Seven Years a Blogger -- by Umberto Tosi

 Herb Caen
This marks seven years that I've been throwing blogs against the wall here at Authors Electric, the pioneering collective of distinguished independent writers that welcomed me as a member in May, 2015. A lot has happened since then - more than I could ever cover, but I've done my best to vary the menu. I was a mere 78 years old and Obama still was President.

Beyond personal and public events, I've written about my books here, about writing, the peeves and bigger questions that bedevil independent writers like ourselves in the new era of digital publishing and its contradictions. Mainly, our issues remain the same as always: deciphering the creative process, and figuring why it seems to stall out sometimes. Most of all, however, its not been a one-way street., I've learned a lot from what our 28 other members have been writing here every day along with our guest bloggers - a lot more than I could on my own.

I wish I could be like my self-disciplined colleagues who write their posts well ahead of deadlines. Not me. My tee shirt says: "If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done." I still hit the wall every time, even after a lifetime of writing for newspaper, magazine, internet and book deadlines. Alas, I must nod to my love-hate relationship with writing. I can't live with it or without it. 

As a creative writer, retired from 9-to-5 routine, I can untether myself from clock and calendar, at least for a spell or two. But add a fixed deadline - even as modest a constraint as that of this monthly blog post, and the old rush returns like a shot of single malt whiskey after a dry spell. I'm back in the land of hard-boiled Walter Burns newspapering where I began what passes for my career. As such, I amuse myself by making my blog a homage to the roughly stylish columnists who were my heroes back then. Their names are nearly forgotten now: the San Francisco Chronicle's Herb Caen, the New York Herald Tribune's and Daily News' Jimmy Breslin, Chicago's Mike Royko, The L.A. Times' suburban poet Jack Smith, later the acerbic Molly Ivins of the Dallas Times Herald  and, my mentor, long-ago L.A. Times ace reporter and front-page daily columnist Gene Sherman. 

 Gene Sherman, c, aboard WW2 cruiser
Best of all, fresh out of school, I remember Gene Sherman as a dashing, pipe-smoking, witty, sports-car rake from the Ben Hecht,  scoop, Front Page, Walter-Burns journalism days. Gene, a friend of my family's had done it all -- been a World War 2. Pacific Theatre, correspondent, a crime reporter, celebrity expose writer and front-page columnist. He gave me my first job at the paper as a copy boy. He covered Carol Lombard's fatal plane crash, 1940s and '50s, atom bomb tests, gangster and celebrity trials, scandals, gossip and exposes.

These columnists -- and a few others like them -- spun witty, anecdotal tales daily that combined personal and public happenings holding readers' attention to the last word, day in and day out. Each could weave the slightest zephyr of a lead -- an overheard quote, a throwaway detail from the news, an impression -- into a thousand-word gem rain-or-shine. I wouldn't pretend to match their prodigiousness. The dashing Caen, for example, churned out 16,000 daily, thousand-word columns. All this and Caen, like other of his rare ilk, wrote a fair number of influential books and coined neologisms along the way. (Caen, for example, invented the term "beatnik".)

Back in my San Francisco days, I remember Caen handing in his copy at the Chron by 11:30 a.m. in time to meet and hold forth with a group of us punctually at lunch, brimming with wisecracks and anecdotes. He did have an assistant to fact-check his copy. Nevertheless, I always had the impression that he could have produced a second column as seamlessly as the first each day and joined us for cocktails.  

I'm lucky to have known Sherman, Smith, and Caen personally during my serpentine career as a journalist and writer, and lifted a glass with some of the others. They were far from perfect model citizens -- actually, more rascals then models of rectitude, but with rough-hewn, consistent ethics all. We could use them now, for all their flaws and obsessions. I can only hope that no matter how long I last, I'm remembered half as well.


Umberto Tosi's recently published books include the highly praised, Frank Ritz, Hollywood noir detective mystery The Phantom Eye, plus his story collection, Sometimes Ridiculous, plus Ophelia Rising, High Treason, Sports Psyching and Our Own Kind. His short stories have been published most recently in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. His nonfiction essays and articles have been published widely in print and online. He began his career at the Los Angeles Times as a staff writer and an editor for its prize-winning, Sunday magazine, West. He went on to become  editor of San Francisco Magazine. and managing editor of Francis Coppola's City of San Francisco. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four adult daughters. He resides in Chicago.


Enjoy my Hollywood noir detective thriller: The Phantom Eye (a Frank Ritz Mystery)  - soon to be followed by Oddly Dead and Death and the Droid.
 "Tosi writes with tremendous style and a pitch perfect ear for everything that makes the classic noir detective story irresistible. Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, make room for Frank Ritz!" - Elizabeth McKenzie, best-selling author of The Portable Veblen.


Sandra Horn said…
Here's to many more, Umberto!
Reb MacRath said…
Ah, memories of San Francisco...when each morning I'd turn to the S. F. Chronicle to see what Herb Caen was up to. No man ever better deserved to be known as Mister San Francisco.
Aliciasammons said…
I agree we could use some that special breed of rough-hewned but ethical columnists in today’s slick media landscape. Thank you for your years of service in keeping so many wisely informed. I so enjoyed your blogs!

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