Today on the podcast, an episode devoted to the life and legacy of the late author, activist, diarist, and digital native Mark Baumer. A new book, The One on Earth: Selected Works of Mark Baumer, is available now from Fence Books. It was edited by Blake Butler and Shane Jones, with a foreword by Claire Donato. Butler, Jones, and Donato are the guests.


Born and raised in Durham, Maine, Baumer was a graduate of the MFA program at Brown University, after which he became a web content specialist, a climate activist, and a labor organizer in Providence, RI. A member of the group FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas Convergence), he walked barefoot across America to draw attention to climate change. His work is continued by the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund.


Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

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“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.”



Twenty years ago I attended a party at which a numerolo­gist offered to analyze my name. After performing what appeared to be complicated mathematical computations she told me my number was eleven—a “power number”—then looked at me quizzically.

“How strange,” she said. “This is the first time I have ever seen this.”

“What is it?” I asked, genuinely concerned.

“Your numbers tell me that you make money from war.”

I met her gaze steadily as I replied, “I do.”

As an only child growing up in 1950s Philadelphia, I occu­pied myself with warrior fantasies. My imagination soared with visions of knights, kings, and queens who populated the English history books I would get from the library. The dra­matic tales of battles driven by focused energy and height­ened danger excited me. It wasn’t conquest I was after; it was the warriors’ extraordinary sense of mission. I was moved by an empathic connection with the vulnerable and oppressed. I wanted to challenge a great evil power, to lead troops into battle for the most noble of causes.

Unfortunately, the world in which I was living allowed for few grand heroics. Rather than a battleground, it was a special kind of wasteland. I grew up at a time when one’s worth and acceptance as a female were measured by the width of a crin­oline skirt, when French kissing branded you a sexual outlaw, and when little girls’ dreams revolved around their weddings and lessons learned from watching Queen for a Day’s ritual of “improving” one’s life with domestic conveniences. It was a vast wilderness of mothers, teachers, and friends encircling me in traditional femininity, creating a suffocating loneliness that I could not name or understand.

I felt powerless to change my fate until Queen Elizabeth I, whose story I discovered at age ten, finally broke that silence. Her survival skills were legendary: her mother was beheaded when she was three and her stepmother executed when she was nine; she was sexually molested at fifteen; and she spent two months imprisoned in the tower, a hair’s breadth away from execution herself. She learned to carefully scan the political and emotional landscape for signs of potential danger.

She ruled sixteenth-century England by herself, refusing to marry or to bear children. The androgynous strategies of this woman who wanted to be “both king and queen of Eng­land” were unheard of for a female monarch of her time.

I kept the lessons I learned from Elizabeth close to my heart and my head when I broke free from Philadelphia and came of age in New York City in the 1960s. The time was ripe to pick up her gauntlet and challenge women’s tra­ditional roles. I became a child of one of the greatest social revolutions in history, at a time when it became politically possible for women to legally gain and exercise reproductive choice—the power of life and death. A time when the right to choose became the fundamental premise of the movement for women’s liberation, and when the expression of that truth was every woman’s entitlement. After years spent feeling I should have been born in some earlier, more romantic age, I have come to realize that my life’s work would not have been possible in any other era but this one.

In 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade, I opened one of the first legal abortion clinics in the country and thrust myself into a world that came with battles to fight (replete with inva­sions, death threats, and killings), opportunities for courage and heroism, and the necessity for bold leadership, strategic thinking, philosophical debate, and entrepreneurial skill. There were barbarians at the gate, self-identified as Right to Lifers (anti-choicers, or “antis,” as I call them throughout this book), waving pictures of bloody fetuses and sometimes hid­ing bombs or guns under their coats. My sword was a six-foot coat hanger held high over my head as I declared my sisters would never return to back-alley butchery. I raised a bullhorn to rally fellow soldiers, decrying the clinic violence that swept the nation. This was my historic stage. It was a war, and I finally felt I was living my destiny.

