Speaking at the Historical Novel Society, then going home with Linda

I had a swell time this past weekend speaking at the September meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Historical Novel Society. It took place at the Fairfax Library in Hollywood.

The friendly, welcoming members all sat around a large table. Light poured in through the high cloistered windows that encircled the round room, and the air conditioning was thankfully working—it was a stifling hot LA day.

The other speaker was Jennifer Ramos of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and Book Soup in Hollywood. Vroman’s has been in Pasadena since 1894! She provided a wealth of information about selling books in today’s market, and was inundated with questions from the members who are all eager to sell their books. Me too!

After I gave my presentation, which included a Q & A session, the members took turns talking about what they’re currently working on—the agonies and joys of being a writer. The subject of having someone critique your work as you go along came up; it was an interesting conversation.

  1. For most writers, it’s vital to have at least one other person read your work, and give you constructive criticism and feedback.
  2. That other person or persons should be sensitive to the author’s feelings during the process. Writers are fragile, beings about their work, and a harsh or brutal word can literally stop the process, at least for a while. (Are you listening to this, Linda? “Eeew, nobody wants to hear you talk about that,” is not actually going to help anyone that much. A simple, “Darling, oh my darling, you only ever write sublime, poetic prose,” will do.)

The discussions were lively, fascinating. Linda and I had a good time and made some new friends.

When we got home we had glass of wine and another lively conversation about the always entertaining subjects of tact and ceasefire.


Publication Day– The Alexandrite (Brain Damage)

After Pink Floyd recorded “Dark Side of the Moon,” Roger Waters, who did vocals, played bass guitar, and wrote the lyrics, took a reel-to-reel copy home and played it for his wife. He was understandably, after an unusually long time working on an album, very close to it—probably too close, he imagined, to have any objectivity left.
The album originally consisted of two sides, nine cuts. Each side was a continuous piece of music. For awhile, the title was “Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.” The day Waters brought the tapes home to play for his wife, he sat next to her, but not watching her as she listened to the entire album.
When it was over, he got up, switched off the tape machine, turned back to her and saw that her face was covered with tears.
The album went on to sell over 250 million copies worldwide.

Meanwhile, five or six years after that album’s release, in my tiny, and at the time, crashing life—two divorces behind me, living in a garret apartment so shabbily constructed the building would have to be torn down after the Northridge earthquake (the quake left it resembling a three-dimensional parallelogram), I was alone, listening to “Dark Side of the Moon,” and drinking myself to sleep.
I’d had several years of psychotherapy, but it obviously hadn’t done the job. I’d been semi-well-known for awhile as an actor. In fact, the next to last “cut” of “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Brain Damage” was about, according to Wikipedia, “a mental illness that results from the elevation of fame and success above the needs of the self.”
That was too simplistic for me; I was crazy for a wider variety of reasons than just dealing with the ups and downs of show business. What I was, was a self-absorbed figment of my own imagination, slipping down the backside of the medium sized hill of my career, every bit of confidence I ever had withering away like the Los Angeles water supply. I even considered suicide, except that I had three children I loved. That was the only redeeming feature I could think of about myself; I loved my kids. Otherwise, I was a man in a mask, unsure of anything except that, as the song said to me over and over, “the lunatic is in my head.”
I was writing a lot at the time. In the afternoons before the urge to get blind drunk overwhelmed me, I made various stabs at plays, screenplays and novels. One story I wrote had to do with someone who has lived another life, and that other person was totally different from the first one, but not in a way I could understand. He was just this… stranger. I was inside a stranger (it was a first person piece), trying to figure out not only whose body I was inhabiting, but who this “I” was in the first place, yo-yo-ing back and forth between my insane artiste’s constructions and unconsciousness.
I guess this became my first faltering version of “The Alexandrite.”
As you can imagine, no one wanted to buy it, represent it, or even read it.

Going back to my little apartment and my first attempts to write the story for “The Alexandrite,” the novel that’s been released today, I got more therapy. I finally became sane enough to even consider having another relationship.
I did. I had a few.
I failed at all of them.
Then I met Linda.
Linda is my third wife. We’ve been married for thirty-three years. She is an exceptional person; only someone exceptional could have put up with those first years of living with me.
Finally, I allowed her to train me a little, like house-breaking an untamed mid-life dog you come across at the pound, feel sorry for, and for motives only unwavering dog lovers can understand, decide to bring home and make him a member of your family. That was me—a mongrel with a thousand bad habits, but which, for reasons nobody else can understand, becomes beloved by its owner.

Finally, after twenty-some (+) years of working on it on-and-off, and growing up a little more, I finished the book. I think I got it right. It may not become the all-time best seller I’m dreaming of. It’s kind of a peculiar book, and I’m sure not to everyone’s taste. It’s part literary fiction, part magical realism, part historical fiction, part Hollywood fantasy. And I don’t think it will be everyone’s cup of tea.
But Linda loves it and I trust her completely (she has absolutely no gift for lying).
If the Alexandrite is successful, it’s for three reasons: I had the great blessing of falling apart at the seams, but not dying. I met Linda. And finally, I learned—or I should say I’m learning—to put myself in the hands of whatever that Universal Force of Goodness, that part of us that wants us to be happy and succeed and that knows, really KNOWS, that we are all in this together.

Back to “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “Brain Damage,” “The Alexandrite” is about a man who is literally joined with another self, in another body, in another time. And there is literally someone in his head—but it’s not him.
As the party of the first part (in the story) comes to understand he’s living inside the party of the second part… or vice-versa, it’s not so easy to tell, his initial instinct—as with every other nightmare in his life—is, desperately, to try to wake up and prevent them both from losing everything, like especially their lives.
The book features a hero who, among other things, has to figure out who all’s inside him, what they’re doing there, and what their relationships are to each other. For awhile, he comes to believe he actually hates this other part, or these other parts of himself, as I did a lifetime ago. The “others,” he believes, have to be lunatics just as he always “knew” they were, just as he always “knew” he was.
It comes then as the most surprising lesson of his life when he learns:
“I cannot go without you for you are a part of me.”


I imagined people had probably had their fill of pictures of Marilyn and me. But here’s one of two of the characters in “The Alexandrite”—Linda’s not really a character, but she was the inspiration for “Sophie.”


I’ve been at this book on-and-off for 21 years. Poor “Sophie” has been there the entire time. Instead of saying, “Why don’t you go off and make us a living?” she just put up with all my: “What do you think of this part?” “What do you think of this other part?” She ought to get a medal.

Living With Marilyn

Linda found a place in Hollywood where you can order full-sized cardboard cutouts of famous people. There are more of Marilyn Monroe than almost any other celebrity. We chose the one of her from “Bus Stop” since it’s the shooting of that movie that provides some of the background for “The Alexandrite.”

We had a book launch party and Marilyn was there. Everybody appreciated it almost as if it been the real her.

That was a little over a week ago.

Marilyn is still with us. She doesn’t take up much space, being basically two-dimensional, so she’s still… here—living with us. We come around a corner and there she is.

She scares us.

There’s nothing frightening about the look on her face, but there she is, full sized—a person standing in the living room, or around the corner on the porch (we move her around from time-to-time).

Marilyn was a medium-sized woman. She’s wearing high heels, but she’s not as tall as I am, a little taller than Linda. There’s nothing threatening in her pose. I’m a grown man. You wouldn’t think a woman standing on the other side of the room would be so disquieting. But, I don’t know, she is.

The problem is that I like her. The look on her face is friendly, not sexy, just friendly, innocent. She’s easy to like. Having done tons of research on her for “The Alexandrite,” part of me likes having her around. I don’t think it’s going to turn into one of those weird “Twilight Zone” kind of stories, where I start to have a relationship with her—talk to her, and so on. Linda’s very common-sensical. She’s certainly not going to do that. She likes her too. It’s kind of special having as a constant, undemanding houseguest, Marilyn Monroe.

Still, Linda and I both wish she would stop scaring us that way.

photo 2

Pre Book Launch All Nighter

I napped a lot yesterday. It was an extra-hot San Fernando Valley day. I’d stayed up all night the night before, doing things I must do to be ready for the launch of “The Alexandrite” on August 15th. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight, so after Linda and I finished reading to each other and she was beginning to fall asleep, I got my stuff together to go out into the kitchen and begin my Sunday. I’d already brewed the coffee. My oatmeal only had to be heated up.

As I was about to leave the bedroom, I felt heavy-hearted. I didn’t want to begin a day this way. It felt wrong. So I got back into bed where Linda drowsily put an arm over me. I turned off the light, snuggled back into her and just lay there. I felt like an electric car being recharged. 

About an hour later, I got up, full of energy. I felt terrific, revitalized. It’s maybe an overblown word, but I felt brave. I was ready for whatever the day would bring. I wasn’t going to have to fight any dragons or anything—except in the way we all fight a few dragons in our day-to-day life—but anyway I was ready for mine. Linda is my courage, my Velveteen Rabbit.

When I picked up the book that I’m currently using with my meditation, the first line I read was a quotation from Josiah Royce (a nineteenth century American philosopher, says Google) His words were sort of an exhortation: “Courage, then, for God works in you. In order of time you embody in outer acts what is for Him the truth of His eternity.”

I didn’t know what the hell that meant. I still don’t. But in doing the kind of reading that works for me with meditation, I’ve found that not understanding something isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Usually it turns out to be something my unconscious can chew on at whatever pace it chooses, then quite often, it will cough up something fresh into my conscious—usually at a moment when I’m not expecting anything along those lines.
 When it does that—ejects this new, now clarified thought into my wakeful brain—it will at the same time clear up something else that on one occasion or another has troubled me. It may be something big or little. It doesn’t seem to matter.

Later, I go on the internet and the first thing I see is something about the top five signs I will get a certain scary disease. I don’t click to it. I think the first sign I’ll get that disease is if I decide to read this article.

Still later, I take a break and walk to the park a block-and-a-half away from our house. I walk around it twice (about a mile), then come back home. I remember when I could still run. I’d run as fast as I could, thinking God, I love this. I’m really going to miss this when I can’t do it anymore. Now I have that thought again, except it’s about walking. God, I love walking, living for that matter.

Now I’m going to go to bed. Linda will be about to get up. I remember Renee Taylor and her husband Joe Bologna, actor/writers, wrote and performed a play called, “If You Ever Leave Me, I’m Going With You.” 
That’s the way I feel.

Rideaway With Me

Published June 3, 2015

Dear friends,

Thank you for coming to my website. I hope you enjoy it and that you’ll come back again and follow my quest through my blog: I will post videos, art, book events, and giveaways, which I hope will entertain and court kindness and amusement. In a sense, I will be following my star like Don Quixote. I invite you to join me in the quest.

I’m excited to announce that my newest release, The Alexandrite, will be coming this August. Stay posted for news on my book launch!

Alexandrite is a gemstone of constantly shifting colors. The characters in the story encounter and sometimes see, beneath their own ever-changing facades, the parts of themselves that exist through time and space. Marilyn Monroe is one of those characters. As the novel begins, her line toward the end of The Misfits is quoted: “How do you find your way home in the dark?”

I’ve been an actor most of my life. A few years ago, my wife Linda said, “Go ahead and do whatever your muse tells you.” Earlier in my life, I’d also been a writer and a scenery designer. Now I write, draw, and paint full-time.

The painting in the upper left corner is called Rideaway. The caption reads: “I don’t know what it is, but I intend to ride away from here on it.” That’s as near as I can get to a description of my approach to writing and art without boring you half to death.

I could—and probably will—tell you what a joy it is to ride that critter, how grateful I am to Linda for letting me ride him, and now to you for the kindness of taking a look at my work and play.

Come for Hollywood, stay for the quest.

Rick Lenz