AUTHOR PROFILES: BUSINESS
Ira Chaleff is both creative and methodical (a rare blend among intuitors). Way too many books map and magnify "leadership," and Ira produced a great one -- The Courageous Follower -- centered on the rank and file. Buy some copies for your staff -- but not to make your own managerial life more placid. A good follower should be able to analyze and articulate independently even while maintaining institutional loyalty. Ira shows them -- and "them" is sometimes us (especially when we're consulting) -- why and how:
Now for the Untold Story of Peter Drucker. The plot? A "lone-wolf intuitor" disciplines his fertile mind in a way that captivates dozens of CEOs. As a Fortune 500 consultant, but also as a teacher, Drucker develops a model for every self-employed person who likes concepts and trends...yet is weak on structure. If you never realized that side of Drucker, you've spent too much time reading his books -- and not enough time watching him work. The man's "weekly grind" reveals how he "structured" his own intuition, and stayed on top of the trend-defining heap for half-a-century:
In Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, author and instructor Elizabeth Lyon clarifies a process that my friends and clients have treated as a mix of sweetheart deals and lottery tickets. “The biggest mistake writers make,” declares Lyon, “is to start writing too soon, before they’ve done any planning or organization or additional research. That process begins with deeper examination of your idea, of its merits and marketability, and of your writing skill.” Shock and dismay – along with the beginnings of liberation – are what I felt reading that passage. Don’t let your zeal for “brainstorms” and Big Ideas be a roadblock to publishing something distinctive and useful:
In Why Decisions Fail, Dr. Paul C. Nutt serves up 15 case-study "debacles" that pave the way for advice on how to prevent big trouble. This Q&A should work well for people who see "strategy" as a discipline; who consult for or otherwise guide parts of larger enterprises; and who are wary of management books that romanticize individualism while slighting structure and systems. By contrast, if you like Tom Peters, or are philosophical about cost overruns, or get jazzed by one nifty idea at the expense of examining what your situation truly requires -- well, Paul Nutt is here with a stream of cold water. But it cleanses!
I become the "Exacting" Editor after finding U.S. advertising and marketing legend Al Ries. Fed up with producing big-picture text that mired and tired various audiences, I discovered his bracing 1996 book Focus: "If you want to be famous in life as well as death, you should [own] a word in the mind. That's true of an individual; it's also true of a company." For the big dogs as well as us lone wolves, the Ries -- pronounced Reese -- marketing doctrines deliver. If you've been forfeiting business while drowning in creativity, start here:
AUTHOR PROFILES: HISTORY
Dr. Richard W. Etulain, author of many books, is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Mexico. Nine hours with him have been refined into a textual map of the American West. About two-thirds of the way into this transcript are rapid-fire accounts of Ten Valuable Books. You also get an audio sidebar, where Etulain conveys the life and times of Wallace Stegner, "our Wise Man of the American West." This Q&A takes us well beyond rodeos and the Marlboro Man. To really grasp USA West, you also need environmental themes, urbanization, and Deadwood Dick:
Partly due to an intimidating price tag, this book has never been reviewed, but here's how it came into being. Authored by Boston-area historian James J. Kenneally, it's the biography of the only Republican House Speaker between 1930 and 1995 -- Joseph W. Martin Jr. of Massachusetts. "He never went to college. He worked for the Sun Chronicle first as a newspaper delivery boy and then as the managing editor" and ultimately became Speaker during the GOP-controlled 80th and 83rd Congresses. This Q&A is for U.S. congressional aficionados especially:
Lauren Kessler directs the graduate program in literary nonfiction at the University of Oregon -- http://lnf.uoregon.edu. She has authored 11 books, and our Q&A opens with the latest: Dancing with Rose, conveying humanity inside an Alzheimer's facility. Then we discuss Clever Girl (2003), her fascinating biography of Elizabeth Bentley. Bentley became a spy for the USSR in the 1930s, and later, in November 1945, went to the FBI with knowledge that greatly reduced Soviet spying just as the Cold War took shape. Finally, Kessler makes the best case I've ever heard -- in her "Power of Fact" audio file -- for avoiding "embroidery and embellishment" while crafting our non-fiction. Instead, stick with "deep research" and mine those details:
Born in Tennessee, Maury Klein "came to the University of Rhode Island [in 1964] to begin a teaching career that, to my astonishment, continued there for 44 years." Our early-2010 Q&A centers on his Days of Defiance (1998), The Power Makers (2008), and the in-progress "A Call to Arms: America Mobilizes for World War Two" (Bloomsbury USA). Klein became a historian because it occurred to him "that in a history class one could teach anything that interested him [and] one of the most recurrent themes in my work is the most basic question of all: What is an American?"
