Get Your Book Published

Get Your Book Published: Start to Finish / Top to Bottom / A to Z / Soup to Nuts

This article was originally published in the July 2013 of ALIVE and is being re-published due to repeated readers’ requests for this information.

“I have a completed manuscript but I would NEVER pay to have my book published.” Those were the words of a young author, in response to my wife’s mentioning to him that ALIVE publishes books, and in most cases the author pays to have their work published.

The sentiment expressed by this young author is still common, but it is really nothing more than a throwback from a bygone era, when it was assumed that a handful of large publishing houses served as the gatekeepers by which literary works became available to the masses. I say “assumed,” because unbeknownst to many, this was not really the case, as many well known authors actually self published their first works or had them published by “vanity” publishers.

The Three Paths of Book Publishing

There are three ways to go about having your book published: traditional, subsidy (also known as “vanity” publishing) and self publishing. All three have advantages and disadvantages, and the path you take largely depends upon your reason(s) for wanting to see your book in print. Some authors simply want to see their work bound in a book format with the intention of sharing it only with family and close friends; some have a desire to share a story or communicate an idea with as many people as possible, and some—the majority—have commercial success in mind, if even as only a “side benefit” of reason number two, that is, telling a story or sharing an idea with the world.187803277

Path #1: Traditional Publishing

In the past, the traditional route was considered by many to be the only “respectable” path. This is where the author begins the process by sending query letters—essentially a “sales pitch,” intended to capture the attention of a literary agent or publisher. The query letter includes a description of the proposed (or completed) work and the intended audience for the work, and some information about the author (a bio). The idea here is, if the author’s pitch is compelling, they will then be afforded an opportunity to have a publisher review the author’s manuscript, and if it is “good enough,” the publishing house will agree to publish the author’s work.

If one hopes to have their work published by one of the larger, better recognized publishing houses, like Random House or Harper Collins, it is nearly essential that the author be represented by an experienced agent.

The biggest challenge with this path is, it is usually a long and unfulfilling process. Few authors “make the cut,” so to speak, as most agents and large publishing companies are so inundated with queries they filter out all submissions they are unable to classify with 100% certainty as “marketable.” The most likely candidates to have their work represented by established agents and published by major brand publishing houses are authors who have already demonstrated (through previous vanity or self publishing and marketing) that their work sells, and celebrities or personalities with well recognized names.

In the case of traditional publishing houses, the company will be willing to invest in the author and the author’s work, if they believe a substantial financial return will be realized. They may even pay an author a sizeable “advance,” predicated on the fact that the publisher stands to make a sizeable profit well beyond the amount to be made by the author. The key factor in the eyes of the publisher is: is the author well known or is the author’s work guaranteed to sell?

For example, prior to January 2009, ALIVE Magazine’s fitness columnist was Lorrie Sullenberger, the wife of the now famous pilot, Sully, who successfully landed his plane in the Hudson River. Prior to the landing, had Sully approached one of the major publishing houses with a query letter about writing a book about his experiences as an airline pilot, it’s likely he would have received the typical response—a rejection letter.499693957

However, by the happenstance of a few geese colliding with his plane and his subsequent artful skill in landing that plane, Sully became an “in demand,” instant celebrity. At the risk of sounding crass, Sully became a marketable commodity. He was offered a two-book deal by a major publishing house. And while J.K. Rowling now commands millions of dollars for her books, her initial attempts at publishing her work were rejected by a dozen publishers, including Harper Collins and Penguin. Before she got the attention of a major publishing company, she had to first prove that her work would sell (and sell, it did) by way of a small publisher.

While traditional publishing provides advantages—namely brand recognition and the ability to have books placed onto the shelves of major book retailers and warehouse stores like Costco, the profit margin for authors on each book sold can be very thin indeed—miniscule, in fact. The big houses are betting on mega-volumes of units sold—preferably millions of books—so they are looking for authors that fall into just a few, select categories. First, they are looking for authors that have either proven themselves in a literary-marketing sense; ones who can re-produce works that will be eagerly snatched-up by their fans (the Grishams, Kings, Steels, Pattersons and Rowlings). Next, they are happy to publish the works of someone well known and currently popular; actors, sports stars and politicians, for example; or anyone making news, like Sully, right after his remarkable landing, or the Navy Seal who killed Bin Laden.

In all of these cases, if all goes as hoped, an author might earn thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some cases, as in Rowlings’, where other media companies (film) become interested, millions can be earned by an author. And the publishing houses, of course, enjoy significantly greater returns in all of these scenarios.

The sad truth is, unless he has already personally sold a few thousand copies of his work, or has the last name Kardashian or Palin, authors like the young man my wife encountered that opt for this route alone, will likely never see their book published. The only reasonable route open to this young author is self or subsidy publishing.

Path #2: Self Publishing

It is possible to self publish your book. The main advantage to self publishing is that you control 100% of the process. The main disadvantage to self publishing is… you control 100% of the process!477508055

The greatest disadvantage of self-publishing is that most retail bookstores rarely agree to sell self-published books. They simply cannot afford to offer valuable retail shelf space for a book that may or may not be a quality product. Bookstore owners know that a reputable publisher is primarily interested in producing high quality books that have some likelyhood of selling. In many ways, a publisher serves to pre-screen authors and their books for book retailers.

You will earn the highest margin of profit this way, but that is because you will be doing all of the work yourself. The steps involved are numerous, and if your plan is to produce a quality product (your book) that sells well and sells enough copies to be commercially successful, you need a very large tool-box of skill sets.

Self publishing means that you not only need to write your book, you’ll need to edit it, design and create the cover, design and format the interior pages, obtain the necessary ISBN and bar code, file your copyright and obtain your Library of Congress Control Number. Do you know where and how to have your book printed?

Assuming then that you want to sell your book with a hope of making a substantial amount of money, you’ll need to market it in some way. Remember, even though you will make the most money per book by publishing and marketing it yourself, in order to make very much, you’ll still need to sell a lot of books!

In order to do that, you’ll need to know how to make your book available through large online resellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble? Will you know how to re-format your book as an e-book and be able to make it available that way in the marketplace? Will you create your own website, promotional materials and press releases? In short, do you already have the knowledge, technical and artistic skills, connections and resources to truly “publish” and market your book?

Self publishing is an option, if you’ve written a book—and then again, so is building your own car if you want to travel. But sometimes, just being the driver (or author) is a more logical choice.

Path #3: Subsidy Publishing

The final and most used path of publishing is subsidy publishing, sometimes called “vanity” publishing. Years ago this type of publishing was considered “second rate”—a method supposedly only used by desperate authors whose work was not “good enough” or had been rejected by traditional publishers. The names “vanity press” and “vanity publishing” also imply that authors who choose this route are having their work published, merely for the sake of bragging rights, as in, “Hello, my name is Joe Smith, and I am an author.”

The fact is, a large number of highly successful writers got their start this way, and in light of the realities of the traditional or self publishing routes, this is the most logical, effective and affordable way for any author to get their work published.

To be sure, there are a plethora of subsidy publishing companies to be found online, most of which offering a menu of various basic services designed to get your book published. Most have low cost options to start, but just like in self publishing, the more they do for you, the more it costs.

One of the major disadvantages of online subsidy publishing companies is a lack of individualized, personalized, customized service. Looking at it from their perspective, because these publishing companies function and compete solely in the very crowded online universe, they have had to design their service offerings with that in mind. So things are “standardized.” They often limit the author to “A, B or C cover template options,” for example, or “Gold, Silver and Platinum” packages, each with narrowly defined options.

Finally, another very important consideration when considering subsidy or self publishing companies online, is their ability (or lack of) to market and promote the author’s book. Most all of these publishers offer a variety of services, but they are limited to very basic, simple things like providing the author with a stack of “postcards,” or to writing up a “professional press release.” Some will claim to include a “website,” which is really just a page on the web that displays the author’s work, with no functionality included.

The fact is, while web-only based publishing services are able to “publish” an author’s book, they are very limited in what that entails. You won’t be meeting with their art director or designer, for example, in order to discuss one of the most important elements, marketing wise, of any book —the cover; nor will you be able to select a font style from a vast collection of options for the text of your book. And while these online companies claim to offer marketing services, the fact is, they only offer a very thin veneer of “marketing-like” resources at best.

Are There Any Other Options?

Does all of this sound a bit hopeless? Are you beginning to wonder if there are any viable options available to the author who wants to have their book not just published, but effectively and successfully marketed as well?

As the old saying goes, “find a need and fill it,” and there has been a need here in the San Francisco Bay Area, for a publishing company that serves local authors in both publishing and marketing.
Yes, Option #4: ALIVE Book Publishing!126522657

Let’s get something out of the way, right from the beginning: Regardless of the reason that an author has for wanting to have their book published, the only reason any publisher will agree to take on an authors work is if they believe it will be a profitable venture; plainly stated, the goal is to make money—period.

Large commercial publishers are banking on a proven track record or an author’s “celebrity” status, while online subsidy or vanity publishers are really just interested in having the author pay to be published in a “cookie cutter” process. And they are ill-equipped and will do little, if anything, to help market, advertise or sell books for the author.

After thinking about this dilemma, it occurred to me that with the experience we had gained at successfully producing, marketing and selling a high quality magazine, couldn’t we apply that vast experience to book publishing, in order to serve local authors? Couldn’t we create a kind of “hybrid” publishing company that not only publishes an author’s work, but do so in ways that meet each author’s unique needs and situation; and one that can also market books in ways that are truly effective yet affordable?

Enter, ALIVE Book Publishing, where we have what local authors need. First off, we speak their language because we are, first and foremost, writers and editors. And we provide what no online publishing company can—a one-on-one, face to face relationship, every step of the way.

We consider every publishing job we undertake to be a unique partnership, so we work with every author and their project in a hands-on, individual way. One size does not fit all with ALIVE, so we don’t have templates or set formulas that we try to squeeze authors into. As the author’s partner, we will often invest more in the project than the author, because our ultimate goal is for the author’s book to sell successfully.

With over eight years’ experience in the real world of editorial content publishing with our flagship product, ALIVE Magazine, we know what it takes to design, create, publish and market a winning editorial product. Authors benefit from the experience we’ve gained in the fast moving world of magazine publishing, where in order to survive one must produce a fresh, new and exciting editorial product every month. They benefit from our unique, practical publishing methodology, whereby editorial products must be more than just good—they must sell.

And, best of all, ALIVE is uniquely equipped to market and advertise an author’s book like no other publishing company because we are the only publisher with multi-media marketing and advertising tools, and the expertise required to put real power into a local book launch.
A Word About eBooks and Printing On Demand—“POD”

Authors sometimes mention they want to have their book published only as an ebook. At some point they were convinced that “everything was going that way;” that “print is dying.” The fact is, the market for ebooks has plateaued and over 75% of readers today prefer traditional, printed books over ebooks. Ebooks are the “throw away” paperback novels of today, so if an author only publishes their work in an ebook format, they are missing 3/4 of the book-buying market.

POD is a smart, efficient and fast method of book production used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, traditional offset printing methods. POD books are digitally archived and printed individually, as they are ordered (on demand). This is the process we use at ALIVE Book Publishing.490451513

In today’s fast-paced, competitive, digital environment, authors who publish their books using our “on demand” method enjoy considerable advantages. Publishing in this way allows the bulk of an author’s initial up-front investment to be directed where it needs to be–in the marketing and advertising of their book.

Up-front productions costs are low, and because books are stored digitally and then printed and shipped in as little as 12 hours from the time of each individual order, books are, in most cases, always listed as being “in stock” by retailers.

