Before Goodbye, The Song

Out today on CDBaby. Soon to be on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon—where the music is.

Out today on CDBaby. Soon to be on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon—wherever music lives. I wrote “Before Goodbye” to go along with my debut novel of the same name. You can get a copy of the song by clicking here. Hope you enjoy! “Before Goodbye” was recorded in Woodstock, NY and produced by the illustrious Kevin Salem.

 

Light of Day Winterfest 2016

What Sells Books?

Every good novel needs a character with a compelling voice. Someone to sing a Siren song of love or loss, a Siren song of suspense or mystery, a Siren song of snarky cynicism, coming of age, middle school antics, musicians, or murder. There are a million stories (or a mere handful told a million different ways depending on who you’re talking to) and these stories must be told in a voice that matters. Authors, agents, editors, readers — everyone agrees. A strong voice is the most essential element of any story.

But something that not everyone agrees on, especially since the publishing industry is changing so rapidly, is the best way to sell books, although by now everyone has heard the word ‘platform’.

Platform is just another word for voice. Not the voice of the story, but the voice of the author. These days everyone seems to be saying that it takes more than a book to captivate and keep a reader’s attention. It takes a vibrant personality, someone who has A Story Behind Their Story, or at least, someone who is skillful enough to draw a crowd on facebook and twitter.

So do these things work? Does social networking sell books?

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the YA books I read in 2011 and tell you how I came to buy them.

Shift is a YA dystopian by author/artist Charlotte Agell. I fell in love with Agell’s picture books, which she illustrates with gorgeous watercolors, so decided to read just about everything she wrote. I wrote about her here and here and after she told me about The Crosswalk Kings, her son’s band, I wrote about them here.

I read about the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins first in The New Yorker.

I connected with Tara Kelly on twitter. At the time she was posting music recommendations and I liked the music she suggested. I checked out her site and saw that she offered editing services. I liked her site and thought well, if I’m going to hire her, I need to check out her writing. I’d already learned that she was a musician and her book Harmonic Feedback was about musicians so of course, I was interested. I bought the book and hired Tara to do a Big Picture Evaluation of the manuscript I was working on. I liked Harmonic Feedback so much I ordered her latest book, Amplified from my local bookstore. I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a musician you MUST read Amplified.

Joëlle Anthony is another author I connected with on twitter. I’m not sure how I started following her, I think I may have found her link in an article about twitter in the SCBWI bulletin. In any case, when Kidlit4Japan was auctioning off baskets of books to help raise money to benefit the victims of the earthquake and devastating tsunami, I bid on Joëlle’s basket because I knew the main character of her book Restoring Harmony was a musician, and at the time, everyone on twitter was talking about Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Joëlle’s basket had both, as well as an arc of Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Where She Went is the follow-up to If I Stay, so I ran out and bought If I Stay from my local bookstore. I wrote about Restoring Harmony here.

More tweets! Although my twitter account seemed to have a problem with me following Jay Asher (I swear I had to follow him three times before he remained permanently on my follow list!) no one else seemed to have that problem and his name and face seemed to pop up everywhere. Everyone I was talking to on twitter was talking about Thirteen Reasons Why and finally, after I connected with Jay on facebook and saw a gazillion copies of his book in Barnes and Noble, I bought a copy. And couldn’t put it down. Although I’d like to talk about it with him over a cup of coffee. There’s probably a club I can join.

Divergent by Veronica Roth was another book that everyone I chatted with on twitter was talking about. Another unputdownable book.

Twitter. Again. If you don’t follow @thunderchikin on twitter you must, if only to see his laughably gorgeous avatar show up in your twitter stream. But laugh is the key word here and it was David Macinnis Gill‘s sense of humor that made me go out and buy his book Black Hole Sun. He was kind enough to send me an ARC of Invisible Sun (Could it be because one of his characters is named Mimi?) and I will buy book III in this sci-fi grunge series as soon as it’s available. In this case, the author’s personality is what made me interested in his writing. That plus his hot avatar.

