Writing is hard. My amazing editor recently reminded me of this simple but profound truth while we worked on my latest manuscript. And I’m here to tell you, she’s right. As usual. It’s hard, mentally, when you have to rework an entire chapter because it’s full of telling, versus showing. (How did I do that? Isn’t this the very thing I advise other writers against?) It’s hard, physically, when the changes span days. And it’s hard to accept that, even after writing four stories, the learning curve somehow gets steeper. But her tough love helps me make my story the best it can be.
Because writing is hard, I seek inspiration and motivation to refill the well, consciously and unconsciously. And sometimes, I stumble upon it.
While mired in my edits, I read Miracle on the 17th Green by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge. Besides taking me on a walk down memory lane (I grew up watching Lee Trevino and my father idolized Jack Nicklaus) I not only saw a little bit of myself in underdog Travis McKinley, his journey inspired me, as did this quote:
“You work hard at something eight hours a day, you get better. Not a lot better necessarily, but a little better and that’s just fine, because improving at golf, or anything else probably, is just a matter of making an endless series of tiny improvements.”
As well, my twelve-year old niece renews my writing motivation. I recently read the story she wrote, Dragontopia. Her imagination, along with her sense of pacing and characterization truly impressed me. I’m humbled she’s texting me, asking for tips and advice. I’m honored to help her in any way I can. As we writers know, there’s nothing like talking to another writer. At her age, she’s unfettered by the crush of deadlines and self imposed expectations. She just loves to write, and her dedication at such a young age is astounding. She captures the spirit of writing. What a gift!
My father was a storyteller in his own right, and as a master hunter and fisherman, he likened the outdoors to a classroom, where one learns, but can never learn it all. Most certainly, the same is true of the writing landscape. Embracing that belief is also a gift.
Yeah, writing is hard. To my credit, this current manuscript is part of my first series, as well as the third paranormal romance I’ve written. Damn right the learning curve is steep. But I’m keeping on, keeping on.
I’ve got a lot more stories in me, and I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m a storyteller, born and bred. Writing, and editing, with all its heartaches and triumphs, is truly a part of my story, along with my characters’ stories. With four under my belt, I’m just getting started. My plan? I’m going to borrow some of niece’s wonder, keep writing, and keep making an endless series of tiny improvements.
A storyteller at heart, my innate curiosity runs deep. As an individual passionate about self-expression, all forms of art and creativity, tattoos have fascinated me for years. And as a writer of romance with an inquisitive mind who adores bestowing said indelible designs upon her characters, I set out to explore how the two intertwined.
The history of storytelling and tattooing are both as old as time. Across cultures and countries, races and religions, both send messages, and even unite us as human beings.
Storytelling, I believe, is an ingrained part of our make up as human beings. We have always had a soul deep desire to explain, understand, teach, learn, calm, empower, commemorate and connect. Too, just as storytelling was, and is an art, so was, and is listening. Stories were told, and retold, and as man explored the globe, those same stories were shared, changed, stretched and expanded, and told again. Messages of wisdom, knowledge, values and beliefs from our collective ancestors are reflected in the myths, legends, fairy tales and other lore—fact and fiction—handed down from one generation to the next, and keep us connected to one another, as well as the past, present and future.
Today, every aspect of our lives it seems, is touched by myriad stories in both the traditional sense, in that we share stories verbally, face to face, and in the modern sense, via movies, books, magazines, music, television, social media and the Internet.
I believe just as storytelling satisfies basic human needs and desires, so does tattooing. For thousands of years, men and women have tattooed their bodies for many reasons, including self-expression and as part of their culture’s rituals. Regardless of the reason, they all have one common denominator: they give us the ability to communicate powerful messages to one another, without the need for words.
In an article at Smithsonian.com, author Cate Lineberry describes tattoos: “These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal—have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment.”
Indeed! From ancient cave etchings to modern sculpture, history, art and pop culture pay homage to said ‘permanent designs’. And in recent years, the popularity and diversity of body art, which includes tattooing, piercing and painting, has exploded and been wholeheartedly embraced as mainstream, via magazines, social media, conventions, competitions and television shows such as Miami Ink.
Per an article at Huffington Post, it’s estimated that one third of America’s young adults, aged 18-25, have at least one tattoo, per a report done by the Pew Research Center. As such, the tattoo industry is one of the fastest growing retail business in America.
