Category Archives: Music

Jagged Little Pill!

There’s a fantastic article in Entertainment Weekly about the creation of Jagged Little Pill! Which, incidentally, is the first cassette tape I ever chose and paid for myself. ? ? ?

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Today: A Recommendation And A Fangirl Moment

I already talked about the query letter clinic (better known as Fiction Pitch Slam Bootcamp by the people at Writer’s Digest). Well, last night I spent a few hours searching the listings of Writer’s Market (and may I just say thank heavens for searchable lists!! A few years ago I tried to do this by paper and I may have wanted to throw that huge book out the window on more than one occasion…). This morning I went back to see what else the site has to offer (because they do, you know. Have a lot more to offer). One of the first things I found was a link to the blog of the WD editor who critiqued my query. Robert Lee Brewer not only works at WD, he also hosts a blog called My Name Is Not Bob that is filled with tips, trick, and awesomeness for writers. For example, right now he’s in the last few days of the April Platform Challenge designed to help writers spread their presence on the internet in a useful, constructive way. Go check out his blog!

Now for my fangirl moment:

Credit James Minchin. Photo found here.


I have, of course, already pre-ordered it, but I thought I would share my sqeelish joy! And, also, their new single! Enjoy!

Writing: Doing What Scares You

I don’t know who said it originally, but whoever it was is right: “You should do the thing that scares you.” Or something close to that, anyway.

Now this doesn’t mean that if you’re afraid of poisonous spiders you should go buy one for a pet (some fears are survival-based, after all), but it does mean that you shouldn’t let thinking you can’t or shouldn’t do something keep you from ever trying it.

As writers this could mean many things. Maybe tackling a particular genre, or subject, or style, or narrative voice. Maybe someone told you men can’t write believable female voices. Maybe you think no one will read a book written in the second person. Maybe you think you suck at memoirs. Maybe you’re right about all these things, but are you right because you tried and failed or because you’re too scared to make the attempt?

Poetry is not my thing. Never has been. I like reading some–The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, for example, is great–but writing it has always seemed too hard. I have this in my head despite the fact that my AP high school English teacher–a woman who was notoriously stingy with compliments–told me that the poem I turned in as a response to Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women was one of the best things she’d ever seen at a high school level. If interested, you can read an excerpt of the poem here (the original, not mine) and I found this awesome comic strip here.

That being said, I started writing a book about two musicians and knew going into it that I would need to come up with song lyrics. I think that somewhere in the back of my head I had the vague idea of asking someone else to do it for me, but how realistic is that? And do I really want to rely on someone else’s vision for something as important as this? Nope. I don’t. I shut off my inner editor and started writing–I mean, it’s a first draft, right? Things can always be changed down the road.

I surprised myself. This writing form that I’d kept away from so long is suddenly consuming me. I’m writing more songs than I can possibly squeeze into the book (and I’m squeezing them in anyway, hoping most of them will make it through the editing process) and I’m actually liking them! I’m going to take a chance and post the song I wrote this morning. Keep in mind it’s a first draft, but feel free to tell me what you think!

Staring out my window
Dreaming of the sky 
Locked here in this tower 
Tho no one else knows why 
You appear then out of nowhere 
And try to help me fly 
And stare uncomprehending 
When I shake my head and sigh 
Your white horse don’t belong here 
But then, of course, if you’re sincere 
Won’t force this rescue till you here 
Why my tower’s worth fighting for, dear 
Cause what you didn’t see 
When you came barging through the door 
Is that the lock you broke through 
The one now lying on the floor 
Was done up on the inside 
And then, of course, what’s more 
Your horse stomped through my roses 
And I’m left with the chore 
Of picking up the pieces 
Of my once strong oak wood door 
Your white horse don’t belong here 
But then, of course, if you’re sincere 
Won’t force this rescue till you here 
Why my tower’s worth fighting for, dear 
Cause they may call me Cinderella 
But I’d much rather be 
The girl who stands up by your side 
Cause fallin’ behind ain’t me 
So take your horse and ride off 
Come back when you can see 
The truth behind my tower 
How the walls aren’t what they seem 
You think they’re meant to keep me in 
But in actuality 
That strong red brick I built by hand 
Wasn’t meant for me 
Wanted to keep the world out 
But now that I’m set free 
How ‘bout you and your horse 
Come fix these walls for me?

Writing: Methods

One thing I’ve learned about my writing style over the years is that methods don’t work for me. How I approach one novel doesn’t work for another one. The lifespan of one book doesn’t look anything like the lifespan of another. For example, during my marathon writing sessions on Sing, Sweet in November I watched a lot of movies. I don’t know why, but I did. Working on my previous project, I usually wanted silence. Now? Bring on the music.

Maybe it’s because music is an integral part of the book, but I write better for these characters listening to my iPod. Listening to songs I love is helping me write songs for my bands and helping me imagine their life and their story. It’s working so well I’ve written about 20,000 words just in the past few days. But will this continue? Who knows. The scariest thing about my mind is not even I understand how it works.

What is the point to this post? There are a lot of people and books and sites that will tell you they have a “foolproof” way you can write a book in three days or a month or three months or whatever. The truth? There’s no such thing. What works for me may not work for you. The best thing to do is take all these suggestions in, try them out, and throw out the ones that feel more or less worthless. If you can, try to develop a system that works for you because you’re more likely to have consistent results, but don’t lock yourself into a “method” thinking that it’s the only way to get the job done. The most important things are the words in your mind and how best to translate them onto paper. Or computer screen… Whatever. You get the idea. 🙂

Inspiration: What Do You Miss If You Live With Your Eyes Shut Tight?

“In Washington DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After about four minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About four minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At six minutes, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At ten minutes, a three-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At forty-five minutes: The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After one hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made… How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?”

You can find the original article in the Washington Post here. [[edited to add: link no longer active, unfortunately]]

This is in some ways a follow up to my post The Beauty of the World You Live In. How much do we miss when we get so focused on the little things that (if we’re completely honest with ourselves) don’t matter at all in the grand scheme of the universe. This article is also, in some ways, a testament to the ignorance of the general populace to the beauty of classical music and their inability to recognize someone who has more right to celebrity status than Paris Hilton, the entire cast of Jersey Shore, and every “real housewife” combined. Writers especially (well, all artists, really) need to remember to slow down and take in the intricacies and incredible wonder of the world we’ve created. Don’t let yourself get so caught up in the mundane that you fail to see something wonderful right before your eyes.