Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

14 May 2018

Seeing Eye To Ear

by Steve Liskow

When I was young, I wanted to play piano but my parents wouldn't drive me across town to my great aunt's house to practice on her Steinway baby grand. They let me study violin instead, and I quit after one year. Years later when the British Invasion hit, I was one of thousands of guys who saw girls go crazy over the Beatles. In 1966, I spent twenty-five dollars on a Stella Harmony guitar with strings thicker than coat hanger wire and set about cultivating terrible technique and a crop of blisters.



Since then, I've bought, sold or traded at least twenty guitars and a half dozen amplifiers. Right now, I own five guitars, two of which are for sale. Around the Millennium, I bought a used Roland keyboard and have wasted lots of time and a little money on books that promised to turn me into the next Glenn Gould, Otis Spann or Dave Brubeck. None of them did.


A few months ago, I saw a series of DVDs on playing piano at a ludicrously low price and decided to bet on one more losing hand. Surprise, the videos are excellent. After watching the first three, I understand the keyboard and music theory better than I ever have before. Piano gives you a fuller understanding of what is going on in a song because you play two separate lines. It's changing how I look at and hear the guitar, too.

The old blues players often used alternate guitar tunings, which I avoided until I bought a resonator guitar and started playing slide more often. Different tunings change the sound of a chord you've heard for years, and it forces you to think about what those tones mean. I'll never be great on either guitar or piano, but I'm thinking a lot more about what I'm doing.

Looking at your writing from a different perspective can have the same effect.

In 2005, I wrote a short story featuring Woody Guthrie (under a different name) and Megan Traine and a rock band. It was a complicated story and one of my friends commented that he had trouble keeping all the characters straight. The story was almost 7000 words long, which meant few markets would look at it, and when I cut characters and words, the whole thing became incoherent. I ran out of places to send it, and it languished on a floppy disc for about four years.

In 2009, someone told me about the Black Orchid Novella Award. Among other requirements, entries had to be between 15 and 20 thousand words. Could I expand that short story into a novella and introduce the large cast more gradually?

Over the next four days, I added nine thousand words and nothing felt padded! I'd never considered writing a novella because at that time the market was non-existent. But now I had one on my hands and I sent it out. "Stranglehold" won the Black Orchid Novella Award and appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the summer of 2010. I was so used to thinking "short story" that I couldn't see it was really a novella waiting for its growth spurt.

A few years later, something felt wrong near the end of a WIP and I couldn't figure out what it was. I swapped manuscripts with another writer, who suggested that I change the point of view in one of the last scenes. Both characters had POV scenes throughout the book, so the change was feasible. It also made the ending much stronger. Someone with more distance could see that right away.

The Whammer Jammers introduces Hartford detectives Tracy "Trash" Hendrix and Jimmy Byrne exploring the world of roller derby. I interviewed skaters, referees, coaches, boyfriends, announcers, spectators, and Hartford police officers before I developed an outline and started writing. After about sixty pages, I felt like I was hip-deep in quicksand.

That night, I watched a baseball game on TV, the announcers giving the play-by-play in present tense, the way they always do. It dawned on me that Roller Derby is a sport, so what if I went back and changed the book from past tense to present? Bingo. I finished the rough draft in six weeks.

I did lots of research for what I thought would be the third Woody Guthrie novel, too. The more I played with it, the more it felt like it would work better with Zach Barnes in Connecticut. From there, it evolved into a police procedural with Trash and Byrne again. Once I have an outline, I usually produce eight or ten pages a day, but this beast needed three weeks to reach page fifty. I put it aside for a month, and when I looked at it again, I saw that two crucial premises actually contradicted each other. Oops. I recycled about half the characters into The Kids Are All Right, a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie Novel.

When you revise, you become more committed to what you already have on paper. You tweak, but you don't rebuild. Looking at it from a different angle helps you see other possibilities. What if the other person is the main protagonist? What if you try it as a comedy instead? Should you expand that short story? Could it become a play, or maybe even a screenplay?

Going back to music for a minute, I remember Leonard Bernstein discussing the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and saying that the original opening, the da-da-da-DUM, included a flute in the score. Beethoven, one of music's great revisers, realized that a flute didn't belong in that "strong masculine utterance" (Bernstein's words, not mine) and removed it.

Learn from the masters. And maybe pick a different instrument.

