All day I've been getting email from friends who've stumbled across the FAB Magazine article by Paul Bellini, profiling not only the book but me as well! It's great publicity by a terrific writer (Paul was one of the writers for Kids in the Hall and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, two of my all time favourite TV shows), but it won't do much good if there are no books to be had. Glad Day is out and This Ain't the Rosedale Library never received a single copy. And today I accepted the return of my author's rights to The P'Town Murders from my publisher. Ah, yes--lest I forget, it's all about glamour, fame and glory.
Just when life seemed to be getting dull ... I received a notice from my publisher today that he is not in a position to reprint The P'Town Murders at present. It's ironic, considering it's currently #1 on the amazon.ca list of Gay Mysteries and #3 in Gay Fiction, and was recently #2 and #13 respectively in the same categories on amazon.com. Now what?
An exciting day today, the new manuscript, a literary thriller titled Lake On The Mountain, just topped 50,000 words and it's still climbing. When I started it in August, I expected it to come in around 50,000-60,000 words. Now it looks like it will be closer to 75,000 when completed. That's a good size novel, but not excessively long. (The Great Gatsby, for instance, is 55,000 words and is considered a short novel.) Of course, this is just the first draft so it's not easy to say exactly what lies ahead.
It was a New York moment. I was having lunch with my agent, who’d arrived half an hour late due to a dental appointment hold up. It was a very chic, very busy little place, and I felt underdressed—no tie, no jacket, just me and a leather coat. We had been discussing contracts and potential EU publishers for my next book. Everything was going well until the bouillabaisse arrived. Margaret took one look at it and pronounced it “too tomato-y.” Then she tasted it. No, she didn’t like it. I saw a look of dismay cloud the waiter’s face. Keeping in mind that we’d already kept the staff waiting, my WASP personality began to squirm. Could we really complain about the food after our own indiscretion?
The waiter went away. Margaret looked satisfied at having said her piece. For an agent, she’s extremely nice and well mannered, but she’s also Eastern European where, I gather, people complain when they don’t like something. Moments passed. A very well turned out woman appeared at our table to say she’d heard that the bouillabaisse was not to "our" liking. Margaret nodded. Indeed, it had been much better the previous Saturday, she said. I waited to be shot or, at the very least, shoved out of the restaurant with a snide comment about my ghetto attire.
Not so. The woman thanked us for commenting on the food, and assured us she would inform the owner that the bouillabaisse was not up to par. Comments like ours, she declared, were the only way a restaurant knew it was doing its job.
More moments passed. The same woman returned, looking even more well turned out, apologized for interrupting again, and said that she had ascertained that the bouillabaisse had indeed been made by a different chef the previous Saturday. To make up for this, she would take it off our bill. After a little polite demurring (I told you she’s well mannered), Margaret accepted.
It was my own private New York moment right here in dullsville.
Today I looked into requesting my rights back from the Haworth people for The P’Town Murders. The book is no longer available through the publisher or its distributors, yet the momentum built up over the past three months keeps it hanging in the top ten at Amazon.com—in fact it hit the number 2 spot in the genre categories (gay mystery) and the number 13 spot (gay fiction) at least twice last week.
The momentum, as far as I can tell, has come largely from my touring, reading and signing activities, as well as word of mouth, as Haworth stopped actively promoting fiction since the book came out this summer.
I would rather Haworth reprint the book to capitalize on the momentum, but it seems not to be in hurry to do so, which has led me to look into the possibility of requesting the rights back, a process I’m told has been fraught with peril for other Haworth writers.
I spent the day recovering from yesterday’s pitching session. I was literally exhausted by all the testosterone I’d expended trying to convince those silly producers to look at my scripts. At the time I didn’t even care if they read them, I just wanted to be able to walk away from the event and say I’d been asked. Now I guess I’d better follow through!
The ICANPITCH pitch session was pretty much as demeaning and exhilarating as I’d expected. After a morning filled with “You Can Do It—The Little Engine That Could” type seminars, the writers were grouped and regrouped every five minutes throughout the afternoon.
A bell was rung and the writers made their way to a producer to convince said producer to look at a script, or at least ask for more information in order to decide if they might want to read the script, before the bell was rung again five minutes later, ending the session.
It was gruesome. Yet at the end of the day, along with a massive headache, I had three requests for the script, or at least a one-page rundown of the script, to be sent to three of the four producers I spoke with.
I guess it was fine as things went, but never again. Thanks much.
