Tag Archives: Author: Roger Ellory

Why does an Englishman write American crime? by R.J. Ellory

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This is a question I have been asked so many times.  Enough times for me to take a long look at it, if for no other reason than to have an answer next time I am asked.

Paul Auster said that becoming a writer was not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman.  You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accepted the fact that you were not fit for anything else, you had to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days, and I concur with his attitude.

I feel the same way about genres.  I think the genre chose me, as opposed to my choosing the genre.

The thing that has always fascinated me, and the thing that I believe is the only thing that fascinates authors really, is people.  It’s that simple.

Life is people.  People are life.  Without people there is nothing to talk about, nothing worth saying.

And why American crime?  Because such a genre presents me with a broad canvas, and upon that canvas I can write conspiracy, thriller, romance, history, politics, social commentary.  I think US crime holds a mirror up to society better than any other genre.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly for me, crime gives me an opportunity to present my ‘people’ with situations that they would never experience in ordinary life.  This then gives me possibility of putting those people through the mill emotionally, and that is where my true interest lies.

So that is where my selection of genre and subject matter comes from, and right from the first book – Candlemoth – I have tried to create real and believable characters and storylines that have this American cultural and political background.  Candlemoth is the story of two boys, one black, one white, who grow up together from the early 50’s in North Carolina.  It tracks through that time period – up through the death of JFK and Martin Luther King, through Nixon and Watergate, all the significant political and social events of that time.  The story is told in flashback from the perspective of the main protagonist, the white boy now in his 30s, who is on Death Row for the murder of his black friend.  The events are recounted to a Catholic priest sent to reconcile the man to his execution, and it deals with the events that brought him there and how he was consigned to such a fate.  Ghostheart is told from the perspective of the central female character, a young woman who – by the discoveries she makes in the pages of a book – learns the history of New York gangland and underworld figures in the 50s and 60s, and ultimately how this history relates to herself and her own life.  A Quiet Vendetta is a five hundred-page epic that deals with seventy years of accurate Mafia history throughout New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, Havana, and numerous other cities, and is a story told through the eyes of a young man who becomes a hitman for organised crime.  City of Lies is a fast-paced thriller that deals with the lives and crimes of a group of elderly gangsters in Manhattan, and how they use their influence to seduce a younger man into a criminal lifestyle.  It concludes with four violent high-powered armed robberies in four different banks in New York City on Christmas Eve.  A Quiet Belief In Angels is the biography of a young boy growing up in Georgia in the 1930 and 40s, and how his entire life is affected by the killing of a number of young girls in his hometown.  A Simple Act of Violence is essentially two stories – a series of contemporary killings in Washington DC and how these killings are linked to the undercover actions of the CIA in Nicaragua in the 1980s.  The Anniversary Man, is the story of a serial killing survivor who works with the Police to uncover the identity of someone perpetrating killings in New York who is copying famous serial killings of the past and carrying them out of the anniversary of their original occurrence.  Lastly, Saints of New York, deals with corruption within the Organised Crime Control Bureau, child prostitution, the burdens of one policeman against a system that does anything but acknowledge and reward honesty.

I believe that crime fiction is the most widely-read genre fiction in the world currently.  I hope that it will stay that way.  I think – as a genre – it excites, evokes emotion, stimulates mentally, engages, mystifies, perplexes, and pleases readers greatly.  We love puzzles.  We love the dilemmas of ordinary people presented with extraordinary situations.  We love to be challenged.  Is that not the index of a healthy and inquisitive mind, and thus a healthily inquisitive society?  We want to know more.  We want to find out.  We want truth and justice.  And – if we cannot find it within our culture – we have to be reassured that it is still possible within the pages of a book.

 

R.J. Ellory’s wife thinks he is a workaholic, his son considers him slightly left-of-centre, but they put up with him regardless.  Everybody knows that as a writer and musician, Roger is dedicated to the best in his craft. Having suffered incredible loss after loss in his youth, it would have been easy for R.J. to turn his  brilliance to crime, but fortunately for Britain and us, he has taken to writing great crime fiction instead.

LIFE AS A STORY… by R.J. Ellory

b A couple of weeks ago I acknowledged my fiftieth birthday. Of course, even though it was acknowledged as something significant, I was merely one day older than I had been the previous day. Such is the way with all birthdays. We annually celebrate the day we showed up, and folks buy you stuff and send you cards and tell you, ‘Thanks for still being here’.

My personal beliefs go a great deal further than the current body I inhabit.
I am of the unshakeable view that Man is not a body. Man does not have a soul or a spirit. He is one.

I think that Man – as a spiritual identity – has been around for a very long time.

Tying in with age-old Buddhist beliefs, Man occupies a body as a driver occupies a car. The body is a vehicle for the spirit, and nothing more.

The intelligence, wit, ideas, thoughts, creativity, personality, likes and dislikes of the individual are the individual themselves. They are him or her. They are the spirit. They are not the body or the brain.

Some ‘mental’ studies have gone off the rails due to the fact that ‘mental’, ‘emotional’ and ‘spiritual’ traumas have been afforded a physical cause (from the brain), thus efforts to operate or shock or drug someone ‘better’ have been undertaken. They are addressing the wrong source of the problem. I am of the view that the brain does not think or create or decide or remember anything. When the body dies the brain dies, but the person is still there.

So, you are born, at least physically. I think that you – as a spirit – have come from somewhere. I think that you bring a great deal of information and baggage with you. I think you have lived earlier lives, and have possessed earlier identities. Sometimes, rarely, little bits of those earlier lives are left intact, hence children can remember things for which we really have no explanation. We tell them it’s imagination, but it isn’t. I think it’s actually very hurtful for a child to be told that he is imagining things that he or she can actually remember. It’s the same to be told you’re a liar when you’re not. Even in adulthood, some of those memories reappear – unexpectedly, inadvertently – and we call them déjà vu or intuition or perception. Sometimes we just know things and we have absolutely no explanation for why we know them. Sometimes we experience love at first sight or an instant dislike, and these things – I believe – cannot be explained in purely physical terms.

Anyway, I digress. I am just putting the significance of a fiftieth birthday in perspective. I hear people say, ‘Enjoy yourself…you only live once’, and I kind of agree. You only live once, sure…it just happens to go on forever. Your physical age and the limitations you place upon yourself have more to do with what other people think you’re capable of, rather than your own self-belief.

I am assured that this is true by the sheer number of comments I have received from others regarding how they think I should be behaving now that I am ‘middle-aged’.

You’ll be taking it a little easier now, won’t you? is akin to being told, So, don’t you think it’s about time you prepared yourself for an early death?

I am fifty. So what?

I am reminded of the Hunter S. Thompson quote, ‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn-out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’ and I concur.

It has been said that banality and conformity are the suburbs of Hell. I concur on that point, too.

