Goin’ Home

Goin’ Home

About a million years ago, I read a Peanuts cartoon quoting Thomas Wolfe: “You can’t go home again.” Perhaps fifteen years later, I discovered Wolfe in a lit class, and read Look Homeward, Angel. Eventually, I also got through You Can’t Go Home Again, along with a few others. A troubled genius, Wolfe was also a pretty great read – thanks in large part to that greatest of editors, Max Perkins.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ll be going home soon…well, going back to the city where I grew up, Bristol, CT. It hasn’t been “home” for me for a while. In fact, it’s fair to say that my adopted home of Tampa, Florida – where I’ve lived since 1994 – is more in my comfort zone than CT ever was.

Still, there’s a bittersweet aspect to going back to visit the old homestead. Memories that live more in the bones than the brain come to life. Feelings, not thoughts, bubble to the surface. As normal as it is for others, it’s a weird place for me.

So when I sought to book a library event in advance of my return, I wasn’t sure where to go. The old Bristol Public Library sits at the edge of a small hill in a relatively unpleasant part of town; by contrast, the smaller Manross Library is in Forestville, a sort of Bristol suburb where my father grew up. I’m told it’s in a somewhat nicer neighborhood than the main branch. I’ve been away so long, I wouldn’t know. I like nicer neighborhoods, so I opted for Manross.

There’s a feeling of “Hometown Boy Makes Good” in this whole endeavor of scheduling a book signing for myself. Calls and emails to the local newspaper, social media posts inviting old classmates to drop by. I’m looking forward to it.

The book signing falls on a Saturday, the only day the library and I are both available. Thankfully, it also falls on the penultimate day of a vacation, the first real vacation my wife and I have been able to schedule since forever ago. We plan to get our first look at Niagara Falls before the big library event, so I’m expecting to be pretty relaxed by the time the week is out.

If you happen to be in Connecticut on Saturday, May 6th at 2pm, stop on by. I’ll pack a few copies of Miles of Files, Brothers’ Hand, and Jana, just in case.

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More on Literary Fiction

More on Literary Fiction

While I’m recovering from some oral surgery I had last Friday, I’m inclined to just rest and update my blog another time. But I’ll be on vacation soon, so I’d rather post something than nothing. With that, I recommend blog readers check out my fellow literary author, Jay Lemming. Jay and I follow each other on Twitter and have both read – and boosted – each other’s work. I thoroughly enjoyed his novel Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, and I highly recommend it.

Last month, Jay published his 2017 Literary Fiction Survey for Readers, which you can find here. Now Jay is at it again, with a big cross-promotional project among a group of authors…the biggest cross-promotion I’ve ever seen.

It’s called, quite simply, the April 2017 Literary Fiction Giveaway. And it’s an embarrassment of riches: Jay has joined forces with ten other authors to promote each other’s work, thereby exposing their own audiences to each other’s audiences. I would have joined the fun myself, but I’m still working on the completion of my own giveaway, the short story collection Rides from Strangers. Anyhow, check these folks’ fiction out: you can get a free preview of the books by just joining the mailing list of each author whose work you’d like to sample. Genius!

And now I’m going back to the pillows and pudding. Have a great week, everybody.

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Taking a Page from the Dylan Playbook?

Although he doesn’t use the term himself, recent Nobel winner Bob Dylan’s relentless touring has been referred to as the Never-Ending Tour. Taking a page from the Dylan playbook might seem like a weird idea for an author, but recently I have thought about doing just that.

Of course, for an indie author, “touring” might not involve a whole lot of flights or bookstore visits. As blog tours become more popular than ever, it’s possible to get exposure to audiences around the world. I recently finished a massive (for me) blog tour for Miles of Files, and I think it went well. Now that it’s over, the question becomes, What next?

I’ve got three books out. However, unlike most sane authors, I didn’t release them over a period of, say, four or five years – I released them all on the same day. As I mentioned on Anne R. Allen’s blog, I figured that would be the best way to get attention for them. After all, who has ever done such a thing? Well, they landed with a resounding thud, and then I had to pick up the pieces and work as relentlessly to promote them as Dylan works to satisfy his legion of fans.

So okay, lesson learned. But there’s another issue. None of those three novels could get proper promotion at the time, competing with each other as they were. (I also still had a full-time job, but that’s another story.) Once I began working solely for myself, I got into proper promotion, it became obvious – one book at a time.

Brothers’ Hand came first. After all, it was my first novel, and, weirdly enough, was selling better than either of the other two novels. Once that promotion was done, I jumped over Jana and into Miles of Files. The reason? Well, I think it’s my most accessible book, likeliest to become well-known. I also believe it to be my best novel.

So Now What?

Unfortunately, the strategy I’ve described left poor Jana in the dust – a red-headed stepchild with few sales and little to no support. While Brothers’ Hand and Miles of Files have been up and down, Jana has been mostly down.

It’s a shame, really, because it’s such a unique novel. For me, it felt real in many ways. After pushing myself through the lonely, difficult climb of writing a first novel, I immediately started writing Jana. I began the project because, quite frankly, this character started talking to me, and didn’t shut up for about two years. Of the three books, Jana is the only one written in the first person. She speaks directly – very directly – to the reader.

Jana is also unique in that she’s a lesbian who loses her job because of her sexual orientation. You might wonder why I would have such an affinity with homosexuals, not being one myself. The reason is simple, and rooted in adolescence – at 13, I made the crucial error in judgment of talking about sex with an acquaintance, in an era where guys just didn’t do that. The next thing I knew, everyone in my class thought I was gay…and I was treated accordingly. Yes, I was ostracized, and even beaten, for the crime of being gay. And I’m not gay.

That dreadful, traumatic chapter of my life ultimately gave me a feeling of solidarity with what’s now known as the LGBTQ community that’s hard to explain, but it’s deep. Sure, most of us artistic types end up hanging around with gay people anyway – hey, it’s the arts! – but in my own case, I ended up becoming friends with a number of gay and lesbian people over the years, and I relate on that very personal level to their struggle precisely because I know what can happen. I lived a piece of it.

When Jana started chattering away in my head, I dutifully wrote it all down, and the story formed organically. Then I had to do a TON of research. In the end, I had my longest book, and the final version is actually cut down from the original.

The question of whether I should do a tour for Jana came to me recently. I had all but abandoned her, thanks to the relative successes of Miles of Files and Brothers’ Hand. But then my wife and I began planning a vacation to my home state of Connecticut, where the story takes place, and it only seemed natural that I should try to schedule a book signing at a library, do some guest posts on blogs about the book, and…here we go again.

So if you have a few moments, even if you’re straight like me, check out the “Look Inside” feature of Jana on Amazon. You can preview the first couple chapters there. It’s got a 4.5 star rating, though even there, it hasn’t always found the right readers. But I’ll tell you what: Jana is as real to me as anyone I’ve ever known. In fact, I feel like I know her better than many of the people I’ve met in my life. And that’s really saying something.

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