Thursday, August 11, 2022

A Trip to the Sacred Store

 

Long long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile

The first time I heard those lyrics was in the late spring of 1972. At thirteen years old, I was just becoming aware of music in a big way and my radio was constantly on, or I was playing the few 45s or LPs I had on a fold up record player. Then one day, along came this song. I would find out later that the genesis of the song of the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Those three people meant little or nothing to me at that point in my life. I don't mean to make it sound cruel, but the plane crash in Clear Lake and songs of those three musicians occurred before I was born. So what did I find in American Pie? A Story.

Even though I didn't know the background and the symbolism in the lyrics, I knew I was listening to a story. Besides that, the music was great. It started off slow––sped up––rocked for a while in the middle — then, with some somber words it faded out. Those types of shifts within the song are called hooks, and they did exactly what they were supposed to do: they hooked me. Even though it was a solitary voice for most of the song, it was a wonderful voice and one that demanded that you listen to it. Every time it played from the first time I heard it, I sat and allowed it to captivate me for the entire eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That is a long time for a thirteen-year-old.

After the first few times I heard it, I did what all teenagers do when they like a song––I memorized the lyrics. No small task back then. You'd have to wait until the radio station played the song again and because of the song's length, they'd only play it every few hours. There was a lot of luck involved to hear it more than once a day. But I did, and eventually I memorized the lyrics. All eight-hundred and sixty-eight of them. 

At about the same time, I read Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods? If you're not familiar with it, the book is a hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations came form by ancient alien astronauts who were welcomed as gods. Regardless of your feelings about the book's ideas, it was among the first that made me think. The author took various bits of history and wove them together to support his theories. It was like finding the holy Grail that explained everything. I'd recall that feeling of accepting a constructed truth when I wrote term papers about cults in high school and college.

Imagine a world without the Internet, where rumors and urban legend traveled by word-of-mouth. You'd be amazed at how quickly it occurred. That's what happened with American Pie, lacking a full explanation from Don McLean, people put together various events that seemed to match the lyrics. The Jester in the song must've been Bob Dylan, the reference to moss growing fat?––it was about the Rolling Stones, and the sergeant's playing the marching tune? Of course, it was a reference to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Over time, I picked up explanations for every single lyric in the song. All of them seem to match the words to people and events in history.

Last week, I caught the documentary The Day the Music Died/American Pie and in addition to people talking about the significance of the song in their life, Don McLean finally shared how the song was written, the construction of the music on the record, and the meaning of those mysterious lyrics. I don't want to give out any spoilers, but I will tell you everything I heard about the song growing up was wrong, except the reference to the plane crash on 3 February 1959. 

Maybe it's because I'm older now, but rather than feeling lied to, I appreciated his words on the subject. As I've often said, when an author writes "the curtains were blue", sometimes it has nothing to do with the fact he was depressed when he wrote the words, it usually means he looked around and noticed––the damn curtains were blue.

After watching the documentary, American Pie made it back into rotation for my daily music breaks. One afternoon, while out running some errands, I was stopped at a stoplight with the windows of my car down and the song playing at near full blast. I was daydreaming, but then something caught my attention and I looked at the cars on either side of me. They too had their windows down and the driver of one car, and all the occupants of the other were singing along with the song. Amazing how universal this piece of music still is.

Note: Don McLean figures into another entry in this blog, he's the inspiration for the song Killing Me Softly  As for plane crashes, the crash that took the lives of Buddy, Ritchie, and the Bopper was just the beginning of tragedy for rock, these two entries are about other musicians who met similar fates: Lynyrd Skynyrd  and Jim Croce 


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Monday, August 1, 2022

An Escape Into My Tiny Writer's Garret



When I think about writing, I see it as a purely creative process. Because of that, it is something that can neither be rushed nor done on a specific schedule. I don't mean that the deadlines for editing and such, but the basic writing has to come when it comes. Usually, there comes a point in writing a story when my mind is filled with the characters and the action of my story. I refer to this as being in the zone, and once I'm there, I have a tendency to close out the outside world is much as possible and let those words flow as freely as their coming to me. Until then, I feel that I'm wandering about like a bumblebee, bumping into everything that might be in my way as I try to fly towards the flowers I am seeking.

