Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Preview a Novel

There is something sort of exciting when an author friend of mine passes a manuscript my way to get some feedback on what they have done before other eyes get a chance to read it. I love being 'in on it' (so to speak). A book's journey to publication is a very long road as it makes its way past all the edits, design and layout and into the hands of reviewers prior to a release date.

Well I'm allowing my Facebook friends to be among those that will get a copy of Well With My Soul before it is released. All the information is on a note on my Facebook page - but let's just say it has a little something to do with writing up a review of the book I currently have out in eBook and then you'll be entered into a random drawing being done on August 15th. Time is ticking - so head over and LIKE my Facebook page, pick up the .99 cent copy of Proud Pants, and check out the full set of rules here. Gregory Allen Facebook Author Page 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Life as Art

It is amazing how real life can translate into a work of art. I don't only mean non-fiction books and movies such as memoirs and biographies (The Blind SideMilkMarley and Me), but how seasoned authors and filmmakers can take a real life event and tell a story. When Albert and David Maysles decided to create a documentary on the Bouvier family in the seventies, they had no idea what they would be getting with the mother/daughter team of Edith Bouvier Beale. (Big Edie and Little Edie) The documentary of the reclusive pair living in a dilapidated house called Grey Gardens in the Hamptons became a cult classic and both a musical and HBO film were made just the past five years. I got to catch the final performance Sunday of a production of the musical and really loved how the creative team took this true-life story and created an arc of a story (that was different from the one created in the movie). My heart ached for the woman who never left her mother's house for all of those years and I marveled how this tale could bring audiences to tears. 

I suppose that is what affects us when reading a good novel. It is those fictitious characters in books (or movies) that are so well drawn out or portrayed that can move an audience as well. Good writing - creation of art - is really on point for me when they can move you and cause you to feel something. Either as true-life dramas or characters pulled from the head of an author like another favorite of mine: Owen Meany. That character was so layered, so intriguing - that I felt for him through the entire story.

Many times writers will take an event that happened and then "loosely base" a fiction work around that event. (The Virgin SuicidesIn the Country of MenRoom)  

So I suppose the saying is true that at times life is stranger than fiction. If it weren't - why would so many artists be drawn to these events to tell their stories?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Book is Published...And?

Authors wait forever to get their books out there for others to read. After so much blood sweat and tears have poured into a project, they have to switch gears and put on a marketing hat. No matter how many authors I speak with (from those that have a big NY publisher to those doing it on their own), each say it's up to the author to do their promoting. We may think "my book is on Amazon, shouldn't people be reading it?" But it doesn't work that way. That book is up there along side thousands of others, all vying for the attention of readers. What sets you apart? Why should people read the book?

If you are not a famous author with a following and a huge marketing budget, you must rely on word of mouth from friends and strangers to help tell about your book. (And in my first week out of the gate - my friends have been amazing.) And how do you get yourself out there to those strangers? Social networking. So much time can be spent on twitter, facebook, linkedIn, - all places to connect to others and just perhaps one of them will click on that link that takes them to your book.

Reviews are very important. Getting those that read your book to post a review on review websites such as Amazon, BN, Goodreads is so key to getting the word out. Many readers will scroll through to see what someone is saying before making a purchase - especially with an unknown author. Also working the internet for bloggers/reviewers/ interviews is such an important way to get your name/book out to people that do not know you. (And what author does not want to be introduced to new readers?)

I know the next few months will be busy as my current novelette being out leads up to the release of my novel Well With My Soul in October, so attempting to get blog tours, readings, signings all set for fall takes much planning as well. But all of it is exciting! 

One thing I recommend to authors is to not check those Amazon rankings as God only knows what algorithm they use to come up with that (but if I were an honest Abe - I'd have to admit my internet browser seems to find its way over there to check it out). Perhaps I'll slow down on my need to know how my book is selling...perhaps.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

When is it Okay to be Selfish?

You need to share that toy. 

You should really do "x" for "y".

Can't you just do <fill in the blank> for me?

Have you ever just wanted to say 'no' - I can't? We live in a society where we are brought up from an early age to give and do for others (and I'm not belittling what a great trait that is to have). However at times, we need to think about ourselves. What is best for us in a given situation. What will keep our anxiety level from hitting new heights. I have always tried to do as much as possible for others (and I hope my friends reading this are not thinking they can no longer come to me with things - because that doesn't change). It is just that there are times when we cannot take on every project or allow that 'To Do' list to become so unmanageable that things begin to suffer. It may upset someone else to hear you say "I really can't do that now" - but in the end, your blood pressure may thank you for saying those words. 

