Showing posts with label Chuck Cannon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chuck Cannon. Show all posts

15 April 2013

YOU CAN'T GO HOME - Why I Write


by Fran Rizer

If you ever listen to radio, I'm sure you've heard at least one song called "You Can't Go Home Again" from performers like Lari White, The Judds, Bon Jovi, Sugarland, The Statler Brothers, Miranda Lambert, and many others.

Chuck Cannon
One of those songs was written by Chuck Cannon, performer and writer with hits recorded by many of my country favorites including Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, and Ricky Van Shelton.  To me personally, Chuck bears the distinction of being the person who made me aware that I'm short. 

Let me explain that I come from a family in which the women tend to be 4'11", so when I grew up to be 5'3", I looked tall when with my female family members.  I felt tall

At a songwriters' meeting where Chuck Cannon was the featured speaker, he performed his original "You Can't Go Home Again."  The host wanted a picture of the guests and said, "Taller people in the back."

I stepped to the back row beside Chuck.  He gently took my shoulders and moved me to the front row, saying, "You belong up here."  Sure enough, when I received a copy of the photo, not only was the front row the place for me, I was the SHORTEST person there!

Bet you're wondering, "Now where is she going with this?  It should be related to writing and/or mystery, but then, perhaps that's the mystery...what's she writing about today?"

Could it be about short people, even short writers?  William Faulkner was only five feet, five inches tall--taller than I am, but not especially tall for a man. 

Could it be about Chuck Cannon?  He wrote many of my favorite songs, including "How Do You Like Me Now?"

Could it be about literary techniques?  We've recently had blogs about constrained writing and frame stories.  (Actually the stream of consciousness technique is related to the writer today's blog is about.  He's classified as writing his Bildungsroman novels in stream of consciousness technique.)
"Dixieland"
None of those are right.  Some of you liked reading about my awesome moments in music.  Today I'm writing about an awesome moment in my teenaged years involving the person who made me want to be a writer.

The photo to the right shows one of American literature's most famous landmarks.  In an epic, autobiographical novel, this rambling Victorian building was called "Dixieland," but in reality the author grew up there when it was called "Old Kentucky Home."  I read the book when I was about thirteen.  When I got a car and license at sixteen, I took myself to Asheville, North Carolina, to see the house. 

There was a small card on one of the bedroom door frames.  On it was printed, "This is the room where Ben died."  Now, I was a pretty flip teenager, and Ben was a character in the book, but standing at that door brought tears to my eyes.  I thought, "If just the memory of a fiction scene can make me cry, then words are powerful stuff!  I want to do that."

While in Asheville that trip and many times since then, I visited the graves of O. Henry and, within walking distance, the writer who impressed me so --- Thomas Wolfe.
Cover of the first
edition, published
in 1929

I'm not talking about Tom Wolfe, who wrote Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and feuded with John Updike, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal.  I'm speaking of North Carolina's Thomas Wolfe who wrote Look Homeward Angel, which has not been out of print since it was first published in 1929.

Classified as possibly the most autobiographical Bildungsroman (a specific type of coming of age novel) by an American novelist, Look Homeward Angel follows the life of protagonist Eugene Gant from birth to age nineteen.  While I loved visiting the Asheville places Wolfe had used and renamed in the book, the people of Asheville weren't happy with his frank and realistic reminiscences. In fact,  Look Homeward Angel was banned from Asheville's public libraries for seven years. Today, Wolfe has become one of Asheville's most famous citizens, and his boyhood home is a National Historic Landmark museum in his honor.

Thomas Wolfe, 1930-1938
As an early teenager, I simply assumed that the title Look Homeward Angel referred to a stone statue of an angel that both Eugene and Wolfe's fathers used as porch advertisements at family graveyard monument shops each owned. (I saw the angel in a cemetery in Hendersonville, NC.) Wolfe's first title was The Building of a Wall, which he changed to O Lost before renaming it Look Homeward Angel: A Story of a Buried Life.  The title comes from the John Milton poem Lycidas. 

"Look homeward angel now, and melt with ruth; 
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth."
                                                            ---   John Milton


Asheville's reaction to Look Homeward Angel played a large part in Wolfe's next book--You Can't Go Home Again, that line so frequently used by songwriters.  (Chuck Cannon also has a song entitled "Look Homeward, Angel.")  I don't believe the inspiration for songs and other prose using Wolfe's titles came directly from Milton. Their influence is Thomas Wolfe.  Wouldn't each of us be filled with pride to have one or more of the titles of our writings inspire the work of so many other writers?

When young Thomas Wolfe gave his manuscript to Scribner's Maxwell Perkins, the editor insisted it be condensed to a more manageable publication size.  They cut sixty thousand words from Wolfe's manuscript before it was published at five hundred, forty-four pages. 

Why do I want to praise Thomas Wolfe to mystery writers?  In addition to being the writer who convinced me I wanted to write, I  believe good writing shares common features, whether literary or specific genre.  My words don't have the power of those of Thomas Wolfe, but I always aim to do for my readers what he did for me.  I want them to react with some kind of emotion.  I want to make them happy or sad or scared, but I always want to create feelings for Callie's fans.  (I cleaned up that last line.  At book-talks, I've been known to say I want my readers to laugh, cry, or wet their undies, but, as I've told you before, I'm trying to become more lady-like in my old age.)

The other reason is to give me the chance to share with you a quote from Thomas Wolfe in the event you have an editor who wants to cut some little darlings from your work:

U S Postage Thomas Wolfe
Memorial Stamp
"What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn , was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one wishes to publish."

                                                        --- Thomas Wolfe
                                                                                                       
How about you?  Is there a particular author, book, or event that made you want to be a writer?

Until we meet again... take care of you!

09 January 2012

Leave a Message



by Fran Rizer

Two weeks ago, I asked if anyone wanted to share a story song or answer a new question. Rob Lopresti sent me an excellent song, which is available on the Internet if you query him about it. No one tried to guess the commonality between Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe, so we'll move right along.

One week ago, 01/02/12, Leigh shared Jan Grape's answering machine message in Comments. In a flat, no-nonsense voice Jan's phone answers with this:
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be taken down and used in my next book. If you understand these rights, please leave a message.
Jan's is now my favorite, though one of my long-time memorable machines said:
Yeah, this is Aaron. I'm not sure if I'm home or not, but I know I've lost my telephone again. If it's around here and I'm home, I may find it and answer before you finish your message. If not, I'll be sure to call you back whenever I'm home and can find the phone at the same time.
I loved that because I'm notorious for misplacing the cordless phone on my desk under a thousand pieces of paper. (That's hyperbole, but I exaggerate all the time. Being a fiction writer is like being given a license to lie.)

This was my message years ago, in a voice like Velma's (or Roxanne's if you're familiar with the Callie Parrish mysteries):
You've reached the machine, so there's no doubt
I'm either busy or out and about,
So leave your name and number, too
And I promise I'll get back to you.
I confess there was a whole lotta promise in the word "promise." Chuck Cannon, Nashville songwriter and performer, used to call my house just to listen to my machine. He also passed the number to friends, so I'd receive messages like, "Didn't want anything. Chuck Cannon gave me your number so I could hear your message." I suppose I should be grateful nobody wrote it on a restroom wall in Nashville!

This afternoon, my grandson texted his dad to tell him we were entering the gate to their house. His dad was home. He opened the door, stood there, and greeted us as we pulled 'round the drive. Just another example of generation differences. I would have called, but they text.

I used to say that I neither give nor take guilt trips. Now I say I neither text nor read text messages. I actually disposed of my cell phone a year ago and have enjoyed being less accessible. I've loved driving without interruption--making up songs and working out plots as I travel. Of course, that changed after Mom's fall. The new cell is with me at all times so the rehab center can reach me.

Cell phones are ultra sophisticated these days with all kinds of apps, but landlines remain my preferred telephone communication. Cell phones usually have a mechanical voice referring to the owner by number or just a quick name blurbed in when they tell you to leave a message. I like to hear a human voice that reflects an individual's personality.

My answering machine is and was my friend. Messages work both ways. My machine gives a message to the caller. The caller leaves a message for me. I learned about my first book contract when I returned from shopping and had this message. "This is your agent Jeff. When do you check your email? I've been trying for days to let you know we have an offer from Berkley for three books with a nice advance. Call me at ### ### ####." (I now check email at least once a day.)

Another great message was "This is Melanie Howard with Harland Howard Music. I listened to your demo, and we want to put a hold on one of your songs. Call me at ### ### ####."

Both of those calls came on days when I'd become so discouraged that I was considering giving up writing.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the noun "message'' as a "communication by writing, by speech, or by symbols." By that definition, all of the Sleuthsayers are involved in messages each time we write a story, novel, essay, poem or song.

Some of us grew up dreaming of writing the Great American Novel. I was one of those kids, but I don't think some cozy-like Callie Parrish mysteries and a southern thriller quite fill the bill. However, I've been thinking this week about messages, and a writer doesn't have to write the Great American Novel to leave a message. In fact, it's not even necessary to write a novel. Think of the timeless messages in Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Necklace" or O Henry's "Gift of the Magi," and for Christians, the message in "Amazing Grace." Though much less global, I'm leaving a message every time a reader "falls into" what I've written or laughs at Callie and Jane.

My wish for all Sleuthsayers and readers for 2012 is that we leave memorable messages.

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.