Special Guest: Paul Sutton Reeves

Happy Friday, Friends!

Lately, I have been having some amazing guests on my blog, and today’s post is no exception. A fellow author, Twitter follower, and blogger has kindly acquiesced to my request for a more reflective, informative post. Personally, I love to read reflections of other authors because I not only find their background and experience interesting, but I feel I become a better writer myself after learning from another writer. Paul Sutton Reeves tells us his writing history in brief, and also allows us to take a peek at his thoughts regarding his writing process, his opinion on writing for a particular audience, and includes a writing sample. I connected with him on Twitter, after he had told me I was mentioned in a blog post he wrote. You better believe I was flattered! (Click HERE to read the post.) Now, I’m honored to share his personal insights on my blog. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the read!

 

P1010240 - Copy (2)I’m a published non-fiction writer. I’ve written the biography of a leftfield musician and worked as a freelance music journalist. I also contributed a chapter to a book about the UK’s culture. Writing fiction is my main interest, though, and I’m currently looking for a publisher for my work (toying with the idea of self-publishing, but so far resisting…).

It seems to me that I’ve been writing forever. I was always an imaginative child and often played alone, making up stories. I would invent entire worlds (isn’t that what novelists do?), map them out and relate their histories. After a few excruciating attempts at writing a novel in my late teens (they never got beyond chapter two…), I poured my creative energies into songwriting. I returned to fiction writing in my late twenties and haven’t stopped since. I’ve always loved reading too. I was a slow starter, but by the age of eight or so, I’d become unstoppable. The writers whom I admire are a huge source of inspiration to me.

I’m not interested in seeking popularity or in writing ‘for a market’. I try to write the sort of book that I would want to read and hope that it’ll appeal to others too. That’s not to say that I’m arrogant enough to be uninterested in reader reactions. I have a small and trusted band of writer and reader friends upon whom I try out my ideas.

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Paul’s “trusty writing den”

I weigh every word that I write carefully and try to make each one count. Clearly, a book may have many facets that draw the reader to it – story, character, place, ideas and so on – but the quality of the prose is key for me. Reading George Orwell or William Golding, Rex Warner or Joseph Heller, is a lesson in itself. Ideas come to me swiftly then take years to be turned into books.

I divide what I write into ‘squibs’ and more serious efforts. My writing is always playful, though, even when the intent is serious. A book without humour, I believe, omits the essence of what it means to be human. It fails to get the joke that the universe is playing upon us. My first three books – all of which I’ve subsequently disowned as part of the learning-to-write process – fell into the serious category. I spent seven years on the third of these books before ultimately abandoning it. It was a painful but highly instructive experience, as a result of which, I could write nothing but novellas and short stories for years afterwards. Finally, I was able once more to embark on a more serious effort. That turned out to be a vast, semi-experimental work, 150,000 words long with a WW2 setting, which took me six years to write. The reception from its tiny audience has been favourable, I’m pleased to say. And if just one reader has been moved by it, then, to me, it was worth the effort. Fortunately, there have been a few more than that!

I’m working on two manuscripts at the moment (I call this my ‘twin-pronged approach’). The first is a sequel of sorts to my last novel, set in the Cold War. The second is something much more fanciful with an experimental structure. Below is an extract from the Cold War book to provide a little flavour of my writing:

 

Vytis.  A knight in armour rides a white charger that rears up beneath him.  On his left arm he carries a shield.  In his right he wields a sword.  Quite why this image should appear on the sign above the door of the café remains unclear.

The Kaffé Kleebob stands on the left hand corner of the street as you enter the square from the north, the route by which the tanks arrived on the last occasion.  On cloudless mornings, the sun’s rays stream in through the tall windows on its eastern side, their intensity dimmed by the yellow cellophane glued to the inside of the panes.  The old men sit at the table by the door that looks out onto the square.  A display of sweet pastries occupies the window on the other side of the door.  Cuboid and cylindrical, disc and star-shaped, the items on show are many and varied, glazed with sugar crystals or dusted with icing sugar, filled with cinnamon or chestnut paste, plum puree or quince jelly.  There are a half dozen tables in the square outside the café.  The old men do not sit at these.  The bitter easterlies that swirl across the wide-open space of the square penetrate their bones and make them ache.

