Tag Archives: music

Caught in the Middle of a Mafia War “Not My Time to Go” by Thornton Cline


Thornton Cline, author of “Not My Time to Go”

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00008]

Chapter Seven

       If you’ve been following my monthly Indigo Sea Press blog, you’ll know that I have been focusing on stories of my angelic protection from my new ISP book, “Not My Time to Go”. In this blog I will be sharing with you of how I was caught in the middle of an ongoing Mafia war.

       It would be eight years before any more near-fatal experiences occurred in my life. I was accepted into the Ph.D program in music education at the acclaimed, legendary music conservatory, Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. I arrived in Rochester in August 1977 on a Greyhound bus. Rochester, New York was a wonderful cultural arts city and offered me many exciting opportunities in music. But while it was an amazing place to live, there was a downside–crime.  The administration at Eastman School of Music warned the students about the dangers of the downtown area.  They told stories of students being held at gunpoint and robbed in broad daylight. They warned of beatings, murders, rapes and kidnappings that occurred even during the daylight hours. The school advised students to walk together in parties or use a form of transportation other than walking. Most of the students, including me, ignored the warnings and didn’t take them seriously.

Late one night in November of 1977, I was camped out in a practice room, frantically preparing for a violin jury, where I would perform a difficult classical piece memory in front of an entire panel of distinguished judges. I thought that night would never end.  By three a.m. I was exhausted. I had to call it a night and headed home for a few hours of sleep.

         1977 was particularly violent for Rochester. Crime and murders had risen sharply due to a major Mafia war sweeping the city. The war was fought between two Mafia-associated families the Pistilli clan and the Giovanni family. There were numerous reports of deadly drive-by shootings, car bombings and families being sprayed with roofing nails placed inside homemade bombs rigged to front doors of the Mafia family homes. 

       That night in November, I was so exhausted after hours of practicing that I couldn’t keep my head up or my eyes open. I packed up my violin and walked the six flights of stairs to the ground floor.

      “I’m leaving for the night,” I said to the security guard.

     “Be careful,” he replied.

      As I left the school building, I could feel the gentle breeze of the early morning air. It left a cooling mist of dew on my tired face, promising to keep me awake on my long walk home. I was completely alone, with not a single person or car anywhere in sight. The morning was calm and peaceful. I was numb and basically walking in my sleep. As I crossed Elm Street, I passed one of those parking lots where you pay to park for a certain amount of time. Then I saw a lone man walking to his car. It seemed very late for a man to be out doing business. But I reassured myself that the man was probably drunk and had just left one of the nearby bars. As I passed the nearby lot, the lone man went to unlock his car door. Unexpectedly, a colossal, thunderous explosion rocked the streets, forcing me to the ground. A massive ball of fire billowed from the car and engulfed the man, lighting up the dark, peaceful night. I felt glass and shrapnel fall all around me on the sidewalk. I lay there shaking for the longest time, in a state of shock, scared to the death. 

       After awhile, I carefully and slowly crawled on the sidewalk, away from the fire. I felt my entire body to see if I was still alive. The police, firefighters and paramedics arrived shortly after that and began asking me a million questions.

       Needless to say, I completely forgot about getting any sleep. The paramedics checked my vital signs, but couldn’t find a scratch or cut on me. Despite my close proximity to the explosion, I wasn’t injured in any way.

      Some declared that night a miracle. Others said I was lucky to be alive. I knew better than that.  I was definitely protected by angels and the hand of God. Again. it was not my time to go.

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Filed under books, Excerpts, Mike Simpson, music, Thornton Douglas Cline, writing

By the Time we got to Woodstock

Woodstock note


I was sixteen, pampered and fearless. I took my mother’s car and drove to Woodstock, Dylan’s hometown in beautiful up-state New York, to a Music and Art Fair, an Aquarian exposition. How great did that sound? It was a happening. I folded my coolest clothes, placed them into my backpack, tucked my pillow with its starched white cover under my arm and set off on an adventure.

Anyone who went to Woodstock would probably not describe it as the best time of their lives. It rained enough to make you miserable. The bands were delayed. The sound system was inadequate, guitars probably warped from dampness and it wasn’t even in the town of Woodstock.

