Monday, May 16, 2022

Moderation Can Be a Good Thing

by

Scott D. Parker

I’ll admit something: it’s been harder than I expected to get back into the writing routine after it laid dormant for a couple of months. Which is odd considering I like this book (why else would I be up to chapter 31 of it) and want to get to the end—I’ve mapped out the scenes up through chapter 39 so it’s not like I don’t have a road map.

Part of the reason I’ll admit is health. I’m healthy, eat well, and walk about two miles every day per week except Fridays and Saturdays. But it’s the lack of sleep that’s actually started to get to me.

There are more things I want to do on any given day and there’s just not enough time to do them. That includes writing, living, working, being with the family, and doing my own thing (usually reading or watching a show). As a result, I recently found myself staying up later in the evenings (a little past 11pm) but still waking up at 5am. After starting off as an evening writer, I’ve become a morning writer.

Every time the alarm went off this past week, however, the body was having none of it. Usually I all but jump out of bed, but this week was a struggle. I actually felt myself dragging throughout the day, including when I’m in the office three days a week. I even resorted to a 15-minute power nap in my office, doors closed, reclined in my office chair, the legs up on one of those padded-top short filing cabinets. After those power naps, I’m good, but its necessity cut into my lunch hour writing time.

And that irritated me. I would have to do something about that.

Late last year as I was enduring some harsh times at the day job, I found myself drinking more. I never got drunk, but I’d have the five o’clock cocktail and then wine at nine almost every day. It wasn’t a good habit to keep, so when Lent rolled around, I gave up alcohol. First couple of days were not hard, but I certainly wanted to keep the muscle memory of drinking alive.

But on Easter, I didn’t rush to the liquor cabinet and make a cocktail. Instead, I reminded myself that it’s perfectly fine to have a glass of wine or a martini but I didn’t need to have both every day. Heck, I could have a day or two per week in which I don’t have any alcohol and let that become the new normal.

Couple the lack of enough sleep with the more limited alcohol intake since Easter and both things got me to thinking that a little bit of moderation can go a long way to a healthy lifestyle. The alcohol consumption is pretty easy: Just limit to one glass of wine on the days I drink and save the martini for Fridays and savor the heck out of it. That’s working well and it’s made the martini preparation something more special.

The sleep thing take more of a challenge. I literally have to cut out something I want to do in favor of making sure I get my six hours. That one’s tougher because there’s just so much I want to read and do and write and watch. But how much do I actually enjoy watching a show or reading a book when I'm nodding off?

What the heck does this have to do with writing? Well, moderation.

I’m fortunate to have a day job that takes care of all the bills and insurance and makes sure we have enough money and peace of mind to get us through the days. Granted, it also curtails my writing/watching/family/myself time, but that’s the trade off.

Where the writing part comes in is this: Moderation.

Right now in my writing career, I have no external deadlines. I have internal deadlines for writing and publishing stories well into 2023, but they are well enough in advance that I can write—wait for it—at a moderate pace and achieve my deadlines. The moderate pace will also enable me to do some moderate marketing and not interfere too much into the day-to-day life.

Because that’s the key, right? Sure, I could have kept drinking at last fall's pace, but sooner or later, I’d have hit the wall and the physical health would have suffered so much that the doctor would advise me to stop drinking. That’s no fun. Neither is constantly being tired during the days because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

And neither is writing when you’re under the gun. Yes, the old pulp guys using to do that to pay the rent, but guys like Walter Gibson and Lester Dent ultimately suffered physical ailments because of their constant demands.

I’d rather enjoy the writing process in the time I have rather than be sweating a deadline. I sweat deadlines at the day job and of course I’d sweat a fiction deadline if it ever presented itself.

But for now, I’m just enjoying the ride…moderately.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Alone on the Beach - Now Published

I have a new short story now available. It's a little bit different thing for me. I actively wrote a love scene...but with a twist. 

DESCRIPTION:

Bob Kirk is a federal agent, on desk duty and ordered to see a psychiatrist after he killed a man while protecting his team. Carol Marcus is his doctor, prescribing Bob some pills to help ease his pain.

They’ve been secretly seeing each other and want to take their relationship to the next level, more out in the open, as his department-mandated time with her comes to an end.

What better place to start than a crowded beach?

Excerpt:

Bob’s stomach flipped as he took in Carol’s beauty. She wore a green bikini, modest for the doctor’s forty-two years, but revealing enough to make Bob’s mind think about later. He wished there might be a later. Her blonde hair, always coiffed in a professional manner in the office, now hung loose around her shoulders. The sea breeze caught it and blew the strands around her face. She carried a beach bag over her shoulder. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes, but he knew from the angle of her head she was checking him out.


