The Mystical Power of Music

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visualmusicQuantum physics has proved that everything is made up of energy. Everything vibrates, just at different frequencies.

Sound is energy. And the wavelength of a sound determines its pitch, whether the human ear can hear it, and whether it’s pleasant or not. Some say music is the universal language.

Music is precise, like mathematics, and follows strict rules. Yet we’re able to appreciate music, whether we comprehend the rules or not. We “feel” music. The vibrations of one piece of music can affect us in a way no other piece of music will. Music speaks to us intuitively as well as physically. Image by Center for Visual Music.

A Mystical Force

The intrinsic power of music was understood by the American Indians, as well as the AustraliaMoviePoster_Australian aborigines.

In the movie Australia, the aboriginal Shaman used music to guide and direct people and things. The Shaman and his grandson Nullah (a shaman in the making) “sing” things to them, or use the power of music to push things away.

In one scene Nullah changes the course of a stampeding herd of cattle with song. In another scene, he brings his beloved adoptive family back together.

In the 21st century, that might seem a bit far-fetched to some. Especially since the story is a product of Hollywood. But the story rings true, because it’s based on truth. Music is sound waves, sound that connects all life.

In the following scene, Nullah “sings” Sarah (Nicole Kidman) back to him and Drover (Hugh Jackman).


 

Emotion Without Borders

If you need first-hand proof of the universal power of music, follow a popular musician or band as they play in different cities around the world. You might be surprised to witness concert halls filled with smiling and/or dancing people at every performance. It doesn’t matter what country, or the native language.

I first noticed this phenomena a few years ago while watching DVDs of Andre Rieu concerts that were filmed in various countries around the world. The music elicited the same emotional response from the crowds, no matter where they were in the world. The amazing thing is, the phenomena is not limited to a particular type or style of music.


Most of us have felt the mystical power of music at one time or another.

Do you have an experience you’d like to share?


Bardacious! Shakespeare Rocks

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Bringing this one back because…

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday!

Or the day his birth was registered (traditionally on a  Sunday back then, which it was on April 23, 1564), for those who want to be picky about it. But whatever. It’s still cause to celebrate, in my book. Because after 448 years his stories are still as popular as ever. Maybe more so, given the variety of media and audiences they’re still adapted for.

Which if you think about it, makes him one of the coolest dudes. Ever. But … how did he do it? (Photo credits: Shakespeare in Love)

Shakespeare’s Secret

No. I’m not talking about the age-old dispute over who wrote all those plays. If you really want to know who wrote Shakespeare, Eric Idle spills the undiluted truth here. Not for the faint of heart (you could die laughing). Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The REAL question (and most important for any writer) is… What makes Shakespeare’s stories so timeless? I admit I was clueless for a long time. I couldn’t get into the language, so of course I missed the bawdy jokes sprinkled throughout. That is, until I took a class in Shakespeare one summer to satisfy an English credit. To cut to the chase … Shakespeare was one racy dude. The professor delighted in his translations of all the bawdy bits. He made Shakespeare fun, and I was hooked. I discovered that Shakespeare keeps on appealing to generation after generation, because his stories are wrapped in the comedy and tragedy of the human condition. Not to mention being written to entertain the common folk (hence the bawdy jokes), as well as the elite.

YA Shakespeare

In case you’re thinking, “Yeah, right. Shakespeare’s just for old farts.” Think again. Aside from a new Romeo and Juliet movie coming out almost every decade (Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes in the 1996 version, and Gnomeo & Juliet in 2011), other Shakespearean plays have become hits with a Hollywood YA spin.

She’s the Man is really Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy of mistaken identity that’s centered around a high school soccer team. When the girls’ soccer team is discontinued and Viola (Amanda Bynes) isn’t allowed to play on the boys’ team at her school, she’s out for blood. By impersonating her brother Sebastian (James Kirk…who’s away on a secret rock band trip) at his high school (her high school’s worst rival), she lands a position on their soccer team. She wants to help defeat her own school’s team in the season’s opening match.

But revenge is never that easy. Viola has to room with Duke (Channing Tatum), another soccer player, and falls for him hard. Of course, Duke is crushing on Olivia (Laura Ramsey), and Olivia only has eyes for Viola, because she thinks Viola is really Sebastian. Add a liberal dose of hormones, toss, and side-splitting hilarity is served. Amanda Bynes’ physical comedy is priceless. Seriously!

