Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

That intolerable silence

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The blog has been quiet lately, and I’m sure a few people are wondering what hole I’ve managed to fall into.  A friend once accused me of being a compulsive blogger, needing some sort of intervention and a 12-step program, but none of my friends seemed to care to stop me.  So what has kept me quiet for so long lately?

It’s just life.  A couple of weeks ago I was wrestling with my motivation to solve a giant problem, one of those huge problems that can’t even be fully understood at the outset, like a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  I’m talking about my very slow-progressing Airstream maintenance book, which I think is going into its third year of “work.”

I have to put “work” in quotes because I can’t honestly use that term to describe the herky-jerky progress I was making for the first two years, interspersed by long period of contemplation and (let’s be honest) distraction.  Like the massive jigsaw puzzle, I had found all the easy parts and put them together, leaving a giant framework with 4,900 pieces yet to go.  This was a motivation-killer.

I mention this because you might think motivation comes easy to me.  I don’t talk about my failures enough (people complain it’s depressing).  I wrestle with things like every human being does, and there was a long period in which it seemed this project might be just a bit more than I was equipped to complete.  Failure WAS an option, and always is an option even if you like to pretend it’s not, because sometimes in failure you can learn something that will help you succeed next time. Like, “don’t take on a 200 page book project if you really don’t have time for it.”

But it’s harder to abandon a project of one’s own design.  After all, who or what can you honestly blame for the failure?  It was a jail of my own making and I’d told too many people about it, so I kept plugging away, adding a figurative puzzle piece every week or two, and then suddenly a wonderful thing happened.  It was that magical moment known to all writers of long texts and jigsaw puzzle fanatics alike.  I could see for the first time the beautiful picture that my puzzle would eventually form.  Better yet, it was all so obvious now.  I knew exactly what I needed to do, and without any motivational struggle at all I found myself gleefully opening up the document and adding text at every opportunity.

Suddenly I was finding time to write after dinner, before breakfast, between phone calls.  The first day after the breakthrough I added three pages of text to a 30 page document.  The next day I added five pages.  The next, 10 pages.  By the end of the week the project that took over two years to grow to 30 pages had doubled in size to 60.  It was almost worth waiting two years to have that experience.  Breakthroughs like that feel great.

Alas, my next act was to get sick with a virus, which has cost me a week of productivity already and will probably take another week to clear up fully.  I stopped working on the book because it took all of my virus-limited brainpower to just keep the basic operations going (keep in mind, I’m still TBM so I’ve got to do things like grocery shopping and laundry in addition to moving the Winter issue of Airstream Life ahead).  Now, I’ve got to fly up to Oregon to help Brett run Alumafandango, so there’s another big hiatus in the book project ahead.

This has led to the intolerable silence of the blog.  I make no apologies, as we aren’t actively Airstreaming at the moment and TBM’s adventures have been sadly muted, but I thought you should know that I haven’t abandoned you.  No, quite the opposite, I’m plotting all kinds of things to talk about in the future.  I will be blogging from Alumafandango as much as time allows over the coming week, and upon returning I’ll have just about two weeks to get all my TBM-decadence done, so that should be fun.  I already had a bacon-wrapped Sonoran hotdog but that’s just a warm-up for the real goodies…

Not too serious

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

I am in receipt of a hand-written note from an Airstream Life subscriber, which is reproduced below:

No Tin Hut, No Renewal

People take Airstream Life quite seriously.

Tin Hut, in case you don’t know, has been a long-running humor series in the magazine.  Tin Hut and his wife Mrs. Hut engage in various quasi-redneck trailer adventures involving hick relatives, crazy RV parks, deranged squirrels, and Mr. Ed The Horse look-alike contests.  Every issue for the past several years I’ve been the fortunate recipient of a letter or two from the Huts detailing their latest misadventure, which I’ve been pleased to print in the magazine.

The only problem I’ve had with Tin Hut is that it is beloved by some and hated by just as many.  At Alumapalooza the past two years I’ve asked for a show of hands from people who love the series, and I always get a sheepish wave from about half the people in attendance.  Then I ask who despises the series, and the rest of the crowd hisses and boos.

Well, like the Vice President, I get to cast the deciding vote when the House is deadlocked, and so I’ve run the Tin Hut series steadily.  (Besides, my mother likes it and she gets two votes.)  I even collected 23 episodes into a book which you can buy in print or in Kindle ebook format.

