Wednesday, February 25, 2015


You Are My Song/Eli's Heart

     Writing You Are My Song was a very different experience from writing Eli's Heart. Eli Levin's story is full of drama because of the two challenges he has faced from birth: a prodigious talent and a frightening congenital heart condition. I recently described Jamie Logan, the young tenor in You Are My Song, to one of my readers as “an ordinary guy with an extraordinary talent.” Jamie has an unusually beautiful singing voice and excellent musical instincts, and he works hard to develop his talent. 
     It’s interesting to compare Jamie to Eli Levin. Because Eli was born with a prodigious musical gift, it’s a given that he will be a professional musician. The only question for Eli is how he will use his remarkable skill as a pianist: as a virtuoso, performing solo recitals and orchestral appearances? That is the manner in which most pianists endowed in this way spend their lives.
     Eli chooses instead to work with other musicians, as an accompanist or collaborator. The early part of the book includes descriptions of his battles with his mother over this choice. Because of who Eli is, with these dual challenges there is of necessity the sense of a fairy tale in his story. He’s different from most of us. He’s very different from most of us. He was performing professionally as a soloist at the age of twelve. When he is twenty-four, he’s completed his master of music degree and has embarked on a busy career as a collaborative artist that takes him all over the world.
     Jamie, on the other hand, starts his adult life with an associates’ degree in business and an early marriage that is in trouble. In high school he had enjoyed singing, and like most of us, sang in the school choirs and the high school musicals. Unlike Eli, Jamie has actually heard very little classical music until a voice teacher plays him a recording of a tenor singing a particularly beautiful and moving aria. Jamie is excited by what he hears to the point of returning to college at the age of twenty-three and eventually attempting a career in opera.
     Many professional opera singers don’t begin serious study until high school or even college, as opposed to instrumentalists who sometimes demonstrate talent and even genius at a very young age, as early as three or four. Serious singing requires muscular and mental development that doesn’t begin to take place until the mid-teens for most men, and the early to mid-teens for women.
     One difference between Jamie and Eli, it seems to me – and I know them better than anyone does – is how they perceive their talent. Eli has the ability to play anything to near perfection the first time he reads through it. Yet he practices hours on end, striving for absolute perfection. He has a very revealing moment in the book when talking with his psychiatrist (I think I did him a great service by putting Pete in his life):

     Eli was aware of how quiet it was in the room. They were high enough above the street so that traffic noise wasn’t audible.
     “You know something, Pete? Nobody ever asked me if I liked playing the piano. It came easily to me, and I could sight read anything, so everybody figured that’s what I should do. What else was I going to do?”
     Eli thought a minute. “I love music, Pete. I don’t mean to say that I don’t like playing piano, because really, I do. I’m hard on myself sometimes because I want it to be perfect. But when I’m working with another musician, it can be exciting to feel what’s happening.”

     Jamie has come much later to music and the realization he might have a career as a performer. But he battles self-doubts, partly created by the early marriage that ended badly after only two years. More than once these doubts surface as Jamie works hard to become as good a performer as he possibly can. At one point his second wife asks him:

     “What do you want, Jamie? I mean what do you see as the fulfillment of your dream?” She was surprised she had never asked him this. She knew he wanted to sing. She wasn’t really sure what would make him feel he’d “made it.”
     He said without hesitating, “Singing Don José at the Met.” He looked a little troubled. “It may never happen. But I guess it’s good to have a goal, and that’s mine.”

    Eli's Heart and You Are My Song are both available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. They are good stories. I have a friend who says everyone has a story, and I believe she is correct. It's been absorbing, challenging and rewarding to follow Eli's and Jamie's paths.

Covers designed by Tristan Flanagan

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Info Dumps and Adverbs

One Reader’s Thoughts

Eli's Heart is a tragic love story about a man destined to live a short life due to his heart condition - Tetralogy of Fallot. Eli and Krissy are drawn together by a shared love of classical music and the ensuing romance is beautiful and inspiring as their love defies adversity.

The story has strong emotional content with believable, and often moving, character interactions. These fictional figures become utterly real to the reader, helping to develop a connection that will make you need to know what is coming next. The entire book is tinged with the sadness of Eli's inevitable fate and the lingering hope he can somehow overcome his condition.

The author has drawn on her musical background in order to bring the world to life, and authentic touches such as Eli's medical history make events all the more convincing. The story takes place over many years and it is unfortunate the author has resorted to info dumping to keep the reader up to date. The structure suffers as a result and I found my eyes skimming over the page at times. However, when the correct approach was used, the writing became easy to follow and successfully painted a picture in my mind.

The attention to detail is good but there are occasions where it is slightly overdone and a surfeit of adverbs were a distraction. In my experience this is the flaw of a good writer trying too hard, rather than a sloppy one, and a good editor could rein this in.

Eli's Heart has a lot of potential and it is the kind of story which would translate into a good movie. I would like to add the Afterword is well worth reading as it discusses the real events which inspired the author and is very moving.” (Italics mine)

This was a four-star review on Amazon, mostly positive. But I studied the chapters where I thought the reader might have felt I was “resorting to info dumps” (one chapter in particular where I cover a fairly long period of time) and did some rewriting which I like, and the book presently for sale includes the revised Chapter 25. For any of you nice people who have read Eli’s Heart and would like to read the “new” Chapter 25, send me a message with your email and I’ll be happy to send you a PDF. The story has not changed; but I’ve rearranged some paragraphs, reworded some and added one little vignette that I particularly like.

About adverbs. I read frequently cautions to avoid “ly” words like the plague. I’m not sure I agree with this. I like adverbs, and I think there are times they work better than anything else to help create a picture. In You Are My Song I very deliberately use three “ly” words to describe a particularly tender moment between my protagonist Jamie and his wife. I think those words painted this picture better than anything else would have.

I appreciated this reader’s thoughts. I was very happy he found my characters believable, and I especially liked his comment about the book making a good movie. However, since there are no sparkly vampires or sadomasochists or whiny, vapid females in my book … in any of my books, for that matter … that seems highly unlikely.

Eli’s Heart is presently on sale on Amazon for $10.72 and You Are My Song for $11.76. Kindle editions of both books are $3.99.

 covers created by Tristan Flanagan