Saturday, November 27, 2021

Stephen Sondheim's legacy and little links to my life

It's impossible to imagine a world without the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. The prolific composer-lyricist died on November 26 at age 91. His passing got me reeling through my years on and offstage, and how, like so many other fans, his work wove its way into our lives, and for me, as the eventual inspiration for an entire novel.
The world-renowned lyricist and composer won eight Tony Awards throughout his extensive career, alongside an Academy Award, seven Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and a Laurence Olivier Award.
The first Broadway show that Sondheim composed both the lyrics and music for proved to be a winner out the gate. He scored a Tony Award for Best Musical for that show, the 1962 comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which ran for more than two years.  
As a former actor and dancer, now a writer, his art had a strong influence, despite my never having exactly performed in any productions of his shows. But before I reminisce about Sondheim, and my briefly meeting him, here are some other reflections from more prominent voices.

In comes company

Bernadette Peters, who performed in six of his shows, tweeted, “He gave me so much to sing about. I loved him dearly and will miss him so much. Thank you for all the gifts you gave the world, Steve.”

Star of Rob Marshall’s 2014 film version of “Into the Woods” Anna Kendrick tweeted, “I was just talking to someone a few nights ago about how much fun (and f – – king difficult) it is to sing Stephen Sondheim. Performing his work has been among the greatest privileges of my career. A devastating loss.”

Other performers shared online tributes to Sondheim, including Mandy Patinkin, Carol Burnett, George Hearn, and others. Playbill has a great round-up of quotes from the 2010 celebratory concert in his honor. Sounds of Broadway's hosting a weekend mix tribute of Sondheim songs. I'm sure they're not the only ones binging on Sondheim's music.

Womb to Tomb
My first dose of Sondheim's talent was allegedly prenatal. My parents attended a New York City screening of the film West Side Story while my mother was several months pregnant with me (my brother and sister were left with a babysitter). 

Before the film made its eagerly anticipated network TV premiere, the promo commercials had me excited (the crotch-level shot of three Sharks may have had something to do with it), and with the album and a used record player, I spent many a night dancing and singing along in our Ohio home's basement.

Our parents encouraged their kids' artistic inclinations. My sister took ballet lessons, and my brother and I tagged along for shows at Ashland College with our parents sometimes participating; my father in two shows. When the college produced A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with no kids needed in the cast, I instead snuck into dress rehearsals and shows, mostly to ogle the hunky student playing Miles Glorioso.

But Gypsy became a more immersive experience. The film adaptation being a regular Sunday matinee on a local TV station, we already knew the show. As young newsboys, my brother, me and a few other boys were a small part of the cast, but I watched the rest of it through almost every rehearsal, with a few of the older guys becoming the subjects of my intense preteen crushes.

I'd love to see how good this production was, but in my child's eye, it seemed terrific. My collected memories were slightly fictionalized in my seventh novel, Finding Tulsa. The fictional part of the story is about a gay film director in the 1990s who gets a big break on a serious TV movie, only to rediscover the hunky student actor from his childhood production of Gypsy. What then happens is complete fiction.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Scribe, unsubscribe

I recently unsubscribed from a lot of the writers’ newsletters I’d been getting for years, and most of the authors’ Facebook groups, and Twitter groups that happen to have been cluttering up my inbox and my news feed for the past few years.


Why? Because, while I’m always interested in learning new techniques for writing and book promotion, after nine mostly self-published book releases over 20+ years, I know what works: writing a great book. I also know what doesn’t work: not having a huge corporation to promote your book.


So, please buy my books.


It’s also been said that one shouldn’t be too blunt about promoting yourself.

F- that. Buy my books.


I’m tired of listening to chats about promoting books that dance around the truth; famous authors sell more books.


I hosted a Lit Crawl event for the (lucky) thirteenth time. Readings don’t sell books. But buy our books.


I stopped accepting invitations to seminars online, particularly one hosted by authors whose books I don’t want to read, but who says, ‘It isn’t a competition, support other authors.’

To that, I say, don’t buy their books; buy mine.


I stopped attending online seminars because they just repeated what I knew already; if you want to write, good for you.


If you want to get a lot of readers, write a commercial book and promote the hell out of it. Pay a billion-dollar corporation (Goodreads, owned by Amazon) $100-plus to give your book away.


Myself? Nope. Done that; complete strangers unfamiliar with gay fiction or books like mine will almost always dismiss or dislike something thy never would have paid to read.


Just buy my books.


I don’t do a newsletter, because I don’t care what you think about me, and I don’t have anything to say that would interest you. Did you know that I clipped my nails yesterday, and that typing the day after always hurts my fingers a little?


The interesting stuff is in my books.


Writing is difficult. I won’t be doling out advice to novices on spreadsheets.


If you don’t have a compulsion to write fiction or memoir or historical books, then do something else.


If you’re completely obsessed to the point of compulsion to write then do it.

If you ‘have an idea for a sort of book,’ then take up knitting.

Get out of the way. The future is crowded.


Buy my books, and my fellow authors’ books, and my frenemies’ books.

Go to an actual bookstore and buy books.


The underlying motivation for anyone to communicate is to sell their stuff.

And if you’re not buying my books, have never read any of my books, then go somewhere else.


It’s that simple.