One of the local bookstore owners (who by this time, as you might imagine, has become a close friend) recommended Shiver and it still surprises me that I did not originally hear about Maggie Stiefvater online from #YAlitchat since that’s where I’ve learned about so many fantastic YA authors and their books and Stiefvater is actually a member of the group. I must have missed the chat that night!

I think Maggie Stiefvater is one of the best YA writers out there and if I could . . . I would eat her books.

I learned about Sarah Dessen at Ye Olde Local Bookstore, which, by the way is River Road Books in Fair Haven, NJ.

A whole rack of books by a YA writer? Yes please, I’ll take one. And go back for more.

Thank you SCBWI! For all you do for me, including introducing me to authors and people who work with authors. I met the author Natalie Zaman in a crit group at an NJ SCBWI conference and after reading 30 pages of one of her WIP became a fan.

Ally Condie‘s book, Matched was recommended by an editor I met at the same conference. Love.

And from Natalie Zaman, author of Sirenz, I learned about Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Good old fashioned word of mouth via NJ SCBWI. Love, love, love this book. Gorgeous writing, killer cover.

Jo Treggiari and I have friends in common, so again, word of mouth. I couldn’t put this book down, it made me think of the summers I spent in the Canadian wilderness as a teen. More on that in another post. I was surprised at the amount of time spent in the main character’s head at the beginning of Ashes, Ashes, as well as the many descriptions at the start of the story. I loved the way this writing technique enabled me to get to know the mc and her surroundings so very well.


I know, I know, I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner. The brevity in the writing, in the voice, made me think of a song. Beautiful, dark, perfect, I loved Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

And so I end my first annual blog post on books. I hope you enjoyed my totally unscientific fan-girl based conclusions. Maybe by next year at this time I’ll have something completely different to say about what sells books. Until then, I hope you continue to tune in to Sirenstories for new music.

Happy New Year!


The Best Teachers are Sirens

Meet Mrs. McGee . . .

A total Siren, right?

Mrs. McGee is the teacher featured in What Do You Want to Be? a new picture book written by Beth Carter and illustrated by Leo Silva.

I ‘met’ Beth on author David Harrison‘s wonderful blog about two years ago. At that time, I was going to his blog almost every day for inspiration. David has written over eighty children’s books and runs a Word of the Month poetry contest on his site that’s great fun. If you need inspiration, I suggest you try it, the word prompt will get your pen moving. For me, the experience was more about community than contest, and I felt like my poems had a home on David’s site even though they were all really works in progress.

When she found out that What Do You Want to Be? was going to be published, Beth, who lives in Missouri, asked me if I would write a song to go along with her book. I said yes, and last weekend I went up to Woodstock with #MySonIs5 to record the track that What Do You Want to Be? inspired. Hope you enjoy it!

Here are a few pics of #MySonIs5 recording his part at Kevin Salem‘s studio in Woodstock.

After a while, what starts out as fun in the studio becomes work, and even #MySonIs5 begins to feel the pressure . . .

Finally he finishes, and takes a bow. #MySonIs5 has stamina in the studio and—what? What did you just ask me? Did I actually make him listen to old Grateful Dead on the drive home from Woodstock? Um.

Click on the pic of Mrs. McGee to get a copy of Beth Carter‘s book for your kids. If they like the song, tell Beth and she’ll probably send you a copy, or come back and listen any time here on Sirenstories.

To learn more about Beth Carter, visit her blog, Banter with Beth

What Do You Want To Be?  Song lyrics

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

When I arrived at school today

My teacher smiled and said let’s play

Join me in a circle on the floor

She asked us all what we held dear

The people we loved to be near

And what we thought the future held in store

She gave us crayons & pens & pads

She said, no answer’s wrong or bad

Just think my friends then think a little more

Use pictures, words; free thoughts like birds

Express yourself and you’ll be heard

You’ll learn in part what you are all here for

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me (I don’t know!)

