Thursday, May 20, 2010

Music as Inspiration

On a stormy night in 1995, a baby's crying can be heard. It floats through the halls and drifts under the crack of the door.

The father's eyes snap open. He stands, limbs groaning and creaking. Although he grumbles all the way, his expression softens at the sight of the baby. So small, so helpless. Such a miracle of life.

"A long, long time ago," he sings, his voice melodic and somnolent. "I can still remember how that music used to make me smile..."

He rocks the crib with gentle hands. The crying ceases. The baby falls into a deep slumber before the song is over.

"...And them good ol' boys were drinking whiskey and rye." He pauses to kiss the baby on the forehead and his voice becomes a mere whisper. "Singing, 'this'll be the day that I die...'"

I was that baby. My father and mother used to sing to me all the time, and I credit them for my love of music. Their songs left an impact on me that I'll never forget. I dip into the deepest recesses of my mind and draw these memories as inspiration for my writings. But in what ways do the melodies of my youth and today inspire?

It’s quite simply, really. Music is an art form, just like writing. And the similarities don’t end there. Both require planning and a poetic use of language and vocabulary. Like a good song, a good story has rhythm. Like the big finish of any symphony, a story has a climax. And like a true mellifluous masterpiece, a story leaves you with a satisfied feeling.

I remember Dad singing one song in particular: American Pie by Don McLean. I loved it when I was a baby and I love it still. Like a fine wine, the eight-minute, thirty-three-second aria has aged well. It still blows my mind, and I’ve heard it a collective thousand times over the years. It’s more than just a song. It’s an anthem to music lovers everywhere.

American Pie has some of the most abstract, imaginative lyrics ever written. In this respect, it’s similar to famous poetry. If you will, breathe in this excerpt:

" And in the streets, the children screamed.
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken.
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son and the holy ghost.
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died. "

It gives me chills. The greatest thing about this song is that it brings poetic words to an audience with no interest in poetry. By setting his epic to music, McLean made it more accessible. We can all learn from his masterful writing. Musicians, poets, novelists, journalists. Anyone with a love of writing and the craft.

Tune in next time for a list of my top five favorite songs. We'll get a peak at another McLean masterpiece and sample some Counting Crows, too. And an ode to Howard Hughes? You'll have to follow my blog to learn more.

Alex Gartner

If you've never heard American Pie, what're you waiting for?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Novel News: A snippet from the world of Atticus Abernethy VI

The first draft has been finished for a few weeks. I'm eager to dig back in and get cracking on revisions, but my mentor and Dumbledore tells me to stay away. I respect her advice and understand why she gives it, but this is really hard!

Honestly! It's like baking a cherry crumble. "Great!" I exclaim when I remove its sweet deliciousness from the oven. "I can't wait to spoon on the cream and have a taste!"

"NO!" booms the mysterious figure hovering above the microwave. "NO CRUMBLE FOR YOU!" A vapory hand swats my own. "YOU CAN EAT THIS IN A MONTH."

A single tear runs down my cheek. "Crumble..."

You get the idea. Suffice to say, it's grating.

Strange micro-story aside, I'm excited to revise. I'm so excited, in fact, that I thought I'd share a snippet with y'all. You wanna read it, right? Well, if you insist. Pulled from a random chapter. Enjoy:

"Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Claudio popped a pretzel into his mouth.

“That you had a driver’s license!”

“Driver’s license?” He cocked his head. “I don’t have one of those.”

I must have misheard him. Surely he had a...

“I said I
can drive. Just not legally.”

Great. Not only were we driving a car I took without Grandfather's permission, but also illegally. I began to yell at Claudio when something caught my eye. A black figure. I tensed. Paranoia welled in the pit of my stomach.

“Lighten up. You got bigger things to worry about.” Claudio finished the pretzels and discarded the bag into a nearby trash can.

“What’re you talking about?”

“Atticus, you and I both know you love Jessica. It’s that simple. You’re in love wit’ her. Which is why you need to make a move at this carnival-thing.”

