Lost in the Shuffle or The Shelves of Oblivion: The Reality of Your Precious Novel in a Bookstore

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The lousy, which is to say merely glad-handed, response I’d received from all but one of our local indie bookstores (the other being outright smugly, ignorantly and arrogantly devoted to trad published books) has been not just a categorical disappointment but surprisingly inattentive. Because when it comes to the indifference to quality, initiative, innovation or for that matter intelligence on behalf of perhaps 85% of the world’s population I’m pretty used to it. It’s not my first rodeo for one thing, having enjoyed, as the devoted reader will become aware, choking down the bitter pills of my many vocational fiascos. And it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, right? Blah, blah. These so-called booksellers, the “buyers” and managers and such. The same everywhere. Not paying attention, not giving a shit and just doing a job. After enduring the crappy placement on behalf of Blazy Wizdumb and CrookHound (at least they had the book facing out), I’d given Shindola’s a shot with my standard pitch. They responded, as did the other stores, thoughtfully enough:

Dear Carnegie,

Thanks for contacting Shindola’s Books — and congratulations on your new novel! Yes, we do take books on consignment. I’d be happy to meet with you to discuss carrying your book here at Shindola’s. We find that authors with a strong connection to the Ann Arbor area tend to do best in our consignment program. Are  you from the area?

We’re gearing up for our yearly inventory count soon, and will be taking new consignment books again after March 5th. If you’d like to contact me again then, I’d be happy to arrange a time to meet. – Thanks a bunch, M.

Me:

“M, thanks so much. It’s great that you do something to promote indie authors in cooperation with your indie bookseller status – I’ve learned that it’s an incredibly tough business all around to sell books! Since your reply I’ve acquired some experience with a couple other local indie booksellers and I must say that, in all honesty and in a spirit of supportive professionalism, the experience has been less than inspiring. How so?

“I’m sure you would agree that for new titles and more so for authors without a platform (besides that of the so-called “emerging author”) it has to do with placement, display and, heaven knows, a review. So that, as in your store, only the very fortunate books placed face-out on your “Recommended” shelves, or prominently within their proper genre section (sci-fi in my case), accompanied by a staff review card happily extolling the book’s merits, possess anything more than a chance-in-hell (excuse my French) of selling. If that. And while I’ve indeed resided in Ann Arbor for, I don’t know, thirty years or so, it’s just my personal opinion, perhaps, that a “local author” moniker isn’t an effective sales tool.

“Consignment. Again, thanks in advance  for even offering the opportunity. I must say, however, that I’d rather your store purchase the book via Ingramspark which offers the standard industry discount and return policy, so that, to make it even easier on you, if my book didn’t sell after three months I would purchase it from you myself (just email me when you pull it and I’ll zip over and get it off your hands) and you would of course not be reordering it, no harm, no foul, my book gets a registered sale and we part ways good friends. Otherwise, barring your acceptance of the Ingram scenario, I would be happy to sign your consignment agreement for a paperback or hardcover as long as the book receives preferred placement and a staff review per the above. You might be grimacing at this point.

“Nonetheless, again in the spirit of indie cooperation, support and well wishes, please know that, regardless of your decision to display the novel or not, I would be very glad to deliver gratis copies to the number of folks on your staff who are sci-fi fans. No sales pitch, no pressure, I wouldn’t even pester you or your staff with my presence – I’d merely have the books shipped directly to your store as promotional gifts, end of story, no follow up on my part, just reader-to-reader goodwill. Thanks again, I know you’ve heard and seen it all in this business, I look forward to hearing from you. Best regards and happy reading, C.O.”

I should have been intelligent enough to interpret “We find that authors with a strong connection to the Ann Arbor area tend to do best in our consignment program” to mean that only well-connected, shamelessly self-promoting social media mavens and… I don’t know who else, have a chance in hell of selling a book off their shelves. My bad. Because when the buyer responded, it was clear I’d wasted my time:

“Carnegie,

Your message concerning stocking your book at Shindola’s was forwarded to me. I’m not sure if anyone else got back to you, but when I checked, Shindola’s already had a copy on hand. We ordered it from Ingram, where, as you pointed out, it has a standard discount and is returnable. That being the case, we don’t need to worry about you buying it from us if it doesn’t sell–that would be a needless hassle on both sides. – Sincerely, K.”

A needless hassle.  On both sides. Right. Except that I’d tried to explain that now, when the book doesn’t sell and Shindola’s returns it, I lose a sale. And I’ll lose the sale at CrookHound, too, when they return that copy. So that the only two paperbacks I’ve sold through Ingramspark will be rerecorded as returns, hence zeros. Less than zeros because all this costs me money, I’m sure there’s some fee I’ll have to pay for the returns at Ingram. And one would think a bookseller would perhaps at least be sensitive to this when the author has made an effort to inform them. Is it just me? Am I asking too much? Oh, don’t get so upset, consider it an achievement to have your book in the store, you never know, somebody might buy it…. Well, okay, let’s see, take a look at this picture  and you tell me, dear glass-half-full person: how long did it take you to find my book, if you did?

Where oh where can it be?

There is staying positive and taking your lumps and paying your dues and all that, I get it. Keep writing and shelling out thousands of dollars of your own money and consider yourself lucky to have the resources to do it, right? I get it that, too. But I’m naming and claiming this type of disappointment and frustration as legitimate. For fuck’s sake it doesn’t take experience in retail environments let alone bookstores to understand that jamming a first-time indie author’s debut, un-reviewed, industry-outsider novel spine-out in the alphabetical order shelf section (at least it’s the SFF section) with all the non-new-releases is akin to not having it in the store at all. Like I told Kev, I could steal this book and they wouldn’t arrest me. Hell, it took me fifteen minutes of wandering around the store to get a bead on it (still haven’t found it yet, have you?). Anyway, new releases shelves? No. Face out in the SFF section? Nope. Staff picks shelves? Hell no.

People browse in bookstores. (What else is a brick-and-mortar bookstore good for given their categorically lousy selection?). Any bets on whether my book gets browsed? And what about Indie-to-indie support? Yes, Shindola’s, akin to the smugly trad-exclusive Smiteratti downtown (unless it’s a rare exception in their words), could’ve simply refused to stock it. Business is business, bookstores aren’t charities, quit your whining, I get it. Except that what’s the difference between selling a copy of my book and one you’re more comfortable, somehow (as if my cover doesn’t kick the shit out of half the covers on their face-out shelves?) schlepping from a trad publisher? I mean, it’s the commodity trap (same perceived service, only difference is price) that these little shops with their inevitably piddly selections are trying to avoid. Isn’t it? So that one  would think you could, if nothing else, wander into your local indie shop and find a local indie novel, which is clearly professionally produced and otherwise as worthy as any other hunk of pulp on the shelves, and make your statement against Amazon by purchasing it.

The fact is this shit doesn’t happen. Nobody, statistically, supports either indie authors or indie bookstores because they’re selling commodities. They offer nothing that the big retailers, online or otherwise (you can buy books at goddamn Walmart for fuck’s sake), offer. And at Walmart you can, in addition to picking up a copy of your trashy “New Times Number One Best Seller” also snag your groceries, underwear and a case of motor oil. So, how to compete, really?

If it were my store I don’t know what I’d do. Except perhaps close up shop and surrender to the reality of virtually unlimited online selection and better pricing. There’s a little surge of interest in independent bookstores, they say. Yep. There’s also a little cadre of fetish-folks who still have to have their cruddy vinyl records perhaps purchased at a dusty little record store. Old style. But, well, I guess I’m just an ungrateful ass. I expect too much. It’s just my shitty little book, after all, and we get so many wannabes shoving their shitty little books at us…. Perhaps. Except I’m pretty sure, again, that the money you get from selling my book is the same color as the money you get from selling somebody else’s book; you know, somebody you’ve somehow legitimized by way of, what, the fact that, I don’t know, you tell me, dear bookseller. Meanwhile, just to demonstrate that I know how to be nice, given that I COULDN’T GIVE AWAY a copy to anyone at the store.

“K, no, I hadn’t heard back but thank you very much for giving it a try in the store. And not to beat a dead horse but let me know if anyone on your staff would be interested in a promo copy, no worries, thanks again. – C.O.”

Ugh. Let me just repeat, since I used to get promo copies of CDs when I was in the business and actually listened to them, nobody at these stores will even accept a free copy from me, perhaps to enjoy, perhaps to pass along to one of their SF loving friends, or otherwise to skim and toss into the trash. What gives? It’s an imposition or something to accept a free copy of a book for Christ’s sake? You don’t gotta read it, heaven forbid. And did I mention that the entire shopping complex is under construction so that Shindola’s  storefront is buried within an intimidating façade of plywood and scaffolding? Oh, that will draw shoppers.

