Words and Music: The Good Listening Guide to Better Writing

Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.

— Samuel Butler, English writer

Music…is just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that’s been given to us, and here’s an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is.

— John Coltrane

Dedicated to San Francisco Writer’s Conference Advisory Board member and benefactor Harvey Pawl, whose generosity helped inspire it

Someone once said that a book should have no extra words just as a song should have no extra notes. My favorite rule from The Elements of Style is the ultimate rule of writing: “Omit Needless words.” If you eliminate needless words, the only words you have left are the ones you need.

For me, any work that strives for artistry must have beauty, craft, vitality, delicacy, form, balance, completeness, unity, integrity, contrast, harmony, humanity, ornament, impact, inevitability, timelessness, and universality. Music must have lyricism; classical music, spirituality; art and architecture must have color.

Classical Music

The instrumental music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart capture a beauty that enables you to experience an absolute that transcends time and space–one of the greatest achievements to which art can aspire. I have found the qualities listed above in the music of Bach and Mozart more than any other music.

Bach

Bach was the greatest swinger of all time.  His music has a drive and dazzling technique that makes you want to tap your foot to it. Bach had two wives and sixteen children, but he lived and loved to compose. His music is the voice of eros, the life force that sings the joys and possibilities of being alive.  Recordings to start with:

* The Goldberg Variations is the greatest work for solo piano and the greatest jazz composition. I hope you’ll like it enough to enjoy the illuminating contrast between Glen Gould’s dashing, headlong 1955 recording of it, which made him famous, and the more lyrical, mature 1981 version.

* The Brandenburg Concertos, the Marlboro Music Festival version, or another version with piano. It’s the ultimate Dixieland concert.

* Bach’s other work for the piano: the concertos–the slow movements are exquisite–the partitas, and the French Suites. Gould is my favorite pianist, but Murray Perahia recorded more of the concertos.

* The violin and oboe concertos

* The Suites

* A Musical Offering

* His other instrumental music for solo instruments, chamber groups, and orchestra

* Apart from The Magnificat, which is splendid, I don’t know Bach’s choral work, so I can’t offer other examples.

* One sign of the love that Bach’s music inspires is that it has been transcribed for other instruments more than the work of any other composer. Transcriptions of his work will delight you as will jazz versions of his music, including those by The Swingle Singers (Johann Sebastian Bach, Vol. 1), and pianist Jacques Loussier (Play Bach)

A huge treasure trove of other baroque music has the virtues listed above. A lifetime’s worth of other baroque composers awaits you, including members of the Bach family, Thomas Albinoni, Franz Danzi, George Friedrich Handel, Benedetto Marcello—the slow movement of his oboe concerto is soul food–Johann Pachelbel, Carl Stamitz, George Telemann, and Antonio Vivaldi.

Mozart

Mozart’s melodic gift, the size and diversity of his legacy, and his lifelong ability to create irresistible beauty within a precise structure make him the greatest of all composers. He creates absolute beauty as if he were taking dictation from another realm of existence to which art is the portal.  Portals to Mozart’s gifts:

* The Clarinet Concerto–the slow movement is as sublime as it is simple–and the clarinet quintet. Mozart only had two years to compose for the clarinet. Based on these works, his future work for the instrument would have been unimaginably beautiful.

* The piano concertos, especially the last seven, and all of the slow movements. Collectively, these concertos are the greatest creative act of western art. What music needs more than anything is more Mozart piano concertos. Beethoven’s first two piano concertos sound like concertos that Mozart who, in classical music’s greatest tragedy, died at 35, in 1791, never got a chance to write.

* Serenade Gran Partita. In the great movie Amadeus, the composer Salieri calls the opening notes of the third movement “the voice of God.”

* The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola & Orchestra and the divertimenti

* Other work for woodwinds–concertos and chamber groups

* Piano sonatas and other piano pieces, solos and for chamber groups, especially the quintet

* I don’t know Mozart’s operas or choral music well enough to recommend them.

Just as publishers help sustain writers, Bach and Mozart were dependent on employers, commissions, and performing to make a living, then as now, not a path to wealth. Oscar Wilde’s last words were. “I‘m dying beyond means.” Mozart lived beyond his means and was buried in an umarked grave.

A lifetime of listening will only increase your love for the glorious work of these two giants.  An online search by a composer’s name will lead you to free music online.

Jazz

Jazz makes you feel good and makes you want to tap your foot. The four most lyrical improvisers at slow and medium tempos and my favorite musicians:

Bill Evans, a pianist whose way with a ballad is incomparable. The high notes in his ballads, like those in the slow movements of Bach and Mozart, are constellations of stars. Combined with the surpassing beauty of their melodies, they are irresistible. (Essential Standards: Bill Evans)

Miles Davis, a trumpeter whose work spanned five decades. His recordings with John Coltrane, culminating in Kind of Blue, one of the best jazz albums ever, and Miles Ahead orchestrated by Gil Evans.