Today I spent most of the day preparing to attend the ICANPITCH event at Liberty Village. I agreed to go at the invitation of my friend, the delightful Marlene Anderson (mother of author Gordon Stewart Anderson of The Toronto You Are Leaving fame, whom I'd met after reviewing Gordon's book on my site -- see 'Belated Gifts' under the Other Writing tag.)
I have to say I first glanced over the event's publicity and thought it looked pretty cheesy (a bunch of wannabe screenwriters given the chance to force their ideas on a bunch of jaded film producers at five minutes a pop.) But then I saw a name I felt gave the event some credibility: Scott McEwen, Executive Head of Drama Development at the CBC. (I'd met Scott briefly in Los Angeles in September and liked him and his honest, easy-going way of talking.) So I signed up, and I'm now glad I did.
The evening's seminars on how to pitch were enlivening and enlightening. Story developer Marguerite Piggott's talk was funny and very very good. She made the entire process sound enjoyable rather than the cattle call I knew it would be. Her tips for presenting material to producers (jaded or not) were nothing short of brilliant. For that alone the entire evening was worthwhile.
Tomorrow, the pitch!
Fun with Fan Mail! I've been getting some pretty fun and sometimes outrageous mail on The P'Town Murders (and keep it up!) One of them even had a marriage proposal (for me, not Bradford, and yes, I'm still considering your offer. Give me till Sunday.)
A recent note from a P'Town native took me to task for a number of factual errors in the book. This man is the reader I've both dreaded and longed for--one astute enough to catch the book's weaknesses and yet smart and generous enough to enjoy it regardless. For instance, he pointed out a mention of killer whales off the P'Town Fast Ferry. While there have been instances of killer whale sightings off Provincetown, they're a rarity. The reason for this is that killer whales prefer colder water (as in, Alaska.) Unfortunately I took the word of a highly excitable former boyfriend on this, who enticed me to Provincetown for the first time in 1991 with tales of seeing killer whales on a whale watch tour. Obviously I should have researched this better--both the subject and the boyfriend, as it turns out.
The reader also noted some colloquialisms I'd missed--for instance, a native would say "Route 6", not "Interstate 6" or even "I-6" (which to my mind reads "One-six.") (As a Canadian, this was news to me.) And one would never, he assures me, talk about the "north end" of town. (So how would you tell someone how to get to Race Point Beach, for example?)
He also pointed out that there is no coroner's office in town. I had already done the research to establish that fact, but I felt it dramatically right and necessary to keep Bradford in town after he views Ross's body one last time. To make him travel off-cape seemed to be lacking in human as well as poetic sensibility.
My favourite note was where the reader berated me for my comments on how the Pilgrims had intended to bring "the ideals of freedom and democracy to the new land" (p. 186) as swallowing the "Pilgrims' original mission hook, line and sinker." Happily, I can say I was being sarcastic on that one.
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time fiddling with music while I write. Finding the right music is a very important part of the process, like having coffee before I start. It gets me in the mood and creates an atmosphere that cuts me off from everything but the world I’m in when I write.
The music needs to have an inner propulsion that gets me energized and at the same time it has to be something I don’t consciously have to pay attention to: anything with too many English lyrics or track changes is a distraction. For that reason, if it’s pop music, I prefer something with a dance beat and a seamless transition from track to track. For the most part, however, I prefer music with no vocals.
There are exceptions, of course. I very often get in an opera mood and plunk down an old Maria Callas set. There’s such tremendous energy in her performances that I find the writing just flies out of my pen (erm, keyboard, yeah?) And because the lyrics aren't in English, I don’t stop to listen to the words. I wrote most of the second Bradford Fairfax book, Death In Key West, while listening to Callas. It was particularly suiting because one of the main characters is a counter tenor who sings in drag. I later dedicated the book to her memory.
Lately I’ve discovered Internet Radio and have been hooked on two stations: the sky.fm Modern Jazz station, and Beatles-A-Rama. The jazz is perfect because it’s got such a dense harmonic texture, but no vocals, and I feel cushioned by the sound. The Beatles station takes some adjusting to, however, because it has station breaks and spoken segments as part of each broadcast. At times the music is too catchy and I find myself stopping to listen rather than writing, but I enjoy it all the same and when it gets too distracting I turn on the Modern jazz station for a break.
Today was another good day for writing. Whereas yesterday I arranged scenes, today I shifted and re-arranged whole chapters. That's when the writing gets exciting for me. I tend to write first drafts quickly, to have something to work on, then the writing slows down and the thinking takes over. Then at some point it all starts to come together and it can move very swiftly again.
