Just published: My Three Suicides: A Success Story...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

NEW SERIES: La Femme Mysterieuse: A Man Got on a Train. Part 1

A boy and his copybooks...seems so simple
This is a story about how haste made waste of a literary dream and how a mysterious shadow slipped into my life, rescued me, stirred my mind, and then disappeared.

            As you might expect, the story involves a woman. Or so I believe. I’m still not a hundred-percent sure, but I do know I don’t care. Read on, if you like mysteries, but don’t expect this one to be solved. I’ve promised never to divulge certain clues and that should be easy in this case: I don’t know what they are. And maybe after we get to the end of this story you’ll understand why I probably don’t want to know. Probably. Even a columnist is human, after all.

             Let’s talk about the literary dream: it began twelve years ago, on my birthday, in my used bookshop, two hours before opening time. I’d gone in early to sit behind the window curtain and begin writing my first novel. Some novelists won’t start a book until they have hundreds, if not thousands, of note cards outlining every inch of the plot. Others just turn their dog loose on the trail and hurry along behind it. I’m that type.

            With a fine-point felt-tip pen I wrote my opening scene into a marbleized copybook: A man got on a train. As I wrote, I knew what my closing scene would be: the man would die that same night. I trusted that all the in-between would come to me as I wrote. The man I’d chosen was an actual historical figure, a self-made “scientist/explorer” named Richard L. Garner. Like myself, he’d studied primates in Africa. He was born in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1848 and he died in Tennessee in 1920 while promoting his research by giving public lectures.

            I composed ten hand-written pages each day, hurrying home later to read them aloud to my wife, Janet. Those were enjoyable days, marked by suspense and curiosity, since neither of us knew what tomorrow’s pages would tell. A day’s episode might end with a hand on a doorknob. What waited on the other side? An empty room? A dead body? A beaded purse? Such is the power of the writer. The answer, of course, is: whatever he or she says. How arbitrary. How awful. How absorbing. How awful. The choices are infinite. The choices are limited. There is no right or wrong answer. Is there?

            Oh my goodness, if you work out every detail of the plot ahead of time, then writing a novel is work. Sheer, dreadful, miserable work, as dreary as writing a term paper. But if you don’t, and you make it up as you go along, you keep running down alleys, turning corners, and finding yourself in strange neighborhoods you don’t know how to get out of. Characters you invented simply to walk through a scene suddenly stop and start talking to the camera, start singing and dancing and telling their life stories.

            Cursed to be tongue-tied through childhood, in middle age I found myself victimized by verbosity. Out came an abundance of words whenever I sat down to write –  false leads, useless quarrelsome characters, endless dialogue and description. I never suffered “writer’s block.” Quite the opposite.

            And so, with that first book, as the train carrying Richard L. Garner rushed along toward Nashville, one doorknob after another turned to reveal another character, who had to be explained, carrying another prop, which needed to be explained, as he or she came sauntering, rushing, stumbling, or tottering into the next carriage. These explanations are referred to as “backstory” in fiction. In the hands of a novice writer any story of 300 pages that begins and ends in one day is going to be riddled with them. No matter how well they’re written, if these digressions are not kept to a minimum they will interrupt and confuse the flow of the story.

            I filled six copy books in this meandering “and then” style. That was great fun, but then the hard work I’d tried to avoid by ad-libbing had to begin.

            Suffice it to say that I worked hard and long. Rewriting involves more than correcting mistakes. I paid dearly for the fun of my run-wild, run-free months of creative fun by spending the next two years, daily, reshaping the story. But shortly after that, I won First Place in the novel category for a sample of my novel at the annual Philadelphia Writers Conference. Everyone told me that was a “message from the universe.” You got it, kid! Go get ‘em.

            In those days I believed in the system: Write your book, polish it, and then go get an agent to sell it for you. I spent two years trying to interest an agent, failed to do so, got bored, started another novel. And another. And some short stories. And started writing this column for the Local (now in its seventh year). And a memoir. I found I liked writing stories more than I liked trying to sell them to an agent, editor, or publisher. My story about Mister Garner sat in the desk drawer, affectionately remembered like a summer romance that ended only because your partner moved to the moon. Every once in a while I’d change the title. “Garner” became “Fit in a Spoon,” then “Family of Man,” which was replaced by “If Pigs had Wings, soon to be “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour.”

