Archive for Writers

Eric Burdon Revisited

I’m walking along an aisle in a Medford, Oregon restaurant. In front of me, a short, older man shuffles along. His short-cropped gray hair and elf-like ears look vaguely familiar, but I pay little notice. Until I get to my seat, that is, and turn around to see that I recognize the man. It’s Eric Burdon!

Eric Burdon, frontman for the Animals, originator of War, songwriter, Hall of Fame singer. Right over there. We had seen him perform the night before, at the Britt Festival. I was with Cameron, Ava’s son. In doing some work for the Festival, he had secured a couple tickets to the show and thought of me. Nice.

Cameron knew I had a history with Eric Burdon, but he didn’t know the extent. Ever since I heard “The House of the Rising Sun” in 1964, I’ve been a follower. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, “It’s My Life”, “Paint It Black.” These songs spoke to me, and the way he sang them—raw, gritty—made them even more meaningful. I’ll never forget listening to “Sky Pilot” playing continuously on the jukebox in our high school cafeteria. I was a senior, the Vietnam war was raging, and I was face-to-face with the draft.

Fast-forward thirty years. I was long out of high school, and college for that matter. I was teaching, and writing too. Eric was still making music, but he had undergone some changes as well. His bands changed multiple times, and he added different types of music—funk, jazz, psychedelic—to his repertoire. He continued to tour, but was performing in smaller venues.

In 1998, when I heard he was going to play in a club near me, I called the local paper and asked if they would be doing an article about Eric and his band. They said no. When I offered to write one, they agreed.

I contacted Eric’s publicist and arranged for a phone interview. Most of the interviews I’d done previously had been in person so I was a little concerned about the phone part. What if the connection was bad? What if I didn’t set up the tape recorder correctly? More importantly, though, was what if he was evasive, patronizing, or worse—unresponsive? Simply put, what if he was a jerk?

My concerns were totally unfounded. The technical parts went smoothly. The personal part was even better. He was amiable and patient. He was gracious. We spoke for about a half hour. No rush or hurry. I asked all the questions I had planned, and threw a few more in along the way.

He talked about how a teacher had caught him drawing during class and, instead of reprimanding Eric, had helped him get into art school, which opened up a new world for him. He spoke about how he had been a “gun fanatic” when he moved to the U.S. and how living here had showed him “…what an unbelievably stupid game it is.” He admitted he was not a very good grandfather.

I enjoyed talking to Eric so much that I requested a follow-up interview when he came to town. There was no real reason to do that as my article had already been written and printed in the newspaper. I just wanted to have another conversation. Obviously, I didn’t share that information when I spoke to the publicist. She set up an interview on the day of the show.

I arrived early at the venue, when the band was doing their sound check. Eric was not there yet; he was back at the motel doing his laundry according to the bass player, Dave Meros. I hung around, watched and listened. It wasn’t long before Eric showed. Short and solid as a fireplug, he wore large sunglasses, an over-sized t-shirt, shorts, tube socks, and sneakers. Holding a classic gym bag by the handles, he could have easily been mistaken for a veteran P.E. teacher.

We talked in a back room, with a large table in the center that held snacks and drinks. Eric and I took up the seats at a corner of the table. The rest of the band filled the remaining seats. While Eric and I talked about his music, his plans, and world events, the other musicians ate, drank, joked, and laughed. Drummer Aynsley Dunbar tapped out rhythms on the table.

That was eighteen years ago. Eric Burdon was 57 years old then. Now he’s 75 and I’m standing in a Medford restaurant asking him if he’d take a picture with Cameron and I. Of course he agrees. I don’t mention the interviews long ago, just tell him I enjoyed the show last night and look forward to seeing him again. He smiles and walks off. Slowly.



Cover Decided


Okay, we have two great shots, but only one front cover. What to do? I know what some of you are saying: “Put the other one on the back cover.” Sorry, but that doesn’t work. There are front cover shots and there are back cover shots. Don’t try to mix them up.

It was a difficult choice between the two photographs. One has the complete overview of the stadium at the beginning of a game; the other, with the motorcycle, flags, and the team, is a closer look at the same point in time.

Even though the full stadium shot more closely resembles the cover shot of my Game Day: Behind the Scenes of a Ballpark book that I did earlier, I wanted something different for this book. Something more dynamic. More eye-catching. So, I chose the closer look. To make it look even closer, the shot will be cropped and enlarged a bit.

I feel comfortable with the choice. But, what to do with the other shot? I didn’t want to leave it “on the cutting room floor.” It’s just too darn good. That shot will be in the book, right across from the cover page to complete that layout. Perfect!

