Lives Well Lived

Well here I go again! Welcome to the relaunching DevraDoWrite. I hope you like the new “look.”

For starters, I have added a new category – Lives Well Lived – that will spotlight people and programs that make a positive difference, large or small. First up in that category is a man and his dog story. William Hurskin took in a 40-plus-pound 11-year-old English bulldog named Nigel. The ‘old dog’ had been rehabilitated by the Asper de Tyson Foundation and Sanctuary (more about the Foundation in future posts), but Nigel required a very high level maintenance for his ongoing survival. Mr. Hurskin was willing to care for him, and, as it turns out, when Mr. Hurskin was diagnosed with cancer, Nigel took very good care of him.

Benny Powell, R.I.P.

b. March 1, 1930, d. June 26, 2010

The funeral will be held
July 12, 7 PM
Saint Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street)
New York, New York 10022-4610

A jazz service is being planned and is likely to include: Randy Weston and African Rhythms, a classical piece on violin played by one of his nieces, and Nextep featuring Frank Wess (Benny’s last group with whom he recorded). There will be New Orleans Brass band to play first and second line.

Condolences may be sent to:
Lisa Dickerson
3128 Westover Drive SE
Washington DC 20020

Instead of flowers the family has setup an education fund for his Grandchildren.
Kyle and Faith Swetnam
CO Evelyn Nolan (Grandmother)
2890 Emerald Spring Dr
Lawrenceville GA 30095

Benny died on the morning of June 26th. He was at Roosevelt Hospital, in New York City, recovering from successful spinal surgery when he died from causes not yet determined. He may have suffered a fatal heart attack, but the official report is not due until later this week.

Benny is survived by his daughter Demitra Powell Clay, his grandchildren Faith and Kyle Swetnam, his sister Elizabeth Powell McCrowey, his nieces, Lisa Dickerson who was in New York with him for the surgery, Terri Dickerson Hawkins, Patrice Dickerson, Laurie Dickerson, Verna Von Holtzclaw, Ann McCrowey Mickle and Bennette Brown; his nephews Bryon Brown, Craig Brown, Gilbert Mc Crowey Michael McCrowey, and Scott McCrowey; Barry K. Cooper, whom he loved as a son, and a host of grand nephews, nieces, cousins, and dear friends.

[info as of 7/1/2010]

No I’m not dead

Hello loyal readers, and special welcome to newcomers via Spark Minute.

I spent most of July finishing up some new websites for clients and finally built a new one for my web production business too — if you want to see, click here you will find links to all my clients’ sites. I wanted to go to WordCamp, a two day gathering of bloggers/WordPress users — that’s where Sparks met my tech buddy and guru Robert, but alas a trip to NYC had top priority. That’s where I am now. It may be a slow blogging summer, but I expect to be back on a regular publishing schedule soon.

Stay tuned.

Frustration and Relief

Oh joy! No sarcasm. I really am overjoyed that after much frustration over silly technical glitches caused by a cross between my own learning curve and some gremlins, I can finally announce the re-launch I am at least a week behind my self-imposed schedule, but better late than never. And I never would have made it this far if not for the technical expertise of the world’s best neighbor, Robert.

A few weeks ago in a two-part posting (here and here) I explained my exodus from ArtistShare and told you that the new SnapSizzleBop will be reborn with a new tag line: Shop, Look & Listen. The Look & Listen pages feature free access to news, pictures, audio and video clips relating to my current projects — “At the Feet of a Jazz Master,” “Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson,” and a series of short pieces titled Neighborhood Narratives. Those who sign up for the email announcement list will be automatically notified when new files are posted. The “shop” part will be an online store where you can buy our books and other items.

One thing that took up some time was adapting the shopping cart module, but it was the multimedia components that took me awhile to work out. I purchased a very affordable suite of flash media players from a company called Lucid Flash. They have created an easy to use group of flash players for audio, video, and images. All you have to do is copy the code they give you into your web page, then fill-in the variables that provide instructions to the player (things like the name of the file(s) to play, and how many files, etc), upload everything to the online server and you’re good to go.

So why did I have problems? Not because of Lucid Flash; in fact they held my hand through repeated attempts to troubleshoot the problems even though the problems were not theirs. My first problem was that I forgot that the online world of code pays attention of upper and lowercase characters, so if XYZ.doc is the filename and you tell it xyz.doc it will not find it. My second problem was that some programs view certain characters as special. I knew that the ampersand character was not to be used in a filename, but I did not know that the programs I was using did not want to see a plus sign as part of the filename either. I took me awhile to stumble onto that little fact. I won’t bore you with the rest of the stumbling blocks, except to say that sometimes when you move files around online they don’t end up intact and the last problem I had seemed to be that the video files somehow got corrupted. Don’t know how—that’s the part I blame on gremlins.