            So, how did “Gorilla Tour,” come finally to be released in February of this year, (twelve years later) with a big, happy book-launch party, only not to be heard of since? And what does this silence have to do with the subtle and strange appearance in my life of a mystery woman? I’m still trying to figure it out. She’d entered my life, turned my head around, and left again – supposedly finally – in the same enigmatic way she’d entered: anonymously.

             See you next week.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Rare "Hugh" sighting slated for tomorrow (Sunday, May5) during the Chestnut Hill Spring Arts Festival.

Yes, Hugh, I, me, will be selling books, signing books, kissing babies, posing for "I knew him when" photos, and generally making an egotistic nuisance of himself. 

TIME: 1 to 3 p.m. 

PLACE: Intersection of Germantown and E. Southampton Avenues (near Chestnut Grill, near the Jenks School). Look for the Chestnut Hill Book Festival booth. 

Please stop and say hello.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Buster Keaton goes to Boston


Buster Keaton lights up with a bomb in “Cops.”

by Hugh Gilmore
Karl Marx famously wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, later as farce. Some events this week convinced me that both tragedy and farce are in the eye of the beholder. Labeling something as comedy doesn’t make it funny to its victims.
This past week of terrible, terrible news began with the Boston Marathon bombings. Such a shocking and gruesome event. I hadn’t been on the computer most of the day nor heard a radio or TV. When I did go online late in the afternoon, my sudden encounter with the headlines and images describing the story was stunning. Graphic pictures of shocked, frightened and maimed people seemed embedded in every news article. I tried just glimpsing but wound up gaping. I wasn’t able to take more than a few minutes of exposure before I switched websites.
Boston? I wondered. Why Boston? If this was an anti-American act, there are so many other cities with much more iconic American targets. And why civilians? Were they what nowadays is called “collateral damage” when a strategic or symbolic target is attacked? Were the perpetrators madmen or terrorists? As did most Americans, I went to bed that night dazed, confused and anxious.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, news poured in. Two bombs. Near the finish line. Three dead. Over a hundred injured. Later news: The bombs had perhaps been left in two backpacks. And filled with bits of metal meant to fly out and maim. Limbs lost. Heroes emerged. And images, images, images.
Life down here in Philadelphia carried on. Our hearts were with the people of Boston – in fact, with our fellow Americans everywhere. But what was there to do but carry on and wait and hope for answers and perhaps the capture of the villains?
Our family went ahead and did what we had scheduled ourselves to do, silly as it sounds after this build-up – we went to the Ambler Theater’s Buster Keaton festival. I don’t really have to justify that; I think most Americans were seeking some relief after two horrible days. From this kind of randomized terroristic act, there seems no real escape. Every day in America is a risky day. We’re all learning to look down the alley before we start to walk through it. Or better yet, avoid walking into alleys. Even though we also know that the bombers or the AK-47 hobbyists may be waiting on Main Street itself.
The Ambler Theater sponsored a very nice program last Tuesday night that included four Buster Keaton short films accompanied by a three-piece band calling itself “The Not So Silent Cinema Project.” Brendan Cooney, a Philadelphia musician with Boston roots created the project. He’s accompanied by Andy Bergman on Clarinet and Kyle Tuttle on banjo. The music had been carefully and creatively scored to fit both the actions and the moods of the films. A pleasant and quite creative evening.
Except: The second Buster Keaton movie was called “Cops.” It was released in 1922. About a third of the way into the film we see a policemen’s parade, with hundreds of marching patrolmen. Buster is hiding from the law under a parade stand. The city officials are shown at the review stand. Then we see Buster again, still hiding. In the next shot, a sudden close-up reveals an archetypical anarchist lighting one of those bowling ball-shaped comic bombs with a long fuse. He throws the lit bomb over the wall. It lands next to Buster. Buster uses the fuse to light his cigarette and then casually tosses the bomb away. It lands in the reviewing stand. It blows up. Everyone runs away, scattering in panic. Comedic panic.
That is, no severed limbs. No bloody, shrieking bystanders. No dead bodies. In comedies, even ones made today, bombs make people grab their butts as though they sat on something hot. Or make them fly up in the air and come down again to the sound of a kazoo before running away. Woooo-up.
At the movie theater I felt my stomach turn. I felt like being angry at the three musicians or the Ambler Theater. But they couldn’t have known. Mercifully, the action changed, the bomb scene ended and we’d moved on. An awkward moment and definitely not a funny one.
That particular bomb thrower, who looked kind of shady and ethnic, was probably modeled on the anarchist bombings that happened in the U.S. in 1919 by the followers of Luigi Galleini. In that case at least 36 dynamite bombs were mailed to government officials. The Galleinists followed that episode up on June 2 by exploding bombs in eight different American cities, targeting public figures.
The anarchist bombings of 1919 were not the only such bombings in American history, but they’re a useful illustration of the fact that by 1922 “the anarchist” had become a stock comic character in film. A funny figure unless you don’t have distance from him. Not so funny for all the people of the world who’ve had bombs aimed at them this year. Same with comic drunk drivers for those of us who’ve lost a loved one to their “funny” way of handling a vehicle.
The Buster Keaton-with-live-music program is really excellent. It will play art house theaters in six more cities, including Doylestown and New York. The tour will conclude in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If they don’t modify the program by then, however, I don’t think the people of Cambridge are ready to have their recent history seen as comedy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A trip through the surreal to see the Dali Museum