Recently someone asked if I knew where I was heading when I set out to write. I had to answer that very often I don't. I might know the characters and the genre, but it's usually experimental for a good part of the early writing. For the most part, I just follow my instincts. This latest book gained a major character (Donny, the protagonist's best friend) that I hadn't even thought of before I started writing. It also shifted from a classic murder mystery to a more literary mystery early on. That required a whole change in the tone of the book. Though there will still be a murder and a body, the book will have less of a whodunnit feel and be more about the protagonist, Dan, who is a flesh and blood person rather than a one- or two-dimensional character. At this point it also looks as though the story will have a somewhat unresolved ending, more in keeping with real life.
Most of the day I spent organizing the scenes of my new book, Lake on the Mountain, making those all-important connections between previously unrelated bits of information. The parallels are often already there, but I have to discover them and shade them in. For instance, Dan, the protagonist, is a gay father of a very cool teenager, Ked. Dan worries about being the right kind of dad, even while he contemplates moving away from the city where Ked and his mother live. Meanwhile, much of the story revolves around a gay man whose father has been missing for nearly two decades. The man, Thom, carries a lot of resentment towards his father for having abandoned him as a teenager, which becomes a driving force in the back-story. I love thinking through these sorts of relationships and finding ways to embellish them so that they resonate in the reader’s consciousness when they’re finally revealed.
A wretched day for writing, I let myself be distracted by any and everything and spent most of the day battling "technology", with those annoying software programs that pretend to let you download your own CDs for playback, but only let you do it their way (which is never MY way.) As a result, I got almost no writing done.
The day took a more positive spin when I went out to dinner with Shane, Paul Bellini and his boyfriend, Steve Keill, who appeared in my short film, My Heart Belongs To Daddy. We talked about the wretched state of writing and publishing and the long wait to get a book out once you got a publishing contract. (Two to three years is average.) Steve, who worked for Gutter Press before it was sold, now plans to set up an on-demand publishing house. I told him to keep me in mind!
A good deal of my writing time today was spent traveling to Peterborough for my mother’s birthday. I find driving is a great use of creative time. In fact, it’s one of my favourite ways to write. Because the creative process is largely a right-brain activity, I can let that side of me wander while the other side is occupied with navigating. (Of course, you have to stay alert. It's a little like daydreaming about something while putting your laundry in the washer.)
I often make startling discoveries about characters and their motivations while driving. In fact, the third scene in this new book, Lake on the Mountain, came about while I was coming home from a friend’s house two hours outside of Toronto. I was playing a Dizzy Gillespie CD, thinking about the differences between Gillespie’s playing and that of Miles Davis, when a conversation took shape between two people discussing the differing playing styles. That conversation was so potent it spawned an entire character, Donny, who, as the protagonist's best friend, is now a major player in the book. Up till that point I had had no sense of this character’s being involved in the story.
Today was a great writing day, the kind I wish I had more often. I wrote for five hours effortlessly, adding more than 2000 words to the new book, Lake on the Mountain. I also began to sort out a good deal of the material that had up till now eluded me, including much of the protagonist’s background. Because I like to write first drafts quickly, I don’t always know where in the book the scenes I’m working on will end up. I only know they’ll be necessary at some point. Today was a day when a lot of those unsettled pieces started to move into position. Also, for the first time today I got a clear idea of what Dan’s philandering boyfriend, Bill, looks like: bearded, boyish, baby-faced.
A rare sort of writer's day today, I neither wrote nor read -- by choice. Instead, I relaxed, did some Christmas shopping and turned my mind (mostly) off.
I did, however, watch one notable TV program recorded a few days back by TiVo: the opening episode of Masters of Science Fiction. The series has some powerhouse names attached to it, not the least of which is Prof. Stephen Hawking as a Rod Serling-like narrator. Names, however, mean little if the product fails to deliver. The opening episode delivered. Clean Escape, from a short story by Nebula Award winner John Kessel, stars Sam Waterston as a man struggling to remember the last 24 years of his life, and Judy Davis in a remarkable performance as Waterston's psychiatrist, who needs him to remember for reasons of her own. The battle of minds and the unfolding revelations are stunning. I'll be back!
I attended the Writers' Trust Gala Dinner at the Four Seasons tonight. The first person I saw was Margaret Atwood, who looked, well ... stunning, despite her no-nonsense attitude to appearances. She was standing talking at the top of the escalator when I arrived, wearing a colourful shawl over her decidedly lean and rather small figure. Yes, she was radiant, and the only true star in attendance.
At my table, along with Humber agent Margaret Hart and Joe Kertes of the Humber School for Writers, were Antanas Sileika, the featured writer, and his wife, as well as fellow writers Kim Moritsugu (The Restoration of Emily), Nairn Holtz (The Skin Beneath), and Sally Cooper, whose new book, Tell Everything, is about to be released from Dundurn Press. Also in attendance was Anand Mahadevan (The Stike) who, in his Indian kurta, was the best dressed man there.
