Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Great Stories are Timeless

Nora Ephron
This will shock a lot of people; I really like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia. The writing and scripts are crisp and relevant, (I am not a big fan of When Harry Met Sally as my wife will tell you – I think it’s the Billy Crystal, “Way too needy thing!”). I will miss the next installment by Nora Ephron and her take on culture and society. Like Erma Bombeck, she could look at American society and cut away the grand gestures and make it personal, very personal. Cultures are complicated. Writers, at least the good and great ones, assess and appraise society and through their stories give us a reflection of the times and the people. Nora was one of the best and in collaboration with great producers, directors, and actors told us as much about ourselves as well as where we fit in this complicated world: lonely architect needs companion, foodie discovers blogging, needy Jewish guy desperate for love (Woody Allen rip-off here), giant conglomerate kills competition (would love to see the sequel on that one – Borders anyone?).

For writers a story sits on every curb and park bench. Great fiction can be found in slaughterhouses, cruise ships, amusement parks, and churches. Look around and with a little tweaking and poetic license I bet there is a great story next to you. Ms. Ephron devoted her life to just that, stories about the common things, the everyday, the mundane. Yet each matters to someone; she made them matter to us. Her sharp pen will be missed yet through her movies she will last for centuries.

IBPA - The Best Among the Best

I was sitting watching the Giants game the other night and my wife asked if I had looked at the mail. Sensing this was a trick question, I said no, “There might be a bill or a summons in the pile. Why look for trouble?”
“Well something came from the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) and you should look at it.”
“More advertising stuff?” I said, ball one.
“No, it’s the award certificate for the Benjamin Franklin award. Look’s nice.”
“Cool,” I answered, strike one.
“Well you should. They included information about the awards and there’s some stickers you can put on the books. They say you can order more.”
“Stickers, cool,” I said, strike two.
“It also says there were 1300 submittals in your category, LGBT,” she said without any inflection.
I paused and looked on as a low pitch pushed the count to 2 and 2. “Did you say 1300 submissions?”
I really hate it when she gives me that “Gotcha” smile, where do women learn that?
“Yes, 1300.”
Home run!
“I thought that maybe there would be a couple of hundred, LGBT isn’t exactly like fiction or young adult or romance where there had to be thousands.”
“Guess again, there were almost 1300, and you were one of the three finalists.”
“Very cool,” I said as I rounded third.
“And if you think about it, the other two, a memoir and a non-fiction piece were very different from yours; in fact Elk River was the best novel in the LGBT genre for 2012.”
Very cool. I slid into home just because I wanted to.

More later . . . . .

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Elk River Traveling Circus and Book Signing Event

As Seen in the Wall Street Journal 6-19-12
Since last week’s missive Windsor Hill Publishing and yours truly have been to Chicago, Traverse City, Michigan and back to Chicago. A whirl-a-wind trip that helped to reset and ground my roots in the “home” country, meet some wonderful book people, and even get the book Elk River in the best tourist shop in Elk Rapids, Michigan.

The Chicago leg, besides great food and drink, allowed me some time to do research for the new book I’m working on at the Chicago library (main branch on State Street).
Sidebar on Research
There is never enough time to follow the research leads that develop when you are writing an historical novel. Just one line of text from an obscure book or image leads to hours of trying to pursue the idea, but that’s why I love it!

After we left Chicago we drove Up North as marketing calls the Traverse City region of northern Michigan (you just have to love those marketing folks – a slogan for every pot). When I was a kid we called it, “Grandma's.” I think that that has a better ring! Traverse City sits directly on the Grand Traverse Bay arm of Lake Michigan which is split by the Mission Peninsula. The water is crystal clear and sweet. At night it can be glass. At the tip of the Mission Peninsula there is a monument to the 45th Parallel (I know this goes all around the world – but it seems more special here). You are exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole; seems closer in January.

The book reading and signing was at Horizon Books on Front Street. You can’t miss it. I believe that it has the longest frontage of any store on the town’s main street, in these days of failing national book chains and internet stores, that is a wonder: well done display windows, a coffee lounge and espresso bar that rivals any in America, good seating areas, great lighting, well defined literary neighborhoods and displayed books, and a very comfortable book reading area. This is what a book store should be. Someday these may be declared historical treasures.

I was born in this town when Truman was president and lived on a cherry farm until I was about two, then off to college (I was baggage then), spent summers here and winters in Chicago. The farm was just fifteen miles north of Traverse City near the village of Elk Rapids. We are all formed by our childhoods, mine was special. 
Elk Rapids, Michigan, time hasn't changed it much.
Small towns change and grow, Elk Rapids even with its new sidewalks, street trees and modern marina; seems much the same as it was fifty years ago. Maybe it’s the architecture and the scale of the street. Maybe it’s the presence of Lake Michigan through the pines, or maybe it’s just the century old homes that are nestled along the road as you drive in. It did bring on a touch of melancholia.

The signing went well, it was good to see aunts and cousins and family friends. The trip was too short. And, by the way, Horizon Books also has stores in Petoskey and Cadillac, Michigan. And most especially they have sold almost fifty copies of my book Elk River. I will put a gold star over their name.