And here I am bitching and it turns out Kev’s show, because of the bullshit COVID craziness, is now a ghost show, as he calls it, if he chooses to go the effort to rent a trailer and haul his stuff down to Missouri, that is. Which he won’t because what sense does that make? “All public gatherings cancelled, artist talk cancelled, opening reception cancelled, show still on, it’s my decision to go through with it or not.” This is his situation. Horrible. He spent the same amount on his project as I did on mine. $7,000. Likewise to no avail. Oh, but sales of toilet paper and worthless hand “sanitizer” are through the roof. What in fuck is wrong with the world?

“The conditions that govern our lives, the external factors that set our trajectory, are sometimes called fate. The specific, particular and individual piece of work that falls to us, is sometimes called destiny. It would seem that our fate is often at odds with our destiny, and that to achieve our destiny – our personal and unique journey through life – we have to overcome the conditions into which we are born, that limit and control us.

“How to move from fate to our destiny? By establishing a personal discipline, or practice. Any discipline, any practice: the particular discipline and practice that resonates with us. It is probably true that the form of personal discipline that we’re looking for is also looking for us.

“One of the key principles in any practice is:

“Turn a seeming disadvantage to your advantage; the greater the seeming disadvantage, the greater the possible advantage.

“This is where Hope lies. A practice provides a measure of personal independence and freedom within the inevitable constraints upon action within any society, and shapes the contours of our personal trajectory. But life is messy.

The above is part of Robert Fripp’s account of his King Crimson 50th Anniversary press conference of April 6, 2019 which appears here (and within DOP8): https://www.dgmlive.com/diaries/Robert%20Fripp/rf-diary-april6-2019

I have this, and a few more paragraphs of it, taped to the door of my refrigerator (the panda, for what it’s worth, is actually Chinese, that is to say, not only is it of course manufactured there, like seemingly everything else, but it was a gift from one of Angie’s Chinese co-worker/clients who was visiting Ann Arbor).

Frippology on my refrigerator

And I may as well include the following because, well, I feel I need to revisit all the wisdom, in this case Frippology as I call it, that I can right now:

“RF (2000): How may we judge “success”? A creative process provides no guarantees. If it does, the process is not creative. Any process will inevitably go off-course at certain points. Knowing this, we can prepare to correct and re-direct the process at those points. Not knowing this, the process will go wrong – this is guaranteed – and then we won’t know what to do. Experience helps, but can take too long. Information helps, but devoid of experience is relatively useless. Information and experience are a strong combination, but without capacity and a commitment to the process, equally as useless and probably dangerous.

If we look at an unfolding process in time (history, in other words) we’ll find “success” with failures and “failure” with successes. Succession, or Time’s Arrow: the kind of time associated with doing things, with one thing following another and leading to the next.

“Creative Time moves from intention and decision. Here, the future reaches back to pull us forwards.”

Creative Time versus the Arrow of Time. Time, in other words, for the artist-craftsman is not to be regarded as linear unless one is determined to suffer. Neither is it to be necessarily and alternatively regarded as cyclical in the Oriental sense, for example. Rather, without naming it, Fripp allows us a glimpse into the idea of what has been termed retrocausation (see again the post referring to Eric Wargo’s Time Loops); the idea that the future in some sense has already happened, or a version of it, and we can tap into its having-happened-ness by way of, I don’t know, applying the so-called power of intention, what have you. Fripp here implies alternative phraseology, namely, within his description of Creative Time and the idea of intention and decision being the only effective tool of the artist-craftsman. I elaborate freely here, of course, and perhaps Bob would disagree but I’m pretty certain I get the gist.

Troubles and struggles, then: who isn’t enduring them on the job or elsewhere? Things can always be worse, yadda, blah. The refuge is our practice. This is mine. Likewise Time Crime, if I can manage to extract my expectations from it, the manner in which I view it as my effort of connection, my boon to the world, my release from exile. It’s all those things even when worldly outcomes, results, Fate, seems to demonstrate otherwise.

I’ve ranted, heavily, in this post. It gets ugly, folks. Those who’ve been through similar trials can identify, I’m sure. And I’m not a poster child for how to best handle any of it. I’m weak. I grasp. I get caught up in expectations and outcomes and my ego suffers and lashes out. I lose, as Campbell described in so many words in The Hero…, my place within the principle of eternity by way of becoming anxious for the outcome of my deeds. And I do my best to recover my place. Writing it out helps whether anyone reads it or not. So be it.

