Social Media and the "Arab Spring"

Delighted to have an essay included in Palaver, Fall 2013.

The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor* [without Facebook].   *Voltaire

We live in an era when for the first time in recorded history masses of people have unprecedented means to organize and control information. Enthralled with our glowing screens, it’s easy to forget how people were once forced to interact in person at markets, town squares, or public houses (pubs) to socialize and exchange news. The typewriter was a breakthrough two hundred years ago, followed by the telegraph, telephone, radio, and computer; but before these revolutionary technologies, we mostly relied on talking. Paper, ink, and quills required wealth, forcing the majority of people to rely on face-to-face interaction to spread information and preserve an oral record of history.

Communication today has evolved from primarily spoken to extensively written interaction with destabilizing effects.  Take the epistolary novel Dangerous Liaisons. Originally published in 1784; the title foretells some fairly standard dramatic fare: two main characters scheme the exploitation and ruin of others. Only by examining the subtitle Or a Collection of Letters from One Social Class and Published for the Instruction of Others do we begin to understand its revolutionary purpose.  In the end, De Laclos’s novel exposed a nefarious aristocracy’s excesses, leading, in part, to the French Revolution. Turns out, our new media interfaces have helped sustain a few revolutions of their own.

In December 2010, a 26-year-old high school dropout named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire because a policewoman confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling on the streets of Tunisia. Twenty-eight days later, the Tunisian President Ben Ali was forced out of power after 23 years of “iron-fisted rule.” Eunice Crook, Director of the British Council in Tunisia who had just returned three days before the upheaval, said:

It was instantly clear that the country I had left three weeks previously had changed; from the most stable country in North Africa we were suddenly on the verge of revolution. This has been called the Jasmine revolution, a term rejected by Tunisians, but in fact it was and is a Facebook revolution.

To read on (and sources), click here and turn to page 40.

Baby, it's cold outside . . .cocktails

Here are a few winter recipes someone crumpled up inside a snow ball and crashed against my office window (for which I am grateful) sure to elevate your holiday party into a sensation talked about well into the new year. 

Winter Star Nog

2 oz. Skyy Vodka

4 oz. Abuelita Hot Chocolate (prepared and cooled)
½ oz. Espresso
¼ oz. Agave Syrup

1 Sage Leaf
1 Red Jalapeno
1 Green Jalapeno
White Chocolate for Garnish

Score the red and green jalapeno peppers. Muddle all ingredients together in a shaker and shake vigorously. Double strain into a white chocolate rimmed rocks glass. Garnish with red and green chilies.

Winter Star Martini

2 oz. Skyy Vodka

1 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

¼ oz. Agave Syrup (or Simple Syrup)
½ oz. Raspberry Compote (or Jam)
½ Ripe Green Pear

3 Raspberries for Garnish

Chop the pear into pieces. Muddle ingredients together in a shaker and shake vigorously. Double strain and g
arnish with raspberrie.

Spicy Sage Margarita

2 oz. Avión Silver
¾ oz Jalapeño Infused Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz Orange Juice
¼ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Lime Juice
¾ oz Simple Syrup
4 Sage Leaves

Muddle sage. Add all ingredients. Shake. Double strain. Pour over new ice in cocktail glass. Garnish with sage leaf with a salted rim

Shooting the Breeze with fiction writer Taylor Brown

published in Focus on the Coast magazine

Of the twelve stories included in Taylor Brown’s debut collection In the Season of Blood and Gold–to be released in May from Press 53–ten have been previously published. Notables include Rider, winner of the 2009 Montana Prize in Fiction, and Kingdom Come, which took Second Place in the Press 53 Open Awards. Another of my favorites, Cajun Reeboks, was listed as a “distinguished selection” by Best American Mystery Stories in 2010.

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Taylor Brown
photo: Jason Armond

Despite his recent success, Brown has known the slap of rejection. His path, littered with “Sorry but your work is not quite right for us” slips, shares this common ground with most storytellers hoping to shoulder their way into print. When I brought this up to Brown, he nodded. “You begin to get used to the taste of blood in your mouth,” he says, “but you need to be able to spit in the dirt and get back up.”
Originally from St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, Brown landed in Wilmington a few years ago after stints in Asheville, San Francisco and Buenos Aires. After a quick tour of his shared office above the shops of Lumina Station, we sat down at Brasserie du Soleil to talk about his big break, rye whiskey, and how the best stories transcend genre.