10 Things I Hate About You is really The Taming of the Shrew with a contemporary high-school spin. Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) are polar opposite sisters. The younger Bianca is pretty, popular, and shallow. Kat, the older sister, is sharp of tongue and wit, but has the street cred of being the Ice Queen. Their father, Walter (Larry Miller), laid down a family law … Bianca can’t date until her older sister does.

This is a social death sentence for Bianca, because no guy in his right mind will talk to Kat, much less ask her out. As prom approaches, Bianca has two boys fighting over her: cool, vain Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) and kind, shy Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Working as reluctant allies, Joey and Cameron go after a date for Kat (so Bianca can go to prom with one of them): Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). He’s perfect, because he’s as scathing as she is and has the rap sheet to back it up. But getting Kat and Patrick together is harder than they thought. That is, until Patrick finally realizes that he’s in love with Kat and goes to shameless lengths to win her trust and tame the shrew.

What’s your Shakespearean favorite?

play … Movie … character … Actor

you name it!

Inquiring minds want to know!

Happy Earth Day!

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Nothing says “Happy” like a baby elephant…

Baby elephants pretty much rock my world any day. But flaunting this little guy’s awesomeness is especially appropriate on Earth Day.

His Singing in the Rain soft-shoe has the entire jungle in awe. So it’s not just me. I’m sure Gene Kelly would be feeling the envy. And with that trunk, he’d probably put Sinatra’s crooning to shame too.



The Illusive “Voice” ~ What Editors and Agents Want & Writers Seek

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Which way?At my first writing conference several years ago, editors and agents told the crowded room of enthusiastic writers that they were looking for “a unique voice”. I had no idea what that meant.

My response: “What the heck is that, and how to I get one?”

Luckily, I had enough sense not to say that out loud. Instead, I kept writing and going to conferences, and eventually I found my “voice”.

If you’ve been writing  fiction for some time, you’ve most likely developed your unique voice. This post is for anyone in the early stages of their writing journey, and are too shy to ask, “what the heck is voice?”

What is “Voice” anyway?

Voice, quite simply, is character and personality.

Voice is the rhythm, tempo, and style that sparks with originality, and projects emotion and tone. Voice blends the personality of the writer with that of the characters in a story.

“What’s so hard about that?” I just have to be myself,” you might be thinking.

True. But in good fiction, characters, events, emotions, and voice need to be larger than life. Translating personality onto the page in a way that is authentic and brings characters to life, can an obscure path to navigate. Trust me on this.

I don’t know about you, but talking about concepts only takes me so far. I need examples to ground ideas in something practical. The following examples of voice are in the first person, so the personality (voice) is easier to ascertain. Third person and omniscient points of view also have distinctive voices, but we’ll save that for another time.

The Princess Diaries

The book series was as popular as the movies, because of the unique voice Meg Cabot brings to her characters. Mia may be a princess, but her voice is that of a quirky, insecure, and slightly irreverent teenager. If you haven’t read the series, it’s a must for character study and voice.

But a PRINCE? Of a whole COUNTRY? I mean, I Princess Diaries DVknew Dad was in politics, and of course I knew he had money–how many kids at my school have summer homes in France? Martha’s Vineyard, maybe, but not France.

So what I want to know is, if my dad’s an actual prince, how come I have to learn Algebra? I mean, seriously.

 

The One and Only Ivan

Katherine Applegate uses the voice of Ivan to tell his heartfelt story. Ivan’s honest simplicity pulls us close and holds us there. Ivan is as believable (as a narrator) as his voice is unique.

 I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.TheOneAndOnlyIvan_cover

It’s not as easy as it looks.

People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback.

The names are mine. But they are not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.

 

Rebel Belle

Rachel Hawkins infuses Southern charm and etiquette in the voice of her characters, in this fun and quirky, kick-butt tale.

Now this is when it really gets weird. I know, I know, dead janitor in disguise, killer history teacher, how much weirder could it get?

Lots. Trust me.

When Dr. DuPont put that sword–well, scimitar–on my neck, I didn’t feel scared, like, at all. Instead, I felt that tingle in my chest again, only this time, it was more like this … energy. …

I didn’t knee him in the groin, although I didn’t rule that move out. Instead I … ugh, this is so embarrassing.

I head-butted him.

I know, like a soccer hooligan or something.

Rebel Belle, by Rachel Hawkins

How do you find your voice?

You may be thinking, “Wow, those are great examples. But how do I find my voice?”

It’s a simple, but not quick. Don’t hate me:

Read. Read. Read, and read some more.

Read everything in your genre, then read authors in other genres. When you find an author whose style resonates with you, read everything they’ve ever written. Then read those books again. By reading and rereading their words, you absorb the rhythm and style of the prose. It’s learning through osmosis.