The event itself was lacklustre but nice, in true Canadian style. (At $10,000 a table, it should have been much much more, and no, I didn't buy my own ticket, so this is not a complaint, just a comment!) I heard someone say that at least this year's event wasn't bitchy, unlike some previous years. Not enough gay men, I'd say.
At least my table was fun, as was the next table over: that of Cormorant Books, hosted by my soon-to-be publisher Marc Cote. Sadly, even the food was unimaginative, if nicely done, with rare roast beef and baked potatoes and unflavoured (as in plain old) horseradish, ho-humpty-dum-dum.
Oddly, someone had decided that deserts were to be shunned (half the woman there looked underfed and overly concerned with fitting into a particular dress size, so three guesses which sex designed the menu.) We were presented with a plate that looked like something Kandinski had fiddled with--three bites and it was gone! No, I'm sorry--deserts should be both substantial and memorable. That's the rule. And if a gay man can say that, then it must be true.
Not a good writing day, despite my best intentions. What should have yielded six or seven good work hours dwindled to less than three, all told. To be honest, I often find more reasons to be distracted when the material is difficult. I've also been spoiled by the ease with which I wrote the first Bradford book (the second took longer and proved more difficult at times.) Where I once took a full year to produce a first draft novel, I've now come to expect it in much less. I produced the first draft (45,000 words) of The P'Town Murders in 18 consecutive days, which works out to about 2500 words per day. Anything less than 1000 words a day now seems unacceptable, though I have to accept that some days I just won't be able to force the writing. On the positive side, I was pleased with the little bit of work I did on a scene in Lake on the Mountain (my current project, a literary thriler.) Dan, the protagonist, is a missing persons investigator. He's enrolled in a compulsory anger management program as a result of losing his temper at work. In this particular scene, he confronts his smug, passive-aggressive therapist, turning the tables on him and making him feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable. One point for the little guy!
Today, finally, I marshaled all these thoughts that have been revolving in my brain over the last 12 days and put them down in what is now my ‘blog.’ With any luck I will be able to sustain the interest and keep it fresh and current.
A good writing day, I spent much of it working on my latest project, what I hope will be a literary thriller, Lake on the Mountain. The story was inspired by a conversation with Cormorant Books publisher Marc Coté, when we were first discussing a novel he would later buy from me, The Honey Locust, which is scheduled for publication in 2009.
Marc wanted to know what else I had and I’d told him about the impending publication of The P’Town Murders. He asked if I’d ever considered writing a non-satirical mystery, which I hadn’t up to that point, but I’d recently read Louise Welsh’s brilliant first novel, The Cutting Room. The more we spoke, the more I liked the idea, and by the time we got off the phone more than an hour later, the basic plot outline was formed in my head.
The setting came later, a place in Prince Edward County I’ve been fascinated with for a few years, where a deep lake on top of a mountain keeps the same level of water despite the fact that it’s so far above sea level and once had a torrential outflow compared with Niagara Falls. It wasn’t for more than a year I actually got around to starting the book, but I’ve been writing fairly steadily since mid-August of this year and, at 40,000 words, I’m now approaching having something like a completed first draft.
The main character, also gay, is very un-Bradford Fairfax-like. He is a rough looking (I describe him as having a “holocaust face”) missing persons investigator in Toronto, a job that’s as far from glamorous as they get. The character, Dan Sharp, becomes intrigued by the story of a missing father after attending a gay wedding on board a ship in the Bay of Quinte, below Lake on the Mountain. Coincidentally, he happens to have been born in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario.
A busy day today, and it started off well. As a result of sending out the announcement of my third place ranking at Amazon, I received an email from Bill Cohen, owner of Harrington Park Press, to say he was looking into the possibility of a reprint. Yay!
In the afternoon I read at the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in the Annex. I’d been invited to take a table with the other publishers, even though I explained I wasn’t a publisher, just a lowly author. Nevertheless, when I arrived a table had been reserved for Harrington Park Press. I felt like a fraud, but sat and smiled, and happily read when my turn came. (Shane was smarter—when asked why there was only one author represented on the table, he said Harrington published many authors but was proud to be promoting a local author at this event.)