Have you always been a storyteller?

My first grade teacher gave our class a handwriting exercise everyday with special sheets of paper, unlined at the top to draw, and lined at the bottom to write about whatever we wanted. One of my earliest stories was about a spider who stole a remote-control car from under the Christmas tree to escape from the cat. I remember trailing my mother around the house with long-winded ones explaining why my dinosaur toys had rocket launchers, or why my GI Joe’s were so small compared to the trees in the backyard–that the world they came from had expanded, like The Indian in the Cupboard. It got to the point where she would have to hide in the bathroom to avoid me.

What’s your method like today?

I try to get down at least one page per day. Like a good bird dog, when given a task I target-lock on the goal. The novel I’m working on now deals with bootlegging in the 1950s in Wilkes County, NC, so I’m reading a lot of non-fiction about the beginnings of NASCAR, snake-handling churches, and Glenn Johnson–Jr. Johnson’s father–who went down in one of the biggest busts in moonshine history.

How did you end up in Wilmington?

Before graduating from the University of Georgia, I spent a lot of time traveling. Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Barcelona–crashing on friends couches in London, passing myself off as a student. I later took some classes at Oxford, which was old-school tutor style where you meet with your professor once a week and read your paper out loud to them and they critique it to your face. After finishing, I sold my car and moved to Buenos Aires–even though I didn't speak Spanish or know a soul down there–to get my certification to teach English as a Second Language. I stayed there a little under a year before accepting a job in San Francisco, fell in love, moved to Asheville in 2009, then Wilmington in 2011, though I’m single again now.

Have you ever felt like you need a sense of danger to write?

I think a little bit of danger is good, but unless you grew up with it, I think it makes it harder to write. Then again if you are too secure, too comfortable, you may not have the same experiences, so I’m finding that it’s all about balance. Like everything, try to find the sweet spot and stay there.

Then there are stylistic dangers. My friends who work in academia and are around writing all day long, the same way as if I were reading Blood Meridian right now and Cormac McCarthy’s style would infiltrate my own work, I’m afraid that reading student work all day will affect my stuff. And up until tenure, most don’t know if they’re going to have a job next semester.

I like reading work some may consider to be in a certain genre but that takes it to another stylistic level. I never set out to write crime or noir, the stories just become about what the characters are interested in. I have to be careful what I read now to make sure that the style is somewhat neutral. I really like a lot of people who might be called stylists: someone you could read once and you’d know right away it was them. Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, even Hemingway whose the anti-stylist stylist. I really like those guys but if I read something that’s really distinctive, their styles sometimes work their way into my stuff. The cadences get into your head.

Tell me about In the Season of Blood and Gold.

The first issue of Surreal South that Press 53 published had everyone I liked: Brad Vice, Chris Offutt, Chris Rodriguez. So I knew right away that was where I wanted to submit. In 2010, my story took second place in the Press 53 Open Awards, and later some of my work was selected to be in the anthology Press 53 Spotlight, so I knew they knew my work, but they still rejected the collection at first because they said the stories were too similar. I had put my strongest ones at the end, and made the mistake of grouping similar ones together, so the later ones were never read. I knew it was a long shot to ask if I could reorder them and resubmit, but they agreed. Jason Frye suggested I put the stories on index cards and experiment with drawing their arc in different ways.

When I found out it worked and they were accepted, I ran around the house in my underwear, screaming, like a soccer player who takes his shirt off after scoring a goal.

Do you have advice for others who might not yet be published?

Duotrope is a great resource to keep your submissions organized, but it really all comes down to persistence. That’s the crucial factor. What did Calvin Coolidge say?  ‘Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.’

While experimenting with the order of the note-cards, did you notice how your work has evolved over the years?

I feel like there is a lot more light in my stories now. I’m more open to the concept of wonder than I used to be. When I’m done for the night and I’ve just completed something I know is good, I feed off of that.

