Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jamie Logan and His Children

Jamie Logan made his first appearance in my first novel, How I Grew Up, as a high school senior playing the role of Billy Bigelow in his high school’s production of Carousel. He’s handsome, talented, and a super nice guy, and despite having a long-time sweetheart he has a romance of sorts with his leading lady, Melanie Stewart. Something that often happens in high school productions.

Two books later, and Jamie and Sarah’s marriage has failed, mainly because Sarah wanted to be a bride but not a wife. Jamie, who has an unusually fine tenor voice, has been taking lessons with his former high school music director (that’s quite a story in itself) and is encouraged by that teacher and his parents to go back to college and pursue a career. You Are My Song follows Jamie’s journey as he aspires for a career in opera. Self-doubt, family crises and even a hate crime are stumbling blocks he has to deal with along the way, as well as the rivalry and politics he didn’t expect. Jamie just wants to do what he loves: sing.

Equally important to Jamie is having a family, and he and his wife (and who she is may surprise you. It did me!) have two children, Laura and Niall, both musically gifted in very different ways. Jamie’s Children, to be released July 15, is their story. Each of them has life challenges they strive to overcome in order to be the artists and the people they want to be.

Here’s a brief excerpt from You Are My Song. The Kindle edition of this book will be on sale this coming weekend, July 2-4, for ninety-nine cents. While Jamie’s Children is a standalone book (as is You Are My Song), it’s fun to meet characters in one book and get acquainted with them again in a sequel. The year is 1958.


The final piece for his audition was an aria from Puccini’s opera Tosca, “E lucevan le stelle” (“The stars were shining”). Ed had a portable record player in his studio and he had brought a recording of the opera. He played the recording of the aria for Jamie, first explaining to him a little about the opera and what was happening in the story when the aria was performed.
It was a defining moment for Jamie. Hearing this aria sung with orchestra by the great tenor Giuseppe di Stefano transported him. He thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard in his life. Ed saw the look on Jamie's face and knew Jamie had stepped beyond the limits he had set for himself and had caught a glimpse of an entirely new world.
When the aria ended and Ed turned off the record player, he turned to Jamie, intensely interested in hearing what his student would say.
“I want to do that,” Jamie said immediately, his eyes shining. “I want to sing that aria with an orchestra, standing on a stage. I want to sing opera.”
Ed put the record back in the album sleeve and handed it to Jamie. “Why don’t you take this home with you and listen to the whole opera when you have a chance? The aria I assigned you is wonderful, but the entire opera is full of the same kind of music. Puccini was one of the greatest of all opera composers.”
Jamie took the album eagerly. “Thank you so much, Ed. I’ll sure do that. I can’t wait to hear it. See you next week!”
Ed watched Jamie leave. His whole demeanor had changed since he had walked into Ed’s studio two weeks earlier. His head was high, he walked with purpose. The uncertainty Ed had seen was gone. Hearing di Stefano sing inspired Jamie as nothing else could have; Ed had made a good choice with both the singer and the aria.
Jamie’s entire world had changed in two short weeks. He had a goal. He had a purpose. He no longer felt like a failure. His marriage had been a mistake, but his whole life lay ahead of him.
A life in music.

 You Are My Song on sale July 2-4, Kindle edition, $0.99

Friday, June 24, 2016

Music and Words ... and Copyrights

Thoughts on Music Copyrights for Authors Who Self-Publish

Two of the online author groups to which I belong have had lengthy discussions recently about using song lyrics in a novel. I’m no expert, but many years in the music publishing industry have given me some insight. Yes, you can use them; however, unless they fall under the “Fair Use” guidelines, you need to contact the copyright holder and request permission, and it will cost you something. Song titles, no problem: titles cannot be copyrighted. The industry fiercely protects the music and lyric copyrights for the artists it represents, and I see that as a good thing.