Although POD books are produced quickly, there is no obvious difference in the appearance or quality of books produced in this way, as compared to books produced in traditional, offset printing methods. Book buyers have no way of knowing if the book they are purchasing is coming from a POD digital archive or from a traditional, offset-produced book inventory.

Another advantage of the POD component is that authors can inexpensively launch a “pilot study” version of a book into the marketplace and then easily make modifications to that book, if needed.

Our “Hybrid” publishing services can include a combination of POD and traditional, offset production methods, along with a good mix of marketing and worldwide distribution of an author’s book. ALIVE has a vast and powerful array of optional marketing components, all designed to provide the author with a comprehensive, effective and powerful initial book launch, into both the local and global marketplace.

What Can ALIVE Publishing do for the Author?

The typical services we provide for all authors includes personal advice as to the overall concept of the book project; a custom cover design; layout and formatting of the book’s interior pages; the determination of the best price for the book; obtaining the required ISBN and bar code for the book; filing for a Library of Congress Control Number; POD set-up of every book; listing the author’s book through major online distribution channels like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and distribution through an established network of over 39,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries

We are also able to provide authors with customized, comprehensive editing. Our editors include the best of the best, having advanced English and Journalism degrees from the likes of Princeton, Harvard, UCLA, University of Bristol, and New York University. Our writer’s coach and “book doctor” is none other than the world-renowned, best-selling author, Mary Sheldon.

We also offer a wide variety of marketing and advertising options. We can create and run display ads in ALIVE Magazine; create professional, fully-functional order-fulfillment-capable websites; design an author’s social media sites and conduct social campaigns; provide complete, local or national public relations campaigns; produce professional videos for online and TV, and we are even an agency for Comcast, so we can run local TV commercials promoting an author’s book in the local marketplace on major channels like CNN or Fox.

We can also create and market an author’s work in  every ebook format available.

Putting it All Together: What Does it All Mean?183155702

While advances in technology have radically changed the publishing landscape to the point where anyone with a computer and a credit card can become a published author, as I noted earlier, this is not going to be enough if an author wants to “go big.” The bottom line is: the real reason some books become commercially successful (make it) in the long run and why some do not has more to do with the author’s belief in their work than in anything else.

If everyone on the planet already knows who you are, you might consider having your book published via the traditional path. If you have all the skills and resources to go it all alone, self publishing may work for you. If you’re only interested in a tiny, short-lived yet possibly expensive ego boost, go ahead and send your manuscript into “the cloud,” and hope for the best.

But if your goal is to be serious about your book project and its chances for success, I suggest you elicit the aid of and partnership with a local publishing company that will be as serious and careful about your project as you are—ALIVE Book Publishing.

Visit our website at, and call me today at 925-837-7303 for a free, confidential, one-on-one appointment, and tomorrow you may be well on your way toward having your book published!

Review: The Theory of Everything

One of the most impressive films of the year is now in theaters: The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh. It’s a stellar telling of an extraordinary real life biography, classically centered on a moving love story and the overcoming of extreme physical disability. Based on the memoir by his first wife, Jane, The Theory of Everything tells the truly inspiring story of physicist Stephen Hawking, who, despite being stricken with ALS while in college and given two years to live, went on to marry twice, father children, live for decades (still ticking!), and oh-by-the-way, develop the most advanced cosmological theory since Einstein met Relativity.

To say The Theory of Everything is Oscar bait would be to state the obvious, but to ignore its achievement—or its likely resonance with Oscar voters–would be naive. It’s a period piece, it’s British, it’s an important biopic, it’s about love overcoming immense hardship, and it’s a true story. Most importantly, it is powered by an extraordinary performance, one you simply must see to believe. Eddie Redmayne, the young British actor who stole Marilyn Monroe’s heart in My Week with Marilyn (my favorite film of 2011), completely inhabits the character of Stephen Hawking, delivering a turn that is as deeply moving as it is physically impressive. With this film, Redmayne leaps onto the A-list and becomes a formidable contender for the Best Actor statue come Oscar time.Eddie Redmayne Alive November

I sat down with Eddie Redmayne in San Francisco recently, and talked with him about the challenges he faced playing the iconic physicist. My first question was simple: How did he do that?! Stephen Hawking would certainly qualify as one of the most difficult roles imaginable. How does one even approach such a challenging part?

Redmayne laughed and said he was already deep in the audition process before it occurred to him exactly how he might do just that. “The weird thing about making films is that no really tells you this beforehand…I was on the phone with James Marsh and he asked me that exact question. I thought, ‘Why have I not thought of an answer to this?’ So I came up with an off-the-cuff remark, but ended up following that instinct, which was to work with a team of people. I worked with an amazing make-up designer, an amazing costume designer, a vocal coach, a choreographer…we went to motor neuron clinics and met specialists, and worked out what we thought Stephen’s decline may have been like. I was really trying to immerse myself in the whole world of it, and then from that create a performance.”

In Theory, Redmayne actually delivers two distinct performances, the physical shape-shifting required by the real circumstances, and then, once he was contorted and essentially unable to move, an internal communication that brings the life drama, and Hawking’s humanity, front and center. His response was that it was Hawking’s approach to life that was the key. “When I met Stephen, it was absolutely clear that for him the disease is secondary. He has no interest in the disease. He has never looked back—he’s always been someone who looks forward. I wanted to really take from that. I spent four or five months working on the physical elements in order that they were so embedded that I could then really play with the other actors. I really tried to make the disease secondary. I went through all the documentaries, and listened to other people’s opinions of him, to find the intimacy, the human story.”2010 Winter TCA Tour - Day 6

What is it like to be, well, friends with Stephen Hawking? How was he affected by meeting the great man? Redmayne’s eyes brightened with the memory. “I can’t get over how privileged our lives as actors can be, and the people you get to meet. It was one of the great meetings of my life. I was horrifically embarrassed when I met him—I spent the first 20 minutes telling him about himself because I was so nervous. But just spending that time and hearing all the stories and his classic one-liners…I’ll never forget that day.”