Like tapping into something that energizes you?

Exactly. Feels like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

"Holiday Sauce" Cocktail for Thanksgiving

Wish I could say I came up with this one. Proves that cognac is an under-utilized strong spirit in cocktails. Well-balanced and appropriately tart. Besides, no one ever uses up all the cranberry sauce anyway....

1.5 oz Hennessy V.S
.5 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Heaping Tablespoon of Cranberry Sauce (the kind you would have with turkey)
1 dash fee brothers cranberry bitters (optional)
Garnish: Orange Twist, Cinnamon sugar rim

Glass: Coupe or martini

Method: Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with ice, shake until well chilled.  Take the coupe or martini glass and rub the rim with a fresh cut lemon, now dip the rim in a plate of cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 1 part white sugar).  Strain the cocktail into the rimmed glass and garnish with an orange twist.

Binary Stars

originally published in Devour, Fall 2013

Henry and Roxanne fell in love the way galaxies form: combine nitrogen, helium and a few dashes of lithium over ice … and shake the hell out of it!

Only when the mixing glass freezes to your hand, and the icy meteors have pulverized each other to slush; strain the contents into a martini glass and watch as the icy shards form moons and planets around the rim. Then again, Roxanne preferred her most recent cocktail-of-the-moment, Manhattans, stirred with a long slender spoon. The difference, she insisted, was like sipping from a cool brook rather than a glacial torrent.

Most times, too, she’d forego the cherry unless perched at a place that took their garnishes seriously enough never to serve the red #5 formaldehyde Franken-kirsches that have come to dominate most mise-en-places. She adored our cherries, brandy-soaked sour bings. They're probably the reason why she kept coming back—before meeting Henry, of course.

“Why doesn’t he…?” Roxanne asked, exasperated. “Why doesn’t he show anything?”

I propped my foot on the beer-box and leaned back, creasing my eyes.

“He’s had a rough time,” I said. “At one point he was living in his car, just so he could be near his son. Maybe he’s got a lot of scar tissue.”

“Scar tissue? Ha. I’ll show him scar tissue. We’ve all got scar tissue!”

“I know, I know.”

“Plffff!” she said, palms turned upward as she let out a long exhale.

Ready to pour the rye for her second Manhattan, I asked. “This one perfect, like the last? I know sometimes for your second one you go dry with a twist. . .”

“All I want is to know what he thinks about me,” she said.

“You're about to get your chance,” motioning my head toward the window beyond which Henry was chaining his bike to the rail around the cherry blossom that only bloomed in winter. 

Her face beamed as he made his way in. “Make this one a Rob Roy.”

"Coming right up."

“Nigel,” Henry said, his pet name for me, with a curt nod and exaggerated smile before sinking back to his usual granite face, “a beer would be swell.” Turning to her, he nodded again, “Roxy,” his face a marble pillar.

Exchanging looks, she and I burst into laughter. Uncapping a pale ale, I slid the bottle a few feet toward Henry before disappearing into the back for more Scotch so they could be alone.

Roxanne and Henry continued to collide over the next few months, each time shattering a bit more of the icy casements around their hearts, both middle-aged and living alone, sharing laughs. I was lucky to watch the pieces shatter on the floor. Then, out of nowhere, they were getting married, and I was on the other side of the bar at their wedding while a three-piece ensemble played jazz in the corner of a grand old room.

Henry and Roxanne were beautifully at ease entertaining the room. We ate raw oysters arranged on large blocks of ice, danced and drank champagne, smiled and laughed. We watched very proper folks shed pretenses, as they danced and smiled and rebooted friendships and forgave longstanding feuds in the spirit of celebrating that force called love which binds and sustains us.

Hours later, before getting back into the cab, we said goodbye and for a moment I felt more than just their bartender. I wondered if, now that they had each other—planets cooling into a steady orbit—whether or not they would need me anymore. Sure, there were always meteors and black holes waiting to destroy or suck the life of whatever came their way, but they were bound together now, dual suns, binary stars hovering fierce and close.

I hugged them both under the streetlights, knowing I’d probably never see them again.