The taller of the two men is always first to arrive, a little after the bell of St Ludovic’s has struck for ten o’clock.  He orders Turkish coffee and a pastry (hexagonal with a date and almond filling) then settles down to read the morning newspapers, making his way through the mixture of trivia and propaganda masquerading there as news.  Shortly before the No. 8 trolleybus makes its circuit of the square, the shorter man joins his companion.  He orders his brandy and takes out a novel from the inside pocket of his coat.  Having finished with the morning edition of the local paper, the taller man passes it across the table.  The shorter man turns to the back of the newspaper where, amid reports of ice hockey and football matches (‘Vasas SC 5, Volyn Lutsk 0’), he finds that day’s puzzles.  Ignoring for the moment the cryptic crossword puzzle (5 down, ‘Olive, material for curtain’), he concentrates instead on the symbols arranged on the grid of the problem.  He is preparing himself intellectually.  ‘Red to move, alchemist to capture sanatorium in three moves’ (convention dictates that the solution must always end to red’s advantage).  The hands of the bell-tower clock crawl around toward twelve.  Each man will eat his lunch of pork sausage, bread and cheese, washing it down with a glass of red wine.  And now they are ready to commence the game.

Some say that it was brought here from the west by Roman legions.  Others claim that it arrived from the east with the Mongol hordes.  Its antiquity is not in question.  Each match takes a long time to complete, never taking less than several hours, frequently lasting for days or weeks.  As players grow in skill and experience, it takes longer and longer for the game to reach its conclusion.  For all that, it may end quite abruptly should one of the players make a false move, triggering a sequence of exchanges that will be over in a matter of minutes.  This is one of the reasons why seasoned players deliberate so carefully on the possible consequences of every move they make and why a single turn at a critical stage in the game may take many hours.  For them, the board is a minefield to be crossed with great caution.  To the outsider, it may appear that no play is taking place at all.  It may even seem that one of the participants has died, mid-game, while in fact, he has merely been contemplating his next move*.  This particular match has been going on for years, the positions of the pieces noted down at the end of each day’s session on one of those score pads readily available from presses across the city.  And it takes many, many years to acquire knowledge of the game’s myriad complexities and subtleties.  Young men often believe themselves to have mastered the game, entering upon a phase of bravado and hubris in which they apparently defeat at will older players of the game.  This period always ends in disillusion, leading ultimately to despair.  Humbled, such players will begin their studies anew, making marginal improvements in technique throughout their thirties and forties, adding minute aspects of tactical play to their game until at last some semblance of competence may emerge as they approach late middle age.

Realisation is slow to arrive and thus all the more profound when it does.  The point of the game is not to win at all.  At the very moment that he believes victory to be his, the player finds the taste of ashes on his tongue.  In reality, he is clutching defeat.  The true goal is to achieve a kind of stasis, merely to persist.  Stalemate constitutes victory.  New stand-offs, fresh impasses, novel forms of inertia…  It is here that the real beauty of the game is revealed.