I was thrilled to see Paul Bellini arrive just before I went on-stage and he was kind enough to stay and hear me read the second chapter from P’Town where Bradford describes an entertaining crossing on the Provincetown Fast Ferry as a scantily clad Marilyn impersonator chats him up. (If I say more I’ll give away a plot twist!) The audience was receptive and seemed to get a surprising number of what I’d thought were gay and lesbian in-jokes. I, in turn, stayed to hear some of the other very talented and entertaining readers, though I must say there was a lot of poetry about coffee stains and dangling cigarette ash. Must be a straight in-joke.
I left the fair and hurried over to an interview on Sex City, a radio show on sex, sexuality and culture that’s been running for 10 years on CIUT. Host Bryen Dunn managed to ask all the right questions and not make me feel too awkward as we discussed the book, the Lambda Awards and how I’d come to write The P’Town Murders. I gave a quick précis of the afternoon Shane and I were sitting in the Jacuzzi in Ned Bradford’s Provincetown guesthouse and looked up to see that we were being spied on by someone with binoculars across the way, and how that had been the genesis of the book.
Afterwards, a belated birthday celebration took place at home with the usual hardened criminals: Shane, Omel, Leo, Nicky, Enrique, and Jerri, who sang a marvelous jazz set at my launch last month. Not only were we celebrating my birthday, but my recent Amazon ranking (#3) as well. I guess I wasn’t the only one impressed by it. They’re hoping I’ll become very famous so I can afford to take them on vacation with me wherever I go.
Wow, I’m number 3! Shane sent me an email this morning. The P’Town Murders was listed third in the Amazon category rankings of Gay and Lesbian Mysteries and number 41 in Gay and Lesbian Fiction. That was a wonderful surprise! I felt a jolt of excitement that’s long been missing in my life. Of course, I forwarded the note to everyone I knew without realizing that by the time they clicked on the link the book would probably no longer be in the number 3 position. Oh, well! Carpe diem.
The day’s surprises weren’t over, however. I was also thrilled (maybe even more so) to learn that P’Town has been nominated for a Lambda Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation in the Men’s Mystery category. That’s the gay Pulitzer Prize! And guess where the event will be held next year? LA! West Hollywood! More smog.
Carlos Mock was also nominated in the same category for Mosaic Virus (he’ll spend the next six months hating me, I know.) Fortunately, he’s also nominated in the Fiction category for his second novel, Papi Chulo, both from Floricanto Press. I also see that Michael Thomas Ford (Mike!) has been nominated under Romance for his latest, Changing Tides. I guess the Authors’ Village will recreate itself sooner than expected, and far more frequently than Brigadoon.
I had been back one day when I knew what I would tell the producer who’d tried to bully me into rewriting our contract for the screenplay I wrote. I told him that a) he should know better than to screw his friends and allies; and b) that he should know better than to pay lawyers to advise him how to screw his friends and allies; and c) that he would end up friendless and poor in an industry that requires friends and respects money. I told him if he was so unhappy with the arrangement, he could buy me out, because I would never work with him again. I named a price and sent off the email. His response, rife with insults, was that he’d never been happy with my script and that he was going to pay someone else to rewrite it. I didn’t bother to remind him he’d once been "proud" of it and had intended to go into production with it until just a few days earlier.
Still too tired to write, I spent the day reading. I finished Albert Camus’s The Plague, taken up at the instigation of my therapist, who felt my world-view might find some solace there. He thinks my complaints of living in a world that seems more and more to be lacking in meaning and any true sense of individual responsibility has its literary equivalents in Camus. He was right, I couldn’t agree more, though I’m anything but an Existentialist in outlook. I don’t believe the world lacks meaning, but I often find myself depressed at my inability to connect with others outside of writing, my recent experiences at the Authors’ Village notwithstanding. (When I described it he seemed to think it was a place I could move to, but I had to explain it was an event and as such was impermanent.)
What struck me about Camus’s book, however, was how tedious I found it after the first hundred pages. Camus’s story-telling ability, as he describes the approaching signs of the plague, is riveting, but a third of the way through the story he switches that off and begins to moralize about his characters’ attitudes to what’s going on. While I’m in total sympathy with what he’s saying, I don’t want a sermon in the middle of a good story. He redeemed himself (in my eyes, of course) by having that wonderful cathartic explosion in the last twenty or so pages, but it was a long haul getting there.
It made me think of another book I’d read recently, one I hadn’t expected to enjoy, but surprised myself by enjoying for its supremely well-crafted story: Stephen King’s The Mist. Both books were about the besieging of a small community by an all but invisible menace. Both had terrific characters and a great build-up, but King kept to story telling and let events comment on the people’s actions, while Camus preached. Surprisingly, I preferred King’s story for the shear entertainment value, despite the fact it didn’t reach the profound emotional depths Camus was able to evoke at the end of his book.