I doubt anyone will ever forget Redmayne’s indelible performance in The Theory of Everything either. This is an actor I suspect we will be marveling at for years to come.

The Business of Comedy

Comedian David Van Avermaete had just come off the stage at a recent Anti-Bullying fundraiser for the Discovery Counseling Center at the Village Theater in Danville, when he turned to me and asked, “How did I do, was it too much?” Judging by the fact that most in the audience were still howling with laughter following his hilarious 30-minute set, I confidently replied, “You killed!” Although David has been perfecting his craft as a stand-up comedian for the past ten years, at heart he’s still a businessman trying to keep his customer happy.IMG_8481rev

“People tell me I look familiar. It must be that Uncle Fester, Welcome to Wal-Mart thing.”

Van Avermaete, a lean and fit 62 year old, is the former Founder and Chief Executive Officer of VeraLight, Inc., a privately-held medical device company established in 2004, which developed the SCOUT DS noninvasive screening device for people with pre-diabetes. Prior to that, he served as US President of the LifeScan division of Johnson & Johnson. During his 13-year tenure, he grew annual sales from under $100 million to over $1.0 billion. It was while handling his corporate officer’s responsibilities that David first tried his hand at comedy. He slyly began to weave obscure comedy riffs he lifted off the Internet, into presentations for company employees, shareholders and venture capital partners. “Humor was a great way to break the ice, ease the tension and get people to pay attention”.

Not completely retired, David currently sits on the Board of Directors for a life science company and he has recently considered joining another start-up venture. One night, following a show, he was approached by someone from the audience who wanted to know more about his business background. That meeting lead to several more with the company’s other partners and now David is weighing an offer to join the team.

“My very first boss said I was obnoxious, arrogant and lazy with no interpersonal skills. I’m thinking, wow, I’m upper management material”

After years of pilfering bits, David decided to attend the San Francisco Comedy College back in 2002 to learn how to write and perform comedy legitimately. His first on-stage stand-up appearance was a comedy competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a typical comedy competition, performers do their best 3-5 minute set. “I made it to the finals, but that meant coming up with a 9 minute set that I didn’t have,” David says. “For me, to perform three minutes worth of material, it means coming up with thirty-six punch lines to get twelve laughs per minute. It’s a scientific approach to writing.

A comedy show also has roles, rules and structure. The food chain goes from open mic to MC to feature to headliner. As an MC, every comic gets just a few minutes to settle the crowd and land their best joke before they introduce the featured act and headliner. There’s a real structure to it, David tells me. “You need 15 minutes worth of material to be an opening act, 25 minutes to be a featured act and 45 minutes to be a headliner. I was always just trying to come up with enough good material to move up to the next level.” David will often tape his performances and grade the crowd reaction to find the jokes or bits he should keep and the ones he should weed out. He will also bring old material back, but often times with a different punch line or set placement. It’s a craft that demands constant editing.

David2When asked about coming up with new material, David says “I often take a story or one line that I think is exceptionally funny and I begin by writing it out. I edit it, working on words and cadence. I intentionally lead people to think one thing and introduce another.” “A bit that starts as five minutes will often get cut down to two minutes, and sometimes end up as just one joke.” He explains that it all comes down to structure, tag lines, and callbacks to bleed the story. Those are comedy buzz words that probably mean nothing to most of us, but it’s what turns straw into gold on stage.

David’s stand-up routine draws inspiration from family, the community, business, marriage, ageing, and general life observations. He also has a wealth of personal and professional experience. His material is topical, intelligent, cynical, sarcastic, and a bit cutting or edgy. “I’m PG 13 with a couple of NC 17 or R rated rolls worked into my set depending on the audience”, he claims. He often draws ideas for new material from organic life situations and will often run a bit by his wife Cindy.

“My wife likes to turn out the lights when we get romantic. I’m OK with that, but the hiding – that’s just cruel.”

At the San Ramon Run for Education that took place on October 12th, a fellow runner approached David and said “you look pretty fit, I hope you’re not competing in my age bracket” “What bracket is that?” David asked. “’70-80 years old’. Apparently, I am a 62 year old, who looks like a ‘reasonably fit’ 70-80 year old. My wife finds that amusing, so there may be some comedy there.”

“I tease my wife a lot from the stage, but truth-be-told if she ever left me, I don’t know what I would do……first.”

David has two older children (a daughter, 30 and a son 28) from a previous marriage. He, and Cindy, the parents to two daughters, ages 11 and 15, live in San Ramon. “I have a certain amount of celebrity status in the house ever since I performed at the girl’s elementary school fundraiser.” David shares. David, himself, was born and raised in Mishawaka, Indiana. With just one brother, 18 years older. His mother was fond of saying “you were an accident. But we loved you anyway”.

“We recently looked into adoption, which turned out to be a pipe dream. No one in their right mind would adopt either of our kids.”

David has performed at comedy clubs across the country and even auditioned for HBO, Late Night with David Letterman, and America’s Got Talent. Locally you can find him playing Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, Rooster T. Feathers in Sunnyvale and the Improve in San Jose. Occasionally he’ll mix in a pizza parlor, bowling ally, or BBQ joint. David also graciously donates his time for an occasional fundraiser. “Playing a fundraiser can be a crapshoot. At a club, people come to watch comedy and pay to laugh. At a fundraiser, the demographics can be all over the place, people aren’t always sure what they’re getting or how to react. A comedian needs to be sensitive to the audience and nimble enough with their material to entertain the crowd.”

Over the years, he has been the feature for national touring comedians such as: Bobby Collins, Christopher Titus, Richard Lewis, and Jake Johanssen. The comedians he admires most and would like to work with are Louis C. K., Jim Gaffigan, and Brian Regan. Young comedians trying to land their big break are often traveling 300 – 350 days a year, David is much too invested in his family to spend that much time on the road. While he would welcome a special on Comedy Central or a shot at Last Comic Standing, he recognizes that it would take a lucky break or a really good agent. Fortunately, his success in the business world has left him with the freedom to make choices. Until that break comes, he’ll continue to work at the business of comedy.