The old men sit across the table from each other and unfold the board.  This comprises a grid, 23 squares by 23, in seven different colours arranged entirely at random.  The squares resemble the tiny tiles with which the kitchen floor of the café has been laid and in which no pattern may be detected either.  If the game’s origins are indeed Roman, this may explain why some players refer to it as a mosaic.  No two boards are the same.  The example at the Kleebob Café is held to be an especially challenging one.  The old man on the left hand side of the table slides the lid from the wooden rectangular box containing the pieces and empties them out onto the board.  Each player begins with 69 counters, arranged along the three rows closest to him.  Although cast in semi-abstract forms, the phenomena they represent are concrete enough.  The majority of the pieces are military in inspiration – cavalry, armada, legion…  And then there are the arcana.  These are more esoteric – library, pope, astronomer (called astrologer in some sets), mausoleum, lighthouse, poet (also known as seer), apothecary, lion, ass…  In a further complication, the pieces each player possesses are not always the same.  Every set is unique.  The counters used in this city are divided into red and black (influencing, no doubt, Stendhal’s masterpiece, Le Rouge et le Noir).  As the game spread westward in the post-war period, the contest was generally white v red (as is the case with sets of a 1920s vintage and those from sixteenth century England, both of which contain many pieces not found in other sets).  Originally, the pieces were white and black, called ‘gull’ and ‘daw’ (or ‘rook’ among players of a rival, less ancient game of strategy).  This allowed, of course, for Manichean simplicities to be employed when referencing the game for rhetorical or allegorical purposes, alluding to the struggle between holy and evil empires, between the Kingdoms of Heaven and Hell.  To the old men, it represents nothing more than the passage of time.  And perhaps twenty minutes have elapsed as the shorter of the two men considers his move.  He lifts the white counter occupying square 7J (amber) and places it two rows up and three columns to the left on square 10H (jade), a move which he intends to be defensive but which his opponent construes as aggression.  Though bad feeling is engendered, and may well turn to acrimony and rancour, the afternoon will invariably end in an uneasy truce of sorts.


* In any case, is not death merely the contemplation of eternity?

A special word of gratitude to Paul for being my guest today! I know you’ll join me in saying: best of luck with your endeavors in fiction! To connect with Paul via social media, check out any or all of his sites:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaurusSteeple

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PaulSuttonReeves

Blog: http://paulsuttonreeves.wordpress.com/

My Brain Doesn’t Work, But I’m Grateful!

Well, my brain does still work, but not in the normal high capacity that I’m used to. See, I’ve been putting the final touches on my novel the past several days: major edits, a few rewrites, and the dreaded formatting. That’s one F word I’d like to forget. Nevertheless, I am so grateful and blessed that I have a published novel coming out in the next few weeks. It’s all pretty surreal.

What’s next? The next novel, of course! But not just yet. No, I have plenty of things to keep me occupied in the meantime. I do have an idea for a memoir, and we’ll see how much of that I can finish this summer. I will also be certified to teach natural health/medicine very soon and am looking forward to seeing what that endeavor brings.

And, oh yeah–I’m managing a musician. =) What exactly does that mean? A summer (hopefully) full of travel and gigs. Thank goodness I have an actual assistant who is helping me manage my own author signings/events/media. What would I do without her? Probably crumble. I’m great at being a support system for others, but when it comes to me, it’s like I need to business coach myself! I’m sure many people can relate to that.

My final term of undergrad began this past Monday. I’m taking four classes, which = 12 units. Think I’m insane? You’re right; I am. At least I graduate in July!

Anyway, stay on the lookout for my book. My poem is already out in the anthology: Live Life: The Daydreamer’s Journal, which is very exciting. My website launched last week, too: tamarhela.com. It’s still a work-in-progress, but hey, it’s functional. I have my hands in quite a few cookie jars at the moment…I’m hoping it all pays off–and soon! I really hope that my brain starts to function normally, because I would much rather write funny, interesting blog posts than just an update.

Cheers,

Tamar

Guest Interview: Chris Ely, Rising Musician

As promised, here is the interview of the week with a very special guest musician: Chris Ely, who released his debut album, Can’t Stay for Long last summer. Chris is mega-talented, down-to-earth, and just plain nice all around. Did I mention he’s pretty cute too? It is such a pleasure to have him as a guest on my blog this week, introducing him not only as an up-and-coming musical star, but also as my friend. By the end of this interview, you will admire him just as much as I.

