Brian Paone

Author // Musician

My second published novel turns 8, and how it took 19 years to write... Welcome to Parkview:

I published my second novel, Welcome to Parkview, 8 years ago this month. But what a long road it was to get this book in print and released for mass consumption. 19 years from start to finish, to be exact.

I started Welcome to Parkview in 1991. The entire outline for the book was spawned in one night, while I was laying in my bed at 14 years old. I was on a Billy Joel kick and had been overdosing on all his cassettes that month, and there was something about the lyrics and musical overtones of his song "Piano Man" that resonated with me. The fact this 4-minute song could have so many believable characters (and within a single line of lyric, he gave the impression that each of these characters in the bar had an extensive backstory) was so intriguing to me as an aspiring author. I had started writing fiction in 1988 (3 years earlier) and had written around 30 short stories at this point. The thought to even attempt a novel had never crossed my mind ... until I started really thinking about "Piano Man."

Back to the night I was laying in bed: I rolled the lyrics around in my head, singing certain lines which contain specific descriptions of these characters, and my stepfather came home late from work. I heard my mother greet him at the front door, and from my bedroom, I was able to overhear him talk about driving past a local bar in my city that had, according to my stepfather, "something big going on outside because it took forever to drive by the bar." The bar he was talking about? A bar called Sneakers.

It was like the floodgates opened in my head. I heard him say the name of the bar, coupled with the lyrics of "Piano Man" so fresh in my ears, and I just knew there was a novel in there somewhere. I was going to congregate all these random people in a bar and just see what happens. Basically wanting the bar itself to be the main character of the book, and the people all secondary. I started working on my first novel that very next day, at 14 years old.

In the beginning, for the first 13 years I was writing it, the novel was titled A Bar Called Sneakers. It didn't change names until around 2004. But from 1991 - 1997, I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Hours and hours. Weekends in high school and college, usually spent hanging out with friends, were traded in so I could stay home and write, write, write. I started writing in 1991 with a notebook and pen. Then my mother bought me a manual typewriter. I switched to the typewriter in 1992. Then, for Christmas in 1993, my mother bought me a Brother Word Processor, where I could save my writing on floppy discs.  Around 1997, I didn't quite know where I was going with the novel anymore. I hadn't written a single short story since 1991 -- I had spent 6 years focusing every ounce of writing on the novel. I became discouraged with a stack of over 1,000 printed pages and no clear end in sight. So I shelved it.

In 2002 (5 years after boxing up the novel) I revisited what I had written up to that point and realized that I had forgotten how much I loved the characters and fictional town I had created. I missed all those people and places. I forged onward, and between 2002 and 2008, I finished the novel. It was during this stretch where I changed the name of the novel to what it is now. Taking 5 years off really cleared my head, and I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel that I couldn't see when I was so far deep into the writing during those first 6 years.

I finished the novel in 2008 at 246,000 words (give or take a few words.) I hired 3 separate editors, and between 2008 and 2010, I worked with these 3 editors vigorously. Keep in mind, by this point, I was already a published author, with my first book Dreams Are Unfinished Thoughts being released in 2007 (I wrote that between 2006 - 2007). After Welcome to Parkview went through its 3 full edits, we whittled the 246,000 words to a more manageable 88,000 words. My first editor made me go back and not just edit or revise a lot of what I had written between 1991 - 1997, but physically rewrite a lot of scenes. Heck, they were originally written by a teenager, and if I wanted this to sound like it was written by a professional author, a lot of verbiage and dialogue and narrative needed to be rewritten in an adult's voice. So, that took a few more months. Just to give you an example of how much was cut from the first 246,000 word draft, the first chapter in the published version of the book is around 10,000 words. In the original draft, the first chapter is around 70,000 words.

I will forever call Welcome to Parkview a labor of love. 19 years of my life and 246,000 words later, I was able to present an 88,000 word novel that I am very proud of, and 8 years after publication, seems to still be making an impression on readers.

Special guest, author Gabriella Balcom

Today’s special guest on my page is author Gabriella Balcom, whose short story, “Bobby—You’d Never Guess,” was just published in the anthology A Contract of Words, which features 28 authors from all over the world, including my new short story, "Two Gunslingers." Here is what she had to say about life, writing, and her story:


1.  Besides writing, what is the one thing you couldn't live without?


My children mean a great deal to me, as do my grandchildren, and I shudder at the thought of living without them. 