A baker or a builder,                          

Or a swimmer in the sea

A mommy having babies (Maybe!)

Or a maybe a daddy

A dentist, doctor, artist, author                              

Teacher, Forest ranger, or you might like to sing . . . (I’d like that!)

You can do anything!  (Definitely.)

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

An astronaut, a lawyer

Or a farmer growing trees (Next stop outer space!)

The president, a fireman

A keeper keeping bees

A dancer, banker, preacher, painter

Help save things are endangered (Yeah, like pandas!) maybe you’ll sew . . .

You can give it a go!  (I think I might want to think about this . . .)

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee (A baseball player!)

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?  (A candy maker!)

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

(A cow!)

(I just want to be me.)


Believe in Sirens

I believe in a deep earth smell and in the sound of the falling rain

In tripping over my heavy heart

And in getting up again

These are a few of the wonderful lines from I Believe by singer songwriter Denise Moser. Accompanied by a lovely acoustic guitar part and minimal rhythm track that includes a supportive piano, the line is delivered with quiet breath of a chuckle that immediately brings to mind the laughing singspeak of Alanis Morissette. Indeed, I Believe could be an early Alanis song, Alanis on a mellow day.

Denise Moser‘s vocal vibrato gives her a slightly tentative sound, as if she is exploring her voice and her ideas, perhaps for the first time. This doesn’t make her sound inexperienced, instead the slight quaver in her voice gives her performance a freshness, a newness. Her performance of I Believe is restrained—a quality I love—as if the she is hesitant to share her personal list of favorite things. These are the details of her delivery conspire to draw the listener in.

The fact that the lyrics of I Believe are a list of favorite things, brings to mind the Rodgers and Hammerstein song My Favorite Things, one of the greatest songs of all times and one of my personal favorites. I Believe will be forever linked in my mind to My Favorite Things, how cool is that?

I Believe expresses Denise Moser‘s love of nature and family while deftly exposing her love of love as well as her tenderness. Knee deep walks in snow, apologies, weaknesses, dreams; these are all on Denise’s list, which is a list of things literally stated or implied. Her use of strong yet simple images that often comfort make the song poetic, but it is the invisible things she sings about, and the way her slightly tremulous voice gently nudges us until our own emotions step forward  for our examination, that makes the song art.

I Believe in a second chance and in a brand new fresh mistake . . . 

My recommendation is that you listen to I Believe multiple times, because the song gets better with each listen. With every play the song reveals another corner of Denise Moser‘s heart and if you listen long enough to her honest, encouraging voice, you’ll find that your own heart will mostly likely yield some hidden pain or joy. It wasn’t until I’d listened to the song half a dozen times that I found myself in tears.

Let this song break you open and help you discover or rediscover your Dreaming Self. If you’re already living your dream, this song will be a faithful companion.

My wish for this Philadelphia singer songwriter is that she continues to write and share her music, and I’m sure she will, because she believes. I do too.

Click on the cover art by Alisa Lowden Preston to get your own copy of I Believe.

 

I believe in winter boots, and in clean slate snowy days

In knee deep walks through the neighborhood

And in a dried oak fire blaze

I believe in sleeping in, and in grasping at a fading dream

I believe in saying what I mean

I believe in I’m so sorry, and do you know I care

I believe in I can see you there

 

I believe in a deep earth smell and in the sound of the falling rain

In tripping over my heavy heart

And in getting up again

I believe in letting go of those things that I cannot change

I believe in reaching past my range

I believe in it’s my turn, and I’ve waited for too long

I believe in wishing on a song

 

I believe that what makes you you, well it’s the same thing that makes me me

That our differences are more the same

Than we ever would believe

I believe in my own words of in the beauty of today

I believe in brown hair turning gray

I believe in a second chance, and in a brand new fresh mistake

I believe in giving what I take

 

I believe I’m a daddy’s girl, and I’ve always had a broken heart

I’ve tried to find my way back home

And it’s never been that far

I believe in tenderness, and being kind in love

I believe the dreams that I dream of

I believe in magic stones and in taking off my shoes

Do you know – I believe in you…



In the Head of John Peel

And in the head of Modal Roberts. And in my head. That’s where you’re going. But could that be any weirder than the trip In the Head of John Peel just sent me on? I think not.