1. When and why did you start playing?

Growing up, all I wanted to do was play baseball. However, when I was young, I was in a car accident that wrecked my knees. I soon came to the realization that my dreams of playing baseball in the future would never happen.

Ironically, accepting that was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. My sister’s boyfriend at the time was a musician. I used to sit and watch him play guitar as long as he would allow me. He told me that if I wanted to be in a band I should play bass. “Bands are always looking for a decent bass player and chicks really dig bass players,” he would say. So, I picked up a bass and within six months, I was in a band.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I love challenges and what challenges me the most is trying to carve out a melody that sticks in your head. Seeing a song take shape from nothing gives me a great sense of fulfillment– especially if it sounds good. And um…there are many that don’t. A few years ago I thought to myself: What if I could do this all the time? It was soon after that I began to work on an album.

3. Which instruments do you play?

I am a jack-of-all-trades and a master on none! I play a bit of everything, finding that playing different instruments inspires my creativity. My primary instruments are guitar and bass, but I have picked up piano and drums over the last few years.

4. What was the first song you ever sang? How did it make you feel?

The first song I ever sang was a tune I wrote for a girl in high school. It was pretty terrible but she seemed to like it…or at least, she acted like she enjoyed it. It was terrifying to be honest, especially since I was really shy back then. I was so nervous I could have exploded. All I can remember was being so happy when it was over.

5. Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? Albums?

Ahh…where do I start? The first band that really inspired me was Nirvana. When “Nevermind” came out, it didn’t leave my CD player for months. I also really love most Brit Rock. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands of all time. I saw them in a small club in Palo Alto the first time I heard them live. They totally blew me away. Seeing them give absolutely everything they had was inspiring. Their intricate parts and layered melodies hooked me big time.

After Radiohead, I went “backwards” and got into the Beatles and Pink Floyd. U2 became my addiction after that. Yeah…huge man crush on Bono. Pete Yorn is a big favorite of mine too. He has a simplistic, yet soulful way in his music. I never get tired of his stuff. I think Trent Reznor is an absolute genius. I love his stuff too. Lately I would have to say Arcade Fire is a favorite. They have such an authentic rawness to their music.

6. Do you get nervous before a performance?

Every time I play I get nervous. This thought runs through my mind: Don’t make a fool of yourself. However, after a song or two, I start to loosen up and enjoy the set.

7. What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Be well-rehearsed before you get on stage. Live in the moment and have fun on stage. An audience tends to get into your music easier when you look like you are enjoying yourself.

8. How did you become involved in the type of music you play/sing now?

When I set out to make my latest record, I made a decision to write music that I would want to play. Something I would want to buy when it was all said and done. Most importantly, I wanted it to be honest and authentic, not just something I wanted to sell. After completing Can’t Stay for Long, I think I did just that.

9. What does your songwriting process look like?

My writing process can start from several places. I generally write the music first, and not to sound corny, listen to what the music is saying before any vocals and melodies are put down. Then I start to build the melodies and words around a theme I feel the music is saying. Sometimes I hear a melody or a line in my head and build a song around that. “Lost Souls” is a song where the chorus was dancing around in my head. After about a week of it at the front of my mind, I decided to finally get it out.

10. What are your songs about?

I write about everything. If I try to write about something specific, I tend to get writer’s block really fast. My songs are mostly centered around relationships, faith, stories from people, my inward journey, and my distaste for politics. Ha…that about covers everything imaginable except for math equations. Hmm…

Can’t Stay for Long is a bit different though. I was living in Africa for almost nine years. I went through a tremendous amount of culture shock when I moved back to the States a few years ago. Writing those songs were, in a way, therapeutic for me as I readjusted to life here. It was almost like a diary of what I was thinking about and experiencing through that period.

I wrote most of the album in the summer of 2010. My first studio session was in the beginning of 2011. I would fly up to Portland to work with my producer Jordan Richter every chance I had. We finished the record in the summer of 2011 and I released it shortly after.

