Today I’m pleased to shine the spotlight on Bibliophile Extraordinaire Douglas Cronk down in Vero Beach, Florida. I know few Artistes in my social circle who don’t feel warmly indebted to Douglas for sharing their stories, poems, and artwork on his Facebook Page. He also brightens our days with some fantastic ocean-side photos—taken on his ever-present iPhone.
So welcome, Douglas! Nice shirt—it looks Jimmy Buffet festive.
A. Thanks, Mick. My wife Liz took this photo at the Pomodoro Grill last May. And hey, I live in Vero Beach: we’re all Jimmy Buffet festive.
Q. You belong to a Facebook Group called Read or Die. You even sent me an invitation to join this group. But every time I see the name Read or Die I envision a defunct underground nuclear testing facility full of jail cells that make Alcatraz seem like a five-star hotel. And the guards? Yeesh. I don’t even wanna go there. I also worry that if I were to join, this shady guy who lives in the Las Vegas dessert might get the drop on me while I’m wandering the corridors trying to get acclimated.
So what can you tell us about this reading group? Or is this a classic case of “if you told us you’d have to kill us?”
A. I started Read or Die for a friend because he wanted to be able to find my “literary” posts in one place. Initially a closed group, I made it an open group so the same friend could share anything posted there.
The “shady guy” you’re referring to is known as The Professor—and is a legendary figure to the denizens of the Vegas netherworld. He is not to be crossed.
Q. Well, Douglas, you’ve resolved the mystery about Read or Die’s origins. But I see you slickly avoided affirming or denying the presence of jail cells or prison guards. Since I’m not inclined to believe you either way on these two topics, why did you name your group Read or Die? The name certainly screams extreme.
A. On an episode of No Reservations, Jim Harrison says his motto is “Eat or Die.” I borrowed from that line.
Meanwhile, all individuals who run afoul of the group are immediately dealt with by The Professor —so we have no need for jail cells.
Q. You have nearly 1,300 Friends on Facebook. What year did you first join Facebook?
A. I joined Facebook and other social media sites in the fall of 2013.
Q. Any idea how many of your Friends are not Writers, Poets and Illustrators? And how and when did you initially start following Writers on Facebook? Like did you do a Facebook search for “Starving Artists?”
A. No idea about the numbers. The first writers I followed were people I’d read before I joined Facebook. Somehow that had a ripple effect in the waters that managed to lead us here.
Q. How many hours each day do you likely spend reading—then commenting and posting on Facebook?
And how does your wife Liz feel about your Read or Die addiction? Is she happy to have you out of her hair? Or does she have to costume herself as a book cover in order to get your attention?
A. Liz is fine with my Read or Die addiction. She spends at least as much time as I do on her iPhone or Kindle. She just doesn’t post as often as I do.
I probably spend four hours a day between reading and social media; sometimes more, seldom less. If this seems excessive I would defend myself by saying that I don’t watch television, nor do I have a social life.
Q. Trying to keep to the shadows and avoid sparking The Professor’s ire is a full-time job in itself—so I can understand your lack of a social life. Not to mention the amount of time he freelances at your place drinking coffee. Fortunately for us, you spend a lot of early morning hours combing the beach and taking photos. How long do these strolls tend to last before you head home for coffee elixirs? And do you tend to start and finish about the same time every day?
A. I don’t start and finish at the same time because my walk is based around when the sunrise occurs. The duration of my morning walk is between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
Q. I’m curious about your reading life prior to becoming an extremist-fundamentalist Cult Leader. At what age did you first fall in love with books and stories? And how much time passed before you became a Fanatic?
A. Very young. My parents bought a set of Collier’s Encyclopedias that came with a collection of books on myths and fables. I read them all cover-to-cover.
Q. Anyone who routinely visits your Facebook page should quickly intuit that your taste in reading material and friends is eclectic. You’ll drink morning coffee with the miscreant Professor and read barroom poets at The Rye Whiskey Review one minute. Then share historical artwork and stories from an endearing female fiction writer who lives in Turkey the next. What draws you to such varying characteristics in Literature, Poetry, genre fiction, and people?
Or are you merely conducting a diabolical long con designed to lure people into Read or Die?
A. That answer is quite simple: Vanilla is boring.
Q. Unfounded rumors of unknown origin were circulating last year ... talk of how you might actually be an alien from another planet. Hypothetically speaking, if you were in fact an alien—what planet or star system would you be from? And what type of civilization would we find? Would we also see The Professor’s doppelgänger there?
A. I’m almost certain those scurrilous rumors were started by The Professor—or his Evil doppelgänger—who hates rabbits. People who hate rabbits are not to be trusted.
Hypothetically speaking, the society I’d prefer to come from would have less institutional intervention (government, school, church, or business) in our personal lives. I’m not an anarchist, but I’m close.
And, yes, there would be a place for both versions of The Professor.
Well, Douglas, our audience and I here at Center Stage can’t thank you enough for the fun and generous ways you and Liz have kindly made us part of your lives down in festive Vero Beach.
I was hoping we could chat longer. But I get this strange feeling I’m being stared at by someone hiding behind the stage curtain … and something tells me it’s The Professor.
So best wishes to you and Liz in all things—and we’ll all catch each other on Facebook. Cheers, Douglas, and to the rest of our fine audience as well.
Anyone with an interest can also visit Douglas on Instagram, where he shares a fine array of photos.