So far as music lyrics are concerned, I believe one thing that has confused writers is how accessible they are at numerous online sites. So they must be “fair game” for “fair use,” right? Wrong. If you look closely at those sites you’ll find tucked away in a corner somewhere that these are copyrighted and used by permission.

“Fair use” – it seems there are no exact guidelines. Here’s one comment I found online: “… the biggest ‘rule’ that you’ll find—if you’re searching online or asking people—is: ‘Ask explicit permission for everything beyond ‘X.’ What constitutes ‘X’ depends on whom you ask.”

My friends in the industry tell me to be on the safe side, stay with seven words or less to qualify for “fair use” (which means not to worry about seeking permission). I generally whittle that down to five or six words. Unless you believe your novel is going to sell thousands of copies, you’ll find most copyright holders (you deal with the legal department, and they are very helpful because they appreciate that you’re making the effort to do this right) may not charge that much: in my case, I’ve paid $50 - $55 per song for the first 500 books, the minimum. 

If I ever sell more copies than that of one of my novels, I’ll happily contact the Rodgers & Hammerstein folks, the George Gershwin copyright holder (it’s Alfred Corporation, by the way) or the Music Sales folks (copyright holder for Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence”) and find out where we go from here.

You will receive a detailed letter of agreement which you must sign and return along with your payment, and the legal office will send you the exact wording that must appear in your book indicating you are using the lyrics with permission. This information goes on your copyright page.

Some lyrics are P.D., or Public Domain, among them most folk songs and all of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. That’s a little ironic, because the massive piracy of the G & S operettas was a factor in establishing the copyright laws in the first place. Those are fair game and you can use however much you want.

 This may remove some of the mystery. If you have any question and are using more than seven words, I would definitely contact whoever owns the copyright for the song you want to use. (You should be able to find this information on line.) 

Funny story about that “seven words”: it seems to hold true for the notes of a melody as well. In his brilliant musical Wicked, Stephen Schwartz uses the first seven notes ─ though with a different rhythm ─ of “Over the Rainbow” in the Unlimited theme which occurs throughout the show. (Elphaba sings it in “Defying Gravity.” And no, I am not going to add the lyrics here!) Apparently, Schwartz figures it’s a tribute to Harold Arlen and a nod to The Wizard of Oz.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Just Call Me Eponine

Victor Hugo Wasn’t Around for This One

In the first part of Eli’s Heart, Eli Levin and Krissy Porter have just reconnected after three years. Through letters and then phone calls they resume a friendship which seemed to be blossoming into something more but was brought to an end by his interfering mother. He’s in college in Westchester County, New York; she’s at a music conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio. He’s a brilliant pianist, she’s a voice student.

There is a growing drama on Krissy’s campus; one of the school administrators is making a power play which is creating turmoil. He has brought two new faculty members on board for obviously personal reasons, and in order to provide them with stellar performers in their studios, he attempts to raid the studios of established faculty members.

Back in the 1950s, when I was a student at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, studio loyalty was fierce and sometimes fanatical. Your applied music teacher was one of the most important people in your life. Often students of a teacher referred to them as “Mama” or “Papa” … my late husband’s excellent voice teacher, Robert Powell, was highly esteemed and was “Papa Powell.” My teacher, Fenton Pugh, was “Pappy” to his students.

I’ve had a private studio of my own since 1979 so have long been on the other side of this. There is a unique bond between a music teacher and her private students unlike that of a classroom teacher. There has to be complete trust. Your teacher is asking you to use your music to share your soul. Music is meant to live, and the finest musicians make that happen and take audiences with them to beautiful places.

So for this man to use coercion and intimidation to lure students away from this person who is vital to what they are attempting to do with their entire lives was a cause for concern, among not only the student body but among the faculty as well. In addition, some faculty were threatened with being replaced as directors of various performing groups.