Thanks to Katrin, a wonderful lady that I've never met who lives in Hamburg, Germany I no longer bumble my way onto the path I need to be on, her creations allow me to concentrate on only a small part of the physical world in front of me. The first time I did this, back in January, the result was a small library that seemed turned the corner and go on forever when you peered into it.  It was the perfect project at the perfect time; allowing me to be creative and but also having guard rails to keep me from running off the path. As I built that library, I ventured into its hallway and explored the shelves, the ladder, and even the lights. It took me from here to there.

Recently, Katrin moved into a space beyond Etsy that gives her more freedom and control over what she markets. When I first looked through her new offerings, I was immediately drawn to one she called the Antique Office, which featured a large window at the end rather than an infinite hallway. At the end of the nook, sit a desk and chair where its occupant could peer through a large window at a large full moon. 

After a few days of looking at the kit, I ordered it. It seemed to arrive much faster than the last package I had come from Germany, but it may have just been my imagination. Unlike my last kit, this one seemed to have less finished and more decisions to be made by me. I pieced it together several times, trying to observe it from different angles to come up with a painting scheme for an office that I might like to occupy myself. As I did this, the name shifted to Tiny Writer's Garret.

This time, rather than lining the books up on the shelves in neat rows, I made it more like my office and allowed the books to be in piles and even stacked on top of the bookcase. Katrin had suggested a few add-ons, so on the desk sits not only a quill and inkwell but also a bust. Another minor prop included of miniature mailed envelopes, which are appropriately scattered across the floor near the chair.

The moon is back-lit through the window, and its shine fills the office with fantasy beams of lunar magic. Unfortunately, the photo does not really do it justice as the camera does not adjust lighting as well as the human eye. 

As with my last project, it is now ensconced in a bookshelf with lights that turn on automatically when someone enters the room, allowing them a brief glimpse before it goes dark and disappears into the stack of books.

My Tiny Writer's Garret served his purpose and cleared my mind of a lot of extraneous things so I could get to work on my latest work in progress. Now and then, I go down where that new project sits and allow myself to transport into it so I consider that desk and put words on a piece paper.


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Monday, July 25, 2022

Razor Sharp? No, Sharper

When my dad was preparing to leave for Vietnam, he invited me to watch him pack his suitcase. Even though I was only about eight, I remember watching and making note of one particular item that went into his bag — a brand-new six-inch Buck hunting knife in a matte black leather sheath. When he came back, a year later, I watched him remove that knife from his bag and lay it on the bed as he unpacked. Without asking, I picked it up and examined it. 

The sheath was now worn but still smooth but shiny from wear, and the handle of the knife had several deep scratches that marred what used to be a smooth surface. He took it out of my hand and set it on his dresser without a word. I never asked my dad if he used the knife in combat. Given my age, it was something I never really thought about. 

A few years later, on Christmas, he gave me a brand-new Buck knife of my own to use when camping with the Boy Scouts. The knife was the perfect tool; it was extremely sharp, and just the right size for every purpose I used it for. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I never replaced it, as I was aging out of Boy Scouts, anyway.

Years later, my dad began telling me about his experiences in Vietnam. I never asked about his knife. I was old enough to realize it was better to let him tell the tale than for me to pry it from him. All I knew was that the knife remained special to him for the balance of his life.

It was the memory of that knife, the lead me to place one in the hands of Evan Davis in Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf. It also appears in each of the other books of the Evan Davis tales series. 

As I was in Kuwait when I started writing that story, I had very few options for obtaining a Buck knife to use as a prop while writing. Most of the knives for sale at the Base Exchange were folding style and none of them were made by Buck. The knife became one of the first items I ever bought from Amazon. However, the knife I ordered was not the same as the one my father carried. Mine was a 75th Anniversary version of the blade. 

The Buck knife lay next to my keyboard, as I sat alone at night writing the story of Evan and the troops he was embedded with in Afghanistan. Whenever I was stuck or thinking out the next part of the story, I would take the knife from the sheath and fidget with it. Since it had never been used will a piece of wood, field strip prey, or even cut through a length of parachute cord, it was every bit as sharp as the day Buck created it. This resulted in me finishing the book of several fresh cuts on my fingers and hands from my fidgeting. Hazards of being a novelist, I guess. 

Through the next two books, the knife has appeared and is used in different ways. The knife also served as an exemplar for the cover of Blood Upon the Sands. As I plan out the last two books in the series, I have a sub story about the knife’s origin that will appear in one of them. It explains how Evan got the knife originally, and the meaning he attached to it over the years.

For now, it lives on a display shelf with my other props.



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Monday, July 18, 2022

One That Is Heartbreaking

Dogs give you thousands of really great days and then one that is heartbreaking.


MacBeth
17 Dec 2008-18 July 2022



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Monday, July 11, 2022

Remembering Red Dawn on a Red Planet

 


Recently a lightbulb burned out in the kitchen. It was one of those ceiling spotlights I’d already upgraded to an LED bulb. This meant I couldn’t one of the incandescent or CFLs that I had laying around-- I was going to need an LED light bulb with matching temperature and wattage. Supply chains are still playing havoc with local hardware stores, so none of them had one in stock and I ended up ordering one online.

While I was browsing the hundreds of LED light bulb choices, I came across a bulb I hadn't seen in a long time. (Stay with me a moment, I promise this entry is not really about light bulbs.) These look like regular spotlight bulbs, but they are red in color and meant to produce heat. Of course, incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat on their own but these were meant to be used in bathrooms and such As I stared at the bulb, I was taken back to a time when I was in ninth grade and our home's main bathroom was just off the kitchen. It had three of these bulbs mounted in the ceiling.

When I was in ninth grade, just like everybody else, I was going through a lot of changes not only physically but mentally as well as I started to Band, I was attracted to her.  She had an unforgettable smile accented by long dark hair and beautiful eyes. But rather than the romantic twist, I first hoped for, somewhere in the middle we spent so much time together we became friends and found ourselves talking about a lot of things. It was great to have a female sounding board during that confusing stretch of life, as it gave me a viewpoint that a lot of guys never get.

Every afternoon, I would come in from school, spend an obligatory ten minutes doing my homework, and then I’d grab the phone out of the kitchen (which had an extremely long cord), and drag it around the corner into the bathroom.  Once inside, I would shut the door and lay on the cool tile after turning on the red heat lamps in the room. I wasn't really cold, per se, I just thought the red glow that they gave the room was kind of cool.

For the next hour or so, Rosetta and I would talk. Sometimes about stupid things classmates said at school, other times talking about what was on TV or how we were feeling about stuff going on in our families. By the end, usually forced by her parents or mine, we were both drained of whatever tension-filled us and a little more firm in the things we were thinking.

I didn't realize how much I appreciated having her as a friend until I moved away that year before summer vacation. Our conversations had dwindled by then-- I’d made the mistake of introducing her to a friend of mine, and they had a rather nasty breakup. She’d advised me to go out with a girl who ended up being my first psycho ex-girlfriend. Hard feelings both ways, I guess. In the end, maybe we should’ve been going out with each other.

I lost all contact with her when we moved to our next base. Once I arrived there, I spent the standard few weeks not knowing anyone at the new location, but I was able to treasure the memory of the conversations Rosetta and I shared. The private thoughts and musings of two adolescents trying to figure out life and how to be cool at a time when nobody is -- an experience I enjoyed while lying under the red glow of heat lamps.


