Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Now We're Here - celebrating Queen's music and my novel Now I'm Here

Why would an author like me produce a concert of acoustic Queen music in a beautiful Alamo Square Victorian with a rich LGBT history? Because I can! Also, I won a book award.

Yes, for months, shortly after the publication of my sixth novel, Now I'm Here, I decided to add live music to my reading events. Musicians Peter Fogel and Dudley Saunders offered their guitar and singing skills at my San Francisco and West Hollywood readings in September and October.

But I wanted more music, so when I shot the interior piano-playing scenes for my book trailer at The F'Inn, a lovely historic home run by Mike Finn, I realized that it would be a perfect setting for an intimate salon-style concert.

On Thursday, December 6, you can get a copy of my book, enjoy champagne and food, and hear new live versions of more than a dozen Queen songs performed by some luminary talents:  Peter Fogel, Suzanne Ramsey, Diogo Zavadski, Coleton Schmitto, Adam Dragland and special guests Leigh Crow, Ruby Vixen and Jason Brock.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody film reviews - the good, the bad and the angry

It's no surprise that my sixth novel, the Queen-infused Now I'm Here, is benefiting from the publicity for the new Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Although I started the novel more than twenty years ago, news of the film's pre-production two years ago gave me a kickstart to complete it.

But with reviews for the film rolling in, I'm wondering about associating myself too closely with what is being criticized by some media as a standard "paint-by-numbers' celebrity drama that misses the mark, specifically without a nuanced approach to Freddie Mercury's life and homosexuality.

First, the good news. My novel continues to hover in the top 100 for several categories on Amazon.com. This is despite my recommendations that readers purchase the novel through alternative means, specifically directly from the publisher, and via independent bookstores. Then, you can review it on the corporate websites, thus "playing the game," as Freddie's song goes.

True, the advance screening at the Castro Theatre earlier this month left me giddy with having seen the film. But something wasn't exactly right. Still, that I decided to record the onstage interviews with actors Rami Malek, Joe Mazzello and Gwylim Lee proved smart. I posted the lightly edited clips on YouTube, and it's been viewed more than 8,000 times and received almost 200 likes.

That's due in part to the devotion and eager anticipation of Queen fans, along with my clever keyword usage. You can view it here:

Now that the thrill of seeing the film early and seeing three of the four actors playing the band members has subsided, I've of course been curious to see media reviews. Some are good, some not nice and a few take the film to task for "queer erasure."

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Now I'm There - Symbols and Signs in Los Angeles, and Bookstore Intimacy

The fuchsia Bohemian Rhapsody sign with Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury looking down through the window from across the street at my West Hollywood reading for my sixth novel Now I'm Here served as just one of many signs (that one an actual sign) and symbols relating to the novel's themes and icons.

And although, after months of anticipation, some fine social media boosts from Book Soup, and a nice advance interview in the Los Angeles Blade, the reading proved more intimately attended than I'd hoped, so I learned that such an event is more about the moments enjoyed and the before and after of such a day.

One fun element was driving around with my brother (a filmmaker whose in-development project, Destination Zero, documents the life of little-known Columbus rock singer Ronald Koal). He indulged me by letting me play Queen songs as we drove. 

At one moment, "Now I'm Here," the title song for my novel, played as we arrived in West Hollywood. Only blocks from where I set a few chapters in the novel (spoiler alert: main character Joshua lives there for a short time), the epigram lyric to the book, "Whatever comes of you and me, I love to leave my memory with you..." played just as we passed under a row of palm trees.

I don't know how many other writers imagine cinematic moments in their novels, but this was like stepping into a scene from my book. Of course, I partially captured it on Instagram.

Book Soup is crammed with books, its black shelves almost invisible as book spines and covers beguile in their variety. The staff was friendly in helping me get set up near the front window, where behind a row of plastic pink flamingos the Bohemian Rhapsody billboard glowed as the sun set.

at my Book Soup reading
Dudley Saunders, an award-winning musician, performer and producer, took time out from his busy schedule to join me and perform a few songs in between my reading and discussion of Now I'm Here. Saunders' acoustic version of "We Will Rock you" exposed the sad truth behind the usually rousing anthem. It all made for a lively conversation about art, masculinity, and other themes. 

Among the attendees were author Felice Picano, a longtime champion of my books, and a few of his writing workshop students. Mark Haile, who had booked me years ago at the former L.A. branch of A Different Light Bookstore, also came by, and even brought a copy of my first novel, PINS, to sign.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Now I'm Here - Enjoying the Ride of a New Novel

While it's been several days since the launch and first reading event for my sixth novel, Now I'm Here, I'm still energized by all the love and support shown by the nearly 50 people who attended the event.

So many folks sat patiently while I read and talked about my latest work. I'm not a big name author, so any attention and early purchases of my books are helpful, particularly from Dog Eared Books, where the first event took place, and Book Soup in West Hollywood, where my next big event on October 12 will include live music performed by Dudley Saunders.

I'm working with a small press, and with so many books being published these days, along with a barrage of painfully disgusting news coming from Washington, it's a feat to get folks out of their homes, or to make the decision to attend a book reading when we're all so busy.

And yet, after months of planning, it all came together. Among the photographers who attended (and whose images they graciously let me share on social media and here) were Tom Schmidt, aka Photos by Dot. Tom shot the cover photos for Now I'm Here back in May with our two handsome cover models, and the adorable border collie owned by publishing pioneers Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry.