The story is all there in Eli’s Heart, pretty much as it unfolded. Things came to a head not with an explosion, but with a massive toilet paper prank one night in December, after this had been simmering since September. We awoke the next morning to find nearly every tree on the small campus festooned with toilet paper, and while it was hysterically funny, it woke the board of directors up to the seriousness of the situation. Music students didn’t toilet paper trees in those days. We were far too busy practicing our butts off and dealing with music theory.

A call went out to the student body via faculty members (who were as disgruntled as we were … the school’s reputation was at stake, in their opinion, and I think they were correct) for any student who had specific grievances to speak to the Dean of the school. So Krissy decided to play advocate, and she circulated throughout the small women’s dorm, collecting information, writing it all down. She let the Dean of Men know she had this impromptu document, and was called before the Dean, the Assistant Dean, the Dean of Men, and the very administrator she was hoping to help unseat.

I know exactly how she felt when she walked into the Dean’s office and saw those four people sitting there. Krissy … well, okay, Susan Moore was only a first semester sophomore, and the consequences could have been bad if this went the wrong way and the bad guy won. Fortunately, the troops were rallying in the distance in the form of student body leaders, mostly male graduate students, who surrounded me when I left the office and after I’d been debriefed, they took over. Okay, Eponine, you fired the first salvo, now the real troops have arrived.

What convinced the board that Fred Smith had to go was the very real threat from both students and faculty that if he were not removed, we were prepared to not return to school after Christmas break, and most of the faculty stood with us. I have what I believe was the only piece of publicity our rebellion received in an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer from mid-December, 1956, upper left hand corner of the front page, headlined “Smith Quits, Conservatory Rebellion Ends.”

In part it reads: “Faculty members said they believed the resignation will end the turmoil among both students and teachers who had demanded Mr. Smith’s ouster … (Walter) Schmidt, (president of the board of trustees) confirmed the resignation, but refused further comment on what he called ‘a student rebellion.’ ‘I won’t say another word,’ he said. ‘I’ve had enough trouble.’ … ‘It was a case of Mr. Smith going or there being no more school,’ a faculty member said. ‘The great majority of both students and teachers were ready to quit and go elsewhere.’”

Eli’s Heart includes the student resolution presented to the board of trustees listing our grievances against Mr. Smith (he’s referred to by another name in the book), which states in part “he has impeded educational processes by coercion, intimidation, pitting student against student, faculty against faculty, and deception of the board of directors. The administrator has sought to use his power and office to satiate his appetite for complete control and dominance.”

There’s quite a bit about what actually went on during all this in the book. Krissy was not a rebel by nature, and for her to jump into the fray as she did showed some strength I don’t think she realized she had. She had no problem with the men taking the reins after that first skirmish.

Remember, it was 1956. I have to wonder how something like this would play out in 2016.

 Eli's Heart is available on Amazon,
e-book and paperback. Visit my website for 
additional information.

Monday, June 6, 2016

About those “Writing Rules” …

Recently I posted on this blog about my sense of what an author needed to be aware of when writing; basically, learn the “writing rules,” but don’t be afraid to break them if it works for the story you are weaving. Some of my writer friends took exception to what I had to say, reminding me that many beginning writers hadn’t had the education I had enjoyed, nor the life experience, and might misunderstand the comments.

Let me be very clear: anyone who wants to write needs to know how to spell and when to look up a word if they are unsure of the spelling. How to use these words correctly. How to construct a sentence which not only makes sense, but flows well. How to figure out paragraph breaks. The importance of dialogue and description. These are absolutely vital if you want a reader to get past the first chapter in your book. 

And it is very true that I was fortunate enough to have an excellent background in the English language, by virtue of diagramming sentences and learning vocabulary (which included spelling tests) while a high school student in the 1950s, and writing essays and book reviews in high school and through two years of college English. I was also a voracious reader from a very early age and love to read. The joke with my kids was “if Mom is reading, the house could fall down around her ears and she still wouldn’t put the book down.”