My brother and I speak frequently. We are entirely different characters. He is content to live the life that he is living. He is happy to work, to read, to enjoy a glass of wine and a good dinner. As far as I can observe, he is very easily pleased. Perhaps too easily pleased. He does not feel any sense of urgency to break down the gates and storm the palace. He does not feel some sense of inherent frustration that life moves far, far too slowly. Conversations with him make me wonder whether my desire to do all I can and do it now and at twice the speed is more a curse than a blessing.

I have just published a book in the UK. I am releasing two books in France this year, another in Holland, others in numerous and varied countries around the world. I am also seeing the release of a graphic novel based on a trilogy of short stories I wrote a while back. We have a couple of film adaptations in the pipeline, the band is going on the road, I am writing a second album, and I am preparing myself for some extensive and exhaustive European tours to promote both the books and the music. I have undertaken evening classes in two different subjects, and am trying to keep my guitar studies at two hours per day. I am writing a new book for 2016 at a rate of fifteen thousand words a week, and I am asking myself,

‘What else can I do?’

This is my nature. This is who I am.

Krishnamurti said, ‘A life of comparison is a life of misery’. That is also a curse of mine. I see things happening elsewhere and I want to be part of them. I see levels of accomplishment that exceed my own by a great deal, and I get angry with myself for not having worked harder.

People ask me, ‘Aren’t you going to take some time off?’ and they know that the answer is inherent in the question. I don’t have time to take any time off. Time off to do what? Sunbathe?

I don’t do holidays. Don’t much care for them. I don’t need time to wind down. I don’t get wound up. Yes, I get frustrated and dismayed by the seeming lethargy of others. I am staggered at the sheer amount of environmental inertia I have to overcome in order to get anything done on this ridiculous planet, but I don’t think those things cause me sufficient stress to warrant doing anything other than soldiering on.

I saw a wonderful tee-shirt slogan yesterday. It simply stated, ‘I can hardly contain my apathy’. Joke aside, it made me laugh because I have run into that with other people time and again over the past few weeks.

However, I do my utmost to stay calm, to keep things in perspective, and to appreciate that others – just like my brother – have different attitudes, and thus different goals.

And so, in reaching fifty, I consider that I have been around long enough to get things more right than wrong. I have made a good bunch of mistakes and learned some lessons, and when I repeat those mistakes it’s simply because I have not learned well enough.

I think growing older merely gives you a perspective on priorities. We can all remember the exams and tests we took in school, how important they were, how much they mattered. We can all remember past relationships where the emotions you felt seemed to be the most powerful and overwhelming things you could ever experience. We can all remember moments of outrage, anger, even hatred toward someone or something that seemed all-consuming. We don’t feel those same emotions now. Not because they weren’t valid emotions at the time, but because the significance of those experiences has now been evaluated and prioritized against the greater picture.

I have reached a point where I feel that there is some vague picture behind me. That picture is borne out of fifty years of thinking and feeling, of doing and not doing, of making mistakes, learning lessons, reading, writing, living life. I have reached a point where the fifty years behind me seems nothing more than a wealth of experience upon which to base my actions for the next twenty or thirty or forty years, and I intend to use everything I have learned to accomplish more in every future year than has been accomplished in any five or ten years of the past.

Maybe I am over-optimistic, but what’s wrong with that?

However, I think the one thing I have to learn more than anything else – and perhaps it may be the most necessary lesson of all – is that everyone is different, and they each have their own individual viewpoints about what is and is not important. Expecting others to think the way you yourself do is not only injurious to others, it’s also injurious to yourself. You start resenting people, disliking them even, and then you discover that you are on your own. Society is a social thing, and we all belong to a society whether we wish to or not.

In this light, perhaps the one lesson I have learned more than all others concerns the importance of people. Life is people. If you don’t have time for people, then you don’t have time for life. Maybe the real motivation for any life should be to positively affect the lives of as many other people as you can before you die.

I am not afraid of dying. Afraid is too strong a word, but I do think about time and how much is left and what I can get done before I have to start over with a new name and a new body. That will be a different game, more than likely with a different purpose and motivation, and that – in itself – is something intriguing.

The enemy of life is not death. Death is merely a deadline you can’t avoid, no matter when it happens.

Maybe the Supreme Being, whoever or whatever that may be, is nothing more than an editor.

You’ve written enough. That story is complete. Time to start a new one.
Maybe the real challenge is writing a life that inspires, motivates and challenges others.

Maybe the real challenge is writing a life that matters, not only while you’re here, but in the legacy you leave behind.

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British novelist and musician Roger Ellory may be fifty, but he is young of spirit. Find his books at http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

Reflections on a certain crime by R.J. Ellory

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Some while ago I was asked by the Wall Street Journal to write a piece concerning ‘unknown’ or forgotten literary classics.  Having recently spent a considerable amount of time in France, I decided to share my thoughts about several French writers, now widely available in English, who seemed yet to be unheard of by my English contemporaries, associates and friends.

Amongst the list of those I chose was Jean-Patrick Manchette, author of La Position de Tireur Couché (literally translates as ‘the position of the gunman lying down’, published in English as ‘The Prone Gunman’).  This book has now been adapted for film and is on general release as ‘The Gunman’ with Sean Penn and Javier Bardem.

Manchette said a very interesting thing about his genre, to the effect that the crime novel was the best way to hold up a mirror to the society within which we live.  That was the central theme of the piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and seems to hold true as far as my own writing is concerned.  Dealing with the wider canvas of ethics, morals, justice, crime and punishment, the motivations and rationales of those who violate the laws of the land and all related subjects leads us – not only as writers, but also as interested individuals – into the subject of psychology, the mind, the very woof and warp of life itself.

And then the other night my wife and I watched a film called ‘The Imitation Game’ with Benedict Cumberbatch, itself a depiction of the life and work of Alan Turing, the man responsible for creating a machine that cracked the Enigma code.  The somewhat romanticized portrayal of life at Bletchley Park, the ‘emotional personalisation’ of the story that was facilitated by placing a brother of one of the research team on a ship that had to be ‘sacrificed’ so as to prevent any possibility of the Germans discovering that the code had been broken, did nothing to obscure the factual tragedy inherent in the tale.  Turing was a homosexual.  At the time, homosexuality was against the law.  Anyone engaging in homosexual activity could be charged with ‘gross indecency’.  Fifty years after the war the truth of Bletchley Park, Turing and the cracking of Enigma became public knowledge, at least those parts of it that the government permitted us to know, and Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a royal pardon.  It was the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who stood up in parliament and announced that Turing had been ‘forgiven’.  Charles Dance, commenting in the film extras, said that the greatest irony of Turing’s pardon was that it was Turing who should have been forgiving us for the way in which he was treated, not the other way around.