Voice isn’t a static thing, though. It’s a quality that evolves with the author, as they hone and polish their craft. That’s what’s so wonderful about writing. It’s not a static process. There’s always room for growth, for improvement.


Which author’s voice resonates with you?


Fanning the Creative Flame ~ Why Conferences Matter

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Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CAThe SCBWI San Francisco/South Golden Gate Conference (at Asilomar) was earlier this month, my first conference in over a year. Such an amazing conference! I can’t believe I was so short-sighted, to go that long without attending a writing conference.

Oh sure, I had the standard rational excuses, that made perfect sense. Taking a year off from writing conferences would save time, money, and effort that would further my work in progress.

What I totally forgot, was how invaluable it is to connect with people who share the same passion. Writing can be such a solitary journey. I always come away from a conference with my creative energy renewed, and a feeling of deep kinship with others who are called to the writing journey.

Motivational Milestones & Inspiring Insights

Initially, I think of  conferences as motivational milestones for my current work in progress (WIP). I admit I am motivated by fear. So when I sign up for a professional critique, I am dangling a figurative hatchet over my head. I will work harder than ever to deliver the best possible pages by the submission deadline, out of fear of public humiliation. I put my self through this trial, because feedback from the editor of a major publishing house is invaluable. I always come away from such a critique with tools for improving my craft, and a clear path for strengthening my story.

Just as important as professional level feedback though, are the insights that arise from the talks and workshops given by the conference’s faculty.

Award winning illustrator E.B. Lewis reminded us all, writers and illustrators alike that:

We’re in the business of amazement.

Jodell Sadler, of Sadler Children’s Literary, invited us to see:

Language is music  … music is language.

E.B. Lewis delivered the most profound insight (for me) with his presentation on the language of pictures. He explained the components of an image that make it a story: narrative (plot), emotion, and anticipation (what’s next). A light bulb went on in my head when I realized that these are the same elements that comprise a well crafted scene in fiction.

Stories aren’t bound by format or medium. E.B. Lewis told us of a young boy who said he “writes the pictures”. We writers, paint with words.

E.B. Lewis, profile picture and quote

Synergy Happens

Creativity is contagious, and the Golden Gate Conference Brochure cover synergy at conferences is nothing short of miraculous. Sparkly new ideas dart about like fireflies, lighting new pathways of possibility.

I learn something from everyone I meet at a conference, and the connections forged can blossom into friendships that last years. 

If you’ve ever thought about writing for young readers, join SCBWI now. SCBWI provides extensive professional resources to its members. You won’t find a more welcoming and supportive group.  And they’re super fun.

I feel fortunate to have found the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They are my tribe, my people.

[All images are my own]


Naturally Bach

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Simply Brilliant

In honor of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 330th Birthday (Yes, today!) …

Here’s a unique performance of Bach’s famous “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. It’s played by wooden balls rolling down an incline of wooden steps … in the middle of a forest.

I kid you not.
SimplyBach

Watch the following video.

Seeing (and hearing) is believing!



“BLACK ICE” by Becca Fitzpatrick ~ Author Signed Giveaway!

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BlackIce_coverBritt Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there…and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Black Ice is New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick’s riveting romantic thriller set against the treacherous backdrop of the mountains of Wyoming. Falling in love should never be this dangerous… [Jacketflap Synopsis]

A Chilling, Edge-Of-Your-Seat Tale

Honesty Hour: I got this book last Fall when Becca Fitzpatrick visited Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA. It took me this long to read it, because psychological thrillers scare me more than anything else. That’s because they’re so real.

Needless to say, I shouldn’t have waited so long to read this amazing story. Once I was brave enough to read the first line, I was hooked. From then on, I kept turning the pages until I was done. Black Ice is expertly written with well-developed characters I could identify with, and plot twists I never saw coming. That’s all I’m going to say. Watch the trailer below, and then enter to win a signed copy of this book. If you dare…

Beware if what you can’t see. -Becca Fitzpatrick

Becca Fitzpatrick, Black Ice signed copy

Win an Author Signed Copy & Swag

NOTE: The FREE giveaway of an author copy of this book is open to residents of the United States only, due to shipping costs. My sincere apologies.

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this blog–explaining WHY you’d love to read this book– by midnight Friday, February 27th (1 entry).
  2. Tweet about this giveaway, using #BlackIceGiveaway in your tweet (1 entry).

I’ll tally the entries and pick a winner that I’ll announce on this blog Sunday, March 1st.

