Posts Tagged With: Stephen King

George Lawrence, fare thee well

GeorgeL.jpgWriting is a mostly solitary pursuit that involves a lot of what Stephen King (among others) calls “ass in chair time.” But there are times when other people do enter into it and leave their mark, especially when they turn up at a particularly opportune moment. That goes for George Lawrence, a former News & Observer co-worker of mine who passed away in his sleep Monday morning at age 58.

Not quite six years ago, I was slogging through the obligatory horrible first draft of “Losering” and doing what one does: trying to convince myself it would be worth the agony while dealing with the usual cocktail of insomnia, insecurity, self-loathing and various other emotional goodies induced by book-writing. In the midst of all that, I bumped into George at a Neil Young show in Durham that I was reviewing for the paper.

I hadn’t seen George in a while and we got to talking about Ryan Adams, who he’d known well enough to be one of his local party buddies back in the day. And as soon as he found out I was writing a book about Ryan, George perked right up and provided just the dose of enthusiasm I needed to get over the hump. George wound up being one of my best sounding boards as I worked to wrestle “Losering” to the ground, which earned him a place of honor in the “Acknowledgements” section on page 202:

A special few went truly above and beyond the call of duty: Dean Dauphinais, Tracy Davis, and George Lawrence for being extra eyes, and voices of enthusiasm when I was at my lowest ebb.

rsglLong before all this, George was an N&O fixture by the time I got there in 1991, holding multiple editing and managerial jobs in the newsroom. What I remember most about George back then was him being the life of the party at out-of-office gatherings or pickup softball and basketball games, always quick with a quip and a backslap.

Eventually he left journalism to go into PR and consulting, but it was a choice he seemed to regret. I’d hear from him intermittently, and he’d talk wistfully about how much he missed writing and wanted to get back to it. He’d send me the occasional piece of rock memorabilia, too, like this vintage framed Rolling Stones album cover (which I’ve got hanging on the wall right next to my record collection at home).

George did have his struggles in recent years, and he was in and out of the hospital repeatedly with a lot of health problems. But he’d still pop up now and then on Facebook, to lob a song lyric my way or ask a question about some band or other. Several times over the past year, I had the thought that I really ought to check in on him; right now I’m feeling a little guilty for not making more of an effort to follow up.

Of course, if George were here, I expect he’d brush that off with a self-deprecating joke — or maybe he’d drop another lyric. His last words to the world on his Facebook page came a few weeks back, a quote from the late great Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt’s epic of betrayal “Pancho and Lefty”:


Somewhere in the great beyond, I picture George seeking out Townes to have a word about that.

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Blurb love and the writer’s life, with Silas House time-honored ritual of book publishing is The Blurb, a testimonial soundbite to a book’s worthiness. Blurbs have a long and somewhat sordid history; still, we pursue them in hopes that they’ll entice people to buy. It used to be that blurbs primarily appeared on book jackets, taking the form of a sentence or phrase from a review or another author. Some blurbs still appear on covers, but nowadays they mostly live on the web. And they almost never appear out of thin air, especially if they’re from another writer.

In the months leading up to publication, you and/or your publisher send advance copies to reviewers as well as better-known writers, in hopes of initiating a four-step process. If all goes according to plan, the recipients will take the time to read your book (step one); like it enough to say so (step two); agree to write a blurb (step three); and follow through (step four — Valhalla!).

We sent “Losering” out to a few superstars who were obvious longshots, Stephen King and Nick Hornby, because they’re both big Ryan fans. I’ve heard nothing from either, but hope springs eternal. In the interim, plenty of other writers did come through on the blurb front — including Silas House, a very fine novelist who teaches writing in Kentucky. He was extraordinarily kind:

A tightly written and bold look at one of music’s most brilliant and enigmatic artists, Ryan Adams. But this fine book transcends that, providing a first-hand account of the birth of modern Americana music and showing us what a profound effect music has on all of our lives. “Losering” is the best in music journalism, and Menconi is surely one of our best music writers.

You’ll find that and other blurbs enshrined in the “About” page of this blog. Meanwhile, I’m a little bit prouder of that blurb right now because Silas has a terrific essay in the New York Times, “The Art of Being Still.” It’s a wonderful, note-perfect rumination on the writing mindset, and what it takes. And as someone who never feels like there are enough hours in the day, I find one part particularly resonant. Recounting how he was asked at a reading about how many hours a day he writes, Silas answered, “I write every waking minute.”

Boy howdy, can I relate. Even when I’m not parked at the computer pounding away at the keyboard, I can never turn my “Writer” switch off. I’m never not writing, which is both blessing and curse. It’s not something as simple as loving what I do, it’s that I can’t do anything else; and in a world where so many people seem never to find their true calling, to feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do is…well, a blessing. But when it’s driving me nuts, keeping me awake at 3 a.m., it can feel like more of a burden.

Still, it’s not one I’d trade. Thank you, Silas, for the reminder.

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