Paul Desmond, because of his silken tone on the alto sax and his amazing work with the Dave Brubeck quartet. My favorite: Jazz at Oberlin. Hemingway once wrote that: “For a long time now, I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” For alto sax player Desmond, this college concert was one of those days. His solo on “Balcony Rock” on Jazz Goes to College is on a par with it. He was the most lyrical improviser at fast tempos. He also did outstanding work without the quartet (Glad to be Unhappy).

Milt Jackson, whose vibraphone was the heart of the great Modern Jazz Quartet. My favorites are the early recordings, Django, Concorde, and Fontessa, although the most enduring group in jazz made a library of wonderful recordings. He did other excellent work as well, my favorite being Milt Jackson Quartet

Other favorite musicians—with albums you may want to start listening to them with– include saxophonists Cannonball Adderley (Somethin’ Else), early John Coltrane (The Gentle Side of John Coltrane), Stan Getz (The Essential Stan Getz), Gerry Mulligan (Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker Quartet); Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes), Art Pepper (The Best of Art Pepper), Bud Shank (Bud Shank/Bill Perkins) and Zoot Sims (Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers); trumpeters Art Farmer (What is There to Say? under Gerry Mulligan’s name), Dizzy Gillespie (Dizzy Gillespie, Ken Burns Jazz) and Shorty Rogers (Shorty Rogers and His Giants).

The most tasteful and creative drummer, Shelly Manne (Shelly Manne and His Friends, a collaboration with one of my favorite pianists, Andre Previn; other pianists: Bill Charlap (Somewhere: The Music of Leonard Bernstein), Red Garland (The Best of the Red Garland Trios), Errol Garner (Concert by the Sea), Fred Hersch (Fred Hersch Plays Rodgers and Hammerstein), Oscar Peterson (My Favorite Instrument), Marcus Roberts (If I Could Be with You), George Shearing (Verve Jazz Masters: George Shearing), and Horace Silver (The Best of Horace Silver, Vol. 1).

* I rarely listen to singers, but jazz has a long tradition of great chanteuses, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, as well as jazz/pop singers such as Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra.

These musicians drew much of their inspiration from Broadway musicals and the Great American Songbook, composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter.  In addition to freebies online and trying the recordings I suggest, you can check online by the musician’s name for the All Music ratings. You can also use the brilliant Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings and/or The Penguin Jazz Guide. If you’re in a store–Amoeba in San Francisco, Berkeley, or Los Angeles is the best–look on the back of CDs for reviews.

In Amadeus, Salieri looks at Mozart’s scores and says “To change a note would be diminishment.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of the childrens classic, The Little Prince, wrote that, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

No two music or book lovers list of favorites would be identical. They are subjective, and they evolve over time as our tastes evolve, and we discover new books and music. But music and writing, like life, require the art of holding on and letting go. Listening to music with no extra notes will help you separate the essential from the extraneous in your writing and your life, which should also have the virtues of art. Happy listening!

 

The goal of the blog is to help us both understand writing and publishing.

Questions and comments most welcome.

The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community 

February 13-16, 2014 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / Mike’s blog: http://sfwriters.info/blog @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

Keynoters:  Chitra Divakaruni and Barry Eisler

www.sfwritersu.com / sfwritersu@gmail.com / @SFWritersU  

The 6th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / free classes /

September, 6th, 2014 / www.sfwritingforchange.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / Keynoter:

Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972

larsenpoma@aol.com / www.larsenpomada.com / 415-673-0939 /1029 Jones Street / SF, 94109

 

 

The One Safe Prediction: 10 Guesses About Publishing in 5 Years

People, companies, and countries that don’t reinvent themselves every three-to-five years will get left behind. 

–John Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems 

The one safe prediction you can make about the future is that you can’t predict it. But here are ten guesses about where the industry is heading: 

  1. Content will remain king, trumped only by the ace: the contentpreneurs who produce it. 
  2. Readers, the second most important people in publishing, will continue to supplant the top-down publishing paradigm by being gatekeepers who rule by word of mouse. 
  3. The form content takes will be irrelevant. Publishing will be a hybrid business; writers and publishers will produce and market content of different lengths in as many forms, media, and countries as they can.  
  4. Fewer, leaner conglomerates will dominate trade publishing, and publishers will thrive by empowering authors to write and promote their book, and by devoting themselves to what they can do better: editing, marketing, production, and distribution. 
  5. Updating ebooks, integrating all media into them, and making them interactive will be transparent. Multimedia nonfiction will be huge, and readers will judge books by their ability to inform and entertain so effectively that awareness of medium and technique disappear.  
  6. Barnes & Noble’s superstores stores will be gone. A growing community of 3,500-4,000 square-foot independent booksellers will thrive because  

–They are essential to the discoverability and the future of print books. 