I am in the middle of several projects in my life - projects that many would consider selfish - but the balancing act is to have enough 'me time' along with spouse time/family time/work/etc. And there are some things that need to be removed from the list and put on the back burner. I recently decided to shift something brewing to that spot and turn the flame down to a low simmer and it made the knot in my neck disappear by just making that decision. And that was something I was placing on myself. Imagine if that thing in your life is something someone else is placing there instead! 

Think of it this way. The person making a request of you is obviously having no problem asserting their selfish behavior when asking you. So perhaps it would be fine for you to show that same etiquette.

In the words of Nancy Reagan..."just say no." After all, it's not a four-letter word so your mother wouldn't mind.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Following Your Heart

Have you ever met a person who absolutely hates what they do? They despise going to work each day. They don't enjoy their boss or co-workers. They complain nonstop about the day-to-day grind. I will admit that I have been lucky in life. I left home to chase after that New York dream and 24 years later, I'm still going after what I want to do...and I'm happy doing it. And I have friends and loved ones in my life who also enjoy what they do. I know they are as grateful as I am, because not everyone can be so lucky. 

Then at times - you see someone and you just know they are meant to do a certain thing and you find it hard not to speak up because they are 'just so good at it.' This past weekend, I got to catch a friend of mine in a show. I've seen this person on stage many times. I've directed them in a few shows as well as being on stage with them. But everything they've done in their life from dance classes to singing and acting all came together in this one performance - and I was blown away. I wouldn't want to say I didn't think they had it in them because this person is very talented...but I will say I was in such awe and so proud to see someone that happy and confident doing what it is they love. 

Whatever that thing may be for you - follow your heart. Go for it! You just never know what may come of it in the end.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Path of Proud Pants

Two brothers

Today my eBook Proud Pants: An Unconventional Memoir hit the digital shelves and I feel an excitement that is difficult to describe. I've been in the arts for most of my life, but performing in or producing and directing stage shows is different as you prepare for that big opening night. You witness it all come together and you get to see an audience react. As a writer, those reactions are in the privacy of a reader's own home, or on a bus/train/vacation as they read your work. I suppose that's why they say we write a story and only hope it may touch someone in a way that they truly get something from it. 

I was never certain I would ever release this story. Reliving the past is not an easy thing to do and I knew there would be those that could possibly find fault in my recollection of events. Though never my intention - these are my memories of what happened or stories shared with me by my brother or somewhere tucked deep in the crevices of my mind. 

When I was nine years old I picked up a lead pipe prepared to hit my fourteen-year-old half brother to protect the woman that raised us both. That brother died two hours after my twenty-ninth birthday at the young age of thirty-four from a brain tumor. I grew up in my life (sad to say) not liking that brother as my memories of him were full of pain and heartache he had caused our family. When I began to really work on my craft of writing, my mind would continue to think of him and how in some strange way he had a hand in shaping who I eventually became as a person. The over-achieving compulsive nut trying to make something of my life unlike what I had thought he had done in his rough life full of abandonment, addiction, and anger.  

In an attempt to make peace with the man I could never fully comprehend and maybe release some of my own anger, I decided to get inside of my brother’s skin to write the memoir of his life and in doing so...realized more of the legacy of his life as a brother, son, husband, father that I never had given much thought. Addiction can destroy so many people’s lives - not only for those that live in the middle of it, but for those left behind for generations to come. So like the pants that made my older brother so proud as a kid, I offer this story and even through sharing family secrets – I have discovered a different meaning to the word 'pride' as well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Fine Print on that Marriage Pledge

I blogged about this topic before, but the group The Family Leader who is trying to force all Republican Presidential candidates to sign this pledge against Gay Marriage got me riled up and forced me to speak again. Both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have agreed to sign it (after a section about slavery was removed). I can only hope skeletons are not pulled out of each of their closets at some point. My problem truly is how they tend to wrap so many issues up under the same umbrella instead of just stating what they really want to say. If you are a politician or the head of an organization that despises one group and their presumed agenda, then just say that. To alter and add rhetoric to appear as if you're standing for something else (and not that you're really against the former), makes people look like idiots. I understand that people are passionate about their beliefs. That's actually a good thing. But respect those beliefs and just say it! 

