The Valentine’s Day Review: CBGB Was My High School, by GK Stritch

This is such an amazing find for a contemporary memoir. Having set aside time to absorb it, I found I devoured the whole thing on a long train journey.
Meet young GK, a soft-spoken, well-brought-up girl, who wanted more than anything to study well and become an artist. But thwarted academically early on, she and her sisters (and friends, and sometimes her more insular brother) venture out of New Jersey and into Manhattan at nights, to experience the lifestyle of the arts and music set instead – and unwittingly, through becoming regulars in the Bowery scene of CBGB and bringing a touch of sober class to everyone they meet, find themselves in some of the most pivotal parts of rock history of the 70’s and 80’s.
The Ramones live at CBGB, 1977 “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”

From touring with The Ramones, to running from the amorous attentions of soon-to-be famous college professors and ‘the short one from Hall & Oates’, to giving celebrity facials and waxing Cher – GK was never a ‘wannabe’ but always someone with her own mind, and knowledge of what was the right way to live and what was destructive, even while in the middle of it herself.
The Police perform live at CBGB, for their first time in New York (excerpt)
And once she finds her own New York ‘apartment’ observing herself growing up even as others seemed unable to detach themselves… She experienced everything the heart of Manhattan had to offer – the glamour, the danger, the poverty, the privileges, the wildness, the incredible opportunities, the generosity, and the bereavements – before the artist in herself finally won her over. She finds her own true role models at last, once she acknowledges her own great need for academia.
The multi-faceted Vincent Gallo, whom GK knew as a friend and plate-washer in Manhattan – his film “Buffalo 66” would later become her & her husband’s preferred Valentine’s Day viewing.
Some of her friends succeeded – became stars of stage and screen – while others succumbed or sadly expired, and even at times when GK seemed almost lost and unlucky in her early and sometimes toxic relationships, a higher consciousness of her own always seemed to emerge to snatch her back from those jaws.

Joan Jett at CBGB (excerpt)

…GK was no shrinking violet waiting to be swamped, but a lady I think few she encountered would realise was one whose inner spark would lead her out of the dark times, and onto the path of true personal fulfilment.

Well-read, poetic, historic, and excitingly insightful in parts, this is a real account of the Manhattan scene as it should be remembered.

Patti Smith has the final word with “Elegie” at CBGB on October 15th, 2006 – the end of an era

The famous set are portrayed as real people the author knew and interacted with, as part of her own social landscape. Although in awe of some, her observations are a tonic to the pages of the trashy magazines of today. A truly literary rock and roll memoir.

GK Stritch photographed by Suzanne DeChillo for The New York Times, January 14th, 2012. Images provided by the author, and used here with permission.

Ye Olde Money Shotte…

What purpose does the bedroom door serve nowadays?

Since ditching the safety mitts and tackling D.H. Lawrence’s self-published legend Lady Chatterley’s Lover recently – not to mention dipping my writerly prudish toe into Mills & Boon waters – I’m sensing the issue of bedroom door shenanigans looming in my writing at some point. Yes, I can mash up another historical author’s work and make a parody of it. I can even make a mutant man-alien suspect squirm in the interrogation room of a sci-fi police procedural comedy feature script.

But leaving that fictional bedroom door open while keeping a straight face somehow escapes me. Or maybe, the point of it somehow escapes me. Unless it has something specific to do with furthering the plot or character development, to my brain, it’s somehow gotten filed in the same place as ambulance-chasing to sell a story.

Like D.H. Lawrence’s characters wonder, would you describe the joys of going into detail about toilet scenes? Do they have a place in the great literary novel/pulp romance? I’m sure that some have gone there. And gone again, with extra lavatory paper (to make notes about the experience).