On a good note, so rare lately, I received (without having to follow up) the okay from M at jcf.org, whew! I’d sent a hardcover, no special personalization page this time, blind (no heads up email) and I was just going to let things ride to the end of the month before I even considered inquiring.

“Hi Keith!

“I’ve received a second copy of the book and all permission statements and citations in the Notes are fine! Thank you!

“Warm regards, M, jcf.org”

For the record, then, I’m glad to have this assurance. I replied with an acknowledgement and was tempted to ask about the possibility of getting exposure for the book on the jcf.org website, within the “Campbell in Culture” section, perhaps, but I decided against it. Why not ask? I can’t help thinking about what Joe himself would think or do in my place. It’s good to ask your guides. I’m convinced he’d suggest letting it go, that I’ve done enough and the positive vibes, such as they are, the good energy will have to take care of the rest. The personal mythology will have to do its work. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, yes, but there’s been plenty of squeaking around this little permissions project and best to just envision the best result, which would be M either reading the book himself and perhaps getting it on the website or passing it along to a POI. It’s not up to me. I’ve done what I can and to do more, to push harder, shamelessly, will likely result in the same blindness I’m experiencing from the booksellers. That, and it just feels best to move on. In the end, I’m just happy and proud, really very proud to have done right, as it were, by way of Joe Campbell’s legacy and the Foundation that supports it and the profound influence his work has had upon me and the creation of this novel.

DOP1(2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

Failure in the Middle?

Nikki B., of spinning nut fame, and her boyfriend, Eddie R., have helped out with the future of HH by getting us connected with a businessman in Ann Arbor, the owner of Downtown Home & Garden, Mark H., who is making plans to establish a food court in the parking lot next to his existing business. It has room for ten food carts, the owners of which will share the costs of operating a licensed, shared kitchen, located nearby. According to a January 21, 2011 article on annarbor.com, by Janet Miller:

Mark’s Carts will occupy a 2,700-square-foot parcel of vacant land that fronts West Washington Street, behind Downtown Home & Garden. The area will be fenced, landscaped and lighted, and will include seating. It will be a chance for people thinking about opening a restaurant to test the waters, an opportunity for displaced workers looking for a career change to begin a business without expensive overhead and a chance for young people enthusiastic about food to try their hand….

This idea taps into the “street food” scene that has grown within several American cities, notably Los Angeles, New York and Portland (OR). Portland has in fact already established more than one separate “courts” within the city to allow vendors to park, semi-permanently, paying rent and utility costs to the owner(s) of what would otherwise be a paved parking lot. Apparently, some business owners have parking lots that are going unused, maybe by retail or residential buildings that are not filled or were never built, and they look at the food carts as a way to at least generate some income for themselves. This is in contrast to a mobile food cart or truck which has to scout a location, park, test the market, and the move about trying to find a spot that works.

It may be that a food cart can be a step forward for HH – it focuses on my value-adding skills in cooking. By being flexible and creative with the HH concept and focusing on what really matters the most to me – getting started and getting experience – I may be able to eventually include the other aspects – everything from using my own pastured pork to promoting my other HH themes (writing, walking, audiophiling, biophycomythology, gastrofarming).

In a draft of his essay entitled “Fixing the Energy Crisis in the American Workplace,” Ari quotes David Whyte’s book Crossing the Unknown Sea:

[W]hen you really annunciate what you want in the world, you will always be greeted, in the first place, with some species of silence. If the goal is real and intensely personal, as it should be, others naturally should not be able to understand it the first time it finds its own voice. It means in a way, in a very difficult way, that you are onto something. Though daunting, at the beginning silence is good, and silence is a testing fire.[1]

