Book Name and Description: 100 Things to do in Riverside, CA Before You Die
Riverside is a city founded by abolitionists, teetotalers, and other advocates of social justice. Their ambitious hopes for humanity created a place that was forward-thinking, artistic, technologically progressive, and different from the status quo. What I put together here was designed to illustrate the achievement of that vision. Driving it is an economy that came into its own by creating and sustaining a citrus industry with the navel orange as its cornerstone.
Decades ago, Riverside grew under the shadow of Los Angeles, starting as little more than a pit stop along the road from LA to Palm Springs for Hollywood celebrities. From these humble origins, Riverside is now an arts and innovation corridor. By car, by foot, or bicycle, the city has an eclectic collection of artisan shops, regional foods, and one of a kind things to see. 100 Things to Do in Riverside, CA Before You Die is your local guide that cuts to the chase, saves you time and shows you what’s unique, fun, and simply worth doing in Riverside.
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What gave you the idea for 100 Things to do in Riverside, CA Before You Die?
While completing my Humanities degree, I took an LA Lit course. I left wondering, “Who’s telling the Inland Empire’s story?” Answering that question led to me joining a merry band of artists, writers, and bibliophiles and creating the Inlandia Institute. My purpose was to present an image of my hometown as a place where the DIY and DIT ethos supports a thriving and diverse mix of arts, foods, and industries.
I wanted the contrasts in Riverside celebrated, not hidden. Smog hangs against the San Bernardino Mountain range north of here, its omnipresence only broken by the hot Santa Ana winds that knock down trees and other regional ambitions in the Fall. But, we also have some of the largest protected open spaces you will find in Southern California. We are a community formed by the social justice movement and a strong military presence.
What got you into writing in this genre?
Some credit goes to the Target Corporation. My friend, the poet Cati Porter, was helping Reedy Press find a writer for this project. While pondering that puzzle, we had a fortunate meeting of carts in the grocery section. Later that day, she sent me a note. I spoke with the publisher, they liked my ideas and my sample. I then spent the fourth quarter of 2016 writing the book.
How long have you been writing?
In my 20’s I wrote often but was almost never published. I let the rejection slips dictate my happiness and I eventually stopped. I returned in my 30’s, finished a graduate degree and a novella, Being Wendall. A few years and several rejections later, I stepped away again. I found more happiness and purpose helping my fellow writers, so I focused on publishing and supporting them in the mid 2000’s. In 2015, I jumped off my academic management career track to be a full-time dad, part time professor, with a shaky plan to write and publish somewhere in between. So far, it’s working better than expected.
Tell us about your past books and stories?
I wrote a novella in 2006 called “Being Wendall”. It was about a young man who works hard to achieve the American Dream – loving family, fulfilling job, supportive community – only to lose them one by one. He must create a new dream for himself and chooses to make do with the discarded bits of society – rural dwellers, housewives, activists, and old people. When I returned to writing in 2015, much of what came out was poetry. I wrote poetry before but never this much. I found poetry expressed my emotions and values most effectively. I became fascinated by flash fiction. I was scratching notes in the car or while feeding an infant. It was an exhilarating period of sleep deprivation, role reversals, and self-discovery. No matter the genre or decade, nearly everything I write come down to an exploration of what happens to human beings when they rub up against something.
What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?
The writing process is a chore. Like a chore, it must be scheduled and reminders are needed. I wake up most days at least an hour before the rest of my family. I use that period to write. Some days that space gets taken over by grading papers, or reading, or more sleep. During the day, I will jot down ideas while taking care of my 2 ½ year old daughter. She still naps, so I can expect another solid hour of writing, and another hour reading things that interest me. My domestic tasks influence me the most. When those dominate, I don’t write. Spending so much time with a child does support my imagination and creative thinking, but I don’t always get those ideas on paper in time.
What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why? What book disappointed you and why?