Firstly, the subject of story. I recently got into a lovely writer’s discussion about such a scene being used to illustrate a traumatic event in a book for young adults, which concerned her as to its suitability for the readership, and was evidently giving her issues about comfort-zone in her own writing. In terms of the story itself, she realised of her own conclusion – after a number of us gave feedback – that the traumatic event could also be a fight or beating, not a sexual assault scene. In terms of her story progress, an alternative situation served the same purpose, for the long-term effect on the character that she wanted to share.

Secondly, sex scenes don’t necessarily illustrate automatic progress of a relationship between two characters. In the original Lady Chatterley, her initial affair with the playwright Michaelis shows that the sex a character experiences can be a downright let-down, not even lasting long enough to satisfy her need to be held for any length of time. She wants to feel that the connection between them is romantic – and he does indeed want her to leave Clifford and marry him – but he’s so one-sided in the bedroom, she seems to know it would be equally doomed. The sex in this case is driving them apart from the beginning, not together – something which really hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream dissection of the work. Mostly because Michaelis isn’t the primary ‘hero’ of the piece.

So if you wonder whether on your route to publication (or increasing fame) as an author, when the question comes up about whether your frequency of squeaky bedsprings (or Ford Focus suspension) is gratuitous or not, perhaps “relationship development” between two characters isn’t a substantial enough answer. Now authors are expected to face dissection on all angles and metaphors in their work, an ulterior motive is going to stick out a mile (what’s that in inches again?) so sex scenes for the sake of bigger sales are going to be leaking financial euphemisms all over the proof-reading sheets.

“He was sweating like a bank-robber with that stocking over his head.” Yum.

Anyway, before I make a new book out of that one (ahem) I’m a bedroom-door-closed writer when it comes to writing straight romance. Stop laughing, I really am. Want to know why? I just don’t feel qualified. Lots of readers in the world have experienced relationships, and I haven’t yet. So besides having the sophistication of a South Park eighth-grader which only works in comedy and parody, I’m not going to convince anyone of the quality and authenticity of such scenes in my writing if I don’t convince myself first.

There’s a lot you can use to show character and relationship development, between your characters. I don’t mean that they just go for coffee and look at puppies together to show romantic progress, in between visits to bedsprings and Ford Focus. In Harlequin/Mills & Boon, it’s about conflict and resolution acting as a binder, which works if your characters are attracted to each other physically. Overcoming a lack of physical attraction, or repulsion initially, is a bit more difficult to justify as a character arc, and hints at a metaphor for prejudice. Besides, it’s been done already – in Beauty And The Beast. Self-repulsion within a character is an interesting one – since The Elephant Man (a true story), overcoming any issues, romantic or otherwise, about one’s own manifestation in the world are a much more interesting angle, particularly if both partners in the story suffer. Otherwise it becomes one character’s ‘poor me’ tale of woe, with the other providing all the support and enablement.

When I wrote Death & The City I gave both protagonists issues, and strong views about relationships, and their relationship development wrote itself, having made both of them so complicated. Do they sleep together by the end? I’m not telling. You’ll have to read it to find out.

But there is help out there, for those of you who want that bedroom door unbolted, to start it flapping like Jack Sparrow’s Jolly Roger. Bestseller Shoshanna Evers has edited How To Write Hot Sex, an ebook guide for authors, written by authors, including references and slang dictionaries within relevant chapters, so you don’t spend red-faced hours on Google looking for trustworthy definitions of the terminology in use. There is a lot of emphasis by these authors on story, and on character arcs, and on whether stereotypes are a good idea or not – particularly when writing for target markets. I do recommend it for anyone considering taking their bedroom door off its hinges when writing. Or parking that Ford Focus anywhere with good CCTV coverage.

Most of all, enjoy your story and characters for who they are, and keep that safety lid on your fountain pen. Sticky keyboards aren’t the best writing tools. Or you might have your own eye out.