–They will use different business models, including co-ops; nonprofits like other cultural institutions; a combination store like the carwash cum bookstore and beauty salon cum bookstore that already exist; and membership-based businesses in which customers prepay for books. 

–They will be five-minute Amazons: they will have the books customers want because they will have EBMs, Espresso Book Machines, also essential to the future of print books. EBMs will enable stores to  

* Sell books in and out of print 

* Stock one copy of ten books instead of ten copies of one book 

* Never run out of books at an event 

* Print books their customers write

* Publish books such as anthologies of costumers’ work

–If needed, they will have cafes.

–Besides providing a respite from staring at screens, bookstores will be needed even more as community centers that respond to their community’s needs and tastes, offer events and classes, and serve as a meeting place for reading groups, and writers’ and community organizations.  

–Their customers will understand that a quarter of every dollar spent in a chain store leaves the community while indies spend that income in the community. 

–They will stock magazines to help keep customers informed and print media alive. 

–They will offer same-day delivery. 

–Online and off, major media will be increasingly compromised by advertisers and corporate imperatives, so readers will understand that bookstores are as essential to the flow of information as libraries. 

–Knowing this will prod the American Booksellers Association and Association of American Publishers to collaborate on finding communities that want bookstores and helping them to start them and ensuring they have EBMs. 

  1. AAP will help publishers collaborate on creating a nonprofit, co-op Amazon: a distributor that welcomes all independent and traditional publishers, and lets them set their own terms and fulfill orders.  
  2. To help justify their existence, books more beautiful than ever. In a high-tech, visual culture, the physical and literary pleasures books provide will be more needed and appreciated than ever. 
  3. Agents will be Executive VPs of their clients’ businesses, mentors who help them increase the quality and visibility of their work as well as their income. 
  4. Ten million web-enabled devices will help unite the global village. Their potential for  community, communication, creativity, collaboration, and commerce will provide endless possibilities for writers and publishers. 

To sum up these fantasies in one sentence: the future will be a golden age for writers, booksellers, and publishers who rise to meet the challenges and opportunities of permanent turbulence.  

The goal of the blog is to help us both understand writing and publishing. Questions and additions most welcome. 

The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time 

October, 12th, 2013 / www.sfwritingforchange.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / Keynoter:  

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Moving Toward the Millionth Circle: Energizing the Global Women’s Movement  

The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community   

February 13-16, 2013 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / Mike’s blog: http://sfwriters.info/blog @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference 

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / sfwritersu@gmail.com / @SFWritersU    

Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972 

larsenpoma@aol.com / www.larsenpomada.com / 415-673-0939 /1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109  

 

 

12 Parts of a Perfect Pitch for a Nonfiction Book: Exciting Agents and Editors About Your Proposal

Pitching your nonfiction book to an agent or editor takes less than thirty seconds. The goal: generate maximum excitement in as few words as possible. Without being self-serving, you must capture the essence of your book, why it will appeal to book buyers, and what’s most impressive about your platform, promotion plan, and credentials.

Books are either prose-driven or promotion-driven. Promotion  and platform–your continuing visibility, online and off. on the subject of your book with potential book buyers–aren’t as important for certain kinds of books such as reference books. They’re also not as important for academic presses, or for small, niche, or midsize houses outside of New York. So you have to be clear about your publishing goals for your book and what it takes to achieve them.

Half of the twelve parts of a pitch are optional; you may not need them. Here’s how to excite agents and of editors at Big Apple houses:

  1. A sentence with the title (and subtitle, if needed) and up to fifteen words that prove your book is unique and salable.
  2. The model(s) for your book: one or two books, movies, or authors–“It’s The Tipping Point meets The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
  3. (Optional) A narrative nonfiction book, such as a memoir, requires two or three sentences about the time, setting, and the story.
  4. The most important thing about your platform: what you are doing to give yourself continuing visibility on the subject, online or off, with potential book buyers, and if the number is impressive, how many of them, and where. Wrong: “I give talks.” Right: “I give X talks a year to Y people in major markets.”
  5. The most effective one-to-three things you will do to promote your book, online or off, and if the number is impressive and appropriate, how many of them. Your promotion plan must be a believable extension of your platform.
  6. The length of your proposal.
  7. (Optional) The length of your manuscript, if it’s ready to submit.
  8.  (Optional) The names of people who will provide a foreword and cover quotes, if            they’re impressive.
  9. (Optional) Mention if you’re proposing a series.
  10. (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it.
  11. Your most impressive credentials: your track record; experience in your field; years of research; prizes; contests; awards.
  12. (Optional) Anything else that will impress agents or editors.