Too jetlagged to write this morning, I set about composing my thoughts on the Authors’ Village for one of the directors at Haworth who’d asked my observations on gay writing before I left. I was happy to tell him that I had cautiously optimistic feelings about the future of gay writing and publishing, especially after having seen Armistead’s fans line up for hours in the heat. Of course, we can’t all be Armistead Maupins, but even lesser known writers like me were treated with a great deal of courtesy and respect as our books found willing new readers. Obviously marketing has a great deal to do with how well any book is received, but it’s nice to know that authors can contribute to that on some small level.
My birthday started off on a sour note, although I was still riding high from the weekend, so it barely phased me. Our flight to Chicago was cancelled, but we weren’t informed till we arrived at the airport at 5:30. We were soon rerouted to Dallas, however, and I barely minded having got up so early. (After all, with the time change, it was only 9:30 on my bio-clock.)
In Dallas, we had a stopover. I pulled out my iPod and accidentally clicked a file I hadn’t intended to listen to. It was an historic recording made in Dallas on November 6, 1958: the Callas/Vickers Medea, an event also remembered as the performance during which Callas was fired from the Met by Rudolph Bing. Some claim Callas’s anger at receiving Bing’s telegram was responsible for having created such an explosive performance. It’s certainly one of her best. Watching the city in the distance, I listened to the performance of one of my favourite operas made here, on my birthday, 49 years earlier.
We arrived in Detroit at 6:30 that evening, only two hours later than planned, picked up our car and drove home to Toronto through a sudden blizzard that slowed driving down for more than an hour along the 401. Oh, Canada!
Morning, and we couldn’t bear to leave! It’d been too much fun and we both love the desert. It turns out every place I’d said I wanted to live that weekend, like Morongo Valley, was on the San Andreas Fault Line. Apparently, Morongo Valley is the fault line!
To delay our return Shane and I drove up the mountains behind Palm Springs to Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains, part of the San Bernardino National Forest. That drive, and the drive through Joshua Tree National Park, are just about the most sublime landscapes I have ever seen. We kept stopping at lookouts along the way and all I could think was, ‘I never want to go home!’ (Yeah, me and Judy Garland. I know.)
Return we did, however, heading back into LA’s smog and our cheesy Century Blvd Hotel (the glam LA Adventurer!) where we always stay because it’s cheap cheap cheap and also near the airport, so it’s easy to get out quick! And because 9 o’clock in LA is actually midnight in Toronto, Shane treated me to a birthday dinner at the Golden Bull Restaurant (again, at Max’s directive!) down the Pacific Coast Highway past the Santa Monica Pier where we sat rehashing the weekend. If we had to go home, at least we’d leave on a high note. I will remember this trip as being one of the best in a long time.
I woke this morning feeling ill and shaky—clearly I’d spent too much time in the heat yesterday. I was snarly with Shane over breakfast in Denny’s when he kept trying to force his food on me. (A mother’s work is never done!) By the time we got to Palm Springs, however, I was in better humour physically and emotionally. It was Daylight Saving’s Time and most of us unworldly authors showed up an hour early—that was true of me as well as Armistead Maupin. It was just as well he got there early, because the crowds had been gathering all morning. He spent two and three-quarter hours sitting in a sweltering tent joking, signing, and having his picture taken with fans who seemed not to notice the rivers of sweat falling from everyone’s brows. It was truly inspirational! I’ve never seen an author receive that much adulation. I’m sure it’s something few writers see in their lifetimes—JK Rowling, probably, and maybe a few others.
I saw Michael Thomas Ford (Mike!) again briefly and we promised to stay in touch. I was also selling far more books than the day before, picking up Armistead’s spill-over. (Cheers!) I left just as Christopher Rice arrived, and gladly surrendered my seat to him. You wouldn’t know it, but it’s hard work sitting in the heat smiling and talking to people non-stop! Nice job, maybe, but I need my down time.
We said goodbye to everyone and spent the last evening with Chris and Andrew by their pool, then went off to have a Thai dinner with fellow author Carlos Mock (Mosaic Virus) and his boyfriend Bill. We’d met Carlos and Bill in New Orleans in May at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, and spent a pleasant couple hours catching up before going to Hunter’s for a last drink.
All in all, the Authors’ Village had been for me (and for Shane, too, I think) a stupendous event—fun, rewarding and inspirational.
