Adventures in Marketing — Week 401

Sold a “Most Outrageous” and received an advance payment on a “Bob on Bob.”
The book buyer was “Rick the Roofer” (not his real name or occupation or, for that matter, the identifying facts that follow). Rick has lived an exotic life, one with back-to-nature hippie/musicians in Mendocino County, a Peace Corps stint in Tanzania, and a graduate degree in Elizabethan poetry. There has also never been a conversation in the café within his hearing that he has not felt would benefit from his participation. (Often he is correct.)
This particular morning it had been Fran (See recent previous “Adventures”) telling me about Gertrude Stein. Fran has read her complete works and I only “Alice B. Toklas” and Rick’s contributions made Fran ask if he had read her at all, but we came out of it on good enough terms that Rick decided he should buy another of my books. He had already read “Cheesesteak” and “Lollipop,” one of which he had sent to a friend (a professor? a writer? I forget) in Massachusetts whose opinions Rick greatly respects and his friend had praised the book sufficiently to legitimate me in Rick’s eyes to risk his wife’s displeasure at his bringing this one home.

The pre-order was from a doctor-friend of a doctor-friend whom I know – the friend of my friend that is – primarily through a basketball/politics e-mail discussion group involving a loosely affiliated, half-dozen amateur experts. (I also heard from a neighbor of his with whom I have had no contact whatsoever that he wants a copy too. Word-of-mouth is working.)
In other news:

1.) The printer advises “Bob on Bob” has shipped ahead of schedule and will be here Thursday. If everyone is as good as their word, only 30 copies remain available, so secure yours now. Lay ten bucks on me in person or send $15 to Spruce Hill Press, POB 9492, Berkeley, CA 94709.
2.) Faithful readers may recall my being asked to write a feature article about a controversial figure I had never heard of, who had edited a controversial magazine I had never read, and who had taken his own life before he was thirty in a spectacular fashion which was also news to me. Moreover I could find no one in his family who would talk to me and prominent figures in his professional past also ignored my requests.
But things are looking up. I found all the comics he’d edited available on line, free. (WOW!) And with the input of the editor who gave me the assignment, I’ve had lengthy conversations with several men who worked with him, all of whom have been generous with their time and sharing of stories. Since I’d literally begun with nothing, it’s been thrilling to see the pages fill. My editor wanted five-to-ten thousand words, and though I think three-to-five are more likely, they will be good words, and it should be fine.

The Most Interesting

My latest piece is up at:

It begins like this:

After Marilyn told Adele that she and Grif were packing winter clothes for the Buddhist retreat in New Mexico, Adele asked me if New Mexico wasn’t hot.
“They have mountains,” I said, “and mountains have snow.”
“Do all mountains have snow?”
“Come to think of it, why should any mountains have snow? Aren’t they closer to the sun? Shouldn’t deserts have the snow?”
“When you’re at the café, ask Fran.”

Adventures in Marketing — Week 400

No café sales – but four checks arrived for “Bob on Bob.”
One was from a pal from my old pick-up basketball game. One was from a college friend. One was from a former secretary/poet and one was from a FB “friend” I don’t know personally but seems to have connected to me through the comix world. So various aspects of my life were represented, which feels nice.

In other news…
1.) Regular readers may recall my observation that visitors my table to whom I give my card, no matter how pleasant or interested they appear, never contact me again. They may also recall the young woman from China studying at Cal who came to the café one Sunday because the library was closed but never came again, so far as I know. We’d had a memorable chat, in which I’d mentioned “beatniks” and “hippies” and she had written both words down for further study because she had never heard of either. Anyway, out of the blue – and from China – arrived an email, saying how much she had enjoyed Berkeley and meeting me and that she hoped to return to UCB, her “dream school, for graduate work. (She also thanked me for telling her “story” in my blog, so I have a reader in China! A previously untapped market for my work.)
2.) My table had other visitors of interest. First was a Canadian woman of Iraqui-Jewish heritage (on her mother’s side), with floppy black hair, who arrivedevery morning in the same full-length, black, shiny, plastic raincoat, looking like she had stepped in off Carnaby Street in 1965. She is in town while working on AI, via “diagramatology,” which is Greek to me but mother’s milk to “Stan” (see previous “Adventures”), who leant her books on the subject. He mentioned my article about an AI-created book and she requested the link. I sent it, and that has been the end of that.
Then there was a couple from Utah. (He had been born here, but while they love Berkeley, have decided Utah needs their politics more.) He had shoulder length curly and wore an SF Giants cap, red zipper jacket and grey slacks. His seemingly much younger fiancee wore a knit hat, rust-colored sweater, and polka dotted pants. He edit/publishes a cycling magazine and she is a chemist. We discussed the challenges of publishing, and they fingered my books but bought none. (They were in a hurry to search out his mother’s favorite stuffing for Thanksgiving.) She took my card and asked if my books were available at my website. Hopeful, I allowed myself to imagine.


