Crises 3: Bad Karma from the Farting Dog

by Richard Grossinger on March 14, 2010

Chapter Nineteen
Crises 3: Bad Karma from the Farting Dog

The stories of Sam (Chapter Eighteen) and Walter are intertwined but Sam came and went and his episode was more or less resolved years ago—closure logged. I don’t think about him very much any more; the sting is pretty much gone.

Walter is still in play, still painful, and I do not expect it to end any time soon. I don’t even yet understand most of its complex elements.

Of the two lessons, Walter is by far the deeper one, but that shouldn’t be a surprise since Richard Handel orchestrated it and, while among us on Earth, he was a cosmic ringmaster and shadchan of Fate.

Warning upfront: I have to tell this story from my point of view, so I want to alert you, right out the gate, that I am quite biased. As I tell it, you should carefully interrogate my story, in the back of your mind and in the front too, and try to recognize the alternate side of these events and judge if it is valid, even more valid than mine. I’d like to know myself, as my post mortem is still a work in progress, and I am not confident of my virtue or guilelessness.

Yes, I think that Bill Kotzwinkle ripped us off big-time, in fact brutally and unethically, but those kinds of gripes are a dime a dozen in the money game. The real reason that I am biased is that I put so much time and energy into Bill’s and my relationship, invested so much care and hope in healing and redeeming the rupture, from the standpoint that Bill was, at core, a good guy and really “one of us,” the compassionate human beings on this planet—that I am just now beginning to entertain, in part through the writing of this chapter, the opposite viewpoint: that Bill was a pretty nasty hombre, top to bottom, perhaps the most brilliant, charming, and committed sociopath I have met in my life, even more so than Sam, but also just part of the greed-and-selfishness circuit that is currently playing America up and down Main Street.  He also held a great cosmic lesson, so he was a teacher too.

I have certainly met other dangerous, deceitful people in my time, but never one who talked Jung, Buddhism, alchemy, the grail, and the Tao so convincingly, never one who was such a great artist and intellectual. So the temptation is always there to say: Bill couldn’t really be that malign and greedy; I must be missing something. It must be a character flaw in me. I still think that with a good part of my mind. I may be demonizing him as the easy way out.

There is, at every stage and in sum, a surrogate interpretation—that Lindy and I are not innocent and blameless and that Bill, though he may have played a hard-ass hand of cards, was really justified in his actions by our own erratic behavior.

Part of me believes that I am at fault, in collaboration with Lindy, and brought all this bad fortune and missed opportunity on myself and North Atlantic/Frog by my own stupid, neurotic behavior.

Part of me believe that Bill was (and is) a true gonif, a sadistic manipulator, a con-man versed in many of my own favorite literary and psychospiritual topics, yet able to turn them adroitly against me.

In the narrative I will attempt to be fair to both viewpoints, fair enough to let you make the decision. I am going to tell my own side with more conviction and fervor because, although I do understand how fucked-up this whole thing was, I don’t think I was as intentionally cruel and hypocritical as the guys on the other side.

You can tell, this still has a lot of juice in it for me.

So, as I said, let me know—not in the sense of ‘send me an email’; just, rhetorically anyway and psychically, you can read this account and think, “Richard, you dolt, you chameleon, you got what you deserved”—think it, and I already understand.

You know the beginning of this story and some of the pieces, but I will re-track a little to get it going again.[1] Richard Handel invited Bill, his wife Elizabeth, and Lindy and me to his house in Somesville, Maine, on Mount Desert Island, for dinner in September 2000. Then (as planned by them but unexpected by L and me) after the meal and a chocolate tofu dessert fashioned by Elizabeth, Walter the Farting Dog and The Return of Crazy Horse, children’s books penned by Bill—the former never published and the latter long out of print—were sprung on us as can’t-miss projects for North Atlantic/Frog, “gifts from the universe,” as Richard put it in his crescendo. He was serving as an unofficial agent and cheerleader while Bill watched appreciatively and Elizabeth hung out with Marilyn Handel on the porch. Richard had a real head of steam behind this sales pitch.

Lindy and I hastened to respond, in antiphonal chorus, that we didn’t do children’s books at North Atlantic/Frog, which was more or less the case. In the mid-1980s we had tried facsimile editions of L’s favorite childhood series, Gigi: The Merry-Go-Round Horse and Gigi in America by Elizabeth Foster and, though we sold a couple of thousand of each of them, we realized that we couldn’t break into the market at large because we weren’t a recognized children’s press.

Children’s-book publishing is its own insular cartel, like the diamond or oil business, monopolized by a few publishers that specialize in it, as they create their own unofficial but closely guarded trade groups. Anyone else is regarded as an interloper in the territory—by agents, review media, and most important, by retail outlets.

We had no standing in that community and were not set up to market and distribute children’s books—and, at the same time, we were not staffed to create a whole new business within our press, which is what it would have meant to take these projects on.[2] However, in the spirit of camaraderie, we listened to the presentation attentively, took the script (WTFD) and the book (Crazy H) with us, and agreed at least to ponder the matter.

I tried to explicate our situation to Bill again over the phone when he called in the morning for further exegesis, but he would have none of this demur. Grandly he invited us to his house on the Atlantic in West Tremont, the property gifted through the beneficence of the famous alien by way of its mentor, Steven Spielberg.[3] I knew that this was an honor, as few in the community were privileged to attend the hermit couple’s oceanfront estate.

We traipsed on giant rocks along the beach and looked at the vast ocean and offshore islands, while Bill proposed not just a book but a long-term collaboration and his full-hearted commitment to our friendship and many subsequent endeavors. He promised artistic and financial success.

He also praised our “wonderful press” with hyperboles that made me blush. I didn’t know that he had even heard of us, let alone read a number of my own books including, The Night Sky. “I re-read section of it often,” he said. “It is one of three special books that I consult for my writing. It is always on my desk.”

“Well, it sells one copy a year in a good year these days,” I told him petulantly.

“Quality is not for sale,” he retorted. “You achieved far more than a commercial success; you made a work of art that transcends time and space.”

Since Bill was so picky about acquaintances, let alone intimate friends, it was hard not to be charmed, seduced, won over. Even without knowing how it quite happened, I understood that we would be on board for these two projects.

I made my major mistake with Sam at the contract stage, and it could be said that I made my mistake with Walter on the contract too—and for much the same reason. I did not take it seriously: I wanted to be liked, and I read the situation personally rather than legally and pragmatically.

Some people are very good at transactional reality. I am passable when I try to be—when I use some of the hardness in my head—but I am generally soft and spacey and (even still) rely too much on chitchat and protestations of good will and tend to think of the actual contracts as dead documents filed in cabinets never to be looked at again.

That is true of course…except until it isn’t.

I have been glacially slow to adjust to the business reality that one must labor carefully, thoroughly, sentence by repetitive, tedious sentence, and sometimes word by reconsidered word, through hundreds of banal legal documents for the needle in the haystack in which these words will make a difference someday. I didn’t give the Walter contract one gram, one ounce, of my intelligence—and it turned to be the haystack.

My negligence on this contract was not just a specific instance of a general act of on my part. It was also endemic to the situation. Bill was a mainstream-publishing/Hollywood guy who didn’t like to dirty his hands with talk of clauses or money anyway. He had agents to do that for him. Furthermore, on the waterfront in West Tremont, we were on a roll, and who wanted to flummox that with persnickety details?

Additionally, right from the start of our relationship, Bill either demonstrated that he had a peculiar lack of basic mathematical reasoning capacity or did a good job faking one. That is, he seemed not to understand any of the practical issues that I tried to raise in order to determine if we should get involved in the pair of books, shrugging those off as frills or red herrings when set against true art. Among them were the cost of an artist; on what basis said artist was to be paid (flat fee or royalty); the size of the print runs; and how Bill and his co-author Glenn were likewise to be remunerated.

Bill made it clear that he never wanted to be talking about business in the first place; he just didn’t do such things. But there we were nonetheless, haggling contractual details, not only on that oceanfront day but for many hours of the next (because L and I had a flight out of Bangor another day hence and Bill didn’t want to let us leave town without a deal). He wanted to achieve essential agreement by trust and concordance, an act of faith and “cross my heart” among the four of us in lieu of signatures. He preferred to talk mythologically and charismatically and was no help at all on conceptualizing a way of proceeding, or not. He wanted only to know if we were “on” for the great adventure and cosmic game. I did that kind of talk plenty myself, so of course I was on. Grandiosity and epiphany were my weak spots too, but not Lindy’s.

She, by contrast and from publishing experience, thought that we needed to know precisely what Bill was picturing, what expectations he had, in order to address how this was a project we could take on. The main inherent problem was that, despite our new shared epiphany, Bill was pressing both his projects, old and new, on us somewhat unwillingly and we were going to have to foot the bills for their color production. In addition—the kicker—he assumed a meaningful advance; he didn’t reason such largesse out, consider if it was fair, place it in the context of his pressuring us to do books we were reticent about or in any context at all except that it was as automatic as a tip for a waitress or a dividend for a stock. If we were self-respecting legitimate publishers, of any ilk or size, we respected authors and paid them for their work. Books were not free. Time and labor were not without reward. This was just good manners. That was how he put it. In fact, those are pretty close to the exact phrasings he used.

Short-sightedly, as it turned out, I didn’t want to pay him a cent because not only did I see the projects as expensive and risky but I considered that we were doing them mainly in the spirit of hope and friendship, not out of any expectation of making money. Lindy privately wanted no part of them at all; she just wanted us to be friends.

But Bill dangled friendship as the core and crux of this undertaking, and then he machinated it in terms of making money, defending his honor as a pro (as it were), so he didn’t seem able to live without an advance.

It seemed manipulative and unfair, as though he wanted to have it both ways. And I couldn’t charm or reason my way out of the box he kept putting us in by the surf.

He finally said that we could negotiate with his agent who, he promised, would be understanding of our small-press situation and fair. That was the best we could get out of him—again he cited his disability in math and conceptual thinking. “I don’t do it at all,” he insisted, more than twice, “I’m an artist, not an accountant,” even as he thrust little negotiating daggers our way.

We left Maine not sure whether we wanted any part of these projects but unclear on how to gracefully withdraw without alienating Bill and disappointing Richard Handel.

Once we were settled back in Berkeley, Bill put me in direct touch with his agent, a young woman in New York who, I assumed, had sophistication (after all, she was highly touted and worked for “the man”). So I relied on her initially to shape a contract, using our author’s boilerplate, that she and Bill could live with. It turned out later that she was an utter neophyte, in the process replacing her gradually retiring boss and mentor, Bill’s long-time super-agent, and so was winging it with fancy jargon, yet clueless as a newborn sparrow.[4] Or maybe they were both playing dumb as a fox. I still don’t know for sure.

I may not have been totally fooled, but I soon lost patience with her ignorance and posturing and was finally pretty much willing to sign anything just to get it over with. I didn’t care that much about either the farting dog or the monument to Crazy Horse.

Yet from the standpoint of Bill and his agent, the farting dog was a potential gold mine. Even if privately it was understood that every mainstream press in New York turned Walter down, that was not something that could be considered publicly. Thus, by default, a one-sided contract got drawn up without us having any foreign or movie rights (her contribution) and paying the authors an absurdly high royalty (my contribution). I did exactly what I was to do later with Sam—a spasm of show-offy empathy with the other side plus a dash of Stockholm Syndrome. I rationalized that this was a way to honor and palliate Bill, to acknowledge his literary stature and sense of self-importance.

I escalated the initial error by committing the incredibly stupid and lazy act of making up a royalty number without checking the cover-price range of standard children’s picture books. I assumed that, because of their dust-jacketed boards and four colors, they must run around $25, so we would have enough margin for everyone to be happy. I didn’t know that they generally went for $14.95 or less. Through this inexcusable sloppiness, I based the royalty and hence the budget for breaking even on much too high a base cover price—and then I compounded the error by forgetting what I had done. So, even when I observed PGW correcting our cover price sharply downward at the very first meeting about the book a few months later, I had so little of my attention on the matter that I didn’t perceive the havoc it would wreak on our margin.

We were set up by the contract to lose money whether the book sold or not. The more it sold, the more we would lose—shades of And/Or Press in the eighties.

I didn’t particularly care back then, either about the book’s commercial potential or artfully debating minutiae with an obtuse agent and a stubborn, uninformed author, so I let the numbers fly in a slaphappy document (composed roughly a year before my equally slaphappy codicil for Sam).

To this day I don’t believe (at about a 75% degree of certainty) that the agent did any of this strategically; I think she was just following agency protocol and filling a vacuum left by me. If I had fought her and Bill skillfully and with conviction, I probably could have won at least some of the territory back. But I felt at the time that the terms for these projects (Walter and Crazy Horse both) as well as the projects themselves were being foisted on us, thus was a bit testy and, with classic self-sabotaging petulance, cared more about seeming to be magnanimous and preserving good will than I did about our own integrity and due being honored in the contracts.

As a favor to Bill, I grandiosely yielded to his agent’s bluster with a kind of faux generosity on my part that was actually a retro arrogance I have regretted many times over. “Go ahead,” I said by my words and actions, “you write whatever contract you want, and then I’ll raise you by 10%.”

And I did. Take that—we’ll see who’s the bigshot!

This is how Northwest Coast Indians, before and for a short while after the Euro invasion, invented and preserved status. They engaged in the traditional potlatch, giving away more and more valuable gifts to their adversaries or competitively destroying objects of increasingly greater value, all of these “gifts” intended to embarrass their foe by proving oneself more capable of generosity than they.

He who has capacity to relinquish and forswear wealth is the more noble and legitimately powerful individual. Object and coin equity is true wealth only if it can be given away frivolously. In a deep sense this may be so—but it is not good business strategy in legalistic, zero-sum America.

It was the same faux grandiosity with which I granted Sam a 10% commission and, years earlier, ceded Richard Hoagland 90% of all earnings on Monuments of Mars above $1 million because I thought it was absurd to imagine that any book we published would make more than a million dollars—and then Monuments almost did. I have some quality in me of theatrical arrogance masking ambivalence and irritability, a magnanimity that is authentically generous and selfless but fused with a slovenly and vain indifference to detail. All this combines to create odd, almost throwaway gestures of gift-giving and concession, as if I don’t care and have transcended greed, both of which are true in the moment but both of which are also disdainful affectation and overblown pretense. I give partly to be generous but partly to overcome and defeat my anger at being forced to be generous.

Here is the foil: I may yield more than is even being asked for, out of anger and disgust for the process, but also, when I give in and find my heart, as a true and sincere act of letting go. Both motives dialecticize in a sort of epiphany in me.

It is a hard habit to kick, for it operates at multiple layers at once and is almost manic in its expression. When I am locked horn to horn with seemingly no way out or when I get myself stuck in my own mental traps and attachments, the grand gesture tends suddenly to occur and, if I honor it, it releases me. Then I feel myself timeless and whole, liberated.

That is what drives me suddenly to play potlatch and become a selfless giver. A lawyer might say that I need to be protected from myself.

So, in the case of Bill and Walter, I recommended a much higher escalator than the agent requested, capping it at 35% of net, a figure so high that it shocked her and led her to drop at once and for good any notion of an advance—a seeming victory at the time. At least Lindy and I both thought so. We didn’t want to lay out any money to a putative friend who was twisting our arm to publish him on his terms, and yet we were giving him the opportunity to earn a great deal of money if his project succeeded, which is exactly what happened, though at a scale we did not foresee. It was a version of my oldest publishing formula (see Chapter Five), supposedly win-win.

Yet I’m not sure that Bill, his co-author Glenn Murray, or his agent saw it that way or even understand it today. I think that they continue to see us as losers for not paying an advance and consider the higher royalty an act of bush-league recompense and compensation.

I have neglected to mention Glenn to this point. As I shall discuss later, he and Bill became close friends in the late seventies when they met by accident outside Fredericton, New Brunswick, where Bill and Elizabeth had tried homesteading after fleeing the Lower East Side of Manhattan and before E.T.  New Brunswick was where Glenn also lived and worked as a transplanted Cape Breton Islander. Both Bill and Glenn in fact, had family roots in the coal mines, for Bill those of Scranton, Pennsylvania; for Glenn those of the Maritimes of Canada. They came from tough, hardscrabble cultures, something that was probably not irrelevant to our subsequently thorny interactions, and it formed the basis of their own long-standing solidarity.

The original Walter on whom the story was based was, I believe, a pooch in the Fredericton apartment above Glenn’s room.

Although Bill acted as the author and sole representative for the page or two of typed text that was handed to us at Richard Handel’s house as Walter the Farting Dog on that September 2000 night, both their names were on it. Well, not exactly. They were only in parentheses at the end. The original script had a pseudonym on it made of their mother’s maiden names. The next day, once I understood the situation—that that there were actually two authors of this fable—I suggested that why not just use their real names?

Bill apparently had thought that a pseudonym was the proper way to handle joint authorship, and he also did not particularly want to be linked in perpetuity with a farting dog.

I speculated that it was better to have one famous author than none, and he yielded easily to tacit flattery on this issue. So Walter was written by Messrs. William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray from then on.

Lacking the mathematics to understand the meaning of 35% (that is, if we are to believe him), Bill took my gift utterly for granted and never appreciated its lavishness or munificence at any level. He didn’t recognize my generous compromise or my commitment to our relationship, heart-felt, theatrical, or both, either initially or well into the process. In place of understanding, he substituted, as noted, a blind presumption that we were small-time and that we just couldn’t be paying him a higher royalty than a large, famous corporation like those with whom he was accustomed to dealing—so, years later when he sold off the rights to future volumes of Walter to Dutton and we went on paying him far more than the author’s usual share and far more than he was getting from them, we got no credit, love, or negotiating leverage for it.

