Saturday, August 8, 2020

Snapshot! by Liz Flaherty...with a little help from her friends...

We went to hear music at Black Dog Coffee last night, one of our favorite things to do and something we've missed so much during Covid's long sojourn with us. We stayed fairly distant, masks either on or ready to put on, and got to share music and conversation and memories with friends. 

We've made so many of those memories together, although not being a musician gives me a different perspective than the others have. While my recollections are more likely to be formed around different criteria than theirs, we all have them. 

Sarah and Ron Luginbill, with some beautiful violin help from their daughter Lita, sang mostly old songs last night. Ron kept the audience informed as to when the songs were recorded and by whom--and he was always right. I could have sworn "At Seventeen" came long before 1975--I'm glad I didn't argue that point. 

We talked about the memories we got from music. And how it's not just the music you remember. It's where you were when you heard it, who you were with, what the weather was like. And how it made you feel.

"It's a snapshot," said Mike Almon. "You should write that." 

I'm limited this morning by my own memories, but I'd love to hear yours.

Sarah sang the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" last night. It was nowhere near my favorite Beatles song (that's another column--or maybe a series), but I remember sitting in the car--although not which car--and listening to it and wishing so hard that could happen for me. I wasn't happy with who I was then--who is when they're 16?--and I didn't really believe dreams came true. 

Mike Almon always ends his concerts with Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle." Duane and I weren't very long into our journeys as parents in 1974, but the song's lyrics resonated even then. Every parent ends up with regrets, being sorry for times wasted, things said and things not said. But none of us are ever sorry for the time spent on bleachers, one-on-one time in the car, or just sharing the same air as our kids. 

June Zinn, who plays the flute, talked about a song she used to play with Steve "Bear" Pochi, a much beloved friend who's no longer in the circle of chairs musicians seem to gravitate to no matter where they are. She can't think too much about the song, or about its lyrics, or she can't play it anymore. Her eyes welled up when she talked about Steve. Memories.

There are songs that Ole Olsen players sing in musical reviews that go so deep into their hearts that if you're watching them sing, you feel what they're feeling. When Kelly Makin starts "At Last," I sit up straight and listen, simply because of the power and the emotion that come from the stage. 

It's a lot like, for those of our generation, remembering where you were when President Kennedy died. Remembering later, when Alan Jackson sang "where were you when the world stopped turning" and we all knew and felt again that September morning. The emotion is so deep I can't begin to describe it.

I don't think I've said this very well, and I'm sorry for that. Let me say again, I'd love to hear your memories. And how they made you feel.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Fiction, facts, and the virus... by Liz Flaherty #WindowOverthSink

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood... Yeah, I'm singing and I really shouldn't, but it was raining when I came out to the office this morning. Coming straight down and darkening the shades of green that come to Indiana with August.

About writing. And the virus. And fiction. And real life. And facts.

I'm glad I write fiction as opposed to true-life, because fiction is negotiable. It's pliable and you can be assured of a happy ending. Although you're led by the characters you write, in the end the pen is still in your hand.

Another thing about writing fiction is that one of its primary rules is that you check your facts before you put them on paper. If you're going to mention someone having six heart bypasses (which I did), you need to make sure it's a possibility. If your hero in 1865 is going to be singing "Little Brown Jug," he needs to reconsider--it hasn't been written yet. If you're writing about the Revolution, don't use the word mesmerize--no one did until 1829.

There's more than one reason to be careful with facts in fiction. One is that you can be sued for defamation. Another is that many readers believe if something's in print, it must be true. (You can mess with that statement a lot. If it's on Facebook...if it's in the National Enquirer...if it's on YouTube...or my own choice--if it's in People...)

Unfortunately, there are too many pens in too many hands in the virus, aren't there? Too many "if it's in..." quotations.

Another facet of writing fiction is characterization. The better you are at it, the better your stories are. If you have a bad guy, you need to make sure he's not all bad, or the reader can't sympathize with him. If you have a hero and/or a heroine, you need to give them flaws so that the reader can be him or her. (I'm always relieved when a heroine has bad hair and some extra pounds.)

All fiction stories have an arc that shows the growth of the story's protagonists from start to finish. Of course, the arc more often looks like a roller coaster, because it swoops up and down and goes in loops and occasionally goes completely off the rails, but, when you're coming down that last screaming drop, it's still an arc. The thing to do is not quit in the middle or there you'll be. Just hanging there, not sure whether to believe YouTube or science, this doctor or that one, a Facebook meme or a journalist.

We can't quit in the middle--I still have grandkids to watch grow up so that I can take the credit for what fine people they are, don't you? We need to continue to search out the truth, to do our best to take care of others (whether we like them or not, no matter who they voted for), and to be really careful of what sources we quote from. I love People. It's probably my favorite "social media," but it doesn't pretend to be science. I love YouTube, too--it's where I listen to music. (And sing along, although, like I said above, I really shouldn't.)

But if I quit reading in the middle, before I've looked at other sources and weighed them out, I shouldn't quote anything I've seen. I can't do that as a fiction writer; I most certainly should not when it comes to true-life.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.