But lately the man behind the series, Jim Snead, has confessed that the Huts are nearing the end.  Poor Mr. Hut has fallen out of trees, been electrocuted, set on fire, lost his hair, and has been locked in a Port-O-Let and shipped to a women’s prison.  He’s getting too old for that sort of thing.  Last issue (Winter 2012), for the first time since the series began, I did not get a letter from the Huts, and it looks like I won’t have one for the Spring 2013 either.  I am working with Jim to see if at least the Huts can have a final send-off.  It will be a shame to say goodbye to them, but I’ve learned that in the magazine world, nothing lasts forever. Tin Hut will join other beloved sections of the magazine, like “eBay Watch” that eventually reached their logical conclusion and sputtered to a halt.

I am always sad to see a good series go, but that’s life.  Something will come up to replace it.  We only have 64 pages in each issue (at least until the economy picks up a bit more) and so the departure of Tin Hut means that some other good idea will now have the opportunity to take a few pages in Airstream Life in the future. I’ll be looking.

Meanwhile, I’m having some fun with an article in the upcoming Spring 2013 issue.  Fred Coldwell, who has written “Old Aluminum” for about eight years, is still going strong with his series about vintage Airstreams.  He left off at 1960 in the last issue, and his article inspired a letter from avid reader Don Williams.  Don has a mystery California-built Airstream trailer dating from 1960, and offered us some clues and photos as to its true identity.  Is it a rare Comet, or an “18 Footer” or Traveler?

Fred wrote up a hilarious investigation in the persona of “Sherlock M Homes” (the “M” stands for mobile), and his trusty sidekick Dr. Walban (for the popular Airstream polish called Walbernize).  Methodically sorting through the clues remaining in the gutted old trailer, he eventually reveals a surprise conclusion as to the identity of “the body.”  It’s a unique way to make an entertaining story out of what might otherwise have been a dull forensic study, and we’ve been having fun tweaking it this week.

Fred’s timing is ideal, as coincidentally I bought the entire collected Sherlock Holmes works by Arthur Conan Doyle on Kindle last month and have been reading through all three huge volumes in my spare time.  So I’m currently deeply immersed in the stylings of A.C. Doyle and was able to give Fred some advice on Holmes’ (er, Homes) characteristic turns of phrase.  He and I have been shooting back and forth emails all day to suggest more bad Holmes jokes.  I doubt half of them will get printed, but who cares? This is the stuff that makes editing a magazine really fun.

I am glad I don’t have a boss looking over my shoulder, or an editorial review committee to take the goofiness out of these things.  Sure, it’s all hokey and silly, but it’s good for the heart too.  I’m sorry to the subscriber who sent me the note, and I’ll regret losing him as a subscriber, but let’s remember you shouldn’t take life too seriously.  Or Airstream Life.

Notes from the Airstream universe

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Just like the real universe, the Airstream universe continues to expand indefinitely.  Little reminders of this cross my desk from time to time, and I forget to mention them here, so today I’m going to mention a few of the recent and most interesting developments.

Item:  Airstream now for sale in Australia, if you’ve got the bucks.  The Canberra Times reports that Airstreams are now being officially imported, compliant with Australian regulations.  We’ve featured at least one Australian Airstream makeover in Airstream Life magazine, a restaurant trailer that sells gourmet hamburgers, but there really hasn’t been a lot of action in that country.  Australia and New Zealand have been mostly motorhome territory.  I know a few folks who have done some great tours in rented Class C motorhomes, and we’ve talked about doing it ourselves, but I’ve been waiting for Airstreams to become available. Maybe now we can start talking about putting together a caravan?

Or maybe not.  Prices for the new Aussie ‘streams are running $115k-135k (Australian dollars).  That’s a hunk of money, right up there with the cost of European-spec Airstreams.  It may be quite a long time before an affordable used unit can be found.

Item:  A new Airstream book has come out.  We never get tired of Airstream-related books, do we?  John Brunkowski and Michael Closen, who previously wrote a book about RV Toys, have written another great photo-rich book entitled “Airstream Memories.”  It’s a collection of Airstream art and memorabilia, with an emphasis on postcards, that runs 127 pages long.  It’s really fun to flip through it.

