Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So, how'd it happen?

I never would have thought of writing a record-store memoir if I hadn't read Brian W. Aldiss's THE BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES, which is all about Aldiss's experiences working in an Oxford, England bookstore in the 1950s.
Even though BRIGHTFOUNT masqueraded as a novel, it was clearly a memoir, as Aldiss explains in his much-later autobiography BURY MY HEART AT W.H. SMITH'S. Aldiss didn't even keep himself out of his lightly-fictionalized bookstore -- the sales clerk who narrates the novel has the last name of Aldiss!
BRIGHTFOUNT was light and pleasant and enjoyable enough, even though nothing Heavily Dramatic happened in it. And as soon as I finished reading it, a big light bulb went on over my head. And I said "Well, hell, I can write a book where Nothing Much Happens, too...." And a couple of days later I got started, just in time for my birthday. Aldiss made writing a book look easy.
The words seemed to pour out. I'd been sitting on all these record-store stories for 35 years and I'd never even THOUGHT of writing a book about them. After a couple of days I had 10,000 words. After three weeks I was 30,000 words into the book -- halfway through. Every time I thought I was running out of memories, more stuff came back to me, as clearly as if it happened last week. I started making notes each day, so I wouldn't forget anything.
At one point I woke up at 2 a.m. and stumbled to the laptop to write down a scene that had popped into my head in my sleep -- it was like I was being ordered to get it written before I forgot it all.
Incidents ended up in the book that I haven't thought about in 35 years. Stuff that I have never written about anywhere before and that I never told anyone ended up in the book. As a memory exercise, it was a pretty interesting experience. I haven't been forced awake in the middle of the night to write something in a LONG time.
Only in one place did I have to reconstruct an incident that I couldn't remember -- that in fact I have NO MEMORY OF, though I have journals from back in the day that should have helped remind me. Everything else in the book comes from experiences I had and that others lived through with me -- and it was as easy to write as any newspaper story or blog post I've ever written. Way easier, in fact.
About halfway through writing GGM, I read Linda Lou's memoir BASTARD HUSBAND: A LOVE STORY, which I recommend -- Linda's book showed me how someone else handled a memoir, and gave me some guidance on structure and pacing and privacy issues. Plus, her book was funny as hell.
(Sometimes I wonder how memoirs ever get written, considering some of the material they grapple with -- Linda's book is about how her marriage fell apart, and despite that, there's a big laugh on almost every page. And Linda later advised me to "Just go for it!" and get GGM published on Kindle -- without her nudging, I'd probably still be hesitating....)
Maybe half a dozen sections of GGM were first written and published in much shorter form on my blog, TAD's Back-Up Plan. I shamelessly recycled those and expanded them and tossed them into the book. And I posted three more short sections of the book at The Back-Up Plan as I pulled it together.
I stopped writing when memories and incidents stopped coming to me. Then I let the book "cool off" for awhile as I slowly read through it twice and proofread it. When nothing new popped into my head after three weeks, then I thought maybe it was OK to publish.
And naturally, since it's now too late to correct, since the publication date I've thought of a couple very minor little details I could have squoze-into the book, and a couple albums we played a few times in the record store that I could have squoze into the playlist/discography. Nothing earth-shaking, though.
And that's it. Now I'm shamelessly publicizing the book every way I know how, getting ahold of old friends who lived through those times with me, and notifying newspaper co-workers of mine over the years who I think might enjoy reading it.
Next time we'll start looking at some of the music from that period that I still love and still listen to.
GGM is dedicated to all the people who lived through those times with me, all of whom are mentioned in the book. And to Leona Fitzgerald-Spencer, who gave me a warm, quiet, comfortable place where I could write it....

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