Also, quiet, alone time is very important to me, and I need it regularly. Not only does it keep me grounded, but it helps me unwind, think, function, and recharge.


2.  What was the inspiration for your story?


My background is in Psychology and Criminal Justice, and I work in a mental health field. I've dealt with families that epitomize the word “troubled,” abusive parents, abused children, substance abusers, and people in all types of crisis situations. Along the way, I've encountered individuals who've survived terrible things, others who've done terrible things, and some who fall in both categories.

I wanted to write this story for more than one reason. My main character, Bobby, popped into my head one day. He became very real to me from the moment I thought of him, and I wanted to tell his story. The more I delved into his life, the more intrigued and blown away I was, not only because of his choices, but because of his past and the forces propelling him along. I've always been fascinated by people, the things they've experienced and endured, and how they've coped and moved forward. Some people have trouble dealing with things that might seem tiny to you or me. Others survive and even thrive in spite of the worst issues imaginable. 

Working on my story, a time or two I pursued directions I thought would be interesting. However, I realized what I was writing seemed off or wrong somehow. If I let myself relax and didn't worry about it, I felt myself being guided into other scenarios and revelations which felt right. Here, I refer back to my previous “blown away” comment. To be truthful, I couldn't NOT write this story.


3.  If a genie could grant you 3 wishes, what would you wish for?


My first wish would be for money, because I'd like to have and be able to do certain things. I'd love to build a home, have a lot of editing done, pay off certain things, travel, etcetera. For my second wish, I would like to go back in time and see certain events, both in my own life and others' lives. I don't know if I would undo or change any of the things I experienced, but I'd certainly think about it. As my third wish, I'd like to speak with specific people who've died, including my father, both of my grandmothers and grandfathers, their parents and others on my ancestral lines, Jesus, famous heroes and heroines, scientists, artists, philosophers, and many others.


4.  Has reading influenced your decision to be a writer? What book (s) made you want to write?


Those are good questions, but I'm not sure. Reading has always been a part of my life. My mother taught me when I was very little, and I was crazy about books. I began writing when I was little also. To me, it seemed like a natural extension of reading, and they went hand-in-hand. I stopped writing for several years as an adult, because I was taking care of my children, working, and living. Inspiration and ideas “called” to me off and on, but I remained too busy to do more than pen a few work-related articles. I began writing again a few years ago, primarily as a catharsis, and couldn't believe how badly I'd missed it. I don't think I ever made a conscious decision to write. Ideas and characters kept floating around in my mind, and I had to write. 

As far as which books inspired me, I've read numerous books which are wonderful. I admire several authors' works and would love to express myself as well as they do.


5.  Would you describe your writing process? For example, do you write in a specific place, have music playing or is that a no-no, lean toward outlining specifics, or are you a pantser?


I like to be by myself in my room. I sit on my bed, sometimes with notes or prompts nearby, and typically have music playing low. I don't usually outline. When I get an idea or envision characters and their lives, I almost always start writing. Sometimes I just know specific things beforehand that I want to include or believe will enhance a story. I write them down on notepaper paper or index cards and put them up or close to me where I can't miss them. After I finish a story, I go back through and sometimes add elements. From the time I began creating “Bobby – You'd Never Guess” to when I finished totaled about three weeks, I think. I couldn't write everything in one sitting, because I work full-time and sometimes do additional projects on the side. Therefore, I fit in chunks of time before and after work. 

A little more information about my writing process is listed under Questions 7, 9, 13, and 15. 


6.  When faced with the dreaded “writers block,” how do you push through and find inspiration? Is there a ritual or process you have to get yourself back on track?


I don't experience writer's block much, or at least I haven't yet. In fact, I often have the opposite problem, with several ideas coming to me at the same time, making it hard for me to concentrate and focus on one. 

Sometimes, I'm worn out from work and stressful situations. When I feel blah or overwhelmed, or can't focus, think clearly, or move forward, I do things to help myself unwind. I put music on, focus on the words or rhythm for enjoyment or distraction, and let my mind relax. Or, I don't focus at all and just crank the volume up and let my thoughts sort of float. I use movies the same way: for enjoyment or distraction. Of course, they also work well as far as being a background noise to drown out other sounds that could distract me. 