Full disclosure:  I wrote the Foreword to the book, but I didn’t get to review the art until it was published.  When I got my copy this week, I was surprised to see some Airstream Life covers and photo spreads in there.

Item: Another Airstream book seeks funding. Rebecca Chastenet and Carlos Briscenos jointly run an Airstream-based restaurant in Santa Fe NM.  We featured that trailer with photos of Rebecca in the Spring 2012 issue of Airstream Life.  Rebecca has since become a contributor to the magazine, writing for our new “Airstream food” section that you will see beginning with the Winter 2012 issue.

Rebecca and Carlos have an idea for a book about Airstream “pop-up” businesses.  There are probably hundreds of them, all over the world.  We’ve covered dozens in the magazine over the past few years.  They’re all interesting, creative, and run by fascinating entrepreneurs.

They’re seeking funding to cover the costs of a tour to visit as many of these Airstream businesses as they can, which will then become material for the book.  You can read their full proposal on Kickstarter, and chip in if you think the cause is worthy.  I’m hoping this one takes off.  Rebecca is a solid writer and I’m sure the result will be wonderful.

Item: Child starts blog.  OK, this isn’t big news, and it’s not Airstream-related but I happen to know one of the two children who write this blog.  “Sylvia Phenora” is the nom de plume of someone close to me.  For a 12-year-old, she’s a pretty handy writer.  She’s also producing Pokemon stories on a regular basis.  I’m waiting for her first novel to come out.  Hopefully it will be a best-seller so I can retire early and do more Airstreaming!

Item:  We’re going to pitch in to help!  The “superstorm” Sandy has really walloped the northeast coast.  Brett & I decided that we are going to donate $10 for every campsite registration we get between today and Dec 31, 2012, to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts.  So if you were thinking about going to Alumafiesta or Alumapalooza next year, sign up soon and $10 of your site fee will go to help others.  Thanks.

 

 

 

 

Attacking the giant blog beast

Friday, December 16th, 2011

I’ve been talking about this for far too long.  It’s a monstrous, scary, bewildering job.  I’m talking about turning the three years of the Tour of America blog into a book.

Time and again I’ve said I wanted to encapsulate that epic into something portable and readable, but every time I looked at the task it was so intimidating that I found something else to do instead.  Once I actually wrote about 80 pages, and then abandoned it as a terrible effort.  At another point I published a series of three essays on the blog in the hopes that going “public” would embarrass me into completing the job.

But nothing has worked.  It has been three years since we stopped full-timing, and probably five or six abortive attempts at re-writing the story, and it continues to be a sort of literary Don Quixote-windmill that thwarts me.

I am taking another run at it now.  This time I’ve approached it by downloading the entire contents of the blog to use as notes.

This has already turned out to be tricky.  See, I was rather prolific in writing about our travels, to put it mildly.  This is normally a good practice for a writer, because the blog entries and 10,000+ photos comprise all the information I need to augment my memory.  But I wrote six days a week, averaging about 900 words per blog entry.  Multiply that by three years and the result is smothering:  over 800,000 words in total.  That’s the rough equivalent of a 1,600 page book.  It’s almost double the length of The Count of Monte Cristo.  At least Dumas had the excuse that his story spanned decades.

Don’t get me wrong—I think our story was mostly interesting, but the sheer size of it is impractical.  Not only is it too much information to sort through, to keep it unabridged I’d have to publish it as a three or four volume set —at least— and that’s without any pictures.  The cost of publishing would be prohibitive.  And it would be boring.  So it has to be trimmed down, and therein lies my first challenge.

Just getting the data down from the web was a hassle.  WordPress doesn’t have a handy plug-in (that I could find, anyway) to export blog posts to a Word processing format.  I finally used a web service that converted the entire blog into a PDF, including the photos.  The resulting PDF took about half an hour to generate and massed 155 megabytes.  I converted that to text and imported it to my word processor, and now I’m cleaning up the result (removing extraneous detail and spam comments, etc.)  So far I’m 600 pages into the document. It will take a couple of weeks to complete the first pass, if all goes well.

This is just the beginning.  Then I have to start writing, with a copy of the cleaned-up blog at my side.  It doesn’t work to merely publish the blog entries chronologically as a book.  In that context it just seems strange and disconnected.  So the actual book will have to be mostly new material—a re-telling of the blog story, in past tense.

