Interview, Len Vlahos (BISG)



[Image from Booksellers NZ]

* Interview #72, with Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) Executive Director, Len Vlahos!

* Note from Jess: BISG is the leading book trade association for standardized best practices, research and education. I noticed Mr. Vlahos’ “very interesting and unique bio” on GoodReads — so I decided to send a quick Q&A on career and life vision!

* * * * *

Hi Len! Describe yourself in 5 words:


Caffeine free since August 2012.

What do you find most exciting and/or challenging with being the executive director of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG)?

I love BISG because we represent every corner of the supply chain. Our members include Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Google, Random House, Harper Collins, Hachette, the American Library Assn, digital only companies, indie bookstores, small publishers, printers. the Author’s Guild, wholesalers, and on and on and on…

We are at the very center of the book industry. We exist to build consensus, and to help trading partners work more efficiently together. It’s a broad mission, and it provides real value to the entire publishing ecosystem. And it’s fun. :-)

You dropped out of NYU film school in the mid 80s to play guitar for Woofing Cookies (a punk-pop band that had a full-length LP on Midnight Records), before working in the book industry and writing novels — what a unique bio! Do you approach music the same way as you approach writing?

Dang the Internet! My cover is, apparently, blown. The bio is true. I took a circuitous route to this point in my life, not always an easy route, but one I wouldn’t change for anything.

My prose writing is more methodical than my songwriting. With music, I pick up the guitar and futz around until inspiration comes or it doesn’t. With prose, I try to stick to a fairly rigid schedule of writing everyday, which forces a more deliberate, measured approach, if that makes sense.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your debut novel, The Scar Boys (10-100 words):

scar boys

Excerpt: An older and much larger boy stood over me, blotting out the sun. “You weren’t goddam here when we chose up the goddam sides.” He was trying on curse words the way a little girl tries on her mother’s shoes.

Blurb: The Scar Boys is the story of Harbinger “Harry” Jones. His journey from outcast to guitar hero takes center stage in this rock and roll coming of age novel. There’s love (conditional and not), sex (imagined and not), drugs (prescribed and not), and a whole lot of music.

(For the record, I’m not as good at blurbs as I am at fiction.)

Share a short excerpt of one of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

At the far end of town, where the grickle grass grows
And the wind smells slow and sour when it blows
And no birds ever sing, excepting old crows
Is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.

(The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss)

Do you personally prefer print books or eBooks?

When e- first started getting going (2008), I read quite a lot on my iPhone (using a variety of different apps). I would I say 50% of all my reading over the next two + years was on the iPhone.

But over the last 18 months, I’ve migrated back entirely to print. I’m not sure I can explain why, other than I think I suffer from screen fatigue. While I know that e-ink devices are supposed to be the antidote, they still haven’t really replicated the visual experience of ink on paper. Printed books are just easier on the eyes. That said, I have nothing against e-, and wouldn’t be surprised if I wind up reading e- and p more interchangeably in the future.

Please share your #1 tip for balancing work and family life:


Please share your #1 tip for publishers and writers to keep up with the ever-evolving book publishing industry:

The transformation that has engulfed the book industry is not about technology; it’s about human behavior. People want to access content in myriad ways, and want to consume and share it in ways not previously imagined. Our industry should be focused on the customer and her needs and desires, and shouldn’t obsess over the technology. And don’t be afraid to fail. (That might be more than one tip.)

Your websites/blogs/etc:

Website | Twitter

Email: lenATlenvlahosDOTcom

(Man, that’s a lot of “Len Vlahos” for one paragraph.)

Much thanks to the gracious and very cool Len Vlahos for taking the time to share his thoughts with us!

Check out his bio at GoodReads, along with his bio at Book Industry Study Group (BISG).

* * *

Dave Baksh



* Pic 1 (Dave Baksh) from here; Pic 2 (Sum 41) from here.


I remember it was exactly 10 years ago that I first heard Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” (the year the song was released).

I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. I really liked that song because the tune was very catchy and the chorus had great lyrics:

“I don’t want to waste my time
become another casualty of society
I’ll never fall in line
Become another victim of your conformity
And back down”
— Sum 41, Fat Lip lyrics

There was a happy pop/punk sound which was exactly what I needed at that age.

Fast forward 10 years and I just happened to be thinking of this song, so I looked for a live vid on YouTube.

