Saturday, November 22, 2008

More words from Father Chuck Messer

Chuck's a very old friend of mine. He used to get me in trouble in kindergarten. Now he's an Episcopalian priest, and a progressive Christian voice.

Whatever our feelings about organized religion, I think it's important to recognize that there are voices within the churches that call for social justice and inclusiveness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lake Wales High School Gym

The home of my amateur wrestling exploits

Exploit, circa 1989

Signing: Largo Public Library

I lived in Largo for a while, and I spent many lazy Sundays in the local library. It was small and cozy. It wasn't very busy, and they had a good selection of books.

The new facility is huge and amazing. My signing was also on a Sunday, and the place was literally filled with people and activity. It was great to see.

I also got to spend some time with my dear friend Nancy, who kept me company. I also realized that, in my absence, her children had grown into adults. Strange.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ahh, St. Petersburg

I spent several years living in St. Pete, Florida, and I have mostly positive memories. Here is where I--for better or worse--decided to make writing a primary focus in my life.

St. Pete is known as a retirement Mecca, full of old people, and it certainly is that. But it's also a lot more. The city has a pretty vibrant art, theater, and music scene. The community radio station, WMNF, is one of the country's best, and there is actually plenty to do.

Here's another true independent with a rich history. Haslam's is just west of downtown St. Pete. Like many independents today, they offer a mix of both new and used books. I had a little trouble setting up a reading here because of my book's price, but Ray was kind enough to give me a shot. It might have helped that one of the stories in True Kin is based, in part, on this bookstore, especially stories about the hijinks of Jack Kerouac's ghost.

I sold a few books, met some old friends and nice new people. (Somehow, I forgot my camera.) The time talking with Ray was really cool. This store is a must-visit when you're in the area.

This was my apartment building. It's also what I used as a model for Claire's apartment in "True Kin" (the novella). A few people have called me on this already.

I've never regained the same sense of coolness that I imagined myself as having when I lived here. These were my most bohemian years. Cool place. Cool neighbors. The place looks about the same as it did in my day, if a little more tidy. We shared a mailbox here, and I remember getting so many rejection letters in that box. I plastered my walls with them to the amusement of my friends.

The Garden (see below) was the hub of what a few of us called "the literary scene," a loose-nit group of literary types and hopeful writers. Mainly, it was me, Shannon, and "Gatsby," with many other some-time participants. We wrote collaborative poetry, read aloud in a back booth, shared our work, drank lots of beer and wine. It might sound really pretentious, but I think it was too innocent to be that.

On Fridays there was (and still is!) great jazz music by the Buster Cooper Trio.

That was our booth in the back.

That night, my friends Cheryl and Jake threw a party, and I got to see a lot of people from the old days. I met most of them through work at Barnes & Noble. I know, I know. I've been amazed how well we've maintained a connection through the years. I'm always uplifted by this group.

Oh, and I sold a bunch of books here. I kept going back to their office and signing them, my handwriting growing worse and worse.


Merci, mes amis.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Historic Hotel Grand: Lake Wales Florida

The Hotel Grand is the most prominent structure in downtown Lake Wales and has always attracted my imagination. It was built in the 1920s, at the end of a Florida real estate boom.

The inside is quite ornate, and the place must have been really something in its day. I'm told many famous people stayed there.

In my childhood, the hotel (then called the Walesbilt) was well past its prime, but it did have habitable rooms and a number of businesses on the ground floor. Soon after I graduated from high school this was no longer the case. Today the building is in full disrepair, with all entryways boarded up. It makes me sad when I drive by it.

There is hope. Development plans are often discussed but so is the possibility of demolition.

When I was in high school, one of my classmates fell from one of its upper stories and died. I don't know if it was an accident or suicide.

The Grand makes an occasional appearance in my prolific dream life, especially in dreams of the acrophobic variety. Usually, I am at its top and terrified about this prospect. In the worst cases, I am hanging out of a window, legs dangling, my fingertips slowly losing their grip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inkwood Books: Tampa Florida

Inkwood Books is another proud independent, located near Tampa's historic Hyde Park. The store is a converted 1920s bungalow, with a friendly and casual atmosphere. They've been around for about seventeen years and they are staunchly independent and members of IndieBound. They are also stalwart supportors of local writers. I've attended many great readings here in the past. I'm really honored that they opened their doors to me.

The reading went well. I read from "Hurricane Party," a story that takes place in Tampa. I had a great time seeing old friends and meeting some new people. I even managed to sell a few books.

I had a nice little crowd eventually, including my dear friend Elle and a former workshop teacher, RS, who was forced to read many of the True Kin stories in their earliest form. Also in attendence was an ex-girlfriend whom I hadn't spoken to in over a decade as well as GOINDEPENDENT reader and contributor "Comprehension." He and I were actually grad students together back in the days before the millenium. ODQ, it was great seeing you.

"I am. This is how I smile."

I forgot your name, my friend, but it was good talking to you.