In a fit of self-consciousness that morning, Bob had done a hundred push-ups and sit-ups. He wanted all his muscles to stand out for her. He even purchased new swim trunks, not the oversized surfer kind yet not a speedo either. His light blue swimsuit hugged his hips and showed off his ass. When he had tried it on at the store, he had asked one of the attendants if the suit fit well. The narrowing of her eyes and the parting of her lips told him all he needed to know. She had lightly touched his arm as checked out. She also gave him her number. He had even groomed his body hair a bit. Brown hair still coated his chest and stomach, but in other places, it was cleaned and well groomed. He just didn’t know how the day would play out.


Carol stopped at the foot of Bob’s large beach blanket. A coy smile emerged. With delicate fingers, she lowered her sunglasses and looked at him over the top of them. “Mind if I join you?”


Bookstores

Here is the link to the story's main page on my website. It is widely available in all the usual places.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Writer’s New Year: 2022

It was now nine years ago today that I made a renewed decision to write more stories. I had an idea that began with an image—a man, wearing a fedora, knocking on a door, and bullets ripping through the wood—and that idea became my first published novel, WADING INTO WAR.

Every May First, I commemorate that decision and take stock of my writing life. Some years are good ones. Others not so much. But on 1 May, I allow myself a chance to reset and forge ahead.

In past years, I laid out my plans for the new Writer’s Year. Again, in re-reading those past entries, I cringe at missed opportunities and goals not fulfilled. Now, I used to really beat myself up about missing those milestones but I don’t do that anymore. It’s not constructive and obscures a more positive outlook on my writing life.

I have big plans for Writer’s Year 2022, and this time, taking a cue from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I am actually scheduling my books and stories on a calendar. That is, in effect, making a business plan for my writing. I have to tell you, the amount of relief that washed over me as I actually mapped out the rest of the year—and especially the summer months leading to Labor Day 2022–made me smile and got me excited for my next projects.

And those projects are not merely new stories to write. I have also planned on a publishing schedule as well. I’ll admit I’ve fallen behind on where I wanted to be in terms of publishing stories for the public to read. As such, my name has fallen by the wayside in the minds of future readers, including folks in my own newsletter group.

That’s on me. I have recently begun to realize, with a huge assist by Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art book, that I’ve been treating my fiction and publication more as a hobby than a business. I’ve had an amateur’s mindset. Which is weird because from Day One, back in 2015 when I published my first book, I created my own company.

But the amateur’s mindset kept being dominant. I’m not sure why, but if Pressfield were sitting across the table from me, he’d tell me it was Resistance. Veteran writer Dean Wesley Smith would concur and throw in fear. Smith would also toss in the variable of “fun.” He’d tell me I’m not having any fun with my writing.

Both of them are correct. I need to conquer Resistance and become more professional with my fiction and have fun along the way. After all, I’m the first reader of my stories and I’m supposed to have fun writing them for myself. That I get to share them with others is a bonus.

So that’s where my head is at on this Writer’s New Year’s Day 2022. Each day this year, I will strive to overcome Resistance and Fear in my writing. I will strive to have fun with the stories I tell. And I will strive to make them available on a more regular schedule.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Daring to Dream with Marc Bernardin

A cool thing happened this week: a writer lived out a dream.

Marc Bernardin—writer, TV producer, journalist, co-host of the Fatman Beyond podcast with Kevin Smith—was a guest on the Late Night with Seth Meyers. Marc was there to talk about and promote his graphic novel, Adora and the Distance. As the father of an autistic daughter, he was encouraged to write about his experiences of raising an autistic child but, as Marc says in the interview, he was the least interesting person in the story.

So he created a version of a story in which there was a young woman of color who was on a quest and what she discovered about the world and herself at the end of the quest. Naturally, he edged toward the comic book format and bided his time. Finally, last year, the graphic novel was published on Comixology featuring the whimsical illustrations of Ariela Kristantina. Now, the book is in hard copy to buy at your local comic book store.

I’ve listened to Marc talk about this story for a long time so I was simply happy for him to get the book out into the world. But then he started to dream. What would it be like to go on a late night talk show and and talk about the book. Seth Meyers is a comic book fan so Marc set his sights on landing a spot on Seth’s show.

To make the dream possible, he encouraged a social media campaign, and, lo and behold, it worked. Marc was on the 19 April 2022 episode of Late Night. Here’s the link of the full interview.

An avid communicator through Twitter, Marc thanked his fans in a very Marc way.

 

In his deep dives into story and story structure on his podcast, I am often pausing long enough to transcribe things he said into my very own “Marc on Writing” file. Well, here’s another one to add to the list.

Five seemingly simple phrases that can take you far in life. But looks at the first: Don’t be afraid to dream the impossible dream. If you have a dream, go for it.

This brings me back to a quote of Goethe’s as cited in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art which I reviewed last week: “I [Steven] have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

Dreams come true. We witnessed one this week, and it was exhilarating. I grinned from ear to ear watching Marc on Seth’s show. I enjoyed seeing him live his dream. 

And I also turned my attention to my own. I’m dreaming my dreams and I’ve already begun to put them on the map of my life. Why is that important? Well, let’s let Marc Bernardin have the last word today.



Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Epiphany of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Where has this book been all my writing life? Well, right in front of me, the entire time.

I’ve known about Steven Pressfield for a good number of years. In fact, I have his blog feed in my Feedly app and I am a subscriber to his email. But in all that time, I had never sat down and read his most famous non-fiction book: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

I guess I just wasn’t ready for it. I believe that there is always a time and place for certain things to occur, and the first quarter of 2022 proved to be especially difficult for my writing life. So difficult, in fact, that I stopped and questioned whether or not I should keep going. Somewhere in that miasma of thoughts and feelings and doubt this book popped in front of my eyes. I had already started back on the upswing via my own journaling but I shrugged and thought why not.

Wow. This book opened my eyes, wide, to see that not only was I not alone in my struggles (we all struggle), but Pressfield laid out a definition of my challenges and a roadmap through them.

Most importantly, perhaps, was this: Pressfield gave the challenge, the obstacle we all face, a name: Resistance. That is the focus of Book 1 of this short but powerful book. Resistance: Defining the Enemy. Pressfield then goes on to list all the things that Resistance is, such as Internal, Universal, and Insidious. He points out that Resistance is strongest right near the finish list, it often makes you unhappy, and carves a place in your mind for self-doubt and self-rationalization.

Very quickly as I started reading the print version of this book I grabbed a pencil and started underlining key passages. I kept underlining all through Book 1, seeing myself in the words.

Book 2: Combating Resistance: Turning Pro serves as the antithesis. It is the writer/artist as hero. Key to this section is in the sub-title: Turning Pro. It is the light bulb moment when a writer decides he is no longer just going to write for fun, but to be a professional writer. Pressfield lists many traits of the professional mindset. Personally, I found I already do many of them—is prepared; we show up every day; we are patient; we demystify the writing process—so it made me question why I was in such a state as to even think about quitting.

But, as Pressfield states, “The battle is inside our own head.” It always is. Always. It can be frustrating to be in a profession where dwell-doubt is constant, but there you go. The mountaintop experience of a writer/artist is also very high.

The last book, Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm, makes the case for the power of an artist’s way of life. He lays out the evidence that there exists for artist a sometimes magical place where our imaginations and our physical efforts to find our dreams connect. He divides artist into two camps: those that think hierarchically and those that think territorially, using the animal kingdom as an example. By the time I reached the end of the book, pencil tip well worn for underlining so many thing, I smiled. So many of Pressfield’s comments seemed self-evident, and yet I struggled. We all struggle. It is part of the artist’s way of life.

But a book like The War of Art clears out the cobwebs of doubt and shows us a way forward.

I ended up dictating all the underlined passages into my phone and created a 14-page file. It is my own outline of this important book. I know that I’ll encounter Resistance again. It is inevitable. But I also know a means to overcome it. And I’ve got my own printed set of pages to remind me how.

If you are struggling—and even if you’re not—I encourage you to read this book and see if you can turn yourself around.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite passages of the entire book. It explains why it is important to create and maintain a writing habit.

Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on his schedule for only when struck my inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,“ he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”
That’s a pro.
In terms of resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise resistance; I will not let it phase me; I will sit down and do my work. “
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that my performing the Monday and physical active sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his. He knew if he built it, she would come.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

End of an Era: The Final Print Issue of Entertainment Weekly

It arrived every Friday, and boy, I could not wait.

I can’t say with any certainty if I purchased the debut issue of Entertainment Weekly in February 1989, but I know I began reading the magazine that year. In those pre-internet days, Entertainment Weekly featured writing like my friends and I talked. The stories were encyclopedic, the authors were folks like me (geeks if you will), and the sections became go-to sources of information.

It wasn’t long before I started subscribing as a means to avoid the vicissitudes of magazine stands and delayed delivery. I needed my entertainment fix every week.

The interviews were always in depth and interviewers mostly asked the same questions I would have asked were it me in front of a celebrity with a notepad and pen. It wasn’t long before I grew accustomed to the Top 10 Must List of the week, always cheering when a thing I loved landed on the list.

In those pre-internet days, Entertainment Weekly pretty much kept up with the times. The periodical evolved as the 1990s evolved and shaped and reshaped popular culture. I always looked forward to the big issue showcasing the fall TV shows (although those usually were double issues and I’d have a week without a new issue) or the summer blockbusters or the big music issues. When mega events like the relaunch of James Bond with Pierce Brosnan or the release of the first new Star Wars movie, I could not wait to read the content. The issues were mostly devoured in one sitting, maybe two. It was a rare weekend that ended when I hadn’t read Entertainment Weekly from cover to cover.

I moved from Austin to Denton, Texas, to Kent, Ohio, back to Denton and then back to my hometown of Houston. I carried the subscription with me everywhere I went. When my wife and I married, we discovered we both subscribed and we joined our subscriptions into one. When we moved to the Houston suburbs, Fridays were still a wonderful day when EW would arrive in the mailbox. I would usually consume the Must List between the mailbox and the front door, and, if the cover was particularly important, show my wife as I walked in the door.

