Just published: My Three Suicides: A Success Story...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Book Launch for My Three Suicides Was A Great Success

A priest, a nun, and a rabbi ... also a chef, a shoe salesman, a go-go dancer, a poet, a toastmaster, and a barbecue grill salesman walked into a bar ...

Standing Room Only at the Bombay Room
            Well, not exactly a bar. Right next to the bar, the Bombay Room of the Chestnut Hill hotel, last Friday night. And this was to quench their thirst for knowledge by getting a seat close to the free wine and cheese the Chestnut Grill had set out for literature lovers and other hangers on.
            It was a thrilling night for me to be reading from my new book (“My Three Suicides: A Success Story). About fifteen minutes before the scheduled starting time of 7:00 p.m., the room was less than half-filled, and I started to worry, but a sudden surge of punctual people arrived and soon there was standing room only. That was exciting. I am a good speaker once I lean into the mike and start talking, but before that magical moment I am visibly nervous, floating in a La La land of fear and brain freeze. I usually need to rest my book on the podium ledge so my shaking hands don't distract the listeners.
            Authors never find peace in their quest to pick the best passages from their book to read for an occasion like this. The purpose of a book launch is to introduce one’s book to the world, but which parts of it? A photographer or painter can string his or her work on a clothesline and everyone can walk along and see the photos or pictures at his own pace. But even a sample of a book asks an audience to surrender much more time and to do it in a passive way.
            In my case I decided to try for two 15-20-minute sessions with a five-minute break in between. Then maybe a brief question-and-answer session. But what should I read? I still wasn't certain after I started by reading the dream-like prologue of the book.
            I was talking a lot too, in addition to reading. You're really not supposed to do that, according to the strictest standards of authorial read-alouds, but I always figure that the audience wants to get a sense of what an author is like as a person. Especially when the book being featured is a very personal memoir such as mine.
            I read the three opening chapters of the book – ten pages – and then we took a break. I am not distanced from my material the first time I read it for an audience, and I tend to read with much emotion. I hope it helps the listening experience because I have little control over how I feel when I read serious stories from my childhood.
            After the break, I wasn't sure which of my other tabbed stories I should read for the second half of the program. I decided to read the one story I would most regret not having read: a tale from my college days about a scary and guilt-inducing interaction between me and my father at night. It lasted just long enough to draw a shudder from the crowd and also to exhaust me.
            Then the host of the program, Marie Lachat, Chairperson of the Chestnut Hill Book Festival Committee, asked if I would take questions. Of course. The questions genuinely surprised me with their depth and complexity. For example, Did I feel I understated any of the rough things I described? How does one consider a lifetime and select only certain things to include? And: Since I wrote so much about my parents, were they the audience I wrote for? Did I think, for example, my mother was in heaven now and knew what I was writing? And did that inhibit me?
            A few people raised their hands to make comments. Much of my book describes my struggles to survive a childhood lived in the shadow of an abusive alcoholic father. And of my struggles to love him anyway. Those who spoke at large expressed their sympathy with what I'd written because they too had grown up in similar circumstances. Later, in a more private setting, many others – I was surprised by how many – told me they too had had similar childhoods. They said I had done a good job of speaking for those of us who grew up trying to live with and cope with the shame of having an addicted parent. One woman said I had written an “important” book. My head spun with that comment.
            The entire evening had a feeling of mutually shared affection and admiration. I've never experienced such professional joy. It made all the sacrifices I'd made to get the book written and produced worthwhile.
            As an after note: On Saturday night, before going to bed, I checked my sales status on Amazon. For one brief while my book stood at #83 in the Amazon Kindle store's Top 100, in the category of Young Adult/Teen biography. (A surprise category to me...this book has some rough language at times and even sex, of a certain incompetent, nearly humorous kind.) I was flying high when I came up to go to sleep.
            Sunday morning brought the expected crash. But for a brief while: “Made it Ma! Top of world.”

"My Three Suicides: A Success Story is available in both print and eBook formats, most easily through Amazon.com.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Launch coming Feb. 27 for my latest book

Book Launch Premiere

Hugh Gilmore will be Reading from and Signing Copies of his New Memoir

My Three Suicides: A Success Story
On Friday, February 27, 2015
7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

At the Bombay Room of the Chestnut Hill Hotel
8229 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia 19118

The Kindle e-book version is for sale now on Amazon.com
Print version is being printed and will be ready in mid-February

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

NEW SERIES: La Femme Mysterieuse: A Man Got on a Train. Part 1

A boy and his copybooks...seems so simple
This is a story about how haste made waste of a literary dream and how a mysterious shadow slipped into my life, rescued me, stirred my mind, and then disappeared.

