Dylan, Ear-Worms, and More on Draft 12.1

Credit: bobdylan.com

Bob Dylan’s star is shining bright since the announcement that he has been chosen as the 2016 laureate for Nobel Prize in Literature. Congrats, Bob! Well deserved, and thrilled that literature, in the eyes of one of the most visible literature prize committee, has been expanded to include song composition! Readers of these pages will know that I often use examples from song lyrics in my posts because I find that they connect us more tightly than words that live only (mostly) on the page.

Which brings me, in a round-about way, to a strange ear-worm of mine, strange because I’ve heard the song only a handful of times in my life. Oh, but what a powerful song Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man is, with it’s dirge-like tempo and angry insistence!

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

(Pa-pa-pam pam pam!)

It comes to me at odd moments, a stray thought about a misunderstanding big or small, and the lyrics will pop into my head and stay there for a day or two, pa-pa-pam pam pam!

And speaking of words that live beyond the page, if only fleetingly, a reminder that Draft 12.1 is only a week away. Check out Draft’s newest related post, The Writer’s Unblocking: 4 Authors Share their Ideal Writing Spot.

Oral Story-Telling – John Pizzarelli

For a great example of oral story-telling, check out Radio Deluxe’s broadcast of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s concert at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the campus of Cal Stamidnightmccartney300te Northridge in Los Angeles, recorded live April 9th, 2016. Download Show. After the first two songs, John tells the story of how he came to record Midnight McCartney.

I’d previously heard him tell the same story on the Radio Deluxe program taped at John and Jessica’s home in New York, but this live version is even more hilarious. John lays it on thick and hits all the right notes.

A shout out to Jazz FM 91 in Toronto for airing this program every Sunday morning at 9 am.


The Whole of the Moon


“I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
… but you swooned!
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon”[2]


Vincent Van Goth was in the lunatic asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence when he painted one of his most iconic oeuvres, Starry Night, in the pre-dawn swirl of a June 1889 morning. He caught the crescent moon rising. How do we know?



In the leftmost image, the waxing (growing toward full) crescent curls like a D, whereas the waning (decreasing toward the new moon) curls like a C.

Unlike the sun, which always rises in the morning and always sets at night, the moon rises at all hours of the day and night, approximately one hour later each day as it goes from new to full and full to new again. The phases we see on earth are caused by the relative positions of the moon and sun in our sky.

When the moon rises in the east just as the sun set in the west (or sets in west just as the sun rises in the east), they are in perfect opposition and we see a full moon.

When the moon rises in the east at the same time as the sun, we see no moon at all. It’s the new moon, the first day of the lunar month. By extension, the crescent moon we see in the western sky on the next few days is referred to as the new moon. It traveled through the daytime sky, unseen by us, until the sun set and lit a small section of the orb, leaving the rest in shadow from our terrestrial point-of-view.



As time passes and the moon rises progressively later in the day, we come closer and closer to the full moon. After that point and for the next two weeks, the moon will rise after the sun sets, again progressively later until it rises just before dawn and appears to us as a thin crescent curling like a C – Van Gogh’s moon in Starry Night.

Why should we, creative writers, care? Well, if our narratives include a crescent moon in an evening sky, it had better be setting, not rising.

If we include a crescent moon in a morning sky, it had better be rising, not setting.

And should our characters find themselves travelling at night, aided solely by moonlight, they had better use other means of seeing where they’re going for some substantial part of the month, even assuming an extended spell of clear weather.



As for the Full Moon in all its mysterious glory, may we all stop Wondering, Guessing and Trying.

Let’s Know, let’s Swoon and let’s Fly!

[1] Painting by Mike Schultz

[2] From The Whole Of The Moon, composed by Mike Scott (The Waterboys);  lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Complete lyrics here.

[3] Painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh,

[4] Source: Astropixel.

[5] By Sheree Canfield

[6] Moonlight Scene Near Leeds by Victorian-era artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw.

Points of You

The Year of the Cat

Omniscient, third-person, third person limited, first person… As writers we all make choices about points of view and reap the benefits or navigate the limitations of these choices.

