John Lennon

So when I was three years old, my absolute favorite show on TV was the Beatles cartoon:

Note, please, the vampire theme.

abbey-roadWhen I was six, my aunt showed me the cover of her Abbey Road album and explained that some people thought it proved that my favorite Beatle, Paul, was dead because the picture was obviously a funeral procession: John in white was the minister, Ringo in black was the undertaker, Paul in bare feet (a lookalike, obviously) was the corpse, and George in denim with his scruffy beard was the gravedigger. I cried for hours.

 

sgt-pepper-movieWhen I was eleven, I met my best friend.  In addition to many other charms and attractions, she had a whole big crate of 45 rpm records that had belonged to her aunt, including all the Beatles’ early singles. We’d stack’em up seven at a time (the limit of my stereo’s spindle) and listen to them over and over and over for weekends at a time, even though by then the Beatles had been broken up for years. We bought every record Wings put out; we even dragged her poor mom to the movies to see this:

So sorry, Alice . . .

Over the course of the next few years, as I acquired most of the Beatles’ catalog on vinyl for myself (including outright stealing that copy of Abbey Road that belonged to my aunt), I slowly realized that while Paul was “the cute one,” John’s songs were more me. My adolescent yearnings were far more stirred by “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and that sexy sigh on “Girl” than by “Martha My Dear” or the hideous “Michelle,” which I loathe to this day. I even tried to like John’s solo stuff, though my first listen to “Cold Turkey” sent me scurrying, and even at my most pretentious, I couldn’t pretend to have listened to “Revolution Number 9” all the way through.

On the morning of December 10, 1980, when I was sixteen, my mom woke me up to tell me to come watch the news and try not to be too upset–John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York. At first I told her she was crazy, that this was obviously another hoax, another “Paul is dead.” But it wasn’t a rumor spread by kids and DJs; it was an ugly truth on the morning news. I was inconsolable. I called my bestie, and we cried together. I’m not even sure I made it to school that day; I know I was at least late. My dad came home that night with a brand new, high fidelity stereo radio for me so I could listen to all the tributes, and slowly over the next few days, I pulled it together. But I grieved like I’d lost someone close to me, someone I really knew, and the world was never quite the same.

Not long after that, I discovered Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and the Smiths and my heart’s new beloved, Sting and the Police. But I never stopped listening to the Beatles. When I went away to school for the first time, one of the five albums I took with me was that same copy of Abbey Road. Years later when CDs became the thing, the first disc I bought was Revolver. I read Philip Norman’s Shout and The Love You Make by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. (I did NOT read the Goldman biography of Lennon.) I watched The Beatles Compleat and The Beatles Anthology, and when iTunes finally got the rights to the Beatles catalog, I busted my bank account downloading pretty much everything. But I figured I was a late model baby boomer, one of the masses of nostalgia buffs, that for younger people, the Beatles weren’t really a thing. Just last month I read another, much more recent book about the break-up of the band and their finances and lawsuits, and it read like ancient history, a cautionary tale from days of yore.

Then last week, thinking about Christmas prezzies, I asked my freshly-eleven-year-old niece, Katie, who her favorite singer was, expecting to hear some name I wouldn’t recognize but that Amazon might. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “The Beatles.” Her mom, my baby sister, is as big a fan as I am, and the music has been in the background of Katie’s life as long as she’s been alive. But just recently, as adolescence steals over her, she’s “really gotten into it.” I’m trying not to make too big a deal of it, of course. But I got her this for Christmas: beatles-one

On this thirty-sixth anniversary of your death, rest in peace, Mr. Lennon. We still can’t thank you enough.

A Letter to Amazon

librarianDear Mr. Bezos,

I was very excited to receive your Email request this morning, asking for my help in your battle against Hachette. Not since Carrie White got invited to the prom has a girl been more pleasantly shocked to be included. And you’re right; those big publisher types are just fuckers. I was a mid-list romance author for Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster all through the 2000s, and let me tell you—

Oh, right, sorry, you want to talk about your thing. No, yeah, of course; it’s totally fine. So anyway, okay, Hachette and its other big nasty “media conglomerate” friends have been being all hateful to you at Amazon about your e-books. I heard about the whole collusion thing – those bastards! You and the Supreme Court are so right; I don’t blame you one bit for being upset. I mean, I know in my heart that if you hadn’t already put every other bookselling outlet that could possibly affect the market at your level out of business, you and those peers you don’t have would never, ever sit down in a New York City restaurant to try to come to some sort of price fixing agreement. I can just see them all in there, smoking their big cigars, drinking their martinis – they probably pinched the pert derriere of the cigarette girl as she passed. Kudos to you and your lawyers for bringing them to justice. So now they’re coming after you one by one, starting with Hachette, and you’ve come to me for my help as a writer to fight back. I’m flattered; I really am.