Adventures in Marketing — Week 399

Sold a “Fully Armed’ and a café journal.
The latter went to my former client (See: “Adventures” 398), who paid me a visit while in the East Bay taking his dog to the vet. We had not seen each other in, oh, 45 years, and he now works as a film/video editor and plays Appalachian-style folk guitar on the side. While we were catching up, he recognized two of the cafes pre-eminent personages, one whom he knew from the music scene back in Detroit and one who had worked closely in avant-garde theater in SF with another friend of his. Both had contributed to the journal, so I didn’t hesitate pushing one on him. With all three of us signing, who knows what it might fetch on eBay.
The FA went to “Stan.” (See multiple recent “Adventures.”) I had thought I only had three copies left, but then I noticed a carton-full in the basement, along with three boxes of “Best Ride,” holding my heavy bag in place. So Stan bought a book, meaning he lacks only a “Pirates and the Mouse” for a complete set of Levins. He’s already read most of FA, engaging me in a discussion of narrative voices (Jimmy’s and mine) and their effect on readers (him), which is a good discussion to have about this book in particular.

In other news…
1.) Had a pleasant meeting with “Vlad Z,” a Serbian engineering student, and “Lizzie,” his Japanese-American girlfriend, a Russian history and lit major, whom I impressed by name-dropping “Oblomov.” They didn’t buy, but now we smile and nod across the café.
2.) Two more requests for “Bob on Bob” have arrived, one from an old basketball buddy and one from a woman at the café. And the first two checks have arrived, one from a college friend and one from a lawyer/Dylanphile, whom I was planning on gifting but insisted on supporting my “art.”
3.) The proof-read “Messiahs, Meshuganahs…” has reached the publisher. I have secured two “name” comix artist/writers, one from my generation, one from the subsequent, to provide cover blurbs and a not-just-comix critic to consider reviewing it. (“I’m always interested in what you write, Bob.”) So that is rolling along.
4.) May not have previously mentioned my newest project, but I have been asked to write a feature article about the controversial editor of a controversial comics magazine of the 1990s. All issues of the magazine are available on-line, which is fortunate, but the controversy is such that so far no member of the fellow’s family and only one of his co-workers and/or friends has agreed to speak to me. But I carry on.
5.) There is one more even better story, but I have spun it off into a separate piece for FOM. Follow this space for future details.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 398

Sold a “Cheesesteak.”
The buyer was a short woman with short grey hair. She was from Wilmington but had gone to Tyler School of Art in 1969 and had fond feelings for Philly. She had studied fabric design but, arriving out here, had found she couldn’t make a living from it, so she had enrolled in a horticulture program at Merritt College and has worked in gardening since. I’d been seeing her at the café for years, but this was the first time my books had caught her eye. Now I have a new friend.
Incidental conversations with – but no sales to – (a) a recent emigre from Algeria (close cropped hair and beard), who has a PhD in economics but no job and (b) a free-lance programmer (tall, thin, bald, big beard), last name was Little (“As in ‘small’”). He works in conjunction with AI programs – and is looking forward to being replaced by them.
The programmer was interested in “Most Outrageous” since his mother had split the family apart with charges she had been sexually abused by her father. He joined “Rex” (See last few “Adventures”) and I for a lengthy conversation. Both Rex and he were gamers, and when he learned Rex had been an animator on “The Little Mermaid” (1989 version) engaged him on actual scenes on which Rex had worked.
“When’s the last time that happened to you?” I asked Rex the next day.

In other news…
1.) The big story is the announcement, via group email (60-75 recipients) and FB post (3-400 “friends,” with some duplicates), of the availability date of “Bob on Bob.” The emails produced 16 orders, (with three requests for two copies), and FB brought three more (one for two copies). [Added to previous orders and “freebies” set aside, only 43 copies remain uncommitted.) For the statistic-obsessed, like myself, of the 29 people I had projected as “most likely” to order, 12 did; of the 15 considered “possible,” two did; of the six friends with whom I regularly lunch, one did (but I’m still counting on the others). Two people I hadn’t expected to order did; so did one person previously unknown to me. She was a friend of a client from 45-years-ago who had recently re-established contact with me. He had received my email, which he had forwarded to her in the desert near Mexico.
She turned out to be a singer/songwriter who toured – and had a romance – with Bob (the other one) in the 1980s, about which she has written her own book. She planned to buy mine, but I proposed we swap.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 397

Sold a “Lollipop” and swapped a “Best Ride” for services rendered.
The sale was to one of the first friends I’d made in Berkeley, who dropped by the café and said, “I don’t have that one.” The swap was to Stan (See Adventure 396), who observed that the stand which props up my “Buy Bob’s Books” sign was held together by Scotch tape and took it home and fixed its hinges.
The only other interest in my wares came from a black-haired, swarthy complected, baby toting, British-accented young man on leave from a job researching international charitable organizations. He turned out to be descended from Marrano Jews. That, I correctly noted, gave him a Right of Return, which, he qualified, would do him no good since it did not apply to his wife, who, while Jewish, was not of Spanish origin.