Still, I think that I would like to retain it as a moderately long travel story.  There’s no plot to our travel story, no climax at the end, no whodunnit.  It’s just a series of lessons and experiences, the way life is.  So instead of trying to trim to 200 pages, which would be a comfortable length for publishing, I will probably let it run quite a lot longer.  I want to include lots of color photos, too.

For these reasons, the book will probably never be printed on paper.  I expect it to be something you can only read on a Kindle, iPad, or similar device, where there’s no financial repercussions from being long-winded. But I hope—if I ever get this beastie under control—lots of people will read it and be inspired to do things that change their lives for the better, too.

 

 

’tis the season to get things going!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

So for the past week I’ve been tap-tap-tapping at the keyboard and relentlessly thinking about the future. This is the winter and in the winter it always seems that I have too little to physically do but too much to think about.  There are so many interesting plans to execute.  “What’s next?” is the question on my mind when I wake up, because for me, ’tis the season to get things done in preparation for an even more interesting 2012.

It has always been this way for me during the winter.  In the past it was easy to get bogged down in the minutiae and the winter doldrums, but since 2003 when we began Airstreaming I have not had that issue.  Wally Byam was right when he outlined the Four Freedoms that result from Airstream ownership, one of which was “the freedom to relax and lose oneself mentally.”  For me, the Airstream is a vital tool to regaining perspective that might otherwise be lost in the press of work and ideas.  Every year since 2004 we’ve spent a week or more around New Year’s Eve to get lost somewhere sunny, and not think about the things that need to get done back in the office.  I’m looking forward to that trip.

That’s a few weeks away still.  In the meantime I’m energized by the prospect of all the interesting possibilities that life presents. My challenge is to push things and people along the path so that every idea can get closer to fruition. It’s a rather delicate process.  I can’t just pick up the phone and yell at people to get their jobs done.  There are always obstacles to every project, and there’s never enough money.  So I spend a lot of time figuring out clever ways to circumvent barriers and financial limits (with the help of a few trusted advisers and partners), and then gently applying pressure in the right spot.  This is actually fun.  I do get a kick out of seeing ideas become reality, even if they’re not my ideas—and they often aren’t.

Of course, it’s important not to lose sight of the crown jewel that makes all the other projects possible: Airstream Life magazine.  I still spend most of my time working on it.  The magazine’s Spring 2012 edition is about 80% through the editorial process at this point, and going to layout as of today.  We are going to have articles on the 1958 model year Airstreams (continuing the series by Fred Coldwell), a Buyer’s Guide on 30-foot slide-outs, a very interesting Airstream with a Victorian interior, a personal perspective on Chaco National Monument by Bert Gildart, the Shooting Star Drive-In (Airstream park), an Airstream barber shop, a soap opera star’s customized Airstream in Hawaii, another article in Andy Thomson’s towing series, and more. This issue will be in the mail in February.  By the way, it’s going to have a really cool cover illustration.

While I was sick in Tampa last week, I had a lot of time to talk to Brett about our plans for Alumapalooza 2012.  The event is coming together very nicely.  We would have a much easier time if we simply replicated the event each year, but we like to change it up.  That way it’s never predictable, so people who come two years in a row won’t be bored.  And, we like to look for efficiencies that make the event better.

I already talked about the three grills we had built.  We tested them at Brett’s place last week and they did spectacularly well, so you can expect hot grills for at least two hours a night during Alumapalooza.  Bring lots of stuff to cook!  We also have completely revised the seminars and entertainment so that more than half the program will be all new for 2012.  For example, we’re working on a new event we’re calling “The Backup Derby.” I’ll leave the details to your imagination for now…

But in my opinion the best idea we’ve had is a new format for “the process formerly known as registration.” Last year people were waiting in a line to confirm their registrations on site, and it was kind of a drag in the hot sun.   This year, we figured that since you’ve already registered online for the event, there’s no reason to make you wait in line when you get to Alumapalooza.

So when you’re there in 2012, either before or after you’ve parked (your choice), all you have to do is approach any orange-shirted staff member anywhere and tell them who you are.  Most of the staff will be able to check you in, on the spot, using a wireless mobile device.  The process will take about 30 seconds and you’ll be handed a plastic token for every paid member of your group.  Ta-da! You’re checked in and ready to start having fun.