A particularly great time to subscribe to EW was during the time when “Lost” was on TV. Every Wednesday, we’d get a new episode. Every Thursday, the folks at the office would hang out in the hallway and talk over what happened. But come Friday, I’d get the latest issue of EW. In it, Jeff Jenson, senior writer and “Lost” guru would recap the episode and deliver in-depth analysis of all the things in any particular scene, be it a book on a shelf or whatever might’ve been in the background. It was essential reading and I always enjoyed Mondays when I could bring Jeff’s wisdom back to the office.

Needless to say, Entertainment Weekly has been with me most of my adult life. I’ll admit I was sad when EW went from being published weekly to only coming out monthly. I’ll also admit I never understood why they didn’t just change the name to Entertainment Monthly. Why not?

But now, in April 2022, the 1,630th issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox, and it is the last one. The last print issue. EW.com has been a thing for I don’t know how many years, but now it’ll be the only thing. If EW could read the writing on the wall, realizing that just about everything is fast and digital and on the web, and shift to a monthly rate, then the shift to an all-digital format was also easily predicted.

Yeah, I’ll keep going to EW.com because the same content by the same writers is there. There’s even the same font for the various sections. And while I’m fully aware that my next statement will make me sound old, I’ll miss holding the printed magazine in my hands, getting the ink smeared on my fingers if I’m enjoying a cold drink while reading, and circling things with a pen to go and buy later.

The older one gets, the more one values things that have just always been there. And for 33 years, the printed version of Entertainment Weekly has been there with me, chronicling the pop culture events of my life, from my time as a college student to the middle-aged man I am today.

So long, old friend. Thanks for making the journey with me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

What are Some Book Examples of the AC/DC Rule?

Quick: What’s the most famous album by AC/DC?

If you, like me, instantly thought of the 1980 album Back in Black, you are not alone. It’s the band’s top-selling album and one of the best-selling albums of all time. But that seminal album never reached Number 1 on the Billboard charts. That was the next album, For Those About To Rock.

A year ago on the Hit Parade podcast, an episode dropped entitled “The AC/DC Rule.” This podcast discusses music history and quirky things about the chart performances of various songs and bands. It spent two episodes discussing what they dubbed The AC/DC Rule. Put simply, it’s this: there are famous albums by major musicians, ones we all know and love, with our favorite songs on them, but those albums are not always the ones that topped the album chart. It was the next album, the album that rode the coattails of the more-famous album to the top of the charts but may not be as fondly remembered or sold as many copies.

The episode details how Cat Stevens, Boston, Billy Joel, and others all experienced the AC/DC Rule. It happens for movies as well. The second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, scored more money in its opening weekend than the debut film did in its entire run.

The pattern exists for the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the second Hangover movie, and others. I can’t remember all the other albums the host, Chris Molanphy, discusses, but it’s a curious thing.

Which naturally got me to thinking about this rule for books. A few instantly jump to mind. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a massive success, but that was Brown’s fourth book. As well as Da Vinci Code sold, his follow-up, The Lost Symbol, sold a million copies on the first day. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, Lost Symbol ultimately didn’t outperform Da Vinci Code, but you can see the pattern.

I think it’s safe to say this kind of thing applies to debut authors as well. Be it music or books, it’s the dreaded sophomore slump. The debut album by Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear Window, sold more than 21 million copies. Their second album, Fairweather Johnson, sold only 3 million. Kinda funny to write "only" in that sentence. On the book side of the ledger, The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline both took the world by storm but their next books did not meet with the same success.

I’ve been trying to determine if there are other books that fall into this category so that’s what I’ve been pondering this week. Can y’all help me?

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Specialness of Firsts: Human Touch and Lucky Town at 30

You never forget your firsts. First day of school, first kiss, first breakup, first job, first child. You also never forget the first time you bought a new album by a new-to-you musician. Human Touch and Lucky Town are those albums for me, and it was when I officially joined the ranks of Bruce Springsteen's fans.

Background


In 1984, at the height of the Born in the USA frenzy, I flat out didn't like Springsteen. That was the only album I knew of him, and then, only the radio songs. But those tunes were everywhere, yet I hadn't figured out Bruce, who he was or what he was trying to say. Dancing in the Dark was okay, but that title track, with the bizarre decision to overlay the studio song on the music video from his live performances (thus, making them out of sync), was a song I enjoyed hating and mocking. Yet I never bothered to read the lyrics.

Cut to 1987 when I discovered Stephen King, starting with Pet Semetary. This was the spring, my senior year in high school, and college life beckoned. Many times, King quoted Springsteen's lyrics. Seeing the words in text without Bruce's singing, I took a new interest in them. Not the music, mind you, but the lyrics.