“Here’s the definition of an optimist, a guy who buys condoms at Costco.”

For more information about David or to see where he’ll be playing next, visit his website at

Vaudeville – Entertainment of Yesteryear

“Everything I know I learned in Vaudeville…”

The house lights dim, the music begins and the curtain goes up as the anticipation of what’s to come is electric in the air – the show begins. It’s Vaudeville!

Vaudeville was an enormously popular form of entertainment in the United States from approximately 1880’s well into the 20th Century. It consisted of a number of many acts of varying genres. Some of the acts were of a musical nature but many were not. The acts consisted of singers; instrumentalists; dancers; acrobats; athletes; minstrels; jugglers; animal acts; magicians; slap-stick comedians and burlesque performers.78377476

A staple of the Vaudeville show was a collection of theatrical sketches from various cultural traditions including English Music Hall, Minstrel Shows and Yiddish Theater. This form of live entertainment was so popular that large theaters were packed – often with standing room only. Each performance usually had a dozen or more acts.

In the late 1800’s the rural face of America was changing with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. People that were farming, planting and reaping crops were leaving the farm obtaining jobs in factories and other businesses. Having a “regular” job meant a weekly or monthly paycheck and some leisure time, that was rare back on the farm. These folks were looking for entertainment that they could afford.

Promoters and producers took advantage of this newly expanded potential audience and went to work providing affordable entertainment in the form of Vaudeville.

It didn’t take long for this form of show business to become the most popular type of entertainment in America. It was affordable for the average working man with a very modest amount of disposable income to spend on entertainment.
Vaudeville promoters provided entertainment for a multiple economic strata of social classes. The venues were classified as “Small Time” “Medium Time” and “Big Time.” The auditorium size and quality of the house was commensurate with the small town stage, compared to New York’s Palace Theater, the queen of Vaudeville houses.

Music was a very important element of Vaudeville. Vaudeville venues had instrumental ensembles that ranged from trios or quartets of various instruments, all the way up to full orchestras. These ensembles played for both the musical and singing acts, but also provided background for the non-musical acts. Many performers had their own musical scores and provided the sheet music for local musicians hired by each theater.

Music ranged from classic opera to ragtime, blues and jazz. Samples of Vaudeville music are: Alexander’s Ragtime Band; The Band Played On; Down by The Old Mill Stream; I Love You Truly; A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody; Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet; Silver Threads Among The Gold and Ta-ra-ra-Boom-de-ay. These are just some of the popular songs of the era – many other styles and forms of music were also part of Vaudeville music. Ragtime music was very much a part of the revue type show.

The typical, contemporary American, probably has no idea of how many big-time stars of stage, screen, radio and television, got their start in Vaudeville. Some of the acts were itinerant in nature, moving from town to town, living in hotels for a week or so, then moving on to the next town. It was definitely not a glamorous life or an easy way to make a living.  Married performers with children were in the minority. However, some of them traveled with their parents and grew up in show business. Immersed in what their parents did for a living, they naturally evolved into show business. Many of these children made the “Big Time” years later.

Some of the many famous men and women who got their start in Vaudeville are: Will Rogers, Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Jimmy Durante, Abbott and Costello, Judy Garland, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Cary Grant, Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Fanny Brice, Burns and Allen, Mae West, Gypsy Rose Lee, Edgar Bergen, Buster Keaton, Kate Smith, Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Cagney, who once said, ”Everything I know I learned in Vaudeville.”

Unfortunately, the decline of Vaudeville was inevitable after the first decades of the 20th Century. The advent of low-priced cinema contributed greatly to the demise of Vaudeville. The public could see a film for a nickel rather than spend a dollar or two on live entertainment. Vaudeville virtually disappeared in a few short years after flourishing for over 50 years. Many performers were suddenly out of work. Fortunately for some, they found new jobs in the film industry and early radio.

Modern post Vaudeville entertainment was similar in some respects to the Vaudeville of yesteryear. It was revived in the television shows of the 1950’s and early 1960’s on Your Show of Shows, with Sid Caesar and the very popular, Ed Sullivan Show.

What a shame that contemporary audiences cannot enjoy Vaudeville type entertainment the way it used to be. A great part of American theatrical history and entertainment is lost forever.

Please submit your questions and comments to
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2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Go Electric…Or Go Home!

It may be nice to see the price of gas going down at the pump; however, the sad thing is that we think $3.60 per gallon is a good price. Yes, I’m showing my age since I can remember filling up the tank for less than $10.00—something our kids will never experience! With that said, the automotive manufacturers are giving us options including going all electric. One of the options from Japan is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.2014 i-MiEV Aqua

The 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the least expensive all-electric car on the market. It is small in size at just a little over 12-feet in length, and the four-door hatchback can carry four adults. The i-MiEV is a plug-in vehicle that runs only on electricity unlike some of the gas/electric hybrids. I plugged the i-MiEV into my110-volt outlet for between 12 to 15 hours and woke up the next morning to a driving range of 60 to 68 miles. However, Mitsubishi claims the care has a maximum range of 75 miles. I found the range drops quickly if you choose to run the A/C or use too many electric devices. You can run in Eco-mode to help achieve the maximum range.

Personally, I felt very comfortable driving around our local Tri-Valley without fear of being stranded. However, when I had to cruise up to Walnut Creek and Concord in traffic, I elected to grab the keys to my gas-driven vehicle.
After spending one week driving the i-MiEV, I found that it drove much like any other conventional car minus the limited range. It handled fine for a small car and had sufficient pick-up-and-go.

The i-MiEV has two charging outlets – your standard 110-volt and a 240-volt quick charge port. The quick charge port using the CHAdeMO standard will allow drivers to use properly equipped public charging stations to recharge the car’s battery pack to about 80 percent in about 30 minutes.

