Blowing Zen:
Finding an Authentic Life

Book Tour Update

by Ray Brooks

Three years ago Dianne and I arrived home from the Himalayan region of India with what we thought was a half decent manuscript which we had entitled Blowing Zen. Two week's home and not a clue what to do with the now shrink rapped, manuscript, I began asking around. "Forget it Ray. You have to know someone in the publishing game, was a common response." "No chance Ray. There are thousands of books out there and anyway, who,d wanna, read a book about the shakahoochi?" came another piece of advice. But it wasn,t all negative feed back. "Self publish it Ray and sell it to the thirteen shakuhachi players out there. I,ll give you ten bucks for the movie rights." "Send it to an agent. They,ll tell you if it has any commercial value." Commercial value sounded ugly but I knew he was right. Within a week I found an agent in New York who saw its potential, and after a couple of minor adjustments to the manuscript the book was sold to H. J. Kramer. Twelve months later, Blowing Zen, with the subtitle Finding an Authentic Life, added, Kramer released Blowing Zen, to good reviews.

Dianne and I would play a part in the release by going on a four-month book tour of the United States and the West Coast of Canada, organized by the publishing company. We mapped out our route, insisting on only going to warm areas, bought a V W camper van and loaded up. Our first stop was Taos NM. Heh! We're British, we didn,t know it would be covered in snow in January and freezing! After a five-day drive down from Victoria, British Columbia, we were snowed out and no one turned up at the first event. Our next event was in a bookstore in Albuquerque, this time it was a full house and there was standing room only. I,m glad you weren,t there! My performance was horrendous. My mouth was dry, my hands shook, and my playing was awful. I mumbled on about the book, cracking jokes like a stand up comedian, then tried to play some more. Relief came when I asked if anyone had any questions. Hands shot up. It was during this period that my nervousness began to disappear, and was not to return to that degree for the rest of the trip. In hindsight, I realized that my ego was getting in the way and separating me from the audience. It wasn,t until the question period that this division dropped away. Dianne helped save the day at that first performance/reading by expertly stepping in and focusing/summarizing Blowing Zen, for the audience, and then prompting me into talking about my experiences. She is now included in all the events and quite rightly so, her subtle and crucial presence permeates the story of Blowing Zen, and her editing skills and creative input helped to bring it to fruition. After Albuquerque I relaxed and opened up to include the audience, breaking down the barriers with the sound of the shakuhachi and stories people could relate too.

We did forty events in all. The turn out was great and to my delight many shakuhachi teachers and students attended. Some were even generous enough to come to each of my events in the bay area. Dianne and I thank you all for your support - it made such a difference.

The tour eventually brought us to Kayo and Monty Levenson's home in Willits or "Montyland", as Dianne likes to call the area. We were definitely ready for the Levenson's hospitality after living in a camper van for two and a half months. If you haven't met Monty and his family your shakuhachi experience isn't complete. He and his family are all delightful and remarkable individuals. Upon examining my flutes, Monty's expert eye and ear noted that they could both use some adjustments. He was exactly right, and could immediately identify how I had, over the year's put up with, and adapted my playing to suit the flutes. My 1.8 and 2.3 jump up an octave on Ro if I,m not careful. Monty went inside and fixed the problem on both of them within a couple of hours, even rebuilding the mouthpiece of the 2.3. If you're having similar troubles, get in touch with "magic, Monty". Take your flute down to "Montyland", on the pretense you don't want to let it out of your sight. You'll love it there.

The four-month trip was tough going at times, but we had lots of encouragement along the way. People e-mailed me from all over the states saying they had enjoyed the book and were getting back into their particular pursuit, this time, without the goal of "I must". Christopher Blasdel,s email congratulating me on the book arrived during a particularly rough few days of events gave us a great morale boost. I was performing in some of the giant Barnes & Nobles and Borders bookshops. The groups were small, the weather was terrible and we hadn't had a hot shower for days! Peter Ross emailed saying he would rally his students to come and see the "hermit shakuhachi player", in a rare performance in Seattle! There were excellent articles from Bruce Jones and Robert Jonas. H J Kramer emailed us saying that Blowing Zen, had been released in Germany. Hal and Linda Kramer of H J Kramer came to the Mill Valley event and Foster Reed the president of New Albion Records and producer of my CD Hollow Bell, came out to see us in San Francisco.

Blowing Zen, has been out about four months to date and has gone to a second printing. Now there,s talk of a movie. The book seems to have a life of its own. My hope is that it brings many new players to this incredible breathing tool and that the book helps to keep shakuhachi thriving.

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