When Bruce's 1987 album Tunnel of Love came out, lead single "Brilliant Disguise" turned out to be...not bad. In fact, I kind of liked it. Then, a friend gave me a cassette copy of that album (it was one of those 12-albums-for-a-penny things from Columbia House). I listened, and I liked. With open eyes and a more mature sense of music, I circled back to Born in the USA.

Whoa. This is actually pretty good, lyrics and music combined. Sure, Born in the USA was still a fun song to mock, but I slowly worked my way through the back catalog, mostly in reverse order. I quite liked The River, especially the live version with that extended introductory story Bruce relates on the box set. Took some time to get used to Nebraska, and I think I stopped at Born to Run, letting those first two Springsteen albums be that last old ones I discovered. And just like that, I was a Springsteen fan.

The Spring of 1992


It took me five years to get through college (by choice; double major) so by the spring of 1992, my eyes were focused on grad school, ideally at a university in close proximity to where my then-girlfriend would be attending medical school. I had already dipped my toe in the wonder of all those non-album tracks. I stumbled onto his song from the We Are the World album because I had already bought it for the non-album song by Chicago. My one and only time I ever called a radio station and asked about a song was when KLBJ, the local rock station in Austin, Texas, played "Roulette" and I simply had to know the song title and then go buy the CD single of the then-current song "One Step Up" to get it.

When you're graduating from college, one phase of your life is ending. Granted, I'd spend the next six years in grad school but I didn't know that in the spring of 1992. I was growing up. I was in my early twenties. My entire life was before me and I was ready for it.

Turned out, Springsteen himself was entering a new phase of his life as well. After the much-publicized marriage and divorce to Julianne Phillips, Bruce had fallen in love with Patti Scailfa, a singer in his band. I barely knew about this having never seen him live at that point and, well, no internet. Be that as it may, his new love and new status as a father permeated all the new songs he wrote during the time after Tunnel of Love. Finally, when the news broke that there was going to be new Springsteen music released, imagine my overwhelming joy to learn there would be not one album, but two.

The Albums


Two albums of material. Twenty-four songs: fourteen on Human Touch and ten on Lucky Town. On that bright spring morning thirty years ago, I woke, drove to the record store, bought the CDs, and quickly returned to my apartment. I saw in front of the stereo and just listened.


The cool sounds of Human Touch washed over me. Frankly, the title track sounded like he had not missed a beat from the sonic tapestry of Tunnel of Love. The second track, "Soul Driver," seemed to be a kindred spirit from "Cover Me." "57 Channels" was interesting, to be sure, and has reached ironic status in the age of multiple streaming channels here in 2022. "With Every Wish," with it's muted, soaring trumpet, and evocative, storytelling lyrics, has always been a favorite, and the theme of the song-With every wish, there comes a curse-is always good to keep in mind. "Roll of the Dice" and its glockenspiel is the first old-school Springsteen song of the entire record. And "I Wish I Were Blind" is a gorgeous ballad tinged with the anguish we all feel when we see an ex with someone else. If Springsteen ever records an album with an orchestra, I hope this one is in the setlist.

Human Touch is not without its weak songs. I rarely listen to album closer "Pony Boy." While "Real Man" may not be his best song, the pure joy in his words and voice is palpable. I appreciated it at the time, and very much appreciate it now.

If you assume that "Born to Run" is the best song Springsteen ever wrote, then Lucky Town opens with what has become my favorite song: "Better Days." Its exuberant optimism in where he finds himself is tempered only by the scars it took to get there. This song is one I have never forgotten, and turned to its lyrics over the years as my own life has gone through its ups and downs. In fact, verse 3 contains some of my favorite poetry Springsteen has ever penned, especially that last couplet.

Now a life of leisure and a pirate's treasure
Don't make much for tragedy
But it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin
And can't stand the company
Every fool's got a reason for feelin' sorry for himself
And turning his heart to stone
Tonight this fool's halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell
And I feel like I'm comin' home

The words of "If I Should Fall Behind" resonate constantly, especially in the shows from this century when all band members take a turn at singing various lines. "Leap of Faith" is a great song anyone pondering big life decisions when dealing with a potential spouse and those wondering thoughts of whether or not you're making the right decision ring in your head. Ditto for parenthood in the lyrics of "Living Proof" and the realization that so many of the things that hold us back are self-inflicted.

You do some sad sad things, baby
When it's you you're tryin' to lose
You do some sad and hurtful things
I've seen living proof

But he returns in the very next verse to show a way out:

You shot through my anger and rage
To show me my prison was just an open cage
There were no keys, no guards
Just one frightened man and some old shadows for bars

What also runs through both of these albums is the redemptive power of love and music. I'm no deep Springsteen scholar but I think it's with these two albums that the spiritual language Springsteen now uses to great effect started. "The Rising" carries it forward (that's my third favorite song of his) and it keeps going through the Pete Seeger album, Western Stars, and Letter to You.