I helped midwife an era in which women came closer to sexual autonomy and freedom than ever before in history. The very idea that women could rise up and act in their own best interest electrified men and women alike during those years, and the foundational works of second-wave feminists inspired millions of my peers. But my feminism didn’t come from books or theoretical discussions. It came in the shape of individual women presenting themselves for services each day. I began to understand the core principle of feminism as I held the hands of thousands of women during their most powerful and vulnerable moment: their abortions.

I wasn’t immune to the physicality of abortion, the blood, tissue, and observable body parts. My political and moral judgments on the nature of abortion evolved throughout the years, but I quickly came to realize that those who deliver abortion services have not only the power to give women control over their bodies and lives, but also the power—and the responsibility—of taking life in order to do that. Indeed, acknowledgment of that truth is the foundation for all the political and personal work necessary to maintain women’s reproductive freedom.

My story is the story of women’s struggle for freedom and equality in the twentieth century, but it is also a personal story of obstacles, survival, and triumphs. Like Elizabeth, I did not want to give birth to my successor. I never dreamed of being a mother, nursing a child, shaping a young life. I wanted—needed—to give birth to myself. And, in the arms of the women’s movement, my delivery was aggressive, even violent, with pressures pushing down on me from every direction at times, crushing and battering me as I reached for the freedom to become. Most painful of all were my terrify­ing glimpses of the all-encompassing sense of being alone. Whatever one can say glowingly about the women’s liberation movement and our “collective problems requiring collective solutions,” this fact cannot be denied: becoming is nothing if not a solo journey. Yet my singular voyage has been enriched with allies, friends, lovers, and family, unexpected intimacies that bear meaning, depth, purpose, and joy.

Thomas Merton taught that there were three vocations: one to the active life, one to the contemplative, and a third to the mixture of both. This book is the story of my mixed life. I am an activist, a philosopher, a transgressor of boundaries. I strive to live in truth—or, perhaps, truths. I have not escaped this war unscathed; like all women who have gone into battle, I am scarred. But perhaps that is the definition of wisdom. Perhaps our wounds, the crevasses and cracks in our inno­cence of perception that come as the price of experience, are our marks of understanding.

How do you feel about being self-interviewed by The Nervous Breakdown?

Intrigued and challenged. I’ve always been tempted to have one (a nervous breakdown)—but that is a luxury I could never afford. There is an unyielding voice in my head urging me to go further, do more, achieve—and that sense of responsibility has never allowed me much rest, or the space to emotionally deconstruct. It is also the reason I don’t drink or do drugs.


Why did you name your memoir Intimate Wars?

We are all soldiers (whether we consciously enlist or not) in the great struggle for reproductive justice.

Ultimately women’s bodies are battlefields in the most intimate of wars; that is, the ability to determine when and whether or not we want to become mothers.


For a relatively private person, you have shared a lot of yourself in this book—was that difficult for you?

I am comfortable leading marches and defying dangerous forces, but it did take a special kind of psychological courage to look at myself in such a bright light. I gave myself no place to hide, and in the end, I learned that I accepted all of it—who I was and who I am.


How did a budding concert pianist end up founding and owning one of the largest women’s medical centers in the country?

When I gave up studying to be a concert artist and began working to create Choices, my mother told me it was a “sin against God not to use the talent I was given.” But I quickly found that the process of creating a new reality from theory, law, and philosophy was the most artistic thing I could do. To define the meaning of abortion in society and politics, to create the concept of Patient Power, and to help to save thousands of women’s lives was the ultimate expression of the “art of the possible.”


You write that you are a “philosopher”—which philosophy do you feel most congruent with?

The Stoics. I very much like Marcus Aurelius. He understood the fleeting nature of reality—the drive for fame, ambition, and the importance of being true to your nature. And as an emperor, he had to deal with a lot of administrative issues. He also had many “paid enemies,” so I can relate to that. And of course Nietzsche, whose dictum “what does not kill me makes me stronger” has become my mantra.


You have been called a “Hitler” and accused of making a business out of abortion—how do you respond to that?

First of all, I do not take any of these attacks personally. As Elie Wiesel told me:  “You cannot let these words hurt you— people who call you that do not know what the Holocaust was.” And as far as abortion being a business—well, women’s lives are my business, and I make no apology for that.


