This past week, my review of the rock novel Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson appeared in the magazine. Jackson's work combines the rock novel form with the dystopia, and I couldn't get past the idea that his dark vision for a potential rock music future was somehow tied to our inability to cut the cord.
Feel free to take a look at this short review, and be prepared to scroll down to find it.
"Whitehead creates individual portraits that are all the more evocative for their singularity. His focus allows us to fill in the rest of the world with our imaginations. Any real expansion happens one soul at a time."
I was at my writing group the Whom, and one of my fellow Whomers wanted to know what I was going to do with the $250 I'd just been bragging about receiving for a book review I'd sold. This $250 marked the first real money I'd ever made from writing book reviews, and I was saying the figure like Steve Martin in The Jerk.
The question What are you going to do with it? took me aback. I'd been writing and publishing book reviews for years, and for the most part, for free. I like writing book reviews. I like to think I offer an author something besides "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." I also like the idea that books can remain part of the public conversation because of the way they communicate their messages over longer periods of time (as opposed to say, a blog). I clearly didn't need to get paid to write book reviews, so I never really cared if I got paid or not.
Suddenly, I'd gotten paid. And here's another funny thing: I was actually, suddenly, getting paid for all of my published book reviews. This kind of happened all at once. I'd started submitting my reviews to more paying markets, and these markets were accepting my reviews and mailing me checks. It was unreal. Didn't these people know I'd do this for free? That I'd done it for free for years? (Let's not fill them in.) By the end of 2018, I had secured $500 in book review money. It seemed important to do something with this dough, not to just deposit it and watch it disappear.
So, what am I going to do with it?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am always writing a novel. I do this because I like to write novels, and because I hope they serve as a good medium to communicate to people over longer periods of time. It's also fun to try hard to do at least one thing really well, and writing novels is my thing for that.
A funny thing happened on March 1st of this year: I finished a novel project, Nineteen Ways to Destroy Your Rock Band, which I'd been working on for eight years. Done. Finito. I've since been submitting the novel to various industry people hoping they might want to publish it. (No luck so far, I'm working on it.) I made a decision when I finished the novel not to jump right back into writing another one. This was kind of hard for me, since I'm always writing a novel, but I've managed to write nothing but nonfiction and book reviews since then. I'll probably start a novel after Labor Day.
I've also spent these six months reevaluating what I can do to keep the creative juices flowing even when I'm not writing a novel. One of the ways I celebrated the finishing of this novel was to play my first musical gig in a decade. I flew down to Phoenix and played a bunch of Refreshments tunes with Murphy's Outlaw, a band that includes my longtime friends Brian Blush, Jim Gerke, and Dustin Denham. This was great fun, and people seemed to like it. It really got me thinking about the decade I took off music to focus on writing, what I'd given up.
Another longtime musician friend, Bret Hartley, has a home studio, and he never misses a chance to encourage me to make another album with him. We did this in 2007, and both of us loved doing it and loved the results. The problem with making albums is that they can be expensive, but because of Bret's willingness to produce, it's not really that expensive. It might even be something a lucky book reviewer can pay for with book review money.
So, that's what I'm doing. I've signed on Bret Hartley, who produces and plays guitar, and drummer Kevin Leahy, whom you might know as the 13th and 15th drummer of the Bodeans. These guys are incredible musicians whom I happen to like quite a bit, and I've been working on all kinds of new musical material. We start laying drums in the fall, and I suspect we'll be finished with the thing sometime in the first half of 2020.
So, that's what I'm doing with my book review money. When you see me here or elsewhere promoting a book review of mine, I hope you read the review and buy the book, but also know that my income from the review is going to make new music.
That's pretty much the news from me. I'll be writing book reviews, raking in serious book review cash, and writing new songs all summer. I hope you have a good summer, too.
My new thing is to reference a rock band into every review I write. This comes pretty naturally for me since I tend to think in rock band anyway. Bon Jovi manages to squirm its way into my review of The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre. I don't have control of these things.