You could put it this way: Because Dutton and their staff were the big guys, Bill liked their money better than ours, considered it more real, and thus took it for granted also that they were paying him more. In truth, he had no understanding of or sympathy for independent publishing, even though he himself was an outsider and avant-garde novelist. He had an outsized vanity about not only his craft and literary skill but his rating among wheeler-dealers on planet Earth. He thought he belonged, say in a future Time Magazine article entitled “The 100 Most Important People in the Universe.”[5]

This was merely the first in a series of complex and overlapping misunderstandings involving Walter and money. The second had to do with the artist.

It took us two months to find a suitable illustrator to draw Walter. We ultimately settled on Audrey Colman, a wonderful artist in her early fifties with a lively portfolio but few paying gigs in her career to date—a poster here or there was probably it. She worked in the art-and-design department of a bank. Her parents lived in the same apartment building in Emeryville as Paula Morrison, our art director, and they flakked their daughter’s work to her in the elevator enthusiastically and often enough that her portfolio ended up dutifully on file in our office.

That was where Lindy found it. It was her idea and hers alone to try Audrey. I had another plan, Sergei Ponomorov, a Russian copyist who did fake Miros and scintillating Alices in Wonderland and had drawn a few covers for us. However, Bill did not like his work at all. He found it uninspired and contrived.

Lindy went to her file cabinet, looked through all the portfolios, had an intuition and a conviction, invited Audrey to draw a sample page—and both Bill and Glenn loved it.

So Audrey became the artist, which was a great choice in that she did funky computer art that fit the spirit and mood of WTFD. She also became a full partner to the book, a choice that was not wisest (economically) for either author, though one that I believe that was fair. Here is why:

Before the fateful night at Richard Handel’s, the proposal for Walter, as noted above, had been shopped around for years without success. I am not privy to the narrative of that history, but I believe that every major player in publishing field turned down the same one- or two-page treatment that we viewed in Somesville, Maine, at least once, and some of them twice, over a period of like six to eight years. I have heard that Dutton, who eventually pilfered the farting dog from us, was one of those double mavens.

Yet the published book that everyone rejected took off like wildfire as if it had been conceived and executed as a bestseller. Why?

The major difference was that Audrey’s art brought the mopey, flatulent pouch to life. What no one could see in the script, everyone could see in the illustrated book. It would have been sheer injustice if she had been paid a flat fee of $5000, sent on her way (as Bill later wished and cursed the agent bitterly for not advising him to do)—if she had not been rewarded on a per-copy basis.

North Atlantic Books wouldn’t have paid the illustrator the for-hire cash because, according to the contract, that would have just been counted as part of our cost of production, and the full royalty would have still been owed to the authors—but Bill could have paid her and kept the whole 35% net for him and Glenn. Audrey would have been quite content back then with $5000 and goodbye. Yet Bill refused, in fact with major vehemence and irritation; he considered it insulting that he was even asked. I sometimes recall that when he parades his sophistication as an artistic and literary entrepreneur. I tried to explain the consequences of giving the artist half the royalty, just so he knew and could make an informed choice, but all he did was get angry, and his dull agent backed him up in his position.

Before the art was drawn and the book became a bestseller was Bill’s moment, if he wanted, to buy the 17.5% artist’s share for a pittance, but he and the muse missed the opportunity; they explicitly and defiantly turned it down. They weren’t going to pay this chick from some bank with no reputation a serious $5000. “Give her half the royalty,” the agent declared, and Bill seconded it.

Later Bill accused me of not even wanting Walter, of not believing in it, thus not deserving future volumes. That was his rationale and excuse for cutting us out of the sequel deals. But if he believed in the farting pooch so much, why did he resist paying a mere $5000 for half the rights? It was a multimillion-dollar mistake on his part, and it had far-reaching ramifications, as you shall see.

Once Walter became a bestseller and Bill realized what he had done, heroic efforts were made by him and Elizabeth to replace Audrey or at least to get her to accept a new, reduced contract for the later books.

“Do they think I can’t read?” she declared to me years later. “Do they think I’m a fool, that I’m just going to sign some contract and give them a portion of my royalties? They wrote the book, but I drew it, and I think that’s the more important part.” She grew up fast, or was already grown up and everyone missed it.

It took a full year to get Walter the Farting Dog drawn, designed, and printed, as Audrey improvised brilliantly. On the last page a new trope was added: Walter was shown producing enough gas to generate electricity to run a whole amusement park.

Then the anomaly struck me like lightning, far too late, in fact just before the date of release—that we were actually going to be paying out more money per book on unit cost and royalty than what we would be getting back from its sale.

Our cover price as recommended by PGW was $14.95, and the 35% royalty plus the $3.00+ unit development and printing cost wiped that out entirely.

I shared this news glumly with Lindy, then the people at PGW, and other staff, and PGW CEO Charlie Winton had a solution. He said that it was common practice in the business for the publisher, agent, and author to renegotiate a royalty based on real numbers, as no one expected the publisher to lose money and likewise no one wanted the publisher to price a book above the market in order to avoid losing money. At this point, there was no percipience that the book would sell more than a million copies, in fact no guarantee it would even exceed the first 5000 copies.

“It happens all the time,” Charlie said. “People are not assholes. Just give them the honest numbers and any back-up proof they need to make sure you’re not conning them. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

I called Bill and told him our plight. It turned out that he already knew about it. Over the preceding month Lindy had developed an email correspondence with co-author Glenn Murray, the mystery man in the script and, unknown to me, she had written him about the crisis a few days earlier and, from assumed rapport (he had earned that by sending her a picture of himself in his Scottish kilt), suggested that the authors forgo royalties altogether. She wanted him to be our advocate on behalf of that idea.

Now at that particular moment in time Lindy was still operating on the premise that we were doing Bill and Glenn a favor by publishing the farting book at all, and she saw no reason to lose money in the process. Though she knew of my dealings with the agent, she did not have firsthand experience of the woman’s uninformed and inalterable mindset. Lindy is also often direct, blunt, and artless. At this particular time, she never considered that she was expressing anything more than the obvious—if we didn’t have to pay the authors a royalty, we would at least not lose money.

I was both blown away and dismayed that she had made such an aggressive suggestion. Aside from the fact that it overshot the target by more than $2 per book, it was a provocation that would be taken as an insult by Bill. It had no chance of being accepted.

Lindy had freaked over our financial mistake and was exaggerating its consequences in her mind. We were losing only loose change per book and stood to run up maybe $1500 of red ink on the first run—something I rued mainly as a matter of principle, not as major economic damage. But, not having a quick grasp of this sort of math or even where the decimal point fell in a given instance, she had a tendency to worry that every losing enterprise ran the risk of scuttling North Atlantic and Frog, turning them belly up as she put it. If she had gotten the numbers from our accounting people and played with them on a calculator, she would have seen that a slight tweaking could have handled things. Instead, she heard my hyperbolic outrage and alarm, which were far beyond what the situation called for and represented my frustration at having done such a stupid thing in the first place more than any real danger; then she reacted to the frustration and hysteria. From my own intemperate response I misled her into thinking we were going to lose serious money. Then she remembered her highlands connection to Glenn and, valuing it for something it wasn’t, enlisted his aid.

An indignant Glenn went straight to Bill. After all our complex negotiation with the agent, Lindy’s email was not a welcome or popular proposition. It made the authors question our seriousness, professional conduct, and commitment to the book. How crucial it was in the long run is a matter of interpretation and would probably require a whole “Forensic Files” team to determine. It depends on which of Bill’s many truths one decides to believe. But Bill used it as an excuse for just about every deal he dealt us out of in the future.

I am reminded of a comment our son made during his teenage years: “Rich is always right, but Lindy is always right in principle.” Noncalculating, Lindy shoots from the hip, but she usually nails the emotional truth of a situation. Her letter was a cry of fear, of transparent and vulnerable concern, but it was taken, either honestly or for strategic advantage, as an unprovoked maneuver by Bill. What she meant to say (and could have and should have said) was: ‘We need to talk this mess through,’ but she floated a proposal based on a notion that 5000 copies were probably all that would ever see the light of day, and we shouldn’t have to lose money on those.

There’s another thing about Lindy: she often needs to try out an idea to hear how it sounds, so she says things that most people wouldn’t say, and then she withdraws them if they prove wrong-headed. Yet she does say them first.

In this case, she was right in principle if not strategically right, as time would reveal. But no one on the opposing side was ever, ever going to allow her to amend or withdraw her words. They were gold to them, the sort of major “gotcha” blunder than topples politicians and governments.

When Bill forwarded me Lindy’s email, I called him at once and assured him that she was writing informally and off the record, merely expressing angst. “I would ignore it entirely,” I said. “She is overreacting to the crisis, and we have no intention of not paying you your royalty. All we want to do is make a minor adjustment to get it in line with the actual expenses. It’s my fault for using $24.95 as a base price when it turned out to be $14.95.”

Bill empathized at once: “No way I want you and Frog to lose money on this. Call my agent and work something out with her. Give me a few minutes to call her first. I’ll tell her to do whatever’s fair.”

I waited an hour and then phoned.

The agent’s response was terse and dismissive: Bill, she said, had told her not to negotiate with me, to stand firm by the contract. When I tried to explain the problem to her and recounted my conversations with Charlie and then her client, she challenged my veracity, then challenged my math, and then asked for a spreadsheet. I had our accountant email her that within an hour.

In our ensuing conversation, it finally became clear that she was an amateur and a naïf at publishing; she didn’t know how to follow the numbers and had no capacity or patience to reason them through. Her basic attitude locked in at: “How do I know you’re telling the truth and, even if you are, I don’t see why this is our problem.”

Charlie notwithstanding, this is probably a generic agent response to a publisher in a jam and coming clean—at least a generic noncreative, fuck-you response. A more creative agent would see opportunity and maybe trade a few percentage points now (like two and half) for some goodies later. Synergy and solidarity in hardship make better partners for the long haul. But the moment has to be seized with both enthusiasm and authentic good will.

I wrote Bill a subsequent email summarizing the events that had ensued between me and his representative. I said that she must have misunderstood him when he told her to make a fair compromise with me because she wasn’t doing that.

He wrote me back, stating that he had no aptitude for numbers and, anyway, that’s what his agent was paid for, to figure things like this out so that he would not have to, as an internationally renowned author, be bothered with such trivia. He had decided to take her advice.

I was offended by his continued self-aggrandizement (which had been bugging me all along—I mean who really important boasts so shamelessly about their international reputation?). In my pissed-off email response, I reminded him that we were friends not combatants and challenged him to start dealing straight with me and also, somewhere in that piqued mess, called him a “yuppie asshole.”

That was to be the last correspondence or communication of any sort between us for well over a year.

The immediate problem solved itself, at least the issue of our losing money on every book sold. The agent finally accepted my offer of a 2.5% concession on the royalty for just the first print run to bring it to break even (by my math), and subsequently Walter sold in such numbers as to drive the unit reprint cost down to where we had roughly a dollar and a half margin per book after that.

And that’s where “she rests” even today. The fact that the margin is so small is why Sam’s commission, based on net received rather than net after expenses, ate up most of our earnings.

Economy of scale is a powerful thing—no wonder it is the basis of fortunes. Our margin with Walter is a blend of economy of scale and an arbitrage of sorts between the price of labor and printing in Asia and the retail sales price of goods in North America. If Walter had continued to have to be printed in 5000 lots or fewer, even in Asia (as it was for its first relatively small first run and all later runs), it would have not have broken even without a significant raise in cover price, which would have, in all likelihood, killed it. If it could not have been printed in Asia at all—if it had had to be printed in the U.S. or Canada, for instance, even in huge quantities like 500,000—the best printing deal we could have gotten would led to a whopping $4 loss per book at $14.95 cover price. $22.95 would still be the right number for a “made in America” Walter.

And, remember, that would have been at the absolute lowest price for printing the book anywhere in North America—much higher than any fair-mart printing price in Asia.

I know all this because we re-bid Walter at once everywhere, particularly throughout Canada and Mexico, in order to save time on shipping (the slow boat from Singapore) and get the farting dog back in stock by Christmas after the first run sold out before the boat carrying it even hit customs. When I couldn’t get anything close to a viable price, I asked Bill’s agent to allow a quick break-even print run with reduced royalty to them in order to make Christmas—a one-time stopgap solution that I recommended as she was freaking out big-time about the impending holiday unavailability of the book.

“We can get it back into the stores in three weeks,” I told her, “and we will do that and make no money at all ourselves—but you can’t make any money either, and we’ll still have to raise the cover price.”

She consulted with Bill and the answer was, “No way.” She told me that he expected us to print anyway and lose the money as a sign of respect and good faith.

It was my turn to say, “No way.”

Hence, the order went to Singapore, so we missed Santa, but Walter still topped 100,000 total sales in less than a year. By five years, it had passed a million copies, and we were soon printing in lots of 75,000 to 125,000.

After Bill dropped out of touch with me, Sam maintained a minimal if strained communication with him as well as a more productive interaction with Glenn and Audrey, at least for a short while. He had to; he was our director of sales and marketing, and this was our bestselling book.

Having never sought the public spotlight and not herself the creator of Walter the farting dog (nor particularly a fan of the “farting” concept as such), Audrey had no particular ambition to do publicity. A sober person with a strong animal-rights orientation, she was put in a somewhat uncomfortable position by the book which, on the one hand, was animal-related and co-authored by the author of the classic animal-liberation novel Dr. Rat but which, on the other hand, did not express anything close to her purist and activist point of view on the matter; in fact, to large degree, belittled a serious topic with its ribaldry.

When Audrey did get the opportunity to address the public, she spoke candidly and without pulling punches about animal abuse, and she did not prioritize hyping the book in a rah-rah way, though she made a reasonable effort to be an appropriate salesperson—so Sam stopped calling on her.

Bill as a long-time recluse and hermit wanted no part of promoting Walter. He didn’t even want to be photographed, ever—let alone declaim in public—and anyway he wanted his reputation to be as the author of E.T. and Fan Man, not as the guy who created a farting mutt.

On the other hand, Glenn was quite interested in promoting his co-owned dog, and he had the time and inclination to do it, plus the ideal ham personality (remember the kilt!). He declared himself available 24/7. As a freelance educational consultant for the Canadian government, he realized that promoting Walter was, in fact, the best job he could get at that moment, so he set himself up in the “Walter” business and made appearances across Canada.

Sam had a hard time initially knowing how to make the best use of him and instead continued to pursue the other author, the confirmed misanthrope. When Bill refused to do promotion or appear publicly in relation to the book, Sam took to blaming him for his failure to bootstrap the original success upward. Years later, Sam’s lawyer cited Bill’s lack of cooperation as explanation for his client’s not being able to display his full range of talents at North Atlantic/Frog: “The publisher and the author had bad blood between them, and the publisher is trying to make my client the scapegoat.”

Years later, when Dutton released the so-called sequels to Walter, Glenn went on the road almost full-time, performing at retail stores, chain outlets, schools, book fairs, literacy events, and other venues throughout North America, reading to kids at hospitals, libraries, and in classrooms, giving Walter a cartoon voice and a personality. By theatricizing a fable about a “picked on” mutt, Glenn delighted huge numbers of children across the U.S. and Canada. A true comedian, even sans kilt, he made sick, even terminally ill, kids laugh.

Sam never even discovered, let alone exploited, Glenn’s talent during the period when his time at North Atlantic coincided with Walter’s ascent— though Glenn kept petitioning him for opportunities.

A side story here: Glenn did get into trouble in parts of the Midwest and South, outing taboos about bodily functions and stirring up controversy around what was, astonishingly, considered an obscenity. Walter’s popularity, even apart from Glenn’s raucous portrayal of him to kids, led to newspaper editorials against the character and the book. Walter was withdrawn from a number of libraries, the copies destroyed in some instances by irate parents.

In the knee-jerk bible belt the word “fart” had somehow gotten elevated to the notoriety of that other f-bomb. But I am getting ahead of the story.

Though I didn’t know the extent of it till years later, the frustration that developed during that debut year between Sam and Glenn (and by proxy, Bill) escalated to the point that the book’s two authors, as depicted in the previous chapter, concluded that our guy was incapable of grasping the book’s potential or knowing how to reap the burgeoning market. At that point, Sam was far more focused on how to concoct his own Walters than he was on how to sell the one we had, though he did try what there was (for instance, Bookspan and the poster)—plus I will say, on his behalf, that sending authors on full tour was not exactly something that North Atlantic routinely did.

At the same time, Sam’s innate cynicism trumped any predilection to inspired marketing. He talked everything down, not just Walter, tending to squelch rather than enable enthusiasm in order to keep up his alias: too cool for school. Yet that skeptical style suited my temperament too. As you know by now, I don’t like hype or hoopla and didn’t see Sam as failing at his job. So he paradoxically sneered at Walter while he tried shamelessly to replicate him with his own drawings and storylines.

From the beginning, Walter craved a showman, even a circus. It needed to be overblown, self-caricatured and, at its defining moment, played for all it was worth—Sam didn’t do that. In another sense, though, he didn’t seem to have to do that, as the book was selling like gangbusters. I’m not sure we could have sold more copies if we had fully equipped a Walter-mobile and sent it on tour.

We did do a few things while the iron was hot. Our main foray was to publish a quick children’s book written as well as illustrated by Audrey Colman, representing her own style and aesthetics in a way that Walter didn’t, hence giving her a voice and a venue for publicity. Francine, Francine, The Beach Party Queen attracted an advance sale of 30,000 copies based on Walter’s success, so we had to print that many, but by the time we finally put the book out of print three years later in order to stop the flood of returns, 22,000 or so of those puppies had come back.