What do you think would astonish people most about you?

That I love country music and dinosaurs, and that I am an armchair mountaineer. Maybe that I belong to the Society of Friends of King Richard III, or that I manage to get at least six hours of sleep every night.


On April 3rd, an estimated 3000 to 4000 protestors walked the streets of Toronto armed with banners saying “Stop Slut Shaming” and “Reclaim the Word Slut.” Many who attended the Toronto Slut Walk wore classically “slutty” attire, including low cut tops and brightly colored fishnets. Here’s why they were protesting:  At a local community meeting about women’s safety, Constable Michael Sanguinetti had recommended that if women wanted to avoid sexual assault they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.”

Recently, I’ve seen many debates about how to fight such slut shaming. There are too many people who will call a woman a slut in an attempt to control her sexuality. “Be less sexually empowered,” they tell us, “because if you don’t, we’ll brand you.” Well, announcing that those who dress like “sluts” should cover themselves up to help prevent violence does even more damage. Imagine if you’d been assaulted in a short skirt and heard a thing like that. “Was it my fault?” you might ask yourself. The answer is no, no, no.

Sanguinetti has apologized for his remark, and I’m glad to hear it.  Holy heck, you should be able to walk down the street wearing anything you like without being attacked, regardless of gender, sexuality or aesthetic. Any fool knows that.

But as sex educator and call girl Veronica Monet reminds us, the “slut” archetype is deeply engrained in our culture, and many of us don’t even realize. On In Bed with Susie Bright (The Sex Remedy interviews) Monet explains that when lecturing at San Francisco State University, she asks the guys in the room to think back to when they were last called a whore. “There is a lot of laughing, giggling and shuffling around,” says Monet. But when she then asks the girls to reflect on the last time they were called a whore, the room goes deadly silent. In response, Monet tells the students, “Let me explain why sex worker rights apply to you.”

Of course, she’s spot on.  Whenever any woman is attacked because of her sexual behavior, all of us feel the impact; and when women are threatened, so are other groups, because how can we not be affected by one another? Monet also speaks to the power of reclaiming language – like many sex workers, she uses the word whore with pride. Also, it’s worth remembering that there are male and transgender sex workers too – when slut or whore are used to control women sexually, these terms mess with the rights of sex workers of all genders.

By being ready to educate society, Monet’s response to such problems is similar in many ways to the concept of Slut Walk.  When we start to confront problems like slut shaming, our response has to be creative – moving away from widespread stereotypes demands breaking free from social constraints and that’s a creative endeavor.  I’m reminded of Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” in which the artist displayed her actual bed, along with its clutter, as an artistic installation.  The piece was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1999 and has become a classic.  Complete with dirty underwear, condoms, and urine-soaked sheets, many call it an intimate “confession” about a young woman’s way of life.  But I like to look at Emin’s “My Bed” as a vehicle for the artist to shout the truth:  We’re not always virgins with clean sheets, she seems to say, and we’re done with being ashamed.

Well, as a dear friend recently reminded me, creative activism must exist in small ways as well as big. Slut Walk Boston is taking place on May 7th and I will be there. But if you can’t attend, do keep speaking out and if you don’t feel you can stand up for your rights at the time, you can always do so later.  An email, some sharp wit, or even a raised eyebrow – these are all creative responses and they count.

It’s been said that one flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a tornado. And I don’t doubt it for a second.

For more on the topic of slut shaming, including how to fight it, check out these resources from Betty Dodson & Carlin Ross.

Gwenn and Shawn Decker. Photo by Jeffrey Pillow

Two years ago, I walked into Shenandoah Joe’s on Preston Ave. in Charlottesville. Postured on a tall-legged, wooden barstool, a young man in his early 30’s busily dashed off letters on the keys of his laptop. White steam swayed side to side from the rim of his coffee mug, and then cut capers skyward. The vapors vanished but the rich, warm aroma of the roasting coffee beans lingered.

Utne Reader calls Richard Nash “One of 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” Mashable.com ranks him him “The #1 Twitter User Changing the Shape of Publishing.” He ran Soft Skull Press, now an imprint of Counterpoint, from 2001 to 2007, and ran the imprint on behalf of Counterpoint until early 2009. Here’s why he left. The last book he edited at Soft Skull, Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys, was just picked as a Pulitzer finalist.