To see where I expound on the many variations of the Manhattan cocktail, follow this hyperlink to the original article.

If you liked this story, you'll probably like Cocktails & Conversations from the Astral Plane, my collection of others. Check it out on Amazon with this link.

Shooting the Breeze with Playwright Owen Dunne

published in Focus on the Coast magazine

Twelve years ago Owen Dunne put his dream on hold to support his young family. At forty, he began writing again, penning four new plays in three years, including Positions, a dark comedy which ran for five weeks last spring at Linda Lavin’s Red Barn Theater before producer Steve Bakunas whisked it away to an off-Broadway theater near Times Square.

When I visited Owen’s home in Sunset Park, his daughter had just beaten him in a game of backgammon on the porch. After leading her and his two sons inside, we talked about cocktails, Eugene O'Neill, and the visiting writer who inspired him to drop out of graduate school in San Francisco.

Owen with Izzy in 2013
photo: Jason Armond

How did your play Positions do in New York?

“With only three characters and two set changes, it was easy for Steve [Bakunas] to throw the set in a truck and fly the actors up. The only issue was that he wanted me to rewrite it, something all writers face: someone dangles a bone before you and says ‘if you do this, I’ll do this for you,’ so I made the changes and we turned it into a family vacation.”

How significant were the changes?

He wanted me to tie it up. My philosophy about endings is that they are really just another beginning. The play ended where it naturally ended for me as a writer. I wanted people to laugh at sex, at their own sexual needs, and at what they saw as the familiar and where it can lead. He really loved it, but I honestly don’t think the New York version was as good. A lot of the darkness had been taken out. Then again I guess it’s nice to have a play in New York and get shitty reviews, then not to have one there at all.     

Tell me a little about your ten year hiatus?

My first play had just been produced by the Druid Theater Company in Ireland at the time when we first started having kids, and I distinctly remember going from having a good job but still having time to write in the morning, to all-of-a-sudden that morning time was gone. And then writing for me went to the back burner. I told myself, You can’t do this right now. You’ve gone the family option, which is great. So now I’ve begun picking up where I left off. I’m 43 now and I’d rather be on my deathbed saying that I failed at what I wanted to do, but at least I tried.

What’s your newest work about?

I realized I’ve condensed my time. Some people like to drink espresso in the morning because it’s a short little hit, so I noticed I’ve veered toward poetry in the summer.

My latest play, Dinosaurs, is about a retired couple’s son bringing his new girlfriend home for the first time after joining her religious compound. Steve Vernon is going to stage a reading at the Cape Fear Playhouse later this year. Again, there’s some issues with the ending. It’s always the ending, never the beginning. I feel like since my eight years in the South I’ve been burned up in many different ways: physically, emotionally. The South has always been an attractive place for me because of the writers, but it’s a cruel and violent place. The weather is so intense–heat, tornadoes, hurricanes–and it’s so vibrant–I think that’s part of the psychosis of the South. And now its metamorphosized into limiting women’s rights and going against the working class people. It’s interesting to me, and as I was finishing my play, I started to think about it in free verse and written about ten poems about my relationship with different aspects of the South as an outsider.

Sounds to me like you’re going to have the best of both worlds soon.

That’s the journey you’re on. You have to take it. My favorite writer, Eugene O'Neill, led such a sad life. People talk about Bukowski writing about drunks and whores; that’s what O’Neill did. He’s the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize, but his father, a pretty famous actor in his time, was also a drunk and morphine addict. So he grew up in this really dysfunctional environment and ended up writing about drunks, hookers, longshoremen–all of stuff that really hadn’t been touched before in the vernacular of working class people. His most famous play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, was written in his will not to be published until twenty-five years after his death. His widow waited a year and it won a Pulitzer, but he had a very sad life. His brother committed suicide. His son committed suicide. He was married multiple times. He had no relationship with his daughter. At eighteen she married Charlie Chaplin who was then in his fifties and O'Neill disowned her. I’m lucky to have my family. And this will be the first year all three kids will be in school, so I’m finally about to get my mornings back.

manna cocktail menu retrospective

Nearing manna's third year in operation, I've been reflecting on the evolution of our cocktails. 

