When I was a young boy of 12-14, I spent three summers at the Byrnell Manor Hockey Camp, in Fenelon Falls, Ontario. The camp had everything. Located on Cameron Lake (the biggest lake I’d ever seen, but a mere whisper to its neighbors), the camp had a swimming dock, two boats for waterskiing and fishing, ball fields of all kinds, and its own 9 hole golf course.

And two Newfies who didn’t know their own size or strength.

Those were idyllic summers, filled from sunrise to sunset with physical activity of all kinds. I played golf, hockey, softball, soccer every day. I swam, fished, waterskied, and rode Canadian horses that had been captured from the wilds of northern Manitoba (or so I was told).

The memories are still vivid, even the “wedgie competitions” that I was forced into by my senior cottage Czar, a goalie from Norwood named Neil Higgins. Neil was a character, perhaps better known not for his goaltending expertise (he had a so-so college and professional record) as much as for the fact that he wore one of the first form-fitting fiberglass face masks in hockey, thanks to the dedication and genius of his father, Ernie Higgins.

What has this got to do with Hay Island, you ask?

One of the travel routes to our destination took us through the Thousand Islands area, via NY137, which begins where US81 ends, right before Collins Landing. Ever since the day we drove that road over the St. Lawrence River, I have had a picture of it etched in my mind and wanted to go back.

Hay Island is one of those thousand. It is a comparatively large island, on the Canada side of the river off of Gananoque, ON, perhaps 50 miles southwest of the bridge. It is the home of an old, close friend from boarding school days, built almost two centuries ago by a Georgia paper mill owner. He has invited a bunch of his old friends up to join him for a weekend of music and frivolity.

I am bringing my Stratocaster and Yamaha, and he tells me that the water line to my cabin has just been repaired.

I’m getting all giddy already.

All this fuss about Marcy’s Diner in Portland, MA brought back some memories.

My youngest is 24, so they’re old memories, the best kind.

Before he was born, Betsy and I took our infant daughter (here she is all grown up!) kateto Jupiter, FL to visit my parents. Knowing that they prefer to experience their grandchildren “in small bites,” we decided to take Kate out to lunch one day, at the fabulous Joe’s Stone Crab on the Loxahatchee River. At the time, she was no more than 6 months and we carried her in the car seat.

We were ushered to a nice table by a window, next to a group of six elderly women. When they saw the baby, you might have thought they were looking at Rosemary’s Baby. They were horrified, certain that this infant was soon to spoil their nice, quiet, two Manhattan lunch (ending as they all do with a lengthy to-the-penny reconciliation guaranteeing that no one paid a nickel more than owed, including the 5% tip).

Their disdain was palpable, and we actually considered whether this was a good idea. Kate could be fussy at times (still is, in fact). But we decided to tough it out, agreeing that if she started squawking, we’d take a doggy bag and get the hell out of there.

We proceeded to have a delightful lunch ( fish and wine, of course), during which Kate sleep soundlessly from start to finish. That was when we learned the sedative effect of restaurant noise.

Anyway, the ladies finished their lunch and began to trickle away from the table, then each of them paused by Betsy and the baby. One of them complimented Betsy (not me!) for having such a “lovely child.” Her friend was more direct:

“And so quiet!”

This is going to sounds a little weird, but stay with me.

My routine Thursday nights involves taking my guitar to The Next Page Cafe in Weymouth, where an exceptional open mic blues jam happens. The host, Willie J. Laws, and his amazing band mates, Malcolm Stuckey (bass) and Osi Brathwaite (drums), are jaw dropping musicians and the crowd is enthusiastic and devoted.

The beauty of the open mic blues jam is you never know what you’re going to get. From one Thursday to the next, it is a different scene, different vibe, energy, gestalt. My objective is simply to draw from the energy of the moment and do something different, by inspiration alone – something I’ve never seen my fingers do before. It doesn’t happen that often, but it keeps me coming back.

Two Thursdays ago, during my “time” on guitar, there was a moment during a lead break of a slow blues number at which I spontaneously ripped off a string of textbook B.B. King riffs. These are riffs I’ve studied and practiced, but not ones I would typically play. They just happened to come into my fingers at the moment.

