Thanksgiving with the Beatles

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Thanksgiving weekend is over! I got my Christmas shopping done and shipped, including boxes for packing, decorated a little bit…put up the tree with my angel on top, set up my little Victorian Christmas ladies, swapped out my Desert Rose dishes for the Spode Christmas Tree set, went to dinner with my mom and dad and took a jaunt to the casino before mom returns to Michigan. Al watched football and helped the crew decorate the outside of Building 9 here at Long Bayou.

We also subscribed to Disney+ and watched all eight hours of “Get Back”– the Beatles doc out now. What I found most interesting about this lovely bit of nostalgia was watching their creative process. Paul was for sure the leader, even though he said John was. Paul seemed more into it than John, who was so in love he mostly cuddled with Yoko and cut up with fake voices and accents. Paul and John did seem to get along really well, though. When they hit a groove with their guitars, they were so in sync.

The lyrics part was less polished than the music, which was improved when Billy Preston came on to play keyboards in episode 2. Billy’s work and his upbeat attitude, his obvious thrill at being a part of the Beatles, all made the documentary, not to mention the eventual album, so much better. Before Billy, it seemed clear the Beatles were running out of juice. They knew it, too, and Billy was the only person ever credited on a Lennon/McCartney record. Ever. He filled more than the musical holes. George’s eyes gave him away; he felt left out of the Lennon/McCartney collaboration. But he was the one who first mentioned getting Billy Preston in to do keyboards. Twice. Everyone ignored him. He briefly quit the band.

Then Billy dropped by the studio just to say hi and John said “We’ve been talking about how we need a piano man, if you’ve got the time…” and Billy, who was as upbeat as George was down, smiled wider than usual and said “Hell yes.” I’m paraphrasing from the body language. Billy and then George coming back after a week made things better.

The original idea, conceived by Paul, was to write an album (14 songs) in a month, hold a concert, write a book, and make a movie of the entire thing. They started rehearsing in a television studio but migrated to Apple records basement where a rough recording studio was set up. The way their creativity worked together was everyone wrote on their own, brought in their ideas, played and sang (there were more lalala bits or nonsense words than actual lyrics) and everyone kind of kicked in with their parts. Ringo did his drums just naturally coming in when needed with the right sound. Well, Paul corrected him at times. Paul corrected everyone. Paul was bringing in most of the material they worked on.

George had a new song every day and he’d say “I’ve got one” and play it and everyone would listen politely and then move on. The eventual album was called “Let It Be” — their last original album — making their output an even dozen LPs. “Something” (George’s lovely song) was on that album. At one point near the end of the eight hours, and as it turned out the end of the Beatles, George talks to John about how he might just go off after the record is done and make his own album. I recognized several of the tunes George auditioned for his bandmates later appeared on his first solo album (a double album) “All Things Must Pass.” He chose the right path and I wonder if Paul and John ever thought about how much more George could have contributed to the Beatles.

Ringo, like George, always had a token song, too, but he didn’t seem bothered. Ringo was fine being the drummer. He relished that role. He did it well. Oh and John called Billy Preston “the fifth Beatle” while nobody seemed to remember bringing in Billy had been George’s idea in the first place. George brought it up twice in the documentary. Of course I only saw a cut of many more hours of film, so that’s the story presented. A few word scribbles here and there, but I just assumed they each did their lyric polishing on their own.

It may seem as if I am championing George here, and in a strict sense, that’s true. He got shafted by Paul and John. But his life outside the band didn’t make me like him any better. He was the only Beatle who screwed another Beatles’ wife. George’s wife, Olivia, seems to have accepted that “George loved women” but John said “It’s like incest!” Patti, George’s first wife, never had a chance, what with all the Krishna’s living in the house and finding her husband in bed with Maureen, Ringo’s wife. In Patti’s book, she talks about George and Maureen running through the house naked. Running and laughing right past her. No wonder she left him for Eric Clapton! George’s take on it all was “free love.” I always thought that hippie idea was a convenient way for men to get laid in the 60s and 70s.

So Paul near the end is frustrated as his master multi-media idea slowly falls apart. They couldn’t even find a venue to do a final concert. Then two of the engineers came up with the idea of the roof of Abbey Road studios. John liked the idea. So did Ringo. George hated it. Paul seemed wistful as his original vision had altered beyond recognition. But as we all know, they did it and it was fab. They probably didn’t write the album in a month as planned, but they had six or so songs finished and six more ideas. They must have finished up in the studio after the one off concert on the roof. The police have a cameo in that part of the documentary.

All of which served to remind me why I’m a novelist and why I write alone.

Seinfeld on Writing

A book full of jokes is not nearly as funny as watching a comedian do his act. I bought this book because Seinfeld said in an interview, pressed on this exact point, that really it’s a book for writers. I’m probably the only writer who believed him and ordered the hard cover.

The book is divided by decade, beginning with the 70s. This is when Jerry began writing jokes. They were short.

Still, I persisted. Maybe, I thought, he would have a little commentary on how to write humor at the beginning of the 80s section. He did not. Just more jokes. The jokes got longer and more complex in the 90s and beyond, but I wasn’t reading them anymore. I was looking on every page for writing wisdom. Particularly, I wanted to amp up my humor.

My editor says my novels have a “subtle” humor. The trouble with being subtle is that quiet ironies may land a bit too softly for others to recognize. I looked at every page of Jerry’s book. Twice. There was no writing advice anywhere within. There were witticisms by the dozens, jokes on every page, and, although I laughed a lot, I received zero advise on how to prod others do so while turning my pages.

To give him credit, he never said it was advice he was giving the reader. It was jokes, specifically, every joke he’d ever written. I realized he was teaching by example. I prefer things spelled out. My stomach hurt from laughing; I almost stopped reading, but then I noticed how he set his jokes up. The early ones had three parts and as he got better the jokes became much more complex. Funnier. If Jerry was a bottle of wine, he’d age well.

The other thing I noticed was his page breaks. I am writing this post in block format. It’s what people are used to seeing when they read anything on the internet. Before the internet we had indentation, not a space between paragraphs. But Jerry chose neither of these forms. His jokes were, I finally noticed, printed like poems.

Most people, I assume, know what poems look like. The lines break in the middle of a sentence. Or anywhere. It can seem random if you are not a reader of contemporary poetry and/or do not have an MFA in English. But I finally recognized the poem pattern and it dawned on me. Jerry was writing in joke lines. The early ones from the 70s were the simplest. The first sentence or phrase would be the set up. The second bit was an elaboration. And the third was the punchline.

This was the lesson for writers. Genius, right? He was showing instead of telling. I tried using Jerry’s method in the first few paragraphs of this post and then threw in a few more. Trying to be funny is exhausting.

“Show don’t tell” is another thing writing teachers say to new writers. It’s not always true, because sometimes you need to tell. Everyone knows how to tell. Showing is harder, and I tried to do that, too. But I’m no Jerry Seinfeld.

The first book in my new mystery series, Jane in St. Pete, is available now.  As a thank you for stopping by, I’m offering a free short story prequel

Rejected

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I read the new book written by Melania Trump’s former best friend this weekend. I have not read any of the books about DT; a new one seems to come out every week. I read enough of his tweets and listen to him speak and have got the measure of the man. He’s thin-skinned and can be quite cruel. He knows no boundaries and nothing about his job.

But Melania…she’s mysterious. And those cheekbones! You can look at her forever. Unless you are her former best friend. I decided to read it after seeing the author on Rachel Maddow’s show Friday. She was really upset and flustered, crying and so on and I couldn’t make out exactly why she was behaving that way on a book tour. So out of curiosity, I bought the book and read it.

Was a definite slog through the first half to three-quarters. This friend was in charge of the inaugural ball right down to pulling a top designer for Melania’s dress and then she stayed on to help Melania transition. She decorated the offices in the East Wing, wrote Melania’s speeches, and all this without pay. At first she had a title and a paycheck, but the West Wing left her department so little money, she gave her paycheck to another person she brought on to help with Melania’s “Be Best” initiative.

I’d wondered about “Be Best” and sure enough author/friend tried to get Melania to use “the” but no, Melania doesn’t let anyone to tell her what to do, so Be Best stands. Up to this point that’s about all I know about Melania except she likes emojis and is a devoted mom. I almost stopped reading several times as all the minutia of the inaugural and assistant to First Lady duties didn’t interest me.

I’ll be honest. I was looking for dirt on Melania. I just can’t dislike her despite that gold digger title she’s been tagged with. It’s extremely difficult to support yourself as a woman alone unless you’ve had a whole lot of support (like a stable home and an excellent college) from your family. Even beautiful women without a man will not be safe. Along the way, most single women will experience some form of workplace harassment. Just because they’re single. So to me Melania was only doing what women have done though the ages. She paired up with a strong man who could protect her.

