Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life Happens

While I believe it’s important for a writer to write every day, there are times when it’s good to take a break.

Writers need to prioritize and not let writing intrude on other matters in life. Don’t misunderstand me, I think a writer should try to set aside some time to write every day, but there are events in life that should take precedence such as important family events, personal commitments to others, and unforeseen emergencies.  

So don’t feel guilty if you don’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, on those days. Life happens.  And from those life events, you’ll have memories to mine for your writing endeavors.

Conversely, I believe it can be more harmful to be so obsessed about writing as to get so caught up in the process of producing words that a writer will intentionally miss or purposely ignore other activities that make up life. Once something happens, it's gone. Forever.

Life enriches our writing when we experience the degrees of joy and sadness, and everything else we encounter along our daily journey.

Until the next time…

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Story Songs: Garden Party

For those growing up in 1950s, one of the staples on television was "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." They were the Nelsons, with sons David and Ricky, on the popular weekly show.

Quite a few of the shows ended with Ricky performing one of his songs, such as "Travelin' Man," "Hello Mary Lou," and "Poor Little Fool." Ricky was a good-looking guy and became a teenage idol during the early years of rock 'n' roll.

As with most musical artists, his popularity began to wane as other performers and styles took center stage. But Ricky became Rick, and he broadened his music into country-rock and formed the Stone Canyon Band. 

While Rick expanded his musical interests, fans wanted to hear the songs from his heyday. He wrote about being booed at an oldies concert at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1971, for playing some new material, in the song, "Garden Party." 

"I went to a garden party, reminisced with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party they all knew my name
But no one recognized me I didn't look the same"

He makes references to Chuck Berry, Yoko Ono, the Walrus (John Lennon), and Mr. Hughes (George Harrison) in the song as well as to some of the hit tunes he performed. But for Nelson, it wasn't a happy experience:

"If you gotta play at garden parties I wish you a lot a' luck
But if memories were all I sang I'd rather drive a truck"

I saw Rick along with Sam and Dave in concert in Milwaukee in 1985. He put on good show. Six months later, he died in a plane crash en route to a concert in Texas. He was 45. And two years after that, he was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Garden Party" lyrics 

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Matter of Time

I know I’m getting older -- aren’t we all? – but sometimes it seems to be accelerating a bit more as the years pass by.

If you’re around old-timers, and I resemble that remark, you’ll often hear them say that time seem to go much more quickly as you age. I know time is still moving at the same pace as it was years ago, but as you grow older, you realize that your time is running out. The hourglass is more empty than full.

Just the other day, while working at the Kentucky State Fair, I had planned to attend an oldies concert featuring The Turtles, The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams, Gary Puckett, and Mickey Dolenz. I suppose that kinda shows my age as well.

After my shift, I walked over to the concert venue, Cardinal Stadium, and sat down in the stands for about ten minutes. While sitting there, I realized the concert would last about two hours, then it would  take me about an hour to walk to my car and leave the congested fairgrounds parking lot, and then it would take another hour or so to drive home. It would probably be past midnight by the time I got home. And I had to be at work the next morning.

So I got up and left, made it home shortly after 9 a.m., took my dog, Baxter, out for few minutes to do his thing, then headed off to bed for a decent night’s sleep, or until Baxter was ready to be taken out again at daybreak.

Last year I stayed for concert. And I remembered how tired I was the next day.  So this year sleep was more music to my ears than a concert. Yep, I'm getting older in more ways than one.

Until the next time…

Monday, August 20, 2012

Story Songs: Eleanor Rigby

The Beatles's catalog of music is immense and impressive, to say the least. The group went through different phases of creativity as they matured individually, collectively, and artisitically.

One of my favorite songs is "Eleanor Rigby." It was on the Revolver album in 1966,  which I thought was quite a departure from previous efforts. Many critics consider Rubber Soul, released the previous year, as the transitional album from their pop efforts to a more serious and thematic approach to music.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon could be very thoughtful and reflective in their compositions. "Eleanor Rigby" is a about loneliness. The dominant string arrangement adds to that feeling.

How we interpret the lyrics are subjective as you can discover by researching the song. It can be taken on several levels.

So here are my humble thoughts.

The first stanza is about a lonely spinster who has attended a wedding, and wishes she could marry:

"Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been,
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?"

The second stanza reflects on the emptiness, or apathy, toward religion by the church and worshippers:

"Father Mckenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care?"

And in the final stanza the woman has died and no one attended her funeral that was apparently officiated by Father Mckenzie.

"Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father Mckenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved"

Sometimes I think the song could be about a woman who works at the church and is secretly in love with the father -- perhaps a love that will never be consumated -- as they both are destined to lead lonely lives.

And the song ends:

"All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people) 

Where do they all come from? 
All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people) 
Where do they all belong?"

Oh well, like I mentioned above, the lyrics can take on a lot of meanings. How do you interpret the song?
"Eleanor Rigby" lyrics

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's a Book!

My short-story collection is now a real book. Really! It’s called “Laments.”

For those who have been following my blog for the past few months, you know I was a bit apprehensive to self-publish. After  corresponding with successful Kentucky authors Kallypso Masters, Teresa Reasor and Devon Matthews and a few friends, I decided to take that big step, at least for me.

After six rewrites, I turned to an editor, Joan McKinney, to read and make necessary corrections and suggestions to the manuscript.

With everything in order, I hired Tugboat Designs for cover art. After that task was accomplished, I contracted with them to format the manuscript for publication at primary sites that transformed it to an ebook and print edition -- Amazon Kindle, B&N's Pubit, Smashwords, and Amazon's CreateSpace.

I read several books about self-publishing including Mark Coker’s "Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success,"  Jim Kukral's "The Ultimate Digital Promotion Handbook," and Kristen James's "How to Sell More Kindle eBooks." I also perused many blogs and articles about the digital media.

I especially enjoyed Coker's book. The founder of Smashwords, he presented a well-balanced and insightful view of e-publishing.

For those interested, “Laments” can be found at:
Barnes & Noble (ebook)
CreateSpace (paperback)
Feel free to ask me any questions you may have about epublishing. And if you decide to read the book, please leave a comment/review at the site (and do that for other authors as well after you finish their books).

Until the next time…

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Story Songs: The Ballad of Ira Hayes

Ira Hayes was one of six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima  during World War II. He was a tragic hero, and his life was immortalized in the song, "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," by Peter La Farge.

Hayes was a Native American, a member of the Pima tribe in Arizona. He enlisted in the Marines and fought in the Pacific Theater. He became a national hero after Joe Rosenthal's iconic photograph was seen by millions around the world.

La Farge's song tells the story of the troubled life of Hayes, who couldn't handle the fame and became an alcoholic. He died 10 years after the war, in 1955, found in a ditch after a night of drinking.  

The storyteller opens with:

"Gather round you people and a story I will tell
About a brave young Indian you should remember well
From the tribe of the Pima Indians, a proud and peaceful band
They farmed the Phoenix Valley in Arizona land"

He goes on to say that although white settlers ruined the land, Hayes answered the call to fight for his country in the war. And he ended up, at the age of 22, at Iwo Jima:

"They started up Iwo Jima Hill, 250 men

But only 27 lived to walk back down that hill again

And when the fight was over and the old glory raised
One of the men who held it high was the Indian Ira Hayes"

Hayes was celebrated across the United States for this heroics, but it took a toll on him as found more solace with the bottle than with the fame:

"And Ira started drinking hard, jail was often his home

They let him raise the flag there and lower it like you'd throw a dog a bone

He died drunk early one morning, alone in the land he had fought to save
Two inches of water in a lonely ditch was the grave for Ira Hayes"

Hayes was 12 days past his 32nd birthday when he died. This has to be one of the saddest songs ever written about a war veteran. The powerful lyrics truly tug at the heart: 

"Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war"

Through the years and other wars, you wonder if the situation has really changed that much for those who served their nation with honor and valor. We have all witnessed the effects of war on soldiers and civilians.

Author James Bradley, with Ron Powers, wrote about the fateful day in Iwo Jima in acclaimed "Flags of Our Fathers."  Bradley's father, John, was one of the flag raisers.

Clint Eastwood's movie, based on the book, was released in 2006. I think it's one of the best films about war and the consequences on those who serve. Another movie, "The Outsider," featured Tony Curtis portraying Hayes. 

"The Ballad of Ira Hayes"  lyrics

There have been several covers of this song but I believe Johnny Cash's version is the best.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Getting Covered

For the past few weeks I’ve been working with Tugboat Design on a cover for my new short-story collection – Laments.

I could have put something together but it probably would have looked like I put something together – amateurish. So I decided to go with a professional book-cover designer.

I checked out websites of several designers and selected Tugboat because I liked their work and the price was right. That's always a good combination. They are also doing the formatting for the manuscript.
Tugboat asked for my ideas and several days later sent me several proposed covers. I wanted a cover that would reflect the book’s content. I’m very pleased with the final design.

I’ve put a lot of effort into these short stories including six rewrites and hiring someone to edit and proofread the copy. I didn’t want to shortchange everything by having a cover that didn’t appeal to readers.

While we all probably agree in the adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover,”  the cover is still an important portal for attracting readers.

Until the next time…

Monday, August 6, 2012

Story Songs: Big Bad John

Sometimes a great story song can create a folklore legend. That's the case of "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean in 1961. The song went to No. 1 on the Billboad pop and country charts.

It's the story of a mysterious man who finds work in a mining town. As the title indicates, he's quite an imposing guy --standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 245 pounds. 

"Nobody seemed to know where John called home
He just drifted into town and stayed all alone
He didn't say much, kinda quiet and shy
And if you spoke at all, you just said 'Hi' to Big John."

One reason Big Bad John kept to himself was the rumor he had killed a man in New Orleans,

"Where he got in a fight over a Cajun Queen
And a crashin' blow from a huge right hand
Sent a Loosiana fellow to the Promised Land"

Big Bad John became a legend when he saved 20 men from a mine that was about to collapse. He held one of the supports while the men scrambled to safety.

But Big Big John didn't survive the disaster as the mine caved in before rescuers could reach him. But he wasn't forgotten:

"Now they never reopened that worthless pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words are written on that stand
At the bottom of this mine lies a hell of man, Big John"

The song was made into a movie in 1990 of the same title. Dean played the part of a sheriff. Former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Doug English played the title role.

"Big Bad John" earned Dean a Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. He died in 2010 at the age of 81.
"Big Bad John" lyrics

And here's a couple of sequels to the song:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Make It Special

Last weekend my wife and I attended an excellent production of “Lombardi” at the Kentucky Repertory Theatre at Horse Cave.

Greg Johnston had the role of the legendary National Football League coach and Donna Freeburn played his wife, Marie. They were superb as were the supporting-cast members. We thought it was one of the best plays we’ve seen at KRT, and we’ve attended quite a few in the past 15 years or so.

The performance, which ended July 29, had been extended an extra week because of popular demand. We saw the Saturday matinee, which didn’t attract a large audience. In fact, I counted only 14 people in the audience. I hope there were more folks in attendance for the evening performance and Sunday’s finale.

What impressed me, and the reason for this post, was the professionalism of the actors. They performed with so much verve that you would have thought it was before a packed house. They made it a special experience for this theater-goer.

As this blog is generally about writing, I think it’s important for writers to give their readers their best effort regardless of the size of the reading audience. Make it a special experience for the reader.

Until the next time…