After the film was over, my wife and discussed the moral and ethical ramifications of that specific situation.  Turing was a genius.  Turing built a machine with wires and valves and cogs that gave us the foundation for all things computer-related that we take for granted today.  It has been estimated that Turing’s machine and the cracking of Enigma shortened the war by two years and saved a further fourteen million lives.  Why couldn’t Churchill have stepped in when Turing was charged with ‘gross indecency’?  Why, after all that Turing had done, couldn’t someone ‘high up’ have bailed him out, saved the day, rescued him for the truly dreadful fate that awaited him?  But no.  No-one stepped in.  Turing was charged, tried, convicted, and not one person came forward to tell the world what this great man had done, how his ingenuity, resolve, courage and magnificent intellect had turned the tide of the war.  They couldn’t.  Such a thought was inconceivable.  Everything that Turing had ever accomplished was bound over and held confidential under the Official Secrets Act.  Had you looked up Turing’s war record, you would have found no record at all.  In effect, certainly for the duration of the war itself, Turing was a man who did not exist.

The judge at Turing’s trial gave Turing a choice: two years in jail or be subjected to horrific chemical castration to ‘curb his proclivities’.  Turing, wishing not to be divorced from his ever-ongoing work and research, chose the latter.  He reported in for a year, taking mandatory injections of Stilboestrol (synthetic oestrogen).  The treatment rendered Turing impotent.  On June 8, 1954, Turing was found dead.  His body had lain undiscovered for twenty-four hours.  Whether he committed suicide by eating a cyanide-soaked apple, or whether his death was caused by inadvertent inhalation of cyanide fumes from a machine he’d set up in his tiny room is still a matter of conjecture.  He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Woking Crematorium.  His life and work went unknown for decades, but now – notwithstanding the fact that we will never have a chance to ask for his forgiveness – at least what he achieved has been acknowledged and appropriately commended.

However, having spoken to many who have seen the film, there still lies the question: Why did no-one step in to save Turing?  Answer: Because he broke the law.  It was that simple.  The simple fact is that many tens of thousands of individuals gave everything of themselves in the Second World War.  Turing was a genius, no doubt about it, but he did what he was able to do to assist in the war effort.  Others, perhaps blessed with less intellect, nevertheless gave no less of themselves.  Ordinary men and women learned to fly aircraft and parachute into occupied territory; they underwent rigorous training and volunteered for missions deep in the heart of Nazi Germany; they ferried supplies across a U-Boat-riddled Atlantic to bring ammunition and supplies to Allied forces abroad; they boarded landing craft for the invasion in June of 1944, certain that they would never again see home.  And millions of them didn’t see home again, as we know all too well.  Just because someone did something truly extraordinary and heroic did it them give them license to break the law, to perpetrate a crime, to be unreservedly forgiven?  No, it did not.  Did Montgomery’s success in defeating Rommel then give him permission to rob banks and kill innocent civilians?  No, it did not.  The law was the law.  Turing broke the law, and he had to face the penalty.

The real truth is that the law was insane.  A law that punishes a man or woman for their sexual preferences or predilections, save where those preferences and predilections actually render physical, mental or emotional harm to another, is the true criminal here.  It was a ‘sign of the times’, much the same as children born out of wedlock caused not only the mothers, but also the infants to be shunned and despised. My wife, as a girl of eight or nine, told a schoolfriend’s mother that her own mother lived with a man to whom she was not married.  That schoolfriend’s mother barred her own daughter from ever speaking to my wife again.  That was in the early 1970s.

We have grown up in many ways.  As a society, we appear to be more tolerant, liberal, perhaps even forgiving, but as individuals it is a different story.  We all harbour our own personal discriminations, our preconceptions, our unfounded and judgmental attitudes, and they influence the way we speak to people, deal with people, handle people.  I was once asked what I believed to be the fundamental difference between a child and an adult.  It was an interesting question.  My answer, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, was simply that a child appeared to trust other people until they were a given a reason not to trust, whereas an adult appeared to instinctively mistrust until they were given a reason to trust.

The newspapers and television news would have us believe that society is dangerous, crazy, unpredictable, potentially hazardous in every imaginable way.  That is a lie.  The newspapers engender, foster and encourage our cynicism and mistrust.  It seems to be their primary purpose.  How many times have you yourself been involved in or witness to an act of murder, rape, kidnapping, even physical or mental abuse?  If at all, then you are in the tiny minority.  Such things happen of course, but they are far less frequent and prolific than the media would have us believe.

The true criminals here are racism, religious intolerance, misogyny, greed, corruption, vested interest, and all the other ills that plague this society.  Beneath all of these is ignorance, perhaps the greatest crime of all, and a society that permits a decline in educational standards, a society that regards ‘celebrity for celebrity’s sake’ as something of value, a society that promotes the ‘let’s all get something for nothing’ viewpoint that appears pandemic, certainly in the West, is a society not only in dire need of change, but also very possibly on the way out.

We are all human.  We are all ridiculous in our own special way.  That old saw, never successfully attributed to a specific author, regarding holding onto anger being much the same as taking poison and hoping the other person will die, has a relevant place here.  Let others be who they are and they may very well let you be who you are.  If everyone was themselves, truly, and we accepted that others were also different and had just as much right to exist as we did, then wouldn’t the world seem different?

I guess it would.

Try it.  You never know, you might just like the world a whole lot better, and find that world likes you just as much in return.

 

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On numerous occasions people have tried to identify Roger’s work with a particular genre – crime, thriller, historical fiction – but this categorisation has been a relatively fruitless endeavour. Roger’s ethos is merely to work towards producing a good story, something that encapsulates elements of humanity and life without necessarily slotting into a predetermined pigeonhole. He attempts to produce an average of forty thousand words a month, and aims to get a first draft completed within three to four months. His wife thinks he is a workaholic, his son considers him slightly left-of-centre, but they put up with him regardless. His son has long since been aware of the fact that ‘dad’ buys stuff, and thus his idiosyncrasies should be tolerated.

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

 

The Search for Meaning

 

We all search for meaning in our lives. One way or another, we must find a story to tell ourselves. I asked the members of The Write Room Blog to share their understanding of that search. Their responses inform and challenge; they are well worth reading. (Kenneth Weene)

 

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LOVE GIVES LIFE PURPOSE by Salvatore Buttaci

We were blessed.

We didn’t have many luxuries. My father worked two jobs, but my mother was always there teaching us how to be God-loving and respectful to everyone. They taught us by example to pray, laugh, love, and accept life as a passageway to a better world. They trusted God completely and never questioned His Will.

Did we notice the lack of things in our lives? No way! Did temper tantrums follow the opening of presents on Christmas morning when, instead of toys, we were gifted with pajamas, a pair of rosary beads –– something inexpensive but heart-given? I don’t think so.

In 1949 when I was eight, I hinted to my father how much I wanted a Red Ryder BB rifle. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Saturday and we were in Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store in Brooklyn where Papa was buying some odds and ends. When we walked past the counter piled high with those rifles, I went back there and stared as if by magic I could claim one for my own.

“Could Santa bring me one for Christmas, Pa?”

His face took on that sad look of his when fate had his hands tied and what he wanted to do was what he could only dream of doing.

“Santa’s poor this year,” he said, then hustled me away.

Papa worked nights at a local Italian bakery. While we were in school, he slept, so we hardly saw him. Christmas morning finally came and there against the wall behind the little decorated tree was a tall box. My Red Ryder! I thought. Santa brought one after all. But when I tore open the wrappings, pulled free the contents, disappointment clouded my face. It was a hand-made rifle, whittled into shape, painted like the real thing. Mama told me later how Papa had patiently worked day after day whittling that piece of wood into a rifle, sacrificing much needed sleep to please me.

Oh, yes, God has blessed me more than words can express.

My parents’ final gift may seem meager to others, but to me it was a most welcomed grace: the last words, “I love you,” whispered to me from their hospital deathbeds, first, my father, and then years later, my mother.

I know I will be thinking of those gifts for as long as I live and will repeat the words to my Sharon and to all those who made and continue to make my life a wondrous thing.

When God the Father created the world and us in it, when He sent His Son who willingly died that excruciated death to atone for our sins, when He sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify us with grace, He shows His Love for us. My purpose in life? To emulate that love in whatever small measure I can by loving God and myself, then expanding that love to others, many of whom are burdened with loveless lives and the inability to believe in the reality of God. I feel strongly that I must show them the joy that comes from walking with God and accepting His gifts of Boundless Love.

Every road needs a reason to walk, every life a purposeful destination. Like my God-loving parents, I pray one day to dance in the circle of His Light forever.

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Salvatore Buttaci’s work has appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, A Word with You Press, and Cavalcade of Stars. 

His collection of flash fiction 200 Shorts is available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399042844&sr=1-2&keywords=200+shorts

His book A Family of Sicilians is available at http://lulu.com/ButtaciPublishing2008

Sal lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.

 

 

Discovering Your Purpose by J. F. Elferdink

“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born and how you become most truly alive.”— Oprah Winfrey

Some people seem to know their calling very young—those who have been given a special talent.  An example from my reading is Asher Lev in the book “I Am Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok.  Asher Lev was compelled to draw and paint from the time he was a child, even though the price he paid was excessive: his art depicted things forbidden by his Jewish community and he was ostracized. Yet he drew.

It hasn’t been that simple to recognize my own calling.  My grades pointed toward some form of communications and my writing assignments for school and work were typically praised. While a single mom and college student I also kept a journal. That form of writing, with no restrictions, stopped abruptly when I remarried. My new husband insisted I destroy the words that implicated a life before him.  When I wouldn’t, he did. It seemed a part of me was lost in those ashes.  But a strange thing happened during that experience—I had a sensation of a voice in my head telling me to let it go because I would write something much better.

A few years later I found a fresh reason to write. It would lead to authoring my first novel, written to resolve the death of a man I loved and to be a channel for a new passion: social justice. The book took five years to complete. My expectation for a bestseller turned out to be unfounded. Even so, I started on a sequel because there was more I wanted to say.  But it’s a struggle. Most days any number of tasks are elevated to greater importance than uncoiling a story from my mind to my computer’s monitor.  That faceless critic won’t let me go. He keeps up the tirade: What will people think if you write that? Do you want to open yourself to more rejection?

That internal voice leads to questioning my purpose and suspecting my “mystical moment.”  That leads to chaining my creative drive and ignoring the next chapter in my sequel. I’ve been trying that for more than a year while forcing myself to dismiss the nagging sensation that there’s something left undone.

Answers often come to me out of others’ writing. This week I finished another book by Potok, “The Gift of Asher Lev.” In this one, Asher has found success through his talent, but Paris critics suggest his paintings are no longer fresh, instead mired in technique. The criticism stops him; his canvases remain white. He does continue drawing although it’s not the embodiment of his talent.  Then one day while staring at those drawings, he begins to decipher “a matrix underlying his new work.” New possibilities! He cleans his brushes and takes out the jars of paints.

Application for my life (and maybe yours): Do I let my internal critic win or do I accept my destiny and become “most truly alive?”

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for herself, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/harmlessjoyce

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-You-Ms-J-Elferdink/dp/0615664490/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423689108&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=Pieces+of+You+and+JF+Elferdink

 

 

THE DANGER OF BEING POSITIVE by R.J. Ellory

The internet is full to the gunwales with ‘be positive’ aphorisms, usually posted by individuals who choose to employ pseudonyms such as ‘Amethyst Starfire’ and ‘Harmony Rainbow’.  I am British, and therefore innately cynical at the best of times, but when faced with such banal and useless messages as ‘Follow your heart to wherever it may take you’ and ‘The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday’ I am often driven to the limits of my own fragile sanity.  Be a better person than you were yesterday?  Right.  Good enough.  So I am a serial killer.  Yesterday I got two kills.  Today I’ll go for three, and then I’ll get take-out and a nice bottle of Chianti.  Follow my heart to wherever it takes me.  I have a friend.  Her ‘heart’ tells her to pursue psychotic obsessive-compulsive control freak men who wind up doing nothing but barely repairable damage to her ‘heart’ and the rest of her life.

There is a real danger in fatalism.  There is a real danger in believing in destiny.  There is a very real danger in ‘positive thinking’, if only from the viewpoint that thinking is not doing, and doing is the only thing that really results in something being done.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t be positive.  I am a very firm believer in the need to be positive, to acknowledge one’s own capability and competence, but only being positive is not going to make the grade.  One needs to actually do as well.  I am also a very firm believer in the reality of negative people, the very real effect of negative comments and statements designed to undermine and make less of one’s efforts.  Negative people are merely hoping to see you fail because it will help rationalize and justify their own failures.

Very recently my wife and I looked at all the people we worked with, spent time with and those we considered friends.  Very quickly it became quite clear that there were a few who took and took and took and gave nothing in return.  We loaned them money, we helped them solve their life problems, we bailed them out of trouble, we had them over for dinner, threw parties on their birthdays, and yet in return there was never a single invite, never a gift, never a ‘Hey, I can help you with that’.  So we decided to just let them go.  We didn’t say or do anything to them.  We certainly didn’t level any criticism or reprimand.  We didn’t try to fix things or correct anything.  We just stopped communicating.  Did they reach for us?  Did they make any effort to find out why we had stopped communicating to them?  Not at all.  Months have gone by now, and not a word.  So I understand negative people and the effect they can have.  I also understand that people can be sponges for your attention and help, and yet nothing ever comes back in return.

However, I digress.  This article is supposed to be about purpose and direction.  These words have come about as a result of a request for advice and direction to the website visitors regarding how to better identify and highlight what is important in their own lives.  During the past few months I have spent more time reviewing my life and my own purposes and priorities than perhaps at any other.  I am approaching fifty, and even though I may not live to a hundred it kind of feels like a half-way point.  Life – for me – is about action.  It is about being who you are, doing what you want and having what you desire.  It is also, just as importantly, about doing what you can to assist others in the realization of their own goals and purposes.  As has been said many times before in many different ways, a man who wishes to be happy and yet does not spend the vast majority of his time trying to make others happy is a fool.  But there has to be a balance.  If someone does not know who they really are (i.e. they do not really understand their own priorities and goals, nor their own strengths and weaknesses) then they cannot undertake the right actions to achieve what they want.  Life is a job, very simply.  If you do not understand what the purpose of your job is, and you have no real clue as to how to best use the tools you have been given, then there is not much hope of accomplishing the end result of that job.