Nash now runs his own consulting business (details here) and is developing a start-up called Cursor, a portfolio of niche social publishing communities, one of which will be called Red Lemonade.

The following is an excerpt of a longer, recorded conversation between Cup of TNB host Joseph Matheny and Richard Nash that occurred on March 23, 2010.

JM: A lot of people probably already know who you are, but just to give everyone an equal start, do you mind giving us some personal background‌?

RN: Well, I was a theater director and performance artist for most of the 90’s, and in 2001, for long and complicated and boring reasons, I ended up inadvertently taking over an independent press that had some reputation but was also more of a brand, called Soft Skull, and I ran Soft Skull for pretty much the rest of the decade. I had to sell it in the middle of 2007 in the aftermath of our distributor’s bankruptcy in late 2006. And so I ran it as an imprint of the acquiring company up until early 2009 and early last year when I left. I left largely in order to be able to figure out what the new model should be for being in the writer/reader connection business.

JM: Yeah, oddly enough we have two touch points through Soft Skull. One is, I wrote a forward for one of your books, and the other is that reading one of the Soft Skull books is what strongly influenced me to start my current venture.

RN: Oh no, really‌?

JM: Yes.

RN: Wow.

JM: I read the X Films by Alex Cox when I was directing and producing the podcasts for the Los Angeles Film Festival. I was reading that while at the same time watching the independent industry film implode in front of me at the LAFF finance conference last year. Everybody who came to the conference had always been able to get financing for independent film, and to a man they all said the same thing: “There’s no more money.  The traditional sources of funding are gone, and the only thing we can imagine to save independent film at this point is this ‘Internet thing,’ but I don’t think anybody has figured that out yet.”  In my mind I was thinking, Yeah, it’s been figured out. It’s just that you studio guys haven’t figured it out.


RN:  You know, it’s funny.  X Films and this other book we did called Putting The Pieces Together are similar.  Alex [Cox] obviously is somebody who not only has done it multiple times and at a higher level than anyone else, but he also has a real philosophy or ideology about why doing things yourself really matters, both culturally and personally. So obviously that’s really bloody exciting. That means a lot to me to hear that.

JM: That book was a home run for me because I came out of independent film back in the early 90’s when it really meant independent. I used to be an art director on call for Henry Rosenthal out of SF. I worked on a lot of $30,000, $100,000 films. Some of them were spectacular movies that we all felt good about afterward, and there was no give and take with investors, or fighting with studios because Henry knew how to get enough money and keep them off our backs.


JM: And then more recently, as I was reading X Films, and I heard the finance guys going, “If only somebody could figure out this Internet thing” — that was the breaking point for me. The Internet thing was figured out a long time ago. It’s just that the people from the big media companies can’t get their heads around it, because you can’t make Batman-level movies and make the Batman-level profits to recoup your costs.  It’s not that the Internet isn’t figured out, it’s that they haven’t figured out how to make massive profits off of it.


RN: In a sense, it’s the same problem with publishing. The big fight at the moment is what ought to be the retail price of books. Who should set this‌.  The argument is partially about a question of power between the publishers and the retailers. But there’s a larger issue which is an endemic philosophy within publishing:  you decide what your costs are, you give yourself a ten percent profit margin, and that’s how you set the list price of the book. Which is sort of delusional, really, because it’s the marketplace that sets the price. The readers decide how much they’re willing to pay for it.

The publishers are saying, “We can’t make money if e-books are ten bucks.”  And I’m thinking, a) we have to figure out a way, and b) if you think it’s gonna stay at ten bucks you’ve got another thing coming; it’s going to be cheaper than ten bucks.

JM: Oh yeah. I get that.

RN: If raw digital content is basically going to be free, there’s going to have to be some other value that you’re offering, whether it’s convenience, or community, or a sense of belongingness, or a kind of empty arts style where we’re supporting this larger project kind of thing. Who knows what exactly, but the fundamental two things that need to happen are A.) the revenue side needs to be based on what people are demonstrably willing to pay for, and B.) the cost side has to be whatever it takes in order to be able to make this stuff happen.