The summer afternoon in 2009 Billy Mellon called to say he was quitting the wine sales racket for good and wanted me to help him create the bar program for a new restaurant he was opening on Princess St., I knew it was the opportunity to actualize what had been marinating in my mind since I first attended Tales of the Cocktail in 2006. 

Hurricane Katrina had wrecked nearly everything eleven months earlier, but the cocktail convention persevered despite a few electrical blackouts. I was young and foolish, but because I had been tending bar for seven years then and had a few original recipes published, I felt like I might have something to contribute. Reality proved I was completely out of my league. I was terribly behind, though still a little bit ahead of the slow curve back home. 

Inspired, I created the restaurant-bar-where-I-worked's first cocktail menu. And many more would follow after future New Orleans seminars in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011, including an updated ice program, our insistence on fresh juices, a variety of home-made syrups and bitters, as well as our fairly recent experiments in barrel-aging.

To honor manna, the small satellite of the craft-cocktail renaissance in Wilmywood (and also because our web guy seems to have a hard time keeping up with our ever-changing lists on the restaurant's site), what follows is a retrospective sampling of our menus past.

Co-created with Karl Amelchenko in early 2011, while not our first menu (we had already been open for about six months by then, although quietly, taking the first few months to find the holes), it helped establish us as the first craft-cocktail joint in town.

When Karl's license to practice law in NC came through, after scouting around town I decided to approach Ian Murray, a young man now working my old job at Caffe Phoenix. He had taken what I had already started there and ran with it.  When I heard he was a transplant from Philadelphia like me, albeit six years later, I took the coincidence as a strong omen and invited him to bring Billy his resume. Lucky for us, he's already proved to be a star, winning a food festival cocktail contest in Moorehead City with his Aperteavo.   

For Ian's apprenticeship period, every Tuesday night his task was to feature a different classic cocktail, a sort of "paint-the-fence" Mr. Miyagi approach. We called it "Speak-easy Night" and folks could learn along side him, as well as walk away with custom recipe cards with a short history of each. Not only did it force him to learn the foundations of the craft, but it gave him an easy window into developing a strong regular clientele.

For our most recent menu, we resurrected former manna barman (and fiddle virtuoso) Jesse Ryan Eversole's Malagueña. 

I've found that the most important element to our success has been the owner's enthusiasm and confidence. As we gained traction, Billy was okay to risk special ordering cases of Creme Yvette, Fernet Branca, Chartreuse and other semi-obscure spirits that the folks at the ABC (where we are forced to buy all liquor by law) had little idea, at first, what we were talking about. In response, ABC created a "boutique list," making it easier for others to expand their back-bars. 

Shooting the Breeze with Majsan Boström

from Focus on the Coast, September, 2013

When I asked Majsan for an interview, she suggested that to get a better understanding of her, I first needed to watch two films: American Gangster and Lord of War. The first is about smuggling heroin in the caskets of fallen soldiers from Vietnam to Brooklyn. The second, about illegal arms-dealers. Then she told me to meet her at 8am on the intra-coastal waterway.

Majsan at home on 5th St
photo: Jason Armond

Luckily, rain forced us indoors. I wasn’t sure how to record our interview while paddle-boarding, but that’s how Majsan (pronounced like “my son”) lives her life, always peeking over the edge. Saved by the weather, she showed me her “writer’s cubby” instead, the little tucked-away space near a window on the second floor of one of downtown’s grand old homes. Her editor was visiting from Sweden with her family, so after quick introductions, we swept through to the porch, past the novel-in-progress wall with photos of gangsters. On the wall opposite are pictures of Majsan in the field, wearing NYPD blue in Brooklyn, passing around a forty or “Bompton” with Bloods in Newark, and a host of other characters she’d rather not have me put into print. That the five-foot-four Swede was the Star News crime reporter is remarkable in many ways, the most impressive may be because English is her second language.

