Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Words and Music

Kelly Malloy had a great post the other day, asking what we listen to when we blog. It appealed to me because I often listen while I write, by necessity, not by choice.

Rock stars are the biggest influences on my fiction writing. I'm always trying to boil down my prose, to cut it, to hack, hack, hack, so that every remaining word is important to the story. Singers do this all the time. Songs are a hundred words each. My fiction comes in at over a hundred thousand words per book, and that's after I've ruthlessly edited.

I listen to a lot of songs while I write, but it's all research. I actually find it very difficult to write while I'm playing songs. I can either pay attention to the words on my screen, or pay attention to the words coming from my speakers, but I can't do both at the same time. Resist all Gerald Ford jokes.

Whether I'm listening for research or pleasure, however, the culprits remain the same: Springsteen, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Sometimes, as I've previously posted, I need to reveal my inner badass. Instead of listening to hard rock, that's when I reach for outlaw country.

Since Kristofferson and Johnny Cash are both rock stars and outlaw country pioneers, I've got two right there (you can look up Johnny Cash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if you don't believe me). Willie Nelson is too mellow, so Waylon Jennings has come up at least a dozen times during this novel. Once in a while, Hank Williams Jr. and Toby Keith make appearances.

Do you listen to anything while you're writing? Not while you're blogging-- I mean while you're working on a manuscript? If yes, what? Is there something consistent?

If you're reading this and you don't write, do you listen to music while you read? What do you listen to? I can't listen to anything while I read, but I've never been good at that kind of multi-tasking.

Some of you who check in here frequently without blogger accounts: you can post anonymously. I'm just curious about what you listen to, if you listen to anything while you're reading and writing.


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Sunday, March 26, 2006


So my mom, my uncle and I went to see Kris Kristofferson on Friday night. We ended up in the front row of the mezzanine, maybe 15 feet above the stage.

Two words about Kristofferson: Rock Star.

Two more words: Sex symbol.

Four more words: He is almost 70.

Okay, so the vast majority of people in the audience were older than me. Most were older than my mother. Didn't matter.

Kris was on fire.

Lyrical, poetic, full badass mode, except when he thanked the audience, which happened after every song. In what was more of a singalong, Kris earned at least seven standing ovations.

There was genuine banter with the crowd. No casual fans here. I'd rate the fanatic quotient at better than 99%. That's higher than the fanatic quotient at a U2 concert (about 75%). Higher than the fanatic quotient at a Springsteen concert with the E-Street Band (about 80%). Higher even than the fanatic quotient at a Springsteen solo concert (around 90%).

I scored a handwritten copy of the setlist.

I've mentioned in several entries on this blog that I grew up listening to Kristofferson. He and Johnny Cash were my musical heroes until I discovered Springsteen. I think that's why lyrics have always been more important to me than the music has. With all three of these guys, you need to pay attention to the words.

Kris was an hour and a half of pure poetry. A religious experience. In fact, if it had been any more religious, I'd be speaking in tongues right now.

Tell me again: Are you sure this guy turns 70 in June?

After listening to Kristofferson, after being a part of that (for the first time in 30 years), I couldn't wait to get home and write.

My mother? She's pulling an Adam. She travels to Albany on Thursday evening to see Kristofferson again. Like I've done several times with Springsteen concerts.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Thank God for that.


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sometimes, You Just Need to Recharge the Batteries

No manuscript work tonight. None. I'm not even attempting it.

This is one evening where life got in the way. My mother's in town. I've got a fabulous concert tomorrow. I have 2 kids slightly under the weather and the third going away for the weekend.

And I needed a ferocious workout at the gym. Memo to self: Never, never, never, never bench press on a full stomach again.

I'm sitting here at the trusty Mac, during one of my prime writing hours, and I'm blogging.

That tells me something. It tells me to take a night off. I cranked out 1,500 words last night and they were mostly quality. I broke the 20,000- and 21,000-word barriers.

Plus, tomorrow night, I'll be too keyed up after the Kristofferson concert to do anything except write. Tomorrow night could be a 2,500 word session.

It's great to have writing goals, and I need them, but I don't have to be a slave to them every week. Just most weeks.

Here's to blowing off a session once in a while. I think I'll head over to J.A.'s Place or Genre Bendres to see what's going on. I'll carry a flask of Knob Creek with me in case there's no bourbon.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Rocking on!

