Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Something Frivolous (but writing related)

But what the heck.

No, I'm not auditioning for American Idol -- I am too old and am still bitter about their age limit. Who says only kids under 30 (yes, if you're 30, you're still a kid -- that's how old I am) can be pop stars? Tell that to Mick Jagger!

But no, although I thought about it. Did you see the 39-year-old guy (who looks like 52) auditioning with No Sex Allowed? When Simon said, "So, you want us to change the rules for you," that gave me hope. Maybe they would change the rules for me?

Anyway, that's not my point. In fact, I don't even watch the show! Well, except part of the first season and all the "pre-show" auditions -- those are truly hilarious.

The point is, if you want something you should just go for it -- it doesn't matter if Simon says you suck. True, maybe you do, maybe you don't, but at least, as William Hung once famously said, "I gave my best."

That's why I'm entering the American Idol Songwriter Contest -- it seems like that's the only thing without any age limit these days. Granted, I KNOW I'm not that good as a songwriter but I've been writing songs since I was a teenager and I'll be holding myself back if I don't enter. I probably won't even make it to the top 1503, but who the heck, you don't know until you try.

The contest ends on March 31, though. I just found out, so I had only a few days to put together a song together. Fortunately, I already had one in mind so I just needed to finish with it. The way I understand it, American Idol favors songs that talk about personal journeys and how people "MAKE IT" especially since the winning song will be performed by the winner at the season finale. With that in mind, I wrote something that incorporated that message.

I hope it's catchy enough. ;)

And in case you're wondering what the song sounds like, here it is:

My Journey Starts Tonight

Tell me what you think.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Music for Writers

Many people write to a soundtrack or some kind of background music. Stephen King, for example, writes to Heavy Metal and Hard Rock. I don't usually write to a specific type of music, but I do like the effect music has on my writing. It depends on the mood, but it helps ramp up the time to psyche myself and get into zone. The music does help the flow and prose. Sometimes I'd put in a movie soundtrack that sounds like something from a movie of my novel. :) And I'd usually set the volume to about 6, just loud enough but not too distracting, and I'd put either the entire score or specific tracks on repeat. After a while, the music simply becomes mood for the entire writing session.

For The Terrapin's Trail, I've been listening to a few scores that kind of convey the moods, be they melancholy, intense, sad or exciting. One score I really like is Alexandre Desplat's The Painted Veil. It's a beautiful score which also has Asian elements in it. Another score is Dario Marianelli's Atonement. Again, a post-modern score for a period piece. Just seems right for The Terrapin's Trail, a drama set during the Pacific War.

But I've also been looking for something for my hero and heroine. Something more specific, more in tune with what they're about. My hero is intense, broody, but deeply romantic. My heroine is more carefree, spontaneous and spirited. I wanted to find something specific to capture those moods. Certain tracks on my favorite soundtracks seem to do the job rather nicely. And then I thought: Why not do it myself?

When the mood strikes, there's nothing you can do about it. So I spent a few nights working on some music, something different and get my creative juices flowing. And I must say I rather like the results.

I started with Grace's Theme (click to listen). I also call it Fly, inspired by one of the passages I wrote. It sort of started melancholy and "tentative," as was she in this particular scene, then the mood changes and it becomes cheerier and more spirited, then toward the end it turns soft and romantic. I think it captures the mood and Grace's character quite well. 

The next challenge is Kai's Theme (click to listen). Granted, it's the hero theme and I wanted it to be a bit heroic and grand, but at the same time, intense and personal. I wanted a few specific key notes to emerge, kind of like the Indiana Jones' Theme. You know it's Indiana Jones when that few notes -- Da-da-da-da, da-da-da -- come on. I like the result, but am not sure whether it's exactly what Kai is about. I, however, really love the last part, then the music turns really introspective and deeply romantic, and the hero's theme emerges one last time to end the piece. It's rather bittersweet and is in tune with the ending of the story, actually.

So I'm still working on them, but I don't want to spend too much time. I want to get back to the writing, but I feel energized and I wonder if these two pieces would really help me write their stories.

What do you think?


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Progress Report

I promised my friend Lori that I'd have the first draft of The Terrapin's Trail done by July 31. Psychologically it's a tremendous to set a deadline for myself. Part of the problem for me, a naturally-undisciplined writer, is that I lack focus and "work ethics" when there's no deadline. I thrive on deadlines. I work best when there's a deadline looming around the corner. In college, I wouldn't even start on my projects until two days before they were due. I wrote my review column the same day it was due every week. I just don't do well with too much time on my hands.

It's a personality flaw. And I let my situations enable this flaw of mine -- what I need is more discipline, though I won't like it. The problem is that I have a need for achievements and success, but at the same time I don't like to feel like I have to "work." This dichotomy in my personality has been a hurdle for me to achieve what I want while trying to have a relaxed, carefree life. The overachiever in me vs. the beach bum. All my life I've wanted to find a balance -- I know I can't be truly happy being an overachiever at all times or a beach bum (I'd get so incredibly bored after a few days at the beach). But where is that balance?

Right now, I need to focus. I've spent almost 3 years on this novel now, and it's not going to write itself if I don't get cracking. I've made progress. The book is currently at 65,000 words, but I still have a way to go to finish it. At the end, it may not be a very good book after all, and I may have to put it aside for a while and wait for the writer in me to mature. But I'd be damned if I don't finish what I started. When I started on my first novel, I told myself my goal was to finish writing it, to see if I could get to "the end." I did. I never thought I would get it published. But I did. After that, it did seem like suddenly I lost a purpose. What's left to do? What's next?

I do want to continue to write stories, and to be published and read. Widely. So I know that should be my next goals. I've always been a goal-oriented person, and I know if I put my mind to sometimes, I always accomplish it. So that's what I need to do -- to refocus my efforts, and redefine my goals.

And work.

Hard.

It's Not Easy to Be A Novelist

1. You get distracted constantly, by real life, by crises, by other interests and activities, by new ideas and projects
2. There's no one breathing on your neck (well, usually, unless you have a deadline or an agent asking for something) pushing you to finish
3. You're not always inspired, and you fear you'll write crap
4. When you write "crap," you think you're a lousy write
5. When you think you're a lousy writer, you don't want to write anymore
6. There's not many people to talk to about your work -- and sometimes you can't even talk about your work because the project is supposed to be a "secret"
7. When you do talk about your work, people either a) don't understand, b) don't care, or c) think you're bragging about being a novelist
8. You take your stories/work too seriously
9. There's always something who think they can do better than you in writing YOUR story (agent, editor, beta readers, other writers)
10. It's by and large a lonely profession with little social support
11. There's no immediate reward, applause, payoff, or appreciation -- sometimes there's none at all, only criticism
12. It really is work