17 January 2018

Train songs, Train story

Shirt courtesy of Joann Lopresti Scanlon
by Robert Lopresti

I am thrilled to bits to have the cover story in the January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I also have a piece up on Trace Evidence, the AHMM  blog site, about the Orphan Train movement, which is the fact  behind my fiction. Today I want to discuss how I found out about it.

It goes back to the 1970s, when my future wife and I attended our first-ever folk  festival.  This was in Middletown, New Jersey and it had more than  a dozen performers, none of whom we had ever heard of.  (Honestly, I think the only folksingers we could have named back then were Dylan, Baez, Seeger, and Guthrie - Arlo, not Woody).

At one point Marlene Levine, the MC, said, "We had this man  here a few years ago and we think we've recovered enough to have him back.  Here he is, a legend in  his own mind, U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest!"

Out came an old man (ha, younger than I am now) with a gray ponytail under a cowboy hat.  When he left the stage twenty minutes later my wife and I were committed lifelong folkies.

Utah Phillips was a singer-songwriter, raconteur  and performer.  He shared a body with Bruce Phillips, who was a veteran, a pacifist, an anarchist, a Wobblie, and a railroad nut.

One day, a decade after I first heard him, Phillips was touring in the midwest.  He came back to his hotel and saw a sign that read ORPHAN TRAIN REUNION.  Considering what I told you about him, you should realize that Bruce could no more walk past that sign than he could have flapped his arms and flown past it.

Of course he went in and asked "What's an Orphan Train and why a Reunion?"  The answer led him to writing one of his best songs.  I can't find a recording on Youtube of Utah performing it but there are several good covers and here is one.  (Hi, Jim Portillo!)



That song introduced me to the Orphan Train.  It led me to read a couple of books on the subject and that inspired me to write a song of my own.  Mine is based on the true story of the Woodruffe family of Trenton, Missouri.  I rearranged some of the facts but the main events really happened to Phyllis Weir, later Phyllis Woodruffe.


But after writing that song I still wanted to say more about the Orphan Train.  So being the kind of writer I am I asked: Is there a way to write a crime story about this phenomenon?  The result is "Train Tracks."  I hope you like it.

15 November 2017

A Policeman's Lot, A Writer's Plot

by Robert Lopresti

It seems like just two weeks ago I was writing about having a new story published.  And it was.  After an 18-month gap I have two fresh kills in November.  Go figure.

"The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan" is my first appearance in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.  It is an old-fashioned fair-play mystery in which the aforementioned cop, who is happily engaged in running the evidence room, is dragged out of his cozy shelter to solve a murder which may or may not depend on a clue only a Savoyard would understand.

Did I hear someone ask What's a Savoyard?  Perhaps I need to explain a bit.

Gilbert and Sullivan were nineteenth century Englishmen who created comic operas.  G wrote the words, S composed the music.  The third member of the duet, so to speak, was Richard D'Oyly Carte who produced their works.  Think of him as Brian Epstein to the Beatles, trying to keep them from breaking up, or killing each other.

D'Oyly Carte  created the Savoy Theatre, where most of the works premiered, and thus, a fan of their work is called a Savoyard, because Gilbert-and-Sullivan-head takes too long to say.

Here is an example of the sort of out-of-the-box thinking D'Oyly Carte contributed to the operation.  You may remember that Oscar Wilde made a famous lecture tour of the United States.  (Customs Official: Do you have anything to declare?  Wilde: Only my genius.)  The tour was arranged by D'Oyly Carte because the G&S opera Patience was a satire on the Aesthetic Movement and would have fallen flat if Americans didn't know about Wilde.

The operas featured memorable, beautiful music, hilarious, ingenious lyrics, and, let's be honest, abysmal plots.  As my hero notes in the story you can't go too far into the stories of any of the operas without finding a plot hole you could  drive a hansom cab through.

A random example: In The Gondoliers a woman admits to trading her own baby for one of a pair of other boys.  But twenty years later, coming across those now grown men, she expresses no interest in knowing which of them was her flesh and blood.  Huh?

The fact is that Gilbert couldn't plot his way out of a paper bag  But his stuff was hilarious and being tied to Sullivan's tunes makes it immortal.

Fortunately, considering Gilbert's dreadful plotting, he never tried a mystery, but crime does feature in a few of the operas.

The main character of The Mikado, for instance is  Koko, the Lord High Executioner, who promises that he's ready to do his job:

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list -- I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed -- who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs --
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs --
All children who are up in dates and floor you with 'em flat --
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that --
And all third persons who on spoiling tete-a-tetes insist--
They'd none of 'em be missed -- they'd none of 'em be missed!

The Mikado himself rolls off a gleeful list of appropriate punishments he has ready for evildoers.

All prosy dull society sinners, 
Who chatter and bleat and bore, 
Are sent to hear sermons 
From mystical Germans 
Who preach from ten to four.
The amateur tenor, whose vocal villainies 
All desire to shirk, 
Shall, during off-hours, 
Exhibit his powers 
To Madame Tussaud’s waxwork.

Among the lesser known (but still good) works is Ruddigore, in which a character named Robin  is cursed. He must commit a crime every day or die in agony.  Unfortunately, he is not very good at it.

Robin (melodramatically) How would it be, do you think, were I to lure him here with cunning wile -- bind him with good stout rope to yonder post -- and then, by making hideous faces at him, curdle the heart-blood in his arteries, and freeze the very marrow in his bones?  How say you, Adam, is not the scheme well planned?
Adam.  It would be simply rude -- nothing more.

But the greatest connection between G&S and our  field is The Pirates of Penzance, which features a gallant troupe of constables.  No doubt my sergeant, dragged out of his cozy evidence room to cope with murder would agree with them on this subject.

06 November 2017

Killer Tunes

by Steve Liskow

I've played guitar since the Monkees hit it big, and I read music (a little) and know (a little) theory, but I don't write songs.

I've been known to commit poetry under extreme circumstances, but songs have more technical demands than I can handle: melody, rhythm, lyrics, harmony, maybe even a bass line...and that's all assuming I can sing, which is still a topic of heated debate.

Strangely enough, several of my stories involve made-up songs. I had to convince people they're real to make the stories work.

In Blood On The Tracks, my first Woody Guthrie novel, we learn that dead singer Jeremy Garth wrote a song to Megan Traine. At the recording session, Meg blew a chord change and her mistake caused lots of bad stuff to happen. Since the session was years ago and Guthrie is only a so-so guitar player (probably a little better than I am), I had two problems. First, how would he figure out that the song was written for Meg? That was easy because I could put a hint into the lyrics. But how could Guthrie surmise that Meg made a mistake years after the fact?

That took some thought. I know just enough about music to recognize typical chord progressions, and I changed one chord so it wouldn't quite fit the rest of the song. It took me about half an hour to create a logical chord sequence for a song no reader will ever hear. Once I had it, I knew how a brilliant musician could make the necessary mistake, too. Several musicians have told me they enjoyed the music background in the book, and nobody has ever had any trouble believing what happened. I still have a general idea what the song sounds like, but don't expect to hear it on my next CD. Don't hold your breath for the CD, either.

Two other stories explore musical plagiarism. "Hot Sugar Blues," which appeared in the MWA anthology Vengeance (and was nominated for an Edgar) tells of a white blues singer who copied a song he heard a black man perform in a southern bar. I had to make it logical that he'd have trouble figuring out the chords until the performer showed him what they were, so I had Deacon Maddix put his guitar into a special tuning.
Keith Richards, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell and Richard Thompson all frequently re-tune for different voicings in their songs. Robert Johnson's early blues are hard to figure out, too, partly because he had amazing technique, but also because he played most of them in different tunings so he could use a slide or reach unusual notes. Johnson gave me the idea, and I put Maddix's song into a tuning I've never heard anyone ever use. Maybe someday I'll try playing a song in that tuning to hear if it even works. Maybe I'll do it for that same CD.

"Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma," in last summer's Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, casts Woody Guthrie and Megan Train in another musical mystery. A man claimed that a singer worked with him on several songs, but released them without giving him any credit or royalties. Since the singer was known for her lyrics, I could work with words more than music, and had far too much fun creating esoteric rhymes. I even made one song use the rhyme scheme AAAAAAAA, which is harder in English than in the romance languages with an inflected ending. I simply listed the words that rhyme. I'd hate to try to write verses with those words that actually made sense, though. Maybe that's why someone ends up getting killed.

Right now, I'm polishing another story that involves a song. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes classic "The Musgrave Ritual" may have been my unconscious starting point because I was on a panel with Lindsay Faye, who recently published a collection of "new" Holmes stories. The song in my new story seems to be an obscure old ballad, but the characters suspect it's really much newer...and that the message is dangerous. I've written out five verses and even have a general idea of the chords and melody.

Look for it on the second CD I don't plan to produce.



04 September 2017

Location, Location, Location

by Jan Grape

Most if not all writers have heard teachers, agents, editors and mentors tell us to write what we know. That it is very important. It's also important to research the subject, the occupation and the location of your characters and where you are writing about.

It's not always possible to visit the town or the state you desperately want your characters to inhabit. You can read books about your location, read travel guides, talk to friends or relatives. Yet we all know if possible, we should try to visit the area or town. You do understand your travel expense will be tax deductible, right?

Sometimes a town can surprise you. Take Nashville, TN for instance. Home of Country Music. Grand Old Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. The Columbia River runs all through the town. It's also the home of the Tennessee Titans, The Nashville Predators are their winning hockey team. It's the Home of President Andrew Jackson, Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. Yes, Nashville is all that and even more.

My daughter, Karla has lived there for twenty-three years and I've visited several times, seeing all the things I mentioned above. This summer's visit, I saw things in Nashville that I had never seen before and wouldn't write about in a story unless I had visited there with a daughter who loves exploring the town where she currently lives.

One of the first things we did was go to a Jazz Club. A Jazz Club in the heartland of Country Music? Yes. It's new and since Nashville is a music loving town it likely will become a hip place to go. The night we were there a young man was playing a piano. He was quite good and after he took a break he added a friend who played saxophone along with him. A full jazz band came in a little later but we had already had dinner and a couple of drinks and were ready to head home.

A week or so later, we met a couple of friends at an Irish Pub. There was a five or six person band playing Irish or Celtic music on the other side of the room. Irish Music in the home town of the Grand Old Opry? Yes. Why not? It's not unusual to find an Irish Pub in a large city. Or probably even a mid-sized one, but I personally had never been to one. The Guinness Steak and Pie was fantastic.

Another night we went to a Holiday Inn in downtown Nashville to their famous Commodore Room. So named because it's across from Vanderbilt University who's nickname is the Commodores .We were hoping to be there for a singer/songwriter night. Up and coming performers come and play their original music for tips. A group of four performers were there and we got to hear them each play and sing a couple of songs.

When they left the stage, we were expecting second group of singer/songwriters but instead a Jazz Band took the stage. Jazz again? Yes, indeed. Maybe jazz is going to be an up and coming thing in Nashville. Who knew?

We did have a treat as this band had a jazz singer. A gentleman singer who's name I'm sorry to say that I have forgotten, but he was awesome. He opened with "My Funny Valentine," slow and sweet. Then mid-way he began a series of jazz riffs with his voice that would have thrilled Ella Fitz Gerald.

Since our big goal was a singer/songwriter night we left after Karla called and found out a friend was hosting such an event in a club in Hendersonville (a bedroom town to Nashville) so we headed there. Of course, we heard some good original music. Many of these folks may only play in small venues but they often pick up fans and followers and make their own CDs to sell and often make a decent living.

One of the last days in Nashville we drove downtown on a Sunday afternoon and drove down Music Row. Most record labels have offices there. Also some booking agents have offices. Then we drove down Lower Broad (Broadway) where many clubs are located. Some of the clubs are owned by a famous country star like, Blake Shelton. Or a famous star like the late, George Jones.

And I saw one of the funniest vehicles I've ever seen.
It's known as a party-tavern. It's about the size of a horse drawn wagon but it is powered by ten or twelve or eighteen people pedaling away. The people sit on bicycle seats and pedal. And the company renting them has a driver to steer this vehicle, while the people who have brought their own alcohol, sight-see and party. If you ride on these party taverns they are NOT allowed to serve alcohol as then the company and the pedalors could be charged with a DUI. These party taverns may be in many cities but I live in a small town and had not seen them before.

Nashville is now known as the Bachlorette Party Capitol of the World. The ladies in the bachlorette groups usually wear t-shirts saying they are Maid of Honor or Bridesmaids and of course the bride has a T-shirt that says BRIDE. And usually she wears a short veil.

We also visited Centennial Park on another Sunday afternoon and Karla pointed out a Pavilion where on Saturday nights there can be Big Bands playing music from the 30s and 40s and dance instructors to teach Jitterbug and Charleston, etc. People bring chairs or a blanket and maybe a cooler and dance or just enjoy the music.

Also there's a Musician's Corner where Singer/songwriters will come on a Saturday afternoon in late summer and early fall to perform. Again people bring their chairs or blankets. A picnic basket and a cooler of drinks to listen to some good music.

Nashville is still known as the biggest and first Music City and you can certainly enjoy live music to your heart's content. If you are going to write about Tennessee I suggest you visit Nashville. Or where ever you're writing about, it certainly will give you the best flavor possible if you can visit and remember, location, location, location.

Hope you're enjoying a good family day and cook-out on this last holiday week-end of the summer.

31 August 2016

Bound for Valparaiso in a Rowboat

by Robert Lopresti

It's the end of the summer and I don't feel like tackling anything too heavy. So let's talk about smuggling illegal substances.  Better yet, let's sing about it.

I am sure you have heard of narcocorridos, the Mexican song genre that celebrates and heroizes people who smuggle drugs north across the U.S. border.  Well, that is not our subject for the day. 

Instead we have a song from my friend Zeke Hoskin, discussing the true story of some earlier smugglers heading in a different direction.  You may remember Zeke from his occasional words of wisdom in our comment section.  He wanted you to know that he wrote most of the song on Canada Day, 1992, while waiting to cross the border.



That's his wife Flip Breskin on guitar, by the way.

Enjoy.

01 June 2016

The Truth Is Plain To See

by Robert Lopresti

A couple of warnings: I am not a English copyright attorney.  (I'm sure that astonishes you.)  And I am discussing a court case that could easily fill a book.  So take this for what it is worth.  You can read more about it here and here.

Do you remember "A Whiter Shade of Pale?"   It was a huge hit for Procol Harum in 1967, and is one of the most played and recorded songs of all time (almost 1,000 covers).  Can you call up the tune to memory?  If not, try this:


Most people I have talked to, if they remember it at all, remember that ethereal organ part.  And that is what we are here to discuss (don't worry; it will connect to the subject of this blog eventually.)

According to 40 years of labels and liner notes, Pale was written by two members of the band: Gary Brooker (piano and vocals)  and Keith Reid (lyricist).

But neither one of them was responsible for  that famous organ part. That was Matthew Fisher who played Hammond organ in the band.  He stayed with the group for three albums and then split.  His first solo record included a number with the refrain "Please don't make me play that song again."  What could he have been referring to, I wonder?

He rejoined the band when it reformed in the 1990s, but quit in 2004 and filed  a lawsuit, asking to be recognized of co-creator and co-owner of Pale.  (It turns out that this was not the first time someone threatened to sue over this ditty, by the way: "Where there's a hit, there's a writ.")   After Fisher's case bounced from venue to venue the highest court in England, namely the Law Lords (sounds like a rock band, doesn't it?) got to make their first ever ruling on a copyright case involving a song.  (It turned out to be that court's last decision as well, being then replaced by a Supreme Court.)

So what does it mean if Fisher were to win?  According to his opponent, Gary Brooker: "Any musician who has ever played on any recording in the last 40 years may now have a potential claim to joint authorship.  It is effectively open season on the songwriter."

A strong argument.  But I felt there had to be some reasonable middle ground between "Joe went twang on the chorus so he's entitled to ten percent" on  the one hand, and on the other "the composer of the most famous organ solo in pop music contributed nothing to the  song."  And sure enough, the Law Lords, clever folks that they are,  agreed with me.

They ruled that Fisher should have a credit and 40% of the music royalties, starting with the day he filed the suit.  He gets nothing for the years before he went to court, which seems reasonable.

So what does that have to  with the subject of this blog?  Glad you asked.  Before I send a story to an editor I first send it to R.T. Lawton.  He does the same with me.  We read the stories, make suggestions and corrections and generally help each other's literature inch ever closer to perfection.

But we don't get paid for that.  At what point does a helpful first reader become a co-author?

When I sent my story "Street of the Dead House" to the anthology nEvermore! the editors, Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Sole, made significant suggestions that improved the tale.  Without them would my tale have been selected for two Best of the Year collections? 

I don't know.

Did they get a share of the reprint money?

That I know.  They didn't.

But I think editors are a special case, somewhat like record producers.  They get their appropriate fee but don't expect a writing credit.

Speaking of books, I revised this piece after discovering Procol Harum: The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale by Henry Scott-Irvine.  He makes it clear that the story is even more complicated than I thought.  Any fan of the band should read the whole book.  Anyone interested in copyright issues should at least read the last two chapters.

I want to give the last word to Chris Copping. Copping replaced Fisher in the band in the 1970s which means he probably played that organ part more than anyone else alive.  He perhaps has a less romantic view of that melody than most of us.

In this essay he discusses joining Procol Harum and then analyzes the song virtually note for note, explaining what he thinks Fisher created and what he borrowed from Bach.

His conclusion on what Fisher is owed? "Let him have the ring tones."