It's torture when you don't have an idea of how much time you've got and no way to know it anyway


My wife and I hate flying and enjoy train rides, so last week we boarded Amtrak’s Silver Star and let it carry us down the eastern seaboard to Tampa, Fla. That’s a 24-hour-ride, made much easier by booking a sleeper for Jan and me and a “roomette” for our 26-year-old son, Andrew. In Tampa, a rental car awaited.

Our ultimate destination was beautiful Sanibel Island, but first, we’d drive to St. Petersburg to see the Salvador Dali Museum. Andrew is a scholar of animated films and, since Dali claimed that cartoons influenced his surrealistic style, he wanted to see Dali’s work with his own eyes.

The Silver Star leaves Philadelphia around 12:30 p.m. By the time you board and settle in and read a bit and have dinner, you are well into the evening and getting ready for bed.

About 9 p.m. the train had just left the bright lights of Raleigh, N.C., behind and started plunging through the southern darkness.

Jan went to visit Andrew’s bunk and a few minutes later came back with him. Andrew had tears in his eyes. He then told me what he’d told Jan: He was seeing occasional white, bright light in the nasal corner of his one “good” eye (he has no vision in the other). This was his third day seeing that light. He hadn’t wanted to say anything beforehand and “spoil our vacation.”

That load of bricks, that whole insidious worry we try not to think about, fell on us at once. Andrew has only one good eye because he was born prematurely (2 pounds, 3 ounces) and soon developed retinopathy of the premature. Surgery failed to save his left eye.

At 18, as a college freshman, in his dorm room one night, he felt like a window shade was being drawn down across his remaining eye. At 2 a.m. he decided he’d better call us, but, out of consideration, he waited till 6 a.m. to do so. After he did, we rushed to get him to Wills Eye. A wonderful surgeon reattached his retina.

My heart aches whenever I think of him lying by himself in the dark and waiting for dawn in his sweet, misguided courtesy. Alone and scared. What must that wait have been like for him?

We’ve had no similar scares since then. But we live in constantly suppressed fear that any day, out of nowhere, he may lose his vision, and we may be handed the responsibility of raising a child who is blind.

Now, Andrew sat beside us, having known three days ago he was experiencing a strange ocular sensation, but keeping it private because he knew how much this vacation meant to us. He obviously felt guilty for speaking up, but was fearful of what that light in the corner of his eye might mean. We certainly didn’t know either.

“Oh what a lump in the throat,” I wrote later to my friend Lynn Hoffman: “But we restrained our tears because we needed a plan. We couldn’t just jump in the car and drive to Wills Eye. We were trapped inside a train that was hurtling at 90 mph through rural N.C.”

I went to the porter (a lady) and asked what cities were coming up. The next city with a decent-sized hospital emergency room would be Columbia, S.C., at 2 a.m. That’s where we would go if necessary. The porter was very cooperative and told me to give her the word and they’d have an emergency ambulance ready at Columbia Station, if necessary.