Second person narration is rare in novel unless it’s a “choose your own adventure” story. That said, “you” is used in creative writing in three major ways:

In addressing readers directly to draw them in or dispense wisdom. An example from song-writing is All you Need is Love by the Beatles.

A second way is in addressing a single person, usually in conjunction with one or more first-person narrators. A sub-genre is epistolary novels such as the chilling We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003) and the diabolically clever Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782). Another sub-genre takes the form of imaginary monologues. In Brendan Matthews’ short story, My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer (Cincinnati Review, Summer 2009), an unnamed clown addresses a trapeze artist while the reader listens in. Kim Echlin also uses this narrative device with great success in her 2009 novel, The Disappeared. Looking at song lyrics, Hey Jude by the Beatles is one among a sea of great songs addressed at one particular individual.

A third way is in putting the reader right in the action. Apart from the aforementioned “choose your own adventure” genre, this device can be used to great effect in short stories and flash fiction. Song lyrics can sometimes be seen as flash fiction in that they tell a very short story from beginning to end. One example is The Year of the Cat co-written by Al Stewart and Peter Wood:

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

More lyrics here.

Share your examples of points of you.


Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison / Harmonium
Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison / Harmonium

Whenever I think about Summer I think about Dixie by 1970’s iconic Québec band Harmonium.

Dixie is the second track of season-themed album Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison (If We Needed a Fifth Season) and stands for Summer, a 3:26 min gem of a song that we would most definitely call jazz today rather than progressive rock. Don’t let the joual put you off. It’s playful and precious. The piano is manic and the clarinet wild. Enjoy!

(The paragraph above appeared in Jazz FM 91’s Jazz Messenger, August 13th, 2015 under JAZZ.FM91’S SUMMER PLAYLIST)

Lyrics in French from elyrics.net with my additions in bold:

Dis-moi c’est quoi ta toune
Qui m’r’vient dans les oreilles, tout le temps
Tu sais moé, j’ai plus ben ben l’temps comme avant
Plus le temps comme avant
Pour remplir mes oreilles
Dis-moi c’est quoi ta toune
Qui me r’vient comme le soleil tout ltemps
Quand y vient c’est jamais pour lontemps, de temps en temps
Pour longtemps, d’temps en temps
Pour chauffer mes oreilles
Aïe! Toé fais-en pas du pareil
Ôtes tes doigts d’dans tes oreilles
Toé fais-en pas du pareil

My quick translation (words added in parentheses to help keep the metre and meaning):

Tell me what’s this here tuneThat keeps coming back to my ears, always,
You know I don’t have as much time, as I did,
Not much time( much time) as I did
To fill up my ears (with tunes)
Tell me what’s this here tune
That keeps coming back like the sun, always.
When it comes it’s never for long, here and there
Not for long (for long) here and there
To warm up my (big) ears.
Hey, you, don’t you do that!
Take your fingers out of your ears!
You, don’t you do that!
Sum doob doo-bi-doob…
What song or piece of music do you associate with a particular season?

Unreliable narrator

Invasive Plant in Stanley Park Vancouver 2013DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET!

I wrote this review of Pink Martini’s June 30th, 2015 concert at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto for a dear friend who was too ill to come. To make her feel better, I laid it on thick in terms of how BAD (read GOOD!) the concert turned out to be.

Supergroup Pink Martini took to the Roy Thomson stage in front of a packed house on June 30th and opened with a VERY BLAND version of Ravel’s Boléro. Keyboardist Thomas Lauderdale was in his usual DREARY form, STIFF-FINGERED and STONY-FACED. Already NOT WORTH the price of admission, thought this reviewer.

Lead vocalist China Forbes then SNUCK UP to the mike and launched into Amado Mio in her trademark PIP-SQUEEK voice. Lucky the band members were all playing their instruments DELICATELY, otherwise they would have drowned the SUPPOSED Diva’s TIMID vocal modulations. This was followed by the iconic Sympathique from Pink Martini’s debut release of the same name. It was clear from her INEXPRESSIVE body language that Ms. Forbes simply “NE VOULAIT PAS TRAVAILLER,” and would have been better off outside, FUMER, or is it FUMING?