Writers Swap Reads ~ July 2011


(Also on Amazon Kindle UK/DE. Paperback available from Amazon US, or Shalini Boland)

Went out for a birthday lunch today to meet the effortlessly fabulous Shalini Boland, rising Young Adult fiction star and author of Hidden, and the forthcoming futuristic/dystopian novel Outside. We did a book exchange – I got a paperback copy of Hidden (paranormal/vampire romance), and I gave her a hardcover of Living Hell, and threw in a paperback proof of Death & The City: Book Two to follow up the first one she already has at home. I told her about my own ‘challenge’ I’d set myself, to write a romantic novel à la Harlequin/Mills&Boon, and she shared some of the promoting tips she’s learned around indie publishing.

One of the things she’d heard about is running temporary freebie promos on eBooks. I thought this sounded like a fun idea. She also submits queries to book blogs for reviews/interviews and promotion, and is doing well out of it. In comparison to me, who hasn’t put together a press kit at all, and sells on average one Terrible Zombie Of Oz per week, she’s proof that marketing yourself a bit in the right places can definitely work.

Living Hell, on SmashwordsI’d already dropped my Amazon Kindle prices, having bought an Android-based eTouch Toys’R’Us tablet (it’s fantastic, and has the added bonus of a rounded shiny silver rear cover that looks as though you’re perusing the inside of a tiny Smeg refrigerator – and almost as heavy). I realised that for my £49.99 investment in this electronic toy, and downloading the free Kindle app, what I mostly wanted was to benefit from amazingly cheap books.

So I’d swallowed my pride and put my own prices down, from a few bucks to amazingly cheap as well.

Death & The City, on SmashwordsWhen I got home I checked out Smashwords, and had no new activity in the last month – but noticed they were running a July sale list, with vouchers which you could apply to your books to make them either discounted or free. So I signed both of my Smashwords epub/html/LRF/RTF format books up to it (Apple/Sony/Nook etc versions), and almost instantly sold two, and then two more. It was definitely worth doing – as it’ll be a while before I see any royalties anyway, gaining a readership in the meantime is definitely up there in my list of preferences.

I’d already decided to give myself a year, from publishing the first two in the Tales of the Deathrunners series (Death & The City: Books One and Two – combined in the hardcover edition, and in the Heavy Duty Edition eBook, which also includes an original feature screenplay), as well as Living Hell and The Terrible Zombie Of Oz. One year will be enough to gauge reader interest in whichever sequence of books is likely to be strongest – at the moment it looks like the title containing the most Z’s is winning – and I have sequels already in progress. In the meantime I’ll work on giving this Romance Fiction challenge a shot, and try and keep the zombies at bay – until appropriate for them to be unleashed 🙂

My Smashwords Author Page

Enjoy! 🙂

Countdown to going solo 9…

Technically my last day of ’employment’  today, tomorrow back to self-employment.

Celebrated, in a way. Wasn’t intentional, but a few weeks ago noticed an offer for Senspa at Carey’s Manor not far from where I live, to get a spa day including a Tai Chi/Yoga class, a mud treatment, a 1-hour massage, full use of gym, pool, saunas, steam rooms and hydrotherapy, and a meal for an inclusive price. I booked it for today because I have a birthday coming up (allegedly the one where life begins, damn, I hope so!) and it seemed appropriate. I haven’t been to a spa before, although I’ve had a lot of massage – I trained as an ITEC Holistic Therapist, and was a case study as well as the regular class practise body. 🙂

My favourites included the Crystal Steam Room, which smelled amazing and had quite an intimidating chunk of amethyst for the steam to condense on and evaporate off, the Rhassoul Mud treatment was great fun – scary-looking stuff but has no smell whatsoever (my main concern!), and the massage was just amazing. I knew I needed some work on my shoulders from gardening, but wow, they crunched and popped like a bag of tortilla chips. And she did work all the kinks out. Brilliant.