One cannot sit on the sofa in front of the television and ‘think positive’ to a better life.  I don’t believe that can be done, and yet that seems a realistic and acceptable life-plan to the vast majority of people I speak to.

So, where am I going with this?  I am going to give you some aphorisms that have worked for me, and that continue to work for me on a daily basis.  Some of them I might have invented, some of them were written by others whose names I do not even know, and some of them have been credited to their respective author.  They all say the same thing in different ways, and they all push in the direction of identifying your own goals and pursuing them.  How, you might ask, do I identify my goals?  I think that’s the easiest part in all of this.  Where do your passions lie?  What motivates you?  What gets you enthusiastic?  Those are the areas where you need to look, despite others who might say how unrealistic, difficult or competitive those areas of interest might be.

So, here we go:

Some people dreamed of success…while others woke up and worked hard at it.

What you chose to focus your mind on is critical.

Persistence is the key, the backbone, the spirit of accomplishment and achievement.

A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.

Persistence is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.

A man can only do what he can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.  The world said “Give up.”  Hope whispered, “Try it again…just one more time.”

With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.

The saints we revere and respect in all fields are the sinners who kept on going.

Do not spend a moment worrying about whether someone thinks you are the worst human being of all or the brightest star in the universe.  Your integrity to yourself is more important than anyone else’s viewpoint. You know if you are working as hard as you can to create a great future for yourself and the people you care for.

It doesn’t matter if you try and try and try again, and fail.  It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again.

History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They refused to become discouraged by their defeats.

Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.

Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow.

Decide carefully, exactly what you want in life, then work like mad to make sure you get it!

Defeat never comes to anyone until they admit it.

Stay away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but great people…great people are the ones who make you feel that you too can be truly great.

No one can always be right.

Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life. When it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, “You cannot defeat me.”

Forget all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will.

Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian teenage gymnast, winner of three Olympic Gold Medals by the age of fourteen, was asked how she made it look so effortless.

She hesitated for just a moment, and then she smiled, and said, “It’s the hard work that makes it easy.”

Pablo Picasso, more than eighty years old, was asked why he still worked fourteen and sixteen hours a day.  His reply, very simply: ‘When inspiration finds me, I want her to find me hard at work’.

Be proud to work.  Be proud to be exhausted with the things you have accomplished today.  Dream of what you want.  Work hard.  Persist.  Persevere.  Make it happen.  Do not end your life with the words ‘What if?’  Those are the words with which to begin your life.

Courage does not always roar the loudest or fight the hardest.  Courage is often nothing more than the quiet voice at the end of a long day that says, ‘Tomorrow…tomorrow I will try again’.

Commit yourself to success.  Somewhere.  Somehow.  In some field.  As Goethe, the great philosopher said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.   Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”

As Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose’, and I believe in this without doubt or hesitation.  Whatever purpose you have now, keep it alive, keep working at it, keep directing your energies and attention towards it, and it will be realized.

As a result of what I have learned I have been able to travel the world and meet some truly extraordinary people.  The most important ones have often been the most humble and the most interested in others.  The most successful ones have been those who cared most about their fellow man.  The happiest ones have been those who were literate, hard-working, persistent and courageous in their endeavours.

So, in closing…turn off the television, stop reading the newspapers (because their entire purpose is to make you think that the world in which we live is rough and dangerous and crazy and out-of-control, and it isn’t much like that at all), stop doubting your own ability to achieve what you know you can achieve, and realize that achieving it is only going to happen if you do the work.  Stop complaining, stop finding reasons why it can’t be done, stop worrying about what others might think, and do the work.  Just shut up and do the work.

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Having surmounted many obstacles in his own life, R.J. Ellory has gone on to be both a successful writer of crime novels and a musician.

Check out R.J.’s books at http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

 

 

d

The Doughnut and Not the Hole by John B. Rosenman

My father used to talk to me about what counted in life.  Sometimes he quoted a poem you may be familiar with:

“As you ramble through Life, Brother,

Whatever be your goal.

Keep your eye upon the doughnut,

And not upon the hole.”

Even when I was a kid, I understood the moral.   One should pursue real and meaningful goals in life and avoid empty attractions that can be a tragic waste of time.   One should pursue worthwhile values and avoid the gaudy, seductive, and worldly pleasures of Vanity Fair.

However, can we always tell what the doughnut is, and what the hole?  We might think it is easy, but Vanity Fair is just as real and dangerous now as it was when John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.   Even more real and dangerous, in fact.   The media constantly bombard us with vain confections we come to crave.   Money, glamor, and sex, oh my.  Some of us pilgrims easily lose our way and find ourselves lost forever.

What exactly is the doughnut?   If I forget about the Kardashians and put down my scandal-racked tabloid, I would start my list by saying the doughnut consists of the following ingredients:

  1. Valuing your family and treasuring its members.
  2. Valuing your country and treasuring its traditions.
  3. Being kind and helpful to people whenever you can.

Number 3 sounds a lot like the Golden Rule to me.  Contributing to worthwhile charities comes in here.   I believe Truman Copote said there were only two moral rules.   Mind your own business and don’t hurt anybody.   I think a lot of the misery and confusion in our lives is caused by our failure to remember these two things.

I have to admit I’m not the best at following these principles.   For example, I have fought with my wife when I knew I was wrong.  But hey, I think I have a good idea of what goes into the doughnut.   Here’s another ingredient based on my personal experience:

  1. Forget about past grievances and don’t hold grudges because of the way people have treated you.   Let it go, let it go, let it go.   Set aside your injured pride.  For some of us, it’s harder to do than for others.   If you can’t forgive, see if you can forget a little by focusing on the present and all the possibilities it offers.

I can’t cover this subject as fully as I’d like here, so I’ll close by mentioning one more tasty, filling and fulfilling ingredient in the doughnut.   To some of you, it may be the most important one.

  1. Consider developing a relationship with God or a supreme being who is larger and more wonderful than everything else. Some folks may object to this. But please, don’t simply decide there is no ultimate  intelligence in the universe and never consider the matter again.  As for believers, I recommend that reexamining and questioning our beliefs now and then can be a very good thing.  Miguel de Unamuno said  “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”

Amen.

As for Socrates, he believed that “not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued.”   Money, possessions, popularity and praise don’t automatically equal the good life, and worldly success doesn’t mean one is a virtuous and deserving person.   It’s what one stands for and what one does with such wealth that matters.

Otherwise it’s the hole in that doughnut rather than the doughnut itself.