The ironic thing is that independents — writers, booksellers, filmmakers — are typically much better about not wasting their money on things. I think in the long run this new business model will end up benefiting independents, even if in the short run you’ve got situations like the one you described, where they can’t get financing because the financiers haven’t figured out how to make money.

JM: Is it a concern of the publishing industry that with digital publishing there is no real cost of goods anymore‌? When you have a single file sitting on a server going directly to the consumer, you’ve now cut out the printers, the distributors, and the retailers.

RN: The publishers, in the abstract, see a value to an intermediary.  But in practice I think they’re missing the boat.  Now the reason I think they’re correct is that in a universe of millions of titles, and tens of millions of readers, publishers help readers sort through all the stuff that exists.  Every publisher thinks they therefore deserve a slice of the pie.

But the reality is that a lot of publishers are useless at providing readers with tools to help sort. Random House is exactly what its corporate name suggests it is. You could basically throw 20,000 darts at the half-million books published last year, and you would get a description of a scatter graph of Random House’s output.

This to some degree could also be said for other parts of the supply chain: wholesalers, and the big retailers — Amazon, B&N, and Borders.  Here’s where you get all the books in the world. That’s certainly true of Amazon.  “Where do you go to find it?   You come to us.”  But, a file (laughs), a digital file eliminates all of Amazon’s logistical advantage. Anybody can run an e-book store, to a certain degree. And, with B&N and Borders, brick & mortar indie stores by comparison can only offer a very limited selection.  However, the power of brick & mortar is the capacity to help a person sort through all the available books in the world, on a more personal, intimate basis.  Going forward, that’s going to be their real value to a reader, to a consumer.

So how much value can we ascribe to that sorting process?  Because that’s one of the only real values that you’re talking about in the e-book realm.  The logistical stuff falls away.  You’ve obviously got the editorial work, editorial and design, but any writer can hire a freelancer to do that work for them. Publishers might do it, and we might find ways to do it more efficiently maybe, or more intimately maybe, but that’s a marginal difference. Basically our real value is going to be found in matchmaking, in helping to match make writers and readers. If we can’t do that job well, then basically we have no value.

And here I’m reminded of what Amazon did when they bought Stanza a year ago. Stanza was an independently run start-up, with a staff of three of four who developed a really nice iPhone app, the first reading app in the app store, and they didn’t have a retail storefront at all. But they found certain workarounds to allow people to find places that were retailing the e-pub files that Stanza could read, and basically it was stealing a lot of attention from the Kindle.  And so Amazon bought them, and have done nothing with them, best as I can tell.  Amazon bought Stanza just to ensure that the Kindle would be the only game in town for as long as possible. I suspect that there may have been some level at which the company thought they could make money with it, but when it didn’t take off fast enough, it was easier to make money the old way and just wait for some future day of reckoning.  And that day of reckoning is now upon us.

The simple act of having a chokehold over the supply chain, whether the chokehold is up at the publisher level or down at the retail level, that chokehold isn’t worth anything anymore because there are too many other ways for people to create and consume.

JM: The way you’re talking about the new role of the publisher, it almost sounds like what you’re describing is the role of “trusted recommender,” as they’re called in social media parlance.

RN: Exactly. That could be one person. But it could also be several people functioning as a business, and being able to do a little bit more aggregation within given areas of expertise, as with an indie press, or an indie record label, or it could be a more collaborative, community-style environment. The Nervous Breakdown is an example.  It has a collective quality with different writers of different areas of focus and expertise, but it is true that you guys all found one another in a certain kind of way and you choose to do the work you do somewhat collectively instead of individually because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think there are going to be a lot of intermediaries, and they’re going to have lots of different business models.

JM:  In talking about the world of the book, and the digital world of the book specifically, it brings to mind something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When you have books that not are only digital in format and downloadable — meaning instantly accessible — you also have the ability to derive content or search within that content.  With the Stanford project and the Google project, and a couple of other similar projects, there is a future wherein I can see “books” becoming records in databases. The term “book” in that case becomes a unit of measure for information, rather than a description of an object.