To get a close up, personal view of this ‘tattoo phenomenon’ at one such business and the artist behind it, I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Boney “Joe” Clark, seasoned tattoo artist and owner of Tattoos by Boney Joe in Zelienople, PA. In the business for over thirty years, he generously shared his views on the industry, the art form and some storytelling of his own.
When we met, Joe explained he’d recently returned from a motorcycle trip. “I’m not a conventional traveler,” he said about the trip. “I like to experience it with all of my senses. Smell the air, taste the rain, see and touch the landscape.”
Interestingly, I believe it’s these very things a true artist seeks to capture in his work. And indeed, Joe’s artistry extends to his expertise as a master body piercer, as well as his flair for metal design work.
As a teenager, Joe became interested in tattooing after being at a fair and seeing a guy tattooing people in the back of his van. He’d always loved to draw, and instantly, he thought, “I can do better.” Starting his business on a wing and a prayer, he’s faced his share of trials, including a town that was, at first, slow to embrace a tattoo studio. But in true survivor fashion, he overcame—and not just the challenges of being a business owner. Joe is intensely proud of the fact he’s been drug free since 1988, and the tattoo on his left forearm is a testament to that.
He explained the basic mechanics of getting a tattoo to me, the tools that are used, and the artistry involved. Yes, they use what’s called a stencil of the design that’s transferred to the skin of the person getting the tattoo. But that will only take the artist so far. He or she has to also be able to draw freehand for certain designs, like a face, for example. The artist isn’t really ‘drawing’ the face, at least not at first. They use a ‘map’ to build the face, and their talent enables them to complete it. Every design is unique, and the time and talents needed to complete them depend on their complexity.
For any tattoo, Joe wants details and specifics, so the person receiving it gets exactly what they want. And the more complicated, the more details. He used the example of a butterfly. “What kind?” he posed. “A Monarch? A Malachite? A Pearly Eye? Should the wings be open or closed? Should it tilt to the right or left?” It’s details like these that are necessary to ensure everyone’s on the same page, before any work begins.
The tattoos on Joe’s hands are one example of the fun he’s had with ‘ink’ over the years. He explained that during the Veggie Tale craze in the 90s, two of his artists had a tattoo ‘war’, each trying to ‘out design’ the other. The result? On his right hand, a kind of crazed carrot wields a chain saw, and a deranged eggplant eyes the world cockily on his left. Recently, however, the carrot took on additional meaning to Joe, when he beat kidney cancer two years ago. Since then, he’s once again emerged as a survivor, and as such, added a commemorative ribbon to the design—which the carrot’s chainsaw is now ‘slashing’ through. Joe’s message is clear: “I kicked cancer’s ass.”
In thirty years’ time, Joe has designed thousands of tattoos, and tattooed three to four generations of people, even entire families. What’s his favorite thing to tattoo? “I’ll tattoo anything and love it, if it’s something that person is certain about, and it has deep meaning to them,” he said. “I don’t care if it means anything to anyone else. People may even look at it and have no idea what it is. But as long as the person who got it is happy, that’s what counts.” He told me about the woman who, after receiving her tattoo, was so moved she began to cry. “It was deeply satisfying,” he said.
I felt privileged to hear what was perhaps his favorite story, about an 82-year old woman who came to his shop with her daughter and granddaughter–all to get tattoos. When Joe asked her why she was getting it, he recalled what she said in detail. “She turned to me, and said, ‘You know kid, I was married to the meanest son of a bitch for fifty three years and I just buried him two months ago. I’m having the time of my life.’ ” And after the trio was done? This 82-year ‘young’ woman and company were headed to see male strippers. Bada bing. “She was sharp as a tack,” Joe said with a smile.
There’s no doubt Joe has had some ‘colorful’ experiences as a tattoo artist. But to him, it’s about a lot more than just the end result. He sincerely cares about the people who walk through his door, and their long-term satisfaction. At times, he’s even advised people not to get a tattoo.
Case in point—Joe told me the story about an eighteen-year-old man who came to the shop, bent on getting a tattoo that would pay homage to Michael Jordan. “When I asked him why, he listed Jordan’s many accomplishments,” Joe said. “I told him, fine. If you really want it, come back tomorrow and you’ll be my first appointment of the day. But first I want you to think about something. Remember how great everyone thought O.J. Simpson used to be? Things happen. Do you really want a tattoo like that for the rest of your life? It might not be so cool five years from now. Maybe you’re better off just wearing a Jordan ball cap.”
With that, Joe sent him on his way. Later that same evening, the man called him, and told him he’d gone to another shop where the artist had been eager to give him the tattoo. But the man decided not to get it. Instead, he thought about how Joe had gone out of his way to tell him all that he did, and it really made him stop and think. This guy cared.
And so he does. In 2001, Joe had the unique opportunity to share his expert knowledge of body piercing with the local medical community. After piercing the friend of a teaching nurse from a college in Pittsburgh, she was so impressed with Joe’s studio and his knowledge she suggested they present it directly to the medical community in the form of a seminar on piercing removal and care—a topic, at that time, about which there was little knowledge. In addition, Joe is extremely proud the information was also published in a textbook used by nursing students.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about tattoo shops and artists is they’re like McDonald’s, meaning, they’re all the same. They’re not,” Joe said definitively. “That idea leads people to start price shopping, and you just can’t, nor should you do that for something you’re going to have on your body for the rest of your life. Another misconception is that the tattoo industry is regulated. It isn’t, by and large, in Pennsylvania. That makes choosing a tattoo artist, based on their experience and standards even more critical.” That’s something Joe swears by—he holds himself and his artists to the highest standards in all aspects of the business.
Along with his passion for the business, Joe understands what makes a great tattoo artist: skill, passion and personality.
One of Joe’s artists, ‘Tez’, a.k.a Emery Joseph Kertesz IV and Gentlemen Tattooist, was at the
studio to contribute to our conversation, and offered the following insight: “If you take away any one of those three qualities, you have a good artist, and if you take away two, you have only an artist.”
So, why do people get tattoos? “In my experience,” Joe said, “people want to commemorate someone, or an event in their lives, or something they’re passionate about, like hunting. They also do it just because they think it’s cool. And some get a tattoo because it’s a fad.” Most popular lately? “Dandelions, and as their fluff is blowing away, it’s turning into birds. Also semi-colons, and anything with script or words,” he said. (Click here to read more about Project Semicolon)
The word tattoo is thought to be derived from both the Polynesian word “ta”, meaning “to strike”, and the Tahitian “tatau”, meaning “to mark.” Without a doubt, ‘Boney’ Joe Clark has indeed made his mark, indelibly, as an artist, a business owner and a supporter of the community.
So, what’ve I discovered from my sojourn into the world of tattoos, and how they intertwine with storytelling? I believe that not only is each tattoo a story unto itself, so is each client, and each artist. As each ‘tattoo’ story unfolds, both the client and the artist are telling that story—the client, with his choice of design, his experiences and motivations, and the artist, with his execution of that design, his talent, and his passion.
I’m also honored to have heard, and to relate the stories Joe shared with me—and to add my own ‘threads’ to their existing fabric. After all, I am a storyteller. It’s also my sincere hope that my message is clear: I’ve listened, and I’ve spoken. I’ve learned, and been entertained. I’ve understood, and I’ve connected.
I hope you do too.
PLEASE SHARE: What’s the story behind your tattoo? What inspired you to get it?
With the promise of spring just around the corner, the grass an undeniable shade greener than it was the day before comes National Library Week (April 7- 13, 2019). It’s a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and library workers and to promote library use and support. From free access to books and online resources for families to library business centers that help support entrepreneurship and retraining, libraries offer opportunity to all. The theme for 2019 National Library Week is “Libraries = Strong Communities,” and Gates Foundation Co-founder Melinda Gates will serve as 2019 National Library Week Honorary Chair.
In honor of National Library Week, I wanted to pay homage to the local libraries I’ve enjoyed all my life, and the employees and volunteers who encourage, educate, inform and in general, make things happen. Thank you for all you do!
As a writer, I’m a voracious reader – I don’t think it could be any other way. It’s there I found and fell in love with the stories of Jean Auel, Shirley Conran, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Janet Evanovich and so many more. The characters have become a part of me, and my journey as a writer.
And those stories and characters, along with the library itself, are part of my story. As a child, my parents – two more voracious readers – took my brother and I to the library often. In grade school, I checked out a book each week and heaven help you if you forgot it and it was overdue. (Recently, I paid fines for two overdue books and had an attack of conscience. I swear, I normally always return them on time.)
Throughout high school and college, the library became a place for research, group meetings, and study. As an adult and a mother, I found myself at the library often, enjoying not only the books, but the puzzles, the puppets and movie rentals with my daughter. Now, both she and I volunteer at the library. And it’s within walking distance! Yes, I’m a lucky girl 😊
I don’t think there’s a place that’s better on a rainy or snowy day. Or any day. Getting lost amongst the shelves, surrounded by words and quiet and imagination, is one of my favorite things to do. Always, it restores me, and brings me joy.