If in your heart you cannot comprehend why gays exists in the world, how homosexuals can possibly lead productive lives, and what they provide for our society - say it. I have been attacked time and again because of my life (and I know it will continue to happen in the future), but it doesn't affect me because these people attacking do not know me.

But to sign a document called the marriage vow that deals with fidelity to spouses and divorce laws will surely leave out some Republican hopefuls. Those very people should not preach they are anti-gay marriage because of their belief in the sanctity of marriage as their actions paint a different picture. Especially those on their third or 4th wife (loud-mouth radio hosts and potential presidential nominees) - your life does not reflect your belief that marriage is between one man and one woman: so stop using that slogan. 

I would have so much more respect for these people if they would just say "I really can't stand gay people" instead of hiding. I know in our 'politically correct society' it's not proper to say what you really mean - but I'd prefer honesty in this situation. Then we would not witness people doing a media spin on what is right/wrong with society and clouding issues with additional wording. But like Whoopi Goldberg on The View discussing this very issues this morning, my blood also boils when people go off on any kind of gay equality when their own house is in total disarray. 

The only good thing I can see from this marriage vow is how they want to reform divorce law. I've been saying to every complaint about gay couples destroying marriage: if we want to go after the true culprit of destruction, then outlaw divorce. Let's see how quickly the country will change their tune about who can be together if taking that plunge means for better and for worse now and forever. 

Support of the Indie

By Douglas Light
When I was shopping my novel manuscript to different small publishers, I would always purchase a book from each publisher to read something they had published (and to see what the finished product looked like). Yes, I spent quit a few dollars with the amount of places I was submitting to - but it felt worth it to me. I was supporting indie publishers as well as new authors. I read a debut novel over a year ago from Behler Publications which tends to deal with books on social relevance and life changing experiences. That book was East Fifth Bliss by Douglas Light. A survival book about a grown man living with his father in the East Village of NY (and it deals with solitude in a very unique way). I don't know this author, but like most new books I read (that I enjoy) - I searched the internet about him and discovered the movie was being made from his debut novel and I became very excited for this person that I had no connection to. And then to read that Michael C. Hall (from Showtime's Dexter) would be playing the lead character...I was even more excited. Now I see the film has been shot, hitting the indie film festival circuit and I couldn't be happier for this author who has been able to realize his dream (all from indie publisher to indie film-making). Movie Website I think it is so important to support and encourage fellow artists and authors. I have discovered so many new ones through the internet (facebook, twitter) and I must say that the support is very evident in how authors will read and review each other's work. It's definitely a group I'm proud to be a part of - and I can't wait to see Mr. Light's movie in a theater after having read his wonderful debut! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Do you Remember?

photo credit: digitalart

Have you ever noticed how our memory is so vividly tied to our senses? Smelling the 4th of July fireworks over the holiday instantly took me back to my childhood. The first taste of watermelon in the summer and I’m a small kid at the lake with my family. An ‘old song’ will come on the radio and I can recall where I was in high school when it originally aired. Much of what I recall is also based on old family photos that I can look at and the entire picture comes alive as I relive that exact moment. I’ve been thinking a lot about memory as I heard that the story I wrote about my brother and our childhood is being distributed to the online book stores for digital download. But as I discuss that story with my sister or my mother, we all remember history a little differently. 

I suppose that is the thing about our memories: they are real for us in the way that we can recall them. Some things I can recall so clearly, I believe they are happening again. Others have been blotted out and even as my sister reminds me of what happened, I simply cannot remember them in the same way. I wonder what it is in our brain that causes us to do that. Pain? Repressing a bad time? Or is it just old age and the mind starts to go? Whatever the case, I find it fascinating how two people can view a moment so differently at times. 

As a writer (especially with the story of my older brother), I use memory as a way to work through some issues I never quite understood at the time. Why certain events happened the way they did. Why a person’s life turned out in such a way. And how did it all affect those living through it and those that had to keep living afterwards.  I suppose our memory can be a blessing and a curse. But the older I get, the more I realize my long term memory seems so much stronger than short term. I’ll be testing that theory when I travel to Maine next month to a spot I haven’t visited in over twenty years when I did summer stock there in 1989. I can barely even recall walking down the streets of that town. (We’ll see if I remember once I taste the chowder and smell the ocean air.) But my childhood street – I can still count the houses I walked passed everyday leaving school. 

Stop what you’re doing now, close your eyes, and see if you can recall a vivid memory from childhood better than something that happened five years ago. There is so much information floating around up in those brains of ours. I hope your senses helped make yesterday’s festivities all that more memorable.