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.