On my way home from The Next Page last Thursday night, I reflected back on the jam and wondered what inspired me at that moment to use those B.B. King signature riffs.

I learned the next day (with the rest of the world) that Mr. King had died Thursday night, right about the time those old riffs infiltrated my fingers. That was quite a Thrill!

Anyway, this was a lovely example of how and where we get our inspirations.

It’s no different from reading Cormac McCarthy novels and then dropping dialogue tags, is it?

Mr. King’s iconic guitar work, McCarthy’s ironclad prose. One style so simple, the other deep, both pushing different buttons.

I once had a conversation with Duke Robillard, one of the genuine guitar icons. I told him he was one of my main influences, and “I’ve ripped off so many of your riffs it’s embarrassing.”

He chuckled and said, “That’s the kind of compliment I like to hear. I probably got them from somebody else myself.”

UPDATE: My friend Ron Rudy reminded me of an important coda to this story. The following Thursday (last week), I made the horrendous mistake of trying to play a B.B. King song. I murdered it. It was awful. Which goes to show, inspiration cannot be forced. It either comes or it doesn’t.

“The Woolf: Ranging the cultural landscape” is a fine cultural E-zine coming out of EU, edited by the lovely Jill Marsh, who is also an excellent novelist. Jill’s novel, Behind Closed Doors, is a psychological thriller in a Patricia Highsmith fashion. It is a mesmerizing first of four in the Beatrice Stubbs series.

Jill asked some folks to describe our experiences working “in tandem” with another. It’s an interesting series of essays. Go have a look, and bookmark the site!

Among the many invocations piled upon the aspiring writer, “write what you know” is usually close to the top. Like most of them, this one can be overly interpreted to the absurd (in either direction); but in the main, I think it’s pretty good advice for Big Issues.

I know a lot about the law and courtrooms, politicians, elections and the legislative process. It excites me (I know, that’s sick) to use these as plot devices, because with my knowledge, I can have fun crafting a compelling plotline, without either doing months of research or losing sleep over the fear of a Big Dig-size plot hole.

I suppose I could do the research necessary to write a convincing bio-terrorism thriller, but why would I? I don’t know anything about either biological weapons or international terrorist tactics. And there are apparently hundreds of other authors who do (or think so), so it’s simply not a value proposition for me to go there.

On the other hand, very few of the authors who use international terrorism or intelligence in their plots have any actual experience in that field. They have general experience in the “profession,” perhaps, but I sincerely doubt that Barry Eisler was actually an international assassin.

Another great example is sex. Who doesn’t know about sex? It seems some people get very rich these days writing about all sort of deviant and sordid sex. I take it on faith that most of them are just gifted with wild imaginations. I mean, seriously, edible body paint?Small Fish - ACX

But those are Big Picture things. You can research a lot of technical detail bits with internet research these days. It’s ridiculous how quickly you can learn anything on a browser. Or at least get a reliable answer to a question. Guns, incendiary devices, blood spatter science, even the heritage of Jesus Christ, apparently.

But do you really need to know the actual fact to successfully fake it? Even if the reader expects you to be authoritative on it, your research can carry you. People trust Tom Clancy on military spy stuff, but he was an insurance salesman who couldn’t even get into the service because of nearsightedness.

Of course, there are many instances in which the reader couldn’t care less about technical accuracy. These are just opportunities to let your whimsical self loose.

Here’s an example from a recently published indie novel.

As we near the climax of the story, the hero has been beaten about the face, head and body by thugs. He lies in a hospital room with an IV drip of hydrocodone when his wife rushes to his side. How does a badly beaten man under the influence of hydrocodone behave? What does he see? How does he speak? Does the author need to interview an ER physician before putting finger to key? Of course not. Anyone with a bit of life experience has been zonked on painkillers in a hospital at least once or twice. (Or if he’s over 50, has had a colonoscopy!)

Through a gauzy hydrocodone haze, Paul imagined an angel, disguised as his wife, swiftly descending on him. As the angel got closer, the features of her face clarified, and for a terrifying moment, he saw Shannon as a marionette.

“Your cheek looks like an eggplant,” Shannon the puppet said, gliding to Paul’s side, patting him gently with its tiny hands.