I'm rolling out the new novel at about 5,000 words per week. I broke the 20,000 word barrier tonight. Actually, I'll break the 21,000 word barrier tonight, too.

I'm staying fairly close to the outline, except that I've combined enough chapters that I'm a little ahead of the game.

I've got the new Johnny Cash 4-disc Legend box set cranked on iTunes. I have half a shot of Knob Creek left in my glass and about 400 words to go to reach 21,000. For that last 400 words, I might have to go totally badass and put in some Waylon Jennings. If you haven't tried outlaw country, run to your nearest music store. I've been spoiled on outlaw country for most of my life, but for the uninitiated, it's... well, it's like rock and roll with a country beat and great vocals.

Speaking of outlaw country: I'm seeing Kris Kristofferson for the second time in my life on Friday night, and it's the second time I'm seeing Kristofferson with my mother. It's not the ten times I've seen Springsteen in concert, but I absolutely love the symmetry. (In fact, this Kristofferson concert will be as momentous as the Springsteen concert I saw with the late, great Nick Alicino.)

The kids and the Saint are in bed, sleeping off various ailments, but they're getting better. We're getting a tax refund for the first time in about 5 years. And it looks like we're heading to Cooperstown for Easter. It's the little things, people.

Life is good. Life is spectacular. Life couldn't get better. Yet it does. For those of you checking in every day (M.G., Bardawill, Kelly, Ms. Sergienko, Bianca, Dana, Konrath, Gib, Matt, Lt. Ed Novak, Jamie and a couple of colleagues from work, as well as the dozens of you who drop in occasionally): Get back to your writing. There's nothing to see here. I'm happy. Totally functional. It's almost depressing because if I get any happier I won't be able to write. Every writer reading this got that one.

To put it a little more clearly, I'll quote my best muse: "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."


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Friday, March 10, 2006

Small Towns in a Small World

All right, all right. I've been blogging about small towns off and on since this blog started.

I learned my values in a small town, and small town life continues to inspire me today, even though I live in a huge city.

The first thing I learned when I moved to Boston is just how big the world is. Thanks to technology, I'm happy to report that the world is a whole lot smaller.

Exhibit number 1: Jim Atwell.

Early readers of this blog might remember my Christmas post about Jim's book, From Fly Creek. You'll also remember that I raved about it. On a five-point scale, I'd give it a ten. And that was after the first reading. I'd give it five more stars after the second.


Because Jim Atwell understands small towns and small-town values. He's a transplanted college professor I haven't had the privilege of meeting in person yet. We sort of passed in the halls, I guess: I was leaving town full-time when he was arriving full-time, and our part-time selves never met. But I've always loved his columns in my hometown weekly. His writing is stellar. His stories are wonderful. I find myself nodding along. Because I lived some of them, and because it's so obvious that he's lived all of them.

Jim was always a guy I wanted to get to know. And now I have, sort of.

Back to this small world thing: I got an e-mail yesterday from Jim because he'd stumbled on my post about his book. It's a small thing, taking time to write an e-mail to a perfect stranger, but not many people do that today. Jim did. Small town life in a nutshell.

Neighbors meeting for the first time-- and that's what we are, except instead of shaking hands over the stone wall on the edge of a hay field, we're e-mailing. Neighbors, with a little more distance between us. Jim writes like he lived his whole life in Fly Creek and I write like I've never left.

So now I get to tell you that Jim's as nice a guy via e-mail as he is in his columns. Genuine. Down to earth. Smart. Funny.

I mentioned Jim's book in that other post. I told everybody how much I loved From Fly Creek, and not just because I'm from Fly Creek. These are universal small town stories, told beautifully, with prose that doubles, in most cases, as poetry. It won't surprise you to learn that Jim was an English professor.

I'm taking my little blog review one step further: Go out and buy From Fly Creek. If you've never lived in a small town, if you've ever lived in a small town, go buy From Fly Creek. You'll learn something either way.

Grab it here at Amazon. Or click on Jim's website and order it there. In the meantime, I'm linking to Jim's site on my links section, so it'll be around just in case you think I'm nuts now and more nuts or less nuts when you decide to buy Jim's book.

And no. I can't wait for that next e-mail. From Fly Creek.


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