Initially, though, Francine looked like a great decision. Not only did it sustain and extend our successful children’s-book publishing, but it paid homage to Audrey and hopefully served to keep her loyal to us and on our side in any subsequent dispute. This was a severe misjudgment on all counts.

During the summer of 2001, in the grace period immediately preceding Walter’s publication, Bill and I had hiked regularly, discussing philosophy, metaphysics, and life and death.[6] Bill has a persecutory view of the universe as a predatory and amoral beast, which influences his philosophy—he considers himself a magician in training for the personal Armageddon that every soul faces; he believes the main urgency in life is to develop skills to defend against demonic and greedy spirit forces that intend to devour our essences at death as tasty snacks. For a modern progressive, which is isn’t, he observes a very paranoid, almost mediaeval Weltanschauung. So he could never be accused of being a nice guy or a concerned citizen. That isn’t, as they say, his shtick. He’s a recreational hardass.

But we enjoyed each other and provided each other with a fairly unique companion able and willing to range widely and duel over these phenomena during mountain hikes. At one point of high enthusiasm during that summer, Bill startled me by saying, “I really like these talks. I missed them for years without knowing what I was missing. Now I can’t imagine not having them. You’re a really good friend.”

Yet when I came back to Maine in the summer of 2002 he was no longer even talking to me—I could not reach him by email or phone, nor could I get a response by snail mail (I did not know at the time that that he was blocking my emails). Lindy wrote him and Elizabeth a cheery card too that summer, suggesting we get together to celebrate the success of Walter and also to plan for the future, but Bill was bunkered down in World War mode. I’m sure that our correspondence looked fatuous and pollyanna to him: too little too late.

In early 2003 the other shoe finally dropped. That shoe had been hanging for over a year since Walter took off on the bestseller lists and astonished the children’s picture-book world. The shoe was hanging there, as Audrey narrated Bill’s rage at Sam and then described how he belittled Lindy and me and dismissed Frog as a viable press. It kept hanging during weekly appearances of Walter on the New York Times bestseller list. There was no discussion among the parties at all, never a good thing. It was only a matter of time before something really bad happened.

North Atlantic received a fax one afternoon from Bill’s agent, informing us in bland sentences that were a textbook example of misdirection and quarantine of tone from content, that we should all be very excited today because the rights to Walter the Farting Dog (meaning all future books about the mutt) had been sold to Dutton for a preemptive offer in the millions of dollars. Now Walter was going to get the distribution and promotion it deserved, and everyone would benefit. We were thanked ever so briefly for our role to date, but mainly in the context of reminding us that we didn’t have the resources to continue to compete in the corporate world that Walter was now entering.

Although, at the time of the original signing, Bill insisted Walter was a one-shot deal, I soon perceived that that plan was amendable to change. Only a heavy dose of denial would have caused me to interpret his stonewalling for over a year as anything other than getting us out of his heart and mind in order to clear the way for selling sequels to someone else—whatever our contract did or didn’t say about such matters (and, by any reading, it was certainly open to interpretation).

We had heard from Audrey that future books were under consideration since mid-2002, and we dreaded what that would eventually mean. I assumed, nonetheless, that we would hear from Bill’s agent before anything was finalized because I figured she would give us a chance to bid on sequels, for legal reasons if no other (e.g. in order to say that they had given us a fair chance and we hadn’t matched their best offer) or, failing that, that she would have had the decency to keep us informed. I should have known better.

My cousin Seymour, as a competitive venture capitalist and part owner of the publishing rights to the farting dog through being the second largest shareholder in Frog, had expressed himself willing and quite able to raise investment money to make sure that we got in the top bid for sequels. That was my ace in the hole, and it gave me a feeling of solace around this topic during the silent months. I figured they’d have to take us seriously or deal with us in some fashion if we had the best offer.

It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t get at least a courtesy call or would be presented with a fait accompli.

I learned subsequently that Bill had even promised a concerned Audrey that Frog would be given the right to bid on sequels, even if, as he put it, we didn’t have the resources to compete. She apparently stood up for us, at least to the degree of not wanting to see us dissed as well as screwed. Glenn emailed me later his own surprise that we hadn’t been given a chance to bid. He had understood the same thing as Audrey.

Apparently neither Bill nor his agent wanted to let that to happen.  She told him that there was no way we could match the Dutton offer which she (remember) called “preemptive.” However, it was well within Seymour’s ballpark; in fact, he was insulted to hear that they considered, in his words, “that piece of shit preemptive.”

Audrey, who was of course our artist initially and homegirl in Berkeley, told me that she protested strenuously once she heard that we had been excluded from the bidding but was told curtly by Bill that, if she did not go along with the plan, they would find another artist.

Audrey was more deeply wed to the project than before in that she had come under the wing of Bill’s agent, in part because she wanted to get offers for other books illustrated by her, hopefully from mainstream publishers. She had of course gotten half the money from the first Walter because of Bill’s unwillingness to pay her a work-for-hire fee for her art and, since additionally she also didn’t have to pay an agent, she took home significantly more than what Bill and Glenn got together. But she was willing to accept the agent going forward in search of higher stakes.

Actually, I learned from Audrey, it took some arm-twisting and sweet-talking on the boys’ part to get her to agree to using their agent and conceding a commission for the sequels. She did it only after she understood that it was the sure way that she could guarantee staying on board. She held firm on the key matter: she would settle for no less than her same half-cut going forward. The old Fredericton consortium of Bill, Elizabeth, and Glenn was forced to relent and let her in, no doubt because they did not want to risk telling a new publisher that they were thinking of changing artists. They understood how inextricable Audrey was to the project even more so than Audrey herself did. After all, B and E were pros.

Audrey also reminded me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and, though she was grateful to us for selecting her to illustrate the original book, she did not feel any further obligation to us.

“You shouldn’t,” I reassured her. “This is a huge opportunity for you, though I don’t believe that they would have found another artist. That was just blowing in the wind. Dutton wouldn’t have let them. You are Walter as much as them, in fact more so.”

Without Audrey in tow, Bill and Glenn would probably have been turned down by everyone again, but they made sure not to let Audrey know that and she was intimidated just enough by their stature and bluster and solidarity (though of course not particularly wed to us either). Our connection with her, though local, was relatively brief and superficial and had not been without its own strains through the production process, as she was a novice book illustrator with strong opinions.

Of course, Audrey was grateful that we had published Francine, but she did not see it by any means as a game-changer or even really a favor; she was being courted by many publishers by then and she thought that she had given us a great deal on her second book. She had agreed to only a token advance, so we were really the ones who had been blessed. In a remarkably short period of time the shy bank lady had been replaced by a confident professional children’s illustrator with an agent and a lot of style and panache. Talking to Audrey had become like interviewing a combination of Maurice Sendak, Madonna, and Ingrid Newkirk.

Yet the real powers behind the farting animal were always Bill and Elizabeth Kotzwinkle, the two who were supposedly our friends and neighbors, who convinced us to publish Bill’s books[7] with a bouquet of promises and compliments in the beginning and who then masterminded the strategy for getting Walter away from us.

Though I had long prepared for this eventuality, I still felt blindsided. It was like being accosted on the street—you are left shaken for weeks or months afterwards. On this day, we were mugged, by fax.

Needless to say, we did not engage first in the rejoicing recommended by the letter. I learned at the same moment, with self-congratulatory ballyhooing, that not only were the rights to Walter’s sequels being sold out from under us to corporate New York after we had made the project a smashing success but that they had already been sold without our being considered or given an opportunity to bid, so I was goaded to act.

We went through our lousy contract with a fine-tooth intent, trying to discern what rights we did have, and they were, on the surface, precious little but not none. Mainly there was an explicit noncompetition clause, disallowing any book to be put out in direct competition with ours. Somehow, I imagined, Bill’s agent had missed that one. Because there was no explicit right to sequels or the author’s next book (no sequels being expected), we were forced to put our main hopes on this single provision.

Steve Rood and I crafted a letter back to the agent, expressing our displeasure and defining the position that we felt we had rights that were being violated and we were willing to defend them—against the authors, the agent, and Dutton.

This response was based almost entirely on the noncompetition clause, though I also raised an issue that would continue to be salient through many adversarial exchanges over the years: Walter could have no true sequels. It was a joke, and jokes don’t have sequels. All you can do is attach the same punchline to different narratives leading up to it; thus, any further tale of Walter would just be “our” story reworked. The sequels would not be real sequels; they would be retellings of “our” joke, ruses to steal shares of our market. The very notion of “sequeling” in this instance was a trademark fraud.

Furthermore, since Dutton was among the publishers that turned down the book before we got it, they as well (as the authors) were exploiting our success blatantly and unfairly to convert our project and our rightful earnings into theirs.

A week later we heard back from a lawyer stating first that he represented both the authors and the agent, then declaring that the noncompetition clause was invalid. Noncompetition clauses had never held up in court, he informed us. Any weight such a clause might have hypothetically was overridden in advance by the more fundamental legal principle that a publisher cannot prevent a writer from earning his or her living. Without a “sequel” clause in our contract, he concluded, we could not stop them from writing sequels and selling them anywhere.

Their lawyer turned out to be correct on all these points, not ethically correct perhaps but correct in terms of publishing law and how it had been recently interpreted, the precedents firmly established. Thus, when we pursued the matter through other channels later on, we left the noncompetition clause out of our case entirely and created our leverage by underlying rights and defense of trademark. I will get to that soon.

The opening salvo had been fired, but the conflict over Walter would go no further along these lines. The next stage would have been for Seymour to put his attorney on it. But other factors intervened.

Despite the confident and forceful response of their lawyer, Audrey and Bill were upset by our aggressive action. Audrey expressed her own feelings of betrayal to my face in my office, and then she told me how distraught Bill was (“Boo hoo” was about what I thought).

She said that she wanted to keep on good terms with us and have us publish future books of hers beyond Francine, and she thought that it was cruel and unfair of us to turn against her too, especially since she had stood up for us against the authors and the agent. It wasn’t her choice, she said, to sign with Dutton; it was imposed on her. She insisted vehemently that she had done nothing wrong and should not be a party to the lawsuit.

I told her the obvious: By her actions she was on the other team, the team we were fighting, and she had to be treated legally in that contexty. We were being cut out of a project that we had created, by her too. We were the ones who brought all the parties together, her included, who produced the book, distributed it, and made it successful. We had to take steps to defend what legal rights we might have.

Audrey then serenaded me with the litany of arguments whereby Bill persuaded her that his course of action was right and fair:

First, we had totally missed Christmas right upon publication, proof that we didn’t have the resources to support Walter; they needed a publisher with the capital to print when necessary.

I told her that we had plenty of cash to reprint and had offered to run a quick edition but got no concessions on the royalty and wouldn’t print books just to sell them at a loss. It was not a matter of capital, I said, but of discrepancies in printing prices between North America and Asia calculated in the context of the high royalty. No publisher would have done any differently without an author concession.

Second, Bill despised Sam and considered him a low-life. Our so-called marketing guy had utterly failed to seize a huge opportunity that was handed him on a golden platter; he was a liability. Walter needed a professional sales-and-marketing department of the kind available at a large commercial publisher. In any case, there was no way he would sign with any press at which Sam worked.

I had to agree.

Bill also fed her the party line by which everything would be made fair and right and the world safe for democracy: we would all benefit, her friends in Berkeley included­—as, once the Dutton sequels began coming out, Frog’s sales of the original would shoot through the roof too.

“Perhaps,” I said, “but that’s really not the point. Those should be our sales, not Dutton’s.”

I reiterated that our legal response was not directed personally against her, just against the collective action of the authors to cut us out of the sequels after we had done the original and established a market.

And I emphasized another thing: Bill had stopped talking to me, and that had turned a professional squabble into a personal one. After hiking a dozen or so times with me and maintaining a friendship during the prior summer, he now wouldn’t even take my phone calls. That was unacceptable in itself. It was as if he was blaming us for his own betrayal and taking out his anger on us when in fact, if anything, we were the victims. “It was one thing to screw us,” I said; “it was another to unilaterally and self-righteously kill our friendship in the process. It was unconscionable.” I was building up a head of self-righteous steam.

“Bill told me you called him a yuppie asshole,” she said. “Did you?”

“I did, and I shouldn’t have, but so what? Sticks and stones….”

She laughed.

Then, in a bolt of inspiration, I pledged that we would drop the lawsuit at once if Bill merely got back in touch with me and began communicating again—no other obligation and requirement.

In truth, I didn’t want to start a whole lawsuit. The issues with Sam were at high boil in our office, enough distraction for us then. Plus, I was honestly curious about Bill and his viewpoints. I had real affection for him and didn’t like the ugliness of our standoff.

Audrey was excited by this sudden possible resolution, and she promised that she would relay my message to Bill at once.

A mere single day later I received a long email from my old friend, the first in eighteen months, or since my “yuppie asshole” comment. He opened by apologizing eloquently and profoundly, saying that this was merely the most recent of a thousand or so mistakes he had made in his life. He brought me up to date on circumstances over the last year, including the death of his mother and a visit back to his home in western Pennsylvania from where he was now writing. He ranged far and wide philosophically as to what he had been reading and thinking about, and then he put forth a proposal—that we renew our friendship and our walks as before but never discuss the book or business again. He called the farting dog an anathema, a matter of crude, ugly commerce, beneath our dignity as warriors and poets. He said that we could be again like two philosophers in ancient Greece, meeting only to discourse on the highest realms of human intelligence and spirit. Near the end of the email he said that, if I pursued talking about Walter again, he would break off connection with me again forever.

I accepted the deal. I informed Steve and Seymour that we should discontinue any legal action and see where things proceeded from here. Maybe they would work themselves out.

I was ecstatic with this outcome. The siege at least was over.

On Bill’s and my initial walks that summer we were both true to our words. We meandered up and down Western Mountain on three- and four-hour hikes, on and off trail, through metaphysics, dreams, archetypes, guru fraud, great books, and local gossip, but we never broached Walter, not once. It was as though the book didn’t exist, had never existed. We played the role of naifs, innocent in our purity and devotion to the exchange of ideas.

This took some discipline on my part, as I am both a synergist and an enthusiast—there were moments that seemed perfect to link the missteps of our book deal gone bad to some element of cosmic irony or the Jungian shadow or our status as outsider artists against the Establishment, and then to try to parley it into a grander reconciliation, regaining some level of our prior promised partnership,

All my adult life I have created rapport and made publishing deals from a capacity to exalt, celebrate, and bond. I have spurred mutual enthusiasm with difficult and/or skeptical authors. Such rapprochements have come not from feigned enthusiasm as a ploy or negotiating tactic on my part but an honest passion for the work and my sense of North Atlantic as a nonprofit library of the spirit. What makes me a successful publisher, I think, is a feeling of intellectual camaraderie that seems to arise autonomously from somewhere inside myself and to find its own inspiration. By invoking the blessings of an overlooked clan spirit, I am able to bring publishing events to fruition.

Many of my best deals were made under the aura of this magic, as during my summit with the Bob and Kathy on Beech Mountain, or jiving as Chard with David Avocado at Café Gratitude, or, years earlier, watching Bira Almeida “playing” in the roda of his Capoeira studio, then telling him that I felt as though I had just been on a visit to another planet or dimension. Comments like that sincerely expressed beginner’s mind and made publishing into more than just a business (see Chapters Seven and Two).

At key moments I have found the right words, and then collaboration followed. Yet, again, they were the right words not because they were strategic but because I believed in this form of our concordance on the road of life and death. In fact I tend to believe in these alliances in the same way that I believe in my writing, my marriage, my children. And they tend to work. That’s why turned out to be a publishing company at all.  North Atlantic existed because of epiphanies and spurts of enthusiasm.

But it takes two to tango. Though I rose to epiphanies with Bill on many a topic during our walks that summer and we amused each other and exalted often, I was scrupulous not to broach Walter. I maintained discipline on this matter. In fact, I could tell, from the wounded look in his eyes whenever the topic hung pregnant before us, crying out to be addressed, that he was terrified of what words I might speak, the curse I might visit upon us. I figuratively bit my tongue and let the moment pass.

Our Walter fast ended abruptly and unexpectedly at the end of maybe our fourth or fifth hike. At the base of Western Mountain, after nearly four hours on the trail, we were headed back to our cars when a thin drizzle became a substantial rain. We choose a big elm under which to take shelter. Remarkably no droplets seemed to find their way through the canopy. There in the natural umbrella Bill suddenly brought up Walter, just like that, which is the only way it could have happened.

He pulled it like an old rag out of a long and sustained discussion about karma and destiny. He began elucidating on Walter as if he were free as a bird and there were no taboo on it at all—as there wasn’t from him to me. Once the floodgates opened, they gushed for almost an hour. So there was a curious sacred resonance between the planetary rain that didn’t drench us and the philosophical rain that did.

As Bill spoke, it was like a fairy tale on a summer day long ago. The mystery unraveled. I appreciated for the first time the deeper nature of our clash of belief systems.

He stated, more or less, the following:

A) The dog was his karma and Lindy and I were privileged to share in it and to make as much money from it as we had, as were Glenn and Audrey. It wasn’t our dog; its success had arisen solely from his own talents and magical acts of which we knew nothing, performed assiduously by him over a long period of time. Our finding Audrey was not the key at all, nor was our small-time publication and distribution. It would have succeeded anyway through his karma. Anyone could have done what we did. In fact, Walter had to overcome us and Sam to succeed.

B) I had showed bad will by wanting to renegotiate right after the book came out, and, yes, of course he had told his agent not to alter the contract.

C) I then demonstrated lack of faith in our mutual dog by printing only a measly 5000 copies; thus I forfeited any right or moral claim to the project. In fact, he reminded me, I never wanted to publish the book in the first place.