Thanks to those who made comments and sent e-mails and messages. All of you made good points, which I carefully considered in making a decision. I appreciate your input, and I hope you like the final product.


The winnah! (still to be cropped and enlarged)

The winnah! (still to be cropped and enlarged)


What’s in a Cover?

Do book covers matter?

Yes, I think they do. It’s what catches a potential reader’s eye, and it can make the difference of someone picking up the book or not. I know that as a reader.

So, when it came time to deciding on a cover for Game Day with the Oregon Ducks: An Insider’s Look at a UO Football Game, it was important to take the time to consider the possibilities. And, there were many. More than 3,000, to be exact.

Yes, ace photographer Jack Liu took that many for the book. Why so many, when fewer than 100 will be used? Because there are so many variables involved, including lighting, facial expressions, and what the action is. The more photos you have, the more options you have in choosing.

From the 3,000 photos, we narrowed it down to two:



Which would you choose?


Three Questions: Joel Booren

Three Questions is a periodic feature of this blog. The focus is on three questions asked of everyday people involved in curious pursuits.

Joel Booren is the feature of Three Questions today. Joel is a fourth grader at Ridgeview Elementary School, in Mrs. McCornack’s class. He was the recent winner of the Human Hall of Fame Writing Contest, in which students nominated a person to be in the Human Hall of Fame. Joel’s entry was about Martin Luther King, Jr. (see previous post).

1. How did you come to select Martin Luther King, Jr. as the person to nominate?

I remember watching videos about black people and the way they were treated, and what some people were doing about it.

2. Of all you learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., what should people know about him?

They should know how important he was to the civil rights movement and how he helped to fight racism.

3. Two parter: What do you like best about writing? What do you like least about it?

What I like best is that when I write I get to use my creativity. The worst part is how long it takes.


Good job, Joel! Keep writing.



Ridgeview Writing Stars

Had a great visit at Ridgeview Elementary yesterday in Springfield, Oregon. The occasion was to celebrate the recent Human Hall of Fame Writing Contest. I asked kids to nominate and then make a case for that person to become a member of the Human Hall of Fame. (Of course, there is not a HHoF at this time, but hopefully one day there will be.)

I received entries from several different schools, but I’m pleased to announce that Riverbend had the most entries which, of course, provided them with the best odds of winning. And they did! Joel Booren, a fourth grader in Mrs. McCornack’s class, wrote the winning entry about Martin Luther King, Jr. He made a strong case for King, using interesting details in an easy-to-follow organization. There was a strong voice in his writing and I could tell Joel’s commitment to his choice.

Congratulations to Joel, and to everyone who entered. There were many strong entries, which made it very difficult to select a winner. But I think all who entered are winners because they researched and discovered. That’s what learning is all about.

Joel won a signed copy of The Magic of A.C. Gilbert for himself, and a set of the books for his class to use. These books will be shared with the other fourth grade classes as well, so all the students will be able read the book and participate in the activities that go with it.

Congratulations as well to the teachers who guided students in this project. With all the classroom demands these days, I know how challenging it can be to do a project such as this. However, the quality of the writing and the excitement of the kids I saw leads me to believe it was worth the effort.

As I mentioned to the group, Ridgeview is a special place for me. It was there that I did my very first Author Visit during the winter of 1989. Since then, I’ve done hundreds of Author Visits, from as near as my local school to as far as Argentina. But it was that first visit that I remember best, and what a great experience it was!


Addressing the 4th grade troops


Joel, winner of the Human Hall of Fame Writing Contest

Joel Booren, winner of the Human Hall of Fame Writing Contest


Gum on Sunday Morning

Gum has a way of sticking with me. For the past week I’ve been working with a producer for CBS’s Sunday Morning program. They’re going to do “something” about gum this week (April 10), and I’ve been providing them with statistics, information, and resources on the topic.

As to what exactly the piece will be about, I don’t know. Maybe I should have asked before getting involved. But what I’ve seen of the show, they do a good job handling topics, even sticky ones!

CBS Sunday Morning airs at different times around the country. Here in Eugene it’s 7 a.m. Other places it’s 8 or 9. Check local listings if you want to take a watch.Chew a piece of gum while you’re at it!


Magic at Guy Lee

I met with the magical 4th graders at Guy Lee Elementary School in Springfield, Oregon. Mrs. Skoog is their teacher. The kids read The Magic of A.C. Gilbert, wrote letters to the business (Pathways Physical Therapy) that sponsored the book, and drew pictures for a timeline that highlighted A.C. Gilbert’s life.

What a great pleasure it was to hear what the students learned about this fascinating man. He was an famous Oregonian during his life, but many people today haven’t even heard of him. Feel free to share what you know about this interesting and accomplished guy in the Comments below.