Timothy Nishimoto, a FAT guy in a DRAB-LOOKING silver suit did his best to bring the house to its feet with ¿Dónde Estás, Yolanda? but the percussionist-vocalist COMPLETELY LACKS a sense of rhythm, a quality one would assume is de rigueur for a musician. He stood MOTIONLESS at the microphone, while the crowd wondered, “¿Que passo, que passo, Timothy?”

I must admit that I fell asleep and only surfaced a few times during BLAND renditions of Ich dich liebe and other songs in various languages, including Bulgarian, Turkish and Japanese. Just before the break, the crowd was invited to join the band on-stage and dance through a RAMBLING instrumental. Those poor people had no sooner found their rhythm than they had to switch step to keep up with the band’s ERRATIC MEANDERINGS. One woman in a-little-pink-dress-to-end-all little-pink-dresses tried INEFFECTUALLY to kick her heels. I hope she never enters any dancing competition because she would be sure to LOSE! Once she regained her seat with the elderly gentleman who tried MISERABLY to keep steps with her, it became apparent that he was, in fact, her father—mom was in the audience. Aw!

Game as ever after fortifying themselves with Canadian Rye, the audience filed back in for the second half but was again SORELY DISAPPOINTED. Qué sera, sera FAILED to get us to sway along but, Whatever, we thought. What will be, will be.  A LAMENTABLY LAME rendition of Lilly made us hope that “Lilly, Lilly, Lilly, Lilly (would) LEAVE!” Hang on Little Tomato had us “drowning in a sea of deep confusion” about why we had forked over the price of admission for this PALTRY spectacle. The trumpet and trombone players did LITTLE to elevate the experience and, frankly, I wondered why Pink Martini EVEN BOTHERED to tour with OH-HUM violinist Nicholas Crosa, double-bassist Phil Baker, and percussionists-drummers Derek Rieth and Brian Davis. Anyone expecting lush got SPARSE instead. PLAIN. Get Happy got us UNHAPPY. Hey, Eugene, AMPLY JUSTIFIED why Eugene never called Ms. Forbes again after their two dances and one make-out session.

But, just to show that Toronto can be as nice as the rest of Canada, we DUTIFULLY clapped until the eleven-member band returned to the stage for their encore. Ms. Forbes and Mr. Nishimoto teamed up on a Happy New Year song in Mandarin, a BARELY COMPETENT Gong Yi, while Lauderdale LAZILY walked off the stage. He SHUFFLED BACK on with his smart phone, CLAIMING to have found the sheet music to Oh Canada, this being the eve of our national day of pride, ye know. He FOOLISHLY started hitting the ivories, WILLY-NILLY, while Forbes turned to the audience IN A PANIC. For the audience, this was the AT LAST moment. We stood up en masse and sang our hearts out. Take that, other nations! Even Ms. Forbes was FORCED to admit that we had brought tears to her eyes.

The “grand finale”— NOTHING grand about it, believe you me! — was Brazil and again the crowd was invited on stage. NOBODY dared this time and we were SPARED being treated to more EMBARASSING gyration by INCOMPETENT audience members, or their UGLY kids dancing it up with INGLORIOUS abandon.

To anyone who bought a ticket way back last August – yes, ten months ago! – and came up with a FLIMSY excuse (like, oh, I don’t know, pneumonia) to miss this show, I say, you DIDN’T miss a thing. It was the WORSE concert I have been to in a decade. Make that three decades!

From Zola to Korea

Gisaeng Dancing on Gwanwhamun Plaza Seoul 2012A letter to my sixteen year-old self

My dear Josée,

What I remember most clearly about being sixteen is wondering who I was and who I would become. The answer seems quite simple now, plain to see in the books you read, the music you listen to, what you write and even what you draw.

At twelve you devoured the collected works of Jules Verne. At sixteen you’re into Emile Zola: thick tomes, complex stories, vivid descriptions and thought-provoking scenes. Passion. Social commentary on class differences and most of all, heroines who will settle for nothing but what is real and what is just. The novels are not what your friends read and they are not, God forbid, required reading at school. The nuns frown on Monsieur Zola. His books are branded as immoral by the Church. Immoral? Well, yes, Nana, the man-eater will be immoral when you get around to reading her story, but not Angélique in The Dream with her religious zeal, not Catherine who toils in the coal mines of Germinal, and certainly not Denise who works at the The Ladies’ Paradise department store to feed her two brothers.