More layer . . . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

City With Big Shoulders

Book Reading and Signing
Friday  June 15, 2012  3:00-5:00 PM
Horizon Books
243 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan
(231) 946-7290

Short missive today, too much to prepare for. I will be heading to one of my favorite cities, Chicago, for a few days, then on to Traverse City, Michigan. Chicago is quite a toddling town. A "city with big shoulders," Carl Sandburg called it. Sinatra saw a man dance with his wife; I’m going for the food and liquor.

My books keep going back to Chicago like it was a hitching post; a place to tie my stories to. My first book, America’s Original GI Town, Park Forest, Illinois revolved, literally, around Chicago and its history of growth and change. In Elk River, the Smith family lived in Chicago. In my new novel set in 1937, Chicago is the stage for the first part. It has all the great and shocking things that most every grand city has, or has had, foisted on them: great leaders, poor leaders, historic events, mobsters, politicians, political demonstrations, writers, songs, and even food. Chicago has had it all and still does.

Hence the visit. It’s strange that so many people have been to Paris more often than Chicago – it’s heartbeat central to the fly-over parts of America. Sad but true. Its city parks are legendary, its beaches rival the best urban beaches in the world, they actually know how to pour a drink in their bars, steaks are measured in inches thick, and Michigan Avenue may outsell any shopping street in America. Now, would the Chicago Travel Bureau finally send me my residual check!

Chicago is our entry point to the Midwest, there a couple of days then on to Traverse City, Michigan for a book reading and signing. Horizon Books has been just great to allow this old prodigal son of this Northern Michigan outpost to host the event. I was born there, as my father likes to remind me, in the pre-air conditioned year of 1949. The way he says hot and muggy makes you really believe that that was the way it was. Actually it’s one of those delightful quiet and comfortable cul-de-sacs of America. It is a town where people may actually retire to; it fronts on Lake Michigan and has miles of wonderful beaches with the most yellow sand. Good fishing, golf, and winter sports. But like other edges of population in America during these tough times, things are hard. But then again they have been hard for a long time.

Hope you can make it, look forward to meeting you.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mr. Congeniality

What sounds better? I didn’t win. I was robbed. or I lost. I suspect it depends on the glass you are holding. On Monday night I didn’t win the top prize for the Benjamin Franklin Award for LGBT for my book Elk River . 

But here is my consolation list:
  • I was in the top three of many, many books submitted.
  • It was my FIRST novel.
  • I produced both the ebook and paperback versions.
  • I didn’t have and agent and the publisher is our own company.
  • I am thrilled to have gotten even this far.
  • And it does help push me to my next novel (which is well underway).
I want to thank the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for the honor and the smile on my face.

Most, if not all, book contests are ways to help build your resume (Lord knows it's not to get wealthy – most pay a few hundred bucks, if at all), get your name on the street, maybe help to get noticed by an agent, and of course provide bragging rights. As an author you can go broke submitting your stories or books, most contests charge at least $50 to submit – per title and category and postage. At times you feel like one of those “professional” cereal and food contest appliers. Now how many people do you know who actually won the trip to the Superbowl or Disneyland? Same with us writers.

Most contests have so many categories that often the list goes on for two or three pages: non-fiction, fiction, woman’s fiction, woman wearing red hats fiction, mature woman, young adult woman, woman smaller than size 6, etc. The writer just wrote the greatest story of his life and now they have to figure out into which category it fits.

Take Elk River: a fourteen year old boy (young adult, memoir) starts puberty (young adult – edgy, self help) who is spending the summer in Michigan (regional interests, Michigan theme), and tries to stay away from his drunken aunt (medical thriller) who is crazy (body/mind/spirit, psychology). It’s cherry picking season (Crafts/Hobby/How-to, agriculture) where migrant workers (multicultural) do the work. The hero loves the woods and Lake Michigan (environment, nature), and fishing (sports, nature). He meets a stranger who he’s not sure is real (mystery/suspense), but does find out he is his dying uncle’s (medical thriller) lover (LGBT). Throughout the story the young man learns about family (family issues) and World War II (history). His mother and grandmother are wonderful (parenting, family issues) but our hero is concerned about the future and the current nuclear scare (political/current events). His uncle paints (art) for the local Catholic Church (religion), but has issues with the church itself (politics). The boy explores the plants and animals in the woods (science, environment) and learns to shoot his grandfathers rifle (military theme, politics). The summer ends and they live happily ever after (fiction, teen-fiction, historical fiction, hard to believe fiction). The book is published (best ebook, best cover, best first novel, best interior design, best artwork). So many categories to chose from, so little time. So where do you publish a novel with broad and specific themes (self-help, economics, business, social media)? And which category do you chose (books on writing) and why do you still write (career)? One might argue our lives can get placed in categories if we’re not careful.

I am thrilled to be selected for any number of reasons, but to me the best is that someone liked what I wrote. We get reviews (solicited and non-solicited) and they’re great, they help. But to see your name in lights, that’s cool.

Just remember that one of my favorite actors was Archibald Alexander Leach who worked under the pen name Cary Grant and he never won an Oscar.

More Later . . . .