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John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books. His work includes science fiction and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.” In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

 

 

b

Some Small Stranger by Micki Peluso

“Grandma,” a word sounding as old as Methuselah was about to become my title. My response to this new position escalated to the point of panic. Initially, I didn’t react well to the word, mother, either.

I remembered my own grandmother, with her soft white hair wound up in a bun; hair that when let down, easily reached her waist. I can still see her laboring over delicate paper-thin strudel dough in a warm kitchen filled with the aroma of chicken soup and fresh baked bread. I thought of my children’s grandmother, who had wiry salt and pepper hair, mostly salt, velvety skin, and eyes that seemed ageless. She was lovely, wore no make-up, and exuded a gentleness that gave the word, “Grandma,” a good name.

The title, “Grandma’” seemed to place me in a different age bracket–and I wasn’t ready. I could still squeeze into my designer jeans, if I lay flat on the bed to pull up the zipper. My hair, mostly my own, was still blonde, and I hadn’t yet given my bikini to the Salvation Army. I would probably have to soon– the neighbors were starting to complain. I did Jane Fonda religiously, which meant once a week, and wasn’t planning on taking Geritol for a few more years.

Soon after my daughter informed me of her pregnancy, placing the weighty mantle of “Grandma” around my neck, my life began to change. My shoulders drooped as I walked down the street, hinting that osteoporosis was right around the corner. Wrinkles, cropped up from nowhere, etching the itinerary of my life. Silver strands peeked out from among the gold, thinning gold at that. Fading eyesight precipitated the need for “Granny” glasses, and all my best parts appeared to have dropped six inches. My husband, suffering his own identity crisis, joked about trading me in for two twenty-year olds.

“Go ahead,” I told him. “I may as well be widowed as the way I am now.” My youth was gone, chased away by a menacing word that hovered like an albatross over my troubled psyche.

I sulked most of the nine months preceding the arrival of the one responsible for my fate. I was proud of my daughter, excited by the prospect of a new baby, her baby, joining the family, but I couldn’t adjust to my novel role. I laid claim to many titles in my lifetime, from Miss to Mrs. to Mommy, a brief encounter with Ms., plus a few titles that didn’t need capitalization. There was something about the word, Grandma, which stuck in my throat. My friends smirked and made the usual jokes, perilously endangering our friendship. They could afford to be cute. None of them were about to be grandparents. I would be the first.

It wasn’t fair. I had raised my children, gave my all in the name of motherhood, and faced the daily grind of bottles, diapers and finicky eaters. I lost sleep during middle of the night marathons with teething toddlers, and suffered through puberty and adolescence with only a hint of martyrdom. Now when the “best was yet to come,” some small stranger, still to be born, was transforming me into an old woman; a grandma.

My daughter’s delivery came, as most do, in the middle of the night. It was a long, hard labor, beset with life-threatening problems for both herself and the baby; problems which made my own insignificant. My pleas, that night, to a higher authority, did not concern my apprehension of grand motherhood. I begged for the safety of my child and her baby. Nothing else mattered.

After an agonizing wait in a room full of people mutely sharing similar concerns, the doctor burst through the delivery room doors. Ten agonizing hours had elapsed since we entered that room. It seemed a lifetime. The doctor spotted us and rushed over. My heart was in my throat as I rose to meet him.

“Your daughter’s fine” he said, smiling. “Congratulations, Grandma! It’s a boy!”

He had to say “Grandma”. My husband breathed a sigh of relief and began passing out cigars. I sat silent, relieved for my daughter, uncertain of the reality before me.

I finally walked over to the glass windows of the nursery, where “Grandpa,” beaming proudly, had preceded me. I looked down upon a tiny, screaming infant, who, with flailing arms and red, wrinkled face, was a miniature of my daughter. He stopped crying, and gazed up at me with unfocused eyes, appraising me as I did him, his mouth turning up in a crooked grin. I loved him at once. Suddenly the word “Grandma,” the most beautiful word in the world, seemed to fit like a pair of broken-in running shoes.

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Micki Peluso is a Journalist, and humorist, writing for several newspapers, plus publishing short fiction and non-fiction in various magazines and e-zines, winning many contests and awards. Her short works appear in a half dozen book collections, including the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, in “The Speed of Dark” published by Clayton Bye. Her first book, . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang, a funny, bittersweet story of love, loss and survival won the Nesta Silver Award for writing that “Builds Character.” “Don’t Pluck the Duck” soon to be released is a collection of her published slice of life, short fiction and non-fiction. http://www.amazon.com/Micki-Peluso/e/B002BLZ7JK

 

 

a

Make a Conscious Choice by C. Clayton Bye

Many years ago, while on an evening stroll in Toronto, I came upon a young couple who were being harassed by three thugs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the young man was in the kind of situation that tends to turn out badly. In fact, I figured one of two things was going to happen: he was going to receive a beating, or he was going to lose face with his girl.

Everything about the fellow’s demeanour indicated he’d reached a similar conclusion. Take your pick of emotions. There was fear, frustration, anger, even humiliation: each appeared and disappeared on this victim’s face like the shifting scenes in a suspense film.

One of the aggressors laughed, and I found myself thinking about what most people would do when encountering a situation such as this. The answer which appeared in my head was to mind my own business. No surprises there, right? However, I profess to be a Contrarian. According to my personal definition, this is a person who always considers doing the opposite of what most people do—as a way to identify opportunities to be extraordinary.

I walked up, inserted myself between the two lovers and quietly told the young man I was there to help. The response was wonderful to behold. He drew himself up to full height, his face relaxed and hope shone in his eyes. Then, obtaining a silent nod of agreement from me, and giving the girl’s hand a quick squeeze, he stepped forward to face the bullies.

Keeping my mouth shut, I let my new friend take control of the situation, allowed him the chance to look good in front of his lady. He handled himself well, and the thugs, visibly uncomfortable with the new odds, were soon gone.

A similar event was recently reported by local media. Unfortunately, the results were tragic. A young man attempted to help some people in trouble and was knifed to death. No one else was hurt, but a bright future was cancelled in an instant.

Individuals reading my column might ask, “Doesn’t the preceding story prove it pays to mind your own business?” My answer would be, “No!” I believe the young man who lost his life did the right thing. I’m sorry he died, but I’m also certain he acted as he did because he understood that the safe alternative, the choice of inaction, of tolerating a wrong or an evil, would have made him part of the problem.

The habit of taking responsibility for yourself, of consistently making the right choice, rather than the safe or easy choice, is the most difficult way of life I know. And we, as a society, need more of it! How many times has that tiny, seventy-something lady walked past your doorstep in frigid weather, bags full of groceries scraping the ground, without someone coming to her aid? What about the foul-mouthed teenagers at the mall? Why  is their behaviour tolerated? Closer to home, who monitors your own decision making? What checks and balances do you have in place for those times when your behavioural choices are less than perfect?

Doing nothing to change what’s wrong in and about your life is a choice. It’s a form of behaviour. And in spite of what you might have heard to the contrary, when you say and do hurtful things, you are a hurtful person. This modern notion that we aren’t defined by our actions is, in my opinion, complete nonsense. We’re nothing if we aren’t our behaviour.