The traffic crawled, Leona at the wheel and the rest of us walked along side. I have a vague image of Mom’s shiny Buick passing the poorly parked hippy vans and beat up cars, a blur of happily tie dyed people giving peace signs and policemen who were surprisingly friendly, considering that most of us were openly breaking state and federal drug laws.Woodstock_poster

Miraculously we parked at the base of the hill, slung our back packs over our shoulders and hiked up the path. We arrived as they tore down the fences, gave away posters, the classic ones with a bird on the guitar and the original Aquarian water bearer. If we’d had any brains we’d have taken those precious items back to the car with our tickets intact but distracted by the outrageous level of coolness and the scent of marijuana we moved on.

I do not remember the first sight of that stage that made history. I do remember when my middle-class teenage-girl-mind identified the feeling of hunger and my first sense of lack. There were no burger stands, no ice cream or funnel cakes, no soda. We had plenty of cash in our pockets but, like most of the kids at Woodstock, we were completely unprepared.

A primitive water line assured us we would not die but we had no canteen. So, without food, water or common sense we forged onward, through masses of stoners to get as close to the stage as possible (which still seemed a lightyear away) and we claimed a patch of land.

Richie Havens sang “Freedom” and someone handed me a bottle of wine, I took a sip and passed it on. Someone gave me a gritty brownie I took a bite and passed that on. Magically food appeared from every direction, and magic food it was. One bite made us larger and one sip made us small. Soon a collective level of mind alteration permeated the field as we partook in unknown quantities… mostly psychedelic… and by that time, we didn’t much care.

Intermittent rain of every kind was reported but I clearly remember seeing the stars that first night. Dancing hippies everywhere, young people made love in the open and nobody was offended. Masses of wandering lost found new homes with temporary families.

There were announcements, mostly about our extraordinary coolness. We had closed the NY Thruway, were declared a disaster area and “Welcome to the first Free City in the World!” A Swami had blessed us and helicopters flew over, anti-war messages shouted and everyone agreed politically.


Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music at Bethel, New York, August 1969. (AP Photo)

They flew the bands in, ferried them across the sky. Music was everywhere. It was a night that a half a million young people took a collective sigh and melted into the hillside on Yazgur’s farm. Whatever came our way at Woodstock, we best relax and go with it.

With souls I’d never met I felt loved, cradled in the bosom of dear ones. They fed me, gave me drink. Should anything happen to me, this new family would care for me, tenderly as well as they possibly could… probably not very well but they would care for me… and there was a feeling of belonging to something, something much bigger than myself that made me almost tearful.

I folded my white pillow case and put it away when it rained. My quilt was soaked, my pillow ruined and I carried a bag of very cool clothes which I would never wear.

By half past Arlo Guthrie we realized that the need to pee was of greater importance than our land or this family we loved. We’d lost the people we came with, they’d disappeared into the crowd. Not losing Leona became paramount. She was the only one I knew from home and she had the keys to the car. We said good-bye to our loved ones and wrapped in muddied blankies we set off to find a bathroom and a place to sleep.

Cleary the first problem we faced was to simply relieve ourselves. The port-o–potty’s were soon to become their own disaster areas so we peed in the cornfield and relaxed between rows. I’d piled my coolest clothes on top of me for warmth and Joan Baez sang us into semi-consciousness. Then the rain began again.

To be cont..

Watch next Thursday for “Woodstock, the Dawn of Day Two”



Filed under writing

Do You Mondegreen? by Velya Jancz-Urban


Flashback to 1972: I was fourteen-years old and my brother was twelve. Our mother was wandering around the house belting out the lyrics to a very popular song, America’s “Horse with No Name.” My brother and I really weren’t paying too much attention because she was always singing something, thinking she was pretty groovy. When “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” came out, she thought she was incredibly cool as she sang about “the baddest man in the whole damn town.” But back to “Horse with No Name.” For some reason, we actually started listening to her and as she wrapped up the chorus my brother and I looked at each other and exploded with laughter. Instead of singing, “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,” she crooned, “I went through the desert with Horace No-Name.” We laughed like hyenas with hiccups gasping for air!  The kind of laughing that leaves you feeling satisfied and happy, but with sore stomach muscles the next morning.

Horse With No Name

Do You Mondegreen?
…yup, we all do!
A mondegreen is the mishearing or misrepresentation of a phrase, usually from a song or poem.

The Disney movie Pocahontas came out when our daughter was about three years old, and it seemed the soundtrack was always playing in the car. One of the songs was called “Savages” and the English settlers boomed out the highly inflammatory lyrics, “They’re savages! Savages! Dirty red skin devils!” But, from her car seat, sweet Ehris always growled:

“They’re sandwiches, sandwiches, dirty red skin devils!”
They’re savages, savages, dirty red skin devils! – “Savages” from Pocahontas


In 2005, Gwen Stafani’s “Hollaback Girl” became the first digital download to sell one million copies. My husband, snapping his fingers to the thumping tune sang:

“Few times I’ve been around that track
So it’s not just gonna happen like that

Cause I ain’t no Harlem black girl!

I ain’t no Harlem black girl!”
(‘Cause I ain’t no hollaback girl, I ain’t no hollaback girl)

Harlem Black Girl

George M. Cohan may have written the song in 1906, but when my brother was little he patriotically marched around the house with his own tribute to the American flag:

“You’re a Grand Old Flag you’re a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave,
You’re the emblem of, the land I love,
The homer, the femur, the rave. (The home of the free and the brave.)

Ev’ry heart beats true under red light, and blue”  (Ev’ry heart beats true ‘neath the Red, White and Blue)

You're A Grand Old Flag

My brother also insisted that the “ABC Song” went like this: “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,11,P”

The Alphabet Song

And finally, our son Mic had his own version of Donna Summer’s 1979 hit, “Hot Stuff.”  Unlike her Platinum version, his did not hit the Hot Disco Singles list:

“I want some pasta baby this evening! Gotta have some pasta baby tonight!”
“I want some hot stuff, baby this evenin’, Gotta have some hot stuff, Gotta have some love tonight!”

Hot Stuff

How about you? Do you have any funny mondegreens? Kids are particularly good at mishearing lyrics and repeating them with confidence! Share yours in the comments below.

Velya Jancz-Urban is a teacher, author, former Brazilian dairy farm owner, expert on New England’s colonial women, inhabitant of a 1770 haunted home, and a Chica Peep. She has a newly-released novel, Acquiescence, and her first book in a children’s hands-on science series is slated to hit the market by end of summer 2015. When she’s not touring with her highly-entertaining and informative presentation The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife or on the road speaking about her new book Acquiescence, she’s traveling from school-to-school teaching her award-winning How Cool is That? (Hands-On Science) programs.


Amazon link for Acquiescence: http://www.amazon.com/Acquiescence-Velya-Jancz-Urban/dp/1630661023/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426867032&sr=8-1&keywords=acquiescence+velya+jancz-urban


Filed under Humor, life, writing

Sounds of Music by Heidi Thurston

upright piano

It all started with a ukulele and a used piano, bought at a bargain price from friends moving to California who did not want the expense of moving their old family upright from the east coast across country. They threw in a used ukulele as a thank you for helping them pack and we gave the instruments to our two young, and rather musically inclined, sons so they could fill their time on rainy days. We figured the boys would pretend to have a small rock group and be happy playing in the company of each other. That’s what we thought. Ha!


garage band


A couple of years later, during their freshman and sophomore years, we found ourselves on Sunday afternoons setting out for the home of friends with a casserole dinner and a bottle of wine packed and stashed in the back seat of our car – and wondering if long ago we had “done the right thing” with the purchase of piano and ukulele.

It wasn’t that we did not want to visit our friends, although we did feel funny about asking them if we could come over for dinner “if we bring our own meal?” Nor did we not appreciate the sort of music played by our sons and their growing group; yes, by then they had added friends to their own small duet and they now rehearsed in our basement family room on most Sunday afternoons.

It was, instead, the inability to carry out conversations other than by sign language, watching television and only seeing lips moving, talking on the phone and explaining to whoever was on the other end (we never could tell who the callers were) that no one was in pain, or having a party. We wondered; what in the world we had been thinking when we acquired the piano and ukulele?

But most of all, it was the inability to sit still, while the whole house shook with the sounds of rock and roll, that made us pack up our dinner, swallow our pride, call on various friends, and head for other homes with our picnic basket packed with a hot dish and a cold drink.

One nice thing did come about as a result of our visits. We got to know a lot of nice people who, when they casually had said, ”Stop in sometime,” had had absolutely no idea that we actually would – and so soon – and with dinner.

Some of these people, of course, never spoke to us again. They were the ones whose children we invited over to hear our boys play, and who with money saved for college went out and bought electric instruments and turned on the music in their own homes.

All in all though, it turned out to be an interesting season. The boys moved up to electric keyboards and guitars and progressed to the stage where they were actually hired to play for school and community dances and small social events.

A few years later they all graduated and headed for college. The group disbanded, and at that time I could only say “thank goodness!” I did, however, begin to miss the boys and the band – you do grow accustomed to the strangest events.

But the real upside of the end of band era included two things: 1. Every nail in our house that had previously worked itself loose from all the shaking of the floors and walls, was now settling back, and 2. We no longer had to rummage around for recipes for new and interesting meals for friends to whom we previously had brought unexpected Sunday dinners.


Heidi Thurston is a former newspaper journalist, and the author of the adult romance “The Duchess, The Knight and the Leprechaun,” available on Amazon and from Second Wind Publishing.



Filed under writing

Community, by Carole Howard

Quick: What community or communities are you a member of?

Chances are, you thought of your town/city. Maybe your congregation. Or your family.  As far as I’m concerned, though, communities come in many other shapes and sizes.

For example, my husband once played in a pick-up touch football league in Central Park. Whoever showed up, played. Whoever didn’t, didn’t. The guys only saw each other for two hours on Sundays. They only knew each other by first names. But they’d played together for years. When my husband returned after two years in the Peace Corps, one of the guys said, “Hey, man, you’ve been gone for a few weeks. We’ve missed you.”

It was a community. As was your third grade class. Your gardening club.  Your book discussion group. Your touch football team. Your blog readers. You get the idea. It’s people who are united in some way. Family, geography, belief or activity. Real and virtual. If you read this blog regularly, you and I belong to a community of sorts…… so, welcome.

One of the reasons I loved Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto is its portrayal of a community that develops in a most unlikely circumstance. But that’s exactly what it was: a group with cultural understandings, behavior norms, maybe even specialized language. No matter who or what or where, the sense of belonging engendered by membership in a community can be powerful.

One community I’ve belonged to for about fifteen years is the amateur orchestra in which I play violin. As with some communities, like the football team, the cast of characters has changed over the years, but the community itself is stable.

[You can get a sense of how an orchestra is a community in DEADLY ADAGIO, where the members are bonded not only by being musicians working together, but also by being English-speaking expatriates in francophone West Africa. Oh, and also by murder.]

One of the reasons I find the idea of orchestra-as-community so interesting is that we don’t know each other very well. There are many members I’ve been playing with for years whose names I still don’t know. I don’t know where people live or what their family situations are. After all, we don’t have a whole lot of time to talk to each other: We show up for rehearsal at 8:00, play until 9:45 and then don’t hang around because it is, after all, 9:45 PM, and the staff at the rehearsal space has to wait for us to leave before closing up. On concert night, we have some time back stage to schmooze, but schmoozing while nervous is, well …. not the regular kind of schmoozing.

It doesn’t matter.

We work together, week after week, year after year, to create something beautiful. Everyone has to play his/her role. For thirty practices and three concerts a year, everyone has a part. Everyone’s part depends on everyone else’s. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. If that isn’t a bond, I don’t know what is.

My orchestra community

My orchestra community

We have our own jokes. We have our own rituals. We know things the audience doesn’t know (“What happened to those last three notes of the first movement?”), which is a powerful and seductive kind of bond. In our own realm, we understand each other. We are the insiders.

Making music as part of an ensemble is a singular joy, but I also love being part of the community. Do you belong to any groups that can be thought of as a variation on the theme of community?

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under music, writing

Morning Music

Morning Music

Morning Music

By Jay Duret

When I open the windows of my study in the first light of morning the sound of birds spills in, a full musical program, like I have fired up a playlist of classical music or jazz. Usually I just soak the sounds without conscious thought while I write, but because I have been away for a long time, today I listen into the music like I make my children listen into the radio to identify the instruments as we drive to school. I hear chirps and chips and clucks and long cooing calls. I hear cheka-checka-checka and a dry rattling like dice shaking in a cup made from bone. I hear one bird chiding the others – tsk, tsk, tsk – in a long combined piece of advice: tsktsktsktsktsk.

