What do songs, books and movies all have in common? The answer is simple. They tell a story regardless of whether it’s in three minutes, three hundred pages or two hours.
I am an author. But before deciding to write a series of true stories, I wrote songs, poetry, short stories and screen plays. I am convinced that once bitten by the writing bug, you never quite recover. You only move on to different methods of telling your tales.
Some of the greatest stories are told through a three to four minute song. Appalachian and American folk music is a great example of that. Most of the songs told of hard times, death and destruction. My Aunt Evelyn used to sing about the Legend of the Haunted Wood which told a story of a man, his wife and children who lived on the banks of a river. One day, he rode into town and left them alone in the cabin. While he was gone, Indians came, attacked his wife and burned the cabin to the ground with her and the children inside. He roamed the river banks looking for them long after he’d died. What a tragic tale! But, that is only one example.
Prisoners who worked on chain gangs often sang songs in rhythm with the swinging of an ax handle or sledge hammer. Oftentimes, they made up the words as they went, with some songs winding up quite long.
Then along came songwriters like Johnny Cash. Ever listen to The Ballad of Ira Hayes? What a story that song tells. The rise and fall of a lowly Pima Indian that is forever preserved in history as one of the men who raised the flag on Iowa Jima then died drunk in a ditch beside the road at the ripe old age of thirty-two. And, that’s just one small example.
How about The Gambler? To me that is the ultimate story song. Within the first few lines of any of this song, the listener has already formed a visual of what the song is about. On a warm summer’s evening on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler. We were both too tired to sleep… The picture is perfectly clear.
How about this one? Got a helpless, hopeless feeling like a bird that can’t fly. Of a man not living but one who can’t die. Hating, hurting, staring, look at these ol’ walls forty foot high… Those are the first lines to a song, Forty Foot High, written by Rick Sikes, who was an inmate in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Immediately, we feel the gripping emotion of the man trapped behind massive walls. For this man, music was his salvation. I wrote his story in my second book, The Convict and the Rose, which won the 2015 book of the year award in the Biography Fiction category from the Texas Association of Authors.
It’s not possible to list all of the great story songs that have been written nor the songwriters who composed them. It would take volumes.
Let’s talk about movies. Think about your all-time favorite. How does it start? Are you hooked from the opening lines? For me, Lonesome Dove is one of those unforgettable movies that drew me in from the beginning. And, who doesn’t know a line or two from Gone With The Wind? Can you tell me what movie this line is from? “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Yes, The Godfather. I can get very emotionally invested in the characters. Why? Because of the story being told through them.
Movies, songs and books with the greatest staying power are the ones that make us feel and think. They touch something deep within us or change us in some way.
In my books, I relate the story of a veteran Texas musician who packed out every dance hall, honky-tonk and auditorium in the great State of Texas, surrounding states and on out to California for many years. He was a true pioneer of what we now call Outlaw music. But, as songwriter, Richard Dobson, wrote in a song about him, “he took that outlaw thing a little far” when he wound up in Leavenworth prison on two counts of armed bank robbery.
These stories all revolve and evolve around music. For that reason, I also release a music CD of original songs along with each book matching the time period of that story segment.
Any lover of music or a real life story will be entertained by these books and that’s a guarantee.
So, back to the beginning – a story is a story – no matter the medium through which it is told, it has the same characteristics and evokes emotion in the reader, listener or viewer.
So, for this post I’m trying something a little odd. I’m writing “blind.”
What I mean by that is that I’m not giving myself any way to look at the words as I type them. I picked up this trick from an essay by Vanessa Gebbie in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. In the essay, Gebbie suggests that you free up your muse and your creativity by simply writing without looking. (It’s kind of like the whole “Look, Ma! No hands!” thing.) In the essay, she says,
On paper, this flash writing is easy. You just let your hand go, and don’t self-censor. On screen, it can be a little more difficult, as some people (myself included) tend to edit as they write as it is so easy to do on a computer. But this ruins the creative flow, and there…
I recently took a vacation. Yes, I know, that is just not acceptable in the life of a writer. 🙂 But, I did it anyway.