            As you might expect, the story involves a woman. Or so I believe. I’m still not a hundred-percent sure, but I do know I don’t care. Read on, if you like mysteries, but don’t expect this one to be solved. I’ve promised never to divulge certain clues and that should be easy in this case: I don’t know what they are. And maybe after we get to the end of this story you’ll understand why I probably don’t want to know. Probably. Even a columnist is human, after all.

             Let’s talk about the literary dream: it began twelve years ago, on my birthday, in my used bookshop, two hours before opening time. I’d gone in early to sit behind the window curtain and begin writing my first novel. Some novelists won’t start a book until they have hundreds, if not thousands, of note cards outlining every inch of the plot. Others just turn their dog loose on the trail and hurry along behind it. I’m that type.

            With a fine-point felt-tip pen I wrote my opening scene into a marbleized copybook: A man got on a train. As I wrote, I knew what my closing scene would be: the man would die that same night. I trusted that all the in-between would come to me as I wrote. The man I’d chosen was an actual historical figure, a self-made “scientist/explorer” named Richard L. Garner. Like myself, he’d studied primates in Africa. He was born in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1848 and he died in Tennessee in 1920 while promoting his research by giving public lectures.

            I composed ten hand-written pages each day, hurrying home later to read them aloud to my wife, Janet. Those were enjoyable days, marked by suspense and curiosity, since neither of us knew what tomorrow’s pages would tell. A day’s episode might end with a hand on a doorknob. What waited on the other side? An empty room? A dead body? A beaded purse? Such is the power of the writer. The answer, of course, is: whatever he or she says. How arbitrary. How awful. How absorbing. How awful. The choices are infinite. The choices are limited. There is no right or wrong answer. Is there?

            Oh my goodness, if you work out every detail of the plot ahead of time, then writing a novel is work. Sheer, dreadful, miserable work, as dreary as writing a term paper. But if you don’t, and you make it up as you go along, you keep running down alleys, turning corners, and finding yourself in strange neighborhoods you don’t know how to get out of. Characters you invented simply to walk through a scene suddenly stop and start talking to the camera, start singing and dancing and telling their life stories.

            Cursed to be tongue-tied through childhood, in middle age I found myself victimized by verbosity. Out came an abundance of words whenever I sat down to write –  false leads, useless quarrelsome characters, endless dialogue and description. I never suffered “writer’s block.” Quite the opposite.

            And so, with that first book, as the train carrying Richard L. Garner rushed along toward Nashville, one doorknob after another turned to reveal another character, who had to be explained, carrying another prop, which needed to be explained, as he or she came sauntering, rushing, stumbling, or tottering into the next carriage. These explanations are referred to as “backstory” in fiction. In the hands of a novice writer any story of 300 pages that begins and ends in one day is going to be riddled with them. No matter how well they’re written, if these digressions are not kept to a minimum they will interrupt and confuse the flow of the story.

            I filled six copy books in this meandering “and then” style. That was great fun, but then the hard work I’d tried to avoid by ad-libbing had to begin.

            Suffice it to say that I worked hard and long. Rewriting involves more than correcting mistakes. I paid dearly for the fun of my run-wild, run-free months of creative fun by spending the next two years, daily, reshaping the story. But shortly after that, I won First Place in the novel category for a sample of my novel at the annual Philadelphia Writers Conference. Everyone told me that was a “message from the universe.” You got it, kid! Go get ‘em.

            In those days I believed in the system: Write your book, polish it, and then go get an agent to sell it for you. I spent two years trying to interest an agent, failed to do so, got bored, started another novel. And another. And some short stories. And started writing this column for the Local (now in its seventh year). And a memoir. I found I liked writing stories more than I liked trying to sell them to an agent, editor, or publisher. My story about Mister Garner sat in the desk drawer, affectionately remembered like a summer romance that ended only because your partner moved to the moon. Every once in a while I’d change the title. “Garner” became “Fit in a Spoon,” then “Family of Man,” which was replaced by “If Pigs had Wings, soon to be “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour.”

            So, how did “Gorilla Tour,” come finally to be released in February of this year, (twelve years later) with a big, happy book-launch party, only not to be heard of since? And what does this silence have to do with the subtle and strange appearance in my life of a mystery woman? I’m still trying to figure it out. She’d entered my life, turned my head around, and left again – supposedly finally – in the same enigmatic way she’d entered: anonymously.

             See you next week.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Rare "Hugh" sighting slated for tomorrow (Sunday, May5) during the Chestnut Hill Spring Arts Festival.

Yes, Hugh, I, me, will be selling books, signing books, kissing babies, posing for "I knew him when" photos, and generally making an egotistic nuisance of himself. 

TIME: 1 to 3 p.m. 