One call starts on the same plane as the others but then warbles higher, loops around – a rollercoaster on one of those fantastic tracks that twists and inverts and loop-de-loops as it rackets forward – climbing higher, louder, more insistent, until it stands fully free from the other chatter. I don’t know which bird this call comes from. We don’t have much exotica here – mostly sparrows and robins and starlings, occasional blue jays, cardinals, a hummingbird or two – but this one comes from a bird that I don’t know about. For a minute, I consider doing some research. In today’s world of instant knowledge I have no doubt that if I try I will find audio recordings of the different species and with patience, diligence and determination I could probably identify which specie is emitting that fantastic arching call.

Yes, if I went at it, if I applied in this area the analytic talent that I have applied in other areas – including many far less consequential – I believe I would be able to say which bird is crying out above all the rest. And if I were to bear down on that research question I would learn much more. The sounds outside my window aren’t the sounds of gleeful pandemonium that rise from a school playground at recess. The birds below my window are making those noises for a reason. Or many reasons. Those birds are calling and shushing and and clucking and tskking for a purpose. They are hunting and mating. Mommas are schooling their chicks. Territory is being marked; alerts are being given. There are cries for help. This is a city and the birds are full of all those same urges and needs to communicate that people in my city are full of – at least this is what I bet research would tell me – and this is what I hear from my window on a summer morning listening deep into their music.

It would be, it must be, a worthwhile effort to undertake – that is why I make my children identify the instruments that combine to play Kind of Blue or The Brandenburg Concertos – but I decide not to pursue that line of inquiry today. I have been away and have come home wearied from the beating I have taken on the road. Today I don’t feel it matters if it is the thrush or the robin that looses that high topping call, the one that startles me with its insistence and glory. It does not matter if that call is a cry for help or sex or a warning to family. Today, it is the insistence – it is the glory – that I want to soak in, not the explication. Tomorrow I will bear down. Tomorrow I will follow questions to their conclusion. Tomorrow I will seeketh understanding. But today – this morning – I will let the morning music wash over me and soak down to that place in my bones where the healing begins.


Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at http://www.jayduret.com. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in dozens of print and online journals, including Narrative Magazine, Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, December and The Blue Lake Review. Second Wind Publishing will publish Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits, later this year. For more information, see www.ninedigits.com.

Read Jay’s prior posts on this blog:

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing (“The. Worst. Fundraiser. Ever.” She said.)


Arc of Truth

Arc of Truth

Arc of Truth (“I am a liar. I write fiction, that’s the job.”)


Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume (“The best decision I ever made was to adopt a pen name…”)


Queen For A Day

Queen For A Day

Queen for a Day (“The winner was chosen, I swear to God, by an Applause-O-Meter…)




Bridalplasty (“Twelve young woman and a celebrity-style, dream wedding…”)


Filed under Art, Mike Simpson, writing

Jumping Trains by J J Dare

“How many trains have you jumped in your life?”

These nine little words gave me pause. For the past week, I’ve been alternately obsessing, compulsing and nonchalanting. Yeah, I know, I’m adding my own words to the dictionary. I kind of roll that way. Scrabble becomes a new game when I play.

It’s been a restless sort of week. I’ve been blowing hot and cold on a lot of things. One thing I locked on that helped get me back to my normal chaos was my country music roots.

I grew up with the country greats. This week I’m jumping on a familiar train with Cash, Campbell and Cline. As a writer, particularly as a short story one, I love a quick tale with a punch that leaves you breathless. A good song tells a story in the space of a few minutes. A good country song tells the story and leaves you misty-eyed.

I’ve talked about how music effects my writing. Most of my thrillers were written under the influence of hard rock. Avenged Sevenfold, Godsmack, Finger Eleven, and Seether were a few of the bands shaping the words I put on paper. They were heavy, dark and desperate and exactly what I needed for what I was writing.

I still love me some primal music in the form of hard rock. I love the stories good music tells. But, I’m drifting back to the original balladeers from the hills. These folks turned every day events into extraordinary happenings.