06 November 2013

The Story I Said I'd Never Write

by Robert Lopresti

I am delighted to report that the January/February 2014 of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine is out this week and features my 24th appearance in that fine periodical.  Even better, it marks my third chance to grace the cover (and what a perfect illustration it is!).  "Devil Chased The Wolf Away" is a short story but the history of how it came to exist is a long story, so you might want to fortify yourself with a cup of coffee or something.  I'll wait.

Ready?  Okay, here goes.

About fifteen years ago I attended a concert by a man who had been considered a master musician.  The problem was he was long past his prime, and it showed.  He was confused and his playing was clumsy.

That would have been bad enough, but worse was the fact that his accompanyist, the man who had been driving him from show to show, was clearly fed up, and was rude and disrespectful.  This made the show quite unpleasant.

And as I watched it, being the person I am, I found myself thinking: is there a story here?  A crime story?

By the time the show was over I had invented Cleve Penny, an over-the-hill old-time fiddler from Kentucky.  His tale, "Snake In The Sweetgrass," appeared in the December 2003 issue of Hitchcock's.  

I thought it was my best story and some people seemed to agree.  Several urged me to write about Cleve again, but I didn't want to.  I was afraid that what seemed magical the first time might turn out to be just slight of hand the next time around.  Besides, if I kept dragging my old guy around from stage to stage, wasn't I being like that accompanyist?  So I made up my mind not to write a sequel to "Snake."

Then Bruce Molsky came to town.

Now, I must immediately explain that Molsky is not over the hill.  He is king of the mountain, and can play old-time guitar, banjo or fiddle as well as anybody.  This video should prove my point.  (And he can sing while he plays the fiddle, which is just plain cheating.)



But a few years ago Molsky performed here with a brother and sister act, only one of whom was old enough to drive, and watching him interact with those talented youngsters I had a sudden thought: wouldn't it be fun to have Cleve Penny work with some children?

I thought it would.  Not long before this my family had visited Chicago for the first time, which  included a pilgrimage to the Old Town School of Folk Music.  The School was founded in 1957 and has been offering lessons, concerts, and jams ever since. 

So I invented the Cornheim School of Folk Music, and installed Cleve Penny as guest Artist in Residence.  Then I gave the school a problem and invited Cleve to take his unique approach to solving it.  



But I had another problem.  "Devil" is in some ways a direct result of the events in "Snake."  Cleve's actions in the second story are heavily influenced by what he did in the first.  I can't assume that everyone who reads "Devil" will have read "Snake," much less remember it a decade later.  So how do I slip in the backstory?  I actually got into an interesting discussion on this subject with mystery writer Neil Schofield and wrote about it  at Criminal Brief.

I think I licked that problem, but Linda Landrigan, editor of Hitchcock's, offered an even better solution.  As I said last week, you can download a free podcast of "Snake."  I highly recommend you read/listen to it before you dig into "Devil."  You will enjoy them both more that way.

I think I'm done with Cleve Penny now, and he can settle into a well-deserved retirement.  But I have learned to never say never.

30 October 2013

Media Blitz

by Robert Lopresti

A long time ago, Robert Benchley wrote the following about his most famous piece, "The Treasurer's Report:" I have inflicted it on the public in every conceivable way except over the radio and dropping it from airplanes.  (And as proof, here is a short, hilarious movie version.)

I am thinking about that because this autumn is seeing my own work coming at the public from a variety of directions.  Not to worry; the phase will pass and by December I will sink back into obscurity.  But let's go over the details of my temporary onslaught.

As I wrote last time, September marked my first appearance in an e-book anthology.  I am sure by now you have all run out (or run your cursor over) to buy a copy of Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble.  Right?

I am happy to inform you you won't have to spend any money for this next feature (although I do like dark chocolate if you're thinking of a gift).  This one is a freebie.

Linda Landrigan, who edits Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, suggested doing a podcast of my story "Snake in the Sweetgrass," which appeared in the December 2003 issue of AHMM.  And if it isn't up now here  it should be by next week.


She sent me the recorder they use and after much diligent practice I was able to record the story with only three mistakes.  And that was the best I could do.  Three different mistakes every time.  (It wasn't like I consistently tripped over the same tongue-twisting phrase, alas.)  Linda assures me they can clean that up.

But here is the cool part.  My story is about an elderly Kentucky fiddler and the title refers to a traditional fiddle piece that is his personal signature tune.  It seemed logical to include a recording of that tune in the podcast.

The problem with that is that I made up the name.  There is no such tune. 