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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Some Storytellers Get To Keep Telling Stories

 

Earlier this year, friend and Brother Roger E Gregory passed on. He was one of those people you meet whom you look forward to speaking with during every encounter. It wasn't just that he was friendly and usually very positive—– every time you met him he was ready to tell you a story.

Some stories were humorous, some about his wife and his family, some about his time in the Navy. It was a wide variety of tales that spanned a life that was full of wonderful experiences. Every story brought you into his history, way of thinking, and worldview. That made each story precious.

As I considered the passing of this memorable person, I decided I wanted to honor the man I'd gotten to know. Something that would not only last but contributed to the community rather than just a simple memorial. At about the same time, I'd become aware of the neighborhood free library exchange boxes. My mind quickly connected the two things. I'ld create a small lending library that would stand as an ongoing way of sharing stories with anyone who opened its door and selected a book - just like Roger.

A few weeks ago, the Little Free Library (LFL) organization granted Charter #144174 to the WB Roger E. Gregory Little Free Library. This past weekend, it was filled with books and officially became available to the public.

If you are not familiar with the free library concept: In its simplest terms, the library is a small collection of books, available to everyone 24X7X365. People are encouraged to find a book they like, then take it with them to read. After they've completed the book, they may return it in a timeframe of their choosing. Patrons of the library are also invited to keep the book permanently, if they choose, with the hope they might donate a book to replace it. There is a wide variety of literary genres and the collection includes children's books as well.

For the details about my first LFL encounter, click here. For more detailed information about how to start your own LFL, click here.    

There is a very helpful mobile app to help let you locate nearby LFL's:

 







Or you can use the map on the LFL website by clicking here 

Last Friday, after I finished filling the shelves of the LFL with a fresh selection of books for the first time, I reflected on how this library of two dozen tomes came to be and what it was supposed to represent. I think Roger would be pleased; of course, he wouldn't say it directly he'd do so by telling you a story.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Writing What You've Lived


I believe in America...

So begins my father's favorite novel. A story of immigrants, loyalty, family, and crime. Mario Puzo's The Godfather.

I never read the book until after I'd seen the movie, and like most books being used as the basis for a movie the richness of the story between the pages is so much better than that on-screen it deserves to be appreciated as a separate work of art. It was after reading the book that I realized my novels are written in a style similar to Puzo’s.

In the first third of the book, I bring in all the major characters along with her back stories to allow the reader to get to know each one. The second third is setting up the major action that will take place as things transition throughout the pages. The final third allows all the complex parts of the story that has been readied in the front part of the book to spring into action. The last few pages, conclude each storyline or allow for the characters to move on to the next tale. It is the type of story I like to read, and therefore the type that I create.

Eventually, I saw all three movies in The Godfather saga and was never disappointed by the story or the way it was presented. It is hard to believe that The Godfather movie came out 50 years ago. It stands up very well. Francis Ford Coppola created a masterpiece.

A streaming miniseries called The Offer that details the creation of the movie from the book recently launched. It gave me an insight into Puzo I lacked before. The story opens with him as a struggling novelist, who had just completed what he considered his strongest book ever only to find it garnering a mediocre response. When discussing the book with his wife, she suggests that he write a new novel concentrating just on the gangster parts of his flailing novel. At first, he pushes back insisting he had fought his entire life to get away from that and write the stories he wanted. Eventually, the need for a source of income pushed him into sitting down and writing what he knew, The Godfather.

Like most fortunate events, I saw this at a time when I was doing my best to avoid writing a novel that I knew had a good storyline but lacked the passion that I knew would capture readers. I mentioned before that another author asked me why I never mind the stories from my time in information technology as a source of a good story, and I didn't have a reason. The Offer instead presented me with proof of what can happen if you stop resisting the inevitable and write what you know. I liked what I saw, and CyberMortis is now in the process of becoming my fifth novel.



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