So, is now officially launched and I hope that you’ll visit to hear some music, listen to some interviews, watch some video clips, and flip through our photo albums.

Transitions – Part II

Before I get back to my plans vis a vis ArtistShare, allow me two short digressions. Two weeks ago I attended a National Writers Workshop and heard speak some writers I have long admired. Some of the “stories” they write are more slice-of-life/snapshots than news stories (ie the stuff I love) Pulitzer Prize winner Jacqui Banaszynski was inspiring, as was Rocky Mountain News Columnist Tina Griego, but it was depressing, too, because these writers are on-staff at newspapers and/or teaching — they have a big platform/assignments and/or other income. Such jobs are few, many in jeopardy, and not a viable option for a 50-something year old writer seeking entry.

Two days later, reading Hilton Als look at the life of Ralph Ellison (The New Yorker, May 7, 2007, p74) I found this quote from the prologue of Ellison’s Invisible Man

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those that haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Granted, he was writing in the 1950s about the “invisibility” of “Negros” but looking around today I see lots of invisible people – they may be poor or homeless, physically or mentally challenged, or set apart by cultural or socioeconomic differences, but they are people, and they should have a voice. We should see them, and come to understand them.

Again I am plagued by the lack of compensation for doing the kind of writing that I think is important. And again I start thinking that I have my own online platform and that *if I write it, they will come* — okay, am I about to naively make the same mistake all over again? I hope not.

My resistance up to now has been one of self-identity. Having been a publicist in years past I am aware of the power of image and public perception. I am also haunted by the phrase ‘jack-of-all-trades, master of none’ Writing is not a hobby. I have spent years studying and honing my craft and I want to be known first and foremost as a writer, not as a personal manager, or publicist, or web designer… who also happens to write.

That being said, I also want to pay my bills. The problem, a friend tells me, is that I am trying to make my passion pay the bills. (Actually my mother has been telling me that for a long time, but sometimes we tend not to listen to our parents.) What I have decided to do is change my focus and restore my priorities. Or, as a friend put it to me this morning over coffee and mixed metaphors, “Stop tilting at windmills. Just grab on to one of the spokes and ride the Ferris wheel.” And then there is this apropos quotation:

The writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratification, is a curious anticlimax. ~Alfred Kazin, Think, February 1963

Well, I’m not so sure it’s an anticlimax, but here’s the big picture: I define myself as being a writer. I am going to concentrate on the writing and keep trying to “get noticed” through the quality of my work and word-of-mouth and click-of-mouse. In other words I am going to pursue my passion regardless of recompense. AND, instead of wasting time and energy tilting at windmills, I will allot ‘that’ time to building web sites for paying clients. In other words, passion and practicality will henceforth be separate but equal, one feeding the soul, the other putting wine in the fridge and bread on the table.

The smaller picture is this: SnapSizzleBop will be reborn with a new tag line: Shop, Look & Listen. The “shop” part will be an online store where you can buy books and other items. The Look & Listen part will feature, for FREE, news and clips relating to my current projects — “At the Feet of a Jazz Master,” “Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson,” and a series of short pieces titled Neighborhood Narratives. These will be the slice-of-life type of stories I enjoy, and I think they will provide contrast and balance to the book-length projects that are underway. Those who sign up for the email announcement list will be automatically notified when new files become available.

I’m not expecting the store to generate any big bucks, but it will be a convenient place to buy our wares — I’m thinking of the books and perhaps some cards or coffee mugs made from our personal photo collection. But my real hope is that the free content will be of interest to a wide audience and that you will enjoy looking and listening audio and video clips, photo galleries, and such. And I’d love it if the Neighborhood Narratives create even a local buzz. Given the stories shared by the narrative newspaper writers at the one-day conference I mentioned, coupled with responses that I’ve had recently to my blog post about the death of my long-time friend Les “Coach” Fernandez, I really do believe that there is a wider audience out there interested in stories about average people.

I still think we should be able to earn a living as writers covering stories we feel to be important, even if those stories speak to a smaller audience, but I sure am tired of ramming my head against a wall. So, if you know anyone who needs the services of an ace writer or web-builder, send them my way for I am both…or as some dear friends have dubbed me, SuperD.

Stay tuned at DevraDoWrite. I’ll let you know when the transition is complete and SnapSizzleBop is back in action. I hope to have it up and running by next week.

Transitions – Part I

Two years ago I began blogging, and it’s been great. And yes, I will continue, but not for the reasons I started. The “biz wiz” (business wisdom) was, and still is, build a platform. That was the chorus sung by publishers and agents. (Remember the movie Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.”) So, I built my platform and have developed a small but respectable and fairly consistent readership – worldwide, figuratively from Borneo to Nome. (Remember that old bit of lyric from Guy’s & Dolls? That’s a post of it’s own for another day) In reality, last week’s DevraDoWrite readers hailed from Japan, Australia, Brazil, Singapore, Scandinavia, Turkey, France, Poland, the UK and of course the US. My readership is wonderfully eclectic, but not yet large enough to impress anybody.

