Greg Prato has published two books through Lulu, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon and Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story. Both of Greg’s books document the lives of musicians entirely through interviews given by the people who knew them best. The author himself agreed to an interview with me, and here it is:
You conducted interviews with people who knew the musicians best, people like parents, siblings, girlfriends, former bandmates and other famous musicians. How did you convince these people to talk with you?
I was lucky because in both cases, I had done pretty long feature articles on each artist, for Classic Rock Magazine (a UK publication). So I had a pretty good head start for both books with the interviews I conducted for the articles. Once I got permission from the main subjects in each book (in Blind Melon’s case, the 4 surviving band members, and in Tommy Bolin’s case, Tommy’s brother Johnnie), they each submitted suggestions of who I should get in touch with and interview for the books (and in many cases, provided contact info). And since I was very familiar with each beforehand (I’m a long-time fan of each), I did some research and got in touch with other people that were friends or acquaintances to see about setting up interviews. During the writing of the Blind Melon book, I was also working on a book about grunge bands (see the more books in the works), so I was able to ask Blind Melon-related questions to some grunge bands that they were friends with.
Some of the interviews go into intimate detail. Was it hard for them to open up to you?
Not really, because everyone knew that I had done articles on each before I started the books (and both Blind Melon and Tommy Bolin’s brother both told me they really liked the Classic Rock Magazine articles). Again, I was very familiar with the stories of both Shannon Hoon/Blind Melon and Tommy Bolin, so I was always prepared with lots of questions!
How did you conduct the interviews? How long did you spend interviewing?
The vast majority were done by phone interview, although I did use bits of in-person interviews I conducted with 3 Blind Melon members, and also ex-Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes (the latter of which played in Purple with Tommy), and a handful of email q&a’s. With some, I would call or email them back after I was done transcribing the phone interview, to ask spelling or factual questions I may have had. The times of the interviews varied greatly – some just ten minutes, some over an hour. And that’s not counting that I conducted more than 1 interview with the 4 surviving Blind Melon members and Tommy Bolin’s brother Johnnie, for their respective books.
Did you have all of the interview material before you started writing your books?
Yes, I had everything transcribed and put into topic categories beforehand, so it was really just a matter of fitting everything together and deleting items that may have been repeated. It was like one great big puzzle!
Did the success of your first book (Shannon Hoon) inspire you to write the book about Tommy Bolin?
No, I was planning on writing a book about Tommy a while back, but the idea got put on the back burner for a bit while I finished off the Shannon Hoon book (again, I wrote an article about Tommy several years ago, so the idea to do a book was probably first hatched around that time).
Do you have more books in the works?
Indeed I do! My next book will be coming out on April 1st via ECW Press (they’re the book co. that put out the very popular book Ghost Rider, written by Rush drummer Neil Peart), titled Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. For this book, I was able to get interviews with members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, the Melvins, the Screaming Trees, Bikini Kill, and many other renowned Seattle/Washington bands. If you dug my Blind Melon and/or Tommy Bolin books, I’m sure you’ll dig this one too!
How did you decide to use Lulu to publish your book?
My father cut out an article about Lulu.com about a year or so ago in a local New York newspaper, Newsday, and he showed it to me. It sounded interesting, so I touched base with a few authors that had put out books via Lulu, and they had very nice things to say about the company and how their books turned out. I also chatted with some Lulu reps via the ‘Live Help’ feature, and they were also a great help. Also, I should definitely mention the book designer I worked with, Linda Krieg, who did an AMAZING job on both books and was a great help. If any fellow writers are looking for a great and affordable book designer, Linda certainly gets my vote.
Your books are making news on web sites and forums for fans of the musicians’ bands. Did you plan to promote your books this way?
For the most part, yes, I did plan to promote both books this way. I sent out quite a few review copies of each book as well, to magazines and sites. But here’s a helpful hint to other Lulu writers who are going to send out review copies of their books – first ask if the web site or magazine will accept a print-out of the manuscript. It will definitely save you some $. With my first book, quite a few foolers requested review copies, and then never even ran a review! For the Tommy book, I’ve stuck solely to sending out print-outs of the manuscript, and guess what? It’s going to be reviewed in about the same amount of places as the Blind Melon book was.
Are you doing anything else to promote your books?
I’m also doing a fair amount of radio interviews for both books, and magazines are planning to (or already have) printed excerpts from both books. I’m also figuring that both books will be discovered via the arrival of my Grunge is Dead book, as well. Whenever I do interviews for each book, I also mention my Myspace site – www.myspace.com/gregpratopage – as it includes bonus pix that did not make it into each book. That way, you get more people visiting your Myspace site, you get more friends added, and you can tell them about your future books.
Thanks to Greg for taking the time to talk to me. Visit his Lulu.com storefront to read more about him and to purchase his books.