The above is a Tokyo live clip of Sum 41 performing “Fat Lip”…and omg, the guitar playing by Dave Baksh is totally insane!

Around the time while viewing the vid, I also read an MTV article (dated 2006) about how Dave found the mainstream music business to be too much of a competition, etc.

Dave Baksh is now with The Organ Thieves (a band whose sound/genre is “LYRICAL-EXPERIMENTAL-SOUL-ROCK”).

I always admire the passion people have for their art/music. The practical survival/money stuff is important, but so is  staying true to yourself and making the most of your talent(s). To me, I’ve always felt that when something (especially music) is too commercial, the soul is gone and it’s just not the same. So this is a quick blog post that reflects my admiration for people with the guts/passion to do things differently :)

After you’ve viewed the above video, you can check out these other links!

(1) Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh Says Sum 41 Got ‘Too Dark For The Public’ (MTV article)

(2) The Organ Thieves (Official FB Page)

(3) (Organ Thieves’ music)

Drawing Confidence


japanese rock hairstyleJapanese Rock Hairstyle, 2
–> Ballpoint pen — was flipping through a Japanese hairstyle magazine for guys (sooo much better than the one for girls!) | first pic using the ‘cutout’ filter, second pic maybe using ‘dark strokes’ filter on PS

I’ve been a private tutor in the past (very fun) — there were a couple of kiddies I used to teach (who are now 11 years old, if I’m not wrong — WOW, that was fast). I think they were one of the few people I knew who truly enjoyed drawing/illustrating/doodling, in a pure kind of way. They didn’t have a whole guilt and/or negative complex that many adults seem to have when it comes to creating artwork (myself included, for a time).

I remember the first “proper” sketch I attempted, back in 2003 when I was 16+:

elf sketch, legolas
–> Legolas from LOtR | referred to an Orlando Bloom pic.

I drew a lot more when I was 17-18. I remember being quite diligent about it, because:

1) Those years of my life were very dismal and miserable — drawing calmed my nerves down, A LOT.
2) I used to compare drawing to my attempts/experience with writing. I wrote poems + stories throughout my childhood and teenage years — not so with drawing. I always wanted to draw though, I don’t know why.

So I kept drawing, despite people (teachers/lecturers) telling me not to (if they weren’t so boring as facilitators, maybe I wouldn’t have been doodling?)…despite feeling overwhelmed at times by all the crazy artistic talents out there…despite many trial-and-error type drawings that couldn’t be salvaged…

It’s quite strange to look back on, coz through it all, I think the whole process helped me gain confidence in not just drawing, but writing, and myself, and living life itself…it’s quite strange all this could come from “dirtying the paper delicately” (John Ruskin’s fine definition of “drawing”).

Side Note: If you want to buy just one drawing book, make sure it’s John Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing.


I think confidence is very important if one wants to do something/anything…confidence to try in the first place, confidence to keep going when it gets tough/sh*tty, confidence to say ‘yes’ even when the whole world is telling you ‘no’ (or the other way around, whichever)…

It’s what allows me to press forward with my next book (and I’d like to do some drawing, if I can slip that in somewhere. I can do those things now because I managed to clear out all the files from my thumbdrives and external hard drive, blahx3, email inboxes too. So everything is really nice and decluttered — just like an uncluttered blog, lol. Just a little bit more packing/cleaning to do with my room — THAT, completed, would be a bonus).

I could write/journal everyday — I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to do one drawing per day (no matter how small / seemingly insignificant). Long ago, I used to think it’d be an impossibility, but right now, it’s a matter of discipline and keeping to a schedule (unless one feels really burned out, in which case some rest would probably be most beneficial).

End Note: There is, however, a difference between confidence and foolishness/arrogance. One is progressive (and not necessarily loud/highly visible/detectable), whereas the other, well, essentially lacks substance. I hope I’ll always know/be aware of the difference.

Author Interview, Alex Austin


I’ve decided to do random short interviews with fellow authors (it’ll be a new addition to this blog). Without further ado, here’s Mr. Alex Austin!

Describe yourself in 5 words:
Alex: Relentless, droll, skeptical, restive, furtive.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words):
Excerpt from The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed, the story of a young musician trying to make the best of his life in the tumultuous 60s/70s Asbury music scene:

I pushed myself off the bench and started walking. I looked up at the Casino, the letters of the word were split into frames: CA/SI/NO.

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