Of course you can be onto something but that doesn’t mean it’s going to make you any money, let alone a living. Or it can take you down the road to fiasco. I was struck by the story of Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch, one of the United States’ premier meat purveyors, in terms of quality and animal welfare. In “Bill Niman’s Next Move,” a July 1st, 2009 article in Inc. by Bo Burlingham, the tragic rise and fall of Niman’s “dream” of becoming the “gold standard” of sustainable and humane meat production is described poignantly. What began, thirty years earlier, as one man’s heart-felt, ethical, and idealistic vision of establishing the viability of sustainable animal farming on the California coast, grew to a publically-held company with $75M in revenue. However, it never made a profit, and Niman’s drive to increase the influence and power of the idea – to make it a world-changing example of how animals should be farmed – in spite of this lack of financial sustainability – caused him, in my view at least, to lose sight of whatever was guiding him. He ultimately left the company in frustration, taking with him only a cow, a bull and his now worthless Niman stock. He’s trying to begin again, from scratch, with his own new company BN Ranch. It’s called BN because, as part of the terms of his separation from Niman Ranch, Bill Niman cannot legally use his own name in any meat-production business. Niman Ranch now owns Bill Niman’s own family name and Bill himself no longer believes in the integrity of the beef that Niman Ranch produces and doesn’t eat it himself. The last line of the article is a poignant example of what I’m talking about – the danger of the hero’s journey, getting on someone else’s path, getting in a “fever” – so passionately distracted that you abandon your trusted, proven guides for what turn out to be false ones. Niman’s personal story is a tragic demonstration of the old idea that “the road to hell is paved by good intentions.

Yes, if I had it to do all over, I wouldn’t have given up control, that’s for sure. How did it happen? Little by little, led on by delusions of grandeur and a big payday.[2]

I feel like a knight at the round table waiting for an adventure to start. That’s a bullshit way to live, waiting. Anyway, we applied for a spot in Mark’s Carts. I really don’t feel like writing about it in any more detail, nor even thinking about it much anymore. We really burned a shitload of energy thinking about it and discussing it and now I’m not sure why. It’s like a biophycomythological blowout, an impact that left a biophycomythological crater in our lives. We put too much into the idea I think. I still think my initial skepticism is accurate. Something just ‘ain’t right with the idea. It’s too small somehow. I know we, or I, have to start smallish for a biz, but Christ, not that small. I don’t know. I just don’t know. It felt like a near-miss, then a big opportunity, then a fucking waste of time. How did all that thinking and doing happen so fucking fast?

After all this biophycomythological tuning in, this vibe from the outside world, this “answer” to both Angie’s goals and maybe mine, at the same time, at least it seemed like some way to get started. But now, it just seems dead. Like a false alarm. WHAT THE FUCK? I don’t know what to make of it, but I can tell you it’s flattened things out – it really did something I guess. I know that doing the biz plan was a good thing to do; it forced us to get real about our resources, mostly financial. Like everyone with an idea, e don’t have shit to start with. So what? We’re going to do something. It just seems like Mark’s Carts came and went like a fucking flash. I can’t really figure that out, other than something’s telling me that it’s not the right way. I wouldn’t want to start a food cart in PDX, so why in A2? Well, the supportive environment seemed to change things – it indeed had an incubator quality. Such a flame-out feeling though, like I can still feel the heat of the blast and there’s a char on everything, my eyebrows got singed, but here we still fucking are – in Texas god-dammit. Weird.

“Everything can look like a failure in the middle.” This is a line from author Rosabeth Moss Kanter.[3] She calls it Kanter’s Law. It rings true for me right now. Things seem like a mess, like a fiasco. And now I’m starting to get that anxiety that comes with being out of work which, strangely enough, I haven’t experienced until this week. That’s a bad sign, a sign that something’s wrong with my mindset. To go for over a year and feel purposeful and confidently engaged, at least in a E + R = O kind of way, and to be writing, listening, learning, communicating, changing and knowing what’s real and right and good, and then to start sliding into this funk that I’m so familiar with is troubling. The funk of being disconnected, alone, wrong, cast out, inferior, fucked, that I deserved to be fired, that I’m just not good enough for anything, that I’ve got it wrong and can’t get it right, that there’s winners and there’s losers and I’m caught on the wrong side of that line (Springsteen). That I need to suck it up, give in, get in line, quit dreaming, quit wanting what I want and compromise, be conventional. Be like everyone else who’s compromised. Misery loves company.

“When things are bad, scrub floors.” Emma Goldman said this and I took the line from Ari’s GTGL1.[4] It just means to do something, to take action, to keep anxiety at bay when the road dims, when the bad days threaten to undermine everything you’re trying to work towards.

