How can food change the world?

By Midge Raymond,

The New York Times magazine published its Food & Drink issue last weekend, with an intro by Mark Bittman, who opened with a couple of great questions: “How can food change my life? And how can food change the world?” As we all know, the way we eat is a highly personal decision, but Bittman points out that it’s not only personal; it’s political as well: “As well as you might feed yourself and your kids, the food ‘system’ is still out there, stuffing some people and starving others, poisoning the earth and the air, destroying cultures everywhere.” Read his call to action on this — as well as Michael Pollan’s Q&A on the food system, the American diet, and how to make a difference for good when it comes to factory farming, unsustainable agriculture, and animal cruelty.

Better yet, check out this TED talk with Mark Bittman — it’s not only interesting but alarming, enlightening, and, ultimately, inspiring.

Bittman is adamant that our diet (i.e., the Western/American diet) is deadly — and he’s right. (He wrote a very compelling op-ed for the New York Times on taxing bad food in favor of subsidizing good food.) Bittman points out that our Standard American Diet (SAD) is not only killing us — it’s also killing the planet. He offers a few facts that all Americans should be aware of before taking their next bites of food — among them,  that one-fifth of greenhouse gas is generated by livestock (more even than transportation), that half of the antibiotics administered in the United States is not for people but for animals, and that the U.S. alone slaughters 1o billion animals a year for food (that’s 10,000,000, 000).

He talks about the favorite “new” word: locavore, and points out that only a hundred years ago, we were all locavores. In 1900, there was no such thing as shipping food from faraway locales, no such thing as snack food or frozen food. Marketing had no role in what we eat, and all restaurants were local, not chains.

Bittman also reminds us to be mindful of where our food comes from. If animals that should, by nature, eat grass are fed organic soy or corn, it still makes them sick. Food that may be “organically” raised may be shipped or flown thousands of miles to get to your plate, and probably packed in Styrofoam, no less. He notes, in essence, that may be organic in letter are not necessarily organic in spirit.

Bittman’s message is simple: “Eat food. Eat real food.”

This means knowing a bit more about how our food gets to our plates … and this is well worth it in the end.

  Category: On animals, On nature
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A (virtual) Halloween book launch party!

By Midge Raymond,

UPDATE, October 31: Are you here for the party? You’re at the right place … but opened the wrong door. The party’s actually here.

Come join us!

 

You are all cordially invited to the official Out of Breath Halloween virtual book launch party on Monday, October 31.

This all-day party will be hosted right here on our blog, which means we can have a gigantic online party without worrying about the fire marshal breaking it up. All are welcome!

Doing a virtual book tour of my own this spring made me realize just how celebratory the virtual world can be for writers who are not able to get out there and meet with readers in person. So, as the publishers of this fabulous new book, we hope you’ll join us to celebrate online on Halloween.

Drop by this blog any time on October 31 to get the latest Out of Breath reviews, to sign up for book giveaways, and to participate in a daylong Q&A with the author. We’re delighted to be welcoming bloggers who will be stopping by to share new reviews as well as fantastic recipes for Halloween treats.

The Halloween candy may be virtual, but the good company will be real — hope to see you then!

 

Announcing new authors and our 2012 lineup

By John Yunker,

Ashland Creek Press in 2012
When Midge and I started Ashland Creek Press earlier this year, we knew what types of books we wanted to publish. And we noted this right on the home page.

But we weren’t sure exactly how many of these types of books were out there. All we did know was that we would have to be patient. Yet we were pleased and surprised to discover that we have not had to wait very long for amazing books to come our way.

I’m happy to say that our 2012 lineup of books captures the range of themes and issues we are most passionate about — books that introduce you to new cultures and new ideas, and books that have the potential to change the world, or at least the potential to change your way of looking at the world. So here is the lineup for next year, beginning in April:

The Names of Things by John Colman Wood

The Names of Things is one of those novels that sticks with you long after you’ve put it down. The book is a mystery, a love story, and an anthropological journey all wrapped up into one. We couldn’t put the manuscript down and are very happy to be introducing this novel to the world.

Falling into Green by Cher Fischer

Falling into Green is an eco-mystery set in Los Angeles with an ecopsychologist as its main character. This character, Ez Green, is a powerful, quirky, and highly engaging character, and this book is the first in what we hope will be a long series of Ez’s adventures on a changing planet.

And now let’s jump ahead to the fall of 2012 to introduce two newly signed authors and their novels:

The Dragon Keeper by Mindy Mejia

The Dragon Keeper is Mindy’s debut novel, and one of its most endearing characters is an endangered Komodo dragon living in a Minnesota zoo. But it’s ultimately about the woman who cares for the dragon, the perils of captivity, and the incredible series of events that change her life — and the dragon’s — forever. Mindy has an MFA from Hamline University, where The Dragon Keeper was awarded outstanding thesis in fiction in 2009. Her work has appeared in rock, paper, scissors, and Things Japanese: A Collection of Short Stories. She lives and works in Saint Paul, MN.