But let’s talk about the pig’s blood before I put on the tiara. (Sadly, unlike Carrie, I don’t have evil superpowers, but this also ain’t my first prom.) You talk in your email about the “invention” of the paperback “just ahead of World War II” and how some writers like George Orwell didn’t like it and how they were wrong and how the current debate about e-book pricing is just like that. Leaving aside the nagging knowledge I have of yellowback novels being published way back in the 1870s and magazine serials blazing the trail for pulp fiction decades before that, let’s talk about Orwell’s fears about what paperbacks would do to what you call “literary culture.” At that time, there was no such thing as “literary fiction” or “genre fiction;” there was just “fiction,” and Orwell, who wrote dystopian sci fi with straightforward political commentary, was part of it. So were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. So were the Bronte sisters, who wrote romance, and Sir Walter Scott, who wrote historicals, and Mark Twain, who wrote YA and comic satire, and Mary Shelley, who wrote horror. And all those books from Orwell’s era that we now consider classics too dense, boring, and “literary” for anybody but aging academics and film directors to read, like The Great Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury and Moby Dick and Ulysses, those weren’t considered “literary novels,” they were considered “novels,” and everybody who read novels read them right alongside the lighter stuff.

Paperbacks are awesome; I’ve built my life as a reader and my career as a writer on paperbacks. And they did “rejuvenat[e] the book industry and mak[e] it stronger,” in that a lot more books got published and read because they were so much cheaper, and ultimately publishers and booksellers made a lot more money. (Authors maybe not so much, but maybe so. Bigger business meant bigger demand which meant bigger paychecks for the bigger names, and more people probably got published, too.) But those bigger numbers created the need for some kind of genre categorization, at least in the minds of those publishers and booksellers, which led to the big divide between so-called “literary” fiction and “genre” fiction that plagues every author alive today and threatens to destroy any notion of a “literary culture” in English completely.

So maybe old George was on to something after all.

You (or to be fair, your spambot) also talk about how paperbacks, because of these snooty objections from the literary establishment, were first sold in drugstores and newsstands, casting Amazon as the humble newsstand/drugstore of today’s e-book world. Well . . . maybe. If we’re talking about a drugstore that first puts all the other drugstores out of business. Then sells their paperbacks at somewhat less than cost so they can sell more candy bars and condoms by luring in more customers. Then decides to just give the paperbacks away to special customers who have credit accounts with them to buy their much more expensive prescriptions, explaining to the people who make their living off the paperbacks that they’ll pay them a percentage of the nothing they’re charging, they promise. And when those people who make their living off the paperbacks object, accuses them of wanting readers to die because they’re being denied access to cheap medicine. Then, yeah, the comparison is probably pretty apt.

So in response to your request, I would like to suggest a new marketing model to you and Facebook and Google and all the other companies who hire marketing copy writers (most of whom probably wrote at least the first couple of chapters of a novel at some point) to write this kind of mass communication to me and the rest of us content providers and customers and such; sort of a new mission statement. It’s not a new concept; my grandfather was fond of it, but it has the kind of folksy charm I think you were going for here.

Stop pissing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.

Love and kisses,

Lucy Blue

(Credit for the groovy writer girl graphic to the brilliant Isabel Samaras)

My Love Affair With Artists (particularly one)

rock of cashel drawing

I can write, but I can’t draw worth a lick.  I’m serious; I’m not being modest; I can’t even draw a stick figure you can recognize as meant to be human; playing Hangman makes me nervous.  If the cultural life of human beings had been dependent on me being able to paint a bison on a cave wall, we’d all still be living in the dark.  (Or reality TV would have happened a few millennia sooner; I’m not sure which.)  But apparently I’m destined to admire other visual artists from up close and personal.  My bestie since seventh grade, Marcia Addison, can make something beautiful out of anything; right now she’s doing a lot of pottery, and it’s amazing.  My roommate at Governor’s School for the Arts, Sophia, was a painter – I still remember her sitting up half the night working in the bathroom of our suite, the only room big enough to hold her massive goldenrod yellow and heliotrope purple canvas.  The best friend I’ve made as an adult is a big time artist and painter, Isabel Samaras.  I’ve prattled endlessly about her and her work here before, but just in case you missed it, check out her own blog here:  http://isamaras.wordpress.com/ .  And then there’s my husband, Justin Glanville, who, among other things, drew the gorgeous charcoal sketch above.  (Drawn, incidentally, from a gorgeous photograph of the Rock of Cashel taken by Marcia Addison.)

I think one reason why I’m so drawn to visual artists is I feel like I can both understand them and be completely awestruck by them at the same time.  The initial stages of their creative process are very similar to mine as a writer; they conceive something new out of the bits and pieces of their experience, and there are distinct steps they go through as they bring that idea into focus.  But once the actual execution starts, once the image in their head starts emerging on the page or in the clay or from the fabric, as far as I’m concerned, it’s witchcraft.  I’m sure Justin gets annoyed with me, though he’s too sweet to show it.  I can stand just behind him and watch him work for hours, and I couldn’t be more impressed if he were turning base metal to gold.

Chelsea, the heroine of my most recent book, Strange as Angelsis an artist.  Her late husband, Hank, was also a painter, and she has always lived happily in his shadow.  Now that she’s lost him, she feels like she’s lost herself completely, including her own art.  The book is a romance between Chelsea and her guardian angel, but it’s also the story of Chelsea finding her voice as a painter.  I consulted with all these near and dear ones about matters of technique and market while I was writing, and with their help, I hope I got those mechanical details right.  But more importantly, I hope I got the magic right.  I love those guys, and I hope I did them justice.

So I have a cover!

Here’s a sneaky peek at the cover of my upcoming anthology of vampire short stories – my hubby, Max Castle, did the layout & design, with some editorial assistance from my BFF & research goddess, Marcia Addison.  Pretty nifty, huh?