My Dog Eared Books event Sept. 20. photo: Gooch
Also taking great photos was nightlife and San Francisco community photographer Gareth Gooch, whose prolific work documents Bay Area events. I knew this event would mean a lot to me, and also that I would not have time to document it myself. So, it was great to have professionals capturing the evening's highlights.

I'd imagined recording each of musician Peter Fogel's four performances of acoustic versions of Queen songs, but was so nervous at one point that my camera work was wobbly.

I also knocked over the stool twice in between my reading excerpts from Now I'm Here! And I'm not sure if I should try to read the second excerpt (from Chapter 23), because I got a bit choked up. It was as if someone else had written those words, about my character Joshua's triumphant performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at a high school assembly.

Peter Fogel sings a Queen song
But a few friends joked afterward that I should cry on cue, and that it showed my vulnerability, my passionate connection to the work.

It's easy to become cold and jaded about the other work required after a novel is finished. My social media presence is small compared to "influencers" and pop culture stars, for sure. I'm not going to detail the hours spent just adjusting banner images for each platform, each of them slightly different than the other! 

I'm trying to remain authentic and not become a repetitive self-promoter. But that is what it takes these days, to get peoples' attention and interest.

Yes, I've received a few nice reviews so far, and readers have shown their love on Amazon.com and GoodReads. But what I'm finding, despite the necessity of InstaTwitBook, is digging through all that to find some sort of real connection with friends, fans and new readers. The best part of it all was seeing so many people in person, and introducing them to each other.

Lian, one of the book cover models
Like making art, growing friendships takes years as well. This novel is not a clever idea I threw together to jump on the resurgent popularity of Queen and the upcoming biographical film about Freddie Mercury and the band. This is a work that took decades to complete, and that includes the years since the early 1990s when I set it aside, knowing that it was ready, and that I wasn't ready.

What I mean by that is the later events in my life, and my family's life, years after those first paragraphs became a short story that became a chapter, changed and improved the expanse of the story, and its clarity.

Part of that clarity came over time, and through loss. After spending many hours searching through boxes of my own ephemera, I pored over years of handwritten and manually typed writing, most of it bad. I mean, really bad; 20something angst, repetitive phrases and my usual clumsy grammar and syntax. But behind those clumsy word jumbles lay a youthful passion, a need to communicate.

Continuing on other projects oiled my wheels, and finally finishing Now I'm Here became a joyous thrill ride, particularly with the terrific editorial assistance of Beautiful Dreamer Press Publisher Louis Flint-Ceci.

Despite being 'accomplished' (hey, this is my sixth novel), I still like to read articles on improving writing skills. Listicles and free offers of PDFs about 'How to Sell Your Book!' intrigue me, more often so I can make a mental checklist of what I've done right, or done wrong. Wait, no; what I haven't done right yet.

a lovely book display
All the boxes have been checked; the profiles updated, the tweets and Instas grammed, the videos embedded, and still it's an uphill climb, to find new readers one by one; not in an impersonal swath of boosted Facebook posts (I've done that; it doesn't pay off), but by politely reminding people that I have a new story to tell.

That doesn't mean I don't want to you to help out and follow, comment, like or share. For example, one of my amusing projects, first done privately, is my playlist of Queen songs and videos stacked in order of the accompanying chapter titles in my novel. Will it sell more books? Probably not. Will you enjoy it? Hopefully. I enjoyed listening to it several times.

My point is, none of that is better than having people gather in real time, at bookstores, to say hello, offer hugs, buy books and commune together.

What surprised me about last week's reading was how, along with the topics in my new novel, people also shared their mutual love of Queen; their first concerts, their admiration for Freddie Mercury and how he played the game of hiding in plain sight as a gay man in a difficult time. That's something far beyond my little book, but an interwoven element in its themes.

I hope you enjoy Now I'm Here. And tell your friends.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Freddie Mercury: What I Owe Queen's Fantastic Lead Singer-Composer

September 5 is the birthday of Queen singer Freddie Mercury, and in anticipation of the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the film biopic about Freddie and the band, the promotional Twitter account asked what fans owe to Mercury, and my answer, of course, is, "Quite a lot, darling!"

My sixth novel, Now I'm Here, (now available on ebook editions and in paperback September 20) fictionalizes some pivotal moments in my own life. 

 Since I was a child, I'd wanted to learn to play piano. But it wasn't until my dad's construction company, set to demolish some homes in northern Ohio for senior apartments, found a funky old upright piano in one of the houses, and my dad had it hauled to our home, where we dragged it into our dining room. Several keys were broken, and I had to strip its layers of paint to get to the deep wood color. How my family endured my hours of after-school playing I'll never know.

The piano at my home in 1977, with beloved cat Rachel.

While my early skills included learning basic classical pieces, I frequently surprised my piano teacher with songbooks of rock albums, Queen in particular. My junior high piano recital was a performance of "Melancholy Blues," an understated performance of a bluesy song. 

But for my senior recital in 1979, my ambition drew me to arrange a piano solo version of "Bohemian Rhapsody." I recall doing okay with the very complicated song (explained section by section on Wikipedia). Sadly, no one, myself included, thought to record my performance, nor any of my clumsy piano efforts of many rock songs.