We now had plan of sorts, not that we’d expect a small city hospital to have an ophthalmologist on call at 2 in the morning. But what should we do? The train wouldn’t reach Tampa for another 15 hours. The temptation toward taking action, some action, any action, drives the spirit at such times.

In the meantime, Janet was trying to track down Andrew’s eye doctor, but that’s not a number we keep in our wallets – though I guess we should. There’s no Internet on the train. Cell phone information, 4-blankin’-1-1, was not helpful and quite impatient, the operator sounding like she resented the intrusion on her time, even though we declared it an emergency. Finally, we thought to ask for the number of Philadelphia’s Wills Eye Hospital emergency room. The operator who answered there was mercifully kind. She found Andrew’s eye doctor’s number in Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

And guess what? We called the answering service and they beeped him and he returned our call within five minutes. You can imagine our relief at hearing Dr. Gary Brown’s kind and patient voice coming to us over a small silver cell phone. This as I watched our reflections in the windows, behind which the dark, uncaring foliage rushed by.

I repeated for Dr. Brown the symptoms Andrew described to me, concluding with, “Is this an emergency, Dr. Brown? Do we need to get off the train at the next stop?”

“Stay on the train ’til Tampa,” he said. He did not think Andrew’s condition would worsen in a matter of hours. He gave us the name of a top doc in Tampa, a former colleague. Tell him Gary Brown told us to call.

We tracked down the doctor’s answering service. He called back! We set an emergency appointment for the next day. Worried still, but calmed by having a plan, we sat back and tried in our hearts to brace for whatever fate the next day held.

The train pulled into Tampa’s Union Station at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Jan and Andrew hopped a cab and went to see Dr. Mark Hammer.

I went to get the rental car. I got to the doctor’s office just as Andrew’s dilation from the drops kicked in. Andrew hates the exam as bright light pains him. He’d even needed general anesthesia last year for his annual. Boy does he yell and fuss. But four adults managed to get him through it.

And gloriously, he’s okay. His retina is healthy. Any number of lesser problems could cause the bright light sensation he’d been having. Make a follow-up appointment with Dr. Brown for when we get back. What a relief.

Dr. Hammer, by the way, went to nearby Abington High school, and we had several mutual acquaintances, most especially the legendary Dr. Allan Glatthorn. We left Dr. Hammer’s office a lot more relaxed than the way we went in.

By 4 p.m. that afternoon we were checked into La Quinta Inn outside St. Pete’s. Our nerves were overwrought. Our bodies still hummed from two days of rocking travel. The hotel reeked terribly of odor-cloaking fluids. My eyes were smarting and my nose burned from the terrible chemical smell.
Physically, I was miserable. But, unlike last night, our son wasn’t being threatened with imminent blindness tonight.

Tomorrow morning, I thought, we’ll go to see the Salvador Dali museum.
“See” it – how precious the word.

And we did.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Philip Roth has kindly stepped aside and offered you his place in line

President Obama removes Mr. Roth's medallion to make it ready for you...You!
Philip Roth, at 80, has announced his retirement from the literature scene, so there’s a big opening now for aspiring writers to jump through. Perhaps the gap would fit two or three new authors. Should now be the time for you, dear reader, to leap forward and stake your claim?

I imagine you might pause in fear and wonder what it would be like to assert yourself. To hurl your hopes into the great pond...perhaps only to hear a very small splash. One not as far from shore as you hoped? And you stand with your toes in the water, barely sensing a few faint ripples before the water stills. Could you stand that? How would you feel if you knew ahead of time that was all the reaction you would get? Would you go ahead anyway and try on Mr. Roth’s toga? Compose your song, or rhyme your poem, paint your canvas, or tap out your epic? Would it matter to you if you worked hard and all you got for it was the story, or poem, or song you created? Would you need a guarantee of monetary success, or an Oprah appearance before you started?

I was thinking those thoughts as I sat in my ponderer’s chair in the sunny living room this Saturday past. I was “killing” time (or should I say it was killing me?) as I sat waiting for the time when I’d need to jump up and rush to where I had to be. Time-wise, I live on the verge of late – as usual – but exactly on time – as usual. A compulsion towards punctuality is a great inducer of tension. Especially when one applies that notion to his career, his dreams, his life.