2014 i-MiEV AquaThe 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV comes in rear-wheel drive and is available in one trim level, ES. It’s starting priced is $22,995. Power is produced from a 66 HP AC synchronous permanent magnetic electric motor with a regenerative braking system. The automatic transmission is a single speed, fixed reduction gear. I found the shift pattern as challenging as driving down Lombard Street—that is the one-block section that consists of eight tight hairpin turns. The iMIEV Shift Selector has three modes: Drive, Eco and Brake.

The styling is both cute and funky with a jellybean or egg-like reflection. It definitely turned heads as I drove by on-lookers. Mitsubishi pushed the wheels out as far as they could to create the maximum wheelbase of 100.4-inches with minimum bumper overhangs on this subcompact electric car. The windshield is heavily raked back with the arch following through to the rear hatch. The small 15-inch wheels help create that mini-feel. The front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS operated fine. Despite its small size, it was comfortable to drive.

The interior is basic with no flashy items that would weigh the iMIEV down. Forget navigation or backup camera extras, but you can order a foldable cargo tray and USB adaptor kit for an i-Pod. I was surprised to see a driver-side heated seat. With that said, you are exchanging a car full of tech-gadgets for an eco-friendly electric car with technology-only systems.

Room for improvement:
• I would like to see the addition of a backup camera

Cool Features:
• Standard 240-volt quick charge port

Safety on the 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV comes standard with an advanced air bag system, dual-stage supplemental front air bags, driver and front-passenger seat mounted side-impact supplemental air bags, roof-mounted curtain side-impact supplemental airbags for front and rear-seat outboard occupant protection, Active Stability Control (ASC) with traction control logic (TCL) and a high voltage cut-off system.

In Summary – The 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV offers buyers the option of avoiding a gas station to help the environment. If you aren’t heading too far, the i-MiEV works great for the local trips around town. It appears to be well-engineered and I enjoyed driving it. You might want to check into the federal tax credits for buying an electric car.

2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Base price: $22,995 as driven: $23,845 (including destination and
optional features)
Engine: AC synchronous permanent magnetic electric motor
Horsepower: 66 @ 3,000 – 6,000 RPM
Torque: 3145 @ 300 RPM
Transmission: automatic transmission is a single speed
Drive: Rear-wheel Drive
Seating: 4-passenger
Turning circle: 30.8 feet
Cargo space: 13.2 cubic feet
Curb weight: 2,579 pounds
EPA mileage: 62-mile range
Wheel Base: 100.4 inches
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles powertrain limited
Also consider: FIAT 500e, Ford C-MAX Energi , Honda Fit EV, Kia Soul
EV, Nissan LEAF, and the Smart

He Said / She Said with Robin and Shawn

Dear SSHS,
I’ve been dating this seemingly nice guy for about a month when he sent me an email saying he’s just not emotionally available right now and needs some time to reflect. I really like this man and wonder if I should be waiting around for him. ~Olivia, Walnut Creek

She Said: In my experience, people who are emotionally unavailable usually don’t know it and certainly don’t label themselves as such. It sounds like this guy heard this phrase somewhere and thought he’d try it on. We’re going to have to turn this over to Shawn to translate the guy-speak for us. In the meantime, I have a request for the grownups out there. Electronic breakups are cowardly. Let’s say we’re not going to email, text, or social media message our way out of relationships anymore, even if we are “emotionally unavailable.”

He Said: First off Olivia, let me apologize on behalf of all men out there who have ever said this to a woman. This is simply guy-speak for “I’m just not that into you.” This “nice guy” you’ve been dating has definitely taken the cowardly way out and didn’t want to plainly tell you his real feelings, which I’m sure he knew weeks ago. When a guy says things like this, he is making himself out to look like the victim so you don’t get mad at him for wasting the last month of your life. Do you really think if a super model crossed this guy’s path tomorrow that he’d still be emotionally unavailable? Hmmm…..I don’t think so.

Dear HSSS,
My oldest is a senior in high school and I find myself feeling really melancholy about the idea of his leaving for college next year. Is this normal?  ~Kathy in Orinda455054067

He Said: I clearly remember the day my parents dropped me off at college and my mom crying for about an hour before they left my dorm room. And trust me those weren’t tears of joy. What you’re feeling is definitely normal, but look at the bright side…your kid is going to college! Do you know how many parents out there wish this same opportunity for their kids? Consider yourself lucky that your child has a bright future ahead of him and the first step is higher education. And don’t worry, kids always come back home.

She Said: We all feel like this, especially if we’re close to our children. Let me assure you, the last year home anticipating their leaving, is worse than their actual leaving. Once they do leave, it’s a little tough the first three weeks, but then it becomes the new normal, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you and the rest of your family adapt. Someone once said to me there’s only one thing worse than our children growing up and moving away: their NOT growing up and moving away.HeSaidSheSaidgraphic

Robin Fahr and Shawn Shizzo host Conversations and He Said/She Said seen daily on Tri-Valley TV, Channel 30. Send your questions to

Close the Borders?

I saw a Facebook post yesterday; actually one of my Facebook friends. Just kind of a muse; a short, simple question, really. Should we just close our borders?  I’ve heard the thought before from folks that I considered “radical whack jobs.” This person isn’t.178754387

And now, I’m hearing it more and more. And when I saw it this time, I didn’t know whether it made sense or even to give it a second thought. But, I have.

Why can’t we just close our borders? Why can’t we just be happy here? We live in the greatest country in the world. Shouldn’t we just circle the wagons and take care of our family, the United States of America?

Can we afford to be the world’s savior any longer? When did it start anyway? World War I? It continued through WWII and Korea and Vietnam. It ostensibly did thru Gulf War I and Gulf Wars II. But has it? Has it lost its meaning? Is the world a more complicated place now than it was when we knew we had to stop Adolph Hitler? We had to stop him from putting more Jews in ovens, and taking over Europe. That seems pretty simple.

But, haven’t we created some of the problems we are now fighting in the Middle East? Do we want to be helping save the people ISIS is brutally murdering …beheading? Or should we be minding our business here?

