The start of something big

In 2002, I bought a box of old papers at a flea market with the intention of sorting through the contents and reselling the most interesting bits on eBay. Then I realized that the box contained more than 100 love letters dated 1940-1943, all in a single hand. I put them into chronological order, began reading, and quickly realized I’d stumbled on something wonderful: a love story that also included popular culture, left-wing politics, and of course, the encroaching inevitability of World War II.

I’ve now started a Tumblr to share parts of that story as I work to flesh it out and turn it into a book.

I plan to update on Mondays and Thursdays.

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I still blame the Internet, but I also thank it

I wrote this elsewhere a few years ago, under the title “I Blame the Internet,” and as far as I can tell, it’s still true:

There’s been a lot written out there about how and why the Internet is killing consumer print media. I won’t recapitulate it. I just want to point out, for the benefit of people who don’t work in the putting-words-end-to-end business, that unfortunately for those of us who do, a lot of the writing opportunities we’re losing aren’t moving online. Oh, sure, there are lots of websites in need of consumer content. Some of them compete directly with magazines; some are adjuncts to existing magazines. But almost without exception, these sites pay less than the print media. A lot less.

Compounding this problem is the fact that with the advent of, well, blogs, everyone thinks that anyone can write. So the perceived value of being able to put words end to end has dropped — which means that when those of us who make our living that way try to say, “Hey, we can’t afford to write for these low, low online rates,” publishers are all too apt to reply, “Fine, we’ll find someone who can.” And then they go out and find someone who’s thrilled to write for a pittance, even if that someone isn’t a particularly good writer. And then the quality of the available writing goes down another notch, which in turn reinforces the idea that being able to write well is of no particular value, because after all, look at what’s getting published. And around and around we go.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. There are amazingly thoughtful sites out there, incredibly well-written blogs, grass-roots work that blows me away, more good stuff to read than I’ll ever get through in a lifetime. I’m just starting to wonder whether writing for a consumer audience now requires, in addition to talent, either a trust fund or a second household income — neither of which I happen to have at the moment.

That being said, one of my professional colleagues has just posted a solidly optimistic overview of other media trends worth noting. (As a direct result of these trends, I’m doing a lot more work in custom publishing, corporate copywriting, and “brand journalism” these days.) If you are a writer, want to be a writer, or are just plain interested in the media industry, go have a look.

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About the “Mad Russian”

Back in 1999, I wrote an article for an airline magazine about Yefim Shubentsov, the so-called “Mad Russian,” and his unique way of helping people quit smoking. I had the article on my site for a number of years, but took it down on my last redesign. It must still be floating around out there somewhere, though, because people still contact me now and then to ask me how to contact Shubentsov.

For anyone who’s come to this site looking for him, I regret to tell you that I can’t help you. It’s been well over a decade since I wrote that article and I’ve had no contact with him since. If you can’t find him in the phone listings for Brookline, Mass., it may be that he’s retired or moved. I’m sorry. I wish you luck finding a way to kick the habit.

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New look, new bylines

Inexplicably and ironically, my article for Entrepreneur on franchise owners who managed to nurse their businesses through a natural disaster went live online on Friday — that’s right, the same day Japan was devastated by the one-two wallop of earthquake and tsunami. The paper version is supposed to hit newsstands tomorrow.

I also have a piece in the current issue of Entrepreneur StartUps about coping with a cash crunch. I sincerely hope that doesn’t portend another financial crisis.

Heck of a way to launch the new version of my website, huh?

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