Having honed her English at The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC Chapel Hill, her stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Bangkok Post, Café, Cinema, Icon, and National Public Radio.
 Here’s an excerpt from a collection of her stories:

Career crazy in Gothenburg, Sweden, to fairly responsible ski bum in Lake Tahoe, California, to carefree beach bum in the Virgin Islands, I had learned to make money off those on vacation. I was a pool shark and I could drink Jack & Cokes like a man three times my size - and still walk fairly straight. All the while, keeping up with great mountain bikers, extreme skiers and play ice hockey with the guys. But on St. John the fast-paced, adrenaline-rushed lifestyle I’d been leading wasn’t available. Instead, there was time in a hammock under a sliver of moon, listening to Cowboy Junkies cut through the velvety night singing slightly off-key. Liming, they called it. The older locals I passed on my way to work laughed at my walking pace. Oh chile, you betta slooo dawn. Slooo dawn,” they would chuckle, shaking their heads.

Always been primed for adventure?

“Many people perceive Sweden as such a safe and secure place...” whispering, “...but there’s no passion. I wanted to write crime novels because they exploded in my late teens and early twenties. Even before Stieg Larsson. I’m a reality junky. Reality beats fiction every time.”

Ever miss your old beat?

“Following the crime, you witness every emotion on the spectrum – a woman whose child had just been murdered, a father whose fifteen-year- old son had just killed somebody–there’s so much disparity. Most watch it in movies; I just happened to be watching it in real life. Some days it can be really sad, and then, there are days when you get to write about the people who are saving lives, taking down the bad guys, the heroism and the emotional blow of unsuccessful attempts. The thrill is on both sides.”

Congratulations on your recent book deal for your work with Dragomir “Gago” Mrsic–who was convicted of the biggest bank robbery in Sweden history and is now a movie star, acting with Tom Cruise. Now that you could live anywhere, why Wilmington?

“You have so much material here. Just at this street corner, you have such a dynamic slice of life. Even though I still spend a lot of time traveling, my goal has always been to make a living from writing and have a fabulous hideaway like this as a base.”

NC Weekend visits manna for cocktails

Screenshot from NC Weekend episode featuring manna
Click here for the full episode. We are featured in the last segment.

Shooting the Breeze: Holler Brown

by Joel Finsel  
for Focus on the Coast, August 2013

Holler Brown is a man of immense depth, having once literally worked in the bowels of the New York Public Library, cataloging books deep underground and finding plenty of time to read.

During the evenings he wrote, producing six novels and numerous short stories, one nominated for the prestigious literary Pushcart Prize. After a tour of his home and gardens, we talked about Tolstoy’s mother-in-law, the genius of David Foster Wallace and the elusiveness of being happy.

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photo by Jason Armond

You’ve been vegan for twenty-five years. What made you stop eating meat?

“At the New York Public Library some fairly obscure things came across my desk, including some really graphic images of animal abuse. I began reading more and it really stuck, so I wrote a novel about an animal laboratory where they do obscene experiments on animals, like spray hairspray into rabbits’ eyes. I’d recommend the film Earthlings to anyone thinking about going that way in their own life. Animals are not treated with respect or regard to their sense of self. Reminds me of a story about Tolstoy: his mother-in-law came and wanted a chicken dinner, so he gave her a hatchet and said, ‘Go out in the yard and kill one.’ She wasn’t going to chop its head off. If people had to kill the animals they eat, they wouldn’t.”

Still write every day?

“I look back on how I used to write diligently from 8-12 every night and question it. The main reason I was doing this was for approval from my family, peers and friends. David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest, a big deal book, and realized, Now what? I’m not happy. I’m still the same person. Now everyone’s expecting the next book. Is it going to be as good?”

“But artists are driven by things other than success. To my advantage, I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the ego that goes with it. It’s less crucial for me to succeed, but it’s still important for me to write. I still want to publish and have people read my stuff, but my self-view is not dependent on that the way it used to be when it was all or nothing. DFW said he wrote eight hours a day, and when he wasn’t, he worried about not writing.”

Would you say he’s your favorite author?

“I read his stuff and think ‘oh, my God, it’s so beautiful.’ But I can’t talk about favorites without talking about decades. In the fifties it was Jack Kerouac; forties, Henry Miller and Hemingway; 19th century Dostoyevsky… I’m fascinated by geniuses like Thomas Pynchon and William Gaddis, whose dialogue is like nothing else.”

