Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Non-Person

We are such stuff as dreams are made on … (Shakespeare)

According to the state where I was born, I don’t exist.

St. Anthony Hospital’s record of my birth (apparently not a legal document, but the only record I have) shows that I was given the name Carole Sue Moore. Nobody EVER called me Carole except my fifth grade teacher, until I set her straight. My name was Sue. My family called me Susie, which I refused to respond to once I became an aspiring ballerina at the age of ten.

At the much wiser age of seventeen, when I was a freshman at the College-Conservatory of Music of Cincinnati and an aspiring opera singer, I decided the name “Sue Moore” was much too short to either sound or look good for a performer. “Sue Moore” was kind of like a one-two punch. So I lengthened it to “Susan Moore.” Much better. Susan Moore had a little music in it. It still makes perfect sense to me. Mind you, it never crossed my mind to take any legal action. I just removed one letter and added three others to my middle name. The important part, Su, was still there.

When I applied for a marriage license in Hamilton County, Ohio, when I was twenty, the record shows the bride’s name as “Carol Susan Moore.” Compounding the first mistake by leaving the “e” off of Carole. My social security card and all legal documents after I was married show my name as “Susan M. Jordan.” Except my will … it’s “Carole Susan Moore Jordan.”

A few months ago I decided to apply for a passport. I’ve never needed one because I’ve only traveled to Canada a few times, but it dawned on me that even if I’d like to go to Montreal again before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I would need a passport. The only record of birth I have is the certificate from St. Anthony’s Hospital. So I contacted the Department of Health in the state where I was born, requesting a copy of my birth certificate. I submitted a copy of my social security card and my current driver’s license to prove I am a real person.

No deal. The letter I received informs me: “We cannot release the certificate because the name on your ID does not match the name on your certificate. To amend the certificate will require a certified Court Order/Legal Name Change. The Court Order MUST identify the Child on the certificate by stating the name as it NOW appears on the certificate (Carole Sue Moore).” It goes on at some length about what MUST appear on this Court Order (all caps are as they appear in my letter, including the word MUST which appears exactly like that several times, including the bold type).

I am advised legal fees for this service range from seventy-five to three hundred dollars. Hoping to avoid the expense of changing my name legally after sixty-plus years, I appealed to my local state representative’s office. They tried, to no avail. The state … er, State of my birth is intransigent. I am not a person in their eyes until I go to court … er, Court to prove it.

So for these past few months I’ve been residing in limbo. It’s not too bad to be a non-person, actually. It really kind of opens up a lot of possibilities. Think about it!

Oh … Carole Sue Moore? As I recall, she played harp in the pit orchestra for her high school’s production of Carousel.

But that’s another story.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Dreamers of Dreams

A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.” – Neil Gaiman

I’ve always loved Arthur O'Shaughnessy’s Ode which begins: “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams …” The Neil Gaiman quote was one I found this morning, and it’s now also one of my favorites, because I believe it is so true.

I dreamed about my character Niall Logan last night. I’d just had an exchange on line with Nate Taylor, a former private voice student who has in common with Niall that they both aspire to careers as folk singer-songwriters. Nate has generously shared some of his experiences with me which have been a great help in my attempt to understand Niall’s musical aspirations.

I’ve dreamed about my fictional characters before, generally when I was going through a rough patch: trying to decide what to keep and what to cut, including characters in a book. The ending of Eli’s Heart was an adventure. I wrote four different endings. I think I didn’t really want to end the story.

In this instance I’m tweaking the final chapters of Jamie’s Children, and had an idea I wanted to share with Nate to see if he thought it worked. I’ve written the lyrics to five songs for this book. I had thought I would only try a couple, but they seemed to get better with each attempt (just as they did for Niall; the first is kind of lame and he comments after one verse that “the words don't seem to fit” and later refers to it as “a work in progress”).

The last one I wrote I really like. In fact the last three aren’t bad. And it’s been encouraging to have Nate tell me he likes them; in fact, he said he loved the one I just sent. And we exchanged thoughts and ideas about folk music and classical music as well, because … much like Niall … Nate’s background was classical for the first twenty years of his life. I hear some of that in his music, and my sense is the influence of classical music also echoes in Niall’s music.

I would imagine dreaming about the characters who become so real to us is something I share with most authors, especially those whose work is character-driven. They are in my consciousness now for the rest of my life – every character I have created continues to live in my mind. And one of the best compliments ever is a reader telling me that when they have finished the book, they miss the characters. It tells me I succeeded in bringing these people to life.

I expect to have Jamie’s Children in the hands of readers by around the first of March, so for all intents and purposes the book is finished … for now, anyway. We’ll see what their verdict is. I really challenged myself with this book. I hope it works!

In the meantime, you might give a listen to Nate Taylor’s music. It’s well worth hearing, so I’m including the address to his website here which has links to both audio and video files, and also to his professional Facebook page. By the way, one of Nate’s songs is titled “In Dreams.” Nate says in his bio that he’s following his dream: a wonderful way to live.

Exploring this music has opened up my musical world. The first stanza of Ode ends:
       “And we are the movers and shakers
         of the world forever, it seems!”

I’ve met more of Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s “movers and shakers” … and they are remarkable.

Nate Taylor (photo by Frank Bell)


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Words and Music, Take Two

Writing About Music (Revised 3-6-16)

The characters in my books are musicians, generally performers of classical music, and since music is a vital part of their lives I attempt to use words to show the reader some of the music they love. This music can be so magnificent and so complex that it’s not easy to give a reader a sense of how overwhelmingly beautiful it is. 

