Saturday, February 28, 2015

It's My Party by Kait Carson

I had three musical childhoods. How did that happen? Easy, I was what is known as a ‘late child’ or maybe SURPRISE would be a better word. To hear my parents tell the story, they don’t know how I got here. I’m figuring that’s not true. I have a much older brother. So, I have three distinct musical heritages.

My parents swung to the orchestras of the 1940s and early 1950s. My brother to rock and roll from the days of Bill Haley (and Patience and Prudence) right though the 1960s teen death songs and early Beach Boys. I showed up in time to groove to the psychedelic rock era, big hair, broad shoulders, and disco. Who else is nodding in time to Bee Gees besides me?

The big band era passed with little notice from me. That era belonged to my parents, and although
my mother taught me to cha cha and Lindy, it was more a chore than a delight. Frank Sinatra made me roll my eyes in long-suffering LP silence while I waited my turn to put Cream or Donna Summers on the turntable. Yes, turntable. On a big console stereo unit in our living room.

My brother’s music probably made the biggest impression on me. First, his records all played with something called a ‘spider’ in the middle. As a child, I thought that was really cool. Second, he was my big brother, and I idolized him. He was and is one of the people in the world that everyone loves. Whatever he did, I wanted to do. Whatever he liked, I liked. That included music. So the soundtrack of the late 50s and early 60s provided the backdrop of my life.
Lesley Gore died last week. For some reason, I felt her death more than other idols of my generation. I remember wanting to cut my hair so I could wear it in a flip, just like hers. Never happened. And I remember wondering what boy would be so stupid to jilt her. Most of all, I remember going to my friend Judy’s birthday party. Her mother put Judy’s Turn to Cry on the playlist. Judy swore her David would never make her cry. Seems to me at one reunion or another I discovered that they had married, and divorced. The fact that they married was awesome (in the real definition of the word) enough for me.

Many of the musical artists of my ‘natural’ childhood died early. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll took their toll on my generation’s music. Although I was sorry for their loss, I never felt it. Not the same way I felt Lesley Gore’s death, Jan Berry’s death, Carl Wilson’s death, and Dennis Wilson’s death, among others. The death of these and other artists of the era told me time was marching on. Lesley Gore in particular. When I read of her death, I was visiting a friend named Judi. Judi is four years younger than I. The name was unknown to her. Until I hummed a few bars of Judy’s Turn to Cry. She knew the song, not the artist. I understood then that I had leapfrogged a musical generation. The knowledge somehow increased my loss.

How about you? What is your musical generation?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Preparing to Sing My Lyrics

Preparing to Sing My Lyrics

I’ve blogged about writing lyrics before.  The next step after writing is preparing to sing them.  I had some difficulty with that.  I revised the lyrics several times to insure that the important words fall on the musically stressed notes (on the beats of each measure.)  I also revised my writing like I revise my prose, i.e. examining every word and pause (punctuation) to see if there was a more precise or meaningful alternatives.  I kept changing the lyrics until the final practice. I don’t think I would do that if I were doing a reading, but the final change simplified things. Lord knows I could benefit from simplification.

When writing prose I can just delete the old and replace it with the new.  Unfortunately for singing, the old words and punctuation stick around in my head.  I have to read the text to get the new version that I’m singing.  As part of the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, I wanted to differentiate between the two in the song.  In some music showing Pilate and Jesus interacting, each man’s words are sung by  different singers. To emphasize the difference each singer uses a different range.  For example if Pilate’s lines are sung by a tenor, Jesus’ lines would be sung by a bass.  I finally decided to speak Pilate’s part and to sing Jesus’ response. While I speak the piano is quiet.   Stopping singing is easy. Coming back in at a precise point and more or less in tune is difficult. 

It is more difficult because I got lost reading the sheet music at home. I practiced singing the wrong notes, which reinforced the error.  Pausing to remember in the middle of a song does not work well.  Silence from me while the piano plays on is quite noticeable to the audience.

Fortunately I will be singing at church.  The accompanist is excellent.  My church does not practice excommunication.  And the lyrics are new.  My performance will be the world premier.  If I mess it up people might think it was meant to be like that. 

This dabbling in music is expanding my knowledge base.  I think I will stick with it.

Have you started down a new path and, if so, what were the results?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'm Tired of Winter


                                         I’m tired of dog’s muddy footprints.
                                         I don’t like to complain and grouse.
                                        Why won’t people remove wet shoes
                                        when they’re coming into the house?

                                         Instead of just orchids blooming,
                                         and the green leaves of plants inside,
                                         I want to see leaves on the trees
                                         and sunlight and flowers outside.

                                         In time spring and summer will come,
                                         since I know it happens each year,
                                         but I’m so tired of boots and coats
                                         I just wish spring would hurry here.

                                         I browse through garden catalogs,
                                         ordering both plants and seeds, too,
                                         forgetting I’ll soon have complaints                            
                                         of too much gardening to do.

Yeah, I’m tired of winter so much so that I wrote a rather simple rhyming poem, something I rarely do. Most of my poetry is more complex with a message without whining and complaining. But I guess it’s just how I’m feeling these days.

In the beginning I embrace winter; Christmas – hopefully a white one – with the ringing bells of Salvation Army people with their red buckets collecting for the needy. All except for the most parsimonious bah humbug people seem to be more generous at the beginning of winter. We donate to the poor with money, food, warm clothes, and we feel good about ourselves and our generosity. Then after all the hustle bustle of the holidays; Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, we relax into a quieter time. For those of us in the northern climates, it’s a time of hibernation, a time of unwinding. I get more writing and reading done.

But then comes February and it seems like winter will never end, especially this year. Enough already! We mumble and complain to others. Was it Punxsutawney Phil? Maybe it’s his fault this has been one of the worse winters in years. More snow, bitter cold, and an inability to go on my daily walks in the woods has me frustrated. Yes, I did get more writing done, but nothing much else. Instead, of bustling about the house cleaning and organizing, a sort of lethargy has set in. I just don’t feel like cleaning. I could be going through my stacks of garden catalogs that started coming last October, but why? Maybe spring won’t come this year, although a few weeks ago on a rare almost balmy day when the snow started to melt for a few hours, I did hear a bird sing. So we are nearer to spring than we were in January, at least. Just maybe it will come.

Maggie is not happy with the frozen snow on her legs.
And there have been good things. My furnace continues to send out heat. A friend of my son’s plows my driveway every time there’s more than an inch of new snow. My electricity hasn’t gone out – at least so far. My canary continues to sing, especially after I give him his daily treat of broccoli or when I wash clothes or run the sweeper.

I enjoy watching the birds at my feeders, although not so much the raiding squirrel. Although it takes six to seven miles before my car starts to warm up, it never fails to start as soon as I turn the key. I don’t spend much time on the phone, but there are more times now as my friends and family compare weather complaints and we talk and laugh about a lot of other things, too. When I meet with my two book clubs or writer’s group, there seem to be more smiles going around as well as laughter, because in some ways, we are all survivors of this winter and share a special bond because of it.

How do you feel about winter?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Agatha Award Winning Leslie Budewitz

After leaving a dicey marriage and losing a beloved job in a corporate crash,
Pepper Reece has found a new zest for life running a busy spice and tea shop
in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Her aromatic creations are the talk of the town,
and everyone stops by for a cup of her refreshing spice tea, even other
shopkeepers and Market regulars. But when a panhandler named Doc
shows up dead on the store’s doorstep, a Seattle Spice Shop cup in his hand,
the local gossip gets too hot for Pepper to handle—especially after the police
arrest one of Pepper’s staffers, Tory Finch, for murder.

Tory seems to know why she’s a suspect, but she refuses to do anything to curry favor
with the cops. Convinced her reticent employee is innocent, Pepper takes
it on herself to sniff out some clues. Only, if she’s not careful,
Pepper’s nosy ways might make her next on the killer’s list…

Leslie Budewitz surprised me with her new Spice Shop Mystery series. Only two books into her Food Lovers Village Mystery series, featuring main character, Erin Murphy, and Leslie created a new merchant, Pepper Reece, spice shop owner, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The similarity between Erin and Pepper ends with both characters being merchants. Erin, in her early thirties, contends with her partner mother in a family owned business, which is located in a small, rural Montana town. Pepper is ten years older, divorced, loves living in Seattle’s urban environment, and her parents retired to Costa Rica. I can only assume that both characters stem from Leslie’s experiences in both locales.  
Assault and Pepper will be released on March third. The third book in the Food Lovers Village Mysteries, Butter Off Dead, will hit stores in July. Both books can be pre-ordered now. Look for them at your favorite indie or on Amazon. 

Please welcome Leslie Budewitz back to WWK.                                                                            E. B. Davis

Where did the idea for this series come from, and how did you sell it? 

I went to college at Seattle University and after law school, moved back to the city and started my practice there until returning to my home state, Montana, twenty-some years ago. My husband loves Seattle, too, and we visit often. When I first started thinking of a cozy series, years ago, I wrote a proposal set there; it didn’t sell, but the setting kept calling me. I wanted to start a second series---I’m hoping to continue them both---and my agent loved the idea. The booksellers at Seattle Mystery Bookshop were enthusiastic---at that point, only a couple of ongoing series were set in the city, although Tracy Weber and the duo writing as Waverly Curtis have since started series set there. An urban cozy needs a defined community, and the Pike Place Market fits the bill perfectly.

My agent sold it to the editor at Berkley Prime Crime who bought my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. I’m even lucky enough to have the same cover artist!

How much did you know about spices going into this series?

Probably about as much as the average avid home cook with no professional training. I’ve learned a lot about the history and folklore of spice. Now, I go looking for recipes featuring a particular herb or spice, try new-to-me combinations, and look for varieties of the same spice. For example, we all know paprika, but Hungarian differs from Spanish and smoked paprika adds a woodsy dimension reminiscent of cooking on an open fire. (And yes, I have done that!) It’s all tasty fun.

I liked that Pepper reads. She starts on Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series. During her investigation, she asks herself, “What would Brother Cadfael say?” Out of all the fictional sleuths you could have chosen, why Brother Cadfael?

That came from the music. I knew Pepper had grown up in a communal household in Seattle with parents deeply involved in the peace and justice movement. Her mother has an unsettled relationship with religion but dearly loves the old chants and medieval harmonies, which occasionally sing in Pepper’s head. One night, Pepper is searching for distraction and stumbles across a box of Brother Cadfael mysteries her mother had tucked into the storage locker in Pepper’s loft building. Cadfael becomes a sort of mentor to her. That he was an herbalist helps, too. Plus, it’s given me a chance to reread a much-loved series, albeit slowly and in snatches.

Seattle street people play a role in Pepper’s investigation. The 1990s grunge movement attracted youth to Seattle, and it became a mecca of sorts, but are street people still in the backdrop of Seattle’s landscape?

They are, as in any city with a relatively mild climate. I wanted to portray them as humanly as I could. Two men you meet in Assault and Pepper---neither of them actually homeless, but without much use for walls---will be semi-regulars in the series.

Pepper’s employees are a curious bunch. One, Tory, is arrested for murder and put in jail. Tory frustrated me. Pepper is the only person willing to help her. Why doesn’t Tory talk to Pepper to help the case?

By nature and nurture---with no mother and a distant, workaholic father---Tory withdrew into herself and her art. It just isn’t like her to depend on someone else, although (no spoilers here!) there is one character who breaks through her walls. And she half-believes she deserves the punishment. I like to explore various aspects of a theme in the plot and subplots. Here, it’s the fine line between protecting someone and interfering ---and I hope Tory’s relationships with Pepper and her own father shed some light on that tug-of-war.

Did Pepper’s upbringing and flight from the corporate world give her insight into Tory’s problem?

Yes. Another theme is identity---choosing who you will be in the world. We’ve all known people---I was one---who seem to come alive at forty, shedding the past and creating their own identity. Pepper doesn’t mind being the poster child for the cliché. She recognizes a similar struggle in Tory, although Tory’s quite a bit younger.

Sandra is a wonderful secondary character—so supportive of Pepper. But Sandra’s love life is truly inspirational. Tell our readers about Sandra.

She’s an Italian pixie, a foodie who loves retail, a native Seattleite who loves the rain and complains---generally in good cheer---whenever the mercury rises over 75. She’s deeply in love with her second husband, whom she calls Mr. Right. (Online friends will recognize my nickname for my own husband, although Sandra draws more from an old friend, including her name, than from me.) I’m just starting the third Spice Shop book, and we may learn a bit more about Sandra and her sweetie there. (Or not. I’m an outliner, but some things only become clear as I write.)

Laurel, a good friend of Pepper’s, disregards the potential danger to Pepper charging her to investigate and find out the truth about the murder to give closure to the family. Why does she do this?

Well, Laurel doesn’t actually think Pepper will be in danger. She just thinks the victim needs someone to stand up for him---in part because of her own experience, losing her husband to a still-unsolved murder---and that Pepper is in the perfect position to do so. Of course, neither of them realize until almost too late that doing so makes Pepper the perfect target.

Fabiola irritated me. She’s hip, happening, now, and dresses the part of the creative genius. Why does Pepper like her so much, especially considering that the created image came from herself, not Fabiola?

Fabiola created some wonderful designs for Pepper, but she can’t get the logo quite right---and as you noticed, Pepper ultimately solves that problem herself. I’ve done a lot of remodeling over the years and worked with designers who are absolutely certain they know what you need; they’re about 95% spot-on, but that last 5% just doesn’t feel right. It’s the piece you have to figure out yourself, learning to trust your own instincts as a creative person, even when it isn’t quite comfortable. That’s the experience Fabiola gives Pepper.

Tag, her policeman ex, and her current love interest disappoint Pepper, but she doesn’t let them get her down. What is it about women in their forties?

It comes back to that thing about finding yourself and standing up for your own choices, I’d say. Tag represents that protection-interference theme, big-time.

It’s explanation/vocab time! Could you explain about:

The viaduct (it doesn’t have water in it, does it?)

Well, it does rain a lot in Seattle! The Viaduct is the term for the two-level elevated highway that runs along the waterfront. Major earthquake hazard---you may remember pictures of a similar highway in Oakland collapsing like a stack of pancakes in the 1989 earthquake. The Viaduct is slated for removal.

Rachael, the brass pig? 

She stands at the main entrance to the Pike Place Market, as a fun symbol of the Market’s commitment to farmers and producers. She’s also a piggy bank, literally. Donors can tuck bills and coins through the slot in her back to contribute to the Market Foundation, providing social services for the Market’s several hundred low-income residents. (The Market was the first mixed use---commercial and residential---project on the National Historic Register.) Kids love to sit on her back.

What’s a Bumbershoot?

Bumbershoot is the arts and music festival that takes over Seattle Center, home to the 1962 World’s Fair, every Labor Day weekend. Some say bumbershoot is English slang for an umbrella, but that may be apocryphal. Whatever the origin of the word, it’s fun to say---and Bumbershoot is a fun weekend.


Public Development Authority, the organization that runs the Market, which is owned by the city.

Mezcal (does it have to do with magical mushrooms?)

A Mexican alcoholic drink made from agave, a cousin of tequila.

Your next book in the Food Lovers Village, Butter Off Dead, comes out in July. Can you give us the synopsis?

Erin Murphy and her pal Christine Vandeberg think a Food Lovers’ Film Festival is just the thing to brighten the bleak midwinter in Jewel Bay and cheer up the town folk. But when Christine is found dead only a few days before the curtain rises, Erin suspects someone is attempting to stop the films from rolling.
To make matters worse, Nick Murphy—Erin’s brother and Christine’s beau—has top billing on the suspect list. Convinced her brother is innocent and determined that the show must go on, Erin must find who’s really to blame before Nick gets arrested or the festival gets shut down. And as the anniversary of Erin’s father’s death in a still-unsolved hit-and-run approaches, her own beau isn’t so keen on her leading role.   

But the closer Erin gets to shining a spotlight on the killer, the more likely it becomes that she’ll be the next person cut from the program…       

Pike's Place Market pictures courtesy of 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Double Dare You

Do you remember when you were a kid and your best friend dared you to kiss a lizard, a frozen light pole, or a boy named Johnny? With your honor on the line you stupidly agreed…and it didn't turn out well. Johnny ran away screaming about girl cooties then gave the other boys on the playground cootie shots. The lizard ran up your arm and got caught in your frizzy hair. Your lips stuck to the pole and your “friend” laughed and snapped a photo.

But can a dare be useful? I never thought so, but I changed my mind after reading that challenges have been the catalyst for an author to break out or begin a career.

Agatha Christie wrote her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as the result of a challenge from her sister, Madge, who dared her to write a detective story that kept the reader guessing the killer’s identity until the end. Christie accepted the challenge with gusto. Her book featured detective Hercule Poirot who would appear in twenty five more novels. As an aside, Madge also enjoyed making up stories and told tales about a fictional, mentally deranged sister.

Dr. Seuss enjoyed a good challenge.

William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, dared him to “write a story that first-graders can’t put down.” He wanted it to contain only 225 words selected from a first grader’s vocabulary list.

Ultimately, Dr. Seuss used 236 unique words and it took him nine months to write what became The Cat in the Hat. The story was supposed to be about a king and queen cat but “queen” wasn’t on the acceptable word list. “Hat” was, and it rhymed with cat, so he made a story out of it.

Another challenge was issued by his editor, Bennett Cerf. He bet one dollar per word that Dr. Seuss couldn’t write a book using fifty unique words or fewer. Green Eggs and Ham resulted from that wager. According to some sources Seuss won the bet, but Cerf never paid up. Since the book was a best-seller he probably didn’t need the $50.

When Stephen King first began writing, his short stories were published in risqué centerfold magazines such as Cavalier. This earned him a reputation as a writer just for men and criticism from readers. “You write all those macho things,” one said. “But you can’t write about women. You’re scared of women.”

King took it as a challenge and Carrie was born.

Why were these dares successful? I’m not entirely sure, but they have a few things in common:

-          A highly regarded person (in King’s case a reader) issued the challenge/bet.

-          The author was held accountable for the end product and might have been ridiculed if it was bad.

-          The dare encompassed specific parameters or goals for what would be considered successful.

-          Each author had a problem to solve. My guess is the subconscious mind was constantly working to find a solution.

-          It wasn’t a competition. The writer didn’t compare her/himself with anyone else.

So, I double dare you to write one sentence of that scene, book, or short story that you have been procrastinating because it’s scary or overwhelming. Even though I can’t pay you, success is its own reward.

Has someone ever dared you to do something?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Keeping a Writer’s Journal

I have kept journals for many decades. Even before my creative writing professors encouraged me to keep them, I kept writer’s journals after reading that writers I respected, such as Virginia Woolf and Madeleine L’Engle, had kept writer’s journals. I have stacks and stacks of them, and periodically I wade through years of them, reading and mining for ideas and memories.

You will notice I did not say I’ve kept diaries. A diary is an account of your day-to-day activities. A writer’s journal is the artist’s sketchbook of a writer. It holds the raw material, the thinking on paper, that goes into learning how to write better and into creating minor and major projects.

A writer’s journal may have accounts of daily activities in it, along with discussions of current events, descriptions of the striking woman seen at the coffee shop, the idea for a new novel, the first few paragraphs of a short story, lines or whole stanzas of a poem, descriptions of the sound water makes dripping from trees into a fountain at the park, pages of location or historical research, a scary near-miss turned by what-if into the germ of a story or novel, lists of words I love, scenes recaptured from my childhood or other past moments, and much, much more. Writing exercises. Lists of possible titles. The initial sketches of characters. Accounts of dreams. Rants and complaints and a good bit of whining, as well.

Now, I also keep computer journals as I write each novel. This is where I go deeper into character, work out plotting difficulties, set myself goals for the next chapter or section of the book, and keep track of things that impinge on the writing of the book. Older versions of this are what I turn to when I need to find out how long I think it will take me to complete some phase of the new book. Also, it’s where I look for encouragement when going through tough times on a book. I almost always find I’ve made it through something similar before. I keep my journals in bound books between novels and in addition to the novel journals kept on the computer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found ideas or characters or settings for stories, poems, and books while going back through these journals—or found ideas that connect with other ideas I have to complete the concept for a novel or poem. Also, as I look through them, I can see on the page how my writing has improved over the years. I consider these journals necessities for my continuing growth as a writer. Just as a musician continues practicing the scales and more ambitious exercises daily, just as a painter continues sketching constantly, I keep opening my journal and writing down a description or an idea or a question I’m wrestling with or a character I’m exploring. Madeleine L’Engle called her journal work her “five-finger exercises.”

I often tell young students to keep journals, even if they don’t want to become writers. I believe it will help them navigate the fraught waters of adolescence. I know it helped me come to terms with a damaging, abusive childhood and write my way out of the anger, pain, fear, and shame it engendered in me. I’ve used journaling as an effective therapeutic technique with incarcerated youth, and I believe it’s something anyone can do to help them work their way through emotional pain and problems.

I have plain spiral notebooks, composition books, three-ring binders, and an assortment of bound books of many sizes and appearances. I have heard some people say they could never write in a really beautiful bound book because it would intimidate them, but I write even in the gorgeous handmade ones friends and family give me as luscious gifts. The act of writing is what keeps me from becoming too intimidated to write.

What about you? If you’re a writer, do you keep journals? In notebooks or on the computer or both? Have you found it useful?  And if you’re not a writer, have you used a journal before to work through thorny issues?