AC Cover

Teachers learning about A.C. at a conference.

Teachers learning about A.C. at a conference.

Three Questions: Hugh Fullagar

Three Questions is a periodic feature of this blog. The focus is on three questions asked of everyday people involved in curious pursuits.

The subject of this Three Questions post is Hugh Fullagar, sports science coordinator at the University of Oregon. He works in the athletic department and his job is to collect data to help improve player performance and reduce injuries. One of his many duties involves attaching GPS units to the Duck football players’ shoulder pads and collecting information during practices and games that helps coaches make decisions.

1. What experiences did you have that made you want to become a sports scientist?

I’ve always been deeply involved and passionate about sports since I was a kid. As I got older, when I realized I was no good at playing sports, I became really interested in the behind-the-scenes work within elite sport (e.g. coaching, recruitment, tactics, fitness, medical) and during my studies at university I was able to experience and link up with many of these fields in numerous sports. The link between science and sport probably started with my lecturers and supervisors from my universities and then speaking and building relationships with people practicing in the field. Once I realized that much of being a sport scientist is not just about being knowledgeable, but also about how you interact with the people around you, I realized that this is something I love doing. Working and meeting with the variety of people and the different relationships built up around the world is both fun and extremely rewarding.

2. What are the most and least interesting parts of your job?

The most interesting would have to be sitting down with people who are far more experienced than me (i.e. head coach and medical staff, senior athletes, university supervisors) and discussing philosophies not just behind sport science but sport performance in general. Listening to people who are more experienced than yourself is critical to the learning process and continually improving. The least interesting part is definitely cleaning the porta-potty after football games (the Ducks have a collapsible bathroom on their sideline during games.) Don’t let sport science nerds fool you; we are a jack of all trades!

3. What are some basic things people can do to enhance their sports performance?

It sounds corny but eat, train, and sleep right. If you are eating the right things, training appropriately depending on the time of year and your sport (this is obviously hugely variable), and sleeping both from a quality and quantity perspective, you are going to improve from just doing those things. Surround yourself with the right people and do the basics hard and right. Too many people focus on little, irrelevant things which may make up 1% of sport performance rather than doing the basics as well as they possibly can be done. Having a clear and direct mental/cognitive well-being is also highly critical and sometimes an underestimated part of sport performance.

Moving Forward

Okay, most of the pictures are done. Recorded interviews (60) have been heard, and notes taken. A rough (very rough) outline has been made. Now it’s time to get serious.

Well, not real serious. After all, this is going to be a book for kids, not an article for an encyclopedia. It’s going to have to be informative, engaging, WoW-producing, and fun.

The challenge, as with all faction (non-fiction) projects, is selecting the right material to include. I’ve gotten enough information to write a 100-page book, easily. However, this book will be 48 pages, and include photographs. So, this will require a special kind of selectivity, and always with readers in mind.

I have already started my draft, and each day I return to it to revise. This does not always happen in my office on the computer. This happens throughout the day. and night. Last night as I lay in bed, I contemplated some of the details I had included in my draft. Will they stay or will they go?

Only time will tell.

Crunch Time!

The past several weeks have been, indeed, crunch time for my latest project. With only three football games left on the home schedule, I’ve had to hustle to gather the information I need for my Game Day with the Oregon Ducks book. During the weeks, I interviewed key people involved in game day. And then, on the day of the games, I observed, took notes, and interviewed some more. Luckily, I had a great research assistant, so we could divide up the game day work.

To date, I have hours of recorded interviews and a stack of pages filled with notes. Oh, did I mention photos? I’ve got more than 3,000 shots done by the talented Jack Liu. We’ll be needing between 40 and 50 for the book, so there’ll be tons of editing to do. And we’re not done gathering, either. Jack still has more photos to take, and I’ve got interviews and follow-ups to do.

When all that’s completed, the writing comes. I have a good idea as to the format since I’m using my baseball Game Day book as a model. But, there will be differences with this book. It’ll be more specific to one team (the baseball book was more generic), and it will include more facts. I’ve even played with style and tone, but that’s really getting ahead of things. Still, it’s fun, and writing does not have to follow a strict linear path.

Here are some photos I took as I researched. These will be helpful reminders as I recall my observations and experiences.

Band warm-up, by groups

Band warm-up, by groups


Special teams mat

Special teams’ mat


Setting up the sideline

Setting up the sideline


Coaches' headsets

Coaches’ headsets


Five minutes to kickoff

Five minutes to kickoff


Revving up the Harley

Revving up the Harley


Halftime interview with the coach

Halftime interview with the coach