You and I don’t have to be perfect. We just need to be consistent in what we choose to do. The best analogy I can offer comes from baseball. A player with a .300 batting average is a treasure, yet he gets on base just three in every ten trips to the plate. He understands that if you keep swinging the best way you know how, you’ll get through the outs and achieve some hits. We can do the same.

When you see a person bending under the weight of their load, make a conscious choice to help. The next time you’re tempted to say or do something in anger, bite your tongue. Better yet, find something nice to say and do. Make the responsible choice. Then make another. And another. And another.

Sure, you’ll take some strikes. But your batting average will improve over time. That’s what practice is all about. Actions create results; we are what we say and do.

 #

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published  3 award winning anthologies. Shope at his estore: http://www.amazon.com/Clayton-Bye/e/B002BWULO0

 

LAST SUPPER by Roger Ellory

 

 use

 

 

 

 

 

 

For some considerable time, David had known he would kill his wife.

David was a creature of habit, and yet he had learned to accept his anonymity and predictability as a blessing, not a curse.  He rose at the same time, dressed in clothes indistinguishable from those he wore on any other day, ate the same breakfast, took the same route to work.  He filed insurance claims until lunchtime, and then he walked to the park.  Here he sat for forty-eight minutes to read the newspaper, to eat his sandwich, and then he walked back to the office.  To him, this routine had become a comfort.

David had made no definite plans as to the means of disposal for her body, nor how he would explain her sudden disappearance to family, friends and neighbors.  Perhaps he believed that once the deed was done he would be struck by a brilliant solution, a streak of lightning, a bolt from the blue.

David had decided the manner of her death, however.

He would stab her in the eye.

The chosen instrument of death was not a knife, but a knitting needle.  He had bound half its length in duct tape so as to provide a firm grip, yet with six inches exposed he believed that the needle – if driven suddenly, and with sufficient force – would pass directly through her eye and into the brain.  There would be little, if any, blood, and death would be instant.  She had given him fifteen years of comfortable, predictable marriage, and he did not wish to cause her any undue pain or distress.

In fact, David did not think of it so much as a murder, but more of an execution for some unknown crime.

And so it was, on a cool summer evening, that David and his wife sat at the kitchen table to eat.  She had prepared a chicken salad and opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  They ate in near-silence, the stillness punctuated by the odd pleasantry, the fact that rain had been expected but not arrived.

“Perhaps tomorrow”, David had commented, finding it ironic that he was mentioning something of which she would know nothing.

David sat calmly, the knitting needle beneath his thigh.  He felt a sense of philosophical resignation regarding the inevitability of what was about to happen.

There would be no struggle, no raised voices, no desperate drama as she fought against hands tightening around her throat.  There would be no blood spatter, no scuff-marks from frantic heels against the linoleum.

She would find herself at dinner, and then she would be dead.

Perhaps she would not even notice.

“You’re having no wine?” he asked her.

“No,” she said.  “I have a slight headache.  The wine will worsen it.”

It was then that David experienced a sudden pang of something.

She had smiled at him, and smiled in such an innocent and unaffected way, and there had almost been a sense of sadness in her tone.

She could not know what he had planned, for he had planned nothing beyond her death.

She could not suspect him of any deceit.

Each day had been the same.  He had done the same things, expressed the same thoughts with the same words, continued with routines that had remained constant and unchanging for years.  In fact, it was safe to say that the single most defining characteristic of their marriage was that nothing ever happened.

But now he was feeling something.  Was it regret?  Guilt?  Was he even now questioning the determination he had made to kill her?  Why was he experiencing this sense of disorientation, a feeling of agitation in his stomach, a fleeting wave of nausea?

Why did he now feel so weak, so uncertain?

He opened his mouth to speak.

His words were thoughts, but they were not sounds.

She looked at him, the same sense of sadness in her eyes.

The stab of pain in his gut was breathtaking.  It snatched every molecule of air from his lungs and throat.

He had never felt anything like it.

The pain did not last so long – thirty seconds, perhaps forty.

He felt his cheek against the plate of moist salad, and then he felt nothing at all.

David’s wife carried the wine bottle and the glass to the sink.  She was methodical as she washed them, ensuring every grain of sediment was removed from both.

And then she stood in the kitchen doorway, and she looked at her dead husband, and she believed that during the last days – as she had planned his murder – she had felt more than enough emotion to compensate for a decade and a half of feeling nothing at all.

 

As if writing powerful crime novels were not enough, British writer Roger Ellory is also a musician. Indeed, making music may be the greater of his two loves. RJ is guitarist and vocalist with Zero Navigator.  To find RJ’s books in the US visit

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962252&sr=8-1
In England use
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Jon-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962965&sr=1-1-catcorr

WHEN WORDS FAIL, MUSIC SPEAKS… by Roger Ellory

27 05 14 ROCK - ZERO NAVIGATOR

 The irony was not altogether lost on me.  Though irony – possibly – was not the right word.  Perhaps it was just another example of the way in which life can sometimes double-back, can turn suddenly and reflect itself every once in a while.  A variation of déjà vu.  An echo.

I sit in a darkened film-editing suite.  The room is thick with smoke.  I am watching a rough cut of a film by Olivier Dahan, Oscar-winning director of ‘La Vie En Rose’.  On the sound system is a previously unheard soundtrack written by Bob Dylan.  It is my first trip to Paris, and there I am – somewhere in an office within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower – discussing the possibility of writing a screenplay of my book, ‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’.   What happened as a result of that meeting, the three days I spent in Paris, the screenplay, the potential film…all of this is irrelevant to the story.  What was really interesting to me about that first meeting was Robert Johnson.  Forrest Whittaker as Robert Johnson, right there on the screen ahead of me.  The whole backstory of Johnson – how he met Lucifer at the crossroads and sold his soul for the Blues.  That story.

It was a story within the film that Dahan had just made, and it was a story I’d heard before.

Backwards more than thirty years.  A seven year-old child stands in the hallway of a strange house.  His mother has just died, and he has been sent to stay with a relative.  The relative, a great aunt – has a son.  The son is a teenager, a wild guy, a rocker, and he has a room painted black with posters all over the walls – Hendrix, Joplin, Canned Heat, Jim Morrison and The Doors.  He spends his time playing records, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer.

The seven year-old – lost, confused, alone now – finds some strange comfort in the company of this wild teenager.  The teenager tells him a story and plays him a record.  ‘Robert Johnson,’ the little boy is told.  ‘He went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil for the Blues…’  And the little boy listens, and he hears something in the music that stirs something inside of him, and he knows that no other music will ever sound the same.  Perhaps more accurately, he will never be able to listen to any other style of popular music and not hear the Blues somewhere hiding within it.

Because the Blues sits behind everything.  It is a rhythm, an atmosphere, a heartbeat, a pulse, a colour, a feeling.  It isn’t just a sound.  You hear sounds with your ears.  But this wasn’t just something you heard, it was something you could feel in your heart.