BLACK ICE ~ Official Trailer


The Quirky Quotient ~ The Secret Ingredient of Memorable Characters

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I’m in the “first-draft phase” of my current project, so I thought it would be a good idea to blog about the process. To create a log of reminders for myself when the next project rolls along, and hopefully benefit others who are blazing through their first-draft.

For me, the first draft of a novel is as much about discovering the characters as it is about formalizing the plot. Don’t get me wrong, before I write the first sentence I have a list of each character’s traits and flaws. But that’s only a two-dimensional view of the person. Their wholeness comes to life in the writing.

Quirky = interesting

BandJ1The discovering the wholeness of my characters is a process of revealing their quirks. Those little idiosyncrasies that make each character unique.

A person’s quirks are what endear us to them, and make them memorable. Quirks can show up in how they dress, unusual habits, and how they interact with others.

A character’s quirks can affect the choices they make, and indirectly the outcome of the story.

At the beginning of a project,  coming up with new and unique traits for each character can be a bit overwhelming. So I start with one simple rule:

Don’t be boring.

Quirks that Delight and Deepen Character and Story

For fictional characters to not be boring, they have to stretch beyond our every day patterns. To start the idea mill churning, it helps me to review stories where characters surprised and delighted me, and analyse what and how they created that affect.

If you’re looking for an author, Meg Cabot is the queen of quirky characters, secondary as well as main characters. Her Princess Diaries series is classic, as are her Vanished and Mediator series. But don’t stop with just books. Films are also a great resource for character studies.

BennyJoonCollage

One of my favorite films for quirky characters is the 90’s comedy/drama Benny & Joon. It’s a story about Benny, an older brother (Aidan Quinn) who cares for his mentally disturbed younger sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson). Doesn’t sound like a good time, does it? But wait. Enter eccentric young Sam (Johnny Depp), who models himself after Buster Keaton, and the story lights with genius.

Sam dresses like Buster Keaton and imitates the comedian’s classic sketches, but his BandJ4quirks are much more than a “Keaton copy”.

Sam uses a steam iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches and a tennis racket to mashed potatoes (wish I’d thought of both of those quirks!).

His quirky habits endear him to Joon, helping her break out of her extreme dysfunction that often manifested in alarming ways.

The video below (featuring the song by the Proclaimers) includes some of the classic scenes from Benny & Joon. Johnny Depp’s physical comedy is hilarious.

Making It Fresh

Analyzing the successful quirkiness of characters in other stories is a jumping off point to brainstorming ideas for my own characters. The goal is to make my character’s quirkiness fresh and real. Here’s a few tricks:

  • Turn a trait on its head or switch it around. Do what’s least obvious. Johnny Depp’s impersonation of the pirate captain, Jack Sparrow, is a great example of turning typical pirate traits on their head.
  • Give a character a hobby that clashes with society’s view of their trade or line of work. For example, a welder who creates his own line of feminine bath products under an assumed name, or a concert musician who competes in monster truck rallies.
  • Combine unexpected character traits. Such as a Navy Seal who’s afraid of spiders, but wrestling with bears is a rollicking good time.
  • Cast against type. This comes from the film industry, and is shorthand for “give us something unexpected.” Such as a mail man who’ s actually a recruiter for an intergalactic assassin agency.
  • Get wacky. Have fun with it!

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) ~ The Proclaimers


Grumpy Cat says: Watch funny videos and feed cats in need!

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Grumpy for a Purr-fectly Wonderful Cause

Grumpy Cat can try to hide her true nature behind that frown, but she doesn’t fool me. Not one bit. Her recent Instagram shout out about the new Friskies YouTube channel that’s helping to feed hungry cats proves that she’s got a heart of gold.

Friskies will give 1 can of wet food to charity for every new video view and 2 cans of food for every new YouTube subscriber during the month of January (up to 100,000 cans).

Grumpy Cat on a pillow

Watch Friskies Videos to Feed Cats in Need

It’s easy! And so much fun!

Here’s all you have to do (before January 31, 2015):

  1. Click this link: YouTube.com/user/PurinaFriskies
  2. Click the Subscribe button in the upper right corner of the window, follow the prompts (if you haven’t already subscribed to this Friskies YouTube channel), and 2 cans of wet food will be given to feed needy cats.
  3. Click a video, laugh as you watch through to completion, and 1 can of wet food will be given to feed needy cats—for EVERY video you watch through to completion.
  4. Watch as many as you can before January 31st! Feeding needy cats couldn’t be more fun!

My Fav ~ Cat’s Knocking Things Down (in slow-mo)


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