Where I was headed was Musehouse. That’s not a metaphor. It’s a literal place. But it works well as a metaphor also. If you don’t know it by now, that’s unfortunate, but not uncorrectable. The building stands at 7924 Germantown Avenue in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, but its essence lies in the loving hearts and minds of Kathy Sheeder Bonanno, the founder/director, and her wonderful staff of teachers and volunteers. Musehouse sponsors literary readings, including open mic nights, several times a week. They offer classes and workshops nearly every day (into the night). Most of all, they show care and openness toward all who want to say what is in their hearts through the medium of words, spoken or written.
            I was going there Saturday night, March 30, to be part of a celebration of the debut of The Musehouse Journal, Volume one, Number one. The journal is a juried magazine and the standards for selection were high. Many of the poets and prose writers who appeared in the magazine were there Saturday to read their selected pieces aloud. I was fortunate enough to be one of two story writers appearing in this inaugural issue. I would read a selection from a memoir I’ve nearly completed.

 I felt honored to be included, but worried that the sound of my stone in the pond would be lost amidst the plunks of so many others. And I wondered who would ever read the journal after Saturday night. And I worried that what I had written was too personally revealing. And I suspected that my speaking voice could never do justice to the emotions I wrote about – four short scenes from my childhood. I had rehearsed with a tape recorder numerous times in the previous days, but the playbacks never sounded like the voices I heard while writing the story. Did that matter? A writers’ words have to do the magic on their own. I guess. In my case, perhaps not, but one of my favorite quotes is Machiavelli’s “fortune favors the bold.”

 I’ve been talking about myself, last Saturday night, but still haven’t forgotten those of you who want to write but don’t have time. Those who want to speak, but don’t know if they’ll ever find the words. Those who wonder, What’s the use? Reasonable questions. But....

Well, if you were expecting the Big Reveal here, there isn’t one. If you feel you have something to say, just go ahead and write it down. There’s no reason not to.

If you need a guarantee: the only certain one is that you’ll certainly get nowhere if you don’t start. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll “get anywhere” if you do. But is that what you want to unlock your heart for? Riches? Is that why you have lived as long as you have, and survived the awful things you’ve seen and heard? Fame? Or the beauties you have witnessed and never given word to before? Listeners? Oh, well, that’s a different matter. That might be worth while.

I sat there on my folding chair Saturday night, waiting my turn, thinking as each person came up to the microphone: My goodness, you never, ever, can predict what another person is carrying around in his/her, heart. Or the experiences they’ve had. Such surprises I heard.
When my turn came, I felt like I was offering my part in a collective prayer against those imagined gods who wait to mock our hopes and dreams.
Thank you, Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, Musehouse, and my fellow writers from Saturday night.

Musehouse is easily Googled. I'm now on Facebook. My latest book, the quirky romance/twisted family story of “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour” is available in both ebook and paperback formats on Amazon.com.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

It was the best of times? It was the worst of times?

I find great comfort in knowing that shitty things happened in every generation, not just ours.
                                                                  by Hugh Gilmore

Do you get old-classmate emails describing how everything was rosy back in our day and everything stinks now? 

I do, and I find them unbearably smug, defensive, and wrong-headed. Pardon my French, but why is that that the older people get, the less history they know?

Fed up with the modern age? You need only open a crusty old gazette from an other era and your blood pressure will simmer down and you’ll be able to breathe again. If you read a few old newspapers you’ll see that the Good Old Days weren’t so good and the bad new days aren’t so bad.

Here, let’s take a look. On my desk right now, a randomly chosen sample: The Prescott (AZ) Evening Courier for Monday, January 9, 1933. By the way, I’m not lookin at an old digital file on the internet. In my used-book business, I often come across old magazines and newspapers. 