PLACE: Intersection of Germantown and E. Southampton Avenues (near Chestnut Grill, near the Jenks School). Look for the Chestnut Hill Book Festival booth. 

Please stop and say hello.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Buster Keaton goes to Boston


Buster Keaton lights up with a bomb in “Cops.”

by Hugh Gilmore
Karl Marx famously wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, later as farce. Some events this week convinced me that both tragedy and farce are in the eye of the beholder. Labeling something as comedy doesn’t make it funny to its victims.
This past week of terrible, terrible news began with the Boston Marathon bombings. Such a shocking and gruesome event. I hadn’t been on the computer most of the day nor heard a radio or TV. When I did go online late in the afternoon, my sudden encounter with the headlines and images describing the story was stunning. Graphic pictures of shocked, frightened and maimed people seemed embedded in every news article. I tried just glimpsing but wound up gaping. I wasn’t able to take more than a few minutes of exposure before I switched websites.
Boston? I wondered. Why Boston? If this was an anti-American act, there are so many other cities with much more iconic American targets. And why civilians? Were they what nowadays is called “collateral damage” when a strategic or symbolic target is attacked? Were the perpetrators madmen or terrorists? As did most Americans, I went to bed that night dazed, confused and anxious.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, news poured in. Two bombs. Near the finish line. Three dead. Over a hundred injured. Later news: The bombs had perhaps been left in two backpacks. And filled with bits of metal meant to fly out and maim. Limbs lost. Heroes emerged. And images, images, images.
Life down here in Philadelphia carried on. Our hearts were with the people of Boston – in fact, with our fellow Americans everywhere. But what was there to do but carry on and wait and hope for answers and perhaps the capture of the villains?
Our family went ahead and did what we had scheduled ourselves to do, silly as it sounds after this build-up – we went to the Ambler Theater’s Buster Keaton festival. I don’t really have to justify that; I think most Americans were seeking some relief after two horrible days. From this kind of randomized terroristic act, there seems no real escape. Every day in America is a risky day. We’re all learning to look down the alley before we start to walk through it. Or better yet, avoid walking into alleys. Even though we also know that the bombers or the AK-47 hobbyists may be waiting on Main Street itself.
The Ambler Theater sponsored a very nice program last Tuesday night that included four Buster Keaton short films accompanied by a three-piece band calling itself “The Not So Silent Cinema Project.” Brendan Cooney, a Philadelphia musician with Boston roots created the project. He’s accompanied by Andy Bergman on Clarinet and Kyle Tuttle on banjo. The music had been carefully and creatively scored to fit both the actions and the moods of the films. A pleasant and quite creative evening.
Except: The second Buster Keaton movie was called “Cops.” It was released in 1922. About a third of the way into the film we see a policemen’s parade, with hundreds of marching patrolmen. Buster is hiding from the law under a parade stand. The city officials are shown at the review stand. Then we see Buster again, still hiding. In the next shot, a sudden close-up reveals an archetypical anarchist lighting one of those bowling ball-shaped comic bombs with a long fuse. He throws the lit bomb over the wall. It lands next to Buster. Buster uses the fuse to light his cigarette and then casually tosses the bomb away. It lands in the reviewing stand. It blows up. Everyone runs away, scattering in panic. Comedic panic.
That is, no severed limbs. No bloody, shrieking bystanders. No dead bodies. In comedies, even ones made today, bombs make people grab their butts as though they sat on something hot. Or make them fly up in the air and come down again to the sound of a kazoo before running away. Woooo-up.
At the movie theater I felt my stomach turn. I felt like being angry at the three musicians or the Ambler Theater. But they couldn’t have known. Mercifully, the action changed, the bomb scene ended and we’d moved on. An awkward moment and definitely not a funny one.
That particular bomb thrower, who looked kind of shady and ethnic, was probably modeled on the anarchist bombings that happened in the U.S. in 1919 by the followers of Luigi Galleini. In that case at least 36 dynamite bombs were mailed to government officials. The Galleinists followed that episode up on June 2 by exploding bombs in eight different American cities, targeting public figures.
The anarchist bombings of 1919 were not the only such bombings in American history, but they’re a useful illustration of the fact that by 1922 “the anarchist” had become a stock comic character in film. A funny figure unless you don’t have distance from him. Not so funny for all the people of the world who’ve had bombs aimed at them this year. Same with comic drunk drivers for those of us who’ve lost a loved one to their “funny” way of handling a vehicle.
The Buster Keaton-with-live-music program is really excellent. It will play art house theaters in six more cities, including Doylestown and New York. The tour will conclude in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If they don’t modify the program by then, however, I don’t think the people of Cambridge are ready to have their recent history seen as comedy.