by Pete Mazzaccaro
If you’ve been reading Local columnist Hugh Gilmore for the last five years, you know something about the long and arduous process of writing and publishing a novel. Well, the final product is finally available, and at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Gilmore will appear at the Musehouse, 7924 Germantown Ave., to read from his new novel, “Malcolm’s Wine.”
Gilmore has published the book through Amazon.com, where it can be purchased in paperback for $14.95 or as a Kindle edition for $5.99. (It’s worth noting, too, that the paperback is Prime eligible, so Prime subscribers can have it shipped and delivered in two days for free.)
I sat down with Hugh last week to discuss the book, the writing process and what comes next.
Q: What’s it like to write a novel and be reporting on it while you’re writing it?
A: First, the major reason I did it is that if I declare something publicly then I feel that I need to follow through. I was afraid I might make the commitment to writing this and peter out, lose my verve, nerve and initiative. I had to keep going.
I was afraid people might say, “So what?” I tried to write my column with enough humility about how incompetent I felt about writing and publishing the novel. I found that I’ve become a kind of Walter Mitty character. A lot of people who have writing aspirations are really curious about what happens to me next. I’m kind of like the guinea pig or test pilot to their own hopes and dreams.
Do you think there are a lot of aspiring writers in Chestnut Hill?
Absolutely. Every fifth house you go to at random, you’ll find someone who has published a book. The other four want to be writers.
How’d you get into writing a mystery? Did you have aspirations to write something – people might say – serious? Is it a serious book?
In 2000 I decided it was now or never. I started writing on a daily basis. Started on my birthday.
I had already written three novels and a memoir, all of which were serious. I felt I had to tackle very important life issues. Then this Walter Mosley book came along – “This Year You Will Write Your Novel.” Every writer thinks he has a romp, detective story in him. I thought, “OK I’ll take a shot at it.”
I found once I started I couldn’t do just a detective story.
I don’t read many books that are mere entertainment. Once I got going, I found that I had to put in all my own hopes and dreams – it’s serious about life and people. I think everything in it is credible. There’s nothing bravado about it. The people are genuine. The criminals are cheap mean people who lack clear motives you read about in the newspaper.
Did you have any models, writers that were inspirational or tried to emulate….
I think when novelists borrow from other novelists they mostly borrow technique. You can’t borrow someone else’s view of life. All the insights in this book are mine.
I did pay attention to Elmore Leonard. Even though he’s writing in a cotton-candy genre, he’s the acknowledged master of, in a page and a half of dialogue, doing so much exposition – you’ll know so much about the people by their grammar. He’s the master of the economical novel.
Are any experiences or characters based on the real thing?
When I was looking for the crime [on which to base the book's plot], I was thinking about a lot of things. This bottle of wine in my basement kept getting to me.
When my son (Colin) was born, I bought a bottle of port wine. He died when he was 18.
Here it is more than a dozen years later and I see the bottle and I wonder what am I going to do with it. It’s now 25 or 30 years old. It had come to symbolize all that might have been.
I had thought about taking it and smashing it against a tree. I thought about burying it in the backyard. I thought about giving it to a street bum and watching him enjoy it.
I thought, “What would happen if someone came in and stole that? How would I feel?” I would feel robbed of the right to determine the wine’s fate. That became the point of departure for the book. This guy’s going to try and get his wine back.
How would you measure success for this book? Do you see opportunities for some of your other books to be published in this way?
At first I thought success is having it read by at least one other person.
When the book came out it was tough not to give it to people. I wanted to give copies to everyone I was friends with. I asked people to please buy the book so my Amazon score goes up. I would make it up by buying them a bottle of wine or something. I’m hoping those numbers on Amazon will get high enough so that some greedy, vulturous agent will say, “Hey this is making money, I want 15 percent of that.”
My other dream is to have it stocked on bookstore shelves.
How about other books? What’s next?
I don’t know whether to revive the ones I’ve already done or go forward with the one I started last year – the one about bull fighting.
Writing this book, though, was tough. It’s like running five marathons. To keep what’s happening with these pages in mind when you’re writing these other pages, it’s like writing a symphony. I’m thinking about becoming a short-story writer.
What do you think about the book industry? How do you feel about doing this while books are in such decline?
The answer is already in. Books as a means of providing you the information from a nonfiction work or the story of a fiction work are outmoded. Maybe they’re not to people like you and me, but the economics are against print.
Because of this, I published as a Kindle first. I put it on Amazon, decided my commission, 70 percent. A lot of publishers are publishing their books for $2.99. Some are sure they’re going to sell a lot of copies so they price their book at 99 cents. I think a lot of my readership is not young, they grew up in a book culture and aren’t’ ready to give it up. Back in October, I had to put together a paperback. Now it feels more like I’ve done it. There’s still enough demand for it.
The publishing industry may be dying or facing challenges, but reading has not diminished. People still read a tremendous amount. Reading has not died and it’s not going to
What happened to the bottle?
In real life, in my basement, the day I sent my manuscript off, I went downstairs to get a bottle of wine. I see scattered all over the table there these little specs of something – turns out the bottle of port had exploded. Damn if the day I hadn’t sent the manuscript off to the agent, there it was. It was lying on its side. Half of it had flowed out. I think the cork had just rotted and got shot out. The plastic had exploded into hundreds of pieces. Half the bottle was still lying there. I panicked because I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I called my wife, Janet. I went up to my kitchen sink and poured the rest down the drain.
What might have been. It’s the closing line of the book. It’s like when you lose a child. Every day you wonder what might have been.