The fact that the seven year-old boy went on to write novels is also not part of that story.  Not directly.  The fact that the boy became a writer who was always trying to capture that feeling, that emotion, that sound with words, is perhaps more to the point.  Because they’re the same thing.  It’s the emotional connection.  The emotional impact.

I was that boy, and now I am that writer.  And I read to feel something.  I listen to Son House and Leadbelly and Muddy Waters and Charley Patton to feel something too.  The emotion comes first, the rhythm comes second, the dancing comes last.  Music is an outburst of the soul, Delius said.

My interest was sparked, like the small flame at the tail of the touchpaper, and at the end of that touchpaper was dynamite.  I moved on from there, found so many different stories that had all been woven from the same original strands.  It was an evolution, a progression – up through British rhythm and blues to The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Stones, and then the sound of the West Coast – The Elevators and Quicksilver, and West Texas variations like Doug Sahm, and out of the swamps came Dr. John and Professor Longhair, ‘Gris Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya’ and its strange, distorted reflection of the same things that the delta Bluesmen were saying.

All the same emotion.  All the same story, just told in very different ways.

My girl gone left me.  She left me alone.  You don’t know how it feels to have no home.  Got no money in my pocket, no shoes on my feet.  Got no food in my belly and my bed’s in the street.

It’s all humanity, the same things suffered a thousand different ways.

Music was the support, the way in which we survived our difficulties, our travails, our losses.  As Virgil Thomson said, ‘I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one.  Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music is not going to let you down.’

And even the whites had their own thing going.  They suffered the Depression, they suffered hardships, of course, and they sang and played their way through it.  European immigrants into the Maritime Provinces and the Southern Appalachian Mountains brought Old World instruments with them – the fiddle from Ireland, the banjo from West Africa, the guitar from Spain, the mandolin from Italy.  ‘Little Log Cabin in the Lane’, recorded by Fiddlin’ John Carson in the early 20s, Vernon Dalhart’s national hit, ‘Wreck of the Old ’97’, the flipside of which was something called – not surprisingly – ‘Lonesome Road Blues’, and artists like this were followed by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers who managed to fuse hillbilly country with gospel, jazz, blues and folk music.

And without Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family the ‘The Golden Age of Country’ would never have happened.  No-one would have heard of the Grand Ole Opry.  Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jnr., Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson would have just been playing for drinks in some out-of-town juke joint or bowling alley.  And on the West Coast, had it not been for Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, we would never have discovered The Bakersfield Sound, and Merle Haggard and Buck Owens would have been packing groceries or fixing cars in a truckstop outside of Mendocino.

And from these strange unions came yet another illegitimate child – real rockabilly.  Without that unlikely collision of hillbilly country music and Delta Blues we would never have had Carl Perkins or Elvis or Johnny Burnette or Eddie Cochran, and without Eddie Cochran we would never have had Chuck Berry, and without Chuck Berry we would never have had The Rolling Stones.

And then the brash parents took a roadtrip, travelled further afield, and as they travelled they produced further offspring – artists like Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Buffalo Springfield and The Eagles.  Country Rock was born.  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Canned Heat’s ‘On The Road Again’ – released in 1968, adapted by Alan Wilson from a song of the same name, recorded by Floyd Jones in 1953.  And Jones’ song, well that was an adaptation of a song called ‘Big Road Blues’, recorded in 1928 by Delta Bluesman, Tommy Johnson.  Did they know at Woodstock that they were listening to a song that was twice as old as most of the people there?  Maybe not, but it didn’t matter.  It said the same thing a different way.  It conveyed the same emotions, the same heart, and you either got it or you didn’t.

These were no accidents, no coincidences.  Serendipity perhaps, but not coincidence.  The emotion was always there, always present, always pre-eminent.  The emotion was what it was all about.  And it carried through every thread, and it walked down every road, and it passed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, from soul to soul.  It was a communication.  It was a message.  And those that heard it, really heard it, well they understood that it was not something that could be measured or quantified or given a value.  It was priceless.  The music was priceless.  It was a universal language, applicable to all, understandable by all, and as it evolved it encompassed more and more people, more and more variations on the same theme, and even those that didn’t know exactly what they were listening to still felt the rhythm inside of themselves and got up to dance.

And the seven year-old kid?  He grew up.  He grew up with music everywhere, and if there wasn’t music when he got wherever he was going, well he soon got some organised.  He even played music himself on and off, back and forth over the years – and nearly four decades later he’s still hammering away at the same chords, and singing some of the same tunes, and putting a band back on the road when all sense and sensibility says that such a thing should not be considered by an unfit man in his mid-forties.  But to hell with the rules and regulations, to hell with the conservative, the expected, the norm.  This is about life.  This is about being whoever you are.  This is about feeling something inside of yourself that you cannot exorcise without making a noise.  ‘Zero Navigator’ and ‘The Whiskey Poets’ will appear somewhere, sometime, and they will play riffs invented by Bo Diddley and Paul Burlison and Mike Bloomfield and Scotty Moore.  Why?  Because they are timeless.   People might age, but the emotion stays young for ever.

And now – even when I write my fiction – I am looking for the same rhythm, that same pace, the same tensions that I find in music.  I am working on the sentences and paragraphs like they’re bars of music.  I am losing a word here and there because the phrase has one too many syllables and it doesn’t feel right.  I know when it sounds right to my ear.  I know when it looks right to my eye.  It has a tempo, a timbre, an atmosphere, a colour.  And when I write lyrics my musical heritage is all the more evident.  The girl is still leaving.  I still ain’t got no money.  The train’s pulling out of the station and I’am sleeping in the street.  This is what we do.  This is what we have to say.  This is what we sing about.  Matters of the heart.  Matters of the soul.  The business of life.

Music has always been there, always something to look forward to, always there to return to.  It is both a destination and a home; it is both a familiar friend and a new acquaintance; it is both a parent and a child.  I look back at my life, and all the important events, all the things that mattered – marriage, fatherhood, new jobs, new places and people…well, all of them were somehow connected to music.  I can say in music what I will never be able to write.  I can write in words what I will never be able to communicate with music.  It has been said that a composer composes because he cannot say what he wants in words.  I believe the corollary also, that a writer writes because he cannot yet communicate his thoughts and feelings with sounds.

And I leave the last words to a writer, fittingly.  Not just a writer, but a writer for children who yet spoke to all generations.  Hans Christian Andersen said something so simple, and yet it encompassed all complexities, all truths, all fundamentals: ‘When words fail, music speaks.’

For me, in just five words, I think that says it all.

 

As if writing powerful crime novels were not enough, British writer Roger Ellory is also a musician. Indeed, making music may be the greater of his two loves. RJ is guitarist and vocalist with Zero Navigator.  To find RJ’s books in the US visit

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962252&sr=8-1
In England use
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Jon-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962965&sr=1-1-catcorr