D) To continue to use Frog as a publisher would have put a hex on the project. My threat to sue put a major hex on the “farting dog.” “Good karma is a delicate thing,” he informed me. “You don’t seem to understand the delicacy of the situation and how difficult it is for me to keep Walter’s good karma and fortune going. You are willing to throw it all away with your heavy-handedness and lack of faith and greedy attempt to claim the book.” He reiterated: the dog was his.

E) We missed Christmas—in his mind, an ultimate unforgivable lapse in publishing.

F) We employed Sam the Scam. He remarked offhandedly that he might well have continued to work with us if it had not been for Sam, but Sam was so obviously an ongoing negative factor in hexing Walter that it was essential to get another publisher for that reason alone.

Sam was a topic on which we could both grouse with equal vehemence, so we did. Then I told Bill that Sam would be gone sooner rather than later. He complimented me on coming to my senses.

G) He made the deal with Dutton so that we could all get full benefit from Walter. “Do you kid yourself for a moment that you have the resources to handle something this big? You have no capital and no experience. There are going to be products worldwide, movies, elaborate tie-ins. Richard, this is way over your head. But you’ll make plenty of money too.” End of discussion.

Then, under the tree in the rustle of rain, he told me a back story that I hadn’t heard: he had met Glenn for the first time when he showed up one afternoon by mistake at his house in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Bill opened the door, beheld a stranger, and declared, “What is the nature of your business with me, sir?”

As he paused to relish his memory of this moment, I smiled and inserted, “Obviously the answer was: ‘a farting dog. We have a farting dog in our future, sir.” Then we both laughed and were in sync.

Yet during Bill’s monologue I had to keep myself from asking, “How do you know Walter isn’t my karma, sir?” I guess he had E. T. and the Fan Man on his side.  Who was I to get in the way of such a destiny locomotive?

I have thought a lot about this Kotzwinkle monologue over time and I have come to view it with less sympathy. Just then I was charmed, charmed by his candor and forthrightness, charmed that karma was cited at all as the key factor, charmed by the breaking of the taboo. Yet, with some perspective, I have reinterpreted Bill’s mechanical view of karma as a self-serving rationalization for his behavior, a textbook instance of how people justify their actions and rarely believe they are ever doing bad or wrong things. Everyone assumes that God is speaking to them personally, even George W. Bush (though as Norman Mailer pointed out, given the long and baroque history of the devil presenting himself in the name and guise of God, he [Mailer] would not want to be Mr. Bush’s defense attorney in the Afterlife). Generally people acknowledge only the good angel, self-affirming displays of karma and the spirit world, ones that condone their actions and exonerate them of unethical behavior. It’s a disease called “spiritual bypassing.”

I am reminded of a story that a former boyfriend of our daughter once told me. As a movie director, he wanted to use a piece of music from the late great composer Sun Ra on a sound track. He contacted the arkestral member who now represented Sun Ra and asked what the cost for that music would be, expecting maybe $500 or $1000. The guy told him that that he would get back to him. A few days later, he reported that he had spoken to Sun Ra “and he said that one’s special. He wants a million dollars for that one.”

Over the course of the summer Walter came up again and, when it did, in truth, Bill had plenty of other things to say:

He admitted that his agent was incompetent, but not because of anything between her and us. She was incompetent mostly because she advised him to pay Audrey half the royalty instead of $5000, effectively making the artist the beneficiary of his karma and leaving only meager quarter shares for himself and Glenn.

“This was a disaster of untold proportions,” he declared with mounting fury. “Do you know that she is making more from the book than Glenn and me put together, all as a result of my agent’s benign ignorance” (as I wondered profanely, ‘But what if it just means that Walter is Audrey’s karma?’). He protested that he had relied on this amateur successor to his long-time representative to protect him and advise him wisely, instead she had betrayed him through her gross negligence. “She is a moron and she has to go.”

He also swore that he had ordered her to allow us to bid on the Walter sequels, and she had said she would but then apparently hadn’t. He had assumed until our legal letter that we had simply failed to match the Dutton bid.

“And I am not a yuppie asshole,” he insisted.

“I was angry and frustrated at the time.”

The truth is: Bill is far too weird and daring an artist to be a yuppie asshole—but he is more of a yuppie asshole than he knows or is willing to admit insofar as he is a big-money guy who drops names faster than anyone I have ever met in my life except maybe my friend in Berkeley screenwriter Barry Gifford, but Barry does it in an innocent childlike way, whereas Bill is always soldiering up.

In favor of yuppie assholedom he  likes his gadgets and prerogatives and oceanfront value and connections to people in important places, his invitations to parties of the wealthy and famous. He likes being famous himself and to play hard-to-get on the island. He likes his “No Trespassing” signs. He won’t ever attend chi gung or yoga classes with the great practitioners on the island with the rest of us, the other psychospiritual seekers in our community, choosing instead to practice instead from books and tapes on his own because he thinks the local teachers are fools (they are not), yet he seems never to pass up an invitation to a dinner in the plush corridors of Northeast Harbor among the Rockefellers, Martha Stuart, and the scientists from Jackson Lab. And that is despite the fact that his Doctor Rat is about as harsh an indictment of the onco-mouse facility as you could pen. Yes, quite a yuppie asshole in the larger sense of the term.

He told me that summer that he had made so much money from E.T. and his novels, screenplays, and librettos, plus his land was worth over ten million, so he didn’t need a penny from Walter. He had done the whole gig for Glenn who not only needed the revenue but also a calling in life.

He went on to recount a series of professional and personal mishaps before Walter came along that left Glenn bereft in both romance and career (as well as just returning from harrowing near-death experiences in Beirut). Then he tried to cross a final “t” and dot one more “i”:

“You and Lindy don’t need the money. You live well. You own two houses. This is water off your backs. Let it go.”

At this point I retorted that Dutton didn’t need the money either and that, if we had been able to receive the cashflow from the sequels as well as the original book, together we could have put the money to wonderful uses; for instance, donations to charities on the island and homeless shelters in Berkeley, a local organic farm project, publishing valuable books that wouldn’t get published otherwise, even creating an imprint with Bill to produce books that we both believed in if he wanted. I reminded him that Dutton was not exactly a karmic angel on Walter or hex-free; they had turned down the book the first and second time too and, if they became the publisher of its sequels, they would just view it as a commodity of the house. The real money from the project would end up in corporate coffers as opposed to something that might help the planet. I pointed out also that, given the sales level of Walter, putting Glenn on tour with the book was no big deal and we could have afforded that as easily as Dutton. Plus, I was sure our contract paid him more per sale, so the Dutton contract would cost him money long-term if Walter kept selling. He immediately doubted that.

It was a bit uncertain to me how much my barrage was just personal outrage and a cry for vindication and respect after being shunted aside by a friend who didn’t understand or value our publishing or what it had done for him—and how much it represented my actual future intentions or sound business strategy.

“That’s enough!” Bill shot out of grim lips. His eyes had turned crazy, and he looked as though he was about to cry.

Yet on our next hike Bill started another “farting dog” conversation on his own and then brought it to an intentional and forceful conclusion by a declaration, thereby having the last word: “You can’t undo what’s done. You can’t go back on your words or acts. I know Walter’s karma, and I saw that you were undermining it, first by your lack of faith in the book and second by your and Lindy’s emails to me and Glenn. Can you imagine asking the authors to go without royalties? Were you really going to cheat a poor man like Glenn, a wonderful human being, salt of the earth? And then asking us to help you fund a deal on a special print run. That’s small-time. If you had had faith in the book, you would have printed 100,000 the first time. Then you would have had enough copies at Christmas. You would have replaced Sam the same day it became clear he was a detriment to the book—the day. He’s only using you to promote his own paltry creative efforts.

“You didn’t earn the right to be Walter’s publisher. I am going to stop right here because to continue this discussion now is to risk disturbing the karma of Walter. That’s why I said that we shouldn’t speak of these matters. We have spoken far too much already. I am putting an end to it and reinvoking the bond of your silence and our sacred agreement.”

Of course, these aren’t the exact words he spoke, though I do remember some of his more unusual turns of phrasing by heart. His declarations of Walter as his karma comprised an eternal soliloquy that I will never forget, the beatific and yet fierce look on his face as he orated endless variations of it. And the way he always almost wept when talking of Glenn.

The discussion went away, but it didn’t go away. It never went away; it couldn’t go away. We conducted many more hikes that summer and in ensuing summers. On most of them Walter never existed. We were in an alternate universe in which the late Richard Handel had simply invited us to dinner and we met as friends and neighbors with mutual interests and in the sanctuary of Bill’s long engagement with my more lyrical passages in The Night Sky.

Bill and I could go on for hours while finding new unofficial trails up and down Western Mountain, ranging from galactic cosmology to Plotinus to Jungian Edward Whitmont’s morphology of archetypes to the Vedas to the ontological meaning of getting bodies and minds by embryology and cellular evolution. But every so often the no-no topic came up and, when it did, the exchange was nontrivial.

Of course, no exchange with Bill is ever trivial. I consider myself a serious man, but I am not nearly as serious and deadly focused as he is, nor as downright concerned about cosmic intruders and malefic agencies. In fact, Bill often treated me like a sheltered child. On one occasion he shouted to the heavens like an actor in a play, “I’ve been to the heart of darkness and returned. If you had imbibed a fraction of the sacred mushrooms and LSD that I have, you wouldn’t be so cheerful or optimistic or play around the way you do. You would live every moment in holy terror, or you would have lost your mind most likely by now. You haven’t a clue what the universe is like or the danger you are in, we are all in. You never had the training or fortitude to confront the abyss. You can’t compete with a person like me because I’ve been to the brink and lived. I’m a made man.”

Then, like in the movies, he tried to stare me down.

Although it is true that I have not done drugs, I feel as though I have made my own unbidden and uncharted trips to the heart of darkness and, if I was not a made man in his sense, I was at least a player in the game. I resented his constant superiority, his spiritual and Hollywood name-dropping, but I was also endlessly fascinated by the drama of his words reflecting the deep track on which he plowed the earth and the sheer radiance of his beliefs. He was like Ahab or the Ancient Mariner, also like Cotton Mather and Dick Cheney or his favorite icon, Carlos the sorcerer.

When Bill and I t’ai-chi-jousted together freestyle or I palpated him through various somatic pulses, I felt a certain skitteriness and defensive camouflage that I associated with his wannabe spiritual and warrior attainment. I intuited some of his hypersensitivity and bluff. He wasn’t exactly a shaman hero.  But he was vulnerable and human, and I appreciated that.

One time, I forget exactly when, I asked Bill why he was treating me so badly.

He said, “I’m scared of you.”

My immediate response: “You’re kidding.”

“No,” he said, “you’re bigger than I am and you have a lot more power. I felt it when we practiced push-hands and I was afraid.”

Well, I don’t know many guys who are not bigger than Bill, barely over a hundred pounds soaking wet with his beard and scraggly long hair, and I’m only a notch or so above him on the size and weight scale. As to power, I’m not even sure now what kind of power he was talking about or whether it was just another ploy to buy me off again with false flattery. He dangled a lot of those over the years—how great a writer, a craniosacral therapist, a t’ai-chi guy, etc., I was; how The Night Sky and Embryogenesis were among the best books ever written in English. Now it all just seems facile and convenient.

Bill fell under my old law of “spiritual publishing” in this sense: the more aggressively and competitively spiritual the claims, the less spiritual the claimer. He was also someone who, to my mind, suffered from having long ago and unconsciously substituted willful metaphysics and shamanic mythology for honest psychotherapy and self-inquiry. He was a made man perhaps, but he was made brittle, paranoid, and harried, under assault from demons and enemies on all sides. I could as easily, in his mind, be an ally or an enemy and, in fact, I slid between these identities with him for years, as he struggled with his own ego and anxieties under spiritual bypassing.

Near the end of that first summer of Bill’s and my talking again, Glenn appeared in town. Lindy and I had never met him, so the four of us set a time to hike Beech Mountain together, Lindy finally getting to engage in person with her one-time guy in the kilt.

It was a buoyant, cheerful trek, as we were all now the best of friends, prior wrongs forgotten and forgiven.

I had been hatching a scheme in my mind since that first day under the arbor in the rain, mainly as a symbolic gesture of reconciliation but also a small business opportunity. Once I heard Glenn was coming to town, I saved it for our group meeting, which turned out to be in the Beech Mountain parking lot at the terminus of our walk.

I asked the four of them together if they would extend us the French, Spanish, and Latin rights for Walter for just North America. We were selling enough books in English to make this seem at least marginally worthwhile to me.

An important detail here: Bill and Elizabeth had taken over the foreign rights from their agent and were selling these like proverbial hotcakes, a success in which they took immense pride. In fact, I cringed each time that Bill described his negotiations to me during our hikes because he exaggerated them and inflated them in importance to the point that it sounded as though he was consummating mega-billion-dollar trade pacts through his business acumen. Foreign rights were no big deal; all you had to do was field offers and then accept or try to bid up. His boasting showed he was competitive with me (as he was with his made-man drug boasts) and he loved to lord his E.T. Hollywood pedigree over me and North Atlantic Books.

That is, he enjoyed summoning the illusion, yet again, that he was doing business at a scale that dwarfed our own petty enterprise—this guy who didn’t even know that we were paying him more per book than he could get anywhere else while pretending to be maxing out his share, who didn’t even think to hire the damn artist—and then tried to connive her out of her pot of porridge. As he opined on and on about his international deal-making, I felt I was losing ground in the battle of perception and mutual dignity, even if the contractual debacle that made all this possible was long ago “water under the bridge.” This small-time competitiveness was not something he was aware or would ever acknowledge

Thus for me to ask for real foreign rights would have seemed a pitiable request in the face of the good time Bill was having playing at being his own agent, handling the correspondence with Elizabeth—so mine was a very stepped-down idea: just three languages, one extinct, and all of them only for North America—a minor token of respect and collaboration to regain our momentum of mutuality and business partnership and a foothold on something perhaps ineffable in the future.

In a gesture of great magnanimity that moved me to tears, Bill declared that it was a magnificent idea and he would speak to his agent at once and ask her to write a contract. Glenn enthusiastically chimed in, though Elizabeth was disconcertingly pissed off and mum. Later, Vietnamese and Korean rights in North America were added, though never enacted. We did publish the first three to marginal success, the Latin being a bilingual edition.

We hired a friend of Glenn’s to translate to Quebecois: Le chien qui pête. As part of the deal, Bill insisted on a Tremont neighbor of his to render the Spanish, El perro pedorerro, but the guy did such a poor job that the book had to be retranslated and a fresh edition issued to avoid losing Spanish-wholesaler orders, though Bill, as per his m.o., never acknowledged any of this and got angry when we raised the issue and insisted his neighbor was a genius. The Latin edition was created by Rob Dobbins, the publisher of Berkeley Hills Books and our warehouse tenant, a former classics professor: Canis Inflatus.

Over the years none of these offshoots amounted to all that much, but they all at least did better than break even, and we were able to overrun their different texts onto the color signatures when running the English at the printer. For whatever reason the concept of the “farting dog” does not translate at the same scale of humor into other languages, at least hasn’t yet. Bill and Elizabeth’s international triumphs notwithstanding, the fascination with farting may be a Puritanical American palate.

That fall when Lindy and I were in New York, we visited Bill’s maligned agent, meeting her for the first time. This was when we discovered her youth and naiveté. She was basically an appealing lady, trying hard to live up to her role and do the right thing and not lose her opportunity at this big-time job. As we gingerly reviewed our mutual history, trying to stay on good terms (not the least because she was presently writing the foreign-language North American contracts), some revelations came up.

First of all, she admitted that she never did figure out the math underlying my early attempt at renegotiation or the subsequent cost analysis behind the proposal of a special rush edition for Christmas. She said that math and statistics weren’t her strong suit and she also didn’t think in those terms; she relented to the former only because it seemed too minor to haggle. She was also provincially pro-author enough to feel she didn’t have to figure these things out, as it was, in her words, the publisher’s responsibility to assure its own profit.

I noted but did not debate this lack of sophistication. Mature agents always mastered both viewpoints and negotiated toward win-win if it was at all possible, bartering while still calling out “bullshit” when they thought it was merited. She would probably get there someday, no doubt before she was thirty.

Secondly, everything she did was at Bill’s express instruction, everything—holding on to all rights, negotiating for a high royalty in lieu of an advance, refusing to renegotiate the contract, selling to Dutton without giving us a chance to make an offer. “I’m his agent,” she said. “I don’t act on my own. I do whatever he tells me to do.”

As to the initial time that Bill asked me to call her and re-do the royalty so that we would not lose money, she recalled her exchange with him distinctly, “He called me, yes, but he said nothing about cutting a new deal; he told me not to renegotiate, no matter what you said.”

I was stunned. This put my relationship with Bill back under a fresh cloud. Could he have lied on all these matters? It certainly made more sense to think that than that this basically guileless girl was fibbing.

More disconcerting than any of this, however, was our discovery, in a Dutton catalogue on a table in her office, that their forthcoming sequels were each to be entitled Walter the Farting Dog, with subtitles like Trouble at the Yard Sale and Rough Weather Ahead. Despite all the recent good will engendered among the parties, this simple and unexpected cooption of the actual title re-aggravated the whole brouhaha in both Lindy’s and my minds (and moods0. We could talk about little else in the bus headed uptown. Maybe we were in denial; maybe it was just that, until then, it was all hypothetical and abstract and we had never pictured real books in competition with our high-steppin’ baby. Perhaps it was just the moment at which the full impact and the reality hit us. But, highlighting a Dutton catalogue, the first announced sequel looked exactly like ours on purpose. It was a rip-off, and it was the big guy ripping off the little guy.

I called Seymour and told him. He said, “They can’t just use our title. That’s exploitation, unfair competition.” He said he would call his attorney at once.

I realized that, if I let him proceed, I would be breaking a promise but, by the time we got back to Mount Desert, my mood had darkened so as not to care about that. Look at all the promises that had been broken to us already, including the first one, that we would work together and create something wonderful beyond the books.

We at least wanted the title changed. Of course, underneath that I was outraged about the whole “sequel affair.”

I am reminded of a comment by Renay Jackson, our urban-lit author. It was made when Susan Bumps and I were negotiating a contract with Renay in my office for his five novels. We were paying him a fraction of what he had been offered in New York; yet he was going with us because we were local and he liked us. I assumed that he would at least be claiming all the foreign and movie rights as his due—but he extended us the foreign rights right there on the spot and, when I said, “I suppose you want to keep movie rights,” he replied, “No, if it’s a success it means you did something right; you should get 15%.”

That was a whopping concession where 5% would have been plenty generous.

Later, as he was leaving the office, I told him about Walter, a project with a supposed buddy on which we got no foreign rights as well as no movie rights, by the author’s decree. Renay gave me a wry look, as though baffled, then said, “And that’s your friend?”

I nodded.

“Man, that’s cold!”

He was the one who was the candidate, by background and world-view, for such self-serving, zero-sum behavior—a hiphop guy who had little money of his own and lived among gangs and drug dealers in the heart of Oakland, an African-American from ’hood talking to a Jewish boy from New York.  (For another piece of this narrative, see Chapter Twenty-Two.)

Lindy and I and the staff were obviously in far better financial shape than he was, and yet Renay was inordinately generous in granting us a share of the film rights for his novels. Forget for now that no film has been optioned nor is one ever likely to be. Neither of us knew that then.

If an Oaktown homeboy found it cold, then I take it that even drug dealers on the streets of America have more honor among thieves than our crew of literary entrepreneurs from the coal mines.

Man, cold indeed!

Glenn came back to town later in the summer, and Bill and Elizabeth brought him to dinner at our house.

After the meal I selected the affable Canadian as the most reasonable and least volatile of the crew (even as Lindy was once convinced enough of his equanimity and good intentions to write him for help). Taking him aside, I told him that the issue of sequels had become a bit more complicated. Not only was the new book named Walter the Farting Dog, but Lindy and I were not the only parties of interest here. My cousin owned over a third of Frog and was hiring a lawyer. I wondered if Glenn could gracefully bring up the topic with Bill and, at very least, get the title changed so that there was not such an obvious exploitation of our book in the market.

I knew that that wouldn’t really satisfy me; in fact, nothing would—but it would at least show some recognition of our existence and not abuse us so shamelessly. It would basically allow our chimera of a friendship to go on without additional lawyer-rattling.

I didn’t know if Glenn would tell Bill or not but, for some ridiculous reason, I didn’t expect Bill to get upset, as I presented it in a very low-key way.

At nine the next morning Bill was on the phone, screaming at me, demanding “you litigious bastard, get the hell over here and address me and Glenn in person!”

I felt oddly enlivened and relieved by his response—there was certainly no more interdict on the topic; at least things were sounding as emotional and heated as they actually were.

When I arrived at Bill’s house, he was still in a state of apoplexy. Before I was in the door he announced, quite surprisingly as his opener and with a sense of theatricality, that he had been reading my book Planet Medicine in the bathroom and had Embryogenesis by his bed table, but my outrageous and ungrateful attitude had deprived him of these companions. In fact, he continued, he had tried to read Planet Medicine that very morning and had vomited instead. “That’s what do did to me, you Benedict Arnold!”

A strange blend of praise and opprobrium indeed!

We spent the next two hours going through the whole affair in molten detail. Bill reenacted many of his prior arguments with blustery passion and then turned on a dime so fast that I never even saw the costume change. He got upbeat and chirpy (for him) as he harped over and over on the fact that the Dutton deal was a boon for everyone, that even having sequels under the same title was great—they didn’t dampen but heightened enthusiasm for the dog. He said that it was like peanuts—once they started eating them, people would want to keep eating more.

Glenn added, on a cue from Bill, that he would exploit all the Dutton touring dollars he could; he would promote our book on their dime at the same level as any sequel of theirs. Then Bill added, as if likewise rehearsed, that we would all be multimillionaires just from Walter, especially Glenn who needed it most of all. “You’re just too small to handle this,” he insisted once again, panning almost painfully then for my accommodation and empathy. “Walter is too big for your press. Otherwise, you would have had books out by Christmas and you wouldn’t have had a cretin and sociopath[8] doing your sales and marketing.”

His verbiage was condescending; he couldn’t help that. Yet I didn’t want conflict, so I promised I would talk to my cousin.

Bill stared hard at me, “You control this,” he snapped. “I will never believe that you don’t completely control every move your cousin makes.” That was kind of true, though maybe not in the way he thought.

In this meeting, Bill revealed an almost phobic aversion to involving lawyers, which was probably related to his desire always to remain invisible and hidden from discovery. In any case, I deferred any absolute promise and merely affirmed that it was not my choice to deal through lawyers on this.

After I was ameliorative and reassuring, he tried to hold up his end. Aside from promising again to promote our book and make us all wealthy, he left a hiatus for effect, then stared right at me, and asked if there was anything he could do to heal this situation for me once and for all. He sounded contrite and sincere. It was pretty much the high point, for then and in all the days to come. Fighting back tears, I took some time and a deep breath; then I answered:

“I can think of only two possibilities, but they are the right ones. You can agree to publish future Walters with us after the Dutton contract expires, nothing you even have to commit to right now; just keep the possibility alive. Say you’ll consider it so that there’s hope and good will between us again. Or you can take some of your earnings from Walter and either donate them to our nonprofit for charities we both agree on like maybe dog rescue or teen shelters or we can use them to copublish a line of books that we both find worthwhile. Either of these will morally put us in balance again.”

“Those are both admirable,” Bill said, “admirable indeed, and I will ponder them long and deeply. You have my promise to do something that will heal this breach.”

I’m sure he spoke with total conviction at the time, but he could no more carry out this pledge than Donald Trump could give his earnings to animal-rights organizations. Bill seemed to think that he could pass muster when we wanted as a Buddhist and a white magician, and he sure tried hard at times. But no, he couldn’t dig that deep, not then, not later, and not yet. Many Dutton Walters and movie contracts later, millions of dollars later, he has yet to even murmur about, let alone carry through, on either of the above. But he has found plenty of new ways to betray us.

The next three years marked a cycle of eternal return for the Walter imbroglio, with regular swings toward reconciliation, resolution, even atonement, followed by unsignalled swings back to hardened positions, condescension, and distrust. In retrospect, I don’t think that either of us were totally forthcoming or honest in our communications and actions, and yet everyone seemed to want to keep up a veneer of friendship and cooperation.

I became the first apostate, in fact only two crows of the cock after the meeting with Glenn and Bill at Bill’s house. En route to the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, on our way back to California, Lindy and I stopped in Vermont to visit our friendly rival, Inner Traditions International. Ehud Spurling, ITI’s publisher, gave us a tour of the press (see Chapter Six) and, at its terminus, pointed to two chairs in his office and then offered free consulting about any topic we wanted. Lindy brought up Walter and gave him a quick summary of the situation to date.

Though a sincere spiritual practitioner, Ehud is also, as noted, a competitive and serious businessman. He adopts a far more aggressive “take no prisoners” approach to publishing than we do, and in doing that he is both startling and refreshing. I had futzed around Bill and Glenn and Elizabeth with so much cautious diplomacy that I was kind of delighted to hear someone blow it all up. He made it quite clear that he would never have gotten himself in such a spot in the first place.

Ehud’s rap went roughly like this: “I don’t let any author fuck with me like that. Friendship is all well and good, but business is business. There’s no having it both ways. Anyway, what kind of friend would do that? That brand of shit sent my way, I’d send it flying back big-time so that the guy would seriously regret he ever messed with me.”

I tried to explain the quirky nature of Bill’s and my friendship and also how eccentric the guy was.

“That’s very sweet of you, Richard, but someone who fucks me over is not a friend, no matter what else he does to make up for it. And believe me, that’s what he did, in black and white or color, however you want it.

“There is no spiritual separation between business and practice. He knew exactly what he was doing when he tried the pin the whole rap on you. Lindy’s email to Glenn had no legal standing; he knew that, but he ran with it. So you insulted him; what else is new? I don’t believe for one minute that he was offended by being called a yuppie asshole. That just gave him an excuse. Right from the beginning he was intending to take advantage of you and maneuvering; I know how that kind of mind works. It’s always under the charade of being some kind of poet or a spiritual practitioner; we get them here all the time. It’s bullshit. It was there in his mind from the beginning—if this thing takes off, screw Richard; screw North Atlantic. He was your friend only as long as he could use you, and the moment he saw an advantage he pretended to be offended; then he made up stuff as cover to justify himself, and he sold your book out from under you. Repackage it any way you like, but that’s the basic story here, the only story. If he was a honorable guy, you would have talked out Lindy’s letter or the yuppie-asshole stuff by the next evening. Think about it. You do that kind of thing everyday. You don’t just rip someone off on the first pretext, especially a so-called friend.”

After the conversation drifted into a discussion of present options, I mentioned the questionable legality of our noncompetition clause.

“Fuck the noncompetition clause. You get a good lawyer—and I’ve got just the guy for you—and he’ll find something a lot better than a noncompetition clause for you. He’ll lob a grenade this Kotzwinkle’s way; it doesn’t matter how kosher it is. Nothing’s going all the way to court, believe me, and Dutton sure won’t pay his way.

“Someone does crap like he did, any lawyer worth his salt will find a way to put ants in his pants, something in the contract to nail him with. Richard, this guy intends you no good. He’s a horseshit friend. For me real friendship would be teaching this yuppie asshole a lesson—’cause that’s what he is. Stick it to him!”

“He did just give us the North American rights in French, Spanish, Latin, and—“

“Chump change. You want to be a chump?”

A few weeks later, in emails between Berkeley and New York, Ehud’s lawyer turned out to be singing much the same song. He found plenty in even our lame contract to go by. “They can’t pull what they’re trying,” he concluded, “not legally. There’s only one Walter the dog who does what he does. Walter has no other talents. And there are only so many venues in which he can do his thing.

“The strategy is obvious. We go after the monetary and market value of the dog. You have a contract for its publishing rights. What they are doing is, after the fact, after they turned the project down, after you were successful, suddenly, ‘Oh my goodness, look what I found mamamiya, it’s a story with sequels.’

“It won’t pass the smell test; it won’t fly in court. But, you know something, it’ll never get that far. We’ll serve Dutton too, and Dutton’s played with me many times, too many times for their appetite, and they’ve never won one yet. So what they’ll do is they’ll say, ‘Let’s make a deal.’ They’ll give you a portion of the authors’ cut. They’ll take it out of their advance and royalties. That’s the way it works; no one goes to trial on these things. They settle. Believe me; with my reputation in the business, they’ll settle. I wouldn’t touch this if I didn’t think I could win. I’ve had a lot tougher cases and a lot lamer contracts than your one. This is, pardon me, a slam-dunk. And anyhow, I like the topic. I’d like to put a farting dog on my trophy shelf.”

I asked about the letter from their lawyer raising the issue of the author’s right to livelihood. He asked what firm it came from and I told him. He said, “I know those guys well. I know everyone at that firm. They’re okay, nothing to write home about but competent. I would have had the same song and dance for you if I had been hired. It was a cheap response, five hundred dollars worth, and maybe you’d be dumb enough to go away. I guarantee, if they knew I was representing you, they wouldn’t try weak stuff like that. So, yes, they’re right, as far as it goes—big deal. The author’s right to livelihood is sacred, and noncompetition clauses aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. We all know as much. As I said, I would take a completely different line of attack.”

I paid him for his advice, but I chose not to hire him or pursue the matter. In retrospect, I felt I had made a solemn promise, and I did not want to go back on it just because I had suddenly found myself an army.

Discussing legalities at leisure and pursuing lawsuits in court are two very different things. Lawsuits are horrendous distractions from business (and life). They also raise the fog of war in which anything can happen. People even die. Plus I considered Bill and Glenn (as well as Audrey) still friends and did not want to put them in a crunch between us and Dutton.

Most of all, though, I didn’t, in my gut, want to be involved in this thing anymore, its threat behavior, its violence by proxy, and Lindy certainly didn’t; she wanted it dropped so that we could go on with our lives. I had lost my appetite for revenge or even redemption. It wasn’t worth it. And it didn’t reflect my temperament or belief system.

“I only hope that he proves worthy of your loyalty and friendship,” was the emailed response from Ehud’s guy.

This decision didn’t end the contention with Bill. One ugly incident after another strained my conviction that I had made the right choice by not taking the legal road; yet intermittently an equal number of hopeful events and positive exchanges reinforced my feeling that the choice was right and I should leave the ultimate resolution in the hands of the gods.

The first Walter sequel appeared that fall: Trouble at the Yard Sale. No one sent us a copy; no has yet sent us a copy of it or, for that matter, any of the sequels. Just one of the minor pieces of dismissal—and missed opportunities for civility and good will. We saw the book only after Audrey came by the office to leave a signed copy there for a friend to pick up.

Elizabeth Gundy wasn’t a co-author of the original Walter but, now that it had proved a commercial success, I saw that she had lost no time getting her name onto the marquee so that there were three authors (plus an illustrator) on the cover of this literary opus (and all future opera).[9] The first Walter arose from true improvisation and spirit; the rest would prove to be barely-disguised money machines. We were up against a cabal.

I almost couldn’t bear to look at the yard-sale Walter. For a few hours I pretended it wasn’t there; I wouldn’t touch it or open it. It was like plutonium, resembling ours so closely as to seem a mockery, a flaunting of Paula’s design and our efforts as an independent press to create a bestseller using a local artist and a distinctive goofy look. It had all been stolen without a shot being fired. This was really sand in our teeth. Just like in the movies when the big guy wipes out the indy, and the funky musicians seamlessly put on suits and change teams.

The second indignity arrived a month later with Glenn jetting into town on his whirlwind tour. At several local Bay Area stores he read from the book—presumably the new Dutton one but perhaps ours too. Despite my importuning that he come by our office and at least meet our staff, he and Bill obviously could not lose us small fry fast enough. When the kilt-man demurred on the basis of a tight schedule, I emailed Bill, but he seconded Glenn’s choice. He didn’t begin to understand the issue of honor or respect.

I would have been mollified by Glenn’s simple willingness to visit us and shake a few hands. No more of a gesture than that would have kept me cheery with them and accepting the rest of the shit with a smile.

That our office launched Walter and made all the rest possible was something, to Glenn’s mind, requiring no graciousness or consideration; after all, it was Kotzwinkle karma firing the engine.  Bill snarled, if emails can snarl, that there was no time in the schedule, that Glenn was being taken by limousine from one engagement to another and we were not paying for his trip, so we didn’t get to have a visit.

Bullet through the heart.

People have been shot in Renay’s neighborhood for a lot less than that. These guys were barely civilized thugs.

It wasn’t just that Bill snarled; I could tell that he enjoyed, at some level, rubbing it in, like with his ostensible foreign-rights triumphs—once again heralding, we’re big-time now, with our limousine; we’ve got no use for you anymore, step aside the bus, bub—please, it’s moving. There wasn’t a hint of courtesy or compassion. He didn’t want to purchase my good will for a pittance, a penny on the dollar, even though it was offered at about that price.

In fact, when I took up this seemingly minor incident with him the following summer during our first hike—like, ‘hey, just out of respect he might have dropped by for five minutes; it wouldn’t have killed him’—Bill responded with a five-minute oratorical splutter, a hyper-patriotic hymn in praise of Glenn’s gentle soul, evading the topic in favor of casting his buddy as a virtual saint about whom nothing bad should ever, ever be breathed in any context—and I should be ashamed of myself for even thinking Glenn was less than the most generous, decent human being on the planet. Much like Elizabeth was the most transparent woman in the species rather than a Jewish American Dragon Lady.

He later trashed Mark Ouimet to me as an evident hustler and sleazeball that Elizabeth had read in fifteen seconds flat—his reason for turning down a bunch of Mark’s marketing and sub-rights ideas.

Did they somehow have all the good guys and only good guys on their team? And no one else had any?

As foreshadowed, the sequels to Walter were not sequels in the usual sense; they were just re-tellings of the narrative in our book with a superficial change in scenery. It was easy to do because the story was basically asinine, vapid, and simplistic.

I have read them all by now; there is no sequence of plot—only a rivalry of re-cloakings of the original saga: Walter farts and gets in the figurative doghouse; then his farts save the day and he becomes a hero.

Since Walter is basically, as noted, a one-line joke embellished into an illustrated story, true sequels are pretty much impossible, as I suspected would be the case when I got the original fax from the agent and invoked the noncompetition clause as a weapon. The only option for an author feigning sequels is to re-tell the joke by a different route with different elements to the punchline in order to get to the same yuk.

It is such a banal joke, really, that it is not hard to keep making it up anew. A farting dog is plebian humor with a target as broad as the proverbial side of an Iowa barn, especially as drawn flatulent and blobby by Audrey.[10] To my mind the Dutton books were amateur imitations of ours, not original works but bare-faced knock-offs. Anything could have fit. You could make up ten plausible stories about Walter as valid and marketable as any of the ones that they used; you could do it every morning before lunch.

For that, they needed Elizabeth too?