What would happen if we brought home the Americans who want to live here and then closed our borders? Would ISIS come here; find a way to fight us from within?

What about disease? Can we close our borders and not help people with deadly disease like Ebola? Do we want to do that? On the other hand, can we afford to help and risk our collective health?

Can we just close our borders with the interconnectivity in our world? Our companies do business in every corner of the world. How would we manage that if we close ourselves off?

As I write this, I’m still trying to shake off some nasty virus, so my thinking is very fuzzy, but I have to admit the feeling of being the independent, sovereign, giant that we are, closing borders sounds a little attractive.

John Lennon wrote“Imagine there were no borders.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the world worked that way? On the other hand, could we imagine our country taking care of its own, becoming energy independent, taking care of our families and those who need help here, and closing our borders?

I KNOW. I know it can’t / won’t happen and this is probably a waste of space and time. Probably better suited back in one of my old Philosophy / Poly-Sci college classes?

Can we turn our backs on the millions of people who need help in the world? There are so many people who need help.

I’m probably just tired. But when I saw the post, it obviously made me think for a moment.

Should we close our borders, in and out? Does it make any sense?

Poinsettias and Blueberries

Q. I’m looking to plant several Blueberries as I’ve read they grow well in the Bay Area. However, I’ve received some conflicting information about their exposure. I’ve been told that Blueberries do nicely in a sunny location. And another opinion says, they should be in the shade by one or two o’clock in the afternoon. I’ve several areas, where I can plant the bushes. One spot gets sun from about 10:30 a.m. into the evening. In the other location, they would be in the shade by about two p.m. So, where should I plant my Blueberries?

Ans. Depending on where you live, both answers are correct. Along the coast, they grow in full sun all day, while in the San Ramon Valley, they prefer shade in the afternoon, April through October. Blueberries prefer mild temperatures and a marine influence, compared to hot, dry conditions and they don’t produce well in dark, shady areas. I’d plant your Blueberries in the second location, where they’re shaded after two o’clock and avoid the leaf burn on those really hot days. This should give you plenty of direct sunlight for a good crop of berries. I wouldn’t be concerned if a few of the leaves burn on those really, really hot days.

With today’s low chill varieties, Blueberries are a must in today’s garden. A couple of plants produce a good size crop with little effort. Bare root or packaged Blueberries will be available in January with container plants in March. Bountiful Blue and Sunshine Blue are self-pollinating. All the other varieties require a second variety that blooms at the same time for cross-pollination. Blueberries are a fabulous container plant. In the landscape, they’re the perfect companion plant to Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias as they enjoy the same water, acid soil, and fertilizer. During winter months, an acidifier such as Aluminum Sulfate, GreenAll pH Adjuster or Soil Sulphur should be applied to keep the soil acid. Blueberries truly are easy and carefree to grow.

Q. Could you tell me what I need to do in order to keep my Poinsettia plants from dying? They seem to wither away so quickly each year.460298989

Ans. Poinsettia leaves turn yellow, curl and shrivel quickly because of warm temperatures. Poinsettia plants like to be kept in a cool room, preferably under seventy degrees. They need to be kept away from heater vents, operating fireplaces and drafts, especially inside doorways as the sudden change in temperature causes problems. The flower and leaves of the Poinsettia plant collapses when the plant is excessively wet. They like to be kept uniformly moist. Before watering, stick your finger down an inch in the soil. If it feels moist to the touch then skip the watering. After watering, always dump the excess water that collects in the saucer and punch a hole in the decorative foil so the water can drain away.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is and you can send questions by email at or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523 and on Facebook at

Thanksgiving…One Bite at a Time

I do most of my Thanksgiving shopping in the fresh air at the farmers’ market—where the just-picked produce is both healthy and locally grown. I also take comfort knowing the money I spend there goes directly to the people who grow the food we eat, instead of some mysterious multi-national conglomerate. It’s just one more way of giving thanks.450973675

This month I’ll stock up on freshly-harvested walnuts and almonds to enhance everything from appetizers to desserts; plump raisins, dried apricots, and other dried fruits; just-picked lettuce; pure fruit juices; sugar pumpkins and crisp apples for pies; acorn and other traditional winter squash for roasting; artisan bread, aromatic extra-virgin olive oil, sweet onions, celery, parsley, and garlic to make the best turkey dressing ever; tender young carrots; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; sweet potatoes; locally-produced honey; russet potatoes and Yukon Golds for mashing; beeswax candles and all other matter of flora, fauna, fruits, and veggies to make a spectacular yet affordable still-life centerpiece for my table. (After being admired for their beauty, all the produce will be consumed over the next week or so.) Inevitably I’ll also add a few more gourds and pumpkins to the welcoming displays on my front porch and mantel. It’s time to splurge. Thanksgiving comes only once a year!

The traditional feast means more than turkey and sides. Even if appetizers are not part of your usual game-plan, the leisurely pace of Thanksgiving requires a little something extra to quell hunger until dinner is ready. Forget the greasy potato chips and the ubiquitous plastic platter of icy, overcooked shrimp from the supermarket. C’mon folks. We can do better than that.

I happen to think a tray of crunchy farm-fresh crudités is the perfect answer, made all the better with a creamy dipping sauce. I’ve included the recipe for such a dip below, and guarantee it is going to taste better than anything you buy in a plastic tub at the warehouse store.

If you want to get a little fancier, “Figs in Blankets” may be just the right thing. I like to serve these yummy morsels on a bed of baby arugula leaves, so guests can grab a leaf or two along with a warm fig to add a peppery bit of freshness to each bite.

And if time is of the essence, I’ve added a few quick-fixes that should keep everyone happy. Even if your team is losing the game on television.