11. What’s your favorite song off your latest album?

Ooh that is tough. They all have meaning to me. Each song is about something that reminds me of a certain event or experience. The title track “Can’t Stay for Long” sums it all up I suppose. That’s why I chose that song as the title track. The last two songs I wrote on the record were “Love Remains” and “Palace”. Sonically, that is the direction I’m going with my music. I really like them for that reason. I have a deep personal connection to “Lost Souls”; that song is about a friend of mine. “Can’t Stay for Long” was about the difficulty of leaving a country and some of the best people I’ve ever known. Yeah…it’s really tough to choose just one favorite.

12. What has been your biggest challenge thus far?

I would say working full-time as a high school teacher and trying to push my music work against each other often. I love to teach though; teenagers are amazing. My alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. everyday. Getting out there and doing gigs become a challenge with that schedule. But I suppose that every artist in the beginning has similar challenges.

13. What do you attribute to your drive as an artist?

It’s a double-edged sword for me. If I don’t express myself through art in some way, something inside of me starts to die. If I stop writing, I will never get close to where I want to be.

14. What makes your sound unique from other artists?

This is a really difficult question…sigh (deep thinking)…most sounds and chord progressions out there have already been done over and over. So, I like music that takes you on twists and turns that you don’t expect, without sounding irritating. I have a gentle singing voice that is mixed with these musical twists and turns. I hope people find my music not only easy on the ear, but find themselves taken somewhere different with each song’s unique sonic quality.

15. Any current (new) projects you’re working on? What’s next?

I’ve already been laying the foundation for a new album. My scenery has changed so you can expect the music to change too. I’ve also been talking to a DJ friend of mine about working on a dance music side project. That one is still up in the air though.

16. What have you been listening to lately?

Friendly Fires and M83…absolutely in love with them.

17. What do you do when you’re not working your day job or playing music?

There is not much time beyond that. Hmm…Drinking good coffee, watching Sci-Fi, and going to church. Yeah, I’m dorky and boring….and I like it!

18. Any hidden talents or hobbies?

In a rare, very rare, moment of free time, I love to paint and read biographies.

19. Finally, what are your social media sites? Where can we find you and (most importantly) where can we buy your album?

Buy Can’t Stay for Long (album)

iTunes: Can’t Stay for Long

Amazon: Can’t Stay for Long

Social Media
Website: chriselymusic.com

Fanpage: facebook.com/chriselymusic

Twitter: twitter.com/chriselymusic

Jango: Chris Ely

Soundcloud: Chris Ely

I want to thank Chris for sharing on my blog. For further information, you can contact info@chriselymusic.com. I would like to encourage everyone to take a listen to his tunes and buy his album. Chris has easily become one of my favorite musicians and I’ll just bet he’ll become one of yours too. My favorite song on his album is “Love Remains”. By the way, Chris and I have been working on some stuff together as well, so stay on the lookout for some cool things coming your way soon. Until then, I hope everyone enjoys listening to Can’t Stay for Long.

Tattoos: What’s the BIG deal?

So today, I added a fifth tattoo to my “collection”. It’s on my right forearm and is rather large. The others I have are: a star on my left wrist, a bonsai tree with Greek lettering on my mid back, the sun/surf/palm trees of Alicante, Spain on my lower right shoulder blade, and stars with a quote on the top of my left foot.

Obviously, I enjoy tattoos and do not regret the choices I have made to place them on my body. I don’t care that someday I’m going to be old and wrinkly, still tatted. Like I’m gonna care at that point in my life or will even wear clothes that expose all my tats? Come on now. And besides, tattoo removal places are popping up in malls nowadays, so if I REALLY wanted to get them removed, I could go to the mall to have the procedure done and then shop at Macy’s for new shoes after. Our ever evolving technology is amazing.

