My photo
A Chicago area girl born and bred, I've lived in Mississippi, Montana, Michigan, and...ten years in the wilds of eastern Indiana, where I fought the good fight as a book editor. Now, I'm back in Illinois once more...for good. (At least I intend to make it that way!)

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Genius of the "Hummable Tune," Part 2

You'll remember when we last left our heroine, she was rattling on about a tad bit (okay, a lot) of snobbism/elitism/pseudo-intellectualism that had crept in and run rampant about the music-school hallways...and how disheartening it was. 

I mean, here we were sitting on several hundred years' worth of great stuff, musical feasts galore that could have kept us happily exploring, plumbing depths and nuances for the rest of our lives...only to be told, by those who were oh-so-much-further-evolved in this thing, that that was "irrelevant."

Our duty, it seemed, was instead to make up our own "brave new world" of music that required extensive liner notes and analysis to explain.
That challenged audiences.
That often puzzled, perplexed, and irritated  the hearers, rather than uplifting their spirits, offering them escapes or dreams, or providing them something as "simple" as enjoyment.

Not surprisingly,  audiences didn't like it...
...prompting  many of these oh-so-enlightened folks to declare that they were hopelessly "hidebound"...perhaps, even brainwashed!
At the very least...unsophisticated.
And the way out of that unsophisticated ignorance was...you guessed it...not to be found in "Standard Repertoire."
It was to be found in the brave-new-world stuff, in "challenge" and "expansion of horizons" and "relevance."
(There's that word again...)

Fortunately, some of us ignored them.
And, instead,  chose the adventure inherent in peeling back the layers of what was already on hand...and allowing ourselves to experience every crazy bit of it.

Because the best-kept secret of music school isn't about  "brave new worlds." 
It's that classical music--even "Standard Repertoire"--is a treasure trove of crazy.
Real, beautiful, inspiring, honest-to-God insanity.

That's the "secret handshake" we should be spreading to the crowd.
That's the "secret language" that, if we bother to teach, people learn to "speak" and "understand" so well that they pack the halls.

Listen to Gustavo Dudamel conduct Saint-Saens' Bacchanale. It's madness.
Watch Leonard Bernstein conduct Brahms' First Symphony, in performance, without a score. It's nuts.
And if you happen to be in the car while the "Great Gate of Kiev" section (the conclusion) of Pictures at an Exhibition is playing on your car stereo...you may have to pull over. I ought to know. I almost had to, one day, driving back from lunch for afternoon classes.

I was darn near still bouncing off the walls of the music building when I came in from the parking lot. And, as I was describing the way that music made me feel...one of my favorite professors started laughing. 
Not at me, but at the sheer fun of my reaction. 
Then, said something along the lines of, "Don't ever lose that."

Think about that for a second.
The Mussorgsky (especially in the Ravel orchestration) is "Standard Repertoire." 
The stuff that was being called "hidebound" and "irrelevant."
And yet my music prof, possessing a doctorate from a major highbrow school, didn't scold me not to get so excited about the stuff...
...but to, if at all possible, keep that ridiculously nutty enthusiasm as long as I could.

Because he knew what the "brave new world" advocates hadn't caught on to yet:
That "relevance" isn't what art is about. Never has been. Never will be.

So, what does this have to do with writing stories, you ask?

A fellow writer shared a quote recently that, paraphrased, is along the lines of "writing that is effortless to read takes a great deal of effort to produce."
The parallel in music? That "hummable" doesn't equal "unsophisticated."
It equals accessible
It equals simple, in music wrought from care. And effort. And love.

And, yes...more than a little craziness.

Done well, it takes people to a place outside themselves. 
Expands their worlds. 
Refreshes them.
Just the way a beautiful story can.

The "hummable" theme in classical music goes hand-in-hand with the "keeper" on your bookshelf. Both may look deceptively simple, when viewed from the outside.
Only when one plumbs a little deeper...or creates the "simple" thing from scratch...does one appreciate just what goes into either one.

These "keepers" (or "chestnuts," as the popular pieces of classical music are often called) are probably the clearest evidence of true communication with our audiences that we have--and the best proof that we, as artists, have done our jobs well. 
In music...and in stories.

And so, the accessible--and enjoyable--are what I aim for every time I sit down at the keyboard, take out my box of words, and attempt to combine them in alchemy that will make music of its own.

Simple.
Hummable.
Genius.

Thoughts?
Janny
 

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Genius of the "Hummable Tune," Part 1

There is such a thing as knowing too much.  

Now, if you know the CWC at all, you know there are things she infinitely prefers people do know about, especially when it comes to the written word.
She prefers people know the correct word for what they're expressing.
She prefers people know how to spell.
She prefers people know the difference between verb tenses, and which one is right for the moment.
She prefers people never, ever, ever, ever-ever make a plural with an apostrophe.
(Did I mention "ever"?)

But, I'll say it again: there is such a thing as knowing too much.
Or...maybe...just thinking we do.
And we're missing a splendid opportunity for real genius when that happens.

Let me illustrate.

Long ago, in music school, I was surrounded by a whole bunch of people who were all convinced classical music needed to be "refreshed."
And so they did unspeakable things to pianos and called the music for "prepared" instruments.
They made noises on electronic devices and called the music "multitonal."
They composed "music" like John Cage's "4'33"."
They brought in spoken word, and gesture, and slide shows, to "liven things up."

Why?
Because, in their estimation, "Standard Repertoire" (or "Western Music," or any other term you want to use for it) was filled with "timeworn, hackneyed 'chestnuts' written by a bunch of dead white men" that needed to be "thrown out" because "it wasn't meaningful anymore."
They were especially disdainful of music that people loved because "they could walk out of a concert hall humming it to themselves."

Why?
I didn't know then. And I still don't know now.

Let's face it: classical music is not necessarily the first music of choice for a general population. Many reasons abound for this, but at least one of them has to be that because, unless they find a comfortable way to get a good dose of it, they don't feel like they can "walk out of a concert hall humming [it] to themselves."
And that's a shame. Because there's some great stuff out there...
...if someone cares enough to bring it to them.

We see this happen all the time. 
Most of us learned our first classical music not from a venerable record collection in our parents' homes, but from background music for Looney Tunes.
Not to mention the use of Strauss in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ravel in 10, or Pachelbel in Ordinary People...among countless instances of the music in movies. 
What happened after that exposure? People went nuts for those pieces. 

So, can you imagine what would happen if they were exposed to even more of it?
Yeah. 

Only these people, with whom I was going to school, didn't see that possibility at all. 
To them, 
classical music audiences only loved Beethoven, and Bach, and Brahms, and Haydn, and Mozart, and Mendelssohn, and Wagner, and Schubert, and Stravinsky, and Chopin, and Gounod, and Franck, and Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky, and dozens more pieces of music by those and other "dead white men" because "they didn't know any better." And that it was the job of those in the art to "enlighten" the audience.

(If this sounds suspiciously like both snobbism and elitism...you're catching on.)

Because an attitude like this has to have as its foundation the assumption that what you are throwing out, you're already thoroughly familiar with, and have found useless and/or boring. In other words, the attitude toward traditional classical music at that point becomes, "Seen it all, heard it all, next."

Only, speaking quite bluntly? For most of these people, especially for the college-age folks I encountered, that would have been completely impossible.

Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies.
Mozart wrote over 40.
Dvorak wrote 9, Beethoven wrote 9. And so on. And so on.
That's not even touching opera--or talking about Puccini, or Verdi, or Bizet.
Or oratorios (Handel, anybody?). Or cantatas, of which Bach alone wrote over 200.
Or march or waltz music (Strauss, Sousa, and a host of others).
Nor is it venturing onto the shores of polyphony and/or counterpoint of the likes of Vivaldi, or Palestrina, or deLassus, or Mouret, or Lully, or...

That's a whole lot of "notes" that, in terms of the general population--and even music students themselves--is stuff they've never heard before.
Stuff that, once heard, can change their lives forever.
And leave them wanting even more.
(I know. I was a music student with precious little background, and I drank the stuff up like a college kid at a kegger party.)

But all that was what these people wanted to dismiss, en masse, as being "irrelevant."
Because...people could hum it walking out of a concert hall?
Because...it was unsophisticated? 
Because...it wasn't profound, or deep, or meaningful?
Since bloody hell when?

(I defy anyone reading this to immerse yourself in Brahms' Fourth Symphony and not find sophistication, profundity, depth, and meaning in it--while you're humming it to yourself!--but, I digress.)

I'm here to tell you, as I wanted to tell them, that they'd not only missed the point of the art in the first place...but they'd missed the bus, the train, the ship, the plane, and the Concorde in the process. 

Because "relevance" isn't what makes music, or any art, wonderful...or valuable...
Nor has it ever been.

My dream is to write stories "people [can] walk out of a concert hall humming to themselves."

Why I put it that way, we'll talk about in Part 2!

Thoughts?
Janny

Beware Musical Monday!

Yeah, of course, you have to know this is coming...
And yes. Everybody knows "Vehicle." That's why this page has something even better.  😊

You're welcome!
Janny

Monday, March 01, 2021

A Happy Musical Monday Bonus...

...from my favorite Chopin player, in honor of Chopin's 211th birthday. 

(Unfortunately, the poor man only lived to be 39. Frederic, not Vladimir.)

Sit back, think Monday thoughts, and this should fit perfectly.

Enjoy!
Janny

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Writing from "TV," Part II. (Or, "No Tears in the Writer, No Tears in the Reader.")

Last time, we started mulling over what writing from Total Vulnerability looks like...
...sounds like...
...feels like. 
But we just touched the very surface of it--which, ironically enough, is NOT what writing from "TV" ends up being, if it's done right.  
Writing from TV, in the end, is about writing "soul deep."

The quote in the title above is one I've heard for years, one that's especially apropos--to my way of thinking, anyway--when we're talking writing love stories.
Now, this does not mean that you need to write tragedy. In fact, in the case of genre romance, you can't write a tragic ending and have it fulfill most romance readers' expectations. Which means that it won't fulfill a romance publisher's expectations, either.
Which means the only expectation it may fulfill is more rejection-letter fodder for your fireplace. Burn 'em if ya got 'em, I guess. 😔

But, to me, what writing from "TV" looks like  is that the "feels" are what counts.
So, there are times when I'm crying as I write.
No. Really. I am.
Or holding my  breath in suspense as I create a crisis...even though I know I'm making it all up, and they're going to be all right in the end. 
Sounds silly, doesn't it? 
But it's not. And I'm rediscovering this kind of writing, which I used to do before I knew all the "rules" and all the "stuff I couldn't do" and all the "stuff that wouldn't sell"...and I just told stories. And not only is it exhilarating, and risky, and scary, and sometimes rattling as all get-out...but, boy, is it fun.

The best comparison I can make to illustrate what this looks like is my late husband's favorite movie, Top Gun. Great stuff. No, it'll probably never win any sophistication, subtlety, or deftness awards. But it has absolutely one of the best uses of the "feels" I've ever encountered, in that last dogfight scene. 

I mean, when I watched it the first time, I was on the edge of my chair. As probably most people were. The aerial photography, for one thing, is breathtaking--but the action is even better. And the ever-present danger, coming at our heroes at high speeds and seemingly from everywhere--when we've already seen one of these guys die earlier in the movie--is a slice of writing from "TV" that is genius.  Because these guys are vulnerable in a way most of us have never, ever experienced...except vicariously. 

But we experience it in this movie. And how.

We're already emotionally involved not only because Maverick's on a mission to redeem the somewhat questionable history of his father, but we've already lost Goose...and then all hell breaks loose in the sky, and it's tough to imagine that these guys are gonna all come out of this thing alive.

Of course, through a great many heroic moves, some smart-aleck stuff from Maverick, and some flying and fighting skill second to none...everybody does survive, and rousingly so.
And, having seen this movie, I know there's an uproariously happy ending to it.
And yet...

Every time I watch that dogfight scene, I'm back on the edge of my seat.

And that, to me, is where the emotional genius comes in.
When the writers were putting that together, they must have been pacing around the room,  throwing out the words as fast as they could get them out. Feeling the adrenaline. Experiencing a very real, albeit fictitious, fear...even though, once again, they were making it all up, and the characters were all going to be all right in the end. 

That's what total vulnerability looks like--on the page, and on the screen.
And that's what my writing has, thanks be to God, come back to.
Writing over the top.
Writing a touch melodramatic.
Writing on the raw edge of a nerve.
Writing hokey, in-your-face emotion--both funny and tragic.
Writing that makes my stomach go to butterflies as I'm doing it.
Writing that makes me choke up when the hero goes down on one knee.
Writing that, in my latest romantic suspense books, brings me to the edge of my own chair.
Even though I know these people are going to come out of this all right.

And so, what is happening now in my writing is that I'm peeling layers until I get to that sweet emotional spot--the one that will take me, and hence my reader, back to that "dogfight" again, and again, and again...and make her feel the same things. 
Make her heart go to her throat wondering if these people are going to be together...or if their love won't, in the end, survive. 
Make her tear up when death is closing in on the hero, or heroine, or both of them--and help may not get there in time.
Make her let out a long breath of relief when rescue finally does  happen...
...whether it's actual physical life-saving intervention or emotional healing...
or a combination of both.
And make the happy ending something beyond merely "happy"...and the book into a keeper.

Will it be sophisticated, subtle, and deft?
Not on your life.
But is it authentic?
Yep.
And I know when I do it right...
...because before you feel it as a reader, I've felt it as a writer.
And if I haven't felt it deep enough, I sit back, take a breath...
...and go deeper.
And I don't stop until I figuratively "draw blood."
Or cry.
Or both.

What will happen with this latest writing, only time will tell.
But in the past four years, I have written five books--a pace at which I have never written in my life.

Which tells me that, both in terms of quality and in terms of productivity...
...I'm onto something.

So, if you're feeling dry...maybe the answer isn't to read another writing manual, or go to another writing conference or workshop, or find another critique group, or get an MFA in Creative Writing so you can "crack the code."
Maybe, the code is inside you...just buried deeper than cool, calm, sophisticated, and subtle can reach. 
At heart level.
At vein level.
At the level of total vulnerability.
Where you write the stuff you're afraid  people might laugh at...
...but you then come out with stuff that will make people not just read your story...but feel it  And feel. And feel some more.
And that kind of story...most people never get enough of.

Anytime you want to join me in doing our best to give them that kind of read...jump right in. 
The water's fine. Even when--or maybe I should say especially when--you let yourself go deep enough to drown in it.

It's writing you never thought you could do.  
And once you do it, you'll never stop.

Thoughts?
Janny


 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Writing From "TV," Part I. (And, No, It's Not What You Think.)

Over the past few years, I've had a couple of what can only be called major transformations.
In my life, certainly.
But also, in my writing.
And in the process, I'm "refinding" and nurturing  roots I'd forgotten I had. 

Romance, for one. Specifically, happy, heartwarming romance. The kind of life I never lived in my family of origin (!), but the kind I lived in my adult years, once the mad percussionist and I came through the fire and emerged, out the other side, stronger, sweeter, deeper, and...ironically...on the way to becoming more and more who we were when we first fell in love.

Which is the cruel part about his untimely death happening when it did: that particular sun was just beginning to peep back over the horizon, only to set...too soon.