 Unlike today’s newspaper layouts, the Courier’s 18-inch-wide page one contains both big and little stories, of local, national and international interest. Among the eternal verities, we find: “Flagstaff Man Murders Wife (handgun used during family quarrel); “2 More French Boats Disabled” (passenger boats catch fire and have to be towed to port); “Indict Meeker In Bank Case” (president of defunct bank indicted for fraud); “7th of Town’s Folk Have Typhoid Fever” (This, actually, from nearby Chamberlain, S.D.); “4 High School Players Killed” (after basketball game, head-on collision at night, one headlight not working); “Congressman is Dead, Suicide” (Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, Samuel Austin Kendall, unable to overcome grief at the loss of his wife, shot himself with pistol in his office). And from Napa Valley, CA: “Roger Sprague, former university professor who went insane on the Berkeley campus in 1919 and shot and wounded two college officials, laid his head deliberately on the tracks of the Napa Electric Railway today and was decapitated.

 These stories were laid out side-by-side with such tidbits as a parking ticket given to an elephant, a two-headed turtle that “couldn’t make up its mind,” the Premier of North China offering a truce to Japan, with whom it had been fighting quite a while, President FDR meeting with Stimson, and a veterans group (WWI) still fighting Congress for aid to veterans.

Inside the paper, as eternal consolation, you’ll find the sports and entertainment pages. In one column Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics Baseball Club blamed the recent sale of Al Simmons, Jimmy Dykes, and “Mule” Haas to the Chicago White Sox on Philadelphia’s Blue Laws, which did not allow Sunday contests. Speaking at The Holy Name Society of St. Jean of Arc Catholic church, he said the loss of revenue left him unable to pay the players’ wages.
On the plus side, the new movie “Rackety Rax,” with Victor Mc Glaglen and Greta Nissen was described as a laugh riot. 

 Oh my, you might think, but those stories were out of Prescott, Arizona, and everything’s a bit strange west of the Schuylkill River. Granting you that possibility, I pick up the Philadelphia Evening Ledger for Wednesday, July 26, 1937. The banner headline reads “THOUSANDS FALL IN BATTLE OF PEIPING.” The Japanese army continued its assault on China. Under the banner, two columns by 10 inches, you’ll find the day’s baseball scores. (Phillies lose to Pittsburgh, 6 – 4; A’s losing to Cleveland, 6 – 5).

In Belfast, Ireland, bombs, arson, and gunfire greeted King George VI and Queen Elizabeth as they toured. Fumes forced employees of the 7-UP bottling company at 817-19 Carpenter Street to flee with handkerchiefs pressed to their noses.

Camden’s Director of Public Works, Frank J. Hartmann, declared war on crickets in the neighborhood of 10th and Vine. Neighbors were finding crickets in their hair, bathtubs, and beds. Hartmann threatened to bury the crickets with an asphalt parking lot “if we have much more trouble.”

A policeman from the 69th and Dicks area got paid on Friday and failed to return home or show up for work on Monday. A boy drowned in Pennypack Creek. 

15 Horses Saved in Cemetery Fire” The cemetery was Holy Sepulchre near Easton Road in Glenside. On the cemetery grounds were two shacks – one kept as a chicken coop and the other as a pheasant house. These tarpaper lean-tos caught fire and sparks flew over to set the roofs of the stables at Gramm’s Riding Academy of Glenside on fire. “William Wardell, a Negro stableman” and two boys, Arthur Hammarlund and Robert Fisher helped to rescue the horses. (This news item chosen apropos the running controversy lately about racial identification of newsworthy people.)

You’ll find similar stories in every edition of every uncensored newspaper in the world, no matter what era the paper is from, including the Holy American Era when our Founding Fathers bestrode the earth. My point today being simply: please stop sending me funny, wise nuggets about how wonderful the old days were. I’m with Benjamin, the mule in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” quotable for saying, “Life will go on as it has always gone on – that is, badly.”
            That doesn’t mean I don’t like people. I do. I have a tremendous sympathy for my fellow mortals. Nor does it mean I’m a pessimist. I’m not. But, boy, people sure don’t learn easily.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Living the Walter Mitty Life ... Pocketa Queep

But I'm NOT living the writer's life for them. I'm doing it for myself.
I need to talk to you this week as though we’re meeting for coffee, and I have to catch you up on a thousand and one things that have happened since we last had a heart-to-heart. 

    I had my book launch for “Gorilla Tour,” as I’ve come to call it, and that went very well. Kathy Bonanno, founder/director of Musehouse Literary Center, 7924 Germantown Ave., and her staff run a smooth operation. I had a full house for my reading and sold some books and had a number of interesting conversations with people as we all stood around cheese-and-crackering (and wining) later.