In that future, which is not too far away in my view, the content of the book becomes the basis of a query, rather than this object that you pick up and read cover to cover to glean the unit of information that’s inside of it. It becomes accessible in an almost holographic sense, in all different directions. This changes the relationship of book to reader, and reader to book. Does it not‌?

RN: I think that’s absolutely right, and I will also say that this particular development does point to a greater level of interactivity that was always inherent in the book but was maybe less obvious to us when it was just considered a static piece of bound paper. That way you described it was really dead on. I’m going to re-listen to this transcript and steal it for myself for future use! (laughter)

I think in a way our notion that books are static and that reading and writing are highly solitary activities — I think this misses or understates how truly interactive even a dumb book is. Not because of the book but because of the nature of human beings. We love talking about books. We love interacting. Books are great ways for us to connect with other people.

JM:  I recall doing research on the University of California research computer back in the late 80’s.  They had a computer system called Melvyl, and I could do searches against descriptions, and I could do searches against authors, and I could do searches against titles, and even genres. Then I could find every book in the University of California library system that might possibly have the information I was looking for, and I could put an order in, and a week later these books would start to trickle in, and I’d have to physically go through the books to find the information I sought.  It took a while, but it was effective.

Nowadays, I can instantly throw a query up and run it against a database and come back with an aggregation — literally assembling a “new book” if you think about it. If I throw out a cyber-query and say, “Give me ‘X’ content,” I can then pull together all relevant information and assemble an HTML page from the results, and suddenly I’ve re-contextualized the concept of the book. I’ve made it a little more active, and a little more of an assemblage. Does any of this tie into your project, Cursor‌?

RN: To a considerable degree, yes. I would say that in terms of the format and structure of the individual book, I’m philosophically open to any number of directions. I think that relatively traditional formats will co-exist alongside much more complicated and dynamic stuff.  What I’m not doing is making bets on how interactivity and multiple modes of media within storytelling are going to evolve. I just don’t know; I think it’s going to be driven largely by the artist rather than by creating a platform. I do want to be as open as possible to ensure artists have the maximum latitude within the business model I’m trying to create to allow for exploration and to allow us to be able to assist in the writer/reader connection, which is the core of what publishing has always been a substitute for.

In my years working as a publisher, it became increasingly clear that my role was not to be some kind of magical reader of all the manuscripts that came in.  It wasn’t a case where I was like, I have one manuscript and this is a Soft Skull manuscript because I love it and I am Soft Skull and therefore this is Soft Skull. What I was, was a conduit. I was basically paid by the Soft Skull community to help the Soft Skull community express itself. And that process, it was a clunky process.  Writers and agents sent us things that they thought were Soft Skull and they provided lots of information, and I listened to that, and I listened to the “intrawebs,” and listened to people, and to reading theories and all that stuff.  And then I tried to aggregate all the opinions that were expressed by the Soft Skull community about whether or not this was something that was a good expression about all that was Soft Skull, and then I went ahead and did it if it appeared that the Soft Skull community was telling me that I should.

That process, I realized, was what was readers and writers need to have.  The way I want to structure this new thing is to make that process much more systematic, much better able to take advantage of Web 2.0 and whatever 3.0 may be, to basically create a platform that allows us to create/enable writing and reading communities. All of these communities of readers and writers exist out there, but they tend to be fairly incoherent until a couple of people take it upon themselves to organize what was formerly a more vague, accretive community. That’s what the independent publishers have been — Soft Skull, Akashic, McSweeney’s, Melville House, Maniac D.

The two key things that I think the new model should have in order for it to work for the community:  1.)  a good ol’ fashioned editor — but a humble, self-effacing and community orientated editor, and 2.) a publicist, a good ol’ fashioned publicist — except a publicist who is much more about listening than talking.  And these two people are there to help manage the community, provide services to it.  And the next facet of the business model — and I could be right and I could be wrong — is a semi-conventional book publishing arm. You could call it the Merch Division.  A lot of people still love the printed book.  And a lot of people still discover things through booksellers. It seems like it would make sense to participate in that rather than reject it.