Dr. Mel Steely has known lifelong GOP insurgent Newt Gingrich since the early 1970s. Now partly retired, Steely directs the "Georgia's Political Heritage" A/V program at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. In this interview, he details the twists and turns of producing a full-scale political biography. Throw nothing out, wait for the landscape to ripen, don't rely on small-time stretched-out publishers, and -- well, this story has more than its share of treacherous curves:
If you value well-written histories that tackle the tough issues yet maintain a reasonable (though not blah) tone, you know how rare such books are. In September 2006, I spent three hours with an author who calmly walks that tightrope: University of New Mexico professor Ferenc M. Szasz. Two of his six books -- The Day the Sun Rose Twice, and Larger Than Life: New Mexico in the 20th Century -- figure prominently in our Q&A. Learn how passion to dig out a complete story can jive nicely with empathy for the people who lived out that story:
Frank J. Williams was Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court until late '09. Since the age of 11, he had admired Abraham Lincoln -- creating a parallel career as a collector, author/editor and lecturer. During 1962-67, Williams logged two years in West Germany and three in South Vietnam. I went to Providence to ask him about an earlier war (dated 1861-65); the present-day conflict (much bigger than Iraq); and of course his hero and mine, America's 16th President. Don't miss the audio sidebar, where in 20 minutes we move through an array of Civil War figures and the related books:
Van Wishard mapped the 20th Century in Between Two Ages. Along the way he expanded certain Carl Jung concepts. Not in-sync with Carl Jung? Then stick with the Exacting Editor's drive to use the Q&A mode effectively. You see, Van is a serious man and powerful writer -- but he never became a household name, and he hates to write about himself. Yet I always felt his life trajectory to be as compelling as his ideas. That's what led to our Q&A, which has two goals: (1) To suggest a role model for young writers who rely on experience and intuition as opposed to credentialism or ideology; and (2) to show you what a "whole professional life" looks and feels like in transcript form:
AUTHOR PROFILES: ECOLOGY
William deBuys is an academic and conservationist based in Santa Fe. He also owns a farm in the Sangre de Cristos, the locale that shaped his Enchantment and Exploitation: the Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range. Bill's 1990 book, River of Traps, is due for reissue this year; it combines memoir and biography with photography by Alex Harris. In ‘99 came Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California. All three books convey long-term southwestern environmental dynamics along with the policy tradeoffs. In this exchange we dig into the New Mexico story:
Kathie Durbin covers the Washington legislature for The Columbian, a Vancouver-based daily. In the late ‘90s, she produced Tongass: Pulp Politics and the Fight for the Alaska Rain Forest, reissued by the Oregon State University Press in 2005. Her 1996 book was Tree Huggers, and before that she covered K-12 and environmental issues for The Oregonian. Durbin’s articles have appeared in National Wildlife, the Cascadia Times, High Country News and Washington Monthly. And how does a reporter cover four decades of deal-making and politicking in, and around, the planet’s largest temperate rain forest? Transportation is only the first hurdle:
Julianne Lutz Newton is president of the Burroughs Institute at Woodchuck Lodge in Roxbury, New York. Her 2006 book Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey offers conservative minds a pragmatically balanced way to protect species and advance what Leopold (1887-1948) called “land health.” He was a pioneering ecologist, restless thinker -- and lifelong hunter. Author Newton’s articles have appeared in Conservation Biology, The Illinois Steward, Journal of Civil Society, and American Midland Naturalist. Newton brings Leopold to life, and explains how she put together Odyssey, her first book:
One would not deduce my conservative political background from the fact that three environmental authors joined the Author Profile roster during its first 24 months. But I thank Bill deBuys, Steve West and Elizabeth Royte for doing so. Elizabeth gave me a great phone interview and the closing section was built by e-mail. Her 2005 book -- Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash -- proves that detective-mode description can be more persuasive than declaration and declamation:
Steve West coaches your editor on a landscape of a mutual fascination: The Great American Desert. If deserts don't happen to be your cup of water, savor this next Q&A for a different reason -- to find out how West produced a guidebook with more photos in it than paragraphs. (And don't be thrown by its horticultural title; this book is about all manner of desert growth.) A teacher of high-school science, Steve has a greenhouse attached to his classroom. We also went to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park to band cave swallows, on which Steve is one of this country's experts:
Professor Donald Worster is one of America’s most accomplished historians of nature and ecologists. Turning to biography in the mid-‘90s, he gave us the definitive story of John Wesley Powell and will soon do the same for John Muir. Worster outlines what a writer discovers -- in historic nooks and crannies, as well as about himself -- while striving to produce a landmark biography. This Q&A also has him describing a movement no longer easy to classify: “What does it mean to be an environmentalist in India? What does it mean to be a free-market environmentalist today? What does it mean to be an African-American environmentalist?” Contact Don Worster at the University of Kansas using (785) 864-9474 or DWorster@ku.edu.
PROFILES VARIED & VIVID
In 2004, Loretta Hall produced Underground Buildings: More than Meets the Eye. Her story shows how to do well as an independent writer by mapping the "obvious" course and persisting patiently. A tough choice then emerges: Should Hall deepen her focus and "hold" on this niche topic -- or does she continue the free-lance mode by moving on to the next intellectually satisfying zone?
Myrna Oakley is both writing coach and travel author. An early authority on bed & breakfasts, she went on to craft eight editions of Off the Beaten Path for Oregon and seven for Washington. I visited Oakley not just to better understand Oregon, but also to dig into travel-guide assembly – the backstage design work and details only hinted at in the actual book. If you’re a diligent tourist, you’ll love Myrna’s books. Yet few tourists will end up at a site whose focus is research, writing and editing. So? Let’s assume you’re open to the “how” of a travel book, using the distinctive “where” of Oregon:
From NYC and D.C. to the Midwest to New Mexico -- and, come to think of it, old Mexico -- Andrea Schara has a sprawling network. Key parts helped her build the manuscript that calls on "family systems theory" to redefine leadership and reduce groupthink. Andrea's skills let us see office and family relationships in a more productive light. She and I produced an audiodisc about her research, the book's goals, and the duties of "being a writer." This URL calls up a fairly short document about the Schara manuscript and its three intended audiences: