Everybody has an interesting story, but it’s generally not the one they’ll tell you first. How Bob kicked the winning field goal in the last high school game is interesting to Bob. It’s the story that makes Bob feel giddy as he anticipates excitement rising in your expression. To get a grand sense of this, read William Shatner’s or Donald Trump’s autobiographies. They’re stuffed with vignettes that portray them as brave, smart and very cool. (I actually enjoyed Shatner’s.) They’re the same stories you’ve been button-holed in the corner at a cocktail party to hear. There are one or two in this blog to be honest.
The good stories are the ones you pull out of yourself like arrowheads. They make you squirm. They’re embarrassing or shameful – so much so they’re likely to be embedded in fiction, or told as though they happened to someone else.
Those are the ones I want to hear, and write. Most of us, I suspect, have several. But, like I say, they’re hard to tell.
*The painting is Leonardo DaVinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci, c. 1474.
I’m at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR this weekend pitching my new book. I must say the more editors I know, the more I like them. Publishers, bless them all, love numbers. Editors love words. They are the gardeners of books.
*Painting by Maurice de Vlaminck.
One of my favorite blues songs is Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me a Dime.” My favorite version – and there are many fine ones – is the one he recorded with the Allman Brothers in Muscle Shoals in 1969.
A decade later, I played along with the song a hundred times on my Strat in my Mill Valley basement studio . At each drop of the needle, I waited patiently for the vocal to end, so I could I could play along with Duane’s passionate but nuanced solo. Among the finest blues guitarists ever, Duane had that rare combination of flash and reserve I so admire. And this song is arguably one of his best solos.
Many, many years have passed. Now, when I play this same cut in my Seattle basement studio, I listen carefully to Boz’s heartfelt vocal. When Duane comes in, I often find myself starting the song over. Maybe it’s that I’ve heard the lead so many times, that it no longer holds my attention so closely. Perhaps it’s that I hardly touch that old Strat of mine anymore. I’m much more about my acoustics. Or maybe it’s because I understand more clearly what the singer means when he says, “Somebody loan me a dime. I’ve got to call my old time used-to-be.”
Pity the crank. The nay sayer. The lone member of the opposition in all things.
Or rather don’t.
Pity doesn’t work. I tried. A cynic will try to entangle you in his nets, and drag you down saying, “See? I told you so.”
Remember the words of Oscar Wilde: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”
Follow the wisdom of George Carlin who said, “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.”
I urge you, don’t be tempted to aid a cynic. He’ll turn you into a symbol of the success of his own failure, or the failure of success itself.
I would like to acknowledge the professional editing help of Los Angeles writer/editor Brooke Wolff. I sent Brooke the entire manuscript of my pirate novel a month ago. Two weeks later she had finished the edit and returned it to me with enough red marks to keep me from making a fool of myself when I send the manuscript out to agents and publishers. In addition we had a ninety minute phone call to discuss certain aspects of character development, continuity and most especially how to more finely tune the book to my audience. Brooke felt the two main characters need to be two years older.
She was absolutely right. The story began as a middle grade novel. As I wrote, however, it morphed toward being young adult. What had happened was the characters began to act more maturely due to the circumstances of being with two boys their age on a pirate ship 300 years from home. At this point I could have stopped my forward progress and gone back to the beginning. But on the advice of experience, I worried I would lose momentum and possibly even the heart to finish it. So I kept going.
Songwriting is the charmer’s art. When I first hear a song that moves me, I become thoughtlessly rude. My senses shift from whatever or whomever held my attention to the source. I am instantly captivated by a voice. A groove. A line of melody, A wave of harmony. Songs like John and Paul’s A Day in the Life, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, Joan Baez’ version of Tom Paxton’s There But By Fortune, Pentangle’s version of Lord Franklin, Jackson Browne’s Our Lady of the Well, Jimi’s take on All Along the Watchtower.
I wrote this song a few years ago after hearing that the son of high school friend of mine taken his own life. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. I woke up from a dream several weeks later with this song ringing in my head. Click on the picture below: