Author’s Log, Summer 2019; Lessons learned as a new author (for a KDS guest blog)
At a very early age, music began to affect me quite profoundly. I adored music, loved it actually, to the point I consumed it. AM radio was my most significant source of music in the 1960s, but my older brothers got record players, and then the living room got a big quadraphonic stereo system, seemingly as important as the television in the late ’60s. My parents and brothers taste in music exposed me to everything from musical show tunes to Simon & Garfunkle to Classical to the Beetles. My older brother Robert played in folk and bluegrass bands as well as school musicals. I remember bearded mandolin players frequently playing in the living room crowded around tape players, and long hours wandering theater backstages during his rehearsals for shows like Auntie Mame. Classical music, however, intrigued me the most.
In 6th grade, I tried to learn to play music. I wanted to play the flute, but it was too “feminine” an instrument for a boy. They gave me a saxophone instead, probably because the school band needed another saxophone player more than a flute player. To my honest shame and puzzling confusion, though, I had no real musical talent. As a very late bloomer, guitar necks and saxophones were too big for my small hands and body. I could play notes, understood chords, but making music did not come as freely, or so easily, as listening to music. The talent eluded me. I left Band in Jr High, despite boot-camp threats from the Principle that I would have to stay and learn anyways. Ah, no.
My classical music and show tune album collection were joined by Walter/Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach. Wow. That began an electronic vibe and connection that is still one of the core musical values of my soul to this day. Alan Parson’s record Tales of Mystery & Imagination was a gift from one of my brothers to the other, and grass mowing money earned me my copy to wear out. I Robot followed, as did every other album they made ever after. Vangelis’ Pulsar came next, and then Larry Fast’s Synergy. I still own the vinyl of all of them, as well as the mp3s now.
I grew almost a foot after High School (I said I was a late bloomer!), to the point that teachers did not recognize me a year later. I took up the guitar again, which fit my hands much better now, and employment let me buy Stratocasters, amps and then a Tom Scholz “Rockman” so I did not explode my neighbor’s patience. I padded the closet of my apartment into a sound studio, and reel-to-reels and twinkling equalizers drove my nights and weekends.
My music still sucked. My failing talent was not a question of devotion to practice; I played daily for years and took lessons from pros. Every copy song I tried would never surpass “almost” to my listeners. Every original song I tried to write sounded the same. For a decade.
Long periods with an acoustic trying pure classical guitar did a little better, but I could never break through some magical, professional-sounding barrier. I added a big Aspen bass, which I enjoyed but lacked the natural rhythm to pull off. Then in an attempt to find a deeper connection with my electronic love I got a synthesizer and discovered I was even worse at keyboards.
I sold off and gave away all the equipment at the end of the 1980s, from reel-to-reels to spare strings, and gave up on playing music. My only reminder of that whole long experience is a bamboo flute my brother gave me eons ago, which I play in the vineyard when I’m feeling sentimental, and the vines ask for a song.
By this point, you probably believe you misread something and have rechecked the blog title at least twice. Neither of us is mistaken.
You see, parallel to my musical journey was my writer’s journey. Reread the above paragraphs. Every time you see the word “music” replace it with the word “writing.” Then; song with story, guitars & basses with fantasy and sci-fi, reel-to-reel with word processors, and keep all the same stupid teenage angst, long hours of practice and effort over the decades.
After giving up playing music, my purer enjoyment of listening returned. My depression began to subside. By focusing on my writing, while listening to music, my art improved, and I broke that mysterious elusive “bubble” where the people who were reading my stuff began to compliment me. I wasn’t just “almost” anymore; it was the beginning of talent. It sounded good to them and me. Online cooperative fiction was like being in writer’s bands, and my growing ability encountered encouragement, correction, envy, and praise from peers and then older pros. I got a lot of excellent guidance and had to process a lot of tricks, advice and style choices.
Ten years of such daily writing practice honed necessary skills to the point I could write for the public and folks enjoyed it. This was my “copy band” phase as a writer. Then came another decade of intense focus, finding my own voice for stories instead of fan-fic based on other author’s fine works. Long hours in the quiet, peaceful vineyard fueled my imagination like endless epiphanies.
To crescendo this musical journey metaphor blog about my writing; I’m self-published now. I’m “out there” with my art, and it is advertised to those who seek its various topics. Will I ever be on the radio? Doubtful, but like a lottery ticket, at least there is some tiny chance over the solid “no” that accompanies not trying. Will I ever attract the attention of a publisher? If my writing is good enough, yes. Will I ever be known as a local author and entertain friends and family? I’m already living that glorious dream. My books on wine history are for sale in the tasting room and are the subject of questions, inquiries, and discussion with strangers every day. My new books flow onto the screen every morning with the sunrise before I take to the vines.
Do I have talent? Your clapping will let me know if that’s true.
Do you have the talent? I can only encourage you to get over your stage fright and try and then applaud your efforts.
The metronome of your art life is already ticking for you…