In The Alchemist, the shepherd boy sees two hawks plunging from the sky, interprets that as an omen of war, and asks a camel driver what to do with the information. The camel driver instructs the boy to tell the leaders of the oasis. He also describes the importance of some omens, as rare indicators of a future that God has revealed in order that it be changed. Most often, however, as a Seer had told him, being concerned about the future is not wise. The Seer had not been willing to interpret the future for him, saying:

The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.[5]

Therefore, getting caught up in the past or caught up in the future are just biophycomythological errors to make. What if your guides are from the past? I suppose the answer is that if they are truly your guides, then they will be applicable to your present, so it’s up to you to keep the wisdom of those guides in the context of your biophycomythology, which is manifesting itself in the here and now. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to follow your guides, period. I’m certainly feeling lost again and there’s something about that feeling, whether you’re literally lost – in the woods for example – or just lost to yourself, that invites panic; that urge to rush about, searching; to take off running in any direction, desperate for a landmark, for something that looks familiar. To resist that panic and at the very least, to stay put, stay in one place either until you get your bearings, or someone finds you, is incredibly difficult. Why? Maybe it’s some sort of survival instinct that gets fucked up, decreasing your odds of survival instead of increasing them. Anyway, the same advice that holds true in the woods holds true in your mind, in your heart. If you can remain still, if you can force yourself to at least stay where you are, you’ve got a better chance of being found and, hopefully from my perspective, finding yourself. Is staying put just another mistake because it’s like waiting? No, it’s not aiting; it’s scrubbing floors. It’s getting situated again. Don’t run because you’ll only get more lost. Don’t decide to abandon your guides and strike out anew on your own before you’ve settled down and can proceed methodically. Stay the course, even if you can’t see it. Stop, look, listen. Get situated within yourself, remind yourself what your guides are, what they look like, what they make you feel like when connected to them. Going within, listening to your heart, (which is in charge of determining your guides), is the only way to get found again.

This crap all sounds great, but how does it work? And who am I to talk? After all, I’m lost again, I’m panicking again, I have the urge to run and search for the way out, for some familiar sign, something recognizable, something safe. I want to chuck all my guides, my biophycomythological work, my Mandala, the things I’ve learned about myself and the world, and go back to what I know, or think I know. I want to alleviate the angst, stress, anxiety, nausea, whatever existential bullshit you want to call it. I’m panicking and I don’t trust my heart or the guides that my heart knows to be true and I’m spinning and falling and stressed and my confidence is crap and I’m impatient to get somewhere. So, back to the beginning of this rant. Everything can seem like a failure in the middle, so maybe I should think of it that way, that I’m in the middle of the journey to success, of my myth. That I’m not lost, that I haven’t failed, that I’m just in the middle of the adventure. Yes, I’ve had failures. I must, like Ari suggests, accept the things that I can’t change about reality. That would, I’m sure he’d agree, include the reality of myself, of who I am. Being who you are isn’t a guarantee of money, because money doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with biophycomythological fulfillment, of happiness, of your myth. If it’s a necessary tool, then I’ll find a way to acquire what I need to keep going with the adventure.

The application for Mark’s Carts required a Mission Statement, so we came up with the following which, maybe predictably, sounds “zcobby:”

To engage our passions and enrich as many lives as possible through the Humble Hogs experience. To enrich Ann Arbor and its culture through participation in the Mark’s Carts Project.

We also felt compelled to include the following:

Humble Hogs Manifesto:

Mark, there’s a story behind all your applicants, as you know, and that ours would involve Mark’s Carts strikes us as both exciting and scary (in a good way). We’ve been living in Texas, near Houston, since the beginning of 2009 – it’s where we moved when I accepted what turned out to be a doomed corporate relocation from our previous home in Ann Arbor, where we lived happily for twelve years. My wife Angie is a Toxicologist, working from home, for Ann Arbor-based NSF.

As an entrepreneur, you might agree that it’s a state of mind as much as anything, and for some reason, while folks like yourself are busy being one, there are others, like me, who take quite a long time to get there – even the state of mind part. The economic times frankly don’t have much to do with how I got where I’m at, but I’m nevertheless very happy to have finally done the self-study required to start being who I am. I’m not looking for a job, least of all am I looking to “buy” one, as so many business books warn against doing. I’m simply following my guides now, according to the dictates of my heart, and I’m lucky to have Angie’s support as we both pursue our master passions, and attempt to turn them into vocations and a happy balanced life.

You should know that we don’t make it a point to eat from food carts, we don’t particularly like most restaurants, we tend to avoid anything that smacks of “trend” and, per our application, we don’t have any meaningful professional restaurant experience. (I worked as a dish washer for two weeks in 1984 at a forgotten restaurant, and Angie spent two miserable months working for McDonald’s as a teenager). About six years ago, I enjoyed a six-session hands-on cooking course offered by a professional chef at the old Kitchen Port location in Kerrytown. Otherwise, I am a self-taught cook. We’ve served our food for friends and family only.