Balance of Fragile Things by Olivia Chadha

Balance of Fragile Things, Olivia’s debut novel, puts you smack in the middle of a modern American family — an Indian father, a Latvian mother, and a teenage son and daughter — as well as an environmental mystery that threatens to destroy the family’s livelihood as well as the whole town. Olivia completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing at Binghamton University and began her career writing comic book scripts. She teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

And, last but certainly not least, next fall we’ll be publishing the second book in the YA Lithia Trilogy:

The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond

The second book in this trilogy will follow more of Kat’s adventures with the otherworldly inhabitants of Lithia. To learn more about this series, check out the first book, Out of Breath, which is available now and “officially” launches in October. You can download a PDF excerpt here, and please also join us here on this blog on Halloween, when we’ll be celebrating the publication of Out of Breath with a daylong virtual book launch. You can read some of the book’s early reviews here, including this one from Kirkus Reviews: “This series opener blends genre tradition with West Coast environmentalism … the result feels fresh and original.”

Welcome to all of our wonderful authors!

Twitter for authors

By Midge Raymond,

I admit to being late to Twitter. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get why I should be, or how anyone else could be, interested in 140-character updates about people’s lives. But then my book was published, and everything changed. Not only have I “joined the conversation,” as they say, I also manage several Twitter accounts (one of my own, and three for the day job), and I use the time-saver that is HootSuite (more on this later).

When it comes to book promotion, Twitter is great for some things, not great for others. And I have to admit that, as anyone who follows me @MidgeRaymond knows, my Twitter personality has suffered a bit of a dissociative identity disorder. Translation: I’m all over the place. I tweet about books, publishing, writing, about my writer friends and what they’re up to, and about all sorts of other random stuff. But what I’ve learned about Twitter is that people like to follow you for a specific reason — for example, they’re fellow writers, or they love to read. So in an effort to be more focused, I’ve been working on narrowing my Twitter life down to tweeting about all things bookish — and it not only saves me time but it gives followers a clear idea of why they’re following me in the first place.

So how can a writer best use Twitter?

First, choose an account name that fits your goals. You might use your name, as I do, or you might use the title of your book, as author Rebecca Rasmussen does for her novel, The Bird Sisters (@thebirdsisters). Once your account is set up, find people with similar interests, news, and information to share — as soon as you begin to follow people, people follow you back, you’re all receiving and transmitting tweets, and you’ve officially “joined the conversation.” And don’t forget to upload a photo; you need to offer a sense of a real person behind the tweets in order to find your audience.

Note: Take your time. If you follow zillions of people at once, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of tweets coming your way and won’t be able to process anything. (You also might look a little nutty if you’re following 10,000 people and only have 2 followers yourself.) So take your time, check out what people are talking about, and engage. It takes some hanging out on Twitter, but by taking the time, you’ll learn what makes interesting tweets (basically by noting which ones you read and which you don’t) and what all those cryptic little abbreviations mean (RT for retweet, #FF for Follow Friday, the plain old #hashtag that makes for easy searches). You’ll learn how a reply is different from a direct message, and that it’s polite to credit someone whose link you’re retweeting.

And of course, as you’re learning all this, you’ll be tweeting the whole time yourself. So, what to tweet?

There are plenty of “rules” about Twitter, but I don’t believe we need to follow them (mostly because everyone has an opinion on it, and the “rules” change accordingly). So tweet about what’s interesting to you, and be as focused or as loose as you’d like — the most important thing is that you say something tweet-worthy. Here are a few guidelines.

Be relevant. Offer content that your followers can use; don’t just tweet about what you had for breakfast. Offer links to interesting articles and blogs, offer writing exercises and tips that have helped you; offer quotes by famous authors. You’ll want to tweet things not only that your followers will enjoy reading but that they’ll be inspired to retweet as well.

Be interesting. I could also rephrase this as, Don’t over-promote. Even if you’re on Twitter to promote your book, if every tweet is all about you and your book, that’s going to bore people quickly. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with showing off a good review or tweeting about an upcoming event — but be sure to produce some other content as well.

Include links. To me, this is the most useful aspect of Twitter — finding tidbits that I haven’t already seen or read. There’s only so much you can do in 140 characters, and I find that the most useful, interesting, and entertaining tweets usually have something attached (and, as you’ll find out quickly, you’ll need to use a link shortener like bit.ly or Tinyurl).

Network. Follow people and organizations that interest you, and start to build a network. Always do your best to respond to direct messages (unless they’re only blatant sales pitches, which often they are) and follow people back when they follow you (if they are of interest to you, that is; some of them won’t be).

Try out the tools. It wasn’t until I had more than one Twitter account that I tried HootSuite, and I love it. There are a great many Twitter tools out there — so many it’s a little overwhelming — but they are worth knowing about, and in general, it’s great to keep learning so that you can use Twitter as best you can for what your goals are. One excellent resource is MediaBistro’s All Twitter, at which you’ll learn about the latest tools as well as get Twitter news and tips.