It shouldn’t be this way but it is. So I had never disliked Melania because she married DT. She’s so private, though. Ask any writer. They want to know more. What makes Melania tick? According to her former best friend, Melania is a taker, not a giver. She gave plenty of examples but I was not convinced. It seemed to me this author has a grudge against the dysfunctional administration, and rightly so, as they tried to pin the massive inaugural budget on her. But she didn’t know where the money went. She was paid close to half a million, but they were saying she took many more millions.

Her gripe seems to be Melania didn’t stand up for her. The court cases are still pending so it’s all a bit murky. I came away from the book knowing Melania a little bit more, but through the eyes of a friend who felt betrayed. So you have to take that for what it is. The book humanized Melania. Showed what a good friend she could be, and showed that she had a mind of her own and didn’t really care what people thought of her. Which is good because so many people (including Ivanka) seem to hate her.

I wrote a short version of parts of this when I rated the book on Amazon (gave it 4 stars). I sometimes do review books on Amazon. I’ve never had a review turned down but this one got the thumbs down almost immediately. Yes, Amazon rejected my review! Even though I was a “verified purchaser.” I’m not upset. This kind of rejection, I can handle. I still can’t figure out, however, how you can write an objective book about politics without mentioning your own politics.

Improv for Writers

Writers have much in common with actors. We mine our own emotional experiences for words on the page and actors do the same with faces on the screen. Recently, I received “Improv for Writers” as a holiday gift, and the book goes even further than my analogy does.

Still slogging away deepening my character’s arc, I wanted to know more about her son. He lives in New York, he’s just married, he’s 31. But why is he living in New York? Because I wanted two adult children living on opposite coasts away from their mother. That serves my main character well.

But. Isn’t it expensive? What kind of job does he have? Oh, he works on Wall Street. Oh, he is one of those guys who writes computer programs that work so much better than humans in picking out winning stocks. Okay!

What these brilliant math coders figured out is that taking OUT the emotion is what makes an algorithm so much more accurate than a human at choosing winning stocks. Because humans have emotion. Computers don’t.

So now I have a way for Jane to interact with her son as they seek to find resolution to a complicated family tragedy. He is all about taking the emotion from the equation. Her daughter (his sister) is nothing BUT emotion. That took me maybe a half hour of improve on Saturday morning to figure out.

On Sunday I got the book, Improv for Writers, that claims to help me “generate infinite ideas” by “letting go of control as a creative person and trusting your imagination to create.” I already knew to trust my imagination, but I am not always so great at the initial letting go of control.

But. Work needs to be done. Original and creative work on Jane’s arc. And Jorjeana Marie promises that the “real power behind letting go of control as a creative person is trusting your imagination and ability to create.” Yes, please, I’ll try some of that.

The book is full of prompts both light and dark, both funny and tragic. And Chapter 14 is all about character. I didn’t count the number of prompts just for digging deeper into character, but there are many. Simply turning to that chapter made my writing juices start to flow.

It’s that kind of book. You can skip to what you need right away if you seek a specific kind of help for your story (like I do) or if you are totally blank for ideas, let’s say for a blog post (like I often am on Monday morning) you can start at the beginning or anywhere else that grabs you and says YES. THIS.

I’m beginning to suspect there is no writing occasion or situation that cannot be improved with improv. And particularly at this busy time of year, when writing hours are in short supply, I love the timed writing suggestions for freeing up creativity around character, plot and setting ~ and so much more. Even blogging. 🙂

Author Mission Statement

I wrote my author mission statement awhile ago, as suggested by Colleen Story. It’s good to know what you really want from writing because it saves time and trouble. Your journey as a writer in the world will become less about the shiny next thing and more about what will serve the unique writer you are and want to become.

“I am motivated by creative fulfillment. The tougher the work, the more diligently I seek transcendence. I’ve gained emotional resilience by traveling into the world, observing all I see and distilling the essence into story. My writing features strong women tested by tough circumstances.”

Since writing out this statement, I’ve looked at it often, and it always centers me and settles me back into what is most important, in writing and in life. Every writer will have a different mission statement. It feels like I always intuitively knew this about my writing self, but I couldn’t quite put it into words until now.

Thanks, Colleen!