At your convenience, you can swing by the Vendor Tent or visit the daily 4 pm Wally Byam Happy Hour under the Main Tent and exchange your plastic token for your personal badge, which will get you into all the seminars, qualify you for door prizes, get you dinner on Saturday, etc.  The primary registrant in each group will also get a goody bag full of coupons and freebies.  No lines, no waiting, no hassle. 

I love this sort of stuff.  We didn’t have to make this change, and it will cost us some bucks for the added technology, but it’s going to make life easier for everyone and allow our attendees to get right to the job of having fun.  I know when I get to a campground after a long day of driving, the last thing I want to do is wait in line at the front desk and go through some overly-complicated registration process.  Getting geeky with our technology to eliminate that tedium is very satisfying.

OK, let’s talk about another project:  This week I am pleased to announce the Airstream Life has published another book, “The Collected Adventures of Tin Hut.”  It presently is available only in ebook format (Amazon Kindle right now, Apple iTunes bookstore for iPad & iPhone in a few days).  The book is a complete set of every Tin Hut episode ever published in Airstream Life—a total of 22 episodes, complete with the original illustrations by Brad Cornelius.  It’s pretty damn funny.  The price is just $9.95. We’re working on a softcover print edition to follow next year, which will probably be more expensive because of the cost of color printing.

I have four other book projects waiting in line right now.  They’re all going to be great (I say with as much modesty as I can muster) but each one has a set of barriers holding it back.  With luck, I’ll be able to announce two of them next year. Even when I’m not writing the books, it’s a huge job just to get each one out the door.  I love doing them despite the hassles.  By the way, speaking as a print publisher, I think ebooks are the way to go.  I can offer more titles at lower prices, especially books that would never see print because their audiences are too niche.  Some titles must be in print for logistical reasons, but I’ll always offer an ebook edition at the same time.

Another announcement:  the free Airstream Life Online Edition is now compatible with Apple iPad.  I get emails almost monthly from people wondering when they’ll be able to read it on their iPad.  Now you can.  iPad users, try it here.  The underlying software is still in beta, so it’s not quite perfect but we’ve been promised that the platform will get better in the next few months.

Events:  There’s more in the pipeline that I can’t talk about yet, but trust me, it’s good stuff.  Hopefully we will be able to announce a second major Alumapalooza-type event, out west, for next summer.  We’re just waiting for confirmation that the venue is available, and then we’ll open up registration.  And we are already at work on a third event for February 2013.  Each event will have its own name and be completely different, so rather than Alumapalooza 1, 2, and 3 clones, they will be more like a set: collect ‘em all.  This is really fun work. I just wish we could make it all happen faster.

One last announcement.  I’m once again working with Brett to curate the Modernism Week 2012 show in Palm Springs.  The show will be February 25-26.  For information on times and tickets, visit Modernism Week’s website.  We have space for just 20 exceptional vintage trailers at the show, and already half the spaces are taken by some unbelievable restored and customized rigs, including Randy Grubb’s one-of-a-kind Decoliner. It’s going to be an awesome show.

Modernism Week is a different kind of display opportunity from vintage rallies.  When you go to a rally you are showing off your trailer to other trailer enthusiasts.  That’s nice, but you’re sort of preaching to the choir.  At Mod Week, nearly 1,000 people who aren’t yet vintage trailer owners come from Los Angeles and southern CA specifically to see what’s cool.  They don’t know trailers, but they know what they like and they love good design. That’s why lots of smart trailer customizers and vendors of trailer-related products are bringing their best rigs to Palm Springs for this show. Airstream will probably be there to show their new Sterling concept trailer too, and we are hoping Chris C Deam will put in an appearance at the same time.

To encourage the best of the best, we have put together a special owners-only program which includes a private reception before the show, tickets to an evening event/party at the new Saguaro Hotel, and a chance to win one of three coveted Airstream Life “Wally awards.”  If you’ve got a sweet vintage trailer of any make (not just Airstream) and want to be considered for the show, just ping us at info (at) alumapalooza.com for the application form.

This is only about half of what’s on my plate.  You can see why my head is swirling right now.  There’s so much fun stuff out there to work on!  I’ll keep pounding away at the keys and working the phone this winter so the Airstream and vintage-trailer lovers can have a great 2012—and I will too.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine