No, Google, I Don’t Want a Nose Ring

December 10, 2017

Dear Overlords of the Internet, I do not want any “daisy-chain bracelets.” I do not want any “popular teen boys’ sunglasses.” I do not want any “cars with no consoles.” I do not want any “pancit palabok.” Overlords, in all your wisdom, I beg you to please, finally, at long last deduce that my internet searches are linked to my novel-writing, not my fervent sudden desire to purchase weird stuff. True, my internet surfing is unusual. While writing “Tragedy Girl,” for instance, key search words like “drown” and “decompose” were in heavy rotation on my desktop. (Note to fam: Do me a solid and clear my computer searches in the event of any mysterious deaths or disappearances.) Likewise, while writing “Then I Met My Sister,” which involved a teen girl in the 1990s, I was immersing myself in all manner of throwback pop culture. But here’s the thing: Just because I googled “ripped tights” doesn’t mean I’m in desperate need of ...

Me, Me, Me

November 30, 2017

As the gift-giving season approaches, I find myself reminiscing fondly about my mom’s two iron-clad rules regarding thank-you notes:

  • They must be written within 24 hours of receiving the gift.
  • They couldn’t begin with the word “I.”
Trust me, I wasn’t a fan at the time. Within 24 hours?!? Couldn’t I at least have time to grow tired of the latest addition to my Liddle Kiddles collection before expressing my appreciation? (Her point exactly, I guess.) And the “I” rule, the one she absorbed in parochial school and applied to every type of note? Blecht! It struck me as impossibly archaic, stuffy, arbitrary, contrived and unnecessary. (I think “stupid” is the adjective that floated through my mind at the time.) I remember my contortions in trying to avoid it. To this day, I get lots of mileage out of “Words can’t express my appreciation…” and “What a thrill it was to receive…” If you’re wondering if “T...

Hell? No. You Won’t Go.

October 9, 2017

“I don’t want to go to hell.” These are the heartbreaking words an elderly friend shared shortly before being wheeled into surgery last week for a very high-risk procedure. The friend is a good Catholic, but I inferred a visceral urgency in his words. He could easily check off all the boxes he learned in childhood regarding a speedy passage due north: yes, he was a regular churchgoer before his confinement to a nursing home; yes, he prays regularly, both for himself and for others; yes, he was baptized in his youth. He even carries a picture of the pope in his wallet. But I sensed in my friend a more plaintive reckoning of his time on earth, and a desperate hope that he’d done enough for his fellow man to warrant a place in heaven. His words seemed to carry the unspoken message that if he hadn’t earned his stripes by now, it was probably too late. I assured him he was a wonderful man who, having cheated death numerous times throughout a decidedly colorful run, wou...

Check Out My Trailer!

September 24, 2017

Whoa, what a blast I had working on the "All the Wrong Chords" trailer! It was a multi-pronged process. My songwriting partner, John Hurley, and I wrote the song for the trailer (also included in the "All the Wrong Chords" album by The Beastings, available on iTunes, Spotify or wherever digital music is offered), so I became immersed in the world of music production. The heavy lifting took place in Nashville, but when I wasn't there in person, I was with the band in spirit every step of the way. And the band! Scarlett (AKA Justina Shandler) has perhaps the coolest, smoothest voice in the industry. And the energy and exuberance of the lead vocals in "Sailing On" could fill an arena without a mic. (Thanks, Declan, AKA Chris Schreck!) As for John Hurley's writing, production and instrumentation, well, his talent simply blew me away. I'm his biggest fan. And Craig! Craig Carothers, an Emmy-nominated songwriter in Nashville, is also an amazing video producer and graphic designer...

He Said, She Said

September 18, 2017

My worlds have collided recently in a way I didn’t anticipate. In one world, I’m a concerned citizen, regular voter, voracious news consumer and active community volunteer. In this world, I’ve grown increasingly distressed by how polarized our country has become. So I’ve made a commitment to myself: I force myself to read and listen to a wide range of ideas, and I challenge myself to temporarily be the devil’s advocate of any opinion I hear. Whether I agree with it or not, I try to embrace, at least for a moment, the dissenting point of view and mentally make a case for it. In short, I try to walk around in somebody else’s skin long enough to honor that person’s humanity, even if I disagree with his perspective. This, of course, is a standard debate-team technique. If you’re representing a “pro” point of view on, say, global warming, you have to argue convincingly for its existence, even if you personally disagree. Or vice-versa. You can’t resort to ad homin...