Be generous. Even though I originally joined Twitter with my own book promotion in mind, I use Twitter often to promote writer friends’ events, to link to their blogs, to show off their work. And one cool way writers can promote other writers is with #StorySunday, originated by The Short Review, in which readers link to their favorite online short story of the week.

Have fun. Be creative. Think outside the newsy tweet. Enjoy. But while you’re being creative, take care not to be so “out there” as to lose followers (i.e., see “Be relevant,” above).

Keep a balance. Another important thing to keep in mind is how much time being an active Twitter user takes. To be fully engaged, you really have to spend some time reading tweets, interacting, replying, retweeting, and so forth — when you would probably rather be (and should be) writing. So allow yourself an allotted amount of daily Twitter time, and then get back to work.

And, finally, how do you know if any of it is “working”? You can attempt to measure your success in book sales, in the number of followers you have, or you can check out your “Twitter influence” with such tools as Klout. But keep in mind that for a writer, success may mean something different — such as how much you’re learning and sharing, or how well you’re staying connected to the online writing community. I suggest defining your own goals, and measuring your success from there.

See you on Twitter!

@MidgeRaymond

 

Author Q&A: Exploring Oregon’s cemeteries

By Midge Raymond,

How does one become interested in cemeteries, of all things? In this Q&A, Johan Mathiesen, author of Mad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon Through Its Cemeteries, talks about his interest in cemeteries, how he went about researching this book, and where he himself wants to be buried…

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Basically, the book is an extension of an avocation: visiting cemeteries. It’s an activity my wife and I have engaged in for decades. It’s one of the things we do when we visit a new town; we go find their cemeteries. And then some years ago the idea simply popped into my head: Well, I could do a guide to the cemeteries of Oregon; no one has done that yet. To an extent it was an extension of Ralph Friedman’s work on documenting what’s interesting in Oregon. My concept was to isolate one part of what he was looking at and look at it in depth. Another part of me wanted to give a gift to my state. My own personal ethos says I should try as hard as I can to advance the culture of the human race. Simply put, I felt it my duty to make a contribution. Cemeteries was it.

Once I settled on the project of photographing all the cemeteries in the state, I began the long process of locating and visiting them. I began in 2004. I’m not done. I’ve shot more than 600 Oregon cemeteries. I’ve driven countless thousands of miles and spent many a night sleeping in the front seat of my car off some logging road or in the vast expanse of the high desert waiting for the sun. I’ll drive for hours and never play the radio or slip in a CD. Just me and the two-lane or less.

Why cemeteries? What made you interested in cemeteries in the first place?

I blame it on my dad. He had hip ailments and couldn’t walk well, but he was a trained geographer and loved to take long drives through the countryside. I learned to love them, too, and so did my wife. Cemeteries are a natural place to stop and poke around, if you’re in the boondocks. Doing this book was an excuse to pursue my hobby seriously.

How did you choose the cemeteries to include in this book?

They chose themselves. Either they were interesting cemeteries in their own right, or they had an interesting story connected to them.

What are you favorite cemeteries?

Any cemetery that has a lot going on. I don’t like cemeteries that discourage personalization. I like cemeteries that encourage people to decorate the graves of their loved ones. I like cemeteries that invite people to use them.

How are cemeteries adapting to the modern world?

Many ways. Like everything else, cemeteries are living institutions; they either go forward or they die. The biggest hurdle cemeteries currently face is cremation and the discontinuance of using cemeteries. They’ve combated that by devoting increasing space to columbaria, and by integrating cremain depositories within highly landscaped settings. Other cemeteries have incorporated virtual memory displays, either at grave sites or central locations. Cemetery memorials have gone online. Green cemeteries are encroaching on the business. On the opposite end, the extreme income disparity in this country has given rise to a rebirth in elaborate and expensive monuments, while at the same time many have cut back operations or scope.

Any lessons to be learned?

It’s probably too late, but the invention of the lawn cemetery was a major contributor to the death of the mega-cemetery as we know them. We can see that in hindsight, but there was no way to see it going in.

Ever see any ghosts?

Nope. I think there are spirits in a graveyard, but they’re spirits you bring with you. I’m pretty convinced evolution happens, and I don’t see exactly when ghosts would have appeared in the process. In any event, if they’re out there, I’m blind to them.

Where are you going to be buried?

Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland. My wife and I were among the last people to secure plots there before they curtailed sales. If I had my druthers, they’d prop my body under a tree and let the critters eat me, but that’s frowned on in this society. I guess I’ll let the little critters of the soil have me. My most important goal is to remain part of the life cycle. The idea of being sealed in an impermeable coffin scares the beejeebiz out of me.

 

Learn more about Johan Mathiesen’s book, Mad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon Through Its Cemeteries, at Ashland Creek Press. The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and your favorite bookstore.