How a writer finds their voice.

How to find your voice as a writer?  First, you start writing...

How to find your "voice" as a writer? First, you start writing...

A long time ago I realized I was never going to get rich as a writer.  Then again, if you’re writing to make a lot of money or become famous,  you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Most writers never make any serious money at it.  If I can make enough to buy a tank of gas and have enough left over to take my wife out to dinner at Friday’s, I’m a happy guy. 

One of the questions non-writers and new writers ask is “How did you find your voice as a writer?”  I answered it on a board for writers and thought I’d  put the response here as well.

1. How did you find your voice as a writer and know it was your voice?
2. When did you make the discovery?
3. Did finding your voice ease the writing process for you? If so, how?
4. Lastly, any tips for finding one’s voice?

1. It took me about four or five years as a freelancer to find my “voice.” I had to get past the point where I was going beyond being my own harshest critic to actually blocking myself from being the writer I knew I could be.

I knew I had found my authentic voice as a writer when I no longer merely was a poor imitation of better writers I admired and naturally emulated. There’s nothing wrong with allowing ingredients of another’s writer as part of your own, but when you know you’re not speaking in your own voice, all you can be is second-rate copy of someone else.

2. I made the discovery after I had won a “Best Critical Writing/Analysis” award from a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When the award was handed out, it was in a hotel banquet hall and I was stunned by the fact that with the exception of my wife and myself, there wasn’t another person of color in the room. Even all the waiters were White.

That was when I knew whatever inferiority complex I might have when comparing my writing to others was all in my head. It was a moment of total clarity. From that point on I knew I didn’t have to take a backseat to anyone. The only thing that was stopping me from achieving my success was me.

3. Finding my voice as a writer liberated me from the self-imposed shackles I had placed upon myself. There are subjects I am not as skillful at as others and I don’t have the right stuff to make it writing fiction, but while I am still awed by how well some writers write, I know they don’t have any more talent than me. They may have just seized upon a opportunity that I missed or never had.

I’m not jealous or envious of any other writer. I don’t begrudge them their success. I’ve had my own and while they may be more modest and less lucrative, I’m just as happy and satisfied as they are.

4. Everyone has to find their way to their voice in their own way. There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. Not at least any that I’ve found in the 17 years I’ve been at this.

Read the works of writers you enjoy and admire and figure out what they do that speaks to you. Don’t imitate them trying to become you. But don’t be afraid to find inspiration and guidance in what they have done.

For a writer, achievement means more than success.

For a writer, achievement means more than success.

Join a writer’s group. I’ve been part of one for five or six years now and it’s been an immense help. I need the immediate feedback from others whether I’ve written something brilliant or utter bullcrap. If you’re sensitive to criticism it will help you develop a thicker hide. The input of others helps shape you as a writer.

If you’re immune or indifferent to criticism you’re probably only writing for yourself anyway.

Oh, and write. Write a lot. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad. Writing a lot of stuff will eventually overwhelm the bad by the good. The alternative is being someone who talks about being a writer and does little more than talk.

I will pass on a quote that resonates with me:

You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different. Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

~ Neil Gaiman

“Here in my car…”

Where have all the good times (and cars) gone?

Clothes may make the man, but the car he drives makes a even more profound statement about who he is.

In my case, I think it means I’m growing up.  Or maybe just growing old.

A 1968 Mercury Cougar was my first “real” car.  I had been sharing a olive green Chevy station wagon with my father with had zero-minus-zero coolness factor to it.  The Cougar was nothing  but cool.  It was painted blue with a white vinyl roof and that little bastard could get up going down the road.

The proof of that was I got pulled over twice for driving too fast within the first three months of driving the car.  Seems I had a bit of  a heavy foot, but hell, I was still a young man in 1976 and I had places to go and people to see.  I needed to get from here to there in a hurry and I was driving one fast cat.

That car also got me through the one crash I’ve ever been in.  I was driving to a morning class at Ohio State University to take a test.  As I went through a  green light, a small foreign car, maybe a Honda, tried to beat the light and I hit it broadside.