No biggie.  My daughter, Susan Weiner, is a fine composer so she created a tune that matched the description in the story.  And then, extra special treat, my wife Terri Weiner recorded it on the fiddle.

So it is a real family operation and I recommend it highly.  But if that isn't enough to entice you to give it a listen, here is a bonus.  Remember, I said this is a media blitz. 

The January/February issue of Hitchcock's comes out November 4 and I am thrilled to report that the cover story is "Devil Chased The Wolf Away," a sequel to "Snake."  And while you can read "Devil" without experiencing "Snake" you will definitely enjoy them more if you read (or listen to) "Snake" first.

And next Wednesday I will explain how "Devil" came to be written, much to my surprise.

29 May 2013

Working on my novel

Just bought myself a webcam and guess what I did with it?  Lyrics follow...




When the cop cars finally caught up with me                               
I was down from a nine day drunk                                        
With a side door missing, the radiator hissing                     
And an alligator in the trunk                                                 
The judge said “You’ve got such potential, son          
So why is your life a mess?                                         
You’ll be making, they say, great art one day.”          
“Well, your honor, I must confess.”                                    

I’m working on my novel, (working on my novel) 
Starting on a great career                                                               
Every word rings true cause I’m living ‘em through 
I’m working on my novel here         
                                    
My wife hit me, then she hit the road
‘Cause of rumors that flew her way
‘Bout her ex-best friend and a lady bartender
And some games that we liked to play
She said through sobs “I work two jobs
To support you and your art.
Can’t the research cease on your masterpiece?
When will the writing start?”


I said: I’m working on my novel, (working on my novel) 
Starting on a great career                                                               
Every word rings true cause I’m living ‘em through 
I’m working on my novel here         


The outline’s done after years of work
But my agent said, “Hey, boy,
I love the plot but its really not
What sane people would enjoy.”
So I started on a story of the common folk
And the struggles that they go through
So nine to five you can see me strive
With the scum of the earth like you.


I’m working on my novel, (working on my novel)                        
Where'd my alligator disappear?
Every word rings true cause I’m living ‘em through           
I’m working on my novel here         

07 March 2013

Music Notes

by Fran Rizer   

My thirteen-year-old grandson Aeden has been reading a book entitled Awesome about little things that create awesome moments, including such events as surprise doughnuts for breakfast and rain stopping right before the ball game.  One of Aeden’s awesome times was taking his guitar to school and playing a song for his girlfriend. This led to his teacher arranging for him to perform at one of the local nursing homes.
          Aside from the usual awesome moments in most everyone’s life like the births of children and grandchildren, weddings (and divorces for some of us), I discovered that a lot of my awesome times have related to music.  Trust me, I’ll relate this blog to mysteries and writing before I finish.  I’m headed there.

            These are some awesome musical moments in my life, not necessarily in order of importance nor in chronological order.

Young Johnny Cash 
1.     When?  Two AM

Where?  I’m reading in bed

What?  My then twelve-year-old younger son comes into my room holding one of those cheap, ten-minute cassette tapes we recorded song demos on before CDs.  I also sometimes recorded songs I really liked from the radio on them.  My son, who was definitely not a country music fan at the time, hands the unlabeled cassette to me and says, “You need to get rid of everyone who’s recording your demos and get this guy to sing them all.  He’s great!”  My son had “discovered” Johnny Cash.  BTW, the first time I saw Johnny Cash perform live was when my dad took me to see him before I was ten.  His opening act was the then unknown Elvis Presley.


Tina Turner, at 70 years old
2.     When?  Six PM

Where?  I’m in the kitchen cooking dinner

What?  My older son, a young teenager at the time, runs into the kitchen.  “Quick Mama, come quick.  Remember when I asked you to name your favorite female singer when you were growing up and you said Tina Turner.  A new singer is using her name.”  Into the den we go where I see Tina Turner on MTV singing her latest release, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” 

            “That’s the same woman as the one I used to go see when I was a teenager,” I tell him. He didn't believe it until I took him to see Tina in Columbia and she did "Proud Mary."  His first three concerts were Tina and Bob Seger with me and Led Zeplin with his friends. 