My current obsession is with Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” It is a timeless human nature story of loneliness and love. With only a few words, Jimmy Webb wrote a powerful story about missing the one you love.

Most of us will leave a mark before we jump our last train. Song writers and singers never really die. Neither do we, the writers of today. I’m glad to be a member of this immortality club because I know that after I’m dust, my words will live forever.


J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and triple digit works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is sharpening intangible knives and co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch

Facebook addiction

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Filed under life, writing

Christmas With My Sister For The Second Time by Coco Ihle

Joanie & Coco

Joanie & Coco

Next week I’ll be traveling to spend Christmas for the second time with my sister Joanie. Our first Christmas together was when we were in our fifties. We’d searched for one another for over fifty years after having been separated as small children, sent into foster care and later separately adopted.

Our reunion in 1994 was a fairy tale filled with exquisite joy and discovery. Two Christmases later we went to the Mall and sat on Santa’s knee for the first time together. Instead of asking for material possessions, we told him how grateful we were for the gift of each other. We’d missed many years of sharing this special holiday and many others, but we intended to make up for lost time. And we have.

My sister has two married daughters who have children of their own, so I have an extended family, something I thought I’d never have. Just think, I have two nieces with wonderful spouses, three great nieces and a great nephew, and I must not forget, even dogs and cats. I feel as though I should hum the tune to “A Partridge in a Pear Tree.” I’m sure the kids have grown quite a bit since I saw them last and I look forward to their hugs.

Joanie and her husband live in a Hansel and Gretel log cabin in a forest in the Adirondacks. It’s a magical place that looks like a scene from a Thomas Kincade painting. The warm glow of light shining through the windows onto the glistening snow outside. The sound of total silence, save the sighing of the pines in the breeze. The crisp smell of winter and stars brighter than I’ve ever seen them.

Inside the aroma of dinner, the chatter of family, the warm snugness of a throw over the legs in front of the fire, and prominent splashes of red make the rooms cozy and inviting. The glow of candlelight setting off the shining golden color of the logs as they climb up to the rafters of the cathedral ceiling. And the gentle sound of  Christmas carols floating down from the balcony.

All these memories I’ll be able to re-live soon, and I can’t wait!


Filed under life, music, musings, writing

The Kinship of Music & Writing

How many times have we heard from our editor that our sentences are choppy, or sluggish, or don’t have flow? What does that mean?

I’ve found that years of studying music has helped me enormously with my writing. Music, like writing, has rhythm, flowing passages, abrupt changes, accents, etc. These entities are also present in sentences and paragraphs in writing.

In evoking a calm mood in a story, sentences can be longer with mild descriptive phrases much like the terms ‘largo,’ ‘andante’ or ‘legato’ that are present on our sheet music. If urgency or danger is something you want to demonstrate, shorter or more abrupt sentences may be in order; i.e., ‘allegro,’ ‘vivace,’ ‘presto,’ maybe even, ‘staccato.’ Dialogue can be emphasized in the same way. Choice of words is important. If a powerful, angry or frantic mood is present, words and phrases that are short and precise work better than longer ones. It sounds like common sense, but so many of us get this wrong in our excitement to establish the scenes. In music, one sees the symbols, ‘p,’ ‘pp,’ ‘mf,’ ‘f’ or ‘ff,’ which correspond to soft, very soft, slightly loud, loud, very loud, and ‘marcato’ is a term indicating accents. Those lexical items can also be accomplished with words if the writer is careful about selection.

I don’t know if what I’ve said has made any sense to you, dear reader, but, how about examples?

In my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, an example of a calm setting with longer descriptive sentences is:

Massive stone pillars guarding the entrance stood like monoliths. Between them, intricate wrought iron gates shadowed black lace patterns on the lawn as the sun cast its late afternoon beams through the ancient ironwork.

Notice there’s a gentle rhythm to the words in the sentences as they meander through the description. The sentences are generally longer and the rendering of iron, lace, and sun are all complimentary to one another. The sentences flow.

If I were to write:

There were massive stone pillars guarding the entrance. They looked like monoliths. The ancient gates cast shadows that looked like black lace on the late afternoon lawn.

The information is basically the same, but the sentences are choppy and have no mood or flow.