Other things I do to get in the mood, per se, include reading, scrapbooking, going outside, walking around, singing, driving around or sitting in my car with music playing, spending time on social media, or doing things with my family.


7.  Did you know how your story would end when you started writing it? If not, did plans change while writing or did you improvise when you arrived?


When I began writing, I had no idea how my story would end, and only knew certain things about my main character's life and choices. However, as I wrote, he and my other characters prompted and directed me. Certain revelations about them caught me completely off guard. The ending was a surprise to me, too. 

I've written more about Bobby since my short story was published. Honestly, I say the same process occurred as I wrote my sequel.  It also is full of things which surprised me and blew me away. 


8.  If a movie were to be made of your story and you were in charge of casting, who would play your characters? Who would direct?


I would like to see actors audition for the part of Bobby, and I'd like to have time to consider who would best play him. I can't think of anyone right now who epitomizes him for me. The same holds true for some of the other characters in my story, and I'd want to see actresses audition also. I can imagine Kathy Bates or someone similar as Wilson, Mark Wahlberg as the adult Tim, and maybe Pierce Brosnan as Bobby's grandfather.

As far as directors, I'm not sure. I'd have to think about it.  I admire the work of several, including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, George Lucas, Ron Howard, Michael Bay, Quentin Tarentino, Tim Burton, Lynne Ramsey, M. Night Shyamalan, Peter Jackson, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Chris Heyward, and the directors of the Harry Potter movies.


9.  How close did your story end up being to the original concept you had in your mind? What were the biggest changes? Why did you make them?


My story developed well beyond my original idea, because I felt my characters leading me along. I only knew portions of my characters' personalities and lives when I began; I didn't have a complete beginning-to-end concept in mind. I would write some of the story, then go back and reread it frequently. As I did, I added extra elements that popped into my head. Some things were hints for readers, and some were to build suspense. Most of the additional things I added, however, were revelations that came to me, not things I “plotted.” Mr. T's appearance is a good example. Mark's method of coping is another. A third is how Bobby spoke to Mark's mother.


10.  What book were you reading when you thought, This stuff sells??? Oh, hell, I can do that...


When the idea hit me, I wasn't reading a book. I was writing while playing one movie after another. I'd seen parts of several: the Harry Potter set, The Sound of Music, the Lord of the Rings series, and one of the Tremors movies. As I saw the stories unfolding and watched favorite parts, I thought how wonderful it would be to write something that people loved, and to have a successful writing career. 

At that point, I worked full time+ (still do), but dreamed of quitting someday (I do that still, too). I loved the idea of working out of my home, on my own schedule, and being successful at it. I thought of how much I loved books and reading. I believed I had some decent story ideas from time to time, and loved how I felt creating stories, improving them, and reading the finished versions. Portions of my stories shook and stunned me at times, and I wanted to make them even better and share them with others.


11.  Did you have to do any odd research for your story? How did you conduct that research, and then how was it used in your story?


Early in my story, killers were mentioned. I did some research on them, sadistic tendencies, and more, and figured if anyone knew about my search history, they'd question my mental health. LOL!  I didn't do any other research, because I was familiar with various other things portrayed in my story. For my sequel, though, I had to do research on several subjects.


12.  If you could pick one place to sit and write, where would it be?


I'd choose a secluded cabin in the woods, surrounded by trees, with a lake and mountains or tall hills nearby. Preferably, it would be fall or spring. I can envision several possible locations which I'd love including sites within national forests in Texas or other states, the mountains of Utah or other mountainous places, and secluded locations within countries like Slovenia and Austria. I'd have a refrigerator well-stocked with food, including some which wouldn't have to be cooked, and would only require warming. I'd want a good stove and oven for when I wanted to cook, and a microwave for when I didn't, a good TV/DVD player, a huge selection of movies or series for when I wanted to unwind or relax, and an excellent sound system with numerous choices of music. I'd like a large, comfy bed, a nice tub to soak in, a fireplace, etcetera.


13.  How closely do you relate to/identify with your characters? What inspired them? Did they take over the story or did you direct them?


