LGBT Book Review: Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies

When I first started reading Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies, I wasn’t sure where it was going. From the image on the book cover I expected biographical stories about Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. I soon found out the book is more of a combination autobiography/biography, with personal accounts of the fascinating life Michael Menzies has led…mixed in with tidbits about both Dietrich and Coward. Weaving different stories into a book is not an easy thing to do, but it’s done well in this book. And Menzies makes it real without sounding too over the top like a few other bios I’ve read this year. He uses an endearing brand of self-deprecation devoid of all pretense, and you will find yourself cheering him on as he travels through life trying to figure “it” all out.

It’s clear from the beginning of the book Menzies was fascinated with Dietrich and Coward at a very young age. He grew up in an average home in New Zealand, longing for more excitement, glamour, and sophistication. At one point, he became convinced he was adopted and his real parents were, indeed, Dietrich and Coward. He does this in a clever, tongue-in-cheek way, and returns to this adoption reference throughout the book as his own life seems to be constantly mingled with Dietrich and Coward, usually through no fault of his own. (As a side note, I’ve been a fan of a book titled “The Magic of Believing” for many years. And when I read about the deep appreciation Menzies had for Dietrich and Coward I thought it was a good example of how the things we love and appreciate the most often come to us if we think about them hard enough…in a positive way.) In spite of his devotion to these two stars, never once did I think of Menzies as a celebrity stalker. He had too much respect for Dietrich and Coward for that. And he always spoke of his real parents (Clive and Mary) with great respect.

Dietrich understood. Professional commitments always came before personal wishes. This was a law by which she lived her life.

I also like bios where I learn things I didn’t know. And the Dietrich and Coward stories Menzies discusses in the book are abundant, from funny to painful. Especially the one part where Dietrich is leaving on a train. No spoilers. But I never knew that happened. I also didn’t know that Coward was often tormented with demons all his life. And none of this was done in a dishy way. It was all done with respect and I only came away more interested in the lives of Dietrich and Coward, not to mention gaining a new sense of respect for how hard they worked to achieve the things they did in life.

Coward knew the affair was so one-sided that it would inevitably collapse. He knew, too, that Traylor was not attracted to him (or any man for that matter).

Michael Menzies has led a fascinating life in his own right, too. From the time he ran away from home, to the experiences he had with someone dying of AIDS. For a gay man with a limited background and education, living during the closeted time period in which he had to survive, he worked hard and did well in various creative professions. From writing magazine articles to working in production for some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, he managed to finally attain a lot of the excitement and glamour he craved so much growing up. And he did it all on his own.

Eduardo was twenty-seven when I met him, and it was rare to find a man of his age who even knew who Dietrich was. He knew and loved Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Stevie Nicks, and surprise of surprises, he knew and loved Marlene Dietrich, too. He was a prize. I had to add him to my life, where he remains to this day, still a prize.

I’ve been lucky enough in my own life to have known several very successful gay men like Menzies who often acted as mentors when I didn’t know what being gay was all about. It’s a generation of gay men who make dinner an event that never begins a moment earlier than nine at night, with stories of fascinating people they’ve known, stories of exotic places they’ve traveled, and stories of interesting things they’ve done. And while I was reading Deeply Superficial, I felt as if I were listening to a couple of old friends of mine who once lived on Sutton Place in NY and designed homes for people who owned fleets of ships and famous NY restaurants. It’s a generation of gay men who don’t seem to get the appreciation (or respect) they deserve in this new less sophisticated world now where people don’t seem to mind wearing sweat pants in public and driving cars shaped like toy boxes.

But I digress. It was nice to read a book like this, written from such an honest, genuine POV. Menzies also talks about his long term relationship with several funny tips on how to make a relationship last for a long time, one of which is separate bedrooms and bathrooms. (As another side note, those of you writing m/m romance might find it interesting to know that a lot of gay men in long term relationships…especially the gay men I’ve known…don’t share the same bedroom.) The book is also extremely well written (and edited) and I did NOT find one single offensive word, sentence, or paragraph that made me cringe…from a writer’s POV. The story flows with an even pace, moves fast, and I found myself reading much later into the night than I’d planned. In fact, I read this in two sittings mainly because I wanted to see how it ended.

 When people ask me the secret of a long and happy relationship, I always tell them separate bedrooms, and more importantly, separate bathrooms are the answer.

I would recommend this book to anyone without thinking twice. And I think that if there are any younger gay men who are interested in reading about gay men from this generation, it’s the perfect book to grasp what things were like for the gay men who’ve paved the way…without even knowing it in most cases…for the rest of us.

You can purchased the book here.

And here’s a combo author bio and blurb as per Amazon:

In this dazzling memoir that also serves as a dual biography of stage and film legends Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich, producer Michael Menzies chronicles in hilarious detail his life-long obsession with the theater in general and these two international superstars in particular.

Born in New Zealand, and physically a doppelganger of his father, Menzies was convinced at an early age that he did not belong in the outdoorsy, sports-mad country of his birth, but on the glittering stages of the world’s most glamorous theaters. And a twelfth birthday present from his mother confirmed this,

Allowed to purchase any gift, as long as it was a book, Menzies was drawn immediately to the autobiography of actor/writer/composer Noël Coward, and was soon consumed by it. He identified hugely with Coward, so much so that he came to believe that he must be his love child. But with whom? Menzies worked out that his mother must be Marlene Dietrich, who happened to be among Coward’s inner circle. As Menzies writes, “the dates didn’t really fit but were close enough if one fudged a little”.

The book follows Menzies’s decision to leave New Zealand and takes him on a voyage around the world to confront Coward and Dietrich and announce himself as their son. It’s not long before he realizes that this could not be so, but he continues his search for them – and their pasts, nonetheless. He finds echoes of their lives in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Switzerland, Jamaica, all of which he recounts in this book.

Deeply Superficial is a tribute to Menzies’s four parents: Clive and Mary Menzies, who guided his early years and allowed him the freedom to indulge his imagination ,and Coward and Dietrich who gave him the inspiration to “above all, behave exquisitely”, which remains potent in him to this day.

Does the Print Edition of "Fairytale Interrupted" Have Photos?

Before I begin, I’d like to state that I still stand behind my review of “Fairytale Interrupted,” by Rosemarie Terenzio, and I’d still recommend it to anyone looking for a good memoir.

Since I posted my review I’ve had more than a few e-mails from readers asking about whether or not the e-book version of “Fairytale” has photos. Most bios, memoirs, and auto-bios, do have photos, even the e-book versions. In the past year, I’ve read one about Julia and Paul Child, which included tons of photos. I’ve read one about Merv Griffin, with quite a few photos. Even the Steve Jobs bio had tons of photos. In some e-books the photos are inserted into the book and you see them as you read. In others there’s a separate section; just like print books. So I know it’s done the same way with e-books as it’s done with print books.

However, I only saw a few photos in the e-book version of “Fairytale.” To be honest, I enjoyed the book so much I didn’t even realize this until after I’d read the book. I was too busy with the content to notice. And then I left my reviews and people started to e-mail me about this. I went back and saw that there wasn’t a separate section for photos like most e-books. From what I recall, there were a few photos. But not a collection.

My first thought was that Ms. Terenzio either didn’t have any photos…I’m bad that way; I have very few photos; I hate to take them, and I can’t be bothered…or Ms. Terenzio didn’t want to release her personal photos. In many ways, I still get the feeling that she was protecting John Kennedy, just as she did while he was alive, while she was writing this book. Of course since the theme of the book was all about Ms. Terenzio’s dedication/loyalty to John Kennedy and George, it made the book even more endearing to me…and tasteful.

But I know a lot of readers want those photos. I’ll admit that I like going through them in non-fiction books, too. It was fascinating to see the way Steve Jobs looked as a young man and as an older man. So if anyone has a copy of the print book of “Fairytale Interrupted” out there, please comment and let us know if there are, indeed, photos included in the print version. I’m not the only one who is curious. Or just e-mail me privately and let me know.

I would hate to discover the print version of “Fairytale Interrupted” has a huge section of photos and the e-book doesn’t. This would be a huge #publisherfail, and publishers aren’t doing a great job with digital books, from pricing to marketing, as it is.

Review: "Fairytale Interrupted" by Rosemarie Terenzio

When I read excerpts of “Fairytale Interrupted,” in People Magazine last week I made a note to check it out. But when I went to Amazon earlier this week and read the only six reviews left so far I wasn’t too thrilled with what I saw. Almost half were one star reviews, with reasons why the readers didn’t like the book. The rest were rave reviews that sounded way to trite for my taste in memoir.

So I almost went against all the advice I give to readers about vetting reviews and books and passed on “Fairytale Interrupted.” I usually check out the information on amazon, but then go to Kobo to order the digital version because I have two Kobo reading devices and a Nextbook tablet. Part of the reason I almost passed was because of the questionable reviews, and part was because of the price…$11.99…which crossed my line when it comes to digital books.

I stopped short and decided to read the free digital excerpt on Amazon. The reviews kept bothering me; they didn’t sound right compared to the great excerpts I’d read in People Magazine. I also figured that I’d never pay that price for an erotic anthology edited by someone who isn’t an editor and written by people who are new authors. But I would pay full digital price for memoirs that revolved around names like John Kennedy Jr., depending on what I find while vetting the book.

So I opened the Amazon excerpt and started reading the prologue. I should also admit that I’m not a huge fan of prologues…anywhere…and usually skip right over them. This time, however, the minute I started reading I couldn’t stop. After the prologue, I read part of the first chapter. And after that, I went over to Kobo and bought the book. I wound up reading it in almost one sitting.

One reason the book resonated with me is because I felt close to the author in more than one way. I’m a writer who worked in publishing in the 1990’s as an associate editor, I lived in a small studio, and I remember the feeling of excitement within the publishing industry regarding the Internet. This was also pre-911 and Manhattan…and the world…was a different place.

