How Not to Go On Sabbatical Using Craigslist

Today is the first of thirty days that my husband and I will be spending in New York City. It is my intention to try to blog every day that we are here. My husband is on sabbatical after having served for eleven year as vice-president and Dean of Faculty of Hampshire College. Our original intention was to try and swap our house with someone in either Boston or New York. That really didn’t work out and I would not recommend using craigslist to try to pursue either a swap or rental. One person, who seemed like  he was  anxious to rent to us, was not home when we arrived at the designated time to see the apartment.  Another couple  told us they would not be deciding for a couple of weeks; we got back to them in two days. They then said they had rented the apartment to someone else the same day we saw it. To make matters worse their  craigslist listing  reappeared three weeks later. I always checked that I didn’t not want any realtor listings but we wound up with a very unpleasant real estate agent in Cambridge. The final bad result from craigslist was a nice apartment in Boston. We went to see it but the man already had a couple from an agency who also wanted it and he was contractually obligated to give to them. Why did he have us come and look at the apartment then? I have concluded that craigslist is very prone to scams and unreliable listers. My friend owns the place we are renting in New York so that has worked out fine.

I didn’t set out to rant about craigslist but it was very frustrating. As far as sabbaticals go I feel a bit like I am on one too since I will not have my usual responsibilities during this month. I hope to post about interesting things we do in the city, both beer related and other, and include pictures. I also plan to work on my new book which I will talk more about later in another post.

Book Review: “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant

The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, (Scribner:New York, 2008)is well written. The device of placing Sherwood Anderson within the story is more problematic. Anderson does serve to frame the story as a mystery. Under the guise of writing a story about the Bondurant boys and moonshine, Anderson’s character helps guide the reader through the narrative maze. It is interesting that Bondurant starts his story of hardship for the family in the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919. This certainly gives his book a timely feeling.

Bondurant presents illicit distilling or moonshine production as occurring because of both hard times and thrill seeking. Moonshine, governmental corruption, and tax evasion have a long history, dating back to 1862 and the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to finance the Civil War.

Until the passage of the Volstead Act, which established enforcement procedures for Prohibition, the federal government had a limited view of its proper role in the regulation of the liquor industry. From 1862 on, officials conceived of liquor taxation as an easy, painless, and morally expedient way to raise revenue. High excise rates led to speculation, corruption and illegal distilling, significantly reducing the amount of money the government received. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 created many new patronage positions and new opportunities for spoils. Because officials established a bureaucracy but paid little attention to administration, time honored patterns of political appointments and gain continued.

Despite reform efforts by David A. Wells and others, the combined forces of speculators and government spoils men dominated the federal tax policy and its administration. In the generally lax atmosphere of the Grant presidency, corruption reached new heights. Using the need for funds for Grant’s reelection as a pretext, mid-level revenue officials in St. Louis and other Mid-west cities set up a collection ring that cost the federal government millions in revenue from St. Louis alone.

Following the breakup of the Whiskey Ring, the administration of the Bureau of Internal Revenue stabilized. Although fraud by licensed distillers did not disappear, the Bureau shifted its attention to moonshine, particularly in the South.1 These unlicensed distillers are the characters in The Wettest County. During Prohibition, any production of alcohol for commercial purposes was illegal but the Virginia distillers in the book had a history of illegal production dating back to the nineteenth century.

After Repeal, widespread illicit distilling subsided but Southern moonshine has remained a perennial problem for the federal government. Federal legislation prohibits distillation of spirits for home use. Distilling sprits always requires payment of taxes and filing of paperwork prior to beginning production. In the early twentieth-first century, the ATF was the lead agency in Operation Lighting Strike, formed in Virginia and North Carolina to fight the big business of illicit distillation of alcohol. In a first, Operation Lightning Strike used federal money-laundering legislation to combat moonshine.2

Jack Bondurant is the chief protagonist; the author does not fully develop his character. The epilogue, which ends the book, although factual, is the least developed aspect of the book, particularly because the author does not really explain why Jack left the family business. Overall, The Wettest County is enjoyable to read and provides some, good historical information.