More than one person told me that I stand as a figure of inspiration. I think they meant, “If a dummy like you can get a book launch, then there’s hope for the rest of us.” Meaning: other writers who haven’t finished their books, or haven’t felt that magical moment where they feel they should take their manuscript out of the drawer and start trying to market it. A friend told me that I’m kind of living a Walter Mittyish existence where I live out other people’s dreams.
Perhaps so, but it’s not a risk-free existence. The day of the book launch someone shared with me an email sent by another person that said, in effect, “I wasted money on his first book, “Malcolm’s Wine,” which I found unreadable. Now I don’t want to go to his reading and buy another unreadable book.”
“Ha ha ha,” I said, pulling the needle from my arm and emerging from the men’s room, “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's your Relationship to Your Personal Library

                                                    Do you have a personal library?

I would imagine that anyone who reads this blog regularly would have a collection of books he or she keeps around. I do. Why do we keep them around? In my case, I am not much of a rereader. Yet many of my books, even ones I’ll probably not even open again, and even forget I still have, I will never part with. Sometimes I’ll happen on one of them when taking down some other book. I’ll remember how old I was when I found it. And where. And sometimes even the way the sun slanted through the shop window when I first saw it. I remember also the joy, or relive the shock, or suffer still the sorrow I felt when I first read it.

Friends and loved ones have come and gone in my life, many of them as wrenching losses, others as luminous additions, but through it all my books alone have known me and stood beside me. They’ve lived through every one of the varied addresses I’ve known over several decades. To lose this book, or that, would be to lose my only link to the memories of who I used to be at that time of my life. No other object could possibly launch those precious memories for me.

            As I stand facing my shelves of books, I sometimes wonder at their cumulative power in stating who I am. They reflect the neural pathways of my brain. Taken together they represent my mind. I have no overriding arrangement to the order of the books on my shelves. If I have many on one topic, they’ll probably stand together.

        But just suppose I placed them in the order in which I read them. Couldn’t I then trace along the shelves the evolution of myself as a thinking person? And not just my ideas, but couldn’t I also trace the history of certain subtle emotions as they arose and grew and took shape in my heart? And if that is true, that I could trace the history of my heart, and my mind, is there a point at which my moving finger could stop and I could say: “There, this is where I became who I am”?

            Would it be the most recent book I read and placed there? Or did I fundamentally become the person I am some time long ago, and all the additons are merely accentuations?

            Such heady stuff.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Richard Brautigan in 9000 clicks

One of Brautigan's many personae

                                 by Hugh Gilmore

            What an ordeal. I just finished a very long, tedious, but quite fascinating book whose final, inevitable paragraphs made me quite sad. Once I committed to writing about it, I felt like saying, "I am Lazarus, come from the dead/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all...” (after T.S. Eliot’s  “Prufrock”). Though I’m not sure that I can.

The book is William Hjorstberg’s 880-page biography-down-to-the-last-scrap-of-paper, “Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan.” It was originally published around this time last year. It took me three weeks of daily reading to finish this book. And I never particularly cared for, nor was interested in Richard Brautigan, as poet, novelist, icon or man. And to make matters harder, I read the book on my Kindle.

Do you know what it is like to read an 880-page book on a Kindle? For one thing, the “page” is too small and confining. More importantly, without the benefit of turning a page and seeing a higher page number that helps you mark your progress, the process seems endless. A Kindle indicates the percentage of the total you’ve read so far. To move 10% you must page-click the word equivalent of 88 book pages. At the font size I used, it took about 10 clicks to move 1 %. Close to 900 clicks to move through 10 percent of the book. Two weeks into the book, though I was enjoying it immensely, I wished I were done. I was at 40%. I started pushing. I read at all hours of the day. Last Saturday night I finished. And I was quite sad about how it ended.

Lance Armstrong sued for writing novels?

Is this the face of a novelist?
"It's not about the book: 
  Speculations on Lance
  and fiction vs. memoir 
                                   by Hugh Gilmore

Many people who read a lot of books emphatically do not like reading fiction. Their reasons for this aversion vary enormously but most seem to distill down to this: they want to read a story that is “true.” Sometimes they add the justification that they want to “learn something” from what they read. After all, since life is too short, why waste time on mere entertainment? 