In the next example, I deal with a tense, frightening moment:

Pressing her body flat against the wall, slowly inching further in, she stood dead still, praying she wouldn’t be seen. The footsteps were quite close now. Sheena held her breath. Turned her head to see who was about to pass. She wasn’t cold any longer; perspiration streamed down her body. Her head and heart beat like jackhammers. The lantern light was almost upon her. The footsteps sounded like claps of thunder in her ears.

Notice in this example, the sentences are choppy and shorter. This is intentional so the reader can feel the sense of urgency and fear in the words. Here I’ve used word accents like perspiration, heart beating, and loudness to give the reader the image of what is happening. These words are not equal to the others. They stand out in emphasis. ‘Mercato,’ in music.

If you think of your writing as a music score while you construct your sentences and paragraphs, you may very well have some really interesting passages. I test mine by reading them aloud. I’ve taped myself and played the tape back to get an even different perspective. Our own voices often sound strange to us, so it’s almost as though someone else is reading and we can hear when the rhythm is right. Try it. You might like it.

Anyone else have a trick they use to create a smooth flowing symphony of words?


Filed under books, fiction, music, musings, writing

A Writer Looks at 40 by Noah Baird

I’m in a little bit of a holiday savings time warp. I’m beginning to think Thanksgiving is only a grocery store holiday. Every other store goes from Halloween to Christmas.

Here’s something you don’t know. I will be turning 40 this month. There’s no punchline. 40. That’s it.

I remember my older brother, a heavy metal fan, confiding to me that he was listening to mellower music. At the time, I was shocked. I was a rock ‘n roller. Always was. Always will be. Getting older was not going to change that. Now I’m noticing there’s more country than Motorhead on my mp3 player. The rest of the bands on my mp3 are so mellow, Saturday Night Live did a skit on them.

I was thinking back to my tastes in music over my life time. Here’s a brief history:

  • 1984: Ratt- Out of the Cellar. In hindsight, I probably looked pretty silly singing “I’m a wanted man” at 13. I was a killer with an air guitar. Little known fact: air guitars never need tuning.

  • 1988: The Pursuit of Happiness- I’m an Adult Now. I really wanted this song to be my high school graduation song.

  • 1988: The Godfathers – Birth, School, Work, Death. 1988 wasn’t painting a pretty picture of adulthood.

  • 1991; Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit. So, as a teenager, I was listening songs about how it sucked to be an adult. As an adult, I was listening to music about deodorant.

  • 1992: The Black Crows Sting Me. One great line: “Yes I’m young and don’t like getting older”.

  • 1995: Ramones – I Don’t Want to Grow Up. This was originally a Tom Waits song. I didn’t get turned onto Tom until later.

  • 2008: Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers – Captain Suburbia. “I’m not too young for anything, anymore.”

  • 2008: Jack Johnson and Dave Mathews – A Pirate Looks at 40. I’ve come full circle. The artists I listen to are playing the music my parents listen to.

I figured out it’s not the number that bothers me; it’s the body. I used to only have two gray hairs – I named them after my children. Now the gray hairs outnumber the kids. I thought I had a zit on my chin the other day, but it turned out to be a gray hair. You may be relieved to know I’m not losing my hair. It’s just not growing out of the top of my head. They decided to start growing out of my ears, my nose, and my back. It’s like they’re just too lazy  to go all of the way to the top of the head.

Maybe I mellowed out too. In nearly 40 years, I’ve learned to have better control over my proclivity for self-destruction. I think the kids have something to do with that. I don’t mind shooting myself in the foot, but you can’t do that with mini-werewolves around. I used to end up in the emergency room at least once a year. Now I worry that they’ll end up there.  I think that’s where the gray hairs come in. That’s okay. It’s a small price to pay. I saw an interview of John Cougar Mellencamp. In the interview, he said men weren’t good fathers until they were 40. I hope that’s true.

The goods news is, I’m already planning my midlife crisis. It’s going to be epic: Monkeys jousting on the backs of golden retrievers. I can’t wait.

Author’s note: I would like to point out I did not curse or make a crude comment once during this entire blog. Don’t think I’m growing up. I’m very immature for my age. I don’t plan on that changing. My teeth may yellow and the scars on my face now hide inside wrinkles, but I won’t grow up.

“It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage” – Indiana Jones.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.



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