Still, blogging has other benefits that are perhaps more important and less tangible. Blogging motivates me to write often and better, and the more I write, the better I write and the more confident I feel. (Teachers told me that would true, but I didn’t realize how true!) Blogging also allows me to connect with others (you) in a way that is often missing from the solitary nature of a writer’s life. So, this brings me back to the old dilemma — what’s more important in life, commerce or the other stuff?

I tried to find a compromise, a way to merge the artistic and the humanistic with the need to make some money, a/k/a crass commercialism. ArtistShare seemed to be the solution. So a year ago I registered the SnapSizzleBop domain and then spent five-plus months prepping three projects for launch. Why three? Well, not having a large pre-existing fan base I thought the combination of my readers plus John’s friends and colleagues, plus Clairdee’s fans and Leroy’s network would create a synergy – a critical mass sufficient to generate a buzz and hopefully some sales. I thought that the subjects of jazz history, biography, photography and singing would be of interest to a broad spectrum of people. We launched in mid October and today, seven months in, sales are tepid and not sufficient to cover the expense. Biz wiz? Cut your losses and re-assess.

I was the first writer to try out the ArtistShare model. Dan Ouellette, writing the authorized biography of Ron Carter, has since joined the ranks and I wish him the best of luck. If it works well for him, I suspect it will not be because of *his* fans (though I am sure he has a following from his work in Downbeat, Billboard, and other publications), but more so because of Ron Carter’s stature. I have come to believe that people today only want to peek behind the scenes at those who have already attained some degree of fame, and that fame is often defined by being onstage (or onscreen) rather than ‘onpaper.’ Yes, there are some who might just want to see a work in progress, regardless of the artist’s ‘fame quotient’ but they are mostly students hoping for a how-to manual and their plates are already quite full with school assignments. Others who, in theory, might be interested are an older demographic — while comfortable with email and perhaps an iPod, they do not live online and they prefer holding books in their hands and watching movies on a larger screen.

I may be all wrong about what audiences want and don’t want and whether they want it online. Or maybe I’m just not waiting long enough for the tide to turn. If so, it won’t be the first time that I am out of sync with the tides. I just heard the news that Simon and Schuster is creating author videos to post on YouTube. The Wall Street Journal says “the videos will address such issues as how authors get their ideas, personal anecdotes about how they became authors, and a sense of who they are as people.” But I still think that the artists/writers will have to have avid fans and/or more than an iota of fame to be of interest.

I remain a supporter of ArtistShare — “where the fans are making it happen.” It’s a great concept, and I myself am a fan participating in half-a-dozen or so projects by other artists. But even I, who am something of a tech maven, am having trouble keeping up online. I also have to admit that I am part of that older demographic and I do prefer books in hand and movies on a larger screen.

So what to do?

Testing Update

So now I’ve figured out how to create a little banner ad that floats at the top of the page instead of inside a blog posting, and it is also a link. If I created several of them they would rotate with each time someone visits the site. A pretty cool tool, and while I promise not to abuse it, I do think that I’ll leave that top banner up for awhile.

Why? Because I spent a lot of time over the last few days revamping the SnapSizzleBop website. It was confusing to visitors who were not sure what was there or how to go about finding stuff. I think–I hope–that it is clearer now, and on the home page I’ve included samples from each of the projects. I hope you’ll take a look.


I have been designing a lot of web sites these last couple of months – some are blogs, others are complex content managemet systems built with Joomla, and others are simpler html-based sites. Now a client is asking about advertising on a blog and rather than experiment with that site, I thought it might bebetter to experiment on my own blog site…just in case.

I just created two “ads” – one for each of my two ArtistShare projects. After this paragraph you should see one of them, followed by the last paragrph of my post. I think that every time someone comes to DevraDoWrite it will alternate.

At the Feet of a Jazz Master - a new online project
with jazz bassist-turned-talent manager, John Levy.

Rest assured that I have no plans to sell ads on DevraDoWrite, but depending on how this works, I might continue to place inside a blog post an occassional announcement about my own projects. Or maybe I’ll try a thin banner at the top of the page. We’ll see…

Comments, anyone?

At the urging of several readers, I am going to experiment with allowing Comments. If I’ve got the settings right, comments will not show up until I see and approve them, not for censorship but to protect us all from the gazillions of spam messages. So let’s give it a try.
To comment on a particular blog post, click on the Comments link shown on the right side just below the headline, date and category lines for that post.