What the Albums and Era Mean to Me


I listened to those albums constantly back in 1992 and the years after. While I was driving by myself on the highways of central Texas, visiting potential schools to start my graduate studies in history, it was these twenty-four songs I blasted from my car, windows down, hair blowing in the wind. These songs had me constantly looking to a bright future, but they also foretold the inevitable: life is never straight with zero potholes. It is a jagged road, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It is fraught with everything you might imagine-and some you couldn't.

In the past thirty years, these albums have fallen out of favor by Springsteen fans and Springsteen himself. Famously, he lamented that when he tried to write happy songs, it didn't go over well, which always struck me as odd. Don't we want our musical heroes to be happy and write songs in that vein? In fact, "Happy," a song from the Lucky Town sessions that didn't make the album, has also become one of my favorites, even making its way onto the playlist of songs at my wedding reception.

But Human Touch and Lucky Town have never lost their luster with me. I'll admit that had Springsteen whittled down the twenty-four songs to a single, albeit long, album, the result might've been stronger. But I didn't care then and, frankly, don't really care now. I gravitate to Lucky Town a tad more, but I always bring in more than half of Human Touch's songs into various playlists over the years.

It's not lost on me the place Human Touch and Lucky Town have in my Springsteen fandom. I'm the oddball. When I witnessed my first Springsteen show in December 1992 in Dallas with a couple of fellow grad students, they told tall tales about the 1984 and 1987 concerts. All those stories sounded great-and I've since discovered them and have come to enjoy those shows-but the Human Touch/Lucky Town Era is special. It's where I officially joined the entourage of Bruce's loyal fanbase. I've stayed with him ever since.

Sure, there are albums I rarely listen to-The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust-but I bought them on day one and spun them. I was ecstatic when 1998's Tracks came out and I had four new-to-me Springsteen albums to hear. And I finally got what it was like to have the E Street Band backing him with all the hoopla surrounding The Rising when Bruce was everywhere on TV. We got the sublime Western Stars and the poignant Letter to You and, with Springsteen, you know there will likely be a new album, maybe even this year.

But on the thirtieth anniversary of Human Touch and Lucky Town, I think back to the young man I used to be, hearing these songs for the first time, and the middle-aged man I am today, when these songs have embedded themselves in the fabric of my being. Both versions of myself love and appreciate these two albums, but for different reasons. The younger me found himself inundated with joyous songs of love and redemption, with his life unfolding before him, little knowing it was about to change. The middle-aged me, the me who is about a decade older than Springsteen was when he wrote these songs, the me who is a father and husband, feels these songs differently. He's lived them, through thick and thin, and come out okay.

With lifespans being what they are, I'm more than halfway to heaven. But the music of Bruce Springsteen, and specifically Human Touch and Lucky Town, have been with me for thirty years now, and I'm so thankful for their companionship.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Lightning Rod by Brad Meltzer

If it’s spring, then it’s time for another Brad Meltzer book.

For the past few years, a new Meltzer book—either fiction or non-fiction—is published. After a two-book non-fiction detour—The First Conspiracy (about George Washington) and The Lincoln Conspiracy—Meltzer returns to the heroes from The Escape Artist.

In the intervening years, Meltzer allowed both Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a mortician who left his job at Dover Air Force Base, and Nola Brown, the US Army’s painter-in-residence, to age and move froward after the events from that previous book. Zig is now in a private mortuary, mostly happy to have left his old life behind. That is, until he receives word that “one of our own,” Archie Mint, has been murdered in his car, parked in his own driveway.

Now, we readers know what happened because Meltzer showed us in the opening scene. But there is more than meets the eye. In fact, by the time you reach the end of the book, you might be compelled to re-read chapter 1. I’m just saying.

Nola, meanwhile, has gone off the grid. She, too, is pulled into the case of the death of Mint, but for different reasons. Because everything is not like it appears (natch: it’s a thriller). Mint has been hiding things, things that his family discovered after his death.

To make matters even more interesting, Nola’s long lost brother is now looking for her. Graduates of the foster program, they were separated in their early teen years and now Roddy wants to reconnect. But for good, or for ill?

All of these elements—and an interesting sub-plot for Zig—are thrown together on a roller coaster and Meltzer sends the reader careening.

Now, as with all Meltzer books I’ve consumed, I listened to the audiobook by Narrator Supreme, Scott Brick. And, as always, I love his narration style, the way he can make the most basic of descriptions sound even more interesting than Meltzer’s actual words. He always puts just the right amount of sarcasm, shock, boredom, or whatever kind of emotion the character is feeling or saying. Scott Brick could read the phone book and I’d probably buy a copy and listen.

The construction of this book is Thriller 101. I don’t mean than in a bad way at all. Seltzer is an accomplished commercial writer and he knows how to craft and pace a modern thriller. Just because I could see all the architecture of the story detracted not at all from its enjoyment.

And that sub-plot Meltzer throws at Zig? I think it’s a great example of how the smallest, most human of feelings can rise up whenever and wreck havoc on a person’s life, even when that person is in the middle of an exciting investigation.

I could use some sort of hyperbolic imperative to compel you to read this book, but I don’t really have to. It’s a Brad Meltzer thriller, narrated by Scott Brick. It’s a win-win. That’s all you need to know.  


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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Do Not Waste Time

Four simple words. That’s all they are, but they carry so much.

If you’ve been following my post over the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling a bit. Most of us creatives struggle from time to time, and this was my latest. The good news is that, as of last week, I was out of the funk, with a new plan to write, publish, and, most of all, have fun. What I didn’t do is dwell on on the lost years in which I could have been publishing my stories. That’s water under the bridge, and dwelling on that only leads to more depression, something no one needs.

Then the other news struck. Twice. And the perspective grew sharper.

A week ago, a friend of mine sent a text to a group chat. He was blunt: he has cancer. Shocked, I was five words into a text response when I figuratively slapped myself and picked up the phone. We had a nice conversation. His type of cancer is treatable, but he’d never be free from it. A Christian, my friend is actually calm about the entire situation. I admire his fortitude and his faith. Needless to say, for me, the news was a shocker.

Then, not three days later, my mom called. My dad’s longest friend passed away. The friend was in his car, about to go to work, and just died. My dad’s friend had moved away from Texas nearly fifty years ago so it wasn’t like there would be a number of events and gatherings that would suddenly have an empty chair, but my dad and his friend talked frequently and kept up with each other.

Those two things are much more significant that my creative output and happiness, but it got me to thinking. Sure, I had piddled away numerous opportunities to write and publish my stories, but for whatever reason, I haven’t.

While I had already determined a nice, reasonable publication schedule, the twin doses of bad news sharpened my focus. No one person knows how many days he or she has in this life, and it’s best to make the most of each day. I make that a habit, thanking God every day for the gift of life.

But on the creative side of things, it got me thinking about the stories I’ve already written and the ones yet to come. I want to share them, preferably on this side of life. And, to date, the only thing holding me back…is me.

I have, undeniably, wasted months and years of my creative life when I could have be sharing my stories these past number of years. I missed those opportunities, but I will strive not to miss the future ones. I will not waste time.

So, today, hug every member of your family, tell them you love them, and pick up the phone and make a call to that person you haven’t spoken to in a while. You will be so glad you did.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Thoughts and Inspiration from Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller

The urge came out of nowhere. Somehow, last year, I had the overwhelming desire to buy the new Foo Fighters album, Medicine at Midnight. That was odd considering I’d never purchased any of their albums up to that time. Heck, I knew only a handful of their songs and one main video, but buy the record I did and it became my favorite album of the year.

So when Dave Grohl, the founder and front man of the band, published his memoirs, The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, in the fall of 2021, I was primed and ready for it.

But I wasn’t ready for what it did to me.

A Parallel Life


With my newfound interest in all things Foo and Grohl, I learned Dave was only five weeks younger than I was. Back in 1991, when Nirvana released their seminal album “Nevermind” and set a dividing line in the history of rock music—there was a Before Nevermind and an After Nevermind—I probably knew that the trio were my age, but it didn’t register. Bands who made records I could buy were always older than me, right? Turns out, Dave was the youngest. He was like the younger brother of one of the two other guys in the band, brought along on account of his ferocious drumming style. I think we all know that Dave was at the right place at the right time, just before Nirvana blew away the general public with their sound.

But Dave was already a veteran of that scene. He had been intoxicated with the punk rock sound of Washington DC even though he was a suburban kid from Virginia. Even without a proper drum kit (he used pillows), the music flowed through him and he practiced and practiced the drums and well as strumming and picking out songs on his guitar.

Good fortune, luck, whatever you want to call it arrived one day when Dave, the seventeen-year-old struggling high school student, was given the chance to audition for the punk rock band Scream. He nailed the audition and, when invited to join the band, lead singer Peter Stahl finally thought to ask the young man his age. Naturally, Dave lied. “Twenty-one.” Peter and the other members of Virginia-based Scream accepted Dave’s word and Scream had a new drummer.

But Dave had one crucial thing to do, and even as I listened to Dave recount the story via the audiobook, fully knowing how it would turn out, it was a tense moment. Dave had to talk with his mother, a public school teacher, and convince her to let him drop out of school and tour with the band. Her words were surprising: “You’d better be good.”

As a listener to Dave’s journey, I found myself joining in his long days of traveling the country in a van, stretching out pennies per day on food, sleeping like sardines in said van, only to explode for an hour a day on stage. As a parent myself, however, I found Virginia Grohl’s faith in her son heart-warming yet also inspirational. The main job of a parent is to raise our children to be good, functioning, adults capable of holding down a job and making it on their own. She must have recognized that Dave was not going to be a typical nine-to-five kind of person and let him go. Even though my son is now twenty, I think back to when he was seventeen and ask myself if I could have let him go.