Another reason the book resonated with me is because of John Kennedy. While I was still in college, I went into New York to visit my brother for the weekend. At the time, he lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which was very trendy at the time. I’m not sure if Kennedy still lived there then, but a lot of celebs did and it was an exciting place to be for a few years. This is one of the reasons why I set my own book, The Virgin Billionaire, on the Upper West Side. We went to a small out of the way restaurant that weekend and I actually met John Kennedy for a split second. It wasn’t even an actual “meeting.” I was talking to someone about whether or not it was faster to go through the park to get downtown and he bumped into me and said he was sorry. I didn’t even know it was him, until my brother told me a minute later.

The book is not one of those tell-all, gossipy works that talks about things most people consider far too personal to discuss. But there are a great deal of intimate scenes between the author and John Kennedy that sound real enough to be absolute truth. The author is honest and you know she didn’t make anything up to sell a book. The integrity is there, and you can almost feel the loyalty and respect Rosemarie Terenzio felt for John.

It’s also very well written. As a writer it often bothers me when I see too many common mistakes…even in non-fiction. This book doesn’t do that. It flows with an even pace, it’s not too wordy or over-written, and I didn’t find as many mistakes in the digital version as I often find in other digital books. This alone is refreshing.

The title of the book is bittersweet. John’s life, and the author’s life, were fairytales interrupted. I could feel how devastated Ms. Terenzio was when everything changed so fast. And, even before I read this book, I always felt it was such a shame John didn’t get a chance to fulfill his goal with his Magazine, George. I used to read it from cover to cover. And if John hadn’t died so suddenly I believe George would have been what The Huffington Post is today on the Internet. Unfortunately, this never happened.

If you are looking for something dishy and trashy and gossipy, this is not the non-fiction book for you. If you are looking for something well-written and smart, you won’t be disappointed. The one thing that still bothers me about the one star reviews I read is that this book, even if you don’t like it, deserves nothing less than two stars just for the quality of the writing alone. I’m giving it five.

Unpublished Non-Fiction Authors Building Platforms

Although I don’t write non-fiction and probably never will, I do find the process of building a platform fascinating. Unless you’re famous for something millions of people know about already, your chances of getting a non-fiction book deal are slim to none unless you’ve already started to build some type of a platform. With fiction you don’t really need a platform; just a book people might want to read. But with non-fiction, it’s a completely different ball game.

And building a platform isn’t simple. If you’re trying to self-publish non-fiction, which I’ve posted about several times here before, I would imagine it’s even more difficult. In fact, just grasping what a platform is can be tricky. So I’m linking to a great post about it over at a publishing blog I check out at least two or three times a week that I think gives an excellent explanation of the concept of having a platform. Here’s the link.

How Do You Give Publishing Advice These Days?

I made a friend about four years ago, a fairly well known psychic who has a decent platform. She’s not nationally known…yet. But she’s been on radio shows with famous celebs, and TV talk shows with the comcast network. She’s worked hard, she’s damn good at what she does, and she’s been trying to get a book published for a long time.

Four years ago when I met her, she asked me advice about getting a non-fiction book published. I gave her links, I showed her how to write a decent query/proposal for non-fiction, and I even recommended her to my friend who is a literary agent. And in all the years we’ve been friends, I’ve only recommended two people to my agent friend.

My agent friend rejected her. He focuses more on fiction and already had enough good non-fiction authors at the time. My non-fiction writer friend understood and continued to query. And since then, she’s been building her platform, traveling all over the country doing radio shows and TV talk shows, and helping people through her psychic abilities with their problems.

I think it’s important to mention that I believe in her talents and her abilities as a pychic, and I’m the biggest skeptic there is. I met her at a time when a family member was going through a life and death crisis and she helped me with some great advice. And she was absolutely correct in everything she told me, and she made me a believer.

I truly thought that by now this wonderful, talented psychic would have found an agent and publisher. But that’s not the case. She contacted me this weekend asking for advice about querying again. And this time, four years later, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have much faith in the query system. It only works for a few lucky authors, and it’s designed for failure. Though I never queried my best selling book, The Virgin Billionaire, to any agents, I can guarantee it would have been rejected by all of them if I had queried. The same goes for my other books and short stories.

So I gave my non-fiction author friend the best advice I possibly could based on my own personal information. Things have changed so much in publishing it’s hard to give good advice. I told her to continue querying…you never know…but not to get her hopes up too high. Even if you do get an agent, trying to get a “traditional” publisher interested nowadays is a long shot. They only seem to be interested in Snookie and Bristol Palin books.

Then I told my non-fiction author friend to run over to amazon and check out self-publishing a kindle e-book. With her platform, her large following, and her excellent promotional skills, I doubt she’ll have any problems selling e-books and gaining a readership. She’s been managing her own career for years, why not take the next step by publishing her own .99 e-books.