Anyway, what is the big deal about tattoos for some people? Has it become just another way to be prejudiced? My family is not very thrilled about my new addition and I honestly am not phased by this. Though, this is the more rebellious and free-spirited side of me that comes out at these moments. My dad liked my tat in theory–until he saw where it was and how big. My mom said “whatever” and my middle sister shared the same sentiments (but she has one tattoo on her foot!). The only supporter is my youngest sister who simply said, “Oh, cool!” when I showed her. Can’t please everyone, right?

So again, I ask what’s the big deal? I’m not gonna lie…I do tend to lightweight judge those who get (what I think to be) just plain stupid tattoos or even slightly cool tattoos but put in dumb places. I’m sure most would know what I’m talking about. For me, all my tattoos have a very specific and special meaning to me and I’ve waited at least a year to get each one (with exception to the one I got done in Spain). I get that some people may be against tattoos in regards to their history but times have changed.

The first tattoo–and the most painful–I got is the one on my foot. It’s still one of my favorites and I’ve had it for almost six years. I continually get compliments on it, even from people that claim they “don’t like tattoos”. The colors have lasted this whole time too, giving it a very fun look. I have traditional, five-pointed stars and seven-pointed stars. I love stars because they remind me to shine bright in a dark world. The seven-points represent God since His number is seven. And the wording says, “They will shine like stars…”, paraphrased from Philippians 2:15 which basically says that Believers should shine like stars in the way they live their lives. I really love this visual reminder for my life. I was twenty-two when I had it done.

The second tat I got is the sun, surf and palms: the three symbols of the city of Alicante in Spain. I was blessed to study in this beautiful city during the summer of 2008 and fell in love with it so I decided to get a tattoo as a memoir. One of my roommates also got one–matching, in fact–and it was a really cool bonding experience for us to go through together. I really love this tattoo because it represents one of the best, most life-changing experiences of my life. And ironically, my name translated from Hebrew means “Queen of the Palm Trees”, so I think having some palm trees on me is quite appropriate.

The third and fourth tats I had done together: a star on my left wrist and a bonsai tree with Greek on my mid/lower back. I waited for eight years to get that tiny star; two years to get the bonsai tree.

The star was from a tattoo I had seen on a model, in my teens. I thought it was cute and small enough to not be overwhelming. That’s when my love for tattoos had begun. I always had wanted to get that star and I did! The bonsai tree is a symbol of patience, perseverance and endurance. The writing says: Luke 8:15-“Bear fruit with perseverance.” This is my reminder to persevere in order to reap great blessing and reward. It is one of the mantras for my life.

Lastly, the tat I got today is a treble and bass clef with a music staff and notes. There’s writing in Latin that says: facere sonitus laetitiae=make a joyful noise (from Psalm 98 and other chapters). It’s the largest one that I will have “on display” at all times. Not only is it a symbol of my love for and dedication to music; it’s a reminder for me to choose joy, despite hardships. The past few years have been pretty hard on me and finding out I have Fibromyalgia last month was difficult to swallow. But I am choosing joy–choosing to carry on and fight through chronic pain and live my life the best I can. Why would I ever want to remove something that reminds me of this season in my life?

So perhaps tattoos are just misunderstood by those that don’t have them or those who have never attached a meaning to their own tattoos. Just getting a tattoo to have one has never been cool in my book. I mean, why else would I have taken the time to really think about my decision to get a permanent marking in the first place and then painstakingly design each one that I have gotten? This is why it’s hard for me to swallow that some people will still judge me just for being a girl with a large, visible tattoo–and only because it’s that. They won’t take the time to get to know me or understand why I’ve chosen to place these symbols on my body. They won’t learn that I’ve been teaching for almost ten years and have been able to touch over 600 lives in my teaching career, or that on some days I am crippled by chronic pain. And sadly, I will never be able to sing them a song I’ve written. But that’s not going to let me down; it serves to make me stronger and just be like the stars on my foot and wrist, shining brightly in the darkness. Besides, when I meet God someday, He’ll remove my tattoos if he doesn’t like them.