Sometimes I identify with my characters or certain aspects of their personalities or lives. Other times I don’t but feel compassion for them and an understanding of where they're coming from, at least a little. In Bobby's situation, I empathized over some of the events he's lived through and which affected him, At the same time, I felt shock and horror over other things. While I could understand and relate to certain hurting and lonely parts of him and others in my story, I didn't identify at all with how my characters chose to act or react. 

I feel I was allowed a peek into Bobby's psyche and life, as though I literally looked through a window and watched, and/or heard his thoughts and felt his feelings. The same holds true for my other characters. They took over the story and directed me.


14.  What do you consider your all-time favorite novel? One that you would read over and over again?


I have many favorites which I love reading again and again: Lord of the Rings, C. L. Wilson's Tairen Soul set, several of Thea Harrison, Luanne Rice, Kay Hooper, Nora Roberts, Heather Graham, Patricia Cornwell, Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, Martha Grimes, and Carol O'Connell's stories. I love Terry Brooks (Shannara books), Terry Goodkind (Sword of Truth series),  David Weber (Honor Harrington books and the Lt. Leary/Adele Mundy series), Frank Herbert (Dune series), Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffrey (Pern series), Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew books for youth, Ruth Chew's stories for children, Wind in the Willows, the Circle of Light series, Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books, and many more.


15.  How much of your writing is outlined from the beginning and how much of it is 'pantsed' or written on the fly?


I'd say 98% of my writing is pantsed, with no outline in sight or mind. However, from time to time I'm prompted to include certain elements, scenes, dialogue, etc., and I'll write notes or put things up to remind myself to add them. During that process, I'll sometimes write A), B), C), a), b), etc. 

Recently, I tried something brand new. I went to a writer's conference, and a New York publisher did a class about developing character arcs. He said it was important to get to know our main character and supporting characters very well and demonstrated plotting specific important events on a time line. Our whole class took part in describing characters, events, etc. That evening when I got back to my hotel, I was motivated to begin a new story, using some of the presenter's ideas. I listed all sorts of things on the spur of the moment, choosing my character's age, looks, life, supporting “cast,” and certain problems. I did this without first being prompted or inspired about these people. In other words, I didn't automatically feel I knew them. I was sort of “planning” them. When I began writing the actual story, I felt strange. My words seemed stilted and forced to some degree. I just didn't feel as if I knew my protagonist as well as I normally did. I felt I had to get to know her over time. Once I stopped and really focused on her––in this case, my main character was a young girl––I began “feeling” her and as if I knew her. After that, the more I wrote about her, the more my comfort level increased until I felt I knew her as much as any of my other characters. The main difference was that my knowledge and comfort had to grow over time rather than existing from the beginning.


16.  What are your favorite snack-as-you-write or eat-as-you-write foods? How do they help with your creative flow or process?


I skip meals at times. Sometimes I get too busy at work to stop or have other responsibilities I have to attend to first. At home, I might be worried about one thing or another, or I might be writing. Sometimes I get on a roll and feel inspired, and eating isn't on my mind. Therefore, I try to keep certain foods around to munch on. 

Almonds, blueberries, strawberries, and oranges are good brain food for me. They give me energy, keep my head from hurting, or make pain go away (I have low blood sugar).  Mini-Hershey’s and plain M&Ms serve as a pick-me-up when I'm feeling tired or stressed. I love breakfast food, lasagna, tacos, garlic bread, and other things, but don't always have the time or make the time to fix them.


17.  How is your ACOW story typical or atypical of your writing in general?


My first response is 'LOL,' because my writing doesn't always follow a pattern, genre, or specific subject.

However, I will say that “Bobby – You'd Never Guess” is the first story I've written in journal format. Beyond that, my writing ranges all over the place. I may write about abuse, magic second, and then about a fantasy creature in a children's story. Or, I might focus on horror, romance, sci-fi, memoir-type things, or back to one of the others. Some of my stories have longer, flowing sentences, whereas others feature a shorter, blunter style. I don't usually plan that. It just depends on the story, my mood, how much sleep.


You can order on Amazon (worldwide), Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, or get a FREE companion soundtrack CD if you order through Scout Media’s online store here: A CONTRACT OF WORDS.