When people submit to Sirenstories I listen to their songs and read the notes/lyrics they leave for me. Or not. Some artists don’t seem to understand that I want to write about them, and they leave me nothing but the tune.

But whether or not they leave me a message or few autobiographical facts or links or lyrics I often go poking around online to learn more about them.

In the case of In the Head of John Peel it wasn’t artist Modal Roberts I wanted to learn more about, but the subject of his song, John Peel.

I’m not saying that Modal Roberts doesn’t interest me, because he does. See?

The alternative blues sound of In the Head of John Peel made me think immediately of guitar god singer songwriter Chris Whitley. There’s a certain rawness, something visceral that the two artists share and In the Head of John Peel definitely has that Delta blues flavor that Chris’ music has.

That may be where the similarities end. The more I listened to In the Head of John Peel the more hilarious I found the song, it’s much funnier than any song Chris wrote, any song that I know of at least. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

But okay. The trip I took. I listened to In the Head of John Peel twice and I was like, huh? I’d heard of John Peel but as a sort of DJ legend, I didn’t really know any details about him, so I Googled him.

There’s a ton out there about John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, (August 30th, 1939 – October 25th, 2004), known professionally as John Peel. Wikipedia even has a sample of what they call his “seismographic handwriting style”.

Of the myriad of bizarre facts Wikipedia had to offer about the English disc jockey, radio presenter and journalist who broadcasted regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004, I thought the strangest was that following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, he passed himself off as a reporter for the Liverpool Echo in order to attend the arraignment of Lee Harvey Oswald and he and a friend can be seen in the footage of the November 22/23 midnight press conference at Dallas Police Department when Lee Harvey Oswald was paraded before the media. He later phoned in the story to the Liverpool Echo.

John Peel showcased new acts that later achieved great fame on his show, and he was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio. He was widely known for promoting the music of  various styles, including pop, reggae, indie rock, alternative rock, punk, hardcore punk, grindcore, death metal, British hip hop, and dance music.

Here’s the thing:

His favourite single is widely known to have been the 1978 song Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. In an interview in 2001, he stated “There’s nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it.”

But Modal Roberts doesn’t really believe John Peel, and that is what In the Head of John Peel is about.

Did John Peel really dig the tune as much as he said he did?

The opening guitar chords of Teenage Kicks remind me of Blondie’s One Way or Another which was released the same year. You’ve probably heard Teenage Kicks, Wait—no? Well here you go. It was almost impossible to decide which version of the song to post, but in the end I fell for this one:

Are teenage dreams so hard to beat
Every time she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighbourhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

I’m gonna call her on the telephone
Have her over ’cause I’m all alone
I need excitement oh I need it bad
And it’s the best, I’ve ever had

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

So. Is this the perfect song?

It was almost as difficult to decide which picture of Modal Roberts I should post. Click on the pic above and you’ll wind up at his website where you can check out some other photos of him. Or maybe if you’re lucky you’ll catch him at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Modal is performing at Paradise in the Vault August 6th—14th.

I’d love to see Modal Roberts live, but until I do he will be forever linked in my mind with John Peel and The Undertones, Chris Whitley and maybe even JFK. The fact that In the Head of John Peel made me think even for a minute of Chris Whitley,  whose music I hold above all others, is high praise.

And yes Modal, I did follow the links down the rabbit hole and ended up at the John Peel narrated JFK video. I’m pretty sure that will make you laugh.