Feeling the Arpeggio Resonate in Your Chest

No doubt at one time in your life you encountered an artistically-composed photograph or painting that deeply resonated with you.  You may have only looked at the portrait for thirty seconds but it felt like you completely lost track of time as conjured emotions and memories swirled across your mind’s eye.

Something similar happened to me a few days ago while driving and listening to the song And You and I from the album The Ultimate Yes – 35th Anniversary Collection.  At the 0:07 mark I heard an acoustic guitar arpeggio – low E, A, D, G, B, and E.  This got me thinking about my own experiences playing an acoustic guitar, specifically holding the guitar firmly against my body and feeling the resonance within my chest.

Now if you’ve ever played an acoustic guitar, you completely understand and can feel the words of that last sentence resonate in your own chest.  But if not, likely you still appreciate the words on the page without any sort of emotional connection.

Upon having this realization, it hit me why I’m not enjoying a current fiction novel I’m in the middle of reading.  Basically there aren’t any details in the entire novel I can relate to, specifically whenever we (the readers) are sitting and traveling in one of the protagonist’s vintage collector cars.  All we’re told is “the car started” or “we pulled out onto the road” or “the motor growled as we picked up speed.”

As a “car guy” this upsets me.  Where’s the gurgling of the exhaust or the chatter of the door handle or the sun glimmer off the chrome clock bezel for such a key aspect—the cars—to the story?  It may be a 1968 Aston Martin DB6 I’m traveling in, but the words on the page are conjuring images of a more modern, tame car – like I’m a passenger in my neighbor’s Toyota Corolla!

My takeaway in these recent experiences is that I’m not going to hesitate adding in specific sensory details that may only appeal to a small handful of my readers.  If it’s interesting to me, I’ll add it with hopes it will strike a chord with a small percentage of my readers.

Birds of a feather

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m suddenly awakened by the deliberate plunking of a piano blues riff: Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam. 

“Cut it out, N’awlins,” I yell out in a raspy voice.  “Yuh hear”?

The rhythm continues to crescendo from across the room.  Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam.  I yell out again, “That you, Money Fatts”?

My wife is not amused at my early-morning attempt at humor.

In one swift motion I swing my body off the bed, pulling half the entwined sheet and comforter combination with me until it’s tugged back into place like a rubber band.  I take a few clumsy steps in the dark, feeling for the top of my tall mahogany-stained dresser with outstretched arms, and retrieve my phone from the charger to silence the troublesome “blues riff” alarm tone.

The air in the room is brisk and cool.  About sixty-six degrees, I suspect.  I hate January; we really should move to Florida one of these days.

It’s nearly five o’clock on a Tuesday and I have just one hour to devote to writing and related research for the day before showering, dressing, and leaving for work.  I need to make this hour count!

I throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, feed the cat a small portion of his morning breakfast to keep him quiet, and bump up the thermostat.  Click, click, click, ker-plunk, ker-plunk, whooooosh.  The burners fire and warm air begins to flow throughout the house.

I finally head into the family room where I sit down at my laptop to start writing.  The room is dark, as I’ve deliberately kept off the lights sans for the glow of the laptop LCD at the head of the table.  The daily self-interrogation begins.  Do I dive right into writing, or do I check my Twitter feed first to see what new insights were posted by my writing friends?  Maybe I’ll tweet the word count of my current WIP?  Or maybe I’ll comprise a romanticized tweet to impress others with my dedication to the craft at five o’clock in the morning? 

I log into Twitter and take a moment to skim my feed.

That woman is a machine…was she really awake two hours ago to comprise a tweet about her WIP? 

There’s this guy again…why did he re-post that same article he posted just yesterday afternoon?

I swear this woman…best-selling author of nineteen novels I’ve never heard of…must have six identical Twitter accounts!

I put my hand on the crown of my head, feeling to see if the thin spot has gotten any worse from the day earlier.  I slump back into my chair.

Coffee.  I need coffee!  I walk into the kitchen and brew myself a cup of Keurig.  The aroma of sweetened espresso shifts throughout the room when the forced-air blower kicks on for a second time.  This will surely wake her up.

Returning to my chair at the table, I see fourteen new tweets are available to me.  Three are duplicates, two are advertisements.

It’s now ten minutes to six, and I realize I’ve squandered yet another potentially-productive writing morning with no substantial benefit.

With the push of the mouse, a small arrow glides to the upper-right corner of my screen.  Account… Settings… Deactivate My Account.  Complete.

If I want to be a writer, I need to actually write, I think to myself as I snap shut the lid to my laptop.  Tomorrow’s another day.

Book Review: The Guns of Retribution by Icy Sedgwick

The Guns of RetributionMy name is Virginia Diaz and as this is my introductory post here at Today’s Author, I’d just like to say howdy and tell you something about myself. I, like many others who read and write for Today’s Author, was that kid–you know, the one who read incessantly, voraciously, and also kinda non-stop once she had found the true value of reading wasn’t that she passed the test or got praise from her teachers and parents, but that it was a place all her own–in fact, millions of places, zillions of places, an infinite multi-verse to which she could escape and have adventures both romantic and strange. That was me–is still me–is us, I think.

Yeah, I know you already know about the value of the shared word–you’re here aren’t you? But, how did we get here to that exceptional love of reading? Each of us, of course, had her or his own journey. As far as I can remember, mine began with an adventurous kids’ book about the famous Money Pit on Oak Island which ignited my imagination like nothing I had read before ever had. I was about 10 or 11 years old and the exact title and author’s name escapes me, but the experience of reading it remains decades later. Before that, I wasn’t at all likely to pick up a “boy’s book” like a treasure hunting adventure, but since then, well considering how that one book had changed my view of reading, limiting myself from any genre seemed silly.

Not only am I one who loves reading and has a love-hate for writing (you know what I mean if you’ve ever had writer’s block) but I really love to pull the storytelling apart like a clock and see what makes it tick–and talk about it–man, I love to discuss why a particular set of words works well or doesn’t work at all.

And so, I come around to what my main focus here at Today’s Author will be: Book Reviews. In keeping with the spirit of this site’s purpose to encourage new and independent writers, I will be focusing mainly on self-published authors and small presses. (If this is you and you’d like me to consider reviewing your work here at Today’s Author, make contact in the comments.)

As I previously wrote, I will read just about anything–even “boys’ books” like westerns, so today I’ll be reviewing Icy Sedgwick’s just re-released novella western The Guns of Retribution (Beat to a Pulp, 2013). The Guns of Retribution is a story of one Grey O’Donnell, a tragic hero of the old west whose fatal flaw seems to be that, while he can bring justice for others through his wits, determination, and quick shooting, those victories come at great personal cost to Grey. For Grey, no good deed goes unpunished and nearly every truth told or act of common decency is paid back with betrayal and deceit–it’s awesome! Okay, it’s not awesome for Grey or for anyone who he cares about for they also feel the brunt of his misfortune, but as a metaphor for how capricious fate can be, and how we puny humans can do little to truly influence our fate and change our lives for the better, it’s awesome.

One of the other strengths of the book is Sedgwick’s deft handling of description. As a reader I have always found heavy-handed description to be hugely distracting and sometimes even enough to put me off a book (I really don’t need to know what the characters had for dinner for three paragraphs, you know?). The description in The Guns of Retribution is sprinkled between the action and throughout the dialogue so smoothly that the reader hardly notices that it is description and it sure as shootin’ doesn’t pull one out of the narrative, but instead allows the reader’s mind’s eye to fill in the blanks. In a tale meant to move fast and take no prisoners (okay there are like half a dozen people taken prisoner, but that’s not the point) the author still manages to create a full, lush world populated by the old familiar archetypes of the genre given new liveliness and deeper motivations.

The one real criticism I do have is that while Sedgwick’s female characters ring true in both words and actions, they rarely get a chance to interact with each other. The femme fatal, Madeline Beaufontaine, is a near perfect characterization of that well used trope–she is sexy bad news and we know it from the moment we meet her. She also has a sister, the lovely Violet, who keeps the town of Sandwater’s only inn and puts herself squarely on Grey’s side through her actions. However, all the reader gets to know about their relationship is what others–mostly male characters–tell us. As I read I kept waiting for the scene when those very opposite sisters would interact, but it never happened. Cocheta, an Apache woman from Grey’s past, gives voice to her entire tribe and has a hand in the resolution of the main plot, but her sole interaction with another female character is to hold her daughter’s hand in the background of a scene. Certainly, the author should be credited for creating well rounded women, but as a reader I would have loved for her to go another step farther and let us have some more interaction between the womenfolk.

I have heard rumors of an upcoming sequel and I am very much looking forward to more adventures with Grey O’Donnell in the cruel, dry world that Icy Sedgwick has built. And, if I had my wish, Grey would meet up with his own version of Calamity Jane or Annie Oakley to give the world of The Guns of Retribution an even more well-rounded feel.

For the love of writing

For some people, writing has been their secret lover ever since they could clutch a crayon. For others, it has slipped insidiously into their lives and taken up residence on the comfy chair, refusing to budge.

The love of writing , disregarding genre or form, snatches up the unwary author who within a few paragraphs is helplessly caught up with characters in a passion-based rush for words and ideas.   Although most writers say they “write for the love of it”, the very narcissistic nature of ‘being’ a writer demands that there is at least a small recognition for what they are doing.

Go on.. admit it…. we all love to hear a reader gush about a character in one of our stories, or how the twist at the end really took them by surprise. There is no equal, either, to finding our that a piece of your writing has been accepted to be published or won some sort of competition.

As literature comes in many forms, from free form poetry to scripts to flash fiction through to enormous tomes of brow bending ideas, so does its ways in which it can entertain, inform and educate. The inspiration behind writing also takes on just as many forms, from cathartic where the author vents frustrations, through to exploration into the world of “what if”. What connects all of these is the author’s passion and love for the form and words.