Here is part of an email from a prominent legal specialist whom Ehud’s lawyer consulted on our behalf:

“[Walter] is not a concept that is likely to support a successful series of books. Accordingly, it is my opinion that any future books in the series are likely to compete with, rather than complement, the original work. Many series of children’s books that have successfully supported a series (rather than a successful single book) have a central character or characters with distinct personality traits that develop throughout the books, or that carry them through a number of different situations. Curious George, a classic for children of the target age, lets his curiosity get the better of him, placing him in humorous situations. Walter, on the other hand, has no personality or distinguishing characteristics (other than the obvious)—he’s a one-trick dog. There is no clue in the book as to why the children love him or what he does other than fart. I view it rather like the Home Alone movies—the first appealed to a wide variety of people, but the concept could not sustain additional movies where the child did the same thing under different circumstances.”

Over the summers of 2004, 2005, and 2006 Bill and I remained hiking buddies. He even led me to his secret marsh off Seal Cove Road where no one else had been privileged to walk with him. We glancingly touched on the dog during our walks, but, over the three years, it came up for maybe a cumulative half hour or so, probably never more than five minutes at a shot.

Even if I could remember every word, it would be overkill to report any more of this redundant dialogue. Bill had two essential positions and, though he wavered between them, they remained stable in themselves, with neither one ultimately winning…until finally one did.

On an early hike that second summer Walter flared into brief cognizance, as out of the blue Bill urged me not to do a paperback of our title because we would undermine its value and he cared most about making the max per copy and knew eventually the hardcover would sell in the millions. I then peeped my dismay at the fact that, despite their advances from Dutton (rumored to be around $500,000 per book), we were in fact the only ones paying the authors the max per copy, far more than Dutton and, with our huge sales, our royalties had already way surpassed their advances.

It was Bill’s obsession not to give anything away, not a percentage point, because of his surety of the explosion of sales that would come after the movie—yet he gave Dutton the books at a steep discount in exchange for their advance money. And he blocked our selling the UK rights and actively impeded other several sub-rights deals that Mark negotiated after he became our sales and marketing manager, including audio editions, pop-up books, and games, because he didn’t want to lose a single license or, in his words, dilute the product. And sweet Elizabeth supposedly had seen through our guy as a charlatan.

Yet Bill meanwhile sold a Walter farting doll to people across town from us in Oakland.

After I promised to keep our book out of paperback, less than one year later Dutton began releasing their own paper editions. Bill had to admit that these were done solely for additional big advances; they were not even earning out beyond that. He had forgotten by then that he asked us not to do our own paper edition.

Still he wouldn’t budge, even for argument’s sake, from the implicit argument that Dutton was big-time and deserved the books and we were small-time and irrelevant. He didn’t keep saying it outright, but he almost always meant it, and by implication.

“If you care so much about maxing your share,” I asked him flatly once, “why don’t you do more Walters with us instead of Dutton?”

“Shut up,” he said. “Soon enough we’ll both be dead.”

Bill is nasty by intent and principle; after all, Carlos Castaneda is his model. In his mind he and I were innately magicians engaged in clandestine warfare, not comrades in a realm of wonder and empathy. He wanted not merely to defeat me but to wipe the floor with me.

He doesn’t believe in things like good will, empathy, or honor. Those are for wimps.

Ask around. Ask anyone but Glenn. Most people at least make a stab at being decent. Bill doesn’t even try. He is like a mafia guy that way, a tiny Rumplestiltskin with a bruiser on either side of his dauphin’s throne.

One afternoon when we drifted too far into Walter garbage while gazing out from the summit forest at the offshore islands, I ill-advisedly bumbled into the tabooed topic.

He quickly growled, in his “soon enough both dead” voice: “Bad faith has its price. You showed bad faith by wanting to renegotiate. I’m not some kind of therapist who forgives you. I’m an existentialist. You fuck with me, you pay for it.”

Good line anyway.  That’s why I remembered it word for word.

His more redemptive toggle usually began with some variant of the “latest of my thousand mistakes.”He  regretted terribly what had happened: “There isn’t a day when I don’t regret it.” He loved North Atlantic and its denizens. He supported our staff and wanted to hear all our publishing details and latest gossip. He was going to find some way to make amends and remedy the situation. He would not sign another contract with Dutton but would come back to us as soon as he fulfilled his present book obligations. He would publish other important books with us, including the long-withheld sequel to his masterpiece Fan Man. He and I would work together to create a magnificent line of books and Walter would fund them all, especially once the movie came out.

(If you were cynical, you could point to the quit-claim on the movie rights that arrived a few months after that particular piece of grandiloquence, once I was back in California. I signed the document; it stated that Frog and North Atlantic had no claim to anything from the movie and that any and all material from our book could be used anywhere in any form in perpetuity without payment, including in any movie tie-in books. They apparently needed that document from us in order to get their deal.)

In this upbeat mood Bill continued to blame just about everything on the original agent whom he liked to add, imperiously, that he had recently fired. His new agent was actually his first agent from decades earlier, a grande dame who had been in the business just about forever. But it was a little late.  By then the “bad” agent owned just about all of Walter, our book and the sequels.

After much cajoling and pleading by both Mark Ouimet and me, Bill did yield to splitting the cost of co-op on mass merchandising and chain accounts to allow us enough margin to make those sales, but I never felt he got the point or respected the issue. He acted as though he was doing us a huge favor rather than helping his own publisher sell books under the weight of a 35% royalty and co-op requirements for stocking. He made it seem that he didn’t need those sales anyway because he had so many others. “Why give up our principles?” he said initially, as if this were about principles and he were inherently nobler than Target or Costco.

We have never had any other author or copublisher balk on sharing co-op when it was necessary to make a sale.

In 2005 a prominent healer friend of mine, Frank Lowen, came to Mount Desert to teach a seminar. I was working on a book with him about his innovative somatic system and I used the week of his visit to tape him to get a transcript of the material. During that time Bill asked what he could pay to get Frank to work on Elizabeth, as she had a longstanding serious condition. As a famous bodyworker, Frank had many such offers and very little time, but he used some of it to give Elizabeth a free treatment of unusual length and depth. When Bill tried to pay him, Frank brushed him off and refused money, asking instead for Bill to help him on his book.

“Well,” Bill retorted, “you’re going to have the best damn book ever written.”

In 2005 Bill’s new agent called me and said that her client was fulfilling his promise to show us future Walters before signing another Dutton contract. She promised, at my request, that our high royalty would be evaluated alongside an advance for their relative value. She then sent me a jetpack of transcripts of three future Walters, similar templates to the two-page script that we were shown originally in 2000 but more spiffily attired.  They were like Lévi-Straussian variants of the same South American Indian myth.

I suggested to her that we pay an advance, a smaller one than Dutton’s half-mill, but still keep our royalty structure.

She should do the real math, I said, and let Bill know the outcome.

She was old-fashioned, and I didn’t get the sense that she even understood the difference between net and cover price or how to make a spreadsheet. I’m not sure what, if anything, she showed her clients.

After a while she wrote that Bill now wanted a million dollars per book—yes, even from us.

I had been there before, many times, so elected not to say anything about it, even to Bill. He would soon take me on the walk across the magical marsh.

Yes, the Dutton books and Glenn’s nonstop promotion boosted our sales for a time, in fact dramatically, and the whole series hit the top of New York Times bestseller list, numero uno for weeks,[11] but even before Dutton our Walter had been number one on the Times picture-book list.

As a string of Walters appeared, we continued on the cusp of the Times list, sometimes falling off, sometimes returning, until the magic wore off and sales dropped and Dutton stopped doing new ones.  I don’t know if that cessation is permanent or temporary.  Audrey thinks that it is permanent, and she is disaffected from the cabal, though another big advance might change that.  Though our Walter continues to sell well, it is a fraction of what it did at its height, and I sense that the fad has run its course, though WTFD is now a part of American folklore, and that won’t go away.  There will probably be a movie, someday.  More on that later.

I decided to stop dealing with Bill for good in the fall of 2006. Lindy and I were traveling in Europe and, en route to Iceland, attended the Frankfurt Book Fair. There I met an Icelandic publisher with whom I had discussions about working on a variety of literary projects. At some point in our conversation I told her about Walter.

She said that she might be interested in an Icelandic version of such a book but the advance would only be $500 because the language had such a small audience. I responded that I was fine with that but I needed to check with the author because he held the rights.

At about the same time, a small avant-garde Italian publisher came to our press’s booth and inquired about doing a highly quirky nonexclusive Italian edition of Walter.

From the show’s computer I sent Bill an email, detailing both exchanges in hopefully a light tone and playful style based on our rapport. I asked if we could handle these two transactions since they were minor and involved very little money. My email was four paragraphs long.

His return email, read at a coffee shop in Mainz on a Sunday morning, opened with a paragraph of excessive flattery for the trip journal I was sending out then to my friends (see “2006 Europe Journal” on this website). He told me that it was the best kind of travel writing and I should publish the pieces. By now I was used to this game, and I knew something bad was coming next. Ehud had named it correctly: Chump change.

He concluded: “As to the rights, the answer is no.”

Not: “I am sorry. I’d like to do it, but I don’t feel I can.” Not even, “Sorry to shoot you, but I get compulsive whenever I’m holding a gun.” Which, or its equivalent, would have been the minimum acceptable—but still acceptable.

Certainly not: “I understand how you feel, but I want to keep all the rights for now. I’m sorry.”

Any of these would have left me feeling moderately comfortable and believing that Bill was sincere in his claim that he really felt badly about what happened and wanted to make it up, even atone. This left no “out.” It was, as Renay nailed it, “pure ice.”

In themselves Iceland and Italy were a very minor incident, but they were when the mask slipped off. I couldn’t pretend any longer. Bill had forgotten the script, had forgotten to play his role. Maybe he was confident by now that he had won for good and felt he didn’t have to act any more. After all, he had given us the North American rights for the French and Spanish, praised my writing, acted as my friend and hiking companion, and shown me his secret marsh.

For the first time I felt with conviction that Lindy’s original email to Glenn was incidental and collateral, as Ehud proposed; so were “yuppie asshole” and Sam and the hex and even the missed Christmas. His reasons and regrets and promises were all, to use the technical sociological term, diabolical lies. He meant to screw us from the beginning. It was his instruction not to renegotiate the royalty on the first printing, his instruction not to let us bid for the sequels, his instruction not to evaluate the advances from Dutton in the context of our higher royalties. We had pretty much been told this by two different agents.  He had been out-and-out brazenly lying for years.

Why had I stayed in denial so long? Why did I keep pretending that this was an honorable man and there always had to be another explanation for his seeming betrayals?

After all, this is a guy whose land in West Tremont is posted with so many overkill No Trespassing notices that he is mainly known in the community for their misanthropy: the local gremlin, Mr. Mean, Elmer Fudd.

He never lifted a finger for Frank’s book.

He doesn’t care. He believes the universe is evil and that one has to be a merciless magician in order to defend against a fundamentally carnivorous world.

I didn’t write him almost a year and, when I did finally, early the following summer upon arriving in Maine, I sent the following, somewhat ingenuous email, a good portion of which I will excerpt here:

“Bill, I consider you one of the best friends I have ever had. Our conversations and walks have been revelatory, companionly in the best sense—a real meeting of spirits, both of us strangers in a strange land. I have no bad feelings toward you, honestly. I know you too well by now to indulge in grudges or petulance or old wounds…. I respect what you do to survive and make no challenge of it.

“I do, however, for myself, find it untenable to continue the relationship as it has been. I have thought about this a great deal since the incident that set this course. It comes down to perhaps little more than the Golden Rule. That doesn’t sound like much, but I think it is one of the keys to the universe, even in all the might and awe of the stars and spirits.

“We have so few reliable clues to guide us. Trying to treat others with dignity and compassion creates a way for the universe to treat us likewise, with care and compassion, even for its most horrid entities to treat us that way. I think that our projection onto the universe is ultimately our destiny, so more and more these days I try to be careful because, when I look at myself with any honesty, I see someone who, despite all else, has been very sloppy and indulgent….

“I am thinking now that my acts create the type of universe I’d like to live in, but more than that, the type of universe I must help create if I am to find my own true nature and heart and any viable path through darkness….

“In the balance of our relationship, at this stage of potential personal and archetypal depth, I do not want to concede the universe to sabotage or a power struggle of warring beasts.

“I have no practical agenda with you. I used to, but I don’t any more. I didn’t seek any pieces of the dog. I just want to feel comfortable. All I ask, really, to go forward if we do, is that you treat me with respect as well as honor me with the truth, when anything is said at all. Treat me as you would want me to treat you. It’s that simple. There’s nothing more, yet the cosmic impact of that would be huge for who we both are and want to be. It’s not called the Golden Rule for nothing.

“If we can meet with an intention to that level of candor, I promise that I will do nothing to scare or harm you. I am not asking for any great or new intimacy or divulging, just that we be open about our own stuff and not have two moralities, two languages, twained motives. There is only one universe and, if we want to be dharma friends and allies on the path, we can’t, to my mind, artificially split it between what counts and what doesn’t count…because we will always make those choices that protect the status quo of those agendas that seem to serve us the most but actually serve us the least….

“I am okay if you don’t want to go there—not as okay as if you did but much more okay than continuing the present charade. To quote you, ‘It is beneath our dignity as warriors.’”

He never answered.

About nine months later his grande dame agent sent us a new farting proposal, a totally different book concept with a different artist (no kidding!—but the half-royalties to Audrey had been a burr under his britches all these years, an open wound that he now sought to assuage). It was called something like “Farts that Changed History,” for instance, an Egyptian fart blowing off the top of a pyramid. The book was not even really targeted for children.

By then, though the market for fart books had collapsed, but we ran the proposal by Random House anyway.

Their publishing arm had already seen it more than once, and they showed no enthusiasm, so we rejected it.

I take it that Dutton (and probably everyone else in the business) had also already turned this book down, but from the agent’s epistle heralding their submission of the proposal to us, it would have seemed that Bill, Glenn, and Elizabeth just coronated us anew as their favorite publisher.


The first movie was eventually canceled, but two years later the agent wrote us to sign a second quitclaim for a new option. I wrote back:

“The existing contract spells out what rights each party have and should safely feel they can exercise. Beyond the contract, there should be no need for separate agreements at this particular juncture of affairs. If there is, it is over my head as a contract amateur and, thus, you should deal with our attorney, Steve Rood….

“I understand that we signed a quitclaim for an earlier movie option, but we did so purely as a gesture of good will at a time when we were operating informally and on the basis of uncritical generosity. Even then, there were items we signed off on, according to our associate publisher at the time, that were legally ours and should have been kept, and it was on my sole word that we overrode his concerns and put our signature on the document. My feeling now is that, either we are in a state of mutual and reciprocal munificence, or things should be done nonpersonally and professionally.

“It is in everyone’s interest that a movie get done, and I do not want to imply that we would in any way obstruct that process. Even if it weren’t in our interest, we would never obstruct a creative and well-intentioned project gratuitously or recreationally. I am just saying that creating a new legal document between us or between us and your prospective partners is not an automatic. And, to repeat what I said above, the production company should not need a separate agreement from us to confirm rights they already have unless they want those rights reconstellated in a way that requires reconsideration and negotiation. So far as I can see–but again I am an amateur—they can make the movie without saying boo to us or hearing boo.”

Kind of like, “You guys have already raped us enough. We’re not going to just sign on numbly for you to do it all over again. I mean, every document we have signed has been used against us to the max. Why sign another?

About six months later Fox Studios announced that the Jonas Brothers would star in a forthcoming Walter the Farting Dog movie.

Meanwhile, the goose that laid the golden eggs is still laying, not nearly as fast, maybe at 20% of her mean level and 1% of her high point. But wait till the movie comes out. You know about Bill’s egregious karma by now.

There is something truly wonderful and touching about the guy, his dignity in the face of the terrifying universe he creates daily, his deep sense of history and magic, his courage to keep pushing on the veil, the beauty of his Blakean soul. Sometimes I saw these clearly and was humbled and moved to tears by the ferocity of a wounded warrior and troubadour who had somehow lost his way.

Greed and arrogance didn’t make Bill a tough guy or get him anything he didn’t already have. But it twisted his capacity for love, and it separated him from the people who most would have loved him back for who he was. It made him into a false bandito, an ill-cast hit-man. His sacred persona grew an ugly, repulsive mask over it. In a child it would have been a charade that instantly broke into a forgiving smile. In Bill it had become an executioner’s visor that he couldn’t let go. He wanted to be terrifying and mean because he didn’t want anyone getting too close.

So that’s where it sits.

In retrospect, I think I did as bad a job as could be done on this project, and I owe an apology to all past, present, and future employees of North Atlantic Books. Economically it negates a fair amount of what I did well over the years, and that is one reason why I am so sensitive about it, that and the feeling of Bill’s betrayal. Especially once Richard Handel was dead and couldn’t mediate between us anymore. The last thing Richard told me, a week before the car accident, was that Bill and I were in the project to teach each other important karmic lessons.

I didn’t perceive the potential of the “farting dog” at the beginning, but that was no excuse for a sloppy, lazy, intimidated contract. I let my desire to be liked and accepted by Kotzwinkle, a man not deserving of anyone’s love, get in the way of my responsibility to protect our interests and to stand up for myself as both a human being and a man. I failed on all these counts. Then I whined and bitched and humbled myself for years and never had the guts to man up and go to court and fight for what was ours.

Walter proved that I was never a business sort of guy. No businessman would conduct himself the way I did, no publisher worth his salt. Just as with Sam, I was all hippie, touchy-feely, and I got mauled by both of them because they weren’t touchy-feely at all.

I don’t mean to sound falsely modest and self-critical. I know that I have done lots of good stuff at North Atlantic and have shaped a meaningful and humane company. But Walter the Farting Dog pretty much showed me up for everything I wasn’t.

And it goes right on a-hurtin’.