At 48, I guess you could consider me old school. My Smart Phone is turned off when I enter the hallowed halls of any library. I can hear my thoughts there, amid the lovely quiet and the sanctity of the shelves and stories surrounding me.
What other resource is free, yet offers so much? In the last two years, I’ve become a huge fan of Overdrive and the Libby ap – both allow you to enjoy all the digital media the library has to offer. For me, that means audio books. Now I can enjoy stories while I’m driving too! I never knew how much I’d enjoy someone reading to me.
The library continues to be a part of my life, and I, happily of its. To quote one of my favorite authors and books:
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Do you have a story to share about your favorite library? What will you do this week to show your library some love? Let me hear from you!
Rebecca E. Neely ~ A sucker for a happy ending, Rebecca writes the kind of stories she loves to read–gritty, suspenseful and featuring authentic, edgy and vulnerable characters, smack dab in the middle of action that explodes from page one.
Maureen L. Bonatch ~ Maureen Bonatch writes humorous paranormal romance and dark fantasy books filled with ghosts, magic, and other things that go bump in the night.
Deborah Garland ~ Her debut novel was a Golden Leaf Finalist for best long contemproary romance. She is currently writing paranormal romance and her first PNR, Drawing Bloodlines, The Princeton Allegiant Series releases April 3. Book 2 will be released October and Soul Mate just contracted Book 3.
Claire Gem ~ Claire Gem is an award-winning author of supernatural romantic suspense. She writes contemporary romances laced with history and set in haunted places.
Rayanne Haines ~ Rayanne Haines is an award-winning romance author. She believes in magic and loves to write about kick-ass women and the alpha men who love them.
Renea Mason ~ Multi-award-winning and best-selling author Renea Mason writes erotic romances which challenge the definition of conventional love. Whether it be contemporary or paranormal, the author of the 2016 Audie Award-Winning Curing Doctor Vincent, prides herself on bringing readers unique storylines, memorable characters, and top-notch audiobook performances in her tales of love, lust, and mystery.
Colleen S. Myers ~ Colleen plays many roles. Not only is she a veteran, a mother, and a practicing physician, but she is a USA Today bestselling writer of science fiction and contemporary romances. Colleen’s dreams include surviving her son’s teenage years, exploring every continent on this planet, except Antartica, cause that’s way too cold, and winning the Nobel peace prize. Dream BIG! Currently, she is working on There Will Be Blood, the second in her YA Paranormal Romance series.
“Women—apparently even enemy women—rendered him awkward, nervous. Stupid. He lacked Nick’s charisma, and Dev’s bravado. Over the years he’d tried to emulate both and failed miserably. He was just Curtis, a blend of Keeper and computer geek.”
Yep, that just about sums up Curtis. But he’s going to have to rise to a challenge the likes of which he’s never seen before. Because his realm as he’s known it is about to get turned upside down.
“So then, this was it. This Keeper would finish the job. Forsaken, betrayed by her own people, he would put her down like a horse fallen lame, mercifully and unwittingly ending her misery. Was that some kind of warped, twisted justice, or not? Even if the Keeper didn’t kill her, without the dark energy, she would die.”
Jordan is in store for a journey of her own. In fact, I chose her name because it means ‘rebirth’ to me – The river’s name in Hebrew is (Yarden), meaning “descend” or “flow down”.
She tells Curtis: “Until I met you, my life felt like. . .” She seemed to search for words. “Like I’m dreaming I’m naked in a crowd but I never wake up.”
And what’s the significance of the name Curtis? To me, it’s not a sexy or suave name. It’s the name of a hard working, no frills, practical Keeper, which he is.
Plus, did you ever meet someone who just made an impression on you, for whatever reason? For me, as a writer, I guess that translates into the potential to be a character in a book. It was like that for me, when quite randomly, I was introduced to a Curtis, several years ago, and never have seen him again. But his look served as inspiration….
“All her faculties fully intact for the first time in days, she studied him intently. Tall, maybe six-two. Again, she noted his lean, wiry build, clad in jeans and a T-shirt, Vans on his feet. Not a body cultivated at the gym, but one maintained through a healthy lifestyle. Hair unruly around the edges. Inky blue, close-set eyes, which at the moment appeared perplexed and wary. A long, straight nose. Sculpted lips, drawn taut by a scowl. Shifting his weight, he crossed his arms, his stance matching his hard, uncompromising expression.”
