Header Image - Getting the words out by any means possible.

Ry Cooder, Tone, and Imagery

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Dig this version of Woodie Guthrie’s Vigilante Man by Ry Cooder. Cooder is probably best remembered these days for his work on the Crossroads soundtrack and The Buena Vista Social Club. I could tell you that he rips it up, but you can watch for yourself. Enjoy the how the tone of the slide, Cooder’s voice and the words work together to form an image of  the story in your head.


Here’s an example of Cooder’s work from the Paris, Texas soundtrack. Without seeing any of the movie, images of heat and dust and desolation spring into my mind as I listen. Melancholy and loneliness drip into my emotional bucket as well.


Now watch with movie footage:


Spot on, don’t you think?

The best writing analog I can think of is Cormac McCarthy’s writing in All the Pretty Horses:

They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pasture-land. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The light fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.

It’s that tone and emotion that makes writing richer, almost tangible. What are you doing to layer your writing with tone and emotion?

It's a Long Way to the Top

by Jonathan 10 Comments


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This clip from School of Rock is sweet in its own right, but it’s also a good reminder that you’ve got to grind it out day after day to be good at what you do. And that’s just good. If you want to be great, well, I’ll be happy to post about that if I ever figure it out.

I could reel off a bunch of bromides about the journey being the destination and whatnot, but I fear my eyeballs would bleed so I’ll spare you the indignity and me the blood.

Get in there, enjoy the slog.

And here’s the original AC/DC version complete with bagpipes. I’m gonna go get me a haggis.


Mmmmmm. Haggis.

You and Rube Goldberg

by Jonathan 4 Comments

Take some time, watch this and marvel. (Stolen from Bronx Banter):


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Now, take time to marvel at your WIP or whatever noble task at which you’ve been toiling (Parenting is a good one). You’ve put effort into the details, arranged things just so, and hopefully, when all is said and done, you will be shot with bursts of color and people will clap.

Carry on.

The Coming Around of a Sensible Word


And it’s slow, so slow the idea,
The coming around of a sensible word.
It hovers and shakes like a hummingbird wing
At the end of a long hot year.

Kelly Joe Phelps – Tight to the Jar

Mr. Phelps very well captures the essence of writing in the bridge from Tight to the Jar. Always the task of the writer is to make the words sensible–knowing that is easy. How to do it, well that’s a whole ‘nother deal.

After finishing my second draft of Shadow of the Black City, I’m ready to once again try my hand at the short story form. It’s been about 120 K written words since I tried it last, as well as a few hundred thousand words of reading. We’ll see how it goes.

The short story is intimidating to me because I can’t sprawl too far from the center of the story. It’s a tincture of story, a concentrated drop of emotion, a distillation of character. Hopefully it doesn’t come on too strong early and leave the reader wanting at the end.

For the past eleven months I’ve probably written somewhere around 300,000 words between two drafts of my novel, a few pieces of flash fiction, a short story that started out at 10k words that I eventually whittled back to just under 4k, and this blog. Each day of writing represents a cumulative honing of my craft.

And I can tell.

With each stringing together of words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and so on, my writing feels less rickety. It’s kind of like a rubble trench, a hodgepodge of debris that alone is weak and useless. Pile up enough of it, and you’ve got something.

I’m chucking all kinds of stuff into the trench. Eventually it will be full and I look forward to building something strong on it, something pleasing and comforting.

If you’ve never listened to Kelly Joe Phelps and you like acoustic, slide and fingerstyle guitar (not to mention kickass songwriting), check him out on the You Tube. Seriously.

Hump Day Hootenanny

by Jonathan 0 Comments

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A little Ray Lamontagne to get you over the hump this Wednesday:


I dedicate this one to my wife, Ginger. Enjoy!