The love of writing simply means that the writer is connected to the process. Passionately and with wild abandon for some, steady and comfortable for others. Just like any relationship, the love of writing comes in many shades. Writing, like many expressive arts, is a relationship which will continue to grow as the author’s competence and confidence builds.

The love a writer can feel from the writing process can manifest in the the ego-based form of success (nothing wrong with that by the way!!), achievement and recognition through to connecting to the words in a deeper way, where an emotional journey can be undertaken, connection with an idea or an audience, a shared experience and socially based ideals are aired to empower and enrich others lives. The beauty of writing is that it can be as introspective and private or as loud and broadcast as the author allows or wishes it to be. Each has its value and place in this journey of writing.

Writing is an easy lover, giving a sense of connection with a faceless audience where the writer can convey ideas and concepts in deep, personal manners which may not be socially acceptable or possible as a face to face interaction. Although at times writing can guilt and nag a writer to return to its embrace, it is a patient lover, willing to wait in the wings until the time and passion returns. Throughout the stages of a writer’s life, it is a love which ebbs and wanes, but like a stalker ex, continues to creep under ones’s skin. Its a love that nurtures, surprises and endures.

Have you been in touch with your ‘writing love’ lately – or are you uncomfortable strangers who avoid eye contact in the hallway?

Rekindling an Old Flame

Lately I’ve been feeling a little lightheaded and dizzy.  There have been knots in my stomach. My heart rate is elevated. I’m having trouble focusing on my tasks.  I feel kind of tingly.

Based on my search of the internet, I could have the flu.  It might be excessive caffeine use.  I might have swallowed a fish bone, balloon or pin. I could be showing signs of a drug overdose (cocaine, several narcotics and/or nicotine are the likely culprits).  Or I might have recently had a Botox injection.  These symptoms also could be caused by recent scuba diving activity, apparently…

Or, I could be falling in love.

You see, I’ve re-connected with my old flame – a long-lost love.  It’s okay, you can tell my wife. She’ll understand and won’t be jealous about it. In fact, she’ll probably be relieved that I’ve got something else to distract me for a while. But yes, I am in love. With words.  And I’m so grateful that they’ve come back to give me yet another chance despite the nastiness of our last breakup.

It was my fault, of course.  Over the past couple of years we had drifted apart.  It’s not you, it’s me, I’d say, but the hurt feelings and blank pages were not particularly forgiving.  Ultimately, our inability to communicate caused a complete breakdown in our relationship and eventually the words simply gave up and walked out.

But the other day we happened upon each other in a coffee shop.  I was drinking my morning Blonde Roast when they arrived. It was awkward at first… our conversation focusing meekly on a vague to-do list.  The little red notebook I carry around was soon fished out of my pocket and the pen started to move slowly across the paper, filling in little details about laundry that needed washing, garden seeds that needed planting and snow that needed shoveling. I’ve missed you, I admitted to the words dangling in front of me and they reached out and gently touched my hand.

Suddenly, we were in an airship on a search and rescue mission.  Sweat was dripping as crewmen barked orders at each other in the searing heat from the unforgiving sun. We battled the extreme heat, tremendous wind and gravitational forces no human or human-made airship was meant to experience in order to try to rescue Princess Latte from the evil clutches of Lord Chai who was planning to turn the princess into a weapon to destroy society as we knew it. Just as we reached the coordinates of his evil lair, the ship started shaking, we were tossed around the bridge and the engines failed, causing us to crash in an alien and unforgiving terrain.  The crash destroyed our communications equipment – our only link to the rest of civilization – and also destroyed our solar turbine drives– our only means of making coffee or getting ourselves and the princess home.

In between, from the moment we left the base to the moment we crashed… there were words. So many powerful, action-packed, emotion-filled, beautiful words.  There were tears, fears and laughs.  There were bad puns.  There were a few brazenly split infinitives.  Nearly 1300 words were scrawled on those pages in a matter of fifteen minutes.  When I finally put the pen down I found my coffee mug to be empty (I didn’t remember drinking it) and I found myself out of breath and shaking with an adrenaline rush I hadn’t had in quite some time. The power of words to take you from one moment and place and transport you to another… I love that power. I love embracing it and succumbing to it.

I especially love writing when I can totally immerse myself into the scene and become the characters.  Feeling their emotions, experiencing their pain, tasting their coffee– if I can get into a scene like that while I’m writing, it makes me feel a little dizzy and a little nauseous and a little distracted. It just feels right.

It’s kind of silly to think that the symptoms of loving something – whether it’s a person or the act of putting words on a page – are so similar to the symptoms of so many diseases or addictions or … scuba diving experiences (seriously, webMD, where’d that one come from?).  But for me at least it really is kind of like that when I write.

What about you?  Is there something about writing you love? Do you ever just write and end up feeling like a school kid navigating the minefield of your first crush?  In honor of Valentine’s Day, fill the comments with things you love about writing so that we might all fall in love again.