I woke with a sinking feeling in my gut, one that never bodes well, regardless of whether I’ve been drinking the night before or not. This one was no exception. My first email of the day was from a film producer back home whom I’d been working with over the past several years. We first met when he hired me to write a film script on an original idea of his. I liked the idea and agreed to do it for very low pay (what else?) plus seven percent of the profits, with an understanding that if my script helped attract a sizeable budget, I’d receive a more sizeable writing fee. (All of this was contracted, thank god!) I delivered the script in record time, quickly wrote a second draft to his specifications and then let him tinker with it. Ultimately, we both declared the results to be to our liking. In fact, he even told me he was “proud” of it, which he would later deny.
The email started off by saying he’d been talking to a lawyer who could get him a great deal of investment money to make the film, provided there were no residual writer fees attached to the deal. Oh, and by the way? The lawyer also said he was overly generous in offering me seven percent of profits and suggested he give me three. (In fact, there are no ‘profits’ in film budgets, so it doesn’t really matter, though ten-percent is considered the industry standard.) His email went on to say that if I didn’t agree to renegotiate the contract, he’d have someone else rewrite the script and cut me out of the deal. Yuck! I’m not even a Hollywood writer, but I was being stabbed in the back like one. Ironically this came on the eve of the American Writers Guild strike. In my wisdom, I did not respond angrily right away and decided instead to sleep on it. I also tried very hard not to brood, as is my wont.
At noon, we arrived at the Authors’ Village to a fantastic welcome from Rick and his partner Craig, who were already working hard, despite the day’s having just kicked off. Palm Springs Pride is segregated from the city in an outdoor field, which seems odd to those of us used to having entire city blocks at our disposal, though I guess that’s just segregation of a different kind. In any case, the Pride Festival takes place under pavilions and tents a few streets off the main drag. (For those of you who don’t know it, Palm Springs is very small and has only a few very long major through-streets.)
I wasn’t the first author to arrive. Two young entrepreneurs named Clint Romag and Mickel Angelo Paris were hard at work hawking their wares. Frankly, these boys were so cute it didn’t really matter what they were selling because they would have found any number of buyers, most of who turned out to be older (male) admirers.
Rick and Shane soon had me set up with posters and flyers and signing pens, and the buyers miraculously appeared. I was signing and chatting like a real author even faster than I’d expected. Although I can’t claim to have been a name draw, I was surprised and pleased when people said they knew of my book and wanted to buy it! I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it all seemed too simple and rewarding after everything I’ve experienced in the last few months!
That afternoon, a rather amusing man bought a book and asked me to sign it. He asked me to tell him the story briefly, just “beginning, middle, ending.” I muddled through an improvised pitch. He then introduced himself as George Taninatz, a producer with Embrem Entertainment. Embrem is an independent production company looking for story properties for one of the stars of the hit internet series, Dante’s Cove. He left his contact details and said he’d be in touch. I’ll be waiting. (Which just goes to prove, if you lose one producer there’s always another waiting in the wings!)
Of all the authors I was privileged to meet that day and the next, the one I remember best is Michael Thomas Ford (Mike!), who was witty, gracious, likeable, slightly jaded and extremely fun to talk to. He confided how he disliked doing author events (though you’d never have known it when he was talking to his fans.) We also had a little gripe session about how we felt about writing “genre” fiction—he romance, me mystery—and how it was funny that it was looked down on by some authors, even though it made money. (Probably more for him than for me!) Despite that, we’re both proud of our work—I doubt either one of us would ever publish something we didn’t believe in.
With my trusty companion, Shane, at my side, we landed in the midst of the heaviest smog/fog/smoke I’ve ever seen over LA. (‘There’s a fog upon LA’ George Harrison warbles in Blue Jay Way, and that was the song in my head as we descended through a murky brown soup onto the runways of LAX.) California had been battling its heaviest wildfires in years and I began wheezing before the plane hit the ground.
With some dire directives from LA native and fellow-Haworth orphan Max T Pierce (The Master of Seacliffe) about leaving town as early as possible on (any) Friday afternoon, we managed to pick up our rental car and head out to Palm Springs within half an hour of landing. Still, what should have been a two-hour drive took three-and-a-half hours in the slow moving traffic.
It was 5:30 by the time we reached our charming accommodations in the Yucca Valley, half an hour outside Palm Springs. (We stayed there rather than in town for economic reasons—it cost half the price—but it was still beautiful.) We drove to town in time to see fireworks exploding over the city. Shane’s friend Chris and his boyfriend Andrew happened to be in Palm Springs at the same time. We met up with them at the Warm Sands Villas (ooh, yah, very posh, mates!) where they were very good hosts and got us drunk. Later we got our bearings for the morning, had a bite, and went back to the hotel to sleep.