The impact smacked up my fender, smashed in my headlights and bent a tie rod in the right wheel.  But that was nothing compared to the other car.  It  crumpled like a cracker box, spun around in the intersection and came to a rest on the sidewalk in fromt of a carry-out.

What was ironic was the car was driven by a girl who was in the class I was trying to get to.  She was in a hurry too.  Turns out we both made it to the test late.

I ended up selling the Cougar to some good ol’ boys that lived around the block from my off-campus crib.  I may have gotten $700 bucks for it.  A few weeks later they had it up and running again, though it was looking a bit beat-up.   It was a little bit like seeing your old girlfriend with a new boyfriend.

Not being a car freak, I’ve never cared much about how big the engine is or how much horsepower it had.  Usually my car purchases were based on what I could afford as much as I much I wanted.  That’s the only excuse I have for ever buying a Chevrolet Chevette.

Nothing screams cheap like a Chevette

Nothing screams "cheap" like a Chevette

This is the only car I can safely say I’m embarrassed I owned.

I have a unpleasant memory of taking this small, underpowered, cramped piece of crap and driving it to Atlanta.  You don’t know how a car performs until you put it out on the highway and find out it doesn’t.  My wife is still traumatized by that trip.

The Chevette got great gas mileage, but mileage doesn’t mean a helluva lot when you’re either crawling up a steep hill in Tennessee or praying for your life as you’re going down a even steeper hill in Tennessee at night with a 18-wheeler dead on your ass and nothing but a sheer drop to your right.  That is a “come-to-Jesus” moment for you.

With only a weak 4-cylinder engine, the car had no pick-up, never got warm in the winter and the air conditioner was merely a suggestion in the summer.  The only real air conditioning was when you rolled the windows down on both sides.  Getting rid of that car was like getting rid of a bad habit.

You got a fast car...nah, not really.

"You got a fast car...nah, not really."

For the last eight years there was a 1995 Ford Thunderbird LX in my future.  This was the only car I knew I wanted to the exclusion of anything else.

I loved my T-Bird, but I can’t say I always liked it.  Despite its V-8 engine, it seemed to strain to pass trucks and other cars and when you’re driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as I often did, that’s a big problem.

The T-bird served me well for eight long years, but this last winter in Columbus really drove home its limitations.  Over a month’s time I had to put a new battery, three new tires,  oil change, tune-up and it was towed twice.

The list of what was wrong with the T-Bird was longer than what was right with it.  When I traded it in this week the only thing I knew I would miss about it was the new car stereo system I had bought  two years ago.    I tolerate factory stereo systems up to the point where I can afford to have them ripped out and a real one installed.

The Thunderbird was never a family friendly car.  The only person who could sit it in comfortably was me.  For everyone else it was too small in the front, too cramped in the back and when the sun came out on a summer day and heated up those leather seats, too damn hot.

So this week I bought a practical car, not a cool one.   “Practical” is a much more polite word than “boring” wouldn’t you say?

I guess when you get to my age, you’re not as big of a hurry as you once were and if it takes you a little longer to get there, so what?

Not crazy. Not sexy.  Not cool. Just practical.

Not crazy. Not sexy. Not cool. Just practical.

The Sebring is a “nice” car.  Nice like a woman who is by no means ugly, but she’s not drop-dead gorgeous either.  This car is like that.

When I drove the car home the other night I was thrilled or even excited.  I felt satisfied.  Satisfied the way you feel when you’ve eaten a competent, if undistinguished meal at a Friday’s or Red Lobster.

Is this as good as it gets?  I’ve been tamed to the point that just being satisfied is enough?

Well, not entirely…

Before I bought the Sebring,  we test drove a BMW 3 Series i sedan and it’s a sweet machine.

Sweet ride, but sweetness costs.

Sweet ride, but sweetness costs.

But while it was a car that is  both far more  sophisticated and sexy than a piece of Detroit steel like a Chrysler, all I could think of was two things:

1.  I don’t have a garage so where am I going to park a BMW?

2.  How much blood would I have to sell to afford a oil change on this bad boy?

As it turns out being a 2003 model, I couldn’t get the financing or the monthly payment at a rate i could reasonably afford.