Steps and Stones

This is another poem I wrote while in Israel. The session at Elul unleashed a creative spurt that is very interesting.

A few days later we met with David Ehrlich, an excellent writer of short stories. He spent over an hour with us, talking about his writing and the creative process. He said that sometimes ideas are in his mind or in the air and they float by. This is similar to what I have been feeling lately.

Jerusalem is a very different and interesting city. All the facades, by law, have to look the same, which is a beige Jerusalem stone. The Old City is very winding and up and down, but other parts of the city are as well. Jerusalem perches on a mountain with hills and valleys around it. You are always going up or down, often on paved or cobble-stoned paths.

Another aspect of Jerusalem is the intense tourism since so many different people and faiths feel the city belongs to them. When ever I travel overseas I like to buy things that are actually made in that country. Of course in many parts of the world the tourist items are made in China.

Steps and Stones

Everything in Jerusalem is
Steps and stones
Steps and stones
Up and Down
Up and Down

Buy/Save
Spend/Don’t Waste
Made here
Made there

Jerusalem 2009
Jerusalem 2009

Vacation

I had planned to write a post or two, but getting ready for a trip has taken most of my time. On Sunday,  my husband and I will leave for a ten day vacation in Israel. I will not be posting while on the trip, but I will write about it when I get back. I certainly hope to try some of the beers I wrote about in Jewish Beer and Brewing.

Revisiting Old Posts

I have recently been thinking about the thirty-eight posts from my pre-wordpress blog.  I  realized that people might want to see what else I have written on a topic and there isn’t an easy way to do that. I thought about re-posting all of them, but that seems like too much work. I also thought about linking to them every time I am on a topic again, but I would get stuck in an endless loop. So I will just remind all of my readers that you can go to  my website and find the old posts. Click here to do so.

This was cross-posted from Women Grow Business

“Am I a Woman in Business?” Learning to Promote Yourself the Same Way Businesses Do

amy-m-wgb-post-42009

Am I a woman in business, a businesswoman?
That is an interesting question for me to contemplate in writing a post for Women Grow Business. I started my website, AmyMittelman.com, and my blog, Musings, because I wrote a book, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

Many years ago, I had a business, Academic Publicity, that provided promotional help for academic authors.

In retrospect, my business plan had a fatal flaw: academics didn’t want to pay for my services.

In general, academics do not think of themselves as writers and thus do not want to pay to increase their book sales. The existence of the book itself punches their tenure ticket. And most academics write only one book. The one major business success I had was getting my husband‘s book, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 into paperback.

New business, young family, and next steps
At the time that I was running Academic Publicity, I had completed a PH.D in American history and had two small children at home. I had started the business because I was realizing it was unlikely I would be able to get an academic job without significant disruption to my life.

The perfect vision of hindsight
Because of life’s increasing complexity with family, including buying a new home, I ended the business after two years. With the perfect vision of hindsight, I realized that was too short a time to grow a business. I pulled the plug on Academic Publicity so quickly because I was losing money and I already had some feelings of guilt because I had been unable to find an academic position.

I think inadequacy, guilt, and feelings of illegitimacy are all common problems for women as they negotiate between professional goals and family life. I ended the business and quickly looked around for some way to be gainfully employed.

I settled on becoming a nurse.
I have been a nurse for 14 years and have worked in many different healthcare settings. I do not feel that being a nurse replaced being a historian. I brought all the skills and lessons I had acquired from my academic career, my business, and my family life to my new profession. Again, I think this is typical for women.

Many women’s lives do not occur in a linear fashion.
Both male and female baby boomers are famous for second acts and continually reinventing themselves. I believe this has always been truer for women and has certainly been true for me.

Contemplating a book on beer
Although I enjoyed being a nurse, I had always wanted to publish my dissertation as a book and that remained a goal. About seven years ago, with an increased focus, I began to contemplate taking material from my thesis and writing a book on beer. I was fortunate enough to obtain a publishing contract in the spring of 2006 and Brewing Battles was published in December 2007.

I believe persistence was the key to my achieving this long held goal.

And to achieve anything you probably have to have a passion for the endeavor.

Algora Publishing (who published Brewing Battles) is a very small press, providing very little marketing support for my book. So I have had to market the book myself. Luckily, I had the experience from once running my business Academic Publicity to fall back on. However, in the 15 intervening years since I ended the business, publicizing and marketing books changed completely.

I have marketed the book in both traditional and new ways.
I sent out advance copies to various academic and trade journals, hosted a book party, and have given book talks. Of course, almost all of my correspondence and press releases have been via email (…haven’t done any direct mailings). And many blogs also received my press release about Brewing Battles, in addition to traditional print media.

Learning curves and achieving mastery on the blogosphere
The blogosphere represents the most significant change from the world of book marketing 20 years ago. Setting up my own blog was definitely a challenge with several false starts. Every new task I have attempted has come with a new learning curve and a deep sense of accomplishment when I achieve mastery.

Persistence is key here as well.

Finding the answer to “Am I a woman in business?”
So in answer to my original question, I am a writer and that means I am in business for myself. My varied life experiences have taught me that everything in life is about marketing, marketing yourself. Not in a conceited or self-absorbed way but in the sense that…

You have to put yourself forward and promote yourself in the same way that businesses do.

 

Community

I read  the blog , New Kid on the Hallway which focuses on her leaving the history profession and going to law school. Of course this reminds me of my own professional journey. When I decided to give up trying to get an academic position and went back to school to be a nurse I did that on my own. I had no community of historians, academics or nurses to support me. Fifteen years later blogs exist to connect people with similar interests. I think this is one of the most positive aspects of the “new media”; people can be connected  even if they do not have an institutional or professional affiliation. An independent scholar, a freelancer writer, a self-employed entrepreneur can all find a community and do not have to pursue their goals in social isolation. Blogging does not replace face to face communication and interaction  but it can give someone who has no workplace to go to a greater sense of identity.

Self Publishing

Many people seem to feel the book as a printed, tangible object may be on the way out. The rise in popularity of digital readers such as Kindle would seem to support this idea. The apparent demise of the book has not stopped books from being published. In 2008 almost 480,000 books were published or distributed in the U.S. This was an increase of over 100,000 books from 2007.

A recent article in the New York Times explored the contribution of self-published books to this increase. Technological advances have enabled aspiring authors to obtain printed copies of their work for as little as $3. Most self-publishing companies charge authors fees, staring at $99, for various services. The article points out that self-publishing authors sacrifice access to marketing and distribution that traditional publishers usually provide.

The article posits a strict dichotomy between self publishing and conventional publishing. Many authors who have their books published by main stream publishers do not receive any marketing services and have to market the book themselves. Technology and Amazon have given publishers greater latitude in printing and distribution which can led to a conventionally published book not being available from a wholesaler such as Baker & Taylor. Often being published by commercial publisher gives the author that distinction and nothing else. Some self publishing firms provide distribution via wholesalers as part of their services. It is more appropriate to look at publishing in 2009 as being a spectrum with major publishing houses on one end and self publishing at the other. For many authors in the middle there is little difference.

E Books

There was a review of the new version of Amazon’s Kindle in the New York Times the other day; today the Times has a story looking at several e-book personal reading devices. The question I have is about ebooks in libraries. WorldCat says about 140 libraries have a ebook version of Brewing Battles. On June 30 2008 WorldCat had 120 libraries owning the e book.I got my royalty statement in August and I got royalties on 3 ebooks. Does anybody understand how that works? So if the future of books, particularly more scholarly ones, is ebooks, does that mean authors will make even less from their books?

The other issue with ebooks in libraries is connected to the different databases and electronic services various libraries have, depending on the cost of the items. So if an academic institution doesn’t have a lot of money they may not have as big a collection of ebooks as another library. Some libraries may allow you to download a pdf of the book -in essence borrow the book-  and some may not.

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