Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Interview with Chris Formant - Bright Midnight - Review

When this gem came across my desk I was really excited to read it, I mean what senior level high-tech executive of a multi-million dollar company writes a novel about sex, drugs and rock and roll legends of the past who died.
Well to answer my own question that would be Senior Vice President & Global President of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Chris Formant.

Enjoy our interview and my review of Bright Midnight!





ISBN-13: 9781941286920
Publisher: HighLine Editions
Release Date: 10/27/2016
Length: 275 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound


Overview:
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Peter Ham—all of them iconic rock stars, all of them dead at age twenty-seven. How could a group of great musicians all die at the same age? All evidence points to the deaths being unrelated, but were they really?
Gantry Elliot is a relic of rock and roll era still writing for Rolling Stone magazine—covering “classic” rock and roll and struggling for relevance in the age of hip-hop and electronic dance music. Even though he’s an encyclopedia of music trivia, Gantry can’t compete with the new kids on the block and is now reduced to watching the clock tick down on his once dynamic career. But Gantry’s vast knowledge may be the only thing that can unravel the Myth of 27.
When anonymous packages start showing up at his office and then his home, Gantry initially shrugs them off as another Myth of 27 conspiracy nerd trying to get attention. As the clues became more intimate, more personal, more sinister, he realizes this is not a game: someone knows the truth, and the truth may put Gantry’s life in serious danger.
Aptly called, "The Da Vinci Code for rock and roll fans,” author Chris Formant has written a terrific debut novel that creatively and deftly takes readers on a dangerous cold case hunt to uncover the mystery behind these deaths. Truth or fiction, lies or conspiracy, 'Bright Midnight' will keep you guessing until its final chorus.


                                                                                    

Read an excerpt:


CHAPTER 1
PART ONE


10 PM, November 17, 1967
Reading, England


The opening chord exploded like a thunderclap, silencing the raucous late night crowd in a nanosecond as it reverberated off the walls and ceiling, almost shaking the beer and wine glasses off the flimsy cocktail tables.
Nearly every head snapped toward the stage in unison straining to see, through the smoky club atmosphere, just who was playing with such power and precision.
The unmistakable dominant seventh sharp ninth chord of "Purple Haze" and the tamed fuzz buster distortion could only announce the arrival of Jimi Hendrix.
The crowd went wild and surged toward the stage.
Only this was not Hendrix.
This otherworldly sound was coming from a scraggly teenager with a forty-year-old whiskey voice.
He moved effortlessly from hard rock to sing-along English folk ballads, the crowd silenced as he channeled the best of Hendrix, then segued to the Beatles, then Stones, then his own catchy songs.
They were in awe as he played with their emotions, drawing them in and twisting them around his finger with each song.
He owned the room full of stylish mods and black leather rockers and everyone instinctively knew that this kid and his group from Wales were destined to explode onto the music scene.
He was good. Really good.
Unfortunately, he was too good for the record company representative in the audience, who stormed out before they were even finished. Wheezing and coughing, he hurriedly waded through the Vespa scooters, past the Norton and Triton motorcycles, to the beaten up old red phone booth on the edge of the parking lot. Gasping, he leaned against the phone booth and pulled out his inhaler and took two deep breaths.
Calming himself, he dialed a familiar number. "Boss," he said slowly, "we have a big fucking problem ..."


Present Day
Rolling Stone Magazine Offices, NYC
Early Afternoon
"No one's gonna give a shit about where we place the Rock Hall piece," the new staffer curtly commented. "Our readers don't really follow stuff like that anymore. The latest focus groups suggest that we need more current and diverse material, like EDM ... or Electronic Dance Music, for you Gantry." The new staffer condescendingly looked at the older men, and went on. "Grammy's, yes. Oscars, yes. But our readers weren't even alive when most of these groups were popular. Maybe the AARP might be interested?"
The young staffer laughed at his joke.
Gantry stared at the staffer with a perplexed expression, like a spoiled teenager. Alex sat back and rolled his eyes. He knew what was coming next.
"Young man, do you know the derivation of the metered heartbeat, the backbone of EDM?" Gantry asked in a slow Texan drawl as the smiling staffer shook his head. "It was introduced by Greg Errico, the drummer for Sly and the Family Stone. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. One of the most influential drummers in rock history."
The kid sunk down in his chair as Gantry continued.
"It's the basis for much of Rock, Funk, Hip Hop, and EDM ... electronic dance music for us old timers."
Alex smirked at Gantry.
A soft knock on the glass conference door interrupted Gantry's lecture. It was Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters. In awe of the rocker that they'd idolized since they were young, the staff jumped up as if the president of the United States had walked in the room.
"Hey Alex, sorry to barge in, but I'm in town for a show at the Garden and thought I'd stop by and say hello," he explained as he stuck his head in.
"Anytime," Alex responded as he introduced the rocker to his staff. They were star struck.
"And here's the MAN," Grohl exclaimed when he spotted Gantry, and ran over to shake his hand.
"Hey, can I ask you a question?" Alex interjected, "Do you know Greg Errico?"
"You've got to be kidding! He's one of my idols ... the father of modern drumming. I learned to play by imitating him. Why do you ask?"
"Ah, no reason. No reason at all." Satisfied, Alex slyly glanced over at Gantry, who couldn't help but smile.


Gantry Elliot was a tough son of a bitch, but always fair, and much smarter than his appearance let on. Now at age sixty-five, he looked as out of place working in Rolling Stone's Manhattan offices as "a centipede at a toe-tappin' contest," a term he liked to use in the rare instances when the opportunity presented itself. His well-worn, dark crocodile cowboy boots were always propped on his desk when he was deep in thought. He'd come a long way since leaving Irving, Texas, but Gantry never lost the boots. They meant home to him.
He had joined Alex Jaeger, Rolling Stone's publisher, more than four decades earlier. He was a wunderkind when he first came on in the late sixties — a smash investigative reporter — but now he was just a relic to the rest of the staff. Holding the title of "Classic Rock Editor," Gantry had been relegated to commenting on rock & roll stars, writing the occasional article on the "classic" era, or reviewing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony every April. Though he tried to pitch substantial stories, lately he had been shut out of every promising lead. Frustrated, he seldom left his back office.


Gazing out the window at the bright rays of morning sun over the East River, Gantry made his first cup of strong coffee and settled in for the day. He'd been thinking about his life lately. Turning sixty-five tends to focus a man on what's important, what he's accomplished, how he'll be remembered. He tried not to dwell on the writing opportunities he was losing to younger staffers, but it nevertheless ate at him, as his boredom grew month after month.
After taking a large gulp of coffee, and with little else to do, he began to reorganize his file drawers which were filled with stories dating back to 1968. Occasionally, Gantry liked to read his old copy to remind himself he really was a writer. He pulled out an article, dated July 1999–skimming the coffee stained paper, his eyes softened as he read the opening words.


I believe we are moving toward a new age in ideas and events. Astrologically, we are at the end of the Pisces Age ... soon to begin the Age of Aquarius, in which events as important as those at the beginning of Pisces are likely to occur. There is a young revolution in thought and manner about to take place.
— Brian Jones
It all came rushing back to him as the words triggered memories of a time when a new form of music filled the air. The unusual blended dissonance of sitar and guitar was still fresh in his mind. He could almost hear it ... Inspired by creative bands, a devoted following of avid disciples actively searched the music and lyrics for the signposts and symbols of peace and love. A new musical religion emerged. It was truly the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Gantry's adrenaline started pumping, remembering the familiar hum and feel of the perfect keyboard of his beat up IBM Selectric 11 typewriter — the little golf ball whirling and punching the paper ... he sped through the old article.
Juxtaposing this free love culture was the "us vs. them" militaristic stance of the government and local authorities. Musicians, singers, poets, and songwriters became enemies of the state. It became almost a form of "rock and roll McCarthyism."
Damn fine quote, he thought to himself. Then, smugly, These fucking Millenials can't write four sentences in a row without adding a link to Wikipedia. His eyes lingered on the page, and with a sharp cold inhale of his breath, he felt the tragic reminder of the untimely death of a great artist ...
Because of an unwritten code, when a rock & roll star suddenly died, generally of what was called "excess" (drugs and alcohol), investigations were grossly inadequate and superficial, leading to wild speculations and urban legends that have persisted over time.
Then darting to the conclusion, he recalled rewriting the last line about sixty times. It was a killer line ... worth a Pulitzer.
"Electricity was in the air. Everything was in a state of upheaval and chaos. It was reflected, even inspired by the music. It was a renaissance."
Suddenly his office door swung open
— a major affront and an unpleasant surprise. No one ever came into his office without knocking first. Who the hell was this?
His heavy boots hit the floor with a thud as he looked up at the tri-colored, spike-haired kid standing before him.
"Hey, Mr. Artifact-oh!" the kid said in an irritating voice, with a heavy emphasis on the last syllable. The kid had called him this once before, and Gantry had told him if he ever did it again, he'd find his multicolored head on a spike.
"What the fuck do you want, rainbow head?" Gantry retorted, turning back to his computer as if busy with something important.
Rainbow head was the first thing that had popped into his mind, and he wished he'd been cleverer. Of course now, seconds later, he could think of at least ten good retorts. Perhaps something about the large black plug that was stretching the kid's earlobe to the size of a quarter. "Ubangee freak" would have worked well.
"Hey, Gantry, I heard you covered the classic-rock show over at St. Agnes Retirement Home last night. Did that Beatles cover band really drive up in a paisley, psychedelic VW Microbus?"
The kid waited, his left hand propping him up in the doorjamb, his right hand fingering the plug in his ear.
"I told you what I would do if you ever called me that again, you little Ubangee freak," Gantry said without turning, his fingers working his keyboard, typing xjglskpg fstxpmonc, fhghfkdl, xtufrohpzzid.
"Yeah, yeah," the kid murmured, knowing when to quit.
When the kid finally left, Gantry had to get up and close his door again — they never did, another sign of youthful disrespect. But he had to smile as he sat back down, thinking of all the shit he pulled during the halcyon days of the late sixties and early seventies back in Texas and, later, in the magazine's home office in San Francisco.
What a trip that place had been. Especially Haight-Ashbury. What these kids do now pales in comparison. With Alex as the ringleader, it was as if the inmates had taken over the asylum.


"Did you know there is a town in Texas called Useless?" Gantry had opened his unsolicited query to Rolling Stone with what he thought was a little-known fact about his home state.
He was a college junior living in Austin, and Buddy Holly was a favorite of his. Holly was a Texan from Lubbock and was later one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Together, Holly and the Hall of Fame comprised Gantry's two favorite subjects.
He knew back in 1968 that Alex, and by extension Rolling Stone, shared his interests because Alex's thoughts permeated those pages, and Gantry had read every word. He wanted desperately to get published in Rolling Stone because it was the only magazine of its kind. Nothing before or since compared, and with only five issues out that first year, getting into it would be like winning a Pulitzer.
He poured himself another cup of coffee, remembering with a silent laugh the way Alex had responded to the grabber line in his query.
Gantry had proposed a creative and unusual sort of obituary for Buddy Holly in his query letter. It would be a post-epitaphic, wherein he would write something about Holly, that had been whispered, but never written about: the possibility that the plane crash that killed him, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson, the Big Bopper, might not have been an accident.
Gantry's letter had caught Alex's eye.
Why not? He thought.
Alex responded to Gantry with a surprise phone call. On that day, Gantry had been engaged in a protest and was working on a report about it, which he'd hoped to sell. As a student he was so poor that he was living on whatever leftover condiments were still in the refrigerator and visiting hotel happy-hour bars three nights a week for free buffets. He had perfected the art of ordering one beer and nursing it until he'd had his fill of appetizers.
So when Alex called that day, Gantry was speechless. When the voice on the other end of the line said, "Hello, is Gantry Elliot there? This is Alex Jaeger calling from Rolling Stone," his hands began to tremble.
"Shit," he remembered saying, covering his mouth too late to grab back the word he had now flung out into the world and into Alex's holy ear. This was the man. This was Rolling Stone magazine. He could barely breathe as he pulled himself together, the receiver in his left hand, a cowboy boot in the other — he'd been caught dressing.
"Uh, umm, yes, this is Gantry Elliot," he said.
"Got your note. Do you know you spelled 'Euless' wrong?" It's "you less," he said phonetically. "Not useless." This became a running joke for years.
Before Gantry could reply, Alex laughed and said, "That's okay. I like your idea about Buddy Holly's plane crash. I like it a lot. I'd like to talk to you about it."
Gantry didn't know how to respond. He was paralyzed. Not only was he talking to the publisher of the country's premier rock magazine, but said publisher liked his idea a lot.
He took a deep breath and got into gear. "Yes. I'd like that. I'd like that very much. You're in San Francisco, aren't you?" He tried to sound worldly, having never been out of Texas.
"Yep. Give me your address and I'll send you an airline ticket. Next Monday okay with you?"
A meeting tonight in a woodshed would be just fine. Are you kidding?
Gantry closed his eyes and savored the memory. So many years had passed since then.
The respect and admiration cut both ways. Alex knew that first month that he'd found a diamond in the rough. Gantry's obsession with the integrity of the music, his detail-oriented stories and his creativity were the perfect complement to Alex's tough-minded business style.


One of his Hendrix favorites was softly drifting out of his vintage Emerson radio ... "There must be some kind of way out of here said the joker to the thief ..." Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," voted the best cover of all time. So good that Dylan was now covering Hendrix's cover in his concerts.
Bam!
A loud thud awakened Gantry, who, despite multiple cups of coffee, had dozed off, his feet up on his desk, his disheveled salt-and-pepper hair scattered across his face. Anyone passing by might have thought he was just in a state of deep concentration. A shard of bright sunlight had filled his office through his east-facing window, pouring across his dark, old oak desk and illuminating a credenza, a worn brown-leather couch, and a bookcase filled with old LPs.
The afternoon mail had arrived, as always, piled in a cardboard box on his side of the wall, under a small opening he'd asked maintenance to cut so the mail boy could leave it without disturbing him. Glancing over, he saw that the envelopes were piled higher than usual, a sign that it was time to rummage through a week's worth of unread mail. He did it in a hurry, giving only a passing glance to most of it as he fanned through the envelopes, promptly trashing them.
Rarely did anything catch his interest. He figured, as he did with his e-mails, that if something was important enough, it would resurface or someone would call to follow up. He was known to ignore e-mails for weeks, and then just clear out his inbox and let it start all over, which drove his colleagues crazy. But what they hated more was the fact that he rarely answered his antiquated cell phone, one of the few remaining not-so-smart phones in Manhattan. Only Alex knew how to reach Gantry most of the time, knowing that he would either be in the office, at home, or down at Marty's for an after-work whiskey.
The sound of mail hitting the bottom of the box was followed by a knock on the door.
"Yeah, what is it?" he yelled out.
"Mr. Elliot. There is one more package. It's too big for the slot. Someone left it downstairs at the mail room counter."
Gantry swiveled around and opened the door and took the large manila envelope from the boy. As he began to close the door, he could hear the kid muttering sarcastically as he walked away, "Thank you Dustin, for picking up the package for me."
Gantry took the envelope to his desk and grabbed a letter opener out of a coffee cup. The opener was lethal looking, with a sharp blade and a heavy knob on the top embossed with a black-and-white skull and crossbones; a gift from Keith Richards for a favorable review of his solo album back when Richards and Jagger were having problems.

(Continues...)

Chris welcome to The Reading Frenzy, I LOVED Bright Midnight and even though I am a boomer who rocked along with Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, and the rest I know this novel will appeal to readers and rockers of all ages.

 So tell my readers how on earth the Senior Vice President & Global President of Verizon Enterprise Solutions in his day job came to write this amazing story?
One evening, I was walking through my rock memorabilia gallery, with The Doors music in the background, and I stopped to study my latest addition: a two-page article in the Record Mirror from 1964 announcing a hot new band: The Rolling Stones. What struck me the most was how young they were.  Before me was a fresh-faced Keith Richards, a teenaged Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones, the founder of the Stones. Hanging beside them were articles about Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison and The Doors.
Besides being the soundtrack of my youth, there was something else that connected them. Jones, Hendrix and Morrison all died at the age 27 under cloudy circumstances, had poor to non-existent autopsies with weak investigations of the circumstances. Urban legends and conspiracy theories have swirled around their deaths for almost 50 years.
An idea got in my head at just that moment that I couldn’t shake and kept haunting me for days. What if they didn’t die by accident? What if they all were murdered? I started writing down some ideas, doing a little background reading and some light research. The more I scratched the surface, the more deeply I got drawn in.
That is how Bright Midnight got started. A fictional murder mystery that reimagines the deaths of iconic late ‘60s and ‘70s rock stars, not as accidents but as murders.

I did a lot of googling during the read and have to admit that I’d never heard of the “myth of 27” or realized that we lost all those icons at the same age or that so much had been debated and written about it in the past. After your extensive research for the book, what camp are you in -- accidental/suicide/overdose, something more sinister or the jury’s still out?
You’re right, Debbie.  The myth of 27 has been around for a long time and has provoked a number of urban legends, hippie mythologies and conspiracy theories. But nothing that re-imagines the deaths as serial murders. And nothing that views them through a 21st century forensic lens.
I started my background research not expecting to find any inconsistencies or material flaws in how the deaths had been characterized.  I just wanted some facts for my fictional novel.
But candidly, once I started juxtaposing what could have motivated murders with the flimsy to non-existent autopsies and investigations, I believe that if they occurred today, more comprehensive murder investigations may have been launched.

Chris your book is being called “the DaVinci Code for Rock and Roll fans”
Do you like the comparison?

I’m very flattered. Bright Midnight is a good story, but I am an average writer and not a Dan Brown. But the suspense, intricate plot and how the murder evidence and forensics build to a crescendo with an unexpected ending, is why some have made that comparison.

The way you handled your investigation during the novel had a very genuine feel to it. How did you conduct that part of your research?

First, I gained access to some of the unique information that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has in its archives, including original editor and reporter files on each rock star at the time of their death. These artifacts brought the era to life, and illuminated the weak investigations and adversarial relationships that the rock stars had with the authorities.
Second, a former senior FBI official and a former FBI investigator, along with a former NYPD investigator, helped me understand the processes and techniques used. But most importantly, they guided me toward the textbooks and modern cold-case investigative techniques that could apply.
Third, a top neurosurgeon and researcher from Johns Hopkins Medicine helped me interpret the autopsies and suggested alternative means by which the stars could have died physically and chemically,  as well the limitations of forensic technical analysis 50 years ago.
That set the stage for a creative reimaging of the deaths, seen through the lenses of modern forensic practices and with the application of the latest technology. But even the latest technology couldn’t bridge some of the investigative gaps.
So, being a technologist, I imagined new technologies that are not currently in existence or considered highly experimental. The joys of fiction!

So now that you’re no longer a “debut” author are you busy thinking of plots and story lines for novel number 2?
I have been hard at work on my next book, a Revolutionary War fiction. That said, I do have a story line for a follow up to Bright Midnight, if readers want the story to continue!

Chris thanks so much for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to answer my questions. Good luck with the novel! It was unforgettable.




 My Review
Bright Midnight
By Chris Formant

Sex, drugs, rock n roll and a mind-boggling mystery take center stage in this unique, exciting debut by Chris Formant. Using a mesmerizing mix of facts, fiction, urban legend and pop culture he builds a true-crime worthy mystery/thriller from the “myth of 27”, (the untimely death of rock star icons all at the age of 27) in his amazing debut, Bright Midnight. His characters are all award worthy especially his aging reporter star, and his use of hard-boiled investigation techniques keeps the story engaging, reader’s pulses pounding and the pages turning. With Rock N Roll as a constant even using Jim Morrison song lyrics for the title and a Pandora’s box for a plot he brings his audience a riveting extraordinary, keeper shelf, read!
Gantry Elliot has spent over 40 years writing for Rolling Stone magazine, he’s gone from headliner to at 65 the butt of the younger writer’s jokes and is wondering if its time to hang up his credentials. When he starts receiving anonymous packages containing “clues” that the rock n roll legends all who died at 27 didn’t die from their addictions but were in fact murdered he thinks he may be onto something big. He knew all of these infamous rockers some intimately and he wants this story more than he wants his next breath so now he just has to convince his boss to let him pursue it and convince the FBI to investigate it. No problem!


 Connect with Chris - Facebook - Twitter

Meet Chris:From his early “garage band’ days, to a seat on the Board of Trustees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Chris Formant has been a student of rock and roll his whole life.A collector of rock memorabilia and an avid reader of rock histories, he has absorbed the stories of rock legends in much the same way as his lead character, Gantry Elliot, in Bright Midnight.As an executive in a leading global company, running a multi-billion dollar business, Formant is the unlikeliest of authors of a murder mystery.But the continued unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of our most iconic rock legends led Formant to first speculate and then re-imagine what would happen if cutting edge technology were applied to these famous cold cases.Doing his own research into the archives of the Hall of Fame, studying advanced forensics techniques and gaining creative insights from top doctors, FBI investigators and a former editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, Formant crafted what is being referred to as the “Da Vinci Code for Rock and Roll Fans”.

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12 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh I love his background! Never would have seen that one coming and I love it! How fun. What a great interview Debbie!

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  2. I hear your enthusiasm for this one, mixture of mystery and music. Enjoyed the interview and obviously he has a very creative side and good to see that he is going to keep on writing.

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  3. While I missed the boomer cutoff and arrived on earth in 66, I abandoned the 80's music in favor of the bands of the 60's and 70's :)

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    1. Twelve years my junior, just a pup and still a granny before me! ;-) I think you'd like it!

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  4. This conspiracy is new to me as well. I never considered their ages when they died. Very creative! Love the idea of this premise.

    Enjoyed encountering a new to me author through the interview and review, Debbie.

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  5. You always have such great interviews, Debbie. I'm not familiar with this author, but you have me intrigued.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

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  6. You always have such great interviews, Debbie. I'm not familiar with this author, but you have me intrigued.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

    ReplyDelete