The Importance of the Writing Heart

Writing HeartThere is this truth around writing that we all can’t put our finger on. It’s enigmatic, elusive. But this “thing” can make a story or destroy it; it can change a letter from something that is thrown away or kept; and it is what makes an e-mail readable or spam.

Let me break this down in a different way.

As a book reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of contemporary literature. And many times, these works will be by academics with amazing degrees and resumes. No one can deny these books are well-written, with a well-developed vocabulary and well-crafted plots. Yet, as a reader they don’t stick. I have no emotional attachment. It is like finishing a dry work assignment, not a work of art.

Recently, I had the same feeling reading Purity by Jonathan Franzen (you can read and hear my review here). No respectable reviewer will deny that Franzen is a good writer. He is, but his writing always misses something for me. And while I can respect the talent, I rarely remember anything after that last page is turned, almost relieved I got to the end of another gigantic tome.

So what do the academics and authors like Franzen miss?

Technically, they would argue nothing. They checked all the boxes that should make a work successful. Critics and publishers will agree. I might even agree! But it doesn’t change the fact that something was lacking and it is something behind the words.

I’m talking about heart.

Heart is the one thing that truly can’t be taught in an English or writing classroom, but it is also the most important thing a writer will need. And if used right by a writer, it can change opinions, stir a reader to act, and even make people cry or laugh. It is what takes a jumble of words and turns them into a message.

When writing has heart (be it in fiction, nonfiction, or even in marketing or business writing) it can move mountains. It can stir donations, create movements, and make art that truly will live after a writer has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Heart is the one thing all great writing share in all genres and styles. And yet, while we all have emotions, why is it so difficult for so many of us to call upon this organ? Continue reading

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Recently, You and Me: Me, My Wife and Dave Matthews Band

dmbMy wife has this way of internally rolling her eyes, when she doesn’t want me to see she is rolling her eyes…. Yet, I still know she is doing it and she knows I know.

A lot of this eye rolling has been occurring because of another man. Well, technically, a band of them. For the last year I’ve regained my obsession with Dave Matthews Band and their music. The funny thing is this obsession was rekindled after a bad concert.

Yes, Dave Matthews Band is known for their amazing live performances, but my complaint was not with them. This guilt is all on the shoulders of the audience around me. During the show I almost wondered if my annoyance was because I am older and this is not a thing anymore (and really concert going can take a lot of energy). Nah. This ain’t on my shoulders. Honestly, the people around us were dicks.

There, I’ll say it again: “Dicks.”

Someone was selling beaded necklaces, another family was coming and going throughout the show (I think there were some drugs going on there), and a family sitting next to us brought their own bongos. Yes, you read that right- bongos. And of all of the members of Dave Matthews Band, Carter Beauford  doesn’t need any drumming help. The man is freaking amazing.

Yet, ever since that concert I have not been able to stop listening to Dave Matthews Band. I listen to the music while I am getting ready in the morning, having breakfast, when I am driving the kids to school, and going for walks. Dave is there always, and it feel very natural. Like a friend, just hanging out, catching up on memories. Continue reading

Fiona Apple and the new book Permanent Spring Showers. A guest post on the Undercover Soundtrack.

Fiona Apple's New MasterpieceToday I have a guest post on the very cool site The Undercover Soundtrack. If you haven’t visit the site, you should. Writers discuss their musical inspiration and “soundtrack” in the writing of their work. I was on the site before, writing about the music behind A Jane Austen Daydream (which you can check out here). In this post I take on the soundtrack of Permanent Spring Showers, my latest book.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

Music can be like little time capsules. For some, they may return you to younger days, for me they return me to books. Whenever I take on a project, my creative psyche demands that I find the right soundtrack for it. And if I don’t, I might as well kiss that creative spirit goodbye. They flounder, gasping and dying like a fish out of water.

When I began work on my novel Permanent Spring Showers I knew I was doing something a little odd. It was a book very loosely based on a screenplay I had written years earlier, but this was going to be a very different work, not an easy adaptation. Also, I was going to present it chapter by chapter on my site. I liked to call it then a book in real time since you could enjoy the book and witness the creation of it as well. Yet, it was even more than that. Since I wasn’t bogging myself down in thoughts of sales, agents, and publishers, I was opening the door for sheer possibility. I could do anything, only limited by my own imagination.

It was so creatively exhilarating to throw off the shackles that so many of us feel when creating. And, adding in the danger that I could screw it up at any moment (for everyone to see) was just as thrilling. I was playing with literary fire. Luckily, I never felt alone in the flames.

In the article I break down the relationship between Fiona Apple’s most recent CD (which is awesome, by the way) and the book. You can check out the entire article here.

Permanent Spring ShowersPermanent Spring Showers was published by 5 Prince Books and is available on all online book retailers. Out in both print and eBook, you can find it on amazon.com here. The eBook is on sale for only $3.99.

You can read a sample and learn more about the book via this page. Grab a copy today!

 

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, January 2015

This is Lightning. She only has bad daysSo I’m going through a thing with a video game.

Do you remember this post? (The reference is only a few paragraphs, it won’t take you long.) There I am praising Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

You can feel the love.

It could be argued that it was the honeymoon stage of my relationship with the game.

See, I’ve had a long relationship with Lightning and her role-playing world, playing both of the installments before starting on the third and final part (I’m sure it could almost equal entire months if the hours were embarrassingly added together). And, as you can guess from the post then, everything was going swimmingly in our relationship. We laughed at the same jokes, enjoyed discussing our past history…. Then this damn monster called Grendel appeared in a desert world and ruined everything for us.

Ruined, ruined, ruined!

Now, I love the literary reference in the monster’s name, so the creators get points for that, but that monster destroyed my infatuation with the game and world and Lightning and sent me away. (Actually, over to Gotham City and a Batman game.) It’s not often I leave a game unfinished, especially a Final Fantasy game, so it was rough. I like to think it felt that way to Lightning too.

So here I am, it’s a new year, and I am looking for new beginnings, new possibilities. And since Lightning and I have such a long past I decided to give it another shot….

Of course, this time I am wisely playing on easy.

I have no video game shame.

Here is my first list for 2015, and speaking of video games… Continue reading

Radio Radio: Surviving My Local Radio Scene

RadioA few months ago the CD player in my car stopped working. I put a disc in, it shoots it back out.

Yes? No! Yes? No! Yes? No!

It is like arguing with a two-year old and losing each and every freaking time.

Now, I’m not a car dude. I’m one of those kind of people that don’t see a vehicle as some kind of a mark of success, it is a tool, and, if given the option, I would drive a car until the last wheel fell off.  Honestly, I just don’t care. I think the only time I have ever drooled over an automobile was when I saw an ad for the new Honda Odyssey. Not because it looked smart. No, I liked it because it came with a vacuum cleaner. With two little kids that sounded awesome! Goodbye to all those fruit snacks! I could vacuum anytime I wanted!

Every day I need to drive my son to his school, which is about a 25-minute drive. And while I would love to just listen to NPR the entire way there and back, I can’t. My six-year old hears everything and there is a lot on that I just don’t want to explain to him. For example, yesterday while getting out of the car he said, “Boy, there are a lot of wars going on, isn’t there?”

Ah… yeah… there certainly are… damn…

So, for those moments when NPR goes a little “bleak,” I’ve begun exploring the dial, switching to the local music stations. What I’ve discovered though is something akin to a time capsule.

Yes, these stations are glimpses of some other time, but where exactly those other times took place, I can’t say. Continue reading

If I was…

My Audience1 of 4

If I was a rock star I would’ve started the band because I thought it’d be fun.  Also, it was a way to meet girls, or at least that is how my friends and I would’ve imagined it as we sat around with our guitars trying to figure out chords in my parents’ living room. In time there would be gigs. College parties, the occasional music festival. We would want to play our own songs, but the audience wouldn’t care. They were there for a good time and we were unknowns then. So we learned the classics and I would attempt to mimic other singers at every show. Then one day, while opening for a much better band, I would try out a new song. It would be a cynical piece but people would latch on to it as a love song. Before we knew it, we’d have a record contract and to our shock the song would jump up the charts.  While the attention and money is nice I would become frustrated by all of it.  Everyone (everyone!) wants us to do a song similar to the hit, but that just doesn’t interest me. That song was a fluke, it isn’t me! I would want to try new things, experiment, break ground in my music. It’d be probably at this point that some of my friends would begin to quit the band. But the rest of us would go on, because it had gone from fun to important to a job. Just a job. And later on, sometime during the middle of some random set at a casino, I’d look out over the audience (noticing again that the size is dwindling) and wonder when did this change? When? This was supposed to be fun, right? Fine, I’ll play that song again. Fine. Continue reading

Drums and Kings: Turning Forty

Gandalf by Ted Nasmith I have always been a book nerd.

A great example of what I mean is my first reaction to J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. I read the book that first time when I was around nine and while I loved it, my favorite moment was probably not the same as for other readers.

There is this wonderful chapter in the first book The Fellowship of the Rings called “The Bridge of Khazad-dum.” For those that don’t know or remember, this is the lowest point for the fellowship as they run to escape the dark of Moria, pursued by unspeakable evils. Yes, I worried about the heroes but really what made me sit up straight and take note was what Tolkien did in his writing and I had never seen anything like it before.

The orcs and goblins chasing our team were using drums but their drums were more than drums. They were speaking.

Doom, boom, doom, went the drums in the deep.

They are relentless, and obviously doing more than simply beating. They are screaming a warning, building to a crescendo over the course of the chapter until finally at the end Gandalf is lost and the drums then fade into the distance, leaving the fellowship and the readers all breathless.

But for me, I wasn’t breathless because of the action and the loss.

No…

I wanted to know how Tolkien did that.

Continue reading

“Belle & Sebastian Meets Jane Austen” A Guest Post on the Undercover Soundtrack

Belle and SebastianToday I have a guest post up on The Undercover Soundtrack. For those that don’t know, it is a unique writing blog where writers share the music that influenced and inspired their writing. My post is on the music of Belle & Sebastian (one of my favorite bands) and how it impacted my new novel A Jane Austen Daydream. Here is the beginning of the article:

There is usually nothing more important to me than the music I have playing while writing a book.  Music can inspire me, engage me, keep my energy up when I need it to be up. It sets the mood for me, and the right song can pull the right levers to get me to go from point A to point B in a plot. It has also been known to drive the people that live with me crazy since while I am writing I may play a CD a few too many times (Just ask my wife about the writing of My Problem With Doors and my nonstop playing of O by Damien Rice; an album I am forbidden to play in her presence again). But what I used for A Jane Austen Daydream was something surprisingly contemporary. This was not something for Liz Bennet to dance to (but she might if given the chance).

You can read the rest of the article here, where I go into details on how Belle & Sebastian (especially their CD The Life Pursuit) changed my version of a certain famous novelist.

A Jane Austen DaydreamA Jane Austen Daydream is available via amazon.com where you can find it in print for just $13.85 in print and only $3.99 for the eBook. Here is the link: http://amzn.com/0983671923

And remember, my new experimental gothic novel Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare is a free eBook on amazon until June 15! You can check it out here.

Finding the Soundtrack of Jaleel Shaw

Jaleel Shaw's MasterpieceI live vicariously through Jaleel Shaw.

Before I fell completely into the pool of being an author, for a time I dipped my toe in jazz.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to playing saxophone, but there was something that took my breath away immediately with it (not always a good thing to have happen while playing a reed instrument, by the way). A sax can convey so much, with the power to move you to tears or to get you to your feet to cheer. Two things I have seen happen live, but honestly never when I was performing.

For almost a decade it was an obsession, and not an evening would go by when I wasn’t at a lesson, taking part in a rehearsal, or practicing up in my bedroom. Because, I believed, with enough practice, yes, I could sound like Charlie Parker.

It was a happy dream, and I felt like I was doing something important while under it.

Looking back now, I can almost laugh at my passion around it, but for years, I would fall asleep each night with Bird and Branford Marsalis playing on repeat on my CD player; certain I could get their chops through a form of musical osmosis. Continue reading

Re-Blogged: They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants have a new CD out today! It is called Nanobots. I really like it a lot (not a surprise there), reminding me a lot of their CD Apollo 18. My favorite songs so far are You’re on Fire and 9 Secret Steps.

The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

I’m a proud card carrying member of the lifetime fans of They Might Be Giants.

I own all of the albums, each collection, a box filled with B-sides, concert albums, and too many shirts to count spanning the last two-and-a-half decades. I even once bought a shirt of theirs to save! See, my dream was that one of the characters in a screenplay I had written would wear that shirt in one scene. So even though I didn’t have a producer, studio, director or even an actor for it, I wanted to have the shirt just in case.

I’ve seen They Might Be Giants five times in concert, and the best way I have found to describe the experience is to compare it to what (I assume) it is like to attend a meeting of the masons. You are with others that believe the same as you, know the same…

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