Plus, without anywhere to park it but on the street, I’d spend every night sleepless worrying over someone steeling the BMW insignia hubcaps.

Ahhh…but it’s nice to dream isn’t it.   Maybe by the time I’m ready to say “bye-bye” to the Sebring, I’ll have a house, driveway and garage more appropriate to park a “Beemer” in front of.

Fire Geithner, Hire the Sherminator!

Everyone likes to dump on Congress because it’s full of idiots, but there are some pretty smart folks up there.  Representative Brad Sherman (D-California) squared off against some CNBC blowhard named Mark Haines and kicked his ass all over the place.  Watch and enjoy.

I trust in the president, but I don’t share his confidence in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.  Geithner seems to be like Indiana Jones and making this up as he goes along.

Geithner may be a smart guy, but he’s lousy at conveying confidence that he knows what he’s doing.  The Secretary of the Treasury isn’t usually as prominent as the Secretary of State or Attorney General, but in a time of financial crisis, the importance of the position becomes magnified.  Simply put, Geithner isn’t inspiring confidence on Main Street or Wall Street.

Come on, Mr. President.  Fire Geithner and hire Brad “The Sherminator” Sherman.  He seems to get it the best way to handle these bums and thieves at AIG is to grab ’em by the collar and smack ’em around a little instead of Geithner’s approach of throwing billions of dollars at Wall Street and hoping they’ll play nice with taxpayer money.

While I’m always in favor of giving it to greedy and stupid CEOs and corporations good and hard, it looks to me that Congress is engaging in one of their favorite pasttimes: covering their own sorry butts.

Politicians are nearly always in reelection mode and both parties are trying to figure out how best to pimp this issue to their own advantage. This 90% percent tax seems to be like like purchasing an expensive security system the same day your car is stolen. I don’t think Congress can do anything more than ask the AIG officials to return their bonuses, though if I were one of them I’d probably tell ’em to stick it.

Congress, The Bush and  Obama Administrations all blew this one big time. With the talk shows phone lines glowing, the coffeehouses chattering and dinner tables dissing on AIG (Arrogance Incompetence Greed) everyone is looking to appeal to populist anger and that’s probably politically the smart move, but it absolves Congress and both the current and former Administrations from their negligence in providing oversight.

Is Tim Geithner ready to sit at the big kids table?

Is Tim Geithner ready to sit at the big kids table?

I’ve never bought into the suggestion that applying conditions to the bailout bucks would result in an exodus of talent from AIG and other institutions. To suggest only the arsonist that burnt your house to the ground is the only guy qualified to rebuild it is a specious argument. If all of that “talent” decides to boogie over to India for jobs there, give a bunch of work visas to some financial wizards from India and call it a even swap.

But I agree with Talking Points Memo writer Joshua Marshall Mitchell that the heavy-handed method Congress is employing a “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” approach.

If you have a household income over $250,000, and you receive a bonus, 90% of that bonus would be taken back in taxes — through a mix of income and excise taxes.TPM

This strikes me as pretty ill-advised on a couple levels.

First, what’s to stop the companies from just folding the ‘bonuses’ into straight salary income? In which case, the whole thing goes out the window?

Second, this cuts a pretty broad swathe. You don’t want CEOs who drove their companies into the ground pulling down multi-million dollar bonuses from companies that wouldn’t even exist any more without big taxpayer handouts. And the folks at AIGFP who played a big part in driving the whole economy into the ditch with their reckless and possibly criminal behavior shouldn’t be reaping big rewards of taxpayer money.

But it’s not clear to me why a couple, both of whom work in the financial services industry, and make $150,000 each should essentially have their entire bonuses taken back in taxes.

If Congress wants to punish AIG they should have written the provisions doing so into the original bailout and not try to try impose them retroactively. Doing it now only indicates how sloppily they did their jobs back when Henry Paulson came calling warning of the apocalypse if AIG were allowed to fail.

Oh, and Timothy Geithner? You are so out of here.

There’s a story here, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

Every woman should own a little black dress

It’s been a long week.   Most of it has been spent doing research and talking to lawyers.   Explaing why what made it that way is something I’d just as soon not get into now.

I’d rather look at a pretty woman in a little black dress.  Why?  Why the hell not?  

The lady in the picture  is Carla Gugino who was the best thing about Watchmen, but this isn’t about her.  This picture of her wearing a little black dress is what it’s about. 

And while  I think Gugino is pretty hot I don’t know her.  The picture of her in a little black dress brings back a pleasant memory of someone I used to know who could rock a little black dress the same way but for now, a private memory is what it will remain.

Gugino said in an interview for Women’s Health, “The people who are the most beautiful are those who do what they love to do – who have love in their lives, and laugh a lot, go to good movies, read good books, and have great sex.”

There’s someone I know that fits that description to a “t” but I can’t tell it.  One day when I  figure out how to tell it without getting myself into  trouble I will.

Please Stop ‘Cause I’ve Had Enough

 He’s filthy rich.  He’s flat broke.  He’s a Black Muslim.  He’s still a Jehovah’s Witness.  He’s a child molester.  He’s a innocent man.    

It’s the Dangerously Bad Thriller, but is he Invincible or just Off the Wall?

He’s Michael Jackson and he’s baaaaaaaaack.  

Once a Jacko but still a Wacko.

Once a Jacko but still a Wacko.

At least he is if you live in London.  The 50-year old “King of Pop” emerged from his seclusion to announce he would be performing 50 concerts at the  O2 arena in London.

The concerts begin on July 10 and end February 24, 2010.  The arena seats 23,000 and estimates are over a million people will see Jackson perform.

The Wikipedia entry for “This Is It,” the title of what Jackson is calling his “final curtain call” breathlessly exclaims    Sales of Jackson’s albums increased following the press conference. Overnight, sales of Off the Wall  rose 200%, Bad rose 110%, Dangerous rose 165% and Thriller rose 155%

Well, la-di-da.  I’m not mad at Michael J. for moving some of his back catalog, but  the most recent of those albums, Dangerous, is 18 years old.

Jackson’s last release of new material was 2001’s Invincible, a double-platinum seller, but one without a Number One single for the self-proclaimed King of Pop.

I never bought or listened to Invincible because by 2001, I was totally burnt out on Michael Jackson’s non-musical antics.  Just as Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping and Scientology rants had turned off his fans and his subsequent movies underperformed, I was so sick of Jackson I didn’t even want to hear his music anymore.   I didn’t care if he was innocent or guilty.   All I wanted was him to get his decaying face out of mine. 

The tour organizers promise, “dramatic shows [that] promise an explosive return with a band of the highest calibre, a state-of-the-art stage show and incredible surprise support acts.”   It’s that last part that grabs me.  “Incredible surprise support acts.”  Who’s going to open for a 50-year-old Michael Jackson?  The even more ancient Rolling Stones or The Who?   Well, Mick Jagger is a whore for money.   Maybe Mick and Michael can revive their “State of Shock” duet?

Ugh.  Maybe not.  More like “State of Suck.”

But if I were living in London and the ticket price wasn’t too outrageous, I’d probably go to what might be my last chance to see Jackson performing live.  

Mostly because I don’t think he can.  We’re talking about a scary-skinny, sickly and increasingly fragile pop star i with a surgically enhanced hip who hasn’t performed live on a major level since the HIStory tour in 1997.  Jackson has too much pride and ego ever to go the route of a oldies act playing at state fairs and frankly he’s still big enough of a star to command (and get) millions to go onstage.

But really the desire to see Jackson performing  after all these years and facial surgeries is the perverse pleasure of sitting in the front row and catching his nose when it flies off after he does a quick spin.   He may still be able to moonwalk,  though not very far or very long and he probably needs a good eight hours of sleep afterward.

I don’t wish bad on Michael Jackson.  In his time, he gave me a lot of enjoyment and his first four solo albums still sound  pretty good even now.  Nobody stays on top forever.   It just takes some guys longer to realize it’s time to get off the stage. 