            Like the parts of your proposal, these elements are the building blocks of your pitch. Arrange them in whatever order will give them the most impact. How to Write a Book Proposal discusses platform and promotion.

 

The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference

Changing the World One Book at a Time

October 12, 2014 / www.sfwritingforchange.org/ sfwriterscon@aol.com

The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference

A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community 

February 13-16, 2014 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / Mike’s blog: http://sfwriters.info/blog @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / sfwritersu@gmail.com / @SFWritersU  

Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents

Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972

larsenpoma@aol.com / www.larsenpomada.com / 415-673-0939

1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

The Holy Trinity of Creating Communities for Writers: Content, Service, Visibility

For your work to be read, you need to build communities of fans. The holy trinity of community—the three elements you need to build community are content, service, and visibility:

  • Because content is king, you need to keep producing work of different lengths and in different media. You have more ways to serve your readers than ever: more media and devices for reaching them faster, less expensively, more easily, and in more places than ever.
  • Making a book succeed requires a holy trinity of acts by your readers:

–They have to buy your book.

–They have to finish it; 57% of books aren’t finished.

–They must like it enough to use word of mouth and word of mouse to tell their communities they must read it.

  • Readers have to find your work. Timing, the President descending from his helicopter with your book, and other forms of luck can make a book take off, but there are two basic ways books succeed:

Magic: the simpler, faster way is word of mouth and mouse. Fans online and off enable a book to go viral, a rare phenomenon.

Communication: consumers have to hear about a new product seven to ten times to convince them to buy it. Communication is queen. The faster you want to build your readership, the more effectively and frequently you have to use all of the ways you can to serve your readers so they remain engaged members of your community of fans.

Becoming a successful author usually takes more than one book. Agent Don Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, believes it takes five books for authors to build an audience. Make creating fans for life your mission. They’re waiting for you, and they want to help you succeed. Why not let them? The aces are the writers who create content and communicate about it best. Finding them is easy: look at any bestseller list. Starting dealing yourself a winning hand now.

 

The blog aspires to help us both understand writing and publishing. To make the blog as helpful as it can be, please respond with your questions and suggestions for changes. I hope you find it worth sharing.

Do one thing every day to make the world better.   –John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman

The 10th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 14-17, 2013 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com /

Keynoters: Bella Andre, Anne Perry, and R. L. Stine

http://sfwriters.info/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn

Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/www.sfwritersu.com/sfwritersu@gmail.com/@SFWritersU

415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time

September 2013 / Unitarian Universalist Center / Geary and Franklin

www.sfwritingforchange.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com

Words and Birds: Catching the Write Flight

Birds in flight … are not between places, they carry their places with them-claims the architect Vincenzo Volentieri. We never wonder where they are: they are at home in the sky, in flight. Flight is their way of being in the world.

–Goeff Dyer, quoted in The Global Soul by Pico Iyer

More people in more places have access to more books faster, more easily, and more inexpensively than ever. If you don’t want to splurge 99 cents to download all of Charles Dickens’ books on your e-reader, you can still have more than 80% of the best books ever written for free.

Public-domain books are available in print and for your e-reader from your library. If, as I do, you prefer print, they’re also available in low-priced editions at bookstores. Want to discover new authors for free or at low cost? Online booksellers and social reading sites like Goodreads will help you discover your next favorite writer.

What a glorious time to be a writer or reader! It’s far from heaven, but it’s about as close as you can get in this mortal coil. And sharing your passion for books online and in book clubs will make friends of strangers.

For birds, the sky’s the limit. But you can soar on the wings of words as far and high as your ability, freedom, resources, creativity, and imagination can take you. If reading and writing are your way of being in the world, now is the best time for you to take flight. You were born to fly. I hope you find home in the sky. May your words be wings that transport you wherever you want to go. Bon voyage!

The blog aspires to help us both understand writing and publishing. To make the blog as helpful as it can be, please respond with your questions and suggestions for changes. I hope you find it worth sharing.

Do one thing every day to make the world better .   –John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman

The 10th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 14-17, 2013 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com /

Keynoters: Bella Andre, Anne Perry, and R. L. Stine

http://sfwriters.info/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn

Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/www.sfwritersu.com/sfwritersu@gmail.com/@SFWritersU

415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time

September 2013 / Unitarian Universalist Center / Geary and Franklin

www.sfwritingforchange.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com