Can a Betrayer fight alongside a Keeper? ~ He’d betray his clan for her. She’s a soldier to the core – but for which side? As they battle to save the human race, how high a price will love and loyalty demand?
The Crossing Realms series ~ Sacrifice or salvation? A chosen psychic few may be both. As Keepers battle Betrayers to save the human race, all’s not fair in love and war.
Can a Betrayer fight alongside a Keeper? ~ He’d betray his clan for her. She’s a soldier to the core – but for which side? As they battle to save the human race, how high a price will love and loyalty demand?
FINALIST FOR RONE AWARD – BEST PARANORMAL 2016 – sponsored by InD’Tale Magazine
“Full of heartbreak and hope…A new series that I can’t wait to read more of.”Merissa, Goodreads #1 Top reviewer
The Crossing Realms series ~ Sacrifice or salvation? A chosen psychic few may be both. As Keepers battle Betrayers to save the human race, all’s not fair in love and war.
Nick Geary, jaded clan leader of human guardians, the Keepers, is doomed to love a human woman who’s forgotten him, time after time, for thirteen years: Libby Klink, a skittish accountant who’s as terrified of her recent and strange intuitions as she is of her mundane existence.
When Nick is ordered by the clan’s guiding force to seek Libby’s help in defending the clan against enemy Betrayers, romance sizzles as the pair forms an unlikely alliance in their desperate search to discover the key to the clan’s salvation–which Libby alone holds.
But a haunting secret could cost Nick everything, and in a race against time, both will be forced to choose between their hearts and duty. Can their love, and the clan, survive, or will the very forces that drew them together ultimately destroy them?
The CROSSING REALMS paranormal romance series by Rebecca E. Neely ~ Sacrifice or salvation? A chosen psychic few may be both. As Keepers battle Betrayers to save the human race, all’s not fair in love and war.
Welcome to my realm! With the third book in the Crossing Realms series coming out in March of 2019, I thought I’d dish a little about the series as a whole.
THE KEEPER, Book 1 – A tortured leader of human guardians must join forces with the one woman in the city who can save his clan from destruction: an anxious – and psychic – accountant who has no memory of him. ***Finalist for the 2016 RONE award for Best Paranormal short, sponsored by InD’Tale Magazine.
THE WATCHER, Book 2 – Can a Keeper hell bent on avenging his own death find the answers the clan so desperately needs in the seven days he’s been given, or will he be forced to abandon the woman he loves and his clan, leaving them all to face imminent destruction?
THE BETRAYER, Book 3 – Can a Betrayer with a mysterious ability, ousted by her brood and left for dead, fight alongside the Keeper who saves her—and falls for her—in the throes of the second rebellion, or will she forsake herself and the man she loves as the clan wages what may be its final battle to save the human race?
Welcome to my world, er…realm!
SOME JARGON TO ACQUAINT YOU…
WATCHERS – Beings that exist in their own realm, guiding and guarding the Keepers through missions called Compulsions.
KEEPERS – Close to human as you can get’ beings who guard humans, live in the human realm and exude and exist on light energy.
BETRAYERS – Keepers turned bad. Banished from the Watchers’ realm after the Rebellion, they too live in the human realm, wreaking havoc on humans, from which they harvest dark energy to feed on.
VITALITY STONE – a bright green stone hewn from the Watchers’ realm that gives the Keepers their amazing powers, and defends against Betrayers dark energy…
SIMILITUDE STONE – The antithesis of Vitality stone, this deadly black stone is a conduit for dark energy that enables Betrayers to drain Keepers’ energy…
The Geary clan of Keepers lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA as carpenters. They’re almost exactly what they appear to be: blue collar Irish Catholics, born and bred in the ‘Burgh. Their M.O.? Humans forget their interaction with them, so they’re able to go about their Compulsions more easily…
The Pittsburgh brood of Betrayers lives in the recesses of the city, and can be found wherever human pain, violence and suffering exists…
SOME CHARACTERS YOU’LL MEET ALONG THE WAY
Haenus Vickery – brood master of the Betrayers, who’s hell bent on destroying both humans and Keepers, and reclaiming the Watchers’ realm as his own…
Abel – an up and coming brood master who’s got a secret of his own…
Nick Geary – Jaded clan leader of the Keepers, who seems doomed to love a human woman who’s forgotten him, time after time, for thirteen years…
Libby Klink – a skittish accountant who’s as terrified of her recent and strange intuitions as she is of her mundane existence…
Dev Geary – a former Keeper, hell bent on avenging his own death…
Meda Gabriel – a cagey, street smart bar owner with a unique skill set…
Curtis Geary – A Keeper/computer guru whose neat, logical world is about to tilt on its axis…
Jordan – A Betrayer with a mysterious ability, ousted by her brood and left for dead…
Tan – Meda’s German Shepherd, a rescue who’s got an uncanny sense about people…
SOME OF MY FAVORITE LINES…
THE KEEPER, Book 1 – Libby gasped. Through the glass, his eyes bore into hers, stormy seas of blue fury, devouring her with heat and hunger and impatience.