Even writing about Jacko makes me feel old.   Once upon a time it was  “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”  Now it’s “Please Stop ‘Cause I’ve Had Enough.”

James G. Cummings, Slain US Nazi, Was “Very Upset” About Obama’s Election, Had Parts For Dirty Bomb (VIDEO)

I thought The Huffington Post claimed to be about “breaking news?”

I blogged about this James Cummings nut back on February 16!

Get with it, folks!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Who Watches the Watchmen? I Did.

Five characters in search of a movie.

Watchmen. Meh.

I was never emotionally engaged by the movie. There is different expectation that comes when you’re familiar with the source material. Like you, I bought the comic when it came out in September ’85 through October ’86. There isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery as the comic. Zack Snyder did a fine job of putting the story on screen, but really, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons storyboarded the movie for him.

I really like the fight sequences such as the Comedian’s struggle against the intruder, the alley fight, the prison break (though there does seem to be the same Asian looking guy getting his butt kicked in several scenes) and the final one at Ozzie’s throne room.

But the actress who played Silk Spectre was lousy. Her big emotional moment on Mars with Dr. Manhattan was…well, I was going to call it “wooden” but that would be insulting wood. More on the caliber of dinner theater, not major motion picture.

Nite Owl/Dan was okay, but he really should have been paunchier and a little older. Ozymandias/Adrian looked like a male model in a GQ ad. David Bowie would have called him a fag.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian/Eddie was good though his crying scene was weak and Jackie Haley was a perfect Rohrschach. You could almost smell how grimy he was.

Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan? He was okay, but anyone can voice a CGI special effect. Otherwise, he’s just a big, blue guy with his wang-dang-doodle flapping in the breeze.

Zack Snyder isn’t a visionary. Two movies don’t make you a visionary. He’s the new George Lucas. Technically competent, visually lush, but he can’t direct actors. The worst moments of Watchmen are the quiet scenes of actors delivering the dialogue—stiffly.

Maybe it’s my own thing. I sat there and I just never got engaged in the world of Watchmen. I felt I was watching a great book turned into a standard comic book movie. IT missed the fun of Iron Man or the Spider-Man flicks. No way it touches The Dark Knight.

Despite the ramped up sex and violence Snyder threw in with the absence of a compelling villain, it was just a series of talking head shots and talking and talking a lot more.

See the movie. Buy the toy.

See the movie. Buy the toy.

I think the movie will do well, but I expect it will drop off huge next week. It wasn’t a terrible movie. I hated the music choices though. One minute you’re hitting me with Nine Inch Nails, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix and the next its this orchestral arrangement dripping with strings, horns and heavenly voices. For chrissakes, either do the rock/metal thing or the John Williams school of music.

Maybe it’s just that I find almost three hours of a man’s dork all up in my face not the most entertaining of experiences.

The source material for the film is great but the film itself is merely adequate.  It’s was okay. Nothing more than that.

I’m not disappointed because the film isn’t as good as the book.  I wasn’t expecting it to be.  But I think it’s fair to have hoped it would be better than it was.

** Two stars.

Keiko Matsui: A Love Affair with Music.

Keiko Matsui: being great isn't the same thing as being popular.


What’s popular isn’t always good because too often what’s good isn’t popular and just because you’re good doesn’t mean you’re going to be popular.   If you’re a fan of jazz music you become accustomed to this.   You accept that you’re a  fan of a kind of  music  most people not only don’t get, they won’t even hear.

I confess to  having a soft spot for women in jazz.     It takes commitment to play a genre of music that is mostly ignored by the public unless your name is Norah Jones or Diana Krall and jazz is a bigger boys club than even rock n’ roll.   Jazz music goes unappreciated in America and if you’re a woman playing piano, drums, bass or saxophone,  I’ve got nothing but love and respect for you, because jazz isn’t easy to play and it’s hard to get recognized. 