Obviously a lot of resources have to go into doing that. Perhaps only a very small amount of the work that the community creates online would be worthy of print. You have to make choices. So my feeling is that this is a process where the community points out what they want online, via reading and/or commenting.  And in the end, the editors are going to have to make a decision in an old school fashion.

JM:  To me, the best writing, especially fiction, comes from somebody who’s very clear about their point of view, and they’re not afraid to state it no matter how unpopular it may be. That’s probably what the hook was for me in Alex Cox’s book [X Films]. I’ve loved Alex’s film work from the beginning, but the book was just… he wasn’t writing like a man who was concerned about ruining his career in the film industry.


RN: No, he wasn’t, was he?

JM: Do you have any thoughts on pricing?  Because I remember early on you mentioned that the consumer is going to set the price of the book.

RN: For print books, it’s that fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-dollar range.  We haven’t magically changed the economics of that. But on digital downloads, I think we’ll start at the bottom of the current range, the eight- or nine-dollar range, but we’ll have a fair amount of the early promotional stuff. And that would be in, say, the three- to six-dollar range.

Most people value their time such that, if you gave them the whole book for five bucks, it’s not that much more of a commitment than asking them to download a single chapter for free. So my feeling is that a low price point, especially two or three dollars, it’s sufficiently low that I think people will pay.  Rather than give them a free sample chapter, why not give them the whole book at three bucks, because if they like it, the odds are they could turn around and buy it in print, collector’s style, vinyl style.  Then you may have gotten a new fan to whom you’ll be able to upsell the limited edition, or a class of some kind, and so on.

One of the things I want to be able to do is try to up the demand curve, too. The digital download is the cheap crack. And with crack, the addicts want more crack. The great thing with books is that you hook them on crack, and then they want cocaine, and then they want whatever kind of elaborate organic Humboldt County marijuana version of cocaine there is.


RN: You can loop people.  You can get them hooked not just on the cheap stuff, but also move people up to the more expensive stuff.  One of the many things that digital offers is that it takes care of mass distribution at low costs. And that then frees the physical object to become more physical. That’s an area in which I kind of want to do some exploration.

JM:  When can we expect to see Cursor going live‌?

RN: I’m hoping we’ll be in beta by June. If you go to thinkcursor.com, there is a sign-up splash page so folks can sign up and be notified. The first community will be called Red Lemonade, and that will be pretty Soft-Skull-like: edgy, literary fiction, very much like the universe of The Nervous Breakdown.

JM: Sounds great.  I know I’m signed up and will be looking for the roll-out in June.  Many thanks for this wonderful conversation, Richard.

RN: It’s a pleasure.

Janeane Garofalo is almost 45 years old and wants you to know, “I don’t give a shit. I’ve mellowed.” We’re seated in one of L.A.’s most popular vegetarian restaurants, but I can’t give its location lest it becomes less popular. Nevertheless, Garofalo seems at ease with the diners trying to figure out just who she is, but she has an answer for that. “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” she says. Why? “Because I don’t believe in having pets, but beyond that, it was a slam at me, a typical role. I was the dog. And the only reason the guy fell in love with me was my personality. Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of fucking bullshit. Never happens. You see me with Brad Pitt? No, I’m eating with an unknown writer and watching people trying to remember having watched The Truth About Cats and Dogs. And to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”


For the past several hours I’ve been staring into the darkness and begging myself to shutup so I can get a bit of needed rest. But I’m too anxious and my mind is racing. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping until this damn election is over. It’s not so much the presidential election that has me worried. It’s all of these ballot measures that are so important but have somehow been forgotten in the higher ratings mud-slinging and fear-mongering of the presidential candidates (Don’t get me wrong though, I’m still completely freaked out about the presidential election, especially after seeing all the crazies on TV and YouTube).

I cast my ballot about three weeks ago by mail and was then able to convince myself that I had done my part and I would just have to wait for the results. That was, until tonight (or, last night, as it were). I went to a Proposition Party with my boyfriend. No, this was not a party where people proposition you. It was a party where each person was given a ballot proposition to research and discuss with the group so we could each make educated decisions about how we will vote on Tuesday. And that’s when I realized how truly scary this election is, at least here in California.