THE BETRAYER – Consequences. Padding through the warehouse, laptop in hand, intent on his task, his Vans silent on the concrete, the word resounded in Curtis’ brain. For what his clan had done and was about to do.
Since the beginning of time, people the world over have embraced and celebrated the phenomenon of music in all its diverse forms. In turn, it embodies the essence of people by encompassing, reflecting, recording and communicating their diverse heritage, traditions, cultures, customs, races, ethnicities, languages and religions. Even geography, climate, economics and the use of technology contributes to the creation, artistry and performance of music. Indeed, as a whole it’s not only influenced by these myriad factors, but influences them in turn. From blues to hard rock, country to rap, easy listening to opera, folk to reggae, music transcends the very elements which contribute to its proliferation, bringing people together as varied as the music itself with universal and timeless messages of joy and sadness, hope and loss, celebration and ritual.
As such, music is, in its own right, a quintessential form of storytelling, a rich and powerful kind of collective history passed down from one generation to the next to enrich, embrace and enjoy. Both of these art forms possess what I deem the unique ability to feed the soul by entertaining, soothing, teaching, relaxing and inspiring. Because of that, I cherish the lifelong connection I have with both music and storytelling—professionally, as a writer, and personally.
I was raised on my parents’ records, which included Johnny Cash, the Platters, Patsy Cline, John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Roy Orbison, Elvis, Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, Carly Simon and Ray Charles. As a child, I still remember watching my parents dance in our living room to ‘Only You’ by the Platters – it was their song. Even then, I loved the story the music told, in songs like Cash’s ‘The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer’, John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’.
As a teen, I loved to listen to the radio (still do) and remember begging my parents to let me go to a Bruce Springsteen concert when I was thirteen. But it was a no go. I was too young, they said, but I’ve more than made up for missing the show in the last thirty odd years, attending concerts at venues all over Pittsburgh. When I was nineteen, I saw Rod Stewart in concert at the Civic Arena (long gone), and I remember feeling like he was singing every song just to me. Sigh. Another storyteller / lyricist extraordinaire. My favorite? ‘You’re in my Heart’.
In this day and age, seemingly every part of our lives is touched by music. Apps like Pandora and Spotify allow me to enjoy every genre under the sun, whatever my mood. Sirius Satellite Radio has given me an entirely new outlook on road trips. And shows like The Voice and VH1 Storytellers captivate me.
But even more, I adore the magic of music, the magic that captures the words you can’t, that tells the story your soul yearns to, and speaks to your heart, forever to remain.
That magic and my love of music spills into my storytelling, and vice versa. As a writer, I’ve brought that passion to the page by drawing on a ‘playlist’, as many authors do, for the stories I’m writing. Sometimes a song seems custom made for a character or a scene, and sometimes I go looking for inspiration. If I cry while I’m writing a scene, I know I’m on the right track (pun intended). No matter, when a song touches me deeply, it’s that intense hit you in the gut emotion I’m trying desperately to capture for my readers.
‘Mama’ by Genesis. I can’t say enough about the powerful emotions this song elicits for me. It’s ominous, evil, dangerous, hypnotic, and underscoring it all is a desperate need, almost a frightening longing for love. The melody, the lyrics, the instruments all mirror the angst my characters are living through. It even speaks to the villain and his failed relationships. “It’s the heat and the steam of the city”—this lyric captures the setting of the books: the grit and energy of the city, along with its desolate, forgotten parts. And the desolate and forgotten people and beings inhabiting them. This song’s eerie, electric beat, cagey percussion and Phil Collins’ maniacal laughter drive it all home.