Back in 2002 following the creation of his own record label the saxophonist Branford Marsalis said in an interview, If you’re not selling, you’re out. That’s all it is now. My buddies who record for multinational labels are forced to play standards so they can sell another 10 copies from radio play. I don’t believe in radio as a marketing tool. Radio sells pop records, not artistic records. The first thing I’m going tell anybody that records for me is ‘no standards.’ ”

Jazz is called America’s classical music, but the genre represents less than 3 percent of music sales.  The fan base of jazz is knowledgeable, fierecely loyal and pififully small.  Most musicians have to tour relentlessly and usually find the audiences in Europe,  Japan and other countries more receptive than Americans fed a steady diet of pop music and American Idol.

For over 20 years I’ve been a fan of the Japanese pianist, Keiko Matsui.   I’ve seen her live and interviewed her twice.  I’ve  been astonished by the consistency she has to her artistic vision.  No standards.  No cover tunes.  No big guest star blow-outs.  No overly commercial moves.

On one hand, for 22 years, the Japanese pianist Keiko Matsui has been a bit more consistent.  She makes a new album every two years, keeps the compositions about four  to five minutes in length, and never panders to fashion by doing the same thing everyone else is doing.   In her own quiet way she’s sold over a million records, which may not sound like all that much over a career spanning two decades, but when  one considers how few people buy jazz, it’s really something of a compliment.

A classically trained pianist from Tokyo, Matsui’s music is a hybrid of jazz, new age and classical music without being shackled to any one tradition   Choosing a favorite Keiko Matsui album is difficult, because none of them are bad,  a few are brilliant and all of them have something to recommend.

Often Matsui is dropped into the smooth jazz  ghetto, but it’s really only because she doesn’t fit neatly into any other category.   Too adventuresome for contemporary jazz and too jazzy for New Age  and too far from classical, her music is a hybrid of all those genres, but with a Eastern  flavor.   The “Keiko Matsui sound” was in no small part shaped by her ex-husband, Kazu Matsui who produced all of her albums  up until her most recent one in 2007.


Somebody once said Matsui’s music sounded like the soundtrack of a movie never made.   I like that description.  Her music is lush, layered and etheral.  That’s not to say Matsui can’t make music you can dance to.  She does, but it’s her East mets West approach  towards her compositions where a sense of place and creating uniquely lush soundscapes. 

It’s the kind of music a good pair of stereo speakers were made for. 

Some writers need absolute silence and solitude to do their thing.  Not me.   Too much quiet makes it harder, not easier, for me to be creative.   By the same token, I can’t fully focus with AC/DC or Ludacris screaming and yelling at me.  There is a time and a place for that sort of music, but not when I’m trying to find my creative sweet spot.

That’s when I need a cold Diet Coke, a comfortable chair and some Keiko Matsui music and I’m good to go.   Writing is an introspective endeavor and I need music that sets the mood.   keiko3

Right now it’s Deep Blue (2001) playing.   I’ve already said I like all 15 of her albums I own, but this one is a particular favorite.   When it’s been a rotten day, I’m in a rotten mood and I’m all out of balance this album is a tonic.   It chills me out and puts me in a different head space.

Describing why you fall in love with a certain musician is kind of an odd thing.  It’s like explaining why you fell in love with your spouse.  

Long ago and far away when musicians released albums, there were always a handful of artists whom I would buy on faith.   The list includes Santana, The Isley Brothers,  Led Zeppelin, Sade, Living Colour, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince and of course, Keiko Matsui. 

Santana went soft and commercial.  The Isley Brothers died off and fell off.  Led Zeppelin broke up.  Sade disappeared.  Living Colour broke up, got back together, but lost momentum.  Stevie Wonder only makes a new album once or twice every a decade. Michael became a bad joke and Prince just made too many lousy records in a row.   

That just leaves Keiko. 

Since I don’t cheat on I’m forced to rely on Matusi as the outlet of a one-sided love affair.  But it’s nothing creepy.  Every few years she emerges from Japan, drops 40-minute of music on me, the last one being Moyo in 2007 and then she’s gone again.

It’s about that time.  Just can’t wait.