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.
I've loved George Orwell since I was assigned 1984 in a community college English class in 1987. It was the second novel assigned in the class, between Tess of the D'Urbervilles and A Clockwork Orange, and I was completely high on just how revolutionary this work was. Of course, the book has taken on a whole new level of relevance in 2019, and having just re-read it and found it as together and complete as any novel you can name, I highly recommend jumping back in to 1984 if it's been a while--or if you've never read it.
First, I played my first musical gig in about decade.
Murphy's Outlaw of Arizona--featuring two founding members of the Refreshments, my longtime cohort Jim Gerke, and my new bud Mitch Cole--invited me down to AZ to play a bunch of our old material. Little did I know that ten or so family members from Illinois or Colorado would make the trek to take in the spectacle. The week included a trip down to Dustin Denham's basement for rehearsal (where most of my AZ bands started); a great time on Thursday with my mom, dad, wife, and extended family; and a pass through two hours of Refreshments and other songs at Rock Bar on Friday night. This turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, and I expected it to be plenty fun. A huge thank you to everyone who helped make it a very special trip for me.
Then, this week I came home and finished my latest novel, Nineteen Ways to Destroy Your Rock Band
(They say write what you know.)
This was an eight-year (!) project that started as a memoir of my time in the Refreshments and mutated over the last four years into a novel. It feels wonderful to finally have this thing off my desk. It is now in the hands of a few agents, and I hope to hear something soon. Know that I wouldn't expect the novel to be out any sooner than early 2021, but I wanted to report it's done. I'm sure I'll be posting more on it over the next weeks and months.
What does this mean going forward? It means I can relax a bit and have a good time in 2019 and 2020. First, Murphy's Outlaw is threatening to come to my neck of the woods (Portland, OR) over the summer to do it all over again. The plan is in its early stages, but it actually feel like it's going to happen. If you're interested, please friend me on Facebook, and I will keep you posted on details.
Also, sitting in with Murphy's Outlaws down in Phoenix next year is a no-brainer. I'd love to do it next week but will have to wait until next year.
What else? Who knows? But this thing ain't over, not by a long shot.
One of the highlights of 2018 was watching the formation and ascendent star of Murphy's Outlaw.
This band consists of three of my best friends, two of which are former Refreshments and one a guy who was the lead singer of all of my AZ bands not the Refreshments. Despite the bass position of this band being more than ably manned by Mitch Cole, I couldn't help but watch on from Oregon and ... well, you know.
Brian Blush asked me if I have any photos that might serve as appropriate. It took some digging, but I found an outtake from the Refreshments' first "photo shoot," the story of which you might find amusing.
In the summer of 1994, the Refreshments had our first LP Wheelie in the can. One problem: we didn't have a band photo.
You know, you're a band, and you want some cool, professional photo to put inside your CD. It's something bands do.
So, what do you do when you want a nice, professional photo of yourself? Why, go to Sears, of course!
As luck would have it, Sears had a sale, and the four of us put on our Sunday best and went to the Sears on (I believe) 44th and Camelback and threw down the credit card for the deluxe package.
It's probably one of my favorite memories of being in the band.
The young lady doing the shooting that day caught right on. "Which background would you like?"
"What are our choices?"
She started pulling down these tacky photo backgrounds, but I assure you, none was more tacky than the "space age" one that clearly dated from Star Wars time.
"That's the one."
So, we got all cozy--our little AZ rock and roll family getting its picture taken--and we came home that day (or back then probably had to go back and pick up a week later) with our photos.
The best one went into the inner sleeve of Wheelie. (I'm listening to Wheelie right now, incidentally. "Don't Wanna Know.") The second was a kind of outtake that found its way into some press stuff back in the day. Here's a partial.
That was 25 years ago.
Wonder where I'll be in a year? How about 25?
Come see Murphy's Outlaw on February 22nd at Rock Bar and swing right along with Dustin Coleman Denham, Brian David Blush, James Allen Gerke, and of course, Arthur Eugene Edwards III.
I've been waiting for a site like Book and Film Globe to pop up for some time. It features fun, smart reviews of books and films by authors that aren't obsessed with playing fair or who they might offend. Bluntness has its virtues--or maybe not, but it's fun anyway.