So I think what I more likely should have addressed was style, particularly as applies to current literary practice. I grew up reading mostly nineteenth century novelists. Fictional prose written today is quite different from that of Charles Dickens, my favorite author (I’m currently reading Bleak House, one I missed when I was young. Great read!) So when I tackled my first book at the age of seventy-five, my writing was influenced by that style, which is now considered old hat. Many of the books I read, though I didn’t know it at the time, were from the point of view of an “omniscient narrator,” also considered old hat these days.

Three novels later I’ve learned more about current preferred writing practices, and I have begun to use these more and more. I’m fortunate to belong to two local writing groups, and we read sections of anything we are currently working on and make suggestions. These are always made in the most positive way possible and have definitely been a help to me in improving my skills.

I do have to qualify all this by saying when I sat down to write How I Grew Up on May 6, 2013 (yes, I remember the exact date) I had no thought of ever writing another book. It still surprises me how much I fell in love with writing and I already have a start on book number six. I’ve had some modest success with the five books I’ve written and self-published (at my age, I didn’t spend a lot of time sending query letters to agents and attempting to go the traditional route).

So when I wrote recently about not being afraid to break the rules, it was in the context of what you will see in Jamie’s Children: written in third person point of view of the two protagonists, but with a few sections in the book using omniscient narrator.

If I had read the above paragraph on May 6, 2013, I would have no idea what I was talking about. Nor through the next two novels, Eli’s Heart and You Are My Song. They are still good reads and strong stories, though I’ve been advised recently I used too much exposition. A recent comment about Eli’s Heart: “A very enjoyable read. I hated the style of writing but the characters are very well defined, the musical element is powerful and the ending is brilliant.”

Another recent comment: “I started reading "Eli's Heart" and it was totally worth all the emotions it invoked. Without giving too much away I can only say that the relationship between Kristina and Eli was so beautiful and their love so pure even with all the obstacles that they had to overcome. I loved the progression of the story over the years and since I love music that was a plus for me. But even though you are not musically inclined this is truly worth reading!

I guess it all depends on your P.O.V. Back to the drawing board … er, computer.

Please visit my website to learn more:
Links to all my books are on the website.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

“More Fog, Please” Musical Book Signing

The Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center was the site of an enjoyable and melodic evening of songs from several great musicals! The theater generously allowed us to host a “musical book signing” for “More Fog, Please”: 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals. A dozen performers from over thirty years of shows shared memories and music.

The theater set up a lovely display for all my books. This is one of the two tables.

Long-time friend and colleague Linda Schaller was pianist for the evening.


Jeff and Tassy Gilbert started the evening with a duet, “Heather on the Hill,” from Brigadoon, reprising the roles of Tommy and Fiona they had performed in 1985 for Pocono Lively Arts.

Jamie Snee performed “Christmas Lullaby” from Songs for a New World, the first production presented by Black Sheep in 2008.

Amanda and Melanie Meilinger sang “Hold On/You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a medley from The Secret Garden and Carousel, arranged by Marti Lantz especially for the evening. The sisters had never sung together on stage since Amanda was a senior when Mel was a freshman at ESHS South. Amanda was  Martha in 2010 and Melanie was Nettie in 2013.
Two great songs from Ragtime by the cast members from the 2011 Black Sheep Production: Rebecca Roeber as Mother singing “Back to Before,” and Rodney West as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. presenting “Make Them Hear You.”

 After all that drama, we needed to lighten the mood, so Kelly Foley and Jane Asher entertained us with “The Stepsisters’ Lament” from Cinderella, a show I directed three times: 1984, 1993 and 1999.

Back to more drama as John Coakley performed “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. John performed the title role at ESHS South in 2004 and stopped the show every time!

We ended with Gilbert and Sullivan, the trio “Away, away! My heart’s on fire!”  from The Pirates of Penzance. Kurt Moucha reprised his role as Frederic and Kelly and Dale Foley their roles of Ruth and the Pirate King in the 1993 Pocono Lively Arts production. 

The audience adjourned to the lobby to select books!

(all photos by Tristan Flanagan)