But, for reasons known only to the Almighty--and only happening by His power, I believe--even after Patrick's death, I've continued down the "revert" path...
...to the point where, literally, I've become once more the writer I was when I first fell in love. With writing, that is.

And that's where the title of this post comes in.
Yes, there IS "writing from TV" that, in fact, refers to "writing from (or for) television."
But that is not the writing I'm talking about now.
In this case, "TV" doesn't stand for "television," but for something way scarier.

Total Vulnerability.

What does that "TV" look like?

Short and sweet, it's summed up in the old wisecrack, "Writing is easy. Just sit down at your desk and open a vein."
It's writing that peels away layers.
Exposes your heart.
And isn't safe.

Don't misunderstand me, though.
I'm not talking about writing about so-called "unsafe" topics.
Or taking "risks" that are nothing more than painting depravity on a page.
Or illuminating "issues," righting wrongs, or making your reader uncomfortable by probing at her hypocrisies and forcing her to face them...
...all thinly disguised as fiction.
If you've read the CWC at all, you know how much I despise that.

I'm talking about writing that's honest. And terrifying at times. 
Writing that reaches into your guts. (Not that tries to challenge a reader's.)
Writing that goes over the top. 
The kind of writing we all do when we're about sixteen.
Melodramatic.
Intense.
Exposed.
Not "mature."
Not "sophisticated."
Not "subtle" or "eloquent" or "deft."

For a time, there, I tried to be subtle, and eloquent, and deft...and I ended up with people asking me ,"Where's the feeling in this?"
I thought it was there.
And maybe it was.
But it was being camouflaged under layers of what I thought "mature" writing was supposed to look like. Cool. Distant. Challenging.

I wanted to write cerebral, sophisticated stories. 
Whodunnits that would literally leave a reader gasping in surprise, then chuckling in admiration.
Romances that would leave a reader smiling knowingly, and even a little envious of the really, really cool people I'd set out there for them to emulate.

Nick and Nora Charles, if you would.
(Look it up.)

Only problem?
I'm not that person. 
And I'm not that writer.

The writer I've become now, however? Her, I like. A lot.
And the plus of this "reversion" is...now, I'm writing like (almost) never before.

What does this writing look like? And how is it turning out?
We'll talk about that in Part II!

To Be Continued...
Janny

Monday, January 11, 2021

Make that 64,585...

 ...being slowed only by my having had carpal tunnel release surgery on my right hand on January 5. Yeah. Six days ago, and I can almost type normally again.

Which, I suppose, says a lot for clean living. (!)

Added to this, of course, then is the latest invitation my agent has received from an editor for projects to fit a very specific kind of story--one I happen to be very good at. 

But NOT the kind I'm working on now! 
(Ayee)

More to come. Probably much, much, MUCH more...soon as my hand can cope with it.
Pray!

Janny

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

59,380...and counting

Okay, not to brag or get ahead of myself or anything, because I KNOW I've written some rabbit trails I'll have to trim and/or excise when it comes to editing and polishing...

...but MY BROTHER'S KEEPER is up to almost 60K words, and will reach that this weekend. More than likely, I'll blow right through to the tune of 2,000-3,000 more words before the New Year.

No, this won't finish the book; my novels of late are in the 85K+ range, and this one will end up that long for sure. But considering this is the THIRD book I will be tackling during calendar year 2020, I'm still not going to complain.

And, yes, I'm starting to get that "butterfly" feeling in the pit of my stomach. The one that's a mixture of wondering-if-I-can-pull-it-off and watching-myself-do-so. There's a creative fire that flares even higher at times like this--when you get that heart-stopping thought that maybe, just maybe--as the hero in one of my sweet romances says, This is gonna happen. Thanks be to all that is holy, this is really gonna happen!

People who don't create "stuff" out of nothing probably don't relate to this.

But I know a whole lot of you who...most assuredly...DO.

And with that, I must be going...
Stay tuned!

Janny