Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Story Songs: It's Too Late

Singer-songwriter Carole King recorded one of the most powerful break-up and heartbreak songs ever with "It's Too Late," the No. 1 single off her mega-selling Tapestry album in 1971.

The song, with lyrics by Toni Stern and music by King, tells of a couple drifting apart. The narrator tries to explain why they are falling out of love:

"Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
There's something wrong here, there can be no denying
One of us is changing
Or maybe we just stopped trying"

As in many relationships, it's the intangibles that a partner senses that provide the initial clues:

"It used to be so easy living here with you
You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do
Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool"

While the narrator believes there will be good times in the future, it won't be with each other. And the song closes with the repeat of the chorus:

"But it's too late, baby, now it's too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can't hide
And I just can't fake it"

I like the narrator's powerful voice in realizing the relationship is over while the significant other may be surprised by the confession. And King's vocal rings so true in the song's delivery.

The tune was No. 1 on the Billboard chart for five weeks while Tapestry earned four Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for "It's Too Late." Read more about this fantastic album here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Taking Cover

Everything is moving along smoothly -- at least I think so -- on the publication for my short-story collection. I'm sure there will be a surprise or two in the coming weeks.

My manuscript is still in the hands of a trusted editor. I'm still working on the blurb. I've consulted some indie authors for advice, and they've also provided encouragement.

Yesterday, I contracted with Tugboat Design to customize a cover that I hope will reflect the stories. They requested information about the stories and my thoughts about the art. They should get back with me in a few days with several proposals.

As indie authors and traditional publishers know, the cover is one of the most important parts in producing and selling a book -- or most media, for that matter.

We know when browsing books online, bookstores, and libraries, the cover often is the first thing to catch our attention. For the consumer, after purchasing/checking out the book, they want the cover to give some hint as to what's inside. If the cover doesn't do that, they often believe they've been misled.

No doubt, the primary goal for an author is to write the best possible book, or short stories, in my case. But it's often the cover that leads the potential reader to venture inside to the pages.

Until the next time…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Story Songs: He Thinks He'll Keep Her

American baby boomers probably remember  the Geritol commericals from the 1970s where a man compliments his seemingly tireless wife by saying, "My wife...I think I'll keep her." 

For those who don't recall the product, it was multi-vitamin supplement that supposedly boosted energy in seven days -- or your money back.

The commercial inspired singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, teamed with Don Schlitz, to write "He Thinks He'll Keep Her." To the talented songstress, the commercial was condescending toward women.  

The song recounts the years of a woman's marriage:

"She does the car-pool, she PTAs
Doctors and dentists, she drives all day
When she was twenty-nine she delivered number three
And every Christmas card showed a perfect family
Everything runs right on time, years of practice and design
Spit and polish till it shines. He thinks he'll keep her"

But after 15 years of marriage, the wife had enough of the arrangement:

"When she was thirty-six she met him at their door
She said I'm sorry, I don't love you anymore"

And then she apparently leaves him--not for pay but for self-dignity:

"For fifteen years she had a job and not one raise in pay
Now she's in the typing pool at minimum wage"

The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1993. It appeared on her Come On Come album and was nominated for Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

I find the the phrase "I think I'll keep her/him" interesting because it can be viewed in different ways. I've heard it as an endearing compliment because the person it is being directed to is a very compassionate and caring mate instead of an abusive or deadbeat partner. And it can be interpreted a viewing the other person as a chattel.

But I can appreciate the feminist viewpoint that the song embraces. No doubt, the woman in the song feels she is being taken for granted.

For those who aren't familiar with old Geritol commercials, you might enjoy this clip from the 1950s.

There's an excellent interview with Mary Chapin Carpenter in D.C.'s  MetroWeekly. She's always been one of my favorite artists.

"He Thinks He'll Keep Her" lyrics

And two cool videos:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Same Word, Different Meaning

A few week s ago I wrote about homophones, those words that are pronounced alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Something else writers, editors, and proofreaders need to look out for are heteronyms. Those are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings depending on pronunciation.

Here are a few examples:
I saw the Moody Blues live in concert.
I live in Frankfort, Ky.

I have the lead part in an upcoming play.
I broke the lead in my pencil.
(Writers seem to confuse lead and led.)

I feel very close to my family.
I wish someone would close the door.

I have friends who live near the desert in Arizona.
It’s not a good idea to desert friends over money.

As with misuses in word choices, I believe most of the time it’s simply a subconscious act. We get in a hurry and write the word that first comes to mind. But as writers, we know that’s not a good excuse.

And it doesn’t help that spell check won't catch the mistake. That’s another reason to have a good proofreader.

For more examples, check out the Heteronym Homepage.

Until the next time…

Friday, July 20, 2012

Story Songs: Society's Child

One of the most poignant story songs from the 1960s was "Society's Child," written by Janis Ian when she was at the tender age of 13. As the song reveals, she was certainly wise beyond her years.

She was part of that wave of singer-songwriters of that era who were socially conscious, such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Phil Ochs. 

This groundbreaking and powerful song is about a budding interracial relationship that is met with resistance from family, teachers, and classmates. 

The story begins with the young man being turned away at the front door by the girl's mother:

"Now I could understand your tears and your shame,
She called you "boy" instead of your name.
When she wouldn't let you inside,
When she turned and said
"But honey, he's not our kind"

The young couple faces societal pressures at school where students say, 

"Why don't you stick to your own kind."

And teachers 

"...all laugh, their smirking stares,
  Cutting deep down in our affairs."

In the end, the girl decides there is too much to overcome to stay in the relationship:

"But that day will have to wait for a while.
Baby I'm only society's child.
When we're older things may change,
But for now this is the way they must remain."

"Society's Child" reached No. 14 on the Billboard chart in 1967 and some feel it may have soared to No. 1 if it hadn't encountered lack of radio airplay in some markets.

Janis Ian is still performing today and is also an author. She's active in The Pearl Foundation, named after her mother, which is dedicated to helping adults further their education. Read more about Janis here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just a Blurb

Another item on my things to do for my upcoming book is to write a blurb.

It sounds simple but it’s not.

We’ve all heard the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” but we all know that an alluring cover attracts readers.

And the blurb? Well, it does the same thing but on the back cover. It condenses the contents of the book into three or four paragraphs. If the cover art attracts potential readers, you want the written blurb to close the deal.

I’ve written blurbs for my five novels. This time it's a different challenge because it’s a short-story collection. The stories do have a connecting theme so that’ll be my focus. I'll share the blurb with you in a few weeks.

An author friend of mine, Teresa Reasor, shows a blurb draft that may appear on an upcoming novel in her blog, My Muse’s Musings. Check out her novels as well!

Until the next time…

Monday, July 16, 2012

Story Songs: Harper Valley P.T.A.

Kentucky-born Tom T. Hall is known as The Storyteller because of his ability to weave stories into memorable songs. One of his biggest story songs was "Harper Valley P.T.A.," a tune recorded by Jeannie C. Riley that reached No. 1 in the pop and country charts in 1968.

For those unfamiliar with P.T.A, it stands for Parent Teacher Association as plays an integral part in involving parents in schools.

The song is about morals and double standards in a small community. Some P.T.A. members don't approve of a widow's lifestyle and send a note home with her teenage daughter expressing their displeasure:

"The note said, 'Mrs. Johnson, you're wearing your dresses way too high

It's reported you've been drinking and a-runnin' 'round with men and going wild
And we don't believe you ought to be bringing up your little girl this way'
It was signed by the secretary, Harper Valley P.T.A."

That didn't sit too well with Mrs. Johnson and she attends the next meeting of the P.T.A., held the same afternoon. She addresses the group and proceeds to say that one member has asked her out seven times, insinuates one had a shady affair with his secretary, a female member may be an exhibitionist, and two members could have drinking problems.

She closes by saying:

"Then you have the nerve to tell me you think that as a mother I'm not fit
Well, this is just a little Peyton Place and you're all Harper Valley hypocrites"

The  song was made into a movie and TV series starring Barbara Eden. Riley won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. And the song was named Single of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Off to the Cleaners

After writing ten short stories and then spending the past two months going through five rewrites, I’ve sent them off to an independent editor.

When she is finished cleaning the copy, I’ll give them one more read before going through the publishing process. I know there are a few things in several of the stories that need to be tweaked, and I’m sure the editor will note some items as well.

If all goes well, I hope to have the collection published in August. At least that’s my goal at this point. I’ve been asking some of my author friends for advice about self-publishing and they’ve been very helpful and encouraging. I'm entering unfamiliar territory so it's nice to have some guides.

I've also downloaded several books and read numerous articles and blogs on self-publishing. There is so much to learn and consider!

Until the next time...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Story Songs: My Boyfriend's Back

Let's have a little fun with today's post. Most of the Story Song posts have been somewhat serious. This one is a fun tune with a serious message.

Back in 1963, The Angels recorded "My Boyfriend's Back" and took it to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It was written by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Robert Gottehrer. The trio later formed the group, The Strangeloves, who produced the hit, "I Want Candy," in 1965.

The story in "My Boyfriend's Back" revolves around a girl who is being hit on by a guy while her boyfriend is away. When she rebuffs the wannabe suitor, he starts spreading lies about her:

"He went away and you hung around
And bothered me, every night
And when I wouldn't go out with you
You said things that weren't very nice"

We can only imagine what the guy was saying about her. But now that her boyfriend is back, he is going to face the consequences of bad-mouthing her:

"You're gonna be sorry you were ever born
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend's back)
Cause he's kinda big and he's awful strong
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend's back)"

So she suggests that the bum take a hike and never bother her again:

"My boyfriend's back he's gonna save my reputation
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend's back)
If I were you I'd take a permanent vacation
(Hey-la, hey-la, my boyfriend's back)"

I hope guys heed the warning that it's not nice to say bad things about a gal -- especially one who has a boyfriend! And, in this day and age, you might also get hit with a sexual-harrassment suit.

I believe the song is also interesting because it reflects a different time and culture in America; perhaps a bit more chivalry and male dominance. Your thoughts?

The song has been covered by numerous artists and is one of the featured tunes in the musicial "Jersey Boys" playlist. 

"My Boyfriend's Back" lyrics

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Wright, Right, Write, Rite Way

I suppose the headline is a bit confusing. They all sound alike, but their meanings are different.

In English, we call them homophones. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a homophone is defined as a "word the same sound as another word but different from it in spelling, origin, and meaning."

For the record (according to AHD):
Wright -- A person who constructs something.
Right -- multiple meanings to make things even more confusing including in accordance with or conformable to justice, law, morality, or another standard. 2. In accordance with fact, reason, or truth. 3. Fitting, proper, or appropriate. 4. Most favorable, desirable, or convenient. (It's a long definition so look it up if you want more.)
Write -- To form (letters, symbols, or characters) on a surface with a pen, pencil, or other tool; inscribe. To compose, especially as an author or musician.
Rite -- The prescribed or customary form of conducting a religious or other solemn ceremony.

For those who are learning English as a second (or third or fourth) language, I bet this is one of the difficult aspects. Hey, it's difficult enough for English speakers and writers. I wonder if other languages have homophones?

If you're like me, sometimes a word slips in, probably subconsciously, that shouldn't be there. For example, you're thinking "their house" and write "there house." I hope you don't write "they're house," but all things are possible. Spell check would show a correct spelling but wouldn't catch the misused word.

While I love spell check, and it's a great first line of defense for finding misspellings, it's wise to peruse your manuscript to make sure you're using the right word. Better yet, have someone else give it a good read.

If you're interested in seeing a list of homophones, visit EnglishClub.com and Wikipedia. You mite, er, might think you have it maid, uh, made, and its, I mean it's a suite, I mean sweet waist, make that waste, of you're, let's make that your time...well, I hope you get the message.

Until the next time...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Story Songs: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong probably wrote the greatest heartbreak song in history in "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." It was a No. 1 hit for the legendary Marvin Gaye in 1969, and No. 2 for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1967. Even Creedence Clearwater Revival had a minor hit with the tune in the 1970s.

Rock critic Dave Marsh, in his book, "The Heart or Rock & Soul," rates Gaye's version as the No. 1 greatest single of all time. Certainly subjective, but he makes a strong case for his choice.

The narrator is troubled and heartsick when he learns that his girlfriend is returning to an earlier lover (the Gladys Knight version takes a feminine point of view):

"Heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Oh I heard it through the grapevine
Oh I'm just about to lose my mind"

He's upset that he didn't hear it from her about her plans to leave him for another man:

"You could have told me yourself
That you love someone else
Instead I
Heard it through the grapevine."

And he still wants to hear it from her mouth:

"People say believe half of what you see, son
And none of what you hear
But I can't help bein' confused
If it's true please tell me dear"

But at the end of the song, he knows the relationship is about to end:

"Honey, honey, I know
That you're lettin' me go"

I believe most of us can relate to this song and that's what makes it a universal anthem for breaking up. Hey, it hurts, and the lyrics reveal the pain.

Among the other artists who've recorded the song are Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (the first in 1966), Amy Winehouse, The Slits, Earl Klugh, Patti LaBelle, Michael McDonald, Martha Reeves, Ronnie Milsap, and from TV commercial fame, The California Raisins  (I've included their video with Michael Jackson). 

Do I have a favorite version? I suppose Gaye's is the defining  rendition (foreboding) of this great song although I enjoyed the interpretations by Gladys Knight and the Pips (upbeat) and CCR (haunting). 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Paper Cuts

I’ve been spending the past month or so making edits on my upcoming short-story collection. I’m currently on the fifth rewrite; about half-way through the process, more or less.

Sometimes I’ll take a few days off so that I can have fresh eyes when I return to editing. But after looking at the computer screen over and over, I often take another approach to get a new perspective on my words -- I touch the print button on the keyboard.

For me, there’s something about holding a short story, chapter from a novel, or magazine article in my hands that provides a different look to my work. It's nice to actually go from page to page. Needless to say, it has more the look and feel of something published.

From the hard copy, I make the necessary edits using proofreading marks and then transfer the corrections to the computer file. I also find it easier to flip pages of paper rather than on a computer screen to check flow, names, scenes, and descriptions (although I keep handwritten note cards for that purpose as well).

I admit this is probably a carryover from my newspaper days when I wrote stories on a typewriter and passed them on to the copy desk. My first book was written with a typewriter as well.

I’ve gradually advanced with the new technology, but sometimes I find that it helps to take a step or two back to get things right.

Until the next time...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Story Songs: In the Ghetto

Elvis Presley was in kind of a slump in the late 1960s, almost  to the point of appearing irrelevant on the music scene. But that all changed in 1969 when he recorded Mac Davis's "In the Ghetto."

The song is about the hardships facing a young boy growing up in a Chicago ghetto without the social supports to help him succeed. Davis pleads that the child needs our help:

"People, don't you understand

the child needs a helping hand
or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day"

We learn that the boy turns to crime on the streets as he learns to steal and fight to survive in the ghetto. As a young man he eventually purchases a weapon and steals a car, then becomes another victim in the cruel and harsh environment where he was born.

And in the final verse, Davis tells us that it's just part of a cycle as the mother loses a child on the streets while another baby is born in the ghetto:

"As her young man dies,

on a cold and gray Chicago mornin',
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto"

The song was originally titled "The Vicious Cycle."

Davis, who is from Lubbock, Texas, wrote many hits including "Memories," "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me," and "Stop and Smell the Roses." He was inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. 

Although "In the Ghetto" was recorded in the late '60s, it is still  timely and relevant song in the 21st century.