I begin my writer’s blog this month, after much urging from friends and other writers, because it happens to have been a particularly exciting period for me and one I thought might make for good reading. The decision to start a blog was difficult and has been a long time coming. The question I needed to answer, of course, was did I have anything interesting to say about being a writer? At first I thought no, but on reflection I realize I may have been wrong. ‘Interesting’ is a decidedly vague adjective.
And, finally, since I am going to do this, I have promised myself to be scrupulously honest in my reporting of facts, much more so than I am in writing fiction. I hope this resolution lasts.
A little background…
This summer saw the publication of my second novel, The P’Town Murders, a satirical gay mystery about an attractive yet neurotic secret agent named Bradford Fairfax whose mission is to save the Dalai Lama from being assassinated. P’Town is the first of a series of six projected volumes, which includes such future titles as Death In Key West, Vanished In Vallarta, The Prophet of Palm Springs, and others.
P’Town was published by Harrington Park Press, the fiction division of Haworth Press, a highly-respected mid-size American publisher. Despite the small advances I received, I made the decision to promote the book to the best of my abilities rather than let it sit on bookstore shelves and hope it might attract attention. In August, two weeks before my west coast (California and BC) tour kicked off, Haworth announced it was for sale and no longer promoting or advertising its titles. I already had my tickets, so I figured I might as well go.
Still, I was one of the lucky ones—at least my book got published. A number of others whose books were in the queue weren’t so fortunate and their fate remains to be decided. (Not to mention the 170 Haworth employees who lost their jobs!) Meanwhile, I arrived at a number of my proposed reading/signing venues to find that copies of the book were scarce or, in some cases, non-existent. I’d had the foresight to bring along some of my own, and was able to supply those at least.
What I later discovered was that in its first three months P’Town had sold nearly its entire print run, which is great news until you remember Haworth is no longer publishing. All the momentum I’d been building—arranging readings and signings, handing out posters and review copies—would be for nothing if there were no books.
On that tour I read in West Hollywood at A Different Light Books and in Vancouver at Little Sisters, and signed books and handed out promotional material wherever I could. Somehow I kept up my spirits and began to receive very complimentary emails from people who’d managed to get a copy of the book. I was gratified to see that the range of readers was very wide in terms of age, background and education. I’d hoped the book would appeal to a great variety of gay men (in particular) and it seems I’d succeeded.
Back in Toronto, Glad Day Books arranged a book launch and it was deemed a success, though the threat of no more books still loomed. As well, there was little interest being shown by the local press, gay or otherwise. My phone calls and email inquiries asking whether various magazines had received review copies went unanswered. (And because of the state of affairs at Haworth, I couldn’t verify whether review copies had been sent.) Worse, I discovered that only one Toronto bookseller—Glad Day Books—had been able or bothered to get the book. This Ain’t The Rosedale Library had tried, but been back-ordered “indefinitely.” Book City, our erstwhile supporter of local talent, had made the taxing decision to order “one copy.” (Yes, I still have your email.)
Chapters/Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, ignored me entirely. I heard from an associate, who just happens to be the head of drama development at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, how he’d gone to the Bloor/Bay store to buy the book only to be told it “wasn’t available” through their chain. Nor did they offer to special order it. I found that highly ironic, considering the massive “What’s Canada Reading?” poster campaign featuring Indigo’s owner, Heather Reisman, along with a number of Canadian celebrities. Yet despite the neglect, the book was selling out.
I couldn’t help recalling how the UK publisher of my first book and now my American publisher had not been too forthcoming when I asked about plans to publicize the books in Canada. Without wanting to be insulting, they’d both made me understand that, from their perspective, the Canadian book market was too small and too difficult for them to pay much attention to. I was beginning to see why.
Things took a more positive spin when I contacted Fab Magazine columnist and former-Kids In The Hall writer Paul Bellini, who said he’d be more than happy to take a look at my book and do a write-up. As well, I received a call from a polite-sounding purchaser at Indigo (after my second email about how they’d turned down the head of CBC’s drama department) to say he’d heard about my situation and was ordering copies for the Toronto stores, at least.
Even more exciting, I got an invitation from Rick at Q Trading in Palm Springs, asking me to participate in their annual Authors’ Village, the acclaimed Palm Springs Pride event. Would I like to be one of their authors featured along with Armistead Maupin, Michael Thomas Ford, Christopher Rice, and others? You bet I would! Erm, could you make sure you’ve got copies of my book first, Rick?
No problem there—fortunately Rick already had copies on hand and more on order. Which just about brings me up to date…
“Ah! The glamour, the fame, the glories! Keep it, please and just send me some money.”