It’s gratifying to read in a review that even though the reviewer is not versed in classical music, they found the descriptions enhanced the story. So I must have given them at least an indication of how much a character’s life is dependent on this love of music which drives them to perform.

Here’s a brief section from my work in progress, which until recently has had the working title Jamie’s Children.  Jamie Logan, stellar operatic tenor worldwide, is father to Laura, a violin virtuoso, and her younger brother Niall, who despite his bipolar disorder discovers his own music as a folk singer-songwriter.

A family friend and renowned accompanist has been Laura’s mentor since her gift was discovered at the age of four. A child prodigy himself, pianist Eli Levin becomes Laura’s mentor and is an important part of her life: he understands her as no one else can because of the common bond they share. When Laura is fifteen he dies unexpectedly at the age of forty-one, and it takes Laura years to understand the repercussions of that loss.

Some years later she performs a work at the Aspen Music Festival with pianist Anita Foscari, who later becomes Laura’s accompanist. This is an excerpt from Jamie’s Children. Laura and Anita are rehearsing Poulenc’s sonata for violin and piano. (This sonata is a personal favorite of mine, and I enjoyed listening to it repeatedly as I wrote this section. Yes, a very difficult part of my work – listening to wonderful music!)

(This section of the book has been revised. If you read the original, it might be interesting to see what I did with the revision.)

     “Well, Poulenc called this a sonata for violin and piano, but I think of it as a piece for piano and violin. You have at least as much music as I do.”
     The two women were hard at work on Laura’s solo recital, and played straight through the sonata. They smiled at each other when they finished and Laura said, “Let’s see what we need to do with this intriguing piece.”
     “First movement was a little rough,” Anita commented.  “Lots of changes … not just in tempo. Sometimes the entire mood is totally different.”
     “Yes, two different styles at play here. Some real musical humor and then some really nice lyrical stuff. And the transitions are a little tricky.” Laura stood by the piano and pointed to different passages with the tip of her bow as she talked.
     “I have to be careful not to cover you at times. He’s written a very strong piano part here … and here,” Anita said, flipping pages and indicating the passages she meant.
     Laura’s favorite was the second movement, in which Poulenc provided one gorgeous, lyrical moment after another, and she and Anita both let themselves soar with what the composer provided them. The movement seemed to drift away on a final moment of haunting tenderness.
     When Laura had first learned the piece, she read that the sonata was intended for performance by a young French violinist, Ginette Neveu; but when she died tragically young at thirty in an airplane crash, the composer made revisions which reflected his reaction to her premature death. Laura felt a definite connection to the piece because of her own experience with a great artist who had died prematurely.
     The last movement was bittersweet and tinged with sadness, ending with a uniquely wistful coda. Laura tried to reflect what she thought Poulenc had wanted to convey, a farewell to the violinist for whom he had composed it. She heard the sweetness as she drew a plaintive sound from the strings with her bow and as she held the final note, she let it grow softer and fade away to nothing.
Photo: Rocky Mountains National Park (NPS)

If this excerpt has intrigued you, you can read more about Eli Levin in Eli's Heart, and about Jamie Logan in You Are My Song. Both books are available on Amazon. You can connect through my website, www.susanmoorejordan.com I'd love for you to visit!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Adventures Down Under

Wonders of the Internet

I just wrote a lengthy email to my brother-in-law who is presently residing in Sydney. I mailed it at 8:30 a.m. EST and checked to see what time it is in Sydney … and it’s 12:30 a.m. tomorrow.

Maybe because I was a child of the mid-twentieth century, I never fail to be amazed with what I can do at this magical computer of mine. First of all, I wrote an email and sent it off to Sydney without having to put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, go to a mailbox or a post office. And it’s sitting in Jim’s “mailbox” on his computer right now, and will be waiting for him when he wakes up. (Or maybe he’s a night owl and will read it now.)

How incredible is that? In my book Eli’s Heart, Krissy and Eli have to communicate by letters … the kind with paper and envelopes and stamps that have to be physically put into the hands of the USPS (we just called it “the post office” back in the olden days, children), and they have to wait for several days for the letter to reach its destination. And even if they replied immediately, it was another several days before they received the reply. So seven or eight days to exchange “I love yous.”

Oh, they sometimes use the telephone, but they are both college students and they are six hundred-plus miles apart and long distance calls are expensive. So they are sparing of those. Despite these obstacles, which are minor compared to the other obstacles they have to surmount, they manage eventually to get together.

For the book I’m currently writing, I saw a poem somewhere on line that really spoke to me and wanted to use part of it, but I wanted the author’s permission to do so. I found his Facebook page and sent him a message. He’s from Colorado but is now living in New Zealand. We were able to communicate via the Internet. There were a few pauses because of the time difference, but nevertheless, it was only a matter of hours, not days. Or weeks.

One thing that came to light right away was that the poem he wrote and the poem I saw were not the same … someone had altered his poem, and of course we have no way of knowing who. That surprises me, but perhaps it shouldn’t. Having been actively involved in the music publishing industry, I am very sensitive to copyright laws and would never presume to reproduce song lyrics in a book without legal permission. More and more frequently I see YouTube videos which have been removed because of that infringement.

Perhaps the literary copyright watchdogs are not as vigilant; and certainly it’s difficult to police the Internet. Bootlegging protected creative work is as old at least as the ability to reproduce it is. In the late nineteenth century it was rampant. Gilbert and Sullivan fought it as best they could, but their operettas still appeared on stages in the New World without their knowledge or permission.

But I digress. What blew me away about these recent communications was that I was having adventures Down Under while sitting at my computer in my comfortable home in Pennsylvania. Pretty amazing stuff!

Sydney Opera House