“You look like Pinocchio with tits,” Paul said, totally serious.

The floor nurse poked her head in. “Mrs. Forté, your husband has just had a fresh dose of pain killer, so I would give him a wide berth on whatever he says.”

“What do you mean? He talks to me like that all the time.” She patted Paul’s hand. “Don’t you, sweetie?”

Now the cat’s out of the bag. I’m shilling for PAUL & SHANNON.Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEB

Susanne and I had a lot of fun with FULL IRISH, and we’re very excited about the plot that’s coming together for the next in the series. A lot of it is what I know, but in the past two days I have spoken with experts in (a) “double indemnity” insurance and (b) mortuary procedure.

So it’s not all about what you know, but what you need to know.

I almost bit


(eh, no – but this one is so obtuse, you really have to wonder.)

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Several mornings a week, I spend 30 to 45 minutes on an Elliptical jogging machine, getting the old ticker working, burning off a bit of the dinner wine, firing the synapses in my aging muscles. As with most folks, I have established a routine, which includes reading the current novel in the Kindle queue (last two were part of the Tubby Dubonnet series by Tony Dunbar. A delightful, endearingly simply style!) and listening to music on my phone.

I always set my iTunes player to “shuffle,” because I know there’s nothing bad on my list, and I like to be surprised. Still, it’s kind of spooky the way some come up more than others. A lot more.

Lately, I’ve been treated to replays of one of the greatest CDs ever recorded in the history of music. I speak, of course, of Bob Dylan’s BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. While listening once again to the eloquent belligerence of Idiot Wind, I was restruck by the extraordinary cadence of Dylan’s lyrics, and how he weaves his poetry into the music syllable-by-syllable. Especially in this particular song, which I would describe as the nasty rant of a bitter man.

Whether you know the song or not, I hope you will treat yourself to it here, and read the lyrics as you listen. I’m pasting the entire song (which is quite lengthy), but as you can see, I’ve formatted and punctuated it as though it were a poison pen letter – to make my final point:

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press.
 Whoever it is, I wish they’d cut it out quick; but when they will, I can only guess.

They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy. She inherited a million bucks and when she died, it came to me.

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.

People see me all the time, and they just can’t remember how to act.
 Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.

Even you, yesterday, you had to ask me where it was at.
 I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that. Sweet lady.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth! 
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south. 
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth! You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike. 
I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long, I can’t remember what it’s like. 
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door.
 You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars, after losin’ every battle.

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way things sometimes are.
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin’ me see stars.
You hurt the ones that I love best, and cover up the truth with lies. 
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes, blood on your saddle.

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb.
 Blowing through the curtains in your room. 
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth.
 You’re an idiot, babe
. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

It was gravity which pulled us down, and destiny which broke us apart.
You tamed the lion in my cage, but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart.
 Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped.
 What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top, 
you’re on the bottom.

I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind! 
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
 don’t look into mine.
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone-faced while the
building burned. 
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees, while the 
springtime turned 
slowly into Autumn.

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull.
 From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol. 
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth.
 You’re an idiot, babe. 
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read.
 Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead.
 Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy, 
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory,
 and all your ragin’ glory.

I’ve  been double-crossed now for the very last time, and now I’m finally free! 
I kissed goodbye the howling beast, on the borderline which separated you from me.

You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, nor the pain I rise above
. And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats.
 Blowing through the letters that we wrote.

Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves.

We’re idiots, babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

I do this as a superb example about the importance of cadence, word choice, sentence length, pacing and rhythm. One doesn’t write line-by-line, but syllable-by-syllable.

I can’t listen to music while I write – not even instrumental music. I am too distracted by it. Yet I know that in the silence, there is a melody running through my mind that I really can’t turn off. Sometimes, when I am writing, I imagine that the words that come out are following some cadence or melody I cannot hear. I am conscious of its presence, but I do not hear the notes. Once, I saw the words in a line as though they were notes on a staff. Kind of like this: Notes

Weird, I know. In any event, perhaps one day I will hear the melody one day, and a story will become a song.

The next time you’re reading something you like, see if you can hear the melody, feel the beat. Tell me I’m a kook, go ahead.

Have you checked out FULL IRISH yet? It’s a hearty meal!Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEB


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