Myself and my best friend and Spirit Sister in life, Kay, journeyed from North Texas down to the Big Bend area. Now, that my friends, is a long haul! Texas is a big State.
But, we took our time and stopped along the way. One our first stops was at a music festival in Luckenbach, Texas. The Thomas Michael Riley festival is held every year on the same weekend at the same historic location. Wow! What a great lineup of music from Thomas Michael Riley himself to Tom McElvain and Cooder Graw with LOTS in between. Miss Kay and I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the music. Of course, we were excited to begin our adventure and this was the perfect setting to start.
If you look on the second column, second picture down, you’ll see me and Kay sitting on the front row. Picture to the left is Tom McElvain and the Dirty Pesos and bottom is Cooder Graw.
From the music festival, we drove to Alpine, Texas. Alpine is the home of Sul Ross University and sits at the base of the Davis Mountains. We explored the actual fort at Fort Davis – a fascinating bit of history, then ate lunch at a quaint drugstore in Fort Davis. And I have to admit we indulged in a peach vanilla malt along with our chicken salad sandwich.
The next day, we met up with an old friend, Cactus Mike Mosman, who has lived in the Big Bend area for over twenty years. He then became our tour guide taking us into the Big Bend National Park to explore for the day.
From there we drove through the amazing Chihuahaun Desert to Marfa. We stayed at the amazing and eclectic El Paisano Hotel in Marfa. It is allegedly haunted although we saw no ghosts. The food at El Paisano was 5 Star! The hotel itself held such character from a long forgotten era of the early 1900s.
Yes, we went out to see the MARFA LIGHTS. And yes, we actually saw them. I regret that I didn’t have a camera that would capture the images, but this is the closest publicly available that depicts what we saw. They call them the mystery lights. No one has been able to figure out where they come from or where they go. They appeared at random in the distance, would sometimes break apart in to several lights, then vanish leaving total blackness, only to reappear again in a different spot. Back in the 1800s, early settlers thought they were seeing Indian campfires and sightings have been recorded since that time. Amazing energy!
The next day, Mike took us to see Chinati Peak. We followed a paved road until it ended and turned into a rough dirt road (an advantage of having a tour guide who knows the entire area), then drove up and up until we were at the top of the mountain. Wow! What a view. We stopped, walked along a creek and looked for rocks. Then, not being able to resist, we took off our socks and shoes to wade in the cool clear water.
We visited the Terlingua Ghost town with some amazing energy all its own. The photos I am going to post to finish out this Big Bend excursion were all taken by a friend and professional Photographer, Dave Hensley, who visited the same area a week after we were there. He gave me permission to use these great photos.
I took this picture during the day in the Terlingua Cemetery.
We spent some time at Cactus Mike’s house in Fort Hancock and visited with a renowned Southwest Artist, John McKenzie. I was honored to share my first book, Flowers and Stone, with him.
We thought we were heading back to North Texas from Fort Hancock, but wound up taking a detour through New Mexico. Visited with a dear friend of Mike’s, Mary, in Mesilla, New Mexico and ate a delicious lunch at the historic La Posta restaurant. What a treat! Took a picture of this amazing sculpture while driving down a side street to return to the highway.
And THEN, there was Cloudcroft. Another unexpected detour. We stayed at The Lodge in Cloudcroft, also alleged to be haunted. After our stay there, I can verify that it is. Rebecca‘s Ghost visited.
While at The Lodge, I met the new owners of this hotel, El Paisano in Marfa and El Capitan in Van Horn, Joe and Lana Duncan. They were extremely interested in my books and music CD projects and will be ordering them for their gift shops. What an awesome experience to get to share with someone brand new the whole story behind writing the books and recording the CDs. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. If you travel to the Big Bend area, I highly recommend staying at any of the three of these hotels and check out their gift shops while you are there to pick up a copy of my books and CDs!