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.

And with a connection back to my first paid work as a writer, Gabriel Rotello (author, screenwriter and former Editor-in-Chief of the historic OutWeek magazine) came by as well, making for great post-reading conversation as people found connections through me.

Sonny; so cute!
My old Kent State Theatre classmate Kyle Colerider-Krugh also visited with his wife. After the reading, they offered my brother and I a ride to his car, which, although being parked across the street at the former Tower Records parking lot, proved helpful, since, (I forgot to mention) during my reading, the city enjoyed a pouring rain storm! Our drive back to my brother's apartment in torrential rain through Laurel Canyon proved exciting.

Coming down from a momentous yet intimate event is sometimes tough. I'd had high hopes, sold only a few books, but was later cheered by the company of my brother and his cute cat, some pizza, and TV-watching. 

El Capitan theatre
I Love L.A.
The night before my reading, I'd visited an opening party at Fahey/Klein Gallery at the invitation of my brother's longtime friend, Brett King. Janette Beckman's The Mash-Up featured hip hop art work portraits accented by graffiti artist highlights. The attendees included some celebrities, many with decades-ago New York City connections.

That Saturday, I took the surprisingly efficient bus and subway lines to get toward downtown LA. The bus and train had the usual minor annoyances of any big city, but worked fine. I met up with Felice Picano en route.

Disconnected momentarily from texting, and early for my meet-up with Picano, I stopped off at the touristy area of Hollywood and Vine. I took pictures of the historic and ornate El Capitan Theatre, where, in my novel (spoiler alert), Joshua gets a job as an usher during his stay in LA.

I also spotted the Hollywood walk of fame star of comedy film icon Groucho Marx, whose films were a favorite of myself and my brother since childhood. Queen fans know that two of the band's biggest-selling albums, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, were named after Marx Brothers films. In 1975, three of the band's members (John Deacon bowed out) actually met with Marx after asking permission to use the films' titles.

Even martial arts master and actor Bruce Lee, whose presence gets a small mention (as a poster in Joshua's bedroom, and an inspiration for a then-unfashionable form of schoolyard fighting technique) presented himself in the form of a well-known statue in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown district.

With Picano, I visited a few art galleries in the area, including the closing day of Outsider artist Willard Hill's exhibit at The Good Luck Gallery (945 Chung King Road). Hill's art has no connection to my novel, but his independent and unique style served as its own form of inspiration, and perhaps a bit of good luck.

Our downtown trek included a visit to The Last Bookstore, a large space with thousands of records and books for sale, including an upstairs series of art mini-galleries and a winding series of cul-de-sacs with sculptural book displays. Patrons seemed more interested in taking selfies with the displays instead of shopping. 

I felt a sense of relief knowing I hadn't chosen this store to read, since they have pre-sale quotas for book events. The big space would have been overwhelming, despite my having performed in bigger theaters in my acting and dance days.

But still, despite spotting a Queen album and a Freddie Mercury bio-photo book on the shelves, it all felt more like a sort of amusement park than a bookstore. It lacks a cozy feel, despite the numerous laptop coffee-sippers filling every chair. I bought a few vintage pulp science fiction paperbacks.

In sum, the lesson I learned was that the size and scope of a reading is less important than its feel and sense of comfort. Perhaps I'll plan further ahead of time in the future and try other bookstores or venues. The sprawl of Los Angeles may have not proven "too much for this man," to paraphrase the Gladys Knight song, but having accomplished the reading, and generated a small bit of publicity, I feel satisfied.

Now, go to a bookstore and buy some books!

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