Other readers have said things like, “I was really enjoying that book – in fact, I was halfway through it – when I learned it was a novel and not a true story. Boy, was I disappointed!” I don’t think my brain is working well enough today to even begin to explain the complexities behind such ideas, but I do want to take some time out to enjoy the entire truth-versus-fiction phenomenon. 

I now segue, yes, to the Lance Armstrong hornswoggle-that-won’t-lie-down has now spread to the world of book publishing. On January 22, in Federal Court in Sacramento, according to Bloomberg News, a man named Rob Stutzman filed a formal complaint of interest to the publishing industry. (Stutzman v. Armstrong, 13-00116, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California [Sacramento].) 

At issue: Stutzman claims that he never would have bought Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life,” (2000) had he known it was not true. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What You Missed on Valentine’s Day

The focus of our next Book Festival Program
by Hugh Gilmore

Whether they thought it sounded corny or thought it seemed kinky, a number of people asked how the Chestnut Hill (Phila.) Book Festival’s “Love for Sale” program went last week. I’ll offer some gentle reflections on the event.

For this, our first festival event of this year, we invited both scheduled (volunteer responders to a Local ad) and spur-of-the-moment persons who wanted to rise and say something – yay or nay – about love. The pop-ups had to pay a dollar for the privilege, though. Hence, our wonderfully clever (or awfully silly) slogan, “Love for Sale.”

The Gilmore family took turns pacing, trying to decide whether to get up to speak/sing/tell a joke, mime or stare longingly at some person of our choice. All day long our son Andrew, who makes his living as a comic entertainer, said, “Bah Humbug. This is torture,” reflecting the angst that the single feel in the presence of couples. I remember those days, so I felt bad for him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All Set for "Gorilla Tour" Book Launch (?)

Last night we went to Cin-Cin restaurant with friends to celebrate Chinese New Year (of the Snake). After enjoying our 8-course feast we stepped outside. Musehouse, where I will have my Book Launch Party for "Last Night on the Gorilla Tour" is only fifty feet away. I pointed out to our friends the amazing discovery that Musehouse had a signboard out front advertising my reading/signing! How flattering, especially in front of friends who "knew me when."

Only, on second look, I noticed that I was billed for Saturday nite....when in actually I was billed for FRiday nite and the people I know who are coming are coming Friday.... A little embarrassing, but then I'm so vain, I'm embarrassed every hour-on-the-hour by something.

Oh boy! I thought, the story of my life: When my ship comes in, I'll be at the airport.

I drove home like a maniac (not fast, but still--like a maniac, the way my mind was racing) and sent a bunch of e-mails to everyone at Musehouse from the President to the janitor, asking for a correction. I have no idea if they changed it. I'm afraid to look.

But, rest assured, you worried readers: I'll be there Friday nite.

Dark Thoughts While Watching Mrs. Warren Ply Her Profession

 by Hugh Gilmore

I sometimes think the best way to attend an event is alone. Company is always welcome, of course, especially while coming and going, but I really believe I get more out of things by being alone when I watch them. That’s what I was thinking when I sat alone and watched our local Stagecrafters theater’s very pleasing and stimulating production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by myself on opening night last Friday. When I’m alone, I listen more acutely. The ideas I’m hearing  percolate through me with more intensity. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Contentedly floating amidst the clouds

Monday, Feb 11. The news is: my book may not be ready in time for my book launch. 

What would Mr. Piggie say? ............  Maybe: "Keep flying, friend...if I could sprout wings, you can too." 

Hmmmm. I tend not to believe such inspirational BS, but who am I to doubt the word of a flying pig? He seems to like life in the purple clouds. The Pig Still Aspires to Flight! 

I had hoped that the proof of my book would be available today, but CreateSpace, my publisher, says noooo....They "promise" I can download the digital proof tomorrow and supposedly I could then order copies for my Feb 22 Book Launch. But nooooooo, again. Another 1 or 2 days they say after tomorrow. That puts me at the 14th, maybe to order that copies be printed and shipped to arrive by the day of my launch. It might be a tetch embarrassing to show up to my book signing with no books to sign.

.............. Please, let's not tell Mr. Piggie those clouds look like bubble wrap, okay?