inspiring me to do this and for helping me to do it. He did it a year ago.

I think my next offering will be a poem from Hafiz.

31 May

The Hubbard Hall Writers Read And Celebrate Their work

by Jon Katz
Celebrate Their Work
Celebrate Their Work

The Hubbard Hall Writers did a public reading tonight from their amazing work on their blogs and in their writing, photos, animations and art work. We had a full house in stifling heat and the writers and audience bravely sweltered through the night. I had a wonderful feeling to it, these gifted people who have been so creative and so supportive of one another, people came from as far away as Buffalo and the Midwest. John Greenwood, Diane Fiore, Dr. Jen. Baker-Porazinski, Rebecca Fedler, Kim Gifford and Rachel Barlow were funny, touching, uplifting and honest. What a privilege it is for me to work with these brave and gifted people. They were all nervous about appearing in public before the readings, but they didn’t seem nervous tonight.

The workshop was supposed to last four weeks, but is heading for two years and will probably go another ten more. In the Fall, I’m teaching a four part course on separate Saturday mornings at Hubbard Hall called “The Art Of The Blog.” There was a great feeling in the room tonight, how wonderful to hear their great work and see it celebrated. Red was stellar as usual, except for his fascination with the Irish step-dancing class. He is from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

26 May

Come Meet The Hubbard Hall Writer’s: Friday, May 31. Win A Trip To Florence

by Jon Katz
Hubbard Hall Writers Reading
Hubbard Hall Writers Reading

Okay, I’m just kidding about Florence. Just getting your attention.  But if you come to the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Workshop Readings this coming Friday at Hubbard Hall, you will encounter something precious and worthwhile: six writers (and me, too) who are enthusiastically and creatively exploring the new life of the writer as the very foundations of publishing, writing, reading and books explodes and evolves all around us.

This workshop began in 2011 and was supposed to last six weeks. We are heading for our second year, and I don’t think we will ever disband. I asked each of the writers to create their own blog, and they have, and this has unleashed a wonderful river of the imagination – writing, animation, stories, poetry, essays, a flowering of imagination. Friday the Hubbard Hall Writer’s are coming out, sharing their work, meeting with you, talking to you, answering questions about this wonderful experiment, one of the most meaningful of my writing life.

At 6 p.m., there will be a reception where you can meet Diane Fiore, John Greenwood, Kim Gifford, Dr. Jen Baker-Porazinksi, Rebecca Fedler, Rachel Barlow. And me and Red, the workshop dog. This is an amazing group of creative and mutually supportive people, fusing technology and ideas to build new kinds of writing opportunities and careers. You can learn a lot from them, I have.  You can learn about pugs, the agony of caring physicians in the health care morass, family farms, family care and Alzheimer’s, bugs and spiders,  poetry, drawings and technology. A feast. I will be reading from my new book “Second Chance Dogs,” out in the Fall, and each of the Hubbard Hall writers will share something from their work. We will all be available to answer questions and have a discussion after the readings, which begin at 7 p.m. Contributions to the Hubbard Hall Summer Scholarship Fund are welcome, admission is free. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Hubbard Hall website for $10.

As I teach it, writing is a process of coming out, being authentic, finding your voice and your zeal, following it. These very wonderful people have all done that, and it is really working for them. I am so proud of them, I am eager for you to meet them and hear about their work.

The readings will be held in the Hubbard Hall Freight Depot and I know tickets are selling quickly. Hope to see you on Friday. If you care about the future of writings, stories, publishing on the Internet and blogs, you will find it worthwhile. In the fall, I will be teaching a course on “The Art Of The Blog” on four Saturday mornings at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, N.Y. Details to be announced on Friday.

29 April

Meet The Hubbard Hall Writers (And Me And Red) May 31. Reading!

by Jon Katz
Meet The Writers
Meet The Writers

You are invited to come and meet the Hubbard Hall Writers (and me and Red) talking about our very successful workshop and reading from their surprising, powerful and very poignant and uplifting work. Dr. Jen Baker-Porazinksi, John Greenwood, Rebecca Fedler, Rachel Barlow, Diane Fiore and Kim Gifford have written about pugs, relationships, memory, Alzheimer’s, the challenges of dating in various ways. I will also be offering a sneak preview from my next book “Second Change Dog: A Love Story,” and Red will be along, he is the workshop writing dog. There will be a reception with food before the reading so people can look at the poems, blogs, photos, drawings and artwork that has come out of the workshop.

At the reading, we will use screen projections to talk about our blogs and explain how we are exploring new technology and platforms to get our work out into the world. Some of the group are moving to be professional writers, others just want to write for other reasons. The evening is being held for the benefit of the Hubbard Hall Scholarship Fund, so if you come, you will not only hear some wonderful writing and support the writers, you will help kids enjoy Hubbard Hall’s great educational activities and programs.

Thanks to Hubbard Hall’s generosity, we are pricing the reading to make sure everyone can come – kids and young writers are especially welcome. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Advanced ticket sales are $10 and are available at the Hubbard Hall website. Tickets are free at the door but donations to the Hubbard Hall Scholarship Fund will be welcome. Writing workshops are complex and challenging, but this one has really worked. It was supposed to be a six-week workshop, we are heading into our second year, and I don’t think this group will ever disband. We meet almost daily on Facebook and have all explored the ways in which we can use writing to make a living, explore complex issues in our lives, and to use blogs to advance our work and reach new audiences.

I am very excited about the work this group has gone. For years, I’ve wanted to figure out how to reach writing in a positive and effective way, and this is the group that showed the way. You will be hearing from the milkman who writes poetry and memoir, the doctor who is struggling to find her humanity, the housewife and mother who writes like Erma Bombeck, the artist/photographer/writer and teacher whose life revolves around pugs, the young poet raised on a family farm.  Their work ought to be shared with the world. These people are a light unto the world. In the way that independent bookstores need to be support, so do writers started out and working to find their voices and communicate. So please come if you can. We will have fun, share what we have learned, touch some hearts and souls. The readings will take place at the Freight Depot at Hubbard Hall. Reception at 6 p.m., readings at 7 p.m. Hope to see you there. Readings are supposed to be a dying art form, but so are bookstores. Both will be around for a good while.

Bedlam Farm