“I know I do.” I had been thinking about it all week. I had been thinking about it since that moment on Christmas Eve.

“I’m nervous,” I confided in Claudio. “What if she doesn’t like me back? What if she rejects me?”

Claudio scratched his head. “That is very much a possibility. Ask yourself this: Would you rather stay friends and have a big crush on her forever? Or would you rather take a chance?”

I didn’t answer. I had no answer.

I hope you enjoyed! The working title is A Teenage Host and it is subject to change. Honestly, I just made that title up.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eight Things Every Aspiring Author Should Have

The first draft of my first novel is complete. I am excited beyond words! It is a feeling I want to share with other aspiring authors. I want them to experience it for themselves. And so, as a gift from me to you, I've written eight things all aspiring authors should have.
Keep in mind that this is an article from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old writer who desires more fame than his knowledge can back up. You've been warned. Take my advice with mountainous piles of salt.

Perhaps the most obvious quality a wannabe-novelist needs. How can one have his/her name slapped on the cover of a best-seller when he/she couldn't finish a book if his/her life depended on it? Plans and plot outlines can only take you so far. It's determination that gets the book written and edited to be sent to agents.

A Critique Group
Find a group of experienced authors and share your story. Critiquers will be stern and truthful without breaking your heart. They expect the same from you, and you should treat them and their work with respect. By doing this, you not only make critique partners, but also friends. Strong bonds are formed when both people share a common interest.

A Fanbase

“I wrote a whopping 2,500 words last night,” says the aspiring author.
“Cool! Did your main character find the Staff of Diligence yet?”

This sounds a bit strange, but bear with me. One’s perseverance can only carry him/her so far. You need people who take an interest in what you’re doing. It provides a strong sense of fulfillment when you call a buddy in the middle of the night and yell, “I just finished my novel!” It provides an even stronger sense of fulfillment when they answer, “Awesome! When can I read the final draft?” You get the idea. By talking about your story, you stay on track and constantly rekindle the desire you had when you first decided to write it. It’s conversations like the one above that make an author feel he/she is doing something useful with their time.

Careful Planning
I did not plan very much. I knew the ending and I knew the beginning. The middle was all written off of the top of my head. Thus the whole novel suffered. Before your fingers strike the keyboard or your pen touches the pad, plan! Write character sketches, question your antagonist’s motives, question your main character’s motives, flesh out the setting with sketches and world-building activities, write from another character’s perspective, and, for the love of corn, plan each chapter with care!

A Love of Reading
Have a scene in mind? Can’t seem to bring it from your brain to the computer screen? Close the laptop and pick up a book. Read, study other writers (who, mind you, are more successful than you at the moment), and analyze how that author makes his/her scenes work. Read as much as you can and if you truly think about each writer’s work, you’ll slowly become an expert.

Knowledge of the Craft
You don’t need to know how to spell. We have spell-checker for just that reason. However, you do need to know how to write. If you can’t learn from reading other novels of the same genre, there are hundreds of alternatives. Take English classes and pay close attention, attend keynotes and book signings, or buy English Grammar for Dummies and read up. There are plenty of ways to learn. All one needs is the drive.

Ties with All Forms of Media
This one isn’t a necessity, but it does help. All writers need inspiration. Ideas don’t just come to one in his/her sleep. They must seek those ideas out with a resolute curiosity. Inspiration can be drawn from anything. Music, movies, news reports. Or more abstract means that require a bit of thinking to form a complete idea. Construction sites, a busy intersection, a man who drops his cellphone on the subway, a calender with a picture of a different flower for each month. If this sounds ridiculous to you, that’s okay. You’re brain responds well to the straightforward ideas of the music and media. I could go both ways: I was heavily inspired by the song “American Pie” by Don McLean. I was just as much inspired by the dense forests behind my house.

Our worst critics are in our head. Self-explanatory.

And there you have it. My list is complete. Questions, comments, concerns? Leave them and I'll happily respond.
Alex Gartner