Dealing with the Dreaded Peanut Gallery

August 30, 2017

The young woman stood tremulously by Dick Clark’s side as the moment of reckoning arrived. She’d had years of experience writing hits for other artists, but she now was asked to help promote a song she’d recorded herself. So here she was on American Bandstand, a show whose popularity at the time (1962) could easily make or break a musician’s career. It was after the performance that she stood by Clark’s side, waiting for the live audience to rank her song on a scale of one to 100. She choked down her mortification as the teen critics delivered their collective verdict: 42. They added remarks such as, “You can’t dance to it,” “It's too sad” and (perhaps the height of profundity) “I like the lyric, but I don’t like the words.” The musician’s career, of course, was toast. Not. The musician was (and is) the legendary singer/songwriter Carole King, who went on to record “Tapestry,” one of the best-selling albums of all time. I...

Total Eclipse of the Heart

August 19, 2017

Just look away. That’s the advice we’ve heard the past few days in preparation for Monday’s total solar eclipse. Look directly at the source of the action, we’re told, and we’ll do damage without even realizing it. By the time we’re experiencing the after-effects, it’ll be too late. So we’re cautioned to either take in the scene through filters or not look at all. The safest strategy: Stay in the dark. Don’t emerge from the bubble and seemingly safe confines of your home. Just look away. In the spirit of totality (the moment of complete obscuration during the eclipse), I’m wondering if I can generalize that advice. Can I just look away from the hatred and ugliness in modern-day headlines, on my television screen and in my social media feed? Can I know it’s there, yet choose to direct my vision and attention elsewhere, realizing that staring it in the face is hurting me in ways I can’t even comprehend in the moment? I don’t think so, as tempting as ...

Imagine the Possibilities

August 4, 2017

I have an acquaintance whose brilliant novel is just waiting to spill out of her as soon as she quits her day job/moves to an exotic locale/wins the lottery/fill-in-the-blank. Oh, you know her too? Small world, huh? I think lots of aspiring artists are way too finicky about their living conditions. How are they supposed to summon their inner muse, they’ll suggest, when they’re stuck in a classroom all day? Or how can they be expected to craft that perfect metaphor when they’re digging PB&J out of the carpet? Or how much inspiration is possible after a day of stultifying budget meetings? I’ve heard it all and more, and I completely relate. Even two of my favorite artists, Bob Dylan and John Lennon, bemoaned being born in what they considered to be the wrong set of circumstances. Dylan insisted his conventional parents were complete mismatches for his poetic soul, and Lennon lamented the drabness of Liverpool, opining he should have been born in New York City. But...

You’re in Love? That’s Precious! Not.

July 14, 2017

Aw. I can see it from a mile away . . . the twinkle in your eye, the blush in your cheeks, the spring in your step. . . You’re in love! That’s adorable. Now, cut it out. Don’t get me wrong, fellow authors. I’m thrilled you’re in love with your manuscript. If you weren’t, you’d never make it to the second chapter. And I have nothing against love, per se. Love is beautiful, love is exhilarating, love is amazing, blah, blah, blah. It’s not that I want you to fall out of love. It’s that I want you to realize this euphoria won’t last. It can’t last. And if you expect that it will, there's no way this relationship will go the distance. So take a deep breath and a step back. Regard your beloved with a clear-eyed gaze. It’s the only way to make it to the finish line. I know you’re not interested in this ice-cold splash of reality. You want to revel in your feelings and shout them from the rooftops.You want to stay up all night rhapsodizing about your...

Thanks for the Memories, West Point

July 6, 2017

All of my novels contain autobiographical details here and there, but my upcoming book, “All the Wrong Chords,” taps deeper into real life than any other. The plot isn’t autobiographical, but lots of the characters draw heavily from those who most influenced my formative years. More than that, the novel’s fictional town of Oakboro, Georgia is basically a dead ringer for my hometown of West Point, Georgia. In fact, the town is practically a character of its own in the book. I know lots of people idealize their hometowns, but, gosh, mine really did seem ideal. When I was growing up there, West Point was a small textile town whose mill employed virtually every adult in the area, either directly or indirectly. Those jobs covered the gamut from weavers to machinists to engineers — the mill even employed a staff physician — so while great wealth was elusive, a solid middle-class income was in reach of virtually anyone, with few class distinctions delineating high s...

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