In other news…
1.) The young woman who did not call me last week scheduled a second phone call – and did not call me then. She did call the next day and we had a nice chat. She said she wanted to interview me for a book she is contemplating about older writers she admires. I said I would be delighted, though this “admiration” seems based entirely upon an article I wrote about her father and stems from my revealing things about him she had never known. (I also suspect that, unless she admires writer with a larger profile, this book will not get far.)
2.) A greater honor to come my way is an invitation to appear at a NY Comics & Picture Story Symposium next year:
I’d be able to talk about whatever I want, and if it corresponds with FU’s production schedule, would seem like a good time to focus on “Messiahs, Meshuganahs…”
3.) Which is progressing nicely, thank you. The proofreaders have cleared another 150 pages, leaving about 50 to go. (“Bob on Bob” has made it too the printer’s, so copies of that may be arriving shortly. One more has been spoken for, by a high school classmate. So reserve yours before all are gone.)
4.) Finally, my review of “Oblivion” ( drew responses that termed my prose “ confused,” “meandering and largely unreadable,” and “weirdo libertarian garbage” and took the opportunity to blast the book’s publisher for supporting authors who are misogynist, sexually predatory toward trans people, and facistic, racially-tinged paranoids.
So far my invitation to the NYCPSS has not been withdrawn.

The Abolition of Man

My latest article has gone up at It begins:

“Abolition” collects five comics by Carson Grubaugh published in late 2022 into a book whose impact those of us of a certain age more commonly associate with Kool-Aid Acid Tests. Each raises head-rewiring issues capable of, if not causing one to jump naked out of windows, launching a thousand seminar discussions.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 396

Sold a “Lollipop,” a “Most Outrageous,” and a café journal.
The first two went to my well-read electrician/visual artist/musician buddy. (Let’s give him a name: “Stan.” He is 60 and a graduate of one of the Little Three.) He’s become good for 30 minutes of conversation daily, which is welcome since I’m not deeply engaged in any writing at the moment. I think he’s got his sites on “The Pirates and the Mouse” next.
The journal went to an elderly Chinese woman who, once we’d spoken, turned out to be an elderly Korean woman. (She works at UC in the Engineering Department,) What was unusual was we had been seeing each other in the café for months without so much as a nod between us when she stopped at my table and was struck by that book among the others on dispaly. I think she saw it as a glimpse into Berkeley history.
Also picked up two verbal pre-orders for a “Bob on Bob,” one from a high school classmate and one from a lawyer pal (and Dylan fan).

In other news…
1.) Interest in my work from (a) a Chinese-American woman, a student of astro-physics, and (b) an 84-year-old Caucasian woman, happily retired from work with computers went nowhere.
2.) No news on “Messiahs…” but signed up with a printer for “Bob.” Now we have to get the pdfs to it, and it has to get the books to me. Before December still seems doable.
3.) A question of my centrality to the comix world has arisen, at least in my mind. It seems that a convention was held at the Berkeley Public Library this weekend and not only had the ordinary comings-and-goings of my life not brought word of it to me, but the organizers had not recognized, “Hey, Bob Levin lives amongst us” and extended an invitation. This was both a lesson in humility – and a pride-enhancing affirmation of my iconoclastic positioning in relation to the medium.
4.)Speaking of humility-enhancing, I received an e-mail from a film maker/actress/writer, whose father, an UG cartoonist, I had written about a year-and-a-half ago. I hadn’t heard from her since. Now she wanted to talk. “About what?” I said. “I think you’re a terrific writer,” she said, “and I want to know about your career.” “I wouldn’t exactly call it a ‘career,’” I said, “but…” There is nothing I would rather talk about than my writing. Not the Warriors. Certainly not the Middle East. We set a date and time.
I spent much of the intervening time myself running questions and answers in my head. A few fantasies intruded, which I tried to keep at bay. I jotted down points I wanted to cover in a pocket notebook. I instructed myself on the proper attitude to maintain. I ensured that my phone was both charged and turned on.
The time came. The time went. The phone did not ring.
I e-mailed. Confusion? Mistake?
No response was forthcoming.

Last Ten Books Read (XXII)

Last 10 Books Read (XXII)
(In Order of Completion)

1. Bird & Sherwin. “American Prometheus.” I had read this when it came out, but after the Oppenheimer movie was released, I decided to do it again. It’s terrific, and I doubt the movie can tell me more.

2. Gene Clements. “Train 6 Party Mix.” My café pal Gene’s latest effort of light-hearted (not-just-for-seniors-this-time) erotica. Entertaining – and educational.

3. Louis Menand. “The Metaphysical Club.” Fine book, but at times too dense for me, and the connections often eluded. Menand sure is smart but his “New Yorker” articles are a lot more clearly written

4. Griffin Dix. “Who Killed Kenzu?” When our friend Griff’s teenage son died as a result of an accidental shooting, the tragedy launched him into devoting his life’s work to gun-control. This is his wrenching, powerful account of this loss and this struggle.

5. William Maxwell. “The Chateau.” The last remaining novel in the trilogy I picked up from a Free Little Library. Nice account of a young American couple vacationing in France in 1948, with an engaging, entertaining postscript.

6. Hank Rosenfeld. “The Jive 95.” Met Hank at the café. We connected because another regular had laid “Best Ride” on him, which he’d loved. His book is an oral history of KSAN, the landmark Bay Area UG radio station. What characters!! What drugs!! Those were the days – and nights.

7. Autumn Stephens. “Wild Women.” Met Autumn at an Authors’ Guild get-together, and we swapped some books. This one of hers is a series of spiritedly written mini- (two or three page) bios of, well, “wild” women. Each would be a fit subject for a full length bio – and most, if not all, have received at least one if your interest is whetted.

8. William Gaddis. “Carpenter’s Gothic.” Recommended by my friend Cary. It’s started me on a Gaddis-kick (See lists-to-come) and seems the most accessible of his novels. He’s certainly a major 20th century novelist – and damned funny – but not for the faint of heart or easily daunted.

9. Michael Dowers, ed. “Newave,” an anthology of UG mini-comix of the 1970s and ‘80s. It partially filled a major gap in my knowledge, and the interviews were informative, but the comix.. Well, there were maybe two I would show to strangers.

10. Dan Clowes. “Monica.” Clowes is a creator who is greatly respected by greatly respected authorities (enough to merit a front page in the NYTBR), but he is not the only one so respected whose greatness eludes me. I spent most of this thinking fondly of “Ghost World.” But the last half-dozen pages really kicked it into gear. Someone posted at FB, this book needs reading two or three times, and that might be so.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 395

Sold three books.
My friend Budd (not to be confused with my friend Bud), a great champion of IWKYA, bought a copy to give a physician in charge of a program for first year medical students at Harvard. Budd, an HMS graduate himself, believes all doctors-to-be should read it because of the importance of the physician-patient relationship at its core.
Who am I to disagree?

Then a “Cheesesteak” and a “Lollipop” went to a 30-ish woman from India, a self-described “nomad,” who came to the US for college in Indiana, dropped out, lived in New York, Virginia, Berkeley, and was presently in Mexico teaching yoga at an orphanage and planning to return in time for the Day of the Dead when she will be working to repair the destruction from a recent hurricane.
Easily among the most interesting people my books have brought me into contact with.

And in a related transaction, faithful readers will recall the father and son visiting from Hawaii to whom I’d sold a “Cheesesteak.” A few days later, the café owner told me the father had called from Honolulu. He had lost the book and wanted another copy. Since I usually never hear from people I have given my card, I was so impressed by his interest, when I called back, I said I would send a replacement gratis.
When I checked on-line for his Zip Code, I saw he had paid a million-three for his house, so I guess I could have asked for postage.

In other news…
1.) Interest in my books was expressed by (a) a PhD in AI from India, with horn-rimmed glasses and green sweater, who thought the graphics “very cool”; (b) an English Lit major, with a Jason Bateman-look, in white t-shirt and shorts, who is a fan of Iris Murdoch and Cormac McCarthy, and © an eight-year-old boy, who asked if I had drawn my “Meet the Author” poster myself. No sales have resulted, though I gave everyone but the eight-year-old my card.
2.) Only about one-third of Messiahs remains to be proofread, so it could be hands of the publisher by Thanksgiving, or soon thereafter. And two printers who made the final cut for Bob on Bob have sent samples of their work (and one has promised some), so I expect to make a decision this week on that.
Five more people have said they want copies so less than 70 remain (and I have not yet sent out a group email of availability). So, if you want to assure receipt of one, $10 to me in person or $15 to Spruce Hill Press, POB 9492, Berkeley 94709.