Right now, I am reading the collected works of Frederick Douglas. I started it shortly after the election in 2016 and I appreciate and value seeing just how much of the struggles today were problems he described nearly 200 years ago – specifically blacks seen as inferior, sub-human, by the majority culture, and the poverty perpetuated by severe inequities in criminal justice, economics, and education.
I love the collection from a writer’s perspective as well. Since it captures all his writing and speeches, it often repeats stories and themes. I see how his ideas changed over time, and how he adapted his approach to his audience while not watering down his message. It’s a near impossible task to achieve in writing. But the attempt entertains.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I look for more collaborative projects now than in the past. I talk to more artists than I used to, and those conversations have resulted in workshops, art exhibitions, and biographies in the last two years. I need reminders that I am not the smartest person in the room. Talking to others, getting outside my little sphere artistically and socially will keep me creative.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
One, a writing community – You need at least two in the modern age. One digital and one analog. The digital can keep you engaged across many genres and places. You can get details fast and I use my digital engagement to find out what’s happening creatively around town, so I can join in as a consumer or participant.
Two, you must have deadlines. I find I cannot finish much of anything without a deadline. I did not finish my first novel until 2006, and it was only because I made it the capstone project of my MA degree. I’ve started several novels since then, but it was my culture guidebook about Riverside that was my second completed project; it was because the publisher had a deadline I needed to hit so it would be in stores on time.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
In Carolyn See’s book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, she advises writers to keep all their receipts. This is not a get rich-game, the writing life, so a person must find all the places they can to save money and lower the small amount of taxes we do pay. Along the way, she entertains and shares her compelling writing philosophy. It’s everything I love about writing – direct, honest, and useful.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
My published work these next few years will be of regional interest. I reluctantly joined social media several years ago. Currently, the two channels that engage my readers and buyers are Facebook and Instagram. Because my books use local sights, they lend themselves well to linking and photography, two things enjoyed on social media.
I also create on average two events per month where I am reading from the book or providing useful information about the community through service clubs, museums, retails shops, and special community events.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
I am proud of the way I have represented my community in my work. In my fiction, I create characters that don’t love everything about home, but choose to make it work. My non-fiction has created a distinct voice for this region that reflects our diverse history (strong military and very active social justice movement).
For those who haven’t read any of your stories, what story/book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
do your chores, love dad is my poetry chapbook and I think it illustrates what I think about most of the time. That is, how am I doing as a dad (am I creating monsters or good upright humans?) and what kind of world will my children grow up in? I also believe nearly any moment in our life can be valuable lesson times, and I have several moments captured that helped me understand larger truths about reality, purpose, and my place in the world of other people.
What are you doing next?
I have two books in the works. The first is open ended and a collaborative project with a local artist. We are attempting to capture the 15-year history of Riverside’s Día de los Muertos festival he created back in 2004. We are just starting to put together enough material to send some queries. The second is called Secret Inland Empire. It covers many of the odd histories, foods, people, mysteries, and cool hidden places around here, scheduled for release Summer of 2018 with Reedy Press.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Make friends and get out of the house. Go experience as many art forms as possible. It will keep you engaged and prevents boring work as much as any other practice.
Larry Burns is a writer, artist, and teacher who draws inspiration and ideas from the heady mixture of sights, sounds, peoples, and places of his hometown, Riverside CA. He enjoys writing that employs simple themes and language, allowing the reader to participate by establishing for themselves what the writing means. Living and creating from this part of the world has its pros and cons – “As a lifelong resident of the Inland Empire, sometimes my lungs seize from the diesel fumes and my eyes tell me there are no mountains to the north. But beneath the dirt lies treasure. And that treasure is mine, mine all mine!”
For over two decades, Larry Burns has been an active community leader, booster, and all-around fan of the recreation and art hidden across the (82-square mile) small town he calls home. He was a founding member of the Inlandia Institute, a non-profit publishing house that recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. He teaches writing and humanities courses as an adjunct professor at Riverside City College and University of Phoenix. Most days you can find him in Riverside CA, chasing his young daughter along Main Street or keeping her on the trail up Mt. Rubidoux.
Twitter – @Larry_M_Burns