Fresh Spinach Dip with Feta and Dill

6 cups (loosely packed) fresh baby spinach leaves (about 5 ounces)
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta or goat cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill weed, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Dash of cayenne pepper

1. Rinse the spinach in a large bowl of cold water. Drain but do not dry, so some water still clings to the leaves. Place the damp spinach in a large heavy nonreactive saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until the spinach is bright green and wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a colander to drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze dry with your hands.

2. In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic and salt. Process until the garlic is finely chopped. Add the ricotta and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Add the feta, olive oil, lemon juice, dill, and cayenne. Process, pulsing the machine on and off, until blended. Transfer to a small serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight to blend flavors. Makes about 1 3/4 cups, to serve 8 to 10.

Figs in Blankets

6 to 8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 24 strips about 2- x 4-inches
About 4 ounces California goat cheese (or brie, Cambozola, or other soft cheese), well-chilled
12 small fresh figs (any variety), halved lengthwise; or 6 large figs, quartered
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons local honey
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Arugula leaves, for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚. Working in batches if necessary, arrange 24 prosciutto strips on a work surface. Place a fig half, cut-side-up, toward the bottom of each strip and top with about 1/2 teaspoon of cheese.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, and thyme. Drizzle a bit of the sauce lightly over the cheese and roll to enclose the figs in prosciutto. Secure with a toothpick and arrange 2-inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until the prosciutto is very lightly browned at the edges and the cheese is soft but not melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Arrange the Figs in Blankets on a bed of arugula and drizzle each with a bit more of the remaining balsamic-honey mixture. Sprinkle lightly with freshly ground pepper and serve warm, not hot. Makes 24.

5 Almost-Instant Appetizers for the Harried Host

1. Serve tiny mild “breakfast” radishes alongside crusty slices ofartisan bread, best-quality unsalted butter, and a tiny bowl of coarse salt. Leave the greens on the radishes to use as a “handle” for grabbing.

2. Roll a log of fresh California goat cheese inchopped toasted almonds and dried cherries. Serve at room temperature with baguette slices.

3. Unmold a tub of mascarpone or cream cheese onto a small plate and top with fresh pomegranate seeds, finely chopped crystallized (candied) ginger, a finely chopped green onion, and a drizzle of honey.

4. Compose a fall fruit-and-cheese platter with store bought cheeses, wedges of Fuyu persimmon, apples, or pears; fresh figs, grape clusters,dried apricots, and/or toasted California walnuts.

5. Cut a cucumber into 1/2-inch thick slices. Pipe or spoon a bit of cream cheese onto each cucumber round and top with a piece of smoked salmon and a tiny sprig of fresh dill.

If you’d like to expand your entertaining repertoire—and have a lot of fun in the process—check out Peggy Fallon’s upcoming class at Draeger’s Cooking School at Blackhawk on Thursday, November 13, at 6:30 p.m. For more information go to, orcall 1-800-642-9463 ext. 261.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

Choice Kitchen

Friends, I feel like a change is in order. Give me a minute to find my soapbox.

By now you are familiar with the eating patterns my family has adopted. The shift happened in our household upon the addition of our littles, coupled with a smattering of mind-jarring movies.

As our minds were peeled back, we seemed to find the perfect media that served as visceral reminders of why we were making the change. These movies we not propaganda, but truths about how we eat as Americans, and our generational inevitabilities, if something isn’t done now. These movies included: Fast Food Nation, Forks Over Knives, Food Inc. and most recently, Fed Up. The bottom line is that we are an overweight and over-medicated society and it all has to do with what we put in our mouths for “nourishment.”

The concerning realization has been the lack of restaurants in our immediate area that cater to the solution without making you feel overwhelmed and on-your-own as you peruse a foreign menu. How then are we supposed to “baby step,” without our hand being held, into a better tomorrow? We need that.

Look no further! Choice Kitchen is your guide and promotes learning at your own kitchen table.

Some back-story: Choice Lunch was established in 2003 by Justin Gagnon (son to the Gagnon Empire), to provide healthy and delivered lunches to our children in school. Today they deliver 40,000 lunches a day. (I reserve the right to explore this business more in the future).

In January of this year, Choice Lunch saw the shift occurring, or rather primed and ready to do so. They devoted their Danville location as the kitchen for this new endeavor and enlisted the nutritional moxy of Sophie Johnson to oversee the operation. In March they brought on the talented Executive Chef, Harold Sena-Okoto, formerly of Ruby Hill Golf Club, to make Sophie’s vision become a reality.

With Justin’s business savvy, Sophie’s educated passion and now Chef Harold’s culinary prowess, Choice Kitchen was born. But how does it work? Go to and peruse their menu items, fill your cart for the meal you want your family to have delivered to your home (order by noon for a same day delivery 3-5pm to your front porch) and spend far less than eating out and without the burden of burning valuable family time or your fingers.

Choice Kitchen is organic and whole-food based. All produce is local and a partnership with the Danville Farmers Market and Hodo Tofu are evident. (You can visit Choice Kitchen at the Farmers Market every Saturday.)

Sophie eats well for health. Her menu items are Paleo, vegan and gluten friendly. There are sustainably-raised seafood and meat dishes. Sophie puts any misconception to bed with one comment: “This is not a take-out alternative. This is how you would cook if you had the time. These are busy parents that care about diet spending time enjoying their families.”

I have been in their kitchen and it smells like grandmas house at Thanksgiving.
Their Beta Testing was unprecedented. Prior to launch, Sophie gave 20 families in Danville, Alamo and San Ramon $500 dollars credit and then met with each family individually for feedback.

Currently these are the only towns being delivered to, but Walnut Creek and LaMorinda are on the horizon. There are no membership fees and free delivery for orders over $50. My family and I (four people), spent $47 and ate to our fill with left-overs.

I know that wanting to eat well, and actually doing it, is daunting. Sophie has bridged that chasm simply because she cares.

She even gave us our own coupon code. Go to and cook dinner. Use the code ALIVE and get 10% off your whole order and free delivery regardless of how much you spend.

This is how we are supposed to eat!

569 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Danville