The people who write these ballot measures are probably happy as pie that the presidential election has stolen the spotlight because some of their propositions are going to get passed just because people don’t know enough to vote them down. Before I voted I took the time to read the voter’s guide so I had a pretty good grasp of the issues when I voted (and I’m proud to say that I didn’t change my vote on any of the propositions after having them explained in more detail). However, those initiatives on which I voted ‘No’ are much scarier to a left-leaner like myself than I had previously thought.

Take Proposition 4, for instance. This initiative is a California constitutional amendment to make it illegal for anyone under age 18 to get an abortion without the doctors first notifying an adult relative. Or, in extreme cases, the girl can take her case to court and ask a judge for permission to get an abortion. Now, I can see how parents would think this is a great idea. And, really, it does sound pretty good on paper. I know I’d want my daughter to tell me if she was going in for an abortion.

But then, I’d hope my daughter and I would have an open and understanding relationship and that she’d be coming to me to help her through such a difficult decision. There are girls out there who don’t have that type of relationship with their parents (I know I didn’t) and whose parents would likely punish them and force them to make a different decision. And there are the cases of abuse. Or the cases where the girl would rather commit suicide than to face telling her parents.

Even so, I can see how parents can be worried that their daughters wouldn’t come to them with such a serious decision. What bothers me about this amendment is the small print (well, OK, the big print too. I obviously voted on this before I knew about the small print, but the small print would have changed my mind had I been leaning toward a ‘Yes’ vote). Small print: This amendment gives parents the right to sue doctors up to four years after they find out about an abortion, even if their daughter tells them after she’s an adult. This will likely raise legal and insurance costs for those doctors who perform abortions – even before they ever get sued. Also, this amendment would make public all judicially decided non-notification of parents, putting judges’ jobs in jeopardy if they judge too often in favor of girls seeking abortions.

And what about the whole going in front of a judge to ask for an abortion? Even though I know I have the right to choose, I still know abortion is an unpopular decision in America and I would not want to face the protesters and the public on my way to court. Nor would I want this to become a public matter. I can imagine that making the choice to abort a fetus is not an easy decision for anybody. And I, for one, would want it to remain a very private matter (isn’t this what got Roe v. Wade passed in the first place?). Forcing teenagers to make this public, even if just to their parents seems to violate everything the Roe v. Wade decision put in place.

Californians voted against this proposition in 2005 and 2006. Both times I sat at my computer refreshing the results screen every two seconds to reassure myself that the measure would be defeated. Luckily, this time around Proposition 8 (the gay-marriage ban) has somehow usurped the attention of the religious right and has kept the anti-abortion legislation out of the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t still going to be voting on it. And the fact that we haven’t been hearing much about it really scares me because it could be keeping the closet pro-choicers in the dark as well.

And this is just one of the issues that’s been going through my head all night. I’m still horrified by the abundance of anti-gay-marriage people there are still in this state – one of the bluest states in the union. In 2008. When I first saw the gay-marriage ban on the ballot I thought, “Yeah, but this is California. There’s no way that would pass.” But the last few weeks have really shown me how wrong I was. I’m terrified of these Yes on 8 people – not just because they’re voting Yes on 8, but also because so many of them seem to believe taking away civil liberties is the only important thing on the ballot this election season. I’ve seen interviews with some 8 supporters who say they don’t even plan to vote for president because that’s not what’s important right now. The presidential election. Not important. But taking away the right to marry is?

There’s also Prop. 3 and Prop. 9. And Prop. 6 and Prop. 7. There are so many propositions that sound great at first, but just below the surface there’s something there saying, “Neener, neener, neener! We got one past you!” And now I can’t sleep at night.

I know the world will keep turning if the election doesn’t go the way I want. I know all of the propositions will be challenged in court, regardless of which way they go. Or they’ll end up on the next ballot, yet again.

And I know we’ll survive four more years with an ineffective president.

I just want something more.


P.S. I’m curious about what’s going on in other states. What are some of the big propositions you’ve got on your ballots?