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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, while writing Secrets & Howls……

……my first self-published novel, I chose to set the time frame in 1978 (with occasional flashbacks to 1852).  I did this in part because I didn’t want cellphones or the internet in the story.  Technology that we find useful today would not have been useful in my story, which I had purposely left without a specific time-frame until an editor suggested I do so, because it wasn’t clear to her when the story took place.

Also, I was kind of lazy and didn’t want to adjust the story to suit the cellphone/internet.  Which sent me to the library for books on the seventies, since I only had a rudimentary recollection of the decade I grew up in.  The books, however meticulously researched, were deadly dull and did nothing to help me gain a clear picture.

So I did the next best thing – I turned to music.  Going to my local music store (long since gone), I scoured their classic rock section for music specific to the seventies.  There were a few disco CDs and, looking at the playlist on the back, I remembered ever single song playing on my mom’s VW hatchback.

Naturally, I bought them.

Which brings me to my Ancient Greek Comedy.

Apparently, music from the seventies fits right in with the chaotic hijinks of the gods and goddesses of ancient myths.

Who knew?

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So, I finished the first revision of my Ancient Greek Comedy….

…..and I feel pretty good about it.  There’s still some work left to be done on it, places that need polishing, and characters that need a little more development, but overall, I’m satisfied with what I’ve written.  My next step will be to send it to a local director for a clear eye and suggestions, and from there, that’s anyone’s guess.

But I’ve got some definite ideas.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

Should it go forward and find a stage, a cast and a choreographer [1], it will be the culmination of a dream – to see a work I wrote take on a new life in front of an audience.  Will I consider myself a playwright?  Only in the loosest sense of the word –  this is a fairly comprehensive list of playwrights that deserve the title.  Each of them have a body of work that will forever be in production.

I think this is my only work to be written specifically for the stage.  I won’t say that I’ll never try it again, but my specialty is writing in the narrative form.  This was a fun and, at times, a nerve-wracking challenge.  I’ve removed characters, added them back in, re-wrote dialogue and new scenes and then, when all seemed lost, a piece of music would send me back in with renewed vigor.

In the process, I realized that the story I wanted to tell (using LOTS of humor) required me to use the stories of the gods and goddesses I chose to be characters in my play.  Interestingly, their stories tied into many of today’s social issues and, while I was pleased, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this discovery.

After all, their stories have been around for centuries – they are very human concerns that transcend time and place.

[1] While this is not a musical, per se, it does have some song and dance numbers.

So, You Need a Little Inspiration…..

…….and you’re stuck in place, unsure of which direction to go in.  It’s a frustrating and often suffocating feeling, not knowing what to do next.  Your creative project sits on your desk, silent and accusing, waiting for you to come back to it.

This is a familiar situation for me, and one that every creative experiences.  You’re not alone in this – always remember that.

When I’m stuck on a project, I like to travel.  Well, okay, thinking about traveling.  There are places I want to visit and just sit and be, soaking in the scenery, the sounds, the colors and feelings it brings up.  While I can’t travel to some places (yet), there are locations that are closer and more feasible to get to and enjoy.

However, sometimes I don’t even need that to jump-start my inspiration and creativity.

Here’s a creative challenge for you:

Pick a city anywhere in the world. It can be in Romania and have as its neighbor the castle of one of the most ruthless leaders of all time (Vlad Tsepes, aka the Impaler).  Or it can be an ancient temple in Greece, overlooking a beautiful beach and deep blue oceans. Or…..

Well, you get the idea.

Pick a city that pulls you into it, that inspires you to use all five of your senses, quickens those creative juices that pulse through you, makes you smile.  Even if you’ve never been there, you can utilize your own experiences to fill in the blanks.

For example – Secrets & Howls is set in a coastal village three hours north of San Francisco.  For various reasons, the closest I’ve ever been able to get is Morro Bay.  No two coastal villages are the same, as each town has its own unique personality.  However, the important elements are the same – the sounds of seagulls, seals, the ocean and harbor.  From this, I was able to build my own fictional coastal village, complete with lighthouse and jutting cliffs.

Utilizing all five of your senses and the creative medium you’re most comfortable with, pick a city and interpret it as best you can.  What comes up may serve your current project or inspire a new one altogether or both.  You never can tell.

Have fun. Happy creating.

So, I’m revising my Ancient Greek Comedy…..

……where chaos reigns and ancient mythologies collide.  And that’s on a good day.

Most of the characters are based on the Greek gods and goddesses, but as I revise the play, I’m paying more attention to other mythologies.  I make reference to a number of them within the dialogue, but I actually want to have the other ancient mythologies represented.  To do that, I’m looking to give them a voice and space.

Since the ancient gods and goddesses are archetypal (ex. Athena is an archetype of war and wisdom), I’ve tagged a couple of the speaking roles to change over to a different mythological god/dess.  It’ll be interesting to see how that works out, especially among mythologies that aren’t as readily identifiable, like the Greeks or Romans.  Archetypes are common throughout every culture and myth.  One of the reasons the ancient mythologies and plays resonate today is because we can still see ourselves and circumstances in those archetypes thousands of years after they were first staged.

There is, naturally, a Chorus, because what ancient play – Greek, Roman, Egyptian, (fill in the blank) – doesn’t have a Chorus, the impartial conscience and voice of the play itself?  Generally, the Chorus’s role in the ancient plays (particularly the Greek ones) served to comment on the action within the context of the play.  My Chorus sings about the action, what the situation is and offers back-up to Hera and Juno when they discover that their philandering husbands are one and the same (for my purposes, Zeus is Zeus and created his Roman counter-part, Jupiter because his ego determined that he can).

And what ancient play is complete without music?  This play was inspired by the music of the Eagles and music has always played a part in grounding my stories to a time and place and feeling.  I even created mini-soundtracks for my screenplays, each song triggering a scene or a moment that demanded to be put down on paper.

But, while writing this play, I encountered a significant problem – I’m not a musician and I don’t know how to write song lyrics.  How am I to incorporate music into this play, other than to use and pay royalty fees for previously recorded music?

Fortunately, I am blessed to know several local musicians who have become very dear friends over the last few years.  During a conversation about my play, I mentioned my concern over how to incorporate music.  Unanimously, they said, “We’ll do it, all you need to do is ask, and it’s done.”

So now I have music and possible lyrics.  I promised to have my song ideas for them upon completion of this current revision.  My goal now is to find the right places for the songs to go and carry the story forward.

I have the feeling, however, that Zeus will make every effort to make it all about him.  Because that’s his nature.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (2017)

From Amazon’s book description:

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

I picked this book up about a week ago, primarily because I’d read Kostova’s The Historian years earlier and fell in love with the world she evoked.  Also, Vlad Tsepes (inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and terrifying historical leader) was the driving focus of the story.  Kostova’s voice is rich, intelligent and literary, but she never talks down to her audience.  Rather, she invites us in with simple human concerns that we all share – letters, lost luggage, art. Upon accepting that invitation, we stumble into a world that is both familiar and alien.

The Shadow Land is another such invitation.  Set in Bulgaria, both during the aftermath of World War II and the (recent) present, I wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond the book description.  But I remembered The Historian and how much I loved that book, so I was more than willing to give this one a chance.

I.  Could.  Not.  Put.  It.  Down.

Every chance I could, when I wasn’t at work, or working on my own projects or learning French or being out with my horses or friends, I was curled up with this book.  I tuned out this world that I live in and poured myself into this story.  As a voracious reader with a habit of re-reading favorite titles, this one is definitely in for a re-read.  I’m sure there are details that I missed on the first go round.

That said, I do have a minor quibble – the romance between Alexandra Boyd and a character barely seen, but highly romanticized in daydreams by Alexandra, seems idealized.  It does not feel based on real feelings or real interactions – I actually found her relationship with Bobby, her taxi driver, to be far more interesting and intimate than what actually occurred.

Overall, however, it is a minor quibble, it is my quibble and I intend to push this book on anyone who will listen.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Shadow Land                        by Elizabeth Kostova

An American Tourist in Ireland (6)

After Blarney Castle, we went on to Killarney, in county Cork. I don’t recall much of our first night there, other than a scrumptious dinner and meeting up with a couple of the tour members in the hotel pub and listening to live music. There’s always music in Ireland, no matter where you go and it’s beautiful.

On Tuesday morning, we went on a tour of Killarney National Park, which you can only access by horse and cart, bicycle, on foot or on horseback. We were lucky enough to be taken through the park by horse and cart, or jaunting.

I learned from my cart’s jarvey (driver) that he is charged with a couple of horses to train and work with and they are the horses that he drives until they are retired, either due to age or other reason. The horses are also rotated around, so that they get a proper amount of rest and relaxation, so that they don’t sour (1).

The park is more than 25,000 acres (that number is correct) and is protected space for deer and other animals that make it their home. In the middle of the park is a lake, called Lough Leane and on this lake is an island, of sorts, connected by bridge to the rest of the park. On this island is a castle – in order to get to it from the pony carts and the path through the park is a bridge.

From the bridge leading to Ross Castle.
From the bridge leading to Ross Castle.

Even before you cross the bridge, you are confronted with this view of Ross Castle (image below). It calls up all sorts of imaginative ideas about events that might have unfolded here or ended up here. On the day we visited, it was overcast and cool – I seemed to be the only one who was comfortable with the weather, which ranged from 38 to 49 degrees. Everyone was bundled up in jackets and mufflers and gloves – I wore only a sweater for warmth.

Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland.
Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland.

To our left, as we approached the castle, was a parking lot – this is where we met up with our tour bus driver. Our next adventure was the Ring of Kerry, which started from Ross Castle and wound its way to the other side of the lake.

 

If I remember right (and it’s been nearly a year since I made the trip), the Ring of Kerry is about 180 kilometers, which, translated to miles, is about 112. That would make the drive about two, two and half hours. Given that I was on a tour, we made a lot of stops, to get out and stretch our legs and look around, have tea and interact with some of the locals. This made the actual drive of the Ring of Kerry longer – perhaps most of the afternoon.

A stop on the Ring of Kerry.

On one such stop, an older gentleman had some baby goats.

I almost brought one home. Seriously, how could you not love a baby goat? Even a grown goat is pretty cute – also, they’re natural weed eaters and, if they’re female, can provide milk. Yes, they can get a little obnoxious, but – goat!!! (2)

We ended the day with dinner at The Jarvey’s Rest, where we were treated to excellent food, even better music and some traditional Irish dancing. One of the songs performed was Galway Girl, a popular song made even more so thanks to the film P.S. I Love You (2007).

Killarney is one of the places I would gladly return to. Then again, there hasn’t been any part of the trip I wouldn’t go back to.

Yes, it was that magical.

*****
(1) Any inaccuracies I may have made are mine and mine alone. For more information about the jaunting tours, follow the link: Killarney Jaunting Cars.
(2) I’m someone who, most of the time, finds animals to be better company than people.

 

So, I just wanted to point out……

……that I’m aware that a few of my posts regarding women transforming their lives are primarily white. I intend to correct that – I’ve read several books by women of color, like Alice Walker, Amy Tan and Maya Angelou, but it’s been awhile. I also plan to read and share more about men of color, like Sherman Alexie and Richard Wright.

I believe that strength comes from diversity and that representation matters, but I can’t espouse that and not show it. So, with your patience, I will be presenting posts that hopefully will be more diverse and representative of the world.

I would love it if you were to offer suggestions on writers and artists that you feel need more attention and their work showcased.

Thank you!

 

Recommended*:
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Native Son by Richard Wright
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

*To be updated.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

 

So, it’s Day 2 of 2017……..

……..and so far, so good. I’m alive, I have a place to live, I’ve got clothes to wear and food to eat. I have friends who funny and witty and supportive. There’s not a lot more to ask for, when those are very real and very priceless things to have in life.

Of course, as good as it is, I want to expand and improve on it, to strengthen what I’ve got and work on what’s weak. You could call it self-improvement, I suppose, and that’s all right with me, as I’m always striving to be my best, most authentic and truest self. Goals are helpful in this regard – they serve as motivation to achieve a specific result and as markers to show how much further you might have to go.

My goals for this year are varied. Some are practical (because being practical is a good thing, even for a creative person), some are whimsical and some are just explorations of what looks like fun.

This year, I am determined to learn how to tap dance. I don’t expect to get on a level of Gene Kelly’s caliber or even Debbie Reynolds (who learned for Singin’ In The Rain in just 90 days what Kelly had done for years). What I expect to get out of it is some exercise, some fun and a new skill that may carry over into something else. You never know until you do it where it will end up leading you.

I’m also equally determined to learn how to play my violin. I can hear the notes and pluck the correct strings with my fingers and get a (somewhat) accurate recreation of what I had just heard. The actual playing of it with the bow, however, is slightly problematic – my fingers don’t like the placement when holding the violin itself.

How do I correct this, in order to play the violin as it is meant to be played? How do I learn to dance with my tap shoes in a graceful pattern?

Three words – practice, practice, practice.

How do I manage to find the time to practice? Self-discipline.

As with anything else in the arts, you become skilled with practice and you are always learning, but it is the self-discipline that separates the wannabes from the achievers.

Still waiting patiently, the violin waits.
Patiently, the violin waits.

So, I bought a faux antique record player……

…….which can also play CDs and cassette tapes. There’s an FM tuner (I somehow found the oldies station) and I can connect it to the Blue tooth on my cellphone and play music from the app feature. All of which I’m learning and it’s fun.

I’ve been playing some of my old records, a collection that I’ve both inherited from friends and purchased on my own. I’m particularly enjoying Scott Joplin’s ragtime music. Hopefully, I can find some old vinyls of Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong, because music like that needs to be heard analog-style, if not live.

It’s relaxing and soothing and I find that I feel more alert and productive. Music can soothe, arouse, inspire, and invigorate.

Music, if you’ll forgive me, rocks.

record

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