In the early 1980s Steven Spielberg read Fan Man and was apparently so taken with its brilliance that he honored its author, William Kotzwinkle, with the plum of novelizing his movie E.T. Last summer (2008) I discovered that Fan Man was actually drawn from the life of a guy in Bill’s downtown NYC circle, someone I’ll call Joel Katz. It was a portrait masterfully rendered.

Thereafter, though, Joel walked around like a ghost, feeling his identity had been stolen from him and that Kotzwinkle had made his fortune from his life. For nearly thirty years he has been suffering this theft.

How do I know this? Because in September 2008 I reconnected with an old Goddard co-faculty member, Marc Estrin, and he was a long-time friend of Joel’s. Here is the more amazing thing: Marc had just completed a novel entitled The Annotated Nose describing how one William Hundwasser steals the identity of Alexei Pigov.

As Marc and I continued an email communication, he told me the tragic tale of Joel so I cut and pasted the above account of Kotzwinkle, Walter, and me into a file. Marc responded:

“I had previously known Kotzwinkle only through reports of my friend, the model for The Fan Man. His story was as painful as yours (though not in such great detail), and it interested me enough to pitch The Annotated Nose onto its territory. I invented my own ‘Kotzwinkle’ character, one William Hundwasser. I will show you later, for your amusement, one of the notes by Alexei Pigov, the Fan Man character in Hundwasser’s novel. It is uncanny that I have reproduced EXACTLY some of the language you report.”

Yes, Bill promised The Fan Man some of the same things he promised me, fed him some of the same gushy lines about karma and destiny.

I believe that writing is ruthless and writers must be likewise, so I do not begrudge Bill his theft of the actual Fan Man’s life, not at all. It was an act of artistic genius—a tour de force. It also made his fortune because, although The Fan Man did not sell enough books to change lives, it inspired Spielberg to hire him to novelize E.T. It was that novelization that made Bill a millionaire and a Maine coast landholder.

It was a gift from Spielberg. I don’t know that I would blame Bill for taking this gift while never redressing his prior theft that led to it. I probably wouldn’t have. Art is art. Bill owes Joel nothing and, in truth, he owes me nothing.

However, Mr. Kotzwinkle sure does get all worked up when anyone refers to his writing of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial as a novelization rather than a novel. He likes to claim E.T., but Melissa Matheson imagined and then gave life to the wise alien.

I saw the movie again recently. It is a poignant and epic tale, and it moves me to tears with its message of cosmic love and compassion. (Compare it to the nastiness and casual violence of Bill’s recent novel The Amphora Project, an unflagging account of a carnivorous and irreparable universe.)

Now that I know the back story, I smile at the notion that Bill could have created E.T. whole-cloth. He doesn’t have the heart.

This story—“Bad Karma from the Farting Dog”—is the chapter I most considered leaving out of my informal history of the press. All along throughout the bloggy text I have tried, as much as was possible while still telling the inside story of North Atlantic at a level of substance and depth, to avoid implicating others by actrual name. It was impossible here. And it was also impossible to take any sort of stab at the esoteric unfolding of North Atlantic Books without encountering this tale head-on and disclosing it.

Reliving Walter is like brushing all the blessings and good will and treasures back against the grain to expose the raunch and antiphon and hollow underneath—not only the shadow of the press but the shadow of my own life and behavior, my unresolved internal conflicts in an attempt simultaneously to achieve right livelihood and cultivate the art of war, to foster business ethics while playing for real and to win (as is the seeming main point of the great American zero-sum game); hence my impenetrable (often even to me) mixture of spurious charm and heart-felt munificence, my contrary emotions arising from love and generosity on the one hand and competitiveness and treachery on the other and, on yet another, Delphic hand, some ancient and obscure requisite of shame and self-punishment, a self-effacing renunciation, even of what I had honorably and legitimately earned, a refusal to cross the finish line for the same enigmatic non-reason given by the lead character in that movie The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I hardly knew who I was or why I did what I did. But it felt like a desperate attempt to declare an ultimate loneliness and innocence, an arcane defiance and abstinence of all booty and success and prerogative by part of me while another part played the miser, bandito, and glutton. No wonder I was paralyzed and self-sabotaging.

Underneath the success story of North Atlantic Books, underneath my winsome account of creating a miracle publishing company by the motto that life is what happens to you while you are trying to do other things, there is the story of my character flaws and destructive compulsions; my ingenuous high mindedness and counterphobic noble deed-doing; my trenchant and unconscious refusal to be an adult and then to be a man and then to be a warrior; to play for real stakes and take the risk of losing; to be in the game without one foot outside the ring, my retreat and denial of complicity always right at hand ( “I made you look, I made you look”: a petulance and inconsolable tantrum); my tendency to pettiness rather than standing up for what I believed in and taking my chances with fortune, a real poet’s and hero’s chance; the terror inside me that led me to act from fear and to hold the beast, my own beast, at bay rather than to play my true hand, to throw my hat into the ring with hope and confidence, despite all the acts of hope and confidence that I nonetheless also carried out in creating the press.

This story is not my revenge on Kotzwinkle, as Lindy fears, leading her to ask me not to include it here. It is not revenge so much as a dire and importunate attempt to understand what really happened in order to cleanse the event and make it bearable. Likewise, it has to be here because it uniquely reveals a fuller truth of the North Atlantic enterprise.

Despite all these mistakes, neurotic warps, bumbles, and, to use Kotzwinkle’s inimitable phrasing of it, my “acts of bad faith,” I am still baffled and disappointed by certain things that I will never understand. Here they are:

I could never understand why I was unable to persuade Bill to have a rational dialogue about the practicalities of the “farting dog” or to interrogate with me, chapter and verse, how he could have made more money, much more money if maxing out capital was the goal dearest to his heart, brainstorming Walter’s future with North Atlantic than by selling off the bogus sequels. As it was, most of the Walter money went not to us or to him or Glenn or even to Audrey but to Dutton’s corporate shareholders. Millions of dollars, maybe twenty-five or fifty million big ones, were thrown out the window because of—what?—Bill’s pride not to have to work with a “small press”?; his refusal to examine his own superstitions and rigid beliefs?; his competitive rage mixed with love toward me and the taboo against even looking at the dilemma and conflict in himself, let alone pulling off its austere mask?

It wasn’t so much that he did what he did; it wasn’t necessarily that he refused to discuss or negotiate or consider; it was that he had a horror even to look at what he was doing or the unexamined decisions he was belligerently and mindlessly making as though brilliant acts of mature strategy while they were actually craven “I want it all and I want to do it all” narcissism and projections of a self-righteous steady-state anger toward everyone and everything but particularly anyone who got close to him, a horror that forbade discussion much the way a tyrannical parent forbids a child a pleading word when dispatching him to bed.

I don’t understand his lack of empathy or his lack of even the most basic inclination toward collaboration (that is, beyond his pact with Glenn and Elizabeth), toward rebellion against the corporate machine and creating free autonomous zones to liberate our own labors, the means of production, and the use of wealth.

Even in the context of Frog, the basic North Atlantic operation was indelibly non-profit. Any extra money wasn’t going to go into Richard and Lindy’s pockets—we were on salary, and our salaries weren’t ever going to shoot up, no matter what happened, and we were never going to sell Frog out from under our staff. The Walter bounty that never came was going to go into philanthropy of one sort or another: our organic farm in Gustine, our program of publishing non-commercial books that wouldn’t get published otherwise, supporting the local Whole Health Center on Mount Desert, creating shelters and food kitchens for the homeless in Maine and the Bay Area, rescuing stray dogs and cats and healing injured loggerhead turtles, supporting a college fund for school children in the Oakland ghettos, and so on—the things that North Atlantic did when it had extra cash. Bill perversely and belligerently and stubbornly took those millions of dollars from good and charitable use and handed them over to the corporate beast, proudly and sanctimoniously, as if proving how much smarter and a business bigshot he was, seemingly without realizing he was giving away a good part of his own share too. I can’t understand why that enterprise could not be subject to analysis and civil discussion even if, in the end, he want to grab all he could while the grabbing was good.

I never understood his betrayal of our friendship or of basic ethics. Once we got back together as it were, our relationship hung on a delicate tether and by a thread. It required at least two complex diplomatic and mindful acts simultaneously: 1. Not ever talking about Walter while always talking about it in the guise of gossiping about everything else in the universe, as we turned the farting dog and his and our mercantile adventures into an ontological and epistemological inquiry into what our real philosophies of the universe were while we played at every other abstract philosophy in the book and pretended that they not our business dealings were the real higher practices; 2. Making it possible for Bill to admit implicitly and deniably that he had behaved unethically and callously against our joint interests, spiritual principles, and pact of honor with Richard Handel and the Mount Desert community, while allowing him to declare ferociously, at the same time, that I was the one who betrayed and violated same and deserved what I got for forcing him to act preemptively as he did.

Bill and I were able to stay in relationship only as long as the balance between us was maintained with care and a smidgen of sincerity, but the moment he decided to grab for everything and to drop all pretense that we had a pivot to keep and that it was worth keeping was the moment at which I bailed. I had to bail, to retain any commitment to the truth, to my self-respect, and to a semblance of mutual ethics and principle. In the end, he seemed to confess to being a gonif who couldn’t help himself (and god forgive us all because that’s how it had to be)—so it became a matter of a business partner in a joint venture not knowing how much was enough for himself and when to stop taking from his friends, his own heartfulness, and his basis for mercy and compassion—the very thing, it seems, that Mr. Madoff and the London crew of AIG and the mortgage brokers as well as most of the American financial-services industry, so-called (the service part, that is) never got.

When Bill said, in essence, “You fucked up, I’m an existentialist, and you have to pay for it,” I loved it and I respected him for his honesty, his willingness and capacity to send zen slaps and street lessons my way, to teach me what I needed to know for the long haul. That seemed to fulfill our destined role as each other’s spiritual sparring partners, uke and nage, not adversaries but putting the mystery, the shadow, and the dark side of the Great Mother always ahead of mere courtesy or polite concessions of fairness and faint-hearted decorum. Then we were the warriors and philosophers he had proposed we should be.

But when he merely grabbed for more and more and finally everything—pure situational ethics at its most opportunistic—and sneaked behind my back while pretending not to, and lied as if it wasn’t lying, as if mere thievery and duplicity were constitutionally beneath his honor and stature as an internationally renowned artist and shamanic magician, then I couldn’t, in loyalty to our pact as each other’s guides, indulge his vanity and grandiosity any longer. I could excuse anything else, but I couldn’t not brook his Judas kiss, his treachery and perfidy toward our sangha and the memory of Mr. Handel.

In the end I seemed almost to be dealing with an existential automaton spewing out dark fortunes for all of us and for the planet. It took me a long time to understand that and believe it was happening. I kept coming back to my image that there was a human being there whose humanity I could find, but I never got inside the robot, the yuppie asshole.

So the one time at North Atlantic that we succeeded commercially in a major way, I never got to put the money to creative and charitable use, and, despite many home runs in my other at-bats, I never got out of the batter’s box with this author. I don’t think I even got him to throw me a single pitch. Not really. All that happened between us was an accident that he put a halt to as soon as he realized it was happening.

Chapter 20: Crises 4: The Publishers Group West Bankruptcy | Table of Contents


A different, more mythological version of the Handel-Grossinger/Hough-Kotzwinkle tale appears in my book On the Integration of Nature, Post-9/11 Biopolitical Notes, pp. 213-236. That telling of the story there highlights the sacred geography of Mount Desert Island and the spiritual and occult sangha that formed around Richard Handel.
Even after the success described in this chapter, children’s-book buyers, agents, and publicists were quick to tell us that we still weren’t a children’s book publisher (e.g., a member of the club); we had just had a flukey success. One agent even admitted jealously, “I had a farting project almost exactly like yours, and I don’t know why it never took off. It was really better than Walter the Farting Dog.” In any case, we were never allowed a follow-up entry to Walter. After “the farting dog” as before, we were ostracized from the children’s market.
As will be discussed later, Kotzwinkle was hired by Spielberg, a fan of his fiction, to novelize the screenplay of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.
I think she was about a quarter his age. Years later Bill suggested that she must have been either his muse or his mistress. “Why else would he have suffered such a squirrel-brained novice?” he said.
Some version of this happens with other authors occasionally; they think that they are slumming with us and we never pay them what they could really earn, even when we pay them far more than they could get anywhere on the mainline. For a similar reason, independent bookstores historically identified with large corporate publishers rather than independent presses. They craved the stature and legitimacy.
A back story about Bill’s and my metaphysical dialogues that year appears in a recent book of mine, The Bardo of Waking Life, pp. 23-26.
I have not mentioned The Return of Crazy Horse lately because its sales were negligible.
By then I felt we had sociopaths-calling-each-other-sociopaths falling out of the trees!
Under her maiden name, Elizabeth Kotzwinkle is a novelist with a specialty of detective stories.
I am reminded of the woman buying one in a Bar Harbor store when I happened to be there.  She asked the clerk intentionally loud in front of her chubby spouse if they had a book called “Walter the Farting Husband.” It was that level of shock humor.
Though our publicity person had to inform the Times that Dutton didn’t publish all the volumes as they had declared.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ed December 2, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Enjoyed your writing about Grossinger’s Hotel. I worked there in the mid seventies as a night auditor. It was a great experience living and working there. I especially recall with gratitude how well employees were treated. I felt like a guest. I lived on the top floor of Milton Berle Building. Employee dining room had great food and even waiters. I went on from there to manage and now own my own hotel. Your family business taught me how to treat employees. It was a great lesson that I went on to learn is rarely copied. I would love to visit Grossinger’s one day. Great memories indeed.

Polly Hough November 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Thanks to Richard and responders for an interesting dialogue, some of which seems helpful, but too much seeking to blame Hillary for losing, when she fought as hard as she could to continue what she could of Obama’s Legacy, which has benefited many, though not enough. Thanks also to Congress! I do wonder about her handlers and advisors’ thinking. Trump’s smoke screen of scandalous comments has obscured our view, and perhaps obscured the complexity of the problems. Hillary has apologized for her errors, and had the right to her point of view. I do wish that she had embraced more heartily Sanders’ populist approach and even chosen him to be her Vice Presidential contender, but I think they still might have lost. She had a workable platform, he had charisma and slogans. With work, they could have unified their vision. But neither addressed the “rigging” that I see Republicans do every day here in Utah. Is it so common that we don’t see it?
I suspect the truth of why the Democrats lost lies in the systematic cheating that the Republicans set up long ago, which was not sufficiently revealed and decried. It is time to read Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman’s,” The Flip & Strip Death of American Democracy…”, ( and look into the rigging in each state, particularly those key ones that lost her the election. She didn’t lose by that much if you face up to the weak democratic institutions we have going, and the way it allows the Electoral College system to malfunction without corrective. Let’s quit grieving and get to work fixing the damn thing. Too much is at stake. Trump’s finger should not be on the Nuclear button.

Linda November 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

I just finished Ron Sieh’s book and would love to take lessons from him. Can you tell me where is and if he’s teaching?

Vegeko December 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

You can find pictures of here. Should I aemttpt to preface the city of a hundred spires, its lovely architecture cannot be forgotten. Search in your memory for a name of any style you can think of. Prague will almost certainly have some landmark to offer – be it from hundreds of years ago such as Romanesque rotunda or from numerous eras spanning centuries. The latter can be represented by the picturesque Prague Castle with its truly magnificent St Vitus’s Cathedral or the tiny (and that is probably one of the reasons why) fairy-tale like Golden Lane. The same applies to architectonic landmarks “remembering” merely several decades such as the precious Cubist pearls scattered here and there in Prague’s winding streets, buildings, , theaters, museums.

Richard Grossinger August 16, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Thanks for the comment. It was meant to serve a healing function itself, as there is not really a general cure for optical migraines. But no, I don’t have a lot of specific or topic-oriented feedback. Most of it is on the same level of yours: general usefulness of the book. As probably goes without saying (from my quotes and bibliography), I consider Oliver Sacks’ book Migraine very useful, but the best one is a book that our press published for which Sacks wrote the preface: Migraine Art. It is more than a picture book; it goes into great detail on the categories of auras and their effects. Richard

Jackie Perkins August 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Hi Richard,
I read your book about migraine auras several years ago and have reread it several
times. Thank you so much for writing it as it helps me when I have a bout of
auras with very little headache. I was wondering if you have had a lot feedback
from fellow sufferers and if you have learned anything more about them since
the book was written. Can you refer me to any other sources to help me make
peace or get rid to them completely.
Any comments will be appreciated,\.

Jacqueline phillips December 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for sharing. Raised in the village of Liberty. Worked the switchboard at the G as a teenager. Went to school with Sandy. Sad it did not continue.

david hovey August 27, 2014 at 9:40 am

my mother and aunt were bauer sisters..founder of lpga golf association..i spent many summers up there..great..miss it

Richard Grossinger May 22, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Dear Jim, Thanks for writing. You were really there at the core of my time, a rare thing. I don’t specifically remember you, though. Let me know if you want the two books, New Moon and/or Out of Babylon, as I can send them for just the cost of the postage. Richard

jim blankenship May 22, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I enjoyed reading about your family and experience at Grossingers. I worked there, along with Teddy Howard, as the house photographer from 1958-1961. It was quite an experience meeting and photographing many of the celebrities and sports figures. I had been on the staff at NY Daily news in the city prior to this so I enjoyed the life in Liberty and Sullivan Co. My wife and I live in Atlanta now. We were married in Liberty in 1960……. Jim Blankenship AP Photographer,retired

Richard Grossinger January 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Kris. I have send the review around to our staff, and there is even some tentative thought about including it as a foreword to one of the two 50th-anniversary Io anthologies that we are releasing next year (2015). If we were to pursue that, would you like to rewrite it or perhaps punctuate it more conventionally (close open parentheses, etc.)?
I’d be curious to know your actual critique of my political statements. You don’t actually say, taking it for granted that it is obvious, though part of your point is that it isn’t obvious to me, and it isn’t. I can guess, but I could easily be wrong. For instance, it isn’t actually clear that you are not the Australian (or other) offended equivalent of a Conservative Republican.
Although I do pose those arguments seriously, they are also at the level of myth, and I speak to that occasionally. I have no special insight into political matters, but I do throw myself into the mythology for what it expresses. I think that one can be literally “wrong” and still mythologically accurate. For instance, in the case of Obama, he is not literally who I have portrayed him as, but the myth is still authentic. In that regard, you might note my Facebook post on him recently, also on this website.
Also ironically enough in this regard, enough people are ONLY reading the political parts of my writing, enough so that Andrew Harvey has urged me to collect them in their own book as part of his Spiritual Activism imprint. This doesn’t make me any less off-base any more than that that refutation is obvious.
No complain here. I’m just interested to know what you are actually saying. I have spent most of my life in America, whether in compliance or reaction.
The whole “Ken Wilber” thing is an interesting story of its own, far too labyrinthine to tell. The very short version of it is that a writer friend in Maine with whom I occasionally hiked and whose work I supported and helped get published suddenly went ballistic against me and not only made those comments about me and Wilber, which I paraphrased, but wrote such, strong threatening emails that friends I showed them to urged me to take them to the police. They were what mafia might write.
The thing that set him off was that after a hike I naively wrote a piece (like many of the other pieces in 2013 and Bardo of Waking Life) about the events on the hike and our dialogue and then sent it to him (from NYC en route back to California) with the idea that he and I might collaborate on a piece about our experiences that day. Making him a character in my piece, even though it was informal and unpublished and I was offering him an edit and a collaboration, had the effect of triggering a response so extreme that I didn’t actually believe he was serious at first. I apologized profusely, trashed the piece, and yet the emails kept coming, up to the “mafia” level. What made this all the more inexplicable was the fact that prior to my transgression in writing the piece, he had been a good friend, and I had been pretty much his main supporter in the larger world, finding him a venue in which to publish.
Now that’s the shell of the story, and the piece you comment on came out of that, is my displaced response to it. I didn’t want to repeat the original error by being any more specific and singling him out in any way. The underlying issues are probably of a whole different order.
Since then, we have mellowed out, though are no longer friends and don’t hike together anymore. Meanwhile I have had a lot of indirect contact with Wilber in the sense that two of his main students who live in the Bay Area have read Dark Pool of Light and consider it relevant to the Wilber tradition and thus have spent time with me, talking. So right after I declared myself completely separate from all that, I got brought back into it in more benign and pleasant terms.
I hope that you take a look at Dark Pool, as what I began in 2013 is brought to its culmination in there. Really what my work is about, and what I make my stand on, is not the political ideology or even the literary voice so much, but the cosmic vision, and then putting it into viable literary form. I will post this on Facebook too. Richard

Kris Hemensley January 6, 2014 at 12:47 am

I’m amazed & humbled at yr reprinting of my review… Thank you. Looking forward to reading you anew in 2014! Cheers, Kris Hemensley

Richard Grossinger September 16, 2013 at 4:21 am

They have not been updated, but I have started work on a fourth volume posted on this website. Also the fourth volume is really now the “fifth”
volume because I have rewritten The Night Sky as a de facto fourth volume. It will be out next spring. See the home page of this site for a table of contents. Also I will continue to post interviews with me about the books, audio, video, and text. Thanks for reading them and for inquiring.

Jim Weddington September 16, 2013 at 3:31 am

I have all three volumes of “Dark Pools of Light” in nook book format. I recently heard that this trilogy has been up dated. If so I would like to recieve the update in the nook format. If this is possible.

I have been having some problems with emails. So if you can’t reach
me by email try.

Jim Weddington
105 LaGrange St.
Newnan, GA 30263


Jim Weddington

105 LaGrange St.

Richard Grossinger July 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Dolores, thanks for the touching thoughts. Time does move remarkably fast, especially because it never stops, even for an instant. But it may not be linear, so those times are still alive somewhere in the universe, as you will be.

Dolores Levine Seiler July 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Dear Richard, I enjoyed reading your piece. For me it was nostalgia and sadness, not only for Grossinger’s but for my life which is also nearing its end. My father was Lazarus Levine, and my husband, Seymour Seiler, married me at the hotel in 1953. He was an architect and worked with Harry. My son, now 56, had his Bar Mitzvah celebration at Grossinger’s. My daughter learned how to ice skate and ski at the hotel. I am sorry that my grandchildren could not particpate in the “Jewish” celebrations that were so wonderful there.

Richard Grossinger May 21, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Well said. Thanks for the comments.

Carol Malloch May 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Hello Richard,
I enjoyed reading your article. I moved to the town. of Liberty NY. in the early 70’s .
I grew up on the West coast up to that point. Liberty was culture shock . For your family to build a world class resort was a testament to their abilities . Your aunt Elaine. was a respected member of the community . She was head of the school board
in Liberty . She handled out the diplomas at the high school graduations every year.
When your grandmother died, the town lined the main st of town for her procession.
Grossinger’s was the castle on the hill and the jewel of the catskill resort.industry . Your cousins Michell and Mark went on in the hotel industry to make their mark . The problem was the weak economy and decline of the whole hotel industry that ruined Grossinger’s . Your father and Aunt Elaine did what they could do to keep people employed . Despite how your parents turned out, they are still your family and you are apart of them . Grossinger’s will be always known for it’s great hospitality . It’s just a shame how she ended up. The Catskill Mountains just reached up and took back what was their’s .

Richard Grossinger May 17, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I have no knowledge at all. The property was sold almost 30 years ago and has been re-sold many times since then.

Monique DeCicco-Jones May 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a few ideas on the restoration of this facility via Health Care grants. Who actually owns this property and what is their contact information? My phone number is (845)292-9114. I am a resident of Liberty and often don’t read my email because I am extremely busy pursuing a PhD in nursing so please feel free to phone.

Monique DeCicco-Jones May 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a few ideas on the restoration of this facility via Health Care grants. Who actually owns this property and what is their contact information? My phone number is (845)292-9114. I am a resident of Liberty and often don’t read my email because I am extremely busy pursuing a PhD in nursing so please feel free to phone. I pass the facility everyday and have great visions for it!

Richard Grossinger May 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I am moved by your bringing back the past, and it rings true about my grandmother whom, I always felt, had a dignity and grandeur beyond her public image, and also a kindness and generosity, though she also had her own hauteur and corruptness. The generation that followed just didn’t get it, not that it would have changed anything in the end. I’m not sure that “Peter” isn’t a wrong memory. It’s more likely Michael or James, my adopted half-brothers. Also possibly Jerry or Freddie. No “Peter Grossinger” in that era.

Ron Erich May 10, 2013 at 7:35 pm

So glad and sad to come upon your story. I , and my sister, worked at Grossinger’s for two summers as a waiters, earning money for college. I think it was 1965, 1966. Jennie G. offered us the jobs when she was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and my father was her Physical Therapist. I remember the two great fun summers there. I did hang out a little with Peter Grossinger one summer and it was always a thrill went Jennie would come into the dining room and give me a hug. It made me feel important and kept the maitre d’s off my back for a few hours, at least.
So sad to see the pictures of the property in its state of abandonment. I saw that the Concord is gone also. Here in southern California one seldom sees beautiful properties going back to nature.
Thanks for your story and bringing back memories that I had almost forgotten.

Shirley March 31, 2013 at 7:23 pm

My father worked as a waiter there during the 70s. Sometimes he would take us there and I would remember swimming, skiing, or just roaming around the hotel with my sister and friend. We loved going there and my father still talks about his wonderful years there. When the hotel was closing down my father salvaged a few things, including a painted porcelain plate I believe that was hung in the dining room. I want to return these items to the family. Let me know if you would like for me to send you a photo.

Richard Grossinger February 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Last I knew, he was teaching at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in the Somatics Program.

William McKeen February 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm


The double slit experiment prove that with observation you can improve the probability of making a certain thing happen. The negative aspect of this is if focus on the particle you lose sight of the momentum. Focus on the momentum, you lose sight of the particle. Another example, focus on the tree you lose sight of the forest. Focus on the forest you lose sight of the tree. Even better one, focus on God you lose sight of reality. Focus on reality you lose sight of God.

The extreme differential of the last example can be explored in the writings of both Schopenhauer and Swedenborg.

MN February 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Hello Richard, I used to know Ian Grand a long time ago in Berkeley. Wondering if you have any idea what’s become of him. Thanks!

Richard Grossinger November 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Great WorK!

Richard Grossinger October 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

Thanks for the nice note. I think that the warts ARE history, always. Nothing exists as an idea(l) or in a vacuum or as its mere prototype.

Wes Gray October 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

Dear Richard,

You are an extremely talented writer. A wonderful story indeed. As the internet goes, you end up stumbling upon things you never knew. I learned a great deal about a piece of American history, warts and all. Your grandmother’s legacy is secure for eternity.

ann September 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Regarding, Dark Pool of Light, Volume Two: Consciousness in Psychospiritual and Psychic … By Richard Grossinger, I would like a preview copy. I grew up with Kimmie Ross and we just today discussed Ontology, and her future with that concept. So it was quite a surprise to read your bit on her. Though a sceptic, your writing style keeps me reading….and your education…my grandfather went to Amherst and my mother went to Smith then Univ. of Michigan to join my father (a fourth generation U. of Mich grad). You seem to have fun with your life and family so that is why I am requesting the preview, which you offered.
Thanks, Ann

Barbara Sparhawk September 3, 2012 at 8:39 am

Hello Mr Grossinger. Found you googling Goddard and there were so many cross references historically between us I feel compelled to halloo.
Goddard student in ’62, classmates Charlie Ponce, Eric Saarinen, Peter Pilafian…acted in Charlie’s moody plays, there were many and he was stark drama, the only one I remember the title of is The Cistern, me posed reciting in spotlight over faux hole center stage. I attended Riverside’s Encampment for Citizenship summer prior to Goddard, Ethical Culture Society but as a child, and took Tai Chi in the ’60’s with Professor Cheng M’an Ching on West Broadway. Lived in Chinatown, Brooklyn, bits of the states and world; only female billboard painter; still write and still paint; gallery in Big Sur 3 years, now Carmel Valley.
Interesting to find you and read your history. Goddard produced activists, something that never entirely left the molecules electrified there.

Paul D. Mendelsohn August 24, 2012 at 6:44 am

Hi Richard:

I loved your piece. We must have run in parallel universes. My dad had the jewelery concession at G’s in the 50’s and early 60’s, so I spent a lot of weekends up there as a kid and have great memories. My dad was a good friend of PG’s, Jenny and Elaine and he mentioned the other day that he still runs into Elaine down in Boca. The ruins remind me of looking at the wreck of the titanic, which I also had a fascination with as a child. At G’s I had so many great memories of wandering through the lobbies, watching Jenny on “this is your life” in the lobby in 1954 (I was only 7), the ice sculptures, Lew and Simon Sez, skating with Irving, watching them break gound for the “new” indoor pool, the malts in the coffee shop, the great toboggan rides, but mostly I enjoyed watching the people. It was a great time to bond with my dad in a Camelot environment. In the late 60’s I also worked with my brother Hank in the dining room, but G’s was changing and was already not the same. I also got hazed at the one year I spent at Camp Chipinaw. But I did enjoy the horseback riding, fencing and lake area. Athough I did not like having to carry out “rocks” every time we left the lake to clean out the swimming area. I currently live in Charlotte, Vermont and would love to hear from you.

Richard Grossinger August 20, 2012 at 5:25 am

Thanks, Greg. So great to hear from you. You were my room-mate in Phi Psi at the beginning of sophomore year, a crossroads time. And you were my first stop on my flight west in 1965, the seminal summer of my life. That’s no doubt when I “performed” my orange-juice disaster. I can be very dyslexic with half a chance, and certainly back then. I am still grateful you provided that “safe house” when it counted. I’d love to hear more about your journeys. Is there a way to contact you?

John Prentiss (Greg) August 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Hi Rich. While googling “Sam Lipskin,” I stumbled on your “Best Friends” list and am glad I did. In addition to news of Sam, you shared info about other classmates like Jeff Tripp and Greg Dropkin I’d lost track of decades ago.

You remain one of the most talented, delightfully eccentric people it has been my pleasure to meet. (I still remember my father looking on in disbelief as you tried to mash a 2 1/2 inch wide can of frozen orange juice into a jar with a 2 inch top and his saying to me later, “So how come you’re telling me he’s genius? He can’t even make orange juice.”)
Take care.
Greg Prentiss, former screenwriter, bum, and Chief Deputy Prosecutor for Adams County, Washington, now living in the Ozarks with 6 cats

admin April 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Thanks, Harlan, I appreciate the comments. Probably the only thing further I’ll do on this is rewrite Out of Babylon for an ebook to come out in 2014.

Harlan Friedman April 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I loved this story. My father worked at the G during the 70’s until the parental units decided it was time to take the pilgrimage to Long island and set up shop there. I remember many fun days there. My first “print ad” was a shot they used of me on the playground for a brochure in the late 70’s. Please keep the stories and pictures coming!

admin March 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Thanks, Michael. Are you still around Bar Harbor? Lindy and I plan to be there around July 1 through at least the end of September this year.

michael flahetty March 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hey Richard! We first met on Mt. Desert Island when we swapped a pizza for Somme of your books(great trade).Hope you and your family are well.Saw your son on t.v. and felt a strange sense of pride considering how little I know you or your family.Hope to see you in Maine!

admin February 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I really don’t remember or, more to the point, don’t think I ever knew. The number “$26,000 a day” sticks in my mind from some discussion in the mid-seventies.

Nick Pjevach February 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

couple of quick questions on Grossinger’s Resort
would you by chance remember any of the operating costs of the resort?
I would be interested to find out what some of the costs are to operate such
a large complex. (just think of the gas bill for those two boilers).
Very sad about Paul losing everything. Grossinger’s $1.8 mm loss in 1985 was
probably (or eventtually) covered by Paul personnally. That kind of loss is hard
for any one person (or family) to cover. (my father also covered losses for a
business and it ruined the last 10 years of his life-he died broke also covering
personally guaranteed debt of a business)
also enoyed your writing above

admin February 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm

It’s from the 1970s, well before PDF days. Ann Arbor Microfilms made a version in the style of the day, and I know that that’s available in Maine libraries, perhaps by interlibrary loan. Some of the material appears in my books Book of Cranberry Islands and The Provinces.

Deborah Confer February 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I’m a research assistant to someone writing a report for the National Park Service on the traditional histories of Otter Cove and Isle au Haut. I would be very interested in reading your dissertation, The strategy and ideology of lobster-fishing
on the back side of Mount Desert Island, Hancock County, Maine. Is it possible to get a PDF version? Thanks so much.

Geoffrey Brown January 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Moving and sad and at the same time delightful. I grew up in Liberty, enjoyed Grossingers mostly from the outside but still able to see the place from my bedroom window. Your aunt Elaine was very kind to me when I was doing some grad school research on migrant manpower in the resort industry. Thank you for writing this.

Magdalena Ball September 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Thank you so much for these detailed and richly presented recollections. I’m writing a novel (as you so beautifully put it, “for curios and mementos, for jewels and heirlooms, and for memes of the elusive and illusory American paradise”) partly set at Grossinger’s in the 1940s, when my grandmother worked as a young singer (family mythology was that Jenny chose her from a competition in Central Park and brought her out to the hotel, where she subsequently met her husband, my grandfather, and changed the course of her life). Every piece of information I can find helps me to better reconstruct the setting and also illuminate my own history. Of course I would love to travel back in time and sit in the audience to verify memory, but your notes are almost as good.

David Gitin July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

Richard, I love your ability to articulate the ‘dilemma’ (even if that articulation, including the capture as ‘dilemma’ is itself part of the issue). Snyder’s discussion of Buddhism and the Coming Revolution decades ago gave hint of this, forerunner perhaps. Andrew’s responses closely echo the talk we heard him give the other night, but good to have them here as part of the conversation. Thanks for pointing me to your website!

jonah mark bekerman June 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

wonderful reading


elliot was going to give you a copy of breathing in the infinite

did he?

Anita Wolfenberger March 8, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. In 1964, after marrying (in Puerto Rico) to a Army man, I purchased a cookbook of Jewish cooking put out by your parents hotel. The Introduction is by your father.

I have no idea of the name of the book. The cover long ago gave way to white paper and scotch tape, the pages are missing corners and frayed all around, the book is only partly attached to what is left of it’s spine. In short it is well used.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell you this. I just read that the hotel is closed and am sorry to hear that. I believe I was there when I was about five or so, which would be around 1948. I have vague memories of a “talent” show of little kids.

(Mrs) Anita Wolfenberger
New Market, TN

Larry Olsen February 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Good Evening:
My brother, nearly 40 years ago, attended a technical competition that was held up at Grossinger’s in Upstate New York. The night before the competition, the hotel had a number of very talented people who put on various skits and songs, including “The Ballad of Irving” and a song about Washington at Valley Forge. One of the few lines that I remember was something about, “If Washington was Jewish, instead of Valley Forge, The Army would have wintered up at Grossinger’s with George!” Is this the same as the song you list on this site?

Paul February 12, 2011 at 12:05 am

I would add a couple of books that came out later – Henri Bortoft’s “The Wholeness of Nature” and Doris Lessing’s “Memoirs of a Survivor.” Interesting to see a bunch of Owen Barfield on your list. Such a lucid and compelling thinker and writer!

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