What are you working on now?

“Amassing a body of published short stories to submit as a volume.”

Tell me about the Pushcart.

“Truthfully, I spent a lot of years without success. I didn’t begin publishing until my mid-forties and I’d been writing regularly for over twenty years. When Solomon’s Seal, the novel about animal abuse, placed second in the Carolina Novel Award, I suddenly had editors clamoring; then dismissing me as often as accepting. The Pushcart nomination was for a short story published in Vincent Brothers Review. All writers say you can plaster your wall with rejection letters. We work with what we have, and if it brings you joy, keep doing it.“

Happiness is such an elusive thing.

“For me, happiness is basically letting go, opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Imagine it’s nighttime, you’re in the middle of nowhere in the woods, you have no clothes on and your heels are over the edge of a cliff. You have no idea what’s behind you, but you have a sense it’s a long way down. But you just release, let go and there’s no longer any problems. You’re free. You’re falling. You don’t know if there are sharp rocks at the bottom or a deep lake. It’s all means. You just are. You’re in the moment.”

Shooting the Breeze with Gary Breece

Joel Finsel
Focus on the Coast
July 2013

Gary Breece, owner of Public Address System, didn't start out trying to lead corporations onto the tree branch of social responsibility. His career began with an internship as a field producer at a Washington news bureau. He then moved to Los Angeles where he launched Focus Productions, producing video news releases for Fortune 500 companies.

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Gary Breece at Satellite 
photos: Jason Armond 

"I started to feel more like part of the problem, than the solution," he said. "Trying to sell things to people they didn't really need in a manipulative way. I needed a change. I wanted to do something more meaningful." 

Still married at the time, his wife, an exotic fair-skinned African-American beauty, encouraged him to work on something cause-related to help clear his conscience. "I realized this cause was staring me in the face," he said. "My wife's family owned Essence magazine and was very involved with trying to uplift the African-American community. This was around the time Bill Cosby was criticizing urban music, remember that?"

I did. In 2004, Cosby took a lot of backlash from comments, like: "You young men and old men, you've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job because you didn't want to get an education."

Breece's in-laws were close to Cosby, prompting Gary to suggest an alternative approach. Rather than criticizing what they thought was wrong, why not shine a light on positive urban music. He envisioned an updated version of Wattstax, the Golden Globe nominated documentary that focused on the 1972 music festival that would go down as "the Woodstock of black soul." To his delight, Cosby agreed.

Active Image"It was going to be my big break," Gary said, "And, Camille Cosby was the Executive Producer. They gave me some initial money to make a teaser - a sizzle reel - but in the middle of everything; my marriage fell apart."

Resigned to return to corporate work, Breece knew he couldn't go back to work as usual. Struck by how a particularly hostile client's demeanor changed dramatically when highlighting the social good her company contributed, he knew what he needed to do: accentuate the positive.

"When I switched from the old work to the cause-related work, I certainly stopped being rich," he laughed, "But I slept better. And I still enjoy it a lot more. There's something different about it. Everybody tends to check their egos at the door. And many of my favorite clients have the worst legacies because it's the most opportunity for change. A client may have a terrible legacy, but if you help them announce they are turning over a new leaf, people are going to hold them to it."

I imagined Gary working out these thoughts as he motored along back country roads on the vintage Moto Guzzi parked outside, stopping every now and then to take photographs for his Off Route series. 

Blowing Rock Road
from Breece's Off Route series

He had mentioned earlier that his family has owned property in Holden Beach ever since his father was a child. The house started out third row, but because of climate change, is now oceanfront. Imagining Wilmington to Holden Beach as a fun ride, I decided to pry: Got a lucky lady riding along with you? Where's your secret place? 

"I haven't been going on a lot of dates," he said, "But I do have a place. It's great, but not necessarily what you'd expect. My fantasy is to meet someone, get to know them pretty well, and then one day, she just lays back and punches me, and says, "Where the hell have you been? What took you so damn long to come along?"

Breece's recent video The Farmery about organic farmer Ben Greene’s revolutionary vertical farms won the "grand prize" of the Smithsonian's 2013 In-Motion Video Contest.