Just as books are an integral part of your life, so is music. Switch on the radio and before the afternoon is over, I’m sure you will turn up the volume for Color My World by Chicago, with its dreamy romanticism, and Lay Lady Lay by Dylan, with its troubling invitation and just as troubling tenderness. You will get up from your chair and waltz to What the World Needs Now, but when the DJ plays Ball of Confusion you will hold your breath to try and follow the rapid-fire lyrics.

You are the sum of these books and songs, by turns idealistic, optimistic, individualistic, passionate, confused and, most of all, romantic. You are in love with the idea of love and yet as uncompromising as Zola’s heroines. Your brothers say that no one will ever be interested in you. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed. Well, never mind that silly saying. Do you remember a drawing you made in grade four? You still have it somewhere, I am sure. Look for a young man with a foreign slant to his eyes, The Jade Prince, named for the shade of Prismacolor you used for his jacket. Figment of your imagination or premonition? All I can say is that your brothers will eat their words.

People say many things about words, that they have the power to destroy and heal, and the power to change the world. You wrote: Les mots vous livrent et vous délivrent. Words betray you; they set you free. In French, livre also means book: Words “book” you and “un-book” you, or something to that effect.

You have tinkered with the idea of writing a book but it is such a monumental task that you have abandoned each attempt after only a few chapters. How do real writers do it? My sense is that they are, or were, geniuses. In 2014—such is progress—we have personal computers and we use them for computing, yes, but also for writing. I have written this letter not on a typewriter, as might appear to you, but on a computer and I can tell you this: it may look nice and polished but I have re-written at least one word out of every three. I have moved text around. I have deleted whole sentences and brought them back after realizing that they were needed after all.

That said, a computer does not a writer make and you are fated to walk a different path … for a time. What that path is, I will let you discover, but one day, many years from now, something unexpected will happen. It will start innocently enough with a television series that would never have come to your attention but for your best friend, your lover, your husband, your Jade Prince who, incidentally comes from Hong Kong. The year is 2005 and a portion of the world is captivated by the trials and tribulations of a semi-fictitious woman named Jang Geum who lived in sixteenth century Korea. She is everything Zola’s heroines were, and more.

Jang Geum will be just the beginning. By the time you write this letter you will have logged over 4,000 hours absorbing what makes the people of South Korea sweat, swear and shed tears, through books, magazines, film and television. You will have learned some basic Korean and visited the country twice. And for the past seven years, you will have been writing a novel set in Korea. It is a monumental task, no questions about it, a journey fraught with contrary winds, course changes and bodies thrown overboard, otherwise known as killing your darlings.

How does it end? I don’t know. I’m not there yet. All I can say is that it’s worth every second spent navigating the rocky shoals of mixed metaphors, telling rather than showing, tired clichés and the dreaded adverbs that others kindly point out are “not needed.” At times it is worse than rolling a boulder up a hill but at other times the story seems to write itself. You are merely a conduit. Your characters—your creations!—take you in directions that you had never imagined. Links you had never intended get forged. And they seem so right, so inevitable.

See how I get carried away! Writer’s high.

But now it is time to say Goodbye. I wanted to tell you what I thought you longed to know—who you were, whether you’d find love, what you would become. I see now that it’s the other way around. You are the one who told me, reminded me, what I longed to know. Les mots vous livrent et vous délivrent. Words have betrayed me by telling the world who I am and freed me to be myself: idealistic, optimistic, individualistic, romantic, confused, and most of all, passionate.

Thank you.



WRL Season 3-4 Thumbnail   This letter was read at the Women Writing Letters Series on April 13th, 2014 and appears in Women Writing Letters: Celebrating the Art Seasons 3 and 4, edited by Tara Goldstein and Amanda Greer. Copies are available here.

WRL Season 1 Thumbnail  For Season 1, click here.

WRL Season 2 Thumbnail  For Season 2, click here.