Randy Newman’s ‘Feels Like Home’, sung by Bonnie Raitt. Sheer simplicity, aching tenderness and raw vulnerability—in the lyrics, the piano and Bonnie’s voice—strip my soul bare, every time I hear this one. I was already married to this song when I first heard a rendition of it in the movie Michael. And I was already a huge fan of Randy Newman and later discovered his musical Faust, for which this song was written. My heroine, Jordan, is the epitome of ‘Feels Like Home’: “If you knew how lonely my life had been…” “If you knew how I wanted someone to come along and change my world the way you done…” Bluesy, fragile, with just a hint of grit, Bonnie and her voice convince you she’s lived these lyrics. (Incidentally, I had the pleasure of seeing Bonnie in concert several years ago at Heinz Hall and she’s even more amazing than I thought she would be.)
In my writing, in my life, music continues to inspire, energize and enlighten me. It’s constantly evolving, and so am I. It connects me to the people in my life; my boyfriend introduced me to Delbert McClinton, I’ve shared AC/DC and Waylon Jennings with my teenaged daughter, she got me going on Sam Smith and Alessia Cara. Music marks the moments of our lives. As such, it becomes a part of us, and we of it, leaving an indelible mark on our hearts, minds, and souls. Simply put, music is, in many ways, telling our stories.
Recently, I was seeking inspiration for dinner, and in leafing through one of my Cooks Illustrated magazines (April 2015), came across an editorial written by the amazing Christopher Kimball. In it he pays homage to his home state of Vermont and its colorful and varied denizens, and sums up by admiring how many of them ‘stand for something.’
In short, it got me thinking about what I stand for. In the course of my life, I’ve assumed many roles. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend and aunt. I’m also a single mother and a business woman. I grew up working in my family’s restaurant business. I earned a degree in Accounting and, after quite a few zigs and zags, I’ve been with the same company (well, at least the same location) for twenty years. And I’ve been writing in one form or another for about the same length of time.
One common denominator in all of that, I realized, is good old fashioned hard work. As far as standing for something, I’d be honored to lay claim to that.
My parents passed that on, in DNA, as well as in word and deed. And I believe I’m passing that ethic onto my teenaged daughter, who, at this very moment is washing dishes at a local restaurant.
Hard work is satisfying, comforting. It’s basic, reliable, a cornerstone of my life. It’s sustained, soothed, saved me. I need hard work to feed my soul, survive, and thrive in every way. I want to use everything I’ve been given, physically, intellectually, spiritually. And the experiences, the people I’ve met along my journey of hard work have shaped me, made me who I am. And tell my story.
Interestingly, the people in my life are also hard workers. My cousin, the dedicated social worker with 20+ years of experience. My friend, a court reporter who runs her own business. My boyfriend, the contractor with mad skills. And his father, who, even at 89 and after a recent fall, insists on planting his own flowers. And is upset he can’t mow his own lawn. They do me proud.
At the age of 12, I would go with my father to our family’s diner style restaurant, doing ‘heavy prep’ – mixing stuffing in Rubbermaid size containers, stirring cauldrons of spaghetti sauce with a wooden paddle long, heavy and wide enough to be considered a weapon. By the time I was 16, I’d done it all–waitressed, washed dishes, bussed tables, mopped, ran the register, assisted with payroll. And I did it alongside my father, mother, brother, aunt, uncle and cousins, and a cast of employee characters that live on, large, in my hallowed memory home.
Sadly, when a downturn in the economy pretty much forced my parents’ hand to sell, I looked for work elsewhere and found myself at a local shoe store. I think my favorite part was unpacking all the new inventory. That, and the 30% discount the employees received.
When the shoe store closed after about a year, I odd jobbed, holding both the title of magazine telemarketer and fast food cashier. Alas, neither took for more than a week. I then started working as a grocery store cashier, and it turned out that would be something I’d do for the next 8 years, during summers, breaks from college and post college when I needed extra money.
There, amongst the aisles of HBA (Health & Beauty Aids), the dairy and produce, you truly do see it all, as everyone has to eat. Rich, poor, mundane, bizarre, friendly, rude—the employees and the customers covered the spectrum. It was there I witnessed store employees chase down a thief, saw a Gypsy for the first time, and rang up more frozen turkeys than I could shake a stick at. I learned the names of myriad vegetables, fruits and herbs, and their codes in the system, some of which I still remember to this day. (Bananas were 242, watermelons 393). I was introduced to the art and science of couponing. And became a master in making change.