Turning it back on myself, however, I thought back to when I was seventeen. I was a junior in high school, just like Dave was. Could I have left the comfort of my suburban Houston home to tour with a rock band? Would my parents have let me? The answer to both is no.

That Guy From Nirvana


The four-year stretch when Dave toured America and Europe with Scream on less than a shoe-string budget helped forge his character into what he would become. His frugality he learned from his single mother, who raised Dave and his sister via her public school job and other jobs she took to make ends meet. He learned to make do with less and be happy about it. I found it telling that when he received his first check after joining Nirvana—an astounding-for-him $400—he blew it on a Nintendo and other assorted things he didn’t really need. Soon, he was back to scraping by, barely choking down the three-for-a-dollar corn dogs from a gas station. Still, he learned his lesson.

It’s common knowledge that Dave auditioned for Nirvana at a time when Scream was a slowly sinking ship. He joined the band with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic and set to work on Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind. It was great to hear Dave’s thoughts and memories about Kurt, especially how unprepared the trio was for the instant international fame they garnered with that fall 1991 album and, most importantly, the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. Soon, the very people who poked fun of Dave in high school were now attending Nirvana shows. The alternative, punk rock mentality in which Dave and Kurt and Krist thrived was being co-opted by the mainstream. Dave struggled with it, but he managed to get through the deluge while Kurt did not.

I made the choice to listen to this book because Dave narrates his own story, and it is exactly the way to consume this book. You get Dave’s snide tonal shifts depending on if he’s talking about a funny memory, but you can also hear his somber voice as he talks about how Kurt’s death affected him. In interviews about this book, Dave mentioned he wrote the passages about Kurt last. I wonder if he recorded them last as well.

The Indie Spirit of Foo Fighters


In the immediate aftermath of Kurt’s death, Dave left music. He didn’t even listen to the radio. The very thing that pumped in his veins, that compelled him to become a high-school dropout was now the same thing he couldn’t endure. He wanted to distance himself from Nirvana, from Kurt, and, as he came to realize, from himself. After nearly picking up a hitchhiker in Ireland—the young man was wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt, the sight of which caused Dave to duck his head and pass by—Dave knew he must return to music.

As an indie author, I enjoy performing all aspects of writing and publishing myself. True, some tasks are more mundane than others, but that is the price I’m willing to pay. I knew about Foo Fighters back in 1995 but never bought the debut record. What I truly never understood, however, was that, save for a single guitar part in one song, Dave wrote and performed every bit of that twelve-song debut. And he did it all in six days in the studio. That astounded me, but what I really latched onto was how that creativity in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide was Dave’s road out of his depression.

You see, I’ve been struggling with my own career as a writer, wondering if it is all worth it or if I should just hang it up. Why bother, I’d tell myself. No one cares if I write or don’t. In fact, those thoughts have so permeated my thinking that I actually have stopped. It’s been a month since I last wrote new words on anything other than blog posts.

But I have spent countless words on examining myself, and in this time of re-examining what kind of fiction writing career I want, I listened to Dave’s book. I hear him talk about his own struggles, his own doubts and fears, how he, even to this day, still struggles and wonders if he’s good enough.

Dave is a wonderful storyteller, weaving in and out of various tales from the road. All are remarkable and all had me questioning myself and my creative life choices. Late in the book, he described the feeling of being invited to perform—solo—at the Oscars. And it was the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” So, no pressure, right? He was scared, so scared that he nearly declined. But he and his daughter, Violet, had recently performed the song at her school talent show and she encouraged him to do the song. You see, she was scared to perform but she overcame her fears and knocked it out of the park. The child served as inspiration for the father.

In concluding this story, Dave wrote the following:

"Courage is the defining factor in the life of any artist. The courage to bare your innermost feelings, to reveal your true voice, or to stand in front of an audience and lay it all out there for the world to see. The emotional vulnerability that is often necessary to summon a great song can also work against you when you’re sharing your song for the world to hear. This is the paralyzing conflict of any sensitive artist, a feeling I’ve experienced with every lyric I’ve sung to someone other than myself. Will they like it? Am I good enough? It is the courage to be yourself that bridges those opposing emotions, and when it does, magic can happen."

Dave’s book arrived at the perfect time in my life and the inspirational journey he went on and continues to undertake hit me in the exact place I needed it: my creative spirit. It needed a jolt to get me out of the doldrums. My spirit needed to come around and be reminded that every single creative person—whether an indie writer, a rock star, or anyone in between—has moments of doubt. But if we just keep going and keep making our art, magic can happen.

It is remarkable to get an inside look at an established and famous rock star who is my age. The bass player, Nate Mendel, is four days older than me so I should have been a Foo Fighters fans from the jump. But I wasn’t. Instead, it took me twenty-seven years to come around.

Now, I’m there and not only am I on YouTube watching tons of videos but I’m rummaging through my wife’s CD collection and pulling every Foo Fighters album she has. The music is fantastic, but Dave Grohl’s message is even better.