I'm not crying, you're crying: seeing Electric Light Orchestra live for the first time

I became an Electric Light Orchestra fan through their album Out of the Blue when my mother brought it home on vinyl when I was a kid. The ELO spaceship on the front cover drew me in, but it was the sounds, harmonies, hooks, singalong choruses, and wide array of instrumentation that made me take notice. I had already gone "all in" with my Pink Floyd obsession by this point, but I had yet to find a band that I felt matched them in regards to being worthy of my fandom. That moment came when I heard ELO's Time album for the first time when it came out.

That was when ELO matched Pink Floyd as my favorite band of all time (I now have 5 bands that hold that title). Time was ELO's 10th album and I realized then that they could do no wrong. All 10 albums were perfect, in my eyes (the only other band to have made a run of 'perfect' album being Pink Floyd.)

In 2001, I had gotten up early one morning (before the sun had risen) and went to wait in line at a Ticketmaster. I scored 3rd row center tickets to see ELO for the first time. The show was still a few months away, but I had started counting the days immediately. I was so excited I was finally going to see them live for the first time after so many years of obsessed fandom. Then … I got an automated call from Ticketmaster about a month later stating they had cancelled the tour and they were not going to reschedule. I would be refunded. Then, even worse, ELO seemed to have dropped off the face of the planet. That album they were touring on, Zoom, would be the last album for 16 years. There would be no more shows for another 15 years. POOF! Just …. silence.

I started writing fiction in 1988 and ELO's Time album has always been rolling around in my head to turn into a story. Fast forward to 2012; I had two published novels at this point, and we were living in Japan, and I had listened to Time one day while I went for a run, and it was like the entire story unfolded in front of me. My third published novel, in 2015, was my novelization of ELO's Time album, titled Yours Truly, 2095 (taken from Track 3 off the album). I had also given up hope that Electric Light Orchestra would ever get back together and record another album or even ever play another show. My novel was my own personal homage to myself and for ELO fans as way to say goodbye to one of the 5 best bands to ever grace the earth.

Then … there was a blip in the ELO camp. A cricket chirp. A spark in the form of 1 single show. A show that even blew their expectations out of the water; a show that made them think, "do people still care and is there still room for ELO in the world after a 15-year silence?" They tested the waters with some more shows (all overseas) and then announcement that there would be a new album. It was like Lazarus rising from the grave for me.

When the tour for the new album, Alone in the Universe, was announced, I got 2 tickets. I'll be honest, as a Pavlovian reaction, I kept waiting for that email from Ticketmaster to say this tour had been cancelled also. I was *this* close to seeing them 17 years ago, 3rd row, and it got stripped from me. I felt like this upcoming show was a dream and I'd wake up to find they never had reformed, there wasn't a new album, and my tickets would be a figment of my imagination.

When I got in the car Thursday night with my 9-year-old son, Everett, to head to the venue, I still was waiting for the show to be cancelled and for them to say, "Sorry for the joke, but we're going to go away again." But … this time, I got to see my favorite band live, for the first time after 35 years of die-hard fandom.

It's hard to explain to people who aren't as obsessed with music or specific bands as I am what it's like, even as a grown 41-year-old man, to stand in a venue and actually see these people in front of you performing these songs. I cried pretty much 80% of the time, out of pure elation. I didn't expect to start bawling when they played "Sweet Talkin' Woman." Something about my childhood and nostalgia and all those years of listening to these songs through elementary school, through high school, through college, through my first real job, through getting married, through having kids, through buying a house, through the highs and lows … ELO were there through ALL of that. And now here they were, in the flesh for the first time. It was so powerful that I didn't even want to talk about the show for the first few days afterward.

But to watch my son out of the corner of my eye, standing on his seat throughout the show, dancing, clapping, and singing along to most of the songs, brought me to different tears. To share that with him--share something that is such a large part of who I am and where I came from musically--was amazing.

Words can't describe how it felt to stand in front of them for those 100 minutes after all these years. Words can't describe how amazing it is that Electric Light Orchestra look to be back for good after their 16 year hiatus (one that I felt was irreversible). Words can't describe the sound that came from that stage, like a warm familiar blanket tossed around my shoulders. Words can't describe the experience … but tears did. And I'm not crying! You're crying!


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