As a twenty-something fresh out of high school, Angie was self-employed for eight years as a hairdresser. My work life, unintentionally, has always seemed to involve start-ups – new stores, new accounts, new programs, new clients, new cities. Unfortunately, they haven’t been my own start-ups, but I think the skill-set applies to Mark’s Carts.

We’ve always considered Ann Arbor one of the best cities in the country – its beguiling mix of college-town charm, intelligence, and global sophistication makes it uniquely inviting to folks like us who enjoy the energy and drama of big cities and the friendliness and approachability of a smaller town. I first set foot there in 1982, while still in high school and moving there in 1995 remains one of the most rewarding things I ever did.

Food? We think Zingerman’s is the standard-bearer for the city – we love everything they do, and I must admit to being quite a fan of Ari Weinzweig’s writing (I had a difficult time not simply plagiarizing the ZCoB Mission Statement for this application). I also think Ari and me are equally passionate home-cooks who really appreciate that unpretentious form of cooking. I didn’t fail to notice all the zingermans.com domains, including Paul Saginaw, on your email list. Downtown Home & Garden has been selling Zingerman’s bread for some time, so maybe you agree that theirs is the best (there’s nothing in Texas that comes close).

Humble Hogs is more than a food cart idea – it’s the repository for all my vocations, and it represents many things. Before our friends Nikki and Eddie forwarded the article about your food cart venture to us, we were in the process of investigating the potential for our gastrofarm idea (we had just returned from Portland, OR as a potential locale), which combines my interest in the food chain, namely pastured pig farming, with my idea for a public house that presents food events (and other things) with pork from my own hogs. The Humble Hogs Gastrofarm is an ambitious project that we’ve struggled to negotiate into our plans – purchasing land, living in the country, raising hogs, running a public house – all things for which we’d like to trade a little earnestness and passion for experience, and of course, the money to get going.

What appeals to us about Mark’s Carts is your segmented restaurant idea as a way to turn the truck concept “inside out” and gain consistency and synergy from the group. The “inner gypsy” hasn’t been part of our vision, though like you say, that vibe can be appealing. The Union Hall Kitchen is equally important to me – that I could prepare my food in an inspected kitchen, without having to retrofit my own house, nor try to invest in my own commercial space, and then sell it out of a cart, with minimal prep, puts “rocket sauce” in my Humble Hogs concept. I now see Mark’s Carts as a stepping stone (or incubator to borrow your term) for my larger strategy.

You’ve got some Ann Arbor food industry heavyweights involved, many of which, like ZCoB, can hit the ground not only running, but waltzing through the process I’m sure, and that’s great – they would be anchors with the ability to instantly legitimize your pod. Humble Hogs is indeed, at this point, quite humble and maybe not quite up to speed in comparison. After all, we’re still trying to sell our house down here after seven months of trying (we have someone looking at it this weekend), I don’t have a cart yet, I’m new to small business ownership, and I’ve never used a commercial kitchen space. But I can cook, I have a vision, Angie and I both have customer service backgrounds, we’ve got enough money to try it out for a year, and we both know what being a professional is. Ari, in his latest book, Building a Great Business, quoted Paul Saginaw as saying “Professionalism means sticking with something long after the glamour has worn off” and I’d agree with Ari that everything about life supports that view.

I wish you the very best of luck – Mark’s Carts is an inspiring, fun and funky vision – it fits right in with Ann Arbor. Maybe Humble Hogs will fit in too.


[1] David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage to Identity, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2001), 136.

[2] Bo Burlingham, “Bill Niman’s Next Move,” inc.com/magazine, July 1, 2009.

[3] By way of Ari Weinzweig, Guide to Good Leading Part 1: Building a Great Business, (Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s Press, 2010), 107.

[4] Ibid., p.281.

[5] Paul Coelho, The Alchemist, trans. Alan R. Clarke, (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 104.


[1] David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage to Identity, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2001), 136.

[2] Bo Burlingham, “Bill Niman’s Next Move,” inc.com/magazine, July 1, 2009.

[3] By way of Ari Weinzweigh, Guide to Good Leading Part 1: Building a Great Business, (Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s Press, 2010), 107.

[4] Ibid., p.281.

[5] Paul Coelho, The Alchemist, trans. Alan R. Clarke, (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 104.