3.     When?  Years before, when I was twelve (but I looked sixteen)

Where?  A Big Boy restaurant in Hyattsville, Maryland
Young Bobby Rydell
What?  This cute boy, about sixteen, comes over to where my  
cousin Melanie and I are eating hamburgers.  He starts talking and gives us two passes to a sock hop that night. (That shows how long ago it was. Have you even heard of sock hops?)  Cute Boy tells us he’s performing that night.  Oh, yeah, like I believe that.
Mel and I go to the sock hop. Sure enough, Cute Boy is on stage.
Introduced as Bobby Rydell, he sits with us after his set, and dances with me—first boy I ever danced with.  He was about sixteen so if you’re good in math (heck!even if you’re sorry in math) you can figure my age, but hold on.  This story gets better.
The main act comes on stage and it’s Ray Charles!  He introduces a song that, “is new.  We're cutting it next week."  I saw and heard Ray Charles do "What'd I Say?" before it was recorded.
 
The only thing better than a live performance
 by Ray Charles was to have my son
playing saxophone with him.  

4.     When?  Years and years later when my younger son is twenty years old and attending Furman University on a music scholarship. 

Where?  Concert hall in Spartanburg, SC

What?  Younger son is on stage playing first chair tenor sax with Ray Charles and a full orchestra.  He's been told by "that music director who must have come straight from Las Vegas or New York because he ticked off the first chair tenor saxophonist who walked out of rehearsal, and now I’m first chair” that he will play an improvised solo in one of the songs.  That night my son nailed that saxophone improv.  On the way home, he says, “Did it sound okay? I’d never heard that song before.”

It was “I Got a Woman.”  I felt soooooo old.


5.     When?  After my divorce, before sons were grown

Where?   A nightclub in Myrtle Beach, SC

What?  The first time I dance to a song I wrote played by a band  I'm not associated with.


6.     When?  A couple of years later, five AM

Where?  Home, in bed

            What?  Randall Hylton, a superb performer who wrote over two hundred songs recorded by major country and bluegrass entertainers, calls to say, “Thank you” for the article about him that I’d had published in Bluegrass Unlimited and asks me if I’d like to write his press releases and design his promo material.  Out of that grows a friendship and working relationship that results in Randall, who penned so many great songs, telling me that my words “stand up and walk.  You should write a book.”  I did, and then I wrote another one Hey Diddle, Diddle, THE CORPSE & THE FIDDLE which was dedicated to Randall as well as having a character who imitates him in the book.  


7.     When?  Many trips

Where?  Star Recording Studio, Miller’s Creek, North Carolina

What?  Gene Holdway records the Waiting at the Station  CD of original bluegrass gospel
Gene and I wrote together. Then, this year, Gene releases Train Whistle which has six songs I wrote or co-wrote.


8.     When? Before Gene or Randall
Where? Columbia, SC

What? First time my group, Frantastix, performs live


     9.    When? After Frantastix 
Where?  Nashville, TN
What?  Sammy B’s (I understand it’s closed now)

Hanging out with the publisher of one of my songs.  (Harlan Howard took one of


Mickey Newberry (wrote "What Condition My
Condition Was In" and put together "American Trilogy" for
Elvis.  I had dinner with him when he came to speak about
 song-writing in Columbia.), Randy Owen, Dewayne Blackwell,
 and David Frizzell 
mine, too, but by then, he was too old to hang out. We never got a cut on the song, but it sure was exciting when he called me.)  I’m drinking O’Doul’s and on this day the real music people are drinking tequila. (No, Liz, I don’t have a problem with alcohol, but my diabetes does.)  We’re joined by several songwriters including the adorable white-haired Dewayne Blackwell who wrote “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino” and “Friends in Low Places.”  A totally delightful afternoon during which I tell the story of my son performing with Ray Charles because the songwriter mentioned that he’d always wanted to see Ray Charles perform live but never had.  I also learn that the man who co-wrote the Garth Brooks hit also wrote "Mr. Blue" and the old rock song “Little Red Riding Hood, You Sure Are Lookin’ Good.”  Later, it gave me pleasure every time I heard that song used in the car commercial because I knew that fine fellow was making money.  I get that same feeling now when I see the car commercial with Johnny Cash singing “That Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog.”


10.  When?  Before any of the above
       Where?  Nashville
       What?  Many trips with my parents as a child as guests of Hank Snow ("I'm Moving On") at the Ryman Auditorium,  including the night they introduced a first time singer named Loretta Lynn.
            The list of memorable awesome moments goes on and on.  There are equal numbers of awesome writing moments, including holding that first published book in my hands like it was made of gold and some unique book signings I’ll describe another time, but I promised to wrap these music notes around to writing.  I’ve made up my mind.  I’m going to Killer Nashville in 2013…might make it to Albany also, but definitely Nashville.  Hope to see you there.