The food was lush! I sat outdoors of the Zen Garden Restaurant to eat and was enjoying my Chicken Pad Thai noodles, when a robin flew up from behind me and perched on the chair to my right. I was eating alone up until that point, so I made a few whistling sounds, but it didn’t seem easily startled. After about five minutes it hopped right onto the table, doing a good impersonation of any other pet begging for food at mealtimes, so I gave it a morsel, which it promptly grabbed and flew off with, to enjoy in the bamboo flowerbed on the far side of the pond. Thankfully it left me alone during dessert, which was a white chocolate and banana bread pudding, with peanut ice-cream, brandy snap, caramelised banana and tuile biscuit. I had to have a rest in the Relaxation Room after lunch, as I felt so stuffed! 🙂

I thought I’d lost my locker key, which had been hooked on the strap of my tank top in the pool. One of the assistants turned the jets off to see if it was in the jacuzzi, but it wasn’t there – when I turned around he laughed and said “There it is!” It had gone right over my shoulder to the back of my shoulder-blade on the strap. Yay!

I didn’t take my phone or anything like that, so when I wasn’t sweating it out or splashing around rinsing it off – ahem – I caught up on reading more of Love Writing by Sue Moorcroft. It got to the part which I’ve been most concerned about – the nitty-gritty stuff. And the chapter was a real eye-opener (no, not in that way!).

Basically, it’s really honest, especially about how to ‘deal with’ being a writer of that subject – which I SO appreciated – and doesn’t expect you to be an expert on the subject. What I felt as well was that the chapter doesn’t assume you have any existing level of, er, experience (my problem encapsulated), and gives you the romance writer’s how-to, know-how, and tips on inspiration and writing practise suggestions, from scratch. To me, it was far less difficult a chapter to read than any article in a women’s magazine, asking you how often you do it and how it compares to all of your age group/friends/colleagues and similar. And how it works ‘in context’ of romantic/erotic fiction – what its role is in the story, how it appears being integral to both characters and plot. Probably the best piece on writing as a form of story architecture that I’ve read so far.

Even as an indie author with four completed books and others up my sleeve, I’m always on the lookout for new learning, new explainations, new insights on what makes novels work, and the spectrum of different people writing them.

I suppose it’s half about learning, and half about the age-old question: Where do I fit in?

Countdown to going solo 3…

Went graphic novel shopping today. Couldn’t find an Abnett/Harrison Durham Red: Scarlet Cantos or Vermin Stars (I already have The Empty Suns), but found an amazing Zombies vs Robots: Aventure and the unbelievably cute Toxic Planet – like Charlie Brown with gasmasks. Love it.

And got inspired, as you can see by my scanner mash-up/MS Paint cut-and-shut collage above (not a lot to do at 3:00am, and the neighbours wouldn’t be happy if I tried to do housework right now). So along with finishing writing another chapter of my ‘official’ romance novel, and starting to format a short story collection, I’m now thinking along the lines of graphic novels. I’ve got lots of material in terms of stories, and I can do a good scribble – so maybe I’ll have a go. It’s backgrounds I need to practise, mostly. Faces are easy. Have a feeling I’ll be out with a camera looking at buildings and things for inspiration.

No news on the dating front today. Went to a writing buddies meeting, discovered I like cinnamon in coffee, and started reading Sue Moorcroft’s “Love Writing ~ How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction” which just arrived earlier. Great stuff, and some excellent advice – and in the first pages, I was relieved to read about the habit of romantic writers to ‘people-watch’ others in relationships (although I haven’t taken notes on a napkin yet!) – so glad it’s not just me that does that! It’s encouraging to learn that not everyone who attempts romance fiction writing is going into it as an expert. I am totally NOT one of those experts!

Now I’m off to bed to try and dream about my new hero. If I believe in him, then the readers will. I just hope they don’t think my taste in men is odd.*

*Don’t worry. I haven’t described him in this book as ‘Prince Harry meets Ray Mears’ – I’ve been watching some movies, and found a new muse. But I’m not saying who. 😉