Sunday, January 13, 2019

Now We're There: mapping time through fictional realities

The recent trend of sharing then-and-now photos has me thinking of the years spent between major accomplishments, and how we document our lives. I mark my timeline by novels, and where they took place has been aided by old analog maps, memories and photos, from slides to prints and now online searches.

I remember a lot, which is good, because a few pivotal moments' memories never got mapped or on film.

Now I'm Here... now I'm there, too
The years that my novel Now I'm Here took place, 1970 and 1980s, are countered by my many return visits home, where the story seemed to be accumulating like slow ivy. The two main characters are Joshua, a piano prodigy, and David a pumpkin farmer.

For piano provenance, proving the years of my musicianship existed, I offer a newly found (see PINS photo/map search above). The piano itself and its location in our home is the dining room. I'd play for hours, but also at the local (then) Ashland College studios, choosing from Yamahas and Steinways.

For farm boy authenticity, sadly I never documented my pumpkin farm experience in any 1981 photos. It was often beautiful amid the labors of hauling truckfull after truckfull for months, but not a camera-ready environment back then. I never even remembered to drive by years later and get an image of the farm house and barn. Now it's all floral greenhouses, as I included in the story.

All I have left are the Red Wing boots I bought for the job, which lasted 40 years. But they're in the basement and you don't need a photo of a pair of boots. You'll have to settle for the 1998 image above.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Is 'Bohemian Rhapsody' the greatest rock song?

While the film about the life of Freddie Mercury and Queen's rise to fame continues to break box office records, the title song, considered by critics and fans alike, had become the most played and streamed song in the 20th century. This is all pretty amazing to me, considering that forty years ago I was plunking away trying to learn to play it, and that decades later it would inspire an entire novel.

First, the film. Bohemian Rhapsody, which is, according to the highest-grossing music biopic of all time, domestically, internationally and worldwide, earning a total of $635 million at the box office, according to Gay Times

The film has received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Rami Malek also received nominations for the Golden Globe Award, the Critics’ Choice Award and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.

That Gay Times article mentions the censorship the film suffered in Malaysia. It's hard to imagine how much more deletions were made to accommodate that homophobic country. I've already written about the numerous critiques for its limited depiction of Mercury's life. The film's Wikipedia entry notes the film's many inaccuracies.
Freddie Mercury in the studio

But the fans who ignore or forgive such omissions are what's making this such a huge film. Many shared comments on fan groups online write about repeated viewings.

But what about the song itself? Certainly considered Queen's biggest hit, it's been re-released several times. Doubtless the film's soundtrack will sell millions more.

Universal Music Group (UMG) announced that "Bohemian Rhapsody" has become the most streamed song from the 20th century, racking up a total of 1.6 billion streams. Making the announcement, Sir Lucian Grange, UMG’s chairman and CEO, said: “Bohemian Rhapsody is one the greatest songs by one of the greatest bands in history. My congratulations to Queen and Jim Beach on an incredible achievement that is a testament to the enduring brilliance of Queen.”

The Wikipedia entry about the song's fascinating back story covers its structure and unique history. The single was accompanied by a promotional video, which many scholars consider ground-breaking. Rolling Stone stated that its influence "cannot be overstated, practically inventing the music video seven years before MTV went on the air."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Death of a Rock Icon: Freddie Mercury Remembered

As November 24, the 27th anniversary of the death of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, receives worldwide attention, it's important to remember the legacy he left, that of his music and his amazing performances.

While other, perhaps more 'important' deaths were commemorated ( John F. Kennedy, Harvey Milk and George Moscone), as I've been immersed in the band's music and Mercury's life while finishing my Queen-infused novel, Now I'm Here, I've taken a specific focus on loss.

Many articles have been published and shared about Mercury's life, as told by those close to him. Peter “Phoebe” Freestone (Freddie Mercury’s personal assistant for over 10 years) talked about Freddie’s last words and final moments on his “Ask Phoebe” blog.

 "I remember Freddie’s last words to me," he wrote. "I was with him the whole of the night on Friday 22nd November. There was someone with Freddie 24 hours a day for the last week. I remember sitting on the bed holding his hand. Freddie would doze, wake up, doze, so I held his hand so that he knew someone was there. One of the times he was awake we had a short conversation… about how things were downstairs and if everything was clean and tidy. The very last thing he said to me was ‘thank you’. To this day I’m not sure if it was for the night I was sitting there with him, or for the 12 years we had been together. I suppose it is something I will never know."

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 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.