Craig Carrozzi: In the Footsteps of Mark Twain

"I'm to introduce Mark Twain. To tell the truth, I only know two things about him: he ain't in jail, and I don't know why not."

This introduction, capturing the spirit of the "Gilded Age," was made by a grizzled miner during Samuel Clemen's (aka Mark Twain) lecture tour of the mining towns of Sacramento, Marysville, Grass Valley, Nevada City, Red Dog, You Bet, Virginia City, Carson City and Gold Hill in the fall of 1866.

The lectures featured Twain's comic observations about the Sandwich Islands' and Hawaii's residents, natives, assorted missionaries and opportunists. This stand-up comedy tour helped launch Twain's career as one of the most celebrated figures in American folklore and literature.

Reading about this in George Rathmell's excellent book, "Realms of Gold," a history of the San Francisco literary scene, I could only shake my head in bemusement. You see, prior to these lectures, which were based on four months experience in Hawaii writing articles for the Sacramento Union, Twain lived a sometimes hand-to-mouth existence as a journalist. Twain's then most famous story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," was first printed in the New York Saturday Press. Unfortunately, it was in the final issue of a dying weekly and Twain had slim hopes that the story would be noticed. But, to Mark's gratification and amazement, the story was picked up and reprinted in almost every newspaper of any consequence in the country. But Twain received not one cent in royalties as anything printed in one paper was considered fair game in any other and the author be damned.

As you can imagine, I felt a tremendous surge of empathy for Twain because of his shabby treatment from the publishing trade; but an even greater sense of admiration because he overcame his disappointment and figured out a way to beat the system.

To launch his tour, Twain rented a hall in San Francisco, had tickets printed, sold them and wowed his audience. The rest is history.

The success of his Gold and Silver Country tour led to a European Tour that led to the book "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." The boy knew how to think outside the box, had the guts to go for it and it paid off for him.

So that, finally, brings us to me. I am an unabashed publisher of my own books. I write them, design the covers, hire printers, find distributors and act as sales rep and publicist. Hell, I even sell popcorn at events if the need arises. I have published five books with varying degrees of success through my Southern Trails Publishing. On the plus side, I love the sense of empowerment controlling my own product gives me. On the minus side, the book trade looks at most "self-published books" the way Fox News regards the word "liberal" - an epithet that almost automatically consigns the author to the slush pile and inhibits meaningful consideration.

From my viewpoint, when you consider that Bertlesmann, a German media giant, owns Random House, which owns Knopf, Ballantines, Bantam, Dell and Doubleday, monster names in US publishing history, you can see the creeping lack of diversity in the publishing industry. These incestuous conglomerates are stifling original voices and reducing much of our publishing trade to celebrity tell-all books and vanilla thrillers and romances.

So, yes, while a majority of self-published books are crap, so are a fair proportion of high-profile publishers, which turn out the same sort of crap - with a glossier facade and a take-no-risk attitude.

Understanding this, I came out with my new book, "The Curse of Chief Tenaya," and determined to use the strategy employed by Twain 138 years before.

But, today, large independent bookstores in the Bay Area now want what they euphemistically refer to as "publisher's publicity fees" of $200 to $300 to put on a book event. As in so many things, the smaller you are the more you are squeezed. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to put on my first event at Eldo's Brew Pub and Grill in the Sunset District at no cost. The event drew about 120 people and I sold a ton of books. Thus, armed with both confidence and cash, I took my title - which deals with the Gold Rush, Chief Tenaya of the Sierra Miwoks and the Hetch Hetchy Valley in an action/adventure context - in June to the good people of Yosemite and the Gold Rush country along route 49. The response has been gratifying. Like Mark Twain, I had events scheduled up and down the Gold Country - Roseville, Coloma, Yosemite Valley, Fish Camp, Columbia, Groveland and Camp Mather near Hetch Hetchy. I took my work directly to my audience and let them judge its quality for themselves.

A writer can't ask for anything more.

Craig Carrozzi is a Richmond District author.