Saturday, December 29, 2012

Losing a Best Friend

Two weeks after writing about a new addition to my family, I'm heartbroken to say we've lost a treasured and beloved member. Baxter passed away on Dec. 28.
We had Baxter for eight years. We got him when he was about 5 or 6. The previous owner wasn't sure about his age. She gave him to us after having a baby, feeling that she couldn't give him the attention he deserved. We are so thankful for her act of kindness.
We welcomed Baxter, all six pounds of him, into our home. We already had another dog, Bucky, who was not quite a year old but we believed he needed a canine friend. They became best buddies.
Baxter was a special friend. He would communicate with us by going around in circles. If we asked him something, he would respond affirmatively by going in a circle. If not, he'd just look at us.
My son, Sean, lived with us about the time Baxter came into our family. Baxter adored him. He couldn't wait for Sean to come home from work. He would smother him in doggie kisses.  Even after Sean moved away, the mention of Sean's name made Baxter's ears perk up. And when Sean came to visit, he knew there would be kisses from his "little buddy."
Baxter also loved to travel in the car. When I asked, "Do you want to go bye-bye," he'd go around in circles and head to the car. One of his favorite places was River View Park. Again, I'd say, "Do you want to go to the river?" and he responded accordingly. I spent many days walking Baxter and Bucky along the banks of the Kentucky River.
Baxter was a fussy eater. While we gave him a variety of dog food, he loved pizza, spaghetti and Pringles Stix. I only had to mention those words and he'd go in circles and follow me to his feeding dish.
Baxter slept with us as well. His preferred spot was on a pillow. My wife and I didn't mind. It was comforting to have him so close, all curled up and touching my head. And if he had to get up in the middle of the night to potty, he would gently tap me on the head or shoulder. He was also my alarm clock because he was an early riser.
Two-and-a-half years ago we took Baxter to the vet. He was having problems breathing. An X-ray revealed spots on his lungs. The vet thought he might have cancer. He also had an enlarged chamber in his heart.
We didn't know how long we would have him so we tried to make everyday special for him. But Baxter proved to be a tough little fella. He ended up outliving Bucky, who passed away in October 2011.
After Bucky died, Baxter would take short walks by himself, sometimes before daybreak and sometimes when I came home for lunch. He'd be gone for five-to-ten minutes, and return. If we weren't at the front door, he would stand there tapping on it.
Baxter was getting older and somewhat frail. Aside from his daily walks, he was content to rest on the bed. 
Yesterday afternoon, Baxter took his leisurely walk. When he didn't return in ten minutes, I grew worried. I found his lifeless body behind my next-door neighbor's house.
My son Justin came over and we buried Baxter in the back yard, next to Bucky.  Many tears have been shed by my wife and me because Baxter brought so much love and joy to our lives. He was our "handsome scamp" and "little tiger."
But let me tell you that in his last 24 hours Baxter got to go bye-bye in the car to pick up my wife at work, had some cheese pizza, two Pringles Stix, and shared the pillows in our bed before took his fateful walk across the Rainbow Bridge.
I'll always miss you, Baxter. Thank you for being you and part of my life.
Until the next time…

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Sweet Time of the Year

I find that the Christmas season brings back sweet memories.

My wife asked me to purchase some candies for her to take to work. Among my choices was divinity. My mother, who passed away nearly four years ago, loved divinity. She would make it during the holidays along with fudge, peanut brittle and other goodies. 

A few days ago while picking up a few items at Wal-Mart, I saw boxes of milk chocolate cherry cordials. My sister Sheri would always receive a box for Christmas. It became a tradition in our family. I would bet someone gave her a box this year. 


My Dad's favorite candy is chocolate-covered creme drops. I remember that he used to eat them with crackers. I guess he was an early salty-and-sweet advocate. He also loves those gooey orange slices.

My daughter-in-law Melissa makes mouth-watering peanut butter balls. She usually gives us a tin container of sweets for the holidays.

My wife Mary bakes delicious pumpkin pies for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that we share with family and friends. We finished the last one yesterday. 

And at the office we have folks bring in their favorite sweets throughout the holiday season. It's a temptation too difficult for my sweet tooth to resist. I'm even a fool for fruit cake.

No wonder my perennial New Year's resolution is to lose weight!

Until the next time... 




Sunday, December 23, 2012

Story Songs: Goodbye to Love

I believe the Carpenters' "Goodbye to Love" has to be one of the saddest love songs ever recorded. It simply tugs at the heart  from start to finish. 

The song, written by Richard Carpenter and Songwriters Hall of Famer John Bettis, was a departure from the songs by the superstar brother-sister (Richard and Karen) duo that helped define soft rock in the 1970s, with such upbeat hits as "Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun," and "Top of the World."

The tune, as the title implies, deals with the loss of love and the unlikelihood of ever regaining in. Karen's expressive vocal accentuates the moodiness of the lyrics. And right in the middle of it, we hear Tony Peluso's soaring fuzz guitar that takes the song to new heights.

The song opens mournfully and never lets up:

"I'll say goodbye to love

No one ever cared if I should live or die
Time and time again the chance for love
has passed me by
And all I know of love
is how to live without it
I just can't seem to find it."

Later she sings:


"All the years of useless search
Have finally reached an end
Loneliness and empty days will be my
only friend"

If there is a ray of hope, it's in the final verse:

"What lies in the future
is a mystery to us all
No one can predict the wheel of fortune
as it falls
There may come a time when I see that
I've been wrong
But for now now this is my song."

But it closes on a sad note:

"And it's goodbye to love
"I'll say goodbye to love."

And then Peluso's guitar drives the song to a powerful end.

One reason this song touches me so much is because Karen died in 1983,  at the age of 32, of complications from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that causes people to lose weight to the extreme. I often wondered if she felt unloved in her final years.

I'll admit that I wasn't a big fan of the Carpenters during their heyday (although I loved this song), but I've come to admire appreciate them through the years for their mature and heartfelt songs.

"Goodbye to Love"  reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts in 1972. The Carpenters had three No. 1 songs and their catalog of music has more than 100 million in sales. 

"Goodbye to Love" lyrics


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Giveaway


Between now and Christmas Day, I'll be giving away digital copies of "Laments: Short Stories" to the first 25 people who respond to this post.

All you need to do is give me your name, email address and format preference -- Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords. You might also want to give me your country since I would like to acknowledge all the recipients on this blog when the contest is over but that's optional if you'd prefer not to have your name published.

If you'd like a copy, then send the above information with "Holiday Giveaway" in the subject line to Michael.Embry@gmail.com. I won't be selling or giving your email address to anyone (I'm not that organized). I simply want to show my appreciation to readers and supporters during this holiday season.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A New Addition

I've got a new addition to my family -- Bailey.
Bailey is a little fella -- a Yorkie-Chihauhau mix -- also known as a Chorkie. He's almost ten weeks old and weighs about one pound,  and probably won't get bigger than five pounds.
He arrived at my house yesterday (Dec. 14). I received a call from my friend Deb, who had made all the arrangements. She picked up Bailey from a kennel in another town and told us he was ready to go to his new home. My wife and I were expecting a call from her on Dec. 17 so this was an early and wonderful surprise for us -- an early Christmas present!
Bailey is nearly coal black with some white streaks on his chest. And he has blue eyes. I'm sure his looks will change as he gets older.
We also have Baxter, a Yorkie, who is going to have to get used to having a new "brother" around the house. Baxter is about 15 so there's quite an age difference, but I'm sure he'll show the new kid the ropes.
If you follow my blog, you'll be reading more about Bailey and Baxter in the coming months. I promise.
Until the next time…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Story Songs: Detroit City

Most of us have been homesick at some point in our lives -- perhaps in college or the military or moving to another city after getting married.

Or maybe, as Bobby Bare sings in "Detroit City," at a job away from the place we consider home. 

The tune, written by the legendary songwriter Danny Dill and Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis, is about a Southerner who goes north to work at one of the automobile factories. It reached No. 6 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1963.

So often people seek fame and fortune in other places only to discover they may have lost much more in terms of personal happiness. And on the flip side, sometimes we have to leave home to find happiness -- wherever and whatever that may be.

"Detroit City" opens with the mournful:


"I wanna go home, 
I wanna go home 
Oh how I wanna go home"

The narrator then tells of falling asleep and dreaming about the home and loved ones he left behind:


"I dreamed about my mother, my dear old papa, sister and brother
I dreamed about about that girl who's been waiting for so long"

Then we learn that he's been living a lie from he's been telling the folks back home:


"Homefolks think I'm big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I'm fine
But by day I make the cars, by night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines"

Then he admits the he's been wasting time in Detroit and needs to return to where he's happy:



"So I just think I'll take my foolish pride and put it on a southbound freight and ride
And go back to the loved ones that I left waitin' so far behind"

Bare won a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording for the song in 1964. Billy Grammer, Dean Martin, and Tom Jones also charted this song on various Billboard charts.

Does the song make you think of times you've been homesick?

"Detroit City" lyrics






Thursday, December 6, 2012

NaNoWriMo -- One Week Later

It’s been a week since I completed the 30-day writing marathon – also known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
Since I closed the file on Nov. 30 -- at 50, 171 words -- I haven’t looked at it. I probably won’t for a few more weeks. I experienced the hodge-podge of words I produced during those weeks of “literay abandon” and I simply don't want to revisit them now.
In the meantime, I have spent time doing research on bullying. I have 45 graduate hours in special education (four shy from receiving my master’s degree) so I have some knowledge of the subject.
I’ve also been working on another collection of short stories. I think it’s important for writers to write.
Another thing is I've been reading because I believe it’s important for writers to read as well.
Until the next time…

Monday, December 3, 2012

Story Songs: Shannon


I've had several friends deal with the passing of  a "best friend" in the past month or so -- their beloved dog.  Some people will say it's like losing a member of your family.

For dog (and cat) owners, it is losing a member of your family. It's painful. It's tearful. And it's sad.

Henry Gross wrote about the passing of a dog in "Shannon."  The song was somewhat inspired by the loss of Beach Boy Carl Wilson's Irish setter, Shannon," that was struck and killed by a car. You can read about the story behind the song on Gross's website.

The tune beings with the mother having problems dealing with the loss:

"Another day is at end
Mama says she's tired again
No one can even begin to tell her"

Then we learn about Shannon:

"Shannon is gone I hope she's drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she'll find an island with a shady tree
Just like the one in our backyard"

And we learn how her loss affects those who loved her:

"But finally the tears fill our eyes
And I know that somewhere tonight
She knows how much we really miss her"

One comment I read about the song was that it couldn't just be about the passing of a dog; that it had to be a metaphor for personal loss. All I can say is that the death of a pet is a painful, personal loss.

Gross, a founding member of Sha Na Na, is so expressive in the lyrics and his high-pitched vocal -- it simply sounds sad without even knowing the story. It can move you to tears.

"Shannon" reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. Gross, now 61, is still an active singer-songwriter.

So for Doug, Mark, Sharon, Jerry, Jim, Linda, and others who mourn the loss of their dogs (and other pets), this post is dedicated to you.

"Shannon" lyrics





(In the spirit of the holiday season, the digital price of "Laments: Short Stories" has been reduced to 99 cents on Amazon.com, B&N.com, and Smashwords.com.  If you decide to purchase, please leave review/feedback).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo -- Mission Accomplished

I finished the National Novel Writing Month on the last day with a few words to spare. The goal was to write 50,000, and I wrote 50,171 words.
 
The working title for the manuscript (and that's all it is until published) is "Bullies." It's a young adult novel about, well, what the title indicates.

This first draft will go through numerous edits and rewrites in the coming months.  I won't look at it for several weeks. I want fresh eyes when I open the file on my computer.

For the other writers who also took part in NaNoWriMo, and especially those who reached the 50k goal, my sincere congratulations. I know firsthand what you had to do to produce that diamond in the rough.
Until the next time…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Story Songs: Love, Me

Collin Raye recorded a story song about lifelong love and devotion  in "Love, Me."

The tune, written by Skip Ewing and Max T. Barnes, tells the story of an enduring love between the narrator's grandparents. It topped the Billboard Country Chart in 1992, Raye's first No. 1 hit.

In the song, the grandfather tells his grandson story of planning to meet his future bride in 1923 so they can run away and get married. When he gets to the meeting place, he finds a letter nailed to a tree:

"If you get there before I do
Don't give up on me
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be

"But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then
Til I see you again

"I'll be loving you
Love, me"

The song moves forward to narrator's grandmother deathbed. The grandfather cries as he repeats those words to her.

I believe this song goes straight to the heart with its poignant  lyrics. I think of my paternal maternal grandparents when I hear this song and remember the strong bond and love they shared in their long marriages.
"Love, Me" lyrics



Friday, November 23, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update No. 3


Only a few more days remain in National Novel Writing Month.
 
So far I've written 37,000 words, which means I need 13,000 more to reach the targeted 50k. According to NaNoWriMo, I have been averaging 1,608 a day and need to produce 1,625 a day through Nov. 30.

I don't really see that as being a problem unless something really crazy happens in my life. I suppose I should cross my fingers, just in case.

This has been more difficult than I first imagined. I believe the main reason is that I'm writing in first person point of view. Everything piece of fiction I've written has been third person so this is an additional challenge for me.

However, when I finish and review the first draft, I will probably change it to third person. I've found first person to be rather confining in developing plot and sub-plots. But I have gained additional respect to those who write in the first person. You rock!

I may have one more update before I finish this NaNoWriMo. And to those who are participating in this month-long marathon, I wish you the best as we enter the homestretch. I hope we'll all be winners.

Until the next time...

(In the spirit of Black Friday and the holiday season, the digital price of "Laments: Short Stories" has been reduced to 99 cents on Amazon.com, B&N.com, and Smashwords.com.  If you decide to purchase, please leave review/feedback).



Monday, November 19, 2012

Story Songs: On Broadway

I must admit that I love songs that inspire, and one of my favorites is "On Broadway."

Wikepedia provides excellent background on the song written by Barrry Mann and Cynthia Weil, in colloboration from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller -- two of the great songwriting teams in pop music history.
The tune was first made popular by The Drifters, one of the legendary groups of the 1960s, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard chart in 1963. George Benson, a great jazz guitarist and vocalist, did even better, taking it to No. 7 in 1978.

For me, the song is about determination and refusing to give up, despite the odds:

"They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway (on Broadway)
They say there's always magic in the air (on Broadway)
But when you're walkin' down that street
And you ain't had enough to eat
The glitter rubs right off and you're nowhere (on Broadway)"
 
But the singer has a strong resolve to make a name for himself despite what others are telling him:
 
"Ha! They say that I won't last too long on Broadway (on Broadway)
I'll catch a Greyhound bus for home, they all say (on Broadway)
But oh! They're dead wrong, I know they are
'Cause I can play this here guitar
And I won't quit till I'm a star on Broadway (on Broadway)"
 
I think the message in the song is believe in yourself and not to get discouraged by detractors. And sometimes we can find our worst detractor simply by looking in the mirror.
 
And as the song proclaims, you can succeed with a positive attitude:
 
"I'm gonna make it, yeah (on Broadway)
I'll be a big, big, big man (on Broadway)
I'll have my name in lights (on Broadway)
Everybody, everybody's gonna know me, yes (on Broadway)"
 
 
"On Broadway" lyrics







Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo Halfway (Almost)

I'm at the midway point in the National Novel Writing Month. Fifteen days down, 15 days to go
.
With a goal of writing 50,000 words in November, that means I should have written 25,000. I'm at 22,509.

According to the NaNoWriMo website, a writer needs to average 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000. So far I'm averaging 1,500. And to finish with 50k, I have to average 1,719 a day for the remainder of the month.

I don't think I'll have difficulty reaching that number unless some unforeseen things happen. My young-adult novel is taking shape and the words are beginning to flow off my fingertips.

I'll give you another update after 21 days.
Until the next time…

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Story Songs: Vincent (Starry Starry Night)

I'm not going to give any interpretations to Don McLean's  "Vincent," also known as "Starry Starry Night," a song about the tragic life of famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.

What I love about this song are the sentimental thoughts about this great artist and the word pictures that McLean so eloquently expresses.

Consider this:

"Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land."

and this:

"Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand."

There are references to Van Gogh and his paintings throughout the song. This McLean website provides a history and inspiration for his timeless lyrics. 

"Vincent" reached No. 6 in the United States and No. 1 in the United Kingdom in 1972. 

McLean first gained fame with the unforgettable "American Pie," a No. 1 tune in 1972. He also penned other memorable songs such as "And I Love You So" and "Castles in the Air." His songs have been covered by such luminaries as Elvis Presley, Helen Reddy, Josh Groban, George Michael, and Perry Como.

Still an active performer, the 67-year-old McLean was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

"Vincent" lyrics





Sunday, November 11, 2012

31st Kentucky Book Fair Memories

The 31st Kentucky Book Fair is history.
 
I had a wonderful time signing books, talking to KBF patrons, and chatting with other authors. My wife spent time purchasing books for Christmas gifts and attending most of the symposiums. She had a great time as well. 

Sales were down, according to the Frankfort State Journal, from $157,000 last year to $110,000. I'm not sure what accounted for the decline other than the beautiful weather (temps in the 70s) and other activities going on during the Frankfort's annual Candlight event.

The SJ listed the best-selling authors/artists as Mary McDonough, James Archambeault, Ryan Clark and Joe Cox, Stephan Pastis, Al Smith, Silas House, James Higdon, James B. Goode, Duffy Brown, and Wendell Berry. Nope, you don't see my name. Maybe next year.

I got to talk to McDonough for a few minutes. Her name doesn't ring a bell? She played Erin on widely popular TV show "The Waltons" back in the 1970s. Her book is "Lessons From the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton."  Mary had a great time in Kentucky, selling tons of books from Augusta to Lexington to Frankfort. She's a a lovely and inspiring person and I recommend her book, especially to girls and young women.

Proceeds from the KBF go to school and public libraries as well as literacy programs across Kentucky. In the meantime, support your local library!
Until the next time…

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Writing A Novel: After Seven Days


I've written every day so far in my first time participating in  National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to produce a minimum of 50,000 words in November.
 
So far I've written 10,913 words, an average of 1,559 a day. I should be averaging 1,667 but I'm not too far off.  Some days I write a little more than needed, some days a little less.

I must admit that writing this novel hasn't been that easy. Of course, it shouldn't be easy. And it's only a first draft. I hope by the end of the month that there will be usable parts that I can transform into a novel for young adults.

I wish I it was like being on a runaway train because I would at least be on track. Instead, it's been more like swaying all over a six-lane highway, unable to stay in a designated lane.

Perhaps as I progress along I will be able to steady my course and have a nice flow to the story. We'll see. I'll have another update at 14 days.
Until the next time…