While attending college, I took part in the work-study program in the school’s computer center. It was there I had a fellow employee stab me in the back, repeating what I’d said about the boss to her. Oh yeah, I remember him. But I learned the value of keeping my mouth shut. And about who to trust. And not to trust.
When I transferred to finish my four year degree, it was back to food for me, working in the dining hall. And on the weekends, I made omelettes to order on a flat top, honing my egg skills to perfection.
After I graduated from college, I began working as an accounting clerk. The three ladies I worked with took me under their wing, and Linda, my favorite, taught me about more than receivables and payables. One of the smartest and wisest women I had the privilege to know, Linda worked part time, choosing to give up her career to raise her daughter. When I left there to move up the corporate ladder, she made me Jello letters spelling out ‘GOOD LUCK’. Yeah, she rocked.
As a junior accountant, I found myself in the unenviable position of working for a difficult boss. Still young, still green in the ways of Corporate America, I went against the grain, and we parted ways several years later. Feeling beat up, disillusioned, I quit my job without having another one. I didn’t work for a month. And I never regretted it. I still believe, years later, leaving there, and taking time off, was one of the best things I ever did, because it was then I truly learned how to stand up for myself.
From there, I worked on and off in accounting as a temp, did a year long stint as a real estate agent, part timed at a house wares store (still fold my towels the way they taught us) and worked as a customer service rep for a national hardware wholesale company. It was there I applied for, and got the job of working as a computer operator in the company’s data center. For the first time in my life, I worked shifts, and with an all male staff. A singular experience, I have fond memories of that crew. They were kind, but they treated me like one of them. Suffice to say, no one worried about filtering their conversation. My skin thickened – but in a good way.
Fast forward a few years. I was once again working as an accountant, married, had a baby on the way, and was unhappy with my work. It was then I really started to think about what kind of work I wanted to do. Not for the next year. But for a lifetime. And accounting wasn’t it. Oh, I was good at it. But going to school for business, I realized, had been a knee jerk reaction to my parents’ sale of the business and the resulting financial difficulties, when I’d been at a crossroads in my life. Don’t get me wrong – that degree served me well. But it was never my passion.
But writing was, and is.
Being a woman of action, I read, I researched, and discovered a small magazine accepting submissions. Though I wouldn’t get paid for the articles, I could build my clips, gain experience. I wrote three articles for them, and one of them I know I’m blessed to have written – I interviewed my father about hunting deer, one of his lifelong loves. From there, I went on to write for other local magazines, bid on jobs at a freelancing website, and had the privilege of working with people all over the country.
I discovered I really enjoyed the vagabond nature of freelancing work. Never knowing what I might work on next. No responsibility except to my client and myself for a short period of time. And it was my choice. What I wanted to work on. Who I wanted to work with. LOL – there’s little doubt, in hindsight, that that ‘vagabond nature’ is reflected in my travels through the job market.
And I liked being my own boss. I got a high from creating something from a mere idea on paper, or in my head, for readers to enjoy. And that ultimately earned me payment. And my name in print. But more than that, much more than that, was the bone deep feeling I was coming into my own. This is what I was meant to do. Write.
One of my favorite things to do as a freelancer is to interview people who are passionate about what they do. There’s a fire that comes into their eyes, their voice, their body language. An intensity that ignites interest in me. I’ve written articles on subjects, at the outset, I didn’t think I wanted to know anything about. And certainly didn’t know anything about. (Harvesting cedar, insurance, soccer, to name a few.) Yet, after talking to the expert, they got me excited about it. And I wrote an article showcasing that.
I’ve interviewed dozens of people over the years, including a vintner, a team of paranormal investigators, and a tattoo artist. I’ve interviewed the CEO of a casino, and the sole proprietor of a local book store. Those people, their stories, have become part of my story. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to have known these people, if only for a short time. They’ve enriched me, broadened my horizons and excited me with their passion. And incidentally, they all had something in common—they worked hard at what they did.
I’d been freelancing for some years when I became interested in writing novels. I love to read, and romantic suspense is my groove. Once again, being a woman of action, I read, I researched, I joined writing groups, I took online classes. I wrote two really, really bad novels that never saw the light of day. Eventually, after trial and error, I penned my first book. And sold it. Then another. And another. Each one, I felt, was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. And I can’t wait to do it again.
As I said before, the path to get here hasn’t been straight by any means. But I believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m pretty damn happy about the way things turned out. Because right now, here, today, I get to write this for you. It’s hard work. And I’m loving every minute of it.